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

Another bifurcated market snapshot

Bifurcated Market Snapshot


In my venture to stay abreast with what is happening in Washtenaw County, I offer the latest study of differences in median sales price and number of sales for one market within the larger area.

In short, prices are up from the same time last year, but there are signs of weakness and even a possible decline in place in this market segment right now.


The analysis relates to all sales exposed through the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors MLS between 1/1/11 and 4/1/14 in the one area. The data is in two graphs, one related to the number of sales and the other to median sales price. These two graphs compare arm’s length transactions to REO transactions in both categories.

This data includes everything in the MLS so there are duplicate listings.  This occurs when agents have listings in both Realcomp and the A2BR MLS. Since this data is run on the median price as opposed to average price, it should be very similar on that graph, even with duplicates.  Only the Great Lakes Repository was omitted from the search results since there are not very many of those and they tend to be triplicates as opposed to duplicates.

These sales are run on a yearly basis, but one month at a time, so that each segment includes one years’ worth of data. Doing so eliminates the seasonality that is common in Michigan and should correspond with the Board statistics (if they were to go by school district or area as opposed to the entire MLS).


Total number of sales/arm’s length compared to REO

Here is a snapshot of the number of arm’s length sales compared to the number of REO sales. At first there were more REO sales and now there are far more arm’s length sales.  This means the distress sales have largely made their way through the market at this point, leaving far fewer available. This is a good thing and helps stabilize the market.


Median price comparison

The graph above is the median sales price comparison between arm’s length and REO. In the past five months, there has been stability to a slight decline in arm’s length sale prices, and stability in the REO market for the past three months. With this data, you can see the ebb and flow as to prices rising, declining, rising and then stabilizing to dipping just slightly in the past couple months. This could be related to the very difficult weather our area has experienced this winter.

Comparing the most recent year-to-year results in the arm’s length category there is an increase in median price of 9.41%. Comparing the same with REO sales, the increase is 49.88% for median price. Clearly, the largest increase in this market has been with the foreclosed properties, increasing as these numbers dwindle.

I find that tracking the contract-to-listing ratio a great predictor of activity. This is simply the total number of contracted listings compared to the total number of listings, and it relates to general activity levels. In the arm’s length category as of 4/3/14, it was 33.33%, which is reasonably robust, but certainly not off the charts. At this level, it is what I would consider “in balance” to slightly favoring sellers, due mainly to lack of inventory.

Inventory is low with 46 offerings not under contract (4/3/14) compared to 237 sales the year before. That equates to less than two and a half months inventory based on the previous year’s sales. Perhaps the price increases have put a damper on interest in some of these sales, and the lessening of the REO inventory means there are fewer good deals to swoop up (less than 1.5 months inventory of REOs).

Based on the data, my opinion is this market as a whole is stable in price, undersupplied, and may be feeling the effects of the price increases last year starting to put a damper on current price trends. This is the entire area market, and every submarket is unique. That means you could be looking at a market that is in an upward trajectory, or even one that is starting a downward track, and as such should always try to whittle down to the market in which your property actually competes. The data above is purposely broad.

As always, I hope that you have found my musings useful. Just remember it is the educated opinion of one appraiser. I am always available to help Realtors, attorneys and property owners alike.

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

Measuring market change

Measuring market change

Most of the measurements we see reported in the MLS relate to median price change over time, not price per square foot. As house sizes rise, the price per square foot falls and does so because price per square foot includes not only the gross living area, as well as the garage, basement, improvements to the house, decks, patios, and other site improvements, and even more importantly, the site itself.

Since there is a diminishing return as house sizes increase, it is easy to see how a shift upward in house size could make the market look like it is improving at a higher rate than it actually is. Conversely, if house sizes are shifting downward, then the market may look like prices are going down when they are not.

In this first graph, it looks like the market dropped in early 2012 to late 2012 and then had a meteoric rise in mid to late 2013:


In the second graph, the market shows only a slight leveling of price increases in 2012 and then another slight leveling in early 2013 followed by a much steadier price increase towards the end of 2013.


Which of these graphs better represent the market? How about a blending of the data? If houses decrease in size in general, the price per square foot rises at a greater rate, and by looking at both measures, I feel the read of the market is more realistic and I have accounted for the change of buyer preferences. Sometimes one indicator is more reliable than another, and in those cases market change is best measured by the one that makes most sense.

The next chart is what I used for my graphs. Statistics are run on a yearly basis but one month at a time. The data presents one year of data for each segment and is a nuanced way to measure market change. As an appraiser I am tracking the number of sales, the list-price-to sales-price ratio, and the median sales price, the median sales price per square foot and days on market cumulatively.


The data below comes from information culled from the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors MLS and excludes distress sales and duplicate listings.


The presentation above is just one way to look at changing market perceptions over time. I will continue to present data about my local market as I see it. Check back often, as markets are fluid and are subject to change rapidly. Forces that cause market change include, but are not limited to, change in interest rates, change in inventory levels, introduction or withholding of distress inventory, tightening of the money market, catastrophic events, local employment, etc.

As always, if you are in need of a local expert in the Washtenaw County market, go straight to the local residential appraiser expert, Rachel Massey, SRA.