How much is an in-law unit worth?

It’s been a while since I brought in my friend Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending. Let’s get back to him, with a blog he shared recently that got me thinking about everybody considering doing an in-law unit or ADU, and whether you know how much value that unit adds to the overall price of a home? Read on!

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Realtor misses value of his own home by $500,000

Years ago, I was refinancing a realtor who insisted his remodeled 3,700 square foot home was worth at least $1.5 million. I was, therefore, shocked to see the appraisal come in under $1 million. I reviewed the appraisal and quickly realized why it was so low. The “main house” was only 2,300 square feet, while there was a fully permitted 1,400 square foot in-law unit above his massive garage.

No interior access

Because there was no interior or direct access from the main house to the in-law unit, it could not be included in the overall gross living area. Hence, the appraiser could only use comps that were similar in size to the 2,300 square foot main house. He also used comps with somewhat similar in-law units, but he was only able to support a value estimate for the unit of $75,000 (even though it was so large and brand new).

Permitted in-law units

An in-law or “accessory dwelling unit” that is built with permits can only be included in the overall gross living area if it has direct interior access to the main house, as mentioned above. Interior access often makes the in-law unit more valuable on paper because appraisers can then correlate to much larger comparable sales overall. When there is no interior access, appraisers must support value using comps with in-law units and main dwellings that are similar in size to the subject’s main dwelling. They then “extract” the estimated market value with what is called a “paired sales analysis.”

In most cases, the estimated market value of such units ends up in the $25,000 to $50,000 range, depending on the market – much less than most people think.

Unpermitted in-law units

In-law units built without permits can never be included in the overall gross living area, whether there is interior access or not. They can, however, be given value, similar to permitted units, IF the appraiser can show that there is marketability in the area for such units. The appraiser must, however, find similar comparable sales, with in-law units, to support the value. In many cases, however, unpermitted units are given no more value than similar-sized storage space (which is often minimal, at $5,000 or less).

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No stoves, please!

If a unit is unpermitted, underwriters often require that stoves be removed from the units prior to funding, as such stoves represent “health and safety” hazards. While most buyers simply replace the stoves after their loans fund, this is a requirement that all parties to a transaction should expect.

As you may or may not know, I have been considering an ADU myself, but when rates went up last year, I decided to really save money before I start. As I learn more, I keep re-thinking what I will do. I am now thinking I will attach the in-law unit to my existing home and maybe keep it on the same sewer line, but have separate PG&E services. It is still a work in progress, but I need to get going on it sooner rather than later. What I am finding is contractors are busy and you have to book out months in advance, in part due to all the work from wildfires, plus the price of wood has gone up due to demand from the fires. I also heard a few new positive changes will be coming our way in the form of lower fees, as we have a housing shortage and the ADUs are a way for people to find living situations.

Seller and Lender credit guidelines

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending came through with another great topic recently, which I want to share with you below. It involves an oft-overlooked, but very important aspect of selling a home: credits to a buyer. Read on!

Here are a few quick reminders/guidelines for Seller and Lender Credits.

  1. If a credit is specified to be for a repair anywhere in a purchase contract, the repairs will have to be completed PRIOR to close of escrow. We will need to show proof they are complete with either an appraiser’s or a licensed contractor’s certification. Kristin: I handle it with a workaround by asking for a credit for closing costs on an addendum with no reference to the repair, see below.
  2. Credits for closing costs cannot exceed actual closing costs. Be sure to check with your lender to get an estimate for total closing costs. If there are significant transfer taxes and an impound account, the total closing cost figure can be substantial, creating much leeway for credits. Kristin: When the credit exceeds closing cost, I have combined it with a price reduction, usually credits are more desired, but this way you don’t lose any of the credit.
  3. Credits can be for non-recurring and recurring closing costs. There is no need to specify which. Credits can and should simply be for “closing costs.”
  4. Closing cost credits should be on a separate addendum, and not on a “Request for Repairs addendum. It is well known that Realtors substitute “closing cost” credits for “repair” credits, to avoid disclosing repair issues. But, this should not be made too obvious by putting closing cost credits on a “Request for Repairs” addendum (even if the Request for Repairs addendum does not specifically note any repairs).
  5. Make sure there are no large lender-credits in place already. We have had a few transactions grind to a halt because the selling agent negotiated a seller-credit for closing costs without knowing that we had already given the buyer a large lender-credit. As a result, the total credits exceeded closing costs, and we had to restructure entire transactions. Kristin: My recommendation is your agent should always be in conversation with your lender.
  6. Lenders need credits before they order loan documents. Many agents negotiate credits at the 11th hour when sellers are more willing to acquiesce. We, however, need to know about all credits before we order loan documents. If we learn about credits after loan documents are drawn, we have to formally re-draw loan documents. This both costs money and delays escrows. Kristin: The credit isn’t negotiated until it is time to remove the inspection contingency and if it is a shorter close, it pushes up on the docs having to be redrawn and then the buyer as 3 days review before they can sign loan docs which can push the closeout.

