It was a busy week in real estate this past week. A lot of us got back from the National Association of Realtor's convention in San Diego, and we hadthree days and jet lag to deal with. Others didn't go but couldn't have missed all the seminars and reports being blasted out by NAR via Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media.
Meanwhile, the city of Gainesville had a meeting on Monday to discuss mandating all new and existing homes in the city limits be upgraded to R-19 Insulation. I was told that the regulatory issues at this meeting were tabled until the January meeting. I'm also told they will be reviewing the current landlord point and licensing system late in January.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal ran a blockbuster article on "Ten Questions for the Volatile Real Estate Market." This was an amazing article that I recommend for all real estate owners and investors. It was trumped by an article floating around later in the week forecasting that the real estate market is heading for a double dip led by a second wave of foreclosures. I think it got more press, because fear mongering always has more traction. I'm not saying by any stretch of the imagination that the premise isn't true, but In Gainesville, for example, we are just experiencing the first real wave of foreclosures.
The WSJ article hits on a great point. Markets are local, and you need to ask a local expert. In fact, four of their 10 questions they deferred to local Realtors. Maybe you can guess what's next? Yes, I have recruited local area experts in Gainesville, Venice, and Ocala to provide their answers to the questions. Before we move on, I will give you a little background on each of our panelists.
Garry Griffin - Garry has been a licensed Realtor for over 20 years. He has been managing and selling in Ocala for the past 5 years. Garry does Commercial and Residential Real Estate in the Ocala area. Garry is a licensed CAM, and in addition to his duties in Real Estate Sales, he also manages associations and the Marion County Property Management division. Garry has recently worked with banks in the area to list REOs.
Craig Wilburn - Craig is a licensed REALTOR. He has been selling real estate in Gainesville and the surrounding counties for over 5 years. As a top producer for Bosshardt Realty, he is committed to 100% customer satisfaction. As a result of that commitment, Craig gets more than 70% of his clients from satisfied clients. He has been in the top five of all residential producers in the Gainesville Alachua County Association of Realtors for the past four years.
Mary Smith - Mary manages a sales force of 14 Realtors in the Venice area, sells, and lists real estate. She is considered a short sale and foreclosure expert and has provided training seminars on these topics. She is the top producing associate in our Venice office and valued member of the Bosshardt Team.
1. Is the housing market getting better?
Garry Griffin, Marion County/Ocala:
Marion County home sales have increased by 22 percent from 2008 levels, and the average days on the market have declined somewhat from 165 to 153. While this is good news to some degree, the down side for sellers is that the average sales price has declined from $152,785 to $118,376. A large portion of sales continue to be foreclosure and short sales. Inventory remains high with an average 23 month supply of homes.
Mary Smith, Venice:
Is our market getting better? What we have been experiencing during 2009 in Sarasota County and the Gulf Coast of Florida is a definable movement and change in our marketplace. Our lower end inventory, based almost solely on distressed properties, including short sales and foreclosures, has been selling and thus reducing our inventory. Our local board has reported our sales are up five percent over the third quarter of last year, and our price point has been rising. Our inventory of active listings has also been decreasing, which of course is a great sign for our price points.
"Getting better" is first a matter of clarifying which aspect of the housing market we are referring to. In Gainesville, if you are a home owner who has owned your home for five years or less and need to sell now, the market is not "getting better" for you and probably will not get better for you any time soon. Market inventory is still at a high, and with the current demand we are experiencing, there is a downward pressure happening on home values in our area still.
Craig Wilburn, Gainesville :
If you are a first time home buyer or buyer in general, the housing market is really "getting better" because prices have come down, there are tax credit incentives available, and current interest rates are at record lows, which makes now the best time to make a buying decision so long as you do not have a plan to resell your home within the next three to five years.
If you are a homeowner that has owned a home for more than seven years and need to sell now, the market is "getting better," as you probably have significant equity built up and have the ability to price and market your home in line with what buyers want. There are buyers out there who are excited about the current market values, which are still, in our area, quite a bit higher than when you first purchased your home. There are a lot of homes to compete against, but as long as you can be realistic and find an aggressive Realtor to market your property, the market for you is getting better, and now is a great time to sell.
