January 19, 2014
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Dollars
When it comes to selling your house, yes, pictures are truly worth a thousand dollars and more. Don't believe me? Redfin, a well respected Seattle technology driven real estate brokerage, studied this and published the results. In their article, they focused on using DSLR (Digital, Single, Lens, Reflex) cameras versus point and shoot. Redfin's conclusion was that for homes priced between $200,000 and $1,000,000, better photos resulted in a selling price increase differential of $3,400 to $11,200.
Google studied home buying trends throughout 2011 and 2012 and found that more than 90%of home buyers search online. Before internet, the curb appeal of your home was the single biggest selling feature. Today, curb appeal, while still important, takes a backseat to online photos. The first impression a buyer gets of your home is predominantly through online search.
In this era of easy photography, realtors can take out their point and shoot camera, a smartphone, or a tablet and have your home photos done in 5-10 minutes. Snap, Snap, that's that! These quick snap shots are a great tool to the realtor when they return to the office to do the written description of the property. But should they post these point and shoot photos to MLS? I say emphatically "No".
Consider, a buyer doing their real estate purchase research on the internet. Usually they query by area, price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and type of property. In Canada, an online www.realtor.ca (MLS) query will return to that buyer anywhere from 0-500 homes to view. That's pretty stiff competition. The single most important factor to whether an online looky loo clicks for more information on your property is how the listing cover photo compares to the others in the search results.
MLS allows listing realtors a maximum of 20 pictures for each listing. Your agent should work together with a professional photographer to maximize the opportunity that provides. Often that includes using all 20 listing photo spots, sometimes not. For smaller properties, fewer photos often have more impact, as the wow factor can be lost with too many shots of the same room or feature.
The key to great photography is the house looks better in photos than in person. In my experience, that is a good thing as the more buyers viewing your property increases the potential to sell it, and ultimately the price. For example, in one case the professional kitchen photos in an online listing caught the eye of a buyer searching online. When later physically viewing the property, it wasn't the kitchen but the backyard (particularly the apple and pear tree) that really piqued her interest. The backyard was very well featured in the photos, but it was the sounds, smells and "vibe" of the backyard and neighbourhood that she was drawn to. That buyer would never even have seen the backyard if not for the professional photography that drew her there.
The benefit to the professional photos in this case didn't stop there. What was key in keeping this buyer's attention was the professional photos were also included in a handout listing sheet that created an "offline" lasting impression. As she viewed other properties, the handout photos were a permanent reminder of the home that had earlier interested her. She ultimately returned to view the property again, and purchased it.
Sellers do not have to pay for professional photographs. It's part of many realtors' service. The professional photographers I have worked with have a keen eye for charming or elegant interiors, outstanding exteriors and landscaping. They use proper lighting and plan and execute their shots. They make buyers want to live in the homes realtors' feature. To get the best return on what is likely your biggest asset, ensure your realtor is using a professional photographer.
Mike Alleyne, Real Estate Agent
January 17, 2014
Bitcoin Makes a Quantum Leap
In late October, 2013, the first bitcoin ATM in Canada was unveiled at Waves Coffee Shop in downtown Vancouver, BC. On that day, one bitcoin was worth about $200. Today, less than three months later, a bitcoin is worth about $917. Actually, to be specific, at 7pm PST on January 16, 2014, the bitcoin was worth $917.30. I really do have to be specific about the time in case there are fact checkers out there. The value at end of today could be significantly different than the value right now.
Given that volatility, it was interesting that earlier today Global News reported that Quantum Properties, a developer located in Abbotsford, will accept bitcoins for deposits on property purchases of their residential developments. Quantum is not aware of any other developers accepting bitcoins, so they are certainly forging a new path in real estate. Diane Delves, the president and CEO of Quantum, believes that bitcoins are the way of the future and she's willing to accept the volatility in her business model.
Bitcoins are a virtual unofficial currency. They are on a long road towards credibility and acceptability in mainstream currency markets. They are complicated (at first blush) and traditionally were a "bit" shady, pardon the pun. Bitcoins originally made headlines by being the currency of choice for Silk Road, an illegal online black market, which has since been shut down.
The recent arrival of the bitcoin ATM in Vancouver, followed by the annoucement today by Quantum, shows that bitcoins are here to stay. The bitcoin ATM is relatively simple to use and newbies to virtual currency can watch an instructional video on Youtube before venturing to Waves. The Vancouver bitcoin ATM transactions are limited by Canadian government regulations to $3,000 per day, making the machine is a bit impractical for real estate purchases.
However; Quantum and other forward thinking real estate brokers and developers can open up a bitcoin wallet account by providing the appropriate documentation and entering the virtual unofficial currency world. Online bitcoin transactions are relatively quick and the fees are fairly insignificant. Bold move Quantum!
January 11, 2014
Prepare Yourself for Mortgage Renewal - A Cautionary Tale
My daughter, Jessica, recently received her mortgage renewal papers in the mail. As the end of her first mortgage term grew near, the bank had automatically sent her paperwork for another 4 years.
