It’s Been a Surprisingly Great Year for Real Estate. What Happens Next?

Real estate has been one of the few bright spots in the American economy all year long. Interest rates are low, home prices are rising, and homes are selling quickly — often after a bidding war!

But as the year comes to a close, there are big questions: How long will this last? What impact will the election have? And what will it take to get a more balanced market?

In this week’s Walkthrough, HomeLight’s managing editor, Caroline Feeney, unpacks data from our Q3 Top Agent Insights Survey, and four top agents from across the country help us answer those questions about what happens next.

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Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host) Let’s turn back the clock. It’s late April, early May. We’re about five to six weeks into the pandemic. Most states are closed to some degree. Most of you have strict limits on how you can go about trying to conduct business. Some of you can’t do anything at all.

In a Walkthrough episode back then I said this, and I quote myself here: “I think we’re all expecting this to be a down year in the end.”

Nope, you didn’t get that one right, Matt. And no, please don’t ask because I’m not gonna remind you which episode that was. How about we just forget I ever said that and leave it be, okay? Thank you. Thank you.

In reality, real estate has been one of the few bright spots in the American economy all year long. But as the year comes to a close, there are some big questions. How long will this last? What impact will the election have? What will it take to get a more balanced market?

Let’s talk about those questions today with input from HomeLight’s managing editor and sort of a roundtable of agents across the country.

This is “The Walkthrough.”

(INTRO MUSIC)

Hey, everybody! How are you doing? I’m Matt McGee, editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center. Welcome to “The Walkthrough.” On this show, you’ll learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents, and we’re on a journey to find out how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd and become irreplaceable.

Want to get involved in the show? You can do it a couple of different ways. Leave me a voicemail or text. 415-322-3328 is the number. You can also send an email to walkthrough [at] homelight.com, or find me in our Facebook listener community. Just go to Facebook, search HomeLight Walkthrough, and it should come right up.

What a year it’s been for real estate. The pandemic created a collective appreciation — or maybe a reminder about how important home is. Low-interest rates are keeping buyers in the market. We have inventory challenges, and all of that together means home prices are rising in many areas. Sellers that are going to market are often getting multiple offers … often above asking price.

Just a couple of weeks ago, HomeLight released our Q3 Top Agent Insights survey with some astonishing numbers. Ninety-two percent of agents say they are working in a seller’s market. Only 1% say they’re working in a buyers market right now. Eight-one percent of agents say home prices are rising. That seasonal slowdown we normally see by now? Not happening.

Caroline Feeney is my guest today. She’s a co-worker of mine. Caroline is HomeLight’s managing editor, and she oversees our Seller Resource Center. In other words, she creates the great content that brings sellers to HomeLight and starts them on the path toward finding great agents like you. Before HomeLight, she spent more than two years doing editorial work at Inman.

Caroline also spearheads our quarterly Top Agent Insights survey, so she’s been on top of industry trends for a while now. She was on the show, you may remember, a few months ago after our quarter two survey came out, and I wanted to bring her back now to discuss our latest quarter three findings.

We also have contributions today from four agents across the country who are all part of our listener community on Facebook: Keenan Gottschall in Detroit, Jennie Hendricks in Utah, Marti Reeder in Seattle, and Pat Tasker in Milwaukee. Together, we are going to unpack some of the data and find out what’s happening on the ground. We’re gonna talk about things like when we might see more inventory come to market, what impact the election will have on real estate, how long the market can sustain its current pace.

I’m sure you have thoughts on all those questions. Let’s hear what our survey data shows and what our panel of agents say too. When Caroline and I spoke last week we started by talking about how market temperatures that were already high the first time she was on “The Walkthrough” are even higher today.

(BEGIN CONVERSATION)

Caroline: One thing that we talked about, you know, last quarter was this factor of pent-up demand and how the spring lockdown was pushing those … would have been March and April homebuyers into the summer months. And, as such, would this boom be sort of a fleeting moment? Will we see it, you know, it normalize after these folks found their homes? With conditions leaning even more toward a seller’s market in Q3 versus Q2, we kind of know now that this isn’t just a matter of absorbing like a static overflow but that new buyers are continuing to come into the mix and that this pent-up demand that we were talking about before it, it hasn’t been resolved. It can’t be resolved because, as we found in the survey, 76% of agents say that they’ve never seen inventory so low.

