Monday, July 6, 2009

What Did That House Sell For? Where's the Data?

There are currently 1,304 properties listed for sale in the City of Charlottesville and the County of Albemarle. In Fluvanna, Greene, and Nelson Counties (the rest of the Charlottesville MSA) there are 884 properties, for a total of 2,188. (This does not include "proposed" or unbuilt properties that appear on the MLS.) In all of Central Virginia, there are 3,587 properties available.

This is the busiest RE time of year, even in a downturn. So where does a buyer or seller find "sold" data?

Via these sources:

1. City of Charlottesville:
2. Albemarle County:
3. A Realtor, with whom you are ostensibly working to buy or sell a house, has access to the information before it is made publicly available, if the house was listed on the MLS (as most still are in this area).
4. List of tax assessors in other Cities and Counties: click here.

Issues with data access:

1. City of Charlottesville - It is only possible to access one property at a time on your own computer. There's no downloading of any information onto a desktop. Additionally, there is a lag time (obviously) between a property going under contract, closing, and then being recorded (all times are variable).

At the City Tax Assessor's, using the public computer in the office, it is possible to access neighborhood data.

2. Albemarle County - has a more sophisticated system. It is possible to download not only information for an individual property, but also for subdivisions, and for particular dates, in Excel. The "lag time" issues are the same as for the City. However, the County's interface has an FAQ that will tell users when the data was last updated.

3. Realtor: A Realtor can access the data for any property, including those recently under contract, before the sales data becomes a matter of public record.

What if you're a buyer or seller who wants/needs to track the market, but you haven't hired (or have access to) a Realtor?

You will encounter some difficulties. And it is likely you will not have a clear picture of the market, especially in terms of downward pricing trends, such as they are.

In other real estate markets it can be easier to discover information about completed property sales, plus info on short sales and foreclosures. Example: the Washington DC metro area, where sales info and tax assessments are available via The Washington Post: click here.

A frequent blog commenter describes a standard experience in this area. "Serious Buyer" lives in another MSA, but is planning a move to this area. This individual did a search of the County records mid-June 2009, and then told of the experience:

I don't have access to a dump of transfer records from the City online system. I did, however, dump all public records from the Albermarle online system with a code of "single family" that had transferred between 1/1/09-6/1/09. This is an example of the data integrity we are dealing with and the resultant questions for further investigation:

Total of 703 records exported.
387 contained a transfer price.
416 with price of $0.

Why is there no transfer price and when will the prices be added? I expect the answer is some are invalid transfers, delay in data entry, change in status, etc.

Transfer records only went through 5/20/09 although pulled through 6/1. That is 4 weeks lag from today. When are the records entered into the system? How long is the delay generally?

387 records containing transfer price equaled an average of $445.3K, and the median as $290K. The transfer prices ranged from $4,750,000 to $34,000.

This data is for all of Albermarle County and so does not give a good picture of neighborhoods in close proximity to C'ville. Is this data of any use to somebody not familiar with the area?

It is almost impossible for anyone to really get a good view of what is going on independently of the Realtors. They have the most data, but how accurate is it and who enters it? Most sales forces keep terrible records and the Realtor offices don't have adequate or trained staff to keep data clean and consistent.

County and City governments are notorious for terrible records. Often the tax assessor is behind in collections because his office is behind in data entry and can't keep up with property transfer data.

The empirical evidence I rely on in this fractured industry is observation. When the list prices are down in aggregate, we may have a market that is moving once again.

The last comment addresses the fact that sales have been declining steadily not just in the City, the County, the Charlottesville MSA, but the entire Central Virginia area...since 2006.

The upshot? There's not a 'crystal clear' picture, for buyers and sellers, of what's happening in this market. Even with the sales data posted on this blog (in the form of contracts written, generously provided by Realtor Greg Slater) and the market updates from other Realtors (especially RealCentralVA), it can still be difficult for individuals to gain access to hard data.


Anonymous said...

Lack of transparency could keep this market stalled for years

T2 has an udate

this reader comment sounds like it came from cville market,

"the higher-end owners hold out, keen buyers who have money and means (but maybe not brains) are going ahead with cheaper $350-$500K houses that are maybe 10-15% below peak pricing. Meanwhile, more expensive houses (say, at $750K) just sit, and inventory builds. Probably won't crash, but there will be a slow grind from the top: some owners will die, others will divorce, others will lose their jobs and run out of cash. When those $750 start selling in the low $500s, it's going to be tough for those recent buyers of $350-$500 houses, which are probably repriced downward to $200-$350. It's tough."

Stan said...

Even if buyer or seller has access to a professional,not all professionals are created equal. What can you make of a Realtor who describes a property as "First Time Tax Credit Eligible Home"?
Makes her look clueless.

MLS 467380

peptic skeptic said...

I assume that whatever the recorded sales prices are when they do hit the city/county sites do NOT reflect what the seller may have had to give up in terms of sales concessions. So even these are not true sales prices. It is what you net not what you get...

Anonymous said...


I don't know what's worse on that MLS listing--the mention of a "first time tax credit eligible home" (as opposed to all the others that aren't eligible) OR the fact that her main selling point of the home is being able to watch the fireworks. Which were set off for the last time on July 4, 2009 unless the city gets some funding fast.

Ridiculous. Maybe the home is fine, but comments like that make me suspicious that it must be falling apart or something, because why else would those be your two main selling points?

me said...

From Serious Buyer: "When the list prices are down in aggregate, we may have a market that is moving once again."

Amen. Lots of things are selling w/in 10% of list. If listing prices were nearer the 10+ year low sales (I think this quarter will prove much lower), the market would move a little faster. But only a little. Same old story, not enough buyers and the housing market getting worse even as we read these comments. Not better, not stabilizing, worse.