The real reason why sales are down

I’m seeing a lot of news articles with accurate data.  My issue is that I think most are drawing the wrong conclusions.

Most seem to want to make you think the sky is falling in real estate because sales are down.

You know who needs to care about the number of sales?  Appraisers, realtors, mortgage people.  Those of us who make money on each transaction.

As a buyer and/or seller, the number of sales isn’t really important to you.  What you care about is supply and demand-the ratio of buyers to sellers in the market.  If there are 3 buyers in the market and only 2 listings, then we have a seller’s market.

I am seeing a lot of articles stating that sales were down in November of 2018 versus November of 2017.  Of course they were.  It happens every election year.  The market pauses until we see which set of morons we will be stuck with.

The ones that really bug me are the ones that say the affordability crisis will hold the market back.  I think they have it backwards.

Sure, we have an affordability issue.  Many people can’t afford to buy a house with rising prices and interest rates.  All I know is that every house under $200k in this town seems to go very quickly, which allows that seller to buy up to their next house and that seller to buy up to their next house and so on.

Back when the market was terrible, I said that it was like a baseball game where the bases are loaded.  The seller on first base needed a buyer without a contingency to buy their house so they could buy the 2nd base seller’s house, who could buy the 3rd base seller’s house.  The first time buyer needed to hit a home run and push all those sales through.

Back then a buyer had a ton of choices for their next home.  The issue was selling their old one.

Today, no buyer really has a huge selection of houses.

For that reason, I think our current market is the opposite.  There are a ton of first time buyers eager to hit a home run and push all those deals through, but what is happening is that the person on 3rd base doesn’t like home plate and has decided to just stand there until they feel like running.

The buyers with the most selection are the people buying their pinnacle home.  The one they stay in forever until they begin to downsize.  These are mostly Gen Xers.  They are in their 3rd base home, which is probably a fairly large home in the $250-350k range.  They want to move up to the $400-600k range, where there are plenty of houses for sale.

Their only problem is that most are just tarted up versions of their current house.  These buyers aren’t getting a better house, a bigger house, or a bigger yard.  They are just getting prettier finishes.  They find the houses in this price range, well, boring.  And we have a TON of them for sale.

So what do these Gen X buyers do?  They wait for the right house to hit the market.  Since they already have a nice house, they are in no hurry.  Because they aren’t in a hurry, that means the people looking to buy their house are in the same position….all the way down to that first time buyer eager to bid their heart out on their first home.

And, that is where we are today.  Sellers wanting to sell but not finding anything they want to buy.

Which seller did better?

Two houses on the same street.  One is smaller and has been renovated.  The other is bigger and has had a few minor updates.

The smaller renovated one sells for more money that the larger one with mild updates is worth.

Which owner would you want to be?

You are probably thinking that the renovated house that sold for more would be the owner who comes out better than the other, but you’d be wrong.

That’s because the cost of a remodeled kitchen with a tiled backsplash and stainless appliances, remodeled bathrooms and new flooring greatly exceed the difference in values.

Back when the market was slow, it could have been harder to sell a house that hadn’t seen any big ticket updates like a new kitchen and/or baths.  That’s cause there were more houses for sale than there were buyers.  The problem is the opposite today.  There are more buyers than houses for sale, especially in the sub $200k range.

Sure, everybody loves a renovated house with all the trendy finishes.  Buyers will pay top dollar for that look, but for the person who wrote the check for the work, it is a little bit of a bummer because most of the time a seller is lucky to get half back in the increased value.  Great for the buyer.  Bad for the seller.

I had to tell a seller not too long ago that her house was worth about the same as she paid for it nearly 10 years ago.  On paper, you’d think that wasn’t possible.  She hasn’t done anything to the house other than enjoy living there.  Everything is nearly 10 years older now.  Sure, her house could potentially be worth another $15k, but she would have to spend over $20k to add that value.  She is actually coming out ahead by selling for about the same as she paid for verses getting a high sale price that lost money to achieve.

They don’t tell you all this stuff on HGTV.

The best bang for your buck on updates are paint, flooring and lighting.

Winning in multiple offers

Two of the three houses I sold last weekend had multiple offers.

I’ve always said that what often wins a house in these situations has nothing to do with price.  It is even more true in today’s market where almost every house sells for full price or slightly above.  I know when I get multiple offers on my listings, it is amazing to see several different buyers all offer roughly the same amount, especially when it is over the list price.

The first one I sold was a for sale by owner townhouse.  I knew the seller probably didn’t know what to do once he got an offer, and probably didn’t know how to determine which buyer was the best.  So, I told him that I would handle everything for him and keep him in the loop on the progress of the sale.  I also pointed out that my buyer had 20% down and was doing a conventional loan. I told him all the things that could go wrong with any sale, and that short of a cash buyer, my well qualified buyer would be the best one to pick.

And he did.

