Hot Pockets & adjusting for an increasing market

Hot Pockets. Yep, I’m about to use them to explain the housing market. That either makes me deeply creative or really immature. I’ll let you decide. On a serious note though, let’s talk about this analogy and consider the importance of giving value adjustments to comps during an increasing market. As always, I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

Hot Pockets and real estate - Greater Sacramento Region Appraisal Blog

Hot Pockets analogy: The real estate market is like a Hot Pocket taken out of the microwave a tad too early. Some portions are blazing hot while others are only warm or frozen. Like a Hot Pocket, we can say the real estate market is “hot” overall, but it’s definitely not the same temperature in every neighborhood or price range.

Thoughts on making adjustments in an increasing market:

  1. Changing Market: If the market has changed since the most recent sales got into contract, a value adjustment may be needed. In other words, if the market is now higher or lower than the sales, we can account for that in an appraisal (or listing) by making an up or down value adjustment to the comps. Of course there needs to be support for making such an adjustment. We can’t just say, “There’s no inventory, so value must be higher”. We need to rather find support in the market (see #2 and #3).
  2. Pendings vs. Sales: There are many signs of an increasing market, but one of the best things to do is compare competitive pendings and sales. Are pendings getting into contract at higher levels? The other day I appraised something where pendings were about 3-4% higher than similar sales from December, so I ended up giving a 3-4% upward adjustment to a couple of sales I used from November and December. I didn’t have many recent sales to work with unfortunately, but comparing a few older sales with a few current pendings helped me see the current market. Remember, the entire county might show certain trends, but we have to look in each neighborhood to find neighborhood trends (which could be different).
  3. Contract Date: When making adjustments we need to look at when the comps got into contract. One comp may have a contract date four months old, while another is from 40 days ago. The change in the market could easily be different for each comp, which means it’s okay to give big adjustments to some comps and smaller ones to others (or no adjustment).
  4. The Real Price: In an increasing market it’s very helpful for appraisers (and agents) to know the exact price of pending “comps” where possible. After all, we might see something listed as “pending” in MLS, but the real contract price could be higher or lower. On one hand appraisers might give less weight to pendings because we don’t know the precise dollar amount in many cases, though when agents divulge the exact contract price and terms, it can help appraisers give even stronger weight to pendings in the neighborhood.
  5. Imperfect Data: It would be nice if all neighborhood data was perfectly aligned, but sometimes it’s conflicting, which means we have to use good judgement. Does that one high sale or pending really reflect the market or not? Is it reasonable? Do those two lower pendings mean the market is starting to soften? Did the hefty credit to the buyer in that one comp inflate the sales price? At the end of the day we have to spend time weighing both sales and listings to see the market, which means sometimes we end up throwing out certain sales because they’re outliers more than anything.

I hope that was helpful.

Questions: When was the last time you ate a Hot Pocket? Anything else you’d add to this post? I’d love to hear your take

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Starbucks cups and price per sq ft

I was in line at Starbucks and then it hit me. The perfect analogy for price per sq ft in real estate. While ordering my Grande drip with no room, I began to wonder how much I was paying for each ounce. Maybe that means I’m a geek, but was I really getting the most bang for my buck to buy a Grande (medium)? Or should I go with a Venti (large)? Take a look at the image below to see how price per ounce works at Starbucks, and then let’s consider a real example of this principle in real estate.

Starbucks cups and real estate - by sacramento appraisal blog

Big Point: The larger the cup, the less you pay for each ounce of coffee. Or we could say it a different way. Smaller cups of coffee tend to cost more per ounce. This is interesting, but it’s not really surprising because it’s merely an example of economies of scale, right? We see this principle all the time when buying bigger or smaller items, yet it’s easy to ignore when it comes to housing. So let’s take a look at all residential home sales from last month in Sacramento County. Do you see a similarity with the coffee?

image purchased from 123rf by sacramento appraisal blog - price per sq ft example

Big Point: The larger the house, the less you tend to pay for each square foot. Or we could say it a different way. Smaller homes tend to have a higher price per sq ft compared to larger homes. This is a principle we see when looking at county-wide data, but it’s also something we tend to see by neighborhood (assuming we have enough data). Just like coffee costs less per ounce the more you buy, it tends to cost less per sq ft for the more house you buy. That’s the big idea.

Be a Great Explainer: I love this analogy. Maybe it’s partly because I’m a coffee fanboy, but in truth talking through price per sq ft is hands-down one of the most relevant conversations to master in real estate. I hope the next time the topic comes up with a client, maybe you’ll think about using Starbucks cups to explain how price per sq ft tends to work in a neighborhood. For a refresher post you can read 5 things to remember about using price per sq ft in real estate.

Question: What drink do you order at Starbucks?

