Homes Are Selling Quickly

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Some Highlights:

  • The National Association of REALTORS® surveyed their members for the release of their Confidence Index.

  • The REALTORS® Confidence Index is a key indicator of housing market strength based on a monthly survey sent to over 50,000 real estate practitioners. Practitioners are asked about their expectations for home sales, prices, and market conditions.

  • Homes across the country are selling quickly, in an average of just 31 days.

  • 49% of homes sold in less than a month.

3 Reasons This is NOT the 2008 Real Estate Market

No one knows for sure when the next recession will occur. What is known, however, is that the upcoming economic slowdown will not be caused by a housing market crash, as was the case in 2008. There are those who disagree and are comparing today’s real estate market to the market in 2005-2006, which preceded the crash. In many ways, however, the market is very different now. Here are three suppositions being put forward by some, and why they don’t hold up.

SUPPOSITION #1

A critical warning sign last time was the surging gap between the growth in home prices and household income. Today, home values have also outpaced wage gains. As in 2006, a lack of affordability will kill the market.

Counterpoint

The “gap” between wages and home price growth has existed since 2012. If that is a sign of a recession, why didn’t we have one sometime in the last seven years? Also, a buyer’s purchasing power is MUCH GREATER today than it was thirteen years ago. The equation to determine affordability has three elements:  home prices, wages, AND MORTGAGE INTEREST RATES. Today, the mortgage rate is about 3.5% versus 6.41% in 2006.

SUPPOSITION #2

In 2018, as in 2005, housing-price growth began slowing, with significant price drops occurring in some major markets. Look at Manhattan where home prices are in a “near free-fall.”

Counterpoint

The only major market showing true depreciation is Seattle, and it looks like home values in that city are about to reverse and start appreciating again. CoreLogic is projecting home price appreciation to reaccelerate across the country over the next twelve months.

Regarding Manhattan, home prices are dropping because the city’s new “mansion tax” is sapping demand. Additionally, the new federal tax code that went into effect last year continues to impact the market, capping deductions for state and local taxes, known as SALT, at $10,000. That had the effect of making it more expensive to own homes in states like New York.

SUPPOSITION #3

Prices will crash because that is what happened during the last recession.

Counterpoint

It is true that home values sank by almost 20% during the 2008 recession. However, it is also true that in the four previous recessions, home values depreciated only once (by less than 2%). In the other three, residential real estate values increased by 3.5%, 6.1%, and 6.6%.

Price is determined by supply and demand. In 2008, there was an overabundance of housing inventory (a 9-month supply). Today, housing inventory is less than half of that (a 4-month supply).

Bottom Line

We need to realize that today’s real estate market is nothing like the 2008 market. Therefore, when a recession occurs, it won’t resemble the last one.

3 Reasons to Use a Real Estate Pro in a Complex Digital World

If you’re searching for a home online, you’re not alone; lots of people are doing it. The question is, are you using all of your available resources, and are you using them wisely? Here’s why the Internet is a great place to start the home-buying process, and the truth on why it should never be your only go-to resource when it comes to making such an important decision.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the three most popular information sources home buyers use in the home search are:

  • Online website (93%)

  • Real estate agent (86%)

  • Mobile/tablet website or app (73%)

Clearly, you’re not alone if you’re starting your search online; 93% of home buyers are right there with you. The even better news: 86% of buyers are also getting their information from a real estate agent at the same time.

Here are 3 top reasons why using a real estate professional in addition to a digital search is key:

1. There’s More to Real Estate Than Finding a Home Online. It’s a lonely and complicated trek around the web if you don’t have a real estate professional to also help you through the 230 possible steps you’ll face as you navigate through a real estate transaction. That’s a pretty staggering number! Determining your price, submitting an offer, and successful negotiation are just a few of these key steps in the sequence. You’ll definitely want someone who has been there before to help you through it.

2. You Need a Skilled Negotiator. In today’s market, hiring a talented negotiator could save you thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars. From the original offer to the appraisal and the inspection, many of the intricate steps can get complicated and confusing. You need someone who can keep the deal together until it closes.

3. It Is Crucial to Make a Competitive and Compelling Offer. There is so much information out there in the news and on the Internet about home sales, prices, and mortgage rates. How do you know what’s specifically going on in your area? How do you know what to offer on your dream home without paying too much or offending the seller with a lowball offer?

Dave Ramsey, the financial guru, advises:

“When getting help with money, whether it’s insurance, real estate or investments, you should always look for someone with the heart of a teacher, not the heart of a salesman.”

