Are you Informed about Real Estate (Reader Poll)?

I would love to hear more from you in comments or by email (Eli@EliResidential.com) about your opinions on the availability of good real estate content – national or local market information, investing, best practices/how-to, etc. Whether it’s content you’d like to see here in my column or content you wish you could access from other sources, I’d love to hear!

Question #1: Are you informed on the real estate market?

A1: Yes, I seek out information and data regularly
A2: Somewhat, the news I follow includes enough to keep me informed
A3: Not really, I occasionally hear/read the headlines
A4: No, I don’t get any exposure to real estate news or information

Question #2: Are you happy with the real estate information/news you receive?

A1: Yes, I get exposure to the type and amount of real estate information I want
A2: No, I get real estate information but it’s not what I want
A3: No, it’s hard to find real estate information

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

Algorithm-based Real Estate Losing Millions in Northern VA

Question: I have recently seen two properties from Open Door listed for less than what they paid for it. Is that common for them or are these outliers?

Answer:

What is Algorithm-based Real Estate?

Algorithm-based buying and selling, also known as iBuying (2019 article here for more details), is when large companies/investors use algorithms (e.g. Zestimates) to assess a home’s value, purchase it (cash), and then resell it for a (hopeful) profit. These are arms-length transactions using corporate-level strategies rather than local ones.

The idea is that there are enough homeowners who value the ease and flexibility offered by iBuyers (cash, quick closings, no showings, etc) over getting a higher price that there’s billions in business for these companies (Open Door is currently valued over $3B). The acquisition and resale values of homes are determined by algorithms that these companies believe give them a clear picture of local markets across the country and competitive advantage at scale.

Zillow lost about $1B over 3.5 years using their pricing algorithms and shut down their iBuying business last year (article here for more details). After Zillow shuttered their iBuying business, it left Open Door as the biggest player in the industry. What makes them different than Zillow is that iBuying is their core business; for Zillow it was a supplemental revenue stream that risked hurting their core business.

I think the business in fundamentally flawed for many reasons, one of them being the massive disadvantages iBuyers are at during shifting market conditions. In strong markets, sellers can achieve the same or similar terms from everyday buyers and iBuyers are competing with everyday buyers on a house they haven’t seen, in a market they don’t know. In a weakening market (like we’re in now), properties they bought months earlier may be worth the same or less than they are when they’re being resold, so profits are smaller and losses much more common. 

The greater DC Metro area is a relatively small, unattractive market for iBuying for multiple reasons, one being our diverse housing stock makes it difficult to value/project using algorithms; areas with large scale tract housing tend to much more popular with iBuyers (and corporate buy and hold investors) because it’s much easier to calculate market values.

How It’s Going…

As noted earlier, Zillow exited the iBuying business after ~$1B in losses over 3.5 years, leaving Open Door (market cap $3B+) as the main players in this category. I was curious how Open Door’s business is performing in Northern VA so I dug into their data from this year.

I looked at all of Open Door’s currently active (88), currently under contract (29), and sold (35) properties in 2022 and found 152 properties. I was able to find Open Door’s purchase price on 112 of those properties via public records.

Of the 112 homes I found Open Door’s purchase price on, the total acquisition price for these properties was $63,464,400, for an average of $566,646 per property, ranging from $207,100 to $1,031,800. If we assume their average purchase price held for the 40 properties I couldn’t find an acquisition price for, we can estimate their total acquisition price for all 152 properties in this data set (Northern VA sold in 2022 or currently under contract or listed for sale) to be $86,130,257.

Based on the analysis below, I think they may end up losing $5M-$6M+ on these investments.

Known Losses on Closed, Under Contract, and Listed Homes

First, let’s take a look at the gains/losses I can calculate (Known Gains/Losses) based on the known data which is:

  • How much Open Door paid for 112 properties
  • How much settled properties sold for (including closing cost credits to the buyer)
  • How much under contract and active properties are listed for
  • That Open Door pays 2% of the sale price to buyer agents (note: in 2021 over 96% of sellers offered at least 2.5% to buyer agents, see analysis here).

I do not know what their other direct costs are including closing costs (on purchase and resale), carrying costs (taxes, HOA fees, utilities), improvements/repairs, marketing, etc but I will address those later in this article.

Here are some highlights on the Known Gains/Losses:

  • Known Gains on sold properties are just over $390,000
  • Known Losses on properties under contract or actively for sale are over -$1,458,000 if you assume the property sells for what it is currently listed at (unlikely, more on this later)
  • For the 40 properties I do not have the Open Door acquisition price for, I can confirm that they sold five properties for $479,413 less than they originally listed them for (including the 2% commission) and for the 35 homes currently for sale or under contract that I don’t have the Open Door acquisition price for, they’re listed for $1,727,003 less than the original asking prices
  • Of the 35 homes sold, they spent an average of 53 days on market and accepted a price on average 3.8% below the asking price. Only three sold over ask and another three sold for asking. These metrics fall well short of what sellers experienced earlier this year (the average home sold much faster and for at or above the list price).
  • The average property tax liability on these 152 homes is estimated to be roughly $71,000 per month
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Projected Losses on Under Contract and Listed Homes

In the section above, I calculated “Known Losses” on properties currently under contract and currently listed for sale by using the most recent list price as the projected sale price, but the reality is that most, if not all, will sell for less.

