Toll Brothers Comes to Seattle

CamWest announced, via email to its clients and prospective clients, that they have been purchased by Toll Brothers.camwest The CamWest logo now says “A Toll Brothers Company”. I’ve long been a huge fan of Toll Brothers since my early days in Real Estate back in Bucks County, PA.

Toll Brothers made the announcement back on November 21st, and I found the comments made by Toll Brothers CEO to be interesting, spot on and less “fluffy”.

CEO Douglas Yearley Jr. said the CamWest acquisition does not represent the start of a broader expansion push by Toll, which operates in 20 states.

“We have been looking at Seattle for a decade, so this was a bit of a long time coming, and we found the right opportunity,

Today’s Homebuyers Like Hardwood Floors

Whether it’s a new house or an old house, people like hardwood floors better than carpet, especially on the main floor.

Looking at the stats for North King County, a home without hardwood floors is about 2X as likely not to sell, especially at a price point of $400,000 or more for the home. About 24% to 26% of homes that “expire”, or homes still on market and not sold, do not have hardwood floors. Compare that to only 14% of SOLD homes without hardwood floors and you see that 86% of recent home buyers chose a home that had hardwood floors.

Wide plank, narrow plank, light oak, dark finish…lots of variances as to preference of TYPE of hardwood floor. But hands down, even if the new buyer refinishes the floors to a different color, they choose homes with hardwood floors that they can refinish over homes that would need hardwood floors installed.

While “What type of carpet to use to sell your home?” has not changed much…the better answer for the main living areas is hardwood…hands down.

The “new” preferred color of hardwood is less red than the once popular Brazilian Cherry, darker than the blonde tones of yesteryear, but not quite as dark as the short lived chocolate brown craze that lasted about a millisecond.

A warm chestnut brown is the color of the day.

It’s great for the floors…but a little dull for the kitchen or bathroom cabinetry. The new warm chestnut brown hardwoods are best used when the kitchen and main floor baths are a light colored ceramic tile or a laminate floor that blends the color.

Armstrong calls the color “gunstock”. It’s darker than light…lighter than dark…and solidly BROWN vs orange or red tones. Much easier to decorate a room without clashing with the tone of the hardwoods when using this color in many and varied rooms in the house. As a matching cabinet color choice though…I don’t think that trend will last. It’s just too darned dull to have as a kitchen cabinet color.

If after reading this you have any questions as to the color I am talking about…just visit any new model homes…it’s all the rage…and they are pretty much ALL using it in their model homes.

(Stats in this post not compiled, verified or published by The Northwest Multiple Listing Service.)

Is King County at 2001 or 2005 price levels?

Was reading the questions in the comments over on The_Tim’s post about “The Bottom Falling Out on the Low Tier”. That prompted me to run some numbers on two cities in King County. One of which is moving more solidly back into the low tier…and quickly. Another that has been in the high tier since before prices started increasing dramatically in the credit boom years.

Before I post the data, I think we should strike the tiers of 2001 and 2011 based on all Single Family Home sales in King County only, since Case-Shiller tiers are based on a different set of criteria. For this purpose I remove single and double wides, houseboats and townhomes and deal only with detached single family homes. I am using the first 5,000- homes sold in each of those years to set the tier values, since my home calculator stops at 5,000 homes. For 2001 that is the 1st quarter sales. For 2011 that is through the end of April.


Low Tier – < $216,000
Mid Tier – $217,000 – $310,000
High Tier – $311,000+

with median of high tier at $400,000


Low Tier – < $274,000
Mid Tier – $274,000 – $447,000
High Tier – $447,000+

with median of high tier at $614,000

For those wondering why these Tier Pricings are so very different from Case-Shiller numbers, it’s because Case-Shiller combines King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. These are for King County only. ALSO, I’m pretty sure Case-Shiller uses resale (matched pairs) and pretty much excludes New Construction entirely, and a lot of Redmond’s story and the high price tier story is in that New Construction.

The dramatic change in the median price of the high tier tells us A LOT!

