iSquatters: When iBuyer self-tours go wrong

Today’s Real Estate game is changing and that includes new companies buying homes and turning around to re-sell them, commonly known as iBuyers. However, in places like Arizona where this type of Real Estate model is growing, there are some scary risks for agents and their clients whom go to see these iBuyer homes. Check out this article below from inman.com detailing just how serious and real some of these risks are.

Invasion of the iSquatters: What happens when iBuyer self-tours go wrong? Some iBuyers have drawn tech-savvy squatters who gain access to homes through company apps in a bid to find shelter or abuse drugs.

by Veronika Bondarenko

October 23, 2019

Mrgudich had been planning on touring a home listed on Opendoor with a buyer when he noticed something strange through a window. A child was running around the dining room while a woman looked on. Instead of buzzing the door open through an app on his phone, Mrgudich knocked — and promptly heard the sound of the lock clicking shut from the inside.

“I put one and two and three together and I go, ‘Alright we have a squatter here,’” Mrgudich, who works at West USA Realty in Peoria, Arizona, told Inman. “So I turn to my buyer and explain the safety issue briefly and suggest that we move on.”

The iBuyer model, which has grown in popularity for its convenience, has also posed new risks regarding squatters and people who enter the home to use drugs, party or engage in activities other than touring the home. Ever since Arizona police arrested a couple found squatting inside an Opendoor home with two children and a cache of drug paraphernalia in September, agents have been discussing safety issue they see with iBuyer homes.

Over the past four years, iBuyers have exploded in markets nationwide. Startups like Opendoor and Offerpad allow homeowners to unload their properties for an all-cash offer in exchange for a seller’s fee of approximately 7 percent.

Opendoor, which recently acquired a Georgia-based title and escrow company, currently operates in 20 cities and recently began providing home loans. Offerpad, meanwhile, has raised nearly $1 billion in equity and debt capital and hopes to operate in 30 cities by the end of 2020. Traditional real estate companies including Keller Williams and eXp Realty have also all launched their own instant-offer platforms.

Zillow Offers, another iBuyer platform, also operates nationwide and allows buyers to tour homes on their own through an app.

The iBuyer model has been particularly popular in states like Georgia and Arizona, where all of the major iBuyers have a presence.

With Opendoor, Offerpad and Zillow Offers, in particular, interested buyers can find for-sale homes near them through the companies’ apps and enter the property with or without an agent — either by entering a code on a front-door keypad or unlocking the home directly through a phone.

All Offerpad homes currently have traditional lockboxes but some also have instant access through a phone code.

Heather Gearhart, an agent in Chandler, Arizona, recalled in a recent Facebook post seeing a key left inside the front door of an Offerpad home. Bob Hertzog, another agent in Arizona, said numerous agents across the state have been discussing the problems they encountered when trying to tour iBuyer properties.

In August, Hertzog entered an Opendoor-listed home with a buyer when a man with disheveled hair ran past them while incoherently mumbling something about wanting to buy the property. They toured the home anyway but, upon coming in, noticed that the protection preventing the air conditioner from being tampered with had been torn off.

“In Phoenix, it gets so hot that people living on the streets or people who don’t have a home definitely look at this like an opportunity to shack up for a while,” Hertzog told Inman, adding that he tried to call Opendoor to report the problem but gave up after sitting on hold for nearly 30 minutes. “We’re starting to see it more and more.”

iBuyers acknowledge that their homes pose a risk of attracting squatters. An Opendoor spokesperson told Inman that, upon receiving reports of someone in a home, the company will “immediately engage with any impacted customers, investigate and regularly refer matters to local law enforcement.” It also said it has home monitoring systems, security patrols and customer-vetting systems in place to minimize risk.

Offerpad, meanwhile, told Inman that “home sellers have always encountered the unfortunate risk of becoming a victim to vandalization or breaking and entering” but that the company is working on a new security system that, once in effect, will improve safety at its homes.

Nonetheless, agents who have encountered problems at these homes believe the companies’ screening systems aren’t comprehensive enough considering that anybody with a smartphone can claim to be an interested buyer in a bid to gain access. Hertzog said that without the traditional high-security lockbox agents use to enter an open house, no security system can deter people with bad intentions from seeking out the homes.

