Skepticism increases 1.3% on conflicting housing data

by Dan Krell © 2012
DanKrell.com

housing dataWhen the National Association of Realtors® announced last week that April’s existing home sales increased 3.4% to an annually adjusted rate of 4.62 million compared to a downwardly revised 4.47 million in March (http://www.realtor.org/news-releases/2012/05/april-existing-home-sales-up-prices-rise-again), I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. The local market is not exactly humming along, so as I read in the above referenced NAR release that April’s existing home sales rose 10% over the figure from April 2011, I thought some perspective is needed.

Let me quote you some housing statistics. The number of Montgomery County single family homes that sold increased 5.1% in February, 14.7% in March, 33.9% in April and 27.9% in May (MRIS data reported by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors®; gcaar.com). These numbers are not from 2012; but rather, these are the local stats from 2010 compared to closings from 2009. Yes, as you remember – 2010 was a spectacular year for local real estate!

Sarcasm aside, the number of Montgomery County single family home closings increased 5.8% during April 2012 (compared to 2011); and the number of Montgomery County condo closings also increased 8.1% during the same time. But, Montgomery County year-to-date settlements are still below the number of settlements that occurred during the same time in 2011 (-1.4% for single family homes; and -2.8% for condos). Although the 690 single family home settlements that occurred in April 2012 is higher than 652 that occurred in April 2011, the 2,034 single family home settlements that occurred year-to-date through April 2012 is lower than the 2,062 settlements that occurred the same period in 2011. Regardless, the number of settlements is far lower than what we have seen in past “normal” markets (for example, GCAAR reported that there were 849 settlements of Montgomery County single family homes in April 2001).

It must be noted that although the first half of 2010 seemed to be on a role, the number of 2010 Montgomery County single family home closings actually ended the year slightly lower than 2009. So, even though we have a month of some positive news, let’s be cautious about making assumptions.

housing dataOk, I know you’re going to ask about NAR’s statements about rising home sales. Sure, NAR chief economist, Lawrence Yun, was reported to say that “the housing recovery was underway.” He was also quoted to say, “A return of normal home buying for occupancy is helping home sales across all price points, and now the recovery appears to be extending to home prices…”

However, the latest release of the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices (May 29th; standardandpoors.com) states “that all three headline composites ended the first quarter of 2012 at new post-crisis lows.” Although there was a 1.6% decrease in home prices in the Washington DC metropolitan area in February compared to January, there was a 1% increase in March compared to February; however, prices have decreased 0.6% for the year.

Although media headlines shout that housing has turned a corner, it’s a little premature to assume that the housing market has normalized with only one month’s data. The housing market has turned so many corners in recent years that I think we’ve made several circles! Just as in 2010, let’s see the final tally. There’s still some data to collect; let’s see how the housing market fares through the remainder of the summer.

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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 in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 28, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

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Real Estate in review 2011

Since the housing downturn, optimistic predictions the real estate market have been forecasted annually. However, what we have seen in retrospect is that home buyer incentives along with other housing stimulus measures have only acted to maintain an ailing housing sector from deteriorating further. Some still await the market bottom. And although 2011 revealed additional weaknesses in global economic systems as well as the unintentional consequences of policy and regulation, 2011 felt as if it was the most optimistic year in real estate since the downturn.

2011 will be remembered as the year that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) revised existing home sales down 14.3% for estimates between 2007 and 2010 (data released on December 21, 2011 and available on realtor.org). Regardless of the re-benchmarking of data, the NAR has announced that existing home sales in 2011 continue to strengthen as November’s data indicates increased sales from the previous year (really?).

2011 was not the year for home price gains, however. Home prices continued to decline nationwide. However, the Washington DC and Detroit metro areas were the only two regions that posted positive home price gains from the previous year according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

2011 was the year that housing finance reform continued to crawl forward, while Wall Street reform seemed to move quickly with the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Although Dodd-Frank seemed to be focused squarely on Wall Street, it appeared to be far reaching with the requirements such as the 20% down payment Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM).

2011 will be remembered as the year that the Eurozone almost collapsed. The financial déjà-vu that played out over the summer (and is still yet totally resolved, mind you), threatened markets worldwide- including the U.S. housing market. The sharp economic decline, that some braced for, was averted.

2011 was the year that we saw a bifurcated market become increasingly significant. The upper-bracket/luxury home market appeared to stabilize ahead of other housing, as upper-bracket/luxury housing activity remained strong. In fact two of the most expensive homes in Washington, DC sold this year! Reports that Evermay, the DC mansion that was originally listed for $49 Million, sold for $22 Million in July; while Halcyon House was reported to sell a couple of months later for $12.5 Million.

