Eating tacos and 10 housing market truths

I eat tacos with investors. That’s right. A few times a year a group of real estate friends get together to talk shop at the best taco joint in town. It’s informal and fun because we’re friends, but it’s also valuable to get a sense for what everyone is seeing out there in the trenches. Anyway, despite not having tacos in front of me at the moment, I wanted to share some of the things that have seemed to come up lately in housing market conversations. Anything to add?

33102060 - top 10 - businessman with chalkboard

10 truths about the housing market

1) One high or low sale doesn’t make or break a market.

2) Just because inventory is low doesn’t mean buyers will pay any price.

3) The market isn’t doing the same thing in every neighborhood or price range.

4) There is no such thing as a national housing market. The “national” market is actually made up of thousands of local markets (Jonathan Miller).

5) Appraisers only measure the market. They don’t make values go up or down.

6) There is no recipe or formula for the way a housing “bubble” has to pop. In other words, for all the conversation about a current “bubble”, if the market did “pop” it wouldn’t necessarily have to look the same way it did 10 years ago.

7) Real estate advice has a shelf life, which means it might not be good for every market (or every price range or location).

8) Markets aren’t so perfect that we can say a property is only worth one certain amount like $336,456. It’s best to recognize there is a reasonable range for what the market might be willing to pay (say $330,000 to $340,000). Is there any support for the appraised value to come in at or near the list price or contract price? Does this price fall within the range of what is reasonable?

9) “Negative market trends are not the end of the world. They represent opportunities for some” (from Jonathan Miller).

10) Thinking positively or talking positively about the market doesn’t drive the market. In other words, “you can’t overpower the market with the power of positive thinking. The market doesn’t care what you or your client thinks” Jonathan Miller.

You may notice I referenced New York Appraiser Jonathan Miller a few times above. I realize that makes me look like a fanboy, but that’s okay because he’s an influential voice in my life and I appreciate his weekly notes every Friday. Last week Jonathan knocked it out of the park in his section entitled “McMansions, McEgos, McPrices and McHonor” (that’s where I picked up point #9 and #10).

how-to-think-like-an-appraiser-class-by-ryan-lundquist-150x150Class I’m teaching on Thursday: On September 29 from 9am-12pm I’m doing my favorite class at SAR called HOW TO THINK LIKE AN APPRAISER. We’re going to have a blast talking through seeing properties like an appraiser does. We’ll look at comp selection and talk through so many issues. My goal is to help you walk away full of actionable ideas. Register here.

Questions: What types of conversations are coming up in your circles right now? What is #11? I’d love to hear your take.

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

5 things to consider about higher appraisal fees and longer turn-times

Appraisal fees have been going up and turn-times have been getting longer. Why is this happening? Why is it taking longer to get appraisals done? Is there really a shortage of appraisers? Let’s consider a few points below to help think through some of the bigger pieces to this conversation. I hope this will help you better explain the issue to your clients also. Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your take.

appraiser-shortage-by-sacramento-appraisal-blog-image-purchased-and-used-with-permission-by-123rf

5 things to consider about higher fees and longer turn-times:

1) Appraiser “Speculators”: Did you know there are actually 45% less licensed appraisers in California today compared to 10 years ago? This sounds alarming, but is it a shortage? The number of appraisers climbed exponentially before 2007 because the market was good and it was fairly easy to become an appraiser in California at the time. This hefty increase was more about the market though rather than there actually being a need for more appraisers (key point). In fact, many of the appraisers who entered the field were more like speculators hoping for easy money –  but then the economy unraveled. We can’t therefore look at 20,000 appraisers as being a normal or healthy number of appraisers in California.

brea-licensing-numbers-for-appraiers-sacramento-appraisal-blog

2) Rate of Decline Slowing: According to a phone conversation with the Bureau of Real Estate (BREA) last week, in 2009 the state was losing about 190 licensed appraisers each month, and that number is now 34 per month. It’s great news the decline has slowed, but it’s also going to be a big problem if we don’t see the decline stop at some point. The good news is last week BREA actually announced new rules that essentially make it easier to become an appraiser trainee. Now let’s hope lenders/AMCs will encourage trainees to be used in reports (this needs to happen). Of course one factor worth mentioning is we don’t really know how many of the nearly 11,000 appraisers are actually actively working. For reference, the average age of an appraiser in California is nearly 52 years old (73% male and 27% female).

3) Shortage: When talking with BREA on the phone, they said there is NOT an appraiser shortage. Their sense is there are enough appraisers to handle current appraisal volume, though they said certain markets definitely have a shortage (such as rural northern California), while other markets are still saturated with appraisers (they said Orange County and even Sacramento). This reminds us what Jonathan Miller says, that there is NOT an appraiser shortage, but a shortage of appraisers willing to work for low fees.

4) Not Getting All the Money: A loan officer I spoke with was frustrated that his Borrowers were paying $550 for conventional appraisals and $750 for jumbo appraisals – and still experiencing longer turn-times. When he told me the Appraisal Management Company (AMC) he uses though, that’s where the problem comes in. This AMC regularly pays appraisers $350, which means they’re pocketing 40% of the fee the Borrower thinks is going to the appraiser. A few days ago on Facebook there was an appraiser who had an offer from an AMC to appraise a property for $850, but the AMC was charging the Borrower $1,385. Let’s remember appraisers are supposed to be paid “customary and reasonable” fees under Dodd-Frank, but a reasonable fee is what the appraiser gets – NOT what the Borrower pays.

