The pandemic has changed all of our lives in the past year. In local real estate, activity paused in March and April as shelter-in-place orders took effect. The Fed dropped interest rates to zero, pushing mortgage rates to historic lows. Homes became more affordable but inventory (the amount of time to sell the current number of active listings in a market) tightened because people didn’t want strangers walking through their homes during a pandemic. Low rates combined with low inventory has supercharged the local residential market.
Davis and Woodland have very few homes for sale at present with multiple offers received on most listings. The lack of inventory, very low interest rates, and lots of competition are pushing prices up as shown on the graphs below.
Davis has relatively few sales in January and March so take the 26% price increase with a grain of salt-that number is likely influenced by a change in what sold, potentially a compositional effect. I wrote about compositional effects recently.
Woodland prices have increased relatively rapidly during the pandemic on a price per square foot basis but have leveled off on a sale price basis.
Because of seasonality, I look at 12 month change in prices for Davis. Prices have increased the past 5 months compared to the previous year. Davis is a clearly appreciating market at present.
Much of my work is in unincorporated Yolo County appraising small acreage residential properties. The graph below shows a significant upward trend in these types of properties. Once again, part of the increase can be attributed to a compositional effect: the average size of homes and lots have increased, pushing up the sale price trendline somewhat. That said, prices are still increasing in this market.
Inventory was 2.5 months when I compiled this graph at the beginning of the month, shockingly low. I have not seen this market with less than 5 months of inventory in the past 10 years. Buyer preferences have shifted to having more space away from neighbors.
“You will sometimes hear statistics people talk about a ‘composition effect,’ which just means that if you are comparing a group over time, you need to beware of the possibility that the composition of the group is changing.” Why would a residential real estate appraiser care about composition effects?
Much of my time as a residential appraiser is spent determining trends in real estate markets. Every day I create charts like the one below to describe the markets in my reports.
These trendlines assume that the group of homes sold do not differ significantly over time. In most cases, this assumption is reasonable. Sometimes this assumption is false.
For example, the global pandemic has affected buyer tastes. My friend Ryan Lundquist wrote about this recently. After six months of being cooped up from the Covid-19 pandemic, buyers want a larger home. Here’s his chart showing the trends in the Sacramento region:
The average size of a home sold in the Sacramento region has increased 100 sf over the past six months. House size is the primary driver for value, so if all other factors are the same, the average price for that market will increase.
BUT IT’S AN ARTIFICIAL GAIN BECAUSE ANY GIVEN HOME OF THE SAME SIZE WOULD SELL FOR THE SAME PRICE!
Similarly, if homes decrease in size over time with no other changes, that would cause the average price to decline with no impact on individual house prices.
Here’s what I do to have a better understanding of market trends:
I trend sale price of homes sold over time,
I trend price per square foot of homes sold over time, and
I trend home gross living area over time.
Why trend price per square foot? This trick takes into account some variation in size and in conforming areas, can increase the reliability of the trend analysis. However, significant changes in size will influence the PSF trendline.
I see this frequently in Winters, California. Winters is a relatively small city of about 10,000 people located on the western edge of the Sacramento Valley not far from Davis. Below are the three graphs for Winters sales from 1/1/18 to 10/1/19 (all data from Metrolist MLS).
Prices are clearly increasing in the top graph.
Prices are essentially stable when trending price per square foot for the same sales. Why?
Here’s the third chart showing size of homes over time:
The size of a home sold in Winters during this time period increased almost 1 sf per day.
Because of the math,
an increase in the average size of homes sold will push down the price per square foot trendline but will push up the sale price trendline, and
a decrease in the average size of homes sold will push up the price per square foot trendline but will push down the sale price trendline.
