Andrew Wetzel's Musings

August 8, 2021

Delaware County PA June 2021 Residential Housing Market Update

Tri-County Suburban REALTORS and Showing Time have released their June 2021 Local Market Insight report for single family homes in Delaware County Pennsylvania.  The report uses Bright MLS statistics.  If you would like more information about this or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me or visit my web site, AndrewWetzel.com.  I am only a phone call, an email or a text away!  I respond promptly to all inquiries.

The Real Estate market continues to recover from the pandemic shutdown and resulting economic impact.  As always, your experience may differ depending on your location and how you have been personally affected.  As I always say, the decision whether or when to sell or buy Real Estate is a personal one influenced by a number of lifestyle factors and external variables.  The past year or so typifies that.  Some have not been deterred causing a frenzied sellers’ market while others have decided to delay their plans to sell or buy.

The report compares current month and year-to-date results to one-year ago.  We are past the halfway point but the statistics continue to include pre- and post-pandemic time frames so it is not a true “apples-to-apples” comparison.  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 greatly 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 as well as provide you with the knowledge and insight to help you decide what works best 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 Bright MLS information.  Even then, while a sale may be reported as having settled or closed recently, the real question is when was the offer negotiated?  Typically, sales can take 45 to 60 days to close so the market today may be different from when the offer was presented and negotiated.  This is especially true as market conditions change.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, please remember that these numbers include a variety of single-family homes throughout the County.  There were 1003 new listings in June 2021 compared to 880 in June 2020, an increase of 14%.  YTD 2021 shows 4802 new listings compared to 3800 in 2020, an increase of 26.4%.  The 5-year June average is 906 new listings.  There were 665 active listings in June 2021 compared to 875 in June 2020 with a 5-year average of 1477.  Inventory levels continue to rise but the “Months of Supply” is below one month at .7 which is down 70% compared to last year.  There were 908 closed sales in June 2021 compared to 408 in June 2020, an increase of 122.5%.  YTD 2021 shows 3699 closed sales compared to 2555 in 2020, an increase of 44.8%.  The 5-year June average is 756.  The median sold price was $290,000 in June 2021 compared to $259,500 in June 2020, an increase of 11.8%.  YTD 2021 shows a median sold price of $265,000 compared to $235,000 in 2020, an increase of 12.8%.  The 5-year June average is $256,250.

Here are two other interesting June 2021 vs June 2020 statistics:  (1) the Sold vs. List Price Ratio was 102.4% compared to 97.1%; (2) the average Days on the Market was 13 compared to 38.  As usual, properly priced houses are selling fast and achieve more than their asking price.

How you interpret all of this information and data is subjective, meaning you can draw a variety of conclusions and then make decisions based on what you think.  Does it make you any more or any less likely to want to sell or buy?  If you are thinking about selling, know that history suggests that markets change suddenly.  Some will try to “time the market” and get as much as they can.  Many owners still regret not selling during the last seller’s market.  Some waited too long and prices fell or they wanted too much for their house.  If you are thinking about buying, do you worry about prices continuing to rise, do you worry about overpaying or are you waiting for prices to drop?  How many wish they had bought months ago?  If you need or want to sell one house to buy another, this can get even more complicated as you try to coordinate two processes.

All of this underscores the need to work with a professional.  The internet and advice you get from family, friends and the media is likely very general and subjective.  In my opinion, much of the well-reported “frenzy” created erratic behavior.  Assuming buyers did what they thought or were told they needed to do to “win”, even without really knowing if others were bidding on the same house, do they or will they regret their decisions?  Many agents will tell you that they are shocked by buying “sight unseen”, waiving inspections and going well over asking price.  I have no doubt that we will be talking about this time period for years to come.  I hope that it all works out as the market stabilizes and then shifts into a buyer’s market.  Only time will tell.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and remain unavailable.  Did owners delay, change or give up their plans?  While buying activity has generally been strong, some sellers are reluctant to allow showings or may have issues holding them back.  Given the statistics, are people making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in their local market?  A brief conversation may be very helpful if you have any questions about selling or buying.

Anyone thinking about selling or buying needs to understand their local market and decide how to react to it.  The effects of buying and selling remain for years as does inaction.  These are important decisions and likely require the knowledge and insight that an experienced, trained and educated professional can provide.

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 keep 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.

No matter how good the market may appear, 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”, whatever that means today.  Most property listings whose contracts are canceled or allowed to expire have asking prices considered high for their local 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.  Some buyers may make an attractive offer just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed or they see another property they prefer more.

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 or others offer more for the same price?  Many sellers open to negotiating their price will never get the chance.  I will be happy to discuss specifics with you.

Statistics aside, what are you planning to do?  Real Estate is generally a long-term investment.  There are always opportunities out there.  As with the stock market, it is very difficult if not impossible to pick the best time to make a move.  All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process.  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 planning 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.  If you need to sell in order to buy, let’s have that conversation.  Now may be the best time to start planning.

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

HIRE WISELY: We are not “all the same”!

May 22, 2021

My Buyer’s Offer Did Not Get Accepted; What Can They Do? Part 3 of 4: The Offer

Whether you are starting the process of buying your first or your “next” home, actively engaged in house hunting or you have already been denied a house you really wanted to own, I want to share some time-tested advice.  I am going to cover this from four perspectives.  This is part 3 of 4.  This is a broad topic with no “one size fits all” answers.  My advice comes with two disclaimers:  this is not intended as legal advice and it is not meant to interfere if you have an existing business relationship.

