Zillow your life – it's quite interesting

I grew up at 4950 Lancaster Avenue My parents purchased it for $7,000 in 1957 or so. They made nothing on it and it is now the hole that you see between the buildings. But they raised seven children there. I lived there from age 3 to age 20 or so when my Dad died. I say it owes them nothing for housing nine people there for 17 years. The entire neighborhood that still exists, only values out at $15,000 max. That’s only a 50% return over a fifty year timeframe. Yes, there are “wrong” places to buy property! Always has been and always will be…ALL property does not go UP! (or down) in equal proportions.

In 1973 when my Dad died, my Mom moved to 6626 Haddington Street I remember her picking up the phone and leaving messages on the answering machines of every real estate office in town. She said I have $8,000. If you have a house to sell for $8,000, call me. According to Zillow, that house has now increased by 470%. My Mom was always a little smarter than my Dad…but my Dad was a cool dude 🙂 I don’t remember exactly what my Mom sold it for in 1980, but I do remember that she got at least double what she paid, had a non-taxable gain AND carried a portion of the price as a mortgage to the purchaser, with a double digit interest rate. That house owes her nothing either.

I moved out by the time she sold that house in 1980. In fact my Mom followed me to Northeast Philly. I rented. She bought a house for $18,000 on Fairdale now valued by Zillow at about $55,000. She sold it for $46,000 or so. It is now worth three times what she paid for it, but she took most of the equity out when she left. I bought this house in Kipling Place in 82 for $45,000 and sold in in 84 or $65,000. Zillow values it at $74,000 now, so looks like I pulled most of the equity out of that one. Me and my Mom seem to be doing pretty good pulling equity out and getting in and out at the right times.

Gotta go and I want to see if these Zillow links last. I’ll pick up in 1985 in another post.

Speaking of Trojan Horses!

After reading John Cooks blog, ‘Beware of what you post on Zillow?‘ I started to think, how much is to much??? Much like my last post about the ‘Trojan Horse‘ are we all becoming so connected that it makes sense for the County Assessor to start using these tools as a way to fuel the County. In my case, King County Assessor Scott Noble was even quoted as saying, “the new Zillow service could be used as a tool to make sure that homeowners are paying their “fair share.” If the KC Assessor’s office would have used Zilllow’s Zestimate for the tax assessed value of a home LTD Real Estate just sold they would have almost doubled the tax bill. That would mean from this home alone, $2,601.51 more towards the bottom line. Hopefully Ron Sims doesn’t read this blog post…

I think I am going to keep my home information my own information.

Valuing Real Property in the Seattle Area

[photopress:lega_emc2_l.jpg,thumb,alignright]My engineer friends are asking off screen for more details on a “scientific” approach to valuing property. You know, something they can put on an Excel Spreadsheet 🙂 Here’s a fairly tried and true method of valuation here in the Seattle Area. This method was so accurate a couple of years ago, that many agents were using this calculation to list property, and many owners knew it and were insisting on this method of valuation. That was before Zillow came out of course 🙂

I do have to caution readers from outside of the Seattle Area and the State of Washington, that this may not be reliable in other areas of the Country.

Here in the Seattle Area we have little niche markets everywhere. West Seattle, Downtown Kirkland, North Queen Anne, Ballard on the Freemont Side, Crown Hill, etc… Every pocket of value is self contained and is often called everywhere around the Country, the “snob” factor. I sometimes call it the “nosebleed” section, particularly in “view corridors”. Every place I have ever worked has had many, many imaginary lines that determine value pockets. Like the little sliver of area that has the zip code of the lower valued area, but the school district of the contiguous higher valued area.

OK, my engineer friends are getting bored with all the words. Here goes. When I first arrived in the Seattle Area and was working over by Green Lake, it was well known that everything was selling at 1.3 X assessed value. “Everything” meaning “all things being equal” and the “good-average home” without a view. Flippers were looking for anything and everything they could get their hands on that was selling at or below assessed value and using 1.3 or more x assesed value as their “worst case” after improvements value benchmark.

The beauty of this method is that you can extract the factor from each pocket neighborhood, and then apply the factor to the assessed value. I’m going to use the mls, but Galen and others, if you let me know of a site that has sold data that includes the inside photos of the sold property, let me know, so I can give the tutorial pointing to sites the Average Joe can access.

