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.

You’re wrong if you think this about appraisals

But my house appraised for $________.

Should I get my house appraised before we list it?

I hear this a lot. People seem to think that the appraiser determines the value of a property.

They do not.

Buyers and sellers determine the value.

An appraisal can happen for a lot of reasons. Most of the time they are done for a buyer’s lender. Lenders want to make sure the house is worth at least the purchase price since they will be on the hook should the buyer default. Those types of appraisals are more about justifying the sale price. Market value was already determined when the buyer and seller agreed on a price.

Other reasons a house might get appraised are for refinancing, divorces, bankruptcies, home equity lines of credit, etc. On those types, there is not a purchase involved so the appraisal is really just a professional guess at what the market value might be. An appraiser does not determine market value. The appraiser is not buying the house so they are not looking at it the same way a buyer would. They do not care about the color of the walls, if the kitchen is outdated. They just care about if it is in average condition or not. Ever see a listing that said “Priced below recent appraisal!” That tells you that the market did not agree with the appraisers assessment of value.

Last year I sold a house that I had renovated to rent. I was approached by a realtor with a client who wanted it. I decided to sell. We all agreed on a sale price of $205k. Well, the appraisal come back at $186k. The reason is because it was a split level house. An appraiser can only use a split foyer or split level house for sales comparisons on the appraisal report. Of the 40+ recent sales in that neighborhood, there were 4 that were split foyers or split levels, and all were terrible compared to my house. I get it, the appraiser’s hands were tied. Still though, the comps of similar square footage houses in similarly upgraded condition pointed to a value in the lower $200s, which was what I had a ready, willing and able buyer prepared to pay. Bummer.

A little off the subject, but realtors are really better at determining market value. We do pretty much the same thing appraisers do only we know the market a little better than appraisers. I am not at all trying to discredit appraisers here. It’s just we are the ones that go in houses with buyers and know how they will respond to things like barn doors, farmhouse sinks, 80s wall paper, the neighbor who leaves 4 dogs in a kennel all day, and how much natural light a house gets. We have experience with buyers and sellers leading up to signing a contract……still though, when we are called to list a house, it is still a professional guess at market value. Then the appraiser comes in afterwards more as a system of checks and balances to make sure the lender feels good about lending money on the house.

So, now you know that the appraiser doe not determine market value. Market value is like that old saying “Something is worth what somebody is willing to pay for it.” Realtors and appraisers use data to predict what market value should be but we do not decide what market value will be.

I sell houses just like I drive

I drove up to Pittsburg this past week with a couple of friends to go to a track event. My first time. It was a lot of fun. Only hit 110 MPH on the straights since it was raining during our track sessions. We took mostly state highways up and due to rain, mostly interstate back.

As soon as I got back, I put a house on the market for some great people who used me to buy the house several years ago.

Having just spent 5-6 hours on the road, selling their house made me think about what it is like driving through traffic. Not that it was at all frustrating or any of the negatives you typically associate with traffic. I mean the whole watching all the cars around you, seeing when you can get around somebody, knowing which lane is moving better…..that type of thing.

Real estate is a lot like that these days where you can expect multiple offers. You’ve got all these moving parts around you and you have to make quick decisions and take advantage of every opportunity. It is always changing, just like all the cars around you on the road as every other driver is doing the same thing.

We put the house on the market for TOP dollar. Neither the sellers nor I really expected to get half a million dollars for the house, but like moving through traffic, we took advantage of the openings we had to get where we wanted to be.

We immediately got 3 showings. One agent never gave feedback and didn’t say his buyer’s had any interest. Lots of times getting no feedback is the feedback. They were the stopped car on the shoulder of the road. They were out.

We had another agent who had an out of town buyer. This agent called me and said her people wanted to write an offer sight unseen. Now, I really had no intention of negotiating this offer unless it was going to be the only one we got. A buyer making an offer sight unseen is like passing a semi truck right before a blind turn. Too much could go wrong. My goal was just to get it and use it to motivate other buyer’s to act quick and bid high.

Then about an hour later I got a call from another agent who asked if we had any offers. I was more than happy to tell her that another agent had just told me she was going to make an offer. That put this agent in high gear as she wanted to zoom around the other buyer and get the house for her clients. Normally when there are two offers, the default is to get in the fast lane with at least a full price offer.

We sold it for full price. I never got the other offer. That buyer ended up being like that car in your rear view mirror that slowly fades away in the distance never to be seen again. Without that buyer though, I doubt we would have gotten such a great offer…..so thank you to that agent who cruised with us for a little bit.

Worried about the real estate market crashing? This will help

We are living in the first tough economy since the Great Recession. Naturally there are people that worry about the real estate market crashing again. The memory of half the houses on any street being for sale and owing more on your house than it is worth is all too fresh.

While I don’t see any need to be concerned about that happening again, I got to thinking about what that would look like if it were to happen.

Let’s look at a huge difference between 2005 and today. Both are times when the real estate market was on fire.

Back in 2005, the interest rates I was seeing were around 5.5%. The market was good. Values were high. Then when the 2006 season kicked off, it wasn’t as good. The following years until 2012 got worse and worse. Fewer buyers. More sellers. More foreclosures. Unlike stocks, real estate values usually rise gradually and fall even more gradually. Short of a landfill being built behind your house, you are not going to wake up one day and find your house is worth 20% less than it was the day prior. Remember this because I will bring it up later.

That person who paid $300k for a house in 2005. Let’s say they did a 30 year mortgage at 5.5%. One year into their mortgage, they owed about $296k still. After five years, they still owed about $277,500. This is why many of them had to BRING money to a closing when they needed to move in 2010. Back then, one of the first things you would ask a potential seller was “How much do you owe on it?” Many were upside down on their houses, which is why many chose to walk away and let the house get foreclosed.

Today, a buyer can get a 2.875% interest rate for the same $300k house. That is just over half what it was 15 years ago. After one year, they owe about $293,500. After five years, they owe around $266k.

Okay, now it’s time to remember I said real estate values, when they drop, don’t drop fast. It took about 5 years for values in the Lexington area to drop about 15% from the 2005 peak values. Some houses didn’t even loose that much. Picking a good house with a good floor plan, on a good lot, in a desirable neighborhood for the price range and with average or better performing schools is the best way to protect yourself from a bad market. If you look at the math on today’s buyer getting a super low interest rate, you will see that in five years, they have paid off about 12% of their balance. If they get a couple years of appreciation before a decline, the numbers are even better!

I know I got a little nerdy there with the math. Sorry. In the end, my point is that should the market crash again, today’s buyer is going to be in much much much better shape due to low interest rates. If the value of your house drops at the same rate that you are paying down your mortgage, then the worst thing that can happen is you just aren’t building equity in the house. It’s effectively like you’ve been renting where you pay to live there and walk away with nothing when you sell…..and this is the worst case scenario. The best case scenario is that the market stays good and you build a ton of equity. I just don’t see much risk in buying a house right now thanks to low rates.