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
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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.

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%.

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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.

And We Thought Last Year’s Housing Market Was Crazy…

Question: The market seems even more intense this year than last, is that accurate?

Answer: I didn’t think the market had much more room to absorb higher prices and intense competition again this year, but that has proven to be wildly untrue. From single-family homes to condos, the first ten weeks of 2022 has given us even more competition and price escalation than last year, all while interest rates have spiked.

High Escalations, Fast-Paced Sales Across All Property Types

I compared sales of Arlington properties that were listed and under contract in the first ten weeks from the last five years to measure how the start of 2022 has compared to previous years.

Detached/townhouse properties are selling for an average of 4.9% over asking price with 85% selling within seven days on market and 92% going for at or above the asking price. These numbers dwarf what had been historically competitive first quarter markets in the previous four years.

The condo market, which suffered through much of the pandemic, is officially back with competition and escalations picking back up to levels close to what we saw during the post-Amazon HQ2/pre-pandemic market. We’re still seeing above an above-average volume of condos being listed for sale (based on 5yr averages), which is keeping the condo market somewhat in-check, but I expect the intensity of this market to increase through the spring and deep into the year.

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What About Higher Interest Rates?

Thus far, the market has mostly shrugged off intense headwinds created by rapidly increasing interest rates (see chart below), plummeting stock prices, and the war in Ukraine. Just yesterday rates jumped another .125-.25%.

There must be an inflection point somewhere, but so far hyper-low inventory, rising incomes, and high demand have kept us from it.

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Arlington In Three Charts

There are three charts that clearly illustrate why competition is so fierce across all property types in Arlington right now:

  1. Months of Supply (MoS): A measure of supply and demand calculated by how long existing supply can last based on current demand (lower = seller’s market). The detached market reached all-time lows in November 2021 and has decreased each month since, falling to just 1.5 weeks of supply in February. The condo market hovered around two weeks of supply post-Amazon HQ2 and spiked during the summer of 2020 to around three months of supply. Since December, supply dropped to roughly one month and is poised to drop below the one month mark this spring.
  2. Active Listings: The number of active detached and condo listings is down 40% year-over-year in each of the last two months. Reminder that last year I was also writing about historically low detached/townhouse inventory.
  3. New Listings: The volume of new detached and condo listings is down year-over-year each month since July 2021. This pattern will have to quickly reverse this spring if we want any sort of balance to the 2022 market.
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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.

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

2021 Real Estate Market Review: Single-Family

Question: How did Arlington’s single-family home market perform in 2021?

Answer: Last week we reviewed the performance of the condo market so this week we will take a look at the market that has been a topic of conversation across the country for well over a year – the single-family (detached) housing market.

Appreciation Was Strong, Not Exceptional

The 2021 Arlington single-family market was fiercely competitive and experienced its highest appreciation in years. However, the shift in market conditions (demand and price appreciation) was not nearly as dramatic as other regional or national markets that have made headline news over the last 12+ months.

Why? Because thanks to strong market fundamentals and Amazon’s 2018 HQ2 announcement, the Arlington market was already exceptionally competitive and expensive, relative to most other regional and national markets, prior to the COVID-driven housing market mayhem.

Here are some highlights from the chart and table below (22206 and 22209 are not included due to lack of single-family homes sold):

  • The average and median price of a single-family home in Arlington increased in 2021 by 6.2% and 7.2%, respectively. Excellent appreciation for any homeowner, but not the double-digit appreciation other regional and national markets experienced last year.
  • Nearly 50% of homes sold for more than the asking price and didn’t last more than one week on market
  • More single-family homes were listed and sold in 2021 than any of the last five years. Had supply been closer to the ~1,000 homes sold in the previous three years, I suspect average and median prices may have climbed closer to double-digit year-over-year increases.
  • The median price of a house in Arlington exceeded $1M for the first time in 2021. The average price climbed above $1.2M in 2021 and has been above $1M since 2018.
  • The average buyer paid 1.1% over the asking price, which equates to about $13,000 over ask.
  • Of the homes that went under contract in one week or less (just under half), the average buyer paid 3.7% over the asking price
  • In 2017, the majority of homes (39%) sold for less than $800k, in 2021 just 15% of homes sold for less than $800k (this includes teardowns) and 19% sold for at least $1.6M.
  • In each of the last three years, over 40% of homes have sold for $800k-$1.2M

Shake-up at the Top of the Zip Code Rankings

We have a new club house leader in highest average sold price by zip code! With a 15% year-over-year increase in average price, 22213 (western Arlington) finished 2021 with the highest median and average sold price.

