Home equity entitlements, home prices, and talk of external price controls

single family homeA home buyer who visited a recent open house told me that home sellers need to “let go of their perception of entitled equity.”

I will pause here for a moment, as you are no doubt trying to make sense of the last statement.

Was this visitor verbalizing that a seller’s home equity be measured and controlled? And the follow up question might be: “Since when is a home owner’s equity perceived as an entitlement?” Was the buyer saying that there should be outside intervention to determine the equity a home owner may net on their sale (so as to make housing affordable), much like rental controls that exist in some areas around the country?

Who makes the decision as to how much equity a home owner may realize (net)? Sure, one could argue that home equity is an intangible concept that comes from the perceived value of your home; where the value is relative until it is realized (liquidated). You could also say that equity is realized through liquidation of the home by either selling it (or cashing out with a mortgage or equity line of credit); the value being the price a buyer is willing to pay, (or the amount a lender decides so as to make a loan). So it seems that when it comes to home sales, market forces still (mostly) determines the sale price and the amount of equity (if any) the home seller nets from the sale. Simply put – buyers and sellers negotiate home prices; generally, buyer pushback on listing prices can pressure sale prices to decrease, much like high demand can pressures prices to increase.

Let’s give the open house buyer the benefit of the doubt; maybe having outside intervention was not what he meant by saying home sellers need to let go of their perceived entitled equity. Maybe he was using (or misusing) economic jargon to make a point by expressing his opinion that housing is currently overpriced.

As I wrote in August, if you want to know where the housing market is headed, ask a home buyer. And it seems as if this buyer is not alone in his sentiment, as the attitude that home prices are too high is (again) an increasing view among many home buyers.   It could be that the housing market is encountering what was experienced in 2009, when at that time there was a growing disparity between the price home sellers are asking and what home buyers are willing to pay. After all, it was during 2008-2009 when similar attitudes were strongly expressed, a time when rapidly falling home prices did not encourage home sales.

Quentin Fottrell pointed out in his pithy MarketWatch analysis of recent housing data (10 most overvalued (and undervalued) housing markets, marketwatch.com, 10/1/2014) that “Seven of the top 100 metro areas are overvalued by more than 10%, the highest number since the first quarter of 2009.” He also mentions that the last time this occurred was early in the housing bubble; but Fottrell says there should be little concern of current housing bubble because of the current economic environment (jobs and construction).

Conversations with home buyers are extremely valuable to home sellers for many reasons. What you might come away from this conversation is that there is continued push back on listing prices; and unless home sellers are responsive to pricing feedback, they should prepare for a long time on market.

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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.

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Don’t leave money on the table

money to close on homeA nagging concern that is often expressed by many home sellers is that they are leaving money on the table; in other words selling for too little. The dilemma often presented to a home seller is that if the home is priced too high, then there is risk eliminating potential home buyers; while at a lower price, there is risk selling at a less than desirable price.

Pricing a home is both a science and art. Skilled agents employ mathematical formulas as a foundation upon which to build a case for a range of sale price (the science); as well as demonstrating their ability of making price adjustments for variations in improvements, updates, as well as intangibles (the art).

But it may not necessarily be your home’s list price that can set you up to leave money on the table. Examining how your home is marketed, as well as your motivations and reasons for selling may reveal a weakness in your negotiation position as a result of convenience.

Selling a home can be disruptive to your daily life; and the prospect of having people, whom you’ve never met, traipse through your home can be unsettling. The typically limited and highly targeted private placement or pre-listing marketing may offer the convenience of limiting buyer traffic to your home, but its appeal is sometimes promoted to increase the potential of the agent receiving both sides of the commission. (continued below)

Before you agree to a marketing plan that promises exclusive home buyer targeting; consider that many experts make the argument that you can leave money on the table when limiting your home’s exposure to potential buyers. In a world where everything and everyone seems electronically connected, you can increase the buyer pool by taking advantage of every reasonable marketing opportunity (including the internet and local listservs, and electronic bulletin boards, and other acceptable marketing tactics).

The process of selling a home can also be emotional and time consuming; more so if you’re divorcing and selling marital property, or selling your parents’ or grandparents’ home (sometimes because of a move to an assisted living facility or to settle an estate). The convenience of a quick sale can be very tempting; but can also set you up for selling for too little. And if the home is in need of repairs, updating, and renovations, the pricing can be unclear and inaccurate adding to the pressure for a quick sale.

