The first house you buy is the most important one ever

First time buyers.  I’ve been working with a few of them lately.

Most first time buyers are thinking about finding a place they like.

I like to show them that their first house is so much more than that.

Every house you are ever going to own is impacted by that first one.

It is really the most important house you are ever going to purchase.

Why?

Because eventually you will sell that first house.  How well of an investment it turned out to be will impact how much money you have to put down on your next house.  It just keeps going until you are middle aged and in your forever home.  You know, the one you sell to help fund your retirement when you downsize to a cheaper home.

My dad called this compounding.  He was mainly referring to interest when he was teaching me this stuff in middle school, but it applies to real estate too.

It really reminds me more of bowling though.  To get a strike, you don’t knock down every pin with the ball.  You just hit one of them right and the pins begin to knock down the remaining pins.

Reading the real estate market in real time

One day this summer, I looked out across my backyard.  I do that every day.  All the time.  I love my backyard.

This time I noticed one of the pine trees in the corner had a bunch of brown needles on it.

I immediately reached out to my buddy Phil who knows just about everything there is to know about every plant there is.

He told me that usually once you see the needles turn brown, the tree is already dead.

I knew he knew what he was talking about, but just to be sure, I waited to cut it down until every needle had turned brown, fallen to the ground, and the branches snapped as crisply as the first Saltine cracker in the box.

That experience reminds me of the real estate market.  You never know exactly where the market is at the moment.  You just see the signs after the change occurred.

I got into real estate during the spring of 2005.  My first listing was in May.  I was so excited.  Houses had been selling for top dollar immediately.  I wanted to be a part of that.  The house took several months to sell.  I remember thinking, even as a newbie, that the house was priced right, had a good location, and statistically should have sold already.

Nobody knew it at that time, but the market was slowing down and was about to become the worst market in recent history.

After weathering that storm, I got to witness another change.  Early in 2013.  It felt like that first decent day in spring.  The one where you notice the sun stays up a little longer, you didn’t feel as cold as the day before.  Like that scene in Bambie where all the animals come out for the first time.

I was working with a really cool buyer named John.  He traded cars as often as I do.  He wanted the south end of town in an affordable price range.  We made a few offers on houses and lost them.  The offers we made were spot on within the recent comparable sales.  After the 3rd time, I told him that I felt like the market was improving, so all the sale prices for the recent comparable sales were going to be lower than what the value would be now.  We would have to made an adjustment.  Sure enough, as the ones we had made offers on closed, the prices were about 2% higher than the comps I had been using.  Meanwhile,  we had a backup offer on a foreclosure that he ended up getting.  He put very little money in that house and less than 6 months later we sold it for $41k more than he had paid for it.  By the time he sold it, everybody knew the market had changed.  The market had changed so much that even after the house sold, people were walking up and looking in the windows while he was home.  I told him to pull my for sale sign out of the yard and keep it in the garage until we closed.

So, where are we right now?  After such a hot hot hot market earlier this year, the market is really slow.  I don’t think it is in trouble or anything.  I just suspect that everybody who was going to buy this year did so in the first 10 months.  It has been a frustrating year for buyers.  I think a lot of them have given up on buying this year and are waiting until spring.  Sellers aren’t too happy right now either.  They have watched all their neighbors get multiple offers the first day on the market, but now they aren’t seeing the same thing happen with their house.

So, right now is a great time to get out and buy a house if you can find one you like.  We still don’t have a lot of choices, but you’re going to have more of a chance to negotiate and probably be the only offer the seller has on the table.  Historically, buyers come out of hibernation late spring and sellers start putting their houses on the market about a month later.  So you’ve only got about 8 weeks to enjoy this slow period.

The more of these changes I live through, the easier it becomes to notice them more quickly.

And now the same holds true for the trees in my backyard.

 

The hardest houses to sell

I’ve been at this for a long time.  I’ve sold a lot of houses.  In a good market.  In a bad market.  In Lexington.  Outside of Lexington.  In neighborhoods.  In the country.

Want to know the houses that are the absolute hardest to sell?

The ones that are partially updated.

Why?

You would think that a buyer would view a house that has some parts really nice to be a big bonus.  They don’t.  The nice part of the house just makes the rest of the house look worse to a buyer.  Too much contrast between the nice and the average bits of the house.