JVM Lending: Too busy for big houses!

I loved this blog from our friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending. It covers the trend in real estate towards smaller homes. I have been thinking of doing a blog on tiny homes and this may be the impetus to sit down and write about that trend! With millennial buyers angling that way and boomers finally wising up and heading that way too, the market for large houses is changing. Read on:

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I hike for five or six miles every weekend in the hills around one of the Bay Area’s most high-end housing developments. The homes are huge, stunning, and fun to see, but the best part is the extremely elaborate backyards with vineyards, gazebos, massive pools, outdoor kitchens, terraces, fruit trees, play sets, sport courts, and immaculate landscaping.

The cost for those yards alone is often in excess of $1 million. And this is what I find most interesting – in over nine years of hiking, I have seen people in those backyards maybe five or six times; despite their beauty and allure, the yards are literally devoid of human beings.

I know several families who live in the development, and I know exactly why they are never in their backyards. With sports practices, games, private coaching, tutoring, volunteering, homework, social obligations, etc., they are far too busy to ever find time to venture into their outdoor paradises.

So, that is point #1 – families looking to buy their ultimate dream home might do well to remember that they may be far too busy to enjoy it. Point #2 was illuminated in a recent WSJ article called A Growing Problem In Real Estate – Too Many Big Houses.

It turns out that far too many baby boomers built monstrous dream homes that they no longer want or are able to take care of. According to the article, in February in Scottsdale, AZ alone, there were 390 homes on the market at prices in excess of $3 million. The market for large homes is dwindling because more and more boomers are wising up and moving to smaller homes with much less maintenance, and younger buyers aren’t interested in the large homes either.

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Another problem is that we old people like earth tones, crown moldings, and other styles that younger buyers hate, only making boomer homes that much less appealing to younger buyers (when my wife Heejin and I stay in modern AirBNBs, I drive her crazy with my non-stop complaining about the concrete floors, stark colors, and what seems like ridiculously cold decorating to me; and don’t even get me started about those silly little pedestal sinks…).

Anyway, if you have a client looking to build or buy their monstrous dream home, you might remind them that they either might be too busy or too old for a huge home.

Many of those boomers in the Walnut Creek area bought those big homes with big yards and as the kids grew up, they have sold and moved downtown to places like the Mercer on California where they can lock up for three months, not worry about a yard and travel or just walk downtown have dinner and a glass of wine and walk back home…more to come for that future blog!

Fed halts rate increases (JVM Lending)

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending shared an interesting blog recently about the Fed halting rate increases. We’ve posted about the Fed and how it affects the housing market many times in the past, so I wanted to break it down for you again. First, Jay’s blog:

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Yesterday, the Fed announced that there will be no more rate hikes in 2019. And many people in the mortgage and real estate industries cheered. But a lot of economists and Fed-watchers are more worried than ever.

Here is just one of many articles (from the WSJ) I read today illuminating serious concerns. The Fed has the toughest job in the world. It needs to build up enough ammo to fight the next recession without actually causing the next recession.

The problem for the Fed is that it needs to lower rates 4-5% to effectively help the economy when a recession hits. But, the Fed Funds rate is only 2.5% today, and if the Fed raises rates any more, they could cause a recession.

So, that leaves more Quantitative Easing as a likely option when the next recession hits. But that too may be less effective because the Fed still holds almost $4 trillion in MBS and Treasuries, down a little from, but still close to, its peak holdings of $4.5 trillion.

So, what does all this mean for those of us in the real estate and mortgage industries? It means the sun will shine a little brighter this year for all of us. But, the more the Fed artificially induces bright sunshine now, the longer the sun will be behind a cloud in the future.

