Bob Schwab: Is the real estate market finally going back to normal?

Our in-house lender Bob Schwab recently sent an article about the housing market and its ups-and-downs over the last decade-plus. He thinks it’s about time that the real estate market goes back to normal.  Here is what is says, with my take at the end!
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The housing market has been anything but normal for the last eleven years. In a normal real estate market, home prices appreciate 3.7% annually. Below, however, are the price swings since 2007 according to the latest Home Price Expectation Survey:
After the bubble burst in June 2007, values depreciated 6.1% annually until February 2012. From March 2012 to today, the market has been recovering with values appreciating 6.2% annually. These wild swings in values were caused by abnormal ratios between the available supply of inventory and buyer demand in the market. In a normal market, there would be a 6-month supply of housing inventory.
When the market hit its peak in 2007, homeowners and builders were trying to take advantage of a market that was fueled by an“irrational exuberance.” Inventory levels grew to 7+ months. In this simplified view, with that many homes available for sale, there weren’t enough buyers to satisfy the number of homeowners/builders trying to sell, so prices began to fall.
Then, foreclosures came to market. We eventually hit 11 months inventory which caused prices to crash until early 2012. By that time, inventory levels had fallen to 6.2 months and the market began its recovery. Over the last five years, inventory levels have remained well below the 6-month supply needed for prices to continue to level off. As a result, home prices have increased over that time at percentages well above the appreciation levels seen in a more normal market.
That was the past. What about the future?
We currently have about 4.5-months inventory. This means prices should continue to appreciate at above-normal levels which most experts believe will happen for the next year. However, two things have just occurred that are pointing to the fact that we may be returning to a more normal market.
Listing Supply is Increasing
Both existing and new construction inventory is on the rise. The latest Existing Home Sales Report from theNational Association of Realtors revealed that inventory has increased over the last two months after thirty-seven consecutive months of declining inventory. At the same time, building permits are also increasing which means more new construction is about to come to market.
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Buyer Demand is Softening
Ivy Zelman, who is widely respected as an industry expert, reported in her latest ‘Z’ Report“While we continue to expect a resumption of growth in resale transactions on the back of easing inventory in 2019 and 2020, our real-time view into the market through ourReal Estate Broker Survey does suggest that buyers have grown more discerning of late and a level of “pause” has taken hold in many large housing markets. Indicative of this, our broker contacts rated buyer demand at 69 on a 0- 100 scale, still above average but down from 74 last year and representing the largest year-over-year decline in the two-year history of our survey.”
With supply increasing and demand waning, we may soon be back to a more normal real estate market. We will no longer be in a buyers’ market (like 2007-February 2012) or a sellers’ market (like March 2012- Today). Prices won’t appreciate at the levels we’ve seen recently, nor will they depreciate. It will be a balanced market where prices remain steady, where buyers will be better able to afford a home, and where sellers will more easily be able to move-up or move-down to a home that better suits their current lifestyles.
Bottom Line
Returning to a normal market is a good thing. However, after the zaniness of the last eleven years, it might feel strange. If you are going 85 miles per hour on a road with a 60 MPH speed limit and you see a police car ahead, you’re going to slow down quickly. But, after going 85 MPH, 60 MPH will feel like you’re crawling. It is the normal speed limit, yet, it will feel strange. That’s what is about to happen in real estate. The housing market is not falling apart. We are just returning to a more normal market which, in the long run, will be much healthier for you whether you are a buyer or a seller.
Note:  This is a nationwide overview, but there are always micro areas that buck the trend.

Are homebuyers going to hit the pause button?

Mortgage Consultant Bob Schwab posed an interesting question on his blog recently: is purchase demand softening? He writes that over the last several years, buyer demand has far exceeded the housing supply. This has led to home prices appreciating by an average of 6.2 percent each year since 2012.

The Foot Traffic Report, Realtors Confidence Index (both National Association of Realtors), The Showing Index (ShowingTime), and The Real Estate Broker Survey (The Z Report by Zelman and Associates) are the four major reports used to measure buyer activity. Three of the four have revealed that the purchase demand may, in fact, be softening:

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The Foot Traffic Report

Latest reports say buyer demand remains strong, due to supply and new construction remaining unable to keep up with buyer demand – despite a healthy economy and labor market.

