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.

Borrowers beware of Google: JVM Lending

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending wrote another great blog about Google, and how it can be both a friend and enemy. I have my own story about Google, but I’ll get to that at the end. First, read Jay’s take on why borrowers should beware of Google:

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One of the reasons loan officers and borrowers were able to get away with so much fraud prior to the mortgage meltdown was the lack of public records and information in general. That is no longer the case, and borrowers need to be extra careful nowadays because underwriters Google everything – borrowers, employers, self-employed businesses, and even renters.

We recently had a transaction questioned because the borrowers rented out their $500,000 departing residence to a person who already owned a $1.5 million home. The underwriter Googled the name on the rental contract and rightfully wanted to know why the renter would want to downsize into a rental that was much smaller and in a vastly inferior neighborhood.

We had another situation where the borrower was subject to numerous criminal allegations that will likely prevent him from garnering business for his consulting firm (killing the deal), and this too came up with a Google check because it was all over the news.

Underwriters also Google employers to make sure they exist, no longer exist (if the application says a business with losses is closed down), or that public records match what is stated on the loan application. We have had borrowers, for example, claim to not have ownership interest in a business to avoid providing corporate tax returns, but the internet made it clear that they were owners.

Sometimes borrowers try to fool us, and sometimes they are just not careful enough when filling out their loan applications. Either way, they need to be ultra-careful these days because there really is no getting away with anything. In addition, once an underwriter thinks the borrower might be trying to mislead, she will not want to approve the loan under any circumstances because of the risk.

Kristin’s take: This is a great blog. My own Google story is about sellers who Googled the buyer, and some criminal allegations showed up. We only had one buyer, so we accepted the offer, but we figured out from the internet that he wasn’t the most stand-up individual. Sure enough, we had problems closing. They were contingent on the sale of their condo, and that also did not go smoothly, between the two, we were delayed a month.   In this situation I had no control over the other parties or the process.  In the middle of all this, our buyer went out and bought a vehicle, which changed his debt-to-income ration and had to be paid off with some of the proceeds in addition to a tax lien. It dragged out the process and naturally, the sellers were very frustrated. That was just one of many issues that were not shared with me.   If my clients had another offer I believe after their Google search they would  have never accepted the buyer but they were prepared for a rocky road;  none of us knew how painful it was going to be.

Moral of the story? Always Google, and be prepared to be Googled.

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. 

The ultimate Berkeley bucket list

Everyone loves going to Berkeley. Whether you’re catching a concert at the Greek Theatre, wandering around Cal’s campus, or hitting up one of the many incredible dining and drinking spots, Berkeley is the perfect mixture of private, chill, and weird in the Bay Area.

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TimeOut.com has their list of 10 must-do items in Berkeley here, and it inspired my short list of how to best spend your day over there. It obviously depends on the weather, but we’ll start with some outdoor activity and go from there. What are your favorite things to do in Berkeley?

Morning: Wake up early and drive out to Tilden Park in the Oakland Hills overlooking the Bay. It’s one of the most beautiful views you’ll ever see, and you can hike around above and through Berkeley for hours without getting bored. If you’re way up by Fish Ranch Rd. and Grizzly Peak, you can keep going to Tilden Park, where you can stay busy all day.

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Noon: You have to hit up the Berkeley Bowl downtown. It’s the most iconically Berkeley market there is, and you can get a super fresh meal to gorge on after your long hike.

Afternoon: Not tired of walking around outside yet, are we? Good! The Berkeley Rose Garden is a breathtaking sight, and if flowers aren’t your thing, you can cruise through the gorgeous Cal campus. Feeling like shopping? Okay, wander through downtown and check out some of the random clothing and art vendors that dot the street!

Dinner: I can’t just recommend one place. From popular local jaunts like Zachary’s pizza, to more celebrated restaurants like Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen, it’s hard to go wrong in Berkeley.  Hit me up and tell me your favorite places to ea – I would love to try them.

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Nightcap: You’ve earned a drink after a long day soaking up the Berkeley sun. Again, there is no shortage of libations in Berkeley, from your average dive bar to the craftiest of craft cocktail bars. Try out a place like Tupper and Reed on Shattuck and tell me it isn’t a perfect end to your night!

