When it comes to talking about first-time home buyers and what they want in a home in Sacramento, my initial mission is to try not to sound like: you kids get offa my lawn; however, I’m afraid I’m about to fail that objective most miserably. This topic popped up because my sister in Minneapolis — who has absolutely no intentions of selling her home at the moment — is worried that it doesn’t have the things that first-time home buyers desire. It made me stop to think about what I yearned for in my first few homes. So here’s a trip down memory lane for ya, in no particular order:
Electronic ignition on a gas stove. Although I love the smell of sulfur, lighting a stove with a match is a big hassle. You’re always worried the box of matches over the stove might unexpectedly combust and burn down the kitchen. You also need a utensil into which you can deposit said burnt matchstick, and hopefully it’s not into the trash can when the matchstick is smoldering.
A doorbell. Old-fashioned doorbells were hard-wired and worked for years until one day they didn’t work anymore. All of them went ding-dong. The new fangled ones played goofy tunes, which was just plain stupid. Having a doorbell, though, beats listening to some stoner bang on your door yelling, Hey Dave, open up.
A built-in dishwasher. Truth be known, I would have been happy with a portable dishwasher, any place where I could hide dirty dishes and not have them pile up in the sink because I’m too danged lazy to wash them. Sinks used to have washboards that would allow water to drain from freshly scrubbed dishes directly into the sink, but then Rubbermaid came out with dishracks, which I always seemed to forget and leave under the sink when I moved.
Garage door opener. To come home from work on a cold snowy evening and be able to press the garage door opener button on my remote control was pure heaven. It was such a luxury to not have to stop the car, step into a wet snowbank, kick the garage door to loosen the ice and then tug it open, get back in the car, close the door and drive into the garage, narrowly missing the wall. In those days we parked without relying on a tennis ball hanging from the ceiling to tell us when to stop.
Indoor laundry. Apart from grocery shopping, I don’t know if there is any other task I detest more than going to the laundromat. If you don’t own a car, it was even more horrid because it meant you had to haul a basket of laundry, blocks away, filled with stinky clothing and hope you had enough dimes for the dryer.
Multiple phone lines. Coming from a suburban home in the 1950s that had a party-line, having a single line was heaven, but it was even more delightful to have phones in all of the main rooms of the house, including the bedroom. We’re not talking about Caesar’s Palace with phones in the bath here, that was ultra luxurious. If a phone line didn’t work for some reason, Ma Bell would come out and fix it for free.
Dual baths. I don’t know when it became more fashionably correct to say “bath” instead of bathroom, but it’s definitely considered taboo to add the word room to the bath in marketing materials. I lived in so many homes with only one bath, and I have no idea anymore how I managed or if we just peed in the yard and I wiped living like an animal from my memory banks.
Automatic ice makers. My parents used to call our refrigerator the icebox, from back in the day. About once every couple of months, we’d heat hot water on the stove, pour it into metal ice-cube trays and place them in the freezer to defrost it. My job was to hack away at the frozen blob with table knives. Then, I’d refill the trays with cold water to make ice-cubes and try not to slop it on the floor while transporting said trays to the freezer and tripping over a dog.
Air conditioning and central heat. When I bought my first home, I took out a separate loan to pay to remove a gravity furnace, this huge asbestos octopus that took up so much space in the basement, and installed central air and heat. I don’t know how I survived summers as a kid without central air. We didn’t even use window air conditioners, just floor fans and spent a lot of time running through lawn sprinklers. Which brings me to . . .
Automatic lawn sprinklers. Not having to remember to water the lawn, much less grabbing a dirty hose, dragging it across the lawn and hooking it up to a sprinkler. Then, trying to set the sprinkler head while it is spraying its 180-degree direction without getting soaked yourself is a feat in itself. Today the gardeners deal with the sprinkler system if it malfunctions, and I never hear it inside my home with dual pane windows.
I am hopeful this blog will resonate with today’s first-time home buyers. Many home buyers in Sacramento today crave the shiny stainless appliances, the oiled-bronze hardware, the granite counters, the hickory-plank flooring, ceiling fans (without those dangly lights on pull cords), and Wolf ranges which they will rarely turn on, coupled with SubZero refrigerators in which to store leftover pizza. And my job as a Sacramento real estate agent is to help them find and acquire their heart’s desire, whatever that yearning may be.
