New England Market Outlook

The housing market across the country, and especially in Boston and New England, is experiencing a growth trend that’s accelerated over the last few years. The median home and condo prices in the U.S. have dramatically risen, reaching a record high in early 2019. Despite the continued appreciation, both real estate economists and the general public are starting to worry about the shadow of a second recession (the dramatic downturn of 2007 still on their minds). With this apprehension in mind, we’ll discuss some of the things to expect from the housing market in the second half of 2019, going into 2020.

 

The Housing Market Is Going Strong… for Now

The year 2019 started with a bang, and this wasn’t even news. Ever since 2012, home prices have been on the rise, reaching unprecedented numbers in some markets. The Greater Boston Area is a good example: in March 2019, the median price for single-family homes hit a record-breaking $377,000. According to the latest CoreLogic HPI Forecast released in May 2019, home prices have increased by 3.7% year over year from March 2018. This trend may continue into the next year with home prices expected to increase by 4.8% on a year-over-year basis from March 2019 to March 2020. Also, the Case Shiller Home Price Index in the United States reached an all-time high of 215.68 Index Points in April of 2019.

There are several other encouraging factors. One of them is the arrival of a new pool of homebuyers (the Millennial generation) on the housing market. Despite their reputation for refusing to settle down, Millennials⁠—compared to older generations⁠—account for the greatest share of primary home loan originations. This number should continue to increase as more and more members of this age group reach their prime home-buying years. Low interest rates continue to support strong demand, and experts anticipate these rates will remain low for the foreseeable future.

After estimating in late 2018 that 30-year mortgage rates could reach 5.1% for 2019, Freddie Mac revised this estimate down to 4.3% and projects it will remain low in 2020 at 4.5%. Finally, unemployment rates are minimal as well at 3.7% in June 2019, a minor increase from a 49-year low of 3.6% in the previous month.

 

Housing Market Growth May Be Slowing Down

The housing market is starting to show signs that the unbridled growth of the past few years may be coming to an end. This will be a relief for aspiring buyers burdened by dwindling inventory, high prices, and competition, particularly in hot markets like the Bay Area and Greater Boston.

The number of listings available on the market has progressively improved in recent months across the country, with unsold inventory reaching a 4.3-month supply at the current sale pace. This is an improvement from the 4.2 months of supply of the previous month, but still a long way shy of the six months’ supply required in a balanced market. Although house prices remain on the rise, they are increasing at a slower pace than they have in recent years.

This gradual upturn in the quantity of available housing does not necessarily mean that new buyers will find suitable housing wherever they want, as affordability remains a major concern in many markets. The San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Boston are still out of reach for most buyers despite an increase in inventory and a reduced number of bidding wars. The rise in stock is not always due to the appearance of new listings, but also the result of properties sitting on the market. In New England, the increase in the number of listings—especially in the single-family home market—is barely keeping up with the demand boosted by favorable mortgage interest rates. The best-faring markets in this area are the ones that remain relatively affordable for most buyers, notably Rochester, NY.

 

Rising Prices and Diminishing Affordability

The real estate market is by nature cyclic and it is clear that the housing market will not maintain this pace in the long term. As a result, economists and homeowners are wondering how sustainable the current housing trend is, with numerous experts pointing to 2020 as the onset of the next recession.

In many cities across the country, housing prices are back to (if not above) their pre-2008 levels, and potential buyers are struggling to secure reasonably priced housing. This affordability issue is a key reason many industry stakeholders believe the real estate market is due for a correction, particularly in inflated markets.

It is unlikely that we will see a real estate crash comparable to the one we experienced a decade ago. Firstly, lending requirements (which were one of the critical factors of the 2008 financial crisis) are very different today. Also, the market’s key players are continually learning from past mistakes; banks now apply strict standards to select potential borrowers. Appraisers who reported feeling pressured by lending institutions in 2007 have been working towards establishing appraiser independence and higher education requirements to improve industry standards.

 

Should You Be Worried About the Housing Forecast?

Trends indicate that the market will slow down in the short term–to the relief of home buyers dealing with the listing shortage and high prices. However, the chances for a 2008-like real estate crisis are remote. If an economic crisis takes place, it will most likely be due to political and financial factors rather than the state of the housing market.

