More Homeowners Sprucing up their Gardens and Curb Appeal in the Time of Coronavirus

One positive thing that appears be to happening in the time of coronavirus sheltering /staying in place orders is that people are engaging in more home hobbies and creative activities that they may have not had time for before due to social activities. One can see a lot of articles about staying creative or why the quarantine can make one more creative.  One activity that Americans apparently have spent more time and money on is gardening, based on retail sales and employment data.  This is a good time for homeowners because gardening, yard improvements, and minor home renovation or simple do-it-yourself projects (deck) improve curbside appeal and reflect the kind of care and maintenance that homeowners put into their homes, both external and internal. Attractive gardens, a clean yard, freshly coated fences, mended pathways will make a home attractive to buyers, in the time of and after the coronavirus social distancing period.

Building materials/gardening store sales and employment are up compared to retail trade

Retail sales data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that retail sales of building materials, garden equipment, and supply dealer stores (NAICS 444) increased 1% in March from February and was up 7% on a year-over-year basis. In comparison, retail sales and food services fell 9% on a month-over-month basis and 6% on a year-over-year basis.  Other industries that had higher sales in March were grocery stores (+27% m/m and +29% y/y); health and personal care stores (+4% m/m, +4% y/y), and general merchandise stores that includes department stores and other general merchandise stores (6% m/m, 7% y/y).

In 2019, Americans spent nearly $380 billion (retail sales) on building materials, garden equipment, and supplies. Building materials and supply stores (paint and wallpaper stores and hardware stores) sold $334 billion (so $41 billion is garden supplies).

While brick-and-mortar retail stores have shed about 300,000 jobs since January 2017, the employment in brick and mortar stores has remained relatively flat at 1.3 million. In March 2020, it is one of the few sectors that posted year-over-year employment gains, of 11,500 jobs. However, employment did fall by nearly 4,000 from February to March.

Impact of landscaping on home values

What’s the impact of projects that improve a home’s curb appeal on the likelihood of selling a home and home values? According to NAR’s 2018 Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features,  “74% of REALTORS® suggested sellers complete a landscape maintenance program before attempting to sell, and 17 percent said the project most recently sealed a deal for them, resulting in a closed transaction.” The cost in 2018 was $3,000 and 100% was recovered when the home was sold.

Single-family detached homes with green spaces: part of the American dream

Since 2009, the prices of single-family homes have also picked up faster than condominiums, as low mortgage rates have made a home purchase more affordable, as well as due to difficulty obtaining individual-unit mortgage financing in condominium projects that are not FHA-approved.1 As of March 2020, the median sales price of single-detached as $282,500, or nearly $20,000 more than the median sales price of condominiums/coops of $263,400.  Since January 2012, the median sales price of single-family detached homes has increased by 83% compared to 70% for condominiums/coops. The higher price of single-family homes reflects the preference of buyers for these homes, perhaps because the house with the picket fence and green yard embodies the attainment of the American dream of homeownership.

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The #1 Misconception in the Homebuying Process

After over a year of moderating home prices, it appears home value appreciation is about to reaccelerate. Skylar Olsen, Director of Economic Research at Zillow, explained in a recent article:

 “A year ago, a combination of a government shutdown, stock market slump and mortgage rate spike caused a long-anticipated inventory rise. That supposed boom turned out to be a short-lived mirage as buyers came back into the market and more than erased the inventory gains. As a natural reaction, the recent slowdown in home values looks like it’s set to reverse back.”

CoreLogic, in their January 2020 Market Pulse Report, agrees with Olsen, projecting home value appreciation in all fifty states this year. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 21 states appreciating 5% or more
  • 26 states appreciating between 3-5%
  • Only 3 states appreciating less than 3%

The Misconception

Many believe when real estate values are increasing, owning a home becomes less affordable. That misconception is not necessarily true.

In most cases, homes are purchased with a mortgage. The current mortgage rate is a major component of the affordability equation. Mortgage rates have fallen by almost a full percentage point since this time last year.

Another major piece of the equation is a buyer’s income. The median family income has risen by 5% over the last year, contributing to the affordability factor.

Black Knight, in their latest Mortgage Monitor, addressed this exact issue:

 “Despite the average home price increasing by nearly $13,000 from just over a year ago, the monthly mortgage payment required to buy that same home has actually dropped by 10% over that same span due to falling interest rates…

Put another way, prospective homebuyers can now purchase a $48K more expensive home than a year ago while still paying the same in principal and interest, a 16% increase in buying power.”

Bottom Line

If you’re thinking about purchasing a home, realize that homes are still affordable even though prices are increasing. As the Black Knight report concluded:

“Even with home price growth accelerating, today’s low-interest-rate environment has made home affordability the best it’s been since early 2018.”