“It takes seconds to kill somebody or hurt somebody really badly,” Hertzog said. “They can sit there and say all day long that they have monitoring systems and things like that but it didn’t work in my case.”

Robert Siciliano, a cybersecurity analyst and chief security architect at ProtectNow, told Inman there is no such thing as a 100 percent secure empty home — but the text-to-open-home model has attracted a new type of squatter that is specifically looking for homes with full amenities that are easy to open.

“When you can get a code online and walk into a house, you’re going to see a whole new stream of squatters take advantage of the situation,” Siciliano told Inman. “What you’re going to see is serial squatters with full knowledge of how to game the system.”

At the same time, Siciliano advises agents who are entering any open house alone not to “trust that the company is managing that risk” but rather take their own precautions every time they enter a home, iBuyer or not. This includes doing a full scan of the property before going inside, having alarms and easy access to law enforcement ready on one’s phone and getting trained in basic self-defense skills.

Given iBuyers’ young age (Opendoor launched in 2013 and Offerpad launched in 2015), the high risk of squatters may be part of the growing pains they need to get through as the companies work out more sophisticated systems and learn how to weigh easy access against security. But, at least in areas where iBuyers are most prominent, some agents are only now figuring out how to keep themselves safe while touring the homes.

“We’re just holding our breath, quite frankly, and hoping that there’s no worst case scenario,” Mrgudich said.

Things to Never do to Your Home

Whether you are going to be in your home for 10 years or for the rest of your life, you always need to be considering resale when deciding which home projects to tackle next. That being said, here are some things you should never do to your house, both to save yourself money while you live there, and also to make your house more appealing when it comes time to resell.

Get Rid of Your Only Tub: No matter how much you want a super dreamy walk-in shower, if it requires getting rid of your only bathtub, don’t do it. A home without a bathtub can be a huge turn-off for many buyers who like having that option or who have kids and need a bathtub for this purpose.

Leave Your Cabinet Doors on While Painting them: Painting cabinets has become very popular in recent years because it is a cheap way to update your kitchen/bathroom look without the huge price tag of replacing the cabinets. It’s something that isn’t that hard to do yet makes a big difference in appearance. However, if this is your next project, make sure you remove the cabinet doors and drawers when you do so. Take the doors off and paint them separately, don’t leave them on while you do this. It makes for a much cleaner look in the end.

Plant a Tree Close to the House: This seems like it would be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. If you’re wanting to plant a new little sapling in your yard, make sure you do so with ample space away from the home. Otherwise, in years to come, that tree will grow large and could cause issues from falling branches and roots that grow underneath the home, going into foundation and piping. If that’s the case, it could cost you big bucks to remedy if you’re still living in the home, or even be something buyers ask you to remedy before buying your home.

Cover Wallpaper with Water-based Paint: Wanting to get rid of that tacky 70s wallpaper to have a fresh and updated look? Well, in case you didn’t know, depending on the condition of the wallpaper, you can actually paint right over it instead of going through the agonizing trouble of removing it. However, don’t use water-based paint when you do this. Water-based paint can actually re-activate the wallpaper glue and cause it to peel. We’re thinking peeling painted wallpaper wasn’t the updated look you were going for? Instead, make sure you use oil-based primer, let it dry, and then you can apply a normal latex paint over that.

Paint Exterior Brick: Now, this one might have some mixed reviews as to whether or not this is okay to do, but if you’re planning on being in your home for a long time, painting the brick on the outside of your home might not be such a good idea. Painting brick can destroy the brick and mortar, which could go so far as to cause a crumbling foundation. When comparing those costs, it’s just not worth it. If you’re looking to up your curb appeal, perhaps paint the door or add some shutters instead.

Tear Out Character: While your home might have some little corky features you aren’t thrilled about such as custom millwork, tin ceiling tiles, stained glass windows, etc., don’t be too quick to rip these things out (unless of course they are beyond saving and in disrepair). These classic details give your home character that buyers love and appeal that is hard to come by these days.

These are just a few things you should probably re-consider doing to your home or look further into to make sure you do them properly, if they are things you’ve been considering doing.

