Interest Rate Forecasts and New Loan Limits

Question: What are current forecasts for mortgage rates in 2023 and beyond?

Answer: Happy New Year everybody!

A few weeks ago, I posted a “Beyond the Headlines” deep dive with James Baublitz, VP of Capital Markets at First Home Mortgage, into why interest rates have increased so much.

As the calendar turns, many of you will be kicking off your home search and asking about current and forecasted interest rates, so I’ll cover that today, plus a quick note on recent loan limit increases for down payments as low as 3%.

What is a “Normal” Mortgage Rate?

The first thing to understand about mortgage interest rates is that they are market-driven and forecasting comes with the same amount of unpredictability as any other economic/market-based forecasting (GDP, Unemployment, Stocks, etc). Take predictions/forecasts with a grain of salt.

The other truth that is best illustrated by the chart below, which shows the average 30yr fixed mortgage rate since 1971, is that there really is no established “normal” interest rate that we can point to and say “this is what you can expect when markets stabilize.” So, use caution when relying on assumptions about future rates (e.g. for a refi).

Graphical user interface, chart, application, line chart

Description automatically generated

Forecasting Future Rates

Most major forecasting organizations including Mortgage Bankers Association, Freddie Mac, and National Association of Realtors (NAR) believe rates will steadily decrease through 2023 and that trend will continue into 2024.

Mortgage Bankers Association expects rates to fall faster than Freddie Mac and NAR, with average 30yr fixed rates hitting mid 5s by the 2nd quarter and low 5s by the end of 2023. They forecast that rates will be in the 4s by Q1/Q2 2024 and believe the long-term stable rate to average 4.4%.

Table

Description automatically generated

Freddie Mac sees rates remaining in the mid 6s for most of 2023 and closing out the year at an average of 6.2%.

Table

Description automatically generated

NAR expects the average 30yr fixed rate will hover just above 6% in the first half of 2023 and then settle into the upper 5s in the second half of the year:

Chart

Description automatically generated

Higher Loan Limits for Lower Down Payments

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) just released new conforming loan limits for 2023, with significant increases to reflect recent price growth. The jurisdictions in the greater DC Metro area were given the maximum loan ceiling of $1,089,300.

Beginning this year, Fannie/Freddie will insure loans up to $1,089,300 with as little as 5% down, or the equivalent of a purchase price just under $1,115,000 with 5% down. The new conforming limits increase the maximum loan amount with 3% down to $726,200, or the equivalent of a purchase price just under $749,000 with 3% down.

For any conforming loan (or any loan for that matter), borrowers must also qualify on several factors including credit score, debt-to-income ratio, first-time buyer status, and more. Feel free to reach out to me for lender recommendations if you’d like to explore your mortgage options.

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.

Most Expensive Homes Sold in the DMV in 2022

Question: What were some of the most expensive homes sold this year in the DMV?

Answer: Happy holidays and new year everybody!

It’s always fun to look back at the most expensive homes sold in our nook of the world, so without further ado, let’s take a look at the most expensive homes sold this year in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Note: this includes what is entered into the MLS, it’s certainly possible (likely) that expensive homes have traded hands privately outside of the MLS.

The most expensive home sold this year in all three DMV states is a beautiful 550-acre estate, with a private 18-hole golf course, in Upperville VA that sold for $23.5M! Despite the hefty price tag, it falls well short of the record sales from 2018, 2020, and 2021 that all cleared $40M.

Listing by John Coles, Thomas and Talbot Estate Properties, Inc (1584 Rokeby Rd, Upperville, VA)

Top 5 Most Expensive Sales in Arlington

Listing by Robert Hryniewicki, Washington Fine Properties (3433 N Albemarle St, Arlington, VA)

Arlington’s average and median prices are sky-high, but the area generally likes ultra high-end properties we see elsewhere in the region. Arlington’s most expensive sale this year is a new build in Country Club Hills clocking in at 7,450 SqFt, seven bedrooms, seven full bathrooms, and two half baths. The property sits on an unusually large (for Arlington) .39-acre lot.

Top 5 Most Expensive Sales in Alexandria

Listing by Preston Innerst, EYA Marketing (5 Pioneer Mill #502, Alexandria, VA)

The most expensive sale in Alexandria is a townhouse built in 1800 in Old Town that sits on nearly ¼ acre with over 6,000 SqFt and seven bedrooms. Pictured above is the second priciest sale in Alexandria, a waterfront penthouse condo in Robinson Landing with nearly 2,800 SqFt for $4,509,000.

