Buyer’s market home selling

Buyer's Market
Home Selling Mistakes (infographic from floridarealtors.org)

As winter approaches, many home sellers will be contemplating their next move after their homes have not sold.  It is likely that a volatile housing market awaits home sellers during the first half of 2018.  If you’re planning to list your home, you should have a selling plan that is able to adjust to market conditions quickly.  In other words, know about home selling in a buyer’s market.

The good news for home sellers is that this year’s home sale prices continue to climb, as the September 26th 20-city composite of the S&P Corelogic Case Shiller National Home Price Index (spindices.com) revealed.  The national index during July increased 5.8 percent compared to the same period last year, while the Washington DC area realized a 3.3 percent year over year gain.  However, there is expectation home sale prices may moderate or even slightly decrease in the first quarter of 2018 because of Fed policy and other market forces.

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

“While home prices continue to rise, other housing indicators may be leveling off. Sales of both new and existing homes have slipped since last March. The Builders Sentiment Index published by the National Association of Home Builders also leveled off after March. Automobiles are the second largest consumer purchase most people make after houses. Auto sales peaked last November and have been flat to slightly lower since. The housing market will face two contradicting challenges during the rest of 2017 and into 2018. First, rebuilding following hurricanes across Texas, Florida and other parts of the south will lead to further supply pressures. Second, the Fed’s recent move to shrink its balance sheet could push mortgage rates upward.”

Of course, home sale price indices only show sale prices for homes that sell.  And while home sale prices are increasing back to record levels in many areas, the volume of homes sold during 2017 so far is disappointing.  According to a September 20th NAR news release (realtor.nar), August’s existing home sales dropped 1.7 percent.  The Pending Home Sale Index for August dropped 2.6 percent, which made the NAR revise their 2017 home sale forecast to be “slightly below the pace set in 2016.”  Home sale volume in the first quarter of 2018 may also lag due to continued lack of inventory and anticipated increasing mortgage interest rates.  Lawrence Yun, cheif NAR economist, quipped

“The supply and affordability headwinds would have likely held sales growth just a tad above last year, but coupled with the temporary effects from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, sales in 2017 now appear will fall slightly below last year…The good news is that nearly all of the missed closings for the remainder of the year will likely show up in 2018, with existing sales forecast to rise 6.9 percent.”

Since these are August sales figures from the NAR, it is an unfortunate truth that August sales were not really affected by hurricanes. Mostly because hurricane Harvey hit Texas the very last days of August and Irma hit Florida in September. The main affects of the hurricanes disruption to existing home sales will be seen in September’s statistics. And “missed closings” is a euphemism for phantom closings, because they don’t really exist. So, with regard to sliding home sales, you should take Yun’s “headwinds” of supply and affordability very seriously.

Home selling in 2018, a buyer’s market?

Home sellers positioning themselves solely on this year’s home sale prices may be in for a rude awakening next year.  Sellers may feel as if the market is getting soft, however that may change the latter half of 2018 as home prices moderate.  Sellers will need to be reasonable.  They will need to have awareness of many factors besides home sale prices, including existing home sales volume and neighborhood sale trends.  Including home selling in a buyer’s market.

If you’re planning to sell your home, you will need to play to your audience (home buyers), and listen to their feedback.  Know how to sell in 2018.  Prepare your home before listing it in the MLS by repairing deferred maintenance and possibly making updates.  Home buyers have a track record of paying more for a home that has been totally renovated.  However, if you don’t completely repair and/or update your home, be prepared to lower your sale price.

Be flexible to quickly adjust to the market.  Feedback is highly important to get other’s perspectives about your home.  However, take Realtor feedback with a grain of salt.  Instead, have your agent collect buyer feedback at open houses. Home buyers tend to be more honest when giving feedback, and it can be especially helpful in a buyer’s market.  If the consensus is that the price is too high, the price may actually be too high.  If buyers are turned off by the condition and/or curb appeal of the home, consider making repairs or lowering price to reflect the condition.  If they are focused on your décor, consider hiring a professional stager to make the home more appealing.

Rather than a soft market, we are experiencing the struggle for a balanced market due to an inventory shortage and sharply decreasing affordability.  The last year and a half has been all about the home seller.  However, 2018 will be about the home buyer.  Home selling in a volatile or buyer’s market can be challenging. If you’re planning a sale, be realistic about your home’s condition and value. Over pricing your home from the start can make your home languish on the market, which could get you a much lower price if it sells.

