Anyone who has gone through the process of mapping out their retirement knows there can be a lot to keep in mind. Saving, investing, anticipating medical costs, and making sure you have enough tucked away for years to come is just the start. One question many people overlook is: “Should I pay off my mortgage before I retire?” The answer is more complicated than you may think.
Maintaining a Mortgage in Retirement
Imagine you have $300,000 set aside to pay off your mortgage. But rather than using those funds to pay off your mortgage, you instead invest that money. Sure it’s tempting to stop making a monthly payment, but what if that $300,000 earned a hypothetical 6% for the next five years. You would have a little more than $400,000. Yes, your house may appreciate in value over the same period of time, but you should consider all your choices for that lump-sum of money.
Eradicate (Other) Debt
Before you pay down your mortgage, any extra cash might be better suited to paying off other kinds of debt that carry higher interest rates, especially non-deductible debt, such as credit card balances.
Make Your Mortgage Work
Many homeowners benefit from a mortgage interest deduction on their taxes. Here’s how it works: the amount you pay in mortgage interest is deducted from your gross income, which reduces your federal income tax burden. But remember, the further along you are toward paying off your mortgage, the less interest you’re paying. If you’re unsure if you’ll be able to take advantage of this mortgage benefit, it’s best to consult your financial professional.
Retire Your Mortgage
Your monthly mortgage payment may be a large part of your available capital, especially in retirement. Eliminating unnecessary subsidies can significantly reduce the amount of cash you need to meet monthly expenses.
Depending on the length of your mortgage term and the size of your debt, you may be paying a substantial amount in interest. Paying off your mortgage early can free up money for other uses. True, you may lose the mortgage interest tax deduction, but remember as you get closer to paying off your loan: more of each monthly payment goes to principal and less to interest. In other words, the amount you can deduct from taxes decreases.
Home Is Where the Heart Is
There’s a value to your home beyond money. It’s where you raised your children, made fond memories, and you may want it to remain in the family. Paying off the mortgage may help make your home part of your legacy. After all, some things you just can’t put a price on.
Listing just to see what happens may seem like a good idea, but putting a home on the market too soon can backfire in a big way.
Selling a home does not happen overnight. Typical sellers reach out to a real estate agent or start researching their home’s value online many months — sometimes even years — before they are ready to put the “For Sale” sign in their yard.
Often, a home sale is the result of some life event: a marriage, divorce, death in the family, retirement or another child. It’s typically hard to “time” these events; therefore, it’s not easy to time a real estate transaction. Here are some points a potential home seller should consider before deciding to list their home.
If you’re not certain, you’re not ready
If you don’t have a new home to move into or a plan once you sell your home, it’s not a good time to list your home for sale. Sellers without a real and concrete plan are not serious sellers, but only opportunistic.
A seller without a plan will likely be “testing” the market, and that translates into overpricing the home. If the seller overprices the home, it’s not going to do her any good. The market is smart, and rarely will a knowledgeable and active buyer overpay for a home.
Ask yourself, “If I get an offer and sign a contract for a 45-day close, do I know what I will do?” If the answer is no, you should simply not list, or you will do yourself more harm than good in the long run.
Once you list, the clock starts ticking
Today, with access to so much information online, buyers will know the good, bad and ugly when it comes to listing history and data.
If you list your home at too high a price or in poor condition, you risk sitting on the market, without offers and likely without any showings or potential buyers.
That lack of interest will follow you. Once you’re ready to sell your home at the right price or in the right condition, every buyer will know your history. They’ll see the series of price reductions, the old photos, or the previous listing when you were not ready to sell.
All of the old listing activity sends a message to buyers that there is something wrong with the home or with you. Buyers will hold back on such a stigmatized home, and instead focus on a newer listing that is priced right and shows well.
You can plan for the market, not time the market
If you know that your third child is on the way, or that your new job is too far from your current home, you’ll have the luxury of not being under the gun. This allows you to take advantage of market conditions, as opposed to timing the market.
Knowing that you will list the home in the spring or the fall or in February will enable a smart seller to prep the home, make the necessary improvements and get the property market-ready.
Working with a good local real estate agent, you should watch the inventory come and go, see the competition and get the word out at the right time. If a comparable home gets three offers in less than a week, then you know two other buyers are out there. Being ready to go, you can then capitalize on the market conditions.
