Home prices have been on a tear for ten years straight, and are at their highest levels ever.
Is this bubble going to pop too?
Let’s look at the statistics first. I took the most recent 45 days to get the latest scoop, plus the MLS prefers to calculate the smaller sample sizes.
NSDCC Detached-Home Listings and Sales, April 1 – May 15 (La Jolla to Carlsbad)
# of Listings
# of Sales
It is remarkable that all-time-high prices aren’t causing more people to sell!
In previous markets, once prices started reaching new highs, homeowners would jump at the chance to move. The inventory would grow and cool things off, and/or we’d hit an economic downturn and foreclosure sales would direct the market. But not today!
We are a mid-level luxury market. The more-expensive areas like Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Bay Area feed us downsizers who think we are giving it away.
Homebuying has de-coupled from jobs. We do have substantial employers like Qualcomm, bio-tech, etc. but not near enough to justify these lofty prices. How do we keep afloat? It’s the big down payments; either from previous home sales, successful business ventures, or the Bank of Mom & Dad.
They changed the rules. Banks have to give defaulters a chance to qualify for a loan modification before they can foreclose. With everyone enjoying their equity position, they will find a way to hang onto their house or sell it for a profit, instead of lose it.
Reverse mortgages are an alternative for those who need money. They might crank down the amount of money you can tap, but as long as homeowners are flush with equity, they will be able to get their hands on some of it via reverse mortgages or the typical equity line.
Buyers have been full of money, and willing to blow it. I’ve seen sales close for 10% to 25% above the comps this year, so it doesn’t seem like people are worried about a bubble. Those sales could be creating unsustainable comps, and be short-lived values, but will the next buyer question them enough?
Coming Soon vs. ibuyer. We need a gimmick to transition us to the ibuyer era, and the ‘Coming Soon’ off-market sales will be the sexy distraction. The price of an off-market sale isn’t necessarily lower than retail, and in some cases they can be higher when the buyers get jacked up about the opportunity.
The ibuyer era could be the last hurrah for open-market real estate. If the big-money corporate buyers can build enough credibility and begin to dominate the space, they will be able to dictate the prices paid for their flips, and control the marketplace. If so, they will make sure we won’t have another down market!
In the meantime, we might see prices start to bounce around, instead of the constant trend higher. But if it gets harder to sell, then many will just sit tight instead.
If you think a bubble pop will happen, ponder this question. Who is going to give away their home now?
Thanks to reader Just Some Guy for sending in this article from last week – and who wondered why more people don’t live here and commute to the Bay Area?
Buyers like off-market listings because it lessens the competition. All agents have to do is convince sellers.
After five-plus years of aggressively putting money away in savings, Jason Baker and his wife recently accomplished the seemingly impossible and purchased a four-bedroom house in a high-performing school district in the Bay Area.
The process to find a home base for their growing family took three months. They considered both the East Bay and North Bay and quickly learned the competition is tough in communities with desirable schools such as Lafayette and Mill Valley.
The couple made offers on four houses that they didn’t get, before finally uncovering an unlisted home in Marin County and making an offer that was accepted.
“The three months when we were looking was the most stressful time of our life,” said Baker, 38, who works as an engineering manager. “It was more stressful than the wedding, more stressful than the first month at home with a newborn.”
Open houses at properties that were affordable by the Bay Area’s crazy standards were mob scenes.
“When you went to a house and there was a crowd, you just set your expectations to know you’re not going to get the house,” Baker said. “When there were a lot of people, you knew the odds were high someone is going to make a really high offer.”
Through this ordeal, Baker got an inside look at the buyer’s side of the Bay Area’s real estate market and below he shares what he learned.
1. Listing prices are just “marketing” prices. In a region where homes frequently sell for well over asking and agents often list homes with low prices to encourage bidding wars, you can’t trust that a listing price reflects a home’s value. Buyers can find the true value of a home by looking at recent comps, said Baker. “Redfin and Zillow do an OK job of estimating these,” he says. “One of the problems is there is so little turnover in good school districts that there may only be two or three comps in the last one or two years.”
2. Money wins over everything. Love letters to the sellers are nice, but moot within the Bay Area’s market of high price points. “Unless your bid is significantly higher than the second place bid (more than $50,000), expect the seller to ask you to go into a bidding war,” he shared.