Of the 35 properties sold in 2022, Open Door accepted an average of 3.8% below their most recent list price with only three selling for over ask and just three more selling for asking price. This was during one of the hottest real estate markets ever, when the large majority of homes were selling for at or above the asking price.

If we assume that all properties currently under contract or for sale will sell for an average of 3.8% below the current list price (that’s probably too optimistic for Open Door), the projected Known Losses on the remaining homes is nearly $3,252,000!

Furthermore, this only accounts for losses on the 82 homes under contract or for sale that I know the Open Door acquisition price of, there are an additional 35 homes that are under contract or for sale that I do not have the acquisition price on so those homes could easily account for another $1M-$1.5M in projected Known Losses.

Additional Unknown Costs

There are plenty of additional direct and indirect costs that we know exist, but would be difficult or impossible for me to calculate including direct costs like their closing costs (e.g. transfer taxes) on the acquisition and resale, months of carrying costs like property taxes, Condo/HOA fees, and utilities, and any improvements/repairs prior to resale (it doesn’t appear they do much). There are also plenty of indirect costs of the operation including salaries of staff working on the deals, marketing each property, and more.

It’s likely that Open Door is taking on roughly $1M-$1.5M in additional direct unknown costs for these 152 transactions.

What Can We Conclude?

I think that we can safely assume that Open Door will be taking $5M-$6M+ in direct losses from the 152 homes they currently have for sale, under contract, or sold in 2022 in Northern VA.

For a company currently valued over $3B, these losses are meaningless; and Open Door reported nearly $1.5B in gross profit over the past 12 months (but losses on Operating Income), so clearly they’re winning big in other markets, but what conclusions can we draw from Open Door’s experience?

In my opinion, the most concerning data from Open Door’s Northern VA activity is not the millions in losses it’ll take on currently for sale and under contract properties, but the poor performance of their closed sales from earlier this year in a historically strong market. When you account for the unknown additional direct costs on those sales, Open Door is likely coming in at roughly break even. Additionally, the days on market and sold price to ask price ratio data (two key measures of resale success) is much worse than the rest of the market.

We can reasonably conclude that they overpaid for their acquisitions because they generated little-to-no profit, despite a rapidly appreciating market and we can conclude that their resale process/strategy (pricing, prep, listing management, negotiations, etc) performs significantly worse than market average.

As I mentioned above, they clearly are not having these problems in all markets because they’ve generated significant gross profits from their transactions (although they’re taking losses in Operating Income). Many markets are much easier to operate in with an arms-length, hands-off approach. Our market is not. I’ll leave you with some thoughts:

  • Local markets behave very differently and present vastly different nuances that make a national approach to local real estate difficult to execute
  • The greater DC Metro area market is a difficult one for algorithms to figure out because of the diversity in housing stock and nuances of price shifts over small geographic areas
  • The greater DC Metro area market will be a difficult market for high volume corporate buyers to profit from without taking a localized approach, which is expensive and complex
  • Our market is overwhelmingly full of smart, educated, and savvy home sellers and buyers relative to other markets which means that we are more likely to exploit flaws in corporate-level buying/selling strategies that are not specifically tuned to our market or markets like ours
  • There are plenty of examples where algorithms and/or arms-length, uninvolved are successful, there’s excessive risk of that approach in our market and it is unlikely to be more profitable than time-tested, human expertise in the long-run or at scale

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

Pay Closer Attention to Your Condo Homeowners Insurance (HO-6)

Question: What is the difference between my individual condo insurance and the Association’s master insurance policy and do I need my own insurance?

Answer: Every condo association has its own (expensive) Master Insurance policy to cover the common elements and limited common elements, but there are substantial gaps between the association’s policy and what you’re personally liable for without an individual HO-6 policy. Most people shop for the cheapest, fastest individual insurance policy and apply just enough coverage to meet the lender’s requirements, but that may put you at financial risk.

To explain common gaps between master policies and HO-6 (individual condo) policies, I’d like to re-introduce Andrew Schlaffer, Owner and President of ACO Insurance Group. Andrew is an expert in Master Insurance policies and has helped multiple local condo association’s reduce their cost and improve their coverage since writing a column on the topic last year. If you’d like to contact Andrew directly to review your association’s master policy, you can reach him at (703) 595-9760 or andrew@acoinsgrp.com.

