How will appraisers deal with the new water-conserving plumbing fixtures law?

The Governor doesn’t like my toilet. Or my faucet. Or my shower head. If you didn’t know, on January 1, 2017 it’s going to become law in California for residential and commercial property owners to install water-conserving plumbing fixtures if the property was built before 1994. You can read the details of the law here, but let’s consider how this might play out. I’d love to hear your take too. Any thoughts?

Question: Will home values be affected depending on whether water-conserving plumbing fixtures are present or not? How will appraisers deal with this new law?

1) Wait and see: This is one of those issues that is only theoretical right now. We are going to have to wait to see how it plays out. That’s the truth.

2) Laws & value: Just because a law exists doesn’t necessarily mean value exists. For instance, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are required by law in certain instances in California, but the lack of these items doesn’t mean the house is worth less. Is the market that sensitive where buyers would walk through and say, “I’m going to pay $25 less for this house because a smoke detector is missing in the bedroom”? I doubt it. My sense is buyers would probably pay the same amount for a house whether smoke detectors or CO alarms are there or not. I realize toilets are more costly than smoke detectors though, so that is something we have to consider.

3) Expectations of buyers & value: A key issue is whether buyers will expect water-conserving plumbing fixtures once sellers are required to begin disclosing if there are any non-compliant fixtures at a property. The truth is right now buyers really don’t expect these fixtures. Have you ever seen a contract where a buyer said, “Seller to update all plumbing fixtures or provide a credit to the buyer to cure the outdated fixtures”? Probably not. This doesn’t mean buyers aren’t willing to pay more for newer features, but only that buyers don’t tend to draw a line of demarcation for these features right now when making an offer on a house. But will they in the future because of this law? In short, if it becomes a big deal to buyers, then it needs to be a big deal for appraisers. If buyers come to a place where they expect a price discount when specific water-conserving plumbing fixtures are not present, then it is a value issue. If buyers could care less, then it really wouldn’t be prudent for appraisers to penalize a property for not having these items – even though there is a law in place.

4) The silliness of focusing on small-ticket items: Let’s be cautious about asking appraisers to analyze the value impact of a toilet that flushes 1.5 gallons vs 4 gallons. Can appraisers or anyone for that matter really be that precise? Is the market honestly that sensitive to the point where buyers would pay more or less for this minor difference? Let’s be realistic and consider many buyers would likely notice the age of the toilet rather than how much it flushes exactly. On a different level though, some buyers want/need toilets that have a more powerful flush because… well, you know. On the other hand, if the cost to replace plumbing fixtures throughout a house is going to be thousands of dollars, then that is something buyers might really care about.

5) The way lenders handle this is a big deal: The state law doesn’t require sellers to replace fixtures when selling a home, but sellers do need to disclose non-compliant fixtures. Thus when lenders read about non-compliant fixtures in a purchase contract, will they require plumbing fixtures to be updated? That is the million-dollar question. What will lenders do during a refinance too? Will they ask appraisers to identify if there are any non-compliant fixtures? That would be a bad idea since appraisers aren’t trained to identify such fixtures. If lenders are strict about applying this law, it can end up impacting how sellers prepare to sell their homes, repairs buyers request in contracts, and what lenders ask appraisers to do when these features are not present. 

I hope that was interesting or helpful.

Recent Podcast: By the way, I did a podcast a couple of weeks ago with Marguerite Crespillo. It’s always fun to talk shop. Listen below (or here).

Questions: What impact do you think this law will have on real estate (if any)? Did I miss something? Appraiser colleagues, what else would you add? I’d love to hear your take.

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That place where marijuana & real estate meet

Marijuana is on my mind. In recent weeks Californians voted to make recreational marijuana legal, and I can’t help but consider the impact it might have on real estate. Here are a few things I’ve been mulling over. Anything you’d add?

44200664 - cannabis leaves on old wooden background

1) Land Value: All of a sudden land that is ripe for marijuana growing is looking pretty attractive. I’m not talking about tiny postage stamp lots in subdivisions, but rather larger-sized parcels in outlying areas. The truth is many savvy land buyers have already been making their move on large parcels in surrounding areas to Sacramento, but there are going to be more opportunities out there. I saw one listing recently where an agent said, “Good for ‘income-producing crops'” (code for pot). For further reference, here is an article discussing a “green rush” in Yolo County (people setting up marijuana businesses). 