3. Forget about contingencies. “We lost a bid on a house that had no inspection report in its disclosures packet, very rare for the Bay Area,” said Baker. “The seller was not willing to accept any offers with an inspection contingency, and there was water in the basement.”
4. All-cash offers win. If you want the slight edge of all-cash, and you don’t have it, Baker suggested a service called Flyhomes that makes all-cash offers on your behalf. “They buy the house, then sell it to you immediately after closing with a traditional mortgage,” he said. “Ultimately we did not end up buying with them, because they don’t have knowledge of Marin like they do San Francisco and the East Bay, but I would recommend them if you were looking there.” They act as the buyers agent, and their fee is paid by the seller.
6. The price point where the crowds thin out at open houses is about $1.5 million. Priced below that, hordes of people will go to the open house. Above that, it’s more like one or two dozen families.
7. Look for unlisted homes. Try to find a well-connected agent who has knowledge of upcoming listings, and use sites like aaltohomes.com to find unlisted properties, advised Baker. “Some sellers don’t want to deal with listing on the MLS or open houses,” he said. “The house we bought was unlisted, and there was only one family bidding against us instead of six.”
8. Get fully underwritten by your lender, not just pre-approved. “Many houses go on/off the market in a matter of days, so you’ll want a letter ready to go in your offer packet with the bank saying ‘Yes, we are prepared to loan them the money,'” Baker shared.
9. You will most likely lose your first offer, and it will crush you. “It will be sadness on the level of a pet dying,” he said. “Try to remember the family that just outbid you is no longer in the market, and you just moved up a spot.”
The largest agent club in Southern California is growing its membership quickly, as the erosion of the cooperation between brokers continues.
We’ll hear more about the disrupters, discounters, and consolidation, but the underlying theme is that agents are only going to be sharing their listings with one another as the last resort if they can’t sell them off-market.
The realtor groups on Facebook are bursting with off-market talk, though we don’t know how many deals are actually being done. But with so much focus on the off-market space, it is inevitable that more transactions will result.
The PLS only has five listings in San Diego, but it’s just getting started here. One of the five is an active listing on our MLS, but the rest look like they expect some off-market action as a result of being listed here:
With no one in the industry objecting, expect more of this in the future.
The real estate industry has never felt the need to create a powerful search portal in response to Zillow. There should have been an industry-wide effort to create a realtor-centric website to support our business, but NAR and others just shrugged it off.
Traditional realtors should be demonstrating why our experience, our advice, and our gravitas is a better solution for consumers.
It starts with realtors having the best real estate search portal – and Compass has committed to producing it! Our website will make it clear who the actual listing agent is on each listing, regardless of company.
There is another benefit – we put our Coming Soon listings in the front of the search, which will hopefully cause consumers to keep coming back, and help build the traffic faster.
From our CEO:
The future of the real estate industry will be defined by the company that creates the best experience for buying and selling a home. I believe Compass is going to be that company. To achieve our mission of helping everyone find their place in the world, we must make it as simple and straightforward as possible for people to navigate the process of buying and selling a home. We must also put the person who knows how to create a world-class customer experience front and center: the agent.
Many technology companies are doing the exact opposite. They’re confusing consumers and taking advantage of agents in order to maximize their own profits. They most commonly do this by hiding the true listing agent and monetizing the client lead in a variety of ways.
At Compass, we are not just looking to elevate ourselves, we are looking to elevate the industry. Being the first company to show the true listing agent on every listing will not only help bring clarity to the home-buying process, but it is the right thing to do.
It is part of a 3-step strategy to win the consumer:
Make the Compass website and mobile app just as good as the best aggregators by end of summer 2019
Invest millions of dollars advertising our Coming Soon inventory to consumers around the country
Put the listing agent on every listing, making Compass.com the only site in the country where consumers can always find the listing agent
It means we are gently nudging consumers towards connecting with the listing agents directly, making that trend more obvious to all. If the business is going that way anyway, we might as well be out in front of it. JtR
The DRE has finally issued ‘guidance’ on the Coming Soons. Ignored are these facts about agents making off-market deals with no MLS exposure:
We see top agents doing it regularly,
There is no enforcement whatsoever, and
You give us the forms to CYA (last paragraph).