Real estate transactions happen all year long
Some of the most successful sales happen in the dead of winter when inventory is low, but buyers are still out. Have a sales plan months in advance. Never list your home before you (or the home) are ready.
Many homeowners are emotionally attached to their homes, but listing it at a high price or not making the necessary improvements sabotages their ability to sell it. If you find yourself struggling with the process, don’t list your home yet. Take a step back and wait. The right time will come, and waiting will ensure that you get the most from your investment.
For generations past, home ownership was a significant rite of passage that signaled stability, commitment, and, often, prosperity.
But, in this as in so many other cases, millennials are different.
As of 2015, adults under age 35 made up 19 percent of U.S. households but less than 10 percent of homeowners, according to a report released by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. In fact, in 2015 home ownership for that group fell to a historic low of 31 percent.
Entrepreneur and bestselling author Tony Robbins says that, while millennials might be missing out on the social upsides of home ownership, real estate is not the best investment they could be making
“One of the weakest performers [is] your own personal real estate, because it doesn’t provide much income,” Robbins says. “It’s an inflation hedge. You do a little better than inflation, and you can have your own home, so there’s a psychological, emotional benefit.”
Instead, millennials in a position to buy property should be considering how to do so in a way that will provide them additional cash flow, he says.
“If you can own real estate, real estate with an income is the one [form of] real estate that’s more valuable,” says Robbins.
Opinions on the imperative of millennial home ownership vary.
Self-made millionaire Grant Cardone tells CNBC that home owners are forced to continue to spend unceasingly, and that he regrets buying a house at age 30.
“Unless you have 20 million bucks in the bank, in cash, you have no business buying a house,” says Cardone.
In personal finance classic “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” author Robert Kiyosaki notes that houses should be viewed as a liability, as opposed to an asset, and points out that it’s not a given that a home will appreciate in value.
“I am not saying don’t buy a house. What I am saying is that you should understand the difference between an asset and a liability,” Kiyosaki writes. “When I want a bigger house, I first buy assets that will generate the cash flow to pay for the house.”
Robbins emphasizes that real estate investing doesn’t need to entail keys and a welcome mat.
“You can [invest] through a REIT. You don’t have to buy everything, you get a piece of all these things,” Robbins says.
But whether millennials choose to spend their nest egg on a nest, or begin focusing on a portfolio instead, Robbins says the worst mistake is making no investment at all: “The most important thing, I think, for millennials, is to get in the game.”
Getting ready to sell your house or condo? One of the easiest home improvements to get buyers’ attention is a fresh coat of paint. Plus it’s a cost-effective fix that will make your home look updated – which can translate to increased value. Sara McLean, color expert and blogger for Dunn-Edwards Paints, offers tips on how to choose interior colors that appeal to most people.
First she cautions on painting everything white or beige, because your home might end up looking more like an apartment, rather than an upscale home
Stick to earth tones and nature-based colors. Warm browns and milky tans – think latte. Light greens and blues are classy, and even some reds and oranges. Warm grays are popular now, rather than cool grays
Take the flooring into consideration and lay your color chips on the floor to see how they pair. Warm tones tend to look better with most hardwood. Whereas tile, terrazzo or carpet may dictate other colors
While neutrals are safe, don’t make the entire home so neutral that it’s boring. An occasional accent wall in a darker or complementary shade adds a designer look.
Give a room life without being personal. Many people have a visceral reaction to bold colors and buyers’ first thought is that they will need to repaint
Kitchens and baths work well with a little more color to brighten up and make them fresh, clean and inviting
In the kitchen, soft buttery yellows with slight brown undertones are popular, happy colors. Olive and sage greens, make it feel garden-y and fresh. If you don’t have a tile backsplash, create one with an eggshell or semi-gloss paint — either a solid color or with a decorative stencil
Baths, laundry room and powders can incorporate brighter colors because they’re smaller – play with color a little bit. Oranges and reds are trending now and through next year, as well as teal and turquoise
“Once you have chosen a color, pick up a few samples and paint a section of the wall, near permanent structures like fireplaces, flooring and cabinetry,” McLean recommends. “Live with the samples at least a full a day to see them in all light sources. What looks light and bright in the morning, may look dungeon-y at night.”
