What You Should Really Know About Browsing for Homes Online

It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s important to take everything with a grain of salt!

Oh, let’s just admit it, shall we? Browsing for homes online is a window shopper’s Shangri-La. The elegantly decorated rooms, the sculpted gardens, the colorful front doors that just pop with those “come hither” hues.

Browser beware, though: Those listings may be seductive, but they might not be giving you the complete picture.

That perfect split-level ranch? Might be too close to a loud, traffic-choked street. That handsome colonial with the light-filled photos? Might be hiding some super icky plumbing problems. That attractively priced condo? Miiiight not actually be for sale. Imagine your despair when, after driving across town to see your dream home, you realize it was sold. 

So let’s practice some self-care, shall we, and set our expectations appropriately. 

  • Step one, fill out our home buyer’s worksheet. The worksheet helps you understand what you’re looking for. 
  • Step two, with that worksheet and knowledge in hand, start browsing for homes. As you do, keep in mind exactly what that tool can, and can’t, do. Here’s how.

You Keep Current. Your Property Site Should, Too

First things first: You wouldn’t read last month’s Vanity Fair for the latest cafe society gossip, right? So you shouldn’t browse property sites that show old listings.

Be First Through the Door

Ask your agent to send you automated emails from their MLS with new properties that meet your specs.

Most Popular in Buy a Home: Step-by-Step

Get the latest listings from realtor.com®, which pulls its information every 15 minutes from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), regional databases where real estate agents post listings for sale. That means that realtor.com®’s listings are more accurate than some others, like Zillow and Trulia, which may update less often. You wouldn’t want to get your heart a flutter for a house that’s already off the market.

BTW, there are other property listing sites as well, including Redfin, which is a brokerage and therefore also relies on relationships with brokers and MLSs for listings.

The Best Properties Aren’t Always the Best Looking

A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But what they don’t say is a picture can also hide a thousand cracked floorboards, busted boilers, and leaky pipes. So while it’s natural to focus on photos while browsing, make sure to also consider the property description and other key features.

Each realtor.com® listing, for example, has a “property details” section that may specify important information such as the year the home was built, price per square foot, and how many days the property has been on the market.

Ultimately though, ask your real estate agent to help you interpret what you find. The best agents have hyper-local knowledge of the market and may even know details and histories of some properties. If a listing seems too good to be true, your agent will likely know why.

Treat Your Agent Like Your Bestie

At the end of the day, property sites are like CliffsNotes for a neighborhood: They show you active listings, sold properties, home prices, and sales histories. All that data will give you a working knowledge, but it won’t be exhaustive.

To assess all of this information — and gather facts about any home you’re eyeing, like how far the local elementary school is from the house or where the closest Soul Cycle is — talk to your real estate agent. An agent who can paint a picture of the neighborhood is an asset.

An agent who can go beyond that and deliver the dish on specific properties is a true friend indeed, more likely to guide you away from homes with hidden problems, and more likely to save you the time of visiting a random listing (when you could otherwise be in the park playing with your canine bestie).

Want to go deeper? Consider these sites and sources:

Just remember: You’re probably not going to find that “perfect home” while browsing listings on your smartphone. Instead, consider the online shopping experience to be an amuse bouche to the home-buying entree — a good way for you to get a taste of the different types of homes that are available and a general idea of what else is out there. 

Once you’ve spent that time online, you’ll be ready to share what you’ve learned with an agent.

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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How to Disinfect a Home Correctly

Real estate pros are taking disinfectant wipes to home showings and in their car to clean frequently touched surfaces as they interact with clients to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But are you disinfecting correctly?

HouseLogic.com reports that the best cleaners are either a bleach solution or a 70% alcohol solution. “Follow this bleach recipe: 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water,” the site advises, reminding readers to properly ventilate while disinfecting with bleach. The site also notes that bleach can expire, so check the bottle’s expiration date, and never mix bleach with anything other than water.

If you don’t have bleach, use 70% rubbing alcohol, which is already diluted, HouseLogic says. Disinfecting wipes use an ammonium compound, which could allow viruses to become resistant over time. “Disinfection isn’t instantaneous,” Erica Marie Hartman, an environmental microbiologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., told HouseLogic. “[For a bleach solution], you want to leave it on the surface for 10 minutes before wiping it off. “

Allow for “dwell time,” agrees an article at Apartment Therapy that features an interview with microbiologists. Disinfecting solutions need to remain on the surface for a certain amount of time to be effective. That can vary by product. For example, Clorox Wipes instructions advise treating a surface “using enough wipes for the treated surface to remain visibly wet for four minutes.” Other disinfectants, including bleach, have their own instructions for proper use. Be sure to check the bottle.

Also, disinfectants don’t provide lasting protection. If a sick person touches the surface right after you clean it, new germs will be left there. “The reality is that bacteria are complex organisms, and the vast majority of people don’t understand the intricate mechanisms that power them, which leads to them underestimating just how easily they can be reintroduced and quickly multiply on an unprotected surface,” says Morgan Brashear, the scientific communications manager at Proctor & Gamble.

