U.S. Real Estate Predictions for 2020 Suggest More of the Same, Mostly

According to Freddie Mac’s latest set of predictions, issued on October 31, the U.S. real estate market will “continue to firm” as home sales increase. In fact, they believe housing is currently one of the brighter spots in the U.S. economy.

Their chief economist, Sam Khater, said that despite a global economic slowdown the U.S. real estate market “remains on solid ground with housing starts, building permits, existing home sales, and new home sales all outperforming the broader economy.”

Home Sales Expected to Increase Slightly

The first and most notable prediction has to do with home sales in 2019 and 2020. The group issued a mostly positive outlook for residential real estate sales activity in 2020. Home sales nationwide are expected to reach 6 million by the end of this year, and then rise to 6.1 million during 2020.

This contradicts some of the previous predictions for the U.S. real estate market, which suggested that the market could actually cool down next year.

A growing chorus of voices are now predicting that real estate sales activity could actually ramp up next year, partly due to low mortgage rates (see below).

Inventory Challenges Will Carry Over to Next Year

Home sales nationwide would likely be higher right now (and in 2020) if there was more inventory available. But most real estate markets across the country are still experiencing a shortage of homes for sale relative to the demand from buyers. This has constrained the housing market.

Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, called it a “perfect storm of supply side challenges.” He told CNBC that the residential construction industry has been grappling with a prolonged labor shortage, along with a scarcity of buildable land.

Supply is especially tight at the lower end of the pricing spectrum, where many first-time home buyers tend to shop. As a result, buyers seeking an entry-level or “starter home” in 2020 should start early and pack their patience. (See: Biggest challenges for first-time buyers.)

Mortgage Rates Could Be Slightly Higher in 2020

Real estate predictions for 2020 suggest we could see more of the same next year, in terms of home sales and price growth. A similar “status quo” forecast has been issued for mortgage rates.

In their latest round of economic and housing predictions, Freddie Mac said they don’t expect to see a major increase in rates between now and next year.

In October 2019, the company’s research team predicted that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages would end up averaging 3.7% for 2019, and then “tick up slightly” to 3.8% in 2020.

Granted, this is just a prediction. It’s the equivalent of an educated guess. But if it’s even close to being accurate, it’s a pretty big deal from a home buyer’s perspective. It removes the sense of urgency that’s usually associated with a period of very low mortgage rates.

If rates continue to hover within their current sub-4% range through the end of 2019 and into 2020, home buyers would be able to benefit for the foreseeable future.

Home Prices Expected to Keep Rising, in Most Markets

Freddie Mac’s latest real estate predictions suggest that home prices across the U.S. could rise more slowly in 2020 than they did in 2019.

And that’s not surprising. House values in most U.S. cities have been rising at an above-average pace for the past few years. That has created affordability problems for buyers in many cities. So a slowdown is to be expected at this point.

According to their October 2019 forecast:

“The house price forecast is expected to appreciate 3.3 percent in 2019 and 2.8 percent in 2020.”

This closely resembles a similar prediction issued by the real estate information company Zillow. In October of this year, Zillow’s economists wrote: “United States home values have gone up 4.8% over the past year and Zillow predicts they will rise 2.8% within the next year.”

So here we have two separate research teams making an identical prediction for U.S. home prices in 2020. Both groups expect the median home price to rise by around 2.8% next year.

But real estate predictions for the nation as a whole don’t always tell the full story. Both companies predicted that the nation’s median home value will continue to climb in 2020, albeit at a slower pace than previous years.

But that’s the median (or midpoint) for all home values nationwide. This means they expect prices in most cities to continue rising in 2020, as they did in 2019.

When you drill down to the city level, however, it’s more of a mixed bag. Some local housing markets are actually seeing a steady drop in home prices right now. And that could continue in 2020 as well.

(This is something we’ve written about in the past. In July, we published a report on local housing markets that might be a bad investment due to ongoing price declines. And in September, we published a “crash alert” for nearly two-dozen California cities where home values were dropping.)

