The anonymity of the internet has made real estate more personal

HouseIt might not be a revelation that the initial news about Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia reverberated among the analysts as a game changer for the real estate industry. But you might be surprised that some commentaries, such as Brad Stone’s of BloomburgBusinessWeek.com (How a Zillow-Trulia Merger Could Finally Change the Business of Real Estate), expressed that the transaction of buying and selling homes has not really changed since the inception of these internet giants.

Compared to 2013, decreased sales volume has made 2014 a challenging year for many in the real estate industry. And contrary to what some believe, the Trulia acquisition may not necessarily be a sign of strength; but rather, it may be sign of continued weakness in the industry. Tim Logan comments on the acquisition in his July 28th Los Angeles Times article (Zillow deal to buy Trulia creates real estate digital ad juggernaut), “Neither is yet profitable separately, but they hope to save $100 million a year by joining forces and cutting duplicative costs.”

Regardless of the economics behind the acquisition, the significance of Zillow and Trulia (and other similar websites) cannot be underestimated. And although many believed these sites were to have changed the real estate industry in a manner similar to how the internet changed the travel and retail industries; Zillow and Trulia have been leaders in transforming the home buyer and seller experience. And instead of minimizing the importance of the real estate agent; MLS aggregators have become facilitators and part of the home buying/selling process by packaging syndicated MLS feeds and other related information to consumers in a convenient and eloquent way through the internet, while selling services to real estate professionals vis-à-vis subscriptions and advertising.

The general process of buying and selling a home is still somewhat the same as it has been for decades. Before internet access became prevalent, real estate agents mostly met with their clients in person to review available home listings, discuss financing and other related matters. Although many used the technology of the day (fax machine and telephone), the preferred meeting was face-to-face. As the internet flourished, technology adopters were able to correspond with clients via email, text messages, and Skype. And as the technology evolved, so too did the daily business of real estate. Searching for homes became increasingly streamlined, and the flow of documents became more efficient.

Some have made the argument that the internet and related technologies may have been an enabler of the real estate bubble of the early to mid 2000’s. However, the reality may be that the real estate bubble facilitated the growth of real estate aggregators and the use of internet technologies. The proliferation of information at that time, along with the effective use of new technologies, fed house hungry buyers who wanted to be the first to know about a home for sale before other buyers. Internet and cell phone applications were developed to automatically send listing alerts to buyers’ emails and cell phones (technology that is commonly used today and even useful in hot markets where homes sell quickly).

Buying and selling a home is still a personal business. Instead of eliminating the real estate agent; websites such as Zillow and Trulia may have forced the agent to evolve from the information gate keeper to the local real estate expert who can interpret information for clients into meaningful data that can be used to facilitate the buying and selling of homes.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of July 28, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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When selling a home – pictures more important than descriptions

ColonialThe maxim “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” seems to be applied universally. But the meaning that different people are attracted to different characteristics may be also applied when viewing homes online. Recent research confirms how visual cues can either increase or put off a home buyer’s interest in your home.

Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty’s 2012 ground breaking research on home buyers’ attention to visual cues deviates from the usual valuation models that focus on the perception of a home’s features (Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty. (2012). Ocular tracking and the behavioral effects of negative externalities on perceived property values. Journal of Housing Research, 21(2), 123-137). Their study used ocular tracking technology to follow the eye movements of people viewing internet home listings. They found that people tend to spend more time viewing a home’s photos than reading about the property’s features, agent comments and other information; study participants viewed photos 60% of the time.

They concluded that the “percentage of time a person spends looking at the photo of the home” is more indicative of a person’s interest in a home than reading about the property’s characteristics or reading the agent’s descriptions; and it could be inferred that the longer a person looks at a home’s pictures, the more they might be interested in viewing it in person. As a result, the authors recommend that “real estate agents exercise great care when taking good photos of the property before listing a residence for sale.

