New homes allure is neurological

new homes
New homes (infographic from candysdirt.com)

Last week I mentioned that new home sales jumped 18.7 percent year-over-year, which is a ten-year high.  It should come as no surprise that new homes are selling like hotcakes.  After all, existing home inventory has been and remains historically low, which doesn’t give many options to home buyers.  But there are other reasons for the allure of new construction.  Some of the home buyers’ motives are apparent and some are not so obvious.

The idea of buying new construction goes beyond the “new home feel.”  Buyers of new homes are attracted to modern designs and trends that are incorporated into new houses.  New home construction takes advantage of modern building techniques and materials that allow for the open floor-plan concept that many home buyers prefer.  Many of the materials used in new construction are “engineered” for efficiency and longevity.

Buyers of new homes like the feeling that there will be minimal maintenance for the first year.  Everything is brand new and there is sense of confidence that the home’s systems won’t need major repairs or replacement.  Being the first owner of a home also gives assurance that they won’t have to deal with the poor maintenance habits of the previous owner.  This is a plus for home buyers who don’t have a lot of financial reserves to address home maintenance emergencies.  Instead, they can begin to save and budget for future repairs and replacements that should be years down the road.

New home builders take advantage of current trends in green building practices.  Many new home builders tout their LEED certification, demonstrating their commitment to energy efficiency and sustainable resources.  Green building practices are not only used when the home is built, but is actually built into the design.  Home owners seeking LEED certified builders believe they will have a smaller impact on the environment and save money on energy costs.

A new trend that buyers are pursuing is the “healthy home.”  The healthy home concept emphasizes the quality of the air inside the home.  Home buyers are becoming aware of the physical and environmental benefits of good indoor air quality, which can improve their emotional well-being and reduce the potential for respiratory distress.

But there is another reason why home buyers are attracted to new homes, and it lies within the brain.  Research has demonstrated time and again that consumers respond to novelty.  This means that home buyers have a tendency to want “new.”  This can be interpreted into making an old home new by renovating a kitchen, bathroom, etc.  Or it can mean buying a newly built home.

new homes
the desire for new homes may start with the limbic system (infographic from success-mohawk.com)

The novelty seeking behavior of the home buyer isn’t just a choice, as some may argue, it’s neurological.  Basically, the desire for a new home lies within the brain.  A study conducted by Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel (Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA; 2006; Neuron 51, 369-379) demonstrated that the hippocampal region of the brain responds to novel (new) stimuli.  The hippocampal region is part of the limbic system, which is noted for being responsible for memory and emotions.  It has also been associated with motivation.

The study also discusses the idea that novelty seeking behavior isn’t just emotional, but it is also rewarding.  This means that there is a behavioral loop for seeking new things, including buying a new home.

Home sellers need to take note of these findings.  Translating this study to home buyers may mean that a home’s feeling of “newness” is important, regardless if it’s construction, renovation, or even how the home is decorated.  Understanding what attracts and motivates home buyers can be the tipping point to get a home sold.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Move-up home buyers still absent

move-up home buyers
Home sale prices July 2017 (Infographic from NAR.Realtor)

Could it be that the housing market is still recovering from the great recession?  Maybe, considering that the housing market has not fully returned to a stable cycle.  Consider the inconsistency of annual home sales that seem to surge every three years, the steep home price increases over the last four years, and the lack of move-up home buyers in the market.

Summer is typically the strongest time of year for the market.  However, the National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales decreased during June and July of this year (a decrease of 1.8 percent and 1.3 percent respectively).  And July’s Pending Home Sale Index (projecting future sales) decreased 0.8 percent (nar.realtor).

Of course, the NAR’s take on this bump in the road is provided by their Chief Economist Lawrence Yun.  Yun described the discrepancy of wage growth to home price gains as a reason for this summer’s home sale slide.  He explained that the median home sale price increased 38 percent in the last five years, while hourly earnings only increase 12 percent.  He points out the obvious, that sharply increasing home prices are creating an affordability gap, which is pricing many home buyers out of the market.

