Quarterly Review of Arlington/DC Area Real Estate

Question: How did Q1 compare to other quarters and what does that mean for Q2?

Answer: The housing boom has been front-and-center in the national news cycle for about six months now and Q1 blessed many homeowners and builders with amazing results, while inflicting similar levels of frustration on buyers.

Despite the national, regional, and local craziness the Arlington single-family home (SFH) and townhouse (TH) markets actually didn’t look that different in Q1 2021 compared to the last couple of (post-Amazon HQ2) years so the pandemic-related housing boom hasn’t created nearly the systemic shock here as it has in other local markets like Fairfax County and Loudoun County. Months of Supply (measure of supply and demand) for SFH is down 36% YoY for Q1 in Arlington, but over 50% in Washington DC, Fairfax County, and Loudoun County with Loudoun County SFHs down an incredible 73.9% YoY in Q1.

Arlington Quarterly Market Performance

First, let’s take a look at a breakdown of the Arlington SFH/TH quarterly market performance, with some highlights bulleted below:

  • If you’re buying a SFH/TH that has been on the market for 10 days or less, prepare to pay an average of 2-3% over the asking price. 12% of buyers since 2020 have paid 5% or more over the asking price.
  • Since 2020, about two-thirds of SFH/TH properties go under contract in 1-10 days and only 21% have stayed on market for more than 30 days
  • You can expect price escalations on hot properties to be even further above the asking price in Q2 compared to Q1, based on historical data. The only exception to this was in 2020 because Q3 functioned like Q2 due to a delayed spring market caused by the pandemic.
  • Expect about one-third of 2021’s SFH/TH properties to be listed for sale in Q2, the most of any quarter by a significant margin
  • Among SFH/TH properties that went under contract in 1-10 days in Q1, the average sold price of those homes increased 11.8% over Q1 2020. Last year there was a 5.7% increase in average sold price of hot properties compared to Q1 2019.
Contract Year/QuarterAvg Sold to Org Ask (Properties 1-10 Days On)% 1-10 Days on MarketListing VolumeListing % of Annual Total
2016100.7%38.8%1640100%
Q1100.7%38.9%40525%
Q2101.0%46.6%55534%
Q3100.4%34.0%40224%
Q4100.2%31.3%27817%
2017100.9%41.0%1744100%
Q1101.0%47.1%48728%
Q2101.3%46.1%58733%
Q3100.7%36.5%41524%
Q4100.1%28.4%25515%
2018101.1%43.0%1614100%
Q1101.2%50.4%40025%
Q2101.5%48.1%54934%
Q3100.9%39.4%39024%
Q4100.5%31.3%27517%
2019101.9%56.9%1451100%
Q1101.8%63.4%38927%
Q2102.2%61.0%47833%
Q3101.9%54.6%34624%
Q4101.1%43.8%23816%
2020102.2%59.5%1600100%
Q1102.4%65.4%35622%
Q2101.8%58.1%39925%
Q3102.7%63.9%49331%
Q4101.9%50.0%35222%
2021102.7%60.3% 
Q1102.7%60.3% 

Northern VA and Washington DC Market Performance Comparison

As noted earlier, the pandemic created a much sharper change in the real estate markets outside of Arlington because Arlington had already experienced similar changes due to Amazon’s HQ2 announcement in November 2018. Below are some charts comparing the SFH markets (and one comparing the condo markets) in Washington DC, Arlington, Fairfax County, and Loudoun County, with some highlights bulleted below:

  • In 2018 and most of 2019, Months of Supply for SFH in Washington DC, Fairfax County, and Loudoun County was 2-3x higher than Arlington (indicating a more favorable market for buyers). In Q1 2021, Fairfax County and Loudoun County had about half the Months of Supply as Arlington and Washington DC, clearly a sign of buyer preferences for more space, lower $/SqFt, and de-prioritization of commute time and walkability.
  • The most dramatic pandemic-related market shift for Arlington has been the condo market going from the most favorable market for sellers pre-pandemic to a near tie with Washington DC for least favorable, by a significant margin
  • Fairfax County stands out for the huge drop in active SFH home listings, dropping from an average of nearly 2,000 listings/quarter in 2018 to less than 500 in Q1 2021
  • The data suggests relatively little change in average prices in Q1 2021 in Arlington and Washington DC, but I think this is more about the data composition than a reflection of actual pricing because everything I’ve experienced in the market suggests strong price growth in Q1 2021
  • Median days on market for SFH has been below 10 days in all four markets since the pandemic began

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

The Cost of Land in Arlington

Question: Can you do an update of your 2017 article on the cost of land in Arlington?

Answer: In 2017 I took a look at a dataset focused on the cost of land in Arlington and lot sizes, so let’s take a look at these numbers a few years later and see just how much more expensive it is to snag a square of grass here.

Since 2017, the average lot size on all single-family homes (SFH) sold is 8,515 SqFt or about .2 acres and only five of the 4,428 SFH sold had 1+ acres, with none over 1.15 acres. Just 1.6% of sales were homes with ½ acre or more. 82.4% of SFH sold since 2017 sat on 1/10th – 1/4th acre (1/4 acre is about 11,000SqFt).

The chart below breaks down the average lot size and standard deviation of lot sizes by Arlington zip code based on sales of SFH since 2017. I also added two columns looking at the average cost of a new SFH in each zip code based on 2020-2021 sales. 22206 and 22209 didn’t have enough SFH sales to provide good data.

It’s not easy to determine the average cost of homes that get torn down or have a major remodel, so I used the same methodology as I did in 2017 and looked at the cheapest 15% of sales in each zip, by year, and assumed that these represent sales that were completely or mostly valued for the land. The chart below shows the average cost of the cheapest 15% of SFH sold in each zip, by year. The second chart is the same dataset but looks at the cost per SqFt of the lot.

The biggest downside of this methodology is that it’s not capturing sales of the best lots in certain zip codes, but I think this approach does a pretty good job of capturing average values for most sales where the lot was the entire or majority of the value.

Lots in 22201 are by far the most expensive per SqFt because they’re both expensive (highest average price for cheapest 15%) and small (third smallest average lot size by zip code, the two with smaller lots barely have any SFH lots).

While you’ll pay about $100k more for the average lot in 22207 compared to 22205, you’re most likely getting a larger lot so the cost per SqFt of those lots ends up being similar. The cheapest lots are in 22204 (by nearly $150,000), but the best value, by far, is 22213 with the average lot just $67/SqFt.

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

How Many Agents Worked in Arlington Last Year?

Question: How many different real estate agents do business in Arlington in a typical year?

Answer: There were 2,770 real estate transactions in Arlington in 2020 (incredibly close to the 2,782 transactions in 2019!), totaling over $2.16B in total sales volume (up from $1.96B in 2019).

I think most people would assume a few hundred different real estate agents worked on those 2,770 transactions, but in fact there were 2,223 different agents part of those sales (remember, most transactions have two agents involved). In 2019, 2,017 different agents transacted in Arlington so the numbers are very consistent.

I looked over the 2020 Arlington transaction data and pulled out some interesting highlights:

  • 61.4% of the agents who handled an Arlington real estate transaction in 2020 work on just one sale in Arlington (they may have done more business outside of Arlington)
  • Just 3% of agents handled 10 or more transactions in Arlington and .8% handled 20 or more transactions
  •  1,452 different agents represented buyers in Arlington and 19 of them (1.3%) worked with 10 or more buyers in Arlington
  • 1,316 different agents represented sellers in Arlington and 29 of them (2.2%) worked with 10 or more sellers in Arlington
  • Of the 858 agents who handled 2 or more transactions in Arlington, they averaged 4.7 transactions each
  • Only two agents with 5+ transactions averaged $2M+ per transaction, Mark McFadden and Jennifer Thornett
  • Keri Shull and her team once again led Arlington in transactions and sales volume, by a wide margin, participating in roughly 8.4% of the transactions in Arlington and handling about 4% of the total sales volume in Arlington. Keri of course has a great team of agents and staff supporting this activity. Here’s a link to an article I wrote in 2019 explaining how different agents/teams are structured.

