by M. Anthony Carr

Many sellers in today’s market are bemoaning the fact that prices have stabilized or are falling in their communities. While year-over-year numbers regionally and nationwide have demonstrated strong appreciation, the latest month-to-month declines in some markets have made headlines and struck fear in the hearts of homeowners everywhere.

Despite very robust long-term housing appreciation, many observers of the market and prognosticators write scary reports about how appreciation has slowed, prices have dipped, etc.

Stories from the field go something like this: The seller won’t accept a $150,000 lower offer on his $1.2 million listing because he’s already dropped it $200,000 from his original asking price. When asked how much he bought the house for 15 years earlier, he answers, “That has no bearing on my situation now.”

The real answer is that the seller actually bought the house for around $400,000 15 years ago and believes the roughly $600,000 gain on the property is not enough — since last year the same type home sold for $1.4 million.

My dear sellers, sell in the market you’re in, not the one you wish it could be. This particular seller’s story (and stubborn attitude) could be blocking a great opportunity for him to take advantage of the current market instead of the market taking advantage of him.

The mindset goes something like this: “I’ve already lost $200,000, why would I give up another $150,000 to sell my house?” If we’re going to talk about how much has been lost (on paper) and how much as been gained (once you sell the house), then let’s look at the real cash gain on the above property. In just a moment you’ll see how many homeowners are sitting on more than 1,000 percent gain in their homes — they just haven’t realized it yet (nor will they) until the house is sold.

Let’s use the above example. The homeowner bought the house for $400,000 and is standing in front of a $1,050,000 offer that could net him more than $600,000 if he signs the bottom line. So what’s his gain?

At an initial glance, it looks like his house has grown in value by 162 percent, thus he’s gained a 162 percent return on investment, right? Actually, while the asset has grown by 162 percent, his return on the investment of his actual dollars is much higher.
Here are the assumptions:

Purchase price: $400,000
Down payment: $40,000
Mortgage amount: $360,000
Sales price: $1,050,000
Cost of sale: 8 percent (commission, closing costs, seller subsidy, etc.)
Net gain: $606,000

With the above numbers, his $40,000 investment several years ago has resulted in a net gain of 1,515 percent. That’s right — one thousand-five hundred-fifteen percent.

My question to the seller is: “How much is enough?”

According to the Office of Federal Enterprise Housing Oversight reports that the average quarter over quarter appreciation (for 2Q 2006) for housing was more than 10 percent over the same period a year ago. Of course, the report itself and the media jumped on the statement of, “The quarterly rate reflects a sharp decline of more than one percentage point from the previous quarter and is the lowest rate of appreciation since the fourth quarter of 1999.”

Now, that sells newspapers and gets the “email this article” link a hefty workout. What wasn’t reported everywhere is that the average appreciation nationally has been 298.85 percent since 1980. In the last five years, the nationwide average has been 56.49 percent in appreciation. Where it really comes down to a level of importance is what has happened in your state or community. For instance, in my home state of Virginia, the 26-year appreciation has been 360.29 percent; the 5-year appreciation has been 83.38 percent.

Now let’s look at the latest appreciation/depreciation in my marketplace — down about 1 percent compared to the same month a year ago. Ouch. That smarts. (I will point out though, that also in my market area, sellers have been overpricing to the tune of 13 percent higher than their counterparts from last year, while they are selling at 5 percent less than asking price. It’s not so much a loss in “value” as it has been an overpricing of the inventory.)

Regardless of price, the basic investment strategies still apply here — buy low, sell high. It’s just all relative. If the seller thinks he’s “losing” tens of thousands of dollars because 1) that’s what the houses were selling for last year; and/or 2) that’s how much he’s had to reduce the asking price, then he has a long emotional row to hoe.
On the other hand, the seller could look at the numbers calculated above and start dancing all the way to the bank with his ROI of 1,515 percent. So, again I ask, “How much is enough?”

The biggest challenge a seller has to face in today’s market isn’t the market, it’s actually the person he’s looking at in the mirror.

Published: October 6, 2006