Property Sellers Go On Strike: Don’t Sell Your Home If You Don’t Have To!

I’ve spent the past three months catching up and really understanding the local property market. Every Sunday, I draw a three mile loop of five open houses to bike or jog to. Might as well get a workout in as well right?

At each open house, I take notes and pictures on interior design, get an idea of price, listing duration, and ask why the owner is selling. I even tested the waters myself for 25 days on the Multiple Listing Service to see if I could lure someone to pay me higher than what I believe is current market.

The main things I learned about the current real estate market are:

1) Inventory is down about 40%-50% Year Over Year.  Realtors and buyers are starving for inventory.

2) The majority who are selling are going through a divorce, a trust sale, or “need” a larger space due to a new addition to the family.

3) There is little sense of urgency to sell as sellers are happy to pull their listings off the market if they do not get the price they want. There was no sense of urgency for buyers to buy for for the past five years as well, however, that is changing now that rents are starting to rise and inventory is declining.

4) Realtors will agree with anything you say if it means a potential transaction. I decided to be bearish with five real estate agents and bullish with five other real estate agents to see what their responses would be.  When I was bearish and mentioned that I was thinking about selling my home, all five agreed that now is the right time to sell.  When I was bullish and mentioned that I should be buying rental properties given low rates and high rents, all five agreed that now is the right time to buy!  Try the experiment sometime. You will be astounded by how much they resemble sheep.

5) The agents have all said the sellers have either bought another property or will be buying another property.  Not once did the Realtor say their client was selling to rent. I think I can understand the psychology behind this phenomenon because as a homeowner, I don’t ever plan to rent my primary residence. Perhaps it’s because we get accustomed to the mortgage interest and property tax write-offs. I get the feeling many also feel the sense of defeat if they go from owning to renting, not that renting is bad, just a return to when we didn’t have enough money to own.

HOMEOWNERS NEED TO CONTINUE GOING ON STRIKE

Rents have risen at least 20% from two years ago thanks to the surge in startup jobs as well as the general recovery in the economy.  I raised my rent by 10% last year, and plan to raise my rent by another 5% this year.  I feel bad raising the rent hence, I’m giving her a 5% discount. I’d rather have a great tenant who plans to stay for a while than a bad tenant or one that decides to move after only a year.

Real estate prices always follow what rental prices are doing in the long run. When you can immediately receive a 4+% net cash yield on a rental property while borrowing at 3% with the potential for capital appreciation, you buy real estate. Renters will eventually get fed up with rising rents and also seek to buy, thereby pushing property prices up even further. If renters don’t buy, then there is a further upward increase in rental prices which is good for landlords.

Inventory is down drastically (50% YoY) because owning is cheap due to a decline in mortgage rates. Furthermore, sellers are probably skeptical that they can sell their homes for top dollar since we’re still recovering from the recession. Even in an expensive city like San Francisco, owning a property is cheaper than renting provided you have capital for a 20-30% downpayment.

The media likes to paint pictures of desperation. If they can’t pick on homeowners, they will pick on renters, which is what they are doing now. Even if a homeowner sells for a good price, where is the homeowner going to go given inventory is down 50%? No homeowner wants to compete for a rental in a hot market.

Finally, even after a tremendous shift towards real estate online with companies such as Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin, it is shocking that commission rates have stayed sticky at around 5% in the major markets. 5% is way too high of a commission to charge for a median property price of $650,000 here in San Francisco for example. Realtors complain that there is no inventory, yet refuse to lower their commissions to help increase transactions. As a result, I urge all homeowners to go on strike and not sell until commissions come down to a flat fee!

THE BENEFITS OF NEVER SELLING YOUR PROPERTY

1) You learn to live within your means and appreciate what you have.  It always seems to be about more, more, more here in the US and in other developed countries. A 1,500 square foot track homes in the 1970′s used to be the norm. Now we’re talking 3,000+ McMansions with the same number of people in the family! Perhaps it’s because Americans have gotten so much larger over the years we need more space? That’s what the auto manufacturers tell us at least.

2) You put pressure on oligopoly pricing in the real estate market.  It is an absolute shame that Realtors will push their clients to buy one home over another just because of higher commissions.  I know of Realtors who refuse to even visit a home, even if its perfect for their client because they won’t make enough commissions!  We need a flat real estate commission fee. 2% sounds about right.

