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Connie Yoshimura

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A Snail’s Pace for the Real Estate Market in 2019?

by Connie Yoshimura

The Anchorage real estate market is off to a slow start in 2019. Active listings for Jan/Feb fell by 3.2% from the same time as last year. More importantly, closed sales declined by 15.60%. Whether that is because of continued lack of inventory or the current concern over potential job losses as a result of the Governor’s proposed budget cuts is hard to determine. However, combined, those two factors have resulted in a negative 5.95% decline in the average sales price year to date of $350,968 compared to the 2018 average of $373,180.

 

New construction single family permits have also declined. If we thought 21 new single family permits was a slow start in 2018, this year is off to an even slower start with only 13 single family permits for Jan/Feb. Five duplexes were permitted compared to only one last year but multi-family units are only 7 compared to 36 YTD last year. Including commercial and government alterations, total new construction is down 32.43% for the first two months of this year. It is still too early to tell the impact earthquake damage will have on new construction but most of that bump up should come in commercial alterations and residential remodeling increases. It won’t affect our declining single family permits dilemma as few homes have actually been slated for demolition and replacement.  

 

But the good news for housing is the Feds have announced interest rates will remain the same for 2019 with the 30 year fixed rate mortgage now stable at 4.125. Although most buyers purchase homes because of personal changes relating to marriage, birth, death, divorce and job change, a low interest rate allows buyers to have better and more choices, assuming, of course, there is adequate inventory in the market to select from. 


The lower forty-eight is continuing to experience a single family renaissance with national builders scooping up hundreds of lots in various secondary markets. Here in Anchorage, we’re not so lucky. Our lot available is in the Valley. Until last weekend, it had been over a year since I had been to the Valley and the commercial and residential activity was eye opening. If you haven’t been to the Valley in a while, take a spring drive up the Glenn. The traffic, commercial and retail enterprises popping up will renew your economic faith in Alaska.


The Municipality of Anchorage needs to recognize its economic competitor knocking on its backdoor and it starts with acknowledging the need for more home ownership opportunities. The solution to more Anchorage home building needs to be varied and thoughtful.  More downtown multi-family units (yes, the MOA has already incentivized that with a 12 year tax abatement) but what about the fact that over 65% of buyers prefer a single family home which is why so many are willing to make that hour long drive to and from the Valley? Let’s take another look at the Title 21 guidebook and see what can be created with smaller single family lots and less infill restrictions on lower density multi-family lots.


How Anchorage's Property Tax Compares to Other Communities

by Connie Yoshimura

According to the Alaska Department of Commerce, Anchorage’s mill rate of 16.4 is the second highest in Alaska. Only Fairbanks has a higher mill rate of 19.8. In Anchorage the tax on a $350,000 home is $5,740 and $8,200 on a $500,000 home, excluding any exemptions entitled to the property owner.   In Fairbanks, those same home values would be taxed at $6,930 and $9,900. Unlike most other Alaskan communities, neither Fairbanks nor Anchorage has a borough or sales tax which places the local tax burden squarely on property owners.     

When comparing Anchorage’s property taxes to Boise Idaho, its tax on a $350,000 home is $2,804 and $4,005 on a $500,000 home. In Aurora, Colorado, the tax is $2,464 and $3,520 respectively. In Mesa, Arizona, the tax is $2,807 on a $350,000 and $4,000 on $500,00. I’ve used those cities as comparison because all three have populations under $500,000. 

Anchorage’s l6.4 mill rate significantly contributes to the high monthly cost of our housing. Shaving $3,600 off a tax bill on a $350,000 home would create more buyers in the market who would have to earn $1,000 less per month in order to qualify for a mortgage. Home ownership creates social and economic stability for a community whether it’s here or in Arizona. I encourage Anchorage’s assembly to explore other opportunities for taxation to relieve the tax burden on home owners. The 12 year tax abatement for the development of residential properties in the downtown business district is a good first step but it doesn’t help the average home buyer who, according to national statistics, still wants to live in a single family home.

Notes from the International Builders’ Show

by Connie Yoshimura

Last week I attended the IBS Show in Las Vegas, along with Dwell Realty’s Marketing Director, Claire James. We came away with some new marketing ideas as well as design trends and a better understanding of the U.S. housing market. Like all conference attendees, and there were over 80,000, we had to figure out what was applicable to our particular market place. Although Alaska is the largest state, we are one of the smaller markets with only 85,000 housing units in the MOA and well below average new construction starts for a city our size with a 296,000+ population. In fact, in January 2019, there were only five new single family homes permitted.