Top 5 Most Expensive Sales in Fairfax County

Sold by Daniel Heider, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty (576 Innsbruck Ave, Great Falls, VA)

The most expensive sale in Fairfax County comes in at $11M for a 20,000 SqFt home recently built one block from Langley High School. Pictured above is the second most expensive sale in Fairfax County of a sprawling Great Falls residence on five acres, built in 2007, sold for $10.5M.

Top 5 Most Expensive Sales in Loudoun County

Listing by Cricket Bedford, Thomas and Talbot Estate Properties (21827 Quaker Ln, Middleburg, VA)

The most expensive sale in Loudoun County for $4,950,000 of nearly 190 acres with an active Angus cattle operation.

Top 5 Most Expensive Sales in Washington DC

Listing by Michael Rankin, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty (3017 O St NW, Washington, DC)

3017 O St NW in Georgetown is Washington DC’s most expensive sale, at $11.5M, for nearly 8,000 SqFt on over ¼ acre.

Top 5 Most Expensive Sales in Maryland

Listing by Brad Kappel, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty (3235 Harness Creek Rd, Annapolis, MD)

The most expensive sale in Maryland is a beautiful waterfront home in Annapolis with over 3.5 acres and nearly 12,000 SqFt, built in 2014 for $12,000,000.

I hope this makes for some fun conversation during the holidays about what type of ultra high-end home you would buy if you win the lottery! But I’ll be honest, the most expensive homes this year aren’t nearly as impressive as last year’s (link if you want it).

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.

Arlington Condo Market Performance Metrics

Question: How has Arlington’s condo market reacted to higher interest rates?

Answer: In last week’s column, I looked at performance metrics for detached homes in Arlington, shared my thoughts on local pricing behavior, and discussed news about the national vs local real estate market. This week we will look at the underlying performance metrics in Arlington’s robust condo market.

Underlying Arlington Market Performance Data for Condos

Here’s how I approached the data used in this week’s analysis:

  • Low-, mid-, and high-rise condos only
  • Resale data only, no new construction
  • All data is presented by the month a home was listed in so we can measure how home sales performed based on the month they came to market
  • Net Sold = Sold Price less Seller Credits
  • I used data from 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2022 because I think it offers a helpful snapshot of recent Arlington markets to compare 2022 to. 2017 was our last “normal” market because Amazon HQ2 was announced Nov 2018 and that kicked off a condo craze. 2019 was the first full year with the Amazon bump, but pre-COVID market, and 2021 was a full year of the COVID-driven shift in condo demand.

I either did not use or must caution your interpretation of this year’s August-November data because it is incomplete for purposes of this analysis. There are 13, 26, 39, and 42 condos actively for sale that were listed in August, September, October, and November, respectively, which will influence the performance metrics for those months when they do contract/close and most likely will result in worse performance metrics than those months currently show.

There are only 10 condos still for sale listed January-July that will likely pull down the performance metrics for those months once they contract/close, but not enough for me to be concerned about the resulting data being presented in this analysis.

Business as Usual for Condos

While the detached market was on fire in 2021 and early 2022, the condo market performed mostly along the lines of historical metrics, except for one month, February 2022, when average sold prices climbed slightly above the original asking price. As a result, high interest rates have led to a more modest reversal in pricing behavior over the last six months, compared to the detached market.

The only time in the last 15 years that we’ve seen a real acceleration in condo prices was during 2019 (and pre-COVID 2020) as a result of Amazon’s HQ2 announcement.

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

Pace of the Condo Market Slightly Below Normal

We had a few months during the peak of the 2022 market where the pace of sales came close to the craziness we experienced in 2019, after Amazon announced HQ2, but average days on market has returned to its normal seasonal trends. As more data rolls in for closings in August-December, I expect the average days on market for the last 3-4 months of 2022 to exceed historical averages, but not by much.

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

One of my favorite performance metrics is the percentage of homes that sell within 10/30 days. I think it beats average and median days on market for a true understanding of the pace of a market.

As opposed to average days on market, these charts indicate that high interest rates have slowed the pace of the condo market beyond the usual seasonal slowdown, with a notably slow October where just 38% of condos listed sold within 30 days. Expect to see these metrics fall even further as more condos listed after July contract and close.

