The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Odd Parcels: Stay or Go, LIBOR, Barn Doors

Sellers who can’t decide whether to move into their next homes while their current one remains unsold should consider this: According to a new analysis, empty houses remain on the market longer, and sell for less, than those that are still occupied.

It’s always been a real estate axiom that houses in which would-be buyers must visualize how their own furniture would look don’t do as well as those that are furnished and occupied. That’s why builders spend beaucoup bucks to outfit their model homes with a dazzling array of furniture and accessories.

But a report from Redfin shows just how true it is. The results vary according to location, but nationally, vacant houses sold for $11,300 less and spent six more days on the market than comparable places that were still inhabited.

For its analysis, the brokerage firm’s economists compared listings marked “vacant” at the time they were sold last year with those not marked as such. Less than 3% of the included listings started out as occupied and became vacant while on the market, so it’s unlikely that the findings were skewed by houses whose sellers were not able to find a buyer before they moved out. In other words, they moved before putting their places up for sale.

“Although vacant homes are easy for buyers to tour at their convenience, the fact that the sellers have already moved on is often a signal to buyers that they can take their time making an offer,” says Redfin’s chief economist, Daryl Fairweather.

But it’s also just as likely, Fairweather concedes, that sellers who are well-heeled enough to carry two houses at once aren’t as motivated to get the highest price possible.

The study found that vacant houses sell for less in every metro area that was analyzed. The differences in price were largest in relatively inexpensive areas like Omaha, Nebraska, where sellers running on empty sold for 7.2% less.

Homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages tied to LIBOR -- the London Interbank Offered Rate -- could be looking at another Y2K event in a few years.

The LIBOR index will be phased out after 2021, and at that time, adjustable-rate mortgages with rate changes pegged to that benchmark will be switched to something else. There is an estimated $1.2 trillion in ARMs tied to LIBOR.

At this writing, no one knows what the new index will be, though something called the Secured Overnight Financing Rate seems to be favored. But the lending sector is working to find a replacement that everybody can live with. Unfortunately, borrowers won’t have a say in the matter.

Of course, the fear that everything would fall apart when the calendar turned to the new century 19 years ago fizzled. This may turn out to be a similar false alarm.

Selling your house, and looking for an edge? Don’t run out and install the following features just to sell faster or for more money, but if you already have them, it might pay to feature them in your listing.

Zillow analyzed 4.6 million sales completed in 2017 and 2018 and found that listings that mentioned “steam ovens” sold for 34% more than expected. Those that mentioned “professional appliances” and “wine cellars” notched 32 percent and 31 percent premiums, respectively.

Of course, those items alone are not responsible for the resulting higher contract prices. But they didn’t hurt, either.

Now for the other end of the totem pole. The following features were mentioned in listings for less than 9 percent of the houses selling above list price: interior barn doors, smart thermostats, butcher block counters, farmhouse sinks and smart lighting.

When Ed Bruce first crooned, “Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” it was probably good advice. But what about letting your daughters grow up to be construction workers?

The job site remains a boy’s club overall: Women make up 47 percent of the American workforce, yet they represent just 9 percent of all construction workers. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in certain segments of the construction industry began to earn more than their male counterparts in 2017.

In the broader workforce, women make just 81% of what men do for the same job.

Admittedly, the construction field isn’t all that great a place for women to work, what with all the catcalls and smart comments they often have to endure. But their wages are growing.

So if college isn’t for your young woman, how about carpentry or plumbing?