It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now

Trump's housing market
Dodd-Frank regulation (from uschamber.com)

Change is not always easy.  Sometimes we choose to change and other times we are forced to change.  The Great Recession forced massive change to many aspects of our lives – mostly financial.  Many found themselves out of work because of the recession, and many home owners lost their homes to foreclosure; while the rest of us searched for ways to cope.  It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now.

As a result, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was quickly pieced together and signed into law in 2010.  “Dodd-Frank”, contained over two-thousand pages of regulations and rules, many of which were to be created at a later time by many agencies and unelected bureaucrats.  Dodd-Frank also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over RESPA, lending and consumer finance markets enforcement responsibilities.  The CFPB created the “Qualified Residential Mortgage” and “Know Before You Owe” rules that significantly impacted the mortgage and housing industries.

The purpose of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB was well intentioned as Congress sought a solution to prohibit future crises.  In the uncertain financial atmosphere that ensued, consumers wanted accountability from Wall Street and mortgage lenders.  While some continue to generally blame Wall Street and the mortgage industry for the financial crisis, the reality is that the dynamics that created the financial crises were complex.  And one can surmise from the many hearings, books, dissertations, and working papers that the crux of the financial crisis was widespread fraud that took advantage of a hot real estate market and easy money.

Six years after Dodd-Frank, the rules and regulations keep coming.  Writing for the US Chamber of Commerce’s “Above the Fold,” J.D. Harrison pointed out that Dodd-Frank has created over 27,000 new federal regulations by thirty-two federal agencies impacting many industries (Dodd-Frank’s Regulatory Nightmare in One Rather Mesmerizing Illustration; uschamber.com).  Compared to the previous Wall Street reform in 2002, which had two agencies issuing regulations to only five industries.  Harrison stated that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act “basically sought more corporate transparency and accountability.”

Many have associated Dodd-Frank with the ongoing slow economic recovery, citing increased consumer costs and restricted lending – which effects the housing market, home buyers and sellers.

An example of increasing consumer costs is the CFPB’s TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure.  The Mortgage Bankers Association (mba.org) recently reported that compliance with TRID costs on average $210 per mortgage, some of which is recouped from the consumer.  The rule is also responsible for “slower application to closing times.”

A recent appellate case highlighted some of these Dodd-Frank outcomes.  The CFPB sought fines against a mortgage lender for their years of compliance with HUD’s interpretation of a rule; the fines were imposed retroactively for not complying with a new CFPB reinterpretation of the same rule. Additionally, the court focused on the CFPB’s unilateral ability to impose rules and fines without oversight.

It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now.

Repeal and Replace is a talking point that is not exclusively for the Affordable Care Act.  Shortly after Donald Trump’s election as the forty-fifth President of the United States, many industry insiders and pundits are already anticipating the future of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB.  Mr. Trump’s plan for financial services is posted to the President-Elect’s site (greatagain.gov) stating: “The Dodd-Frank economy does not work for working people.  Bureaucratic red tape and Washington mandates are not the answer.  The Financial Services Policy Implementation team will be working to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act and replace it with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Housing bubble countdown

Housing Bubble
Cycle of housing bubble (infographic from estate123.com)

The March S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index (spindices.com) was announced May 31st to reveal a 5.2% increase in home prices.  Although down from last March’s 5.3% increase, home prices seem to be appreciating at a regular pace, with the metro areas of Portland, Seattle, and Denver leading the way with double digit gains (year-over-year price increases of 12.3%, 10.8%, 10.0% respectively).  As home prices climb, so too are the claims that we are experiencing a housing bubble.

Those concerned about the next bubble have been ringing the alarm bells since last fall, when the combination of limited inventory, multiple offers, and rising prices created an environment in some regions that was reminiscent of the go-go market just prior to the last market bust.  And like the broken watch that is correct twice a day, those naysayers may eventually be correct – but it may not be for another eight years.

According to Ted Nicolais, the real estate cycle has been steady since 1800 (How to Use Real Estate Trends to Predict the Next Housing Bubble; dce.harvard.edu; February 20, 2014).  Writing for the Harvard University’s Department of Continuing Education’s The Language of Business blog, Nicolais maps out Homer Hoyt’s cycles and found a regular 18-year cycle to the bubble and bust housing market (albeit two exceptions).

