In a Wall Street Journal article from May 11, 2017, by Laura Kusisto and Chris Kirkham, we read that millennials and other younger buyers are becoming much more focused on BUYING rather than renting in the past year. This trend is likely to continue.
It is not surprising with lower unemployment, still-low interest rates and FHA loans with 3.5% down payments available to home buyers (*buy to OWN, not as an investment). What effect does this have on us as investors? Seemingly it will drain the rental pool.
In reality, however, there is a great shortage of good single family homes since housing starts have not yet made up for the gap in new construction created during the recession. Thus renters are still likely to be quite plentiful. Prices, however, are likely to get a boost from this increased buying activity. The home buyers using the 3.5%-down FHA loan are less price-sensitive and willing to pay more for a home they like (after all the difference for them is only 3.5% of the extra amount which is negligible).
Appraisals will track higher as sales prices increase, creating a virtuous cycle of appreciation, also fueled by the inaccurate, but popular sites like Zillow, Trulia (etc.) which reflect the increasing prices in their estimates.
In some of our markets, it may not be a bad idea to sell and take profits. Some markets have already appreciated quite a bit in the past few years, markets like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Dallas. In other markets, as prices increase our equity builds up faster.
Another benefit is since the younger generation of buyers seeks less expensive homes, the builders are creating more and more of those see in the WSJ (article below). Since these homes have exactly the kind of size and price we seek as investors, it will widen the inventory pool from which to buy, as investors are sometimes faced with tight selections.
We will discuss this issue, as well as much more, including the improvement in FNMA’s loan guidelines affecting investors, during our 1-Day Expo on Saturday, May 20th near the San Francisco Airport. Mention this blog and you can attend free. There will be market teams, lenders, expert speakers on issues critical to investors, and lots of networking. To see some detail, please go to www.icgre.com/events. To register or contact us, please email email@example.com
The Wall Street Journal article is copied in its entirety below:
The Next Hot Housing Market: Starter Homes
Millennials are buying homes, steering builders toward lower price points
Home buyer Darin Fredericks and his wife Summer Fredericks in the kitchen of their new home in Ontario, Calif., last November. PHOTO: PATRICK T. FALLON FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Updated May 11, 2017 8:09 p.m. ET
First-time buyers are rushing to buy homes after a decade on the sidelines, promising to kick a housing market already flush with luxury sales into a higher gear.
Tracking home sales to a particular age group is hard, but a series of data points form a mosaic of a generation of young people ready to buy: The number of new-owner households was double the number of new renter households in the first quarter of this year, the share of first-time buyers is creeping back toward the historical average, and mortgages for first-timers are on the rise.
“They’re crawling out of their parents’ basements, they’re forming households and they’re looking to buy,” said Doug Bauer, chief executive of home builder Tri Pointe Group Inc., which operates in eight states.
In a shift, new households are overwhelmingly choosing to buy rather than rent. Some 854,000 new-owner households were formed during the first three months of the year, more than double the 365,000 new-renter households formed during the period, according to Census Bureau data. It was the first time in a decade there were more new buyers than renters, according to an analysis by home-tracker Trulia.
Homebuilders are beginning to shift their focus away from luxury homes and toward homes at lower price points to cater to this burgeoning millennial clientele. Demographers generally define millennials as people born between roughly 1980 and 2000.
In the first quarter of this year, 31% of the speculative homes built by major builders were smaller than 2,250 square feet, indicating they were in the starter-home range, according to housing-research firm Zelman & Associates. That is up from 27% a year ago and 24% in the first quarter of 2015.
“There’s an increasing confidence level in that part of the market,” said Gregg Nelson, co-founder of California home builder Trumark Cos. “The recovery is finally starting to take hold in a broader way.”
The shift reflects a reversal of a pattern that has driven the five-year housing-market expansion.
Up until now, the luxury market has soared, while the more affordable end of the market has struggled. Tough lending standards, slow wage growth, growing student-debt obligations and a newfound fear of homeownership have combined to crimp demand among millennials in particular.
Now, the return of first-time buyers is allaying fears that millennials might eschew homeownership permanently. But it also provides an infusion of new demand while housing supply is tight and home price growth is significantly outstripping wage gains.
Home prices in February increased by 5.8% over the same month a year earlier, according to the most recent S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index.