Hiring a real estate professional who has his or her finger on the pulse of the market will make your buying experience an informed and educated one. You need someone who is going to tell you the truth, not just what they think you want to hear.

Bottom Line

If you’re ready to start your search online, don’t skip over the support of an educated and informed real estate professional. You’ll want someone at your side who can answer your questions and guide you through a process that can be complex and confusing if you go at it with the Internet alone.

Be on the Lookout for Gen Z: The Next Generation of Home Buyers

You’ve likely heard a ton about Millennials, but what about Gen Z? In the next 5 years, this generation will be between the ages of 23 and 28, and they’re eager to become homeowners faster than you may think.

According to realtor.com, “Nearly 80 percent of Generation Z members say they want to own a home before age 30,” and Concentrix Analytics said, “52% of prospective Gen Z buyers are already saving to buy a home.”

Wikipedia defines Generation Z (Gen Z) as “the demographic cohort after the Millennials. Demographers and researchers typically use the mid-1990s to mid-2000s as starting birth years.”

The report from Concentrix goes a little deeper on Gen Z, identifying the main reasons this cohort wants to own homes:

  • 55% want to own a home because they want to start a family

  • 47% want to build wealth over time

  • 33% want to make their family proud

Although they’re eager to buy, this generation also perceives a few challenges ahead:

  • 66% believe saving for a down payment and closing costs will be challenging

  • 58% feel covering the monthly costs of owning may be difficult

  • 52% perceive a lack of knowledge about where to start

It is also interesting to note that 21% of Gen Zers think their parents will provide financial help, 17% will use a down payment assistance program, and 15% believe other family members will help them. One of the highlights of the report mentioned,

“More than half of Gen Zers who think they’ll receive help also think they will need to pay their parents back, compared to 40 percent of millennials.”

Bottom Line

It is never too early to start saving for your own home, whether you are part of Gen Z or a different generation. If you would like to know where to start and how much you need to save to reach your goal of buying a home, contact a local real estate professional to help you to understand the process.

What FICO® Score Do You Need to Qualify for a Mortgage?

With today’s low interest rates, many believe now is a great time to buy – and rightfully so! Fannie Mae recently noted that 58% of Americans surveyed say it is a good time to buy. Similarly, the Q3 2019 HOME Survey by the National Association of Realtors said 63% of people believe now is a good time to buy a home. Unfortunately, fear and misinformation often hold qualified and motivated buyers back from taking the leap into homeownership.

According to the same CNBC article,

“For the first time, the average national credit score has reached 706, according to FICO®, the developer of one of the most commonly used scores by lenders.”

This is great news, as it means Americans are improving their credit scores and building toward a stronger financial future, especially after the market tumbled during the previous decade. With today’s strong economy and increasing wages, many Americans have had the opportunity to improve their credit over the past few years, driving this national average up.

Since Americans with stronger credit are now entering the housing market, we are seeing an increase in the FICO® Score Distribution of Closed Loans (see graph below):

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But hang on – don’t forget that this does not mean you need a FICO® score over 700 to qualify for a mortgage. Here’s what Experian, the global leader in consumer and business credit reporting, says:

FHA Loan: “FHA loans are ideal for those who have less-than-perfect credit and may not be able to qualify for a conventional mortgage loan. The size of your required down payment for an FHA loan depends on the state of your credit score: If your credit score is between 500 and 579, you must put 10% down. If your credit score is 580 or above, you can put as little as 3.5% down (but you can put down more if you want to).”

Conventional Loan: “It’s possible to get approved for a conforming conventional loan with a credit score as low as 620, although some lenders may look for a score of 660 or better.”

USDA Loan“While the USDA doesn’t have a set credit score requirementmost lenders offering USDA-guaranteed mortgages require a score of at least 640.”

VA Loan: “As with income levels, lenders set their own minimum credit requirements for VA loan borrowers. Lenders are likely to check credit scores as part of their screening process, and most will set a minimum score, or cutoff, that loan applicants must exceed to be considered.”

Bottom Line

As you can see, plenty of loans are granted to buyers with a FICO® score that is below the national average. If you’d like to understand the next steps to take when determining your credit score, reach out to a trusted advisor to learn more.

62% of Buyers Are Wrong About Down Payment Needs

According to the ‘2019 Home Buyer Report conducted by Nerdwallet, many first-time buyers still believe they need a 20% down payment to buy a home in today’s market:

“More than 6 in 10 (62%) Americans believe you must put at least 20% down in order to purchase a home.”

