July 16th, 2014
By Victor Normand
Published: July 2014
It would literally take an act of Congress before Americans could legally buy property in Cuba, but Cubans are now able to buy and sell their homes on the open market, for market value. For more than 50 years that was not allowed, but now, it’s legal and happening every day. If you think it is a challenge to sell your home or buy a new one here, the process is that much more complicated for the average Cuban.
Jackie and I visited Cuba recently (yes there are proper ways to get a visa to the largest of the Caribbean islands and the only fully communist country in the western hemisphere) and among the many things we experienced, we could not help being curious about Cuban real estate.
You might be surprised to know that between 80% and 90% of Cubans own their own homes. That wasn’t always true, in fact only a small percentage of Cubans owned their own homes before the revolution in 1959, but within days of the communist takeover, all private ownership of housing was abolished, rents were cut in half and evictions outlawed. From that time on, rents were paid to the government and the tenants were given title to their homes in exchange for rent payments that never lasted longer than ten years. Still, until 2011, there was only one place where Cubans could actually buy a piece of real estate, in cemeteries:
Colon Cemetery, Havana, Cuba
Among the many social problems that exposed the former Cuban government to overthrow, the cost of housing was right up there along with organized crime and government corruption. The change brought about by the revolution was successful in making almost all Cubans “owners” of where they lived. However, government policy dictated that homes were for “living in” not “living off of”. The problem was that while Cubans owned their homes, they could not sell them. Passing the home to your heirs was allowed and swapping or permutas was tolerated until 2003 when even permutas was outlawed.
If you travel to Cuba, as we did in April, you will be struck by the deplorable condition of most residential properties. It seems that while the government gave apartments to their occupants, no one owned or was responsible for the buildings within which those apartments were located. Every day in Havana, where one in five Cubans live, whole buildings or parts thereof collapse into the streets.
Residential Neighborhood, Havana, Cuba
In addition to what happens with 50 years of neglect, no private mechanism exists to deal with a severe housing shortage. Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, the Cuban Government under Raul Castro instituted reform in 2011 which allowed homeowners to sell their property at market prices. The real estate brokers, called corredores, or runners, who had previously arranged the permutas, were back in business.
Because there is no organized system for marketing real estate in Cuba with little help from the tightly controlled, censored, and expensive internet, the buying and selling of homes mostly happens at places like the Paseo del Prado in downtown Havana on Saturdays. Buyers and sellers stand around the square holding signs with the particulars of property for sale or sought after.
Paseo del Prado, Havana, Cuba
Since there are no mortgages in Cuba, all real estate transactions are in cash. Cuba has a dual currency system; the Peso, used for local purchases is worth about 4 cents, and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which can be purchased for one dollar less a 10% tax to the government. Rent and transaction taxes are paid in pesos, the purchase price in CUC’s.
The average monthly wage for a Cuban worker is about $20. So how does the average worker buy an apartment for 40,000 CUC’s in Havana, or a free standing house for 120,000 CUC’s? Two ways: either sell a larger, higher priced home and buy a less costly property, keeping the difference as a nest egg; or use cash earned by exiled Cubans who have repatriated or have provided remittances to relatives on the island . The bad news is both buyer and seller pay a 4% tax on the sale, the good news is, the sale price is determined by an assessed value mostly based on the original, post revolution value determined by the government and paid in pesos not CUC’s.
Cubans are only allowed to own one primary residence and one vacation home. So, while real estate activity has increased every year since the reform on 2011, the lack of private capital has meant that the housing shortage has not been helped by all this new housing market activity. Younger Cubans often live with their parents or other relatives, waiting for a housing opportunity to open up.
Other economic reforms have taken place recently allowing certain businesses to operate privately with government permission. The corredores joined the list of occupations allowed to work on a private basis in September of 2013. Because nearly every Cuban has a stake in real estate, expect more changes to come. There are no licensing laws or continuing education requirements, but you can be sure there will be a Cuban version of Resident Experts (SM) just the same.
June 17th, 2014
By Victor Normand
Published: June 2014
Everyone knows the economy runs in cycles. No one knows exactly when those cycles begin or end until they do, but one thing is for sure, these cycles will continue. Despite having a basic knowledge of economics, most of us continue to buy high and sell low. And that is probably what turns normal economic adjustments in the economy into panics…….. and panics into recessions.
