South Florida Real Estate and Community News

Sept. 25, 2023

What Happens if the Government Shuts Down?

The federal government has experienced 14 shutdowns since 1980. If Congress fails to pass a full-year spending bill or a stopgap “continuing resolution” (CR) to keep the government open, there could be another shutdown on Oct. 1. But what does this mean, and how does it impact everyday Americans and the economy?

What is a government shutdown?

A shutdown occurs when there is neither a full-year spending bill nor a CR in effect for a department or agency whose budget has an expiration date. For many parts of government, that expiration date occurs at least once per year at the end of the fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. If a deal is not in place by Oct. 1, some federal agencies and programs will lack approved annual funding from Congress, requiring agencies to stop all programs or activities that are not critical to national security or the protection of lives or property.

The alternative to full-year spending, a CR, keeps programs and activities funded for a specific period of time as determined by Congress – usually weeks or months at specific funding levels, often the same as the prior fiscal year.

How might a 2023 shutdown differ from previous shutdowns?

A 2023 shutdown might look more like the 2013 shutdown than the 2018-2019 shutdown, both in scale, timing, and impact.

Although the 2018-2019 episode was the longest in history (34 days), it was only a partial shutdown. Some agencies and departments had received full-year funding from Congress by the time the shutdown began on Dec. 22, including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Homeland Security, while other agencies and departments did not have full-year funding and, as a result, had to stop some activities and programs. The 2018-2019 shutdown also took place in December and January after the expiration of a CR, rather than at the start of the fiscal year.

The 2013 shutdown affected all departments and agencies funded by annual appropriations, since Congress had passed no full-year spending bills before funding was set to expire. The shutdown started on Oct. 1, the first day of fiscal year 2014. The effects of a 2023 shutdown would also be similar to the 2013 shutdown, at least in the early weeks.

A shutdown on Oct. 1, 2023, could also affect a number of programs whose multi-year authorization to spend taxpayer dollars expires, including support for farmers and nutrition aid under the farm bill, air traffic control efforts at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the ability to purchase flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. These expirations are a separate matter than a government shutdown, but all face an October 1 deadline.

What happens during a shutdown, what shuts down, and what stays open?

A government funding gap requires departments or agencies affected by the gap to take several steps to “shut down.” Several funding gaps in the 1970s did not lead to a shutdown of programs and activities, in part because guidance at the time did not require agencies to stop activities. But any gap lasting longer than a day or two since 1980 has led to a shutdown.

When there is a shutdown, a department, agency, or program must:

  • Stop all projects and activities, usually within three to four hours
  • Furlough employees whose work activities have not been exempted from the shutdown
  • Halt pay for all government employees and contractors, whether they are working (exempted) or not
  • Sign no further contracts for goods and services

Not all parts of the federal government are affected by a shutdown. Major programs and benefits like Social Security and Medicare are generally unaffected because Congress has approved these programs to spend without an expiration date what is known as “mandatory spending.” Mandatory spending makes up $7 of every $10 spent by the federal government.

The other $3 in $10 is generally approved on a year-to-year basis by Congress, referred to as “discretionary spending,” and consists of 12 appropriations (i.e., spending) bills covering different departments and programs of the government. For example, one bill funds the Department of Defense, while another funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Discretionary spending includes funding for:

  • The nation’s military, including salaries and benefits
  • Public health programs, including disease detection and prevention
  • Some veterans benefits
  • Farm loans through the Department of Agriculture
  • Transportation funding to build and repair roads, highways, and bridges, as well as maintain air traffic control at the nation’s airports
  • Income support programs designed to help those most in need, including low-income women and children

Many of these important programs and services are at risk of being interrupted during a government shutdown, though activities that protect human lives or property such as military operations at the Department of Defense can continue.

When Congress has passed some but not all of the 12 regular appropriations bills, there can be a partial shutdown that affects only the departments and programs without either a full-year spending bill or a CR. For example, during the 2018-2019 shutdown, activities at the Departments of Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, and Veterans Affairs plus the legislative branch were not affected by the shutdown since lawmakers had already passed full-year spending bills for those parts of government.

Who decides what government functions stay open and what functions shut down?

Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution states, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” This means federal departments and programs cannot spend money unless Congress passes a law providing them with the funds to do so.

A 19th century law, the Antideficiency Act, also prevents federal agencies from spending taxpayer dollars in the absence of specific authority from Congress. The law was originally created in response to departments spending beyond their budgets and then returning to Congress to make up the difference. Subsequent 1980 and 1995 guidance from Justice Department officials has affirmed that the Antideficiency Act requires a shutdown of unfunded programs and activities.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issues instructions and guidance to departments and agencies that may be affected by a government shutdown. OMB also requires them to develop and update contingency plans they can execute in the event of a shutdown that list the estimated time “to complete shutdown activities,” along with estimates of the number of employees expected to be exempt from a furlough (and required to continue working without pay).