I just sold a property that closed at 1.54 times assessed value. Prior to that sale the top rate for that neighborhood was 1.33 times assessed value or less. Agents sometimes hold the market value down on the seller side of things by pre-ordaining the snob factor. Sometimes I can extend the imaginary line and drag the snob factor ratio of 1.5 to 1.6 times assessed value over to the nearby area that has not gotten a fair shake by the local agents for too long a time.

Take all of the solds in the same zone, as in nearby homes of like kind. Like kind meaning you compare view properties to other view properties and non view properties to other non view properties. You don’t have to consider square footage or number of bedrooms, as the assessed value will take that into consideration by going up and down to accommodate the inherent differences. This method is often more accurate than using the number of bedrooms and square footage reported in the mls.

Take the sold prices of each home divided by the assessed value of that home. Once you get the range of value for that area, say 1.4 – 1.48 times assessed value, you look at the assessed value of the home for sale and multiply it by that given area’s factor. If you pay more than that, then you know you are at the high end of the value range and might have to hold the property longer to come out whole. If you pay at or lower than the low end of the range, you can likely sell it whenever you want and make a profit.

View property will generally go for 1.6 times assessed value. The problem comes with flip projects. Flip projects and remodeled homes have jumped to 1.8 to 1.9 times assessed value. These homes, while they may be worth the price, must be evaluated with regard to the improvements of the basic systems and not just the comsmetic changes. If the roof is three layers and the wiring is original and the basement is yukky, but the kitchen has granite counters and the bathrooms are remodeled and the home is staged…be very careful. To garner 1.9 times assessed value, the home should be “like new” not only based on aesthetics, but all of the main components and systems of the home as well AND be a view property.

By calculating the 1.? times assessed value, you can determine how picky to be about the inspection, how much is too much to pay and where you are paying for “snob factor”. If nearby homes are selling for 1.4 times assessed value or even 1.9 times assessed value, and your offer is 1.8 times assessed value…that should tell you something you may need to know.

OK you data crunchers out there. Time for you to test your valuation using the x assessed value method and compare it to your Zestimate. Let’s hear what you come up with. This should work in any part of the Country that does not re-assess based on sale price, such as California.

Valuing Homes for Buyers

[photopress:dartboard.jpg,thumb,alignright]To some extent buyers, especially first time buyers, encourage receiving inaccurate information with regard to value and other home details, by asking the right questions at the wrong time.

Sellers understand that it takes time to work on a valuation. Rarely does a seller call and say, “I live at 123 Great Street, what is the value of my house?”. I’d venture to say that no seller expects an agent to know the value of their house on the spot, nor would they want a two second answer. Consequently, valuing the home properly for a seller, within the framework of the seller’s expectations of the time it takes to give an accurate answer, produces fairly good results most of the time.

Buyers on the other hand encourage shoot from the hip responses fairly continuously. The normal process should be that the buyer view the properties selected by both them and the agent. The buyer should select one or more that they might like to purchase, and then ask the agent to take some time to evaluate and value those properties that they like best.

But that is not normally how a buyer operates. Often they ask all kinds of questions, as if an agent knows every property they are showing in great detail and with a large degree of accuracy. Certainly the agent can, and will if you encourage it properly, do all of the work necessary to know every property. But buyers seem to expect an agent to spend this kind of time on every property being shown before the agent shows the property and before the agent knows if the buyer is even interested in the property. By and large an agent is not going to study every single property he shows in great detail, as it would be a waste of time, especially for the ones the buyer hates at first glance.

When you first look at property, you should simply be advising the agent if you like it or do not like it. Then you should ask the agent to dig into only the properties you like and might buy, and find out as much as possible about those and also value only those. For as long as I can remember, many buyers will go from house to house asking questions like, what do you think of the price? Is it worth it? What is the age of the house, have they had any offers, etc… By asking a lot of questions about every single house, even the houses you hate, you encourage the agent to answer off the top of his head. This starts the whole relationship off on a bad foot. The agent doesn’t want to say I don’t know to all of these questions, but it is not reasonable to expect an agent to know a lot about every single property being shown. Next thing you know the agent is giving sloppy and often inaccurate answers to avoid saying I don’t know to all of the questions.

Asking your agent if the asking price is reasonable, is of course a very good question. But just as the seller gives the agent hours and sometimes days to come up with that answer, don’t expect an answer on the spot for every single house you are shown whether you like it or not. If you do ask the question, and the agent answers immediately without taking at least an hour or two to research the answer to that question, don’t be surprised if the answer you do get on the spot is a knee jerk, inaccurate answer.