However, there is such a thing as over-disinfecting surfaces too. Visit Apartment Therapy to learn more.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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How Long Does It Take to Buy a House?

There are a lot of steps to buying a house, and that takes time: It takes 50 days on average to just close on a home.

How long does it take to buy a house? A lot depends on how much time you spend shopping for one. But once you have a contract, it takes an average of 50 days to close on a house.

There are a lot of steps to buying a house, and any of them could drag out the timeline, especially if you’re not prepared. Here’s the home-buying timeline, broken down step-by-step, so you can be in control:

1. Do Your Homework

Write It Down

Writing down your hopes, dreams, and plans for a home will keep you on track through the entire process.Read More InWorksheets for Buying, Selling, and Taking Care of Your Home

Most Popular in First-Time Homebuyer

Dreaming about owning your own home is one thing; making it happen is another. To get beyond the dream stage, you need to do some critical research to help you figure out what you do and don’t want — along with how much can you afford. 

It’s mighty disappointing to fall in love with a house only to find out you can’t afford it. A quick chat with your bank can help you avoid that heartbreak — it’s called pre-qualifying. But it’s no guarantee you’ll get a mortgage (that comes later), only an indication of how much you can afford.

2. Find An Agent

Finding an agent who suits you is key to the home buying process. They should be your most trusted adviser. Look for onewith intimate knowledge of your desired community. If they know the inside scoop, they’ll know a great deal (or a bum one) when they see it.

3. Get Pre-Approved for a Loan

Getting pre-approved for a loan signals you’re a serious buyer. Most agents recommend you have a pre-approval in hand before you make an offer, and they can offer recommendations for lenders. But pre-approval goes deeper than pre-qualification. It needs a ton of documents from you. A couple of tips to help make this a speedier process:

  • Get all your documents for mortgage pre-approval organized and ready to go.
  • Compare rates from lenders within a 14-day window: Credit bureaus will count all their checks as just one. (That’s good news for your credit score.)

4. Shop

Time: A few days to a few months

Here’s where things really vary. There are so many variables. If you’re set on a particular neighborhood where the inventory is low, it could take longer… or you could discover “the one” on day one. It all depends on what you’re seeking and what’s available. But the typical buyer actively searches for 10 to 12 weeks and looks at a median of 10 homes.

5. Make an Offer, Negotiate, and Sign a Contract

Time: 1-7 days

Work with your agent on price, contingencies, and other terms of the deal. A couple of tips to help make this step proceed smoothly:

  • Include the pre-approval letter from your lender in the offer, and put down earnest money. (Commit 3% to 4% of the sale price instead of the standard 1% to 3%, and you might really put a fire under them.)
  • If you receive a counteroffer, respond ASAP. You don’t want to give another buyer time to jump in with a better offer.

6. Get Final Mortgage Approval

Time: A few days to 3 weeks

Getting pre-approved for a mortgage doesn’t automatically mean you get a loan on the home you have under contract. The lender has a few other requirements once the home is chosen, such as an inspection and appraisal. And they’ll want to see even more current copies of your financial documents.

From this point on, the steps to buying a house will often overlap, so you’ll have several wheels in motion.

7. Get a Home Inspection

Time: 3-7 days to schedule; 2-3 hours to inspect

As soon as your contract is accepted, contact an inspector to get on their books. The inspection itself will only take two or three hours, but unfortunately, they’re not quite Amazon. They seldom show up the next day.

However, they can get the report to you quickly. Many inspectors take pictures and fill out the report as they go, then send it to your inbox within hours of completion. But it can take up to a couple of days if they’re backed up.

If the inspection turns up issues, it can cause some delays. This can range from a day or two to renegotiate, or longer if, for example, you have an FHA loan that requires certain safety standards. A home with peeling lead paint may need to be repainted, which can take weeks.

8. Get a Home Appraisal

Time: Up to 5 days to schedule; a few hours to do the appraisal; up to 5 business days to get the report to the lender

The appraisal is key to getting a mortgage. If the home fails to appraise for the mortgage amount, you may have to put more down or renegotiate the contract. That’s why you want to line up an appraiser as soon as you have a house under contract. And unlike the home inspection, this report goes to the lender instead of you and takes longer because the appraiser has to do additional research on what homes are selling for in the area.

9. Get Title Insurance

Time: 1-3 business days for title check; 2 weeks for insurance policy

Your title company will perform the check, which means they’ll look at deeds and other documents to make sure you will own the home free and clear of any liens or former claims to the property.

10. Get Homeowners Insurance

Get the Best Price

Check to see if your state insurance department publishes a comparison of premiums for homeowners insurance. They may have done the shopping for you.

Your insurancecompany may send someone out to assess the property for potential risks, which can take several days. And your mortgage lender may require other types of coverage, such as flood insurance.

11. Arrange for Closing Funds

Find out from your agent whether you need to bring a cashier’s or certified check or transfer funds digitally. Transfer the funds to the right account, and get your money ready to release.

Watch Out for Wire Scams

Hackers are known to send email posing as agents or others.Read More InHackers Are After Your Down Payment. How NOT to Get Scammed

If you ever receive wiring instructions by email, call your agent or lender to confirm one of them sent it. Call the phone number you have on record for your agent, not the one listed in the suspect email.

