Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with a family moving to Anchorage from Houston, Texas. Like all savvy buyers, for several weeks prior to their arrival, they had been looking at homes on Zillow. Zillow is the most popular site in the world for real estate searches, and in December 2015 had 95 million visitors, more than homes.com, Homefinder, Trulia, et cetera. Despite its popularity due to its plethora of information and easy site maneuverability, all real estate is local and the nuances associated with actual value can’t be deciphered from a Zillow search. For example, in Anchorage the same home can vary in value by subdivision, lot size, location within the subdivision such as cul-de-sac or corner, southern or northern exposure, school district, the home’s age and view potential. Also, of particular importance in Alaska, is whether or not the home has an interior stairwell versus a long set of steps to get to the front door. So no wonder buyers, both local and new arrivals, have misconceptions about our market.

Let’s be perfectly clear. With less than six hundred single family homes in all price ranges for sale last week, Anchorage continues to suffer from a lack of inventory.  This lack of inventory outweighs any misconceptions created on Zillow by a $40,000 price reduction on a single home. The home may have been over-priced to begin with or have some of the less desirable features listed above.  Buyers have specific needs. Double vs. triple car garage. Four bedrooms vs. three. Some buyers want only a specific school district. Others don’t want a home built before 2000 due to potential future costs for maintenance and repair. When all these factors are taken into consideration, there is very little inventory available. For the buyer moving from Houston, instead of sixty-two available homes there were just five that met their criteria.

This is relocation season with buyers moving into our local market from around the world. They come from the military, government, transportation, oil, and medical professions.  For most of them, renting a home is not an attractive proposition. Many are here only for a few years and when they leave will have a guaranteed resale from their employer. Whether local or relocating, all buyers’ goals are to purchase at current market value.  There is no doubt some local buyers and sellers are nervous about the economy. Online and in print, we hear daily about the state’s financial dilemma. But let’s look at the statistics. Total active inventory so far this year is up by 160 single family homes or 15%. Sales have declined by 10%. However, when looking at specific price points, there is only a three month supply of homes in all price ranges up to $500,000. And when you get more specific, the availability narrows dramatically. There are 62 homes for sale between $500,000 and $600,000 in Anchorage. There are only 8 that have four bedrooms and a triple car garage in southeast Anchorage.  If you want your teenagers to attend South High, the most sought after high school in the MOA, there are only 6 homes and one does not yet exist because it is yet to be built.

This type of specific search cannot be accomplished on Zillow because it does not have a field for school district or garage—two of the most important criteria for Alaska’s home buyers. Instead, buyers should go to www.alaskarealestate.com, the statewide MLS website for more detailed search criteria.