Friday, December 26, 2014

2015 Could be the Last Chance for Deals

That headline should have got your attention. We have seen modest to robust appreciation across the USA over the last two years in the real estate market. The mortgage rates have been ranging from really low to ridiculously low and the economy has been slowly moving towards full recovery.

This has kept real estate as a value. Prices have run from the basement in 2010-11 rising to the point now that they are about where they were in 2007-08. Rates are the real story however. They unprecedented long run of sub 6% rates has kept housing active despite and overall economy that has run from dismal to fair.

2015 could represent a turning point however. If this economy gets into full swing, we very well could see the Fed back off the loan guarantees and rates could end up where they really should be in the 6% range. Coupled with the last two years of appreciation that would move the home affordability index much higher and lock out many buyers that can buy today but couldn't with 6% mortgage rate.

As an FYI 6% is still a very good rate and well below the 50 year historical average of 6.8%

Buyers should take care of their finances and get ready to buy in 2015 if they want to secure a housing "deal". The deal may not be so much a price deal but a rate deal. I have said it many times before and I will say it again here, rates kill buyers much more than price.

2014 has shown us that the entry level clean house was king. These little 1400 square foot 3 bedroom 2 bath homes have pushed up towards the $200,000 in the local market while just 10-15% percent more money buys a house nearly twice as large. These low rates have brought out the entry level buyers in force. Any upward movement in rates will "thin the herd" at the bottom and that could mean a serious appreciation slowdown at the entry level. I have seen the starter houses already showing signs that the economic ceiling has been reached. The middle however should continue to move up in appreciation with a modest but healthy rate of growth.

The real estate market doesn't just move in broad based motions. There are subtle differences for neighborhoods, price ranges, style, etc. Prices can be moving up in mid size house while remaining flat at entry level. That is my prediction for 2015 if we see interest rates move up into the 6% range. The market a few years ago allowed two minimum wage earners to buy the median priced home in our local market (Washington minimum wage at $9.32/hour). That is off the table now and that means a lot of buyers can no longer afford a house. This is why the bottom of the market has seen a leveling on appreciation. As the economy ramps up, middle income earners are getting back on the job, better wages, etc. that will help push the gap between entry level and mid-level back into proper proportion.

I believe the value proposition for 2015 will be in the upper middle and lower high end homes. Locally that means $350-500k. That is probably where the "deals" will be found. I am no Nostradamus, but that is where things appear to be headed. 2015, it's time to jump in. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

A New Year with New Opportunities is Near

As I look back at 2014, I have to smile. This past year was very solid in just about every way one can measure a real estate business. Sales up, volume up, income up. All good stuff. There are many analysts that are quite bullish on real estate for 2015. Some are reserved but many are making like a rodeo star and riding the bull.

One of the trends among those in the "know" is the idea that interest rates will be creeping up in 2015. The economy is beginning to show some promise and the feds are starting to get serious about easing their "manipulation" of mortgage rates.I don't see a spike coming, no that would end the bull ride rather quickly. I don't want the rodeo clowns cleaning up a mortgage disaster. But a gentle upswing in rates could prove to be just what the market needs. Investors could loosen their grip a little on underwriting guidelines if there is more profit in the form of interest earnings. Buyers that are still dangling their feet over the edge of the "I might buy a house soon" fence should start jumping in when they see a rising trend in rates. As they jump in the sales pressure of new buyers entering the market might be partially offset by the tendency for rising interest rates to slow real estates. The result could be another year of very healthy and smooth 6-8% appreciation. Rapid appreciation is great when you on the gravy train of equity, but it tends to lead to harder crashes. A nice gentle slow and steady rise is sustainable and definitely safer for the overall economy. I have attached and article along with a link to it directly online that talks about potential trends for 2015.

This article was published in U.S. News and World Report

By Susan Johnson, December 9th, 2014
As housing recovers, prices in many markets across the U.S. have shot up. In fact, RealtyTrac reported that the median sale price of U.S. single-family homes and condos in October had reached its highest level since September 2008. Price appreciation and the lure of foreclosures created a feeding frenzy for real estate investors willing to pay cash and made it harder for traditional buyers to compete.