Additionally, the study reported some interesting findings about a home’s value relative to negatively perceived features. Negative features that can be changed easily and inexpensively (such as carpets or paint) were not viewed by the study’s participants as a reason to significantly discount a home’s value; however, viewing negative external features that cannot be changed (such proximity to transmission lines or cell towers) is perceived to lower a home’s value.

The study’s findings about visual cues seems consistent with a 2008 Realtor® Magazine article (“How Photos Help Sell Homes”; realtor.org) which indicated that a home’s days on market is drastically reduced when there are multiple quality photos: “A property with a single photo spent 70 days on the market (DOM) on average, while DOM fell to 40 with six photos, 36 with 16 to 19 photos, and 32 with 20 photos…” The same article also reports that your home will probably sell for more if your agent posts multiple quality photos compared to posting only one photo; “listings with one photo sold for 91.2 percent of the original price, while homes with six or more sold for 95 percent of the original price…

So it seems that Seiler, Madhavan, & Liechty’s findings confirm the conventional wisdom to make your home look its best prior to listing it, as well as well as having the best quality photos posted to your listing. If you’re planning a home sale, consider asking about and comparing agents’ marketing concepts – including photos and video. It is customary for many agents to hire a third party to take and post pictures for the MLS listing and virtual tour. However, even though the posted pictures are high resolution, many MLS photos are distorted and/or do not depict the best viewpoint. To increase interest in your home – ensure that your hi-res photos are high quality by using the proper perspective and highlights the home’s features.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of July 21, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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Reality TV and real estate – is the genre shaping buyer and seller expectations?

homes and expectationsReality TV has been a part of our culture since the 1990’s, and chances are that you’ve watched Reality programming at some time. Reality TV has benefited from the booming housing market of the early to mid 2000’s, when the number of real estate reality shows grew exponentially. Today, real estate related reality TV is prevalent, and you could probably catch one at almost any time of day.

What is it about reality TV, or more specifically – real estate reality TV, that draws us in like a moth to the light? Matthew Wilkinson and Paul Clark suggest in their research (2014. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain: The Rejection Of Artifice And The Culture Of Choice. ASBBS E – Journal,10(1),132-143) that our affinity to reality programming is our culture’s desire for “fluid, ambiguous, and amorphous experiences.” And before I embark on their philosophical explanation based on “postmodernism” and its implications, it apparently boils down to our search for “authenticity” and the notion of participation.

Alternatively, Alex Weprin reveals that there is a feeling among programming executives that audiences have become bored by “forced, trite reality shows” and are attracted to TV shows that “feel more ‘real.’” But there’s a limit to “authenticity,” even in reality shows. Weprin quotes Animal Planet President and General Manager Marjorie Kaplan, saying “I don’t know that every nonfiction show is going to be authentic; clearly there is room for wonderfully inauthentic reality TV that we all watch and wink and nod and know is contrived….” (Jan 10, 2010. Cablers target laughs, authenticity, geeks. Broadcasting & Cable).

And why not? “Reality” TV is an escape from monotony and lets us perceive we are participants; real estate reality programming helps us imagine how our homes, our lifestyles could be different. Since the airing of MTV Cribs, we imagined how we could live like celebrities. Home renovation, real estate investing, buying foreclosures, house flipping, luxury homes, and home shopping: there is no lack of real estate related subjects on TV today – and they all seem to make it all look easy and exciting.

But there is a concern by some in the real estate industry that reality TV is doing more than entertaining viewers, it is also shaping consumer expectation. The real estate related reality format is typically a condensed version of the process that highlights only parts of the consumer experience; the portrayed drama in this sub-genre can range from the very subtle to the outrageous.

A recent Realtor® Magazine article highlights professionals’ thoughts on the matter (June 16, 2014. Reality TV Skewing Home Remodeling Picture?); and the consensus is that some consumers demand a similar experience to what they see on TV. Some real estate agents have also expressed concerns about home buyers and sellers whose expectations are not realistic; they want more in an abbreviated span, losing perspective on the elements and time that the home buying and selling process requires.