Next step, she advises, is to choose the gloss level. Flat, velvet or eggshell are good for interior walls, while a higher sheen looks pretty on trim and in kitchens and bathrooms. The higher gloss levels are easier to clean, so they are ideal for high traffic areas. Look for trim paint that is water based but with the upscale look of oil based.
When I look at my retirement stash, I have to admit it’s kind of small. When I look at my house, I realize it’s kind of big. And when I consider the two together, I think that maybe I should downsize and use the equity in my house to buy a condo or add to my retirement savings and rent.
Downsizing isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of the few strategies — along with working longer, delaying Social Security or spending less later in retirement — available to near-retirees who find themselves short on retirement savings and don’t have time to catch up, says Steven Sass, of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “The house is a major source of people’s savings. If you don’t want to work longer or give up eating out in retirement, downsizing should be part of the plan.” (Another way to get at home equity is to take out a reverse mortgage)
Do the math. Before you sell your house and move, add up the costs that can chip away at the amount you free up. For starters, fixing up a house to sell often means spending thousands of dollars in repairs and upgrades (new roof, anyone?). Once the house does sell, you’ll pay commissions to real estate agents on both sides of the transaction, usually to the tune of 6% of the home’s value. Packing and transporting enough furniture to outfit a two-bedroom condo will run $1,500 if you move a few miles away and $5,000 or more if you move across the country, according to the calculator at http://www.moving.com. As for the furniture you don’t keep, you could find yourself spending a few thousand dollars to ship the good stuff to your kid across country and paying a hauler to cart away the rest.
Even after the move, you won’t be home-free. Condo association fees run at least several hundred dollars a month, on top of insurance and property taxes, and if the building needs a major improvement, such as a new roof, you’ll get hit by a special assessment to help cover the cost. Renting is more predictable but leaves you vulnerable to annual rent hikes. And whether you rent or buy, you’ll surely want to buy new furnishings that fit the smaller space, says Paul Miller, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Fla. “You think you’re freeing up all this money by downsizing, and then you spend thousands to refurbish.”
Other expenses you might not have considered: Instead of the driveway you currently enjoy, you’ll probably have to fork over cash for a parking space. If you can’t squeeze Grandma’s armoire into the second bedroom (or bear to part with it), you’ll pay $100 a month to rent a storage unit. Because you won’t want to stash those old tax records in the second bedroom, you’ll spring for storage space in the building. Moving far away from friends and family? Factor in the expense of traveling back to the old neighborhood a few times a year. As for the next family reunion, that won’t be happening in your two-bedroom condo: Count on covering the cost of renting a beach house.
Of course, moving to a condo or apartment also allows you to cut your utility bills, eliminate yardwork and snow shoveling, and get rid of your mortgage or trade it for a smaller one — and maybe you’ll make your kids chip in for the beach house. Still, be sure to add up the pluses and minuses before you put out the For Sale sign, not after.
“There are a lot of considerations that go into the downsizing decision,” says Miller. “This may be the last move you’re going to make, so you’d better make it a good one.”
If cities are your cup of tea, then here is some good news. The 2016 Worldwide Cost of Living Report compares the prices of 160 products and services – from food and drink to domestic care and private schools – in cities around the world. It found the cost-of-living in many cities fell during 2015 thanks to lower commodity prices, weakening currencies, and geopolitical unrest.
Be warned: a lower cost-of-living doesn’t mean a city offers good value. Take Zurich, for instance. Remember the uproar when the Swiss unpegged their currency early in 2015? The Swiss franc realized double-digit gains, the Swiss stock market swooned, and the Swiss people went shopping in neighboring countries. Well, the cost of living in Zurich fell from September 2014 to September 2015, but the decline wasn’t proportionate to declines elsewhere in Europe, and Zurich currently reigns as Europe’s most expensive city.
In September 2015, the most and least expensive cities in the world were:
Republic of Singapore
Hong Kong, China
Cities in the United States didn’t fare well, either. A strong U.S. dollar helped push all 16 of the U.S. cities that were in the survey up at least 15 places. New York and Los Angeles both rank among the 10 most expensive cities in the world.
Just days after announcing it was hiring a specialist to help it negotiate deals to extract more money from its property, Macy’s said on Tuesday it was adding a real estate executive to its board of directors.
