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The Art of Personalization

by Connie Yoshimura

The big take-away from the International Builders Show held last week in Las Vegas, with over 100,000 attendees (over 120 from Alaska,) is the Art of Personalization. Baby boomers crave personalization. Gen Xers expect, and want, personalization, and millennials, or the ‘millies’ as they are called in the real estate trade, live personalization. What exactly does that mean? Starbucks has 80,000 beverage variations, and McDonalds has introduced kiosks at their order counter so that customers can customize their burger. Taco Bell has done the same. Home builders need to take notice from the food and beverage industry.

Demographically, there are 29 home-buying groups, ranging from young single, older single, middle family, the mature family, not to mention the multi-generational family. Thanks to Houzz and Pinterest, every single one of these home buying groups has an opinion as to the type of master bathroom mirror they want to peer into every morning, plus the color and material of the kitchen countertop and backsplash. Builders who build spec homes and finish their interiors are in for a longer buyer wait time. A better business strategy is to finish and furnish a model home, then take spec homes to the drywall and trim stage and allow one of those individuals in the 29 different home-buying groups to make their own selections. The Art of Personalization used to be confined to the upper-end buyer, but not anymore. If you can customize your burger and your coffee, you are definitely going to want to pick out your kitchen countertop in your new home purchase.

Sellers preparing their pre-owned home for sale face the same dilemma. Better to just get rid of the clutter. Take twenty-five percent of your furniture out of your over-stuffed living or family room. Clear your kitchen counters. Have your home professionally cleaned. Up the wattage in your light bulbs and turn on all your lights for showings. If your carpet is dirty or worn, replace it in a neutral color. Paint out your accent walls in one of the nine off-white shades offered by Benjamin Moore. Let a buyer do that $30,000 kitchen remodel. Whether it’s an entry-level condo in mid-town or a million dollar home on the hillside, it is even harder for a private seller to second guess what’s trending in the market place.

Whether we know it or not, we are all influenced by style and color trends. Last year, the ‘it’ color was blue. This year it is a ‘magenta’. Eighty percent of all home buyers selected white cabinets in 2015. Probably fifty percent of those mixed and matched those white cabinets with a darker base cabinet or island. Remember granite? It was nowhere to be found on the Las Vegas display floor. It has been replaced by quartz and, believe it or not, laminate. Only this laminate has no pattern, just a solid color or linen finish, and falls to the floor in a waterfall wall. And that kitchen countertop is now four to six inches thick while the bathroom cabinet is off the floor in a stand-alone configuration and functions like a piece of furniture, adding floor space to the traditional 5 x 8 bathroom area.


A Snapshot of Anchorage Housing

by Connie Yoshimura

In Anchorage, a home in an upscale subdivision was recently put on the market for $25,000 less than the buyer paid for it 17 months ago. The seller is a relocation company most likely hired by an oil, or oil field service, company to dispose of a departing employee’s primary residence. The $25,000 amounts to a 3% reduction from the original purchase price paid by the employee to the builder. Last week, for-sale inventory of single family homes bumped up by over 20 homes. For the first time in several weeks, new inventory outpaced pending sales, according to recently published MLS statistics. So are these two scenarios indicative of a change in the housing market?

The answer is both yes and no. As departing oil industry employees’ homes are sprinkled throughout the marketplace over the next few months, expect some good buys. Relocation companies do not like to hold inventory. It costs employers money, and depending on the relocation company’s contractual relationship with the employer, may reduce the relocation company’s profit. They like to sell homes ‘as-is where is’ at a competitive price. If the average time on the market for a comparable home is 65 days, they like to price it to sell in 45. Their sold comps can drag a market down when used by an appraiser. But, like the home with the $25,000 price drop, most of these relocation homes are going to be priced over $500,000. It’s a good opportunity for the move-up buyer. The homes are generally newer, well cared for, and include appliances, window coverings, and landscaping. It is hard for builders to compete with these like-new homes, particularly when they are building in the same subdivision.

The question is what remains when these well-priced homes are absorbed. Anchorage continues to have a housing shortage in all price ranges below $700,000. With a population of 300,000+, Anchorage should be building 900 new housing units a year. Yet, for the past several years, new housing units have averaged less than 500, including single family, duplexes, and multi-family. The new title 21 rewrite, which went into effect in January of this year, will slow down any new permits for the first six months of this year as builders and developers grapple with the new requirements. Plus, there is no doubt that these new regulations will add to the cost of all housing types. It is not just a housing shortage but an affordability shortage as well. New homes under $500,000 will be in short supply and any four bedroom, 2.5 bath home with a double, or triple car garage, will be hard to find and ultimately, a good buy.