Maybe the entire genre is misconceived; maybe real estate Reality TV should be more realistic, where the drama is drawn out over weeks and months documenting the excitement and tedium of the real estate transaction. But then again, maybe T. S. Eliot was correct in the characterization (Burnt Norton): “…humankind cannot bear very much reality.” TV may not be genuine about being real, as much as it is about entertainment value.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of July 14, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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Buying a home – is it a product or service?

house for saleIf you’re like many home buyers, your home search is focused on a home’s specific features that are limited to your price range. Your search may seem “product” directed, at least initially. And unless you plan to go it absolutely alone; you’re likely to be using a number of real estate related services as well.

Before the multiple list service existed, when card catalogs were used to keep track of homes for sale, real estate listings were proprietary and buyer agency did not exist. Cooperation between brokers was not guaranteed; and as a result, real estate brokers mostly sold their own listings. Because the broker was the source of information about the home, as well as the home sale/purchase process; the real estate broker’s services were perceived to be one and the same as the product (the house for sale).

Today, everyone turns to the internet for answers, which has become the “go to guy” for information. It seems as if the information found on the internet is treated as gospel, even when it is not verifiable. And this is particularly true for real estate. Home buyers, sellers, and owners use the internet to search all types of information including: homes for sale, home values, property tax, and the home buying/selling process.

Like some other service industries, you could say that the internet has contributed in separating the product from the service; consumers are no longer required to go directly to the real estate broker to search for a house or other real estate information, and consequently get their services too. Finding and viewing homes for sale without your agent has become easier; as is selling your home FSBO (for sale by owner). The resulting sentiment is the obvious questioning of the value of the real estate agent.

When asked what an agent can bring to your real estate transaction, the consensus is that they are housing market experts. Real estate agents are invested in knowing local listing and sale activity, as well as networking within the industry to keep on top of the latest trends. They can interpret the home sale data to help you formulate a buying/selling strategy (including price and terms). Experienced agents also typically have developed the ability to easily connect with buyers and sellers having a greater capacity to understand their specific needs to facilitate a smoother transaction. And although agents are often thought of as transaction facilitators; your Realtor® is a fiduciary, obligated to protect and promote your interests (while also obligated to treat all parties honestly). Agents are also required to be up to date on legislation that affects home buyers and sellers, which will help when structuring your transaction, including compulsory disclosures and obligations.

Unlike the consumer experience back in the day when there was little choice in real estate services, you now have the luxury of choice. But choose your agent carefully; agents are not all alike. Recent research indicates that veteran agents positively affect your transaction and are more efficient compared to rookies. Additionally, full-time agents have better outcomes than those who consider themselves as “part-timers.”

Savvy home buyers and sellers benefit from their agents’ experience and commitment. Smart consumers understand that experienced agents offer intangible services such as understanding the nuances of the housing market, as well as having an increased ability to engage the parties in the transaction.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of July 7, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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Homeownership, freedom and independence

While we enjoy the barbecues and fireworks that come along with the Fourth of July Holiday, we might take a moment to think about our freedom and independence. And of course – homeownership is an expression of those liberties which is part of the “American Spirit” that drives us to achieve the American Dream.

The American Dream is not dead, as some will have you believe; the dream of homeownership is like a phoenix that is renewed after the fire, and is resumed by a new generation of home buyers. In his April 2009 Vanity Fair article “Rethinking the American Dream,” David Kamp gave a wide perspective of the American Dream; from its origin to diametrically opposed viewpoints. In his conclusion, Kamp states, “…The American Dream should accommodate the goal of home ownership, but without imposing a lifelong burden of unmeetable debt. Above all, the American Dream should be embraced as the unique sense of possibility that this country gives its citizens—the decent chance, as Moss Hart would say, to scale the walls and achieve what you wish.