What we did come away with is that 68% of all buyers still want a single family home, whether they are millennials or aging boomers. But, the single family home is shrinking. This is due to higher home prices and tightening affordability but also a mindset change and recognition that big is not always better. Since 2016, there has been a continued decline in the average home size and decreased demand for three car plus garages. Alaskans still love their big garages for all their outdoor toys but garage space is almost as expensive as bedroom and living space so for some buyers having the fourth bedroom or flex room becomes more important. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average new-construction home declined to 2,576 square feet from its peak at 2,689. Increased production in townhouses, which comprised 14% of all new home starts, contributed to the downsizing, and we will see that trend continuing for Anchorage  in 2019, due to our lack of developable residential land. 

But regardless of size, what all buyers want is a good-sized laundry room. This is particularly true here since many of the homes built in the 1970’s and 1980’s have closet size laundry areas off a hallway. Today’s laundry room can still be small due to the W/D stack but it needs upper shelving and poles as well as a countertop. If there’s not enough space and the W/D is side by side, consider putting a laminate top over the W/D. A laundry sink is the ultimate luxury as is a window.  

Design trends include a combination of white, gray and natural brown wood tones, similar to naturally stained cherry. Gray has not gone away but it’s now in combination with other colors.  And wallpaper is back, particularly on vanity bath walls and even as a substitute for kitchen backsplashes. The most popular kitchen in the entire show was RED!  And let’s rethink pet washing. There’s now a doggie shower.

As for new marketing  ideas, you’ll see Dwell Realty and our builders more online and social media as well as TV in various venues but we’ll still be here on the Sunday front page of the classified section, providing you with newly listed homes and market commentary.

Test Your Real Estate Knowledge with a Quiz!

by Connie Yoshimura

1. Did total gross dollar volume of sold residential listings increase or decrease between 2017 and 2018?

A. Increase by 4.3%

B. Decrease by 2.8%

C. Increase by 1.1%


2. Did condo volume increase or decrease during the same time?

A. Decrease by 2.4%

B. increase by 4.2%

C. Increase by 1%


3. What about multi-family sold volume?

A. Increased by 2.5%

C. Increase by 0.3%

D. Decrease by 1.3%


4. Did all sold property types increase or decrease?

5. So how would you characterize the 2018 Anchorage real estate market?

A. Same as in 2017       B. Slight decline

C. Imperceptible increase?


6. Based on January 2019 sold stats compared to 2018 what impact did the earthquake and government shutdown have on the market?

A. No impact                    B. Decrease of 12.6%     

C. Decrease of 15.2%      D. Increase of 2%


7. Based on 2018 single family building permits, circle the top four residential builders?

Colony Builders, MGJ,   Spinell Homes, Merit Homes Trevi Builders, Crown Pointe, Hultquist Homes,   John Hagmeier Homes, Troy Davis


8. Name the most popular condo subdivision in Anchorage

9. What is the lowest down payment amount available for a conventional loan, assuming a 700+ credit score?

A. 3%          B. 5%       

C. 10%        D. 15%


10. What is the maximum triple zero down VA loan amount?

A. $726,525      B. $550,000      C. $650,000


11. What is the median price of a pre-owned home in Anchorage?


12. What was the median price of a new construction Single family home in Anchorage?


13. According to preliminary plats approved by the MOA in 2018, there are _______ lots to be developed in 2019.


14. How many are in Anchorage?          


15. How many are in Eagle River?


16. What will be the average price of a new single family lot with public water, sewer and a publicly dedicated road in Anchorage?

A. $125,000       B. $135,000       C. $150,000


17. Will Anchorage experience appreciation in the residential market in 2019?  And if so, what do you think it will be?

A. 0.8%        B. 2.8%       C. 3.6%        D. Above 4%


ANSWER KEY:  1. C     2. C    3. C    4. Increase by .8%    5. C    6. B    7. Spinell Homes, Hultquist Homes, John Hagmeier Homes, Troy Davis  8. WestGate    9. A    10. A    11. $372,096    12. $561,500    13. 138    14. 43    15. 95    16. C    17. B

A Look Back at 2018’s New Construction Stats

by Connie Yoshimura

All the state and local economists have predicted Alaska’ recession will end the latter part of 2019.  Let’s hope so for the sake of the new construction industry which has lost over 900 jobs in the past three years. This chart shows an average 22 percent decline  in dollar volume for all new building permits issued by the MOA over the past three years.  Those permit values include single family, duplex, multi-family, commercial and remodeling/alterations. In particular, there have been less than 200 single family permits for each of the past three years, compared to 276 in 2015 or on average more than a 25% decline. Duplex permits have also had a substantial decline. Also hard hit has been the multi-family category which peaked at 369 units in 2015 and has had more than a 50% decline per year since then.