Here are some other examples that may cause a market to appear to change over time without a real change in market conditions:
Average lot size changes, especially for small acreage residential properties
Average age of homes changes, especially when new construction ramps up or ramps down
Better quality homes come to market
An outlier, such as a tear down or the biggest home in the county, pulls the trendline out of true
A small, heterogeneous market susceptible to change from the latest sale
A good habit is to take a look at your data. Do you see changes in your data or is it relatively similar over time?
When I do run into composition effects, such as sale price going up and price per square foot going down, I graph both together on the same graph and explain why there is a difference. I then reconcile.
“The sale price trendline is increasing while the sale price per square foot trendline is decreasing. The average size of homes have increased during this time period, skewing the sale price trendline up and the price per square foot trendline down. I conclude that this market has been relatively stable during this time.”
Hope this adds to your understanding of residential real estate markets.
Six months after the Covid-19 stay-at-home order hit Yolo County, what’s happened to residential real estate in local markets?
Sales activity in Davis was low at the start of 2020 before the pandemic hit and continued into the spring with a massive drop in May. As shown below, Davis is way behind in sales compared to last year but we may make up ground in the fall.
In contrast, Woodland started 2020 with strong year-over-year sales activity, putting on the brakes in April and May. Some of the missing activity shifted into the summer but Woodland is still behind last year’s numbers.
While demand (sales) fell over the past six months, supply fell even further in both Davis and Woodland. We have seen an increase this summer in homes listed in Davis, hopefully a sign of the traditional summer market spilling into the fall.
Woodland saw a sharp drop in new listings in April and May and is continuing to track lower.
Net effect on both Davis and Woodland is a supply imbalance leading to rising prices. Davis is showing year-over-year increases in five of the past six months.
Woodland prices are rising too as shown on the scatter graph of all sales below.
Below is a quick summary of both markets:
The standout statistic above is the incredibly low inventory in Woodland.
Winters is a much smaller market than Davis or Woodland. As the graph below shows, sales are increasing at present. Also note the lack of sales in April and May in Winters, similar to other Yolo County markets.
Takeaways for Davis and Woodland
Sales volume is down
Inventory has declined more leading to a supply imbalance
Prices are increasing
Pay Attention To
Interest rates. The historically low rates are jet fuel for the residential market. When rates go up, pay attention
The local economy. We’re still in a recession with massive job losses and a large percentage of mortgage forbearances. So far, impacts to local housing have been minimal but that may change in a hurry
As I type this, the 100,000th person in the US has died from the novel coronavirus 2019. The country has shut down to bend the curve. Shelter in place started in Yolo County on March 19, forcing most people to stay home. Unemployment exploded nationwide, going from 3% to nearly 20% in a month while mortgage forbearance levels jumped to 2008 levels. How has the economic crash affected residential real estate in Davis and Woodland?
Shelter in place stopped in-person interior inspections for buyers and real estate agents while the stock market crash and jump in unemployment shook consumer confidence. However, interest rates dropped into the low 3s, increasing affordability.
The graph above shows all single family residences sold in Davis by month for 2019 and 2020. Year-over-year change in January, February, and March was somewhat negative, indicative of a slowing market. April 2020 was lower still and probably represents sales that went into contract before or at the beginning of the shut down. May sales are probably the first period to reflect the post-shut down period. I was so surprised at how few sales in May to date that I ran the search multiple times to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake….
The Davis residential market ground to a halt. Current listing volume is still low but homes in contract is starting to recover (35 in contract in May 2020 to date compared to 41 in 2019). Prices have held up surprisingly well on a year-over-year, price per square foot basis as shown below.
After a period of decline in the fall, prices shifted to stable to slightly increasing. Early days and less reliable than typical because of the sales volume decline.
Woodland, in contrast, was poised for a strong 2020 before the pandemic. Sales volume was up 38% in January and 25% in February from 2019. March sales this year slowed to the 2019 rate and declined steeply in April and May to date.
Sales volume declined sooner in Woodland but not as steeply as Davis. Once again, prices in Woodland have been relatively stable overall. Homes currently in contract are low and point to continued sales volume decline in at least the short run.