As we emerge from the housing and financial crises, many are discussing the benefits of homeownership once again. Even after the Great Recession, many prefer owning a home over renting. Survey after survey indicates that a majority of respondents positively viewed homeownership as a desire or goal (Rohe & Boshamer, Reexamining the Social Benefits of Homeownership after the Housing Crisis, Joint Center for Housing Studies Harvard University, August 2013).

So what is it about homeownership that makes it an aspiration for so many of us? Besides the fact that we all need a place to live; a home is an asset that has relative value to the housing market at any given time. Housing is also still perceived by many as an investment that can appreciate over a period of time. Additionally, those who have a mortgage on their home may be able to take advantage of the mortgage interest tax deduction (check with your tax preparer).

Home owners are more inclined to maintain their homes and neighborhoods, as well as being invested in protecting their home and community; which may account for lower incidences of reported crime. Besides stabilizing communities, many of these benefits may also account for positively affecting home values.

Additionally, there has been a lot said about the social benefits of homeownership. A National Association of Realtors® blog post by Research Economist Selma Hepp, titled Social Benefits of Homeownership and Stable Housing lists many of the documented social benefits. She cites that home owners tend to: be more charitable; participate more in their community (including voting); have an increased connection to their neighborhood and neighbors; have an increased general positive life outlook; express an increased self esteem and higher life satisfaction; and be healthier.

There are many studies that also indicate homeownership benefits children. Hepp includes some of the benefits of children living in owned homes, which include: lower teen pregnancy rate; higher test scores; higher high school graduation rate; decreased delinquencies; and an increased participation in organized activities.

Although June was officially declared “Homeownership Month” in 2002; July is a more appropriate month because of homeownership’s association with freedom, independence, and the American Dream.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of June 30, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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Want to increase your home’s value? Don’t use a nuke

Home ImprovementsA recent blog post titled, “Want to Increase Your Property Values? Try a Nuclear Warcaught my attention.  Robert Beckhusen & Matthew Gault, in their June 22nd post on Medium.com discussed a couple of unclassified defense reports on the effects and aftermath of a nuclear war (including the 1965 study “The Effects Of Nuclear Weapons On A Single City”). They discovered that these reports were a morbid reminder of the consequences; one report stated: “In a macabre sense, the surviving population would be individually ‘wealthier’ than before the attack…” because surviving buildings would be more valuable and indirectly increasing the survivors’ per capita wealth.

These reports were speculative, and a conclusion could be that your home’s value could be tied to usability and location; homes in dense urban areas are expected to be valued more. However, as the 1965 report stated, “…any joy among the surviving population may be quite shortlived…” because there is no way to know if the surviving buildings and land are useable (due to radiation or other reasons).

As a means to increase your home’s value, nukes are not the answer. Accepted methods of adding value to your home include home improvements that you might expect: increasing the living space; adding a deck; improving the landscaping; updating the home’s systems; and renovating the kitchen and bathrooms. However, making home improvements do not always give you a dollar for dollar return; and some improvements could even detract from your home’s value too! Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report (costvsvalue.com) can give you an idea of the return on investment (ROI) for improvement projects.

Typically the trends indicate that the ROI of replacement projects are higher than that of remodeling projects. The 2014 Cost vs. Value Report indicates that the top ROI for midrange projects nationally include: installing a new steel entry door; adding a deck; converting an attic into a bedroom; replacing the garage; and a minor kitchen remodel.

Compared to the ROI locally for mid-range projects in the Washington DC region include: installing a new steel entry door; replacing the garage door; adding a deck; minor kitchen remodeling; and installing new vinyl siding.