A Lot of Homeowners Will Refinance in 2020

Home prices in the U.S. have risen steadily over the past few years. And mortgage rates are currently hovering below 4%. As a result of those two trends, refinancing activity picked up during the fall of 2019.

During the last week of October 2019, the Mortgage Bankers Association reported that their “Refinance Index” had increased by 134% over the same week in 2018. Low rates and rising home values have a lot to do with that.

This ties into one of Freddie Mac’s real estate market predictions for 2020. They expect to see a continuation of the current “surge” in refinancing activity, as homeowners take advantage of low rates and increased equity.

To quote their forecast: “The surge in [mortgage] refinance activity will carry over into next year, with a projected $789 billion and $785 billion in single-family refinance mortgage originations in 2019 and 2020, respectively.”

The bottom line to all of this is that 2020 could look a lot like 2019.

~Brandon Cornett, HBI

Fall real estate may bring big openings for Seattle buyers, experts say

While supply problems hamstrung most of the market during the end of summer — what’s normally known as the peak real estate season — September was a different beast entirely, more like a “roller coaster” where prices were up in certain areas and down in others.

But as the summer season gives way to fall, that can open up avenues for those trying to break in to the market.

“The transition into the fall housing market creates opportunities for homebuyers,” J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO of John L. Scott Real Estate, said in the latest Northwest Multiple Listing Service report. “Although there are fewer listings than what buyers find during peak summer months, there is also less competition.”

By the end of last month, NWMLS brokers reported 15,982 total active listings, more than 18% less than from the same time a year ago (in 2018 that number was 19,526). Only three of the 23 counties served by NWMLS — Clark, San Juan and Whatcom — reported year-over-year gains in inventory; 19 counties had double digit drops.

With that drop in both number of listings and competition comes a predicted drop in price as well; this is the time of year that home prices typically start to taper off a bit, given the drop in demand.

In King County, the median price for single family homes and condos sold in September was $593,750 — down from the September 2018 figure of $610,000 and the first time the median price dipped below $600,000 since January.

Unfortunately for hopeful homebuyers, OB Jacobi, president of Windermere Real Estate, says that’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy pickings in King County.

“In King County, prices were down nearly 2.7% while pending sales rose nearly 10%. This tells us there is no shortage of buyers in the Greater Seattle area,” Jacobi said in NWMLS report. “Buyers continue to be drawn to the area thanks to more affordable housing costs, but this influx is also driving up prices.”

Still, there’s opportunity to be had; as the market begins to hunker down for the winter, Jacobi and Scott both expect the number of unsold listings to continue to decrease once the “winter clean-up” of inventory begins. For some lucky homebuyers, this could be the perfect set of circumstances.

~Zosha Millman, Seattle PI

What to know about buying a co-op apartment in Seattle

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Homebuying is time- and energy-consuming, and for the uninitiated, co-ops can be especially confusing. The extra designation of “co-op” is another murky term on an already lengthy list of unfamiliar vocabulary words. (We’re looking at you, PMI, escrow, and rate lock.)

For Seattle homebuyers considering their options, here’s what you need to know about co-ops.

What’s a housing co-op?
The National Cooperative Bank, which supports and advocates for American co-ops, defines housing co-ops as groups of people who own or control the buildings where they live together.

When someone buys a co-op, they’re buying stock—or a membership—in a cooperative corporation that owns the building, land and common areas. Buyers don’t receive a deed to the property like they would with other housing types. “Instead, they’re issued a stock certificate and proprietary lease for their shares within the co-op,” explains Tessa Gaines, loan officer at the National Cooperative Bank.

Typically, the bigger a co-op unit is, the more shares its owner(s) hold and the higher proportion of the building’s property taxes, utilities, and insurance they pay. Cooperative corporations are governed democratically with each member getting a say in decisions—from the furnace to the roof—that will impact the community.

Who are co-ops a fit for?
From first-timers to folks looking to downsize, there’s no typical co-op buyer, says Jeff Reynolds, a real estate broker with Windermere that runs the blog Urban Condo Spaces. “I encourage buyers to keep an open mind. Know the situation you’re buying into, and if it fits your objectives—buy it!”

