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.

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.

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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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.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Curb appeal can boost home sale price

curb appeal
Curb appeal (infographic from nar.realtor)

If you want to increase the sale price of your home this spring, you will no doubt focus on the interior.  But how does the home’s exterior look?  You’d be surprised about the amount of necessary cleaning, decluttering and repairing around the exterior of your home.  But don’t skimp on the exterior home preparations before your sale – research conclusively shows that improving your home’s curb appeal can increase the sale price by as much as 8 percent!

An empirical study conducted by Chen, Evans-Cowley, Rutherford, and Stanley (An Empirical Analysis of Effect of Housing Curb Appeal on Sales Price of Newer Houses. International Research Journal of Applied Finance. 2013, Vol. 4 No 11, p1407-1419) was the first to demonstrate the relationship between a home’s sale price and curb appeal.  The authors also discussed how home buyers’ preferences in a home’s exterior influence the home’s sale price.  Besides curb appeal, they suggest that the home’s architectural elements could also be important in the final sale price.  The idea that today’s modern designs are more desirable, and likewise costs more money, is only transitory; such that today’s designs could become trite and tired in twenty years.

The study used a seven-point “attractiveness” scale to determine how respondents viewed the attractiveness of a home’s exterior.  They concluded that there is a relationship between a home’s exterior attractiveness and the home’s sale price.  In fact, they reported that a one-point increase in their scale corresponded to an 8 percent increase in the home’s value!

Home buyers make assumptions about your home’s interior based on the appearance of the exterior.  An unattractive exterior can repel home buyers before they even see the beautiful and updated interior.  Attract home buyers and boost your home sale price by focusing on cleaning, repairing, and “finishing” your home’s exterior.

Basic landscaping can make a huge difference in your home’s attractiveness.  Having too many plants, or letting them grow too much can make the home’s exterior appear crowded and unkempt.  Make sure your lawn is full but manicured throughout your listing.  Properly trimmed trees not only look tidy, but allow home buyers to see your home from the street.  Appropriately placed and trimmed shrubs and flower beds can accent the home’s architectural design.

Check your home’s siding.  Replace and repair any missing or broken siding pieces.  Freshen up siding by power cleaning, or painting.  Even if your home has artificial materials as siding, inspect window frames and fascia boards; these areas are often neglected and may need urgent repair.

How does the deck look?  Unless you maintain the deck regularly, chances are it may seem dull and tired, and may need to be re-treated.  Even if your deck is made of artificial decking, check the railings.  Hire a licensed contractor to repair and secure the deck as necessary.

How about the sidewalks and patio?  The sidewalk and patio can be easily cleaned by power washing.  Cracks in the sidewalk and patio are not only unsightly, but can be a trip hazard.  Cracks are typically caused by rain and water runoff, but can be repaired.  Consider also sealing the sidewalk and patio to prevent further water damage.

Finally, consider finishing the exterior to make your home more appealing and cordial.  Much like staging the home’s interior, you can use similar principles to increase the exterior’s attractiveness; such as placing appropriate chair(s) and potted plant(s) on the porch, deck or patio.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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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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