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THE HOUSING BOOM: “It’s Not a Bubble. It is Simply Lack of Supply.”

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FROM AXIOS: Bidding wars, soaring prices, and fears that homeownership is becoming out of reach for millions of Americans. We’re in a housing frenzy, driven by a massive shortage of inventory — and no one seems to be happy about it.

Why it matters: Not all bubbles burst. Real estate, in particular, tends to rise in value much more easily than it falls. Besides, says National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun, this “is not a bubble. It is simply lack of supply.”

By the numbers: America has a record-low number of homes available for sale — just 1.03 million, according to the latest NAR data. That compares to a peak of more than 4 million at the height of the last housing bubble, in July 2007.

  • The total number of active listings this week is down a record 54% from the same week a year ago, per Realtor.com. That in turn has helped to drive national prices up 17.2% over last year.
  • Almost half of homes now sell within one week of being listed, per Redfin.
  • In Austin, Texas, the median listing price has risen 40% in one year to $520,000.

6315LongviewAvenue.0002The big picture: Prices are being driven upwards by a combination of factors, including continued low mortgage rates, a pandemic-era construction slowdown, a desire for more space as people work increasingly from home, and a stock market driven increase in money available for downpayment.

  • rise in financial buyers — large corporations buying up homes to rent them out — is only making the market tighter, and decreasing the number of owner-occupied properties available.
  • What’s missing: Unlike the mid-2000s, this time around there’s no exuberant culture of condo flipping. While interest rates are low, lending standards are still tight, making it hard to buy a house you can’t afford.

The good news is that rents have not been rising nearly as fast as prices. They stayed roughly flat during the pandemic, and are now rising at perhaps a 4% pace, Yun says.

Homebuyers are the biggest losers. In order to win bidding wars, many of them are being forced to make rushed and risky decisions. Successful bids often need to waive any financing contingency or right to inspect the property.

  • That raises the terrifying prospect of putting down a large downpayment and then not being able to get a mortgage — and/or finding that the house requires hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.

The worst-case outcome, says Yun, would be if “rates remain low, demand picks up with new jobs, there’s no increase in supply, and the only thing that moves is home prices, until people get priced out. That would mean we are creating a divided society of haves and have-nots.”

  • The best-case outcome, on the other hand, would be a construction boom accelerated by President Biden’s infrastructure plan, which would create more supply and help to stop the rise in prices.

The bottom line: Housing prices are likely to remain high and rising for a while yet.

WRITTEN BY FELIX SALMON FOR AXIOS .COM

Southern California Home Prices Reach All-Time High in February

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FROM YAHOO NEWS & THE LA TIMES:

Southern California home prices reached an all-time high in February as buyers competed amid a shortage of homes for sale, adding to signs that pandemic home-buying trends are extending into 2021

The six-county region’s median sales price jumped nearly 15% from a year earlier to $619,750, according to data from real estate firm DQNews.

Sales surged 17.6% from February 2020.

The numbers, published Tuesday, show how a pandemic housing boom driven by historically low borrowing costs and by demand for more space is extending into 2021. Another factor: Many millennials are entering their early 30s — a time when many people purchase their first home.

The data show that the increase in demand, however, has not been met by a surge in listings, leading to bidding wars and subsequent higher prices.

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According to Redfin, the number of new listings coming onto the market in L.A. County during the four weeks that ended March 7 was just 4% higher than in the same period last year.

And with homes selling quickly in recent months, people had 13% fewer options to choose from over that period, the data show.

Daryl Fairweather, chief economist with real estate brokerage Redfin, said more homes aren’t coming up for sale because some owners don’t want to buy another home in a tough market, and some may have refinanced at record lows and are satisfied with their mortgage.

Some wealthy owners are also choosing to buy another house farther from their jobs, she said, but holding on to their old home, unsure where they want to settle down as the pandemic recedes and the economy starts to recover.

Builders are trying to ramp up to meet demand. But that takes time, and soaring lumber costs have made projects more difficult to get off the ground.

“New construction can’t keep up with demand,” Fairweather said.

