Andrew Wetzel's Musings

October 25, 2020

Delaware County PA September 2020 Local Real Estate Market Insight

Bright MLS has released their Local Market Insight statistics for all single-family homes, meaning both detached and attached, in Delaware County Pennsylvania through September 2020.  If you would like more detailed information about Delaware County or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me.  I am only a text, email or phone call away and I respond promptly to all inquiries.

The overall market continues to be affected by the pandemic and resulting economic impact.  However, generally speaking, the results in many areas are encouraging and, as always, your experience may differ depending on your location and how you have been personally impacted.  As I always say, the decision to buy or sell Real Estate is a personal one and the current environment typifies that.

This report compares current year-to-date results to one-year ago, same time period.  As with all Real Estate statistics, two things are true.  First, the performance within individual zip-codes can and will vary significantly from the overall County.  Real Estate is local and results can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and even block to block.  There is no such thing as a “national” Real Estate market any more than there is a national weather forecast so, if you are thinking about selling or buying, please contact me for details about your areas of interest.  I can provide current information and keep you informed about the evolving market.  Deciding whether it is the right time to sell or buy is a personal decision typically involving a number of variables.  I have the experience to provide you with the knowledge and insight critical to helping you decide what works for you.

My second point is that, unfortunately, all Real Estate statistics involving sold data are stale.  This is especially true if you are relying on Internet valuation models which use recorded data rather than up-to-date MLS information.  Even then, while a sale may be reported as settled or closed today, the real question is when was the offer negotiated?  Many sales take 45 to 60 days to close, sometimes longer if there are issues, so the market today may be different.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, there were 6417 properties listed for sale through September 2020 compared to 7370 listed through September 2019, a decrease of 12.9%.  Low inventory levels are having a major impact on the Real Estate market in many areas, with many buyers competing.  There were 4893 closed sales through September 2020 compared to 5296 through September 2019, a decrease of 7.6%.  Compare units listed to closed sales and it is obvious that many houses did not sell.  The median selling price through September 2020 was $250,000 compared to $230,000 through September 2019, an increase of 8.7%.  Interestingly enough, all statistics just for September 2020 are much improved over September 2019, suggesting that the market has continued to rebound after a sub-par spring.  Again, these numbers vary throughout the County:  the underlying data shows a wide range of results in all categories among the 49 different municipalities in Delaware County.

Generally speaking, low inventory levels in some areas have produced multiple offers and a frenzy among buyers, some of whom may live to regret a hasty decision to get a property under contract.  I still see people who regret decisions they made or did not make during the last boom.  During the shutdown when “in-person” Real Estate activity was not permitted, many buyers made offers “sight unseen” or without inspections.  The effects of that remain to be seen but Real Estate, perhaps with the exception of properties acquired strictly as “investments” with documented income, is generally not something given its expense and complexity that the typical buyer would want to purchase without an in-person showing and inspections.  Technology, however advanced, has its limitations.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and still remain unavailable.  As the pandemic continues to evolve, some properties did come back on the market but many have not.  Did owners delay, change or give up their plans?  Buying activity has been strong but the sellers may be reluctant to allow showings or may have other issues they are dealing with.  My main concern is whether people are making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in the market.  As always, some opinions are just that.

For example, I am sitting on one of five Auxiliary Property Reassessment Appeal panels in Delaware County and to date my panel has heard over 600 appeals by owners questioning whether the new assessed value assigned to their property is realistic or not.  Many who purchased their homes during the past few years are telling us that they overpaid for their homes and they are questioning why their assessments are being based on what they actually paid.  It remains to be seen how people buying this year feel going forward.

Buyers need to do the same planning and preparation that buying always requires.  Selling involves the same planning and preparation as in the past.  Anyone looking to sell or buy just needs to understand their local market and decide how to react to the pandemic as a “variable” that was not here last year and, hopefully, will be gone in the near future.  The reassessment adds another dimension of uncertainty as far as what your tax rate will be going forward.  As always, the effects of buying and selling remain for years.

I tell my clients that I cannot guarantee that their house will sell if it is on the market but am fairly certain that it won’t if they take it off the market.  Anyone trying to sell now may have less competition and more offers to consider.  Buyers may have more competition and fewer houses to consider.  Hiring an experienced, trained and educated professional is more important than ever.

