Real Estate: Time to Sell that Large House?

American homes are a lot larger than they used to be.  In 1973, the median size of a newly built house was 1,500 square feet.  In 2015, that figure was 2,500 sq. ft. – 67% more. Plus, with smaller families, there is lots more room per person: 507 sq. ft./person in 1973, and, almost double, 971 sq. ft./person in 2015.

In addition, Americans aren’t any happier with bigger houses.  A study by PhD Clement Bellet found that “house satisfaction in the American suburbs has remained steady for the last four decades.”  His reasoning is based on the premise that people compare their houses to others in the neighborhood-particularly the biggest ones.  The largest homes in the neighborhood seem to be the benchmark.  Dr. Bellet tracked the “one-upmanship” by owners of the biggest homes from 1980 to 2009.  He found that the size of largest 10% of houses increased 40% more than the size increase of median houses.  Apparently, the competition never ends.

Fifty years ago, a one bathroom house or a bedroom that slept 3 siblings might have felt cramped- but it also probably felt normal.  Today, many Americans can afford more space and they’ve bought it. They just don’t appear to be any happier with it.

Dr. Robert Shiller, the noted Nobel Prize winner and co-author of the Case-Shiller index of housing prices, was interviewed recently by the WSJ for an article titled “The Biggest Ways People Waste Money”.  Dr. Shiller opined that “Big houses are a waste.”  He believes that modernization has reduced our space needs.  However, he recognizes, that for some, a big house is a symbol of success. Your neighbors may not know about your finances and achievements, but they can see your big house.

Dr. Shiller suggests books such as “The New Small House”- that talk about designing houses to look impressive as well as function on a smaller scale. Living smaller can be easier on the pocketbook, the owner’s time and the environment.  He concludes: “Just like Uber and Lyft and Airbnb, using resources more efficiently, we can also build houses that are better at serving people’s needs without being big”.

As a result, we’re seeing that fewer people want to buy large, elaborate dream houses.  We know that in the high-end suburbs of Chicago that prices today, in some cases, are ½ of what they were 10-15 years ago. In the Southeast and the Sunbelt, McMansions are sitting on the market, enduring deep price cuts to sell.  For example, Kiawah Island currently has 225 houses for sale, which is a 3-4 year supply.  Of these, the largest and most expensive are the hardest to sell, especially if they haven’t been renovated recently.

The problem is expected to get worse in the next decade.  Baby Boomers currently own 32 million houses, 40% of all the homes in America, and many of these homes are big ones. As the Boomers advance into their 70s and 80s, many will be looking to downsize and/or move to senior housing and therefore will attempt to offload their big house.

When we at DWM talk with clients about housing, we generally ball park a figure of 5-7% of the market value of the house as the annual net cost.  The costs include interest, if there is a mortgage, the opportunity costs of not investing the equity in the house, real estate taxes, insurance, and maintenance and repairs. From this total we subtract the expected appreciation.  For example, a $500,000 house with a $200,000, 4.5% mortgage, might have $9,000 in interest, $18,000 in opportunity costs, $5,000 in real estate taxes, $3,000 in insurance and $5,000 in repairs. Total costs of $40,000 less 2% appreciation of $10,000 nets $30,000 in annual net costs or 6% of the market value.  Of course, values differ across the country and by house. Furthermore, there are some sections of the country experiencing excellent appreciation and some that are experiencing deprecation in value.

As we look at our spending, it’s always good to compare the value received to the cost and, if the cost exceeds the value, a change might be in order.  In our example, if the couple owning the $500,000 house feels they are getting $30,000 or more per year of value from the house, that’s great.  If they are not, particularly if they have a bigger house that may not be appreciating and may be hard to sell in the future, they may want to think about a change now.  Give us a call if you would like to discuss this very important topic.

Ask DWM: Should We Invest in Real Estate?

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Great question.

