The Upcoming Valley Real Estate Market

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Yogi Berra

It’s the time of year where 2022 housing market predictions begin to appear. Zillow weighed in with their prediction for a national pricing rise of 14-16%.  But then again, these are the same people who just shut down their instant offers because their algorithms on future market pricing didn’t work.  Core Logic predicts a national housing price appreciation of only 1.9% due to rising interest rate concerns. But they predicted a drop in values last year of 6.6% and instead soaring prices occurred.  Zelman & Associates warns that investors are over-building and over-buying given the weak population growth and low household formation. They wisely have avoided predicting numbers.

We tend to side with Yogi.  Predicting home prices nationally is a ridiculous exercise.  Housing markets are local – and at times even local markets will appreciate at different rates based on the area and differing price points.  What can we safely say is true is this:

•           The market frenzy that was triggered 3Q of 2020 and through the first half of 2021 appears to be behind us.  This means that it is highly unlikely we will see the unsustainable price appreciation of 30%+ again.  More realistic estimates land in the 7-10% annual growth range for 2022.

•           Ultimately pricing is a supply and demand issue.  Price is a trailing indicator.  For prices to stop rising, supply will need to exceed demand.  That takes time.  So it is very safe to predict rising prices in the first half of 2022. Saying that a frenzy has ended does not mean price increases have ended.

•           Rising prices in a normal market dampens demand. This has already begun and will likely strengthen in 2022.  Seller behavior will need to change to accommodate less buyers.

Want a supply/demand analysis in your specific neighborhood? Contact us! 

Russell & Wendy Shaw

Signs of a cooling market

The Phoenix housing market is cooling, but it is far from cold.  Here are some interesting numbers from the Cromford Report.  From April 1st to October 1st, the number of homes for sale in MLS rose 92% going from 3,591 to 6,883 active listings (supply). In the same time frame, listings under contract dropped 9% (demand). Rising supply with lowered demand says the market is shifting.  Especially concerning is the lowered demand from owner-occupying buyers who are the heart of the housing market.  But before we panic, it is important to note that a count of 6,883 active listings is still extremely low. To put that in perspective, supply is still 45% lower than the pre-pandemic 2019 seller market and 68% below the last balanced market of 2014.  As of the writing of the newsletter, the active listing count has just risen above 8000 for the first time since late 2020.  But even with the numbers remaining well below normal, the rising trend is notable.  In “normal” markets the supply typically does not rise between April and October.  But it did this year. Additionally, other sources of inventory are around the corner.

Possible supply increases

Forbearance agreements are expiring – causing many to expect additional supply of homes for sale from troubled homeowners.  While most people in forbearance retain their homes, about 20% on average elect to sell.  Add to that another anticipated source of homes for sale: the iBuyers (Open Door, Offer Pad, Zillow, etc) The iBuyers bought very heavily – in what appears to almost be a turf war over who could buy the most.  As of this writing, Zillow has just announced they will not purchase any more homes through the end of 2021.  Given the number of homes they purchased, it is not surprising they called a halt, but this will affect demand.  The total iBuyer purchases hit an all-time monthly high in August with 1145 homes purchased (up 533% over August 2020).   Add to that September buys of 1062 (up 471% over last year) and they are carrying a lot of inventory that is scheduled to arrive to market soon.

Where is our market heading?  It is hard to guess given the trends have been somewhat masked by the investors dominating the market.  But, we think most likely sellers will find 2022 a very different market than 2021.  If you have questions about the market or cash offers vs traditional selling, contact us!  We are always here to advise and help.

Russell & Wendy Shaw

Market tidbits

For those hoping for a rebalance of the market (we confess to being in that camp) the steady progress which had been building since April has stalled. The answer to rebalancing is more supply and July delivered in spades with a rise of almost 25% more active homes for sale.  The last two weeks of August reversed that trend and September has been lackluster for new listings.  Currently we are not seeing any clear trends in the market, but here is a smattering of information on what we are seeing.