Although reliable economic data does not exist for periods before the mid 1800’s, it is likely that since 1790 there may have been as many as 40 periods of economic contraction. Lower and middle class individuals and families tend to suffer the greatest economic hardship when the economy turns bad, with the value of housing declining as a direct or indirect consequence of the economic downturn.
The first major American depression is recognized as the panic of 1819. During the rest of the nineteenth century it was follow by the Panics of 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1883. They were all triggered by combinations of crop failures, or big drops in commodity prices, reckless railroad and land speculation, bank failures, and major declines in stock prices. The “Panics” were followed by periods of tight credit, the decline of property values and the rise in unemployment. Despite the similarities in these economic calamities, they kept happening. The economic crises of the next century occurred with similar regularity and a bit more variety.
Here’s a summary of what the twentieth century gave us for bad times in the economy:
The Knickerbocker Trust Panic of 1907
The president of the Knickerbocker Trust decided to try to corner the market in copper. His plan came undone when millions of dollars of copper was dumped on the market in a bid to prevent a hostile takeover of an unrelated business. As the extent of the copper market manipulation became known, other banks refused to accept checks from Knickerbocker which led to a run on the Knickerbocker bank and fueled big losses in the stock market.
The Great Depression of 1929
This one is familiar. The bull market that lasted for more than six years began to come undone when talk of a tariff war with Europe began a rout in stocks that eventually brought stock prices down 90% from their pre-crash highs. Other economic excesses and the onset of the “Dustbowl” added to the misery. The hard times lasted off and on for most of the next ten years until the war time economy got everybody back to work.
The OPEC Oil Crisis 1973
The quadrupling of oil prices and an embargo on oil shipments to the US by Arab oil producers sent the economy into a recession. Consumer prices rose sharply but wages did not, creating “stagflation”. Rising interest rates along with the high price of gasoline badly shook the economy which took a decade to recover lost value.
The Savings and Loan Crisis 1986
Lax regulation in the Savings and Loan (S&L) banking sector led to many S&Ls into making long-term loans at fixed interest using short-term money. When the interest rates increased, the S&Ls could not attract sufficient capital and became insolvent. Nearly one third of the 3,200 S&L’s failed.
The Dotcom Bubble 2000
The failure of many internet technology based companies precipitated the end of the longest period of economic growth in US history during the 1990’s and might not have turned into recession except for the September 11th 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
The Great Recession 2007-2009
The Sub-Prime mortgage crisis led to the collapse in the US housing bubble causing the decline in housing backed assets, helping to set off a global economic crisis. Many of the largest financial institutions in the country including Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, Citi Bank and AIG, failed.
Housing is more than a commodity. During the years when we remain in residence, the market value of a home may vary, but it always remains where we anchor our lives. This intrinsic value of a home has never been in decline despite the condition of the economy. We always try to make the best economic decisions when we are in the market for housing, but even if we do happen to buy high and sell low, our homes are our castles.
May 16th, 2014
By: Victor Normand
Published: May 2014
Real estate professionals agree that presently, there is a shortage of homes for sale in most areas. Consumers who are actively looking for a home to buy would most likely agree. In the larger economy, whenever there are more buyers than sellers of anything, the market will correct the imbalance, and so will the housing market….. eventually. It takes considerable time to produce new housing and it apparently takes considerable time to convince existing home owners to offer their property for sale.
Sometimes there is urgency on the part of sellers and buyers to make a move in the instance of a job change perhaps, but often there is a rather big window of opportunity within which to make a move. For the most part, buyers are living somewhere now and can continue that way, and sellers often seem to be waiting for inspiration. Unfortunately for sellers, when a clear sign comes, it is often too late and the most favorable conditions have passed. For some potential home sellers, waiting for a home to return to its peak value is an indicator of when to sell.
In some Massachusetts communities, home values have reached or surpassed the peak values of 2005. Those communities tend to be the towns in the inner suburbs of Boston, mostly east of route 128. Other cities and towns located south of Boston and in the north central towns are far from recovering their peak values. In our market, most towns are still off the peak by around 10% (see the chart below). Still other potential home sellers are held back by the fear that once they sell, they will have trouble finding something to buy in this tight market.
The perfect situation is a balanced market where all sellers and all buyers are equally matched in number. Unfortunately, while balanced markets do happen, they rarely happen for very long. There are clearly times when it is a buyer’s market, like during the years immediately after the Great Recession, and there are times when it is a seller’s market, like now. More often we are in a state of transition where buyers think it is a buyer’s market and sellers think it is a seller’s market. So, knowing the inventory of homes on the market relative to recent sales activity is a good measure of the overall condition.