Take it away Andrew…

Master Insurance vs Individual Insurance Policy

Nearly all master insurance policies in this area are written on a Single Entity basis which means coverage extends to general and limited common elements but also extends within individual units to fixtures, appliances, walls, floor coverings, and cabinetry, but only for like kind and quality to that conveyed by the developer to the original owner.

Items not covered by the master insurance policy and are generally not the association’s responsibility include:

  • Personal Property (clothes, electronics, furniture, money, artwork, jewelry)
  • Betterments and Improvements (demonstrable upgrades completed after the initial conveyance)
  • Additional Living Expenses (the cost to live at a temporary location, storage fees, loss of rents)
  • Personal Liability (provides protection for bodily injury or property damage claims arising from your unit)
  • Loss Assessment (triggered only if there is a covered cause of loss and the master insurance policy limits are exhausted; this assessment would apply collectively to all unit owners)
  • Medical Payments (no fault coverage available for injured guests within your unit)

Condo owners should purchase an individual condo insurance policy (HO-6), which is also required by lenders. This policy can provide coverage for the items listed above.

Review Your Dwelling Coverage

Dwelling Coverage should be included in every HO-6 policy to avoid significant out-of-pocket expenses. Many condo associations can hold you responsible for expenses that fall under the master policy deductible that are caused by the owner’s act, neglect, misuse, or carelessness. Due to the rise in water damage losses, many insurance carriers are increasing their deductibles, which in turn spurs the need for homeowners to adjust their dwelling insurance limit.

In a recent instance, a condo suffering from significant water damage losses was required by its insurance carrier to increase the master insurance policy deductible from $10,000 to $25,000. In this community, each homeowner should have at least $25,000 of dwelling coverage to indemnify them for the deductible expense in the event a claim arises from their unit. If coverage is not available, the homeowner would either pay this expense personally or the association can put a lien on their unit.

Dwelling coverage should also include a homeowner’s betterments and improvements (improvements made above what the builder originally delivered), including those completed by prior owners. Most lenders will require at least 20% of the unit’s market value insured under this coverage as well. 

What Information to Share with Your Insurance Provider

You should always review the condo association’s governing documents and understand the applicable statutory requirements (i.e. Virginia Condominium Act) and lender requirements to verify their individual responsibilities, including maintenance/repair and insurance. Along with sharing the association documents, homeowners should also provide their personal insurance agent with the following:

  • What is the master policy deductible? ($5,000, $10,000, $25,000)
  • What approach is used for the condominium insurance coverage? (Single Entity)

My Recommendation for HO-6/Other Individual Policies

Thank you, Andrew, hopefully this helps at least a handful of readers better protect themselves.

I find that most buyers go straight for the path of least resistance and cheapest premiums for their insurance coverage. Adding coverage to your existing auto policy in 5-10 minutes probably means that nobody reviewed your association’s Master Insurance policy and thus you’re at risk of coverage gaps. Personally, I’d rather pay a bit more to know that my policies have been designed with some personal attention and reviewed annually for gaps. Andrew and his team can handle this for you as well.

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.
Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

Housing Slowdown More Extreme in Outer Suburbs

Question: Are you seeing different patterns in the housing market slowdown in different parts of the region?

Answer: In September 2020, I wrote an article highlighting how extreme the differences were between the demand shift in Arlington compared to outer suburbs like Fairfax and Loudoun Co. In short, Arlington was competitive before the COVID surge and the outer suburbs lagged far behind it, but once the COVID surge began, Arlington became moderately more competitive while the outer suburbs experienced an extreme shift in market conditions, becoming more competitive than Arlington in just a few months.

Fast-forward two years and we are seeing something of a rubberband-effect as the entire housing market slows down, with noticeable shifts in all markets, but more extreme shifts in the outer suburbs. Not that we are witnessing anything close to a crash, the market is still good for sellers, but very different than what we’ve seen the last two years.

Note: this analysis focused on the single-family/detached housing market, not condos or townhouses

Outer Suburbs Slowing Faster, Arlington King of Stability

Months of Supply (MoS), a measure of supply and demand that calculates how long existing inventory levels will last based on the current pace of demand (lower levels favor sellers), tells the story better than any other metric.

In the charts below, you can see our regional story of the pre-COVID, COVID, and current real estate market play out:

  • Competition in the outer suburbs generally trailed the DC and Arlington markets, offering buyers more time and leverage in their purchase decisions
  • After Amazon announced HQ2 in November 2018, MoS in Arlington dropped sharply as demand picked up and supply dropped, with a more modest, lagging effect on the surrounding markets
  • The COVID market from roughly summer 2020-spring 2022 sent MoS lower (favorable to sellers) in all markets, but the drop in MoS in outer suburbs was more extreme, pushing those markets well below Arlington and DC, making them extraordinarily competitive
  • As of July 2022, MoS in the outer suburbs was still lower than Arlington and DC, but rapidly increasing. The year-over-year increase in MoS in Loudoun County was 94.4%, nearly double what it was in July 2021. The increases in MoS were 67.4% (DC), 41.6% (Fairfax Co), and 27.8% (Arlington).
  • You can see the steadiness and strength of the Arlington housing market playout over the past five years in these two charts
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Market Shift is Demand-Driven

You can blame the sudden market shift almost entirely on a drop in demand, not more listing volume. Absorption Rate (AR) measures the percentage of homes going under contract compared to the number of homes for sale and is a good way of measuring demand.

