Friday, April 24, 2009

First Time Home Buyers Are Finally Fueling the Come Back!

It’s finally happening! In my August 2008 Reality Check message I discussed our market’s need for the revival of the first-time home buyer. Because, as we know, first time home buyers are a critical force that will help jump start our market rebound, creating that important domino effect that will ultimately benefit all price points.

Confused? Just think about it. If first time home buyers purchase entry level homes, that allows the entry-level homeowners to sell and move-up to a mid-level, move-up market. By purchasing those homes, the move-up market is able to sell and ultimately purchase homes in the luxury arena. It’s a much-needed domino effect that could catapult our market’s rebound.

Well I talked about it eight months ago but at least you can’t accuse me of being a day late and a dollar short. I guess in this case I was a day (or eight months) early and, as my wife would say, still a dollar short. But it’s finally happening and numbers released over the last two weeks are certainly proving that.

First, let’s look at NAR’s release this week of its March existing home sales. Now of course some media did use the nationwide decrease in sales as an opportunity to take a negative spin but there were a lot of positives in this news. First, nationally, prices rose from February to March by 4.2 percent which is much higher than the typical 1.8 percent seasonal increase between those two months.

Second, housing inventory at the end of March fell 1.6 percent to 3.74 million existing homes available for sale which represents a 9.8 month supply at the current sales pace.

In the West, existing home sales declined 4.2 percent to an annual rate of 1.13 million in March but, and this is a big but people, are 18.9 percent higher than last year at this time.

Now what do all of these numbers mean? Well the fact is, the share of lower priced home sales have trended up, indicating a return of many first-time buyers. Sales in the upper price ranges remain stalled but there are two reasons for this. First, jumbo loans still are difficult to obtain right now—though that may change in the second and third quarters thanks to the government’s work to restore this—and second, now that first time home buyers are once again entering the market, it will take some time for the domino effect to take shape onto other price ranges.

Another interesting note, the Mortgage Bankers Association this week released its Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending April 17. The index showed an increase of 5.3 percent from the previous week and that was a 76.9 percent increase compared with the same week a year ago. Yes, 76.9, that’s not a typo.

Whatever you think about what our government is doing to revive our economy, it seems some of the early work like the first time home buyer tax credit is working. Earlier this week Inman News reported that the preliminary numbers from the IRS suggest 1.4 million taxpayers will claim the federal first-time home buyer tax credit on their 2008 tax returns, meaning the program is likely to meet or exceed the 2 million target set by lawmakers before it ends November 30, 2009.

Finally and I think this is probably most notable, the Wall Street Journal reported this week that prices have fallen back into line with what the typical household can afford to pay in most of the U.S. The report showed that home prices are dubbed “fairly” valued in 202 of the 330 markets studied. That means the average price level is within a band 14% above or below the historical norm. Twenty-one markets are “overvalued” or between 14% and 34% above the norm. And 106 markets are considered “undervalued” or more than 14% below the norm. Take a look at this graph which showcases where we were in the early part of the decade as compared to today:

Now I know some of you are scratching your heads and saying, how is the drop in property value a positive thing. But the fact is that though the ride was nice in the big real estate boom of the early 2000s, we couldn’t sustain those types of record appreciation levels without eliminating certain consumer niches, including first time home buyers. Now that levels are back within range, the first time home buyers are once again able to reenter the market which is why we are seeing such a strong surge in sales in that level.

It’s just a matter of time before we weed through the remaining banked owned inventory and we should begin to see prices stabilize. Once we see that, the remaining areas of the market should begin to see an upswing, too.

With that said, let’s take a look at this week in real estate:

  • Boulder/Longmont—Our Boulder office reports that under contracts in the Boulder market are up 30% over the previous week with new listings down over 40%! I know it's only a week, but that's the kind of trend we like. The Boulder office showed a big uptick in under contracts over the previous two weeks. The Longmont office reported that business is happening. Our showings increased by 19% week over week. This is especially significant due to the blizzard like weather late in the week which caused us to close the office early on Friday. Some buyers are choosing not to buy foreclosures and short sales due to the challenges that those properties can bring. This bodes well for the non-distressed sellers. Homes in the lower and moderate price ranges are selling quickly. After the snow, the weather became wonderful. Spring has made it to the Rocky Mountains. We are also experiencing positive job growth year over year and the unemployment rate in Boulder county is lower than the state figures.