Let me start with the premise that a buyer or you made an offer and it was rejected.  If a buyer makes what they think is a reasonable offer and the seller does not accept it, they should have no regrets.  Easy for me to say.  If yours was the only offer, I would assume that you had a chance to negotiate with the owner but could not reach a mutually beneficial solution.  If you were competing with other buyers, only one offer could win.  Did the buyer have the right expectations about the process and how it might go?  Could or should their agent or the listing agent or the seller have done anything differently?  If the seller was given an opportunity to review all offers and was properly informed of any possible interest that existed and they accepted what they thought was the best offer, there may be no valid  reason to complain about the outcome.  Every signed agreement does not close so you may get another chance, if you want one, but do not assume you will.  In fact, depending on the type of Real Estate market, you may want to assume that you have competition and that you will not have a chance to change your initial offer.

I provide my buyer-clients with knowledge that I have gained through my years of experience, training and education.  I have also learned a lot from conducting mediations between buyers and sellers and listening to ethics complaints about agents.  Fundamentally, I believe that the process of buying or selling Real Estate is best looked at as a business decision, not a personal one.  It is also not a retail transaction.

Looking for a house can become a full-time job but it is worth it.  Your life will get back to normal after you succeed.  Bad purchase decisions can be costly and their effects can last a long time.  Real Estate is typically our biggest asset and requires our largest investment so buying or selling it requires planning and preparation.  It deserves our full attention.

As I discussed in part two, The Search, once a buyer starts to identify possible houses to consider looking at and buying, there is a process to narrowing the list down to the best and getting in to see and evaluate them as quickly as possible.  I remind buyers that proper planning and preparation will position them to compete better and that they are not the only buyer seeing the search results they receive.  It all comes down to making an offer that will appeal to the seller or, at the very least, maximize the chance that the seller will offer a counter-proposal.  The purpose of negotiating is to keep talking.  While that can wear someone down, it is better than silence.  That being said, buying Real Estate can be very competitive so a buyer might want to assume that they have competition and may not get a second chance to negotiate after making an offer.  In some cases, you may want to make your “highest and best” offer from the beginning.  Unless you are concerned about over-paying, if your offer does not get accepted, you should have no regrets.  Inspections and a mortgage appraisal will provide some guidance about the property condition and the market value in any case.

When a buyer decides to make an offer on a house, only they know what they are thinking and hoping.  Did they make their best offer or are they expecting a counter-offer?  Whether they are suddenly inspired when they see a house or the decision comes after giving it some thought, if they have approached the process in a practical way, regardless of whether their offer gets accepted or not, they will at least know that they did their best.  That may be a small consolation but a buyer can only do so much.  Of course, if the search was haphazard or the buyer wasn’t completely convinced that a specific house was the best one for them but they decided to make an offer anyway, they may not know how to react even if they succeed.  Buyer remorse, meaning feeling that there may be a better option now or later or, even worse, if they come to believe that they made a bad decision after settlement, can be a problem.  There may be opportunities for either party to terminate a sale.  What will they to do?  Having remorse or doubts after closing is too late!

Some buyers will go “all-in”, perhaps to excess, with an offer.  This could include any or all of the following:  making an offer “sight unseen”, going above the asking price, keeping the contingencies to a minimum or waiving some or all of them.  Buyers have a lot of options when they really like a house, especially if they think or know there is competition.  What they do can be done to maximize their chances for success or it can be done to get a house under contract while they really take the time and effort to decide whether they picked the best house.  It is not for me to judge these things but there is a seller involved and one or two agents.  They can be impacted by a buyer’s motivation especially if the buyer is really unsure if they want to own the house.

How many buyers make offers “sight unseen” and cancel a sale using a contingency like a property inspection once they see inside?  The cost of inspections is minor compared to completing a bad purchase.  How many buyers make great offers and then ask for repairs or credits later to recover some of what they offered?  What about so-called “love letters” to the seller?  How many buyers just decide not to move forward and are willing to risk losing their deposit?  As I like to say, buying and selling Real Estate are business decisions justified with logic.  It is never over until the seller has the buyer’s money and the buyer has the seller’s keys.  So, what can prevent a buyer’s offer from being accepted?

  1. Their offered price is not the highest.  For some sellers, the price is their primary motivation.  Oddly enough, in some cases sellers refuse the highest offers if they don’t think their house will appraise;
  2. The buyer’s contingencies are not the best for the seller.  Perhaps the seller wants a “clean” sale, meaning few hurdles, or the buyer has a house to sell so they can buy their “next home”;
  3. Something else within the contract is not the best for the seller.  This could include the settlement date, the amount of deposit money or anything that offers the buyer an option and the seller a choice.  Some agents and buyers use an “escalation clause” in the hopes of learning what it will take to make their offer better than the competition.  Many listing agents and sellers refuse to share details while expecting the offer to be improved.  Suppose there are multiple offers with these same clauses?  However you view them, they are not perfect and may not be enough to overcome stronger offers.  I view these clauses as showing that a buyer may have made a low offer and will raise it if they have to;
  4. The offer does not include buyer financial information such as proof of funds for a cash offer.  Many PA agents use a “BFI” or “Buyer’s Financial Information” form, which I liken to a Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement.  Buyers and sellers basically want to know that the other person is serious and able to complete the sale.  The BFI provides an overview of the buyer’s financial information for a seller and their listing agent to review when comparing offers.  It complements a lender’s pre-qualification letter but, in my opinion, carries more weight as the buyer prepares it and the seller has legal remedies if the buyer misstates something whereas there may be no remedy for what a careless lender does.  Sad to say but I have seen some lenders provide letters that were meaningless.  I have heard of situations where a BFI negated a lender’s letter resulting in a declined offer.  Some buyers are reluctant to provide their financial information; some buyer agents and listing agents do not ask for it.  In a competitive situation this can be a problem.  Give a seller a good offer and convince them that it will settle and your chances should improve dramatically.  Most sellers want to minimize their own risk.

