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A Few Thoughts on Trulia + Zillow – Fear & Opportunity

Too Many Choices
So Many Choices. How to Know What’s Good?

Since I started in real estate in 2001, the fear of being disintermediated, being rendered meaningless or obsolete has been a constant. I’ve chosen to not subscribe to that fear. And still don’t.

Zillow is buying Trulia. For $3.5 Billion. The Zestimate was $2 billion. (ba-dum-bum) Good for them - they're smart companies that execute well. Truzillia? Zillowia? ZillowTru? None. They’re going to remain two separate companies, drawing advertising from the same constituency as before. They’ll save money, but the ones paying likely won’t.

"We started Zillow as a media property, not a real-estate brokerage," said Spencer Rascoff, chief executive of Seattle-based Zillow. "We sell ads, not houses."

A few thoughts, as I truly think it's too early to draw any credible conclusions:

- One of my first questions was "why didn't Zillow buy Realtor.com?" - aside from the entangling relationship that Realtor.com's parent Move has with the National Association of Realtors, I'd argue that simply put, Trulia is a better site and business than Realtor.com. Simple.

- How is the consumer affected?

As a friend/client emailed me: ""Now only half of the sites will get the data wrong? ;-)”

Zillow and Trulia have fought and will continue to fight for accurate-enough-to-get-eyeballs data. Accurate enough because the casual consumer doesn’t seem to care about inaccurate data. Smart consumers are well-enough attuned to the market to know when to not trust what they see on Zillow - and when to vet said inaccuracy through the MLS.

Searching for homes will now be easier in some respects and harder in others. One big site to search, one big place on which to advertise.

Will Zillow and Trulia share data and data feeds? If so, good.

The consumer is going to feel even more empowered than they already do, and the savvy ones will acknowledge what Don Rumsfeld said many years ago - they don’t know what they don’t know. There is immense value in hiring a real estate guide, a person to whom you can direct your dumb questions, who’s going to prompt you to ask the questions you don’t know to ask, who’s going to listen and help assemble the right team for your real estate purchase or sale.

Discerning good information from bad is going to become an even more critical skill (that’s relevant for life, too - just because it’s on the Interwebs doesn’t make it true).

Posted in General Real Estate | 1 Comment

Who’s Accountable at Zillow?

This house is listed for $249,900. It’s a great house near UVA and Fry Springs. But it’s certainly not listed for $75k.  

IMG_0561.jpg

When I make a mistake (it happens), I’m accountable. My clients (or the public) can call me. 434-242-7140.

When Zillow makes a mistake, who do you call?

zillow phone number - Google Search.jpg

I responded to the above text in 2 minutes; it’s been 18 hours and I’ve not yet heard from Zillow.

Would you trust the largest real estate advertising site in the country?

For those curious (and this is accurate today and for at least the next 6 months) - the best places to search for homes for sale are my site and Nest’s site. Accuracy matters, right?

Posted in General Real Estate | 1 Comment

Charlottesville is Happy

Good Housekeeping says Charlottesville is happy.

Charlottesville, Virginia, is the happiest city in America, according to the study. The University of Virginia college town narrowly beat Rochester, Minnesota, Lafayette, Louisiana, and Naples, Florida.
I'm assuming they're including Albemarle County in their metrics. Update 28 July 2014 - This link has been making its rounds on social media - The Guardian has picked up on Charlottesville's happiness. Succinctly put:
"It's small, and it's surrounded by beautiful country, but it has all the things you'd want from a big city," says Donnie Glass, chef at a leading restaurant, Public Fish & Oyster.
(I have yet to make it to this new restaurant. Darn it. But I've heard it's quite good.)
Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Morning Reads – 21 July 2014 – Transportation News Abounds

Each of these is going to affect how we get around Charlottesville and Albemarle ... and I'd wager quality of life will be affected (mostly positively in the long run) as well.

Why People Still Move to 'Unhappy' Places

"... we'll give some key data points. Some of the happiest cities measured by Glaeser and company were Charlottesville, Virginia; Rochester, Minnesota; Lafayette, Louisiana; Naples, Florida; and Flagstaff, Arizona—"

Belmont Bridge's future may be decided tonight - This is the sort of thing that will shape the City and how we live in it.

City engineers have whittled down the options for the Belmont Bridge replacement project to two resolutions for Charlottesville’s City Council to consider Monday night: endorsement of a $17.2 million design less than half the length of the current span, or scrapping all four concepts now in the running and return to the drawing board.

The engineers are recommending the shorter replacement — 205 feet instead of the 440-foot span now standing — as the most responsible use of public funds available to the city, according to a staff report.

State seeks completion of Route 29 projects by fall 2017 - I'll be shocked and impressed if this happens on time. Keep in mind that 29 will be a construction zone for some time.

Cilimberg said VDOT expects most of the projects recommended by former Commissioner Philip Shucetto be completed by October 2017. On Thursday, the agency will issue a request for qualifications from firms that want to bid on the universal contract.

UVa rolls out bike-share program - With the assistance of Blue Ridge Cyclery!

Very, very cool. I do hope that they require (or at least strongly suggest/offer) a class in how to ride a bicycle safely and considerately.

Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville, General Real Estate | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Goodbye Western Bypass

11-20110712-29Bypass-Rendering

The Western Bypass takes its place the history books.

Dating back at least 30 years, the Commonwealth "voted to cancel all previous decisions approving construction of the 6.2-mile road” and the former owners of the properties purchased by VDOT that would have been used by the Western Bypass can now buy back those properties … for the original purchase price (thanks to Sean Tubbs for this knowledge).

Cvillepedia rightly calls the Western Bypass “defunct.”

I wonder just how much money was spent on the Western Bypass.

If you’re curious:

- This is what the Western Bypass might have looked like (2012) - Graelyn Brashear at C-Ville did a great story last year on the Bypass. - A reader asked me in 2008 why the Western Bypass hadn’t yet been built - The Bypass should have been longer; by the time it got to the actual planning/funding stages, it was outdated.- $270 million - the estimated cost put forth in 2007
Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville, Transportation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday Photos – Drilling, a Meadow & a Lochlyn Hill Takes Shape

A few pictures from this week in Charlottesville and Albemarle ... From the Charlottesville City parking lot on Tuesday morning. (great discussion about this on Facebook, too) From this morning's bike ride - out near Sugar Hollow The first lots in the Lochlyn Hill neighborhood. Lochlyn Hill - 16 July 2014
Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville, General Real Estate | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mid-Year 2014 Charlottesville Area Market Update

This is from my monthly note … I don’t often post here what I write there, but am making an exception.
Single family, attached and condos - first half 2014 - Charlottesville MSA

We're at the halfway point. I think the market can be summed up thusly: Buyers are buying, sellers are selling, but there is, and has been, an underlying mistrust of the market by both buyers and sellers. A lot of buyers were burned or saw their friends or parents burned in the previous market and are reluctant to take the plunge to buy. A lot of sellers remain underwater - even those who bought five to ten years ago - and are either reluctant or unable to sell. About a third of sellers nationwide are still in negative equity positions. (I don't have access to local data). Short advice: If you need to sell and can, do. If you want to buy and have the life circumstances to do so, consider buying.

On to the data, solely for Charlottesville City and Albemarle County, respectively:*

Sold in 1st Half 2013: 246 + 695 = 941

Sold in 1st Half of 2014: 259 + 683 = 942

Flat market, right?

Looking broadly at the data, one can reasonably and simply conclude that when prices go up, sales go down and when prices go down, sales go up. In the City of Charlottesville for single family homes, 19 more homes have sold so far this year than last year's first half, but June's median price is down about $5K. The County's market is equally odd; 26 fewer homes have sold in the first six months than last, but June's median price is up by about $28K. Huh?

Micro markets matter.

Broad trends - even at the locality level - can be misleading. I've been advising clients (and writing and writing) that national data, while good for headlines, matters little when making buying or selling decisions in the Charlottesville area. If you're looking to make a decision, analyze your micro market.

For example, the $475K - $600K single family detached market in the Brownsville and Crozet Elementary districts: There are 64 such homes under contract in Albemarle County; 38 (59%) are new construction. In Crozet, there are 22 homes in that price range under contract; 18 (82%!) are new construction. If you're trying to sell a home in Crozet in that price point, your primary competition is new construction and you need to prepare and price with this in mind. In contrast, in Baker Butler and Hollymead Elementary school districts (29 North region), there are 46 single family homes under contract and four in the $475K - $600K range and all are resales. Micro markets are far more relevant than county-state-national market data (or zestimates).

Broadly, we might be witnessing a balancing of the market. I'll let you know next year what today's market is doing.

(All of my PDFs are here, if you're curious and/or you want to fact-check me. Please do; I'd appreciate constructive criticism.)

The inventory question:

In the Charlottesville MSA (Charlottesville, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Nelson), 2,759 homes have been listed so far this year versus 2,876 last year, which is a small enough difference - about 5% - that I'm going to call the new listing numbers mostly flat.

Differential - Single family, attached and condos - first half 2014 - Charlottesville MSA

Have questions about the market? Curious what your home might be worth? Thinking about buying? Call or email me anytime - 434-242-7140.


Update 12 July 2014: We at Nest Realty have released our First Half 2014 market report. Download it here; it’s a brand new format  - I/we hope you like it!

Update 14 July 2014: I wrote a brief market report specifically for Crozet, Virginia; it’s a highlight that micro markets matter.

Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville, General Real Estate, Market statistics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Charlottesville: #1 College Town

I should have made a “list” category when I started this blog to efficiently catalog the lists on which Charlottesville (Charlottesville + Albemarle) has made it.

From Travelerstoday.com:

However, the number one spot is reserved for a more Southern town. Indeed, Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, does the best job of any city on the list of combining traditional metropolitan interests with the interests of the students who frequent it. The result is a harmonious whole, balancing the resources of an urban area with the desires of the students who live there. From the historical aura of Monticello, to the entertainment provided in the famous (and recently redecorated) Paramount theater, Charlottesville has it all, a place any college student would be proud to call home. Which is why we at Traveler's Today have listed it as the best college town in America.

Taking the fluff our of what they’re saying: Charlottesville is a great place to live. I did chuckle at their reference to the harmony and balance that they perceived.

Posted in Albemarle, Charlottesville | Tagged , | 1 Comment