Careful what you wish for

You had plenty to be worried about over the last 10 years including ‘will my home ever sell’ or ‘will I ever see my 401-K regain the level it was at before the storm’. You didn’t know if you’d ever get what you paid for when you finally sold that house. You would have loved to have sold in 2011. Or 2009 or 2012 or last year. And now in 2018 you may be able to sell it fairly quickly, but for enough to get back what you lost to the economic recession that wiped out your life savings and stock portfolio?

We have always wished for a full recovery from the real estate crash and we might finally be able to say with utmost confidence that we have achieved that. And you might also be thinking this sure doesn’t feel as good as you wanted it to feel. Now that you cannot blame impossible mortgage loan requirements and scarce money, plus the plethora of foreclosures clogging up the market, what is the problem exactly?

In a textbook example to illustrate, M/M HomeOwner paid $475,000 for their dream home in 2006, with the help of an 85% mortgage. The payments were pretty high, more than double their rent costs, but they had a bright outlook for the future and wanted the big and rambling home. After several years it turned out not to be their dream home for a list of reasons. So they tried to sell it in 2009 and their Realtor told them they MIGHT be able to get $350,000. Something had gone horribly wrong in the real estate market, and in fact the entire economy was flatlining. Well, their mortgage balance back then was $405,000 which scared the bejesus out of them and they “held on” to the home, making payments to stay out of foreclosure and the ruin of their credit. They did not replace the carpet or upgrade the master bath as funds were tight with payments and all.

Gradually things got a little better and in 2012 their favorite Realtor told them the home MIGHT sell for $400,000 and their balance by then had dropped to the same amount $400,000. But they knew the home was not going to show well with that heavily worn carpet and broken down fridge and dishwasher and stained countertops plus all the stucco cracks. They were told the cost of sale would represent about seven percent of the final sales price. They were not ready to take that hit and sell it on terms that would require them to bring so much money to closing. They barely had two months of living expenses saved up what with college for the kids and his car that he needed to commute in. So they stayed and kept making payments. They were not happy but they had a roof over their heads.

And then, the magical year of 2015 arrived and they finally started to think this was going to be their year to sell. The economy was much better and economic pundits told them the real estate crisis was over. Appreciation had started to become a reality again (in the lowest price ranges) and they were very optimistic about selling and walking away with a little cash. So that Realtor, who had moved to a new virtual brokerage by then, was asked to do another market analysis. The conclusion was a selling price range of $450,000 to $470,000, almost as much as what they paid in 2006. But homes were still taking almost a year to sell and the homes in great condition usually sold first. They had to figure out how much they could put into their home to bring it up to date and make it show so well that a buyer could not ignore it. By this time, since they had neglected almost everything about the upkeep of the home in their nine years of living there. They got some bids together and found out they would have to spend some $50,000 to make it shine and hopefully be irresistible to a buyer. It could actually run up to $80,000 if they went crazy and did everything. With their mortgage payoff at $390,000 plus the $50,000, their sales price would have to be north of $475,000 to close without having to bring cash to closing. That was above the range their trusty Realtor provided, but they were ready and hoped they could find the right buyer at $475,000.

IF THEY COULD find a buyer at $475,000 with minimal further reduction in price for items found in the inspections (remember they were going to spend $50,000 to upgrade), their seven percent cost of sale would drop the net, prior to payoff, to a bit over $440,000. They also had to payoff those credit cards for $50,000 from spending to upgrade the home. Payoff of $390,000…? Yes it could actually work. So they listed the home at $495,000 hoping to get a buyer to buy for at least $475,000. Professional photos were posted online after they decluttered and made the home look as close to a “model” home as possible. It did show well, but that effort and expense just put them in the middle of the pack of existing and new inventory. The absorption rate hit a plateau and many others in similar situations also had put their homes on the market. Since there were only so many buyers, their home did not sell right away. It was only shown six times in the first month and after 60 days they met with their Realtor to discuss lowering the price.

So they lowered it to $479,500, still hoping to get really close to $475,000. But after it was passed over by buyers looking to spend about $450,000, they had lost out on a good portion of the peak season and were still a bit overpriced. They thought if someone wants our home they can make an offer. That kind of thinking can lead one into belief that their home is priced to sell. But it did not sell. They had one buyer on the hook, but his mortgage was declined so another 30 plus days were wasted. Desperation was looming as they had really wanted to sell six years earlier and now they had planned to move out this very year. But they gave up trying (living in a home listed for sale can be stressful and restrictive) and they terminated their listing and fired their Realtor, blaming everyone in the process. It was almost Thanksgiving and they assumed home sales stopped in the wintertime.

