Arlington Condo Mid-Year Real Estate Review

Question: How did Arlington’s real estate market perform in the first half of 2020?

Answer: What a wild year it’s been for real estate. After a huge 2019 (SFH/TH review, Condo review), the 2020 market took off in January with prices and competition up sharply. When Coronavirus hit, that momentum tapered off for a couple of months but prices remained steady because of low interest rates and low supply. The Arlington housing supply was down about 400 listings from March-June, but listing activity is surging to historically high levels in July and August, which is traditionally when we see the spring market momentum slow down.

Let’s take a look at how the condo market performed in the first half of 2020 using some awesome charts developed by my new partner, the wonderful Alli Torban. We took a similar look at single-family detached and townhouses last week.

Note that all of the data used in these charts is based on sales that went under contract from January-June in order to provide the most accurate reflection of the market during the first 6 months. I don’t like using the date a home sold/closed for analysis like this because closing date often lags 30-60 days behind agreement of sale (contract). I also removed sales of condos in 900 N Taylor St (The Jefferson), an age-restricted community.

Average and median price continued to rise, but not by nearly as much as last year. The total condos transacted in the first six months of 2020 dropped significantly to 484 from a previous 5-year low of 614, established in 2019.

The Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, made up of 2201, 22203, and 22209 is by far the busiest condo market in Arlington and 22204 offers the most affordable options, by a significant margin.

The volume of one- and two-bedroom condo sales was nearly equal during the first six months, but I’ve seen a shift over the last few years in buyer demand over the last few years towards two-bedrooms.

Studios/efficiencies (no separate bedroom) are very difficult to come by in Arlington with very few being delivered over the last 20 years. The Eclipse in Crystal City and Trafalgar Flats along Columbia Pike were notable for delivering an unusually high number of studios in the last 20 years.

The demand for larger condos with three-bedrooms has increased significantly over the last 3-5 years as owners of large homes have looked to downsize. However, the market is severely undersupplied with units that meet the needs of these buyers, with just 18 three-bedroom condos selling in the first half of the year.

One of the measures I like taking to gauge market competition is the percentage of condos going under contract within the first week and how much buyers are paying relative to the asking price within that window. An incredible 36% of condo contracts were accepted within the first week this year and the average buyer paid 1.5% more than the asking price to secure a home that just hit the market.

The key takeaways are that good condos sell very quickly and if you love a unit that has just hit the market, be prepared to pay the asking price or more to secure it because if you don’t, there’s a good chance somebody else will.

As the chart above showed, this is a fast-paced market and it got even faster in 2020 with the median days on market for condos remaining at six days and the average dropping to just two weeks.

I took a similar look at single-family detached and townhouses last week. If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

How to Write a Strong Offer

Question: The last time I bought a house, the market was much more favorable for buyers. I’ve heard so much about competing offers and the need to submit a strong offer, but what exactly does that mean?

Answer: Other than price, there are about a dozen terms included in your offer that will determine its strength — the value/appeal it has to the seller. Of course, every home owner wants to get the most money possible, but they also care about when the sale is executed, the likelihood of getting to settlement, renegotiation periods, risk and more.

Sometimes a seller takes a lower offer price in exchange for better supporting terms. Understanding what type of offer is appropriate/necessary for a property and how certain terms change your (buyer or seller) risk exposure on the transaction is critical.

Let’s take a look at some of the terms included in most contracts that have the biggest impact on the actual or perceived strength of an offer.

Price/Escalation Addendum

This is an obvious one. Higher price = stronger offer. Escalation Addendums are common when there are multiple offers, but how and when to use them is a nuanced, yet critical, decision.

The Escalation Addendum allows you to beat any competing offer by a specified amount, up to the highest amount (ceiling) you’re willing to pay for a property. Used correctly, it prevents you from leaving money on the table, while not paying too far above what the rest of the market is willing to offer.

Contingencies

The three most common contingencies are for the home inspection, appraisal, and loan. Each provide the buyer with a set of protections that allow them to renegotiate and/or terminate the contract, without losing the deposit. Removing a contingency or shortening the contingency timeline increases the strength of an offer.

