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A New Way to Shop for Homes in a Virtual World

In a year when we’re learning to do so much remotely, homebuying is no exception. From going to work to attending school, grocery shopping, and even seeing our doctors online, digital practices have changed the way we live.

This year, rather than delaying their home purchases, buyers – alongside their trusted real estate professionals – turned to the Internet to do more than just a typical home search. In some cases, they bought homes without even stepping foot inside. Jessica Lautz, Vice President of Demographics and Behavioral Insights at the National Association of Realtors (NAR), says:

“People really didn’t buy houses sight-unseen, traditionally. It’s still not a huge number, but it has gone up, and we have definitely seen that trend accelerate.”

According to NAR, throughout the coronavirus pandemic, one in every 20 homebuyers purchased a house sight-unseen.

How Your Real Estate Agent Will Pave the Way

Today, real estate professionals are using digital practices to help homebuyers and sellers walk through many steps in the process virtually. While following the regulations set forth by the CDC and all local guidelines, this year, agents quickly empowered buyers and sellers with virtual tours, 3D floor plans, high-quality photos, videos, online open houses, and more. For those who had homebuying and selling needs in 2020, trusted advisors made it possible in many markets.

Here’s a graph showing some of the digital options buyers found most helpful in their searches this year, as noted by NAR in the 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers:A New Way to Shop for Homes in a Virtual World | Simplifying The MarketThe report also mentions that buyers this year generally searched for eight weeks. Throughout that search, they viewed a median of 9 homes, but not all of them were seen in-person. Yahoo Finance notes:

Buyers viewed five homes online and four homes in-person during the pandemic, compared to nine homes in-person in 2019, according to NAR. This was the first year NAR asked buyers to specify the number of homes toured virtually.”

In true 2020 fashion, virtual practices helped buyers safely narrow down their top choices, so they didn’t have to unnecessarily walk into more homes than they needed to see throughout the process. Here’s the breakdown by region:A New Way to Shop for Homes in a Virtual World | Simplifying The MarketAt a time when health and safety are top priorities, current technology is making it possible for buyers and sellers to move their real estate plans forward at their own comfort levels, even through a worldwide pandemic. For many, this means buyers no longer have to physically tour every home they want to see, and sellers don’t need to open their doors over and over again throughout the process. Safety can come first, and trusted real estate professionals are here to help.

Bottom Line

If you’re ready to make a move, you may not have to press pause on your plans this season. Let’s connect to determine the safe and effective options to buy or sell a home in our area or wherever you’re looking to move.

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With Home Values Surging, Is it Still Affordable to Buy Right Now?

Housing inventory is at an all-time low. Realtor.com just reported that there are 39% fewer homes for sale today than there were last year. At the same time, buyer demand remains strong. In a recent newsletter, research analyst Ivy Zelman explained:

“Although the headwind of severe supply constraints in most markets has contributed to slight moderation in seasonally-adjusted and year-over-year new pending contract growth for two consecutive months (albeit still growing strongly), the underlying strength of buyer demand, particularly for this time of year, remains apparent.”

Whenever there’s a shortage in the supply of an item that’s in high demand, the price of that item increases. That’s exactly what’s happening in the real estate market right now. As a result, home values are surging.

This is great news if you’re planning to sell your house. On the other hand, as either a first-time or repeat buyer, this may instead seem like troubling news. Purchasers, however, should realize that the price of a house is not as important as the monthly cost. Here’s how it breaks down.

There are several factors that influence the cost of a home. Two of the major ones are:

  1. The price of the home
  2. The mortgage rate at which a buyer can borrow the funds necessary to purchase the home

How do these factors impact affordability?

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) produces a Housing Affordability Index which takes these factors into account and determines an overall affordability score for housing. According to NAR, the index:

“…measures whether or not a typical family earns enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a typical home at the national and regional levels based on the most recent price and income data.”

Their methodology states:

“To interpret the indices, a value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. An index above 100 signifies that family earning the median income has more than enough income to qualify for a mortgage loan on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent down payment.”

So, the higher the index, the more affordable it is to purchase a home. Here’s a graph of the index going back to 1990:With Home Values Surging, Is it Still Affordable to Buy Right Now? | Simplifying The MarketThe blue bar represents today’s affordability. We can see that homes are more affordable now than they were from:

  • 1990 to 2008
  • 2017 to 2018

Buying a home today is just a little less affordable than it was last year, but still very affordable compared to historical housing market trends.