The Showing Index

In July 2018, the Showing Index recorded buyer interest deceleration compared to the previous year for the third month in a row. They think buyer demand is softening.

Realtors Confidence Index

This measure reported slower homebuying activity in July 2018, down from the same month one year ago. It is the fifth straight month they’ve seen a decline, so they agree buyer demand is softening.

The Real Estate Broker Survey

The Z Report also finds buyer demand to be softening, stating that “a level of “pause” has taken hold in many large housing markets.” Their buyer demand rating of 69 (1-100 scale) is above average, but down from 74 last year.

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When most of the major measures of buyer activity report that demand is softening…it may just be true. According to Bob, the strong buyers’ market directly after the housing crash was followed by a six-year stretch of a strong sellers’ market. If demand continues to soften and supply begins to grow, as expected, there will be a return to a more neutral market. Though that wouldn’t favor buyers or sellers immediately, it is a better long-term look for real estate.

A direct quote from Bob: The era of cheap money might be coming to an end. Interest rates on mortgages are up three-quarters of one percent in the last year. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise short-term rates one-quarter of one percent at their September meeting and another one-quarter of a percent in December. Come October, bonds will have to stand on their own feet again as the Fed will officially end its “quantitative easing.” There are also some early signs of wage inflation as the unemployment rate continues to improve and businesses struggle to find employees. As I always remind my clients, mortgage rates are still fantastic from a historical perspective. They are still sitting in the mid to high fours. If you are considering buying a home or refinancing a mortgage this would be a great time to make a move.”

And my take: As rates and prices have increased, we are starting to see homes sit on the market longer and sell for less than they did six months ago. It really depends on the home and location. In Parkmead, buyers seem to want single story homes with current updates and a flat yard, as with the sale of 1691 Lilac. We still have an inventory shortage, but buyers are now taking their time, and a shift isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We will see if the lull is seasonal, but it most likely we will see the rate of appreciation slow down and sellers may have to adjust what they believe the value of their home is and buyers may not get as good of a deal as they expected. 

Today’s housing market vs. 2008’s market

Consultant Bob Schwab has a few interesting thoughts on the difference between the housing market in 2008 and the housing market today. He essentially points out that the landscape of today’s market is radically different than 10 years ago, so comparing the two era’s – even if numbers look similar – is tricky. Here are his thoughts below:

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Some are attempting to compare the current housing market to the market leading up to the “boom and bust” that we experienced a decade ago. They look at price appreciation and conclude that we are on a similar trajectory, speeding toward another housing crisis.

However, there is a major difference between the two markets. Last decade, while demand was being artificially created by extremely loose lending standards, a tremendous amount of inventory was coming to the market to satisfy that demand. Below is a graph of the inventory of homes available for sale leading up to the 2008 crash.

A normal market should have approximately 6 months supply of housing inventory. As we can see, that number jumped to over 11 months supply leading up to the housing crisis. When questionable mortgage practices ceased, and demand dried up, there was a glut of inventory on the market which caused prices to drop as there was too much supply and not enough demand.

Today is radically different!

There are those who believe that low mortgage rates have created an artificial demand in the current market. They fear that if mortgage rates continue to rise, some of the current demand will dry up (which is a possibility).

However, if we look at supply again, we can see that the current supply of homes is well below the norm of 6 months.

Bottom Line

We will not have a glut of inventory like we did back in 2008 and home values won’t come tumbling down. Instead, if demand weakens, we will return to a normal market (approximately a 6-month supply) with historic levels of appreciation (3.6% annually).

Separate from the Schwab blog, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun says, “It’s important to note that despite the modest year-over-year rise in inventory, the current level is far from what’s needed to satisfy demand levels. Furthermore, it remains to be seen if this modest increase will stick, given the fact that the robust economy is bringing more interested buyers into the market, and new home construction is failing to keep up.”

