Probably more than any other time of year, it seems like the onset of fall in St. Louis triggers an impulse to get things done! True, there is a similar phenomenon in the spring when many an ambitious cleaning project is sprung. But those impulses are not mysterious—especially when they follow long stretches of weather-induced indoor confinement. It’s a jailbreak.
Autumn is different. In addition to being the year’s “last, loveliest smile,” it often sets off an impatience to get things done. Although that autumnal get going! impulse can also seem to be triggered by the latest weather, there must be more to it than that. The knowledge that winter is on the distant horizon could be part of it. At any rate, there does seem to be some kind of internal mechanism that tells people now is a good time to move major projects off the shelf and into motion.
The reason may well be astrophysical (I thought the word was “astronomical”—but when you look it up, that’s not quite right). This is the time of year when our planet’s voyage around the Sun causes the daylight hours in St. Louis to grow noticeably shorter; the nights longer. For primitive humans struggling to survive, the ones who connected the weakening with time to gather and store extra food would definitely have been rewarded. Those would have been the ones who were around to greet the spring. Most likely, our own ancient ancestors would have been among them.
Some modern St. Louis homeowners who are beginning to take notice of the shorter daylight hours may have already done some summer garden produce jarring and canning, so the food-gather instinct may be less in evidence. But if we sense anything like the same kind of ancient impulse, it can be put to good use by turning it into a tour around the house to check on a few items:
Door and window seal integrity
Clean cooling devices
Exterior cracks (and plumbing and cable entrance points)
Each is the kind of maintenance detail that, taken together, can make a sizeable difference in your peace of mind come winter. If it’s been more than a year or two since the last dedicated inspection, the rewards in terms of winter utility bills can also be noticeable.
In case the impulse to get all in readiness has anything to do with your ultimate intention to put your St. Louis home on the market in 2017, this really is a great time to initiate a decisive first step. The easy first item that will get things rolling: call me!
The art of selling a home begins with the St. Louis listings. Much serious study is continuously given to what works best when it comes to listing language and detail, yet a good deal remains a purely creative exercise.
That qualifying “somewhat” is necessary because creating a St. Louis listing does have a scientific component. In fact, of the two most important elements (that is, the two that listing readers pay the most attention to), one is mathematical. The first is the artistic “hero shot” photo of the home, ideally pictured at its curb-appealing best. The second is the asking price, which is an unambiguous number of dollars.
The photo grabs attention either by fitting a pleasing archetype—or by just being pretty. The asking price number works (or fails to work) by either being too high, just right, or intriguingly low. If it’s too high, the listing price can sometimes draw further attention out of curiosity (“what are they thinking?”)—but will probably result in listing readers moving on. If the number is just right or lower than expected, serious house hunters will be engaged—taking the first step toward a showing and sale.
Further down as influencers are each of the listed facts about the property. Any one or two of these might either pique further interest or take the place out of the running. But St. Louis listings also contain another creative element: the language. Modifying adjectives can persuade by setting a mood or a tone—or even making a promise. Accuracy is paramount—when I compose a listing, I’m summoning the most exciting language that accurately describes the property, because exaggerating can spoil the atmosphere when we get to the showing stage.
A few years back, IBM’s app Wordle was used to address the question of what the most frequently used listing words were. After analyzing 300,000 listings, the resulting compilation demonstrates that almost all the top rankers had adjectives attached:
2. Hardwood (with “floors”)
3. stainless (with “steel appliances”)
5. great (with “room”)
8. wood burning (with “fireplace”)
There were also some creative action-oriented phrases:
9. Priced to sell
10. Build your dream (with “home” or “house”)
11. Must see
12. Move-in ready
Listings are the Grand Opening of the business venture that is the selling of your St. Louis home. I make it a focus as we launch that venture—but it’s only one step in the process that ultimately ends in your handing off the front door keys to your satisfied customer!
You can find how-to books with strategies laying out do-it-yourself strategies for transforming a property into a “luxury” home. Likewise, there are scads of online lists of imaginative touches that imply they will do the same.
The idea is certainly appealing (but so is anti-gravity and time travel). But of course, the fact is that authentic luxury doesn’t come cheap. A significant portion of the qualities of St. Louis luxury homes distinctions are intractable: in St. Louis, they involve a home’s location, size, and the architectural features of the overall facility. For instance, most upscale St. Louis luxury homes have a spacious living room; today, many feature an inviting area set aside for viewing a gargantuan wall-mounted flat screen TV. That’s a plus—but those with separate, professionally installed media rooms are a step closer to falling into the “luxury home” category.
