Each month Tom Ruff of The Information Market gives his stellar commentary on the housing market. Tom is armed with Pending data of which others do not have access. His insights are below. Read the full issue of STAT for the accompanying graphs.
STAT: 2015 in Review
Each month in STAT, our charts and commentary reflect on the previous month. For example, a December STAT issue will have November’s numbers. This month our commentary will focus on year 2015 in review.
We started 2015 as quietly optimistic, bucking what Freddie Mac’s Multi-Indicator Market Index (MIMI) defined as a “weak and declining market”. It can be great to be a prognosticator of prognosticators, especially when we can sit back and relish our own accomplishments. We were right to be optimistic. The success of 2015 doesn’t rise to champagne corks popping off but there were market improvements in almost every way.
As 2014 ended and 2015 began, there were obvious improvements in our underlying market fundamentals. Put simply, our market was healthier. Price increases had returned to sustainable levels, distressed inventories continued their descent and the percentage of conventional buyers continued to improve. These improving metrics continued throughout the entirety of 2015. With the exception of January, monthly sales volumes for each and every single month were higher in 2015 than in 2014.
Beyond a doubt, 2015 was a much better year than 2014. When Freddie Mac published their quarterly report in October, our market was redefined as improving. Of the four metrics comprising the index, Phoenix outperformed national metrics in terms of affordability and mortgage currency, but lagged behind national averages in overall employment and home purchase applications. As anticipated, our weakest metric, home loan purchase applications (which were still impacted from credit scores damaged by foreclosures), showed marked improvement as 2015 progressed. In particular, the home loan purchase application metric improved 13.73% between August and October.
October 1 saw the introduction of new TRID guidelines causing a temporary disruption of our charts in terms of both sales volume and the median sales price. By mid-December our charts returned to their normal trajectory, leaving the one last noticeable remnant: +4 days added to average closing time for home purchased with a mortgage.
All things considered, 2015 will go down as an average year. Of the 15 years ARMLS has been reporting sales volume, last year ranks as the 8th highest. After the highs and lows our market has experienced over the last decade, an average year is a nice place to land. It was the type of year you can build a career around.
Any talk of an easing of credit requirements in 2015 was just that, talk. The average FICO score for FHA loans in January of 2015 was 682. This number rose to 689 in June through October and was 687 in November. The average loan-to-value (LTV) ratio for FHA closed loans remained constant through 2015 beginning the year at 95 and closing in November at 96. One of two metrics that did change on FHA closed loans was the closing rate. The closing rate of FHA loans was 57% in January, this number improved to 63.8% in November. When it came to conventional loans closed, the trend lines were very similar. The average FICO score in January was 752 with the number rising slightly in November to 754. LTV ratios for the year ranged between 80% and 81% with the November ratio at 80%. Just like FHA loans, the closing rate ratio saw improvement throughout the year moving from 69.8% to 71.9%.
The second metric that changed in 2015 was how long it took loans to close. The average time to close a conventional purchase increased from 38 days in January to 49 days in November. A portion of this increase was directly attributable to TRID, the average number of days to close a loan increased from 45 to 49 days between October and November. The improvements we saw in closing ratios in 2015 were a result of improving credit scores among applicants.
New construction was up 18.2% in Maricopa County, according to public records. Historically, economists have recognized that new home sales are a leading indicator of economic activity, which means they are the first to turn up before a rebound and the first to decline before a recession. New home construction in Maricopa County has been at historic lows for seven years. In the spring of 2015 in Maricopa County, we saw reports of new home building permits increasing 40% year-over-year. In December, we saw these numbers translate into newly constructed homes. December 2015 reported the highest number of new home sales in the last seven years. The 1,284 new construction sales were 44.9% higher than last year for the same period. While new home sales account for only 3.7% of the homes sold on the MLS (27% all new builds were sold on the MLS in 2015), tracking new builds still remains important to the average agent both as an economic indicator and a source of future product.
The rental market in 2015 remained tight, vacancy rates were low and rents were on the rise. Say no more, 2015 saw Maricopa County in the midst of an apartment boom. Maps and Facts Unlimited, citing local sources in October, reported nearly 20,000 apartment units in some stage of planning and development. As a caveat they added “Apartment permits peaked in 1984 (30 years ago!) when 33,000 units were permitted.” The significance of 1984 is that baby boomers were between the ages of 20 and 38. Just like the boomers before them, I believe the current boom in apartment construction can be linked directly to the millennials. In 2015 millennials (adults ages 18 to 34), surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce according to a Pew Research Center Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The significant number of millennials is impacting our rental market. The renters of today will become the homeowners of tomorrow and these new apartments will offer a source of buyer leads.
As we begin 2016, all of our housing market metrics are positive, nothing but green lights. Over the next three years, approximately 3,500 to 4,000 completed foreclosures per month will hit their magic seven year anniversary and millennials will mature one more year (or at least grow one year older). Gas prices today are continuing downward with a gallon of regular selling for $1.97 compared to $2.04 last year at this time. Oil prices are down to $30.48 a barrel compared to $48.55 last year.
If you followed STAT for any time, you know I’ve been very bullish on housing and that I’ve been expecting a break out year. To be precise, I’ve been anticipating 2016 to be that year. So now that we are on the cusp of 2016 and all our housing metrics have been trending in a positive direction, why do I feel cautious looking ahead to 2016? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because our market is facing a lack of inventory on the lower end as reflected in the median price appreciation more than doubling the appreciation of an average priced home. Maybe it’s because our booms translate into busts and while the metrics are positive now for apartment construction — is it possible we’re over building? While prices at the gas pump are great, is the price of oil reflective of a deflationary cycle and what will be the economic impact of job losses in the oil sector? Will homebuilders that have been focused on affluent buyers be able and willing to address the entry-level buyer?
I believe everyone is in agreement that we currently have a huge amount of pent-up demand, but pent-up demand can stay that way for a long time, and while our recovery has been consistent it has also been slow, very slow. While the sentiments of local builders are positive and have been accentuated by our positive gains in December, the national homebuilder stocks are trending negatively. The S&P Homebuilders Select Industry Index is down 12.62% yearover-year and the S&P Building and Construction Select Index is down 17.96%. The stock market has been volatile, where a 401k based on S&P 500 is down 7.5% in the first two weeks of the year (which can be problematic for first time buyers hoping to use their 401k as the source of their down payment).
It’s apparent my concerns for 2016 lie outside of housing numbers. So, what do I expect for the 2016 housing market? My final answer is I don’t know. Maybe I’m confused because it’s a presidential election year and I saw a euphoric housing year in 2004, followed by a crushing housing collapse in 2008. While I have no idea what 2016 holds for our housing market, I’d be happy to see a repeat of 2015, as I said earlier — it’s the type of year you can build a career around.
The ARMLS Pending Price Index (PPI)
The ARMLS PPI projects a median sales price for January 2016 of $212,000. We begin January of 2016 with 7,486 Pending/UCB listings compared to 6,731 last year. In January of 2015, ARMLS reported 4,784 sales, this year we are anticipating 5,300 for January 2016.