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.

Are rising interest rates helpful?

rising interest rates
Rising interest rates (graph from realtor.org)

After much speculation, mortgage interest rates appear to be on the move. Even with rising interest rates, rates are still relatively low. Some economists expect that when the Fed’s Quantitative Easing program begins tapering, mortgage interest rates may jump due to financial market volatility.

Many fear that rising interest rates could derail the recovering housing market. In an August 19th news release (realtor.org), Chief NAR economist Lawrence Yun stated that although the pace of home sales are at its highest since February 2007, the market could be experiencing a “temporary peak” due to home buyers’ seeking to close deals before interest rates rise significantly. Looking ahead, Dr. Yun expects that rising interest rates and limited inventory could create an imbalanced market due to inconsistent home sales.

Home sale prices also have been rising, prompting bidding wars, as the median home sale price was reported by NAR to have maintained nine consecutive months of double digit year over year increases. However, Dr. Yun stated, “Limited inventory in some areas means multiple bidding remains a factor; 17 percent of all homes sold above the asking price in August, although 63 percent sold below list price.”

This week’s release of July’s S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index (spindices.com) also revealed that home sale prices were still holding onto the double digit annual rate of gain over 2012 levels, as the 10 city and 20 city composites posted about a 12% year over year increase for July. However, it is pointed out that home price are still “far below their peak levels.”

The sharp increases in home sale prices sparked fears of another housing bubble. But price gains only increased about 2% from June to July. Monthly price gains have lessened, and the gradual slowdown of home price gains may indicate that home prices may be peaking. Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, David M. Blitzer, stated, “Following the increase in mortgage rates beginning last May, applications for mortgages have dropped, suggesting that rising interest rates are affecting housing. The Fed’s announcement last week that QE3 bond buying will continue for the time being may have only a limited, though favorable, impact on housing.”

The rapid increase in home prices has affected potential appreciation for many home owners who waited to sell their homes. And the increased inventory provided additional housing stock for eager home buyers. Given the recent increases in home sale prices, the expectation of an uncertain real estate market may not be welcome news by home buyers and sellers.

But home price increases have not only helped the housing market, but the economy as a whole. CoreLogic (corelogic.com) reported that the housing sector contributed about 17% to GDP growth during the first quarter of 2013. However, CoreLogic predicts that increasing mortgage rates will directly affect the housing market, and indirectly affect the overall economy: Single family housing starts (new homes) are thought to be declining because of increasing mortgage rates; and CoreLogic estimates that long term GDP growth to be about 1.75%.

It remains to be seen if modest increases in mortgage interest rates have been beneficial to stave off another housing bubble. However, given that the indicators and experts point to a housing recovery peak; increasing mortgage interest rates could suggest caution for the housing market.

Original located at https://dankrell.com/blog/2013/09/26/rising-interest-rates-a-help-and-hindrance-to-recovering-housing-market-2/

By Dan Krell

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. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.

A balanced real estate market emerges despite fears of a housing bubble

by Dan Krell © 2013
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real estate bubbleAs talk of a housing recovery is gaining traction, some experts are saying the recovery may be artificial and short lived. Warnings from economists and a former mortgage executive paint a picture of a possible housing bubble being caused by the source they claim is cause for increasing home prices.

Steve Cook, of Real Estate Economy Watch, revealed a recent survey of 105 economists, real estate experts and investment and market strategists. Although respondents predicted positive home price appreciation through 2014; the experts expect that home prices won’t fare as well during ensuing years through 2017. Furthermore, 48% of the respondents felt that current Federal Reserve monetary policy might be the reason for recent home price spikes; which may be creating a future housing bubble (www.realestateeconomywatch.com/2013/05/survey-of-economists-finds-fears-of-new-bubble/).

A majority of the expert panel suggested that requiring a minimum down payment in the Qualified Residential Mortgage (a provision to allow lenders to bypass credit risk retention rules) would create a long-term sustainable housing market. However, only about a third of respondents believe that a minimum down payment should be 20% or more.

An April 9th online article for The Wall Street Journal titled “Is the Fed Blowing a New Housing Bubble?” written by former Fannie Mae executive, Edward Pinto, explores the source for of the housing recovery. Pinto pointed out that although recent home price surges are the highest since 2006, data released by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) indicate that home price increases may not be due to “broad based improvements in the economy’s fundamentals.” But rather, home price increases are being driven by low interest rates due to the Fed’s Quantitative Easing program (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323646604578400252745095518.html).

