The Housing Scene

Low Inventory Begets Fast Deals

Even after 51 consecutive months of a below-normal supply of homes for sale, the picture for buyers this year is expected to be even more challenging, according to an analysis from Realtor.com, the website of the National Association of Realtors.

Active inventory in December on the site was down 11 percent compared to December 2015. As a result, 2017 has started with the lowest inventory of homes for sale since the recession, and possibly in decades, said Realtor.com Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke.

At the same time, online realty firm Redfin reported that inventory declined even more in December -- 12.7 percent -- to the lowest level in three years.

The lack of houses for sale was a challenge all last year, but a stronger “off-season” in the fall depleted the available homes for sale even more than is typical.

Now, with interest rates expected to rise to perhaps 4.5 percent or more this year, demand has become more intense. With fewer homes to look at, average views per listing were up 40 to 80 percent in the last three weeks of December compared to the same time in 2015, says economist Smoke.

“Multiple potential buyers seem to be interested in virtually every home on the market, even though we are in the slowest time of the year for sales,” he reports.

In its report, Redfin said of the homes sold in December, a third were under contract within two weeks of coming on the market.

“We’ve never before seen homes turn over so quickly at a national level,” said Nela Richardson, the company’s chief economist. “This tells us that buyers (were) not deterred by low inventory, election uncertainty and slightly higher mortgage rates. If anything, these headwinds are motivating them to act sooner rather than later.”

Borrowers who are having trouble with the outfit that collects their payments and pays their taxes and insurance, and who get no satisfaction on their first try to resolve the issue, need to kick it up a notch.

That’s the surest way to get the company’s attention, says Kevin Brungardt, chief executive officer of the RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corp., one of the country’s largest non-bank mortgage servicing companies.

“With social media these days, not to mention the risks of regulatory intervention, servicers have to be much more responsive,” says Brungardt, who suggests finding the name of the CEO or other top officer in the company and contacting that person directly, either by phone or email.

“There are so many different ways to connect and push back to get your issues addressed. And keep trying until you succeed.”

There’s still time to nail a house in the best month of the year for bargain prices.

According to an analysis of more than 50 million transactions over a 16-year period by ATTOM Data Solutions, people who purchased a house in February bought at an average 7.2 percent discount from the median price for all houses over the study period.

Eight of the top 10 days to buy are in February, with the other two being in January, according to ATTOM economist Daren Blomquist.

If you miss February, you can still obtain discounts -- albeit smaller ones -- in March and April, the analysis suggests. But if you wait until the period from May through September, you’re likely to pay a premium of up to 5 percent above the median.

Between 2000 and 2016, more sales took place in June than any other month. August was next, followed by July, May and September. The fewest sales were in February, January and November.

The spots with the largest concentration of second homes may not be where you think. It’s not the beach, but the mountains, according to an analysis of the nation’s 7.5 million seasonably occupied houses by the National Association of Home Builders.

In fact, 79 percent of the houses in Hamilton County, New York, were second homes in 2014, the latest year for which statistics are available. Some 74 percent of Forest County, Pennsylvania’s houses were second homes, as were nearly 73 percent in Rich County, Utah. None of the 10 counties with the largest concentrations contained an ocean beach.

Second homes accounted for more than 10 percent of the housing stock in 913 of the nation’s 3,300 counties. And in 357 counties -- 11 percent of the total -- 20 percent or more of the houses were seasonal.

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