 

Let’s start with some basic concepts.  Real estate is an illiquid investment. You can’t buy or sell it in a day or two like liquid investments. It is somewhat uncorrelated to the stock market returns- which is good.  While it is smart to consider adding real estate as a portion of your overall investment portfolio, you don’t want to have too much in illiquid investments. We suggest a rule of thumb is that real estate, excluding your house, should be at the very most 40% of your overall investment portfolio.  So, if your investment portfolio (both liquid and illiquid) is $1 million, real estate should at most be $400k.

Location. Location. Location. Appreciation in value over time is key. This will impact the ultimate sales price when you sell your investment property and the rental income amounts while you hold it. Historically, US real estate has increased, on average, about 3% per year, similar to inflation. However, location can produce tremendous differences. Charleston real estate has done very well in the last ten years, though some areas of the Lowcountry haven’t done so well. Chicago’s market overall has been flat for the last ten years, yet there are areas that have done very well and areas in the suburbs that have lost significant value.  Investing in a piece of real estate is not like buying shares in an S&P 500 index, where your investment will rise as the market will rise. Rather it is a singular investment in one piece of property, subject to both the general market risks and the specific risks of the property.

Would you be prepared to self-manage the investment property? Do you have the skills, time and patience to handle phone calls or texts, perhaps in the middle of night, from an upset tenant?   If you decide to have someone else do the property management, it won’t be cheap- likely 10% of your rental income.

Let’s look at the key metric- your likely return on investment. We start by calculating the “net operating income” (“NOI”), which is the cash flow of the property, assuming there is no financing, and compare this to the purchase price.  For example, let’s say you think you can buy a property for $500,000 that will rent for $3,000 per month. You need to include an amount for estimated vacancies/rental commissions- let’s use 8%. So, the hypothetical annual net rent would be $33,120. Now, let’s look at expenses- taxes might be ½% to 1% or more of the property value. There may be homeowner association fees and/or repair costs. And, there will be insurance-perhaps an amount equal to the real estate taxes. Just for simplicity, let’s say all of those expenses combined are 1 ½% of the value of the property. Based on a $500,000 property, expenses might be $7,500, assuming you do the property management yourself. Therefore, in this example, NOI would be $25,620 ($33,120-$7,500) or 5% of the investment.

The hypothetical total return on the investment is NOI + expected appreciation. Let’s say this property would be sold in 6 years for $650,000. Assuming you sell it using a broker, there would be a 6% commission. So, net proceeds of $610,000. This would represent a 3.5% annual appreciation on the property. Therefore, your total expected return in this example would be 8.5% (5% net operating income + 3.5% appreciation).

We haven’t talked yet about financing and taxes. If you get a loan at less than your NOI (5% in our example), your total return will increase slightly as you are benefitting from leveraging. If the rate is higher than NOI, the total return would be a little less. Depreciation is a non-cash expense that can reduce the taxable income on the property during your ownership. Any depreciation taken has to be “recaptured” (given back) when you sell the property. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be able to take losses on rental property and you may be eligible for a 20% Qualified Business Income Deduction. Financing and taxes are generally not the key determining factors in deciding to buy the property, but may have some impact on the total return.

We generally suggest a minimum threshold for expected total return on real estate investments to be 9% or more. If a balanced liquid investment portfolio is expected, over a long-term, to have a total return of 5-7% net of fees, a real estate investment should be at least 3% more. Real estate investments are illiquid, riskier (due to lack of diversification) and, if you self-manage, will require time, skill and patience.

Under the right circumstances, investment real estate can be a nice addition for a portion of your investment portfolio. At DWM, we are very familiar with real estate. We understand the pluses and minuses for a portion of your investment assets. In 50 years of marriage, Elise and I have purchased and sold over 40 properties, some of which were our home and some were investment properties. Real estate investment has helped increase our income and net worth.

