Values

Accurate Pricing

We meet with sellers all the time and make estimates on price. We really do our best to provide guidance on what a house is worth. It is a fascinating art.

But what we try to stress over and over is that pricing right is not about finding the estimate and trying to get 5% more, to provide wiggle room. It’s a natural reaction for a seller. If we ask 5% more, we can always come down. If we price low, we leave money on the table. While this may make sense, it is not accurate in reality.

I have a buyer client who is currently attempting to buy a home. This home is priced right. I would certainly not say I think it is priced too low. I don’t think it is priced too high. What I will say is that it is realistic. We made an offer, a very good offer I felt… but guess what… so did someone else. End Result, we just sent a second offer that upped our initial one by 4.5%… Meaning, the seller is going to land up selling their house for MORE than asking, and in less than a week on the market.

Isn’t this what sellers want? If the seller had asked 5% more than they did, I don’t know that my clients would have fallen in love. They fell in love at the asking price… they were willing to pay more, but they fell in love at asking. If the seller had asked more, and my client’s focus had been at the higher number, there would have been a higher comparison. Perhaps there would have not been an offer, or only one offer. No one to push the other up.

Houses priced fairly are moving very, very quickly in the city. Properties that are priced high, are getting very little attention. Why negotiate with someone who is being unrealistic, when you have options with fair sellers?

On the buyer side… be prepared for a battle. Be prepared to offer quickly and a fair number. Gone are the days of you being the only buyer on a property. Gone are the days of stealing a home. This doesn’t mean you need to offer 5% over asking everything, but it does mean that if you think you can slow play an offer and hope to dance to the middle ground, someone else will be willing to do better. If you really want a house, don’t risk dilly dallying. It’s not always worth walking away.

More on City Assessments

I requested from the City a breakdown of all residential assessments for 2013 and the adjustments by neighborhood. They were kind enough to respond very quickly. I have reformatted what they sent to me, and thought I would pass it along here.

Below, you will find the 22 Neighborhoods that saw decreases in 2013 assessments from last year. This list does not mean that EVERY property in the neighborhood was treated the same. It means that barring any new information provided to the assessor’s office, this is the adjustment due to “General Reassessment”. The other 25 neighborhoods in the City did not have any adjustments this year due to General Reassessment.

DecliningAssessments

In looking for a pattern, there is nothing that stands out. Three of the ten most expensive neighborhoods saw declines, while eight of the bottom ten saw declines. Of those top three, two were university area (although oposite sides) and one was near downtown. Of those that declined, some were detached homes and some were condos. Some were new construction (Carter’s View / Brookwood / Burnet Commons) and some were among the oldest homes in town (Fifeville / Fry’s Spring / Ix – Belmont). Every elementary school district seems to have some neighborhoods that declined and some that stayed flat.

The flip side to all of these numbers is that inventory is currently at a 7 year low in the City, and competing offers are common. The fact that the Assessor’s Office is showing a decline from 2012 is not mirrored by the current¬†exuberance for City properties.

 

Value of Tax Value

The City of Charlottesville released their 2013 tax assessments this week. Mailings have been sent to home owners, and the web site has been updated to reflect the changes.

Assessments cause all kinds of a ruckus. There is an erroneous perception that prices should instantly adjust to match these new numbers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Reality is, this is the City’s best effort to meet state requirements to estimate the values of the parcels in the city. No one in the assessors office would argue they are perfect. I won’t go so far as to say they are even close in many cases.

There are, however, certain times when assessments should be darn easy. Like the day a home sells. If a home sells for $745,000 after being offered on the open market, and the transaction is indeed an arms length transaction, it makes total sense that the City would be able to assess that house without really thinking about it. The value at which a seller is willing to sell and a buyer is willing to buy is $745,000. That is the definition of market value. And that’s why it’s truly bizarre to see the assessment today on this house at $381,000. (Assessing this home at 51.2% of its market value.)

From the City assessors web site:

Real Estate Assessments are required by the Codes of Virginia and the City of Charlottesville to be at 100% of fair market value.¬† Assessments are made each year by the City Assessor’s Office and are effective January 1.

and

As required, the City’s assessment is an estimate of fair market value as of January 1 each year, based on property sales for the previous calendar year.

The City breaks down the city into neighborhoods and then samples that neighborhood to determine what is happening price wise over the course of the year. Then, barring changes to a home, they apply a % change to all the houses in that neighborhood. There are certainly some places where there is more specific work being done, but in general, this is the practice. I pulled up a sampling of 10 homes in the neighborhood that is bounded by Rugby Road, Emmett Street, Westview Road, and Wayside Place. The tax assessments I pulled changed from -4.68% to -4.7%. You can’t tell me that is an accident. So, the question is, how accurate is this practice. I would say we can bicker about whether -4.7% is the correct amount, but in general, I agree with the practice. If my neighbor’s home goes up 5% or down 3%, it is fairly accurate to say mine did too — UNLESS one of us has done improvements or allowed our house to waste away, in which case, they certainly change at different rates.