As you peruse the Cost vs. Value Report, you may notice that a project Cost vs Value ratio can sometimes exceed 100% (recouping more than was spent on the project at resale); this is sometimes attributed to an active housing market, and/or market trends. Overall average home values can affect Cost vs Value trends too. A higher ROI was realized at the peak of the housing market in 2005; and the subsequent decline was most probably due to devalued home prices. And as you might expect, ROI on many improvement projects have increased over the past year because appreciating home values. Also, regional and metro area differences exist on improvement project Cost vs Value ratios because of labor and materials costs. Some experts cite the abundance of workers seeking employment as a reason for decreased labor costs in some areas; while material costs for some projects may be similar, and other project materials are more expensive.

Another consideration when making home improvements is that the ROI and your home’s value can be affected by the quality of workmanship and installation. Hiring reputable and licensed contractors or builders who are familiar with the permitting process as well as building code requirements is always recommended.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of June 23, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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Oil prices and housing, is there really a link?

Oil and housingIt seems that anytime there is turmoil in the Middle East, there is concern over disrupting the oil supply and spiking energy prices – notably at the gas pump. Spiking gas prices not only makes everything seem more expensive, it has been thought to compel people to re-think their home buying strategies as well. Is the chaos in the Middle East and increasing oil prices coinciding with a shift in home sale trends?

Gregory White, of Business Insider (businessinsider.com), stated that “The simple reason why a rise in crude prices could tank the housing market is that it has done it before.” This is not a recent story; no, White wrote this in a March 6th 2011 piece titled: “Barclays On How The Oil Price Spike Could Crash The Housing Market Again.” The article was a brief commentary on Luca Ricci’s (who was at Barclays at the time he was quoted) analysis of the possible consequences of the surge in oil prices to the U.S. housing market.

Ricci was quoted to say, “The main effect is on consumption via gasoline and energy prices. As consumption generally accounts for 60% of GDP, the effect is large. In oil exporters this effect will be offset by windfall revenues from the higher oil prices, so the overall effect is unclear. In our view, the oil price increase in 2008 significantly contributed to the recession and the financial crisis in the US, which then spread globally. By raising CPI inflation, it reduced real disposable incomes and, hence, the purchasing power of the average households, leading to a contraction in real consumer spending and lowering the ability to repay mortgages.”

Indeed, a 2008 sharp increase in gas prices and road congestion was a factor for many to re-think their home location. It was not only those living in suburbia whose idea of an ideal home shifted toward saving fuel costs; home buyers at that time, who did not put their housing search on hold, looked for a home that was closer to their work or easily accessed some form of mass transit. A National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) study reported that 28% of home owners surveyed indicated that high fuel costs were a decision to sell their home, while 40% of home buyers surveyed indicated that high fuel and commuting costs offset the higher home prices closer to the city center.

How much could you save by moving closer to your office? Based on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Savings Calculator (WMATA.com), eliminating 20 miles of daily driving can save over $224 per month or $2,688 per year (estimates at the date of this article). And if gas prices peak like they did in 2008, savings from curbing your driving could be double – or more!

However, while the immediate focus may be on saving on energy costs, urban living could have a trade off in higher property taxes and housing costs. And as much as increasing oil and gas prices may have an indirect effect on the housing market, the urbanite trend may be more about convenience and a healthier living style rather than saving money on gas and commuting costs. Nonetheless, the urban living trend surged in 2010, when sales soared in planned walkable communities with embedded shops and services. Market demands resulted in suburban renewal, where planned urban villages were built (and are being built) in convenient locations; which have also become destinations for the community’s restaurants, shops and offices.

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of June 12, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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Forget GDP – real estate is still a local phenomenon

real estate Are you one of those who are ignoring the recent negative GDP report? Or are you chalking it up to the weather or other factors? If you are unaware, the May 29th news release by the U.S. Department of Commerce – Bureau of Economic Analysis (bea.gov) reported that the Gross Domestic Product for the 1st Quarter 2014 was revised to -1%. Of the number of reasons cited was a negative contribution from residential fixed investment (basically poor home sales).

