The Measurement Unit For Desirability Is Dollars

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I have been asked by more than one person how to measure desirability of real estate objectively. Fortunately, the Phoenicians did all the hard work for me three thousand years ago when they invented money. Precisely what that measurement unit is varies from country to country, but here in the United States that measurement unit is dollars.

A more desirable property will sell for a higher number of dollars. It's as simple as that.

Consider: The same property, moved to a more desirable neighborhood, will sell for more. This difference is nothing more or less than the premium for living in the more desirable neighborhood than the less desirable one.

A four bedroom property with X square feet will sell for more than a three bedroom property with the exact same number of square feet right next door. This difference is the premium for that fourth bedroom, so that one or two more people in that family now have a private place to retreat to - a private place they don't have to share.

A newer property will sell for a higher price than an older one, a well-maintained property for more than one with significant deferred maintenance, a well laid out property will sell for more than a poorly laid out one. I can go on and on, but the difference in all of these cases is precisely the desirability premium for the good thing as opposed to the not so good one. This difference is - you got it - measured in dollars. If it's worth more money to have the laundry room upstairs, the selling price between two otherwise equivalent properties will reflect that difference. If it's not, then the selling price won't be any different.

(In this case, you can figure the difference is a couple thousand bucks in the case of most two story properties around here.)

The obvious question that occurs to most people right about now is, "Do I get a package deal by holding out for a property with everything I like?" The answer is "not usually." Every desirability factor you add on pulls that much more interest to the property. Large lot? Downstairs bedroom? Great view? One of these or many other factors seen as desirable pulls in a decent amount of interest. Put two together, the interest level more than adds, because you're dealing with people who have to have both as well as those who would be happy with one or the other. Put three or more common desirability factors like "gourmet kitchen" and now everybody who even has a chance at affording it is making a bid, especially in a hot market. This is how Flippers and Fixers make lots of money. A good agent with enough time and who knows how to negotiate can and will play them off against each other. They're going to get a hefty premium for that property, leaving the seller very happy indeed. The usual fight in my mind when I'm listing such a property is "how much over appraised value is this person willing and able to pay?", because the appraisal can only go, at the very most, 25% higher than recent sales in the area. Especially given the conservative nature of appraisals done under the new HVCC appraisal standards, the offer I'm going to recommend my client accept probably be from the buyer with the most room on the loan to value ratio and a willingness to do without an appraisal contingency. Sure those people over there may have a higher offer, but with just enough cash for the down payment if the appraisal comes in are not going to be able to consummate it. Because the appraisal is not going to come in for the full purchase price in such circumstances - bet on it. You might be pleasantly surprised, but if you plan for it, you won't be scrambling to contact people who made other offers four weeks out when the buyer comes back and says "We can't qualify unless you cut the price." The buyer's ability to add to the down payment (or finance a larger loan if their loan to value ratio is still good enough) is what gets the transaction done in such instances.

How do you use this as a buyer? It's very simple actually - keep your "must have" list firmly in your mind; don't get distracted by beautiful presentation or bells and whistles you don't have to have. Such properties are ripe for bidding wars. If you must get involved in such a bidding war, keep you maximum purchase price in mind and don't offer a penny more. If you haven't got a maximum purchase price engraved upon your soul before you go looking at property, check yourself into an insane asylum immediately.

You can always make the property better once you own it. There won't be a bidding war then - except maybe between contractors who want the job (the low bid isn't necessarily the best there, anymore than the highest offer is necessarily to one to take for sellers). You own the property, and it's difficult to force you to sell against your will. Doesn't matter how much they like it, they can't have it unless you decide the offer is worth taking even though you weren't planning to move again. But if sellers have twenty, forty, eighty offers there has to be a reason to pick your offer - and the reason is that they figure they'll net the most cash out of it. Your offer really has to stand out. If sellers only have one offer, though, there's a lot more room for meaningful negotiation. If there are even two offers, you can expect to get played against the other offer, at least to some degree.

Look for solid instead of beautiful. Look for improvable over perfect. Look for clear and reasonable upgrade paths rather than properties that are already highly upgraded. Your pocketbook will thank you. Yes, it's a bit of hassle to upgrade, but the dense, highly desirable areas like San Diego are headed for another period very soon like the one a few years ago, where it didn't matter what faults the property had, the buyers were glad to get into anything. Only unlike before, without unsustainable loans over-heating the market and setting things up for a crash when there's a subsequent reality check, the prices are going to stay that high this time. We're still going to have cycles, but the low point of this one is not something I would expect to ever see again. It took an awful lot of loans that were complete garbage to make this happen. The loan type that was the chief culprit has been regulated out of existence, most of the companies that provided other garbage loans are gone as well, and Wall Street and the global capital markets have learned a lesson about real estate loans that it'll take them a generation to forget. It wasn't that long ago I heard with my own ears buyers express gratitude that they had an accepted purchase contract on crummy little places where their family would be shoehorned into a fraction of the room they needed to be comfortable. Those days are coming back, and they're going to get worse over time.

Things that you're willing to put up with that bother most other folks are good wedges for a deal. Popcorn ceilings, power lines, and too many others to enumerate. You may think popcorn looks tacky, but it's pretty easy to remove in most cases. Many utility companies are in the process of burying their lines. If you bought before and it happens while you own, that's a price boost. Don't take the listing agent's word - do your own research, especially if someone tells you, "That airport's going to close." (there's an Act of Congress that makes it extremely costly to close down most airports. The city or county has to pay the federal government back every dime in revenue they've ever gotten through that land, plus interest). But if it's likely to improve, or if it's something you can live with regardless of whether it improves, that may be the property for you. Let the other buyers fight to outbid each other over one "absolutely perfect!" property. While they're distracted fighting over that "absolutely perfect" property over there, bidding the price up to something unjustifiable, it's time to grab a real bargain somewhere else.

Caveat Emptor

Article UPDATED here


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on May 19, 2009 7:00 AM.

Links and Minifeatures 2009 05 18 Monday was the previous entry in this blog.

Practical Examples - Refinance or Prepayment Penalty? is the next entry in this blog.

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