If you think you might like to invest in real estate, or, if you already own real estate and wonder if you should be adding more or subtracting some or all of it, give us a call. Once you’ve assembled all the facts (cost, income, expense, appreciation), we’re happy to help you review the NOI and total return and discuss how investment real estate fits into your overall investment strategy. We don’t do property valuations and we certainly can’t guarantee your future results, yet we’re happy to provide competent, independent and valuable input as you determine whether or not you should invest in real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Housing Market: Not Hot Everywhere

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Zillow just reported that the U.S. Housing Market is up 49% overall since 2012. That’s roughly 6% per year in that time period-though, to be fair, 2012 was when the housing market hit bottom after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The U.S. Housing Market is huge- $33 trillion (“T”). It’s larger than the value of all U.S. stocks and is about equal to the Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) of the U.S. ($19T), China ($12T) and Canada ($2T). Commercial real estate, including retail, hotels, office buildings, apartment buildings and industrial is about $6T.

The U.S. housing market has had some big winners and some big losers in the last 7 years. Almost 1/3 of the gain of $11T since 2012 has occurred in California. Four of the country’s 10 most valuable markets are in California; LA (5% increase in value in 2018), San Francisco (9.6% increase), San Jose (10% increase) and San Diego (3% increase). New York Metro itself has $3T of housing. The Washington, D.C. metro housing is worth $900 billion. DC itself has more housing value than 40 states, including Colorado, Arizona, Ohio and Oregon.

Unfortunately, housing in some areas hasn’t done so well. Illinois has many state-specific issues which makes it one of the worst housing markets areas. In fact, among the nation’s top 100 metro areas, Chicago is expected to be the weakest housing market of them all in 2019. With mortgage interest rates possibly causing a likely national homes sales slowdown of 2% in the U.S. in 2019, Chicago metro, including Naperville and Elgin, is expected to have an 8% decline in home sales this year. Taxes are a big problem in Illinois. Illinois homeowners are subject to the highest overall tax burden in the country, including the second highest property taxes in the U.S. Since 1996, Illinois property taxes have grown 43% faster than home values and 76% faster than home values in Cook County (Chicago). Worse yet, less than 50% of the tax increases have gone to pay for services. Most of the increase has gone for teacher and other governmental pensions and debt service on bonds.

In 2017, Illinois raised income taxes- the largest permanent state hike in history. Add in a sluggish state economy and outbound migration and the Illinois housing market is hurting. Even so, the Illinois Association of Realtors expects the median value of houses in IL to rise in 2019 by 4%, to roughly $196,000 for the state and $241,000 for Chicago.

The Lowcountry in SC is faring much better. Charleston Metro is now home to 700,000 people. Ongoing job growth means continued housing demand. The median home value in Charleston is now about $320,000 and Charleston home values went up 8% in 2018. The forecast for 2019 is 3% growth. Buyers outnumber sellers. A typical home in Charleston receives only one offer. However, homes sell for only 3% less of the listing price on average with 73 days on the market.

Charleston has many reasons for its housing growth:

  • A booming job market with an unemployment rate under 3% and one of the least unionized states in the nation
  • Wages are low
  • South Carolina’s overall tax burden is among the lowest, particularly for retirees.
  • Huge Tourism industry including being the most sought after wedding destination in the country
  • Home Appreciation is strong- 31% over the last 10 years

Overall, the U.S. Housing market is strong for now. Many winners, but some losers. Mortgage rates, after jumping to 5% and more on 30 year mortgages just a few months ago, are now down in the low 4% range. If they stay there, 2019 could be a pretty good year again for the U.S. Housing Market. But, with many areas coming off a strong run overall the last several years, a cool-down on housing prices wouldn’t be surprising. We’ll continue to watch how the events unfold and keep our clients and readers informed as conditions warrant.

Home, Sweet Home

HomeForSale2Spring is in the air here in Charleston. Flowers are blooming and there are wonderful smells of Jasmine and Gardenia everywhere. And there are some other things popping out all over town: for sale signs! It is the season that many think about moving and Charleston has a very hot housing market. There is real estate fever galore.

