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Connie Yoshimura

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It’s Time to Increase Lot Coverage Ratios

by Connie Yoshimura

Seventy-seven  per cent of all home buyers, regardless of age or geographical location,  prefer to live in a detached single family home. That percentage has consistently increased since 2003 when the National Association of Home Builders first began surveying buyer preferences.  According to the local MLS, approximately 2000 to 2,200 single family homes are annually sold. About seventy-percent of those homes are now more than thirty years old which is when many homes begin to experience economic obsolescence.  Unfortunately, the MOA’s zoning requirements make the replacement of those homes very expensive. A new home has about a $75,000 to $100,000 price tag above a resale property of similar size.

 

One way to narrow that gap is to increase lot coverage ratios and decrease the size of a single family lot.  Currently, in the MOA R1 zone  the minimum lot size is 6,000. And the lot coverage ratio is 30% for a two-story home and 40% for a ranch.  In   Alaska’s second largest city,  Fairbanks, the  minimum lot  size is 5,000 square feet and there is no maximum lot coverage. The Fairbanks home needs only to meet the setback requirements. Boise, Idaho, also has a 5,000 square foot minimum lot size and it has no maximum lot coverage ratio; nor does Henderson, Nevada.   Vancouver, Washington has a 50% lot coverage ratio for 5,000 square foot lots and Spokane, Washington has a 55% lot coverage ratio.

 

Mesa, Arizona has a 50% lot coverage requirement. Twin Falls, Idaho, has a 60% requirement. Corpus, Christi, Texas has a 70% lot coverage ratio for single family homes.  I’ve selected these communities not just because I’m an advocate for smaller lots and higher lot coverage ratios but because many Alaskans have visited these communities; have friends and relatives who live, work and play there and these communities are  excellent examples of communities who have successfully increased single family home building.   

 

Last October only 180 single family  permits were issued in Anchorage and so far only 168 in 2019.  Compare that to  2015 when  274 single family homes were permitted for the same time period.  We all acknowledge that Anchorage has a limited supply of vacant land zoned for single family homes.  The only way to reduce both the cost of the lot and the home to be built is to reduce single family lot size and/or increase the maximum lot coverage ratio. Since buyers strongly prefer a single family home with a double or triple car garage and four bedrooms compared to three the most reasonable solution is to increase the lot coverage ratio to 50% as other communities have successfully developed without destroying the concept of a single family neighborhood.

Evolution of the Thanksgiving Kitchen

by Connie Yoshimura

The kitchen will always be the heart of the home, especially during the holidays, but its design and function continues to evolve. Over the decades, we’ve had the galley kitchen, the L shaped kitchen, the peninsula, the island, then the larger island with a sink/dishwasher or stove top.  And today’s island has neither one of those utilitarian appliances but instead has become simply a gathering place for family and friends. And the bigger the island the better, stretching to ten feet with perhaps a bilevel level quartz slab and a wine rack at one end. The island has, without a doubt, replaced the breakfast nook and table. To tell you how important the kitchen has become the International Builders Show is now both the Home Show AND Kitchen Bath Expo. Even your entry level kitchen needs to be designed so that you can stand in front of the dishwasher or refrigerator door! Without bumping into a cabinet door.   The kitchen that works best for cooking has its appliances arranged in a triangle shape. Remember, the size is not as important as the function. Kitchens used to be in the back corner of the home. Now, they are front and center surrounded by informal living areas.  

If you want to update your kitchen, add some knobs and pulls. Tear out your backsplash and install subway tile with a neutral grout. Microwaves are no longer above the stove. Instead they are in a built-in shelf or cabinet. Under the counter? No adult wants to bend over to heat their hot water and that location is probably not safe for small children. Everyone wants a Costco size walk-in pantry but if your home doesn’t have room for one, then the corner pantry in that hard to reach area even with a lazy susan works almost just as well. The corner or walk-in pantry is actually less expensive than that fancy cupboard pantry with pull out selves and door rack.

