Stock market and home buying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Neighbors affect home values

good neighbors
Good Neighbors (infographic from appfolio.com)

The housing market has been fairly good in recent years.  In fact, the shortage of homes for sale has shown how competitive home buyers can be as they try to outbid their cohorts for hot properties.  Even homes that are in need of “tlc” or have been neglected in some way have found new owners too.  But, as I have mentioned in the past, not all homes sell.  And for some home sellers whose homes have not sold, they only need to look their neighbors.

That’s correct.  Your neighbor may have more sway over your home sale and property value than you think.  A 2013 news item from the Appraisal Institute warns home sellers and buyers about the neighbor factor (Bad Neighbors Can Reduce Property Values, Appraisal Institute Warns; appraisalinstitute.org; January 30 2013).  Not only can bad neighbors affect your sale, but can “significantly reduce nearby property values.”

Former Appraisal Institute President Richard L. Borges II, MAI, SRA stated:

I’ve seen many situations where external factors, such as living near a bad neighbor, can lower home values by more than 5 to 10 percent…Homeowners should be aware of what is going on in their neighborhood and how others’ bad behaviors could affect their home’s value.”

“Bad neighbors” are often characterized as inconsiderate, if not sometimes belligerent.  Typical neighbor complaints stem from pets, excessive noise, and poor exterior home maintenance.  In high density neighborhoods (such as townhomes and condos), parking and trash/recycling debris can also be a source of neighbor conflict.

Neighbor disputes are often resolved by talking it out.  However, if you find that your neighbor is not receptive, you may have other avenues of recourse.  If you live in a Homeowners or Condo Association, your association may offer assistance in resolving your issue.

Montgomery County addressed the issue by enacting “Good Neighbor” ordinances in 2011 “to preserve the quality of life” in the county.  The purpose was to reduce the influx of commercial influences into residential neighborhoods, and maintain their domiciliary character.  These ordnances were directed at home based businesses, parking of commercial vehicles, off street vehicle parking, and paving of front yards.

If you believe your neighbor issue arises from a code violation, you can contact the appropriate county department to investigate a complaint.  For example, Housing Code Enforcement can investigate such things as housing and building standards, overgrown weeds, and excess debris in yards.  Whereas the Department of Police – Animal Services Division can investigate common pet complaints such as an unleashed pet roaming the neighborhood, or a neighbor not cleaning up after their pet does their business on your yard or common areas.

Unfortunately, there are occasions where trying to resolve your neighbor issues civilly comes up short.  In extreme instances, however, you may have to seek legal counsel.

Being a good neighbor is a two-way street, often requiring some compromise and offering assistance.  Housing experts suggest that you can resolve your neighbor issues by talking to them.  All too often, neighbors who seem neglectful of their homes are actually in need of assistance.  Regardless of their issues, they may be too proud to ask for help, they don’t know where to get help, or they are so overwhelmed they don’t know they need help.  Talking to your neighbors and lending a hand can not only mend fences and build a stronger community, but may also increase the value of your home.

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Violent crime effects home values

violent crime and home values
Crime in the US (infographic from infographicsarchive.com and supercircuits.com)

Last week’s horrific and violent crime has propelled our Montgomery County MD community, specifically Rockville, into the national spotlight.  And like other communities that have experienced violent crimes, residents will be asking questions long after the spotlight dims.  Unfortunately, the aftermath of violent crimes not only leaves a psychological scar on the community, it also affects home values.

Of course, it’s intuitive to think that home values are affected by violent crime.  You might ask, how can such a violent act that occurred last week not be in the minds of prospective home buyers?  And as you will see in the research below, violent crime will also compel some home owners to move.

A 2009 study by John Hipp, George Tita and Robert Greenbaum sought to determine the interrelationship between crime and “residential mobility” (Drive-Bys and Trade-Ups: Examining the Directionality of the Crime and Residential Instability Relationship; Social Forces; 2009, Vol. 87, No. 4, pp.1777-1812).  The findings revealed that although there is no evidence that a year with a high number of home sales increases violent crimes, they found direct evidence that a year with a high number of violent crimes will increase home sales during the ensuing year.  The same holds true for property crimes, where a high number of home sales do not lead to increased property crimes, however a high number of property crimes will increase the number of home sales the following year.  They also found evidence of a downward trend in home values following a year of high violent crime.  The authors of the study concluded that households basically respond to crime by moving.  Additionally, many home buyers not only take crime stats into account, but likely consider recent high profile crimes when deciding on a home.

