January in the real estate industry is typically the time for the new year market outlook. For this coming year many of us have seen the template on the macro-economic data which most impacts the real estate industry: 8.5 % unemployment in the latest report, 30 year mortgage rates at record lows at or below 4.0%, and 15 year mortgage rates at or below 3.25%.
Rather than run a standard metrics-based market forecast this year, I decided to survey a cross-section of Massachusetts real estate realtors and mortgage professionals to hear from them on the upcoming spring and the 2012 real estate market in its entirety. Overall, each of the real estate professionals I contacted were optimistic. They tend to see the low interest rates and improving economy as the drivers of a busy 2012 housing market. Thus, here is a compendium of professionals I surveyed:
“I am optimistic that interest rates will remain low at least until the presidential elections. The uncertainty that has constrained spending and lending will keep things from taking off until there is a clearer picture of what policies will be in place (intervention and regulation vs. deregulation and free markets).
The increasing debt woes of EU members creates short term demand for our mortgage bonds and treasuries which drives down interest rates. This won’t be fixed overnight.
The housing collapse hangover continues to cause problems. The economy and in particular the housing market is still too weak to suffer increased interest rates. Rates will remain low until the cash on the sidelines is invested, employment improves and housing sees some recovery. The Fed has shown that they will move to buy mortgage backed securities and treasuries if we see rates start to rise and I can’t see them sitting on their hands if rates rise and threaten to derail this slow economic recovery.
This is an incredible time to buy a home with prices low and the cost of money so low as well.”
–Loan Officer, Bank of Canton, Boston, Brookline and Route 128 suburbs
“I expect the 2012 real estate market in the greater Boston area to be stable. Overall, buyers will continue to have the upper hand but I don’t think we are going to see any precipitous drop in either sales prices or the number of sales. If interest rates remain low it continues to be a good time to get into the market knowing that you are getting in somewhere close to the bottom.”
–Realtor, Keller Williams, Cambridge,
“As we embark on the new year there are many reasons to be optimistic. Rates are expected to remain at all time lows for the next 12 months and there is plenty of inventory for home buyers. More importantly, we are starting to see better listing prices from sellers who are clearly more realistic about what to expect. Contrary to what the media would have consumers believe, there is plenty of financing available for qualified buyers – and it doesn’t always require 20% down. First time buyers are surprised to see how affordable it is to own their own home, and with programs available with as little as 3% down and no PMI I expect to see a big surge in this demographic.”
–Loan Officer, Fairway Mortgage, Route 128 Suburbs
“I see a slow start to the Spring, but a steady stream of inventory equal to purchasers. The best place to be is in a move-up, as buyers will find a greater gain on their more expensive home in spite of possibly losing a bit on the sale side. It seems that there are more foreclosures on the horizon with stable amounts of short sales, another way for a buyers to make immediate gains. Buyers will still dictate values, relative to condition and inventory. The mortgage guidelines have become stricter, so getting a pre-approval from a reputable lender is increasingly important. Sellers should request to see one immediately from a prospective buyer and buyers should be educated about the borrowing and the buying process.”
–Realtor, Realty Executives, Framingham,
“I have an above normal number of pre-approvals for January. I’m starting to see movement in the market. A lot of high-end buyers.”
–Loan Officer, Citizens Bank, Route 128 Suburbs,
“Brookline real estate should receive a spike upwards during the spring market like it always does. It looks like the economy has improved slightly which could also help the confidence of the buyers.”
–Realtor, Coldwell Banker, Brookline
“I see purchases up 40% for the year, and refinances down slightly.”
–Loan Officer, Mortgage Network, Route 128 Suburbs
“With 2011 now behind us, real estate agents and others related to the housing industry are hoping that 2012 will bring a significant improvement to the number of units sold and at least stabilization, if not an increase in the median sales price.”
2011 ended with a nice up-tick in sales according to the National Association of Realtors, however, sales remain depressed, as are several of the realtors I spoke with in the Metrowest and Central Massachusetts areas. Central Mass, in particular, seems to have borne the brunt of the home sales price reductions and sales lag. Unit sales within the Route 128 belt have held up nicely, although many homes have experienced a 5-10% appraised value drop, year over year.
Interest rates have held steady at near record lows. While this is good news for first-time home-buyers and relocating workers, as home affordability is better than at any time in recent memory, many sellers are frustrated.
As home prices continue to drop, more sellers are finding themselves with little or no equity in their homes. This not only makes them reluctant to price their home to market and sell quickly, for many of them, current rules on Loan to Value, are making them unable to take advantage of today’s low interest rates and refinance.
So what will 2012 bring? A slight improvement in unit sales, and perhaps a bottom in home prices (I hope!). Here are my reasons for this conclusion:
- Job creation – Over the past several months, it appears that the job market is improving. The Massachusetts unemployment rate dropped to 6.8% in December.
- Continued Low Interest Rates – While we may see an increase in 30 year fixed rates during the next couple of months, as the national economy shows signs of improvement, I do not expect a dramatic rise in rates.
- Helping Underwater Homeowners –
- Homebuilder Sentiment – Nationally, homebuilding company optimism is making a strong recovery. Locally, several builders I have spoken with think 2012 will be their best year ever. Prices may be down, but in many cases so are cost of materials and labor.
There are a few other reasons for optimism including an increase in household formation, as well as talk of programs to rent REO properties, which may help reduce vacant homes and stabilize prices.
–Loan Officer, Greenpark Mortgage, Metrowest and Worcester County
We have a lack of inventory in the greater Franklin area. More buyers and renters than properties on the market. A lot of sellers I talk to are waiting “until later in the year” to list. They need to get started on their preparations now because “later in the year” will be here before you know it!
–Realtor, Hallmark Sotheby’s, Franklin/495 Area
“I feel that the market will be very good for buyers and sellers this spring.
Buyer can take advantage of the great rates and prices. It’s a great time to upgrade to a bigger and better home. It’s also a great time to buy an investment property since rents are on the way up.
On the listing side we need more inventory since most of the homes on the market now are stale and overpriced. I’m a strong believer that if the home is priced well it will sell fast.”
–Realtor, Keller Williams Realty
Marc E. Canner, Esq. is an experienced Massachusetts real estate attorney with offices in Needham and Bedford, Mass. He is a principal of TitleHub Closing Services LLC and the Law Offices of Marc E. Canner.