Arlington’s Next Luxury Condo Building

Question: Do you think Pierce condos in Rosslyn will be able to sell for the prices they’re advertising?

Answer: A few months ago, local developer Penzance released details on their upcoming Highlands development that includes three luxury residential buildings, one of which will be a 27-story condo building called Pierce.  Here’s a summary of what we know:

  • Large Floor Plans: 104 units ranging from a 1,270sqft 1BR+Den to a 3BR with over 2,400sqft
  • Larger Prices: Starting at $900k and increasing to over $3M
  • Luxury Finishes: Thermador appliances, hardwood throughout, Snaidero cabinets, floor-to-ceiling windows, some direct-access elevators and other luxury touches
  • Top Amenities: 24hr staff, rooftop pool, two-story gym, club room, to name a few

Courtesy of Mayhood at PierceVA.com

Is There Anything Else Like It?

It seems that Penzance is modeling its approach after Turnberry Tower, the iconic all-glass blue building a block from the Rosslyn Metro. Both buildings’ smallest units are 1BR+Den with about 1,300sqft, they have similar high-end finishes, many units with direct-access elevators, and both have luxury amenities.

Demand and prices at Turnberry have increased significantly over the last 18-24 months, which is a good sign for Penzance.

Meeting New Demand

There is a significant, relatively new, demand in Arlington for large condos to satisfy Baby Boomers downsizing from big suburban homes around the DC Metro. Over the last 20 years of condo development in Arlington, most floor plans have been 1BR-2BR, ranging from 700-1,000sqft. To find larger floor plans, buyers are mostly left with buildings constructed in the 70s and 80s, so there is currently an underserved market for newer condos with large floor plans.

For example, 2000 Clarendon, a condo building in Courthouse set to deliver next year, originally planned six 2BR+Den units of ~1,400 and ~1,700sqft. They had so much interest that they added two more. Their current waitlist for the 2BR+Den units has over 20 people on it. However, the price of 2000 Clarendon units are about half what similar units at Pierce will cost.

Will People Pay These Prices?

  • 1BR+Den with 1,270+sqft start at $900k (4 units)
  • 2BR with 1,320+sqft start at $1.1M (44 units)
  • 2BR+Den with 1,953+sqft start at $2M (46 units)
  • 3BR with 2,411sqft start at $2.6M (10 units)
  • More than half of the units will be $2M+
  • More than half of the units will be over $1,000/sqft. Over the last five years, seven Turnberry condos and two Waterview condos have cross the $1,000/sqft mark. DC hits this mark in its premier buildings.

Rosslyn has only begun its transition into a luxury market and Pierce will be a great indicator of where Rosslyn is in the eyes of the market. The sales won’t come overnight, or be without challenges, but the developer can afford to be patient for:

  • The down-sizing Baby Boomers that Pierce is suited for can afford to pay a significant premium for the right floor plan and building
  • Amazon, Nestle, consulting/law firms, Defense contractors, and tech start-ups are supplying more and more highly-paid Executives to the Arlington housing market
  • International money will be drawn to its proximity to DC and Amazon
  • Trophy units with direct views of DC and the Potomac River should be in high demand because it’s unlikely that future developments will block those views, something that has had a major impact on many Turnberry owners in the last five years (I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them move a couple of blocks up the street to reclaim their views)

There are some challenges that will likely slow the pace of sales and maybe even cause them to bring prices down on some units:

  • At these prices, buyers will also be looking at similar units in DC’s top addresses in neighborhoods like Georgetown, West End, and The Wharf
  • There will be a 7-11, fire station (quiet-exits will help, but won’t convince everybody), and a school (a negative for most, despite the beautiful design) within one block
  • Being up the (steep) hill from many of the neighborhood’s top draws including Rosslyn Metro, Key Bridge, Mt Vernon Trail, and new dining options
  • Rosslyn still has many elements from its sleepy government office district days and probably 5-10 years from shedding that completely via redevelopment that’s in the pipeline

Pre-sales are scheduled to begin in early 2020, but the building probably won’t be finished and ready for move-in until well into 2021. I don’t think the current market, or even the 2020 market, will be ready to pay these prices for most of the 104 units, but I think by 2021 we’ll see Rosslyn far enough along and Arlington’s market driving forward enough to generate some eye-popping sales for Penzance’s Pierce condos.

Is iBuying the Next Trend in Real Estate?