3) You build incredible memories of happiness. Think back to all the wonderful memories you had growing up as a kid.  Chances are, if the median homeownership duration is 5.9 years, you no longer have that house. Now imagine if the house was still a part of the family as an adult 25 years later. Nostalgia is happiness. I love going back to my grandparent’s house every year for my entire life because I love remembering. I love seeing the pictures of when we were kids hanging in the hallway. I love seeing the trees we planted as youngsters grow and bear fruit.

4) You get to live rent-free or mortgage-free for the rest of your life. Sure there is normal maintenance expense and property taxes, but they are a pittance compared to the cost of ever rising rents in a naturally inflating environment. My parents are living debt free, and it is wonderful for them, and for me that I don’t have to worry about them financially. Now that I’m retired, I fully appreciate my rental property income that helps sustain my lifestyle. I plan on accelerating the payoff of my rental property mortgages due to the increased appreciation for cash flow.

5) You help retirees increase their cash flow. Many retirees rely on rental property income plus fixed income to survive. Unfortunately, fixed returns from CDs and dividend yields have declined. By keeping your property off the market, you prevent one more person from owning, thereby helping out our retired landlord friends live better lives by putting upward pressure on rents. Isn’t it our duty to take care of our elders?

6) You get to pass on your home to your loved ones. My grandparents’ vision was to always have their main house be in the family for us to visit, enjoy, and pass down to future generations forever. They may have been tempted at multiple times to sell for a huge profit, but I’m glad they didn’t. I always enjoy going back home. It would be extremely strange to go back to a new house, or different house from the one I began visiting more than 30 years ago.

CONCLUSION: DON’T SELL IF YOU DON’T HAVE TO

Treat your property as a home first, and as an investment second. If you’re buying a place just to make money, then perhaps you should reconsider your purchase. The median homeownership duration of 5.9 years is way too little to build any real wealth.

You’ve got to live somewhere. Reduce the stress that comes with buying, selling, moving, negotiating, and fixing. You’ll wake up 10 years from now and be amazed at how quickly time flies. Hopefully you’ll not only have built a good amount of equity, but also a great amount of wonderful memories.

If you’re curious like I am about the latest value of your home, check Zillow.com. I check at least weekly because their values are updated 3X a week. Just be wary of their Zestimates and study the comparable sales.

Recommendations To Build Your Net Worth

* Manage Your Finances In One Place: The best way to become financially independent is to get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to manage my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing and how my net worth is progressing. I’ve got multiple properties which I keep updated with my Personal Capital account.

* Check Your Credit Score: Take a moment to check your free TransUnion credit score through GoFreeCredit.com, a company I trust. 30% of credit reports have errors, which could put a serious hamper on your refinancing or new loan borrowing abilities. I had a $8 late payment I didn’t even know I owed crush my score by 100 points come up during my last refinance! The average credit score for rejected mortgage borrowers has risen to 729 due to more stringent lending requirements. Landlords will often ask for a renter’s credit score as part of his/her analysis.

* Refinance Your Mortgage. LendingTree Mortgage Refinance offers some of the lowest refinance rates because they have a huge network of lenders to provide mortgage loans, home equity loans, and home equity lines of credit. If you’re looking to buy a new home, consider using LendingTree to get multiple offer comparisons in a matter of minutes. When banks compete, you win.

Updated: 2Q2014

Regards,

Sam

 

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Mike Hunt says

    Singapore rents are going up. But rental yields are in the 2% territory. No property taxes on homes and condos and that helps things out. 1500 square foot places going for more than $1M USD and houses that are 3000 square feet are $4-5M USD easily…

    For the poorer working level people there is the HDB (Housing Development board) where you can get much cheaper places (1500 sq ft for about $250K USD) but you’ll have to live with a lot of other families, and there is a waiting list. Oh, and you have to be married to be eligible (no singles). How’s that for discrimination?

    -Mike

    • Financial Samurai says

      Yeah, I hear Singapore property prices have gone NUTS in the past 10 years. I remember when Singapore prices were at such huge discounts to HK. Damn. Why didn’t I buy all I could in 2002 there?!

        • Miss JJ says

          Well, for a start:

          1) We do pay property taxes in Singapore. Amount is linked to the estimated rental value, and discounts are given for owner-occupier status, as opposed to an investment property. We pay anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars a year, depending on the property in question.

          2) ALL Singaporeans and Singapore PRs have access to HDB flats. They are not only for the working poor or the married. The difference is that young couples and families can buy them new directly from the government at a subsidized rates, while non-first time buyers and singles have to get them from the resale market (much more expensive). This is in line with Singapore’s social policies which will take too long to go into here.