You might even be considering responding to an ad promising a fast home sale without real estate commissions, repairs or home inspections – which is alluring to be sure. However, consider that many of these operations are seeking to purchase homes at a fraction of retail value minus repair costs.

Unfortunately, there is no “real time” measure to determine if you’re selling your home for too little; and some home sellers often lament in hindsight selling at a lower price out of convenience. However, a little homework and investigation can at least better your negotiating position. Ask questions and understand the purpose, benefits and limitations of a private placement or pre-listing marketing. Additionally, you can get pricing guidance from a market analysis, obtained from at least two (three is better) neighborhood real estate agents. And finally, weigh the pros and cons of selling out of convenience to the process of selling on the open market (listing the home in the MLS).

© 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.

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Retro-future of real estate – buyers like representation

For SaleWhen I wrote about the future of real estate brokerage seven years ago, I predicted that consumers would become increasingly reliant on the internet; while the process of selling homes would remain interpersonal. Once thought to free home buyers and sellers from real estate brokers, the internet has become ancillary to the home buying and selling process.

Some real estate experts point to home buyers’ perception of buyer agency as a reason for the integration of the internet into the buying process. The internet has become a prolific source of information that funnels buyers directly to listing agents. With information in hand, many buyers are seemingly ditching their agents when viewing homes; some thinking they can negotiate a sweat deal directly with the listing agent.

Consider this 2012 anonymous post from a popular real estate web site. The poster proclaimed to have fired their agent and on their own negotiated a $490,000 price, when a previous buyer backed out from a $515,000 contract. The poster stated that “it makes financial sense,” the rationale being that there is always a 6% commission built into the price. The post stated that the seller makes more money if there is no buyer agent to pay, even if the offer is lower; while also getting the listing agent to accept a lower commission.

The post’s rationale may seem ostensibly compelling; and if the tactic works, it most likely has nothing to do with commissions per se. The strategy of negotiating a better price based on commission falls flat when you understand how broker commissions are negotiated. Generally, commissions are negotiated between the listing broker and the seller before the home is listed; the negotiated commission is expressly stated in the listing contract. The commission belongs to the listing broker, not the agents. The listing contract is also specific to the amount of the commission to be split if the buyer is represented by a buyer broker. Trends in commissions vary; including variable commissions, which is an agreement to a reduced listing commission if the buyer is not represented.
(Continued below)

Of course this do-it-yourself (DIY) home buyer post (and many others like it) has garnered a lot of attention and unconfirmed corroboration. However, there is no additional information about this specific transaction; and two thoughts immediately come to mind, either: the home did not appraise at the higher price (this was 2012); or the buyer walked on the home inspection.

The truth is that many still value buyer broker representation, which goes beyond just finding a home and negotiating a sales price; and may include (among other responsibilities) identifying and guiding you through any obstacles that can arise during the transaction. Of course, not all agents are the same. If your agent is a strong negotiator, the probability on settling on a better price is higher; as well as other occasions during the transaction where negotiation is paramount – notably during the home inspection process.

What some experts proclaim to be evidence of a trend of home buyers purchasing sans a buyer agent, may actually be just a shift in buyer behavior. Sure, there will always be the “DYI” buyer trying to justify a price by reducing commissions. But the reality may be that, rather than ditching the buyer agent altogether, the internet has allowed many home buyers to put off signing a buyer agency agreement until they are ready to make an offer.

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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.

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Getting home buyers into your listing – sellers and agents take note

Bethesda Real EstateSome economists have discussed how consumers are increasingly “shopping” rather than buying. And this is evident in the housing market, where home buyers have become overly discerning about their purchases. After what seemed to be a brief seller’s market, we find ourselves slipping back into a buyer’s market; and an old dilemma is reemerging: how are you going to get more buyer traffic and more offers on your home?

If your home has been on the market for while, check with your agent to review feedback from those who visited your home. Typical responses focus on price, home condition, and how the home shows. If you’re about to list your home, have some neighbors and friends tour the home (as if they were home buyers) to provide an alternate perspective of your home’s selling points and shortcomings.

Pricing your home correctly is critical to selling in a reasonable time frame. Your agent should keep you up to date with neighborhood sales activity, so you can remain competitive with other relevant listings. Recent neighborhood sales trends (1-3-6 months) can indicate where your price range should fall, as well as understanding the types of homes that are selling.