Demand

On the demand front, home buyers are feeling the pinch of affordability courtesy of the first half of the year which brought significantly higher prices.  Sales counts (closed sales) have started to drop and are slightly lower than last month and this time last year.  What is propping up demand is increased activity from all categories of investors (fix & flip, landlords, and instant institutional buyers) and second home purchasers.  Michael Orr of the Cromford Report confirms this: “If it were not for the activity of investors and iBuyers, and particularly the latter, the market would have cooled during August. This would have been following the trend established since April… Demand is improving but a lot of this is coming from investors and iBuyers so could die away quickly. Demand from ordinary home-buyers is subdued, no matter what the media might be telling you. If the iBuyers stop their spending spree then demand could fall quickly.” This leads us to the topic of iBuyers.

iBuyers ( “instant” buyers:  Zillow, Open Door, Offer Pad, etc.)

We have not commented about the iBuyers much lately.  When they first entered the market place in 2016, the high cost to the homeseller to eliminate a few days of showings in a seller’s market did not seem to make any business sense for homesellers.  But the models are ever evolving.  During the initial outbreak of Covid in March of 2020, iBuyers cancelled almost all their contracts – leaving a wake of very angry home sellers.  Fast forward to today, iBuyers are in a buying frenzy the likes of which we haven’t seen before.  With that has come improved offer prices.  Even though in most cases the consumer will make more on the open market than when taking an instant offer – we certainly understand that for some, time is more important than money.   So that our clients can examine all their options but with representation, we have formed a partnership with the largest iBuyer allowing us to obtain offer (s) on behalf of our sellers at no cost/no commission to the seller. 

But we digress, back to the iBuyer buying frenzy, Michael Orr of the Cromford Report further some cause for concern:   … iBuyers have purchased so many homes over the last month that they are significantly distorting the market dynamics. These homes are mostly going to be re-marketed shortly so they will almost certainly increase supply over the coming weeks… the iBuyers have purchased about 2,850 homes over the last 3 months. That represents almost 9% of re-sale purchases… If iBuyers had not done this, we estimate that supply would already be higher by some 1,800 listings…. We conclude that pricing would also be weaker without their intervention. This begs the question: what happens if they stop buying on this massive scale? The market is therefore more precarious than if demand were primarily growing through owner-occupiers.” (Emphasis added)

There is valid cause for concern about how the iBuyers’ actions will impact our market.  What we know for sure is this buying frenzy will not last forever.

Forbearance

Much concern has been expressed about the potential impact the expiration of the federal moratorium on foreclosures may have on our market (i.e. will a flood of foreclosures be headed our way).  Any worries seem to be overblown, as we are at historic lows for foreclosures and record high equity levels for most. Add to that the continuing low inventory – and foreclosure should be last on their list of options.

Tom Ruff from ARMLS Stat explains:

If we assume that the homes in forbearance were purchased prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in March of 2020 when the median sales price for a resale home in Maricopa County hovered around $300,000; based on today’s median of $405,000; their properties have appreciated 35% while in forbearance.

Distressed but equity rich sellers should avoid foreclosure at any cost.  The market is ready to absorb them quickly at the moment.

Rental rates

Homeowners may generally be unaware the impact the rental market can have on home purchases.  When it is cheaper to rent than own, people rent.  When it is cheaper to buy than rent, more people own.  When there is a shortage of homes for the population, both resale and rents should rise. Here are some interesting stats from Michael Orr:

“The average rental price per square foot, based on ARMLS listings, has increased from $1.00 in September 2019 to $1.36 this month. That is a 36% increase in just two years and must be a budget problem for tens of thousands of tenants. The 19 year period from September 2000 to September 2019 saw only a 28% rise, so the cost of renting has escalated over a very short period. The housing bubble of 2004-2008 saw little to no rise in rents and in fact the low point was 64 cents in February 2005, just as the for sale market was reaching its highest frenzy. This time is very different – showing that the rapid appreciation in home values is due to real shortage of housing rather than speculative activity based on easy money.

Although the cost of renting has jumped 36% over 2 years, the average home price per square foot has increased by far more – from $169.26 to $262.21 (September month to date), a jump of 55%.”

Will all these tidbits coalesce in to a trend?  Time will tell. As always, we will keep you informed.

