Impact of Coronavirus on the Real Estate Market, Part 2

Question: What has been the impact of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 on the real estate market?

Answer: What a difference a week makes. Last Tuesday I started off semi-apologetic for writing what felt like a click-bait article at the time and this week it feels like writing about anything else would be absurd.

Last week I wrote that the impact of COVID-19 on real estate thus far was business as usual with a few big “What Ifs.” Those What Ifs came to fruition within 24-72 hours of Tuesday’s column – major changes to our daily routines (school closures, work closures) and significant changes in the global/domestic economy.

It is no longer business as usual in real estate, but the show still goes on for most buyers and some sellers…for now.

This week and in the following weeks I will do my best to communicate the impact of the Coronavirus on the local real estate market through my experiences, experiences shared by my colleagues/industry partners (inspectors, lenders, etc), and market data.

What I’m Seeing/Hearing

Combining the reactions of my clients and clients of the 15-20 agents I’ve spoken with over the last few days to gauge shifts in supply (sellers) and demand (buyers), it seems that many/most buyers are staying the course with their purchase but the jitters seem to be setting in more over the last couple of days, especially for those who also need to sell a home. Sellers are much more nervous, understandably so, and many are questioning their need/plans to sell their home.

Most agents experienced noticeable drops in Open House and showing traffic over the weekend, although I spoke with a few agents who hosted 20+ groups during an Open House. My guess is that there are fewer people visiting homes who aren’t serious/ready buyers and that usually makes up a large percentage of total foot traffic.

Many of the agents I spoke with who submitted an offer this weekend still found themselves competing against multiple offers with strong terms, but the number of competing offers seemed less than what they would have expected a few weeks ago. I experienced this on a house in South Arlington that 2-3 weeks ago would have probably gotten 5-10 offers, but my client was up against just one or two, albeit strong, offers (they won!).

I think one of the best measures of buyer demand/activity is home inspection bookings. I spoke with Ken Humphreys, the Area Manager of Virginia and Maryland for BPG Inspections, one of the largest inspection companies in the country, and he shared some valuable insights on his activity, as well as regional and national activity.

Almost all of Ken’s business is in Northern VA and during a hot market (like the last 8 weeks) he’s often booked out for 5-7 days. His schedule is full this week Monday-Wednesday but wide-open starting Thursday, which never happens.

In Virginia and Maryland, their bookings are down 15% from where they were last week and they were projecting a 10% increase in bookings this week over last, given the time of year. Bookings are down about 20% nationally.

Transactions Still Going

There was some concern that transactions would be halted due to courts, appraisers, and loan underwriters shutting down due to Coronavirus but so far everybody is operational, with some adjustments to adhere to social distancing practices.

Arlington County courts, like many others, have restricted walk-in business but essential services are still available which includes e-recording of deeds (allows property ownership to officially transfer). Lenders and appraisers are still operational, but people should prepare for longer turn-around times. The slowdown on appraisals is actually due to the massive spike in refinancing over the last few weeks when mortgage rates dropped to all-time lows (spiked back up last week due to heavy volume).

Unfortunately, virtual closings aren’t widely accepted yet so buyers and sellers do need to sign in-person in the presence of a notary, so somebody in quarantine or older buyers/sellers who don’t want to mix with the rest of the population will need to take steps to ensure safe distance and cleanliness in order to sign paperwork.

What To Expect

Nobody knows what life and the economy will look like 4-8 weeks from now, but at this point in time, it’s my takeaway that supply is likely to take a bigger hit than demand, but both will have a noticeable drop-off.

It’s still a little too early for me to use listing and contract activity data to see how the market is reacting, but I’ll have enough to work with by next week’s column to present actual market data.

Stay healthy everybody!

Impact of Coronavirus on the Real Estate Market

Question: How will the threat of Coronavirus impact the real estate market in 2020?

Answer: I wasn’t planning to write this, it seems a little click-baity (now my “Trump’s Impact on Real Estate” column has some competition!), but I got the question four different times in under 24 hours last week so here I am writing about it.

Too Early To Know

Nobody knows how Coronavirus is going to impact the real estate market over the next month or the next ten months because we don’t know what the real impact of the virus will be on public health and markets. According to President Trump, it could disappear one day “like a miracle” and according to others, we could face a devastating pandemic.

Yesterday’s stock market closed down nearly 8% and this morning, the Futures were up almost 4%. Uncertainty slows the real estate market down and the only certainty right now is how uncertain the markets and public are about COVID-19. It’s hard to see how this type of uncertainty doesn’t create a drag on real estate across the country, the question is how long it will last.