In the charts below, check out the massive spikes in demand for Loudoun County during the market peaks and the rapid fall over the last few months. You’ll notice in the five-year history that the AR for all four markets shown was pretty similar pre-COVID, increased far rapidly in the outer suburbs during the COVID market, but in just the last couple of months, all four markets have come together to their “natural” pre-COVID levels.

The AR in Loudoun Co dropped 60.1% year-over-year in July and Arlington had the lowest year-over-year drop in AR of the four markets, at 35.7%. DC dropped by 48.9% and Fairfax Co by 40.6%. Loudoun Co capped out at an astonishing 3.1 AR in February, fell to 1.49 by April, and came in at .57 in July. Loudoun and Fairfax Cos remain slightly ahead of Arlington and DC, but I suspect those rankings will reverse in the August/September readings.

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Want another sign of lower demand? The average sold price as a percentage of the asking price has dropped from 105.1%-106.7% in April to 100.7%-101.4% in July. Keep in mind that these are trailing metrics because they are based on sales (usually 3-6 weeks after going under contract), so these are reading from contracts in Feb/Mar and May/June, respectively. I think we will see the average sold price to ask price drop below 100% in most or all four of these markets by the time September data is published, which will reflect contracts from July/Aug.

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Listing Activity Remains Stable

As noted above, the market shift can be attributed almost completely to lower demand because listing activity remains similar to historical volumes, even down a bit, which is an opposing force on lower demand and helping to maintain a more favorable market for sellers.

The charts below show new listings of single-family homes in Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties, and DC, following by the same chart for the DC Metro and Northern VA region, and finally a chart just for Arlington since Arlington is a bit hard to see on the first chart. The main takeaway is that across all regional markets, the number of single-family homes being listed for sale has remained steady over the past five years and the fluctuations in market conditions are almost completely driven by changes in demand.

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.
Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

2022 Arlington Mid-Year Single-Family Home Review

Question: How did the Arlington single-family home market perform in the first half of 2022?

Answer: We have reached two years of the average single-family home (SFH) in Arlington selling for
over the asking price, but like the rest of the economy, things are finally cooling down. However, the
“cool-down” data won’t start showing up for another month or two and the data you’ll see here, a
review of the first half of 2022, reflects what was mostly a red-hot market.

More Competitive, Less Price Growth?
By nearly all measures, the first half of 2022 was more competitive than the first half of 2021, yet we
got lower average and median price growth in ’22 than in ’21, compared to the first half of the year
prior.

The competition in the first half of 2022 was unlike anything we’ve seen in Arlington before with the
average SFH selling for 4.2% more than the asking price, compared to an average of 1.8% over ask
in the first half of 2021. In 2022, an insane 79% of homes sold within the first 10 days on market,
compared to 70% in 2021 and 73% of homes sold at or above asking price in 2022, compared to 66%
in 2021.

With such intense demand, one would expect to see higher price growth in 2022 than in 2021, but
that’s not the case. The average and median price change in the first half of 2022 was 7.1% and
5.6%, respectively, compared to the first half of 2021. From 2020 to 2021, the average and median
price change was 9.6% and 16.6%, respectively.

I think the reason for conflicting demand and appreciation data is two-fold. First, the 2021
appreciation is based on the first half of 2020, which included the first few months of COVID
lockdowns when the market basically froze, so those prices may have been somewhat artificially
deflated. However, the counter argument to that is comparing the first half 2020 prices to 2019 prices,
we got a healthy 5% appreciation in average price.

The second reason, and this is just a theory, is that by 2022 the market (sellers and listing agents)
knew that buyers were accustomed to paying significantly over the asking price and thus set more
conservative (lower) asking prices to ensure competition instead of setting prices that were more
reflective of actual/likely market values. Doing so would artificially inflate some demand measures
without causing a coinciding explosion in prices.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in the first half of 2020, the market has experienced the
following:

  • Median price increased by $225,000 or 23%
  • Average price increased $197,000 or 17.5%
  • Average seller credit (towards buyer closing costs) decreased by 75%
  • The number of homes sold for $2M+ increased from 5% to 11% of total sales
  • The number of homes sold for under $1M decreased from 53% to 31% of total sales


22205 Leads Growth, 22201 Still Most Expensive
The 22201 and 22207 zip codes remain significantly more expensive than other Arlington zip codes
as the only two with an average price higher than the county-wide average. The 22205 zip code has
benefitted from tremendous growth over the past five years and led the way in the first half of 2022
price growth, adding 12.7% to its 2021 first half average.

