This blog post was written by Danielle Hale, Director of Housing Statistics, and Hua Zhong, Data Analyst.
You probably know that home closings slow down during the holidays and earlier part of the week. Here is the data to back up your intuition:
- As we start the New Year, this is a good time to take a look and recap the year behind us to see what insights 2014 holds for 2015. The last sales data for December 2014 is just now being collected, but we can get a good sense of the year by looking at the data we currently have for the past 12 months. In our first post, http://bit.ly/1y7G1Dp we looked at top closing days of 2014.
- In this list, we see the slowest closing days of 2014. The resulting list depends very much on how you define the eligible days.
- Very few closings happen on weekends and federal holidays. Excluding these days as well as Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas, we find that the slowest closing day was January 2, 2014. Interestingly, there are a few weekend days that performed at least as well as these slow business days. They were Sunday, November 30, 2014 and Sunday, August 31, 2014. Two other weekend days, Saturday, August 30 and Saturday, May 31, outperformed most other weekends and holidays with respect to number of closed home sales. As we saw with the top closing days, the end of the month is a popular time for closing and this can even be observed among weekend days as those at the end of a month tend to outperform other weekend days.
- Because this ranking was compiled with data that was not seasonally adjusted, we see that winter days figure prominently in the list of slowest days for home closings.
- Those who have been in business a few years can probably expect these seasonal fluctuations, but for those who are new to real estate, take note and plan your vacations accordingly.
This is part 2 of a week-long series on EHS. Check back tomorrow at 12 p.m. ET for the next post in the series.
- The U.S. dollar has become mighty once again. It has strengthened against most foreign currencies. That permits Americans to buy foreign products at cheaper prices and to travel abroad with fewer dollars. However in the opposite direction, the strong dollar means foreigners will face higher prices on American-made goods and will buy less of them, including real estate. There will be fewer foreign tourists in the U.S. as well in 2015.
- Not too long ago, $1 could be converted for 100 Japanese Yen or 70 euro cents. Today, $1 gets a lot more: 120 Yens or 83 euro cents. Similar trends against other currencies can be observed. The reason is that the global economy is no longer growing. The only bright spot is the U.S., where GDP and job growth rates have been accelerating of late. This disparity in the growth rates has made the dollar become measurably stronger.
- The table below shows what foreigners paid for U.S. real estate last year and what they are facing today given the stronger dollar. For Canadians, they are seeing 22 percent higher prices for a typical U.S. home after conversion. For Russians, prices are higher by 122 percent. Venezuela’s currency rate is fixed by the government but not available for transaction. On the black market it is estimated that U.S. home prices to have risen by 195 percent.
- REALTORS® experienced 35 percent growth in sales of U.S. real estate to foreigners in the most recently measured period (March 2013 to March 2014 versus comparable one year prior period). Such a growth rate is unlikely given the strength of the U.S. dollar. Russians and Venezuelans in particular are hard pressed. Professional hockey players in Russia are very envious of Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, not because of his talent per se, but because he is getting paid in dollars and not in rubles.
This blog post was written by Danielle Hale, Director of Housing Statistics, and Hua Zhong, Data Analyst.
You probably know that home closings predominate on Fridays and the end of the month. Here is the data to back up your intuition:
- As we start the New Year, this is a good time to take a look and recap the year behind us to see what insights 2014 holds for 2015. The last sales data for December 2014 is just now being collected, but we can get a good sense of the year by looking at the data we currently have.
- A list of top closing days of 2014 shows that the last business day of a month and Fridays are the most popular days to complete a home sale transaction. In fact, these days are so popular that the top 25 closing days are expected to account for roughly a quarter of all home sale closings for the year.
- The top 7 closing days were the last business days of June, May, August, April, July, September, and February. The next 18 most popular days were all Fridays except for three dates, all of which were at or near the end of the month: Monday, March 31, Thursday, October 30, and Wednesday, July 30.
- Because this ranking was compiled with data that was not seasonally adjusted, we see that spring and summer days figure prominently in the top of the list, but all seasons are represented.
- This day by day data confirms the unadjusted monthly EHS data which shows that June and July were the top months for home sales in 2014, followed by August and May. In fact, June and July alone are likely to account for more than 20% of sales for 2014.
- It is expected that spring and summer months will be strong from a home sales perspective. This is why NAR Research reports seasonally adjusted home sales data each month, so we can see how sales are performing relative to what we might typically expect given the season.
