Amenities, ROI on housing, and social class

A recent piece linking amenities to higher return on investment for housing left unnamed a key factor: social class.

It turns out that if Trader Joe’s is nearby, your house might be worth more than if it were close to other grocery chains. The average return on investment, or ROI, for Trader Joe’s-adjacent homes is 51 percent, 10 percentage points more than the runner-up, Whole Foods (41 percent), and almost 20 percentage points more than Aldi (34 percent)…

“When we overlay points of interest (like transit, shopping, and amenities) on top of prices, we see trends in the distance to these features,” Marshall says. “In urban areas, ClearAVM has found that access to public transit has a large correlation with higher property prices. We have found the same with access to restaurants, coffee shops and groceries in urban and suburban areas.”…

Some of the positive location amenities that can impact home values and equity include high-ranking schools, hospitals, shopping centers, green spaces and being near the waterfront (think oceans and lakes), as well as access to highways and main thoroughfares.

Negative location markers include things like high-traffic and high-noise areas, crowded commercial properties, high-tension power lines or other utility easements, a poorly maintained home or neighborhood, and not being near the appealing attractions mentioned earlier, Hunt says.

While I don’t doubt these factors do influence housing values, there is a common factor that helps join them all together: the social class of residents. Grocery stores, like many other businesses, figure out where to locate at least in part on looking at the residents who live nearby. Whole Food’s is generally not going to move to a community where residents do not have the resources to pay their prices. Aldi, in contrast, appeals to a different market. Going further, think of the differences in locations between Walmart and Target, McDonald’s and Chipotle, Dollar Stores versus chain drug stores, and more.

A number of the items on the list of “positive location amenities” are also closely connected to social class. High-ranking schools tend to be in wealthier communities. The same is true of shopping centers and higher property values mean only certain kinds of residents can afford homes on the waterfront.

This does not mean that there is not more affordable housing in these areas with positive amenities. There may be. But, I would guess the zip codes connected to the higher-class grocery stores tend to be wealthier and more educated zip codes overall. The habitus of social class extends even to what grocery stores people prefer, the desired appearance of nearby homes, and close amenities that help reinforce their social class, practices, and tastes.

McMansion values still slow to recover in one wealthy Chicago suburb

The values of McMansions may be proportionally down and evidence from one well-off Chicago suburb suggests they are selling at similar prices to 15 years ago:

In South Barrington, home to swathes of McMansions, the market has been slow to recover. There, large single family homes regularly hit the market at the same prices they sold for in the ’00s, indicating an enduring lack of demand in the northwestern suburb.

Despite the risk that these homes presented leading up to the recession, it would seem they’re a more sensible investment today — so long as buyers know what they’re getting into. Pound for pound, McMansions are a ton of house for the money. But they’re not speculative equity, and they’re not a retirement account.

It would be helpful to see more data across suburbs. Without such figures, it is hard to know if:

  1. Is this an issue related to Barrington and its location and amenities? The suburb is almost all white and Asian and has a median housing value of just over $800,000. Is there less demand for housing in this particular location?
  2. Is this a problem for all McMansions in the Chicago area? If people are indeed seeking more “surban” locations or Baby Boomers are all trying to unload their McMansions at once, there might be relatively few buyers for such homes in a region of over 9 million residents.
  3. Are the particular features of these homes limiting the value? This could be due to particular features of the homes or many are now up for updates that have not been done.

The issue may not be McMansions at all: perhaps it is the mindset common among Americans that houses should be investments that increase significantly in value.

Home value algorithms show consumers data with outliers, mortgage companies take the outliers out

A homeowner can look online to get an estimate of the value of their home but that number may not match what a lender computes:

Different AVMs are designed to deliver different types of valuations. And therein lies confusion.

Consumers don’t realize that there’s an AVM for nearly any purpose, which explains why different algorithms serve up different results, said Ann Regan, an executive product manager with real estate analytic firm CoreLogic. “The scores presented to consumers are not the same version that is being used by lenders to make decisions,” she said. “The consumer-facing AVMs are designed for consumer marketing purposes.”