The return of first-time buyers is accelerating. In all, they have accounted for 42% of buyers this year, up from 38% in 2015 and 31% at the lowest point during the recent housing cycle in 2011, according to Fannie Mae, which defines first-time buyers as anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the past three years.
While economists and builders said lending standards have started to ease, getting a mortgage remains challenging for young buyers with shorter credit histories and, in many cases, student debt. Mortgage rates are also expected to rise further this year, posing an added challenge. Rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has risen to 4.05%, up from about 3.5% in November, according to Freddie Mac.
In Orange County, Calif., Trumark’s Mr. Nelson said he has been selling entry-level homes at nearly double the rate of his higher-end ones. He is even gaining confidence to build homes in more far-flung locations. The company is about to begin construction on a 114-home project in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles and another development in Manteca, Calif., about 80 miles east of San Francisco. Both areas were hard-hit during the housing crash and were among the slowest to recover.
Builders largely avoided the exurbs after the bubble burst in 2006. But because the land there is cheaper, they can build lower-end homes more profitably.
“Most builders really preferred to stick straight down the fairway, right at the corner of Main and Main. They were afraid to go back into the rough where they built a lot of homes in the prior cycle,” said Alan Ratner, a senior home-building analyst at Zelman.
Outside Las Vegas, Tri Pointe has introduced a new home design that is specifically targeted to millennial buyers, featuring indoor-outdoor patios and deck spaces, as well as a separate downstairs bedroom-and-bathroom suite that could be rented out to a housemate. Mr. Bauer said the homes, geared toward first-time buyers, have been selling more rapidly than pricier homes.
Joey Liu, a 28-year-old technology worker, purchased his first home in San Jose, Calif., earlier this year. He said it is more expensive than renting but that he is getting to the stage in life where it was time to buy.
“A lot of friends of mine bought a home so I started thinking maybe it was time to buy a home and stop paying rent,” said Mr. Liu, who settled on a three-bedroom townhouse for $690,000. He plans to rent out a room to help with the expenses.
He had three housewarming parties to celebrate his newfound status. “This is my first house, so it definitely feels different,” he said.
Builders say their return to the starter-home market shouldn’t invite comparisons to the fevered construction of the mid-2000s.
“One of the misconceptions is that here we go again, this is another 2005, 2006 where all these builders are going to build hundreds of thousands of homes. We’re not going crazy,” said Brent Anderson, vice president of investor relations at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Meritage Homes Corp. Mr. Anderson said that last year the company was building four to five speculative homes per community and is now up to 6.4 on average.
Building executives said one challenge is that many people are buying first homes later in life, meaning they have higher incomes and greater expectations molded by years of living in luxury downtown rentals. Such buyers also appear wary of driving farther out to get more space.
Sheryl Palmer, president, and chief executive of Scottsdale-Ariz.-based Taylor Morrison Home Corp., said to cater to this demographic the company is building more three-story townhouses or single-family homes on narrow lots. She said about one-third of the company’s buyers this year are millennials, up from 22% last year.
Even Toll Brothers Inc., which typically builds homes for the top end of the market, is venturing into lower price points. In Houston, the company is building homes starting in the mid-$300,000s range, while a typical Toll home in the area costs around $850,000.
Appeared in the May. 12, 2017, print edition as ‘Generation of Renters Now Buying.’
In a Wall Street Journal article from a couple of weeks ago by Kris Hudson, it is indicated that construction loans posted the largest gain in the second quarter of 2014 since its recovery began about a year ago. According to Hudson, outstanding construction loans for both residential and commercial projects increased to $223.2 billion in the 2nd quarter, up 4% from the first.
The overall lending environment, not only for construction loans but also for individual investor loans and even foreign investor loans, is getting more open and the willingness on the part of banks to lend is increasing.
As for the construction loans, what it means for us as individual Single Family Home investors is that our new-build markets are expanding and will continue to do so.
We are already buying brand-new builder-built homes in the Oklahoma City metro area. Local lenders are extending loans to FOREIGN buyers (!) as well as to American investors with up to 15 outstanding home loans (5 more than the FNMA limit).
Not only will we discuss this at our 1-Day real Estate Expo this Saturday (near SFO – details at www.icgre.com/events), but due to the massive changes in the lending landscape, we will have a special session just for a lenders panel to discuss residential, commercial, hard-money and foreigner loans.
