Is iBuying the Next Trend in Real Estate?

Question: What do you think about the iBuying trend in real estate? Have you seen an impact in Arlington?

Answer: iBuying offers homeowners a way to sell their home quickly without going to market, using a price generated by an Automated Valuation Model (AVM) like Zillow’s Zestimates. The big players are Opendoor, Offerpad, and Zillow but recently some well-known brokerages have joined the party including Redfin and Keller Williams.

At this time, none of the main players are offering iBuying in Arlington or the DC Metro. Currently, the largest iBuying market in the country is Phoenix with about 6% of transactions going through an iBuyer (half of those are with Opendoor).

How It Works

The process of iBuying is similar for each company and looks something like this:

  1. Homeowner submits a request for an offer and provides some basic information about their home (bedrooms, square footage, etc)
  2. iBuyer makes an initial offer on the home based on their AVM pricing algorithm
  3. If the owner likes the price, the iBuyer conducts a property inspection to determine condition and cost of repairs
  4. iBuyer makes a final offer given the property condition
  5. Owner can accept and close usually within 10-14 days

Advantages

  • Sell quickly
  • Sell as-is
  • No showings
  • No repairs or improvements
  • No contingencies that cause contract to void
  • No cost to get an offer

Disadvantages

  • Sale price likely below market value
  • “Service fees” usually range from 7-10% of the sale price, well above most commissions when using an agent
  • Still pay your normal closing costs (taxes, title fees, etc)
  • iBuyers not operating in most metro areas

When Does An iBuyer Make Sense?

There are all sorts of reasons a homeowner may value speed and convenience over price so iBuying exists for that market, but it should remain only a small percentage of the overall real estate transaction market. iBuying won’t always be the best option for somebody looking for speed and convenience, but with no cost and little effort to get an offer, it makes sense to at least see what an iBuyer is willing to pay.

If you’re in a market where iBuying exists (or when it eventually comes to Arlington), why wouldn’t you request an instant offer from an iBuyer and compare it to what your real estate agent thinks you can get on market? I know a broker in Texas who got more for his house from an iBuyer than he could get on the market because the AVM pricing algorithm over-valued his house.

Will iBuying Last?

I’m not sure how iBuyers will survive an economic downturn when they’re sitting on a huge amount of inventory that’s worth less than they paid for it. It’s a great business model in a hot market, but potentially devastating when the market turns.

Another flaw I see in the current model is that homeowners (like the broker in Texas I mentioned earlier) can take advantage of the process. An owner who does their homework, meeting with agents and getting iBuyer offers, will most likely only choose the iBuyer if they’re over-paying. That’s great for owners who can take advantage of it, but I’m not sure how that can be a sustainable business model.

An additional drawback is that iBuyers generally charge a fee of 7-10% of the purchase price, which is mostly attributed to the risks associated with buying based on an algorithm and a basic property inspection. If iBuyers can figure out how to reduce risk enough to cut this fee in half and sustain themselves through downturns, things will get interesting for the real estate industry. There have always been brokers and investors who specialize in “buy now” or instant offer programs, but what makes iBuying unique is the implementation of technology to determine pricing and to make the process more convenient, as well as the scale of operations. I think the longer-term solution is something that blends the convenience and scale of a well-funded tech company with the market knowledge of a local agent.

Are Appraisal Values Keeping Up With Sale Prices?

Question: Given the recent appreciate in real estate values, are you seeing more homes appraise for less than the sale price?

Answer: As we saw in last week’s column, the Arlington real estate market has appreciated rapidly over the last six months which increases the chances that an Appraiser cannot find past sales to support the price the buyer and seller have agreed to, thus increasing the amount of low appraisals in Arlington over the last six months (unfortunately there’s no data to back that up so it’s based on what I’ve seen and heard in the market). Generally, appraisal values lag behind actual market appreciation by a few months.

Banks Often Require Appraisals

If a buyer is getting a mortgage, the bank almost always requires a third-party appraisal to assess the property’s market value. While one can easily make the argument that the price the buyer and seller have agreed to is the market value, banks don’t look at it that way, hence the third-party appraisal.

Appraisals are largely based on comparable home sales over the last six months. It’s a common myth that Appraisers can only use sales from the last six months, but more recent sales are given more weight than sales 6+ months ago. Ultimately, it’s the Appraisers job to determine the market value of a home using the best available information.

Impact of a Low Appraisal

If the appraised value comes in at or above the purchase price, all is good in the eyes of the bank so things continue as planned (note: a higher appraised value has no impact on your assessed value for tax purposes).

If the appraised value is lower than the purchase price, the bank usually requires you to negotiate a reduced sale price to match the appraised value or put more money down to cover the difference between the sale price and appraised value, multiplied by your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. In some cases, you can also change the type of loan you’re using to satisfy the bank.

