Avoid Gaps In Your Condo Insurance Policy

Question: My condo association carries an expensive Master Insurance policy, but my lender is requiring that I purchase my own individual policy. What coverage do I gain from the individual policy that the master policy doesn’t include?

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

To explain common gaps between master policies and HO-6 (individual condo) policies, I’d like to re-introduce Andrew Schlaffer, Owner and President of ACO Insurance Group. Andrew is an expert in Master Insurance policies and has helped multiple local condo association’s reduce their cost and improve their coverage since writing a column on the topic last year. If you’d like to contact Andrew directly to review your association’s master policy, you can reach him at (703) 719-8008 or andrew@acoinsgrp.com.

Take it away Andrew…

Increasing Claims, Increasing Coverage Gaps

The condominium insurance marketplace is facing challenges that will impact homeowners in 2021. Water damage is leading this list of challenges—according to the Insurance Information Institute, about one-third of homeowner insurance losses are caused by water damage and freezing. The DMV is home to many aging condo buildings that struggle with mitigating water damage losses and their impact on insurance.

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.

Master Insurance vs Individual Insurance Policy

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

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

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

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

Review Your Dwelling Coverage

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

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

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

What Information to Share with Your Insurance Provider

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

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

My Recommendation for HO-6/Other Individual Policies

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

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

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

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

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

Expect Short-Term Increase in Listing, Contract Activity

Question: Will I see more homes being listed for sale in the fall or is there a stead drop in sales activity until next year?

Answer: It is completely normal for the market to slow down (pace of listing activity and contract activity)  during the summer, but it was discussed much more this year because the preceding months were so crazy, locally and nationally, and everybody is on high alert to a potential bubble.

Nothing I have seen so far has suggested that the change in market conditions over the last couple months is anything more than normal seasonal behavior, so I expect the next couple months to lead to similar seasonal patterns as in years past (except for 2020).

This means a quick bump in post-Labor Day listing activity and contract activity, followed by a steady drop in both measures through the end of the year.

The chart below shows monthly listing and contract activity as a percentage of total annual activity for Arlington from 2015-2019, broken out by single-family homes (SFH)/townhouses (TH) and apartment-style condos/coops. The following bullets are some highlights I pulled from the data:

  • The September bump in listing activity only lasts for a couple of weeks before starting a steady decline through the end of the year
  • The SFH/TH and condo markets behave similarly, but the changes in condo activity aren’t as extreme as the SFH/TH market. The spring peaks and summer lull are closer to average for condos, meaning seasonality plays less of a role in the condo market than the SFH/TH market.
  • The bump in post-Labor Day SFH/TH contract activity outlasts the short, but more extreme, burst in listing activity
  • From October-December, contract activity actually exceeds new listing volume, but this generally does not lead to better sales results during this time of year
  • The four months from March-June account for nearly 46% and 43% of annual SFH/TH and condo listing volume, respectively, and almost 44% and 40% of annual SFH/TH and condo contract activity, respectively.

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

Smoking Bans Made Easy For Condos/POAs with New Law

Question: Do you have an update on the smoking ban bill you wrote about earlier this year?

Answer: Virginia House Bill 1842 (link) was signed into law by Governor Northam on March 18 2021 and became effective July 1 2021. The bill has major implications for owners of Condominium and Property Owners Associations (condo and POA) by giving the Association’s elected Board the ability to ban smoking inside homes and on private balconies by way of a new resolution to the rules and regulations, which generally requires a simple majority vote of the Board.

Prior to this, Boards could ban smoking in common areas this way, but smoking bans within units/homes required a lengthy (multiple years), costly, and resource intensive effort to get a 2/3+ vote from owners to change the by-laws.

I spoke with attorney Michael C. Gartner, a Partner at Whiteford, Taylor, & Preston LLP and current President of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Washington Metro Chapter, about the new law to make sure I was clear on the implications this has for Virginia condos and POA communities.