  • Home Inspection:  It used to be standard for Arlington buyers to include a negotiation period in the home inspection contingency, allowing them to negotiate for repairs or credits based on the results of the inspection or terminate the contract. Now it is much more common for buyers to forego the negotiation period and simply retain the right to void (aka a pass/fail inspection), which is much more attractive for a seller. Even more attractive is when buyers perform a pre-inspection on the property (inspect before submitting an offer) and remove the home inspection contingency altogether.
  • Appraisal: If you’re using a mortgage to purchase a home, your lender will almost always require a property appraisal. The appraisal contingency allows you to renegotiate or terminate the contract in the event the home appraises for less than the purchase price. It is common for buyers to remove the appraisal contingency or agree to cover up to a certain amount on a low appraisal to increase the strength of an offer.
  • Financing: The financing contingency allows you to terminate the contract without losing your deposit if your loan isn’t approved. Many buyers who have undergone a thorough pre-approval process have enough confidence in their ability to secure the mortgage that they remove this protection, thus conveying a strong financial position to the homeowner.

Speed of Sale

Most sellers want to close (executed sale) as quickly as possible so cash-buyers have the biggest advantage here because they can usually close in a week or less. For the more than 80% of Arlington home buyers relying on a mortgage, many choose to work with smaller, local lender who can sometimes close in as little as 2-3 weeks. Offering a quick-close to a seller can give your offer a significant boost.

Financing

If you’re relying on a mortgage, sellers are usually more drawn to higher down payments. That’s not to say that a 3-5% down  payment (or 0% on a VA loan) can’t win in a competitive scenario, but you are at a disadvantage and will often get passed over when all other terms/pricing are relatively equal.

A thorough pre-approval process by a quality/reputable lender can provide the seller with confidence that if they accept your offer, there is very little risk of the deal falling apart due to financial issues. Sometimes sellers take less money work with a buyer they have more confidence in.

Earnest Money Deposit (EMD)

This is money held in escrow (usually by the Title Company) as security for the seller that you’ll perform under the obligations of the contract. It gets applied against what you owe at closing for down payment + closing costs, but is at-risk if you default on the contract (terminate outside the legal means/contingencies).

Traditionally, a reasonable deposit ranged from 1-3% of the purchase price, but some buyers are electing to make substantially larger deposits in an effort to establish financial strength. Instances of buyers offering deposits of 10% or more are becoming more common.

Rent-Back

Oftentimes if the homeowner is still living in the house during the sale, their preference is to close as quickly as possible and then have some time to move out after the sale is complete – this is called a rent-back. It used to be common for the seller to cover the buyer’s daily carrying cost (mortgage + taxes + insurance + HOA fee) for the length of the rent-back, but in this hyper-competitive market, a strong offer often includes a free rent-back for the seller.

The use and structure of each of these terms is dictated by many factors including demand/competition, days on market, seller-preferences, and buyer priorities/risk tolerance. As a buyer, being prepared with the right offer strategy and understanding the risk-benefit tradeoffs for each term can be the difference between landing your dream home or going back to the drawing board.

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.

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, Part 5

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

Answer: I hope this column finds everybody in good health. If you need to replenish your cooking oils and haven’t tried The Olive Oil Boom before, I highly recommend it. It’s a local shop in Courthouse that my wife and I love. My personal favorite is the Harissa olive oil.

If you have some local favorites that you’d like to help stay in business during tough times, please give them a shout-out in the comments section and note a personal favorite product/dish!

Financial Confidence Poll

Buyer confidence drives real estate demand, so I’d like to do a reader poll this week to measure the confidence of Arlingtonians. Thanks for participating!

Question: How long do you expect the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic to negatively impact your personal finances?

Arlington/Regional Market Update

Regionally and locally we’re seeing the pipeline of new inventory dry up and sellers lose confidence. The two charts below reflect market activity in Arlington over the past seven days (left) and seven days prior to that (right). While the total Coming Soon and New Active for each seven-day period is almost identical, the Coming Soon pipeline was cut in half. You’ll also note huge increases in the number of price reductions and properties pulled off market (Temp Off, Withdrawn, Canceled, and Expired).

Demand is dropping, but homeowners are experiencing it in different ways. For example, the markets that were hyper-competitive prior to the COVID-19 crisis, such as the $600k-$900k single-family starter home market that was seeing double digit offers, are still getting strong offers, and in some cases, multiple offers. For those homes, even a 60-70% decline in demand means a few offers instead of 10+.

I inquired on five homes this weekend for two separate clients. Each was a move-in-ready detached single-family home in Arlington, Falls Church, or Alexandria priced from $695k-$875k. All five had at least one strong offer, four were expecting multiples, one had two pre-inspections scheduled and one got seven offers.