These plans must be updated by agencies every few years, and the list of activities that stay open and shut down differ from agency to agency. This means that no two shutdowns are the same, and the negative impact on government operations and the economy will vary from shutdown to shutdown.

A 2023 shutdown would likely be broad in nature, since Congress has not enacted any full-year spending bills into law.

Who is affected by a shutdown?

Everyday Americans are affected when they cannot access services that are shut down. This includes veterans benefit programs. Had the 2013 shutdown lasted just one more week, 5.1 million veterans would not have received compensation checks they earned. Other essential services, such as air travel managed by the FAA and airport security managed by the Transportation Security Administration, may continue to operate but at lower levels of services, since only some employees are exempt from furlough and required to continue working.

Government employees are affected when they are either furloughed without pay, or forced to work without pay because they are exempt from furlough, until the shutdown is over. Over two million people work for the federal government. Missed paychecks can put financial stress on their households and have a ripple effect that hurts local economies across the U.S.

Small businesses can be hurt by a shutdown in at least two ways. First, the federal government spends tens of billions of dollars on contracts with small businesses for a wide variety of goods and services (nearly $163 billion, or 27% of all contract dollars, in FY2022), and these contracts can be halted during a shutdown. Second, a shutdown can halt operations at the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), which provides billions of dollars of direct and guaranteed lending and other support to small businesses across the country.

What is the economic impact of a shutdown?

Government shutdowns hurt the U.S. economy. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the 2018-2019 shutdown, lasting 34 days, resulted in $3 billion in permanent lost economic growth. About 300,000 federal employees were furloughed during that shutdown, and hundreds of thousands more had to work without pay until the shutdown ended in January. The 800,000 total employees at agencies affected by the 2018-2019 shutdown made up around 40% of all government workers. (In 2018, Congress passed funding for other agencies.) The effects would have been more severe had some departments and agencies covering five of the 12 regular spending bills Congress must pass on an annual basis not already been funded with full-year appropriations.

Previous shutdowns resulted in even more employees being furloughed: 850,000 during the 2013 shutdown, and 800,000 in the early parts of the 1995-1996 shutdown. Though the government has never had a months-long shutdown, such a disruption could result in billions of dollars of lost economic activity. Even a weeks-long shutdown can have permanent negative economic effects north of $1 billion.

A lengthy shutdown in 2023 could also delay the release of economic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, such as unemployment figures and gross domestic product (GDP) estimates, at a precarious time for the U.S. economy. Fiscal policymakers in Congress and monetary policymakers at the Federal Reserve rely on this data to make evidence-based and data-driven decisions, while investors rely on the data to make smart investments. Significant delays in releasing this data could make it more difficult for policymakers and investors to steer the U.S. economy through a time of high inflation and uncertainty.

How much a shutdown hurts the U.S. economy depends on a number of factors, including how long the shutdown lasts and what parts of government the shutdown affects. Generally speaking, longer and broader shutdowns inflict more economic damage.

When was the last government shutdown?

The last government shutdown was from December 2018 through January 2019, and was also the longest government shutdown in history, lasting 34 days.

Overall, there have been 14 shutdowns since 1980. A majority –11 of 14 – were relatively short, lasting less than a week. The other three were longer than two weeks.

Is a shutdown different than reaching the debt limit?

Yes. The causes of a government shutdown and a breach of the debt limit are different, and so are their potential effects on the U.S. government and the U.S. economy. While a government shutdown is when some departments and agencies of government no longer have an approved budget from Congress, the debt limit instead restricts the total amount of money that the federal government can legally borrow. When the debt limit is reached, the Treasury Department can no longer borrow money to cover government operations.

As opposed to a government shutdown, which generally only affects programs and departments with an annual budget (i.e., discretionary spending), failure to address the debt limit in a timely manner could affect all types of government spending (i.e., discretionary and mandatory), including programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

History shows that government shutdowns are damaging but not catastrophic, with relatively predictable outcomes. In contrast, defaulting on obligations as a result of the debt limit would be unprecedented, with consequences that are likely far more disruptive, damaging, and severe. Even a short-term default could lead to higher borrowing costs, increased unemployment, stock market losses, and GDP contraction.

The government is not at risk of reaching its debt limit on Oct. 1, 2023. The Fiscal Responsibility Act, which became law earlier this summer, suspended the debt limit through Jan. 1, 2025.

How can policymakers prevent government shutdowns?

The best way out of a government shutdown is for Congress to reach an agreement on full-year spending or, failing that, a stopgap CR. A CR in 2023 could buy lawmakers time to reach a bipartisan agreement on full-year spending before the end of the calendar year.

