Real estate, climate change, and data-porn

winter home sales

The 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 sales

Consumer 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
© 2014

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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.

Is recent housing bubble news cause for alarm

by Dan Krell
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DanKrell.com
© 2013

real estate bubbleIf I said that we could experience another housing bubble, you might be concerned for my mental health.  But a couple of years ago I wrote about an impending housing shortage, which could spark another bubble similar to what occurred during 2004-2005.  The market-conditions similarities between 2004 and today are foreboding, if not intriguing. (Dan Krell © 2013)

There hasn’t been talk of a housing shortage since 2004; but looking at Montgomery County MD as an example, you might begin to see similarities between the housing bubble of 2005-2006 and today’s real estate market.

Monthly peek single family inventory in Montgomery County did not exceed 2,000 total active units in 2004; while the absorption rate was reported by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors® (GCAAR.com) to be about 80% during the winter of 2004.  During the following year, the winter active inventory greatly increased and the absorption rates dropped to about 40%.  The result was a housing market that reached critical mass, and a one year appreciation rate of about 18% for Montgomery County single family homes; which played a key role in the rampant real estate speculation in 2005-2006.

Active housing inventory has been declining since 2010; the greatest decrease occurring during 2012.  According to the monthly home sale statistics posted on the GCAAR website (GCAAR.com), there were 1813 active single family inventory units for sale in Montgomery County during January 2012.  And although active single family units peaked for the year during the spring of 2012, active inventory dwindled to a low of 1198 active units for sale during January 2013 – a year over year decrease of about 40%. Additionally, the absorption rate of listed homes for sale is rapidly approaching 60%

Add the home price facet – on March 5th, CoreLogic (corelogic.com) reported that national home prices increased 9.7% during January 2013, as compared to January 2012.  This was reported to be the greatest year of year home price increase since 2006.

An additional and telling similarity between the pre-bubble years and present is the number of real estate investors jumping in to cash in on distressed properties.  Of course at the height of the real estate bubble of 2004-2006, real estate investing was transformed from the traditional “rehab and flip” to no rehab and flipping properties as quickly as possible.   A great number of homes sold today are to investors, either to rehab or to rent.

In 2004, like today, we were about three years post recession; albeit the recession of 2001 was not as protracted as the “Great Recession.”  At that time, like today, the Federal Reserve funds rate was historically low.

Although an “easy money” monetary policy is another similarity between the periods, a major difference is the availability of mortgage money.  Getting a mortgage is much more difficult today than it was in 2004-2005.  Buying a home without a down payment as well as qualifying for a mortgage without documenting income could have been a factor of the wide spread real estate speculation of 2005-2006.  Today, as a result of the bursting of the 2005-2006 housing bubble, underwriting qualifications are more demanding as are down payment requirements.

The housing bubble phenomenon is not a new or a recent experience; housing bubbles have occurred in the past and most likely will occur in the future.  When they occur, housing bubbles seem to coincide with a recessionary cycle.  And just like recessions, housing bubbles vary in duration and severity.  Sure, another housing bubble may be looming; but the next bubble may be confined to specific regions of the country, and possibly some local neighborhoods.

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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 March 4, 2013. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.

Don’t buy into a false economy

by Dan Krell
DanKrell.com
© 2012
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Auction Stories about housing and real estate often reported in local media are entertaining and sometimes informative. However, some stories can create an erroneous impression about what’s happening in the marketplace. If you are not careful, you may be lead to buy into a false economy; using a Realtor® in today’s market is vital to get real time neighborhood information to make the best decisions.

A recent story highlighted a DC foreclosure that reportedly received over one hundred offers, and the accepted offer was more than double the list price. The story appeared to use this home sale as an example of a hot DC market. And make no mistake – that neighborhood is a hot market for various reasons (including the limited number of active homes for sale); but there’s missing information that could distort your perspective.

First, understand that the story referred to the sale of a HUD owned property, which was most likely a FHA foreclosure. The fact that there were reportedly 168 offers on the property is not unusual for a HUD owned property located in a neighborhood with very active buyers; although some HUD properties don’t get much attention, it is not unusual for many such homes to attract a lot of attention, as well as many offers.

Most offers on HUD homes are usually at list price or below, not only because savvy buyers are seeking a foreclosure bargain; but because of financing limitations. HUD appraises these properties so as to know the market value, and usually lists the home at that price. HUD foreclosures that are eligible for FHA financing use that appraisal, and are therefore limited to that price.

The MLS listing for this home indicated that it was listed “Insured with Escrow,” which means that the home was eligible for FHA financing. And looking at recent neighborhood comps, it looks as if the home was priced competitively. Additionally, the repair escrow indicates that the home requires repairs to meet FHA guidelines.

AuctionAlthough there are some buyers who pay over list price for an “Insured” HUD foreclosure, they know they need to pay cash or find alternate financing; so unless the buyer of this home has cash, the buyer could encounter issues obtaining alternate financing. Furthermore, although the story reported that the home sold, the MLS listing indicates that the home is under contract with contingencies (home inspection). So, the home is far from settled, and it remains to be seen if this contract falls through (or remains owner-occupied as required for this sale).

Although the story about this home sale was interesting, it is not typical for the housing market. The story does not indicate that the reported 14% DC median home sale price increase compares November 2012 sales to November 2011. There is also no mention that “luxury” home sales could have impacted November’s home sale price figures; GCAAR (gcaar.com) reported that DC single family home sales priced at $1.5M and above increased about 111%! Also, according Realestate Business Intelligence (rbintel.com), the November 2012 average DC sale price is about 97% of list; the average sale price is not over list.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a good story. But the story may be about buying into a false economy and buyer’s remorse; the real story may ultimately be how you should consult with your Realtor® before making a purchase or sale.