Regardless of the continued efforts of government preparedness campaigns (remember the Center for Disease Control “Zombie Apocalypse” preparedness campaign on blogs.cdc.gov?); 2011 will be remembered as the year that nature made a point about preparedness. If you weren’t concerned about preparing for the Mayan 2012 prophecy; then enduring hurricanes, floods and an earthquake probably had you at least checking your homeowners’ insurance.

As foreclosures declined in 2011, it seemed as if reports of mortgage lender abuses increased. Lenders appeared to be under fire from class action lawsuits as well as attorneys general for lending practices and foreclosure procedures; Bank of America recently reportedly settled a lawsuit for $335 Million.

Alas, the year is almost over; having us searching for fond memories of 2011 and wondering what will 2012 bring. Some look for home prices to make some gains in the coming year (homepricefutures.com), however more importantly you can probably expect the housing market to be glamorized in the pomp and circumstance of the election cycle of 2012.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

by Dan Krell
© 2011

Post-crisis real estate: What’s in store for the housing market?

by Dan Krell
© 2011
DanKrell.com

It is often said that history repeats itself. If we want a glimpse of our future, we should look to the past; if we want to see how a post-crisis housing market looks like, we should look to see how a previous housing crisis ended.

According to the Census Bureau (census.gov), the last time homeownership rates declined was 1980-1990. Recent seasonally adjusted homeownership rates have been declining slowly from the all time high of 69.2% reached in the first quarter of 2005. The current seasonally adjusted homeownership rate (for the third quarter of 2011) is 66.1%, which is similar to the homeownership rate of 66.2% reported by the 2000 Census.

Although the country is dealing with some of the same economic issues that was problematic during the early 1980’s; the current real estate market is more akin to like the post S&L crisis of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, when the market was flooded with foreclosures and a coinciding recession impeded an already difficult housing market. Some may remember that during that time home prices decreased and, not unlike recent events, many home owners walked away from their homes (some lenders were sent the keys of recently purchased homes).

Then like today, resulting legislation changed the lending landscape in an effort to ensure such systemic abuse and failure would not happen again. The Census reported that the homeownership rate in 1990 was 64.2%, just shy of the 64.4% homeownership rate reported in 1980.

Additionally, mortgage interest rates were “normalized” post the S&L crisis, making homeownership more affordable than the previous decade. Then, like today, low mortgage rates are touted to make owning a home more attractive than renting.

Also, like that time, the real estate business was changing. Besides changing business models (buyer agency was becoming recognized across the country), large real estate brokers downsized and/or absorbed brokers wanting to get out of the business. Today’s real estate business models have changed to accommodate technology and a vast array of information; additionally, national and regional brokers may begin to see their market share change with the marketplace.

Demographics are always changing. Current demographics indicate a shrinking pool of willing home buyers and sellers. As home prices have dropped over the last several years, many baby boomers who planned to downsize cannot afford to sell their home; additionally, “move-up” home buyers have also decided to make do with their current home longer than they planned as they find that their home’s equity has diminished. Many renters are choosing to continue renting as homeownership is viewed as an anchor; they prefer to be more mobile and not tied down by homeownership until they become more established in their careers.

Before home prices can stabilize, many expect average home prices to drop another 20%. Home prices have (more or less) historically returned to an established “norm” after a housing boom. Home prices are about 26% higher than the “norm” adjusted price, which was established in 1890 as reported by Robert Shiller (Irrational Exuberance; Broadway Books 2nd edition, 2005).

As we move forward, economic and industry related barriers continue to prevent a recovery in the real estate sector. It may be several years before these issues may be managed; however once addressed, confidence in homeownership may begin to increase once again instilling pride and sense of community.

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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 in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of December 12, 2011. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2011 Dan Krell.

Will inflation help the housing market: how real estate is affected

by Dan Krell
© 2011
DanKrell.com

Homes for saleMany people believe that as inflation increases, home values decrease. The argument put forth is that as purchasing power decreases, so do the value of your assets.  However, some economists say that it is flawed thinking to assume that housing, like other goods, decline in value as inflation increases.

Collin Barr reported that Yale economist Robert Shiller (coauthor of the Case-Shiller Home Price Index) has spent years collecting data that indicates “that house prices over time tend to rise more or less in step with inflation” (fortune.com: Why house prices will keep falling; March 29, 2011). That’s all well and good, except that home prices far exceeded the rate of inflation during the recent “bubble years;” and is reported as still having a 25% gap from baseline. So, unless we see an increasing rate of inflation, some believe that home prices drop another 20%.