Yet, according to the NAR, “Home buyer” traffic continues to grow, while the housing inventory continues to shrink (the national home sale inventory during July decreased 9.0 percent from the same time last year).

Yun stated:

The reality, therefore, is that sales in coming months will not break out unless supply miraculously improves. This seems unlikely given the inadequate pace of housing starts in recent months and the lack of interest from real estate investors looking to sell.

Home sale inventory has been an issue for the housing market since its slow recovery began four years ago.  Although many will explain away the dearth of homes for sale as a result of strong demand and quick home sales.  However, they do not take into consideration that currently for every three homes that sell, there is one that does not.  The 1 in 3 fallout is the expectation in a typical market, while there is only a 1 in 10 fallout in a market with strong demand (such as in 2005), so home buyer demand is not exceedingly strong.

Of course, the main reason for the low housing inventory is that home owners are staying in their homes much longer than in the past.

According to the NAR, between 1987 to 2008 home owners stayed in their home an average of six years before buying their next home.  However, since 2010, the average time grew to fifteen years!  The result is a lower number of move-up home buyers in the market, and a reduced number of homes to sell.

One of missing pieces to a stable housing market has been the move-up home buyer.  The move-up home buyer is the buyer who will sell their current house to move into another home.  The necessity of move-up home buyers was acknowledged as part of a healthy housing market way back in 1985, when the economy was recovering from the deepest modern recession at that time (Move-up Buyer Provides The Base For A Recovering Housing Market. chicagotribune.com. August 17, 1985). Part of the housing recovery of 1985 was the increased participation of the move-up home buyer. As move-up home buyers “upgraded” to larger home, more affordable modest homes become available to first time home buyers.

Low housing inventory combined with elevated first time home buyer activity has fueled home prices over the last four years.  Until move-up home buyers are fully participating in the market, we will continue to see continued lack of inventory, steeper home sale price increases, and unpredictable market cycles.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Home buyer multiple offer survival guide

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide
Home buyers survival guide to multiple offers (infographic from nar.realtor)

The real estate market is getting increasingly competitive for home buyers.  But it’s not true for all homes.  Neighborhood homes that have been selling the quickest and for most money are the homes that fill the discerning home buyers’ need for a turn-key home.  You can count on these homes attracting many home buyers, as well as multiple offers.  These situations can be frustrating, but being prepared can possibly increase your chances of winning the multiple offer scenario.  Many home buyers need not come up empty, confused, and frustrated when they encounter multiple offer situations. Here’s a home buyer multiple offer survival guide.

The Home buyer’s survival guide to multiple offers

When confronted with a multiple offer scenario, you must understand the seller is in the driver’s seat.  This is a hard pill to swallow for many expecting it to be a buyer’s market.  But for the homes that show the best and are priced the best, you should expect competition from other home buyers.  Giving up the expectation that you’ll be able to negotiate a contract on your terms will help you in formulating a competitive offer.

Although you may not realize it, your emotions guide much about your home buying decisions.  Formulating your offer for a multiple offer situation will be more sound if you stick to the facts. Focusing on the facts will help you stay focused on the larger picture of buying a home.  Using data and facts can also help you be more persuasive when you present your offer to the seller.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on the housing market

Understanding the local market can be a major plus when putting your offer together.  Housing trends can influence home buyer competition and price.  However, understanding your limitations can help your home buying strategy too.  You may be limited in the amount you are willing to spend, the type of mortgage for which you qualify, your closing date, and a number of other issues that may affect the terms of the contract.  Don’t be discouraged if you think your limitations may lessen your offer’s attractiveness when it’s compared to others.