For instance, more accurate models used by lenders do not include outliers — properties that sold for extremely high or low prices and that consequently would skew the averages and the comparable sales for a particular house, like yours. But models used by consumer websites, such as brokers’ sites and national listing sites, scoop in as much “sold” data as possible when concocting a valuation, because then they can claim to include all available data. That’s true, said Regan, but it’s more accurate to weed out misleading data.

AVMs used by lenders send along “confidence scores” that indicate how firm the estimate is. That is a factor typically not included alongside consumer AVMs, she added.

This is an interesting trade-off. The assumption is the consumer wants to see that all the data is accounted for, which makes it seem that the estimate is more worthwhile. More data = more accuracy. On the other hand, those that work with data know that measures of central tendency and variability can be thrown off by unusual cases, often known as outliers. If the value of a home is too high or too low, and there are many reasons why this could be the case, the rest of the data can be thrown off. If there are significant outliers, more data does not equal more accuracy.

Since this knowledge is out there (at least printed in a major newspaper), does this mean consumers will be informed of these algorithm features when they look at websites like Zillow? I imagine it could be tricky to easily explain how removing some of the housing comparison data is actually a good thing but if the long-term goal is better numeracy for the public, this could be a good addition to such websites.

US now has 201 communities with median home values over $1 million

Rising housing values in the United States means more communities have a median home value of over $1 million:

Meanwhile, 29 cities and towns joined those with a median home value of $1 million or more this year, bringing the total to 201. Nineteen municipalities joined the million-dollar club last year.

They include San Jose, California, whose median value rose from $930,900 to $1.09 million; Fremont, California ($966,000 to $1.13 million); Burbank, California ($845,700 to $1.01 million); Newton, Massachusetts ($977,200 to $1.07 million); and Shelter Island, N.Y. ($903,500 to $1.15 million)…

Of the roughly 15,100 larger neighborhoods around the country analyzed by Trulia, 838 have median home values of $1 million or more and about two thirds of those are in California. Nearly 30 percent of California’s neighborhoods have a median home price of at least $1 million, the most by far of any state. New York, Florida and Washington followed.

It is not surprising that California leads the way given the housing issues in the state (recent example of lawsuits for housing in suburbs).

If I had to guess about the rest of the communities, they are (1) clustered around coastal cities in the West and Northeast (with exceptions being small, extremely high-end suburbs in the Midwest and South) and (2) most of the communities are suburbs. The first guess has to do with limited land, demand, and certain policies. I base the second conjecture on the facts that suburbs prize single-family homes, exclusion, and local control.

The double-edged sword of record home prices in many American metro areas

The housing bubble of the late 2000s may be long gone as housing prices continue to rise:

Prices for single-family homes, which climbed 5.3 percent from a year earlier nationally, reached a peak in 64 percent of metropolitan areas measured, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday. Of the 177 regions in the group’s survey, 15 percent had double-digit price growth, up from 11 percent in the third quarter.

Home values have grown steadily as the improving job market drives demand for a scarcity of properties on the market. While prices jumped 48 percent since 2011, incomes have climbed only 15 percent, putting purchases out of reach for many would-be buyers.

The consistent price gains “have certainly been great news for homeowners, and especially for those who were at one time in a negative equity situation,” Lawrence Yun, the Realtors group’s chief economist, said in a statement. “However, the shortage of new homes being built over the past decade is really burdening local markets and making homebuying less affordable.”

Having read a number of stories like this, I wonder if there is a better way to distinguish between economic indicators that are good all around versus one like this that may appear good – home values are going up! – but really mask significant issues – the values may be going up because many buyers cannot afford more costly homes. The news story includes this information but I suspect many will just see the headline and assume things are good. Another example that has been in a lot of partisan commentaries in recent years (with supporters of both sides suggesting this when their party was not president): the unemployment rate is down but it does not account for the people who have stopped looking for work.

In the long run, we need (1) better measures that can encompass more dimensions of particular issues, (2) better reporting on economic indicators, and (3) a better understanding among the general populace about what these statistics are and what they mean.