Note: During the housing crash from 2009 to 2015, distressed properties (foreclosures and short sales) dominated the market. Those properties were sold at large discounts not seen before in the housing market.

Why are homes still affordable today?

The number one factor impacting today’s homebuying affordability is record-low mortgage rates. There’s no doubt that prices are on the rise. However, mortgage rates have fallen dramatically. Last week, Freddie Mac announced that the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 2.72%. Last year at this time, the average rate was 3.68%.

If you’re considering purchasing your first home or moving up to the one you’ve always hoped for, it’s important to understand how affordability plays into the overall cost of your home. With that in mind, buying while mortgage rates are as low as they are now may save you quite a bit of money over the life of your home loan.

Bottom Line

At this point, home purchase affordability is still in a historically good place. However, we need to watch price increases going forward. As Mark Fleming, Chief Economist at First American, noted in a recent post:

“Faster nominal house price appreciation can erode, or even eliminate, the boost in affordability from lower mortgage rates, especially if household income growth doesn’t keep up.”

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Chances of Another Foreclosure Crisis? “About Zero Percent.”

There seems to be some concern that the 2020 economic downturn will lead to another foreclosure crisis like the one we experienced after the housing crash a little over a decade ago. However, there’s one major difference this time: a robust forbearance program.

During the housing crash of 2006-2008, many felt homeowners should be forced to pay their mortgages despite the economic hardships they were experiencing. There was no empathy for the challenges those households were facing. In a 2009 Wall Street Journal article titled Is Walking Away From Your Mortgage Immoral?, John Courson, Chief Executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association, was asked to comment on those not paying their mortgage. He famously said:

“What about the message they will send to their family and their kids?”

Courson suggested that people unable to pay their mortgage were bad parents.

What resulted from that lack of empathy? Foreclosures mounted.

This time is different. There was an immediate understanding that homeowners were faced with a challenge not of their own making. The government quickly jumped in with a mortgage forbearance program that relieved the financial burden placed on many households. The program allowed many borrowers to suspend their monthly mortgage payments until their economic condition improved. It was the right thing to do.

What happens when forbearance programs expire?

Some analysts are concerned many homeowners will not be able to make up the back payments once their forbearance plans expire. They’re concerned the situation will lead to an onslaught of foreclosures.

The banks and the government learned from the challenges the country experienced during the housing crash. They don’t want a surge of foreclosures again. For that reason, they’ve put in place alternative ways homeowners can pay back the money owed over an extended period of time.

Another major difference is that, unlike 2006-2008, today’s homeowners are sitting on a record amount of equity. That equity will enable them to sell their houses and walk away with cash instead of going through foreclosure.

Bottom Line

The differences mentioned above will be the reason we’ll avert a surge of foreclosures. As Ivy Zelman, a highly respected thought leader for housing and CEO of Zelman & Associates, said:

“The likelihood of us having a foreclosure crisis again is about zero percent.”

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Homes for Sale Are Rapidly Disappearing

Through all the challenges of 2020, the real estate market has done very well, and purchasers are continuing to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates. Realtor Magazine just explained:

“While winter may be typically a slow season in real estate, economists predict it isn’t likely to happen this year…Low inventories combined with high demand due to record-low mortgage rates is sending buyers to the market in a flurry.”

However, one challenge for the housing industry heading into this winter is the dwindling number of homes available for sale. Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), recently said:

“There is no shortage of hopeful, potential buyers, but inventory is historically low.”

In addition, Danielle Hale, Chief Economist for realtor.com, notes:

“Fewer new sellers coming to market while a greater than usual number of buyers continue to search for a home causes inventory to continue to evaporate.”

One major indicator the industry uses to measure housing supply is the months’ supply of inventory. According to NAR:

“Months’ supply refers to the number of months it would take for the current inventory of homes on the market to sell given the current sales pace.”

Historically, six months of supply is considered a normal real estate market. Going into the pandemic, inventory was already well below this mark. As the year progressed, the supply has was reduced even further. Here is a graph showing this measurement over the last year:Homes for Sale Are Rapidly Disappearing | Simplifying The Market

What does this mean if you’re a buyer?

Be patient during your home search. It may take time to find a home you love. Once you do, be ready to move forward quickly. Get pre-approved for a mortgage, be prepared to make a competitive offer from the start, and understand how the shortage in inventory has led to more bidding wars. Calculate just how far you’re willing to go to secure a home if you truly love it.