Question: What do you think about the iBuying trend in real estate? Have you seen an impact in Arlington?

Answer: iBuying offers homeowners a way to sell their home quickly without going to market, using a price generated by an Automated Valuation Model (AVM) like Zillow’s Zestimates. The big players are Opendoor, Offerpad, and Zillow but recently some well-known brokerages have joined the party including Redfin and Keller Williams.

At this time, none of the main players are offering iBuying in Arlington or the DC Metro. Currently, the largest iBuying market in the country is Phoenix with about 6% of transactions going through an iBuyer (half of those are with Opendoor).

How It Works

The process of iBuying is similar for each company and looks something like this:

  1. Homeowner submits a request for an offer and provides some basic information about their home (bedrooms, square footage, etc)
  2. iBuyer makes an initial offer on the home based on their AVM pricing algorithm
  3. If the owner likes the price, the iBuyer conducts a property inspection to determine condition and cost of repairs
  4. iBuyer makes a final offer given the property condition
  5. Owner can accept and close usually within 10-14 days

Advantages

  • Sell quickly
  • Sell as-is
  • No showings
  • No repairs or improvements
  • No contingencies that cause contract to void
  • No cost to get an offer

Disadvantages

  • Sale price likely below market value
  • “Service fees” usually range from 7-10% of the sale price, well above most commissions when using an agent
  • Still pay your normal closing costs (taxes, title fees, etc)
  • iBuyers not operating in most metro areas

When Does An iBuyer Make Sense?

There are all sorts of reasons a homeowner may value speed and convenience over price so iBuying exists for that market, but it should remain only a small percentage of the overall real estate transaction market. iBuying won’t always be the best option for somebody looking for speed and convenience, but with no cost and little effort to get an offer, it makes sense to at least see what an iBuyer is willing to pay.

If you’re in a market where iBuying exists (or when it eventually comes to Arlington), why wouldn’t you request an instant offer from an iBuyer and compare it to what your real estate agent thinks you can get on market? I know a broker in Texas who got more for his house from an iBuyer than he could get on the market because the AVM pricing algorithm over-valued his house.

Will iBuying Last?

I’m not sure how iBuyers will survive an economic downturn when they’re sitting on a huge amount of inventory that’s worth less than they paid for it. It’s a great business model in a hot market, but potentially devastating when the market turns.

Another flaw I see in the current model is that homeowners (like the broker in Texas I mentioned earlier) can take advantage of the process. An owner who does their homework, meeting with agents and getting iBuyer offers, will most likely only choose the iBuyer if they’re over-paying. That’s great for owners who can take advantage of it, but I’m not sure how that can be a sustainable business model.

An additional drawback is that iBuyers generally charge a fee of 7-10% of the purchase price, which is mostly attributed to the risks associated with buying based on an algorithm and a basic property inspection. If iBuyers can figure out how to reduce risk enough to cut this fee in half and sustain themselves through downturns, things will get interesting for the real estate industry. There have always been brokers and investors who specialize in “buy now” or instant offer programs, but what makes iBuying unique is the implementation of technology to determine pricing and to make the process more convenient, as well as the scale of operations. I think the longer-term solution is something that blends the convenience and scale of a well-funded tech company with the market knowledge of a local agent.

How Much Are Condo Fees In Arlington?

Question: Our Board of Directors is planning for the 2020 budget and we’d like to get a sense of the market rates in Arlington, particularly in the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. What are the average condo fees in the Arlington area on a cost per square foot basis?

Answer: It’s that time of year for most Condo Associations – budget planning time! As a former Condo Board Treasurer, I understand the pressure you’re under to balance responsible spending and reserve contributions with resident expectations of low, stable fees. Let’s take a look at what condo fees are across Arlington…

Arlington Condo Fee Rates

Fees are generally set on an annual basis by dividing up the Association’s total budget, including reserve contributions, by the ownership percentage assigned to each unit. Ownership percentage is determined by the builder and can be found in the legal documents you received prior to purchase. In most cases, it’s determined either by the number of bedrooms or square feet.

On a square foot basis, the average condo fee in Arlington is $0.54/sqft with a median fee of $0.53/sqft. Along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor the average jumps a bit to $0.57/sqft and the median remains the same.

