Things to remember in a slowing market

Yea, the market is slowing down. Everybody knows that. No big deal. That crazy roller coaster market couldn’t last forever and I’m sort of glad really. It will still be a good market for years to come, but it will seem like a let down compared to the last couple of years.

Here are some things to remember as you process the Doom and Gloom news cycle real estate is in at the moment.

  1. The “Average Days on Market” will be going up. Don’t be alarmed. Usually the way that works is that the worst houses that nobody wants stay on the market longer and bring down that average. Also, keep in mind that average is usually for all residential property types in all price ranges. If you have a $350k house, do you really care about what the market is like for a million dollar home? Or a townhouse at any price?
  2. The “Average Sale Price” is another one that can confuse people. An average is just that-it’s an average of all sales. If house sales over $500k slow down a lot, it will drag down the average sale price. This does NOT mean your house is worth less when you read silly headlines that say stuff like “The average sale price dropped by 2% last month.” When rates got super low, I saw more houses selling for $1,000,000 or more than I have ever seen. Now that rates are much higher, I totally expect to see sales at that price point slow way down, bringing down the average sale price.
  3. Values may stay flat after going crazy for the past two years, but prices will still go up. I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out. Let’s say you bought a house a year ago for $400k and we have had 8% inflation since then. Your house needs to sell for $432k today for you to have effectively broken even. That’s because it takes 432,000 of today’s deflated dollars to equal 400,000 of dollars a year ago. In other words, the price of your house has to be higher even if it got zero percent appreciation just because the value of the dollar has eroded. (This is a whole other post, but one reason prices have risen so much over the past year is because we saw massive appreciation and massive inflation. If prices went up 15% and inflation was 8% of that, then that means the real appreciation was 7%.)

I started my career just as the Great Recession began. I saw most houses in our area drop in value by 15-20%. I know to a lot of people, this market seems scary. Trust me, it isn’t. All that’s going to happen is that we have a more balanced market. It will be a good, but not the greatest time in history, to be a seller. It will also be good to be a buyer because you will be able to get a house that should be a stable investment for your future.

Who is the most important person in your renovation?

It’s not your contractor. It’s not your designer.

It’s your realtor.

Why?

Because one day you’re gonna want to sell your home. You will want all that time and money you spent on the renovation to have added value. Having a great designer and using the best contractors are wonderful things to do, but only your realtor will know if the work you’ve done added value. And let me tell you, NOTHING you do to your house will get a 100% return on your investment.

Here are some things to think about as you plan a renovation:

  1. Don’t over improve. If you live in a half million dollar neighborhood, don’t pick million dollar neighborhood materials. Yes, buyers will love the unexpected upgrade but you will be effectively giving it to them for free. Always keep the level of materials suitable to what people expect for the price range of the neighborhood.
  2. Don’t add too much square footage. I have seen some crazy additions where people end up with the biggest home in the neighborhood. That’s never a good idea. The buyers that want such a big house will probably want to be in a house surrounded by similar sized homes. The people wanting to be in your neighborhood probably aren’t going to want to pay you top dollar for the extra square footage. Also, appraisers usually give credit for square footage tiered to the price range. That means the more affordable your neighborhood is, the less an appraiser is going to value your excess square footage because they will be using recent sales from the neighborhood for comparisons.
  3. Don’t make crazy compromises. I have seen some wonderful additions but due to the existing floor plan of the house, you have to do something crazy like walk through a laundry room to get to the amazing new space. Buyers don’t like that. Yes, you’ve gotten used to it and it works for you but it will be a deal breaker to a buyer. The flow of the addition is very important.

The bottom line is that you want your house to still fit the character, size and price range of your neighborhood. Be sure to go over your plans with your realtor before committing to the job.

Being a realtor isn’t about houses

You’d think being a realtor would mostly be about houses, but it is really about relationships.

One of the things I am the most proud of is how many of my clients have used me multiple times. I always look forward to working with them over and over again. Since I have become friends with most of my clients, it doesn’t even feel like work.

Part of this relationship can sometimes be about keeping secrets. People often move when their life changes. I am often the first to know about a marriage proposal, job promotion, pregnancy. I am also sometimes the first to know about the less fun life events like a job loss, divorce and even a death.

I get lots of texts or calls about renovations. I’ve had people standing in the flooring isle at Lowe’s and asking me which floor will add the most value to their home. If you’re wondering, I usually tell people that if you think you’ll be in your house for more than 5 years, get whatever you want since styles will change and it won’t be brand new by then. If you think you might be there for less than 5 years, lets go with something buyers will like.

