Three dangerous ways to choose comps

It’s easy to get into value trouble when choosing comps, and today I want to highlight three ways to do that. I’ve observed each of these methods very recently, which is why I hoped to kick around some ideas together. I could have just as well entitled this post, “Three ways appraisers DON’T choose comps.” Any thoughts?

choosing comps for appraisal - sacramento appraisal blog

Three dangerous ways to choose comps:

1) Price: When putting a value on something, searching by price is a quick way to NOT see the full picture. For instance, if we pull comps for a $750,000 sale by looking at all sales between $725,000 and $775,000, what we end up getting is a limited view of one price range. Have we truly found any similar properties or just the ones that have sold in that range and happen to support the contract price? The danger of searching by price is we can end up letting a few high sales impose a value on a property instead of letting similar homes paint a picture of value. This is why sometimes appraisers disregard the “comps” they are given from the real estate community because they are only similar in price rather than square footage, age, condition, location, upgrades, etc… If you are in the habit of searching by price in MLS when pulling comps, I might recommend searching by square footage instead (or by a parameter you think will help you make quality comparisons).

2) Capitalization Rates: The 2-4 unit market has been heating up in the Sacramento area. In fact, the new Yardi Matrix 2017 Winter Report says multi-family rents in Sacramento will grow by 9.6% this year. If that’s how things shake out, we’ll basically have seen a 30% increase in rent over the past few years. Wow!! Anyway, I’m finding news of the hot rental market is causing some 2-4 unit properties to be priced according to unrealistic cap rates instead of realistic comps and rental income (or even realistic cap rates). What I mean is sometimes comments in MLS say “check out the 8% cap rate” when the neighborhood really isn’t getting rates that low. Maybe surrounding properties are showing rates closer to 9-10%. This might not seem like a big deal, but when we plug an 8% rate into the cap rate formula instead of a realistic 9-10% rate, the value can be substantially different. My advice is to be cautious about imposing a cap rate on a property.

3) Price Per Sq Ft: In real estate it’s easy to see a sale down the street and then apply the price per sq ft from the sale to the subject property. But what if the price per sq ft doesn’t make any sense for the subject? The truth is smaller homes tend to have a much higher price per sq ft than larger ones, and dissimilar homes might actually have a far different price per sq ft too. Thus my advice is to be cautious about imposing a certain price per sq ft on a property when searching for comps. Let’s pay attention to price per sq ft figures, but at some point we have to ask the question, what are similar properties actually selling for? By the way, if you haven’t seen my Starbucks cups analogy, it’s a fun way to think about price per sq ft. 

The Big Idea of Imposing: All of these methodologies essentially help impose a value on a property because we end up applying a metric or price range to comp selection instead of looking for what is truly similar. Thankfully there isn’t only one way to search for comps, but no matter what we do it’s important to try to be objective and discover value rather than doing something that might impose value on a property. Know what I’m saying? By the way, here is how I tend to choose comps as an appraiser just in case you’re peeved I only told you what not to do.

Blogging Class on Thursday: In a couple of days I’m teaching a two-hour class at SAR called Successful Real Estate Blogging. This will be incredibly practical and my goal is for you to leave with insight on how to be effective. Click HERE for details.

I hope that was helpful or interesting.

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

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A recap of the Sacramento real estate market in 2016

High demand. Modest value increases. Price sensitive. Those are ways to describe the real estate market in 2016. Today let’s take a deep look into where the market went last year. This post is long on purpose. You can scan it quickly or pour a cup of coffee and spend some time here. If you aren’t in Sacramento, I hope you can still find some value. Do you see any parallels to your market? Any thoughts? 

P.S. I have some really cool year-in-review images. Please share.

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DOWNLOAD 76 graphs HERE: Please download all graphs in this post (and more) here as a zip file (including a one-page quick stat sheet). See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share (please don’t copy verbatim). Thanks.

A Market Rush: Overall prices saw a dip these past few months as the regional median price declined 4-5% from summer. This isn’t anything unexpected because it happens virtually every year. Just as there is a season for fishing, fashion, or television, there is also a season for real estate values. Granted, 2016 did have a more aggressive feel in that multiple offers were commonplace, it took an average of 7 less days to sell a home compared to last year, and inventory was sparse at best. In fact, the year closed with the strongest months of sales volume in the past 5 years for November / December. It’s as if there was a rush on the market from September through November that ended up beefing up these year-end stats. Why did sales volume increase? Some say it’s the power of Trump or the anticipation of a new political era. Or it could be buyers were expecting an increase in interest rates and wanted to get in before a rate hike. Or maybe it’s the byproduct of a fall that wasn’t all that dull and a market with strong demand. Or maybe it’s a combination of all or none of the above.  🙂

When looking at the entire year, most price metrics increased 7-9% and sales volume was up a modest 2% overall for the year. Remember, just because price metrics increased by 7-9% does not mean actual values increased by that much (we can talk about that more below if you wish). My sense is prices at lower levels saw larger increases than the middle and upper end of the market, which means a more aggressive bottom tends to create larger increases on paper. I say this because it’s easy to see the median price at 10.5% higher and say, “Values went up by 10.5% last year,” but that just isn’t true for the bulk of the market. On a related note, last week I mentioned trends to watch in 2017, and if I had to add one more thing I would say there could easily be a problem this year with overpricing homes because of so much focus on the market being “hot” without looking at actual data.