One of the main objections you may have heard from home buyers, is that your home “needs work,” which has a number of meanings. Of course, it may mean your home does need updating and/or repairing; in which case you should discuss with your agent about the possibility of making updates/repairs, and/or adjusting the price to reflect any needed updates/repairs. Before you decide to go all out on a renovation, consider making updates that are equivalent to your neighborhood and price range; over spending may not significantly increase your home value. If your home is updated and shows well, another meaning of “needing work” comes from the buyer wanting a turn-key home; and your updates/renovations do match their tastes and preferences.


Another issue to consider is that although your home may be updated and clean, you just may have too much stuff! Lots of furniture, wall hangings, and other stuff can make large rooms feel cramped and small, as well as give a busy and unsettling vibe. If this sounds like your home, consider removing items that can distract and detract from your home’s true elegance and style.

If your home is not getting many showings, another factor to address (independent of price, condition and clutter) is how your home is marketed. If you haven’t done so, look at your MLS listing; are you satisfied with the pictures, and remarks? Keep in mind that about 96% of home buyers search online and make decisions based on what they see and read. Home sellers, like you, are savvy and know that solely hanging a sign and posting a MLS listing is no longer acceptable to market a home. Ask your agent to update you on active marketing efforts, as well as other resources that may be used to market your home, including: local and global networks of agents and buyers; as well as using the internet and SEO (search engine optimization) to get buyers interested in your home.

If you’re home has been on the market for a while, you might consider addressing any of these issues to boost home buyer activity. If you’re considering a sale in the near future; have a plan of action before you list, so your sale does not languish.

© 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.

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Resurgence of solar power

House Solar Once considered too costly, solar is getting hot (pun intended). Many factors are making it easier for consumers to choose solar; including lower installation costs and tax credits. Solar energy has also become a selling point for some home builders in sunny states such as California; where builders have offered the option of solar panel installation during construction.

Solar technology has come a long way. Manufacturing advances have not only made the technology more affordable, it has paved the way to new applications as well. Besides the panels with which we have become accustomed, photovoltaic (PV) technology is now available as roof shingles and windows; and some companies that can even apply the PV to other exterior home surfaces.

Is the investment worth it? A recent Washington Post piece (March 26, 2014; Real Estate Matters: Are solar panels worth the investment?) explores the value of installing solar panels – and concludes that it depends on your individual costs and savings. Authors Glink and Tamkin take into account the installation costs, tax credits and a monthly power bill of $120. Assuming that their system would supply all of their electricity needs, they applied the $120/month savings to repay the loan taken to cover the solar panel installation; and based on their calculations – there would be no savings for the first ten years.

However, your actual utility savings can vary on a number of factors, including (but not limited to): the amount of solar power produced; system size and placement; and available sun energy. Additionally, the cost of maintaining your solar panel system can vary; regular maintenance is required to ensure your system is producing power efficiently. Maintaining your system typically entails cleaning the panels (debris, dust, bird droppings can collect on surfaces) and testing other components. Furthermore, because the average life expectancy of a solar panel is about 30 years (depending in manufacturer), you should consider the time you intend to live in your home and resale. Home buyer attitudes on existing systems and possible replacement costs is not entirely clear.

If you’re considering a PV system, Energy.gov offers these tips: measure the amount of sun available; calculate the size of the system to meet your needs; predetermine the best location for the system, as well as making sure it will fit; decide if the system is a standalone or connected to the power grid; and how will the safety needs be met (energy.gov/energysaver/articles/planning-home-solar-electric-system).

Before choosing a contractor, energy.gov recommends due diligence. Ask about the company’s time in business and experience installing the type of system you have chosen (technical differences can exist). Check the contractor/company for complaints, judgments or liens. And, of course, make sure the contractor has appropriate valid licenses; according to the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation website, “a home improvement contractor or subcontractor license is required to install solar panels for a homeowner, regardless of whether the panels will be installed on the home or an outbuilding adjacent to a residence, or will be attached to the land next to the residence. A licensed master electrician is required to hook the panels to the electric system.”

Finally, energy.gov also recommends getting multiple installation quotes because panel efficiency can vary depending on the manufacturer. The estimates should include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax, and warranty.

© 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.