I get asked for contractor referrals a lot. This has gotten harder and harder to do since nobody seems to want to work any more. I recently had somebody who seemed promising at first and turned out to be a total loser. I am thankful that I have found a great handyman who was actually referred to me from a client. That doesn’t happen often! My HVAC person has faithfully been serving my clients and me for 13 years. Everybody loves him.

I get asked “What’s my house worth?” Sometimes people want to move. Sometimes they are considering refinancing and need to first know a number to see if it is worth it. Sometimes people just want to know how much equity they have in their house. Occasionally people have me over just to see their home after a renovation. It is always nice to get to see them, their home and have a cup of coffee with them.

Being a realtor is really a lifestyle. Yeah, its a business. It’s a job. But it is really about getting to know people and helping them any time they need something. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

What to expect from me for the next 17 years

It feels so strange to think about how real estate has changed over the course of my 17 year career.

Back when I was a newbie, agents hung around the office. We had like 14 phone numbers on our cards and one of them was a fax number. We dressed up….well, others did. I wore shorts year round back then. We licked the back of stamps and mailed people silly stuff like calendars. I did it once but thought it was pointless. All I’ve ever done is Christmas cards.

Then the PDF came along and changed it all. It was so much easier than a fax. There was nothing and I mean NOTHING worse than getting a fax from somebody that was illegible after several rounds of counter offers. Then electronic signature programs made it even better.

The biggest change has been to everything being online and consumer driven. When I got into this, many old school realtors back then didn’t realize that being online meant they were dealing with the public. The MLS had mostly been just for realtors. Before computers, they had books that came out once a week with listings. Since space was limited, you got stuff like “Cute 3/2 on unfin, dining room chandelier does not convey. Lockbox on backdoor.” A lot of realtors were putting that in the marketing remarks still. Also, there was one tiny black and white picture of the outside.

While so much has changed, some things remain the same. At the core, this business is really about people more than about sales or houses. It’s about helping and advising people on something that most people think they know a lot about but don’t really. I often describe my job as “Talking people into good decisions and talking them out of bad ones.”

I’ve probably got at least another 17 years left of my career. The trendy things (like the short lived QR codes) will come and go since the next generation always wants to reinvent the wheel, but I am sure that the core of this business will remain the same. I will be talking people into making good decisions and talking them out of bad ones and I will still be wearing shorts (at least on warm days).

Don’t believe the Chicken Littles in the media

I love YouTubers. Always a good laugh. Always predicting the market is going to crash.

They get a little nugget of data, like that the number of people refinancing their mortgages has dropped and draw the craziest conclusions. Well, when rates were between 2 and 3%, everybody rushed out to refi. Even if the rates had not gone up, eventually everybody who would have refinanced would have done so. That statistic was bound to decrease on it’s own eventually.

My favorite ones are those that predict a major housing crisis. It is just not going to happen, especially in Lexington.

Why?

The number one reason is that Lexington is almost out of land. Lexington cannot grow any more. The surrounding communities will of course grow. Lexington will always be the most desirable town in the Bluegrass and prices will remain higher than anywhere else around us due to that. (FYI-we will see a whole lot more remodeling in the future than we see building in Lexington.)

What else do I see in the near future? A slowing market, mainly due to interest rates and nothing being for sale. Right now everybody is complaining that 5% interest rates are the worst thing to happen to the market. I disagree. While rates being low were nice, it is the low rates that spoiled all of us and are affecting the market right now. We currently act like rates in the 2-3% range were normal and 5% seems excessively high. However, I don’t see prices dropping though. That’s because all those sellers who refinanced their mortgages when rates were under 3% are not going to move until they have a need. We need sellers in the market. When sellers are scarce, that means more demand than supply. People will likely only move when they outgrow their home, lose a job, get transferred, their family grows, Grandma needs to move in, or a divorce. You’re not going to give up a 3% mortgage on a cheaper house to get a 5% mortgage on a more expensive house unless you really need to move.

So, in Lexington at least, we have little room to build more houses, sellers who are less likely to move just because they want a nicer home, and higher interest rates. All of which means less supply at a time when we have Gen Z trying to get their first home and millenials needing to move up.

I guess if I had a YouTube channel, it would be pretty boring because you don’t get much attention by saying prices will remain at least stable and the market will stay slightly tipped in the seller’s favor.