Andrew Wetzel's Musings

April 20, 2022

The 2022 Real Estate Market:  Bubble or Not?

I listed and sold Real Estate during the build-up to the crash of 2008. I contend that this market is NOT the same. Let me explain.

Google defines “bubble” as a good or fortunate situation that is isolated from reality or unlikely to last. Good? Fortunate? That depends on your perspective which makes the definition vague, allowing people see both markets as more similar than they are.

Whatever you think caused the crash in 2008, I will focus on my personal experiences. Starting around 2002, the specific months and years involved varied across the country, interest rates dropped dramatically to generate buyer interest. Interestingly enough, the rates that created that heated market were very much like what we see today which has many complaining about rising rates. How is that for perspective?

In addition, and very troubling, lending standards loosened dramatically. The changes included a reduction in the minimum credit score required to “qualify” for a loan as well as increased ratios, meaning that prospective buyers could use more of their gross and net income to buy Real Estate. Ever hear the phrase “house poor”? Let me digress for a moment.

I have always asserted that the smartest people on the planet worked in finance of some sort. Not to disparage other professions but it is impressive to see how financial people use data to make decisions. I wish “analytics” in sports were as good but the issues with them likely relate to who is using them.

Here is my point. Lenders are NOT in business to loan money. Nor are they in business to turn down “credit worthy” borrowers:  there are no awards for “most declined business”! Lenders are in business to MAKE MONEY plain and simple and they do that by lending money to “credit worthy” borrowers. Many companies quickly sell their loans as investments in the borrowers using the Real Estate as collateral if the borrower defaults. They do NOT want to evict people to take ownership of the Real Estate. Doing that, in addition to the emotion of displacing homeowners, is costly and time consuming, perhaps costing them tens of thousands of dollars and the properties are often in disrepair.

There are two major components to making loans. First, the prospective borrowers must demonstrate their “credit worthiness”. Many joke that lenders will only lend money to people who can prove that they do not need the money. Anyway, lenders use “metrics” to assess how viable a prospect is. I do not know how they determine the “benchmarks” they use but do not believe that they intentionally discriminate although I am sure that some people let personal bias affect how they do business. Others may commit fraud to enrich themselves. I will focus on how things are meant to work. The standards are the same for ALL people as far as I know so, just because one group seems disadvantaged by the metrics, does NOT prove anything wrong happened. That is a lesson I think many need to learn.

The second component is an appraisal of the property to ensure that the lender is making a smart investment and, worst case, can recover their money should the borrower default. I have heard of issues where some allege that specific groups suffer bias with appraisals but think some of that may have more to do with location, features and condition rather than simply assuming that appraisal issues relate to the owners or prospects but that is a subject for another day.

During the years 2002 through 2008, it seemed like many borrowers with lower credit scores AND

higher “ratios” than used historically were buying homes. The “ends seemed to justify the means” and helped sell a lot of houses, enriching many. It also seemed like every sale was a “new high” for the local market. Then, the market hit a wall. It was destined to happen sooner or later regardless of what many thought. How many sellers turned down good offers, assuming others were coming. How many buyers thought they could delay buying waiting for something better? Delaying likely benefited buyers more than sellers unless the buyers were truly able to finance and own Real Estate.

Unfortunately, many borrowers were sold “adjustable” interest rate loans to “qualify” with little consideration about what would happen when their interest rates reset to higher fixed rates. In addition to the revised lending standards proving problematic, this change led to many new owners being unable to continue making their monthly payments. The new word of the day was “short sale” where owners were allowed to sell their houses even though the proceeds were not sufficient to pay off the debt. It was preferable to “foreclosure”.

As far as the effects on the Real Estate market, they happened in stages. Early on, many houses that had not sold earlier were now selling and many new buyers were able to achieve the American Dream, if only for a short time. The initial reaction was a surge in buyers, clearing out our prospect “pipelines” as many who had been “waiting” to buy jumped off the fence.

Then the market shifted:  the imbalance of new buyers and “For Sale” houses created stiff competition and drove prices up. It reached a point where the combination of historically low interest rates and historically high selling prices resulted in monthly payments similar to what would have occurred with “normal” interest rates and selling prices. However, the major difference was that you could re-finance a high interest rate but NOT a high selling price. While sellers continued to achieve great results, buyers were being impacted. Once adjustable rates started to reset to higher fixed rates the market came to a screeching halt. If you look at statistics in my market for 2008 and 2009 you will see a precipitous drop in prices.

The “bottom line” is that the 2002-2008 market was leveraged with many instances of bad financing decisions resulting in the “bubble bursting”. The “irrational exuberance” of many buyers hurt them for many years to come. As recently as a few years ago I was still meeting sellers whose property values were well below what they had paid years before. Some refused to sell for less than what they paid even though they had a lot of equity while others had used their home’s equity like an ATM and simply owed too much to try selling. There were many lessons to be learned, but did we? I still hear talk about trying to get more groups involved in home ownership. That is great but the devil is in the details and the end does not justify the means! Instead of lowering lending standards, focus on why some people have issues with credit scores, managing debt and earning a good income. Raising the minimum wage was not a viable answer either and the effects are starting to become apparent!