It turns out that when you look at many of the lists touting “Simple Touches That Make a Luxury Home,” most are either not so simple, extremely expensive, or both. That’s not to say that actually employing some of the ideas might not pay off in terms of resale, but most involve substantial expense (and consequent risk). Still, there are other lists with more realistic titles— like “Adding a Touch of Luxury to Your Home” with ideas that involve more imagination than budget. They may not propel a simple property into the luxury class, but they can make a real contribution to a home’s livability and appeal—
Layer floor coverings: strategic placing of throw rugs over hardwood or carpeting adds dimension and interest
Improve visual coherence with wall cases, shelving, cabinetry or closed storage solutions (all these ideas actually systematically reduce clutter)
Furnish to create focal points—every room can use an eye-catching center of attention
Splash color: pillows on sofas; towels in bathrooms; pictures on hallway walls
Rethink lighting: consider lamps and fixtures as key décor items rather than just light sources
Add crown molding, chair rails, and baseboards—where surfaces meet, these simple architectural touches add subtle grace
The luxury home category rightfully describes the upper echelons of St. Louis residences—and their price tags reflect it. But imaginative, tasteful décor doesn’t have to be overwhelming to add appeal to any residence. You don’t have be putting your own home on the market to add some extra touches of luxury. But when that time does come, I hope you’ll call me to help!
Whenever a month’s St. Louis real estate activity ends on a Friday, the number-gatherers close up shop knowing there will be a longer than usual lapse until they can be sure of the St. Louis real estate activity statistics.
That creates a breather for those of us who keep abreast of St. Louis real estate. It’s a perfect opening to turn to real estate doings around the country—to see what noteworthy happenings took place in the last month or so. September 2016 did produce a few news items—these three rate at least a quick glance (or a double-take).
The lead item is one that rates a triple-take: it concerns a storage barn that sold for $1,800,000. Built in Little Compton, Rhode Island, the structure was originally erected as a storage barn by the Army in WWII. It was converted into “a custom shingle-style” home, which was surely a shrewd improvement since shingles have to be a noticeable improvement over what the wartime Army shed-builders would have had to work with.
In fact, as reported by the Providence Journal, “the former storage barn…has water views from nearly every room.” The accompanying photo confirmed that, indeed, windows had been added. If the casual reader jumps to the conclusion that a $1.8 million closing would be the occasion for celebration from the sellers, that was probably not the case: the former storage barn had been listed for $2,195,000.
Elsewhere, CNBC’s real estate editor Diana Olick reported on a national trend: a slowdown in on-time closings from 77% six months ago to 64%. This is despite a rise in housing demand. Unearthed was a reason: a “massive” shortage in appraisers—“the men and women who value homes and whom mortgage lenders depend upon.” Part of the blame was assigned to new federal regulations that disallow apprentices to conduct full appraisals. Now their licensed bosses must be on-site for every inspection.
Over the weekend, The New York Times found little interesting domestic news, so they led instead with an international report, “House Hunting in Costa Rica.” The item focused on a two-story home in the “very clean and quiet” Arenal Lake area. A local real estate broker’s advice for house hunters was to shop with caution despite the area’s current “tremendous” buyer’s market. “I always tell my clients, don’t leave your brain in the plane.” That’s probably sage advice, especially since the area is named for a local “popular tourist attraction,” the Arenal Volcano. It’s an active stratovolcano that’s thought to be “in a passive phase” since around 2010.
Closer to home, I can report that I never need to remind my St. Louis house hunting clients to keep their brains active: they fully understand that from the get-go. I hope you’ll give me a call when you decide it’s time to check out our St. Louis real estate offerings. I can guarantee that no active or passive stratovolcanos will complicate matters!
Posted by belsner under Real Estate Investment
If you go looking for insights from successful St. Louis real estate investors, depending on which areas they concentrate on, you could come up with a variety of takes. Despite the distinct differences that separate the commercial and residential investment spheres, there are some time-worn truisms about the real life experience that would have most investors nodding their heads—
1. Expect to work at it. The myth of buying real estate, watching it appreciate, then just cashing in is a two-dimensional expectation. A typical St. Louis real estate investment has to be discovered, investigated, negotiated, cared for, cared for some more—and sometimes sold—for it to ring up the profits that make real estate investing so lucrative. The best investors relish doing all of it.
