In light of the recent murder of Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter, it is interesting to note how agents protect themselves when meeting strangers at open houses and showings.
According to Moby's 2011 Real Estate Report, most realty pros -- more than 90 percent -- consider their phones to be their first line of defense against attackers. But 15 percent of all male agents carry a gun, and almost 10 percent carry knives.
Women tend to be a tad less bold. Only 5 percent carry guns. But 25 percent have mace or pepper spray in their purses, and 13 percent wield a Taser, something no men reported carrying.
Admittedly, these stats are a little old. You have to wonder what the percentages are now, after Carter's death.
Incidentally, there are several safety-related phone apps on the market, which may be why most agents feel safe with their smartphones.
The latest is called PerpAlert. It costs $2 annually, and was designed by three Southern California fathers who were concerned about their own families' well-being.
Without getting too technical, PerpAlert works something like this:
Aim your phone at a threatening person, press the button and the phone takes a photo of the potential bad guy, stamped with the time, date and your precise GPS coordinates. The photos are instantly sent to up to three people you designate in advance.
With the phone in hand, you can announce what has just happened.
Hopefully, that will be enough to convince the creep that you are not an easy target.
Jody Eldred of Los Angeles bought the app for his wife, and is recommending it to "everyone I know, especially women. (It's) cheap protection for two bucks, and it can be used by law enforcement as evidence if a crime is committed."
LOWBALL APPRAISALS ON THE RISE
In another sign of the times, technology company Platinum Data Solutions reports that 17 percent of appraisals on purchase transactions come back with a value less than the contract price.
That means nearly 1 in 5 deals are likely to fall through because buyers have agreed, in principal, to pay more than the house is really worth.
Appraisers are often at odds with buyers, sellers and their agents, who complain that valuers are being too conservative. While they want accurate valuations, lenders also gripe about low appraisals.
A high percentage of lowball appraisals could mean that home values have stabilized in that particular market. Conversely, it could indicate that values are declining; nobody but the appraiser knows which one. And that's why numbers like these need to be followed closely.
LIFE STAGES INFLUENCE HOUSING TRENDS
The share of 25- to 29-year-olds who are married is down, way down -- it's 48 percent lower for men than it was in 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and 43 percent lower for women.
Mollie Carmichael of John Burns Real Estate Consulting says that fact alone is "one of the biggest game-changers" for housing.
Changes in marital status are "huge," according to Carmichael, a principal in the Irvine, California-based consulting firm. "The housing market is unquestionably fueled by life stages, particularly the change in marital status and the addition or subtraction of children," she wrote online.
Here are the five life stages of homebuyers, identified by Carmichael:
-- Unmarried. Singles are more likely to rent and live in locations that are closer to entertainment and employment, which is why these areas are more in demand today than usual.
-- Togetherness. Cohabitation has been on the rise in recent decades, but homeownership rates for these couples are much lower than rates for their married counterparts.
-- Marriage. Marriage often increases the desire to own a home; many location and housing choices depend on income and nearby family.
-- Children. The addition of little ones makes owning a home feel like a necessity for many, given the desire for yards, good schools and social circles for the kids.
-- Children moving out. An empty nest often results in lifestyle changes, including different home-size preferences, social circles and floor plan needs. Locational preferences also begin to shift.
MORTGAGE RATE FALLS HALF A POINT
Since the beginning of the year, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate has fallen about a half point, from 4.3 percent to 3.8 percent, according to Zillow. A half point may not seem like a lot, but it can translate into significant savings on a monthly basis and over the life of a loan.
For example, a buyer who started shopping at the beginning of the year for a $375,000 house could buy a $400,000 house now for the same monthly payment -- an extra $25,000 of spending power.
Consequently, buyers who started shopping just two or three months ago may want to run their "affordability" numbers again. They could now be looking too low.