In the long run, Congress needs to reform the budget process so that lawmakers more regularly pass spending bills on time. Over the past 40 years, Congress passed all 12 annual spending bills before the Oct. 1 deadline just four times. In most years, lawmakers have needed multiple CRs to keep the government open and buy more time to pass a full-year spending bill a total of 200 CRs over the past 47 years, an average of more than four per year. Clearly the current process is not working, which is why BPC is working with lawmakers and experts in both parties to build a budget process that is more efficient, timely, and effective.

Sept. 12, 2023

Real Estate Pros’ Staging Checklist for Sellers

Many home sellers want to move fast, but they’ll likely need to do some prep work to get their property show-ready. But sprucing up a property needs to be strategic to maximize results. That’s where a real estate professional and home stager can come in to help. is external), a home improvement resource, recently compiled a list of the home staging projects that real estate professionals most commonly recommend to their sellers, as well as the cost for each project. The site culled information from the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2023 Profile of Home Staging. View the breakdown of the top projects below.

Infographic from fixr about the cost and impact of home staging projects

Below, find a list of overall projects often recommended, along with the pricing for each.

A chart comparing the cost and percentage recommended by experts for various home staging projects


Posted in Selling Your Home
Aug. 29, 2023

What is FIRPTA and How Do I Avoid It?

Florida real estate agents for foreign sellers need to understand the Foreign Investment in Real Property Act (FIRPTA).

When the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) took effect in 1984, it exposed foreign sellers to capital gains tax on appreciated real property. Today, in states like Florida, FIRPTA transactions are common.

But what exactly is it, and what does it mean for you?

The Basics

Passed in 1980, FIRPTA imposes income tax on foreign persons in the disposition appreciated real property located in the United States. Such transactions include a sale or exchange, liquidation, redemption, gift, transfer, etc.

When dealing with a property transaction involving a foreign national, FIRPTA is the first thing real estate professionals and investors need to consider.

Who is subject to FIRPTA?

Non-U.S. taxpayers who sell their U.S. real estate holdings are subject to FIRPTA withholding. This includes nonresident alien individuals, foreign corporations, partnerships, trusts and estates. Expatriates are also subject to FIRPTA if the sale of their property occurs post-expatriation. There are also special rules for domestic LLCs with foreign owners.

When it comes to FIRPTA, every seller is considered foreign unless they can prove otherwise. That’s why it’s a common and prudent practice for real estate sale agreements to include an affidavit under penalty of perjury stating that the seller is not a non-resident alien for purposes of U.S. income taxation.

Although not subject to FIRPTA, buyers and closing agents are responsible for withholding it and may be held liable for it by the IRS. It is imperative that FIRPTA is addressed before the deal is closed in order to avoid any potential issues.

Navigating FIRPTA Withholding

If a property sale is identified as involving a foreign national or entity, there are several considerations to make in regards to FIRPTA withholding. Current guidelines establish different withholding rates depending on the sales price and the use of the property by the buyer:

  • If the amount realized is less than $300,000, FIRPTA may not be applicable if certain conditions (described in the next section) are met.
  • If the amount realized is $300,000 to $1 million, FIRPTA is withheld at a rate of 10% of the amount realized.
  • If the amount realized is more than $1 million, FIRPTA is withheld at a rate of 15% of the amount realized.

The realized amount includes cash, fair market value of non-cash consideration (such as another property) and debt released during the transaction. FIRPTA withholding must be set aside and submitted to the U.S. Treasury Department within 20 days of the closing.

FIRPTA withholding is reported on IRS Form 8288 (U.S. Withholding Tax Return for Dispositions by Foreign Persons of U.S. Real Property Interests). The seller should also receive form 8288-A.

How to Avoid FIRPTA

If the seller is a U.S. person, there is no need to be concerned with FIRPTA as it only applies to foreigners. However, some green card holders may be considered foreign by the IRS. Additionally, some foreigners may have valid Social Security numbers.

There is also no FIRPTA withholding required if the amount realized on the sale is less than $300,000 and the property will be used mostly as a home by the buyer. To meet this exception, the buyer must certify that they intend to use the property as their residence for more than 50% of the days the property is used by any person during the first 24 months after the sale.

The only other way to avoid FIRPTA is via a withholding certificate. If FIRPTA withholding exceeds the maximum tax liability realized on the sale of the real property, sellers can appeal to the IRS for a lower withholding amount. For example, if the sale of the property results in a loss to the non-resident individual, FIRPTA can be avoided all together.

The application for withholding certificate is complex and usually done using IRS Form 8288-B (Application for Withholding Certificate for Dispositions by Foreign Persons of U.S. Real Property Interests).