Obviously based on median prices, King County is no where near 2001 levels, BUT the following data is a bit startling.

graph (16)

Redmond running a hair under 2005 median home price, but no where near 2004 median pricing. Federal Way on the other hand quickly degenerating toward 2001-2002 pricing.

Of course once you have some more information…you have to keep going to determine the why of it. “Why” never has ONE standout answer…but the mix of foreclosures is clearly a BIG part of the story.

2011 fwr

I remember reading a question on a general forum asking why a person can’t find a foreclosure home to buy in their area of preference, when all the news stories are pointing to the DELUGE of foreclosures? Well, ZOMG! that snapshot of the market above “tells a story…don’t it?” to quote Rod Stewart.

Now compare that to 2010 and you will quickly see why the Bottom Tier is pulling away…and getting HAMMERED!


The % of Foreclosures and Pre-Foreclosures (short-sales) in Redmond has barely changed. Federal Way? Well…maybe they have no place to go but up? Certainly hope so.

Now let’s look at the HUGE decline in Price of Bank Owned Property 2010 to 2011. This is going to knock your socks off.

Sorry…have to throw this in as a link over. The chart won’t load.

The short of it for people who don’t like to click on links is that the Bank Owned Solds in Federal Way not only jumped UP from 28% of total sales to 47% of total sales, but the median price of those Bank Owned sales declined from $191,000 to $156,000. WAY below 2001 pricing, and with the volume of them, they dragged the median overall sold price down from $246,000 in 2010 to $199,000 YTD 2011. Maybe it will swing back a bit by year end. But Holy Caboley!

As you will also see in that link, Redmond Bank Owned solds did not change much at all as a % of total sales, BUT the median price of those dropped from $475,000 to $330,000. Still…not enough of them to impact the overall median sold price much in Redmond.

Redmond is easier for me to explain, since I don’t work in Federal Way. Let’s see if I can get another graph to load up. WordPress is liking graphs better than Raw Data Charts.


I combined these two so you can see the dramatic difference. Homes Sales in Redmond are being bolstered by the fact that a LOT of new and newer homes are being sold. You may see that change dramatically in 2012 as the builders seem to be shifting over to Sammamish due to the fact that they have used up a lot of the available land in Redmond.

To some extent the shift will move from 98052 to 98053, 98074 and 98075. But will the buyers shift with them? Probably yes, unless there are a lot more newer homes on resale in 98052 to compete with the travelling builders. You may say there are still plenty of newer resale homes in 98052, but track that against school rankings, and you will see what is happening there with regard to Elementary Schools.

So the drastic decline in Redmond Bank Owned Sold Price from 2010 to 2011 has a lot to do with the % of homes that are, or more aptly said WERE, newer homes. It looks like the glut of spec home leftovers here and there were pretty much sucked up in 2010 when 80% of the Bank Owned Sales were NEW…built since 2005…and most never lived in. Those empty new homes, some completely finished…some not so much especially as to landscaping, are pretty much gone.

Scanning at my notes here (my desk looks like the whacky professor after doing all of these stats on scribbles before processing them into charts and graphs) I’m seeing that the total # of foreclosed properties in Redmond 2011 that were built prior to 1980 are equal to the total # of foreclosures in 2010 of which 80% were built after 2005.

So the decline in price of foreclosed homes in Redmond (as noted in the link above) has more to do with the AGE of those homes, than a drop in prices.

Why the big drop in price in Federal Way? Age of homes does not seem to account for that. I don’t work in Federal Way…so it’s not as easy for me to read reality into the data there, as it is for me in Redmond. My best guess is that it is a degenerating market…like a cancer growing…each new set of foreclosures running off a discount of the current median price. Each new wave of foreclosures dragging that median price down due to sheer volume…and the downward spiral is feeding on itself.

Will be interesting to see if any of this swings back into place by year end. My gut tells me 2012 is going to be a wild ride. Looks like Federal Way has no place to go but up, let’s hope so.

