The Early Clues

January 24, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

2015 is now underway and all eyes are searching the horizon for signals foretelling this year’s real estate trends.  Will 2015 differ from 2014, or will Travis graphic for Febhistory repeat itself?  Trends by their nature involve time.  So attempting in February to predict the market of 2015 is a dicey proposition.  But we certainly have a few early clues.

Not unlike 2014, supply is still very constrained.  Sellers are failing to come to market in any significant numbers – causing the supply of homes for sale to fall well below “normal” amounts.  The first signs of this showed up in December, which was the first month in 2014 that active listings were lower than they were in the corresponding months of 2013.  As a case in point, in the last 7 days of December, new listings were down 13% compared to 2013 and down 14% compared to December 2012.  Beginning 2015, available homes were lower than any point of 2014 for Phoenix, Anthem, Avondale, Gilbert, Glendale and Tempe.  In fact, El Mirage was at its lowest point of available homes in the last 10 years!  Of course there were exceptions – such as Sun Lakes, Maricopa and Paradise Valley.  But, this still seems to have been the first signal for 2015 trends – low supply of homes.  Here is what our favorite real estate trend watcher, Michael Orr, recently had to say:

“There have been a total of 4,353 new listings added since the start of the year (across all areas & types) which is 9.1% below 2014 and 1.3% below 2013. This is a low number and suggests that supply trends are weak despite the seasonal increase in active listings that we see in January every year. In fact it is a new record low for the 15 year period 2001-2015.

New supply is particularly weak at the bottom of the market under $200,000 while it is quite strong over $800,000.

Sellers of entry level homes are going to have less competition while sellers at the top end are going to have more competition compared with last year.

The new supply of short sales and REOs across greater Phoenix is much lower than in any of the years since 2008, but is higher than 2007 and all previous years since 2001. HUD homes are down to insignificant levels, lower than all years since 2001 except 2005 through 2007.”

As referenced, the luxury market is a market unto itself.  It rarely acts in unison with the market as a whole.  For instance, supply remains heavy in the luxury market, despite December 2014 being a huge month for luxury homes sales.  December 2014 was the best December for luxury sales since 2006 with 109 closed transactions across Greater Phoenix for homes priced at $1 million and above. But make no mistake; luxury supply still well outpaces demand.

Thankfully, the buyer mix has shifted away from investors and back to an owner occupied dominant market. We are of the mind that this is a good thing – as we have mentioned in previous articles. Abnormally large investor activity is a sign of a very unhealthy market – such as was the case in the over-exuberant market of 2005 or the walking dead market of 2009.  In 2015, we are back at a market where the buyer is the end user.  Recent changes to lending are now arriving to stimulate the market – particularly the first time buyer market (are you listening millennials?) President Obama’s visit to Russell’s alma mater (Central High) was perhaps more news worthy than noteworthy – but he did announce the changes to FHA‘s insurance program that will assist a small segment of the population.  The drop in the cost of FHA insurance gives buyers in this price range an approximately additional $20,000 of buying power.  Add to that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s new lending programs with 3% down – helping homeowners who didn’t have the 5% down typically required and who may have exceeded FHA’s loan limits (currently $271,050 for FHA, $417,000 for Fannie/Freddie conventional loans).

Given our low supply and our slightly stronger demand, our market has drifted from a slight buyer’s market to a balanced market.  If this trend continues, we could very quickly see seller’s regaining the upper hand in negotiations. In fact, should demand increase in any significant way, it will rapidly overtake our supply. It will take a bit of time for the constraint to result in higher pricing – price being a trailing indicator- but it will show up.   If this comes to pass, Buyers may be wishing they bought in 2014.  What is good for the duck hunter is rarely good for the duck.

Better is still…well, better!

January 7, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Happy 2015! However tardy, we had to add our best wishes for a wonderful new year.  2015 has been a year long awaited by the real estate industry – as january for travismany speculated in the last few years that real estate would boom in 2015.  So will 2015 in fact be the gangbuster year dreamed of?  Given the tumultuous past we have navigated, we are loathe to make predictions.    As Yogi Berra so famously stated “The future ain’t what it used to be.“ But, we are seeing early signs of improvement in demand.