Brian Summerfield, Online Editor of REALTOR® Magazine, describes (in an April 5th Realtor.org blog post) a scenario of how inflation can lift the current housing market. By highlighting affordability, he explains the cost of housing is currently cheaper to own a home (compared to renting). Additionally, as inflation creeps up and eats more of the family budget by decreasing buying power, the a person’s housing budget will be pressured by rising rents and buying a home will be increasingly more attractive.

Of course, Mr. Summerfield’s scenario is hinged on several “caveats”: interest rates will have to remain relatively low (he says no higher than 7%); implementation of “accessible” 30 year fixed mortgage programs; housing supply will have to remain low; and no additional economic crises.

In several Realtor.org blog posts, Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors®, discussed inflation and housing. In an April 18th post he explained that “Unexpected inflation” does erode savings, however actually benefits borrowers. Additionally, in a September 15th post reporting that housing starts are the lowest since World War II, Yun explains that some investors are returning to undervalued real estate as a hedge against inflation. Since new housing is not on track with population growth, some believe there will be a housing shortage that will cause increased demand in coming years.

House for saleThe reality is that although there is a relationship between home prices and inflation, it does not signify causality. In other words, although one may have an effect on the other, housing and inflation are independent. Even in Brian Summerfield’s scenario, he is cautious to provide conditions to bring his vision to reality. And no one has talked about the affects of stagflation.

When talking about a recovery, the typical homeowner should remain cautious- especially in espousing a view that a home is an investment vehicle. Even though our consumer oriented society has encouraged people to pay for their lifestyles with their home’s equity, it’s now widely decried as irresponsible.

In light of the current economic conditions, many potential home buyers are becoming more pragmatic as well. Even though the basic benefits of homeownership include affordability, community, etc, many potential home buyers view owning a home as anchor that will keep them tied to a specific area. And in a time when jobs are scarce, many people want the freedom of mobility in case they have a career opportunity elsewhere.

Will inflation help the real estate market? We will only know in hindsight.

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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 in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of November 28, 2011. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2011 Dan Krell.

The Art of Pricing Your Home

by Dan Krell © 2007
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As February gives way to March home buyers make their way out of hibernation, while many home owners are preparing their homes for sale. Some home sellers will list their home with a Realtor, while others will attempt to sell by owner. As the home sellers are making their preparations, one item is still undecided-the list price.

Pricing your home correctly is the key to having a successful sale and will make the difference in going to settlement in a reasonable time or having your home languish on the market for weeks and months.

Although it is true that selling a home is not rocket science; however, home pricing is a science to some and an art form to others. There is a certain knowledge and technique in home pricing as well as requiring a lot of work in the form of research.

If you are presently selling your home, (if you haven’t realized it yet) market conditions are no where near the market conditions of several years ago. Don’t expect your home to sell fast at a higher price and/or in poor condition than other homes in your neighborhood-those days are over.

The first step in pricing your home is to see what is happening in the local market and neighborhood. You can see this by getting a comparative market analysis (CMA) from a Realtor. I would ask several Realtors for a CMA as there may be differences in approach and presentation. A CMA is not an appraisal; however it is a comparison of your home to similar homes. It is important to compare your home to homes of similar style and size. Dissecting the analysis in six, three, and one month segments will show you any market trends.

When looking at the analysis, compare recent sales to currently active homes. Are the current listing prices consistent to recent sale prices and days on market? Is your competition is over priced for present market conditions, or is the market slowing down?

Look at the expired and withdrawn listings too. Try to find out why these homes did not sell and avoid doing the same mistakes. Also, look any pending sales for price reductions and seller concession as these may give you a hint to where you need to be in pricing your home.

Now that you have the analysis, it is important to know your competition first hand. Go visit your competition when they hold an open house. Compare active listings’ condition and amenities to your own home. Does your home compare; is the price reasonable; would you consider buying this home?

Be honest with yourself about your home’s condition and features. Are there amenities that will attract home buyers? Are there any problems or shortcomings that will turnoff home buyers? You will need to adjust for these items accordingly.

Home buyers in today’s market are looking for homes that show well and are reasonably priced. Additionally, many home buyers are in need of closing cost assistance. Don’t expect home buyers to make an offer just because the home is on the market-they won’t. Be realistic, as there are lots of other homes on the market that show well and are competitively priced.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of 2/12/2007. (c) 2007 Dan Krell.