When potential homebuyers think they need a 20% down payment to enter the market, they also tend to think they’ll have to wait several years (in some markets) to come up with the necessary funds to buy their dream homes. The report continues to say,

“The truth: 32% of current U.S. homeowners put 5% or less down on their home, according to census data.” (as shown below):

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The lack of knowledge about the home-buying process is unfortunately keeping many motivated buyers on the sidelines.

Bottom Line

Don’t let a lack of understanding keep you and your family out of the housing market. Meet with a local real estate professional who can show you your options today.

3 Signs the Housing Market Is on the Rebound

The residential real estate market has been plodding along for most of the year. However, three recent reports show the market may be on the verge of a rebound:

1. Existing Home Sales (closed sales) are up, marking two consecutive months of growth.

2. Pending Home Sales (contracts signed) are up with each of the four major regions reporting both month-over-month growth and year-over-year gains in contract activity.
Here is the month-over-month growth:

  • The Northeast rose 0.7%

  • The Midwest increased 0.6%

  • The South increased 1.4%

  • The West grew 3.1%

3. Buyer Traffic (the number of people shopping for a home) is up compared to the same time last year, and for the first time in 13 months.

  • The Northeast is up 5.9%

  • The Midwest increased 1.3%

  • The South is up 2.7%

  • The West grew 2.2%

In their most recent report, ShowingTime Chief Analytics Officer, Daniil Cherkasskiy explained:

“The trend we saw in year-over-year buyer traffic in previous months continued across the United States. For all four regions there were more showings per listing this year compared to last year, making it the most competitive August in the last five years.”

Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist with the National Association of Realtors, believes the uptick in activity will continue into the future:

“It is very encouraging that buyers are responding to exceptionally low interest rates…With interest rates expected to remain low, home sales are forecasted to rise in the coming months and into 2020.”

Bottom Line

If you are thinking about selling your house, there are purchasers out there who are ready, willing, and able to buy.

Simon Bull's Meuse Gallary Opens in Downtown St. Helena

St. Helena’s most conspicuously vacant storefront is now occupied, with artist Simon Bull’s Meuse Gallery holding a grand opening last Friday.

Bull said he’d been searching San Francisco and the rest of the North Bay for a space to complement his gallery in Carmel, and the “epic, humongous” space in St. Helena’s Richie Block is a perfect fit.

“We could use a space like this because I have big, colorful art that likes big, colorful space,” said Bull, who lives in Carmel but still bears the accent of his native England. “We want this to be like St. Helena’s museum of modern art.”

The 4,200-square-foot space had been vacant since Goodman’s moved to Calistoga in December 2015.

Bull obtained one of the city’s new pop-up permits because it allowed him to open right away, but he said he plans to apply for a permanent use permit “well before” the pop-up permit expires next August.

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“We didn’t come here for a year. We came here forever,” he said.

The Masons, who own the building, had already made substantial improvements to the space after Goodman’s moved out. All Bull did was add track lighting.

“We wanted to light this space up like a Christmas tree,” he said. “We wanted the center of St. Helena to be bright and full of light and color.”

Bull’s Carmel gallery attracts guests from the South Bay, and he hopes the St. Helena gallery draws people from San Francisco and the North Bay, as well as tourists from farther away.

According to his website, Bull is one of the top-selling artists in the U.S. He was the official artist of the 2002 U.S. Winter Olympics, the 2019 National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., and boxer Muhammad Ali from 2007 until his death in 2016.

4 Tips to Improve Your Home and Save on Your Energy Bill

As a homeowner, it’s important to keep your home running efficiently, not only to save money, but also to help the environment thrive. October 2nd is Energy Efficiency Day, a perfect time to think about making some key upgrades that will improve the efficiency of your home. If you’re looking to sell your house and increase the pool of potential buyers in your market, the upgrades below are truly a must.

According with Wallet Hub,

“In the U.S., energy costs eat between 5 and 22 percent of families’ total after-tax income.”

What should you spend on utilities?

Money Management says,

“If you’re working with a budget, and trust me, you should be, your utility costs should be no more than 8-10 percent of your monthly income.”

How can you make your home more efficient?

EnergyEfficiencyDay.Org provides some handy tips that can help you improve the energy efficiency of your home. Here are a few simple ones to consider, and how to make them happen:

1. Make the Switch to LED

LEDs are a great example of how innovation and technology can make your life easier. They last at least 25 times longer and consume up to 90 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs.

