Want to know where the market is, TODAY?

I like to do these market updates every once in a while. When I do, I do them in real time. What do I mean by that? I meant that the info is right now. Most of the time when you are hearing about the real estate market, it is from sources that are a month or more behind, or it is from a national source that is giving you a dated snapshot of the market for the entire country. My data is taken from the MLS in the past 20 minutes and is specifically for the Bluegrass area.

I won’t geek out and break down all this data into price range, which town, or property type, but there were 24 existing home sales that went pending in the past 24 hours. Do you want to guess how many of them sold within 2 days of being listed? You would think it would be all of them based on what your realtor friends post online, or what you read in the news. But, of those 24 houses, only 4 of them sold in less than 2 days. There were 8 that sold between 2 and 10 days. 4 sold between 11 and 30 days. 4 sold between 31 and 60 days. And 4 sold between 61 and 90 days on the market.

Let’s look at the houses that closed in the past 24 hours. While pending sales give us a snapshot of what the market is doing right now, freshly closed sales give us a snapshot of where the market was a month ago since it usually takes 30 days or so to close.

How many of the closed sales do you think got full price, or over full price offers when these sales went pending last month? Again, you would assume all of them, right? Of the 23 closed sales posted today, only 8 of them sold for the full list price. 5 sold for over the asking price. One sold for $10k over the list price in a neighborhood where I have seen this happen frequently. That means 10 of the closed sales went for LESS than the full asking price.

I could go a lot of ways with this blog post, but I think I will take this chance to say that you really need an agent that knows when you need to offer the full price, when you need to go over the list price, and when you can make an offer for less than the list price. The market is so fast right now that I think a lot of buyer’s realtors are not looking at comparable sales in the neighborhood. They are just so focused on getting an offer in fast that they don’t really take the time to figure out what the house is really worth. To me, that is the most important bit of info we have to offer a client. I have had many listings in the past year where I had a ton of showings and didn’t get an offer on the first day on the market. Then the next day a realtor is frantically trying to reach me saying they are about to send a full price offer and are so glad the house is still available. Well, if I had 12 buyers look at the listing and didn’t get an offer, truth be told the house probably wasn’t worth the list price……but I am not going to tell the buyer’s realtor that, I just tell them where to send the offer.

That’s the data. I am by no means saying the market is slowing down. It is after all the middle of winter which is usually the slowest time of the year. I do think the market will stay strong for quite some time. I just wanted you all to know that not every house sells the first day on the market for full price or more. I want to help separate the perception of what the market is like compared to the reality.

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.

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.

Can’t find a home in your price range?

You know what happens when you can’t find anything in your price range? You usually start looking above your price range. Can’t find anything around $300k? Then look up to $325k, then $350k, etc. You usually find something you like.

I recently had something happen that was a little mind blowing.

I personally have been on a casual search for a place in the country. I’m pretty picky. I wanted a great view and lots of wooded area so I wouldn’t have to mow it all. I also wanted huge garages so all my cars can live together instead of having them scattered all over. I started out at the price point I wanted. Then upped it. Then upped it some more. Before long, I had almost doubled the initial price range. Still nothing.

Then one day I get a call from somebody who was referred to me from a past client. They had 15 acres in Clark Co. I go to see the place. I look at the recent sales and give them a number for what I think is market value.

While I am viewing their house to list it, I keep thinking things like:

“Why can’t I find a view like this?”

“Why can’t I find huge garages like this place has?”

“Why can’t I find a place with woods on 3 sides?”

“Why can’t I find a small one level home like this one has?”

After all, I have been looking at properties that were nearly 3 times the value of this one.

Later that week, I started thinking about this place again. How much I loved the view. How the huge garages are already there. How the home was the right size. Just about every house I had seen had a huge McMansion on it and I don’t want fancy and I don’t want that much to clean. I want to leave the McMansion I have now.

Then I asked myself “Why don’t I buy this place?”

And I did.

So, when you can’t find something in your price range, try looking below your price range. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you can find something you love for less than you were planning on spending.

The worst part of being a Realtor

I bet you are thinking I am going to talk about being on call 24/7 and other things realtors complain about.

Not quite.

To me, the worst part of being a realtor is seeing your client make a mistake you know they will regret later.  It is easy to do.  I mean, no buyer or seller really know the market like a realtor.  They only know what they read in the paper or hear their friends discuss.  Often buyers and sellers don’t totally trust their agent.  I recently told a client a truth about our market.  This client said none of her friends believed me.  I asked if any of them had recently sold a house in our area.  None of them had.

Here are the biggest ways clients can make a mistake:

Buyers:  There is nothing worse for a buyer than the first house they see being the most totally amazing house that has come on the market all year.  When this happens, buyers often assume every house is just as good.  They often decide to wait for a better one.  When they do this, they quickly realize the house they passed on was so much better than the other houses in their price range.  I dread it when this happens because I know that the buyer is thinking I am just trying to get them to buy the first house they see to make it easy on myself.

Another big buyer mistake is wanting to negotiate in multiple offers.  I often have buyers tell me they want to come in low and let the seller counter.  I tell them that if they had two offers, and one of them was lower than the other, which one would you counter if you were even going to counter at all?  When you are in multiple offers and you make the weakest offer the seller got, they simply do not counter your offer, even if your agent tells their realtor you are open to a counter.  I mean, they already have other offers that are better than your offer, they have no need to counter.  Always come in with your best offer in multiple offers because  you only get one chance at getting the house.

Sellers:  I feel for sellers.  I think they have it the worst.  I mean, they see in the news that prices are going up.  They know their neighbor got 5 offers the first day on the market.  They see what their Zestimate is on Zillow.  They often think their house is worth more than it is.  Like in any market, the most you can get out of a house is what a buyer will pay.   You can never get more than market value for your house.  It is just in a hot seller’s market, you might have 5 people all willing to pay market value for your house instead of hoping and praying that just 1 buyer will in a buyer’s market.

When a seller overprices their house, they lose the frenzy of having more than one buyer wanting their house.  When a house hits the market, all the buyers in that price range rush out to see it.  Buyers are afraid of losing it.  Once the house has been on the market for a bit, buyers are no longer afraid of losing the house, so they make less than full price offers.

Sometimes a seller will think the realtor isn’t doing enough to market the house.  Exposure is never a problem these days.  Houses get thousands of views on just zillow.  Once a house is listed you can google the address and see several pages of places the listing can be found.  There is no way there is a buyer out there for a specific house who does not know it is available unless they don’t have internet or don’t have a realtor.

So, those are some of the worst parts of being a realtor.  The 24/7 thing is something you get used to after a while.