One of the biggest mistakes sellers make in pricing their home is assuming that they will get at least 100 cents on every dollar they put into that home since they bought it:
“Well, I bought it for $450,000 ten years ago, and I put in a new kitchen for $50,000, so it’s worth at least $500,000.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. You almost never get 100 cents, or even 75 cents, on every dollar you spend.
Why? Well, for one thing, you did that work according to your own tastes, and hopefully, you got a lot of enjoyment out of it. But maybe your new buyer won’t love the granite countertops you chose or the way you organized your closets. It’s not worth as much to them as it was to you.
For another, many home improvements involve equipment that you put in, which quickly starts to depreciate once you use it. Homes appreciate, but the stuff in them doesn’t. That new washer? It’s used. That new fridge? It’s worth 50% of what you paid for it the minute you plugged it in.
So if you never quite get 100 cents on the dollar for home improvement projects, how much do you get? It’s tough to say. The most bang for the buck is usually in anything that increases square footage or the number of rooms, the least comes from improvements that are based on depreciating equipment.
If you’re looking for a general guide to the return you can get on home improvement projects, Remodeling Magazine puts out a helpful guide every year called the “Cost v. Value Report,
which compares the projected return on different types of projects. It’s not definitive, and its methodology is not based on actual real-life data. But it’s a useful indicator of the relative perceived value of different times of home improvements.
Remodeling Magazine provides a national average and also breaks down the information for different regions of the country. Here is the expected return on projects for mid-Atlantic states:
If you are thinking of doing some major renovations, you should talk to your real estate agent. Why? Because they can help you in making decisions that will preserve or enhance the value of your home, and whether certain improvements are worth making.
The Putnam housing market corrected a bit in a slow fourth quarter, after surges through much of the year. Single-family home sales were down about 3% for the quarter, with prices falling over 4% on average and almost 7% at the median. For the 2019 calendar year, though, Putnam’s market generally grew, with sales up over 2% from 2018. Full-year prices were more mixed, with the average falling almost 2% and the median rising almost 3%. We believe that this pricing divergence is mostly due to the effects of the 2018 Tax Reform cap on state and local taxes (i.e., the “SALT Cap”), which has had more of an impact on the average price by suppressing some high-end activity. Going forward, we expect a relatively robust spring market, with prices still below their seller-market highs, interest rates near historic lows, and a growing economy.
The Northern New Jersey housing market finished 2019 with a bit of a flourish, with sales and price increases in most of the county markets. We are still seeing some negative impact from the 2018 Tax Reform cap on state and local tax deductions (i.e., the “SALT Cap”), but outside of Hudson County, most of the suburban markets seem to be pricing in the partial loss of property tax deductibility. Going forward, we believe that strong housing fundamentals will continue to drive meaningful price appreciation and sales growth through a robust 2020.
Sales rose for the region and in most individual counties. Regional single-family sales rose 2.4% for the quarter, reversing a downward trend we had seen for most of the year. And the increase was pretty uniform throughout the region, with sales up in every almost every individual county. The exception was Hudson, which has been particularly impacted by both the SALT Cap and the decline in the Manhattan market resulting from the SALT Cap. Generally, the SALT Cap has suppressed buyer demand at the very highest end of the market, where home buyers who itemize their deductions are more likely to feel the pinch. This is hampering sales in the higher-end segments of every market, and thereby dampening average price appreciation, but the impact seems to be dissipating a bit outside of Hudson.
Prices were also up for the region and in most of the markets. For the region, the average price was up 2.1% for the fourth quarter and finished the year up 1.5%. Again, the trend was pretty uniform across the region, with average prices rising in every county outside of Hudson. We are now seeing pricing approaching higher levels than at any time since the height of the last seller’s market in the middle of the 2000-10 decade.
We still believe that this market is poised for significant growth. Inventory remains near or below the six-month level that usually denotes a seller’s market, but we expect that more homes will come on the market as prices increase. And the SALT Cap continues to have a suppressive effect in the high end, but will eventually get priced into the market and open up the high end a little more.
Going forward, we expect a rising market in 2020. The seller market fundamentals are very strong: the economy is growing, interest rates are near historic lows, inventory is relatively low, and homes are still priced below their last seller market highs. Accordingly, we expect that sales and prices will show some modest strength through the rest of the winter, leading into a traditionally robust spring market.
The Sussex County housing market showed continued signs of strength in the fourth quarter of 2019, with sharp increases in both sales and prices. Sales were up almost 3%, which continued a trend from the third quarter and helped moderate the significant sales declines in the early part of the year – sales were down almost 5% for the calendar year, but they were down much more sharply in the first six months. More significantly, we’re starting to see sustained strength in pricing: for the quarter, prices were up almost 7% on average and 8% at the median, finishing the calendar year up almost 5% on average and over 9% at the median. Indeed, the average price in Sussex is now higher than at any point since the height of the last seller’s market in the middle of the 2000s. Going forward, we believe that the seller market fundamentals are strong: a growing economy, prices well below historic highs, low-interest rates, and relatively low levels of inventory. So we expect to see continued appreciation and sales growth through 2020.
