Gonzo home sales and prices

gonzo home sales and prices
Gonzo Home Sales and Prices? NAR Housing Expectations 2017 infographic (from realtor.org)

Everyone seems to be excited about this week’s Case-Shiller home price numbers reported for February.  Even the title of the April 25th press release sounded a little giddy: “The S&P Corelogic Case-Shiller National Home Price NSA Index Sets Fourth Consecutive All-Time High” (spindices.com).  Yes, the Case-Shiller 10-city and 20-city composite indices are close to the 2007 level.  But before you become intoxicated by reports of gonzo home sales and prices and run off to sell your home, here’s more to the story.

Gonzo home sales and prices

Gonzo home sales and prices depend on the market.  According to the recent Case-Shiller release, Seattle, Portland, and Dallas topped the charts with annual index gains of 12.2 percent, 9.7 percent, and 8.8 percent respectively.  Not surprisingly, Seattle and Portland have been the hottest real estate markets over the past year.  Tampa’s and Cleveland’s housing markets are at the opposite end of the spectrum with decreases of -0.5 percent, -0.3 percent during February; while Miami’s home price index was unchanged.  Washington DC reported an annual gain of 4.1 percent, with a 0.2% gain reported in February.

David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices stated:

“There are still relatively few existing homes listed for sale and the small 3.8 month supply is supporting the recent price increases. Housing affordability has declined since 2012 as the pressure of higher prices has been a larger factor than stable to lower mortgage rates.

Housing’s strength and home building are important contributors to the economic recovery. Housing starts bottomed in March 2009 and, with a few bumps, have advanced over the last eight years. New home construction is now close to a normal pace of about 1.2 million units annually, of which around 800,000 are single family homes. Most housing rebounds following a recession only last for a year or so. The notable exception was the boom that set the stage for the bubble. Housing starts bottomed in 1991, drove through the 2000-2001 recession, and peaked in 2005 after a 14-year run.”

Gonzo home sales and prices are dependent on local real estate.  It’s true, housing inventory is lacking.  At a time when homes should be coming to market for the spring season, the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors Montgomery County single family statistics for March 2017 indicated that there were -1.8 percent less new listings compared to the same time last year.  And the total number of active homes for sale are -16.4 percent less than the same time last year.  Although June is usually the peak time for home sales and prices in our area, home sales increased 17.9 percent month over month, and is 11.7 percent higher than the same time last year; while average home sale prices increased less than 1 percent (gcaar.com)!

Holy shades of 2005, Batman!

Housing stats sound eerily like those before the housing bubble crash.  But this market is different in many respects.  Consider that housing speculation is not as prevalent as it was at that time; homes are not being flipped in a matter of days in most areas.  And home buyers are more sophisticated and savvy than they were in 2005; home buyers are more demanding, as well as sensitive to home condition and price.

Yes, it’s true that house values are increasing.  Yes, home sales are breaking records.  But not all homes sell.  You should realize that that home sale stats includes data of homes that sell.  Homes that don’t sell are not included in the numbers of closings, nor are they included in home sale prices.

Homes that don’t sell tend to be overpriced for the home’s condition, or neighborhood.  Sometimes, the physical location of the house is not ideal; for example, situated next to train tracks.  If you’re selling your home this year, don’t get greedy.  Get a professional opinion on pricing your home correctly; over priced homes tend to not sell quickly, or not at all.

Pricing your home may not be as easy as you think.  Empirical research has confirmed that there are many variables that affect sales price.  Factors that impact home sale price include the home’s location, condition, amenities, and market timing.

If you want to sell your home quickly and capitalize on home sale trends: consider repairing deferred maintenance issues, making updates, and don’t take home buyers for granted.  When making repairs and updates, don’t go for the cheapest quote because it will likely show.  Also, make sure your contractors are licensed.

Home buyers are just as savvy as you, so any attempt to deceive will backfire and hurt your sale.  Focus on broadening your home’s appeal.  Consider making your home turnkey, since most home buyers are looking for a home they can move right in and without making immediate repairs and updates.

For a guide on a successful home sale, take a look at “The magic of 4 to sell a home

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Housing market 2017

housing market 2017
Housing Market 2017(infographic from RE/MAX National Housing Report remax.com)

There’s no doubt that 2016 was an outstanding year for real estate and the housing market.  In fact, National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun was reported to say in a January NAR press release (www.nar.realtor) that the 2016 housing market was the best since the Great Recession.  There were 5.45 million total existing home sales in 2016, which exceeded 5.25 million during 2015.  What is necessary for a great housing market 2017, and how will it finish the year?

