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.


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).


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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The problem with non-permitted additions in real estate

Non-permitted additions can cause huge problems. Last week I wrote about how I valued a garage conversion without permits, and I wanted to follow up with some expanded thoughts. As I mentioned, in this situation I gave value to a conversion because I was able to show the market was willing to pay for it. Yet it’s not always that easy, so let’s dig deeper. By the way, props to Cynthia, Gary, and Bryan for stellar blog comments that prodded me to follow-up. Any thoughts?

54025005 - demolishing the old kitchen - exposing the studs, existing plumbing and electrical work

Issues when dealing with a lack of permits:

1) Lenders & Appraisers: Here’s the bottom line. Some lenders don’t want to lend on properties with non-permitted additions. In short, a non-permitted area might have legitimate value in the market, but some lenders will tell appraisers NOT to give the space any value. At the same time other lenders are okay with value being given, but they want appraisers to show a few comps with similar non-permitted areas to prove the market is willing to pay for the space (that’s tricky to find).

2) Illegal: Does the addition conform with what zoning allows? This is a key question. For instance, if zoning only allows one unit and the seller has a non-permitted second unit that hands-down would never be allowed, it’s an enormous liability for an appraiser to be giving value to something like that. Likewise, imagine if an addition was built within the setbacks on a site, which would make it illegal and maybe even a safety issue.

3) Building Department Reaction: Is it likely the non-permitted area can become permitted? What is it going to cost? This is where it’s worth giving the building department a call. I don’t recommend mentioning a specific address at first so you don’t raise red flags, but call and maybe ask about a hypothetical situation to see what the cost and feasibility might be for getting permits. Remember, not all markets are the same either. For instance, since 1976 the City of Davis has had a program where building inspectors visit all properties before they close escrow to ensure there are no code violations. In short, you can’t get away with non-permitted additions in Davis if you plan to sell (but you can elsewhere).

4) The Struggle of Different Opinions: A friend gave me a call to talk through a situation with a garage that was converted into a second unit without permits. The appraiser gave little weight to the addition because of zoning issues, but the seller thought it should have carried more weight. There was a solid back-up offer on the table, but regardless of whether this addition was worth more or not, the thing I told my friend was there was no guarantee a future appraiser or lender was going to see the situation any differently. Owners in scenarios like this tend to say, “The lack of permits wasn’t a problem when we first bought the house”, but guidelines and what appraisers report might have changed over time. Moreover, not every appraiser or lender is going to see things the same way.

Advice about non-permitted areas:

1) Minimal value: Expect there is generally going to be less value for something not permitted than something fully permitted (thanks Captain Obvious).

2) Bigger is Bigger: Buyers seem to ignore smaller-ticket items that weren’t permitted, but the bigger something is, the more likely it is going to be a bigger deal that it wasn’t permitted. For example, there is a huge difference between a non-permitted covered patio and a 400 sq ft addition that was not permitted.

3) Glorified Storage: Keep in mind an appraiser might be instructed by a lender to count a non-permitted area as storage instead of living space. So that second story attic conversion might be really sweet, but an appraiser might end up treating it like storage instead of extra square footage.

4) The Easy Answer: Getting permits can help avoid future loan problems. Be sure to keep a copy of the permit too so any appraiser or buyer can see everything has been signed off.

NOTE ON GIVING VALUE TO SOLAR: This is off-topic, but there was a recent class on solar and it was apparently mentioned I do not give value to solar systems. That’s not accurate. However, I have said a LEASED solar system does not get value because it’s personal property. Just wanted to clarify. You can read this post and another for some thoughts on solar.


Questions: How have you seen a lack of permits impact a transaction or appraisal? Would you buy a home if it had an addition that was not permitted? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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Does a fence need to be painted to meet FHA standards?

Does a fence need to be painted or stained to meet FHA minimum property standards? During an FHA refinance an appraiser recently told a home owner that his fence needed paint or stain for the loan to work. Is that really true though? Let’s dig into this issue. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

FHA appraisal standards for wood fence - sacramento appraisal blog

The Quick Gist: FHA requires appraisers to identify defective paint surfaces on a home’s exterior (which also includes the fence). However, this doesn’t mean a fence actually needs to be painted. Being that most fences such as cedar, cypress, and redwood are already considered a sustainable wood (or sealed or treated), they don’t actually need to be painted. Think about it practically in that new home builders don’t paint their fences and neither do the vast bulk of property owners. But if a fence has been painted in the past and now has defective paint (peeling, chipping, flaking), then the defective portion should be scraped and sealed according to FHA standards (see p 497 in FHA Manual 4000.1 for a paragraph on defective paint).