One characteristic most co-op denizens do share is an interest in being active within their co-op community. Every member is vetted by the board and is expected to weigh in on matters related to the cooperative.

“Co-ops are hands-on, and that’s beneficial for people who truly want to be part of a community and to build better relationships and friendships,” says Val Gaifoulline, broker and realtor with Keller Williams Realty Greater Seattle.

What are some pros and cons of co-op ownership?
Co-ops are hands-on, and that’s beneficial for people who truly want to be part of a community and to build better relationships and friendships.
Like any condo, townhouse, or single-family home, there are pros and cons to co-op ownership that prospective buyers should consider. Reynolds says that related expenses—purchase price, price per square foot, closing costs and property taxes, for example—are typically lower at co-ops. If owners maintain the co-op themselves instead of hiring a staffer, that further lowers costs. As mentioned, co-ops can create an environment ripe for community in the city. If you’re looking for that, it can be another positive aspect of choosing a co-op.

On the flip side, getting into a co-op through its board can be difficult. Rules governing everything from renovations to bike parking and pets can be more stringent at co-op buildings, too. Reynolds says that cooperatives are responsible for paying the salaries of any employees through the owner-paid monthly maintenance fees, including doormen and cleaning staff. If funds are needed elsewhere or if most owners prefer it, residents can be on the hook for a larger portion of the building’s upkeep compared to condos.

What are some common misconceptions about co-ops?
One myth is that co-ops may be harder to sell, Gaines says, “but co-op owners are able to sell their units just like any other real estate transaction.” Reynolds agrees that issues associated with co-op resales are mostly just perception. “The challenge is getting over the misconception that ‘you don’t own it,’” he says.

Like other property types, co-op owners looking to sell set a list price and entertain offers, negotiated or not, from there. There are some unique aspects to selling a co-op though, including that all prospective buyers are thoroughly vetted and ultimately approved or denied by the co-op’s board. Many prohibit subleasing, too.

“That’s good for the long-term co-op tenants cut cuts out the portion of buyers that are investors,” Gaifoulline says. Both could add time to the process, though recent data suggests that on average, co-ops in Seattle spend only slightly more days on the market compared to condos—44 days for co-ops vs. 33 days for condos.

What else do prospective homebuyers need to know?
Financing a co-op is different than financing other property types and can be tricky, Gaifoulline says. “You’re buying shares, and most banks don’t provide that type of financing—called a share loan,” he says.

Are there other types of co-ops?
The term co-op can refer to more than the residential co-ops that house more than a million people in the U.S. Member-owned and controlled business and organizations exist across industries, services, and interests, including food and agricultural enterprises, insurance companies, banks, childcare providers, and more. Seattle co-ops unrelated to housing include Verity Credit Union, the grocery store Central Co-op, and the Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery in Greenwood.

~Kelly Knickerbocker, Curbed Seattle

April showers brought more good news for home buyers, but inventory is still below ‘balanced’

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Good news, buyers: The latest real estate report from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service shows that more balance is returning to the local market.

During April, housing inventory continued to grow, the rate of price increases slowed in many areas (sometimes even decreasing), and mortgage rates remained low. NWMLS statistics saw a 28.5% overall increase in active listings compared to April 2018, and there was a 5.8% gain in pending sales.

Of course, according to NWMLS director John Deely, principal managing broker at Coldwell Banker Bain that’s not news to many buyers hitting the market. After such a long run as the hottest market in the country, many buyers are starting to get smarter about navigating buying a house.

“With an increased supply of listing inventory, low interest rates, and a positive economic climate, buyers are confident that this is a good time to buy,” he reported, while noting a larger number of buyers are opting out of competing with other buyers.
“This year’s buyers and sellers are approaching the market with more caution and a focus on an analytical, versus emotional approach that has ruled the last several years.”

Increased inventory takes a lot of the responsibility for lightening the load on buyers: according to NWMLS, seven counties had double-digit growth in inventory from a year ago, led by King County, which reported a 78.5% growth, and Snohomish County (up nearly 57%).