But wait, it gets even more interesting! Despite boasting the highest median and average price, the 22213 zip code actually has the lowest average $/SqFt, 4th lowest cost per bedroom, highest average year built by 10+ years, and tied for largest average lot size. So depending on how you look at it, 22213 is the most expensive or best value!

It’s also worth noting that 22213 has the fewest sales of the zip codes I included, with barely enough total sales for me to be comfortable using it here.

The 22201 zip code, which surrounds the Rosslyn (well, Courthouse)-Ballston Corridor, commands the most money for the least house and yard with by far the highest $/SqFt, $/Acre, and $/Bedroom.

Something I would like to highlight with the data below is that change in average price is not necessarily reflective of actual appreciation of individual homes. For example, while 22201 and 22202 show 1% and 3% year-over-year price change, homeowners in those neighborhoods can rest assured that their home almost certainly appreciated more than that in 2021. The uncomfortably low change in average price can likely be attributed to the property mix that was sold in 2021 rather than actual appreciation. Real estate data can be difficult and full of caveats when you’re dealing with relatively small sample sizes.

New Construction, Expensive Homes Lead the Market

The average price of a new home increased 13.1% in 2021and exceeded $2M for the first time ever. New homes are bigger than ever, with the average total finished square footage coming in at just under 5,300 SqFt and averaged 5.5 bedrooms with 5.1 full bathrooms (nearly one full bathroom for each bedroom).

In the last table, I broke the market in each year down by price range (lower 25%, middle 50%, and upper 25%) to see how each cross-section of the market performed year-over-year. The 8.1% jump in average price of the lower 25% in 2020 was likely due to the wave of people leaving shared living (apartments/condos) and the 8.4% increase of the upper 25% in 2021 is likely due to the increased demand of larger, new homes that offer more work-from-home and at-home schooling space for families and low interest rates allowing buyers to increase their budgets.

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.

2021 Real Estate Market Review: Condos

Question: How did the Arlington condo market perform in 2021?

Answer: Happy New Year everybody! I hope you’re all enjoying the beautiful snow.

We’ve reached a clear market stabilization point in Arlington’s condo market after an up-and-down 2-3 years. The condo market surged from the 2nd half of 2018 through pre-COVID 2020, led by the announcement of Amazon HQ2 in November 2018, then was hit hard by COVID with many owners and investors flooding the market with supply while demand dropped. This downward pressure lasted from the Summer of 2020 through Q1 2021 and has since stabilized.

Note: The statements and data below are for apartment-style condos (buildings/shared entry) and does not include townhouse-style condos (direct entry) or senior living.

Amazon HQ2 and COVID Were (Mostly) Offsetting Forces

The pricing and demand data are such that the upward pressure from Amazon HQ2 and the downward pressure from COVID seem to have mostly offset each other resulting is modest-to-moderate annual price appreciation over the last 5+ years in the Arlington condo market.

Prices from the 2019 market surge have stuck, with the average price of a one-bedroom in 2021 being 1.5% higher than in 2019 and the average two-bedroom in 2021 being 5.6% higher than in 2019. For the entire Arlington condo market, the average cost of a condo in 2021 rose 2.9% over 2019 values.

If you remove new construction condo sales, the average one-bedroom in 2021 is just 1% higher than in 2019 and the average two-bedroom in 2021 is only .9% higher than in 2019. For the entire Arlington condo market, the average cost of a condo in 2021 rose just .3% over 2019 values.

