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Buyers, Sellers and Realtors Responding to COVID-19

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The real estate market, like most areas of business world-wide, are adjusting to social distancing recommendations while trying to anticipate how the global pandemic will affect the economics of their business.

Economically, the mortgage rates are still low which, normally, would result in more buyers looking to secure a low rate and purchase a home.  However, the economic uncertainty might keep some buyers from moving forward with a large purchase such as a home, and may keep sellers from listing their home if not necessary.

An article published by OCRegister.com indicates that some areas of the country are already seeing how the concerns about the economy are impacting both sellers’ and buyers’ decisions.  “I am hearing (of) buyers and sellers cancel (deals) due to fear of job security and, really, just the unknown,” said Dilbeck Real Estate agent Lisa Kaul from the Santa Clarita area. “One seller canceled their new purchase even though their home was already sold.”

Of course, there are plenty of homes on the real estate market and many buyers who are still planning on purchasing a new home.  However, the social distancing recommendations has impacted the way buyers are viewing homes for sale.  Many owners are asking that their realtor not hold open houses.  Guidelines for screening potential buyers for diseases, requiring those visiting homes to sanitize their hands are top discussions among sellers and their realtors.  In this age of technology, however, virtual tours are becoming more and more common and are an ideal alterntative.

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Will Coronavirus Affect the Real Estate Market?

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News of the coronavirus is a constant in all mainstream media lately.  Its impact is far reaching, not only as Americans and citizens of the world take precautions to stay healthy, but economically and on a global level.  As a result, last Tuesday, the Federal Reserve made a decision to make a rate cut, in anticipation of recession concerns.

According to a Realtor Magazine article published last week, the rate cut was significant, the largest one time cut since 2008.  The impact of this decision could, in time, affect the real estate markets.  According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, “The real estate sector will hold up very well because of the rate cut. Hesitant home buyers will be enticed to take advantage of low interest rates. Commercial property prices will rise due to higher returns that can be had from the bond market after adjusting for risks.”

Some experts believe that rates which are now averaging 3.45% could drop even lower before the economy rebounds from the effects of coronavirus.  Mortgage rates low as 3% have not been ruled out by Rick Sharga, president and CEO or CJ Patrick Company.

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Photo Credit Sergio Santos

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Do Buyers Really Need a 20% Down Payment To Buy a House?

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Many homeowners may remember setting aside money each month in order to save the 20% down payment necessary to purchase a home, especially to avoid having to pay PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance.)  However, more and more first time home buyers are deciding to purchase a home before they have saved the 20% down payment.

According to an article published by Business Insider, reporter Liz Knueven states, “For many young Americans struggling with student-loan payments, higher rent costs, and relatively stagnant salaries, saving a fifth of a home’s value to get a mortgage simply isn’t on the radar.” 

Real estate professionals aren’t against the idea either.  For first time home buyers, especially near large cities where home values are steep, saving the 20% down payment can take many years.  Instead of saving the cash, buyers can purchase a home and begin building equity, even while paying the PMI of .3%-1.2%.  As the home builds in value, homeowners may be able to drop the PMI, once the mortgage value reaches 78%-80%.

Despite the decrease in home buyers waiting to have the 20% down payment, there are still advantages to a larger down payment if its possible.  It can help edge out competition in a multiple offer situation on a home, can help secure a lower interest rate and save the cost of the PMI each month. 

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Real Estate Experts Weigh In on Cause of Low Housing Inventory

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Real Estate professionals and analysts have continued to look into why there continues to be a decrease in housing inventory along with rising home prices.  Redfin has determined that more Americans are deciding to stay exactly where they are instead of moving on to another home.  In fact, they have found that, “the typical American homeowner is now staying in their home for five years longer than they did just nine years ago.”

In an article published by Housing Wire, reporter Julia Falcon states that the average homeowner in the U.S. is staying in their home for about 13 years instead of only 8 years as they did in 2010.  There are U.S. cities that blow those statistics out of the water with homeowners deciding to stay in their homes for 20 years or more.  Cities such as Salt Lake City, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas are in Texas see home owners that have stayed in their homes since the 1950s. 

According to the article, “Redfin agent Christopher Dillard states ‘Because prices have been going up, and folks are gaining more and more equity, it’s hard to justify selling when there aren’t many if any affordable options.’”

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Will Technology Change the Role of Real Estate Agent?

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Technology has impacted the way people find homes, research neighborhoods, and compare prices; in essence, buyers are able to get much of the initial legwork done by sitting at their computer or scrolling on their smart phone.  Nevertheless, when it comes to actually buying a home, about 90% of buyers still use a hired real estate agent to help them with the actual offer and contract negotiations according to a report released by the National Association of Realtors.

In an article published by Forbes, its noted that “… buyers and sellers can get to the “one yard line” without much help. But deals rarely get done unless an agent is acting as middleman.”  Real estate agents, without a doubt, add value with their professional expertise and negotiating experience.  However, the sticking point for many is the large piece of the sale that the agents get for their commission.  In many cases, the seller pays a total of 6%, with the buying and selling agent getting 3% each. 

The concept of direct sales, hasn’t yet taken over the real estate market and certainly hasn’t made real estate agents obsolete; in fact, realtors may skip showing homes whose sellers aren’t willing to pay the 3% commission.  Yet, technologically based real estate companies are still searching for ways to compete with the current real estate agent.

Case in point, companies such as Opendoor, you simply “type your address into Opendoor’s website, submit a few photos, and it will make you an offer within a couple of days. No open houses, negotiation, or waiting months for the buyer to come up with the money. In fact, the average closing time from the first offer is less than 20 days,”  according to the article written by Stephen McBride. Some experts believe this type of business could change the way people buy and sell houses and the agent’s role in the transaction.