Sales and prices are rising throughout the region.

  • In Los Angeles County, the median sales price rose 14.3% to $708,500 in February, while sales climbed 19.1%.

  • In Orange County, the median sales price rose 9.6% to a record $820,000, while sales climbed 13%.

  • In Riverside County, the median sales price rose 16.5% to a record $465,000, while sales climbed 18.3%.

  • In San Bernardino County, the median sales price rose 17.7% to a record $412,000, while sales climbed 21.5%.

  • In San Diego County, the median sales price rose 14.6% to a record $672,750, while sales climbed 13.8%.

  • In Ventura County, the median sales price rose 13% to $650,000, while sales climbed 23.9%.

A major factor in the sales and price boom has been a drop in borrowing costs during the pandemic, with the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage falling below 3% for the first time.

Rates have been on the rise in recent weeks and now average slightly above 3%. If the economy improves, rates could keep rising, but many experts expect borrowing costs to remain low by historical standards throughout 2021.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times and written by Andrew Khouri

Homeowners Behind on Their Mortgages Could Get a Reprieve on Any Foreclosures Until 2022

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FROM CNBC REAL ESTATE NEWS:

Millions of Americans took advantage of the payment suspension and mortgage forbearance programs both lenders and the federal government rolled out due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year. But as these emergency programs start to wind down this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to put safeguards in place to ensure millions of families aren’t forced into foreclosure. 

A year into the pandemic, about 2.5 million homeowners are still enrolled in some type of forbearance program, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s data for the week of March 21, 2020. Yet even with these programs in place, about 5% of homeowners are currently delinquent on their mortgages, the MBA found in its latest report.

That could increase exponentially as forbearance programs start to wind down this fall. 

“Emergency protections for homeowners will start to expire later this year and by the fall, a flood of borrowers will need assistance from their servicers,” CFPB Acting Director Dave Uejio said Monday. “The CFPB is proposing changes to the mortgage servicing rules that will ensure servicers and borrowers have the tools and time to work together to prevent avoidable foreclosures, which disrupt lives, uproot children and inflict further costs on those least able to bear them.”

To help homeowners who are behind on their mortgages, the CFPB is proposing a new rule that would establish a “temporary Covid-19 emergency pre-foreclosure review period” that would essentially block mortgage servicers from starting the foreclosure process until after December 31, 2021.

This new review period would be in addition to existing rules that bar loan servicers from starting the foreclosure process until a homeowner is more than 120 days delinquent on their home loan. 

Many of the current forbearance programs were set up in the CARES Act last year and apply to federally-backed loans offered through agencies including Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Private lenders and servicers also set up their own forbearance programs. The CFPB’s proposed rule would cover all homeowners, including those with mortgages through private lenders such as banks.

The CFPB’s plan issued Monday is a proposal at the moment. The agency is seeking public comments through May 11 before issuing a final rule.

In addition to requiring mortgage servicers to undertake a review period, the CFPB is also proposing a streamlined loan modification process, which typically allows homeowners to apply to have their loan interest rate reduced, extend the term of their loan and/or reduce their monthly payments.

The streamlined process would allow servicers to offer some loan modification options based on incomplete applications. Normally, borrowers need to submit a myriad of documents — including proof of income, such as pay stubs, tax returns and recent bank statements — before a servicer can make a decision.

Streamlining the process would allow servicers to get homeowners into less burdensome payments faster, CFPB says. The expedited process would only be available for loan modification options that do not increase homeowners’ monthly payments, extend the mortgage’s term more than 40 years or charge any fees.

In February, President Joe Biden directed federal housing regulators to extend mortgage forbearance programs for an additional six months and prolong foreclosure relief programs in a move that covered an estimated 70% of mortgages for single-family homes in the U.S.

Morgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, as well as by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FHA announced that they were expanding their forbearance programs for up to 18 months. For homeowners who requested enrollment in March and April 2020, it means that those programs will expire in September and October.

