COVID-19 Market Impact Update

Question: What impact is Coronavirus having on the real estate market?

Answer: COVID-19 has had a similar impact on new listings in Arlington as it has across Northern VA and the DC Metro with each market dealing with a ~30-35% year-over-year drop in April and May. However, demand in Arlington has tapered off from 2019 highs, while demand in Northern VA and the DC Metro is steadily increasing, despite everything we’ve gone through with Coronavirus.

The tapering of Arlington demand, which is still very strong relative to historical numbers, is bringing the Arlington market more in-line with supply/demand readings of the Northern VA and DC Metro markets. The below chart shows Months of Supply (a good supply/demand ratio) for each market. Months of Supply calculates how long it would take for the existing housing inventory to sell out, if no additional inventory was supplied.

Prices Up Regionally

Year-over-year prices for May sales and year-to-date sales are up significantly across the region. Across all of the counties/regions listed below, Arlington’s year-over-year growth is the lowest, which is almost certainly due to the significant appreciation in Arlington last year, after the Amazon announcement.

Keep in mind that sales data lags actual market activity because it usually takes 30-45 days for a property to close, so May sales are more reflective of March and April activity than what we’re currently seeing. This is particularly interesting because March and April were the peak of Coronavirus concerns/lockdowns. Barring any major shifts in the DC-area economy, I expect year-over-year prices to show even more growth as we get further into the year and sales reflect an even stronger buyer market.

Arlington New Listings Down

We’re used to seeing new listing supply peak from March-June, after November-February lows, with April and May almost always exceeding March’s supply. Unfortunately for many home buyers, new inventory tumbled in April and continued dropping further in May.

The May 2020 drop in new inventory represents a 32.1% decline compared to May 2019, which is particularly concerning when you consider that new inventory in May 2019 was already down 21.3% from May 2018, giving us a 47% decline in new inventory from May 2018 to May 2020.

The decline in new inventory was distributed pretty evenly across property type (single-family vs condo) and price point.

Arlington Demand Down

Absorption is a good indicator of demand, providing the rate of homes going under contract relative to total supply. Demand, and therefore absorption rate, are usually highest from February/March through May/June and have been sky-high since spring 2019, with an absorption rate of 1.0 or more in eight months since March 2019.

While the absorption rate in April and May 2020 remained high relative to pre-Amazon years, there was a year-over-year decline of 37.6% and 25.5%, respectively, indicating a tapering of Arlington demand compared to last year. However, with so few listings coming to market, there’s still high levels of competition for desirable properties that are reasonably priced.

This doesn’t mean that the bottom is dropping out in Arlington. Part of the difference in year-over-year data is due to how sharply Arlington demand rose in 2019 (post-Amazon announcement), but we’re also seeing a lot of buyers being priced out of Arlington and pushing their searches further into Northern VA.

Northern VA New Listings Down, Demand Up

Northern VA has experienced a similar drop in new listings (33.8% and 33.4% YoY decline in April and May, respectively), but is actually seeing an increase in year-over-year demand with a 32.2% increase in absorption rate in May 2020 compared to May 2019 and absorption rates exceeding 1.0 in three of the last four months.

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

All-Cash Home Purchases

Question: I just lost a competitive offer to an all-cash buyer. How common are cash buyers in Arlington? How much of a disadvantage am I at?

Answer: I have personally noticed an increase in cash buyers and expected to find a significant increase in the number of cash deals over the last 12-18 months, so I was a little surprised when I ran the numbers and learned that the percentage of homes purchased by all-cash buyers has only increased a few percent in the last couple of years. Since 2019, 17.5% of homes purchased in Arlington have been by all-cash buyers, compared to 14.3% in 2017.

Increased Cash Deals Attributed to Condo Sales

The number of cash purchases in Arlington jumped in 2018 and 2019, likely due to more cash investors getting involved after the Amazon HQ2 announcement in November 2018. This increase is attributed completely to condos (likely investors). The number of buyers paying cash for single-family or townhouse purchases has remained about the same since 2015.

The rate of all-cash purchases seems to be spread pretty evenly across all price-points and housing types. I assumed that the lower priced condos would have a much higher rate of all-cash deals, but it turns out that since 2019 only 20.5% of sub-$400k condo purchases were all-cash, which isn’t much higher than the overall Arlington market.

The chart below shows the percentage of homes sold in Arlington that were bought by all-cash buyers since 2015, also broken out by condo and single-family/townhouse purchases.