Mr. Gartner confirmed that the new law, effective July 1 2021, does in fact allow condo and POA Boards to ban smoking inside private residences with a simple majority vote of the Board. He also offered some helpful advice and caveats for any Boards/communities who plan to move forward with in-unit smoking bans:

  • In rare cases, some by-laws may specifically restrict a Board’s ability to make certain rule changes or require something other than a simple majority, so Boards should have an attorney review their by-laws prior to proceeding with a smoking ban
  • Smoking bans should be written as a compliant resolution through legal counsel, not as a simple motion
  • Enforcement is always a challenge for Boards (noise, trash, and other common rules always present enforcement challenges) and Boards may want to work with their legal counsel to establish compliant enforcement protocol
  • The new law includes a provision that allows owners to call a special meeting to vote and repeal a change in the smoking policy
  • Smoking ban policies might flip back-and-forth as new Boards are elected and the majority votes for a new/different smoking policy than the previous Board

I’m not aware of any other state that has passed legislation like this (please comment if you know of other similar laws) in the rest of the Country, which is amazing, considering Virginia’s political and economic history, that we may be the first state with this type of law.

It will also be interesting to see how the law holds up if/when it is challenged in court. Until then, however, Boards now have the ability to ban smoking within homes, on private balcony/outdoor spaces, and in all common areas by simply majority (except in the rare case by-laws restrict it).

If you would like assistance with reviewing your by-laws, drafting a smoking ban resolution, and/or create compliant enforcement policies (or any other legal needs for your Association) you can contact Mr. Gartner directly at 703.280.9267 or mgartner@wtplaw.com. His firm, Whiteford, Taylor, & Preston, LLP, has one of the largest and best-regarded community association practices in the mid-Atlantic region, representing more than 800 condominiums, planned communities and housing cooperatives, of all sizes and types, in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia and Delaware. Their Community Association Section is made up of approximately 30 attorneys and an experienced professional support staff.

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

Arlington Condo Mid-Year Review

Question: How has Arlington’s condo market performed in the first half of 2021?

Answer: Given the tremendous appreciation we’ve seen locally and nationally on prices for single-family homes and townhouses, the mostly unchanged values of condos in Arlington highlights how much the condo market has struggled compared to the rest of the housing market. We did experience some periods of value loss in the last quarter of 2020 and early in 2021, but the first half data (and my experience in the market) suggests that prices have recovered and leveled out to about the same values we saw in 2019.

The biggest question I have is whether we will sustain these prices or see a slow decline as people adjust to new work arrangements and housing preferences in the wake of COVID. While it’s possible that we could see a delayed price surge due to sustained low interest rates and returns to offices, I think that scenario is unlikely.

This week we will take a look at Arlington’s condo market in the first half of 2021. Note that the data does not include Cooperatives (e.g. River Place) or age restricted housing (e.g. The Jefferson).

Prices Relatively Flat, Listing Volume and Inventory Up

I think the biggest story in the condo market for Arlington and the DC Metro area is the historically high number of condos being listed for sale since Q3 2020. There is clearly a flight out of condos by homeowners and investors and the demand is not high enough to absorb the extra supply, so inventory levels have returned to 2015-2016 levels when we were in the midst of a near zero-growth condo market (in Arlington).

The return to 2015-2016 inventory levels isn’t a bad thing, but the suddenness of that shift was difficult for sellers to manage after we experienced a red-hot condo market from late 2018 (Amazon HQ2 announcement) to early 2020 (pre-pandemic).

Demand Metrics Down, Disaster Avoided

Demand metrics like days on market, percentage of homes selling within a week, and the percentage of sold price to the original asking price are all down to 2017-2018 levels (pre-Amazon announcement) and prices are more reflective of what we saw in the first half of 2019.

During the pandemic, there were concerns of a fundamental shift in the condo market that would lead to a significant re-pricing of condo values but that’s clearly not the case. Sure, it’s tough for condo owners to take a step backward while the single-family/townhouse market surges ahead, but the condo market looks to be recovered and safe at this point.

If you’re interested in seeing last week’s mid-year analysis of the single-family housing market, you can check it out here.

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

Reserve Studies Required Every Five Years for Condos/HOAs

Question: How often do Condo Associations and HOA/POAs need to conduct a Reserve Study?

Answer:

Virginia Requires New Studies Every Five Years

In light of the recent condo tragedy in Miami, I thought it would be a good time to remind everybody that Virginia requires Condominium Associations and Home Owner/Property Owner Associations to conduct a new Reserve Study at least once every five years.

