Open house and carry on

Open House Still Part of Home Buying Process

open house
Stats from NAR’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2017 (infographic from nar.realtor)

The tradition of having an open house, like other real estate customs, has recently become a source of debate over its value and effectiveness.  According to Rachel Stults, the tradition began over one hundred years ago when brokers allowed prospective buyers to “inspect” the house by having it open to the public (A Brief History of Opening Our Homes to Total Strangers; realtor.com; April 21st, 2015).  The house was advertised as “open for inspection.”  Of course, it was a much different time. Home buyers were not represented, and there was no home inspection as we know it today.  Hence, the “open house,” as first conceived, served an important function for the both the buyer and the seller.

As the housing industry evolved, visiting an open house morphed into a Sunday tradition.  Open houses were not just for home buyers, as it also became a form of Sunday afternoon entertainment for the general public.  The internet changed the tradition by virtually opening the house to the public through pictures and tours and allowing buyers to identify the specific homes they want to visit.

There is disagreement among real estate agents and other housing experts on the merit and effectiveness of the open house.  Additionally, home buyers have significantly changed how they use the open house over the last two decades.  According to the National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor), twenty-eight percent of home buyers surveyed in 1999 indicated they found their home by visiting an open house, compared to only seven percent in 2017.

Adding doubt is a recent study that indicates having a public open house actually decreases the probability of selling a home by about 6.1 percent (Allen, Cadena, Rutherford & Rutherford; Effects of Real Estate Brokers’ Marketing Strategies: Public Open Houses, Broker Open Houses, MLS Virtual Tours, and MLS Photographs. Journal of Real Estate Research: 2015, 37:3, 343-369).  The authors indicated that having a public open house can increase your home’s days on market up to twenty-five days.

Although the open house may have lost its clout as a selling tool, it is still a major aspect of the home buying process.  Open house data from NAR’s 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers indicated:

-48 percent of all buyers surveyed used the open house as part of their home search process.
-Repeat home buyers are more likely to find their home from an open house compared to first-time buyers.
-The income bracket most likely to frequent an open house has a median income between $250,000 and $499,999.
-Home buyers below the age of 65 (but older than 24) are more likely to frequent an open.
-The Northeast and West regions of the US have more successful open houses.
-Buyers seeking a new home visit open houses more than those seeking a re-sale.
-Couples (married and unmarried) are more likely to visit open houses than single home buyers.
-And, ninety-two percent of home buyers surveyed indicated that open houses were at least “somewhat useful.”

If you decide to have an open house, put away your valuables and medications so as not to tempt thieves who may wander into your home.  Have a discussion with your agent about focusing on selling your home, instead of trying to get more clients.  And finally, don’t distract from your home by having an “event,” which employs food trucks, bounce houses, and other open house gimmicks.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Independence, patriotism and homeownership

independence patriotism home ownership
Old Glory (photo from National Park Service nps.gov)

Let’s come together to celebrate our freedom and independence.  Having innate and inalienable liberties is the foundation of this country.  The concept of independence is abstract and usually expressed as intangible actions, such as the freedom from the tyranny of others.  However, home ownership has become an icon of freedom that is tangible and obtainable.

Last month I wrote about a few of the benefits of owning a home as part of the recognition of National Homeownership Month.  Besides being wealthier, home owners tend to be healthier and happier than their renter counterparts.  The history of owning land has been one of wealth and luxury.  Renting on the other hand has been associated transition, difficult times, and a hard life.  This can be traced back to the middle ages, when serfdom was associated with leasing.

How did owning a home become associated with the American Dream?  Richard Mize revealed the truth about the connection in 2013 (Who first dreamed the American dream of homeownership?; The Oklahoman; June 22, 2013; newsok.com).  Mize cites Eric John Abrahamson’s historical biography “Building Home: Howard F. Ahmanson and the Politics of the American Dream” (University of California Press) as the source of the story.  Abrahamson attributes the idea of home ownership as the American Dream to the restructuring of local savings and loans after the depression of 1896.

Building and loan institutions during the 1800’s certainly did not have the technology nor the interconnectedness our modern banking system has today.  In restructuring the financial system after the 1896 depression, local building and loans were organized to form the U.S. League of Local Building and Loan Associations.  The League’s motto was “The American Home: The Safe-Guard of American Liberties.”  According to Mize, this was promoted as the American Dream.

Abrahamson attributed the League’s first president, Seymour Dexter, with equating the idea of home ownership to liberty.  According to Abrahamson, Dexter felt that owning property was a duty.  Dexter believed Thomas Jefferson’s conviction that independent property-owning farmers would “sustain the independence and virtue of the citizenry and the health of the democracy.”  Dexter viewed the industrialization of America as a “challenge to democracy.”  The industrialized worker was much like the serf of the middle ages who rented a home near their job, and owed allegiance only to their employer (landlord), which was viewed as “politically corrupt.”  And to rebuild America of the 1890s, owning a home became portrayed as patriotic and a “civic virtue.”