That doesn’t mean the market is wholly balanced, unfortunately. As NWMLS report notes, though inventory is up drastically in some areas, there’s still just about 1.7 months of supply across the NWMLS’s 23 county system.
“That is still slim compared to the National Association of Realtors’ data showing a national average of 3.9 months of inventory,” Gary O’Leyar, designated broker and owner at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Signature Properties, said. “Despite the increase in inventory over last year at this time in King County, we are seeing a very robust spring market laced with multiple offers in many instances.”

Mike Grady, president and COO of Coldwell Banker Bain, put it thusly: “Buyers now have three-to-four weeks instead of three-to-four days to make a decision, so it’s still quite a ways from a balanced market.”

Zosha Millman, Seattle PI

Like spring, Seattle’s real estate season is just getting started

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A month out from “peak real estate season” in Seattle, and the local market is still not among the hottest in the country.

That is, likely, more than alright for a number of home-buyers, who might’ve been burnt out from last year’s market which seemed to go nowhere but up in median price. But it’s also a bit surprising — and not confined to Seattle, according to a new monthly report from CoreLogic.

According to CoreLogic’s numbers, Washington’s growth in February 2019 for single-family home prices year-over-year was just 4.6%, only marginally more than the national average, 4%. Both those numbers represent something of a cooldown, according to Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic.

“During the first two months of the year, home-price growth continued to decelerate,” Nothaft said in their most recent report. “This is the opposite of what we saw the last two years when price growth accelerated early.”

That doesn’t mean that housing is suddenly cheap, either locally or nationwide; CoreLogic’s report also looked at the top 50 markets based on housing stock. They found 40% were overvalued, 18% were undervalued, and 42% were at value in February 2019.

And according to Nothaft, the peak season is primed for prices to go up even further.

“With the Federal Reserve’s announcement to keep short-term interest rates where they are for the rest of the year, we expect mortgage rates to remain low and be a boost for the spring buying season,” he said in the report. “A strong buying season could lead to a pickup in home-price growth later this year.”

And while Seattle had some other things on its mind in February that might’ve contributed to a cool down, local analysts agree that it’s shaping up to be a good season too.

After all, even with the Snowmageddon, home prices in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties rose significantly, ending the month-over-month declines that started last May. And as CoreLogic notes in their report, Seattle’s market was considered “at value” in February.

“Similar to previous months, prices are moving upwards the most consistently in exurban areas along the Interstate 5 corridor,” James Young, director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington, said in the latest Northwest Multiple Listing Service report.

“Look for prices outside the major urban areas to continue rising as the weather improves and the main selling season arrives.”

~Zosha Millman, Seattle P-I

Seattle home sellers are lowering list prices faster than anywhere else

Earlier this week the news was that the average Seattle-area homebuyer has been successfully able to negotiate a deal at below list price for the first time in four years.

But that’s only half the story: In a lot of cases, sellers are now doing the work for buyers by lowering the list price themselves.

At the start of the spring, when the local market was still on fire, just 5 percent of all homes on the market in the metro area had a reduced listing price, according to Zillow.

Now, 22 percent of all listings are being pitched at a reduced price, the most since Zillow began tracking the data in 2010.

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Nowhere else in the country has seen a change that dramatic.

On average,  sellers cutting their list price here have reduced it by 3 percent, the same as the national average. In the city of Seattle and the Eastside, that translates to a cut of about $25,000 to $30,000.

It’s a double advantage for buyers: Not only are list prices dropping, but the average buyer is then able to knock the price down further in negotiations, a reversal from recent years in which bidding wars designed to escalate list prices were the norm.

That’s another area where Seattle stands out on the national stage.

In the city of Seattle, homes now go for 0.6 percent below list price on average, after selling for 4.1 percent above list price a year ago. That 4.7 percentage-point shift is the biggest in the nation among the 50 biggest cities, according to data from Redfin.

