How you protect yourself when buying in a Seller’s Market

We all know the market is hot. Who hasn’t heard about houses selling for over the asking price, buyers waiving the chance to inspect a home. Lots of crazy things happening these day. People feel lucky just to get a house. Any house!

How can a buyer protect themselves these day?

Know the value of the house before you make an offer. The market is moving so fast right now that I don’t think many buyers or their realtors are looking at recent sales in the area to see what that hot new listing is worth. You can’t rely on the Zestimate. You can’t think that it must be worth it if it appraised. Appraisers are not buyers. The criteria they use to justify value is different that what a buyer uses. They don’t care about fancy finishes. They don’t appraise a view. To them it is all about numbers like square footage and room count. They have a 1-5 ranking for condition. Almost all houses you see are either a 3 or a 4. Buyers care about trendy finishes like how wide the planks are in the wood flooring, if the counter top is quartz or granite, what the tile in the shower is like. The tile in the shower could be carerra marble or green ceramic tile and the appraiser is going to value it the same.

Know the neighborhood. Let’s face it. When you buy a house, you are also buying the neighborhood. That means the part of town it is in, the amenities that are close, the school district, the parks, how close it is to a grocery store….all impact the value. Right now with such demand, there is not a lot of pricing difference between the most desirable neighborhood in any price range and the second most desirable neighborhood. There will be though in a cooler market. Picture this. There is a time in the future where houses stay on the market for more than a day. There are 3 houses for sale in the most desirable neighborhood and 3 for sale in the second most desirable neighborhood. There are 4 buyers. I think you know how this goes. There will need to be a pricing difference between both neighborhoods to make anybody pick the second most desirable neighborhood. That is how all markets work. If the store brand Mac & Cheese was the same price as the Kraft Mac & Cheese, nobody would buy the store brand with it’s grainy fake cheese and unattractive packaging.

Keep calm and think about your exit plan. You will one day want to sell the home you just fought so hard to purchase. Unless you are the luckiest person in the world, odds are you won’t have it as good as the seller did when you were the buyer. I cannot tell you how many people called me to sell their homes in the Great Recession who told me they paid full price in multiple offers for the house that nobody wanted when they needed to sell. If a house is totally average, has an average floor plan, has an average lot and is in an average neighborhood, don’t pay above average money for it. Personally, I think the only house I would yield to the will of the seller would be one that had something special that will also make it rise to the top of any buyer’s list in any market.

That is how you protect yourself in these crazy time.

How do you know when you’ve found the right house?

Sometimes people ask me how they will know when they have found the right house. On the logical side, I usually tell them that if they can 90% of everything they want in a house, that is probably the one. On the emotional side, I tell them you just know it when you see it.

I always have been more of the logical buyer when purchasing my own properties. I mean, I do this for a living. Seeing houses is an everyday thing to me. Being a realtor, my job is to help people make a decision. I am also an investor so for both of those reasons I tend to view it more as a logical decision.

All of which made my recent purchase really special to me. I just bought the 5th house I’ve lived in that I owned. I loved my first house. The second, third and fourth ones were just logical decisions. The floor plans worked. The locations worked. The prices was reasonable. Check, check, check.

My 5th house is one that I didn’t even know I was looking for, and wouldn’t have looked where it was if I had been looking. It literally slapped me in the face.

A client who is a financial planner had referred one of his clients to me to sell their house. They called me and we set up a time for me to see it. All very routine. I pulled into their driveway. Knocked on their door. Introduced myself. Sat down in their sunroom and began to talk to them. I was thinking “Man, this is really peaceful sitting here….oh, look, there is no house right across the street and that view out the back is incredible.”

Then they showed me the two garages. I told the seller that I would love to have garage space like that since I had a lot of cars.

Then they showed me the house. I think I remember telling them that it is hard to find a rural property where the house isn’t either tiny or a McMansion.