After gaining 19.8% in 2021, 22204 settled back down to a 5.1% increase on average price in 2022
and remains the only zip code with an average price below $1M, but with more new construction
popping up throughout the 22204 neighborhoods, I don’t expect the sub-$1M average price to last
much longer.

Market Conditions Are Demand-Driven
We hear a lot about under-supply being the main cause of extreme competition and significant price
appreciation. While that is true — we have been running low over the last few years on homes actively
listed for sale — the reason for the low supply is almost exclusively demand-driven (high absorption
rates) not because the number of homes being listed for sale has collapsed. As you can see from the
chart below, illustrating the number of SFH listed for sale in each quarter over the last decade, the
amount of inventory coming to market has remained relatively consistent.

What has changed is how quickly those homes are being purchased and that has caused the
average number of SFH actively for sale to drop significantly, per the chart below. One thing that is
particularly well illustrated is how much more of an effect the Amazon HQ2 announcement
(November 2018) had on demand, and thus active supply, compared to the COVID market that had
such a dramatic effect on other regional and national markets.

Looking Ahead
We have absolutely seen a shift in market conditions over the last couple of months. Good homes are
sitting on the market through the first week(s), more sellers are reducing their asking price, and
buyers are negotiating more contingencies.

This is all, in my opinion, a very good thing. This is not the bottom falling out in Arlington, rather just
regaining some much-needed balance.

Will softer market conditions lead to a drop in prices? Maybe a little. There will certainly be some
sales from the first half of this year that seem extraordinarily high versus comparable sales in the
second half of the year, but I think on aggregate we won’t see much of a dip in pricing, mostly just a
leveling off.

The best support for that theory comes from the fact that we didn’t experience the same extreme shift
in demand/pricing during the COVID market that other regional and national markets did. We were
already experiencing a competitive, moderately high-growth market prior to COVID due to natural
market forces created by increased demand on the news of a massive new employer, Amazon, so I
expect our market to be able to hold most, if not all, of its value through the cool-down. I also expect
things to pick right back up in 2023 if interest rates come down a bit by the end of the year, like
they’re expected to.

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

2022 Arlington Mid-Year Condo Review

Question: How did the Arlington condo market perform in the first half of 2022?

Answer: It has been quite a ride for the Arlington condo market over the past four years!
After a long stretch of relatively little appreciation from ~2013-2018, the condo market surged on the November 2018 news of Amazon HQ2 and then flatlined when COVID lockdowns began in the spring of 2020. Beginning in the summer of 2020, condo inventory flooded the market in record volume, causing the market to soften and prices to drop.

Conditions were improving by the summer of 2021 as demand picked up. By early 2022, competition return to the market with more multiple offers and escalations. The competition didn’t last long, as the entire housing market began to slow due to high interest rates and worsening economic conditions. After much volatility in the condo market since late 2018, I think we are finally seeing signs of the market finding its natural balance — moderately favorable for sellers, while providing buyers with a range of options and the occasional opportunity for a discount.

Let’s look at the stats behind the first half of the 2022 Arlington condo market…

Pace of New Inventory Evens Out

From 2013-2018, the Arlington condo market averaged ~500 and ~700 new listing in the first and second quarter, respectively. Those numbers dropped off a cliff in 2019 and 2020 because people chose to hold properties because of Amazon’s announcement (Q1 2019-Q1 2020) and then held in Q2 2020 because nobody knew what to do when COVID hit. Then the pace of inventory surged at a record-shattering pace from the summer of 2020 through the end of 2021.

Inventory levels finally came down to earth, closer to their 2013-2018 averages, with 576 and 651 new condo listings in the first and second quarters of 2022, respectively.

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Supply/Demand Levels Back to Normal-ish

With the easing of new inventory volume and demand coming back to level, Months of Supply (a measure that combines supply levels with the pace of demand) has returned to levels more in-line with pre-Amazon years and what I would consider to be the Arlington condo market’s natural balance.

Housing economists consider six months of supply to be a truly balanced market for buyers and sellers, but we rarely see a sub-market around here that gets close to six months. 1.5-2 months of supply is a favorable market for sellers, but it usually takes less than one month of supply for multiple offers and escalations to become a common occurrence. 

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Demand Metrics Tell Similar Story

The return to balance is showing up on the supply and demand sides of the equation, although demand seems to be marginally stronger that it was pre-Amazon announcement, which I’d attribute to how expensive townhouse/single-family properties have gotten lately, driving more demand towards less expensive condos.

What we can see from the chart below is that the speed of the market, measured by the percentage of properties going under contract within the first ten days, has improved over last year but has fallen well below 2019/2020 levels. The same goes for the percentage of properties selling for at or above the asking price.

