How school boundaries impact real estate values

The quality of a neighborhood school can make a huge difference with real estate values. Yeah, I know that’s a Captain Obvious statement, but let’s talk about that. Last week I was reminded yet again how powerful school boundaries can be, so I wanted to share an example of this concept and then kick around some ideas. I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

school boundaries and real estate values - sacramento appraisal blog

Do you look at school ratings? While appraising something in the Didion school boundaries in the Pocket area of Sacramento, I looked up to find Didion had a rating of 8 while neighboring schools in the neighborhood had a rating of 3 and 4. Could there be a difference in value depending on which school your home feeds into? Maybe so.

Ratings from Great Schools and Real Estate - by Sacramento Appraiser Blog

Do school boundaries matter? Okay, so Didion clearly has a higher rating, but do we actually see properties sell for more? Agents regularly say there is a value premium, but is there really? I decided to create a quick visual by comparing similar-sized sales from the surrounding neighborhood with ones in Didion territory. What do you see?

Pocket and Didion Market Trends - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog 2

The black dots that represent Didion show us these homes tend to sell toward the top of the neighborhood market. This tells us buyers are clearly in tune with the school system in the neighborhood and they are clearly paying higher prices to be in this niche.

5 Things to Remember about Schools & Real Estate Value:

  1. Know the school boundaries: One of the fastest ways I’ve been able to obtain school boundaries is through I type in the name of the school, click on the map, and then observe boundaries and even ratings of surrounding schools (just like the image above). Obviously the website could be wrong, but it’s a good start.
  2. Don’t trust MLS comments: Properties are sometimes identified incorrectly in MLS, which is why we have to double-check by looking up various websites or even calling the school district.
  3. Choose comps attending the same school: Since value can be different depending on the school, it’s important to choose comps that have the same school influence (if possible). Many times a tract subdivision only has one school, so that makes it easy when choosing comps. But in the case above there are several school options, which means if we aren’t in tune with the neighborhood market and the school system, we just might pick the wrong comps.
  4. Don’t adjust based on GreatSchools ratings: As much as I like, at the end of the day I wouldn’t make a value adjustment because Didion has an 8 rating and other nearby schools have a 3 or 4. After all, I don’t want to impose the idea that one area sells for more or less because of a rating. If there really is a value difference, I’ll likely be able to see that in the sales. Or better yet, I can just choose comps that go to the same school so I don’t even have to worry about figuring out a value difference.
  5. Communicate about the school: If you are an agent, spend an extra minute studying school boundaries so you know for sure what school(s) your home feeds into. Your knowledge can come in particularly handy too when talking with appraisers. If the school boundaries are a big deal for value, I recommend highlighting this when talking with appraisers (or using my Appraiser Info Sheet to do so). Appraisers, it’s easy to miss details like school boundaries, so it might be a good idea to bookmark a few sites to help quickly see boundaries and/or ratings.

I hope this was helpful.

Questions: What is point #6? Did I miss anything? Do you have any other tips for finding out about school boundaries? Any stories about buying a house and paying more or less because of the school? I’d love to hear.

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If the real estate market did shift…

The new buzz word in real estate is SHIFT. Everywhere I go I hear this word, and it seems like every other article is about a coming change in the market. Thus the question becomes, how would you recognize if the market did begin to shift? What signs would you look for? Let’s kick around some ideas below and I’d love to hear your take in the comments. Any thoughts?

change sign - purchased by sacramento appraisal blog by 123rf dot com

Key points when considering a market shift:

  1. Markets go up and down: Just like the stock market, gold, or any other commodity, at some point real estate values will go up and at some point they’ll go down. Bottom line.
  2. See it first in the listings: When the market does eventually “shift”, we’ll see the change in the listings before the sales. This means properties will begin to struggle to sell at the same level as the “comps”, which will lead to price declines. This underscores the importance of paying close attention to pendings and listings to see the current market. Granted, every year someone says, “the market is declining” when the fall season begins to unfold because values begin to soften. Just be aware there is a difference between a normal seasonal softening and a definitive declining trend.
  3. Word on the street: One of the ways we’ll know the market has changed is the real estate community will feel it in the number of offers, feedback from buyers and sellers, more credits being given to buyers, etc… We can always look at stats, but there is something powerful about the word on the street from real estate insiders.
  4. The previous peak: It’s always interesting to see how close or far prices are from their high point ten years ago, but there isn’t any rule that says prices have to get back to their height for a decline to happen.
  5. Watch higher & lower prices: The market isn’t always doing the same thing at every price range or in every neighborhood. When it comes to values declining, watch the top and bottom carefully because one of them might change direction before the other. Which one?
  6. Other metrics: I included an image below to talk through some of the metrics we might watch to know the market is softening. Again, these things all tend to happen during the fall months every year, but no matter what time of year we are not likely to get to full-fledged value declines without passing through a softening stage. Be sure to watch the sales to list price ratio too (I forgot to include that in the image).
  7. The power of lenders: Values have increased these past four years, but wage growth has been more or less stagnant. This means some buyers will now begin to struggle to afford higher prices. The temptation for lenders is to develop more creative financing to help buyers keep playing the game. Does anyone else think Kenny Loggins’ Highway to the Danger Zone would be good background music for this point?
  8. Future clients: This conversation can feel stressful for those who work in real estate because a change in the market can lead to a change in clients. Yet markets always change, so that’s something we can be prepared for, right? Blockbuster Video had a lucrative operation until they didn’t adapt to the way the internet changed the DVD rental landscape. When it comes to business we can spend so much time holding on to the way things have been that like Blockbuster we don’t take steps to adapt and position ourselves to be Redbox or Netflix so to speak. Here are two questions to continually ask: Who are you clients going to be in the future? What are your clients going to need in the next few years?

Signs of a soft market

I hope this was helpful.

Questions: What is point #9? What other metrics can we watch to see the market change? Anything I left out? I’d love to hear your take.

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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.

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4 things to remember about increasing values and low inventory

Let’s talk about increasing values and low inventory. ‘Tis the season for this conversation because the market is heating up right now as we are on the cusp of spring. Here are a few things that have been on my mind, and then a huge local market update after that (for those interested). I’d love to hear your take in the comments below. Any thoughts?

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

  1. Front Loaded Market: In a normal market prices tend to heat up in the spring and soften in the fall. While this isn’t true everywhere in the United States (or for every year or type of property), this general reality reminds us that value increases are often loaded into the front part of the year rather than throughout the entire year. For instance, if values increased by 6% last year, it doesn’t mean value went up by 0.5% each month. Instead, any increase in value might actually have occurred from February to June.
  2. Rapid Appreciation: I’ve been hearing lots of chatter about rapid appreciation lately. The idea is the market has increased substantially in value over the past couple months and appraisals are lagging behind the trend. I know low appraisals are a reality, and if appraisers aren’t giving upward adjustments for value increases (when warranted of course), it can lead to conservative appraisals that probably reflect the market two months ago rather than right now. Whatever the case, the Sacramento market has felt extremely competitive lately because of freakishly low inventory, though actual value increases seem more nominal for the spring rather than exponential. Yes, there are some properties that have been bid up 10% or so, but those properties were probably priced far too low since increases that large have not typified this market. Moreover, sometimes markets feel more aggressive than they actually are, so a market’s mantra might be: “Aggressive demand, modest appreciation.”
  3. Not Every Neighborhood: Some neighborhoods and price ranges are trending differently than others. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s easy to lump all areas and price ranges together. For instance, the median price in the regional market last month increased by 2.5%, but that doesn’t mean values increased by 2.5% in every single neighborhood or price range. When valuing a property, we can keep an eye on trends from the wider area, but at the end of the day we need to look at competitive sales and listings in the subject property’s particular neighborhood. What is the competitive market doing in the neighborhood? If we impose the notion that “values increased by 2.5% last month” on every neighborhood, we’re probably going to make some valuation mistakes.
  4. Less New Construction is Starting to Matter: When the economy collapsed, new home construction sloughed off and has not yet recovered anywhere close to where it was during the glory years from say 2003 to 2005. This might not seem like a big deal, but now imagine the population has grown over the past 10 years, which essentially means there are now less available housing units for a larger population. On top of this, institutional investors bought homes in recent years and are holding on to them instead of selling. Moreover, some owners purchased several years ago are sitting on a sweet 3.5% interest rate and a low mortgage payment. Why would they sell in today’s market unless they really had to? Not all areas in the country are struggling with low inventory, but a lack of new home construction in recent years is actually a big deal, and it’s certainly contributing to a lower housing supply in many markets including Sacramento. Lastly, when there are less housing units for the population, it tends to create an environment where rents increase. This is an important trend to watch.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear your take below.