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No man’s land & the aggressive real estate market

It’s easy to explain what the market did, but what is it doing now? Everyone and their Mom can sound like an expert with the benefit of hindsight, but how do we see the current market? Do we give more weight to recent sales or listings? Do we have to wait for sales to close to know how the market is unfolding? Let’s consider a few thoughts below. I also have my big monthly market update at the bottom of this post for those interested. Any thoughts?

aggressive market in sacramento - sacramento appraisal blog

Four points to consider:

  1. Sales show us the past: A sale might close escrow today, but does it really tell us about the market today? Not necessarily. A closed sale on April 12, 2016 probably got into contract in early March, so it likely tells us more about the market 30-45 days ago rather than today. The current market in April could actually be higher or lower, so it’s important to ask how value has changed if at all.
  2. Pendings help us see the current market: The current market is often better seen in the pendings and listings rather than the sales. This assumes we have enough solid data of course. One of the most practical questions we can ask is whether properties are getting into contract at higher levels or not. Simply put, if pendings are higher than the most recent sales (and they’re not padded with concessions), they helps us see the current market has probably increased in value. Other questions to consider: Are properties getting into contract more quickly? Is inventory going up or down? Is the sales-to-list price ratio increasing or declining in the neighborhood? Are sellers offering incentives to buyers or not? It’s easy to be so fixated on sales that we don’t ask these questions, but the answers help us gauge current trends. Remember though, sales might tell us about the past, but we still give them strong weight because they actually closed at that level. After all, pendings might not end up selling. In that sense we have to “appraise” the pendings too. Are they reasonable? Do they reflect the market? Or are they outliers?
  3. Getting bid up to “no man’s land”: Sometimes in a frenzied market, properties can easily get into contract for more than they are worth. Yes, the market has been aggressive and values have been increasing (see trends below), but sometimes properties are simply getting bid up to “no man’s land” so to speak. In other words, there just isn’t any support for a value that high based on all market data. Remember, even when housing inventory is incredibly sparse like it is right now, there still has to be support for the value. We can’t just list at an astronomical level or let offers get bid up way beyond what is reasonable and expect a magical appraisal to meet the contract price.
  4. Making or not making market adjustments: If the market has changed since the sales went into contract, appraisers may need to account for that with a market conditions adjustment. If you didn’t know, appraisers can give an up or down adjustment to the comps if the market has changed since the comps went into contract. In fact, if an adjustment is not given when it should be given, the appraised value could easily reflect the market in the past rather than today. Appraisers need to consider what a real market adjustment for time might look like. For instance, last week I used a comp that was nearly one year old since recent sales were sparse, and I gave an 8% adjustment up since the neighborhood market has increased in value by that much. I could have given a small token adjustment that I just made up, but 8% was very reasonable based on more recent sales and current pendings.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your take below.

—————– For those interested, here is my big market update  —————–

Big monthly market update post - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased from 123rfTwo ways to read the BIG POST:

  1. Scan the talking points and graphs quickly.
  2. Grab a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes digesting what is here.

DOWNLOAD 87 graphs HERE: Please download all graphs in this post (and more) here as a zip file (or send me an email). Use them for study, for your newsletter, or some on your blog. See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share (please don’t copy verbatim). Thanks.

Quick Sacramento Market Summary: It’s been aggressive out there. This is why many real estate professionals are comparing the current market with the beginning of 2013. There are certainly similarities, though the market three years ago had very rapid appreciation and all the metrics show it was hands-down more aggressive than it is today. We can talk about the differences in the comments if you’d like. Values overall saw a healthy uptick last month, it took 12 less days to sell a house compared to the same time last year, and housing inventory is currently over 25% lower than it was last March. Sales volume was up about 4% last month compared with the same time last year, and interest rates declining has certainly helped draw more buyers out (which doesn’t help with the low inventory problem). FHA had been increasing in the Sacramento market, but in light of how aggressive the market is out there, FHA buyers have begun to get squeezed out. FHA buyers were still 23% of all sales last month, but that’s down from 25-28% for multiple months in a row. It’s worth noting bank-owned sales are up very slightly. Some REO brokers have said they are starting to see more action in their REO pipelines, though so far there really isn’t any big change as REOs were only 5% of all sales the past quarter.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY:

  1. It took an average of 37 days to sell a home last month.
  2. It took 9 less days to sell last month that the previous month.
  3. It took 10 less days to sell this March compared to last March.
  4. Sales volume was up nearly 4% this March compared to March 2015.
  5. There is only 1.2 months of housing supply in Sacramento County.
  6. Housing inventory is 26% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. The median price increased by 2% last month.
  8. The median price is 8.7% higher than the same time last year.
  9. The avg price per sq ft increased by 2.3% last month.
  10. The avg price per sq ft is 8.3% higher than the same time last year.

Some of my Favorite Graphs this Month:

inventory in sacramento county Since 2013 - part 2 - by sacramento appraisal blog

inventory - March 2016 - by home appraiser blog

fha and cash in sac county - sacramento appraisal blog

sales volume and cash in sacramento - by home appraiser blog

CDOM in Sacramento County - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

REO and short sale trends - sac appraisal blog 3

median price and inventory since jan 2013 - by sacramento appraisal blog

price metrics since 2015 in sacramento county - look at all 2

SACRAMENTO REGIONAL MARKET:

  1. It took 9 less days to sell last month compared to the previous month.
  2. It took 9 less days to sell this March compared to last March.
  3. Sales volume was 2.5% higher in March 2016 compared to last March.
  4. Short sales were 3.5% and REOs were 5.2% of sales last month.
  5. There is 1.5 months of housing supply in the region right now.
  6. Housing inventory is 19% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. The median price increased 3% last month from the previous month.
  8. The median price is 7.2% higher than the same time last year.
  9. The avg price per sq ft increased 1.6% last month.
  10. The avg price per sq ft is 7.6% higher than the same time last year.

