Hot Pockets & adjusting for an increasing market

Hot Pockets. Yep, I’m about to use them to explain the housing market. That either makes me deeply creative or really immature. I’ll let you decide. On a serious note though, let’s talk about this analogy and consider the importance of giving value adjustments to comps during an increasing market. As always, I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

Hot Pockets and real estate - Greater Sacramento Region Appraisal Blog

Hot Pockets analogy: The real estate market is like a Hot Pocket taken out of the microwave a tad too early. Some portions are blazing hot while others are only warm or frozen. Like a Hot Pocket, we can say the real estate market is “hot” overall, but it’s definitely not the same temperature in every neighborhood or price range.

Thoughts on making adjustments in an increasing market:

  1. Changing Market: If the market has changed since the most recent sales got into contract, a value adjustment may be needed. In other words, if the market is now higher or lower than the sales, we can account for that in an appraisal (or listing) by making an up or down value adjustment to the comps. Of course there needs to be support for making such an adjustment. We can’t just say, “There’s no inventory, so value must be higher”. We need to rather find support in the market (see #2 and #3).
  2. Pendings vs. Sales: There are many signs of an increasing market, but one of the best things to do is compare competitive pendings and sales. Are pendings getting into contract at higher levels? The other day I appraised something where pendings were about 3-4% higher than similar sales from December, so I ended up giving a 3-4% upward adjustment to a couple of sales I used from November and December. I didn’t have many recent sales to work with unfortunately, but comparing a few older sales with a few current pendings helped me see the current market. Remember, the entire county might show certain trends, but we have to look in each neighborhood to find neighborhood trends (which could be different).
  3. Contract Date: When making adjustments we need to look at when the comps got into contract. One comp may have a contract date four months old, while another is from 40 days ago. The change in the market could easily be different for each comp, which means it’s okay to give big adjustments to some comps and smaller ones to others (or no adjustment).
  4. The Real Price: In an increasing market it’s very helpful for appraisers (and agents) to know the exact price of pending “comps” where possible. After all, we might see something listed as “pending” in MLS, but the real contract price could be higher or lower. On one hand appraisers might give less weight to pendings because we don’t know the precise dollar amount in many cases, though when agents divulge the exact contract price and terms, it can help appraisers give even stronger weight to pendings in the neighborhood.
  5. Imperfect Data: It would be nice if all neighborhood data was perfectly aligned, but sometimes it’s conflicting, which means we have to use good judgement. Does that one high sale or pending really reflect the market or not? Is it reasonable? Do those two lower pendings mean the market is starting to soften? Did the hefty credit to the buyer in that one comp inflate the sales price? At the end of the day we have to spend time weighing both sales and listings to see the market, which means sometimes we end up throwing out certain sales because they’re outliers more than anything.

I hope that was helpful.

Questions: When was the last time you ate a Hot Pocket? Anything else you’d add to this post? I’d love to hear your take

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Being realistic about a range of value in real estate

If an appraisal came back at $327,462.44, would you be concerned? For starters, I think most of us would scratch our heads and wonder how in the world the appraiser got so precise at 462 dollars or 44 cents. Either the appraiser is an absolute value wizard or something else is going on. I can’t speak to why an appraiser would reconcile value that precisely, but I do want to kick around the idea of a range of value in real estate. I’d love to hear your take in the comments below.

range of value in real estate - image by sacramento appraisal blog

Sometimes we get so locked into thinking a house is only worth a certain amount. Most of us wouldn’t get so exact like the example above, but we do often say a house is only worth whatever the contract or list price is. Thus if the appraisal comes in lower, everyone is frustrated. Let’s consider the following points though.

