Negative equity stats likely erroneous

negative equity
What is a short sale (infographic from lender411.com)

Before the Great Recession, there was the foreclosure crisis of 2007. That was the year that the housing bubble popped and home negative equity soared. Many home owners negotiated with their lenders to keep their homes, while others lost their homes to foreclosure. The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 was one of the first measures to assist distressed homeowners during the financial crisis. The Act initially was to end in 2009 but has been extended annually. The Act was recently retroactively extended for 2017.

The purpose of the Act was to address tax liabilities that distressed homeowners faced when they tried to save their homes. Because debt forgiveness is typically considered taxable income, a mortgage balance reduction via mortgage modification or short sale would have resulted in a tax bill to a homeowner who was already experiencing a financial hardship.

Recent home equity gains in the housing market should help many home sellers who would have otherwise needed a short sale. Highlights from CoreLogic’s Q4 2017 Home Equity Report (corelogic.com) indicated that about 4.9 percent of mortgaged homes have negative equity (which is a huge improvement from the almost 31 percent reported in 2012 by Zillow’s Negative Equity Report). Additionally, CoreLogic reported that the national average of home equity gained by homeowners over the past year was in excess of $15,000. However, there is disparity in home equity growth by region.

Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic stated:

“Home-price growth has been the primary driver of home-equity wealth creation. The CoreLogic Home Price Index grew 6.2 percent during 2017, the largest calendar-year increase since 2013. Likewise, the average growth in home equity was more than $15,000 during 2017, the most in four years. Because wealth gains spur additional consumer purchases, the rise in home-equity wealth during 2017 should add more than $50 billion to U.S. consumption spending over the next two to three years.”

The National Association of Realtors testified on March 14th to the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee hearing on “Post Tax Reform Evaluation of Recently Expired Tax Provisions” to make the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act permanent. In his testimony, Realtor Barry Grooms discussed the plight of many homeowners who are surprised to find that they are upside-down on their mortgage despite national home price gains.

Grooms made an argument why the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act should be permanent.  The Act has been retroactively extended each year in recent years leaving many short sellers “sweating it out” until the end of the year.  Part of the decision-making process for a short sale is a potential tax liability. Many home sellers take the chance that the Act will be renewed retroactively. But others do not want to take the chance of incurring a large tax liability.

Negative equity statistics are likely to be erroneous. The number of homes with negative equity is probably under-represented due to deferred maintenance.

Yes, home prices have significantly increased, which has grown home equity. But the statistics for home equity assume that all homes are worth “retail value.” The retail value of a home is the full price a home can sell. In today’s market the home must be in better-than-average to excellent condition to sell for retail value.  We don’t know the real value of any home until it’s sold.

In his testimony, Grooms touched upon a number of issues why homeowners are selling for less than they owe. However, not addressed by Groom is the number one reason why homeowners are under-water and why many home sellers need to sell via short sale. Property condition. The property condition crisis was highlighted in a February 2013 article by the Harvard Joint Center of Housing Studies entitled “The Return of Substandard Housing.” The lack of updates and/or deferred maintenance in a home can significantly decrease its value.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Home selling basics

home selling basics
Preparing for a home sale (infographic from nar.realtor)

It’s that time of year again.  Many home owners, just like you, are getting ready to put their houses on the market.  One thing I’ve learned over sixteen-plus years of home selling is that there are different strategies to achieve the same result.  Basically, there is no “one way” to sell your home.  But, if you look beyond the gimmicks and tactics promising to sell a home faster and for more money, the basics are essentially the same.  In other words, focus on home selling basics to increase home buyer traffic and possibly get a better price.

Prepare for home selling

Most would be home sellers don’t realize that selling a home is a process.  Preparing your home can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.  Focusing on home selling basics will not only get you excited about selling your home, but can help your home sale results.

Preparing your home to sell can be a costly endeavor, especially if your home has a lot of deferred maintenance or lacks updates.  However, the obstacle of selling when your home is in need of attention can be overcome by pricing it with its condition in mind.

Regardless of your home’s condition, it should still be neat and clean.  This means decluttering.  Decluttering is a process of prioritizing and clearing out unnecessary items from your home.  Removing unneeded items and furniture from your home will make your home feel larger and organized.  You don’t necessarily have to throw out these items, you can decide to make charitable donations and/or store them until you move.

