Free Houses in Sicily

Ruins

We recently wrote about municipal governments offering free houses in Japan in an effort to stabilize the population of rural areas.

Well, a similar offer is available with a Mediterranean flair. Sambuca, a town near the southern coast of Sicily, is offering homes for €1 to new residents who promise to fix up the properties within 3 years. The town dates back to the ancient Greeks, and has a variety of historical influences.

Although we’re not planning to jump at either offer, there is consensus in our house that we would choose Sicily over Japan.

Free Houses in Japan

Abandoned House

Small towns in Japan apparently have so many vacant homes that they give them away. Of course, free is not really free. If you want one of the homes, then you have to commit to living in it after you invest in rehabbing the property.

Demographics are driving the property giveaway, as Japan has an aging and shrinking population. Rural areas are under pressure as their long-time residents die off and their younger residents move to the cities. Giving away homes is an attempt to stabilize the smaller communities.

Anyone interested in moving to rural Japan? The program is not limited to Japanese citizens.

The Missing Domino: First-Time Buyers

I really enjoy watching a creatively placed set of dominoes fall down piece by piece. There’s a rhythm and organization to it all that is very appealing … I find it calming. Mind you, I’m not the one to set them all up, but that’s a different story.

Red HouseReal estate can be like knocking over dominoes. When people want to move within a town, they often will have to sell their existing home in order to buy their next home. Most are moving up to a larger property, though there are some down-sizers out there too.

First-time buyers are important to the market because they can trigger chains of deals. When they buy my listing that’s an entry level home, that frees up my seller client to become a buyer and bid on a larger property, which in turn opens up possibilities for the seller of that home. You get the idea … one deal can lead to a series of deals.

The market has been slower this spring than in years past, and as we enter May a trend has become apparent. There are surprisingly few first time buyers in the market this spring. First time buyers still exist, but that group is smaller than it has been in recent memory.

What makes us think the first time buyers are missing?

The hypothesis began with a collection of observations and conversations. Parents at youth softball are lamenting their difficulty in selling. Other real estate agents are at a loss as to why homes aren’t moving. The distribution of our buyer clients is different than in past years, with many fewer first time buyers. The market’s feedback to our listings is different than we have received in past years. None of this proves anything, but low numbers of first time buyers seems to be a common theme.

Contract data also hints at differences between 2013 and 2014. At the County level, the number of contracts for single-family homes with asking prices of between $200,000 and $399,999 is lower this year than last year, down 15% and 13% respectively. These are very active price points in the County and frequent targets of first-time buyers.

2014-05-04 Hartford County Contracts by Price Band

In the West Hartford market, which is usually the most active in the region, the price points are slightly higher than in the overall County. West Hartford is seeing meaningfully less activity at price points between $200,000 and $500,000. The largest year-over-year drops are in the $300,000s and $400,000s, which are common price points for first-time buyers in town. Those two price bands are behind last year’s pace by 34% and 41%, respectively. Wow.

2014-05-04 WH Contracts by Price Band

Local real estate markets should be active this year. The economy has rebounded so that people are less worried about job security. Mortgage rates are still very attractive, though no longer at historical lows. And home prices have stabilized throughout the region. For a while we thought that the cold and snowy winter was to blame for the slow start to the spring real estate market. And I’m sure it did play a role. But now that the flowers are blooming, and the real estate market isn’t, we have to look for new and better explanations as to why we’re seeing less activity than we have in past years.

A lack of first time buyers seems like a good place to start. Does this match with your observations – are you seeing fewer friends, family and co-workers looking to buy than in past years?

Relocating to Hartford: Picking a Town

So you’re thinking of moving to the Hartford area? That’s great – it’s quite lovely here!

Scion of the Charter Oak, in Bushnell ParkHave you thought about which town you might want to move to – where to put down roots? Greater Hartford is made up of lots of small towns that each have their own character, strengths and weaknesses. The challenge is that what may be a strength to one buyer is a weakness to another.

If you have a job lined up, then I’m sure that your future coworkers have been generous about sharing their views on where you should live. People are very opinionated on that subject. You’ll quickly realize that they’re advocating for the town/area that they live in. And that they’re also warning you about towns/areas that they know very little about other than what “people say.” Unless they know you pretty well, it’s probably best to do your own research – how do they know what you will like?

How do you research different towns? I’m glad you asked. We help people relocation to Greater Hartford regularly and have some suggestions.

The best way to check out a town is to come visit.

Drive around the business district(s) and neighborhoods to get a sense of what they are like. Walk the streets at different times of the day to see how you feel. It’s interesting to see how people respond to the different towns when we take them on a tour. Most have a mental image of what kind of town they want to live in – they don’t know how to articulate it well but they know it when they see it.

Another important step is to investigate the expenses and amenities of each town.

On the expense side, how do the property taxes compare to other towns? Almost all the towns in the area can be compared on an apples to apples basis using mill rates. The City of Hartford cannot because it uses a dramatically different tax system than everyone else. The Town of West Hartford, at the time of this writing (Jan 2012), is also tricky because of a frozen phase-in that will hopefully be resolved by Jul 2012.

Connecticut has motor vehicle taxes at the town level. So you will be taxed on the value of your car in addition to the value of your home.

On the amenities side, you can check out the parks and libraries they have, whether they do curbside trash, recycling, and/or leaf collection, how the schools are organized and perform. You can also research crime statistics for the community.

Finally, you’ll need to figure out if the town has the kind of housing you’re looking for.

To get there, you’ll need to do some thinking on your own.
– What kind of environment you like – urban, suburban, rural?
– Do you want a single-family home, or would you consider a condo or multi-family?
– Are you interested in historic, or more architecturally ornate homes?
– Would you prefer a newer, more energy efficient home?
– What are you hoping to have for a commute?
– Are there other criteria that are very important to you?

Greater Hartford has just about everything out there. Knowing what you would ideally like to find will help narrow the options quickly since each individual town has different housing types.

The quick way to sort through the different towns is to work with a real estate agent, like us. We’re happy to take some time to tour the different towns with you – show you the highlights and provide some commentary. We can also tell you which towns to look in for your preferred type of home.

Congratulations on moving to Greater Hartford … just let us know if we can help!