Beware of buying a 1×100 plot of land between villas at a real estate auction

One man was surprised to find out what he actually purchased in a Florida real estate auction:

Kerville Holness thought he’d done a great job snapping up a $177,000 Tamarac villa for only $9,100.

He got a 1-foot-wide, 100-foot-long strip of land on Northwest 100th Way — valued at $50.

It starts at the curb where two mailboxes have been installed, goes under the wall separating the garages of two adjoining Spring Lake villas, then extends out to the back of the lot…

The message from county officials and real estate experts is that auction participants need to do their homework and make sure they’ve checked for all possible problems a property might have…

Real estate is a hot investment option these days. Add the interest people across the United and world may have in property in southern Florida plus the ability to purchase online and you could get more situations like this. How many people would be willing to purchase a property without ever seeing it?

Perhaps the answer going forward is that a lot of people would be willing to do this. If you can buy a car without driving it first, then more and more properties and units could go this way. In hot markets where properties go fast and the competition is fierce, it probably already happens at higher rates.

I wonder if at some point there could be a local backlash about Internet property sales. Just the idea that someone from anywhere could purchase land or buildings might make some nervous. Takes places like Vancouver or southern California where outsiders are making a lot of purchases. Or, perhaps the backlash from angry buyers who did not get what they thought they would (such as in the story above) could change Internet property sales. What format or what details are needed to truly make physical property a salable commodity to Internet buyers all over?

Reporting on the return of investment for house flippers

Selling flipped homes is up while the average return on investment for flipping a home is down:

Homes that were resold within 12 months after being purchased made up 7.2 per cent of all transactions in the first quarter, the biggest share since the start of 2010, Attom Data Solutions reported Thursday. Meanwhile, the average return on investment, not including renovations and other expenses, dropped to 39 per cent, an almost eight-year low…

“Investors may be getting out while the getting is good,” Todd Teta, chief product officer at Attom Data Solutions, said in the report. “If investors are seeing profit margins drop, they may be acting now and selling before price increases drop even more.”

Three quick thoughts:

  1. The return on investment for flipping a home is down. Changes in the real estate market mean there are fewer homes with large return potential. I wonder how much of the lack of such homes is due to fewer homes on the market versus sellers getting better at pricing their homes versus multiple kinds of investors driving up prices at the lower price points.
  2. The return of investment of 39% sounds high…until you factor in “renovations and other expenses” which are not part of the figure. So what is the actual average return on investment once factoring in everything? 5%? 15%? This initial figure then helps make sense of the need of flippers to reduce expenses and make cost-effect renovations because those decisions directly connect to profits.
  3. Thinking of the money in house flipping, I have seen little about the accuracy of HGTV shows and other shows that often provide a purchase price, expenses summary, and then give a profit at the end. Are those figures normal? Do they represent unusual housing markets and/or unusual advantages to being part of a TV crew doing house flipping?

More remodeling, less moving, and uncertainty

Another trend that is the result of the current housing market: fewer people are moving and more homeowners are remodeling what they already have.

Now, according to research, homeowners are eager to hold onto the ultra-low mortgage interest rates they were able to get after the crash, and they are leery about taking a chance on a move. Many also lack the financial wherewithal to upgrade to a larger, pricier home. They own houses that haven’t recovered enough of their value in the wake of the crash to generate the down payment needed to buy a new place.

The percentage of homeowners moving up to their next home is the lowest in 25 years, said Todd Tomalak, vice president of research for John Burns Real Estate Consulting. Instead of moving, people are deciding to make starter homes permanent and are expanding and repairing them for the long term, he said…

From 1987 to 2008, homebuyers stayed in their homes six years on average before selling, according to the National Association of Realtors. The number of years homeowners expected to stay in their homes started increasing during the housing plunge and has been at 15 years since 2010…

Last year, people spent about $320 billion on remodeling — a 5 percent increase over the previous year, Tomalak said. This year, they are expected to spend $350 billion — a 9 percent increase.