Certainly, don’t get caught up in media reports on real estate. The housing market is a hyper-local phenomenon.  Regional markets are different and have different sales trends.  Locally, even neighborhoods may differ significantly.  Be prepared with local market information, as well as your limits.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on financing

The general consensus when competing with multiple offers is to put your best foot forward.  Decide on the best price you feel comfortable paying for the home.  Cash deals are difficult to compete against.  However, you can beat a cash deal if your offer has a higher price and your lender has provided you a very strong approval letter.  If you didn’t meet with your lender prior to looking at homes, make an effort to provide your lender with all necessary documents for them to provide you an approval letter that is only subject to underwriting and appraisal (or the equivalent).  The stronger the lender letter, the more confidence the seller will have in you to complete the transaction without delays or hiccups.

Haven’t met with a lender yet? Start your own mortgage file with basic items the lender will need from you. Your lender will need recent pay stubs, W-2 statements, bank statements, 401k statement, and any other financial information you think you may need (which may include child support or disability income). Self employed individuals will need whatever documentation they can muster (including tax returns) to support their declared income. Being organized will facilitate the mortgage process.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on contingencies

Try to keep your contingencies to a minimum.  There may be some contingencies you may be able to avoid, and some may be necessary.  You must consider contingencies carefully and soberly, as they offer some protections if you can’t (or don’t want to) move forward with the purchase.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on home inspections

Although some agents suggest skipping the home inspection contingency in a multiple offer situation, I do not recommend that.  Many homes have deferred maintenance that can lead to costly repairs.  Even renovated homes that appear to be in good condition can have major issues which can go unnoticed.  Instead of skipping the home inspection, try to have a short inspection period (have the inspection scheduled ahead of time).  Some home buyers have an opportunity to conduct a pre-offer home inspection.  This allows them to eliminate the contingency from their offer, as well as knowing the general condition of the home.

Home buyer multiple offer survival guide on finding homes

If you’re finding multiple offer situations too intense, try to find homes that have little or no home buyer competition.  Ask your agent about finding homes that are not listed in the MLS.  Some agents already seek out such homes.  Alternatives could be For Sale By Owner, bank owned, auctions, and even farming specific neighborhoods for owners ready to sell. Your agent can also search through expired and withdrawn MLS listings to find homes.

There are a couple of disadvantages to looking for homes not in the MLS.  Although you may reducing the home buyer competition, you may encounter competition from real estate agents looking for listings.  Additionally, finding a willing seller of home you desire may take some time.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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35 years of home buying changes

home buying changes
Years of home buying changes? (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

This week’s release of the National Association of Realtors® Annual Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers marks the 35th year of NAR’s analysis and description of home buyer and seller behaviors and attitudes.  You may not remember what it was like in 1981, but the country was coming out of a deep recession.  The economy was still scarred with double-digit unemployment, inflation and interest rates.  The 35th issue makes us think about home buying changes over the years.

According to the US Census Bureau (census.gov), the median price for a new home in 1981 was $68,900, while in 2010 the average new home price was $221,800.  Freddie Mac’s (freddiemac.com) data indicates that the average mortgage interest rate in 1981 was 16.63 percent, and 4.69 percent in 2010.  Surprisingly, the cost of housing (when financing 100 percent of the sale price) has only increased about 17.5 percent from 1981 to 2010!

People want their space and privacy.  According to the American Enterprise Institute (aei.org), the median square feet per person in a home in 1981 was about 550sf, while in 2014 it was 987sf.  This expansion in personal space was expressed in the home size.  The median size of a home in 1981 1,550sf, while 2010 it was 2,169sf (according to the Census Bureau).  Also consider that the typical home of 1981 only had one and a half bathrooms, and the expectation today is that a home should have at least two and a half bathrooms.

An October 18th news release from the NAR (Five Notable Nuggets from NAR’s Home Buyer and Sellers Survey’s 35-Year History; realtor.org) provided some insight into how the housing market has changed through the years.  One noticeable factor is the reduced number of first time home buyers entering the market due to underemployment, student debt, lack of down payment, or delaying family formation.  Last year’s percentage of first time home buyers dropped the lowest rate since 1987; and “according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the homeownership rate for 18-35 year-olds is currently at 34.1 percent, the lowest level in records dating back to 1994.”