So, I focused on this one neighborhood and pulled every house that sold in 2012 to see if the new 2013 assessments were accurate for these homes. Nine homes total ranging in sales price from $367,000 to $1,250,000. How’d they do? Mixed Bag.

  • 938 Rosser Lane – Sold for $367,500 – Assessed for $443,600 – 121% of Sale Price
  • 901 Rosser Lane – Sold for $450,000 – Assessed for $449,200 – Spot On.
  • 1865 Field Road – Sold for $469,000 – Assessed for $511,900 – 109% of Sale Price
  • 1825 Edgewood Lane – Sold for $530,000 – Assessed for $734,100 – 139% of Sale Price — (NOTE: On the market for nearly a year)
  • 1859 Wayside Place – Sold for $706,000 – Assessed for $590,000 – 84% of Sale Price
  • 1863 Wayside Place – Sold for $745,000 – Assessed for $381,600 – 51% of Sale Price
  • 920 Rosser Lane – Sold for $753,000 – Assessed for $735,000 – 98% of Sale Price
  • 1872 Edgewood Lane – Sold for 890,000 – Assessed for $778,800 – 88% of Sale Price
  • 1820 Edgewood Lane – Sold for $1,250,000 – Assessed for $993,000 – 79% of Sale Price

Don’t get me wrong, I totally respect the fact that assessing homes that the City has likely never been in is extremely hard. And I respect the fact that the city has a good process. But no one can argue that a group of nine homes that all sold in the past year, arguably the easiest homes to assess, range in values compared to their sale price from 51% to 139% all in the same neighborhood is anything close to useful, valuable, or accurate.

My point here is not to say that all assessments are bad, or that we should be challenging every one. What I want people to realize is that basing listing and offering prices on City (or County) assessments is dangerous. While it can be a guide, and certainly should be considered, it has to be a single tool of many in pricing a home. We look at comps all day long. And the price you paid four years ago for your home will affect its sale price far more than the new City assessments. Prices in the Venable neighborhood did not go down 4.7% this week with the new assessments. The only thing that changed is that the taxes these home owners will pay went down by 4.7%.

 

 

Decade of New Construction

Better to Buy or Build?

This question comes about in almost every new client conversation I have. There are those diehards that refuse to live in a new house, and there are those who want a maintenance free home from the start. (no such thing by the way – but new homes are certainly less). Personal tastes aside, there is always a financial question regarding which is better. It is the goal of every seller, whether builder or homeowner, to maximize their price at the sale of a home. There may be some other factors on the table regarding timing, but it all comes down to the final net price to seller. Always.

So, prices tend to go up and down in tandem for resale and new construction. Sometimes, one lags the other, but in general, when prices are rising, they are going up for both types of sellers. For that reason, the percentage of sales that are new construction tend to be pretty flat in good times and bad. I’m not saying that new homes keep selling, I’m saying that as a percentage of total sales, they remain fairly constant.

When we look at the last decade, this is certainly what we see. From 2003 to 2011, the percentage of total sales that were new construction (Albemarle and Charlottesville only) remained between 16.7% and 18.0%, and in 7 of those years, it was even tighter, between 16.6% and 17.1%. Not a lot of variance.

But in 2012, we saw a major shift. In Oct of 2011, builders began getting advance warning from their suppliers that prices were going up. Drywall, lumber, you name it… Prices went up. And we’re not talking 2% here. In 2012, prices on drywall went up roughly 30%. And in January of this year, prices went up another 20%+. 2012 saw lumber prices up 44%. And that drives new home prices up. Nationally, the average new home contains roughly 45% of it’s cost in materials. And when they go up as significantly as they have, there is little way to protect the profit without ratcheting prices up.

But good news may be on the horizon. Lumber commodity future point to as much as a 25% decline in prices from mills as China demand decreases and output from Canada increases.

So, here is the interesting thing. 2012, saw the first major drop in new construction. Builders may not have even noticed. The actual number of new homes sold in 2012 (266) was the highest in any year since 2007 (376 – so we are still a long way off the bubble path). But while there was a 4.7% increase in new construction sales in Charlottesville and Albemarle, that paled in comparison to the 15.7% increase in total sales. End result is that the percentage of homes sold in Charlottesville and Albemarle that were new construction went from 16.7% to 15.1%. (Explanation of the Graph: Blue and Green columns represent the total number of homes sold and total number of new construction homes each year. The yellow line is the ratio of new construction to total market.)

NewConstructionWhat brings this back? Two things are possible, likely a combination of the two will play out.

The first is that material prices come back down. As the lumber news points, there should be some relief from manufacturers as output increases. This won’t bring it back to par, but it will allow some relaxing of prices.

The second option is that resale homes will see a price increase. (It has been many years since I said that and it feels pretty good.) As long as resale prices remain depressed, the builder market will have a tough time competing. My bet is that 2013 sees better numbers than 2012 for new construction, but not back to the 2011 16.7%.

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