Redmond on the other hand is likely going to lose a lot of that huge support from the new construction homes over to Sammamish, unless we start seeing a whole lot more newer home resales coming on market. That may also be good news for people in Redmond who have been trying to sell their built prior to 2000 homes. I have a feeling it will.

I just don’t see all of the Redmond buyers running over to 98074. Some, yes. Relocation Buyers, yes. But for the most part, either sales volume is going to plummet…or people are going to starting getting a whole lot more interested in some of those older homes that have been languishing on market during the new construction surge up on Education Hill. Probably a little of each.

More graphs and data on the above HERE, HERE and HERE. The last one helps you track the median price for these two cities in each year since 2001, so you can see the rise and fall to and from peak.

(Required Disclosure – Stats in this post and it’s graphs and charts are not compiled, verified or published by The Northwest Multiple Listing Service.)

Should you buy a New home or an Old one?

Education Hill RedmondLots of people want a NEW Construction home, the same way they want a new car vs a used car. However starting the home buying process at “I want NEW” is just as wrong as starting the home buying process at “I want a foreclosure”.

As I have said many times, in my experience more people HATE their “home”, and want to move to a different one, because of WHERE it is vs WHAT it is.

“…and underneath all is the land…” and land is a limited commodity. So where is that NEW home going to be built? Maybe…just maybe…on the wrong piece of land. The lot no one built on prior to 2011…for good reason. Even NEW(er) home will raise this issue. So if you have your heart set on a NEW home…the number one question you need to ask is:


So many people limit their looking to the obvious and the house itself. If you are looking at new or newer construction…begin your investigations at the land that home is sitting on. Looked at one yesterday…without going to it…via Google Maps and the Stormwater Management Comprehensive Plan for that area, and the house was built on a lot IN “The Wetlands”.

Think about that for a minute. What are the various reasons a lot might be available for someone to build homes on today…that is close in to work and good schools and shopping? It’s common sense really. Especially today…after a huge building surge from 2004 to 2008…was there really a piece of land the builders didn’t find and build on during that time? Yes…a few…but not many.

IF wanting a NEW house is your goalyou would be wise to first examine the land of it…and why no one built on it before (unless it is a tear-down lot). Oddly, the one I checked that was “in the wetlands”, well…really, you have to ask yourself. How DID it get built there? Basically one is not allowed to build a house in Wetlands. Why does it not require flood insurance with drainage basins to the north, east AND south of the house?

Think you can “see” all that? Well what about too close to underground gas pipelines? Can’t see that.

My point is you are better off listing all the things you want from a neighborhood, a location and a home, without regard to AGE of home. Then…if none that have the best location are new…well, maybe NEW Construction should not be the FIRST item on your “wish list”.

Prioritize that wish list by the where…before the what in that where. It’s common sense really, isn’t it?

If it has been a Best Place to Live for 10 to 100 years…it was likely built on before yesterday.

Buying New Construction

One of the most notable minor difficulties when buying new construction, that is a piece of dirt at time of contract, is staying on top of when it will close.

Often the builder requires that the buyer close within X days of “CO”, Certificate of Occupancy. Basically 5 to 10 days from the house being completed is the norm.

BUT often it is hard to pinpoint that in advance without going over and checking where they are every few days. Can the appraiser and lender get their work done in a short time, if they are not notified that the house is almost done?

new construction

Working on one now where the lender scheduled the appraiser to go out yesterday. I just got back and the floorings aren’t done, the toilet’s not in on the main floor, can’t get up the steps as they are carpeting upstairs and have rolls of padding on the steps. The cement truck was ready to pour the driveway, but it looks like rain is coming any second. So not sure how they are going to call that in the next 30 minutes.

If you are a cash buyer…no problem. But when the buyer is financing the home, it’s a tight squeeze to meet the builder’s deadline when the house isn’t ready for the appraiser at the scheduled time.

A common rule of thumb is to start timing from “drywall” to close, as many of the local government inspections have to be done before the drywall covers the plumbing and electrical components.

The house doesn’t look ready for the appraiser and clearly not for the CO. The original completion estimate was “mid June” and we are still hoping to close by June 24.

