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As real estate’s high season kicks into gear, homebuyers and sellers are experiencing conditions many say mirror a housing bubble. In this region, the inventory of properties for sale are at a record low, prompting bidding wars. Realtors are going to extremes to find homes to sell, and sellers find themselves inundated with multiple offers. Is the hot market an anomaly or simply a return to normal conditions? Guest host Paul Brown finds out what’s behind the heated market and what buyers and sellers can expect moving ahead.
- Bonnie Casper Realtor, Long & Foster Real Estate; Past President, Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors
- Kathy Orton Reporter and Web Editor, Washington Post Real Estate Section
- Lisa Sturtevant Deputy Director, Center for Regional Analysis; Associate Research Professor, George Mason University
MR. PAUL BROWNFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Paul Brown from NPR News sitting in today for Kojo. If you Google the latest headlines on real estate news these days, you might get a real sense of deja vu. You'll find results with words like red-hot, surging, overdrive, even frenzy. And in many neighborhoods in this region, it's hard not to notice that as soon as a for sale sign goes up in front of a home, it goes down, usually within a week or two.
MR. PAUL BROWNIt is true, real estate is back. Seven years after the housing market collapsed, prices are up, inventory is down and bidding wars have become common again. But are these signs of that now dirty word, bubble? Here to dissect the data and give us the lowdown on our region's spring sale season, our guests in the studio with us Kathy Orton, a reporter and web editor for the Washington Post Real Estate Section. Kathy, thanks for coming in.
MS. KATHY ORTONThanks for having me.
BROWNI appreciate you're being here. Lisa Sturtevant, the deputy director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis is also an associate research professor at the university and Lisa, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
MS. LISA STURTEVANTThank you very much.
BROWNAlso Bonnie Casper, real estate agent with Long & Foster, she is the past president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors and the vice president of the Maryland Association of Realtors. And Bonnie, thanks for coming in. Glad to have you back.
MS. BONNIE CASPERThank you very much.
BROWNKathy, in this area, we are seeing low inventory, which I must tell you as a news anchor who has been covering and actively following the real estate story for several years now, it's giving me some surprise because for years, I was talking with folks from the National Association of Realtors on a regular basis and we were talking about the glut of housing.
BROWNI would talk with the mortgage financiers and with the companies that marketed foreclosed properties and listed foreclosed properties, the line all the way through was, you know, there's a tremendous glut of built and unsold homes. There is a glut of foreclosed homes behind those. All of this is driving the market down, driving prices down.
BROWNThere's just too much. And an economist told me a couple of years ago, of course, said look, at some point, the housing market has to turn around simply based on population numbers alone, that the country would need more housing.
BROWNI was told that probably by the end of 2014, we would start to see something of a turnaround. And instead, it seems as though we're zooming forward again about a year and a half before any one of the experts told me we would and we're now talking about a dearth of housing stock in the D.C. area and in numerous other metro areas as well. So are these signs of a local bubble or are the conditions not quite right for something like that? Tell us what's happening. What do you see?
ORTONWell, I don't think we're about to have a bubble. I think there are too many factors that will prevent that from happening. I think there are a lot of things that have played into why we are now seeing this widespread problem of low inventory.
ORTONSome of it has to do with people with negative equity being underwater on their mortgages, that there are people who bought when it was the peak of the market and now owe more than their house is worth and so they can't move up to a new home like we would see normally in normal market conditions.
ORTONThere's also been a lot in the news lately about the sequester, about the fiscal cliff, about cuts that are coming to all sectors of this economy and nobody is quite sure and that uncertainty tends to make people paralyzed and kind of just hold steady and not try and do anything until they know for sure that they're going to have a job and that they're going to have money to pay a mortgage.
ORTONSo I think that has led to sort of like a freeze in people buying and selling homes. Now...
BROWNAnd yet the stock is low. I'm wondering how we understand that. How do we comprehend that? Lisa, do you want to address that briefly?
STURTEVANTIn addition to the factors that Kathy mentioned, we have to remember that even though we're talking about what's going on right now, the Washington area housing market has been in a period of recovery for years. In Northern Virginia in particular, prices have been up since 2009. We've been seeing price appreciation by my last count, 39 out of the last 42 months in Northern Virginia.
STURTEVANTThis isn't a recent phenomenon. There's been demand generated in the Washington area by job growth so there's been demand among potential home buyers and they've started to draw down the inventory going on now three years. So this isn't something happening right now. This is something that's a product of frankly years of turnaround.
BROWNDo you feel this region is in or approaching bubble territory?
STURTEVANTNo, I feel like there are a couple of reasons why we can be sure that what we're seeing now is not what we saw back in 2004 and 2005. And the most important is the way that people get home loans now. Back in the bubble period, it was very easy to get a home loan. Credit standards were very loose.
