Weekly Mortgage and Real Estate Report – Week of March 12, 2018

ECONOMIC COMMENTARY
The Jobs Machine HumsThe wild year has continued with regard to volatility in the markets, political headlines and, sadly, national tragedies. Through it all, we have seen three patterns emerge. First, the volatility has been focused mostly in the stock and bond markets. Stock gains were some of the strongest in memory in January and the losses in February came close to wiping out those gains. The bond market has been weak, and this has led to higher long-term interest rates.

Secondly, we have seen an economy which has continued to strengthen, but not overheat. There is no longer talk of the lack of inflation being a threat to growth. But, on the other hand, inflation has not been a major issue either. Lastly, up until now, jobs growth has been rather steady. Other than a hiccup late last year due to the devastating storms we had during the hurricane season, our jobs growth has been holding at a strong enough level to keep unemployment low.

February’s job report saw this trend grow stronger with 313,000 jobs added. The unemployment rate remained at 4.1%. With regard to wages, the story there showed no acceleration of wage growth. Overall this report was viewed as good news. For those waiting and wondering what the Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee will do with interest rates next week when they meet, the consensus is that this report will not change the odds much that the Fed will increase rates. Nothing is a certainty, but if you listened to the Congressional testimony of the new Chairman, Jerome Powell, a rate hike this month is definitely a strong possibility.

REAL ESTATE NEWS
 The national homeownership rate reached its highest level since the fourth quarter of 2014, increasing slightly in the last quarter of 2017, according to the Quarterly Residential Vacancies and Homeownership report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The homeownership rate rose to 64.2% in the fourth quarter. This is up from 63.7% the year before and 63.9% in the third quarter. “After bouncing around near 50-year lows for the past few years, the national homeownership rate finally seems to be gaining sustainable, meaningful upward momentum,” Zillow Senior Economist Aaron Terrazas said. “The fourth quarter of 2017 was unseasonably strong, driven by buyers determined to make a deal in a highly competitive market. And for would-be buyers struggling to save for a down payment or figuring out how to make the monthly payment math work out, changes in the tax code that potentially put more money in their pockets could be the push they need to move out of an apartment and into a first home,” Terrazas said. “What’s even more positive news for the housing market is that much of the increase in the homeownership rate over the past year has come from 18 to 44-yearolds,” Trulia Chief Economist Ralph McLaughlin said. Source: HousingWireIf rates keep rising to break the 5% barrier, most homebuyers will go right ahead with their purchase anyway. Just 6 in 100 prospective homebuyers surveyed by Redfin said they would halt their planned home purchase if rates were above 5%, although a further 27% would slow their search. A quarter of respondents said that a 5% rate would make no difference to their plans, 1 in 5 would speed up their search and a similar share would look to cheaper neighborhoods or a smaller property. Three quarters of respondents nationwide thought home prices would continue rising in 2018, and 25% said they thought the increases would be significant. “Tight credit, lack of inventory and high demand are the major factors that tell us there’s no housing bubble, despite rapid price increases,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. “There are still many more buyers than the current housing supply can support, with no major relief in sight. Strict lending regulations make it much harder to buy a house you can’t afford than during the housing boom a decade ago. Finally, still-low interest rates somewhat offset high prices for some buyers.” Source: Redfin

Home builders and designers say demand is increasing for more flexible living spaces, giving rise once again to “bonus” or “multipurpose” rooms. Such rooms offer extra square footage for owners to create a space that fits their lifestyle. Baby boomers, for example, are showing interest in bonus rooms that could potentially serve as a first-floor master bedroom or suite. Out of the 20 top-selling floor plans on Houseplans.com, 13 include bonus rooms, according to the site. However, only 14 percent of all plans the site offers contain such rooms. They are usually located off the entry hallway near the main living space and a bathroom. The location makes it easy to transform the space into an extra bedroom, if needed. Bonus rooms also may be located above the garage. Homeowners use these extra spaces for anything from an in-law suite to a home theater. Some designers say real estate professionals shouldn’t label bonus rooms with a specific purpose when showing a home to their clients. Let buyers imagine for themselves how they’d use the room; this can also make the listing more appealing to them. “When you name it ‘dining room,’ they will always see it as a dining room; they will never get it out of their mind,” says Mark Mathis, co-owner of Hattiesburg, Miss.-based design firm House Plan Gallery. “We have found that labeling this type of area as ‘flex space’ on our floor plans best allows home buyers to decide how a particular space can be used to fit their specific family’s needs.” Source: The Wall Street Journal

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