As we mentioned in past articles, the lack of demand in our market (and frankly across the country) has been the story of 2014.  Oddly enough, the saving grace was that supply was also constrained at the same time.  Buyers didn’t (or couldn’t) buy and sellers were scarce and did not put their homes on the market at expected levels. So 2014 became a low volume market – meaning lower than “normal” levels of home changing occurred. The signal we have been watching for is improvement in demand.  Apparently Santa was listening because in December the first signs of improvement in demand began to trickle in.  To quote our favorite real estate guru Michael Orr “When comparing 2013 and 2014 we can see that 2014 has been weaker than 2013 for most of the year but has recently improved. The difference is not great but I find it convincing evidence that a slow improvement has started.”  Locally, the first few weeks of December showed the highest number for home sales for the same period since 2006.   Trends by their nature must extend past a few weeks but these are the early signals (we hope) of what is to come.

Another possible factor behind demand picking up is the lack of rental supply.  Finding homes to rent under $1000 monthly has become truly a challenge and at some point this lack of rentals will cause either more low end apartments to be built or cause renters to become buyers.  Could the recent improvement in demand be the first signs of renters becoming buyers?  We certainly hope so.

Lending seems to be the primary culprit behind 2014’s lack of demand.  Add to that an economy still struggling to right itself, and the debt load carried by most consumers, and it’s not too hard to see why demand has been constrained.  We feel confident that it is a matter of time until the lending community responds to the lack of programs for buyers.  In fact, we are starting to see the first signs of the lending issues being addressed.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced a program for first time home buyers that allows for a 3% down payment and lends up to $417,000 (currently FHA is 3.5% down and only lends up to $271,050 in the valley).  Add in the remarkably low interest rates (currently at less than half the historic average of 8.5%) and lending certainly is poised for improvement.  At the end of the day, lenders must lend to make money.

A possible additional bonus to the local market is the Super Bowl.  Whether imagined or real as a real estate boon, approximately 90,000 additional people are heading to Phoenix.  There can be little downside for our market to have that many valley visitors.

If demand truly begins to pick up steam, we could see 2015 convert back to a seller market. Of course, the one lesson the last ten years has taught us is nothing is for certain. No matter what happens, we will strive to keep you aware of the ever changing market. Here’s to a great 2015!

Why Buy at All?

January 7, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The last decade has seen some of the most volatile real estate profits and losses that most people will see in their lifetimes.  The sad thing is what this has why buy at alldone to the average consumer’s perception of appreciation.  If you have one year (as we did) with 47% increase in values – then the historical range of 2-5% appreciation  looks pretty pathetic.  But does it really when we look at a ”real life” scenario?

Take an average first time homebuyer who purchases a $175,000 home with 3% down at a 4% interest rate with 4% appreciation per year ( a very realistic number in the valley).  In five years, that borrower has a net equity of almost $50,000.  To see this example click here.

Still wondering why to buy vs. rent?  The answer is all in the numbers!

17th Annual Holiday Lights and Petting Zoo

December 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

christmas smallerChristmas lights galore, a snowy Christmas Village filled with 100’s of homes, businesses and 1000’s of people and animals.  You will see one of the largest collections of Nativity scenes in the Southwest, ranging from life size to ½ inch tall.

And the Main Event…The Animals!  Stop by and pet a donkey!  We have 5 and 3 of them are minis, 8 goats and 4 of those are minis, and also our new cow Jax.  He’s so sweet!!!

Live music and caroling, fun for the whole family from 2 to 92.  Something for everyone!

Come by and make us a Christmas Tradition like so many other Arizona families have.  We are an Annual Holiday Pilgrimage for families all other the United States and Canada.  Stop by and see why.

Listed on AZ Central’s “Tour of Lights”, featured on ABC 15 News, CBS 5 News, 3TV News, My Fox 10 News and NCB 12 News.

Winner of “Best Christmas Display to Visit” by Scottsdale Independent, featured in the Arizona Republic Newspaper, 1st Place Prize Winner for best display by Paradise Valley Independent & Don Morley’s Christmas Lights Tour DVD, and Best Religious Display.

Location:  4345 E Carol Ann Lane, Phoenix, AZ 85032.  That’s ½ mile North of Greenway & ½ miles South of Bell Rd.

