Home Sales Fall Despite Falling Rates?

Another great blog from Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending! He asks, with home sales falling despite the rates also falling, whether the end is finally here? “We can only hope,” he quips. Read on for more from Jay, and a bit of insight from yours truly at the end!

Tulip Mania

In the 1630s, the Dutch experienced one of the world’s first major financial bubbles – Tulip Mania. They were all convinced that the price of the exotic (at the time) tulip bulbs would increase forever, not taking into account how easy it was to reproduce them and how the ridiculously high prices were clearly not sustainable.

Everyone (even common laborers) was borrowing money to buy as many tulips as they could, trying to get in on the action. At one point, a single bulb cost as much as some of Amsterdam’s most expensive mansions at the time. Then, it all collapsed. There have been many bubbles since, including the 1929 stock market crash, the dotcom crash of the late 1990s, and most recently – the mortgage meltdown of 2008. All those bubbles were partially driven by easy credit, so every time the Fed lowers rates, I am terrified that it is fostering a new bubble.

Home sales fall in June – despite lower rates, higher wages, and lower unemployment

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So, that is why I was actually marginally encouraged to see this recent headline and article in the WSJ: U.S. Home Sales Stumble (in June). “Home sales slumped in June as home prices for major West Coast cities decline for the first time since 2012, ending the spring selling season with a thud.”

This is amazing to me because rates were about 1% lower than where they were the previous June, and everyone thinks rates drive housing prices. But, they clearly don’t. Home sales fell in the face of rising wages and decreasing unemployment too, leaving economists perplexed, as those factors are also supposed to drive prices higher.

Sales are probably falling because borrowers are hitting their affordability limit, and because buyers are acting prudently (unlike prior to 2008). While fewer sales overall are never a good thing, it is a good thing to see a potential bubble start to deflate instead of popping – so YAY! (sort of)

I might add that a huge brokerage we work with in Texas is currently projecting a downturn in the near future, telling agents that they need to trim expenses by 20%. So, it is not just the West Coast experiencing a slowdown. And finally, despite the apparent slowdown, numerous agents we work with are still experiencing record years simply because of their relentless marketing. We too have almost tripled our purchase volume year over year by improving our value props and increasing our marketing efforts.

Takeaways from this blog: This slowdown might be averting another bubble-pop! The Fed can’t stimulate everything with low rates. They might call Japan and ask how their low-rate experiment has gone, as 20 years of near-zero rates have not revived Japan’s economy at all. No matter how soft markets get, the overall market remains huge and business can always be found with stellar value props and very aggressive marketing.

Kristin’s insight: Some houses still have multiple offers, usually ones that are updated, and are priced slightly below market or in a highly desired neighborhood. The rest are sitting longer on the market and may see a price reduction or two as buyers become much more discriminant.

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:


Fed halts rate increases (JVM Lending)

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending shared an interesting blog recently about the Fed halting rate increases. We’ve posted about the Fed and how it affects the housing market many times in the past, so I wanted to break it down for you again. First, Jay’s blog:

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Yesterday, the Fed announced that there will be no more rate hikes in 2019. And many people in the mortgage and real estate industries cheered. But a lot of economists and Fed-watchers are more worried than ever.

Here is just one of many articles (from the WSJ) I read today illuminating serious concerns. The Fed has the toughest job in the world. It needs to build up enough ammo to fight the next recession without actually causing the next recession.

The problem for the Fed is that it needs to lower rates 4-5% to effectively help the economy when a recession hits. But, the Fed Funds rate is only 2.5% today, and if the Fed raises rates any more, they could cause a recession.

So, that leaves more Quantitative Easing as a likely option when the next recession hits. But that too may be less effective because the Fed still holds almost $4 trillion in MBS and Treasuries, down a little from, but still close to, its peak holdings of $4.5 trillion.

So, what does all this mean for those of us in the real estate and mortgage industries? It means the sun will shine a little brighter this year for all of us. But, the more the Fed artificially induces bright sunshine now, the longer the sun will be behind a cloud in the future.

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So, like the Portuguese biscuit maker who just keeps making buscuits no matter what the economy does, we should all do the same – as fast as possible. Because our current economically-sunny weather won’t last, and we need to be ready for the cloudy weather that is certain to come and that will likely now last even longer.

Okay, that’s a lot to take in, right? Here is my takeaway: cash is king and save your money to buy when the market dips. Europe is already in a slowdown, we are seeing the tech stocks take a hit, and this past week we now have an inverse yield curve, which in the past indicated a recession in the next year or so. Who knows what will happen (nobody has a crystal ball, but you can save)?

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.