Tip: By switching five of your home’s most frequently used bulbs with ENERGY STAR® certified LEDs, it’s possible to save $75 on energy costs annually.

2. Seal Those Leaks

On average, heating and cooling account for almost half of a home’s energy consumption. In fact, all the little leaks can be equivalent to leaving open a 3-foot-by-3-foot window.

Tip: Take simple steps like caulking windows, sealing leaks around chimneys and recessed lighting, and sliding draft guards under your doors to save up to 20% on heating costs.

3. Heat and Cool Efficiently

Don’t waste money heating or cooling an empty home. Install a programmable thermostat and in colder weather schedule your home’s heat to lower when you are away or asleep and increase when you are returning home or waking-up. In warm weather, schedule the thermostat to raise the temperature when you are away or asleep, and lower it at other times.

Tip: Follow the U.S. Department of Energy recommended temperatures and be energy-efficient all year. 

4. Maintain Your HVAC System

Make sure to clean or change your furnace filters regularly. A dirty furnace filter will slow down air flow, making the system work harder to keep you warm (or cool) and costing you more money.

Tip: Consider getting a winter tune-up. Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a semi-annual or yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can be vital to improve efficiency, saving you money and making your home more comfortable. 

Bottom Line

By making a few key upgrades to your home, you’ll save on your utility bills and improve the energy efficiency of your home. When you’re ready to sell your house, these key features will make it even more attractive to potential buyers. Contact a local real estate professional to learn what buyers are looking for when it comes to energy efficiency options in your area.

What to Expect from Your Home Inspection

You made an offer and it was accepted. Your next task is to have the home inspected prior to closing. Agents often recommend you make your offer contingent upon a clean home inspection.

This contingency allows you to renegotiate the price you offered for the home, ask the sellers to cover repairs, or in some cases, walk away if challenges arise. Your agent can advise you on the best course of action once the report is filed.

How to Choose an Inspector

Your agent will most likely have a short list of inspectors they’ve worked with in the past to recommend to you. HGTV suggests you consider the following five areas when choosing the right home inspector for you:

1. Qualifications – Find out what’s included in your inspection and if the age or location of your home may warrant specific certifications or specialties.

2. Sample Reports – Ask for a sample inspection report so you can review how thoroughly they will be inspecting your dream home. In most cases, the more detailed the report,
the better.

3. References – Do your homework. Ask for phone numbers and names of past clients who you can call to discuss their experiences.

4. Memberships – Not all inspectors belong to a national or state association of home inspectors, and membership in one of these groups should not be the only way to evaluate your choice. Membership in one of these organizations does, however, often mean continued training and education are required.

5. Errors and Omission Insurance – Find out what the liability of the inspector or inspection company is once the inspection is over. The inspector is only human, after all, and it is possible they might miss something they should see.

Ask your inspector if it’s okay for you to tag along during the inspection, so they can point out anything that should be addressed or fixed.

Don’t be surprised to see your inspector climbing on the roof or crawling around in the attic and on the floors. The job of the inspector is to protect your investment and find any issues with the home, including but not limited to: the roof, plumbing, electrical components, appliances, heating and air conditioning systems, ventilation, windows, fireplace and chimney, foundation, and so much more.

Bottom Line

They say, ‘ignorance is bliss,’ but not when investing your hard-earned money into a home of your own. Work with a professional you can trust to give you the most information possible, so you can make the most educated decision about your purchase.

How Does the Supply of Homes for Sale Impact Buyer Demand?

The price of any item is determined by supply, as well as the market’s demand for the item. The National Association of REALTORS (NAR) surveys “over 50,000 real estate practitioners about their expectations for home sales, prices and market conditions” for their monthly REALTORS Confidence Index.

Their latest edition sheds some light on the relationship between seller traffic (supply) and buyer traffic (demand).

Buyer Demand

The map below was created after asking the question: “How would you rate buyer traffic in your area?”

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The darker the blue, the stronger the demand for homes is in that area. The survey shows that in 3 of the 50 U.S. states, buyer demand is now very strong; only 2 of the 50 states have a ‘weak’ demand. Overall, buyer demand is slightly lower than this time last year but remains strong.

Seller Supply 

The index also asked: “How would you rate seller traffic in your area?”

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As the map below shows, 18 states reported ‘weak’ seller traffic, 29 states and Washington, D.C. reported ‘stable’ seller traffic, and 3 states reported ‘strong’ seller traffic. This means there are far fewer homes on the market than what is needed to satisfy the buyers who are looking for homes.

