Four things to remember about the value of a larger lot

The lot is huge, so it must be worth more, right? But how much is it really worth? Let’s look at four quick points to consider when it comes to lot size. Don’t miss the two images at the bottom of the post too. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

larger lot size in real estate - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased from 123rf and used with permission

Four things to remember about the value of a larger lot:

  1. It’s about what the market will pay: The best way to know what a larger lot size is worth is to start comparing similar homes with and without larger lots. What is the price difference? If we can line up a few examples, we’ll probably begin to see a reasonable range of value emerge. Keep in mind there might not be any recent larger lot sales, but you can easily look at the past few years of neighborhood sales as well as sales in a competitive market. Value could be exponentially higher for the larger size, but then again it might be less than we’d think. At the end of the day we have to look to the market for the answer though since it all comes down to what buyers are actually willing to pay for the difference in size.
  2. Usefulness: When dealing with a larger lot we have to consider the usefulness of the extra space. What if the larger lot size was located in the front yard? Could there be a difference in value between a huge backyard and a large front yard? What if the lot had a funky shape that made most if it unusable? What if the larger lot was located right next to the highway compared to the interior of the neighborhood? What if there was an easement running through the lot that essentially cut the usable space in half? From a value standpoint we have to consider the effective usable lot size and make sure we are choosing comps with similar utility.
  3. New construction: Remember, builders tend to charge more for a “lot size premium” or “lot elevation premium” when a house initially sells, but this premium may or may not exist in the resale market years down the road. The owner might expect to sell for more, but what are homes with similar features actually selling for in the resale market? That’s what our focus needs to be.
  4. The temptation to give an adjustment: It’s tempting to give a lot size value adjustment any time we see a difference in size. Thus when we see a lot that is 6534 sq ft and a lot that is 8000 sq ft, we automatically apply an adjustment. Or if we see something that is 4356 sq ft and a lot that is 6500 sq ft, we’re tempted to use a price figure we think makes sense. But we have to ask ourselves, would buyers really make the adjustment? (adjustments are supposed to be based on the behavior of the market (buyers)). It’s easy to be trigger-happy about giving adjustments like this, but we have to remember there is no such thing as an adjustment that is going to work for every single neighborhood, price range, or market. In short, if the adjustment is incredibly minor, maybe it’s better to just not give it in the first place.

I hope this was helpful. Now two quick images.

lot utility - sacramento appraisal blog

Example of Finding an Adjustment: Assume these two model match sales have a similar location, upgrades, and condition. Now how much is the extra lot size worth based on actual sales? Remember, it’s ideal to find a few examples instead of just one so our results are more meaningful.

lot size example - by sacramento appraisal blog

Questions: Anything else to add? What is #5? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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How much does a busy street impact the appraised value?

How does a location on a busy street impact value? It’s sometimes easy to think a busy street might have only a minimal effect on value of $5,000 to $10,000, but it can actually be quite significant. Let’s take a look at the Arden Manor neighborhood in Sacramento for reference. What do sales on Watt Avenue, a busy 4-lane street, sell for compared to the rest of the neighborhood?

Watt Avenue street view

Arden Manor Neighborhood and Watt Sales - 530 - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

What do you see when looking at sales over the past ten years?

Arden Manor Sales Since 2008 - 530 - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

The best way to determine an exact value adjustment for sales on Watt Avenue is to compare similar sales on Watt Avenue to similar sales in other parts of the neighborhood. For instance, if a 1081 sq ft model sold on Watt Avenue, how much did a competitive model sell for on a more standard street without an adverse location? When we find a few data points like that, we can begin to get a sense of a percentage adjustment. However, let’s make some general observations so this doesn’t end up being an exhaustive blog post.

Observations about Value on Watt Avenue:

  1. Sales on Watt Avenue tend to sell at the bottom of the market unless they are updated.
  2. Even when properties on Watt Avenue are upgraded, they don’t sell at the top of the market. You might see the one sale in 2005 though that closed at $385,000. I’m not sure how that happened, but I will say this same property actually just sold the day after I made this graph for $155,000 (not at the top of the market).
  3. If an appraiser or agent adjusted $5,000 for the location difference, do you think that would be enough? Would you only pay $5,000 for the difference? That’s probably not very close, right? For instance, currently there is a renovated listing on Watt Avenue at $169,000, while other competitive sales on standards streets have closed on the lower end at $180,000, but mostly between $200,000 to $212,000. This means a quick conservative adjustment would be closer to $10,000 (6%), but otherwise there are quite a few sales that sold for $30,000+ more (15-20% easily). A reasonable adjustment could only be narrowed down with research, but at face glance $5,000 doesn’t look like it cuts the mustard so to speak.

The houses literally across the street: Arden Park

Arden Park and Arden Manor Sales on Watt Avenue - 530 - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

The interesting thing about Watt Avenue is that the Arden Manor neighborhood on one side of the street has profoundly different values compared to Arden Park that is literally on the other side of the street. For the most part it looks like there is a difference of close to $100-150K, right? Some properties have sold at similar levels of course, and we have to consider the impact of low-ball bank-owned sales and/or aggressively priced short sales in 2010-2012, but otherwise the value difference is striking.

Things to Remember About Location Adjustments: 

  1. The best way to find out how much a busy street (or any adverse location) is worth is to start comparing sales on a busy street with other similar sales on standard streets.
  2. There is no adjustment that will work for every neighborhood because real estate adjustments are about location, location, and location.
  3. Location adjustments tend to get larger when a market is soft since buyers have their pick of properties, but when inventory is tight, adjustments might be smaller.
  4. If there are no recent sales on a busy street for comparison, go back in time to find older sales. What were those sales selling for at the time compared to other properties on streets with less traffic flow? Get a good sample too because having only one pair of sales isn’t enough to establish a solid adjustment.

Questions: How have you seen location impact value? Any further insight, questions, or stories to share?

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