When a seller only receives one offer, they are more likely to negotiate if the offer is not exactly what they were looking for.  However, in a competitive or multi-offer situation, a buyer may not get a second chance to improve their “first impression”.  I remind buyers that, regardless of the type of market, there is no guarantee that they will get a second chance.  While many buyers are reluctant to make their “highest and best offer”, they need to understand the risk.  Wondering what happened later is uncomfortable.

For example, when I give a blank BFI to buyers, some will ask me how much they should reveal.  Obviously, they need to accurately disclose income and debt information and show at least enough assets to cover their closing costs.  However, some buyers are reluctant to show more than they need to justify their offer, typically saying that a seller may ask them for more money.  The same occurs with the pre-qualification letter.  Let me address both at the same time using a hypothetical scenario.

Suppose a buyer wants to offer $285,000 on a $300,000 house and they are financially able to go as high as $350,000.  Do they show enough to cover their offer?  The asking price?  Or do they show everything?  I say show EVERYTHING!  Again, if there is no competition, which you may not know, they will likely get a “second chance” if the seller wants more than $285,000.  However, if there is competition, a seller may just go with what “appears” to be a “stronger” offer or at least have a discussion with those agents who “appear” to be representing stronger buyers.  They may assume they have seen your best offer and move on.

So what if a seller wants you to raise your offer because they know you can?  Do you expect them to lower their price when you learn they have no mortgage?  Even if they ask, as I said earlier, the point of any negotiation is to keep talking to see if they can reach a mutually-beneficial agreement.  Most sellers will be happy to know that a buyer is not maxed out with their offer which could mean there is a greater chance of their loan being denied.  Even if they ask and you say no, you had a chance.  You may come to regret what happens but you had a chance.  It beats the alternative!

Ironically, when a buyer decides to raise their offer, it is likely that their expectations for the property inspection(s) also rises.  On the other hand, a seller who accepts less than they really wanted may be less enthusiastic when asked to make repairs or issue credits for repairs.  Either way, the goal is to keep the conversation going although one or both parties may tire if the process drags on and on and on.  While you continue talking, the house remains on the market allowing other buyers the opportunity to make an offer!

The bottom line is that a buyer needs to know what is in their best interest, understand the market they are in and make an informed series of decisions when making and perhaps negotiating an offer.  When an offer gets rejected or the parties cannot reach an agreement after going back and forth, a buyer needs to evaluate what happened to avoid repeating the same process over and over again.  I have worked with buyers who had several offers rejected.  For some, re-engaging in the process is tough.  Some give up for awhile while others jump right back in.  They may not know exactly what happened and they likely won’t find out what price the seller accepted for several weeks.  They may never know more than that.  A decision to buy or sell Real Estate is an emotional decision justified with logic.  Some are simply better prepared to put it all into perspective and continue moving forward.

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

The Type of Market and How it Affects Searching for Price

I recently wrote a blog on “Multiple Offers” and how two different agents viewed them.  I want to explore one of their comments further.  One agent said that multiple offers are the result of pricing a property too low.  While I don’t agree, I do feel that there is something to this.  Let me explain.

Suppose an agent is working with a buyer “pre-qualified” and comfortable spending up to $300,000 on a house.  Pick any price.  What “price range” should they search?  I say “range” because no one would search for one specific price.  You can start at a certain number or go up to a certain number.  This is why pricing is different than before we had the Internet.  Agents have to “factor in” what a consumer may be thinking rather than trying to interact with the mindset of an experienced, trained and educated agent.  Let’s start with the minimum first.

For some buyers, such as investors, I do not set a minimum.  They may be open to considering whatever is in their search results and open to driving by or studying what I send them to eliminate houses that do not appeal to them.  Buyers looking for their next home, especially if they are financing the sale, may need to pick a starting point to meet their needs and abilities as well as the requirements of their financing.  Some houses simply need too much work.  How far they look below their “top number” depends.  Sometimes the areas that interest them or the features they include will provide some guidance.  Otherwise, they may evolve into “knowing” that anything below $x is a waste of time.

What about the top end?  They are “pre-qualified” and comfortable spending “up to $300,000” so why wouldn’t that be the number?  This is where it gets tricky.  The market will suggest or dictate what you should do if you want to succeed.  In a buyer’s market, if houses are getting less than full price, you can search higher than their top number.  That does not guarantee success as there may be competition even in “slower” moving markets.  A seller may still want full asking price.

In a seller’s market, when houses are getting more than full price, you may want to search lower than $300,000, expecting to have to raise your offer, if given the chance.  In a hot market every house will not sell so this is not a blanket statement but you may not succeed by offering full price.

The MLS offers data comparing the selling price to the opening and final asking prices.  However, “data integrity” may be lacking if incorrect information is entered, possibly impacting the overall report.  An agent has to look “within the numbers” to see what is really happening with pricing.

A buyer needs to know their financials, including their comfort level, and an agent needs to interpret the market so that they can properly advise their client.  How much to offer is still the buyer’s decision.  In some markets, offering “full price” will get a house “under contract”.  In other markets, the “asking price” is where the bidding starts.  The price is either a ceiling or a floor.  Ultimately, prices have to appeal to buyers, agents and appraisers.   Even cash sales have some parameters.  Sellers set the asking price and buyers determine the value.

That being said, some sellers and their agents purposely underprice a house to expose it to more people in the hope of generating multiple offers.  As I often say,  Real Estate is not retail!

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

April 24, 2021

Delaware County PA March 2021 Residential Housing Market Update

Tri-County Suburban REALTORS and Showing Time have released their March 2021 Local Market Insight report for single family homes in Delaware County Pennsylvania.  The report uses Bright MLS statistics.  If you would like more information about this or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me or visit my web site, http://AndrewWetzel.com.  I am only a phone call, an email or a text away!  I respond promptly to all inquiries.