The department store, which has been pressured by activist investor Starboard to spin off its most valuable locations into a real estate investment trust (REIT) to boost shares, announced that William Lenehan, CEO of Four Corners Property Trust, a REIT, would join its board of directors next month.
“Bill will contribute to our board’s expertise and working knowledge on matters related to real estate, an important area of activity as we work to create shareholder value through joint ventures or other partnerships related to Macy’s flagship stores and mall properties,” Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren said in a statement. Lenehan will join the board on April 1.
Last week at an investor conference, Lundgren said he was hiring a real estate specialist to negotiate deals to make the most of Macy’s extensive real estate, which includes crown jewels such as the Macy’s flagship stores in Manhattan, San Francisco and Chicago, as well as the main Bloomingdale’s store in New York City.
Though Macy’s said late last year that it had concluded that creating a REIT was not a good idea, as it would create rent expenses and loosen the company’s control over its stores, the department store chain has been making moves to earn money from its property.
For instance, in January, Macy’s closed on a $270 million deal in which it gave up the top floors of its building in downtown Brooklyn but also got $100 million to remodel the store on the lower floors. Lundgren said last week it was too labor intensive for him and his finance chief, Karen Hoguet, to negotiate such deals piecemeal, hence the decision to hire an outside expert.
The push to extract money from its physical properties comes as the retailer’s sales have declined. In 2015, comparable sales at Macy’s fell 3% and it expects a 1% dip this year. What’s more, the $27 billion a year retailer is in the process of closing 36 stores in a fleet of nearly 800 locations.
Other retailers, including direct rivals Sears shld as well as Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue parent Hudson’s Bay hbc, have extracted billions from their real estate. But Macy’s has balked at a wholesale spin-off of its stores, preferring to look for individual arrangements for its best properties.
“We will always be a retailer first. And that’s our primary business,” Lundgren said last week.
Talk to the locals in certain New Orleans neighborhoods — from the historic and genteel Garden District uptown to the dense and increasingly trendy Bywater downriver — and you can be pretty sure that one topic will come up eventually: Airbnb.
With crime, potholes and the Saints, the home-sharing economy has become one of the city’s default topics, bickered about in countless informal conversations, through snarky signs (“Won’t You B&B My Neighbor?”) and increasingly in public forums where city officials, and the citizenry, argue over what to do about it.
Everybody has an opinion. Some are distraught at revelers leaving “floors covered with vomit” in residential buildings and “short-term strangers” squeezing out long-term residents. But just as passionate are people who say renting rooms on Airbnb has brought them enough cash to rehabilitate properties or cover the mortgage after a layoff or after Hurricane Katrina. All of those arguments were made in September at a planning commission hearing on the subject — a meeting that lasted more than two hours despite a time limit on comments.
That hearing began a process that is supposed to resolve how to handle short-term rentals in New Orleans. Blurring the lines between residential and commercial land use, home-sharing platforms have created a unique and thorny regulatory problem — a “hybrid” that “doesn’t really fit into the typical boxes,” as Robert D. Rivers, the executive director of the New Orleans planning commission, puts it. The technology design that has disrupted the hospitality industry has also disrupted civic life and public policy making.
Similar efforts to regulate home sharing are underway in Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Tex.; and other municipalities where short-term rental sites like Airbnb (said to be worth $24 billion) and HomeAway (which was bought by Expedia last year for about $4 billion) have spurred disagreement. But the issue is amplified in New Orleans, where tourism (which contributed anestimated $6.8 billion to the local economy in 2014) butts against the pride residents take in the authenticity of their neighborhoods.
Like some other cities, New Orleans has laws that make a lot of short-term rentals illegal. In most circumstances, renting property for less than 30 days is prohibited without a special permit that few individuals have obtained, and it is punishable by fine or possibly jail time. But city officials acknowledge that New Orleans simply does not have the resources to enforce this rule — given the 2,400 to 4,000 short-term rental listings on various services. Whether short-term rentals will be permitted in some form is not in question; the numbers have already settled that. It is up to the city to adjust accordingly, and figure out how they will be allowed.
Representatives of the larger home-sharing companies have met with New Orleans officials, but they are seldom heard from in more public forums. Officials of Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner, a HomeAway brand that is popular in New Orleans) point out that they operate in so many places they cannot possibly get into the specifics of local policy; they are merely private businesses offering services to consumers. So it is up to New Orleans and other cities to devise their own regulations, and up to users to follow them. The upshot is a curious mix of ubiquity and absence: a public debate that seems to involve everyone except the parties who started it.