Buyers and remodelers can spend tens of thousands of dollars adding pull-out drawers, fancy spice racks, cookie sheet cabinets, cook book shelves, fancy wine racks but before you spend all those extra dollars, my suggestion is to stick to the basics if you are on a budget:  double ovens, an attractive hood above a five burner gas stove or cooktop, quartz countertops, tile backsplash, an extra large window above the sink  down to the counter, and  some interesting light fixtures.  I’m not fond of the traditional three pendants above the island. When I remodeled several years ago, I took down five pendants hanging above my bi-level island and as many above my dining room table. Cans, LED lights or a single interesting light fixtures keeps the kitchen from appearing too cluttered.

But the best part of any kitchen is the savory recipes and sweet treats  you make during the holidays. For me, that’s the sourdough bread stuffing, the Scharffenberger chocolate brownies with roasted hazelnuts and store bought pumpkin pie with real whipping cream sweetened with sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla.

Thank you for reading my columns over the past few decades. Before I was a realtor I was a writer and so I   have the best of both worlds. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Technology is Not Enough When it Comes to Home Security

by Connie Yoshimura

And I know this from personal experience because my car was recently stolen out of my garage at 5:03 am. The video showed it being driven away with the trunk open and an earlier video at 2:00 am showed someone trying to access my husband’s van parked in the driveway. The good news is at 5:30 am the police found my car in a midtown parking lot. So thank you Officer Mulvaney and all the police who helped find my car in just 27 minutes!

According to a recent national survey, three out of four of technology features wanted by home buyers are directly related to security: 46% would like to have security cameras; 45% would like to have a video doorbell and 40% would like a wireless home security system. My home has all these security features and yet my car was still stolen. So here is some practical advice on how to keep your home, car and you safe while living in your home. First, lock your car in the garage, take your key inside and do not leave your purse/billfold in the car with your credit cards, driver’s license, passport and keys. For an extra precaution, always take your opener out of your vehicle, particularly if you leave it parked outside.  The police told us there is a gizmo you can buy on the internet which will open your garage door so buy the variable programmable opener which every time the door opens changes the code. And then be sure and use it which we neglected to do. But, the best defense is the sliding bolt. When you’re home for the evening, slide the bolt across the garage door. The police assured me this is the best weapon against garage car theft.

It is important to lock the door between the garage and the interior of your home. Municipal code may have a problem with that but I’m going to do it anyway. There is also a metal door jam called Master that you can buy online which you put underneath the door knob. The police tell me it is 99% burglar proof. They’re expensive but worth it. I have no idea if my burglars tried the door or not but I’m glad the door jam was there.

Home security technology is expensive and if my home is any example doesn’t always prevent theft. It does, however, add some emotional value. Whether or not buyers are willing to pay for security as an upgrade is yet to be determined. Although over 40% of buyers want to have security technology installed, less than 20% have on average a security camera, video doorbell or wireless security system. But it is interesting to note that in 2007, security wasn’t even on the radar screen of home buyers wants and needs. 

Peaches and Hapa slept through the entire episode. So don’t count on your poodles as a burglar deterrent!  

Remodeling is Not Home Maintenance

by Connie Yoshimura

 

Ten years ago I did a major remodel. There was new carpeting in the bedrooms, luxury vinyl tile in the kitchen and hallway, an interior paint job that took three coats, double ovens so I can bake two batches of cookies at the same time, a fancy hood above a new stove top  and a bi-level granite island that seats six.  Then, like a lot of busy people I  forgot about my home except for the yearly furnace inspection.  Now, what I’ve learned is that remodeling is not home maintenance.  Owning a home requires annual upkeep if it is to retain its value and/or appreciate.   Buyers intuitively recognize a home that has been well cared for over the years.  Yes, carpet needs to be replaced at least every ten years, especially if you have pets which I do and all those nicks on corners that you don’t see any more need a touch-up.

 

So here are some home maintenance items  that need my and perhaps your attention.  Change the air filter in your HVAC system every three months during the winter.  Today’s energy efficient homes have a slower rate of air exchange than older homes and can trap every day odors.   Turn on infrequently used fixtures.  I have a tub/shower combo that is never used and it emits a strange odor every once in a while.  In Alaska, we all love our fireplaces, especially during the dark days and the upcoming holiday season.  Now is the time to inspect and clean the flues. A chimney cleaning professional  should inspect and clean your fireplace at least every five years.

