Buyers Should Request a CO

I recently met a couple that bought a single-family home about five years ago. They were first-time home buyers, and at the time they were represented by an agent I do not know. The home they purchased was recently renovated, including the entire kitchen. Their transaction seemed to go smoothly, and they were confident that they got a great deal on the price—until their home ownership dream quickly turned into a nightmare. In just a few months after closing, they started having extensive plumbing problems, and eventually their entire upstairs bathroom started sinking down into the kitchen directly below.

This sounds unimaginable, but this type of scenario can happen when renovations are completed without the owner taking the proper steps. The prior owner had removed a supporting wall to redesign the kitchen and failed to consult with an engineer and carpenters to ensure that a proper supporting beam was installed. In addition, the owner had renovated without applying for a permit or obtaining a certificate of occupancy (CO). The new buyers were completely unaware of the seller’s negligence. They were left with an overwhelming expense that they could not afford, and soon afterward the home went into foreclosure.

I tell this story because it is one that could have been avoided. Often, the importance of a CO is communicated to sellers, but it is even more important that CO’s be fully understood by buyer agents and homebuyers. The process for obtaining a CO starts with applying for a permit. Each town has a list of the types of renovations that require a permit and CO. Obtaining a permit requires paying a small fee (generally $10 to $13 per $1,000 worth of planned work) and presenting an outline of the work planned for the home. You might also have to visit several town departments to verify information about your home beyond your work’s scope.

Through this process you will get feedback from your local building department and other town agencies that will help you adjust and finalize your plans. Once the work is completed, an inspector will visit your home and determine if the project was completed in accordance with current building codes. If the inspection goes well, you will receive a CO for your records, which you can share with future buyers. The process is quite simple and requires just a few hours of time and interaction with experts that can turn out to be very helpful. You will gain knowledge about various town departments and how their services protect you, your home, and the property values in your community.

If you are a potential buyer and you notice renovations in a home that you plan to purchase, you should always ask for a CO. If there is none, you can request that the seller apply for a permit retroactively and obtain a CO before you close. Buyers that don’t require this tend to be experienced contractors or tradesmen. These types of professionals often have confidence that they can inspect renovations themselves and are comfortable with the risks involved with doing so. Most homebuyers should avoid that type of risk.

You can learn more and apply for permits online in most lower Fairfield County towns. Click the link for your town.

Stamford | Greenwich | Darien | Norwalk | Fairfield | Wilton

NAR Reports Home Sales and Prices Up at Close of Spring Market

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As of July 24th 2017, Connecticut REALTORS® reports that the single-family residential home median sales price is $280,000 which reflects a 1.8 percent increase from $274,950 in that same time period last year. Median indicates that half the homes sold for more and half for less. Single-family residential home sales in Connecticut increased 6.4 percent comparing June 2017 to June 2016. The total units of homes sold were 4,448 in June 2017 and 4,182 in June 2016.

In CT, townhouses and condominium median sales price in June of 2017 was $185,000 representing a 8.8 percent increase from $170,000 in that same time period in 2016. Sales in Connecticut increased 8.9 percent comparing June 2017 to June 2016. Total units sold were 1,016 in June 2017 and 933 in June 2016.

Statistics released by the National Association of REALTORS® indicate total home sales nationwide (includes single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops) increased 0.7 percent comparing June 2017 to June 2016; and the median national home sales price is $263,800. Regionally, Northeast home sales increased 1.3 percent in that same time period; with a median sales price of $296,300.

Source: NAR (National Association of Realtors)

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What do Expired Listings Teach?

I checked the expired listing count in Stamford this week. Since January there were 254 expired listings and 827 listings that closed. These numbers include single family homes and condos. If you just look at single family homes, 432 homes have closed and 151 have expired. I check these number from time to time and they tend to be consistent over the years. Roughly 30% to 40% of homes expire without selling in their first listing term, year after year after year.

Many people think that the primary reason expired listings don’t sell is price and that is technically true. However, to leave it at that does not tell the whole story. If expired properties were listed at a higher price per square foot on average, the story would be that simple. However, expired listings are generally not listed at a much higher price per square foot. In fact, since January the median sold price per square foot was about $230 in Stamford and the median price per square foot for expired properties was $225. The average agent is looking at homes of similar size and pricing “soon-to-be expired” listings accordingly.

If the initial list price per square foot of expired listings is not generally outrageous, why do so many agents miss the mark on pricing them each year? My observation is that they have a great deal of trouble adjusting for home factors that have nothing to do with size. These factors include awkward or unexpected floor plans, poor light flow, and deferred maintenance projects that buyers are not interested in taking on. The difficulty in explaining the impact of these factors can’t be overestimated, so many agents avoid talking about them with their sellers. Other agents choose to address these factors weeks later after they have priced the property incorrectly, conducted weeks of marketing that target the wrong buyers, and let the initial excitement about the new listing die down, never to be recovered.