People talk about “Neutralizing” a home to take away personal affects from the home.  It basically strips away the things you did to personalize your home.  Neutralizing applies to paint schemes, decor, wall hangings, flooring, etc.  It may sound extreme, but neutralizing your home will allow home buyers to envision how they can live there. Although your proud how to show your personal touch by displaying trophies, awards, diplomas, family and personal photos, these should be removed because they can distract home buyers’ attention.

Should you stage your home?  Maybe.  Staging can be another home selling expense you’re not prepared for, but it can help sell your home faster.  You can hire a professional stager or interior designer for the total staging experience.  However, staging doesn’t have to be expensive.  Some staging or design professionals can provide you a list of recommendations for a nominal fee.  If you’ve already decluttered and painted a room or two, you’re well into the first phase of staging.  Although some home sellers decide to rent furniture for their home staging (which can also be expensive), it’s not an absolute.  Once you remove the unnecessary furniture, the remainder may just need rearranging.

Don’t let your home’s exterior can turn away potential buyers before they get inside.  Even if you spend lots of time and money on preparing your home’s interior, it may not matter if home buyers don’t make it inside.   Many home buyers decide if they like a home by its exterior appearance.

Improving your home’s curb appeal is similar to preparing the interior.  Take care of deferred maintenance and declutter the exterior.  Believe it or not, landscaping is a key factor to attract buyers when home selling.  Make sure the lawn is cut regularly, and don’t over-crowd the flower beds and shrubs.  Trimming back trees will not only add to your manicured landscape, but it will also make your home easier to see from the street.

Once your home is one the market, consider having an open house.  The open house is more important today than it has been in decades.  Consider that contemporary home buyers are taking control over their home search.  Besides searching listings on their own, many will visit open houses on their own as well.  Deciding to not have an open house eliminates many potential home buyers from seeing your home.

Home selling basics is about safety too.  Selling your home means having people whom you don’t know visit your home, mostly when you’re not there.  Having unknown people walking through your home increases the chance of things going missing.  Don’t tempt would be thieves by leaving money, jewelry, medicines, or any other valuables on display.  Don’t just put your valuables away, lock them in a safe place.

But in the end, home selling basics comes down to the price.  Home buyers are savvy and know value.  In this market, it’s easy to get big eyes and over-price your home.  Making the mistake of over-pricing your home can stretch out the days-on-market and test your nerves.  Instead, decide on a list price that is consistent with recent neighborhood sales of homes that are similar in size, style and condition.

Home selling basics

1. Make repairs
2. Declutter
3. Improve the curb appeal
4. Staging
5. Open house
6. Find a buyer

Copyright© 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. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Neighbors affect home values

good neighbors
Good Neighbors (infographic from appfolio.com)

The housing market has been fairly good in recent years.  In fact, the shortage of homes for sale has shown how competitive home buyers can be as they try to outbid their cohorts for hot properties.  Even homes that are in need of “tlc” or have been neglected in some way have found new owners too.  But, as I have mentioned in the past, not all homes sell.  And for some home sellers whose homes have not sold, they only need to look their neighbors.

That’s correct.  Your neighbor may have more sway over your home sale and property value than you think.  A 2013 news item from the Appraisal Institute warns home sellers and buyers about the neighbor factor (Bad Neighbors Can Reduce Property Values, Appraisal Institute Warns; appraisalinstitute.org; January 30 2013).  Not only can bad neighbors affect your sale, but can “significantly reduce nearby property values.”

Former Appraisal Institute President Richard L. Borges II, MAI, SRA stated:

I’ve seen many situations where external factors, such as living near a bad neighbor, can lower home values by more than 5 to 10 percent…Homeowners should be aware of what is going on in their neighborhood and how others’ bad behaviors could affect their home’s value.”

“Bad neighbors” are often characterized as inconsiderate, if not sometimes belligerent.  Typical neighbor complaints stem from pets, excessive noise, and poor exterior home maintenance.  In high density neighborhoods (such as townhomes and condos), parking and trash/recycling debris can also be a source of neighbor conflict.

Neighbor disputes are often resolved by talking it out.  However, if you find that your neighbor is not receptive, you may have other avenues of recourse.  If you live in a Homeowners or Condo Association, your association may offer assistance in resolving your issue.