Russell & Wendy (mostly Wendy) 

The Market Shift Continues

As we have been reporting for a while now, supply is increasing as the market continues to shift towards rebalancing.  The number of homes for sale is up 42 % since May, and up 24.7 % in just the last month – which would be alarming if we didn’t start from a ridiculously low point of supply. The new supply of homes for sale is showing up most prominently in the price range from $400,000 – 1 million.  But, far from alarming, this increasing supply is actually good news.  Bubbles do not recover this way, normal markets do. Sellers, who have waited on the sidelines to capture the rapidly increasing values the first half of the year provided, are finally easing back in to the market as appreciation rates have started to abate. 

Does that mean we are headed towards plummeting prices?  No.  Balanced markets tend to appreciate in keeping with inflation rates.  But it does mean that the days of 50+ offers on homes are likely over.  Price reductions have already crept back in to the market – they are up 131% since May with a median drop of $14,000.  A sure sign of a market that no longer will bear pricing that is too exuberant.  In short, a sense of normalcy is on its way.  If you have been waiting to sell, these signals may be a sign that you need not wait anymore.

Demand remains in a normal range, but seasonal patterns have returned to the market.  The seasonal pattern for buyers accelerates at the first of the year hitting its peak March thru May and then gradually declining each month through the end of the year.  As demand begins to decline seasonally and the supply continues to slowly build, eventually you end up with a balanced market.

The Market Begins to Cool

The Market Begins to Cool

The market has been in such an overheated condition this year that any headline of a “market slowdown” is almost inherently misleading.  Yes, the market is slowing.  But it is a good sign, not a bad one. The market shift actually began in March, and now is confirmed.  In addition to the shift, the market is following our typical seasonal pattern; slowing in the back half of the year once the spring buying season is over.  Last year the pandemic extended the buying season as people could not flee the valley for vacations.  This year we expect, as in years past, activity to gradually slow through the end of the year.

It is important to understand that the market balance in favor of sellers has been and continues to be driven by the levels of supply.  Yes as prices rise, demand drops.  But it is the increased supply – both in unsold properties and in the form of new listings that is driving this rebalancing market.  We are in the early stages of the rebalance.

What to know if you are a seller:

Sellers are going to need to adapt to a market that is shifting.   You likely will not see the carloads of showings, multiple offers and spiraling pricing as desperate buyers fight to outbid each other.  You will see more properties not selling if improperly priced for their condition. That does not mean homes are no longer selling or that prices are plunging.  But seller expectations do need to adapt. Michael Orr of the Cromford Report comments on this issue: “The number of active listings is increasing by roughly 300 per week. The number of showings is in decline and the number of contracts getting signed is getting smaller as each week goes by.

All this makes sense. When prices leap by over 35%, demand is suppressed and supply stimulated.

The obvious question is how far this trend will go before it levels out. The honest answer is that no-one knows. Buyers are more cautious now than they were in 2005. Sellers’ normal first reaction will be denial. Some will blame their agent. These sellers will probably be complaining that they are not getting the viewings and offers their house deserves. This is because they have so quickly become accustomed to a frenzied market. They will now need to get re-adjusted. The market still favors sellers, but buyers will start to gain a little more respect.”

What to know if you are a buyer:

Despite the increasing supply, it is still not easy to buy a home.  The supply of homes for sale must rise to the range of 28,000 properties to have a truly balanced market.  As of this writing, we have 5627 properties on MLS without offers.  Prices are going to continue to go up until supply increases significantly.  The exact amount and rate of appreciation is what is unknown.  The fact that they will continue to rise is predictable- as even in a balanced market pricing keeps pace with inflation.  If interest rates are low (they are, but won’t be forever) and prices are going to continue to rise (they are, even if more slowly) it makes sense to buy now.  So our advice?  If you are a buyer who can buy, buy now.

Prices

The Median price for homes in the greater Phoenix area is up a whopping 35% from 2020.With a rebalancing underway, we do not expect to see anything like that kind of increase in the back half of 2021.  But, as long as supply remains low, prices will increase albeit more moderately.  To quote Tina Tamboer of the Cromford Report: “At its current rate of decline, the Greater Phoenix market is still projected to remain in a Seller Market for 16 months. That’s a target of October 2022 before prices stop rising.” Prognosticating in real estate is a thankless task.  Remember that these projections are based on today’s numbers.  Market shifts, while somewhat predictable, can be quite stubborn in conforming to exact timelines.