There are many things to consider before jumping in to the real estate market. Having a little knowledge can really save you some time and money. One important thing I learned recently through my own buying and selling process is that you must be your own advocate! The other professionals involved: real estate agents, mortgage representatives, and closing attorneys are there to guide you, but they cannot always watch every detail of the transaction, particularly when buying and selling at the same time. Do not be afraid to ask questions to better understand every contract and settlement statement. This is your money and you are ultimately in charge. Furthermore, DWM is here to be another set of eyes for you. From advising on how much house is appropriate, to working on short-term bridge/margin loans, to assisting with the paperwork required by your lender, let us help make a complicated process easier.

When you decide to sell your home, the first thing to do is PURGE! This activity cannot be stressed enough… try and objectively evaluate everything in your home and realistically decide if it should stay or go. You will have to pack everything when you move anyway, so spend the time now sorting those things to keep and what can be donated, sold, or disposed of before you are rushed into just throwing everything into a box. Pretend that every belonging you have must justify a place in your new home. Decluttering and “staging” your home to showcase its greatest assets and appeal are worth the time! Box up all the family photos and personal knickknacks and set up each room up to make it appealing and spacious. Now is the time to make sure everything in your home looks as good as it can. And don’t forget the landscaping: curb appeal is a big selling point to a buyer. The general rule is that any modest money you put in to repair your home up front can be three times less than what a buyer will estimate it is to do it themselves. It may be worth it to repaint a tired looking room or replace worn out carpet. Before you take on larger projects like an updated roof or heating and cooling system, it is a good idea to have a professional evaluate this for you.

Next, you want to find a knowledgeable real estate agent or spend some time investigating how to sell your home yourself. Certainly, For Sale By Owner (FSBO) is an easier task in a hot market, but it is not for everyone. You will certainly save on the commission fee, but experienced real estate agents can advise you on properly marketing and selling your property. It is always a good idea to have an outsider look at your home with more scrutiny than you can. You want to ensure you get the highest and best structured offer in as short of a time as you can. While your home is on the market, think about fresh flowers, good lighting and keeping everything very tidy. You will become proficient at good places for hiding clutter at the last minute: think washers, dryers, and under beds!!!

Now, you may be ready to start looking for houses and vetting neighborhoods, whether local or across the country. Nowadays, with sites like Zillow and Trulia available, it is so much easier to shop online and find answers for many of your questions about schools, neighborhoods or local amenities. Make sure you ask pertinent questions about every house – remember the sellers are also trying to make their home look as good as possible to you, the buyer. Ask about taxes, insurance, utility bills, the age or condition of the roof and heating and cooling system. Find out if there is a neighborhood homeowner’s association – many have newsletters which can give you some good information. There can be high costs and stringent rules for an HOA – which can be great as long as you know what you are getting! It can be a good idea to look at the house at different times of day or talk to neighbors. For example, is there a lot of rush hour traffic or unwanted noise from a nearby school? Make sure you get a home inspection during the purchase process. In both South Carolina and Illinois, it is common to have contracts contingent on the inspection. You will want to check the comparable prices in the neighborhood, so you can make an educated offer when the time comes. You want to learn as much as you can about any new home before you sign a contract!

There is so much involved in buying and selling a home. As your primary home is often your largest asset, you want to protect its value and get the best return on your investment. Working carefully with a lender, real estate agent, closing attorney, and financial advisor, will make the processes of obtaining a mortgage, negotiating a selling and/or purchase price, and completing all the deed and title transfers less daunting. Asking questions and understanding as much as you can will make for the best experience. Moving is one of the top 5 life stresses, so hopefully you will find the right experts to guide you. But don’t forget that by educating yourself and managing some things up front, you can be your own best advocate and find your new home, sweet home.