WRITTEN BY MEGAN LEONHARDT FOR CNBC REAL ESTATE | cnbc.com

SPRING HOUSING MARKET: Bidding wars are off the charts

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FROM CNBC REAL ESTATE:

Presidents Day weekend marks the unofficial start of the spring housing market, but if you’re looking to get in this year, hold onto your wallet. Bidding wars are off the charts, even as home prices are rising rapidly.

The primary reason longtime home searchers haven’t bought a house yet is because they keep getting outbid. About 40% of potential buyers cited that in a new survey by the National Association of Home Builders. The reasons are flipped from a year earlier, when 44% said unaffordable prices were the biggest reason they hadn’t bought yet, and 19% cited getting outbid.

Well over half of all buyers, 56%, faced bidding wars on their offers in January, according to a Redfin survey. That is up from 52% in December. More than half of homes are now going under contract in less than two weeks.

“With so few new listings hitting the market, I expect bidding wars to become more common and involve even more potential buyers as we head into the spring homebuying season,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. (for more, check out www.Redfin.com). She advises buyers to be ready to go see properties the moment they hit the market and to get preapproved for a mortgage.

“But know when to back away if the price escalates more than you’re willing to pay,” Fairweather added.

Competition is fierce across the nation, but worst in Salt Lake City, where 9 out of 10 offers faced competition, according to Redfin’s survey of 24 major markets. It was followed by San Diego (78.9%), the Bay Area (77.1%), Denver (73.9%) and Seattle (73.8%).

The problem is supply, or lack thereof — record low supply. Sudden strong demand, driven by the stay-at-home culture of the Covid pandemic, swiftly smacked into already low inventory, due to lackluster homebuilding. Record-low mortgage rates only fueled demand even more.

Paul Legere is a buyer’s agent with the Joel Nelson Group in Washington, D.C. He says his job is only getting tougher.

“The low cost of money now has buyers able to be more aggressive and willing to overpay for properties. As a buyer’s agent, tasked with trying to help clients find value, that piece of the equation is nearly impossible to do,” said Legere. “It is a constant struggle and scramble to find desirable targets.”

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Sellers have also pulled back, not wanting to go through the ordeal of putting their homes on the market during Covid. The number of newly listed homes in January was down 29% year over year, pushing the total inventory down 47%, according to realtor.com.

Home prices had appreciated at a double-digit rate each week for 26 straight weeks leading into January. The median listing price for a home was up nearly 13% compared with January 2020.

“Lower mortgage rates are making monthly payments for higher priced homes more manageable,” said realtor.com’s chief economist, Danielle Hale. “But finding a home that checks the right boxes amid limited supply, and saving up for the larger down payment needed with higher home prices, continue to be challenging, especially for first-time home buyers who haven’t accumulated home equity as prices have gone up.”

WRITTEN BY DIANA OLICK FOR CNBC .COM

 

BUY, SELL, RENT & OTHER REAL ESTATE TREND PREDICTIONS FOR 2021

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Low housing inventory, buyers moving to the suburbs, construction and renter affordability issues are likely to shape the course of 2021.

FROM U.S. NEWS

THE CORONAVIRUS pandemic that took over much of 2020 led to some unexpected outcomes in the housing market. After a brief initial period of low activity in home sales, homebuyer activity vastly outweighed available homes throughout much of the U.S. for the remainder of the year as people sought more space, ideal home features and affordability.

Now, with the promise of widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon, extended time at home is shaping how people live every day, as well as what they want from their home and where they want to live well beyond the the pandemic.

In 2021, here are a few trends shaping up for the housing market:

  • Interest rates are expected to remain low but increase gradually.
  • Average home prices will rise.
  • Home inventory will remain low, despite plenty of new construction.
  • Homebuyers will stay focused on the suburbs.
  • Renters hurt financially by the pandemic will continue to struggle, and rental assistance is needed.

Here’s what experts are predicting for buyers, sellers, renters and new construction in 2021.

Buying

The coronavirus pandemic drove mortgage interest rates to historic lows for most of 2020, and all signs point to 2021 beginning with continued historically low interest rates. On Dec. 17, Freddie Mac reported the average mortgage interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 2.67%, more than 1 percentage point lower than the average rate at the same time in 2019 and a new 50-year low for average rates.