Hidden Market Factor: There is a hidden market factor that sellers should be aware of that could affect them.  The expiry of governmental home retention programs on July 31st. Tina further explains: “However this year there’s an event coming up that could alter that scenario, that is the end of forbearance for many homeowners. While the vast majority of forbearances have ended with homeowners staying in their home, anywhere from 16%-20% have resorted to selling their home one way or another according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. This could result in an increase in supply over the next few months, adding extra days of marketing time to your listing and possibly a few price reductions.”  Although we do not anticipate a major impact to our market, it could speed up the shifting timelines towards balance.

As always, we will continue to watch the numbers and keep our clients informed.  Want an up-to-date forecast for the market whether buying or selling?  Contact us.  We are always here to help and inform.

Russell & Wendy Shaw

(Mostly Wendy)

Market Musings

In a persistently strong seller’s market – real estate newsletters can feel the opposite of news.  Like the weather in Phoenix – our real estate market can be antithetical to headlines.  Factually there are consistent changes, but large real estate shifts require time.  So let’s review the current market patterns.

Why is this the hottest real estate market?  Most people would answer that demand is driving this market, but that is a fallacy.  Rather this market is being driven by the scarcity of homes for sale.  Yes, our demand has been slightly above normal. But demand could drop well below normal levels and still have little impact on the market simply because the current supply is so scarce.  We need about 7 times the amount of homes currently for sale to balance the market.  Therefore the key to the market rebalancing is increased listings – both active and new to market – not decreased demand.

The scarcity of homes for sale is largely attributable to 15 years of under-building. Additionally new listings coming to market are lower than 2020 levels, which were not impressive to begin with.  Add in some homes that are not being sold due to forbearance and other governmental programs that are artificially propping up otherwise would-be home sellers, and we simply  have too few homes for sale for the number of people who want to live here. 

As of the writing of this article, we can see the first signs of a slight increase of new listings coming to market.  This is too early in its infancy to say if it will continue.  Also, demand is weakening courtesy of rising prices.  This is exactly what is supposed to happen in a healthy market – demand weakens when prices rise. Is there a rebalancing of the market on its way?  Yes, but supply can take a long time to build which means that balance is a ways off. 

Where are all the buyers coming from? California?

The luxury market does appear to be benefiting from inbound Californians, along with other states.  The luxury market has been setting new records since mid-last year.  To quote Tina Tamboer of the Cromford Report:

The luxury market has been exploding since last summer and continues to be at the strongest level ever seen in Greater Phoenix. The number of listings under contract over $1M is up 156% over last year; but the number under contract between $2M-$3M is up 296% and over $3M is up  212%. In a typical market, sales prices in this range would be landing around 93% of list price.  However in the 2021 market, the sales price ratio is averaging 98% of list.

In addition to luxury buyers making a strong appearance, the purchase of second /vacation homes are up 36.2% over this time last year and rental property purchases are up 52.1% from last year according to the Cromford Report.

 “It is clear that compared to last year, far more sales are going to investors and those buying second homes. The primary residence buyer seems to be the segment that is losing out. Perhaps the rising prices and interest rates are having a greater impact on these buyers (who probably have less financial resources than investors and people buying their second or third home). By itself, this is not a huge development, but it is a new sign that the market may be starting to get a little frothy. Primary residence purchases are the backbone of the market and we do not want to see a market dominated by other buyers when we are looking for signs of good health. “

Given that both resale pricing and rental rates are soaring it is not shocking that investors are making an appearance in this market.  Primary residence buyers are in the market as well, they just tend to lose in multiple bid scenarios – losing to the strong cash positions of both investors and second home purchasers.

Can home prices keep rising?  Are they about to drop?