Amazing how fast the project usually moves at the end. There were three different teams of workers there today.

The cement guys were there.
The “hard surfaces” team was there doing the wood floors with the tile work complete.
The carpet guys…a different team, were there.

When you see 8 to 10 guys all working on different things at the same time…you will be amazed at how much can be done in a day…if it doesn’t rain. That’s a big IF around here. Looking pretty just about to rain at the moment. But…that’s Seattle for you.

I still think the house will be done by the 24th…done in time for the appraisal to be done and the loan docs to be in escrow so as to close on the 24th? Still anybody’s guess. I’ll take a peek on Saturday to see if closing by the end of next week is looking possible. If the DID pour that driveway after I left today, even though it looks like rain, then there’s a strong chance it will close on time for the furniture deliveries. ūüôā

New Construction Tip

How To Better Use the Internet to Find a Home

1) Make a “value grid” of the area you are interested in.

2) Overlay an Elementary School ranking grid (whether or not you care about schools).

3) Use steps 1 and 2 to define your “target area” and make a new chart highlighting Market Value’s relationship to Assessed Value in that smaller, defined area.

Before I demonstrate how to apply these techniques, some insight on why I am writing this post today. It is in response to a few comments I read in The Wall Street Journal’s article on Buyer frustration, namely:

“The mood among buyers was ‘nasty’…customers just keep getting outbid on the houses they want.” Glenn Kelman, CEO Redfin

“What’s selling is the Cream of the Crop, and they sell fast. What isn’t The Cream of the Crop is getting hammered.” Real Estate Agent in Florida

“It’s a false buyers market. If you think prices are cheap, wait until you start making offers.” 32 year old home buyer

The main reason you want to start your home search on the internet, is to formulate some strong opinions about what you DON’T want, especially with regard to over-paying for a home, before you step into the arena.

The tug of war in the Internet Home Game is that agents want you to just come OUT and SEE the house, hoping you will fall in love with the house, and not care so much about it being a “good value”. The homebuyer is refusing to GO SEE the houses that indeed might create this scenario, which will work out better and best for the agents and sellers than for the home buyer.

The Mexican Standoff is created by sellers pricing based on their house being somplace where it is NOT, and buyers making offers based on some overall market statistic that may or may not apply to the WHERE they want to live.

To demonstrate this technique I am using the City of Kirkland in the example, because it is one of the easiest to break down into its value segments.

VIP! EVERY area has these VALUE TIERS with sellers in the dark pink area trying to price like the light pink area and sellers in the light blue area trying to price in the dark blue area.

That is what “over-priced” means, to a large degree.

WARNING: Some severe Real Estate Transparency ahead. Agents generally do not convey this information publicly because it can be offensive to buyers and sellers in the lesser value tiers. While all good agents use these methods with their clients, there is good reason why they do not speak of these things publicly.

If you are a homeseller or agent who wants to pretend that the only factors are school DISTRICT and those that relate to the home itself, this is not a good post for you to be reading.

1) A “VALUE GRID” example
kirkland value grid


This is likely the main argument for why you need “a good agent” unless you can use these techniques to represent yourself. This is why having “any” agent is not necessarily better than representing yourself. When I ask an agent what “his service area is” and he says “ANYWHERE!”, I know he is not a “good” agent.

It is great to keep up on general market conditions, using sites like Seattle Bubble that tend to speak in terms of COUNTY stats. I read it all the time. BUT if you don’t take all that a step further into your area of interest, you will be the poor schnook who bought the house in the green section at a medium blue price and ended up selling it at a light pink price.

That is something that you need to understand about FORECLOSURES and why agents pay less attention to them being a “market value” setter. Sure, if someone buys a house in the green section and prices it at time of sale in the green range of value and it ends up in foreclosure, we all sit up and take notice! BUT, but, BUT when we see the house that sold for a medium blue price in the green section come back as a foreclosure…we say…”poor schnook, who the heck represented him when he purchased THAT!”

