What The Fog!

Lately, here in Vancouver we’ve had amazing sunny, dry autumn weather.  Problem is many of us didn’t experience it.  If you happen to live below the upper levels highway, there is an excellent chance you have lived in thick grey fog for the last week or so.  Each day we hear it’s sunny, but that fog will roll in and change the landscape in moment.  It reminds me of the real estate market.

It’s all how you look at it and from what angle.  Ask 20 people what they think about the market and you’ll get 20 different answers, all with serious conviction.  Some of those people will have absolutely no real estate experience, but happened to hear their brother in law, who’s good friend just sold his house for record $$ and so now is an expert. It happens all the time.  Truth is all we can really deliver are the facts.  The facts right now show the market has improved, rather drastically if you compare to last year, but to compare to last year would be like comparing Cabernet Sauvignon with Sauvignon Blanc – but we do it anyway???

The real news is: The market is enjoying a return to normal if not slightly below 10 year average sales.

But headlines read: 

  • “Vancouver’s Real Estate Market Posts Big Gains” (Huffington Post-Oct. 2, 2013)
  • “Strong Home Sales in Vancouver” (Financial Post-Aug 15, 2013)
  • “Greater Vancouver Real Estate sales in crease 63.8% over last year.” (CREA -Oct 24, 2013)

 

Factually, September’s sales were 1% below the average 10-year sales.  That’s good, but not so exciting to report.  Also Listings were about 3.5% below the 10 year average – which is also good news.  We could use a little less supply to create some more demand.

 

Overall it feels healthy out there in the market place.   After a year of stagnant numbers, sales have been steadily returning to normal levels and of note, the number of properties going over asking has been increasing. 

The Sales to Active Listings is one of the benchmarks analysts refer to when testing the strength of the market and likely hood of prices to rise and fall.  Generally prices will rise when the Sales to Active listings are above 20% and are falling when they are below 12%.  Here’s a snap shot of that as of Sept.

Home prices  have actually declined since September of last year, but may feel more like they are on the rise since they have improved slightly as of January this year. 

Average price is skewed somewhat however by the increasing number of properties sold in the luxury/high end of the market.  We were a little surprised to see how the numbers look when stacked up against each other. 

Though the bulk of the transactions are taking place in the lower price points (these are stats for all of GVRB).  We know house prices in Vancouver West start at 1,200,000 –(did find this odd little home on a 16ft wide lot for $999,000 in Kits)

But let’s face it, you are hard pressed to find anything on either the Westside or West Van for under 1.2 and North Van, well you can still find an ok house for $800,000 – but you better be quick…

Overall, things are clicking along at a reasonable pace, prices in the higher end tend to make less sense.  Here are some examples of some big profits that were made in these most recent sales (from Sept).  Check out the purchase date and purchase price and then the sale price.  Pretty nice for a couple investors…By the way, the Angus Drive house was not renovated – pure profit.

So despite some news,market fluctuations, and doom and gloomers, real estate in Vancouver continues to prove be a solid investment.  Buy in the right neighborhood and buy a view whenever you can, listen to the facts and keep an eye out for the bargains.  They are always out there.  We know!

Shift Happens – Profit from it

 

It’s that time of year – change is upon us.  We are still glowing from what has to be one of the best summers on record – day after day of beautiful sunny, warm weather, topped off equally exceptionally evenings comfortable enough to enjoy the gorgeous outdoors while the sun set, only to wake up to another stunner the next day!  It was outstanding and we are little sad to see it ending. 

With the change of the weather, comes a hunkering down and back to work/school attitude and also a fall real estate market.  Coincidentally the summer’s market was also exceptional as sales actually picked up and turned around from a one of the poorer performing years to actually one of the best summers on record…

The Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV) reports that residential sales actually increased in July by 11.6% over June and though as seasonally expected August sales were 14.7% lower than July’s performance, sales last August were 52.5% higher than August 2012’s sales! It was a busy summer for real estate. 

Demand certainly seems to have picked up and those of us on the street and can feel in the increase in the activity of our business compared to early this year.  The sales-to-active-listings ratio is currently at 15.7% - a ratio that is more consistent with balanced market conditions.  However we (and the REBGV) do not expect to see rising prices.  Currently the MLS Home price index show a 1.3% decline in August 2013 compared to August 2012 – but a 2.3% increase since January of this year. 

