Are we in 2005? Yes and No

17 years. That’s how long I’ve been in real estate. Man, have I seen a lot!

When I got into this in the spring of 2005, here is what it was like:

  1. No realtor wanted to work with buyers.

2. It took no real skill to list a house and sell it since they were selling so fast.

3. We all thought the market would be like this forever.

4. Affordability was an issue and people were considering moving outside of Lexington to find cheaper housing……until gas shot up to $3 a gallon.

Here we are in 2022 and all that is still the same at the moment:

  1. No realtor wants to work with buyers now since all you do is write offer after offer on every new listing in any buyer’s price range.
  2. It takes even less skill to list and sell a house today since you don’t even need to know what the house is worth. Today you could list the house at 9:AM for $1 and by 5:PM the same day you’ve got 5 offers all at market value. The moment being a realtor gets a little tough, you will see 25% of all realtors get out of the business……starting with the ones who suck at being a realtor but are brilliant at self promotion.
  3. We still think it will stay this way forever. It won’t. While I think the market will stay strong short of a major economic catastrophe, it will slow down. Houses still sold in the late 70s and early 80s when interest rates were the highest they have ever been. Don’t think for a minute that 5% or even 7% will kill the market. Don’t think that inflation will kill it either. Wages will rise. They have in every inflationary time. Right now they haven’t caught up to inflation but they will. If you made $1600 a month in the 80s and your mortgage was $400, that is the same percentage as if you make $6400 a month now and have a mortgage of $1600.
  4. Affordability is still an issue. Used to be finding a first home under $100k was hard. Now it is hard to find anything decent for less than $200k. Many people that work in Lexington have been shopping in surrounding towns for cheaper prices. I have always discouraged that for a couple of reasons. I did the same in the late 90s with my first house. I was driving back and forth between Lexington and Winchester all the time and hated it. What I saved on the mortgage I spent on gas, tires and maintenance for my car. I encourage people to live where their life is. If work and your social life are in Lexington, well, you should live in Lexington. Also, I remembered what gas hitting $3 a gallon did to the market back then. It killed the first time buyers interest in buying outside of Lexington. Now $5 a gallon seems to be the magic price that keep people from doing this.

Should I buy if I know I won’t keep the place for long?

Back when the market was bad, I would always tell people not to buy a house unless they did not know exactly how long they would own it. If they knew they would only be in town for 2-3 years max, my advice was to rent. Same for “Kiddie Condos” too where a parent buys a condo verses renting an apartment or paying for a dorm for 4 years.

Back then the only variable was the housing market. Inflation was flat. Today is a LOT different. The value of the property AND inflation are both variables that are poised to benefit you in this situation. All the major players are predicting both housing prices to continue to rise and inflation to rise in the near future. That’s a double bonus for you and really for anybody buying any asset right now. Buy now at today’s lower price and pay it back with deflated dollars through a mortgage. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Many people seemed to enjoy my last two posts about my weight loss journey. I’m thinking I might include a little bit more stuff that’s going through my mind these days. I’ve gone through a lot of changes and unfortunately I’m now old enough to want to share my experiences and wisdom gained along the way.

Growing up, I always had a lot of anxieties. Sometimes they would be really debilitating. Couple anxiety with a mind that never turns off and it gets worse. I know a lot of people with what is now called high functioning anxiety. I am hoping this helps them.

I think two things helped me out the most.

The first was that I was able to train my mind to separate my perception of reality FROM reality. When I would get anxious about something, I would tell myself “Okay John, this is what you FEEL is happening but this is what is REALLY happening.” It sort of switched my response from being emotional to logical.

Then I realized that most things that make you anxious are either things in the past or the future. We all tend to dwell on either since I sort of feel in general, humans suck at being in the present. If I was anxious about something in the past. Maybe dwelling on some awkward social situation where I worried if I said the wrong thing, I would just try to learn from it and go on, making the next awkward situation easier……because guess what, I can’t undo the past! For future anxiety, I would just try to focus on the present and remind myself again that how I feel about it is totally different than reality and reality always wins. If it was some sort of performance anxiety, I would make whatever I needed to do as basic as possible. That seemed to make it a manageable task. I still do this if I have a super stressful day ahead of me. If I wake up and have to take 3 different clients out to see houses, negotiate a repair list, write an offer, have a closing and otherwise have a crazy busy day, I might just tell myself “All you need to do John is drive around with people and look at houses, make a few calls and do some paperwork.”

I really think like any obstacle in your life, you need to realize YOU can train yourself to control your mind and your responses to things. It isn’t easy and it isn’t quick because you are basically battling yourself. Just slowly do these two thing and you will find your anxiety level decreases.

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.