But experts say that 2015 will be marked by a return to normalcy and balance for real estate marketsacross the country. Stan Humphries, chief economist for, predicts that home value growth will slow to around 3 percent per year instead of the 6 percent seen recently, and that will make real estate less attractive to many investors. “It's been a tough market for buyers," he says. "I think it's going to get easier in 2015. Negotiating power will move back to buyers and away from sellers. It will be a much more balanced market." (Too many buyers and too little inventory, or the opposite, contribute to an unbalanced market.)'s chief economist Nela Richardson agrees. "It's been a clear pattern that the investor activity has been shrinking over time," she says. "Investors like to go in where they can buy low and sell high. Price growth is starting to slow dramatically, so they can't sell much higher than what they buy. Investment property is less compelling in 2014 going into 2015."

More inventory and less competition from investors means even traditional buyers are becoming “more picky, and they're willing to let a home go if they don't think it's a good fit for them," Richardson adds. "Buyers are less worried that they'll miss out on something. Houses are more like buses now. If you miss one, another one will come along." Whereas buyers might waive contingencies in the recent past to make their offer more attractive to sellers, they're now more likely to insist on contingencies for financing and inspections.

That said, foreign investors may still find high-end American real estate appealing because of economic turbulence in their home countries. For instance, the U.K. is toying with a so-called "mansion tax" that would apply to those who own properties worth more than 2 million British pounds (or over $3 million), and China has placed restrictions on homebuying in large cities. Some foreign investors also worry about currency fluctuations devaluing money they hold in their home countries. "That section of the market is still all cash – people buying up these huge places because it's safer here than in their own countries," says Herman Chan, real estate broker with Bay Sotheby's International Realty in San Francisco.

Buyers from outside the U.S. may use their properties as a rental, a pied-à-terre (a secondary residence used for travel) or a residence for children studying at American colleges. But for buyers looking for more moderately priced homes, 2015 could offer a respite from bidding wars and all-cash offers. "People who've been on the fence about selling are finally going to pull the trigger, which is great for buyers [because it creates more inventory]," Chan says. "Now people with regular jobs and 20 percent down finally have a chance to get into the market."

For years, many millennials have postponed homeownership in favor of renting, but that may also change next year as a growing number of Gen Yers start families and seek more stability. "By the end of 2015, millennial buyers will represent the largest group of homebuyers, taking over from Generation X," Humphries says. "They prefer smaller units closer to the urban core, so it will be interesting to see whether they follow the time-honored path towards the periphery of the metro."

Baby boomers are also likely to make a move in 2015. Chan says he's "gotten so many calls from baby boomers recently saying, 'We’re downsizing, and we're moving to be closer to our grandkids or our son or daughter.'" With fewer homes underwater, they're finally in a position to sell.

While mortgage rates may not remain at the historic lows seen recently, more people may qualify for home loans as issues like foreclosures or short sales age out of their credit reports and Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae ease mortgage eligibility. Freddy and Fannie recently announced a new mortgage program for buyers with a down payment as low as 3 percent. "Freddy and Fannie have always been the industry leaders, and they're saying, 'It's OK to lend to people who don't have 5 percent down. It's OK to extend credit in a reasonable and safe manner," Richardson says.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Holidays are a 'Serious' Time for Real Estate.

image from
I have said it before and I'll say it again; the holidays are a serious time for real estate. Anybody that is buying or selling during this time of year is very serious about real estate.

Buyers that are out in the weather during a time they could be at office parties, visiting with family, shopping for the elusive perfect gift, etc. is very committed to finding a house in a timely fashion. Otherwise why wouldn't they just put it off until the New Year?

Likewise for sellers. They would probably rather not have people tromping through their home during the holidays, when guests are over, the decorations are up, etc. Yet there they are doing just that. Maybe they just really want to sell their house?

This is a great time to buy or sell. All of the classic "looky-loos" are on hiatus while the serious contenders are still in the game. I will likely close four transactions this month and that is as many as I closed in the summer months. Don't take the holidays off, you might just get everything you want in the month of December!

As always, seller's should be mindful of the basics of presented their home to prospective buyers. This might be the year to keep half of your holiday decorations in the attic. Too much clutter can be a negative. Keep baking all those yummy holiday goodies because buyers love the smell of fresh baked cookies. Keep the walkways clear of tripping or slipping  hazards. Keep snow off the driveway and walkway.

Buyers are well advised to keep shopping during the holidays. Sellers are usually easier to negotiate with when they are busy with other aspects of their lives. At the point they have chosen to keep their home open during this month, they are motivated, whether they say so or not.

December is a win-win month for buyers and sellers so neither should shy away from the golden opportunity that December brings to real estate.