Although one poor quarter is not a trend, two consecutive quarters of negative GDP could be considered a recession. But this rule of thumb is not always accurate – after all, this is the second time during the current recovery we have had a negative GDP. Many economists are not concerned and expect a rebound, citing the recent employment report; while some are very concerned, citing the low employment participation along with declining personal income and spending.

I hear you saying: “Ok, even though home sales have been lacking, home prices have been increasing,” which is a sign of strength in the housing market. According to an analysis by Ray Valdez (The housing bubble and the GDP: a correlation perspective: Journal of Case Research in Business & Economics; June 2010, Vol. 3, p1), there is a strong relationship between GDP and home prices. Local data for Montgomery County MD during May 2014 not only indicates a year over year decrease in sales volume, but average home sale prices may have decreased bout 1% compared to May 2013. Other indications that the local housing market is cooling this year is the sharp increase of new listings, and a lower absorption rate of listed homes.

The BEA GDP release also cited Gross Domestic Income for the 1st Q as decreasing 2.3% (compared to the 2.6% increase the previous quarter). Putting income in perspective, Rick Newman of Yahoo’s “The Daily Ticker” (The Middle Class is Even Worse Off Than the Numbers Show); “The “average” American worker earns about $44,000 per year and saves around 4% of his income. And the “average” household has a net worth of approximately $710,000, including the value of homes, investments, bank accounts and so on. But many Americans, needless to say, fall well below those benchmarks, which fail to capture widespread financial distress…” Newman points to the growing wealth of the affluent as skewing income data: “The rich have always skewed wealth and income data to some extent, since they pull up averages and make ordinary people seem a bit better off than they really are. But the outsized gains of the super-rich during the past 25 years have become so disproportionate that some measures of prosperity may be losing their relevance.

If you’re concerned about mixed economic reports affecting the housing market and possibly your sale or purchase; you can take heart in the notion that the current environment is different than that of the Great Recession. Some economists expect a rebound, citing relatively low mortgage interest rates and some loosening lending standards as incentivizing home buyers.

Nevertheless, real estate is still a local phenomenon; and just like the differences between regional markets, external influences can create differences among geographical areas as well. If you’re planning to be in the market, consult with your real estate agent about recent neighborhood data and trends to assist you with your pricing strategy.

© Dan Krell
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How long before your home is obsolete?

home mainetanceHow long can your home remain livable? According to a study by the National Association of Home Builders / Bank of America Home Equity titled Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components (February 2007), “The life expectancies of the components of a home depend on the quality of installation, the level of maintenance, weather and climate conditions, and the intensity of use. Some components may remain functional but become obsolete due to changing styles and preferences or improvements in newer products while others may have a short life expectancy due to intensive use…The average life expectancy for some components has increased during the past 35 years because of new products and the introduction of new technologies, while the average life of others has declined…” (nahb.org).

Throughout a home’s lifespan, a home may be considered obsolete in a number of ways. A home is often considered functionally obsolete when it is deficient of items that are considered to be required in the present marketplace, and/or no longer conforms to modern building standards. Because building standards change over time, it is not uncommon for older homes to be considered functionally obsolete because it lacks up-to-date and/or enough amenities. Even modern homes can become functionally obsolete if maintenance issues deteriorated the home’s systems (such as during a fire, or severe hoarding cases).

The decrease in maintenance spending during the Great Recession has many wondering about today’s housing stock’s functional obsolescence. A February 2013 article by Kermit Baker for the Harvard Joint Center of Housing Studies entitled “The Return of Substandard Housing” highlighted the relative considerable reduction in maintenance spending by home owners (housingperspectives.blogspot.com). He stated that “improvement spending” decreased 28% between 2007 and 2011, and concluded that this “crisis” requires attention. He stated; “The longer-term fate of the current slightly larger number of inadequate homes [functionally obsolete] is unknown. Many of these homes likely will be renovated to provide affordable housing opportunities. However, many may not recover without extra help. Given the extraordinary circumstances that many homes have gone through in recent years, particularly foreclosed homes that often were vacant and undermaintained for extended periods of time as they worked their way through the foreclosure process, they may be more at risk than their inadequate predecessors…

Economic or external obsolescence is often considered when influences, other than the structure, impact a home’s value. For example, the value of a well maintained home can be impacted when many community homes are vacant: due to foreclosure; or when there is a major relocation, such as when a small town’s manufacturing plant closes. Environmental issues can also be considered a factor in external obsolescence; you can bet that the homes around the Chernobyl nuclear plant were affected immediately following the 1986 disaster.

