Housing market is partying like it’s 2006

house for saleAfter month’s worth of good housing market news, many optimistic home buyers and sellers are preparing for their jump into the market. But some caution that not all the data is positive and the jump into the market should be taken with care.

Have you noticed when there is positive housing news, someone offers data that throws a wrench in the recovery party? Maybe we’ve just become overly analytical about the housing market, looking for reasons to be optimistic. If one month’s home sales exceed expectations, the buzz is about how the market is recovering and anecdotes about multiple offers and fast sales are talked about as if it is the norm. However, when there is a disappointing month, some will try to explain it away giving reasons such as winter weather (even though the data is already seasonally adjusted) or some other one-time incident.

If you haven’t yet figured it out, housing economics is not cut and dried – there is truth in opposing views. The good news is that those who are positive about the housing market are probably correct; the bad news is that those who urge caution are also probably correct. The truth is that since 2010, the housing market has cycled with a two year period oscillating between positive and negative data – one year showing promise, while the next disappoints.

Sure, home prices have increased in recent years, with the sharpest increase occurring from 2012 through 2013. But rebounding home prices are like the sword of Damocles hanging over the housing market: as home prices rebound, affordability has become an issue for many home buyers.

Furthermore, there is a consensus that interest rates will rise sometime in the near future; and some are worried about the effect on the housing market. Spencer Jakab of the Wall Street Journal made this clear in his March 30th piece (Spring Puts Bounce in Housing Market: Home Prices May Get a Second Wind: wsj.com) by explaining the relationship between mortgage costs and affordability.

Jakab starts off by saying “The demise of the housing recovery has been greatly exaggerated.” And points out how home prices have rebounded, while February home sales were as good as (if not slightly better than) February 2014 (regardless of the two year cycle). He also indicates that although home prices have not reached their pre-crisis levels, they are at the highest levels since the crisis. However, he cautions those who are ready to call it a housing recovery trend. He states: “Once the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates, likely sometime this year, affordability will begin slipping. Say 30-year mortgage rates are a percentage point higher a year from now, and prices are 5% higher. Then a monthly mortgage payment, assuming a typical down payment, would rise by about 18%.

Considering that average wages increased 2.1% during 2014, an 18% increase in the cost of home ownership could arrest home price appreciation and possibly cause a déjà-vu market liken to 2008-2009. If you don’t remember: homes were on the market for extended periods; home prices decreased; and home buyers and sellers retreated.

So why should we get all excited about a little good news? Rather than focusing on 2 data points each month (comparing a month’s data to the previous month, and the same month from the previous year), maybe it’s time to focus on the bigger picture.

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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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So how’s that internet working out for you?

homeIf you’re like many other Americans, internet reviews persuade your choice of online purchases. Internet reviews have become so influential that it is life or death for many restaurants. Even service industries have added weight to internet reviews. But a recent Amazon lawsuit, once again, has many talking about the authenticity of internet reviews.

The gaming of internet reviews was first given attention in a 2011 New York Times exposé by David Streitfeld, when he described the effort for businesses and individuals to appear better than their competition by saying: “…an industry of fibbers and promoters has sprung up to buy and sell raves for a pittance.” And at that time, Cornell researchers concluded, at the 49th annual meeting of the Association of Computational Linguistics (Proceedings of the 49th Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics, pages 309–319, Portland, Oregon, June 19-24, 2011.), that the detection of fake reviews is “well beyond the capability of human judges;” and recommended an analysis of reviews to include, among other things, psycho-linguistically motivated features.

Since the issue was brought to light in 2011, you might think that the practice of using fake reviews might have dwindled. On the contrary.  It seems as if the practice has become increasingly sophisticated to circumvent the controls that are meant to weed them out. You can still find services that will write reviews – for a fee; fake reviews have even become specialized, where “reviewers” advertise to place their evaluations on specific websites. Furthermore, you can find online classified ads offering payment for reviews or to “swap” reviews for free.

