What happens when we do see more houses for sale?

I read a lot of news about real estate. It is always a little funny to me to see what people who are not realtors have to say about the market. There are two things that I have read this week that have me rolling my eyes.

The first one is the headlines about how the number of sales have been declining. Gee, that’s just what happens when there are so few houses for sale. This does NOT mean that buyers are deciding not to buy a house. It means that they can’t get a house.

The other one is that it seems there is a projection that we should have more houses for sale later this year than we have in a long time. That would be great but let me tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that prices are going to drop. They might stabilize prices a bit but when a hot new listing in Lexington can easily get 15 offers, we would need 15 times the listings for a balanced market. There is going to be more buyers than houses for a while.

A lot of the people who are fantasizing about what that market might look like are not old enough to have lived through the housing crash during The Great Recession. Back then we had more houses for sale than ever and do you know what? The best houses still sold fast and often in multiple offers. Do you know why? It is because everybody wants the best house in their price range. We could triple the number of houses for sale today and it wouldn’t change much. What would happen would be that the best houses sell fast and for top dollar while every other house languishes on the market. This flood of new inventory does not mean that every buyer will be able to get their ideal home.

A pleasant surprise this morning

Like always, I woke up, made a cup of coffee and checked out the new listings. I saw what prices got reduced, then viewed the pending and sold listings. Pretty routine. Lately it takes about 30 seconds to go through the 15-25 new listings every morning.

Today I woke up to more new listings than I have seen in a while. Many of them were under $200k!

I am really hoping this is the beginning of a new trend. There has been speculation that a lot of sellers were holding off on listing there homes until COVID got under control and they felt okay about letting people in their homes. Today might have been the first day of that.

I am starting to hear from a lot of sellers that it might be a good time to sell their homes. Of course, it has been for a long time. However, when many sellers feel like prices have gotten crazy and decide to cash out, it could mean a shift in the market a little. While I think it will remain a Seller’s Market for quite a long time, I totally welcome a more balanced market. It is good for everybody.

Or it could just be that it is the first big spring day when all the sellers begin to put their homes on the market. Sellers usually need the first couple of warm weekends to spruce up their yards before listing.

We’ll see how the next few weeks pan out. All I know is that it got me excited to think about so many new listings hitting the market!!

What is being a realtor really about?

You’d think it would be about houses, but it is not.

You’d think it would be about the market, but it is not.

You’d think it would be about knowing what a house is worth, but it is not.

You would think it would be about marketing a property for sale, but it is not.

You would think it would be about showing houses to buyers, but it’s not that either.

All of these things are important, but they are not what being a realtor is really about.

It is about guiding people to make a good decision using all of the things above. I often describe my job, when asked, as “Talking people into making a good decision and talking them out of making a bad one.”

In the future, realtors might not even be needed for a buyer to view a house. People may end buying real estate like they do anything else online, or there will be an app to open the lockbox on the front door without a realtor. In the future one of two things will happen: Technology will make tools like Zillow’s Zestimate more accurate, or people will broadly accept them as being accurate. Either way, realtors won’t be needed to determine market value.

It all comes down to helping people make a good decision. There are tons of tiny decisions in buying or selling a house that can have huge consequences. Money can be lost. Time can be wasted. Stress can be compounded. Since most people only buy or sell a house a few times in their lives, often they don’t know the difference between a good decision and a better one. It is easy to make a good verses bad decision. Good verses better requires some knowledge and experience.

A realtor friend and I often chat about what we having going on. It makes us both better realtors I think. He had a situation where he had two offers on a listing. One was slightly better than the other, but the people with the slightly worse offer really wanted to live in that specific neighborhood. Do you go with more money and risk losing those buyers if the home inspection didn’t go well? Do you go with the slightly less offer where you know the buyer is less likely to walk away because they have to have that specific neighborhood? I told my friend to go with the higher offer. My thinking was that if the higher offer people walked away after the inspection, which is usually within 10 days, the other buyers who wanted that specific neighborhood will still be around. Best of both worlds.

Since the market is so hot right now, I am seeing lots of sellers saying a neighbor or a somebody they know is interested in buying their house before it gets listed. My advice to anybody today is to put the house on the market and try to get at least two offers. Today’s buyers are used to fighting to get a house. Get two or more buyers competing for a house and YOU as the seller will always come out the winner. Also, a buyer wanting your house because their parents or grown children live on the street will ALWAYS be there too. That buyer is not just looking for any house in your price range. Being close to mom, dad, grandma, grandpa or grandkids is what makes them want your house. They may or may not pay the most for it, but they are not out actively looking for any house in your price range all over town.

Another thing I am seeing more of is the opposite end of this where a buyer thanks me for my time and tells me they have bought a house from a friend. I had somebody this year with a friend who was selling their house by owner. My client bought it. The house had been on the market for quite a while. In today’s hot market, not selling fast is a sure sign that something is wrong. When buyers decide to wait for the next new listing and pass on your house, can you imagine how difficult it will be to sell the house in a cooler market? This is where the whole good verses better decision starts to have big consequences. People who make poor choices as a buyer typically don’t realize they made a poor choice until they go to sell the house. I saw plenty of that from Great Recession sellers who told me they went over the asking price in multiple offers when they bought the house that they were now selling for less that they owed on it.

So, being a realtor is really about using your experience and knowledge to help people make the best decisions possible. There is nothing that feels better than knowing your seller got the best deal possible, or that your buyer landed a house that will always be easy to sell when that time comes.

How COVID will affect what people want in a home

It won’t change a thing.

I don’t know about you, but all the news I have been reading is saying buyer’s wants have shifted due to quarantining. They say people are wanting a place to work from home, wanting bigger houses, wanting great outdoor spaces, and a less open floor plan.

I personally think that writers of such stories don’t know much about real estate and just have to write something because that is their job.

When have people not wanted a bigger house? When have they not wanted a better backyard? When have they not wanted a home office? Okay, the wanting a less open floor plan is something that has been emerging for the past few years but isn’t really possible in a smaller house. To do a less open floor plan you need a big enough house so it doesn’t feel like you have a bunch of super small rooms. People may covet these features a little more right now, but it definitely is not a new trend in housing.

I think the biggest effect COVID has had on what people want in a home is simple……..to just find one they like, pay at least the full list price, possibly waive inspections, and take advantage of incredibly low interest rates. Beyond that, the buyers of average priced homes are not all that picky.

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.