Stock market and home buying

stock market
Real estate and the economy (infographic from nar.realtor)

It’s easy to understand why the recent stock market volatility triggered some into proclaiming that the sky is falling.  The potential for losing money can evoke some strong emotional responses.  Interestingly, some experts have speculated how the recent stock market activity would spill over to consumer spending, including the housing market.  Reporting such as Jacob Passy’s recent article titled “Could Stock Market Volatility Cause House Prices to Fall?” (Marketwatch.com; February 8, 2018) makes for good click-bait.  However, the details of the article would suggest otherwise.  The consensus is that the recent Wall Street activity is not likely to impact the housing market.

Passy is trying to make an argument that the housing market will suffer from the recent stock correction, and subsequent interest rate increases.  But Daren Blomquist, senior vice president of communications at Attom Data Solutions [formerly RealtyTrac], was quoted in Passy’s article saying “The strength of the housing market and economy in general is what’s spooking the stock market.”  However, the volatility may make some home buyers wary of making an investment in housing.

The stock correction and increased Wall Street volatility is not a new phenomenon.  The last market correction with lasting volatility occurred in June and August of 2015,through the fall.  The current stock market volatility is part of the cycle of a healthy economy.  Unlike the crash of 2008, current economic fundamentals are positive.

This stock market correction is not unusual, however it is extraordinary.

Seeking Alpha noted that the percentage drop for the two largest Dow losses this year are not even in the top 100 (10 Figures On Historic Dow Correction; seekingalpha.com; February 6, 2018).  And this correction is distinct, according to ZeroHedge, because most individual stocks were left intact (If This Correction Is Over, It Will Be Unique in Leaving Most Individual Stocks Unscathed; zerohedge.com; February 13, 2018).  Many individual stocks actually made gains while the Dow and the S&P stocks “took it on the chin.”  This phenomenon is unique and is said to demonstrate that the economic fundamentals are working.

As for rising interest rates, they are needed to moderate home prices.  If home prices aren’t controlled by market forces, such as interest rates, then homes will become unaffordable for many home buyers.  Mortgage interest are still historically low, even with recent increases.

Homeownership is out of reach for many home buyers because of increasing home prices.  David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, declared in the January 30th S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller  Home Price Index release:

Home prices continue to rise three times faster than the rate of inflation.  The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Index year-over-year increases have been 5% or more for 16 months; the 20-City index has climbed at this pace for 28 months.”

Blitzer pointed out that these increases are not based on home buyer demand, stating, “Given slow population and income growth since the financial crisis, demand is not the primary factor in rising home prices.”  Instead, sharp home price increases are due to the lack of homes for sale and new construction.  And until housing inventory increases, “home prices may continue to substantially outpace inflation.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, remarked that the recent stock market volatility should not impact the housing market.  He stated, “Underlying economic fundamentals remain strong.”  However, he cautioned that if the stock market retreats further, it could affect home buyers who plan to use funds from their 401k’s and other investment vehicles as down payment sources.

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.

Mortgage Choice Act good or bad?

Mortgage Choice Act

Mortgage Choice Act
Choosing a lender (infographic from lender411.com)

Monday’s Reuters “exclusive” report about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau dropping their investigation on the Equifax data breach caused quite a stir in DC (Exclusive: U.S. consumer protection official puts Equifax probe on ice – sources: reuters.com February 5, 2018).  The exclusive cited unnamed sources.  However, a spokesperson for Transunion (a credit repository) suggested that cybercrime is not within the jurisdiction of the CFPB.

Later that day, Reuters cited Democratic Senators’ concerns and outrage over the alleged investigation pullback (Senators urge Trump administration to resume Equifax probe; reuters.com February 6, 2018).

The next day, Reuters reported that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin desired to meet with CFPB’s Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, based on its initial reports of dropping the Equifax investigation (Treasury’s Mnuchin says he wants answers on Equifax breach; reuters.com February 6, 2018) .  In the same report, Reuters cited the CFPB’s spokesperson saying that the CFPB was working with other government agencies on the Equifax data breach.

