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!

July 16, 2020

Delaware County Residential Property Reassessment 2020

On July 1, 2020, property owners in Delaware County PA were mailed letters advising them of their new “assessed values” to be used starting with the 2021 tax year.  This began the formal tax appeal process.  I have heard from many, especially on social media, concerned that their taxes may skyrocket given how much their “assessed value” had risen.  I empathize and ask people to remain calm.  There are additional steps to follow.

Taxation has ALWAYS been a point of contention for Americans going back to our founding.  However, I am finding that, with the combination of the pandemic, social protests, the economy and the upcoming election, some may not have been paying much attention as the reassessment process moved forward and they are now shocked as it starts to “get real”.  Reading both sides of the mailing should provide some comfort but many focus only on their assessed value and what it could mean.  Let me provide some background.  There is ample information available for anyone who wants to learn more and now is certainly the time to get engaged with the process.

Delaware County was last reassessed in 2002.  That was a major undertaking.  The current process seems easier because the information is more current and technology has improved.  There are over 203,000 parcels to assess so every property could not be visited.  Property owners have had two opportunities to appeal the new valuation.

The reassessment was court-ordered after two families filed lawsuits alleging that the system of determining assessments was not fair.  As a REALTOR I am very familiar with the complexity of trying to be uniform in determining assessments, especially across municipalities and with respect to new construction.  The judge ruled that assessments were so inconsistent that they violated the state constitution.  Property taxes are an “ad valorem” tax, meaning that they should be uniformly levied in proportion to property value.  The goal was to make the process more transparent by using “market value”, while specifically preventing a tax windfall to the County.  That is unlike what happened in Philadelphia and differs from what happened in the County in 2002.

Several steps were taken to determine a property’s value as of July 2019.  Owners were mailed initial paperwork to review to see if the County “knew” what they actually owned.  There was an “appeal” process if there was a disparity.  Now that the “final” values have been mailed there is a second, formal “appeal” process.   The last day to appeal is September 1 with all appeal hearings to be concluded no later than October 31 so that the new assessment rolls can be certified no later than November 15.  Only then can they can determine the millage and the actual taxes.

The “burden of proof” rests with the property owner to provide competent and credible evidence that their valuation is incorrect.  An appraisal is not required but can be very helpful as far as meeting the “burden of proof” standard necessary and an owner may wish to hire an attorney.  Absent an appeal, or if someone does not report for their hearing, the assessor’s value is presumed correct.   I have heard some say that they do not feel comfortable with the appeal process and I can appreciate that but that is how the system works.  Facts, not presentation skills, will determine the outcome.  If your value “appears” reasonable, you may decide to do nothing.  That is your choice.

The goal is to arrive at a County-wide assessment total.  Once that is established, the County will need to link that with their budget by determining the “millage”.  Only then will individual property owners have the opportunity to know their tax liability.  NOTE:  this article pertains only to residential properties.  While all parcels are part of the process, valuing non-residential properties follows different guidelines.

Two final points.  First, the new assessment is based on market value which explains why it “rose”.  The last assessment was based more on generalities such as square footage meaning that two similar properties could be assessed and taxed similarly even though one was “distressed”.  I have seen that in my Real Estate business.

Second, appeals are permitted every year based on an advertised schedule.  If a property owner misses an opportunity they will have another one but will risk overpaying until then.  I respectfully encourage everyone to remain patient, follow the deadlines and let the process play out.

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

Selling Real Estate: Three Scenarios

Selling Real Estate in and of itself, as an “independent act”, can be interesting enough.  Contracts and paperwork aside, it has to be marketed/ exposed, identified as matching someone’s needs, visited, negotiated, inspected and eventually survive several steps proving that both parties can and want to complete the deed transfer.  Every one of these steps can be lengthy.

I have found that there are really three basic scenarios possible when someone wants to sell a property.  While similar at their core, the different scenarios each add their own dimension to the process and an agent and their client need to know the scenario and what makes them different.