AND NOW a new day has come. 2018 has arrived and they are damned sure going to sell this time for the amount they want and finally get beyond this ugly chapter in their lives. Their marriage has been severely strained, they have had to deal with illness and career goal disappointments, but there was finally a way out. The new Realtor they contacted, who had been in the business about 12 months, but was best friends with his mother, took the listing at a price of $540,000. This would be great, finally, they thought. The mortgage was lower, they owed less on those credit cards and the market was heating up to the point their new Realtor said they could sell it in 90 days with some good fortune and the right buyer.

And they did sell it in 90 days this year, getting a net bottom line enough to pay the mortgage and credit card balances in full and walk away with some cash. They celebrated by taking a trip to Italy and Greece and renewed their marriage vows in the process. They held off buying another home while the burn scars of owning the prior home were still healing. Renting was fine with them. Their credit was just good and they had an empty nest situation as the kids were grown and gone. They never spoke to the first Realtor, but that old veteran was used to failure and rejection. She could always find a way to put on a smile and speak positively, even with the down side of her business.

Is this a happy ending? Would they have ever chosen to write this script to live out in real-time with the goal of having a happy ending? How much did they worry and stress during the 12 years they owned that last home? Their kids saw them arguing and fighting on a regular basis. They did not take vacations and did not take good care of themselves during that time of worry and despair. His mother-in-law scolded him incessantly. Her father-in-law, after a serious stroke, seemed to not have the same fondness for her as before when they were younger and happy.

What else could have happened? They could have decided to walk away from the home in 2009 or 2010, when they owed more than it was worth. They could have mailed in the keys and likely been stuck for a deficiency balance for the amount between what the bank sold it for a year later versus their outstanding debt. That or all of the other burdens and mistakes could have placed them in bankruptcy anywhere along the timeline. As it turns out they did not ever declare bankruptcy and these days are wondering why they thought it was the wrong thing to do back then.

They might have sold it in 2013 with an agreement from their lender for a carry over debt to cover the short sale net amount that their did not get at closing. They might even have been able to negotiate a complete forgiveness of the short fall on the payoff.

Maybe they should have just stopped making payments and lived in the home for free (except utilities) while they fought foreclosure. This might have stretched on for 2 years or so. Of course if they were going to do that, they really should have put aside at least $3000 a month toward their future lives and a future home for themselves, but most people are not that disciplined.

What does it mean to have a foreclosure on your credit record? And a bankruptcy on top of that? After enough years have passed it might mean nothing. But back in 2009, they never imagined it would be nine more years before they would see a sale. Very few people predicted the long and painful recovery process that took basically ten years (in the Santa Fe area anyway).

Sometimes I go back and read the archives of what real estate counsel I was sharing from ten years ago and it was not pretty then. It was honest and negative; mostly gloom and doom. I was critical of most every part of the process of doing real estate business. Mostly I feel the largest mistake made by us all (and it would have been almost a miracle for it to turn out differently) was to not take the problem of millions of homes in foreclosure and millions more underwater and make federal laws that mandated a faster and equitable recovery for all of the people involved and all of the banks holding the notes. What did happen cost the federal government (and all of us taxpayers) a great deal of money, but they paid it to the banks that made the “bad” mortgages instead of actually paying down the mortgages allowing people to stay in their homes. The upheaval make a mess of many lives of Middle Class Americans. This subject has been the focus of many a book and article. What did we do wrong? And what did we not do right?

Do you want to pass judgment on the last 10-12 years of Santa Fe residential real estate? Feel free. My take on the single largest factor in our local scene is the thousands of mortgages made to borrowers who were not even close to qualifying for a mortgage, using conventional underwriting standards. Even allowing for payment of MPI and the VA/FHA programs that OK a small down payment, far too many loans were made to people who did not qualify. And then values plummeted and stayed down for years making certain that anyone who was vulnerable to that reality got a chance to suffer financially.

Hindsight is wonderful, si? no?

Praying for rain in Santa Fe…

Recent results remind us of the old days

When you are shopping for a home under $350,000, where do you look? Would you be happy with a 900 square foot 2/1 condo near downtown with one off-street parking place? How about new construction on the fringe of the metro Santa Fe area, with a small yard and a garage, with new appliances of a lower quality? What else is there? Maybe a fixer upper off of West Zia or the near Westside near St. Anne’s? Maybe a tract home in Tierra Contenta will be your ticket, with neighbors everywhere and a long commute to Meow Wolf or the Fiesta events?