          3) Singles can buy HDB flats, but only after 35 years of age. Again, this has to do with Singapore’s social policy. I am single, 34 years old, and I assure you I don’t feel discriminated against.

          4) The “live with a lot of other families” part is just ??? No one has to live with other families if we don’t want to. Some extended families do live together out of preference.

          5) Waiting list for HDBs. Yes, there is, but only if there is an intention to buy subsidized flats directly from the government. Plenty of flats available in the HDB resale market if you can afford to pay, which many Singaporeans obviously can, given the prices these days.

          6) These days, you won’t get a 1500 sqft HDB for US 250K. The government stopped building flats of these sizes, so most new flats are much smaller. On the resale market, a 1500 sqft HDB flat in a mature estate can go for up to USD$550K on the average.

          7) Rental yields will depend on property type, and they are normally inversely proportional to the potential for capital gains. HDB flats give the best rental yields (up to 5%) at this point but there is not much of an upside for capital gains and there are a lot of restrictions for rental. Private property yields are lower around 2-3% because of the massive capital gains. We decide as investors what we are looking for.

          The best and worst part of Singapore property for Singaporeans are not only the prices. We are required by law to put 20% for our first property, 40% down for the second, and 60% for the third onwards since last year. That is an extremely high barrier of entry if we want to invest in Singapore real estate. On the other hand, this means that there is a lot of equity in the Singapore property market, and hopefully this means we are not in as much danger of a bubble.

          There, I’ve gone and write a whole post, which is just half of the whole story….

          • Financial Samurai says

            Thanks for the insights! I don’t think it’s bad to have an escalating downpayment requirement for subsequent homes. You don’t want any numbnut buying and defaulting like we have here in the US!

      • Mike Hunt says

        Hi Miss JJ,

        Thanks for setting me straight. I live in Thailand and own a property there- all the information I got on Singapore Real Estate is from colleagues and taxi drivers.

        Obviously, I didn’t get the whole story.

        In Thailand there are no property taxes unless you are renting to another.

        I thought Singapore is the same situation… Anyway I will be more careful about trying to get more informed before commenting…!

        Mike

  2. Rich In The Heart says

    • Financial Samurai says

      Affordability has declined, but still pretty high!

      If I could go back 10 years, I would have put ALL my money in real estate in SF, NYC, and Honolulu. Damn, that cash flow now would be nice.

  3. William @ Drop Dead Money says

    Here’s a Zillow graphic showing underwater homes in your area:
    http://www.zillow.com/visuals/negative-equity/#8/37.497/-122.778

    Most of these people are doing what you say: holding out. And it seems to be working – house prices are recovering.

    However, if you had aspirations of trading up, you should do that sooner rather than later. The longer you wait, the greater the gap you have to pay.

    But if you have no desire to trade up, then it’s like you said: buy and hold works when it comes to your house. That’s what we’re doing…

  4. Eddie says

    Sam,
    Great post on buying and holding Real Estate.
    In particular I love # 1 – very true about living within your means, as I’m certain that most second home buyers buy more home than they actually need or could afford.
    Cheers!

    • Financial Samurai says

      When I bought my vacay home, I had a vision of what I would use it for with approximately how many people in my future family. I chose a Resort vs. a single family home b/c I didn’t want to deal with all the maintenance. I’m curious to see if the vision comes true in the next 5 years.

  5. Little House says

    In my neighborhood there are a lot of vacant, over-grown homes that aren’t for sale….yet. I think banks have a much larger inventory than what they are currently selling to try and buoy the market. Now is definitely the time to buy, but I can’t help but believe that the market will be in neutral for the next 2-3 years.

  6. Nick says

    Man, you’re speaking my language here. My wife and I are actually taking the opposite advice though – but essentially trading property in Boston for property around NYC. We live here now and aren’t looking to move any time soon, so having our rental properties closer to home is big. Transaction costs suck, but we’ve minimized those through a few connections in the business. But on the other side of things – the buying side – you’re right about the lack of inventory and the characteristics of the sellers. It’s really nuts.

  7. Lance@MoneyLife&More says

    I don’t think real estate will ever switch to a flat fee basis but it would help buyers out tremendously if the real estate agent had the buyer’s best interest in mind. There are some good agents out there who do but honestly most are focused on commission.

    • Financial Samurai says

      It needs to come from lowering the transaction cost for the SELLERS first. Lower transaction costs leads to more property, which helps buyers’ selection. 80% of all internet found is online anyway, which makes the 5% commission even more ridiculous.

