Sunday, February 12, 2017

SWIFT GAINS IN FOURTH QUARTER PUSH HOME PRICES TO PEAK LEVELS IN MAJORITY OF METRO AREAS

The best quarterly sales pace of the year pushed available housing supply to record lows and caused price appreciation to slightly speed up in the final three months of 2016, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors®. The report also revealed that sales prices in over half of measured markets since 2005 are now at or above their previous peak level.

The median existing single-family home price increased in 89 percent of measured markets, with 158 out of 178 metropolitan statistical areas 1 (MSAs) showing sales price gains in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared with the fourth quarter of 2015. Twenty areas (11 percent) recorded lower median prices from a year earlier.

There were more rising markets in the fourth quarter compared to the third quarter of 2016, when price gains were recorded in 87 percent of metro areas. Thirty-one metro areas in the fourth quarter (17 percent) experienced double-digit increases — an increase from 14 percent in the third quarter.

For all of 2016, an average of 87 percent of measured markets saw increasing home prices, up from the averages in 2015 (86 percent) and 2014 (75 percent). Of the 150 markets NAR has tracked since 2005, 78 (52 percent) now have a median sales price at or above their previous all-time high.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says home-price gains showed little evidence of letting up through all of 2016. "Buyer interest stayed elevated in most areas thanks to mortgage rates under 4 percent for most of the year and the creation of 1.7 million new jobs edging the job market closer to full employment," he said. "At the same time, the inability for supply to catch up with this demand drove prices higher and continued to put a tight affordability squeeze on those trying to reach the market."

Added Yun, "Depressed new and existing inventory conditions led to several of the largest metro areas seeing near or above double-digit appreciation, which has pushed home values to record highs in a slight majority of markets. The exception for the most part is in the Northeast, where price growth is flatter because of healthier supply conditions."

The national median existing single-family home price in the fourth quarter of 2016 was $235,000, which is up 5.7 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015 ($222,300). The median price during the third quarter of 2016 increased 5.4 percent from the third quarter of 2015.

At the end of the fourth quarter, there were 1.65 million existing homes available for sale 2, which was 6.3 percent below the 1.76 million homes for sale at the end of the fourth quarter in 2015 and the lowest level since NAR began tracking the supply of all housing types in 1999. The average supply during the fourth quarter was 3.9 months — down from 4.6 months a year ago.

NAR President William E. Brown, a Realtor® from Alamo, California, says prospective buyers will likely see competition in their market increase even more this spring. "The prospect of higher mortgage rates and more home shoppers in coming months should be enough of an incentive for those serious about buying to start their search now," he said. "There are fewer listings on the market, but also a little less competition than what's expected this spring. Buyers may find just the home they're looking for at a good price and without the possibility of having to outbid others."

Total existing-home sales 3, including single family and condos, rose 3.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million in the fourth quarter from 5.39 million in the third quarter of 2016, and are 7.1 percent higher than the 5.20 million pace during the fourth quarter of 2015.

Despite a meaningful increase in the national family median income ($70,831) 4, rising prices and the boost in mortgage rates at the end of the year slightly weakened affordability compared to a year ago. To purchase a single-family home at the national median price, a buyer making a 5 percent down payment would need an income of $51,017, a 10 percent down payment would require an income of $48,332, and $42,962 would be needed for a 20 percent down payment.

"Even a pick-up in wage growth may be insufficient to compensate the impact of higher mortgage rates and home prices. Increased homebuilding will be crucial to alleviate supply shortages and stave off the affordability hit," added Yun.

Metro area condominium and cooperative prices — covering changes in 61 metro areas — showed the national median existing-condo price was $222,000 in the fourth quarter, up 6.1 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015 ($209,300). Nearly all metro areas (93 percent) showed gains in their median condo price from a year ago.

The five most expensive housing markets in the fourth quarter were the San Jose, California, metro area, where the median existing single-family price was $1,005,000; San Francisco, $837,500; Anaheim-Santa Ana, California, $745,200; urban Honolulu, $740,200; and San Diego, $593,000.

The five lowest-cost metro areas in the fourth quarter were Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio, $87,600; Decatur, Illinois, $92,400; Cumberland, Maryland, $94,000; Rockford, Illinois, $109,500, and Binghamton, New York, $109,700.


Regional Breakdown
Total existing-home sales in the Northeast jumped 10.5 percent in the fourth quarter and are now 6.4 percent above the fourth quarter of 2015. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast was $254,100 in the fourth quarter, slightly lower (0.2 percent) from a year ago.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales climbed 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter and are 8.8 percent above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest increased 5.7 percent to $181,100 in the fourth quarter from the same quarter a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the South increased 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter and are 5.4 percent higher than the fourth quarter of 2015. The median existing single-family home price in the South was $210,500 in the fourth quarter, 7.9 percent above a year earlier.