The chart below shows the current supply of listed single family homes by town, the number of home sold in the previous 12 months, the actual monthly absorption rate and the number of months it will take to sell off the current inventory. Nationally, in 2010, the worst real estate year after the Great Recession, the absorption rate stood at 9.4 months. According to the National Association of Realtors, a balanced housing market should have between 6 and 6 ½ month of inventory. The rate for the entire state of Massachusetts in presently 4.4 months, and in our market the average is 2.6 months.
Like politics, all housing markets are local. In our market, housing values are increasing in most towns, though not as fast as others and not yet fully recovered to their pre-recession levels, and the inventory level of houses for sale are so low as to keep the market in favor of sellers. That is the condition today, and tomorrow you can be sure changes are likely.
May 16th, 2014
By: Dug North (Acton Real Estate client)
Like all machines, grandfather clocks become dirty and worn through years of use. This is often when they developed odd behavior or simply refuse to run.
So what is to be done? Let’s take a look at the process for having a grandfather clock serviced.
Step 1: Talk to a professional about your grandfather clock
First, you’ll want to speak with a qualified clock repairer. Here are the kinds of things the repairer will probably want to know:
- What brand of clock is it?
- How old is it?
- Is it driven by falling weights? How many?
- Does it play a song on the quarter hours (chime) or does it just count out the hours (strike)?
- What is the clock doing or not doing? When did it start? Have you detected any patterns?
- Has it been serviced before?
- Can you send a photograph or two of the clock?
Before going further, be sure you feel comfortable working with the repair person. Ask for repair estimates and if the work will be warrantied.
Step 2: A first house call to evaluate the clock
House calls may be a thing of the past in many fields, but not so when it comes to large floor-standing clocks. The clock repairer will want to take a look your clock in person. If the clock hasn’t been serviced in a years, chances are very good that it will need to be overhauled. How can your know for sure? Ask to see the clock movement and have the repairer point out the pivot holes in the clock plate. Is there evidence of old, black (or green), dirt-filled oil around the pivots? Ask to see the cut pinions and see if they are dirty too. This dirt and — the associated wear that invariably comes with it — is more than enough to stop a clock. If you are resolved to have it fixed, and the repair estimate sounds fair, it’s on to the next step.
Step 3: Overhaul the movement or (sometimes) replace it
The repairer will take the mechanical parts out of the clock case for service in his or her workshop. These parts include the movement, pendulum, weights, and dial. They will overhaul the movement, taking the mechanism apart completely to clean all of the parts and restore the ones that need it. The repairer will then run the clock for a week or more to be sure that everything is working properly. Certain modern grandfather clocks have movements which are still being manufactured. It can be wiser and more economical to replace this type of movement rather than to overhaul the old one. Ask if this option is available to you.
Step 4: Second house call to Install the movement and configure the clock
Finally, the repairer will bring the serviced parts back and reinstall them into the clock case. The repairer will then make adjustments that can only be made when the movement is in the case such as positioning the hammers that hit the chime rods, making sure the clock is level, and that it is ticking evenly (this is known as being “in beat”). This is a good time to ask any questions you might have about the care and operation of your clock.
After a couple of house calls and a bit of waiting, your grandfather clock can be up and running again.
About the Author:
Dug North buys, sells, and repairs antique mechanical clocks at 307 Market Street, Studio 411, in historic downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. Learn more on his web site ClockFix.com.
April 17th, 2014
By Victor Normand
Published: April 2014
Last week I got my credit card statement from American Express. The statement showed current balances of $2,540 which will be paid by the due date as I usually do. In the event that I would like to stretch out payment, Amex provides a schedule showing that if I only made the minimum payment of $35, and assuming I did not charge anything else on the card, it would take over 9 years to pay it off and I would have paid them $4,400.
All credit card companies are required to make this disclosure, perhaps student loans should come with similar disclosures. I do remember my daughters having to participate in an online tutorial before getting their student loans approved. My recollection is that the purpose of the tutorial was to stress the student borrower’s obligation to pay back the loan and what would happen if they did not. No student or parent of a student looks forward to borrowing money, but I am not sure the impact of those loans is fully comprehended on all levels.
Paying off a student loan every month is a great way for graduates to build a good credit score; unfortunately all student debt is included when establishing the debt to income ratio for obtaining a home mortgage. Many first time home buyers, those typically between the ages of 25 and 34, are finding it difficult to buy homes because of their student debt. According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, nationally, fewer than 30 percent of all home sales are to these first time buyers. Historically, it should be between 40 and 45 percent.