Bottom Line

Looking at these maps, it is not hard to see why prices are appreciating in many areas of the country. Until the supply of homes for sale starts to meet buyer demand, prices will continue to increase. If you are debating listing your home for sale, meet with a local real estate professional in your area who can help you capitalize on the demand in the market now.

St. Helena’s New Station Convenience Store Open This Weekend

Station, the new upscale convenience store at the corner of Main and Spring streets in St. Helena, continues its soft opening this weekend from Friday through Sunday.

For the past three weekends, restaurateur Joel Gott’s latest venture has been offering coffee and a variety of food items – sandwiches, quiches, egg tacos, etc. – prepared in the former Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen on Oak Avenue and sold at the storefront in front of the Napa Valley Petroleum pumps.

“Everything’s grab-and-go, but we wanted some healthier food options in town,” said General Manager Emelie Poisson. “Local, healthy and convenient.”

Staffing challenges have prevented Station from opening seven days a week, but Poisson hopes to fill some open positions soon.

Two new baristas are already in the hiring process, and Poisson is still looking for more baristas who can also step in to take people’s orders and hand out food.

“Weekends have been fairly easy to staff because all of the high-schoolers want to work here, but that obviously doesn’t help us during the week,” Poisson said. “Kitchen staff has been much harder, in particular bakers. Nobody wants to work those early-morning hours anymore.”

The coffee beans are from Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco, but Poisson tries to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible, including nuts, whole grains, produce, milk and butter.

Poisson is a St. Helena native who worked at Model Bakery for almost 10 years during and after high school before pursuing another career in Denver. Shortly after she moved back, she got a call from Gott offering her the job.

“When I got it, I was just going to put a simple little food kiosk in there,” Gott said. “But then I painted it and I realized the building needed a lot more work. So we completely gutted it. Now it’s a perfect little gem.”

“I’m not trying to compete with Model (Bakery) — that’s so iconic,” Gott said. “We just have little snacks and things and a few baked goods.”

Behind the building will be a 120-foot-long public bench where people can eat their lunch.

“You can get a burrito at Villa Corona or a sandwich at Giugni’s, and then you go over the bench and it’s sort of like town central,” Gott said. “It becomes a little meeting spot. ... I’m hoping it adds to the liveliness of downtown.”

Gott also plans to open a restaurant in the former Cindy’s space in 2020.

This weekend Station will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday and Thursday through Sunday the following weekend.

By JESSE DUARTE jduarte@sthelenastar.com

What Is the Cost of Waiting Until Next Year to Buy?

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Some Highlights:

  • The “cost of waiting to buy” is defined as the additional funds necessary to buy a home if prices and interest rates were to increase over a period of time.

  • Freddie Mac forecasts interest rates will rise to 3.8% by Q4 2020.

  • CoreLogic predicts home prices will appreciate by 5.4% over the next 12 months.

  • If you’re ready and willing to buy your dream home, now is a great time to buy.

Summer Housing Boom Not Quite Done Yet According to Pending Sales

Pending home sales resumed their upward trajectory in August after declining 2.5 percent in July, making for positive results in three of the last four months. It was also the third winning sales report this month after solid existing and new home sales.

The National Association of Realtors'® (NAR's) Pending Home Sales Index is a leading indicator of existing home sales based on signed contracts to purchase those homes.  It rose 1.6 percent to 107.3 in August from a July reading of 105.6.  This puts pending sales 2.5 percent higher than in the previous August.

The number was at the high end of analysts projections. Those polled by Econoday had expected pending sales to be anywhere from flat compared to July to a 1.8 percent gain.  The consensus was an increase of 0.6 percent.

The index rose in all regions, but the West put in the best performance, with a 3.1 percent increase to 96.4.  This would put it 8.0 percent higher year-over-year. Pending sales in the Northeast rose 1.4 percent for the month and 0.7 percent on an annual basis to 94.3.

The Midwest posted a 0.6 percent gain to 101.7 in August and was 0.2 percent higher than a year earlier. The South's PHSI rose 1.4 percent to 124.4, a 1.8 percent annual bump.

NAR Chief Economists Lawrence Yun said, "It is very encouraging that buyers are responding to exceptionally low interest rates.  The notable sales slump in the West region over recent years appears to be over. Rising demand will reaccelerate home price appreciation in the absence of more supply."

He noted that historically low interest rates will affect economic growth, especially home buying, going forward. "With interest rates expected to remain low, home sales are forecasted to rise in the coming months and into 2020," said Yun. "Unfortunately, so far in 2019, new home construction is down 2.0 percent. The hope is that housing starts quickly move into higher gear to meet the higher demand. Moreover, broader economic growth will strengthen from increased housing activity."