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated
Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

Looking Forward

Condo pricing tends to be pretty stable and movements up or down are relatively small, with the exception of major events like Amazon HQ2 (rapid appreciation) and COVID (rapid, temporary depreciation), so expect a return to stable and predictable pricing in our condo market where we’re used to seeing 0-2% appreciation year-over-year.

The effect of high interest rates will likely be felt most in the slow pace of the market. The pace will almost certainly increase in Q1 2023, which means we can expect about 1/3 of condos to sell within the first 10 days and about 2/3 to sell within the first 30 days during the spring selling season. 

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.

Arlington Housing Market Performance Metrics

Question: How have you seen the Arlington housing market react to higher interest rates?

Answer: I hope everybody had a fantastic Thanksgiving. The results of last week’s Dark Meat vs White Meat poll were impressive. With 559 votes in as of this morning, only three votes separated white meat as the preferred part of the turkey over dark meat! We may have found the only vote closer than a Georgia Senate Race!

National vs Local Market Expectations

With daily news about the nationwide (and global) housing collapse resulting from parabolic price appreciation followed by parabolic interest rates, I want to use this week’s column to check-in on what we’re seeing locally and remind everybody that what you read in the news is generally going to be the most attention-grabbing data points and that our market is likely to experience a much more modest correction than many other markets nationwide, as we saw during the Great Recession.

My Take on Local Pricing Behavior

I shared some detailed thoughts and observations last month in a column addressing price drops in Arlington and the TL;DR version is that 1) yes prices have dropped relative to their peak this spring, 2) there’s not nearly enough data available locally to say with any statistical confidence how much that drop has been, and 3) my observation was/is that market-wide in Arlington we’ve lost most/all of the appreciation we saw in the first 4-5 months of 2022 ,but 2021 prices are still mostly holding up. Keep in mind that in a volatile, low inventory market (current state) pricing is more randomized and case-by-case than it usually is, so you’ll see plenty of individual examples that buck the aggregated trends/assumptions.

Underlying Arlington Market Performance Data for Detached Homes

This week, I thought I’d share some charts of underlying market performance metrics to help illustrate what our market is experiencing. Here’s how I approached the data this week:

  • Detached (single-family) homes only. I’ll probably look at condos next week.
  • Resale data only aka no new construction because performance metrics used in this column for new construction aren’t usually representative of the market
  • I used data from 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2022 because I think it offers a helpful snapshot of recent Arlington markets to compare 2022 to. 2017 was our last “normal” market because Amazon HQ2 was announced Nov 2018 and that sent data in unusual directions. 2019 was the first full year with the Amazon bump, but pre-COVID market, and 2021 was a full year of COVID frenzy buying with normal seasonal behavior (2020 was totally out of whack on seasonality).
  • All data is presented by the month a home was listed in so we can measure how home sales performed based on the month they came to market instead of the month they closed (closed data is a lagging performance indicator)
  • Net Sold = Sold Price less Seller Credits

**An important caveat to this data is that I either did not use or must caution your interpretation of this year’s September, October, and November data because it is incomplete for purposes of this analysis. There are 15, 22, and 19 homes actively for sale that were listed in September, October, and November, respectively, which will have a significant influence on the performance metrics for those months when they do contract/close and most likely will result in worse performance metrics than those months currently show.

Note there are 2 homes for sale listed in each month May-July and 7 for sale from August that will likely pull down the performance metrics for those months once they contract/close, but not enough for me to be concerned about the resulting data being presented for those months

Net Sold Price to Original Ask down 9.3% in 6 Months

The average net sold to original ask dropped from a March peak of 105.9% to 96.6% in August. I suspect that once September-November listings close and we can start filling in those fields, we’ll see that number fall further but maybe not significantly because asking prices have started to react to weaker market conditions and many sellers are coming off their expectations for spring 2022 prices.

Of note, this performance metric is coming more in-line with 2017 metrics. I’ll be interested to see if performance metrics stabilize around 2017 numbers, pre-Amazon HQ2, or if they worsen. My guess is that they’ll worsen slightly compared to 2017 through the end of the year and come more into balance in 2023 (pending interest rate movements).

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

Average Days on Market 4.8x Higher in August than February ‘22

Unsurprisingly, the average days on market has skyrocketed relative to earlier this year from 9 days in February to 43 days in August. August ’22 is still lower than August ’17, but the August average will increase once the 7 properties still for sale from August contract/close. 