Currently, student loan debt at over 1 trillion dollars exceeds all credit card debt. Over 70 percent of recent college graduates carry debt averaging $29,400. The simplified example below shows the impact of this debt burden on a young couple each carrying such debt.
The disturbing aspect of this trend is its direction. Over the past 20 years, student debt has doubled, increasing every year while real wages adjusted for inflation for college graduates has been flat for the past ten years.
All this is not to say that getting a college degree may not be worth the cost. Lifetime earnings for an individual with a college degree are 70% greater than an individual with only a high school diploma, and the unemployment rate for young college graduates is half that of their contemporaries with only a high school education. Still some full disclosure and a bit of cost-benefit analysis wouldn’t hurt.
As for the effects on the housing market, it is too early to tell. For the time being, in our market, buyers of all ages outnumber sellers so while some first time buyers are missing in action, their absence has not been felt. But in the long run, the inability of these first time buyers to get a stake in the housing market or their delayed entry will have a dramatic effect on their wealth accumulation through home ownership. And that goes to the heart of the American Dream.
March 17th, 2014
By Victor Normand
Published: March 2014
Before Tom Brokaw wrote about the “Greatest Generation,” that generation was also known as the “Silent Generation,” a description popularized by Time magazine for those born after 1925 who lived through the Great Depression and came of age during World War II. They were preceded by the “Veterans” who were born after 1900 and followed by the most famous generation of them all- the “Baby Boomers.” After coming up with that title, we got lazy as a society and began naming generations with just letters, X and Y, though the Y’s are now becoming known as “Millennials.”
There are specific benchmarks for the start and end of some of these generations, like world wars or sudden spikes in births. Although exact dates sometimes float around, they still tend to be in roughly twenty year increments. As for their usefulness, they often seem to have more significance after those within a given generation have had a chance to demonstrate behaviors. Predicting how a demographic segment of the population will act is an inexact science. That’s why it is wise to call them trends, which are easy to alter to conform to real time events.
(For other towns or Census facts visit the US Census website.)
So, here are some recent trends:
- Not surprisingly, Generation X is the largest group of home buyers as you would expect that age group to be, though they too were affected by the Great Recession.
- The age of the home purchased increases as the age of the home buyer decreases. The dominant preference for newer homes spans all age groups, but younger buyers are more likely to have to make more sacrifices to get that first home.
- There is a trend among younger buyers toward more urban properties and away from the suburban locations popular with their parents. While some of the reasons relate to life style choices, two others factors may be in play as well:
- Generation X and older Millennials are having children later so choices involving open space and schools can be postponed
- In many communities near urban centers, suburban home sites are less readily available and more costly to build on, making urban locations with favorable zoning and in-place utility infrastructure more attractive.
- Among Millennials, 65 percent are renters and 22 percent live with parents. Although their numbers rival that of the Baby Boomers, their activity in the housing market has yet to be felt for several reasons:
- The economy has yet to produce sufficient job growth which affects this group more than any other
- Student debt is a significant drag of finances for this age bracket
- Condominiums, often the first purchase for first time home buyers, have become difficult to finance
- Many older Baby Boomers are still stuck in homes with mortgages that exceed the value of the property and are unable to downsize as they had once planned.
Despite the challenges still facing many in the housing market, the economy is clearly moving in the right direction and the value of home ownership has not lost its appeal. The trend toward renting instead of buying that was strongest during the years immediately after the Great Recession has abated. So, while events shape history and the generations seem to behave in new ways, most of the underlying fundamentals of the housing market don’t really change.
February 18th, 2014
By Victor Normand
Published: February 2014
There should be a product out there for homebuyers who desire a new, smaller house. Those buyers include first timers, singles of all ages, and people looking to downsize from their present home. An attached condominium has been the default option, but a townhouse or flat is just not a single-family home.
Recent interest in building smaller houses first attracted attention with the publication in 1997 of The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanka. The author argues for quality of design over quantity of space. By choosing only spaces actually used by inhabitants and then carefully designing that space so that they relate well to one another both functionally and visually, houses can be built dramatically smaller. These small houses have their appeal economically as well as ecologically.
