MONEY buying a home

Homebuyers ‘Addicted’ to Online Listings—But Accuracy Is Still an Issue

141117_EM_homebuyers_1
Getty Images

Almost two-thirds of recent home buyers surveyed said they were "addicted" to online listings, but only 22% said they were always accurate.

A new study from Discover Home Loans confirms the extent to which technology has transformed the way people buy and sell houses. But it also shows the limits of using online real estate sites when shopping for a home.

According to the survey, which polled 1,003 recent homebuyers on how technology affected their experience, 83% used listings sites like Zillow and Trulia, more than any other online resource. But the majority of respondents weren’t always satisfied with what they found. Only 22% said online listings were always accurate. The results reinforce previous studies, which found a disparity between the accuracy of listings on third-party websites and those found on local Multiple Listing Services, the primary tool of real estate brokers. Those listings tend to be updated more quickly than consumer-facing sites.

Zillow and Trulia have previously responded to such studies, noting that their sites also offer special tools to educate buyers on neighborhoods and housing conditions, and include listings of for-sale-by-owner, premarket and new-construction homes that don’t show up in MLSs.

Alison Paoli, public relations manager with Zillow, noted that while she hadn’t seen the full research, “what’s more important to understand about a study like this is that there is no gold standard for [accuracy in] real estate listings.” She added that Zillow gives brokers, agents, and MLSs the option of sending their listings directly at no cost. “Accuracy is top priority for us,” Paoli.

Accuracy aside, the survey showed that buyers still love trolling listing websites. The vast majority of respondents said technology made them feel “smarter” and “more confident,” and almost half said it helped them save money. In fact, two thirds said looking at online property listings “reached the point of becoming addictive.”

T.J. Freeborn, senior manager of customer experience at Discover Home Loans, said the results show that buyers still need a combination of online information and local expertise. “I think technology is an incredibly useful tool in this marketplace, but Realtors have a very deep knowledge of neighborhoods and particular homes,” Freeborn said.

Discover’s data shows buyers tended to shun social media when looking for houses—a surprising result in a world where virtually all other activities are in some way connected to Facebook and Twitter. Only 25% of homebuyers collected ideas on social media, and just 29% used social media to consult friends. (Given how hot some real estate markets have become, perhaps their reluctance can be chalked up to justifiable paranoia about oversharing.)

That data could have implications for home sellers. At least for now, a social media presence is far less important than making sure your home is listed online.

Get answers to your home buying questions from MONEY101:
How Do I Shop for a House?
How Do I Choose the Right Real Estate Agent?
How Do I Negotiate the Best Price on a New Home?

 

MONEY buying a home

Why Firemen Are More Likely to Own a Home than Economists

Firefighters
Many public service workers such as firemen own their homes. Michael Dwyer—Alamy

A new study shows which professions are most- and least- likely to be homeowners. The results may surprise you.

What do firemen, police officers, and farmers have in common? They’re all more likely to own homes today than economists, jewelers, and accountants.

These are the results from a newly released study, done by Ancestry.com, looking at the relationship between profession and home ownership today and over time. The website teamed up with the University of Minnesota Population Center to analyze Census data between 1900 and 2012, creating a century-spanning log to show how ownership changed over the decades.

Looking at the most recent 2012 data, the research found that 79% of policemen and detectives own a home, yet only 64% of economists do. Farmers (81%) and firemen (84%) are in the top ten professions most likely to own a house, ranked above jobs like accountants (76%), and far higher than members of the armed forces (33%). Nationwide, the data shows 64% of the population owns their home.

Another surprising finding: the stereotype of the starving artist isn’t necessarily reflected in the data—at least for some industries. It turns out 63% percent of artists and art teachers own homes, as well as 62% of musicians and music teachers, 63% of authors, and 57% of entertainers. It’s not all roses for the artistic class, though. Just 37% of actors and actresses own a house, and that number sinks to 23% for dancers and dance teachers.

Toddy Godfrey, a senior executive at Ancestry.com, points out that there are both high and lower income professions on the most-likely-to own list, suggesting there isn’t a direct relationship between high wages and ownership. Typically lucrative professions like optometry tend to own, but so do lower-paid trade and public service workers.