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

Homes Selling Within 10/30 Days Go from Record High to Low

One of my favorite performance metrics is the percentage of homes that sell within 10/30 days. I think it beats average and median days on market for a true understanding of the pace of a market. As opposed to average days on market, these charts indicate that our market pace is slower than 2017, on a seasonal basis.

We’ve gone from 82% of homes listed in March selling within 10 days to just 27% in October. Similarly, at least 90% of homes listed February-April sold within 30 days compared to 45% and 44% selling within 30 days in August and October, respectively. That is a massive change in market pace within 4 months!

Chart, histogram

Description automatically generated
Chart

Description automatically generated

Looking Ahead

I expect the performance metrics of August-October to worsen as more of those listings contract/close and November-December to come in below 2017 numbers. It’ll be a bit difficult to truly understand the aggregate effect on pricing because Arlington is a relatively small housing market, but I’ll do my best to come up with some accurate measures once we’re far enough into 2023 and enough 2022 listings have sold. Ultimately, the tale of local home values will be told in how long it takes interest rates to settle back down into the expected 4.5-5.5% range (don’t hold out for sub-4% rates again).

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.

Are Home Prices Dropping In Arlington?

Question: I’ve read a lot of bad news about the real estate market, how is that playing out in Arlington?

Answer: Bad news sells…keep that in mind as you get your daily/weekly dose of headlines that the housing market is collapsing under the weight of high interest rates and overinflated prices. With that said, I’m not about to deliver a rosy picture of the Arlington real estate market, but it’s important to keep in mind that most of what you’ll see in the news will be cherry-picked statistics and stories around the country/region that are likely more extreme than what our market will experience overall.

Arlington remains one of the most stable, reliable real estate markets in the country. We are absolutely feeling the effects of a dramatic tide shift in demand, but just as our market didn’t see meteoric price increases like other markets from Loudoun County to Tampa to Boise during Summer 2020 to Spring 2022, we most likely won’t experience as extreme of a pullback while interest rates remain high.

Usually, you’d scroll down and see a lot of charts and data from me in an article like this, but I don’t think we have enough of the right data yet to tell an accurate story of property values in Arlington. So this week is more of a stream of conscious of my thoughts on property values, with a few data points sprinkled in. I welcome any and all theories, agreements, and disagreements in the comments section!

Have Prices Gone Down?

The short answer is “yes,” prices have come down from their 2022 peak. By how much? That is a very difficult question to answer and there’s no reliable way for us to know at this point. So let’s talk about how I think we should we talking about prices based on what we do and do not know at this stage:  

What we do know:

  • The prices we saw in the first half of this year are out of reach, in most cases
  • In the last seven days, 52 properties in Arlington (12.5% of homes for sale) have cut their asking price, which is a pace consistent with previous seven-day windows. Odds are this pace increases as we get closer to, and into, the holidays.
  • Price reductions and sale prices are not being discounted anywhere close to enough to offset the difference in monthly payments between earlier this year and now
  • The market always slows in the summer and continues to taper off through the end of the year (with the exception of September/early October), we’re just experiencing a more dramatic version of seasonality because of the sharp interest rate increases that have paralleled the traditional seasonal slowdown and because of where we’re coming from – insane demand for nearly two years.
  • Supply coming to market is down, contract activity is down, and showing activity is down all about 20-30% year-over-year

What we don’t know:

  • What is the appropriate baseline to judge price change from? Is it the relatively short window of peak pricing from roughly February-May 2022? If you want headline news, sure, but if you want a more accurate/helpful perspective on market conditions, you probably want to use a wider data set that goes back to Q2/3 2021.
  • We don’t have anywhere near enough data points after the market inflection this summer to assess market price changes in Arlington (or even Northern VA or the DC Metro, in my opinion) and because sold price data lags so much behind shifts in market condition, we won’t truly know what the pricing effects were on Q3/Q4 markets until at least February 2023 because many homes struggling to sell now won’t show up in sold data until then.
  • There’s no precedent for how buyers as a whole will respond to such extreme interest rate increases (see chart below I saw last week on MortgageNewsDaily.com that highlights the historical significance of recent rate increases), so it makes pricing challenging for sellers (and buyers, for that matter). Days on market has increased 2-3x or more for most sub-markets and the number of showings are down by about 30-35% year-over-year so it can also be very difficult for sellers to infer whether their time on market is price induced or not. A lot of current pricing is based on seller motivation and their hope/fears of market conditions 3-6 months from now.

