Labor Shortages Push Up Construction Costs

Builders are being forced to raise home prices and are having a more difficult time meeting project deadlines because of the ongoing labor shortage in the construction industry, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. Eighty-four percent of builders say they have had to pay higher wages to subcontractor bids, 83 percent say they have had to raise home prices, and 73 percent say they can’t complete projects on time without more manpower. The number of builders reporting labor and subcontractor shortages reached a record high in July.

“The steepest upward trend has been in the share of builders saying the labor/subcontractor shortages are causing higher home prices, which increased by 22 percentage points between 2015 and 2018—to the point where it is now nearly tied with higher wages/sub bids as the most widespread effect of the shortages,” NAHB reports on its Eye on Housing blog. The survey also shows other effects of the labor shortage, such as builders saying that, in some cases, they’ve been forced to turn down projects.

Source: “Housing Market Index (HMI),” National Association of Home Builders/Eye on Housing (September 2018)

Mortgage Interest Rates ‘Mostly Holding Steady’

Mortgage rates haven’t been this stable since the fall of 2016. Rates did inch up this week, but only slightly and are still offering prospective buyers a window of opportunity, says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

The recent slowdown in price appreciation in several markets, mixed with these steady mortgage rates, is “good news” for many prospective buyers who may have been priced out earlier this year. “Given the strength of the economy, it is possible for home sales to pick up even more before year’s end,” Khater says. “The key factor will be if affordably priced inventory increases enough to continue this recent trend of cooling price appreciation.”

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages for the week ending Aug. 30:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.52 percent, with an average 0.5 point, rising from last week’s 4.51 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.82 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.97 percent, with an average 0.5 point, falling from last week’s 3.98 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.12 percent.
Source: “Mortgage Rates Tick Up,” Freddie Mac (Aug. 30, 2018)

5M Renters Have Fallen Prey to Online Scams

More than 43 percent of renters say they’ve found online rental listings that seemed fraudulent, and more than 5 million say they’ve actually been scammed—sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars—according to a new report released by rental website ApartmentList.com.

The survey revealed that the most common scam is a “bait-and-switch” one, where a different property is advertised than the one that is actually available. The scammer is often able to collect a deposit or get a lease signed for the fake property. Another common scam is the “hijacked ad,” where a scammer takes a home that is legitimately for sale and poses as a fake landlord to collect funds. Apartment List also warns of a growing scam in which a listing property that is already leased is posted online. The scammer then attempts to collect application fees or security deposits from an unsuspecting consumer.

Source: “Ready to Rent a Home? Beware of These New Scams,” CNBC (Aug. 9, 2018)

Another ‘Client’ to Please: The Family Pet

Home buyers are increasingly being swayed by their pets when choosing which property to purchase. Three-quarters of home buyers say they would even pass up an otherwise perfect home—their dream home—if it did not meet their pets’ needs, according to a new realtor.com® survey of more than 1,000 consumers who’ve closed on a home in 2018.

Pet owners comprised 80 percent of recent home buyers—with dogs and cats being the most common types of pet—according to the survey. Younger buyers and those with children appeared to be the most influenced by their pets’ needs when shopping for a home, according to the survey.

Pet owners gave their two most desired features in a home: a large backyard and outdoor space. Other top features pet owners say they valued in a home included a garage, large square footage, a dog run and sturdy flooring.

Source: “One of the Family: Three-Quarters of Home Buyers Would Pass Up Dream Home for Pets’ Needs,” Move Inc. (Aug. 8, 2018)

New Program Aims to Cap Rent Hikes

Similar to the concept of rent control, Freddie Mac announced a new program to incentivize rental property owners to ease their continuous rent hikes. The mortgage giant is offering discounted financing to owners who agree to cap rent increases for the life of their loans. Owners who take part in the program must limit rent increases on 80 percent of their units. Owners also must agree to make at least 50 percent of their units affordable to those earning the local median income or less.

The program, now available across the country, is voluntary. Freddie Mac officials say they will check rents on an annual basis to make sure participating property owners are complying with the program’s rules. Those who are in violation will be assessed a penalty fee until they return rents to a level that Freddie deems compliant.