In the West, existing-home sales rose 1.6 percent in the fourth quarter and are 9.1 percent above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West increased 7.8 percent to $348,800 in the fourth quarter from the fourth quarter of 2015.

The National Association of Realtors®, "The Voice for Real Estate," is America's largest trade association, representing over 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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SMALL HOMES CAN OFFER BIG RETURNS

When shopping for a new home, bigger is better, right? When it comes to roomier closets and more spacious kitchens, probably — but not so much when considering the return on your investment. According to a NerdWallet analysis of three years of data from Realtor.com for 20 of the largest U.S. metro areas, smaller homes generally appreciate at a faster rate than larger abodes.

NerdWallet looked at Realtor.com’s data for home listing prices in each of the 20 largest metro areas by population (other than New York City and Philadelphia, which had insufficient data) from 2013 to 2016. Homes for each metro area were lumped into four equal groups, or quartiles, based on square footage, each relative to the median home size in that area. From there, we calculated the compound annual growth rate of listing prices.

Key takeaways• Smaller homes see prices rise faster: While individual market dynamics and trends vary, in 17 of the 20 metro areas analyzed, listing prices of the smallest 25% of homes grew fastest when calculated as a percentage. The median annual growth rate for the smallest quartile of homes was 8.9% from 2013 to 2016. The second-smallest group of homes had the second-fastest growth rate, with median annual growth of 7.4%.


• Prices in Florida appreciated fastest: The two metro areas with the fastest rate of price appreciation among the smallest homes are both in Florida. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach saw the most drastic growth, as the smallest quartile of homes appreciated by 19.5% each year from 2013 to 2016. The metro area with the second-fastest appreciation of small homes was Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida, where the smallest quartile of homes appreciated by 16.6% annually.

• Larger homes appreciate fastest by dollar amount: While the smallest homes appreciate fastest when viewed as a percentage, larger homes appreciate faster when looking at absolute dollar amount. This is simply because of the larger price tag of the home. For example, the smallest homes in the metro areas we analyzed appreciated just over $57,535 on average between 2013 and 2016. Over the same period, the largest homes saw their prices rise $99,790 on average.

Why small homes might net better returns faster
These findings are not surprising, says Richard K. Green, a professor and chair of the Lusk Center for Real Estate at the University of Southern California. “We’ve had this now for about nine to 10 years, this return to center cities” being more desirable than suburbs, Green says. And homes in the center of big cities tend to be smaller than those in suburbs, Green noted, regardless of whether they’re historic houses or new construction.

In addition to increased demand for homes in city centers, another possible reason for the trend, Green says, is that new construction has been down nationwide dating back to 2007; that means inventory in general is low. Furthermore, many people who bought starter homes between 2004 and 2006 haven’t recovered all the value they lost during the housing crisis.

“They haven’t built up the equity that normally people would use for a down payment in order to move up, so you have a lot of people who are stuck in their starter homes,” Green says. While home prices are going up, he says, they’re not high enough to get people to leave their starter homes except in a few markets, such as Denver and Dallas. As a result, there often aren’t enough starter homes on the market to meet demand. This lack of inventory, paired with increased demand, means more price appreciation for smaller homes.

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THE DEFINITIVE HOUSING MARKET AND INTEREST RATE FORECAST FOR 2017

Active and higher. That’s it, that’s my forecast; housing markets will be active and interest rates will trend higher. The question of course is how active and how much higher, so here you go:

Since what I do is all about finance and interest rates, people tend to assume that I know what is behind the doors with the signs that say “Interest Rates” and “Market Trends.” Truth is I am no better at handicapping interest rate and housing market trends than anybody else. I watch every day, I absorb what is happening, I make assumptions and I roll the dice just like everybody else.

Real estate agents dominate my cell phone and Outlook contacts. I am a mortgage guy and real estate people are important if I want to do things like pay bills, eat and maybe save for when I am too old to do this anymore. The technical term for mortgage “guy” is “originator.”

And real estate people ask me all the time what I think about economic things that have a lot to do with our respective livelihoods. I get asked about what direction interest rates are headed and where they will be in the future. I get asked what I think housing market activity will be and how strong the economy will look in 2017. I have been a mortgage guy for a long time and I think I have the exact right answer when I get asked the housing market activity question. What direction rates are headed and what the economy will be doing are questions that are above my pay grade, but I will do some common sense opining here in a moment.