My approach to this topic entails full disclosure before listing a home. By offering to tour similarly sized properties with my seller clients I provide them with a context for pricing that can take into account differences in floor plan, design, lot condition and maintenance. I also explain the real risks involved with pricing that does not reflect what buyers and appraisers are actually evaluating beyond size. The best buyers for your home (those that can and will pay the most) will not get exposed to it and your home will be constantly competing with homes that show better. Finally, I encourage discussions about challenging floor plans and maintenance issues, since it is a good opportunity to put many heads together and address everything that impacts a showing before the home is listed. I have seen ways that furniture can be added and rearranged to improve the flow of an awkward floor plan. I have had architects and contractors offer alternative designs and pricing that help buyers see more potential. I have also worked with sellers to get on top of the maintenance issues that buyers fear most.  These solutions can keep buyers interested in a home that they might have otherwise overlooked.

We know real estate value is about so much more than size, so it is important to address the bigger picture. Ignoring the myriad of factors that impact perceived value is not wise, unless your goal is an expired listing. Since every buyer eventually becomes a seller, I make sure my buyer and seller clients tour enough homes to see the correlations between price and factors unrelated to size for themselves.

Ensuring my clients are well-informed before they make important, irreversible decisions is a priority. Some sellers might still want to price too high, wish for luck and accept the negative consequences of being in the wrong price category. Others might price to generate the most traffic and excitement among agents, which usually brings the highest possible sales price. Unless a property is in the extreme luxury or custom designed category (in which none of the above applies), I encourage sellers to go in the later direction.  In the end, a list price is the seller’s decision, but it should never be misguided because important and challenging conversations are avoided.

Get Motivated with a Chance at a Free Home Inspection – Valid for 2 Years

Life is good, so so I am spreading the joy this Fall and Winter. I am raffling off a free home inspection for every 20 new potential clients that join my email list between now and the end of the year. Each raffle winner gets a free home inspection (useful for buyers and sellers) as long as they complete a transaction with me within the next 2 years. Tell anyone who plans to buy, sell or invest in the next couple of years and they will thank you.

Also, don’t feel any pressure to wait two years. Spring market is over and every buyer and seller should consider the advantages of making deals in the Fall and Winter. Sellers are happy in the winter since buyers tend to be more qualified, serious and decisive. There is less wear and tear on homes from buyer traffic; and buyers have less home options to choose from so your property can truly stand out.

Buyers also have advantages in the Fall and Winter. Sellers tend to be more serious about selling and prices and negotiations tend to be more efficient. Buyers also have less competition from other buyers.

Everyone is more agreeable if they want to complete a move before the holidays. If you are not the ultra-competitive type, buying this time of year might work for you.

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Mid-Year Report 2016 v. 2017 Single Family and Condo Sales – Stamford, CT

Jan – June 2016 Jan – June 2017 Percentage Change
SF Total # Sold 320 343 +7%
SF Median Sold Price $562,500 $600,000 +6%
SF Median Sold PSF $254.02 $260.51 +2%
Highest SF PSF $1,020.41 $840.41  -17%
Lowest SF PSF $119.64 $98.11 -17%
CN Total # Sold  304  318  +4%
CN Median Sold Price $313,000 $290,000 -7%
CN Median Sold PSF $243.48 $250.29 +2%
Highest CN PSF $727.49 $546.32 -25%
Lowest CN PSF $104.17 $94.74 -9%
Highest SF Home Sold Price $3,100,000 $3,702,500 +19%

Observations:

The good news this mid-year is that sales volume is not declining for single family homes or condos compared to last year. Demand is outpacing last year by 7% and 4% respectively, even though demand for homes is weakening nationally. In regard to prices, the median price PSF for single family homes in Stamford is up 2%, so we are still seeing a gradual, sustainable improvement. Condo buyers are still applying smaller budgets in general reflected by the median price decline of 7%, but they are also paying slightly more per square foot. This reflects a continued focus on condition, location and floor plan as factors that are just as important as size. It is still a great time to buy.  Prices are affordable compared to area income and mortgage interest rates continue to be historically low. This will not be the case forever. Check out the stunning homes with the highest sold price for both mid-years linked below. I have also included homes that reflect the median, highest and lowest prices per square foot.

Click here for homes that reflect the median closed PSF for Mid-Year 2016 and 2017.

Click to view the homes that reflect the highest and lowest sold PSF for Mid-Year 2016 and 2017.

Click here for the SF homes with the highest sale price in the first six months of 2016 and 2017.

Please note:

  • Condo sales include coops
  • PSF is Price per Square Foot
  • Data includes CMLS recorded transactions only
  • The surrounding towns tend to follow similar market trends when compared to Stamford. For data on your specific town, please email your request to prattray@kw.com