2) Home Experimentation: I expect to see more owners and renters trying to grow their own weed at home. Some will grow a few plants, but others will aim to start a business to make some money in an economy that still isn’t all that vibrant.

3) Commercial Vacancies & Rents: If California ends up being anything like Denver, which has nearly 4 million square feet of commercial space used for cannabis production, I’m guessing we’ll see more interest in industrial properties and higher rents in certain areas. Goodbye commercial vacancies. Here is an image from The Sacramento Bee to show all the locations where pot can be grown in Sacramento. Image created by Nathaniel Levine.

pot-cultivation-map-from-sacramento-bee-in-january-2016-story

4) Disclosures: Talking about marijuana in contracts, listings, and appraisals isn’t anything new in real estate, but my sense is if it becomes more common to see pot growing in homes, we’ll need to hone our skills and consider what disclosure needs to look like. By the way, could the smell of a nearby pot farm need to be disclosed? As an appraiser I’m concerned with the condition of the house. There is obviously a huge difference between a massive grow operation with hundreds or thousands of plants and a home owner with a few plants. What I’m going to be looking for is anything that might make an impact on value or a health and safety issue – exposed wiring, over loaded plug-ins, poor ventilation, mold, etc… I’m not there to nark or judge by any stretch, but only figure out the value (and discuss and photograph anything that impacts value).

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5) Advertising: I took my family to Portland last week to enjoy Thanksgiving, and it was amazing to see how much advertising there was for pot (because it’s legal there). Everywhere I turned Downtown there was another weed billboard, A-frame sign, or a green cross (the symbol of a dispensary). Please don’t think I’m dissing Portland because I love the city and can’t wait to go back. I’m just saying we might expect to see the same thing in California when it comes to advertising. Can signs impact the feel of a city or neighborhood? Will there be more signs in certain areas than others? Time will tell.

6) Marijuana Branding: I’m waiting for more in the real estate community to go public with their MJ branding. Last month a Sacramento law firm announced its marijuana practice. Ironically one of the partners has the last name Kronick, which is oh so close to Chronic. Anyway, there is still available shelf space for weed branding such as “Marijuana Realtor”, “Cheebah Appraiser”, and “Mary Jane Lender.” I’m kidding. Sort of.

7) Loans on “Grow” Properties: Some lenders don’t want to lend on properties that are being used for marijuana growth (keep in mind this likely doesn’t mean just a few plants). Here is some direction from a certain bank I sometimes work for when it comes to this issue. This unnamed bank sent out a message to its appraisers regarding grow houses:

####### Bank is currently unable to lend on any property with marijuana grow operations. The marijuana industry is state regulated and ####### Bank is federally regulated. Therefore, we are not in a position to lend to borrowers with income from that source nor can we lend on properties with active marijuana grow rooms or facilities. 

If you encounter a property with an active marijuana grow operation, please take at least one descriptive photo, complete your inspection of the property then cease work on the file and immediately contact your ####### Bank Appraisal Coordinator. Please do not attempt to quote ####### Bank lending policy. We will take care of that and you will, of course, be compensated for the time you’ve already invested in the appraisal.

I hope that was interesting or helpful.

Questions: Anything to add? Did I miss something? What impact do you think the legalization of marijuana might have on real estate? If you are located in a state where marijuana has been legal, what advice do you have for Sacramento? I’d love to hear your take.

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Excess and surplus land (and why the difference matters)

Is it excess or surplus land? And why does it even matter? Let’s talk about that today while looking at a real life example of a lot that is currently being divided.

Excess Land: This is when the lot is larger in size and the extra land (or excess) can be sold separately from the existing lot. In other words, a portion of the lot can be broken off from the rest, sold separately, and have a different highest and best use from the rest of the lot.

excess-land-sacramento-appraisal-blog

Surplus Land: This is when the lot is larger in size and the extra land (or surplus) cannot be sold off separately. This means the “surplus” doesn’t have a separate highest and best use. The larger size is simply extra land that still might have some value, but it can’t be used for a separate purpose from the rest of the lot.

surplus-land-sacramento-appraisal-blog

Why does this matter?

1) Real Estate Jeopardy: Next time you’re on Jeopardy you’re going to sound like an expert when the category is land.