Anyone citing this blog post can attend for free with up to two free guests – just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and show up for an amazing day of information, learning and networking.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Joe Light, it talks about the decline in house inventory created due to the drop in short sales inventory. There are references in the article to the inventory shortage being negative for some markets. Needless to say for the real estate investor, having lower inventory usually translates to appreciation. As sellers are more and more on the sidelines and the overall inventory goes down, the old supply-demand equation rears its (pretty) head resulting in price appreciation. This of course is a two-edged sword. It’s great for the properties you had already purchased, but it is not so great for the ones you eye buying in the future. The very drop in short sales itself has to do with appreciation. As houses get closer to parity with their loans, short sales don’t make sense anymore.
Another reason, of course, is the expiration (in December) of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act (passed by congress in 2007). With the expiration of the Act, sellers are now liable for taxes on the forgiven portion of their loans during short sales, naturally creating reluctance on the part of sellers to go that route. In the meantime we are seeing financing improving for investors and even some initial programs here and there for the foreign buyers. Stay tuned. We will be discussing the state of the market on short sales at our next Real Estate 1 Day Expo, on September 13th. You can register here.
Below, for convenience, is the entire WSJ article:
Drop in Short Sales Trims House Inventory
By Joe Light
June 20, 2014 9:43 p.m. ET
Short sales of underwater homes have fallen sharply amid the expiration of a key tax break, a situation that could slow the housing recovery and further limits an already thin supply of houses for sale. Such sales, where owners sell their homes for a price below the balance on the mortgage, reduce the number of houses that end up in foreclosure. In most cases for the sale to proceed, lenders must approve the purchase and agree to forgive the unpaid portion of the mortgage owed by the homeowner.
Short sales had been especially common in recent years in hard-hit states like Florida, Michigan and Nevada, where most homes remain valued at prices that are substantially lower than during the housing boom. In March, about 5% of home purchases nationwide—some 18,258—were short sales, according to mortgage-technology-and-services firm Black Knight Financial Services. That was down from 6.4% in February and off sharply from the 19.7%, or 51,909, that were short sales in January 2012.
This year’s drop can be traced in part to the December expiration of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, which Congress originally passed in 2007. Before the act, when a home was sold through a short sale and the lender forgave a portion of the mortgage debt, the seller would typically be required to pay income taxes on the amount forgiven. The act made the forgiven debt tax-free, which paved the way for short sales and helped speed the housing recovery.
“It’s a big concern,” said Veronica Malolos, a real-estate broker in Kissimmee, Fla. Ms. Malolos said some underwater sellers delisted their properties in January and February after learning that the tax provision wouldn’t be extended. Ms. Malolos’s clients Javier and Mayra Gonzalez in Kissimmee said they tried to sell their home last summer after Mr. Gonzalez found a new job but took it off the market in the new year. The couple received offers of about $145,000 on the home, on which they owe about $206,000, including debt from a home-equity line of credit, but their bank wouldn’t accept them. Because the mortgage act wasn’t extended, the couple estimate they would owe about $15,000 in additional income taxes based on the $61,000 difference, something they say they couldn’t afford.
This year, the couple’s bank began foreclosure proceedings on their home, but they said they are working things out with the bank and are staying put, even though Mr. Gonzalez now has a commute of about an hour and 40 minutes each way to his new job in Vero Beach. Short sales also have tumbled because of rising home prices, which pushed many homes back above water or closer to it. The median existing-home price nationwide was $201,700 in April, 5.2% higher than in April 2013, according to the National Association of Realtors. In the first quarter, about 19% of homes were worth less than their mortgage, according to the real-estate-information website Zillow, down from 31% a year ago.
With would-be short sellers on the sidelines, the housing market may take longer to work through remaining underwater homes, restricting the already tight home inventory on the market. If some potential short sellers decide to go through a foreclosure instead, that could cause higher losses for mortgage-bond investors, or companies that guarantee payment of mortgages, which tend to recover less in a foreclosure because of the costs of carrying a home.