The easiest way to calculate LTV is subtract your down payment percentage from 100%. In other words, if you’re putting 20% down, your LTV is 80%. If there’s a $10,000 difference between the sale price and appraised value, you’ll usually be required to bring an extra $8,000 ($10,000*.8) to the table.

All of this can change depending on your loan program and down payment, so it’s important to understand the impact a low appraisal will have on your deal prior to making an offer.

Protection Through An Appraisal Contingency

The Appraisal Contingency is one of the “Big Three” contingencies that are common to sales contracts in Northern Virginia. The Home Inspection and Financing Contingencies are the other two.

The Appraisal Contingency gives buyers an out, with a full return of their Deposit, in the event the appraisal is below the sale price and the seller is unwilling to reduce the sale price or the buyer is unwilling to make up the difference or change loan products.

If you include an Appraisal Contingency in your offer, it’s a good idea to ask your lender how long it will take to order and complete the appraisal so you can structure the contingency period around that timeline. Remember, shorter contingency periods are more attractive to sellers and longer periods generally favor the buyer.

When To Waive The Appraisal Contingency

Sometimes waiving an Appraisal Contingency is the right strategic decision when making an offer. If you’re competing against other offers, especially if they’re cash (no appraisal needed), you should talk with your agent and lender about the risk and reward of giving up this protection. In some cases, sellers will choose an offer with less risk (fewer or no contingencies) instead of the highest offer, especially when the sale price is well above recent comparable sales.

Removing the Appraisal Contingency altogether isn’t your only option either. There are ways to reduce the seller’s risk exposure, thus making your offer more competitive, while also limiting your risk exposure in the event of a really low appraisal.

Disputing a Low Appraisal

If you disagree with the appraised value, ask your lender about the dispute process. First review the appraisal report to understand what sales and details the Appraiser used to determine the value. The best chance you have at getting an appraisal adjustment is to provide the Appraiser with different sales that more accurately represent the subject property’s value, with an explanation.

Managing appraisal risk/contingencies is one of many strategic decisions you’ll make as a buyer or that you’ll have to assess as a seller. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me by email at Eli@EliResidential.com if you have any additional questions!

How Much Are Condo Fees In Arlington?

Question: Our Board of Directors is planning for the 2020 budget and we’d like to get a sense of the market rates in Arlington, particularly in the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. What are the average condo fees in the Arlington area on a cost per square foot basis?

Answer: It’s that time of year for most Condo Associations – budget planning time! As a former Condo Board Treasurer, I understand the pressure you’re under to balance responsible spending and reserve contributions with resident expectations of low, stable fees. Let’s take a look at what condo fees are across Arlington…

Arlington Condo Fee Rates

Fees are generally set on an annual basis by dividing up the Association’s total budget, including reserve contributions, by the ownership percentage assigned to each unit. Ownership percentage is determined by the builder and can be found in the legal documents you received prior to purchase. In most cases, it’s determined either by the number of bedrooms or square feet.

On a square foot basis, the average condo fee in Arlington is $0.54/sqft with a median fee of $0.53/sqft. Along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor the average jumps a bit to $0.57/sqft and the median remains the same.

On a per bedroom basis:
Bedrooms Average Fee Median Fee Average R-B Corridor
0 $319 $380 $306
1 $436 $470 $443
2 $575 $471 $631
3 $976 $505 $1,093

Not All Fees Created Equal

Before you jump to any conclusions about the relative value of your condo fee, you need to consider what’s included.

Amenities that require staffing and/or expensive maintenance like an attended front-desk, on-site management, and pools add significantly to the budget. The value for those amenities is subjective. Amenities that take up a significant amount of space within a building like large lobbies, party rooms, or rooftop gyms take away from the total unit count, thus increasing the ownership percentage of each unit.

There’s also a wide range of utilities included, or not, in a condo fee. Some fees include all utilities (water, sewer, trash, gas, and electricity) while others may only include trash with the rest paid directly by each owner. Some fees even include internet and cable! These differences can change your monthly bottom-line between two condos by hundreds of dollars.

Another important consideration when analyzing condo fees is how well they’re being used to fund the reserves (the Association’s savings account for major repair or replacement work) and whether future planned/unplanned building expenses will require a fee increase or special assessment. A well-funded reserve account usually means long-term fee stability and decreased chances of a special assessment. Associations should complete a new Reserve Study every five years to maintain a sufficient reserve balance and healthy building maintenance.

Other Thoughts On Condo Fees

Over the past couple of years I’ve written other condo fee related columns you might find helpful including A Case For Condo Fees, How Fees Impact Resale Value, and Finding Savings In Your Condo Budget.

