In the first quarter of this year, consumer confidence regarding their personal finances and the economy rose, yet this confidence is not translating to optimism that now is a good time to buy a home, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) “Housing Opportunities and Marketing Experience” (HOME) survey.
In fact, positive feelings that it’s a good time to buy a home is at its lowest share in the past two years, and even lower among renters. The strongest concentration of those that did feel positive about buying are homeowners in the South and Midwest where housing is more affordable.
The survey also indicates that owners feel positive about selling, while non-homeowners are feeling anxious about qualifying for a loan and saving for their down payment.
NAR Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun says extremely challenging market conditions to start the year are chipping away at homebuyer optimism. “The critical shortage of listings in most markets continues to spark a hike in home prices that is not easy for many buyers – and especially first-time buyers – to overcome.”
“Adding more fuel to the affordability fire is the fact that mortgage rates have shot up to a four-year high in just a few months,” added Dr. Yun. “Many house hunters are telling Realtors® that they are dispirited by the stiff competition for the short number of listings they can afford.”
He notes that if more homeowners decided that spring is the best time to list their home (especially after amassing equity), supply conditions would “improve measurably, and ultimately lead to more sales.” We would add that the HOME survey’s confidence indices would also shift.
Consumer confidence is up, but of particular note, non-homeowners are anxious about saving for a down payment. Nearly half indicating limited income was a primary reason, followed by student loan debt (30 percent), rising rents (28 percent), and health expenses (14 percent). Only 14 percent said nothing was holding them back.
The survey also indicates anxiety over qualifying, with 45 percent claiming the reason is income uncertainty. One in three said their credit score would hold them back, and 26 percent said they were carrying too much debt. Nearly one in three said they don’t know the first step they’d need to take in order to qualify, so a lack of financial literacy is holding a portion of the market back.
“It’s never too early for those wanting to own a home in the future to sit down with a lender to discuss their current financial situation,” said NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor® from Columbia, Missouri and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty. “Homeownership could be a more attainable goal once an interested buyer finds out how much they can afford to buy, as well as what steps, if any, are needed to improve their chances of obtaining a mortgage.”
How buyers are competing in a tight home buyers market
(HOMEOWNERSHIP) It’s a seller’s market with housing supply at an all-time low. Here’s what buyers are doing to increase their chances of buying a home.
Home inventory is at an all-time low in most places around the country. Most people believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is responsible. Families are staying put in their homes, rather than looking for a new place to live. The National Association of Realtors reports that in March there were almost 5 offers for every home sold in the United States. Utah Realtors reported an average of 7 offers per home. Sellers and realtors are winning in this highly competitive market, making us wonder how buyers are faring. The latest REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey gives us some indication of what buyers are doing to boost their real estate transaction success.
Cash is king
According to the NAR, cash sales are up by an average of 21%. Buyers are hoping that cash makes their offer more attractive. Closing without a loan has a lot of benefits to the seller. The sale is more likely to close, as it isn’t dependent on a loan. Plus, there are less costs involved in closing. Since 2013, cash sales haven’t been trending upward, so this is an interesting turn for sellers. Buyers who make cash offers reduce the risk of getting rejected by the seller.
Buyers making larger down payments
Sellers also benefit when buyers make a 20% down payment or more. A higher down payment increases the chance of getting a loan. According to the NAR, almost 50% of buyers are making a down payment of at least 20%, which is up from 40% of buyers in 2011. Buyers avoid mortgage insurance premiums, which makes it a win-win for everyone.
Buyers aren’t even offering or negotiating
The third way buyers are coping in this market is to back off and not even make an offer when they know a home already has competition. Why get your hopes up, only to have them dashed when you can’t negotiate?
Will supply return?
The good news is that the housing supply outlook is on the increase. As vaccinations roll out and people feel safer to show their home, more homes should come on the market. Housing permits are up, too. This should help even out the market and give buyers a better chance to find a home.
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Home sales dip 10%, inventory levels continue to plague the market
(HOMEOWNERSHIP) While demand for home sales has remained high, a lack of inventory means that numbers have continued to dip, according to the NAR.
In February, all regions experienced a decrease in pending home sales (contracts penned), according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Compared to January, sales fell 10.6%, and fell 0.5% from February 2020.
As with every real estate news story you’ve read here in recent years, NAR continues to point to tight inventory levels as the continuing plague on the market.
“The demand for a home purchase is widespread, multiple offers are prevalent, and days-on-market are swift but contracts are not clicking due to record-low inventory,” said NAR’s Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun.
He observes that overall demand does not appear to be impacted by mortgage rates trending upwards, expected to remain low at no more than 3.5% this calendar year.
It is interesting to note, however, that more expensive homes had increased sales activity because of “reasonable supply,” per Dr. Yun, adding that homes above the $250,000 mark have driven home sales in recent months.
That said, Dr. Yun indicates that even homes priced above $500,000 to less than $1 million are subject to the tight inventory challenges.
“Potential buyers may have to enlarge their geographic search areas, given the current tight market,” Dr. Yun noted. “If there were a larger pool of inventory to select from – ideally a five- or a six-month supply – then more buyers would be able to purchase properties at an affordable price.”
In past months, NAR has repeatedly pointed to the same solution to the inventory challenge – new home builders. If supply were increased and housing starts improved, demand would be more readily satiated and fewer people would be priced out of the market.
Economic conditions typically shift under any new President, and with an ongoing pandemic, we are watching for any signs of hope in a dark time. With building material costs continuing to increase, labor conditions in the sector remaining difficult, mortgage rates are rising (albeit slowly), inventory levels are not expected to immediately improve.
Why realtors shouldn’t use the term ‘Starter Home’
(HOMEOWNERSHIP) You see the term in the MLS for fixer uppers, you hear it when Realtors are working with first time buyers. But the term “starter home” shouldn’t be in anyone’s vocabulary. Here’s why.
Collins English Dictionary defines a starter home as a “small, new house which is cheap enough for people who are buying their first home to afford.” You won’t find the phrase too often outside of the real estate industry.
There isn’t much about the etymology of the phrase, but most likely, it’s a marketing ploy to get people to buy into the idea of purchasing another home in a few years.
Grind your gears
Mark Greutman, husband to Lauren Greutman, believes that the term “starter home” should bother people. The phrase implies that you will upgrade later.
Your starter home isn’t good enough for the rest of your life. And not to get into how well Americans have it, what about people who will never be able to afford anything more? Is it an insult to them?
Do you really need two living rooms?
Older generations bought one home and lived in it until they could no longer be independent. In today’s world, we buy a starter home, then upgrade to have more space, to live farther away from our neighbors, to have rooms that are only used once or twice a year, and to make sure you have a 2 or 3 car garage to hold your vehicles and more stuff, some of which isn’t taken out very often.
But consider this: You could pay off your starter home in 15 to 20 years, if you budget right.
You could be out from under a mortgage and have money to travel, send the kids to college, or even retire early. When you think about what led to the financial crisis in 2008, isn’t it better to have a smaller house where you can make the payments than worry about losing your house?
Be content where you are
Realtors are motivated to make sure that they have customers. If people buy one home with the intent to stay, will the market dry up? Probably not, because people move and a new generation will be ready to purchase homes for their own family.
Let’s think about that phrase, “starter home.” It fuels consumerism and discontentment. Don’t call cheaper houses starter homes, but just a home.
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