Several attachments and certifications need to be included with the form 8288-B, and the certificate has to be filed before or on the date of the closing, so it’s imperative to start preparing the required information way ahead of the planned date to close the deal. The IRS has 120 days to authorize a lower withholding. FIRPTA withholding should be held in escrow while awaiting the IRS decision.

Stay Cognizant of FIRPTA

Any real estate transaction involving a foreign national needs to trigger FIRPTA considerations. Real estate agents operating in markets with heavy foreign investment should be well-schooled in the process of recognizing FIRPTA triggers and authorizing contracts on behalf of both buyers and sellers.

For more information, it’s best to work with a skilled international tax professional who understands the nuances of FIRPTA.

Posted in Selling Your Home
Aug. 16, 2023

Study Shows On-MLS Sales Fetch $50k Premium

It’s a tale as old as time. The FSBO who plans to forgo the traditional real estate process until a few weeks (or months) of watching neighbors sell and field lowball offers brings them back to the agent—and to the MLS.

While real estate professionals will argue all day for the benefit of using an MLS to sellers, what does the data actually say? Do sellers really benefit financially from using the traditional real estate process, even after accounting for commission paid?

According to a new survey conducted jointly by Drexel University and Bright MLS, the answer is, they do—often by a lot. Comparing over three years of on-MLS and off-MLS sales, researchers found that on-MLS properties brought in an average of 15.25% more—and that premium could be increasing.

“When you look at the home prices that a seller got when they listed their home on the MLS…we found that the price premium of on-MLS sales was actually higher during the pandemic and in 2022 than it was before,” says Dr. Lisa Sturtevant, Bright MLS chief economist, who co-authored the study. “(And) we’ll probably see a bit of an increase in 2023.”

In dollars, that premium translated to just over $53,000 for 2022 in Bright’s footprint, and over $63,000 in Q1 2023 (though Sturtevant characterized the Q1 data as “preliminary”).

Comparing homes with similar characteristics and locations that sold on or off the MLS, and also differentiating for regions within Bright’s six-state footprint, the study found these premiums persisted across geography as well as time.

A previous iteration of the study conducted last year mostly utilized pandemic-era transactions, and left unanswered questions about how both a unique housing market and other societal disruptions might have affected MLS use. With another year of data, Sturtevant says she is getting more clarity.

“This year we were able to then add even more transactions and actually even get a better perspective of what happened during the pandemic,” she says. “What we didn’t know is, did the benefit to sellers of listing on the MLSs stay the same over the pandemic when we were in such an unusual housing market? A little bit surprising to me—the share of homes that were sold on the MLS actually increased during the pandemic.”

Who is off the grid

Besides looking at premiums, the survey also found what other research has largely corroborated over the last few years: that people are still relying on the MLS to list their homes. The share of homes sold on MLS in Bright’s footprint rose from 84% in 2019 to just under 90% at the beginning of this year.

During the hot seller’s market of 2020-21, the narrative in mainstream media was that many people were quickly making deals to sell homes off-MLS—either through pocket listings or “office exclusives,” or as traditional FSBOs. That doesn’t appear to have been the case, at least in Bright’s region.

“People were hearing about how crazy the housing market was,” Sturtevant explains. “They wanted to get the best price for their house, but maybe they didn’t want to interact with a whole lot of buyers. It was a global pandemic, right? Maybe you didn’t want to be responsible for showing your house or finding people to come look at your house.”

Another assumption that grew with and has continued after the pandemic is that most off-MLS sales involve high-end or exclusive properties as pocket listings, marketed secretly in affluent circles. 

Sturtevant says the survey would indicate that isn’t the case, with so-called “office exclusives” making up a “relatively small share” of overall listings. In fact, it appears that many off-MLS sales are a very different transaction—distressed properties going to nonprofits or investors. Baltimore, Maryland, had the highest share of off-MLS sales across the survey period, and Sturtevant says that is where this redevelopment was happening.

Most of the rest of off-MLS transactions were FSBOs who likely had “a variety of reasons” for forgoing the use of an agent, Sturtevant says. The type of home didn’t seem to make a huge difference either, with a variety of price points, sizes and characteristics going off-MLS.

But the on-MLS premiums also persisted across all these variations, the survey found—including between rural, suburban and urban areas—meaning that regardless of the specific kind of house the seller is trying to move, MLS transactions are getting a higher price.

“The theory is, if you list a home on the MLS, it gets more eyeballs. You get better offers because you have more people that look at your properties. And we found that that was indeed the case,” Sturtevant says.

Going forward, she adds that it is likely the ratio of on- and off-MLS transactions will level out, with larger trends driving what consumers need—and want—on both sides of a housing transaction.

“Over the last few years, there’s just been so much growing interest among consumers to have as much information as possible,” says Sturtevant. “They don’t want to be in a market where they feel like some listings are being held away, and they’re not able to see them.”

