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.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Housing inventory crisis?

housing inventoryThe low housing inventory crisis has plagued the housing market for about six years.  Low inventory has frustrated home buyers and all but eliminated move up home buyers.  The ongoing housing inventory crisis is an obstacle to a balanced housing market.

As a result of the ongoing housing inventory crisis, existing home sales may see a decline in the next few months, when spring sales should be strong.  Seasonal increases are a given, as National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor) data indicated a 3.0 percent month-over-month increase for February existing home sales and a 3.1 percent month-over-month increase in the Pending Home Sale Index (the Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking dataset indicating the number of homes that are under contract).  However, February sales only increased 1.1 percent from last year.  But the tell of slowing activity is the 4.1 percent decrease in pending home sales from last year.

Most experts blame the sluggish home sale activity on low housing inventory.  NAR’s reporting that February’s seasonal month-over-month 4.6 percent increase of total housing inventory is expected.  However, the 8.1 percent decrease in housing inventory compared to last year is worrisome.

The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (gcaar.com) March 2018 data for single family home sales in Montgomery County indicated a decline in activity across the board.  Listings decreased 11.1 percent month-over-month and 7.8 from last year.  Contracts decreased 6.6 percent month-over-month and 6.9 percent from last year.  While closings only decreased 3.8 percent month-over-month, there was a 7.8 percent decrease from last year.

Another sign that that the housing market is in crisis is last week’s announcement from Zillow.  If you have not yet heard, Zillow is expanding their Instant Offer program and plans to jump into the housing market (zillow.com).  They plan to fix and flip homes by making cash offers and buying houses like other investors who participate in their IO program. The homes will be listed for sale with real estate agents who subscribe to Zillow’s Premier Agent program, as well as select partner brokers.

Zillow Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Wacksman stated,

“Even in today’s hot market, many sellers are stressed and searching for a more seamless way to sell their homes…They want help, and while most prefer to sell their home on the open market with an agent, some value convenience and time over price. This expansion of Instant Offers, and Zillow’s entrance into the marketplace, will help us better serve both types of consumers as well as provide an opportunity for Premier Agents to connect with sellers. This is expected to be a vibrant line of business for us and for our partners in the real estate industry, while providing homeowners with more choices and information.”

The venture into flipping is a huge deviation for the internet juggernaut, whose revenue is mostly generated by selling advertising and leads to real estate agents and loan officers.  The reaction in the industry is mixed, however Zillow’s stock dropped 7 percent the day after the announcement.  Critics, including experienced real estate investors, scoffed at Zillow’s ambitious plan to flip a house within ninety days.

In a market where home owners are reluctant to sell, and frustrated home buyers are dropping out, Zillow needs to find ways to increase lead generation to grow subscribers (see why tech models looking for alternate revenue).

While being ridiculed by many, Zillow’s flipping plan may be a brilliant strategy to generate home seller leads for agents.  Zillow acknowledges in their press release that “the vast majority of sellers who requested an Instant Offer ended up selling their home with an agent, making Instant Offers an excellent source of seller leads for Premier Agents and brokerage partners.”  If Zillow’s plan works, it could also grease the wheels of the housing market by turning reluctant home owners into sellers.

As a home seller, the home sale inventory shortage limits your competition.  But be aware that it’s not entirely a seller’s market.  Your home’s condition can significantly lower the sales price, or even prevent a sale.  Serious consideration should also be given to your listing price.  Additionally, you should focus your attention to preparing your home to show to home buyers.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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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.

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Rental search in a tight market

rental
Finding a rental (infographic from appfolio.com)

Some housing experts are excited about the recent one-half of one percent uptick in the homeownership rate, saying it’s at a three year high. But the Census’ most recent release of the Quarterly Residential Vacancies (Fourth Quarter 2017) and Homeownership described the move as “not statistically different” from the previous quarter or year (census.gov). Essentially, the homeownership rate remains historically low. This dovetails with the Census’ most recent renter moving data indicating that the percentage of renters who moved in 2017 was the lowest since 1988. So, it should not be a surprise that rents are on the rise, and it’s becoming even more difficult to find a rental.

How can you find a rental in a tight market?

Before you go off and sign a lease, you should create your own “rental guide.” First, make a housing budget of how much you can afford for rent and utilities. Then make a list of “must haves” for your new home. Think about the size, location, local amenities, commuter routes and public transportation, and anything else you deem important. This guide will help you stay focused on your needs, and help you decide on a rental that makes sense.

home ownershipOnce you begin looking for a rental, you may realize that finding a rental that “checks all the boxes” may be difficult. You may find that rent per square foot varies depending on the neighborhood, age of the building, and the amenities. This may force you to prioritize your needs. For example, you may find that a small condo near a metro station is the same rent as a three-bedroom single family home that has a longer commute. Or there may be a new apartment available with luxury amenities with a higher rent than the older apartment building with sparse amenities.

The internet is the medium of choice these days to look for a rental. There are numerous websites using state of the art applications to advertise rental listings. They also include vast amounts of information on each listing to help your search. There are a number of specialty sites focusing on niche rentals (such as apartments, luxury, etc.) that tout their exclusive listings. However, there are sites that are more comprehensive that include a mix MLS and private listings. And let’s forget there are online classifieds too.

Many renters search for their new home without an agent, and that’s ok. But consider that an experienced licensed real estate agent can help negotiate your lease, possibly getting better terms. While most agents will work rentals and sales, there are real estate agencies that specialize in rentals. Consider contacting legitimate property managers or rental management companies and ask about their upcoming rental listings.

If a rental listing sounds too good to be true, then be suspicious of a scam. To protect yourself from scammers, it can be helpful to understand how they operate. The Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov) offers insight on how rental scams work, and how to report scams.  Scams are typically from hijacked ads or phantom rentals.  The FBI (fbi.gov) and USA.gov also offer tips on protecting yourself from rental scams.

Some basic cautions from the FBI:

-Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;
-Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;
-Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;
-Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;
-Don’t give out personal information, like social security, bank account, or credit card numbers.

Regardless whether you go it alone or with a real estate agent, practice due diligence. Real estate scams have been part of the rental scene for decades. Scams have become more prevalent with the increased reliance on the internet for home searches. And in a tight housing market, it’s no coincidence that real estate scams are on the rise.

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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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.