Housing Inventory Lowest Since 2007, But Median Price Unchanged

Last updated on January 10th, 2018

A while back, I mentioned that it appeared as if we were running out of homes for sale, despite being just years (or days) out of the housing crisis.

I was being somewhat facetious, but it’s true that there are very few homes for sale these days, at least in areas where people want to buy.

A new report from Realtor released today revealed that there were just 1.76 million single-family homes, townhouses, condos, and co-ops listed for sale in October nationwide.

That number is down 2.58% from September and 17.0% from a year ago, displaying just how bad things have become for would-be homebuyers.

Total listings in October were also 40% below the 3.1 million units for sale back in September 2007, when Realtor.com began tracking associated housing markets.

On a year-over-year basis, for-sale inventory declined in 141 of the 146 markets covered by Realtor.com. Good luck finding a house!

Median Price Unchanged

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Despite this drop in inventory, the median list price in October was $189,900, unchanged from a year ago (it dropped 0.83% month-over-month).

It has fallen for three straight months, and likely won’t see any improvement during the holiday season, so we could be in for a long winter.

So even though there are far fewer homes for sale, demand hasn’t won over supply, though it may prevent further home price declines. Phew.

Still, it doesn’t bode well for a recovery if home prices can’t even steady themselves with record low rates on hand and limited supply.

Recovery Uneven

List prices increased in 71 markets, remained unchanged in 31 markets, and dropped in 44 markets.

Median prices are up in many hard-hit regions, such as Phoenix, Atlanta, Seattle, Las Vegas, and much of California.

The median price in Vegas in October was 12.41% above year-ago levels, thanks to a 24.4% drop in housing inventory.

[Foreclosure resales hit five year low.]

But median prices are down in many areas of the country that didn’t experience a run-up in prices during the boom, namely the Midwestern “rust belt.”

In other words, continued economic uncertainty is killing demand and hurting home prices in areas that aren’t highly sought after.

And with the impending fiscal cliff, you have to wonder if this recovery really has any legs.

Still, investors seem to be scooping up properties and everyone I know wants a house; they just can’t seem to find one for sale.

So at minimum, that should buffer home prices, even if the economy takes another turn for the worse.

Two-Year Window to Buy

While that all sounds pretty grim, Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm, has purchased about 10,000 foreclosed properties in the United States this year, according to a Bloomberg report.

The price tag so far is a mere $1.5 billion, with about $100 million in weekly home purchases.

The company has been scooping up properties on the cheap, with an average purchase price of $150,000, many of which were valued at $300,000 during the boom.

Blackstone plans to renovate the homes and rent them out via property management companies.

But Blackstone Global Head of Real Estate Jonathan Gray believes there are only another two to three years of buying opportunities before the market becomes less attractive from an investment standpoint.

Clearly this presents a bit of a quandary, seeing that everyday buyers can’t even find a suitable property, thanks in part to these vulture investors coming in and paying with cash.

Read more: Should you buy a house now or wait?

About the Author: Colin Robertson

Before creating this blog, Colin worked as an account executive for a wholesale mortgage lender in Los Angeles. He has been writing passionately about mortgages for 15 years.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com

I Want to Buy a House, but It Needs Some Major Repairs. Is It Worth It?

‘The Big Move’ is a MarketWatch column looking at the ins and outs of real estate, from navigating the search for a new home to applying for a mortgage.

Dear MarketWatch,

I want to buy a home that needs a lot of repairs and renovations, but I’m almost 50 years old. Is it worth it? How long does it take for home improvements to pay off?

Sincerely,

Fixed on a Fixer-Upper

Dear Fixed,

If you watch a lot of shows on HGTV, the idea of buying a home in need of some TLC for a bargain and sprucing it up sure can sound appealing. Many among us fantasize about embracing their inner interior designer, taking a rundown home and giving it the Chip and Joanna Gaines treatment. In the interest of honesty, I’ll admit that I’m guilty of such day dreams.

I can say with a fair degree of confidence that you already have the right instincts here. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about taking on such a huge project. The biggest one: They don’t usually pay off.

Smaller-scale home-improvement projects might have a better return on investment. For instance, a can of paint or two costs hardly anything, and research shows that painting the rooms in your house the right color can add as much as $3,000 to the home’s sale price.

With anything bigger than that, you’re unlikely to recoup your investment. Remodeling Magazine each year puts out a list of the home upgrades that fetch the biggest returns. The 2020 edition of this report showed that on average not a single home-improvement project sees a 100% return. The closest you could come — adding a manufactured stone veneer to your house — was a 96% return on average. And in most cases, the returns on renovations had fallen between 2019 and 2020.