Some of my Favorite Regional Graphs:

median price and inventory in sacramento regional market 2013

months of housing inventory in region by sacramento appraisal blog

days on market in placer sac el dorado yolo county by sacramento appraisal blog

sales volume 2015 vs 2016 in sacramento placer yolo el dorado county

sacramento region volume - FHA and conventional - by appraiser blog

Regional market median price - by home appraiser blog

PLACER COUNTY:

  1. It took 14 less days to sell a house last month than February.
  2. It took 9 less days to sell this March compared to last March.
  3. Sales volume was 11% lower in March 2016 compared to last March.
  4. FHA sales were 18% of all sales last month.
  5. Cash sales were 20% of all sales last month.
  6. There is 1.8 months of housing supply in Placer County right now.
  7. Housing inventory is 3% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  8. The median price declined 2% last month (take with a grain of salt).
  9. The median price is up 6.5% from March 2015.
  10. Short sales were 3.2% and REOs were 2.4% of sales last month.

Some of my Favorite Placer County Graphs:

Placer County housing inventory - by home appraiser blog

Placer County price and inventory - by sacramento appraisal blog

number of listings in PLACER county - 2016

months of housing inventory in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog

interest rates inventory median price in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog

Placer County sales volume - by sacramento appraisal blog

I hope this was helpful and interesting.

DOWNLOAD 87 graphs HERE: Please download all graphs in this post (and more) here as a zip file (or send me an email). Use them for study, for your newsletter, or some on your blog. See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share (please don’t copy verbatim). Thanks.

Questions: Any other points to add about sales vs. listings? How else would you describe the market right now? I’d love to hear your take and what you are seeing in the trenches.

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Four things to remember about the value of a larger lot

The lot is huge, so it must be worth more, right? But how much is it really worth? Let’s look at four quick points to consider when it comes to lot size. Don’t miss the two images at the bottom of the post too. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

larger lot size in real estate - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased from 123rf and used with permission

Four things to remember about the value of a larger lot:

  1. It’s about what the market will pay: The best way to know what a larger lot size is worth is to start comparing similar homes with and without larger lots. What is the price difference? If we can line up a few examples, we’ll probably begin to see a reasonable range of value emerge. Keep in mind there might not be any recent larger lot sales, but you can easily look at the past few years of neighborhood sales as well as sales in a competitive market. Value could be exponentially higher for the larger size, but then again it might be less than we’d think. At the end of the day we have to look to the market for the answer though since it all comes down to what buyers are actually willing to pay for the difference in size.
  2. Usefulness: When dealing with a larger lot we have to consider the usefulness of the extra space. What if the larger lot size was located in the front yard? Could there be a difference in value between a huge backyard and a large front yard? What if the lot had a funky shape that made most if it unusable? What if the larger lot was located right next to the highway compared to the interior of the neighborhood? What if there was an easement running through the lot that essentially cut the usable space in half? From a value standpoint we have to consider the effective usable lot size and make sure we are choosing comps with similar utility.
  3. New construction: Remember, builders tend to charge more for a “lot size premium” or “lot elevation premium” when a house initially sells, but this premium may or may not exist in the resale market years down the road. The owner might expect to sell for more, but what are homes with similar features actually selling for in the resale market? That’s what our focus needs to be.
  4. The temptation to give an adjustment: It’s tempting to give a lot size value adjustment any time we see a difference in size. Thus when we see a lot that is 6534 sq ft and a lot that is 8000 sq ft, we automatically apply an adjustment. Or if we see something that is 4356 sq ft and a lot that is 6500 sq ft, we’re tempted to use a price figure we think makes sense. But we have to ask ourselves, would buyers really make the adjustment? (adjustments are supposed to be based on the behavior of the market (buyers)). It’s easy to be trigger-happy about giving adjustments like this, but we have to remember there is no such thing as an adjustment that is going to work for every single neighborhood, price range, or market. In short, if the adjustment is incredibly minor, maybe it’s better to just not give it in the first place.

I hope this was helpful. Now two quick images.

lot utility - sacramento appraisal blog

Example of Finding an Adjustment: Assume these two model match sales have a similar location, upgrades, and condition. Now how much is the extra lot size worth based on actual sales? Remember, it’s ideal to find a few examples instead of just one so our results are more meaningful.

lot size example - by sacramento appraisal blog

Questions: Anything else to add? What is #5? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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How to challenge a low appraisal (and tips for agents and appraisers)

The appraisal came in low. Those are five very stressful words during a real estate transaction, right? We hear these words every now and then, but when a market begins to change in the spring especially, it seems like we hear them more. So what can be done when this happens? What is the best way to communicate with the appraiser? What are some things to do and not do? Let’s talk about what it can look like to work through this issue. I’ve included a template you can download to your desktop, but I’ve also included some communication tips. The goal here is not only to give a useful rebuttal format, but to spark conversation between agents and appraisers (see tips below).

I’d love to hear your take and insight in the comments.

Image purchased by 123rf dot com and used with permission by sacramento appraisal blog - target value

DOWNLOAD this format HERE as a Word document. I created this format to help foster better communication with appraisers and focus on the right issues when challenging an appraisal. You might notice the diplomatic tone and logical flow too. Use this format as a template to fill in the blanks for a specific property.

appraisal rebuttal format to use - sacramento appraisal blog

Example of the template filled out:

appraisal rebuttal example - by sacramento appraisal blog

DOWNLOAD this format HERE as a Word document. Use it as a template to fill in the blanks for a specific property.

