Home buyer fatigue

Home Buyer Fatigue or Housing Derangement Syndrome?

home buyer fatigue
June Housing Stats (infographic from nar.realtor)

Although home prices remain strong, the volume of home sales has dropped off during June.  This is causing some in the media to exhibit “housing derangement syndrome” by reporting a pending housing collapse.   However, there is a more sensible answer and that may be “home buyer fatigue.”  Buyer fatigue is not solely used in real estate, rather it’s a term to describe consumers who do not engage in a market sector for a short duration for various reasons.  Home buyer fatigue has occurred multiple times since 2013 after a period of sustained home price increases.

Let’s look at the facts.

The National Association Realtors (nar.realtor) reported in a July 23rd press release that the total existing home sales for June decreased 0.6 percent, and is down 2.2 percent from the same time last year.  Home sales in Montgomery County have also been retreating.  The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (gcaar.com) reported sales declines for single-family and condos during June (-3.4 percent and -13.9 percent respectively).  Year-to-date sales are also below last year’s transactions for the same time period.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun observed:

There continues to be a mismatch since the spring between the growing level of homebuyer demand in most of the country in relation to the actual pace of home sales, which are declining.

However, his explanation for the home sales retreat sounds like home buyer fatigue:

“The root cause is without a doubt the severe housing shortage that is not releasing its grip on the nation’s housing market. What is for sale in most areas is going under contract very fast and in many cases, has multiple offers. This dynamic is keeping home price growth elevated, pricing out would-be buyers and ultimately slowing sales.”

Although national home prices are increasing, the gains remain steady.  The latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index reported on July 31st (spice-indices.com) indicated a 6.4 percent annual gain during May, which is the same as the previous month.  However, the 20 City Index showed a slight decline to 6.5 percent (from 6.7 percent).  Seattle, Las Vegas and San Francisco continue to lead the nation with double digit gains (13.6, 12.6 and 10.9 percent respectively). The Washington DC region, however, showed a modest annual home price growth of 3.06 percent.

As home sales decline, many contribute home buyer fatigue to increasing home prices and mortgage interest rates.  A few have already begun to ring the warning bells of bubble popping home price deflation citing Seattle and San Francisco’s housing woes.

However, those exhibiting housing derangement syndrome need to take a deep breath and look at the facts.  Most of the country’s home values are increasing at a sustainable rate.  Additionally, contrary to reports of inventory surpluses, home sale inventory continues to be low in most of the country (Montgomery County single-family and condo listings are below last year’s level by -9.3 and -12.8 percent respectively).

It’s also important to look deeper into what may be driving those overheated housing markets to experience the sharp price spikes and recent sale declines.  For example, Seattle’s housing juggernaut may be tied to Amazon’s nine years of a seemingly hiring frenzy.  According to reporting by Matt Day for The Seattle Times (Amazon’s employee count declines for first time since 2009; seattletimes.com; April 26, 2018), Amazon begun corporate layoffs, as well as a possible hiring freeze, earlier this year.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/08/02/home-buyer-fatigue/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Housing market bubble hyperbole

housing market bubble
Housing Market Snapshot (infographic from nar.realtor)

Timing, as they say, is “everything.”  Predicting the housing market is tricky.  Even the best economists can get it wrong.  Aptly, however, there is that group of naysayers who always believe the homes are overpriced and we are in a housing market bubble status.  And you know what they say about a broken clock, it’s correct twice a day.

There’s no way around it, housing market trends are cyclical.  Eventually, the housing market will crash and home prices will recede.  But, like the phoenix, will again be reborn to go through it’s life cycle.  According to Harvard’s Teo Nicolais (extension.harvard.edu/faculty-directory/teo-nicolais), there are four phases to the housing cycle.  The cycles were described in 1876 by economist Henry George and modernized by Glenn R. Mueller to include recovery, expansion, hypersupply, and recession.  Nicolais predicts that, aside from the occasional slowdown, there won’t be an honest to goodness housing crash until 2024.