Americans generally view owning a home as a financial investment — and the four-bedroom home with a white-picket fence surely factors in the American Dream. Many people go into homeownership hoping to see their equity grow over time — with the goal of passing that money onto their children or using it as a cushion in retirement. But when you compare real estate to other assets, it’s clear that owning real estate is more complicated than that.

“Many financial investments will grow as fast, or faster, than personal real estate and be far more flexible if you need any access to liquidity along the way,” said Sean Pearson, a Pennsylvania-based financial adviser and associate vice president with Ameriprise Financial Services. “If you live in your house long enough, and you sell during certain types of markets, depending on interest rates, you might see a positive ROI from your home. But that could be a long way from now, and requires a lot of things to happen along the way.”

Instead of approaching buying a home with an investor’s mindset, I suggest you consider the myriad other reasons why homeownership can be beneficial. Owning a home allows you to take control over your housing costs. Sure, the property tax bill or utility rates may vary over time, but you won’t need to worry about a landlord jacking up the rent unexpectedly. And the equity in your home — if used appropriately — can become a useful financial tool to consolidate other debts or finance a child’s college education. (Again, approach cashing out home equity with caution.)

You’re almost 50 — and maybe a decade or so away from retirement. Think about whether this home could be your forever home. If you’re making major renovations, you could really ensure that this home would be one you could live in for the rest of your days by approaching those repairs with accessibility in mind. If you can afford major home improvements, and they’ll enrich your quality of life, it’s hard to put a price tag on that.

Or you might decide that owning a home isn’t worth it. There is a benefit, after all, to being able to rely on a landlord or property manager to handle upkeep. And in many parts of the country, renting a home and using your remaining money wisely could be a better deal that becoming a homeowner.

Whatever path you choose to take, I encourage you to keep trusting your gut. It’s not led you astray so far.

Source: realtor.com

Adam Levine Joins the Crowd in Montecito, Buys $22.7M Mansion

The Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and his wife, the supermodel Behati Prinsloo, have purchased a storied estate in the ever more crowded celebrity enclave of Montecito, CA.

The couple paid $22.7 million for the expansive compound, known as El Miraval, Variety reported.

The estate had been and off the market for years, and its asking price had never budged from $2reThe spread includes a total of nine bedrooms, eight full bathrooms, and three half-bathrooms, in a series of buildings including a Spanish Revival main house, a two-bedroom guesthouse, a one-bedroom cottage, and an apartment over the detached, five-car garage.

The 12,000-square-foot main building features European-style interiors with wood beams and arched windows, and offers large living spaces built for grand entertaining.

The living room, with a fireplace and exposed beams, opens outside from French doors. Multiple al fresco options include a lovely loggia with a fireplace and seating, a picturesque terrace, patio, and garden.

A large kitchen contains a huge island, dark wood cabinets, and built-in storage shelves. The master bedroom features a fireplace, a balcony, and an en suite bathrooom with a separate tub. Other perks include a home theater and wine cellar.

In addition, the grounds include a tennis pavilion, pool, pool terrace, putting greens, and manicured lawns.

The listing also offers some renderings to suggest updates to the interiors—which could use a refresh. Suggestions include trendy light fixtures, a white palette, sleek furniture, and voilà!

Quite possibly, the longtime coach for “The Voice” will be tempted to put his signature stamp on the place.

The “Moves Like Jagger” singer does have some real estate moves of his own. After picking up a Beverly Hills mansion in 2018 for $34 million, and reportedly sinking $7 million into a remodel, he sold the updated estate to his fellow luxury real estate aficionado Ellen DeGeneres in 2019 for $45 million.

She and her wife, Portia de Rossi, then made some further changes, and recently listed the same home for $53.5 million. After a little more than two weeks on the open market, the property has already found a buyer. 

Levine also owns a resortlike residence he purchased in an off-market deal in 2019 for $32 million from Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, after their divorce.

Source: realtor.com

San Diego Padres Pitcher Blake Snell Close to Sale of $1.4M Florida Home

San Diego Padres pitcher Blake Snell has tossed his St. Petersburg, FL, home to a new owner.

The All-Star lefty was dealt to the Padres from the Tampa Bay Rays at the tail end of 2020. He’s since departed for the West Coast, and he’s moved on from his splashy, waterfront home as well. Listed for $1.4 million in late January, Snell’s abode quickly went into pending sale status.