“You look at some of the jobs on the top of the list, and they’re clientele based, or teachers, or others who are community rooted,” says Godfrey. He speculates that professions most likely to own “have a long-term connection to the community they live in.” That reasoning may also explain why tradesmen tend to buy instead of rent. Godfrey guesses many of these workers are tied to regional manufacturing, and therefore are more likely to set down roots.

Another trend the data suggests is that temporary and highly mobile workers tend to avoid homeownership. That could explain why so few military service members own houses, as they can be redeployed elsewhere and may choose to move once their service ends.

Finally, Godfrey highlights the fact that while ownership took a hit in the bust, the majority of Americans own their home. That’s up from 32% in 1900, though most of the growth happened pre-1960. “Maybe it’s come down a point in the last few years, but it’s held pretty steady at two thirds,” says Godfrey.That trend has been pretty constant.”

Top 10 Professions for Home Ownership in 2012

1. Optometrists: 90%

2. Toolmakers and Die Makers/Setters: 88%

3. Dentists: 87%

4. Power Station Operators: 87%

5. Forgemen and Hammermen: 84%

6. Inspectors: 84%

7. Firemen: 84%

8. Locomotive Engineers: 84%

9. Airplane Pilots and Navigators: 83%

10. Farmers: 81%

Bottom 10 Professions for Home Ownership in 2012

1. Dancers and Dance Teachers: 23%

2. Motion Picture Projectionists: 27%

3. Waiters and Waitresses: 27%

4. Counter and Fountain Workers: 28%

5. Members of the Armed Forces: 33%

6. Service Workers (except private households): 34%

7. Bartenders: 35%

8. Housekeepers and Cleaners: 35%

9. Cashiers: 36%

10. Cooks (except private households): 36%

MONEY home prices

Slowing Price Gains Reveal Little Exuberance for Homes

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Dimitri Vervitsiotis—Getty Images

Looking ahead, the rate of home price growth may slow even further, especially if mortgage rates increase.

While housing prices continue to rise, the rate of that growth nationally slowed in June, according to a leading gauge of the real estate market.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed that home prices throughout the country increased 6.2% since last year. Meanwhile, separate indexes that track 10 and 20 large U.S. cities showed gains of 8.1% during the same time period.

Though decent, those gains were a far cry from the double-digit growth in home prices late last year. Moreover, all three indexes showed deceleration from the prior month, and every city measured experienced lower year-over-year price growth.

“Home price gains continue to ease as they have since last fall,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “For the first time since February 2008, all cities showed lower annual rates than the previous month. Other housing indicators — starts, existing home sales and builders’ sentiment — are positive. Taken together, these point to a more normal housing sector.”

Blitzer also cautioned that an increase in interest rates, which Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen hinted at last week, may mean further deceleration if they lead to higher mortgage rates.

“Bargain basement mortgage rates won’t continue forever,” he said. “Recent improvements in the labor markets and comments from Fed chair Janet Yellen and others hint that interest rates could rise as soon as the first quarter of 2015. Rising mortgage rates won’t send housing into a tailspin, but will further dampen price gains.”

To be sure, home prices are still going up across the board. All cities reported higher prices for the third consecutive month, and price growth in markets such as Dallas and Denver has continued unabated.

Nationally, average home prices in June are back to Spring, 2005 levels. But city composites are still roughly 17% down from their peak prices in June/July of 2006.

MONEY home prices

These Places Have the Best Housing Bargains in the Country

Scioto River and Columbus, Ohio skyline at dusk.
Columbus, Ohio, skyline at dusk. VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm—Getty Images

As the market tries to adjust to a post-recession world, there are plenty of deals to be had. But there are also plenty of markets where housing is more unaffordable than ever.

With housing price growth slowing down nationwide, and a gradually improving economy, many Americans who’ve been waiting to make a decision on a home are wondering if it’s time to buy or sell.