12. Conduct a Final Walk-Through

Time: 1 hour, the day of or day before closing

This is your chance to make sure the sellers made any agreed-upon repairs and left the property in as good (or better!) condition than the last time you saw it.

13. Close on the House

Time: 50 days on average; 1-2 hours to actually sign the paperwork

Each step after you’ve got a contract on a home is part of the closing process. And that process —  which includes getting the loan, inspection, appraisal, title, insurance, etc. —  takes the average home buyer about six weeks. 

When it’s time for the main event, bring your photo ID, and stretch your hand muscles; you’ve got a lot of signing to do! But getting the keys? Takes hardly any time at all.

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Buyer Competition Expected to Be Steep This Spring

March 6, 2020

Fewer homes were on the market in February compared to a year prior, and home prices are rising as inventory continues to tighten, according to realtor.com®’s February Housing Trends Report. That has prompted economists to predict a particularly competitive spring homebuying season.

National housing inventory dropped 15.3% year over year in February, the largest annual decline since realtor.com® began tracking inventory data. Twenty-five of the nation’s 50 largest metros saw their inventory decline by 20% or more. The largest inventory drops were recorded in Phoenix, San Diego, and San Jose, Calif., where decreases exceeded 36% year over year, realtor.com® reports. The inventory crunch pushed the median U.S. listing price up 3.9% to $310,000.

“The Fed’s decision to cut rates by 50 basis points earlier this week in reaction to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 [also called the coronavirus] is good for home buyers, but only if they can find a home to purchase,” says Danielle Hale, realtor.com®’s chief economist. “Finding a home remains the chief challenge in today’s inventory-starved market. Given the still-decreasing number of homes for sale in many markets, if a listed home is priced well, expect it to sell quickly this year. Construction of new homes will need to jump into overdrive in order to bring the nation’s supply and demand for housing back toward equilibrium.”

Further, Hale also says it remains unclear just how big of an impact the spread of the coronavirus could have on consumer spending, at least in the short term.

The latest housing numbers don’t take into account the mounting fears of COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S. over the last week. However, last month, the housing market was robust. Home prices in 46 of the 50 largest markets in February were, on average, 6.5% higher than a year earlier. Philadelphia saw the largest home price increase in the nation, up 17% annually to $295,000.

Chart of inventory declines in February 2020

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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3 Ways to Design the Perfect Kitchen Island

Large islands have become the prominent feature in kitchens. Home remodelers are realizing its importance and have made it the focus area of their projects. In a survey of nearly 2,600 homeowners(link is external), a third said they added an island during renovations, and nearly a quarter said they upgraded their current one.

Go Big

Kitchen island with black pendant lighting

Supersizing the island is one big trend, the Houzz survey finds. A third of remodelers had kitchen islands that measured seven feet long; another 39% had one that was six to seven feet long.

Contrasting Colors

White countertop kitchen island with built in sink.

Two in five renovating homeowners added or upgraded their island cabinets with a contrasting shade to the main fixture. Gray was the most popular choice at 26%, followed by blue (19%) and black (11%).

Using contrasting colors on the island countertop was also common among remodelers. The most popular choices for contrasting the island was white (23%) and medium wood (21%).

Shiny Pendants

White countertop kitchen island with gold metal pendant lamps

Turn the spotlight on the island: 92% of homeowners who upgraded their kitchen island also chose to install new lighting. Try something bold in brass or chrome.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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Housing Market Is Feeling Effects of Coronavirus Outbreak

February 6, 2020

The U.S. housing market is feeling the impact of the new coronavirus outbreak from China. Mortgage interest rates have dropped because of it, and the luxury sector has seen Chinese buyers, who had been propelling that market, quickly vanish from it.

“China has been the most important source of foreign demand for real estate,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of REALTORS®, told realtor.com®. “The upper-end market can expect to be softer as a result.”

International buyers from China spent $13.4 billion on U.S. property from April 2018 to May 2019, according to NAR research. Chinese buyers have had the largest presence in California and New York markets.

“In the short term, the virus could dampen [luxury] sales further,” says Danielle Hale, realtor.com®’s chief economist.

A temporary ban on any foreign nationals who have been in China the past two weeks and cancellations of many flights from China to the U.S. will likely impact the real estate market over the coming weeks.

The flu-like illness, which started in Wuhan, China, has infected more than 28,000 people and resulted in 565 deaths. So far, there have been 11 confirmed cases in the U.S. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a global health emergency.

One surprising impact from the coronavirus has been the way it has been pushing down mortgage rates in the United States. “China is the world’s second-largest economy, with a worldwide supply chain,” realtor.com® reports. “So what happens there affects businesses around the world, which then affects global financial markets. Amid market turmoil, investors tend to pull money out of the stock market and park it in safer, more stable U.S. Treasury bonds. And when bonds are strong, mortgage rates fall.”

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage has fallen 9 basis points to 3.51%, as of Jan. 30, according to Freddie Mac. The panic over the coronavirus could push rates even lower, economists say.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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Organize Your Home In a Month In Less Than an Hour a Day

Did you ever notice that your self-improvement pacts with yourself are action oriented? Walk 10,000 steps a day. Fix that leaky faucet. Register for VolunteerMatch.

