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. 

Is the housing market shifting, an opportunity for some?

Is the housing market going to start shifting in the direction of price reductions at the higher end of the spectrum? According to Zillow Senior Economist Aaron Terrazas, it could happen. Approximately 14 percent of homes for sale underwent price reductions back in June, and most of them happened at the more expensive levels.

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Over the last two years, the housing market has tilted sharply in favor of sellers. But this might be an early warning sign that the tide is turning a little bit. Although it’s too soon to officially call this a buyer’s market, this data does indicate that the trends in the housing industry may be normalizing. In speaking to my title rep, Jason Webb at Fidelity, I asked what he is seeing in the industry. His response was that there are currently more contingent offers, homes taking longer to close, and more demands to close escrow. I am personally experiencing all that in one escrow and it is not fun!

In my situation, the sellers have already moved and the buyer (who did not have a contingency on selling their condo) is delayed on it closing by three weeks. It was originally supposed to close by tomorrow. The agent representing the seller of the condo and the buyer on my listing is a rookie agent who has not been great at communicating the status. My sellers are frustrated and gave a demand to close escrow, but it was really to get them to push on the buyers of the condo, as I had no control and no authorization to speak to them.

We will now most likely close in another week on my my clients’ home because the buyer decided to go out and buy a new car. That caused his debt-to-income percentage to be too high, and now the car has to be paid off with proceeds from the sale of his condo. That causes further delays in our closing because the lender needs to see it get paid off. Another interesting component to this was that my clients Google’d the buyer and the results were…surprising. We knew it could be a challenging process, but we didn’t think it would be this much of a wild ride!

I believe we will see more of these types of issues as the market softens and reverts to a better balance. We can’t keep increasing, and it is time for the market to come down off this upward trajectory. There are some positive outcomes to a correction, but it is change and change is hard for most people; especially sellers when they still expect a higher price than their neighbor.

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

JVM Lending: If appraisal comes in low…

…a buyer is not overpaying! Appraisals and market value can be a tricky math problem for buyers to figure out, but that’s why my friend Jay Vorhees from JVM Lending has put together this handy-dandy blog to explain. Take a look below:

When Appraised Value Does Not Equal Market Value

We have a buyer who was convinced she was “overpaying” for her property because her appraisal came in low. But, there were multiple offers for her property that were very close in price to hers, and there are nearby pending sales that are also similar in price. The entire issue has to do with appraisal guidelines. We repeat this often in this blog because the issue comes up so often: appraised value often does not equal market value.

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If there are multiple buyers willing to pay $850,000 for a property in an open market, then that property’s market value is $850,000. But, appraisers cannot appraise properties (in most cases) above the highest closed comparable sale in the neighborhood. So, if there are no closed sales above $800,000, that property will usually not appraise for over $800,000.

But, again, that does not mean the above property is not “worth” $850,000. Once this was explained to our buyer, she was no longer concerned about her low appraisal. This is something every buyer needs to understand in a fast-appreciating market where contract prices are tough to support in an appraisal.

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This is something I deal with constantly with my own clients. Jay hits the nail on the head here: appraisals may come in lower than expected, but it is not equal to a diminishing value on the property. For more helpful information like this, give me a call! I can talk about real estate all day 😉

Writing a love letter may help you win a bidding war

No, I don’t mean a bidding war over a guy or girl you love – I mean to buy a house! A love letter, traditionally, may be used for wooing a potential soulmate, but it has its place in the real estate world, too. Especially in the Bay Area, where house prices are absurdly high and most people sell their homes for a significant over-asking price, a letter to the homeowner with a personal touch can make all the difference.

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Take this article, for example, which details the story of a local business owner who “won” the rights to buying an adorable cottage against 10 other bidders, despite her offer not being the highest. Of the 11 offers the homeowner received, 8 sent personal letters, and she believed the subject of this article wrote the most touching one. She connected with the homeowner by writing about her dog, who she’d always promised a big yard too and who was nearing the end of its life when she bought.

The seller is quoted as saying that she felt like she knew the buyer before even meeting her, so it put her over the top, even for a slight discount on the final price. I think this is a really awesome, effective tool that can make all the difference in the world! I highly encourage any of my clients to do something similar and write a personal letter to a seller, in the hopes that connecting with them on a personal level will help get the offer accepted.

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It may be a bit of a corny strategy, but when you’re pursuing the house of your dreams, why wouldn’t you go all out to get it? It should be pretty easy to dig up a little information on the seller (favorite sports team, pets, etc.) and you can utilize that to your advantage. I know if I were selling my house and a buyer told me they also love skiing and had fostered Weimaraners, I’d probably put that person right at the top of my list!