Access the full study here.

May 17, 2023

Reducing Taxes Through a 1031 Exchange

A 1031 exchange is a provision of the Internal Revenue Code that allows real estate investors to defer capital gains taxes on the sale of one investment property by reinvesting the proceeds into another “like-kind” property. This can be a valuable tool for investors who want to grow their portfolio without having to pay a significant tax bill.

The Benefits of a 1031 Exchange

There are several benefits to using a 1031 exchange, including:

  • Tax deferral: As mentioned above, a 1031 exchange allows investors to defer capital gains taxes on the sale of one investment property. This can save investors a significant amount of money, especially if the property has appreciated in value.
  • Increased investment power: By deferring taxes, investors can use the money they would have paid to the IRS to reinvest in another property. This can help them grow their portfolio faster and achieve their investment goals sooner.\

The Process of a 1031 Exchange

The process of a 1031 exchange can be complex, so it is important to work with a qualified intermediary. The basic steps involved in a 1031 exchange are as follows:

  1. Identify the property you want to sell.
  2. Find a qualified intermediary.
  3. Sign a 1031 exchange agreement with the intermediary.
  4. Close on the sale of your property.
  5. Identify the replacement property.
  6. Close on the purchase of the replacement property.

It is important to note that there are deadlines associated with 1031 exchanges. You must identify the replacement property within 45 days of the sale of the first property. The purchase must be close within 180 days of the first property's sale. If the exchange is not completed within the deadline, the investor will be liable for capital gains taxes on the sale of the first property.

A 1031 exchange can be a valuable tool for real estate investors who want to grow their portfolio without having to pay a significant tax bill. If you are considering selling an investment property, it is important to talk to a qualified realtor that is experienced in investment properties.

Here are a few links to more information: - Like-Kind Exchanges Under IRC Section 1031

Investopedia - What Is a 1031 Exchange? Know the Rules

Posted in Real Estate News
April 24, 2023

45% of Florida homes are part of an HOA, the highest percentage in the nation

A full 45% of Florida homes are part of a homeowner association, the highest percentage by far among all U.S states.

Today’s Homeowner analyzed data from the Foundation for Community Association Research to determine which states have the highest and lowest percentage of homes in HOAs.

Nationally, about 22% of homes are part of an HOA. In Florida, 3.9 million of the state’s 8.6 million homes are in a homeowner association, with an average monthly fee of $389. 

The study noted that residents often have a love-hate relationship with HOAs. Homes in an HOA are, on average, worth about 4% more. But the monthly fees, which generally can increase at any time, may cause potential buyers to pause before making a purchase. And some HOAs have a reputation for crossing the line between what’s good for the community and homeowner autonomy.

HOAs have grown in number by about 13% over the last decade, the study found. The states with the highest percentage of HOA homes are: Florida (45%), Colorado (38.6%), California (36.8%), Washington (31.2%) and Arizona (31.1%). 

Missouri has the highest average HOA monthly fee, at $469, followed by Arizona’s $448. The national average is $390.

April 10, 2023

Renovations that can boost your bottom line

Buyers who can afford a home in today's market appear willing to pay even more for luxuries that personalize their space. 

New Zillow® research finds that listings touting chef-friendly amenities, such as steam ovens, pizza ovens and professional-grade appliances, can sell for as much as 5.3% more than similar homes without them. That adds up to about $17,400 on a typical U.S. home. Trendy statement features such as terrazzo and she sheds — the female equivalent of the man cave — can contribute to a 2.5% sale premium when mentioned in a listing description. 

Homes that sell faster than expected — signaling more competing buyers — boast more practical features, such as doorbell cameras, heat pumps and fenced backyards. A doorbell camera and open shelving are relatively affordable upgrades that can improve a home's functionality and boost sale speed by five days and three days, respectively. 

Zillow looked at 271 features and design terms mentioned in listing descriptions across nearly 2 million home sales in 2022. While there are many factors that contribute to a home selling faster or for more than expected, these features reflect what today's buyers are looking for in a home. 

Homes get personal

"Not every buyer will appreciate a chef's kitchen or a putting green in their backyard, but those who do are willing to pay more for these personalized amenities," said Amanda Pendleton, Zillow's home trends expert. "Post-pandemic home buyers who had plenty of time for self-reflection now have a greater sense of what they want and need in a home."

That said, sellers who have invested in personalized features may have to wait a bit longer to find the right buyer. For instance, homes with she sheds can sell for 2.5% more than expected, but spend an extra two days on the market. Similarly, listings that mention wine cellars can command a 1.2% sale premium but take five days longer to sell than similar homes. 

