I have Google Earth and I know how to use it

Originally published in Appraisal Today, thank you Ann O’Rourke for allowing me to republish

I have Google Earth and I know how to use it

Seriously though, as a reviewer, it is one of the first tools I reach for when I look up the property that is the subject of the appraisal I am reviewing. Assume all reviewers do. We use it to make sure that the property does not back up to, side against, or face some type of externality such as a major 8-lane freeway, massive shopping mall or toxic waste facility. Hopefully the appraisal that has one of these externalities addresses it. Sometimes the appraisals go to great length to discuss externalities and any effect on marketability and value. Sometimes there is a sentence or two. Sometimes crickets.

Yesterday I pulled up GE on the house that was the subject of an appraisal I was reviewing and it backed up to a bunch of buildings. Looked possibly to be a school, but the street view maps took me around the side and to the entrance of what turned out to be a large condominium complex. Absolutely no big deal, but there wasn’t one single word related to this in the appraisal. I asked a group of appraisers whether they would make a comment if their subject property backed up to a condominium complex, and the responses ran the gamut from “of course”, to “no way, it is already covered in the neighborhood check boxes”.

While the check boxes for the neighborhood include multi-family, they do not include condominium, and in this instance, there was nothing in the appraisal even hinting that there was a mixture of single-unit uses in the area. This property didn’t raise a red-flag insomuch as backing to a freeway, commercial shopping center or toxic waste facility, but it did raise a question and warranted a bit more research. This is fine as it part of my job, but as someone who actually reads the reports in front of me, I was just left confused as to why it wasn’t even mentioned. I was even more confused by why so many appraisers say that it is not worth mentioning.

Maybe it is being old fashioned, but I grew up with the understanding that an appraiser was the eyes and the ears of the client, and that anything that would likely raise a question for the client should be addressed. Of course the freeway, mall and toxic waste facility are givens, but wouldn’t anything that was literally in the backyard also be something that would get questioned? How many minutes does it take out of the process to write a few sentences about a condominium complex? Couldn’t it be as simple as saying “The subject backs up to the XYZ condominium complex and has a seasonal view of some of these buildings. There is no negative effect on marketability or value of the subject property related to its location adjacent to this residential use” or some such rot?

While it is easy to overlook potential concerns due to the amount of reporting we have to do (and remember, there is no such thing as a perfect appraisal), stepping into the mind of the client and asking yourself “what would the client be concerned about” is a very useful exercise. While the client may not care about the house backing to a condominium complex because it is a residential use like the subject, they may care about it backing to the complex if for some reason it does affect marketability and/or value. It is up to us, as appraisers, to report and analyze what it is we see, and although we can never catch every little thing, our value is partly measured by our ability to communicate and to analyze these nuances.

Remember, reviewers have Google Earth and other tools at their fingertips, and most use them.


Courage of your convictions

Courage of your convictions


…….Or put your money where your mouth is

As an appraiser who works a very small area, and has for many years, I am fortunate to have quite good relationships with the agents in my community. Because of this, I get a lot of calls and emails asking for help when they run into situations with appraisals on their sales. Often the situation involves an appraisal that is under sales price where the agent is adamant that the appraisal is wrong.

Yesterday I had an email from an agent who told me that she had done her CMA and had arrived at an estimate of $325,000 for a sales price and that the house went under contract for $321,000, so pretty darn close to what her estimate was. The appraisal came back at $286,000 which is quite a bit lower than sales price, and the buyers and sellers were in negotiation to have the seller come down in price and the buyer bring more money to the table. The agent was adamant that the appraisal was faulty and used old sales that she did not think were appropriate. I offered to do a review of the appraisal as well as provide an opinion of value, all for a fee of course.

In this instance the agent balked and said that she didn’t want to spend the money; that the seller didn’t want to spend the money. My question is why? If you are convinced the appraisal is wrong, why not spend the money to either show that indeed the appraisal is wrong, or to provide a second opinion that the appraisal is actually correct? If there is $35,000 difference at stake, isn’t $500 or so for a second appraisal or review a worthwhile use of money? Or, is it possible that the reason that the agent didn’t want to spend the money, is in examination, that the appraisal might be fine?