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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 24, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

Missing pieces to a housing recovery

by Dan Krell
DanKrell.com
© 2012
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Home salesAs the housing market expectantly slows for the winter months, we can start reflecting on this year’s housing statistics.  Home sale figures appear to point to a year ending slightly better than last.  But it may be that local home sale stats may not best those posted during the 2009-2010 period.  It appears that there are missing pieces to the housing market, which if not put into place, could result in a new real estate norm.  Let’s take a look at the puzzle…

First, the National Association of Realtors® (Realtor.org) reported that national pending home sales have been elevated most of the year; and although national existing home sales have increased during October, the numbers fluctuated throughout the year.  Of course, trying to determine the local state of housing through the national market snapshot may be like trying to see a local road map by looking at the solar system; but there is truth to what NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun described as “…rising consumer confidence about home buying…”

Second, New home sales have increased compared to last year.  Although the existing home sales statistics reported by the NAR may have co-mingled some new home figures in the data (due to the methodology), the U.S. Census Bureau (census.gov/construction/nrs/) reports new home sales.  Not surprisingly, October new home sales increased about 17% compared to October 2011, and 2012 year to date new home sales increased about 20% compared to 2011.

A forthcoming piece to the puzzle, which may likely be reported in the latter weeks of December, is that November was another positive month for real estate.  And more importantly – November may have been a brilliant month locally.  A preliminary analysis of Montgomery County MLS (Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc.) home sale figures (all inclusive) point to a marked sales volume increase in November compared to November 2011, as well as an increase in the average monthly home sale price (dankrell.com/realestate).

AnotNew Home Salesher piece to the local real estate puzzle is home buyer behavior.  Home buyers in the market are increasingly demanding about what they are getting for their money.  Given the lack of home listings in the resale market (down about 27% from 2011 year to date through October for Montgomery County single family homes: gcaar.com), combined with variances in home sale prices and the cost for renovations and updates on many homes; home buyers perceive value in purchasing new homes compared to buying a resale in today’s market.  This is an unacknowledged reason for the surge of new home sales this year, and why new home builders have rebounded before the resale market.

The missing pieces to improving the resale market are inventory and home prices.  As mentioned, a lack of home inventory continues.  If resale inventory were to match those of previous years, it stands to reason that resale inventory would also increase.  Inventories are lackluster most likely because many home owners have put their selling plans on hold until they are convinced that home prices have stabilized.

It’s welcome news that the 2012 housing market is slightly better than the 2011.  And although the landscape of the local market has improved, home sale figures are not much better than those posted during 2009-2010.  If resale inventory does not increase, the resale market of 2013 will probably be much like that of 2012.

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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 3, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

Has the housing market improved in the last four years

Dan Krell, Realtor®
DanKrell.com
© 2012

HousingIn retrospect, the beginning of the global recession in late 2007 was the end of the housing boom and may have spawned the foreclosures crisis and the financial crisis of 2008.  And although this period of time will undoubtedly become the basis of many future dissertations examining the “Great Recession;” you might ask “how much has the state of housing improved since 2008?”

If you recall, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) was anticipated to have wide reaching changes in the mortgage and housing industries as well as supposed to have assisted struggling home owners.  This multifaceted piece of legislation consolidated many individual bills addressing issues that were thought to either be the cause or the result of the financial crisis.  Besides raising mortgage loan limits to increase home buyer activity, the historic legislation was the beginning of changes meant to “fix” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as “modernizing” FHA to make the mortgage process easier for home buyers and refinancing easier for struggling home owners. Additionally, this law was the origination of the Hope for Homeowners program to assist home owners facing foreclosure (www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hr3221).

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), originated from HERA, has been the “conservator” of the then sinking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Since the FHFA took control, there has been conjecture as to what would become of the mortgage giants: some talked about closing their doors, while some talked about changing their role in the mortgage industry. Since FHFA became the oversight agency, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has strengthened their role in maintaining liquidity in the housing market by helping struggling home owners with their mortgages as well as freeing up lender capital by the continued purchases of loans (fhfa.gov)

The inception of Hope for Homeowners was the beginning of a string of government programs designed to assist home owners facing foreclosure, or assist underwater home owners refinance their mortgage.  Although there have been individual success stories, there has been criticism that these programs did not assist the expected numbers of home owners.  A January 24th CNNMoney article by Tami Luhby (money.cnn.com) reported that “…the HAMP program, which was designed to lower troubled borrowers’ mortgage rates to no more than 31% of their monthly income, ran into problems almost immediately. Many lenders lost documents, and many borrowers didn’t qualify. Three years later, it has helped a scant 910,000 homeowners — a far cry from the promised 4 million…” and “HARP, which was intended to reach 5 million borrowers, has yielded about the same results. Through October, when it was revamped and expanded, the program had assisted 962,000…” (money.cnn.com/2012/01/24/news/economy/Obama_housing/index.htm).

HousingDespite the recent slowdown in foreclosure activity, there is disagreement about the projected number of foreclosures going into 2013.  A March 29th Corelogic news release (www.corelogic.com/about-us/news/corelogic-reports-almost-65,000-completed-foreclosures-nationally-in-february.aspx) reported that there have been about 3.4 million completed foreclosures since 2008 (corelogic.com).  And although an August 9th RealtyTrac® (www.realtytrac.com/content/foreclosure-market-report/july-2012-us-foreclosure-market-report-7332) report indicated a 3% decrease from June to July and a 10% decrease from the previous year in foreclosure filings; July’s 6% year over year increase in foreclosure starts (initial foreclosure filings) was the third straight month of increases in foreclosure starts.

So, if you’re wondering if housing is better off today than it was four years ago, the answer may be a resounding “maybe;” It all depends on your situation.

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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 September 3 , 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.