He purchased the place in July 2019 for $875,000, while anchoring the Rays’ rotation. According to records and listing details, Snell proceeded to spend $200,000 to renovate much of the home, which was built in 1956.

The home’s highlight is clearly the outdoor space. The new owner will enjoy the brand-new pool deck and pool with custom sun shelf, in-pool lounge chairs, waterfall, multicolor pool lighting, never-used hot tub, and outdoor surround sound.

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Updated pool

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The waterfront home with views of Tampa Bay also boasts an updated interior. You enter into a 12-foot foyer that opens up to the family area, showcasing walls of glass and water views.

The well-appointed kitchen offers a natural gas cooktop, plus ample cabinetry for storage. New carpet has been installed in the home’s four bedrooms.

The 2,952-square-foot floor plan has a master bedroom with bay views, a walk-in closet with custom built-ins, and a master bathroom with dual vanities and a large shower.

Other updates include custom built-in closets in every bedroom, fresh paint, new pull-down blackout blinds, and impact glass windows.

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Kitchen

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Walls of glass

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Master bedroom

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Walk-in closet

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Gaming room or office space

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Outdoor kitchen

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Private dock

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The outdoor space is built for entertaining. A covered patio allows for lounging around the gas fire pit and outdoor TV. It’s easy to whip up a feast at the outdoor kitchen, with its bar and gas grill.

Out back, a private boat dock stores a boat or Jet Ski, and comes with a new boatlift. The three-car garage includes an extra room for a work area.

The new owner could potentially add a second story, according to the listing, and the location is convenient to downtown St. Pete and the Tampa International Airport.

Snell was selected in the first round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, and made his Major League debut in 2016. 2018 was his breakthrough season: He was selected to the MLB All-Star team, won the American League Cy Young Award, and led the league in wins and ERA.

Liane Jamason with Dwell Florida Real Estate has the listing.

Source: realtor.com

Grammy Winner Stephen Marley Scores a Tropical Florida Estate for $3.4M

Eight-time Grammy winner Stephen Marley—son of the reggae legend Bob Marley—has another hit on his hands. He just purchased a lush 5.6-acre estate near Miami for $3.4 million.

The sale included two adjacent properties in Homestead, FL, that include a main house and two guesthouses. In total, the compound offers seven bedrooms and 8.5 bathrooms in about 9,873 square feet of living space.

The main house is light and spacious and features a tile roof, arched passageways, and an open floor plan. Built in 1981, it appears to have been recently updated, with a modern kitchen featuring stainless-steel appliances, an island, and a wine refrigerator. The residence also includes a media room and a gym.

Stephen Marley's Florida estate
Stephen Marley’s Florida estate

realtor.com

Guesthouse
Guesthouse

realtor.com

Entry in the main house
Entry in the main house

realtor.com

Main house kitchen
Main house kitchen

realtor.com

Main house media room
Main house media room

realtor.com

The premises include two pools, one covered and right off the main house, and the other, larger one in the open air, strategically placed at the center of the property and flanked by lounging areas.

Indoor pool
Indoor pool

realtor.com

Outdoor pool
Outdoor pool

realtor.com

The estate’s extensive outdoor features include a tennis court, a volleyball/basketball court, and equestrian facilities with an arena. There’s also a large flowing river, which leads to a koi pond, plus a separate four-car garage.

Equestrian arena
Equestrian arena

realtor.com

Tennis court
Tennis court

realtor.com

Winding river with koi pond
Winding river with koi pond

realtor.com

Located in the semitropical Redlands area of Homestead, the property includes tropical fruit trees. Neighboring properties also feature agriculture and giant greenhouses. Marley’s new digs could basically be self-contained—the kind of residence you really never have to leave.

Overhead view
Overhead view

realtor.com

Fruit trees
Fruit trees

realtor.com

Marley, 48, was born into a family of reggae royalty and is a prodigious singer/producer in his own right.

His eight Grammys were earned for his work on a range of family productions: as a producer on the albums of his younger brother, Damian Marley, as a member of his older brother’s group, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, and on his own solo albums.

He currently creates music at his family’s private recording studio, Lion’s Den. His eldest son, Jo Mersa Marley, and his daughter, Mystic Marley, are following in the family’s reggae recording tradition. Stephen intends to go on an Acoustic Soul Tour in 2021.

Chad Carroll of Compass represented the sellers of the estate, and Shana Santalla of Lifestyle International Realty represented Marley.