On a per bedroom basis:
Bedrooms Average Fee Median Fee Average R-B Corridor
0 $319 $380 $306
1 $436 $470 $443
2 $575 $471 $631
3 $976 $505 $1,093

Not All Fees Created Equal

Before you jump to any conclusions about the relative value of your condo fee, you need to consider what’s included.

Amenities that require staffing and/or expensive maintenance like an attended front-desk, on-site management, and pools add significantly to the budget. The value for those amenities is subjective. Amenities that take up a significant amount of space within a building like large lobbies, party rooms, or rooftop gyms take away from the total unit count, thus increasing the ownership percentage of each unit.

There’s also a wide range of utilities included, or not, in a condo fee. Some fees include all utilities (water, sewer, trash, gas, and electricity) while others may only include trash with the rest paid directly by each owner. Some fees even include internet and cable! These differences can change your monthly bottom-line between two condos by hundreds of dollars.

Another important consideration when analyzing condo fees is how well they’re being used to fund the reserves (the Association’s savings account for major repair or replacement work) and whether future planned/unplanned building expenses will require a fee increase or special assessment. A well-funded reserve account usually means long-term fee stability and decreased chances of a special assessment. Associations should complete a new Reserve Study every five years to maintain a sufficient reserve balance and healthy building maintenance.

Other Thoughts On Condo Fees

Over the past couple of years I’ve written other condo fee related columns you might find helpful including A Case For Condo Fees, How Fees Impact Resale Value, and Finding Savings In Your Condo Budget.

While I have the attention of condo owners/Boards, I’ll also remind everybody that I’m organizing an info session on smoking bans in condos and to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com if you’re interested in joining.

Question: We are planning to buy a home in the DC area sometime in the next 12-24 months and want to make sure we take that time to prepare. What should we know before buying a house that we can get started with now?

Answer: Whether you’re a first-time buyer, experienced buyer relocating from out-of-state, or moving locally here’s a list of things I review and plan out with clients before getting into the full swing of house hunting:

Local Customs, Requirements, Timelines, and Contracts
The home-buying process varies greatly across and within states. I think the most important thing you can do as a buyer is take an hour at the beginning of your buying process to become educated on the process, timelines, and key contractual terms/obligations in the area(s) you plan to search. This is also a good way to meet and vet different real estate agents early on to get a feel for who is willing to spend time with you up-front on education and planning vs pushing immediately for a sale.

Choose the Right Financing, Get Pre-Approved
Not all lenders offer the same loan products so it’s important to identify a lender who not only provides high quality service, but also has access to loan products that fit your profile (down payment, credit score, job industry, etc). Real estate agents, friends, and co-workers are all great sources of recommendations.

You’ll also want to get a pre-approval from at least one lender, one that actually reviews and verifies your financial documents, income, and employment instead of just running credit and reviewing an information sheet. This will decrease the chances of you being rejected from a loan, allow the lender to provide the most accurate recommendation, increase your leverage in contract negotiations, and reduce the amount of work required of you once you’re under contract.

Don’t Forget A Monthly Budget
I find that most people qualify for more than they actually want to spend, especially dual-income buyers, so budgeting is important. The biggest mistake most buyers make is budgeting strictly around the sale price, which is often driven by the amount you have for a down payment. It’s just as important to set a monthly budget for total housing expenses including mortgage, taxes, insurance and if applicable Association fees and/or mortgage insurance. Your lender can help you project monthly expenses at different price points based on different down payment amounts.

Do You Want Representation?
Determine if you want to have a real estate agent representing you in the transaction (breaking news…I highly recommend it) and, if so, what level of service you’re looking for. In most cases, the seller pays commission to their representing broker and the buyer’s broker, so representation often comes at little or no cost to buyers.

Push Yourself on Your Criteria
It’s very easy to come up with your top 3-5 criteria for a home and rare for most couples to disagree on the short list, but push yourself/yourselves to rank your top 10-12 criteria. This list can and will change as you search for homes, but it pushes you to think about more than bedroom count, schools, commute, and an open kitchen. This is especially valuable for couples. Just because you have the same taste in music, food, and TV shows that brought you together, doesn’t mean you’re on the same page about housing criteria.