They also found evidence of a downward trend in home values following a year of high violent crime.

There are decades of research on the effects of violent crime on property values.  For example, an influential article by Sheila Little published in 1988 discussed an appraiser’s duty to consider violent crime when determining property value (Effects of Violent Crimes on Residential Property Values; Appraisal Journal; 1988, Vol. 56,No. 3, p341-343).  She stated; “It is part of appraisers’ responsibilities to make an effort to ascertain the effects of violent crimes on market value of properties.”

Fortunately, communities heal.  However, it’s not easy and certainly not immediate; as evidenced by the research of George Galster, Jackie Cutsingerm and Up Lim.  They studied how five US cities responded to “exogenous shock,” such as violent crime (Are Neighbourhoods Self-stabilising? Exploring Endogenous Dynamics; Urban Studies; 2007, Vol 44, No.1, pp. 167-185).  They concluded that communities have a “self-regulating adjustment” mechanism that help them adjust and stabilize after various external shocks.  Although an increase in violent and property crime will elicit a community’s self-regulation mechanism; stabilization takes “considerably longer” than other external shocks, especially when the shock to the community is substantial.

Galster, Cutsingerm, and Lim rhetorically ask how the self-correcting mechanism functions; how does it adjust and stabilize a communityThey propose that there are social, economic, and/or political reactions to shocks such as violent crime.  They surmise these reactions are manifested as a “powerful momentum” within communities.

Our community’s self-regulating mechanism has already been deployed, as demonstrated by the intense parent and community involvement in Rockville, asking questions and seeking change.  And you can expect a “powerful momentum,” as described above, for change.  The resulting social, economic, and/or political change will limit the effects of such violent crimes on home values, and demonstrates why Montgomery County MD continues to be the residence of choice for many home buyers.

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Greedy home seller tips

Don't be a greedy home seller
Pricing Strategy for a Home Sale (infographic from forsalebyowner.com)

When there is a buzz about home sellers being greedy, you know home sales are doing well.  So, not surprisingly, along with last year’s record home sales came the reports of greedy home sellers.  Are you a greedy home seller?  Or are you adjusting to a market where home prices are increasing?

Greed has developed a bad rap.  Surely there is an evolutionary basis for greed.  Many believe that early hominids promoted personal and group survival by being “greedy” (although disputed by some).  Those who hoarded food, so as to have more than enough, lived through difficult winters and droughts. During times of financial prosperity, greed is looked upon favorably.  However, in the aftermath of a recession, greed is thought of as the basis for fiscal calamity.  Immortalized in Gordon Geckko’s famous “greed is good” speech in the 1987 movie Wall Street, “greed” is a cinematic vehicle to show the fine line between a healthy desire to prosper and a corrupt drive to have more than enough.

Avoid being viewed as a greedy home seller by creating a realistic pricing strategy.  Creating a pricing strategy is an art and a science.  When selling a home, you have to determine the list price.  There are many factors to consider besides recent neighborhood sales, such as condition of your home, sales trends, mortgage interest rates, economic trends, etc.  Like other home sellers, you fall into a conundrum.  If you price your home too high, then it will limit potential home buyers who visit.  However, if you price your home too low to increase home buyer interest, you may not get the price you want.

Contrary to some assertions that a home’s list price doesn’t play a role in the sale, there is evidence to suggest that it really does matter.  Lu Han and William C. Strange determined that a lower list price does increase home buyer visits – but only to a point (What is the Role of the Asking Price for a House? University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management; 2012).  They concluded that there is a point at which the home price is perceived to attract too much buyer competition, which may turn off other home buyers.  Furthermore, their data shows that there is a negative relationship between a list price and the number of home buyers: meaning that the higher the list price relative to the neighborhood, the lower number of home buyer visits, and vice-versa.