TIPS FOR AGENTS:

  1. Be Reasonable: Be realistic about what a property is worth. Try to help the owner base the list price on actual similar sales and whatever the current market is doing in the neighborhood for similar properties.
  2. Communicate First: Sometimes real estate agents have a very hands-off approach about communicating with appraisers (until an appraisal comes in too low of course). When that happens, agents will often start communicating all sorts of things about the property and how the market responded to it. But why was this information not shared in the first place? If you aren’t using my “Appraiser Info Sheet“, please consider doing so because it helps you be intentional about answering questions appraisers tend to ask (before they ask). Remember, it’s easier to be proactive before the appraisal is finished rather than reactive afterward.
  3. Ask the Lender: Before launching into a rebuttal, first make sure to ask the lender what their process is for challenging an appraisal so you know you are spending your time wisely. They might have their own form. Remember, a reconsideration of value has to come to the appraiser from the lender.
  4. Wear your Data Hat: It can be emotional when a property appraises too low, so it’s important to remain objective and stick to the facts of the market when talking with appraisers. Focus on critiquing the meat of the appraisal, which is comp selection and adjustments given (or not given). Forget about minor issues or clerical errors that don’t really sway value.
  5. Price Per Sq Ft: I recommend giving most of your attention to similar sales rather than bringing up price per sq ft. At the end of the day price per sq ft can be a valuable metric, but during an appraisal rebuttal it’s important to focus on sales that are similar since that is probably what is going to be most useful for the appraiser.
  6. Be Humble: It’s easy to blast the appraiser because you think you’re right, but the appraiser might have nailed the value. Remember, some appraisals come in low because the appraiser did a bad job, but many times properties come in lower than the contract price because that’s really where value is.
  7. Novel: There is a better chance of being heard if you keep it short. Don’t write a novel (and it helps if you’re diplomatic and nice). This is why the format above is useful because it helps organize thoughts into a logical manner.
  8. No pressure: Remember to not pressure for a higher value (Dodd-Frank). Stick with the facts and try to help the market speak for itself. That’s the value of the sheet above because it helps focus the conversation on comps and adjustments. You are asking the appraiser to reconsider the value, not meet your contract price. In fact, don’t even suggest a target value for the appraiser to meet. With some focused communication, you can provide support for a higher value without saying, “it’s worth at least X amount”.

TIPS FOR APPRAISERS:

  1. Seasonal Market: When the market changes, the most recent sales may not yet reflect the change. This means if we use older sales, we might essentially undervalue or overvalue a property unless we give an adjustment for the way the market has changed. The most recent sales probably got into contract 30 to 60 days ago, which means they reflect the market at the time. This means we need to weigh carefully if we ought to be giving a “Date of Sale” adjustment to help sales conform to current trends.
  2. Correct Mistakes: I know some appraisers never budge on changing the value. I get that. Nobody wants to have different versions of a report out there. I’m not an E&O company, but if the value is wrong due to our mistakes, isn’t our professional duty to get it right? It’s okay to change the value in the report, and if you need to do that, I would recommend writing in the addendum what changes were made and why they were made. This happens to the best of us. Nobody nails value perfectly all the time.
  3. Professionalism: The market is complex and there is something humbling about putting a value on something. This ought to bring a sense of awe and evoke a deep respect for the way value works in a neighborhood. In other words, since it’s not always easy to interpret value, we ought to be careful to not be arrogant. Let’s rather find ways to reek of humility and professionalism.
  4. Use the Info Sheet: If you think it would be useful, feel free to use my Appraiser Info Sheet document to help train local agents in your area to give you the type of information that is valuable to you during a transaction (this makes for a great office presentation too). Many times agents are doing their best to give appraisers what they think is useful, but it’s actually not helpful at all. This is why appraisers can help educate agents on what type of information they are really looking for. I have a set of questions I always ask a listing agent, so this is exactly why I created the info sheet. Feel free to download the sheet and use it in your market. In fact, make it better. If you end up posting the document on your blog or online, please give me a link back to honor the original source (I’ll do the same for stuff you create).
  5. Be Neutral: There is often pressure to “hit the number” or make the deal work, but appraisers aren’t escrow helpers or deal-enablers. This point really could have been placed above for agents, but it’s always a good reminder for us appraisers too. If value isn’t there, it’s not there, and everyone else needs to be okay with that. Recently a file on my desk ended up appraising 4% below the contract price. In this case the seller was asking way too much in hopes of netting more money to buy a larger house. My job wasn’t to meet the contract price, but to be a neutral party to the transaction.

I hope this was helpful.