When:  Saturday, December 13th through Monday, December 22nd, from 6pm – 9pm nightly for 10 nights!

More Questions, email


Have a very Merry Christmas and a safe New Year!

Laura Mason

Salvation Army Christmas Eve

December 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

On Christmas Eve, December 24th from 11am – 1pm, I will be ringing the bell in front of Fry’s at Tatum & Shea.  Hope to see you there!Russ salvation army

Behind the Headlines – the Market is Stable

December 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Very few news stories can be built around “everything is just fine”. So while we don’t expect to see that in the headlines, it nonetheless is the story of our marketplace. Given the volatility of the real estate market from 2004- 2012, it is understandable that people are slow to believe that normal has returned. Michael Orr of the Cromford Report confirms this so beautifully:

“If we look exclusively at:

  • single family homes
  • in Maricopa County
  • listed under $500,000

Then there has hardly been any change in pricing at all over the last 10 months. Here are the specific numbers … (price per square foot)

  • Feb $115.82
  • Mar $116.09
  • Apr $115.23
  • May $115.75
  • Jun $116.04
  • Jul $115.99
  • Aug $115.95
  • Sep $115.95
  • Oct $116.31
  • Nov $115.82 …

This is quite remarkable stability.”


Scared to buy or sell because prices are “crashing”? They aren’t. The water is safe.

Tis the Season

November 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

seasons-greetings“Tis the Season” has a unique meaning to those of us in real estate. As the holidays approach, the “seasonal effect” goes in to play – and this year is proving no exception.  The seasonal effect refers to the calendar pattern that real estate tends to follow – year in and year out.  This classic pattern shows a slowing of demand (less buyers buying) after the spring buying season (Feb-June) which creates a buildup of homes for sale in the back half of the year.

As we have mentioned before, this year has seen a lowered demand from buyers.  Normally, this drop in demand would create a surge in supply.  However, the first 3 quarters of 2014 also showed a dearth of sellers coming to market.  So what should have been a buyers’ market all year – evaporated in to a balanced market after the spring buying season due solely to the lack of sellers coming to market.  The market kept slowly building to a balanced market, only to in the last month, turn and ebb away from that balance point.  And so the seasonal effect is here. The turning point appeared in October when we saw small surges of supply add to the inventory accelerating the erosion.  It is certainly looking like we will begin 2015 back in a soft buyer’s market.

What does this signal for 2015?  Most pundits are predicting 2015 will be a more robust market than 2014 – and we agree that is likely.  But as real estate predictions have been notoriously difficult for a few years, let’s just focus on what we believe the largest factor is that will determine the 2015 market:  lending.

The current noose around the neck of real estate is limited lending.  We have expounded on this before, but it bears repeating.  As an answer to the ridiculously loose lending guidelines that preceded the housing collapse, lending regulations after the collapse were excessively tightened.  New loans issued reached the lowest levels of this century in 2014.  When credit is unavailable to the average buyer, they become renters. In fact that is just what happened in the valley – this year showed rapid increases in rental demand (and rental rates).  As a humorous way of making the point, we include this exchange as quoted in “Bloomberg”:

“Just between the two of us, ” Bernanke told the moderator at a recent conference of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, “I recently tried to refinance my mortgage and I was unsuccessful in doing so,”

The audience laughed.

“I’m not making this up,” Bernanke insisted.

Bernanke also complained that stringent credit standards have made the process for first-time homebuyers excessively difficult, especially as economic conditions have improved. “The housing area is one area where regulation has not yet got it right,” Bernanke said. “I think the tightness of mortgage credit, lending is still probably excessive.”

“Probably excessive”. We agree.  With that said, we truly do believe lending restrictions will be eased.  Moderate lending restrictions, combined with attractive interest rates and a slowly improving economy should combine to make 2015 a cheerier year for real estate.  That is why we approach 2015 with some optimism.  Whether we are right or wrong, we will work hard to keep you updated on the market conditions as they shift.