- By this metric, the second half of 2014 is on track to be stronger than the first half of the year. The peak month of 2014 sales, adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, was October when sales reached the 5.25 million level. We expect the strength in the second half of 2014 to carry through into 2015.
- What was your busiest day in 2014?
This is part 1 of a week-long series on EHS. Check back tomorrow at 12 p.m. ET for the next post in the series.
 This analysis considers data from December 1, 2013 to November 30, 2014.
 December 2014 data is not yet complete, so a projection is made.
 Even a surprisingly low December would be unlikely to pull down the better performance of the second half of 2014.
 Revisions to seasonal adjustment factors that will be made in February 2015 when 2014 data is complete and finalized are likely to shift the precise magnitude of this figure but unlikely to change the fact that October 2014 was the peak month for seasonally adjusted home sales.
- Crude oil prices are now trading at slightly below $50/barrel resulting in steep declines in gasoline prices. As of January 5, 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that the price of regular gasoline was $2.20 /gallon, the lowest since gas prices peaked to about $ 4/gallon in May 2011. In its December 2014 Short-term Energy Outlook Report, the EIA 2015 forecast for gasoline prices was $2.50 per gallon (which now seems on the high side given the developments in January 2015). The EIA also forecasts savings of $ 550 per household in 2015.
- Lower oil prices mean lower inflation rate which pushes down mortgage rates. Based on Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage survey as of January 8, 2015, the 30-year fixed rate averaged 3.73 percent and the 15-year fixed rate averaged 3.05 percent.1 At the median home price of $205,300, a 0.75 percentage point drop in mortgage rates will yield savings of about $1,500 annually.
- The economic and housing recovery in the Midwest and South states from North Dakota to Texas has been underpinned by the boom in oil production. The steep price declines may lead to a flattening of revenues. Companies can either make up for the cash requirement by borrowing or issuing shares of stock as they have done since 20112.
- Companies may also resort to layoffs as has been announced by some companies3. The overall impact on employment is not likely to be significant since most of the employment growth is coming from many economic sectors. Of the almost 3 million net jobs created in 2014 , 10,000 came from other nondurable goods that includes oil and gas. However, there will be indirect impact to those localities as restaurants and shops will also likely cut back employment.
- State economies are also well-diversified. Based on 2014Q2 data from the BLS, there are 197,121 employed in oil and gas extraction, representing 0.14 percent of total employment of 138 million (Chart 1). In Texas, the biggest U.S. state oil producer which accounts for about half of the U.S. oil and gas extraction workers, employment in oil and gas extraction accounts for less than 1 percent of Texas’s total employment . However, the direct effect will be larger in some counties in Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Illinois, Kansas, Utah, and Pennsylvania (Chart 2) .
- What this means for REALTORS®: The decline in oil prices is generally positive to households by way of the gas savings and lower mortgage payments. That savings will boost consumer spending in other areas. But there may be some layoffs in oil-producing states.
3 Already, layoffs have been initiated by service companies like Halliburton and Hercules Offshore. And oil producer ConocoPhillips pared its 2015 drilling budget by deferring drilling in America’s shale developments. Both announcements, made in December, likely will be followed by news of other companies cutting back. http://theadvocate.com/news/11127710-123/louisiana-oil-service-companies-expected
At the national level, housing affordability is down from a year ago for the month of November as higher prices make it less affordable to purchase a home despite the lowest mortgage rates in the last 16 months.
• Housing affordability is down from a year ago in November as the median price for a single family home in the US is up from a year ago. Regionally, the Midwest had the biggest increase in price at 7.1% while the Northeast had a slight gain at 2.0%.
• The median single-family home price is $206,200 up 5.6 % from November 2013 as year over year price gains are starting to flatten out. November’s mortgage rate is 4.16, down 22 basis points (one percentage point equals 100 basis points) from last year. Nationally, affordability is down from 173.3 in November 2013 to 170.7 in November 2014.
• Affordability is up slightly from one month ago in all regions, the Northeast having the largest gain at 3.7%. From one year ago, affordability is down in two of the four regions, the Northeast had a 2.6% increase. The Midwest saw the biggest decline in affordability at 2.8 % while the South declined to 1.6% and the West remained flat.
• Positive factors: Low mortgage rates, job creation, and stock market investments are a few of the influences improving consumer confidence. Recently Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac have decided to create new loan programs to help increase credit availability. A boost in incomes would offset home price gains as price growth is coming back to normal levels.