Here’s some data that might help with those decisions: A new study by RealtyTrac determined which housing markets are more and less affordable relative to their historical averages. The real estate data firm computed the numbers by determining what percentage of an area’s median income would be needed to make payments on a median-priced home in over 1,000 counties, and then compared that to the county’s historical price-to-income ratio over the past 14 years.

So which areas are looking like a bargain? RealtyTrac identified 66 counties with a combined population of 16 million (about 5% of the total survey area’s population) where home prices are lower than historical averages and the unemployment rate was 5% or lower—well below the national unemployment rate of about 6.2%.

This, according to RealtyTrac, is the best way to measure affordability because many markets with cheap housing don’t have quality jobs to offer to new residents. Some undiscovered markets are “undiscovered for good reason because their economies are struggling,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “A good example of that is Detroit. Affordability alone isn’t an indication that a market is a good one to buy in or invest in.”

The study found Columbus, Ohio; Oklahoma City; Tulsa; Akron, Ohio; Omaha; Greenville, S.C.; and Des Moines, Iowa, are among the markets with an advantageous combination of employment and affordable housing.

Courtesy of RealtyTrac

Why is housing in these areas undervalued? Basically, the overall real estate market is still recovering from the recession, and prices have yet to adjust in certain markets as investors are slow to discover lesser-known areas with strong economic growth. This pro-buyer environment might not last much longer, though. Blomquist says there’s been an uptick of institutional investor purchasing in Columbus, which means prices are set to rise in the near future.

There’s good news for prospective sellers as well. Prices in over one-third of the counties surveyed are less affordable than their historical averages, suggesting homes there may be over-valued. These cities include San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Austin; San Antonio; Houston; and Atlanta.

Courtesy of RealtyTrac

Should sellers jump at the high prices? If you’re a homeowner in one of these markets, a lot of things are going your way. As prices rise, institutional investors are rushing to invest in these markets, inflating values even further. But there’s also a lack of supply because builders are still reluctant to start new construction.

“It’s a sellers market still [in these areas] because you have a combination of strong demand from this new breed of buyers and low supply because builders are very hesitant,” says Blomquist. “If you’re a seller, you’re not competing against too many others and you have a long liner of buyers.”

However, he cautions that for sellers looking to buy another home in the same market, less affordable home prices may be a double-edged sword. “The catch-22 is if you’re trying to buy too — if that’s the case, then it’s not a great market to buy in.”

MONEY home prices

Case-Shiller Index Shows Home Price Growth Slowing

Home prices increased at their slowest pace since February 2013, according to the latest report on the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

The index, which compiles a 10- and 20-city composite of home prices, showed the 10-city composite posted price gains of 9.4% year-over-year, while the 20-city group showed gains of 9.3%. Both results were significantly lower than the 10.9% and 10.8% year-over-year increases the respective composites showed last month, and much less than the 9.9% gains analysts expected from the 20-city index.

All 20 cities posted some month-to-month price gains before seasonal adjustment, but 14 of 20 saw prices decline once seasonal factors were taken into account.

This is the second bit of bad news for home-sellers this month. On Monday, the National Association of Realtors reported that pending home sales dropped 1.1% in June, and were down 7.3% since June of 2013. Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist, blamed tight credit, low inventory, and flat wages for the decline. However, Yun predicted sales would increase slightly in the second half of the year, partially because price appreciation has slowed.

“Housing has been turning in mixed economic numbers in the last few months,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “Prices and sales of existing homes have shown improvement while construction and sales of new homes continue to lag. At the same time, the broader economy and especially employment are showing larger improvements and substantial gains.”

Of the 20 cities measured by the Case-Shiller index, Charlotte was the only area to see its annual growth rate improve. Las Vegas experienced some slowdown in price appreciation, but remained the city with the fastest price growth (16.9% YOY), followed by San Francisco (15.4% YOY). Washington had the lowest year-over-year growth at 5.8%.

MONEY Housing Market

The Housing Market Won’t Be Undervalued Much Longer

Trulia's latest analysis shows homes in three-fourths of major U.S. cities are still undervalued, while seven are more than 10% overvalued (most in California). Even there, prices are no where near boom frothiness.