However, the number of price drops and listings being pulled from the market shows that many homeowners are experiencing something different. If your home was likely to get one strong offer before the Coronavirus lockdown, a significant drop in demand can easily mean no offers and a longer wait for the right buyer to materialize.

To gauge the odds of a successful sale (quick sale, at/near asking price), homeowners should be conscious of the profile of the buyer(s) most likely to purchase their home and try to understand how their motivation and financial security has been impacted by COVID-19. For example, dual-income families are likely feeling more financial security than single-income buyers. Buyers with kids are often more motivated because they likely have fewer alternatives than somebody buying a 1-2-bedroom condo who can more easily find a comparable rental apartment until the economy is back in order. Further, families with kids are generally buying with a longer ownership horizon and thus able to outlast whatever economic recession/depression is brought on by the virus.

Past Sever Days (Arlington)

Seven Days Prior (Arlington)

Are Prices Dropping?

Although some homes are still selling for their pre-COVID prices (which shouldn’t be happening, in my opinion, given the amount of uncertainty/risk in the market), I suspect that most homeowners are settling for a few percent less than what they would have pre-Coronavirus. You can also argue that they’re taking an even greater loss than what they would have gotten in the peak spring market (right now) had Coronavirus never been a factor.

I think that for most of the DC Metro, that’s the appropriate discount at this time, considering what we do and do not know about the future of the national/regional economy.

The price drop that most people are worried about or looking forward to, depending on which side of the transaction you’re on, is a double-digit drop like we saw during the Great Recession 12 years ago. There are myriad inputs that factor into real estate prices, but the simplest is supply and demand. If you’ve been paying attention to real estate in Arlington or the DC Metro, you know that we’ve suffered from a historically low supply of homes for sale, driven by both a lack of new inventory and high demand.

Econ101 tells us that in order for there to be a significant price drop, demand will have to recede substantially more than supply. There’s no doubt that an on-going economic shutdown will significantly reduce demand, but if changes to lending practices over the last decade and financial support from the government allow people to keep their homes, inventory will likely plunge as well. So long as inventory and demand are dropping by somewhat similar amounts, we may not see the type of dramatic price drops we saw in 2008.

To highlight just how bad the supply is around here, I pulled charts showing the months of supply in Arlington, Northern VA, and the DC Metro over the last 10 years. Note that most economists agree that a market is fairly balanced for buyers and sellers when there’s ~6 months of supply.

I also added a chart showing the corresponding change in median sold price for Arlington during that same 10 year period.

https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=60&ftid=2&fid=1000&gty=120&ltid=4&lid=51013&gid=2&cc=0000dd&sid=0&mid=0&tt=2&mode=4
Months of Supply for Arlington County
https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=6&ftid=2&fid=1000&gty=120&ltid=4&lid=51013&gid=2&cc=0000dd&sid=0&mid=0&tt=2&mode=4
Median Sale for Arlington County
https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=60&ftid=2&fid=1000&gty=120&ltid=2&lid=1006&gid=2&cc=0000dd&sid=0&mid=0&tt=2&mode=4
Months of Supply for Northern Virginia
https://cpp1.getsmartcharts.com/chart/mls/1/getreport.php?rid=60&ftid=2&fid=1000&gty=120&ltid=2&lid=1034&gid=2&cc=0000dd&sid=0&mid=0&tt=2&mode=4
Months of Supply for The DC Metro

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!

Ask Eli: Impact of Coronavirus on the Real Estate Market, Part 4

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

Answer: I hope you and your families are healthy and finding some productive ways to remain safely at home. It’s been great to see so much carryout and delivery activity at local restaurants, I hope we can keep our favorite establishments in business.

I want to shout out the Sunday evening manager at the South Arlington Ledo Pizza for the way he was expressing constant, sincere appreciation to every employee hard at work and each customer who came in. It was refreshing to hear such positivity.

This week I’ll cover some real-time market updates and take a look at how past recessions have impacted real estate.

March 30 Stay At Home Order — Executive Order 55

Yesterday afternoon, Governor Northam announced EO 55, at Temporary Stay At Home Order due to COVID-19 to further discourage gatherings and personal contact.