The least complicated sale is one where a seller simply wants to sell a piece of Real Estate.  “Least complicated” does not always mean simple or easy.  The agent needs to know the seller’s motivation, is it a matter of time or money?  Do they want a quick sale or require a certain “return”?  Are their liens?  What is the condition?  What is the “fair market value”?  What is the local market like?  How easy is it to schedule showings?  Over time these may change and more questions may arise.  It takes an experienced, trained, educated and knowledgeable agent to properly advise their client as there is so much more to this than uploading the information to the MLS and Internet, installing a “For Sale” sign and waiting for a stampede of anxious buyers.  This is not a “retail transaction” and often gets more complicated once buyers and their agents start to express interest.  Experience will allow a professional to better prepare their seller-client for what the seller does not know might or will happen.

Many sellers need to sell to buy something else, even if not another piece of Real Estate.  The biggest difference here is that they “attach” a number to the sale that they think has to be met or the process does not make sense for them.  Even if they simply want to achieve a certain level of proceeds that changes the basic sale and may well end it before it starts.  If they want to buy another property that connects one evolving process to another and, at times, synching two evolving processes can become challenging.  For example, can a seller move into their next home when they need to or will they own two properties at the same time or will they need a place to stay for a short time?  Sometimes a sale happens without a seller knowing what happens next.  Sometimes they find their “next home” without having sold their present home.  While these situations often work out nicely, there are times where sellers who become buyers do not have any idea how juggling two evolving processes can possibly work out but history suggests that it does.  However, it requires more than luck.

Some sellers are looking to sell and buy but do not “need” to coordinate both  processes.  They can carry two properties and are willing to do that which makes both aspects easier to manage.  This does not mean that they are comfortable doing that or that their thinking won’t change later so a professional must ask enough detailed questions to avoid later surprises.

Not to minimize the time, effort and training required, it is relatively easy to get a listing contract signed and upload the information to the MLS and Internet.  Technology has made the marketing so much easier but we are paid more for what happens next and throughout the process, likely earning nothing if a property does not sell or if a sale falls though.

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

May 20, 2020

PA Governor Amends Covid-19 Executive Order:  Real Estate is Now “Essential”!

Since March 19, 2020, the PA Real Estate market has been in a form of suspended animation.  For those agents who followed the law, business stopped on a dime.  Properties that went “under contract” prior to that date were allowed to move forward although many municipalities and contractors were not willing or able to help complete the sale.  Even then, many of those owners were frustrated in their efforts to buy their “next home”.  Some ended up paying two mortgages.

 

Otherwise, agents were not allowed to conduct business “in person”, owners with “active” listings could not have actual showings and buyers could not visit properties to see inside.  Business could be conducted “virtually” which likely worked better with “under contract” properties since those prospective buyers had likely seen the interior of their intended purchase.  Properties that had been inspected were in the best position although getting to settlement had its issues especially if a municipal inspection needed to be done since many of those departments stopped doing business.

 

Owners still looking for buyers had issues.  Most buyers are reluctant, even in a competitive market, to make an offer without actually being able to see the interior.  Buying “sight unseen” happened but I liken it to “online dating” where someone tells or shows you what they want you to “know”.  What could go wrong?  At least that was better than going on a “blind date”!

 

While I respect different “business models” and understand that some buyers and sellers needed a “creative” solution to work past our being the only state where Real Estate was considered “non-essential”, buying “sight unseen” is risky.  For a few hundred dollars a buyer could use a property inspection as a way out.  While not intended as legal advice, it happens.  Some buyers cannot afford to waste any money so this may not have been an option for them.  What about a seller who risks this happening to them?  If the listing agent follows the rules, the property history may stigmatize the property if others thought there were issues with the house whereas the problem was really the buyer.

 

Fortunately, there is a new “dawn” albeit with some restrictions.  Some sellers and buyers will jump at the opportunity; others may choose to wait to see what happens.  How many are currently unemployed and unable to get financing?  How many sellers need to buy their “next home” and are not ready to compete or who feel that the “right one” is not yet on the market?  If possible, some sellers may want to get their house sold even if it means renting for a short time.  At least their purchase won’t be tied to a sale and they may be able to determine if they really like an area they were considering.