But “get organized”? It’s a goal so broad that just trying to figure out what action to take makes you wonder what you were thinking in the first place. It’s like you need an organizing plan for your organizing.

Ta da!

Here it is. Follow these steps, spending less than an hour day (sometimes just a few moments), to a better organized home:

1. Do That Project

“What about your space is making you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed?” asks Amy Trager, a professional organizer in Chicago. Is it the paperwork disaster in your office? The pile of clothes teetering on your dresser? Or that mess that surrounds your doorway? Start with what’s annoying you, she says. One hour on that task will get your organizing engine revving.

2. Create a “Go Away” Box

Put anything you’re planning to donate in it (or give to a friend, or take to recycle). And keep it by the door so you can easily grab it when you’re leaving.

3. Deal With the Decorations

Hallelujah — the holidays are over! When you’re putting away your décor, donate anything you didn’t bring out last season, and separate decorations by holiday. No need to dig through your St. Patty’s clovers when you’re searching for a menorah.

4. Create a System for Your Entryway

Set up a “command center” so your front door doesn’t become a lawless accessories arena, especially during winter months. Add hooks for coats, bins for shoes, and a mail sorter if you need it. (Remember to keep a place for your “go away” box).

5. Wrangle Your Pet Supplies

Minimize the time spent scrambling when your pup is desperate for a walk or eager for a meal. Hang hooks and cubbies near the door and keep leashes, kibble, bowls, and toys in one convenient spot.

6. Organize Your Spices

Arrange your herbs and spices alphabetically, by cuisine, or by brand — whatever makes them easier to find when you’re in the middle of your noodle stir fry.

7. Pare Down Your Utensils

You’ve accumulated several dozen kitchen utensils in your culinary career: can openers, microplanes, four (what?!) wine openers. Pare down the collection and use drawer dividers to keep the remainders in order.

8. Reconfigure Your Pots and Pans

Stop digging around in your shelves for the oversized, cast-iron skillet. Donate the pots and pans you hardly use, and install cupboard organizers to help manage the rest.

9. Throw Away Expired Foods

You never use Worcestershire sauce — except that one time. Go through your refrigerator and pantry and ditch or donate anything past its prime.

10. Stack Your Pantry Staples

Make better use of your pantry by sorting through your staple dry goods — think flour, sugar, pasta, oatmeal, dry beans — and putting them in airtight, stackable containers. You’ll free up a ton of space, too.

11. Downsize Your Kitchen Gadgets

You had noble intentions when you purchased that spiralizer. (Zucchini noodles every night, right?) Give those space hogs to someone else with lofty dreams.

12. Say No to Coffee Mug Over-Saturation

Every time you lose a sock, a new coffee mug appears. Keep one or two mugs for every coffee or tea drinker, and donate the rest.

13. Sort Your Food Storage Containers

No singles allowed. Toss any tops or bottoms that have no mates.

14. Reassess Your Display Shelves

Shelves crammed with knickknacks, books you’ll never read, and stuff you somehow accumulated are just a waste of space. Donate books to the library, discard the junk, and arrange what’s left in a way that pleases you.

15. Deal With Your Cables

With a Roku, PlayStation, DVD player, and a cable box, it’s no surprise your entertainment center is a mess. Create ID tags for each plug from bread tags or cable ties, and bundle the clutter together with velcro strips.

16. Put Clothes on New Hangers

Switch your clothes over to the slimmer, grabbier hangers. They use less space and keep your clothes from sliding down to your closet floor. As you do this, discard the clothes you never wear.

17. Corral Your Accessories

Belts, scarves, purses, hats — all the accessories that don’t have a drawer or spot in the closet can end up everywhere. Buy an accessories hanger or install a simple series of hooks to give your wardrobe’s smallest members a home.

18. Purge Under the Bed

Under-bed storage is ideal for out-of-season clothing. But when out-of-season becomes out-of-sight and out-of-mind, clear out those clothes you’ll never wear again from this precious storage space.

19. Declutter Your Desk

When your workspace is swimming with collectibles, staplers, Post-its, and more, paring down can keep you focused when it’s time to hunker down.

20. Shred Old Paperwork

Not every form, statement, and tax record needs to stay in your filing cabinet forever. Check out this list to make sure you’re not wasting space. Shred the rest to ward off identity thieves.

21. Tidy Your Files

Now that you’ve shredded the paperwork you don’t need, tidy up your files by organizing them and labeling them clearly. Colorful folders can help organize by theme (home stuff, tax stuff, work stuff, etc.).

22. Get Rid of Mystery Electronics

Admit it. You’ve got a drawer where black mystery cords, chargers, and oddball electronic bits go to die. Free that drawer up for better uses, or at least get rid of the ones you know for sure are “dead.”

23. Pare Down Your Personal Care Stuff

Your intentions were honorable when you bought that curl-enhancing shampoo — but it expired two years ago, and you haven’t used it since. Throw away any expired potions, salves, hair products, and medicines.