Source: realtor.com

Rick Ross Adds the Amar’e Stoudemire Mansion to His Property Portfolio

It wasn’t enough for Rick Ross to own a Georgia mansion so grand that it was used for the royal palace of Zamunda in Eddie Murphy‘s “Coming 2 America.”

The Maybach Music impresario also wanted another place in Florida. So he acted fast on Amar’e Stoudemire’s South Florida estate, paying the $3.5 million asking price in cash, after it had been a mere four days on the market.

It was the fastest closing in the history of Landmark Ranch Estates, where Stoudemire’s six-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 2.3-acre spread is located.

Ross knows a bargain when he sees it. The $3.5 million list price was actually $200,000 less than the $3.7 million Stoudemire paid for the Southwest Ranches, FL, estate in 2011.

And it wasn’t as if Stoudemire left the place untouched. The former NBA All-Star made a series of fancy upgrades, including a hidden movie theater, a lounge with a lavish bar and pool table, a nine-car garage, and a luxurious main suite.

Amar'e Stoudemire's elaborate Florida mansion
Amar’e Stoudemire’s elaborate Florida mansion

realtor.com

Home theater
Home theater

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Lounge with bar
Lounge with bar

realtor.com

Main bedroom
Main bedroom

realtor.com

But as grand as Stoudemire’s former estate is—with coffered ceilings and an abundance of crystal chandeliers, in 8,675 square feet of living space—it doesn’t quite compare to Ross’ 235-acre spread in Fayetteville, GA.

Amar'e Stoudemire great room
Amar’e Stoudemire great room

realtor.com

Built by the boxing legend Evander Holyfield in 1994, it’s the largest private residence in the entire state, with 45,000 square feet of living space. It also boasts one of the largest swimming pools in the United States, able to contain over 350,000 gallons of water.

It’s a fitting palace for rap royalty—and Zamundan royalty as well. Which is why the producers of “Coming 2 America” were attracted to Ross’ 109-room, 12-bedroom, 21-bathroom mansion.

Ross, meanwhile, wasn’t shy about charging them for their interest. In an Instagram Live post, he revealed that dozens of people wanted to see his estate multiple times, so he made them pay for the privilege. After all, giving tours to that many people is a bit of a hassle.

It seems the producers were so impressed by the place they chose to use five rooms, including the grand foyer (seen quite a few times in the film), the dining room that seats up to 100 guests, two other lavish rooms with 18-foot ceilings, and Ross’ own bedroom.

Of course, set designers had their way with the rooms, adding blue tones and gold leaf to rooms that had been primarily in a pristine designer white.

Ross is reported to have liked the new decor so much he kept it that way—in particular the wallpaper in the living room, and the new table they built specially for the banquet scenes, which seated up to 60 diners.

Other interiors and exteriors were shot on sets in large studios.

Digitized version of the royal palace of Zamunda from "Coming 2 America."
Digitized version of the royal palace of Zamunda from “Coming 2 America.”

Amazon Studios

Ross, 45, is a rapper and founder of the record label Maybach Music Group. He released his first his studio album, “Port of Miami,” in 2006, and followed it up with huge hits, like “Teflon Don” and “Mastermind.” He’s set to release his 11th album, appropriately titled “Richer Than I’ve Ever Been,” sometime this year.

Kim Knausz of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty represented Stoudemire in the most recent real estate deal, while Ross was represented by his sister, Tawanda Roberts with Florida Realty of Miami.

Source: realtor.com

Doja Cat Purchases Purr-fect Midcentury Modern Home for $2.2M

Doja Cat is moooving into a new home. The pop star just purchased a stylish, midcentury modern abode in Beverly Hills, Variety reported.

The 25-year-old phenom paid $2,185,000 last month for her purr-fect pad.

Built in 1960 and renovated over the decades, the home initially came on the market in 2018, with an asking price of $2.8 million. But the home sat on the market for years and the price continued to drop, until a last discount to $2,225,000 million last fall.

That price appeared to be in the right range for the singer, who pounced on the place.

Doja Cat’s midcentury modern home

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Front door

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Living room

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Backyard with pool

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The four-bedroom gem measures 2,404 square feet and is set in the hills between two parks.

Concrete stairs lead up to the double-door entry and decorative designs on the exterior. A private drive with a wood-clad garage leads to the front of the house, which is perched on a hill. Surrounded by thick landscaping, the greenery provides plenty of privacy.

Noted for its “bohemian chic” mixing of modern and traditional elements, the open plan features soaring ceilings, polished porcelain floors, and a concrete fireplace.