It’s becoming apparent that real estate agents are not being replaced by the internet.  Although a majority of home buyers use the internet to assist them with the home buying process, the NAR reported that 90 percent of home buyers and sellers surveyed for this year’s profile worked with a real estate agent.  As a result, for-sale-by-owner transactions were at the lowest level ever (FSBO transactions peaked during 2003-2004).

The home buying process now takes longer than it used to.  Putting aside recent changes to the mortgage process, the 2016 Home Buyer and Seller Profile brings attention to the amount of time a home buyer needs to find a home.  According to the NAR, the average time to find a home was relatively unchanged from the 1980’s to about 2007; which about seven to eight weeks.  The duration of the home search peaked at twelve weeks from 2009 to 2013.  However, since then the average time needed to find a home is about ten weeks.  The increased search time is due to a number of factors.  Brisk sales combined with periods of low inventory has not provided home buyers with much of a choice from which to select.  Not to mention an unprecedented amount of available information that has created a savvy home buyer.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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About friendly advice

friendly advice
Human behavior (from thediagonal.com).

Home buyers and sellers often seek advice from others.  Even when they’re working with a professional who provides expert guidance.  You might think it’s good to get validation from others on your real estate decisions.  However, a Vancouver consumer study suggests that following friendly advice may be a bad idea (Friends give bad advice; The Sun, 4/14/2011, p29).

Research of consumer psychology and behavior have time and again found that consumers want to be correct in their choices.  They want to feel good about their decisions.  They want to believe that their purchases are the best, and the professionals they choose are tops in their field.  Consumers are known to behave irrationally to prevent the cognitive dissonance that occurs when they are confronted with conflicting thoughts about their choices. And that means they often make poor decisions.

Mintel’s American Lifestyles 2015 report indicated that 69% of those surveyed sought out product and service reviews before purchasing.  While 57% of those surveyed sought out recommendations from social media.  Given the finding, it is suggested that there may be emphasis for communal thinking over “individual preference.”  However, about 38% of those surveyed considered independent review websites as “trustworthy;” while 34% found them useful.  But, 31% found social media contacts trustworthy; while 25% found them useful (Seven in 10 Americans seek out opinions before making purchases; mintel.com; 6/3/2015).

Seeking out friendly advice is part of herding behavior, which has been found to be a part of our everyday decision making process.  A groundbreaking study of home owners’ decisions to walk away from their mortgages (strategic default) during the great recession revealed how people seek and give advice (Luchtenberg & Seiler (2013). The effect of exogenous information signal strength on herding. Review of Behavioral Finance, 5(2),153-174).  The study concluded that people tend to seek advice when they feel that their choice is not in agreement with others.  While advice was readily given by those who felt their choices were believed to be the consensus.

Buying and selling a home may not always feel as if it is a rational process. And you may think it logical to seek friendly advice.  However, indiscriminately following advice may not be the best practice because all real estate transactions are different.  Each transaction presents a different set of variables such as personalities, market conditions, contract terms, etc.

Given the research, more often than not, you are doomed to follow the advice of a friend or family member – even when confronted with the evidence that the advice is ill advised.   You can infer from the Vancouver study mentioned earlier that friends and family feel “pressured” to give you advice on your real estate transaction because they want to be helpful.  Furthermore, herding research suggests that you probably give emphasis to advice from friends and family because following their advice will likely make you feel you are “doing the right thing,” as well as increase your acceptance by them.

Regardless of your rationale, your real estate decisions are most likely based in psycho-emotional needs and/or fears (such as status, acceptance, and avoidance of failure).  Breaking away from the herd is difficult.  Improve your decisions and make your transaction successful by pursuing balanced information and becoming aware of your motivations.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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