Buyers just want to have fun

Buyers who can not only afford today's higher mortgage rates but also pay above and beyond typical market value appear willing to splurge on fun features designed to impress. Multifunctional homes that offer retreat spaces and features for outdoor entertaining are particularly appealing to post-pandemic buyers, who expect their homes to be a place where they can work and play. 

"Homeowners looking to make the most of their sale can give their listing a wow factor and a dose of luxury by highlighting its outdoor entertainment areas," said Lily Moore, a Zillow Premier Agent in Westlake, Texas. "Mentioning differentiators like a saltwater pool, pizza oven, outdoor kitchen or putting green in a listing description can set a home apart from other properties for sale nearby and increase its selling potential."

Unique materials outshine old favorites

Today's buyers are branching out from traditional finishes, favoring trendy terrazzo floors and surfaces, and textured soapstone countertops over marble and granite. Homes with terrazzo can sell for 2.6% more, which amounts to $8,511 on a typical home. Soapstone can help sell homes for 2.5% more and four days faster than similar homes when mentioned in a listing description. 

Only quartz came close to rivaling these newly popular surfaces, with listings that mention quartz countertops commanding a 2.4% sale premium and selling one day faster than expected. Quartz had been the top-performing surface for two consecutive years. 

Features that don't sell

Certain home features, when mentioned in a listing description, can hurt a home's resale value by potentially signaling to a buyer that a home is dated and needs work. Homes with tile countertops can sell for 1.1% less than expected, while homes with laminate flooring or countertops can sell for 0.6% less than similar homes. Surprisingly, walk-in closets can hurt a home's value by 0.7%, perhaps because buyers no longer view that feature as a selling point and may prefer the space be used for something else

Takeaways for spring sellers

Homeowners looking to sell for top dollar this spring will want to highlight these home features if they've got them. But installing a steam oven — or any one of these features — solely for resale may not deliver the ROI they're looking for. These keywords should be viewed instead as signals of perceived quality. These are the features today's buyers associate with a "nice house," along with many other factors that go into that perception. For instance, if a home has a steam oven, the buyer assumes it likely has a lot of other bells and whistles that go into a high-end chef's kitchen. 

There are also geographic differences. A pool may be a must-have in Arizona, but a nuisance in Indiana. A local real estate agent with extensive market knowledge can help sellers highlight the right features to maximize their sale price. Homeowners who are thinking about listing their home this spring can use Agent Finder on Zillow to read reviews and make sure they're partnering with a top-rated pro.

Takeaways for spring buyers

Even in a less frenzied housing market, shoppers can expect more competition for homes with these desirable features. This spring, they have a new tool to quickly find and save all the listings that have these unique amenities. A new AI-powered feature on Zillow allows shoppers to enter phrases like "four-bedroom homes in Charlotte with a steam oven" directly into the Zillow search bar, instead of clicking through filters. This technology gives buyers a speed advantage by notifying them the minute that dream home with a chef's kitchen hits the market. 



Top 10 features that sell for more than expected 


Price premium

Steam oven

5.3 %

Pizza oven

3.7 %

Professional appliances

3.6 %


2.6 %

She shed

2.5 %


2.5 %


2.4 %

Modern farmhouse

2.4 %

Hurricane shutters/storm shutters

2.3 %


2.3 %



Top 10 features that sell faster than expected


Days faster

Doorbell camera




Open shelving


Heat pump


Fenced (back)yard










Gas furnace


March 29, 2023

10 Reasons Why You May Need a Real Estate Agent

If you’re thinking of selling your home, your mind may be swirling with questions about the process. While it may be tempting to try selling your home on your own, there are many reasons why you may want to consider working with a professional real estate agent. To gain insight, it’s helpful to understand what a real estate agent does and why you might want to hire one. You also may want to consider hiring a Realtor®, which is a professional designation for real estate agents who are members of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). NAR members subscribe to a strict code of ethics for real estate professionals. 

Why You May Need a Real Estate Agent

Just as you’d likely hire a licensed professional to make repairs to your home, hiring a real estate agent can help give you peace of mind and confidence throughout the selling process. Below are 10 reasons why you may want to hire a real estate agent to sell your home.

1. Real estate agents can help price your home to sell.
Generally, as the seller, your primary goal is to sell your home as quickly as possible at the best price, so you can move on to your next place. However, a significant factor in making a quick sale is ensuring your house is appropriately priced for the market. As the homeowner, it’s easy to think you know what your home is worth, but there’s likely a bit of subjectivity that goes into your estimate. A real estate agent has a more fact-based process that involves pulling comparable recent home sales within a specified radius and reviewing your home against these to determine a fair asking price. If he or she is a professional with no emotional attachment to or biases against your home, your real estate agent can guide you in setting a competitive price that makes sense for the real estate market in your area.