Beyond the uncertainty, you have the very real impact of a sharp decline in investment/retirement accounts that many people use for down payments. With many accounts down double digits over the last two weeks, some buyers may reconsider their decision to sell stocks right now.

On the other hand, interest rates are historically low, hitting all-time lows last week, and the real estate market across the greater DC Metro has been on fire since January so it’ll take a major shift in demand to slow things down as we head into peak buying season.

What I’ve Heard

So far, what I’m hearing from clients, colleagues, and other industry partners (lenders, title, etc) is that buyers are hoping the Coronavirus slows the market down so they can have a better opportunity to buy, but there seems to be very few people actually pulling out of the market or reducing offers because of it.

Currently, buyers still seem more motivated by historically low rates and lack of buying opportunities than they are concerned that the likely impact of the virus. It seems that long-term confidence in local real estate is still a stronger influence on people’s decisions.

I think this mindset could change quickly, having broad negative effects on the local real estate market, if markets continue to tank, systematic failures in the market appear (e.g. Mortgage-backed Securities in 07-08), or people begin experiencing more direct effects of the virus like work/school closures or people they know testing positive. This is an important change to watch for if you’re considering putting your home on the market in the coming weeks.

Don’t Overvalue Speculation

It’s important to distinguish between fact and speculation and not overvalue speculation. If you spend 30 minutes online today, you’ll be able to find an assortment of well-supported reasons why the markets is on the brink of another recession as well as well-supported reasons why everything will be just fine, with growth ahead.

Your decision should be rooted in things you can rely on like how long you can live happily in a home (nothing creates value like longer ownership periods) and what your best alternatives are to buying (renting, staying put) or selling (do you have a better utilization of your equity?).

Of course, you want to consider the national, regional, and local economy as well as neighborhood trends, development pipelines, and other factors that will influence appreciation/depreciation potential, but be careful not to overvalue speculation.

(Tax) Assessment Values Well Below Market Values

Question: The County significantly increased the assessment value of my home this year, should I appeal it?

Answer: It’s that time of year again…time for homeowners to find out they’ll be paying more in real estate taxes this year due to an increase in the assessed value of their homes. Arlington increased the assessed value of residential real estate by an average of 4.3%, which is less than the 6.3% increase in average sold price in 2019 and much less than the 8.9% increase in median sold price.

Tax assessments are based on the sum of the County’s determination of the value of the land your home sits on and the value of the improvements made to that land (your home). The County adjusts each of these values every year to generate the total assessed value, of which Arlington homeowners pay about 1% of each year to the County in real estate taxes.

Based on conversations I’ve had with homeowners around the County, it sounds like most of the increase in assessments this year were driven by increases in the land value, which makes sense.

Assessed Value vs Market Value

While it is frustrating to see your assessment increase so much, costing homeowners an average of a few hundred dollars in additional tax payments, it’s highly unlikely you’re in a position to challenge your assessment. Over the last 14 months, the County’s assessed value was an average of 14.2% below what homes actually sold for.

Here’s a breakdown of how the County’s assessment compared to actual sold prices since 2019, broken out by zip code, property type, and price range. Here are some highlights from the data:

  • If the County’s assessment matched actual market values, homeowners would pay an average of about $800 more per year in taxes
  • Unsurprisingly, the zip codes with the greatest difference between market values and assessed values were all three South Arlington zip codes (22202, 22204, 22206), with homes in 22202 (home to Amazon HQ2) selling for nearly 20% more than the County’s assessment
  • The County has the most difficult time assessing home values in 22205 compared to other zip codes and, unsurprisingly, detached homes compared to condos or townhouses
  • Residents who own homes worth over $1M benefited the most by the County’s low assessments, with market values nearly 19% higher than their tax assessment, resulting in an average annual savings of about $1,900 if the County’s assessments were on par with market values
Zip CodeAvg Sold $ to Assessment $StdDev Sold $ to Assessment $Avg Difference Sold $ vs Assessment $
2220112.3%8.7%$71,412
2220219.7%15.9%$108,083
2220313.1%10.7%$72,268
2220415.4%13.7%$62,933
2220515.4%19.3%$126,150
2220618.1%11.9%$71,783
2220711.1%14.4%$106,188
2220910.7%8.8%$57,149
2221310.4%9.7%$40,016
Arlington14.2%13.0%$79,434
Property TypeAvg Sold $ to Assessment $StdDev Sold $ to Assessment $Avg Difference Sold $ vs Assessment $
Condo13.9%10.6%$50,659
Detached14.0%17.0%$118,925
Townhouse15.0%9.9%$81,220
All14.2%13.0%$79,434
Price RangeAvg Sold $ to Assessment $Avg Difference Sold $ vs Assessment $
<$1M13.3%$58,720
$1M+18.6%$187,718
Total14.2%$79,434