Why borrowers should consider a 30-year mortgage

Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending has written an excellent blog about borrowers and their understanding of liquidity, and why borrowers should consider the lower 30-year mortgage payment. Besides the flexibility it offers, it allows a sort of cushion for any borrowers who may find themselves in personal trouble, and is also usually a good long-term investment. Read on below to get the full picture, with two cents from me – can you say liquidity:

 Borrowers often underestimate the importance of liquidity. Especially when times are good. When rates are relatively low (under 8%), we always recommend using financing (obtaining a mortgage) to buy real estate, even if borrowers have ample cash. Similarly, we usually advise borrowers who want lower 15-year rates to take a 30-year mortgage. Even though borrowers can afford the higher 15-year mortgage payment, the lower 30-year mortgage payment offers them more flexibility. There are several reasons why borrowers should value liquidity more:

1. Job Loss, Major Illness, Injury, Legal Troubles, Recessions. People often forget how quickly fortunes can turn (especially those of us in sales), and how important cash is when income dries up. This is particularly the case when the economy turns and financial instruments and hard assets drop in value and become difficult to sell.  An abundance of cash during unexpected hard times often means the difference between bankruptcy and muddling through.

2. Ability to Buy Distressed Assets. When the economy turns and asset prices tank, there are often tremendous bargains to be had for anyone with even a little cash. After the mortgage meltdown, for example, one of our clients purchased eight rental properties for around $100,000 each. He was out of pocket less than $250,000 for all of those purchases, and all of the properties cash-flowed from the start. In addition, they are all worth close to $300,000 now. I watched many other clients do the same thing in the stock market after both the dotcom crash and the 2008 meltdown.

3. Investment Returns Exceed After Tax Cost of Mortgage. This does not apply to everyone of course, but many borrowers can often invest money that they do not put into their home and earn a return that exceeds the cost of their mortgage, especially after tax benefits are taken into account. Example: Borrowers A and B both have $250,000. “A” puts down 50% on a $500,000 house; “B” puts down 20% and invests the $150,000 he saves. In the long run, Borrower B will have a much higher net worth and more liquidity along the way if his investment yield exceeds his rate by 2% or more (not difficult over the long term).


Interesting, right?  I saw this first hand in the down turn, people with cash bought investment properties.  They are usually patient and don’t get caught up in all the hubbub.  Many can’t see past the downturn and believe it will never improve, however we are not building any new land and history shows us that what does down, goes back up.   Remember cash is king, so start saving and get a leg up on the next down turn.

Why bank statements are so important!

Our friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending has shared another important blog recently: why bank statements are so important for borrowing and financing for a home. You’ll want to read on to see what Jay says, especially if you’re in the market for a new home. You’ll find a copy of the (slightly re-formatted) blog copied below:

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STRONG BORROWER DENIED FINANCING – WHY?

We once had a borrower who qualified for financing in every way (income, assets, credit, etc.) but she was denied financing. The reason?  She had five unexplainable overdraft charges on her bank statements that indicated she could not manage cash.

Every borrower has to provide bank statements for every account used for “cash to close” (down payment and closing costs). There are no exceptions because lenders have to ensure that down payment funds were not recently borrowed or obtained through illicit means.

“Borrowed” down payment funds are not considered “seasoned” and they create debt ratio issues b/c they need to be paid back. In any case, lenders are required to go through every bank statement with a fine-toothed comb to look for every irregularity. Irregularities include overdraft charges, unusually large deposits, and unexplained regular monthly deposits or withdrawals, among other things.

Unusually large deposits have to be paper-trailed and explained or they are assumed to be borrowed funds (and they can’t be used for a down payment/closing costs funds). And unexplained regular monthly deposits and withdrawals often indicate the existence of undisclosed side businesses, support payments or other liabilities.

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In any case, borrowers often get frustrated when we ask them to explain so many things that are buried in their bank statements. But, we have to ask because bank statements tell lenders so much more than meets the eye.

This is, in fact, often one of the most time-consuming aspects of the loan approval process.

**

On a related note, Jay discusses something at the footnote of this blog: rates have climbed recently after a stretch of stability. President Trump’s comments about the Fed raising rates too quickly were the primary cause, but, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Fed may now be more likely to raise rates than it was prior to the President’s comments. This is because it will want to prove its independence from political pressure. How ironic!

Is there a recession coming in 2020?

Is there a recession coming in 2020 or sooner? And if so, what does that mean for the real estate industry? Additionally, how do Chinese buyers affect California real estate? Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending (with a little help from The National Real Estate Post) has you covered:

The National Real Estate Post had a great video today with information I thought was well worth sharing. Marketing commentator Barry Habib discusses margin compression, the coming 2020 recession, why he is bullish on real estate even if a recession hits, and why Chinese buyers influence California real estate so much.

RECESSION IN 2020 – WHY?

Mr. Habib agrees with other prognosticators I have cited in previous blogs and illuminates two reasons why a recession is likely in 2020:

  1. Short-term rates are almost the same as long-term rates. I won’t explain the economics, but I will say we are at this stage in the interest rate cycle now; and
  2. Unemployment has likely bottomed out and will only increase at this point.

BULLISH ON REAL ESTATE EVEN IN RECESSION

Mr. Habib remains very bullish on real estate – even if a recession hits. He thinks a 10% correction is very unlikely for several reasons:

    1. It is different this time for reasons we have explained in previous blogs – tighter lending guidelines, more structural housing demand, etc.
    2. Rates come down during recessions and that props up real estate prices; and
    3. According to Mr. Habib, if you look at data from the last six recessions (other than the 2008 meltdown) you will see that real estate prices usually do not decrease significantly.