While I have the attention of condo owners/Boards, I’ll also remind everybody that I’m organizing an info session on smoking bans in condos and to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com if you’re interested in joining.

What’s Driving Arlington’s 2018 Condo Growth?

Question: Are there specific buildings or sub-markets in Arlington that were responsible for the jump in condo values in the first half of 2018?

Answer: The most interesting data point that came from last week’s mid-year real estate review was that, for the first time in years, condo prices appreciated significantly from the first half of 2017 (9.1% growth). I received a number of emails from readers asking if this growth occurred across the entire condo market or in specific locations or buildings so this week’s column takes a deeper dive into the 2018 mid-year data for condos in Arlington.

 

Growth and Demand Increase Across the Market

The good news for condo owners in Arlington is that appreciation and demand increased across all markets in the first half of 2018. In fact, 63 of the 79 measures for appreciation and demand improved (if you’re a homeowner/seller). To test the market, I looked at average price and three demand indicators (days on market, purchase price to asking price ratio, and number of sales) broken out by zip code, building age, and price range. The data compares pricing and demand trends in the first half of each year for all condos sold in Arlington. Cells highlighted in green indicate improvement (for homeowners/sellers) in that category for 2018.

 

All Eight Zip Codes Appreciated

Demand indicators supported the price growth, with most zip codes seeing a faster pace of sale and buyers negotiate less off original asking prices. For those tracking new construction in Arlington, only 11 of the 98 sales in 22209 were in Key & Nash and it’s important to note that builders do not enter all of their sales into the MLS, so a large percentage of those sales are missing from the data. Note that 22205 is not included because of the lack of volume.

 

 

Older Properties Surged

Many older buildings in Northern VA are struggling to recover from their peak pricing from 2005-2007, which has left many owners in a difficult financial position. The strong appreciation seen in condos built before the 1970s will be a much-needed relief for many and proves that Arlingtonians and investors are seeing value in older, less expensive condos compared to their newer, amenity-rich neighbors built in the last 20 years. Check out the huge drop in average days on market for condos built in the 1950s or earlier!

 

 

Higher Demand at Every Price Point

Demand picked up the most for less expensive condos, but every price range saw at least two demand indicators increase in the first half of 2018.

 

 

If you own a condo in Arlington and would like to take advantage of the recent appreciation of your property, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com to schedule some time to talk about your options.

 

Question: We have been searching for a home for over 6 months and have expanded both our criteria and budget, but still not finding something we like. We have heard that the housing supply is low, is that true for Arlington?

Answer: The housing supply shortage in Arlington is a big problem and it’s not just Arlington that is feeling the pain, it’s most of Northern VA and the greater DC Metro (nationwide as well).

You’re not alone in your experience either, we have a handful of clients who have been looking for the better part of a year while also expanding their search area and budget, but unhappy with what’s available.

So, is the housing shortage mostly anecdotal and buyers are just too picky or to cheap? Nope… here are some charts that highlight the alarmingly low housing inventory in Arlington:

Eight Consecutive Quarters of Fewer Homes For Sale, Year over Year (YoY)

After seven straight quarters of YoY decreases in the number of homes for sale, Q1 2018 brought us the largest drop in YoY homes for sale with 21.1% fewer homes for sale than Q1 2017, which was already 7.2% lower than the number of homes for sale in Q1 2016. The chart below represents all homes for sale in Arlington.

 

Existing Housing Supply Would Only Last 1.5 Months

Months of supply measures how long the existing housing inventory would last given the last 6 months of demands (absorption). Most economists say that 4-6 months of supply represents a well balance housing market and Arlington has hovered around 1.5 months of supply for the last 6 months.

I broke out the chart below by housing type (detached, townhouse, and condo) to highlight the fact that the problem exists across all housing types, but town-homes have historically been the least supplied type of housing in Arlington.

 

Good Homes Are Selling Much Faster

This chart shows the YoY change in the number of homes sold within the first 10 days on market, which has increased the last six quarters in a row. There was an impressive 53.4% YoY increase from Q1 2016 to Q1 2017, followed by yet another double digit increase in homes sold within the first 10 days from Q1 2017 to Q1 2018.

 

The $1M+ Home Market Is Healthy

The only sub-market in Arlington with a healthy supply are homes listed for over $1M, with around four months of supply, while everything priced from $300k-$800k is under one month of supply.

However, the $1M+ sub-market is only “healthy” on paper, take a deeper look and you’ll see two major problems (cue comments that the problem with $1M+ homes is that they are $1M+). First, most of those homes are actually $1.5M-$2M and second, most of those homes are tear down/new construction with very similar size and design, leaving wealthy buyers who don’t like new construction with very few options.