The Essex County housing market finished a strong year with a flourish, with increases in both sales and prices. Sales rose almost 2% for the quarter and finished the 2019 calendar year up almost 4%. And these continued increases in sales are finally having a meaningful impact on pricing, which was up for both the quarter and the year: prices were up 6% on average and almost 4% at the median for the quarter, and were up about 1.4% on both the average and median for the year. Going forward, we believe that the seller market fundamentals are strong: a growing economy, prices well below historic highs, low-interest rates, and low levels of inventory. Accordingly, we expect meaningful sales growth and appreciation through 2020.
The Hudson County housing market continued to struggle toward the end of 2019, fighting through the impact of the 2018 Tax Reform’s cap on state and local tax deductions (“SALT Cap”). The SALT Cap has had a disproportionate impact on higher-end home buyers, which has slowed down the Manhattan housing market and adjacent high-priced markets like the Hudson County “Gold Coast.” For the quarter, overall sales fell 8%, finishing the 2019 calendar year down over 5% and down for all property types. Average pricing was down a tick, mostly driven by a 6% decline in condos, offsetting a 3% increase for single-family homes and a 9% increase for multi-families. For the 2019 calendar year, overall pricing was up a little over 1%, the lowest year-on-year price increase since 2011, at the bottom of the market. That said, the average price of a Hudson County home is now at an all-time high, after a staggering nine-year run of sharp appreciation. Going forward, we expect that the SALT Cap’s impact will eventually get priced into the market, and believe that the seller market fundamentals are strong: a growing economy, low-interest rates, and relatively low levels of inventory. Accordingly, we expect to see the market stabilize in the first quarter and throughout 2020.
The Morris County housing market saved its 2019 year with a surge of activity in the fourth quarter. Sales were up over 12% from last year’s fourth quarter, which helped Morris finish the year basically flat in transactions – after being down sharply for most of the year. Quarterly prices were up from last year’s fourth quarter as well, rising a tick on average but up over 2% at the median. That helped drive positive price appreciation for the calendar year, with prices up over 1% on average and almost 3% at the median. Indeed, with the average price for the year just a shade under $500,000, we have now seen pricing come to its highest levels since the height of the seller’s market in 2005-06. Going forward, we believe the market is poised for both sales and price growth in 2020: the market fundamentals are strong, with prices still below historic highs, interest rates are low, and the economy is thriving.
The Passaic County seller’s market continued through the fourth quarter of 2019, finishing the year with a flourish. Prices keep going up, with the average price rising almost 8% for the quarter and over 4% for the rolling year, and the median price up almost 7% for the quarter and 4% for the year. Indeed, Passaic pricing is at its highest levels since the height of the seller’s market in the 2005-06 era. And while relatively low levels of inventory held back sales growth for the 2019 calendar year, we did see sales go up over 2% for the quarter. Going forward, we believe that the market fundamentals are strong, with prices still below historic highs, interest rates low, and the economy thriving, so we expect both sales and price growth through a robust 2020.
The Bergen County housing market finished the year with a solid increase in activity and modest rise in pricing. Single-family home sales were up over 4% from the fourth quarter of last year and finished the 2019 year up almost 3%. Moreover, single-family pricing was generally up, rising over 3% on average and 1% at the median for the quarter, and finishing the 2019 year up modestly. The condo market was more mixed, with prices down even while sales were up about 1% for the quarter and the year. Note, though, that condo prices in the fourth quarter of 2018 spiked dramatically, rising over 15% to an all-time high. So the baseline makes the price decrease a little misleading. In comparison, the average condo price is up over 11% from the fourth quarter of 2017, so the overall longer-term trend is solidly robust. Going forward, we believe that Bergen is set up for meaningful sales and price growth in 2020, with prices still lower than the height of the market, interest rates near historic lows, and a growing economy.
The Bergen County housing market cruised through the third quarter of 2019, with increases in both sales and prices. Single‑family home sales were up almost 5%, and are now positive for the rolling year. And prices were up, rising 1.5% on average even though flat at the median. We believe that the market is being hampered by both a lack of viable inventory and the 2018 Tax Reform cap on state and local tax deductions (the “SALT Cap”), which hits particularly hard in higher‑priced markets like Bergen. Going forward, though, we believe that inventory will eventually start to rise as more sellers are tempted into an appreciating market. Also, we expect that at some point the effects of the SALT Cap will get priced into the market. With prices still lower than their heights from the last seller’s market, interest rates near historic lows, and a growing economy, we believe that Bergen is poised for sales and price growth through the winter and into the spring market.