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When landlord-tenant relations go wrong

HousingAlthough renting your basement out may seem like a great way to generate extra income to help pay the bills, it can also become a point of conflict that could spiral out of control if not handled correctly. The recent report of the arrest of local landlord highlights the issues of being a landlord, as well as being a tenant.

The arrest seems to be the outcome of events that climaxed when the landlord allegedly forced the tenants out of the apartment earlier this month because the tenants were allegedly late paying their rent. According to an August 21st Montgomery County Police press release (mymcpnews.com), the police responded to calls of woman screaming for help and banging on a neighbor’s window. The woman reported to police that five individuals were in an interior room and prevented her from closing her bedroom door. The woman and her son were allegedly grabbed and were told that the “landlord said they had to, ‘go and pack their stuff.’” It was reported that the individuals yelled at the woman to take her belongings and get out of the apartment; and the suspects “pushed” the woman and her son out of the home.

Another tenant, who spoke to investigating officers, stated that the landlord allegedly told them that they should stay in their room because he was going to pay people to force the tenants out. Another tenant stated that the landlord told them to not come out of their residence because there would be people “yelling and screaming.”

One of the five suspects who was subsequently arrested, was allegedly paid $1,000 to “scare and force” the tenants out of the apartment. The landlord reportedly turned himself in to police and was “charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree burglary, conspiracy to commit robbery, and conspiracy to commit second-degree assault.”

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Another outcome of this incident is that the property was condemned by the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA) and all occupants were ordered to vacate the property. An investigation of the home by the 4th District Community Service Officer and DHCA Housing Code Enforcement Inspectors determined that the landlord was “running a rooming/boarding home”; which “included four, illegal accessory apartments and five separate kitchens” and was “occupied by 15 people at the time of the incident.”

The unfortunate actions, events, and outcome of this incident are atypical. However, the plight of the landlord and tenant highlights the frustrations that can occur on both sides of the rental relationship, and may serve as a reminder to consult with an attorney before taking matters into your own hands.

Before you decide to become a landlord, consider familiarizing yourself with federal, state and local laws, rules and ordinances governing landlord-tenant affairs; as well as making sure your rental(s) conforms to licensing and zoning laws. Locally, the Montgomery County Office of Landlord – Tenant Affairs (housed within the Department of Housing and Community Affairs) is a resource for landlords and tenants on licensing, security deposits, evictions, leases, and rent increases. Besides publishing a Landlord – Tenant Handbook (a guide on informing of general rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants), it also offers a free and quick avenue for tenants to seek amicable dispute resolution.

(dankrell.com)
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© 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.

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Will home prices depreciate second half of 2014?

house for saleIt’s no secret that the pace of home sales has slowed during 2014. So what’s ahead for real estate and the housing market? If you really want to know, Irwin Kellner, Chief Economist for MarketWatch, has some advice. In his August 19th MarketWatch.com piece (Opinion: Don’t count on U.S. consumer to save economy) he eloquently and succinctly stated, “If you are trying to discern where the economy is heading, look at the consumer.” And this applies directly to real estate too.

July housing figures from the National Association of Realtors® are due to be released this week (July housing press release August 21st); and although good news may be suggested, the numbers may be revealing of where the market is heading – and it may not be good. The NAR July 22nd (realtor.org) press release indicated that June’s existing home sales increased (compared to May 2014), however it stated that existing home sales were down 2.3% compared to the same time last year. In the area where I list and sell homes, Montgomery County single family home closings (sales), reported by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtor® (gcaar.com) also dropped off in June (decreased 1.5%); and particularly telling is July’s decrease of 16.2% compared to the same time last year, as well as the 7.4% decrease year to date (compared to last year)!

The silver lining is that NAR reported that median home prices have increased in 71% of the “measured markets.” However, 27% of the measured markets showed a decline in median home prices from last year. Montgomery County median home sale prices are moderating (according to GCAAR stats): increases were about 3% during June and about 2% during July compared to the same periods last year.

Taking Irwin Kellner’s suggestion of “looking to the consumer,” let’s look at home buyer behavior trends; which may be understood through home absorption rate (the number of homes sold compared to the number of available listings during a given time period). It should be no surprise that the home absorption rate decreases compared to recent years due to the steady growth of home inventories and the reduced number of closings. Surprising is the rate of decrease in the absorption rate (calculated from MLS data) during June and July compared to the same periods last year (a decrease of 15% and 39% respectively).