In 2011, then president of the National Association of Realtors Ronald L. Phipps wrote (Home ownership matters; magazine.realtor; February 1st, 2011):

Our commitment to home ownership is not about simple self-interest. Rather it is about a larger purpose. Home ownership has been part of the American experience since the very first breath of the Republic.  Today, what we need to do as a nation is connect with our truth and our tradition: Home ownership matters.

It’s not only Realtors who promote home ownership but government as well.  Federal and local government programs exist to encourage home ownership through down payment assistance programs, low interest rate mortgages, and even home renovation programs.

As Seymour Dexter of the U.S. League of Local Building and Loan Associations realized, owning a home is an act of independence and patriotism.  It doesn’t only benefit you personally, but it also benefits your community and the economy.  The idea of independence transcends all ideology and can be exhibited by owning a home.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Housing market bubble hyperbole

housing market bubble
Housing Market Snapshot (infographic from nar.realtor)

Timing, as they say, is “everything.”  Predicting the housing market is tricky.  Even the best economists can get it wrong.  Aptly, however, there is that group of naysayers who always believe the homes are overpriced and we are in a housing market bubble status.  And you know what they say about a broken clock, it’s correct twice a day.

There’s no way around it, housing market trends are cyclical.  Eventually, the housing market will crash and home prices will recede.  But, like the phoenix, will again be reborn to go through it’s life cycle.  According to Harvard’s Teo Nicolais (extension.harvard.edu/faculty-directory/teo-nicolais), there are four phases to the housing cycle.  The cycles were described in 1876 by economist Henry George and modernized by Glenn R. Mueller to include recovery, expansion, hypersupply, and recession.  Nicolais predicts that, aside from the occasional slowdown, there won’t be an honest to goodness housing crash until 2024.

You may be saying, “But Dan, the market feels just like the housing market bubble before the last crash.”  And in some respect, you may be correct.  At that time, home sale inventory was low, and home prices seemed on a never-ending climb. However, even though we have similar conditions, the current housing market is in a different cycle than where we were thirteen years ago.

Back in 2005 I reported that the active inventory of Montgomery County single family homes for sale for June 2005 increased to 2,004 units.  Homes were selling at rapid rate, as the number of contracts increase 2.5 percent during June 2005 compared to 2004.  And there was almost a 13 percent price appreciation from the previous year.  The 2005 housing market was clearly in a rapid expansion phase. Oversupply began in late 2006 when Montgomery County single family home inventory hovered around 4,000 units for the better part of the summer and fall.  And of course, the rest is history.

There is some disagreement about the current phase of the housing market.  Some say the market is in the beginning of an expansion cycle, while others (like me) believe we are still in the recovery cycle.  Yes, Inventory is tight.  But as I reported recently, not all homes are selling.  Which is contrary to the expansion of 2005, when it seemed as if all homes sold quickly regardless of condition.  Home prices are increasing, but at a more reasonable rate than they did thirteen years ago.  Although it may feel that houses sell in less than a week, the average days on market for homes that sell is currently 33 days in Montgomery County (according to MLS stats), and 78 days nationwide according to Zillow.

Another factor that is playing into current housing market conditions is mortgage interest rates.  Unlike the housing market bubble of thirteen years ago, interest rates are increasing and is anticipated to help mitigate the home price spikes.

Sure, there are regional markets, such as Seattle and Denver, that lead the country in home price gains (typically double digits).  But most everywhere else, real estate prices are improving gradually.  Moreover, regional markets each have their own hot neighborhoods that grab the headlines too.  Hot neighborhoods tend to be where investors, flippers and first-time home buyers converge.

Is there a housing market bubble?  Are we headed to a market crash like we experienced in 2007? No, at least not in the short term.  More likely, the market may be affected in the near future by a mild (and overdue) economic slowdown.  Unfettered, the housing market will continue its herky-jerky pace.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Basic home repair

basic home repair
Basic home repair tools (infographic from visual.ly)

I often preach about regular home maintenance.  However, home owners should also have basic home repair skills.  Basic repairs are those items that you can do safely, and usually don’t require a professional.  Basic home repair skills are sometimes useful as an emergency stopgap before the licensed contractor can make it to your home.

Basic home repair requires a few tools.  Keep a toolbox well stocked and know where it is so you can easily find it when necessary.  Besides the standard hammer, Philips and flathead screwdriver, your toolbox will need more items depending on your skill level.  If you’re in doubt about your ability to make a basic home repair, call a licensed contractor (you can do more damage if you don’t know what you’re doing).  As a precaution and in case of emergency, you should know where the emergency shutoffs are in your home for water, electric and gas.