Percent of homes worth over $1 million quadruples in last 15 years

Rising housing values, particularly in certain markets, mean that there are now more American homes worth over $1 million:

The share of homes valued at more than $1 million has surged more than fourfold since 2002, according to new data from real estate site Trulia, which analyzed the luxury real estate market in the top 100 U.S. metropolitan areas. Across those regions, about 4.3 percent of homes are now worth at least $1 million, compared with about 1 percent in 2002, said Trulia senior economist Cheryl Young…

The share of homes valued below $1 million is “decreasing at a rate we’re surprised by,” Young said. “It was 98.9 percent in 2002, and now it’s 95.7 percent. That is pretty shocking.”

Rising real estate values, tight inventory and a lack of new construction are contributors the surge in million-dollar homes. Yet another factor may be at play: rising income inequality, which has benefited the bank accounts of America’s richest families…

It may explain why the share of homes worth $5 million or more is growing even faster. This segment is what Trulia describes as “the most luxurious homes available.” To be sure, it remains a tiny part of the real estate market, accounting for just 0.28 percent of overall sales. Still, that figure is five times higher than in 2002, Trulia said.

In the abstract, who is opposed to rising housing values and the benefits that confers to homeowners and communities? Yet, the flip side of rising housing values is that more homes might then be out of reach for average or even well-off residents.

Three related thoughts:

  1. While those fighting for more affordable housing have discussed this flip side for decades, I wonder at what point it may be viewed as immoral to live in an expensive dwelling.
  2. Expensive homes do not usually exist in isolation. For example, it would be very unusual to drive down a street of low-value homes and all of the sudden see a large expensive home. Expensive homes are often part of larger projects – buildings or developments or subdivisions – that give way to a whole wealthier lifestyle that include expensive homes. In other words, this is not just about the value of individual homes: it is about clusters of homes and locations that help elevate some housing values.
  3. Related to both #1 and #2, can we expect some residents to underestimate their housing values or sell at lower price points than they could get?

Live-in home managers help sell (expensive) homes

A profile of home managers highlights one of the newest techniques for selling expensive homes:

The 7,800-square-foot home where the couple currently live, at 1334 Fox Glen Drive in St. Charles, is on the market for $1.5 million. It has a six-car garage with a “motor court” driveway (the owner’s Porsche 718 Boxster is still parked inside), six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a tennis court, and 2 acres of land. It’s four times the size of the Callahans’ townhouse in Geneva.

“Sometimes I walk in and think, ‘Really? I get to live here?’ It’s like a fairy tale land,” Janine said, while standing in a stunning living room with giant windows that overlook a backyard koi pond and waterfall. “It’s a privilege for us to do this. … It’s like we’re living someone else’s life for a while.”…

Realtors hire home managers to live in vacant luxury homes that they’re trying to sell because it saves the seller money, Mike Callahan says. It lowers their staging costs, since home managers bring their own furniture…

They’ve lived in 12 houses over the past eight years in Batavia, Wayne, Geneva, Elburn and St. Charles. They’ve stayed as few as 45 days and as long as 16 months. Every time they move in, Mike carries Janine across the threshold. “It’s just our thing,” he says…

“You can’t be spontaneous because it always has to be clean. The home must always be ready to show. You have to be ready to turn all the lights on and get out (for a showing),” Janine said, noting that it’s not unusual for a Realtor to call at random times and say, “We’re sitting in the driveway, can we come in?”

This sounds like it has reality TV potential, particularly if the live-in managers stayed in homes for relatively short periods. The show could track the staging and home showings alongside the lifestyle that comes with moving from nice home to nice home.

I also wonder if such managers can up their rates when they have a proven track record of selling homes (1) quickly and (2) at higher prices. The true value of a home manager might not just be saving money (such as lowering insurance costs and spotting potential problems) but moving homes for good prices.

Finally, what is the home value where having a live-in manager is not worth it? The home mentioned at the beginning of the article is an expensive one but could a typical suburban homeowner (think more of the $400-800k range) benefit from and/or afford a live-in manager?