The 18-year cycle, as it turns out can be observed by analyzing trends.  An applying Henry George’s four phases of the real estate cycle (as modernized by Glenn R. Mueller), Nicolais can determine how and when the next housing bubble will occur.  (Henry George was a nineteenth century economist who studied the boom-bust cycle of the economy).

The first phase is the “recovery.”  Home prices are at the bottom, and demand increases.  Real estate vacancies decrease as economic activity increases, which fuels the economy.

real estate bubbleThe second phase is the “expansion.”  Housing inventories dwindle, there is little is available to buy, and finding a rental becomes difficult.  Nicolais explains that an issue with real estate is that once demand increases, filling inventory takes a long time.  New development can take two to five years.  Until new inventory is added, price growth accelerates; and rather than valued at market conditions, real estate becomes priced to future gains.  During a real estate boom, people buy into the prospect of “future growth” and believe the escalating prices are reasonable.

Phase three is “hyper supply.”  When the completion of new development begins to satisfy demand, inventories fist stabilizes and then swells.  Price growth begins to slow.  Nicolais stated that the amount of continued development will determine the severity of the impending recession; while demand is satiated, new inventory comes to market and vacancies increase.  He asserted that “wise” developers stop building during this phase.

Phase four is the “recession.”  New development is stopped, while projects coming to completion add to a growing inventory.  Occupancy rates and prices fall; property values and profits dwindle.  Developments in mid-construction may not be completed because they are no longer financially feasible.

Following the four phases and the 18-year cycle; Nicolais stated that the great recession was not caused by external forces, but rather occurred on schedule!  He figures that the current housing market is transitioning from recovery to an expansion phase.  And with the exception of the occasional slow down, he predicts that the next housing bubble will be in 2024.

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Housing recovery is cliché

real estateThe word “recovery” has been used a lot over the last five years.  So much so, it seems as if the term is automatically associated with anything written about real estate and housing.  But, maybe it’s time for a shift in our perception and expectations.

If you look up the definition of recovery, you might find: “re·cov·erynoun \ri-ˈkə-və-rē,\ : the act or process of returning to a normal state (after a period of difficulty).”  It might make sense to refer to the housing market as still recovering, and in the process of returning to normal; but then again, who’s to say that the home price and market activity peaks realized during 2005 – 2006 was normal?

A number of research papers (such as Reinhart & Rogoff’s The Aftermath of Financial Crises) were produced to discuss how the recovery from the Great Recession would take shape.  Although there is not a clear consensus, many concluded that a recovery after a financial crisis is much longer in duration than recoveries from non-crisis recessions.  However, some claim that may not be the case because the comparisons to other financial crises around the globe are not analogous the U.S. financial system.

Regardless, maybe the use of the term “recovery” is, after five years, cliché.  Niraj Chokshi seemed to allude to this in his November 2013 article on Washingtonpost.com, “What housing recovery? Home values and ownership are down post-recession.”  Chokshi pointed out that home ownership and home values have not even recovered to the levels of the three years during the recession (2007-2009).

But then again, it could be that there is a journalistic license to use “recovery” when referring to housing; because there is an expectation for the real estate market to return to the peaks it experienced in the last decade.  An April 7th National Association of Home Builders (nahb.org) press release of the NAHB/First American Leading Markets Index was titled, “Latest NAHB Index Reading Shows Recovery Continues to Spread;” highlighted that there are 59 of 350 metro areas that “returned to or exceeded” their normal market levels.  However, “market levels” are based on a metro area’s employment, home prices, and single family home permits (it is unclear if the labor participation rate, which is the labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population, is included in the employment data).

Talking about a recovery is no longer acceptable for home buyers and sellers planning their futures; rather it is more appropriate to again talk about relative market conditions.  Considering that references to a recovery that is extending into a fifth year seems distant and confusing; the dramatic changes that the industry underwent after the recession makes it almost inconceivable for the marketplace to return to the exact state that existed prior to 2007.  Relative market conditions are more meaningful to home buyers and sellers, specifically when they are deciding listing and offer prices.