24. Tackle Under-the-Sink Storage

Clean everything out. You’ll be amazed at what you find (like those Magic Erasers you could never find). Then put back everything you’re keeping in bins you can easily pull out so nothing gets lost again.

25. Hang a Shelf

Wall storage is so often overlooked. Find a spot in your home where a shelf would solve a problem, and hang it. Maybe it’s for some toiletries in the bathroom, or laundry supplies, or for your kid’s stuffed toys.

26. Reduce Your Towels and Linens

There are the towels you use — and the stack of towels you never use. Donate them to the animal shelter. Those torn pillowcases? Convert to rags or toss. Same for napkins, dishtowels, pot holders, etc.

27. Hang a Shoe Organizer

Hanging shoe organizers can solve a ton of storage problems beyond the obvious. They can store scarves, mittens, cleaning supplies, craft supplies. You can even cut them to custom-fit inside a cabinet door.

28. Organize Your Junk Drawer for Good

There’s no shame in a junk drawer — but why not organize it? Dump the whole thing on one surface and sort everything into piles. Use drawer dividers to keep each pile in its own space.

29. Store Your Tools the Right Way

Finding the right Phillips-head screwdriver to put together that cute IKEA bookshelf shouldn’t be so hard. Track down your hammers and screwdrivers, and arrange them in one easy-to-access spot, such as a pegboard.

30. Plan for the Future

See how much you’ve accomplished! Take a look around your newly organized home, making note of any spaces you missed. Then dream a bit about your next home project. Maybe paint that dining room, finally?

“Visit HouseLogic.com for more articles like this.  Reprinted from HouseLogic.com with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.”

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Existing-Home Sales Climb 3.6% in December

WASHINGTON (January 22, 2020) – Existing-home sales grew in December, bouncing back after a slight fall in November, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Although the Midwest saw sales decline, the other three major U.S. regions reported meaningful growth last month.

Total existing-home sales,1 https://www.nar.realtor/existing-home-sales, completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 3.6% from November to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 5.54 million in December. Additionally, overall sales took a significant bounce, up 10.8% from a year ago (5.00 million in December 2018).

On a full-year basis, total existing-home sales ended at 5.34 million, the same level as in 2018, as sales in the South region (+2.2%) offset declines in the West (-1.8%) and Midwest (-1.6%), as the Northeast remained unchanged.

Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said home sales fluctuated a great deal last year. “I view 2019 as a neutral year for housing in terms of sales,” Yun said. “Home sellers are positioned well, but prospective buyers aren’t as fortunate. Low inventory remains a problem, with first-time buyers affected the most.”

The median existing-home price2 for all housing types in December was $274,500, up 7.8% from December 2018 ($254,700), as prices rose in every region. November’s price increase marks 94 straight months of year-over-year gains. “Price appreciation has rapidly accelerated, and areas that are relatively unaffordable or declining in affordability are starting to experience slower job growth,” Yun said. “The hope is for price appreciation to slow in line with wage growth, which is about 3%.”

NAR’s Home Affordability Index Ranking and Payroll Job Growth report found that affordability rankings declined in 81 metro areas, 34 of which saw non-farm job growth fall faster in 2019 Q3 than the national rate over the previous five years.

Total housing inventory3 at the end of December totaled 1.40 million units, down 14.6% from November and 8.5% from one year ago (1.53 million). Unsold inventory sits at a 3.0-month supply at the current sales pace, down from the 3.7-month figure recorded in both November and December 2018. Unsold inventory totals have dropped for seven consecutive months from year-ago levels, taking a toll on home sales.

Properties typically remained on the market for 41 days in December, seasonally up from 38 days in November, but down from 46 days in December 2018. Forty-three percent of homes sold in December 2019 were on the market for less than a month.

First-time buyers were responsible for 31% of sales in December, moderately down from the 32% seen in both November and in December 2018. NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers – released in late 20194 – revealed that the annual share of first-time buyers was 33%.

Individual investors or second-home buyers, who account for many cash sales, purchased 17% of homes in December 2019, up from both 16% in November and 15% in December 2018. All-cash sales accounted for 20% of transactions in December, unchanged from November and down slightly from 22% in December 2018.

Distressed sales5 – foreclosures and short sales – represented 2% of sales in December, unchanged from both November 2019 and December 2018.

Yun said conditions for buying are favorable and will likely continue in 2020. “We saw the year come to a close with the economy churning out 2.3 million jobs, mortgage rates below 4% and housing starts ramp up to 1.6 million on an annual basis,” he said. “If these factors are sustained in 2020, we will see a notable pickup in home sales in 2020.”

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate(link is external) for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage increased to 3.72% in December, up from 3.70% in November. The average commitment rate across all of 2019 was 3.94%.

“NAR is expecting 2020 to be a great year for housing,” said NAR President Vince Malta, broker at Malta & Co., Inc., in San Francisco, California. “Our leadership team is hard at work to secure policies that will keep our housing market moving in the right direction, like promoting infrastructure reform, strengthening fair housing protections and ensuring mortgage capital remains available to responsible, mortgage-ready Americans.