The Big Unknown (hint: interest rates)

The most significant “what we don’t know” is what will happen with interest rates in the coming months/year. And please save me the “interest rates are still low relative to the last 30 years” non-sense. The fact is that buyers, homeowners, and prices have adjusted for sub-5% rates over the last 15 years and a long-term reversion back to the 6-8%+ range will be painful.

Per MortgageNewsDaily.com, the average 30yr fixed rate is ~7-7.3%, depending on the data source (see chart below). What we don’t know is how long we’ll have unusually high interest rates and that is ultimately what will drive changes in property values in Arlington, regionally, and nationally (I know, stating the obvious here).

Barring a change in Fed policy (e.g. reducing expected Fed Rate increases or bringing liquidity to the mortgage market), it seems unlikely rates will drop much or at all in Q4. High rates compounded with the normal seasonal slowdown means that there will be plenty of discounted sales from motivated sellers who don’t want to hold out until 2023, but when we eventually aggregate all the sales data from Q3/4, I’m not sure it will amount to an eye-popping drop in prices across the entire Arlington market (maybe 5-10%, depending on your baseline data).

I think the problems (aka a double digit drop in home values over a longer 6-12 month period) will show up in Q1/2 2023 if interest rates are still 7% or more through Q1 2023. I think that is when we’d start to see property values in and around Arlington drop as a whole, by uncomfortable amounts (maybe below 2021 prices).

On the flip side, if rates come down by late Q4/early Q1 and we start seeing 6% or lower averages on the 30yr fixed, that would coincide with our normal ramp-up period into the spring and the market could very quickly turn around. I would bet that if we see the average 30yr fixed rate get to the mid 5% range or less in Q1, we will see a rapid return to competition as buyers who have been sidelined due to high rates in the 2nd half of 2022 return to the market and meet the normal churn of new buyers introduced to the market in the new year.

Chart, line chart, histogram

Description automatically generated

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.

Resale Value of Home Improvement Projects

Question: We are planning to put our home on the market this spring and seeking advice on home improvement projects to maximize our sale. What guidance do you have on home improvement projects with the best resale value?

Answer: The decisions you make about money you do or do not spend improving your home prior to a sale can influence your bottom line more than most other decisions you make during the sale process. They’re also the decisions you’re most in control of, so take your time and plan carefully.

Most Remodeling Projects Lose $$$ on Resale

Remodeling.com publishes an annual report showing the resale return of specific remodeling jobs, based on region of the country, and the 2022 report was published earlier this month. Unfortunately, I can’t share the DC-area report because of copyright issues, but it’s worth visiting the link yourself (they require some basic info).

The findings of their report show that the majority of projects (e.g. bathrooms/kitchen remodel, new roof/windows/siding), done individually, return just 50-80% of the cost. I have seen another study by Zillow that shows similar projections.

There are, of course, always exceptions to this guidance. For example, if most of your home has been updated except for one room/bathroom, you will probably get a much better return making modest improvements to the lagging space to bring it up to par with the rest of the home. Another example is improving something that is in exceptionally bad condition such as replacing old, rotting single-pane windows that don’t function and have air leaks; you’ll probably earn yourself close to or above 100% return on this work rather than the ~65% determined by the Remodeling.com study.

So when considering larger scale home improvement projects – kitchen reno, new roof, porch addition – it’s rarely a good idea to do this work strictly for resale purposes, but only if you’re going to realize personal value from it.

Should You Ever Spend on Listing Prep?

The study mentioned above is in reference to more expensive home improvement projects and does not include the most common (and profitable) work done for listing prep like painting, power washing, cleaning, landscaping, and flooring.

Prior to most sales, every homeowner should make a list of possible repairs and improvements and gather pricing for all worthy projects. If you plan to hire a real estate agent for your sale, I highly recommend doing this with your agent, who should have a good understanding of profitable vs unprofitable projects for your market/property type and have a team of contractors available to support the work. They should have a deep enough knowledge of buyer preferences, your sub-market, and project cost to prepare a set of listing prep recommendations based on your home and budget, rather than a generalized one-size-fits-all plan.