 

Many of us have minor cracks as a result of the earthquake or just normal settling.  Any crack that is wider than ¼” should be repaired.   Make sure the handyman you hire feathers the edges and sands them smooth.  Roofs don’t last forever and need regular inspections.  Seventy-five per cent of Anchorage’s housing stock is now thirty years old or more.  It’s better to repair and replace the roof than suffer the expense and inconvenience of leaks which can cause major damage to your home.   Whether you have stain resistant carpeting, hardwood floors, luxury vinyl tile or ceramic tile with grout, it is one of the most important areas of your home to upkeep.  I still have a broken tile in my breezeway when a treadmill was dropped on it.  I think about replacing it every day as I walk over it.


So owning a home requires a lot of maintenance.  It goes far beyond general house cleaning-- making the bed, doing the dishes and vacuuming.  But the reward is  a sustainable or added value when it’s time to sell.  The National Association of Home Builders has an 82 page manual, “Home Maintenance Made Easy.  What to do, When to do it, When to call for Help.” 

Keep Your Cool When Buying or Selling a Home

by Connie Yoshimura

Selling a home is not as easy as it used to be. In today’s market, it all boils down to market knowledge and negotiating skills. First, and foremost is the negotiation with yourself to determine your home’s fair market value. You may have lived in the home for twenty years and have fond memories of birthday parties, neighborhood get togethers. But those memories have nothing to do with the home’s fair market value. Whether you’re working with a realtor or just trying to determine fair market value for yourself, age is the number one criteria to consider. That’s because homes built within five years of one another almost always have the same interior amenities and floor plans. If you own a split/entry, do not comp it to a two-story or a ranch. And stay in your geographical area. Each geographical quadrant has its own market. The same floor plan, age and square footage can deviate in value as much as $20,000 depending on its geographical area. Ignore the inaccuracies of Zillow and Trulia and search on www.alaskamls.com.  You’ll find more accurate information utilizing this statewide data base.

Once you have your asking price, get ready for an offer. In today’s market, some homes sell in one day. Others take the average of 45 days. And some linger on the market for months.  You don’t want the latter.  There’s a saying in the market that the first offer is your best offer and in many instances that’s true.  Don’t reject an offer just because you feel insulted. Every offer deserves a counter and make it a reasonable one.   I recently spent four days negotiating a lot sale before buyer and seller agreed.  Buyers need information and so much of that negotiation was providing info on wells, septics, soils, topo, HOA dues, et cetera.  The more information a buyer has before making an offer the more reasonable a seller can expect it to be.

And now it’s time for the dreaded home inspection. As a seller, take a pre-emptive strike and order your own before putting the home on the market. I can almost guarantee that your buyer’s home inspector will have fewer ‘recommended’ repairs if there’s already been a pre-inspection by the seller. Just remember, home inspectors are paid to find something wrong with the home, whether it’s health and safety, recommended repairs or maintenance. In today’s market, this is where most deals fall apart.  Both buyer and seller need to be reasonable. Buyers need to understand they are not purchasing a brand new five star energy rated home.  And sellers need to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe. they haven’t done as much maintenance as they should have over the past twenty years. Deferred maintenance can easily devalue a home by thousands of dollars so take care of those items before putting it on the market.

The final negotiation comes about with the appraisal. Most residential sales utilize the standard MLS purchase and sale agreement (PSA) which clearly states that if the appraisal comes in less than the agreed upon purchase price, buyers and sellers have an opportunity to renegotiate the purchase price.  We recently had a very low VA appraisal that was filled with errors. However, especially with a VA appraisal, there is absolutely no opportunity to correct mistakes made by the appraiser.  Appeals can take weeks or months and by then both buyer and seller have parted ways. Since the real estate crisis of 2008, appraisals have been ordered by independent third parties for the benefit of the lender. Unfortunately, what a willing buyer and seller have agreed upon for a sale price is irrelevant. When a low ball appraisal comes in, everyone is unhappy but the smart buyers and sellers keep negotiating.  And most often, it is the seller who ends up giving the most.  