STURTEVANTFolks who maybe weren't in a position to be able to pay back a loan were getting loans, were in the pool and driving up prices. Now folks who are getting a home loan are extremely well vetted, are extremely well qualified and the price appreciation we're seeing, which is very localized frankly, it's not region-wide, is being driven up and by real factors, by underlying fundamentals of demand.
BROWNBonnie Casper, you are a real estate agent in the street with customers, showing homes. What do you see? Are we approaching bubble territory? Are prices reasonable? Are they fair? What explains what's going on right now?
CASPERWell I happen to think that for. There are several factors at play here. First of all, there is a lifestyle change that is occurring. One is that baby boomers who want to downsize want to move into sort of the transit-node areas so that they can take the subway. They can walk to restaurants etc.
CASPERBut what's happening is they are in competition, in fact, with their children who also want to be there. A lot of people who are 25 to 35 years of age aren't looking at the outer suburbs. They still want to stay where we'll call the walkability factor. And so there's a lifestyle competition going on right now. So that is what's driving up prices in certain areas.
CASPERI will say that the market certainly has heated up. I can speak for myself. I can speak a little bit for my office and say that, for example, last weekend I was involved in five different transactions, two on the south side and three on the bay-side.
CASPERAll of them went into multiples. However, none of them really went, only one of them went dramatically over asking. So I think, once again, it has very much to do with locality and what the type of product is that's out there on the market.
CASPERI don't think we're in a bubble. I think, as the other two have just observed, financing, getting mortgages is very tightly controlled these days. I think the appraisers have a tamper on what's happening with pricing and I think underwriters do too so I don't see us heading for a bubble right now.
BROWNYou can join our conversation. I'm interested in hearing your perspectives on this as well. Have you tried to buy or sell a home recently and what have your experiences been? Where do you think is a good place to look for a home and how? How do you navigate the mortgage market? What's been going on in your life as you look at or participate in the real estate market?
BROWNThe number 1-800-433-8850 or you can email us at email@example.com. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow or get in touch with us by way of Facebook, lots of ways to contact "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" and we hope to hear from you. Let's go to the phone right now, as a matter of fact, and Joe in Arlington, Va., you're on the air, on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
JOEYes, good afternoon. How are you?
BROWNWell, thank you.
JOEThank you for this great show. I have an old house in Arlington and it's a tear-down because it's rundown and has a very big lot and it's very desirable for the builders who are building big, big houses all around me.
JOEAnd I'm finally ready to sell, but I wanted to ask your real estate agent when they do a bidding war, how do I know that the agent is not going to favor a builder for whom they already have a relationship? In other words, they'll sell the new house for them and therefore might strike a better deal whereas somebody else might want to give me more money.
JOEAnd I've been besieged by these offers for years now, people leaving notes in my door, mailing me letters, phone-calling me about the house and now I'm finally ready to sell and I want to get the best price I can because I have to divide the proceeds with my brother and sister.
BROWNSo Joe, you're saying what do I do? Bonnie Casper, help us out. What should Joe do? How does he go about locating a real estate agent with whom, in whom he can have confidence, where he feels that he knows that he's going to get a reasonable and fair price?
JOEThe best price.
BROWNThe best price, okay. Now you've heard it from Joe himself. He wants the best price and he wants to feel confident about his agent in his or her dealings with him.
CASPERWell, I would make several recommendations. First of all, most real estate agents go out and compete with each other for a listing so the process you should institute would be to see who has been selling properties in your neighborhood, who happens to know your neighborhood. If you see signs up, take note of them. Or look at agencies that you have friends that they have used or agents that they have used that they recommend.
CASPERAnd I would take, you know, look into interviewing two or three agents and finding out how they, number one, help you price it, because ultimately it is the price you put on a house that the agent is bound to market it at. I would ask them what they do to market it.
CASPERI would ask them, what is the process that they help you with from start to finish? Because after all, as an agent, I don't look at the process as just getting the listing, I don't consider the property sold until you've been through settlement.
CASPERSo therefore, I would say that there's a process that you could follow and a way to hire an agent because, after all, we work for you. We work for the seller. I would say also, ask that agent or all three agents or however many you decide to interview to come in with a comparative market analysis.
CASPERIt's really -- we're ethically bound as a realtor to come in and work for you and help you get the best price possible and we live by our reputations. We don't live by the single transaction. If I were to think that I had a client who went around saying she didn't really help me, she wasn't really good, I mean, that's all I have to live by and that's what agents live by so we try to work for you, with you and help you the best we can.
BROWNJoe, does that help you at all?
JOEOhm a great deal. It's encouraging. I do appreciate it. Thank you.