In response to the seemingly persistent problem, Amazon is the first to take legal action to crack down on fake reviews. Jay Greene’s April 8th Seattle Times report (Amazon sues to block fake reviews on its site; seattletimes.com) indicated that the Amazon suit alleges that such reviews are deceptive and harmful to those who don’t abuse the review system. And according to CNET (Amazon sues alleged reviews-for-pay sites; cnet.com), Amazon (like many online sites) has invested in monitoring controls to foil fake reviews; but people seek out to game the system.

I hear you asking: “Surely, real estate agents don’t post fake reviews, right?”

According to Lani Rosales of AGBeat, the posting of fake agent reviews are “…unethical but seemingly common practice.” She reasoned in her 2011 report (Sketchy new trend – hiring fake online review writers; agbeat.com) that there has always been an element posting fake real estate agent reviews. And she anticipated that the trend would continue, as agents coped with the down market, “…Realtors are already using and will undoubtedly increase use of these willing reviewers, making for a repeat of history where agents are painted as being ‘number one,’ having ‘impeccable integrity’ and ‘superior service’…

As we spend more time online (emarketer.com reported in 2013 that web users spent an average of 23 hours per week using email, texting, and social media), getting your online attention is big business – especially in the real estate industry. Apparently, there’s a lot of money at stake, such that a battle has be waging during the last year between Zillow Group (Zillow and Trulia) and News Corp (Move Inc and Realtor.com); alleging stolen secrets and wanting access to property listings.

And much like the fake reviews that vie for your business, the lawsuits between the real estate giants may ultimately reveal the business of the internet; which may not actually be about customer service, but really about selling a commodity – you.

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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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Home buyer survey predictive of spring housing market

home saleI think it’s safe to say that many of us have been anticipating spring’s warm weather; if not for a change of pace from arctic temperatures, it’s the season that the housing market swings into top gear. However, Fannie Mae’s March 2015 National Housing Surveymay support anecdotal reports of home buyer attitudes toward home prices and is making some re-think their estimation of the spring market.

The April 7th Fannie Mae (fanniemae.com) press release titled, “Lackluster Income Growth Weighing on Americans’ Housing Sentiment: Share of Consumers Expecting to Buy a Home on Next Move Reaches Survey Low” might convey that not all home buyers are looking to buy a home this year. However, the news is not all gloom and doom. Although the survey indicated that 60% of respondents said they would buy a home if they were to move, which is an all-time survey low; the percentage of those who responded that it was a good time to buy a home hit an all-time survey high. Additionally, there were fewer respondents in March’s survey who felt their financial situation would improve in the next year.

The survey is described by Fannie Mae as “The most detailed consumer attitudinal survey of its kind.” It polls 1,000 Americans on their attitudes about such things that include (but is not limited to) homeownership, the economy, household finances, and overall consumer confidence. Fannie Mae senior vice president and chief economist Doug Duncan remarked about the March survey: “… results emphasize how critical attitudes about income growth are to consumers’ outlook on housing.” However, consumer sentiment should improve as income growth is realized.

Fannie Mae’s March survey is coming on the heels of news of a possible economic slowdown. The Wall Street Journal’s Kate Davidson reported on March 25th (GDP Growth Estimates Tumble, Again: wsj.com) that the latest Gross Domestic Product estimates may be a repeat of last year. While several Wall Street economists revised lower their Q1 2015 GDP estimates from 0.9% to 1.5%, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta lowered their Q1 2015 GDP estimate to 0.2%.

If last year’s pattern is being realized, the survey’s consumer sentiment and economic news is just a blip on the radar. Remember that the Q1 2014 GDP was negative as the economy retracted, however rebounding with 5% third quarter growth. Likewise, 2014 home sales rebounded later in the year only finishing the year only 3% behind 2013 (according to the National Association of Realtors®). And as the NAR reported on March 30th that pending home sales rose during February, it is estimated that existing home sales will increase 6.4% during 2015 compared to 2014 (realtor.org).