Find me the great deals and values and watch while they will sell quickly. Whatever the new home volume is in this market, it still cannot keep up with demand for the lowest price ranges that homeowners are seeking. That drives the minimum prices up and builds a floor on the prices that indicate starter home ranges.

Improving market conditions are usually welcome, but why does Santa Fe not find success in dealing with its “affordable home” problem? For many years the answer has been for people to buy a double wide trailer on a foundation within 45 minutes of town. A lot without restrictions that allows you to do that in La Cienega, at least 20 minutes from downtown, costs over $100,000 and that’s without the home (manufactured or mobile).

In-fill is a popular concept, but within the last 3 years the city powers that be rejected certain in-fill projects because the neighbors made too much noise, or had a close connection to those decision makers. If you drive around the southwestern parts of town, off of Airport, Agua Fria, Alameda and northwest of the bypass highway, there are plenty of tracts of vacant land. Those would not be in-fill really as they are still on the edge of the city. But will all of those parcels get developed into single family, town home and multi-family dwelling units in the next 10-12 years? YES and still we will be short of inventory, primarily in the lower end of the price ranges.

Do we have enough water for all these new homes that are going to be built around here? And they ARE going to be built by someone. When you can get $225 a foot retail for a new tract home, someone is going to build those. Does it matter that we are in a serious drought – AGAIN? Lack of snow melt means the rivers and streams are lower and/or intermittent while the general water table below our city keeps dropping. What can you do?

Maybe one little place to start, and it will take a large majority of property owners to participate to make a difference, is the immediate removal of the Siberian Elm trees everywhere. They are popularly called Chinese Elm trees too, but no matter. They are thick and they grow like weeds even in drought conditions. The only redeeming value they offer is a little shade over a patio or parking place here and there. More often they just grow like crazy anywhere they can get a foothold, such as a fenceline or a wall. I recall a home right on St. Francis that had so many volunteer elm trees growing hard against the foundation, on all 4 sides of the home, that there was no economic value in trying to remove them. Tearing down the home, which was a complete mess anyway, was the logical thing to do. Bring in a bulldozer, and so they did.

I am not an expert on botany or growing things, but I am willing to bet: if 80% of all the Siberian Elms in and around Santa Fe were removed, our water table would start to rebound and our obvious water shortage would be somewhat less of a crisis.

Tree huggers, including me, think of cutting down a tree as a heresy and a sin. It is so dry that seeing anything grow is inspirational, but please not the Siberian Elm. Besides sucking up all of the ground moisture, they invade plumbing pipes and buckle sidewalks and streets. And send their seeds far and wide to pile up like snow drifts. And the branches can break and fall without the need for a major wind gust. They are a non-native species that should be removed. If they cannot be removed, they should be controlled much more than they are being controlled now.

My proposal would be to allow each property owner to keep one mature tree per 10,000 square feet of land. And as the new ones come along, they must be removed before they can sink their water seeking roots deep into the ground. Make it a nanny state battle. The government is telling me I must cut down trees on my property? They can go to hell. At least the City and the County can start on their parcels. Maybe some phase-in time frame makes sense, like 10 years to get into compliance. You tell me how else you can put a stop to the dropping water table and keep us from having to drink from our cisterns (if it ever does rain).

Do you want me to gather some expert opinions about these matters? Why is nobody making noise about this (well maybe someone is)? Why is this the elephant in the room that we are all ignoring? Thanks for reading and hope you can find your dream home soon. I want you to be a happy real estate owner.

We are working on it

Sorry about the site appearance and apparent lack of current data. Various things have happened to keep me from updating the site on a regular (monthly) basis and there was even a long stretch of time when the site was completely unavailable. Maybe GoDaddy had something to do with it, but they deny doing anything untoward. Despite the problems and difficulties, it should be up and running again very soon…

 

Blogger:  Alan Ball

This was the year we got healthy

That header is not a new year’s resolution, but a market condition statement, saying we “got healthy” in terms of numbers of sold homes and the ever decreasing inventory…So we are supposedly healthy now? We have made up nearly all of the ground lost over the last 10 years and it feels like we are starting over now. Consistently we are seeing home sales per month in excess of 200 units. The grand total dollar sales for the year will easily exceed 1 billion, which has not happened in over 12 years.

