TT he five commandments for shrewd home sellers this T fall, in the opinion of some of the nation's top real estate appraisers, go like this:
1. Thou shalt not be rattled by the distressmongers, the Wall Street merchants of gloom or the bargain hunters in your local market who plan to profit later by scalping you now. Hang in there -- as long as your price and financing package is affordable by at least a portion of the market segment you're after.
2. Search for hidden financing that's available -- although not necessarily razzle-dazzle "creative" financing. For example, an unadvertised "blend loan" from the bank or savings and loan association that holds your existing, nonassumable mortgage -- as discussed below --could be a painless way to finance your purchaser this fall.
3. Know the ins and outs of "cash equivalency" -- the math and tactics of manipulating sales price against financing. For instance, if you can invest cash from a sale at over 20 percent yield in a tax-exempt "All Savers" certificate next month, your offer to take back a deferred, 12 percent second deed of trust or mortgage to help qualify a purchaser may not be the best sales strategy for you today. It could be smarter to cut your price, let the buyers get their own financing and invest the cash.
4. Look for strengths your property possesses that you may not have recognized. For example, the newly enacted federal tax law makes rental houses more attractive tax shelters to small groups of investors. By adjusting your selling terms to accommodate that sort of buyer, you may wind up a winner.
5. Don't ignore market reality when it's staring you in the face month after month. If your property has inherent weaknesses that can't be remedied -- such as poor location, financing or physical condition-- don't fight the fact. Cut your price or sweeten the financing, and move on.
Those are the basic rules for sellers in a buyers' market, according to an informal, coast-to-coast panel of six real estate appraisers. The appraisers are all regional leaders or members of the three top professional groups in their field, and were interviewed during the past two weeks.
Unlike real estate brokers, who have a conflict of interest when it comes to discussing housing values-- they're perpetual optimists --real estate appraisers have no role other than documenting market valuation patterns in detail, whether negative or positive.
Although conditions in their local areas -- ranging from Chicago to Miami, San Francisco, rural Connecticut, Washington, D.C., and Sacramento -- differ widely, the six appraisers were remarkably uniform in their advice to prospective sellers.
Regarding distressmongering on home values, Miami appraiser David Bishop said: "Unless you've put yourself in a distress situation -- by buying a house with a short-term balloon that you find you can't refinance, for example -- there's no intrinsic market reason to sell at a loss right now. The market has stabilized -- prices have gone flat because of high rates -- but home values aren't plunging downward by any means."
On "hidden" financing sources, several appraisers pointed to underpublicized concepts such as blend loans. Blend mortgages are written by lenders who want to get low-rate, nonassumable existing loans (especially those under 11 percent) off their books.
The seller of a condominium with a 4-year-old, nonassumable, fixed-rate 9 1/2 percent mortgage with 26 years still to run, for example, could negotiate for a new, adjustable-rate 13 percent loan from his or her bank or S&L to help qualify a prospective buyer. The lender is under no legal obligation to offer anything, but might welcome the opportunity to get the fixed-rate, money-losing, 9 1/2 percent loan off its ledger.
Officials at the U.S. League of Savings Associations say that increasing numbers of S&Ls and banks are going to quietly offer adjustable-rate blend loans this fall, using proceeds from the "All Savers" certificate created by the 1981 tax law.
Regarding the art and science of "cash equivalency," San Francisco appraiser Lloyd D. Hanford Jr. offers this advice: "No one should be selling a house right now who's not conversant with the cash value of alternative financing vehicles. When you 'take back' a $25,000, second-trust deed at 12 percent, the cash value of that note (if sold to an outside investor) is maybe $17,000 or $18,000. So if a buyer offers to purchase your house for $7,000 below your asking price -- and he says he'll take care of the financing without your help -- it may be in your interest to grab that offer.
"Don't overemphasize price in a market like 1981's," says Hanford. "Take the lower amount of cash if you've got a profitable use for it --and avoid the potential hassles of creative financing."
Kenneth R. Harney is executive editor of Housing & Development Reporter, published here by BNA Inc.