What I really want to know from agents is why they don’t take the route of getting a second opinion from a local appraiser who knows the market well? If the review indicates there is a problem with the appraisal, then the agent can share it with the lender to see if there is recourse, such as a new appraisal, or a review from one of the lender panel appraisers. If the appraisal is shown to be fine, then there is a level of comfort that the agent and seller can have to negotiate, or move forward (or not) with the transaction.


Market snapshot – Ann Arbor/Saline

Market snapshot – comparing Ann Arbor and Saline


I admit it; I am a data junkie. There is something about graphs and charts that I just get all-geeked out about. Maybe it is simply having too much time on my hands, or maybe it is a thirst for knowledge (hoping for the latter, but with understanding it may be the former).

Without further ado, I offer my recent take on the comparison of two markets, because they often compete with each other.

The data below is run as one years’ worth of data at a time, but compared month over month (so if you see a comparison from June 2012 to June 2013 each of those sets has an entire years’ worth of data leading up to the date.  In this first graph, I have compared the cumulative days on the market of sales in Ann Arbor school district, as exposed through the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors MLS, compared to the same in Saline. I took all sales and looked at the median. In both segments, days on market declined to a low point in May/June 2013, and have since risen and then stabilized. Saline had longer median days on market but shows as stable compared to Ann Arbor, which is slightly increased over the past couple of months.


What about price?  On the median price, Saline is ahead of Ann Arbor. On median price per square foot, Ann Arbor is ahead of Saline. Why is this? It is related to median size. The median size of a house in the Saline market is greater than the median size of a house in the Ann Arbor market. As price per square foot is normally higher as size declines, it makes sense that you would see that.

If you compare month to month, for the past five months, the closed sales in the Ann Arbor market show as flat (although that is changing now) whereas Saline has been rising. If you skip down to the price per square foot, the rising prices in Saline are at a slower rate than just by the median price.



Inventory levels as of 4/8/14: Ann Arbor had 152 active offerings in total, compared to 1,176 sales the year before, or 1.55-months’ worth of inventory (not much). Saline had 50 offerings compared to 297 sales in the year prior, or 2.02 months’ worth of supply. In both instances, supply was quite limited, and this limited supply does appear to be driving many multiple offer situations.  In both markets, the contract-to-listing ratio shows as favoring seller’s, with Ann Arbor at 40.16% and Saline at 41.18% as of the 4/8/14 run date.

When the contract-to-listing ratio and low inventory favor sellers, prices typically increase. When they favor buyers, prices typically decrease. Markets are very fluid and changeable, and what is apparent a week ago, may well change dramatically a month from now. The market is sensitive to interest rates, employment rates, income changes, and national news, among other issues.


Appraisals are “opinions” of value by educated professionals. They are opinions based on factual data, but in the end of the opinion of a professional. Not all appraisers have equal qualifications and experience, and therefore not all opinions are equal. If you are shopping for an appraiser to help provide you an independent opinion of value, base your selection on the breadth and depth of that appraiser’s knowledge and experience, not the price of the appraisal assignment. After all, it is typically your largest investment, and does it make sense to be penny-wise and pound-foolish?

Rachel Massey, www.annarborappraisal.com

Latest comparison to online valuation models

Latest comparison to online valuation models

It is quite frustrating to see how many people rely on these online value estimators to either price their home, or use it for marital dissolution, or other reasons. As will be shown in a minute, these can be off by a significant amount, either low or high.

I just ran sales in Ann Arbor, in the 48103 area for the past couple of weeks. I then compared the sales prices to two online value estimators and State Equalized Value times two. The only consistency to the information is that these online value estimators overestimated on houses in need of work and underestimated on those houses that were remodeled. In only a small percentage of cases, were the value tools within five percent of the actual sales price.


Appraisals are “opinions” of value by educated professionals. They are opinions based on factual data, but in the end of the opinion of a professional. Not all appraisers have equal qualifications and experience, and therefore not all opinions are equal.

If you are shopping for an appraiser to help provide you an independent opinion of value, base your selection on the breadth and depth of that appraiser’s knowledge and experience, not the price of the appraisal assignment. After all, it is typically your client’s largest investment, and does it make sense to be penny-wise and pound-foolish?

Rachel Massey, www.annarborappraisal.com


Ann Arbor snapshot

So many ways to measure

Markets are rarely identical and what happens as a nation isn’t necessarily what happens in a county, or what happens in an area, or even a submarket.