The other interesting takeaway from the data below is that key demand metrics like average sold price to original asking price, percentage of homes selling within 10 days on market, and average days on market have all settled back to what we saw before the Amazon HQ2 surge (and had been for a while before that).

I think that we are positioned for moderate condo appreciation in the coming years, unless we undergo a significant restructuring of office usage. This is based on a few key points:

  • Condo values have held on, and even appreciated slightly since 2019, despite the massive supply hitting the market over the last 18 months. Historically low interest rates and rising single-family/townhouse prices certainly helped drive that.
  • Amazon HQ2 will continue hiring thousands/tens of thousands of people over the next decade and driving major commercial development in Arlington
  • The pipeline for new condo development is practically non-existent and it takes years to fill that pipeline
  • In many cases, apartment rents are now higher than they were pre-pandemic, making buying more attractive
  • Wider gaps between condo prices and single-family/townhouse prices drive more buyers to condos, if they wish to remain in Arlington

Market Performance Similar Across All Price Points

Sometimes entire markets are led or held back by smaller sub-sections of the market and that gets lost when you take broad averages. I broke the Arlington condo market down into the lower 25%, middle 50%, and upper 25% of price points in each of the last three years to see if one section of the market might have an unnoticed influence on the overall numbers.

As it turns out, all three price cross-sections of the Arlington condo market have performed very similarly over the last three years, which I think is representative of a healthy market.

2021 Performance by Zip Code

For those interested in what the condo market in each Arlington zip code looks like, I pulled together average prices, demand metrics, and property details for you in the table below.

The most notable takeaway is the high demand metrics for 22206 (Shirlington area) because most of the units in this data set located in 22206 live/feel more like a townhouse, despite not being direct-entry (the many direct-entry condos in 22206 were not included in this data set). This clearly shows the markets preference this year for anything resembling non-apartment living.

Next week I plan to do a similar market review of the single-family/detached market.

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

Interest Rate Forecasts and New Loan Limits

Question: What do you expect from mortgage interest rates in 2022?

Answer:

Historically Low Rates

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). So take predictions/forecasts with a grain of salt.

Higher Prices Still “Manageable”

For perspective, the chart above shows the average 30yr fixed rated mortgage in the US since 1971. Historically low interest rates have been one of the main drivers of the rapid housing price appreciation we’ve witnessed over the last 12-18 months.

The charts below, courtesy of the National Association of Realtors, show that low interest rates have kept affordability, based on mortgage payments vs income, lower than the ’05-’07 housing bubble despite housing prices soaring relative to income; even higher than ’05-’06 peaks.

Forecasting Future Rates

For years, we’ve been reading/hearing pundits say that it’s hard to imagine mortgage rates getting lower, often coupled with overly salesy messaging from the real estate industry that you must buy now because rates have never been so low and likely will not remain this low much longer. The problem with those claims is that mortgage rates have been dropping for about 40 years now (with relatively minor fluctuations along the way)…

With that said, even small fluctuations in rates in the near/mid-term impact affordability and buying decisions, making forecasts for the upcoming 12-24 months relevant to those currently, or soon-to-be, active in the buyer/seller market. The chart below shows the latest 30yr fixed mortgage rate forecasts from four leading housing research sources:

Everybody expects mortgage rates to increase over the next 12-24. This is mostly based on the expectation that the Fed will start easing its economic support and will increase interest rates (indirectly influences mortgage rates) to fend off inflation, so if that strategy changes, so too will mortgage rate forecasts.

It’s my belief that a slow, gradual increase in rates, as predicted by Fannie, Freddie, and NAR, is unlikely to have much influence on home values but any sharp increases, or even the pace predicted by MBA, could result in some downward pressure on prices. Home values are an important part of the US economy so you can expect efforts to be made by the Fed to prevent mortgage rate spikes that shock the housing market.

High Loan Limits

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) just released new conforming loan limits for 2022, with significant increases to reflect recent price growth. The jurisdictions in the greater DC Metro area were given the maximum loan ceiling of $970,800. Beginning in 2022, Fannie/Freddie will insure loans up to $970,800 with as little as 5% down, or the equivalent of a purchase price just under $1,022,000 with 5% down. The new conforming limits increase the maximum loan amount with 3% down to $647,200, or the equivalent of a purchase price just over $667,000 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.