The Senate Finance Committee in April passed a bill to extend the forgiveness provision, along with many other tax breaks that had expired. But the bill stalled in May after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republicans couldn’t agree on how to amend the measure. Now some analysts don’t expect Congress to move on a bill until December, after the midterm elections. Any extension would likely come as part of a wider package of tax-break extensions. “This is trapped, and there’s little hope of prying it loose,” said Jaret Seiberg, financial-policy analyst for Guggenheim Securities LLC.
In the meantime, real-estate agents say sellers are loath to consider short sales on homes, even when facing foreclosure as the alternative. That is a problem not just for troubled homeowners, but also for banks and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which typically lose more money when homes are sold through a foreclosure than through a short sale. In the first quarter, for example, Freddie Mac said that in short sales, it recovered 68.4 cents for every dollar of unpaid principal. In foreclosures, Freddie recovered 64.4 cents for every dollar. “There are still millions of homes underwater, but short sales have fallen off considerably,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “It’s gumming up the system” and could be limiting home-buyer activity.
Write to Joe Light at email@example.com
An article in the Wall Street Journal dated May 14, 2014 – right on the front page, is an article by Nick Timiraos and Deborah Solomon. The article is about how, after a few years of tight mortgage lending, the U.S. government is set to ease the criteria to get home loans. Needless to say, this is music to our ears. As more buyers can enter the marketplace, demand is likely to increase and so are prices.
The housing sector will get a much-needed shot in the arm and for investors, there will be many more potential buyers upon liquidation. Will easing bring us closer to another mortgage meltdown? Possibly, but I think lessons have been learned during the recession which will prevent a wholesale catastrophe as we have seen before. My opinion is that for us as real estate investors this is an excellent bit of news. And remember – get your own 30-year fixed rate mortgage as soon as you can at these rates, which likely will increase in the coming years. We will discuss this and much more at our quarterly 1-Day Real Estate Expo Saturday, June 14th near SFO. Please see more details and to register, click here. Looking forward to seeing you!
The U.S. Backs Off Tight Mortgage Rules
In Reversal, Administration and Fannie, Freddie Regulator Push to Make More Credit Available to Boost Housing Recovery
By Nick Timiraos and Deborah Solomon
The Obama administration and federal regulators are reversing course on some of the biggest post-crisis efforts to tighten mortgage-lending standards amid concern they could snuff out the fledgling housing rebound and dent the economic recovery. Nick Timiraos reports.
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration and federal regulators are reversing course on some of the biggest post crisis efforts to tighten mortgage-lending standards amid concern they could snuff out the fledgling housing rebound and dent the economic recovery.
The trend towards moving out to the suburbs seems to be increasing as people seek more room for kids to play, a bit more privacy, and the usual amenities associated with suburban living, says Neil Shah in an article from last week in the Wall Street Journal.
For us as investors, this is an interesting trend as we have focused on investing over the entire metropolitan area with an emphasis on the suburbs since homes in the suburbs usually mean a rental family, likely with kids, which translates to greater rental stability.
This movement plays right into our investment emphasis and is encouraging to see. We will discuss this trend and many more pertinent issues during our 1-Day Expo Saturday, June 14th near the San Francisco Airport (click here to register.) We will have expert lectures on asset preservation, general financial planning and non-recourse IRA loans for houses. Our ICG Real Estate Investors team from the top real estate markets in the nation will be present all day providing learning tools and networking opportunities.
Below is the entire Wall Street Journalarticle:
Signs of a Suburban Comeback
More Americans Returning to the Land of Lawns and Malls, Census Data Show
By Neil Shah
May 22, 2014 12:00 a.m. ET
America’s big cities have grown faster than their suburbs in recent years, due in part to a slow economy that froze people in place and stunted the suburban swell. Though, a new Census report suggests this trend is starting to reverse. WSJ’s Neil Shah joins MoneyBeat with the statistics and what they mean.
The long tug of war between big cities and suburbs is tilting ever so slightly back to the land of lawns and malls. After two years of solid urban growth, more Americans are moving again to suburbs and beyond.
