Why Zillow is selling homes for less than they paid

This may not be news to you, but Zillow got into the business of flipping homes in several larger metro areas. They recently stopped buying houses and are selling many of their homes for less than they paid for them.

If you read headlines or even worse, get on YouTube, you could conclude that the market is about to crash and Zillow knows it.

I don’t think that is why they are selling their homes for less than they paid for most of them.

I think they overpaid for them in the first place.

Zillow’s paper thin profit margins on these flipped homes was based on their data. I have always said you can’t argue with data. Data is always correct all the time. The conclusions drawn from data is not always correct though.

Their data told them what a house should be worth and they paid that for it. While I don’t know exactly what data they use, I imagine it is very similar to the data an appraiser would use such as general condition, square footage, features, etc. Once you have all that, you look at what houses have sold within a radius or within the same neighborhood, make adjustments for hard data differences and then whatever number is at the end of the equation is their Zestimate of value.

What Artificial Intelligence and computer algorithms cannot tell you though is what a buyer will like or dislike about a house. It cannot tell you that buyers tend to not like a backyard that slopes uphill. That they usually don’t like a steep driveway. That there are two Ball Home floor plans all over the Bluegrass that are same size and one of them always sells for more money. That there can be a huge value difference between two identical floor plans within the same neighborhood just due to where it is within the neighborhood. All of these things are subjective.

Zillow has been telling the public that they don’t need a Realtor any more. All you need is them. Sounds to me like Zillow could have used the local expertise that only an experienced realtor can provide.

Why I knew this house would come back on the market

I showed a house a couple of weeks ago.  It was a great house in a desirable location.  The price was sort of low for the neighborhood due to it being a bit outdated and having some expensive deferred maintenance items.

I told my people I thought it would need a new roof soon, that the disclosure said the HVAC units were original and we could clearly see the wood rotting on the windows.  I also told them that I didn’t think it was that good of a deal.  By the time you got all that addressed, you would have in it what a better one on the street was worth.  That’s just not worth it unless the property has some unique feature such as a fantastic lot or the perfect floor plan.

I gave all this feedback to the listing agent to help him out.  Within an hour or so, I saw that the house had sold.

I remember thinking to myself “I bet it will come back on the market after the home inspection.”  Sure enough, it came back on the market.

It is easy for most buyers to fall in love with a house only to be heartbroken by the end of the home inspection.   Most buyers don’t know how long a roof lasts, how long HVAC units usually last, how much windows will cost.  A lot of realtors out there don’t think about this either.

I can see the buyer for this house walking in for the home inspection, excited to again see what they were expecting to be their new home.  They have a big smile on their face.  The inspector begins reviewing the report.  The big smile is now a grin.  The inspector keeps going.  The grin turns into a blank expression.  The inspector gets to the end of the report and the buyers now have a frown.

Then the buyer has their agent write a huge repair list that the seller refuses to do.

It all ends with the buyer looking for a much better house and the seller hoping to find another buyer.

I try to prevent this outcome for my clients.  It wastes time, money and even more so, is emotionally draining for the buyer.

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.

5 crazy realtor experiences

Since real estate is slowing down a bit due to, well, you know why, I thought I would tell you about some of my adventures in real estate.

 

WHY I HAD TO WASH MY CAR WHEN I DROPPED OFF THIS CLIENT

I was working with this couple many years ago.  I would meet them at my office and then we would go see houses.  The strangest thing to me was that both of them would always ride in the backseat together.  So there I am up front all alone.  Front passenger seat empty like I am a chauffeur.  One day I picked them up.  The wife wasn’t feeling too good.  We left my office.  As I was coming to the first stop light, I hear the back door open.  She puked.  Since I had not come to a stop yet, the wind blew her uh, discharge, down the side of my car.  They decided to hold off on buying a house after that.  I found out later that they bought with another realtor, probably because she was too embarrassed to see me again.  So I lost a sale and had to wash somebody else’s puke off my car.  Nice.

