MONEY Housing Market

Why More Home Buyers May Be Trading Up to Bigger Digs This Spring

fish jumping into bigger fishtank
Phil Ashley—Getty Images

A tight inventory of houses for sale has been stymying buyers who want to trade up. That could change soon.

Joe and Debbie Valerio, a couple in their 60s, put their Westport, Conn., home of more than 20 years on the market because it was getting too big for them.

When they found a nearby condo they loved, they pounced. That set off a chain reaction allowing Peter and Leah Baiocco, a couple in their 30s, the ability to trade up.

The Baioccos lived a few miles away, contemplating a future move to a bigger home once kids came along. With favorable economic conditions, they jumped at the chance to buy the Valerios’ $2.7 million house last April. After renting it out for nearly a year, the Baioccos’ starter house in Fairfield, Conn. is on the market for $739,000.

This seemingly simple sequence of events is still relatively rare in the U.S. housing recovery. Despite an improving economy and rock-bottom rates, inventory of available homes is inconsistent. Anything more than a trickle of listings sends prices down, causing sellers to pull their homes off the market.

Then prices go up again because competition gets fierce, and sellers re-emerge. As a result, a bustle of trade-up activity is expected for this spring’s selling season, before conditions change again.

“I think a lot of people have made a lot of money in the stock market the last few years. People who want to enjoy a luxury home, now is the time. Everyone has more cash available to them,” says Ken Barber, a real estate agent in Wellesley, Mass.

Other positive signs: new single-family housing starts are at a high since 2008, according to the Commerce Department’s latest report.

Also, fewer homeowners are renting out their homes to delay selling them, down to 35% in 2014 from 39% in 2013, according to Redfin, a real-estate brokerage.

And more consumers have positive equity. Last spring, 19% of homeowners in Redfin markets (such as Atlanta and Philadelphia) had low or negative equity. That was down to 11% in November. Nela Richardson, Redfin’s chief economist, expects it to hit 8% by March 2015.

Even better for buyers, interest rates are near-historic lows below 4%. “The question of staying versus leaving is shifting. For people who were afraid to leave their mortgage because they thought it was the best they’re ever going to get, now there is another good mortgage around the corner,” Richardson says.

Those trading up in 2015 should hit a sweet spot of selling near the top but not buying at the top, says Margaret Wilcox, an agent from agent in Glastonbury, Conn., for William Raveis.

Wilcox says a client couple recently traded up from a $500,000 house to a $1 million home. They did not get quite the price they wanted for the sale of their old home, but they got a discount of nearly $300,000 on their new purchase, Wilcox says.

There are a few red flags for buyers and sellers. Seller confidence is still low, with just 35% of sellers thinking now was a good time to sell, versus 48% the previous year, according to Redfin.

Keith Jurow, a housing market analyst who writes the Capital Preservation Real Estate Report, is something of a doomsayer and thinks talk of a housing recovery “is phony and only an illusion,” he says.

Given the number of mortgages originated between 2004 and 2010, he feels that too many of the people who would like to trade up still have little or no equity in their homes and are not prepared to do a sale below their purchase price.

“Unless you bring more cash to the table, you can’t trade up,” Jurow says.

Also, foreboding makes some people want to act now. They do not want to be the family that missed their chance, adds Bob Walters, chief economist for Quicken Loans. “People won’t delay forever,” he says.

The Valerios and the Baioccos have only happy thoughts about their real estate choices. They love their new homes.

“In our mind, it’s the house we’re going to be in forever,” says Peter Baiocco.

MONEY Rentals

US Renters Spent $441 Billion on Rent Last Year

According to Zillow, college kids, newlyweds and all other renters around the country paid a grand total of $441 billion for rent in 2014, up 4.9% from the year before.

MONEY Housing Market

The Hottest Homes of 2014

You clicked on these 15 homes—from a sleek penthouse to a wacky mushroom house—more than any others.

Which homes piqued the most curiosity in 2014? We went door-to-door, virtually, and scoured realtor.com® data to figure out which homes were the most-clicked over the past year. We limited our list to show only homes that are currently on the market. The resulting list shows us exactly what you want to see when curiosity strikes.

