Price per square foot revisited

Are formal dining rooms becoming obsolete? Are huge master suites too “selfish” for today’s changing society? Is “keeping up with the Joneses” turning into “Cutting down with the Joneses”?

In a market projected to be flat at best for the foreseeable future, these questions are fast becoming very important for each home buyer to ask and answer, each in their own way.

In the age of “me”, me being the parents vs. the children, the places where children “go” in their home got smaller and smaller. Families used to spend more time together in the “living” room until the children were banished to the “family room” and the living room became a “formal” living room that most no one ever used. People gathered in the kitchen with friends and family, until the “formal” dining room became a place and space ONLY used once in a while when “guests” came. As if the kitchen was OK for the kids, but the visitors were somehow more important, so much so that we paid big money for a special room just for “guests” vs the family on an everyday basis.

Beyond price per square foot, it is time for home buyers to determine price per square foot of WHAT? Forget about how it currently “works”. It’s time to change how it works.

First Floor = 1,630 sf of which only 534 square feet represent rooms the children enter on a regular basis. The rest is “formal” living room, “formal” dining room, “Dad’s” study, “grand” staircase and foyer. Even if you throw in the 1/2 bath, the space the children live in is smaller than the square footage of the attached 3 car garage at 660 sf.

When did the children become entitled to less space than the cars?

Second Floor = 1,260 sf of which each child’s bedroom is only 130 sf. If you have two children and throw in the bathroom they share at 5 x 8, that gives them 380 sf on the second floor. Let’s be generous and give them an open loft “bonus” room to do their homework in at 15 x 15 and you still have a full HALF of the second floor devoted to master suites and grand staircases.

2,890 sf of home plus 660 sf of garage = 3,550 sf of which only 1,165 sf is space the children enter on a regular basis. The “children’s” place is not even double the amount devoted to housing the cars. Given the “children’s” space includes the kitchen and the family room, that’s just sad.

Let’s put a price tag of $550,000 on this home = $154 per square foot including the garage. 1,165 sf times $154 = $180,500 of that $550,000 devoted to the “family” and places where the children go on a daily basis. That’s about $370,000 for formal areas, master bedrooms and baths, showy staircases and places to put the cars.

Do you really want to spend $380,000 for places your children don’t enjoy?

Put this house on a small lot, as a zero lot line home, and we have to ask ourselves: I know we’ve come a long way, we’re changing day to day. But tell me, where do the children play?

Short Sale Listings: Leaving Out Key Details Is Like Telling A Lie..

[Editors note: It’s always exciting to introduce a new author to RCG… and today I’m especially excited to introduce Courtney Cooper of Cooper Jacobs as the newest RCG contributor!  Far from a newbie, she’s been running an entertaining blog on ActiveRain for over a year now (and racked up tens of thousands of points in the process!), so I’m pretty sure she’ll have no problem making her impact on the RCG community.   Welcome Courtney!   ~Dustin]

Hello RCG!

Thanks Dustin and ARDELL for the encouragement! I am a huge fan of RCG and look forward to what lies ahead!

Pushing openness with short sale listings…

A lot has been written on Rain City Guide and elsewhere about short sales in the Seattle area, but 2008 had me working with far more buyers than sellers and one sentence kept popping up: “that house is a short sale

Attack of the Killer Assessments

It was a warm & lovely summer evening… Our hapless hero goes through his nightly ritual of sorting the junk mail from the bills when stumbles upon his annual “Official property value notice” post card from the King County Assessor.

Before I actually looked at the card, I thought, this shouldn’t be too bad. The local real estate market has cooled down a lot in the past year. My appraised value should be flat (maybe even lower). Zillow thinks my house’s value has fallen by about 10% this past year. Cyberhomes thinks it’s fallen by about 9%. Eppraisal & doesn’t give me a historical chart, but their value ranges are realistic.

So I gaze upon my white post card of doom and see the following numbers…













I then think, WTF? Why in the world has my land value gone up nearly 90%? Why is my total property value 10% higher than last year, despite the fact we are in a down market? Is the assessor catching up to the market? Did the assessor really blow it this badly in years past? Is this a work of comedy & horror to rival the cult classic of good garden vegetables gone bad?

So, I call the King County Assessor’s office, and they explain to me that the market sells it as one piece, but the assessor must value the land as if it were vacant. After the land value is determined, they determine the total value of the property. Then the land’s worth is subtracted from the total and the remainder becomes the value of the house. They tell me where to go to view the area report for the Issaquah Highlands if I want find out more about how they determined my property’s value.

I read the report and discover that the base land value of single family home in the Issaquah Highlands is $240,000 and that the appraised land value for Area 75 is about 56.7% higher than it was last year. OK, but it still doesn’t explain why my land value is nearly 90% higher than last year. Unless weeds are considered a land improvement or the definition of a square foot has changed in the past year, I still have no idea how they came up with that figure.

I usually read the Seattle Times, not the Seattle PI, so I didn’t see this coming! However, it’s nice to know, I’m that the only one confused about the crazy assessments this year. I haven’t decided if I’m going to get out my pitchfork and storm the assessor’s office yet, but I do feel the need to understand how they came up with their numbers. I’m sure it doesn’t help that Probably & Statistics for Engineers, wasn’t among the classes at school that improved my GPA when I was going to Cal Poly.