New Home Ideas for 2016

by Connie Yoshimura

Go on Pinterest and Houzz and you’ll find plenty of exotic ideas for new home designs, both interior and exterior. But how many of them work in a dreary, rainy, and dark Alaska? Here are some ideas to consider when building a new home, none of which will break your budget. First and foremost, buyers buy with their eyes and the first thing they see is the exterior of a home, so our local builders need to make their exteriors more attractive. Exteriors should include three types of siding on the front elevation. Let’s be frank. No one cares if the sides and back of the home are T1-11 because it can’t be seen. T1-11 is OK on the sides of a home as long as it is painted the same color as the front so that it doesn’t have a sharp contrast. Front porches are an attractive exterior element, but they are expensive and have you ever seen anyone actually sitting on that porch? Better to emphasize your entry with some wide steps, front door with glass and side lights and an interesting light fixture. Why is it builders skimp on small exterior light fixtures on a large exterior wall? It’s dark outside and interesting (and large) exterior light fixtures add character to any home.

Shakes versus stone wainscot? Obviously, stone is much more expensive, but shake elements add character, just don’t scatter them around the front exterior. Make it a large element that stands out underneath the gables, around the entry and garage doors. A good rule is that any detail element should be one-third of the exterior. Ultimately, it’s all about mixing the textures on the exterior front elevation, and adding a corbel, rafters, or grids on windows. Although I disagree with many requirements of the new Title 21, more attractive exterior elevations makes any streetscape and new home community more attractive. Forget the beige and light paint colors. Today, it is all about greens and grays, in medium and dark shades. Exterior home colors are meant to blend into nature. Homes sell faster when they are painted a neutral medium to dark color. And minimize or eliminate the white trim, please. It is so l980s, especially corner white trim which obtrusively stands out as you drive down the street. So l980s is also the arched two-story entry. Entries need quiet, welcoming appeal. Not the ‘look at me’ attitude.

Interiors continue to have wide open great room plans, but sneaking into new homes is the return of the dining room. Who would have thought that the least used room of any house would have a comeback, but it is here. But that extra living room love and sofa set has long been sent to the garage sale. The kitchen is still the heart of the home, but where is it? In 2016, it looks more and more like the rest of the home with under-counter appliances, large bi-level islands with mixed countertop material of wood and concrete, open cabinet shelving, and wide, wide windows. It’s a living space with food prep features. Who isn’t tired of orange peel texture? For an extra thousand dollars or so, you can have skip trowel. It’s a totally fresh and custom look and will revolutionize your interiors without much added cost. It gives the home a feeling of solidarity that those little pebbles of orange peel don’t have so give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Finally, forget the built-in jetted spa tub in the master bathroom. Today it’s all about the stand-alone tub. Add a five foot tiled shower with bench and double shower heads, and his and hers separated vanities in quartz (it’s so quiet without movement), and custom mirrors. The plate glass mirror is only for prefab homes. Whether the mirror has a craftsman’s trim or you buy it at Pier 1 or Lowe’s, it’s a personal style statement that is easily affordable in all price points.


Check Out These 2016 Real Estate Predictions

by Connie Yoshimura

The best thing about any predictions is that they’re soon forgotten and by the end of the year no one says ‘Well, she was right about that or that one was way off the mark’. So keep these predictions around, whether in the old-fashioned cut-out-print way, or bookmark my blog at www.cyalaska.com.

1. Mortgage interest rates will continue to creep up. That’s an easy one. But the real question is by how much? Already conventional rates are 4.125% from 4% just last week. That doesn’t seem like much, just the cost of a half dozen lattes per month. However, the real issue is not the cost of the lattes but that buyers now have to qualify with more income in an economic environment when salaries and wages are flat. Bottom line: less home for more money.

2. A greater price divide between newly constructed homes and resale. Most resale homes sell for less than $200 per square foot in the Anchorage Bowl while new homes cost well over $210 per square foot. Inflation will see that divide widen.

3. Be wary of the hidden defects of resale homes over thirty years old. Homes built in the l980’s were constructed with significantly lower MOA standards. Pay attention to the property disclosure, and definitely get a home inspection by a registered professional. No family friends allowed.

4. New housing permits for single family homes, duplexes, and multi-family will continue to decline, particularly for the first half of the year, as builders and developers grapple with the new Title 21 requirements.

5. More public discussion about mixed use development. But does Anchorage have the urban environment to support it? And how will it be financed? Stay tuned.

6. The millennials are crawling out of their parents’ l980’s basements and looking to find their first home. But they don’t necessarily like what they see. Builders are making adjustments to their designs to satisfy these ‘millies’. Go see what’s popping out of the ground in the spring.

7. Meanwhile, the aging baby boomers can’t decide what to do. Their resale homes aren’t worth what they originally thought, and the sticker shock of new construction makes them want to age in place. But, oh my, those stairs and the rising utility cost of space they no longer use. These boomers want at least a $250,000 price differential before they will consider a move.

8. The return of the ranch, or at least the first floor master, for these baby boomers.

9. What exactly is multi-generational housing? Aging parents, grandparents, adult children with special needs. More new home requests to be custom designed to accommodate these families.

10. And, finally, the MOA, and now the state of Alaska, will continue to discuss the lack of affordable housing, but will any action be taken in 2016 to assist non-profits and private developers?


Displaying blog entries 1-4 of 4

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Dwell Realty
561 E. 36th Ave., Suite 200
Anchorage AK 99503
907-646-3600