For the time being, the platforms operate in “a regulatory Wild West,” wrote Jeffrey Goodman, a New Orleans design consultant and self-described “planning nerd,” in the February issue of the American Planning Association magazine Planning. And while cities scramble to adjust, Mr. Goodman wrote, these companies “make money without proper oversight and without proper accountability.”
The surprise is that, despite the bickering and contention, the various constituencies in New Orleans have a lot of common ground. Even the most ardent proponents of short-term rentals agree that the practice should be regulated: There ought to be mechanisms to collect taxes, restrict the density of short-term rentals in certain areas, and deal with absentee owners who offer property for rent and allow rowdy guests to become neighborhood nuisances.
The trick is that the most efficient way of achieving those ends might require the services to change how they operate. A technological fix that would permit only licensed owners to list their properties online, for example, could satisfy many complaints. But the services have been unwilling to pursue those possibilities. So New Orleans will have to find another answer.
‘A Rogue Hotel’
Rob White lives in the French Quarter. Thick with 18th-century structures, the dense grid is the oldest neighborhood in New Orleans and its biggest tourist magnet. New hotels or bed-and-breakfasts have been tightly restricted or banned for many years, to preserve some degree of the residential character that is part of the attraction. Regulations for short-term rentals are even tighter here (nothing under 60 days, in theory), but the online services have provided an easy workaround to that rule, in Mr. White’s view. He says it seems that he is the only full-time resident on his block. “You know who comes in and out of there?” he said at a community meeting about a condominium building nearby. “People with their luggage.” The tourists roll in on Thursday or Friday and roll out a few days later. “It’s a rogue hotel,” he complained.
Mr. White is a member of the Short-Term Rental Committee, not an official city entity, but a vocal coalition of preservationists, neighborhood activists, owners of traditional bed-and-breakfasts and residents of various historic New Orleans neighborhoods. Its criticism of short-term rentals predates the rise of home-sharing services, but it has become steadily louder since Airbnb’s arrival in the city in 2009, and it has included bitter complaints about the city’s failure to enforce the relevant code, which dates from the 1950s.
Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni concedes that enforcement of the short-term rental law has been “lax and difficult.” Listings on home-sharing platforms do not reveal specific names and addresses, and identifying and building cases against violators would involve considerable time and money, city officials say. In fairness, New Orleans, like most cities, has more urgent priorities — including an understaffed police force and road and infrastructure problems that would cost billions to fix. “We just didn’t feel like we had the tools to do it,” Mr. Berni said.
Stopping scofflaws would be easier if the services identified those using their tools to break the law, an argument made by critics of short-term rentals. Representatives of Airbnb and VRBO counter that turning over such information would violate their users’ privacy. A VRBO spokesman says that its users essentially pay to advertise a property, and the platform is not directly involved in resulting transactions. Mr. Rivers, of the planning commission, and a former lawyer for the city, says it is not even clear that the city has the legal standing to demand such information, and that ultimately it needs a solution involving its own data.
In recent months, Airbnb has released limited information about use of its site. For instance, it says that 92 percent of New Orleans’s hosts booked property for fewer than 180 days in the previous year, a statistic that suggests users are regular people occasionally supplementing their income. But this data release left out other important numbers — such as listings per host, which might have illuminated the multiple-property power users who may account for significant booking volume.
Mr. Goodman, the New Orleans consultant, has followed the wrangling over short-term rentals in New Orleans for a couple of years, meeting with a number of city officials — and, briefly, working as a contractor for Airbnb. He has gradually become more frustrated with the dearth of official information. In New York City, similar frustration led the state attorney general to apply legal pressure to obtain more detailed data on Airbnb hosts as part of an effort to crack down on illegal home sharing. Mr. Goodman notes that Airbnbpromotes itself as an enabler of human connection and community, but leaves compliance with local laws to the users and regulators.
Airbnb declined to comment in detail about specifics of the debate in New Orleans. But Max Pomeranc, an Airbnb public policy manager whose focus includes New Orleans, responded to criticism about compliance with local laws by saying that its service is available in 34,000 municipalities around the world, making deep local involvement everywhere impractical. Mr. Pomeranc also noted that anyone signing up to be a host in New Orleans encounters a “Responsible Hosting” page encouraging compliance with local laws and various links to official city sources.
