Does location matter any more?

I guess a lot of people think being a realtor is about opening doors and cashing checks. I guess there are a lot of realtors who think the same so that is probably the source of the perception.

You don’t need me to help you pick a pretty house. You don’t need me to be there to tell you what you like or dislike about a house. You don’t need me to find houses for you. You don’t need me to walk into the only room with a chandelier and announce it is the dining room. You don’t really even need me at all…….unless you view spending the most money you have ever spent as an investment that you know you will sell someday and want to maximize the return. Oh, I guess you also need me to make sure you don’t pay too much since you won’t really know if you overpaid until you go to sell it.

So here is a quick lesson on how I go about helping people pick a neighborhood. We have all heard that real estate is about location. It is, but I don’t think people really know what that means. I normally break down neighborhoods into 4 categories:

The “A” Neighborhood-These neighborhoods are the ones people know and love for a variety of reasons. Some might be close to something desirable, some might have a lot of charm, some might have lower crime. Almost all “A” neighborhoods have a good performing school district. These are the ones that people know by name. These are also the ones that will always be easy to sell in even a bad market.

The “B” Neighbhorhood-Is like the “A” but may not be as well rounded. It’s popular, but often viewed as an alternative to another “A” neighborhood that is close by.

The “C” Neighborhood-This is one that no buyer has ever mentioned as somewhere they would love to live. It is just average in everyway. Nothing really is wrong with it. Nothing is really great about it either. It is just a neighborhood full of houses.

The “D” Neighborhood-These are like the opposite of the “A” neighborhood. These are neighborhoods where 16 years worth of buyers have told me they DON’T want to live. It is often because of high crime in or around the neighborhood or due to a combination of poorly performing schools. Let’s face it, if buyer’s are telling their realtors they don’t want to live in specific neighborhoods, there’s your sign that it isn’t the best investment.

Why does this make any difference if you’ve found a pretty house you like in your budget? Shouldn’t you be happy just to have found a house in this crazy market? Isn’t finding a house in a less than popular neighborhood better than not finding a house at all? The answer to all of this is that it doesn’t matter at all when you buy the house. It matters a lot when you decide it is time to move on and you want to sell it.

Right now, let’s say there are 100 buyers in the market. There are 20 houses in each of my categories for sale. That means there are 80 houses for 100 buyers. Oh no! That means all 80 sell for at least full price in multiple offers the first day on the market.

But markets change. I am no doomsday person. I don’t think the market is going to crash. It will however, over time, swing back and forth between being a buyer’s market and a seller’s market.

This is what it looks like in a buyer’s market: There are 80 buyers in the market. There are 100 houses for sale, 25 in each of my 4 categories. How do you think this pans out? The “A” neighborhood houses sell first, then the “B” neighborhood houses, then the…….well, you get it. When there are more houses for sale than there are buyers, buyers get pickier. Buyers can’t be picky in today’s seller’s market but they will be able to again. I am sure of that.

My first house was in a “D” neighborhood. I was in my mid 20s and didn’t know anything. Like a lot of first time buyers, I was focused on just finding a house I liked. As I improved my house, I would look out my window and realize that I had no control over my whole neighborhood. Many of the houses around me were owned by investors. There was some crime. I loved the house but not the neighborhood. I sold it for about what I had in it, which meant I didn’t have a lot of equity to carry over to the next house. That is another reason to always pick a winning neighborhood. You will use the equity you’ve built in your old house as your down payment on your next house. You want to maximize that.

So do yourself a favor and always pick the best neighborhood in your price range.

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