Making the Most from Your Cabin Investment

As we near the end of 2019, we’re reaching that time of year where cabin owners who are thinking about their taxes in the spring make the decision to sell their investment/vacation property. Maybe that’s you. In terms of where the market is at, this is the time if you’re thinking about selling.

In my November blog, I talked about why that is true. Low inventory coupled with a flurry of buyers that hasn’t really slowed down despite the lack of properties to choose from has resulted in a resurgence of new construction. 2020 will be a season of building and property values will start to plateau once the construction projects takes root. So if you’re holding an older cabin, now could be a super good time to take advantage of the cycle and sell it. You can purchase something new for just a little bit more. 

The question we are hearing from our buyers and sellers now is how long until we reach the top of where cabins can cash flow positive? Until about two years ago, we were seeing cabins gross roughly 15 percent, on average, of what they sold for. So this means a cabin that sold for $200,000 was yielding a return of about $30,000 gross rental income. Then you’d have the split with the rental company if you were using one, and pay your expenses from your net income. That amount would vary based on taxes, HOA dues, amenity fees, etc. Now that same $200,000 cabin is likely to sell for $325,000 but with about the same gross rental income. You might be able to negotiate a slightly better split with the rental company, but you’re probably looking at around 10 to 12 percent of the sales price in gross rental income, rather than 15. So it will still provide positive cash flow.  We have also seen gross rental revenue increase in cabins that were upscale, fully outfitted and had amenities like a fire-pit;  therefore it is possible that the reduction is actually an increase for some.

So when will we plateau, or slow down in terms of market prices?  I believe it is likely when the purchase price rises to the point that the revenue only covers costs and no longer makes an income.  Then our properties become attractive to those who desire a true second home. Those in the market will be owners who only want revenue to defer some of the cost, whereas a true investor will look elsewhere for passive income. It will be much like you see at the beach where those who are wealthy and have discretionary excess income purchase a second home for their enjoyment and if rentals defray maintenance cost and HOA dues they’re pleased. 

But right now is a wonderful time to sell high if you bought low and a wonderful time to buy something that will cash flow positive pay for itself and give you a tax write off.  Where else can you stay in your investment and watch the sunset? Not in your stock and bonds!

If you’re thinking about buying a rental cabin as an investment, there’s a win for you, too. What’s important is that you buy sooner rather than later and prepare to hold it even if the market plateaus or enters another downturn. Even in the downturn more than a decade ago, our clients who prospered through it did so by using the rental income to pay the cabin off. Then, they waited until the market was on the upswing before selling. Even in those years when property values were low, rental income didn’t change.  In a downturn we become an even more attractive destination.  Vacationers who were going overseas playing in the Caribbean decided to stay closer to home and to drive to their vacation destination rather than fly. Americans believe in vacationing! It’s very close to mom and apple pie. And since we are within a day’s driving distance to 75% of the population of the United States.

Whenever you can it is always a good move to own the latest, greatest, newest, largest in short to have the best.  And sometimes that means remodeling, refreshing, or just buying new. As time marches on, make sure your investment stays strong and at the top of its potential performance! 

My team and I are always here to answer any questions you may have about our local real estate market. Call us at 865-654-2111! We would love to talk with you! We never mind giving you specific values on your property so you can make informed decisions. 

Vacation rental cabins provide great investment opportunity

Our real estate market in the Great Smoky Mountains is known among investors as one of the top 10 places to invest for overnight rentals. Vacation cabins are incredibly popular, and we attract millions of visitors every year. What makes this region such a draw for so many is the variety of offerings. We have the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at our doorstep. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg work to be the absolute best at hosting festivals, parties, and other events. Outside of the holiday festivities which always leave our rental market “sold out,” our local communities play host to car shows, concerts, and all sorts of other activities throughout most of the year. On top of that, our local attractions – Dollywood is well known, but also the museums, go-cart and miniature golf, and many other family-themed local businesses that cater primarily to our visitors – provide plenty of fun and entertainment.

So over the years, the vacation rental cabins have added to the experience of being in the mountains. Our rental companies have worked hard to continually develop the cabin model so that it best accommodates guests’ needs, from everything to including game rooms with pool tables to the eventual construction of indoor swimming pool areas within cabins. The goal has always been to make the cabin as appealing as possible to guests so that it stays booked as many nights of the year as possible.

