Condos Must Be Aware of New Fannie Mae Guidelines

Question: Can you summarize the important details of Fannie Mae’s new condo loan deferred maintenance requirements?

Answer: In response to the collapse of the condo building in Surfside, FL last year, Fannie Mae issued new “temporary” lending requirements, effective Jan 1 2022, for Condos and Co-ops to protect against future deferred maintenance issues and, hopefully, incentivize Associations to address issues faster.

I will highlight some of the key changes below, but I advise Condo and Co-op Boards/Management to review the policy changes in detail to ensure properties in your communities remain warrantable (banks will lend using traditional mortgage products), otherwise you’ll risk a significant drop in property values by limiting your buyer pool to cash buyers or those who qualify for alternative lending products (non-Fannie).

Significant Deferred Maintenance and Unsafe Conditions

This is the strictest of the new requirements, but also leaves a lot of grey area and subjective decision-making by each bank’s underwriter(s). The Fannie Mae language states:

“Loans secured by units in condo and co-op projects with significant deferred maintenance or in projects that have received a directive from a regulatory authority or inspection agency to make repairs due to unsafe conditions are not eligible for purchase. These projects will remain ineligible until the required repairs have been made and documented. Acceptable documentation may include a satisfactory engineering or inspection report, certificate of occupancy, or other substantially similar documentation that shows the repairs have been completed in a manner that resolves the building’s safety, soundness, structural integrity, or habitability concerns.

Significant deferred maintenance includes deficiencies that meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • full or partial evacuation of the building to complete repairs is required for more than seven days or an unknown period of time
  • the project has deficiencies, defects, substantial damage, or deferred maintenance that
    • is severe enough to affect the safety, soundness, structural integrity, or habitability of the improvements;
    • the improvements need substantial repairs and rehabilitation, including many major components; or
    • impedes the safe and sound functioning of one or more of the building’s major structural or mechanical elements, including but not limited to the foundation, roof, load bearing structures, electrical system, HVAC, or plumbing.

…These policies do not apply to routine maintenance or repairs that a homeowners’ association (HOA) undertakes to maintain or preserve the integrity and condition of its property. Also, if damage or deferred maintenance is isolated to one or a few units does not affect the overall safety, soundness, structural integrity, or habitability of the improvements then these project eligibility requirements do not apply. Examples of this scenario include water damage to a unit due to a leaky pipe that is isolated or damage from a small fire impacting the interior of a specific unit…”

It’s possible a Fannie Mae loan can be approved on one unit and denied on another. The grey area comes from 1) how the Association responds to the questionnaire sent by the lender and 2) how each lender’s underwriter(s) determine what qualifies as significant/substantial deficiencies. It’s possible that the interpretation of a question, and thus the way that question is answer, can change based on who from the Management company is responding. The same difference an interpretation of a response and support information can occur between underwriters at different banks.

Special Assessments

Associations should be much more careful when choosing to issue a special assessment (as opposed to borrowing or increasing condo dues) because of the extra scrutiny that now applies for loans and possibility that issuing a special assessment may cause properties in the building to be unwarrantable. The Fannie Mae language states:

“Any current or planned special assessment, even if paid in full for the subject unit, must be reviewed to determine acceptability… The lender is expected to obtain the financial documents necessary to confirm the association has the ability to fund any repairs. If the special assessment is related to safety, soundness, structural integrity, or habitability, all related repairs must be fully completed or the project is not eligible. Additionally, If the lender or appraiser is unable to determine that there is no adverse impact, the project is ineligible.”

Reserve Requirements

Associations are now at risk for loans not being approved if they are not allocating 10% or more of their annual budget towards Reserves. In my opinion, this is the most unreasonable of the new Fannie requirements because it doesn’t take other relevant details into account like whether or not the account is overfunded or the recommendations of the Reserve Study. To issue a blanket requirement for every Association to contribute 10% of their annual budget to Reserves is bad policy.

However, there is some flexibility in this requirement. Borrowers putting 10% or more down can get an exception that will allow them to proceed with the loan. Borrowers with less than a 10% down payment have to go through an expensive and time-consuming exception process.