The other one was a hot new listing near Hamburg in the most competitive price range in Lexington.  There were 9 showings the first day on the market.  My buyers needed to roll their closing costs into the offer, so I was a little worried.  I knew the only chance I had of getting this place for my buyers was to find out how to make it easy on the sellers to say yes to us.  I asked the listing agent if the sellers knew where they were moving yet.  If they did not have a house yet, my people could have rented back to them after the closing because they had several months left on a lease.  The sellers have a contract on a house in a surrounding town.  I got their closing date.  I remembered that they had two small kids based on the way two bedrooms were decorated.  No seller who is going to be a buyer likes the idea of moving out of their old house, closing it, closing their new house, and moving in….all in one day.  Especially with kids.

We wrote a strong offer.  I put our closing date the same day that the sellers are closing their new home.  We also offered to let them have their old house for 48 hours after the closing just to make that process easier.

Later that day, the listing agent called me.  She said both offers were practically the same.  So much so that her sellers jokingly asked her if she had told both buyer’s agents what to offer.  They couldn’t decide which offer to pick, so they asked their agent what to do.   She advised them to accept our offer because she thought I was so nice to work with and for my concern in making the process easy for her sellers.  Well, I am a nice guy, but my goal was to get this house for my buyers more than it was to make it nice for the sellers.  That is just what we had to do to make our offer the most attractive.

So, both of my buyers got the house they wanted in multiple offers.  Like I’ve said before, it isn’t always about price.

When will there be more houses for sale?

The simplest answer to this is when sellers feel like moving…..so I guess it boils down to what will it take for that to happen?

Many people who have been in their houses for more than 5 years either got a super low interest rate or refinanced to get one.  It is hard to give up something like a 3.5% rate and buy your next house at the top of the market and do a 5% mortgage.  Right now, all that free equity from appreciation isn’t enough to make somebody want to give that up.

But, eventually there will be a tipping point.

Let’s say you bought a house 5 years ago for $200k.  You put down 5% and got a 3.5% rate for 30 years.  The principal and interest part of your loan is about $900 a month.  Flash forward to today.  The house is probably worth $240k.    You owe about $173k on it and have about $67k in equity.

You decide you want to buy a $300k house.  You finance about $235k after you get the equity out of your last house.  You get a 5% rate.  The principal and interest part of your loan is now $1200 a month.

Maybe you don’t want to spend $300 more each month?

What will it take to make you list your old house?

Maybe another $40k equity in your old house?  Assuming rates stay about the same and the price of the $300k house you want appreciates less than the $240k house you have, this $40k is what it will take to keep your payment about the same each month.  It will take about 3 years for that to happen between appreciation and what you are paying down each month in principal.

We all bemoan higher interest rates, but lets keep in mind that the reason we don’t like higher rates is because they make the mortgage payments higher.  People have a certain amount they can/will spend each month on housing.  People will always try to stuff as much house into that payment as they can.  I think the day sellers can move up to a nicer house and not pay that much more will be when we see more for sale signs in yards.

Bluegrass market update & fun with a calculator

I’ve always been a number person.  When I was a kid, my dad gave me a calculator.  I would make pretend budgets, figure out things like compound interest, and do things like type 77345 and flip the calculator upside down to see that I spelled ShELL.

So I guess I am not surprised that I get excited when my local real estate board publishes the statistical info once a month.

It is also nice to see if my own experience is echoing what is happening in the whole market.  It usually is.

For example, I hardly show any houses any more because there is so little for sale.  I used to be out 3-4 nights a week and ALL weekend just showing houses.  Now I may show 4-5 a week and have the same amount of buyer clients……on a busy week.  There just aren’t enough houses to show people, and buyers are making fast decisions because they don’t want to lose a good house while waiting for a great one.

In Fayette Co, sales from Jan 18- April 18 are down 11% from the same period in 2017.  Listing are down 9%.  You’d think a decrease in sales would be bad, but since listings are down by a similar number, it is still a super tight market, especially in the sub $200k range.

All the Bluegrass counties have a big decrease in listings.  Most have an equally big decrease in sales too.  Makes sense.  If there are fewer houses to buy, there will be fewer houses sold.  Unless you are in Scott, Madison or Jessamine Counties.  Those places are the only ones where sales have increased from this same time last year while listings have decreased.  I know, I know.  How can that be?  This is just my gut, but I think those counties had more on the market last year that just sat and didn’t sell.

I also feel like I am spending more time in surrounding counties than I have in a long time.  When I first got into this business, there were a lot of people moving to Jessamine Co in search of a cheaper house.  But then gas prices went crazy and nobody in Fayette County wanted to leave.  Now gas is fairly cheap and people have returned to moving outside of Fayette Co again.  Jessamine County has the tightest market under $180k.  There is literally next to nothing for sale there.

Just this past March, we had a net loss of 61 households in Fayette County.  Scott and Jessamine Counties were the only ones that saw much of a gain in new households.  Yep, Fayette County folks are back at it.

I still play with my calculator a lot.  Only now I’m using it to determine what a house is worth before listing it or making an offer.  Maybe with all this extra time I have from not showing houses every night, I can figure out some new words my calculator will spell?