For a study intended to guide local policy makers, the New Orleans City Planning Commission ultimately relied in part on data from Inside Airbnb and the New Orleans Short Term Rental Report — third parties that have “scraped” Airbnb’s site to approximate the geographic distribution, use rate and other more detailed data. Inside Airbnb asserts, for instance, that more than 44.7 percent of New Orleans listings involve hosts promoting more than one listing; some offer 10 or more. It also concluded that 210 out of 2,646 listings are in the French Quarter. The sharing services invariably criticize such sources as unreliable. But they have yet to release parallel data of their own.
The License Debate
People have been taking in lodgers in New Orleans “for 300 years,” Christian Galvin points out. Mr. Galvin rents out a house in leafy uptown New Orleans year-round. In fact, he is a “superhost” on Airbnb, meaning he has many positive ratings from guests, and he is a member of the board of Alliance for Neighborhood Progress, a local group that promotes short-term rentals.
Even the alliance, a relatively sophisticated operation that is financed by dues and has its own lawyers, favors regulation. Mr. Galvin said the group expected that developing rules to legalize short-term rentals would take seven or eight months. “Just tax it, and let’s go about our day,” he said. “Why is it dragging on?”
The answer to that might be apparent in the 118-page draft study the planning commission released on Jan. 19. The document painstakingly breaks down the varieties of short-term rentals and suggests solutions like restrictions by neighborhood density (preservationists favor a total ban in the French Quarter) or other factors (restricting year-round, non-owner-occupied rentals, of the sort that Mr. Galvin operates, in residential areas). It will take months to sort out the details. The latest twist is the consideration of a state bill to require short-term rental services to collect the same taxes as hotels and motels. But if the third-party data on short-term rentals is remotely accurate, and something like the planning commission’s preliminary recommendations became enforceable laws, listings and bookings for these sharing platforms would probably decline.
Despite the polarization around the issue, many, including lawyers for the Alliance for Neighborhood Progress, have endorsed a simple-sounding idea: require short-term rentals to obtain some sort of official license or permit number (for a fee) and enter it in a field on the web. Enter your license number, or you are not permitted to list. Mr. Goodman, the planning activist, agreed that the platform databases were “the choke point in the system,” and tweaking them to function only with a municipal license would amount to a genuine partnership with cities. “It requires the city to keep a good database, and these listing companies to honor that database,” he said.
For the home-sharing services, however, this appears to be a nonstarter. According to Mr. Rivers, Airbnb and VRBO told his staff that it would be too onerous to adjust their software to accommodate every regulatory arrangement for thousands of municipalities around the world. Spokesmen for Airbnb and VRBO confirm that rewriting their platforms in this way is not practical.
The planning commission seems to have accepted that argument, and its study recommends instead that license information, with the address of an advertised property, should be included in the “narrative” section of a listing. To critics, that means people without licenses could still rent, and it would still be up to the city to ferret out those who do not follow the rules. In the few cities that have enacted analogous policies, compliance has been estimated at less than 15 percent.
Mr. Berni, the deputy mayor, while emphasizing that the planning commission report is merely a starting point, says this recommended strategy has potential. Compliant users paying for licenses could generate revenue to begin funding enforcement. Going after a “bad operator” is a complaint-driven process, he says, and a listing that lacks a license number could give the city cleaner legal leverage.
Perhaps that will work. Even Mr. Goodman expresses optimism. He notes thatAirbnb in particular seems to be moving toward accepting that it is not just a responsibility-free enabler — adding more robust insurance options and, increasingly, tax-collection tools. So maybe all the local contention will lead to a productive resolution after all. “I just want to have New Orleans win on this,” Mr. Goodman says.
On a snowy Tuesday in early February, Jessie and Mark Sciulli toured a home in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C., that wasn’t listed for sale yet. Relocating their family back home from overseas, the couple was in town for just two days and had to see as much as possible. Their agent didn’t have enough active listings to show, so she went after homes she knew were coming soon.
It is the same story for home buyers nationwide: There is precious, record little for sale.
“I feel like there is not a lot of inventory right now, so that does make us a little bit nervous, because we think there is going to be a lot more offered in two or three weeks, so I’d say for sure we feel that stress,” said Jessie.