Single-family and Condo/Co-op Sales

Single-family home sales sat at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 4.92 million in December, up from 4.79 million in November, and up 10.6% from a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $276,900 in December 2019, up 8.0% from December 2018.

Existing condominium and co-op sales were recorded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 620,000 units in December, up 10.7% from November and 12.7% higher than a year ago. The median existing condo price was $255,400 in December, which is an increase of 6.0% from a year ago.

Regional Breakdown

Compared to last month, December sales increased in the Northeast, South and West regions, while year-over-year sales are up in each of the four regions. Median home prices in all regions increased from one year ago, with the Midwest region showing the strongest price gain.

December 2019 existing-home sales in the Northeast grew 5.7% to an annual rate of 740,000, up 8.8% from a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $304,400, up 7.4% from December 2018.

Existing-home sales decreased 1.5% in the Midwest to an annual rate of 1.30 million, which is up 9.2% from a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $208,500, a 9.2% jump from last December.

Existing-home sales in the South grew 5.4% to an annual rate of 2.36 million in December, up 12.4% from a year ago. The median price in the South was $240,500, a 6.7% increase from this time last year.

Existing-home sales in the West rose 4.6% to an annual rate of 1.14 million in December, a 10.7% increase from a year ago. The median price in the West was $411,800, up 8.1% from December 2018.

The National Association of Realtors® is America’s largest trade association, representing more than 1.4 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

For local information, please contact the local association of Realtors® for data from local multiple listing services (MLS). Local MLS data is the most accurate source of sales and price information in specific areas, although there may be differences in reporting methodology.

NOTE: NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index for December is scheduled for release on January 29, and Existing-Home Sales for January will be released February 21; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.

1 Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings from Multiple Listing Services. Changes in sales trends outside of MLSs are not captured in the monthly series. NAR rebenchmarks home sales periodically using other sources to assess overall home sales trends, including sales not reported by MLSs.

Existing-home sales, based on closings, differ from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which account for more than 90% of total home sales, are based on a much larger data sample – about 40% of multiple listing service data each month – and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.

The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.

Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.

2 The median price is where half sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical of market conditions than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions. The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if additional data is received.

The national median condo/co-op price often is higher than the median single-family home price because condos are concentrated in higher-cost housing markets. However, in a given area, single-family homes typically sell for more than condos as seen in NAR’s quarterly metro area price reports.

3 Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, single-family sales accounted for more than 90% of transactions and condos were measured only on a quarterly basis).

4 Survey results represent owner-occupants and differ from separately reported monthly findings from NAR’s Realtors® Confidence Index, which include all types of buyers. Investors are under-represented in the annual study because survey questionnaires are mailed to the addresses of the property purchased and generally are not returned by absentee owners. Results include both new and existing homes.

5 Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), days on market, first-time buyers, all-cash transactions and investors are from a monthly survey for the NAR’s Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at nar.realtor.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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What’s Trending Next? A Dozen Home and Design Ideas for 2020

From building and decorating materials to room sizes, colors, and lighting, gift your clients with the knowledge gleaned from crystal ball gazers as we look ahead to 2020’s trends.

December 20, 2019 by Barbara Ballinger

Almost everyone enjoys making predictions for a new year—and certainly for a new decade. How about cooking appliances that tell you how to roast and broil to perfection? Or, better yet, new homes that come with a personal chef?

REALTOR® Magazine asked our favorite real estate trend watchers and influencers what to expect in 2020 and beyond. For starters, most agree that gray is on its way out, while deep hues are becoming the stars in interior paint. And more homeowners are following the craze of decluttering and tidying up popularized by Marie Kondo so they can focus on experiencing joy in their home.

While some fads are natural evolutions and others are more far-fetched, we’ve whittled it down to a dozen that are sure to inspire your buyers and sellers alike. Plus, don’t miss five up-and-coming kitchen trends that are bound to spark interest and maybe a remodel.

modern dining room

1. Comfortable Dining Rooms

Homeowners have decided they don’t want to give up their dining rooms—that’s in the past. Now they want dining rooms to be less formal and more functional, says architect Elisa Morgante of Morgante-Wilson in Chicago. The best way to do this is by investing in a multipurpose table that can take wear and tear, comfy chairs with high backs and armrests, and washable fabrics. Fun light fixtures are replacing delicate ones, and some traditional dining room furnishings are disappearing—such as china cabinets used for fancy entertaining, says real estate broker Jennifer Ames, partner at Engel & Volkers in Chicago.

dramatic curved staircase in foyer

2. Fabulous Foyers

Homeowners know the importance of exterior curb appeal, but now they’re taking advantage of the foyer as another opportunity to impress, says Liz Brooks, vice president of sales and marketing for Belgravia Group, a development firm in Chicago. At Belgravia’s condo building Renelle on the River, foyers are “gracious” in size with walls to hang a mirror or art or offer views through to a living room and beyond. The architects at Morgante-Wilson like foyers in multilevel homes to incorporate a dramatic stairway with wider or more curved treads, risers, and railings fabricated from novel materials. Some include a clerestory or skylight at the top to flood the area with light, says Morgante.