With sales picking up, NAR is forecasting they will end the year 0.6 percent higher than in 2018 and will grow another 3.4 percent next year. Housing starts are predicted to increase by 2.0 percent in 2019 and jump an additional 10.6 percent in 2020, which in turn raises GDP growth to 2.0 percent in 2020.

The PHSI is a leading indicator of existing home sales and is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. In developing the model for the Index, it was demonstrated that the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.

 An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined. By coincidence, the volume of existing-home sales in 2001 fell within the range of 5.0 to 5.5 million, which is considered normal for the current U.S. population.

BY: JANN SWANSON

One of the Top Reasons to Own a Home

One of the benefits of homeownership is that it is a “forced savings plan.” Here’s how it works: You make a mortgage payment each month. Part of that payment is applied to the principal balance of your mortgage. Each month you owe less on the home. The difference between the value of the home and what you owe is called equity.

If your home has appreciated since the time you purchased it, that increase in value also raises your equity. Over time, the equity in your home could be substantial. Recently, CoreLogic revealed that the average homeowner gained more than $65,000 in equity over the last 5 years.

Unlike last decade, homeowners are no longer foolishly tapping into that equity. In 2006-2008, many owners used their homes like an ATM by pulling equity out to purchase new cars, jet skis, or lavish vacations. They were pulling out cash (equity) from an appreciating asset, and then spending it on rapidly depreciating items. That is not happening anymore.

Over 50% of Homes Have at Least 50% Equity

The number of homeowners that currently have at least 50% equity in their home is astonishing. According to the Urban Institute, 37.1% of all homes in the country are mortgage-free. In a home equity studyATTOM Data Solutions revealed that of the 62.9% of homes with a mortgage, 25.6% have at least 50% equity. That number has been increasing over the last five years:

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By doing a little math, we can see that 53.2% of all homes in this country have at least 50% equity right now. Of all homes, 37.1% are mortgage-free and an additional 16.1% with a mortgage have at least 50% equity.

Bottom Line

Homeownership is different than renting. When you own, your housing expense (the mortgage payment) comes back to you in the form of equity in your home. That doesn’t happen with your rent payment. Your rent helps build your landlord’s equity instead.

Should You Fix Your House Up or Sell Now?

With the fall season upon us, change is in the air. For many families, children are growing up and moving out of the house, maybe leaving for college or taking a jump into the working world. Parents are finding themselves as empty nesters for the first time. The question inevitably arises: is it finally time to downsize?

If you’re pondering that thought, you may also be wondering if you should fix-up your house before you sell it, or go straight to the market as-is, allowing a potential buyer to do the updates and remodeling. If you’re one of the many homeowners this camp, here are a few tips to help you decide which way to go.

1. Analyze Your Market

A real estate professional can help you to understand your market and the potential level of buyer interest and demand for your home. Are you in a seller’s market or a buyer’s market? This can change based on the price range of your home, too. A professional can also give you some insight on what you can change or remodel, and how to declutter your house to make it attractive to buyers in your area.

2. Get an Inspector

Right now, the average length of time a family stays in a home is between 9-10 years. That’s a little longer than the historical average, so if you’ve been living in your home for a while, it might be time to make some significant improvements. Think: electrical system, HVAC units, roof, siding, etc. An inspector can give you a better idea of the condition of your home, if it is up to current code standards, and recommendations on how to have your house ready before you put it on the market.

3. Decide If You Need to Remodel

You may also be thinking about driving buyer appeal with something like a kitchen or a bathroom remodel. If so, first dig into the market value of your home, and compare it to the actual cost of the remodel. A local real estate professional can help you determine your home’s market value, and you’ll want to get a few quotes from contractors on the potential remodel pricing as well. Once you have those two factors narrowed down, you can to decide if a remodel will give you a return on your investment when you sell. Oftentimes, it is actually more advantageous to price your house to sell, list it competitively, and then let the buyer pick the colors they want for their bathroom tiles and the type of countertop they prefer. The 2019 Cost vs. Value Report in Remodeling Magazine compares the average cost for remodeling projects with the value those projects typically retain at resale.

Bottom Line

Nationwide, inventory is low, meaning there is less than the 6-month housing supply needed for a normal market. This drives buyer demand, creating a perfect time to sell. If you’re considering selling your house, sit down with a local real estate professional. Partner with someone who can help you confidently determine what will be the best choice for you and your family.

