Three dangerous ways to choose comps

It’s easy to get into value trouble when choosing comps, and today I want to highlight three ways to do that. I’ve observed each of these methods very recently, which is why I hoped to kick around some ideas together. I could have just as well entitled this post, “Three ways appraisers DON’T choose comps.” Any thoughts?

choosing comps for appraisal - sacramento appraisal blog

Three dangerous ways to choose comps:

1) Price: When putting a value on something, searching by price is a quick way to NOT see the full picture. For instance, if we pull comps for a $750,000 sale by looking at all sales between $725,000 and $775,000, what we end up getting is a limited view of one price range. Have we truly found any similar properties or just the ones that have sold in that range and happen to support the contract price? The danger of searching by price is we can end up letting a few high sales impose a value on a property instead of letting similar homes paint a picture of value. This is why sometimes appraisers disregard the “comps” they are given from the real estate community because they are only similar in price rather than square footage, age, condition, location, upgrades, etc… If you are in the habit of searching by price in MLS when pulling comps, I might recommend searching by square footage instead (or by a parameter you think will help you make quality comparisons).

2) Capitalization Rates: The 2-4 unit market has been heating up in the Sacramento area. In fact, the new Yardi Matrix 2017 Winter Report says multi-family rents in Sacramento will grow by 9.6% this year. If that’s how things shake out, we’ll basically have seen a 30% increase in rent over the past few years. Wow!! Anyway, I’m finding news of the hot rental market is causing some 2-4 unit properties to be priced according to unrealistic cap rates instead of realistic comps and rental income (or even realistic cap rates). What I mean is sometimes comments in MLS say “check out the 8% cap rate” when the neighborhood really isn’t getting rates that low. Maybe surrounding properties are showing rates closer to 9-10%. This might not seem like a big deal, but when we plug an 8% rate into the cap rate formula instead of a realistic 9-10% rate, the value can be substantially different. My advice is to be cautious about imposing a cap rate on a property.

3) Price Per Sq Ft: In real estate it’s easy to see a sale down the street and then apply the price per sq ft from the sale to the subject property. But what if the price per sq ft doesn’t make any sense for the subject? The truth is smaller homes tend to have a much higher price per sq ft than larger ones, and dissimilar homes might actually have a far different price per sq ft too. Thus my advice is to be cautious about imposing a certain price per sq ft on a property when searching for comps. Let’s pay attention to price per sq ft figures, but at some point we have to ask the question, what are similar properties actually selling for? By the way, if you haven’t seen my Starbucks cups analogy, it’s a fun way to think about price per sq ft. 

The Big Idea of Imposing: All of these methodologies essentially help impose a value on a property because we end up applying a metric or price range to comp selection instead of looking for what is truly similar. Thankfully there isn’t only one way to search for comps, but no matter what we do it’s important to try to be objective and discover value rather than doing something that might impose value on a property. Know what I’m saying? By the way, here is how I tend to choose comps as an appraiser just in case you’re peeved I only told you what not to do.

Blogging Class on Thursday: In a couple of days I’m teaching a two-hour class at SAR called Successful Real Estate Blogging. This will be incredibly practical and my goal is for you to leave with insight on how to be effective. Click HERE for details.

I hope that was helpful or interesting.

Questions: Did I miss anything? Anything you’d add? I’d love to hear your take.

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Paying attention to the mood of the market

The other day a home owner was upset because he thought his appraisal came in too low. Yes, he was hung up on price per sq ft, which was a big issue, but most of all he believed the home should have been worth way more since there were almost no other homes listed for sale on the market. His thought was, “There’s no inventory, so I’m going to command top dollar.” After all, isn’t real estate about supply and demand? Well, yes. But there’s so much more.

the mood of the market sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission by 123rf

The Market’s Mood: The truth is there are many factors that make value move in a market, and supply and demand is only one cog in the system (or “layer of the cake” as I like to say). Granted, it’s one of the more important metrics, but at the end of the day we can’t forget to ask how buyers and sellers are feeling about the market. Or in other words, what is the mood? For example, in early 2013 housing inventory in Sacramento was incredibly low, and buyers were pretty much willing to offer at list price or above on anything that hit MLS. In fact, if something didn’t have multiple offers, I wondered what was wrong with the property. At the time there was a real desperate mood, yet despite inventory still being low today, buyers are exhibiting more discretion by not pulling the trigger unless the price is right. Like the owner above thinks, this seems irrational because there aren’t many homes for sale. But the mood has changed. Likewise, if a house backs a busy street or has some adverse issue, buyers are tending to wait rather than offer. Again, this seems illogical because on paper it looks like buyers should be making offers all day long because of how low inventory is. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the owner above did not realize his home valued toward the higher end of the neighborhood range was simply not experiencing the same demand as the lower end of the price spectrum in the neighborhood. Thus the mood at the top was different than the bottom.

Action Step: At the end of the day, let’s not forget to talk with clients about the mood of the market. We can do this by sharing the latest numbers, thinking about what is driving some of the numbers (the mood), reading articles from several local and national publications, and having conversations as often as possible with others in the real estate trenches (not just with people in your office or field). Also, since market moods are constantly changing, we have the opportunity to continually say something different about the local market.

