End of the Suburb…Long Live the Suburb!

I just finished reading an interesting book by Leigh Gallagher titled The End Of The Suburbs.  Being a real estate agent in Utah, where almost all we have is suburbs, I was intrigued by the title and had to read it.  Though Ms. Gallagher makes several good points regarding demographic trends and individual preferences she was forced in the end to concede that there is in a fact a need for suburbs.

Points of Agreement

The author has a very East-coast-centric perspective and I think that her conclusions are more applicable in the East than they are in the mountain region. Despite her personal perspective there are sever points with which I agree:

  • People are moving toward smaller homes.  The “Bigger is better” mentality has faded. I even have clients that now set an upper limit on the size of home they will consider (Still only about 1 in 10)
  • Buyers want to be closer to services and transportation hubs
  • People are more willing to use public transportation
  • Poverty is not concentrated in the cities. The suburban poor are a growing population
  • Suburbs will evolve to accommodate increasing energy prices

Points of Disagreement

I think some of her conclusions are over wrought and will only apply to areas of significant population decline.

  • Suburbs will become “Ghettos” filled with people who are too poor to live in the city
  • Suburbs will be bulldozed and returned to native grass or used as farmland
  • Builders will move operations to cities and avoid building in suburbs.
  • Suburbs are, and will become even more, social and intellectual wastelands

The bottom line is that as a young single woman, the author’s perspective lends itself to a bias towards big city living and away from commuting but even she admits that the suburbs are in general an easier place to raise a family. Hopefully the cities will continue to improve and become home to more full-time residents. I believe that contrary to her conclusions the suburbs will continue to be an important housing option that will continue to evolve to meet the needs of future generations.

Why do people buy a house?

In my years of practice, I occasionally come across a home that will “never” sell, but that is simply wrong. The fact is EVERY home will sell as long as the value proposition is correct for a given buyer.  To get the very best return on any home it is important to consider how the value proposition will be computed for the average buyer in any given price range. The elements of the value proposition are nearly constant, but the key to remember is that value proposition changes as the price range changes.

The elements of the value proposition are:

  • Location – Where a home is located affects the other factors, but it is quantifiable alone.
  • Utility – Does the property “Work”. This encompasses floor plans, room counts, and flow.
  • Features – This includes things such as yard size, square footage, parking, room size, etc.
  • Lifestyle – What does the community offer?  How do people live in this home?
  • Status – What will my friends think? Nothing more than that, but frequently masked by terms such as curb appeal, landscaping and decor.
  • Asterisk – These are the weird ones.

I have tried to come up with other elements, but they eventually all fit into one of these elements. The Asterisk category is NOT a copout.  It is just the cases in which a SINGLE factor overcomes all others, such as when someone buys a house next door to a family member because they want to be close, or the house is bought to be torn down for a parking lot. Usually this overwhelming factor is location or intensely sentimental reasons.

The point is that these factors adjust unpredictably in their importance to the individual buyer, but systematically depending on price range. For example consider the extremes; 2 families of 4, one who will spend $100,000 and one who will spend $1,000,000.

1m values 100k Values


As represented above, all of the factors are considered by every buyer, but the ones that become paramount depend on constraints.  For example, it is almost impossible to find a million dollar home with less than 3 bedrooms, and it is equally difficult to find a $100,000 home that has 3 bedrooms. So the lower priced shopper must consider a minimal set of utility and feature requirements that are automatic in a higher price range.

Most people do not even know what their own value proposition looks like.  As a buyer’s agent, you need to decipher any given buyer’s criteria and understand the criteria better than they themselves do.  As a listing agent, you must be aware of a given home’s value proposition to the average buyer in order to price a home correctly.  I love this process and have been helped greatly by quantifying this concept in my business.

Adventures in Power Washing

I am fortunate to live in an older home that presents lots of challenges and “repair opportunities” (Euphemism of the day). I am now attending to some badly neglected exterior painting.  I have learned that there is no way to get new paint to stick if you try to paint over oxidized or peeling paint. After scraping for a while realized that I would be scraping off old paint on this house for the next year so I sought out a better way.

Old oxidized paint

Oxidized and Peeling Paint on Wood before power washing

One option is power washing. I have never done much with power washers so I rented on from Timp rentals in American Fork. The rental costs $15 per hour or $60 per day.  After three hours I was done so I spent about $50 with tax and gas and saved myself untold hours of work and pain.  I had to play around with holding the wand the right distance from the surface, but it really is not rocket science. About 6 inches seemed to work right for me.

Wood after power washing

Clean Wood and well adhered paint after power washing

As you can see this method is not perfect. There are still a few spots where some cracked paint was not removed, but it is adhered well so once I prime and paint again I am thinking that it will look alright.  In some areas almost all of the old paint came off, but in other areas that were not as bad most of the paint remained after power washing.

It also worked really well on concrete.  If you have some old concrete it can look almost new again with a little power washing.

Even concrete that looks clean can look better after powerwashing

This concrete has been swept and washed, but still ugly

Overall, renting a power washer was money well spent! Give it a shot.

Best Plumbing Tool EVER

For years I have seen inspection reports come back with the complaint of “Slow Drains”. I assume this is a universal plague since I have the same trouble from time to time,  If you have an extra 3 bucks lying around I have to encourage you to buy one of these:

Slow drains can be a thing of the past

Best Plumbing tool ever

It doesn’t look like much but this simple tool will save you a lot of headaches and a lot of money as well.  Buy it once for less money than a bottle of Drano and you are set.

