Friday, December 2, 2016


The theory of “black swan events” is a metaphor that describes hard-to-predict events which result in a shock to the system and disruption of the status quo.  These unforeseen events often result in immediate shocks to markets, political structures or societal norms. 

In real estate, a black swan event happens when a home sells well above or well below the established range of values for a neighborhood.  Sometimes there’s a good reason for the range-breaking sale… and sometimes there is not.  I call these “black swan comps”. 

I recently listed and sold a gorgeous, impeccably-updated newer home at an all-time high price for its neighborhood… a black swan comp since it closed $24,000 higher than any other previously closed sale and more than $70,000 above a similar square footage home which sold across the street only a few weeks earlier. 

From the beginning, as my sellers and I discussed strategy and how to competitively price the home, our number one topic of concern was with the appraisal.  I made it clear that getting this home to appraise for a financed buyer anywhere near our listed price was going to be a significant challenge, and that the appraisal was going to be moment of truth inside this transaction. 

Unless… we could find a cash buyer, in which case we might be able to sidestep an appraisal altogether.

Most appraisers are cautious by nature, especially in a rapidly-appreciating market, and so even though this home had remarkable updates, including reclaimed wood flooring, custom kitchen and bath remodels and extensive landscaping improvements… persuading an appraiser to push up so far above other closed sales in the area was no sure bet.

Things rarely go as planned in real estate, but in this case, we caught lightning in a bottle… and found a full-price cash buyer the first weekend we were on the market.

Long story short, the deal eventually closed at full price, which led to some very happy clients, a very happy listing agent, and lots of very happy neighbors.

It’s unlikely that another home is going to sell above this number any time soon, because quite simply, I don’t think there’s another home in the neighborhood so fully and beautifully upgraded.  And so the closed price on this home is now a data point with a limited shelf life - probably six months, which is about as far back as most appraisers will go in searching for area comps.

It’s entirely possible that the inclusion of this black swan comp will add $15,000 - $25,000 to the value of other homes in the neighborhood…. but only for as long as this home sticks on the grid as a recently closed comp.

Which is why it’s important for brokers to exercise supreme diligence when sifting through recent sales in a neighborhood. 

When a great home sells for a record price, there’s a window of opportunity for everyone else to “leverage up” off the value of that closed sale.  And so an experienced listing agent will call this to the attention of potential sellers so that they do not miss the opportunity.  It might mean pushing things forward and listing a home a few weeks earlier than planned, but if it adds five figures to the market value, it may well be worth it. 

Six years ago, we saw the opposite effect… when one distressed short sale or bank-owned home would undercut the value of other area homes by thousands of dollars.  Smart buyer agents would try to leverage down off this negative black swan pricing for as long as the home stuck on the grid of recent sales, while listing agents pulled their hair out trying to wish away the bad comp.

The bottom line is that timing, strategy and market knowledge count for a lot in real estate.  There are single, short-term events that can temporarily add or shave tens of thousands of dollars to or from the value of homes in a neighborhood. 

Good agents can identify these black swan events and use them to the benefit of their clients.  Less experienced agents often miss them (or willfully ignore them), and as a result, cost their clients a lot of money.