• What does housing affordability look like in your market? View the full data release here.
• The Housing Affordability Index calculation assumes a 20 percent down payment and a 25 percent qualifying ratio (principle and interest payment to income). See further details on the methodology and assumptions behind the calculation here.
- Job gains accelerated in the second half of 2014. The latest monthly data showed 252,000 net new payroll job additions in December. Over the last 12 months, that total net of new jobs comes to a cool 3 million. The pool of potential homebuyers and the need for commercial building spaces are therefore expanding.
- From the low point of 2009, more than 10 million jobs have been created. Recall, however, that 8 million jobs were lost during the painful recession in 2008-09. Therefore, compared with the prior employment peak in 2007, the country has only 2 million workers now. In the meantime over these years, the country’s population increased by nearly 19 million.
- More jobs have pushed down the unemployment rate to 5.6 percent, which would be considered almost normal. Frustratingly though for workers, the wages are barely rising. In December the wage rate rose by 1.65 percent from one year before. The weak wage growth is partly reflecting a considerably large number of people who are working part-time.
- REALTORS® are mostly not on any company’s payroll and are not included in the wage data. Commission income comes in lump sum and only if there is a closing. All the time spent driving and doing research means nothing if the property does not close. REALTOR® income also varies greatly from one year to the next and from one person to the next.
- A typical wage rate by industry is shown below. Note the lower wage rate for retail trade. That is why it is rare to see the same Starbucks crew over a 12-month time span. And each new crew tends to spell your name differently.
The FHA announced important changes to the pricing of its mortgage insurance today. This change will help to shore up the long-term solvency of its mortgage insurance fund, improve affordability and sustainability for most borrowers, and price in a significant number of borrowers locked out of the market in recent years. It will also provide a strong signal, along with solid recent employment growth and lower mortgage rates, to first-time buyers who might be on the fence. Its not the silver bullet, but an important step toward normalization of the housing market.
Changes in Context
The President announced that the FHA will reduce its annual premium by 0.5%, or from 1.35% to 0.85% for a borrower using a 30-year fixed rate mortgage with a 3.5% downpayment. In historical context, that reduces the annual MI charge to its lowest level since since early October of 2010. The fee that FHA charges for its credit enhancement is a combination of an annual fee (MIP) which is paid monthly and an up-front charge (UFMIP) which can be paid as a lump some at closing or more often it is rolled into the balance and financed for the life of the loan. The total fee, estimated as an upfront price now stands at 6.0% , down from 8.5% prior to this change. The total fee is at its lowest level since 2011, but remains higher than other non-recessionary periods over the last 30 years.
Even with the rate reduction, the fee charged by the FHA for its mortgage insurance (6% of originated balance) more than covers the expected losses (5%), allowing excess fees to continue to build up the capital reserve to its required minimum of 2.0%. Furthermore, the added volume generated by the lower fees will help to ameliorate the income lost by reduced premiums. In short, by modestly reducing rates and expanding the pool of borrowers, the FHA is still on trajectory to meet its capital requirement over a modestly longer horizon, while reducing the amount that it charges borrowers beyond the cost of the program.
For a borrower with a $200,000 mortgage, this changes amount to a reduction in the monthly payment of $83, an improvement of 7.1%, or nearly $1,000 over the first year. By year five, this borrower has saved nearly $4,800, but over 30 years the borrower would save roughly $18,000. This later point is important as FHA still charges its annual MI fee for the life of the loan, a change instituted in 2011. Mortgage rates are expected to rise as much as two percentage points in the coming years, which will significantly reduce borrowers ability and incentive to refinance out of the FHA program as they have done in recent years. As a result, this change will have a larger impact for many homeowners over the life of their ownership.
The lower fees will also help to stymie the flow of lower-risk borrowers from the FHA to the conventional market. The FHA pools its expenses for low and higher risk borrowers, thus allowing it to provide lower average pricing than the private market would for moderate risk borrowers. To do so, the FHA must maintain some lower risk borrowers in its portfolio, vets its borrowers, and provides only vanilla products with no risky features. High pricing of its MI caused a flight of quality borrowers in 2013 and 2014 putting the FHA’s ability to fund middle class borrowers and its very mission in jeopardy.