Like the average consumer, it seems that home buyers may have become a bit skittish. Kellner points out that contrary to economist’s expectations, the August report of the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment has dropped to a 10 month low. Additionally, he reported that although there has been some good news about employment, he argues that wages are not keeping up with inflation due to the nature of many newly created jobs, which are temp or part-time. Furthermore, he states that consumer savings are either low or “depleted.” Rounded out by the usual concern about job security, geopolitics, and the general economy: Kellner gives us a glimpse of today’s consumer.

As for real estate, the statistics suggest that the housing market may be at another crossroads. Homes sales have already dropped off during the busiest time of year, and it may be reasonable to expect that sales for the remaining year may also be subdued. The mediating factor will be home prices; which may eventually decline as home sellers try to be competitive with other listings, as well as entice home buyers to buy their homes.

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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.

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Making sense of real estate market indicators

home sales statsIt used to be easy to figure out the strength of the real estate market, all you had to do was look at reported housing indices and it all made sense. Statistics were often verified and corresponded to other indices as well. However, since the financial crisis, there seems to be a disconnect between national and local housing indicators; gauging the market has become confusing – understanding what the indices measure and imply is often tricky.

Obviously, the best gauge to the health of the housing market is measuring existing home sales. Existing home sales is reported nationally and locally. The figure is important because it is a direct measure of the number (volume) of home sales during a given time period (usually monthly). National sales figures are often samples of MLS data, while local data are actual (raw) numbers. The statistic is used to chart annual sales trends; as well as a relative comparison to the same period during previous years.

Some have talked about the strength of luxury home sales as an indicator of the housing market. However, during a weak economy is weak, mid and low tier home sales tend to decrease; while upper bracket and luxury sales remain relatively strong. This bifurcation, where two distinct markets are derived from one, has emerged twice since the financial crisis; most recently earlier this year.

The National Association of Realtors® reports the Pending Home Sale Index, which is basically the number of homes that go under contract (pending sale) during a specific period. Pending sales are sometimes called a “forward looking” statistic because it is used to estimate how many homes will have sold for the year. Local pending sales are reported as a raw number of homes under contract. The statistic can be misleading because contracts fall apart for a number of reasons and may be one explanation as to why pending sales and existing sales may not correspond. Although the figure is not always indicative of actual sales, the figure is important because it reveals home buyer activity.

Another statistic relied on by many to determine the strength of the housing market are the home price indices (yes there is more than one). There are a number of national home price indices, and each has their own discrete methodology of measuring home sale prices. Some indices collect MLS data samples, while others use reported mortgage data. Average home sale prices help determine affordability, which can be an indication of buyers’ potential ability to purchase a home.

Some analysts talk about mortgage interest rates for much of the same reason one might follow home sale prices – to project home buyer affordability. The rationale is that the lower the interest the more affordable homes are and increase buyer activity.

Analysts also use new homes statistics to describe the strength of the real estate market. Included in this subset of housing data are new home sales and new home starts. New home starts is typically derived from the number of permits filed to build homes. Besides being a forward looking projection of new homes sales, economists follow new home starts figures closely because it can project construction employment as well.

Housing indices can be inconsistent. And while positive statistics may be reported nationally, it doesn’t necessarily correspond to the local market. Your real estate agent can provide insight to local sales trends and expected projections.

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Millennials, home buying, and tiny houses

small houseMany analysts are trying to provide answers for this year’s disappointing home sales volume. One factor that has been maintained is the lack of participation from young home buyers, which may be supported by statistics compiled by the National Association of Realtors®. Highlights from the National Association of Realtors® 2013 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers cites the median age of home buyers was 42 years old (increased from the median age of 39 reported in 2008, when three-fifths of all home buyers were under 45); and the median age of the first time home buyer was 31 (increased from the median age of 30 in 2008, when 54% of first time home buyers were reported to be between the ages of 25 and 34).

Millennials, typically described to be between the ages of 18 and 34, have recently been the focus of much financial analysis. There is a consensus that millennial economic participation has been impacted by employment and a challenging job market. Along with a burdening student loan debt, many millennials have decided to delay family formation; not to mention forgoing home purchases for rentals and moving back with mom and dad.

