Ilyce recently attended the National Association of Real Estate Editors’ 52nd annual real estate journalism conference in Las Vegas, where temperatures soared to more than 106 degrees and the real estate news was equally vexing. Here are some of her insights:
- Home buyers are out in force. Sellers are scarce. The number of homes for sale on the market is as low as it was more than 20 years ago.
- As a result of supply and demand, half of all housing markets are overvalued in terms of price. The median home price in San Francisco is $1.6 million. Redfin’s real estate market report for May noted that this is the fastest real estate market in history; the typical home sold in 34 days in May, and the national median home sale price rose to $305,600, a 6.3 percent increase from May 2017 across 174 markets.
- Rents are also at all-time highs, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Last year, the median monthly rent was $1,550 and the median annual income was in the high $30,000s, which is an extremely expensive and possibly dangerous ratio. Many renters are paying more than 50 percent of their gross monthly income in rent. Experts in financial wellness say this leaves precious little margin for budgeting errors or emergencies. The Federal Reserve recently noted that 40 percent of Americans don’t have $400 in cash for emergencies. Rising rent costs is a likely culprit.
What’s clear from most housing experts at this year’s National Association of Real Estate Editors conference is that home buyers and renters nationwide are dealing with housing affordability issues. There is no city in the country where a person making the minimum wage can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment.
Millennials, in particular, are finding that the housing market continues to be challenging. The desire to own a single-family home is there, according to Realtor.com and National Association of Realtors data. Realtor.com says that when millennials do buy (and they account for the majority of first-time buyers, the NAR says), they end up buying homes in their second-choice neighborhoods, which are more affordable.
But the reality is most millennials are weighed down by their share of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and the jobs they’re getting out of college don’t pay enough to cover rent, let alone all the costs of owning a home. Finding ways to make more cash is a high priority for most millennials, who are looking for every side hustle they can find.
Higher rent costs limit the amount of cash first-time home buyers can save for a down payment, and more first-time buyers than ever are seeking down-payment-assistance funds. It’s not a surprise that over the past 25 years, the average age of first-time buyers has risen to nearly 34 from 26.
On the other side of the house, mortgage lenders are cheering a rollback in regulations, which will make it easier for buyers to qualify for mortgages. Which, while helping more worthy buyers qualify (a terrific goal), will also serve to drive housing prices higher in those neighborhoods where inventory is already scarce, a simple function of supply and demand.
In Austin, where median home prices have doubled in the past five years, there is an estimated shortage of several hundred thousand housing units, according to Mark Wolf, founder and CEO of AHV Communities, who says his company will build more than 400 units next year.
Housing advocates say 90 percent of building codes are outdated and make it too expensive to innovate around new-home building. And while rental buildings are being completed and 700,000 new homes will be built and sold this year, they’re mostly being built at the higher end of the market. Few two- to four-unit multifamily buildings are being built, partly because of density concerns and a NIMBY mentality. Homebuilders overall are still challenged by the availability of lots, local restrictions, building materials and quality tradesmen.
Meanwhile, interest rates are rising and housing economists say they see a 5 percent, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage by the beginning of 2019; the only thing surprising about the 2018 housing market is that, like the stock market, it is steamrolling ahead.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her website, ThinkGlink.com.