There are so many cheap and fun ways to update your home these days. Things that make it homier for you, but also things that can add great re-sale value to your home in the long run. But, make sure you do your homework on these house projects first! Not all of them are created equal.

How to Sell Your Home This “Off” Season

Although we love the Fall season, in the Real Estate business, it does start a downturn in our industry. The market slows with less people out looking to buy a home as they prepare for the holiday season with their family. Even though Prescott has a great housing market, we are not immune to this slower season.

So, what can you as a seller do then to help sell your home if you are trying to sell during this time? Well, check out this great article below from HomeLight about just that. They have some great tips on things you can do to sell your home this season, as well as some great advice to help with this process as well.

Listing Feature – 1637 Constable Street

It’s no secret how beautiful and spacious this Prescott Lakes home is! Set on a cul-de-sac with views of the golf course, mountains, and the Dells, this live on one level home is truly welcoming with its split bedroom concept and open floor plan. The main level comprises of the fenced courtyard entry into the dramatic foyer, kitchen, dining, great room, master bedroom, 2 guest bedrooms, full bath, office alcove, deck and the two garages currently set-up for 3-cars but can be converted for an additional garage space.

The immaculate kitchen is complete with a large fridge, gas stove top, built in ovens, spacious island with bar seating, granite counter tops, hickory cabinets, plenty of overhead lighting, and a walk-in pantry.

With an open concept, you can move easily from the kitchen to the great room as well as be a part of any entertaining you’re doing while preparing food and beverage. Natural and overhead lighting also help the space feel open, making it an area you can truly kick up your feet and relax.

A large open room with access to the deck and a spacious bathroom complete with walk-in closets, separate toilet room, dual vanity, and large walk-in closet, the master suite is everything you need!

The lower level walk-out has the same high-amenity status as the main level and offers a family room, 2 more guest rooms, a full bath, and storage.

One highlight of this property is the incredible views and the wraparound deck with 3 access points on the main level including a 4-panel multi-slide door from the great room. The lower level has access to the backyard covered and open paver patios complete with mature trees and wrought-iron fence.

The features of this home are way too numerous! More highlights include  luxury wood-look laminate floors, stone fireplace, hickory cabinets and granite counters throughout, paver driveway, cement tile roof and 3-zoned heating and cooling. Enjoy the Prescott Lakes lifestyle in this attractive home with relaxed floor plan and grand views! This is the one for you! The attached garage from the laundry room is currently set-up as an oversized 2-car garage with a separate storage room. The walls for the storage room can be removed to turn it into a 3-car tandem garage which allows for a total of a 3-car garage and a separate 1-car garage with its own outside entrance.

Interested in this gorgeous home? Call for your showing appointment today! 928-771-1111.

Market Statistics for August 2019

As we transition from our busy summer Real Estate season and into our slower winter season, we will start to see a decline in home sales through the next months.

Tom Ruff from ARMLS (Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service) says, “This is the time of year sales slow. It’s simply the seasonality of our market… Demand almost always subsides every year between July and January… When judging your bushels of apples, you want to view the year-over-year trend. Sales in August were 8.6% higher than a year ago, which understates the real year-over-year improvement. There was one more business day last year, which brings our real improvement closer to 13%. This August accounted for the third highest sales volume in ARMLS reporting history, surpassed only by 2004 and 2005, with only 266 fewer sales than ‘04. With 690 more sales this year than last, 2019 sales year-to-date have now surpassed 2018. Looking ahead to how the year might end, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say the prognosticators were wrong back in January (I may or may not have been one of them). 2019 sales will surpass 2018 in both sales volume and price.”

Therefore, even though the graphs below show a slowing market, it isn’t cause for concern. Not only is this normal for this time of year, as stated above, but we are still doing better than proceeding years.

iBuyer Companies: Are They Really Cheaper Than a Real Estate Agent?

Odds are, if you’ve been thinking of listing or buying a home these days, you’ve heard of iBuyer real estate companies. These are companies such as opendoor.com that promise to sell your home for significantly cheaper than your average Real Estate company. However, are these companies actually all they’re cracked up to be, or do their costs end up being just as much as a real estate agent, if not more, when it’s all said and done?