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 73 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 January was fairly normal. It took 3 days longer to sell a house than the previous month. That’s normal. The median price and other price metrics generally declined from December. Yep, that’s normal too for the time of year. Sales volume declined by 39% from December to January, but that’s common since sales volume ALWAYS declines from December to January (yes, I said always). Actually, the real trend is January 2016 had a 2.5% higher sales volume than January 2015. Housing inventory increased, which is also normal. Okay, I apologize because I’m repeating one word too often here. But do you catch my drift? However, I will say the bottom of the market and “entry-level” neighborhoods have felt a little more aggressive in terms of values, number of offers, and demand. In short, some neighborhoods have seemed to have more of a feel of a budding spring real estate market, while others have been cruising along waiting for the spring season to further ripen. As I said last month, if I had to sum up the market in 2015 I would say: Modest value appreciation, but aggressive demand. Yes, demand is very aggressive out there, but sellers really need to price realistically unless they want to sit on the market. 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.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY:

  1. It took 3 more days to sell a house last month than December.
  2. It took 14 less days to sell this January compared to last January.
  3. Sales volume was 2.5% higher in January 2016 compared to last January.
  4. FHA sales were 26.8% of all sales last month.
  5. FHA sales under $200,000 were 29% of all sales last month.
  6. Housing inventory is 30% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. The median price declined by 5.3% last month.
  8. The median price is 9.4% higher than the same time last year.
  9. The avg price per sq ft declined by about 1% last month.
  10. The avg price per sq ft is almost 11% higher than the same time last year.

Some of my Favorite Graphs this Month:

inventory - January 2016 - by home appraiser blog

median price and inventory since jan 2013 - by sacramento appraisal blog

January market in Sacramento real estate - by sac appraisal blog - since 2008

sales volume in January

inventory in sacramento county Since 2011 - by sacramento appraisal blog

price metrics since 2014 in sacramento county

SACRAMENTO REGIONAL MARKET:

  1. It took 2 more days to sell a house last month than December.
  2. It took 15 less days to sell this January compared to last January.
  3. Sales volume was 7.9% higher in January 2016 compared to last January.
  4. FHA sales were 23.6% of all sales last month.
  5. Short sales were 3% and REOs were 3.5% of sales last month.
  6. Housing inventory is 28% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. The median price declined by 1.3% last month.
  8. The median price is 10.8% higher than the same time last year.
  9. The avg price per sq ft increased 2% last month.
  10. The avg price per sq ft is 11.6% 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

PLACER COUNTY:

  1. It took 4 less days to sell a house last month than December.
  2. It took 16 less days to sell this January compared to last January.
  3. Sales volume was 13.8% higher in January 2016 compared to last January.
  4. FHA sales were 16.7% of all sales last month.
  5. Cash sales were 19% of all sales last month.
  6. Housing inventory is 28% lower than it was last year at the same time.
  7. Sales volume is over 13% higher these past 12 months compared to the previous one year.
  8. The median price, average price per sq ft, and average sales price increased last month, but Placer County data seems to fluctuate quite a bit since there are fewer sales, so I don’t recommend putting too much emphasis on these increases unless they become prolonged over time.

Some of my Favorite Placer County Graphs:

Placer County price and inventory - by sacramento appraisal blog

number of listings in PLACER county - January 2016

months of housing inventory in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog

days on market in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog

Placer County sales volume - by sacramento appraisal blog - January volume

interest rates inventory median price in placer county by sacramento appraisal blog

I hope this was helpful and interesting.

DOWNLOAD 73 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 would you recommend for someone to find the mood of the market? Are there certain metrics you think best show the mood? Also, 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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3 ways price per sq ft is valuable in real estate (even for appraisers)

My name is Ryan and I use price per sq ft in real estate. There it is. My confession. Are you surprised? I know you’ve heard me talk about how price per sq ft is one of the most abused metrics out there. I still believe that. Yet there are several ways price per sq ft is actually valuable and useful for real estate professionals (even appraisers). So let’s kick around some ideas together below. I’d love to hear your take in the comments. Any thoughts?

price per sq ft value in real estate - image purchased and used with permission by sacramento appraisal blog

1) Price Per Sq Ft Helps Us See the Entire Market: What have buyers been willing to pay in a neighborhood? It’s valuable to see the price per sq ft spectrum to help answer this question. What is the high, the low, and the average? I ran a CMA of sales over the past 90 days in the Mather neighborhood in Sacramento County (a tract subdivision), and the price per sq ft range is $112 to $206.

Mather all sales past 90 days - sacramento appraisal blog

2) Price Per Sq Ft Helps Us See The Competitive Market: Imagine we’re valuing a home that is 1569 sq ft. The question becomes, where does the 1569 model fall on the price per sq ft spectrum that we see above? After running a CMA for model match sales, the price per sq ft range is $184 to $193. That’s a much more narrow range compared to the overall neighborhood, right? Ideally it would be nice to have many more sales, but that doesn’t always happen as we know. This is why sometimes it might be best to look at more than just 90 days of sales and obviously expand the square footage range to maybe 1400 to 1800 or so. Whatever you do, just make sure you have enough data to produce meaningful results.