Many areas continue to be affected by the pandemic and resulting economic impact.  As always, your experience may differ depending on your location and how you have been personally affected.  As I always say, the decision whether and when to sell or buy Real Estate is a personal one influenced by a number of lifestyle factors and external variables.  The pandemic typifies that.  Some have not been deterred causing a frenzied sellers’ market while others have decided to delay their plans to sell or buy.

The report compares current year-to-date results to one-year ago, same time period.  It only covers three months and crosses over from pre-pandemic to pandemic time frames so it is not “apples-to-apples”.  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 greatly 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, whether you may be 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 as well as provide you with the knowledge and insight to help you decide what works best 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 Bright MLS information.  Even then, while a sale may be reported as having settled or closed recently, the real question is when was the offer negotiated?  Typically, sales can take 45 to 60 days to close so the market today may be different from when the offer was presented and negotiated.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, please remember that these numbers include a variety of single-family homes throughout the County.  There were 811 new listings in March 2021 compared to 667 in March 2020, an increase of 21.6%.  YTD 2021 shows 1882 new listings compared to 1941 in 2020, a decrease of 3.0%.  The 5-year March average is 859.  There were 444 active listings in March 2021 compared to 848 in March 2020 with a 5-year average of 1337.  Low inventory levels continue to affect the market:  the “Months of Supply: is down 62% as compared to last year.  There were 518 closed sales in March 2021 compared to 486 in March 2020, an increase of 6.6% with a 5-year average of 498.  The median selling price was $256,000 in March 2021 compared to $229,900 in March 2020, an increase of 11.4% with a 5-year average of $214,370.

What effect did the large decrease in new listings have on the market statistics?  It created some anxiety resulting in multiple offers, perhaps well over asking price, and buyers taking other actions to make their offers more competitive.  These include buying “sight unseen” and/ or waiving inspections.  The result was a huge increase in selling prices along with a large decrease in the Days on the Market (DOM) which dropped from 43 to 27 and the “Sold to List Price” ratio which rose from 96.8% to 99.5%.  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.

Do we really have an inventory problem or pent-up demand?  I think we have both and it remains to be seen what happens in the long run.  I expect more sellers will take advantage of the market, even if buying is not an option and they decide to rent to take advantage of current selling prices.   How many buyers can this market continue to generate?  For better or worse, at some point the market will normalize which means two things.  First, many sellers may regret not taking advantage of the market.  Second, activity will slow as we exhaust the number of buyers, many of whom decided to buy early.  That is what has happened in the past.

On the other hand, some buyers may come to regret a hasty decision to get a property under contract at “all costs”.  Buying “sight unseen”, especially without inspections comes with a risk.  Sellers and their agents need to consider how to manage such offers as they may have appraisal issues and/ or be more likely to result in buyer remorse after the buyer gets to learn more.  Given the  expense and complexity of a typical Real Estate purchase, buyers and sellers need to fully understand what they are doing and what can go wrong.  Even with our property disclosure law in PA, many sellers either do not know about underlying issues with their properties or forget to disclose them.  Whatever your feelings about property inspections, they can provide important information to a buyer.  Getting a contract signed is only the first step to completing a Real Estate sale.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and still remain off the market.  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?  While buying activity has generally been strong, some sellers are reluctant to allow showings or may have issues holding them back.  Given the statistics, are people making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in their local market?  A brief conversation may be very helpful if you have any questions about selling or buying.

Anyone thinking about selling or buying needs to understand their local market and decide how to react to it.  The effects of buying and selling remain for years as does inaction.  These are important decisions and likely require the knowledge and insight that an experienced, trained and educated professional can provide.

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 keep 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.

No matter how good the market may appear, 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”, whatever that means today.  Most property listings whose contracts are canceled or allowed to expire have asking prices considered high for their local 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.  Some buyers may make an attractive offer just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed or they see another property they prefer.

Regardless of the amount 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 or others offer more for the same price?  Many sellers open to negotiating their price will never get the chance.  I will be happy to discuss specifics with you.

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 always opportunities out there.  As with the stock market, it is very difficult if not impossible to pick the best time to make a move.  All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process.  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 planning 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.  If you need to buy in order to sell, let’s have that conversation.  Now may be the best time to start planning.

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

February 20, 2021

Delaware County PA January 2021 Residential Housing Market Update

Tri-County Suburban REALTORS and Showing Time have released their January 2021 Local Market Insight report for single family homes in Delaware County Pennsylvania.  The report relies on Bright MLS statistics.  If you would like more information about this or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me or visit my web site, AndrewWetzel.com.  I am only a phone call, an email or a text away!  I respond promptly to all inquiries.

The market continues to be affected by the pandemic and resulting economic impact.  The weather has also been a factor.  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 whether and when to sell or buy Real Estate is a personal one influenced by a number of lifestyle factors and external variables.  The pandemic typifies that.  Some have not been deterred while many others have decided to delay their plans to sell or buy.