If you’ve been seriously thinking about buying a vacation rental cabin and have been watching our market these last few months, I’m sure you have noticed the trend of our region as a sellers’ market hasn’t slowed down from a year ago. In an article I wrote a year ago, I shared with you that the number of available cabins on the market had begun to slow. Since then, we’ve seen that number continue to decline while the prices have continued to climb. As the prices have reached a point that is almost in line with the price to build a new cabin, we have seen building begin to make a comeback this year.

The good news in this is that even as the prices rise, the number of tourists visiting our region has risen with it. What’s more, we’ve seen the number of people staying a little further outside Pigeon Forge rise with it. In March, local media were reporting record numbers of visitors in places like Wears Valley, as there are ways into the National Park from that side of the county that have begun to be discovered.

For sellers, the important thing to remember is that as construction continues to ramp up, the window of opportunity to sell your cabin will begin to close. Eventually new construction will be as appealing as buying something existing, so we expect to see prices level off – not drop, but stop climbing as buyers shift to a building focus. For buyers, the important thing to remember is that even though the deals of yesterday are gone, cabins are still a very strong investment option thanks to our thriving tourist industry.

If you are planning to buy or sell a cabin, or build a cabin and would like to more about the current market, my team and I are always here to help! Call or text us at 865-654-2111 and we will be glad to answer any questions you have!

Buying in a sellers’ market

sellers marketAround this time last summer, I shared with you that we are living in a sellers’ market in the Great Smoky Mountains. One year later, that fact hasn’t changed. The number of properties available – particularly vacation rental cabins, since that is our primary residential market in this area – has dropped below where it was last year while the number of buyers looking hasn’t. In fact, the interest among potential buyers has continued to increase, which has in turn continued to drive up the prices of available homes. This is great news for your if you own a cabin and are considering selling it, but it has proven to be somewhat frustrating for buyers who find the prices to be a little more than they were planning or who don’t want to make a seemingly impulsive decision and end up either missing out on the cabin they love or just giving up on the idea completely.

However, if you’re in love with the dream of owning a vacation cabin in the Smokies, there’s hope. There are things you can do and ways you can approach the opportunity, even in this market. The three things you want to focus on is making the successful bid, making it make sense with your investment plans, and making sure the decision to make an offer doesn’t feel impulsive (if like many of us that is an area you struggle with).

Study the market ahead of time. We frequently send out listings via email to people based on criteria they provide us weeks, even months, ahead of their plan to visit the area and pick a cabin. Of course, just about everything you look at now will be under contract and/or sold before your trip in the fall. However, the more you know about what’s on the market and what the prices look like before you make the trip, the easier it will be for you to spot exactly what you want when you go inside the home or cabin that will be for sale when you get here. And it won’t feel quite so impulsive when it matches something else you saw weeks ago that you really loved online.

Ask your agent to preview the home. When you live in another state, making a day’s drive on a Tuesday afternoon to see a cabin Wednesday morning before driving home in the afternoon so you can be back at work on Thursday isn’t always the most practical. If you don’t have a way to view the cabin before Friday afternoon, it might be under contract by then. So one of the services we offer our clients who we know are serious about buying a property is to go and check it out for them. We know what they are looking for in a home or cabin and can usually send photos or videos, or give a call while we are at the property walking around. Then, you can make an informed decision about the specific property and if you like it based on your agent’s feedback, be able to go ahead and make an offer following the tips I suggested last year.

Consider building your own home. The other good news is that if you can’t find exactly what you want, or you have time to plan out your vision for owning property in the Smokies is that building is making a comeback because of the shortage of properties for sale. So that is an option you should consider.

If you would like to know more or need help navigating the market, my staff and I would enjoy the opportunity to work with you on your adventure! You can call or text me at 865-765-6157 or my support line at 865-654-2111. I can also be reached via email: deborah@deborahkorlin.us

Now is the time to sell!

I’m sure those of you who have been keeping up with my newsletter have heard me say this before: if you have a vacation cabin you’ve been thinking about selling, now is the time. The real estate market in our area has reached a point where buying is about the same price as building. Resort communities such as Sherwood Forest, Starr Crest, and Legacy Mountain that perform the best among rental cabin resorts in our region are selling at prices not seen since before the downturn in 2008. Plus, the number of cabins for sale in our market is incredibly low. So between the lack of inventory and the increased demand among buyers looking for cabins to buy, the prices have significantly increased.