What does this mean if you’re a seller?

Realize that, in some ways, you’re in the driver’s seat. When there’s a shortage of an item at the same time there’s a strong demand for it, the seller is in a good position to negotiate. Whether it’s the price, moving date, possible repairs, or anything else, you’ll be able to ask for more from a potential purchaser at a time like this – especially if you have multiple interested buyers. Do not be unreasonable, but understand you probably have the upper hand.

Bottom Line

The housing market will remain strong throughout the winter and heading into the spring. Know what that means for you, whether you’re buying, selling, or doing both.

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Why Working from Home May Spark Your Next Move

If you’ve been working from home this year, chances are you’ve been at it a little longer than you initially expected. Businesses all over the country have figured out how to operate remotely to keep their employees healthy, safe, and productive. For many, it may be carrying into next year, and possibly beyond.

While the pandemic continues, Americans are re-evaluating their homes, floorplans, locations, needs, and more. Some need more space, while others need less. Whether you’re renting or own your home, if remote work is part of your future, you may be thinking about moving, especially while today’s mortgage rates are so low.

A recent study from Upwork notes:

“Anywhere from 14 to 23 million Americans are planning to move as a result of remote work.”

To put this into perspective, last year, 6 million homes were sold in the U.S. This means roughly 2 – 4X as many people are considering moving now, and there’s a direct connection to their ability to work from home.

The same study also notes while 45.3% of people are planning to stay within a 2-hour drive from their current location, 41.5% of the people who are citing working from home as their primary reason for making a move are willing to look for a home more than 4 hours away from where they live now (See graph below):Why Working from Home May Spark Your Next Move | Simplifying The MarketIn some cases, moving a little further away from your current location might mean you can get more home for your money. If you have the opportunity to work remotely, you may have more options available by expanding your search. Upwork also indicates, of those surveyed:

“People are seeking less expensive housing: Altogether, more than half (52.5%) are planning to move to a house that is significantly more affordable than their current home.”

Whether you can eliminate your daily commute to the office, or you simply need more space to work from home, your plans may be changing. If that’s the case, it’s time to connect with a local real estate professional to assess your evolving needs and determine your path together.

Bottom Line

This has been a year of change, and what you need in a home is no exception. Let’s connect today to make sure you have expert guidance on your side to help you find a home that fits your remote work needs.

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Tips to Sell Your House Safely Right Now [INFOGRAPHIC]

Tips to Sell Your House Safely Right Now [INFOGRAPHIC] | Simplifying The Market

Some Highlights

  • Your agent now has over 6 months of experience selling houses during the pandemic and can make the process easier and safer for you today.
  • COVID-19 protocols and technology usage recommendations from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) are making it possible to sell houses right now, while agents continue to abide first and foremost by state and local regulations.
  • Let’s connect to discuss how to sell your house safely in today’s housing market.

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Winter Will Bring a Flurry of Activity to the Housing Market

In the second half of this year, the housing market surged with activity. Today, real estate experts are looking ahead to the winter season and the forecast is anything but chilly. As Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), notes:

“It will be one of the best winter sales years ever.”

The typical winter slowdown in the housing market is simply not on the radar. Here’s why.

While today’s historically low mortgage rates are expected to remain low, they won’t be this low for much longer. This could be the last chance for homebuyers to secure such low rates, and they’re ready to take action. In a recent article, Bankrate explained:

“If you’re looking to buy a home…expect mortgage rates to remain low into 2021. However, the possibility of rates falling to 2.5 percent or lower has faded as the U.S. economy has rebounded.”

As long as we continue to see low interest rates, we’ll see hopeful buyers on the hunt for their dream homes. Yun confirmed:

“The demand for home buying remains super strong…And we’re still likely to end the year with more homes sold overall in 2020 than in 2019…With persistent low mortgage rates and some degree of a continuing jobs recovery, more contract signings are expected in the near future.”

The challenge, however, is the lack of homes available for sale. With that in mind, all eyes are on homeowners to see if they’ll sell this winter or wait until spring. Danielle Hale, Chief Economist for realtor.com, says it’s best for sellers to capitalize on this moment sooner rather than later:

“We currently see buyers sticking around in the housing market much later than we usually do this fall. If that trend continues, we will see more buyers in the market this winter, too. So, this winter is likely to be a good time to sell.”