What happens in a slowing market?

Consultant Kitty Cole has some interesting thoughts on the slowing market that got me thinking: what exactly happens in a slowing market? I’ve re-purposed parts of her blog below and added my own thoughts on the market at this pace, as well as interest rates in terms of what somebody can buy.

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So, is this market change normal or is the slowing a correction? Here are a few thoughts from Kitty’s blog to help you figure it out:

The market has begun to change, albeit slowly. A small segment of the market has slowed down in several Bay Area counties, including San Francisco. The indicators of a slowing market are that the number of active listings rise, the “Days on Market” increases and price reductions occur. You may also see more contingent offers (but fewer with no contingencies at all).  My two cents: In Contra Costa County, we are in line with these indicators. The outer-lying areas such as Concord is where I am really seeing the price reductions and increased time on market. However, if the property is remodeled and priced right, there are still multiple offers, just not as many.

The buyer pool for your property has decreased in the last year because the interest rates have risen more than a full point. For every full percentage point they rise, the buyer’s purchasing power goes down by almost 10%. Buyers who could afford a home worth $1 million last year, can now afford $905,000. That alone will significantly impact the buyer pool.

As far as projections go, CAR and NAR both feel that there will be a slower 2019. They forecast a slow-down in the 2nd half of next year, but Kitty’s theory is that it will happen a bit sooner since some market segments are showing signs of correction. The economy is healthy and the unemployment rate is hovering consistently. The Fed has stated that there will likely be 2 interest rate hikes this year, which will price out some buyers. Given how long we’ve been in recovery mode in the real estate industry, it’s normal to expect a correction.
The economy: The economy is healthy (the GDP was 2.0% for the first 3 months and 4.2% for the 2nd quarter) and the unemployment rate is hovering around 4.2%. There have been 9 + years of recovery in the economy. There have been 5 and half years of recovery in the real estate market.
More of my two cents: Many analysts are predicting 2020 for a correction. Most are saying there will be a correction, the question is just “when?” We still have low inventory and our local economy is robust, so for me, the question is “will it pick back up in September and October after all the summer vacations are over and the kids are back in school?” Or, are these current changes going to continue? Nobody has a crystal ball, so we will see. Sellers who are on the fence will be considering “is this is about as high as the market is going to go for the near future?” If you believe that, then it is time to sell.

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 😉

What can bring down house prices and rates?

What could bring house prices and rates down? According to my friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending, it could be something called “monetary tightening,” or an experiment conducted by The Fed to infuse the economy with cash. Basically, what Jay is getting at, is that you’ll never know exactly when to buy or sell (or when a market dictates that decision), and that assuming you know the market intimately trying to time the market may be a mistake. Read on for more from our slightly-edited version of Jay’s blog:

Dude Sells Too Soon!

I was at a graduation party yesterday and the host told me how his law partner sold his Silicon Valley home two years ago because he was convinced the market had peaked.

It hadn’t. The poor guy’s former home has gone up another 20% since he sold, and so has his rent. The host made the further point that people should never try to time a market they are not intimately familiar with.

I like to remind everyone that nobody should ever try to time a market, no matter how much they know, because there are so many variables they have no control over – especially when those variables involve the Fed.

Elephant in Room: Monetary Tightening

There is a huge elephant in the room that nobody is talking about: Massive Monetary Tightening via Higher Rates and Quantitative Tightening.

After the meltdown, the Fed engaged in a massive experiment known as Quantitative Easing, where the Fed bought trillions of dollars of government bonds and mortgage-backed securities. These bond purchases increased the money supply by flooding financial institutions with cash in an effort to increase lending and liquidity. The Fed also lowered the rates to unprecedently low levels.

The low rates and huge capital infusion pushed up asset prices, particularly with respect to stocks, bonds and real estate. This is what usually happens when the Fed increases the money supply, and this is partially why we see such high asset prices now. Many people believe high prices are just a function of too much demand chasing too little supply, but that is not always the case.

