An appraiser’s take on that $250,000,000 house

Have you seen that house for sale at $250,000,000 in Bel Air? After checking it out I’m certainly taken aback with its features, but I also have some things on my mind as an appraiser. Let’s kick around some ideas together. Any thoughts?

Bruce Makowsky BAM Luxury Development

Image Source: Bruce Makowsky/BAM Luxury Development

1) Listings vs Sales: Let’s be real. This listing isn’t a big deal unless it sells. If it only sits on the market at $250M, then it wasn’t a $250M house. We say things like, “This is the most expensive house in the United States,” but it really might only be one of the most expensive listings unless it sells.

2) Fat Concessions: This house comes with enormous concessions. According to Bloomberg, the listing comes with “150 pieces of original artwork, $30 million worth of classic cars (owner’s estimate), a dozen high-performance motorcycles, and a deactivated helicopter.” At the very least the owner is giving the buyer $30M in personal property, so it starts to sound like we might be dealing with a $220M house instead. This is exactly why appraisers ask agents if there were any concessions or credits in the contract price. Would the house have sold at the same price if the personal property was not included? In other words, did the sale at $500,000 only close that high because there was a $50,000 car included in the sale? If all the comps are around $450,000 and there is one “Lone Ranger” at $500,000 (with a car), then we probably have to subtract that car out of the purchase price if we’re going to use it as a comp. Here’s more information on concessions.

3) Publicity & Overpricing: For the sake of conversation let’s assume this house is overpriced. On one hand the benefit of the sensational figure of $250M is the property has generated an incredible amount of publicity. That’s huge in real estate because it can help find the right buyer. But on the other hand, if publicity doesn’t lead to contracts, then it’s really just temporary attention. It’s like Eddie Murphy’s former house in Granite Bay that was listed for $12M in January 2014. The property got some air time and print for sure, but guess what? After 954 days it is still on the market for $12M. Thus we remember the importance of being priced realistically according to the market. Does the price line up with other competitive sales and current pendings / listings? Or is the property priced far differently than anything else that is similar? Whether values are increasing or declining, we have to ask these questions and pay close attention to realistic comps (that’s what an appraiser is going to do). In this case I really don’t know if the property is overpriced, but the inclusion of personal property  at $30M+ is a tell that it might be.

4) Bathroom Adjustment: This home has 38,000 sq ft and a whopping 21 bathrooms, so if we see a comp with 20 bathrooms, we should make a value adjustment, right? I mean, we were taught by our mentors to give a standard $5,000 or $10,000 adjustment any time there is an extra bathroom, so there has to be one. Okay, hopefully you get I’m being facetious. This example reminds us to not give token made-up adjustments for differences in bedroom count and bathroom count unless it’s really reasonable to do so (and there is support to do so in the market). In this case I would be shocked to see someone adjust such a petty amount because it’s not like billionaires walk in there and say, “Shoot, I would’ve paid $10,000 more if there were at least 22 bathrooms.” More on adjustments here.

I hope that was helpful or interesting.

Questions: What else stands out to you? What is #5? 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.


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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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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Toxic Water & Real Estate: An interview with a Realtor from Flint

What happens to a real estate market when the water is unsafe to drink? In light of the tragic situation unfolding right now in Flint, Michigan, I thought this would be a timely conversation. So I reached out to Realtor Ryan McFarlane who has sold nearly 1000 homes in Flint. This brief interview isn’t an exhaustive case study, but only one conversation centered on real estate (which has so much to do with people). I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

Flint real estate agent interview - by sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased from 123rf and used with permission

Tell me about yourself. How long have you been in real estate? How much business have you done in Flint?

Realtor Ryan MacFarlane - MichiganMy name is Ryan McFarlane. I originally got into real estate around 2004. Overall I’ve sold over 3000 homes, and about 1000 of them have been in Flint; the company I work for now was actually started in Flint.

What is the population of Flint?

According to the census, the population is 99,763. However, it used to be 141,553 in 1990. When GM closed down their plants, it was devastating for the housing market and job market in Flint as a blue collar town.

What is the City of Flint like for those who have only read it about it recently?