Is Your House "Priced to Sell Immediately?"

In today’s real estate market, more houses are coming to market every day. Eager buyers are searching for their dream homes, so setting the right price for your house is one of the most important things you can do.

According to CoreLogic’s latest Home Price Index, home values have risen at over 6% a year over the past two years, but have started to slow to 3.6% over the last 12 months. By this time next year, CoreLogic predicts home values will be 5.4% higher.

With prices slowing from their previous pace, homeowners must realize that pricing their homes a little over market value to leave room for negotiation will actually dramatically decrease the number of buyers who will see their listing (see the chart below).

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Instead of the seller trying to ‘win’ the negotiation with one buyer, they should price their house so demand for the home is maximized. By doing so, the seller will not be negotiating with a buyer over the price, but will instead have multiple buyers competing with each other over the house.

The secret is making sure your house is Priced To Sell Immediately (PTSI). That way, your home will be seen by the most potential buyers. It will sell at a great price before more competition comes to the market.

Bottom Line

If you’re debating listing your house for sale, reach out to a local real estate professional to discuss how to price your home appropriately and maximize your exposure.

Homeownership Equity Reaches All-Time-High in Q2

BY: JANN SWANSON

Total home equity, not surprisingly, increased again in the second quarter of the year.  CoreLogic's quarterly Homeowner Equity Insights report, which looks only at properties with one or more mortgages, puts the aggregate increase at $428 billion year-over-year, a 4.8 percent gain.   The company says that 63 percent of residential properties have a mortgage.

"Home values have continued to rise in most parts of the country this year and we are seeing the benefit in higher home equity levels. The western half of the U.S. has experienced particularly strong gains in home equity recently," according to CoreLogic CEO and President Frank Martell. In July 2019, South Dakota and Connecticut were the only two states to post annual home price declines. These losses mirror the states' home equity performances during the second quarter as both reported negative home equity gains per borrower."

The number of mortgage properties that were underwater, owning more on the mortgage or mortgages than the property is worth, totaled 2 million homes or 3.8 percent of all mortgaged properties. This is 151,000 fewer underwater properties (a 9 percent decrease) from the second quarter 2018 total.  At that time the negative equity rate was 4.3 percent.

Frank Nothaft, CoreLogic Chief Economist, said "Borrower equity rose to an all-time high in the first half of 2019 and has more than doubled since the housing recovery started. Combined with low mortgage rates, this rise in home equity supports spending on home improvements and may help improve balance sheets of households who could take out home equity loans to consolidate their debt."

Negative equity at the end of the second quarter of 2019 had an aggregate value of approximately $302.7 billion. This is down quarter over quarter by approximately $2.6 billion, from $305.3 billion in the first quarter of this year.

Negative equity peaked at 26 percent of mortgaged residential properties in the fourth quarter of 2009, based on the CoreLogic equity data analysis which began in the third quarter of 2009.

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When broken down by household, the aggregate increase in equity averages a gain of $4,900 since the end of Q2 2018. Idaho had the highest year-over-year average increase at $22,100.

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2018's Home Sales Slump Now Fully Erased

BY: JANN SWANSON

While the increase wasn't as strong as in July, last month's existing home sales posted a second straight month of gains and, as previously, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) credited falling interest rates.  Sales of previously owned single-family houses, townhouses, condominiums, and cooperative apartments were up 1.3 percent compared to July when sales rose 2.5 percent.  The seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.49 million units was 2.6 percent higher than the August 2018 pace of 5.35 million. The increase was felt in three of the four major regions while the West continues to demonstrate some weakness.

The month's results were better than predicted.  Analysts polled by Econoday had expected them to come in at an annual rate of 5.30 to 5.42 million with a consensus of 5.38 million.

Single-family home sales rose from 4.84 million in July to 4.90 million in August, a 1.2 percent gain and 2.9 percent above the August 2018 rate. Existing condo sales rose 1.7 percent from July to 590,000 annual units, largely unchanged from the previous August.

Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, said, "As expected, buyers are finding it hard to resist the current rates. The desire to take advantage of these promising conditions is leading more buyers to the market."

The median existing home price for all housing types in August was $278,200, up 4.7 percent from the median a year earlier of $265,600.  It was the 90th straight month of year-over-year gains. The median existing single-family home price also rose 4.7 percent to $280,700.  Condo prices were up 5.2 percent to a median of $257,600 in August.