The current market, while some may assume it meets the Google definition, has some similarities but a very different “cause” and likely a different outcome. The pandemic suppressed inventory levels. Some sellers did not want buyers coming into their homes. Some were financially affected by the lockdown and could not buy their “next home”. Many buyers were reluctant to visit homes or were also financially impacted. However, many buyers were still looking even though inventory levels were low. The imbalance created a serious sellers’ market resulting in intense competition and huge price surges. That being said, it “appears” that these buyers were financially qualified although I cannot state how valid appraisals are in a market like this as no one has a crystal ball. At some point pricing has to stop rising and perhaps start to decline, doesn’t it?

Assuming (and hoping) that the typical new owner is able to make their monthly payments, I wonder how many will suffer repercussions such as “buyer remorse” if they bought “sight unseen” and/ or without inspections? How will what they paid impact their future decision-making if they think about moving? A major difference between markets is that we are not seeing “short-sales” and “foreclosures” resulting from loose lending standards. While both outcomes will always occur, the current causes have more to do with the overall economy.

There is a lot more to what caused these two similar markets and it remains to be seen what evolves in the next few years. As far as whether the current market is a “bubble” or not depends on how you define the term. To me, there is quite a difference between lowering lending standards so more people can become homeowners and what is happening today when buyers “seem” financially qualified even if paying over asking price and being extremely creative to gain a competitive advantage. Even if sales prices tumble, which they may as some owners enter the picture after the pipeline of buyers has dried up, to me that is more like a “stock market” correction and not a “bubble” based on faulty underpinnings.

Semantics? Perhaps but I have heard too many equating the two markets. While I respect and understand buyers expressing concern about buying Real Estate today, wondering if prices are sustainable, there is never a guarantee that Real Estate prices will appreciate in a straight-line, if at all. Look at the stock market regularly and you will see this in action. There is always risk in ANY “investment” but what are the alternatives? If you are renting, is that a more prudent bet than owning? You will never recover your rent payments and they continue for as long as you rent. If you have delayed your plans to move, what is the cost to your personal happiness and any other factors impacted by your staying put wherever you are?

Buying and selling Real Estate are personal decisions that deserve a lot of consideration. This type of market does not typically offer time to decide. These are emotional decisions justified with logic. Planning and preparation are critical even if the time available is shortened. The time to plan and prepare is not after you find a house you think you like but are stuck watching someone better prepared buy it. Start before looking! Some lessons from the real “bubble” should be helpful.

Contact me in 5 or 10 years and we will have a clearer picture of what happened!

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are notall the same”?


April 17, 2022

Bright MLS March 2022 Delaware County PA Residential Housing Report

Showing Time, using Bright MLS statistics, has released their Local Market Insight report for single family homes in Delaware County Pennsylvania through March 2022. If you would like information about this or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me or visit my web site, I am only a phone call, an email or a text away! I respond promptly to all inquiries.

The overall market continues to be affected by lingering effects of the pandemic which contributed to (if not caused) an inventory shortage. Combined with historically low interest rates and increased post-pandemic interest in home ownership, the historically low inventory levels created a huge surge in pricing which many are confusing with the “bubble” we experienced some 15 years ago. This is different!

Interest rates have risen rather dramatically recently with some increase in inventory but, for the most part, prices and competition remain intense. As always, your experience may differ depending on your location and how you have been personally impacted. As I always say, the decision to buy or sell Real Estate is a personal one and the current environment typifies that as many sellers stay off the market while many buyers do extraordinary things to beat their competition.

The report compares current year-to-date results to one-year ago, same time period. As with all Real Estate statistics, two things are true. First, the performance within individual zip-codes can and will vary significantly from the overall County. Real Estate is local and results can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and even block to block. There is no such thing as a “national” Real Estate market any more than there is a national weather forecast so, whether you may be thinking about selling or buying, please contact me for details about your areas of interest. I can provide current information and keep you informed about the evolving market. Deciding whether it is the right time to sell or buy is a personal decision typically involving a number of variables. I can provide the knowledge and insight to help you decide what works for you.