Low interest rates, the continued creation of new households across the U.S. and a desire for more space among existing homeowners drove demand through the roof in 2020. Many areas were seller’s markets, meaning there weren’t enough homes available to match the number of active buyers.

In many ways, the high demand and positive growth in home prices over the course of 2020 were a surprise, as skyrocketing unemployment created concerns about unpaid mortgages on a widespread scale. “I think a lot of us were preparing for a crash,” says Danielle Samalin, CEO of Framework, an online platform focused on empowering homeowners.

Instead, the housing market continues to flourish, although dense urban centers are seeing less interest as many buyers flock to the suburbs and outlying areas for more space, affordability and options that aren’t necessarily tied to an employer’s location. Walkability to shops or outdoor attractions still has its benefits, but buyers appear focused most on having enough personal space for everyone in the family.

Many of the buyers (and renters) leaving the city for the suburbs were likely to make that move eventually, says David Sigman, executive vice president and principal of LCOR, a real estate investment, development and management company based in New York. “(The pandemic) just accelerated that, and that’s why we saw this rush to the suburbs,” Sigman says.

With expectations for higher rates of homebuilding and a relaxation of the pent-up demand following the shut-downs early in the pandemic, experts expect sellers to have the advantage in 2021.

But homebuyers shouldn’t feel concerned about being able to find a home. If the economy remains stable, mortgage interest rates will likely tick back up over the course of the year while remaining low from a historical perspective. Realtor.com predicts mortgage rates will end the year with an average around 3.4%.

Because the market is expected to remain in favor of sellers throughout 2021, Samalin says her company is focused on helping buyers navigate the homebuying process in a way that will help them avoid getting emotionally caught up when faced with stiff buyer competition.

For buyers who are still worried about job stability, holding off on a home purchase may be the right move. However, lenders have proven through the course of the pandemic that they are willing to work with borrowers facing unemployment or expensive medical bills in order to avoid a future foreclosure crisis.

“No one wants people to suffer, and everyone wants people to take up the options that are available to them. Foreclosure is expensive to the lender,” Samalin says.

Selling

A major contributor to the low supply of homes on the market in the latter half of 2020 has been the fact that many homeowners are choosing not to relocate now – especially if they’re already in a house with plenty of space for remote work and virtual schooling.

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While low mortgage interest rates can be an incentive to buy a new home now, they’re also an incentive for people to refinance and stay in their current home longer. “Making mortgage money so inexpensive contributes to the ‘why move?’ (perspective),” says Mark Fleming, chief economist for title insurance company First American Financial Corporation.

Additionally, most home sellers don’t effectively increase housing inventory without also contributing to rising demand. “They’re turning around and buying a home, usually in the same market,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com. “Ultimately, they don’t lead to a net increase of inventory.”

The expected increase in home prices, however, may entice some owners to sell. With home prices closing out 2020 around 7.6% above the average home price at the end of 2019, realtor.com predicts 2021 will yield an additional 5.7% increase in home prices by the end of the year.

Keep in mind that these numbers represent the expectation for housing on a national scale. The effects on individual housing markets will vary widely. Speaking with a local real estate agent can help you learn more about how home prices and activity are faring in your area.

Of course, the continuation of the pandemic as the vast majority of the population waits for access to a vaccine leaves room for uncertainty. Hale warns of the possibility of a double-dip recession that could remove some buyers from the market as affordability again becomes a key concern.

Even if that happens, however, current homeowners are likely to be largely OK, Hale says. “Homeowners tend to be in a point in their lives – they tend to be a bit older, they have more savings, they have resources to tap if something happens,” Hale says.

Renting

The pandemic’s economic impact has been far less kind to the rental market in the U.S. than the homeowner market. Renter households have, on the whole, been more deeply impacted by the shutting of retail stores, restaurants and other workplaces requiring in-person work that isn’t necessarily considered essential. As a result, the ability of tenants to afford rent has been a growing concern during the pandemic.