This article was originally published on realtor.com.

  • Connecticut Castle

    Rank: 1
    Address: 450 Brickyard Rd, Woodstock, CT
    Price: $45 million
    Choice quote: Curbed memorably called it a “Ludicrous Nightmare Castle.”

  • Mushroom House

    Rank: 2
    Address: 142 Park Rd, Perinton, NY
    Price: $729,000
    Choice quote: On the market since April 2013, the Mushroom House was described byThe Wall Street Journal as “composed of several 80-ton concrete pods and built partially into the side of a hill.”

  • Palladian Estate

    Rank: 3
    Address: 172 Bliss Canyon Rd, Bradbury, CA
    Price: $68.8 million
    Choice quote: The listing describes this home that’s been on the market for almost three years as a “Palladian Masterpiece” and also states, “Nothing compares.”

  • Brick Manse

    Rank: 4
    Address: 5200 Moore Rd, Suwanee, GA
    Price: $13.995 million
    Choice quote: From the listing: “Underground tunnel connects detached garages with main house.”

  • Texas Chateau

    Rank: 5
    Address: 4939 Manson Ct, Dallas, TX
    Price: $29.995 million
    Choice quote: Candy’s Dirt opines, “Any Dallas socialite would kill to have one of the kid’s rooms in this house.”

  • Sprawling Southern

    Rank: 6
    Address: 7 Montagel Way, Birmingham, AL
    Price: $13.9 million
    Choice quote: According to the listing, it’s quite simply “America’s largest home.”

  • Stately Fixer-Upper

    Rank: 7
    Address: 809 N Jefferson St, Huntington, IN
    Price: $179,900
    Choice quote: The historic Purviance House “will require much renovation as there is currently no HVAC, plumbing, electrical, kitchen or baths.”

  • Manhattan Skybox

    Rank: 8
    Address: 20 W 53rd St, New York City, NY
    Price: $60 million
    Choice quote: This duplex atop the Baccarat Hotel and Residences offers “panoramic 360-degree views of iconic NYC landmarks.”

  • Beverly Hills Villa

    Rank: 9
    Address: 9904 Kip Dr, Beverly Hills, CA
    Price: $39.995 million
    Choice quote: Because the “main house comprises 10 bedrooms [and] 22 baths,” you won’t be squeezed for space.

  • Mountain Views

    Rank: 10
    Address: 8272 E Left Hand Fork Hobble Crk N, Springville, UT
    Price: $35 million
    Choice quote: On the market since July 2012, this mansion has a “2-lane bowling alley [and] indoor shooting range.”

  • Tuscany in the Desert

    Rank: 11
    Address: 10696 E Wingspan Way, Scottsdale, AZ
    Price: $32 million
    Choice quote: The most expensive listing in Arizona “combine[s] opulence and sophistication without overindulgence.”

  • Beach Retreat

    Rank: 12
    Address: 5800 N Bay Rd, Miami Beach, FL
    Price: $40 million
    Choice quote: Formerly owned by Jennifer Lopez, this mansion is “a sophisticated residence with impeccable style.”

  • Southern Belle

    Rank: 13
    Address: 490 W Paces Ferry Rd NW, Atlanta, GA
    Price: $15.9 million
    Choice quote: The listing doesn’t skimp on hyperbole: “Buckhead’s most palatial estate on Atlanta’s most prestigious street.”

  • Sweet in SoCal

    Rank: 14
    Address: 5444 Valerio Trl, San Diego, CA
    Price: $1.595 million
    Choice quote: While it’s not a multimillion-dollar mansion, this SoCal home “features charming curbside appeal, ideal privacy and a functional floor plan.”

  • New Orleans Classic

    Rank: 15
    Address: 1415 3rd St, New Orleans, LA
    Price: $7.999 million
    Choice quote: Built in 1859, the Robinson-Jordan Mansion “is reputed to be the first house with indoor plumbing in the city.”