January’s sales were strong and Dr Yun stated in the press release that there is “resilience” in a “rising interest rate environment:”

“Much of the country saw robust sales activity last month as strong hiring and improved consumer confidence at the end of last year appear to have sparked considerable interest in buying a home…

Market challenges remain, but the housing market is off to a prosperous start as home buyers staved off inventory levels that are far from adequate and deteriorating affordability conditions.”

Home prices also surged during 2016.  A February 28th S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index press release (spindices.com) indicated a 30-month index high, increasing 5.8 percent during December.  The Seattle, Portland and Denver regions were at the top during this period, posting gains of 10.8 percent, 10.0 percent and 8.9 percent respectively (the Washington DC region gained a respectable 4.2 percent).  David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices stated:

“Home prices continue to advance, with the national average rising faster than at any time in the last two-and-a-half years…One factor behind rising home prices is low inventory. While sales of existing single family homes passed five million units at annual rates in January, the highest since 2007, the inventory of homes for sales remains quite low with a 3.6 month supply. New home sales at 555,000 in 2016 are up from recent years but remain below the average pace of 700,000 per year since 1990. Another factor supporting rising home prices is mortgage rates. A 30-year fixed rate mortgage today is 4.2% compared to the 6.4% average since 1990. Another indicator that home price levels are normal can be seen in the charts of Seattle and Portland OR. In the boom-bust of 2005-2009, prices of low, medium, and high-tier homes moved together, while in other periods, including now, the tiers experienced different patterns.”

Of course, the record year was nowhere near the peak market pace of 6.48 million existing home sales during 2006.  However, the economics of the market during that time was different; being influenced by outside forces such as uber-easy money policies and overzealous speculation in the housing market.

The peak market sales records may be a benchmark of a sort.  But in retrospect, those numbers are a reflection of a distorted market where speculators bought and sold homes in record numbers taking advantage of the easy money and a seemingly guaranteed big money payoff (which was a factor in the steep home appreciation spike at that time).  It was a crazy time for housing, when homes were flipped in a matter of days.  Many investors were even making money on homes they never owned by selling their interest in their purchase contracts.  The result was that home buyers found themselves either priced out of the market, or borrowing more than they could realistically afford because of the fierce buyer competition.

After posting impressive housing stats for 2016, the expectations for housing market 2017 are high.  And not surprisingly home sales started the year on the same pace, as the NAR reported January’s existing home sales (homes that settled during January) increased 3.3 percent.  However, the pending home sale index (homes under contract and described by NAR as a forward looking number) showed a different picture with 2.8 percent decrease during January.  Of course in the absence of bad weather, some economists explain that the decrease in pending home sales are due to low inventory and rising interest rates.

Housing Market 2017

Some are concerned about the decreased prospects of future home sales, suggesting that there won’t be a repeat performance of record home sales during 2017.  The recent pending home sale index release is reminiscent of the index reported for January 2014, where the NAR reported that the pending home sale index dropped 9 percent following post-recession record year of home sales during 2013.  At the end of 2014, it was revealed that existing home sales dropped 3 percent from the previous year.  Reasons given for the decrease were low inventory and tight lending.

Many, like myself, remain optimistic for housing market 2017 because interest rates remain historically low, even with recent rate hikes; and mortgage lending has been the easiest since the financial crisis.  The sentiment for housing market 2017 is also shared by consumers; who conveyed increased optimism about the housing market in Fannie Mae’s 2017 Home Purchase Sentiment Index (HPSI).  The February 17th News release (fanniemae.com) indicated that the January’s HPSI increased 2 percent, which is 1.2 percent higher than the same time last year. Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae, stated:

“Three months after the presidential election, measures of consumer optimism regarding personal financial prospects and the economy are at or near the highest levels we’ve seen in the nearly seven-year history of the National Housing Survey…However, any significant acceleration in housing activity will depend on whether consumers’ favorable expectations are realized in the form of income gains sufficient to offset constrained housing affordability. If consumers’ anticipation of further increases in home prices and mortgage rates materialize over the next 12 months, then we may see housing affordability tighten even more.”

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Home prices surprise

home prices
National home prices exceed peak prices. Home equity increases! (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

Back in January, I told you that the housing market of 2016 would be about home prices.

2016 housing market hinges on home prices.

A home selling season has not been anticipated so much by home sellers since 2013. It’s not that 2015 was a bad year for housing, because it wasn’t. It’s that many home owners who have been wanting to sell since 2010 (some because of being underwater) may be in position to make the long awaited move.

And indeed, national home sale prices have appreciated considerably through the year.  But who would have thought that home prices would once again approach the level reached during the peak market of 2006?