Check out this article we found by Teke Wiggin with inman.com titled “iBuyers Cost Sellers Up to 15% of a Home’s Value, Study Finds,” which takes a hard look at the actual costs of using these “cheaper” options when selling your home:

Market analytics firm Collateral Analytics puts hard numbers on the much-debated costs of using iBuyers.

Offering ammunition to agents who argue that iBuyers are often deceptively expensive, a new study by real estate data analyst Collateral Analytics has determined that the typical cost of using an iBuyer ranges between 13 and 15 percent.

Entitled “iBuyers: A new choice for home sellers but at what cost?” the study conflicts with claims made by some iBuyers on just how expensive such services wind up costing homeowners. Opendoor, for example, represents its service as more affordable than a real estate agent. But if the new research is correct, using an iBuyer would generally cost consumers two to three times more money than if they simply used a traditional agent.

“In all, the typical cost to a seller appears to be in the range of 13% to 15% depending on the iBuyer vendor,” write the authors of the report, Collateral CEO Dr. Michael Sklarz and Dr. Norman Miller, senior vice president of research and development with the firm. “For some sellers, needing to move or requiring quick extraction of equity, this is certainly worthwhile, but what percentage of the market will want this service remains to be seen. ”

The analysis adds to a growing debate over the value of iBuyers. Some agents argue these startups often bilk homeowners while others contend iBuyers are a reasonable option for their clients.

The divergent views came into sharp relief during two Inman Connect panels last month in which agents shared their experiences with iBuyers.

The report was not framed as an indictment of iBuyers. It describes the service as “a welcome alternative to traditional brokerage” for a portion of motivated homesellers. However, its most notable contribution to a nascent body of research on iBuyers involves its cost estimate of the service.

The report noted iBuyers charge sellers a convenience fee ranging from 6 percent to 9.5 percent, with some also docking the seller “for fees typically paid by buyers at closing, adding another 1 percent or more.” IBuyers tend to ask for “generous” repairs based on the results of a home inspection while some, such as Offerpad, pay for moving costs, write the authors of the study.

This all means that the total direct cost of an iBuyer “ignoring repair credits” is between 7 and 10 percent, versus the “typical 5 to 9 percent combined seller and buyer costs with a traditional broker,” according to the study. “Yet, that is not the end of the story or the comparison,” the authors write.

Due to costs and risks of holding and reselling their acquisitions, iBuyers must make “conservative” offers, according to the report.

“The more unique the home, the worse the season for selling, or the more competing inventory is present in the local market, the more conservative will be the offer price,” the study asserts.

To pinpoint the typical discount that iBuyers pay for homes, the report’s authors compared purchase prices of two unidentified iBuyers with home value estimates generated by Collateral Analytics’ automated valuation model (AVM) — a model that report claims “correlates very well with actual market values.”

The analysis used a sample of 6,000 transactions that took place across four markets — Phoenix, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Las Vegas — from January 2016 to February 2019. The report did not identify the two iBuyers, but a source familiar with the study confirmed they were Opendoor and Offerpad.

Offerpad spokeswoman Cortney Read said Offerpad’s average service fee is 7 percent and that some homes require only minor repair costs. She also added that Offerpad believes the report “does not accurately compare the mentioned fees,” focusing only on commission for real estate agents, while including other costs for iBuyers that “should be also reflected in the traditional real estate agent percentage amount.”

Opendoor didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the study, one iBuyer bought homes at a median discount (the median discount off market value that the iBuyer purchased homes at) of 4.5 to 6.9 percent. The other iBuyer paid a median discount of 2 to 3.3 percent.

These discounts reportedly have declined modestly over the years. In 2016, for example, one iBuyer’s discount was about 7 percent, while the other’s was around 3.5 percent. By 2019, those numbers stood closer to 2 and 4.5 percent, respectively.

The authors theorized that “pressure to deploy capital” may have “reduced the spread [between how much iBuyers pay for homes and how much they’re worth] as the iBuyer market matures.” Some of that pressure has likely come from Zillow Offers and other ventures that are trying to take a bite out of the growing iBuyer market.

“Ultimately, the spread [the discount paid by iBuyers] will be at an appropriate level to compensate the iBuyers for liquidity risks and capital costs,” they said.