You may be saying, “But Dan, the market feels just like the housing market bubble before the last crash.”  And in some respect, you may be correct.  At that time, home sale inventory was low, and home prices seemed on a never-ending climb. However, even though we have similar conditions, the current housing market is in a different cycle than where we were thirteen years ago.

Back in 2005 I reported that the active inventory of Montgomery County single family homes for sale for June 2005 increased to 2,004 units.  Homes were selling at rapid rate, as the number of contracts increase 2.5 percent during June 2005 compared to 2004.  And there was almost a 13 percent price appreciation from the previous year.  The 2005 housing market was clearly in a rapid expansion phase. Oversupply began in late 2006 when Montgomery County single family home inventory hovered around 4,000 units for the better part of the summer and fall.  And of course, the rest is history.

There is some disagreement about the current phase of the housing market.  Some say the market is in the beginning of an expansion cycle, while others (like me) believe we are still in the recovery cycle.  Yes, Inventory is tight.  But as I reported recently, not all homes are selling.  Which is contrary to the expansion of 2005, when it seemed as if all homes sold quickly regardless of condition.  Home prices are increasing, but at a more reasonable rate than they did thirteen years ago.  Although it may feel that houses sell in less than a week, the average days on market for homes that sell is currently 33 days in Montgomery County (according to MLS stats), and 78 days nationwide according to Zillow.

Another factor that is playing into current housing market conditions is mortgage interest rates.  Unlike the housing market bubble of thirteen years ago, interest rates are increasing and is anticipated to help mitigate the home price spikes.

Sure, there are regional markets, such as Seattle and Denver, that lead the country in home price gains (typically double digits).  But most everywhere else, real estate prices are improving gradually.  Moreover, regional markets each have their own hot neighborhoods that grab the headlines too.  Hot neighborhoods tend to be where investors, flippers and first-time home buyers converge.

Is there a housing market bubble?  Are we headed to a market crash like we experienced in 2007? No, at least not in the short term.  More likely, the market may be affected in the near future by a mild (and overdue) economic slowdown.  Unfettered, the housing market will continue its herky-jerky pace.

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Home pricing psychology

home pricing psychologyPricing your home correctly is the foundation of a successful sale.  I have often talked about the science and art of pricing a home in various market conditions, but did you know home pricing psychology also plays a role?

With vast amounts of public data available on the internet, you may be tempted to price your home on your own.  However, keep in mind that unverified internet data can be inaccurate or outdated.  Moreover, the most recent sales data may not yet be available on your favorite real estate sites.  Asking a Realtor to help you analyze relevant comparables from the MLS can help you decide on a sales price that is in line with home buying trends.

The science of pricing a home is a straight forward method of analyzing the sale prices of similar neighborhood homes.  The analysis will provide you with a potential sales price range.  When selecting comparable homes, make sure that the homes are similar in style (colonial, split level, rambler, etc.).  Select comparable homes that are similar in size (usually within 15 to 20 percent of your home’s living area).  Also, try to find comparable sales that sold within the last six months to be relevant to current market trends.

The “art” of pricing your home is a process of fine tuning the sale price range derived from comparable homes.  Looking at various factors for each home, you can make adjustments on your calculated sale price range.  Interior differences, such as number of bedrooms, bathrooms, or having a finished basement, can change a sale price significantly.  Likewise, exterior features, such as a deck or fence, can also affect the price.

Let’s talk about your home’s condition.  Whether you like it or not, your home’s condition should be a major factor in determining a sale price.  You should be honest and objective when it comes to your home’s condition.  Have others offer their opinions about necessary updates and repairs.  Are there any comparables that are in similar condition?  You may have to make adjustments to correspond to deferred maintenance and lack of updates.

Home Pricing Psychology

To attract home buyers while trying to get top dollar, you may also have to apply home pricing psychology.  Of course, many of these home pricing psychology strategies are not sound or based on facts.  An example of this is the use of a “totem” price.  A totem price is when the second half of the number is a mirror of the first (e.g., 543,345).  This was a strategy that was highly touted during the “go-go” market of 2005-2006.