After you prepare a full list of potential improvements, you can bucket them in tiers and analyze each tier for cost, project timeline, and impact on the expected resale value to determine which improvements make the most sense. These tiers generally fall into three categories:

  • Clean-out, Clean-up: This focuses on the low cost, high return items to make a home more presentable such painting, deep cleaning, repairs, light landscaping, etc 
  • Bring up to par: Investing in one/some more expensive projects to bring them up to par with the rest of the home. For example, improving a dated bathroom if the rest of the home is updated so that the one bathroom doesn’t drag down the value of the other improvements.
  • Remodel/Homeowner Flip: Similar to what an investor might do to a dated home in an expensive neighborhood, a homeowner might choose to make a major investment into updates and benefit from a significant profit

Consider All Costs

The cost of doing improvements goes beyond the cost of the labor and materials. Don’t forget to consider things like:

  • Your time managing the work (note, a real estate agent will generally handle project management)
  • If you’ll live in the home during work, the inconvenience of having work done while you’re there
  • If you’ll move out before starting work, the carrying cost while work is being done
  • Risk of something going wrong during the work (applies more to larger projects)
  • Contingency budget for unexpected work that may come up during the project(s)

Always Seek 100%+ ROI

There’s no doubt that remodeling your kitchen will generate a higher sale price, but it’s rarely advisable to invest money into improvements if you won’t return more than 100% on the investment. Herein lies the challenge and strategy in planning your improvements. Understanding the profile of your likely buyers and what they value, plus other factors like market conditions and property type, is crucial to making investments that generate profit, not just a higher price.

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.

Find Savings in Your Condo/HOA Budget

Question: We are finalizing our 2023 condo budget. Do you have any advice for ways to save money?

Answer: As a former Condo Board Treasurer, I feel the pain that this time of year brings, so I’m happy to offer some advice that helped me finding savings while I oversaw the budget and has helped other Associations do the same…review your Master Insurance Policy. I know, it’s not the most exciting answer, but your insurance policy is likely a top three expense on every year and if you haven’t reviewed it lately, there’s a good chance you can cut the cost by 5% or more and probably improve your coverage at the same time.

I’m not an expert in insurance so, I asked Andrew Schlaffer, President of ACO Insurance to provide some details on what Boards should look for when they do a review of their Master Policy. If you’d like to discuss a review with Andrew directly, you can reach him at 703.595.9760 or andrew@acoinsgrp.com. Take it away Andrew…

Hardening Markets, Increasing Premiums, Decreases in Coverage

The condominium insurance marketplace is facing challenges that will impact homeowners in 2022 and beyond. Water damage claims are still among the loss leaders impacting Unit Owners, along with fire damage and wind/hail claims. The DMV is home to many aging condo buildings that continue to struggle with mitigating water damage losses and their impact on insurance premiums.

As water damage claims continue to rise and property damage costs increase, many insurance carriers are beginning to make changes to their coverage offerings that may increase your risk exposure. A few examples of these coverage changes include Increased deductibles, per unit water damage deductibles, removing coverage for Sewer or Drain Backup and Wind-Driven Rain. 

In general, condominium property rate increases in the DMV have been significant and unpredictable. Much of the pricing impact can depend heavily upon carrier underwriting discretion which highlights the importance of your insurance professional specializing in this space. It has not been unheard of for Master Insurance policies to receive between a 7% to 15% property rate increase in 2022. For struggling communities, these rates are much higher. 

The umbrella/excess liability carrier marketplace has also faced tremendous disruptions. There are several factors driving these rate increases including but not limited to: COVID-19 impacts, years of underpricing, reinsurance rate increases, and the rise of nuclear verdicts (claims over $10MM). Additionally, there have been several specialty real estate programs who no longer offer umbrella/excess liability options for the habitational industry which has put a lot of strain on remaining carrier markets to fulfill the increase in demand. Many communities can expect umbrella/excess liability rates to increase between 10% to 25% this year. 

Pillars Of Insurance Reviews

Condo insurance reviews require a holistic approach, so it’s important to break the cost into a few distinct categories: insurance premium, deductible expense, and out-of-pocket costs. To effectively accomplish long-term savings, all three of these categories need to be considered and addressed with a qualified insurance professional.

Adjust Coverage Responsibly To Save On Premium

Premium is certainly a factor to consider during the insurance selection process; however, available insurance products differ significantly. Coverages and services should be very carefully analyzed and compared. While omitting various coverages will save premium dollars, it might also result in substantially increased costs to the Association for out-of-pocket expenses related to uncovered claims. It is critical to work with a professional who understands local insurance needs and can adjust your insurance program in a way that maximizes premium savings while maintaining adequate insurance coverage. Some coverages may be required by statute and/or Association documents, so cutting required coverage exposes the Board to unwanted risk.

