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.”

Copyright © Dan Krell
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A hot winter housing market

winter housing market
Winter housing market (infographic from househunt.com)

Winter is not usually a time of year when you would think of selling your home.  After all, everyone gets into holiday and hibernation mode.  Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day (during the winter housing market), home sale inventory is usually trimmed by an average of 50 percent and contract activity is significantly reduced.

But this winter will be different.  Rising interest rates and pent up demand could make the housing market very active this winter.

Consider that mortgage interest rates are on their way up.  Freddie Mac (freddiemac.com) reported last week about a mortgage interest “spike” that can get fence-sitters to jump into the winter housing market.  The rate for the 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.94 percent, which jumped from the prior week’s average of 3.57 percent.  On the face of it, the increase doesn’t seem significant.  But the difference is about $70 per month on a $300,000 mortgage.

Last week’s interest rate surge could be the beginning of interest rate increases we’ve been anticipating (for five years).  Speculation is that the bond market is anticipating and pricing in a Fed interest rate hike at next month’s Open Market Committee meeting.  Of course, the next sixty days could be a lead up to new mortgage rate expectations, which could exceed 4.5 percent by the end of next year.

Historically low interest rates for a 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage have become part of our lives.  Upward movement will be met with hyperbole and excitement from the media, claiming reduced home sales and a faltering real estate market.  However, let’s put it in perspective.  Mortgage rates averaged above 4 percent throughout 2014.  The last time we had an average mortgage rate above 5 percent was 2010.  In fact, the average mortgage rate at the height of the go-go market during 2006 was above 6 percent.

What does it mean for you if you’re planning a sale?  Don’t wait until spring!  Consider selling during the winter housing market.  You won’t have much competition; and serious home buyers, who are sensitive to interest rates, will be looking through the holidays and winter.

If you decide to sell during the holidays and the winter housing market, make sure your home is ready. Decluttering is the most important aspect of home preparation.  However, winter decluttering may be more difficult because of the colder weather and our desire to slow down during these months.  Besides our inclination to “nest,” it’s easy to accumulate items in the house that make us cozy and comfortable.  But winter clutter can be minimized by organization and a daily straightening-up for incoming buyers.

Check your home’s systems.  Have licensed professionals inspect your furnace and roof.  Besides keeping the house warm and dry for buyers who visit, checking these systems can prevent surprises when a home inspection is performed.

After a weather event, clear your walkways and driveway of ice and snow.  Besides making it easier for home buyers to visit your home, it lessens the possibility of someone falling and getting hurt.

If your home is vacant, have a licensed professional winterize it. Winterizing your home can reduce the risk of bursting pipes and damaging plumbing fixtures.  If you are out of town, have a trusted person check on the home regularly (even if you are listed with a real estate agent).  Your “stand-in” should also be available to take care of any house related issues that occur in your absence during the winter housing market.

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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.

Presidential election and home sales

election and home sales
Election and home prices (from movoto.com)

Elections have vastly changed in mood and intensity.  It used to be that the candidates debated about substantive issues looking for win-win solutions, including housing.  Maybe some of you remember how both the Clinton and Dole campaigns showcased their ideas of expanding the capital gains exemption during the 1996 election.  Housing and home sales doesn’t seem to be a platform issue anymore.  Elections have become divisive and nasty, even among the electorate; and for many Americans, the trending (real estate) election issue is – whom is moving to Canada!

That’s right, moving to Canada.  Maybe you’ve heard someone at work or at the store proclaim they are moving to Canada if “the other candidate” wins the election.  The theme of moving to Canada after the election has become a mantra so much so that it’s become part of pop culture. The idea has even been satirized by the likes of South Park.  And of course there is the growing number of celebrities who vow to move to Canada if the election outcome isn’t to their liking.

Of course the threat of moving to Canada is tongue in cheek (for most), or is it?  Nevertheless, leave it to astute real estate agents who realized that people considering such a move is now a target market.  Agent ads and blog posts popped up in recent weeks reaching out to those disaffected home owners asking for their business.  Reporting for Buzfeed, Craig Silverman reported on two agents who posted such an ad on their Facebook pages (Leaving Because Of Trump? These Texas Realtors Want To Sell Your House; buzfeed.com; May13, 2016).  Although both agents received a lot of attention for their seemingly whimsical posts, there was a mixed response; some did not get the humor.  It was reported that one of the two agents interviewed was asked to remove her post; and of course neither reported any new business from the posts.

Every four years, people wonder if presidential elections effect the real estate market.  During the 2012 election cycle, the real estate portal Movoto took it upon itself to find an answer (David Cross; Election Years Are Bad for Home Prices; movoto.com; May 12, 2012).  They analyzed historical data from the California Association of Realtors® and found that there is indeed a direct effect of a presidential election on home prices (at least in California).  They determined that the average home sale price during an election year is lower than that of the years preceding and following an election.

Movoto’s hypothesis was: “Presidential election years are stressful for the American people and in times of uncertainty people are less likely to take chances—this includes making large purchases such as a new house.”  While the National Association of Realtors® comment on Movoto’s findings was, “We’ve observed no correlation between levels of home sales and an election year. The market responds to a wide range of economic factors, including jobs, interest rates and consumer confidence.”

Although there maybe anecdotal evidence that presidential election years affect home prices; there is no doubt that the outcome of a presidential election effects policy, which as a result affects the economy and the housing market (see Experts: Housing to Grow Steadily, But Maybe Less So if Trump, Cruz or Sanders is Elected President; Zillow.com; May 17, 2016).  But no one has yet suggested that US elections would have an effect on Canada’s real estate market.