The full guidance letter from Fannie Mae can be downloaded here.

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

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

Video summaries of some articles can be found on YouTube on the Ask Eli, Live With Jean playlist.
Eli Tucker is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with RLAH Real Estate | @properties, 4040 N Fairfax Dr #10C Arlington VA 22203. (703) 390-9460.

And We Thought Last Year’s Housing Market Was Crazy…

Question: The market seems even more intense this year than last, is that accurate?

Answer: I didn’t think the market had much more room to absorb higher prices and intense competition again this year, but that has proven to be wildly untrue. From single-family homes to condos, the first ten weeks of 2022 has given us even more competition and price escalation than last year, all while interest rates have spiked.

High Escalations, Fast-Paced Sales Across All Property Types

I compared sales of Arlington properties that were listed and under contract in the first ten weeks from the last five years to measure how the start of 2022 has compared to previous years.

Detached/townhouse properties are selling for an average of 4.9% over asking price with 85% selling within seven days on market and 92% going for at or above the asking price. These numbers dwarf what had been historically competitive first quarter markets in the previous four years.

The condo market, which suffered through much of the pandemic, is officially back with competition and escalations picking back up to levels close to what we saw during the post-Amazon HQ2/pre-pandemic market. We’re still seeing above an above-average volume of condos being listed for sale (based on 5yr averages), which is keeping the condo market somewhat in-check, but I expect the intensity of this market to increase through the spring and deep into the year.

A screenshot of a computer

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

What About Higher Interest Rates?

Thus far, the market has mostly shrugged off intense headwinds created by rapidly increasing interest rates (see chart below), plummeting stock prices, and the war in Ukraine. Just yesterday rates jumped another .125-.25%.

There must be an inflection point somewhere, but so far hyper-low inventory, rising incomes, and high demand have kept us from it.

Chart, line chart

Description automatically generated

Arlington In Three Charts

There are three charts that clearly illustrate why competition is so fierce across all property types in Arlington right now:

  1. Months of Supply (MoS): A measure of supply and demand calculated by how long existing supply can last based on current demand (lower = seller’s market). The detached market reached all-time lows in November 2021 and has decreased each month since, falling to just 1.5 weeks of supply in February. The condo market hovered around two weeks of supply post-Amazon HQ2 and spiked during the summer of 2020 to around three months of supply. Since December, supply dropped to roughly one month and is poised to drop below the one month mark this spring.
  2. Active Listings: The number of active detached and condo listings is down 40% year-over-year in each of the last two months. Reminder that last year I was also writing about historically low detached/townhouse inventory.
  3. New Listings: The volume of new detached and condo listings is down year-over-year each month since July 2021. This pattern will have to quickly reverse this spring if we want any sort of balance to the 2022 market.
getreport.php (785×330)
Chart, waterfall chart

Description automatically generated
Chart, waterfall chart

Description automatically generated

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

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

2021 Real Estate Market Review: Single-Family

Question: How did Arlington’s single-family home market perform in 2021?

Answer: Last week we reviewed the performance of the condo market so this week we will take a look at the market that has been a topic of conversation across the country for well over a year – the single-family (detached) housing market.

Appreciation Was Strong, Not Exceptional

The 2021 Arlington single-family market was fiercely competitive and experienced its highest appreciation in years. However, the shift in market conditions (demand and price appreciation) was not nearly as dramatic as other regional or national markets that have made headline news over the last 12+ months.

Why? Because thanks to strong market fundamentals and Amazon’s 2018 HQ2 announcement, the Arlington market was already exceptionally competitive and expensive, relative to most other regional and national markets, prior to the COVID-driven housing market mayhem.

