How is COVID-19 Changing Real Estate?


How Homes are Shown


1. Mayor Walsh has asked that agents not show apartments occupied by tenants. This will certainly delay renters’ ability to find a new apartment.

2.Gov. Charlie Baker’s March 15 ban on gatherings of more than 25 people in Massachusetts affects open houses for residential properties. Many agents have made the decision to hold open houses – there are a total of 760 Open Houses scheduled for this weekend in the Greater Boston area. In some far-flung towns, the odds they will have 25 people in at once are non-existent. In areas where a large number of attendees is a possibility, some agents are having Open Houses by appointment only, meaning you will have to make an appointment during that 2-hour window. They will only allow people in during the window of their appointment. This is more efficient for the Seller as the house would only have to be disinfected once after the Open House is over. In the hotter markets, it only takes one Open House to get the property sold.

3. Listing agents will rely more on video tours and floor plans to show homes online. They may even do the tour for you with their smartphone to minimize the number of people who come in the home.

4. Sellers and Listing Agents are going to expect people viewing the homes to be serious Buyers and will discourage window shoppers by asking to see pre-approval letters before they show the house. I can see List Agents asking for proof of seriousness in other ways, a bio on the Buyer – why they are looking, timeline, etc. So, if you are a serious Buyer, it wouldn’t hurt to write something up and to have your pre-approval in hand.


5. Sellers who are fortunate enough to have a vacation home may retreat to those homes so the property on the market can be shown unoccupied.


If this goes on long enough, it could change the fundamental on how homes are shown moving forward. We’ll revisit this topic in a few months to see what the landscape looks like.

Municipal and Government Services

With cities and towns looking to protect their employees, the municipal services required to close on a home will be affected. Fortunately, the response has been fairly quick on some fronts.

1. Smoke Detector Inspections – the Governor has signed an Executive Order providing for the deferral of smoke detector inspections. The Order went into effect immediately and will remain in place until the declared state of emergency is lifted. The Order provides that the buyer must agree in writing to be responsible for equipping the property with approved smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Once the state of emergency has been lifted, the required inspections must take place within 90 days.” – by the Buyer, not the Seller.

2. Water Meter Readings – in towns that have automated readings or that allow the listing agent to read the meter, final water bills should not be held up. However, if the automated reading is not working or you live in a town where a representative from the water department must come out to read the meter, your closing could be held up. If you are my client I am already on top of it.

3. Recording the Deed – most Registries have now set up the ability to record deeds electronically. So, this aspect should not hold up closing on a property.


Other Services

1. The Closing – Attorneys are changing how they conduct closings to limit social interaction as much as possible. Sellers can typically give their attorney power of attorney to sign documents for them. You will need to meet with a Notary for this. I am a Notary, so if you will need me, let me know. This is something that also must be done in person, but there are precautions we can take. The proceeds can then be wired or mailed to the Seller. If you are selling your home, have a discussion with your attorney about this now.

If you are a Buyer, the lender requires that you sign the loan documents in the presence of the bank attorney (which is typically your attorney). No one else needs to be present. The Seller can sign their documents in advance. So, if you are a Buyer and you are concerned about social distancing, please discuss with your attorney.


2. Movers and Tradespeople – If you have a transaction in process, make sure all the service providers you will be using are available and that both you and they have health safety procedures in place – moving company, appliance delivery, tradespeople, etc.


3. The Bank – if you are going to need a bank check for the closing, make sure your bank will be open as these must be obtained in person at the counter. If that will be problematic, speak to your attorney about wiring the funds.

The Economic Impact


It goes without saying that with businesses closing down and people staying home, the economy is being hit hard and fast. Because of this, the FED called for an emergency interest rate cut of 25 basis points to a range of 0-0.25 percent and $500 billion round of quantitative easing — including the purchase of $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities.

It’s important to note that a rate near 0 percent does not mean there will be a further drop in mortgage rates – that remains to be seen. Let’s see what next week brings. If it does lower rates, there will be a higher demand for refinances and it may entice home buyers as well.

In addition to lowering rates, the Fed engaged in a $500 billion round of quantitative easing, which is the Federal Reserve outright purchasing assets it doesn’t traditionally buy to pump liquidity into the market. In this case, it was mortgage-backed securities and treasuries of longer maturities. Some homeowners will find it appealing to refinance rather than sell. This might tighten inventory even more than current levels. Inventory levels were low before the virus hit.