Obviously home prices cannot rise forever at the current pace of 2-3% per month.  As prices rise, affordability drops thereby causing a corresponding drop in demand.  That allows supply to build up.  Price drops only occur when supply is well in excess of demand for an extended period.   Because our supply is so constricted, we fully expect price increases to continue this year- and possibly for a couple of years – as a buildup of supply takes time.  Michael Orr further comments:

“This is a more significant and long-lived increase in price than any of the booms we have witnessed since the 1950s. We have over a decade of sustained under-building in the face of population growth to work off. This is not some market aberration that will quickly resolve itself. The annual appreciation rate has already exceeded 24% (measured by monthly average $/SF) and there are higher numbers to come. Also what does “cannot be sustained” mean. If it means that prices will one day be lower than today, that we would consider an unlikely prospect. At some stage the boom will fade but we expect prices to stabilize at a much higher level than 2Q 2021. In the words of Stephen Kim of Evercore ISI, we are entering housing’s “Golden Age”.

Are we in another bubble?

Although this is a topic we have previously commented on, it bears repeating.  This market is not like the 2005 market (and subsequent 2007 market meltdown) despite having spiraling prices and multiple offers in common.  Let’s compare:

2005                                                                                 2021

Too many homes for the population                        Too few homes for the population

Excess of vacant homes                                               Very few vacant homes

Wall Street fueled fraudulent lending                       Standard lending practices

Lack of home equity                                                     Large amounts of home equity
Rents were falling (6% in a year)                                Rents are rising (a 21% rise)

People believed it wasn’t a bubble (it was)              Most think it is a bubble (it’s not)

The seeds of failure are sown in times of success No matter how much we discuss the extraordinary strength of the market, most sellers are still shocked when they actually experience being a seller in this market:  Multiple offers, waived appraisals, as-is options, & spiraling pricing.  Sellers who fail to grasp how extraordinary the current market is, are making choices that unfortunately cost them tens of thousands of dollars when they sell.    Some sellers still believe the gimmicks – “online cash offer with no showings” “Sell in hours” “do it yourself” “we don’t put you on MLS so you save on the commission”.  All of these pitches cost you money if you select them.  What sellers can fail to understand when they sell through a limited service real estate company or on their own – is that it is the loss of the upside money is the largest expense of selling.  Because sellers can easily see the expense of a commission but can’t see the sales price they could have achieved, they are vulnerable to sales pitches. The way to get top dollar is to market to the largest pool of buyers and agents, allow a sufficient amount of time for showings (in this market only 4-7 days are typically needed) and negotiating to encourage and exploit multiple offers.  It is the multiple offers properly negotiated that creates the frenzy, not curtailed hours of showings or limiting the buyers who see your home.  The expense of a commission is cheap compared to the loss of the upside.  Having sold real estate over 40+ years, we’ve seen all the gimmicks.  In those years our goal has never changed – getting you the most money. It is not uncommon that we are negotiating an additional 30k-50K in unexpected profit for sellers.  Though we understand this sounds self-serving, we repeat – hard work and good marketing will always beat gimmicks. Always.

Hottest Seller Market. Ever.

Having been in real estate sales since 1979, we have learned that real estate is cyclical. Nothing lasts forever – although at times it sure can feel that way! That brings us to the seller’s market we’ve been in since 2015.  While most expected the pandemic to suppress demand and allow for a rebalancing of the market, the opposite happened. Demand remained above normal – but that is still not where the story lies.  The real story is about supply.  Or more correctly, the lack thereof.   Supply has plummeted to the lowest levels ever.  And new supply (i.e. sellers putting their home on the market to replenish the homes under contract) are arriving at a trickle rather than at normal levels.  Properties for sale are down 61% from this time last year.  Yikes.  Combined with still inadequate new homes being built, there are simply too few homes available to house those who wish to live here.  If we were old Mother Hubbard we would rightly say the cupboard is bare.

This is all confirmed by Michael Orr of the Cromford Report:

The housing market is experiencing moderately strong demand, but this is not the important matter. Variations in demand are almost insignificant. This is because the supply of re-sale homes is so poor it crashes below all time record lows almost every week…The supply situation is the worst we have ever recorded, lower than the first quarter of 2005, which used to hold the record….

Not only is the supply extraordinarily low, it has dropped by a large percentage since the beginning of the year. In a normal year we would expect to have more available supply in mid-February than we had at the start of the year. For example in 2015 active listings rose from 22,879 in week one to 24,041 by week 8… This is a 5% increase. In 2021 we started the year at 6,113 and by week 8 we have dropped to 4,731, a decline of 23%. This is unprecedented.