 

Tips For Buyers

Here are some tips for buyers searching for hard-to-find homes in a tough market:

  • There are few, if any, great deals in an under-supplied market. In this market, good value is finding a home that meets most of your criteria, that you’ll be happy in, that you can afford.
  • If you want to negotiate, your best bet is to find something that has been on market for at least 2-3 weeks otherwise you’ll accumulate more rejected offers than homes currently on the market
  • Put in the time early in your search to understand the market so you can recognize the right home when it comes on market
  • Base your offer on what the home is worth to you, not just the asking price
  • Understand how Escalation Clauses work and use them to your advantage
  • Find out if there are offer deadlines (usually the Monday or Tuesday following the first day on market)
  • Understand the cost-benefit of contingencies (inspection, financing, appraisal are the standard contingencies) and how you can maximize the strength of your offer with limited risk exposure
  • Consider doing a pre-inspection — a home inspection before you make your offer
  • Have a strong financing approval letter from a reputable lender

A lot of readers have reservations about the value real estate agents provide in buying or selling homes, but without coming off as too much of a salesman for my industry, difficult markets like this are where having a strong agent makes a big difference. Not just somebody to open doors for you and draft a contract, but somebody who understands your needs that you trust to advise you on making the right offer, at the right time.

If you have an agent you trust, rely on them. If you’re looking for somebody, I’m available every day of the week to talk or meet, just send me an email at Eli@EliResidential.com and I’ll be happy to help.

Question: What is the role of Business Improvement Districts in Arlington?

Answer: The Business Improvement Districts (BID) of RosslynBallston and Crystal Citydeserve much of the credit for turning these neighborhoods from convenient places to work to lively, family-friendly places to live.

Funded primarily by businesses located in the neighborhoods they represent, BIDs are an important bridge between residents, businesses and local government. Homeowners located in or near any of these BIDs can thank their leadership teams for increasing the value of their homes.

 

As a long-time Rosslyn resident, I have watched as Mary-Claire Burick and her team at the Rosslyn BID have transformed Rosslyn over the last five years.

I reached out to her for an interview to answer some questions about the role of BIDs in the community and how residents can take advantage of their influence on local government and business investment. Thank you Mary-Claire!

What is the role of a BID, and what role does the Rosslyn BID play in the community?

Business Improvement Districts are nimble organizations that wear a lot of different hats. In Rosslyn, we work on urban planning, transportation and business and community engagement, just to name a few.

But I think one of the most important roles that we play is that of a convener who brings together the perspectives of various stakeholders in our neighborhood –including residents, businesses and county officials — to advance initiatives that will help our community continue to thrive.

We are in constant conversation with folks on the street, in our restaurants and in our business community to better understand not only what they love about Rosslyn but also what they want to see improved.

How does the Rosslyn BID engage with residents and visitors? 

As I mentioned, community engagement is one of our top priorities.

Probably our most visible presence on a daily basis is our Rosslyn Ambassadors Program. Our team is out on the street five days a week helping residents and visitors with directions and working to ensure our sidewalk and public areas are safe and clean. Be sure to say hello when you see them around the neighborhood in their purple shirts.

Our events are another important way that we connect and engage with area residents. In 2017, around 40,000 people attended more than 160 events that we hosted ranging from our popular Rosslyn Jazz Fest and Rosslyn Cinema series to lunchtime fitness sessions and pop-up concerts. Each one of these events represents a touch point for our team to engage with residents and employees in our region, and for interaction between these groups.

It’s that sense of community that these events help build that makes them so impactful.

What have been some of the BID’s most successful events?

Last year’s Rosslyn Jazz Fest was an incredible experience.

That event alone brought nearly 10,000 people to Gateway Park on one day, which was a record for us. The Rosslyn Cinema has long been a neighborhood favorite. Last summer, more than 20,000 people came out to catch their favorite movie. And it may surprise you, but Rosslyn is the largest pit stop for Bike to Work Day in all of D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

In 2018, we will continue to host these popular events, but are also introducing new activities and expanding others.

One example is the Rosslyn Farmers’ Market, which occurs weekly during the summer in Central Place Plaza. We’ve worked with FRESHFARM to introduce a new FRESHFARM Share program, similar to a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, to help bring more healthy food to Rosslyn residents and businesses.

I’d also like to point out that these events have a wider purpose and impact. They help bring thousands of visitors to Rosslyn who could one day be residents or tenants. And there’s an economic impact–restaurants and retail in Rosslyn usually see a boost in sales and exposure.

Some of the other local BIDs are Crystal City, Ballston and Georgetown. What are some of the most significant benefits of a community having a BID? Does a BID make sense for every community? 