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index (spindices.com) reported in July that the index was within 3 percent of peak, with another month of 5 percent appreciation.  And surprise!  This week’s release of home price data indicated that the September’s S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index exceeded the index that was recorded during the peak market that occurred July 2006!  September’s year-over-year gains were due to a 5.5 percent gain to the National Index, while the 20-City composite remained unchanged at a 5.1 percent.

Of course, regional and local differences explain why actual home prices in many areas don’t seem as high as they were during the peak. Consider that Seattle, Portland, and Denver reported the highest annual home price gains with 11 percent, 10.9 percent, and 8.7 percent respectively.  The Washington DC region realized a 2.7 percent increase; which is well below the top gainers, as well as below the national average.  Although the housing markets in Miami, Tampa, Phoenix and Las Vegas experienced the most home price gains during the peak; current home prices in those cities “remain well below their all-time highs.”

Analysis provided in the November 29th press release states:

“The new peak set by the S&P Case-Shiller CoreLogic National Index will be seen as marking a shift from the housing recovery to the hoped-for start of a new advance” says David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “While seven of the 20 cities previously reached new post-recession peaks, those that experienced the biggest booms — Miami, Tampa, Phoenix and Las Vegas — remain well below their all-time highs. Other housing indicators are also giving positive signals: sales of existing and new homes are rising and housing starts at an annual rate of 1.3 million units are at a post-recession peak.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (fhfa.gov) also reported continued home price gains last week.  The FHFA Home Price Index (HPI) increased 6.1 percent year-over-year. The November 23rd press release reported that home prices increased in 49 states during the third quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year.  However, “Delaware and the District of Columbia were the only areas not to see price increases.”

Indications of a strengthening housing market have been reported for many months.  Last year, the National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) reported that the national median home sale price recorded for June 2015 ($236,400) surpassed the peak national median home sale price established during July 2006 ($230,400).

And if that weren’t enough, existing home sales have also been expanding.  The NAR reported last week that existing home sales increased during October.  The two-month consecutive increase doesn’t only outpace June’s peak, but is now the “highest annualized pace in nearly a decade.”

Existing-home sales ascended in October for the second straight month and eclipsed June’s cyclical sales peak to become the highest annualized pace in nearly a decade, according to the National Association of Realtors®. All major regions saw monthly and annual sales increases in October.

Termed an “autumn revival,” Lawrence Yun NAR chief economist, stated that “October’s strong sales gain was widespread throughout the country and can be attributed to the release of the unrealized pent-up demand that held back many would-be buyers over the summer because of tight supply…Buyers are having more success lately despite low inventory and prices that continue to swiftly rise above incomes.”

As much as we would like home prices to significantly appreciate indefinitely, market forces and economic factors will intervene.  Increasing interest rates is not only consistent with a growing economy, it will likely moderate home prices.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen stated in her November 17th Congressional testimony  regarding monetary policy:

At our meeting earlier this month, the Committee judged that the case for an increase in the target range had continued to strengthen and that such an increase could well become appropriate relatively soon if incoming data provide some further evidence of continued progress toward the Committee’s objectives. This judgment recognized that progress in the labor market has continued and that economic activity has picked up from the modest pace seen in the first half of this year. And inflation, while still below the Committee’s 2 percent objective, has increased somewhat since earlier this year. Furthermore, the Committee judged that near-term risks to the outlook were roughly balanced.

Yellen stated that “an increase could well become appropriate relatively soon.”  Yellen referred to economic strengths as rationale, however analysis of new data should comport with the Open Market Committee’s objectives.  Yellen stated that housing market strengths are favorable for an interest rate increase.  Although new home construction has been “subdued,” the fundamentals of the housing market are complimentary to such a move.

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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.

Home pricing strategy and housing market shift

Home pricing strategy
Home pricing strategy (from California Association of Realtors® www.car.org)

Home sellers should be concerned about the reports of a tumbling luxury home market, and consider changing their home pricing strategy.  The stalwart of the American real estate market since the recession (and possibly skewing home price indices) is showing signs of weakness.  Leigh Kamping-Carder of the The Wall Street Journal reported that 50% more homes priced $5 million or more reduced prices during this past January, compared to January 2015 (More Luxury-Home Sellers Drop Their Asking Prices; wsj.com; April 12, 2016).  Additionally, Kelsey Ramírez reported for HousingWire about a Redfin home price analysis that indicated weakened luxury home prices; the sector realized a 1.1% annual decrease during the first quarter of 2016 (Luxury home prices decrease for first time since 2012; housingwire.com; May3, 2016).