However, the fact remains that Seattle has some of the most expensive real estate in the country, and the changes in recent months haven’t put much of a dent in that. Five years ago, the median house in Seattle cost $461,000. It peaked this spring at $830,000 — an 80 percent rise over five years.

~Mike Rosenberg, Seattle Times

 

Condo prices in Seattle continue to speak to the strength of the real estate market

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You may have heard Seattle is experiencing a cool down. Not so fast.

The market is definitely slowing within the city (if not Thurston County), but that doesn’t mean that prices have dipped all that much. The median closed sale price fell by about $45,000 from the month before, but it was still up $30,000 from the same time last year, according to the latest Northwest Multiple Listing Service report.

The NWMLS report writes, nearly 60 percent of the current inventory of homes and condos has an asking price of $750,000 or higher, making affordability an ongoing concern. And while the single-family home is still king in Seattle and King County, condos are also seeing higher prices.

The median closed sale price for condos in Seattle during August (the last month for which information was available) was $504,500. That’s a 6.21 percent increase from the same time last year.  Area-wide, that jump looks more like 8.1 percent, while across King County the jump in median condo prices was 11.3 percent.

Some good news is that condo prices are going through the same market-wide cool down as single-family homes: Active listings jumped nearly 58 percent, and closed transactions dropped off by about 15 percent.

But that’s not necessarily enough to turn what was once seen as a “starter home” into an affordable option. It’s also not a sign of a pending bubble or rapid inflation, as far as brokers can tell; like all the other changes in the city, blame it on the strong local economy.

“Even with some doom and gloom about sales being down in many counties, inventory doubling in some areas, and appreciation holding at around 8 percent for the year, our market is still very healthy and recovering from the depleted inventory of the past three years,” George Moorhead, designated broker and owner, Bentley Properties, Bothell said in the report.

~Zosha Millman, Seattle PI

In Seattle real estate market, inventory is finally up

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According to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS) Seattle ended June with more than a month of inventory for the first time since September 2016.

In the Seattle city limits in June 2018, NWMLS saw 1,246 active listings, a 75.5 percent increase from the year before. Seattle ended last month with 1.2 months of inventory—a figure based on number of homes for sale and typical sales time—which is nearly double what the market had the previous year.

While this didn’t translate to a decrease in housing prices, they did rise less than last month or last year. Median closing prices rose 8 percent compared to June of last year—but at that time, home values had risen 17 percent. So although the median closing price for last month in Seattle was a whopping $740,000, or $812,500 for a single-family home, it rose far less quickly than this time last year.

County-wide, the inventory picture also improved, although home prices continue to rise; King County ended the month with 1.3 months of inventory compared to .84 last year. And while home prices are rising less quickly than this time last year, too, it’s not by as much. County-wide, home prices rose 10.2 percent over last year—compared to 15.7 percent over the previous year.

Even if home values are rising less quickly, they’re still already high—and still, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council, going up by about $5 every hour of every day. With renters already cost-burdened at a higher rate than homeowners, there seem to be fewer options for entering into homeownership. For people already priced out, there’s not a lot of good news here.

But it’s decent news for current househunters worried about getting priced out before they can get an offer accepted, agents short on listings, or current homeowners sitting on their properties because they’re worried about their next steps.

Meanwhile, though, there’s not much relief in sight for would-be homebuyers in Tacoma. As the City of Destiny’s rent rises faster than Seattle, closing prices have jumped more than 13 percent in Pierce County. Inventory is down and median sale prices are up across the city proper, with the biggest jump in home price, 34.6 percent, in central Tacoma.

~Sarah Anne Lloyd, Curbed Seattle

How Much it Costs to Buy a House in the Hottest Housing Markets of 2018

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Most areas of the country are in a seller’s market, meaning there’s not enough inventory for all the interested homebuyers. About half of all the homes in the country are worth as much or more than they were in April 2007 — the height of America’s housing boom.

This is all good news if you’re planning to sell your home. It’s less good news if you’re trying to find one. But as with most things when it comes to buying a house, like what kind of hidden fees you can expect during the process, where you live matters. Certain areas of the country are exploding in popularity, which is driving up the cost of homes.