Here are some highlights from the chart and table below (22206 and 22209 are not included due to lack of single-family homes sold):

  • The average and median price of a single-family home in Arlington increased in 2021 by 6.2% and 7.2%, respectively. Excellent appreciation for any homeowner, but not the double-digit appreciation other regional and national markets experienced last year.
  • Nearly 50% of homes sold for more than the asking price and didn’t last more than one week on market
  • More single-family homes were listed and sold in 2021 than any of the last five years. Had supply been closer to the ~1,000 homes sold in the previous three years, I suspect average and median prices may have climbed closer to double-digit year-over-year increases.
  • The median price of a house in Arlington exceeded $1M for the first time in 2021. The average price climbed above $1.2M in 2021 and has been above $1M since 2018.
  • The average buyer paid 1.1% over the asking price, which equates to about $13,000 over ask.
  • Of the homes that went under contract in one week or less (just under half), the average buyer paid 3.7% over the asking price
  • In 2017, the majority of homes (39%) sold for less than $800k, in 2021 just 15% of homes sold for less than $800k (this includes teardowns) and 19% sold for at least $1.6M.
  • In each of the last three years, over 40% of homes have sold for $800k-$1.2M

Shake-up at the Top of the Zip Code Rankings

We have a new club house leader in highest average sold price by zip code! With a 15% year-over-year increase in average price, 22213 (western Arlington) finished 2021 with the highest median and average sold price.

But wait, it gets even more interesting! Despite boasting the highest median and average price, the 22213 zip code actually has the lowest average $/SqFt, 4th lowest cost per bedroom, highest average year built by 10+ years, and tied for largest average lot size. So depending on how you look at it, 22213 is the most expensive or best value!

It’s also worth noting that 22213 has the fewest sales of the zip codes I included, with barely enough total sales for me to be comfortable using it here.

The 22201 zip code, which surrounds the Rosslyn (well, Courthouse)-Ballston Corridor, commands the most money for the least house and yard with by far the highest $/SqFt, $/Acre, and $/Bedroom.

Something I would like to highlight with the data below is that change in average price is not necessarily reflective of actual appreciation of individual homes. For example, while 22201 and 22202 show 1% and 3% year-over-year price change, homeowners in those neighborhoods can rest assured that their home almost certainly appreciated more than that in 2021. The uncomfortably low change in average price can likely be attributed to the property mix that was sold in 2021 rather than actual appreciation. Real estate data can be difficult and full of caveats when you’re dealing with relatively small sample sizes.

New Construction, Expensive Homes Lead the Market

The average price of a new home increased 13.1% in 2021and exceeded $2M for the first time ever. New homes are bigger than ever, with the average total finished square footage coming in at just under 5,300 SqFt and averaged 5.5 bedrooms with 5.1 full bathrooms (nearly one full bathroom for each bedroom).

In the last table, I broke the market in each year down by price range (lower 25%, middle 50%, and upper 25%) to see how each cross-section of the market performed year-over-year. The 8.1% jump in average price of the lower 25% in 2020 was likely due to the wave of people leaving shared living (apartments/condos) and the 8.4% increase of the upper 25% in 2021 is likely due to the increased demand of larger, new homes that offer more work-from-home and at-home schooling space for families and low interest rates allowing buyers to increase their budgets.

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

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

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

Interest Rate Forecasts and New Loan Limits

Question: What do you expect from mortgage interest rates in 2022?

Answer:

Historically Low Rates

The first thing to understand about mortgage interest rates is that they are market-driven and forecasting comes with the same amount of unpredictability as any other economic/market-based forecasting (GDP, Unemployment, Stocks, etc). So take predictions/forecasts with a grain of salt.

Higher Prices Still “Manageable”

For perspective, the chart above shows the average 30yr fixed rated mortgage in the US since 1971. Historically low interest rates have been one of the main drivers of the rapid housing price appreciation we’ve witnessed over the last 12-18 months.

The charts below, courtesy of the National Association of Realtors, show that low interest rates have kept affordability, based on mortgage payments vs income, lower than the ’05-’07 housing bubble despite housing prices soaring relative to income; even higher than ’05-’06 peaks.