—————– For those interested, here is my big market update  —————–

Big monthly market update post - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased from 123rfTwo ways to read the BIG 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:
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.

Quick Sacramento Market Summary: The market in February was fairly normal in Sacramento. Values saw a modest seasonal uptick, sales volume increased, and inventory declined. This was all expected because it’s what we normally see at this time of year. But while market stats are more on the tame side, the market has felt anything but that in the trenches of house hunting. Multiple offers are commonplace and buyers are seeming to exude a 2004-ish frenzy to get into contract before values rise too quickly (does that concern anyone?). Despite housing inventory being extremely tight, properties that are priced too high are sitting instead of selling, and that reminds us how price sensitive buyers have become. The market is definitely a sellers’ market, though that doesn’t mean sellers can command any price they want. It’s interesting to note it took 12 less days to sell a house this February compared to last February, and only 3.4% of all sales in the region last month were short sales. One last thing. There is a big difference in the mood among buyers when mortgage interest rates are closer to 3.5% compared to even 4.0%, so watch rates and the market closely.


  1. It took an average of 46 days to sell in both February and January.
  2. It took 12 less days to sell this February compared to last February.
  3. Sales volume was nearly identical in February 2016 compared to last February.
  4. FHA sales were 24% of all sales last month.
  5. Housing inventory is 25% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  6. The median price increased by 6.7% last month (take that w/ a grain of salt).
  7. The median price is 6.7% higher than the same time last year.
  8. The avg price per sq ft increased by about 1% last month.
  9. The avg price per sq ft is 6% higher than the same time last year.
  10. Sales volume in 2016 is roughly the same as the same time last year.

Some of my Favorite Graphs this Month:

Median price since 2013 in sacramento county

inventory - February 2016 - by home appraiser blog

inventory in sacramento county Since 2013 - part 2 - by sacramento appraisal blog

CDOM in Sacramento County - by Sacramento Appraisal Blog

Median price and inventory since 2001 by sacramento appraisal blog

market in sacramento - sacramento appraisal group


  1. It took 1 day longer to sell a house last month than January.
  2. It took 12 less days to sell this February compared to last February.
  3. Sales volume was 2% lower in February 2016 compared to last February.
  4. FHA sales were 22% of all sales last month.
  5. Short sales were 3.4% and REOs were 4.8% of sales last month.
  6. Housing inventory is 20% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. The median price increased 2.5% last month from the previous month.
  8. The median price is 3% higher than the same time last year.
  9. The avg price per sq ft declined slightly last month (less than 1%).
  10. The avg price per sq ft is 7.9% higher than the same time last year.

Some of my Favorite Regional Graphs:

sales volume 2015 vs 2016 in sacramento placer yolo el dorado county

sacramento region volume - FHA and conventional - by appraiser blog

months of housing inventory in region by sacramento appraisal blog

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

median price and inventory in sacramento regional market 2013

number of listings in sacramento regional market


  1. It took 7 more days to sell a house last month than January.
  2. It took 6 less days to sell this February compared to last February.
  3. Sales volume was 4% lower in February 2016 compared to last February.
  4. FHA sales were 20% of all sales last month.
  5. Cash sales were 19% of all sales last month.
  6. Housing inventory is 17% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. Sales volume is up 2.5% this Jan/Feb compared to last Jan/Feb.
  8. The median price increased 2.5% from the previous month.
  9. The median price is up nearly 11% from February 2015.
  10. Short sales were 1.5% and REOs were 4.3% of sales last month.

Some of my Favorite Placer County Graphs:

days on market in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog months of housing inventory in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog number of listings in PLACER county - January 2016 Placer County housing inventory - by home appraiser blog Placer County price and inventory - by sacramento appraisal blog Placer County sales volume - by sacramento appraisal blog

I hope this was helpful and interesting.

DOWNLOAD 70 graphs HERE:
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: Any other points to add about increasing values or low inventory? What stands out to you about the latest stats in Sacramento? I’d love to hear your take and what you are seeing in the trenches.

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