As reported by ARLnow last week, the County will not increase the tax rate (percentage of assessment homeowners pay in annual taxes) and may still decide to reduce the tax rate to offset increased assessments. The hope for many homeowners is that as commercial vacancy rates drop from the historic highs over the past decade, the increased tax revenue from businesses will allow the County to ease the tax burden on homeowners by reducing the residential real estate tax rate.

As always, if you are considering buying, selling, or investing in Arlington/Northern VA real estate, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com if you’d like to discuss your strategy and/or current market trends.

2019 Arlington Real Estate Market Review: Detached/Townhouse

Question: How did the Arlington real estate market do in 2019?

Answer: Arlington’s real estate market made the national news cycle more than a few times in 2019 with some pretty extraordinary references to rapid appreciation – some accurate and some not. I’ve seen prices in some pockets of the market surge 15-20% in 2019, but for most of the market, appreciation was strong but not eye-popping.

Overall, the average and median price of a home sold in Arlington in 2019 was $705k and $610k, a 6.3% and 8.9% increase over 2018, respectively. Average days on market dropped by one week and an incredible 61.4% of buyers paid at or above the seller’s original asking price. The number of homes listed for sale in 2019 dropped about 17% compared to 2018 and demand surged, with buyers absorbing about 67% more inventory in 2019 than in 2018.

Last week I looked at how Arlington’s condo market performed in 2019 and this week we’ll dig into the performance of the detached and townhouse/duplex markets. I did separate write-ups on the 22202 (Amazon zip code) condo and detached home markets last month and decided not to include data from 22202 in most of the analysis for this week.

Arlington Detached/Townhouse Market Performance

First, we’ll take a look at some of the key measures for market performance across Arlington and within North and South Arlington. I’ve listed some highlights below, followed by a summary data table:

  • Median detached home prices increase by 6.7% from $890k in 2018 to $950k in 2019
  • Median townhouse/duplex prices increased 8.5% from $530k in 2018 to $575k in 2019
  • Average detached homes prices increased by an average of 5.1% and townhouse/duplex homes by 3.6%
  • South Arlington appreciated more than North Arlington, particularly in the less expensive townhouse/duplex market
  • On average, a detached home in North Arlington is 55.5% more expensive than a detached home in South Arlington and 76.9% more expensive for townhouse/duplex homes
  • Buyers accomplished very little trying to negotiate with sellers, averaging just 1.1% off original asking prices on detached homes and paying an average of 1% over the original asking price on townhouse/duplex homes
  • The number of new detached homes sold in 2019 was just below the trailing five-year average. Note that not all new homes make it in the MLS, so the actual count is likely a bit higher.
Performance By Zip Code

Next let’s take a look at average prices for both detached and townhouse/duplex homes by zip code:

  • Over the last five years, the top performing zip codes have been 22202 (National Landing) and 22209 (Rosslyn area), with Amazon HQ2 and Nestle leading the way in the commercial sector for those zip codes, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this trend continue over the next five years
  • Nearly all of the appreciation for 22202 came from 2019’s Amazon bump
  • If I remove new construction sales from the data, the appreciation percentages remain relatively similar for every zip code except for 22203 and 22213. Without new construction included, 22203 gained 4.5% (instead of zero change) and 22213 gained .5% (instead of dropping 2%), in 2019.
Additional Charts/Market Highlights

In each quarter last year, the market produced an average of 15% fewer detached homes in 2019 than it did during the same period in 2018. Interestingly, the market produced more townhouse/duplex homes in the 1st and 4th quarters of 2019 than the same periods in 2018.

https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=2&ftid=2&fid=1001,1004&gty=4&ltid=4&lid=51013&gid=2&cc=dd0000,05c500&sid=1&mid=2&tt=2&mode=4

Within the detached home market, lower (+5%) and mid-priced (+6.4%) homes appreciated more in 2019 than the upper-end (4.3%) of the market. I think we will see an even sharper appreciation in the lower 25% of the market in 2020.

Since bedroom count is such an important factor in most homebuyer’s criteria, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the average cost of a home in 2019 by the number of bedrooms it had. Not much explanation needed for this one!