 

As I always say, you cannot “time the market” so I encourage buyers and sellers to determine what is in their best interests.  I am an experienced, trained and educated REALTOR and can offer the knowledge and insight to help you evaluate what is best for you.  Assuming that people follow the guidelines and requirements for resuming Real Estate activity, my hope is that PA continues to improve so that we can avoid a set-back.  Time will tell.  Either way, I can help you now or later!  I do suggest doing some planning and preparation so we can do an effective and efficient campaign when you are ready.  That could make all the difference.

 

In the meantime, please visit my web site, listen to my podcasts and read my blogs.

 

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

 

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

May 9, 2020

How Sellers Sold Real Estate in 2019:  Who is the Typical Seller?

Today I want to discuss the 2019 NAR or National Association of REALTORS Profile of Buyers and Sellers.  The report comes from a survey using 125 questions mailed to over 159,750 recent home buyers who purchased a primary residence between July 2018 and June 2019.  The focus of this podcast 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 has been collecting seller data since 1985 when the typical owner remained in their home for a median time of 5 years. In 2019 that number was 10 years which suggests that buyers may want to think long-term about their investment.  What appears to be a solid investment today may look different later.  Unfortunately, I still see sellers who paid more for their house than it is worth today and that can delay being able to sell it;
  • Sellers between the ages of 18-34 typically sold within 5 years while those over 75 sold after 19 years;
  • The median selling price was 99% of the final asking price with 27% getting full price, 17% getting more than asking and 20% getting less than 95% (7% got less than 90%). If you are an owner whose house is not attracting serious interest, meaning offers, this is important to know.  Many buyers think they are better at negotiating than they really are and are hesitant to start with their “best offer”.  In a very competitive situation they may not get a second chance.  On the other hand, a buyer may prefer to make an offer on a house closer to its market value to avoid having an appraisal issue or risk losing their second choice to another buyer when their offer on a house expires.  Whether a listing agent should disclose the existence of other offers is debatable but this should only be done when a seller allows it.  In some markets and with some buyers, competition may be welcome.  In others, not so much.  Sellers may also think themselves better at negotiation than they really are so they need good advice from a trusted and respected representative.  Ego can be a terrible thing to overcome.  Last point, showings are nice but they do not guarantee a sale;
  • Houses selling in the first 4 weeks achieved a median of 99%; after 16 weeks the number fell to 93%.
  • 13% of houses purchased sold for more than asking price with 26% achieving the asking price and 24% selling for 95% or less than asking price;
  • The typical seller was 57 years old;
  • 69% were repeat sellers while 31% were selling for the first time;
  • 70% who sold a home stayed in the same state; 17% moved to another region; 13% stayed in the same region but a different state;
  • 44% bought larger homes; 30% bought a similar size; 26% down-sized. The age of the seller strongly correlates with these statistics;
  • 48% bought a newer home than they sold; 28% bought one the same age; 24% bought an older home;
  • 44% spent more than their selling price; 26% spent the same; 30% spent less;
  • The most common reason for selling for all sellers was that the house was too small (13%), followed by moving closer to friends and family (a combined 16%), job relocation (11%), change in family situation (10%) and neighborhood became less desirable (10%);
  • 29% of first-time sellers cited size as being too small whereas repeat sellers cited moving closer to friends and family (17%). Selling is an expensive proposition so having to move in the short term because you outgrew a house or simply needed more space can be costly;
  • 89% of all sellers used a Real Estate agent with only 8% being a FSBO. 89%, while down from 91% last year, is consistent with the last few years despite the presence of the Internet.  The % of FSBOs has steadily declined since 2000  even though the Internet was thought to have helped with exposure.  Most of those involved a seller who the buyer already;
  • 89% of all sellers listed their homes on the Multiple Listing Service while 4% did not; 65% used a yard sign;
  • 21% of sellers wanted help marketing their home, 20% wanted to sell within a specific timeframe, 19% wanted help with pricing and 16% wanted help with ways to sell it for more;
  • The median selling time for all sellers was 3 weeks with 11% selling in less than one week, 35% taking 1-2 weeks and 14% taking 3-4 weeks. There is a correlation between the % of the final asking price achieved and the length of time it takes to sell.  While it can be a distracting obsession, many buyers look at the “days on the market” as an indicator of a home’s desirability and may avoid homes that are simply over-priced although they have no issues.  Houses that sold within 2 weeks or less achieved 100% of the final asking price whereas houses on the market for 17 weeks or more achieved only 94%.  Keep in mind that many houses are reduced in price to attract attention so looking at the final asking price as compared to the selling price is only one part of the story.  Sellers determine the asking price but buyers determine the value.  If nothing else, easy access to the Internet has allowed buyers to competitively shop meaning they at least know what is on the market although relying on valuation algorithms is risky.  Houses tend to get the most activity within a week or two of hitting the market.  Once the current supply of buyers knows a house is for sale and no one buys it, something has to energize and existing buyer or other buyers have to start their search;
  • 34% of sellers used buyer incentives to attract interest. The top three were home warranties (17%), closing cost assistance (14%) and remodeling/ repair credit (8%).  After 16 weeks this number rose to 47%.  These are not guaranteed to get the job done and should be discussed at the outset;
  • 66% of sellers were “very satisfied” with the process; 26% were “somewhat satisfied” and 8% were somewhat (5%) or very (4%) dissatisfied;
  • The overall median selling price was $275,900. Remember that this is a national number.  The median selling price for FSBOs was $200,000; for agent-assisted sales it was $280,000 and for FSBOs who eventually used an agent the median selling price was $261,000.  This clearly shows the advantage of hiring and paying a professional;
  • The median equity in a sold home was $60,000.