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Good Half-Year for Two-Bedroom Condos

All pricing data points to the first half of 2022 being a great year for two-bedroom condos and an okay year for one-bedroom units. Here are some key pricing data points:

  • The median price of a two-bedroom condo increased 11.7% to $550,000 in the first half of 2022 compared to the first half of 2021
  • The median price of a one-bedroom increased 3% to $380,000
  • The average price of a two-bedroom increased 15.7% to $620,616 compared to 3% to $381,220 for a one-bedroom condo
  • On a $/SqFt basis, two-bedroom condos increased 7.4% to $517/SqFt compared to 2.8% to $497/SqFt for one-bedrooms

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

Should Your Condo Building Have a Rental Cap?

Question: Do you think it is a good idea for our condo board to consider setting a cap on the number of units that can be rented at a given time?

Answer: One of the most common debates within condo buildings is whether an Association should limit the number of condo units that can be rented concurrently. There are some benefits of limiting the number of owners who can rent out their unit(s), but I think it’s the wrong decision for most buildings because it can hurt property values and is unnecessary, in most cases.

For the sake of clarity, when I refer to rental/investor units in a building, I am referring to individual unit owners renting their unit(s) out to tenants instead of occupying it themselves (they are considered investors).

Lending Misinformation

There is a lot of misinformation out there about how the number of rental units in a building effect the warrantability of a building (ability of future buyers to secure a mortgage). Here are the limits you need to be aware of:

  • Fannie/Freddie Loans: Conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac do not have any rental limits for primary and secondary home loans. They limited the number of rentals in a building to 50% for investor loans only.
  • VA (Veterans) Loans: No rental limits. The VA does not like seeing rental caps and may not approve a building for VA loans if they do have rental limits in place.
  • FHA Loans: FHA loans are restricted in buildings with more than 50% of units rented. FHA loans represent a small percentage of the loans written in this area.
  • Jumbo/Private Loans: High balance loans (over $970,800 loan amount), not insured by Fannie/Freddie, have a wide range of guidelines. Some have rental restrictions and others don’t, but in general jumbo/private loans tend to have more conservative lending guidelines and a higher chance of restricting a loan due to the number of units being rented. However, many banks will make exceptions, especially with higher (30%+) down payments and there are many alternative lending options in the jumbo/private arena a buyer can choose from.

Pro: Better Quality of Living

Owner-occupants generally invest more in their home, take better care of common areas, and take more pride in developing a strong social community. In small associations or those intent on maintaining a certain standard of living, quality of living may prevail over property value.

Cons: Buyer Turn-Off, Forced Sales

Many buyers want to keep their options open to renting a unit out after they are done using it as their primary residence and are turned off by the idea of a rental cap and plenty will not buy in a building if there is a cap, even if it’s unlikely to be reached. By turning otherwise motivated and qualified buyers away, you’re bound to hurt the market value of units in your building.

If a rental cap is reached and enforced, it can hurt market values even more because homeowners are forced to sell if they move out and a forced sale may result in a homeowner agreeing to take a worse deal when they would have otherwise chosen to rent the unit until they can sell into a strong market.

Track Rental Activity in Your Building

Even if you do not have a rental cap, it’s still important to track which units are being rented out. At a minimum, your Board/Management should receive a copy of each lease and keep a basic spreadsheet to be able to report on which units are being rented. In my experience, I have found that most buildings in Arlington settle into a rental percentage of 20-35%. For some buildings, like those in the heart of Clarendon, I see higher rental percentages, sometimes exceeding 50%.

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.
Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

Is it a Good Time to Sell?

Question: I have seen and heard that homes are sitting on the market and reducing prices lately, is it still a good time to sell?

Answer: I’ve noted in some recent articles (example) that we’ve seen a shift in market conditions; beginning around late April/early May when rates started hitting 5%+, the stock market struggles became more serious, and more banks and economists indicated higher risks of a recession. If you’ve followed national news, you’ve also likely read about cooling across the country, including some of the markets that led the market boom over the last ~18-22 months.

For the first time in a long time, homeowners are asking if now is a good or bad time to sell. There’s no one answer for everybody, but here are some things that everybody should consider.

It’s a Seller Market, Concerns are (Mostly) Relative

We are still very much in a seller’s market, but it seems worrisome because we are transitioning out of a historically insane seller’s market that we may not see again for a long time. So, the perception that the market is struggling is relative to what we’ve seen in the last ~18-22 months, but still looks quite favorable relative to a longer-term view.

The chart below shows Months of Supply (the lower it is, the stronger the market is for sellers) in Northern VA for detached (single-family) and attached (townhouse/condo) homes. MoS is increasing (and I expect to see a sharper increase in the chart in future months) but still very low relative to historical standards with quite a ways to go before it even reaches 5-10 year averages.