We hear a lot about the improving market conditions that are occurring nationally, but as in all things real estate, the market really is fundamentally local. I live and work in the Ann Arbor market. Not all markets within this area are moving in the same direction, or at the same pace. Even within Ann Arbor there are differences, and the data below represents current information comparing the Ann Arbor school district as a whole to one area within Ann Arbor, area 82, which encompasses a wide market but is the west side of town as well as into the western suburbs and rural area within the Ann Arbor school district.

How can you go about measuring the market? There are a number of different ways, but what I am doing now (and I do change things up as I learn of new techniques) is taking one years’ worth of data at a time, run on a monthly basis and compare and measure how markets change. The data is run as one year periods because it neutralizes the seasonality that you see happening in this area. It is almost clock-work to see our local market start to slow after Labor Day, and to start to pick up in February or March, depending on the weather. In addition to measuring year to year, I have also eliminated from the data below distress sales and “to-be-built” properties because including them skews data. This is addressed in a previous blog post. Depending on the market, it might make sense to include the distress sales but Ann Arbor hasn’t had a lot in general (Thank You University of Michigan) and if they are included the market actually looks like it is picked up more steam than it truly has. Apples-to-Apples with the data below.

My findings are in graphic formats below with a small explanation underneath the graph.


Number of sales

We are seeing an increasing number of sales in both the entire market and area 82. For instance, the one year period of 2011 showed 805 arm’s length sales, and in 2012 there were 939 sales, 2013 had 1,054 sales for the year. Clearly the numbers of sales are increasing. In area 82 our market jumped from 210 sales in 2011 to 260 in 2012 and 299 in 2012. Based on this information the expectation is around 88 sales per month for the entire market and 25 per month for area 82. As there are 139 available properties in the MLS for the entire school district today (2/9/14) and 36 in area 82, there is about a 1.6-month supply for the overall market and 1.45-month supply for area 82. Looks like an undersupply of properties, doesn’t it?


Days on market

The chart above shows the differences in days on the market in both the wider Ann Arbor market and area 82. Area 82 consistently has had quicker absorption than Ann Arbor as a whole, but take a look at how the market dipped in both segments to a low point in June/July 2013 and has been increasing steadily since that time. My take on this is that as inventory has increased (as evidenced by the number of sales above) that there are more options and therefore houses are not selling quite as quickly as they were at the peak in 2013. At this time days on market is still very short with the most recent reading showing 43 as a whole and 35 in area 82. Surprisingly close to the expected absorption rate addressed in the graph above.

There are more graphs and charts that I will examine, but I am going to save that for the next blog post, so as to keep you interested and coming back J. These other indicators include the list price to sales price ratios, median price over time, and median price per square foot. They also include my favorite, the contract-to-listing ratio which some of you are aware of from previous blog posts.

Hope you enjoy this information and find it useful. As always, if you have questions about the market from the perspective of the local appraisal expert, call or write. I am always happy to field whatever calls or emails that I can.

Data above is culled from the Ann Arbor Board of Realtors MLS

Rachel Massey, SRA, AI-RRS www.annarborappraisal.com

January 25, 2014 Washtenaw County market snapshot

January 25, 2014 Washtenaw County snapshot


On January 11, 2014 I posted a snapshot of the Washtenaw County market showing the number of arm’s length sales in each school district as well as the change in price per square foot over time and the current number of offerings and houses under contract.  

After some consideration, I have eliminated all “to-be-built” houses as they are starting to flood into the market locally. These houses are not truly on the market as they are not yet started and are not available for immediate, or even generally quick, occupancy.

The data below is a snapshot of the supply and demand factors for the various Washtenaw County markets as of 1/25/14 through the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors MLS.  Instead of showing price trends in this snippet, this data shows the number of arm’s length sales of houses that are already built, or under construction, compared to how many are on the market at this time that are NOT showing as under contract.

  • The number of sales relates to one year prior to 1/25/14 and the number of active listings are the number that were available and not under contract on that day.
  • The number of months’ supply relates to, given the number of historic sales, how quickly the current inventory “should” absorb.
  • The contract-to-listing ratio relates to how many of the current listings are under contract and to me, that number is most telling of current activity. Historically I find that between 25% – 30% is a typical active market and that less than 20% is generally slow, favoring buyers. Over 35% we start to see a seller’s market.

