Self-driving cars and home buying

self-driving cars
Self-driving cars (infographic from crowdcompanies.com)

Technology has made homes more efficient and environmentally friendly, while also making them more comfortable.  Technology has made the business of real estate become increasingly easier through electronic communications and electronic signatures.  Technology has also made finding a home much easier too.  It’s obvious that the real estate industry has been greatly impacted by technology, but will the self-driving cars technology impact real estate?

A curious article that appeared in a recent issue of Appraisal Journal suggests that self-driving cars will eventually influence real estate (A Largely Unnoticed Impact on Real Estate-Self-Driven Vehicles; Appraisal Journal; Winter2017, Vol. 85, No.1, p51-59).  The authors, Levine, Segev, and Thode, discuss how self-driving cars will likely become a standard on our roads, as well as likely changing the way we think about where we live.  There is a suggestion that the wide spread adoption of self-driving cars could bring about a suburban renewal.  As self-driving cars become more abundant, some suggest that would influence some home buyers and their decisions on where they choose to live.  The concept of owning a self-driving car could make the choice a little easier to opt for the less expensive suburban home with more land.

However, you should consider that owning a self-driving car might not make your suburban commute more convenient.  For many home buyers, a reason to move closer to an urban area is to reduce the commute time to their jobs.  For some, the thought of increasing their commute time even by ten to fifteen minutes (by virtue of an extra metro stop) is unacceptable.  Sitting in your self-driving car is not much different than sitting in a metro car or bus.  So the notion that owning a self-driving car could spawn suburban growth may not hold water.

Owning a self-driving car won’t make the suburban commute less expensive.  Many home buyers decide to live closer to their jobs to save money and energy.  The self-driving car is like any other car, such that there are operating costs.  Regardless whether your self-driving car is electric, gas or hybrid, there are fuel costs.  There will be maintenance costs too.  And of course, you need to a place to park it like any other car.

Even the value of commercial real estate may not necessarily be affected by self-driving cars.  These vehicles won’t reduce travel time to the store, nor would they make any business more convenient than another.

Let’s face it, self-driving cars isn’t the internet.  These vehicles are a convenient way to travel for sure, but they won’t change how we communicate.  Nor will they change the basic requirements we seek from our homes.

However, a government policy shift, much like the policies favoring designated car-pool vehicles and mass transit, could tip the scales in making the self-driving car the vehicle (no pun intended) to changing the real estate landscape.  Creating special lanes for self-driving vehicles could reduce commute times, thus reducing fuel costs.  Requiring dedicated parking for self-driving vehicles could also influence commercial real estate.  However, like the impact of designated car-pool vehicles, a major impact to our lifestyle is unlikely from self-driving cars.

Choosing where you live is a personal decision that is impacted by many external factors, including quality of life.  Of course the self-driving car is a technological advance that is surely to affect how you travel.  However, it is doubtful that owning a self-driving car will largely impact your quality of life and how you decide where to live.  In fact, the authors of the above mentioned article point to a 2016 Kelly Blue Book survey that indicates that a majority of Americans prefer “cars that are not fully autonomous and retain some ability for individual control.”

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

First time home buyer assistance

Are you a first time home buyer worried, overwhelmed, or intimidated by the process? You’re not alone.  First time home buyers have had the most difficulty getting back into the real estate market after the Great Recession.  Many would-be first time home buyers lack the financial resources, while others worry about the long term value.  However, there is probably no better time than now to buy your first home.

This is a first time home buyer market

first time home buyer
First time home buyer assistance (infographic from mgic.com)

You may be one of the many would-be first time home buyers who opted to continue to rent or live with their parents until the timing was right.  Many would-be home buyers did the same, as a 2106 Pew Research Center report pointed out the millennial housing trend that may be associated with the decline in the homeownership rate since the Great Recession (For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds; pewsocialtrends.org; May 24, 2016).  However, economic factors have significantly improved, and the housing market has stabilized.  So what’s holding you back?

Are you overwhelmed or intimidated by the home buying process?

First time home buyer
First time home buyer (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

Buying a home can seem intimidating, and overwhelming.  But it doesn’t have to be. On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (Holmes & Rahe 1967), having a mortgage over $10,000 rates 31 (just above being foreclosed upon) and moving is rated as 20. This commonly used stress scale is cumulative, so the rating for buying a home is at least 51. However, being prepared can help you anticipate and deal with most circumstances that may arise.