For most buyers and sellers, the purchase or sale of a home is the largest financial transaction of their lifetime.  Some people do it once; others multiple times. But regardless of the number, the key to a successful sale is market knowledge and a fair and reasonable attitude.  

How’s the market? Find Out When You Take this Quiz!

by Connie Yoshimura

Everywhere I go people ask ‘How’s the market?’  Potential buyers are wondering if mortgage rates are going to go lower.  They also want to know if we’re at the bottom of the market.  My response to that question is ‘You never know when the bottom of the market is until it’s past.’  So take this real estate quiz and draw your own conclusions whether or not now is a good time to buy a home.  

 1.Is September’s condo inventory of 360  units the highest or lowest it’s been since 2016?

2. Is September’s active listings of 578 the highest or lowest since September 2011?

3. What was the average sales price of a single family home in September 2019?  

4. And is this price higher, lower or about the same when compared to 2018?

5. Last month there were 192 single family sales.  How many were there in Sept. 2018? 

6. Sellers who list their home with a broker in MLS can expect a full price offer or what percent list to original price?

7. How many million dollar and above homes are there currently for sale in MLS?

A. 13     B. 23     C. 28     D. More than 28

8. In the last six months, what was the average days on the market before a sale?

A. 154 days      B. 46  days     C. 38 days

9. What area of Anchorage has the highest average sales price?

A. Downtown     B. Abbott/De Armoun     C.  Girdwood       D. De Armoun Road/Potter Marsh

10. And what was the average highest sales price for that area?

A. $469,000    B.  550,441       C. $601,000

11. Lets not forget about Eagle  River.  How many homes above $700,000 have sold in the past 12 months?

A. 7      B. 17    C. 27

12. How many homes between $350,000 and $500,000 have sold in the past 12 months?

A. 53   B. 83   C. 153  D. 253

13. What percentage of millenials will buy a home in the next five years, according to a 2019 survey by the National Association of Home Builders?

A. 34%    B.  44%   C.  54%     D.  64%   E.  74%

14. If the average 6,000 square foot lot with public water/sewer and on a dedicated public street maintained by the MOA costs $140,000, what percentage of the cost is due to regulations relating  zoning, platting, private development design criteria regulations?  This calculation is based on the National Association of Home Builders research.

A. 9%     B. 19%     C. 29%

15.Based upon the answers to the questions, do you believe now is a good time to purchase a home?

ANSWER KEY:1. Lowest   2. Lowest   3. $380,490   4. Lower   5. 193   6. 97%   7. B   8. B   9. D   10. C   11. A   12. D   13. E   14. C   15. Yes!

Use Your PFD to Grab a Low Mortgage Rate and Buy a Home

by Connie Yoshimura

I know it’s tempting to use that PFD to vacation in Hawaii, buy a new TV with all the latest technology or even pay off that F-150 truck with the extended cab but there is no better use for your PFD than to make a real estate investment whether you’re a first time homebuyer or looking for an initial  small rental investment.   Real estate has proven time and time again as the one leveraged opportunity for the working and middle class to create wealth.  Owning a single family home has a greater opportunity to build wealth than even muni bonds with a 4% return.  That return is based on cash invested.  A real estate purchase is generally a leveraged investment with appreciation and depreciation based upon the total purchase price.

This week mortgage rates dropped to historic lows, making a real estate purchase even more attractive.  For veterans wanting to purchase with the triple zero down program, rates dropped to 3%  for a 30 year fixed rate.   This program also allows for sellers to pay some buyer’s closing costs.  The HUD 184 program with only 2.25% down now has an interest rate of 3.25%.  The AHFC Tax Exempt first time home buyer’s program with 5% down has an incredible low rate of 3.375%.  Conventional loans with 3% down have an interest rate of 4%.   All of these programs allow for gift funds and seller to pay a portion or all of buyer’s closing costs.

