Friday, October 26, 2018

Interest Rates Rising, But Still Relatively Low

I have discussed interest rates often as they tend to be a critical element in the real estate market. For younger buyers these higher rates may seem "high" but in reality our rates still remain well below the established 50 year average. A while back I published some charts and graphs showing the plight of rates over the last 50 years.

Today I have returned with more data from Freddie Mac and when we look at the broad picture and compare it to the recent data the rates we have right now are still super low. We had a fairly long period with rates that were at or near all time lows dating all the way back to before WWII. These super low rates were largely produced with subsidies from the federal government. The feds were buying up mortgages to keep the housing market from completely imploding after the severe beating it took in 2009-11.

The real issue is that our economy over the last 15 years has been much more fragile than previous economic cycles. Our national government continues to pile on debt and now it is beginning to become a heavy anchor on the economy. Despite seeing robust growth in the economy, the low rates are a major reason we have the growth. As rates return to "normal" the economy will start to drag again. I am not predicting a recession per se, but interest rates this low are generally not healthy for the financial sector over the long term.

As for housing, we have seen hot real estate markets with 30 year fixed rates in the 7s. The problem right now, especially in high cost markets like the Northeastern US and the West Coast is that many buyers are priced out when rates go up. In more affordable markets rates can continue to rise and buyers will still be able to buy. 

Home ownership is still one of the best ways that a middle income earner can build wealth. With rates low, that wealth builds faster. Equity is gained more quickly with lower rates than with higher rates because mortgages are amortized and the lower rates mean more principle is applied with each payment.

The media does not always present the facts in their entirety and home affordability has many variables. income, interest rates, housing prices are major players and all of them need to be accounted when determining affordability. In 1971 the median household income in the US was $10,383 average Freddie Mac mortgage rate of 7.3%, and median home price of $24,500. In 2016 the numbers looked like this: $83,143 median income, 3.75% mortgage rate, $213,700 median home price. The median home cost 2.36 times annual income in 1971 versus 2016 where it was 2.57 times annual income. Housing prices has outpaced income growth but not by the huge margins many people think. When we apply the interest rates however actual cost of ownership is lower today than it was back in 1971. Assuming zero down, the payment on the median home in 1971 at the average rate was, $168 a month against an monthly income of $865 for a principle and interest housing payment of 19.4% of gross income. 2016 median principle and interest payment of $990 against month gross income of $6,929 yields 14.3%. The median home is cheaper today than it was in 1971 because rates are low. These are national averages and generalizations, of course, but it is important to keep in mind that now is still a great time to buy a house. Someday we may look back at the last few years as the "good 'ole days".

Any rate under 6.5% is still, historically speaking, a low rate. Our government needs to stop overspending and that seems to be something that everyone agrees on yet regardless of which political party is in power, the feds can't seem to stop spending more than they take in.

Since 2010 mortgage rates have been volatile but have never gotten very high. Average Freddie Mac par rates have not been above 5% since 2010. Remember that par rates are based on top tier credit and no cash rebates from lender. Right now, Freddie has the national average rates at 4.86% but this is for a strong borrower with no rebate. Rebate is a term to describe a payment the mortgage investor pays back to the borrower used towards the closing costs. Typically rates paid by a buyer is a little higher than these published figures. So as rates have crept up all year, they are still lower than they were in 2010 and well below the established average since 1971 which is roughly 7%.

That stated, rates are sitting at around 5ish, and that is still pretty darn low. Buyers that are playing the waiting game may find themselves in a worse position next year than they are now even as prices are softening. Higher rates will erode purchasing power faster than rising prices. Higher rates also slow down the speed at which equity is gained.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Cash Offer. Means C A S H...

There has been a large number of cash offers being made over the last few years. I have definitely felt an uptick in my business and other Realtors® have expressed a similar vibe as well. But buyers making cash offers need to be very clear about what a CASH offer is. I ask my buyers that want to offer cash on a house, right up front. Do you have the cash on hand right now? That is, is the cash in the bank and accessible immediately. That my friends is the DEFINITION of cash. It is immediately accessible money. Some buyers are planning on drawing an equity line, or taking a loan on another property, or selling another asset. This is not cash until those transactions are complete.

