Buying or Selling a House with a Pool

Question: We have made a backyard pool a higher priority on our housing criteria, but finding very few homes for sale that have one. How difficult is it going to be to find a house with a pool already built?

Answer: A few years ago I wrote a column about whether or not having a pool helps or hurts when selling your home. The short version is that, historically, homes with pools take longer to sell and sell at a deeper discount from the original asking price than homes without pools.

It makes sense because most local buyers don’t value having an in-ground pool – they’re costly to maintain, parents of young children see them as a safety hazard, they often take up most/all of the backyard lawn space, and it’s useful less than half of the year.

However, things have changed this year with buyer and homeowner demand for backyard pools increasing. Let’s take a look at some of the numbers behind finding and selling homes with pools in Arlington and Fairfax County. The data below is based on sales of single-family detached (SFD) homes sold since 2015.

Data Highlights
  • It is REALLY hard to find a home in Arlington with a pool. Only 1.4% of SFD sales in 5+ years have included a pool.
  • The average price of a home with a pool in Arlington is artificially inflated by a $45M sale earlier this year. Without that sale, the average price of a home with a pool in Arlington drops to $1,352,000 and $1,423,000 in the 22207 zip code.
  • 70% of homes sold with a pool are in 22207 and 22205
  • The highest percentage of homes sold with a pool in the area is in Great Falls, with just over ¼ of the sales including a pool
  • In Arlington, you’re most likely to find that pools take up most/all of the usable backyard space, but lot sizes in Fairfax County are big enough to accommodate a pool and a lawn
LocationTotal Sales (since 2015)Avg Sold PriceAvg Lot SizeAvg House SqftAvg Sold $ to Original Ask $Avg Days on Market
Arlington County83 (1.4%)$1,825,9630.354,27197.2%58
2220746$2,376,2100.454,65597.1%64
2220512$1,423,8450.313,98998.8%34
Fairfax County2,571 (5.9%)$1,139,9981.364,58795.7%58
Alexandria (not city)309$730,0480.442,99396.8%44
Annandale75$719,3200.553,19697.2%33
Centreville73$778,0601.404,33597.5%45
Chantilly40$685,7210.323,49898.1%34
Clifton113$1,061,8814.315,76293.5%96
Fairfax Station153$971,8774.075,07095.7%54
Great Falls345 (25.3%)$1,480,8292.356,04993.9%81
Herndon152$715,3520.533,37998.1%30
Mclean373$2,258,2931.146,31492.9%94
Oakton123$1,191,3011.305,31394.1%64
Reston55$848,9440.634,27696.3%39
Vienna240$1,043,7590.994,46895.8%48
Building Your Own Pool

Most people are shocked when they find out what it costs to build a gunite (concrete) in-ground pool around here, which usually runs $150k-$200k+ before additional patio and landscaping work.

I linked up with local Arlington landscape designer/expert Rob Groff, of Groff Landscape Design, to find out why it’s so much more expensive to build a pool here than elsewhere in the region/country and ask about a common strategy I’ve heard from homeowners to hire an out-of-town company to build a pool for less and pay for their travel/lodging during the project to save some money.

Q: Why is it so expensive to build a pool here?

A: It’s so much more expensive to build a pool here because permitting is more time consuming and expensive, materials and labor are more expensive, average lot size is smaller which oftentimes causes for problems, engineering, municipal related site preparation such as construction entrances, super silt fence, site restoration, drainage, etc are all a factor.

Q: Is it more cost effective for homeowners to hire an out-of-town pool company who builds pools for less money and pay for their travel/lodging?

A: A lot of pool companies don’t include all expenses up front and therefore there are a ton of surprise costs on the back-end of the pool project.  I’ve seen this a lot especially from out of area pool companies.  We actually setup a spreadsheet and accompany some of our clients in the vetting process.  We had a local company at 205k for a pool that a Fredericksburg based company had at 145k.  By the time the meeting was over and we corrected the Fredericksburg company to make sure they didn’t leave anything off, they were up at 215k. 