In addition to providing valuable financial/budget guidance, Reserve Studies are also an important way to ensure your building/community remains in safe working order and structurally sound.

What is the Purpose of a Reserve Study?

During the Study, an engineer, or team of engineers, will inspect all common elements of the building/community to provide an assessment of current condition, useful life expectancy, and projected cost of repair/replacement. A building inspection includes everything from the elevators, to foundation, to hallway carpet.

After the inspection, the Study team will provide a detailed report of their findings and an assessment of the future financial needs of the Association over the next 30 years to maintain and replace the common elements of the building/community.

In most cases, these annual financial needs are analyzed against the current Reserve Balance (Association’s savings to pay for common maintenance and replacement costs) and the current Reserve Contribution amounts to determine if adjustments need to be made to the contribution levels in future budgets. Accelerating savings for an under-funded Reserve are one of the most common reasons Associations increase dues. If the funding requirement is high enough and the repair/replacement needs are urgent, that is when Associations will consider charging a Special Assessment to fund the Reserves immediately.

Don’t Forget About Presentation

I have reviewed tons of Reserve Study reports over the years and there is a wide range in quality. In my opinion, a quality report should not only be incredibly detailed in the inspection findings, but also as detailed in the presentation of the financial projections/recommendations. It’s also critical that this information be presented in an organized and easily understood format, which is not an easy feat when dealing so much information. If you are helping your Association choose a company to lead the Reserve Study, don’t forget to review reports they’ve produced for other communities so you can see how well they present their findings.

Important for New Buyers Too

In addition to Reserve Studies being important for building maintenance and budgeting, every new Buyer into your community will receive a copy of the Reserve Study (along with a other Association documents) once they’re under contract and has a three-day review period in which time they can void the contract for a refund of their deposit. So having a current and easily understood Reserve Study report is also a critical part of keeping Buyers under contract and the resale market in your community from under-performing.

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.Reserve Studies Required Every Five Years for Condos/HOAs

Condo Market Update & Breakdown

Question: How has the market for high-rise condo buildings compared to low-rise/smaller condo communities through the pandemic?

Answer: The condo market began to turn last summer and got progressively worse through November/December, but has improved slightly and stabilized a bit since December. The next few months will give us a lot of good information on whether the condo market will improve or if we can expect a rebalancing as buyer priorities shift more permanently due to their COVID experiences and new telework policies.

This week I took a look at some of the underlying condo market data to see if there has been a noticeable difference in how garden/townhouse-style (garden-style = low-rises of 1-4 stories) condo communities have performed compared to mid/high-rise buildings. I also broke down the condo market by bedroom to see if one-bedrooms have been impacted more than larger two and three bedrooms units.

Arlington/DC Metro Condo Market Overview

First, let’s take a zoomed-out look at the Arlington and DC Metro markets. We are still experiencing a rush out of condos (see first chart, New Listings), with the DC Metro and Arlington both recording record-highs in total condos listed for sale in January and February. The reasons for this range from people seeking more space/yard to investors unable to find tenants.

Months of Supply (measure of supply and demand) shown in the second chart shows us that Arlington experiences a slightly worse (for sellers) condo market than the DC Metro overall after experiencing a much stronger market from late 2018-early 2020 in the wake of Amazon’s HQ2 announcement. Both markets have shown signs of stabilizing over the last few months, after getting progressively worse each month in the 2nd half of 2020.

Garden/Townhouse-Style vs Mid/High-Rise

The overall Arlington condo market is sitting at about 2.25 Months of Supply, still well below the 6 Months of Supply deemed by economists to be a balanced market for buyers and sellers. As of this writing, the mid/high-rise market has about 2.6 Months of Supply and the garden/townhouse-style condo market is sitting at 1.3 Months of Supply, making it a pretty good market to sell into.

Historically, the garden/townhouse-style market has performed better (faster sales, more competition/seller leverage) than the mid/high-rise market so the difference in Months of Supply doesn’t indicate a COVID-related shift. As you’ll see in the table below, the differences between the garden/townhouse-style condo market and the mid/high-rise market have remained relatively similar each year from pre-Amazon (2018) through the Amazon surge (2019) and now into the COVID-related pullback (2020).