Trulia’s Bubble Watch reveals whether home prices are overvalued or undervalued relative to their fundamental value by comparing prices today with historical prices, incomes, and rents. The more prices are overvalued relative to fundamentals, the closer we are to a housing bubble – and the bigger the risk of a future price crash.

Sharply rising prices aren’t necessarily a sign of a bubble; a bubble is when prices look high relative to fundamentals. Bubble watching is as much an art as it is a science because there’s no definitive measure of fundamental value. To try to put numbers on it, we look at the price-to-income ratio, the price-to-rent ratio, and prices relative to their long-term trends using multiple data sources, including the Trulia Price Monitor as a leading indicator of where home prices are heading. We then combine these various measures of fundamental value rather than relying on a single factor, because no one measure is perfect. Trulia’s first Bubble Watch report, from May 2013, explains our methodology in detail. Here’s what we found.

Home Prices are 3% Undervalued Nationally We estimate that home prices nationally are 3% undervalued in the second quarter of 2014 (2014 Q2), which is far from bubble territory. During last decade’s housing bubble, home prices soared to a level that was 39% overvalued in 2006 Q1, then dropped to being 15% undervalued in 2011 Q4. One quarter ago (2014 Q1), prices looked 5% undervalued, and one year ago (2013 Q2) prices looked 8% undervalued. This chart shows how far current prices are from a bubble:

At this pace, home prices nationally should be in line with long-term fundamentals – i.e., neither over- or undervalued – by the last quarter of 2014 or the first quarter of 2015. The good news for bubblephobes is that price gains are now slowing down while prices still look (slightly) undervalued. We’d be at greater risk of heading toward a bubble if price gains were still accelerating, but they’re not.

Even in the Bubbliest Markets, It’s Not 2006 All Over Again Eight of the 10 most overvalued housing markets are in California, with Orange County, Los Angeles, and Riverside-San Bernardino in the top four. However, they are not seeing the return of last decade’s bubble. These California markets are much less overvalued than they were at the height of the bubble. Orange County, today’s frothiest market, is just 17% overvalued now versus being 71% overvalued in 2006 Q1. Among the most overvalued markets today, only Austin looks more overvalued now (13%) than in 2006 Q1 (8%) – and that’s because Austin (and Texas generally) avoided the worst of last decade’s bubble and bust.

Top 10 Metros Where Home Prices Are Most Overvalued
# U.S. Metro Home prices relative to fundamentals, 2014 Q2 Home prices relative to fundamentals, 2006 Q1 Year-over-year change in asking prices, May 2014
1 Orange County, CA +17% +71% 9.6%
2 Honolulu, HI +15% +41% 5.3%
3 Los Angeles, CA +15% +79% 12.7%
4 Riverside-San Bernardino, CA +13% +92% 18.8%
5 Austin, TX +13% +8% 9.7%
6 San Jose, CA +11% +58% 10.4%
7 Oakland, CA +10% +72% 14.8%
8 Ventura County, CA +9% +73% 12.6%
9 San Diego, CA +7% +69% 11.2%
10 San Francisco, CA +6% +51% 11.6%
Note: positive numbers indicate overvalued prices; negative numbers indicate undervalued, among the 100 largest metros. Click here to see the price valuation for all 100 metros: Excel or PDF.

 

Only in Akron and Cleveland are prices undervalued by more than 20%. Furthermore, in those two markets, home prices are rising below the national average of 8.0%. But in several of the most undervalued markets, including Detroit and Chicago, prices are now rising year-over-year in the double digits. But those markets are unlikely to stay on the most-undervalued list for many more quarters.

Top 10 Metros Where Home Prices Are Most Undervalued
# U.S. Metro Home prices relative to fundamentals, 2014 Q2 Home prices relative to fundamentals, 2006 Q1 Year-over-year change in asking prices, May 2014
1 Akron, OH -21% +18% 4.7%
2 Cleveland, OH -21% +18% 6.3%
3 Detroit, MI -19% +38% 15.2%
4 Dayton, OH -16% +13% 12.1%
5 Worcester, MA -15% +43% 4.4%
6 Memphis, TN-MS-AR -14% +11% 3.2%
7 Toledo, OH -14% +22% 10.0%
8 Chicago, IL -14% +36% 13.5%
9 Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL -14% +54% 3.8%
10 Providence, RI-MA -14% +52% 2.9%
Note: positive numbers indicate overvalued prices; negative numbers indicate undervalued, among the 100 largest metros. Click here to see the price valuation for all 100 metros: Excel or PDF.