Q: Are there more affordable options for in-ground pools that you recommend?

A: In Northern Virginia, a gunite (concrete) pool has been the standard for a long time.  On average, we see these coming in at $150k-$200k in Northern Virginia (not including the pool patio and other surrounding elements like landscaping, lighting, etc).  Fiberglass pools are growing in popularity and their base price is closer to $55k-$65k (River Pools and Spa). These fiberglass pools don’t feel the same to many homeowners as a true gunite pool, but they save enough money to make people consider them. There are a ton of good videos on their website that explains the differences between gunite and fiberglass, etc.

Thank you very much Rob! For anybody interested in excellent landscaping design consultation and work, I highly recommend Rob and his team at Groff Landscape Design. Pool design, layout, and project management is part of their service package for those interested in building a pool. They even have a great financing program available to help spread the cost of what is often $100k+ landscaping projects.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com

The Return of Arlington’s Housing Supply

Question: Will housing inventory come back to the market after this spring’s big drop?

Answer: If you’re tired of seeing me write about the low housing supply, I don’t blame you, but it’s the most important factor in our housing market and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future. This week’s analysis digs into just how big the gap in expected vs actual housing inventory was this spring (Coronavirus) and what the future might look like as that inventory (hopefully) rolls back into the market.

20 Years of (mostly) Consistent Housing Inventory

The pace and distribution of new inventory in Arlington has been pretty consistent over the last 20 years. Inventory peaks in the spring, with about 1/3 of new listings hitting the market from March-May and then steadily declines to annual lows during the holidays, with a slight “fall bump.”

Where It All Went Wrong

Like everything else in 2020, housing inventory suffered tremendously during the COVID-19 outbreak and associated lockdowns. In the months prior to COVID-19 (December-February) the number of new listings seemed to be on track to return to, or close to, our 20-year average after a down year in 2019 (due to the Amazon HQ2 announcement). However, from March-June 2020 we ended up down 232 single-family/townhouse listings and 163 condo listings compared to the 20-year average.

My Hypothesis: Hope is on the Horizon

As shown in the first charts, there is a downward trajectory in new listings after new inventory peaks in April and May. We’re seeing drastically different market behavior this year, with a sharp positive trajectory in new listings in June (continuing in July, but not charted due to incomplete data at time of publishing).

My hypothesis is that the majority of homeowners who planned to sell this spring and held off due to Coronavirus still have every intention of selling and will likely do so between this summer and spring 2021, resulting in an above-average rate of new listings per month over the next 9 months, barring any major shifts in Coronavirus related market behavior.

I also think that more of the pent-up inventory will be released this summer/early fall because of how strong the market currently is (low interest rates, high demand) and homeowners who were prepared/preparing to sell this spring won’t want to risk the uncertainty of how Coronavirus and the election might change the market 3+ months from now.

The charts below illustrate what new listing volume might look like if half of the homes that were held back from the spring market are released onto the market from July-September and the other half is distributed in-line with the historical monthly distribution through spring 2021.

The Effect of More Inventory

At the end of the day, what everybody wants to know is how changes in market conditions will affect housing prices and buyers’/sellers’ experience in the marketplace.

Right now, prices are appreciating quickly across many sub-markets. An interesting pattern I’ve noticed over the last ~6 weeks is that there seems to be strong market support for modest price appreciation (1-3% over previous market value), but a thin layer of desperate buyers willing to pay significantly more to lock-in a home purchase.

I’ve seen this pattern show up in Arlington in about a dozen multiple offer situations where most offers center around a similar price range (modest appreciation) and one buyer blows everybody out of the water with an escalation that essentially cannot be beaten (with all contingencies waived). I recently had a listing agent inform me that the winning offer included an escalation that “pretty much didn’t end” on a single-family home listed for around $900,000.

This is great for homeowners on the receiving end of this market behavior, but incredibly frustrating for buyers. I think that one benefit of a spike in summer/early fall listings will be the satisfaction of this presumably thin layer of desperate buyers and prices will become more predictable.