Looking Ahead

I will be keeping a close eye on inventory levels as this year starts off. However, I think demand is so high that it would take a significant increase in inventory to slow price appreciation in 2020.

With rates remaining low through last year and projected to do so again this year, coupled with strong employment rates and stocks, buyer confidence is high. On the flip side, markets usually stagnate heading into a Presidential election so it’ll be interesting to see if/how the election effects counter the current momentum.

I think that over the next 5-10 years, detached home prices will appreciate significantly as demand rapidly increases with employment growth, yet we will not be able to introduce any meaningful supply increases due to limits on available land. Condo supply and even townhouse/duplex/triplex supply can be increased with development and changes to zoning laws, but it’s unlikely we will be able to add more supply to the detached market other than one-for-one replacements (tear-downs) and the occasional subdivision of a larger lot.

Thanks for reading along! If you have any questions or I can be of any help with your real estate needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

The 20% Down Payment Myth

Question: Is it possible to buy a home with less than 20% down?

Answer: I’m always surprised by the number of people who assume they have to put 20% down to buy a home and delay their goal of becoming a homeowner for years because of it. Studies show that the most common reason people give for not buying a home is that they don’t have enough for a down payment.

In reality, about 1/3 of Arlington buyers purchase a home with less than 20% down and for many buyers, especially first-time home buyers, they’re putting as little as 3-5% down.

Programs For Everybody

For those with good credit, there are popular Conventional Loan programs allowing for as little as 3% down and for those with lower credit scores, FHA Loan programs range from 3.5%-10% down. There are also some exceptional programs available to those with great credit and strong incomes allowing for 10%-15% down at great rates.

Specialty Programs For Military and Doctors

If you are an active-duty or former servicemember you likely know about VA Loans that allow purchases with zero down. Doctors also have access to special loan programs offering great rates with low down payments for large loan amounts.

Mortgage Insurance

Most loans with less than 20% down will include mortgage insurance, which I wrote about here. It will increase your monthly payment and generally represents a higher percentage of your loan amount the less you put down. However, there are options to get rid of the mortgage insurance fees by buying it out or applying for early removal after a couple of years. There are also some programs that do not include mortgage insurance at all.

Impact on Negotiations

Clients often ask me how much a lower down payment will impact their ability to negotiate, so last year I ran the numbers on the impact of different down payments on the percentage buyers were negotiating off the sale price. The results showed that only cash buyers (100% down) and buyers not putting any money down were materially impacted by their down payment, the negotiation leverage was pretty similar for everybody in between.

However, it would be misleading to suggest that down payment percentage doesn’t have any impact. Most sellers will respond more enthusiastically to higher down payments and this comes into play in competitive scenarios (multiple offers), which has become common in Arlington and the surrounding DC Metro neighborhoods. When sellers are choosing between multiple, similar offers, buyers with higher down payments have an advantage.

Buyers can combat the potential negative impact of a lower down payment in multiple offer scenarios by getting a strong pre-approval letter from a reputable local lender, offering to get pre-approved by a lender of the seller’s choosing, increasing the Earnest Money Deposit, or a number of other tweaks to the contract that will be looked at favorably by the seller, without increasing risk to the buyer or increasing the offer price.

Favorite Mortgage Programs

Here’s a link to an article I wrote with some of my favorite mortgage programs and contact information for great lenders who offer them.

If you’d like any additional information or recommendations on lenders or loan programs, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com. If you’re thinking about buying a home in Arlington or the surrounding Northern VA/DC Metro neighborhoods, I’d be happy to meet with you to discuss your options.

71% Of Homes Sell Within Ten Days

Question: How fast are homes selling in Arlington this year and how does that compare to previous years?

Answer: Days on Market measures the number of days between a home being listed for sale and when it goes under contract. Low days on market is one of the leading indicators of a hot market and signals future price appreciation.

The most common way to measure this is average or median Days on Market, currently 33 days and 9 days over the last six months in Arlington, but I also like to track the percentage of homes that go under contract within the first ten days. I generally find that this metric gives buyers and sellers a better feel of the market.

Fast & Furious 2019

The percentage of homes that go under contract within ten days has skyrocketed in 2019, doubling the rate seen in 2015 and 2016. Below, you can see how demand for South Arlington homes has been increasing relative to North Arlington over the last three years, not just since the Amazon HQ2 announcement in November 2018.