David Jacobson, in his A July 16th Money article “10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On” (time.com/money) described millennials as a financially savvy group who, like the generation of the Great Depression, has learned from the Great Recession. When it comes to housing, Jacobson states that it is not a lack of desire for homeownership, but rather just a matter of affordability. He cites a Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies finding indicating that homeownership fell 12% among those younger than 35 during the period between 2006 and 2011; and an additional 2 million are living with their parents. Even though he describes improving economic conditions, Jacobson attributes the prohibitive cost of housing to the combination of economic challenges along with recent changes to the mortgage industry.

Emily Parkhurst, the Digital Managing Editor of the Puget Sound Business Journal, provides additional insight in an August 1st blog post (Zillow data shows millennials don’t buy houses). Identifying herself as a millennial by saying “I’m that 32 year old non-homeowner they’re talking about…she shares her frustrating experience with selling her husband’s condo with an underwater mortgage. Having purchased the condo before their marriage, and then having to make job related moves, they tried selling it via short sale and then trying a deed-in-lieu; but after more than three years, she states, “It’s been an insane back-and-forth with no promise of resolution any time soon. Why would I ever sign up for the possibility of that again?

Although homeownership may still be a challenge for many, including millennials; the “Tiny House Movement” may be viewed as an affordable alternative to traditional housing. Another take on manufactured housing (mobile and double-wide homes), the Tiny House Movement was described by Randy Stearns of TIME (Tiny Houses With Big Ambitions; May 29, 2014) as “…efforts by architects, activists and frugal home owners to craft beautiful, highly functional houses of 1,000 square feet or less (some as small as 80 square feet).

Maybe the Tiny House may not solve all of the problems in the real estate industry, but the concept of mobile, tiny efficient housing seems to be catching on not only with those who are downsizing – but also as mobile apartments for millennials.

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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. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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The anonymity of the internet has made real estate more personal

HouseIt might not be a revelation that the initial news about Zillow’s acquisition of Trulia reverberated among the analysts as a game changer for the real estate industry. But you might be surprised that some commentaries, such as Brad Stone’s of BloomburgBusinessWeek.com (How a Zillow-Trulia Merger Could Finally Change the Business of Real Estate), expressed that the transaction of buying and selling homes has not really changed since the inception of these internet giants.

Compared to 2013, decreased sales volume has made 2014 a challenging year for many in the real estate industry. And contrary to what some believe, the Trulia acquisition may not necessarily be a sign of strength; but rather, it may be sign of continued weakness in the industry. Tim Logan comments on the acquisition in his July 28th Los Angeles Times article (Zillow deal to buy Trulia creates real estate digital ad juggernaut), “Neither is yet profitable separately, but they hope to save $100 million a year by joining forces and cutting duplicative costs.”

Regardless of the economics behind the acquisition, the significance of Zillow and Trulia (and other similar websites) cannot be underestimated. And although many believed these sites were to have changed the real estate industry in a manner similar to how the internet changed the travel and retail industries; Zillow and Trulia have been leaders in transforming the home buyer and seller experience. And instead of minimizing the importance of the real estate agent; MLS aggregators have become facilitators and part of the home buying/selling process by packaging syndicated MLS feeds and other related information to consumers in a convenient and eloquent way through the internet, while selling services to real estate professionals vis-à-vis subscriptions and advertising.

The general process of buying and selling a home is still somewhat the same as it has been for decades. Before internet access became prevalent, real estate agents mostly met with their clients in person to review available home listings, discuss financing and other related matters. Although many used the technology of the day (fax machine and telephone), the preferred meeting was face-to-face. As the internet flourished, technology adopters were able to correspond with clients via email, text messages, and Skype. And as the technology evolved, so too did the daily business of real estate. Searching for homes became increasingly streamlined, and the flow of documents became more efficient.

Some have made the argument that the internet and related technologies may have been an enabler of the real estate bubble of the early to mid 2000’s. However, the reality may be that the real estate bubble facilitated the growth of real estate aggregators and the use of internet technologies. The proliferation of information at that time, along with the effective use of new technologies, fed house hungry buyers who wanted to be the first to know about a home for sale before other buyers. Internet and cell phone applications were developed to automatically send listing alerts to buyers’ emails and cell phones (technology that is commonly used today and even useful in hot markets where homes sell quickly).

Buying and selling a home is still a personal business. Instead of eliminating the real estate agent; websites such as Zillow and Trulia may have forced the agent to evolve from the information gate keeper to the local real estate expert who can interpret information for clients into meaningful data that can be used to facilitate the buying and selling of homes.

© 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. This article was originally published the week of July 28, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

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