Cash vs Mortgage – What’s the Difference?

The idea of getting a cash offer sounds exciting, but what exactly does it mean? After all, a dollar from a lender is worth the same as a dollar from a savings account.

  • Contingencies: Cash buyers don’t need the contractual protection of a financing or appraisal contingency because they don’t need a lender to approve/review anything. This is appealing for sellers because it decreases the possibility of something going wrong that disrupts the sale.
  • Speed: Cash deals can close faster, often in one week or less, than financed deals which usually take at least 3-4 weeks due to the time it takes to process the loan.
  • Security: Cash deals are considered more secure because the purchase funds are already available
  • Cost: Cash deals have lower buyer closing costs because there are no lender fees or lender’s title insurance. Lenders also require a substantial about (usually 1-1.5% of purchase price) of money be pre-paid into an escrow account for future property tax payments and homeowner’s insurance.

Given how competitive the current housing market is, many buyers using a mortgage take steps to make their offers as cash-like as possible by removing the appraisal and financing contingencies and/or working with lenders who can close quickly. For buyers that have taken these steps, there’s very little difference to sellers between their offer and a cash offer.

If you are a seller considering a cash offer, make sure you verify the existence of the cash funds the same way you would verify a buyer’s mortgage qualification with a pre-approval letter. The most common method of verification is to request bank statements, but a letter from the buyer’s bank should also suffice.

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

Guess How Many Agents Transacted in Arlington

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

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

…2,217!!

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

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

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

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

Technology and Innovation in Real Estate

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

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

Role of Tech/Innovation in Real Estate

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

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

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

#1 Challenge: Fragmented Buying Power

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

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

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

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

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

Widespread Technology Adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impact of Coronavirus on the Real Estate Market, Pt 6

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

Answer: In this week’s review of how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting real estate, we’ll take a look at how Arlingtonians think Coronavirus will change their personal finances, how the Arlington market performed over the last seven days, and how the virus is changing the mortgage industry.

Arlingtonians Still Confident

Thank you to everybody who participated in the poll last week, we collected some really valuable information about how Arlingtonians think the virus will impact their personal finances.

Out of 1,055 respondents, 50% feel that their personal finances will either not be negatively impacted or that the impact won’t last more than six months. Over 70% of respondents don’t expect the negative effects to last more than 12 months.

These results reflect a strong local consumer (buyer) confidence and would suggest that local buyers still have enough confidence in their finances/income to make a long-term investment, like buying a home. When you consider the recent McKinsey study (below) on the most vulnerable jobs, you can see why Arlingtonians, many of whom make over $70k/year, remain confident in the face of a global economic crisis. Income/job security is likely the most important consideration for people determining what the negative impact of COVID-19 will be on their personal finances.

Arlington Market Update

New inventory tanked over the past week and we saw the largest week-to-week drop in the number of properties that went under contract. It’s hard to say for sure whether the decline in contract activity is demand-based on a result of less inventory, but it’s likely a combination of the two.

With very little new inventory coming to market and the Coming Soon pipeline drying up, total inventory is dropping quickly, which should keep home values relatively protected, despite declining demand.

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

Showing activity is down significantly compared to a normal spring market, but it seems to be stabilizing at an average of 4-5 scheduled showings per week on properties listed in Arlington. I think that significant increases/decreases in showing activity will be a leading indicator of how the market feels about the risk of Coronavirus to public health and the local economy.

Major Changes To Mortgages

The mortgage industry has experienced rapid and impactful changes over the last month that will surely change demand for months or years to come. I checked in with Jake Ryon of First Home Mortgage (JRyon@firsthome.com) on the top three ways Coronavirus is impacting the mortgage business.

Elimination of Products/Tightening of Requirements

Mortgage products are designed around a bank’s ability to accurately predict a borrower’s ability to repay their loan, so as economic uncertainty rises, a bank’s ability to forecast borrower risk decreases and banks become more risk averse.

As a result many loan products not backed by the Federal Government are being eliminated including loans like sub-20% down payment jumbo loans without Mortgage Insurance (a popular mortgage product locally), Non-Qualified Mortgages (borrowers with lower credit scores or high debt-to-income ratios), and mortgages for investment properties. I’ve also heard that Second Trust loans, a popular product that allows you to purchase your next home without making it contingent on the sale of your current home, may be up next for elimination.

In cases where products aren’t being eliminated, some products have tighter borrowing standards like higher reserves or credit scores.