A few year-in-review images:

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Sacramento County:

  1. The median price was $315,000 in December (6.5% above last December).
  2. Housing inventory is about 10% lower than it was last December.
  3. Sales volume was 7% lower this December compared to last December, but this year and last were higher than 2012, 2013, and 2014.
  4. It took 3 days longer to sell a house last month compared to November. 
  5. One year ago in December it was taking 4 days longer to sell.
  6. FHA sales volume is down 6% this year compared to 2015 (but 25% of all sales this year were FHA).
  7. Cash sales are down 11% this year (they were 13% of all sales last month).
  8. The average price per sq ft was $202 last month (about the same as November, but 7.5% higher than last year).
  9. The average sales price at $343,670 is down about 4% from the height of summer (but is 6% higher than last year).
  10. When looking at the entire year in Sacramento County it took 33 days on average to sell a home this year.

A few images to show the bottom and top of the market:

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Some of my favorite images this month:

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SACRAMENTO REGIONAL MARKET:

  1. The median price was $350,000 in December (7% above last December).
  2. It took 3 days longer to sell compared to the previous month (but 4 less days compared to December 2015).
  3. Sales volume was about 1% lower this December compared to last year.
  4. FHA sales volume is down 6% this year compared to last year. 
  5. Cash sales are down 8% this year compared to last year.
  6. Cash sales were 14.4% of all sales last month.
  7. The average price per sq ft was $208 last month. That’s down about 1% from the height of summer and 8% higher than last year.
  8. FHA sales were 22% of all sales in the region last month.
  9. The average sales price was $387,915 in December. It’s down about 5% from the height of summer but 8% higher than last year.
  10. When looking at the entire year in the region it took 37 days on average to sell a home this year.

Some of my favorite images this month:

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PLACER COUNTY:

  1. The median price was $423,925 in December (7% above last December).
  2. It took 2 less days to sell compared to the previous month (but 9 less days compared to December 2015).
  3. Sales volume was about 1% lower this December compared to last year.
  4. FHA sales volume is down 11% this year compared to last year (FHA sales were 18% of all sales in Placer County last month).
  5. Cash sales are down a mere 1% this year compared to last year.
  6. Cash sales were 16% of all sales last month.
  7. The average price per sq ft was $216 last month, which is about as high as it’s been all year (about 8% higher than last year).
  8. REOs were 1.5% and short sales were 1.8% of all sales in Placer County.
  9. The average sales price was $472,130 in December. It’s down about 2% from the height of summer but about 9.5% higher than last year.
  10. When looking at the entire year in Placer County it took 42 days on average to sell a home this year.

Some of my favorite images this month:

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placer-county-sales-volume-by-sacramento-appraisal-blog

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DOWNLOAD 76 graphs HERE: Please download all graphs in this post (and more) here as a zip file (including a one-page quick stat sheet). See my sharing policy for 5 ways to share (please don’t copy verbatim). Thanks.

Questions: Did I miss anything? What are you seeing out there? How would you describe the market? I’d love to hear your take.

If you liked this post, subscribe by email (or RSS). Thanks for being here.

Trends to watch in real estate in 2017

What’s the real estate market going to do this year? I thought it would be worthwhile to consider some of the emerging trends to watch in 2017 in Sacramento and beyond. What do you think? I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

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1) Bubble conversations: This year we are going to have even more real estate “bubble” conversations. We’ll hear things like, “The bubble is going to pop in 2017”, or “Get ready for 2007 again”, or “It’s all going to crumble after this year.” As these conversations ensue, my advice is to sift through the headlines, pay close attention to actual data, know the limitations of your ability to predict the future, and be in tune with the way the seasonal market tends to behave so you can spot anything out-of-the-ordinary.

2) Creative lending: As interest rates presumably rise in coming time, it will make mortgages more expensive (duh). This won’t matter for some buyers because they have the money to afford the market, but others will need an extra edge to keep up with higher prices. This is where lenders can loosen up financing options so they continue to close deals and make as much money as possible (sounds healthy, right?). Keep in mind President-Elect Trump is talking about repealing Dodd-Frank too, and that could create waves in the market if it actually happened. 

values-in-real-estate-sacramento-appraisal-blog-image-purchased-and-used-with-permission-from-123rf3) Housing inventory remains low: There isn’t any quick fix for anemic housing inventory, so we can expect to see another year of low inventory unless something drastic happens causing sellers to list their homes. That brings me to share something I talked about last month. In a video John Wake talks about San Francisco values and how sellers tend to wait to list their homes when values are increasing. The thought is, why list now when values are going to be higher next year? But then when values do eventually turn there can be a flood of houses hit the market as a “race to the exit”. That’s something to keep in mind.