Everyone is talking about how low inventory is. In case it’s not clear to you what that means, it means sellers might have the confidence to wait for the right buyer knowing those buyers have fewer homes to choose from. It does not mean that the junk, the extremely dated (can you say mid-century modern?) and the horrible floor plans will all of a sudden start selling. You still have to compete with clean and tasteful product to get a home sold. It might mean more buyers will have to settle for a home they can remodel to suit their needs if they can’t find one they really like as is.

Take some time to review the year-end statistics when they are posted by yours truly about January 10th and you will see unit sales growth in excess of 12% from 2016 to 2017. You will see an increase is sales count in each and every price range (unless it’s the lowest which is held back by that same lack of inventory). You will see Absorption Rates at their lowest (average months to sell all available inventory) in many years.

It is time to send out your thank you cards and start by sending one to each of your customers and to each of your fellow professionals that helped you succeed. And then plan for an even better year next year. I am going to take a bit of time off to travel so the blog posts will be strictly updates on statistics over the next couple months (each month about the 10th) and not so much trend analysis or political musing. You can get that anywhere from almost anyone.

People say a salesperson should not take sides in a political debate so as not to offend or run off the customers that disagree with them. But I tell you a guy that is 67 that is going to remain silent about what is going on in the world today is not someone I would respect anyway. So if you want to hear what I have to say about current events, stick around. You will get more than a lump of coal.

Thank you for your support and encouragement over the years. It is certainly nice to be able to report on positive trends and increasingly healthy sales results in our special market. Who knows, we might see more pastureland turned into ranchitos and mcmansions in the future. We might see a stronger backbone for city infill by the powers that determine who gets water and sewer hookups at what price. Everyone loves open space, but if its weeds and some junk autos and blowing trash, is that the highest and best use by some definition?

Happy new year and best wishes for a prosperous 2018.

JUST LOOK

Just look at these numbers!  We have not seen numbers like this in well over 10 years. The unit sales are up and as we approach the end of the year I believe everything will be up over last year and actually over any other year in the last 10. Granted we are wrapping up the busiest season and some economic signs are very positive these days (do you own some of the big tech stocks?)

Go anywhere in the “pages” section of this blog, where the reports you may want to look at are available on the left margin. Compare the last 12 months with any other recent period and be prepared to let out a cheer. I feel as if the wicked witch is dead.

Things are good enough that we are getting into dangerous territory in the lowest price ranges. The length of time on the market for a home under $300K is well below 6 months, meaning sellers are getting away with selling quickly without as much caution on the buyers side. Many other price ranges are healthy and certain neighborhoods are thriving, but why not? It is about damn time, right?

Enjoy the reports and get ready for a rocking and rolling 2018!!

Thanks

Strong, stronger, strongest

We can cheer and smile just a bit as we continue to build on a strong year, the strongest in many years, and stronger than we have had the pleasure to brag about for some time… The unit sales numbers for Santa Fe residential real estate are running at or above a 10% increase over last years unit sales numbers. That’s some news you can smile about.

Various spreadsheets and charts are available for your review if you enjoy digging into the historical trends and current versus prior tallies. Look on the left margin and select the report(s) you are interested in. Try the Third Quarter chart and note the increases in the 1 Million plus price range, 2016 and then 2017. That is a 42% increase. The entire Quarter, including all homes in the sample, went up 13.6% this year compared to last year.

Inventory is actually pretty low in the more affordable price ranges, with barely over 4 months of product  (using my absorption rate formula), while the overall market inventory to be absorbed, using the current rate of sales, is only 7 months. That is within shouting distance of a “balanced market” and based on recorded history in Santa Fe residential real estate, it IS now a balanced market here. While we have lagged other cities in our part of the US, we are healthy and solid in our growth lines without wild fluctuations that later could result in another bubble bursting… I can almost make a prediction, but I will not because I am careful not to, that we will not see prices and home values going down anytime soon.

But will they go up? Now that we are in balance and not very many new homes are being built to meet the demand for the smell of fresh sawdust, we are likely to start seeing actual price appreciation by mid 2018. It could come sooner but we are entering the cooler months and our winter time sales are usually slower; not as robust as summer and fall. Are you looking for a promise that homes will go up in value next year? That’s what you want? Anyone who promises anything like that is certifiable crazy but it very well could happen. I would be delighted to see some consistent across the board appreciation finally.