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Home sale tips on coping with today’s market

how to sell a home
from activerain.com “Sell your home”

It’s that time of year again; the real estate market is getting hot along with the temperature.  And that’s about the only thing most are able to predict about this year’s real estate market.  Since the Great Recession, early forecasts about home buying and selling trends have typically missed the mark; the trends have varied, sometimes significantly, from year to year.  Notwithstanding a very active season, many will be in for a surprise; some will be pleased about their home sale, while others not so much.  And if you are selling a home, I’ve provided some tips to help you cope with this year’s housing market:

The most important point to remember this year: many home buyers are looking to buy a home, but not necessarily yours.  The notion that your home appeals to all home buyers is false.  If your home isn’t selling as fast as you thought it would, consider stepping back for a moment to re-evaluate your home and marketing plan.

Most home buyers are looking for a “turn-key” home and won’t settle for just anything on the market.  Additionally, most are not willing to spend time and money updating a home they just purchased.  Know your home before marketing it and consider making repairs if your home has considerable deferred maintenance.

The next item to remember this year, is that no matter how well your home shows: be prepared for a less than complimentary home inspection.  Because there are a number of systems and many components to your home; chances are that there are items that need attention, repairing, and/or replacement – which the home inspector will cheerfully point out.  Home inspectors will visually inspect your home, probing structural components when necessary; a detailed report indicates their observations.  Most home inspectors are not experts in all aspects of home construction; and commonly recommend other professionals to examine items more closely.

As a home seller, you should understand that buyers in today’s market are under pressure about the investment they are undertaking; and are willing to walk away based on the home inspection findings.  Sometimes, it’s not what – but how it’s said that will rattle buyers.  Regardless, an uncomplimentary report does not have to blow up the deal.  Be prepared for extra rounds of negotiating after the home inspection.  Every transaction is different, and your agent should provide guidance on what’s reasonable and appropriate.

A final thought: don’t get greedy, but don’t leave money on the table either.  Although inventory remains an issue in a number of areas, don’t feel compelled to over price your home based on the lack of homes for sale.  However, don’t be complacent with the “average” home sale price of the neighborhood either.  When comparing recent neighborhood sales, you should make pricing adjustments (plus and minus) depending on differences in your home’s age, amenities, size and other factors.

A word of caution: There is a growing trend in the reliance on automated valuations by real estate agents.  AVM (automated valuation models) are helpful, but not always accurate.  These reports are based on public information about your home and may not include correct information.  If your agent recommends a sale price based an automated valuation, you should review the report attentively.  If the report confidence level is low to medium, be prepared to carefully review the report and comparables, making adjustments as needed.

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Will stock volatility spill into real estate market

houseAfter a few days of steep stock market declines, I, like others, wonder if there will be spill over into the real estate market. Many have forgotten the consequences of the dot-com crash of the late 1990’s, and the brief housing market slowdown that followed in 2000. One thing is certain – there is no consensus from the financial talking heads about the meaning and impact of the equity markets on the economy; some are optimistic, while others caution for rippling effects across other sectors.

MarketWatch’s Steve Goldstein estimated that $1.8 Trillion have been lost in the market over the past week (Households just saw $1.8 trillion in wealth vanish as stocks fall; marketwatch.com, August 24, 2015). And because many rely on their 401k and other equities investments for down payment funds on their home purchase – housing may be impacted. If mortgage rates increase, as anticipated earlier this year, combined with a lack of down payments; home prices could be pressured downward.

In the face of a stock market meltdown, the good news is that the housing market has been gaining momentum, such that existing home sales are as strong as just before the housing decline! According to a National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) August 20th press release, existing home sales “are at the highest pace since February 2007.” July existing home sales increased 2%; which is the tenth consecutive month showing year-over-year gains. Additionally, median home prices increased 5.6% compared to the same time the previous year.

Pending home sales, a forward looking indicator of homes under contract, have also been strong. An NAR July 29th press release indicated that pending home sales increased 8.2% year-over-year during June; which is the tenth consecutive month for such an increase. Lawrence Yun, NAR Chief Economist, surmised that “Strong price appreciation and an improving economy is finally giving some homeowners the incentive and financial capability to sell and trade up or down…”

Locally, the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors® (gcaar.com) reported that Montgomery County single family home sales increased 13.3% year-over-year during July; while pending home sales increased 13.2% year-over-year. However, July’s median home sale price for Montgomery County single family homes dropped slightly, from $460,000 to $458,000.

An interesting detail is that although home sales continue to increase, the NAR August 20th release reported that some buyer pools are shrinking; first time home buyers, cash buyers, and individual investor buyers have decreased compared to the same time the previous year. In light of this, some are beginning to question the validity of NAR’s recent existing home sales data reporting. In addition to dwindling home buyer pools, ZeroHedge pointed out a data discrepancy between increased home sales and decreased mortgage applications by (rhetorically) asking the NAR, “where are the buyers coming from… and how long is this sustainable?” (Existing Home Sales Extrapolation Surges To Highest Since Feb 2007; zerohedge.com, August 20, 2015).

ZeroHedge alluded to NAR’s history of predictions of strong home sales and rising home prices through 2006. Of course, the NAR announced in 2011 of about five years worth of home sale data revisions, calling it “re-benchmarking.” According to the NAR, “data-drift” was revealed in existing home sales data compiled from MLS boards; that was due to a number of factors, including: double listings, and inconsistencies.

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