And First American Chief Economist Mark Fleming says, “Millennials’ lifestyle and economic decisions are some of the main reasons we currently have a lower homeownership rate than expected, based on our Homeownership Progress Index. Yet, it is reasonable to expect homeownership rates to grow as millennials continue to make important decisions, including attaining an education and, later in life, getting married and buying a home.”

Glen Bell, a very analytical realtor in Berkeley, shared some charts with us, which also give additional insights into the disparities in the market:

Zillow_June_Numbers

Bell says he predicts a recession in 2019 or 2020, and that the real estate market will be a minor factor in it. Rising interest rates may offset some buying opportunities. It’s also hard to predict how much tax reform will play into this. Prices continue to rise and might be causing more people in the middle class to flee the Bay Area.

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Glen's Numbers pg 1

Glen's Numbers pg 2

CoreLogic’s State of the Nation’s Housing 2018

Bob Schwab shared CoreLogic’s State of the Nation’s Housing 2018 report recently, and I wanted to pass that information along to you. This is the 30th anniversary of the report, which features CoreLogic’s home price and rent growth information. This year’s report article was authored by Molly Boesel, and you can see it in its entirety below:

From the State of the Nation’s Housing 2018 Report

The State of the Nation’s Housing 2018

On June 19, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University released their 30th anniversary edition of the State of the Nation’s Housing report. The 2018 report highlighted some major themes including lack of housing supply, rising home prices and rents, and housing affordability.

The U.S. housing market continues to be plagued by a lack of supply of homes for sale. Months of supply available for sale is a key measure of housing supply, and is at levels that are below where they would be for the housing market to be balanced. The Harvard report points out that negative equity as reported by CoreLogic no longer appears to be a drag on sales. Negative equity shrank from 12.1 million mortgages in 2011 to 2.5 million in 2017. Rather, a factor in the low housing supply is slow growth in single-family construction that has not kept up with demand.

Low housing supply has contributed to increases in home prices. Home prices, according to the CoreLogic HPI were up by 5.9 percent for all of 2017. Prices for the lowest-cost homes (those homes priced at 75 percent or less than median) were up by 8.5 percent, compared with 4.7 percent for the highest-cost homes (those homes priced at 125 percent or more than median). Along with home price increases, there have also been increases in rents. The report highlights the CoreLogic Single-Family Rental Index (SFRI). While the SFRI is still showing increases in rent through the beginning of 2018, there has been a deceleration in the rate of increase.

Living in the Bay Area, we know the increases in home prices and rents have outpaced increase in incomes and have contributed to affordability problems. High prices and low supply constrain access to homeownership, but affordability issues are more immediate for some households. The CoreLogic SFRI shows that the lowest-cost rentals are showing the fastest rent growth, adding to affordability challenges to low-and-moderate income households. The Joint Center reports that in 2016, 38.1 million households were cost-burdened, meaning they spent more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing. While this number was down by 800,000 from 2015, it is still 6.5 million higher than it was in 2001.

I also believe the low supply in California has multiple factors.  People are not moving up, but remodeling because they don’t know where they would move. Seniors also have the same problem and if they stay in California, some counties will not accept their current tax base and they often have to sell in order to buy.  It is a domino effect.

I’ve included the graph above for context, and have the entire PDF report available if you’d like to see it. For any housing-specific questions, shoot me a note!