From my perspective, there are a lot of benefits that a community can realize from having a BID. But simply having a BID alone isn’t enough. It’s important for all of the stakeholders to have a clear vision for what they want to accomplish, and to ensure a BID has the resources and buy-in to help realize that vision.

A BID with a distinct mission can be a leading driver of change for a community, serving as a liaison between government, businesses and residents. Residents, in particular, have a real opportunity to utilize BIDs to help create a viable, economically sustainable community that reflects their vision of the neighborhood.

How have new restaurants and retail spaces helped change Rosslyn? Are there any openings you are particularly excited about?

Restaurants and retail have been a critical part of Rosslyn’s transformation from a commercial area to a more vibrant, urban, mixed-use area. Between 2015 and 2017, 17 new restaurants opened in Rosslyn, adding to the more than 65 restaurants, cafés and markets within a ten-minute walk of the Rosslyn Metro. We’ve also seen more restaurants and bars staying open later, like Barley Mac, Quinn’s on the Corner and Continental.

This year, we’re looking forward to the continued evolution of Central Place, which is bringing multiple new restaurant offerings to the heart of Rosslyn. I think folks are going to be really excited to hear what they have in the pipeline.

We are also excited for the Central Place Observation Deck, opening this summer. This 12,000 square-foot-space will offer an unparalleled view of the Mall and the U.S. Capitol. Offering snacks and light fare, the Observation Deck will be the perfect place to bring out-of-town friends, a date or a colleague for an after work drink.

How can residents get involved with their local BID? 

Residents should utilize their local BIDs to advocate for what they would like to see in their community. Remember, a BID is there to serve the needs of a neighborhood’s residents as well as its businesses and visitors.

Residents can also get involved with their local BID by attending events, participating in community meetings and providing feedback on BID activities. Depending on an individual’s local BID, there may be opportunities to volunteer or be a community ambassador.

Question: Can you follow-up on last week’s column about condo/townhouse rentals with an analysis on the single-family home rental market in Arlington?

Answer: Thank you to ARLnow commenter Southy4Life for requesting that I follow-up last week’s analysis of the condo/townhouse rental market with a similar analysis of the single-family home (SFH) rental market.

The good news for those looking closely at the rental stats in Arlington is that the majority of SFH rentals are represented in the MLS data presented below, as opposed to a large percentage of condo/apartment rentals not represented in my data last week because most are handled outside of the MLS (commercial rentals, direct landlord-to-tenant).

Five Year Trends

Just like the condo rental market, there has been very little appreciation in rental rates in Arlington’s SFH home rates, until 2017, which saw a noticeable jump led by 22207, 22205 and 22203.

This doesn’t correlate to what we saw in the sales market from 2016 to 2017 so admittedly I don’t know why these three zip codes saw substantial rental growth, while the rest of the Arlington market remained relatively unchanged.

Below is a summary of the average cost of renting a SFH in each Arlington zip code over the last five years. 22206 and 22209 were removed for lack of SFH rental data points.

 

Bedroom Breakdown

Below is a table of all 3-5 bedroom SFH rentals in Arlington since 2016, broken out by bedroom count and zip code, with rentals in 22206 and 22209 removed for lack of data points.

Key Findings:

  • The most expensive home rented was a 7BR/7+BA home on Arlington Ridge Rd for $12,000/mon and the least expensive home rented was a 2BR/1BA home in Columbia Forest for $1,595/mon
  • It costs about 20% more to go from three bedrooms to four, 25% more to jump from four bedrooms to five
  • If you’re renting a SFH in Arlington, expect to take 5-6 weeks to find your tenant and be prepared to discount your rate by 2-3% from what you’re asking
  • For families looking to rent a home in some of Arlington’s top-rated schools, the 22205 zip code is a great value
  • 75% of SFH offered for rent allowed pets, but only 28 had fully fenced yards
  • On average SFH for rent were built in 1950 and the average lot size was just over 10,000sqft (1/4 acre)
  • Only 49 SFH homes offered for rent were built in the last ten years

 

Our team is happy to assist you with rentals, whether you’re a renter or landlord, so feel free to reach out if you need assistance with either! We are happy to put together more specific, personalized data tables for your as well.

Question: I am moving to Arlington from out of town and not yet ready to buy. I’ve heard the rental market is high in the DC area and wondering approximately how much it costs per bedroom to rent in Arlington.

Answer: I spend a lot of time in this column talking about buying and selling homes in Arlington, but about 54% of the County is renters, so as we head into the busiest rental months, I thought it’d be appropriate to share some helpful statistics on the cost of renting in Arlington.

For the most part, renters tend to be more focused on functional space to meet immediate needs, so I like the idea of using cost per bedroom on rentals more than I do for ownership.