There was an immediate concern across the real estate community that the new order effectively shut down all real estate operations, but soon after Northam’s announcement, the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR) and the Virginia Association of Realtors (VAR) announced that under EO 55, real estate business may continue to operate using best practices for social distancing and other measures recommended by the CDC, as well as avoiding any gatherings of 10+ people. Here is a link to the official NVAR comments.

That means that as of this morning showings, inspections, appraisals, closings, lending and other activities critical to a real estate transaction are all still allowed in Virginia/Northern Virginia. Public Open Houses are strongly discouraged and many companies have suspended them.

Personally, I think showings are the most questionable activity because you can make a strong case in both directions. If somebody needs to find a home, it’s fair to say that they need to see the home in person before making an offer. On the flip side, somebody seeing five properties on a Saturday afternoon to prepare for a purchase 6 months from now should not be out on showings. There’s certainly a level of personal responsibility required here.

Arlington Market Update

It seems that much of the Arlington and Northern Virginia market has softened in the past week. This is based on further decreases in showing activity and the negotiations I’ve been directly involved in or aware of via colleagues. We won’t have actual price data available for another 3-4+ weeks when homes start closing that were placed under contract during the COVD-19 lockdown period.

New inventory continued to flow into the market, but was down from the previous week. A healthy 63 homes went under contract, showing that there are still buyers out there, but many of them are likely securing better terms than they would have a month ago, and facing much less competition.

Arlington market activity over the last week

Showing activity is unsurprisingly very low, with the average showings per listing dropping to 2.25 over the past week. With an average of about 15 showings before a ratified contract, expect average days on market to start increasing. However, the showings that are taking place tend to be to ready-buyers so it should take fewer showings than it used to for the right buyer to surface.

Average showings per listing in Arlington last week
Real Estate During a Recession

The economy is in bad shape and it could get a lot worse. It’s way too early to make any predictions about the real estate market 6-24 months from now until we know just how long Coronavirus will keep businesses closed and consumers at home.

What we can do is look at the real-time/near-term impact (what I’m trying to cover every week) and what’s happened in past recessions. The 2008 crisis crushed real estate across the country (Northern Virginia/D.C. Metro fared relatively well) and is fresh on everybody’s minds, but it’s important to note some key differences between the Great Recession and other down markets.

First, that was a mortgage-based crisis so the real estate industry was hit directly. Second, prices were up despite high supply because demand was artificially high due to absurdly irresponsible lending practices that allowed people to buy much more than they could afford via low/easy entry into loans.

Mortgages over the last decade are much more conservative than the mortgages that led to the Great Recession. There are strict debt-to-income and credit limits, and predatory products/practices like zero interest balloon loans are all but eliminated from the market.

So the recent price appreciation is driven by a more natural supply/demand curve. Low supply because we’ve run out of land to build on and strong demand from much more qualified borrowers.

In three of the last five recessions, housing prices actually increased, as illustrated by the chart below from Attom Data Solutions and in a similar study by First American of the last three recessions, showing the dramatically different impact the 2008 crisis had on housing prices compared to other recessions.

Conclusion

I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not suggesting everything is going to be fine or that the real estate market won’t take a significant hit. That type of messaging from real estate “professionals” irks me almost as much as the idea that a market can simultaneously be great for buyers and sellers… that’s not how markets work (can’t help myself from the Esurance meme)!

It seems almost certain that negotiation leverage will favor buyers over the next 4-6 weeks. The critical question is whether or not buyers will have even more leverage months from now or whether markets will begin stabilizing, then return to the hyper-competitive market we had just a month ago.

The fact is that we have never experienced a complete economic shut-down like this, nor do we know how long it will last, and economic/real estate forecasting models aren’t tuned for this. It’s still too early to say with any level of certainty right now what the mid/long-term fallout will be for real estate or any other industry.

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.

Tips To Start Your Home Search

Question: We are looking forward to buying our first home in 2020. Do you have any recommendations on how we should start the home buying process?

Answer: Google “home buyer tips” or “what to know before buying a home” and you’ll find plenty of advice on the topic, so I’ll include some suggestions I don’t see on most of those lists and also put my own spin on others that you have heard before.

Weighted Criteria

It’s easy to come up with 3-5 things that are most important to you, but challenge yourself early to come up with 12-15 things that are important to you. Then give yourself 100 points and allocate points to each based on how important they are to you and you’ll end up with a weighted criteria list to help you focus your search and objectively compare properties.