The snazzy kitchen with high-end appliances includes contrasting white and dark oak cabinets, white quartz counters, and a mod curved island with seating.  The kitchen looks out to dining area with walls of glass. The floor plan also includes a wine cellar and laundry in the garage.

Upstairs, the master suite includes a walk-in closet, dressing area with built-in shelves, and spalike bathroom with dual vanities and Japanese cement soaking tub. A balcony over looks the stylish backyard.

Outside, the compact outdoor space offers various sitting areas and a long, curving swimming pool.

Born and raised in L.A., the rapper Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini, who is known professionally as Doja Cat, sprang to internet fame with her quirky video “Mooo.”

Her album “Hot Pink” climbed to the Top 10 of the U.S. Billboard 200. And her single “Say So” topped the Billboard Hot 100. She has collaborated with superstars Ariana Grande and Megan Thee Stallion, and received three Grammy Award nominations. Now, Doja Cat can curl up in her new pad.

Monica Barragan with Keller Williams Beverly Hills represented the seller. Angel Salvador of The Agency represented the buyer.

Source: realtor.com

5 Gorgeous Homes for Sale in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s New Hometown

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are all over the news these days in the wake of their blockbuster interview with Oprah Winfrey, and it’s clear that the young couple is much happier far, far away from Buckingham Palace and all the baggage that comes with royal life.

So what’s the deal with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s new hometown, and their new digs?

In summer 2020, this famous couple purchased a mansion for $14,650,000 in Montecito, a community within Santa Barbara, CA. This was the first home the ex-royals bought together, and it’s a splendid 18,000-square-foot mansion with nine bedrooms and 16 baths, plus a pool, teahouse, and tennis court—and more befitting their ex-royal status.

The ex-royals' forever home in Montecito, an affluent community in California's Santa Barbara County
The ex-royals’ forever home in Montecito, an affluent community in California’s Santa Barbara County

Google Maps

Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle live in Montecito

While Montecito might seem like a surprising choice, it makes total sense given this couple’s intense need for privacy. Just 90 minutes north of Los Angeles but a world away in terms of solitude and quiet, this mellow beach town is home to the ultrawealthy who want to avoid the spotlight, which is why many celebrities from Winfrey to Ellen DeGeneres live in the area as well. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and his wife, model Behati Prinsloo, reportedly just dropped $22.7 million on a historic estate there.

“The reason A-list celebs like Oprah and Ellen flock to Montecito is for the laid-back, understated feel of the area and the types of homes that afford lots of privacy and space,” says Cara Ameer, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles.

Montecito isn’t just for boldface names. Since COVID-19 started sweeping across the U.S., this area has seen a phenomenal uptick in interest, according to the Wall Street Journal, with an 80% increase in sales since 2019.

Many of these new residents are young families fleeing the congestion of big cities like Los Angeles, on a quest for more space to ride out the rest of the pandemic. And Montecito fits the bill, with its beautiful beaches, safe community, and highly ranked schools.

According to realtor.com® data, currently there are 94 active listings in Montecito, but most buyers will need to pay dearly for even a small pad here, as the median price of homes in the area is $4,995,000.

However, perhaps due to these sky-high home prices, Montecito listings don’t sell all that quickly, spending an average of 86 days on the market. And the higher the price, the longer these properties tend to sit.

“The market above $20 million in California isn’t super hot right now because fewer people are looking in that range,” says Cedric Stewart, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties. As such, even with Montecito’s Harry and Meghan cachet, “it’s unlikely most homes will draw interest above the asking price or create a bidding war.”

The downsides of living near Harry and Meghan

Still, one potential downside to Montecito is that reporters and photographers may be lurking around town, hoping to snap photos of Harry and Meghan.

“Potential homeowners could find the media buzz bothersome,” says Ameer.

Still, fans attempting to discern where Harry and Meghan actually live face an uphill battle.

“The streets are small in this area and so is the signage, and homes are often set well back from the road,” says Ameer. As such, “you won’t have any idea which house is which unless you really know where you’re going.”

Curious to learn what your life might be like if you moved to Montecito? Check out some of the other gorgeous homes for sale right now.

Asking price: $22.5 million

The house comes with both ocean and mountain views.
The house comes with both ocean and mountain views.

realtor.com

Perched on more than 5 acres, this seven-bedroom, 13-bath mansion has already received one offer. Still, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into your wallet, additional bids are reportedly being entertained

Among the many high-end amenities that come with this renovated estate are an enormous underground garage that holds eight cars, a gym in a separate building, and a huge outdoor kitchen, as well as two one-bedroom guest cottages.