The good news for renters is that developers have added thousands of new rental units over the last 5 years, particularly 1-2 bedroom units in the popular metro areas of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Crystal/Pentagon City. While the cost of these newer units has increased, it’s kept the cost of renting condos and townhouses from owners pretty stable (or down).

The data I pulled below is primarily made up of non-commercial rental units (condos and townhouses owned by individuals) and restricted to units leased through the MLS (agent database), so only included a portion of the total rental activity in Arlington. I also excluded single family homes from the dataset.

Key Findings:

  • It costs about 40% more to rent a third bedroom than it does to rent a second bedroom
  • Rents have not gone up for one bedroom units, and have only increased about $100/month for two and three bedroom units
  • Most rental units are on the market for 6-7 weeks before being rented
  • There’s not nearly as much negotiating on rentals as there is purchases, with only about 1% or less negotiated off the asking price, on average
  • The least expensive rentals are in the 22204 zip code because there are not any walkable metro stations and the housing inventory tends to be substantially older
  • 22204 is the only zip code where the average rent of a two bedroom is under $2,000/mon and one of only two zip codes (22206) with an average rent under $3,000 for a three bedroom
  • 22209 is the most expensive zip code to rent by a wide margin due to the fact that it hosts two of the most expensive buildings in the DC Metro in Turnberry Tower and Waterview, as well as a host of other high-end buildings. It claims this top spot, despite also hosting one of the least expensive communities in Arlington, River Place.

 

 

One tip I’m happy to share with renters is that there’s rarely a better deal in the market than the deal you get being the first person to rent a unit in a new commercial rental building. The incentives they offer on the first lease usually include 1-2 months free rent, a period of free parking, and sometimes other fees discounted or removed (e.g. pet fee, move-in fee, etc). However, you should prepare for rents to increase substantially if you want to continue renting after your original lease expires.

Our team is happy to assist you with rentals, whether you’re a renter or landlord, so feel free to reach out if you need assistance with either!

Question: Do you think the recent changes to the rankings of Arlington schools on GreatSchools.org will have an impact on home values?

Answer: Sometime in the last few months, GreatSchools.org quietly changed their school ranking criteria, which resulted in a drop in every high school and middle school in Arlington by 1-2 points (10 point scale).

The two biggest K-12 public school ranking websites in the US are Niche.com and GreatSchools.org with about 6M and 4M monthly visits, respectively (SchoolDigger is a distant third with about 500k).

In my experience, buyers in the DC Metro rely more heavily on GreatSchools because Niche lacks differentiation between schools (everybody is a winner). The change in Arlington County Public Schools rankings on GreatSchools is worth noting and I suspect that it will have a negative impact on the housing market.

GreatSchools’ Explanation

In the About section of GreatSchools, they explain the changes in their grading criteria with the following: “In the past, the overall GreatSchools Rating in most states was based on test scores.

In some states*, the GreatSchools Rating was also based on student progress (or “growth”) and college readiness data (SAT/ACT participation and/or performance and/or graduation rates).

Our school profiles now include important information in addition to test scores — factors that make a big difference in how children experience school, such as how much a school helps students improve academically, how well a school supports students from different socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups, and whether or not some groups of students are disproportionately affected by the school’s discipline and attendance policies.

Many of these important themes now have their own rating, and these themed ratings are incorporated into the school’s overall GreatSchools Summary Rating.”

Old vs New Rankings

Below is a table showing the before and after scores for all Arlington County middle and high schools, as well as a limited set of Fairfax County/Falls Church middle and high schools (the ones I had documented scores for before the change).

All “old” scores are as of Fall 2017. Note that my request to GreatSchools for the “old” scores for all Northern VA/DC Metro schools was denied.

 

Why It Does/Doesn’t Matter

I’d be lying if I told you I knew what the impact will be to Arlington home prices and demand, but I think a negative impact will be felt to some degree.

Schools are at the top of many buyers’ criteria list and most of those buyers, whether they’re local or relocating into the area, set a minimum score for the school boundaries they’ll purchase a home in and rely on GreatSchools for their data.

Below are some points I came up with for why it may or may not have an impact on the housing market:

  • It Doesn’t: It appears the majority of public schools in Northern VA were reduced by 1-2 points on GreatSchools, so buyers are still as likely to choose Arlington as they have always been. The alternatives have not improved.
  • It Does: While the reduction of most school scores in Northern VA may not change where or what people buy, the lower scores may decrease overall demand in Northern VA housing and result in less motivated buyers.
  • It Does: I don’ know if Montgomery County and Northwest DC public schools saw similar changes, but if they did not, we may lose buyers to those jurisdictions because their relative value has increased.
  • It Doesn’t: Arlington County Public Schools are still ranked the #1 school system in the state.
  • It Doesn’t: It doesn’t appear that Niche.com has introduced any changes and Yorktown and Washington-Lee are ranked an A+ and Wakefield is ranked an A on that site.
  • It Does: Could the fact that Arlington’s highest ranking high school is now a 5 impact the decisions of employers considering a move to the DC Metro?