Get your deals while it’s still 2017 if you know what I mean. Next year could see the sellers tighten up and be less flexible on price and terms, knowing their home is one of only a few available with the quality and location everyone wants. The beautiful adobe in the more distant hills may not notice the market changes as those homes are less compliant with popular buyer location desires. Sellers, plan now to begin your marketing for next year. Buyers, get your pencils sharpened for the deal you want before next spring brings highly optimistic sellers to the dance. Or just buy or sell when you are ready to pull the trigger. Deciding when to do something based on market trends is not always profitable. Better to do things that work for your lifestyle and schedule than following what the masses are trying to do.

The day of the week of the month of the year

The charts and spreadsheets available to you on this blog site are now updated to include sales and inventory as of the end of August 2017. Eight months into the 2017 books and we are running a nice and tidy 12.3% above last years numbers in unit sales for Santa Fe city and county. That is music to many ears. To finally have consistent growth and improvement in our market is a welcome milestone. Remember all real estate is local and each home and neighborhood have distinct characteristics.

Nobody said it would be easy and it has not been easy to climb out of the deep hole that the economic crisis put all of us into. But we have succeeded and are not planning to fall back in anytime soon. There was a place and time (maybe around 2009 and 2010) when I firmly believed that residential real estate could lead us out of the real estate downturn, the tremendous loss of personal financial wealth and “loss of savings in the form of home equity” that we experienced.

It would have taken a mea culpa from the big banks (the ones too big to fail) accepting the millions of bad loans they had on their books as truly bad loans. It would have taken them swallowing a huge pill of write-offs, effectively lowering the principal balance of millions of home loans by tens of thousands of dollars. And all for what? To be done with the depression years sooner? They got bailed out (at least the ones that did not close up shop) so what did they care? The personal health and well-being of the CEOs and stockholders of those big banks would have had to admit to stupidity and white-collar crime, but it would have gotten things upright in a much faster timeframe.

No it did not happen. They took the bailout terms and never admitted guilt. They foreclosed on millions of Americans who were lied to when they bought homes they could not afford. The big banks profited when the loans were made and got insurance on most of the loans that failed to payoff in full. Those consumers that were innocent and actually qualified for the home loans they took out still suffered because of all the other junk and debris around them. Homes were sold for $400K that were worth $325K. When the home buyer moved in, the appraiser said it was worth $400K. But after the 3rd year of fixed payments, when the monthly debt service doubled or tripled, then the owner had a home worth more like $300K or $325K so if they owed $350K, what were they supposed to do?

I know of many that lived through the storm and did not abandon their homes and declare bankruptcy and/or sign a deed in lieu of foreclosure. They kept paying every month and yes, sooner or later the balance came down enough that they no longer owed more than the home was worth. It took ten years or possibly longer. And the entire time they had no increase in net worth and spent every cent they made keeping the payments up and not taking vacations.

What is your recollection? Here is mine. I am a little bitter about the dishonesty at the top of the money pyramid, and also a bit proud that I did not cave in and deed my home to the bank when it was worth less than I owed against it. Now that its finally worth what I paid for it in 2001, I am selling it. Maybe the money I spent on a new roof, new stucco and other necessary things is offset by the deduction of mortgage interest? I sincerely doubt it, but will do the math if it will help me accept 16 years of ownership and upkeep just to have nothing to show for it now.

The lesson that a home is not an ATM is not that difficult to learn. I never treated my home like an ATM. I used equity to pay for roof and stucco and other things the property required. The tough love that homes do not always go up in value is something I still see people struggle with. They expect their home to be worth more in the years after they purchased it. But in Santa Fe residential real estate, is that a reasonable expectation? Ask your friendly Realtor to help you arrive at a market value. No rules apply evenly to all property.

Remembering the tragic events of Sept 11, 2001 brings humility and respect to front of mind. We only are handed this one life and we should live it to the fullest every day. With hurricanes bringing pain and suffering to so many millions, being thankful for what we have is an everyday event. And if we can help others we are better people for taking action. We all have so much to share.

Every dog has his day

…said someone, once upon a time. I am not going to research the origination of that saying, but it sounds like something Mark Twain or Will Rogers would have said. Or possibly Richard Nixon. And so we find ourselves in the third quarter of the year with continued improvement in sales results and still very reasonable interest rates. The town is heaving with visitors and activity, although most Realtors I know want more showings on their listings. I guess I do also, because homes need to be viewed before they will be purchased. Where to begin? When Amazon starts selling homes from their website, then we will know this dog had his day.