Thus, the study’s “preliminary empirical results” suggest that sellers are paying “not just the difference in fees of 2 to 5 percent more than with traditional” agents, and a generous repair allowance, but also an additional 3 to 5 percent more to “compensate the iBuyer for liquidity risks and carrying costs.”

Taking all of this into account, the authors conclude the typical cost of using an iBuyer ranges from 13 to 15 percent depending on the company.

This cost estimate is in line with estimates from some agents that spoke about iBuyers at Inman Connect Las Vegas, but a bit higher than an estimate published by Market Watch: 11 percent.

The cost makes sense from a business perspective, the report notes. IBuyers must cover carrying expenses and deal with a number of risks including home burglaries, price declines and “adverse selection.”

The last risk refers to the risk that sellers who know about hard-to-discover negative characteristics of their home will be more likely to sell their homes to iBuyers at prices that iBuyers would not pay were they aware of those flaws.

“Not all sellers are better informed than the iBuyers,” they write. “Still, there is some risk of informed sellers taking advantage of relatively high offers.”

AZ Real Estate Market Statistics June 2019

As we come to the end of summer and the end of the busy season for the Real Estate world, let’s look at what Scottsdale Arizona’s Multiple Listing Service (ARMLS) had to say about our market when looking back at the month of June.

“The loud explosions heard earlier this month were not coming from Independence Day celebrations. They were the 2019 year-to-date housing numbers being reported by ARMLS. The first half of 2019 began with a whimper and ended with a bang. May and June were both exceptionally strong with June having $3,265,463,755 in dollar volume, the highest total for any June in ARMLS history. As an added caveat, there was one less business day this year compared to 2018, making this year’s total that much more impressive. As we reach the halfway point for the year, 2019 ranks as the best year on record.” – Tom Ruff with ARMLS.

One of the biggest points mentioned on the services monthly breakdown of June was baby boomers vs. new home buyers:

“In a June 8 report, Freddie Mac asked the question, ‘Are Baby Boomers the Key to the Single-Family Market?’ The article states, ‘One of the most important keys to today’s single-family housing market is homeowners who were born before the first-ever episode of Star Trek aired in the 1960s. Today, more than 50 years later, Baby Boomers and other homeowners over the age of 55 control almost two-thirds of the nation’s home equity – about $8 trillion. There are also more than 67 million 55+ homeowners. Whether they decide to move from their current homes or age in place, the cumulative impact of their decisions on mortgage demand, affordable housing supplies, and the housing options available to Millennials and other aspiring homeowners will be substantial.

“63 percent of 55+ers prefer to age in place. This works out to an estimated 42 million homeowners who don’t plan to move. 27 million 55+ers would prefer to move at least one more time. Although movers are in the minority, it’s a big minority. According to the survey nearly 40 percent of all homeowners 55+ would like to move at least once more if they had complete control over it. This isn’t just about downsizing to a rental or nursing home; 19 million plan to buy a home and nearly 8 million expect to move within the next four years. What’s more, half of the 19 million likely movers expect to buy less expensive homes. These are big numbers with the potential to tighten home-buying competition in the housing market, especially for Millennials and other first-time home buyers.

“A recent Chicago Tribune article went on to say, ‘The boomers are a stick in the spokes of the homeownership cycle, which counts on older people exiting to free up houses that can be resold to first-time buyers, keeping the market moving’.”

Only time will tell how much our baby boomers will control the housing market, causing both prices and new listings to either rise, or decline.

Arizona’s Real Estate Market Statistics

In case you are curious how the current real estate market is doing in Arizona, check out these charts published by ARMLS (Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service) in May. ARMLS is the home listing service that services the Phoenix Metro area, so these numbers may vary from Prescott’s own statistics, but our market is doing just as well as theirs, if not better.

Tom Ruff from ARMLS, whom posted the article, stated, ” After a close fact-check of homes reported sold by ARMLS, May was a record-setting month. New all-time records were established  for both sales volume and total dollar volumes, as well as the most homes sold and for the most money. Total dollar volume was $3,593,145,906. The monthly median sales price also set a record high reaching $278,000. After a slow start, 2019 is purring.”