Mayor Walsh has banned all construction in Boston beginning March 16, for two weeks, at which time they will revisit the topic. That means all big and small projects must be stopped and the work zones secured, the mayor said. The only exceptions will be emergency projects, mainly roadwork and gas hookups. Naturally, this will have a negative impact on construction workers and builders.


Who I Worry About


Certainly, this is going to immediately impact people who have lost their jobs and income due to businesses closing such as the aforementioned construction workers.

It is estimated that up to 75% of people in this country live paycheck to paycheck which means they cannot pay rent, their mortgage or buy food if they miss even one check. There were 20,000 unemployment claims on Monday, more than in all of February. That is very worrisome.

The Senate passed the first phase of Covid-19 relief which includes free testing and paid sick leave.Of course, if you don’t have a job, paid sick leave doesn’t help. But it should help all the people still working because they are in vital positions that don’t usually get any sick time – people working in cleaning, food service, etc.

The second phase could take longer as the Senate debates what financial relief will entail. I am sure you have read that Republican senators are talking about making it income based going by 2018 tax returns. This is problematic on more levels than there is room to discuss here. Money needs to get in the hands of people whose hours have been cut, people who have lost their jobs and small businesses who have had to close. Many people will need money this week to pay their April rent. Chuck Schumer is proposing a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures which be of great immediate relief. Let’s hope that get passed soon.

Of course, that begs the question of what happens to landlords who are not able to collect rent? Not all landlords are rich slumlords. Some need the rent to pay the mortgage, insurance and tax on the rental property. Hopefully, people will get enough relief to be able to pay their rent.


Possible Areas for Relief


If you have been affected economically, make sure to check with your mortgage holder to see if you can get a modification or delay payments due to financial hardship.

If you are going to need to wait for a relief check or unemployment check, speak to your landlord now. It is best to come to an agreement before you are late on a payment. Legally, a landlord can evict you if you are even 1 day late with rent.

Most cities and towns have established websites that outline all they are doing to help people in their community.Here is the link for Newton
If you have questions on any of this or you will be selling soon and need to discuss how that will play out, just reach out to me. I’m home!

How to Evaluate a Low Offer

No one appreciates a low offer on their home.  The first impulse is to reject it outright.  Whenever you receive an offer it is essential that you evaluate it properly and not simply give an emotional response.  Here are some items to consider before responding to a low offer:

Buyer’s True Intentions

Most Buyers don’t make a low offer with the purpose of getting you upset.  There is nothing to be gained by that.  Is the Buyer seriously interested in your house, but not able to pay more?  Maybe the Buyer will pay more but wants to see how motivated you are to sell the property.

Maybe the Buyer is only interested if they can ‘steal’ the house.  Some Buyers get advice from family or friends about negotiating that is wrong and does not reflect the desire of the Buyer to buy your home.  So, a low offer does not indicate anything.

Future Offers

Is it likely you will receive other offers in the near future? Some Sellers who get an offer immediately after listing the house aren’t very flexible because they think there are other offers just around the corner. 

This may or may not be your situation.  When evaluating a low offer, you should also think about the possibility of other offers.  Also bear in mind, that the first offer you receive is usually from your most motivated Buyer.

Your Needs

What are your needs and how does this offer address your needs?  Sometimes a low offer is hard to accept, but it may help you get out of this situation and move on with your life.

Advice

As painful as a low offer may be, don’t immediately write it off.  Listen to your agent’s advice.  Your agent will know the market and will have a feel for whether a better offer might be around the corner.  They can often negotiate the offer up to a level that you will find acceptable. 

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor, Luxury Specialist
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Commonwealth
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Wallet Hub’s Ranking of Best Small Cities

Massachusetts Cities that Made the List

First, a bit about their methodology – they scored the cities on the categories of Affordability, Economic Health, Education & Health Rank, Safety and Quality of Life.  If your city did not rank high on the list or did not make it at all it could be that is not in the category of Small City as they define it – a population of 25,000 to 100,000. Or that your city is too expensive to live in or does not rank high on one of the other categories.