The table below breaks the market down a bit further by number of bedrooms within each market. Note the incredible demand of one- and two-bedroom homes (mostly condos) in South Arlington, with well over 80% going under contract within ten days. Even more impressive is that only about 25% of one-bedroom South Arlington properties were selling within ten days as recently as 2015 and 2016. If you bought one before the madness, congratulations!

Prepare To Pay

Sellers control the negotiations during the first ten days of a sale and the price paid on homes going under contract within the first ten days reflect that, with an average purchase price well above the asking price.

The table below breaks the market down a bit further by number of bedrooms within each market. It is based on net sold price (sold price less any seller credits). In South Arlington, homes that go under contract within the first ten days on market are averaging a net sold price nearly 2% higher than the seller’s asking price. One important takeaway from this data is that in 2019 buyers making an offer on a property that has recently hit the market have become accustom to including escalations, which is why you see average prices well above the asking price.

What Does It Mean?

Unsurprisingly, some national studies have determined that Arlington and Alexandria are the country’s hottest real estate markets. That’s great news for home owners, especially those looking to make a move into a less expensive market, renting, or downsizing. The frustration for buyers comes from all sides as well. There’s very little inventory to choose from and, as detailed above, good inventory moves quickly and for a premium.

If you’re considering selling, it’s important to understand just how high you can price your home without overpricing and missing the market, which can lead poor results.

If you’re hoping to buy a home, planning and preparation are critical. Despite the market conditions, I have worked with a lot of buyers this year who have found success in Arlington, but it requires the right approach.

I am available every day of the week to meet or schedule a call if you’d like to discuss your options to buy, sell, or rent in Arlington or the surrounding Northern VA, DC, and MD Suburb communities. Just send me an email at Eli@EliResidential.com to schedule some time to talk.

Arlington’s Next Luxury Condo Building

Question: Do you think Pierce condos in Rosslyn will be able to sell for the prices they’re advertising?

Answer: A few months ago, local developer Penzance released details on their upcoming Highlands development that includes three luxury residential buildings, one of which will be a 27-story condo building called Pierce.  Here’s a summary of what we know:

  • Large Floor Plans: 104 units ranging from a 1,270sqft 1BR+Den to a 3BR with over 2,400sqft
  • Larger Prices: Starting at $900k and increasing to over $3M
  • Luxury Finishes: Thermador appliances, hardwood throughout, Snaidero cabinets, floor-to-ceiling windows, some direct-access elevators and other luxury touches
  • Top Amenities: 24hr staff, rooftop pool, two-story gym, club room, to name a few

Courtesy of Mayhood at PierceVA.com

Is There Anything Else Like It?

It seems that Penzance is modeling its approach after Turnberry Tower, the iconic all-glass blue building a block from the Rosslyn Metro. Both buildings’ smallest units are 1BR+Den with about 1,300sqft, they have similar high-end finishes, many units with direct-access elevators, and both have luxury amenities.

Demand and prices at Turnberry have increased significantly over the last 18-24 months, which is a good sign for Penzance.

Meeting New Demand

There is a significant, relatively new, demand in Arlington for large condos to satisfy Baby Boomers downsizing from big suburban homes around the DC Metro. Over the last 20 years of condo development in Arlington, most floor plans have been 1BR-2BR, ranging from 700-1,000sqft. To find larger floor plans, buyers are mostly left with buildings constructed in the 70s and 80s, so there is currently an underserved market for newer condos with large floor plans.

For example, 2000 Clarendon, a condo building in Courthouse set to deliver next year, originally planned six 2BR+Den units of ~1,400 and ~1,700sqft. They had so much interest that they added two more. Their current waitlist for the 2BR+Den units has over 20 people on it. However, the price of 2000 Clarendon units are about half what similar units at Pierce will cost.

Will People Pay These Prices?

  • 1BR+Den with 1,270+sqft start at $900k (4 units)
  • 2BR with 1,320+sqft start at $1.1M (44 units)
  • 2BR+Den with 1,953+sqft start at $2M (46 units)
  • 3BR with 2,411sqft start at $2.6M (10 units)
  • More than half of the units will be $2M+
  • More than half of the units will be over $1,000/sqft. Over the last five years, seven Turnberry condos and two Waterview condos have cross the $1,000/sqft mark. DC hits this mark in its premier buildings.

