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.

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.

Prime housing move by Amazon

prime housing
Insight into Amazon (infographic from geekyedge.com)

Amazon is about to make a decision on their “HQ2.”  The highly anticipate decision can be a prime housing move not just for the chosen city, but the region.  As you now know, Montgomery County is on the short list.  Some even have it pegged to be in the top five.  Although many local residents are excited at the prospect of increasing home values, many others are anxious how a Montgomery County Amazon HQ2 will affect their quality of life.

If Amazon chooses Montgomery County, the county will likely see a similar impact that Seattle experienced.  However, rather than be purely speculative, let’s look how Amazon has shaped Seattle.  Stephen Cohen offers interesting statistics looking at how Seattle has changed after Amazon (How Seattle Changed After Amazon Came to Town; seattlepi.com; September 22, 2017).  Cohen points out that Amazon has been based in Seattle since the mid 1990’s, and that the major impact on the town happened when the company moved to the South Lake Union campus (SLU) in 2010.  Since the move, Amazon’s stock price skyrocketed and its market cap exceeded (and has since doubled) that of Walmart.

Cohen’s data goes beyond the pros and cons of having the business giant in the community and compares statistics that span from 2010 to 2017.  During that time, Seattle’s population grew 17.3 percent.  However, it remained as the 18th most populous US city.  Although Seattle followed the national trend of becoming more diverse, its African American population slightly decreased (which was counter the national trend).  Cohen describes Seattle’s population as “skews male,” probably because Amazon’s “workforce is 63 percent male.”

housing
Seattle Case-Shiller home price index (graph from businessinsider.com)

But the home values…Seattle has had one of the hottest and prime housing markets in the country. Seattle’s average home price increases are almost double the national average.  Finding housing in Seattle is very difficult, as the town’s vacancy rate significantly decreased to about half that of the national average.  The city’s median gross rent is 47.6 percent higher than the national average.

Other interesting facts from Cohen’s data…one-person households decreased from about 15 percent to slightly more than 10 percent.  There was a 25.2 percent increase in commuters.  And, the city’s mean household income increased 41.3 percent, which is more than double the national average.

Prime housing is not for everyone.  Cohen cites the sharply increased cost of housing and high cost of living for negatively affected the poor, as well as the middle class.  And although Seattle is the 18th largest US city, it has the third largest homeless population (according to a December 7, 2017 Seattle Times expose “King County homeless population third-largest in U.S.”).

But, Lisa Stiffler reported that Amazon’s philanthropic corporate culture has noticeably changed (What gives? Tech giant Amazon finally boosts its philanthropic rep in its hometown; geekwire.com; December 14, 2016).  She notes that it is evident that employees are volunteering and getting involved with such activities as the Amazon “Non-Profit Expo.”

Seattle’s SLU is described by Stephen Cohen as an “Innovation District,” which is a Brookings Institute term for a “geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators.”  SLU is similar to Montgomery County’s Technology Corridor.  An Amazon move to MoCo’s Tech Corridor would likely dovetail with a $100 million plan to improve I-270 (the infrastructure plan was reported by the Washington Post last April).  Such infrastructure improvements would open up Maryland’s western real estate market, which would ease some of the upward pressure to MoCo’s already tight prime housing market and already increasing home prices.

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Marijuana’s high home values

high home values
Weed makes home values high? (infographic from gobankingrates.com)

Did you know that the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries in Maryland has begun?  There are only a handful of licensed dispensaries at this time, including one in Montgomery County.  Besides dispensaries, Maryland’s budding medical marijuana industry includes growers and processors.  Even though the industry is just taking off, there is growing support for legalizing marijuana for recreational use.  This is evidenced by recent bills introduced in the Maryland General Assembly that focused on establishing a tax for cannabis sales.  Besides increasing tax revenue for states where marijuana is decriminalized, there also seems to be a phenomenon of high home values.

If Maryland does decriminalize marijuana, it could be a potential source of tax.  The San Francisco Chronicle (6 lessons from legal pot in Washington and Colorado; sfchronicle.com; September 30, 2016)   pointed out that the state of Washington has had a windfall since legalizing pot.  It was reported that Washington collected $135 million for the fiscal year 2015 and $186 million for the fiscal year 2016.  They were expected a fifty percent for the fiscal year 2017.  And that is just on the excise tax on pot products, and doesn’t include the collected sales tax.

About those high home values…

Colorado and Washington state have realized a significant housing boom since decriminalizing marijuana.  Washington DC’s housing market has been buzzing along quite nicely as well.  While the surrounding suburbs’ housing market has slowed, GCAAR’s October stats (gcarr.com) reveal that Washington DC’s home sales have surged about ten percent year-to-date and average home sale prices grew about four percent!  Recent empirical studies have validated the housing-marijuana relationship.

One recent paper that provides such evidence was presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Allied Social Sciences Associations held by the American Economic Association.  Cheng, Mayer and Mayer (The Effect of Legalizing Retail Marijuana on Housing Values: Evidence from Colorado; working paper, 2016) measured the “benefits and costs” of legalizing marijuana expressed in home prices.  They concede that although marijuana legalization is controversial, there are some benefits.  They determined that there is a causal effect such that Colorado’s retail marijuana law implementation was instrumental in its recent housing boom.  They concluded that implementing a retail marijuana law will give home prices a bump of about six percent.  They also found that high home values and inventory are mutually exclusive, such that the increase in housing demand did not affect housing supply.

Are high home values worth the affects of decriminalizing pot?  High home values is not everything.

Regardless of high home values, decriminalizing marijuana is not all peaches and cream.  Not to be a buzzkill, marijuana can also negatively impact real estate too.  Amy Hoak’s reporting lists a number of issues where legalizing marijuana has adverse effects to housing (5 ways marijuana legalization affects real estate; MarketWatch.com; November 25, 2014).

A major issue Hoak points out concerns federal law.  Regardless of any state or local retail marijuana law, the Feds still consider marijuana verboten.  Properties (commercial or residential) that are associated with marijuana related activities and can be subjected to civil asset forfeiture.  Another issue is financing properties related to the marijuana industry.  Federally chartered banks conform to federal law and won’t lend on these properties.

Hoak also points out issues with properties where marijuana is processed, sold or used (commercial or residential).  There has been a significant increase in property explosions in states where marijuana has been decriminalized.  The explosions are likely due to processing marijuana into hash oil, a process that involves butane.  Mold is an issue where marijuana is grown, because of the large amounts of water used in the process.  Much like cigarette smoke, marijuana odors can permeate walls and be very difficult to remove.  Even if a lease forbids it, residential landlords can have problems when tenants grow, process, and smoke marijuana in the home.

Regardless of the increased home value phenomenon associated with retail marijuana laws, some homes can be difficult to sell.  High home values aside, homes that have been “tainted” with odors or mold can languish on the market, even if they are in prime locations.  Finally, Hoak pointed out that people are not keen living next to properties involved in the marijuana industry.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2017/11/17/marijuanas-high-home-values/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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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.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2017/10/01/quantitative-easing-housing-legacy/

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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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