One of the first repair skills that I learned as a home owner is how to “snake a drain.”  Bathroom drains, specifically, get clogged with hair and soap.  Chemical products are a common solution, however you should always follow the directions and read the “cautions and dangers.”  Chemicals don’t always work well, however.  If used improperly, chemical drain products can also damage basins and pipes.  Following the instructions, you can easily clear most clogs with a drain snake.  A small drain snake should be part of your tool box. These are cheap to purchase and readily available at the hardware store.

Have you ever needed to change your door locks quickly?  I have, once when a lock failed (the mechanism broke), and another time when someone stole our keys.  Although most locks can be changed out easily with a screwdriver, specialized locks require a locksmith.  Most locksets are designed as components that easily install. However, you should note that standards change over time, so make sure the lockset you purchase is the same size as the one being replaced.

Patching drywall is one of those repairs that is so basic that you can find “how-to” tutorials everywhere.  Basic drywall patching requires a few basic tools, such as a “spackling tool,” utility knife, sand paper and spackle.  Spackling tiny pinholes is easy. However, a larger hole may require some time for the repair as well as the clean-up.  Damage to large areas of drywall will most likely require sections to be replaced.

Can’t find the leak from your sink or tub?  There’s a good chance it’s coming from water that is seeping through old caulking.  Caulk is used as a sealant in plumbing applications.  It seals the fixtures and perimeter of sinks, tubs and shower stalls, which prevents water from trickling through.  As it ages, caulk shrinks and can become brittle, which allows water penetration and leaking.  A tube of caulk should be in your toolbox in case you need it for an emergency repair.  You don’t need a large caulking gun, as caulk is available in many forms, such as squeezable tubes and even tape.

Plastic sheathing and duct tape are both good to have in your toolbox in case of an emergency.  Duct tape, specifically, has many uses and is widely used as an adhesive and sealant.  These two items are useful as a short-term repair for broken windows and doors.  Plastic sheathing and duct tape can easily cover the affected areas until they are replaced, as well as help maintain cooling or heating in the interim.

 

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Specialty rooms for all interests

specialty rooms
Home improvement spending is increasing to include specialty rooms (infographic from census.gov)

Prior to the Great Recession, home owner spending for remodeling and renovations was very strong.  Besides remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms, many home owners also created specialty rooms (also known as special function rooms) in their homes.  Specialty rooms such as home theaters and media rooms were not just trendy because they were cool to have in the house, but they also added resale value.  According to Kermit Baker writing for Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, post-recession home remodeling spending dropped off by as much as 28 percent between 2007 and 2011.  That spending decrease meant that while home owners focused on saving and paying their mortgages, specialty rooms were no longer a necessity.

The return of the specialty room can be measured by the increased home remodeling spending over the past few years.  Specialty rooms are increasingly in demand.  The recent LIRA press release projects that home remodeling will remain strong at least through 2019.  Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies stated:

“Strengthening employment conditions and rising home values are encouraging homeowners to make greater investments in their homes…Upward trends in retail sales of building materials and the growing number of remodeling permits indicate that homeowners are doing more—and larger—improvement projects.”

Prior to the Great Recession, specialty rooms were a must for home owners.  However, many of these specialty rooms were primarily added for display and resale.  Home owners have since moved away from the large gaudy specialty room and are opting for more practical spaces focused on enjoyment and function.

Several years ago, panic rooms were in demand for protection.  It wasn’t just to protect from a home invasion, as portrayed in the movie “Panic Room,” but also to  offer shelter from severe weather.   FEMA even provides information on creating a safe room in your home.

Yes, specialty rooms are becoming popular again, but not in the way they were prior to the recession.  According to the 2017 AIA Home Design Trends Survey (aia.org), creating an outdoor living area is the currently the most popular specialty room today.  The outdoor living area is a way to extend indoor space and amenities (such as kitchen and home entertainment) to your back yard or roof top deck.

But home owners are opting for other specialty rooms too.  Building a fabulous mudroom comes in second in the AIA Home Design Trends Survey.  No longer that meager alcove separating the garage and kitchen, the mudroom has become a multi-purpose functional suite.  Obvious coat hooks, benches, and shoe cubicles are standard.  But mudrooms have become larger to accommodate storage units and desks, typically with high-end flooring and moldings.

Other specialty rooms mentioned in AIA’s survey include the home office and in-law suite.  However, other types of specialty rooms that are popular include fitness rooms and wine cellars.

As the economy improves, home owners have more money to spend on their passions.  Currently, there is a trend to build specialty rooms to help home owners pursue hobbies and talents.  Hobbyists are creating spaces for their collections and interests.  Many home owners are designing dedicated rooms as art studios.  Music lovers and musicians are finding that technology has made the music listening room and recording studio easy and affordable to create in their homes.

Over time, the home has evolved from a Spartan shelter to a space where we relax and express our personalities.  It is likely that specialty rooms will continue to evolve based the home owner’s lifestyle, finances, as well as technology.  Specialty rooms will also vary based on societal norms (consider formal dining and living rooms) and economic conditions.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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