As far as the housing market in 2017, I can say with absolute certainty that people will be selling houses, people will be buying houses and people will be getting mortgages. I am 100% certain of this and you can use this information with ironclad confidence as you tread into whatever housing market dynamics you are contemplating. Mortgage interest rates do not drive or impede housing market activity. People buy and sell houses in all interest rate environments and for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with mortgage payments. Families grow, families shrink, jobs and fortunes change, people get married, people get divorced, this list could go on all night. Interest rates are just part of the equation; they are not the headline determinant.

And interest rates have already telegraphed the near term future trend with a dramatic move north following the U.S. Presidential election. Almost immediately after the votes were tallied, mortgage rates which had been hovering around 3.50% zoomed up to 4.25% and have settled in with this as the current norm. And while the Fed left short term rates unchanged at last week’s meeting, notice has been given that engineered rates will be moving north in 2017.

According to Dr. Yoav Benari of financialgauge.com; “The current environment of slow but steady economic growth and inflation suggest an end to the secular decline in bond yields once 10-year Treasuries top 2.5% - with a likely levelling off in a range between 3% and 4%”. At this writing, 10-year Treasury yields are trading slightly above 2.4% and mortgage interest rates are hovering around 4.25%. Should 10-year Treasury yields move to somewhere between 3% to 4%, we will see mortgage interest rates in the 4.75% to 5.75% range.

The U.S. economy has yet to break out and definitively march towards real growth but signs are bullish and bets are being made that robust will be a regular part of the economic lexicon before long.

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

TRULIA REPORTS MILLENNIALS THINK HOUSING NO LONGER PART OF AMERICAN DREAM

The homeownership rate remained the same in the fourth quarter as the previous year and the previous quarter, according to today’s report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The national homeownership rate slipped only slightly to 63.7% in the fourth quarter. This is down from the previous year’s 63.8% and up slightly from the third quarter’s 63.5%.

One economist explains that the lack of inventory is partially to blame for the low homeownership rate.

“After reaching a 50-year low in mid-2016, the homeownership rate edged up for the second consecutive time in the final quarter,” Capital Economics Property Economist Matthew Pointon said. “A lack of inventory is preventing a faster rebound in homeownership.”

The national vacancy rates for rental housing in the fourth quarter of 2016 dipped slightly from 7% in the fourth quarter of 2015 to 6.9%. This is a slight increase from the third quarter’s 6.8%. Similarly, the homeowner vacancy rate of 1.8% is also slightly down from the fourth quarter of 2015’s 1.9% and the same as the third quarter’s rate.

But this could get even worse in the year ahead. Trulia’s end of the year survey shows the share of Americans who say homeownership is part of the American dream dropped for the first time in five years from 75% last year to 72%.

This drop was even more extreme among Millennials. While in 2015 80% of Millennials said buying a home was part of the American dream, the survey at the end of 2016 showed that number dropped to 72%, now even with everyone else.

“Given millennials make up the largest pool of potential homebuyers in the U.S., this should be at least somewhat disconcerting,” Trulia Chief Economist Ralph McLaughlin said. “If the for-sale housing market is to continue building steam in the years ahead, this demographic will need to transition into homeownership in order to support the resale of homes by their older counterparts.”

“Though home buying among millennials is likely to be volatile in the short-run, the long-run potential for this generation to support housing consumption in the U.S. is large,” McLaughlin said.

However, there is still hope for the future of homeownership. McLaughlin points out that the report shows growth in household formation. Household formation increased 0.5%to 805,000 new households, however the increase was due to the formation of renter households.

“This effectively is why the homeownership rate has dropped: a greater share of new households since 2006 have been renters rather than home owners,” McLaughlin said. “But the margin is slimming: about 46% of new households over the past year were owner occupied.”

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ONE OF TRUMP'S FIRST ORDERS MEANS HOME LOAN FEES WON'T GO DOWN

Friday was the day that many homebuyers across the country were to start saving on average $500 a year on their loans. A fee reduction was set to go into effect at the Federal Housing Administration, lowering the cost of nearly 1 million FHA loans per year.

But that's not going to happen, at least for now, because in his very first hours in office, President Trump issued an order suspending that fee cut.

The Obama administration had authorized the fee reduction for FHA loans earlier this month. Trump's order says it is now "suspended indefinitely." The Trump administration could ultimately allow it to go through, but the order states "more analysis and research are deemed necessary."

Geoff McIntosh, president of the California Association of Realtors, says his group was disappointed by the Trump administration's move. "It would have made a difference to California homebuyers of about $860 a year," McIntosh tells NPR.