Finding a professional and competent Realtor who will “be” with you throughout the process is highly important.  Of course, finding an agent whom you trust can be a process too.  It’s important to know your agent will be there for you, not only to answer questions and resolve your concerns, but to also represent your best interests.

What are your expectations?  Your home buying expectations are influenced by your experiences.  However you are also influenced by a combination of the media, relatives, friends, and co-workers.  Having very high and unrealistic expectations can not only increase your stress, but can but a wrench in the transaction before it starts. Discussing your expectations with your Realtor will determine if they are realistic or not.

Choosing your Realtor

Before deciding on the realtor you want to work with, informally talk to several about how they help first time home buyers.  Unfortunately, home buyer surveys (such as the annual National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor)) suggest that the majority of home buyers and sellers typically hire the agent they first encountered.

Besides assisting in home searching and negotiating sales contracts, your agent should be by your side throughout the transaction.  Your agent should be available to you to help you maneuver the bumps and surprises that can derail your home purchase.

Even though you may not place an agent’s experience high in your list of agent characteristics,  a research study by Bennie Waller and Ali Jubran (“The Impact of Agent Experience on the Real Estate Transaction.” Journal of Housing Research 21, no. 1 (2012): 67-82) suggests otherwise.  They concluded that an experienced real estate agent can yield a better result than an agent with little or no experience.

Check your agent’s license.  Make sure your agent is a full time agent (meaning that the only job they have is selling real estate).  Don’t be shy about asking and calling your agent’s references.

First time home buyer down payment and closing cost assistance

If affordability, down payment and closing costs are a concern, apply for a first time home buyer assistance and/or grant program.  There are many programs available offered through local and state organizations. Your lender can help you find and apply to the programs for which you qualify.  Regular communication with your loan officer is important because the funding is limited annually and can quickly run out.

Locally, one of the mainstays for first time home buyer assistance is the Maryland Mortgage Program (mmp.maryland.gov).  The MMP is provided through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and funded by the Community Development Administration.  It is described as “…providing home loans and down payment assistance to Maryland’s working families to encourage responsible homeownership and build strong communities, working through a network of Maryland Mortgage Program lender organizations.”

MMP loans are just like other mortgages, except that they offer competitive rates and offer additional assistance in the form of Down Payment Assistance and Partner Match Programs (up to $8,500 from the Department and possibly more from partner organizations).  Some Partner Match programs offer homebuyer grants.  However, other Assistance programs are generally in the form of deferred, no-interest loans.

Combining Down Payment Assistance with a Partner Match program can significantly reduce the amount you need to buy your first home!  The Down Payment Assistance program is a loan of up to $5,000.  The loan is a zero-percent deferred loan, which is repaid when you pay off the main Maryland Mortgage Program mortgage when you refinance, or sell the home.

Department of Housing and Community Development has partnered with many organizations and employers that can provide you with additional assistance.  Your current employer may be a participant with the Partner Match program (check the Partner list at mmp.maryland.gov).  Local organizations also offer home buyer assistance (including the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit Program) as well, such as the Housing Opportunities Commission (hocmc.org) and The City of Gaithersburg (gaithersburgmd.gov).

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Healthy home trend trumps green initiative

healthy home
Effects of Living in a Healthy Home (infographic from haywardhealthyhome.com)

Green building practices have been the trend for new homes over a decade.  Housing experts have touted the benefits of green building as environmentally friendly and money saving.  Health experts have also proclaimed the benefits of green home designs.  However, a revealing exposé in Remodeling Magazine discusses the health dangers of living in a green design and/or energy efficient home.  There is a healthy home trend that is trumping the green initiative.

The need for a healthy home

To describe how a green home’s air can become dangerous over time, Marisa Martinez uses the analogy of opening up the air-tight sealed bag of clothes from last summer and getting a whiff of the stale, plastic air (Breathing Easy: An Introduction to Healthy Homes; remodeling.hw.com; June 22, 2017).  Martinez discussed how builders and home owners have focused on reducing environmental impacts of their home and neglected the health effects from the new building directives.