SacBee Article: By the way, I have some cool news to share. I’ll be writing a bi-monthly column in the weekend real estate section of The Sacramento Bee. My first article was published last weekend. I’m honored and excited for the opportunity. Now I just need to find more time to write.  🙂

ryan lundquist SacBee real estate article

Questions: Anything else to add? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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10 tips for pulling comps on a tricky property

The cookie cutter properties are the easy ones. But have you ever felt like you were just guessing at the value when dealing with something unique? Or maybe it seemed like you were throwing darts at a dartboard to come up with a number. What do we do when properties are different from the rest of the neighborhood? Let’s kick around some ideas below. I’d love to hear your take in the comments too.

pulling comps on a tricky property - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased from 123rf

Here’s what I tend to say for how to pull comps on tricky properties:

  1. Deep Research: If a property is challenging, how far back in time have you looked? Sometimes we say things like, “I’ve scoured everything,” when in fact we’ve only glanced the past 3 to 6 months of sales. If we are dealing with something funky, we might have to look at years worth of sales to find something similar. Finding older similar sales is important because it helps us see how a challenging property fit into the local market. You can thus use older sales for research or include them in a report or CMA (and make an adjustment up or down depending on how the market has moved).
  2. Previous Subject Sale: Has the subject property sold before? If so, what did the subject compare to at the time? Finding comps for prior sales might be a clue into how the subject property fits into the context of the market. Of course it’s important to remember the previous sale might have closed too high or low.
  3. That One Feature: Often a home might be fairly standard, but what makes it difficult to value is an extra feature that is less common for the neighborhood. Maybe it’s a huge barn, accessory dwelling, or a studio above a garage. This is where we have to try to find something that is similar enough so we can gauge what the market has actually paid for that feature (since the cost of the feature might be way more than the actual value it adds). Remember, we might not be able to find something exactly the same, so we’ll have to be okay with similar, which is alright as long as we are looking at two things that are truly competitive. As an example, we might be able to find four neighborhood sales with accessory dwellings over the past couple of years and then compare those sales with otherwise similar homes (but without an accessory unit). As we start to compare prices, we can try to extract a percentage or dollar amount for what the accessory unit contributed to the overall sale, and then apply that in today’s market.
  4. Competitive Areas: If sales are extremely sparse in the subject neighborhood, where else would a buyer consider purchasing? You might try looking there for recent sales. Make sure the neighborhoods really are competitive though, and the way you’ll know that is if prices have been similar over time in both areas.
  5. Bottom & Top: Sometimes when dealing with a really funky property, we have to ask ourselves where the top and bottom of the price market is in the neighborhood. At the least this gives us some context for where the value of the subject property is likely to fit (I know, that might be a wide range, but it’s better than nothing).
  6. Ask for Advice: One of the best things to do when valuing a tricky property is to ask for advice. Seek out others who have valued something like that before and ask for wisdom. What did you do? Who did you talk to? Where did you go for comps? What challenges did you face?
  7. Target Buyer: It’s often useful to consider who a target buyer might be so we can gauge how that representative buyer might approach the property.
  8. Range of Value:  When a property is out-of-the-ordinary, it’s useful to see value in a range. We like to be so precise about value, but the best thing we can do at times is to give a range of value based on research. Thus instead of saying, “The value is $550,000 exactly”, we might say “A reasonable value range is $530,000 to $560,000”. This can work well for agents to communicate value for a unique home, but it can also work well with appraisers for doing certain types of private appraisals or consulting work where a precise value is not needed (a lender is going to want an appraiser to select a specific value).
  9. Test the Market:  You can do all your homework on a property and still not be sure the value is where you think it is. Sometimes when a property is unique, it’s good to go in with research or maybe even hire an appraiser, but at some point the property needs to be exposed to the market. After all, the market will tell you what it’s worth.
  10. Walk Away: On occasion the best thing to do is walk away from a property. Appraisers get this because we know we are not 100% qualified to value all properties. For example, I am not qualified to appraise the Capitol building in Sacramento, sports arenas, The White House, or a few hundred acres of almond groves in the Central Valley (not at this time anyway). Recognizing our limitations keeps us humble and it’s key for building credibility with clients. This also underscores how the best answer to value can sometimes be, “I do not know what it is worth. I have some ideas, but I think we need to test the market.”

I hope this was helpful.

blogging classBlogging Class I’m Teaching: I’m teaching a class coming on April 12 at SAR from 9-11am. It’s called “Successful Real Estate Blogging“, and I’ll be talking through the nuts and bolts of effective blogging. This will be extremely practical, and my goal is for you to take action (rather than just listen to me talk shop). I’d love for you to be there. See the attached image for more info. Let me know if you have questions.

Questions: Anything else to add? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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4 things to remember about increasing values and low inventory

Let’s talk about increasing values and low inventory. ‘Tis the season for this conversation because the market is heating up right now as we are on the cusp of spring. Here are a few things that have been on my mind, and then a huge local market update after that (for those interested). I’d love to hear your take in the comments below. Any thoughts?

values in real estate - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission from 123rf

