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!

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.

Why Can’t I Find A House!?

Question: I’m prepared to make a strong offer in Arlington’s hyper-competitive market, but I can’t even find a house to make an offer on! Why is every home on the market either old and too small or new and too big??

Answer: While debates about Missing Middle and tear-downs continue, I thought it would be helpful to look at why Arlington is such a difficult place for most families to find good housing options. Most of Arlington’s single-family housing problems stem from when the majority of homes were built – before 1960 and within the last decade. Only 17.8 % of single-family homes sold since 2016 were built between 1960 and 2009!

Too Old, Too New

According to Arlington’s 2019 Profile, there were 28,500 single family detached homes in the County and according to public records, ~80% of those homes were built prior to 1960 or since 2010. Why is that a problem?

Many homes built prior to 1960 are functionally obsolete for most families (“the reduction of an object’s usefulness or desirability because of an outdated design feature that cannot be easily changed”) and homes built since 2010 have an average price of nearly $1.8M over the last 18 months.

Most homes built in Arlington in the 1940s and 1950s (with the original footprint) are plagued by 2-3 small bedrooms with small reach-in closets sharing one small bathroom, small enclosed kitchens, and small basements with low ceilings. They also lack the openness desired by most families in today’s market. Unfortunately, there’s very little one can do to bring these older homes up to today’s standards without extensive/expensive remodeling and/or expansion.

The economics of building a new home in the last decade doesn’t support the construction of a more modest homes (3,000-4,500sqft) so most new homes are built with 5,000-6,000+ square feet and are priced well above most budgets.

Just Right

It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that Arlington homes were consistently built with designs more suited to today’s buyer including things like attached garages, master suites, and combination kitchen/dining spaces. While these 1980s-1990s designs may not be perfect, it makes for more reasonable compromises at prices many more Arlington families can afford.

Unfortunately, over the last four years, there have been fewer single-family homes for sale that were built during the 1980s and 1990s (4.3% combined) than any other decade until the 1910s.

Housing Changes Over Time

I put together some charts to highlight how home sizes have changed through each decade as well as how the average cost of a home changes by the decade it was built. These charts are based on Arlington single-family detached sales since 2016.

Note: Older homes that have been remodeled/expanded and sold are included in this data so the average size, bedroom, and bathroom count for older homes is higher than what you would expect from the original designs. Most pre-1960 homes were built with three bedrooms, one bathroom, and under 2,000sqft.

Note: Total finished square footage includes any finished basement space.

Here’s the data table for each of the charts:

Decade Built# SoldAvg PriceAvg BRsAvg Full BAsAvg Finished Sqft
<1930355$945,3453.62.42,302
1930s562$899,8673.52.42,315
1940s987$827,1973.52.32,121
1950s961$870,4533.72.52,413
1960s232$915,8184.22.92,760
1970s104$944,5764.02.82,919
1980s86$1,006,0184.23.03,193
1990s96$1,184,4094.63.23,641
2000s229$1,430,9054.94.04,697
2010s584$1,638,6965.24.65,004
Total4,196$1,022,3724.02.92,965
Using This Information

For those of you currently searching for a home or planning to start your home search, hopefully this information can be used to help you understand how likely/unlikely it will be to find the type of home you’re looking for and be more prepared to act decisively when the right home hits the market.

For those of you who own a home that falls within the middle-ground many buyers are seeking, you should have an even more favorable position within an already favorable market for sellers.

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

Guess How Many Agents Transacted in Arlington

Question: How many real estate agents conducted business in Arlington last year?

Answer: There were 2,782 real estate transactions in Arlington that were recorded in the MLS in 2019, totaling $1.96B in sales volume. So how many different real estate agents do you think were involved in those transactions?

…2,217!!