We’ve seen a significant slowdown in activity that has yet to affect prices significantly. Inventory is slightly higher but not yet affecting prices. Historically low interest rates have certainly helped prop up the market. Buyers and agents have adjusted their protocols to stay healthy while shopping for homes.
I’m concerned at the trickle of sales in Davis. Davis is a really hard place to value properties because of differences in location and the high degree of seasonality from the university. Reduce sales volume significantly and sales comparison is going to be difficult. Here’s hoping my Davis Realtor friends have a busy quarter…..
Two recent posts from my friend Jamie Owen at the Cleveland Appraisal Blog plus a planned realtor office visit inspired me to write this. Jamie did a great job blowing up the myth that comparable sales need to be within one mile of the subject in this post. He also tackled geographical competency, or the need to have boots on the ground knowledge about a market in order to credibly value properties in a second post.
Both posts touch on the subject of what is a comparable sale and why should anyone in real estate, or even the general public, care? The quick answer is that “comps” are the basis for how we, both those in the real estate industry and the man on the street, value residential real estate.
Per the Dictionary of Real Estate Appraisal, 3rd Edition, comparables are:
“…similar property sales, rentals, or operating expenses used for comparison in the valuation process; also called comps.“
Comps are used in the Sales Comparison Approach to Value, especially in residential real estate appraisal. All of us, appraisers, real estate agents, and folks considering buying a home, use the theory of substitution to determine the value of a home. What would the typical buyer shopping in that neighborhood buy instead of the subject?
A comparable sale is a sale of a home that the typical buyer of the subject would buy instead of the subject.
Subconsciously, everyone who owns a home compares it to homes in their neighborhood. We learn about a recent sale on our block and place a price on ours based on whether we think it’s better than ours, relatively similar, or inferior. The formal version of this is the sales comparison approach used by appraisers.
We appraisers find the most similar sales, adjust the comparables for differences from the subject, leaving each adjusted comparable sale an indicator of value for the subject. The vast majority of single family residential appraisals in the US rely upon this methodology.
In the context of the sales comparison approach to value, the key is to identify the comps for the subject.
The easiest way to get the value of a single family residence wrong is to get the comps wrong!
Residential real estate, such as a house, a condominium, a home on a small acre lot outside of town, etc., have characteristics (“dimensions”) that serve as descriptions of a specific sale for a specific property. The more similarities between a sale and the subject under consideration, the better a comp. We can go into a deep dive, like George does in his classes; instead, I want to talk about what I do specifically for simple single family residential work in conforming neighborhoods.
Some examples of dimensions and characteristics important to valuing homes include transaction terms (financing, credits, etc.), motivations, location, views, quality, design, condition/age, floor area, and amenities.
Some dimensions/characteristics are more important than others and can vary dramatically in importance depending upon the location. For example, pools are valuable in the Sacramento region but have less value in the Pacific Northwest where the weather is cooler. Basements are common in the Midwest and East Coast but not so here. In the Whisper Creek Subdivision in Arbuckle, CA, a tract of large homes on half acre lots, RV parking is a significant factor unlike other nearby markets. This is why the geographical competency that Jamie discusses is so important. Appraisers with geographical competency understand what characteristics define a true comparable and get the subject’s value right.
Time usually matters except when it doesn’t. If a market is rapidly changing, using the most recent sales can reduce the impact of market change. When a market is relatively stable, time is less important and so using older comparables is reasonable. I downplay time frequently because time is usually the easiest and most reliable adjustment to make.
For a typical tract home in my area, the most important factors are motivations for the purchase or sale, time, location/proximity, and size/floor area. I start with a map search using my neighborhood boundaries and go back 12 months prior to the date of value for closed sales. I exclude from consideration REO sales, short sales, and other transactions where motivations likely had an impact on sale price.
