Expand your range

Dated: August 19 2020

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A colleague in my brokerage has been telling us recently about the difficulties he's had landing an accepted offer for some clients. It seemed that regardless of how strong it was, their offer would get beaten. This is a common thing you hear in the Madison market. Buyers making above list priced offers, foregoing inspections and appraisals, etcetera only to have their offers rejected.

This got me thinking a little about search strategies for buyers. Buyers will often come in, especially in a city like Madison, with very committed feelings towards certain neighborhoods and areas. They really want to be near downtown, or the bike paths, or lakes, or specific very popular neighborhoods. Of course, this often leads to the scenario I described above; losing out on properties, and ultimately paying a very high price for the property. Also, ending up with a smaller, older house (especially as you get nearer to downtown here) that may need more work and cost more to own (older houses, for all their character, are also not what would often be described as snug). 

My point? If buyers are willing to loosen their attachments to certain neighborhoods, they can often get more house for less money and less headache. And still enjoy the best of Madison.

I took a look this morning at the current active listings under $400K in Madison, focusing on downtown and eastside zip codes. Here's what my quick, back-of-a-napkin analysis showed:

ZipMedian PriceAverage Finished Sq. Ft.Price per sq. ft.
53703$320,000.001237$259.00
53704$249,000.001566$159.00
53714$275,000.001807$152.00
53716/53718$299,000.001767$169.00

Not surprisingly, the downtown/near downtown zip (53703) is most expensive...by a lot. Yet you'll see a lot of buyers get really focused on that area. And there are definitely good reasons for that. There are some great neighborhoods in that zip, you are close to downtown, etc. But if buyers are willing to expand their search a little bit, you can see how quickly the economics change. For example, in the 53714 zip, which covers areas east of Milwaukee st. generally, you suddenly can get nearly an addition 600 sq. ft. for over $100 less per square foot. And the housing stock is often newer. And what might surprise people is how close that zip is to many really enticing features of our city. The Capital City bike path runs into that zip, or is easily accessed from it, taking you quickly to the Atwood area, Olbrich Gardens, Olbrich park (and Biergarten), and Monona. Plus, the area is filled with some of the city's finest parks and conservation areas. And often competition for properties is less fierce, the further east you go (this is relative, of course). 

Here are two examples of what I'm talking about: 5029 Stonehaven Dr. (which is actually in the 53716 zip, but is very close to 53714 and offers essentially the same features) and 522 Valley Rd. Now, both of these properties are in the upper $200k/lower $300k range, so I am not claiming they are inexpensive. But those are comparable prices to what you'd find in the 53703 zip. And both are significanlty larger....Valley Rd. clocking at just over 3000 sq. ft., or roughly double the average finished square footage for 53703 properties. Also, each has been on the market more than a week (which is saying something in Madison), with Valley Rd. on over a month. This moves each of these properties into a more negotiable range for a buyer. And each is convenient to Cottage Grove Rd (and the new Pinney Library and other developments), the Capital City Trail, Monona, as well as the interstate for commuters. With likely larger yards and active, walkable neighborhoods.

Am I saying buyers should stop trying to be near the Capital? Of course not. Some of the best parts of our city are in the 53703 zip. But what I am saying is that with a little zip code flexibility, the same buyers can get a lot more house for their money while still being able to easily enjoy great Madison amenities. Plus some they might not have considered. And maybe not have to give away the store to land their next home. 

(Note: my colleague's buyers? They landed an accepted offer last weekend...in the 53704 zip. :) ). 

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David Pausch

In November of 2000, I closed on my first house, a rough-around-the-edges 1922 colonial with lots of sun, not a lot of storage, and an enormous oak tree in its postage stamp-sized back yard. From the ....

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