Matt: We talked a couple of months ago when you were on the podcast the first time about what a seller’s market it was after the quarter two top agents insight survey and now the quarter three survey comes out, and somehow the market is even more in seller’s favor today.

Caroline: And what’s interesting is that in your typical 12-month real estate cycle, now is about the time when you’d start to see things slow down a bit, right, simply due to seasonal factors. People tend to move during the summer. Parents want to get settled before the school year starts. The holidays start to feel like they’re right around the corner. And that usually translates to fewer home sales and smaller price gains, things of that nature. But it’s 2020, so we’ve learned to expect the unexpected, right?

As you mentioned, you know, the seller’s market we discussed last quarter has only intensified according to our survey results in sort of defiance of the normal market cadence and in defiance of the current recession caused by the pandemic. Specifically, what we saw on the survey for Q3 is that 92% of agents say that they’re in a seller’s market. To put those numbers in perspective, that’s up from 55%, the same time last year Q3 2019. And that’s up from 79% as recently as Q2. Only 1% of agents say that it’s a buyers market.

So what’s causing this? You know, we know that mortgage rates are playing a big role with 96% of agents saying that low-interest rates are bringing buyers into the market. And then these conditions are also pushing prices upwards. Eighty-one percent of agents say that prices are on the rise. When you look back at the beginning of Q2, only 6% of agents said that values were going up. So you can see how fast conditions have changed from that short span of quarter to quarter.

Matt: The number that stands out to me from everything that you just talked about is 1% of agents that we surveyed say it’s a buyers market. Caroline 1%, right? Like it’s … so if we line up a hundred agents in the U.S. and, you know, raise your hand if it’s a buyers market, there’s gonna be one lonely agent raising their hand saying, “My town is a buyers market.” That’s got to be historic. It’s got to be unprecedented. I can’t imagine that it’s ever been like that sort of temperature across the country.

Caroline: Yeah, I don’t know. I’m gonna go to wherever that agent is and buy a house though.

Matt: Yeah, that’s right. Exactly. So I think, you know, one of the results that, you know, I know my from my conversations with agents that is happening from the current situation is that there’s just a lot of bidding wars going on. And, you know, we just finished up, you know, two-part series here on “The Walkthrough” with Sarita Dua, an agent in Portland, talking about winning bidding wars. What did the survey say about that, you know, across the nation?

Caroline: One comment from an agent in Minneapolis was geared toward buyers and they said to think about the housing market right now like the Hunger Games. It’s really that competitive. You know, on the whole though, agents were clear that where you have a home that’s well-priced and is at least, you know, moderately updated that multiple offers are still pretty much a guarantee. In our research, 88% of agents said that bidding wars were on the rise or at their peak, 77% said their listings are getting multiple offers, and over the past few months, 50% of agents have had a listing get at least 5 offers while 23% have had a listing receive at least 11 offers.

So a lot of numbers there but the point being … tons of offers coming in on homes. It’s putting buyers in a position where they’re having to go above and beyond to win the home. They’re doing things like bidding over asking. They’re even going so far as to cover some of the sellers closing costs in order to stand out and also doing things like okay, basically, we’re still going to get an inspection but it’s gonna be, you know, just to check for the big stuff, and we’re not gonna nickel and dime you. These are the kind of dynamics that are happening between buyers and sellers right now.

Matt: Wouldn’t all of this be solved… I mean, if we call this a problem, wouldn’t all this be solved if we had more inventory? I mean, that seems to me like the real key.

Caroline: Yeah, absolutely and inventory just remains severely depleted for, you know, a number of reasons. We’ve heard that the cost of lumber and the cost of labor for new construction builders is skyrocketing. We know that some sellers, quite a few sellers, I think, are putting off selling because of the virus still. These are factors that you can’t just like snap your fingers and fix. And so until some inventory is unlocked, then we’re probably gonna continue to see these competitive conditions.