As a result, building is making a comeback. New areas are being developed for cabin construction. As more cabins are built over the next year, the supply will start to level out and we could see sales prices slip just a bit as the demand is met. In the meantime, this could mean a great opportunity for you if you are ready to sell.

Now is the time.

One of the first steps to take in considering selling is to see for yourself what your cabin is worth in today’s market and compare it to the price you paid when you bought it. We can definitely help you with finding those two things out! Just give us a call or send an email or text. I look forward to hearing from you! I can be reached at 865-765-6157 or 865-654-2111, or by email at deborah@deborahkorlin.us.  You will be pleasantly surprised by what you discover. Remember, now is the time.

Handling the home repair proposal

When selling a home, one of the most important steps in the process is negotiating the home repair proposal after the inspection.

Last month, we looked at the home inspection and home repair from the buyers’ perspective, so this month we want to take a look at it from the sellers’ angle. Real estate agents aren’t home inspectors, and we often don’t know everything that might need fixing in a property. If you as the owner of the property know of and share a particular issue with the agent, then of course it is our job to make sure that is disclosed as part of the listing. In fact, one of the first things I do in preparing a property to list is to provide a disclosure form as part of a set of required documents giving us permission to sale their property. This property disclosure form lists out all the items in your home or cabin that you’re aware of about the property – age of the roof, any updates or upgrades to the home, any conditions that the law requires for you to share with buyers about, etc. If you haven’t lived in the home for several years, you may choose to fill out an exemption form instead. This is often the case with vacation and second homes that are on a rental program. You’re just not going to know everything about the condition of the property if you aren’t actively living in the home. Even when you do live there full-time, you may not be aware of potential problems that your buyers could end up being responsible for if they closed on the property without discovering it beforehand. So it’s in their best interest as the buyers to have a home inspection done.

The home inspector will:

  • test the plumbing;
  • test the electric outlets;
  • inspect the crawlspace for possible cracks or mold;
  • inspect the fireplace;
  • inspect the home exterior for signs of wood destroying insect damage; and
  • look for signs of water damage or problems along the gutters and on the roof that may not be noticeable to the untrained eye.

The home repair proposal

Once the inspection is completed, the buyer will identify the items that matter the most to them and coordinate with their agent – if they have one – to put them into a home repair proposal for you to consider. As a seller, it’s important not to panic when you see the repair request items. A home inspector is hired to find every potential issue in the home so that the buyer can make the most informed decision possible. Most good home inspectors will seek out problems and potential challenges so that the buyers know as much possible about what’s going on with the house before they buy it. It’s important for you to work with your agent to help you determine the best response based on your situation. If you have the resources to make the requested home repairs, that’s often the best choice. Or if you can’t do them all, pick the ones that are the most important and offer to do those. Another option is that you could negotiate a lower sales price to allow the buyers to fix the home repair items on the home repair list themselves. Your real estate agent should be able to negotiate the home repairs on your behalf and, when needed, help you find people who can do the work to fix those items so you can get accurate estimates in case the owner chooses to reduce the price instead.

Keep in mind that simply refusing to address the requested home repair proposal items could mean the buyers will walk away, and if the items are significant, you will have the same challenge with the next buyer who comes along if you don’t work out a way to fix the items. Of course, the buyers have the choice to walk away after a home inspection is completed if they don’t like the report, so it’s sometimes good to ask your agent to follow up to see if you can find out what made them decide not to buy your home. Perhaps it’s something you can fix before the next offer comes in so it doesn’t end up being a challenge to overcome with a new buyer on the next home repair list.

Working through the home inspection

When buying a home, one of the most important decisions you will make is whether to hire an inspector to conduct a home inspection. Real estate agents aren’t home inspectors, and we aren’t able to identify everything that may need  to be home inspectionaddressed in a property. If the owners know of and share a particular issue with the agent, then of course it is our job to make sure that is disclosed as part of the listing. In fact, one of the first things I do in preparing a property to list is to have the seller fill out a set of required documents that give us permission to sale their property. These forms include a document that lists out all of the items in a home that could have issues needing to be addressed.

If the owner hasn’t lived in the home for several years, they may choose to fill out an exemption form instead. This is often the case with vacation and second homes that are on a rental program. The owner just isn’t going to know everything about the condition of the property if they aren’t actively living in the home. Even when the owners do live there full-time, they may not be aware of potential problems that you as a buyer could end up being responsible for if you closed on the property without discovering it beforehand. So it’s in your best interest as the buyer to have a home inspection done.