Forecasting Future Rates

For years, we’ve been reading/hearing pundits say that it’s hard to imagine mortgage rates getting lower, often coupled with overly salesy messaging from the real estate industry that you must buy now because rates have never been so low and likely will not remain this low much longer. The problem with those claims is that mortgage rates have been dropping for about 40 years now (with relatively minor fluctuations along the way)…

With that said, even small fluctuations in rates in the near/mid-term impact affordability and buying decisions, making forecasts for the upcoming 12-24 months relevant to those currently, or soon-to-be, active in the buyer/seller market. The chart below shows the latest 30yr fixed mortgage rate forecasts from four leading housing research sources:

Everybody expects mortgage rates to increase over the next 12-24. This is mostly based on the expectation that the Fed will start easing its economic support and will increase interest rates (indirectly influences mortgage rates) to fend off inflation, so if that strategy changes, so too will mortgage rate forecasts.

It’s my belief that a slow, gradual increase in rates, as predicted by Fannie, Freddie, and NAR, is unlikely to have much influence on home values but any sharp increases, or even the pace predicted by MBA, could result in some downward pressure on prices. Home values are an important part of the US economy so you can expect efforts to be made by the Fed to prevent mortgage rate spikes that shock the housing market.

High Loan Limits

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) just released new conforming loan limits for 2022, with significant increases to reflect recent price growth. The jurisdictions in the greater DC Metro area were given the maximum loan ceiling of $970,800. Beginning in 2022, Fannie/Freddie will insure loans up to $970,800 with as little as 5% down, or the equivalent of a purchase price just under $1,022,000 with 5% down. The new conforming limits increase the maximum loan amount with 3% down to $647,200, or the equivalent of a purchase price just over $667,000 with 3% down.

For any conforming loan (or any loan for that matter), borrowers must also qualify on several factors including credit score, debt-to-income ratio, first-time buyer status, and more. Feel free to reach out to me for lender recommendations if you’d like to explore your mortgage options.

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

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

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

Starting Your 2022 Home Search

Question: We are looking forward to buying a home in 2022. 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 a list of 12-15 things. Then give yourself 100 points and allocate points to each based on how important each item is 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 so each home you see is scored on a 100-point scale.

Length of Ownership

How long you expect to be in your home is one of the most important considerations in defining what you prioritize and how you use your budget. 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 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 for single-family and townhouses right now with low supply, high demand, and increasing prices, but the condo market is more balanced.

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

Answering Your Appraisal Questions

Question: Can you explain the basics of the appraisal process?

Answer: I sat down with one of the best local lenders, Jake Ryon at First Home Mortgage (Jryon@firsthome.com), and came up with a list of some of the most common questions we hear about appraisals, which I’ll answer below:

What is an appraisal?

An appraisal is an objective assessment of a property’s value, conducted by an unbiased third party who does not have a stake in the sale of the property.

Below is an example of the core component of a recent appraisal in Arlington, the Comparable Sales Analysis. It compares objective features of the subject property (the home being assessed by the Appraiser) to the same features of similar/comparable homes that have sold nearby to reach a valuation of the subject home based on the Appraiser’s determination of how the difference in features change the value of the homes.

Why are appraisals done?

In most cases, the bank/lender is the primary investor in a home purchase. If you put 20% down, the bank is investing the other 80%. Appraisals are done to ensure that banks are making responsible investments in homes they otherwise know very little about and to make sure they do not lose substantially if you, the borrower, default on the loan and the bank is forced to take over (and sell it).

In short, the bank conducts an appraisal to make sure they agree with the value (aka the agreed upon sale price) you’ve placed on the home.

Who does the appraisal?

Anybody can hire a licensed appraisal to provide an opinion on a property’s value, but most appraisals are done through a bank/lender. Lenders have a pool of independent, licensed appraisers or appraisal companies that receive a notice when an appraisal is needed for a loan and an appraiser from the lender’s pool claims the job.

The selection of the appraiser is designed to be a blind selection process to maintain independence and objectivity so that lenders can’t handpick the appraiser they want and potentially influence the results.

Is an appraisal required? What is an “appraisal wavier”?

Most lenders require an appraisal to approve a loan, but in some cases an “appraisal waiver” is issued if Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac determine that that they do not need the additional assessment of an Appraiser because the sale price falls within an acceptable range based on sales history and reliability of comparable sales.

Waivers may also be given if the borrower has a high enough down payment that enough of the risk of overpaying for a property is being absorbed by the buyer.

