Why that just renovated house might not be a good choice

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are more and more houses being extensively renovated in medium priced neighborhoods that sell for waaaaaay more than anything else in the same neighborhood.

I think this is happening because of two things.  One is that there just aren’t a lot of houses for sale.  That will eventually change.  The other is because we’ve just about run out of room to build new houses.  That means the only choice for most people will be an existing home.  People love new stuff in a house, so it only makes sense that an older home in a closer-in location that has been totally renovated is appealing.  This won’t change.

The thing to watch out for is that you are not the first or even the second person in the neighborhood to drop $100,000 or more than what the same non-renovated house might be worth.  Why?  What if the house you buy ends up being the only on that gets that type of renovation?  You’ll have the most expensive house in the neighborhood in a big way.  What happens when those trendy finishes get a few years of wear and tear and start to go out of style?  Well, you will have a house that is worth no more than any other house in the neighborhood that needs updating.  None of these are good things.

Before you pull the trigger on one of these whole house renovations, look around and make sure there is a trend of this happening in the neighborhood.

Guess the price of these houses

I had an interesting thing happen this past weekend.  I showed a For Sale by Owner listing in an area where few houses are listed with a realtor.  It’s a popular area and about the cheapest route to get in a super desirable elementary school district.

My buyer did some of my job for me.  They found pictures of the FSBO listings on zillow.  I try not to use zillow for a main source of information because their data is often incorrect and they do not list if the seller paid any of the Buyer’s closing costs or if there were any other concessions…..but pictures are helpful to see the differences in the houses.

There were four houses that were all roughly the same size…..so close that we don’t even need to make any adjustments in value for 3 of them.  All sold within a few months last summer.  The range was $280-$330k.  Everything is sounding pretty normal so far, but this is where it gets odd.

I’ll describe each house and let you pick the sale price:

  1.  Sale #1 was 2400 square feet.   It backs to a city park.  It is all original and even has a green kitchen counter top which doesn’t look that nice with original cabinets that have been painted white.  Did it sell for $302k, $280k, $330k or $310k?
  2. Sale #2 was 2300 square feet.  It recently had $45k in updates including new white shaker style cabinets, trendy lighting, subway tile in the kitchen and around the fireplace.  Did it sell for $280k, $330k, $310k or $302k?
  3. Sale #3 was a 2300 square foot house with different types of laminate flooring.  It looks like the only newer thing in this place other than maybe the furnace filter was granite counters in the kitchen and bath.  This one has an odd shaped lot.  It is sort of a triangle so your backyard comes to a point.  Did it sell for $330k, $280k, $302k or $310k?
  4.  Sale #4 was just over 2000 square feet so it was a little smaller than the others.  It might be worth $12-15k less just due to square footage differences.  The kitchen was just remodeled and was equally as impressive as the one in Sale #2.  This one had new flooring too.  Did it sell for $330k, $310k, $302k or $280k?

Okay, you ready for this?

Sale #1 sold for $330k.  It was equal to Sale #3, which sold for $302k.  That means somebody paid $28k for the nicer lot.  That is nearly a 10% premium.  That is higher than anywhere else in town.  This was a great deal for the seller and a bad deal for the buyer.

Sale #2 sold for $280k.  Yes, the one with $45k in recent updates sold for the least.  Bad deal for the seller and great deal for the buyer!!

Sale #3 sold for $302k.  This was the house that had more flooring types than Home Depot offers and the worst lot out of all of them.  This one was listed with a realtor.  This was a fair deal for both the buyer and seller.

Sale #4 sold for $310k.  A good deal for the buyer.

So, what is my point in all this?  That these people needed the help of a realtor.  As a buyer’s agent, I would have advised my client not to pay $28k more than an equal house just to get a better lot.  I would have told the seller of #2 that their price was waaaaay too low.  I would have told both the buyer and seller of #3 that they got a fair deal.  I would have told the seller of #4 to ask for more.

 

 

Floor plans to AVOID when buying a house

I can’t count how many houses I have been in over the past 15 years.  Old, new, affordable, expensive and just about every neighborhood in the Bluegrass.  Seen it.

One of my favorite things to do is watch how buyers react to several things, one of the biggest is the floor plan.

I think we don’t discuss the floor plan of houses often enough.  Sure, we think about whether it is open or traditional but there is more to it than that.  We usually just focus on the square footage.  For example, I will often have buyers get excited about a small house because it has a basement.  They will be excited because it is 2400 square feet.  Having shown several of these over the years, I like to remind buyers that yes, 2400 square feet is a lot of space, but that house is really a small starter home sitting on a finished basement.  1200 up and 1200 down.  The upstairs will always live like a starter home.  I tell them this because just about every buyer I’ve known has lost their enthusiasm once they see a house like this.