Fourteen of the nation’s 20 biggest cities saw their growth slow or their populations fall outright in 2012-2013 compared with 2011-2012, led by cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
A housing subdivision outside of Chicago. Suburbs are seeing a recent increase in growth. Flickr Editorial/Getty Images
In some cases, fast-growing cities are slowing down: Austin’s growth rate decreased from 3.1% to 2.4%. In other instances, slower-growing cities grew at an even more diminished pace: New York’s rate decreased to 0.7% from 0.9%. A year earlier, 17 of the nation’s 20 largest cities showed faster population growth than the previous year. Suburbs and areas beyond suburbs within the same metro known as exurbs, meanwhile, are seeing an uptick in growth after expanding more slowly during the recession and its aftermath. All told, just 18 of America’s 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people had cities growing faster than their suburbs last year, down from 25 in 2012, according to an analysis of census data by William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.“City growth may be bottoming out, as well as the downsizing of the outer suburbs,” Mr. Frey said. He said it remains unclear “whether the city slowdown signals a return to renewed suburban growth.”
Natalie Dorr and her husband Jon are among those who made the shift to the suburbs last year. The couple wanted to sell their condominium in Chicago and move out of the city much earlier, but the sluggish economy delayed their plans. Ms. Dorr, 29 years old, was pregnant with their second child and the couple wanted more space. Yet they waited, hoping the selling price of their condo would increase. In April last year, the couple rented out the condo and moved to Deerfield, a Chicago suburb. Having sold the condo a week ago, they plan to buy a home later this year. They got $14,000 more for the condo than they would have if they had sold earlier, Ms. Dorr said. “It made sense to wait,” she added. Overall, cities are still growing slightly faster than the suburbs—a historical anomaly after decades of American migration to the burbs. Some of the growth has been fueled by younger Americans and retirees preferring city life, either for lifestyle reasons or to downsize their living arrangements.
Anything resembling the post-World War II trend of Americans streaming to the suburbs appears unlikely given the difficulties many debt-strapped young Americans face in buying a home. Still, the Census numbers show a cooling off in the growth rate of urban dwellers. Cities in metro areas greater than 1 million people grew at a 1.02% annual rate in 2012-2013, down from 1.13% in 2011-12, according to Mr. Frey’s analysis. Suburban areas, by contrast, grew at a rate of 0.96%, roughly on par with the 0.95% the prior year, Mr. Frey’s analysis shows.
At the same time, exurbs are seeing an increase in growth. When taken together, suburbs and exurbs grew at a 1.04% annual rate in 2012-13, up from 0.99% in 2011-2012, according to a separate analysis by Mr. Frey. Urban core areas saw growth fall to 0.81% from 0.91%. The slowing growth in these urban cores and the increasing gains in the suburbs may be the first indication of a return to more traditional patterns of city-suburban growth,” said Ken Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire.
Write to Neil Shah at firstname.lastname@example.org
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal there was an article (below) by Nick Timiraos regarding the effects of home price appreciation on affordability. As the article states, rising interest rates, a dearth of housing stock in many markets, still-tight lending criteria and a slow builder’s resurgence, create a real difficulty for many people to buy their first home. Needless to say, investors reap a certain benefit from this situation by enjoying an expanding demand for rentals. Since many investors have the means and sophistication to buy homes, the expanding rental pool actually improves the investment situation.
Here is the article as it appeared yesterday:
Surging Home Prices Are a Double-Edged Sword
Affordability Troubles Grow, Especially for First-Time Buyers
The U.S. housing market faces a challenge at the start of the spring sales season: higher prices.
It is hard to overstate the benefits of rising prices to the economy broadly and to homeowners, banks and home builders specifically after years of declines. Price gains have pulled more Americans from the brink of foreclosure and given home buyers more confidence that they won’t get stuck with an asset whose value will decline.
But those gains have a painful edge, too, especially because prices have bounced back so strongly. The increases have rekindled concerns about affordability, particularly for first-time buyers, and could damp the gains of a housing rebound still in its early stages. The U.S. housing market faces an unexpected challenge at the start of the spring sales season: home prices are on a tear. Price gains have pulled more Americans from the brink of foreclosure and boosted demand from consumers no longer afraid to buy.
“Prices ran up so fast in 2013, it hurt first-timers’ ability to become homeowners,” said John Burns, chief executive of a home-building consulting firm in Irvine, Calif. “It’s going to be a slower recovery than people had hoped because a number of people have been priced out of the market.” Home values nationwide are up 11% over the past two years, according to real-estate information service Zillow Inc. and 14% below their 2007 peak. Mortgage rates, which jumped a full percentage point to about 4.5% in the past year, have sharpened worries over housing affordability.