Green building and efficient home designs focus on reducing system operating costs by increasing the structure efficiency, thus reducing the impact to the environment.  One of the outcomes of such a building design is having an air tight home.  The air-tight feature is to ensure that there is minimal energy loss from escaping air.  Owners and occupants of green homes are becoming ill because homes are air-tight.  The lack of proper ventilation and the decreased breathability of a home can make the inside air become stale.  And, over time, the buildup of interior pollutants can make the home toxic.

Increasing the awareness of green and efficient homes was a reason for the mandatory utility disclosures when selling a home in Montgomery County. This requirement was enacted in 2008 as a compromise from a proposed mandatory energy audit.

“According to Montgomery County Bill 31-07, enacted into Montgomery County Code Real Property 40-13b earlier this year, a home seller must provide potential home buyers the last twelve months of utility bills and information approved by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about home efficiency improvements including the “benefit of conducting a home energy audit” before entering into a sales contract.”

Additional potential hazards can be encountered when renovating a green designed home because the air-tight feature can cause air pollutants to accumulate inside the home.  Materials in new carpets, flooring (finished wood or vinyl), and paints can produce toxic off-gases that are not ventilated out of the home.  Dust from drywall and other building materials pose a health hazard as well.

Martinez’s exposé flies in the face of research hyping the health benefits of green homes.  One of the flaws of the these studies is that the health outcome comparisons of occupants of conventional built homes and green designated homes typically focused on new homes.  The air quality issue that Martinez points out should be studied in older green and efficient homes, where the indoor air has had time to “mature.”

The green home movement was supposed to give us environmentally friendly, efficient homes that were also supposed keep us healthy.  But the trend from green and efficient building is now transforming to a focus more on healthy home environments with an emphasis on good indoor air quality.  Martinez stated that the good indoor air quality can be achieved by continuously exchanging the indoor air with conditioned outdoor air.  There are physical and environmental benefits of a healthy home, which include increased emotional well being and reduced respiratory distress.

Leading the effort to educate the housing industry and consumers on healthy home environments is Bill Hayward.  In an interview in Builder Magazine (Advocating for Fresh Air in Homes; builderonline.com; September 29, 2016) he discussed his journey in creating Hayward Healthy Homes after realizing his home was making his family ill.  Hayward stated “Thirty percent of the population has allergies and is physically affected by the indoor air quality. The worst air that Americans breath right now is the air within their house.” More information and a free guide on creating a healthy home can be obtained from Hayward Healthy Home (haywardhealthyhome.com).

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Selling your home – try, try, again

selling your home
Why your home didn’t sell (infographic from househuntnetwork.com

If your home didn’t sell this spring, it’s ok.  Rocky never quit when he lost, and neither should you.  No one said selling your home was easy.  Take stock and plan for your next sale.

If your home didn’t sell, you’re not alone.  Consider that April’s existing home sales dropped 2.3 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors May 24th press release (nar.realtor).  NAR Chief Economist, Lawrence Yun, stated that the April slide was “expected” because March sales were very strong.  Additionally, he pointed out that new and existing inventory is not meeting demand.  Many prospective home buyers are frustrated because there is not much of a choice and they are not finding the homes they want.  When selling your home, does it have features that buyers want?

Pending home sales also declined in April.  Based on contracts signed, the forward looking indicator suggests additional decreased sales in the months to come.  Yun also attributes the prospect of future decreased home sales to low housing inventory. He stated that the inventory of existing homes for sale decreased about 9 percent from the same time last year.

When selling your home, consider that the appearance of a brief period of slow sales is not necessarily a warning sign of an impending housing crisis.  Instead, a slower sales trend may be considered part of a normal economic cycle after a breakthrough sales year.  It is a sign of a healthy market seeking balance.  The cycle is caused by home buyers and sellers struggling to find equilibrium.

If your home didn’t sell, you may have a better chance in a few months when the cycle changes.  However, before going with the same strategy, try to analyze what happened during this listing period.  You may find interesting and revealing information, about your home and your agent, that could help you the next time.