The bottom line is that this can be a very confusing process.  This NOT a retail transaction!  It is typically costly enough without making expensive mistakes.  Unless you do this regularly, I respectfully suggest that you trust a trained, experienced professional.  Whether you want to trust your most valuable asset to someone with little experience or someone who has a long track record is up to you but any professional is likely to know more than an average seller looking to save a few dollars.  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 much less frequent 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 thoughts about this, please contact me.

Please look for my posts on how buyers bought Real Estate in 2019.

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

HIRE WISELY!  We are not all the same!

April 2, 2020

The Spring Market is Delayed

The coronavirus is having a major impact on the world, our country and most of us.  My deepest sympathy goes to everyone who has been personally impacted in any way.  Life is very different today than it was just a few weeks ago.  Let me discuss Real Estate.  I am not minimizing or dismissing any other profession but I am a REALTOR and Real Estate is a major component in our economy.  It will be crucial for our recovery.

The “spring market”, the peak selling season of the year, has usually begun by now.  Many owners want to move after school has ended or before enjoying the summer.  However, the pandemic has essentially stopped the typical spring market, perhaps delaying it for months.  Whatever the long-term results of this, it touches on something I see and say every fall and winter.

Fall, specifically September and October, is typically the second wave of Real Estate activity.  While Real Estate can and does sell every day of the year, there are really two major seasons.  After summer and enjoying the great outdoors, I suspect some return home from vacation feeling claustrophobic as they adjust to spending more time indoors while others want to sell before the new year.

What is interesting and happens every year is that many owners who were unsuccessful trying to sell, decide to wait until the next spring.  Some are frustrated by the process; others want to enjoy the coming holiday season.  Every year I remind people that houses sell every day, that most houses look their best in the fall and, as we are clearly seeing NOW, who knows what spring will bring?  There are many who came to regret leaving the market in 2008.  Then the market crashed.  How many might have sold and moved on had they committed to trying to sell?  And now this.

We started off 2020 with nice weather so the Real Estate market continued to perform well.  Some still kept their houses off the market.  Inventory levels remained low which undoubtedly concerned many wondering where they might move.  What happens to their plans?  Does this describe your situation?

How long will this last?  What will life be like afterwards?  What will be “normal”?  How quickly will our booming economy return?  There are so many questions but we have to look forward, don’t we?

