Lew Sichelman

Sellers who cant decide whether to move into their next homes while their current ones remain unsold should consider this: According to a new analysis, empty houses remain on the market longer, and sell for less, than those that are still occupied. 

Its always been a real estate axiom that houses in which would-be buyers must visualize how their own furniture would look dont do as well as those that are furnished and occupied. Thats why builders spend beaucoup bucks to outfit their model homes with a dazzling array of furniture and accessories. 

But a report from Redfin shows just how true it is. The results vary according to location, but nationally, vacant houses sold for $11,300 less and spent six more days on the market than comparable places that were still inhabited. 

For its analysis, the brokerage firms economists compared listings marked vacant at the time they were sold last year with those not marked as such. Less than 3 percent of the included listings started out as occupied and became vacant while on the market, so its unlikely that the findings were skewed by houses whose sellers were not able to find a buyer before they moved out. In other words, they moved before putting their places up for sale. 

Although vacant homes are easy for buyers to tour at their convenience, the fact that the sellers have already moved on is often a signal to buyers that they can take their time making an offer, said Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather. 

But its also just as likely, Fairweather conceded, that sellers who are well-heeled enough to carry two houses at once arent as motivated to get the highest price possible. 

The study found that vacant houses sell for less in every metro area that was analyzed. The differences in price were largest in relatively inexpensive areas like Omaha, Nebraska, where empty homes sold for 7.2 percent less. 

Will LIBOR Fizzle? 

Homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages tied to LIBOR  the London Interbank Offered Rate  could be looking at another Y2K event in a few years. 

The LIBOR index will be phased out after 2021, and at that time adjustable-rate mortgages with rate changes pegged to that benchmark will be switched to something else. There is an estimated $1.2 trillion in ARMs tied to LIBOR. 

At this writing, no one knows what the new index will be, though something called the Secured Overnight Financing Rate seems to be favored. But the lending sector is working to find a replacement that everybody can live with. Unfortunately, borrowers wont have a say in the matter. 

Of course, the fear that everything would fall apart when the calendar turned to the new century 19 years ago fizzled. This may turn out to be a similar false alarm. 

Certain Features Boost Sale Price 

Selling your house and looking for an edge? Dont run out and install the following features just to sell faster or for more money, but if you already have them, it might pay to feature them in your listing. 

Zillow analyzed 4.6 million sales completed in 2017 and 2018 and found that listings that mentioned steam ovens sold for 34 percent more than expected. Those that mentioned professional appliances and wine cellars notched 32 percent and 31 percent premiums, respectively. 

Of course, those items alone are not responsible for the resulting higher contract prices. But they didnt hurt, either. 

Now for the other end of the totem pole. The following features were mentioned in listings for less than 9 percent of the houses selling above list price: interior barn doors, smart thermostats, butcher block counters, farmhouse sinks and smart lighting. 

Women in Construction Make More 

When Ed Bruce first crooned, Mammas, dont let your babies grow up to be cowboys, it was probably good advice. But what about letting your daughters grow up to be construction workers? 

The job site remains a boys club overall: Women make up 47 percent of the American workforce, yet they represent just 9 percent of all construction workers. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in certain segments of the construction industry began to earn more than their male counterparts in 2017.  

In the broader workforce, women make just 81 percent of what men do for the same job. 

Admittedly, the construction field isnt all that great a place for women to work, what with all the catcalls and smart comments they often have to endure. But their wages are growing. 

So, if college isnt for your young woman, how about carpentry or plumbing? 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com. 

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