Rosslyn has only begun its transition into a luxury market and Pierce will be a great indicator of where Rosslyn is in the eyes of the market. The sales won’t come overnight, or be without challenges, but the developer can afford to be patient for:

  • The down-sizing Baby Boomers that Pierce is suited for can afford to pay a significant premium for the right floor plan and building
  • Amazon, Nestle, consulting/law firms, Defense contractors, and tech start-ups are supplying more and more highly-paid Executives to the Arlington housing market
  • International money will be drawn to its proximity to DC and Amazon
  • Trophy units with direct views of DC and the Potomac River should be in high demand because it’s unlikely that future developments will block those views, something that has had a major impact on many Turnberry owners in the last five years (I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them move a couple of blocks up the street to reclaim their views)

There are some challenges that will likely slow the pace of sales and maybe even cause them to bring prices down on some units:

  • At these prices, buyers will also be looking at similar units in DC’s top addresses in neighborhoods like Georgetown, West End, and The Wharf
  • There will be a 7-11, fire station (quiet-exits will help, but won’t convince everybody), and a school (a negative for most, despite the beautiful design) within one block
  • Being up the (steep) hill from many of the neighborhood’s top draws including Rosslyn Metro, Key Bridge, Mt Vernon Trail, and new dining options
  • Rosslyn still has many elements from its sleepy government office district days and probably 5-10 years from shedding that completely via redevelopment that’s in the pipeline

Pre-sales are scheduled to begin in early 2020, but the building probably won’t be finished and ready for move-in until well into 2021. I don’t think the current market, or even the 2020 market, will be ready to pay these prices for most of the 104 units, but I think by 2021 we’ll see Rosslyn far enough along and Arlington’s market driving forward enough to generate some eye-popping sales for Penzance’s Pierce condos.

15 Minutes Not Enough For Homeowners Insurance

Question: How do I know that I have the right homeowner’s insurance coverage?

Answer: Most people will spend more time figuring out what movie to watch on Netflix than setting up homeowner’s insurance on their most valuable asset(s). Despite how fast and easy insurance companies make the process, you should be spending more time with a real person designing an insurance policy that fits your home and your risk tolerance.

Two weeks ago, ARLnow columnist Peter Rousselot wrote an article about a home flooded with sewage because of a back-up in the public sewer line that didn’t have proper Water & Sewer coverage and was denied coverage by the County, thus costing them almost $20,000 and a ton of headache. According to my insurance partners at Day, Deadrick, and Marshall (DDM Insurance), Water & Sewer Back-up Coverage is one of many things commonly missing from most homeowner’s insurance policies written by popular “fast and simple” insurance providers.

In addition to having the right coverage, a good insurance provider will also make sure you understand what is NOT covered that people often think is covered. Basement flooding from heavy rains is a good example of something that is often not covered, a lesson many locals have learned the hard way over the last few years. If you understand what isn’t covered, you may make different decisions on where and how you store valuables or where you invest in expensive renovations.

I asked the team at DDM Insurance what some of the most common mistakes are that they see in other homeowner’s insurance policies they review and outlined some of them below:

  1. Sewer Water Drain Backup (what was missing in the policy for the homeowner in Peter’s article): Applies to sump pumps, wells, toilets and piping within the structure.  Separate coverage applies to the breaking or freezing of pipes, but any other back-up or over run of these sewage systems within a home require this coverage and should be no less than $25,000.
  2. Additional Living Expenses:  It covers hotel bills, restaurant meals, and other living expenses incurred while your home is being rebuilt. Typically, most policies will cover 20% of the value of your home, but for those with lower valued homes, it may be appropriate to increase this limit.  In the event of a total loss, it is very reasonable for these expenses to be over and above that amount.
  3. Guaranteed Replacement Coverage on the Dwelling:  This provides additional coverage on the dwelling if there is a total loss, so the client gets a percentage over the dwelling coverage listed on the policy declarations.  Those percentage options are usually 25%, 50%, or 100%, so if you have $100K on the dwelling coverage, with this endorsement, you get up to $125K, $150K or even $200K.  This is a must because you never actually know what it will cost to rebuild until it has to be done.  The replacement cost estimators that insurance companies require to be done are only estimates so this endorsement gives people a cushion so they are not out of pocket in the event the house is totaled.
  4. Supply Line Coverage: This helps to defray the cost to replace the incoming/outgoing water and sewer lines from the street to the house.  This covers the cost to dig up the front yard, replace the busted pipe and then backfill/repair your yard. It often costs $5,000-$10,000+ for this type of work, depending how far your house is from the street and the amount of landscaping/hardscaping to dig-up/replace.

You should also consider who the actual insurer is because when a claim is filed, the quality of service and responsiveness of your insurer is critical. Like anything else you buy, the cheapest providers often render the cheapest service when called upon.