  8. FatChance says

    I have been in my house for 12 years. I paid off my mortgage 1-1/2 years ago. I promise you I will never, EVER sell my house…unless a completely great, unexpected opportunity comes along (you want to trade me your beach house in Hawaii straight across).

  9. Em says

    We are planning on holding on to this property for a long time. The plan is to save up for a down payment for a new house, refinance this house whenever we’re actually able to, and once its too small for our family (5 years tops) turn it into a rental property and move to a house that will fit our family.

  10. Jason says

    I would really like to keep my house but we’ve just decided that our town/neighborhood isn’t for us. Our whole subdivision is filled with 70+ year old folk and it makes it difficult to find friends and hang out with your neighbors. No offense to them, but I just don’t have much in common with them. Furthermore, I’m excited about saving a few thousand dollars a year and 1/hour a day by moving closer to our work.

    The next house we buy will hopefully be the one we live in for awhile. Trying to sell your house is a pain in the ass and I don’t want to relive this experience anytime soon. As we’re hunting for new houses we’re definitely taking into consideration where we’ll be 5 and 10 years from now. I’d go on strike with you…but I really want to move. The commission out here are 6% so I’d be all for your 2% proposal. Our house prices are way cheaper out here though so I don’t hink 4 or 5% is asking too much for homes in the $100-200k range.

  11. Jacob @ iheartbudgets says

    “Treat your property as a home first, and as an investment second.” We’ve always had this mentality. We don’t plan on going anywhere for at least another 7 years, so we’re investing a little time and energy into fixing up our home the way we want it to live in it, and are not worried about being break-even or slightly underwater.

    It’s funny that the real estate agents you talk to have no real opinion, other than what brings them money. I guess it’s to be expected when they are paid to sell.

    I like the idea of keeping a home in the family for a long period of time. Though we’ll probably outgrow our current home, we want our next home to be our final house that we live in. We may purchase rentals, but we only want to move once more, and then stick our flag in the ground and stay there.

  12. krantcents says

    Whether you sell in an up or down market, you are trading dollars unless you either get out of owning entirely or move to a lower cost area. San Francisco is somewhat unique in that it recovered faster and sooner than other areas of the country. There are places like Las Vegas, Phoenix and parts of Florida that are still soft.

    I have no intention of selling until it becomes necessary to move to a single level place. I may even rent out my place when we move because it will be paid off and the rental market is strong.

      • krantcents says

        Wait a second, you are not that old! I wonder what the rental market is in those states? I would avoid any non local rentals because you have to depend on others to manage it.

        • Financial Samurai says

          I don’t have the energy to focus on my online work + managing rentals. Also, the net operating income even after buying 10, $150,000 rentals for $1.5 million for example, isn’t enough.

          10 rentals to generate perhaps $30,000 NOI isn’t worth it to me at my stage.

          I only plan to work 20 hours a week! (Post coming up!)

  13. Ornella @ Moneylicious says

    Sometimes I’m not even sure why people get the idea they have to sell. I’ve come across homeowner who say they are upside down on their house and to them I ask if they plan on selling…the answer is usually no. California is still a state people are moving into.
    In order to build rental property, you can’t sell. I like your points because it brings out the other side to investing in real estate and not selling.

  14. Adam says

    In my part of Chicago rents have been stable for the past 3-5 years. Oversized one-bedrooms (700-900sq. ft) run in the $850-900/month range. Purchasing a similar property would run $130-200k, with ~2% property tax per year and a typical $200 month assessment. If you include a modest real estate fee, the payback period for the lower priced homes is around 10-12 years. There is NO payback period for the higher priced homes in my area.

    Travel a few miles in another direction and you will find a completely different situation. Real estate is hyper-local, and whether or not renting / buying is more profitable has to be assessed on a case by case basis.

    • Financial Samurai says

      I’ve always marveled at how cheap Chicago is! But then, I am reminded about the 6 months of weather.

      Is the rental stock as nice as the ownership stock? In SF, due to rent control, a lot of rentals here are run down. We also have a huge stock of classic Victorians and Edwardians.

      The new construction in the city is outrageous eg $4,500 for a 2/1.5 apartment.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Donno if Portland is considered a big city. Probably for Oregon yes!

      Good thought on not buying until you find your forever home. If everybody thought that way, I am SURE there wouldn’t have been such a housing calamity!

  15. John says

    We recently thought about selling our home, but decided that our mortgage payment is pretty low and we really didn’t need a bigger house yet. So we’re just going to stockpile as much money as possible and throw a big down payment on a new home with the time comes.