Looking further down the road at the end of 2020 and into 2021, the key metric that will determine how prices react is the absorption rate – the rate of homes sold vs the number of homes being listed for sale. A rate above 1.0 means that demand is outpacing new inventory and there is significant upward pressure on prices. Economists look for an absorption rate of ~0.2 for a balanced market, and the higher the rate, the more favorable the market is for sellers.

Below is the monthly absorption rate for single-family detached homes (red) and condos (yellow) in Arlington and the DC Metro. Note that Arlington’s detached absorption rate is a bit higher if you remove new construction (unfortunately I can’t customize it in this case) and that the Northern VA market is very similar to the DC Metro market.

I expect the absorption rate and demand to remain strong through an increase in new listings which will likely mean continued support for the price growth we’ve experienced so far in 2020.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com

Impact of New Homes on Housing Prices

Question: How much of Arlington’s high housing prices are attributed to new homes?

Answer: So far this year, the average sold price of a single-family detached (SFD) home in Arlington is $1,146,000, but if you remove the sales of new homes, which are averaging $1,810,000 in 2020, the average price for a SFD home in Arlington drops 7.4% to $1,060,000. Since 2015, the average price of a new SFD home in Arlington has increased by 21.6%, while the average price of resale homes has increase 25.3%.

Important note: I removed one sale from the 2015-2020 sales data; a January 2020 sale of 409/411 Chain Bridge Rd for $45M, because it is such an extreme anomaly in Arlington real estate data that it skews everything else too high. This is important to understand because most likely in other assessments of Arlington real estate data you see, this data point will be included and it will make it seem like the average sale price in Arlington, especially 22207, has increased much more than it actually has.

New Home Prices vs Resale Prices

The charts below compare the annual change in the average price of a new SFD home and a resale SFD home. The first chart shows all Arlington SFD sales and the second chart is just for the 22207 zip code which accounts for 54% of all new SFD home sales since 2015.

I was a little surprised by how uncorrelated average prices were between new and resale homes some years, I would have expected a strong linkage.

One data point that stands out is the huge jump in new home prices from 2017 to 2018, which seems to be tied to a significant drop in the number of transactions (lower supply) in 2018. It highlights just how sensitive the new home market is to supply swings and I wonder if that forecasts less growth in the future as more homes built in the last 5-8 years come up for resale, competing with similar new homes. I also wonder if a pause in buying by builders in the first half of this year may lead to a material shortage of new homes in 2021 and drive prices up for new homes selling next year.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

New Construction Tips and Learning Opportunity

Question: What recommendations do you have for somebody just beginning to consider building a home?

Answer: If you’re considering building a home and looking for a great educational opportunity, I’d like to invite you to a walk-through with the builder of a home that’s currently under construction (3196 N Pollard St). The builder, James McMullin, is a 3rd generation Arlington home builder. At the end of July, he’s offering two educational walk-throughs for small groups during the framing stage of construction to provide a peek behind the walls.

If you’re interested in attending, please email me at Eli@EliResidential.com (I promise you won’t get spammed with marketing!).

I sat down with James McMullin to outline the key phases of building a new home from acquisition through post-completion, along with some helpful tips at each stage.