And if any program managers from Zillow are reading this blog post – there has to be a cool new feature idea in this experience somewhere. Your web site is very useful helping me buy or sell a home, but I really have no idea if land values really are what the county says they are. Besides, I pay property taxes on a twice a year basis, but I’ve only sold a home once in the past 10 years. Every time somebody’s assessment changes you could get more site traffic. Why can’t generating a Z-assessment petition be as easy as getting a Z-estimate? Just saying, there’s an opportunity here…

Sunday Night Stats – King County

I started working on some June YOY stats over on my blog, but I think I’m going to give it a few more days to make sure all of the June closings are posted before making any comparisons over here besides the regular stats.  It is a holiday weekend, and I’m sure more than the normal amount of June 30 closings may be posted next week.

So far it looks like June 2008 residential sales in King County were 44% less than last year and 56% less than the high as to volume, and prices are slightly down both on a price per square foot basis and median sale price,  Condos also down a little over 50% as to volume both from last year and from the high, but while median price per square foot is down, median prices are up as is the median size of condos sold in June.  Instead of spending less, condo buyers are opting for getting more square footage at that lower price per square foot, and spending more to get the larger units.  Likely a move toward being able to hold longer.

I’ll do some 1st and 2nd quarter comparisons and 1st half YOY in a few days when I’m sure the majority of June 30 closings have been posted.  For now let’s update our regular weekly stats.  Inventory is down this week (selling faster than they are coming on market) in both the condo and residential categories.

King Couny Condos

2004 – 1Q – 1,694 – $188, 2Q 2,636 – $199, 3Q 2,540 – $196, 4Q 2,176 – $195

2005 – 1Q – 2,066 – $198, 2Q 2,925 – $209, 3Q 2,769 – $226, 4Q 2,266 – $224

2006 – 1Q – 1,956 – $242, 2Q 2.748 – $252, 3Q 2,737 – $269, 4Q 2,217 – $278

2007 – 1Q – 2,042 – $295, 2Q 2,862 – $302, 3Q 2,676 – $311, 4Q 1,618 – $294

2008 – 1Q – 1,258 – $299, 2Q 1,485 – $286 (2Q postings as of 7/06/08)

Changes in condo stats for this week

Active Listings: 3,958 – DOWN 89- median price $319,990 – MPPSF  asking $319 – DOM 64

In Escrow:  870 –  DOWN 43 – median asking price $295,000  – MPPSF asking $298  – DOM – 49

Sold YTD :  2,777 – UP 132 – median list price $292,000 – median sold price  $287,900 – median PPSF – $291 DOM 49  Note: only 35% selling in 30 days or less.

Residential King county

2004 – 1Q 5,650 – $152, 2Q 9,237 – $160, 3Q 8.737 – $163, 4Q 7,467 – $165

2005 – 1Q 6,402 – $173, 2Q 9,093 – $185, 3Q 9,131 – $192, 4Q 7,301 – $195

2006 – 1Q 5,596 – $201, 2Q 8,248 – $214, 3Q 7,771 – $216, 4Q 6,204 – $217

2007 – 1Q 5,304 – $222, 2Q 7,393 – $230, 3Q 7,944 – $229, 4Q 4,301 – $221

2008 – 1Q 3,640 – $219, 2Q 4,558 – $220 (2Q  – postings as of 7/06/08)

Changes in residential stats for this week

In Escrow: 2,760 – DOWN 103 – median asking price $435,495 – DOM 49 – MPPSF $209

SOLD YTD: 8,315-  UP 407- median asking $449,950 – median sold price $440,000- DOM 49 – MPPSF $218  Note: Only 36% selling in 30 days or less.

Actively for sale 11,903 – DOWN 284- MPPSF <$800,000 is $220- MPPSF >$800,000 is $336

Stats not compiled or published by NWMLS. (Required disclosure)

Do the Banks Own Seattle?

[photopress:bank.jpg,full,alignright] The photo is of the Bank I worked in for twenty years. Lots of memories in there and lots of pranks pulled up on that balcony 🙂

I was perusing The Tim’s blog while writing something on my blog earlier today, and ran into the comments regarding King County median income and median home prices, again. I never seem to draw the same conclusions as other people. So I tested my thinking on the subject. From my way of thinking, at least SOME of the people have SOME money to put down when they purchase a house. So the median income is relative to the median mortgage used in the purchase, not the sale price. Isn’t it? So I calculated some random stats you might find interesting to prove that the Banks and Mortgage Companies don’t TOTALLY finance EVERY home purchase.