2. When will housing bottom out?
Garry Griffin, Ocala/Marion County:
All indications are that Marion county still has a ways to go. As long as short sales and foreclosures are prevalent, prices will continue to drop. Marion County has encountered an above average rate of investment purchases during the boom, and many of the homes are now entering or about to enter the foreclosure stream, meaning prices will continue to fall.
Mary Smith, Venice/Sarasota
The Gulf Coast area was one of the first to hit the downward cycle - October 2005 to be exact. We are hoping that we are becoming one of the first Florida markets to hit bottom! Our local sales have improved in volume and price point for the second and third quarters of this year. Our inventory is finally showing signs of dissipating, and the mid-range properties are slowly starting to see some movement. More importantly, our pending sales now include properties that are not in pre-foreclosure or short sale status.
Craig Wilburn, Gainesville:
There are no "Crystal Balls" around here to clearly give an accurate answe,r and there are MANY factors that will determine where the "bottom" is. However, there are actually two areas of "a bottom" that I have been paying close attention to in our market. First, in our area, we have already seen a bottom in buying activity, which for us came at the end of 2008 and lasted through the first part of 2009. There was a tremendous decrease in the amount of closed sales volume during that time period. Stimulus plans and buyer tax credits helped bring back an increase in activity in 2009; however, there is still no guarantee that we won't see another bottom emerge in market activity when the credits, incentives, and interest rate lows disappear.
Second, the bottom of home values is not there yet, and from the looks of our overall inventory and sales activity, I believe we still have quite a way to go. That does not mean you should hold off and wait to buy when prices come down lower. If you are a nuyer who needs financing, remember that interest rates are at an all time low, huge cash incentives are available for many qualified buyers, and indicators are pointing to our seeing steady increases in interest rates ahead and removal of these tax credit incentives as time goes on. Also, if prices somehow do rebound sooner than later, you will have missed a great buying season and opportunity. Take advantage of the cheap money now!
3. What signals should I watch to determine whether my local market is improving?
Garry Griffin, Ocala/Marion:
Look at supply and demand. While some of Marion County stats show that the market is improving (sales are up 22 percent), the demand still remains low when compared to the inventory. Marion County also has the second highest unemployment rate in the state at 12.2 percent. Until the local job market improves, we can’t expect to see the real estate market substantially improve.
Mary Smith, Venice:
The Sarasota Board of Realtors is reporting a continual weekly movement of more homes sold and pending than new listings coming on to the market. The average price of homes sold has also risen five percent, and this was during the summer, which is our slow season. The average price of homes listed has also risen by two percent in the third quarter of this year. The good news for medium priced home sellers is that their properties are getting more showings and more offers. Craig Wilburn, Gainesville: Assuming that "improving" means home prices are either stabilizing or increasing, there is one basic answer here: find a competent real estate professional in your area who has a handle on overall market inventories and sales activity and has the ability to communicate plainly to you what home values are doing at different price point levels. Remember, this is all about supply and demand, and the market will show signs of improvement at different price points. In our area, the market may stabilize or change faster in homes priced under $200K, as there is more demand in that price range; depending on what the inventory looks like, change could come sooner. You also have to be aware of what's going on in your local economy. What are unemployment rates? Are there many new jobs being created? What's happening with the amount of foreclosure and short sale inventory? All these and others are indicators of whether or not a market will show signs of improving.
Craig Wilburn, Gainesville:
Assuming that "improving" means home prices are either stabilizing or increasing, there is one basic answer here: find a competent real estate professional in your area who has a handle on overall market inventories and sales activity and has the ability to communicate plainly to you what home values are doing at different price point levels. Remember, this is all about supply and demand, and the market will show signs of improvement at different price points. In our area, the market may stabilize or change faster in homes priced under $200K, as there is more demand in that price range; depending on what the inventory looks like, change could come sooner. You also have to be aware of what's going on in your local economy. What are unemployment rates? Are there many new jobs being created? What's happening with the amount of foreclosure and short sale inventory? All these and others are indicators of whether or not a market will show signs of improving.