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

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

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

Deep Dive into Arlington’s Townhouse Market

Question: I need more living space and single-family homes are out of my budget, so I’ve been searching for townhouses in Arlington, but finding that the options are limited. Can you provide some guidance on what the townhouse market in Arlington looks like?

Answer: I spend a lot of time digging into the condo and single-family home markets, but not much time on the townhouse/duplex market. Why? Because townhouses and duplexes make up such a small part of our housing inventory. According to this Missing Middle Study, townhouses and duplexes make up just 5.9% of Arlington’s housing inventory (3.7% are townhouses).

Fortunately (for some), we’ve recently had an unusual surge in new townhouse developments hit the market including:

  • Arlington Heights: 27 townhouses developed by NV Homes, walking distance to the East Falls Church Metro, ranging in price from about $1.1M-$1.4M
  • Trenton Square: 19 townhouses developed by Madison Homes, near the intersection of Rt 50 (north side) and Glebe and a short distance to Ballston, starting at around $1M
  • Morrison Hill: 17 townhouses developed by Beazer Homes, near the intersection of Columbia Pike and George Mason (across from the new Harris Teeter), ranging in price from about $800k-$900k+
  • Towns of 24th: 8 townhouses developed by Evergreene Homes, in the Nauck neighborhood near the intersection of 395 and Glebe, starting in the mid-$800s
  • Park Nelson: 3 townhouses developed by District Line Development, in the Nauck neighborhood, ranging from $900k to $935k.
  • Townes at South Glebe: 16 townhouses across two sites developed by Christopher Companies, off of S Glebe between Columbia Pike and Shirlington, with prices starting in the upper $800s

Explanation of Data

For the data below, I looked at sales of townhouse and duplex properties over the last five years (except the last chart). I decided to separate these properties into ownership type: Condominium and Fee Simple.

Condominium ownership is generally used in multi-family buildings (apartment-style), but was popular in many of South Arlington’s townhouse communities in the mid 1900s. In condominium ownership, the HOA is generally responsible for what’s outside the walls of the home (roof, fencing, some plumbing, etc) and HOA fees are therefore (significantly) higher.

Fee Simple ownership means that you own the entire structure and the land your home sits on. The HOA fees are usually much lower because there’s less common ownership.

Over the last five years, we’ve had a nearly 50/50 split between condo and fee simple townhouse/duplex sales.

5-Year Townhouse Market Performance

Unsurprisingly, the townhouse/duplex market has followed the same general trends as the rest of the housing market, with a strong 2018, followed by a white hot 2019 and 2020, where the average townhouse/duplex sold for more than the asking price and 60% or more of homes listed sold within the first week.

Here are a few highlights from the data below:

  • There are a few ways of looking at appreciation here, but overall, the data suggests the townhouse/duplex market has appreciated ~20% in the last five years, with most of that coming in the last two years
  • The apparent drop in market value, by average sold price, of Fee Simple in 2019 is a misrepresentation of the market and due to the difference in the distribution of sales (more inexpensive/fewer expensive listings), the $/sqft tells a more accurate story for 2018-2019 Fee Simple pricing
  • The ~10% appreciation of the Condominium townhouse/duplex market (smaller, older, and less expensive than the Fee Simple market) in 2020 is likely due to buyer demand shifting away from similarly priced apartment-style condos in buildings towards private entry townhouse/duplex living with easier access to outdoor space (COVID related)
  • While quite different in size, price, age, and HOA fees, the Condominium and Fee Simple styles of townhouse/duplex ownership generally move in close parallel
Year Sold / Ownership TypeAvg Sold PriceAvg $/sqftAvg Sold to Org Ask $% Sold <7 days# Sold
2016$587,687$34999.0%39%441
Condominium$473,288$33398.8%38%260
Fee Simple$752,016$38199.4%42%181
2017$617,917$34599.1%40%558
Condominium$486,161$33399.4%43%313
Fee Simple$786,243$36798.8%36%245
2018$632,371$36799.2%45%533
Condominium$501,229$35899.3%47%292
Fee Simple$791,265$38199.2%44%241
2019$642,569$413101.0%60%481
Condominium$502,037$385101.4%63%220
Fee Simple$761,025$436100.7%57%261
2020$703,644$435100.4%62%561
Condominium$552,263$416100.8%61%267
Fee Simple$841,123$453100.1%63%294