How long does an appraisal usually take?

When Appraisers are not overwhelmed with orders and a lender submits a rush order right away, I’ve seen appraisals completed in as little as a few days. However, in most cases, appraisal reports are usually completed within 1-2 weeks of the order being placed by the lender.

What effect does a low or high appraisal have on a property sale?

If the appraisal value comes in at or above the purchase price, the bank is happy and the loan proceeds along the approval process. If the appraisal value is below the sale price, the bank will require the sale price to be reduced to the appraisal value or that the buyer put more money down to satisfy the loan-to-value ratio.

In most cases, the amount of additional money a buyer needs to put down is equal to the percentage the bank is contributing to the purchase (e.g. 80% if you’re making a 20% down payment or 95% if you’re making a 5% down payment) multiplied by the difference between the contract’s sale price and the appraisal value. However, this additional contribution can vary or may not be needed depending on your down payment amount, type of loan, and other details of your loan arrangement.

What happens if we disagree with the value or it comes in low?

The borrower/buyer is the only party who can challenge an appraisal and they must provide other (better) comparable sales, facts, or justifications to support an adjusted valuation.

I have dealt with some frustrating scenarios as a listing/seller’s agent when an appraisal came in low based on factually incorrect information on the appraisal report (incorrect bedroom count, square footage, etc) and there is nothing that can be done unless the borrower/buyer requests a revision.

What is an appraisal contingency?

An appraisal contingency is one of the three “standard” contingencies in the residential real estate contract (inspection, financing, and appraisal are the “big three”). It protects the buyer in the event a property appraises for less than the sale price by giving the buyer the ability to renegotiate the sale price or void the contract without losing their deposit.

Who pays for the appraisal and how much does it cost?

Buyers pay for the appraisal as a pre-closing expense and the cost usually ranges from $500-$1,000 depending on the type of loan and value/complexity of the property.

Does appraisal value equal market value?

I would argue that the answer is no. Market value is the price a buyer and seller are willing to exchange a property for and often incorporates forward-looking expectations (future construction, development pipeline, market trends, etc).

The appraisal value is generally backward-looking given that Appraisers are tasked with determining a home’s value based on similar properties that have sold/closed nearby (generally within 6-12 months). There is subjectivity in which comparable sales an Appraiser chooses for the report and how they value different features, like a pool, view, or extra garage space.

Oftentimes I find that things the market values like beautiful finishes/design, a quiet neighborhood street lined with mature trees, or lot quality (privacy, flat yard, etc) are not valued by Appraisers to the same extend as they are buyers. Appraisers are generally focused on objective, measurable criteria like bedrooms/bathroom count, square footage, parking, lot size, etc.

It is worth noting here that Appraisers do know the contract sale price of the property they’re appraising in real-world appraisals for lenders (as opposed to my hypothetical scenario above).

Does appraisal value impact my property tax assessment?

No, the appraisal value has no impact on anything outside of the loan. The County will not receive the appraisal value to include in their assessment for tax purposes.

Can I switch lenders and use the same appraisal?

For Conventional loans (the majority of loans in Arlington), most lenders will not accept an appraisal done through another lender, but VA and FHA appraisals do have reciprocity on appraisals between lenders.

If you have additional questions about appraisals, you can email me at Eli@EliResidential.com or a great local lender, Jake Ryon of First Home Mortgage at Jryon@firsthome.com.

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

Should You Stage Your Home?

Question: Do you recommend staging for vacant homes?

Answer: When you stage a home, you are placing temporary furniture and accessories in a home while it is being marketed for sale. In most cases, I strongly encourage staging a home instead of leaving it empty.

The value of staging shows up in two critical parts of the selling/marketing process. It improves the quality of the photos by helping people understand the scale and purpose of a room. Better photos lead to more showings. Good staging also improves the way Buyers experience the home in-person during a showing. Better showings lead to better/more offers.