Take a look at the recent listings and sales graphs (link here) and you will note how sales have turned around so far in the 2nd half of the year.  Do note however that listing counts remain high.  As of this writing a slew of new listings started hitting the market directly after the long weekend.   This will continue and we have to hope for an increase in buying activity to along with that.  We at Andrews Group remain optimistic that there is pent up demand from earlier in the year.  There are people that must buy and sell real estate.  Those that buy for living or need their own home either because they live here or are moving here, those that need to downsize, upsize, change neighborhoods or what have you.  These folks will be buying and selling.  Interest rates remain low with an ever threat looming over them causing buyers to want to lock in now while the getting is still good. 

Where the best buys are:

  1. Anywhere the foreign market has not been looking.  In our opinion the most popular markets are likely NOT the best deals – look where the masses have overlooked for great properties.  The upswing on these may take a little more time, but they will be good long term investments.
  2. Overpriced listings – there are lots of them on the market right now.  We can search for properties where the cumulative days on the market is the longest or expired listings that didn’t sell.  Most of these folks are motivated sellers and that’s where a deal can be made.
  3. Anything with a view.  It never ceases to amaze us the value of a view.  From an investment perspective the return on these are always worth paying a little more for upfront.
  4. Scout out properties with latent value.  Is there a view behind those trees? Is there potential for increased density and so redevelopment.  Properties that not currently at their highest or best use have the best potential. Understand the Official Community Plan – look for long term investment in properties along busy corridors.

Crazy Listings! – this make us shake our heads

 

The moral of this story -  Hard to say who is at fault in all these cases – the seller or the realtor?  Did the realtor give them a fair and thorough evaluation? Was the seller completely out to lunch (we have seen our share of these too) Recognizing at times that can be more difficult than others…but seriously these prices are way off and have a tendency to throw everything else off along with them and in the end, net the seller with less than they could have had if they had been realistic to begin with.  Along with a lot less time and trouble to reach the end result.

  1. Lot purchased in 2008 for 1.3 million – a new home built and currently assessed at 4 million.  List price$13,888,000 – for Sentinel Hill

  1. Purchased in a poor market in 2009 for 2.8 million – renovated (not so nice, but ok) assessed at 5.6 million. Listed at $12,800,000 – honestly could they not be happy with 6 million?

  1. Purchased in 2011 for 1.64million – new home built (likely just under 2 million).  Assessed at 3.128 million.  This was originally listed at $10,888,000!  and now reduced to $8,900,000

With this kind of craziness it’s tough perhaps for some sellers to be realistic. 

Here are a couple of examples of HOW OFF THE MARK one can be:

  1. This home in North Vancouver was listed in July 2010 for $17,900,000!!  Now reduced more than 60% off the original asking price to $6,500,000.  It is assessed at 6,130,000. 

  1. This Point Grey home was listed in July 2011 for $14,980,000.  Sold in January 2013 for 40% off the original asking price for $8,800,000 .  Selling under the assessed which is 10 million.

 

Personal Note

I came across the little poem which I found so brilliantly pertinent and I think you will too:

I am your constant companion.

I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.
I am completely at your command.

Half of the things you do you might as well turn
over to me and I will do them – quickly and correctly.

I am easily managed – you must be firm with me.
Show me exactly how you want something done
and after a few lessons, I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of great people,
and alas, of all failures as well.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.

I am not a machine though
I work with the precision of a machine
plus the intelligence of a person.

You may run me for profit or run me for ruin -
it makes no difference to me.

Take me, train me, be firm with me, and
I will place the world at your feet.

Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I?

I am Habit.

Stale Listings – Why some properties just don’t sell

Some properties are harder to sell than others.   We’ve all seen them; they come and go off the market, taking months and often years to sell.  Though recently Vancouver’s market has improved, the challenging homes remain difficult to sell and when buyers are fewer these homes take an extraordinary amount of patience and persistence from both the seller and the realtor.

In this article I’d like to go over some of the key issues for the hard to sell home, but first, and though this will cause some dissension in the ranks; the number one, bar none reason a home does not sell, is price.  Price is both the problem and the solution.  In all the situations below price is the immediate and quick answer.  The other option is holding out for that right buyer - just know holding out for the right buyer can literally take years.  Even then, you will most likely have to give in on price – the decision is always in the hands of the seller.  So here they are:

  1. Price! - as you go through the list, there is not one of these items that price cannot fix, but it can also be the one and only problem – even without these issues below.  Price the home too high for the market and it won’t sell.
  2. Poor location – poor location can mean many things:
    1. Bad neighborhood – high crime.
    2. Undesirable neighborhood  this includes :  too far from conveniences (shops, schools, restaurants) , no prestige, poor schools, bad neighbors, house next door looks like a crack house, noisy area –  all being reason to make a neighborhood undesirable to the market.
    3. On a busy road – a major artery or, god forbid - a highway
    4. No sunlight – in Vancouver (the land of the damp and dark), most people like to have their main rooms and their outdoor area face the sun.  Huge trees are a deterrent here as is a north facing property.
    5. Nasty outlook – a view of the alley, gas station, or a commercial area is not high on anyone’s list.
  3. Difficult floor plan/size – A floor plan can be difficult to change.  Reverse plans (bedrooms below the main) are not popular, less than 3 bedrooms up can be a tough sell as the average family has more than one child and want them on the same floor as themselves (unless of course they are teenagers, then an out building is preferable), not enough bedrooms and bathrooms, too small, or too big a house, any odd configuration or bizarre angled shape (anything out of  the ordinary appeals to a smaller market)
  4. Lack of privacy – most people don’t want to be viewed upon by others and so having another house or public area directly in view can be a turn off.
  5. Lack of yard, too much yard and no outdoor space, a pool, no room for a pool – most people have a specific requirement for what they want in this area.
  6. Creeks and Rivers – with the recent flooding in Alberta, this can be a real scare for buyers and insurance companies too!  Developers and investors generally stay away from these properties because of the additional regulations surrounding the use of land protected by fisheries.  It’s limiting and a pain to work through all the red tape. Ultimately it affects the overall value.
  7. Steep Driveway – scares the heck out of folks! And so it should as most of them can’t drive.
  8. An unkempt home – here lies a host of potential no no’s.   Smelly pet smell, dirty dishes, dirty floors, dirty bathrooms, laundry piled up, dirty windows, a garden left to the weeds, debris left around the property – you’d be surprised at what we see!!!! Once, no lie, a pair of dirty underwear on the dirty bathroom floor – OMG it was an agents open house – they knew we were coming!
  9. A home in disrepair – again, this is a big area.  Leaky roofs and/or skylights, doors and windows not closing property, broken appliances, damaged floors and carpets, rotting decks and stairs, rusty metal fixtures, dripping taps, cracks and holes in anything,  worn & peeling paint, damage from pets.  It all says the home has not been cared for and spells more work for the buyer.
  10. Lack of flexibility in showings – It’s important to make the home available and be as flexible as possible with showings.  Buyers usually are available at the most inconvenient times (after work and weekends).  Unfortunately for all, this is when most showings happen, so you have to be willing to leave the house to allow for this.  A hot buyer ready to buy, will buy.  If your house wasn’t available it’s highly possible they will not come back.  Most sellers don’t want to believe this, but it’s very old and wise “snooze and you lose” rule.  Having open houses helps greatly to bring exposure to the home.   Those who don’t want any opens miss out. Now if no one's coming to your opens, then it’s time to look at price again ;)
  11. Dated Kitchens and Baths – Today’s buyers are pretty spoiled and will find a 7 year old kitchen is “dated” in their mind.  They just can’t live with yesterday’s granite and those out of style cabinets.  They want the latest and greatest in style and trendy look to keep up with those darn friends who always have more.  Some buyers prefer to do these renovations and not “pay” for someone else’s taste, but more often, the buyer simply doesn’t want to do a thing and does not know how to renovate – therefore it’s too overwhelming a project for them to consider.

I’m sure you can think back to your own experiences in looking at homes and come up with a few others and I’d love to hear them.  I’m sure I’ve experienced it, but I’d love to hear some I haven’t.  As for selling these homes, for some it just comes down price. 

Even an illegal meth lab in West Vancouver, which blew up, sold for $699,000 while assessed at $1,026,000 – Everyone was afraid of it, but it did sell! And yes, it was a deal too.

Making Sense of the Nonsensical - or How to value a property in today’s real estate market

The rules of assessment have changed and today more than any other time in our market, predicting the value of particular property can feel like taking aim at a flying bat.  The reason for this can be attributed to one fact:  the buyer.  We understand value is in the eye of the beholder, in the past, we could count on certain characteristics of the buyer and the significance of how certain features affected their perceived value of a home. 

However, since the foreign buyer, now the most prolific of all purchasers, has been the dominant driver over the past 2.5 years, naturally a different set of values has overtaken our previous system.  As with any shift, the result is a new direction.   Complicating matters further is we now have 2 or even 3 distinct set of buyers and a moving market. 