BROWNSure. Well good, I'm glad you got a start and best of luck with your sale. Bonnie, you know, a lot of people these days seem to be sitting on homes that are making developers drool in this area. You know you can drive from one neighborhood to another either in D.C. or out of the center of the city and find neighborhoods where there are often some very nice homes that were built anywhere from the '20s through the '50s and they may not be as grand and as large as some of the newer homes and they're being knocked down, just as Joe says.
BROWNHis house he considers to be a knockdown because the neighborhood is basically being rebuilt with larger homes. Is this a problem as people receive a lot of unsolicited offers? What do you do with all these unsolicited offers from realtors that may pile up in mailboxes? And I've spoken with a few people who have gotten them who say, I don't know what to do about this.
BROWNI really don't know whether to sell the house. I don't really know whether it's a good time to sell just because a realtor is sending me a postcard saying that it is. You know, should I stay here? Should I wait, should I fix up the house? Why should it be knocked down? What do you do? How do you make these judgments?
CASPERFirst of all, as a seller you need to look at what is best for you financially. And clearly the first question you need to ask is, if I sell this house where am I going to go and what am I going to do? So therefore you have to ensure yourself that whatever profit you take from that house is going to help you move to wherever it is you want to move to next, whatever that lifestyle might be. That's number one.
CASPERNumber two, you know, there are periods of time when agents are out there just sort of looking for additional business. And so they will sell some -- they will send out postcards. But oftentimes, particularly in the market today of low inventory -- in fact, we were just talking about this in my office today -- there's a lot of low inventory. For example, if you go into a neighborhood and there are multiple offers, for example, on a house and one person is going to get that, then perhaps there are four people who still want to move to that neighborhood.
CASPERWell, their agents might, in fact, send around a postcard to the immediate neighbors of the house that just sold and say, look I have somebody who really wants to move into this neighborhood. If you're thinking of selling your house, this would be a good time. And believe me, it is a seller's market. So it is -- the marketplace is good.
CASPERAnd what happens is agents aren't just trying to drum up business for themselves. What's generating this is a lack of inventory. Inventory is down in the district by almost 39 percent and it's down in Montgomery County, for example, by 37 percent. That's huge.
BROWNI want to get into that question -- and Kathy, maybe you can help me with that, and Lisa also -- why are there so few properties for sale, Kathy?
ORTONSome of it's psychological, don't you think? If you don't think you're going to be able to buy why would you put your home on the market? So I'll just wait until I think the market's improved. But the market won't improve because you won't put your home on the market. So we're in this sort of vicious cycle right now where nobody can find -- I actually did get one of those letters the other day. Someone -- I live in a condo in the District and someone said, I've got a buyer who wants to buy a condo in your building. Give me a call.
ORTONAnd we actually did a story in the Washington Post about two weeks ago about this where agents are now going out and soliciting, you know. And I thought about it. I'll admit, I thought maybe I should sell but then the next thought was, well, where am I going to live? So, yeah.
BROWNWhere will I go? Right, exactly. So that's part of it. Lisa, research, what does it tell you about the availability of homes? And I should, for preface, so this part of the question, maybe you can help us with this. I've also read that in many communities investors are buying homes and they're not letting go of them. They want to rent them. The rental market's only so-so right now, if you can even call it that. And there are a lot of homes that might be occupied or might be purchased by folks that simply aren't on the market.
BROWNBut let me hear it from somebody who's done some research on this. Why are so few homes compared to demand on the market in this region right now?
STURTEVANTSure. I think the two reasons that have been mentioned are important to reiterate, that there are some folks who are still underwater on their mortgage and aren't able to sell. There are folks who are not selling because they don't know where they'll move to. We have to remember also that the new construction hasn't been contributing to the inventory at all. New residential construction ground to a halt during the recession. And so when -- new homes would be adding to the inventory. That hasn't been the case.
STURTEVANTAnd it's only just now that construction of single family homes has been starting to pick up in some of the markets.
BROWNBut what's happened to this great backlog of foreclosed properties that economists kept telling me about when I was interviewing them for our newscasts?
STURTEVANTThe -- here...
BROWNWhere did they go?
STURTEVANT...here in the Washington area we actually -- we weren't hit quite as hard by the foreclosure crisis as in many places. The two spots that were hit the hardest were Prince William County in Virginia and Prince George's County in Maryland. In Prince William County the market there turned around earlier than anywhere else. And it was primarily driven by those investor folks that you just mentioned who saw that people were going to be demanding rental. And they might want to rent a single family home instead of an apartment.
STURTEVANTAnd these were folks sometimes who were looking for places to put their money to get a good return. The stock market didn't look good at the time. Other housing markets across the region didn't look as strong as ours because we had job growth when other places didn't. And so investors really did buy up a lot of homes in the early part of the recovery in some of these hardest hit markets.