The veracity of Reuters’ unnamed sources in the report is not clear.  However, there may be something to the fact that cybersecurity falls under the domain of the FBI and Homeland Security.  Additionally, there are many other agencies investigating the Equifax data breach, as Housing Wire reported on Monday (CFPB reportedly pulling back from Equifax data breach investigation: Reuters reports that bureau is not aggressively pursuing investigation; housingwire.com; February 5, 2018).  The FTC appeared to be the lead agency investigating the matter when the data breach became public news.  Additionally, the House and Senate Financial Committees, as well as all fifty states attorney generals are investigating.

Mortgage Choice Act goes under the radar…

News created drama, such as the Reuters’ CFPB story, allows real consumer issues to fly under the radar.  Consumers should take note that the once dead Mortgage Choice Act has come back to life.  Much like a scene out of Tin Men, the revived legislation is being promoted by the likes of the National Association of Realtors® under the guise of being good for the consumer.

According to the CBO (cbo.gov/publication/53497):

Under current law, a ‘qualified mortgage’ has certain characteristics that make it more affordable…To meet the qualified-mortgage definition, certain costs that are incidental to the loan and that are paid by the borrower…cannot exceed 3 percent of the total loan amount. Lenders offering “high-cost mortgages” (home mortgages with interest rates and fees that exceed certain thresholds) must make certain additional disclosures to borrowers and must comply with restrictions on the terms of such loans.”  The Mortgage Choice Act “…would exclude insurance premiums held in escrow and, under certain circumstances, fees paid to companies affiliated with the creditor from the costs that would be considered in determining whether a loan is a qualified mortgage or a high-cost mortgage.”

The NAR is urging support for this legislation, as well as issuing an open letter to Congress.  The NAR’s rationale is that the Mortgage Choice Act:

“… will enhance competition in the mortgage and title insurance markets, and ensure that consumers will be able to choose the lenders and title providers best suited for their home buying needs.”

This sounds virtuous, but in reality it’s a play to allow broker affiliated lenders and title insurers to charge consumers more without additional disclosures.  NAR says that lenders and title insurers would still be subject to RESPA (which prohibits steering and kickbacks).  But charging consumers excessive fees and affiliated businesses giving kickbacks are not mutually exclusive.  Meaning that a lender charges can be excessive independent of the lender providing a kickback to the broker.  (the CFPB has recently fined brokers and lenders for kickbacks).

Is NAR interested in building consumer trust?

The NAR has for years tried to influence public opinion of Realtors® and the industry.  The NAR Code of Ethics has been used as a focal point to increase positive sentiment towards Realtors®.  However, NAR’s desire to implement a Code of Excellence may have been a beginning shift towards building public trust.

The Code of Excellence, like the Code of Ethics, is a desire to increase competence and proficiency.  But research has demonstrated that showing off accolades and awards doesn’t instill value, nor does it increase sales (Valsesia, Nunes, & Ordanini: What Wins Awards Is Not Always What I Buy: How Creative Control Affects Authenticity and Thus Recognition (But Not Liking). Journal of Consumer Research. Apr2016, Vol. 42 Issue 6, p897-914).

Value, along with quality and price,  has much higher regard than ethics in a consumer’s mind.  This was demonstrated by Carrigan & Attalla’s ground breaking consumer research (The myth of the ethical consumer – do ethics matter in purchase behaviour? The Journal of Consumer Marketing. 2001.. 18(7),560-577.)

If the NAR is truly interested in building consumer trust, the NAR leadership should get on the correct side of this issue and provide value to consumers instead of giving lip service.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Rental search in a tight market

rental
Finding a rental (infographic from appfolio.com)

Some housing experts are excited about the recent one-half of one percent uptick in the homeownership rate, saying it’s at a three year high. But the Census’ most recent release of the Quarterly Residential Vacancies (Fourth Quarter 2017) and Homeownership described the move as “not statistically different” from the previous quarter or year (census.gov). Essentially, the homeownership rate remains historically low. This dovetails with the Census’ most recent renter moving data indicating that the percentage of renters who moved in 2017 was the lowest since 1988. So, it should not be a surprise that rents are on the rise, and it’s becoming even more difficult to find a rental.

How can you find a rental in a tight market?

