Something more important than location?

Yeah yeah yeah.  We’ve all been told by real estate professionals for years that the single most important thing when picking a house is it’s location.  I’m telling you right now that there is something even more critical than that.

Let me tell you a few things about location first.  It’s subjective.  People pick where they want to live for lots of reasons:  Proximity to main roads, their job, schools, parks, low crime, etc.  It’s always a compromise too.  One buyer may be willing to be far from parks if their kid can be in a better rated school.  Another buyer may be willing to put up with a higher crime rate if it is super close to their job…..so, one person’s great location may not be as great to other buyers.  Also, locations are sort of price dependent.  What is considered a good location for somebody with a $100k budget will definitely be a bad location for a $400k buyer.

What do ALL buyers have in common though when picking a house?  They all want as good of a lot as they can get.  In all 15 years of my career, I have never had somebody say they wanted a house that backed to a busy road, had a steep driveway, lacked privacy or had a backyard that was unusable due to a slope.

Why is the lot so important?  For starters, it is often a buyers first impression.  If a buyer tries to pull in the driveway and their car scrapes the pavement, bad sign.  If they are out of breath before they get to the front door, bad sign.  If they step out of their car and can hear New Circle Road or the Interstate that is behind the house, bad sign.  Additionally, the lot affects just about anything you do with the property.

What should you look for in a lot?

  1.  As flat as possible is the biggest thing around here.  Lexington is pretty flat.  The severely sloping lot is unusual here.  Go to Richmond or parts of Scott County and it is more common.  For what’s it is worth, nobody has ever told me they didn’t like a house I showed them because the lot was too flat.
  2. A nice view is always a plus.  If you can’t get a good view, then no view at all is safe.  We don’t have a lot of greenspace views and even fewer water views in Lexington.  It is totally okay to just have a flat backyard that backs to other houses.  I would avoid backing to anything than other houses, such as businesses, apartments or a road…..and ideally it backs to houses that are equal or higher in value than the one you’re viewing.
  3.  Get a lot size and shape that is normal for the neighborhood.  If you are looking at a house that has a tiny or oddly shaped lot unlike any other in the neighborhood, don’t buy it.  The same doesn’t always apply for lots that are bigger.  Most of the time the biggest lot in the neighborhood is the most desirable unless it is in a neighborhood where the most likely buyer will be a retiree or somebody downsizing to get away from a lot of maintenance.
  4.  I would avoid a corner lot if possible.  There are a few buyers who prefer a corner lot but most people view them as twice as much sidewalk to deal with.  Plus, most neighborhoods only allow you to fence a corner lot from the rear edge of the house, meaning that you have much less space if you want to fence it in.  (I’ve got a good friend who looooves his corner lot and will likely find out I said this…..sorry Peter!)

Want to know my absolute favorite thing about getting a good lot?  It never needs updating and never goes out of style.

 

Is it time?

I’ve been saying for several years that people don’t have much of a reason to move.

Yeah, everybody knows they can sell their house fast but where would they go?  Everybody knows their house is worth a lot more than it was a few years ago but so is the house they’d want to buy.   And then there are the interest rates.  It is sort of hard to think about giving up your 3.25-3.75% rate and signing off on a new loan at 4.25-4.5%….even though I remember bragging about my 6.5% rate on my first house when all my friends were paying 7.25%.

Rates are back under 4% now.

I am thinking that we might start seeing more houses come on the market as people move on to bigger and better things.  If there is one thing I know about real estate in America, it is that we all love to move to a bigger and/or better home.  I mean, as soon as the economy picked up after the Great Recession, we flipped from a Buyer’s Market to a Seller’s Market overnight as people felt comfortable to buy the home they had been wanting for a while.

If that happens in the next few months, the headlines will read that it is a seller’s market fueled by the threat of a recession, but you and I will know the real reason.  It’s the rates.

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.

 

 

Why buy a house when you can rent?

Now that the market is becoming balanced, I am seeing a lot of articles predicting doom and gloom for real estate.  I get it, nobody wants to read an article that says “The real estate market is about to become boring because it will neither be a seller’s market nor a buyer’s market”.  They’ve got to go to an extreme to get and keep your attention.  I am seeing lots of articles telling people that their home is not an investment.  I’ve even seen some articles suggesting people continue to rent and get into the stock market instead of buying a home.

Which might be good advice if you were going to live in your car, or with your parents the rest of your life.  Sure, you might come out ahead over the long haul, but the reality is you will have to pay to live somewhere, may as well pay to live in your own house.

Why did I want to buy my first house as soon as I could save the down payment?

I used to mow lawns for a lot of elderly people.  I would always enjoy them telling me what they paid for their houses 30-40 years ago and what their mortgage payment was.  I had one little old lady who told me her mortgage was $163 a month and some months it was hard to pay it.

When it was new, her house might have rented for about the same amount.  Do you think rent prices have gone up since the mid 1960s?  Meanwhile, that little old lady paid $163 a month until the house was paid off. (Okay, I am sure her property taxes and insurance went up, but not by that much.)  And when she made her last $163 payment, do you know what she did the next month?  Nothing.  There were no more payments to make (Okay again, she would still have taxes and insurance to pay but both of those expenses would be FAR less than what the house would rent for at that time.)

Let’s take a look at what happens when this little old lady moves out of her house.  She pays a real estate commission and gets to keep the rest because there is no mortgage.

What if she had rented a house that whole time and moved?  She would have paid off the house for the landlord and had nothing to show for it.

I think owning your home is the best decision you can make.

The worst house to buy

Want to know the house to stay away from?

It’s the one that has had the same owner for many decades and has never had anything major done to it the entire time.

How do I know this?  I own two of them.

I sometimes stumble across a deal that I can fix up and rent out.  The ones that I have spent the most on are the ones that fit this profile.

Most of the time, there isn’t much you can save.  I usually end up replacing windows, the roof, the furnace, air conditioner, water heater and all the appliances.  Often the kitchen and bathrooms are worn out enough that I end up having to start all over, even though I prefer to keep as much of the original character as I can.

A lot of these houses were built in the 50s and 60s.  Houses from that era are arguably the best built houses ever……I can tell by how hard it is to do any demo work.  Most have bathrooms with lots of ceramic tile.  The kind that goes half way up all the walls.  Only once have I ever been able to keep the tile.  Most of the time there is a really bad section and it can’t be saved, or the vanity needs replaced, but the tile is all around it.  To replace the vanity you end up having to take off the tile and it forces a pretty big renovation.

It’s all worked out pretty well for me, but I was just thinking about how these type of houses are the ones that I am always over budget because they are like that “If you give a mouse a cookie” book where you do one thing that leads to another action, then something else, and so on.

These type of houses appear to be a real bargain to most buyers.  They are usually in pretty cool older areas with big trees.  They have character.  If they are decorated right, they look nice too.  It is only when you do a home inspection that you realize that while nothing is catastrophically wrong with the house, almost EVERYTHING needs some attention, and that attention costs a lot of money.