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How Has the First Time Home Buyer Profile Changed Over Time?

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If asked to describe the profile of the average “first-time home buyer”, many Americans may use descriptions such as young, newly married, young children or children on the way.  There is an idea that many have about who these would-be buyers are, what stage of life they are in and it appears it is an out-of-date perception. 

Researcher at Harvard completed a study of first time home buyers over a span of 20 years, from 1997-2017 and found some significant changes in the demographics of first time home buyers over those years.  In the paper detailing the study findings, it was stated, “While discussions of first-time home buying often tie home ownership entry to life-stage changes like marriage and the birth of a first child, a growing share of first-time home buyers do not fit this profile”.

An article published by The Wire summarizes the most telling comparison of how many first-buyers were unmarried in 1997, which was 23% of all first time home buyers, compared to a 12% increase by the time 2017 rolled around.  That year, 35% of first time home buyers had never been married.  Married home buyers made up 61% of the first time home buyers in 1997, but only 52% of first-time home buyers in 2017 were married. 

What hasn’t changed much in the span of the study, the age of first time home buyers which decreased from 34 to 32 between 1997 and 2017.  The findings reveal facts that, “suggest that there may be a fundamental shift in the way that young households are approaching first-time home purchases, such as an increased willingness to purchase homes individually or with unmarried partners”. 

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Why is the Number of First Time Home Buyers Declining?

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With reports of continued low mortgage rates, many might assume the housing market would be booming with home sales.  However, it would seem that some other economic factors are affecting potential home buyers’ decisions.

The number of adults planning to purchase a home has dropped 2% since last year, and the number of first time home buyers among the groups looking to purchase a home is down 5%, from 63% in 2018 to 58% this year.  According to an article published by CNBC.com, written by Anne Cusak, a lack of affordable home coupled with worries about the economy and personal economic stability are to blame.

According to Rose Quint, the National Association of Home Builders assistant vice president for survey research, “…potential buyers are held back by the lowest levels of affordability in a decade.”  Many first time home buyers are limited in their budget; as home prices increase, they aren’t necessarily able to keep up.  Since the lower end of the real estate market has seen the fastest price increase, these home buyers are being priced out. 

Even if the home prices are within reach and the mortgage rates continue to stay low, prospective buyers are less than eager to jump in when they feel their personal finances are on shaky ground.  Cusak notes, “Buying a home is an incredibly emotional experience, and potential buyers will often pull back when they have the slightest fear of losing their jobs or losing any income.”

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How Do Kids Affect Home Buying Decisions?

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Home buyers take many factors into consideration during their home search.  Price, size, location are a few that top the list for many.  When home buyers have children living at home, the search can get more complicated and additional criteria can narrow the field of prospective homes.

In a recent article published in HousingWire, Alcynna Lloyd details how home buyers with children versus home buyers without children vary in their home buying process.  With a nod to the season of “back to school”, Lloyd references a report from the National Association of Realtors where NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said. “Of course, affordability is a part of the decision, but we have seen buyers with kids willing to spend a little more in order to land a home in a better school zone or district.” 

Confirming what many assumed to be true, the report details that more than half of home buyers that have children living at home base their search criteria on the neighborhood’s school district.  In comparison, only 10% of home buyers without children take the school district into consideration when making their home purchase. 

Additionally, childless homeowners do not feel as much pressure to sell a home quickly.  Only 14% indicated that when selling a home, speed of sale was an issue.  In contrast, 23% of homeowners with children reported selling their home with a sense of urgency.  Perhaps the timing of a school year approaching, feeling that they have outgrown a home or other financial factors influenced these households.  Nevertheless, they may be more likely to accept an offer that is not ideal.

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Photo Credit: Marco Verch

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Is Housing Market Ready to Rebound?

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Homeowners trying to or thinking about putting their home on the market may have been a little hesitant based on the trends in the real estate market over the past year.  As real estate professionals know, and homeowners may have noticed, the real estate market took a turn last summer.  An increased number of homes hit the market, but higher prices and decreased sales, the outlook for homeowners was less than ideal.

However, homeowners may be able to breathe a sigh of relief as this slump could be coming to an end.  With mortgage rates dipping below 4 percent and a slowed housing inventory, it appears prices and home sales should begin to climb again.

According to an article published on Realtor.com, written by Clare Trapasso, “…much of the fate of the housing market relies on mortgage interest rates. If they stay low, buyers have more money to spend on homes. So prices have more room to rise.”  However, homeowners should be aware, despite a high demand for homes as younger buyers begin their families and look to settle down, current buyers, Chief Economist Danielle Hale of realtor.com®  warns “seem a little more patient. They’re more willing to wait for a good property.”

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What Challenges to Buyers with Children Face?

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Buying a home can be an overwhelmingly stressful decision.  There are many factors buyers need to take into account when making a final home purchase decision.  Location, size, floor plan, down payments, and mortgage rates are a few that buyers must consider.  The buyer’s budget is another very important factor that must be considered.  It appears, however, that a specific group of buyers is more likely to go over their set budget when purchasing a home.

According to an article published by The M Report, buyers with children seem to have trouble sticking to their budget when purchasing a home.  In fact, 25.6% of buyers with children exceeded their budget when purchasing a home.  This group also had 31% that were denied a mortgage, where buyers without children only saw 11% denied mortgages.

It appears that having children in the home increases the list of demands that buyers make for their homes.  They want shorter commute times to their workplace, which can put them in more desirable and expensive locations.  The size of the home increases as the need for more space to accommodate growing families increases.  Some buyers make sacrifices on these items in order to stay within, or at least closer, to their budget. 

To make matters more stressful for this group of buyers, many decisions on home purchases can be rushed for families as they work to ensure they are settled before the school year begins. 

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Photo Credit: Franco Giovanella

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