Copyright© 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.

Quantitative easing housing legacy

quantitative easing
Fed Balance Sheet (infographic from raymondjames.com)

The Fed stopped purchasing mortgage backed securities and other assets through quantitative easing a few years ago.  But the  Fed still maintains the estimated $4.5 trillion of assets it has accumulated by extending asset maturity and reinvesting in the securities.  The result has been historically low interest rates, and bubble-esque home price spikes.  But that may change rapidly over the next six months.

Quantitative easing was a name for the Fed’s “large scale asset purchases” (LSAP) from mid-2008 to 2014.  The purpose of the LSAP was to keep boost the economy and housing markets by keeping interest rates low.  According to the Fed (federalreserve.gov):

In December 2008, as evidence of a dramatic slowdown in the U.S. economy mounted, the Federal Reserve reduced its target for the federal funds rate–the interest rate that depository institutions charge each other for borrowing funds overnight–to nearly zero, in order to provide stimulus to household and business spending and so support economic recovery. With short-term interest rates at nearly zero, the Federal Reserve made a series of large-scale asset purchases (LSAPs) between late 2008 and October 2014.

In conducting LSAPs, the Fed purchased longer-term securities issued by the U.S. government and longer-term securities issued or guaranteed by government-sponsored agencies such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The Fed purchased the securities in the private market through a competitive process; the Fed does not purchase government securities directly from the U.S. Treasury. The Fed’s purchases reduced the available supply of securities in the market, leading to an increase in the prices of those securities and a reduction in their yields. Lower yields on mortgage-backed securities reduced mortgage rates as well. Moreover, private investors responded to lower yields on U.S. Treasury securities and agency-guaranteed mortgage-backed securities by seeking to acquire assets with higher yields–assets such as corporate bonds and other privately issued securities. Investors’ purchases raised the prices of those securities and reduced their yields. Thus, the overall effect of the Fed’s LSAPs was to put downward pressure on yields of a wide range of longer-term securities, support mortgage markets, and promote a stronger economic recovery.

In the June Open Market Committee press release, the Fed signaled that it would begin unwinding quantitative easing later in 2017 through “balance sheet normalization.”  Of course, the proviso was that the economy would “evolve broadly.”  The normalizing the balance sheet would “gradually reduce the Federal Reserve’s securities holdings by decreasing reinvestment of principal payments from those securities.”

There is little doubt that the 3.1 percent real Second Quarter 2017 GDP (bea.gov), along with a record breaking housing market during the first half of 2017 was a large part in the decision to move forward with the balance sheet normalization program.  At the very end of September’s Open Market Committee press release, the Fed stated that balance sheet normalization will begin in October.

How will unwinding quantitative easing affect the housing market?

Since the Fed’s announcement last week to unwind quantitative easing, there has been a lot of speculation as to how the housing market will respond.  Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, issued a statement saying that he believes the Fed’s unwinding pace will be “in slow motion” and “mortgage rates would rise up only modestly over time.”  He expects that the 30-year fixed rate would only reach about 4.7 percent by the end of 2018 (nar.realtor).

But a sober 2013 article written by Edward Pinto, a former Fannie Mae executive, pointed out the immediate impact and consequences of quantitative easing (Is the Fed blowing a new housing bubble? wsj.com, April 9, 2013).  Pinto asserted that the home price surge of 2013 was due to the Fed’s LSAP rather than the often cited “broad based improvements in the economy’s fundamentals.”  Pinto stated, “The average mortgage rate during the first nine years of the 2000s was 6.3% compared with today’s [2013] rate of less than 3.5%. If mortgage rates were to increase to a moderate 6% in three years, say, some combination of three things would have to happen to keep the same level of homeownership affordability. Incomes would need to increase by a third, house prices would need to decline by a quarter, or lending standards would need to be loosened even further.”

Maybe the unwinding of quantitative easing is past due.  Home sale prices have since surged past 2006 home prices in some areas, and has considerably reduced the affordability of homeownership for many Americans.  Average wages have not increased significantly (if at all) since quantitative easing began.  Lending has loosened some, but not enough to make up for missing home buyer sectors (such as the move-up home buyer).