Ruff goes on to say that with statistics like these that have continued to rise over the last several years, people inevitably begin to talk of another real estate “bubble.” However, Ruff, along with many others in the real estate industry, aren’t very worried about that. Current underwriting standards and the elimination of crazy money are two of the main reasons for this.

People aren’t worried because the differences from then to now in these two things are significant. Standards for lending are much more strict and the dollar amount on homes still has yet to reach what it was back before the burst. Due to better lending protocol alone, a huge bubble pop like last time is fairly unlikely.

Hopefully knowing that makes us all rest a little more easily and not fear that a few years after purchasing a home we’ll be looking at catastrophic amounts of foreclosures, short sales, and bankruptcies.

 

Listing Feature – 1579 Eagle Mountain Drive

Curious about what makes this home so special? Everything!

Upon the tile entry, you will be drawn into the great room featuring a high vaulted ceiling and gas fireplace with stacked-stone surround. This is the perfect space for sitting and relaxing with your family around the fireplace or as you watch TV.

The spacious kitchen features plenty of cabinet and storage space and is open to both the formal and informal dining areas. This way whomever is cooking can still be involved in the parties going on around them.

Relax in the master suite that offers a spacious room, vaulted ceiling, a separate French door exit out onto the deck, a walk-in closet, and master bath with double vanities and dressing table.

Two more large bedrooms, a full bathroom with dual sinks and linen closet, a powder room, and the laundry room are also on the main level.

The lower level has a game/family room with a wet bar, which could be perfect for multi-generational living. It also has a lot of storage space, a full bathroom, and the 4th bedroom with walls lined with windows.

The deck comes out from the living room and overlooks the lush green view of the back yard.

An oasis in itself, the yard features a pond and water feature, mature trees, turf grass areas, and paver patios that are also accessible from the lower level living.

If that weren’t enough, the home also includes a three-car garage, plus separate side parking for a small RV.

This is a house you are going to want to see in person! For a showing appointment, call our office today at 928-771-1111.

House Hunting Online

In this day in age, it’s no surprise that most buyers begin the search for the next future home online. Whether you are just browsing, or looking more seriously, there are a ton of different sites to visit in order to look at currently listed homes in your town/ the town you are moving to. For this reason, hunting for a new home online can be a really great place to start your search, however, it should not be your end all be all.

When looking at home listings online, keep in mind that good listing agents are excellent at highlighting the best features of a home, but there may also be more than meets the eye to the home you are looking at. To make the most of your time and efforts while online searching, and to also make sure you gather a well-rounded picture the homes you’re looking at online, it’s best to keep the following three things in mind.

Stay up to date. When you start your search, make sure you find a site that pulls up-to-date listings directly from the multiple listing service (MLS) where real estate agents actively post their most current homes for sale. This ensures you are getting the most accurate information you can because many other online resources update far less often or fail to remove listings that are off the market, making it more difficult to sort through the clutter. Imagine finding a home online you absolutely love only to find out it is already under contract, or even sold, contrary to what the online portal you were using said.

Pictures can be deceiving. Real estate photographers are experts at showing a home in the best possible light. Many use tools and strategies to boost appeal, such as a fish-eye lens, or wide-angle lens to make areas and rooms look larger than they actually are in real life. They also use creative editing to make colors and textures really pop, when the actual paint or flooring might be dull compared to the picture. Most of the time, listings will not contain photos of unappealing parts of the home, like small closets or outdated bathrooms. Listing agents are not trying to be deceiving, they are just doing their job in representing their seller as best they can in making sure that the home is presented in the best possible light it can be to get buyers interested and walking through the home.

See it to believe it. Once you find what appears to be your dream home online, make sure you call up your real estate agent and schedule a showing to go see the home in person. It’s important to take the opportunity to vet the home for yourself in person and explore every part of it before beginning the offer process. Your real estate agent will also be able to help you cover all your bases and answer any questions you may have. They can perhaps point out any property flaws or concerns that the pictures didn’t show. And, seeing the home in person helps you see it for what it really is and if it is truly the place you can envision your family living and as being the next place you want to call home.

These are just a few tips to consider when you’re looking at homes to buy online. When in doubt, call your real estate agent! They are there to help and find out the answers to any questions you may have. They want you to find the best home for you!