Montgomery County addressed the issue by enacting “Good Neighbor” ordinances in 2011 “to preserve the quality of life” in the county.  The purpose was to reduce the influx of commercial influences into residential neighborhoods, and maintain their domiciliary character.  These ordnances were directed at home based businesses, parking of commercial vehicles, off street vehicle parking, and paving of front yards.

If you believe your neighbor issue arises from a code violation, you can contact the appropriate county department to investigate a complaint.  For example, Housing Code Enforcement can investigate such things as housing and building standards, overgrown weeds, and excess debris in yards.  Whereas the Department of Police – Animal Services Division can investigate common pet complaints such as an unleashed pet roaming the neighborhood, or a neighbor not cleaning up after their pet does their business on your yard or common areas.

Unfortunately, there are occasions where trying to resolve your neighbor issues civilly comes up short.  In extreme instances, however, you may have to seek legal counsel.

Being a good neighbor is a two-way street, often requiring some compromise and offering assistance.  Housing experts suggest that you can resolve your neighbor issues by talking to them.  All too often, neighbors who seem neglectful of their homes are actually in need of assistance.  Regardless of their issues, they may be too proud to ask for help, they don’t know where to get help, or they are so overwhelmed they don’t know they need help.  Talking to your neighbors and lending a hand can not only mend fences and build a stronger community, but may also increase the value of your home.

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Buyer’s market home selling

Buyer's Market
Home Selling Mistakes (infographic from floridarealtors.org)

As winter approaches, many home sellers will be contemplating their next move after their homes have not sold.  It is likely that a volatile housing market awaits home sellers during the first half of 2018.  If you’re planning to list your home, you should have a selling plan that is able to adjust to market conditions quickly.  In other words, know about home selling in a buyer’s market.

The good news for home sellers is that this year’s home sale prices continue to climb, as the September 26th 20-city composite of the S&P Corelogic Case Shiller National Home Price Index (spindices.com) revealed.  The national index during July increased 5.8 percent compared to the same period last year, while the Washington DC area realized a 3.3 percent year over year gain.  However, there is expectation home sale prices may moderate or even slightly decrease in the first quarter of 2018 because of Fed policy and other market forces.

David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices stated in the release:

“While home prices continue to rise, other housing indicators may be leveling off. Sales of both new and existing homes have slipped since last March. The Builders Sentiment Index published by the National Association of Home Builders also leveled off after March. Automobiles are the second largest consumer purchase most people make after houses. Auto sales peaked last November and have been flat to slightly lower since. The housing market will face two contradicting challenges during the rest of 2017 and into 2018. First, rebuilding following hurricanes across Texas, Florida and other parts of the south will lead to further supply pressures. Second, the Fed’s recent move to shrink its balance sheet could push mortgage rates upward.”

Of course, home sale price indices only show sale prices for homes that sell.  And while home sale prices are increasing back to record levels in many areas, the volume of homes sold during 2017 so far is disappointing.  According to a September 20th NAR news release (realtor.nar), August’s existing home sales dropped 1.7 percent.  The Pending Home Sale Index for August dropped 2.6 percent, which made the NAR revise their 2017 home sale forecast to be “slightly below the pace set in 2016.”  Home sale volume in the first quarter of 2018 may also lag due to continued lack of inventory and anticipated increasing mortgage interest rates.  Lawrence Yun, cheif NAR economist, quipped

“The supply and affordability headwinds would have likely held sales growth just a tad above last year, but coupled with the temporary effects from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, sales in 2017 now appear will fall slightly below last year…The good news is that nearly all of the missed closings for the remainder of the year will likely show up in 2018, with existing sales forecast to rise 6.9 percent.”

Since these are August sales figures from the NAR, it is an unfortunate truth that August sales were not really affected by hurricanes. Mostly because hurricane Harvey hit Texas the very last days of August and Irma hit Florida in September. The main affects of the hurricanes disruption to existing home sales will be seen in September’s statistics. And “missed closings” is a euphemism for phantom closings, because they don’t really exist. So, with regard to sliding home sales, you should take Yun’s “headwinds” of supply and affordability very seriously.

Home selling in 2018, a buyer’s market?

Home sellers positioning themselves solely on this year’s home sale prices may be in for a rude awakening next year.  Sellers may feel as if the market is getting soft, however that may change the latter half of 2018 as home prices moderate.  Sellers will need to be reasonable.  They will need to have awareness of many factors besides home sale prices, including existing home sales volume and neighborhood sale trends.  Including home selling in a buyer’s market.