That’s how an agent can sometimes tell that a house is overpriced before seeing the house. That is why you need to know that too…so that you don’t fall in love with it and start ignoring “the obvious” from an emotional standpoint. The same holds true for the opposite, however. MANY BUYERS ARE FRUSTRATED because they keep making pink offers in the blue area…unsuccessfully. To go back on the quotes from The Wall Street Journal article, the “Cream of the Crop” is BLUE in all of its 3 shades and then Green. Getting “hammered” are the greens who bought at blue prices or the pinks who bought at green prices.

This applies to New Construction Foreclosures as well, and the builders who got the land in the green sections, but penciled their profit numbers out on the blue ones, or who bought in medium blue thinking they could get dark blue prices.

A few notes on the Sample Value Grid. I don’t want to get bogged down in the detail of “Kirkland”, but to help you use this principle elsewhere, worth a little more comment. The dark blue section is basically a condensed form of West of Market. Once you know this, you will understand why a lot of the bargains are up at 18th Ave to 20th Ave, especially on the West side of Market Street. The Medium Blue section to the right of the dark blue section is the other side of Market Street known as “The View Corridor” of East of Market which runs from 1st STREET to 3rd STREET (but not ON 3rd) and from Central to 13th Ave. The lighter blue section to the right of The View Corridor is East of Market up to 6th Street (but not ON 6th Street). The green section to the right of that is called “the wrong side of 6th” and can turn pink and green alternately depending on which street. Lots of “bad” decisions on highest priced homes “on the wrong side of 6th”. Same holds true in the lower sections where 6th Street turns into 108th Ave NE. You have to balance the COLOR grids (and school grid) with the “freeway noise” in some of these areas on the southern portion of the grid in the blue and green areas.

The lines are not hard and fast, but understanding some basic valuation principles will help you understand “value” better and well enough to “bend” the lines when appropriate.

AGAIN…EVERY AREA HAS THESE COLOR GRID FACTORS!. They just differ as to where and why in each area.



This is a newer value increaser/inhibitor somewhat created by sites like and sites like Redfin using those rankings on its property detail pages down near the bottom. People always had a word of mouth “best schools” impact on home values and rankings of School District and High Schools. But the valuation demarcations based on ELEMENTARY school and the exact “borders” of those schools, is a relatively new phenomenon created by more information being available on the internet.

Knowing the school boundaries is great! But are we giving too much credence to sites like and Most real estate industry personnel say yes, and do not lend their seal of approval to these sites as readily as some newcomers to the industry. That said…there is some overlap between the school rankings and the traditional value segments. Most BLUE areas happen to have good schools. Some pink areas do as well. So to do our overlay, we don’t have to decide whether or not the school rankings are 100% accurate any more than we have to decide if green is better than blue.

Remember, if you can’t afford blue…green may be your best option and if you can’t afford green, pink in the best school may be your best option. OR pink with a great school might be better than green with a lesser school. OR…as pink gets darker toward another school district…a better school in the OTHER school district may be a better choice. These are the kind of things you need to consider when choosing an agent or choosing to represent yourself. Recognize these factors as “real” and learn from where the foreclosures exist and why those foreclosures happened.

That’s why you have to know why these areas are “colored” as such, and what they draw their value from. The upper pink section on the left is pulling from Bothell and Northshore School District vs Lake Washington (the lake itself) and Downtown Kirkland, as example. You might want to step over that line…or not.

If you take The School Boundary Map and overlay it on the VALUE GRID you will not be surprised to see the Dark Blue area serviced by a highest ranked school and the lowest ranked school planted firmly in Pink.

Life is not quite that simple and I’m not going to go there with you in this public forum. I give you the tools, you being a “reader” vs “my client”. There are limits to how much credibility I will lend to these ranking sites as a professional, and those limits are only shared with my clients. But hopefully, no matter where you are looking to buy, this shows why EVEN IF YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT SCHOOLS, you should not overlook the secondary value pressure of which elementary school is servicing the home you choose.