4) Marijuana: It can be polarizing to talk about marijuana, but it’s definitely a market force since it is now legal in California for recreational use. Over the next year many cities and counties will be fine-tuning rules for grow operations, so be on the lookout for details. By no means am I glorifying marijuana, but I will be talking about it in coming years because it’s a force bound to impact real estate values. 

5) Smart homes: With the advent of Amazon Echo and Google Home, consumers can now say things like, “Alexa, set the sprinklers for 7am tomorrow morning” or “Okay Google, turn the temperature to 68 degrees.” The huge popularity of these devices during the holiday season will only mean millions more households are now going to be making their homes more digitally connected.

finding-cheap-properties-image-purchased-by-sacramento-appraisal-blog-from-123rt-dot-com6) Disappearance of the $100,000 market: There is definitely upward value pressure on the lowest end of the price spectrum. Other price ranges last year were much more flat, but not so much with the lowest prices in town. This year in Sacramento we are going to very likely see the disappearance of the market under $100,000. Each month lately we’ve had maybe 6-12 sales under $100,000 for single family detached homes, and after the next few quarters I expect that number might be down to zero. We shall see though.

7) Home flipping courses: There will be no shortage of “learn to flip” courses coming to a city near you. Friends, be very cautious about paying anyone to teach you “secrets” you can probably get for free online. You can read my open letter to celebrity flippers for more thoughts.

8) Custom woodworking: I’ve been seeing more and more custom woodworking in homes. I don’t mean really high-end craftsmanship per se, but rather the cool DIY stuff you might see on Pinterest or a show like Fixer Upper. I’m seeing more wood walls, large wood slabs, custom exterior wood accents on the exterior, etc…. As a dabbling woodworker, this makes me smile.

9) More agents will enter the market: When values increase and positive real estate news saturates the market, it tends to compel people to enter the real estate profession. So last month’s headline that Sacramento will be one of the “hottest market in the nation” in 2017 very likely sealed the deal for a number of folks on the fence about getting into real estate. 

real-estate-contracts-multiple-offers-in-sacramento-appraisal-blog10) Multiple offers: We are likely to continue to see a climate of multiple offers in the Sacramento area. In a market like this I would advise sellers to be realistic about pricing their homes properly. What have similar homes actually sold for? What is similar and getting into contract right now? It’s easy to cherry-pick the highest non-similar sales in the neighborhood because “the market is hot”, but we have to remember similar homes are the “comps” appraisers are going to use (key point). At the end of the day appraisers have to support the value, so it may be best to be reasonable on the front end rather than run into all sorts of “appraisal issues” because the property got into contract too high. Remember, just because housing inventory is low does not mean you can command whatever price you want. That may have been more true in early 2013, but it’s not true right now.

11) The 2-4 unit market is heating up: These days in many areas it seems like the market is heating up with some surprisingly high prices again for 2-4 unit properties. Values were subdued for years after the housing crash, but news of increasing rents is certainly part of what’s helping drive 2-4 unit prices up. I’ve also observed some Bay Area buyers wanting to park money in Sacramento and overpay. Sometimes unrealistic cap rates are being used to justify value too (more on that in a few weeks maybe).

12) Appraisal waivers: Last month Fannie Mae rolled out an appraisal waiver program. They say this program is only for refinances, but it’s a pretty good guess we’re going to see some purchases waived too. On one hand this program can help offset slower turn-times by appraisers lately, but on the negative side of things it can lead to inflating values too. In short, let’s watch this closely and not forget important safeguards in real estate (like appraisers).

BONUS: This is a quick (well, 12 minutes) walk through what it looks like to see the seasonal trend in real estate and what it was like when values began to decline in 2005. With so much “bubble” talk these days, it’s critical to be able to cut through any hype, focus on data, and be able to spot seasonal trends (and non-seasonal trends). Watch below (or here):

I hope that was helpful or interesting.

Questions: What else do you think will be important in 2017? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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My last blog post of 2016

Almost eight years ago I started this blog, and I never imagined it would still be going after all this time. Sometimes people say, “An appraisal blog? Yeah, that sounds so uninteresting.” But I love the conversations we have each week, and in some way I hope they help us all grow in our skills and understanding. Anyway, I’m sincerely honored you take time out of your day to be here. Thank you for your insight, comments, emails, phone calls, constructive criticism, and the referrals you send my way. On behalf of the entire Lundquist family, I want to wish you Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!!

The next two weeks: At the end of this week I’ll be taking some time to enjoy family, relax, drink ungodly amounts of coffee, lose the weight I said I was going to lose in 2016, hang out with my new nephew, and let my kids whoop me on their Xbox. I might be crazy, but this year when we visit family I’m bringing my tools so I can build my mother-in-law a bookcase. That’s either the best thing ever or maybe I’m setting myself up for a yearly tradition. Uh oh. Ultimately I hope to get refreshed in coming time and ready for 2017. This has been an amazing year, but I need a break. Can you relate? I hope you enjoy this season and I can’t wait to reconnect in early January. Thank you again for making this a tremendous year. Blessings to you and your loved ones.

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These are some of my festive pallet trees in the front yard.

Questions: What are you going to be doing over the next week or so? Any special traditions? I’d love to hear.

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