Before you go off and sign a lease, you should create your own “rental guide.” First, make a housing budget of how much you can afford for rent and utilities. Then make a list of “must haves” for your new home. Think about the size, location, local amenities, commuter routes and public transportation, and anything else you deem important. This guide will help you stay focused on your needs, and help you decide on a rental that makes sense.

home ownershipOnce you begin looking for a rental, you may realize that finding a rental that “checks all the boxes” may be difficult. You may find that rent per square foot varies depending on the neighborhood, age of the building, and the amenities. This may force you to prioritize your needs. For example, you may find that a small condo near a metro station is the same rent as a three-bedroom single family home that has a longer commute. Or there may be a new apartment available with luxury amenities with a higher rent than the older apartment building with sparse amenities.

The internet is the medium of choice these days to look for a rental. There are numerous websites using state of the art applications to advertise rental listings. They also include vast amounts of information on each listing to help your search. There are a number of specialty sites focusing on niche rentals (such as apartments, luxury, etc.) that tout their exclusive listings. However, there are sites that are more comprehensive that include a mix MLS and private listings. And let’s forget there are online classifieds too.

Many renters search for their new home without an agent, and that’s ok. But consider that an experienced licensed real estate agent can help negotiate your lease, possibly getting better terms. While most agents will work rentals and sales, there are real estate agencies that specialize in rentals. Consider contacting legitimate property managers or rental management companies and ask about their upcoming rental listings.

If a rental listing sounds too good to be true, then be suspicious of a scam. To protect yourself from scammers, it can be helpful to understand how they operate. The Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) offers insight on how rental scams work, and how to report scams.  Scams are typically from hijacked ads or phantom rentals.  The FBI (fbi.gov) and USA.gov also offer tips on protecting yourself from rental scams.

Some basic cautions from the FBI:

-Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;
-Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;
-Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;
-Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;
-Don’t give out personal information, like social security, bank account, or credit card numbers.

Regardless whether you go it alone or with a real estate agent, practice due diligence. Real estate scams have been part of the rental scene for decades. Scams have become more prevalent with the increased reliance on the internet for home searches. And in a tight housing market, it’s no coincidence that real estate scams are on the rise.

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Prime housing move by Amazon

prime housing
Insight into Amazon (infographic from geekyedge.com)

Amazon is about to make a decision on their “HQ2.”  The highly anticipate decision can be a prime housing move not just for the chosen city, but the region.  As you now know, Montgomery County is on the short list.  Some even have it pegged to be in the top five.  Although many local residents are excited at the prospect of increasing home values, many others are anxious how a Montgomery County Amazon HQ2 will affect their quality of life.

If Amazon chooses Montgomery County, the county will likely see a similar impact that Seattle experienced.  However, rather than be purely speculative, let’s look how Amazon has shaped Seattle.  Stephen Cohen offers interesting statistics looking at how Seattle has changed after Amazon (How Seattle Changed After Amazon Came to Town; seattlepi.com; September 22, 2017).  Cohen points out that Amazon has been based in Seattle since the mid 1990’s, and that the major impact on the town happened when the company moved to the South Lake Union campus (SLU) in 2010.  Since the move, Amazon’s stock price skyrocketed and its market cap exceeded (and has since doubled) that of Walmart.

Cohen’s data goes beyond the pros and cons of having the business giant in the community and compares statistics that span from 2010 to 2017.  During that time, Seattle’s population grew 17.3 percent.  However, it remained as the 18th most populous US city.  Although Seattle followed the national trend of becoming more diverse, its African American population slightly decreased (which was counter the national trend).  Cohen describes Seattle’s population as “skews male,” probably because Amazon’s “workforce is 63 percent male.”

housing
Seattle Case-Shiller home price index (graph from businessinsider.com)

But the home values…Seattle has had one of the hottest and prime housing markets in the country. Seattle’s average home price increases are almost double the national average.  Finding housing in Seattle is very difficult, as the town’s vacancy rate significantly decreased to about half that of the national average.  The city’s median gross rent is 47.6 percent higher than the national average.

Other interesting facts from Cohen’s data…one-person households decreased from about 15 percent to slightly more than 10 percent.  There was a 25.2 percent increase in commuters.  And, the city’s mean household income increased 41.3 percent, which is more than double the national average.

Prime housing is not for everyone.  Cohen cites the sharply increased cost of housing and high cost of living for negatively affected the poor, as well as the middle class.  And although Seattle is the 18th largest US city, it has the third largest homeless population (according to a December 7, 2017 Seattle Times expose “King County homeless population third-largest in U.S.”).