Beyond stabilizing the shift between the conventional and FHA markets, the lower pricing will draw thousands of credit worthy borrowers back into the market. NAR Research estimates that the fee reduction will price in an additional 1.6 million to 2.1 million renters along with many trade-up buyers, resulting in 90,000 to 140,000 additional annual home purchases based on the standard affordability limits at the FHA and conventional market and dynamics in the housing finance market.
Implications for the MI Industry and the Housing Market
The reduction of rates at the FHA will make it tougher for the private mortgage insurers to compete for these homebuyers in the interim. As depicted below in yellow, the pricing advantage shifts from PMI to FHA for a significant portion of the credit box. Later this year, the FHFA is expected to announce new capital requirements for the PMI industry as well as a decision on the future of the GSE’s loan level pricing adjustments (LLPAs). Many have argued that the combined capital requirements of the PMIs and LLPAs provide too much capital protection, leading to inefficiency and high costs to consumers. If the FHFA follows the FHA in providing capital relief, pricing should shift back toward the PMI industry helping it to maintain its footing. This step is important as a healthy PMI industry, like a healthy FHA, is critical for a robust, safe, and liquid housing finance system over the long-term.
The FHA’s proposed changes to its pricing for 2015 are good for consumers and the economy. It puts money back into consumers’ pockets, improves affordability for many borrowers, and unlocks the opportunity to purchase a home for tens of thousands, while preserving the stability of the FHA’s fund and protecting tax payers. Sluggish income growth, low inventories and nagging tight credit remain headwinds for the market, but this shift is an important bell weather of returning health for the market.
 This is a conservative estimate with a multiple of 5. As rates rise and loan life extends due to reduced refinance incentives, the fees could generate higher revenues, further building reserves. Extension to a multiple of 6 would imply a total fee of 6.85%
With rising inventory and the strong price recovery since 2012, REALTORS® responding to the November 2014 REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey expected home prices to increase modestly in the next 12 months, with the median at about 3 percent: http://www.realtor.org/reports/realtors-confidence-index.
The map shows the median expected price change in the next 12 months by the state of REALTOR® respondents in the Sep – Nov 2014 surveys. States with the most upbeat price expectations (orange) include the District of Columbia and several states in the West and South regions. Michigan, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island also have strong price growth expectations. The states with the most upbeat price expectations have strong job growth and appear to be attractive to millennials and retiring baby boomers.
Median Expected Price Change of REALTORS® in Next 12 Months, By State
Based on Sep 2014-Nov 2014 RCI Surveys
 The median expected price change is the value such that 50 percent of respondents expect prices to change above this value and 50 percent of respondents expect prices to change below this value. A median expected price change is computed for each state based on the respondents for that state. The graph shows the range of these state median expected price change. To increase sample size, the data is averaged from the last three survey months.
 In generating the median price expectation at the state level, we use data for the last three surveys to have close to 30 observations. Small states such as AK,ND, SD, MT, VT, WY, WV, DE, and the D.C. may have less than 30 observations.
- Interest rates tend to be very low when there are problems and desperations in the economy. The economy in the meantime has moved into higher gear. GDP is expanding robustly and jobs are coming around nicely. But the overall interest rates continue to remain low. In fact, the mortgage rates have been declining in the past month. Whatever the puzzling reasons, the current low rates are good news for homebuyers.
- At the end of 2014, the average rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.87 percent. That is down from near 4.5 percent 12 months ago. Aside from the 18-month stretch in 2012 to mid-2013, there has never been a time since the Presidency of John F. Kennedy when the average mortgage rate fell below 4 percent.
- Consider, the 30-year rate was above 10 percent throughout 1980s. Because of the high prevailing mortgage rates during this era, adjustable rate mortgages steadily became more popular even though they carried the potential risk to upward adjustment. For those few homebuyers in today’s market who view 30-year rates as being high, the one-year ARM is at the lowest point in modern times: 2.40 percent rate at the end of December.
- A simple punching of the numbers into the mortgage calculators will show what happens to monthly payments at different interest rates. Since nearly all economists anticipate some rise in interest rates at some time this year, though, opinions differ on how much and how fast, it is worth reminding ourselves of the differences as shown in the table below on a $200,000 loan.