Where do you think we’re headed?

Please leave a comment with your thoughts and questions:

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Green Solar Panel Appraisals Boston Massachusetts

From eliminating disposable straws to banning single-use plastic bags, reducing human impact on the environment is at the forefront of many citizens’ minds in recent years. As a result, the real estate industry is progressively adopting ecology-minded trends, resulting in the gradual emergence of green buildings (both commercial and residential) across the country. Green buildings are defined as properties that use renewable energy and efficient building materials in their operation, construction, and design to create positive impacts on human and environmental health. One of the key technologies that embody this growing shift towards sustainability is Photo Voltaic (PV), otherwise known as solar panels. Although we can rejoice that the green building movement is becoming more mainstream, the question of whether or not this energy source and other green features add value to a property is still up in the air.

Property owners are often surprised when the time comes to estimate the fair market value of their green building. Many appraisers believe that these green features, although expensive, add little value to the property, while potential buyers find these features appealing and valuable. This dichotomy between the perceived value of the property and the one reflected in the appraisal can lead to many issues when selling or refinancing. Let’s explore how solar panels and other green features add value to real property.

Solar Panels and Other Green Features Are a Good Investment

The good news for owners of green buildings is that several studies demonstrate that they tend to sell for more than the average property. In the residential world, a 2015 report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concludes that houses equipped with solar panels sell for $14,329 more on average than a non-solar comparable property, which represents a 3.74% increase. Other recent reports support these findings, with green homes selling, on average, for 2.19% to over 8% more than traditional buildings, depending on the property’s features and location.

Given the significant investment that these features represent, particularly if they are added once the building is already built, the previously mentioned numbers seem low. However, the most compelling argument for installing solar panels or other eco-conscious elements in a building remains that they pay for themselves in the long run, as the owners save money every month on their energy bill. For commercial buildings, green features like solar panels can significantly decrease their operating expenses. Additionally, tax credits for commercial and residential buildings are an added incentive for those who install energy-efficient products or renewable energy systems in their property. Finally, as technology progresses, these elements will become not only more efficient but also more affordable.

With analysts predicting that energy prices will continue rising in the coming years, it is likely that green features, such as photo voltaic, will become more widespread and something that buyers will demand and be willing to pay more money for.

The Other Side of the Coin: The Appraisal Process Doesn’t Always Reflect the Contributed Value of Green Features

Sometimes, appraisals do not reflect the perceived value of these improvements, to the dismay of building owners.

This is due in part to the fact that, to establish the market value of a property, appraisers must present in their report comparables with similar features to support the opinion of value. Although green buildings are becoming more popular in some markets, often at the initiative of the state—for example, California’s goal is to have 33% renewable energy by 2020 and 50% renewable by 2030—they are still scarce in many parts of the country. In the absence of green comparables, appraisers have little evidence to conclude that solar panels and other features add value to a building.

To objectively derive the additional value that solar panels contribute the property, appraisers turn to the discounted cash flow (DCF) method. DCF consider the present value of the future cash flows (or savings) that the array will generate over a given period of time.

While DCF is useful, some appraisers lack the specialized training needed to fully consider the value of these features. They have little incentive to educate themselves on the subject, especially if green buildings are not prevalent in their area and if the chances that they will need to value one are slim. Appraisers specializing in green buildings exist, but they can be few and far between in geographic areas where green technologies have yet to catch up.

Finally, with the constant changes in technology, the information required by an appraiser to evaluate the added value of each feature accurately is not always available. Some features are not visible to the untrained eye, and unless the owner informs the appraiser of which elements are present on the property and their characteristics, he or she may easily miss them.

Keeping Up with Green Trends: Appraisers Are Catching Up Quickly

Nevertheless, with more green buildings constructed, bought and sold every day, the issue of finding appropriate comparables will diminish over time. Moreover, the appraising community is making a conscious effort to catch up with these trends. Companies are offering specialized training to educate appraisers on the different features to take into consideration when valuing a building and how to incorporate them in an appraisal.