But, Lisa Stiffler reported that Amazon’s philanthropic corporate culture has noticeably changed (What gives? Tech giant Amazon finally boosts its philanthropic rep in its hometown; geekwire.com; December 14, 2016).  She notes that it is evident that employees are volunteering and getting involved with such activities as the Amazon “Non-Profit Expo.”

Seattle’s SLU is described by Stephen Cohen as an “Innovation District,” which is a Brookings Institute term for a “geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators.”  SLU is similar to Montgomery County’s Technology Corridor.  An Amazon move to MoCo’s Tech Corridor would likely dovetail with a $100 million plan to improve I-270 (the infrastructure plan was reported by the Washington Post last April).  Such infrastructure improvements would open up Maryland’s western real estate market, which would ease some of the upward pressure to MoCo’s already tight prime housing market and already increasing home prices.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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In the unlikely event of nuclear war

Preparedness can mitigate personal disaster in case of nuclear war
Preparedness can mitigate personal disaster in case of nuclear blast (infographic from cdc.gov)

While a nuclear detonation is unlikely, it would have devastating results and there would be limited time to take critical protection steps.  Despite the fear surrounding such an event, planning and preparation can lessen deaths and illness…”  This was the introduction to a highly anticipated Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov) Grand Rounds on the health response to a nuclear detonation.  Unfortunately, the January 16th topic “Public Health Response to a Nuclear Detonation” was shelved to discuss the current flu epidemic.  Home owners want to know how to protect their homes and family in the unlikely event of nuclear war.

Living just outside Washington DC, it feels as if the anxiety for such as disaster has increased in recent months.  Many of you might wonder if there is anything you can do to save your homes and your families in the event of a nuclear war.  Like other potential disasters, preparedness can help mitigate personal disaster.

I had the opportunity to correspond with the Outreach Coordinator for Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Joe Corona, CEM.  When asked if the county has a plan in case of a nuclear war, he stated “We’ve taken a look at what we would need during the unlikely scenario of a nuclear attack (i.e. plume modeling, evacuation planning, public messaging, recovery planning, etc.), and applied them to multiple situations, so that in the unlikely event of a nuclear attack, we’re able to look at the priorities and provide the most effective response that we can.”

Corona described the Montgomery County’s Emergency Operation Plan as an “all hazards framework” that is able to prepare, respond and recover from an incident “regardless of the type of event.”  He added, “Our focus is responding to community needs effectively regardless of the event, and to be able to quickly increase or direct resources in order to provide the maximum benefit to the community, with life safety always being the number one priority.”

In this unlikely scenario, what can you do to protect your home and family?

Prepare by creating a plan, and building an emergency kit.  Corona suggests tapping resources from agencies such as Ready.gov, The American Red Cross, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, etc. to help you with your plan.  He recommends that you think about areas in your home that provide the best shielding from outdoor elements, and to “take steps now to prepare to shelter in place for longer periods of times.”  Corona suggests that you prepare at least three days of emergency supplies. However, in the unlikely case of nuclear war, you probably need to plan for “longer periods.”

Ready.gov (ready.gov/nuclear-blast) provides information on what to do before, during and after a nuclear blast.  Preparedness recommendations include building an emergency kit, make a family emergency plan, as well as identifying any designated fallout shelters in your community, and/or make a list of potential shelters near home, work and school.   “During periods of heightened threat,” you should have at least a two week emergency supply.

Corona recommends staying informed through Alert Montgomery (alert.montgomerycountymd.gov), noting that your chance for survival increases if you can act quickly.  “Alert Montgomery is the official emergency communications service for Montgomery County, MD. During a major crisis, emergency or severe weather event, Montgomery County officials can send event updates, warnings and instructions directly to you on any of your devices.

Check your homeowners or renter’s insurance coverage.  He stated, “In our responses, those who have insurance require so much less of the limited government resources and have tremendously more options through ‘loss of use’ provisions to seek alternate accommodations.  Photographing pre-conditions, keeping policy info in your go kit [emergency kit], and notifying the insurance company early after events go a long way to promoting recovery for the individual and recouping any losses.”

The Montgomery County OEMHS is a rich source of information on preparedness for disasters, including the unlikely event of a nuclear war. Their outreach personnel can answer your questions about staying informed, making a plan, building an emergency kit, as well as getting involved in the community (www.montgomerycountymd.gov/OEMHS/hazards/tech/radiological.html).

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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.