Figure 1: Great staging helped Buyers make sense of an otherwise large, open space at 3196 N Pollard St Arlington

In my opinion, the three main benefits to staging a home are:

  1. Add Life to Empty Homes: Walking into an empty house can be eerie and makes a home feel lifeless. Those are not feelings you want potential Buyers to have while walking through your home. Good staging can add energy and life to a vacant home.
  2. Help Rooms Feel Larger: This is counterintuitive, but most people perceive empty rooms as being smaller than they really are. I’ve experienced this on numerous occasions walking through empty rooms with Buyers who have trouble understanding how a bed or couch can fit into an empty room that is more than big enough for their furniture.
  3. Engage the Eye: Well staged properties keep Buyers engaged with room layout and functionality, but unstaged empty rooms allow Buyers to focus on flaws like paint scuffs, separating trim, poor lighting, and other things you’d prefer Buyers to overlook during their visit

You do not need to stage every room. In a larger townhouse or single-family home, that can get unnecessarily expensive. Prioritize the most important rooms like the living room, dining room, and primary bedrooms for the best return on investment. Accessorizing walls, countertops, and shelves also adds a lot of value.

Figure 2: Don’t forget about staging for outdoor spaces like this patio at 4645 4th Rd N Arlington

Good staging isn’t cheap, often ranging from ~$2,000-$10,00+ depending on the size of a home and type of staging furniture, but it should be looked at as an investment like anything else you do to prepare your home for sale like painting, cleaning, and landscaping. As a rule of thumb, I think that investing .25-.5% of the market value of a home generates a clear, strong return.

Cheap, thoughtless staging provides little or no value at all. Sticking a chair or two in the living room or simply laying a blow-up bed on the floor of a bedroom are not the same and provide little, if any, benefit.

If you intend on living in your home or leaving your existing furniture for the sale (photos and showings), consider “occupied” staging, whereby you hire a stager to help you maximize the use of your existing furniture and accessories. Just promise not to get offended if they recommend removing your favorite lime green shag carpet 

ies from the owner, with some add-ons from the Stager, in a great example of a successful Occupied Staging approach at 1276 N Wayne St #1230 Arlington

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice For Buyers

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

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

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

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

Question: What were the real estate related changes in the new tax plan and how will those changes impact our local real estate market?

Answer: Spending an hour every week working on my taxes in QuickBooks doesn’t qualify me as a tax expert, so before I provide my take, I’d like to introduce local tax expert Molly Sobhani, CPA of Klausner & Company, located in Rosslyn, to break-down the key changes in the new tax plan that will effect how buyers and homeowners make real estate decisions. Following Molly’s explanation, I will provide my personal thoughts and stats, which stand in contrast to most of the opinions I’ve read.

If you would like to follow-up with Molly about the tax bill or any other tax questions, she can be reached directly at msobhani@klausner-cpa.com or (571) 620-0159. Take it away Molly…

After weeks of confusing, convoluted and contradicting proposals introduced by the House and Senate, the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA) was signed into law on December 22 by President Donald J. Trump. As the dust continues to settle on TCJA, taxpayers across the country are wading through the tax reform bill and the impact of those changes.

With increases to the standard deduction, changes to the deductibility of mortgage interest and limits on property tax deductions, current homeowners and potential homebuyers have a lot to think about. The housing market will undoubtedly be impacted but how – exactly – is still a big question mark.

Summary of Major Tax Law Changes Impacting Residential Home Ownership

  1. Interest will only be deductible on mortgage debts used to acquire your principal residence or a second home of up to $750,000 (or $375,000 for a married couples filing separately). The phase-out of deductible interest begins after the loan balance exceeds $750,000. This new debt limit applies to all loans incurred after December 15, 2017.
  2. Interest on home equity debt (also known as Home Equity Lines of Credit or HELOCs) will no longer be deductible. This is true regardless of when the home equity debt was incurred.
  3. State and local taxes (also known as SALT deductions) will be limited to $10,000 per year. This category of deductions also includes property taxes paid on homes.
  4. The Standard Deduction has increased substantially from $12,700 for joint filers ($6,350 for single filers) in 2017 to $24,000 for joint filers ($12,000 for single filers) in 2018.

One provision that did not change is related to the capital gain exclusion of up to $500,000 for joint filers ($250,000 for single filers) on the sale of a primary residence. You still must use the home as your primary residence for at least two of the last five years in order to be eligible for the full exclusion.