Lot Acquisition
  • You can do this yourself or through a builder. A key competitive advantage for builders is a pipeline of quality lots.
  • If you acquire your own lot and find yourself in competition, it’s important to understand what type of offer terms you’re up against. Builders frequently offer existing homeowners months of free rent-back.
  • If you acquire a lot, make sure you establish a relationship with a builder before making an offer so they can provide necessary feedback on the feasibility of building the home you want either before making an offer or after (Study/Feasibility Study)
  • There are special loan programs available if you plan on acquiring your own lot. Troy Toureau (ttoureau@mcleanmortgage.com) of Mclean Mortgage is an excellent resource for construction loans
  • Cost: Lots in Arlington are currently selling from $500,000 for less desirable lots/locations to well over $1,000,000
Planning/Design
  • Designing the floor plan and elevations (exterior design) can be fun for some, but it’s easy for people to let this process drag on for months if they’re indecisive or unprepared
  • Having a great architect who understands your vision and current home design trends is critical
  • Full custom vs semi-custom: A fully custom home is designed from scratch to suit your tastes and will take much longer and cost much more in design fees. A semi-custom home uses a pre-designed floor plan and elevation template and you make small adjustments to suit your taste.
  • Cost: Semi-custom homes often range from zero design cost to a few thousand dollars, while fully custom homes usually cost tens of thousands in design fees.
Permitting
  • In Arlington, you will submit plans for County review/approval including demolition, building (architectural), and civil (engineering) before any work can begin
  • It usually takes four months for permits to be approved by the County, assuming everything is submitted correctly
  • Cost: Permit fees vary based on a number of factors but will generally be $25,000 + for new construction.
Demolition/Construction
  • Common pitfalls:  If you are selecting fixtures and finishes, meeting timelines is often a challenge. Most people struggle to make finish decisions and the ordering process often takes longer than expected (months) with buffer needed to shipping issues or incorrect shipments. Having an experienced interior designer on-board can be helpful.
  • Demolition and construction often take 4-8 months and can be delayed due to weather, material shipping/availability issues, and an assortment of other factors
  • Cost: The cost of demolition and site prep, including utilities, generally costs about $100,000. Construction costs, including materials and finishes, generally ranges from $400,000-$700,000+ in this area
Completion/Post-Move
  • Throughout construction the County will conduct inspections of the home, but you cannot move in until the County has issued a Certificate of Occupancy (final permit approval)
  • You may also consider hiring a 3rd party inspector with home building experience to inspect the property through each stage of construction including the foundation, pre-drywall, and the finished home
  • It’s common for there to be a (long) list of punch-out items for the builder to complete after the County has issued a Certificate of Occupancy (paint touch-ups, a chipped cabinet, missing light fixture, etc). Most builder contracts require you to close on the new home within a certain number of days of the Certificate of Occupancy and allow the builder access to the home after closing to complete the punch-out list.
  • Minor issues, especially cosmetic ones like settlement cracks in the drywall, are common after closing and will require maintenance for the first 6-18 months. Many builders offer post-settlement touch-ups/maintenance as a courtesy.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Poll: Will You Be in Arlington in Five Years?

Question: Do you expect Arlington to suffer from an urban migration to less populous areas due to COVID?  

Answer: There has been no shortage of articles written about COVID’s impact on desirability of urban living and areas like NYC and SF have already seen drops in demand. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that demand (measured by absorption rate) in Arlington seemed to be tapering slightly, while increasing across Northern VA. This could be a sign that some buyers are choosing more distant/less populous communities, but it could also be a result of how little inventory there is and how quickly prices have gone up.

POLL

Are you more or less likely to be an Arlington resident five years from now due to the impact COVID has had on you or your partner’s life/commuting requirements?

Participate in the poll at ARLnow.

I don’t think we’ll know how COVID will impact long-term demand in Arlington until we see whether or not it results in substantial changes to where/how people work. Most people I’ve spoken to don’t know whether their employers will make permanent changes to telework schedules or flex hours, or whether they will return to their pre-COVID work routines once life returns to normal.

Commute times are a top-three consideration for most Arlington residents so it’s hard to argue that a trend towards 50% or more telework days per month won’t reduce housing demand in Arlington. The next decade is also likely to bring major improvements to autonomous driving and the commuting experience which will allow some to bear longer commutes by increasing productivity during the drive.

But just how much would net demand change? I can also see a scenario where Arlington residents who leave for more space and/or less expensive housing are replaced by new residents from cities like DC, NYC, or SF looking for a better balance of urban and suburban life.

Major shifts in telework and commuting may reduce long-term demand for Arlington housing, but I think it’s far from a doomsday scenario where the bottom drops out of the market. Commuting is still just one factor of a much larger set of needs and wants that Arlington offers its residents so it’s more likely to result in tapered housing appreciation over the long-term, rather than negative growth.