Zillow’s Home Buying/Selling Issues

Question: Can you share your thoughts on the latest news about Zillow’s issues with their home buying program?

Answer: I don’t usually comment on real estate news, but the recent issues reported with Zillow’s home buying/selling program are interesting and worth discussing.

Catch Me Up

Zillow entered the i-Buying game in April 2018 (launched in Phoenix) with a home buying program called Zillow Offers in which they’d quickly purchase homes using their pricing algorithm (Zestimates) directly from homeowners for cash. The incentive structure is simple: fast, cash, reliable, no list prep. I wrote a column on this type of “i-Buying” in 2019 and discussed the approach, pros, and cons.

Since 2018, Zillow Offers has expanded to over 20 markets around the country (mostly in the south and out west) and bought thousands of homes (maybe tens of thousands, but I couldn’t find a good source). Two weeks ago, news broke that Zillow was freezing home buying through 2021 as they work to offload ~7,000 homes.

Yesterday, news broke that an analyst at KeyBanc, Edward Yruma, studied a sample of 650 homes Zillow is currently selling (about 20% of their total inventory) and found that 2/3 are selling for less than their purchase price at an average discount of 4.5%.

What Does it Mean for the Market?

Does this signal a falling/collapsing real estate market?

People, especially news outlets, love looking for signs of a market or business collapse and will certainly play-up this angle. However, I think it’s a lot of nothing at this point.

First, Zillow’s i-Buying program doesn’t represent the housing market, so I don’t buy that it’s an early indicator of a downturn. It’s a new technology-driven business model for buying and selling homes and even if you expect i-Buying to find long-term success, you expect bumps along the way as algorithms and processes evolve through different market cycles.

Zillow relies on its Zestimate home valuation algorithm to determine their offer price and they have a published median error rate of 6.9% for off-market sales, which is essentially what a Zillow Offers home purchase is. Zestimates is within 10% of the final sold price on an off-market deal just 63.8% of the time.

Their published, and more visible, 1.9% error rate for on-market sales is misleading because the Zestimate algorithm adjusts to asking prices and days on market data once a listing is posted, which brings Zestimate accuracy for on-market sales (majority of sales) much closer to the sold price.

Combine Zillow’s 6.9% error rate for off-market sales with the difficulty in tweaking their pricing algorithms in a rapidly appreciating market (they’ve had to adjust values higher on the fly for their offers to have a chance of being accepted) and it’s easy to understand how they ended up with too much inventory worth less than what they paid.

This isn’t a housing market issue, but growing pains of a new business model and technology.

What Does it Mean for Zillow?

Did Zillow reach too far from their core business and get itself in trouble?

Business Insider reported that if Zillow sold everything at the current list price in Phoenix (Zillow Offer’s second largest market), they’d lose about $6.3M. Let’s say they take even more losses on these homes and take similar losses in the rest of their markets, we’re probably looking at losses of ~$50M-$100M against a market cap of approximately $22B and ~$3.7B cash on hand as of today. Far from trouble and probably losses they’re willing to accept in return for the lessons learned/experience.

These losses are also offset by the financial gains Zillow gets in the other businesses they have that benefit from their home purchase/sale transactions. Zillow bought a mortgage company in 2018 and market their loans to buyers of their homes and likely convert quite a few home sellers via Zillow Offers into Zillow Home Loans borrowers on their next purchase. Zillow also has their own title and escrow business, Zillow Closings, a notably profitable business. The transaction activity also strengthens their very lucrative revenue stream from real estate agents who purchase leads from, and pay referral fees to, Zillow.

Not only is this news about underwater inventory unlikely to materially impact Zillow’s business, but it’s hard to even call it an embarrassing misstep at this point given the valuable information/lessons learned they likely picked up along the way.

Does Zillow Offers Operate Here?