Matt: We have some quotes from agents. You and I did a Zoom meeting recently that we invited listeners from our Facebook listener community to join in. And then I also put some posts in there, Caroline, inviting agents to phone into our Walkthrough voicemail line with their comments on what they’re seeing in the market and what’s going on with inventory, what’s going on with bidding wars, and that sort of stuff. For our listeners, it’s going to be in this order. First, you’re going to hear Jennie Hendricks, who is an agent in Cedar City, Utah. She covers Cedar City. It’s sort of Southern Utah, Southwest Utah. We have Keenan Gottschall, who is in the Detroit area. And then we’re also gonna hear from … after Keenan it’s going to be Marti Reeder, who is in Kent, Washington. That’s over on the west side of the state from me, sort of in the Seattle-Tacoma area. So let’s listen to a couple of minutes of what they are saying about inventory and what’s going on in their markets.

Jennie: I think that if inventory will increase, that could result in even more market activity. I think a lot of areas of our country right now are seeing such a shortage of housing inventory that it is starting to affect the number of sales because there’s just not enough homes. In Utah, we are tens of thousands of housing units short of demand right now. And the numbers that I’ve heard nationally are in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of housing units short relative to demand.

Keenan: It was kind of like a first for me earlier this year once we were allowed to restart. I had clients out, we were touring the home, and the seller stayed there and literally followed us around every room we went in and was spraying disinfectant all throughout the house in the air and everything. And there was like, clearly, that seller was hesitant about having anyone in their house. But right now for us, it is mainly the hesitancy. I’ve started to hear a little bit about like the politics side of thing and what’s gonna happen with the election and kind of the doomsday from both sides relating to that.

Marti: I think it’s going to take after the new year, next spring. Since we didn’t have a typical spring sales season this year and everyone has been adjusting to the crazy 2020 year and COVID, I think that when we just get past in the year, we need to have everyone have enough time to settle into the current circumstances we’re going through and have the biggest scare behind them. And this next spring will actually be one year since it all started early next spring, so I think we’re gonna start seeing more listings coming on.

Matt: You just heard three agents talking about what’s going on in terms of inventory in their markets. You heard Marti Reeder saying that she doesn’t expect more inventory to come on until next spring. Along those lines, let me suggest you go back and listen to Episode 15 of “The Walkthrough.” Coach Tom Ferry was my guest, and he shared a handful of really, really great tactics that you can use to find people who are ready to sell. That episode was all about trying to get more inventory in your local market.

Right before Marti, you heard Keenan Gottschall saying that the upcoming election may also have a little bit of a hand in this inventory crunch, that some sellers might be hesitant to go on the market until they see what happens at the polls. It turns out we asked about that in our quarter three survey, so let’s get back to my conversation with Caroline Feeney.

Caroline: So the election is coming up. It’s just two weeks away. It’s on everyone’s minds. We wanted to ask agents how they thought, you know, the election season itself would impact the real estate market, as well as, you, know, who they believed, which candidate they believed would be best specifically for the housing market ignoring their own, you know, personal preferences. So what we found was that 52% of agents said that a second term from Trump would be best for real estate, 8% said Biden, 14% were undecided and 23%, which is pretty significant here, said that it doesn’t really matter — the market’s gonna stay strong.

With regard to how the election season itself is going to impact real estate, what we found in the survey was that about a third of agents said that election season would have no impact on the market. People were going to operate business as usual. It wasn’t going to impact their purchasing or selling decision. But not all agents said that. Some did believe that there would be an impact even in this kind of wait and see period. Eighteen percent said that buyers and sellers could hold off in making a decision. You know, like, let’s not make any big life changes here before we know what’s gonna happen. And at the same time, 15% said that buyers and sellers would be especially active before the election looking to get settled in, you know, before there any big changes resulting in a potential lull afterward.