My second point is that, unfortunately, all Real Estate statistics involving sold data are stale. This is especially true if you are relying on Internet valuation models which use recorded data rather than up-to-date MLS information. Even then, while a sale may be reported as settled or closed today, the real question is when was the offer presented and negotiated? Typically, financed sales can take 45 to 60 days to close so the market today may be different from when the offer was presented and negotiated. Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, there were 1868 new “for sale” listings through March 2022 compared to 1862 through March 2021, a slight decrease of .7%. There were 1577 closed sales through March 2022 compared to 1498 through March 2021, an increase of 5.3%. The median selling price through March 2022 was $269,000 compared to $245,000 through March 2021, an increase of 9.8%. The flat number of newly listed properties had no effect on the number sold while substantially increasing their selling prices. The number of currently available properties (391) is below one year ago (444). The Days on the Market (DOM) (29 vs 27) and “Sold to List Price” ratio (101.2% vs 99.5%) are improved while the MSI (Months of Supply) is less than 1 month (at .7 months), down 42% from one year ago. The low inventory combined with pent-up demand has created our current market. Again, these numbers vary throughout the County:  the underlying data shows a wide range of results in all categories among the 49 different municipalities in Delaware County. What happens going forward?

Generally speaking, low inventory levels in some areas continue to produce multiple offers and a frenzy among buyers, some of whom may live to regret a hasty decision to get a property under contract. During the shutdown when “in-person” Real Estate activity was not permitted, many buyers started making offers “sight unseen”, some without inspections to improve their odds. Buyers have tried to be very creative to give themselves an advantage. The effects of that remain to be seen, perhaps taking a number of years, but Real Estate, perhaps with the exception of those properties acquired strictly as “investments” with documented income, is generally not something given its expense and complexity that the typical buyer would want to purchase without an in-person showing let alone removing the protection of an inspection contingency. Technology, including photos, virtual tours, 3D tours and other things, however advanced, has its limitations. I think buyers need to walk through a house!

One major difference between the present day and past years in terms of competition and all that results from competition is the presence of investment groups buying large blocks of Real Estate, often with cash and limited contingencies, solely for the purpose of using them as rentals. Unfortunately, many of these purchases include properties that generally appeal to first-time buyers. The competition for them has driven up prices and prevented many new buyers from becoming homeowners. As long as rental income remains strong, these investors will continue to acquire properties. The irony is two-fold. First, rental income remains strong as many are unable to purchase their own homes which creates competition for rentals. Second, the elevated rental pricing is preventing many from saving for the down payment they need to obtain financing. I am not sure there is a way to change this in the short term.

What about the properties that did not sell? Many came off the market and still remain off the market. As the pandemic has evolved, some properties did come back on the market but many have not. Did owners delay, change or give up their plans? Buying activity has been very strong but some sellers are reluctant to allow showings or may have issues they are dealing with, especially if they need to buy their own “next home”. While selling their home may produce a ‘windfall”, what will buying cost? My only concern is whether people are making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in the market. As with the market 15 year ago, the sellers who jumped in early may have had the best success if they needed to buy another home. Along the same line, some sellers will wait too long and miss an opportunity to maximize their proceeds.

Buyers and sellers need to do the same planning and preparation that those tasks typically require, regardless of the market. Easier said than done! Anyone looking to sell or buy needs to understand their local market and decide how to react to the pandemic as a “variable” that has evolved over the past two years and, hopefully, will be gone in the near future. However, the effects of buying and selling remain for years. They are important decisions and likely require the knowledge and insight that a professional can provide.

I tell my clients that I cannot guarantee that their house will sell if it is on the market but am fairly certain that it will not if they take it off the market. Anyone trying to sell now may have less competition and more offers to consider. Buyers may have more competition and fewer houses to consider. Hiring an experienced, trained and educated professional is more important than ever.

Despite the pandemic, every house will not sell. Houses may get showings without generating offers unless buyers think they are priced within the range of their perceived “worth”. Most property listings whose contracts are canceled or allowed to expire have asking prices considered high for their market and/ or they were poorly marketed, meaning that some buyers and agents may not have even known that a house was available to look at or purchase. Some buyers may even make “full price” or higher offers just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed. Of course, this may well depend on the ratio of buyer and sellers so there is more to this than raw statistics.

If a market has a lot of inventory, some buyers may not be willing to look at houses priced high compared to the rest of the market:  why try to negotiate a price down when other similar properties are available at more competitive prices? Many sellers open to negotiating their price will never get the chance. I will be happy to discuss specifics with you.

The overall economy, despite some people touting specific statistics, has serious issues that will keep some out of the market. Statistics aside, what are you planning to do? Real Estate is generally a long-term investment unless you are looking to fix and flip it or planning to move within a short period of time. There are opportunities out there. As with the stock market, it is very difficult to pick the best time to make a move. All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process. I am a phone call or email away and getting started is easy once you take action.

If you want or need to sell any type of Real Estate, now or in the future, whether you tried and did not succeed before or are planning for the first time, it is never too early to start the planning and preparation. Please do not wait for what you think is a better or the best time to start. Buyers look all year long and can only see and buy properties that are available to see. Based on what we experienced in 2021, is waiting something you would consider?

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations! 

HIRE WISELY:  We are notall the same”!

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