First, talk to your listing agent.  If they were active in marketing your home, they should have a wealth of information.  Start by asking them about showings.  The number of showings determines buyer interest in your home.  If you had few visits to your home, it could mean the price is too high.  It could also be a result of low quality MLS pictures and information.  Buyers start with the MLS listing to determine if the home is worth a visit.  However, if you had plenty of buyer visits but no offers, there may be other issues that need attention.

Check with your agent for feedback.  Agents often communicate about their visits to homes.  Home buyers who attend open houses also provide feedback.  Skip over the positive feedback because agents and home buyers often offer positive feedback just to be polite, even if it’s not warranted.  Look toward critical reviews for help to improve your home presentation and marketing.  If the same item is mentioned multiple times, you should take that as an indicator and begin there.

When selling your home, price, presentation and marketing are relatively easy to adjust.  However, your home’s condition could be a deterrent.  Buyers in the current market are very demanding and selective.  They want a turn-key home that has the recent updates featuring the newest technologies.  Even though housing inventory is low, many home buyers will not settle for any house.  If your home is not updated relative to the top sales in your neighborhood, you may have to consider a major price adjustment.  If your home’s condition is holding back a sale, do a cost-benefit analysis.  You may discover that selling for less could net you more than if you spent tens-of-thousands on renovations.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Homeownership crisis?

homeownership crisis
Homeownership Crisis? (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

The housing market made significant strides last year with regard to home sales and home prices.  However, even with housing’s good news, the homeownership rate continues to be at generational lows.  Economists and real estate professionals are stumped. Is there a homeownership crisis?

The homeownership rate for the first quarter of 2017, reported by the U.S. Census Bureau (census.gov), was 63.6 percent.  This is a slight improvement from homeownership rate recorded in 2016.  However, in their analysis, the Census Bureau stated that when the rate is adjusted for “seasonal variation,” there was no statistical difference from the 63.5 percent rate recorded in the last quarter of 2016.

homeownership
Homeownership Rate (historical data from census.gov)

The homeownership rate peaked at 69.2 percent in 2005, but has steadily declined since the Great Recession. Industry experts have been flummoxed as to why there have not been more home buyers taking advantage of historically low interest rates in an upward economy. (Freddie Mac reported last week that the national average interest rate for a 30 year fixed rate mortgage was 3.94 percent; freddiemac.com). Even mortgage lending has become looser, as some mortgage companies have rolled out low and no-down payment programs in recent months.

A homeownership crisis in the making, why is there lack of interest in homeownership?  A recent study co-sponsored by the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics, UC Berkley and the Rosen consulting Group (Hurdles to Homeownership: Understanding the Barriers; June 2017) asserted to have the answer to this question.  According to a NAR press release (realtor.org), the study was announced this month in honor of National Homeownership Month, and presented at the National Association of Realtors Sustainable Homeownership Conference.

The authors discussed regulatory issues that has hindered housing and mortgage lending.  They also identified issues affecting would-be home buyers, which include: student debt; availability of mortgages; housing affordability; low home sale inventory; and “post-foreclosure stress disorder.”

You may already have heard much about regulatory issues, consumer debt, mortgages, affordability, and low housing inventory.  But, what is “post-foreclosure stress disorder?”  The Rosen Consulting Group coined the phrase to give a name to the concept of perceived home buying risks derived from a financial crisis.

Even though a number of consumer surveys continue to indicate a strong positive sentiment towards homeownership, the authors point to post-foreclosure stress disorder as a major influence on home buying decisions.  They believe that many individuals have been directly and indirectly affected by the Great Recession, and therefore have changed their behaviors based on perceived financial risks.  And the greater the financial risk, the greater the caution exercised.  They claim this is confirmed by a Federal Reserve survey where 80 percent of respondents indicated they would like to own a home someday, but only one in six who were financially able to purchase a home felt that renting was the best choice for now.  The authors stated that although the trauma of the Great Recession will fade over time, they assert the need to rebuild confidence in homeownership benefits.

Post-foreclosure stress disorder may account for a decline in the homeownership rate, but this is not a homeownership crisis.  It is shift in values and a major shift in lifestyles. Surveys have indicated that millennials are expected to be the largest group of homebuyers, but many millennials don’t want to be anchored by owning a home. They want to be able to take advantage of global opportunities without the burden of having to sell a home.  There is a shift away from the old standard of being house-centric to mobility.

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