Intermediate Information: August 2007 Archives
A few days ago, I had an agent get angry at me about an offer below a range asking price. I had submitted the offer with extensive justification as to why it was an appropriate offer. Basically, this clown had overpriced the property, and thought that because he had put a range on it, people were somehow not supposed to make offers outside the range.
Just because you put range pricing on a property, does not, by itself, mean anything. As I've said before, you can ask for any price you want for your property. It doesn't mean the asking price is realistic. It means that you own the property and have the ability to put a price on the property that you want. This doesn't do you any good if the price is above what similar properties are selling for. Having been told it's for sale, buyers have the same options the seller does - they can offer any price they would be happy paying. The seller doesn't have to accept. In fact, the seller probably won't accept. If the buyer offers less than the property is really worth, than the seller is correct to reject the offer. On the other hand, if the buyer is offering what the property is really worth and the seller doesn't accept the offer, they are hurting only themselves.
Right now, most sellers and their agents are shooting themselves in both feet by overpricing the property. Right now there are some special circumstances in effect - the lending panic, the be precise. It's mostly psychological, as there are any number of very solvent lenders willing and able to fund loans, but hysterical reporting grabs attention (which is why they do it). The net effect is that many buyers who would otherwise be in the market are still sitting on the sidelines, and so the ratio of sellers to buyers locally has ballooned to 47 to 1. Imagine yourself in a situation where the ratio of men to women is 47 to 1. The social dynamics are going to favor the women. Even if she's a fat slovenly harridan at the tail end of middle age, she's going to have her pick of men. The men, for their part, are going to have be both good looking and well off to attract even the woman in the previous sentence, and keep working hard to keep the woman around. If you're not willing to do what it takes, and keep doing what it takes, you might as well not bother. Now imagine that people who want to sell are the men, and people who are willing to buy are the women. If you're not willing to out-compete the other 46 sellers, why is your property on the market? If you need to sell, then you need to do what is necessary to out-compete those other sellers. Make it pretty. Make it cheap. And you still better be willing to work when an offer comes calling. If you're not, get the property off the market until the climate changes. I don't think it's going to be long.
Range pricing a property at a value you're not willing to accept is a waste of everybody's time. There was a property on the market variable priced over $125,000 range, and my client made a very strong offer about $15,000 over the minimum. Lots of cash, good deposit, short escrow, no contingencies, etcetera. Under the circumstances, a very good offer considering what the property was really worth. Yet despite all the information we put in front of them, this seller kept countering at the same number, which was more than my client was willing to pay for that property. Net result: the whole process was a waste from the time we started driving to the property. Yes, they got a lot of activity, but since they weren't willing to sell for the price that generated the activity - or anything like that price - the property didn't sell. Since if the property doesn't sell, every penny you put into trying to sell is wasted, as is every second of your time, plus all of the carrying costs that you may incur. So the listing agent told me they'd had a dozen showings in a week - but if they're looking at the property because it's variable priced $75,000 below any offer the seller is willing to consider, well, self-stimulation may feel good but it doesn't produce anything. This entire situation is a failing on behalf of the listing agent, who is theoretically earning money because of their knowledge of the market and should know precisely how likely it is that buyers will agree to pay more than the comparable properties are selling for, which is to say, Not. Particularly in this market, which is still very weighted towards buyers, and will continue to be until Spring 2008, even after the lending panic subsides. Indeed, if you need to sell, you're almost certainly going to have to settle for less than comparable properties are asking. If you don't need to sell, get your property off the market, now. The sooner excess inventory clears, the sooner the turn towards sellers is going to happen. Not to mention your days on market keep climbing, and there's nothing beneficial about having a failed listing in a property's immediate past. The longer it sits unsold now, the harder it's going to be to sell for a good price later.
Properly used, variable or range pricing can increase the sales price of a property. But the catch is that it must still be priced correctly. Range pricing is not an excuse for a lazy or incompetent listing agent to build owner expectations above market level. The rule of thumb is that the bottom of the range should never be lower than a good "all cash, no contingencies" offer, and the top of the range should never be more than market plus a reasonable premium for dealing with the uncertainties of financing and contingencies. Both figures should be modified downwards if the seller is asking for something extra in the way of consideration from the buyer - for example, leasebacks of more than a week or two, seller contingencies, etcetera.