Wood Clad Apartment Building

3. Mass Timber

Mass timber is beginning to receive recognition as a smart building material because its production generates less carbon emission than steel or concrete, says sustainable architect Nathan Kipnis of Kipnis Architecture + Planning in Evanston, Ill. The material is also fire-resistant and strong and performs well during seismic activity, according to the Mass Timber Code Coalition. Plus, it’s cost-efficient and can be constructed faster since it’s prefabricated, and it can be used on walls, floors, and roofs—even in innovative sculptural forms. “With mass timber, there’s no waste on a site that must go into a landfill,” says Sam Ebersol, general manager of Mid-Atlantic Timber Frames, a heavy timber construction company in Paradise, Penn.

home elevator

4. Home Elevators

As the baby boomer population ages, first-floor master bedroom suites are becoming more popular. But not every house or townhome provides space to include them. In cases where a home has multiple levels, an elevator provides help for those who have trouble climbing stairs, says Kipnis. He recommends building the feature in new homes, or at least leaving adequate space—3 1/2 feet by 4 1/2 feet on each level for future installation. The cost will vary depending on materials, finishes, and an electrician’s hourly labor charge, but the total expense might run about $15,000 per floor.

rooftop common area

5. Communal Oases

Developers of multifamily buildings now recognize that homeowners want a green space to garden, even after they’ve vacated suburban homes. And while rooftop gardens have become more prevalent, other green spaces are popping up, too, as more developers note their health benefits. Carl Dranoff, founder of Dranoff Properties based in Philadelphia, planted a two-level garden at his newest project, Arthaus Condominiums in downtown Philly, which will include a greenhouse to grow orchids, outdoor plots to raise vegetables, flowers, and herbs, and an extended lawn off a communal event space. A horticulturalist will offer residents professional expertise. The architecture and interior design firm CetraRuddy in New York has focused on adding greenery in another way—through large terraces that bring more light and air and a sense of space into the interior of its ARO building in Manhattan, as well as its surrounding block. Such tactics are more important in denser urban environments, say the building’s principals, Nancy Ruddy and John Cetra.

geometric bathroom tile

6. Graphic Bathroom Floors

Boldly patterned floors are adding a spark of interest in bathrooms that were recently trending very monochromatic and spa-like. Staging and design expert Kristie Barnett, aka The Decorologist, in Nashville, took this approach in one client’s homes. She used an encaustic, graphic floor tile, similar to those that show up along kitchen backsplashes. But Barnett adds one caveat for bathrooms: “When choosing this kind of pattern, it should be the lead actor in the show while other elements play supporting roles. A bathroom should still be a personal sanctuary, and too much visual noise could weary the eye.”

updated bathroom

7. Remodeling Before Listing

Many homeowners don’t want to take on the work and extra cost of fixing up their home before they list. Yet many buyers don’t want to invest in a home where they know there are walls to paint, countertops to replace, and floors to resand. Consider the latest trend that helps remove buyer objections: a contractor who tackles the work and fronts the cost or who partners with a firm that provides financing. Sellers then pay back the funds at closing. The big reward usually is a higher price and speedier sale, says Mike Valente, a licensed general contractor who works with many homeowners through his Renovation Sells firm in Chicago. Compass, a national real estate firm, has established its Compass Concierge service to deliver a similar revamp option. A calculator on the company’s website helps suggests how much sellers might spend.

living wall in outdoor courtyard

8. Living Walls

For homeowners downsizing to a property with a smaller yard—or for those who have trouble bending down—living walls offer a way to connect to greenery by growing plants, vegetables, and herbs along the walls of a home, garage, or outbuilding. Landscape designer Michael Glassman of Michael Glassman & Associates in Sacramento, Calif., says, “Gardening is going up rather than out for aesthetics and consumption.” He recommends vines like star jasmine and creeping fig, edibles such as tomatoes and cucumbers, and herbs like rosemary and basil. “Plant walls” resembling art are also showing up inside, especially when homeowners don’t have an outdoor space, says David Dynega, CEO of Detail Renovations in Great Neck, N.Y. 

fabric swatches

9. Better Looking Performance Fabrics

Instead of looking only at fabrics that appeal for color, pattern, or texture, homeowners want materials that will last and perform—hence, the name they’ve earned: performance fabrics. Originally, they were designed for outdoor spaces, where the sun, wind, water, or inclement weather took their toll. But as the fabrics have become more attractive, designers and homeowners have started using them indoors, where they can withstand the wear and tear of pets and people, says Chicago designer Rebecca Pogonitz of GOGO Design Group, who’s a big fan of the trend. Greg Voorhis, executive design director of Sunbrella, well-known for its performance fabric designs, says his firm is seeing the rise of more textured chenilles, boucles, and chunky wovens. “They bring new energy into familiar spaces without sacrificing comfort or durability,” he says.