3) Market Value’s Relationship to Assessed Value in the “target market”

This is a little harder as you have to balance some other factors like land value, main floor footprint and home style. It looks something like the chart in the link just below this sentence, that I have used in posts before:

Market Value vs Tax Assessed Value

For a “target area” we will be blending steps 1 and 2 with this 3rd step, using the same color key as in the link above from green to red, which is different from Step #1 and it’s color codings. In this final step, lighter green is best (vs blue), but red is almost always a “stop sign” of some kind. ūüôā

I’m going to lose a few more people here, but for those who are seriously needing to understand value of homes in order to pick one and make an offer…try to stay with me here. Be sure to click on that blue link just above marked “Market Value vs Tax Assessed Value” before moving on to the charts below.


The BLUE background chart relates to point #1 and is a “Blue Value Grid Area”. In a Blue Value Grid Area, your best hope may be a Blue Price as noted in the KEY to the right, that being 1.2ish times Assessed Value. A few may even sell at the RED “bubble prices” if they are near water, have water views AND have been fully remodeled. You might find a green or two, but they will likely be “tear downs” selling at lot value.

If you are making Green offers in the Blue Zone….you may never achieve success UNLESS when you draw YOUR target MV vs TA map, there are some green sales.

The PINK background chart at the bottom also relates to point #1, but most of the sales ARE green and none are red. In this area you DO NOT want to buy in the purple or above zone without VERY good reason.

I’ll try to simplify this. Let’s say most houses assessed at $800,000 sell for $950,000 in the Blue Zone. NONE have sold for less than assessed value except for the tear downs, or busy road, or malfunction of floorplan issues. That means if you keep looking for a GREAT house with no negatives and making offers of less than Assessed Value, then you are going to get frustrated.

BUT if you are in the Pink Zone where homes sell fairly regularly at assessed value or less (you need to do the actual stats to know if that is the case, this is just an example of HOW to do that) then you don’t want to be paying 1.2 or more times assessed value or $470,000 for a home assessed at $390,000.

EACH AREA will have it’s own relationship to Tax Assessed Value. This has ALWAYS been true in the Seattle Area and is a much better valuation tool than Price Per Square Foot, especially in areas with basements.

You need to calculate if your area of interest is a .97 of assessed value area, a 1.13 times assessed value area or a 1.25 times assessed value area. NO “area” will be a 1.5 times assessed value area right now…but a given house may be.

I’m going to stop here as I’m sure I’ve lost quite a few people by now. But THIS is roughly how good agents “work”. They don’t necessarily make little maps that look like alien solar systems as I have here. But this is an attempt to convey to you the process of how an agent generally values homes and the property they sit on.

Feel free to expound on the topic by asking specific questions in the comments. I’ll do the best I can to explain further in direct answer to those questions.

Buyer Beware – “great deals” may come with other “issues”

big new houseWhen you get the opportunity to buy a house “worth” over a million dollars, for fifty to seventy cents on the dollar, you have to ask yourself if you can “afford” it before you say WooHoo!

#1 –¬†¬†Real Estate Taxes may be too high

Often people ask why so many pending sales don’t close.¬† There are many reasons, one of which is that lender pre-approvals show a purchase price vs. a monthly payment.¬† Reality is that your lender is NOT qualifying you for a purchase price, but for some reason they think it is easier for you to understand a price vs. a monthly payment. They then make assumptions as to other costs, and convert their communication to you,¬†the agents and the seller, to a Purchase Price. (This was not so when I started in real estate, and someone should change that.)

So you have a pre-approval to buy a house for $650,000 with a 20% downpayment.¬† What that really means is the lender “assumed” taxes of approximately $6,500 a year and homeowner’s insurance of $650 a year. Now you go out and find an amazing, super-great deal! You have the opportunity to buy a house assessed at $1.2 million for “only”¬†$650,000! WooHoo? Maybe not.¬† The annual real estate taxes are $11,000 a year vs. $6,500 a year and the homeowner’s insurance is $1,100 vs. $650. That¬†means your monthly payment¬†is $412.50 more each¬†month for that particular “$650,000 house”, than¬†your lender assumed when you were pre-approved.