I have no doubt that over the course of 2018 I will have local and out-of-town buyers tell me they do not want to purchase a home in Arlington because it has poorly rated (high) schools.

For me and my colleagues who know Arlington, we will point them towards resources that show how great the entire ACPS system is. However, if you recall from my column in July 2017, about half of the agents who closed a deal in Arlington only had one or two transactions here, meaning that agents who don’t know Arlington well are unlikely to have the appropriate background to give their clients better guidance about our schools.

What To Do?

GreatSchools.org wields a lot of power over home values across the country and the drop in our ratings is frustrating, but just like a bad Yelp review for a restaurant, we have to acknowledge the change and find ways to offset it by making it easy for buyers to find more favorable information.

I’d love to hear from readers in the comment section who purchased or are in the process of buying a home in Arlington, who placed a lot of weight in the GreatSchools rankings – how would these changes have impacted your decision when you bought or how are these changes impacting your current purchase strategy?

If you would like to discuss how the new GreatSchool rankings impact your upcoming plans to purchase or sell a home in Arlington, feel free to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com to set-up some time to meet.

I am very excited to share with the readers that the Hyde Park Condominium at 4141 N. Henderson Rd, just a few blocks south of the Ballston Metro, successfully voted to change the by-laws to ban smoking in units and on balconies, as well as the already established ban in common areas!

In July 2016, I wrote an article about banning smoking in condos and the reaction from readers both in the comment section and in email exchanges afterwards clearly showed how many condo owners wanted to ban smoking in their buildings.

It is a challenge that only a few Boards have taken on and none have been successful in the way Hyde Park has.

I’d like to congratulate the Hyde Park Board and its residents on a job well done and hopefully paving the way for many more buildings to ban smoking inside and outside of private units in the near future. I firmly believe that this type of ban in condos will increase property values both near and long term.

I’d like to thank Greg Hunter Esq, a local attorney and the Hyde Park Covenants Chair who led the ban, for agreeing to write a column explaining how they accomplished the ban, lessons learned, and other experiences over the last few years.

Below is what Greg wanted to share with the ARLnow readers. It is not intended to be an official statement from Hyde Park.

Hyde Park Smoking Ban, Greg Hunter Esq.

The owners of the Hyde Park Condominium recently passed a bylaw amendment to ban smoking in every part of the property, including private units and balconies.

With over 300 residential units and several ground-level commercial suites, Hyde Park is the first condominium in Arlington to successfully amend their bylaws to go smoke-free.

With the new bylaw, smoking is now banned in every part of Hyde Park, including outdoor areas, private homes and on balconies. There is a limited and non-transferable right for current unit owners to continue to smoke in their own units (grandfather clause), but not on their balconies.

Why A Bylaw Amendment?

Passing a bylaw amendment was not our original goal.

In an ideal world, everyone could live as they wish; any one of us could, if we so desired, smoke cigarettes or rehearse with our metal band or keep peacocks on the balcony and it wouldn’t bother anyone else.

At Hyde Park however, and I suspect every other condominium in the world, one person’s right to enjoy herself does not allow her to annoy her neighbors. We tried a lot of things to solve the problem without a bylaw amendment, including banning smoking in common areas and improving the ventilation systems, but in the end the only effective option we had was a bylaw amendment.

How Did Hyde Park Get There?

After hearing complaints about smoking for years we took a poll in 2014, asking all residents — owners and renters — to answer a few questions about their attitudes toward smoking.

We put a short poll card in every mail box and got a tremendous response, with over 80% of our residents responding. Our results were interesting — an overwhelming majority of residents reported that they really didn’t like second hand smoke and only a few residents reported having one or more smokers living in their unit, but the only thing a majority would support was a new rule to ban smoking in all common areas; only about 20% of residents supported passing a bylaw at the time.

Since smoking had long since been banned in all of the indoor common areas, we passed a new rule in 2015 to ban smoking in all of the outdoor common areas. “No Smoking” signs went up in the garage and around the property.

At the same time, our engineer and maintenance staff made improvements and repairs to the HVAC system and used a lot of sealants to try and keep air from passing from one unit to another, with little success preventing smoke from traveling between units.

The most important development from those early efforts was educational — nearly everyone at Hyde Park was against having second-hand smoke waft into their unit, but very few of us understood just how many of our neighbors felt the same way until we saw the poll results.

After about a year with the new rule, more and more residents asked about passing a bylaw at each monthly board meeting, so we took another poll in 2016. Knowing that we would need an affirmative vote from more than 66.67% of the total ownership, we only polled unit owners, the people who could actually vote.