4,731 homes for sale in MLS is a shocking number for an area as large as Metro Phoenix with 4.5 million people.  Further, about 12% of the 4371 are “out of area listings” meaning in Arizona but not in the valley. That brings the real tally of properties for sale to around 4,000 homes.   To put this in perspective, a “normal” market would have around 28,000 homes for sale. Unprecedented indeed.

Rebalancing & Prices

The law of supply and demand says when supply is inadequate for demand, prices rise.  In fact pricing is currently moving upwards at a rate that is breathtaking to sellers and agents alike.  We saw 3% appreciation in the last month alone! Within the first half of this year, it is possible we could see prices rise 30%.  But (there is always a “but” isn’t there?!) this market will not last forever.  At some point rising prices cause affordability rates to drop, and that will begin to impact demand.  This is how markets rebalance.  As demand falls, supply begins to slowly build.  Sellers sensing record pricing levels, come to market in greater quantities.  Builders continue to build to exploit higher pricing and previously unsatisfied demand. Supply begins to build in earnest.  The market then shifts into balance, with prices ceasing to rise or rising very slowly.  This will happen.  The question is only how soon and how high will prices have to go to trigger the rebalance.  Correction can take some time. 

Pitfalls of an Extended Seller Market

If you are a buyer, the pitfalls of an extended seller’s market are obvious.  Multiple competing offers and spiraling prices can make buying a home a less than thrilling experience.  It takes perseverance, a good agent, and some grit to make it happen. 

If you are a seller, it would seem you hold all the cards – what pitfalls could lurk?  Yet in every seller’s market we see the same mistakes made over and over by sellers. 

  1. Taking the first offer the first day of listing – Once a seller is listed on the market they are understandably excited to receive an offer.  However, in a strongly unbalanced market – waiting a few days to collect multiple offers is a winning strategy for negotiating the most advantageous deal.  We counsel our sellers to allow us at least a few days to attract multiple offers and create a bidding war.  That strategy has often allowed us to get an additional 5-20% higher than list price!  It is critical you hire an agent that has been through more than one overheated sellers’ market so they know how to play the game to maximize your net.
  2. Not negotiating terms – Once the highest price is obtained, other terms can be negotiated that benefit the seller.  In some cases appraisals can be waived (i.e. the buyer puts additional cash down if the appraisal comes in below the sales price rather than the seller lowering the price to appraisal).  Homes can be sold “as-is” avoiding the need for repairs.  In some cases earnest money can be made non-refundable.  Essentially, terms to protect the seller can be as vital to negotiate as price.
  3. Pricing too high – This sounds counterintuitive in a red hot seller’s market.  Shouldn’t any price work?  Almost.  But even in the best market, overpricing can still stop offers.  Currently, 10% of the properties are not selling.  Yes, even with only 4000 properties on the market, it is possible to miss the hottest market ever.
  4. Doing it yourself – In a seller’s market the easiest thing to do is sell a home.  The challenge is to sell it for the most money. Any seller can post their home online or put a sign in the yard and get an offer.  Sadly the “do- it- yourselfer” is missing out on the competition that can be created by being on the market.  And that can cost them the 5-20% upside that competing offers can provide.  Additionally, just as overpricing is a mistake – some sellers underprice by about 10% due to the rapidly rising market.  They simply do not have access to the market statistics that a knowledgeable agent has.  There is a saying that the seeds of failure are sown in times of success.  Selling yourself feels empowering – but sadly even the best of home sellers can cost themselves thousands.
  5. Taking investor offers – If you have a cell phone or a mailbox, you are getting constant offers from investors trying to buy your home.  It sounds so good – no commission, no showings, all cash, as-is!  But let’s be honest, investors do not represent your best interests – they represent their best interests.  They make money when they buy, not when they sell.  That means they need to convince you that selling to them at their price is best for you.  It is never best for you.  Never.  How can you be sure of that?  Well look at what investors do – not what they say.  They only buy for-sale-by-owner homes, rather than listed homes, knowing they will buy below market that way.  But when they sell, they NEVER sell the way they bought – direct to buyers. They always sell on MLS.  Why?  Didn’t they just tell you that you are going to save because there is no commission?  Yet they hire agents and pay a commission when they sell!  Investors know to get top dollar they have to be on the market.  Just like you.