Until recently, there hasn’t been much research into the psychological effects of real estate pricing strategies.  An empirical study by Eli Beracha and Michael J. Seiler revealed how sellers can ask for a higher price without turning off buyers (The Effect of Pricing Strategy on Home Selection and Transaction Prices: An Investigation of the Left-Most Digit Effect; Journal of Housing Research; 2015; Vol. 24, No. 2, pp.147-161).  Their study revealed that “just-below” pricing can help you sell your home faster and get a higher price.  Just-below pricing is a strategy that lowers the price by reducing the left most digit by “1.”  However, they suggest that when using the just-below strategy in real estate, it should be rounded to the nearest hundred or thousand.  For example, if you decide on a list price of $450,000, then the rounded-just-below price will be $449,900.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/06/05/home-pricing-psychology/

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Negative equity stats likely erroneous

negative equity
What is a short sale (infographic from lender411.com)

Before the Great Recession, there was the foreclosure crisis of 2007. That was the year that the housing bubble popped and home negative equity soared. Many home owners negotiated with their lenders to keep their homes, while others lost their homes to foreclosure. The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 was one of the first measures to assist distressed homeowners during the financial crisis. The Act initially was to end in 2009 but has been extended annually. The Act was recently retroactively extended for 2017.

The purpose of the Act was to address tax liabilities that distressed homeowners faced when they tried to save their homes. Because debt forgiveness is typically considered taxable income, a mortgage balance reduction via mortgage modification or short sale would have resulted in a tax bill to a homeowner who was already experiencing a financial hardship.

Recent home equity gains in the housing market should help many home sellers who would have otherwise needed a short sale. Highlights from CoreLogic’s Q4 2017 Home Equity Report (corelogic.com) indicated that about 4.9 percent of mortgaged homes have negative equity (which is a huge improvement from the almost 31 percent reported in 2012 by Zillow’s Negative Equity Report). Additionally, CoreLogic reported that the national average of home equity gained by homeowners over the past year was in excess of $15,000. However, there is disparity in home equity growth by region.

Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic stated:

“Home-price growth has been the primary driver of home-equity wealth creation. The CoreLogic Home Price Index grew 6.2 percent during 2017, the largest calendar-year increase since 2013. Likewise, the average growth in home equity was more than $15,000 during 2017, the most in four years. Because wealth gains spur additional consumer purchases, the rise in home-equity wealth during 2017 should add more than $50 billion to U.S. consumption spending over the next two to three years.”

The National Association of Realtors testified on March 14th to the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee hearing on “Post Tax Reform Evaluation of Recently Expired Tax Provisions” to make the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act permanent. In his testimony, Realtor Barry Grooms discussed the plight of many homeowners who are surprised to find that they are upside-down on their mortgage despite national home price gains.

Grooms made an argument why the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act should be permanent.  The Act has been retroactively extended each year in recent years leaving many short sellers “sweating it out” until the end of the year.  Part of the decision-making process for a short sale is a potential tax liability. Many home sellers take the chance that the Act will be renewed retroactively. But others do not want to take the chance of incurring a large tax liability.

Negative equity statistics are likely to be erroneous. The number of homes with negative equity is probably under-represented due to deferred maintenance.

Yes, home prices have significantly increased, which has grown home equity. But the statistics for home equity assume that all homes are worth “retail value.” The retail value of a home is the full price a home can sell. In today’s market the home must be in better-than-average to excellent condition to sell for retail value.  We don’t know the real value of any home until it’s sold.

In his testimony, Grooms touched upon a number of issues why homeowners are selling for less than they owe. However, not addressed by Groom is the number one reason why homeowners are under-water and why many home sellers need to sell via short sale. Property condition. The property condition crisis was highlighted in a February 2013 article by the Harvard Joint Center of Housing Studies entitled “The Return of Substandard Housing.” The lack of updates and/or deferred maintenance in a home can significantly decrease its value.

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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.