With buyers ready to stay active this winter, sellers who want to close a deal on the best possible terms shouldn’t wait until spring to put their homes on the market.

Bottom Line

Experts agree the winter housing market could potentially be bigger than ever. Whether you’re ready to buy or sell, let’s connect today so you can be in your dream home by the new year.

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Is it Safe to Sell My House Right Now?

In today’s real estate market, the buzz is all about how it’s a great time to sell your house. Buyer demand is high, and there simply aren’t enough homes available to buy to meet that growing need. This means now is the time to make a move so you can close the deal on your ideal terms.

Even in today’s strong sellers’ market, there are homeowners who are choosing not to sell due to ongoing concerns around the health crisis, financial uncertainty, and life in general. According to Zillow, here are the top three reasons homeowners who are thinking of selling sometime in the next three years are not putting their houses on the market right now:

  • 34% – Life is too uncertain right now
  • 31% – Financial uncertainty
  • 25% – COVID-19 health concerns

If you identify with any of these, you’re not alone. Whether it’s the future of your employment situation or simply being uncomfortable having guests in your home for showings, life feels a lot different than it did at this time last year. The good news is, real estate professionals have spent the majority of 2020 figuring out how to sell homes safely, and it’s paying off for those who are choosing to move this year.

Real estate agents are doing two things very well to make selling your house possible:

1. Agents Are Implementing Technology in the Process

While abiding by state and local regulations as a top priority, real estate agents are making sales happen safely and effectively by leveraging key pieces of technology. Agents know exactly what today’s buyers and sellers need and how to put the necessary digital steps in place. For example, agents have capitalized on the technology buyers find most helpful when deciding on a new home:

  • Virtual tours
  • Accurate and detailed listing information
  • Detailed neighborhood information
  • High-quality listing photos
  • Agent-led video chats

They’re listening to their audience and leveraging the tools that help buyers get an initial look at a home without having to step inside. This helps reduce the number of people entering your home, so only those who are very seriously interested need to take the next step: in-person showings.

2. Agents Are Facilitating Safe and Effective In-Person Showings

After leveraging technology, if you have serious buyers who still want to see your house in person, agents are following the guidelines set by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and utilizing safe ways to proceed. Here are a few of them, understanding again that the agent’s top priority is always to follow­ state and local restrictions first:

  • Limiting in-person activity
  • R­­­equiring guests to wash their hands or use an alcohol-based sanitizer
  • Removing shoes or covering them with booties
  • Following CDC guidance on social distancing and wearing face coverings

Getting comfortable with your agent – a true trusted advisor – taking these steps under the modern-era safety standards might be your best plan. This is especially important if you’re in a position where you need to sell your house sooner rather than later.

As Jeff Tucker, Senior Economist for Zillow notes:

“Homeowners who feel life is uncertain right now may think they can still get a strong price if they delay selling until they have more clarity. The catch is that waiting to sell may raise the cost of a trade-up. This fall’s record low mortgage rates, which make a trade-up more affordable on a monthly basis, are not guaranteed to last.”

Bottom Line

In this new era in our lives, things are shifting quickly, and virtual strategies for sellers may be your ideal option. Opening your doors up to new approaches could be game-changing when it comes to selling your house while the market is leaning in your favor. Let’s connect so you have a trusted real estate professional to help you safely and effectively navigate all that’s new when it comes to making your next move.

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Why the 2021 Forecast Doesn’t Call for a Foreclosure Crisis

As the current forbearance mortgage relief options come to an end, many are wondering if we’ll face a foreclosure crisis next year. This is understandable, especially for those who remember the housing crisis that began in 2008. The reality is, plans have been put in place through forbearance to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

This year, homeowners are able to request 180 days of mortgage relief through forbearance. Upon expiration of that timeframe, they’re also entitled to request 180 additional days, bringing the total to 360 days of deferred payment eligibility. As forbearance expires, homeowners should stay in touch with their lender, because creating a plan for the deferred payments is a critical next step to avoiding foreclosure. There are multiple options for homeowners to pursue at this point, and with the right planning and communication with the lender, foreclosure doesn’t have to be one of them.

Many homeowners are concerned that they’ll have to pay the deferred payments back in a lump sum payment at the end of forbearance. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Fannie Mae explains:

You don’t have to repay the forbearance amount all at once upon completion of your forbearance plan…Here’s the important thing to remember: If you receive a forbearance plan, you will have options when it comes to repaying the missed amount. You don’t have to pay the forbearance amount at once unless you are able to do so.”