Let’s check back in on this in 2025 to see how we’re doing…

Awesome Heatmap of Neighborhood Turnover

Question: Which Arlington neighborhoods have the highest number of homes listed for sale?

Answer: I’m excited to show-off the first project to come out of a new data-visualization partnership so that I can make the data analysis I do a bit easier to digest (and prettier).

The chart below shows the Arlington neighborhoods with the most and least turnover of single-family detached homes, using the last 20 years of home sales.

Top Five Neighborhoods

The neighborhoods with the most turnover over the last 20 years are:

  1. Bluemont (1,406)
  2. East Falls Church (1,157)
  3. Yorktown (863)
  4. Donaldson Run (853)
  5. Rock Spring (848)

The nice thing about great data visualization is that it does most of the talking, so there aren’t nearly as many words for you to read as my usual column. Cheers to great data visualization and fewer words!

Have a great July 4th everybody!

Black Lives Matter

Answer: I was proud of the statement ARLnow and the rest of the Local News Network (LNN) sites made on Friday, taking a public stance supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Do people care what I think?

I honestly didn’t think so, but it has become clear to me over the last couple of weeks that taking a stance on the BLM movement is important to many of my colleagues, friends, neighbors, and clients. For them, I want to state it in my most public forum: BLACK LIVES MATTER.

There are too many people better equipped to write/talk about the topic than me, so I will simply link to couple of them.

A few years ago, a close friend recommended Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and it had a profound impact on my understanding of privilege and systemic racism. The audiobook is narrated by the author, making his words even more powerful.

I have called RLAH Real Estate home for my entire real estate career and one of the things I’m most proud of is the incredible diversity across our 250+ agents in the DMV. Our leadership has done an excellent job of encouraging productive conversations about current events and taken strong public stands supporting BLM. I’d like to share this <5 minute video featuring stories from some of my colleagues as it relates to race in real estate.

COVID-19 Market Impact Update

Question: What impact is Coronavirus having on the real estate market?

Answer: COVID-19 has had a similar impact on new listings in Arlington as it has across Northern VA and the DC Metro with each market dealing with a ~30-35% year-over-year drop in April and May. However, demand in Arlington has tapered off from 2019 highs, while demand in Northern VA and the DC Metro is steadily increasing, despite everything we’ve gone through with Coronavirus.

The tapering of Arlington demand, which is still very strong relative to historical numbers, is bringing the Arlington market more in-line with supply/demand readings of the Northern VA and DC Metro markets. The below chart shows Months of Supply (a good supply/demand ratio) for each market. Months of Supply calculates how long it would take for the existing housing inventory to sell out, if no additional inventory was supplied.

Prices Up Regionally

Year-over-year prices for May sales and year-to-date sales are up significantly across the region. Across all of the counties/regions listed below, Arlington’s year-over-year growth is the lowest, which is almost certainly due to the significant appreciation in Arlington last year, after the Amazon announcement.

Keep in mind that sales data lags actual market activity because it usually takes 30-45 days for a property to close, so May sales are more reflective of March and April activity than what we’re currently seeing. This is particularly interesting because March and April were the peak of Coronavirus concerns/lockdowns. Barring any major shifts in the DC-area economy, I expect year-over-year prices to show even more growth as we get further into the year and sales reflect an even stronger buyer market.

Arlington New Listings Down

We’re used to seeing new listing supply peak from March-June, after November-February lows, with April and May almost always exceeding March’s supply. Unfortunately for many home buyers, new inventory tumbled in April and continued dropping further in May.

The May 2020 drop in new inventory represents a 32.1% decline compared to May 2019, which is particularly concerning when you consider that new inventory in May 2019 was already down 21.3% from May 2018, giving us a 47% decline in new inventory from May 2018 to May 2020.

The decline in new inventory was distributed pretty evenly across property type (single-family vs condo) and price point.

Arlington Demand Down

Absorption is a good indicator of demand, providing the rate of homes going under contract relative to total supply. Demand, and therefore absorption rate, are usually highest from February/March through May/June and have been sky-high since spring 2019, with an absorption rate of 1.0 or more in eight months since March 2019.