However, if you’ve been waiting for that perfect home or investment to come on the market, you might want to up your game.  Last week there were 715 active single family homes for sale in Anchorage.  A year ago, there was 792. Just over 50 homes sold last week and a year ago as well. Condo inventory has also fallen with 360 active condos on the market in August compared to 439 in 2018.

So despite all the negative concerns about our state budget cuts, the Anchorage real estate market has remained very stable due to lack of inventory.  Now, this week’s lower interest rates coupled with the state’s distribution of  the PFD, buyers should get off the fence and make a decision.  At least, that’s what I’m going to do.    

Condos Come in All Shapes, Sizes and Price Ranges

by Connie Yoshimura

There are single family condos, duplex condos (where you purchase one side), site condos (which are enveloped in an air space), townhouse style, flats and multi-story, to identify a few.  I recently had an opportunity to show condos to a buyer with a goal of purchasing a home in the $250,000 range and, frankly, I was surprised at the availability and excellent condition of many of the homes we viewed. 

 

Several of the properties had three bedrooms, two baths and a double car garage   Many of them were built in the late 1990’s and can be found in almost all of the MLS districts.   These condos have reverse living.  In other words, they feature two bedrooms, one bath and a double car garage on the first floor with a master and great room on the second floor. The differential in their value is due in part to location, interior amenities (laminate vs. granite or quartz), and how well the association has taken care of the common area grounds.  The more desirable ones are priced in the mid-$230,000 to $240,000 range.  This is slightly above the average August sales price as reported in MLS at $218,000.  These condos have wide appeal from young  families with prepubescent children to boomers and seniors downsizing from larger single family homes.  The condos with the most appeal have an accessible backyard from a slider in one of the first floor bedrooms and a fireplace.  Vaulted ceilings create vertical space and make the great room appear larger.

 

On the other end of the condo spectrum are the luxury condos being built downtown and in South Addition.  In the higher density R3 zone, these multi-story condos have a garage on the first floor, living on the second floor and bedrooms on the third floor.  The most popular ones have rooftop decks and inlet or mountain views.  These luxury condos with quartz countertops, luxury vinyl tile flooring and expansive windows start at $500,000.

 

In the middle of the price spectrum are the duplex condos in popular areas such as WestGate.  There, each duplex condo is built on its own R2A lot with a minimum square footage of 8,000 square feet which allows for fenced backyards as deep as 50 feet.  Ranches and two-story plans begin at $359,000.  These homes function as  single family but with a shared common wall. The most popular plans are ranches and two-story homes with three or four bedrooms and a two-story element.

 

And then there are condos in  buildings with elevators and shared stall garages.  These units are the most expensive on a price per square foot of living space because they generally have shared and higher common expenses for maintenance and security and may be built to commercial building standards, depending on the number of stories.

 

But, whatever the price point or style, the most important consideration when choosing to purchase a condo is to understand the rules of the association  by reading the public offering or resale certificate because you are buying into a defined community with rules and a budget for shared common expenses.  As Anchorage’s limited availability for single  family development continues to decline, more and more home buyers will  turn to condos.  In five years, prices for all of today’s condos will seem like the bottom of the market.

A Stable Market Heading into the Fourth Quarter

by Connie Yoshimura

Despite all the concerns over potential job losses as a result of the state budget cuts and the recent announcement of BP’s sale to Hilcorp, the Anchorage and Eagle River residential markets have yet to demonstrate any negative affect. Pending sales for the past five weeks ending on Sept. 19 increased in Anchorage to 267 when compared to 253 sales in 2018.  In Eagle River, pending sales increased from 46 to 60 in 2019.  Although there is always some fall out (DFT’s) when using pending rather than closed sales, pendings give you a more immediate look into market activity.

Obviously, mortgage rates as low as 3.35%  are helping more entry level buyers move into the market.  But those low rates also have a trickle up affect  enabling  first time homeowners to  sell their entry level condos and move up to single family homes which 74% of all buyers prefer regardless of the lot size.  

