How the market works when there is inventory

Now that we are back to having some inventory in our real estate market, I thought it would be a great time for a refresher on how the market works when there are actually houses for sale.

The recent past has shown that any house will sell fast when there are more buyers than sellers. When your choice is between whatever house in your price range hits the market or hoping the next one is better, people usually make an offer on the one for sale that day.

We are back to a normal market where Buyers have choices and this is how they make their decisions.

Simply put, they pick the best house on the market. Usually this is a house that is priced realistically, that is move in ready and is in the most desirable neighborhood within the Buyer’s price range. Then there is their second, third, fourth and so on choice.

Once that #1 pick house sells, then the #2 pick house becomes the top choice. Once the #2 house sells, then the 3rd pick becomes their 2nd choice. Once the…..well, you get how this works I am sure.

Sometimes what happens though is that a brand new listing hits the market and changes the ranking. If you have the #2 house and are excited to be the next house to sell, a house hitting the market that is better than your house means you will stay at #2 on any Buyer’s list. Sometimes winter is a good time to sell a house that has been the #2 or #3 house because we tend to see fewer new listings. Eventually your house rises to become the best choice in its price range.

The goal of you and your realtor is to make your house as competitive as possible so it ranks high on the list of Buyers. Sometimes it is as simple as rearranging furniture, doing a little updating, doing a few repairs that have been noticed during showings, or even a price reduction.

While we are discussing inventory here, I want you to know that in the coming months you will see headlines about the “Average days on Market” rising. Any time you have inventory, this will happen. It doesn’t mean that every house is harder to sell. There are still plenty of houses selling fast and even getting multiple offers. Those are all the #1 choice houses, the ones everybody wants. All the houses that are further down the list will stay on the market longer, waiting for price reductions or some other change to be made which will eventually lead to a sale. In the meanwhile, those houses will dilute the average days on the market statistics.

Some numbers that don’t matter

After 15 years in this biz, I’m finally going to drop my opinion on some numbers that don’t matter as much as people think they do…..Let’s go.

Average days on market: This is a snap shot to tell you exactly what it says, the average. If you are a seller, you only care about the days on market of one house, your own. While the average days on market can give you a snapshot of the overall market, there are soooo many variables that it really means nothing. The average days on market is tainted by several things. Thing 1 is that it includes the loser houses that stayed on the market forever. Thing 2 is that it includes new build to suit homes which show either zero days on market or were placed on the market before ground was broken.

Average sale price for all of Lexington or the entire state: You will often see data published that will say what the average sale price is for a specific town, state or even nationwide. Again, it’s just an average and is not at all useful to anybody for any purpose other than people who are writing an article about the real estate market. If more expensive houses are selling, guess what, the average goes up. If more cheaper houses are selling, it goes down. All you care about is your own house, right?

Average appreciation: You’ll read stuff like “The average home value increased by _% this year. That does not mean it is equally applied to every house. Some houses and neighborhoods did better than that, some did worse.

The exact square footage of a house: Sometimes I will encounter a seller who thinks his house is bigger than the PVA or an appraiser says it is. Often that difference is less than 100 square feet. Buyers tend to search within square footage ranges like 1500-2000, 2000-3000, over 3000 square feet, etc. If you have 2050 verses 2150 square feet it is not going to make any difference to a buyer. Which leads me into the next item.

Cost per square foot: This is again an average thing mostly used by people writing articles about the real estate market. The average person reads it and thinks it must be important. If it really mattered, then a very plain 2000 square foot home with ancient HVAC units and a roof that leaks would be worth exactly the same as a 2000 square foot, totally updated home that looks like something out of a magazine and has brand a new roof and HVAC units.

What the PVA says the house is worth: The tax assessor drives by every house every few years in their Toyota Prius, snaps a picture of the outside and places a value on the house for tax purposes. The value is just a number used to determine your tax bill. It is not the market value. They don’t go inside so they have no idea what it is like. Often, it can take years for a house to be reassessed. I bought a house in 2002 for $118,200 that I now rent out. The tax assessment was the purchase price until a neighbor sold in 2004. It then went to $135k. It stayed at $135k until 2018. During that 14 years, the market crashed, stabilized and took off again. The same house is now assessed at $153,300 and appraised earlier this year for $225k. (I hope nobody from the PVA follows my blog….shhhhhhh!)

The Zestimate: Is almost never correct. It’s a computer that takes in a lot of data without any wisdom about what makes a house worth more or less than other ones in the neighborhood. It’s sort of like the ultimate use of averaging data. Like the PVA, it can’t take into consideration things buyers factor into picking a house like colors, cleanliness, floor plan, shape of lot, slope of driveway, amount of natural light, number of trees, or a good or bad view. About the only time I have seen it be fairly accurate is in a newer subdivision where most of the houses are similar. The less variation in condition or updatedness, the easier it is to figure out a value because the value range is less broad. The more variation, the more you need an experienced realtor.

There you go. It feels so good to get this off my chest. I hope it helps you better understand the real estate market and how it impacts what is likely your biggest investment.