The report compares current year-to-date results to one-year ago, same time period.  This report only covers one month so I would not over-react to the information.  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 greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood and even block to block.  There is no such thing as a “national” Real Estate marketany more than there is a national weather forecast so, whether you may be 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 as well as provide you with the knowledge and insight to help you decide what works best 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 having settled or closed today, the real question is when was the offer negotiated?  Typically, sales can take 45 to 60 days to close so the market today may be different from when the offer was presented and negotiated.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, there were 534 new listings in January 2021 compared to 586 in January 2020, a decrease of 8.9%.  The average number of active listings in January 2021 was 441 compared to 994 in January 2020.  Low inventory levels continue to affect the market.  There were 544 closed sales in January 2021 compared to 438 in January 2020, a 24.2% increase.  The median selling price was $240,000 in January 2021 compared to $202,000 in January 2020, an increase of 18.8%.  What effect did the large decrease in the number of properties being listed and available have on the market statistics?  It likely created some anxiety resulting in multiple offers, perhaps well over asking price, and buyers taking other actions to make their offers more competitive.  These include buying “sight unseen” and/ or waiving inspections.  The result was a huge increase in selling prices along with a large decrease in the Days on the Market (DOM) and the “Sold to List Price” ratio.  Do we really have an inventory problem or pent-up demand?  Time will tell.  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, the effects of what is happening remain to be seen.  Some buyers may come to regret a hasty decision to get a property under contract at “all costs”.  Buying “sight unseen”, especially without inspections comes with a risk.  Sellers and their agents need to consider how to manage such offers as they may have appraisal issues and/ or be more likely to result in buyer remorse.   Given the  expense and complexity of a typical Real Estate purchase, buyers and sellers need to fully understand what they are doing and what can go wrong.  Even with our property disclosure law in PA, many sellers either do not know about underlying issues with their properties or forget to disclose them.  Whatever your feelings about property inspections, they can provide important information to a buyer.  Getting a contract signed is only the first step to completing a Real Estate sale.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and remain off the market.  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 generally been strong but some sellers are reluctant to allow showings or may have issues holding them back.  Given the statistics, are people making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in their local market?  A brief conversation may be very helpful if you have any questions about selling or buying.

Anyone thinking about selling or buying needs to understand their local market and decide how to react to it.  The effects of buying and selling remain for years as does inaction.  At some point things will return to whatever is “normal”:  how many will regret not taking action?  These are important decisions and likely require the knowledge and insight that an experienced, trained and educated professional can provide.

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 keep 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.

No matter how good the market may appear, 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”, whatever that means today.  Most property listings whose contracts are canceled or allowed to expire have asking prices considered high for their local 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.  Some buyers may make an attractive offer just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed or they see another property they prefer.

Regardless of the amount 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 or others offer more for the same price?  Many sellers open to negotiating their price will never get the chance.  I will be happy to discuss specifics with you.

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 always opportunities out there.  As with the stock market, it is very difficult to pick the best time to make a move.  All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process.  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 planning 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.  Based on what we experienced in 2020, is waiting for Spring something you would consider?  If so, now is the time to start planning.

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

January 13, 2021

Delaware County PA December 2020 Residential Housing Update

Tri-County Suburban REALTORS and Showing Time, using Bright MLS statistics, have released their Local Market Insight report for single family homes in Delaware County Pennsylvania through December 2020.  If you would like more information about this or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me or visit my web site, AndrewWetzel.com.  I am only a phone call, an email or a text away!  I respond promptly to all inquiries.

The 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 whether and when to sell or buy Real Estate is a personal one influenced by a number of lifestyle factors and external variables.  The pandemic 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 greatly 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, whether you may be 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 as well as 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 can take 45 to 60 days to close so the market today may be different from when the offer was presented and negotiated.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, there were 8309 units listed for sale through December 2020 compared to 8993 listed through December 2019, a decrease of 7.6%.  Low inventory levels continue to affect related data points.  There were 7139 closed sales through December 2020 compared to 6984 through December 2019, a 2.2% increase.  The median selling price through December 2020 was $250,000 compared to $227,000 through December 2019, an increase of 10.1%.  The large decrease in inventory, meaning the number of properties being listed, had a relatively small effect on the number sold while substantially increasing their selling prices.  The number of currently available properties is well below one year ago and the Days on the Market (DOM) and “Sold to List Price” ratio are much improved.  Do we have an inventory problem or pent-up demand?  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. During the shutdown when “in-person” Real Estate activity was not permitted, many buyers made offers “sight unseen”, some without inspections to make their offers more attractive to sellers.  The effects of these strategies remain to be seen but Real Estate, perhaps with the exception of those 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 let alone removing the protection of an inspection contingency.  Even with our property disclosure law in PA, many sellers either do not know about underlying issues with their properties or forget to disclose them.  Whatever your feelings about property inspections, they can provide important information to a buyer.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and still remain off the market.  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 issues holding them back.  Given the statistics, are people making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in the market?  A brief conversation may be very helpful if you have any questions about selling or buying.

Anyone thinking about selling or buying 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.  However, the effects of buying and selling remain for years.  They are important decisions and likely require the knowledge and insight that an experienced, trained and educated professional can provide.

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 keep 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 local 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.  Some buyers may even make “full price” offers just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed.

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 be happy to discuss specifics with you.

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 always opportunities out there.  As with the stock market, it is very difficult to pick the best time to make a move.  All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process.  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 planning 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.  Based on what we experienced in 2020, is waiting for Spring something you would consider?

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

January 12, 2021

How Buyers Bought Real Estate in 2020: Who is the Typical Buyer?

NAR or the National Association of REALTORS has released its 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.  The profiles are based on a survey using 131 questions mailed to over 132,550 recent home buyers who also purchased a primary residence between July 2019 and June 2020.  The focus of this article will be buyers who sold one home to buy another.  This was a national survey so your market may be quite different.  Real Estate is local:  there is no national Real Estate market so please contact me for information about your local market.

NAR conducts their survey annually.  This year’s results were unique as it was impacted by the pandemic starting in March of 2020.

As I learned years ago, buying a home is an emotional decision justified with logic.  Your home is typically your largest asset and picking the “right one” involves many lifestyle factors.  The buying process can be interesting enough when there is only one buyer involved, however, there are often situations involving more than one buyer.  Family and friends may also be involved.  People have different ways of making decisions and we all handle challenges and stress differently.  Buying a home typically offers plenty of both.