2. They have home selling expertise.
Whether you’ve sold a home in the past or this is your first time, working with a real estate agent can help you gain home selling knowledge that only an expert can provide. That’s not to say tackling the process on your own is impossible. However, since a real estate transaction is likely one of the largest financial transactions you’ll ever make,1 it makes sense to leave the ins and outs to a professional to help ensure all goes smoothly.

3. Real estate agents offer valuable professional service.
As a seller, you can expect to pay a commission to your real estate agent at the closing. That factor alone is the reason behind many “For Sale by Owner” situations. However, it’s worth noting that many real estate agents offer their sellers certain perks at no additional cost, such as a professional photographer to take beautiful photos of your home, a deep-cleaning session, staging advice and more. All of these extras can make a big difference when it comes to how quickly your home sells and may not cost you anything out of pocket.

4. Real estate agents recommend ways to sell your home faster.
One thing most sellers wrestle with is whether they should tackle certain home improvement projects before listing their home for sale. A real estate agent can offer advice that will help you make an educated decision before you invest in a big home project that may or may not pay off during the selling process.

5. Only real estate agents can get your home on the multiple listing service (MLS).
One of the biggest challenges of selling a home without a real estate agent is finding the best way to distribute your home listing to potential buyers. Advertising is a pay-for-play process, so selling your home on your own will require you to spend money up front in order to get your listing in front of as many eyes as possible. Working with a real estate agent provides your home access to the MLS, which is generally considered to be the primary system all real estate agents use to search for the most up-to-date home listings. MLS listings are what most buyers look at when searching for a home.

6. Real estate agents have important connections.
Another benefit of working with a real estate agent is his or her access to valuable connections in the industry. Whether it’s putting you in touch with pros who can help with home repairs or simply sharing your listing with other real estate agents in their office who may have interested clients, your real estate agent can offer resources that may be superior to tackling the process alone.

7. They market your home professionally.
Marketing your home doesn’t begin and end with the listing. There’s much more that goes into it. Real estate agents are constantly marketing your home via their own websites, social media, videos, flyers and through events like open houses or broker luncheons. That alone may be a great reason to work with a real estate agent to sell your home. Not only is marketing your home on your own time-consuming, but you may not necessarily have access to all of the tools that a real estate agent has at his or her disposal.

8. Real estate agents take the time, so you don’t have to.
Speaking of time, selling a home requires a significant time commitment that most people simply don’t have. If you have a job or a family, it will be challenging to manage the entire selling process, from marketing your listing to scheduling showings and handling negotiations. Working with a real estate agent takes all those responsibilities out of your hands and allows you to focus on other things like keeping your home show-ready and finding a new home to move into once your current home sells.

9. Real estate agents handle the negotiation process professionally.
One of the trickiest, yet most important, aspects of the selling process is handling negotiations with potential buyers. A good real estate agent will tackle negotiations professionally and work hard to sell your home for the maximum price so you don’t have to give up any additional sale proceeds aside from agent commissions. Real estate agents handle negotiations day in and day out, so you can feel confident in their ability to look out for your best interests.

10. Real estate agents can offer objective support.
Let’s face it: selling a home is an emotional process. Your house is more than just four walls and a roof; it’s the place you called home and where you created memories that are special to you. Hearing feedback from potential buyers could be a tough pill to swallow – whether it’s something about the house or yard they don’t like, or maybe they do like the house but offered a lower price – having a real estate agent with an objective mindset can help to keep your emotions and stress at bay.

March 3, 2023

RE Q&A: What’s Going on with the Market?

Question: We have to move for family reasons and put our house up for sale. It has been several months, and we are not getting much interest.

Our real estate agent keeps telling us to lower the price, but I know what our home is worth. Just a year or so ago, several nearby homes sold for more than our listing price. What is going on? – Joan

Answer: The real estate market can change quickly.

Sometimes the changes are local, like when a new school is built close to an aging community, making it attractive to younger families. Other times, the change in the market is caused by more universal causes like a bad economy and rising interest rates.

Not long ago, houses were selling in bidding wars for above asking prices, and it seemed like property values went up every time you turned around. The seller’s market got so hot that it became hard to find an affordable home.

But that was then, and now the housing market has significantly cooled off.

Interest rates have risen, increasing mortgage payments for prospective buyers. Property taxes are up, as is the cost of insurance. Most homebuyers are limited by the monthly payment they can afford. As these costs have increased, so have the monthly housing payment tied to them. To compensate for this, buyers have started looking for less expensive homes.

Due to the foibles of human nature, it takes some time for home sellers to realize that the housing market has cooled.

No matter what houses were selling for in the past, homes are only worth as much as potential buyers are willing to pay today. Many sellers feel they are losing “profits” rightfully theirs and are slow to accept the new realities.