If you want to take it to the next level, bring your weighted criteria list with you on showings and score each house out of the total points allocated to it.

Length of Ownership

This is one of the most important conversations to have with yourself/your partner. You should focus on the following:

  1. Likely length of ownership
  2. Difference in criteria for a 3-5 year house vs a 10-12+ year house
  3. Difference in budget requirements for a 3-5 year house vs a 10-12+ year house

Appreciation is not guaranteed and difficult to predict, but the value of longer ownership periods is undisputed. One way longer ownership adds value is the potential for eliminating one or more real estate transactions, and the associated costs (fees, taxes, moving expenses, new furniture, etc) and stress that comes with moving, over the course of your lifetime.

If you have an opportunity to significantly increase your length of ownership by stretching your budget, it’s often justifiable. On the other hand, if your budget or future plans restrict you to housing that’s likely to be suitable for just 3-4 years (and buying now still makes sense), it’s generally better to stay under budget.

Influencers (not the Instagram ones)

Family, friends, colleagues…they’re all happy to offer opinions and contribute to your home buying process, but the input can be overwhelming and unproductive if you don’t set boundaries. Try to determine up-front who you want involved in the process and how you’d like them to be involved.

Think about how you’ve made other major decisions in life – what college to attend, what kind of car to buy, where to get married, whether to change jobs – and if you’re the type of person who likes input from your friends and family, you’ll likely do the same when buying a house. Plan ahead with those influencers so their input is productive.

Does Your House Exist?

Before jumping too far into the search process, spend a little bit of time searching For Sale and Sold homes on your favorite real estate search website/app to see if the homes selling in the area you want and within 10% of your upper budget are at least close to what you’re looking for. If not, spend some time adjusting price, location, and non-critical criteria to figure out what high-level compromises you’ll need to make and then compare those compromises to your current living situation and/or continuing to rent.

Know Your Market

We’re in a strong seller’s market right now with low supply, high demand, and increasing prices. Each sub-market behaves a bit differently and comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, so take time early on to understand the sub-market(s) you’ll be involved in and what you’re likely to experience. This is something your agent should be able to assist with.

Pre-Approval & Budget

There is a lot of value in working with a lender early on in the search process. For starters, you’ll have somebody who can provide real rates and advice based on your specific financial situation/needs. A lender can only do this if they’ve reviewed your financial documents and credit. The more you put in, the more you get out.

You’ll need to have a lender pre-approval to submit an offer (seller has to know you qualify for the purchase you’re offering to make) so if you have to do it anyway, why not doing it early on so you get the most value out of your lender? It also means that you’ll be prepared to make an offer if you find the right home before you expect to be ready.

Given how competitive the Arlington/Northern VA/DMV real estate market is, the quality of your pre-approval can make a big difference when you make an offer. You should strongly consider partnering with a local lender with a great reputation to give yourself an advantage (or not put you at a disadvantage) when making an offer. Pre-approval letters from big banks and online lenders don’t go over as well in our market. If you’re looking for a recommendation, consider Jake Ryon of First Home Mortgage (JRyon@firsthome.com).

Find an Agent

The least surprising suggestion on this list! Agents come in many different forms and finding somebody who suits your personality and goals is important. Ask friends, colleagues, and family for referrals and meet with multiple people until you find the right fit.

The worst thing you can do is choose your agent based on whoever responds to an online showing request faster. A good agent can provide a ton of value being involved in your buying process 3-6+ months before you’re ready to buy. Be wary of anybody who wants you to “wait until you’re ready” before working with you.

If you’re considering buying (or selling) in the DMV in 2020 and would like to meet, feel free to email me at Eli@EliResidential.com!

Thankful For You, ARLnow Community

I published my first Ask Eli column on November 10 2015, just over four years ago. 200+ columns later, I’m incredibly thankful for the ARLnow community for the opportunity to share my perspective on local real estate and explore interesting market trends with you each week. Your feedback over the years, both privately and in public comments (yes, I appreciate every one of them) challenges and motivates me because I know my neighbors are actually reading.

I also want to thank Scott and his amazing team at ARLnow for building this platform and providing Arlington residents, workers, and businesses with highly valuable, hyper local news. The operation they run far outsizes the people operating it, which speaks to their hard work and talents. If you want to express your gratitude for their dedication to free local news, their email address is arlingtonnews@gmail.com.

From my family to yours, have a great Thanksgiving!