Floor plans can greatly affect the value in older neighborhoods like Chevy Chase or Kenwick.  I have seen far too many houses that sold for far less than similar sized houses that were finished equally.  When I go to list an older house, the first thing I do is assess the floor plan.  If it has lots of tiny rooms and much of the square footage is wasted in hallways, then I know it will sell for the lower end of the range for the neighborhood.  A lot of older houses must have been designed by builders or the first owner on a napkin.  You sometimes see some pretty odd things.  You also see some odd things done during remodels.  My parents house in Kenwick was built as a one bathroom house like pretty much all houses in the 1930s.  Somebody at some point thought adding a half bath in an upstairs hall closet was a good idea.  Since I lived upstairs, I can say that it was a good idea but it was very tight and very odd.  This was before you could go to IKEA and buy those super small sinks.  I just remember sucking in my gut to get past the sink.

Even in newer houses there are a few things that buyers seem to not like.  I’ve shown some newer small ranch houses that have the living space on the back of the house.  You have to walk down a hall and literally find the living room, which doesn’t make a good first impression.  I have never sold one of these because a buyer just can’t get past that first impression, similar to split foyer houses where you have to decide immediately whether you are going up or down.  Buyers don’t like anxiety as soon as they open the door.  Also, a lot of the diagonal walls and plant shelves of the 1990s haven’t aged well.  They usually make a room feel small, furniture placement odd and make people feel like they are in an interactive M.C. Escher display.

escher

Another big negative is with houses that have a finished basement.  Most people want to use this space for kids to play or for large gatherings of people.  Lots of small rooms is a big negative.  A lot of times, these basements got finished to suit the needs of the owner, which may not be the same needs as the next potential owner.  When I have a client who will be finishing a basement, I ALWAYS tell them to have one big open room and to not make a maze of walls.  Just like those ranches with the hallway leading from the front of the house to the back, buyers want to walk down into the basement and see that big open room immediately.  They don’t want to get to the bottom of the stairs, turn and walk down a hall that leads to another hall or a small room that you must go through before getting to the main room.  It is best to mimic the upstairs floor plan, only make it more open.  You can put a spare bedroom under the dining room and a bathroom under the kitchen usually.  Be sure to leave a little space for storage too.

Real estate predictions for 2029

Just gonna jump right into this:

Gen Z will have a harder time getting a house than the Millennials did.    They are the biggest generation ever.  They will be entering the real estate market at about the time Millennials are selling their starter homes.  Great news if you own a 1300 square foot house in Masterson.  Times will be tough for them, but they will keep the market going strong.  Every seller of a starter home needs a first time buyer so they can move up.  That first time buyer is the oil that lubricates the whole market.

The Millennials will be moving up to their 4 bedroom houses on a cul de sac in a good school district because that is just a natural progression once you start a family.  This is great news for Gen X sellers who will be downsizing to medium sized houses in upscale neighborhoods.

What makes me think all this?  It’s not really crystal ball as much as it is history.  Everything I just described happens with every generation.  You buy a smaller house you eventually outgrow, you move up at least once to the house you raise your family in, then you downsize.

So what does all this look like for Lexington?  More gentrification as it becomes expensive to live anywhere in Fayette County.  I know it sounds unheard of, but the neighborhoods that nobody wants to live in like Cardinal Valley and Winburn may become the budget choice as similar neighborhoods with better locations become too expensive.  I know it sounds crazy, but when I was in high school, people didn’t want to live in Kenwick and now those houses equal Chevy Chase for price per square foot……yesterday’s bad neighborhood can easily become a tomorrow’s good location.  Plus, it isn’t like we are ever going to see brand new starter homes ever again.  All that can be done is update/remodel existing houses.  The people that flip houses need some margin to do this so they will buy distressed houses in whatever neighborhoods are affordable, just like they are doing now in downtown, Melrose, The Meadows and all those streets that begin with D around Pasta Garage.

Before long, I don’t think there will be any new construction in Lexington.  We are already filling in every spot big enough to stick a short row of townhouses.   This means that being in Fayette County will be even more expensive, and people will go to surrounding towns like Nicholasville and Georgetown even more.  One day, people will discover that Winchester is only 15 minutes from Hamburg and the interstate passes right through it.  I’ve never understood why more people don’t move to Winchester?

Remodeling will be hot too.  With not much new construction, people will start remodeling existing houses more and more.

Sort of some majorly huge economic melt down, I think housing is going to be strong for quite some time.

 

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.