The picturesque grounds are perfectly arranged with burbling brooks, bridges, an adorable playhouse, and a network of pathways, making the property ideal for young children. There’s also plenty of room for staff and security given the extra two-car garage, office space, break rooms, and restrooms for assistants and other personnel.

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Asking price: $29,000,000

This estate is styled after the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain.
This estate is styled after the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain.

realtor.com

If you adore Spanish architecture, this property is right up your alley. Built in the style of the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain, this estate features a floor plan of nearly 12,000 square feet, which includes four bedrooms and 4.5 baths.

The home offers old-world charm, with Moorish and Italianate features throughout the sun-drenched rooms. Modern amenities include a home theater, billiard room, and gleaming chef’s kitchen. Naturally, there are the stunning views of the ocean across the beautifully manicured lawns and gardens.

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Asking price: $21,500,000

This estate comes with a breathtaking loggia.
This estate comes with a breathtaking loggia.

realtor.com

An incredible vista of the water awaits the lucky buyer of this Italian villa–style home, along with its 9,000 square feet of living space, and a generous 6-acre plot surrounding it.

Architect Peter Becker and designer Rosie Feinberg collaborated over five years on this mansion, creating a star-worthy home with glass walls and steel doors that reveal a breathtaking loggia facing south.

Along with four bedrooms and 4.5 baths, there’s a massive master suite, formal rooms for entertaining, a wine room, and a jaw-dropping library straight out of an ivy league college. Fruit trees dot the landscape, which also includes a pool, spa, and guesthouse.

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Asking price: $17,900,000

This property sports a fenced-in dog run.
This property sports a fenced-in dog run.

realtor.com

For a bit less money (though when we’re talking millions, what’s a few bucks here and there?), you can have this 8,500-square-foot home known as Casa Leo Linda. It has six bedrooms and eight baths, plus a pool, pool house, and tennis court. However, the mansion’s proximity to stores and nightlife in Montecito’s Upper Village may be its strongest selling point.

And if you have a pooch, you’ll be pleased to learn that the property sports a fenced-in dog run. Dog walkers and their four-legged friends can also enjoy the gardens, sculpted hedges, and koi pond.

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Asking price: $9,500,000

This is what a modest mansion looks like in Montecito.
This is what a modest mansion looks like in Montecito.

realtor.com

For a more modest Montecito manse, this four-bedroom, five-bath home is both charming and comfortable. Several of the rooms with cathedral ceilings open to the patio in the rear that overlooks an inviting pool and mature plantings on a 1-acre lot.

The kitchen comes with both walk-in and butler’s pantries, while the main living spaces feature a great room, formal dining room, and den. For those cool California nights, you can feed the embers in two fireplaces in the master suite and living room.

Source: realtor.com

COVID-19 Completely Transformed the Way We Buy Homes—but Will It Stick?

Remember lazy Sunday afternoons when home buyers could leisurely hop from open house to open house, partaking of wine and cheese laid out to reel in more foot traffic—the more the merrier.

Much can change in a year.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, triggering a wave of lockdowns that dramatically changed our lives in countless ways—including how we buy and sell homes.

Still, now that vaccines are becoming more widely available and life soon promises to resume some semblance of pre-COVID-19 normalcy, home buyers and sellers might be wondering: Will the old ways of real estate return, too?

Now that we’ve passed the one-year mark, we thought it fitting to look at all the ways the pandemic has changed residential real estate transactions—and why many of these adjustments are likely to stick around for good.

Over: Large, lavish open houses

Pre-pandemic, holding an open house was often akin to throwing a party, with some brokers spending tens of thousands of dollars to throw buzz-worthy events complete with Champagne, live music, and more.

Yet once COVID-19 precautions prohibited large gatherings in enclosed spaces, this glitzy breed of open house quickly disappeared. Instead, buyers weren’t even allowed to visit homes; but if they were, they did so individually, by appointment only—encased in masks, gloves, and booties.

While poking heads in closets and checking water pressure was once par for the course, pandemic buyers were discouraged from touching doorknobs and faucets, lest they leave traces of the coronavirus behind.

While the legendary open houses before COVID-19 were certainly fun, they aren’t likely to return in their usual splendor—which is fine by many real estate agents, since these epic events attracted tons of looky-loos who had a low probability of actually making an offer.

“To me, it’s a gift,” says Michelle Schwartz of The Agency in Los Angeles. She adds that most agents agree that individual showings are a far safer and efficient use of time, as it narrows down visitors to those who are more serious about buying.