What to Expect from Townhouse/Duplex Inventory

Below is a chart showing what your average Condominium and Fee Simple townhouse/duplex has offered buyers over the last five years of sales. While Fee Simple homes are roughly 43% larger, with an extra bedroom/bathroom, and about 25 years newer (likely to have a more open floor plan, larger bathrooms, and larger closets) the average Fee Simple home in 2020 was about $290,000 more expensive.

Ownership TypeAvg BedroomsAvg Full BathsAvg Half BathsAvg Total SqftAvg Year Built# Sold
Condominium2.21.90.51,41819591352
Fee Simple3.02.51.02,02519841222

Sales Since 2019, by Decade Built

I also thought it would be interesting to compare what inventory looks like based on the decade it was built. The following table details what you can expect to find in townhouse/duplex inventory by decade built, based on sales since 2019.

Below are a few highlights from the data:

  • There are three “generations” of townhouse/duplex inventory: 1930s-1950s, 1960s-1980s, and 1990s-current. In each “generation” the size of homes being built increased significantly.
  • The oldest, least expensive homes sell the fastest, with an incredible 71% of 1930s townhouses/duplexes selling within one week on market. On the flip side, the newest, most expensive inventory can take a little longer to sell, with less than 50% of these homes selling within one week. However, even at 40% and 47%, that is still a fast pace for any market.
  • Of the 1,012 townhouse/duplex homes sold since 2019, 279 (27.6%) had an attached garage. On average, a townhouse/duplex with a garage sold for just over $967,000 and 77% of these homes were built in the 1990s-2010s. 75% of homes with a garage had a two-car garage, representing only about 20% of total townhouse/duplex sales and requiring an average purchase price just over $1M.
Decade BuiltAvg Sold Price% Sold <7 daysAvg Total SqftAvg BRAvg Full BathAvg Half Bath# Sold
1930s$451,59371%1,0181.91.30.4129
1940s$535,77961%1,3612.21.90.1301
1950s$441,07154%1,1172.51.40.654
1960s$685,41760%1,8713.22.21.330
1970s$697,34163%1,9532.92.31.283
1980s$690,40867%1,6182.62.31.1198
1990s$966,94467%2,1283.12.61.399
2000s$1,057,05747%2,5603.22.61.260
2010s$979,36540%2,2183.53.21.188

For those of you exploring the purchase or sale of a townhouse/duplex in Arlington, I hope this information was helpful! If you’d like to discuss buying or selling strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Eli@EliResidential.com.

10-Year Real Estate Appreciation in Arlington (Interactive Chart)

Question: Do you have any data available on how Arlington real estate has performed over the last ten years?

Answer: A lot has changed in Arlington since 2010. We’re less reliant on the Federal Government for jobs, you can find something to do after 6PM outside of Clarendon, and $1,000,000 definitely doesn’t go as far as it used to. BUT we still don’t have a Rosslyn-Georgetown Gondola or a boathouse; maybe in 2030…

I thought it would be cool to create an interactive chart for everybody to play around with to show how real estate values in Arlington and different Arlington sub-markets have changed from 2010 to 2020. Click on the image below to get to a page on my website that will allow you to see 2010 vs 2020 price changes based on things like zip code, bedroom count, new builds/resale, and more.

Now stop reading and go vote if you haven’t already!

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.

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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!