Lack of inventory continues to plague the local market.  Over the past month, Anchorage inventory had a total of 531 fewer units for sale than last year.  In Eagle River that drop was just over 100 homes.  These numbers are inclusive  of all price ranges and both  resale and new construction homes, according to MLS statistics.  Not all sales are reported in MLS as some homes are private sales, particularly when there is a lack of inventory.  However, MLS does include FSBOs (for sale by owners).  

So it’s hard to say how the BP sale to Hilcorp is going to affect the market.  Some BP employees will obviously be re-employed by Hilcorp.  Others  own homes on the Kenai or in the Mat-Su. And some commute from the lower 48.  Those BP employees who do live in Anchorage/Eagle River and own their own home will have the opportunity to accept relocation benefits.   Third party relocation companies will not want to keep inventory over the winter and incur the costs for utilities, snow plowing and winterization.  Their goal is always to sell homes at the lowest fair market value because generally their compensation is based on how quickly they sell the home.  So if the range for a home is $500,000 to $535,000 most likely it will be listed in the low $500,000 in order to quickly  move it.  Relocation companies are also not interested in cosmetic renovations but may consider health/safety repairs.

There will be some good opportunities for buyers with these homes, many of which will be in southeast Anchorage.  For example,  one relo home in a southeast subdivision recently sold within a week.  These homes will also have been landscaped and include window coverings—two expensive items when purchasing a new home.   Buyers interested in these homes should pay close attention to the market.  In some instances, the sign will go up before the listing so I would encourage buyers to drive the communities they are interested in.. And use www.alaskarealestate.com rather than zillow or other websites which frequently have a two or three day delay before syndicating into the public domain.  

The bottom line is due to our low inventory these relocation homes will be readily absorbed into the market.  Buyers need to get pre-qualified and be ready to act quickly when one comes on the market.  And not quibble over a few thousand dollars under the asking price.

BP has been an excellent corporate citizen and their employees have made valuable and generous contributions to our community.   From one neighbor to another, we thank you.    

Highlights from the Fall Parade of Homes

by Connie Yoshimura

It was a small tour with only nineteen homes in comparison to other years where there have been as many as thirty entries. That small number is no surprise because Anchorage home builders continue to struggle to find buildable homesites at a reasonable value due to the high cost of land development, particularly when it comes to water/sewer/road extensions which in many communities is shared between the developer and the local government but not in Anchorage. Add looming tariffs, and for builders, higher interest rates on their lines of credit, due to economic risk, plus the high entry fee of $1,000, and so it’s no surprise the Anchorage tour was small this year. 

But despite all that there were some outstanding homes to visit. They were more contemporary with shallow roof lines, expansive floor to almost ceiling windows and larger secondary bedrooms with their own walk-in closets. The open living floor plan is now a constant whether it’s an entry level condo in the $300,000+ range or the million dollar home. Three of the four entries in the million dollar category had panoramic inlet views from almost every room! Well worth their asking price as these builders went all out with custom cabinetry, Bosch appliances, luxury flooring and the wet room in the master bath. Wet room? That’s when you combine the shower and the stand alone tub in the same area, surrounded by luxury tile and a floor to ceiling glass enclosure.     

Years ago when I was building my first home, my architect told me that in Alaska you can’t keep guests out of the kitchen so ‘tear down that wall’. Today, the kitchen is still the heart of the home and all other rooms and activities revolve around it. The kitchen remains front and center and may even be visible from the entry.  But now the kitchen question is ‘Are white cabinets still in?’ According to the recently released annual survey from the National association of Home Builders, medium brown is now tied with white cabinetry. It’s not the dark or walnut stained espresso from fifteen years ago but a medium brown. It’s warm, inviting, has a neutral palette and doesn’t take a lot of energy to live with. Almost all of the Parade homes over $600,000 had brown cabinets while white lightens and adds visual space to smaller kitchens in the affordable home category.

‘Grayish’ is still the preferred wall color for most homes although my personal preference remains one of the dozen or more choices for white. Particularly, with our six months of diminishing or lack of sunlight, builders and homeowners doing a remodel can’t go wrong with white walls. 

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