What’s the Difference Between a Comparative Market Analysis and an Appraisal?

Before you buy or sell a house, it’s important to know its market value. As a buyer, you want to pay as little as possible, while still putting in a winning offer. As a seller, you want to maximize the sales price. So how do these two parties ever come to an agreement? Through the use of comparative market analyses (CMAs) and appraisals.

If you’re a seller, you will invariably ask the question, “What’s my house worth?” To which your Realtor should reply, “Let’s look at the CMA I’ve done for your property.” Realtors depend on a database of properties for their market research. The database includes properties of all descriptions that have recently been put up for sale and either sold, remained on the market, or been removed from the market without selling. Your Realtor uses that database to search for properties similar to yours in terms of age, condition, size, style, and location.

In preparing a CMA, your Realtor will review properties that sold, and see how long they were on the market; properties that still haven’t sold, but have remained on the market and may have had price reductions; and properties that never sold and eventually were pulled off the market. Each of these situations provides valuable information about how your property fits into the housing market. The houses that remain on the market are the most interesting to your Realtor, since those are the properties with which your house will compete for the ready, willing, and able buyers. Realtors create CMAs as one of the many services they provide to clients, or even as a way to demonstrate their value to prospective clients. There’s no specific fee for a CMA.

An appraisal, on the other hand, includes similar data but is usually done by a certified or licensed appraiser with hundreds of hours of training and expertise, and most importantly, with no financial stake in the transaction at hand. Lenders depend on this expertise and objectivity to determine the fair market value of a property upon which they make lending decisions. An appraisal is the highest price at which a property is likely to be sold from a willing seller to a willing buyer who both have all the material facts. The cost of an appraisal varies widely from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars (or even tens of thousands of dollars).

Depending on the type of loan and type of property, a lender usually chooses to loan between 50 percent and 100 percent of the appraised value. If you are buying raw land, you can expect closer to 50 percent. If you are buying a commercial property with the first deed of trust, you can expect about 60 percent. If you are buying an owner-occupied, single-family house, you can expect between 75 and 100 percent.

Lenders are not the only ones to use the appraised value. Buyers can use it to negotiate the sales price. In fact, I have a Realtor in my office right now involved in a transaction where the property value is highly subject to opinion. We have sent the seller a letter of intent noting that the buyer is willing to enter into a purchase agreement for whatever the appraised value turns out to be. This particular property will be extremely difficult to appraise and the appraisal will therefore probably cost tens of thousands of dollars. However, with a buyer ready to commit to purchasing the property, the seller may decide the cost of the appraisal is worthwhile.

Neither CMAs nor appraisals are based on exact science. They are both opinions of value, albeit from well-educated sources. Usually, the final sales price falls within 3-5 percent of the appraised value. Now and then a unique property breaks that rule.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

What NOT To Do When Putting Your House on the Market

I’ve written several columns reviewing what to do when you decide to sell your house, but it occurred to me that I might not have shared what NOT to do. Here are four recommendations to help you avoid expensive mistakes.

  1. Don’t Over-improve

As you contemplate putting your house on the market, think carefully before you take on major renovations. Some improvements are cost-effective and will yield a decent return (you’ll be able to increase the sale price to cover your construction costs and hopefully make a profit); others will not. Be mindful of what potential buyers would be willing to pay for if the house belonged to them. Let that guide your decisions about which improvements to undertake. You should complete needed repairs—if something’s broken, fix it. Go ahead and take care of deferred maintenance—if you need a new roof, now’s a good time. Definitely address pest and/or fungus problems—if you don’t take care of the termites, the new owner will have to.

A mistake I sometimes see occurs when a seller renovates to the point where his or her house no longer fits with its surroundings. In a neighborhood of 2000 square foot homes, don’t add 1500 square feet to make yours a 3500 square foot monstrosity. People looking for big homes want to live in neighborhoods where everyone has big homes. Would your house be as valuable if it were moved to an inner city neighborhood full of housing projects? Nope. While that’s a more dramatic example, the same principle applies to overbuilding in a middle class neighborhood.

Another mistake I see is the choice to convert a garage into a family room. Most Realtors will tell you, the increased value from the additional square footage in the new family room is almost exactly offset by the loss of the garage. It’s a wash. And when you add in the cost of the renovation, it’s a loser.

  1. Don’t Over-decorate

Décor is a personal thing, and it’s highly unlikely that you and the future owner of your property will agree on every style choice. (Most of us can’t even agree with our spouses on paint color.) So when it comes to the décor of a house you plan to sell, neutrals are best. While you may love your daughter’s pink walls and the green shag carpet that looks like the grassy meadow from a storybook, the prospective buyer with three sons is unlikely to be thrilled with these choices. Less is more. If you want to add a splash of color, buy fresh flowers and put them in vases around the house.