Despite any pandemic, every house will not sell.  Houses may get showings without generating offers unless buyers think they are priced within the range of their perceived “worth”.  Most property listings whose contracts are canceled or allowed to expire have asking prices considered high for their market and/ or they were poorly marketed, meaning that some buyers and agents may not have even known that a property was available to look at or purchase.  I have recorded a blog and a podcast on that very subject based on two very recent experiences, one with a seller and the other with a buyer.  Some buyers may even make a “full price” offer just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed. Of course this may well depend on the ratio of buyer and sellers so there is more to this than raw statistics.

If a market has a lot of inventory, some buyers may not be willing to look at houses priced high compared to the rest of the market:  why try to negotiate a price down when other similar properties are available at more competitive prices?  Many sellers open to negotiating their price will never get the chance.  I will happy to discuss specifics with you.

The overall economy is coming back but many are still hurting financially.  Statistics aside, what are you planning to do?  Real Estate is generally a long-term investment unless you are looking to fix and flip it or planning to move within a short period of time.  There are opportunities out there.  As with the stock market, it is very difficult to pick the best time to make a move.  An educated consumer faces better odds than a lucky one!  All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process.  I am a phone call or email away and getting started is easy once you take action.

If you want or need to sell any type of Real Estate, now or in the future, whether you tried and did not succeed before or are doing it for the first time, it is never too early to start the planning and preparation.  Please do not wait for what you think is a better or the best time to start.  Buyers look all year long and can only see and buy properties that are available to see.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations! 

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

October 8, 2020

How to Appeal Your New Property Assessment

Filed under: Buying,Price,Selling,Statistics — awetzel @ 4:25 PM
Tags: , , ,

By the end of 2020 Delaware County (PA) will have completed a court-ordered reassessment of over 203,000 parcels including properties and vacant land, all of which is generally subject to taxation.  The purpose is to ensure that taxes are levied uniformly based on “fair market” value.  Other Counties are planning to undertake the same massive project.  Any project this large will have some inaccuracy as it is impossible to visit every single property.  However, property owners will have had several opportunities to question what the County had “on record” as far as their property size and features as well as to question the new assessment associated with their property.  Many will have exercised their right to “appeal” their new assessment.

The new value or assessment is intended to reflect a potential selling price as of July 2019.  Once a total valuation of the entire County is established, the next step of the project will be to determine the “millage” rate to establish the tax revenue due the County, local government and school district.  Property taxes are an “ad valorem” tax which means taxes are assessed based on relative “value”.  Therein lies the point of contention.

I served on one of several re-assessment appeal hearing panels and heard hundreds of appeals.  Many owners filed appeals because they either felt that the recorded property features were inaccurate or because they felt the condition of their property was an issue.  Some mentioned both.  Respectfully, while a significant number of people simply did not show up, many who did attend their “hearing” came unprepared.  While many blamed the County for not providing clear instructions, many reported with reasonable “proof” that their property was not properly valued.  The purpose of this blog is to assist those still in the process or who will be later.

Here is my list of what to do:

  1. Don’t be late.  While some appellants were not familiar with their hearing location, arriving late imposes stress on everyone else as scheduling is tight.  Not showing up forfeits your appeal;
  2. Be prepared to start on time.  The allotted time is short and many appeals are scheduled per day;
  3. Bring documentation to make your case.  This is an objective process; evidence is required;
  4. Bring enough copies for all panel member.  Sharing copies takes time and is a distraction;
  5. Conduct yourself as if this were a job interview.  Personality clashes are a distraction.  The process may be overwhelming and emotional enough without any needless distractions;
  6. Understand that the County and the hearing panel did not initiate the reassessment;
  7. Be prepared to clearly prove either that the assessed value is too high for your property or that its “condition” prevents you from attaining “fair market value” if you were to try selling it;
  8. The best way to present “market value” is a full appraisal using the correct time frame.  Trying to use Internet valuations, bringing random MLS printouts or verbally presenting what you think you know is likely a waste of time:  you need to tell the panel the specific assessment you can prove to be correct;
  9. The best way to present the property “condition” as an impediment to your attaining full, fair market value is pictures.  Trying to describe the condition, expecting the panel members to look at your cell phone or presenting unsubstantiated repair estimates is likely a waste of time;
  10. Interact respectfully.  Present your documentation, speak loudly and clearly to make your case, answer any questions honestly and honor the time frame.  Many people may not be comfortable speaking up for themselves and may need to practice or consider bringing an attorney.  While many say that the expense of an attorney or an appraisal is prohibitive, what is the cost of an inflated tax bill?  The hearing panel is not your enemy and is there to hear you but not to make your case for you.