2) Assuming Value: It’s easy to assume a larger lot is always more valuable, but we have to ask if we’re dealing with surplus or excess land because it could make a difference in the value. At times we see a large lot size and get distracted like we’ve seen a bright shiny object. But can the land be divided? What can it be used for? Does the parcel shape help the lot be useful for buyers? And what have comps with larger lot sizes actually sold for too? 

3) The Bottom Line: Here’s the big deal. A larger lot that can be divided might be worth far more than a larger lot that cannot be divided (thanks Captain Obvious). For instance, the lot in the example above is located in the Curtis Park neighborhood and the extra space in the backyard is considered excess land because it CAN be divided and have a separate highest and best use. This backyard is currently being split by Keith Klassen in order to build two new homes. Anyway, this reminds us how important it is to talk with the local planning department to see what possibilities exist for extra space on a lot. We might see something big and assume it can be divided, but can it really? What does zoning allow? Moreover, is it realistic for the property to be divided right now? Remember, just because a lot can be divided doesn’t necessarily mean its going to happen in the current market. For instance, imagine values are tanking and new construction has stopped in the area. In a market like that any excess land might not command much of a value premium. But in a market where values are up and construction is happening, there is a higher probability of the lot being worth far more because it might be split.

keith-klassen-new-construction-in-curtis-park-sacramento

I hope this was helpful. There are many other things we could discuss here, so let’s kick around some ideas in the comments.

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

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How I appraised a property with a non-permitted garage conversion

How do we value a non-permitted garage conversion? Today I wanted to share a real life example of a property I appraised. I’ll keep things fairly brief because it’s impossible to get to everything in just one post. Though I do have a 10-minute audio clip for more depth on conversions. Any thoughts?

UPDATE: Read part 2 of this post HERE.

garage-conversion-sacramento-appraisal-blog

Garage Conversion Formula: It would be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all value adjustment we could apply to any conversion, but that’s not how it works because conversions vary tremendously in size and quality – not to mention some neighborhoods accept them and others really don’t.

Golden Data: In this case the conversion was nicely done and was even on a crawl space like the rest of the house. I searched the neighborhood for garage conversions over the past few years and literally found none. But I did have one very lucky bit of data since the subject sold four years ago on MLS as an arms-length sale. This means I was able to look back in time and find how the subject fit into the context of neighborhood prices.

garage-conversion

What I wrote in my report: Based on the previous sale in 2012, it is clear the market recognized the subject property’s extra size as square footage and paid for it as such in the marketplace. The lack of permits on the garage was definitely disclosed in MLS. At the time of the sale in 2012 the market was willing to pay about $15,000 (6%) less for the subject property compared to otherwise similar homes that had a garage. In today’s market were no recent sales with a garage conversion, so the appraiser used historic data to give a downward $15,000 adjustment to Comps 1-3. The garage adjustment would really be reasonable anywhere between $15,000 to $20,000, but since the subject has been upgraded extensively in recent years it made sense to adjust at the lower end of this range since upgrades lessen the negative for not having a garage.

If I didn’t have a previous sale: Without a previous subject sale, I’d need to find other garage conversions in the neighborhood or search in a competitive area of town to try to find a reasonable adjustment for the lack of a garage (and lack of permits). In some cases I would maybe consider the cost to turn the conversion back into a garage – especially if the conversion was shoddy or minimal to cure. Still other times I might ponder the cost to permit the conversion or the cost to actually build a garage if there is space to do so. Remember, the adjustment at $15,000 made sense here, but it could be FAR DIFFERENT in other situations.

Garage Conversion Video: This audio clip is ten minutes or so and could be good as background noise while working. Watch below (or here).

Note on permits: As an appraiser it’s a liability to assume everything in a non-permitted conversion was done to code. What if I recognized value for a conversion but then in the future an owner had to rip out the non-permitted area? Can you see why some appraisers (and lenders) won’t give value to something unless it was permitted? Yet we still have to ask, “Is the market willing to pay something for this non-permitted area?” This is not an easy question to answer, but it is vital nonetheless. Hopefully we can find some comps, but more than that we need to disclose everything clearly, use logic and professional judgement, and maybe reach out for opinions of other trusted professionals too.

Questions: How do you deal with garage conversions? Any other insight? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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