Matter of fact, the way the market is right now in most of the country, I'm inclining against range pricing. If it's priced correctly, that range is information I can use as a buyer's agent. Why would I want to hand the other side information I could put to use were I on the other side, especially when they already have the whip hand in negotiations? Range pricing is something that's primarily useful for sellers when the sellers have the power, and right now, it's the buyers that have the power. If it's not useful for the seller, why in the world would you want to put range pricing on a property? With blortloads of highly upgraded properties for sale right now, I have absolutely no hesitation in telling my buyer clients to offer what we think the property is worth to them under the circumstances, and let the sellers decide if they want to do what's necessary to get the property sold. If they don't want to play, somebody else will. Either way, the buyers are happy. This seller can either decide they'll be happy with an appropriate amount of money, or the property can sit unsold. Which is pretty much the situation as it always is.
Range pricing is not a panacea. Range pricing is not something lazy or fearful agents can use to "buy" a listing with impunity, confident it'll work out in the end (it won't). Range pricing is not an excuse not to price your property to market, or not to negotiate hard with all of the facts at your disposal (if you don't have enough favorable facts at your disposal as to what comparable properties are selling for, your negotiating position is not strong). Range pricing is a way to offer clues to buyers and get them to the table with an appropriate offer when sellers have significantly more negotiating power than buyers. Since in most of the country right now, sellers have no power, range pricing is something to use sparingly. There's nothing that says buyers have to offer you what you want. Not now, not ever. The only leverage sellers have over buyers is the fact that if this buyer won't offer something that is appropriate, somebody else will, and that's very weak leverage when there's 47 properties on the market for every buyer.
Section 1031 of the IRS Code has to to with tax treatment on the exchange of one parcel of real estate for another. It's similar to Section 1035 which covers most non real estate exchanges. Car for a car. Boat for a boat. Business for a business. But section 1031 allows indirect exchanges (i.e. sell to one person for cash, take the cash and buy another property from another person) so long as you follow all the guidelines. After all, how often do folks want to trade two parcels directly? It happens, but not very often. Usually, if A is buying B's parcel, then even if B wants to replace it with another piece of real estate, it probably isn't owned by A.
Why would you want to do this? Taxes. No other reason but taxes. If the taxpayer makes the exchange according to the provisions, they defer the gain. But we're talking capital gains, not ordinary income, so keep in mind it's not worth going gonzo over. The maximum long term capital gains tax rate for most folks is 15 percent. Still, getting to keep 100 percent of your gains instead of 85 can be worthwhile, and when we're talking sometimes about multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars, that's quite a bit of motivation. It's nice to be able to invest and use those (potentially) tens of thousands of dollars, rather than basically forking them directly to the tax man.
Your primary residence is not eligible for 1031. Second homes are severely limited in eligibility (general rule: You can't occupy it more than 10 percent of total occupancy, although you get up to fourteen days per year. Check with your accountant for details. Matter of fact, check everything with your accountant. This is just a basic overview, and the devil is in the details). Section 1031 is for investment property, of whatever nature.
Section 1031 is not for "flipping". I am not aware of any explicit minimum general holding time, but the IRS looks hard when the held period is less than a year. 1031 Questions are good jumping off points for general audits. Be careful. If the properties are being sold between related parties, there is a two year minimum holding rule, and nobody can end up with cash. For this reason, 1031s with a related party transaction are tough. If it's a property you bought as investment that you later made into a personal residence (or vice versa) the minimum holding time is five years.
There are some significant complexities in duplexes where one unit is for personal use, or personal use dwellings where there's a home office. I've just gotten to the point where I don't understand the attractiveness or value of a home office deduction for many people, but they keep insisting upon trying for them.