2. Expect to interact with a wide range of people. Math skills are important, but people skills are up there, too. Just about anyone can do the arithmetic that produces accurate cash flow projections, but being able to network with real estate professionals and lenders—and manage close working relationships with tradespeople—are also vital for sustained success.
3. Anticipate changing conditions. Economic conditions are always in flux, so St. Louis market conditions are always on the move. Last decade’s real estate investment strategies don’t guarantee success today—and certainly not tomorrow. Anticipating and planning for changing conditions is work that can pay real dividends.
4. Expect losses. Any investment—including real estate investments in St. Louis—involve some degree of risk. Serious real estate investors are those who profit the most from multiple investments over time. Necessarily, they expect that some projects won’t pan out as expected. Not expecting that to be true would be a rookie mistake.
This fifth one is ancient: it sounds like something Ben Franklin could have come up with:
5. A fast nickel is better than a slow dime. Strangely enough, this truism can be misinterpreted. One commentator thinks it means “owning real estate is easy; getting paid is tricky.” I think its core meaning is that knowing just when to sell is a terrific real estate investment skill.
In fact, you could say that prioritizing when to sell is what distinguishes real estate investors from most of the rest of us—real estate consumers who are contented St. Louis homeowners.
In my profession, I get to facilitate winning transactions for investors and real estate civilians alike. I hope you’ll give me a call for all your own real estate dealings!
When you go house hunting in St. Louis, you’re likely to share a lot of the same basic assumptions that most everybody does. Whether you have a lengthy list of hard-and-fast requirements or are in more of a “just seeing what’s out there” mindset, you’re probably assuming that you’ll “know it when you see it.” That’s not necessarily true—for a couple of logical reasons.
First off, unless price is literally no object, your budget will dictate the segment of current St. Louis listings that your house hunting will include. Among those candidate properties, it’s unlikely that all of them share the same features—the same positives and less-than-positives. You may find that you really get a great feeling about one home, only upon reflection to realize that some of its drawbacks are serious enough to eliminate it from contention. Likewise, another home that provided a so-so first impression could wind up seriously in the running if it rings up the best collection of strong points.
Then, there’s always the unexpected. A good example was the couple who were fairly sophisticated when it came to house hunting experience. They had enough home ownership history to have developed clear ideas about what they wanted: 3 or 4 bedrooms, a yard that was large enough to accommodate a moderate vegetable garden and the family dog (but not so large that maintenance would become an issue). The only absolute caveats were that it could not be so close to a busy thoroughfare that auto noises would be an annoyance; and that if there were a swimming pool, it could not be an indoor one. NOT! The husband had experience with taking care of pools, and would not countenance dealing with a steamy, chlorine-smelling indoor pool. Period.
Those were simple enough requirements. None would eliminate a good sampling of the listings that were available at the time, so the house hunting proceeded. After nixing the usual number that left too much to be desired, there wound up being a handful of attractive candidate properties. In the end, there were two that rated a couple of return visits. Although neither could have been called the couples’ perfect dream houses, they were close to a final decision. Just then a new house came onto the market. It was slightly more expensive (and larger) than the others, but with positively beautiful yards, front and back, and (you guessed it!)…an indoor pool.
To bring the story to its inevitable end, they’ve lived in that house for years. The indoor pool had special air-moving equipment that erased the humidity and left no chlorine smell whatever. The husband says it is by far the easiest pool he’s ever dealt with. The garden is just what his wife was hoping for. It turns out to be their dream house.
The moral of the story is that there’s a lot to say for keeping a balance between having an organized approach to your house hunting and keeping an open mind. To which I have to add that I hope you’ll give me a call when it comes time for your own St. Louis house hunting!
Posted by belsner under Mortgage
It was fairly clear that the table had been set for last week’s Federal Reserve meeting to result in a minimal rise in mortgage interest rates. Their Fed Funds rate directly influences the mortgage interest rates that banks observe. Since St. Louis real estate activity can be spurred or dampened by the monthly payment amounts St. Louis mortgage lenders offer applicants, this national story has meaningful local repercussions.
It wound up as a non-event that nonetheless spawned action—albeit in a minor way. In May, Chair Yellen had said that a rate increase would be “appropriate” over the summer months. In the lead-up to last week’s meeting, other Fed governors had strongly implied that it was now time for a slight Fed Funds bump.