Cash Needs + Savings
You need cash savings to pay for your down payment + closing costs of 2.5-3% of the sale price (in the DMV). Within a few days of your offer being accepted, you’ll have to transfer 1-5% (negotiable) of the sale price into an escrow account as deposit to secure the sale. You’ll spend about $1,000 out-of-pocket between contract and closing on inspections and the appraisal. Don’t forget how expensive moving is either, so keep enough savings for incidental moving expenses, new furniture, painting, etc. You should aim to haver 3-6 months of emergency savings tucked away after everything is paid for.

Other Key Providers
Most buyers are familiar with the role real estate agents and lenders play in the transaction, but don’t forget about the importance of working with a quality title attorney and home inspector. Your agent should be able to make a great recommendation.

How Long Will You Live There?
This is probably the most underrated conversation for buyers to have when they’re setting a budget and determining criteria. Your home-buying strategy should look very different if you’re planning to own for 3-5 years vs 10-12 years so give it serious thought and be realistic.

Deadlines and Lease Terms
Figure out if you have any strict deadlines for the move and iuf there are direct or indirect costs of buying before or after that deadline. It can be difficult in a low-inventory market to time a purchase, so make sure you’re aware of the pros and cons of purchasing before or after your deadline. If you’re renting, make sure you find out the cost of early termination or if month-to-month leasing is an option.

Reason for Your Purchase
I still haven’t met somebody who asks for a bad investment when they buy a house, everybody wants their home purchase to be a great investment, but you have to define what a great investment means to you. Does it mean your home appreciates in value well above the market over a certain period of time? If so, you’ll likely be in under-developed areas or in a house nobody else wants. Does a great investment mean you wake up every morning so happy with your home and neighborhood that the money is a secondary concern? I often remind clients that sometimes the best investment is buying a house that allows you to live there longer and eliminates one or more real estate transactions in your lifetime. In other words, the value you get out of being in a home for 10 years vs 3 years far surpasses a small increase in your budget.

I hope this list is helpful not just for local DC Metro readers, but for anybody getting started with their home search and wondering what you should know before buying a house. These are the conversations and steps I take with my clients every day to make sure they’re prepared, educated, and have the right strategy in place before we even step foot in a house together. I’m sure I left a few things off this list, but this should get you 95% of the way there. Feel free to give me a call or send me an email at Eli@EliResidential.com for the 5% I missed.

Question: A few of our friends who bought homes recently told us that we should expect to use an Escalation Clause/Addendum when we make an offer, if we want our offer accepted. Is that your experience and is there a better way of making a competitive offer?

Answer: I thought this would be an appropriate follow-up column to last week’s columnon the dangerously under-supplied housing market and it’s also become a frequent topic of conversation with clients.

With so much competition for hard-to-find homes that have just come to market, it’s critical for buyers to understand the purpose and risk/reward of using Escalation Clauses/Addendums in their offer.

Please note that this column is specific to contracts in Northern VA; Maryland and DC contracts vary in language and use.

What Is An Escalation Clause/Addendum (EA)?

An EA allows you to make an offer at a starting price while agreeing to increase your offer to a higher price if another offer is higher than yours. It includes a ceiling/maximum escalation value and an escalation factor, the amount your offer will increase by, over the next highest offer.

The contract allows for the seller to execute a purchase contract (ratify) at an escalated value, without the buyer having to agree to the new price. However, to protect buyers, the seller is required to deliver the next highest contract that was used to escalate your offer.

That other offer must also be materially similar, meaning the other offer cannot include seller credits or a material difference in contingencies (e.g. the other buyer has to sell a home before buying this one).

When To Use an EA

EAs are best used when there are multiple confirmed or expected offers and the seller has set a deadline, asking for best-and-final. It is very common in our market for sellers to set an offer deadline after their first full weekend on market and often those deadlines are set with the expectation that all offers will be best-and-final and the seller will make a decision shortly after the deadline, without any back-and-forth with buyers.

Buyers are often skeptical of this practice and assume that sellers will come back for more negotiating anyway, but in my experience, most sellers stick with the plan and a buyer who leaves something on the table is often informed that another offer was selected.

Managing the Risk & Reward of an EA

Used correctly, EAs allow you to maximize the chances of your offer being selected, without grossly overpaying relative to the rest of the market. It allows you to offer as much as you’re willing to pay for a home, without actually committing to pay your maximum if nobody else in the market values the home as much as you do.

In my experience being on both sides of the transaction, and speaking with colleagues, the winning offer in a multiple offer bid almost always includes an EA, however, the winning offer escalates all the way to its ceiling only about half of the time.