  16. Debt and the Girl says

    This post is especially interesting to me as I have a home and pay rent (we are renting out our house and renting an apartment to save money). Right now I pay just south of $800/month for my apartment. For the house, we negotiated with the mortgage company and we are going to pay about $800 now. It used to be a little over $1000 a month. Our current renters for the house pay about $1150 a month so we are making close to $350 a month just in the overage! With how rental prices are creeping up everywhere these days, we are thinking of increasing the rent to our tenants when their lease is up. This is hard though because they are really nice people. it is really hard to argue with current market trends, though.I live near Atlanta , BTW

  17. Zach @ Milk and Honey Money says

    Sam, I agree with this post with one exception.

    One more person needs to sell their house… to me!

    My landlord recently gave me a 60 day to vacate notice this past weekend and I need to find a new place to move, fast. Rental prices are high. Sales prices are high. Inventory is low. It looks like the end of the real estate slump in my area.

  18. Zach @ Milk and Honey Money says

    Santa Barbara, CA

    I’ve got through several scenarios and I think buying is a good option at this point. That said, the chances of that happening in the next 57 days aren’t very high. I’ll probably settle for the first rental that looks decent and try to negotiate a short lease.

    Any tips for someone in my situation?

  19. Manette @ Barbara Friedberg Personal Finance says

    My husband inherited this house from my mother-in-law when she passed away 7 years ago. However, the kids are growing and we know we need a bigger space for them so we decided to get our own house. At first, we wanted to sell this house so that we will not be paying much for the mortgage. After several discussions, we decided to keep the house and put it on the rent market. The rental money will definitely be a welcome addition to our savings and investment. Plus the fact that we are not giving up an inheritance and a property asset, I am sure my in-laws will be glad about the news.

  20. Will @ HTB says

    Wow Sam, you’re really doing your homework. I occasionally go to open houses just because I’d like to buy at some point (not ready yet), but I kind of look forward to doing something as intense as you (but on the buying side). With so much $$ on the line, it makes sense to prepare for a few months before making a decision so that no mistake is made. I don’t know the stats, but I think some people get into buying a house and then within the first five they check out they probably settle on a place. Maybe this is why a lot of people make mistakes?

  21. MacroCheese says

    Still trying to find your post about the 5/1 ARM vs. a 30 Year Fixed mortgage?

    I was hoping you were going to prove my math wrong but instead you took the post down?

  22. Daisy@EverythingFinance says

    I agree, but I think that when property virgins by, they tend to buy with the short-term in mind. When we buy next year, we’re looking for a house that can be renovated and expanded, and one that has a big chunk of land just in case we need to add a carriage house to take care of family. Frankly, I couldn’t imagine living in just one place my whole life, but it’s good to be prepared anyway.

  23. shanendoah says

    I think that one, real estate agents don’t want to tell people that the owners are selling their homes to in order to go back to being renters because that makes it look like the economy is still down, and real estate agents don’t make money that way.
    I hope we will never have to go back to renting, but it really has nothing to do with the mortgage tax deduction (right now, it’s about the same as the standard deduction, so our only “extra” are charitable donations and sales tax). It has much more to do with being able to do with my home what I want. I have dogs. I have had a Pit mix and almost certainly will again. I don’t want someone to be able to tell me I can’t have the dog I want. We have two dogs and foster a third- I don’t want limits on how many pets I can have (besides the local government’s laws to prevent hoarding). I want to be able to paint walls, tear out carpets, etc, all without having to get someone else’s approval. I like that my house is mine.
    We have been in our current house a little over 7 years. We are considering moving sometime in the next 5. A lot will depend on when (and at what age) a child comes into our lives, and if we decide to move for better public schools or go with private.

    The Seattle area, where I live, has not been hit as hard as some. But I do think the Bay Area can’t really be compared to the rest of the country. It’s local economy and space restrictions don’t translate well to most of the rest of the country.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Being able to do WHATEVER one wants really is great. I agree. When I got the keys to my first property, I was overcome with JOY! It’s an indescribable feeling… maybe similar to finally being able to retire and do anything you want!

  24. Barbara Friedberg says

    Bought our condo last summer. Refinanced w/ 15 year loan in March and expect to die here :). I’ve moved at least 10 times in my adult life into apartments, condos and homes. I’m exhausted:)

  25. Mike says

    I particularly like point number three. We’re military, so we have to move a lot, but I’m very thankful that I can still see my parents in the home I grew up in and I remember fondly the homes of my grandparents. I think sometimes people fail to recognize this, so it is great that you reminded us all!

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