Your income needs to be $15,000 to $18,000 more per year, for you to be able to afford that particular $650,000 house.

There are two possible consequences. One is that the loan will “kick out” early enough for you to get your Earnest Money returned,¬†assuming you have a good Finance Contingency.¬†The other is that you planned to buy with a payment of ¬†$3,400 a month, but end up being approved for a payment of $3,800 a month, with no recourse.

It’s possible that you could appeal the assessed value with the County, but I’m not hopeful that will work this year.¬†I clearly wouldn’t recommend anyone promising you can have the taxes reduced to a level commensurate with the lower Purchase Price,¬† unless you are buying in California. In King County Washington this is NOT a good year to bet that you can prove that the purchase price of $650,000 is a good reason for the¬†County to lower your assessed value of record. Nor is it a good year to think that lower assessed value will equal lower taxes. The County has already notified owners that they are dramatically reducing assessed values (not taxes). 2010 is a particularly bad year to rely on being able to get that tax bill dramatically reduced, in my opinion.

The only sure course is if the bank-owner would have the assessment and taxes reduced prior to sale, in order to obtain a buyer for that home. But I strongly doubt that will happen. Anyone who can’t afford the $11,000 tax bill that comes with that “great deal”, should not be buying that house.


#2 –¬†The “carrying costs” may be too high

When a lender pre-approves you for a Purchase Price of $650,000, they do not consider annual use and maintenance costs.¬†Unlike real estate taxes and homeowner’s/hazard insurance, the lender makes no assumptions as to utility bills and other maintenance and repair/replacement costs. In King County a $650,000 house is generally about 2,900 square feet. A house for $1.2M is usually about 4,400 square feet, and often on a much larger lot.

Before you buy that 4,400 sf home on an acre+ lot for $650,000, instead of a 2,900 sf home on 1/4 acre, be mindful of the extra cost to heat and maintain that larger home on that larger lot, in good condition, over a period of years.


#3 – Cheaper, bank-owned, new construction may not be “complete”

Most recently we are seeing builders losing their construction projects to the bank. The bank then puts the house on market “as-is”.¬† Yes, the prices can be awesome! But will your lender finance the “new home” without it being completed? There are programs available to provide funds for purchase and rehab or completion, but are you ready to be your own “general contractor”? Even if you think you can handle it, will the new lender allow you to be your own “general contractor”?

Again, two possible consequences. One¬†is you don’t qualify for the new financing, including cost to complete the home. Again, hopefully that consequence “kicks in” early enough for you to get your Earnest Money back under the Finance Contingency. Another possibility is that the things that need to be completed do not cause the sale to fail, but you end up with a house like the one pictured above. No landscaping, temporary construction fences or barriers, no garage doors…and no money to comply with the neighborhood rules to get your new home in good order in the timeframe required by the CC&Rs.

Once you enter into a Contract to Purchase, you may not be protected against “biting off more than you can chew”. Before you enter into a contract to purchase that “screaming deal”, make sure you can handle all the “issues” that come with.

Notice of Trustee Sales v. Trustee Deeds

Each month, Alan from Seattle Bubble religiously¬†posts the Notice of Trustee Sale (NTS) numbers for King County. I’m very appreciative of his work¬†because it saves me time each month so thanks again, Alan.¬† Cruising SB last night, I found Alan’s numbers alarming for June:¬† 1615 NTS were filed.¬† Here are more numbers from Alan:

King County Notice of Trustee Sales

6/2009 – 1615
6/2008 – 576
6/2007 – 304
6/2006 – 299

180% YOY (280% of last year)

The last few months:
6/2009 – 1615
5/2009 – 992
4/2009 – 938
3/2009: 1089
2/2009: 838
1/2009: 909
12/2008: 660
11/2008: 540
10/2008: 643
9/2008: 607
8/2008: 575
7/2008: 728

If we’re seeing 180% increase year over year with notice of trustee sale filings, then where are the REOs? Well as it turns out, if you compare the trustee deed filings for the same month, you’ll see that a low percentage of Notice of Trustee Sales actually go all the way through the auction process. Here’s comparison data courtesy of Jess and Julie Lyda, which gives us a visual comparing NTS v. Trustee Deeds, which means title changed hands from the owner in default to a new owner. That new owner could be the bank/lender or someone who was the high bidder at the trustee sale. Here’s a link to a larger image of the graph.