The result? A bit of mayhem.  How does one value a property that has differing values to differing segments of the market. At the risk of offending some, but in the spirit of what this newsletter is all about (honest and reliable market information), we can categorize the buyers into 4 types in no particular order:

 

  1. Typical Canadian buyer
  2. Foreign Asian
  3. Foreign Persian
  4. The builder – who is then sub-catagorized into
    1. Building for himself
    2. Canadian Spec
    3. Persian Spec
    4. Asian Spec

Valuing the property

Let’s review some of the key features which drive buyers:

Way out in first place is THE VIEW – this is usually considered by all, but ability to pay for this feature may have been won out by the Asian buyer.  10 years ago a view might be worth 50,000 to 100,000, but today, that same view can likely be worth$ 200,000 to $1,000,000 or dare we say more?

  1. The view has become so important to the buyer that in many cases, lovely homes, just won’t and don’t sell without one. Selling a non-view property in this market takes a lot more time and those sellers may have to be prepared to take less than what seems fair.  The dump down the street with a good view will sell before their higher priced immaculate home.  When it comes to views there are categories which we have tried to rank by popularity (being popular is money in the bank)
    1. Huge panoramic views – Mount Baker to Vancouver Island
    2. South facing views which include downtown (the bridge in particular)
    3. Close in water views (south)
    4. Westerly views
    5. Partial views (some obstruction)
    6. Peekaboo views – these hardly count for anything at all these days, infact maybe considered as no view and a disappointed buyer
    7. River views – rivers tend, in general, to turn more people off than on
    8. Mountain views – nice but no more money for this feature

  1. Location:  We all know location is critical, but area out of favour with the Foreign buyer have been left behind in this market.  Ambleside, British Properties then Dundarave (though several Persian builders recently jumped into multiple offers on 2285 Ottawa – listed at 1.99 and sold for 2.311 with 11 offers for an 8,890 sq. ft lot with a view of course.  Of late there has been movement to the west with many of the view properties in Bayridge proving to be desirable and also a progress as far out as Gleneagles with pockets of that area such as Summit Drive being bought up and replaced with very large new homes.  It’s fair to say this area is still more preferred by the typical Canadian buyer though.
  2. Size of land– Obviously the bigger the better, the bigger land the bigger the house, the bigger the house, the more money.   Asian buyers typically like larger lots.
  3. Schools/Neighborhoods – Great schools have buoyed up the price of real estate for years, but good schools are extremely important to the Asian population.  Many of those buying real estate are coming here for the excellent schools and a western experience for their children.  In West Van, High rankings of Ridgeview, West Bay, Sentinel & West Van High.  North Van’s Edgemont village has always enjoyed the highest prices of homes due to Handsworth High School and Canyon Heights, Highland & Montroyal all have excellent ratings as does  French Immersion at Cleveland.  Getting into the catchment of these areas is paramount for buyers from all categories
  4. Specific streets in specific neighborhoods – Occasionally we see a run on a certain street – for examples the 1100 block of Haywood in Ambleside in 2011 or Millstream in the British Properties. This has spurred homeowners to put their homes on the market to gain additional $250,000 or more dollars that just wasn’t there the year before.  We have seen this sort of madness hit a street with the buyers buying them up for their friends, driving prices to the point of ridiculousness. 
  5. Side of the street - North Side of the street is preferred by Asian buyers, completely debunking the southside which ruled for years.  This is a Feng Shui thing..  Feng shui has affected many other aspects of the property that if favorable will increase value, but if unfavorable the opposite will be true.  Just look at any home or property that happens be located at the end of a T intersection.  It’s like the kiss of death in this market.  Things like the number of the house, the location of trees, water etc, can play a large part in who much a home may or may not get.
  6. Situation &  floor plans– Door on the north side, view to the southside is best.  Facing any other way means a discount on price.  Front doors opening to the view is a big no no – as belief is your wealth goes right out the window.  Some of these flaws can be corrected by erecting walls or mirrors and such.  Still most prefer 3 to 4 bedrooms up with en-suited master, office on the main, large family room off kitchen, potential to suite down for nanny and a great guest and office area would satisfy most – oops forgot the media room, wine room and 3 car garage…
  7. New homes – Though everyone likes something shiny and new, Canadians and Persians can appreciate a good renovation.  Chinese however make a point of the age of the home as being an issue.  Even 7 to 10 years is considered old.