7 home maintenance tasks sellers must do before listing

It is that time of year when the housing market starts to heat up. If you’re one of the homeowners who plan on selling this summer, there’s a lengthy list of must-dos to complete before you actually list. Take a look at the following ideas from Inman, with input from yours truly, on how to make your home more attractive.

1. Spruce up the exterior

This is the first thing your prospective buyers are going to see. They want something with literal curb appeal, and if you have overgrown bushes, peeling paint, dirty windows, or poor lighting, the first impression won’t be very good.

2. Service the heating/cooling system

Home inspectors have to check this anyway, so you might as well beat them to it. Waiting until a buyer makes an offer to service this system may cause issues, so get ahead on it!

3. Check your lightbulbs

Check every single one of them on both the interior and exterior. Make sure they are clean and bright. It is essential to have the home as bright as possible. In my experience, this is a tiny thing that is very noticeable if not addressed.

4. Check all smoke detectors

We’ve all pulled batteries out of our smoke detectors when cooking, but don’t forget to put them back in. Make sure all your detectors are working. A home inspector will ding you if you don’t.

5. Blue tape it

If there are nicks, chips, scratches, etc. in the walls of your house, blue tape it! No buyer wants wear and tear on the interior walls or molding, so make sure the rough areas are marked for repair before you list. My stager blue tapes what needs to be removed, painted or fixed at the staging consult I provide as part of my services.

6. Deep clean and declutter

And we mean deep. If you can, hire a cleaning crew to get a small army of people cleaning every corner and crevice (think baseboards, light switches, etc.) of the house before it goes on the market. And don’t forget to gather all your extra junk and either store elsewhere or donate.

7. Don’t forget the garage

This is often an overlooked space, but prospective buyers will want to see a clean, organized garage. Consider painting the floor or putting an epoxy down. And don’t forget to repair cracks in the ceiling of the garage!  Side note, in this area most people store all of the noted blue taped items, just make sure if you do a pest inspection, you do it before you store all your items in the garage.

BONUS! 8. Stage the property

This is my personal addition to the list. There are people who stage homes for a living. They are experts at making a house as attractive as possible to buyers. I can’t recommend having your property staged before listing highly enough!  You only get one opportunity to make a first impression!

Applying for a Home Loan? See JVM Lending’s “Don’t” List!

Once you’re pre-approved, the last thing you want to do is knock yourself out of qualifying range. My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending is a great source on this issue, as he’s seen hundreds of borrowers in this situation. Now, he sends them a list of “actions to avoid” with every pre-approval letter. Heeding his advice will help you at least prevent delays and extra paperwork. Take a look!

1. Do not make large deposits that can’t be explained. When you are trying to qualify, any large deposit – think $500 for a new mattress, or all-cash payments – must be explained. Otherwise, an entire account can become invalid and unusable for qualifying. Always keep a paper trail to make large deposit explanations easier!

2. Do not take on new debt. If you increase your credit card balances, finance a vehicle, or take on debt in another way, your ratios will be impacted and it will reduce your maximum purchase price.

3. Do not take vacation days if you’re paid hourly. A single day off work can push you out of qualifying range if your debt ratios are high and approaching your limit.

4. Do not spend liquid assets. Pre-approval software relies on specific liquid asset levels. So, pre-approval amounts can change if liquid assets are significantly reduced.

5. Do not miss payments on any debts reporting on a credit report. This one is pretty obvious, and you should avoid missing payments anyway, but missing monthly payments that reduce your credit score may also reduce your qualification amount!

6. Do not co-sign for someone else’s debts. That’s a dangerous maneuver anyway, but even if you’re just a co-signer, the debt will show up on your credit report. That makes you responsible for the debt and the payments.

7. Do not file taxes with a tax liability owing, or with less income than in previous years. This mostly applies to self-employed borrowers (especially during tax season). The most recently filed tax returns will be what the qualifying income is based on, and all tax liabilities must be proven paid. JVM recommends that borrowers file an extension when possible if they are making offers during tax season.

Things NOT to do when your house goes on the market

You’ve probably seen endless lists about how to sell your home. Everything from choosing the realtor, to the staging, to the deliberation is under the microscope. But how often do you get told how NOT to do things? RIS Media has put together a good four-step process for how to not get in your own way when selling a home.

First, don’t over-improve the house, the article says. This is good advice. While it’s important to clean up any holes and cracks in the wall, and make sure the lighting is fresh, etc., doing too much can be damaging to your case. But if you go out and make your dream changes to the house right before you sell it, you better hope your potential buyers see it as an awesome improvement, too, and not a large project to fix.