For a while during the recent post recession years it seemed that the size of houses was beginning to reverse direction. Nationally, house size did decline after the recession in 2008, though only by a few hundred square feet. We looked at the trend in Middlesex County for a period beginning in 2000 and found that the percentage of new houses sold having less than 2,600 square feet of living space, had dropped by more than ten percentage points in the years after the recession.
We also noticed that while new houses seemed to be getting smaller, the percentage of much smaller houses (less than 1,400 square feet) did not increase and remained at 2% of all new houses constructed. Builders responded to the bad economy by constructing houses they could sell for less, but they did not move in the direction of the much smaller house.
But the figures for 2013 show a return to big old days.
Fundamentally, market forces drive the size of houses and higher wealth and cash buyers for whom size is everything apparently, dominate the market for new houses in this area. Why so big? A study done by Shrink That Footprint, an independent research group that provides information to people interested in reducing their climate impact, questions the need for so much living space. Of the 18 countries they studied, only Australia averaged more residential floor space than the United States. Weighing in at 832 square feet per capita, the United States bested the likes of France (464), England (356), Germany (587), Italy (335), and Spain (373).
So, if the worst recession since the Great Depression could not get us to modify our appetite for the Not So Big House, what are the chances that demand for large houses will lessen any time soon. Not to take anything away from the principles of the “movement” with its rational focus on conservation and its embrace of esthetics, but builders know, if they build them, the buyers will come.
January 17th, 2014
By Victor Normand
Published: January 2014
The good news for the housing market is that the economy is improving. Job creation is getting better and incomes are growing. The bad news for home buyers, and sellers who need buyers, is that the economy is improving. Of course, that news is not really bad, but it is changing the marketplace.
The Federal Reserve is easing up on its purchase of mortgage backed securities resulting in the expected rise in mortgage interest rates. Last month, when the Fed finally followed up on its intention to “taper off” its level of purchases, the markets reacted calmly and interest rates went up only modestly. That was a good thing. Now economists are wondering what the longer term impact on housing will be.
Even before the Fed acted, interest rates had been going up from their historic lows (3.34% in May of 2013). At the current rate of 4.50%, it is hard to say if the increase has had an effect on the market. Nationally and locally, sales have softened a bit but that may have as much to do with the lack of inventory as anything else. The math tells part of the story. Presently, the median price for a single family home in Acton is approximately $520,000. For every 1/8th percent increase in the rate of interest on a 30 year mortgage, the consumer loses about $5,500 in buying power. This example below holds the term, down payment, and monthly payment constant, showing how significantly purchasing power and interest rates are inversely related.
However, as the charts below show, dramatic changes in home mortgage interest rates as seen during the 20 year period from 1972 to 1992, seem not to have effected home value appreciation. Nationally, values rose steadily during the same period when interest rates fluctuated by more than 10 points, peaking in January of 1982. Home price appreciation averaged 8.5% during this period despite extraordinarily high interest rates, which has more to do with annual inflation running at 6.4% and increases in median household income of 6.1% during that same period.
Source: Freddie Mac (http://mortgage-x.com/general/historical_rates.asp U.S.Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov/construction/nrs/historical_data
All this helps to explain why the recent low interest rates, nearly as low as they have ever been in history, were not enough to restore home values. The Great Recession began in December of 2007 and lasted for 16 months, bringing about low inflation and low household income growth as well as low interest rates. In Middlesex County, sale prices fell by 15% from their peak and were not able to reach their pre-recession levels until 2013.
So, as the economy improves, look for increased sale prices and increased numbers of sales. If anything, rising interest rates will cause buyers to enter the market fearing even higher rates to come. Interest rates are an important factor to consider when making a real estate decision and do influence consumer behavior. Call on a Resident Expertsm to help you keep all of the factors in perspective.
December 13th, 2013
By: Victor Normand
Published: December 2013
So you have decided to do some home improvement work around your house. It’s great to envision the kind of upgrades you could do and at the same time, significantly raise the value of your home. Maybe update the kitchen with a new granite countertop, under cabinet lighting and hard wood flooring. Finally take up that impractical wall to wall in the dining room. You’ve got your plan; you’ve fixed your budget, now what?
You might want to do some or all of the work yourself. Maybe persuade some handy friends to lend their expertise? Or maybe the more you look at the scope of the job; you begin to weigh the idea of hiring the help you need. The more you get into what needs to be undertaken, the better some hired help begins to look.
Do you need a building permit for the work? If that question does not readily come to mind, it should. If your project only involves ordinary repairs such as painting, wallpapering, or replacing that old countertop, you are probably good to go. But larger projects, such as building a deck or putting on an addition would require a building permit. As the homeowner, you could apply for one. But here’s the thing; you might not want to do it yourself.