  1. Front Loaded Market: In a normal market prices tend to heat up in the spring and soften in the fall. While this isn’t true everywhere in the United States (or for every year or type of property), this general reality reminds us that value increases are often loaded into the front part of the year rather than throughout the entire year. For instance, if values increased by 6% last year, it doesn’t mean value went up by 0.5% each month. Instead, any increase in value might actually have occurred from February to June.
  2. Rapid Appreciation: I’ve been hearing lots of chatter about rapid appreciation lately. The idea is the market has increased substantially in value over the past couple months and appraisals are lagging behind the trend. I know low appraisals are a reality, and if appraisers aren’t giving upward adjustments for value increases (when warranted of course), it can lead to conservative appraisals that probably reflect the market two months ago rather than right now. Whatever the case, the Sacramento market has felt extremely competitive lately because of freakishly low inventory, though actual value increases seem more nominal for the spring rather than exponential. Yes, there are some properties that have been bid up 10% or so, but those properties were probably priced far too low since increases that large have not typified this market. Moreover, sometimes markets feel more aggressive than they actually are, so a market’s mantra might be: “Aggressive demand, modest appreciation.”
  3. Not Every Neighborhood: Some neighborhoods and price ranges are trending differently than others. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s easy to lump all areas and price ranges together. For instance, the median price in the regional market last month increased by 2.5%, but that doesn’t mean values increased by 2.5% in every single neighborhood or price range. When valuing a property, we can keep an eye on trends from the wider area, but at the end of the day we need to look at competitive sales and listings in the subject property’s particular neighborhood. What is the competitive market doing in the neighborhood? If we impose the notion that “values increased by 2.5% last month” on every neighborhood, we’re probably going to make some valuation mistakes.
  4. Less New Construction is Starting to Matter: When the economy collapsed, new home construction sloughed off and has not yet recovered anywhere close to where it was during the glory years from say 2003 to 2005. This might not seem like a big deal, but now imagine the population has grown over the past 10 years, which essentially means there are now less available housing units for a larger population. On top of this, institutional investors bought homes in recent years and are holding on to them instead of selling. Moreover, some owners purchased several years ago are sitting on a sweet 3.5% interest rate and a low mortgage payment. Why would they sell in today’s market unless they really had to? Not all areas in the country are struggling with low inventory, but a lack of new home construction in recent years is actually a big deal, and it’s certainly contributing to a lower housing supply in many markets including Sacramento. Lastly, when there are less housing units for the population, it tends to create an environment where rents increase. This is an important trend to watch.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your take below.

—————– For those interested, here is my big market update  —————–

Big monthly market update post - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased from 123rfTwo ways to read the BIG POST:

  1. Scan the talking points and graphs quickly.
  2. Grab a cup of coffee and spend a few minutes digesting what is here.

DOWNLOAD 70 graphs HERE:
Please download all graphs in this post (and more) here as a zip file (or send me an email). Use them for study, for your newsletter, or some on your blog. See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share (please don’t copy verbatim). Thanks.

Quick Sacramento Market Summary: The market in February was fairly normal in Sacramento. Values saw a modest seasonal uptick, sales volume increased, and inventory declined. This was all expected because it’s what we normally see at this time of year. But while market stats are more on the tame side, the market has felt anything but that in the trenches of house hunting. Multiple offers are commonplace and buyers are seeming to exude a 2004-ish frenzy to get into contract before values rise too quickly (does that concern anyone?). Despite housing inventory being extremely tight, properties that are priced too high are sitting instead of selling, and that reminds us how price sensitive buyers have become. The market is definitely a sellers’ market, though that doesn’t mean sellers can command any price they want. It’s interesting to note it took 12 less days to sell a house this February compared to last February, and only 3.4% of all sales in the region last month were short sales. One last thing. There is a big difference in the mood among buyers when mortgage interest rates are closer to 3.5% compared to even 4.0%, so watch rates and the market closely.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY:

  1. It took an average of 46 days to sell in both February and January.
  2. It took 12 less days to sell this February compared to last February.
  3. Sales volume was nearly identical in February 2016 compared to last February.
  4. FHA sales were 24% of all sales last month.
  5. Housing inventory is 25% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  6. The median price increased by 6.7% last month (take that w/ a grain of salt).
  7. The median price is 6.7% higher than the same time last year.
  8. The avg price per sq ft increased by about 1% last month.
  9. The avg price per sq ft is 6% higher than the same time last year.
  10. Sales volume in 2016 is roughly the same as the same time last year.

Some of my Favorite Graphs this Month:

Median price since 2013 in sacramento county

inventory - February 2016 - by home appraiser blog

inventory in sacramento county Since 2013 - part 2 - by sacramento appraisal blog

CDOM in Sacramento County - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

Median price and inventory since 2001 by sacramento appraisal blog

market in sacramento - sacramento appraisal group

SACRAMENTO REGIONAL MARKET:

  1. It took 1 day longer to sell a house last month than January.
  2. It took 12 less days to sell this February compared to last February.
  3. Sales volume was 2% lower in February 2016 compared to last February.
  4. FHA sales were 22% of all sales last month.
  5. Short sales were 3.4% and REOs were 4.8% of sales last month.
  6. Housing inventory is 20% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. The median price increased 2.5% last month from the previous month.
  8. The median price is 3% higher than the same time last year.
  9. The avg price per sq ft declined slightly last month (less than 1%).
  10. The avg price per sq ft is 7.9% higher than the same time last year.

Some of my Favorite Regional Graphs:

sales volume 2015 vs 2016 in sacramento placer yolo el dorado county

sacramento region volume - FHA and conventional - by appraiser blog

months of housing inventory in region by sacramento appraisal blog

days on market in placer sac el dorado yolo county by sacramento appraisal blog

median price and inventory in sacramento regional market 2013

number of listings in sacramento regional market

PLACER COUNTY:

  1. It took 7 more days to sell a house last month than January.
  2. It took 6 less days to sell this February compared to last February.
  3. Sales volume was 4% lower in February 2016 compared to last February.
  4. FHA sales were 20% of all sales last month.
  5. Cash sales were 19% of all sales last month.
  6. Housing inventory is 17% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. Sales volume is up 2.5% this Jan/Feb compared to last Jan/Feb.
  8. The median price increased 2.5% from the previous month.
  9. The median price is up nearly 11% from February 2015.
  10. Short sales were 1.5% and REOs were 4.3% of sales last month.