So, honestly, it’s a bit of a mixed bag there and that tells me that the election season impact could really vary at the local level. But based on our other data and based on our conversations with agents recently, it seems like more people and more of their clients are preoccupied with their personal moving motivations and whatever is going on in their life, more so than politics. You know, if a move is on their mind that’s really dominating, you know, their focus right now.

(Woman: Hi, everyone. If you’re enjoying “The Walkthrough” we’d appreciate it if you tell the real estate agents in your network about us. Even more, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Your feedback helps us get better, and in some cases can also help new listeners find and hear us. And when we get around to having you on the show, the more listeners the better, right?)

Matt: I’m gonna drop Tom Ferry’s name one more time if I can, Caroline, because, again, when he was back on in May, I remember he was… And I don’t mean to throw him under the bus in any way, shape, or form. So, you know, please don’t take it this way if anyone says, “Hey, Tom, you need to listen.” But he was sure that the election would have a big impact on the real estate market. But I feel like he was basing that on the idea that by now, market fundamentals would be more, you know, normal than they are, which sort of gets back to what we talked about in the first section — like this idea that there would be the rush of buying and selling in the summer and then things would have gotten back to normal by now. But that’s not the case, right? Well, I mean, we know that it’s still just this really intense market. And if you need to buy, you need to buy and, you know, election be damned. You’re just going full throttle straight ahead. I mean, if you have to move you have to move.

Caroline: Yeah, I think that’s what the data in our survey showed. And certainly the conversations we had with agents for this podcast, they were noting that yeah, there could be some hesitancy or there could be some urgency depending on their personal point of view. But ultimately, the decision is gonna come down to like, what do I need in my life right now?

Matt: So and let’s get into a few of those quotes and comments from the agents. First up is going to be Pat Tasker from Milwaukee. And Pat has been in the industry for a little while. And so I asked her to sort of speak also to what has happened historically in past elections. Like, what has been the impact on past elections on the market? So we’re gonna hear from Pat Tasker first, and then again, Keenan Gottschall, second, and then Jennie Hendricks comes in third talking about, again, what impact they expect the election to have on real estate. So let’s listen to those comments.

Pat: I think in the next four weeks people are just gonna be kind of polarized, and or — no, paralyzed. Let’s say that they’re paralyzed, and they just keep either watching all this circus that’s going on and they’re not really, you know, concentrating on things to be. When the election happens, everyone’s gonna move on because, you know, in the little picture in my backyard, is the election really gonna make a huge difference in my life? After the election, there’ll be a couple of weeks until we know exactly who won of arguing and still controversy but after that, I think it’ll just go back to normal.

Keenan: My take on things is everyone gets too wrapped up into what everyone, what they’re hearing on the news or the commentary stations that they’re watching and so those always paint a worse picture than things are. I mean, at the end of the day, people are still going to need them, whether they need to downsize or they need to right-size if their family is growing, if they change jobs and need to leave the area. And the expectations I think right now that are driving a lot of the fear are stock market and economic-related. And so I think that always needs to be tempered a little bit. I don’t think depending on who wins we’re either gonna have a good stock market or be in shambles. Who knows? Nobody has that crystal ball, but I don’t think it really moves the dial too much. I think it’s just all the fear and hyperbole leading up to it that makes people worry about it.

Jennie: I think it’s an interesting question that actually has less to do with the election and more to do with what is happening generally in the country. So if mortgage interest rates remain low, the stock market remains strong, tax policy remains helpful for people who are trying to buy and sell, the national economy continues to recover, and consumer confidence remains high, I think that’s really the key to the whole thing is consumer confidence. So if interest rates stay low, the economy continues its recovery, unemployment continues to drop, the real estate market will remain strong, regardless of who is in office.

Matt: All right. So there’s Jennie Hendricks wrapping things up from the agent perspective talking about saying basically it doesn’t matter who wins. The market is likely to respond to the economy. Caroline, I wonder, you know, and maybe I’m confessing a little guilt here like I haven’t paid a ton of attention to what the individual candidates are saying about real estate. But what was said, what do agents feel from the survey are the big, you know, like policy issues that regardless of who the president is in 2021 and beyond, what do they hope gets addressed?