The upshot of this data could be that consumers are saying is that it’s a good time to buy a home, but only if you can afford it. However, it’s not just about the dollar amount; home buyers are increasingly demanding value for their money. Buyers are looking at the bigger picture of the costs of homeownership including maintenance and commute to work. And this attitude can be reflected in home buyers’ push back on home prices.

If you’re a home seller, relatively low housing inventory is good news; but pricing your home correctly may be the definitive factor. And as you might anticipate home buyers competing for your home; consider that some have reported that that low appraisals have impacted their sale.

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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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Home seller expectations are high for 2015 market

Luxury HomesHave you ever waited to be seated in the new trendy restaurant? You’re anticipating the menu, and thinking about what you might eat. If the wait is too long, your patience wears thin; you begin to calculate the time to the next open table. You might even scan the dining room trying to determine how much longer individual diners intend to stay at their table. If your wait is too long, you might even decide to leave. If you do get seated, you might be disappointed with an over-priced and limited choice menu.

Today’s housing market is much like the visit to that restaurant. Home buyers are motivated to jump into the market and eagerly await the next home listing; and like the restaurant menu, are often disappointed with limited choice and high prices. Additionally, low housing inventory, much like the restaurant’s long table turnover, may leave many to look for other options; some would-be home buyers are putting off their purchases and renewing leases for another year.

One of the factors that contribute to low housing inventory is the velocity of home ownership (how often a home gets sold). And indeed, home owners are staying in their homes longer before selling, according to a special study conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (nahb.org). Dr. Paul Emrath, of NAHB’s Economics and Housing Policy, provides details in a follow up study showing a decline in home owner mobility since 2007. Single family home owners stayed in their homes for an average of 12 years between 1987 and 2007. However, since 2007 the average time the home owner stayed in their home increased to 16 years. And since 2001, first time home buyers stayed in their homes 4 to 7 years less than move-up buyers.

If you’re one of those who feel that your stay in your home has been long enough, it may seem as if the market would favor a home sale. You might believe that the low inventory environment should make your sale quick, and possibly resulting in multiple offers. After all, the low number of homes listed for sale was cited for price growth by National Association of Realtors® Chief Economist Lawrence Yun in the NAR March 23rd press release (realtor.org). And it makes sense to think that that first time home buyers should be motivated by relatively low interest rates and higher rents.

But before you set your expectations too high, consider that not all homes sell quickly – even in today’s low inventory environment. The Montgomery County average days on market during February exceeded 70 days. And even though the NAR reported a 7.5% increase in the average home prices across the country during February; the Montgomery County average sale price during February decreased 5.4% compared to the previous February and decreased 2.1% compared to January, according to RealEstate Business Intelligence (getsmartcharts.com).

If you’re putting your home on the market, don’t take home buyers for granted. Just like diners at the restaurant, home buyers have high expectations and want choices. Home buyers typically look for a combination of location, quality, and value. And just because inventory is low, buyers are not compelled to purchase your home – especially if the home is perceived to be over-priced.

For best results this spring – work with your listing agent to prepare your home, and price it according to neighborhood trends.

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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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Home buyer strategy to cope with a low inventory market

real estateAs the weather warms, many home buyers are venturing out making themselves known; only to be greeted with low inventories and higher list prices. The National Association of Realtors® March 23rd press release indicated that nationwide low housing inventory is pushing home prices to grow rapidly; average home prices across the country increased 7.5% during February compared to the same period last year (realtor.org).

Much like the “tire kicker;” a typical home buyer visits selected open houses and lurks online to see what’s out there before talking to a lender and/or a real estate agent. While desiring to be low-key and pretending to be demure may be the strategy of choice; acting this way during a low inventory market could lead you to miss out on the home of your dreams.