  • Evergreen/Conifer—Our Evergreen office reported that we had a total of two new listings for the week. Three listings went under contract. There were forty-eight showings for the week. Sales and showing activity were affected by the weather. Our office was closed for three days.

  • Denver Central—No information reported.

  • Devonshire—Our Devonshire office is reporting that in spite of snow storms and other weather issues, showings are increasing consistently. Buyers are finding it easier to pre-qualify for loans and are anxious to get out and begin looking. The moderate price range properties are holding strong with multiple offers. We know that the upper end will follow in the next few months. Buyers are coming to realize that if they don't move quickly on available properties someone else will.

  • Douglas County—No information reported.

  • El Paso County—Our Colorado Springs office reports that buyer activity is picking up dramatically mostly due to military and Schriever Space Center. Short sales are slowing and a lot of those sellers are renting their homes. REOs have slowed as well as foreclosures.

  • Larimer County—Our Fort Collins office reports that activity continues to increase in our market with property showings increasing and still the occasional multiple offer situation. The majority of the current activity is coming from homes in the $200,000 to $300,000 price range. The upper end is moving slowly. The three days of rain/snow did decrease the activity somewhat last week, but we are looking to rebound strong with the great spring weather and 70 degrees this week. We are still experiencing numerous short sales and some foreclosure activity. However, the banks are responding to offers a little quicker than before as these situations are becoming more commonplace. Interest rates are the lowest they have been since 1954 and the property values are holding relatively strong for our economy. If you are waiting for a better time to buy you may have to wait another 55 years!

  • North Metro—Our North Metro office reports that Agents are going out on many listing appointments. Some sellers remain overly optimistic about the price they would like to get for their home, over current market value. We are seeing an increase in listing appointments that are in short sale situations. The first time home buyer tax credit is helping to increase the number of buyer appointments. The result is a lower average sales price of the homes we put under contract. Floor calls continue to be strong. Average list price this week has been around $250,000.

  • Parker—Our Parker office reports that although we set a new record for listings under contract for the month of March, our inventory increased slightly because we added another high producing team to our sales force. Showing activity has been the highest since 2006! Our number of showings increased by over 100 in one week! We still receive multiple offers on power priced listings. Last week’s record was 14 offers on one listing within the first four days on the market.

  • Southeast Metro—WOW!! Busy, busy, busy with showings averaging 100+ per day! Our success story of the week is a condo near City Park that went on the market and closed in two weeks at full price! We continue to see multiple offers on homes priced below $250,000. Open houses are generating lots of energy and excitement in the market.

  • West Lakewood— Nearly 70% of our sales are under the $250,000 range. Very little is moving over $500,000. Many, many first time homebuyers are taking advantage of the $8,000.00 tax credit. Nearly all multiple offers are on bank-owned properties.

Next week will bring some more interesting news. Check out this article that ran Monday in The Wall Street Journal: Once we see the results of new home sales (existing home sales were already reported), we should have a better indicator of where we are. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from the The Wall Street Journal’s story:

“Whatever the March numbers say, there are good reasons to think that home sales will improve as the spring selling season gets underway. Anecdotal reports suggest that low mortgage rates and an $8,000 first-time home-buyer tax credit are coaxing buyers back into the market. And while foreclosures are set to rise as banks begin to move on delinquent homeowners, that actually could boost home sales as banks auction homes for whatever the market will bear.”

The market is without a doubt changing and we may finally be seeing the end of the great housing challenge of the 2000s. I for one am very happy to see it.

Brian L. Thomas
Originally posted by,

Chris Mygatt
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Colorado

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