With the housing market stabilizing from the drama of the early years of home price recovery and the subsequent slowdown during 2019’s home shopping season, we have a rare moment of calm to reflect on what housing might look like in the year to come.
If current trends hold, then slower means healthier and smaller means more affordable. Yes, we expect a slower market than we’ve become accustomed to the last few years. But don’t mistake this for a buyer-friendly environment – consumers will continue to absorb available inventory and the market will remain competitive in much of the country.
But while the national story is a confident one, housing in some manufacturing-heavy markets may see adversity. The struggle could be even more stark, since similarly affordable housing markets with a more balanced job profile may be 2020’s rising stars.
There are several 50,000-foot reasons why we expect this gentle downsizing to continue:
Many of today’s younger, millennial home buyers have expressed a preference for denser, more urban homes that are more walkable to shared amenities.
Younger buyers are struggling to afford large homes built in prior decades
Eco-consciousness is also growing broadly.
Today’s older homeowners are expressing a desire for smaller, less maintenance-heavy and more accessible (read: fewer stairs) homes as they age and move into newer homes. In 2019, 56% of new construction home buyers were 40 or older, according to the 2019 Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report.
Home builders are constrained by a shortage of buildable land in desirable areas. Prices on key building materials including lumber and steel are increasingly volatile. And competition for skilled construction labor is fierce, pushing wages up.
Each of these trends points to a continuation of this downsizing of new homes – smaller homes are inherently more dense, walkable and affordable; smaller homes are efficient and eco-friendly; smaller homes require less maintenance and are more accessible; smaller homes enable builders to do more with less.
There will always be demand for large, suburban homes on big lots – but on net, we expect attitudes to shift away from that and toward a lifestyle with a smaller footprint.
Mortgage Rates Will Stay Low, Keeping Housing Demand High
Mortgage rates fell markedly in 2019, and are expected to remain near their current, relatively low levels for the bulk of 2020. Softening GDP growth and investment, continued global weakness due in part to the U.S.-China trade conflict, and below-target inflation will continue to hold rates in check. Barring marked improvements in these indicators, the Fed will have no reason to return to rate hikes.
If low mortgage rates persist, this will keep home purchase demand strong and continue to fuel decent price growth in the nation’s most broadly affordable markets. But low rates won’t be enough to reignite high growth rates in the nation’s highest-priced markets, notably on the West Coast and in the Northeast. In these markets, buyers seem to have hit an affordability ceiling where even low rates can’t bring many homes into the typical first-time buyer’s budget range, especially because low rates don’t help overcome the upfront hurdle of high down payment requirements. In those high-priced markets, buyers will continue to fan out in search of more affordable areas.
Looking ahead at 2020, we think home sales will continue to climb, but slowly. Why?
Although a small fraction of overall sales, new homes sales grew significantly in 2019. That has helped buoy builder confidence and lead to some of the most robust permit and starts numbers in a long time.
If builders in 2020 deliver on their promises to build smaller and at more affordable price points, new construction will continue to be attractive to buyers unable to find a match in the competitive and limited existing home market.
Yes, inventory is tight – but when we say that, we’re really talking about the number of homes available to buy relative to demand from buyers. Sales can remain strong while inventory remains tight – and a sudden jump in the number of sales will result in a corresponding drop in inventory.
What really matters is the flow of homes onto the market – the turnover or velocity of home sales, not months’ supply or overall level of available inventory, that constrains home sales numbers.
And we have reason to believe that turnover among a given segment of homeowners will be made more possible now in a way that it wasn’t before. iBuyer business models, like Zillow Offers, are ultimately about lowering sellers’ transaction costs. Economics 101 says that lowering transaction costs and making transactions themselves easier will mean those transactions will happen more often.
Hat tip to RK for sending in this article – an excerpt:
I asked a realtor there that I know to do a CMA on the property. When she was done, her number came out to $460,000. Zillow’s offer was $440,000. This is where things got interesting. Their pitch is that with Zillow’s service, you would be provided with a dedicated selling advisor, the ability to sell without showings, the buyer would make repairs, and you get to choose your closing date. Zillow then proceeds to inform you, the client, that “all you receive” in a traditional sale is a dedicated selling advisor. When you continue to scroll down, Zillow quotes the average realtor’s commission at 6% and then says their Zillow Service Charge is 12.9%. To their credit, they don’t hide the fact that you will pay substantially more money using their service. At the bottom of the email, it estimated my net proceeds would be $383,240 using Zillow, and if I used a realtor proceeds would be roughly $413,600.
Understanding the housing market requires in-depth knowledge about the participants. Each year, Zillow surveys more than 10,000 market participants — homeowners, buyers, sellers and renters — to learn more about them and gauge their attitudes and behavior. Here’s a small slice of what we know in 2019 about home buyers, defined as households who have purchased and moved in the past year.
We ended up with 12 offers on my listing in Rancho Penasquitos, with SIX of them over $900,000. Donna and I did some expert maneuvering to coach the buyer-agents higher on price, and we may have gotten an assist from Zillow too.