Even as prices have increased, housing still appears affordable by one traditional gauge. Since 1990, American homeowners have spent about 24% of monthly income on their mortgage payments, according to data from Morgan Stanley. Today, that payment-to-income ratio stands at around 20%, below the long-run average. The problem with that view of affordability: It assumes borrowers have great credit and large down payments. The ratio isn’t favorable for first-time buyers and others with lower incomes and smaller down payments, which increases their monthly financing costs. The payment ratio for first-time buyers was around 24% at the end of last year, in line with its long-run average, according to the Morgan Stanley analysis.
This pinch on first-timers is troubling because, so far, the housing recovery has depended to an unusual degree on cash buyers and investors. The relatively weak position of entry-level buyers could further suppress the homeownership rate—now off more than four percentage points from its 2004 peak—as more of them rent, said Vishwanath Tirupattur, a managing director at Morgan Stanley. Making matters worse, home prices are going up fastest in markets that are already expensive, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Just 32% of California households at the end of last year could afford the monthly payments on a median-priced home in the state of $431,510, assuming a 20% down payment, according to the California Association of Realtors. That was down from 56% of households that could afford the payments on a $276,040 median-priced home in early 2012.
Rising prices are only part of the problem for first-time buyers. Inventory shortages and tougher mortgage-qualification standards benefit buyers who can make large down payments and those who can forgo a mortgage altogether. Because many markets have low supplies of homes for sale, all-cash buyers have routinely beat out first-time buyers by guaranteeing a quick, worry-free closing for sellers.
Meanwhile, federal officials have repeatedly increased insurance premiums on loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration, which serves many first-time buyers because it requires down payments of just 3.5%. While mortgage rates at the end of 2013 reached their highest levels in more than two years, the all-in cost of an FHA-backed loan—due to insurance-premium increases—was closer to a five-year high.
Rising prices are less of a problem for current homeowners seeking to trade up because they can tap growing home equity to make their next home purchase. An index tracking housing affordability from data firm CoreLogic Inc. shows that homes were 17% less affordable for first-time buyers at the end of last year compared with the year before, while the index was down just 6% for existing homeowners.
Ideally, higher prices would stimulate more home construction, which would ease inventory crunches that are partly responsible for price increases while boosting job growth. But builders have been slow to ramp up production, skittish after being caught with too much inventory when the 2008 downturn hit. Last year, many focused instead on higher-end houses, while entry-level construction was subdued. Sales of new homes last year rose by 14% from 2012, but the number of homes sold for less than $150,000 fell by 28%. Sales above $500,000 grew by 36%.
The worry is “a situation develops where construction remains low and prices continue to outpace incomes before first-time buyers can get in, and the next thing you know, you have to” bypass standard mortgage-qualification rules “to get people into homes,” said Thomas Lawler, an independent housing economist in Leesburg, Va.
Others fret that low interest rates have allowed prices to rise too fast relative to incomes, which have stagnated. While homes are still affordable on a monthly payment basis because of cheap financing, homes no longer look like a bargain when comparing prices to incomes. For the past few years, policy makers have focused on breaking a vicious downdraft in home prices. Now, it wouldn’t hurt housing to see price gains flatten out, especially if income growth remains tepid. If not, the housing market’s roller-coaster ride will continue.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal by Nick Timiraos on January 7, 2014 an attempt at predicting various scenarios for housing at large in the U.S. for the year is made. Of course, the 5 points are general. I personally believe (and am actually seeing) that markets that are still reflecting post-recession pricing (like Florida) and where houses can easily be bought under bare construction costs AND the future demographics are promising – should show a far more bullish trend this year versus other markets. Here is what Mr. Timiraos says:
“For housing, it was a tale of two halves in 2013. During the first half, unusually low supplies of homes and low rates spurred bidding wars, pushing prices up sharply. During the second half, the frenzy cooled amid a sudden spike in interest rates. While more markets are now reporting increases in inventory, the number of homes for sale remains quite low.”
The bull case for 2014 goes something like this: those low inventories will support rising prices. Below-average levels of household formation, the argument goes, must ultimately pick up, boosting construction. Mortgage rates, while higher, are still historically low. Credit standards will stop getting tighter and might loosen as home prices rise. Finally, mortgage delinquencies are dropping. While some states still have elevated foreclosure inventories, the worst of the distressed-housing problem is in the rear-view mirror.