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So, like the Portuguese biscuit maker who just keeps making buscuits no matter what the economy does, we should all do the same – as fast as possible. Because our current economically-sunny weather won’t last, and we need to be ready for the cloudy weather that is certain to come and that will likely now last even longer.

Okay, that’s a lot to take in, right? Here is my takeaway: cash is king and save your money to buy when the market dips. Europe is already in a slowdown, we are seeing the tech stocks take a hit, and this past week we now have an inverse yield curve, which in the past indicated a recession in the next year or so. Who knows what will happen (nobody has a crystal ball, but you can save)?

Why curb appeal is so important

My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending wrote a blog about the importance of curb appeal for marketability and “appraisability.” I’ve shared with you below!

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I live near a home that was on the market for nearly three months before it finally ended up selling for over $200,000 less than its original list price. In contrast, I live near another home that is the same size as the home I just referenced, and it recently sold over asking on the same day it hit the market; it also sold for over $200,000 more than the house I referenced in the first sentence!

One of the biggest differences between the two homes is curb appeal. The home that sold for less than asking has a front yard that consists mostly of 40-year-old junipers while the more expensive home has far more appealing landscaping. What is most interesting to me is that the nicer home’s landscaping was not elaborate or expensive; it was merely fresh and very well-maintained.

If the lower priced home had spent $15,000 to take out the junipers and refresh its landscaping, I think they would have made back that money many times over. As most agents know, it’s all about “Curb Appeal.”

According to a survey, what really sets a house apart is a nice yard, a new mailbox, exterior lights, and a welcoming front porch. In contrast, having a dirty exterior, unmown lawns, dead plants, weeds, overgrown flower beds, a garish house color, a tacky mailbox, no trespassing and beware of dog signs, or chain link fencing can really reduce curb appeal.

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Most agents are well aware of these factors and do a good job of coaching their clients. The above factors significantly affect marketability of a home, and it often takes a surprisingly small amount of time and/or money to enhance curb appeal. It also influences appraisers! They are more likely to correlate to the higher range of a price point if the curb appeal of a house is better – even if the interior isn’t as nice.

-Kristin’s wrapup: Overall, it is amazing how some small improvements can help the sale. Whether it is staging, putting in fresh bark and potting some flowers, painting the kitchen cabinets, or adding a stone countertop, I believe this helps a home get more showings, sell faster and ultimately get more money.

Divorcing and selling a home

My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending put out a good blog recently about a tricky subject: divorcing and selling a home. Apparently, March tends to be the peak divorce-filing month because it’s after the holidays but before summer.

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Jay has some go-to advice for those who need to know about mortgages and divorces:

  1. The only way a spouse can get “off a loan” is with a full refinance.
  2. Stay cordial before the divorce, because if you want to buy before it is finalized, the non-buying spouse must sign a quit-claim.
  3. It takes 6-12 months of court-ordered payment history before spousal support income of any kinda can be used.
  4. There need to be at least 3 years of future payments before one can qualify for spousal support (i.e., can’t use income if support ends at age 18, and the kids are currently 16 and 17).
  5. Lenders must have a court-approved settlement agreement before a transaction can close, once they find out about a pending divorce.
  6. Divorcing spouses can hire private judges to expedite settlements in order to close mortgages sooner. This can be an affordable alternative (as little as $500 sometimes).
  7. Increasing a mortgage to buy out a spouse is not considered “cash out” as long as all cash proceeds go to the spouse getting bought out.
  8. All marital debt must be accounted for when qualifying, unless there is a court order or decree that specifically states which spouse is responsible for which debt.
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Okay! That’s a lot of information that I hope none of you ever have to use. However, it is good information if you do or are thinking about it. Call me if you have any questions.

Why I only refer clients to lenders I trust!

I won’t be pasting the entirety of Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending’s blog about this here. I’ll just hit the major points. But this is a perfect example of why I only refer clients to lenders I trust. Read on:

Last week, a borrower came to us to discuss her refinancing because she had lost trust with the lender she was working with (America’s largest non-bank lender). She was trying to refinance the house she lived in but it was owned by her Dad and she was not on the title, so a refinancing was impossible.

In any case, she was trying to refinance the house she lived in but it was owned by her Dad and she was not on title.  So a refi was impossible – something the other loan officer failed to comprehend – and it had to be structured as a purchase.