  • 31% were first-time buyers, compared to 33% in 2019.  The historic number has been 40%;
  • The typical buyer was 47 years old (33 for first-time and 55 for repeat buyers), with those aged 25 to 34 accounting for 23% of all sales;
  • The primary reason for buying was the desire to own their own home:  the numbers were 64% for first-time and 27% for repeat buyers;
  • 85% purchased existing homes, 15% purchased new construction;
  • 81% purchased detached, single family homes;
  • Buyers moved a median distance of 15 miles while those who sold one primary residence to buy another moved a median distance of 20 miles;
  • The median purchase price was $272,500, up from $257,000 in 2019 ($230,000 for first-time and $297,000 for repeat);
  • Buyers typically paid 99% of the asking price; 15% paid more than asking;
  • Buyers expected to live in their home for a median time of 15 years, 10 years for first-time and 15 for repeat, with 21% saying they would never move;
  • 43% started their search online while 18% contacted a Real Estate agent;
  • 91% found their agent to be a very useful or somewhat useful source of information;
  • Buyers typically searched for 8 weeks and saw 9 houses, 5 of which were only viewed online;
  • 97% of buyers used the Internet, the increase likely related to the pandemic;
  • 64% were very satisfied with the home buying process;
  • 88% used a Real Estate agent, 6% used a builder and 5% bought from the previous owner;
  • 51% prioritized hiring an agent to help them find the right home;
  • 87% financed their purchase with 95% of first-time and 83% of repeat typically financing 88% of the price.  First-time buyers financed 93% of the price and repeat buyers financed 84%;
  • 11% said that saving for a down payment was the most difficult step.  47% of them cited student loans as a problem with 43% citing high rent/ mortgage payments and 36% citing credit card debt;
  • 83% view a home purchase as a good investment;
  • Buyers typically searched online for 3 weeks before contacting an agent, two weeks during the pandemic;
  • 72% of first-time buyers were renters, 72% of repeat buyers owned their previous residence;
  • As far as motivating factors influencing location:  62% prioritized the quality of the neighborhood, 45% convenience to their job, 43% the affordability of the house;
  • As far as characteristics of the home and how they compromised:  23% prioritized price, 20% condition, 31% did not compromise;
  • 53% of buyers said that finding the “right property” was the most difficult part of the process, 26% mentioned financing (including saving for a down payment (13%), getting a loan (8%) and the appraisal (5%)), 17% cited the paperwork and 15% mentioned understanding the process.  20% reported no difficult steps, which was common for repeat new home buyers;
  • 56% walked through homes they found online, down from 65% in 2019, 37% drove by to look at the exterior and did not go inside.  Driving through a neighborhood to see if it meets your needs is an excellent way to narrow your focus while perhaps seeing areas you may not have been considering.  Many buyers eliminate houses after seeing the exterior;
  • For internet “shoppers”, 89% found photos and 86% found detailed property information very useful;
  • 64% were “very satisfied” while 30% were somewhat satisfied and 7% were dissatisfied;
  • 59% signed an agency representation disclosure at some point with 27% signing at the first meeting, 23% signed when their purchase contract was written, 11% signed at some other time.  28% had no representation agreement;
  • 51% of buyers wanted a Real Estate agent to help them find the right house, 24% wanted help negotiating (13% mentioned “terms” while 11% mentioned “price”), 8% wanted help with paperwork and 6% wanted help valuing comparables;
  • The top benefits Real Estate agents provided were:  62% said helping buyers understand the process, 61% said pointing out features or faults with properties, 48% said negotiating better terms, 47% said providing a list of service providers, 37% said negotiated a better price and 30% said shortened the home search;
  • Buyers ranked a number of agent qualities as “very important”:  98% want honesty and integrity; 93% want them to be knowledgeable about the process; 93% want them to be responsive; 88% want communication skills, 83% want them to be able to negotiate and 48% mentioned technology skills; 
  • The median down payment was 12% for all buyers with 7% for “first-time” and 16% for “repeat”;
  • 28% found the mortgage application process to be much more difficult than expected with only a 1% difference between first-time and repeat buyers. 

Buying Real Estate is unique compared to most typical purchases:  not only is it done much less frequently than other purchases, it typically involves multiple steps, each offering its own challenges.  If you would like to discuss selling or buying or if you have any questions about the process, please contact me.

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

HIRE WISELY!  We are not all the same!

How Sellers Sold Real Estate in 2020: Who is the Typical Seller?

NAR or the National Association of REALTORS has released its 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.  The profiles are based on a survey using 131 questions mailed to over 132,550 recent home buyers who also purchased a primary residence between July 2019 and June 2020.  The focus of this article will be buyers who sold one home to buy another.  This was a national survey so your market may be quite different.  Real Estate is local:  there is no national Real Estate market so please contact me for information about your local market.

NAR conducts their survey annually.  This year’s results were unique as it was impacted by the pandemic starting in March of 2020.