MONEY Housing Market

Why 2015 Might Be the Year You Finally Sell Your House

141224_REA_sold_1
Martin Barraud/Getty Images

Home price gains are slowing, credit is thawing, and more first-time buyers may be hitting the real estate market in 2015.

Better balance in the housing sector is “in” next year, as far as trends go. That’s likely to put buyers and sellers on a more even footing.

Some prospective sellers sound especially bullish on housing. In a recent Trulia survey, the biggest chunk of consumers, 36%, said they expect next year to be much or a little better than 2014 for selling a home.

To be sure, like politics, all real estate is local. Some sellers have stayed on the sidelines in recent years, investing in improvements amid a dearth of buyers. For others, low inventory and rising home prices meant a bidding-war bonanza.

The landscape next year’s sellers are likely to encounter depends a lot on where they live. But here are a few broad trends to bear in mind.

Bringing Back Buyers

Mortgage credit is becoming more available as lenders scale back requirements. The average FICO score on a conventional purchase loan in October was 754, according to Ellie Mae. That’s a five-point drop from last year’s average. (You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

Tough credit and underwriting requirements have been a huge hurdle for many would-be buyers. So is liquidity, but there’s also good news on that front: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently rolled out a mortgage option that allows for a 3% down payment. These two government-sponsored behemoths purchase about two-thirds of all new mortgages.

If conventional lenders get on board, the new low-down-payment option could pull more first-time buyers into the marketplace. During a time of tight credit and stagnant wages, this crucial group of buyers has been all but absent from the housing picture.

“If access to credit improves, we could see substantially larger numbers of young buyers in the market,” Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, noted in his 2015 housing forecast. “However, given a high dependency on financial qualifications, this activity will be skewed to geographic areas with higher affordability, such as the Midwest and South.”

Affordability May Be a Concern

Lower credit and down-payment thresholds are causes for optimism. But rising home values and mortgage rates will impact affordability, especially in costlier housing markets. Realtor.com’s Smoke expects affordability to decline 5-10% next year.

Job and wage growth will play a big role in shaping homebuying activity. Gains in both may offset the price and rate increases likely on the horizon.

Sellers in more affordable housing markets, especially those with improving economies, are likely to see more buyers.

Home Prices & Inventory

Home price growth is slowing after years of big gains. Zillow’s chief economist predicts home values will rise about 3% next year, about half the current clip. More listings are hitting the market each month, too, although inventories are still tight in some places and price ranges.

Housing inventory nationwide jumped nearly 16% in October year over year, according to Zillow.

The combination of cooling prices and more inventory means the balance of power is tilting back toward buyers in some markets.

“Sellers have had their day in the sun for several years in a row now,” Zillow’s economist, Stan Humphries, told U.S. News & World Report. “It’s time to get back to a balanced market and for buyers to have their day.”

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

MONEY home prices

Buying or Selling a Home in 2015? Here’s What You Need to Know

After a boom, a bust, and a bounce, housing finally gets back to "normal."

Housing should be a drama-free zone in 2015. “After the boom, the bust, and the recovery bounce, we are transitioning to a calmer market driven by fundamentals,” says Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia.

Even though the econ­omy is growing and mortgage rates will remain low—the 30-year fixed isn’t likely to pass 5%—bubbly gains in housing are unlikely. Household income has barely budged since the housing market bottomed in late 2011, while home prices are already about 20% higher on average. Plus, with cautious lenders requiring hefty down payments and low debt/income ratios, it’s not as if buyers have the capacity to push prices sharply up.

All that figured in, CoreLogic forecasts a 4.4% rise in the national median home price. “That’s healthy and sustainable,” says chief economist Mark Fleming.

Here’s what to do if you’re thinking about buying or selling in 2015.

Sellers, forget bidding wars. In most markets you still have leverage, but less than you did. In the summer of 2013 about 20% of homes were selling at a premium to original list; this fall, 11% are, the National Association of Realtors reported. The takeaway: “You have to price your house right,” says Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. ­Review recent comps and list within 5% to allow for counteroffers.