 

  1. Don’t Hang Around

Whether your Realtor is hosting an open house or bringing an interested buyer for a tour, your job is to be somewhere else (and take Fido with you). I know it’s tempting to stick around and answer questions about your house and the neighborhood. After all, who knows this information better than you? But trust me, you should leave and let your Realtor do their job. Buyers rarely feel comfortable expressing concerns about the house with the owner present. Instead, they will keep quiet and simply move on to the next house.

 

  1. Don’t Take Things Personally

When your Realtor relays questions from potential buyers, try to keep your emotions in check. When buyers ask for a credit so they can redecorate the princess room you spent years perfecting, try not to be offended. When they come in at a price that seems ridiculously low, recognize that they are simply doing their job: trying to get the lowest price possible. You have three potential responses to an offer: accept it, counter it, or reject it. An outright rejection is foolish. Counter the parts of the offer you don’t like and see where it goes from there.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Prepayment Penalties – The Double Whammy

You may have heard you can save a bundle of money by paying off your mortgage early. Have you ever asked yourself, “If I’m saving money, who is losing money?” Well, the answer is: your lender. Sometimes, especially with big commercial properties, lenders protect themselves against early payoffs by including pre-payment penalty clauses in their loan agreements.

Many lenders insist on pre-payment penalties to ensure their continued yield over a period of time. This allows them to cover their expenses, since their up-front fees to arrange the loan do not always cover the cost of doing the work. I’m sure you’ve seen the ads promising, “Refinance with us and we’ll pick up all the costs!” In some cases, that means lenders not only pay the title and escrow fees (and related transaction costs), they also pay the loan origination fees, which can add up to 1-2 percent or more of the loan amount.

If that loan is paid off in the first year (instead of over the course of 15 years), the lender will have suffered a significant loss. A friend of mine who does private party, owner occupied loans argues vehemently that his cost to put one new loan on the books is about $7500; and that doesn’t include the escrow costs, title insurance, or the drawing and recording of documents. In those situations, he’s not allowed to charge a pre-payment penalty. Consequently, he either charges an up-front fee to cover his costs or he assesses the situation carefully so he can be confident the loan will stay on the books long enough for him to recoup his costs.

Pre-payment penalties can take many forms. Typically, they are calculated based on some time frame for which the buyer is required to pay interest. If the loan is paid down or paid off early, the lender charges the penalties. In many cases, the lender will only accept a full pay off the loan if the payment includes the remaining principal plus 4-6 months’ worth of interest.

Most lenders hide pre-payment penalty details in plain sight. All pre-payment penalties must be clearly outlined in the loan agreement, but reading through the verbiage and understanding it might require a law degree and a finance background, especially if you want to negotiate on this point.

Although I said “plain sight,” many of the people who read the pre-payment penalty clause don’t know what they’re looking for. It may be referred to as a “yield maintenance provision” or similar title. And like I said, even if you know you should be paying attention, this stuff is dry; I call it bedtime reading (that is, if you’re trying to fall asleep).

The short story of yield maintenance provisions is this: the lender wants to be sure their investment is protected and their long-term yields will be realized. So if your 30-year loan was written at 8 percent ten years ago and you want to refinance it today at 5 percent, the lender will require a penalty of 3 percent of the loan amount times 20 years. Most of us will never experience a yield maintenance provision pre-payment penalty as they are fairly exclusive to very large commercial loans. However, this is the prime example of why it is so important to READ YOUR LOAN DOCUMENTS.

Pre-payment penalties are a negotiable item and many times a lender will be willing to forego (or reduce) a pre-payment penalty in return for a higher interest rate, a lower loan-to-value ratio, or a higher up-front fee. But if you don’t read your loan documents, you won’t know about the penalties. If you don’t know about the penalties, you won’t know you need to negotiate.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

Getting Ready for a Successful Open House

 Every weekend, Realtors hold open houses so prospective buyers can walk through properties and imagine themselves in a new space. Some open houses are more successful than others, because the sellers plan ahead. If you’d like to get the most out of your open house, consider these recommendations.

4 WEEKS BEFORE

Several weeks before your open house, make plans for all family members, including pets, to be away during the open house. If you have young children, ask the grandparents to take the kids that day. If you have dogs, call a kennel—or friends with a fenced yard—so the dogs can remain offsite while visitors check out your property.

This is also a good time to schedule repairs and carpet cleaning. Although the sagging gutters, loose railings, leaky faucets, and minor pet odors may not bother you; they can certainly bother others.

3 WEEKS BEFORE

With three weeks to go, de-clutter your house. Create clean surfaces and remove half of whatever is in your drawers and closets. When drawers and closets are full (or overfull), people assume the house doesn’t have enough storage. Take your clutter offsite: do not put it your garage. People who visit your open house will look in every available space.