Schwartz adds that this more modest approach has also tamped down on people entering the home for more nefarious purposes, like stealing belongings,

“This has reduced the sellers’ fear of putting their most prized possessions on display to the public,” she explains.

More subdued open houses will likely return as pandemic precautions are removed, but “don’t touch” provisions and requirements of always having a real estate agent or representative with you are likely to stay in place.

Here to stay: Virtual home tours

Given home buyers couldn’t tour homes in person easily during the pandemic, technology ramped up to allow them to check out homes in other ways. They include video tours (where a real estate agent shows a home remotely to buyers on a live video steam), virtual open houses (same as above, but to numerous buyers simultaneously), and 3D virtual tours (where buyers click through an interactive, 360-degree view of a home on their own).

A year ago, virtual viewings were a safety precaution. But since then, they’ve become a beloved convenience among buyers who adore checking out homes from the comfort of their couch. As such, this relatively new technology is no doubt here to stay, and will only become more sophisticated over time. (Think: virtual reality headsets with which you can “walk” through a house.)

“Virtual showings through 3D videos have revolutionized the way our industry does business and likely will continue to do so,” says Kirste Gaudet, broker for @properties in Chicago. “The 3D tours are so realistic that we may be able to put open houses to rest. I find that my clients now want them as part of the marketing effort.”

Aside from the convenience, virtual tours help home buyers quickly and easily narrow their options to a few houses they might like to actually visit.

“Ideally, most people want to see a home in person before they buy, but virtual home tours certainly help them reduce the number of homes they have to spend time and effort touring,” says Josh Judge of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices/Verani Realty in Southern New Hampshire.

Here to stay: Greater comfort with sight-unseen offers

Most people used to shudder at the thought of making an offer on a house without seeing it in person, and most experts advised against it. But the pandemic has persuaded many to take that leap of faith.

“Now the average home buyer is more inclined to buy a property sight-unseen,” says Lance Kalfeltz, a broker with LV RE Services in Las Vegas. “Being able to work from home allows them to live almost anywhere, and it’s not always convenient to tour a home before buying it.”

Kalfeltz points out that in hot markets like his—where many buyers are making an exodus from Orange County and Los Angeles—by the time a would-be buyer got on a plane (which many were reluctant to do over the past year) or made the drive, the property would be gone.

Besides, unless they agree to an “as is” contract, buyers are most often allowed to back out of a sale if the property doesn’t pass inspection. As such, sight-unseen offers aren’t as risky as they might seem, which is helping more buyers feel comfortable enough to go for it on homes they’re admiring via the many virtual viewing options they now have at their disposal.

Here to stay: Remote closings

In the past, closing on a house was one moment when all parties gathered together in an office to sign paperwork, swap keys, shake hands, and be off on their merry way. But no more!

During the pandemic, “drive by” or “drive up” closings became common, where you’d sign papers sitting in your car, while a masked and gloved runner delivered papers back and forth.

Odds are, remote closings are here to stay, and may even be doable from home. In some states where remote online notarizations are permitted, all documents can now be signed through an approved online notary platform (e.g., Notarize) or audiovisual portal (e.g., Microsoft Teams).

And in the many states where only professionally witnessed ink signatures will do, lending officials may send a notary public to the buyer’s residence or place of business. Although this convenience might cost extra, many buyers seem happy to pay for it.

“I have one client who lives about two blocks from the escrow office, but still opted to pay the $125 extra to have a notary come to his house,” says Kalfeltz.

Over: Desktop appraisals

For all the changes that seem here to stay, there are some aspects of residential real estate transactions that will likely revert to the way they were done before the pandemic, like desktop appraisals. This is where a home appraiser assesses the value of a home merely by looking at it online. However, banks, buyers, and sellers don’t seem to be consistently happy with this practice, as important details can easily be missed this way.

“It’s impossible to assess the value of the neighborhood and the position of the house within it when you’re doing a remote appraisal,” says Schwartz.

Also, one bad camera angle on an online photo can unduly influence an appraisal by thousands of dollars, and keep a loan from going through. No one wins in a situation like that.

Source: realtor.com

‘I Bought a House in a Flood Zone’: Here’s How We Don’t Sink

One weekend last fall, I was checking out a real estate listing on realtor.com of a cute 19th-century house near a creek. But underneath this idyllic photo, I noticed two words in small, blue print, “Flood Factor,” followed by a number,10/10.

Alarmed, I delved deeper, and learned that this property’s flood risk was as high as it gets.