Now keep in mind that there’s usually two agents on each side of a deal, but that’s still a ton of agents involved within a relatively small (26 square mile) community. Below are some interesting takeaways:

  • 59.4% (1,316) of agents did one transaction in Arlington and just .6% (14) agents handled 20 or more transactions
  • 1,496 different agents represented Arlington buyers with 1.1% (17) of them representing 10 or more buyers
  • 1,258 different agents represented Arlington homeowners on the sale of their home with 2.1% (26) representing 10 or more homeowners
  • Of agents who conducted two or more transactions in Arlington, the average agent conducted 4.5 transactions in Arlington
  • Keri Shull and her team once again lead Arlington in total transactions and volume by a wide margin, representing 119 buyers and 76 homeowners/builders, for a total of just over $133M in total volume
  • Other than Keri Shull’s team, no other agent/team represented more than 1% of the buyer or seller market in Arlington

Most studies suggest that consumers are less concerned with measures like sales volume and more focused on the strength of communication and trustworthiness of the agent they’re working with, but market expertise and experience are still important factors for most people.

While some may see the low barrier to entry to real estate licensing and high volume of agents as a negative, it also means that you have a lot of choices as a consumer and, with some effort, can make sure that you’re working with somebody who provides the type and style of service you’re looking for.

April Real Estate Market Review

Question: How did the April real estate market compare to what you would have expected if we weren’t going through the COVID-19 pandemic?

Answer:

Expectations vs Reality

The 2018 Amazon HQ2 announcement sent demand up and supply down, creating a frenetic real estate market across Arlington and Northern VA in 2019 (2019 Review One and Two). The party continued into 2020, with rapid price growth and intense competition amongst buyers, setting the stage for the market to establish new highs. It also seemed that the volume of new listings would finally go up, after YoY increases in December and January, the first YoY gains since October 2018.

All of those expectations were put on hold when the Coronavirus outbreak shut down the economy two months ago. For the first 4-5 weeks, the market froze up, with buyers and sellers unsure if we were on the verge of a market collapse and how to safely navigate critical real estate activities. Over the last few weeks, demand seems to be coming back and there are signs that sellers are more confident in listing their homes, which should lead to more supply.

April 2020 Market Report

April was our first full month living with Stay-At-Home orders, so let’s take a look at how last month compared to April 2018/2019 and February 2020 (last full month of normalcy).

Extremely Low Supply

Low supply was part of every Arlington real estate conversation in 2018. Then Amazon came and supply got so bad that the County Board launched Housing Arlington, but 2019 felt like the trough. Then COVID-19 hit and April 2020 produced 18% fewer homes for sale than April 2019.

The condo market has been hit the hardest by low supply with an unfathomable 55% decline in condo listings in April 2020 compared to April 2018.

For additional context, new listings in April are usually 25-40% higher than in February, but this year they were only 10% higher and actually lower in the condo market.

Sharp Decline in Demand

Given the on-going competition and mostly stable housing prices, it may come as a surprise to those actively searching for a home that demand has dropped off significantly.

The rate of properties going under contract compared to the new supply dropped to pre-Amazon levels and the number of homes selling within one week of being on market dropped significantly. Condo demand suffered the most which I think is due to a combination of health concern about being in common areas and because it’s easy to delay a condo purchase with an extra 6-12 months of renting a comparable apartment.

While many homes are still getting great offers, sometimes multiples, I do see more homes sitting on the market that probably wouldn’t have in a non-COVID market. Homes with large buyer pools had so much demand before the virus that they can afford to lose a chunk of the buyer market and still generate strong interest. Homes with a more niche buyer market have had their smaller buyer pool evaporate in many cases and should prepare for a longer sales timeline.

Prices Seem Stable

The Coronavirus’ impact on pricing is still to be determined because it’ll take a while to build up enough data points to draw a reliable conclusion. Based on my experiences and those of my colleagues, it seems that there has been little or no impact on prices for most properties (with the exception of niche home, mentioned above), which can be attributed to relatively parallel declines in supply and demand.

Looking Forward

As society adjusts to new norms and the science community continues to bring us promising news on treatments and a vaccine, I think that we’re likely to see more confident buyers and sellers over the next couple of months, which will translate into higher demand and more supply. The impact on competition and prices will depend on which moves faster, but I expect demand growth to outpace supply, at least in the next 4-6 weeks.