But what about the price reductions? It is accurate that more properties (including single-family homes in good condition) are going through price reductions to attract buyers, but that can be expected during a transition period as sellers and buyers adjust to new market conditions. A lot of the price reductions I’m seeing are to properties that overshot their asking price because they likely expected momentum to continue from earlier this year.

Interest Rate Problem

Interest rates are the biggest problem and biggest unknown in predicting how the market will hold up through the remainder of the year. Most experts expect rates to end the year at around 5%, but it’s very difficult to say what the path there will look like. For rates to finish the year around 5%, we will have to get inflation numbers under control and that has proven more difficult and less predictable than expected.

If rates continue to rise and reach the 6.5%-7% range, I think that we will see a very negative reaction in demand and motivated sellers will end up taking sizeable discounts to push a sale through. However, it seems more plausible that rates have peaked, will level off, and hopefully, begin to fall slowly as inflation comes under control.

Stability in the rate market is critical to maintaining demand at this point and if we move into an environment with gradually falling rates, we should see demand tick up.

Keep Seasonality in Mind

If you plan to sell in the second half of the year, make sure to account for seasonality in setting proper expectations. Historically, we experience a slower, less active market (on both the supply and demand side) in the second half of the year. Couple that with the macroeconomics that have created headwinds over the past two months, and you’ll need to calibrate expectations accordingly. The chart below shows historical monthly activity for supply and contracts during a normal year in Arlington.

July, August, November, and December tend to bring notably less demand (holidays slower than summer) with a moderate bump in activity after Labor Day, through October/early November.

Finally, Homes to Move Into

This may seem counterintuitive, but for a lot of (potential) sellers, a slower market may be a good thing if you are also looking to buy. Depending on your situation, you could benefit more from a slower market as a buyer than you suffer from it as a seller. This will depend on what you’re selling, what you’re buying, where you’re buying, your financing, and more.

Seller concerns over becoming buyers in a market that was producing double-digit offers and contracts within days were keeping many homeowners from moving and thus furthering the supply/demand gap we’re dealing with.

Statistics vs Real-Life

The question of when to buy and sell is a popular question and there are several ways to make an informed decision using historical data, but when you look at that data, the success metrics are not vastly different between the best and worst times of the year. Plus, timing markets is nearly impossible. Your personal situation(s) and preference(s) should be the most important factors in deciding when the right time is to sell (or buy).

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.
Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

Are Home Warranties Worth it?

Question: Do you think it’s worth it to buy a home warranty and, if so, is there a provider you recommend?

Answer: Last week I talked about mitigating the risk of not doing a home inspection and failed to mention that purchasing a home warranty can also help reduce the risk of buying a home, regardless of whether or not you do an inspection.

What Is a Home Warranty?

Home warranties protect many of the systems in your home including things like the HVAC (heating and cooling), appliances, and water heater. If one of those systems stops working while you’re covered, the warranty provider will repair or replace the system, or cut you a check to replace it yourself. One year of protection generally ranges from a few hundred dollars to one thousand dollars, depending on the scope of coverage.

Most home warranties are purchased by or for a homebuyer just before closing, but sellers can also purchase a warranty and benefit from protection during the sale period, or if something comes up on the home inspection, then transfer the protection on to the buyer. Homeowners can also buy a warranty at any time after buying a home, it doesn’t have to be associated with a sale. The provider usually requires a month or so between the time of purchase and coverage taking effect to prevent people from buying a warranty just when something goes wrong (pre-existing condition).

Are They Worth the Cost?

I generally find home warranties to be worth the cost for at least the first year of ownership. If the home you’re buying has old systems, consider buying multi-year coverage. Think of the expense like you would home or auto insurance. If you’re somebody who prefers to pay higher premiums for more coverage/peace of mind, a home warranty probably makes sense for you.

A common scenario I see where home warranties pay-off is with HVACs when a new owner transitions from heating to air conditioning in the spring. During the winter, it’s often to cold outside to test the air conditioning during the home inspection so AC issues may present themselves after closing. With a home warranty, those issues should be covered.

Recommendation: Super Home Warranty

Warranty companies tend have bad reputations with complaints ranging from difficulty filing claims, low quality contractors, and lengthy delays. There were a few years that I stopped recommending warranties to most clients because of all the issues people were experiencing.

For the last ~5 years I have been recommending Super Home Warranty and have their coverage on my personal home. They’re responsive, have a good user platform/app, use high quality contractors for repairs, and I’ve yet to run into an unreasonable claim denial.

They also have some valuable inclusions that other warranty companies don’t offer like a contractor concierge that gives you access to their vetted contractors and a bunch of add-on services for a small fee like re-keying locks, carpet cleaning, and HVAC cleaning.

It’s worth noting that I don’t get anything from Super for recommending them, just in case this seems like a sales pitch ☺

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

So, you’re not doing a home inspection?