- Even if a person misses out on the very low interest rates and catches something higher, they should take comfort in that it is still a good deal from a historical perspective. NAR’s housing affordability calculates that to buy a typical home, a typical home buyer, with a typical income after a 20 percent down payment would be shelling out a reasonable amount on mortgage and not too much. Homebuyers can also take comfort in the fact that the monthly mortgage payment will be fixed and unchanging while in 30 years, if using recent history as a guide, food prices would have more than doubled, gasoline prices tripled, rent payments nearly tripled, medical service quintupled, and college tuition outrageous (rising eight-fold from current cost).
- NAR released a summary of existing home sales data showing that November’s existing home sales dipped from last month to the weakest sales pace in the last six months. November’s sales declined 6.1% from October but were slightly up, by 2.1% from a year ago in November 2013.
- The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $205,300 in November, up 5.0% percent from November 2013.
- Regionally, all four regions showed growth in prices, and the Midwest had the biggest gain of 7.0% from last year 2013. All regions showed a decrease in sales from last month, the Northeast and South were the only regions to have increases from a year ago.
- November’s inventory figures increased by 2.0% from a year ago and it will take 5.1 months to move the current level of inventory. It takes approximately 65 days for a home to go from listing to a contract in the current housing market, slower than last year at 56 days.
- Single family homes and condos both declined in sales from last month. Only single family homes had an increase from a year ago, while condo sales remained the same. Both single family homes and condos had an increase in price with single family homes up 5.6% and condos up 1.2 % from a year ago November 2013.
Confidence about the residential real estate sales outlook for the next six months broadly improved in November 2014 as reported in the latest REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey. An improving jobs market, the 30-year mortgage rate at approximately 4 percent, and higher inventories of available homes for sale may have accounted for the rebound in positive market expectations for sales of single family homes.
Expectations about the market for townhomes and condominiums also improved but were still somewhat weak (index below 50). REALTORS® continued to report about the difficulty of obtaining FHA financing for condominiums, typically the entry point for homeownership.
- The overall construction spending modestly edged down in the latest month due to a combination of government spending cuts and modestly less commercial real estate construction. The broad trend, nonetheless, is on the rise. That’s good news for workers in construction and for general contractors.
- Specifically, total dollar value of recently completed construction fell 0.3 percent in November from the month earlier. The construction of government-funded health care facilities, new schools, and power plants declined while the private sector construction of residential units increased. Commercial real estate construction was essentially unchanged.
- Despite the volatile monthly data, the trend is clearly on the upswing. From the cyclical low point of several years ago, the total construction dollar spending is up by roughly 20 percent. Construction of new hotels and lodging facilities are coming back strongly with a 100 percent jump from 2010. On the other end, the construction of buildings for religious worship has been on a long-term decline. (See graphs below).
- Because of more dollars on construction, the employment in this sector looks positive. Construction related jobs of specialty trade and general contractors took a big hit during the recession, falling from 5 million to 3.4 million. Now, the jobs are coming back with 3.8 million workers in this sector.
- Apartment vacancy rates are very low. In addition vacancy rates of office, retail, and warehouse buildings have been falling. It would appear therefore that more construction workers are needed. With oil prices low and oil drilling jobs to be cut soon, there could be more workers switching out of the oil industry and into construction in 2015. The financial inducement is there as well with construction workers’ earnings rising 2.7 percent in the most recent data, which is faster than the general wage growth of 2.1 percent.
- Looking at the data from NAR’s 2005-2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, first-time home buyers were more likely to live with parents, relatives or friends prior to purchasing a home than repeat buyers.
- For recent home buyers the percentage living with parents, relatives or friends prior to purchasing a home has remained consistent over the last 10 years, with an average of 11% of all buyers.
- The typical age of first-time homebuyers in 2014 was 31-years-old. First-time buyers made up a larger share of those who lived with relatives or friends prior to purchasing a home in comparison to repeat buyers who in 2014 were typically 53-years-old.
- Over the last decade an average of 19% of first-time buyers and 5% of repeat buyers lived with relatives or friends.
- The U.S. Census recently published an interactive infographic exploring how young adults, aged 18-34, have changed over the last 40 years.
- Over the last 13 years the percent of young adults living with a parent has increased from 23.2% to 30.3%.
- While the percentage of recent homebuyers who have previously lived at home has not increased to the same degree as the percentage of young adults living with a parent, the increase does show why the percentage of first-time buyers living with family or friends may not have decreased over recent years.