Supply and Demand Remain the Story

October 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As we live and breathe real estate, even the tiniest variation of the same old news is interesting to us. It is our hope that we are not taxing our readers sharing the nuisances of this market.  The big headlines of 2005-2012 are gone, and frankly we couldn’t be happier.  What is good for selling papers, is rarely good for a marketplace because, in fact, drama sells.  So when you read the paper these days and it is claiming alarming trends in our market – a healthy suspicion should be maintained.  The lack of headline news on real estate is not a bad thing and october front page graphicnews should not be framed to make it so.

The story for over a year now has been supply and demand shifts. For over a year, demand has receded to very low levels.  It is understandable that this has created some concern, especially after the marketplace had adapted to being a demand oriented marketplace with investors gobbling up inventory at every opportunity.  At that time “normal” buyers were struggling to compete for properties as cash investors with insatiable appetites seemed to win every battle for a home.  By 2013 the investor portion of the market began withering away – a positive sign in a recovering market.  It is difficult to claim recovery at the same time you are known for being one of the best bargains around.  Vultures rarely circle a healthy animal.  So as the investor market returned to the small portion of the market demand looked anemic and alarming.  The investor withdrawal exposed what true demand existed, a fact that was obscured in the distress market.

So what is causing this low demand? We have addressed this before by discussing the economy, lending guidelines, and the millennials and their buying behaviors.   The one thing we strongly disagreed with as theories go, was the idea that real estate had somehow lost its appeal after the distress market.  If that were true, you would have never seen the high volume of the market in the midst of the distress – and the savviest of buyers (hedge funds) would not have come to Phoenix in force for a buying frenzy.  No the appeal of the West, and Phoenix in particular, for real estate remains.  Just as food never goes out of style, housing doesn’t either.  What does trend is renting vs. buying.  This year, in the valley, renting has jumped in demand as purchasing slumped.  This is a pendulum that moves from time to time depending on economic factors and net migration.  We are of the opinion that demand for housing is there and is being held down by the economic factor of severe lending constrictions resulting from the distress market.  If what fueled unprecedented demand acceleration in the marketplace (insanely loose lending guidelines) then the counter balance to low demand is overly constricted lending guidelines. As Sir Isaac Newton pointed out “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  We are not advocates for the insane lending that was going on in 2004 & 2005, but neither do we believe the Dodd/Frank bill and restrictions of this kind are any better.  There are valid purchasers who simply cannot get loans at this time due to the lenders fear now that lending risks have been placed back on their shoulders where they belonged all along.  Here are some interesting numbers by real estate expert Michael Orr of the Cromford Report:

“Approved home loans are the fuel that drives the housing market. The year 2000 was a relatively normal year for home loans. With roughly the same level of applications as in 2000, 15% more mortgage applications are being denied in 2014 than in 2000….” And…” The weighted credit score at origination for non-GSE loans stands at about 750. In 2006 it was 670.” (GSE = Government Sponsored Enterprise, as in Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac) 

Alarming? Not really, just the counter balanced reaction to over-lending.  As lenders only make money when they lend, eventually they will loosen their purse strings. It may take a year or two, but memories fade with time and the need to seek profit will likely show up eventually.

Normally such a pause in demand would send the market tipping strongly to a buyer’s market. Although demand faltered and did in fact create a buyer’s market last year, a rather unexpected shift followed – dropped supply.  Normal additions to supply from sellers placing their homes on the market failed to arrive and supply became constricted.  Let’s take the month of August as an example.  To quote Michael Orr:

“New listings have been arriving at a rate which is lower than in any August we have seen since 2001. In the last four weeks we saw 15.6% fewer new listings than last year and 13.2% fewer than in August 2012, the previous low record holder.

It is quite surprising that a slump in demand would be followed by a slump in supply, but it is certainly good news for sellers who might otherwise be facing growing competition from other sellers. If demand were to recover to normal levels now we could be facing a supply shortage fairly quickly.”

In fact, that supply has been so constricted that we have slowly and surely been moving away from a buyer’s market and into a fully balanced market, where we are now. Of course there are marketplaces within marketplaces – meaning there are areas and price points that are varying from this balanced picture. For instance, below 225K demand is showing a slight increase and so properties in this range may experience more than one offer.  Some areas are a “seller’s market” such as Sun City. It is best to get a supply/demand analysis of your specific area to understand “your marketplace”.