While there is no doubt that this process can be confusing if not overwhelming, arriving at the appeal unprepared and complaining that you did not know what to expect or how to present your “argument” does not help you.  The hearing is not meant to be an extended conversation and the hearing panelists are not there to make your case by doing research during or after the hearing.  The good news is that appeals can be filed every year as the market changes.  The process may be the same so these guidelines will likely not change.

Different Counties may have different guidelines. When in doubt, please call your elected officials and/ or seek legal advice.

This is not intended as legal advice and it is solely my opinion based on my experience.

October 3, 2020

Data Integrity: How Accuracy Impacts Searches and Profits

“Data integrity” ensures that reported information is accurate and can be relied upon.  In Real Estate this could be the status of a property, the price, the type of property and its features.  The importance of accurate information cannot be overstated as people make costly decisions based on what is reported.

A seller needs a “ready, willing and able” buyer to complete a sale.  Buyers “acquire” Real Estate information from a variety of sources.  They expect that all properties matching their search criteria will be in their search results so that they can evaluate them and decide whether to take any action.  Suppose they get wrong information or they do not know that a property is available?  They may never get to see it so they cannot buy it.  Houses may sit on the market unsold causing the listing agents to ask the sellers for an unnecessary and costly price reduction which reduces their proceeds but does not make it any easier for buyers to find their property in their search results.  Think Google search.

Errors will affect a market analysis for both sellers and buyers.  Sellers looking to price their property according to its location, features and condition may rely on bad information causing them to overprice or underprice their property.  Their house could sit on the market unsold or they could accept less than they should have.  Buyers need accurate information when deciding how much to offer a seller.

Houses that do not sell typically have a pricing or a marketing problem.  By marketing I mean wrong or missing “searchable” property features, missing or poor-quality pictures and missing or poorly written property descriptions/ remarks sections.  In addition to excluding properties that really matched their search criteria, poor marketing may cause buyers to dismiss properties because they “look” bad.

Bad information can also impact the mortgage appraiser.  They evaluate selling prices based on reported comparable sales.  They rely on and verify what is reported but how would they know if something is missing?  Appraisers rely on pictures, features and the public remarks to try to identify the prior sales most similar to the house they are appraising.  What is the cost of inaccurate or missing information?  If relying on bad information makes it appear that a buyer paid too much, their sale may stop unless the seller lowers their asking price OR the buyer comes up with more money OR they somehow work it out.  Mortgages are based on a percentage of the appraised value so errors matter.

To conclude, data integrity is a BIG deal.  Many sellers have wasted months or even years on the market when they really had little chance of selling given the inaccurate information.  I call these “fatal errors”.  Marketing exposes property information to potential buyers, their agents and anyone else who may need or want to rely on what they hope is accurate information.  Garbage in; garbage out!

The Internet has made this more complicated.  Most buyers “shop” online, many even after hiring an agent.  The MLS syndicates property information to the major search engines.  If the MLS information is inaccurate, this magnifies the problem because the information is going directly to the consumer, unfiltered. Your printout is literally like a resume.  Unless your house is on a well-traveled street exposing your “For Sale” sign to lots of traffic, the MLS and Internet may be the only ways anyone will know you want to sell.  Does that make you feel comfortable?  What is the cost of delaying your plans or being asked to accept less money than you should?  What does your printout look like?

I recently met two couples looking to work with me, one to buy and the other to sell Real Estate.  Both plans involved my searching the market to identify comparable properties.  Let me briefly discuss my experiences with both.