You insert the tool into the slow drain and the nasty looking hooks snag whatever is causing the clog, usually hair, and you gently pull it out.  I have left out the photos of clogs because I do not want to gross you out, but with 4 daughters in my house one shower drain took 4 efforts and a total clog weight of about 2 pounds! Not pretty but the drain flows nicely once again!

The funny thing is that the package says to discard the tool after use. I assume this is for liability reasons because cleaning off the hooks is a risky proposition. Be careful and you can reuse yours for many years.  I just saved the packaging and use it as a sheath to avoid snagging things.



Should you move?

Over the years I have helped many people sell their home and buy another for a pile of different reasons.  Several times I have talked people out of moving because upon closer inspection it was not the best decision for them.  Hopefully this list will help you think more clearly about whether moving is the right thing for you.

Important Factors to Consider Before Moving

  1. Income:  What are your income prospects for the near and long term?  Is your current business or employer turning a profit?
  2. Job Stability (Geographic) – What is the likelihood that your employer may want you to relocate?  It may make sense to put out some feelers to determine if you will be moving out of the area.
  3. Family Size:  Will you be growing or shrinking?  I have seen families move to a big house to accommodate a bunch of teenagers and it seems like in the blink of an eye, they are all gone!
  4. Marriage Stability:  Moving is not without stress.  If your marriage is not at 100% why tax it?  Spend the money on some good counseling and get happy first.  Then make the move.
  5. Current Housing Situation:  I have seen situations where with just a few tweaks the existing home may be the perfect home.  Figure out if you can make a few changes to be happier where you are.
  6. Long-Term Goals:  Where do you want to put your time and money? Do you want a big yardthat you take care of or would you rather look out at the HOA park and never mow again? Do you value travel more than your house?  Do you want to move away from an area soon?
  7. Real Estate Values:  If a move is right, are you moving into an area where values are moving up or is the area declining?  Never forget, you will have to sell the new house someday, and hopefully someone else will want it!
  8. Family and Friends:  Can you bear to leave your close family and friends?  For some people 1 block is not close enough, and for others one state is not far enough away.
  9. Schools:  What schools are available?  Do they meet your idea of what you value?
  10. Commute Time:  Nothing dings your lifestyle like sitting in your car for 2 or 3 hours a day.  Even the best seat in a car is not as good as your favorite chair at home!

Of course no list is comprehensive, but hopefully this one will help you in your decision making process.  If you need a third party to go through all of this with you, never hesitate to call me.  I am happy to help!

Top 10 factors that determine the value of your house

Everyone has heard the platitude that what matters in real estate is “location, location, location” but that is NOT very useful when you are thinking of what to change or add to your property.  Every buyer would put these in a different order, but in most cases I think these 10 would surely be at the top of the list in any home buying decision. (And three of them do relate to location)

Gross Location

This is the city and neighborhood where a home is located.  This is the one factor above all others that determines the value of a house.  This is what makes a home in certain neighborhoods in California worth $500,000 while the same house in Utah is worth only $200,000.  You can’t change it so if you already own, don’t stress.  If you are shopping, think it through.

2.  Number of Bedrooms and Baths

The number of bedrooms and bathrooms will determine what the potential audience is for any given house.  A one bedroom home obviously does not serve the person who wants 5.  In general more is better, but the ratio of bedrooms and baths matters.  New homes generally stick to no more than 2 beds per bath(2-1).  If the ratio is more like 3-1 the home may be considered functionally obsolete.  So if you are short on baths, adding one is not a bad idea.

3.  Year built

Buyers make a lot of assumptions about a home based soley on the year the home was built.  You cannot change this number so if your home is updated, and you are ready to sell, good marketing is crucial.

4.  Quality of Design and Construction

These two usually go hand in hand so they are combined.  A well designed home is most often well built because the builder took the time to think the project through from beginning to end.  There are exceptions, such as when a project runs out of money, but once a buyer is enticed to a property this factor is the intangible that causes love or disenchantment.

5.  Garages

You can’t usually go wrong with more garages!  WARNING: Sexist stereotype follows.  As long as a man is part of the buying decision, I have never seen a house with too many garages.

6.  Condition

Has the home been taken care of?  This answer to this question is not usually determined by the age and condition of the property, but instead by how old the fixtures, paint and interior style appears.  You can make up for a lot with paint, but if you do paint invest in a lot of good masking tape and do it well.  A terrible paint job is worse than none at all.  Happily bad paint is easy to fix!

7.  Style

This is in reference to the actual style of home.  Whether a rambler, a split-entry or a tri-level, each style will appeal to a different set of buyers.  Some styles will actually be excluded from consideration.  If your home style is one of those that gets eliminated early in a search and you are considering a serious remodel, think about changing the style of your home if possible.

8.  Lot attributes

Lot size, dimensions, and street type become a big factor once a buyer gets to a home.  This is one more location item.  Remember that lot sizes ore one thing and appearance is another.  The way a lot is landscaped, or the dimensions can affect the perception of size more than the actual measurements of the property.  If you are building, NEVER squeeze a house into a lot.  Make sure that the lot and home harmonize and you will get more out of your investment.

9.  Master Bedroom/Bath

Having a master bedroom is a plus.  Not having a maser bath can decrease the value of a home by up to 10%

10.  Efficiency

By efficiency I mean both energy efficiency as well as quality and condition of mechanical systems, insulation and windows.  Most of the time issues with this come up in an inspection and can be a deal breaker.  If you are going to be in a home for a long time it is a great place to spend money, but if not you may want to sell your home as it is and let the new owner decide what to do with it.

Do you think I missed any important factors?  There may be something else that belongs in the top 10.  If you can think of it, please let me know!