The apparent luxury home market collapse is most likely due to an increased inventory of luxury homes, and a lack of foreign investors (who were active in the market several years ago).  The impact of reduced prices is noticeable in home price indices as well, as there seems to be a consensus that there is a hint of a slowdown of price appreciation.

Corelogic’s May Home Price Insights (corelogic.com) indicated that nationwide home prices during March increased 6.7% year over year; and projects 5.7% appreciation for next March.  Additionally, the report highlights twelve states that have reached new home price highs.  Month over month average home prices nationwide increased 2.1%; however next month’s projection is for a gain of only 0.7%.

April’s S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index (spindices.com) indicted that February home prices increased at an annual rate of 5.3%, which is roughly the same as the previous month’s index.  The hot real estate markets of Portland, Seattle, and Denver realized the highest year over year gains, growing at 11.9%, 11% and 9.7% respectively. However, the national 0.2% month over month gain was not as encouraging.

David Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, provided commentary about the April S&P/Case-Shiller report, saying “…Home prices continue to rise twice as fast as inflation, but the pace is easing off in the most recent numbers…While financing is not an issue for home buyers, rising prices are a concern in many parts of the country. The visible supply of homes on the market is low at 4.8 months in the last report. Homeowners looking to sell their house and trade up to a larger house or a more desirable location are concerned with finding that new house. Additionally, the pace of new single family home construction and sales has not completely recovered from the recession.”

Although the recent home price indices have not yet established negative trends, they are telling of a housing market under pressure.  Local home sellers should take note that the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Index for the Washington DC metro area indicates a month over month -0.2% (negative two tenths of a percent) change in the average home price.  The Corelogic HPI Market Condition Indicator for the Washington DC-MD-VA-WV metro area is “Overvalued.”

If you are planning a home sale during the latter half of this year, you should be extra aware of the local market trends; paying attention to competition and general inventory.  Home pricing strategies that were common last year may not work to your advantage.  Over pricing your home could result in driving home buyers to your competition, rather than netting a higher sales price.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Regardless of investment value – homeowners do better than renters

million dollar homes

Many years ago, buying your first home used to be a rite of passage that usually coincided with starting a family. Your first home was not just a place to live; but was considered an investment that was expected to grow and provide a “nest egg” for your later years.

Several generations later, a lot has changed. We view investments differently, and have become amateur number crunchers trying to get the most of our money. But what was once considered a sound long term investment has now been deemed as poor judgment.

Of course to real estate investors, housing is a commodity; they take risks to reap rewards. Short term real estate investors (“flippers”) are often viewed as opportunists, buying homes at a discount and selling at retail value. The flipper’s goal is to have a quick turnaround between the time of acquisition and resale (flip), avoiding as much carrying cost as possible. The risk for the flipper is very high, especially in fickle markets; but the payoff can be very rewarding. It is not unusual for a flipper to lose money on a project because of delays, unexpected costs, and/or poor timing.

Long term real estate investors acquire homes to be used as rental properties, banking on the properties’ appreciation when it comes time to sell. Although the financial reward for this investor is long term, the risk is considered to be leveraged over time as well. However, unexpected costs and loss of rent can make such an investor rethink their plan and cut their losses.

For the rest of us, however; housing may not be such a great investment after all, according to many financial pundits. One such pundit, Morgan Housel (of Motley Fool fame), wrote about his meeting with Robert Shiller (of Case-Shiller fame) to give some telling insight about home values (Why your home is not a good investment; usatoday.com; May 10, 2014). Shiller told Housel that the housing market is “a provider of housing services” and “not a good provider of capital gains.”

According to Shiller, home prices from 1890 to 1990 (adjusted for real inflation) are “virtually unchanged.” Housel further added that home prices between 1890 and 2012, adjusted for real inflation, “went nowhere;” and decreased 10% from 1890 to 1980, when adjusted for real inflation. Shiller even suggested that “real” home prices could decrease over the next 30 years, due to a number of factors including obsolescence and advances in construction techniques.

With all the stats and figures, are those who touted the investment value of long term home ownership – wrong? Not necessarily. The consensus is that home ownership offers stability as well as many other benefits including: a place to live, a place to raise a family, and belonging to a community. These intangibles may be responsible for the research conclusions by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, that indicated there is an association between home ownership and growing wealth; where home owners fared better than renters (Herbert, McCue, and Sanchez-Moyano; Is Homeownership Still an Effective Means of Building Wealth for Low-income and Minority Households? Was it Ever? Joint Center for Housing Studies Harvard University, September 2013).

Is buying a home a bad investment? Housel pointed out that even Robert Shiller owns a home, and (at the time of the interview) indicated he would buy a home if he were in the market.

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