Contract Year/ TypeAvg Sold to Original AskAvg Days on Market% Sold in 1-10 Days
2018
Garden/Townhouse-Style98.4%2746%
Mid/High Rise97.5%4534%
2019
Garden/Townhouse-Style100.8%1373%
Mid/High Rise99.3%2359%
2020
Garden/Townhouse-Style99.7%1465%
Mid/High Rise98.4%2947%
2021
Garden/Townhouse-Style98.7%3648%
Mid/High Rise97.7%4336%

Condo Market Performance by Bedroom Count

I also took a similar look at the Arlington condo market by bedroom count. Months of Supply for one-bedrooms is highest at 2.5, followed by two-bedrooms at 1.8, and then three-bedrooms at 1.7. The early data for 2021 suggests that one-bedroom condos will suffer more in the market than larger two and three bedroom units, which makes sense from a COVID standpoint because most one-bedroom units don’t have a good dedicated office space.

Contract Year/ Bedroom CountAvg Sold to Original AskAvg Days on Market% Sold in 1-10 Days
2018
197.7%3637%
298.4%3641%
397.5%3247%
2019
1100.2%1765%
2100.3%1767%
398.1%3555%
2020
199.0%2157%
299.2%2256%
398.8%2459%
2021
197.5%4832%
298.4%3547%
399.9%3256%

I do expect the condo market to improve over the next few months as more people are vaccinated and warmer weather allows people to return to some semblance of a normal life, and thus buying behavior that is more reflective of pre-COVID times. However, I think that how employers choose to handle telework long-term will ultimately determine whether we will experience a full return to the pre-COVID market or if we are going to see a more permanent rebalancing of condo values as commutes/convenience become less of a priority for buyers if they are no longer coming into an office every week.

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

Condo Smoking Bill Passes in Virginia

Thank you to the ARLnow reader who brought Virginia House Bill 1842 to my attention because it is likely to be a game-changing law that will allow condo Boards to more easily ban smoking inside units and on balconies, not just in common areas. As of February 17 2021 the bill passed the Virginia House and Senate and, per my conversation with staff of the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Mark Keam, it is now on its way to the Governor’s desk to become Virginia law as of July 1 2021!

This is incredible news for many condo owners/residents who have suffered from the health and environmental hazards of a neighbor who smokes inside their unit or on their balcony. Over the years, I’ve written more about condo smoking bans than any other non-market related topic because of how much interest and positive feedback I received on the topic. So much so that in 2019 I hosted a panel discussion about it.

A full summary of the bill is pasted later, but the key text from the bill includes “…the executive board of a condominium unit owners’ association to establish reasonable rules that restrict smoking in the condominium, including rules that prohibit smoking in the common elements and within units…”

Under current laws, a smoking ban within units can only be done by way of a formal by-law amendment, which can be overly burdensome for most communities and take years to see through. The only “easy” smoking ban allowed by law was a ban in general common areas. Even limited common areas (e.g. balconies) require a by-law change under the current laws.

I am no legal expert and I’m sure the language in the bill can be interpreted a number of different ways, but this bills seems to give condo Boards/owners a very good chance of banning smoking within units. I’d love to hear from any readers who have the legal background to interpret just how likely or unlikely the language in this bill is to allow complete smoking bans.

Here is a link to details about the bill and the full summary below:

Property Owners’ Association Act; Condominium Act; rulemaking authority of property owners’ associations and unit owners’ associations; smoking. Permits (i) except to the extent that the declaration provides otherwise, the board of directors of a property owners’ association to establish reasonable rules that restrict smoking in the development, including (a) rules that prohibit smoking in the common areas and, (b) for developments that include attached private dwelling units, rules that prohibit smoking within such dwelling units, and (ii) except to the extent that the condominium instruments provide otherwise, the executive board of a condominium unit owners’ association to establish reasonable rules that restrict smoking in the condominium, including rules that prohibit smoking in the common elements and within units. The bill clarifies the authority of executive boards of condominium unit owners’ associations to establish, adopt, and enforce rules and regulations with respect to the use of the common elements of the condominium and with respect to such other areas of responsibility assigned to the unit owners’ association by the condominium instruments, except where expressly reserved by the condominium instruments to the unit owners. The bill also permits unit owners, by a majority of votes cast at a meeting of the unit owners’ association, to repeal or amend any rule or regulation adopted by the executive board. This bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Housing Commission. Property Owners’ Association Act; Condominium Act; rulemaking authority of property owners’ associations and unit owners’ associations; smoking. Permits (i) except to the extent that the declaration provides otherwise, the board of directors of a property owners’ association to establish reasonable rules that restrict smoking in the development, including (a) rules that prohibit smoking in the common areas and, (b) for developments that include attached private dwelling units, rules that prohibit smoking within such dwelling units, and (ii) except to the extent that the condominium instruments provide otherwise, the executive board of a condominium unit owners’ association to establish reasonable rules that restrict smoking in the condominium, including rules that prohibit smoking in the common elements and within units. The bill clarifies the authority of executive boards of condominium unit owners’ associations to establish, adopt, and enforce rules and regulations with respect to the use of the common elements of the condominium and with respect to such other areas of responsibility assigned to the unit owners’ association by the condominium instruments, except where expressly reserved by the condominium instruments to the unit owners. The bill also permits unit owners, by a majority of votes cast at a meeting of the unit owners’ association, to repeal or amend any rule or regulation adopted by the executive board. This bill is a recommendation of the Virginia Housing Commission.

2020 Housing Market Review: Condos

Question: How did Arlington’s condo market perform in 2020?

Answer: I ended up writing a lot about the condo market during the second half of 2020 because of the historically high numbers of units listed for sale from July to November, falling demand, and falling market values (compared to the first half of the year). However, there were slightly positive signs in the last month of 2020 and early weeks of 2021 that the negative trends are reversing. Despite a 2nd half that looked very different from the previous three years, 2020 overall was still a strong market for condos in Arlington. Let’s take a look at how things played out…

Prices Up, Volume Down, Pace Mostly Unchanged…

The average and median price of condos increased by 4.2% and 6.3%, respectively, a strong performance but a bit short of the nearly 8% growth in 2019. I wouldn’t be surprised to see no appreciation or slightly negative appreciation in 2021 as a result of changing housing priorities from COVID.

Despite the late surge of condos listed for sale, the number of condos actually sold in 2020 dropped 8.3% from 2019 and 19.3% compared to 2018.

The speed of the market remained relatively unchanged, with average days on market staying put at 7 days and median days on market decreasing slightly from 19 days to 18.4 days. However, my preferred “speed” metric, the percentage of units selling within one week, dropped to 48% in 2020 from 52% in 2019, but still well above 2018’s 29%.

Six Interesting Charts

Below, I put together a series of charts to visualize how the Arlington condo market performed in 2020 and how that performance compares to the 2015-2019 markets.

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

Positive Signs in the Condo Market, Finally

Question: Can you provide an update on how the condo market is doing?

Answer: Arlington’s condo market began shifting in favor of buyers this summer, after two years of a very strong seller’s market, when historical numbers of condos began hitting the market at the same time demand subsided. I’ve written about these changes four times since (falling values, visualizing high inventory, first signs of a trend, and first signs of a shift).

November Might be a Turning Point

For the first time since June, we’ve seen a reduction in the Months of Supply (MoS) of Arlington condos. Months of Supply is a great measure of supply and demand (lower MoS = stronger market with higher demand and less inventory).

While the reduction in MoS is slight, it’s a positive sign nonetheless that the market is either closer to finding its level again or may soon show signs of strengthening. However, one month, particularly a winter month, is not enough to establish any real change, we will need to see what the next 3-6 months bear.

Figure 1

Multiple Key Indicators Show Positive Signs

My hope for a settling or strengthening of the condo market is not solely based on one metric, there are other key metrics that suggest November may be the first month of a settling or strengthening condo market.

Absorption Rate (Figure 2), a measure of demand, increased ever-so-slightly in November, the first increase since May, albeit still down nearly 68% from the December 2019 Absorption Rate.

The number of condos for sale during November decreased for the first time since May (Figure 3), albeit slightly. The better news, however, is that the decrease in total condo inventory doesn’t seem to be caused by frustrated sellers pulling their condos off the market, rather due to promising contract activity (Figure 4), which was up 41% year-over-year in November.

Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4

Looking Ahead, Eyes on March-May

Over the next few months, I’ll be looking closely at whether these trends (stronger demand, falling inventory) continue, find a level, or revert back to what we’ve seen since this summer. I’ll be particularly interested in what year-over-non-COVID-year numbers looks like and if we settle into normal spring activity for inventory and demand.