So why do these new tax provisions make homeownership a trickier decision? The incentives for being a homeowner have now been substantially diminished by the new laws for many taxpayers.

A Hypothetical Scenario

A married couple earns $150,000/year in wages and is looking to buy a home in Arlington, VA. Their total state income taxes are $8,625 (5.75% of their $150,000 wages.) They have no other deductions to itemize in 2017 so they will take the $12,700 standard deduction.

In January 2018, they buy a condo for $425,000. They put down 20% and borrow $340,000 at 4%. They are under the $750,000 mortgage debt cap so they are eligible to deduct all of the interest they pay on their loan each year. In the first year, their total interest expense totals $13,491. Their property taxes are $4,233 based on Arlington’s 2017 rates for a $425,000 assessment. Our married couple has a brand new home and all these brand new deductions, right?

But wait! After we add the new property tax deduction of $4,233 to the $8,625 they already pay in state income taxes, they are over the $10,000 limit for SALT deductions. In this example, $2,858 of their property taxes are not deductible.

Fine. Let’s look at their total deductions then: they have the maximum $10,000 SALT deductions and $13,491 of mortgage interest, totaling $23,491. Under the old tax laws, they would itemize their deductions and see a reduction in their Federal and state taxes for these additional expenses.

But we’re not working under the old laws anymore, are we? Under TCJA, even after spending all this money on buying a new home, paying the interest on their mortgage and paying their property taxes, they are actually still better off taking the standard deduction of $24,000.

Why Bother?

As you can see from the example above, by increasing the standard deduction to $24,000 for a married couple filing jointly, many taxpayers who otherwise would have itemized may now benefit more from the standard deduction. This essentially takes away the tax benefit of owning a house for some people. And the question that many potential homebuyers may consider is: “Why bother?” More and more, they may delay the decision to buy in favor of renting.

Other Potential Effects on Housing Markets

Home values may be impacted, too, by the change in tax laws. If mortgage interest is limited to $750,000, houses that are listed at prices over $937,500 (assuming a buyer puts 20% down) may not be as appealing to new buyers as lower-priced homes.

Another consideration is how the disparity in state income and state property tax rates may drive homebuyers into lower tax rate states. In high tax states, there could be multiple scenarios in which taxpayers lose 100% of the tax benefit of paying property taxes.

Conclusion

Of course, there are other (wonderful) reasons to buy a home and other (wonderful) reasons to buy a home in certain neighborhoods. The upsides generated from the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, though, are severely lacking.

Eli’s Closing Stats and Thoughts

According to The Washington Post, Moodys Analytics predicts that home values in Arlington will drop 2.3% as a result of the new tax bill, with drops of 2% in DC, 2.5% in Montgomery County, 2.6% in Loudon County and 4% nationally. Of course, this analysis is limited to the impact of the tax bill and doesn’t take any other growth factors into consideration. In other words, if Arlington continues its growth from 2017 (3.1%), we wouldn’t see actual losses, but stunted growth.

The change in SALT deductions and increase in the Standard Deduction will reduce the benefit of homeownership for many Arlington residents, but let’s take a look at how many homeowners are likely to be impacted by the reduction of the mortgage interest deduction limit to $750,000. Of the 3,100+ homes sold in Arlington in 2017, just over 400 were bought with loans exceeding $750,000. Approximately 30% of detached homes in Arlington (350 of 1,150 sales) had a loan exceeding the new limit. Keep in mind, however, that homeowners with loans over $750,000 will still be able to deduct interest on the first $750,000.

 

I Don’t Believe The Market Will Suffer

While these stats and Moodys’ analysis are great, they fail to capture how homebuyers actually make decisions in the real world. The majority of buyers decide to purchase a home because of a major life event (marriage, kids, job change, etc) and once they’ve decided to purchase a home, their budget is based on how much they have saved for a down payment and how much they can afford each month in housing costs.

Their monthly budget is primarily based on income and the sum of mortgage payments, property taxes, any HOA fees, insurance and maintenance. SALT and mortgage interest deductions don’t factor into any of the core considerations for most homebuyers.