This was their zestimate before the listing hit the market:
This was their zestimate after the listing went on the MLS for $869,000. Zillow has no shame – they just hit the number. At least Redfin tries to hide it by changing their estimate to within 1%:
Then we RAISED our list price to $899,000 because we were getting such good action, and Zillow rasied their zestimate right back up:
They have no qualms about manipulating the zestimates right before your eyes.
Think of what they will do to you when they try to buy your house.
The path forward is becoming more clear. Zillow is rapidly expanding their ibuying enterprise, and because they are so well-known, they have a shot at a major disruption.
In the video below, Mike describes how homeowners who used to rely on their zestimate for a home valuation are now getting a written quote from ibuyers – for free. In Phoenix, the center of the ibuying universe, 40% of homeowners get a quote from an ibuyer before selling their home.
In effect, ibuying is the new zestimate, and more tangible because if you like the number, you could sell your house instantly.
Sure, Zillow is losing money, but their first-year volume is remarkable:
Since launching Zillow Offers in April 2018, more than 170,000 homeowners have requested an offer through the program. In the second quarter alone, there were 70,000 requests.
Zillow reported that it made $1,578 on each home it sold in the second quarter before interest expenses are calculated. After interest expenses, the company, on average, lost $2,916 per home. Barton believes that, eventually, the company will earn 400-500 basis points of return before interest expenses on homes it sells.
It’s an improvement, however, over the company’s first-quarter numbers, where it lost, on average, $3,268 per home it sold, after interest expenses.
“Over time, our unit economics should benefit more from other adjacent services, like mortgage origination, title and escrow,” Barton said in a letter to shareholders. “We expect to be able to leverage these services to support Zillow Offers and improve the consumer’s overall transaction experience, while also generating cost savings for Zillow and our customers.”
They are the only real estate company that has been willing to spend $100 million per year in advertising, and it’s what made them who they are today. It won’t matter if they charge 7% to 13% for their service, all that matters is that they advertise it – which may not be that costly.
Because many or most homeowners have saved their home on Zillow (giving up their email address), they will get regular solicitations to sell their house to Zillow.
Look how easy it is – one click and you get a cash offer…….just like 500+ others near you:
If you have 18 minutes to spare, Mike’s presentation below is a full examination:
Mike mentions that he thinks the companies who position themselves at the start of the consumer journey will win. Stay tuned for a Compass announcement shortly!
Sure, they offer convenience, but the reason it works is because it’s so vague – sellers will never know the money difference between selling to an ibuyer or an open-market sale. The trendy-hip, sell-with-a-click factor could lure sellers into giving up an extra 5% or so without ever realizing it.
(pay 3% more in ibuyer fees and then sell for less than open-market sale)
Hat tip to reader ‘just some guy’ for sending in the article:
When Dora Cagnetto decided to sell her townhouse in Phoenix this year, a real estate agent told her that she could get around $375,000 for it. Maybe $390,000. But she would have to replace the carpet and paint the walls. At 68 years old and recently retired, she thought it sounded like a lot of work.
One evening, after the carpet had been ripped up, Ms. Cagnetto saw an online ad for Zillow Offers. Zillow, better known for telling people what their homes are worth, would buy her home itself. She uploaded some photos and got back an offer: $382,000, minus a fee for Zillow. No repair work or open houses necessary. And Zillow paid cash.
Ms. Cagnetto estimated she effectively paid $10,000 to $15,000 for the privilege of turning over to Zillow the job of replacing the carpet and the bathroom countertops and doing other light repair work.
“My son, he’s like, ‘Well, oh, I could have done that,’ and maybe he would have saved a little money,” Ms. Cagnetto said. “But to me it was like, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hire somebody to do that, I don’t want to put carpeting in, I don’t want to paint these walls.”
The Phoenix area has become a hub of the iBuying phenomenon. With its relatively new housing stock and miles of buff-colored subdivisions, the market is affordable, uniform in look and steadily growing.
Whether iBuying works outside markets like Phoenix and Las Vegas is an open question. The model has yet to break into the Northeast, where the housing stock is older, the weather drives up maintenance costs and there are fewer of the kind of cookie-cutter subdivisions that the industry’s algorithms assess best. Prices are higher, too, making mistakes costlier for the companies.
A good article with evidence here by Ryan discussing the accuracy of the zestimates, and how Zillow calculates their success rate based on their updated zestimates once a property sells.
His comment section is full of examples where Zillow adjusts their zestimate to the list price once a property comes on the market, which is a practice Spencer denied on twitter below when discussing their prize winner for best algorithm improvement:
Ryan’s comment section will make you think that it is still an on-going practice for zestimates:
"Jim and Donna Klinge are by far the most professional, personable and responsive realtors I have ever worked with. They provide VIP concierge level service in every area of the process of selling your home. My home was marketed so successfully that we received an offer the day after our first and only open house. Thanks to Jim's pricing and negotiating, our house is now the highest sold in our community... more "
by Ann Romanello
"Jim educated us, helped us find the perfect house, and then negotiated us a great deal. I would hate to be sitting across the negotiating table from ... more "
"Jim is thorough and will be brutally honest about the homes he shows you. He provides great service and follows through until the very end and even ... more "
"I highly recommend Jim as a buyer’s agent. Working with Jim, we closed this week on a San Diego condo. Jim prepared a list of comparable sales to ... more "