If you’re part of this year’s home buyer cohort, prepare for a low inventory market by talking with a mortgage lender and a real estate agent before you begin your search. Working with an experienced agent and lender may increase your chances of not only finding a home, but getting your offer accepted.

Even though home buyers are instructed to get qualified for a mortgage before they begin looking for a home, it is often left until just prior to writing their first offer. A lender approval not only provides you the certainty of knowing what you can afford; it tells the home seller you are capable of buying their home.

Although getting a mortgage qualification letter today is more involved than it was in bygone years, it is for the better. To comply with new rules and regulations, lenders today require a formal application before they will provide you an approval letter that can accompany your offer to purchase. You will need to provide documents indicating your income and assets to determine how much you can afford as well as verify the funds for down payment and closing costs. The application not only helps you through the home buying process, it will make your mortgage process more streamlined too.

Although hiring a buyer agent is not always a consideration during the home search, your choice of agent could affect the outcome of your purchase. Choose carefully – research has indicated that real estate agents are not all alike; veteran agents positively affect your transaction and are more efficient compared to rookies. Experienced agents offer intangible services such as understanding the nuances of the housing market, as well as having an increased ability to engage the parties in the transaction. Additionally, it was found that home buyers who employ full-time agents have better outcomes than those who hire part-time agents.

Rather than waiting to choose your agent until you’re ready to make an offer on a home, meeting and interviewing several agents could help you determine their experience and commitment. Although most buyers think of savvy agents as being expert negotiators; in a low inventory market it also pays to have an agent who thinks outside the box to seek home sale opportunities that are not typically advertised in the MLS.

A low inventory housing market presents the home buyer with a number of issues. Working with an experienced agent and mortgage lender can help you through the ups and downs of the process as well as reframing your expectations to fit the reality of 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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You are more resilient to winter than your home

home salesDid you know that enduring a harsh winter can make you more resilient? At least that’s what University of Buffalo researcher Mark Seery believes. His research on stress and coping reveals that negative events and adversity promotes adaptability and resilience, which benefits your overall wellness (buffalo.edu).

Your home, however, may not be as resilient as your psyche. A severe winter can create the ideal conditions for water penetration into and around your home. Unfortunately, many home owners won’t know that an issue exists until there is a noticeable leak, or water seeps into the basement. Left unchecked, water leaks can not only cause water damage to ceilings, walls, and basements, it can also promote mold growth as well as structural issues in and around the house.

Ice dams are often the cause of water finding its way into the home. Occurring on exterior coverings, ice dams typically occur through the melting and rapid freezing of snow or ice, which can lift and separate the covering giving water a pathway into the house. Ice dams are common on the roof, lifting shingles and separating chimney flashing; but can also occur on siding and exterior trim as well.

Rather than taking water away from your home’s foundation, blocked gutters and downspouts can be the cause of water penetration into the basement. Gutters and downspouts can become blocked with debris any time of year; however, winter presents additional issues. Snow and ice covered downspouts are sometimes shifted or damaged; while eroded grading can redirect water toward the house.

Part of the home’s drainage system, a sump pump helps to keep water from penetrating into the basement. It is designed to collect water in a basin and pump it away from the home. After severe winter weather, a large volume of melted snow and ice can saturate the grounds and fill the basin quickly. If the pump is not operating properly (or the pump drain is blocked), water can unknowingly seep into the basement.

Winter weather can also affect the home’s walkway and driveway. Freezing water can expand existing cracks, while snow removal and ice treatments can deteriorate the stability and integrity of the materials. Not only can the sidewalk and driveway become unsightly, they can also become a trip hazard.

You may be able to examine much of your home’s exterior by walking around the perimeter. However, it may be necessary to have a licensed contractor to inspect/repair the roof, gutters, and other areas. Although your home may not need maintenance, common items that may need to be addressed include repairing/replacing lifted or missing shingles; repairing flashing; realigning gutters and downspouts; re-grading; testing the sump pump; repairing/replacing broken or missing siding and/or exterior trim; repairing window and door seals; repairing/replacing fascia boards; repairing and/or sealing walkway and driveway; and touch-up painting.