While the absorption rate in April and May 2020 remained high relative to pre-Amazon years, there was a year-over-year decline of 37.6% and 25.5%, respectively, indicating a tapering of Arlington demand compared to last year. However, with so few listings coming to market, there’s still high levels of competition for desirable properties that are reasonably priced.

This doesn’t mean that the bottom is dropping out in Arlington. Part of the difference in year-over-year data is due to how sharply Arlington demand rose in 2019 (post-Amazon announcement), but we’re also seeing a lot of buyers being priced out of Arlington and pushing their searches further into Northern VA.

Northern VA New Listings Down, Demand Up

Northern VA has experienced a similar drop in new listings (33.8% and 33.4% YoY decline in April and May, respectively), but is actually seeing an increase in year-over-year demand with a 32.2% increase in absorption rate in May 2020 compared to May 2019 and absorption rates exceeding 1.0 in three of the last four months.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

How to Write a Strong Offer

Question: The last time I bought a house, the market was much more favorable for buyers. I’ve heard so much about competing offers and the need to submit a strong offer, but what exactly does that mean?

Answer: Other than price, there are about a dozen terms included in your offer that will determine its strength — the value/appeal it has to the seller. Of course, every home owner wants to get the most money possible, but they also care about when the sale is executed, the likelihood of getting to settlement, renegotiation periods, risk and more.

Sometimes a seller takes a lower offer price in exchange for better supporting terms. Understanding what type of offer is appropriate/necessary for a property and how certain terms change your (buyer or seller) risk exposure on the transaction is critical.

Let’s take a look at some of the terms included in most contracts that have the biggest impact on the actual or perceived strength of an offer.

Price/Escalation Addendum

This is an obvious one. Higher price = stronger offer. Escalation Addendums are common when there are multiple offers, but how and when to use them is a nuanced, yet critical, decision.

The Escalation Addendum allows you to beat any competing offer by a specified amount, up to the highest amount (ceiling) you’re willing to pay for a property. Used correctly, it prevents you from leaving money on the table, while not paying too far above what the rest of the market is willing to offer.

Contingencies

The three most common contingencies are for the home inspection, appraisal, and loan. Each provide the buyer with a set of protections that allow them to renegotiate and/or terminate the contract, without losing the deposit. Removing a contingency or shortening the contingency timeline increases the strength of an offer.

  • Home Inspection:  It used to be standard for Arlington buyers to include a negotiation period in the home inspection contingency, allowing them to negotiate for repairs or credits based on the results of the inspection or terminate the contract. Now it is much more common for buyers to forego the negotiation period and simply retain the right to void (aka a pass/fail inspection), which is much more attractive for a seller. Even more attractive is when buyers perform a pre-inspection on the property (inspect before submitting an offer) and remove the home inspection contingency altogether.
  • Appraisal: If you’re using a mortgage to purchase a home, your lender will almost always require a property appraisal. The appraisal contingency allows you to renegotiate or terminate the contract in the event the home appraises for less than the purchase price. It is common for buyers to remove the appraisal contingency or agree to cover up to a certain amount on a low appraisal to increase the strength of an offer.
  • Financing: The financing contingency allows you to terminate the contract without losing your deposit if your loan isn’t approved. Many buyers who have undergone a thorough pre-approval process have enough confidence in their ability to secure the mortgage that they remove this protection, thus conveying a strong financial position to the homeowner.

Speed of Sale

Most sellers want to close (executed sale) as quickly as possible so cash-buyers have the biggest advantage here because they can usually close in a week or less. For the more than 80% of Arlington home buyers relying on a mortgage, many choose to work with smaller, local lender who can sometimes close in as little as 2-3 weeks. Offering a quick-close to a seller can give your offer a significant boost.

Financing

If you’re relying on a mortgage, sellers are usually more drawn to higher down payments. That’s not to say that a 3-5% down  payment (or 0% on a VA loan) can’t win in a competitive scenario, but you are at a disadvantage and will often get passed over when all other terms/pricing are relatively equal.

