Littleton Comparables: Close to a Science Fiction Adventure!

10-8-4-spacetimecompsEstablishing the asking price for a Littleton home may not quite qualify as science fiction, but it can be a bit of an adventure in time and space—at least when it comes to establishing the Littleton comparables.

The logic behind valuing a property by looking at recent Littleton comparable sales—the Littleton “comps”—is immediately clear. You don’t have to study economics to realize that the value of something (including a Littleton house or condo) will ultimately be the amount that someone is actually willing to shell out for it. So recent sales of comparable Littleton homes should be the best benchmark.

But like so many things that are wonderfully simple in theory, when it comes to establishing Littleton comparables for the purpose of setting a fair asking price or mortgage amount, practical matters can complicate things. So for anyone looking to buy or sell a Littleton home, demystifying the factors that come into play as appraisers and bank loan officers identify valid comparables is good background information.

Among the most important factors are size of the dwelling and (this never gets old) location, location, location! So comparables are same-size homes or condos that have sold recently, close by. What could be simpler, right?

Not so fast—it’s much more of an adventure.

First, the space part. The fact is, there are different ways to look at the size of a property. Square feet may be a number you can measure, which might be total square feet…but there is also taxable living area, which could be more important. The difference is that anything below grade (for instance, a half-finished basement or tricked-out man cave garage) may not be counted—or may be partially counted (an “adjustment”). For condos, one of those half-height storage areas may be another “adjustment,” as could be a balcony or parking space—valuable to some buyers, but not part of the “taxable living area.”

There’s another aspect to the space part of the adventure. Even within a single neighborhood, some streets have homes that are more upscale (and pricey) than others. Or there can be nearly rural parts of a suburban (or even an urban) community—so using the distance from one point to another may not be an accurate way to determine if nearby neighborhood comparables are really, well, comparable. In other words, although within a short distance, to be truly comparable a nearby sale could call for yet another ‘adjustment.’ Furthermore, even though one dwelling might be only a block away from another, they might fall into different school districts. Even if you don’t have kids, school quality can be an important factor for prospective buyers…and another adjustment…

Then there’s the time part of the adventure, which comes when we try to figure out what qualifies as a ‘recent’ comp. Within 90 days definitely qualifies as an ideal. But what if there aren’t enough of those? Some lenders will go back 6-12 months—a warping of the time-space continuum (and where would science fiction writers be without those?)

If you will be buying or selling anytime soon, the Littleton comparables will come into play. Call me to explore what they look like in your own immediate real estate future!

When Littleton Home Listing Photos Scare Buyers Away

Your Littleton home listing is, hands-down, the most likely place prospective buyers will get their first glimpse of the home you are selling. Most serious prospects will go online as an early step in the process of winnowing candidate properties by area, asking price, number of bedrooms, etc.—so the photos in your home listing will be your offering’s face to the world.

You probably already know that—and that not all pictures are created equal. What’s important to realize is that some home listing photos actually scare away buyers! Whether you are preparing for a professional photographer’s shooting day or just helping your Realtor® choose the shots that will be included in your area home listing, here are some red flag/don’t go there/bad idea/just-say-no off-kilter ideas for real estate photos. If you steer clear of these approaches, you home listing will benefit:

Adorable Pets in the Shot

Resist the temptation to make your home more appealing and homier by include the cuddliest member of the family—your pet. “But,” (your may be thinking) “half the commercials on TV have a dog or a cat in them! Apparently, animals sell!” Madison Avenue might be able to use four-legged actors to promote some products, but the sight of Fluffy or Fido in a home listing will turn off most buyers. Although no one can smell your pet through an online photo (at least not yet), many people can imagine what smells might be associated with that pooch or feline. “One of the biggest reasons people will or won’t buy a house is odor,” says Don Aslett on the MSN Real Estate website—and few Realtors would argue the point. So be on the safe side—leave pets on the cutting room floor.

Odd Camera Angles

It can be tempting to shoot photos from a low angle, pointing the camera toward the ceiling. The idea might be to make rooms look as if they have higher ceilings—or to fit everything into the shot—and sometimes the result does look fine. But equally likely is a photo that ends up looking, well, odd. Off-balance shots can make viewers feel uncomfortable, as if something’s just not right. You want your photos to look as realistic as possible, as if it’s what everybody sees on a home tour. IOW, if a photo is in any way jarring, opt for one taken from a normal point of view.

Focus Misdirection

Most Littleton home listings show everything in acceptably sharp focus: in photographer jargon, they exhibit wide Depth-of-Field. But where lighting or lens dictate shallow depth, only part of the shot will be in sharp focus…and that’s the area that will attract the viewer’s eye. Use this to your advantage. For instance, it’s good to show pictures of the master bathroom—especially if it resembles a spa retreat—but it’s bad to focus on the commode instead of the Carrera marble vanity.

