In this article, I’d like to share with you about one of the most important steps in a home sale where a lender is involed – the appraisal.
If you’ve been following my articles over this past year, then you already know our region – the Great Smoky Mountains, including Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and the surrounding communities – are in a season of very low inventory for property sales. This is especially true of our rental and vacation cabin market. As a result, the values of these properties have increased and the market for vacation and rental cabins has climbed steadily over the last couple of years at a rate that has outpaced lender appraisal values.
Appraising the value of a property can be one of the most challenging, and probably the most stressful, aspect of the process for buyers in a market where appraisal values don’t reflect where the market is at in terms of purchase value. This is mostly because lender appraisers are looking at the value of the property in a different way than everyone else, and with a different purpose. The purpose of a lender appraisal is to determine how much the lender can sell the property for in the event of a foreclosure. So even though the buyer is paying for the appraisal, the appraiser making the determination is actually working for the lender.
Appraisal is an art, not a science
As you know, when a foreclosure is put up for sale by a lender, it’s not priced at the market value. It’s priced below the market value because the financial institution is just trying to recoup as much as they can get for the property. So appraisers have to work from that angle in determining the appraisal value for the lender, and they have to follow specific restrictions. They have to find comparable sold listings within the last 3 to 6 months. If the property is in a subdivision or resort, they must use sold properties from that particular location. Obviously, appraisers can’t go into homes that were sold and take a look around. So the most efficient method for them is to look at closed listings in the association MLS, tax records, and any photos that are included with the closed listing report. It’s a difficult job, especially when you begin to understand some of the problems with doing it this way.
First of all, the reports don’t always accurately reflect the condition of the property. Rarely do tax records identify updates to the interior of the property. Sometimes the square footage is recorded incorrectly. The cabin could be smaller or larger inside than the tax record indicates. Regarding MLS records, the photos may be out of date. That pristine looking cabin exterior in the front photo could have been taken a week after it was built… 10 years ago. Today it might be full of bee holes and in serious need of a new staining. So of course it sold two months ago for $15,000 less than the one you’ve made an offer on where the one you want to buy today has been well taken care of and doesn’t need any major updating.
Appraisers also are required to look at square footage differently than the average buyer or seller. A lot of times, people look at the total square footage to determine how big the cabin is. Even when these numbers are correct in the written record, what the lender’s appraiser is looking for is how much is “above grade” and how much is “below grade.” So maybe you picked out a cabin that has a total of 2,000 square feet, but the appraiser who looks at it notices the cabin square footage is perfectly split between two levels. So, the 1,000 square feet above the mountain’s edge in that hypothetical cabin is considered above grade and worth more than the downstairs – even when that lower level has a window facing the perfect mountain view. Any level of the cabin that is 1 foot below ground is considered basement.
So that’s how the appraiser works through the process. In my next article, I’ll share some ways you can handle an appraisal that might come in below the offer price.
When home and cabin owners make the decision to sell, the first thing they want to know, of course, is what the correct sales price for their property should be. Working every day with the market, I watch what’s happening with sales prices and I keep up with the trends of what’s happening. Right now, we are in a sellers’ market due to the low number of properties for sale, so the demand for homes and cabins is continually driving up the sales price.
Before most clients contact me, however, they’ve already turned to the internet for their research into setting the correct sales price. Real estate marketing websites use computer generated figures based on a total sum of properties without any input from a human. So they don’t take into account all the little things that appraisers are going to care about when they come out to see if the lender should finance the purchase. As a result, the internet estimates are generally incorrect. Sometimes, they are too high. Other times they are too low. For cabins, this number is derived by including all the very expensive log cabin construction in our county – lumping every kind of construction together. To the computer there is only one category and it is called “residential,” whether it is overnight rental cabins or true residential like your house. Clients who list with me will ask if the estimated sales price will hurt the sale of the home if it doesn’t match what we have priced it at based on market comparisons that are more “apples to apples.”