Look at the numbers in the spreadsheets available on the left side of these pages. In all price ranges, the average months to sell has dropped from 9.68 to 7.38 in just the last year. In the popular one half to one million range, the drop was more dramatic, going from 15.46 months on average a year ago to 10.56 months on average now. The absorption rate, which is what we call that calculation, is faster when inventory is lower and sales are up; both of which have happened just since last year. This is a trend line that I have consistently been tracking since we found ourselves in the gutter after the bubble burst. You know that bubble? The bubble that had many believing homes never go down in value and often go up by double digits every year. Everyone was wrong. Competition existed on who saw the crash coming first, but nobody escaped without serious damage. Some are still in recovery. Just now we can say we have almost reached the level of activity we saw prior to the crash and that bursting bubble. Only this time we are on a solid foundation as to value instead of seeing high appreciation unsupported by the large majority of sales. If you spend $750,000 on a home today, it is not likely to go down in value in the near future, unless we are in a nuclear war with seas rising a foot a year and anarchy is the law of the streets. Will it go up in value? Maybe someday, but that depends on you the owner.

Fears of overspending on a home should be all but erased, although it’s still possible to pay too much. No question there are plenty of homes listed for sale where the asking price exceeds the likely final sales price. But buyers have become extremely price aware that price has to be resolved first, then the other issues (location, condition, style) can fall quickly into place. All the sayings about there being a home for every buyer and a seat for every butt will be tested as we move forward with less inventory and a fairly strong influx of buyers. Some buyers become disenchanted once they examine our metropolis and others feel the prices are not justified. But some just have to have it as their own. And we can accommodate those newcomers. Changes happen slowly in an area with such long history. Affordable housing has been a headline seeking a response since I came here in the early 1980s. And likely before that. We still have that problem; witness all the manufactured and mobile homes in every rural quadrant of Santa Fe County and beyond. Last I heard, about 50% of all homes in New Mexico were not site built, but were moved onto the site on a trailer.

This market is healthy, wealthy and wise, to coin another phrase. Or like an old boss of mine (while I lived in Denver) said of himself, “fat, dumb and happy”. Those are things one could aspire to, I suppose.

Get your house while you can, while there is an inventory to choose from. The builders we need to build homes are trying hard to risk speculative home starts and I hope they are amply rewarded. We need more of those in all price ranges. In the meantime, learn your dog some new tricks.

The cat wearing the hat

Your time spent online is yours alone, taking advantage of all the sources and distractions available. This can include reading current news stories, fake or otherwise. It could be sports scores or it could be health advice and new developments in human happiness. A cure for insomnia and relief for those with ingrown toe nails is out there also. Shopping can make you feel better sometimes. You might have to dig for a while or drill deeper than you thought at first, but sooner or later you can find almost anything you want to find on the WWW. Have dinner shipped to your doorstep. I will come by to dine with you.

If you have children and a spouse, and/or friends you connect with daily, its possible your online addiction could limit how much you have to give to those relationships. Maybe they are supporting your habit until you wise up and start participating in life with them again. Online addiction might be only surpassed by opioid addictions. Possibly the others are just as addicted and have not yet realized it; too distracted in their own way to notice your absence and fried brain and bloodshot eyes.

At times, I don’t want to look at the screen, but am willing to listen to the audio of an interview from a TV show, or a TED talk or podcast that dips into a subject of interest to me. Closing ones eyes can feel so liberating in a time of device screen paralysis. Unplugging from the short term pleasure of the skimpy rewards that being online gives you is not easy. I dropped off of Facebook months ago, after many more months of almost no activity or visits. Too many posts of kittens? Yes and too many nonsensical rants about Amurica and who has the right to believe what. I admit to getting news briefs from Twitter, in bites I can digest and at a time I want to take them in.

If I were a video or digital picture artist there are more venues than there are grains of sand. I could post a shot of each piece of toast I consume, with butter or not. I could post pix of my drive to my office, my walk from the parking lot to the office building, and my coworkers standing in my office door complaining about their current state of affairs. It might be fun to share photos of places I have been if only I were a more accomplished artist with a camera. I have photos of beautiful sandy beaches, castles on hilltops, amazing historic ruins only recently excavated, a beach wedding service, a farmers market in a foreign city, plus the selfies with me in all manner of dress and mood. How much fun can a person have?

In words it is left to the reader to paint the picture with a push and a tug from the writer. I write about real estate in this blog, touching on social issues that affect real property directly or indirectly. I occasionally rant about the things I see going on, but also realize if I rant then you are ranting too. Send me yours if it will balance things out between us. Words and numbers are the primary focus of my blog and I hope those numbers are easy to understand and useful to you. They continue to improve just a little bit each month and our residential real estate market in Santa Fe has solid footing and is almost completely finished clearing out the deadwood of foreclosures and short sales. The days of the super bargain are probably gone, even though those were not really bargains after all.