Jess said her proposed new mortgage rate was 5.3% for four years. I thought I'd misheard, or maybe her young eyes were deceiving her. Maybe she needed her dad's new trifocals. Surely, she must have mistaken the 5.3% for 3.3%. But no, the rate truly was 5.3%, which is at least 2% above the market
Good grief, don't sign those papers! Jess and I talked about the rates currently posted in the paper, her doing online research, and her calling competing banks for quotes. She had used a mortgage broker when she initially signed her mortgage. But it is common practice on mortgage renewal for the bank to negotiate directly with their clients. Once Jessica did her homework she called the bank and questioned the rate. The bank on reflection told her that they'd inadvertently given her an old rate. Really like from back in 2009? Given my daughter's experience, here are eight tips for mortgage renewal:
- Do not automatically accept the rate proposed by your bank
- Prepare early --- don't let the renewal date get too close and lose your negotiating power
- Remember if you are changing financial institutions you'll have to requalify (which likely will not be a problem if your financial situation is the same or better as when you first qualified).
- Keep yourself informed, learn what the market is doing
- Get better than the bank's posted rate
- Watch out for the blend and extend. Tell the bank want to know the rates they are using and compare to market
- Don't be afraid to change lenders. There is no penalty at the renewal time.
- If you don't like to negotiate, use a mortgage broker, they will get you the best rate available
I ran a quick amortization schedule using Jess' proposed rate and the rate she ultimately received. The difference she would have paid in interest over the four years would have been approximately $17,000!
Mike Alleyne, Real Estate AgentHomeLife Benchmark604-785-7066
January 9, 2014
Depreciation Reports Will Affect Buyer Decisions
December 13, 2013 was the long anticipated deadline for British Columbia strata corporations to produce condo depreciation reports. I imagine this had some strata councils of older buildings quaking in their boots. In the grand scheme, the report is good for property owners, sellers and buyers in the market because decision making power and comfort comes with information. In the short run, this report may "spook" some potential strata purchasers (particularly of older buildings).
The depreciation report is based on the onsite inspection of the major assets of the building including: roof, decks and balconies, club house facilities, air conditioning, paving, siding, elevators, boilers, water delivery, electrical, drainage systems, etc. The depreciation report also sets out the current condition of a strata building and its life expectancy.
This is powerful information for a buyer who will now know far more detail about their anticipated purchase than ever before. Consider a purchaser weighing the option of buying a new townhouse with smaller square footage or an older one with a very spacious floor plan. Both have newer finishings such as granite countertops, fixtures and cabinetry. The older townhome has been newly remodelled. The life expectancy and of the building and future anticipated levies are very key pieces of information. As the building depreciates, so too does that part of your asset. No amount of remodelling inside your suite is going to extend the life of the external building structure. On the other hand, the building may be well built and maintained and the life expectancy of the older building is far longer than you anticipated. The information in the report is key in this situation and will likely give the buyer the additional information needed to make the decision between new and old.
For most of us, a home is one of the most significant purchases of a lifetime. The depreciation report may "out" potential special levies that have been long needed and not dealt with or just not known. In the past, strata owners often were not given appropriate time to plan for these sometimes onerous and long term additional payments.
The long term benefit of these depreciation reports will positively affect buyers and sellers. For the first time strata owners will have in their hands a tool that can peeks decades into the future. This will allow them to pace repairs and have a more well maintained asset to sell when the time comes.
In the short run, I anticipate that the report may lengthen the sales cycle on older stratas (i.e., the buying decision for purchasers). This will ultimately effect 2014 strata property sales. Buyers simply have more information to factor into their decision. I suspect, the winter market will somewhat mask the impact of the reports on strata sales. We will only know the true effect of the reports on the strata market from realtor feedback and by analyzing the data in the busier real estate market the spring will provide.
I am strongly in favour of the report however I do have some concerns with its implementation. I'll do a follow up blog(s) on two subjects concerning the report that buyers, sellers and realtors should be aware of:
1. Stratas waiving the requirement for the report
2. The Report Preparation
January 7, 2014
Should You Request an Increase in BC Assessment Property Value?
Yesterday I blogged on the method BC Assessment values properties in BC. I promised to do a follow up today. Reading the title of this Blog you think I'm crazy, but I'll repeat it. Should a Property Owner Request an Increase in BC Assessment Property Value? Huh? Yes, you read it right the second time as well.
The short answer is "No", but that's not the only answer. If you let sleeping dogs lie, you will likely not have an increase in property taxes if you have made no significant changes to your property. In fact, as newly built houses pop up with higher values in your neighbourhood, comparatively your value goes down as your house ages. The only reason your property taxes would increase in this circumstance is if your city budget increases and the property tax percentage rate increases to meet the budget.
So ... why on earth would anyone in their right financial mind request an increase in the assessed value and ultimately pay more property taxes? There is one reason: Your house is undervalued and you intend to sell it within the next year.