Well, here’s the good news, sellers: the online sales price estimate isn’t going to hurt us.
As a matter of fact, we’re going to use it as a marketing tool! We have estimates like this all the time and we make them work in our favor – even though you and I know that the estimate is not accurate (and actually buyers and buyers agents do as well).
In the Great Smoky Mountains Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service, there is no division for the type of properties we have in Sevier County. If it has bedrooms, it’s a residence – even if it is a 12-bedroom log lodge bringing in an income of $300,000 a year.
The sold numbers that throw this off are our new construction log home cabins which run $170-$280 a square foot. (True residential properties are still running right at $100 a square foot to build.) When the computer picks up these log cabin numbers it just creates estimates that are well, not accurate. It doesn’t fit the programming pattern, so it messes it up. Some computer programs also don’t seem to be able to keep up with the pace of the market, which can be a problem for someone who is selling their house based on today’s sales prices and not on a price from 90 to 120 days ago.
Until we’re all replaced by computers, sellers and buyers still need people who can look at all of the data and not just one piece of it to help determine the correct sales price for a listing on the market.
You’ll be “Steppin’ on the Clouds” in this gorgeous eight bedroom rental cabin in Wears Valley. This is a fantastic income-building investment, on track to pass $170,000 in gross rental income this year!
With its absolutely magnificent panoramic 180-degree views of the Great Smoky Mountains, you and your guests will love relaxing in front of one of the best views of the National Park any rental cabin here has to offer. Enjoy the cabin’s large fire pit or hot tub, or make your way over to the nearby resort at “The Preserve” to go swimming in the pool. Best of all, this cabin is just minutes from the National Park!
You’ll find plenty of activities inside this eight bedroom rental as well, ranging from the cabin’s fully outfitted gaming room with air hockey, foosball, and a pool table (not to mention an arcade game system). The cabin also houses a fantastic huge theater room. The cabin’s design includes handsome tongue-and-groove, gleaming large wood beams, walls of glass, and a stone fireplace centerpiece. It’s the perfect place for a relaxing vacation getaway, and can sleep up to 28 guests.
To learn more about this eight bedroom rental cabin, click here.
If you’d like to schedule a visit to see this eight bedroom rental cabin, contact me at 865-765-6157 or my support line at 865-654-2111.
If you’re looking for a private log cabin to live in, you won’t want to miss seeing our featured “Home of the Month.”
To schedule a visit to this private log cabin, contact me at 865-765-6157 or my support line at 865-654-2111.
Due to our low number of properties on the market, we have seen prices continually climb on what’s available over the last nine months.
Many of you who follow our monthly newsletter and keep up with the articles we write each month about buying and selling properties in the Great Smoky Mountains region either currently own, or have owned properties, here in the past. Many of you also are in the market for something else to own, either in addition to what you have now or as an “upgrade” to your current vacation/rental cabin. And you’ve probably been keeping up with our articles about how the market has changed. It’s a sellers’ market – not just here, but in a lot of places around the country. The number of homes for sale is down from where it was a year or two ago. So when something new comes on the market, it really doesn’t stick around that long.
It’s true. Many listings in our market have offers within a matter of days if they are priced correctly (especially when they are priced a little under) current market values. My agents and I have had listings that were “under contract” within as few as three days. We frequently tell clients at showings, “This won’t be on the market next week.” It’s just where our market is right now.
So what can you do? Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that the deals of last year are gone. If you do stumble upon something that’s brand new to the market and it is priced low, the offers that come in are going to be above asking price. The winning buyer won’t be placing any sort of contingencies on the offer, and you can forget about negotiating back and forth through a series of offers and counter offers. While you’re trying to get a discount on the price, someone else is coming in with a full price – or above asking price – offer that’s going to win. It’s a tough place for a lot of buyers to be, especially ones who have bought in our market in the last few years after the downturn, but it’s important to know that going into any offer you want to submit. Those days are over, at least for the time being.