The big unknown is if/when there will be another seismic jolt to our health and job security that will send sellers and buyers out of the market. It seems this fall is the most likely window for a second shockwave, but this summer is shaping up to be a strong real estate market locally.

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

Past Seven Days (Arlington) 
Seven Days Prior (Arlington)
Technology and Innovation in Real Estate

Question: How well prepared is the real estate industry to use technology and innovation to adapt to social distancing?

Answer: With around $2.3T in new and existing home sales in the US in 2019, you would think that the real estate industry would be a catalyst for technology development and innovation to support the purchase and sale of the most valuable asset most people will ever transact. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and the real estate industry often lags well behind other industries in technology adoption, innovation, and consumer experience. Why is that?

Role of Tech/Innovation in Real Estate

The conversation starts with one critical question – what is the role of technology and innovation in residential real estate? I’ve noticed two schools of thought amongst start-ups and innovators. One is that technology should reduce or eliminate the role of professionals (broker/agent, title attorney, lender) in the transaction and the other is that technology should improve the quality of service and efficiency of those professionals.

I’ll save a lengthy discussion on the value of (professional) real estate agents for another day, but history and many failed start-ups have shown that most consumers want professionals advising them during a home sale or purchase, despite numerous DIY options. I’ll also save commentary on people hiring non-professionals for 6 or 7-figure transactions J

It’s my opinion that the prevailing goal of technology and disruption in residential real estate is to help professionals deliver higher quality service more efficiently, which will in turn improve the experience and reduce cost (commissions/fees) for the consumer. I think it’s important to also improve technology that allows buyers and sellers who prefer a DIY approach, but that isn’t where the lion’s share of investment should be.

#1 Challenge: Fragmented Buying Power

The biggest challenge start-ups face in residential real estate is the fragmentation of the industry’s buying power, which makes widespread adoption difficult and expensive. Most real estate agents are independent contractors who make their own decisions about what systems and technology to pay for so a start-up/entrepreneur with a great idea has to convert tens of thousands (or more) of individuals instead of just a handful of decision-makers with large spending power.

Most agents are loosely organized into offices, brokerages, and brokerage franchises that theoretically have stronger buying power to support start-ups, but it can be difficult to find technology that will be useful for, or adopted by, enough agents and their clients to justify the cost of organization-wide implementation because of so many niche practices and the independent nature of agents. As they say: technology made for everybody, is good for nobody.

Some brokerages implement top-down in-house technology development and have produced great platforms/systems as a result, but even those technologies lack the disruptive innovation industries need from start-ups because they can’t risk their core business on failed technology development.

Many of the large brokerages that practice top-down technology development suffer from common ailments like expensive systems becoming legacy systems before they generate enough value to justify the cost. The cost of in-house development is too high in many cases, which is why many of the technology/disruptor-branded companies announced the first and largest furloughs/layoffs in the industry just a few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a massive opportunity for disruptive technology in residential real estate, but the fragmented nature of the industry makes it difficult for great start-ups to get off the ground and reach profitability fast enough to survive. This is one reason why VC money has poured into the PropTech (Property Technology, which also includes commercial real estate) industry over the last few years, with investments increasing from $491M in 2013 to $12.9B in the first half of 2019.

Widespread Technology Adoption

Let’s take a look at some of the few real estate innovations that have been implemented on a broad scale to improve the consumer experience and transaction efficiency, that are also supporting social distancing:

  • Search: When Zillow brought search to the consumer in 2006, it changed the game by empowering consumers with valuable listing information. As an agent, I appreciate having informed clients because it means I don’t have to deflate dreams of buying a $400,000 six-bedroom mansion in Arlington, Zillow does it for me! I don’t think there’s been a more disruptive and valuable technology in real estate than consumer search.
  • Digital Signature: It wasn’t long ago that every offer, counter offer, and correction required a printer, pen, and scanner/fax but with the widespread implementation of digital signatures contract work has gone from taking hours to minutes and accommodates social distancing.
  • 3D Tours: Lightly used prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, 3D tours have become a critical marketing tool during social distancing. It allows interested buyers to explore most nooks and crannies of a home from their phone or computer, limiting the need for physical access (presumably) to only the most interested/motivated buyers.
  • Live Virtual Tours: FaceTime, Facebook Live, and other live video applications aren’t unique to real estate but have become popular for virtual Open Houses and showings for buyers who cannot leave their home during quarantine.
Next Generation Technology/Innovation