First let me discuss the buyers.  They are ready to buy their first home, have saved the necessary funds, done a little exploring on their own and are ready to conduct their search.  We discussed their budget, their “needs” and their “wants”.  Fortunately, my experience enabled me to share how the best search can get messed up because listing agents or those they utilize to upload the details of their property listings often enter incorrect information or, just as bad, incomplete information.

These buyers had two specific “wants”:  a porch and a yard.  I performed a search without those features, found 26 “results” and sent them to my clients.  Then I did two additional searches, adding the two specific “wants” separately.  I found only 3 listings that showed there being a porch and only 3 showing some yard.  I knew that seemed low but never expected the results to be so wrong.

I looked at the more basic search with 26 results and identified an additional 17 properties with porches, raising the real total to 20, and found an additional 21 properties with a yard, raising that total to 24.  How pathetic!  If I wanted to take the time I might review the pricing history to see how long the incorrect listings had stayed on the market and then to see how many took price reductions.  The bottom line is that I assume nothing:  porches and yards are salable features but not present on every home so not entering them when they are present can be costly.

The other couple is looking to sell a 4-unit building.  It features a large lot with a detached 2-car garage and ample parking so nothing is truly comparable.  However, determining a range of potential pricing should not be as difficult as it was.

Using my experience, I knew that I had to start my analysis by looking at multi-unit properties without specifying the number of units.  When I do this I often find “commercial” properties, meaning they offer more than 4 living units, but that did not happen here.

My search identified 22 properties.  7 were listed as offering 2 units; 1 was listed as 3 units; 1 was listed as a 4 unit.  All were correct but there were 22 in the search results?  13 properties were listed as only having ONE UNIT!  So sad and so avoidable!  My best guess is that the people who uploaded the data thought “unit” referred to “buildings” and not leased, income-producing units.  Who entered the information?  Did the property owners know?

Of the 13 errors, 11 offered 2 units and 2 offered 3 units.  Had I been searching specifically by number  of units and not known better, I would have missed information that could be helpful to these sellers.  I wonder if any buyers missed these 13?

One additional point.  Only 7 of the 22 showed annual income, an important measure used by investors.  I understand that some of these buildings had vacant units but think it important to enter “projected rent” rather than assuming that every investor knows the area they are searching.  Many investors own Real Estate located far from where they live.  One agent actually had the monthly rent instead of the annual rent.

The bottom line is that buying and selling residential or investment Real Estate can be challenging enough without hiding property from people.  Data integrity issues can cause buyers to miss the best listings and some sellers may take needless price reductions when price may not be an issue. 

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY: We are not all the same!

Delaware County PA August 2020 Local Real Estate Market Insight

Bright MLS has released their Local Market Insight statistics for single family homes in Delaware County Pennsylvania through August 2020.  If you would like more detailed information about this or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me.  I am only a text, email or phone call away!  I respond promptly to all inquiries.

The overall market continues to be affected by the pandemic and resulting economic impact.  However, generally speaking, the results in many areas are encouraging and, as always, your experience may differ depending on your location and how you have been personally impacted.  As I always say, the decision to buy or sell Real Estate is a personal one and the current environment typifies that.

The report compares current year-to-date results to one-year ago, same time period.  As with all Real Estate statistics, two things are true.  First, the performance within individual zip-codes can and will vary significantly from the overall County.  Real Estate is local and results can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and even block to block.  There is no such thing as a “national” Real Estate market any more than there is a national weather forecast so, if you are thinking about selling or buying, please contact me for details about your areas of interest.  I can provide current information and keep you informed about the evolving market.  Deciding whether it is the right time to sell or buy is a personal decision typically involving a number of variables.  I can provide the knowledge and insight to help you decide what works for you.