Still, most commentators kept their prognostications vague; they had been vociferously anticipating a move for many cycles, only to hear serial postponements from the Fed. In addition to having been burnt before by Fed head fakes, there was also another reason why a no-go might happen this time around. Regardless of what the jawboning had been, economic and employment growth was still stuck in first gear—and a rate hike could retard improvement.
The commentators weren’t wrong to hold fire. Once again, the Fed did nothing (except make even more noise about an interest rate hike…later).
Yet, even so, the market forces that nudge mortgage interest rates one way or the other did seem to react. After the non-announcement, rates barely budged at first—but then continued steadily lower (the lowest in weeks, in fact). By week’s end, the Mortgage News Daily announced that the string of moves had brought mortgage interest rates into a “post-Brexit range”—similar to the conditions “that sent rates plunging toward all-time lows.”
The reasons last week were less than certain, although frustration with the Fed’s lack of coherence was fairly unanimous. CNBC interviewed big time investment manager Bill Gross, who said that investors were left “very confused” by the meeting’s outcome. He pointed to the likely rate raise that Yellen had emphasized at last month’s Jackson Hole speech, as well as to Fed Vice Chair Stan Fischer’s earlier assurance that there would be two hikes this year.
All this left St. Louis mortgage interest rate watchers to make their own assessments about what to expect for future conditions—most importantly, whether current favorable low interest rates could be counted on for long. There had been at least one indicator that optimists could welcome. Almost unnoticed was a footnote to the Fed’s announcement. Back in June, the Fed had predicted the lending rate to end 2016 at .9 percent. It now said the likely number would be .6%. That would result in St. Louis mortgage interest rates still comfortably in the historically low range—hardly a flashing red light for would-be borrowers.
Wherever the Fed heads eventually, it’s indisputable that right now St. Louis mortgage interest rates remain fetchingly low—creating rare opportunities for buyers and sellers both. Why not give me a call to explore how you can take advantage today?
Marketers for any St. Louis business want to know as much as possible about their “customer base”—the population of potential buyers who might be attracted to their product. If you are in the process of selling your St. Louis home, the speed at which you succeed and the amount of profit that results will greatly depend on how effectively you appeal to your offering’s customer base: the folks who might be interested in your St. Louis property.
When you take me on as your selling agent (a good idea, for sure!), you’ve relieved yourself of the vast majority of the burden of marketing. It’s what I and the resource partners I use do as a full-time job—and we’re successful at it. You can certainly let your friends and family know that you are selling your home (and what a great place it is) if you choose, but the lion’s share of marketing to the public at large will be well and energetically handled by your St. Louis Realtor®.
Yet there is one step you can take that might be extremely beneficial to your marketing campaign. It has to do with that customer base we were aiming for: specifically, it has to do with widening it. It’s where the FHA comes in.
The Federal Housing Administration was created back during the Great Depression to spur home construction. By offering government-backed insurance that encouraged banks to offer home loans, it created jobs, helped families find proper housing, and spawned a host of other beneficial side effects. The FHA doesn’t actually make any loans itself—but it does assume most of the risk.
Today, due to a variety of economic factors that have made qualifying for a home loan somewhat difficult, it’s fair to say that the size of the customer base has not grown even as fast as the slow-motion economic recovery. Along with other factors, banks have been timid about lending due to the potential penalties for not following strict guidelines. The customer base—measured by how many potential homebuyers can easily get mortgage loans—has lagged. This situation has improved lately, but some still complain that home loan resurgence remains sluggish. Likewise, growth in the customer base.
For anyone selling their St. Louis home, one way to expand the customer base is to make your property what you might call “FHA-Friendly”—that is, transparently a good candidate to qualify for an FHA loan guarantee. This isn’t the place to go over all the details about how that can be accomplished, but if your asking price is within FHA guidelines for our region and you are confident that 00 defects will be found during the home inspection, much of the goal will have been attained.
If you will be selling your St. Louis home this fall or winter, now is a very good time to give me a call. FHA-friendly or not, we’ll make sure your customer base is primed and ready!
First, a word about these Things to Avoid when you’re in the process of buying a St. Louis house: it’s a short list.
