Vacation homes declining

vacation homes
Vacation homes sales decline (infographic from nar.realtor)

According to the National Association of Realtors 2017 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey (nar.realtor), last year’s vacation home purchases plunged 21.6 percent!  Last year’s decline in vacation homes sales comes at the heels of a huge drop in 2015, and has tumbled about 36 percent since the post-recession high marked in 2014.  Are the statistics telling us it’s a good time to buy that vacation home you have been thinking about?  Or is it that Americans are rethinking their view about vacations and retirement?

Of course, Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, feels that the decline is due a very tight vacation homes market that may likely make a comeback in the ensuing years. In an April 11th NAR press release he stated that “In several markets in the South and West – the two most popular destinations for vacation buyers – home prices have soared in recent years because substantial buyer demand from strong job growth continues to outstrip the supply of homes for sale. With fewer bargain-priced properties to choose from and a growing number of traditional buyers, finding a home for vacation purposes became more difficult and less affordable last year.”  He added, “The volatility seen in the financial markets in late 2015 through the early part of last year also put a dent in sales as some affluent households with money in stocks likely refrained from buying or delayed plans until after the [2016] election.”

However, another explanation given by the NAR is short term rentals, including airbnb.  Short term rentals allow people to visit vacation and resort towns without committing to buy a home.

To give perspective about the tight vacation homes market, NAR stated that vacation home sales were only 12 percent of all transactions in 2016, a decrease from 16 percent in 2015 (and close to the recent low of 11 percent in 2012).  Additionally, low vacation home inventory pushed sale prices higher.  The 2016 median vacation home price increased 4.2 percent, which is a decade high of vacation home price growth.

A lack of inventory and rising home prices are sure to put a damper on the vacation homes market.  But the slump could be a manifestation of something else.

Bloggers and columnists have reported a shift in the younger generation’s home buying habits for about a decade.  The trend seems to be a rejection of the accepted industry standard home buying cycle set by older generations.  For decades, the Baby-Boom generation has set the bar for home sales.  Their views on home ownership and vacation homes have guided the experts.  However, millennials have a different perspective, having a more conservative take on home buying and exhibiting a strong sense of value.

The NAR’s 2017 Investment and Vacation Home Buyers Survey pointed out that that the top two reasons to purchase a vacation home are for a family retreat and for retirement.  However, just like the trend in home buying, millennials are redefining their retirement and vacation needs.

Expecting to work longer, Millennials’ idea of retirement is not perceived the same as the Baby-Boomer’s vision of retirement.  Staying relevant and engaged is now more important than leisure.

Having a regular spot for the family to congregate and vacation is no longer highly desired.  Millennials want the option to travel rather than visiting the same vacation spot every year.  Millennials are also savers. They may view vacation homes as exorbitant and expensive.  Even though the vacation is only a small portion of the year, there are regular expenses that may include a mortgage, property taxes, HOA fees, and maintenance.

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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.

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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Real estate bargains

real estateThe typical real estate investor and the average home buyer have something in common – they both are looking for a home that makes financial sense, a bargain if you will. After all, who wants to overpay for their home? Although the investor’s priority is purely financial, a home buyer’s priority is a mix of lifestyle requirements that fits a budget. Even with priorities in line, both investors and home buyers don’t always recognize a bargain when it presents itself.

Finding a bargain home is not as easy as some will have you believe. Bargain hunters typically look for distressed properties such as foreclosures (also known as “bank owned” or REO homes) and short sales. Although there was abundant opportunity to buying such homes immediately after the housing crash, many were hesitant due to lack of market confidence. However, as confidence was revived in the housing market, the courthouse real estate auctions were once again attended home buyers and investors looking for good buys. And as home prices increased, so did the price for distressed properties; making it more difficult to find the bargain home. Even “motivated” home owners may not be as motivated as you think in today’s market.

real estate bargains
from Trulia.com

This phenomenon is corroborated by a recent study of “bargain homes” by Trulia’s research blog. Ralph McLaughlin reported on January 7th (Where Is A “Bargain” Really A Bargain?; trulia.com) that advertised bargains were actually good buys in 55 of 100 housing markets. Furthermore, hot markets tend to offer less price discounting than cooler markets; home sellers are less inclined to make price reductions in markets where there is increased buyer competition. Locally, the Baltimore metro region was found to be in the top discounted markets for bargain homes (with an average discount of 11.3%); while the Washington DC metro region was found to be in bottom of discounted markets with an average of 4% discount on a bargain home.

It’s clear now that home prices were at the bottom during 2008-2009. At that time, home inventories swelled and there was an abundance of (what would seem today) “cheap” homes for sale. I wrote at that time (If Cheap isn’t Selling, What is?; May 28, 2008) about how cheap homes were not selling, and how home buyers changed their focus from “buy anything” to buying quality homes that impart value. Of course, one of the main reasons cheap homes were not selling quickly was that there was an additional cost associated with the purchase; most of the cheap homes were distressed and required rehab, or at the very least needed updates and minor renovations.

For most investors, the concept of a bargain home is strictly the result of numbers in a formula; and for some home buyers, the bargain may be about getting a good price. However, a bargain home could be more than just the price tag. Maybe the bargain home is also the “value added” home. Rather than just focusing on price, buyers should also be aware of a home’s potential. Of course there is always risk when buying a home, which we experienced during the financial meltdown eight years ago.

Regardless, many lament having not bought homes at or near the price bottom. But hindsight is 20/20. And what didn’t seem like a bargain just a few years ago, is in comparison to today’s increasing home prices and an active housing market, a missed opportunity.