Buyers, save interest. While the 30-year fixed is not expected to hit 5% until later in the year, a winter move will likely nab the lowest rates. Meanwhile, the 15-year mortgage, now at 3.3%, should stay under 4% for most of 2015—and can be a good call if you’re looking to pay off the house before retirement.

Owners, renovate. Especially if you have a low-rate mortgage, “it can be a lot cheaper to remodel to age in place than move,” says Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Rates on home-equity loans and lines of credit are still “in shouting distance of record lows,” says Keith Gum­binger of mortgage data service HSH.com. While loans are pricier than HELOCs—possibly 6.5% vs. 5.5% by year’s end—the fixed-rate HEL can be a safer bet in a rising rate climate.

Read More on Home Buying and Selling in Money 101:

How Much House Can I Afford?
What Renovations Will Pay Off When I Sell?
How Do I Get the Best Rate on a Mortgage?

Read next: The World’s 10 Most Expensive Houses—and Who Owns Them

MONEY home improvement

What Are Some Easy Fixes That Can Boost My Home’s Value?

HGTV's Scott McGillivray shares his tips for simple renovations that will make your home more attractive to a buyer.

MONEY Housing Market

Cities Where the Housing Market Heats Up In the Fall

Autumn colors on North Shore of Big Bear Lake.
Autumn colors on North Shore of Big Bear Lake, where housing searches pick up in the fall. Brent Winebrenner—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image

The start of the slow season for home search in most of the country began last month. But autumn is prime time for shopping in certain regions, mostly vacation areas in the mountains and forests.

House hunting is largely considered a seasonal sport, with springtime ranking as the best time to play. March typically kicks off the busy season, which extends through Labor Day, and is when the largest number of buyers circle, and the most homes go up for sale.

But depending on where you are house hunting, you may not realize that autumn can be an excellent time to buy and sell. Instead of slowing down in the fall, many regions of the country buck the national trend and experience high levels of activity, according to a new report on the seasonality of house hunting. The research reveals the cities where home buying and selling peaks, as well as significantly slows, during this time of year.

Fall Slow Down

Home shopping majorly slows in many warm climates and beach areas during the fall months. For example, in September and October Hawaii and Florida see a 10% dip below their annual averages. When looking at major metro areas, search activity drops the most in the South and Southwest. In the Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Florida, area, for example, it declines 18% in September and October compared to the annual average. Searches plummet 12% in Austin, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona. In Charleston, South Carolina, hunting goes down 11%.

Big vacation destinations that see search activity slow include Punta Gorda, Naples/Marco Island and Key West.

The study also found that college towns have some of the lowest rates in the country for home searching during the autumn season – making it all the more important to lock in your housing before classes begin. College Station/Bryan, Texas, Columbia, Mo., and Iowa City, Iowa, are three university towns that see a big reduction in activity during this time of year.

Bucking the Trend

There are several areas of the country where activity actually picks up in the fall, and autumn is the busy season. These regions are typically near ski resorts in mountain and forest areas.

The county of Lincoln, NM, which is close to winter resort Ski Apache, sees a 16% jump in search activity during the fall when compared with the annual average. The area around Ellsworth, ME, known for a fun winter carnival, boasts 13% more searches.

Big Bear/Lake Arrowhead, a ski region located east of Los Angeles, also has a high number of house hunters in the fall, presumably preparing themselves for fun weekend days on the slopes and dinners by bustling fireplaces.

Other parts of the country don’t necessarily see a large increase in the fall, but instead chug along at their same springtime pace. This pattern emerges in some New England metro areas, including Peabody, Mass., and Worcester, Mass. Search activity in San Francisco also doesn’t change much in the fall, possibly because it includes some of the warmest months for the City by the Bay.

To read more of Katie Morell’s work on Trulia.com, click here.

 

How do you know if it makes sense to itemize?