Buyers will look for any reason to pay less than the listed price for your home. In fact, they almost always pay attention to the most recent BC Assessment, and in my experience they have a really hard time paying over the assessed value.
I'm going to create a not too uncommon situation to illustrate how this could play out. Jill's's home is assessed at $682,000, but realistically she is very confident that it would sell closer to $750,000. This is not just her opinion, she's also had a realtor give her a CMA (comparative market analysis) at that price as well. If you remember my blog from yesterday, the BC Assessment valuator rarely enters your home, so the realtor would have more tools for a proper valuation.
Buyers and realtors both know that BC Assessments can be wrong. Despite this knowledge, as a realtor I know first hand that buyers often really fixate on the assessed value. They are justifiably scared that they are overpaying if the assessed price is lower than the list price. So you see where I'm going with this? A buyer, Jack, is now interested in the property in the above situation but is only comfortable going to $722,000. Other buyers are also spooked by the $40,000 discrepancy the BC assessed value. Jack will go no higher, Jill will go no lower. They are just too far apart and that deal dies.
So, if in the scenario above, let's start over and Jill, knowing she intended to sell, successfully got their Property Assessment increased to a level closer to what the list price would be --- say new valuation of $738,000. Jack, the potential buyers is now far more in his comfort zone. After all, the BC Assessment is close to the list price. The Offer and Counter go smoothly and the the property ultimately sells for $746,000. In this case, the buyer sold for $24,000 higher than above with the wrong assessment holding them back. A home will sell for whatever the market dictates and the market is rarely wrong, if all parties are using accurate information.
In the first scenario, the buyer did not get the property they desired and the seller did not get their fair price. In the second scenario above, the deal closed at the market value, and the buyer and seller are both pleased. Also, the buyer should be neutral to the fact that the BC Assessment was increased before the purchase because, the BC Assessors keep track of sales and their subsequent BC Assessment as new owners would have gone up anyway based on the sale price.
Like George Peppard always said on the A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together".
January 6, 2014
Property Tax Assessments - The Process
First of all let me say "Happy 40th Anniversary" to BC Assessment. Now I 'm not about to send them rubies but I am a little in awe of them this year. It's their social media that's grabbed my attention. They have Youtube, Linked In, Twitter and Facebook all linked to their website explaining their processes. The technology "love in" doesn't stop there, the Property Assessment Notices now have QR codes (a code that can be scanned by a smart phone for quick information). I must say I'm a little impressed with what traditionally has been considered a boring old crown corporation.
Now, if you are a property owner in BC, you will have opened your mailbox this week to receive your 2014 property tax assessment. Did you wonder how they arrived at their valuation of your property?
Most often, a BC Assessment Appraiser does not actually enter your yard or home to value it. They don't even drive by. Despite this, less than 2% of assessments in BC are appealed. Here's why.
BC Assessment has almost 300 Assessors that review the property location and view, lot size, home square footage, home age, and comparative recent sales in the neighbourhood as of July 1 of each year. They also go further and compile information from land titles and building and reno permits. They also send out self reporting questionnaires to property owners. For those of you who feel compelled to fess up to a material improvement, BC Assessment would not otherwise know of, you don't have to wait to be selected randomly for a self reporting questionnaire, you can complete it online. Part F is a comments section and you can tell BC Assessment everything you want them to know.
All the secondary information on changes in condition and material upgrades is factored in effective October 31. In this era of online information, there is very little property information an Assessor cannot obtain from afar. Once the value of your home is established, your property goes up and down (mostly up), just the same as Adam across the street, Neil next door, or Bal a block over.
If your property value stayed the same, or went down, you likely breathed a sigh of relief and filed it away. If you property value assessment went up, you likely had more thinking to do.
Now I don't want to sound like I drink the BC Assessment Kool-Aid and just accept it. In fact, my brother-in-law had his assessment spike several years in a row. He appealed successfully. He keeps me on the straight and narrow on accepting the BC Assessment valuations without question. The erraticness of values in his neighborhood and stability of ours is an ongoing thorn in his side (which he good naturedly continues to imply BC Assessment favourtism towards our neighbourhood).
The bottom line is that if you want to appeal your assessment, BC Assessment encourages you to speak to an Assessor first. Do this, because if you go on to appeal, the information they provide will likely form part of your appeal. Upon appeal, an Assessor will take a second look at the data, and may actually physcially view the property. There is some risk that your assessment could actually go up, but that is unlikely if you have done your homework on comparative properties before submitting your appeal. BC Assessment does provide EValueBC services so that you may compare your property value to your neighbourhood.
If you would like to Appeal your Assessment, the deadline for appeal is January 31, 2014 and there is an online form that you can complete and submit.
I have some thoughts on why you'd appeal to have the value increased .... more on this topic tomorrow.
Mike Alleyne, Real Estate AgentHomeLife Benchmark604-785-7066