floorplan

10. Downsizing Homes, Rooms, and Ornate Features

The McMansion craze has been dead for years, resulting in more homeowners looking to downsize and millennials never planning to go big. “They favor experiences over owning large high-maintenance, high-cost homes filled with lots of stuff,” says Ames. “It’s the Marie Kondo version of shedding stuff.” Many home shoppers are also looking for simpler architectural detailing that pares maintenance and cost, as well as fewer rooms that will go unused, Ames says. Lendlease, a development company that created the new Cirrus building in downtown Chicago, heeded this mantra when it planned its range of scaled-down units and beefed up its many shared amenity spaces, says Ted Weldon, executive general manager. Sheri Koones’ new book, Downsize: Living Large in a Small House (The Taunton Press, 2019), offers an abundance of information for homeowners looking to pare down

Navy accent wall in dining room

11. Deeper Hues

You can read into the emerging palette of deep hues a desire to counter global unrest, as some designers speculate, or you can take the colors as an antidote to years of pale grays. Either way, the darker hues are coming on strong. Pantone anointed “classic blue”—a very royal tone—as its color of the year. Could it be a nod to the Sussexes or appeal of The Crown? Sherwin-Williams’ Sue Wadden, director of color marketing, touts her company’s “naval” (SW 6244), “anchors aweigh” (SW 9179), “ripe olive” (SW 6209), and “dard hunter green” (SW 0041) as choices to visually mitigate stress. Another emerging trend: monochromatic rooms, donning a single paint color on the walls, trim, and ceiling.

billiard room

12. Hipsturbia

Live/work/play has become a way of life for millennials who aren’t willing to compromise when they have children. As they move to the suburbs for more space, they choose communities with urban amenities—thriving walkable downtowns with dining, shopping, entertainment, public transportation, and jobs. “Success has a way of spreading,” the Urban Land Institute noted when it coined the term “hipsturbia” in its Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2020 report, says Mary Cook, founder of Chicago-based Mary Cook Associates. “Every development we work on today is located in areas that fit this formula and foster community interactions,” she says. One example is Toll Brothers’ Apartment Living Oleander building outside Atlanta, which offers residents flexible community spaces equipped with state-of-the-art technology to accommodate events, co-working spaces, and more. The building sits on Emory University’s expanding Executive Park campus near new medical complexes designed to attract health care professionals.


Top 5 Kitchen Trends

kitchen

Instead of adding a 13th trend to the list, we decided to give kitchens their own section because they remain the number one focus in the home. The new fads being cooked up are giving this room an update in style, appliances, materials, and colors, as well as a way to enhance surrounding spaces since many are part of the open plan living-dining-kitchen area. While white may still dominate cabinets and countertops, other colors and materials are popping up—so are new technologies that help homeowners prepare food more effortlessly and healthily. Here are five kitchen trends to watch in 2020.

  1. Materials. GE appliances are showing an uptick in more white and black matte finishes as well as a new look of glass-covered stainless steel fronts that’s emerging. These new materials fit in better with other room furnishings, too, says Marc Hottenroth, executive director of GE’s industrial design division. Also showing up in kitchens is a greater mix of metals, such as brushed bronze and copper to help freshen appliances, which generally last about 10 years.
  2. Technology. Voice assistants now read recipes and cooking directions for homeowners so they don’t have to turn cookbook pages with flour-coated fingers. Appliances with gourmet guided cooking technology provide recipes and tutorials through an app that communicates with the appliance via Bluetooth. The chef no longer has to turn knobs to adjust temperatures. For instance, a rack of lamb might be roasted, then finished with a broil, which would all be adjusted automatically. And a new wall oven with hot air-fry capability is offering a healthier alternative to deep frying.
  3. Function. A new kitchen island is emerging, which combines an island with a dinette, according to Gena Kirk, vice president of design at KB Home, a national home builder based in Los Angeles. The island features a place to prepare meals at one height and an additional countertop that slides out at a lower level for people to eat around when desired. Scaled-down appliance sizes are becoming popular in smaller open-plan homes and condos. In its new Cirrus building, a 47-story tower going up on Lake Michigan, Lendlease camouflaged appliances behind millwork paneling, says Linda Kozloski, creative design director. The company also went with smaller, more European-size appliance choices because of the units’ smaller sizes, which helps counter rising construction costs. Example: a 24-inch-wide refrigerator was selected instead of a 48-inch model.
  4. Workspace. After so much buzz about whether to stay with granite or switch to quartz or quartzite, KB Home offers another idea: natural wood cutting boards for a portion of the countertop surface. The wood area provides a convenient workspace without having to pull out a cutting board or leave one out all the time.
  5. Details. Chicago kitchen designer Mick De Giulio, principal of de Giulio Kitchen Design, is introducing design character in novel ways to surprise and contradict. One example includes the hand-hammered finish on a stainless steel Bacifiore sink to add sophisticated sparkle instead of a plain-Jane stainless or ceramic white model. Another is the instillation of polished stainless steel toe kicks at the bottom of cabinets that hardly show the dirt, scuffs, or mess that painted wood ones do.

Trends are meant to inspire rather than make agents and their clients feel the need to rush into a renovation to make a house hip or more marketable than another. These points represent what’s new or coming through the pike. In the future, for example, there may be more technology that will warn homeowners about natural disasters before they occur. And before clients invests in any updates, make it clear that it’s best to do so for personal enjoyment rather than to boost salability.

“Copyright National Association of REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission.”

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