By encouraging the agent to answer inaccurately, you set up a relationship where the agent continues to give you shoot from the hip responses even on the property you eventually purchase. Look at property from your perspective. Do you like it or not. Then ask the agent to research the properties you like. This will insure a more accurate valuation and more accurate facts. First the agent calls the listing agent to see if he has any offers and if so, what time are the offers being presented. If you have a few hours to get your offer in, and you usually do, set an appointment for a couple of hours later and ask the agent to research the properties in detail before you sit down to discuss the price and terms of the offer.

Often it is not a good idea to ask ALL of your questions before making an offer. If the buyer’s agent calls the listing agent and asks tons of questions like How old is the roof, Did they ever have water in the basement, etc., that buyer will not be given good consideration if there are multiple offers. Many questions, especially negative toned questions, should be asked after you “tie up the property” and most of them should be asked of the home inspector during the home inspection.

Sorry, I seem to have covered two topics in one there. Just following the normal sequence of errors buyers often make when viewing property and prior to making an offer. Often the seller is more negotiable with a buyer who loves their house, than one who is “kicking tires” from the getgo. Timing is everything. You should ask your agent all of the questions you may have and he should answer all of the questions including the ones you didn’t ask. Leaving the agent room to apply proper timing to obtain the correct answers, without alarming the seller or seller’s agent at the wrong time, can make a huge difference in whether you get the property and how much you pay for it. Once deemed a “difficult or squirrely” buyer by the listing agent, you will often have to jump through more hoops to get the property, if you can get it at all. Give your buyer’s agent enough room to play everything to your best advantage and don’t look at him like he is stupid, if he doesn’t know every answer to every one of your questions “off the top of his head”.

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.

Zillow vs. “average” agent

When I wrote my “Baby Takes a Bow” piece which took about 30 seconds, I knew I was opening Pandora’s Box, and would have to back up my one liners with some extensive writing on each topic outlined therein.

My definition of Pandora’s Box is the one one that attributes “the box” to a “woman’s womb” from which new life springs forth. While I do not necessarily agree with Inman’s new three part series on negating the mls offering started yesterday, or all of David Barry’s undertakings around the country, clearly I am not the only one trying to pry open Pandora’s Box. The box WILL be opened! Whether the DOJ or David Barry choose in the end to take the ultimate credit, truth is, it is just simply time for the box to be broken open by everyone at once.

If we all take out our respective crowbars, the box will open. Who takes credit for having opened it, and clearly David Eraker and those who came before him will deserve some of that credit as well, who takes the ultimate credit is irrelevant. In fact the DOJ is my best hope for getting the credit, so that the “new life that springs forth” will be on a national scale as only the DOJ can do best.

In this quote from my most recent beginnings of a very long explanation, you will quickly see just WHO Zillow can replace, which by current accounts and statistics may be up to 90% of the industry as it exists today.

“If you stand up from the computer with the value in your hand before you go to the house, and you stand by that value after you arrive at the house, because the computer “SET” the value…you are giving the seller the equivalent of a Zillow produced valuation…which is FREE. Any agent who thinks a computer spits out a home “value” via a CMA Program, is easily replaced by Zillow.”

To some extent, those who wrote those great CMA programs, like IRIS/Lightning and Top Producer and way back to Coldwell Banker’s very first CMA software which predated them all, are responsible for agents believing that a computer can value a home.

To a greater extent large brokers, and local mls classes, that mislead new agents into thinking they can “value a home” on day ONE after they receive their license, by using these programs, are even more responsible for this thinking.

When the Pareto Principal changes from an 80/20 rule to a 90/10 rule, as was told to me in Real Estate Broker Classes, with only 10% of agents being competent, then it is time. It is time for Pandora’s Box to be opened. It is time to stop that snowball from rolling down the hill, it is time to stop that train that doesn’t seem to have brakes. It is time to roll back the clock and begin again.

Contrary to Inman’s new series, we do not have to roll the clock back 35 years to the beginnings of the mls. We only have to back up to the day that buyers were supposed to become “1st class citizens”, and begin anew from that point. Because an agent who cannot value a home for a seller, cannot with any sense of credibility, value one for a buyer either.