Advice as we dig out of a housing shortage

I’m starting to see an interesting thing happen.

We all know that due to the lack of new construction for many years, we have a shortage of houses for sale.

Many people have said the way to solve this is to build our way out of it.

I am starting to see this happen.

In Nicholasville between $200k and $250k, 17 of the 30 houses for sale are new.  In Lexington’s 40509 zip code, there are 104 houses for sale between $300k and $500k.  48 of them are new.  That’s an incredible amount of houses for sale in the Hamburg part of Lexington.  No wonder sales are slowing way down in that price range and I am seeing $10k price reductions left and right.

So what does this do to sales of existing houses?

Most people who buy a new house are only looking at new or newer houses.  If you live in an older existing neighborhood, you are probably in good shape.  Few buyers will seriously consider a 20+ year old house on a bigger lot with mature trees AND a brand new one on a smaller lot with trees shorter than they are.  If you have a house that is less than about 10 years old in this price range, well, you may have a hard time competing with brand new houses.

Any time I have a buyer wanting a newer house in an area with a lot of new construction around them, I always tell them that it might be hard to sell and/or might not appreciate that much until the last new house has sold.  The longer they plan to be there, the better.  If they tell me they may only be there for 2-3 years, I tell them it might be wise to pick another house.

If you are buying in an area with lots of new homes around you, try to pick one that has some unique feature or has a super good lot.  In a neighborhood where most homes aren’t too much different from each other, these small things are the difference between your house selling and always being a buyer’s second choice house.

How to pick your first rental house

The first thing to know is that you want an exit plan.  You want to buy something that will be fairly easy to sell when that time comes.  That is why I usually suggest a single family home in a decent neighborhood.  When you sell it, your buyer pool will be owner-occupant buyers who will happily pay a full retail price.

The second thing to know is that you pick your tenants through them picking your house.  You have a crappy worn out rental, guess what type of tenant is going to be willing to live there?  You make your house one of the nicest ones in it’s price range and you will attract the best qualified tenants out there.  Also, if you have one of the best houses they could ever afford, why would they move?

Here are some things that I think make a house a good pick:

1.  A ranch house.  Who doesn’t like one?  They are suitable for buyers/tenants in all stages of life.  They are easier to paint by yourself since there is no staircase.  You can clean out gutters with a step ladder.  They are just easier to work on period.

2.  A house on a slab.  When the wax ring around the toilet fails and when water gets splashed out of the tub, there is no wood to rot.  Also there is no water to collect under the house and grow mold.

3.  A smaller house.  Fewer people can live in a smaller house.  That means less wear and tear.  While a 2 bedroom house has a little more limited market when you sell, tenants usually don’t care if a house is 2 or 3 bedrooms.

4.  A simple roof line with not much of a pitch.   The fewer ridges and valleys the better.  Not only are they cheaper to replace, there are fewer places to get a leak.

Here are some things I try to avoid:

  1.  Basements.  They all have the potential to leak.
  2.  Sheds.  They are just one more thing to maintain and tenants usually leave you stuff they don’t want when they move out.
  3. Huge yards.  When they get out of control, it takes a lot of time to bring them back.
  4. Big garages.  I’m talking more than a regular two car garage.  Usually tenants who are attracted to a huge garage have a lot of stuff to store or hobbies that need the space.  Either one means you might need a dumpster when they move out.
  5. Fireplaces.  Do you really want somebody starting a fire in your house?

Now a lot of this is based on paying retail.  If you get a great deal on a house with a huge lot or a basement, take it.  A good deal can make up for potential future headaches.

My ideal house would be a smaller ranch on a slab built after 1960.  It would be 2-3 bedroom and have 1-2 baths.  A normal sized, flatter yard for good drainage.  On the lower end, no garage is okay.  If the house is worth more than about $150k, I would want a garage more for resale than to make a tenant happy.

 

 

Zillow, PLEASE stop doing this

Okay Zillow.  I can deal with you saying every house has a carport.  I can deal with your inaccurate Zestimates.  I can deal with you often messing up school districts.

What I can’t deal with though are the Pre-Foreclosure listings.

Why?  Because they ARE NOT FOR SALE!

Zillow, people see a house on your site and think it is for sale.  Why do you confuse the public and leave it to us agents to explain to our clients that the house you just posted is not for sale?

Here is what is going on with those Pre-Foreclosure listings.  The person who owns the house is far enough behind on their mortgage payments that the lender has filed a lawsuit.  As soon as that happens, Zillow posts it as a Pre-Foreclosure.  Since the person who owns the house is not the bank, you cannot go see it since it has not been foreclosed yet.

If the lawsuit goes the way the lender wants, the house will eventually be sold at the Master Commissioner’s sale.  The Master Commissioner is who is appointed by the court to sell the house.  Anybody with 10% down and proof of the remaining funds can go bid on the house.  You have to have the funds available.  You can’t go down there with 10% down and a preapproval letter for a mortgage.  You have to show proof that you have the balance of the money available.  You also can’t see the house.  You have to buy it without any type of inspection contingency.

There are two types of buyers at the Master Commissioner sale:  Investors and the Lender for the house.  Sometimes investors get the house.  Most of the time the lender buys the house.  Well, we call it a sale but in all reality what is happening is the money the lender pays for the house goes to settle the debt the seller owed them so they are getting it right back.  Picture a dollar getting pulled out of your left pocket and going into your right pocket.

If an investor buys it, most of them either flip it or rent it.  If the lender buys it, it eventually goes on the market for sale.  This time when you see it on Zillow, it will really be for sale….and it will probably say it has a carport.  And the Zestimate will be inaccurate.

How the terms of a contract benefit both parties

A buyer of mine just bought a house that was for sale by owner.  Nice sellers.  Nice house.  They have been very easy to work with so far.

Being unfamiliar with the contract that all the realtors in this area use, they did not like one part about the termite inspection.    It was the part that says the seller has to pay up to 1% of the sale price to repair termite damage if any is found.

They said they didn’t want to be on the hook for that much.  I get it.

However, this clause benefited the seller just as much as it did the buyer.

I’ve sold hundreds of houses and been involved in the inspections for all of them.  I have only seen 3 houses that had extensive termite damage.  All were in houses where the sellers had lived there for decades and never done a termite inspection.  It is pretty rare to  find termite damage.  Most of the time if there is any damage, it only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

Let’s say there is some termite damage at this house and my buyers decide they do not want the house any more.

In this case, the seller would have been very happy to say to the buyer “No, you can’t walk away from the sale.  The contract says you have to let me fix it and by golly, I am gonna fix it.”  The seller would want to use this clause in the contract to keep the sale together.

 

How will I know?

Sorry if I have that Whitney Huston song going through your head now.

Buying a house is stressful.  You don’t want to lose a house and at the same time, you don’t want to make the wrong decision.

Back before the market got so hot, I would tell people they know they have found the right house if they wake up the next morning afraid it is no longer available.

I haven’t said that in a very long time because usually, a good house is sold long before you ever get in bed to sleep on it.

While I can’t really give that advice any more, the principle is the same.  If you like the house enough that you don’t want to lose it, that is probably a good sign that it is the right one.

 

Some questions I occasionally like to ask when a buyer is unsure:

Can you see yourself waking up here every morning?

Can you see yourself tucking your kid in bed here?

Is there anything that is such a big turnoff to you that it would make you miserable living here?

Think about what your daily routine would look like in this house?

 

For most people, buying a house is an emotional decision.  Sure, there are basic parameters of size, location, etc.  Among all the houses that meet that general criteria, buyers pick the one that makes them feel the best.