I suspect that changes to jumbo loan programs and a potential elimination of Second Trust loans will have a material impact on the DC Metro’s ~$1M-$1.5M market.

If you’re currently searching for a home, you should regularly check-in with your Loan Officer, especially before making an offer, to confirm that the loan product you plan to use still exists and the requirements haven’t changed.

Interest Rate Volatility

Interest rates hit all-time lows in the beginning of March, but a week later spiked in response to an overwhelming rush of refinances. The first half of March was one of the most volatile periods for mortgage rates ever, including the most volatile day ever. Since the Fed stepped in with liquidity, rates have stabilized, but are still relatively volatile.

Rate volatility is generally bad for demand because buyers take comfort in certainty. Here’s a chart showing rate movement over the last six months to highlight how crazy the last six weeks have been:

Increased Loan Forbearance

Loan forbearance (temporary pause on mortgage payments) is skyrocketing in the US, and will likely be another exponential chart to watch over the next few weeks/months. Borrowers pay a Servicer (lender) and the Servicer pays investors, who are guaranteed to receive their payments from Servicers even if borrowers stop paying. This has led to a massive liquidity crunch for many lenders and put their businesses in jeopardy of failing, despite efforts by the Government to relieve the pressure.

https://ci5.googleusercontent.com/proxy/MibKUDdVZ2qrv2k_GJPswXrC-P3vbvz-A_LZLUpCKDDaA0YonxXQX0jLflPyBmyetHNa2IhYnfVtGIP4SeOwEg_4h_Ti7UPfLayIMuGS7A=s0-d-e1-ft#https://mba-erm.informz.net/mba-erm/data/images/04102020.jpg

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

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

Impact of Coronavirus on the Real Estate Market

Question: How will the threat of Coronavirus impact the real estate market in 2020?

Answer: I wasn’t planning to write this, it seems a little click-baity (now my “Trump’s Impact on Real Estate” column has some competition!), but I got the question four different times in under 24 hours last week so here I am writing about it.

Too Early To Know

Nobody knows how Coronavirus is going to impact the real estate market over the next month or the next ten months because we don’t know what the real impact of the virus will be on public health and markets. According to President Trump, it could disappear one day “like a miracle” and according to others, we could face a devastating pandemic.

Yesterday’s stock market closed down nearly 8% and this morning, the Futures were up almost 4%. Uncertainty slows the real estate market down and the only certainty right now is how uncertain the markets and public are about COVID-19. It’s hard to see how this type of uncertainty doesn’t create a drag on real estate across the country, the question is how long it will last.

Beyond the uncertainty, you have the very real impact of a sharp decline in investment/retirement accounts that many people use for down payments. With many accounts down double digits over the last two weeks, some buyers may reconsider their decision to sell stocks right now.

On the other hand, interest rates are historically low, hitting all-time lows last week, and the real estate market across the greater DC Metro has been on fire since January so it’ll take a major shift in demand to slow things down as we head into peak buying season.

What I’ve Heard

So far, what I’m hearing from clients, colleagues, and other industry partners (lenders, title, etc) is that buyers are hoping the Coronavirus slows the market down so they can have a better opportunity to buy, but there seems to be very few people actually pulling out of the market or reducing offers because of it.

Currently, buyers still seem more motivated by historically low rates and lack of buying opportunities than they are concerned that the likely impact of the virus. It seems that long-term confidence in local real estate is still a stronger influence on people’s decisions.

I think this mindset could change quickly, having broad negative effects on the local real estate market, if markets continue to tank, systematic failures in the market appear (e.g. Mortgage-backed Securities in 07-08), or people begin experiencing more direct effects of the virus like work/school closures or people they know testing positive. This is an important change to watch for if you’re considering putting your home on the market in the coming weeks.

Don’t Overvalue Speculation

It’s important to distinguish between fact and speculation and not overvalue speculation. If you spend 30 minutes online today, you’ll be able to find an assortment of well-supported reasons why the markets is on the brink of another recession as well as well-supported reasons why everything will be just fine, with growth ahead.

Your decision should be rooted in things you can rely on like how long you can live happily in a home (nothing creates value like longer ownership periods) and what your best alternatives are to buying (renting, staying put) or selling (do you have a better utilization of your equity?).

Of course, you want to consider the national, regional, and local economy as well as neighborhood trends, development pipelines, and other factors that will influence appreciation/depreciation potential, but be careful not to overvalue speculation.

(Tax) Assessment Values Well Below Market Values

Question: The County significantly increased the assessment value of my home this year, should I appeal it?