BROWNNow are some of these investors waiting to sell because prices haven't come up enough for them? And is that why they're sitting on the homes?
STURTEVANTThere's a general sense that the demand for rental is going to stay strong, not only in the Washington area but generally that people are looking to rental when they might not have before. And...
BROWNBut I read recently that rental prices are actually down, that there's a really tough market for rentals. Not so, Bonnie Casper? You're shaking your head. Let me hear about this.
CASPERNo, not locally.
BROWNWhat are you seeing?
CASPERNot locally. It's very -- I mean, rental rates are very high in the Washington, D.C. area, certainly in D.C., Montgomery County. I would say in the Ballston Northern Virginia area. Anywhere that's along a subway line, rentals are very expensive. Once again, you have an enormous amount of competition for a certain amount of product. And whether it's to buy or to rent, you have the younger kids coming back who, because this is where the jobs are. So even if they're not working for government they might be finding other jobs tangential to government.
CASPERAnd also older people who want to sell their homes but don't necessarily want to buy a new home because they're just not at that place in their lives. So...
BROWNOkay. Well, this is now starting to make some sense to me because in my interviews of economists and other people in various sections of -- segments of the housing industry over the years, I have heard -- and all the statistics I've looked at show me that the D.C. area market was stronger through the downturn than many other markets. And so now it appears what we're seeing then is it didn't fall as far and it's bouncing back strongly. And so we still have low inventory.
ORTONI would say yes, but -- and Lisa can back me up on this, it's bouncing back strongly in certain areas. You couldn't talk about Prince George's county, for instance, and say it's bounced back. It's still having a problem there and that's a lot to do with how Maryland dealt with foreclosures as opposed to Virginia dealing with foreclosures. And there are areas where it's better than the peak, I think, right? And so there are parts -- it's almost a neighborhood by neighborhood how things have recovered here.
BROWNWe're back in just a moment. We'll be taking your calls at 800-433-8850, "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU 88.5.
BROWNWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU 88.5. I'm Paul Brown sitting in today for Kojo. And we are talking about the D.C. metro area real estate market with Kathy Orton, reporter and web editor for the Washington Post real estate section. Lisa Sturtevant, deputy director of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis. And Lisa is also an associate research professor at the university. Bonnie Casper is with us as well, real estate agent with Long and Foster. She is also the past president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, vice-president of the Maryland Association of Realtors.
BROWNAnd you can join our conversation of course at 1-800-433-8850. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tweet us at kojoshow or check out our Facebook page and contact us that way. So right now, let's go to the phones. And we have on the line Charles from Washington, D.C. Charles, you're on the air.
CHARLESHi. Yeah, I have an interesting situation, probably pretty close to what you've discussed. I bought a row house in Brightwood 21 years ago. It will be paid off in six years, so I have a lot of equity. It's totally renovated. I would like to move to a detached home in my neighborhood however, even if I sell and get that equity, the housing in my neighborhood now is so expensive that I cannot move from my home to a detached home without having a huge mortgage.
CHARLESIn addition, I have to worry about getting into bidding wars with people, something I did not have to worry about with my first house. And that keeps me paralyzed. That keeps me where I am.
BROWNDo you, Charles, not want to leave the neighborhood or...
CHARLESNo, I do not want to leave Brightwood. I love it.
BROWNBrightwood is home.
BROWNOkay. Let's throw this to our professional realtor, Bonnie Casper.
CHARLESI mean, I would also consider Tacoma Park or Manor Park, but those are basically all in the same area.
BROWNWhat are the strategies, Bonnie, when you're in a situation like this? You love your neighborhood, you've been there a long time. You moved in, it was affordable. You'd kind of like to move up or move out into another place in the neighborhood and you just can't do it. Are there ways around this? Do you look for homes that aren't really on the market yet or what are your typical strategies when a customer comes to you with a desire like that?
CASPERWell, first of all, what I would do is I would speak to a lender. Right now there are a multitude of lending products out there. And I would say that while you are concerned about holding a mortgage, I would say to you that interest rates have never been lower. Certainly not in my recollection of my professional lifetime anyway have they been lower. And therefore -- and there are also lots of products out there where you can put down a large down payment and not have to pay, you know, some additional points potentially.
CASPERAnd therefore, while you might have a mortgage you might also see if that doesn't benefit you in some way, for example, in terms of your tax situation. I mean, there are all sorts of different ways to look at it and I don't pretend to be the mortgage expert nor can I give you, you know, specific information about it. But I would say the number one step right now is to go talk to somebody who can tell you, what are you really talking about in terms of borrowing money. What is your capacity? And what would your monthly payment be potentially? I would...