  • The typical seller was 56 years old and had lived in their home for 10 years;
  • Sellers aged 18-34 sold within 5 years, those 65 and older sold within 16 years;
  • 69% had sold a home before and 31% had not;
  • 80% of the homes sold were single, detached;
  • 70% bought in the same state and the typical distance moved was 20 miles, 16% moved to another region, 14% stayed in the same region but in a different state;
  • 44% bought a larger home, 30% bought a similar size and 28% bought a smaller home;
  • 61% bought a newer home than they sold, 21% bought one the same age, 26% bought an older home;
  • 49% spent more than their selling price, 23% spent the same, 27% spent less;
  • The most commonly cited reasons for selling were to be closer to friends and family (15%), to buy something larger (14%), and a change in their “family situation” (12%);
  • 89% used a Real Estate agent, 88% used the MLS, 68% used yard signs;
  • 22% wanted to sell within a specific timeframe, 21% wanted help with pricing, 17% of sellers wanted help marketing their home, 16% wanted help with ways to sell it for more, 11% wanted help finding a buyer;
  • Houses typically sold within 3 weeks and achieved 99% of their final asking price.  Homes on the market for 2 weeks or less got full price, 29% sold in less than one week and got more than the asking price;
  • The typical selling price was $242,300:  pre-pandemic median @ $270,700 compared to $300,000 later;
  • The reported level of urgency rose after the pandemic, 46% compared to 39%;
  • The median equity in a sold home was $66,000;
  • 46% used incentives to attract interest.  The top two were offering seller assistance with closing costs and home warranties;
  • 69% were very satisfied with the process, 21% were somewhat satisfied, 10% were dissatisfied;
  • Only 8% sold without an agent, the lowest share since this survey began in 1981;
  • The typical FSBO was 57 years old;
  • The typical FSBO selling price as $217,900, more than 10% less than Real Estate-assisted sales ($242,300);
  • 77% of FSBO homes old within two weeks likely because they sold to someone they knew (51%) and sold for less.

The bottom line is that selling your home or any piece of Real Estate can be a very confusing and emotional process.  This NOT a retail transaction!  I respectfully suggest that you hire an experienced, trained and educated professional whom you can trust to sell what is likely your largest asset.  I understand that signing a formal contract with someone, even if recommended to you, is quite a leap of faith.  Most of us can offer options to increase your comfort level.  After all, we want to make sure that you “fit” with us as well.

Selling Real Estate is unique compared to most typical purchases:  not only is it done much less frequently than other purchases, it typically involves multiple steps, each offering its own challenges.  If you would like to discuss selling or buying or if you have any questions about the process, please contact me.

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

HIRE WISELY!  We are not all the same!

January 2, 2021

Bright MLS November 2020 Residential Housing Report

Showing Time, using Bright MLS statistics, has released their Local Market Insight report for single family homes in Delaware County Pennsylvania through November 2020.  If you would like information about this or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me or visit my web site, AndrewWetzel.com.  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, whether you may be 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 can take 45 to 60 days to close so the market today may be different from when the offer was presented and negotiated.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, there were 7911 units listed for sale through November 2020 compared to 8661 listed through November 2019, a decrease of 8.7%.  Low inventory levels are the cause of related data points.  There were 6379 closed sales through November 2020 compared to 6381 through November 2019, a negligible decrease.  The median selling price through November 2020 was $252,000 compared to $226,000 through November 2019, an increase of 10.6%.  The large decrease in properties being listed had a relatively small effect on the number sold while substantially increasing their selling prices.  The number of currently available properties is well below one year ago and the Days on the Market (DOM) and “Sold to List Price” ratio are much improved.  Do we have an inventory problem or pent-up demand?  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.  During the shutdown when “in-person” Real Estate activity was not permitted, many buyers made offers “sight unseen”, some without inspections to improve their odds.  The effects of that remain to be seen but Real Estate, perhaps with the exception of those 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 let alone removing the protection of an inspection contingency.  Technology, however advanced, has its limitations.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and 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 issues they are dealing with.  My only concern is whether people are making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in the market.

Buyers and sellers need to do the same planning and preparation that those tasks typically require.   Anyone looking to sell or buy 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.  However, the effects of buying and selling remain for years.  They are important decisions and likely require the knowledge and insight that a professional can provide.

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 house was available to look at or purchase.  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 be 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.  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 planning 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.  Based on what we experienced in 2020, is waiting for Spring something you would consider?

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

December 5, 2020

2020 Delaware County PA Tax Reassessment Results

The court-ordered Delaware County (PA) reassessment project is nearing its conclusion.  When  completed, the County will have a total value for all of its over 203,000 parcels of Real Estate.  Then they will determine the “millage rate” or tax due per thousand dollars of Real Estate owned needed to generate the tax revenue required to fund the different parts of government including school districts.

I served on 1 of 5 auxiliary tax reassessment appeal boards and have reported on various aspects of my experiences including the purpose of the process and suggestions on how to appeal your proposed assessment.  The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of my board’s results.  I have no way of knowing how these compare to the other boards nor do I know what happened after my board rendered its decisions.  Those whose appeals were rejected had a final opportunity to appeal our decision.  Some may have accepted our decision or decided to wait to see what happens to their taxes.  Perhaps some whose appeals were accepted decided to appeal further, seeking an additional reduction.

As far as my experience, our board remained intact for 26 days of hearings, we were scheduled to hear 1389 appeals, 329 appellants did not report for their hearing (23.7%), 59 appeals were withdrawn after being scheduled, 13 scheduled appeals were re-scheduled and we actually heard 988 appeals (71.1% of those scheduled).  493 (49.9%) of the appeals were done virtually, meaning over the phone.  18 of the appeals resulted in our not making a decision due to their complexity so we referred them to the Board of Assessment.  Few appellants used attorneys.  In a number of cases, both in-person and virtually, a school district sent an attorney to observe or listen.

In a number of our hearings it was a school district appealing the proposed assessed values, seeking to raise them which, while perhaps adversely affecting individual property owners, spread the school tax burden more uniformly.  Only a few property owners appeared to refute their school district’s argument and some of them were able to retain the County’s proposed assessment.

A significant number of appeals were accepted.  The people who came prepared, generally succeeded.  The best preparation consisted of one of two strategies:  appraisals, if based on the July 2019 time frame, substantiated the contention that the proposed assessed value overstated “market value” and pictures demonstrated that the County had an incorrect view of property condition, especially when the interior of the property was in “below average” condition since the process relied on exterior views.  Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, too many came to their hearing unprepared to document their case, with many assuming that the new assessment would proportionately increase their tax burden.