Burying this advice in the back of the bulletin isn’t enough. Until we see realtors being prosecuted and found guilty, nothing will change.
DRE Weighs In on “Coming Soon” Advertising: “Be Sure to Maintain Fiduciary Responsibility for Your Client or Face Civil and Regulatory Liability”
The Department of Real Estate has included in its 2018 Winter Real Estate Bulletin an article which discusses the risks of “Coming Soon” marketing. It includes a statement of the DRE’s view of “best practices” for listing agents:
“Coming Soon” advertising CAN benefit the seller if handled properly. Such advertising can increase exposure time of the property and generate interest in the public about a soon-to-be marketed property, helping potential purchasers prepare to tour the property or make an offer when the property is put up for sale. A practice of “Coming Soon” advertising coupled with initially not showing the property is sometimes known as a “Coming Soon—No Showing” strategy (or similar) and can well serve a client. In such a strategy, the property may show as “Coming Soon” on a multiple listing service, but also as not yet being shown to potential buyers. After a time, the property is broadly marketed as for sale. There are likely multiple listing service requirements that must be met to advertise a property as “Coming Soon—No Showing” or similar.
The potential conflict a “Coming Soon” strategy can have with a licensee’s fiduciary duty comes when the listing agent begins accepting offers before the property is exposed to a larger audience via a multiple listing service or by other means. When a property is not exposed to the full market, a client’s best interests might not be served, even when a full price offer is received (because the property may well have sold above the marketed price if better advertised). Imagine the dilemma for a listing agent if a seller accepts an offer on a poorly marketed property and then receives much higher backup offers as the property receives greater exposure.
At a minimum, an agent should disclose that a better sales price could be obtained if the property were to be marketed on a multiple listing service and obtain the seller’s prior written permission that she or he agrees to not fully market the property.
A listing agent who encourages the use of a “Coming Soon” program, without broadly advertising a property via a multiple listing service or other means, especially exposes himself/herself to the potential for an increased chance of civil liability and regulatory action when the agent also then represents the buyer in a dual agent capacity. Such a dual agent would need to be able to demonstrate that the agent acted in the best interests of the seller to obtain a purchase price that was as high as could be expected for a fully marketed property. This agent, who receives commissions on both ends of the transaction, could face scrutiny questioning whether they worked to obtain the best offer possible for the seller or was acting in such a capacity for personal financial gain.
The following are some best practices for agents when representing a seller:
• Market the property via multiple listing service or other broad advertising means.
• Make sure the seller agrees to and understands how the property will be marketed.
• If using a “Coming Soon” strategy, do not accept and act on offers until a property has been broadly marketed.
• If the property will not be fully marketed, obtain prior written permission from the seller that demonstrates they understand that such a “Coming Soon” strategy may not result in receiving the best sales price.
• Avoid double-ending a property that is not fully marketed—it is best to refer potential buyers to another agent.
The C.A.R. Residential Listing Agreement explains the benefits to the seller of using the MLS and the impact of opting out.
For the seller to instruct the agent to opt out of the MLS, the seller and broker must initial paragraph 5 of the RLA. Additionally, the seller must sign form SELM (Seller Instruction to Exclude Listing from Multiple Listing Service) or the comparable form provided by the MLS.
It’s been widely accepted for years that off-market sales are part of the real estate landscape. After the (fraudulent) short sales went away, realtors needed another sexy lure to attract new clients, and rather than crafting the high demand and bidding wars into an auction-like experience, we went the other way and are using restricted access as our ploy.
None of the industry players want to even talk about it, let alone do anything.
In the meantime, it’s the way the business is trending.
With no public objections and so many off-market deals happening right before our eyes, every agent and brokerage wants to take advantage and create an effective off-market strategy.
It restores control of the inventory to the agents – we decide who gets exposed to the listings, and when. It will also turn the MLS into the website of last resort, used only when a listing agent can’t find their own buyer. The real estate portals will suffer, and full access for consumers won’t be the same.
We might as well go back to the MLS books!
Many agents claim it’s just ‘pre-marketing’, but what happens if a buyer makes an offer before the listing hits the open market? Are you going to turn it down? Or are you going to make a quick deal and move on to the next one?
The phase underway now is the building of realtor clubs.