Deductibles Based On Loss History

Associations with strong financials often choose to increase their property deductibles which can provide immediate savings of 2-5%. Deductibles range from $2,500 to $25,000+. When considering deductibles, it is important for the Association to review their loss history and the loss history of comparable buildings in an effort to obtain an accurate estimate for deductible expenses.

Rate Shopping

The most common strategy employed by Associations seeking lower insurance costs is to shop their carrier. An Association can accomplish this in several ways but generally their appointed broker can offer alternative carriers in an effort to obtain the most competitive rates possible. Make sure your broker has access to all of the competitive markets in order to maximize the likelihood of finding savings.

Secondly, and more importantly, if savings is found, your broker should verify that all required coverages are included to secure the Association’s long-term financial security and lender approval. Additional savings can be realized by a thorough coverage analysis to verify the Association is not being over-insured by paying for coverage it won’t use.

To insure cost savings and long-term health of your property, make sure your insurance broker specializes in Condominium or Homeowners Associations. To maximize your savings, the Association, insurance broker, and insurance carrier need to work in harmony to identify and reduce threats to the financial health of the community.

Help Reducing Claims

One of the best ways to keep insurance costs down is to avoid claims altogether.  Some examples of how insurance brokers can help reduce claims and the impact claims have on your future premium costs include coverage reviews/benchmarking, claims management services, site inspections, building upgrade recommendations, life safety planning, vendor contract reviews, discrimination/harassment training, and hiring/firing best practices. 

Thank You

Andrew, thank you very much for providing your insight. I know from experience how much of an impact an insurance review can have on a condo budget, but also how important the right coverage can be when there’s an unexpected claim.

One thing Boards often overlook when they’re solely focused on price is the quality and speed of service when a claim in filed. For example, if a pipe bursts and floods the gym and lobby, a Board should be confident that the work orders will be executed quickly so the building can be back on its feet without delay or headache. Unfortunately, most Boards don’t think about this until they’re dealing with it, and it’s too late.

I encourage any Board/Treasurer to reach out to Andrew to review their policy. His contact info is:

Andrew Schlaffer, President

ACO Insurance

www.acoinsgrp.com

Direct: 703.595.9760

Email: andrew@acoinsgrp.com

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
Table

Description automatically generated

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.

Did Interest Rates Increase .75% Last Week?

Question: Have you already seen interest rates increase since last week’s announcement that the Federal Reserve is increasing rates by .75%?

Answer: Contrary to popular belief, the news you read about the Federal Reserve increasing interest rates does not directly result in changes to the interest rates you get on your mortgage. The Federal Funds Rate is the rate that large banks charge each other for short-term, overnight loans and is one of the many market factors that influence the interest rate you get on a mortgage.

Fed Rate Up, Mortgage Rates Down

Last week, on Wednesday July 27, the Federal Reserve announced they were increasing the Federal Funds Rate by .75%. Many people I spoke with thought this meant that mortgage rates would immediately or quickly increase by a similar amount, however, the reality was that the average 30yr fixed mortgage rate, per Mortgage News Daily, decreased from 5.54% on Wednesday July 27 to 5.22% on Thursday July 28, one day after the announcement. As of yesterday, MND’s research showed that the average 30yr fixed rate had dropped even more to 5.05%.

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

Mortgage Rates Are Market-Driven, Like Stocks

Mortgage rates operate like stocks in that they are constantly (daily) moving up and down as they react to changes in the domestic and global markets. In theory, mortgage rates, like stocks, are supposed to reflect the valuation of all current and future market information to determine the cost of borrowing money each day.

What the Fed Rate Means for Your Mortgage Rate

What does that mean in relation to your mortgage rate and the highly publicized Fed Funds Rate?

The Federal Reserve meets eight times per year to set monetary policy, including making any changes to their target Fed Funds Rate. Prior to those meetings, financial experts are constantly adjusting their expectations of the Federal Reserve’s rate announcements and those expectations are embedded on a daily basis into mortgage borrowing rates, so the most significant rate changes occur when expectations aren’t met or surprising guidance is issued by the Fed during these meetings (keep in mind, this isn’t the only information banks use to determine mortgage rates).