Once again we got a tremendous response, with about 60% of resident and non-resident owners returning a poll card; about 80% of the resident owners and 75% of the non-resident owners expressed support for a bylaw. With strong grass-roots support, and little success from anything else we tried, we held several meetings and drafted a bylaw amendment proposal.

Over the winter and spring of 2017, we held public meetings, answered every question we heard and edited our draft amendment to reflect what a majority of the ownership wanted. Our draft amendment went to the Association’s counsel, back to us for review, back to counsel and finally to the Board.

They voted to approve the text of the proposed bylaw amendment and set a voting schedule for later in the year. A package was prepared for every unit owner with a letter from the President of the Association, a copy of the proposed amendment (a “consent form”), and answers to nearly every question we got in our three years of meetings.

The Board gave us 90 days to get the vote in and we managed to get over 68% of the ownership – about 220 units – to sign their forms before New Year’s Eve. From there, the consent forms went to our counsel for review, and within a few days our President was able to file the bylaw amendment with the Arlington County Circuit Court.

Questions And Advice?

Polling is important. Without the poll results many unit owners will not be comfortable with the idea of voting for a bylaw amendment, and without strong support there is no reason to take on all of the work.

It’s not a vote in the traditional sense. The law requires that at least 66.67% of the total ownership sign documents that show their consent to the amendment, and the votes are weighted by each owner’s percentage of the total ownership – this is a property record your neighbors are going to be able to see.

While you have to do what you can to preserve owners’ privacy, there’s no hiding from the results. Eventually any unit owner can know how anyone else voted, pro or con.

It’s also not an election in the traditional sense. There’s no question that smokers are a small minority in Arlington, especially in expensive condominiums.

We live in a county where smoking is illegal in every shop, office, store, restaurant, bar, classroom, theater, museum, bus station, airport, subway train, taxicab and outdoor parks, with little complaint. A strong majority of your ownership is going to support this, and very few people will be against it. T

he real question is whether you can get more than 2/3 of the ownership to sign the paper. It’s really more of a bookkeeping exercise. It’s also important to note that a an abstention or non-vote has the same effect as a “no” vote. 2/3 of the ownership must actually vote “yes” for the bylaw amendment to pass.

To some people, it will look like you’re piling on. To get the votes we needed, we tried everything we could think of. Small groups of supporters set up a table in the lobby several times to try and get a few votes, individual unit owners recruited and cajoled friends and neighbors around the building, personal notes were sent to every unit owner who hadn’t yet voted and more than a few nerves were frayed.

Having done this once it’s clear to all of us at Hyde Park just how burdensome the 66.67% requirement is; if you’re serious about this you’re going to have to do everything you can to get votes in, and some people are going to be perturbed.

There is a generational difference in how people view smoking. We have younger smokers who voted in favor of the amendment because they understand how offensive and toxic second-hand smoke is and they don’t want to impose on their neighbors or deal with anyone else’s smoke.

At the same time, we have older residents who don’t smoke (and non-resident owners who don’t allow their renters to smoke) who grew up in a world where smoking was allowed nearly everywhere and thought the bylaw amendment was a terrible idea.

One of our residents did some research that was very helpful in our efforts. The 2010 Census reflects that the number of Americans who smoke continues to decline and that Arlingtonians smoke at a much lower rate than the national average.

All of the Realtors we spoke with agreed that non-smokers outnumber smokers in the condominium market by an even larger margin, maybe as high as 19 to 1. At the same time, even as the number of rental buildings and condominium communities goes up each year, the number of rental apartments and condominiums where smoking is allowed actually shrinks.

There were approximately 32,000 rental units in Arlington County when we started this process, with about 8,000 of those units in condominiums. As commercial landlords like JBG Smith and Equity continue to ban smoking in their properties the smokers looking for apartments have to rent in condominiums.

And as new condominium communities are either LEED-certified or start out with smoke-free covenants, both renters and condominium buyers who smoke have to look to existing condominium communities rather than new buildings. Smokers may be less than 10% of the people looking to buy or rent a condo in Arlington, but if they can’t rent in commercial properties or buy in new buildings the existing condominiums are going to have more smokers looking to move in.

Hyde Park was the first condominium community in Arlington to ban smoking with a bylaw, but we’re not going to be the last.

Greg, thank you very much for such an informative write-up on the smoking ban. If anybody would like to follow-up with Greg to learn more about his experience over the last 3+ years leading this effort, please reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com, and I’d be happy to make an introduction.

I would also encourage other condo owners and Board members to use the comments section to share how smoking bans have been discussed within your communities and whether Hyde Park’s success may help your Board move forward with a similar effort.