The average single family building permit has a value of $391,757 which does not include the cost of the land. The average duplex permit is $507,034. The MOA doesn’t differentiate between a duplex built for a single owner vs. a duplex condo where each side is sold separately. The vast majority of duplex permits are for the individual units sold separately which have an average value of $253,517. This number also does not include a land value. For comparison sake, the average single family home sold in 2018 for $371,883. There were 921 condos sold in 2018 for an average price of  $204,631. However, that value included smaller stacked condo units as well as duplex condos which are townhouse style. These runaway construction costs are directly attributable to Anchorage’s land scarcity, increased regulation for both vertical and horizontal construction and higher material costs. Despite the lack of construction jobs, labor costs continue to rise as many sub and specialty contractors moved to the lower 48 where their skills are in high demand.

 

Anchorage’s most prolific    single family builders include Spinell Homes and Hultquist Homes. They are also Anchorage’s top duplex builders. Spinell had a total of 48 units while Hultquist Homes had 38. The most popular new home communities include WestGate, Alyeska Basin, Resolution Pointe, Denali Estates, the Terraces, Huffman Timbers, Eagle Crossing and Powder View. The competition for buyers is not so much between builders or communities but with the resale properties which on average have a lower asking price by as much as $100,000 for the same square footage. Nevertheless, buyers love new not only because of new’s higher energy efficiency standards but more contemporary changes in floor plans on how space is utilized and lower maintenance and unexpected repair costs.  

 

  

Should Residential Properties Carry Anchorage’s Tax Burden

by Connie Yoshimura

According to the recently published 2019 Anchorage property appraisal report, Anchorage has total property values of $46 billion. However, not all of that $46 billion is taxed due to ‘exemptions’. State mandatory exemptions by type include seniors/disabled vets, municipality, education, federal, state, charitable, religion, hospital, native, community purpose, veterans’ organizations and other. Optional local exemptions include residential, personal property and charter schools. All of these exemptions amount to 24% of the total real property values.

It is interesting to note that the bulk of taxable value by property type falls on residential at 61% and single family homes make up $16.5 billion of the residential taxes, by far the largest category of ANY taxable type. If you include condos, 2-3 unit multi-family and vacant/other residential, that total is $21.5 billion. The next highest category taxed is commercial properties at 31% and personal property at 8 per cent. 

Since 2013, the MOA has been doing an annual review of residential, senior and disabled veteran exemptions with total adjustments to add taxable value of $56 million.  It is also interesting to note that during that period of time, the mill rate also increased from 12.96 to 16.40 or an increase of 26.54% percent.

Total revenue from property taxes is $549 million which supports more than half of the MOA’s operating budget. It’s hard to make sense of what exactly all these numbers mean but my instinct tells me that homeowners’ are paying a disproportionate burden of taxes to support our local government. Every time a new bond proposal is approved with only a $2 or $3 dollar increase per $100,000 in residential value, homeowners pay more than anyone else to support additional services and improvements. The average sales price of a single family home is approximately $368,000. The median value is $330,000. As our housing stock continues to age and requires more maintenance and repairs and utility costs increase, perhaps the MOA should consider adding to its tax income by looking at downsizing some of its local exemptions and working with the state government to modify, but not necessarily eliminate, state mandated exemptions so that the tax burden doesn’t disproportionately fall on Anchorage’s residential property owners.

Do You Live in a Common Interest Community?

by Connie Yoshimura

According to the Community Associations Institute’s report published in 2016, 68 million Americans  or the equivalent of 21% of the U.S. population live in a common-interest community. Fifty-three percent are Homeowner Associations and forty-four are Condominium Associations. Three percent are Cooperatives. Although it is difficult to determine the exact number of associations in Alaska, a public search of state records identifies 480 condo associations; approximately 420 homeowners associations; and 980 owners associations for a total of 1,880. That’s a lot more than I expected to find! And with Anchorage’s diminishing availability of residential land, condo associations, in particular, will continue to increase as Anchorage is forced to become a higher density community. So far this year, 908 buyers have purchased a condo with an average sales price of $208,459.  Many of these buyers are first time homeowners and are unaware they are purchasing one of the most sophisticated and complicated types of property ownership.  