Heading into last week’s announcement, I read that mortgage rates, stocks, and other market instruments were priced with a roughly 80% expectation of a .75% increase in the Fed Funds Rates and a roughly 20% expectation of a 1% increase, so when the announcement was made confirming a .75% increase and guidance was given suggesting the Fed will soon be able to slow their rate increases, market instruments reacted in a mostly positive way, which resulted in mortgage rates decreasing because the outcome was weighted towards expectations for lower future rate increases (.75% instead of 1% and slowing future increases).

The next scheduled Federal Reserve announcement on the Federal Funds Rate is scheduled for September 21, you’ll see mortgage rates react daily based on new economic data on inflation, growth, unemployment, global threats, etc that will all influence how the Federal Reserve responds during their next meeting.

Mortgage Rate Forecasts

There’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about mortgage rate forecasts…they’re always wrong. You can see how much of a difference there is in forecasts from the experts in this recent Forbes article, with expectations for 2022 rates ranging from ~5-7% to a technical version of a shoulder shrug.

With that said, if you’re seeing news about inflation coming under control and we avoid new major global supply chain disruptions, odds are that mortgage rates will gradually come down through the end of the year. However, none of that is guaranteed as we find ourselves in a constant state of global and economic volatility and disruption, factors that generally cause instability and increases in mortgage rates. 

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.

Are You Considering Operating a DC-area Airbnb

Question: What are the local laws governing short-term rentals in the DC area?

Answer: I hope you had a great Fourth of July holiday weekend! Some of you may have stayed at an Airbnb this weekend and come back with grand plans of buying your own investment property to rent out.

If you’re considering purchasing an investment property for short-term rentals (STR), like Airbnb, one of the most important things to research early on are the local laws governing them. With all the tourism to the DC area, a short-term rental property can be quite lucrative, but most local governments in this region have laws in place to prevent properties from being used exclusively for short-term rentals and thus limit your expected returns.

It’s also important to know that short-term rental restrictions from Homeowner, Condo, or Cooperative Associations take precedent over any local laws and it is extremely rare to find an Association that allows for any rental period less than 6 or 12 months.

Short-term rentals are defined as properties rented out for less than 30 consecutive nights to the same renter.

I compiled a list of the local STR laws in the greater DC area and summarized them below with links to the government websites where the information is detailed:

  • Arlington County: Allowed in units used by the owner as his/her primary residence (the owner occupies the unit at least 185 days of the year). Cannot use detached accessory dwellings for short-term rentals.
  • Washington DC: Unlimited rentals if the property is owner-occupied during the rental (rental is for partial use of the home), limited to 90 nights of rentals per calendar year for properties that are not owner-occupied during the rental (renter has full access to the entire property). DC also requires an assortment of licenses, certifications, and fees.
  • City of Alexandria: Unlimited rentals during a calendar year and no restrictions on owner occupancy. Properties can be owned and used solely for short-term rentals. City of Alexandria charges an additional 8.5% Transient Lodging Tax for properties that sleep 4+.
  • City of Falls Church: I could not find any official guidance from the City of Falls Church on short-term rentals and am led to believe there are not currently any restrictions or additional taxes
  • Fairfax County: Limited to 60 nights of rental bookings per calendar year, with no reference to owner occupied vs unoccupied. Detached accessory dwellings cannot be used as STRs. No more than six adults can stay in a single property. Additional Transient Tax charges apply.
  • Loudoun County: It seems that Loudoun County is still drafting their short-term rental policies, with the last official write-up I found referencing a February 2022 public hearing and draft amendment. The County’s zoning currently does not allow short-term rentals, but a hold has been put on enforcement until a policy can be finalized.
  • Montgomery County: Limited to 120 nights of rentals if the home is not occupied by the owner during the rental and unlimited rentals if the home is owner-occupied during the rental. No more than six adults can stay in a single property.
  • Prince Georges County: Limited to 90 rental nights per calendar year if the property is not owner-occupied during the rental and limited to 180 rental nights per calendar year if the property is owner-occupied during the rental.

Owning and operating a short-term rental can be very lucrative, but it’s important to understand that residents and local governments are still in the early stages of defining how their communities want to support or restrict STRs. Before making a significant investment in a property for STR income, get fully informed on current laws/taxes, research the mood of residents and politicians on STRs, and incorporate the risk of law/tax changes into your investment decision.

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.