How many calls have I gotten from someone who sees a pretty photo of the front of a home that is listed at $220.000 with over 2000 square feet and 4 bedrooms plus a garage? Why is it so cheap? Well, the actual condition of the property is why. When you see a home in our MLS database that looks too good to be true, it has probably already been picked over by many people with similar ideas. How can I buy this and fix it up a little and flip it for a quick profit? An example where there was enough profit for two buyers went as follows:  First buyer purchased out of foreclosure around $120K and did minor touch up and painting. Sold it for $150K in a couple of months. Then Second buyer did more work to the home, leased it out for a couple of years and then sold it for $215K. Two parties made a few dollars on that one property. Today it is likely worth $250K and might be sold for that if the current owners wanted to sell.

So the cat with the hat is fun and entertaining. So are the Epic Fail clips. Reading Paul Krugman opinion columns online can be educational. Observing the White House roller coaster would be a hoot if it was not so disturbing. Seeing how your stocks are doing is fun as can be lately as the stock market breaks new ground almost daily. And seeing what your neighbor’s house is selling for is also interesting. Focus on what sells, not what is for sale. A for sale home priced at $500K does not inform you nearly as much as the home down the street that sold last month for $445K. Or the one around the corner that sold in May for $467K. Asking price is a suggestion. No more no less. The owner suggests your written offer to purchase should match the asking price or come as close to that number as possible in order for them to respond to the offer in a meaningful way. Ignoring an offer is also meaningful but in a different way.

Santa Fe sellers still collectively hold out a candle of hope that their home will sell quickly and for full price. But history, recent history being the only type that matters here, shows only the lower end price range homes in and around Santa Fe sell quickly and for full or almost full price. Why do other markets do things differently? In a recent referral of a listing ($280K range) in a Phoenix suburb, the broker I contacted did extensive market research and had the sellers do some work to the home before marketing it. Then the first day it was for sale was an advertised open house and 30 people came. Four offers came out of those visits and the one that won the bidding war paid about $11,000 more than asking price. The home closed on time and everyone was happy.

What is the difference between that market and ours? Here the seller and listing broker will price the home somewhere between 3% and 12% above what it will likely sell for. Then they battle to get people in the home and interested in the property. Time goes by and the broker and seller discuss a price reduction. When that hits the internet there is a flurry of activity on the home; some showings and some phone calls with questions about details of the home. But no offer comes and so after a few more months, another price reduction is entered into the system and another flurry of activity starts. Each time the new price is entered, a new group of prospects shows up online or in person. Once the asking price gets really close to the eventual sales price, then negotiations begin and serious contract preparation commences. A meeting of the minds occurs and escrow begins. Once all issues are resolved the closing can occur. And everyone is happy we hope. But maybe the seller waiting say nine months to sell and could have received the same net proceeds in two months had the first asking price been closer to the actual value. And we know that the actual value is what someone will pay for it, not what the seller has invested in it or what they hope to get. I hope to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower someday but I am OK if it does not happen. Sellers maybe should find a way to be OK with a faster sale instead of the same results after many months of anxious waiting and blaming the listing broker. It takes an honest assessment of the market and a Realtor willing to tell the truth to the seller.

Some sellers are not in a rush. Those people have alternative motivations and timelines. They might have $1,200,000 into a property and have already bitten several bullets to get the asking price down to $950K, while in everyone’s heart the final sold price will be closer to $850K. Is this normal for our market? Yes it is. Many examples are out there that are similar to the above recap. A buyer’s task is to separate out the highly motivated sellers from the ones that are just testing the market. Like the wolf going after the slow and slightly lost calf in Yellowstone, buyers will find the seller that wants to make a deal today and is not willing to wait 6 months. If you want to be that seller, that buyers surround and attack, price is your primary weapon. Price it to sell or price it to sit and look pretty. You can find your place in a magazine and wish they used different photos or you can be at the Bank depositing your sale proceeds.

When I get a cat I am going to get him a hat. Until then thanks for stopping by this blog site and feel free to use the statistics with proper attribution. You can disagree or you can do what many others do, use this information as if its your own. Then get a good nights sleep. And turn off your phone.

Whats good for the goose

The story behind our fair and historic city is a long and romantic one. It is also filled with assorted groups claiming Northern New Mexico with swords and knives and later being overthrown. The dirt we grow our roses in has been governed by several nations and has been subject to differing methods of land ownership verification over the last 400 plus years. Today one gets a title insurance policy when one buys real property, most of the time. On occasion a family transfer occurs and title is not researched and insurance is not purchased because there is a presumption of clear title on behalf of the family’s elders.