If your homeowner’s insurance was set-up online or without involvement by a real person with expertise in local insurance practices, I highly recommend getting another opinion from an insurance agency/provider who offers a more personalized review of your policies. I also don’t suggest taking those recommendations and sourcing the cheapest version of it elsewhere because oftentimes, the personalized service you get (or don’t get) building a policy is reflective of the quality of service you’ll get when a claim arises.

For a review of your current policies or help setting up a new policy, I highly recommend contacting Matt Deadrick (mdeadrick@ddminsurance.com or 301-937-1500 x13) at DDM Insurance, who I use personally and recommend to my clients.

The Most Important Planning Tool For Condos

Question: How often should a condo building conduct a Reserve Study?

Answer: In my opinion, the Reserve Study is the most important planning tool for Condo Associations because it provides a roadmap for how much money needs to be saved and what projects the Board should prioritize.

What is a Reserve Study?

A Reserve Study should be done by an engineer who specializes in condo or apartment buildings. The engineer inspects all of the common elements like the roof, garage, hallway carpeting, pool, etc to determine the remaining useful life and major repair schedules for all common systems/elements. For buildings around here, the cost usually starts around a couple thousand dollars and goes up from there.

After the inspection is complete, the engineer provides a report that generally includes:

  • Summary of the common systems
  • Maintenance or repair recommendations
  • Replacement schedule over the next 30 years
  • Estimated annual cost of repairs and replacement needs over the next 30 years
  • Analysis of the Association’s current reserve balance, annual reserve contribution amounts, and projected annual costs to determine if the current balance and contributions are enough to support costs over the next 30 years

How Often Should a Study Be Done?

Virginia Code states that a new Reserve Study should be done at least once every five years. This will still be the case when the new code becomes effective on October 1 2019.

Who Cares?

The Reserve Study is important for many people including owners, Board members, management, and buyers.

  • The financial analysis is critical for the Treasurer to determine monthly fees and reserve contribution levels
  • The repair schedule allows the Board to set priorities for themselves and management to solicit bids for major repair or replacement projects.
  • Homeowners must provide a copy of the Reserve Study and current reserve account balance to buyers once they go under contract. Buyers have the right to cancel a contract within three days of receiving this information so having an updated Study and sufficient reserve funds is important.
  • Buyers should carefully review the Reserve Study and compare the recommended reserve balance and contribution levels with the current balance and current-year contributions in the budget.

Funding Depleted Reserves

After completing a new Reserve Study, you may find out there are insufficient reserve funds and contribution levels. Boards generally have two options – increase condo fees or issue a special assessment.

If the reserve deficiency is 5+ years out or relatively small, there’s likely enough time to slowly increase fees until you’re caught up. However, increasing fees by too much can have a negative impact on sale prices, so sometimes a one-time special assessment is in the best interest of the owners. A special assessment may also be your best option if the money is needed quickly to cover reserve costs in the next few years.

Not only does Virginia Code request Associations to complete a Reserve Study at least once every five years, it’s good practice for all stakeholders to have an update Study available for better financial planning and facility management.

Mid-Year Arlington Real Estate Update

Question: How did the Arlington real estate market perform in the first half of 2019?

Answer: I am excited to announce the first of many collaborations with Jeannette Chapman, Deputy Director and Senior Research Associate, at the Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University to bring you deeper, more insightful analysis of the Arlington housing market. The Fuller Institute conducts incredible research and analysis on the Greater Washington regional economy and I’d encourage you to subscribe to their monthly Washington Economy Watch reports. Jeannette is an Arlingtonian and housing data junkie, which means even better market insights for ARLnow/Ask Eli readers!

Inventory Down, Prices Up

Amazon announced they were moving their second headquarters to Arlington in November 2018 and there has been year-over-year double-digit decreases in homes listed for sale in each of the seven months from December through June, topping out with a 29.5% drop in April 2019 compared to April 2018. I think this is due to owners deciding to hold out for more gains once Amazon employees start showing up.

The shortage in housing inventory forced buyers to compete for homes, resulting in 46.1% of homes selling for more than the asking price in the first half of 2019, compared to an average of 26.5% going over ask during the previous five years. 

Less inventory combined with shifts in demand (buyers moving their timelines up and new investors entering the market) led to price increases across Arlington in the first half of 2019, compared to the first half of 2018, by an average of 4.6% and median 8.8%. This does not mean that all homes in Arlington are worth 5-9% more than they were this time last year – some sub-markets are up more while others haven’t experienced the “Amazon-effect” yet.