Secondly, as prices are going up on properties, rental rates are rising along with it at many of the rental companies in our area. Large cabins are not as readily available for purchase as they once were, and so smaller cabins have quickly become the focus. We’ve also seen a significant reduction in sales of cabins in our more popular resorts, such as Sherwood Forest and Legacy Mountain. Where once there were about a dozen or so cabins for sale in each those areas at any given time a year or two ago, today there is half or even less than that. But the good news is that there are still strong investment properties to purchase that will cash flow positive every month. We are also building again so new construction may be a really good option for you. This market is not for the timid.
This year, about a third of the properties I’ve listed have sold at or above asking price. We’ve had some where we ended up with multiple offers, even in places that haven’t traditionally been high demand areas in the past.
When national investors have analyzed the entire United States, Sevier County comes up in the top ten places to invest for overnight rentals. It’s also one of the most beautiful and inexpensive places to retire. So be a good student of what is available and don’t be shy about an offer on a good property. If you can accept that, you will have a solid investment for years to come, whether it is your personal residence or an overnight cabin or chalet.
In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about the current market and where we are probably headed – whether you are buying or selling – my staff and I are always here to answer questions.
Are you looking to own a profitable cabin in the Smokies? Then this article is for you.
When buyers contact me about buying a vacation rental cabin that is at least partially for investment purposes, the hottest question on their mind is how well a property will do as a rental! They are looking for a profitable cabin, and their focus is right where it needs to be. Finding a property that will perform well on rentals is essential! Sometimes the next thing I hear from them is, “I only want to look at cabins that have a great rental history.”
I love their spirit! However, as I share at this point in the conversation with them, just because a cabin isn’t currently earning a high dollar amount, doesn’t mean it won’t. As a matter of fact, I usually am most interested in finding them a cabin that someone is making a mistake on because my staff and I are able to analyze the mistake and correct it.
The ability of a cabin to be profitable is based on a variety of criteria. Perhaps the current owners prefer to use the cabin more often than a new owner will. Maybe the cabin doesn’t have the right decor to attract guests. Sometimes it’s not being marketed as competitively as it could be. Once we identify the exact causes of a low rental income report, we can determine whether or not it’s something that can be corrected before we decide if this is the right cabin for you. If you purchase a profitable cabin that is already performing at the top of its potential, you are most likely going to pay the highest price possible. This is not usually how I like my buyers to spend their money. I love to find a cabin that we can purchase, say, for $300,000, then make about $10,000 worth of changes to make it a profitable cabin worth $350,000. And where it was doing a gross rental revenue each year of $40,000 before, now with our changes it is going to reach $60,000. That is the win we are looking for to make it a profitable cabin!
Over the years, I have put together a list of resorts based on discussions with past clients, with rental companies we maintain great relationships with, and from reviewing listings based on how they tend to perform on the rental market. From those discussions and reviews, I am able to keep track of how the rental cabin market is doing overall and which ones are producing the highest levels of income overall for their clients. When it comes to resorts, the ones that generally perform the best on the rental market are located in places that are easily accessible, have great mountain views or pristine Smoky Mountain forest views, are close to shopping and/or tourist attractions, or some combination of the above. While this is not always true for every single cabin, it is a great rule of thumb for our area. One to two bedroom cabins on rental with the strongest performing resorts will be routinely earning up to $45,000 in gross rental income, while 3 to 4 bedroom cabins in the same locations will be performing around $60,000 on up. Larger cabins will produce $100,000 and above with the right combination of amenities, marketing, and views of the mountains!