 

Three-Fourths of Markets Still Undervalued Of the 100 largest metros, home prices in 76 of them look undervalued. But the number of overvalued markets – 24 – has climbed up from 19 last quarter (2014 Q1) and just 5 last year (2013 Q2). Most of the 24 overvalued markets are overvalued just a bit, with 17 overvalued by less than 10% and 7 overvalued by more than 10%. While the number of overvalued markets is rising, there remains little reason to worry about a new, widespread bubble forming. The last two years of strong price gains have been from a relatively low level and still haven’t pushed home prices nationally above our best guess of their long-term fundamental value.

See the original article with complete charts here.

Jed Kolko is the chief economist of Trulia.

MONEY Ask the Expert

How does a quitclaim deed work?

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Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: What are the tax implications of using a quitclaim deed to transfer my home? – Danny Chang, Los Angeles

A: A quitclaim deed reflects a transfer of property, and is often used when transferring property between family members (when parents give property to a child, or when homeowners divorce).

About those taxes: Let’s say parents use a quitclaim to give the home they bought for $200,000 to a child. The transfer is a gift, not a taxable sale. So it does not trigger a tax-deductible loss (even if the child paid $1 for the property) because losses on transfers to “related parties” are not tax-deductible, says accountant and attorney G. Scott Haislet of Lafayette, Calif.

Mom and Dad don’t report the gift on their income tax return; neither does the child (gifts from parents are income tax-free).

The parents would have to file a gift tax return (IRS form 709), including an appraisal documenting the value of the home at the time of the gift. The transfer will likely not trigger a gift tax, Haislet says, but may affect the parents’ estate tax at death. Caveat: If the home is mortgaged, and the recipient of the property takes over the mortgage, that may be considered income to you. In that case, the transaction would be considered “part sale, part gift,” Haislet says. Consult your own CPA.

Money 101: Will I pay income taxes on the sale of my home?

MONEY Housing Market

Why Median Home Prices Are Rising: It’s More Than Just the Values

Home prices keep rising, but not just because they're worth more. Sales of higher-end homes are skewing that median home price figure upward.

The median home price rose 5.1% to $213,400 from a year ago, the National Association of Realtors announced yesterday.

RealtyTrac’s numbers out today, which include foreclosures sales not covered by the NAR report, have median prices up 13% year-over-year.

So does that mean your home value rose 13%?

Of course not, and not just because those figures cover the entire United States. Clearly home values vary widely based on the characteristics of your local market – employment growth, the pace of new construction, incomes, type of home, all sorts of things.

The median home price is shaped by other factors having nothing to do with any particular home or market but, rather, the specific mix of homes sold in that month.

One of the trends we’ve been seeing for a while now is that more higher-priced homes are selling than lower-priced homes. That’s for two reasons:

First, the volume of bargain-priced foreclosures continues to shrink. RealtyTrac’s report says foreclosures and short sales accounted for 14.3% of home sales in May, down from 15.9% a year ago. Consider that the median price of distressed homes was $120,000 versus $190,000 for non-distressed and you can see how simply having fewer troubled properties in the mix would be a powerful pricing boost.

Second, move-up buyers, the ones buying the $500,000-plus homes, are in better financial shape. They have the credit scores to qualify for a mortgage. They also have, more than likely, equity in their current home they can use for a new down payment as well as investments.