The clear risk to you is that you’re exposing the highest price you’re willing to pay to a seller and if there aren’t other offers that justify automatically escalating your offer, the seller may attempt to simply counter your offer at a number equal to or close to your escalation ceiling.

There are things both the seller’s agent and buyer’s agent can/should do ahead of accepting/offering EAs to avoid a potential messy situation where this occurs.

As the buyer, you should think about how you will respond if the seller attempts this. I have had (buyer) clients walk away from a deal when this occurs, leaving the seller with nothing or a much worse offer, but have also had (buyer) clients thrilled to be countered at a price below their escalation ceiling, even if there weren’t other offers to support it.

Key Takeaways

  • EAs have become common-place in the market
  • EAs should be used when there are confirmed or expected multiple offers and a deadline has been set by the seller
  • EAs help the seller get the best price and allow buyers to maximize their chance of securing a home without grossly overpaying relative to the market
  • EAs carry a lot of risk and reward, so be sure to understand them before including one in your offer

If you are thinking about getting into the market for a home purchase and would like to discuss strategies that will help you maximize your chances of a successful home purchase, without exposing yourself to unnecessary risk, feel free to reach out to set-up a meeting with me. You can reach me any time at Eli@EliResidential.com.

Question: We have been searching for a home for over 6 months and have expanded both our criteria and budget, but still not finding something we like. We have heard that the housing supply is low, is that true for Arlington?

Answer: The housing supply shortage in Arlington is a big problem and it’s not just Arlington that is feeling the pain, it’s most of Northern VA and the greater DC Metro (nationwide as well).

You’re not alone in your experience either, we have a handful of clients who have been looking for the better part of a year while also expanding their search area and budget, but unhappy with what’s available.

So, is the housing shortage mostly anecdotal and buyers are just too picky or to cheap? Nope… here are some charts that highlight the alarmingly low housing inventory in Arlington:

Eight Consecutive Quarters of Fewer Homes For Sale, Year over Year (YoY)

After seven straight quarters of YoY decreases in the number of homes for sale, Q1 2018 brought us the largest drop in YoY homes for sale with 21.1% fewer homes for sale than Q1 2017, which was already 7.2% lower than the number of homes for sale in Q1 2016. The chart below represents all homes for sale in Arlington.

 

Existing Housing Supply Would Only Last 1.5 Months

Months of supply measures how long the existing housing inventory would last given the last 6 months of demands (absorption). Most economists say that 4-6 months of supply represents a well balance housing market and Arlington has hovered around 1.5 months of supply for the last 6 months.

I broke out the chart below by housing type (detached, townhouse, and condo) to highlight the fact that the problem exists across all housing types, but town-homes have historically been the least supplied type of housing in Arlington.

 

Good Homes Are Selling Much Faster

This chart shows the YoY change in the number of homes sold within the first 10 days on market, which has increased the last six quarters in a row. There was an impressive 53.4% YoY increase from Q1 2016 to Q1 2017, followed by yet another double digit increase in homes sold within the first 10 days from Q1 2017 to Q1 2018.

 

The $1M+ Home Market Is Healthy

The only sub-market in Arlington with a healthy supply are homes listed for over $1M, with around four months of supply, while everything priced from $300k-$800k is under one month of supply.

However, the $1M+ sub-market is only “healthy” on paper, take a deeper look and you’ll see two major problems (cue comments that the problem with $1M+ homes is that they are $1M+). First, most of those homes are actually $1.5M-$2M and second, most of those homes are tear down/new construction with very similar size and design, leaving wealthy buyers who don’t like new construction with very few options.

 

Tips For Buyers

Here are some tips for buyers searching for hard-to-find homes in a tough market:

  • There are few, if any, great deals in an under-supplied market. In this market, good value is finding a home that meets most of your criteria, that you’ll be happy in, that you can afford.
  • If you want to negotiate, your best bet is to find something that has been on market for at least 2-3 weeks otherwise you’ll accumulate more rejected offers than homes currently on the market
  • Put in the time early in your search to understand the market so you can recognize the right home when it comes on market
  • Base your offer on what the home is worth to you, not just the asking price
  • Understand how Escalation Clauses work and use them to your advantage
  • Find out if there are offer deadlines (usually the Monday or Tuesday following the first day on market)
  • Understand the cost-benefit of contingencies (inspection, financing, appraisal are the standard contingencies) and how you can maximize the strength of your offer with limited risk exposure
  • Consider doing a pre-inspection — a home inspection before you make your offer
  • Have a strong financing approval letter from a reputable lender

A lot of readers have reservations about the value real estate agents provide in buying or selling homes, but without coming off as too much of a salesman for my industry, difficult markets like this are where having a strong agent makes a big difference. Not just somebody to open doors for you and draft a contract, but somebody who understands your needs that you trust to advise you on making the right offer, at the right time.