If you want to sell your house now, ensure it shows well. Keep it clean and uncluttered, and make sure the landscaping looks nice. You may want to spruce it up with a little fresh paint.

You will also need to accept that today’s prices are what matters, not what you could have sold it for a couple of years ago. Work with your agent to adjust the price to match what buyers are willing to pay now.

March 1, 2023

12 Months After Its Peak, Rent Growth Continues To Slow

Key Details:

  • January 2023 saw single-digit rent growth for the sixth consecutive month, after 12 months of slowing from a peak of 16.2% rent growth. 
  • Rent growth is cooling more slowly for all unit sizes, but rent growth has slowed the most for larger units and studio rents are growing the fastest. 
  • The least expensive metros are seeing faster rent growth and vacancy rates near their long-term lows for many of these areas. has released its January 2023 Rental Report, which shows single-digit rent growth for the sixth consecutive month, after 12 months of slowing from a peak of 16.2% growth in January 2022. 

Across the top 50 metros, median rent for 0-2 bedroom units rose just 2.9% year-over-year—the lowest growth rate in 22 months. 

At $1,726, the median asking rent was down $7 from the previous month and down $80 from last January’s peak—but still up $295 (20.6%) from the same time in 2020. 



Across the top 50 metros in’s analysis, only one major market has a median monthly rent below $1,000. 

Still, many renters are feeling the pain of rising housing costs this year, with median prices in some metros at nearly $3,000 a month. 

That said, in certain areas, renters can still find relative affordability—especially in the Midwest.  


In the January report, two-bedroom rental units saw a single-digit rent growth rate for the seventh consecutive month. 

At $1,934 nationally, the median rent for two-bedroom units fell by $3 from the previous month and $122 from the peak. This is up $47 (2.5%) from the same time last year. 

Though rent growth for larger units has slowed the most relative to last year, these units saw the biggest premium over the past three years—up 21.3% or $340 from three years ago, before the pandemic. 

Rent growth for one-bedroom units also continued to cool. At $1,609, median rent was down $11 from the previous month and down $70 from the peak—but still up $44 (2.8%) from the previous year and up $262 (19.5%) from January 2020. 

Rent growth for studios slid to 3.9%. As more renters search for affordable homes, studio rents have appreciated faster than rents for larger units. 

At $1,417, the median rent for studio or “efficiency” units was down $15 from the previous month and down $56 from the peak—but still up $54 (3.9%) from the previous year and up $188 (15.3%) from three years ago. 






The Midwest’s relative affordability is as much true of rental units as of properties for sale. 

Across the 50 metros in’s analysis, five of the 10 metros with the least expensive rents for 0-2 bedroom rentals—rents below $1300 a month—were in Midwestern states, while four were in the South and one in the Northeast. 

None were in the West. 



No doubt it helps that, in these metros, relatively affordable for-sale properties make homeownership a more attainable option for a broader set of residents—giving renters an outlet when rent growth puts a squeeze on their budgets. 

In some metros—like Birmingham, Memphis, and St. Louis—according to the December 2022 Rental Report, the monthly cost of purchasing a starter home was even more affordable than rent, tipping the scale in favor of ownership. 

Data for these affordable markets suggest more households choose to buy rather than rent. Six of the affordable metros above have homeownership rates higher than the national average of 65.9%

And while sales and sentiment data suggest home buyer interest remains low across the country, Rochester, NY, and Columbus, OH top’s January Hottest Markets Report, showing just how in-demand these metros remain.

Also, on the supply side, seven of those ten affordable metros have a rental vacancy rate higher than the national average (5.8%), indicating a greater abundance of options for renters, which helps keep rental prices down (comparatively). 


Unfortunately, cheaper rents don’t necessarily translate into slower rent growth. 

In fact, compared with historical data, vacancy rates in many of these lower-cost areas are near their long-term lows, pointing to lower-than-usual rental supply in those metros. 

In Q4 2022, for example, the average rental vacancy rate across these ten least expensive rental markets was 7.6% — down from a 9.7% vacancy rate in Q4 2017. 

As a result, the following metros experienced the fastest annual rent growth in January 2023:

  • Indianapolis, IN (10.5%)
  • Birmingham, AL (8.8%)
  • Columbus, OH (8.3%)
  • Kansas City, MO-KS (8.2%)
  • Cleveland, OH (7.1%)
  • Rochester, NY (6.2%) 

RENTAL REPORT METHODOLOGY’s report is based on rental data as of January 2023 for studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units advertised as for rent on®. 

Rental units include apartments as well as private rentals including condos, townhomes, and single-family homes. 

Rental sources report data reliably each month within the top 50 largest U.S. metro areas.® began issuing regular monthly rental trends reports in October 2020, with data history reaching back to March 2019. 

For more details, read the full January 2023 Rental Report