Pinto compares current market conditions to those of 2006, when government policies also likely contributed to a housing bubble. During that period, like today, income is not keeping pace with home price increases. As an example, he cited FHFA’s conventional home-financing data that indicated new home purchase prices increased 9% during February 2013 and 15% during February 2013; while income barely increased 2% (keeping relative pace with inflation).

Pinto and his assessment of recent home price spikes are getting some attention. John Aidan Byrne of the NY Post wrote on May 6th (“Next Home Crisis”) about Pinto and his concerns. Because suppressed interest rates are pushing home sale prices up, Pinto surmises that when the Fed’s QE program ends, interest rates will rise creating an “inevitable housing disaster.” However, he concludes that to avoid a housing disaster: income must increase 33%, home sale prices will drop about 25%, or lending standards must loosen significantly. He points out that loose lending policies did not end well in the last housing bubble (http://www.nypost.com/p/news/business/next_home_crisis_lJoi2HNNojY2NGeDei8MsL).

Regardless of murmurs of another housing bubble, current market conditions might indicate a balanced market. The trend of monthly local absorption rates compiled from the local multiple list service has consistently shown to be in recent months between a buyer’s market and a seller’s market (absorption during a buyer’s market tends to be below 50%, while a seller’s market tends to be above 60%).

Even though there is little inventory, supply and demand may be in overall balance. However, that being said; supply and demand seems to be out of balance for well priced updated homes, which appear to the source of bidding wars and escalation clauses. Homes priced above the market and/or needing repairs/updates take longer to sell.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published the week of May 13, 2013. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.

When will move-up homebuyers return to the housing market

by Dan Krell
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Move-up home buyers missing from housing recovery; when will move-up home buyers return to the housing market?

home for saleI recently came across an interesting article about “move-up” home buyers online titled, “Move-up Buyer Provides The Base For A Recovering Housing Market.” The piece, published by the Chicago Tribune, is not unlike the many articles you might find today about the missing move-up buyer in the housing recovery. However, this article is different – it was published August 17, 1985 (article can be found here: articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-08-17/news/8502240441_1_interest-rates-trade-up-market-home-resale-market).

The striking similarities between the current housing recovery and a real estate market that was recovering from one of the deepest modern recessions up to that time (during the early 1980’s), includes home buyer behavior and economic concerns. And of course, the affected move-up buyer sector and the dearth of inventory appear to be familiar.

Home buyer behavior doesn’t have seemed to have changed much as many would-be home buyers are trying to time their purchase with the market bottom. At that time, like today, interest rate pressures are helped home buyers decide to jump into the market; additionally, then like today a significant number of buyers were first time home buyers. Downward pressure on mortgage interest rates, combined with the fear of rising rates affected home buyers to get off of the fence. However, peek mortgage interest rates averaged about 15% in the early 1980’s.

Another similarity between both periods is the missing move-up market. The typical move-up home buyer is sometimes described 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. Then like today, the move- up home buyer was the missing piece to the housing recovery; the move-up home buyer provides much of the housing inventory that first time home buyers seek. However, it seems as if a “psychological barrier” (as described by the Chicago Tribune piece) holds back many move-up buyers today as it did in 1985. During the current housing recovery, many potential move-up buyers have remained in their homes.

Like other housing recoveries, one of the main issues holding back the move-up buyer is housing appreciation. During an early recovery, home owners may have a difficult time rationalizing buying a larger more expensive home when the new home could depreciate the first year of ownership, let alone the thought of a perceived loss of equity in their current home.

As home prices stabilize it would be reasonable to think that there will be an increased presence of the move-up home buyer. A good example of this was in the housing recovery that took place during 2003-2004. At that time, low mortgage interest rates helped first time home buyers back to the marketplace, and the move-up buyer sector took off relatively quickly when rapid home appreciation was realized. Of course rapid home appreciation was a function of “easy money” that generated real estate speculation that produced the “go-go market” of 2005-2006, the housing bubble, and the subsequent financial/housing crises.

The similarities of a post recession housing recovery might indicate there is currently progress. However, the move-up home buyer sector may be one of the final pieces to the recovery puzzle; and until the move-up home buyer presence is felt in the marketplace, we may yet to endure a few more years of “recovery.”

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published the week of April 1, 2013. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.