If you’re planning to sell your home, you will need to play to your audience (home buyers), and listen to their feedback.  Know how to sell in 2018.  Prepare your home before listing it in the MLS by repairing deferred maintenance and possibly making updates.  Home buyers have a track record of paying more for a home that has been totally renovated.  However, if you don’t completely repair and/or update your home, be prepared to lower your sale price.

Be flexible to quickly adjust to the market.  Feedback is highly important to get other’s perspectives about your home.  However, take Realtor feedback with a grain of salt.  Instead, have your agent collect buyer feedback at open houses. Home buyers tend to be more honest when giving feedback, and it can be especially helpful in a buyer’s market.  If the consensus is that the price is too high, the price may actually be too high.  If buyers are turned off by the condition and/or curb appeal of the home, consider making repairs or lowering price to reflect the condition.  If they are focused on your décor, consider hiring a professional stager to make the home more appealing.

Rather than a soft market, we are experiencing the struggle for a balanced market due to an inventory shortage and sharply decreasing affordability.  The last year and a half has been all about the home seller.  However, 2018 will be about the home buyer.  Home selling in a volatile or buyer’s market can be challenging. If you’re planning a sale, be realistic about your home’s condition and value. Over pricing your home from the start can make your home languish on the market, which could get you a much lower price if it sells.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Attract home buyers – Zillow listing

attract home buyers
Attract home buyers (infographic from blogs.realtor.org)

If you’re selling your home, check your Zillow listing.  You may find that the information may not be complete.  Or worse, the information posted is from a previous sale.  But don’t worry, Zillow now gives you the tools to take control, attract home buyers, and improve your sale.

Most of the information you see on your Zillow listing is syndicated from the MLS.  This means that your listing agent uploads information to the MLS and the MLS sends it to other websites.  If you’re not happy with the listing, your agent can change some information via the MLS, and/or log into the Zillow listing to make changes.  However, if your listing agent is too busy to service your listing or does not know about logging into your Zillow listing, you can now take control and attract home buyers.

Zillow offers home owners the opportunity to “claim” their home to access features to personalize information to help home buyers (and Zillow) to get a better picture about their home.  The “Personalized Owner Dashboard” gives you control of your listing (zillowgroup.com/news/personalized-owner-dashboard).

Of the many available tools, online metrics is useful to see how much attention your home is getting from home buyers.  You can view your home listing’s online activity, including how many times the listing has been viewed compared to your competition.

Improve on the house description by adding “What I love about the home.”  This feature conveys to home buyers what attracted you to your home.  Elicit the home buyer’s emotions to visit it and attract home buyers by adding your story.

The MLS limits the number of pictures on your listing.  So, solely relying on the MLS feed can also limit your Zillow listing.  Increasing the number of pictures and adding video can make your home listing more robust, and attention getting.  Zillow allows you (and your agent) to upload additional pictures.  You can upload, arrange, and describe additional photos to help give home buyers the best view of your home.  Zillow even lets you upload a video that you record from your smartphone!  Besides including a link to the MLS virtual tour, Zillow added the “walk through” video feature last year.

Not happy with your Zestimate?  You’re not alone.  Zillow’s Zestimate tool has received mixed reviews since its inception.  Many home buyers and sellers have used the tool as a guide in to help their buying and selling by looking at house and neighborhood trends.  However, there has been criticism from home owners and real estate agents saying that home valuation tool is not inaccurate and does not correctly portray their homes and listings.  As a response, Zillow has changed the algorithm over the years.  And this year, Zillow announced a $1,000,000 prize for the best model to improve the Zestimate tool (zillow.com/promo/zillow-prize).  But that hasn’t stopped a class action suit that complains that the Zestimate is “misleading” home buyers (Rachel Koning Beals; Do Zillow ‘Zestimates’ mislead home buyers? Lawsuit claims yes; marketwatch.com; May 23, 2017).

Improve your Zestimate.  Yes, you can improve your Zestimate.  The dashboard allows you to update the facts about your home.  Updating your home’s information will give home buyers a better description, and it can possibly improve the Zestimate.  Since the Zestimate is based on public records, all your home’s information may not be current or complete.  Telling Zillow about the extras, such as bathrooms, a finished basement, a deck, etc. can be a plus and attract home buyers.

Copyright© 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. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.