Although the remediation of external obsolescence is often complicated, the good news is that many functionally obsolete homes can be repaired extending their life; renovations are common, upgrading the homes to meet modern building codes and with modern amenities.   However, a restoration is sometimes completed to return a home to its original condition – but with modern conveniences; these homes typically have historic significance.

And of course, functionally obsolete homes are sometimes sold as a “tear down”; with the intention to replace the structure with a modern home that not only meets current building standards, but meets consumer trends in home design, size, and function.

© Dan Krell
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Luxury home sales outpace mid-low tier sales

Luxury Real EstateWhat seemed like the breakout year in real estate may turn into a hard act to follow. Although the National Association of Realtors® May 22nd news release made headline news by skillfully pointing out that April existing home sales increased 1.3% from March; April’s sales data were 6.8% lower than last April. Much like the assertion to “Keep Calm and Carry On,” the spin on data may bean attempt to motivate home buyers and sellers.

The Greater Capital Association of Realtors® home sale statistics were consistent with NAR’s, such that Montgomery County MD single family home sales decreased about 8.2% in April compared to the same time in 2013. Looking deeper, the numbers reveal a similar scenario that played out in 2011 when a bifurcated market emerged between upper bracket and middle to low bracket homes. Sales of upper bracket homes are doing very well this year, while moderate to lower bracket homes sales are decreasing compared to last year. And much like 2011 when luxury home sales hit record prices (when DC’s Evermay and Halcyon House sold); 2014 is also a year of record luxury home sales (LA’s Fleur-de-Lys sold for $102M, CT’s Copper Beech Farm sold for $120M, and a NY mansion sold for $147M; each sale successively breaking the record for most expensive residential US home during a 5 week duration!). Consistent with this theme: cash sales are increasing this year, while first time home buyers are decreasing.

While the housing market may be shaping up to be similar to that of 2011, the reasons for a similar profile are different. We were looking for the market bottom during 2011, as well as assimilating an unprecedented number of distressed properties. However, even though distressed sales are rapidly decreasing; 2014 was supposed to be an extension of last year’s increased sales activity.

What we may be experiencing is the flip side to the housing crisis, as described by Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac Vice President in his May 19thblog post (Nearly One-Third of Americans Live in Counties Where One in Five Homeowners is Underwater: Heat Map; RealtyTrac.com). Blomquist characterized the lack of participation in today’s market as being from the unusually high number of home owners with high loan balances on their home, including the many whose mortgages are underwater. This lack of participation is much like the many homes taken out of the market because of the foreclosure crisis during the downturn. He stated that the “normal flow [of move-up buyers] is being disrupted by homeowners with negative equity who are holding back from becoming move-up buyers, which in turn is impacting the availability of inventory downstream for first-time homebuyers.” According to RealtyTrac, those who are “seriously underwater” (125% or higher of loan balance to home value) account for 11% of Montgomery County MD home owners, while the county average loan balance to home value is about 79%.

The idea of the inactive move-up buyer is not new. In fact it seems to be that move-up buyers were lacking after other deep recessions; the August 17, 1985 article published in the Chicago Tribune titled, “Move-up Buyer Provides The Base For A Recovering Housing Market” is a testimony for such behavior. The timing for the move-up buyer is likely correlated to the time necessary to either recover lost equity; or reach a comfort level for the net amount gained in their home sale.

Dan Krell ©
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of May 26, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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