Interesting data yet there are some conflicting things going on here. This raises a few questions for me:

  1. If you aren’t moving soon, remodeling can make sense. At the same time, how does the remodeling square with homeowner’s interests in making money on their home? Many remodels do not recoup the money put into them – unless people are hoping that the tight market will keep housing values going up and up.
  2. Does the same animosity some have toward big box retailers like Walmart also carry over to Home Depot and similar stores? I know some things can vary tremendously from retailer to retailer – such as wages and benefits – but all big box stores have some similar effects including knocking out local businesses (who goes to the local hardware store for all their remodeling needs?) and contributing to an automobile culture with massive footprints on commercial stretches.
  3. On one hand, fewer people moving suggests the housing market is sluggish and this may not be good for the housing industry and the economy at large. On the other hand, people staying in the same house longer means they are more rooted in their communities (combats the critique of the soulless suburbs or the image of Americans just wanting to move up) and are avoiding senseless consumerism (just chewing up new house after new house). Is this an example where the consumer driven economy doesn’t really work in the long-run? (Or, maybe enough homeowners can be convinced that they need the newest item for their home – concrete countertops! wi-fi enabled refrigerators! – that the remodeling can pick up some of the slack.)

Claim that McMansions have proportionally lost resale value

A recent study by Trulia suggests McMansions don’t hold their value:

The premium that buyers can expect to pay for a McMansion in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., declined by 84 percent from 2012 to 2016, according to data compiled by Trulia. In Las Vegas, the premium dropped by 46 percent and in Phoenix, by 42 percent.

Real estate agents don’t usually tag their listings #McMansion, so to compile the data, Trulia created a proxy, measuring the price appreciation of homes built from 2001 and 2007 that have 3,000 to 5,000 square feet. While there’s no single size designation, and plenty of McMansions were built outside that time window, those specifications capture homes built at the height of the trend.

McMansions cost more to build than your average starter ranch home does, and they will sell for more. But the return on investment has dropped like a stone. The additional cash that buyers should be willing to part with to get a McMansion fell in 85 of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. For example, four years ago a typical McMansion in Fort Lauderdale was valued at $477,000, a 274 percent premium over all other homes in the area. This year, those McMansions are worth about $611,000, or 190 percent more than the rest the homes on the market.

The few areas in which McMansions are gaining value faster than more tasteful housing stock are located primarily in the Midwest and the eastern New York suburbs that make up Long Island. The McMansion premium in Long Island has increased by 10 percent over the last four years.

Read the Trulia report here.

Interesting claim. After the housing bubble burst, some commentators suggested that Americans should go back to not viewing homes as goods with significant returns on investment. Instead, homes should be viewed as having some appreciation but this happens relatively slowly. This article would seem to suggest that return on investment is a key factor in buying a home. How often does this factor into the decisions of buyers versus other concerns (such as having more space or locating in the right neighborhoods)? And just how much of a premium should homeowners expect – 190% more than the rest of the market is not enough?

This analysis also appears to illustrate both the advantages and pitfalls of big data. On one hand, sites like Trulia and Zillow can look at the purchase and sale of all across the country. Patterns can be found and certain causal factors – such as housing market – ca be examined. Yet, they are still limited by the parameters in their data collection which, in this case, severely restricts their definition of McMansions to a certain size home built over a particular time period. As others might attest, big homes aren’t necessarily McMansions unless they have bad architecture or are teardowns. This sort of analysis would be very difficult to do without big data but it is self-evident that such analyses are always worthwhile.

Super rich investing billions in office blocks, hotels

The global super rich are spending money beyond the dreams of average people on certain kinds of real estate:

The world’s super rich are turning from luxury mansions to hotels and office blocks, as they hunt for bigger property deals to preserve their growing fortunes which hit a combined $20 trillion in 2013, data showed on Wednesday.

The move into commercial property comes as wealth levels rebound after the financial crisis and home values in London and Monaco soar, prompting the rich to look for riskier investments that offer higher returns than gold or bonds.

Wealthy individuals spent $11.2 billion on hotels, offices, warehouses and shops globally in 2013, up from $7 billion in 2012 and three times the amount spent in 2008 after the crash, data compiled for Reuters by research group Real Capital Analytics (RCA) showed.