Still have questions about this rapidly changing market?  Call us!  We are always happy to explain your options and get you the facts so you can make an informed decision that is right for you and your family. 

Russell & Wendy (Mostly Wendy)

Goodbye 2020

Welcome to 2021 and the ever changing real estate market.  To know where we are, we need to examine where we have been.  2020 was a challenging year for all.  But surprising to most was not only how resilient the real estate market was despite the pandemic, but how truly important housing became.  For many, home suddenly became their new office or their children’s classroom.  Stay at home orders meant more time spent at home.  Renovation projects increased markedly.  Refinancing soared. Outdoor spaces were updated and repurposed as the new living room.  Appliance stores reported highest ever sales.

What most people did not anticipate is that demand would continue at such an elevated level right to the very end of 2020, largely ignoring the traditional seasonal patterns.  Meanwhile on the supply front, homes for sale dropped to the lowest levels ever. Lowest. Levels. Ever.  The scarcity of the supply of homes for sale is shocking even to those of us who have practiced real estate for over 40 years. Anyone who isn’t involved with buying or selling real estate likely has no idea the market is so hideously unbalanced in favor of sellers. To quote Michael Orr of the Cromford Report “Supply is collapsing at a jaw-dropping rate across large areas of the valley, especially those mid-price suburbs.  However, supply has been a problem for many years and we sound like a broken record when we talk about it… the tiny number of listings available right now is even lower than almost anyone imagined possible just a few months ago.” Demand seems unquenchable gobbling up the supply almost the moment it arrives on the market. Even the luxury price ranges are experiencing record breaking sales and supply is unusually low. Our number one source for inbound relocations to the valley is California, where by comparison, two people are leaving for every one that arrives. Our luxury market is a bargain compared to California pricing. In fact the only exception on supply shortage appears to be the 55+ community.  Although that market still favors sellers, there is far more supply in the age restricted areas.  Not surprising really, given the population most vulnerable to the virus would be less likely to attempt a move.

Fears  

As our market is experiencing seemingly unending demand with strongly evaporating supply, it may seem counterintuitive that fear rather than greed is the emotion of the day.  But many are concerned about the economic underpinnings of unemployment and the expiry of governmental programs that temporarily prop up delinquent homeowners and renters. Add to that the not too distant memories of the run-up in 2005 followed by plummeting prices amidst a tsunami of foreclosures; the fear is understandable.  However, this market is dramatically different than the 2005/2008 market for a variety of reasons.  First, back then we had more homes for sale than we had people to fill them.  Builders were building at a rate that overwhelmed demand.  Today, builders are building at about a third of the level they were then, and not in sufficient quantity to equal demand.  Simply put, there are not enough homes today.  Second, delinquent homeowners who bought even just a year ago can sell their homes (rather than foreclose) thanks to the equity buildup rising prices provides. Third, lenders are loaning to people with fully documented income and credit.  In 2005 lenders were offering zero down loans with no income documentation or credit check (fondly referred to as “Ninja” or “No No” loans – no income, no job, no assets). Fourth, rental rates have soared 15% in just the last 6 months.  With record low interest rates it is cheaper to buy a home than to rent one, despite rising prices. Still not convinced?  No one summarizes it better than Michael Orr:

“People who are worrying about mortgage delinquency rates should remember that foreclosures did NOT create the huge excess supply of 2006. The excess supply arrived 2 years before the foreclosures started in earnest. When the bank owned homes hit the market, it was already dreadfully over-supplied, so their prices dropped sharply. If we saw a new wave of distressed homes right now, they would be soaked up very quickly by eager buyers and prices would continue to rise. It would help move the market back to a more normal balance, so prices would rise at a more moderate pace. Most distressed homes would be unlikely to get to foreclosure because almost all of them have substantial owner equity and can be marketed as normal sales, or at worst pre-foreclosures, not short sales (which can often be tricky to close).