Source: WalletHub

A good number of Massachusetts Cities made the list and ranked especially well on Health with many cities having a large percentage of the population insured.

Here are the Massachusetts cities that made the list.  The full report can be found here – Wallethub 2019 Ranking of Small Cities.

  • #4 Melrose
  • #6 Lexington
  • #7 Milton
  • #11 Needham
  • #16 Newton
  • #18 Arlington
  • #35 Brookline
  • #37 Wakefield
  • #46 Wellesley
  • #52 Medford
  • # 67 Woburn
  • #72 Waltham
  • #79 Salem
  • #87 Somerville

Of these, Melrose, Lexington, Arlington, and Milton ranked high on Percentage of the Population who are insured.

Milton and Lexington ranked high on Lowest Crime rate.  Many of the MA cities ranked high on Safety – in this order – Lexington, Milton, Arlington, Melrose, Wellesley, Needham, Newton

Nearly all the MA cities ranked high in Education and Health – in this order –  Lexington, Arlington, Newton, Wellesley, Melrose, Needham, Brookline, Woburn, Milton,Wakefield, Medford, Norwood,Northampton, Waltham, Marlborough, Somerville. 

No surprise that none of the MA cities ranked high on affordability.

Salem ranked highest on Quality of life, by a wide margin! 

If you want to get real estate listings for any of these towns, just ask!

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

Open Houses in Newton Sept 14/15

With 127 Open Houses, there is lots to see!  Nice weather for it too.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Closed Sale in Norwood

Just sold this lovely home in Norwood Center.  A great result for the sellers, selling for far more than they anticipated!  They took good care of the home and took my advice in clearing out the house and letting me help with staging.

Stay tuned as I will have a similar house for sale in Norwood in the spring.   Contact me for more info.

If you are thinking of selling this fall or spring, now is the time to talk about staging and pricing.

 

                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

New to the Market in Newton Week of Sept 9th

New listings on the market the week of Sept 9th.

Lots to see this week and a beautiful weekend to see new listings.

https://bit.ly/2WaP0Ba

If you need help buying a home in Newton, contact me – info below.

 

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

Is the Boston Market Slowing Down?

Yes, it would seem so.   As a Realtor, I can tell you subjectively, that it feels as if it is.  Buyers are looking, but not buying or are lowballing homes that don’t sell right away (usually those that need work or are on busy roads).  One might think that is just the normal slow down as we approach winter.  So I ran the numbers to check. I chose two neighborhoods in Boston, a town north of, west of, and south of Boston.  I have run these numbers only for single family sales.  Otherwise, it becomes like comparing apples and oranges.   It can be tough to tell what is going on just by median price.  Any town can have a fluke in one month where a pricey home or two sold or a couple of particularly rundown homes sold.  So I have included numbers for Days on Market (DOM), # of Listings Sold and a snapshot number of houses on the market today vs a year ago.  You can see that overall, the number of listings sold is going down while days on market is going up.  These are indications of a slow down, seasonally adjusted.

At the end of the year, we will update our spreadsheet that shows the numbers for most Eastern MA towns for the year, and shows the trending over the past couple of decades.  That can be found here – 

Boston Area Home Values

Town Sept 2017 Sept 2018 Oct 2017 Oct 2018
Newton        
Median Price $1,107,500 $1,002,500 $960,000 $1,220,000
Days on Market 41 45 25 61
# of Listings Sold 48 37 37 31
# on Market     118 127
         
Malden        
Median Price $462,500 $473,200 $450,000 $528,888
Days on Market 22 25 32 18
# of Listings Sold 24 17 16 9
# on Market     14 34
         
Dedham        
Median Price $484,500 $465,000 $486,000 $522,500
Days on Market 38 42 39 27
# of Listings Sold 12 15 21 22
# on Market     44 51
         
Jamaica Plain        
Median Price 871,000 $897,500 $705,000 $1,067,500
Day on Market 23 89 70 21
# of Listings Sold 5 4 5 6
# on Market     8 7
         
West Roxbury        
Median Price $575,000 $677,000 $605,000 $600,000
Days on Market 51 33 42 29
# of Listings Sold 18 10 22 23
# on Market     20 30

 

So what does this mean for Boston area home owners? No need to panic, this is part of the normal cycle of real estate values. If you are not looking to sell, you’ll be fine over time – check our spreadsheet for proof of that!  If you want to sell next year it may mean that you will have to put money and work into presenting your home in the best possible light.  And you will have to be realistic about price.  Every town and every house are different, so if you want to know what you need to do to get your home sold either this winter or in the spring, just reach out to me so we can discuss.