Then I went home and told my wife about it. We were not in a position that day to move but she seemed interested. About a week later, a family member who we needed to stay close to was now going to move in with other family. All the sudden we were in a spot to be able to move. Next thing I know I am telling the seller that I want my wife to see it. She saw their chicken coup and was sold before even seeing the house.

I’m embarrassed to say this, but I think I paid too much for it and I don’t care. The sellers thought it was worth a little more than I did….and I think I probably have a little more experience knowing what a house is worth, lol. But, I did not care. My wife and I were in love with the place and it wasn’t worth it to us to risk losing it. Plus it was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay under what I thought I would have to pay to get the features I wanted. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay under budget.

So, in the end, I knew it was “The one” and on the logical side, it did have more than 90% of everything I wanted.

What is being a realtor really about?

You’d think it would be about houses, but it is not.

You’d think it would be about the market, but it is not.

You’d think it would be about knowing what a house is worth, but it is not.

You would think it would be about marketing a property for sale, but it is not.

You would think it would be about showing houses to buyers, but it’s not that either.

All of these things are important, but they are not what being a realtor is really about.

It is about guiding people to make a good decision using all of the things above. I often describe my job, when asked, as “Talking people into making a good decision and talking them out of making a bad one.”

In the future, realtors might not even be needed for a buyer to view a house. People may end buying real estate like they do anything else online, or there will be an app to open the lockbox on the front door without a realtor. In the future one of two things will happen: Technology will make tools like Zillow’s Zestimate more accurate, or people will broadly accept them as being accurate. Either way, realtors won’t be needed to determine market value.

It all comes down to helping people make a good decision. There are tons of tiny decisions in buying or selling a house that can have huge consequences. Money can be lost. Time can be wasted. Stress can be compounded. Since most people only buy or sell a house a few times in their lives, often they don’t know the difference between a good decision and a better one. It is easy to make a good verses bad decision. Good verses better requires some knowledge and experience.

A realtor friend and I often chat about what we having going on. It makes us both better realtors I think. He had a situation where he had two offers on a listing. One was slightly better than the other, but the people with the slightly worse offer really wanted to live in that specific neighborhood. Do you go with more money and risk losing those buyers if the home inspection didn’t go well? Do you go with the slightly less offer where you know the buyer is less likely to walk away because they have to have that specific neighborhood? I told my friend to go with the higher offer. My thinking was that if the higher offer people walked away after the inspection, which is usually within 10 days, the other buyers who wanted that specific neighborhood will still be around. Best of both worlds.

Since the market is so hot right now, I am seeing lots of sellers saying a neighbor or a somebody they know is interested in buying their house before it gets listed. My advice to anybody today is to put the house on the market and try to get at least two offers. Today’s buyers are used to fighting to get a house. Get two or more buyers competing for a house and YOU as the seller will always come out the winner. Also, a buyer wanting your house because their parents or grown children live on the street will ALWAYS be there too. That buyer is not just looking for any house in your price range. Being close to mom, dad, grandma, grandpa or grandkids is what makes them want your house. They may or may not pay the most for it, but they are not out actively looking for any house in your price range all over town.

Another thing I am seeing more of is the opposite end of this where a buyer thanks me for my time and tells me they have bought a house from a friend. I had somebody this year with a friend who was selling their house by owner. My client bought it. The house had been on the market for quite a while. In today’s hot market, not selling fast is a sure sign that something is wrong. When buyers decide to wait for the next new listing and pass on your house, can you imagine how difficult it will be to sell the house in a cooler market? This is where the whole good verses better decision starts to have big consequences. People who make poor choices as a buyer typically don’t realize they made a poor choice until they go to sell the house. I saw plenty of that from Great Recession sellers who told me they went over the asking price in multiple offers when they bought the house that they were now selling for less that they owed on it.

So, being a realtor is really about using your experience and knowledge to help people make the best decisions possible. There is nothing that feels better than knowing your seller got the best deal possible, or that your buyer landed a house that will always be easy to sell when that time comes.