A buyer making a cash offer that does not have the cash already liquid is in jeopardy of default should the source of the "cash" be delayed or for some reason made unavailable. Even more dangerous is the fact that a cash offer made without liquid cash on hand could be litigated by the seller as civil fraud should the deal fall apart. Cash is C A S H, not "I'm taking a line of credit," or "my uncle is lending me the cash." Buyers need to disclose to the seller the source of the cash if it is not already liquid and sitting in the bank. It is fine and well to make an all cash offer predicated on the arrival of cash from another transaction, be it a sale of another property, or loan, or gift, whatever the case is; but when that cash is on the way rather than in the bank, disclose, disclose, disclose.

Buyers in a tight market are often trying to make their offer stand out in front of other offers, but they must be cautious not to put themselves in legal trouble when making a soft cash offer. Buyers that want to play with the "big fish" in the hard cash arena, need to take the loan, sell the asset, or grab the gift, etc. BEFORE making the offer.    

Friday, October 12, 2018

Clark County Sales still Robust

Despite the general feeling of a market slow down, Clark County still pushed out nearly 700 sales last month (699). The median price including mannys and condos was 356k, but 3/4 of the units were between 250k and 400k the 'meaty' median range. There is little inventory in the sub 250k range and plenty of inventory above 500k so the market remains solid and close to neutral, if you are trading in the middle.

Buyers in the entry level will continue to struggle as rising rates and virtually no inventory make that sub 250k market a rough ride. That is not to say buyers should flee the market, in fact they simply need to be patient and willing to settle for a quality property even if it isn't exactly what they want. So long as jobs remain plentiful and wages continue to rise, demand remains for homes and prices will rise over time. Getting in now lets that entry level buyer enjoy some market appreciation so that later on they can make the move up with equity in the starter home.

Buyers at the other end can kick some tires and beat down sellers as inventory levels are actually pretty high. That doesn't mean that every upper end home is overpriced. In fact a well priced home in the 750k plus range will still find a buyer in a reasonably short time. It is the large homes that are dated, odd style, or otherwise non-traditional that are filling up the inventory and remain ripe for a discount.

Sellers in the upper price range should have no delusions about the value of their home. Price per square foot is nearly useless in the upper end. Upgrades, materials, build quality, neighborhood, design, age, and numerous other factors can dramatically effect high end homes causing widespread variance in price per foot.

This market remains healthy with modest appreciation, tight but manageable inventory levels in all but the very bottom, and interest rates that are still relatively low despite constant creep up all year long.

It's all good friends.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Road Trip

I am wrapping up my week long road trip with my youngest son who is out of the Army and we are headed home! Here is a post from the past that still has relevance:

Local Realtors are Invaluable Assets

October 28th, 2016

I am meeting with new clients this weekend about selling their lovely home. The odd thing is that they just bought this home a few months ago. I do not have all the details as of yet, but I do know that my new clients bought the house site unseen and moved here from 900 miles away. They utilized one of our national consumer real estate websites to buy the home and the listing agent's office was in Seattle 160 miles away from here.

I won't opine any further on this specific case, but in general my belief is that national websites such as Zillow, Redfin, Trulia, etc. are excellent tools for people searching for homes especially when looking at far away destinations. That is where their practical benefit ends however. There is no substitute for a local pro that understands the nuances of neighborhoods and the other important issues that face homeowners in a new region. 

Once a buyer thinks they have narrowed it down to a few homes they want to see, or even offer on, a local pro should be contacted other than the listing agent. It is important not only to have a local agent that understands the local market, but also an agent unaffiliated with the seller. A listing agents greatest obligation is to the seller for which he has a signed contract with statutory language. The listing agent will pay the buyer's agent commission so the buyer is in much better shape using their own agent.

It is important to take the time to ensure you are buying the best house for you at the best price possible and with favorable terms. Buying a home and then having to sell it three months later is rarely a profitable exercise. Buyers need to be sure they have all the proper information before buying a house.

If you find a home on one of the national websites, there are usually buyer's agents listed. Sometimes there will be a preferred or premier, et al. agent. These agents have likely paid the company money for placement. There may also be a few random agents listed that have a profile on the system and list that area as their area of expertise. Be sure to visit the agent's profile before contacting them.

There is no better asset to a home buyer than a local professional looking out for the buyer's best interests, not the seller's.