If you have an agent you trust, rely on them. If you’re looking for somebody, I’m available every day of the week to talk or meet, just send me an email at Eli@EliResidential.com and I’ll be happy to help.

Question: I am moving to Arlington from out of town and not yet ready to buy. I’ve heard the rental market is high in the DC area and wondering approximately how much it costs per bedroom to rent in Arlington.

Answer: I spend a lot of time in this column talking about buying and selling homes in Arlington, but about 54% of the County is renters, so as we head into the busiest rental months, I thought it’d be appropriate to share some helpful statistics on the cost of renting in Arlington.

For the most part, renters tend to be more focused on functional space to meet immediate needs, so I like the idea of using cost per bedroom on rentals more than I do for ownership.

The good news for renters is that developers have added thousands of new rental units over the last 5 years, particularly 1-2 bedroom units in the popular metro areas of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and Crystal/Pentagon City. While the cost of these newer units has increased, it’s kept the cost of renting condos and townhouses from owners pretty stable (or down).

The data I pulled below is primarily made up of non-commercial rental units (condos and townhouses owned by individuals) and restricted to units leased through the MLS (agent database), so only included a portion of the total rental activity in Arlington. I also excluded single family homes from the dataset.

Key Findings:

  • It costs about 40% more to rent a third bedroom than it does to rent a second bedroom
  • Rents have not gone up for one bedroom units, and have only increased about $100/month for two and three bedroom units
  • Most rental units are on the market for 6-7 weeks before being rented
  • There’s not nearly as much negotiating on rentals as there is purchases, with only about 1% or less negotiated off the asking price, on average
  • The least expensive rentals are in the 22204 zip code because there are not any walkable metro stations and the housing inventory tends to be substantially older
  • 22204 is the only zip code where the average rent of a two bedroom is under $2,000/mon and one of only two zip codes (22206) with an average rent under $3,000 for a three bedroom
  • 22209 is the most expensive zip code to rent by a wide margin due to the fact that it hosts two of the most expensive buildings in the DC Metro in Turnberry Tower and Waterview, as well as a host of other high-end buildings. It claims this top spot, despite also hosting one of the least expensive communities in Arlington, River Place.

 

 

One tip I’m happy to share with renters is that there’s rarely a better deal in the market than the deal you get being the first person to rent a unit in a new commercial rental building. The incentives they offer on the first lease usually include 1-2 months free rent, a period of free parking, and sometimes other fees discounted or removed (e.g. pet fee, move-in fee, etc). However, you should prepare for rents to increase substantially if you want to continue renting after your original lease expires.

Our team is happy to assist you with rentals, whether you’re a renter or landlord, so feel free to reach out if you need assistance with either!

Question: Do you think the recent changes to the rankings of Arlington schools on GreatSchools.org will have an impact on home values?

Answer: Sometime in the last few months, GreatSchools.org quietly changed their school ranking criteria, which resulted in a drop in every high school and middle school in Arlington by 1-2 points (10 point scale).

The two biggest K-12 public school ranking websites in the US are Niche.com and GreatSchools.org with about 6M and 4M monthly visits, respectively (SchoolDigger is a distant third with about 500k).

In my experience, buyers in the DC Metro rely more heavily on GreatSchools because Niche lacks differentiation between schools (everybody is a winner). The change in Arlington County Public Schools rankings on GreatSchools is worth noting and I suspect that it will have a negative impact on the housing market.

GreatSchools’ Explanation

In the About section of GreatSchools, they explain the changes in their grading criteria with the following: “In the past, the overall GreatSchools Rating in most states was based on test scores.

In some states*, the GreatSchools Rating was also based on student progress (or “growth”) and college readiness data (SAT/ACT participation and/or performance and/or graduation rates).

Our school profiles now include important information in addition to test scores — factors that make a big difference in how children experience school, such as how much a school helps students improve academically, how well a school supports students from different socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups, and whether or not some groups of students are disproportionately affected by the school’s discipline and attendance policies.