The current situation is very different from 2004 or 2005. Then a large number of newly built homes had been purchased by investors with 100% loans and were lying unoccupied with no tenants interested in renting them, despite record low rental rates. Many other homes had been purchased by owner-occupiers on fraudulent loan applications, who never even made the first monthly loan payment, living in their new home for free with minimal money down. Loan fraud was rampant in 2005 and 2006, largely driven by the mortgage industry itself rather than the borrowers. Wall Street firms (like Lehman Brothers) demanded mortgages to chop up and sell as securities and mortgage brokers could not supply enough without resorting to abnormal practices focused mainly on sub-prime loans. Remember Countrywide and Washington Mutual? Stated income loans? No documentation loans?

I repeat – 2020 is nothing like 2005. The 2020 housing market is not abnormally pumped with artificial credit, just starved of supply. Forecasting the future is extremely difficult, but drawing parallels with 2005-2008 is not helpful, nor is it logically appropriate”

Prices & supply

So what will 2021 bring in terms of pricing?  Forecasting is a thankless job and one that is bound to fail.  But we anticipate prices to rise for the first half of the year (and possibly for the next 2 years).  Why? Again, there is just not enough supply.  In shortages of supply – prices rise. That leads to the most important question, when will supply rise to normal levels (defined here in the valley as 28,000-30,000 properties)? It is likely going to take years to balance this market given that current supply is only around 6,000 properties for sale.  To correct the imbalance, Builders will need to build in more volume, delinquent owners will need to place their homes on the market, and those who need to sell for personal reasons (family formations, divorce, job relocations, etc.) do so.  Perhaps even the vaccine will allow for more homes to be placed on the market as jobs resume and migration accelerates.  Of course this market imbalance will not last forever. Pricing at some point will dampen demand – as the law of supply & demand dictates – allowing for a larger build up on homes on the market. At that time prices will level off or even fall.

Whatever 2021 shall bring, we will be here to report it to you.  Here’s to a bright 2021!

Russell & Wendy Shaw

(Mostly Wendy)

Demand Strong, Homes for Sale Scarce

 The real estate market of 2020 will likely go down as one of the strangest years in history.  That is saying something given the meteoric rise of 2005 and the catastrophic fall of 2008.  The pandemic hitting in March quelled the market for a few months – then released the normal patterns only time lapsed a quarter later.  Exemplifying this is the spike in the above 600K sales in August.  Typically the luxury market goes soft in the summer months as those with the most income tend to escape the summer heat.    Not this year.  Homes in the 600K+ range saw a rise of 17% in August!  Normally the stock market drives the luxury market – when wealth increases, purchases increase.  The 2nd quarter for corporate profits was far from stellar – with only a few exceptions (Amazon!) they were lower than any time in the last decade.

     So why the spike in luxury purchases?  You can thank taxes and our California neighbors.  To quote Tina Tamboer of the Cromfort Report:  “The answer may lie in what’s been dubbed “wealth flight”.  Some states like California are considering increases in income taxes, corporate taxes and a new “wealth tax” in the wake of the pandemic. As a result, the threat of new taxes on already hurting balance sheets is enough for companies and their employees to make the decision to move. This, coupled with the work-from-home movement, is fueling demand in Metro Phoenix where taxes and the cost of housing are comparatively more affordable than other cities.  For buyers waiting for prices to decline, there is no indication of that happening soon despite apocalyptic predictions of another foreclosure wave; at least not while the Valley has a net increase in population moving to the area.”

     Building has been much lower than our growing population warranted over the last 14 years.  Not surprising, given the overbuilding that occurred in 2005-2007 and burned many a builder.  But builders finally are responding as Tina further explains:   “However, last July saw over 3,000 single family permits filed; the largest number filed in a month since March 2007. This should provide some much needed relief for buyers and some added competition for sellers in the coming months. While exciting, this increase in new home permits is not alarming.  The biggest month recorded was July 2004 with 6,291 permits filed.

     For buyers this may mean that relief is on the way.  But building takes time.  For sellers, currently they are the main game in town and may want to take advantage of this window of high demand, low supply.

     Do you have a question about the market we didn’t address?  Please contact us – we are always here to help.

Russell & Wendy Shaw