Further complicating things was a “gift of equity” down payment, the need for “cash out” for improvements, and the need to avoid capital gains taxes for the seller – all issues that the other loan officer had zero understanding of.

In any case, one of our Mortgage Analysts quickly figured out how to structure the loan and then re-locked the same borrower with the same lender via our correspondent relationship but at a 1/2 percent lower rate. 

I share this story not to make JVM the hero but to once again warn buyers away from the big call center mortgage companies. The call centers stuff bodies into cubicles to do nothing but sell.

Those “bodies” often do not have the skill to close transactions when there is even a small amount of complexity, and…their rates are way higher to boot.  

That’s Jay’s horror story about call centers. It does a great job of explaining why I prefer to refer specific lenders I know who will always get the job done. It creates a smoother process for everyone that way. Most banks or Quickens of the world don’t fully underwrite upfront; it requires a lot of paperwork initially, but it creates a very smooth process to closing. This way the buyers are aware of any potential issues before you ever write an offer. They also don’t tell you that once you are in contract, you are handed off to loan processor who you have never spoken with and many loan agents are on to the next approval and are no longer in the immediate loop. Communication often falls apart at this point. Your loan officer may be local, but the processor could be in a different state.

I currently have a new home buyer who is shopping three different lenders looking for the best rate. With two of them, I expect possible delays and a questionable overall experience for my buyers. One is fantastic, but a first-time home-buyer doesn’t understand those nuances far outweigh an eighth of a point difference in an interest rate. Hopefully whoever they choose will do right by them and it will be smooth sailing.

I just closed on a house (blog to come on Thursday). When we first met, they were talking to one of the largest non-bank lenders. I recommended they speak to JVM and just compare the experience and decide who they would like to work with. They closed with JVM and when I handed them the keys, they remarked at how smooth the overall process was for them and when compared to their friends who recently purchased and had a loan with one of the big banks, they said their lending experience was horrible.

The Fed lost control over interest rates – so now what?

My friend Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending had a great blog recently about The Fed and interest rates. Here is the article below, with my two cents included:

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Rates are at an eight-month low right now – about 1/2 percent lower than they were at their peak in October. I should add though that they still remain about 1/2 percent higher than they were last year at this time. So, did the Fed finally achieve its stated goal of pushing up rates?

Not in the way anybody expected.

According to former Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, the Fed now has less control over interest rates than at any other time in its 105-year history. I won’t go into all the details, but it has to do with its massive bond holdings (almost $4 trillion) and the excess reserves in the banking system. You can read more about it here.

The Fed can influence rates in the short term with its actual policies and statements, but the markets now seem to have much more say in the matter than the Fed. We are watching this currently, as the Fed’s short-term rate increases are not resulting in long-term rate increases like we have seen in the past.

What this means is a repeat of what I have been saying repeatedly over the last several years – nobody really has any idea of what will happen with rates (or anything else for that matter – remember Mr. Trump’s election?). A slowing world economy could continue to bring rates down, or a resurgence in bank lending (according to the article referenced above) could spark an inflationary spiral that will send rates through the roof.

Suffice it to say that we will see a lot more volatility in both the stock and bond markets for a long time to come. What is really scary though is what will happen when everyone figures out that there is no way that the world can ever pay back the $250 trillion in worldwide debt that has built up over the last ten years. When that happens, today’s environment will seem like very calm sailing.

Bond Market

Lastly – despite the uncertainty, many pundits are now predicting low (and even declining) rates throughout 2019.

Great stuff from Jay, right? So, here are  my thoughts: The Fed came up with four rate hikes last year, and now the mortgage rates are lower than expected as stock market sways are leading people to bonds. What that means for the real estate market, especially locally is that more buyers maybe taking advantage of getting in now.  I am starting to see the market pick back up, but this year it didn’t happen on January 3rd, didn’t really see it until the weekend after January 7th when the kids returned to school from their holiday break.  January has been interesting the last few years, as buyers have been out, but sellers want to wait until March and they often loose that burst of lots of buyers and no inventory.   At any rate, nobody has a crystal ball and I believe we will be on a wild ride as the stock market will have more volatility (as it is suppose to).

