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.

What happens when we do see more houses for sale?

I read a lot of news about real estate. It is always a little funny to me to see what people who are not realtors have to say about the market. There are two things that I have read this week that have me rolling my eyes.

The first one is the headlines about how the number of sales have been declining. Gee, that’s just what happens when there are so few houses for sale. This does NOT mean that buyers are deciding not to buy a house. It means that they can’t get a house.

The other one is that it seems there is a projection that we should have more houses for sale later this year than we have in a long time. That would be great but let me tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that prices are going to drop. They might stabilize prices a bit but when a hot new listing in Lexington can easily get 15 offers, we would need 15 times the listings for a balanced market. There is going to be more buyers than houses for a while.

A lot of the people who are fantasizing about what that market might look like are not old enough to have lived through the housing crash during The Great Recession. Back then we had more houses for sale than ever and do you know what? The best houses still sold fast and often in multiple offers. Do you know why? It is because everybody wants the best house in their price range. We could triple the number of houses for sale today and it wouldn’t change much. What would happen would be that the best houses sell fast and for top dollar while every other house languishes on the market. This flood of new inventory does not mean that every buyer will be able to get their ideal home.

A pleasant surprise this morning

Like always, I woke up, made a cup of coffee and checked out the new listings. I saw what prices got reduced, then viewed the pending and sold listings. Pretty routine. Lately it takes about 30 seconds to go through the 15-25 new listings every morning.

Today I woke up to more new listings than I have seen in a while. Many of them were under $200k!

I am really hoping this is the beginning of a new trend. There has been speculation that a lot of sellers were holding off on listing there homes until COVID got under control and they felt okay about letting people in their homes. Today might have been the first day of that.

I am starting to hear from a lot of sellers that it might be a good time to sell their homes. Of course, it has been for a long time. However, when many sellers feel like prices have gotten crazy and decide to cash out, it could mean a shift in the market a little. While I think it will remain a Seller’s Market for quite a long time, I totally welcome a more balanced market. It is good for everybody.

Or it could just be that it is the first big spring day when all the sellers begin to put their homes on the market. Sellers usually need the first couple of warm weekends to spruce up their yards before listing.

We’ll see how the next few weeks pan out. All I know is that it got me excited to think about so many new listings hitting the market!!

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.

Always think about selling in a Buyer’s Market

I am always sad when I see a house sell that has been sitting on the market forever.

Sometimes a house will stay on the market for a long time because the initial listing price was too high, or the house didn’t show well.  Both of those can happen to perfectly good homes.  The reason those don’t sell is because of the seller, not the house.  Often these houses sell once the list price gets reduced into the realm of reality, or the seller does some cosmetic repairs that make it easier for a buyer to want the house.

Any time I show a house like this, my client usually asks me why the house hasn’t sold yet.  If I check the listing history and see that they started out asking a crazy high price and have reduced it, I tell them it is okay to buy it.  If I look through old pictures or see fresh paint, new flooring, etc, I tell them it is okay to buy the house.  Sometimes sellers just need to learn how the market works at the expense of their days on market.

Then there are those houses that don’t sell because of the property itself.  Those are the ones that I advise my clients to not buy.  These houses usually have some odd feature like a crazy floor plan, a poorly done addition, a neighbor whose yard is full of junk or has a dozen dog kennels in their backyard, the house backs to commercial or industrial zoned properties, etc.  These houses eventually sell to somebody who doesn’t mind that particular negative.  Whenever I show one of these houses, I like to tell my client that while they might not mind the negative feature that has kept the house from selling, it will be extremely difficult for them to sell it when it is their turn.   The past 8 years have been a pretty strong Seller’s Market.  If a house took a long time to sell in a hot market, can you imagine how long it would take in a Buyer’s Market?

I have lived through lots of markets.  I have seen seller’s who paid too much in a hot market lose money when they needed to sell.  I have seen people get their dream job and move out of town, only to have to make two mortgage payments until their old house sells.  I have seen people who felt lucky to have gotten their house in multiple offers struggle to sell it in a Buyer’s Market.

I don’t want to see any of my clients go through any of this.  In real estate, you often don’t see the consequences of a mistake until years later when you go to sell.  Helping people avoid this mess is one of the greatest joys of my career.