Zillow Offers does not operate in the DC area, in fact, the closest market to us that they operate in is Raleigh NC. I believe we don’t see Zillow Offers here because our housing inventory is more diverse and older than most/all of their current markets.

A diverse housing supply makes it more difficult for algorithms to predict values compared to markets Zillow Offers operates in that have huge developments of homes with very similar inventory. An older housing supply is likely considered too risky for a hands-off buyer like Zillow making it hard for them to make competitive offers that account for the added risk factor.

Looking Forward

I’m very interested in when Zillow restarts their i-Buying program and if they make significant adjustments to the markets they operate in, their fee structure (fees are already high for homeowners), or process. There’s so much potential in i-Buying for a company like Zillow because of all the different ways they can create revenue/profits, even if they take some losses on the actual sale, that it’s hard to imagine they don’t come back better and stronger than before.

On the flip side, they could decide that i-Buying creates too much risk/distraction for their core business(es) and find revenue elsewhere, leaving i-Buying to companies that specialize in it like Opendoor.

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

Is The Real Estate Market Slowing Down?

Question: Have you noticed a change in the real estate market lately?

Answer:

Summer Slowdown is Normal, Likely More Pronounced in 2021

It is normal for the real estate market to slowdown as we transition from the intensity of the spring market into the summer market and we (myself, my colleagues, and lenders I’ve spoken to) have seen that shift over the last few weeks.

I don’t think we are anywhere close to experiencing a market correction, but I do think the change in market conditions from the spring market (which really began in January/February 2021) to the summer market will be more pronounced this year because of COVID.

Buyers More Distracted By Travel/Events

Now that most of our buying population is vaccinated and businesses/events are open, Buyers’ attention is finally being focused on trips, events, and visiting friends & family rather than solely on their home search. Diversions are usually highest in the summer and around the holidays, thus historically slower markets, but this summer and holiday season will be met with an unusually high number of distractions for Buyers (that’s a good thing!).

Asking Prices Catching Up

Another factor in the shift in this summer’s market is that asking prices are finally starting to catch-up, in many cases, to actual market values. During the first 3-4+ months of 2021, the sales data (sold prices) wasn’t there or wasn’t enough to give Sellers the confidence to increase their asking prices 5-10%+ over 2019-2020 prices, which is why we’ve seen such extreme price escalations this year. Now that asking prices are falling more in-line with what the market is willing to pay (based on my experience over the last 4-8 weeks), the number of offers and wild escalations should subside.

What Likely Will/Will Not Happen

Homeowners planning to sell should not worry that the bottom is falling out of the market, but expectations should change compared to previous months. Here’s what I think the shift will and will not look like:

  • WILL result in fewer total offers on competitive homes
  • WILL result in fewer properties selling within the first week
  • WILL result in Buyers negotiating better/more contingencies
  • WILL result in less extreme price escalations
  • Will result in fewer homes listed for sale (likely a 20-30% drop compared to March-May)
  • WILL NOT result in prices falling (prices should stabilize)
  • WILL NOT result in a Buyer’s market

Spring vs Summer, 2016-2019

Let’s take a look at how the Arlington real estate market shifted from spring to summer from 2016-2019 to give some historical perspective. I did not include 2020 because it will always be an outlier that provides little value for historical trends/context. I looked at four data points that I use to measure market conditions:

  1. Percentage of homes that went under contract within one week of being listed
  2. Percentage of homes that sold for at or above the original asking price
  3. Average sold price compared to the original asking price
  4. Number of homes listed for sale

Here is a summary of findings from the charts shared below:

  • Intensity of demand (under contract within a week and homes sold for at or above ask) dropped from the spring to summer season all four years, with the exception of a slight increase in the homes being sold for at or above ask in the summer of 2019 (likely due to a significant drop in supply due to the Amazon HQ2 announcement in November 2018 putting upward pressure on prices all year)
  • The average sold price to original asking price dropped each year except 2019 (remained almost unchanged) suggesting less extreme escalations and more price negotiations
  • The number of homes listed for sale in the summer dropped by about 20-30% each year compared the spring market