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Contract signings dip more than expected in December

(REAL ESTATE) Contract signings dip, and mortgage rates continue to rise, but builders could be the key to loosening restrictive inventory levels.

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Pending home sales (contracts signed on deals not yet closed) fell 3.8% in December compared to November, according to new data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The stumble was slightly more than economists had previously forecast, but there was no immediate reaction in the stock market to this decline.

Last week, NAR reported a 4.6% dip in closings for the same time period, but a historic 8.5% increase from the year prior. The trade group expect closings to dip 2.8% this calendar year.

Unfortunately, signed contracts didn’t enjoy that same annual and historic bump, actually down 6.9% year-over-year, inventory levels remain tight, and home prices are forecast to jump 5.1% despite an expected rise in housing starts.

“Pending home sales faded toward the end of 2021, as a diminished housing supply offered consumers very few options,” said Dr. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “Mortgage rates have climbed steadily the last several weeks, which unfortunately will ultimately push aside marginal buyers.”

The silver lining Dr. Yun observed for 2021 was not just sales, but price appreciation (a win for current owners, a lingering challenge for hopeful first time buyers).

For those people that have been edged out of the market, Dr. Yun expects housing inventory to improve which could slow home price growth this year.

“The market will likely endure a minor reduction in sales as mortgage rates continue to edge higher,” he noted.

Finally, Dr. Yun said, “The combination of a more measured demand and rising supply will bring housing prices better in line with wage growth.”

In December, when compared to November, contracts signed fell 1.2% in in the Northeast, 3.7% in the Midwest, 1.8% in the South, and a painful 10.0% in the West.

Compared to December of last year, contract signings dipped 10.5% in the Northeast, 1.2% in the Midwest, 3.9% in the South, and 16.2% in the West.

Dr. Yun has long said that builders are the key to loosening inventory levels and improving housing conditions, but with that sector continuing to struggle with labor, as well as obtaining building materials in the midst of a supply chain crisis (much less getting reasonable prices on them), there is no expectation that a fix is imminent.

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Real Estate Big Data

Home prices jump double digits in majority of American metros [report]

(REAL ESTATE) Housing affordability was already a widespread challenge before current economic pressures were applied, but now home prices are skyrocketing.

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As home sales slide and mortgage rates rise, home prices in 70% of 185 measured metros saw a double digit annual increase in Q1, according to the newest data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), up from 66% in the previous quarter.

The Southern region accounted for 45% of home sales in Q1, and experienced a 20.1% increase in annual home prices (compared to 14.3% just the quarter prior). Home prices in the Midwest jumped 8.5% annually in Q1, while The Northeast rose 6.7%, and the West increased 5.9%.

The median sales price of a single family existing home has now hit an astonishing $368,200.

“Prices throughout the country have surged for the better part of two years, including in the first quarter of 2022,” said NAR Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun. “Given the extremely low inventory, we’re unlikely to see price declines, but appreciation should slow in the coming months.”

Yun expects supply levels to improve, and for “more pullback in housing demand as mortgage rates take a heavier toll on affordability,” given that “there are no indications that rates will ease anytime soon.”

At first blush, price appreciation sounds lovely to anyone that owns a home, given that it is the largest investment most Americans will ever make.

But regarding today’s report, several homeowners told us that they now feel trapped, and that if they sold their current home, even if they purchased a new house at that same price, they would likely have to downgrade.

Affordability is an ongoing problem weighing down the housing sector. NAR reports that the monthly mortgage payment on a typical existing single-family home with a 20% down payment rose to $1,383 (up $319, or 30%, from one year ago). Families now typically spend 18.7% of their income on mortgage payments (but only spent 14.2% one year ago).

“Declining affordability is always the most problematic to first-time buyers, who have no home to leverage, and it remains challenging for moderate-income potential buyers, as well,” Dr. Yun observed.

Map of how home prices are behaving nationally

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Real Estate Big Data

Office occupancy is on the rise, but its knocking down morale

(BIG DATA) Despite work from home policies still in place and the flexibility some employers are offering, office occupancy is increasing steadily.