Dave Ramsey is wrong

“When you’re buying a mobile home, they go down in value. From a financial standpoint, mathematically, you’re buying a car that you sleep in—a very large car that you sleep in. When you buy a home, they go up in value.

He said it. It can be true. But it is not always true.

It is true when you buy a mobile home and rent a lot in a trailer park. In that situation it is just the trailer that is owned. They are harder to sell and cost a lot of money to move off a lot you don’t own. Couldn’t the same be said for a normal house? When a normal stick built house is moved off of it’s foundation to another location, the value of the house is extremely cheap for the exact same reason. often selling for $1.

Another example of this being true is when a mobile home is sitting on a piece of land but is not permanently attached to the ground. Lenders do not want to lend you money for a property with a mobile home that is not permanently attached to the ground because you could move it. Let’s say you borrowed $100k for the land and the mobile home. Then you sell the mobile home for $10k, leaving just the land. The value of the land probably isn’t going to be $90k without a home on it so the lender is at a greater risk should you default. Lenders don’t like that.

Another example of a mobile home not appreciating is when it never gets updated. Most don’t get updated. The same can be true about a house. I am sure you have seen old, worn out houses that haven’t appreciated once adjusted to inflation?

Okay, so I have sort of agreed with him so far in some situations. When does buying a mobile home become a good idea then? When it is permanently attached to the ground. Now, it really makes no difference to most people whether it is or is not. You are not going to “Feel” any difference inside and it really isn’t going to look much different from the outside. The only reason this makes a difference is for financing. In a world where almost everybody finances their home, you expand your pool of buyers when they can get a Conventional, FHA or VA loan. Imagine what the real estate market would look like today if you had to pay cash for a home? The values would plummet because there would be almost no buyers out there who could afford to buy a home.

As a realtor, real estate investor, advisor and friend to my clients, I can give a thumbs up to purchasing a mobile home on a permanent foundation. If you keep them in good condition and update them as often as you would a normal home, they DO appreciate and ARE a very affordable way to own a home.

Could this have been the worst house in Lexington to buy?

A house I had listed a long time ago came on the market recently. It sold really fast of course.

Let me tell you a little about this house.

The seller paid $157k for it in the summer of 2006. That was pretty much the peak of the market. We were already starting to hear stories about the market crashing by then.

The seller didn’t want the house any more. Listed it for $166k the summer of 2007. After 291 days it did not sell.

Then it was my turn. I listed it in 2011 for $153,900. It didn’t sell after 129 days on the market.

Late in 2014 the seller tried again with another realtor for $159k. 61 days on the market with no buyer.

Spring of 2015 it sat on the market for 201 days with a list price of $156k with a new realtor. Still did not sell.

Spring of 2017 it was listed for $162,900 with yet another realtor. After 68 days on the market, it sold for $153,500.

So, after 11 years and literally 750 days on the market using 5 different realtors, somebody finally bought it for less than the seller had paid for it in 2006.

What was the problem with this house? The yard. The lot had such a slope that you couldn’t get a car in the garage. It was so steep that your ankles hurt just trying to get to the front door. The backyard was worse. There was a patio, a retaining wall, and a grassy strip about 15 feet overhead.

You can imagine that seeing this house listed for $180k this year got my attention. I’m glad I was sitting down when I saw what it sold for. Can you believe somebody went $20k OVER the listing price for this house? It sold for $200k!!

This house is the poster child for what happens when buyers don’t have many choices. They pick terrible houses and seem happy to have just gotten one. Today is 2005 all over again, but worse. When you have almost no choices, a lousy house seems great. It won’t always be this way though. That is why you should never buy a house that in a buyer’s market took 750 days and 5 different realtors to sell for less than was paid for it during a seller’s market.

Bottom line is this……don’t buy a house that will become a noose around your neck in a buyer’s market. I’ve been saying it for 15 years. Never buy the house with the bad lot, one that backs to something unpleasant, one that backs to apartments or a lot of rental properties, one that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the houses in the neighborhood. If you are the seller of such a property, this house proves now is the time to unload it.