See what’s happening at RealtyTrac’s chart of home sales by price tier:

Price Range Share of Sales YoY Change
$50k-$100k 13% -22%
$100k-$200k 33% -5%
$200k-$300k 20% 6%
$300k-$400k 12% 11%
$400k-$500k 7% 17%
$500k-$750k 7% 15%
$750k-$1M 2% 23%
$1M-$2M 2% 24%

Other highlights from RealtyTrac’s report:

Metropolitan areas with sales declines from a year ago include Boston (-23%), Fresno (-22%), Orlando (-18%), Los Angeles (-16%) and Phoenix (-13%).

Areas with the highest share of foreclosures and short sales were Las Vegas (27%), Lakeland, Fla. (33%), Modesto, Calif. (32%), Jacksonville, Fla. (32%) and the Riverside region of southern California (29%).

MONEY Housing Market

The Housing Number That Really Matters: 2.28 Million

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Wiskerke / Alamy

The number of homes on the market increased enough to slow down surging price gains and make it a little bit easier for buyers. Bidding wars aren't going away, though.

Home buyers worried they will be stuck in bidding wars for a scarce number of homes can relax a little bit. The number of homes for sale in May is up 6% over last year, to 2.28 million, reported the National Association of Realtors.

At the current pace, it would take 5.6 months to sell all the homes on the market. Six months is considered a healthy balance between buyers and sellers. The 5.6 number means it’s still, on average, more of a sellers’ market, but far better than late 2012 and early 2013, when there was less than a five-month supply of homes.

For May, sales continued to strengthen after a “lackluster” first quarter, said NAR economist Lawrence Yun. The median price of existing homes for the country, which includes condos, was $213,400, up 5.1% over a year ago.

But let’s get back to inventory, which has been driving much of what’s been happening in housing.

Around late 2011, buyers began tiptoeing back into the market, eating into the oversupply of distressed properties that had swelled post-bust. A year later, more confident buyers and an investor boom pushed the pendulum toward housing shortage. This chart shows that trend and how it’s been easing so far this year.

 

Source: National Association of Realtors

This is great news, because in some cities buyers have become so frustrated by the scarce choices that they’ve given up. Especially in hot cities (Denver, all the big cities in Texas, southern California) and in the best neighborhoods in most cities, buying a home has become about how to win a bidding war.

Even now, homes are still selling relatively quickly—the median number of days a home spent on the market in May was 47. But at least that’s six days more than a year ago, giving buyers some room to breathe.

That in turn means a slowdown in the hefty price gains that have marked the last 18 months or so of the housing recovery, but the market needs more, Yun says. “Rising inventory bodes well for slower price growth and greater affordability,” he said in a statement. But “new home construction is still needed to keep prices and housing supply healthy in the long run.”

New construction is a bit wobbly, however. Yes, builders are building more homes, but they are mostly apartments (the rental market is still going gangbusters). Builders have been slow to commit, worried about the financial health of buyers. Economist Brad Hunter of MetroStudy, which analyzes the new home industry, says consumers are still skittish, but traffic through builders’ showrooms continues to improve. So sales should rise soon, he says.

As with everything real estate, it’s all local. Construction is healthy in southern California, Texas and Florida, while Arizona and Nevada are down, Hunter notes.

And, it matters where you fall on the income spectrum. That’s another key aspect of the current housing market: Pricier homes are selling better, while the market for first-time home buyers is depressed. The percentage of first-time home buyers in the existing-home space fell again in May, to 27%, according to NAR.

In new construction, builders have begun targeting young buyers with lower-priced homes, but Hunter sees too many obstacles: high student loan debt and low employment among millennials.

Another obstacle: lending standards. The credit score needed to get a mortgage has been trending down, but very slowly. Real Estate Economy Watch, writing about an Ellie Mae report, said 32% of closed loans had an average credit score of under 700 in May, compared with 27% a year ago. The median credit score for purchases (not refinances): 755.

The median scores for FHA loans fell to 684 from 695 last year–FHA loans are favored by first-time buyers because of low down payment requirements.

The trend should draw more potential buyers off the fence, says Cameron Findlay, chief economist for Discover Home Loans. “When everyone’s talking about how difficult it is, if you’re a borrower on the cusp, you don’t bother going through the hoops and trying to apply, you just stay back,” he says. “Now they’re saying, ‘Let me see.’”

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