FHA-photo-by-Ryan-LundquistThe Reality: Appraisers are not trained to identify whether wood is sealed or not. Maybe some appraisers have that skill set, but most probably don’t. While on the phone with HUD yesterday I even asked them how an appraiser would specifically identify a fence that was not sealed. Crickets. The person on the phone did not have an answer other than to say FHA requires a fence to be sealed from the elements. This means a reasonable focus for appraisers would be to call out defective paint on fences, but otherwise assume the wood is sealed unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Does that seem like good common sense? One further point to consider is something my friend Realtor Dean Rinker said in a conversation recently. Even if the standard was the fence needed to be painted, would that also include the neighbor’s portion of the fence too? Imagine that.

14727880 - 3d illustration: a group of cans of paint and roller

Yeah, but the house was built in 1968: I’ve seen people quote the following section from the old FHA manual (or a recent FAQ) in support that fences need to be painted. The idea is that if a fence was built before 1978 when lead-based paint was used, then the home’s fence should be painted to curb any safety issue. First off, if the fence has never been painted, there is NO safety issue with lead-based paint. Thus the age of the house is not the driving issue in this conversation on fences. Most of all, this section states an appraiser should be looking for defective paint on the fence, but it does NOT state the fence needs paint. It is true FHA does not want bare wood on the house, but it is entirely normal for fences to be “bare” (keep in mind wood on fences is sealed or treated though, so it is technically not bare).

If the home was built before 1978, the appraiser should note the condition and location of all defective paint in the home. Inspect all interior and exterior surfaces – wars [sic], stairs, deck porch, railing, windows and doors – for defective paint (chipping, flaking or peeling). Exterior surfaces include those surfaces on fences, detached garages, storage sheds and other outbuildings and appurtenant structures (FHA’S 4150.2 Old Manual).

When it comes to FHA the standards aren’t always as clear as we’d like them to be. This is why it’s critical to know what the FHA manual actually says, consider the spirit of the FHA manual, be in tune with how the bulk of appraisers deal with issues, and of course use common sense.

Questions: Any stories, insight, or examples to share? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear your take.

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The stats show the market is slowing (and we’re not surprised)

Shocking titles tend to get clicked more on Facebook. So if I wanted more clicks, I probably could have gone with a sensational title like, “The market is taking a turn downward”. Or maybe I could have said, “Big changes you MUST know about in Sacramento real estate.” After all, the stats are showing values are softening, so hyping up this point could certainly lead to more traffic. But you know what? I’m not interested in hype, and I never want more clicks at the expense of my integrity. Yes, the market is growing softer right now, and that can feel scary for some, but truth be told there really isn’t any shock here because this is exactly what we expect to see happen during the fall months. Nonetheless, the fascinating part is the fall season this year has still been different than it was last year. This year is actually much more competitive and far less dull. So let’s unpack some trends below with the goal of understanding what values are doing so we can more effectively tell the story of the market to our clients and contacts. I hope this is helpful for locals as well as out-of-town readers (what is your market doing right now?).

housing numbers - image purchased and used with permission by sacramento appraisal blog

Two ways to read THE BIG MONTHLY 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 (zip file): 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.

One Paragraph to Describe the Sacramento Market: The market has been slowing in the Sacramento area, but it’s nowhere near as slow as it was last year at the same time. Overall sales volume is up nearly 11% in the region this year, housing inventory is down 24%, and homes took 4 fewer days to sell this September compared to last September. There have actually been less price reductions so far this year too. In terms of home prices, the median price, average price per sq ft, and average sales prices are tending to be about 4-5%+ higher than they were last year, though this doesn’t mean values are necessarily 4-5% higher. This is an important distinction because median price increases don’t always translate dollar to dollar to actual value. Keep in mind the median price in the regional market has softened by almost 2.5% over the past few months, and the median price in Sacramento County has been about the same for five months in a row. There are some graphs below to help show the seasonal market, and they remind us it is customary to see the median price soften, inventory increase, and sales volume decline during the fall months. Overall there is still a higher demand than there was last year, but the market is very price sensitive. Buyers simply aren’t pulling the trigger on overpriced homes (sellers, please consider that). By the way, if you missed my post last week, I gave some perspective on “real estate bubble” conversations, and it is a very relevant post as we see price metrics begin to soften at this time of year.