 

Valuations that take these points into consideration are likely to be more accurate.  Depending on the property we take upwards of 2 hours to put together a full evaluation including several other important factors such as

  1. Tax assessed value – here we note what properties in the neighborhood are selling at in conjunction to their assessed values
  2. Comparable properties (listed, sold and what didn’t sell, along with days on market, and features)
  3. Yearly trends in the neighbourhoods and schools
  4. Historical statistics on market value and where we are today
  5. Just knowing what’s selling an what’s not.

So you can see it takes a great deal of knowledge to get an accurate price on a home and even then, another buyer will come along and throw all that common sense out the window;)

How Not to Sell Your Home

Deciding to sell your home is big a decision. However your next steps could save or cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Keep in mind these two facts when pricing your home:

  1. Sellers' perception of their home value is usually much higher than it actually is.
  2. There are Realtors who will suggest an over inflated listing price to "buy" your listing.

 

Though both these facts are common knowledge they create a dilemma for the seller. Given this, it's tempting to list at a too high price at the recommendation of a Realtor trying to "buy the listing" by suggesting the home is worth far more than market value. The ugly truth is the advantage goes to the listing Realtor and the disadvantage to your pocketbook. How can listing your house too high hurt you? If someone likes your house, they will make an offer- right? Wrong! There are several damages to be done: Consider timing - the worst time to overprice your home is in down turning market. (current trend)

To help illustrate the trend line vs. listing price here is a visual on the chalk board:

When you see the list price plotted in this manner, results from overpricing are clear. If we were in an upward moving market, the home would be on the market for a longer time, but eventually the market will catch up to the price. However in a down turning market the risk is leaving tens of thousands, perhaps even 100's of thousands of dollars on the table because the home was overpriced. In fact even in an upturning market, pricing high is still ill-advised. There is still a very good chance you will miss good buyers willing to pay top dollar for your home. With more homes overpriced than priced correctly, your accurately priced home is a beacon to buyers. You now stand a chance of getting your price, or more than your price, IE. multiple offers - over bidding the property! Not to mention the whole process is a lot less energy on your part (fewer showings and opens = less cleaning and having to leave your home) and there is the risk of becoming a "stale listing" coupled with the emotional turmoil of all the negative feedback.

Be aware, setting a high price in a down turning market is by far the bigger mistake. These sellers are missing opportunities from buyers who will not even enter a home priced hundreds of thousands over their budget. Buyers become few and far between in this market and the overpriced house misses the opportunity all together, in fact it stands a good chance of not selling at all. Although sellers understand this, it's so tempting when a Realtor gives them an over inflated price. Some are even flattered by this.

Previously reported in the Market Brief, Vancouver's sales peaked May 12th (as per the bi-weekly spread sheet) though the signs were there at the end of April. Some properties overpriced at that time still have not sold and now perhaps won't sell unless they are drastically reduced to a price level well below what it should have originally been listed at.

Moral - Abandon your personal point of view. Buyers don't care how much you paid for your home, how many memorable moments you and your family shared in the home, or how much you need for your next purchase. Make sure you get the facts and make a decision that makes sense. It will save you 100's of thousands of hard earned dollars.

Here are some examples:

Buyers and Sellers not Seeing Eye to Eye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cartoon resonates with me - don't laugh... This is more the norm out there than you might think. Buyers continue to disagree with sellers on the topic of price, this has resulted in historically few sales.

Many sellers are either refusing to drop their price or simply take their home off the market .Buyers, now far more selective, are not paying much over the assessed value, even though EVERYONE KNOWS, the assessed value is only a guide and often an inaccurate one at that.

According to the Real Estate Board, overall Sales are down 18% when looking at the last 10 year average. Listings on the contrary are 18% higher for the last 10 year average. We put the numbers together in our specific markets and it's grimmer than that.(see table below)

Sales to Active listings just moved from 10% (where it had been since June of last year) to 12% . Though this is small move in the right direction for sellers, we are still clearly in a "buyer favored" market. (that is the number of sales in comparison to the number of active listings)

Analysts say that downward pressure on prices occurs when the Sales to Active listings ratio dips below 12%. Upward pressure results when this ratio is above the 22% range.

 

Throughout Vancouver, prices have declined an average of 5%, with the bulk of the homes taking the hit being detached homes. We know the saying the "Bigger they are, the Harder they fall", accordingly, those markets which saw the largest gains are suffering most. West Vancouver wins the biggest loser prize, with the fewest sales of all.

 

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