I would say there are still some nice areas of housing. People are investing in Flint and trying to bring up the Downtown area. Though when you get off the beaten path, there are some rough patches. There are still good areas, but there are many bad areas. Some people say it’s all bad, but it’s not that way. There are also some good things going on, but the attention is often on the bad things.

flint listing - by sacramento appraisal blog

How much do properties tend to sell for in the city?

As of right now there are 352 active properties on the market in the City of Flint. The low end is about $500 and the highest listing is $229,000. In the last year the highest sale was $350,000, but it was over 6000 sq ft and a custom home in a historical area. Otherwise most properties in the city are going to sell under $30,000. The majority of sales are bank-owned properties. Sometimes properties literally sell for nothing since people call me and want to transfer the quitclaim deed to someone else. Sometimes a bank-owned property is in such bad condition that it is worth absolutely nothing. Other times a home will be bulldozed and the land will be sold (often a neighbor will buy the land). Some owners will not pay their taxes too because they might end up paying say $1000 for taxes when the property is only worth $500.

What is the median income of Flint residents?

The median income is $24,834 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

flint vs sacramento

How much does a typical house rent for in Flint?

I would say on average about $500 per month.

How much are water bills right now in Flint? How does this compare to surrounding areas?

A family of 4 told me recently their bill was $250 per month, and the bill has to be paid even though they cannot use the water. Even vacant houses are being charged $50-60 per month for water. Some surrounding areas bill on a quarterly basis, and the quarterly water bill ends up being about the same as someone’s monthly bill in Flint.

NOTE from SacBlog: Most articles online state Flint residents are easily paying $140 to $150 per month for water they cannot use. This is obviously only an average since Ryan mentioned above that some residents are paying $250. Keep in mind $150 per month is 7% of a household’s monthly income (based on the median income in Flint). Also, if a home rents for say $600, the water bill is 25% of rent. Imagine a $1500 rental in Sacramento and having a $375 water bill (that’s 25%).

flint listing 2 - by sacramento appraisal blog

Some say it’s illegal to sell a house with toxic water. Is that true?

Legally there is nothing that says you cannot sell. There was a recent article from the Michigan Association of Realtors that said you can sell them, but you need to disclose the water issue on the seller’s disclosure form to make people aware of the water issue. Though buyers would have to be living in a cave to not know about the water issue already, so the disclosure is only a formality.

Some appraiser colleagues working in the Flint area say FHA and USDA have asked appraisers to verify where a home is getting water from since FHA/USDA don’t want to guarantee loans on properties using Flint water. Have you found this to be the case too?

Most of my deals have been cash buyers, though there have been people getting loans though too.

NOTE from SacBlog: Who is lending in Flint? Please comment below. I want to hear if any FHA and conventional lenders are making deals happen. Unsafe water is a clear health and safety issue, which would seemingly prohibit FHA deals from happening.

flint listing 3 - by sacramento appraisal blog

What impact are you seeing the toxic water issue to have on the local market in terms of values?

In some senses we may see a slight decline in sales and out-of-state investors are probably not going to be buying properties. But at the same time, sales are going to happen. From a practical standpoint the water issue has to be fixed. Nobody knows when that will happen, but we all know it will presumably happen. Flint is still one of the most affordable places to buy for locals. At the end of the day, values are already so low that they cannot go down much more than they have already. However, anything that is considered “higher-end” will probably be impacted since buyers will definitely look at what they can buy somewhere else for the same price (and not have water issues). But I don’t think there will be much effect under $30,000. You just can’t pick up homes in other nearby places for those low prices.

NOTE on rents from SacBlog: It’s interesting to consider what may happen with rents in outlying areas near Flint. If residents leave the city, will rents elsewhere increase? This reminds me of some reports of price gouging with rents in Porter Ranch in Southern California, which is the community where residents had to be evacuated due to an ongoing methane gas leak.

Have you heard or seen any impact on the commercial sector?

Yes. Businesses serve bottled water and they seem to be careful about water filtration. A few years ago GM had a nearby used motor facility just on the border of Flint. After doing some water testing, apparently the water was not good enough to spray on their motors.


I hope you enjoyed this brief interview. Thank you again to Ryan McFarlane for his time and insight.

Questions: What if anything stood out to you about what Ryan said? What would you expect to see happen in a real estate market when the water is toxic? What would happen in your market?

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