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.

pot-cultivation-map-from-sacramento-bee-in-january-2016-story

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).

weed-sign-in-portland-sacramento-appraisal-blog

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.

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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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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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Why did the appraiser say it was only two bedrooms? It should be three.

The real estate agent marketed the property as three bedrooms, Tax Records said it was three, but then the appraiser said it was only two. What the heck? Let me share with you a situation I encountered recently where an appraiser (me) ended up removing one of the “bedrooms” from the room count because of a functional issue. Let’s look more closely below. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

The layout of the house according to the agent:

2-or-3-bedroom-sacramento-appraisal-blog-part-1

It’s not normal to have a layout like this, right? Imagine getting up to go to the bathroom at night and walking through someone’s room to get there. The middle room really wouldn’t have much privacy either, right? I can also picture a kid in the middle bedroom setting up a taxation system and charging his brother for passage from the rear room.

bedroom access issue - sacramento appraisal blog

The layout of the house according to the appraiser (me):

2 or 3 bedroom - sacramento appraisal blog - part 2

I pulled three-bedroom comps before seeing the property, but I was surprised to discover it wasn’t really a 3-bedroom home because of a functional issue. I know this seems like a subjective call to axe a bedroom, but the functional issue definitely limits the use of the middle room, so it was not considered a bedroom. It’s too bad there was not more foresight when the addition on the rear of the house was done so the floor plan would be more functional. As a side note, I could have labeled the rear room as a den instead of the middle room, but since the rear room was larger in size, I thought it would more likely be used as a bedroom by the market.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Describe correctly: It’s important to describe properties correctly for the sake of clarity and even potential liability. This is true for both agents and appraisers.
  2. A Bedroom with functional obsolescence: I imagine some real estate professionals would call this a 3-bedroom home with functional obsolescence because one has to travel through a “bedroom” to get to a different bedroom. In my mind this was not a functional three-bedroom home, so I chose to describe it as a 2-bedroom home, but I would understand if someone wanted to describe it differently.
  3. The market’s response: The question becomes how to value something like this. Should we compare it to 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom homes? Well, it’s not really a regular 3-bedroom home, but it’s not really a traditional 2-bedroom home either because it has the extra space (den). Ideally, we should find a 2-bedroom property with a separate area like a den, office, or something else that is similar. If we’re lucky we might find a few sales with functional obsolescence (fat chance). Lastly, if the subject property has sold a few times in recent years, we might go back in time and see how the market valued the home. What did it compare to at the time of its previous sales?
  4. Tax Records isn’t the definitive authority: Just because Tax Records says it does not mean it’s accurate. In this case the home was functionally two bedrooms despite Tax Records saying it was three. As much as we want to trust Tax Records, sometimes we have to look at what is actually there and then try to understand why there is a difference between public records and reality. For reference, here are 10 reasons why public records and the appraiser’s square footage are often not the same.

I hope this was helpful. I’d love to hear your take in the comments.

Radio Interview: By the way, I did a radio interview last week on 105.5FM in Sacramento. Realtor Jay Stoops had me on his show. You can listen to our 20-minute conversation below (or here).

Questions: Is this a 2-bedroom home or a 3-bedroom home in your mind? Any other insight or stories to share? Did I miss anything?

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