Answer: It’s that time of year again…time for homeowners to find out they’ll be paying more in real estate taxes this year due to an increase in the assessed value of their homes. Arlington increased the assessed value of residential real estate by an average of 4.3%, which is less than the 6.3% increase in average sold price in 2019 and much less than the 8.9% increase in median sold price.

Tax assessments are based on the sum of the County’s determination of the value of the land your home sits on and the value of the improvements made to that land (your home). The County adjusts each of these values every year to generate the total assessed value, of which Arlington homeowners pay about 1% of each year to the County in real estate taxes.

Based on conversations I’ve had with homeowners around the County, it sounds like most of the increase in assessments this year were driven by increases in the land value, which makes sense.

Assessed Value vs Market Value

While it is frustrating to see your assessment increase so much, costing homeowners an average of a few hundred dollars in additional tax payments, it’s highly unlikely you’re in a position to challenge your assessment. Over the last 14 months, the County’s assessed value was an average of 14.2% below what homes actually sold for.

Here’s a breakdown of how the County’s assessment compared to actual sold prices since 2019, broken out by zip code, property type, and price range. Here are some highlights from the data:

  • If the County’s assessment matched actual market values, homeowners would pay an average of about $800 more per year in taxes
  • Unsurprisingly, the zip codes with the greatest difference between market values and assessed values were all three South Arlington zip codes (22202, 22204, 22206), with homes in 22202 (home to Amazon HQ2) selling for nearly 20% more than the County’s assessment
  • The County has the most difficult time assessing home values in 22205 compared to other zip codes and, unsurprisingly, detached homes compared to condos or townhouses
  • Residents who own homes worth over $1M benefited the most by the County’s low assessments, with market values nearly 19% higher than their tax assessment, resulting in an average annual savings of about $1,900 if the County’s assessments were on par with market values
Zip CodeAvg Sold $ to Assessment $StdDev Sold $ to Assessment $Avg Difference Sold $ vs Assessment $
2220112.3%8.7%$71,412
2220219.7%15.9%$108,083
2220313.1%10.7%$72,268
2220415.4%13.7%$62,933
2220515.4%19.3%$126,150
2220618.1%11.9%$71,783
2220711.1%14.4%$106,188
2220910.7%8.8%$57,149
2221310.4%9.7%$40,016
Arlington14.2%13.0%$79,434
Property TypeAvg Sold $ to Assessment $StdDev Sold $ to Assessment $Avg Difference Sold $ vs Assessment $
Condo13.9%10.6%$50,659
Detached14.0%17.0%$118,925
Townhouse15.0%9.9%$81,220
All14.2%13.0%$79,434
Price RangeAvg Sold $ to Assessment $Avg Difference Sold $ vs Assessment $
<$1M13.3%$58,720
$1M+18.6%$187,718
Total14.2%$79,434

As reported by ARLnow last week, the County will not increase the tax rate (percentage of assessment homeowners pay in annual taxes) and may still decide to reduce the tax rate to offset increased assessments. The hope for many homeowners is that as commercial vacancy rates drop from the historic highs over the past decade, the increased tax revenue from businesses will allow the County to ease the tax burden on homeowners by reducing the residential real estate tax rate.

As always, if you are considering buying, selling, or investing in Arlington/Northern VA real estate, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com if you’d like to discuss your strategy and/or current market trends.

The Real Story About 22202 Property Values (Amazon Zip Code), Part 1

Question: I have read articles about the 22202 zip code suggesting everything from extreme appreciation to homes now selling for pre-Amazon prices. Can you shed some light on what’s actually happening in that market?

Answer: After months of articles about extreme appreciation in 22202, the Amazon HQ2 zip code making up neighborhoods like Crystal City, Pentagon City, Aurora Highlands/Hills, and Arlington Ridge, there was an article published last week by the Washington Business Journal claiming that prices are now below pre-Amazon HQ2 announcement levels. The supporting data was that median sold price in November 2019 was 12% lower than November 2018 prices.

This is yet another example of lazy reporting on Amazon’s impact on local real estate with the sole intention of generating clicks. First of all, if you use the average sold price instead of median, there was a 2.3% increase in prices from November ’18 to November ’19, not a 12% decrease. Second, with a drop in total sales from 30 in 2018 to just 12 in 2019, with prices ranging from $255,000 to $1,145,000, there’s just not enough data to draw any sort of reliable conclusion on market performance by comparing the two months.