Caroline: Yeah, we did ask agents which federal legislative issues they believed most deserved the political spotlight in 2021 affecting the real estate industry, right? We gave them a pretty long list of options to choose from. And the top two were, number one, access to affordable housing at 27 or, actually, 28%. And the second was homeownership tax breaks and incentives at 25%, and those were really the leading two above all the other potential legislative issues that they could have selected.

Matt: So when I see that number, especially the one about, you know, the tax breaks and the incentives to get people to buy homes, I mean, Caroline, my first reaction is there’s no homes for them to buy.

Caroline: Right. And my thought to was, you know, it doesn’t seem like a lack of tax breaks for homeowners is causing anyone to not buy a home right now. It doesn’t seem like that’s top-of-mind for buyers, but I don’t know.

Matt: Yeah, I know. I mean, in our area. You know, I’ve read a bunch of articles over the last 6, 8, 10 months that, you know, the builders here are just struggling with, as you mentioned earlier, I think struggling with the prices of supplies and materials but then also struggling to find workers that they need to build all the homes that are needed to meet demand. And did that come up at all and as far as policies are concerned, like, you know, helping the construction industry?

Caroline: Yeah, we did list residential construction industry, job creation, protections, and support as one of the legislative issues that realtors in our survey could have voted for as being, you know, most important, but only 4% of our respondents selected that one. So it’s not top-of-mind for whatever reason.

Matt: I’m not an agent but if I were to answer that survey that’s what…

Caroline: We need more houses.

Matt: We do. We need more houses, everybody. Let’s have some policies that get some more houses built. Caroline, I think as we sort of get ready to wrap things up here, like, the big question for me as we head into these last couple months of 2020, 2021 is just a few months away. And sort of to bring the whole conversation full circle, the big question for me is, like, how long is this gonna last, right? We’ve already discussed how we thought the surge in real estate activity was gonna, like, things were gonna get back to normal by the summer. That hasn’t happened. So how can long can we go with inventory being low, home prices on the rise? What did we hear in the survey about all that?

Caroline: Yeah, so looking forward, you know, one telling statistic was agent optimism, so from Q2 to Q3, agent optimism held steady at 82%. We’ll find out soon where that’s gonna land in Q4. But it doesn’t really show signs of wavering, considering that 81% of agents expect home prices to stay level or to go up. You know, if you’re expecting prices to rise that’s usually an indicator that things are going well for the housing market.

I think analysts are looking to watch how things are gonna pan out with forbearance plans coming to a close. I believe with the Cares Act, the first round of forbearance plans wrapped up in like late September, early October but can be extended. There’s a lot to be seen yet with the stimulus package, things of that nature. But overall, like, housing has just seemed to really circle outside the danger zone of, you know, other economic troubles. And so agents are I think, like, reasonably optimistic that things are gonna continue on a solid path.

Matt: And we asked some of our agents that we heard from the Facebook listening community we asked, you know, how long do you think the market is going to continue at its current pace? Is there anything that’s gonna slow down? And really, when will it get back to, you know, “normal?” So let’s listen. First, we’re gonna hear from Jennie Hendricks, then Pat Tasker, and then Keenan Gottshall wraps things up. So let’s listen to their comments.

Jennie: I think that is an increasingly local question. Some areas of this country will continue to see this current level of activity remain, and some will slow down. We are seeing a migration out of some larger metropolitan areas into suburbs and into more rural areas. I think that will continue, and it’s going to cause a potential slowdown in some areas of the country.

Pat: I think that the market will continue. Everything I’m seeing coming out of all the experts in real estate economy is 18 to 24 months. You know, even a pandemic hasn’t changed. So what could change our market? I don’t know. Rates are so low. Buyers are so plentiful. They’re fighting over houses.