Home sellers may be in for a shock in 2018.  Rising interest rates will certainly moderate home prices.  However, rising mortgage rates would likely mean a return to stable housing market.  Mortgage interest rates will rise as sharply as they were reduced when the LSAP began, most likely rising above 5 percent by the end of 2018.

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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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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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Demand better consumer financial protection

consumer financial protection
Consumer Financial Protection and Dodd-Frank (infographic from CreditUnionTimes www,cutimes.com)

In an effort to reform the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov) to become a better steward of consumer protection, H.R.5983 – Financial CHOICE Act of 2016 was introduced during the last congress.  The effort to compel oversight on the now embattled agency, as well as provide for a panel of decision makers (in lieu of a single chairperson), is unfortunately highly politicized.  As financial consumers, we should demand a better and fair protection agency serving without political motive.

From the Executive Summary of the The Financial CHOICE Act
Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs:

SECTION THREE: Empower Americans to achieve financial independence by fundamentally reforming the CFPB and protecting investors.

  • Change the name of the CFPB to the “Consumer Financial Opportunity Commission(CFOC),” and task it with the dual mission of consumer protection and competitive markets, with a cost-benefit analysis of rules performed by an Office of Economic Analysis.
  • Replace the current single director with a bipartisan, five-member commission which is subject to congressional oversight and appropriations.
  • Establish an independent, Senate-confirmed Inspector General.
  • Require the Commission obtain permission before collecting personally identifiable information on consumers.
  • Repeal authority to ban bank products or services it deems “abusive” and its authority to prohibit arbitration.
  • Repeal indirect auto lending guidance.

Some have hailed the CFPB because it was created out of good intention. There is no question that the CFPB has done a great job in collecting and publicizing consumer complaints.  The announcements of consumer complaints seem to be a public airing of consumer grievances, which sometimes signaled forthcoming action from the agency in a specific financial sector.

However, critics contend that the CFPB rules have made lending more burdensome for both lenders and consumers by increasing bureaucratic red tape.  It has also increased the cost of lending to consumers by adding levels of compliance measures that are now embedded within the lending process.  Critics have also complained that the CFPB’s enforcement is not fair and unequal in focus.

Critics are becoming increasingly vocal, not only because of the sometimes invasive rule making, but more recently of how offenders are chosen and penalized.  Jacob Gaffney’s article for HousingWire (Former CFPB attorney pretty much just confirmed the worst fears of the mortgage industry: housingwire.com; January 3, 2017) earlier this year discussed two genuine concerns about the CFPB:

1) “The CFPB targets lenders for enforcement action based on opaque internal decisioning;” and

2) “Monetary penalties seemed determined by revenue, not equalitarian application of said enforcement action.”

Gaffney quoted Ronald Rubin, a former enforcement attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, (from a December 21st 2016 piece “The Tragic Downfall of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” published online nationalreview.com) as confirming these concerns.  For example, the Wells Fargo fake consumer account scandal, one of the most egregious consumer scandals post financial crises, was not addressed by the CFPB (until it was too late) because Wells Fargo was allegedly “not a target of the agency at that time.”

Referring to the complaint database, Rubin stated:

The CFPB’s complaint database contained grievances against almost every financial business. Enforcement targeted the companies with the most revenue…rather than those with the most complaints.”  He further stated: “Targets (of the CFPB) were almost certain to write a check… Even the size of the checks didn’t depend on actual wrongdoing — during investigations, Enforcement demanded targets’ financial statements to calculate the maximum fines they could afford to pay.

The recent PHH Corp v Consumer Financial Protection Bureau case highlighted some of the alleged abuse of power by an agency with no oversight.  US Appellate Judge Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion:

That combination of power that is massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case

…This is a case about executive power and individual liberty. The U.S. Government’s executive power to enforce federal law against private citizens – for example, to bring criminal prosecutions and civil enforcement actions – is essential to societal order and progress, but simultaneously a grave threat to individual liberty.”

We’ve followed the career of the CFPB since it was established in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  Shortly after the financial crisis, we eagerly anticipated the new agency to help those who were the target of abusive lending and foreclosure practices.  Since its inception, however, controversy has embraced the agency.

Copyright© 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.