Part of my 40 years in real estate involve a stint during which I bought homes to fix up and sell — and, I’m proud to say, not one of those homes was a white elephant. Doing the buy, fix and sell was easy for me for several reasons. First, I was single, so I didn’t have to argue with anybody about my material choices or order of construction, not to mention, I didn’t have anybody under foot. Second, I had a lot of experience selling homes to draw upon. I didn’t do stupid things, and much was based on experience plus my excellent intuition. Third, I was willing to take the time to learn how to do the work myself, and time was not of the essence because I lived in the house — so no matter how many times I messed up, I could repeat the task until it was perfect.
There are some homeowners who don’t care if their home improvement project or remodel is absolutely perfect, but I am not one of those people. I set high standards — sometimes impossible by another’s definition — and I achieve those goals. I visualize. I will capture an image in my head and intently focus until it comes to life. The ability to focus and direct my energies in one direction is one of the reasons I have become a top ranking agent in Sacramento. I concentrate on the job at hand and do it well, because if it’s not done well, it’s not worth doing.
Today, when I meet with people who have over-improved their home and turned it into a white elephant, or have plans to do so, I cringe. Because I know without a doubt that the challenge to sell will be practically impossible to meet. These over-improved homes will appeal to such a tiny fragment of home buyers that it could take years before they find a buyer who is foolish enough to be underwhelmed by the facts and blown away by the emotional impact.
Because that’s the combination it takes to sell a white elephant.
People by their very nature want to live around other people just like them. They tend to gravitate toward conformity. Nonconformists live in corner homes, for example, but people who are not mavericks prefer the comfort of the middle of the street. If a buyer wants to spend half a million for a home, that buyer will purchase a home in a neighborhood of other homes worth half a million. She won’t buy a home in a neighborhood of $300,000 homes, much less on a busy street, and spend $500,000.
This is basic real estate 101: Location. Location. Location.
Unfortunately, those HGTV shows have turned ordinary homeowners into lunatics. Everybody wants to be a flipper, whether they have experience is not relevant. And that’s how they end up trying to sell a white elephant. Let’s not even try to talk about an appraisal because that discussion will simply make your head hurt more than it already does.
Say what you will about the down Sacramento real estate market years of 2005 through 2012, but the best thing to hit Sacramento real estate is the fact that period is over. This spring marked the turnaround in real estate. We have a little bit more inventory this fall than we did last spring; however, by all practical standards, it’s still a seller’s market, yet buyers are really the deciding factor. So, is that a seller’s market? Based on inventory alone? I don’t believe so. I believe it’s a buyer’s market disguised as a seller’s market.
You know what I see when I look at this chart? I see twice as many homes for sale and half as many selling. The sold numbers have dropped below the pending sales. But the market is still relatively stable because the pending sales are about the same over the past 15 months. This means buyers have choices.
You can look at what the giant investment firm Blackstone accomplished in Sacramento, buying up some 1,500 homes and turning them into rentals, and you can say that was a bad thing for communities. Now, Blackstone has turned those rentals into securities and leveraged their investments by selling off 75% of its value in the form of bonds to pension funds, or so they say. Hard to know how they are establishing market value. They might have decided that their investments have grown by 25% and are leveraging 100%.
It’s similar to what other investors in Sacramento have done by buying homes supposedly for cash and then converting those offers into hard-money financing. I’ve had to counsel investors that writing an offer for cash when the intent was hard money is not a cash offer. It’s a hard-money financed offer. Cash is cash. I would suggest they include the option in the offer to convert to financing, and many did just that.
Of course now, the investors are pretty much gone. I have a fixer in South Sacramento that has not yet sold and, last spring, this home would have had multiple offers with buyers fighting over it.
Most homebuyers in Sacramento who intend to occupy a home, well, they want that home in turn-key condition. They don’t want to have to make any improvements. Many want their homes to be new or remodeled, with all the bells and whistles.
In closing, I spotted a survey by NAR the other day about the types of things that buyers wanted in a home. Top of the list was energy-efficient improvements. Never have I heard a buyer say that energy efficiency was a #1 concern. I wonder if the utility companies or manufacturers of energy efficient appliances sponsored this survey? Or, maybe they interviewed only buyers from Davis. Nope, Sacramento buyers want those granite counters and stainless appliances. Energy efficiency is welcome, but I doubt it’s a #1 motivating factor.