For large projects, most homeowners may not understand what’s involved in properly pulling together all that is required to complete a building permit. And even if you have the time and expertise to do the work, you’ll want to be mindful of the following. Only by using the homeowner exemption, which is allowed under state law, all construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, removal or demolition of a building or structure in Massachusetts requires both a Licensed Construction Supervisor (LCS) and a registered Home Improvement Contractor (HIC).
There are strong consumer protection laws in Massachusetts for homeowners who do not get the work they contracted for, but only if a LCS and HIC are used on the project. The Home Improvement Contractor Act will compensate consumers up to $10,000 for unpaid judgments against a contractor, but only if the building permits were applied for by a LCS and the work was done by a registered HIC. The full requirement for access to this Guaranteed Fund as it is referred to include:
- A written contract for the job
- The work must be supervised by a Licensed Construction Supervisor
- The contractor must be registered with the state as a Home Improvement Contractor on the date the contract was signed
- The property is located in Massachusetts
- The property must be your primary residence
- The contract must be for work to a preexisting owner-occupied residence with no more than 4 units
- The Request for Arbitration, or other court action must be filed within 2 years of the contract date
No one likes to complicate a project more than necessary or add costs where they might be avoided. Everyone has heard horror stories about projects that have gone very wrong. Bear all this in mind as you progress with your improvement plans. Before you actually begin construction, pay a visit to your local building inspector and have a talk about what you plan to do.
Along with some terrific resources that we can offer, below are some useful links to check out.
The Official Website of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security
Look-Up for Licensed Construction Supervisors
Look-Up for Registered Home Improvement Contractors
Building Permit Contact Information
November 19th, 2013
By Victor Normand
Published: November 2013
Pricing an individual property using only an average square footage price of recent sales is never advised. A price per square foot of living area alone often neglects to take into consideration many things like location of the property, how square footage is actually calculated and distributed, or the condition of the home. However, everyone uses square footage pricing; buyers, sellers, real estate agents, appraisers, and local assessors to approximate the value of property.
At the end of the day, it is the marketplace that determines what the sale price of a home is, so looking at recent comparable sales information is advised. The most efficient way to transfer the actual sale price of a property to a current one on the market is to begin with the sale price per square foot and adjust from there. Those adjustments need to include:
- Location – the same neighborhood in the same town
- Age – new, nearly new, mid-century, pre-war, antique
- Style – colonial, cape, ranch, contemporary
- Condition – depreciation or replacement attributes
The chart below shows the average sale price per square foot in the past year for many of the communities in our area. The current list price for single family homes on the market is also shown along with the ratio of current list price to actual sale price for the previous year. While this information has limited utility in pricing an individual home, it does provide some indication of where the price should be.
These aggregated numbers are useful in other ways. They provide information useful in relating towns to one another in terms of overall home value. For the towns listed above, properties in Concord list for higher prices than those in the other communities. Also, the relationship between listing prices and home sales for the previous year help to provide a picture of where home sellers and their real estate agents think the market is headed. For the most part, sellers expect the market to continue to be strong and they are pricing homes accordingly.
Sometimes the numbers are difficult to interpret. Although the pricing in Harvard and Concord seem similarly aggressive at 133% of last year’s sale prices, interpretation of this ratio might be different. In one instance, the town of Concord with its greater proximity to the Boston Market, which is very strong, and the low absorption rate of three months (half of what is generally considered a balance market) seems to reflect a strong forward looking market, whereas higher expected prices in Harvard may have more to do with an extended period of depressed prices and a market trying to regain its place relative to other nearby communities.
So, if you are going to use square footage as one factor in pricing a home, start with accurate measurements. Although there is no “right” way to determine correct square footage, here are some guidelines as established by ANSI (the American National Standards Institute):
- Measurements are taken from the outside of the building and include the thickness of interior walls, closets and hallways
- Below grade spaces like basements, even when finished should not be counted as living area, though an adjustment should be made for that finished space
- Any rooms or accessory spaces not directly accessible from the main house cannot be counted
- Enclosed porches can only be counted if they are heated using the main heating source or other permanent systems
- Finished attic space can only be counted where the ceiling height is at least seven feet
Finally, after you have taken a stab at pricing your home or a home you would like to buy, try taking advantage of a Resident Expertsmto put a finer point on your work.