CA PRICES HURT BY CHINESE BUYERS PULLING OUT

15% of the money spent on real estate transactions in California is from China. But b/c China’s currency is now so much weaker than it was relative to the U.S. dollar, Chinese buyers are now sitting on the sidelines. This drop off in demand is already affecting prices, particularly on the high end. But, according to Mr. Habib, this too will end and Chinese demand will return.

I hope this helped you learn a little something about the impending recession, how it affects real estate, and why Chinese buyers may affect the market long-term!

Now, with a little input from us:

Comments from Bob Schwab – Inverted Yield Curve

Our in-house lender has remarked that one of the indicators a recession may be on the horizon is an inverted yield curve. I asked what that means, and here was his response (note any errors are mine via translation):

“The U.S. runs a deficit, and in order to pay on the deficit, they sell treasury notes and pay interest to the purchaser. Normally, the longer the you take the note, the higher the rate or return; [in the] shorter term, the lower the rate the government will pay you. When the short-term notes have a higher rate than the long-term is when we have an inverted yield curve. That margin has been steadily decreasing, and we have been about 30 points away from an inverted yield curve, and thus why the buzz of a correction is coursing through the media. I am seeing a different effect; in June we had a wave of listings come on the market, when it usually quiets a bit due to summer vacations. I believe sellers are thinking prices might have reached a peak and now is the time to get their home on the market, which means we now have more inventory and more for buyers to choose from. The outcome is price reductions, things sitting longer, etc., because buyers now are thinking they will have a wait-and-see strategy!”

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.

The Cost of Waiting

I generally encourage all my clients to be patient in the home-buying process. You’re looking for your dream home, and a house to call your home where memories are created. You want to exercise patience and really find the right place. However, at some point, waiting too long or sitting on the fence can have consequences.

As you’ll see in the blog from my friend Jay Vorhees at JVM Lending below, waiting too long on a home purchase can be costly. He highlights one particluar (anonymous) client who kept quibbling over small price differences and that stubbornness led to her not only missing out on her dream home, but settling for an entirely different town. To add insult to injury, the home she wanted has doubled in value since!

Read on to learn more:

COST OF WAITING IN 2012

In 2012 and 2013, we had a borrower looking to buy in Oakland and she was obsessed with getting the absolute lowest possible price.

As a result, she kept walking away from transactions, b/c of $5,000 to $10,000 price discrepancies, even though she was shopping in the $650,000 range in what was becoming the hottest market in the country.

The $10,000 differences she quibbled over worked out to be less than $50 per month in payment. What is most interesting is that she waited so long that she was ultimately unable to buy in her desired Rockridge neighborhood altogether, and she ended up buying in a suburb east of Oakland.

The houses she was bidding on are now worth twice what she was offering too. Her “cost of waiting,” or cost of not executing, was extremely high, to say the least. Unfortunately, her story is not unique.

RATES HIT 7 YEAR HIGH

According to this CNBC Report, “interest rates are surging to their highest level in seven years.”

And, it looks like they are going to continue to climb, based on continued strong economic reports and announcements by the Fed.

Despite the rate increases, the demand for housing remains very strong. In addition, property values continue to appreciate at a surprisingly fast pace.

COST OF WAITING IN 2018

These factors (increasing rates and appreciation) combined make the “cost of waiting” as high as ever.

In a recent National Real Estate Post Video, at about the 9-minute mark, Barry Habib uses a $500,000 Orange County purchase as an example.

At current appreciation rates, waiting even six months can cost a buyer an additional $200 per month, according to Mr. Habib.

Waiting a year can cost over $400 per month.

Interest rates remain a gift

Recently, we’ve talked a lot about the rising interest rates. Everyone seems to be in panic mode over it, and my friend Jay Vorhees of JVM Lending is here to explain – in a historical context – why the reaction is overblown. He says the only people who should really be worried are businesses and companies that focus only on refinancing.

We’ve already touched on why higher interest rates are good, but an interest rate under 6 percent is amazing when put in a historical context, and should be treated as such. Here is a graph from Freddie Mac that shows an in-depth breakdown of interest rates over the past 30 years, but we’ve also shared JVM’s table on interest rates:

DATE                                      RATE                      COST
 
March of 2017                    4.2%                     0.5 Points

April of 2014                      4.34%                   0.6 Points

2008 (entire year)           6.03%                   0.6 Points

2000                                      8.05%                   1.0 Point

1995                                      7.93%                   1.8 Points

1990                                     10.13%                  2.1 Points

1985                                     12.43%                  2.5 Points

This shows that not only are rates much lower than they have been at the highest points of the market, but that loans are also much lower than usual – yes, I know our prices are higher than most of the country, but higher interest rates, always hurt you in the pocket book more than higher prices.  Anytime you can lock in a rate below 6 percent, you are doing quite well. So maybe now is the time to get into the market!