Interest rates and purchasing power

According to Certified Mortgage Consultant Bob Schwab, interest rates you secure when buying a home not only greatly impacts your monthly housing costs, but also impacts your purchasing power. Check out his comments here:
According to Freddie Mac’s latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey, interest rates for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage are currently at 4.61%, which is still near record lows in comparison to recent history! The interest rate you secure when buying a home not only greatly impacts your monthly housing costs, but also impacts your purchasing power. Purchasing power, simply put, is the amount of home you can afford to buy for the budget you have available to spend. As rates increase, the price of the house you can afford to buy will decrease if you plan to stay within a certain monthly housing budget.
The chart below shows the impact that rising interest rates would have if you planned to purchase a home within the national median price range while keeping your principal and interest payments between $1,850-$1,900 a month. With each quarter of a percent increase in interest rate, the value of the home you can afford decreases by 2.5% (in this example, $10,000). Experts predict that mortgage rates will be closer to 5% by this time next year.
Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending has a take on higher rates and how they affect qualifying, too:
How Do Higher Rates Affect Qualifying? Potentially A Lot.
RATES ARE GOING UP, REST ASSURED
We’ve said that at least a hundred times over the years but this time it is a reality b/c the Fed is no longer buying bonds to push rates down, and b/c the Fed is very determined to push rates up in general. We saw a slight dip in rates recently largely b/c of economic turmoil in Italy, but rates are expected to climb another 1/2 percent this year alone.
HOW WILL RATE INCREASES AFFECT THE QUALIFICATIONS OF A PRE-APPROVED BORROWER?
Rule of thumb: A 1/2 percent increase in rate will increase a mortgage payment by about $30 for every $100,000 borrowed. Hence, if a buyer is looking at a $600,000 mortgage, her payment will increase by about $180 if rates go up 1/2 percent. In regard to qualifying, an increase in rate could easily shave off $25,000 to $50,000 from a buyer’s maximum.
For example, let’s say “Jeremy” the buyer is pre-approved for a maximum $750,000 purchase with 20% down at a rate of 4.75%. Let’s also assume Jeremy’s maximum payment (Principal, Interest, Taxes, Insurance) is $4,000 and his income is $8,900 per month, giving him a maximum debt ratio of just under 45% (all numbers are rounded). If rates increase 1/2 percent, Jeremy’s maximum qualification would drop to about $715,000 b/c that is the most Jeremy could buy in the higher rate environment without pushing his payment over his $4,000 limit.
In other words, if Jeremy’s rate increases from 4.75% to 5.25%, he will lose about $35,000 of purchasing power. What can poor Jeremy do?
A. Consider an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM). Jeremy can knock as much as 1/2 percent off of his rate by considering a 7/1 ARM. Knowing that very few buyers ever keep their mortgages more than 7 years will help him rest easy with his ARM.
B. Buy now while the getting is good! If Jeremy is hellbent on a 30-year fixed rate loan, he should buy now to lock in today’s rates. BUT – we will still remind Jeremy that even if rates are in the mid-5’s, they are STILL a “gift” by historical standards.
C. Buy a $50 tent and a motorcycle, and skip the house thing. I did that in my early twenties, and it was really fun. Jeremy might want to do the same. But don’t worry, we won’t suggest it. Lastly – should Jeremy worry that higher rates might hurt home prices? According to this blog, no :).
Note:  for those living in a rabbit hole, last week the Feds raised interest rates and stated instead of one more rate hike, it will most likely be two more this year and then 3 more in 2019.

Are home values really inflated?

For the 71st month in a row, the housing market experienced year-over-year gains. As of January, the median existing-home price for all housing types was $240,500, which was a 5.8 percent increase from January 2017 ($227,300). According to Bob Schwab from Finance of America, this may lead many to believe that home values are overinflated.

Schwab, and Zillow, disagree with that common opinion. Zillow says: “If the housing bubble and bust had not happened, and home values had instead appreciated at a steady pace, the median home value would be higher than its current value.”

I’ve pulled some information and graphs from Schwab’s article to help demonstrate why home prices are exactly where they should be. First, a graph showing actual median home sales prices from 2000 through 2017:

By itself, this graph shows home values rising early in the century, then tumbling down, and now climbing back up. This may give off the impression that a pattern is emerging, and another tumble is coming. But, if you look at this second chart, indicating where prices would naturally go with the market had there not been a boom and bust, you see something different:

The blue bars represent where prices would have been if they increased normally, at an annual appreciation rate of 3.6 percent. By adding that percentage to the actual 2000 price and repeating for each year, we can see that prices were overvalued during the boom, undervalued during the bust, and a little bit lower than where they should be right now!

All in all, thanks to Bob Schwab for pointing out that we should be comfortable with current home values, and understand that the market actually isn’t overinflated, based on historic appreciation levels.