Question: Do you have any advice to help reduce the risk of not doing a home inspection before buying a house?

Answer: The unfortunate reality of the current market (and the market of the last ~18 months) is that, in most cases, to make a competitive offer on a home, buyers are absorbing all the risks (financing, appraisal, inspection, etc). Understanding the risk/benefit trade-offs and the downside potential of these risks is critical in such a fast-paced, expensive real estate market.

Risk Management is Critical

If I had to guess, I would say that at least 75-80% of winning offers on local homes that go under contract within the first 1-2 weeks do not have a home inspection contingency, meaning they are either not doing a home inspection at all (unfortunately common) or doing a pre-offer home inspection. As with nearly every decision you make in real estate, this needs to be done with great consideration for the cost of the risk and the value of the upside to make sure it is the right decision for you on a specific property.

Part of that risk assessment is making a determination on the condition of the home – whether it has “good bones.” Having a home inspection done is the best way to reduce the risk of buying a home with condition/maintenance issues but is no guarantee that everything will be caught. If you can’t do a home inspection, seeing a home with a trusted, experienced real estate agent or somebody in the home building/improvement industry (contractor, builder, etc) is also a good way to reduce your risk.

Property condition/maintenance issues show up in a multitude of ways. Below I’ve summarized some tips on assessing a home’s condition from inspectors I work with, an article written by Stephanie Dickens of BOWA, a local design-build firm, and my personal experience.

Observe How Water Moves

Water is a home’s worst enemy and poor water management can lead to water pooling against a home and getting into the cracks of the foundation, which can lead to structural deterioration over time. A musty-smelling basement is a sign of poor water management. Look at where gutters drain – I often find that they’re dropping water right next to the house instead of sending it away. Look at the grading (slope of the yard) and if water is running towards the house, look for drainage systems. Sump pumps are nice, but they should be connected to a battery backup in case power goes out.

Good vs Bad Cracks

Cracks can be deceiving. Something as small as a crack in the drywall could be a sign of larger structural issues but are most likely cosmetic. Straight, hairline cracks above openings or at joints, like the one pictured below to the left, are nothing to be alarmed about.  If you see jagged, diagonal cracks that are wider than 1/8”, like the one below to the right, the house may have settlement issues or insufficient framing. A pattern of uneven floors and cracking around support (e.g. lintels) in one section of a home can be a sign of a bigger issue.

Level Floors Are a Good Sign

A nice, level floor indicates good structural support. If you look up to where the ceiling and the wall meet, the corner crease should be mostly straight. If the floor looks wavy or dips down in the middle, the floor joists may be sagging and need reinforcement. Uneven floors do not necessarily indicate a problem, rather is a justification for a harder look to see if there are other signs of active issues. We have plenty of well-built old homes with uneven floors around here that have been that way, without issues, for decades.

Jump Around

Stand on your tiptoes then drop down hard on your heels. Do this at various points in the house to test the deflection in different areas. All wood-framed floors are going to have some deflection, but you don’t want it to feel like you’re jumping on a trampoline. Too much bounce is an indicator of insufficient structural support.

Young At Heart

A house with newer core systems is not just a sign of good maintenance, but it’s a huge money-saver in renovations. Check on the age of the windows, roof, HVAC, water heater, plumbing, electrical, and main sewer/water lines. Any of these systems that are in the first half of their expected useful lifespan add tremendous value.

Permits Help, but Not the Whole Story

If a home has been updated or expanded, look for permits on the County permit status website, but remember that permits and quality work are not necessarily directly correlated. I’ve seen far too many permitted projects with quality issues and plenty of unpermitted projects done at a high level. Permits are a good sign, but not the entire story.

Look for Signs of Cover-up

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you see recently painted foundation walls, patched ceilings, or brand-new flooring in the basement. They may be perfectly innocent attempts at improving the aesthetics of an ugly basement wall or old carpet, but they are also signs of covering up moisture or cracking issues. Sellers in Virginia do not have to disclose defects, but they cannot actively hide, mislead, or lie about them.

Quality Care and Repair

One of the most important judgments I try to make when looking at a home is how attentive a homeowner was to issues as they came up and how likely it was that they addressed them with quality service and solutions instead of cheap patches. There’s no specific formula for this, but there are usually signs throughout a home that suggest solid long-term maintenance vs one-time, cost-conscious listing prep. I look for the quality of materials and craftsmanship in work that was done while the owner was living in the home. For example, the choice in appliances, windows, shingles, and plumbing fixtures. Signs of attentiveness and quality in the things you can see are often suggestive of the same care in the things you can’t see.

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

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column or to discuss buying, selling, renting, or investing, please send an email to Eli@EliResidential.com. To read any of my older posts, visit the blog section of my website at EliResidential.com. Call me directly at (703) 539-2529.

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.

Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.