5) Markets Change: The market has been experiencing a correction after years of low-ball fees from AMCs. Maybe some of it is due to there being less appraisers, and we’ll feel that out over time, but before sounding the appraiser shortage alarm, we have to respect the reality that fee markets don’t remain the same forever. For instance, a local architect friend has been so busy lately that he’s been quoting much longer turn-times and “blow off” fees that clients wouldn’t possibly accept (but they are accepting them). We see a similar market change with contractors as they are incredibly busy right now and not taking the little jobs since the big jobs pay more. Keep in mind appraisers are juggling appraisals for purchases, refinances, and private situations. When things get busy, appraisers understandably gravitate toward clients who pay better. This means low-paying AMC clients get dropped and anything that is not a “piece of cake” valuation might struggle to be accepted unless the fee is reasonable. As a consequence this also means AMCs may have to shop for many extra days or weeks to find an appraiser to take on the assignment. It’s not easy to digest this, but we have to respect the way markets move and then change our expectations too. Otherwise we are left feeling entitled to the way things have been when the market is simply different now.

I hope this was helpful.

Recent Woodworking: By the way, from time to time I like to share some things I’ve built so you know I have a life outside of appraising. Yes, I’ve built a few skateboards recently with my oldest son. It’s like re-living the 80s for me.

ryan-lundquist-sacramento-appraisal-blog

Questions: Which points stand out to you the most? What else would you add? Did I miss something?

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

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.

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

What do appraisers look for during an FHA inspection? (free download)

What do appraisers look for when doing an FHA appraisal? These days it’s important to be in tune with FHA appraisal standards so your home can be FHA-ready or so you can know what to expect if accepting an FHA offer. Let’s talk through some of the most common FHA issues below. You can also download an FHA checklist to study or share with clients. This checklist has all the information from this post as well as one additional page.

what appraisers look for during an FHA inspection

DOWNLOAD an FHA checklist HERE (pdf)

The Main Idea with FHA: FHA is primarily concerned that everything in the house functions properly and that there are no health and safety issues. The basic concept of meeting FHA minimum requirements is that everything must work as it was designed to work. For example, a window that is supposed to open must open, and a built-in appliance should do what that appliance is supposed to do. If you have a sliding glass door with a lock on the handle, the lock should work.

FHA requirements - from sacramento appraisal blog

What do FHA appraisers look for?

  • Utilities should be turned on so the appraiser can test systems and appliances.
  • Appliances must function properly.
  • fha-logoThere should be proper drainage around the perimeter of the house.
  • The heating unit must be in working order (and AC if applicable).
  • Water pressure must be adequate for the house. Appraisers flush toilets, turn on all faucets and ensure that both hot and cold water are working.
  • The water heater must be in working order and strapped according to local code.
  • Attics and crawlspaces are to be viewed at minimum from the shoulder up by the appraiser. When viewing the attic, appraisers make sure there are vents, no damage, no exposed or frayed wires, and that sunlight is not beaming through. When inspecting the crawl space, appraisers make sure there are no signs of standing water or any other foundation support issues. Excessive debris in the attic or crawl space should be removed.
  • Paint must not be chipping, peeling, or flaking on homes built before 1978 because of the danger of lead-based paint (lead was used in paint prior to 1978). However, there must be no defective paint or bare wood for properties built after 1978 because defective paint impacts the economic longevity of the property. Defective paint should be scraped and re-painted (with no wood chips on the soil).
  • Electrical outlets must work (outlets should have a cover plate also).
  • Toilets must flush and be mounted.
  • Any active termite infestation needs to be cured.
  • Minor cosmetic issues such as stained carpet or a need for interior paint are okay. The house does not have to be perfect, but if there are issues that impact health and safety or the long-term economic viability of the property, then those issues must be cured.
  • Windows must open and close and they cannot be broken. Minor cracks can be okay so long as there is not an issue with safety, soundness and security.
  • No dangling wires from missing fixtures or anywhere else.
  • FHA doesn’t require air conditioning, but if present the system should work as intended.
  • Smoke detectors & carbon monoxide detectors are required insofar as required by local code
  • The firewall from the garage to the house should be intact. Missing sheetrock, a pet door installed in the door, a lack of self-closing hinges, or a hollow door could pose a safety issue.
  • A roof should not be leaking and needs to have at least two years of economic life left.
  • A house will be rejected if the site is subject to hazards, environmental contaminants, noxious odors, or excessive noises to the point of endangering the physical improvements or affecting the livability of the property (this isn’t an issue for the vast majority of properties).
  • A trip hazard is a subjective call to make by the appraiser and not necessarily an automatic repair, but if there is a legitimate safety issue it should be called out by the appraiser.
  • There are things any appraiser will call out in an FHA appraisal, but there are times when appraisers have to consider how the spirit of FHA might apply in a situation. FHA is black and white on many issues, but other times appraisers simply need to use good judgment.

Reminder About Difference in Locations: Appraisers in different parts of the country may require some items in their appraisals that might not be required elsewhere. For instance, carbon monoxide detectors are required in most residential homes in California, but this is not the case in many other states. An FHA appraiser in a different state might not even mention a CO detector, but in Sacramento it is commonplace.

DOWNLOAD an FHA checklist HERE (pdf)

I hope this was helpful. If you’re looking for more information on FHA appraisal standards, you can check out other FHA appraisal articles I’ve written.

Questions: Anything else you’d add to the list? Any FHA questions? Appraisers, if you have any stories to share about properties that were rejected, speak on.

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