Many of these important themes now have their own rating, and these themed ratings are incorporated into the school’s overall GreatSchools Summary Rating.”

Old vs New Rankings

Below is a table showing the before and after scores for all Arlington County middle and high schools, as well as a limited set of Fairfax County/Falls Church middle and high schools (the ones I had documented scores for before the change).

All “old” scores are as of Fall 2017. Note that my request to GreatSchools for the “old” scores for all Northern VA/DC Metro schools was denied.

 

Why It Does/Doesn’t Matter

I’d be lying if I told you I knew what the impact will be to Arlington home prices and demand, but I think a negative impact will be felt to some degree.

Schools are at the top of many buyers’ criteria list and most of those buyers, whether they’re local or relocating into the area, set a minimum score for the school boundaries they’ll purchase a home in and rely on GreatSchools for their data.

Below are some points I came up with for why it may or may not have an impact on the housing market:

  • It Doesn’t: It appears the majority of public schools in Northern VA were reduced by 1-2 points on GreatSchools, so buyers are still as likely to choose Arlington as they have always been. The alternatives have not improved.
  • It Does: While the reduction of most school scores in Northern VA may not change where or what people buy, the lower scores may decrease overall demand in Northern VA housing and result in less motivated buyers.
  • It Does: I don’ know if Montgomery County and Northwest DC public schools saw similar changes, but if they did not, we may lose buyers to those jurisdictions because their relative value has increased.
  • It Doesn’t: Arlington County Public Schools are still ranked the #1 school system in the state.
  • It Doesn’t: It doesn’t appear that Niche.com has introduced any changes and Yorktown and Washington-Lee are ranked an A+ and Wakefield is ranked an A on that site.
  • It Does: Could the fact that Arlington’s highest ranking high school is now a 5 impact the decisions of employers considering a move to the DC Metro?

I have no doubt that over the course of 2018 I will have local and out-of-town buyers tell me they do not want to purchase a home in Arlington because it has poorly rated (high) schools.

For me and my colleagues who know Arlington, we will point them towards resources that show how great the entire ACPS system is. However, if you recall from my column in July 2017, about half of the agents who closed a deal in Arlington only had one or two transactions here, meaning that agents who don’t know Arlington well are unlikely to have the appropriate background to give their clients better guidance about our schools.

What To Do?

GreatSchools.org wields a lot of power over home values across the country and the drop in our ratings is frustrating, but just like a bad Yelp review for a restaurant, we have to acknowledge the change and find ways to offset it by making it easy for buyers to find more favorable information.

I’d love to hear from readers in the comment section who purchased or are in the process of buying a home in Arlington, who placed a lot of weight in the GreatSchools rankings – how would these changes have impacted your decision when you bought or how are these changes impacting your current purchase strategy?

If you would like to discuss how the new GreatSchool rankings impact your upcoming plans to purchase or sell a home in Arlington, feel free to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com to set-up some time to meet.

Question: I’ve submitted two offers on home this year and both times lost to multiple offers. Is this normal or is the market more competitive this year?

Answer: 2018 has been a good year for sellers and a frustrating one for buyers already. Generally, I don’t start seeing multiple offer deals until late February/early March, when it starts to warm up and days get longer.

However, about 80% of the listing and purchase deals I’ve been on this year have ended up with multiple offers. I even had a listing that had been on market for three months receive three offers in one weekend. My colleagues who work in new construction and generally have the best pulse on market pace have also been surprised by the amount of activity this early.

Here are some numbers in Arlington from January to back up the anecdotal evidence of a hot market:

  • Supply Down, Demand Up: Monthly of supply measures how long it would take to sell all existing inventory at the current market pace (supply and demand) is down 21% YoY and at its lowest levels (1.31 months of supply) since March 2013 (1.22 months of supply)
  • More Homes Under Contract: Over 200 homes went under contract in January (215) for the first time since 2012 (219)
  • Homes Under Contract Faster: Of the 119 homes that were listed and went under contract in January 2018, 69% went under contract within one week. Over the last five years, 49% of homes listed and under contract in January went under contract within one week.
  • Average Number Of New Listings: The amount of new homes listed on market in January 2018 (234) is about average for what we’ve seen over the last decade