When looking at the percentage of people in forbearance, we can also see that this number has been decreasing steadily throughout the year. Fewer people than initially expected are still in forbearance, so the number of homeowners who will need to work out alternative payment options is declining (See graph below):Why the 2021 Forecast Doesn’t Call for a Foreclosure Crisis | Simplifying The MarketThis means there are fewer and fewer homeowners at risk of foreclosure, and many who initially applied for forbearance didn’t end up needing it. Mike Fratantoni, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), explains:

Nearly two-thirds of borrowers who exited forbearance remained current on their payments, repaid their forborne payments, or moved into a payment deferral plan. All of these borrowers have been able to resume – or continue – their pre-pandemic monthly payments.”

For those who are still in forbearance and unable to make their payments, foreclosure isn’t the only option left. In their Homeowner Equity Insights Report, CoreLogic indicates:

“In the second quarter of 2020, the average homeowner gained approximately $9,800 in equity during the past year.”

Many homeowners have enough equity in their homes today to be able to sell their houses instead of foreclosing. Selling and protecting the overall financial investment may be a very solid option for many homeowners. As Ivy Zelman, Founder of Zelman & Associates, mentioned in a recent podcast:

“The likelihood of us having a foreclosure crisis again is about zero percent.”

Bottom Line

If you’re currently in forbearance or think you should be because you’re concerned about being able to make your mortgage payments, reach out to your lender to discuss your options and next steps. Having a trusted and knowledgeable professional on your side to guide you is essential in this process and might be the driving factor that helps you stay in your home.

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4 Reasons Why the Election Won’t Dampen the Housing Market

Tomorrow, Americans will decide our President for the next four years. That decision will have a major impact on many aspects of life in this country, but the residential real estate market will not be one of them.

Analysts will try to measure the impact feasible changes in regulations might have on housing, the effect of a possible first-time buyer program, and any number of other situations based on who wins. The housing market, however, will remain strong for four reasons:

1. Demand Is Strong among Millennials

The nation’s largest generation began entering the housing market last year as they reached the age to marry and have children – two key drivers of homeownership. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported:

“Millennials, long viewed as perennial home renters who were reluctant or unable to buy, are now emerging as a driving force in the U.S. housing market’s recent recovery.”

2. Mortgage Rates Are Historically Low

All-time low interest rates are also driving demand across all generations. Strong demand created by this rate drop has countered other economic disruptions (e.g., pandemic, recession, record unemployment).

In addition, Freddie Mac just forecasted mortgage rates to remain low through next year:

“One of the main drivers of the strong housing recovery is historically low mortgage interest rates…Given weakness in the broader economy, the Federal Reserve’s signal that its policy rate will remain low until inflation picks up, and no signs of inflation, we forecast mortgage rates to remain flat over the next year. From the third quarter of 2020 through the end of 2021, we forecast mortgage rates to remain unchanged at 3%.”

3. Prices Continue to Appreciate

The continued lack of supply of existing homes for sale coupled with the surge in buyer demand has experts forecasting strong price appreciation over the next twelve months.

4. History Says So

Though it’s true that the market slows slightly in November when it’s a Presidential election year, the pace returns quickly. Here’s an explanation as to why from the Homebuilding Industry Report by BTIG:

“This may indicate that potential homebuyers may become more cautious in the face of national election uncertainty. This caution is temporary, and ultimately results in deferred sales, as the economy, jobs, interest rates and consumer confidence all have far more meaningful roles in the home purchase decision than a Presidential election result in the months that follow.”

Ali Wolf, Chief Economist for Meyers Research, also notes:

“History suggests that the slowdown is largely concentrated in the month of November. In fact, the year after a presidential election is the best of the four-year cycle. This suggests that demand for new housing is not lost because of election uncertainty, rather it gets pushed out to the following year as long as the economy stays on track.”

Bottom Line

There’s no doubt this is one of the most contentious presidential elections in our nation’s history. The outcome will have a major impact on many sectors of the economy. However, as Matthew Speakman, an economist at Zillow, explained last week:

“While the path of the overall economy is likely to be most directly dictated by coronavirus-related and political developments in the coming months, recent trends suggest that the housing market – which has basically withstood every pandemic-related challenge to this point – will continue its strong momentum in the months to come.

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