Some of my Favorite Placer County Graphs:

days on market in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog months of housing inventory in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog number of listings in PLACER county - January 2016 Placer County housing inventory - by home appraiser blog Placer County price and inventory - by sacramento appraisal blog Placer County sales volume - by sacramento appraisal blog

I hope this was helpful and interesting.

DOWNLOAD 70 graphs HERE:
Please download all graphs in this post (and more) here as a zip file (or send me an email). Use them for study, for your newsletter, or some on your blog. See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share (please don’t copy verbatim). Thanks.

Questions: Any other points to add about increasing values or low inventory? What stands out to you about the latest stats in Sacramento? I’d love to hear your take and what you are seeing in the trenches.

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Why did the appraiser say it was only two bedrooms? It should be three.

The real estate agent marketed the property as three bedrooms, Tax Records said it was three, but then the appraiser said it was only two. What the heck? Let me share with you a situation I encountered recently where an appraiser (me) ended up removing one of the “bedrooms” from the room count because of a functional issue. Let’s look more closely below. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

The layout of the house according to the agent:

2-or-3-bedroom-sacramento-appraisal-blog-part-1

It’s not normal to have a layout like this, right? Imagine getting up to go to the bathroom at night and walking through someone’s room to get there. The middle room really wouldn’t have much privacy either, right? I can also picture a kid in the middle bedroom setting up a taxation system and charging his brother for passage from the rear room.

bedroom access issue - sacramento appraisal blog

The layout of the house according to the appraiser (me):

2 or 3 bedroom - sacramento appraisal blog - part 2

I pulled three-bedroom comps before seeing the property, but I was surprised to discover it wasn’t really a 3-bedroom home because of a functional issue. I know this seems like a subjective call to axe a bedroom, but the functional issue definitely limits the use of the middle room, so it was not considered a bedroom. It’s too bad there was not more foresight when the addition on the rear of the house was done so the floor plan would be more functional. As a side note, I could have labeled the rear room as a den instead of the middle room, but since the rear room was larger in size, I thought it would more likely be used as a bedroom by the market.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Describe correctly: It’s important to describe properties correctly for the sake of clarity and even potential liability. This is true for both agents and appraisers.
  2. A Bedroom with functional obsolescence: I imagine some real estate professionals would call this a 3-bedroom home with functional obsolescence because one has to travel through a “bedroom” to get to a different bedroom. In my mind this was not a functional three-bedroom home, so I chose to describe it as a 2-bedroom home, but I would understand if someone wanted to describe it differently.
  3. The market’s response: The question becomes how to value something like this. Should we compare it to 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom homes? Well, it’s not really a regular 3-bedroom home, but it’s not really a traditional 2-bedroom home either because it has the extra space (den). Ideally, we should find a 2-bedroom property with a separate area like a den, office, or something else that is similar. If we’re lucky we might find a few sales with functional obsolescence (fat chance). Lastly, if the subject property has sold a few times in recent years, we might go back in time and see how the market valued the home. What did it compare to at the time of its previous sales?
  4. Tax Records isn’t the definitive authority: Just because Tax Records says it does not mean it’s accurate. In this case the home was functionally two bedrooms despite Tax Records saying it was three. As much as we want to trust Tax Records, sometimes we have to look at what is actually there and then try to understand why there is a difference between public records and reality. For reference, here are 10 reasons why public records and the appraiser’s square footage are often not the same.

I hope this was helpful. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

Radio Interview: By the way, I did a radio interview last week on 105.5FM in Sacramento. Realtor Jay Stoops had me on his show. You can listen to our 20-minute conversation below (or here).

Questions: Is this a 2-bedroom home or a 3-bedroom home in your mind? Any other insight or stories to share? Did I miss anything?

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Is it okay to compare two detached units with two attached units?

Is it okay to compare two detached units with two attached units? Or in other words, can we compare a traditional attached duplex with 2 detached houses on one lot? I find sometimes the answer is YES, but other times NO. Let’s consider a few ideas together. I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

attached duplex vs detached duplex - sacramento appraisal blog

Four things to consider about detached vs. attached:

  1. Two  Units: This sounds basic, but let’s remember an attached duplex (sometimes called a “duet” in other parts of the country) is two units, which is the same number of units as two houses on one lot. This naturally helps us lump both types of properties into a similar pile, though we still have to ask a few questions when it comes to value.
  2. Difference in Rent: One of the questions I ask is whether the attached units and detached units are commanding the same rent (assuming the locations are equal). This could be a clue whether there is a value difference or not. If all units are attracting the same rent and the lot cannot be split, we could be looking at properties with a similar value. On the other hand, if the detached units are commanding higher rents, that might be a clue of a value premium. Of course the only way to discover a value difference is to study the market (this is one reason why there is no such thing as a quick “comp check”). As an example, I recall a “fourplex” where there were four detached tiny single family homes on one lot in Sacramento. While the owner’s property was special, the lot could not be split and the rents were exactly the same as other traditional attached fourplexes. Moreover, the property sold previously on the open market and did not command a price premium during its previous sale, which also helped show there was no value premium for being detached.
  3. Lot Split: One of the big issues to consider when making comparisons is whether the lot can be split. If there are two detached homes on one lot, an investor might purchase the property to split the lot and sell the individual properties. I saw this happen recently in Midtown where there were two houses on one lot that were side-by-side on the street. The owner purchased these units a few years ago as a duplex (technically that’s what it is since we are talking about two units), but after the lot was split the owner sold off one unit and kept one for himself. In many cases it’s common to see one house in front and the other in back, so a lot split might not be possible with that set-up (or maybe it is possible, but awkward). However, if the possibility of a lot split exists, it could be worth something in the market, right?
  4. The Buyer Pool: There are some duplexes that are best for investors because they simply look and feel like rentals. It’s hard to describe this without sounding pompous, but you probably know what I’m talking about. On the other hand, some multi-unit properties might attract more owner occupant buyers than investors. When this happens, the units might actually command a price premium because of the larger pool of buyers. This underscores the importance of considering who the potential buyer might be and researching the market. What have buyers actually paid for similar properties in the past? What are current listings doing?

duplex comparison by sacramento appraisal blog

Conclusion: In short, it is technically okay to compare two attached units with two detached units, but for reasons listed above we ought to be cautious to be sure we are making an “apples to apples” comparison. What I mean is we need to give strong weight to the properties that are most similar and let the market speak to us instead of our assumptions.

surfer on my cup - photo by ryan lundquist

By the way, I just got back from visiting family this weekend in Southern California. I snapped this shot at Sunset Beach. It’s called “Surfer on my Cup.”  🙂

Questions: Any stories, insight, or ideas to share? Did I miss anything?

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How do appraisers deal with cracks?

Is it going to be an appraisal problem if there are cracks in a home’s foundation or walls? I saw the crack below in a home in Sacramento, and stuck a pen in the wall to show how big it was. What do you think? No biggie or big deal? I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

cracks in walls in appraisal - sacramento appraisal blog

Here are a few things to consider about cracks:

  1. Cracks are Common: Buyers buy homes all the time with cracks – especially on the exterior when there is stucco. Cracks are a bit like wrinkles in that they are inevitable at some point as a home ages. Yet sometimes we see a crack like the image above and think, “Yikes, what is going on?”
  2. Cracks are Subjective: Some cracks might be deemed “normal” by an appraiser because nearly every house in the neighborhood has cracks as such. I know it sounds a bit subjective to talk like this, but after seeing thousands of homes in an area, appraisers have to consider what normal looks like. Yet other times cracks might indicate something is clearly not right. So will the appraiser call for repairs? Well, there really isn’t a one size fits all answer because not all cracks are created equally.
  3. Fannie Mae Structural Integrity: If you didn’t know, Fannie Mae’s appraisal form asks appraisers to state whether there are any adverse conditions or physical deficiencies that impact the livability, soundness, or structural integrity of the property. Side note: Is it just me, or is it a bit odd that Fannie Mae asks appraisers to verify something like this? Anyway, appraisers either select YES or NO to this question in their appraisal reports. This means if an appraiser observes a crack that looks beyond what might be “normal”, the appraiser will describe the issue, include photographs, and possibly call for repairs or further investigation by the client. If an appraiser essentially believes there could be a problem, it’s prudent and professional for the appraiser to bring the issue up rather than ignore it.
  4. Qualified Professionals: Lenders sometimes ask appraisers to state that cracks are normal or okay, but since appraisers aren’t crack specialists they need to outsource making that call to someone else – a qualified professional. I do this from time to time in lender reports when I see an iffy crack. I don’t know if there’s an issue or not, but if a crack looks suspicious or too big, I’d rather not guess that things are okay. So I make the value subject to further inspection to make sure things are alright. I don’t do this for every single crack I meet because then I’d be asking for an inspection on virtually every single property. It’s really only when something looks out-of-the-ordinary (or there is a clear trip hazard for FHA). What type of professional should look into the situation? As an appraiser I simply say “qualified professional” and let the client decide. Often times a lender will send out a structural engineer or some other individual they deem qualified, and I can then include that person’s written professional opinion in the appraisal if needed. Keep in mind this is important because a lender will want to be sure there are no structural issues before lending on a property. However, during a cash transaction or private appraisal, an appraiser might not have access to a “qualified professional’s” opinion. Thus the appraiser will render a value, but make assumptions and disclaimers about the cracks – and reserve the right to adapt the opinion of value based on new information. Lastly, in other cases an appraiser might have a documented cost-to-cure from a qualified professional. In a case like this an appraiser would entertain what sort of value impact exists for the repairs so the appraiser can render an “as is” value.

I hope that was helpful. Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your take.

Class I’m Teaching: By the way, I’m teaching a class called How to Think Like an Appraiser at the Sacramento Association of Realtors on March 10 from 9-12pm. This is my favorite class to teach because we set aside a few hours to really tackle issues and get valuation training. You can register here if interested. Thanks.

how to think like an appraiser class - sacramento appraisal blog

Questions: Any stories, insight, or ideas to share? Did I miss anything? What is point #5?

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