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As of Dec. 6, just 75.4% of apartment households in the U.S. made a full or partial rent payment for the month of December, according to a survey of 11.5 million units of professionally managed rentals by the National Multifamily Housing Council. It’s a noticeable drop from the 80.4% of households that had paid full or partial rent by Nov. 6. By the end of the month of November, 93.6% of households had made a full or partial payment, so there is an expectation that the share of renters covering their rent in December will rise before the end of the year.

While temporary and partial eviction moratoriums at federal, state and city levels have helped avoid mass evictions throughout the country thus far, many are concerned about what will happen when moratoriums are lifted in 2021 if financially strapped renters do not receive relief.

On Dec. 21, Congress passed a new coronavirus relief package that will provide $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued eviction moratorium until the end of January 2021, in addition to unemployment assistance and stimulus checks. Still, for those who have struggled financially throughout the pandemic, money problems are unlikely to end overnight and will be a factor throughout 2021.

But financial struggle isn’t the only thing the rental industry will see in 2021. Real estate information company Zillow expects to see the creation of new renter households to bring fresh demand to the market as the country begins to rise out of the pandemic.

“With a vaccine on the horizon and Gen Z continuing to graduate from college, we expect the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic to lift and demand for rental units to surge in 2021,” Zillow senior economist Chris Glynn said in a press release. “Though the coming rebound in the rental market is good news for some, it will certainly put millions of renters who were hit hard by pandemic-related income loss in an even more tenuous position, and further government intervention will likely be needed to avoid a painful wave of evictions.”

The pandemic has additionally shaped how many apartment communities are approaching their amenities. Common spaces including a pool, rooftop deck and lounge area have been popular in apartment communities for years, but now apartment owners and developers are looking at how these common areas can also meet the needs of more remote workers, while allowing for the privacy people will want.

“We’re going to have an increase in need for amenity space,” says Simon Aftalion, development director for Markwood, a real estate investment, development and management firm based in Beverly Hills, California. “Large space can be bifurcated into smaller, more intimate settings … (and) directly contiguous to an outdoor element.”

New Construction and Development

The answer to high demand among homebuyers is to build new houses, and for those houses to meet the space requirements many are seeking after a year spent working, learning and relaxing all at home.

Fortunately, homebuilders appear to be rising to the challenge. The U.S. Census Bureau reported more than 1.54 million housing starts, or the beginning of construction on a house, in November this year. The rate of new home construction is 1.2% higher than October, and 12.8% above the rate of housing starts in November 2019.

Looking forward to 2021, homebuilders are expected to continue to amp up new construction. Building permits issued, which reveals planned construction on homes that has not yet started, were nearly 1.64 million for November, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For the entirety of 2021, realtor.com predicts housing starts will be up 9% compared to 2020.

Even with consistent growth in builder activity, most housing markets can still expect the number of homebuyers to outpace the inventory of available homes. “I’m pretty sure you just can’t build it fast enough,” Fleming says.

For all new construction, you can expect popular home features that have become necessities amid the pandemic to be front and center. In particular, extra rooms or nooks for at least semi-private remote work and school spaces will be a major focus, as well as outdoor space that makes it easy to personalize outdoor living.

Aftalion says in apartment buildings in more dense parts of Los Angeles, private outdoor space has become the focus, including when square footage is limited “even if that means the size of the unit’s (interior is smaller), as long as you can go work and do a Zoom call so it’s shaded, the sun isn’t in your face and it’s next to your (apartment),” he says.

While planned construction on new apartments and condos will go forward in 2021, the public’s shift in preference to a more suburban setting means you won’t see as many builders eager to start planning for more multifamily housing in city centers for a bit – at least not until the future becomes clearer for a post-pandemic housing market.

“We’re expecting kind of a slowdown. I think there’ll be fewer apartment buildings that get started in 2021 than in other years,” Sigman says.

WRITTEN BY DEVON THORSBY, US NEW REAL ESTATE EDITOR

 

 

 



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