The Appraisal Institute (AI), which is the largest professional association of real estate appraisers in the United States, released “The Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum” in 2011 (updated in 2017) to help appraisers communicate the green features of a property transparently and efficiently in the appraisers’ reports. AI is also at the forefront of green building education for appraisers with its Valuation of Sustainable Buildings Professional Development Program.

How can building owners ensure that green features are reviewed in an appraisal?

Appraising a new feature is always a challenge, and it can take time for the perceived value to be reflected in the appraisal, based on sales comparison. Builders, homeowners, and real estate agents should prepare to provide the appraiser with all the documentation necessary to identify the characteristics of each green feature and prove that these features contribute to the value of the property by saving money every month. Detailed technical specifications, HERS rating, comparative energy bills, etc., help the appraiser to support the added value for each high-performing and energy-efficient element.

Have you encountered a situation where a building’s features were not reflected in an appraisal? How was the situation resolved?

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Estate Appraisals in Massachusetts: Everything You Need to Know

When a family member passes away, his or her relatives can be overwhelmed quickly. Not only are they grieving, but they must also take care of the legal obligations and paperwork necessary to settle the deceased’s estate. And because real estate properties are usually the most significant financial asset of the deceased, establishing their fair market value is a priority.

Whether the plan is to sell the property, pass it on to the designated heir(s), or estimate how much obligatory taxes will be paid on the estate, it is important to know the exact worth of the property at the time of the owner’s death. If the estate is going through probate, an accurate inventory of the decedent’s possessions—including any real estate properties—is required.

In any case, the most reliable way to find out the fair market value of a home is to order an estate appraisal, also known as a time-of-death appraisal or probate appraisal. Here is everything to keep in mind regarding this critical element of any estate settlement procedure.

What Is an Estate Appraisal?

After a death, it is often necessary to establish an exhaustive list of the deceased’s possessions, including what is often the most valuable asset: real property. Even if the deceased had a will, a time-of-death appraisal may still be required to settle his or her estate. This unique appraisal type is employed to distribute the estate equitably among the heirs, to plan the estate’s future, and to calculate the estate tax incurred.

If probate is necessary—as is the case when the owner passes away intestate (without a will) or when issues arise regarding the existing will—the court usually demands a detailed inventory of the estate, including the cash value of the decedent’s home as of the date of his or her death.

As such, the executor of the estate or the legal representatives should be prepared to order an estate appraisal promptly. To do so, they need the assistance of a professional real estate appraiser. Licensed real estate appraisers are neutral third parties with no interest in the future sale of the property. They produce objective reports that are defensible in court and will resolve disputes over value that may emerge later.

Understanding the Estate Appraisal Process: A Practical Way to Ease Probate Burdens

In most cases, an estate appraisal assesses the property’s value as of the deceased’s date of death (DoD). The effective date of the appraisal is not the day the appraiser inspected the property (which is usually the case in other forms of appraisal), but prior. This type of appraisal is known as a retroactive appraisal or historical appraisal and is ordered months, or even years, after the property owner passed away. To determine property value, the appraiser needs access to information regarding the property such as retrospective photographs, a detailed list of the improvements made since the decedent passed away, and other supporting documents.

Additionally, the cost of an estate appraisal depends on many factors, including the size and location of the property. Occasionally, any of the following conditions may elevate estate appraisal prices: the retroactive appraisal requires extensive research by the appraiser, the information is not easily accessible, or the effective date is in the distant past.

The appraiser will inspect the property without taking into account the improvements that may have been made after the decedent’s death, and he or she will compare it to properties in a similar condition that sold proximate to the date of death. Although it is not always immediately required (if the property is held in a living trust, for instance), a date-of-death appraisal will likely be needed at some point.

Estate Appraisals and Taxes: The IRS Are Also Involved in Inheritance

When an estate has a transfer of ownership due to death or inheritance, the Internal Revenue Service will demand the homeowner’s relatives provide an appraisal showing the property’s market value. The property is usually appraised as of the deceased owner’s date of the death; however, the IRS may permit an alternate valuation date (AVD), which is up to six months after the date of death of the owner. A time-of-death appraisal is pertinent if the market has declined and the estate has decreased in value over time. Two appraisals are required in this case: one based on DoD and another with an AVD.