In PA Real Estate is not considered an essential industry so we are not allowed to have direct contact with prospective clients.  Properties that were already “under contract” are moving forward, likely relying on technology, although there are hiccups.  Property “due diligence” inspections, mortgage processing and municipal inspections are facing hurdles requiring cooperation to continue moving forward.

However, trying to sell houses that have been recently listed or still on the market unsold is very difficult.  We are not allowed to show houses in the usual way.  We can rely on technology which is great but that puts buyers and their agents into the position of doing business without actually visiting a homeWhat could possibly go wrong?  Taking new listings is equally difficult if we are following the rules.

I  am confident that this will pass.  Hopefully quickly!  Owners will have an opportunity to decide whether to move forward with their plans, albeit delayed, or wait until some later date, perhaps “next spring”.  I am here to help you and provide knowledge and insight to help you make an informed decision.  Whether sooner or later, we can get back to normal and move forward with your plans.

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

March 14, 2020

Buying Real Estate “Sight Unseen”

When we experience a “seller’s market”, meaning that there are more buyers looking than there are properties available for them to buy, the competition often leads to frustration.  This is especially true when getting to see inside becomes an issue.  It is not unusual for a buyer to have to bid on several houses before getting an offer accepted.  At least they got to see inside and make an offer, right?

A new policy created by NAR, the National Association of REALTORS, and implemented by Bright MLS has added to the drama.  As a result, some are making offers to buy Real Estate “sight unseen”.  What does this mean and what are the implications?

We have experienced “seller’s markets” before and we will again.  Generally speaking, a combination of low mortgage interest rates and low inventory causes houses to sell quickly, making many buyers and sellers act differently than they might in a more balanced market.  Asking prices may be the “floor” rather than the “ceiling” when it comes to making an offer and a buyer, assuming they have an opportunity to see inside a house and make an offer, may not get a second chance so it may be wise to offer their “highest and best” from the beginning.  However, the regulations covering appraisals are stricter than in the past so offering above the asking price is not always the best answer.  What to do?

Many buyers, frustrated by competition, bidding wars and houses they cannot get in to see, are trying to be creative.  They have several options in addition to the amount of their offer such as:  offering a high deposit, being flexible with a settlement date and waiving inspections.  Some may give up or delay buying.  Many sellers are overwhelmed by multiple showings, multiple offers and, as unusual as this may sound, not knowing whether their highest offer will appraise and, if they get an acceptable offer, whether they will even be able to find their “next” home.  One of the ironies of this type of market is how a seller who has a lot of leverage when selling will react when they are buying without having the same leverage.  The shoe may literally be on the other foot.

Enter the new NAR policy called the “Clear Cooperation Listing Policy”.  It has caused confusion and frustration although most REALTORS understand why it was necessary.  Frankly, it is impossible to deny its purpose.  It requires brokers to upload property information to the MLS within 1 business day, excluding weekends and national or state holidays, of any public advertising which includes a “For Sale” sign and social media.  Violating the policy may result in a substantial fine.  Absent public advertising, we are required to upload the information to the MLS within 3 business days.

Some think the new policy a direct assault on a long-standing business model known as the company or office “exclusive listing” where listings were taken and “publicly advertised” but kept off the MLS because the listing broker would not offer to compensate buyer agents working for other “brands”.  Real Estate prides itself in having many different business models as long as we operate within our various rules and regulations.  However, some of this creativity may appear to conflict with our core principles.  I discuss “exclusive listings” in an article entitled “Coming Soon” and will mention that, while still a legitimate business model, they are no longer able to be “publicly advertised”.

The MLS platform is a member-only web site for sharing property information among members to “cooperate” with them for our mutual benefit.  We are “match makers”, meaning that we help bring buyers and sellers together.  A major aspect of this is that we sell each other’s property listings. The creation of the MLS platform made our jobs easier by increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of how we marketed and learned about property listings.  Before the MLS, agents and companies were on their own.

The goal is to expose Real Estate to the broadest possible market which should theoretically “protect and promote” the interests of both sellers and buyers as required by Article 1 of the REALTOR Code of Ethics.  Presumably, this should allow sellers to achieve the highest possible selling price and the best terms in the shortest period of time by ensuring that as many buyers and agents as possible would be able to access property information, schedule showings and, if a buyer liked what they saw, make an offer.  It essentially levels the playing field by making information and properties accessible to all.