- For more information on this research, check out the 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers: http://www.realtor.org/reports/highlights-from-the-2014-profile-of-home-buyers-and-sellers and the U.S. Census Interactive Infographic: Young Adults Then and Now: http://www.census.gov/censusexplorer/censusexplorer-youngadults.html?sf6371858=1.
Many people make New Year’s Resolutions as the calendar flips from December 31st to January 1st. Often times, at the top of the list (along with trimming the waist line) is saving money and paying down debt. Many people do so with a goal in mind – a nice vacation, a new car, or even a new home. Maybe this year you are saving for your downpayment for a new home, or know someone who is.
The majority of home buyers use savings as a downpayment source—65 percent of all buyers (81 percent of first-time buyers, 57 percent of repeat buyers). Using savings as a downpayment source has increased in prominence over the last 14 years as buyers are relying less frequently on the proceeds from the sale of their primary residence.
Saving for a home can take time for home buyers. Among recent home buyers, 37 percent saved for six months or less, 15 percent saved for six to 12 months, and 10 percent saved for 12 to 18 months. Home buyers often make sacrifices on their path to homeownership. 72 percent cut spending on luxury or non-essential items, 56 percent cut spending on entertainment, and 45 percent cut spending on clothes.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel for those saving. Eighty-eight percent of recent home buyers financed their home purchase. The typical downpayment was 10 percent for all buyers, but six percent for first-time home buyers and 13 percent for repeat home buyers.
The payoff for home buyers is worth it. Seventy-nine percent of recent buyers believe their home is a good financial investment, and many believe it is a better financial investment then stocks. Aside from the financial investment, buyers were able to successfully complete their goal which was just to own a home of their own.
For more information on the 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, visit: http://www.realtor.org/reports/highlights-from-the-2014-profile-of-home-buyers-and-sellers.
- Newly constructed homes are carrying a hefty premium over existing homes. The gap, which historically had been 15 to 20 percent, has in recent years widened to 30 to 40 percent. That suggests either existing home prices are much cheaper in relation to the newly built homes and/or that there is just not enough new homes being produced.
- In the most recent monthly data, in November, the median home price of a newly constructed home was $280,900 while the median price of an existing home was $206,200. This gap is 36 percent.
- Indeed, too few new homes are being constructed. Even though single-family housing starts are projected to have risen for the fourth time in the past five years, the level is essentially at a deep recession level. This year’s single-family housing starts look to hit 650,000. But the normal should be at least a million. Persistent underproduction of new homes is one key reason for pushing up prices. From 2004 to 2014, a typical newly constructed home price will have risen by 27 percent.
- Meanwhile, a typical existing home price has risen by 25 percent in the past three years. Even so, the decade growth in home price, due to the downward correction that occurred during the housing bust, is only 8 percent. Over the same decade, from 2004 to 2014, a typical apartment rent grew by 31 percent. In other words, home prices are not rising too fast or to a new bubble. Rather, the shortage of new construction is leading to the premium on the new homes to expand.
- If housing starts do not revive quickly and robustly then new home price premium could rise even further. NAR projects single-family housing starts to rise to 820,000 in 2015. That would be a nice growth and good news for homebuilders. Still it would be under the historical average.
Confidence about the residential real estate sales outlook for the next six months broadly improved in November 2014: REALTORS® Confidence Index Survey, http://www.realtor.org/reports/realtors-confidence-index. An improving jobs market, the 30-year mortgage rate at approximately 4 percent, and higher inventories of available homes for sale may have accounted for the rebound in positive market expectations for sales of single family homes.
Expectations about the market for townhomes and condominiums also improved but were still somewhat weak (index below 50). REALTORS® continued to report about the difficulty of obtaining FHA financing for condominiums, typically the entry point for homeownership.
REALTORS® reported that their confidence in local real estate market conditions in November 2014 was broadly steady compared to October, although slightly down from a year ago. The REALTOR® Confidence Index-Current Conditions for the current single family home outlook was near 50: (http://www.realtor.org/reports/realtors-confidence-index). In addition, REALTORS® were increasingly optimistic about the market outlook for the next six months. An improving jobs market, the decline in the 30-year mortgage rate to about 4 percent, and higher levels of available home inventory may have accounted for the uptick in market expectations.
First-time home buyers appeared to be slowly re-entering the market, with the share of first-time homebuyers at 31 percent, up from 28 percent a year ago. Investors and distressed sales continued to account for a smaller share of the market.