Advice For Buyers

Periods of low inventory and high demand can be frustrating for buyers, so here are a few tips for buyers to create leverage for themselves without simply paying more:

  • Quality Of Lender: Have a pre-approval letter from a strong local lender who has review all relevant documents, not just somebody who checks credit score and asks for basic financial information. A strong lender letter gives the seller confidence you will close on the home on time, without complications.
  • Contingencies: Consider giving up your right to request repairs and credits after the home inspection and using a Pass/Fail contingency instead. This shows that you’re not interested in nickel and diming a seller, but just want to make sure there are no major issues. You can also offer to cover up to a certain dollar amount in the event of a low appraisal, if you are offering to pay above the asking price.
  • Close Faster: Most homeowners want to close as quickly as possible. A good lender can have you ready to close in 20 days vs the more common 30-40 day close.
  • Don’t Play Games: We all want to negotiate a great deal, but oftentimes a great deal is actually having your offer accepted not saving a few thousand dollars. When a seller has multiple similar offers, they often put more weight in who they think is most likely to close with the least complications. In that scenario it pays off to make it clear how much you love/want the home instead of acting like you could take it or leave in an attempt to negotiate a lower price.
  • Days On Market: The number of days a property has been on market should dictate how you approach an offer. You won’t have much leverage in the first few weeks or after a major price reduction.

The spring market can be a great time for buyers who are prepared for competition because you’ll see a significant increase in inventory, so that illusive 2 bedroom + den or half acre yard with a deck is more likely to materialize.

If you’re not prepared to make a strong offer, the spring can be frustrating and defeating because you may watch your dream home(s) go to other buyers who have made smarter, but not necessarily higher offers.

Question: My property taxes didn’t change much this year, but the County announced that residential home prices increased 3.9%. Are the County’s tax assessments a good way of determining the market value of my home?

Answer: Tax assessments are not a good way of establishing the market value of your home. In fact, if Arlington homeowners used their tax assessment to determine their asking price, on average they’d be undervaluing their home by 10%!

Also, just because the County saw appreciation of 3-4% this year doesn’t mean that will be applied to all homes. Tax assessments are adjusted on a much more localized level based on neighborhood, number of bedrooms, square footage and other factors specific to your home. I would also advise that just because your tax assessment did not increase, doesn’t mean the market value of your home did not increase (and vice versa).

Market Values Higher Than Assessed Values

The following table compares the average sold price (market value) with the average 2017 tax assessment for all homes sold in 2017. I cleaned up the data a bit by removing Co-op sales (River Place), Ballston’s Senior Living Community, new construction (new tax assessments may take a year to catch-up) and a handful of sales that didn’t have a tax assessment available.

Notable Findings:

  • The average Arlington home has a market value 10% higher than its tax assessment
  • Only 14% of homes sold in 2017 sold for less than their 2017 tax assessment
  • The County struggles the most assessing the value of detached homes in Arlington, likely because of how difficult it is to assess land value with due to the proliferation of tear-downs being bought for land only
  • The most under-assessed zip codes were 22213, 22205 and 22204 with homes selling for 12% or more above the assessed value
  • The most accurately assessed zip code was 22201, with assessments coming in within 7.4% of the average market prices

 

 

Appealing Your Assessment

For the 2017 tax year, Arlingtonians will pay .996% of their assessed value in real estate taxes, up from .991% in 2016. Every year you have an opportunity to appeal your assessment and yes, it has worked, but the burden of proof is on the homeowner, not the County. Arlington provides an informative website on the appeal process.

Quick hits on the appeal process:

  • You should have received your 2017 tax assessment in the mail some time this month
  • Your first appeal with the Dept of Real Estate Assessments must be filed by March 1, 2018
  • Step 1: Call (703)228-3920 for information on how your assessment was determined
  • Step 2: File your appeal online here (First Level)
  • Step 3: An assessor will visit your home and you can provide relevant info to make your case
  • Step 4: If you’re not satisfied with the decision or have not received written notice by April 1, file your second appeal with the Board of Equalization online here (Second Level) by April 15
  • Step 5: If you’re not satisfied with the decision, your final option for appeal is with the Circuit Court, which will likely require you to hire an attorney

If you’re considering appealing your tax assessment, feel free to reach out to me to discuss building a case. I have access to micro and macro market data that can help you determine if your property is over-assessed and can help you create a clear report supporting your appeal.