Unfortunately, we still live in a society where some people or groups are excluded from opportunities to see and buy Real Estate.  Undercover investigations and complaints from the public still show this to be true even if not as obvious or pervasive as before.  It is unacceptable when anyone is prevented from being able to buy housing and live where they want to live when affordability is not an issue.

The reaction to any major policy change such as this one can be interesting and it remains to be seen how this one plays out.  Will any listing agent blatantly disregard the policy despite the MLS stating their intention to impose a severe fine for violations?  The public, including agents representing prospective buyers, also has options for responding.

What can a buyer or agent do when they cannot get the information they need about a property listed as “Coming Soon”?  The “Coming Soon” status means no showings are allowed to anyone but the MLS should provide information, shouldn’t it?  The concern is that some agents and their buyers, including the listing agent’s own buyer-clients, are being allowed to view these properties and make offers before they are made available to the public.  Instead of converting to an “Active” status many of these go right to “under contract”.  What are an agent and buyer supposed to do?  They will know the “projected” date when the listing status will change to active, allowing showings, and may even know when offers will be presented.  However, those dates can change without notice so should they wait and hope or take some other form of action?  Waiting may result in failure.  Some are making offers on houses without the buyer or their agent actually seeing inside.  This raises two concerns.

First, we have a fiduciary duty to represent our buyer-clients but what is our risk in preparing an offer on a home that neither of us has seen?  Suppose neither has actually visited the location to see the exterior or the neighborhood?  While I am certainly not a contractor or an inspector, I have seen a number of things both inside and outside houses that made me question the pricing or condition of a home and, when asked, I have offered my opinion on whether to pursue a house, how to negotiate the price and what to inspect.  Obviously an agent needs to make sure they are not exceeding their level of competence.

What options does a buyer have if they come to realize that a house is not as nice as they had hoped or expected based on the exterior or the MLS presentation including pictures and public remarks?  Suppose the listing has poor quality or no pictures and little or nothing in the way of a description?  Most agents will tell you that an inspection contingency provides a “way out” and, while it does, it has a cost to the buyer and it takes time.  Would they make an offer “sight unseen” without inspections?  I could go on.

Second, as a listing agent, as attractive as it may sound to sell a client’s house without their having the  inconvenience of showings, suppose a buyer uses a home inspection to terminate a sale when there is really nothing wrong or a seller would make any repairs they might request?  Perhaps they offered a low deposit and are willing to forfeit it to terminate a contract?  A failed sale stigmatizes a house, perhaps even worse than a lengthy time on the market.  If a house comes back on the market quickly after going under contract it generally means that something happened during the inspection contingency time frame.  That could negatively impact future interest as well as the eventual selling price.  Some listing agents do not report that a house is “under contract” to avoid all of this.

I have heard both sides and wish I had an answer.  There is no perfect solution and buyers and sellers, including their agents, will always have a different perspective.  If a buyer wants to make an offer without seeing inside, is this really the best option?  Where is the liability?  I am not sure.

Realistically, if I were a seller I would be reluctant to accept any offer without a showing especially if it contained a frivolous or easy way out unless there were a substantial, perhaps even a non-refundable, deposit.  If I were a buyer I would be reluctant to buy “sight unseen”.  At the very least I would want to walk the exterior to identify potential concerns and include them in my offer.  Otherwise, a seller might say a house was being sold “as-is”, another contentious term, and was priced accordingly or that any concerns should have been factored into the buyer’s offer.  The cost to inspect and potential time lost could prevent a buyer from seeing the best house.  Does it make sense to reduce buying Real Estate to essentially being like a “blind date” where neither side has any real obligation?

While “seller’s markets” will occur over and over again, the new “Clear Cooperation Listing Policy” has added a new twist to an old theme and time will tell how we all adapt to it.  The first fine for violating the new policy will have a major impact going forward.  A “buyer’s market” will change much of the drama.  Either way, there will always be another twist.

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

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

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