CHARLESWell, see, in my case, I've already spoke to a lender. I'm dealing with my credit union. In fact, they are so good that I -- they even modified my mortgage down from a 4.25 to a 3.3 without even asking. So, I mean, the issue is...
BROWNWell, Charles, I have a question for you. Would you be willing to take on a mortgage again? I noticed at the beginning of the call you said that your house is paid off, which is a great feeling.
CHARLESWell no, not yet. It'll be paid off in five years.
BROWNBut relatively soon, so you're close. So would you be willing to do something like that again?
CHARLESWell, the issue is I want to retire in ten years. And I can't carry a $200,000 mortgage into retirement.
BROWNIt sounds as though you can't have it all, and that's the problem that we all run into. I'm not sure where to go with this except to say that you'll probably have to make some compromises somewhere.
CHARLESWell no, the reason I'm -- I'm bringing it up because there are a lot of other people in my position.
CHARLESEspecially people -- I'm a native Washingtonian so I -- when I bought my house, people were leaving Washington in droves. Nobody wanted to live here. Now everybody wants to live here again. And I'm kind of placed in that position now.
BROWNWell, Charles, Bonnie has got her hands up in the air a little bit, not that she hasn't provided a little advice. But I hope that...
CASPERI guess the only other thing I would say is no matter what transaction, no matter what price range you're in, oftentimes you have to give to get. And therefore what I mean by that is there's a compromise to be made. So perhaps what you want is maybe not the single family house but you want a smaller house. Perhaps you want something a little bit different. You started to say maybe not in Brightwood but maybe in a different neighborhood.
CHARLESThey're all connected.
CASPERAnd it's all an integral part of a decision-making process. And you just have to weigh your options and decide how important it is to you to move. And if you really like the neighborhood you're in, you know, say to yourself, well if I do really want to retire then maybe I really just should stay where I am. I -- you know, it's a demand -- you know, price is developed by what is the demand out there and what is the marketplace. And so if you want to live in a place that's very much in demand then, yes, the prices probably will be going up.
BROWNIt sounds like you have some decisions to make, Charles, about what is most important to you. Thank you very much for your call. And we have an email here from Andrew who says, "I just hope that you" -- rather this is on the website -- "I just hope that you mention the article from the National Low Income Housing Coalition that states a minimum wage worker has to work 140 hours a week to rent a two-bedroom apartment. There is no bubble because anyone who isn't making a six-figure salary cannot afford to buy a home in D.C. We are pushing the original residents of D.C. out of the city into the surrounding counties and farther. It's despicable." Are we, Lisa Sturtevant?
STURTEVANTYeah, the report that Andrew cites is really important to look at. We talk a lot about homeowners and home buying here when we're talking about the housing market. there are a lot of folks in our rental market. There are a lot of folks who won't quality for homeownership because of their income and their assets. And these are folks who are part of our community who work in our jobs, who serve our residents.
STURTEVANTAnd rental housing has been unaffordable before and it continues to be unaffordable. Right now the stat that I've read from that report was that you need 3.6 minimum-wage-worker jobs -- full time minimum-wage-worker jobs to afford the median, the middle two-bedroom apartment. Just to highlight the fact that it's very, very difficult to have enough money at the lower wages in order to afford housing.
STURTEVANTAnd so in the District, you know, Charles' point about the fact that the District has been in demand in a way that it hasn't been before. That has put upward pressure in lots of neighborhoods that were once more affordable. And now residents who have been there for a long time or who have wanted to be there are feeling that they're being pushed out -- priced out, I guess.
BROWNBonnie, it does sound as though from Charles' call and from this information on this report that no matter what your income level below a certain point, that you really do have to make choices at some point between housing, other priorities in your life. How, for example, you want to retire and that it's not -- you're not going to get everything that you want in this market, especially in this present market in D.C.
CASPERWell, I would say that that's very true. However, I would've said that also a couple of years ago because at that time to try and sell your house you wouldn't have gotten as much. So it's a question of what is the delta. What do you have as, you know, what you've made from the sale of a house in order to put into the next house or to rent? So if prices are down you may not have a very big profit. You still may not be able to really move up in the market, as we say. But...
BROWNWell, you know, you've been telling me that it's difficult sometimes to get a loan and we've got to adjust pricing according to income and that sort of thing. But are there too many people who are overextended in housing here in D.C.? Are there too many house poor people in the D.C. metro area at this point? People are really stretched farther than they should be?
ORTONI don't know that -- I mean, we did a report I think...
ORTON...a month or so ago about the -- the negative equity in our market has shrunk considerably. And there's a lot of people who are underwater technically but it's by such a small amount that even if they -- you know, they're still making their -- they're not in danger of foreclosure. They're still making their payments. Everything is fine. I think though -- and this sort of speaks to Charles' point and what Bonnie was saying -- everybody wants to buy their house at the lowest price and sell their house at the highest price. Well, you can't always do that.
