Unexpectedly Intriguing!
24 September 2007

Home and Money How hot is the real estate market in your area? Is it heating up or cooling down? If you're thinking about selling, what price should you set for your house when listing it for sale?

These are classic questions for any homeowner at any time, but answering these questions offers special challenges when the housing market cools off dramatically after booming for an extended period of time. Writing in the New York Times, Austan Goolsbee describes the findings of a study that tells what happened when Boston condominium owners faced this situation when that housing market crashed in the early 1990s:

From 1989 to 1992, prices in Boston fell sharply, with condominium prices dropping as much as 40 percent. For a great many of those who bought condominiums during that period, selling could be done only at a significant loss. And, basically, many people refused to sell....

Properties listed above the market price just sat there. In the Boston market over all, sellers listed their properties for an average of 35 percent above the expected sale price, and less than 30 percent of the properties sold in fewer than 180 days. In other words, much of the market went into a deep freeze as many people held out for market prices that no one would reasonably pay.

Goolsbee notes that the aversion to loss that drove the Boston real estate market in the early 1990s may be an influential factor today:

Move ahead to September 2007. Many regions may be starting down a path like that of Boston’s market freeze of the 1990s. Wherever prices decline, look for lots of sellers holding out for unrealistic prices in a vain attempt to recoup their losses. It’s a hang-up that people have, and it can cause big problems. A number of houses with high prices just sit on the market while everyone waits.

Phoenix area realtor Jonathan Dalton offers a solution for this problem, which the homeowner's listing agent might use to both clearly communicate the state of the local housing market to the homeowner while also breaking the deep freeze that might be taking hold of the real estate market:

Take your home’s value back in November 2004 before the run began. Compute what your home’s value would be based on 5% annual appreciation. Then take the last sales price (or prices for currently active homes) and find the midpoint between that price and your adjusted home value.

For example: your home was worth $200,000 in 2004. Assuming 5% annual appreciation, your home would be worth roughly $231,000 now. If currently active homes are selling at $270,000, split the difference - $250,000.

Congratulations. You now have your list price.

Dalton indicates that pricing a home this way can seriously cut through the noise of an overpriced market and lead to a rapid sale (the title of his post is, after all, "Sell Your Phoenix Real Estate in Two Weeks"). BloodhoundBlog's Greg Swann likes this approach for cutting through the pricing hang-ups the homeseller might have (this is where the fish slapping comes into play!):

It’s possible that the price you arrive at by this method will be too low for current market conditions. But, at a minimum, you will have slapped your sellers upside the head with a cold wet fish, which just might get them thinking more rationally about pricing to the market.

For our part, here's a tool you can use to determine the listing price of your home using this method:

Home Value and Appreciation Data
Input Data Values
Pre-Housing Market Boom Value of Your Home (or a Similar Home)
Your Housing Market's Long-Term Rate of Property Value Appreciation (%)
Listed Price of Similar Homes Today
Number of Years Since Pre-Housing Market Boom Value Was Set

Suggested Listing Price
Calculated Results Values
Estimate of Home Value Based Upon Long Term Appreciation Rate
Suggested List Price of Home in Current Real Estate Market

What's nice about this approach is that a long-term homeowner still gets a good portion of the benefits of the run-up in home prices during the bubble period, while the homeowner who bought at the peak can limit their losses and avoid being locked into their overpriced homes indefinitely, hoping the market might recover enough someday to recoup their investment and thereby eliminating that element of uncertainty. Another plus is that if the home is indeed priced too low for current market conditions, as Greg Swann might fear, that would increase the likelihood of drawing multiple bids and increasing the negotiated sale price, which would greatly benefit the homeseller.

Austan Goolsbee would seem to support this kind of reality fish slapping. Here, he draws advice from Christopher Mayer, one of the economists behind the study of the Boston condominium market, in the final paragraphs of his article:

What is to be done? Well, if you are holding out for an above-market price to recoup your losses, perhaps you would do well to hear the advice that Professor Mayer gives his own family members.

"If you want to sell your house then you list it at the market price and you sell it," he said. "If you don't really want to sell then don't put it on the market. But don't say you want to sell and then set the price so high that you spend the year cleaning up every morning, having people walk through your living room and look in your medicine cabinets and reject you. That's just painful — and expensive."

His research offers a simple lesson for everyone out there waiting for a high price to push them back into the black: Get real.


Correction: We corrected the spelling of Austan Goolsbee's name in both the title and the post!

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