"Sales are up, but inventory numbers remain low and are thereby pushing up home prices," said Yun. "Homebuilders need to ramp up new housing, as the failure to increase construction will put home prices in danger of increasing at a faster pace than income."

Inventory fell in August, down from 1.90 million available homes to 1.86 million and 2.6 percent fewer homes than a year earlier. Unsold inventory is at a 4.1-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 4.2 months in July and from the 4.3-month figure recorded in August 2018. Properties typically remained on the market for 31 days in August, up from 29 days in both July and the prior August. Forty-nine percent of homes sold in August were on the market for less than a month.

Yun criticized the quarter point cut in the Fed Funds rate made by the Federal Reserve on Wednesday.  "[The Fed] should have been bolder and made a deeper rate cut, given current low inflation rates," he said. "The housing sector has been broadly underperforming but there is huge upward potential there that will help our overall economy grow."

First-time buyers were responsible for 31 percent of sales in August, the same as a year and investors and second home buyers accounted for 14 percent, up from 11 percent in July.  All-cash sales accounted for 19 percent of transactions in August, about equal to July and moderately below August 2018. Distressed sales remained negligible, representing 2 percent of August sales, a 1-point decline from a year earlier.

 "Rates continue to be historically low, which is extremely beneficial for everyone buying or selling a home," said NAR President John Smaby. "The new [FHA] condominium loan policies, as well as other reforms NAR is pursuing within our housing finance system, will allow even more families and individuals in this country to reach the American Dream of homeownership."

There were month-over-month increases in existing home sales in the Northeast, Midwest, and South and sales in all four regions bested their 2018 numbers. Sales in the Northeast increased 7.6 percent from July to an annual rate of 710,000 units, 1.4 percent higher than in August 2018. The median price fell 0.3 percent on an annual basis to $303,500.

Existing-home sales grew 3.1 percent in the Midwest to an annual rate of 1.31 million, topping sales from a year earlier by 2.3 percent.  The median price jumped 6.6 percent to $220,000.

In the South there was a gain of 0.9 percent in sales to a rate of 2.33 million and sales were 3.6 percent higher year-over-year. The median price of $240,300 was a 5.4 percent annual increase.

While sales remained 1.8 percent higher on an annual basis, the West was an outlier in August. Existing home sales declined 3.4 percent to 1.14 million. Prices, however, continued their strong appreciation, rising 5.7 percent to $415,900.

The Fed and Mortgage Rates

One of the greatest potential sources of confusion for prospective mortgage borrowers is the relationship between the Fed and mortgage rates.  While the Fed's policy changes absolutely have a big impact on all sorts of interest rates (including mortgages), a drop in the Fed's policy rate DOES NOT result in lower mortgage rates. 

The main reason for confusion is the fact that there's a huge difference from an investment standpoint between a rate that governs the shortest-term transactions (The Fed Funds Rate applies to loans that last for 1 day or less) and a rate that can remain in effect for up to 30 years in the case of mortgages.  Even if we use the average life span of a 30yr fixed mortgage, we're still talking about 5-10 years depending on the broader market landscape. You may have heard about the "inverted yield curve?"  That's a reference to vastly different behavior between longer and shorter term rates, and it stands as evidence of the different sets of concerns that apply to each side of the duration spectrum.  The differences are only more pronounced when we take the shorter end of the spectrum all the way down to the "overnight" level (Fed Funds Rate) and all the way up to the duration of the average mortgage loan.

Beyond the fact that a mortgage rate is very simply a different animal than the Fed Funds Rate, there's also the matter of frequency of movement.  The Fed only meets to potentially change rates 8 times a year.  Mortgage rates change every day--sometimes more than once.  And the bond markets that underlie mortgage rates change thousands of times per day.  That means the mortgage market can easily and quickly get into position for any expected move from the Fed.  In today's case, where the rate cut was seen as highly likely, any effect that the Fed Funds Rate could ever have on mortgage rates was already priced-in weeks ago.

But let's say the first two points don't quite convince you.  The third is irrefutable.  The Fed doesn't just take the stage, cut rates, and go home.  They release a ton of other info and hold a press conference to discuss their present and future policy decisions.  The rates market (for mortgages, Treasuries, and everything else) is tremendously interested in all that "other stuff."  Today, particularly, there was a set of updated forecasts for future rate movements.  These were a bit less market-friendly than the average investor expected.  In addition, market participants interpreted Powell's press conference as being a bit less friendly than expected.

Long story short: there are multiple reasons for mortgage rates to go their own way regardless of the Fed rate cut. 

BY: MATTHEW GRAHAM