While a few questioned the “constitutionality” and/ or purpose of the project, many seemed unaware of the basic information that had been provided by the County.  Board members are County residents so we got the same information as the appellants.  The County and the media provided a lot of information about the process as well.  Admittedly, I realize that different people interpreted the information differently but I do not know why so many did not realize that they had the burden of proving the new value incorrect, coming to the hearing expecting us to make a change based solely on what they told us.  It did appear that some of the confusion lessened as the project progressed which suggests that people heard from others who had already had their appeal.  At the very least, there was one final appeal after our involvement.

I had an opportunity to discuss how one school district’s appraiser arrived at their value and proved something that I raised with several property owners.  As I have reported before, a number of property owners attempted to appeal their proposed assessment by using an argument based on “price per square foot” which we generally denied as not being an “apples to apples” comparison of supposedly similar properties.  The school district appraiser I mentioned used that as a method to complete his assignment.  He stated that he had not visited any of the properties in question, that he relied on public records for lot size and living space and that he reduced his comparables to a “price per square foot” to arrive at what he thought was a “fair market value” for the properties in dispute.  Please keep in mind that the property owners will get a chance to refute his argument and I am not sure why so many did not attend what they were apparently advised was a hearing to raise their assessed values and therefor their tax burden.

I asked the appraiser directly about using “price per square foot”, specifically suggesting that it did not account for different “property conditions” that might influence a prospective buyer.  He agreed that it (and therefore, he) did not factor property condition into his conclusion.  A lender’s appraiser or one hired by a homeowner would have entered and viewed the “subject property” although the current pandemic has apparently resulted in some “drive-by” appraisals.  As far as the reassessment project itself, it was physically impossible for the process to include in-person visits.

Overall, I found this an interesting process and came away with several thoughts to share.

  1. While using “market value” as a way to levy taxes makes sense, there is no perfect way to analyze and categorize over 203,000 parcels of Real Estate given their having different layouts,  locations and uses.  Even if in-person visits were used, we have different opinions and there would be too much subjectivity.  Numbers are objective and provable although predicting a future buyer’s behavior is impossible;
  2. The process used to arrive as a basic assessment makes sense and, given that the property owners were provided with information to dispute as far as what the County had on record for their property and their proposed assessment/ valuation, I am not sure what else could have been done.  Many owners never reported errors until the hearing and many did not show up or canceled their hearing for whatever reason.  Owners can appeal their taxes every year and many may decide to do that next year if they are not happy with their tax rates in 2021;
  3. The process relied on the last assessment and employed a variety of tools to compare the current property to what was “known” during the last assessment in 1999/ 2000.  I believe that many properties likely remain under-assessed for a variety of reasons and do not know how to remedy that.  Computer algorithms can only do so much.  If improvements are made without “permits”, errors will occur.  Vacant land presented issues.  We had about 50 lots whose assessments were questioned but the amount in question was usually significant.  The technology used “assumed” that most of the lots were “buildable” and considered them “primary” space, assessing them as such.  However, if it was proven or obvious that land was unbuildable, we reduced its assessment.

We also saw a number of interesting anomalies that defied the algorithm.  We saw instances where a property owner owned two adjoining parcels with one being a vacant lot.  In one case there was a house that sat partially on both parcels which the system picked up as two parcels with structures on both.  The owner said he received tax bills for both parcels but that he was not over-taxed.  The reassessment could have created an issue.  We also saw cases where a property owner essentially rendered their “extra lot” unsaleable and wanted the lot’s assessment lowered even though it was their action, unintentional as it was, that essentially rendered the lot unsaleable.  In one case an owner installed a driveway on an adjoining lot to access their residence which was situated on the adjoining parcel.  In another, a property owner installed a patio enclosure that ended at the boundary between the two parcels in conflict with a “set back” requirement that would have affected both properties had they been separately developed.  When an owner owns an adjoining lot, you have to ask why they bought it.  While it may be too small to build on or have some other defect that renders it unbuildable, it does add value to their residence, even if only for privacy, so the issue is not as clear cut as some might want to suggest.

All in all, while I found this process interesting, I have to admit that I was not prepared for many of the sad stories we heard, largely centered on whether property owners could afford to remain owners after their taxes were raised.  As I mentioned earlier, many assumed that their taxes would rise in proportion to the change in their assessed values.  It was very typical to see an assessed value double simply due to the change in “target dates” between reassessments.  Regardless, it is always sad whenever a property owner fears losing their home, especially when their concerns may be unfounded.

Reassessments are rare so I wonder how long it will be before the next one.  How many of the people we met will be asked to go through the process again?  Hopefully, we prepared them for a final appeal.  The purpose of reassessment boils down to fairness and uniformity:  property taxes should be objectively levied based on relative property value and not any subjectivity.  The County is not allowed to see a windfall as a result of the process but the tax burden will be reallocated with some seeing a reduction, some seeing an increase and some remaining consistent.  I wonder how many bought or are in the process of buying without having any idea what their taxes may be let alone knowing that the County has even been undergoing a reassessment.  My personal experience with prospective sellers and buyers proves this.

Regardless of how their hearings turned out, my board attempted to make sure that everyone understood the origin of the reassessment, meaning that it was court-ordered, that they knew that the goal was to assess everyone based on the July 2019 “fair market value” of what they owned to ensure that their tax burden was “fair and uniform” and that there was another appeal if they disagreed with our decision.  We also explained what we were looking for in terms of proof that the County number was incorrect.  While some were disappointed and blamed others for their not understanding the purpose of the process or their hearing, many did seem to appreciate our explanations and thanked us for taking the time to help them better understand the overall process.

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