Worried about the real estate market crashing? This will help

We are living in the first tough economy since the Great Recession. Naturally there are people that worry about the real estate market crashing again. The memory of half the houses on any street being for sale and owing more on your house than it is worth is all too fresh.

While I don’t see any need to be concerned about that happening again, I got to thinking about what that would look like if it were to happen.

Let’s look at a huge difference between 2005 and today. Both are times when the real estate market was on fire.

Back in 2005, the interest rates I was seeing were around 5.5%. The market was good. Values were high. Then when the 2006 season kicked off, it wasn’t as good. The following years until 2012 got worse and worse. Fewer buyers. More sellers. More foreclosures. Unlike stocks, real estate values usually rise gradually and fall even more gradually. Short of a landfill being built behind your house, you are not going to wake up one day and find your house is worth 20% less than it was the day prior. Remember this because I will bring it up later.

That person who paid $300k for a house in 2005. Let’s say they did a 30 year mortgage at 5.5%. One year into their mortgage, they owed about $296k still. After five years, they still owed about $277,500. This is why many of them had to BRING money to a closing when they needed to move in 2010. Back then, one of the first things you would ask a potential seller was “How much do you owe on it?” Many were upside down on their houses, which is why many chose to walk away and let the house get foreclosed.

Today, a buyer can get a 2.875% interest rate for the same $300k house. That is just over half what it was 15 years ago. After one year, they owe about $293,500. After five years, they owe around $266k.

Okay, now it’s time to remember I said real estate values, when they drop, don’t drop fast. It took about 5 years for values in the Lexington area to drop about 15% from the 2005 peak values. Some houses didn’t even loose that much. Picking a good house with a good floor plan, on a good lot, in a desirable neighborhood for the price range and with average or better performing schools is the best way to protect yourself from a bad market. If you look at the math on today’s buyer getting a super low interest rate, you will see that in five years, they have paid off about 12% of their balance. If they get a couple years of appreciation before a decline, the numbers are even better!

I know I got a little nerdy there with the math. Sorry. In the end, my point is that should the market crash again, today’s buyer is going to be in much much much better shape due to low interest rates. If the value of your house drops at the same rate that you are paying down your mortgage, then the worst thing that can happen is you just aren’t building equity in the house. It’s effectively like you’ve been renting where you pay to live there and walk away with nothing when you sell…..and this is the worst case scenario. The best case scenario is that the market stays good and you build a ton of equity. I just don’t see much risk in buying a house right now thanks to low rates.

Low interest rates could be the WORST thing to happen to the market

Yep. I know. It doesn’t make sense at first. How could these incredibly low interest rates possibly be a bad thing? They are a very good thing right now for people buying or refinancing their existing house. The problem is in the future.

Let’s take the average person who has probably refinanced their old mortgage recently. Let’s say they paid $160k for their 1700 square foot home in Masterson Station in 2013. They put 5% down on a conventional loan. Their interest rate was 3.875%, which seemed stupid low at the time since rates had been about 5% just a few years earlier. Their payment, excluding taxes, insurance and PMI, would have been about $714 a month. They decide they want to refi. Their house is now worth about $210k. They owe about $126k on their old mortgage. They get a 3% interest rate and now their payment is about $531. They are saving around $180 per month. They are happy.

Now lets look 5 years out from now. They want to move up to a $300k house. (Let’s keep the value of their current house and the one they want to buy based on today’s values since both should appreciate about the same….it just makes it easier for me to do the math!) They have close to $100k in equity, so they are effectively only going to finance an amount that is about equal to the value of their current house. This is really sounding good. But wait, maybe the interest rates are 5%? If so, their payment will more than double. That’s right. They have close to $100k down and are borrowing an amount equal to the current value of their existing home. Their new payment for principal and interest would be just over $1100 a month. People who need mortgages shop by their mortgage payment. They find out what they can afford per month and then figure out how much house it buys. These people won’t move. They will upgrade their existing house instead.

The same holds true for the people buying a house today. They won’t want to see their mortgage payment double if interest rates go up, so they will stay as long as they can stand it.

This is why, unless interest rates stay very low for a very long time, eventually there will be even fewer houses for sale. This will of course keep prices high since there will be less of a supply and demand will not decrease. We are not building enough new houses and the next generation of buyers will be bigger than previous generations.

So, what’s the take away here? If you can see yourself staying in your current house for 7-10 years, refi now. If you are a buyer, buy a house big enough to stay in for a long time. The last thing you want to do is outgrow your current house in 3-5 years and possibly not be able to afford a larger one.

Always think about selling in a Buyer’s Market

I am always sad when I see a house sell that has been sitting on the market forever.

Sometimes a house will stay on the market for a long time because the initial listing price was too high, or the house didn’t show well.  Both of those can happen to perfectly good homes.  The reason those don’t sell is because of the seller, not the house.  Often these houses sell once the list price gets reduced into the realm of reality, or the seller does some cosmetic repairs that make it easier for a buyer to want the house.

Any time I show a house like this, my client usually asks me why the house hasn’t sold yet.  If I check the listing history and see that they started out asking a crazy high price and have reduced it, I tell them it is okay to buy it.  If I look through old pictures or see fresh paint, new flooring, etc, I tell them it is okay to buy the house.  Sometimes sellers just need to learn how the market works at the expense of their days on market.