Presidents Day weekend is traditionally seen by real estate agents and homebuilders as the start of the spring housing market — the busiest time of year for home sales. The number of listings always rises, and it will this year as well, but inventory is already so low to begin with that even the new listings will not be nearly enough.
“I think inventory is going to remain tight. The closer you are to urban centers, the tighter the inventory, because the demand is strong, and a lot of that stuff gets scooped up before it hits the market,” said Jane Fairweather, a real estate agent in Bethesda, Maryland.
The latest numbers paint an empty picture. Inventory at the end of December nationally was down nearly 4 percent from the previous December, but sales were up nearly 8 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. The supply of homes for sale was the lowest since the start of 2005, and back then there were far more homes being built to add to overall supply. As for January, the NAR’s listing site, Realtor.com, reported that listings were down a sharper 4.4 percent from a year ago.
In local markets, the January readings are coming in even tighter. Total listings in Charlotte, North Carolina, dropped nearly 24 percent in January from a year ago, with the number of new listings down 6 percent. In Denver, more than 4,000 homes came onto the market in January, but total inventory remained at historically low levels. Buyers scooped up more than came on.
January inventory was down nearly 17 percent in Philadelphia from a year ago, and Washington, D.C., had so few listings it would take less than two months at the current sales pace to exhaust supply. A healthy housing market traditionally has four to six months’ worth of inventory for sale.
“Half the [D.C.] homes sold in January were on the market for 26 days, and the competition among buyers pushed the average percent of asking price received at sale up to 98.6 percent,” according to the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. “The $504,250 median price for the month was slightly higher than last year (1.9 percent) and marked the highest January level on record for the District.”
“The inventory question is a puzzle,” said Chris Herbert, managing director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. “If you drill down and say, what’s happening at the lower end of the market, what’s happening in more affordable neighborhoods, those places had a much more dramatic boom-bust in house prices. Even though prices have come back there pretty strongly, they are much more likely to be underwater or low equity, so I think part of it is even though we think we have seen the market heal, there’s still a lot of healing left to do.”
Herbert also points to younger baby boomers, who lost home equity and more in the recession, and who are not trading up as much as their age group historically does. They are staying put in their homes, not adding to much-needed inventory. Add it up and it comes out to less — less inventory, which in turn puts upward pressure on prices.
Sellers, however, appear to be seeing a limit. They are not pricing their homes as aggressively as they did last fall, according to real estate brokerage Redfin. While homes are selling fast, not everything sells, especially if it’s overpriced. Sellers know the only thing worse than not getting top dollar is sitting on the market and becoming a “stale” listing.
“Even with surging home prices, listings were still down in January from a year ago,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. “Sellers are worried that today’s buyers won’t pay enough for their current home to finance their next-level house.”
Back in suburban D.C., after an exhausting two days and 19 home tours, the Sciullis left without making any offers.
Several of the homes they saw were not listed yet, including their top choice. That home will go on sale soon, but at a price the Sciullis think may be a little high for the market.
“We just have to make sure we’re getting it at a price point that we’re comfortable with and that we can manage,” said Mark.
The Sciullis are going to wait and see if it gets any other offers; if not, they’ll jump on it fast.
The turmoil in the stock market hasn’t hurt homeowners’ plans to spend on their properties this year, according to a new Angie’s List survey.
The survey found that among homeowners who’ve already set their spending budgets for 2016, nearly 79 percent plan to spend as much or more on home improvement projects compared to last year.
That’s good news for service providers, who are also optimistic about 2016. More than 90 percent of them said they expect homeowners to spend as much or more on projects as they did last year.
The survey found that millennials plan to spend as much as or more than older homeowners on home improvements.
The Angie’s List findings confirms a report issued by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University last month, which projected that home remodeling would pick up this summer. The Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activities projected that annual spending on home improvement projects in 2016 could surpass its 2006 peak, on nominal terms.
The report shows expected home improvement spending of $148 billion in the second quarter of this year, followed by $155 billion in the third quarter.
Home-improvement projects are making more sense as an investment than they have in recent years. While most renovations don’t pay off dollar-for-dollar when you sell a home, the return on investment for remodeling projects in 2015 increased to 64.4 percent in 2016, up from 62 percent in 2015 and the second-highest return in the past eight years, according to Remodeling magazine.