Excess demand is often driven by excess capital in an economy; people want to park their capital somewhere, as opposed to letting it sit in bank accounts, so they buy assets. In any case, the Fed created about $4 trillion of new money up through 2016, and in 2017 they reversed the policy! They are now not only pushing up rates but also selling bonds with the intention of vacuuming about $2 trillion out of the economy.

This will likely have an adverse effect on asset and housing prices at some point. Do I think real estate prices will tank? No. I still like real estate because the fundamentals are so strong in many areas. But, I don’t think we’ll continue to see such strong appreciation, and now might be a good time for Silicon Valley lawyers to sell their homes.

Fed Could Reverse Again

Nobody is more aware of this than the Fed, and they are watching closely. If Fed policymakers see the economy showing excessive signs of softening, they could very likely change course again – and lower rates. Again, nobody knows what will happen because we have never seen anything like this before! We are in the midst of one giant experiment, and we all get to be the lab rats.

Real Estate is a GREAT investment!

Buying a house can be terrifying. Selling a house can be equally as difficult. The entire process is stressful, but the end result is often worth every second of the struggle. Bob Schwab, a mortgage lender in our office, often shares great information, and points out this is because investing in real estate is a solid decision!

For the fifth year in a row, a Gallup poll showed that real estate is the best long-term investment out there. This year, 34 percent of Americans chose real estate as the best long-term investment, followed by stocks (26 percent). You can see the chart, stolen from Bob’s blog, below:

Just five years ago, gold was the most sought-after long-term investment with 34 percent of votes. Even back then, real estate was in second place, though the economy was recovering from the economic crash that preceded it. Overall, the real estate market is in good shape and people seem to agree that it’s a stable, long-term investing option.  Rates are rising, so now may be a good time to buy check out this graph that shows how much buying power you lose as rates go up.
You can always give me a call to help you make that investment – it is, after all, my job!

Weimaraners & Real Estate

As I’ve expressed here before, my best moments as a realtor come when a client buys their dream home with my help. That happened recently, and the backstory is almost as cool as the moment they shared getting the keys!

I met Wilbur and Aimee through NorCal Weim Rescue, where I got my dog Bodie and occasionally foster dogs for them. At the time, Wilbur was renting and had two Weimaraner puppies (Roxie & Daisy), but the landlord just landscaped the backyard and did not want two big dogs in addition to their small one.

So he surrendered them to NorCal Weim Rescue, who did not want to split the dogs up and I fostered them – see pics below. Roxie was very dominant over her sister and even when they were at a trial run at another home she would growl at the husband, so that didn’t work.  Then Wilbur’s landlord said he could have one dog back, he got Roxie the light Weimaraner pictured here and Daisy found her fur-ever home in Bishop. And they later got Jax, the Blue Weim

They knew I was an agent and I said if you ever decide to buy, let me know.  A few years later, their landlord wanted to sell his house and called me up! They realized they couldn’t buy the house they were renting, so off we went looking in Livermore.  After being in contract and finding the HOA only allowed two dogs, we were back in the hunt. Three offers later, lots of conversations with the lender, and perseverance by all is when Aimee and Wilbur landed a wonderful home and a great place for their fur babies!

Now, Wilbur, Aimee and Roxie (dog) (as well as Jax (dog #2) and Duke (dog #3 smallest with the biggest name) can happily call their Aspenwood house in Livermore home for many years to come!

The universe provides the right house

Don’t get me wrong – the right house for you won’t just magically appear out of thin air! People like me do a lot of work to find you your dream home and get it all properly situated. But there is a lesson in real estate that I believe is valuable: The universe always provides the right house in the end.

You can always look back with regrets, but there are reasons for everything. Even reasons for why getting your dream house took so long or why you didn’t get the first house you loved. The right one always comes along! Check out this graphic from the California Association of Realtors.


As you can see above, most homeowners didn’t find their home for at least 3 months. Whether it was price, location, aesthetics and amenities, or simply just being outbid, it is very common to not get the first house you offer.

That’s why you have me! I’ll be the one to help you attain your dream home by walking you through the process, preaching how important patience is, and making sure the whole, stressful process runs smoothly. In the end, the universe always brings you the right home!