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Empty startup office with open floor plan, abandoned while working from home.

As coronavirus numbers dwindle and some officials begin calling for a fourth COVID-19 shot, more and more people previously working at home after being kicked out of shuttered office buildings are returning to the bullpen.

The National Association of Realtors reports that more than 80% of metro areas in the United States have seen an increase in in-person working.

Boston saw the largest office occupancy growth over the past year. Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. have the most open space.

NAR researcher Scholastica Cororaton says office occupancy is also increasing in areas with a big tech presence. San Jose, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle lead those areas.

“The rising occupancy in these tech metro areas indicates that tech companies are contributing to the demand for office space,” Cororaton wrote. “Even as nationally, 45% of mathematical and computer workers work from home for at least some part of the time.”

The way companies are returning to work vary and are sparking anger. For instance, Google employees must now be in the office three days a week. On the other hand, Apple begins its return to office plan next week. It starts with employees coming back one day a week which will eventually grow to two days and then three days a week. Apple employees have revolted against the idea and are have threatened to quit.

Many in leadership are pleased with the return to the office to boost productivity and collaboration. However, employees are finding they’re showing up in person to just log in to Zoom again, which has stirred up even more frustration.

On top of the redundancy of work that could be done at home, a study shows only 3% of white-collar employees want to work in the office all week. 86% want to stay home for at least a few days.

Plus, the return to the office drives up costs, with gas prices seeing soaring and inflation at a 40-year-high.

Since the second half of 2021, 30 million square feet of office space has been taken up, however, about 100 million square feet remain.

NAR reports filling that space up again could take through the end of 2024.

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Real Estate Big Data

Why Gen Z is far more open to homeownership than Millennials

(REAL ESTATE) After years of hearing how millennials delay homeownership, it’s refreshing to hear Gen Z has a totally different perspective.

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Woman thinking representing mental toughness.

We’ve written for years about millennials and their reluctance to purchase homes, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Financial hesitancy is a trait long associated with millennials, but according to Hana Ben-Shabat, Gen Z is making a definitive push for homeownership where the prior generation has stagnated.

Hana Ben-Shabat is the author of Gen Z 360: Preparing for the Inevitable Change in Culture, Work, and Commerce, and she founded Gen Z Planet, a firm that “[helps] brands prepare and adjust to the changes that Generation Z is bringing to the workplace and the consumer market.”

Her insight is clearly valuable, making her assertion that Gen Z is more likely to buy homes less speculation and more prophecy.

“Considering their focus on securing their future, home ownership is a piece of the puzzle,” Ben-Shabat says. In a related survey, she notes that 87% of Gen Z participants expressed interest in owning a home sometime in the future; only 63% of millennials echoed that sentiment.

Gen Z participants also had a stronger inclination toward viewing homeownership as a financially smart decision rather than a burden.

Gen Z’s open-mindedness toward purchasing homes may seem surprising at first glance. Ben-Shabat acknowledges the financial hardships placed on this generation, and posits that, having seen millennials struggle with student debt and the recession of 2008, this generation has arguably more incentive to stay away from large investments.

But she also points out that Gen Z buyers are “determined to learn from the mistakes of others and secure their financial future as early as possible,” adding that they “benefited from a wave of consumer financial education that began after the housing crisis of 2008.

This makes for a generation that is both clear and educated regarding their financial goals and how to achieve them.

It’s also worth noting, as Ben-Shabat does, that millennials have a more tenuous grasp of DIY culture and the financial decisions that accompany it than their Generation Z counterparts. As “digital natives,” Gen Z buyers don’t object as strongly to purchasing starter homes and renovating; millennials, by contrast, find themselves purchasing more expensive properties that are “ready to move in” due to waiting an extended time before shifting toward homeownership.

Ben-Shabat’s observations foreshadow an increased market shift toward Generation Z ownership, especially in smaller, more affordable locations. As for the economic ramifications of the paradigm change, only time (and Ben-Shabat’s website) will tell.

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