To generate reliable real estate trends, you either need a lot of data points (sales) or drill into smaller data sets. With that said, let’s dive into some real analysis on how Amazon HQ2 has impacted residential real estate for its new neighbors in 22202.

Market Make-up

The 22202 market offers a diverse supply of housing. This year, condos have sold from as little as $195,000 for a 500sqft studio to $1,250,000 for a 2,900sqft 3BR/3BA penthouse. The least expensive detached home sold for $630,000 to be torn down and the most expensive a 6BR/4.5BA for $1,600,000.

Homes in the area tend to be pretty old with most detached homes being built prior to the 1960s and only one condo building has delivered since 1990.

Of the 135 homes to sell so far in 2019, 76 were in condo buildings, 47 were detached homes, and 11 were townhouses.

Condo Market

Inventory levels in the 22202 condo market took a huge hit, dropping 40% from 130 sales in 2018 to just 76 in 2019 (with two more scheduled to close in 2019). The decline is attributed to owners choosing not to sell (holding out for more appreciation), certainly not lack of demand.

As a whole, the average sold price in the 22202 condo market increase 22.8% ($402k to $492k) and median price increased 18.6% ($379k to $450k) for properties that went under contract after Amazon’s November 13 HQ2 announcement.

However, don’t think individual property values appreciated ~20%. The entire market is skewed higher because of a big drop-off in less expensive studios (60% decline) and 1BRs (33% decline).

Let’s take a deeper look at how property values actually changed by looking at similar sales within comparable buildings. I’ve grouped all buildings along Arlington Ridge and Army Navy Drive, along Crystal Drive, and both Eclipse buildings so that we have larger sample sizes to compare pricing activity from within comparable buildings. I limited this data set to one- and two-bedroom units.

The percentages for each building group represent the change from properties sold in 2018 and 2019 that went under contract pre-Amazon announcement vs post-Amazon announcement (Nov 13 2018).

Building GroupAvg $/SqftAvg Sold PriceAvg Days on MarketAvg SqftAvg Condo Fee# Sold
Arlington Ridge – Army Navy+7.9%3.8%-36.4%-3.1%1.3%-9.5%
Post Amazon$359$385,450331,064$70938
Pre Amazon$333$371,198521,098$70142
Bella Vista+4.4%37.7%-65.4%28.8%31.8%-58.3%
Post Amazon$462$579,800101,235$7345
Pre Amazon$443$421,02529959$55712
Crystal Drive+23.5%12.3%-79.9%-10.2%8.7%54.5%
Post Amazon$506$558,618291,112$91017
Pre Amazon$410$497,5321451,238$83711
Eclipse+8.1%26.5%-65.5%16.4%14.4%-50.0%
Post Amazon$526$525,184161,000$47519
Pre Amazon$487$415,20146860$41538

There’s a ton of interesting information packed into this table, here are some of my key takeaways:

  • The two groups with enough sales to offer reliable data, AR-AN and Eclipse, suggest actual appreciation of around 8% based on $/sqft. I think $/sqft is a better measuring stick than sold price in this case.
  • Across all condo buildings, the average price of 1BR condos increased 9.8% and 2BR condos increased 12.1%
  • Not shown in this table, but calculated elsewhere, is that the standard deviation of the average sold price increased by 49% and 72% in one-and-two-bedroom condos, respectively. This highlights the variability of pricing in the area and why it’s important to drill down into the data instead of just looking at overall average and median price trends.
  • In my personal market assessment, by comparing individual sales of similar units, I believe actual property value appreciation in the 22202 condo market is 8-12% depending on factors like property condition, condo fees, bedroom count, and age of building.
  • Sales activity increased significantly along Crystal Drive and decreased only slightly along AR-AN, as long-time owners saw an opportunity to sell condos that were previously difficult to unload due to building age and high condo fees. The 80% drop in days on market along Crystal Drive is incredible.
  • I’ve said for years that I thought the Eclipse buildings (3600 and 3650 S Glebe) offer some of the best long-term value in Arlington/Alexandria, and I still believe that to be true even after Amazon price increases. It would be great if I listened to my own advice and bought an investment property there…

I’ll provide a similar analysis of the detached single-family home market in Part 2, but the next two Tuesdays are Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, so I may wait until January to publish it. If you have any questions about my analysis or you’re considering selling a condo in 22202 and would like some more specific analysis done of your property, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Expect A Slower Market Until February

Question: Does the Arlington market change in the winter?