 

The recent 7.0 earthquake has brought to the many owner misunderstandings and issues related to who is responsible for repairs and damages. The answers are in the public offering or resale certificate but, frankly, most buyers don’t read the two or three inch statement they are given to approve prior to closing. But a lot more owners are reading them now as a result of earthquake sheetrock cracks, broken windows, damaged door jams, et cetera. And condo owners are finding out there are significant differences in the description of what they have purchased and what their owner’s insurance and the HOA insurance covers.  

 

Not all HOA insurance covers the building structure if it is a site condo which by definition the building is enveloped in a defined air space. However, if you are not purchasing a site condo, you can expect the HOA to cover the structure of the building which includes roof and foundation and any party wall in a two or more attached configuration. One area of potential disagreement is cracked or broken windows. If a neighbor’s kid throws a baseball through your window, you can expect to replace it yourself. However, if an earthquake cracks your window as a result of the movement of an exterior wall, you may have an insurance claim to submit to your HOA. But not always because unit boundaries differ per community. As you can see it gets complicated, and so the best thing you can do as a condo owner is read your offering statement, read your declaration, read your personal insurance policy and your HOA policy.  

 

However, the important thing you can do as a condo owner is discuss with your insurance agent the addition of loss assessment insurance to your policy which will help mitigate any special assessments from the association as a result of an earthquake or any other casualty. That’s what I’m doing as a condo owner.        

Got Drywall Cracks? Here’s What You Need to Do

by Connie Yoshimura

 

The November 30th earthquake  was a big one, creating thousands of drywall  cracks  in hundreds of homes. According to national building standards, drywall cracks greater than 1/16th of an inch should be repaired. So if you’ve got drywall cracks in your home as the result of the earthquake, the first thing you should do is hire a home inspector.  Most inspectors are not engineers but they will be able to advise you whether or not you should also hire a structural engineer. A home inspector’s fee is approximately $500 while a structural engineer can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,000, depending on the time spent in the home to assess the degree of damage and write the report. Given the number of aftershocks we are still experiencing, you may want to wait another week or so before you call an inspector unless you feel that your home in structurally not safe. Aftershocks can create additional drywall cracks.  One general contractor told me that after the Friday quake, he had only one crack in a 2,800 square foot home but in a reinspection five days later there were an additional nineteen. All the cracks were cosmetic and at the seam which is where most cracks occur. Repair of drywall cracks vary, depending on the contractor and the painter. A little mud can hide a lot of cracks but some contractors will cut the drywall, mud, caulk and then paint. 


If you have your home listed for sale, we want to encourage you to get a home inspection and a structural engineer if the home inspector recommends it. Although buyers usually buy with their eyes and are not generally concerned about the number of tie downs, steel strappings around the garage opening, they are going to undoubtedly now want a third party opinion as to the integrity of the home. If you are in a buy/sell contract, you should reach out to your mortgage originator to see what their investor’s protocol is when dealing with a home that has experienced an earthquake.  Some credit union lenders are requiring a home inspection that they will pay for prior to closing in order to be assured of the home’s value.  Other lenders simply want a hold harmless agreement signed by the buyer and the seller. If the appraisal was done prior to the earthquake, most lenders are requiring a reinspection by the appraiser in order to re-establish the condition of the property which the seller is required to pay.     

 

If your home is a condo, and there is no earthquake insurance for the community, and your governing documents delineate your condo beginning at studs, and not sheetrock, you as an owner are responsible for any repairs. If you have substantial cracking or uneven floors, contact your management company immediately to report the damage. The HOA may be responsible for structural repairs. That would not be the case if it was a site condo.  


We have all been through a traumatic event. Congratulations to the Municipality of Anchorage for their disaster preparedness, fast and articulate communication and building code improvements since the 1964 quake which has obviously saved many lives. We thank you. 

Coming Real Estate Trends in 2019

by Connie Yoshimura

Although we Alaskans  still like to think we’re different than our cousins in the lower 48, there are some housing trends and economic factors that will affect even us in Alaska as we move forward into 2019 from rising  mortgage interest rates to the color of bathroom fixtures in new homes. After almost forty years listing, selling and developing residential real estate in Anchorage, I’ve lived and worked through almost every imaginable trend both positive and negative.  Just imagine selling a home with a mortgage interest rate at 15.75 % in the early l980’s.  Yes, people do buy homes at that rate because people buy homes not because of the interest rate but because of personal factors like marriage, births, divorce, death and job change. Just imagine that Anchorage once built over 6,000 housing units in one year which was more than the city of Phoenix where I am writing this column from, visiting with my Japanese-American family for Thanksgiving dinner. Then, imagine when you could buy a Foxwood condo for $29,000 just by putting it on your credit card. Now, they are worth $132,000 and I sure wish I would have bought one then!  I know one builder who told me he wished he had kept every home he had ever built.  And I know another builder who did keep a percentage of them and did very well when he sold them off several years later.