- Insurance claims by the jobless continue to decline, a sign of the continuing good health of the labor market. Claims for unemployment insurance filed in the week of December 13 totaled 298,000, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous week. This puts the 4-week moving average to 298,750, which is below the 300,000 benchmark that signals a healthy economy. A healthy job market is important to keep the housing market recovery going.
- The latest data at the state level is of the week ending December 6. The largest decreases were in Nebraska (-429), Vermont (-353), Arkansas (-216), Kentucky (-134), and North Dakota (-13).The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending December 6 were in Pennsylvania (+12,302), Texas (+9,107), Georgia (+8,214), California (+6,051), and New York (+5,972). States reported increases/decreases in a variety of sectors that included manufacturing, construction, and services.
- In a related report, the Federal Operations Market Committee which sets monetary policy decided yesterday to keep steady the federal funds rate which underpins the movement of mortgage rates. Interest rates have fallen sharply, with the conventional 30-year mortgage rate averaging 3.8 percent for the week ending Dec 18. There is less pressure for inflation to increase given the steep drop in oil prices.
- Given the favorable economic environment of low interest rates and solid job growth (240,000 jobs created per month in 2014), NAR forecasts 4.9 million of existing home sales in 2014, increasing to 5.2 million in 2015.
Buyer and seller use of a real estate agent in the process of buying or selling a home remains at a historical high. On the buying side, 88 percent of buyers purchased a home while using a real estate agent or broker—up from 69 percent in 2001. On the selling side, 88 percent of sellers used an agent in their selling process—up from 77 percent in 1991.
The housing market can be difficult to navigate for home buyers who have not been in the market for several years, but can be especially difficult for first-time home buyers who have never purchased a home. Not surprisingly, the number one benefit that buyers had from using a real estate agent during the home purchase process was helping them to understand the process. Buyers and sellers both place a high importance on choosing an agent who is honest and has integrity. They want someone who has a good reputation, knows the purchase process, and knows the neighborhood.
Personal referrals drive the real estate business and are the leading way both buyers and sellers find their real estate agent to work with. Fifty-two percent of buyers and 60 percent of sellers used an agent that was referred to them or they had worked with before. Seventy percent of sellers and 67 percent of buyers only interviewed one agent before finding the agent to work with. More than half of buyers reached out to a potential agent via phone, and most only needed to call once before the real estate agent returned the call and the professional relationship started.
For agents out there, the take away is: continue building your knowledge of the purchase process and becoming your neighborhood specialist, but also work to build trust with your current clients—they will send future clients your way. And if someone calls you to begin the search process, call them back—you are likely their only contact.
For more information on this research, check out the 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers: http://www.realtor.org/reports/highlights-from-the-2014-profile-of-home-buyers-and-sellers
- It has become easier to breathe with consumer prices falling by the most amounts in six years. Lower gasoline prices are everywhere. But wait, renters are getting squeezed hard with fast rising rents.
- Specifically, the overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell 0.3 percent in November from the month prior. This largest monthly decline in a long time has pushed down the annual inflation rate to only 1.3 percent. With the Cost-of-Living-Adjustment on government issued checks, like social payments, set to rise by 1.7 percent in 2015, some people will experience a modestly improved living standard.
- Apartment rents increased at the highest pace since November 2008, rising 3.5 percent from one year before. Homeowner equivalency rents – a hypothetical figure of what the homeowners would pay in rent if they were renting out their home – increased by 2.7 percent.
- Very good that the overall CPI is decelerating. Not only is it good for consumers, but it also implies that the Federal Reserve can be patient and delay raising interest rates. The Fed considers the ideal inflation rate to be at or near 2 percent. Given low inflation, the Fed can keep its short-term fed funds rate at zero at least through the spring of next year.
- Gasoline prices as everyone knows have been tumbling. A typical American family spends $3,000 a year at the pump. It will be $2,000 if gasoline prices stay at this level, a cool $1000 savings. The cause is an oil production boom in North Dakota. This one small U.S. state looks to flip at least one bad acting oil-dependent country – Russia, Venezuela, or Iran.
- With low gasoline prices, there could be record driving miles over this holiday break, including possibly extending vacations to go to new places. Be aware, however, of more domestic arguments. Possibilities of more new activities mean more decisions need to be made. Not all will agree with that decision. That is why there are more domestic arguments during vacations than on normal days where fewer decisions are made.