Source: “Freddie Mac to Lower Financing Costs for Landlords who Cap Rent Rises,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 7, 2018)

Hike in Mortgage Rates Reduces Affordability

Borrowers got stuck with higher mortgage rates again this week. Mortgage rates are now at their fourth highest level of the year, Freddie Mac reports.

“The higher rate environment, coupled with the ongoing lack of affordable inventory, has led to a drag on existing-home sales in the last few months,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

The Federal Reserve this week voted to hold off on raising its short-term rate, “but the embers of a strong economy potentially stoking higher inflation, borrowing costs will likely modestly rise in the coming months,” Khater adds.

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages for the week ending Aug. 2:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.60 percent, with an average 0.4 point, rising from last week’s 4.54 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.93 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.08 percent, with an average 0.4 point, increasing from last week’s 4.02 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.18 percent.
Source: Freddie Mac

Too Much Income Devoted to Making Rent

Renters are struggling to catch a break. In seven of the largest U.S. cities, the average household would need to make at least six figures to comfortably afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment, according to a new study by SmartAsset, a personal financial website. SmartAsset researchers looked at how much it takes to afford average rental rates in the nation’s 25 largest cities.

Households that spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing are considered “cost burdened” by most economists. SmartAsset researchers found rents in California’s largest cities took some of the biggest bites out of American’s paychecks. Four California cities ranked in the top 10 on the list: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego.

A separate study, recently released by PropertyShark and RentCafe, found that if renters could save enough for a down payment they may fare better as homeowners. Renters in more than half of the 50 cities in the study could barely make it until payday, while in 44 of the 50 cities tracked, homeowners were projected to be able to save money each month.

The Kitchen New-Home Buyers Want

New-home buyers now rank all-white kitchens—once the most in-demand aesthetic—as their second choice, below natural wood cabinetry, according to a new survey from homebuilder Ashton Woods. Respondents to the survey, who are prospective buyers planning to purchase in the next 10 years, picked distressed wood cabinetry as their third most popular choice.

They also said living space is more important to them than bedroom size. Sixty-one percent say they would trade a larger bedroom in order to get a larger living area. Hobby rooms and home offices are also on their priority list, with 67 percent of respondents saying they want an office in their next home.

Source: “Here’s What Buyers of Newly Constructed Homes Want,” The Washington Post (July 26, 2018)

Ideal Age for First-Time Home Buyers

Apparently the magic number for first-time home buyers is 28. That’s the average age that most Americans think a person should be when they buy their own home, according to a new Bankrate.com report conducted  last month among a sample of 1,001 respondents.

This may be a bit optimistic in practice, at least for buyers in today’s market. The National Association of REALTORS®’ 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers found the median age of first-time buyers was 32 years old for the second year in a row.

The Bankrate study did find some differences in opinion between genders and regions of the country. While a quarter of men think people should strive to buy their first home by age 25, just 12 percent of women say the same.

Source: “Americans reveal ideal ages for financial milestones,” (July 18, 2018) Bankrate.com

The Cost of Selling Without a Real Estate Agent

You’ve heard of buyer’s remorse; but without your market expertise and sales skills to back them up, sellers who choose to sell their home on their own just may experience “seller’s regret” when they see how much less they get for their properties. FSBOs earn an average of $60,000 to $90,000 less on the sale of their home than sellers who work with a real estate agent, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. Here’s the breakdown:

  • All agent-assisted homes: $250,000 (median selling price)
  • All FSBO homes: $190,000
  • FSBO homes when buyer knew seller: $160,300

Homeowners seem to be hearing the message: Only 8 percent of sellers last year—an all-time low—chose to sell their home themselves, according to NAR’s 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. That figure has been falling since 2004, when 14 percent of homeowners sold their own homes.

Source: “Selling Your Home Solo to Save Money? You’ll Actually Make Less Than You Think,” National Association of REALTORS® Economists’ Outlook blog (July 9, 2018)