ORTONI mean, you want to buy a house in the District or in Maryland or Virginia and all of a sudden have the price of that house rise considerably. And we're used to that here in the District where -- or this area where you buy a house and then a couple years later it's gone up by -- you know, we always expect our housing prices to go up. They haven't the last couple years. Now they've started to go back up but there are a lot of people out there who, they could sell their house and move up to another home. Maybe they bought at $500,000 and they want to move up to a $700,000 home. But their house is now worth 450,000.
ORTONBut that $700,000 house, it's going to be worth $800,000 if they keep waiting for their 450 to get back up to 500. So some people I feel like they should just go out and bite the bullet and take the loss. And -- you know, that's easy for me to say, a $50,000 loss, but with interest rates this low and prices what they are, the prices are just going to probably go up. So...
CASPERIf interest rates go up, then your buying power will also go down. So it stands to reason that there are a lot of people -- I mean, we're talking as if everybody bought their home during the last bubble. No. There are a lot of people in this area who have owned their homes for 10, 15, 20, 25 years. They have a lot of equity in their homes, and if they chose, they could sell their homes and go buy another house because they have a lot of equity. It's what do they -- just as you said, what do they want to do with their money.
CASPERThis situation whereby, you know, market rates and market rentals, I mean, what we haven't talked about here, and it's probably a whole other show for you, but is, what is the role of government in trying to help people with their mortgages. What is it in terms of rentals and market rentals and affordable housing programs, you know, in the District of Columbia, or in the counties, whatever. I mean, that's a whole other discussion. But when we talk about this, there is a role to play in terms of, you know, if people build a lot of rentals, for example, asking that, you know, the developers set aside, like they do in Montgomery County, a certain percentage of those that be at market rate or affordable rental rates so that, you know, not everybody is really, you know, pushed out of the marketplace.
BROWNA lot to think about here as you make choices in this real estate market. And, you know, we should say we're -- the folks here, our guests, aren't advocating any specific course of action, but what we're trying to do is outline things that you might want to think about as you weigh what is the best path for you to take. We'll be right back to take some calls. We have a number of calls coming in here to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." 800-433-8850. I'm Paul Brown sitting in for Kojo. This is WAMU 88.5.
BROWNWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Paul Brown from NPR News, and in for Kojo today with Kathy Orton, reporter and web editor for the Washington Post's real estate section, Lisa Sturtevant, deputy director of George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis, Bonnie Casper, a real estate agent with Long & Foster. We're talking about the real estate market. We've had a lot of calls because this is clearly a very interesting topic to many of us, wondering what to do in this market. So, let's go to Perry in Brunswick, Md. Perry, you are on the air.
PERRYThanks for taking my call.
PERRYI have a question and then, if I may, a follow-up question based on the answer I get. Is that okay?
PERRYOne of your guests mentioned that there was a difference between the Maryland and Virginia housing markets because of the way Virginia handles foreclosures versus the way Maryland handles foreclosures.
PERRYCould I have some -- could we have some clarification on that?
BROWNYes. Okay. Sure. Lisa Sturtevant.
STURTEVANTSure. There's two main processes by which foreclosures are processed, a judicial process and a non-judicial process. A judicial process requires the courts to be involved, and that's the process that's in place in Maryland. It lengthens the process to go through a foreclosure in Maryland because of bringing the court in. Virginia is a non-judicial state and foreclosures are processed, therefore, more quickly. That's true when you compare judicial and non-judicial states across the country.
PERRYOkay. I have a friend who's been working in this business on the legal side, and I've heard that the Virginia process -- and that's pretty much consistent with what I've heard, and that's what I thought you were referring to, but what I also heard was that the Virginia process was much less friendly to people in foreclosure and to people who might have gotten offers from lenders and the lenders refused to respond, and they just wanted to foreclosed so they just went ahead and foreclosed. Boom. And they were out. Comments?
STURTEVANTI don't have any -- I don't have data on that, but I am not surprised to hear you say that, and Maryland was very conscious of that as well, and actually put in place a moratorium on foreclosures when there were incidences of homeowners who were being foreclosed on improperly. And in Virginia, the foreclosure crisis in our part of Virginia was resolved, if I can use that word, and we can debate about whether it was resolved appropriately, but so quickly, frankly, that any issues that may have been problematic where homeowners were being foreclosed on inappropriately, they didn't make the same kind of -- didn't get brought to the same kind of attention that they did in Maryland.
BROWNMaryland's attorney general also has been very aggressive in trying to solve these problems. Perry, thanks very much for your call. Glad to hear from you.
BROWNDave from Silver Spring, Md., you are on the air on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
DAVEYeah. Hi. I own a condo in Northwest D.C. in Tenleytown.