Next, don’t over-decorate. Simple, neutral colors and decorations will be just fine. Similarly to the first point, if you decorate your home with a bunch of lace, lavender and lemon scent because they are things you like, you’ve done too much. What if a buyer walks in and is immediately overwhelmed by it all? Keep it simple. Remember, the buyers are the ones who get to decorate when they move in. This is why I pay for a staging consult; because it tells you what to remove, and then I highly recommend doing some staging as it makes a huge difference in how your home is photographed. The online view of those photos will be the first impression a prospective buyer gets, and will help them decide if they want to see your home in person.

Third, and probably most important: do not BE THERE when the buyers arrive. If your realtor is going to show the house, try to get everyone (pets included) out for a couple hours. Go to a movie. Have lunch at the park. Find a way to get out of the potential buyers’ ways, so they aren’t attacked by a bunch of people upon walking in. Remember, they want to see themselves in the house. Not you!

Lastly, don’t take things too personally. You’ve put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, money and memories into your home. When a buyer lowballs you or requests repairs, don’t be upset. They are trying to afford their newest home, too. And they might tell you the reason they have to offer low is because of something they think needs updating that you disagree with. Bite your tongue, and keep negotiating. Remember, it’s all a business!

What to know about the new tax bill limits in 2018

The GOP finally pushed through its tax package, and the reaction has been interesting to say the least. While some seem to love it (The Wall Street Journal said the bill is the best thing to ever happen to our economy), many others hate it. Regardless of how you feel about the bill, it is signed in now and it’s time to see how it affects you, as a homeowner, seller or buyer.
My friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending put together a blog detailing some main points about the GOP tax bill and how it may affect real estate. Here are the main thoughts:
1. Current homeowners will be grandfathered in and still allowed to deduct interest against $1 million of mortgage debt. In 2018, buyers will be limited to $750,000 and interest against home equity lines will not be deductible.
2. State and local tax deductions will be capped at $10,000. This will be difficult for people in California.
3. Standard deductions are doubling to $12,000 for single filers and to $24,000 for married filers, so many homeowners won’t have to deduct their interest and property taxes anymore.
4. We have no idea what exactly the bill will do for the market when all is said and done, but for now, we can expect the low-inventory, high-demand market to suffer in high-end areas down the road, while remaining neutral in the short term.
5. To fully understand the bill’s impact on you, see a CPA. Defer your commissions. And if you’re planning an out-of-state move, consider relocating to a low-tax state like Florida, Texas or Nevada.
I’d like to expand on #5 quickly – as Jay mentioned, there will be a new $10,000 cap on tax deductions starting in 2018. If you paid off your property taxes before January, you should be able to save thousands of dollars on that by avoiding the new rule for a year. And if you are planning a move out of the Bay Area to another part of California or another state, you should be consulting a realtor or a CPA to see what kind of savings you can get!

Why it may be a really good time to be a borrower

You may have heard of the wild events at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently. My friend Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending had a few words to say about it on his blog, the main points of which are summarized below:

The departing director of the CFPB, Richard Condray, named his deputy, Leandra English, to be his successor. President Trump named his own acting director, Mick Mulvaney. Both claimed to be head of the CFPB, and English sued to nullify Trump’s appointment, but lost.

So, from a real estate perspective, this is what it means for the industry. The CFPB is extremely powerful and was created by the Dodd-Frank Legislation in 2010. It is funded by the Fed and mostly outside the control of Congress. So, the CFPB is well known for being aggressive in auditing and fining, even when offenses had no effect on borrowers.

On that note, Mulvaney – Trump’s appointment – has been openly anti-CFPB, and will likely try to roll back some of the agency’s enforcement efforts. If this holds true, there are two takeaways, or perspectives:

  1. A strong CFPB is necessary to keep the mortgage industry in check and avoid another meltdown like in 2008. It can be countered by pointing out that there are already other factors in place to prevent those abuses, including scrutiny from agencies such as HUD and state agencies.
  2. Lenders and loan officers spend an inordinate amount of time and money to make sure they never endure a CFPB investigation. These efforts often do little to help consumers, and only increase the overall costs of obtaining financing.

A weaker CFPB could result in more free time for lenders and loan officers, and lower borrowing costs for consumers.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also announced their 2018 loan limits, which went up significantly. The “Low Balance” limit for a one-unit property jumped from $424,100 to $453,100 and the “High Balance” limit increased from $636,150 to $679,650.

These jumps allow more borrowers to take advantage of conforming loan guidelines when buying properties in areas with increasing home prices. Combine this with the CFPB appointment, and we may be looking at an incredibly good time to be a borrower!

Also, note the Fed is most likely going to raise interest rates on the 13th and then again in the first quarter of 2018. The market has already taken it into account, and we might see rates drop slightly after the 13th.

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