Although the National Association of Reltors® Existing Home-Sales stats are due out April 22nd, and Pending Home Sales Index due April 28th; Wells Fargo Housing Chartbook: March 2014 (April 9, 2014) states, “Although we still see conditions improving in 2014 and 2015, the road back to normal will, in all likelihood, remain a long one…” and outlines a “Brave New Housing World.”

With that in mind, a look at local market conditions; March 2014 year-over-year Montgomery County MD home sale statistics for single family homes as reported by the Greater Capital Association of Realtors® (gcaar.com) indicated: total active listings increased 27.5%; contracts (e.g., pending sales) decreased 7.4%; and settlements (e.g., sales) decreased 12.6%.  Additionally, the March 2014 county average single family home sale price of $562,157 is less than the county average SFH price of $573,281 reported for March 2013.

by Dan Krell ©
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of April 7, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

Real estate, climate change, and data-porn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Dan Krell ©
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of March 24, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

How many more years for housing recovery?

moving dayA recent study may indicate that housing market may not fully recover for most cities until 2018.

The “long slog” housing recovery prediction appears to be relevant as a recent study published by the Demand Institute (DI) now estimates that the recovery may take several more years.  DI, a non-profit that studies consumer demand, suggests that home values may not rebound until 2018.

The DI study was reported by Realtor Magazine (Uneven Recovery to Continue for 5 Years; March 03, 2014) to be comprehensive and include 2,200 cities across the country and 10,000 interviews.  Overall, the report concludes that the recent sharp increase in home prices was mostly due to real estate investors who purchased distressed properties.  Now that distressed home sales are declining, values are not expected to increase as precipitously; the continued housing recovery is expected to be driven by new household formation.

The study reported the appreciation rate of the 50 largest metro areas in the country through 2018; home prices are estimated to appreciate about 2.1% annually.  However, the top five appreciating cities will average an overall increase of 32% through the recovery; while the bottom five will only average about 11% (Washington DC is listed among the bottom five).  Cities that experienced the highest appreciation and subsequently sharpest depreciation in home prices will likely have the longest and protracted recovery, and yet may only recover a fraction of the peak home values by 2018.

Not highlighted, and not yet expected to be an impact on the housing recovery,  is the move-up home buyer.  The typical move-up home buyer is sometimes characterized as a home owner who decides they need more space, which results in the sale of their smaller home and the purchase of a larger home.  Similar to previous recessionary periods and real estate down markets, the move- up home buyer was the missing piece to a housing recovery; the move-up home buyer provides much of the housing inventory that first time home buyers seek.  However, it seems as if psychological barriers hold back many move-up buyers today as it did in past recoveries.  During the current housing recovery, many potential move-up buyers have remained in their homes.  And until the move-up home buyer presence is felt in the marketplace, we may yet to endure a few more years of “recovery.”

Much like the DI study, there has been a lot of discussion and debate about the effects (on housing) of the lack of housing formation during the recession and in the subsequent recovery.  Andrew Paciorek, an economist at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, described household formation during a presentation given at the Atlanta Fed’s Perspectives on Real Estate speaker series (June 2013); “Think of the unemployed or underemployed college graduates living in their parents’ basements instead of renting or buying their own place. When a person establishes a residence, whether that’s an apartment or a house or another dwelling, that person is forming a household. Mainly because of a weak labor market that held down incomes, the rate of household formation cratered during the recession and subsequent recovery…

To give perspective to the issue, the rate of decrease of household formation during the great recession was significant (an 800,000 per year decrease compared to the previous seven years).  Additionally, household formation between 2007 and 2011 was at the lowest level since World War II, and was 59% below the 2000 to 2006 average.  Most significantly: during 2012, 45% of 18 to 30 year olds lived with older family members; compared to 39% during 1990, and 35% during 1980.  He described the household formation crash as an indirect contributor to declining home prices, which diminished household wealth linked to home values.

Although household formation continues to be a concern as the labor participation rate has decreased, Paciorek points to improvements in the job market as the spark to increasing household formation.  He forecasts that household formation should increase to 1.6 million over the next several years, and could possibly exceed the pre-recession average due to pent up demand of those who waited to form a household during the recession.  However, a disclaimer was provided saying his forecast is “based on assumptions that could prove overly optimistic;” and has “lots of caveats and lots of uncertainty” – much like the housing recovery.

by Dan Krell ©
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of March 3, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.