It’s hard to know what the next true breakthrough in real estate technology will be (or maybe I do!), but I’ll highlight a few things that I’d like to see or expect to see developed in the next decade to improve the consumer experience and transaction efficiency:

  • Dynamic/Predictive Search: Home-buying decisions aren’t binary, they’re weighted/sliding scale decisions, yet search is relatively binary and close-ended. Meaning you either want a pool or you don’t. You want 3-4BR and to spend $X-$Y. Current search options don’t consider the weighted value of different criteria and if/then nature of trade-offs people make, so I’d like to see search become more dynamic and help people search the way they think.
  • Immersive Virtual/3D Tours: Most people are doing 3D tours from their phone or computer screen, but the technology is mostly there to allow those tours to become more immersive through Virtual Reality headsets. I envision a day when buyers do 15 showings in three hours with their agent from their respective living rooms, using shared immersive virtual technology to tour the properties together. Once they narrow down the best options, they’ll go to see only the top choice(s) in person.
  • Augmented Reality: We’ll likely see this coupled with more immersive virtual reality but soon you’ll be able to rapidly redecorate and remodel virtually
  • Blockchain: This one warrants more than a few sentences of discussion, so I’ll let this article from the National Association of Realtors do the talking for me.
  • Virtual Closings: While many states, including Virginia, allow virtual closings using an e-notary (no in-person signing required) banks have yet to get on-board so, in most cases, the only transactions that can close virtually are cash deals. There’s no doubt that COVID-19 will accelerate banks’ acceptance of virtual closings and eliminate the need for both parties to meet with a title attorney or notary to sign documents in person to consummate the sale.
Arlington Market Update

I don’t want to miss my check-in on the Arlington market during this critical time, so here’s a look at the last seven days of market activity compared to the previous seven days.

We took a huge hit in total inventory over the past week with a decrease in new listings, but a sharp increase in contract activity. This reflects what I’ve personally experienced in the market over the last few weeks which seems to be increasing demand with very little new inventory.

As of 7:30AM April 28, we only have 231 homes for sale. We averaged 245 for sale in April 2019, which was a historical year for low inventory. Of the 260 homes currently under contract, 134 (51.5%) went under contract within one week.

Past Seven Days (Arlington) 
Seven Days Prior (Arlington)

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

Impact of Coronavirus on the Real Estate Market, Part 5

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

Answer: I hope this column finds everybody in good health. If you need to replenish your cooking oils and haven’t tried The Olive Oil Boom before, I highly recommend it. It’s a local shop in Courthouse that my wife and I love. My personal favorite is the Harissa olive oil.

If you have some local favorites that you’d like to help stay in business during tough times, please give them a shout-out in the comments section and note a personal favorite product/dish!

Financial Confidence Poll

Buyer confidence drives real estate demand, so I’d like to do a reader poll this week to measure the confidence of Arlingtonians. Thanks for participating!

Question: How long do you expect the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic to negatively impact your personal finances?

Arlington/Regional Market Update

Regionally and locally we’re seeing the pipeline of new inventory dry up and sellers lose confidence. The two charts below reflect market activity in Arlington over the past seven days (left) and seven days prior to that (right). While the total Coming Soon and New Active for each seven-day period is almost identical, the Coming Soon pipeline was cut in half. You’ll also note huge increases in the number of price reductions and properties pulled off market (Temp Off, Withdrawn, Canceled, and Expired).

Demand is dropping, but homeowners are experiencing it in different ways. For example, the markets that were hyper-competitive prior to the COVID-19 crisis, such as the $600k-$900k single-family starter home market that was seeing double digit offers, are still getting strong offers, and in some cases, multiple offers. For those homes, even a 60-70% decline in demand means a few offers instead of 10+.