Putting together a killer Littleton home listing is an important part of the comprehensive service my clients receive. Give me a call if you are preparing to list your Littleton home!

Littleton Homeowners Association: Exclusive Club, Sort of…

10-8-2-hoa-300x87Homeowners Associations (HOAs) are not a new idea. They were first formed in nineteenth century America, as the Industrial Revolution spurred migration from rural to urban living. Owning real estate has always been considered a big deal, so it’s right to think of Homeowners Associations as exclusive clubs. Sort of.

Littleton Homeowners Associations are open to membership only for those who own a home in a Littleton HOA development—definitely an exclusive group! (The reason for the ‘sort of’ is because of the other qualification: homeowners are required to join).

Exclusive membership has its advantages, to be sure, and also some disadvantages. For instance, members have to pay fees and dues for the privilege of belonging. And, like membership in any legendarily snooty club, members have to behave themselves. Unlike most of those, the rules of an HOA are legally binding for all residents in the development. Homeowners Association covenants can specify things like exterior paint colors and what kinds, if any, of fences and/or hedges an owner can install. They also may specify whether things like swing sets or basketball hoops are allowed. There will almost certainly be vague language in any Littleton Homeowners Association covenant to require things like “reasonable” standards of repair for a property.

In general, the whole idea can be a good thing, because when working as intended, it protects everybody’s property values. Indeed, a March study by the Association Management Group showed that 70% of HOA residents are happy with their HOA experience. However, if you are ever in the mood for some HOA horror stories, the web is where you’ll find some really juicy ones.

For example, there’s the one about the 77-year-old Arizona condo owner who was fined repeatedly for allowing her dog to walk through the lobby. The HOA rules specified that dogs must be carried through the lobby. Then there was the case of a California widower whose home was seized by the HOA because he owed $600 in dues and fees. It was sold at auction to a third party for a mere $2,000 (okay—even the Internet admits that he eventually did reclaim his house).

So, on balance, what’s a buyer to do? Below are a few ways to approach the decision before you buy a house in an HOA development (if I’m your Realtor®, I’ll be able to help with these):

  • The easy part: get a copy of the covenants and bylaws. The hard part: read them. Make note of the restrictions, and pay close attention to the sanctions the HOA can invoke.
  • Review the details of recent actions and pending changes to the rules (they’re probably posted on the HOA website). Request copies of any past and present actions or notices filed by the HOA against the selling homeowner.
  • See if you can talk to Homeowners Association board members to get a feel for whether the rules are strictly enforced or a more laissez faire regime is in place. There aren’t any guarantees, though—board membership and attitudes can change.

If you do decide to buy into a HOA development, remember the best defense is a good offense. Get involved in the HOA by attending meetings and keeping up-to-date with proposed changes to the covenants.

Are Drones the Next Big Thing in Littleton Real Estate?

10-8-1-drone-300x225When you hear the word “drone,” you’re more likely to think military target than local residential listing. But drones could be the Next Big Thing in real estate photography—that is, if they don’t run afoul of the law.

Technically known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), drones have swooped and dived into the public consciousness in a big way within the past year. In addition to the amusing tiny model helicopters that have been found under many a Christmas tree over the few holiday seasons, their more ambitious cousins, remote-controlled, lightweight flying vehicles have begun to be used by firefighters, filmmakers, and the military. And as the technology becomes less and less expensive, everyone expects to see drones in more applications than you could imagine—for instance, CBS’s 60 Minutes report that previewed Amazon.com’s plans to test online purchase deliveries via driveway drop-offs by creepy four-rotor drones.

What’s the connection with Littleton real estate? Just ask commercial photographers, who think the lightweight vehicles would be their key to the perfect high production value property shots. Think of it: instead of chartering an expensive helicopter flight to photograph a site from the air, a real estate photographer could use a much cheaper and more easily controlled lightweight drone. The result? Dramatic, breath-taking shots that used to be only rarely seen in listing video tours (and then, only in million-dollar listings). With more than 90% of prospective home buyers now using the Internet, those kinds of shots could make the difference between a stagnant listing and a quick turnaround.

But don’t hold your breath for the rise of drone-based real estate photography—at least not yet. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a permit for each flight whose goal is the “commercial use of airspace”—even by small devices like photography drones. As a consequence, the National Association of Realtors® is advising real estate pros not to use drone-based photography until next year, when new FAA guidelines will be announced. Until then, a special FAA waiver has to be obtained for each flight (and you can bet a local property would have already been sold long before that came to pass!)

While we may heave a sigh over the exciting drone videos that might have been, the real possibility that drones will become a factor in Littleton’s residential real estate reinforces the importance of having your home sale-ready from all angles. Imagine the fallout if drone photos revealed a leaky roof—or an unkempt backyard!

Bottom line: it’s always going to remain vital to prep a property to shine in more than just the “curb appeal” photo.

That planning can start with a call to my office for a no-obligation review of how to set into motion a proven marketing plan that gets your Littleton home sold!