What does it mean for Buyers?  You may not be fighting so many people in bidding wars moving forward.  There will still be bidding wars.  Because this is an area with affluent buyers who all want a move-in ready home with great spaces and details.  If they have to fight someone for that, they will.  It’s the homes that need work or are in less desirable locations where good deals will be found.  

Buyers do need to keep an eye on interest rates.  If they continue to rise, which I expect they will, that may further supress home prices.  But you’ll be making up those savings with what you pay in added interest.  

If you want the analysis for your particular town, just ask.  And if you need help buying or selling, I am here to help.

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Century 21 Commonwealth is now Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Commonwealth

Starting November 1st, I will be a part of the Berkshire Hathway HomeServices organization!  While I have enjoyed being affiliated with Century 21 these past 9 years, I am looking forward to the change.  Century 21 is a very established company with a global presence and many JD Powers awards under their belt.  And I am going to miss getting my Academy Award Statues from them.  🙂

However, I am excited about the change.  Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is the fastest growing Real Estate brand today with 47,000 agents worldwide.  And the brand was just recognized as Real Estate Agency Brand of Year and Most Trusted Real Estate Brand in the 2018 Harris Poll EquiTrend Study.

Personally, I feel the colors and branding of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices are more polished and better suited to a luxury brand in a luxury market.  My sellers will appreciate the more elegant home selling materials.

Nothing changes on the back end.  Commonwealth is simply changing their affiliation from Century 21 to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.  We still have the same 22 offices (and will be adding more), the same 500 agents, the same marketing, great service and all you have come to expect.  You will still reach me in all the same ways you did before. 

Here is a link to the full press release.

Please let me know if you have any questions on this change.

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

DO POT SHOPS DEVALUE HOMES?

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Massachusetts and the opening of shops in Newton potentially on the horizon, I am being asked if pot shops will negatively affect the value of homes in the vicinity of the shops.  The answer will surprise you – several studies on the subject all came to the same conclusion – pot shops increase the value of nearby homes. 

Almost all studies focus on Colorado given recreational sale of marijuana was legalized in January 2014, providing a good span of data to study.  But studies of states with at least 1 year of data show the same trend.

  1. Real Estate Economics, in this study, James Conklin and coauthors studied how the conversion of medical marijuana stores to recreational marijuana stores affected housing prices in Denver, CO. Their research provided strong evidence that homes located near such converted stores experienced a much higher increase in value than houses located farther away — as much as 8 per cent more.
  2. Economic Inquiry – in a recent article, Cheng Cheng and coauthors found almost similar results suggesting a 6 per cent premium in prices for homes sold in municipalities that legalized retail sales of marijuana, versus those that didn’t.
  3. Realtor.com found that since the first recreational pot shops opened, the median home price in the state jumped from $248,000 in the first half of 2014 to $298,000 in the first half of 2016. Realtor.com reports the four states with at least a year of experience with recreational marijuana sales showed a marked increase in home prices — well above the national median price.
  4. An academic study from two University of Mississippi economics professors, estimates that Colorado’s legalization of recreational cannabis and local governments’ approval of retail outlets within their jurisdictions increased housing values by an average of 6 percent.
  5. A second study, from the University of Wisconsin School of Business and economics researchers from two additional universities, focused on property values in Denver and found that homes near retail cannabis outlets — within just 0.1 miles — gained 8.4 percent more in value than houses just steps further away, from 0.1 to 0.25 miles. That big increase amounted to almost $27,000 for an average house.

SOME POSSIBLE REASONS FOR THE INCREASE IN VALUE

  1. Homes around marijuana dispensaries may have been subject to a discount prior to legalization, but that legalization with no ill effect, lifted the stigma around such homes. We’ll have to watch home values in Newton over time to know if that is happening here, but so far, that does not appear to be the case.
  2. Another is that the stores had economic effects that were highly localized and boosted the economic profiles of their specific neighborhood – more jobs, bringing customers into nearby shops, paying high commercial rents, etc.
  3. Legalization led to a surge in housing demand prompted by marijuana-related jobs. And, as existing residents become more willing to remain in place, the housing supply drops as demand rises, thus the increase in property values.