Then there are those houses that don’t sell because of the property itself.  Those are the ones that I advise my clients to not buy.  These houses usually have some odd feature like a crazy floor plan, a poorly done addition, a neighbor whose yard is full of junk or has a dozen dog kennels in their backyard, the house backs to commercial or industrial zoned properties, etc.  These houses eventually sell to somebody who doesn’t mind that particular negative.  Whenever I show one of these houses, I like to tell my client that while they might not mind the negative feature that has kept the house from selling, it will be extremely difficult for them to sell it when it is their turn.   The past 8 years have been a pretty strong Seller’s Market.  If a house took a long time to sell in a hot market, can you imagine how long it would take in a Buyer’s Market?

I have lived through lots of markets.  I have seen seller’s who paid too much in a hot market lose money when they needed to sell.  I have seen people get their dream job and move out of town, only to have to make two mortgage payments until their old house sells.  I have seen people who felt lucky to have gotten their house in multiple offers struggle to sell it in a Buyer’s Market.

I don’t want to see any of my clients go through any of this.  In real estate, you often don’t see the consequences of a mistake until years later when you go to sell.  Helping people avoid this mess is one of the greatest joys of my career.

What is this going to do to the value of my house?

I just had a client who is going to sell and buy with me ask me to forecast the market in the short term.  Here is what I said:
I think that the market and prices will at least remain stable for the next 6-12 months.  All of the unemployment is probably the biggest concern, but a lot of those that have been laid off are renters and not home owners so I am not expecting to see a lot of foreclosures.
Like any market, real estate is about supply and demand.  As long as the ratio of buyers to sellers remains fairly equal, the market will always be strong even if the total number of sales is down.  What we had already been seeing in the pre-coronavirus market is that people are staying longer in their houses.  That is one reason the market has been so strong the past few years….there have just been fewer houses for sale.  In Lexington, we have another issue that plays a big role, which is that we are running out of land to develop.  Lexington cannot simply build new houses to meet the demand like other towns across the country.  Even though the surrounding towns are seeing a construction boom, Lexington will always be the most desirable place to live in the Bluegrass.
There is a lot of refinancing going on.  Usually people stay longer in their houses when they have recently refinanced.  I saw this several years ago when rates had hit a record low at that time.  If rates stay similar to where they are now, it won’t be too bad.  If rates go up past 4%, people would have to pay a lot more for their mortgage than they do now.  If a seller’s house has appreciated a lot and so has the house they want to buy, having more equity from the sale of their old house to carry into the new one doesn’t matter as much if their payment is still going to be a lot higher.  Most people base their decision on the monthly mortgage payment.
I think there will be plenty of buyers in the market for quite a while.  A lot of the older millennials have outgrown their starter homes and will be looking for a house like you have in Chilesburg.  The Gen Z buyers are entering the market now and from what I have read, will be 27% of the population.  These are people that will be buying based on a need, not just because they want to nicer house.  One thing I learned from living through the worst real estate market in history is that first time buyers drive the market.  It’s like a baseball game where the bases are loaded.  Every player standing on a base has a house to sell before they can buy their next one.  The first time buyer comes to bat, hits the ball and because they don’t have a house to sell, everybody on a base gets to move to the next one.
So, in Lexington, I think the limited supply due to people staying in their homes longer, the lack of new construction and the number of young buyer will keep our market strong.
Probably the single greatest threat to all of this would be if we saw crazy inflation and rates skyrocketed like they did in the 80s.  If that happens, the houses over $400k would be much harder to sell.  The cheaper houses should be safe because what will happen is that you will see first time buyers competing with all the buyers for smaller, affordable houses.

What’s this doing to the market?

Not a lot so far.

Everything is a bit slower, but my listings are still getting shown and there seem to still be houses getting listed and selling every day.

Some of my buyers are laying low to see how this goes and for how long it lasts.

I’ve been reading a few articles that have said this could be like the Great Recession where real estate prices fell.  It won’t be.  Why?  We still have a shortage of houses for sale.  That will keep prices where they are.  Think of it this way:  If there are 1000 houses for sale and 1100 buyers, it is really the same as having 100 houses for sale and 110 buyers.  Supply and demand are the same.  As long as there are more buyers than sellers, prices will stay stable.

If you are a Buyer:

Don’t be afraid to buy.  Take advantage of great interest rates.  Negotiate the best price you can.  As I have always recommended, buy a house that will be easy to sell in any market.  That means a good location, a good floor plan, as flat of a yard as possible, average or better than average performing schools.  Don’t buy the biggest or smallest house in the neighborhood.  Don’t buy one that doesn’t fit in with the others such as having a one car garage when every other house in the neighborhood has a two car garage.

If you are a Seller:

I would put my house on the market as soon as possible.  In uncertain times, taking action now to prepare for the worst is always good.  I think I might put a new listing on the market on a Friday afternoon and only allow showings on the weekends.  That way you get the most people in all at once and can then clean things like your door handles, counter tops, faucet handles, garage door opener button afterwards and feel good about being home again…..and take your toilet paper with you when you leave for showings, lol.