There’s the PLS, as well as the Top Agent Network, which is operating in 31 markets and should be coming to San Diego soon. They offer club membership to the top 10% of producing agents in each region so they can network and market their listings to each other. I’m also a member of 4-5 groups on Facebook, where the focus is pre-MLS exposure of listings and ‘making deals’, plus there are several realtor meet-ups around town too.
The shift to private, off-market deal-making isn’t just coming soon – it’s here.
I think we should just admit it to ourselves and to the consumers, and then find a way to make the best of it – because it’s not going away.
Yesterday we heard from Gov Hutchinson, the assistant general counsel for the California Association of Realtors. He travels around the state to inform realtors of the basic changes to forms, and helps define other aspects of the business – here’s a summary of what we heard:
Transfer Disclosure Statement – The buyer has a five-day rescission period after receiving the completed TDS from the seller (the form where the sellers disclose pertinent facts about the property). If the form is delivered to the buyer’s agent late, incomplete, or unsigned, the buyer can still cancel the transaction even if they have already released their other contingencies.
The CA Department of Real Estate is unhappy with compliance to the rule that realtors need to have their license number on every flyer, business card, sign, social-media account, etc. They have hired additional personnel to chase us around.
It’s acceptable for landlords to say ‘no pets’, but they must accept tenants with service animal (seeing-eye dog) or emotional-support animal with a note from a licensed caregiver – as long as it is reasonable. If the animal affects the landlord’s insurance, or is a threat, the landlord can say no. The law supersedes HOA, C,C,&Rs, and city codes, and the landlord cannot require a pet deposit or higher rent for these animals.
A landlord cannot require tenant insurance.
A landlord cannot be compelled to take a Section 8 tenant.
Low-flow plumbing is required in all homes throughout the state. Sellers don’t have to fix/update if the buyers will accept as-is.
If a house for sale has hidden cameras, there should be a sign near the front door to alert buyers and agents who are showing the property that the house is under surveillance.
No laws, rules, or guidance on Coming Soons – it is a local MLS issue.
I think we can say that the Coming Soon dilemma has been decided – nobody wants to address it globally, so it will be left up to the agents.
Realtors love the Coming Soons, and are now pitching them as a vital part of the marketing program. But with no rules or guidelines, what happens when a buyer wants to see the home? Do you show it during the Coming Soon period? Do you field offers? If you do get an offer, do you throw the listing on the MLS to give everyone a chance too? Or do you just make the deal and hurry off to the next one? How do you know if you got full value? (you don’t know)
Virtually every listing will go this route in 2019, and then most will be uploaded to the MLS with diminished urgency because the motivated buyers already saw the sign two weeks ago, and forgot about it.
Instead of relying on instant market data from the internet, we’ll need drivers to patrol for new Coming-Soon signs, and rely on word-of-mouth between agents to make these off-market deals we now crave for some reason.
If sellers were feeling a sense of panic about the market – and prices – we would be seeing more new listings hit the market.
Let’s boil it down to one simple comparison.
Are there more listings than usual coming to market?
NSDCC Listings, November
Median List Price
I wouldn’t be too concerned about the median list price being lower. The list prices don’t mean much, and if it weren’t for an extra 13 lower-end listings then the 2018 median LP would have matched last year’s.
More listings, longer market times, and higher failure rates are in our future – and we can handle it!
There have already been ten listings from last month close escrow – five were sold off-market – and another 54 are pending, so somebody’s buying something. Here are three examples:
1. This 2-br house sold for $1,400,000 in March, 2018, and then was advertised as a Coming Soon for $1,695,000. It closed for $1,650,000 a month ago:
"Jim and Donna Klinge are by far the most professional, personable and responsive realtors I have ever worked with. They provide VIP concierge level service in every area of the process of selling your home. My home was marketed so successfully that we received an offer the day after our first and only open house. Thanks to Jim's pricing and negotiating, our house is now the highest sold in our community... more "
by Ann Romanello
"Jim educated us, helped us find the perfect house, and then negotiated us a great deal. I would hate to be sitting across the negotiating table from ... more "
"Jim is thorough and will be brutally honest about the homes he shows you. He provides great service and follows through until the very end and even ... more "
"I highly recommend Jim as a buyer’s agent. Working with Jim, we closed this week on a San Diego condo. Jim prepared a list of comparable sales to ... more "