I inquired on five homes this weekend for two separate clients. Each was a move-in-ready detached single-family home in Arlington, Falls Church, or Alexandria priced from $695k-$875k. All five had at least one strong offer, four were expecting multiples, one had two pre-inspections scheduled and one got seven offers.

However, the number of price drops and listings being pulled from the market shows that many homeowners are experiencing something different. If your home was likely to get one strong offer before the Coronavirus lockdown, a significant drop in demand can easily mean no offers and a longer wait for the right buyer to materialize.

To gauge the odds of a successful sale (quick sale, at/near asking price), homeowners should be conscious of the profile of the buyer(s) most likely to purchase their home and try to understand how their motivation and financial security has been impacted by COVID-19. For example, dual-income families are likely feeling more financial security than single-income buyers. Buyers with kids are often more motivated because they likely have fewer alternatives than somebody buying a 1-2-bedroom condo who can more easily find a comparable rental apartment until the economy is back in order. Further, families with kids are generally buying with a longer ownership horizon and thus able to outlast whatever economic recession/depression is brought on by the virus.

Past Sever Days (Arlington)

Seven Days Prior (Arlington)

Are Prices Dropping?

Although some homes are still selling for their pre-COVID prices (which shouldn’t be happening, in my opinion, given the amount of uncertainty/risk in the market), I suspect that most homeowners are settling for a few percent less than what they would have pre-Coronavirus. You can also argue that they’re taking an even greater loss than what they would have gotten in the peak spring market (right now) had Coronavirus never been a factor.

I think that for most of the DC Metro, that’s the appropriate discount at this time, considering what we do and do not know about the future of the national/regional economy.

The price drop that most people are worried about or looking forward to, depending on which side of the transaction you’re on, is a double-digit drop like we saw during the Great Recession 12 years ago. There are myriad inputs that factor into real estate prices, but the simplest is supply and demand. If you’ve been paying attention to real estate in Arlington or the DC Metro, you know that we’ve suffered from a historically low supply of homes for sale, driven by both a lack of new inventory and high demand.

Econ101 tells us that in order for there to be a significant price drop, demand will have to recede substantially more than supply. There’s no doubt that an on-going economic shutdown will significantly reduce demand, but if changes to lending practices over the last decade and financial support from the government allow people to keep their homes, inventory will likely plunge as well. So long as inventory and demand are dropping by somewhat similar amounts, we may not see the type of dramatic price drops we saw in 2008.

To highlight just how bad the supply is around here, I pulled charts showing the months of supply in Arlington, Northern VA, and the DC Metro over the last 10 years. Note that most economists agree that a market is fairly balanced for buyers and sellers when there’s ~6 months of supply.

I also added a chart showing the corresponding change in median sold price for Arlington during that same 10 year period.

https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=60&ftid=2&fid=1000&gty=120&ltid=4&lid=51013&gid=2&cc=0000dd&sid=0&mid=0&tt=2&mode=4
Months of Supply for Arlington County
https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=6&ftid=2&fid=1000&gty=120&ltid=4&lid=51013&gid=2&cc=0000dd&sid=0&mid=0&tt=2&mode=4
Median Sale for Arlington County
https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=60&ftid=2&fid=1000&gty=120&ltid=2&lid=1006&gid=2&cc=0000dd&sid=0&mid=0&tt=2&mode=4
Months of Supply for Northern Virginia
https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=60&ftid=2&fid=1000&gty=120&ltid=2&lid=1034&gid=2&cc=0000dd&sid=0&mid=0&tt=2&mode=4
Months of Supply for The DC Metro

If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies in this market, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com. Be smart, be careful, be strategic. And stay home!

Ask Eli: Impact of Coronavirus on the Real Estate Market, Part 4

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

Answer: I hope you and your families are healthy and finding some productive ways to remain safely at home. It’s been great to see so much carryout and delivery activity at local restaurants, I hope we can keep our favorite establishments in business.

I want to shout out the Sunday evening manager at the South Arlington Ledo Pizza for the way he was expressing constant, sincere appreciation to every employee hard at work and each customer who came in. It was refreshing to hear such positivity.

This week I’ll cover some real-time market updates and take a look at how past recessions have impacted real estate.