Average rental incomes in profitable cabins
The “medium range” resorts tend to do a little more than half what the top-end resorts collect in rental income based on cabin size, number of rooms, and amenities. Meanwhile, 1 to 2 bedroom cabins at the lower end of gross rental amounts will bring in between $18,000 and $30,000 and 3 to 4 bedroom cabins will generally produce between $25,000 and $38,000, on average. With that being said, I do tell prospective buyers not to discount a cabin based on rental history – even if it’s in a lower producing area – until we’ve had a chance to look at why that might be happening. For example, if the cabin is on a high point in the resort and has a great view into the Smokies, it could produce a great deal more than the average for that particular area. Or maybe it’s being used primarily as a vacation destination for the owner during peak season. In that case, the next owner looking at it strictly for investment purposes will do far better with rental income than the current owner has. So it’s an art and not a science, but the performance of cabins can be predicted.
Know the amenities of a profitable cabin
The search for the “perfect” profitable cabin will be an analysis of a group of important characteristics. By the way, we do have a report that just targets those characteristics. It is called “What Makes a Profitable Cabin?”
Click here to learn more about this Shagbark cabin.
If you’d like to schedule a visit to see this Shagbark cabin call me at 865-765-6157 or my support line at 865-654-2111.
We – like many communities around the country – are in a sellers’ market.
If you’ve discovered that finding the perfect vacation cabin or second home in the Smokies hasn’t been the dream you imagined this year, don’t fret – you aren’t alone.
We have had a shortage of properties for sale this year. Even now, there are only about 1,000 active market listings for sale in our local Great Smoky Mountains MLS association. At the same time, we have seen our number of buyers increase, but with less properties to consider, it’s definitely driven the demand, and the sales prices, up.
However, if you’ve found a property your heart is set on, there’s hope. There are things you can do and ways you can approach the seller with an offer that will make them choose yours over everyone else’s. Here are few ways you can make the successful bid.
Be prepared to go above the asking price. This is just the reality in a sellers’ market. When supply isn’t keeping up with demand, the market value – what someone is willing to pay – inevitably goes up. We’ve seen a number of properties on the market sell for an amount above asking price, particularly when the property is in what agents will call a “multiple offer” situation. This is where the seller has received more than one offer, and instructed the agent to give all of the people making offers the chance to submit the very best offer they can within a set amount of time (usually a day or two). So if you had offered a little less than asking but someone else offered asking price or even just a couple of thousand dollars more, it’s more likely they will take that bid over yours.
Do anything you can to make your offer the most appealing. Going above asking price, particularly in a multiple offer situation, isn’t a guarantee you will win the bid. What matters the most is which offer looks to have the strongest chance of making it to closing. Can you buy the property with cash? If you can, that is usually the offer that will win. If not, then you will need to consider some other ways to make the offer more appealing. Get prequalified with a lender who will provide a letter. These days, lenders can get prequalification within five minutes, and most have an app where you can do it from the ease of your cell phone. Have a larger down payment or offer a higher escrow. Agree to take the property “as-is.” “As-is” is a real thing that happens frequently these days, but it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the property if there’s something seriously wrong. You can still order a home inspection and go through the normal procedures, and if your inspector finds a problem that the two parties can’t resolve a way to fix, you can still will walk away from the purchase. Most sellers and their agents understand that if it is a serious issue with the property, it will have to be addressed if you decide not to buy the property after all. So that tends to make the seller a little more open to negotiating the repairs for those types of issues. And lastly…
Don’t wait to make the offer if it’s the one you really want. This is the hardest part of the home search for many buyers. Buying a home or cabin is a big decision and most people, understandably, want to take some time to think on the decision before they make an offer. Impulsive buying really goes against human nature, and rightly so. Unfortunately though, time is of the essence these days. While you’re sleeping on it, someone else is making an offer that could be accepted by the seller. It’s not uncommon for a buyer to miss out on the cabin or home they really want because they didn’t want to make an offer immediately.
The bottom line is, it’s a sellers’ market and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
Going into the home search with that understanding in mind will make the process of finding a home in a sellers’ market much less stressful for you and give you the edge in making the best, most attractive offer you can in order to win the bid for the home or cabin you really want.