Sacramento County Market Trends for September 2015:

  1. The median price has been hovering around $290,000 for 5 months (3.6% higher than last year).
  2. It took an average of 36 days to sell a house last month (up 2 days from the previous month).
  3. Last year at this time it was taking an average of 41 days to sell a house.
  4. FHA sales were 29.5% of all sales last month (nearly 28% of all sales in Sacramento County last quarter).
  5. Sales volume is 10.1% higher so far in 2015 compared to last year.
  6. Sales volume was 13% higher in Sept 2015 compared to Sept 2014.
  7. There is a 1.74 month supply of homes for sale (similar to previous month).
  8. Housing inventory is nearly 30% lower right now compared to Sept 2014.
  9. The average price per sq ft is 188 (5.6% higher than last September).
  10. The average sales price is $314,317 (1.9% higher than last September).

Median price since 2013 in sacramento county

reo and short sales sacramento county 2

seasonal market in sacramento county median price

seasonal market in sacramento county sales volume 2 FHA and cash trends in Sacramento 3

seasonal market in sacramento county inventory 2

inventory - September 2015 - by home appraiser blog CDOM in Sacramento County - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog price metrics since 2014 in sacramento county

Sacramento Regional Trends for September 2015 (Sac, Placer, Yolo, El Dorado):

  1. Sales volume was up 11.5% in Sept 2015 compared to Sept 2014.
  2. Sales volume for the year is up 11% compared with 2014.
  3. The median price at $325,000 is up 4.8% from last year, but down 2.5% from the past few months.
  4. It took an average of 41 days to sell a house last month (2 days longer than last month).
  5. FHA sales were 23% of all sales in the region last month.
  6. There is 2.06 months of housing inventory (same as previous month).
  7. The average sales price is $360,481 (4.3% higher than last year, but down slightly from three months ago at $370K).
  8. It took 4 less days to sell a house this Sept compared to Sept 2014.
  9. FHA sales volume has increased by 30% in 2015 compared with 2014.
  10. Housing inventory is nearly 24% lower right now compared to Sept 2014.

sales volume 2015 vs 2014 in sacramento placer yolo el dorado county

breakdown of sales fha and everything else in sacramento placer yolo el dorado county

breakdown of sales in sacramento placer yolo el dorado county

median price sacramento placer yolo el dorado county

months of housing inventory in region by sacramento appraisal blog

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

Placer County Market Trends for September 2015:

  1. Sales volume was up 7.7% in September 2015 compared to September 2014.
  2. Sales volume for the year is up 15.8% compared with 2014.
  3. The median price in Placer County is $389,000 (about 1% higher than last year at the same time).
  4. Cash sales were 18.8% of all sales last month (very normal level).
  5. It took 46 days on average to sell a house last month (same as previous month).
  6. Last year at this time it took 1 day longer to sell a house.
  7. FHA sales were 16.7% of all sales in Placer County last month.
  8. There is 2.42 months of housing inventory (17% lower than last year).
  9. The average price per sq ft is 194 (5.3% higher than last year at the same time).
  10. REOs were 2.6% of all sales and short sales were 1.5% of all sales last month.

Placer County median price since 2014 - part 2 - by home appraiser blog

months of housing inventory in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog

days on market 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. Thank you so much for being here.

Quick Pricing Advice:

  1. It’s normal for prices to cool during the fall. This year the market is not as soft as it was last year at this time, but we are still seeing a softening.
  2. Price according to the most recent listings that are actually getting into contract rather than the highest sales from the spring.
  3. Talk about the difference between actives, pendings, and neighborhood sales on your listing appointments and in your appraisals. See How to use a CMA to gauge the temperature of the market for a fantastic way to quickly explain what the market is doing to your clients.
  4. The market is price sensitive, which means buyers are not biting on overpriced listings despite inventory and interest rates being relatively low.
  5. Remember there are many markets within a market, so price according to the neighborhood market rather than county-wide trends since your neighborhood might be more or less aggressive compared to the entire county.

DOWNLOAD 70 graphs HERE (zip file): 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: How do you think sellers and buyers are feeling about the market right now? What are you seeing out there?

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