My second point is that, unfortunately, all Real Estate statistics involving sold data are stale.  This is especially true if you are relying on Internet valuation models which use recorded data rather than up-to-date MLS information.  Even then, while a sale may be reported as settled or closed today, the real question is when was the offer negotiated?  Typically, sales take 45 to 60 days to close so the market today may be different.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, there were 5533 units listed for sale through August 2020 compared to 6532 listed through August 2019, a decrease of 15.3%.  Low inventory levels can have a major impact on the Real Estate market, depending on how many buyers are competing.  There were 4141 closed sales through August 2020 compared to 4682 through August 2019, a decrease of 11.6%.  Compare units listed to closed sales and it is obvious that many houses did not sell.  The median selling price through August 2020 was $249,900 compared to $234,000 through August 2019, an increase of 6.8%.  Interestingly enough, statistics just for August 2020 are much improved over August 2019, suggesting that the spring market was delayed and not completely lost.  Again, these numbers vary throughout the County:  the underlying data shows a wide range of results in all categories among the 49 different municipalities in Delaware County.

Generally speaking, low inventory levels in some areas have produced multiple offers and a frenzy among buyers, some of whom may live to regret a hasty decision to get a property under contract.  I still see people who regret decisions they made or did not make during the last boom.  During the shutdown when “in-person” Real Estate activity was not permitted, many buyers made offers “sight unseen” or without inspections.  The effects of that remain to be seen but Real Estate, perhaps with the exception of properties acquired strictly as “investments” with documented income, is generally not something given its expense and complexity that the typical buyer would want to purchase without an in-person showing and inspections.  Technology, however advanced, has its limitations.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and still remain unavailable.  As the pandemic has evolved, some properties did come back on the market but many have not.  Did owners delay, change or give up their plans?  Buying activity has been strong but the sellers may be reluctant to allow showings or may have other issues they are dealing with.  My main concern is whether people are making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in the market.  As always, some opinions are just that.

For example, I am sitting on the Auxiliary Property Reassessment Appeal panel in Delaware County and to date have heard well over 400 appeals by owners questioning whether the new assessed value assigned to their property is realistic or not.  While I understand the concern about how the new values based on July 2019 market values will affect next year’s tax bills, many are saying that the pandemic has lowered selling prices which is a very debatable statement.  Whether true or not is easily demonstrated but, regardless, the new assessed values are based on July 2019 long before the current pandemic was known.  If 2020 numbers were used, many would see even higher numbers.

Buyers need to do the same planning and preparation that buying always requires.  Selling involves the same planning and preparation as in the past.  Anyone looking to sell or buy just needs to understand their local market and decide how to react to the pandemic as a “variable” that was not here last year and, hopefully, will be gone in the near future.  The reassessment has another dimension of uncertainty.  As always, the effects of buying and selling remain for years.

I tell my clients that I cannot guarantee that their house will sell if it is on the market but am fairly certain that it won’t if they take it off the market.  Anyone trying to sell now may have less competition and more offers to consider.  Buyers may have more competition and fewer houses to consider.  Hiring an experienced, trained and educated professional is more important than ever.

Despite the pandemic, every house will not sell.  Houses may get showings without generating offers unless buyers think they are priced within the range of their perceived “worth”.  Most property listings whose contracts are canceled or allowed to expire have asking prices considered high for their market and/ or they were poorly marketed, meaning that some buyers and agents may not have even known that a property was available to look at or purchase.  I have created a new blog and podcast on that very subject based on two very recent experiences, one with a seller and the other with a buyer.  Some buyers may even make “full price” offers just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed. Of course this may well depend on the ratio of buyer and sellers so there is more to this than raw statistics.

If a market has a lot of inventory, some buyers may not be willing to look at houses priced high compared to the rest of the market:  why try to negotiate a price down when other similar properties are available at more competitive prices?  Many sellers open to negotiating their price will never get the chance.  I will happy to discuss specifics with you.

The overall economy is coming back but many are still hurting financially.  Statistics aside, what are you planning to do?  Real Estate is generally a long-term investment unless you are looking to fix and flip it or planning to move within a short period of time.  There are opportunities out there.  As with the stock market, it is very difficult to pick the best time to make a move.  An educated consumer faces better odds than a lucky one!  All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process.  I am a phone call or email away and getting started is easy once you take action.

If you want or need to sell any type of Real Estate, now or in the future, whether you tried and did not succeed before or are doing it for the first time, it is never too early to start the planning and preparation.  Please do not wait for what you think is a better or the best time to start.  Buyers look all year long and can only see and buy properties that are available to see.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations! 

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.