A thorough pre-approval process by a quality/reputable lender can provide the seller with confidence that if they accept your offer, there is very little risk of the deal falling apart due to financial issues. Sometimes sellers take less money work with a buyer they have more confidence in.

Earnest Money Deposit (EMD)

This is money held in escrow (usually by the Title Company) as security for the seller that you’ll perform under the obligations of the contract. It gets applied against what you owe at closing for down payment + closing costs, but is at-risk if you default on the contract (terminate outside the legal means/contingencies).

Traditionally, a reasonable deposit ranged from 1-3% of the purchase price, but some buyers are electing to make substantially larger deposits in an effort to establish financial strength. Instances of buyers offering deposits of 10% or more are becoming more common.

Rent-Back

Oftentimes if the homeowner is still living in the house during the sale, their preference is to close as quickly as possible and then have some time to move out after the sale is complete – this is called a rent-back. It used to be common for the seller to cover the buyer’s daily carrying cost (mortgage + taxes + insurance + HOA fee) for the length of the rent-back, but in this hyper-competitive market, a strong offer often includes a free rent-back for the seller.

The use and structure of each of these terms is dictated by many factors including demand/competition, days on market, seller-preferences, and buyer priorities/risk tolerance. As a buyer, being prepared with the right offer strategy and understanding the risk-benefit tradeoffs for each term can be the difference between landing your dream home or going back to the drawing board.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

All-Cash Home Purchases

Question: I just lost a competitive offer to an all-cash buyer. How common are cash buyers in Arlington? How much of a disadvantage am I at?

Answer: I have personally noticed an increase in cash buyers and expected to find a significant increase in the number of cash deals over the last 12-18 months, so I was a little surprised when I ran the numbers and learned that the percentage of homes purchased by all-cash buyers has only increased a few percent in the last couple of years. Since 2019, 17.5% of homes purchased in Arlington have been by all-cash buyers, compared to 14.3% in 2017.

Increased Cash Deals Attributed to Condo Sales

The number of cash purchases in Arlington jumped in 2018 and 2019, likely due to more cash investors getting involved after the Amazon HQ2 announcement in November 2018. This increase is attributed completely to condos (likely investors). The number of buyers paying cash for single-family or townhouse purchases has remained about the same since 2015.

The rate of all-cash purchases seems to be spread pretty evenly across all price-points and housing types. I assumed that the lower priced condos would have a much higher rate of all-cash deals, but it turns out that since 2019 only 20.5% of sub-$400k condo purchases were all-cash, which isn’t much higher than the overall Arlington market.

The chart below shows the percentage of homes sold in Arlington that were bought by all-cash buyers since 2015, also broken out by condo and single-family/townhouse purchases.

Cash vs Mortgage – What’s the Difference?

The idea of getting a cash offer sounds exciting, but what exactly does it mean? After all, a dollar from a lender is worth the same as a dollar from a savings account.

  • Contingencies: Cash buyers don’t need the contractual protection of a financing or appraisal contingency because they don’t need a lender to approve/review anything. This is appealing for sellers because it decreases the possibility of something going wrong that disrupts the sale.
  • Speed: Cash deals can close faster, often in one week or less, than financed deals which usually take at least 3-4 weeks due to the time it takes to process the loan.
  • Security: Cash deals are considered more secure because the purchase funds are already available
  • Cost: Cash deals have lower buyer closing costs because there are no lender fees or lender’s title insurance. Lenders also require a substantial about (usually 1-1.5% of purchase price) of money be pre-paid into an escrow account for future property tax payments and homeowner’s insurance.

Given how competitive the current housing market is, many buyers using a mortgage take steps to make their offers as cash-like as possible by removing the appraisal and financing contingencies and/or working with lenders who can close quickly. For buyers that have taken these steps, there’s very little difference to sellers between their offer and a cash offer.

If you are a seller considering a cash offer, make sure you verify the existence of the cash funds the same way you would verify a buyer’s mortgage qualification with a pre-approval letter. The most common method of verification is to request bank statements, but a letter from the buyer’s bank should also suffice.

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.