Even if your home escaped busted pipes (which many home owners experienced this year), a leaking roof, or other cold weather crises this winter; it still may be in need of urgent maintenance. As the weather warms, taking the time to check your home’s exterior and making necessary repairs could not only improve your home’s aesthetics, but may also help prevent potential issues and impede developing damage. It should go without saying that this is a priority if you’re planning to put your home on the market this spring/summer.

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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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Credit reporting changes may help home buyers

money to buy a homeIt’s no secret that your credit report can affect your ability to buy a home. Most mortgage lenders impose minimum credit score requirements to qualify; and tiered interest rates can cost you hundreds of dollars if your credit score is too low.

Your credit score is used as a predictor of your ability to manage debt. The score is the result of an analysis of information that is reported about you to the three credit reporting agencies; and is produced by each agency’s proprietary algorithm. Typical information that can be found in your credit report includes revolving and installment credit accounts, such as credit cards, home equity lines of credit, mortgages, and auto loans. Reported late payments, collections, and judgments can adversely affect your credit score.

Financial experts recommend you review your credit report annually to ensure accuracy, and dispute incorrect information. Annualcreditreport.com is the only authorized website where you can obtain a free annual credit report.

Correcting credit report errors can be tedious; and unfortunately, the outcome may not please you. However, this could change as a result of a recent settlement between New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the three credit reporting agencies. A March 9th press release (ag.ny.gov) announced a settlement with the three credit reporting agencies to “improve credit report accuracy; increase the fairness and efficacy of the procedures for resolving consumer disputes of credit report errors; and protect consumers from unfair harm to their credit histories due to medical debt.” The statement quoted a 2012 FTC study that suggested that millions of consumers’ credit reports contain errors. The study indicated that 26% of the participants reported at least one error; and about 13% of the participants reported a positive change to their credit score after disputing errors.

The Consumer Data Industry Association (which represents the consumer data industry, including the three credit reporting agencies) also announced on March 9th (cdiaonline.org) the creation of the National Consumer Assistance Plan. Stuart Pratt, President and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, stated; “The National Consumer Assistance Plan we are announcing today will enhance our ability to offer accurate reports and make the process of dealing with credit information easier and more transparent for consumers…”

The implementation of the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP) is expected in upcoming months, and is focused on improving how consumers interact with the credit reporting agencies, as well as data accuracy and quality. The NCAP is to build upon recent improvements to consumers’ experience with the credit reporting agencies, which includes a 2013 digital application to facilitate credit report disputes. To ensure consistent and uniform data submission to credit reporting agencies, a multi-company working group is to be formed.

To improve the consumer experience, the NCAP is to: provide expanded credit report education; provide dispute results and suggestions on what to do if not satisfied with dispute outcome; and enhance dispute resolution for proven victims of identity theft and fraud.

To improve data accuracy and quality, the NCAP is to: implement a “waiting period” of 180 days for medical debt; remove previously reported medical collections that have been paid, or being paid by insurance; reinforce consistent standards for data submission; reject data that does not include a date of birth; and eliminate reporting debt which did not arise from a contract or agreement to pay (e.g., tickets or fines).

© 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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How to price your home in 2015

home for saleIn case you haven’t been following along closely, the March 3rd release of CoreLogic’s Home Price Index (corelogic.com) indicated that nationwide home prices increased 5.7% during January compared to the same period last year; and there was a 1.1% increase during January compared to December. And believe it or not, CoreLogic stated that nationwide home prices including distressed sales are only 12.7% below the peak; and only 8.6% below peak if you exclude distressed sales.