Answer: November marks the start of the traditional “winter market” in Arlington that is defined by fewer homes being put up for sale and homes sitting on the market just a bit longer than they did earlier in the year. The decrease in new inventory will be obvious to anybody who has been searching for a home in 2019, but you’ll barely notice the increase in how long homes are taking to sell because the market is moving so quickly that even a slowdown will mimic spring markets in previous years.

Sharp Decrease In New Inventory

Historically, the fewest homes hit the market in Arlington from November-January, with the pace of new listings in December coming in at nearly 1/3 the rate of new listings from March-May. With inventory levels in 2019 already at historical lows, this winter will feel especially short on housing supply.

Month Contribution to Total New Listings
Buyer Demand Cools Off

Historically, the percentage of homes that go under contract within the first ten days decreases from November-January, with November and December (holiday season) having the most noticeable reduction in quick sales. However, with the pace of the Arlington market at all-time highs in 2019, you can expect the drop in demand in November and December to feel like peak spring demand in previous years.

Percentage of Homes Under Contract in First 1-10 Days
Is The Winter The Right Time For You?

The winter can be a great time to buy if you’re more focused on value because demand decreases so you may pick up some negotiation leverage.  However, if you’re searching for something unique and struggling to find properties that fit your criteria, the odds of the perfect place hitting the market in the winter decreases.

Given how low inventory is heading into this winter, I’m not sure buyers will find as many deals as they have in previous years. Demand is still strong from buyers who haven’t found a home yet in 2019 and low supply makes it a strong market for sellers, even during the holidays.

If you’re considering buying or selling in Arlington or the surrounding DC Metro communities and would like to learn more about the impact seasonality will have on your process, feel free to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Making Up For A Questionable Housing Report

Question: I recently read an article by the Sun Gazette that median price per square foot was down since last year in Arlington and the rest of Northern VA. Is that what you’re seeing in the market, despite reports of prices going up?

Answer: I read that article as well and was equally confused by the statistic that $/sqft was down 6.8% in Arlington in the first nine months of 2019 compared to the first nine months of 2018. While this data point may be technically correct, it doesn’t accurately represent what’s happening in the Arlington/Northern VA marketplace. Even without having access to the data behind it, does anybody believe that with all the news about the Amazon-effect on Arlington’s real estate market, that people are paying less per square foot in 2019?

Price-per-square-foot Is Actually Up (obviously)

The truth is that while the median $/sqft did drop year-over-year in the first nine months of 2019, it was actually due to a shift in the type of inventory that sold, not because buyers are getting more for their money. As I pointed out earlier this year in an article about a national news story on Arlington’s real estate market, it’s easy to find market data that sounds interesting (aka generates reader clicks) but doesn’t tell an accurate story.

When I drilled into the 2018 vs 2019 data on median and average $/sqft, I found that within comparable sub-markets (e.g. 2BR condos, 4BR single-family, etc) median and average $/sqft increased year-over-year. In fact, if you use average $/sqft instead of median, like the article references, there was a 9.5% increase across Arlington. In this case average is a better statistical measure than median, but of course the median $/sqft made for a better story.

Accurate Headlines From The First Nine Months

While I have the data together comparing the first nine months of 2019 to the first nine months of 2018, I’ll go ahead and offer up five headlines that accurately represent the Arlington real estate market through September 2019:

  1. The market is up, but not by as much as you might thing based on some new stories. The average purchase price in Arlington jumped 5.8% to just over $722,000.
  2. A lack of inventory drove total sales down by 8%, with the biggest drop-off showing up in the condo market which suffered from a 12.3% drop in sales, led by a 13.6% drop in two-bedroom condo sales.
  3. The price range of the middle 50% of homes jumped from $380,000-$864,300 in 2018 to $415,000-$916,000 in 2019, a 9.2% increase in the lower limit and a 6% increase in the upper limit. This indicates that the Amazon-effect is impacting lower price points faster than upper price points which makes sense because investors and other speculators are more likely to purchase at lower prices.
  4. Good properties sold much faster in 2019 with 62.7% of homes selling in the first 10 days, compared to 46.4% in 2018. The craziest stat? 85.5% of 2BR townhomes/duplexes sold within the first 10 days.
  5. Price growth in the 22202 zip code, the area surrounding Pentagon City and Crystal City aka National Landing aka Bezosville, led all Arlington zip codes with a 13.7% jump in average sold price.

If you ever run across market data you’re not sure about or would like a customized data analysis, please reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.