It is a different story for communities harboring grow houses.  Surrounding properties do lose value because the pungent odor the plant emits turns off home seekers.

Another concern around legalization is the claim it will encourage more crime and further reduce home values of those living near growers, manufacturers, and retailers. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report indicates a 3.5% increase since Jan 2014.  It’s important to note, however, the city began tracking marijuana-related crimes as well, which make up less than 1% of all offenses.  Experts believe the growth is tied to population growth and and not directly tied to the sale or use of the drug.

One could see that the incidents of people driving under the influence could increase.  Particularly if they are driving to a shop to get their pot.  But I suspect that if people are the type to drive under the influence, they are already doing so.

It is highly unlikely that someone is going to mug you for the pot you have in your pocket considering it is legal for everyone over the age of 21 to grow their own pot at home.  The opioid and heroin epidemic is a far greater concern when it comes to crime.  As Realtors, we warn our clients not to leave any pain medication in their medicine cabinets as addicts have been known to come to open houses and rifle through medicine cabinets.  No one is going to come through your house looking for your pot considering they can legally grow or buy it themselves.

The biggest concern is robbery of pot shops.  Because marijuana is not legalized on a federal level, shops are not able to take credit cards or checks.  They therefore, carry a lot of cash, which makes them susceptible to armed robbery.   The shops and the federal government are looking for solutions to this problem, so this could get solved over time.

So the targets of crime are the cultivators and shops.  There is no evidence that people who live around the facilities are at a higher risk of crime.

The bottom line is that evidence so far indicates that home values increase in neighborhoods where there are recreational marijuana dispensaries.

I believe right now, the biggest risk to home values is the natural ebb of the market.   It is natural for the market to soften after several years of growth and that seems to be happening now.  Buyers are being much more selective in what they will put an offer in on.  They want move-in ready houses with new kitchens and baths, Central A/C, recessed lights, newer roof, windows, mechanicals etc.  In other words, new or like-new homes, and are willing to pay a premium for those.  Houses that do not have all this are starting to languish.  Particularly as sellers believe they are riding a wave of ever increasing prices and are pricing their homes too high.

I’ll be writing another blog entry on this topic shortly so stay tuned.

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

Does Remodeling for a Home Sale make sense?

by Michelle J. Lane, Realtor

I often get asked by clients what they shoud do to prepare their home for the market.  The answer, unless the property makes sense for a builder, for the most part, is clean up, do necessary repairs and sell the property you have.

While nice kitchens and baths do sell a home, spending the money to renovate these right before a sale will net you less in the end.   The Remodeling ROI report for 2018 outlines the average cost of remodeling projects and the return on those costs.  You can see from the chart below that the only renovation that gives you a 100% return is replacing the garage door.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t do renovations on your home, just that you should do them several years before you sell your house so that you can get some enjoyment out of them first.  After all, that is part of the ROI.

So where to expend your effort if you are getting ready for a sale?  

  • Clear out all the extra junk in attics, basements, closets, etc.  If it is not going with you to the next place, sell, donate, trash.
  • Fix things that are broken.  Seeing visibly broken things affects the buyer’s perception of value.  Look around your house for broken panes of glass, rotted wood, holes in the walls, light switches that don’t work, have your furnace cleaned, touch up paint, etc.  Those things are worth addressing.
  • Curb appeal  – have the yard cleaned up, edged, plant some nice flowers.
  • Have the house professionally cleaned.

I deal a lot in estate sales.  I would say that for most of those, it is also worthwhile to take up the wall-to-wall carpeting that is covering hardwood floors and, if necessary, refinish the floors.  The impact of how much it transforms the house is worth the expense.  This is fairly easy to do with estate homes as they can be cleared out.  Understandably tough to do this for a house you still occupy.

If selling your home is a few years away, it is worthwhile to have your Realtor come in and walk through the house with you to give you a checklist of those things you can do to prepare your home for sale.  That way you can take your time getting the work done and can enjoy the rewards of getting it done before you go to market.

If you want help with that, just ask!

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904