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.”
Here are the histories, and forecasts, of our local Zillow Home-Value-Index for each area:
They are forecasting flat or declining prices in three of our larger areas – and they are also predicting a drop-off in values as the selling season will be getting underway in March, 2020 (which sounds far-fetched).
Their track record hasn’t been that great though. Here is their Carlsbad prediction in December, 2015, when they expected a 1.9% increase for 2016 – the actual was +7%:
The Carlsbad HVI has risen 19% since the beginning of 2016!
Can we agree on one likelihood? Prices probably won’t be going up much in the next year or two.
Being a casual home buyer is fine, and most people are.
They’re looking for the perfect home for them, and they will know it when they see it. But because virtually every house needs something – even new ones – it can be a long hard road in search of perfection.
Try this approach.
Instead of declaring yes or no on each house you see, put a number on it.
At what price would you buy it?
It takes more time to research the comps and compare the features, but it gets you onto the playing field. Here are some of the benefits:
Hone your home-evaluating skills.
Get more familiar with the comps.
Identify what features are most important to you.
If you do make an offer, it bolsters your case with seller.
Your offer negotiations have a specific target.
If you don’t make an offer, it prepares you for the next time.
When do you make an offer?
If your research concludes that you might pay within 10% of the list price, then make a written offer and see where it goes.
If your price is more than 10% below list, then call it in and see what the listing agent says. Nine times out of ten they will hang up on you….and you’re looking for the tenth!
The yes-or-no approach won’t buy you a house – instead, put a number on it!
The percentages are quite a bit higher this year. The title of the graph could be ‘Sellers Who Are Having No Showings’ because most are (overly) optimistic this early in the selling season and hold tight on price until later. Something must be rattling them – like no showings.
An excerpt from the UT article:
Home price reductions are still common when the market is red hot. It is sometimes a selling tactic — although not usually considered a good one — to price a home higher and then come down so the buyer feels like they are getting a deal. But, the number of reductions recently shows a big change.
For instance, 8.5 percent of homes had price reductions in November 2016. In November 2018, there were 29.4 percent.
Jason Cassity, a real estate agent based downtown, said the industry has a problem shifting when there has been a big change — such as a downturn in sales at the end of last year. He said some agents are operating like there will still be a bidding war.
“If you continue pricing like it is 2016, it is going to sit on the market a long time,” he said. “Or you are going to be one of those 20 percent (in February) that have to price reduce.”
He said a lot of the reductions he has seen were listings marked up too high out of the gate, something a lot of agents could get away with for years. He said sometimes homes are priced overly high just to meet sellers’ expectation of a huge payday, not the actual value.
Cassity said he presents news articles about the real estate market to clients before they decide on what price they are going to market with.
I went to the grand opening today of these $2,000,000 tract homes and thought because of the rain that I might be the only one there. Wrong! There were hundreds of people – and this isn’t Carmel Valley – not even close:
"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 "