DAVEAnd I received my assessment from the city this year, and it is lower than last year. So why is the assessment lower, but the market's supposed to be improving?
BROWNWho can talk to that?
CASPERWell, everybody's looking at me, so...
BROWNOkay. Bonnie Casper, you're it. Tag, you're it, real estate agent.
CASPERActually, I find that quite perplexing, and I am a little surprised at that. I don't really know why it would be lower, but…
STURTEVANTWell, I -- I think, you know, I had...
STURTEVANTI had the same situation at Dave actually, in the state of Alexandria.
ORTONI was going to say I'm in Adams Morgan, and my condo assessment was also lower this year.
BROWNOkay. So two of -- two of the three here.
STURTEVANTWell, and one thing that happens is that the method by which jurisdictions produce assessments are different than the market, so there's this idea of putting comps together. So I looked at my assessment and I saw what comps they used, and they had none. And so they had used what had happened last year.
ORTONAnd I would say, I mean, in one way I looked at that as good news that they were assessing my -- so I was paying less property taxes, so I saw that as a bonus, not so much because I'm going to sell anytime soon, but -- and we've looked at this because I'm sure you've probably heard of Z Estimates or Zuesstimates and all these different tools that you can use to see how much your house is worth. Your house is worth what somebody will pay for. Just because the tax assessment office decided it was worth $400,000 and you paid $500,000, it's whatever somebody will pay for it.
ORTONSo I wouldn't get too worried about it. I'd actually be happy, because you're probably paying less in property taxes.
BROWNYour tax bill will be lower, and one of the things that I've read is that because real estate activity was relatively low, and prices were stable to slightly lower during the turn down, that there oftentimes are no good comps, as Lisa mentioned. There were no comps in her assessment. So your home may be assesses on values that were typical during the slump, Dave. That may be what it is. It sounds as though for the time being, once again though, as Kathy says, that you may get a lower tax bill, but at the same time if you decide to sell, your home will be worth what someone thinks it is worth.
BROWNThanks very much for the call, Dave. And let's go to Heather in Ellicott City, Md. Heather, you're on the air. Heather, are you there?
HEATHERYes. Can you hear me okay?
HEATHERI'm an energy auditor for a company called Ecobeco in Maryland, and we've been exposed to all kinds of wonderful programs through Empower Maryland, when were you can get a quick home energy checkup for free anywhere in Maryland, and it can actually save you a lot of money and lower your costs. So whether you're buying or selling a home, one, you can lower your monthly cost and look better to the banks if you're trying to get a mortgage.
HEATHERAnd if you're trying to sell, they have other programs where you can get a comprehensive audit for a nominal fee of a hundred bucks, or you can actually have it paid for entirely through the LIEEP Program, which is L-I-E-E-P Low Income Energy Efficiency Program, where even in Montgomery County specifically, they have money burning a hole in their pocket for weatherization. So if you can't...
BROWNWell, what Heather -- we seemed to have lost Heather, but what she appears to be saying is get an energy audit. Know the energy efficiency of your house, especially if you're selling it. It's a good selling point. And Heather, thank you for calling and making that point. Bob in Cleveland Park, D.C., you're on the air on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
BOBWell, thank you very much, Paul. Yes. First of all, I'd like to say that if you're looking for hot tips, southeast across the river now has some lovely properties. A lot of people -- I've purchased over there a lovely colonial for about a third of what you would -- or even less than what you would pay up here in northwest. So it's -- and when they re-gentrify St. Elizabeth's, it's going to be a fabulous, fabulous area. It is now, particularly Hillcrest and this type over there, lovely homes, lovely manicured places. I think it's great.
BOBNow, my second point though, and this is really for Bonnie, and thank you for letting me say that about Southeast, is that, Bonnie, when I go online and I'm looking for properties over there, particularly on Zillow and Realtor.com, and, you know, and so I'm calling to see what else is available. I'm always told that -- I said I want to go see it right there, you know. I looked at the amount of the days it's been on. Sometimes it's been like one day or two days, whatever, it's always sold. It always under contract before you, you know, even go there.
BOBSo what's really happening with, you know, and then you see the same houses up online, maybe two weeks or three weeks later. I've seen some a month later still being, you know, pending, or then -- not so much pending, but, you know, just still available.
BROWNSo, Bob, what's your question?
BOBMy question is, what's going on with Zillow and realtor.com and why aren't they being updated through the realtor process to let us know really what the inventory is?
CASPERI do have an answer that.
BOBThank you very much.
BROWNOkay. Thanks, Bob.