Mixed Messages

September 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

It is understandable that both Buyers and Sellers (and if we are completely honest, most real estate agents)  are scratching their heads as to cromford new listings by month for travis sept SMALLthe state of this market.  We have listened to the sides argue we are in a “buyer’s market”, no wait we are in a “seller’s market”!  The underlying fact is that the real estate market is a moving target.  This means that the market conditions are in flux – there is what the market condition is now and then there is the lag until people know where the market is.  If you haven’t fallen asleep at that concept, let us share some interesting facts:

  1. Active listings are down 14% since March of this year. If you’re a seller – low supply – that sounds like a seller’s market doesn’t it?       Of course, if we compare active listings now to this time last year, we are up 28% in supply. That sounds like a buyer’s market doesn’t it?       See how confusing this gets?
  2. Price appreciation for the last year came in at a paltry 1.9% (for non-distress sales). By the way, inflation is running around 1.9%. So essentially, houses have not really appreciated in the last year. The seeds of weakness in pricing started with the market shift that began in 3rd quarter of 2013. But as we stated before, there is what is happening and then when the market knows what is happening – which can cause a lag in price changes.       Indeed this is the case as the softness in pricing that began a year ago finally showed up in this year’s 3rd quarter. So that’s a buyer’s market right?
  3. New listings coming to market began the year up 9% over last year’s new listings. But again, as the market is a moving target, new listings suddenly dried up as the 3rd quarter began, coming in 10% less than the same time in 2013 and 8% less than in 2012. This is notable because in 2012 new listings to market hit the lowest levels since 2000 – a shocking and record breaking event.       Yet in the 3rd quarter we hit the lowest new listings to market ever for this time period.       So that’s a seller’s market right?
  4. Demand was grabbing all the headlines this year, as buyer demand cooled significantly. The causes were attributed to tougher lending guidelines, interest rates climbing, Millennials (i.e. first time home buyers) not buying, and investors going away. Interest rates seemed like a red herring – as when rates dropped there was no corresponding jump in demand. Millennials are in fact not buying. This has been attributed to “seeing their parents lose their homes in the distress market”. Hmmmm, maybe. Millennials seem to be delaying all traditional signposts of adulthood – marriage, children and housing – so it would seem to be a cultural change in commitment, not housing per se. It is certainly causing a boom in rental demand at the moment. Investor demand definitely shifted – going from 33.5% of the single family market purchases in 2012 to only 11.8% in 2014. So, no matter the cause, if buyer demand drops that’s a buyer’s market right?

So let’s try to answer that nagging question. The market is swinging slowly and surely back towards a balanced market primarily due to the weakest arrival of new listings in 14 years.   But, if that is the state of the overall market – it does not preclude the fact that the market is really a series of markets within a market.  Depending on price and location – some markets are definitely in a seller’s market and some are most definitely in a buyer’s market.  How can a consumer know the reality of their market?  At the risk of sounding self-serving you need the analysis of a competent real estate professional.  The study and accurate interpretation of supply and demand in the submarkets is the only way to truly understand your marketplace.  As always we are here to help.  Our thanks go to the one and only Michael Orr for his incredible Cromford Report statistics.

Home Fur Good Animal Shelter – Low Cost Clinic

August 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

home fur good logoLocal animal shelter offers low cost vaccine and microchip clinic on Sundays from 11-3pm.

Home Fur Good Animal Rescue and Placement is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, no kill shelter located at 10220 North 32nd Street, just south of Shea Blvd.   Home Fur Good has been in operation since 2009.  In January of this year, Home Fur Good moved into its new location and has been warmly welcomed by the community.

Home Fur Good’s mission is to eliminate the euthanasia of treatable, adoptable animals in Maricopa County through adoption placements, medical treatment, promotion of spay and neuter and community awareness.  The low cost vaccine and microchip clinic is open to other rescues and to the public.  The shelter itself is open to the public Thursdays through Saturdays from 11am to 4pm for adoptions. The shelter houses approximately 35 dogs and includes a free roam cat room.  Home Fur Good also does weekend adoptions at the Petsmart located at Tatum and Shea Blvd.  This shelter has rescued over 1,700 cats and dogs since its inception.   Please visit their website: for additional information, photos of adoptable animals and ways to help, including volunteering.

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