1569 model in mather - price per sq ft - sacramento appraisal blog

3) Price Per Sq Ft Helps us Talk to Clients About the Market: Some clients are so stuck on price per sq ft that they struggle to think about real estate in any other terms. Here’s how it usually goes. A home owner sees a figure of $206 from a different sale in the neighborhood, fixates on that number, and then expects a value for his own property based on that number (even though no similar sales have commanded a price per sq ft close to $206). After talking through Points 1 & 2, hopefully the client can understand that hijacking a random price per sq ft from the neighborhood isn’t a good valuation methodology. Lastly, it’s critical to actually completely set aside price per sq ft and ask two questions: What have similar properties actually sold for? (sales price) & What are similar listings actually getting into contract for?

price per sq ft in real estate - image purchased and used with permission by sacramento appraisal blog

Application:

  1. Real Estate Agents: Be sure to study the price per sq ft spectrum for the entire neighborhood AND competitive properties in the neighborhood. But make sure you spend a good amount of time finding similar sales and listings. Sometimes agents say to appraisers, “I used a price per sq ft of $215 to price the property”. Okay, but where did you get $215 from? Why not $208, $214, or $225? Remember, appraisers like myself can find value in using price per sq ft to see the context of the market, but at the end of the day we are fishing for comparable sales to tell us what the market has been willing to pay for something similar. So when you communicate with appraisers, I recommend talking about actual sales you used to price the property rather than price per sq ft figures. This helps you speak the language appraisers use, and your initial research with price per sq ft vs. actual sales might even help convince sellers to not get hung up on a list price that is far too high (based on a hijacked price per sq ft).
  2. Appraisers: Sometimes appraisers mock price per sq ft and treat it like a meaningless metric, but there is actually some real value in using it. Not only can we get a more detailed sense of the market, but we can also communicate well with clients. Consider paying close attention to competitive price per sq ft figures (I know, this may not work in rural markets). If you are coming in lower or higher than the competitive range in the neighborhood, just be sure you know why and can explain why. Also, consider using price per sq ft figures in your final reconciliation. For instance, along with statements about comps, I regularly find myself saying things like: “The final value is also supported by trend graphs as well as competitive price per sq ft figures in the neighborhood.”

I hope this was helpful.

reaa-north-bayClass I’m Teaching Next Week: By the way, I’m teaching a class next week in the North Bay to a group of appraisers. It’s called How to Tell the Story of Value in Appraisal Reports (good for 2 hours CE). Come on by if it’s relevant.

Questions: How do you use price per sq ft in real estate? Anything else you’d add to the points above? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear your take.

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How to avoid one of the biggest value mistakes made with square footage

Let’s look at one of the most common value mistakes made with square footage in real estate. This error is extremely easy to make if we’re not careful, and it’s something that happens quite a bit in the real estate community. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. I hope this is helpful.

big value mistakes made with square footage - by sacramento appraisal blog

Here’s how the error works:

  • A property sold for $205,000.
  • The house is 1164 sq ft.
  • $205,000 / 1164 = $176 price per sq ft
  • Now apply $176 to any difference in square footage with other properties. For instance, if a house is 100 sq ft smaller, the value difference between the two houses is $176 x 100 = $17,610.

The Big Error: When we apply $176 for the square footage adjustment, we make a huge mistake. Why? Because $176 represents everything about the property from the structure, lot size, upgrades, driveway, layout, landscaping, sewer connection, bedrooms, garage, etc…. So when we apply a figure that encompasses the entire property to only one little part of the property (square footage), it’s very easy to get an off-base value adjustment.

what is the extra square footage worth - sacramento appraisal blog

A market-based methodology: If you want to know how much square footage is worth, it all comes down to comparing homes in the neighborhood. In this case we need to find other similar-sized homes to the 1164 sq ft model. What type of price difference is there? Why is there a price difference? Is it the square footage? Condition? Upgrades? Location?

In this case I found a property that sold for $197,000, but it had 100 less sq ft and one less bathroom. Assuming there are other sales out there like this too (we need more than just one example), we now see the combined value difference for the extra 100 sq ft and one bathroom is only $8,000. In other words, buyers were really only willing to pay about $8,000 for the extra square footage and bathroom. That’s a far cry from the $17,610 figure we came up with above, right? We could take more time to figure out how much the bathroom contributes to the $8,000 and how much the square footage contributes to the $8,000, but let’s not make this post too long.

The Point: Be very careful about making a square footage adjustment by using the entire price per sq ft of a property. This is applicable for any price range too – not just the lower end of the market. How much are buyers actually willing to pay for the extra square footage? The best way to know is to start finding some sales that are a bit larger and others that are a bit smaller. Assuming all else is fairly similar, what is the price difference? For more information, check out how appraisers make square footage adjustments and choosing comps like an appraiser.

Questions: Do you have anything else to add? Any stories or points to share?

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