In anticipation of visitors, consider buying fluffy white towels for the bathrooms and a new welcome mat for your front door. You should also purchase a box for each bathroom big enough for shampoo, soap, razors, toothpaste, and other personal bathroom items you’ll want to remove the day of the open house. The only thing on the bathroom counters that day should be a new decorative soap and some fresh flowers.

2 WEEKS BEFORE

With only two weeks left before your open house, it’s time for a deep clean. Remove dead bugs from light fixtures, clean the fingerprints off the sliding glass door, clean the doorknobs and light switches—and the dirt around them; and if you’re up for it, power-wash your house, deck, and driveway. If you’ve never used a power washer, find someone who has. This is not a good time to blow holes in your driveway, and believe me, it happens.

1 WEEK BEFORE

A week before the open house, clean the inside of appliances like your oven and refrigerator, declutter your pantry, and put out the new doormat so it isn’t so obviously new for the open house visitors.

THE WEEK OF

The week of the open house is the time to attend to final details. Purchase fresh apples or lemons to place in a pretty bowl in the kitchen. Clean the windows. Mow the lawn a few days before the open house, so the allergens settle down before visitors come. Make sure you have vanilla extract in the pantry. If you have a fireplace, make sure you have fresh logs.

THE DAY OF

First thing in the morning, take your children to their grandparents’ house and your dogs to the kennel. Put yard clutter away, including toys, hoses, and Fido’s water bowl. Walk around the house and collect any valuables, and put them in the trunk of your car or in a locked safe. (It is really rare, but occasionally people who attend open houses steal.) Put personal bathroom items in the boxes you’ve prepared, and put those boxes under the sink. Stow all kitchen appliances away so countertops are clear (which allows people to imagine their own appliances there). Put fresh logs in the fireplace. Prepare a fresh pot of coffee.

RIGHT BEFORE YOU LEAVE (AND YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY LEAVE)

Open all the blinds. Turn on all the lights and put a drop of vanilla extract on a light bulb in each room. If it’s cold and you have a fireplace, light a fire.

Then leave and allow your Realtor to do what they do best.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

 

California Laws That Took Effect in January

As awareness increases about building safety, environmental concerns, and equality for people with disabilities, construction regulations evolve. Initially, new rules only apply to new construction or major renovations, but eventually existing structures must come up to code. Such is the case with water-conserving plumbing. As of January 1, 2017, we must all have replaced high flow with low flow.

In 1994, new dwellings were required to use low-flow toilets and interior faucets. In 2014, retrofits and renovations to kitchens and bathrooms in existing homes were expected to use the new appliances and fixtures. And now, legislators have decided to spread the love to everyone in single-family homes. In 2019, multi-family dwellings (i.e., apartments and duplexes) and commercial structures will be required to retrofit toilets and interior faucets, too.

If you can find a plumber to certify that it is impossible for you to upgrade to the water-saving devices because of the way your house is built, then you can forego the expense. Good luck with this. Otherwise, you’re in it with the rest of us.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to run out and purchase new toilets and faucets right this minute, but if you plan to sell your house in 2017, you’ll have to disclose the fact that you haven’t upgraded. If you don’t, and the buyer relies on the non-disclosure but later discovers you violated the ordinance, you may be required to pay for the retrofits down the road.

What are the retrofits, exactly? You must replace any toilets with a flush volume of greater than 1.6 gallons, showerheads that emit more than 2.5 gallons per minute, and interior faucets that run more than 2.2 gallons per minute. As silly as it sounds, I don’t see any exclusions for bathtub faucets, so it appears you must replace those faucets, too—even though doing so makes no sense.

While we’re on the subject of retrofits, here’s a government mandate that does make sense: smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in all dwellings. While alarms have been required for some time, recent changes to the law require smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to be present in every bedroom as well as hallways. In multi-story dwellings, alarms must be present on every floor. “Dwellings” are basically anywhere you’d sleep: single-family homes, apartments, duplexes, time-shares, dorms, hotels, etc. Mendocino County augments State requirements for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, so be sure to ask your Realtor for the details if you plan to buy or sell a house and you want to know whether the property complies with local ordinances.

Here’s a fun fact about smoke and carbon monoxide alarms: you are safe in California unless you are in a dwelling owned or leased by the State or by local government agencies. Yes, that’s correct—our legislators have once again exempted themselves from requirements they impose on the rest of us. Ugh. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

If you want to know whether a property complies with existing laws, consider having a home inspection. With construction standards continually changing, it can be hard to keep up, whether it’s insulation, dual pane windows, fire sprinklers, ADA-compliant door knobs or other details. It’ll cost you about $500 and there are half a dozen inspectors in Ukiah to choose from. Ask your Realtor for a list.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.