March 30 Stay At Home Order — Executive Order 55

Yesterday afternoon, Governor Northam announced EO 55, at Temporary Stay At Home Order due to COVID-19 to further discourage gatherings and personal contact.

There was an immediate concern across the real estate community that the new order effectively shut down all real estate operations, but soon after Northam’s announcement, the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR) and the Virginia Association of Realtors (VAR) announced that under EO 55, real estate business may continue to operate using best practices for social distancing and other measures recommended by the CDC, as well as avoiding any gatherings of 10+ people. Here is a link to the official NVAR comments.

That means that as of this morning showings, inspections, appraisals, closings, lending and other activities critical to a real estate transaction are all still allowed in Virginia/Northern Virginia. Public Open Houses are strongly discouraged and many companies have suspended them.

Personally, I think showings are the most questionable activity because you can make a strong case in both directions. If somebody needs to find a home, it’s fair to say that they need to see the home in person before making an offer. On the flip side, somebody seeing five properties on a Saturday afternoon to prepare for a purchase 6 months from now should not be out on showings. There’s certainly a level of personal responsibility required here.

Arlington Market Update

It seems that much of the Arlington and Northern Virginia market has softened in the past week. This is based on further decreases in showing activity and the negotiations I’ve been directly involved in or aware of via colleagues. We won’t have actual price data available for another 3-4+ weeks when homes start closing that were placed under contract during the COVD-19 lockdown period.

New inventory continued to flow into the market, but was down from the previous week. A healthy 63 homes went under contract, showing that there are still buyers out there, but many of them are likely securing better terms than they would have a month ago, and facing much less competition.

Arlington market activity over the last week

Showing activity is unsurprisingly very low, with the average showings per listing dropping to 2.25 over the past week. With an average of about 15 showings before a ratified contract, expect average days on market to start increasing. However, the showings that are taking place tend to be to ready-buyers so it should take fewer showings than it used to for the right buyer to surface.

Average showings per listing in Arlington last week
Real Estate During a Recession

The economy is in bad shape and it could get a lot worse. It’s way too early to make any predictions about the real estate market 6-24 months from now until we know just how long Coronavirus will keep businesses closed and consumers at home.

What we can do is look at the real-time/near-term impact (what I’m trying to cover every week) and what’s happened in past recessions. The 2008 crisis crushed real estate across the country (Northern Virginia/D.C. Metro fared relatively well) and is fresh on everybody’s minds, but it’s important to note some key differences between the Great Recession and other down markets.

First, that was a mortgage-based crisis so the real estate industry was hit directly. Second, prices were up despite high supply because demand was artificially high due to absurdly irresponsible lending practices that allowed people to buy much more than they could afford via low/easy entry into loans.

Mortgages over the last decade are much more conservative than the mortgages that led to the Great Recession. There are strict debt-to-income and credit limits, and predatory products/practices like zero interest balloon loans are all but eliminated from the market.

So the recent price appreciation is driven by a more natural supply/demand curve. Low supply because we’ve run out of land to build on and strong demand from much more qualified borrowers.

In three of the last five recessions, housing prices actually increased, as illustrated by the chart below from Attom Data Solutions and in a similar study by First American of the last three recessions, showing the dramatically different impact the 2008 crisis had on housing prices compared to other recessions.

Conclusion

I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not suggesting everything is going to be fine or that the real estate market won’t take a significant hit. That type of messaging from real estate “professionals” irks me almost as much as the idea that a market can simultaneously be great for buyers and sellers… that’s not how markets work (can’t help myself from the Esurance meme)!

It seems almost certain that negotiation leverage will favor buyers over the next 4-6 weeks. The critical question is whether or not buyers will have even more leverage months from now or whether markets will begin stabilizing, then return to the hyper-competitive market we had just a month ago.

The fact is that we have never experienced a complete economic shut-down like this, nor do we know how long it will last, and economic/real estate forecasting models aren’t tuned for this. It’s still too early to say with any level of certainty right now what the mid/long-term fallout will be for real estate or any other industry.

Be smart, be careful, be strategic. And stay home!