The reason it’s so short is because of who you are—since you’re reading this, it means you’re someone who is taking the time to delve into what’s happening with St. Louis real estate. That makes it unlikely that you will fall into any of the common-sense pitfalls that populate typical Top 10 Pitfalls lists. Most of them are pretty obvious to anyone who pays attention.
Less obvious are these three. These touch on areas which can be overlooked when time is short, or emotions are high—or the St. Louis house is just so darned attractive you can’t wait to pull the trigger:
1. Perfect house: no need to inspect! So sooooo wrong: the cost of an inspection in both time and money will always be some of the best investment results you can ever realize. It might seem as if you’re betting against your perfect deal by investing in an expert’s search for imperfections, but the opposite is true. A perfect house deserves a good inspection. Even if flaws are found that you are willing to accept because the rest of the deal is so attractive, knowing about your future property’s weak points will let you decide if and when to correct them—probably at less expense than if you are blindsided later on.
2. Lack of spadework. Buying a house is such a far-reaching commitment, it’s unlikely to reward spur-of-the-moment decision making. Some otherwise quite intelligent and cautious consumers can become suddenly overcome by the impulse to stop paying rent to someone else!—and wind up buying a house that, while it does solve the rent-paying problem, does so less satisfactorily than need be. Especially for first-time homebuyers, taking the time to lay out a hard-headed budget in conjunction with minimum house requirements can make a huge difference in the coming years. The idea that you should take a year to plan any house-buying move is impractical in some cases—but it’s not a bad goal.
3. Not comparing mortgage terms. Low interest rates are certainly appealing (and today’s St. Louis home loan rates are close to the 3.2055% decade low). But before signing on the dotted line, don’t let the array of numbers and decimal-dotted percentages get in the way of making the best decision. No matter what the interest rate is, it’s usually the APR—the annual percentage rate that integrates the closing costs and other fees— that proves most useful for making comparisons between offers.
Avoiding these three is easy once you’re aware of them. There is also a way to red flag other possible missteps when you are buying a house: enlist the help of an experienced St. Louis buyer’s agent. When you give me the call, you can rest assured I’ll be watching out for your interests—every step of the way!
Posted by belsner under Market Trends/News
If you try to predict what St. Louis real estate activity is likely to be based on only our local activity, you soon find what causes statisticians to turn up their noses: the sample size is simply too small to project reliable trends. That’s why serious St. Louis observers look to the incoming real estate activity stats from the nation as a whole: and the latest numbers gave them at least two interesting clues.
At the start of the month, the National Association of Realtors® weighed in with a “sizable jump” in some of the pending home sales numbers. Pending home sales are especially interesting in a predictive sense because they are forward-looking indicators—they measure contract signings that will be finalized in coming weeks or months. The NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index for July notched the second highest reading-9065-in over a decade…exceeded only by April’s reading.
The NAR’s economists continued to fret about the affordability of the listings currently on the market, reflected in the continuing difficulty first-time homebuyers are having being able to find affordable homes in most parts of the country. The “robust demand for single-family starter homes” is as high as it is because many young buyers can’t find what they are looking for at a price point that’s affordable.
Not all real estate news is as relevant to St. Louis home or apartment shoppers, though. Last Friday’s news from the New York Times is a good example. It ran the story of one young musician whose quest for an affordable apartment led him to his current digs, which is a closet. Actually, according to the news item, it’s more like a “crawlspace” at 9 feet by 4½ feet. Affordable rent? Yes, for today’s Manhattan—just $450/month.
The second, more relevant finding came from the researchers at CoreLogic, who dug into the national statistics with enough gusto to emerge with a seldom-mentioned measure: price stability. St. Louis real estate watchers often read about residential real estate volatility—the gyrations sales and prices go through when financial or political turmoil causes notable fluctuations. Real estate price stability, however, since it’s the exact opposite, is seldom mentioned (probably because it sounds like nothing is happening, which journalists don’t like to write about).
But the latest finding is news. As CoreLogic’s Sam Khater writes about the year-over-year change in monthly home prices, “the last narrow band of years” that exhibited such stable home prices came “between 1994 and 1997.” The good news is that this period presaged a housing market that was so healthy it helped anchor the whole economy—probably a key reason why 2001’s economic downturn became the mildest post-war recession.
Here in St. Louis, the real estate scene continues to reward home shoppers with a host of listings that offer good value—especially with mortgage interest rates still hovering at bargain basement levels. If you decide that now is the right time to find the right house at the right price, it’s also the right time to call me!