Historical rates and the current market

The Kiplinger Letter is the most widely read business forecasting periodical in the world, and lender Bob Schwab sent a recent one that gave me a lot of interesting information. It says:

“We don’t think a recession is imminent, despite a recent warning sign from the bond market. But that doesn’t mean the economy is fine. A substantial slowdown is in the works. “

The letter also hints at the recent slowdown in the European economy, which we touched on in a recent blog. I recently mentioned the inverse yield curve and the Kiplinger Letter noted the rate on short term bills briefly topped long-term yields last month, a situation the presaged recessions in recent decades, though long term rates soon rose again. Bob also mentioned that it was the 1-year treasury note that had a higher yield than the 5-year. It is when the 1-year and 10-year inverse that has led to a recession in the past.

Suddenly, the U.S. doesn’t appear immune to a recession.

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Kiplinger

Here are the reasons for guarded optimism, as Kiplinger see them…facts about the underlying strength of the U.S. economy that ought not to be overlooked:

  • The jobless rate is low. Inflation is modest.
  • The housing market is starting to rebound. (I feel our area is rebounding, just not as robust as a year ago)
  • Consumers continue to feel fairly confident, though their mood varies as stock prices rise or fall.
  • A trade deal with China still appears likely to happen later this spring, which would give a badly needed boost to global trade.
  • The stock market isn’t pricing in a recession yet. Nor are corporate bonds, whose yields relative to safe Treasuries indicate investors aren’t afraid of defaults.

It is also interesting to look at in the context of historical rates, which for buyers is a key motivator to whether they will buy or not. At the end of the day, we still look great, as shown below:


How is the housing market changing?

According to a Zillow Senior Economist, the housing market is changing: “The number of homes on the market is hesitantly inching higher — now approaching the highest level in a year and a half. The first quarter of 2019 is shaping up to be more competitive than the lull we saw as 2018 come to a close.”

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I have some thoughts about this! We are seeing the market pick up locally, but I am still seeing price reductions and then some that surprise me. Overall, homes priced right and in turn-key condition will always fare well over the competition.

The number of homes for sale has increased in four of the last five months after years of decreases, but that doesn’t mean there’s suddenly a huge amount of houses available. Don’t get fooled into thinking there is a hot, new market while you’re buying.

Further, mortgage rates are trending downward over the last year, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey (Feb. 14 week). They cite a “combination of cooling inflation and slower global economic growth” for this drop.

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My take on this is that we are truly operating in a global economy and the softening of Europe with their various issues has had an impact. The Fed has stated they now have the least amount of control over mortgage rates than in their entire history. I have no crystal ball on rates, so enjoy them while they stay low. That may be why we are having an uptick since the winter of 2018.

Home affordability at lowest point in a decade

I recently read a blog from my friend Bob Schwab, a certified mortgage consultant with Finance of America, that had me thinking. It’s about how the median home price in the fourth quarter of 2018 was the least affordable level since the third quarter of 2008, according to statistics from ATTOM Data Solutions.

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But, it’s not all doom-and-gloom on that front. Nationally, 58 percent of counties analyzed by the data report recorded an improved home affordability ranking on a quarter-over-quarter basis. According to Daren Blomquist, SVP at ATTOM and quoted in Bob’s blog, “home price appreciation falls more in line with wage growth,” and “high-priced areas such as San Diego, Brooklyn, and Seattle saw annual wage growth outpace annual home price appreciation.”

Here are my two cents on this, and about what it means in the local real estate market: You can’t time the market. Buying over renting is always a better long-term strategy.  I have had buyers looking this December and were able to quickly get into a home that had some healthy price reductions (really it finally just got priced right) and we have been able to negotiate on repairs.  They also found a home that was about $70k below their top end budget. They were motivated, they just had a baby, wanted a house, and were very methodical.  They will simply build equity just by paying their mortgage every month and doing some improvements.

5 reasons why this winter is the best time to buy

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending put together an interesting blog post recently, and I want to share that with you below. Essentially, he finds five reasons why this current winter season is the best time to take advantage of the real estate market and buy a house! Enjoy:

Most of our agent-readers well know why winter can be a great time to buy from a real estate perspective. I am nonetheless repeating a few of the obvious reasons while also illuminating a few less-obvious mortgage-related reasons.

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1. Rates Hit Six Week Low! While rates have been climbing for most of the year, they hit a six week low last week in response to the oil glut and signs of a softer economy. Given that the Fed will likely continue to push rates up next year, this brief rate-reduction gives buyers a short-term opportunity to lock in a relatively low rate.

2. Lender Incentives. 
Many lenders are offering extra incentives to borrowers right now simply to maximize loan volume during a slower time of the year. This includes JVM of course, as we are offering a $500 closing cost credit to any buyer who gets into contract from now until January 31st. This does not apply to borrowers who are already in contract and locked.

3. Motivated Sellers. If someone is willing to go to the trouble to sell their home during the holidays/winter, they are usually more motivated to sell and willing to negotiate.

4. Fewer Buyers/Less Competition. There are fewer buyers and a lot less competition for homes. Many buyers pull out of the market in the winter b/c they don’t want to take the time to house-hunt during the holiday season or they don’t want to buy in the middle of the school year (if they have kids).

5. Seeing Properties at Their Worst. 
My neighbor has drop-dead gorgeous crape myrtle and Japanese maple trees all over his yard. In the spring and summer, his yard is an oasis of color. In the winter, however, his yard looks like a war zone. Buyers get to see homes at their worst in the winter, avoiding unpleasant surprises and knowing that their dream home will only look that much better, come spring.

The internet conveniently has numerous articles backing up my points above, in case any readers don’t want to take my word for it. Here are two: The Best Time of the Year to Buy Property from Financial Samurai; and Mortgage Rates Pull Back from Freddie Mac’s website.   

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 😉