Without further ado, here are the results:


Based on this information, Ann Arbor still is in seller’s market territory, as is Lincoln and now Milan (when I did this last, Milan was showing over-supplied but that relates to a large number of “to-be-built” houses). Saline, Dexter, Chelsea, Ypsilanti, Willow Run and Whitmore Lake seem to be in a more normal market, and Manchester is slow with the greatest supply compared to historic demand. In most cases, inventory is in the 2-month range, which is an under-supply. Ann Arbor is particularly undersupplied.

Not all houses that are on the market are appropriately priced, and if a house is over-priced for the market (due to condition or functional/external issues, or just too optimistic pricing); these houses show as part of the supply chain but are not yet truly competitive. When Realtors ® talk about how they are finding the market to be highly undersupplied, my opinion is that the market itself is undersupplied, but not significantly so, but there is a definite undersupply of appropriately priced houses in good condition.

If you are curious about the market from the perspective of a 30-year market veteran, follow this blog or contact me directly. I have experience both from the sales side (from 1984-1989) and as a full-time appraiser since 1989. I am always happy to discuss your needs on the appraisal end and am open to discussion as to how to best present data that helps you.

All the best to all of my readers!  Rachel Massey @ www.annarborappraisal.com

Washtenaw County snapshot

Days on market and current activity Washtenaw County, MI

Based on my experience, as days on the market for a property decreases, prices tend to increase. When days on market start to increase, prices tend to stabilize or decline.

One of the largest obstacles in measuring market direction is that closed sales are usually contracted for sale one-to-two months earlier than the closing. As such, the closed sales data lags even with the most recent data available. Including contracted sales would indicate a higher number of days on the market, but as many contracted sales do not close, the data below includes only closed sales, and absorption is addressed further in this discussion.


The chart above is a compilation of the different school districts in my local area, Washtenaw County. The data refers to days on market of sales, ran in an annualized manner. In other words, each data point is one years’ worth of sales but presented month-by-month. This helps eliminate the seasonality that we see as our market normally slows down after Labor Day and start to pick up in February.

What is noticeable at first glance is the convergence of days on market to a low point around June to July 2013 and a steady increase in days since August 2013. All districts are showing an increase in days on the market other than Manchester, and are mostly back to levels seen in late 2012/early 2013.

After examining the days on market, the next step is to look at how many sales occurred in the most recent period in each market (all of 2013 in this case) and then look at how many are on the market, not under contract, within the first two weeks of 2014. This information provides an estimated supply based on the most recent years’ worth of sales. The last column that chart is the contract-to-listing ratio (CLR) which simply looks at all offerings and compares the number under contract to the total number available and derives a percentage of absorption. From my perspective, a market that is active is normally hovering around 30% CLR and when it pushes upwards to 40% or over, is very active and a seller’s market. Conversely, when it is 20% or below it is much less active, and much less than 20% indicates a buyer’s market. Of course the ratios are all dependent on agents reporting contracts within the required period of their MLS so that it is not lagging by more than a couple of weeks.


At the same time that the number of days on the market declined in most areas, the number of sales increased. For example, Ann Arbor went from 805 arm’s length sales in 2011 to 939 in 2012 and 1,086 in 2013; yet in 2013 days on the market was virtually identical to 2011 (although it was lower in 2012). Ypsilanti went from 115 sales to 158 to 220, almost double the first year reported, yet days on the market dropped. In each market shown, the number of arm’s length sales rose in this period.


All data is gathered using the Ann Arbor Board of Realtors MLS. Sales data excludes distress sales and GLR MLS but does include Realcomp and therefore there is some duplication of listings throughout. This is not considered a significant sampling problem due to consistency in application throughout all market segments and current/contract offerings. Data run from 1/2/14 through 1/11/14.

Based on this information, my interpretation is that Ann Arbor looks like it is still very strong, and Lincoln appears to be in the throes of a seller’s market at the moment. Chelsea, Dexter and Saline are in the 20% range, meaning slow but a balanced market, and Manchester and Milan may have crossed into being a buyer’s market at this time based on these ratios.

Note, in each market run, the entire school district is examined, not submarkets. In an appraisal, the appraiser will look at the submarket, or “micro” market that relates to the subject property. If you are interested in knowing how your property adds up in today’s market, contact your local real estate expert for an analysis.

Enjoy – Rachel Massey www.annarborappraisal.com