Basically, there are three requirements for a standard "forward" 1031 Exchange. You can not have constructive receipt of the funds. You must designate replacement properties within 45 calendar days of the sale of the relinquished property, and you must consummate the sale within 180 days or before you file your tax return, whichever comes first.
Constructive receipt is a fancy way the IRS has of saying control of the funds. If escrow sends you the check, or if the check is in your name, you have constructive receipt of the funds and the 1031 will be disallowed. So what happens is that you need to pay an accomodator (most title companies have one) to act as trustee for the money, and the actual transaction is done in the name of the accomodator. If you see something about cooperating with a 1031 exchange at no cost to you as part of a sale or purchase, this is what it's about. Makes no difference to the other party in the transaction, but the Grant Deed has to be made out to (or by) the accomodator entity, not the people who are actually taking part in the transaction.
There are three rules I'm aware of to use in identifying replacement property. The 3 property, the 200 percent, and the 95 percent. Keep in mind that this is investment property, often commercial in nature, and that even within major metropolitan areas it can be difficult to replace the property with something similar within the time frame. This is one situation where the law is a lot more flexible than most of the people. As long as it's real estate within the United States not held for personal use, the law doesn't care what the use of the property you replace it with is, but lots of folks are trying to find something as specific to their purposes as possible. Also, in hot markets, there may be difficulties created with finding a property you can afford and that the seller will agree to sell to you in that time frame.
Keep in mind always that we're not necessarily talking a straight one property for one property exchange here. It can be multiple relinquished properties for one replacement (in which case the sale of the first relinquished property starts the clocks), it can be one relinquished for several replacement properties, or any mix of A properties now and B properties later, where A and B are nonzero, whole, and positive. Counting numbers, to use the technical mathematical name. For every additional property in the exchange, you can expect to spend more in fees to the accomodater, exclusive of all other costs to the transaction.
The first method of designating replacement properties is what's called the 3 property rule. You may designate up to three properties of any value, and as long as you actually acquire one or more that fits the parameters within 180 days, you're good to go. The second rule is any number of properties but no more than 200 percent of value. The final rule, 95 percent, is basically worthless and a good way to get in trouble, because unless you only designate one replacement property, you're not going to be able to acquire 95 percent of the total value of the designated properties. Identification of these properties must be precise and unambiguous. "Land at the corner of First and Main" won't work. You need something like a legal description or an Assessor's Parcel Number (APN).
Finally, you need to acquire the replacement property within 180 days of selling the property (or before filing your tax return for the year - this can require you to be forced to extend your taxes)
Where the person making the exchange wants to buy the replacement property before selling the relinquished property, that's called a "reverse" 1031 exchange. It's basically the same concept switched around. You have 45 days to designate which property will be sold (usually not difficult), and 180 days to actually sell it, which may be a problem in slow markets. Reverse exchanges are also more expensive, as they require accomodaters to take title to an actual piece of land, and they are not, in general, for the weak of wallet. Any financing must be non-recourse financing, because the accomodater is in title and they're not going to agree to be on the hook for the value of the loan if you can't sell the property. This can also cause a requirement for larger down payments.
There are also "partial" 1031 exchanges, where you end up with a replacement property but something else you didn't have before. In general, the replacement property must cost at least as much as the relinquished was sold for, the equity in the replacement property must be at least as large as the equity in the relinquished was, and the loan must be at least as large as the previous loan. If any of these three conditions is not satisfied, you've probably ended up with what the IRS code calls "The part of a like kind exchange transaction which is not like-kind exchange" but most accountants and other people in the real world call "boot," as in "you've got this, and that to boot." Boot is taxable, so if there's a lot of boot, it may defeat the purpose of a 1031 exchange.
There are a lot of pitfalls, and with typically large amounts under consideration, the IRS is notorious for being hard nosed about all the particulars of 1031 exchanges, whether they are forward or reverse. Don't try this without the aid of a tax professional, and for real estate purposes, an agent who has a good understanding can save your bacon. But if you do fulfill the requirements, it can be a good way of keeping money in your hands that you can continue to have invested in your new property, reducing your mortgage on that property, further saving you money, where otherwise nobody would be happy but the tax collectors.
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