Who comes to see these houses?

  1.  The buyer who sees the nice new stuff in the pictures.  They get excited but almost always say that the rest of the house needs too much work.
  2. The buyer who see the part of the house that needs updated.  They get excited because they want to renovate the rest of the house, but not give any credit for the work that has been done……meaning they want it for free.
  3.  All the other buyers who come mainly because it meets some or all of their search criteria.  They don’t buy it because they say it needs too much work.

What you have to do with a house like this is try to make the non-updated bits look as good as possible.  You want to minimize that contrast.  You don’t want the buyer to walk in one room and be unhappy, then walk in the next and fall in love, then walk in the next and be unhappy.  The goal is to make them at least feel neutral, then love, then neutral as they walk through the house.  Less contrast is good.

You also have to really emphasis the other features of the house, hoping that the right buyer will see all the other pluses and feel like they can live with the house like it is or take on the updating.  If the house is the best bargain in the neighborhood, walking distance to trendy places, has a park nearby, a desirable school district, is the most square footage for the money…..whatever the house excels at, and all houses have something unique, that is what you want to emphasize.  Anybody looking for one or more of those unique features is usually the one who buys the house.  Why?  Because they don’t have as many choices

What do you really want in a house?

I’ve lived in my house for just over 5 years.

My biggest complaints?  I don’t have taller ceilings and I don’t have a lot of natural light.

What do I like about it?  I’ve got lots of space.  We have some empty cabinets and are no where near running out of room to store stuff.  I’ve got more than average room to park cars.  I’ve got a big lot with a lot of trees.  I like that I sit sort of high on my street and have some open space I can see between and over my neighbor’s houses.

I also like that the master bedroom is upstairs.  I don’t like it when the master is on the main level and is right off of a living space.  I like to feel like I am tucked in far away from any possible noise or distraction when I go to bed.

I find myself always looking out the windows.  I love watching the wind move tree branches.  It is like the trees are dancing.  I’ve got several peekaboo views of a golf course and a pond.

I like that I am on a dead end street about as deep in my neighborhood as possible.  It is very peaceful except when the dogs behind me are barking.

The funny thing about all this is that none of my favorite things about this house were part of the criteria for the search.

Like a lot of buyers, I based my search on logical things:  Bedroom count, square footage, part of town and price range.

I got some bonus things that were not part of that criteria.  I compromised on some things too….like my 8 foot ceilings and lack of natural light due to all the amazing trees that block the sun.

Being a realtor for over 12 years, I know that often the logical criteria gets thrown out the window when a buyer sees a house that triggers something emotionally for them.

For me, I was willing to compromise as soon as I pulled up to the house and saw the landscaping and the wide front lawn.  We were willing to do some updating after we saw the fireplace on the covered patio and all the trees in the backyard.  (We are still willing to do updating….meaning it hasn’t happened yet, haha!)

Almost all my buyers end up buying a house that is slightly different from the logical criteria they tell me they want.  And that is okay.  It’s all about finding a place you love.  Sometimes you don’t know what features you will fall in love with until you see them.

Why isn’t that house selling? I thought it was a HOT market?

You’d think in a time where there are not a lot of houses on the market, buyers would be less picky.

Not the case at all.

Back when the market and economy were bad, few people were updating or renovating their homes.  I mean, why would they when they didn’t know if they were going to remain gainfully employed as they watched the value of their home decrease?

Flash forward a few years and people are feeling great about the economy, home values have gone up, all is swell.  After all those years of watching HGTV, it’s time to pull out some cash on a refi or HELOC and spend spend spend.

Not so long ago, most of the houses for sale were just very ho-hum.

Now it seems like most of the houses I show have been updated or extensively renovated…..cooler, lighter colors, lots of white cabinets.  Marble and quartz have replaced granite.

So where does that leave the house that needs paint, flooring, has too much travertine or has that Tuscan vibe that was so popular earlier this century?  It leaves them sitting on the market, collecting dust each and every day as they get overlooked online.  The ones in more desirable neighborhoods do better because a good location can make a buyer more forgiving.

You’d think in a time where there are not a lot of houses on the market, buyers would be less picky.

Not the case at all.