For example, while the charts above are positive indicators for the condo market, Figure 5 shows just how much inventory (new listings) is still coming onto the market, with November generating nearly 79% more condo listings in 2020 than in 2019, but only a 41% increase in contract activity.

Figure 5

I think that March-May 2021 are going to be very interesting months, statistically speaking, and will be excellent indicators of what the market might look like for the next few years, until the next major market event (e.g. Great Recession, Amazon HQ2, COVID). I think/hope that by then, we will also have a better understanding of how the Federal Government and private companies will address teleworking beyond COVID and thus whether commute time will be prioritized differently by buyers.

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

Condo Values Fall as Inventory Builds

Question: Have you seen a decrease in condo values with all of the inventory currently on the market?

Answer: Over the last few months, I’ve written about the shift in the condo market (links here and here and here), which began around July and can be attributed to a historical number of units listed for sale while demand simultaneously dropped due to COVID. Indicators such as Months of Supply, Absorption Rate, Days on Market, and Sold to Ask Price Ratios have shown a more favorable market for buyers for the last four months, but it takes longer to establish changes in pricing (need enough data).

It’s been my experience working in this market over the last few months that prices seem to be down about 2-5% in many sub-markets, compared to late 2019 and the first half of 2020 (after surging since 2018). However, I dug into the data a bit more to see how condos that went under contract after July 15 compare to the sales of condos that went under contract from Jan 1 – July 14 2020. I used July 15 because that is when I really start to see changes taking shape in the condo market.

One point I’d like to make prior to sharing the data findings is that the data is based on condos that have sold/closed and there are many condos still sitting on the market or under contract that won’t show up in this analysis. The market has also worsened (for sellers) each month since July, so properties that went under contract in July/August likely did better than those later on in the year. Therefore, it’s likely that as the units close that are currently struggling to sell, or just now coming to market, the data will get worse (larger decrease in values).

Data Summary

I chose to segment the market in a few different ways to get a sense of how different sub-markets are experiencing the condo shift. When comparing relatively small data sets (like we have here), the best conclusions can be drawn by analyzing market segments that have lot of similarities such as condos along the R-B Corridor built in the last 20 years or mid-1900s (older) buildings. Here are some highlights from the data sets I reviewed:

  • 1BR and 2BR condos along the R-B Corridor, built in the last 20 years, sold an average of 2.2% and 5.8% less, respectively, after mid-July. If you look at $/sqft, prices have dropped 1.1% and 3.6%, respectively. I believe this is the data set that most accurately reflects what’s happening in the condo market.
  • Older, less expensive condos across the County seem to have held onto their values better than newer, more expensive units. More expensive condos are closer in price to townhouses and I’ve seen more buyers favor lower-priced townhouses over higher-priced condos, as a result of COVID concerns. Buyers of less expensive condos don’t have many alternatives at that price point, other than renting.
  • The apparent appreciation of South Arlington since July 15 can be attributed to a different distribution of sales (higher volume of more expensive properties and lower follow of less expensive properties) than comparable units actually selling for more
  • The indicators (Sold to Ask, % Sold in <7 Days, and Days On) are what I find most interesting and a sign that the actual decrease in condo pricing isn’t fully reflected yet in the current data set:
    • Across every sub-market, including those where the average price didn’t drop, buyers negotiated significantly more off the original asking price. Earlier in the year, three sub-markets averaged buyers paying at least full price and since July 15 there were none.
    • The most interesting indicator is the huge drop in the percentage of units that go under contract within the first week.

Looking Forward

As I mentioned in the third paragraph, I expect future data sets for condos sold in the last quarter of 2020 and very early 2021 to show even larger decreases in values, relative to the first half of 2020. However, I think that with more positive news on COVID-19 vaccines, the start of the 2021 spring market, and more people returning to work (and realizing they value commuting convenience over extra space) I believe there’s a good chance the negative trends of the last 4-5 months will level off soon and begin to reverse by February/March.

I will continue to track trends in the Arlington condo market and provide transparency into what we’re experiencing. The townhouse and single-family home markets remain strong and I fully expect another appreciation cycle in 2021 for those sub-markets.

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