Of course, national home price data are an average of regions that vary economically, reflected in their respective housing market. CoreLogic Chief Economist Dr. Frank Nothaft stated, “House price appreciation has generally been stronger in the western half of the nation and weakest in the mid-Atlantic and northeast states…In part, these trends reflect the strength of regional economies. Colorado and Texas have had stronger job creation and have seen 8 to 9 percent price gains over the past 12 months in our combined indexes. In contrast, values were flat or down in Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland in our overall index, including distressed sales.” The only 2 states that realized negative price appreciation year over year (including distressed sales) during January were Maryland and Connecticut, where home prices appreciated (–0.3%) and (-0.6%) respectively.

If you include distressed sales, Maryland’s January home prices appreciated (–0.3%) year over year, (-0.1%) month over month, and is (-25.3%) from the peak. Regional differences, of course, exist: DC home prices including distressed sales appreciated 3.3.% year over year, (-0.4%) month over month, and is only (-1.4%) from the peak; Virginia home prices appreciated 1.4% year over year, (-0.2%) month over month, and is (-15.6%) from the peak.

The CoreLogic HPI Forecast projects nationwide home prices, including distressed sales, to appreciate 0.4% from January to February, with an annual appreciation of 5.3%.

CoreLogic expects consistent home price appreciation through 2015 and into 2016, due in part to a current shortage in housing inventory. Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic, stated that “Many homeowners have taken advantage of low rates to refinance their homes, and until we see sustained increases in income levels and employment they could be hunkered down so supplies may remain tight. Demand has picked up as low mortgage rates and the cut in the FHA annual insurance premium reduce monthly payments for prospective homebuyers.”

According to the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors® (gcaar.com) January Montgomery County single family home statistics, home inventory and home buyer activity increased compared to last January. Although total housing inventory increased 26.5% year over year, contracts (pending sales) increased 16.6%, and settlements (sales) increased 4.8%.

If you’re wondering how these statistics might affect your sale, you’re not alone; many home sellers are trying to shape a sensible marketing plan this spring, which includes deciding on a listing price. Consider that although listing inventory is currently relatively low, it is likely to spike within the next two months adding competition to a market competing for discerning home buyers.

Typical home buyers have been increasingly demanding value; besides looking for a “turnkey” (updated and ready to move in) home, they have also been sensitive to home prices. Since cash buyers are not as prevalent as they were two years ago, and many buyers are concerned about their monthly obligations and budgets; pricing your home correctly will be more important this year than it has in the past.

© 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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Stumbling housing market reignites housing policy debate

real estateSurely 2015 is to be the year when the housing market would bounce back from its recent disappointing performance; at least that’s what I wrote back in November. But as January’s news from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) is not as rosy as we expected; a housing policy debate, that has been subdued since 2010, gets heated.

The NAR revealed in a February 23rd press release (realtor.org) that although the pace of home sales increased compared to the same time last year, existing homes sales have declined to the lowest rate in nine months. The typically optimistic Lawrence Yun (NAR Chief Economist) was cited as saying “the housing market got off to a somewhat disappointing start to begin the year with January closings down throughout the country.”   Adding that “seasonal influences” can make January data erratic, the combination of low inventory and home price gains over the pace of inflation seems to have slowed home sales – notwithstanding low mortgage interest rates.

Keeping mortgage interest rates low is not the sole solution; however, if it was, the housing market may have bounced back several years ago. Although a myriad of causes have been blamed for a lackluster housing market that has been trying to make a comeback for six years, most are correlational and incidental.

However, Richard X. Bove (Equity Research Analyst at Rafferty Capital Markets) recently made a case for a sole cause in his February 23rd commentary (There’s a new mortgage crisis brewing; cnbc.com/id/102447414). Bove described how mortgage markets are in trouble; rules and regulations put into place to strengthen the market by increasing borrower standards have dried up a lot of the funding. And not necessarily in the way you might expect; besides shrinking the pool of qualified buyers, Bove suggested that the rules and regulations have made mortgage lending unprofitable and unpalatable for some lenders (leading them to walk away from the business).