If you fear being a greedy home seller by asking for a high price for your home, there is research to suggest that you’ll let go of the greed in order to make a deal.  A 2013 study by Nuno T. Magessi and Luis Antunes looked at how the emotions of fear and greed compete internally (Agent’s fear monitors the spread of greed in a social network; Proceedings of the 11th European Workshop on Multi‐Agent Systems EUMAS, 12-13).  They concluded that greed is mitigated by the fear of loss within the confines of a social network.  When applied to a home sale, the fear of not selling a home competes with the impulse to hold out for the high price.  Deducing further, there is a need to fit within one’s social network by trying to sell a home for the most money, and yet avoid the stigma of a failed home sale.

Don’t be a greedy home seller. RealtorMag described three common home seller mistakes in a 2015 post (3 Mistakes Sellers Often Make; realtormag.realtor.org; April 12, 2015).  Included were “Not being honest with the home’s history,” “Not making a better home presentation,” and “Being unrealistic about the home’s value.”  About unrealistic home value, it was said:

“…Despite tight inventories of homes for-sale in many markets, sellers still need to be careful not to get too greedy with their list price, say real estate professionals…Home owners tend to get a much lower price when they overprice a home at the onset and then drop the price several times. The longer the home lingers on a market, the more likely it will receive a deeper discount…”

If your home doesn’t sell, you must examine your pricing strategy.  Was the price realistic, or were you too greedy?

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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.

Lot premium value on new home

lot premium and new home
Buying a new home (infographic from jeffruttbuilder.com)

There is an ongoing debate about the lot premium.  Essentially, is there a value of paying a “premium” for a home site when buying a new home?  Certainly, the home builder is seeking to increase their profit margin.  But for a home buyer, there is a question of future value at resale.

A home builder will typically sell certain home sites within a community at a higher price, effectively increasing the price of a new home.  Some home sites are deemed to be more “valuable” because of the lot’s characteristics and/or location.  A lot premium may be charged if a home site is larger, flatter, and/or more symmetrical than others in the community.  Lots tucked away from the main road or close to common areas are typically premium priced as well.

Don’t hate the home builder for charging a lot premium on your new home.  Home builders are trying to sustain a business by recouping the cost and financial risk of land development.  Placing a premium on home sites has become a science, and research consultants typically provide data on developing home sites and pricing.

However, there is also an economic factor.  When the housing market was still reeling from the Great Recession, charging a lot premium was not common.  However, home builders added lot premiums when sales recovered.

John Burns, CEO of John Burns Consulting, wrote about the rising premiums on home sites as the new home market recovered in 2013 (Lot Premiums Are Back!; realestateconsulting.com; May 23,2013), stating “Our consulting team has noted a significant trend in the market: lot premiums are rising substantially!” Burns broke down lot premiums based on region.  And, of course, lot premiums increased according to how the region’s housing market recovered.  For example, lot premiums in Florida were about 10 percent at that time; While Southern California was trending to include the premium in the list price to help stabilize prices.  Also, the DC region’s housing market was still recovering and home builders were only charging 1 to 2 percent for a lot premium.

Burns also noted that buyer demographics can also dictate lot premiums.  At that time, it was reported that home builders in Southern California were charging a 5 percent premium based on feng shui and home site orientation.  And a 20 percent premium was charged for home sites with “good feng shui” that were located on a cul-de-sac.

The availability of buildable home sites may also dictate lot premium charges in the near future.  A recent National Association of Home Builders survey indicated a shortage of home building lots (Lot Shortages Worse Than Ever According to NAHB Survey; nahb.org; May 26, 2016).  NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz stated, “We have monitored lot availability for the last two decades, and it is clear that the scarcity of building lots is growing… Whether due to land use policy, geographic constraints or other regulatory constraints, the lack of lots for residential construction will have negative impacts on housing affordability in many markets.”

To understand the relative numbers, NAHB stated “…this record shortage comes at a time when new homes are being started at a rate of under 1.2 million a year. In 2005, when total housing starts were over 2 million, the share of builders reporting a shortage of lots was 53 percent…”

If you pay a lot premium on a new home, however, it is not always clear that you would be able to pass on the premium when you re-sell.  But a recent study conducted by Paul K. Asabere and Forrest E. Huffman (The Relative Impacts of Trails and Greenbelts on Home Price; Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics; May 2009; vol 38, p408) provides some data on what you might expect: home sites close to trails, greenbelts, and greenways can demand a price premium of up to 5 percent.  A similar effect can also be found in homes with a “view” or in a cul-de-sac; as well as homes that are adjacent to a golf course, playground, tennis court, neighborhood pool.

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