MONEY Millennials

How Millennials Stalled the Housing Market Recovery

Wrecking ball hitting brick wall
Steve Bronstein—Getty Images

Millennials already have to deal with hefty debt from college, an iffy job market, and growing up in an era where MTV no longer plays music videos, but now they’re being blamed for holding back the real estate boom. Homebuilder adviser John Burns Consulting published details from a study earlier this month concluding that student loan payments will cost the housing industry 414,000 transactions this year that would have totaled $83 billion in sales.

Ouch. The ivory tower is crumbling at the foundation.

It’s been widely assumed that mounting student debt is eating away at this otherwise buoyant housing market recovery. John Burns Consulting’s study — boiled down to a free one-pager for those that aren’t paying customers that got the more thorough report — attempts to quantify the impact.

How did the adviser arrive at $83 billion? Well, we start with the 5.9 million households under the age of 40 that are paying at least $250 in student loan debt, nearly triple the 2.2 million leveraged college grads in the same predicament back in 2005. We then get to the assumption that $250 earmarked for student loan debt every month reduces the buying power of a potential homebuyer by $44,000. That’s bad, and it’s naturally worse depending on how much more than $250 a month some of these indebted students have taken on to pay back. That’s less money they can commit to a mortgage. John Burns Consulting offers up that most households paying at least $750 a month in student loan have priced themselves out of the housing market entirely.

It gets worse

The study only looked at folks between the ages of 20-40. That’s a pretty sizable lot, especially since 35% of all households in that age bracket have at least $250 a month in student debt. However, even John Burns Consulting concedes that there’s “a big chunk of households over age 40 who have student debt” as well. It’s not likely to be as bad, naturally, but it’s all incremental at this point.

This report also happens to come at a time when the housing industry is starting to flinch after a couple of years of boom and bounce. Right now everything seems great. New home sales data released this past week showed the industry’s highest monthly growth rate in more than six years. However, the near-term outlook is starting to get hazy.

Shares of KB Home KB HOME KBH -2.7322% shed more than 5% of their value on Wednesday after reporting uninspiring quarterly results. Revenue and earnings fell short of expectations, and the same can be said about its number of closings and order growth. Earlier this month it was luxury bellwether Toll Brothers TOLL BROTHERS TOL -0.9159% setting an uneasy tone after posting a year-over-year decline in the number of contracts it signed during the period and an uptick in the cancellation rate for existing home orders.

It gets better

The student debt crisis is real, and the skyrocketing costs of obtaining a postsecondary education naturally open up the debate of its necessity. However, it’s also important to remember that university grads are earning far more than those that don’t attend college.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). The Condition of Education 2014 (NCES 2014-083), Annual Earnings of Young Adults.

The median of annual earnings for young adults in 2012 was $46,900 for those with a bachelor’s degree, $30,000 for those with just a high school degree or credential and $22,900 for those who did not complete high school. Those going on to grad school for advanced degrees — and that’s where student loans can really start to pile up — are at $59,600 a year.

In other words, most college grads, and especially grad school graduates, are typically better off than those that didn’t pursue higher education, even with the student loan albatross around their white-collared necks. The housing industry would be better off if colleges were cheaper or if student debt levels were lower, but the same can be said about purchasing power in general. At the end of the day, debt-saddled or not, the housing industry needs its college graduates.

MONEY

Former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke Can’t Refinance His Home

Even former central bankers can't get a loan

If you’ve failed to get a loan in this market, don’t feel too bad. Not even central bankers can catch a break–as Ben Bernanke, who chaired the Federal Reserve from 2006 through February of 2014, recently revealed that he has been unable to refinance his home.

“Just between the two of us, ” Bernanke told the moderator at a recent conference of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, “I recently tried to refinance my mortgage and I was unsuccessful in doing so,” Bloomberg reports.

The audience laughed.

“I’m not making this up,” Bernanke insisted.

Bernanke also complained that stringent credit standards have made the process for first-time homebuyers excessively difficult, especially as economic conditions have improved. “The housing area is one area where regulation has not yet got it right,” Bernanke said. “I think the tightness of mortgage credit, lending is still probably excessive.”

As of press time, there is no word on whether current Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has been denied for an auto loan.

[Bloomberg]

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