Keenan: I think we’re gonna keep a fair pace throughout the rest of the year around here because those people who have been making offers on houses and losing out, for whatever reason, their motivation is still there. They’re going to keep looking for that opportunity. And so I think you’re still gonna have, I mean, kind of to the podcast episode where Sarita said she had seven offers for in one weekend, I had a similar thing about a month and a half ago or two months ago, where I had three or four offers. And we had four offers, and we got three of them. But across that, there were over 30 offers that we’re competing against for three houses. And so that means that for those three houses, there were 30 people that are still looking for a house. So I think those people are gonna be what drives us the rest of the year. I think next year, we’ll probably start to look a bit more normal in the market in terms of following the more seasonal patterns but I think at least this year those folks who have been losing out are gonna keep trying.

Matt: So it sounds like, Caroline, just from hearing those three quotes, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty, wouldn’t you say, it just in terms of how long this is gonna last? I know, I’ve seen, you know, in some Facebook communities, you know, already some agents are seeing in my area it seems like things are slowing down but that’s certainly not happening across the country.

Caroline: Yeah, I mean, there’s always unknowns, as we learned this year of things that you don’t see coming. And looking forward, it’s really anyone’s guess as to how long it’s going to be this sort of extreme seller’s market. Maybe we’ll see a little bit of a cool down in the winter months, maybe not. But I think, either way, then the spring is gonna come around again, and we could be seeing the same kind of demand and supply situation that we’re seeing now.

Matt: Well, you’ve got a global pandemic. You’ve got a huge U.S. presidential election. You’ve got the market behaving already right now as no one expected it to be behaving in October November of 2020. Yeah, I think it is anyone’s guess. One last thing before we wrap up. So we’ve been talking about the Q3 Top Agent Insights survey. What’s going on for a quarter four? How soon can we look forward to that?

Caroline: Yeah, Matt. So we’ll be sending out the poll for the Q4 top agent insights survey within the next couple of weeks. We’ll be covering an array of topics that we think will be of interest to the real estate industry and to homeowners and buyers. So what we’d love to hear from agents is if you have any topics you think we should cover, we’d love to hear from you. You know, I put these topics together based on what I’m seeing trending, based on conversations online but any kind of first-hand feedback is always super useful. So if you get an opportunity share your thoughts in, you know, The Walkthrough Facebook group. Leave Matt a voicemail. You can contact me directly at caroline [at] homelight.com. We always love to hear your feedback.

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host) There’s your call to action if you have an idea for our agent insights survey. In fact, when we spoke with Keenan Gottschall on Zoom, Keenan is one of the agents that you just heard during the episode, he had a really, really good idea for the survey that I hope we can work into the next one. So if you have an idea, we do want to hear from you. And that contact info that Caroline just gave out, I will repeat that in just a moment in case you need it.

For our takeaways segment today, I think it boils down to a few things. Number one, this market is still going strong and pretty much ignoring all of the normal seasonal slowdowns. It’s October outside but it feels more like maybe May or June in the market.

Number two, a lot of agents don’t think the election is having or will have much of an impact on buyer and seller behavior.

Number three, a lot of agents also expect that this hot market temperature is gonna continue through the year and into 2021 and maybe things will normalize in the spring if sellers come back and help solve this inventory crunch that we have right now. I think that might be a big if. We’ll see.

Takeaway number four, Keenan, Jennie, Marti, and Pat were all part of this episode thanks to their involvement in our listener community on Facebook, so the takeaway for you is to join us. Go to Facebook and search HomeLight Walkthrough, and the group should come right up. I’d love to see you in there. It’s a great way to get involved in the podcast, give me feedback, contribute, and maybe get on future episodes.

All right. Questions for me or ideas for future HomeLight surveys, you can text or leave a voicemail anytime. The number is 415-322-3328. You can also send me an email. It’s walkthrough [at] homelight.com, or use that Facebook listener community that I just mentioned.

That’s all for this week. Thanks so much to Caroline Feeney for joining me. Thanks, also, to Keenan Gottschall, Jennie Hendricks, Marti Reeder, and Pat Tasker for joining us. And thank you for listening.

My name is Matt McGee. And you’ve been listening to “The Walkthrough.” At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. We’re on a journey to find out how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable. Go out and sell some homes. Please do it safely. And I’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye, everyone.

Header Image Source: (Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock)

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