So what assumptions can we make given facts that we already know? We already know that banks and lenders are postponing the majority of trustee sales in King County. We don’t have any data as to how long postponements are lasting.¬† If a homeowner is trying for a short sale or loan modification, we do know that the average wait time for banks to process these requests could easily be months based on nationwide reports from Realtors, home buyers and homeowners.¬† We also know that there are many banks who have turned into zombies, waiting for their number to be called and the regulators to show up on a Friday afternoon.¬† Postponing the losses from a foreclosure means the bankers can collect a paycheck for¬†a few¬†more months.

We also know that 50% of all loan modifications re-default by the 6 month mark. This pushes the foreclosure out longer and increases the overall losses to the bank/lender.  Another assumption we can make comparing data from Alan and Julie is that hundreds of REOs will be coming back on the market each month, which will put further pressure on home values.  Prime delinquencies are starting to surge and so are delinquencies in the upper home price ranges.

With what we know, home values will continue to feel pressure from many angles including higher inventory levels, continued tightening of underwriting guidelines, the lower prices of REO resales and short sales.

More on home price declines:

House Prices: The Long Tail from Calculated Risk
Case Shiller: Anemic Spring Bounce in April from Seattle Bubble
CR explains the difference between a bottom in housing starts and new construction homes and a bottom in residential resale homes in this post; Housing: Two Bottoms.

What will they say in 20 years about today's new homes?

rcg1When I look at new construction for sale I often wonder if the architect and the builder ever spoke or better yet, if the architect or the builder would ever live in the house they designed/built (I am a builder). I seem to be asking myself that question even more lately as I tour homes built from about 2005+.

I wonder, besides the financial crisis, what will this era’s theme of houses be?
It will for sure be about townhomes, but (on average) I am afraid it will also equate to poorly designed and constructed too.

I was touring a home today that made me wonder if the builder ever asked the question, “where will the couch go

When your financing evaporates, do you lose your earnest money?

This is not legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney, not a blog.

In this challenging market, many buyers are discovering that their loan program is no longer available. This is a particular problem with new construction, whether condo or house. The buyer signed a purchase and sale agreement (PSA) several months or even years ago. Back then, in the “good ol’ days,” lenders offered a variety of financing options. Some buyers relied on some of the more “aggressive” options (e.g., an option ARM) in order to qualify for the new home. Today, that financing option is gone, gone, gone, and the buyer can no longer afford to buy the property. What happens then?

Well, the short answer is that the buyer loses the money. In almost every new construction contract, the builder’s addendum will note that the financing contingency, if any, is waived within several weeks of signing the PSA (and months or years before closing). Once the financing contingency is waived, then the risk of a failure of financing rests squarely on the buyer. At that point, if financing fails, it is the buyer’s problem, not the seller’s. Accordingly, if the buyer cannot close as a result, then the buyer will lose the earnest money as the buyer is in default of the PSA.

However, there may be more to the contract than what is seen by the untrained eye. There are a variety of state and even federal laws that apply to the sale of property, and in particular new construction. In many instances, these laws create “loopholes” in the contract that allow the buyer to at least arguably rescind the contract. Thus, depending on the terms of the PSA at issue, these laws can be used to exert negotiating pressure on the seller to at least return some of the earnest money.

Certainly, a buyer should not rely on these laws when signing the PSA originally. Every buyer should be aware of the risks and obligations created by a contract. But sometimes, the buyer’s situation changes (to put “America’s Money Crisis” mildly) and the buyer can no longer perform. Heck, sometimes the buyer may just decide that the purchase is actually a bad idea and not want to complete it. Under those circumstances, the buyer should consult an attorney to determine if there is a mechanism by which the buyer can get some or all of the earnest money back.