4. How can I figure out the value of my home?
Garry Griffin, Ocala/Marion County:
Because of the up and down nature of the current market, I’ve found that home valuation web sites do not have accurate estimates of sales prices. The best way to determine your price is to talk to a real estate agent.
Mary Smith, Venice:
In this market the most reliable way to value a home is by asking a local Realtor who knows your specific neighborhood to complete a Comparative Market Analysis for you. Your local Realtor will be able to give you the sold price per square foot as well as adjustments for items that increase the value of your home, such as a golf course view or granite countertops. The online appraisal sites simply take the price of all properties sold and do not adjust for improvements and community features. Your Realtor will also be able to give you important statistics that will affect the sale and value of your home, such as the number of active listings compared to those that are pending or have sold, as well as the average days on market. Knowing the facts concerning your specific community as well as your local area is the best way to gain a true value for your home.
Craig Wilburn, Gainesville:
This is the million dollar question! I always begin with explaining to my sellers one thing. What is the definition of "value" as it relates to real estate? In real estate sales there is only one answer - your home is worth what any able and qualified Buyer is willing to pay for it at any specific moment in time (period!).
Now, how do we figure that out? Putting that aside for a moment, there are generally two ways to look at home value. First, there iis the price your home would generally appraise for (as it relates to getting banks to lend money on your home's value). Second, there is the price a buyer would be willing to pay. Sometimes these numbers are in line with each other, but sometimes they are not. So, if your purpose for getting your home's value is to determine how much money a bank will give you for a possible refinance or maybe even an equity loan to do some home improvements or upgrades, then call your bank and have an appraisal done for a few hundred dollars, or contact your local real estate professional and ask for a free CMA (comparative market analysis). There are also free websites like Realtor.com which offer sold data, home value calculations, and other related market info in your area. This will be a good indication of determining how much a bank will typically lend for your home's "value". For the purposes of selling your home, an appraisal or CMA may also be just fine, but more than likely you will need more in-depth market research to get a better read on what price a buyer would likely pay for your home based on current market conditions and trends. Contact your trusted and local real estate professional to acquire that information and market perspective.
Craig Wilburn also offered up some advice on WSJ's final question about whether or not to buy a foreclosure home.
10. Should I invest in foreclosed homes?
That would depend on the home itself. Not all foreclosed homes are a good value. Sometimes people buy homes strictly for the investment potential, and other times homes are bought for the location, convenience, and overall utility of the house. Neither one of these reasons is wrong in its own sense. Listed bank-owned foreclosed homes are almost always in "as is" condition with the right to inspect and get out if problems discovered on inspection are more than what the buyers are willing to manage. Buying homes from local courthouses does not give you time to inspect, which could potentially be problematic unless you really know what you are doing. If you are an inexperienced buyer, I strongly recommend that you find an experienced Realtor professional that you trust to help guide you through the process, refer qualified inspectors, and help give you an overall understanding of whether or not you are potentially going to make a bad choice. Remember, just because it says "foreclosure" does not mean that it is necessarily a good "value." Take it from someone who has already learned the hard way! There are many good opportunities out there; just get good, clear overall advice before you jump at one.
I thought perhaps in the near future we could interview some of our investors and primary residence home buyers that have bought a foreclosure home and to see how that has turned out for them.
One thing I think people should try to keep in mind is that if you are a residential buyer who is financing right now, then it is hard for me to see a significantly better time to buy. With rates as low as they are, you may still see prices come down, only to see rates increasing, which in a way may end up being neutral on total savings. Cash buyers are in a little different boat. Prices may not be at a true bottom, but a cash buyer in this credit weak market has a lot of negotiating power.
I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving this year. There is a lot to be thankful for, and we all have to try to keep a positive attitude, and remember to value and take stock in the most important things in our lives!