5 reasons why this winter is the best time to buy

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending put together an interesting blog post recently, and I want to share that with you below. Essentially, he finds five reasons why this current winter season is the best time to take advantage of the real estate market and buy a house! Enjoy:

Most of our agent-readers well know why winter can be a great time to buy from a real estate perspective. I am nonetheless repeating a few of the obvious reasons while also illuminating a few less-obvious mortgage-related reasons.

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1. Rates Hit Six Week Low! While rates have been climbing for most of the year, they hit a six week low last week in response to the oil glut and signs of a softer economy. Given that the Fed will likely continue to push rates up next year, this brief rate-reduction gives buyers a short-term opportunity to lock in a relatively low rate.

2. Lender Incentives. 
Many lenders are offering extra incentives to borrowers right now simply to maximize loan volume during a slower time of the year. This includes JVM of course, as we are offering a $500 closing cost credit to any buyer who gets into contract from now until January 31st. This does not apply to borrowers who are already in contract and locked.

3. Motivated Sellers. If someone is willing to go to the trouble to sell their home during the holidays/winter, they are usually more motivated to sell and willing to negotiate.

4. Fewer Buyers/Less Competition. There are fewer buyers and a lot less competition for homes. Many buyers pull out of the market in the winter b/c they don’t want to take the time to house-hunt during the holiday season or they don’t want to buy in the middle of the school year (if they have kids).

5. Seeing Properties at Their Worst. 
My neighbor has drop-dead gorgeous crape myrtle and Japanese maple trees all over his yard. In the spring and summer, his yard is an oasis of color. In the winter, however, his yard looks like a war zone. Buyers get to see homes at their worst in the winter, avoiding unpleasant surprises and knowing that their dream home will only look that much better, come spring.

The internet conveniently has numerous articles backing up my points above, in case any readers don’t want to take my word for it. Here are two: The Best Time of the Year to Buy Property from Financial Samurai; and Mortgage Rates Pull Back from Freddie Mac’s website.   

Why borrowers should consider a 30-year mortgage

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending has written an excellent blog about borrowers and their understanding of liquidity, and why borrowers should consider the lower 30-year mortgage payment. Besides the flexibility it offers, it allows a sort of cushion for any borrowers who may find themselves in personal trouble, and is also usually a good long-term investment. Read on below to get the full picture, with two cents from me – can you say liquidity:

 Borrowers often underestimate the importance of liquidity. Especially when times are good. When rates are relatively low (under 8%), we always recommend using financing (obtaining a mortgage) to buy real estate, even if borrowers have ample cash. Similarly, we usually advise borrowers who want lower 15-year rates to take a 30-year mortgage. Even though borrowers can afford the higher 15-year mortgage payment, the lower 30-year mortgage payment offers them more flexibility. There are several reasons why borrowers should value liquidity more:

1. Job Loss, Major Illness, Injury, Legal Troubles, Recessions. People often forget how quickly fortunes can turn (especially those of us in sales), and how important cash is when income dries up. This is particularly the case when the economy turns and financial instruments and hard assets drop in value and become difficult to sell.  An abundance of cash during unexpected hard times often means the difference between bankruptcy and muddling through.

2. Ability to Buy Distressed Assets. When the economy turns and asset prices tank, there are often tremendous bargains to be had for anyone with even a little cash. After the mortgage meltdown, for example, one of our clients purchased eight rental properties for around $100,000 each. He was out of pocket less than $250,000 for all of those purchases, and all of the properties cash-flowed from the start. In addition, they are all worth close to $300,000 now. I watched many other clients do the same thing in the stock market after both the dotcom crash and the 2008 meltdown.

3. Investment Returns Exceed After Tax Cost of Mortgage. This does not apply to everyone of course, but many borrowers can often invest money that they do not put into their home and earn a return that exceeds the cost of their mortgage, especially after tax benefits are taken into account. Example: Borrowers A and B both have $250,000. “A” puts down 50% on a $500,000 house; “B” puts down 20% and invests the $150,000 he saves. In the long run, Borrower B will have a much higher net worth and more liquidity along the way if his investment yield exceeds his rate by 2% or more (not difficult over the long term).


Interesting, right?  I saw this first hand in the down turn, people with cash bought investment properties.  They are usually patient and don’t get caught up in all the hubbub.  Many can’t see past the downturn and believe it will never improve, however we are not building any new land and history shows us that what does down, goes back up.   Remember cash is king, so start saving and get a leg up on the next down turn.