CASPERThe only information system that I rely on, and most realtors actually rely on, is the Metropolitan Regional Information System, MRIS, which is actually the only one that is required, and agents are required to send in the information and keep it updated so that we can work with real time data that's up to date. Zillow and the rest of them are not realtor owned. We have no control over when that information is updated or changed, and I would say to you that it is something that is always out of date, or almost always out of date because there is no requirement to keep it up to date.
CASPERAnd so agents themselves do not depend on that. We go into our MRIS system, and we use that. So I have clients a lot who call me and say, I just saw something on Zillow or Trulia or some other system, and yes, most of the time I go into my system and I find out that it is already under contract, and that's because it really hasn't been updated once an offer has been made, or a contract's been ratified.
BROWNSometimes it can get behind. You see this online in the market for used cars also. Same thing there. We have a few notes here, and a couple of comments and these would be good investment areas, but this is the sort of situation also that prompts one of earlier writers to say that people who have lived in D.C., grown up in the D.C. area are being run out of their neighborhood. And we heard from one of our callers says -- we heard who was trying move within his neighborhood and found it unaffordable.
BROWNIs this a problem now that the housing market is beginning to recover and people are finding employment more reliably that neighborhoods that they could afford are being seen as investment targets for people who want to make money buying and selling houses, rather than as residential areas? Does anyone have a comment on that?
STURTEVANTWell, I think the affordability issue in the District of Columbia is being driven not just by investors, but also by demand from folks who are finding the District more desirable as places to buy a home. As job growth in the District and the surrounding area has increased, more folks have moved here. They're looking at D.C. when they might have not during other times. Last year I did some research on residential mobility into and out of the District, and the -- between 2008 and 2010 we had nearly 80,000 households a year moving into the region, and many of these folks were choosing the District of Columbia.
STURTEVANTAnd at the same time you had thousands of folks moving out of the District of Columbia. And when you look at the different characteristics, folks who are lower income, when they were moving out of the District, they were moving into Prince George's County. Not everyone, but the greatest share were moving into Prince George's County. But we also saw that a lot of middle-class folks -- a lot of middle-class African Americans were moving out the of District and leaving the region all together.
STURTEVANTAnd so I think that is a problem that we should be concerned about, that folks aren't able to stay in their long-existing neighborhoods because these are folks who are part of our economy. They're part of our community, and if they find it increasingly difficult to say in the community, they'll leave.
BROWNI mean, there's been some real anger in some neighborhoods of downtown D.C. and Southeast and Southwest, other places too, I'm sure. These are just areas that I'm thinking of where -- about which I've read articles and seen things and spoken with people on the street, and it sounds as though there is an increasing challenge facing the D.C. Metro area to provide housing at a price point that a working person can afford. How big a problem does that appear to be, Lisa, from what you are seeing in your research?
STURTEVANTWell, we did a report -- another set of research on the housing needs over the next two decades, so that's sort of a long-term look, but it's important to think long term, and there's a need for nearly three-quarters of a million net new housing units over the region of the next 20 years. We don't build anywhere near that much housing right now, and the reason why we need that much housing is because right now we have a quarter of a million people who commute into the region from outside, from Richmond, from Baltimore.
STURTEVANTHousing is the flip side of transportation. We can't build anymore roads. We need to house the workers closers to the jobs, and the only way to do that is to build more housing.
BROWNIt also seems.
ORTONOr have mass transit.
BROWNMass transit. It also -- it seems to me, and this is anecdotal. I've read a little bit of research about it, but I seem to run into more and more younger people who do not want to own an automobile, who don't want to commute long distances. They just want nothing to do with it. And what it seems be creating is a bit of a new urban culture that is local and community-based.
ORTONWell, and Bonnie touched on this earlier too. It's not just the young people, it's the retirees who want to move back into -- so we have everybody wanting to move into the city, and we just don't have enough housing units for them to live in.
CASPERI would say that the walkability factor is becoming increasing important and when I mentioned about mass transit, we talk about for example, in Montgomery County, that there a prediction that they could have an additional 60,000, 70,000 jobs over the next 10 to 20 years, but none of that can happen without mass transit, for example, going in, because the roads are too crowded, and this is happening all around the region. You have the Silver Line going in in Virginia, et cetera.
CASPERSo if we're going to increase the housing capability in this region, we need to be able to provide for people to move around, and that is also part of what this walkability factor is all about.
BROWNSo one way or another it sounds as though we're going to have to have better, more comprehensive transportation part of the real estate picture.
BROWNLisa, just briefly, we have to pretty much say goodbye for the hour, but...
STURTEVANTJust to be -- I don't mean to leave on a controversial note. When you ask eco-boomers -- when you ask folks in their 20s thought, they want to be homeowners. They eventually want to be homeowners.
BROWNWell, thank you all. We appreciate having you in the studio. Kathy Orton, Lisa Sturtevant, Bonnie Casper on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Paul Brown, this is WAMU 88.5.
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