First I went to the high end and found that Seattle high end homes were financed at only 36% of value. That includes 40% of the randomly chosen properties sold in the last 3 or 4 months that were bought with cash and no mortgage at all. Mercer Island and high end Eastside, like Clyde Hill and Medina, financed at a higher rate of 49.5%. Both represented about $28 million dollars worth of homes purchased. Seattle financed $9,750,000 of their $28,000,000 purchase prices while Mercer Island, Clyde Hill and Medina financed $13,500,000 of their $28,000,000. Still plenty of equity though, so NO, the banks do not own the McMansions 🙂

One thing I found that was surprising to me up in the high end is that one of the most expensive homes sold was sold all cash…not surprising. The occupant at the time of sale was a tenant! That cracked me up. Why would someone rent a Six Million Dollar house? Oh, well…just a random observation.

Then a went down to the $475,000 to $500,000 price range, more in the median range and pulled through separate market segments. South Seattle was 90% financed. North Seattle was 85% financed and Eastside was only 70% financed. Why would the Eastside have more people with more money to put down on their homes? Easy. Cheap condos. The condo market was really cheap two to three years ago, and is still relatively cheap by Seattle standards. So people who bought those instead of renting 3 to 5 years ago had built up enough equity to put an average of 30% down on their single family home purchases.

Just random stats that I found interesting. The banks own 90% of South Seattle, 85% of North Seattle, 70% of Eastside and only 35%-50% of the most expensive homes. At least the ones that everyone who is reading King County median income/median home price stats are talking about, those bought recently.

How to Value a House

[photopress:bullseye.jpg,thumb,alignright]While “market value” and “appraised value” are not always one in the same, calculating a home’s value is both a science and an art, whether the value is being ascertained by an appraiser or a real estate professional.

The purpose of the valuation can actually have some bearing on the value itself. If you have a client who is purchasing a property to remodel and flip it, the value for that client has to take into consideration the cost of the improvements and the eventual resale value. Consequently, one has to be involved in both knowing, and making recommendations with regard to, which improvements will produce the greatest return, before the client makes an offer on the property.

Just as a lender has to take into consideration many factors when recommending various loan programs, a real estate professional has to take into account many factors before determining a home’s fair market value. When you are representing a seller, you have to lean towards the high end of the value range. An appraiser would call this “highest and best use”. A real estate agent would call that “if purchased by a person of the best buyer profile. For example, someone purchasing a property to live in it, will pay more for a property than a builder who is going to tear it down or an investor who is going to remodel and flip it.

When you represent the buyer, you have to consider the home’s resale value and any money left on the table by the seller. A seller leaves money on the table by various means that are generally not reflected in the asking price itself. I use this test when valuing a property for the buyer: If they called me in a very short period of time to sell it because they decided to move back from where they came from, could I get them out whole, meaning purchase price plus the costs of purchase and sale. By being a “listing agent” in your mind when representing a buyer, an agent will perform a better valuation than if they are just considering how much the buyer wants or likes the property. Of course, the buyer can always choose to pay more than that value and say “I don’t plan to sell it as I plan to live here for a very long time”, but they will at least know how much they are overpaying for the privelege of getting the home. Very important when the buyer is trying to determine the cap on their escalation clause.

Let’s go to the science part of the valuation. Some houses have what are called “true comps”. This would be most true in a very large community of newer homes. I am not going to spend a lot of time on valuing property with “true comps” because here in the Seattle Area, there are very, very few houses that can be valued by those normal methods. In fact the only ones I have been able to value by normal methods have been newer townhomes. Proximity to the subject property is not always relevant, especially in Seattle vs. Eastside. The comps have to be ones built in the same “finish period” and have the same “buyer profile”. For instance, a property built in 1991 may have white cabinets, gray countertops, white appliances and 4″ white tile in the baths. Using that as a comp to a property built in 1995 with granite tile countertops vs. gray laminate and maple cabinets vs. white cabinets, will not produce a reliable end result. Nor would using a comp with granite slab counters, stainless appliances and hardwood floors.

For the most part, we are lucky to find one recent sale that is quite similar to the property we are valuing. I call that the home’s “significant other”. An appraiser will still use three solds, whether similar or not, to ascertain value. A real estate agent will pull the significant other from the solds and move to properties that are pending and STI and ACTIVE in determining what a buyer will pay or should pay or what a seller should set as an asking price.

A few recent examples. When I valued a property for a seller back in May, I had comps of $325,000, $327,000 and $337,000. I priced the townhome at $350,000 and it sold for $350,000. The upward momentum of the marketplace from May was a significant factor. For this particular townhome, best buyer profile was someone who was relocating to the area and the buyer was in fact relocated here for her new job.

When I recently valued a newer townhome at this time of year, I needed to be more “right on target” as we are in a sluggish month of August aka “agents take vacation time month” and running into September which generally has two weeks out of four that are hot. The buyer profile of this particular townhome was a single person who would take in roommates. It did sell quickly and at full price to a student taking in two roommates. The danger on this one was pricing against new construction. You have to be as high as you can without encroaching on the price at which a buyer can get a brand new townhome nearby. I could not use the comps at all when valuing that property, because the subject property was built in 2001 and the comps were 2003 and new. The interior finishes were not comparable and could not compete, so to get a fast full price was their best chance of not having to bargain down to a level below the highest achievable price.

Let’s flip to buyers and how I value a property for a buyer vs. a seller. I’ll have to make this another article as the Vicodin for the root canal is kicking in and I’m going to barf.