Let’s Be Realistic

Let’s be honest, for most people, taxes are a once-a-year afterthought and tax planning is mostly crossing their fingers, hoping for a few dollars back. For those who do pay close attention to their tax exposure and who stand to lose out on the benefits of the mortgage interest and SALT deductions, I question how much it actually matters.

Previously, the mortgage interest was capped at $1M and there were just 163 (5%) homes purchased in 2017 with a loan of $1M or more who will be “fully” effected by the change to a $750,000 cap. In the first year, the interest paid on that difference of $250,000 is about $10,000 (drops each year), so for somebody with an effective tax rate of 30%, that’s a $3,000 change to their bottom line from last year.

Adding the change in SALT deduction increases that for many people and $3,000+ is nothing to sneeze at, but we’re talking about the wealthiest homebuyers with incomes exceeding $250,000/year. I’d bet that for those who are conscious of the net effect on their bottom line, they’re more likely to find ways to save this money somewhere else than their home purchase.

Plus, the tax plan provides substantial benefits to wealthy Americans and may very well have a net positive effect on their bottom line anyway. Also, does anybody really think that somebody negotiating on a $1.5M+ home they plan to live in for 15+ years will pay $5,000 less because that’s the calculated net impact from mortgage interest and SALT on their 2019 taxes under the new tax bill? No way.

Let’s be realistic about the psychology of home buying and what determines buying power because that’s what impacts home prices, not expensive studies funded by special interest groups (yes, I’m kind of calling out the National Association of REALTORS for fear mongering).

Question: Are there certain considerations to be aware of when re-listing your home in the spring/summer market if you listed and then pulled it during the fall/winter market? Are there things that you would need to fix up in a slow winter market that you could let slide in a hotter market?

Answer: You’ve been on the market for months, had a few interested buyers, but nothing has stuck. Now you’re in the midst of the holidays during the coldest and darkest days of the year so you’re asking yourself what every seller is asking… should you pull your listing and wait for the market to heat back up in the spring?

There are three scenarios that I’ll consider advising sellers to take their home off the market during the winter:

  1. You are living in the home, are under no pressure to sell, have been on the market for more than 60 days without an acceptable offer and have exhausted conversations with any buyers who have shown interest.
  2. You have received feedback from agents and potential buyers that the home needs work and you will take time over the winter to make the necessary improvements, providing that the cost of those improvements will net you better terms than an immediate price reduction and avoiding additional carry cost.
  3. A key selling point of your home is landscaping and/or a view that is difficult to recognize during the winter.

Pros & Cons Of Re-Listing

  • Pro: More Buyers… The number of homes that go under contract drops substantially from November-January and picks up quickly in February. On average, the number of new purchase contracts more than doubles by March compared to December and January.

 

  • Pro: Faster Sales… The increase is buyer activity (demand) results in homes selling a lot faster in the spring/summer

 

  • Con: Not Necessarily Higher Prices… The increased buyer activity impacts days on market a lot more than it does pricing. The amount somebody is willing to pay or qualified to pay for a home often does not change based on the season, rather larger economic factors.

 

 

  • Con: If you decide to re-list in the spring, you are probably planning to do so at a higher price. Be careful with this decision because agents and buyers have easy access to previous asking prices and if you have not made any substantial capital investments to your home to justify the increase, most buyers will base their negotiations on your previous asking price, not the new/higher one.
  • Pro: If you’re off-market for three months or more, your days on market count officially resets to zero when you re-list. This is a system rule for MRIS/BRIGHT (the database of record for agents), although most buyers use sites that show the full listing history and can easily see that something was withdrawn and re-listed.

The Spring Isn’t Easier

Don’t ease up on the marketing of your home in the spring just because there are more active buyers than the winter. You will be competing against 2-3 times more homes for sale so you could make a case that you need to do even more to stand out in the spring, not less. However, if you’re on a budget, you may want to allocate your repair, improvement and staging funds differently based on the season such as the warmth of the family room in the winter vs outdoor dining in the spring.

Happy holidays everybody!