If the property is placed in a trust, the IRS will insist on an appraisal after the death of the final grantor, to determine the value of the estate and establish the basis of the property held in trust. The IRS uses the information obtained to confirm whether or not (a) the estate value exceeds the currently enacted exemption amount ($11.4 million for 2019) and (b) the estate is subject to estate tax, commonly known as the ‘death tax.’ The federal tax code allows estates to exclude a portion of value in a tax year—up to a certain threshold—from being subject to estate tax. Estates may also be subject to state taxes, depending on the state of residence of the decedent; these state estate taxes often have a threshold level lower than federal.

Knowledge Is Power: A Summation of the Estate Valuation Process

Overall, estate appraisals are often necessary, mainly because they are essential to facilitating estate settlement and help solve many issues preemptively. When family members are actively mourning, the last thing they need is an insensitive approach to property valuation, which will only further compound their sorrow. To avoid the emotional consequences of drawn-out property valuations, the first step is to create a comprehensive record of the deceased’s assets. Secondly, the heirs, executor, or attorney should order an appraisal. Before doing that, however, they should seek professional help to determine what kind of appraisal they need (typically a retroactive appraisal or historical appraisal). Lastly, it is worth noting that the IRS will get involved at some point; hence, the grieving heirs should prepare for this eventuality. The best way to proceed is for inheritors and their representation to brace for potential litigation and the IRS’s participation by equipping themselves with relevant and timely information on value and the estate settlement process.

If you’ve ordered an estate appraisal before, what are your recommendations for someone currently facing this situation?

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Divorce Appraisals in Massachusetts: Answering Settlement Process Questions

Even in the best-case scenario, divorce is a difficult and emotional time for any couple. Besides child custody, deciding the fate of the family home is often one of the major issues and sources of conflict. Not only is there an emotional attachment to the family home, but it is usually the most significant shared asset and the result of years of financial investment for both parties. As a result, most state courts require a recent appraisal as part of the divorce property settlement to establish the value of the property.

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The variety of real property that appraisers are asked to review are nearly limitless. This is particularly true of commercial appraisers whose assignments may include appraising vacant land, office buildings, retail complexes, industrial properties, and special use buildings. Licensed and certified appraisers must be competent enough to perform any assignments they accept; however, no one appraiser is expected to be knowledgeable about every type of real estate in every location. Fortunately, there are clear guidelines for appraisers to follow to ensure their appraisals are always performed competently.

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Real estate appraisals can be used to serve a wide range of purposes: selling, buying, refinancing, or settling an estate. However, the most common goal of an appraisal is to establish the market value of a property. Although the concept of market value (sometimes also called Fair Market Value) is frequently mentioned in the real estate business, it is not always understood. It is type of value opinion among others definitions of value. It is essential to define what market value represents to understand its relevance to an appraisal.

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Given the growth of the real estate market and gradual stabilization of values as we approach the top of the market, it’s more important than ever to evaluate the equity position in our portfolios and make educated and informed decisions to keep holding or pursue an exit strategy. Appraisal plays a critical role in the investment process and can lend considerable insight to your approach.

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Appraisals express value as the monetary relationship between properties and those who buy, sell or use those properties, as defined by the Uniform Standards of Professional Practice(USPAP). Fundamental to appraisal practice is the idea of comparing the subject of an assignment to other properties. The Sales Comparison Approach is the foundation of appraisal analysis: appraisers apply its techniques not only in that approach but also in the Cost Approach and Income Approach. Competent appraisers recognize the components by which buyers and sellers judge properties and then measure those components relative to a subject property.

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Since 2015, legislative officials of Boston have been developing legislation concerning residential evictions in the city. Even though that legislation has failed to advance in the Massachusetts legislature, its proponents continue to work on a revised version for 2019. Residential real estate values are likely to be affected whether or not the bill is ultimately enacted into law.

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Appraisers frequently have their work reviewed, especially when an appraisal’s intended use is for financing. Reviewing appraisals is routinely part of the job description for appraisers employed by lending institutions. But the scope of work for review assignments varies significantly, and sometimes reviews are performed by non-appraisers. Both appraisers and their clients need to clearly understand when a review assignment is, in fact, an appraisal and whether an appraiser can conduct an accurate appraisal review.

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