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Real estate year in review 2015

home prices
How will Home Prices do in 2016? (from WinningAgent101.com)

2015 could have been considered a “damn if you do and damn if you don’t” year for the Fed. The Fed is often criticized (sometimes harshly) for their action and inaction. And as the historic run of near zero interest rates ended this year, many criticized the Fed for waiting too long to raise interest rates, while others said it was still too soon. The full impact of the first Fed rate hike in nine years won’t be known well into the next year.

Another real estate milestone that occurred this year was the implementation of the TRID (TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure) rule. Although the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau decided to delay enactment once; the decision to put the rule in effect in October was not only significant, but a historic change to the real estate settlement process. Initially, there was mixed reception; some lenders indicated that they have transitioned smoothly, while others reported having difficulty. Even Congress attempted to provide a grace period for those still transitioning (Homebuyers Assistance Act, H.R. 3192). Like the Fed’s rate increase, the full effect of TRID on consumers and the industry won’t be realized until next year.

HomeEven though the 2015 housing market started slowly, because of record cold weather; the market demonstrated its resiliency with increased sales and continued home price growth throughout the year. Some markets were on fire this year; such as the Seattle WA region, where multiple offers and single digit days on market were the norm and home price indices exceeded the national average. However, most other regions (such as the Washington DC region) experienced average growth. The lack of inventory in some markets was said to add pressure on price growth. Home sale growth is expected to continue in 2016, as housing formation and employment outlooks are brighter. While home prices are still below the 2006 peak, home prices are expected to increase with a market expansion. And as housing affordability decreases, some housing critics are clamoring to predict another housing bubble.

San Francisco CA was one of 2015’s hottest markets. The market was so heated that many described it as “insane.” Madeline Stone reported that San Francisco teardowns sold for well above $1M while resales typically sold for 70% above list price (San Francisco real estate has gotten so crazy that this startup founder was offered stock options for his house; businessinsider.com; March 31, 2015).

And of course, there is the notable sale of a 765sf two-bedroom home that sold for $408,000 earlier this year (17% over list price). The significance of the 100-year-old San Francisco home is that it was described as a “shack” and needed much more than TLC (Daniel Goldstein; San Francisco earthquake shack sells for $408,000; marketwatch.com; October 22, 2015).

And what can be more proof that the real estate market has been recovering (at least for those who can afford it) than the world’s priciest home sale. Patrick Gower, Francois De Beaupuy , and Devon Pendleton reported on December 15th (This $301 Million Paris Chateau Is the World’s Priciest Home; bloomburg.com) about the sale of Chateau Louis XIV for €257Million (approximately $301Million); a private sale to a Middle Eastern buyer. Located in a 56-acre park, the recently built Paris estate is said to have taken three years to build. Amenities include an aquarium, cinema and a wine cellar, and a gold-leaf fountain.

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Real estate, climate change, and data-porn

winter home salesThe National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) March 20th news release reported that February home sales remained subdued because of rising home prices and severe winter weather.  The decline in existing home sales was just 0.4% from January, but was 7.1% lower than last February’s figures.  NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun stated that home sales declines were due to “weather disruptions, limited inventory, increasingly restrictive mortgage underwriting, and decreasing housing affordability.”  And although it may sound bad, Yun actually has a rosy outlook saying, “…Some transactions are simply being delayed, so there should be some improvement in the months ahead. With an expected pickup in job creation, home sales should trend up modestly over the course of the year.”

So, if a snow filled and cold February is to blame for poor home sales, was Snowmagedden and Snowzilla the reason for increased home sales during February 2010?  Of course not.   And although home sales increased 5.1% year-over-year here in Montgomery County MD during February 2010, it was mostly due to increased home buyer demand that some speculate was due in part to the availability of first time home buyer tax credits.  Additionally, RealtorMag reported that Southern California December home sales dropped about 21% month-over-month, and were down about 9% in compared to the same period in 2012.

As home sales are trending lower, it’s reasonable to look for reasons why demand is soft; but can weather be the main reason to keep potential home buyers at home?  Probably not.  Consumer demand is a robust force that is multifaceted, and can even prevail over seemingly difficult circumstances.  Consumer demand can even trump weather, as was the case during the winter of 2010.

winter home salesConsumer demand can even be resilient in the face of the speculative effects of global warming.  A November 2013 RealtyToday article (The Looming Global Warming Catastrophe and its Effect on Real Estate; realtytoday.com) discusses how home buyer demand for coastal property has remained strong even as increased claims that climate change will make these areas uninhabitable.

Housing data cause and effect is only conjecture unless it is directly observed.  To make sense of the “data-porn” that is excessively presented in the media, often without proper or erroneous explanation; economic writer Ben Casselman offers three rules to figure out what the media is saying (Three Rules to Make Sure Economic Data Aren’t Bunk; fivethirtyeight.com): Question the data; Know what is measured; and Look outside the data.  Casselman states, “The first two rules have to do with questioning the numbers — what they’re measuring, how they’re measuring it, and how reliable those measurements are. But when a claim passes both those tests, it’s worth looking beyond the data for confirmation.”

Keeping these rules in mind, could the winter slowdown be the result of cold weather, or is it something else?  Sure, cold weather may have marginal effects on home buyer behavior and demand; however, weather does not typically affect extended periods of consumer behavior unless weather events are catastrophic.  The current data may be indicative of a housing market that is returning to the distinct seasonal activity that we have been used to for many years prior to the “go-go” market and subsequent recovery years.

However, other factors referenced by Dr. Yun, such as increased home prices and tougher mortgage standards, are more likely to be the reasons for subdued home sales.  And as the year progresses, these factors may emerge to be significant issues for home buyers.

by 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. This article was originally published the week of March 24, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.