To get a more accurate picture of what’s happening in our housing market, we separated the data into smaller sub-markets. Townhomes aren’t included because there’s not enough volume to produce good data and we left out the 22202 zip code, which makes up the Crystal City/Pentagon City area (aka most of National Landing), because it’s a very different market than the rest of the County and requires its own analysis in a future column. We chose to remove new construction, age-restricted housing, and Cooperatives. Finally, the time period is based on when a property actually went under contract instead of when it closed.

Interpreting the Data

For the most part, the charts above reflect what I’ve experienced in the Arlington housing market this year so double-digit appreciation from South Arlington single-family detached homes and North Arlington condos makes sense. However, I was very surprised by the South Arlington condo data.

My experience this year tells me that South Arlington condos have appreciated more than most Arlington sub-markets, with examples of units selling for 10-20% more than they would have last year. So why does the data show that 0/1BR condos in South Arlington are only up 2% compared to the first half of 2018? The make-up of the individual sales is different in 2019 and 2019 sales are down nearly 50%, meaning our sample size is too small.

During the first half of 2018, there were more expensive sales and fewer inexpensive sales, as a percentage of total sales, compared to the first half of 2019. Sales in 2019 have also been 32sqft smaller with 7% higher condo fees than the sales in 2018. These differences in the make-up of the data have skewed the median and averages in a way that doesn’t accurately represent what we’re seeing from individual sales.

The lesson? Real estate data is tricky and doesn’t always communicate what’s actually happening in the market (e.g. this June column about 17.3% appreciation in Arlington).

Historical Context

We took a look at the strongest performing sub-markets in the first half of 2019 to see how these gains look from a historical perspective, going back to 2000:

  • North Arlington condos show the biggest “Amazon-effect” with a sharp deviation from relatively stable prices over the last 10+ years. Note that existing condo sales dropped off more than the chart suggests during the recession, but the sales in newer, more expensive buildings helped maintain the market-wide median price.
  • History suggests that the North Arlington condo market will level off and remain relatively stable at these prices. It’s easier to add new condo supply to the market compared to other housing types, so supply usually adjusts to meet demand.
  • Single-family detached homes in South Arlington received a noticeable boost from Amazon, but were already trending up over the last 3-5 years so the 12.3% gains are likely a combined effect
  • Volatility in the South Arlington single-family detached market will likely continue for years to come as the area develops and the market finds a balance. I am bullish on most single-family detached housing in Arlington because it’s nearly impossible to add more supply to meet increasing demand.

Conclusions and Questions

There’s no doubt that Amazon has had a major impact on Arlington’s housing market already, but at this stage, it’s all speculative. Homeowners speculating they’re better off waiting to sell. Investors speculating that property values will appreciate. Home buyers speculating that they’re better of buying now.

I expect the North Arlington condo market to taper off and provide owners with modest, long-term growth and believe the best days for North Arlington townhouse and single-family detached homes are 3-5 years out.

Even though the aggregate data doesn’t currently show double-digit growth in the South Arlington condo market, that’s what is actually happening (see earlier explanation). I think this, and the South Arlington townhouse/duplex market, will stabilize next year and provide modest, long-term growth. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a pull-back in the South Arlington single-family detached market next year, but I think it has the most growth potential over the next 8-12 years, outside of the 22202 zip code. The ceiling for South Arlington will depend on the quality and pace of development along Columbia Pike, parts of South Glebe, and Nauck.

Some of the questions I have about the next 6-24 months in the Arlington housing market are:

  • Will homeowners react to recent appreciation and take advantage of a “seller’s market” by putting more homes on the market in the next 6-18 months or will they continue to wait?
  • Did 2019 cannibalize buyers who were planning a purchase/investment in 2020-2021 and will that demand be replaced with new buyers or will we see a drop in demand until Amazon hiring picks up?
  • What decisions will the County make to increase density and will that provide for more townhouse/duplex development instead of just condos/apartments?
  • How will the headwinds from a potential downturn in the US economy impact local real estate momentum?
  • How much more will office vacancy rates drop and will another Fortune 500 company soon follow the lead of Nestle and Amazon?

If you’d like an analysis on how the value of your home has changed in 2019 or would like to discuss a strategy for buying or selling a home in Arlington or nearby communities, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com to schedule time to talk or meet. Our team covers Northern Virginia, Washington DC, and the Maryland Suburbs.