TALKING THROUGH THE WALLS

My client told me they were going to be a little late.  I had consumed several cups of coffee that morning and really had to use the restroom.  I saw an opportunity since my client would be late.  I went inside the house, right at the time of the appointment.  As I was using the restroom, I hear a voice asking if somebody is in the house.  LOL, it was the seller.  He had not left yet.  He was in the bathroom on the other side of the wall.  He got done and left.  I never saw him.  Heck, I didn’t WANT to see him.  Minutes later my client showed up.

WEARING DIFFERENT SHOES

For a while, I had two of the same pair of sandals.  One was leather and the other was suede.  I kept them both in the hall closet at my house.  On my way to show a house to a client, I put my feet in the closet and put a shoe on each foot.  It wasn’t until I got to the house that I realized that I had on one leather one and one suede sandal.  I no longer buy different types of sandals.

THE TOOTING SHOES

Probably back in about 2009ish, I had a really comfortable pair of sandals that I loved.  The only thing I didn’t love about them is that every once in a while, at what always seemed like the most inopportune time, I would take a step and they would make a tooting (okay, farting) sound.  I think it was the sound of my heel coming off of the sole of the sandal as I walked.  I never knew what to do when this happened.  The first several times I would try to make it do it again, as if somehow that would proof that I didn’t…..you know.  It would never do it twice in a row.  It didn’t take too many of those embarrassing moments before I decided to throw them away and get a new pair.

NO THANKS ON THE COFFEE

When I was a newer agent, I had this great idea to go after for sale by owner listings.  I dropped off hundreds of fliers and only got one response.  I went to the house to meet the lady.  Her dog almost bit me.  She offered me some coffee.  I told her I loved coffee.  It was the most terrible, sour tasting coffee I have ever had.  I think she kept using old grounds to make new coffee.  Well, she of course decided to let me list her house.  When I came back for her to sign the documents (this was before we did it electronically), her dog almost bit me again.  As soon as we sat down, she says “I remembered you said you loved coffee, so I made you a pot.”  To this day she probably wonders how she saw me drink it but emptied a full cup when I left.  It was because I was just putting my lips on the rim of the cup.  We finally sold her house.  I could dedicate an entire post just to that sale.

Honorable mentions are all the times I have gone to closings or shown houses with my zipper down.  I think I once had a T-Shirt on inside out.

I have others of course, but I hope this takes your mind off of the state of the world and puts a smile on your face.

What’s this doing to the market?

Not a lot so far.

Everything is a bit slower, but my listings are still getting shown and there seem to still be houses getting listed and selling every day.

Some of my buyers are laying low to see how this goes and for how long it lasts.

I’ve been reading a few articles that have said this could be like the Great Recession where real estate prices fell.  It won’t be.  Why?  We still have a shortage of houses for sale.  That will keep prices where they are.  Think of it this way:  If there are 1000 houses for sale and 1100 buyers, it is really the same as having 100 houses for sale and 110 buyers.  Supply and demand are the same.  As long as there are more buyers than sellers, prices will stay stable.

If you are a Buyer:

Don’t be afraid to buy.  Take advantage of great interest rates.  Negotiate the best price you can.  As I have always recommended, buy a house that will be easy to sell in any market.  That means a good location, a good floor plan, as flat of a yard as possible, average or better than average performing schools.  Don’t buy the biggest or smallest house in the neighborhood.  Don’t buy one that doesn’t fit in with the others such as having a one car garage when every other house in the neighborhood has a two car garage.

If you are a Seller:

I would put my house on the market as soon as possible.  In uncertain times, taking action now to prepare for the worst is always good.  I think I might put a new listing on the market on a Friday afternoon and only allow showings on the weekends.  That way you get the most people in all at once and can then clean things like your door handles, counter tops, faucet handles, garage door opener button afterwards and feel good about being home again…..and take your toilet paper with you when you leave for showings, lol.