As a response, it would seem as if the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) took steps to make mortgages increasingly available (returning to 3% down payment loans, and increasing the number of loans on Fannie and Freddie’s balance sheets). These actions, along with recorded losses in Q4 2014, Bove described, is making some nervous.

If you don’t remember, the FHFA was created in 2008 as a temporary conservator to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; whose original goals included: ensuring a positive net worth for Fannie and Freddie; reducing Fannie and Freddie’s mortgage portfolios; and facilitating a streamlined and profitable model for Fannie and Freddie.

Bove’s catch-22 conclusion, of either hindering the housing market by stopping Fannie and Freddie’s growth or increasing Fannie and Freddie’s debt obligations with continued growth, is not a new dilemma. The debate has been ongoing since 2008.

Having faded somewhat since 2010, the housing policy debate heated up during testimony given by FHFA Director Mel Watt on January 27th during the congressional hearing, “Sustainable Housing Finance: An Update from the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.” Trey Garrison of HousingWire succinctly portrayed opposing views (January 27, 2014; FHFA hearing: GOP fear housing policy headed for Crash 2.0; housingwire.com): “Democrats said policies in the past year are necessary to expand housing opportunities to lower income and challenged borrowers…” while, “…Republicans…said the administration is adopting dangerous policies that risk another housing crash that will put taxpayers on the hook for billions.

© 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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Real estate’s new rules – common sense

home for saleReal estate canon used to be straight forward and for the most part consistent. For instance, if you planned a sale, you would target spring time because that was generally accepted as the time when home buyer activity was the greatest; or buying a home was a rite of passage. But since 2008, what was generally accepted has been persistently challenged; home buyers and sellers have shifted into a new paradigm with new rules.

It is no coincidence that Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate (by Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff and Chief Economist Stan Humphries, Ph.D.) comes at a time when significant changes in consumer beliefs and expectations about real estate have become widely recognized. The book is described by Zillow as “…poised to be the real estate almanac for the next generation.” And looking at the table of contents, you might think that the highly acclaimed tome is just another book about the buying and selling process; yet it seems to discuss practical aspects about buying and selling a home, as well as possibly confronting real estate myths.

It will remain to be seen how influential the work will become, as research has indicated that home buyers are typically well informed and out in front of housing trends.

A 2012 study by Karl Case, Robert Shiller, & Anne Thompson (What have they been thinking? homebuyer behavior in hot and cold markets. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 265-315) revealed perceptions and expectations of homebuyers from four metropolitan markets over a 25 year period. The authors concluded that the surveyed home buyers were well informed and very much aware of home price trends prior to their purchase. Data suggested that home buyer opinions (beliefs) fluctuated over time; there was more agreement among respondents during strong markets, and increased doubt during times of market uncertainty. There was also a strong correlation between price perceptions and actual movement in prices. Although home buyers were “out in front” of short term market movements, their short term expectations “underreacted” to actual home price changes; while long term expectations were persistently “more optimistic.”

Suggesting a set of “guidelines” for real estate is a trap that implies that the housing market is straightforward and static; where personal and regional differences don’t matter and the market doesn’t change. However, David Wyman, Elaine Worzala, and Maury Seldin raise the question about becoming complacent with trends and models. In a 2013 exploratory paper (Hidden complexity in housing markets: a case for alternative models and techniques, International Journal of Housing Markets and Analysis, 6:4, 383 – 404) they discuss how rigid market models may lead to rules where buyers and sellers could make poor decisions.

The authors’ discussion of “complexity theory” in real estate in not unlike the application of “chaos theory,” which focuses on letting go of assumptions upon which rules are definitive; and view housing as a dynamic and changing environment. Citing incidents leading up to the financial crisis, the authors make a case for understanding the market as complex and using common sense before making (buying and selling) decisions.

So as we begin to understand the new real estate dogma, it is likely that the new rules will most likely change along with the market. And much like the housing market, consumer beliefs are also dynamic – which seem to be ahead of the industry experts.

© Dan Krell
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