So moving forward into 2019, you can expect to pay more for a mortgage.  Interest rates will push to 5% plus but hopefully will not hit 6%.  Home owners who bought or refinanced at 3.25% will be smug that they hit the market right. But who can really complain  when it’s three times less than 15.75%?  Labor shortages, rising material costs thanks to tariffs on soft wood from Canada and steel and sheetrock from China, will push new home costs up as well as rising regulatory costs—a national trend, not just a local one we all bemoan that no organization or elected official can seem to do anything about. And don’t forget about those rising interest rates.  Most speculative building and development rates have already hit 6% and will keep rising in 2019, another factor that will increase the cost of a new home.

Now, about the color of those bathroom fixtures.  Remember turquoise, gold and gray?  Yes, I said grey.  Regardless of how you spell it, grey is out  whether its on the walls or the stand alone tub.  If you have grey in your home and are fighting our dark winters, turn it into grayish by  adding some white pillow accents, painting a wall white, and increasing the wattage of your lighting.  Natural wood is back in 2019, whether it’s a fireplace mantle, a beam or cherry cabinets.  And that kitchen island which is at the center of all Thanksgiving dinners?  It’s big and bold with a quartz waterfall.  The stove top and sink returns to their rightful place along a wall.

Now, I’m off to enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner with my multi-generational/cultural American made family and I hope you have all had a Happy Thanksgiving Dinner with your family and friends.

How Dining Rooms and Kitchens Have Changed

by Connie Yoshimura

Thanksgiving is one of the few days in the year when homeowners actually use their dining rooms. For the rest of the time, most of us have become more casual and eat around the kitchen island. Gone, too, is the formal living room, replaced by the great room in contemporary plans.  But, in buyer surveys the dining room still emerges as one of the most desirable ‘must haves’, particularly for General X and Y families who hold on to their childhood memories of holiday meals. Even downsizing boomers and seniors hesitate to give up their dining room. How big that space needs to be usually depends on the size of the table and its’ shape. Popular round tables require a wider width. In today’s market a dining room that is 10 by 12 would be considered adequate for most holiday dinners. That’s a cozy ten or twelve seats around a rectangular table. You would be surprised how often a builder’s plan gets pushed and pulled to accommodate a family table, hutch and side board.  

However, the dining room isn’t the only room that gets more attention during the holidays.  For days before slicing that perfectly roasted turkey, it’s all about the kitchen and appliances. Most new ovens will accommodate a 20 lb turkey but you need more than one oven for the dressing, roasted brussel sprouts or that famous green bean side dish. Double ovens is probably the most asked for upgrade in a new home kitchen. There are now 32-36 inch stoves and stove tops with five burners so those big commercial Viking ranges aren’t nearly as necessary as in the past. But if there’s more than one cook, a 42 inch cook top alleviates a lot of bumping elbows. The MOA requires a minimum of thirty-six inches between counters and islands but what cooks really need is at least a forty-two inch space to maneuver around. If you’re planning a new home or a kitchen remodel, consult a kitchen designer. They are like occupational therapists. They can tract a cook’s movement and design around it in the most efficient way possible. The triangle concept between the kitchen, fridge and stove remains a good place to start the planning process. Even in million dollar homes, I’ve seen designs where when you open the dishwasher, you can’t stand in front of it because the island is in the way.  Walk in pantries are also a must have in any home over $500,000 and you should make sure the builder includes adequate lighting. 

Kitchen designs have changed significantly over the past thirty years. First, there was the galley kitchen. Then, it opened up to a U-shaped kitchen. Then, came the small center island in the middle of the U-shaped kitchen. Now, the most contemporary kitchens are wide open with a detached island that is all one height without an appliance in the middle. It is like the galley kitchen without the walls and usually even bigger. It’s where the family gathers at the end of a long work day except on Thanksgiving when we all sit down around the dining room table to give thanks that we are fortunate to have family, friends and a more than enough to eat.      

 

Displaying blog entries 1-10 of 220

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