You can trust anyone you want, but it is usually a good idea to verify what they are telling you; check on what they are selling you. While there are rarely title insurance claims filed, probably because the title companies do excellent research, there are too often bad feelings and threats of lawsuits after a simple real estate transaction. Many times that has to do with someones perception of what a Realtor is supposed to do or say, or what the seller did or did not disclose. A leaky roof is a very bad thing to discover in your new (to you) home, but it happens to the best of us. As we rarely get rain and or snow to test the integrity of our roofing systems, months can go by without a drop of moisture while the tar or foam or aluminum flashing holding out the moisture is failing slowly but surely. Then when we get a big wet late April snow storm, it may feel as if the seller was dishonest in not disclosing a roof leak. But did it ever leak before? That is a difficult question to answer with 100% accuracy. Some sellers might not be honest but I would submit to you that most are.

So buy a home and ask lots of questions, get lots of inspections, order and read lots of reports so when you walk in the door for the first time as the owner, there won’t be surprises and disappointments. Buying a home is not the time to save a couple hundred by choosing not to investigate the quality of the construction of your new dwelling.

Some roof leaks, canale leaks, skylight leaks and other places water can get inside are only wet for a few hours, plenty of time for them to dry while we are at work or in Albuquerque shopping at Costco. Go away for a week and who knows what is going on inside your home. I have seen homes so large that I doubt the owners can physically see every inch of their home on the inside to even know if a leak exists. Vigilance is a good thing when you are fighting leaks, and other unwanted invasions.

The wisdom of owning a home usually is greater than leasing, but when your home requires a bunch of work just to bring it back to normal, it may feel like you are not doing the right thing to own a home. If you were leasing you could just call the landlord, right? Let’s hope you have a good landlord; most are good in my experience. But the money required to maintain a home is not somewhere to skimp and save. The true savings in home maintenance seem to be when the owner can do much of the work herself without having to call a professional. Painting, tile and grout, cleaning, re-sealing wood surfaces, are all known to be projects an owner can take on with confidence. Electrical and plumbing maybe require more journeyman help than Uncle Jimmy who is handy with a hammer. You must keep the home in good condition if you want it to maintain value. If you want it to increase in value, consider adding on with a quality addition, or remodeling key areas of your home, such as the kitchen.

If you were not up to speed on our particular market characteristics, appreciation of home values is still a story we will hope to write in the future. If you find a home that has grown in value over the last 5-7 years, either it was bought for a song and is now fixed up or the owner make improvements that added value. Just running the vacuum and washing windows will not make your home worth more money.

Funny how I can show a home to a couple that says they rarely cook and yet they are quick to criticize a home with an outdated or small kitchen. If I ask them why they care, they are slow to admit it makes an impression, good or bad, on their visitors and house guests. Hope springs eternal for the day when a homeowner stops trying to keep up with the Joneses and just lives a simple and happy life. Then there is the shock when they find out their home seems to be a mid-century modern with a certain panache that makes it “unique”. Speaking of styles what exactly is soft contemporary? Is that something you can define or put your finger on? Does it mean contemporary but that some of the hard and straight lines have curves in them? Someday I will catch up on the jargon. Still my fave is 5 minutes to the Plaza. The most fun a person can have when they live south of St. Michaels Drive and try to get to the Plaza from home in 5 minutes or less.

Take a gander at this: home sales continue to climb, with April sales for the month well above last year’s April. I will let you look it up in the attached spreadsheets so you can have that moment of joy when you see the numbers.

So now an important question for you. Please vote by your site visits over the next month. I have been contemplating making this website more about marketing my listings, if I happen to have any, than just dry and hard to understand numbers. What do you think? Would you still come by and visit if you had to look at some banner ads with my listings? Many have told me I should charge admission for access to the information herein. I would settle for an occasional commission check from selling one of my listings from a feature post with photos right here. If you are not happy with the changeover to a more “retail” appearance, then make me an offer and you can buy this very blog with its history and first page of Google pedigree. Is it for sale? Show me something that is not for sale and then I want it. Speaking of the goose, I want to visit the Bosque soon and see what birds are hanging out there. I hear January is the busiest month.

Enjoy the spring and coming summer as we live in a wonderful part of the world with little to distract us from the beauty of nature and the mixing bowl of the people of Santa Fe.