Ahead, check out how much it costs to buy a home in the hottest real estate markets of 2018 according to Zillow’s latest housing report.  Hottest Housing Markets

Will tax reform end the American dream of owning a home?

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If a U.S. tax reform measure targeting the popular mortgage interest deduction is adopted, values of homes could drop 10 percent on average nationally, Lawrence Yun told 20,000 real estate agents gathered for the National Association of Realtors conference last week.

Home owners would be leery of trading up to bigger, more expensive homes, because the cap would fall to $500,000 from the current $1 million, while renters would lose a tax benefit that could be a key incentive in the decision to buy, said Yun, chief economist of the real estate brokers group.

“This will greatly disincentivize buying homes,” he said. “There will steadily be fewer home buyers over time.”

The NAR is launching an offensive against the tax bill introduced last week by Republicans in the House of Representatives and anything similar that arises in the Senate. Finalizing a measure remains a long way off.

But real estate agents are worried. The potential change comes when many Americans still are reluctant to buy homes after the trauma of the 2008 housing crash, said Kenneth Rosen, chairman of Rosen Consulting Group. Home ownership remains near a 50-year low, with potential homebuyers still suffering from “post-foreclosure stress disorder,” he says.

Currently 63.9 percent households are homeowners, compared with the 69 percent pre-financial crisis.

Since a final tax change is a moving target that could disturb future housing prices, it may be prudent to put home buying on hold while awaiting clarity from Capitol Hill.

“If changes in your tax liability would make buying a house unfeasible, it probably would be worth sitting on the fence,” said Ralph McLaughlin, economist for Trulia, an online real estate service that is a unit of Zillow Group Inc.

BIGGER STANDARD DEDUCTION

To understand the potential impact, do not look directly at the mortgage interest deduction. Under the House plan, most middle class homeowners still will be allowed to take that popular deduction because the tax plan does not wipe it out for except for the portion of a mortgage over $500,000.

Still, the tax plan essentially renders the deduction worthless to the middle class, and that is what Yun expects to injure the housing market.

The reason for the mortgage deduction’s loss of power: a key part of the GOP tax plan almost doubles the standard deduction for taxpayers. Couples could claim a standard deduction of $24,400 rather than the current $12,700; singles could claim $12,200 rather than $6,350.

Instead of buying a house or scouring checking accounts for possible other deductions, a middle class taxpayer simply could claim a standard deduction that would protect a much larger chunk of income from taxes than current law provides.

With the higher standard deduction, the math turns the decision to buy or rent upside down from current conditions, said Trulia’s McLaughlin.

After a sharp rise in rents, buying has recently been a better deal in 100 of the nation’s largest markets. But the tax changes could make renting more economical, and real estate agents could find it more difficult to turn renters into buyers. Often the agents use tax deductions as a selling point when dealing with younger would-be buyers.

Eventually, however, there is potential for change and an improvement in housing market as young adults amass the down payments they have struggled to accumulate, McLaughlin noted.

In the association’s recent survey, about 25 percent of potential first-time homebuyers said amassing a down payment was a problem.

Renters who get an extra $11,700 each year from the higher standard deduction could sock away those tax savings, if they do not have to use it for student loans or decide on other purchases.

And homes could become more affordable if sluggish buying drives prices down. According to the National Association of Realtors, home prices rose 48 percent during the last six years, while incomes climbed just 15 percent. The nation’s median home price is $235,000.

For expensive homes, the standard deduction will be inadequate to make up for the mortgage deduction, and large families will face even more difficulty since the tax plan also takes away the $4,050 dependent exemptions for each person, according to McLaughlin.

“Realtors use the tax deduction to educate first-time home-buyers, and if they lose it, that could be detrimental for home buying,” said Elizabeth Mendenhall, chief executive of Re/Max Boone Realty in Columbia, Missouri and president-elect of the National Association of Realtors.

(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters)

~Gail MarksJarvis, Reuters