  1. There is always a range of value: When we sell something on Craigslist, we list a certain price, and we’d like to get that price, but realistically we would probably be happy with an offer somewhere close to the price. For instance, I am trying to buy a drill press on Craigslist right now (for woodworking, which is one of my passions). I found one the other day listed at $150. I offered $100, and the owner said no. I then upped my offer and through conversation discovered the owner wasn’t really set on $150 at all, but rather $125 to $150. If we lined up other buyers for this drill press, they’re probably not going to say market value is exactly $150, but they might instead think market value was anywhere from $125 to $160. In other words, nobody would bat an eye if the drill press sold at $125 or even $160. This is exactly how it works in real estate in the mind of buyers. When assigning value to a property, buyers are going to look at similar homes, consider their budget and loan approval amount, and ultimately be comfortable with a reasonable price range. For instance, buyers might consider a realistic price for the house above to be $323,000 to $330,000.
  2. Appraisal Comes in $1000 lower than contract price: So buyers make offers on the property, and the seller accepts an offer at $324,000. The appraiser comes out and appraises the property at $323,000. When this happens, many agents say, “This is ridiculous. Why could the appraiser not just give me $1000 more?” I get the frustration because if the contract price fits very nicely in a tight and reasonable range of value, it’s hard to see how the appraiser could argue against that as if the appraiser is an absolute value genius. I’m not arguing for the appraiser here in this example as you can hopefully pick up in the following comments. But I do want to remind us that appraisers cannot invent or give value – even $1000. If the contract price really is pushed above what the market would reasonably pay, and there is no way to really support that on paper (the appraised value has to be supported), it makes sense to see the appraisal come in lower. In this case it may be suspect, but I can’t say that for sure. For reference, it’s actually not fishy for an appraiser to reconcile the value at the exact contract price if the contract price is realistic. When the appraiser does this, the appraiser is simply saying, “Yep, the price is good, and I can’t argue against it.” The appraiser might say something like this in the report: “The sales price falls within the range of values indicated by comparable properties and represents a reasonable value for the subject property based on an analysis of comparable properties and market trends. Therefore the opinion of value in this report was reconciled to the sales price.” Of course this assumes the appraiser wasn’t “hitting the number” so to speak to make the loan work.
  3. Reconciling to the Lower or Upper End: Despite there being a realistic range of value for a property, sometimes it’s best to consider where a property is going to fit on the value spectrum. I find sellers sometimes struggle with this because they always want top dollar. But sometimes fetching the highest price in the neighborhood simply isn’t possible. Maybe the house just doesn’t quite compete at the very top of the range of value because of slightly less upgrades or some other minor issue. So an appraiser might look at sales at $330,000 and give those sales less weight in the final value because they are slightly superior, but then look at sales at $323,000 and give them the most weight because they are the most similar in market appeal. Additionally, if all the offers on the property were coming in around $323,000 or lower, the market has probably spoken, and it likely makes sense for value to be reconciled around $323,000. Or if we have one high offer at $330,000 and all other offers were at $323,000 or less, this might also say something about the market. Not always, but maybe.
  4. Willing to Budge on Contract Price: Sometimes it seems the real estate community gives too much weight to the original list price and the contract price. It’s as if the offer is made and then negotiation is over. There is no further budging. But there is still room for negotiation based on the pest report, home inspection, the appraisal, and a number of other factors. When new information is discovered through the course of a transaction, it should be okay to negotiate. Part of a lack of negotiation is the byproduct of a market with such low housing inventory. Sellers have been in the driver’s seat for years, so they have not had to negotiate as much. But as inventory presumably rises in years to come, this staunch belief about the contract price being holy is going to have to budge.

I hope this interesting and helpful.

A CHEAT SHEET FOR AGENTS TO USE: If you are a real estate agent, I highly recommend you communicate in detail about the property to the appraiser during the inspection (or before the appraisal is finished). Consider talking about any upgrades, the number of offers made on the property, price level of offers, and anything that might be relevant for the appraiser to know. Don’t pressure for a certain value, but help tell the story of how the market responded to the property. DOWNLOAD my “cheat sheet” for appraisers and please use it.

some of my recent projects

Questions: What else would you add? What is point #5?

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An appraiser’s view of cottage cheese ceiling texture

They say everything comes back in style, but I’m pretty sure cottage cheese ceiling texture isn’t one of those things. Well, I hope not. This style of texture is also known as popcorn, or more formally as acoustic or stucco ceiling. The house I grew up in had this texture, and a couple of rooms in the first house I bought did too. The other day on Twitter someone asked me how ceiling texture impacts value, and since we had a great conversation, I figured we could deepen the topic here. I’d love to hear your insight in the comments below.

cottage cheese ceiling texture - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission from 123rf dot com

3 things to consider about cottage cheese ceilings and value:

  1. The General Truth: Cottage cheese ceilings are from yesteryear, so they tend to make a home feel more outdated. Ultimately when a home has tired elements, it tends to sell for less or need to spend more time on the market to sell to the right buyer. Okay, that makes sense. But how much does this type of texture impact value? Well, that really depends on the following.
  2. The Whole Enchilada: I’ve found when a home has popcorn ceiling texture, it often has other outdated features. We might also see older wallpaper, an original kitchen and bathrooms, wood wall paneling, steel casement crank windows, etc… Thus the popcorn texture is only one symptom of an antiquated home. My sense is buyers tend to see the entire package of a home as outdated, so they become willing to pay a certain price for “the whole enchilada” so to speak. In other words, buyers don’t often segment one feature like popcorn texture to ask how much it might detract from value, but instead see the property as a whole and thus make one big value adjustment downward. Of course if a home is updated throughout besides popcorn ceiling texture, a buyer might realistically ask how much it is going to cost to remove the texture. The cost of the texture might be a reasonable value deduction, but not always as seen below.
  3. Different Expectations in Neighborhoods: I told a home owner the other day NOT to remove his cottage cheese ceilings for a planned renovation. Yes, install straight-edge granite counters in the kitchen and paint the cabinets. Yes, spruce up the bathrooms. Yes, paint the interior. Yes, lay new carpet. But leave the cottage cheese because all the remodeled comps still have texture on the ceilings. Since buyers were paying the highest prices in the neighborhood despite popcorn ceiling texture, it didn’t make financial sense for the owner to fork out a few thousand dollars to scrape his ceilings (this was in the Sunriver neighborhood in Rancho Cordova). This is a good reminder that it’s easy to bring in our own judgements and perceptions when valuing a home, but ultimately we have to look closely at the market to glean insight. We might be prone to think a home would sell for less because of the dated texture, but in this case it was best to look at other competitive sales in the neighborhood and let those sales set the standard for what we think. At the same time, if all the sales in the neighborhood do not have texture, it’s probably time to start scraping because owners need to eliminate obstacles and excuses for buyers making offers. In a neighborhood where ceiling texture is not common, scraping is a good move because it is a fairly minimal cost, and in my experience owners are often likely to recoup scraping expenses in the resale market because of the increased marketability. But remember, if all the comps already have no popcorn texture, scraping texture simply brings the home up to par with others in the neighborhood.

I hope this interesting and helpful. By the way, if you want to pave the way forward to help bring back popcorn texture, here is a DIY tutorial for you.  🙂

Questions: What else would you add? What is point #4?

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Does knowing the contract price give the appraiser a target value?

Why do appraisers get a copy of the contract? Doesn’t this set the value stage? Someone asked me this recently, and I wanted to respond with a few thoughts. I’d love to hear your take in the comments too.

Image purchased by 123rf dot com and used with permission by sacramento appraisal blog - target value

Things to Remember about the Appraiser Knowing the Contract Price:

  1. Fannie Mae Requirement: If you didn’t know, the Fannie Mae appraisal form requires appraisers to analyze the purchase contract. Fannie Mae wants appraisers to list the contract price, date of contract, whether the seller is the owner (a safeguard against fraud), and if there are any concessions offered to the buyer. Moreover, if the contract cannot be analyzed, the appraiser has to explain why. See the text below straight from Fannie Mae.
  2. Valuable Data: Purchase contracts can provide valuable information to the appraiser. Sometimes there are listed repairs, credits offered, personal property given, or other incentives that might be influencing the agreed upon price. Other times there are a series of counter offers that help tell the story how a contract price was negotiated.
  3. MLS: Even if Fannie Mae did not ask appraisers to analyze the contract, appraisers would likely have MLS data during a sale, and then the complaint would be that appraisers are using the MLS pending price as a target value. Thus the issue is appraisers need to be objective about the value regardless of the information they have (and having more information is a good thing when valuing a property).
  4. The Bad: Appraisers can use a contract price as a target, but it shouldn’t be the goal to meet a certain value since appraisers are supposed to be objective and unbiased. We all know properties get into contract too high and too low at times, so appraisals shouldn’t “hit the number” every single time.
  5. The Good: There is nothing wrong with reconciling the appraised value to the contract price if the contract price represents a reasonable and supported value for the neighborhood. When doing this, an appraiser might say the following: “The contract price falls within the range of values indicated by comparable properties and represents a reasonable value for the subject property. Therefore the opinion of value in this report was reconciled to the contract price.” Or in layman’s terms, “Yep, the buyer and seller nailed it. Value is solid right where they agreed. How can I argue with that?”

Straight from Fannie Mae (p. 564 of the Seller’s Guide): All appropriate financing data and sales concessions for the subject property that will be or have been granted by anyone associated with the transaction must be disclosed to the appraiser. Typically, this information is provided in the sales contract. Therefore, the lender must provide, or ensure that the appraiser is provided with a copy of the complete ratified sales contract and all addenda for the property that is to be appraised. If the contract is amended, the lender must provide the updated contract to the appraiser to ensure that the appraiser has been given the opportunity to consider any changes and their affect on value. If the lender is aware of additional pertinent information that is not included in the sales contract, the lender must provide this information to the appraiser.

Questions: Do you think it makes a difference in the appraisal when the appraiser knows the contract price? Appraisers, what do you like or not like about analyzing the contract as a part of a purchase transaction?

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