The bear case, meanwhile, says that the recovery is a mirage built on the back of the Federal Reserve’s stimulus that has done little more than inflate asset values, including home prices. Record low-interest rates, the argument goes, unleashed demand from both borrowers and all-cash investors seeking returns on something—anything—with a decent return. These investors built large rental-home companies that remain untested at scale. How can first-time buyers take the baton from investors at a time when prices are up almost 20% in two years and when interest rates are rising?
Other problems loom: Mortgage rates could jump, choking off housing demand and curbing new construction that remains mired at 50-year lows. Investors could unload their homes if the rental-home thing doesn’t pan out. And don’t look for much help from mortgage lenders that face a cocktail of new regulations, which could keep credit standards stiff.
So which view will carry the year? Here are five wild cards to watch this year:
(WSJ: 7 Jan 2014 By Nick Timiraos)
1. WILL INVENTORY RISE?
Prices have risen largely because of shortages of homes for sale. While there is growing evidence that inventories hit bottom last year and that some markets are moving back in favor of buyers, the number of homes for sale remains relatively tight still. Foreclosure-related listings have plunged, and traditional buyers haven’t flocked to list homes—at least not yet. New construction, meanwhile, won’t be back to normal historical levels for years. The consensus view is that price growth continues at a somewhat slower pace, but that consensus view could be wrong—for the third year in a row—if there aren’t more homes for sale.
2. WHERE IS THE HOME-CONSTRUCTION RECOVERY?
While home prices have recovered strongly, new construction activity hasn’t. Part of this may have to do with the fact that home prices are still too low to justify construction, particularly given land, labor, and materials costs. For smaller builders, credit may also be harder to come by. Some economists say new-home demand could remain muted because many move-up buyers don’t have enough equity to “trade up” to that new home. Key issues to watch here: What happens to household formation, and do builders begin to throttle back price gains in favor of selling more homes in 2014?
3. WHAT HAPPENS TO MORTGAGE CREDIT?
Lenders could begin to ease certain “overlays”—or additional credit and documentation checks—that have been imposed over the past few years. Mortgage insurance companies are getting more comfortable insuring loans with down payments of just 5%. So don’t be surprised if, at the margins, it gets a little easier to get a mortgage—especially if you have lots of money in the bank.
Even if it gets easier to get a loan—by no means a given—borrowing costs and fees could rise. Banks also face new mortgage regulations that could keep most of them cautious. Borrowers with more volatile or harder-to-document incomes, including the self-employed or those who make a lot of money on commissions, bonuses, or tips, could continue to face tough sledding.
4. WHAT WILL INVESTORS DO WITH THEIR HOMES?
A handful of institutional investors have purchased tens of thousands of homes that are being rented out. These homes tend to be concentrated in a few of the regions that have been hardest-hit by foreclosures over the past five years. Investor purchases played key roles in stabilizing prices, especially because investors were wolfing up homes at a time when supplies were already dwindling. A key question now is what happens after the initial rush to invest subsides. More lenders and investors are extending debt financing to some of these property owners, which should help boost returns. Can owners perfect the expense management associated with maintaining and leasing tens of thousands of individual homes? Can owners perfect the expense management associated with maintaining and leasing tens of thousands of individual homes?
5. WHEN DOES HOUSING HIT A TIPPING POINT ON AFFORDABILITY?
Rising home prices are a double-edged sword, especially in pricier coastal markets such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. On the one hand, rising prices are giving many homeowners equity in their homes again—an extremely positive development to the extent it means these borrowers are less at risk of foreclosure.
But price inflation is making housing less affordable. This will be a bigger problem if cash buyers retreat from the market in 2014 and/or if interest rates rise in a meaningful way. Consider: In Los Angeles, prices have jumped by nearly 30% in the past two years, to a median of $448,900 in the third quarter. Assuming a 20% down payment, the monthly payment of principal and interest on the median-priced home has jumped from $1,255 in the third quarter of 2011 to $1,823 in 2013—a 45% increase.
ICG uses single-family home investments, bought in advantageous locations and the best U.S. markets. We enable you to enjoy the clout that comes from purchasing a multitude of houses, even if you only buy one.
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