Such high net worth investors, most of whom come from Asia or the Middle East and made their fortunes in manufacturing among other sectors, often already own homes in cities such as London and Hong Kong, said Jeremy Waters, head of international investment at UK-based property consultants Knight Frank.

This is quite a flow of money. It is too bad the article doesn’t talk about the ROI on these office and hotel properties; what kind of investment can be expected in today’s economy?

I wonder if this means there just aren’t many luxury homes left in the world for the super rich. If so, this could mean builders will look for even bigger and more luxurious homes in the near future.

The best ROI in hipster neighborhoods

If you are looking to make some money in real estate, check out these hipster zip codes:

Real estate data provider RealtyTrac conjured some numbers to support what everyone already knows or suspects— that, as a developer or landlord, investing in rental housing in “hipster” nabes is a solid idea. Chicago gets three hits on RealtyTrac’s just-published top 25 list of hip zips for high return on rental properties, in descending rank: 60625 (Ravenswood, Albany Park); 60647 (Logan Square, Bucktown); and 60642 (Noble Square, River West, Goose Island). Yup, they got all the usual suspects. The above chart, interactive and expandable at the source, shows the equation for investment success in “nascent hipster markets”: a high proportion of 25-34 year-olds; a ready stock of renters; a low vacancy rate; and a climbing but still low median home price relative to average rents. Wouldn’t you know it— these are the basic conditions for any successful rental investment, almost anywhere. Why all the fuss over hipsters? Probably because the “culture” that follows this trendy group around usually matches up closely to rapid gentrification. In other words, it’s the hipster as beacon. For the frugal renter trying to stay away from big money, there’s a different use for this list. Stay tuned for follow-up RealtyTrac analysis on “top hipster zips for fix-and-flip profits.”

While hipster may appear to be a lifestyle choice, this article is a reminder of the economic conditions involving hipsters. They also have money and are interested in moving into less-than-perfect neighborhoods that have the appropriate grittiness and authenticity. Thus, a savvy investor might find properties in neighborhoods on the rise and with the influx of hipsters make some money.

It would be interesting to then look at how these investment work out over time. Getting in at the right point is important but how does that investment then work out over a long period of time? What happens when hipsters stop moving in or the neighborhood is no longer the hot one? We need to see not only this data but a ROI curve.

Should every home improvement increase the value of your home?

HGTV host Sabrina Soto discusses five home improvements that might actually lower the value of your home:

Converting bedrooms into other spaces: If potential homebuyers “see it’s a four-bedroom house, they want to go to the open house and see four bedrooms. You have to take the guesswork out,” says Soto. If you do convert a room, there’s one feature you should absolutely never mess with. Watch the video to find out what that is.

Hot tubs: Soto thinks inheriting someone else’s hot tub is a turn-off — and she’s not alone. “You’d be surprised how many potential buyers find them to be a little gross.” And once a hot tub is installed, it’s not an easy feature to remove from a deck or backyard.

Colored trim and textured walls: It seems like any potential homebuyer would see these features and know they can easily paint over them, but not so fast, says Soto. “I would much rather paint walls than trim any day — it’s a beast of a job,” she says. And textured walls are “a mess to sand down and remove. The fad is over anyway, so just let it go.” If you feel your trim is outdated, see the video for Soto’s tips on what to do.

Children’s theme bedrooms: Spending hundreds of dollars on a mural for your child’s wall is throwing money away. Not only will they outgrow it in a matter of years, but “you’re never going to get that money back when you sell, so just keep it neutral,” posits Soto.

Too much landscaping: Conventional wisdom says you want your yard to look as nice as possible, but heed Soto’s warning: you want to “keep up with the Joneses — but don’t exceed them.” To a potential buyer, gorgeous, overdone landscaping screams high-maintenance.

My question after reading this list: what if you simply want these features for yourself and not because it might add to your resale value? Granted, if you are looking to sell your house, you might not want to pursue these options. But, if you are looking to live in your house for a while, you might decide that one or more of these features is what you want.

The bigger issue is this: doesn’t a list like this perpetuate the idea that a home is primarily an investment? That is one way to view things but there are other reasons for owning a home.