What does a home inspection generally consist of?

The home inspector will:

  • test the plumbing;
  • test the electric outlets;
  • inspect the crawlspace for possible cracks or mold;
  • inspect the fireplace;
  • inspect the home exterior for signs of wood destroying insect damage; and
  • look for signs of water damage or problems along the gutters and on the roof that may not be noticeable to the untrained eye.

Once the home inspection is completed, you will receive a copy of the report that details all of the items they checked and the condition each was found to be in. If there are any serious problems, the home inspector will go through those with you at that time. Feel free to talk with your inspector and definitely ask additional questions when there are items in the home inspection that you don’t completely understand.

As a buyer, it’s important not to panic when you see the home inspection report. Any inspector that we recommend is going to be thorough! You are going to know more about the property than you may want to! They will tell you everything that is a problem now, everything that may be a problem in the near future, and the many things to look for in the distant future. This will place you in the best position of comfort and power, although it also will be disconcerting. It is kind of like when you go to the doctor and see an x-ray of your spine or an ultrasound of your organs. It’s a little disturbing! Just remember that a home inspector is hired to find every potential issue in the home so that you as a buyer can make the most informed decision possible. The good news is that 99% of issues can be addressed. The main questions are how best to address those issues, what might it cost to address them, and who is going to complete the remediation?

Once you have received the home inspection, this is the point where you would need to work with your real estate agent to send a request for items identified in the home inspection to be repaired or replaced, or for the owner to agree to reduce the sales price of the property to account for the repairs you will need to make. Your real estate agent should be able to negotiate the repairs on your behalf and, when needed, help you find people who can do the work to fix those items so you can get accurate estimates in case the owner chooses to reduce the price instead.

Its all part of buying something amazing! While often one of the more stressful parts of buying property, it can also be an exciting part – learning about your property and how to care for it in order to keep its value strong in the years to come.

Let the adventure begin! If you have more questions about the home inspection process, I and my staff are always here to help!

Solving the appraisal challenge in an increasing market

When buying a home or vacation cabin, one of the most crucial steps in the process if you’re working with a lender is the appraisal. Appraising the value of a property can be one of the most challenging, and probably the most stressful, aspects of the process for buyers. This can be especially true in a market where appraisal values don’t reflect where the market is at in terms of purchase value. As I discussed in last month’s article, 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.

In our market, as we continue to work with a low number of properties for sale, the sales price of cabins has continued to rapidly increase over the last 12 months. We’ve seen a slower pace on our local residential market, but home values are also increasing. If you as a buyer have an appraisal that comes in under the offer price, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to buy the home. You and your agent have a few different options to help you work out a solution with the seller.

Ways to address the appraisal

The first thing I tell my buyers when the appraisal comes in lower than the purchase price is, “Don’t panic.” We look over the appraisal report and re-evaluate our own comparable group of sold listings to see if we’ve missed something about the property. An appraiser can go back as far as 12 months, and is required to first use anything that’s sold within the same subdivision or resort community. The appraiser is limited on what he or she can do to review those sold properties. They rely heavily on MLS and tax records, so when those documents aren’t completely up to date, it can skew the data in a way that might hurt your appraisal.

Once we are certain our offer was appropriate for the market, if we’re comfortable with it we will ask the seller to agree to reduce the price to match the appraisal value. Remember, the lender won’t borrow on more than what the home is determined by the appraiser to be worth, so if the seller won’t lower the price then the next choice will be to see if we can split the difference with the seller or simply agree to pay more out of pocket. So for example, if the purchase price is $200,000 but the appraiser determines the value of the property to be $190,000, then you would have to either get the seller to agree to reduce the price by up to $10,000 or work out how to pay that amount out of your own pocket.

As a last resort, we can try to work with the lender to resolve it, but the truth is it is very hard to get an appraisal value overturned once it has been determined. We absolutely cannot pressure appraisers to price the appraisal value of the property at the amount a buyer offers a seller.

Next month, I’ll share some ways I help sellers to price their property correctly so that the appraisal value meets the expectations correctly. In the meantime, if you have questions about appraisals or anything else regarding the local real estate market, I and my staff are always available!

Understanding the appraisal

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.

Setting the right sales 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.

An update on our changing market

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 changing marketlast 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.