“Ugly houses” dragging down the housing market

Here’s an interesting possible explanation for the problems of the housing market: buyers don’t want “ugly houses.”

Maybe Americans aren’t avoiding buying homes right now — maybe they’re just avoiding buying ugly homes. The housing market may be splitting into two sub-sectors: well-kept, good-looking homes and run-down, torn-up homes. Could the latter group be preventing the housing market from stabilizing?…

The disparity between these two groups of homes matters, because Lichtenstein has seen prices of the good properties remain relatively strong recently, as prices of worse properties have declined. This means that it’s those run-down, dilapidated foreclosed homes and short sales that will disproportionally bring down aggregate home prices, while well-kept homes should see much smaller price declines, or even appreciation.

Based on his experience, Lichtenstein asserts staging homes is more important than ever, as sellers need their house to appear as pristine as possible to appear to buyers. But his observation could have another logical conclusion: the market could be ripe for some renovate-and-flip business…

This gives investors two options: revitalize the foreclosures that have sale potential and rent out the others. If the inventory is tackled through these strategies, then price aren’t going to suddenly soar, but they could begin to stabilize sooner.

Would it take all that much work for someone to crunch some numbers to test this idea? As a rough proxy measure, one could use the year the structure was built as a starting point.

Reading this, I wonder if this has been a growing issue for much longer than the current economic crisis. Watch HGTV for a little bit and it seems like most buyers want everything in their new home: great appliances, updates (granite countertops! hardwood floors!), and all in move-in condition. How many homebuyers, whether they are younger and will work a lot of hours each week or older and want to downsize and not spend as much time maintaining a house, want to take on the time and expense of fixing up or updating a home?

In the long run, this could lead to some issues if no one is really interested in dilapidated homes. Communities might then have to make decisions about what to do with empty homes and how to best use the land. As an example, I’m thinking of the areas west and northwest of downtown South Bend, Indiana: the homes aren’t worth the time of investors because prices aren’t going up and few people would want to fix them all up. While this issue might commonly be tied to Rustbelt cities like South Bend or Detroit or Cleveland, perhaps it will be coming to more communities.

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