I search for homes a little smaller than the subject because most buyers can make do with a slightly smaller home. Because the typical buyer can accept a larger home than the subject, I set the upper boundary on my floor area range wider than the lower bound. For example, if the subject has 2300 sf of living space, I will search for comparables with 2000 sf to 2800 sf of living space (300 sf smaller to 500 sf larger).
After I set my criteria in the MLS search, I run the search and review the results.
I mentally draw a box around the subject’s important characteristics so I can place it in the competitive market. This is known as bracketing. Reasonably, would the typical buyer consider the sales found suitable substitutes for the subject? Are the sales similar in quality and design? Are there differences in lot size or age? Do I have larger and smaller homes? Do I have homes in similar condition, or inferior and superior? I try to account for every significant characteristic of the subject so I can show, by comparison, the value of the subject by using these comparables.
If I’m comfortable with the sales found, I can start my adjustments analysis. If not, I revise my search criteria and run the search again until I am happy that the sales found reasonably describe the subject.
Once I have my initial candidate comparable sales identified, I dig in and look for most representative comparables of the subject and decide on which sales to research further (view the exterior, contact agents involved in the transaction, etc.). I review outliers, sales outside the normal range, and try to determine why the sales deviate from the norm. I either adjust for the issue or remove the outlier from consideration. The remaining comps, after adjustment, are my indicators of value for the subject.
Comps are usually easy to find in conforming neighborhoods as long as the subject is similar to the rest of the neighborhood. When the subject is unusual, or when there are few sales available and they are all different (“non-conforming”), comparable selection is difficult. The appraisal becomes complex and beyond the scope of this article. I do have tips in my article about appraising complex residential properties.
How do you search for comparables? What are some tips for a real estate agent or new appraiser you can share?
I had the opportunity to write an article for my local paper, the Woodland Daily Democrat. Here’s what I came up with:
The Role of the Appraisal in Residential Real Estate Lending
Most of the time when you buy a house or refinance your existing residential loan, the lender will require an appraisal of your house. What is an appraisal? An appraisal is an independent opinion of value about real estate. In this context, the appraisal is a report that describes the subject, the subject’s neighborhood, includes at least one of the three approaches to value used by us appraisers, and includes the market value of the subject home on a given date. The client for an appraisal, even if the borrower pays for the appraisal, is the lender. I write my residential appraisals for lenders, not buyers or borrowers.
“Most probable price”-My values are not the highest value possible, not the contract price, not the amount you need to complete your refinance. It’s the value supported by evidence in the subject’s competitive market.
“Buyer and seller are typically motivated”-Market value assumes no unusual motivations like short sale, foreclosure sale, sale to a relative, etc.
When deciding whether to loan hundreds of thousands of dollars to someone, the lender will evaluate the borrower’s credit history, income, and expenses. My appraisal will be included as part of the lender’s risk assessment. If the lender were to take back the subject home today, how much would the subject be worth? Is the subject worth more than the loan? Are there any issues that would make it difficult to resell? Are there any obvious repairs that might reduce the value of the subject long term? Are there any obvious safety issues that might open the lender up to liability? My appraisal helps the lender with these questions.
Us appraisers serve as a check for over-exuberance in the residential real estate market. The real estate agents and loan officer get commissions only if the loan closes. The lender makes money only if it makes a loan. The seller gets paid only if the home sells. The buyer gets a house only if the loan closes. Since I get paid whether the loan funds or not, the underwriter and I are the only truly independent parties in the typical residential transaction. The lender relies on me to report any issues with the home and to honestly arrive at my opinion of value. If my appraised value is above the amount needed for the loan amount, and there are no other issues, the lender can move forward with the loan with confidence. In those cases where my opinion of market value is lower than needed to fund the loan, my report warns the lender that the loan may be risky.
The independence of the residential real estate appraiser is vital with the housing market crash of the 2000s fresh in mind. We don’t want to go through that again.
Anything to add? What did I miss?
(I’ll add a link to the article once it’s published)