I texted my real estate agent, who’d sent me this listing: “Let’s skip this one. I don’t want to live in a flood zone.”

Still, our house hunt had been going from bad to worse all summer. Our quest for a second home in upstate New York had stalled, as the ongoing pandemic sent droves of home buyers into the market. A new listing would hit, our real estate agent would book a showing for a day or two later, and by the time we were driving to see the property, I’d learn there was already an accepted offer.

On this particular weekend, this flood-prone house was near the one tour we’d scheduled.

“We’ll be so close to it, why not just swing by?” my agent asked.

I agreed. After all, what did we have to lose?

Our backyard during the worst of a recent flood watch
Our backyard during the worst of a recent flood watch

Janet Siroto

Buying a house in a flood zone: Is it worth the risk?

This house was a charmer and then some: an 1870s homestead with three fireplaces, wide-board floors, a beautifully renovated kitchen, and a roomy addition that meant more space for our family. Outside, the creek burbled, filling the house with sounds of nature. In the yard, a hummingbird darted to and fro, a frog hopped in the water, and butterflies circled about. It was like a scene from “Enchanted,” a Disney movie come to life.

In short order, my husband and I huddled with our real estate agent, deciding how much to offer for the house. As for the flooding, we were provided with a massive file of information about bridge and dam improvements that diminished the flood risk, as well as documentation of what the sellers had done to safeguard the property from rising water.

We learned the house had indeed flooded during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. But, we wondered, who on the East Coast hadn’t felt the impact of that devastating event?

My husband pored over the property’s survey, noting the elevations of the yard, basement, and house, and then cross-referenced that with historic flood data on high tidal surges. He felt we were OK, so onward we went.

Getting the flood insurance facts

As we progressed toward closing the sale, we became acquainted with the ins and outs of flood insurance, which our bank required to approve our mortgage.

Flood insurance is similar to other insurance coverage: The lower your deductible (what you pay out of pocket to fix problems before insurance kicks in), the higher your premium (what you pay for the insurance). Once an insurance broker laid out our options, it was clear that our property would run several thousand dollars a year.

My husband and I thought long and hard about the numbers. The additional cost of flood insurance at a time of historically low mortgage rates seemed like a decent trade-off. We paid the first year of flood insurance upfront, and then had the next year’s premium rolled into our monthly mortgage payment. This assured the bank that we were committed to ongoing coverage through the life of our loan.

Our backyard patio is just steps from the creek.
Our backyard patio is just steps from the creek.

Janet Siroto

Blame it on the rain

We closed on the house just before the holidays. Feeling safe and snug, we were so happy to be in our little haven in the country. Up went a Christmas tree, which one of our sons had chopped down himself a few miles from our new home. Down came snow, lots of it. The house looked so pretty, frosted in white, and the yard was carpeted in snow drifts.

But this bucolic scene took a turn for the worse, and fast.

The weather service announced there would be torrential rain on Christmas Day. In addition, temperatures would be unseasonably warm, in the 50s, causing all the snow to melt and run off. Flood watches and warnings were issued.

At that moment, I wasn’t thinking about wrapping the last of the holiday gifts and sliding them under the tree. Instead, I was anxiously imagining how the next day might unfold.

The next day: unrelenting rain and temperatures warm enough to melt every inch of snow.

In the back of our yard, where the creek merged with another stream, we noticed that we had less yard. The water was overflowing its normal boundaries and advancing toward the house. My husband stuck a measuring stick in the ground. We watched and waited.

By midafternoon on Christmas Day, about half of our yard was under a few inches of water. My plans for a gazebo by the rear property line were clearly dashed, as that area turned out to be semiaquatic. We realized we were in only a flood watch (meaning potential danger), not a full-on flood warning (which basically means prepare to evacuate).

We held our breath—the creek surged, and retreated.

Making peace with major risk

We had Christmas dinner in our new home, overlooking a very soggy scene outside. What had we gotten ourselves into? More than we’d bargained for, that’s true. We are going to live with a layer of uncertainty and worry about rising waters that we’ve never had before.

But then again, we’ve never before experienced the joy of opening our windows and listening to a babbling brook. Or seeing all kinds of ducks come bobbing through our backyard. Or catching trout 10 feet from our kitchen.

We rolled the dice, and so far, we’re keeping our heads and hopes well above water.

The creek in our backyard is so picturesque, it's worth the flood risk.
The creek in our backyard is so picturesque, it’s worth the flood risk.

Janet Siroto

Source: realtor.com