The higher the price of the home, the greater the savings since the fee in question was to be cut by 0.25 percentage points of the total amount borrowed. So on a $400,000 home loan, the savings would be $1,000.

So why would the new administration want to keep that money out of Americans' pockets? The order doesn't say precisely. But some conservatives had warned that cutting the fees for FHA borrowers might leave taxpayers on the hook in another housing crash.

"FHA insures over $1 trillion in outstanding mortgage loans," says Ed Pinto, co-director of the American Enterprise Institute's Center on Housing Risk. He sees that as a potentially ominous liability given the FHA's cash reserves.

Other analysts disagree and say the FHA is once again on strong financial footing and they say the fee cut was justified.

At question is a home loan program that's become very popular with fist-time homebuyers and working-class and lower-income borrowers. With the rising costs of health care and education among other factors, many Americans find it hard to scrape together a very sizable down payment to buy their first home. To lower that barrier to ownership, for decades now the FHA has been allowing Americans to buy homes with as little as a 3.5 percent down payment. Private lenders make the loans and the FHA guarantees them.

Homebuyers agree to pay fees into an FHA reserve fund to cover losses on loans that go bad. Those fees went up during the foreclosure crisis to cover increased defaults. And the Obama administration had been lowering them in recent years as things got back to normal in the housing market.

Today, the money in the FHA's reserve fund is back above its legally required level. So the Obama administration concluded it was time to reduce the fees for borrowers again to pass more savings on to homebuyers. Had the fee reduction gone through, the fee would still be slightly above the level it was before the housing crash.

Still, Pinto remains uneasy. "There's been a lot of concern that the level of that fund is insufficient to really cover FHA in the event there were another serious event in terms of foreclosures," he says.

The FHA did require a bailout after the housing crash. But it was less than 1 percent of the money the government had to use to rescue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which also guarantee home loans.

That's one of the big reasons that other experts say concerns like Pinto's are overblown. Chris Mayer, a housing economist at Columbia University, says that for a long time some conservatives have been warning that the FHA is a $1 trillion time bomb that people should be worried about.

But Mayer says, "we just went through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the FHA didn't take down taxpayers or the federal government in any way, shape or form." So, he says, "at some point you can't keep saying this thing's gonna blow up, this things gonna blow up!"

The move to block the fee cut came hours after Trump's inaugural address, in which he Trump said he wanted to help working-class Americans. "I did find it somewhat ironic," says Geoff McIntosh, with the Realtors group.

But McIntosh says it's reasonable for the new administration to take some time to look at the numbers. "I can also appreciate that they wanted to make sure that it was a sound fiscal decision before they executed it."

McIntosh says he's cautiously optimistic that after the Trump administration reviews all the facts and figures, that it will allow the fee cut to go through, to help make homeownership a bit more affordable for Americans with FHA loans.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

COST VS. VALUE: WHICH HOME IMPROVEMENTS OFFER THE HIGHEST ROI IN 2017?

With the many different projects reported annually in Remodeling Magazine’s Cost  vs. Value Report, not much has changed from last year...and that's not a bad thing. The 29 projects found on this year’s report paid back an average of 64.3 cents on the dollar in resale value. Looking at the 24 most tracked projects (projects consistently tracked for the last six years), their payback for 2017 was also 64.3 cents—only three-quarters of a penny higher than 2016 projections.
Why the little change? Simply put: the differences in underlying numbers was minimal year-to-year. The average cost for those 24 projects rose a meager 3 percent, while the value that real estate professionals put on said projects only rose 4.2 percent. Minor gains, yes, but we’ll take what we can get.
Recent and long-time trends continued, reports Remodeling. Curb appeal projects like changes to doors, windows and siding garnered a higher ROI than work done inside the home. Replacement projects, like doors or windows, scored higher among real estate pros than did remodels.
On a national scale, the top five projects with the greatest ROI in the report’s “midrange” cost category are:
  1. Attic Insulation (Fiberglass) (107.7% ROI)
    Average Cost: $1,343
    Average Resale Value: $1,446
  2. Entry Door Replacement (steel) (90.7% ROI)
    Average Cost: $1,413
    Average Resale Value: $1,282
  3. Manufactured Stone Veneer (89.4% ROI)
    Average Cost: $7,851
    Average Resale Value: $7,019
  4. Minor Kitchen Remodel (80.2% ROI)
    Average Cost: $20,830
    Average Resale Value: $16,699
  5.  Garage Door Replacement (76.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $1,749
    Average Resale Value: $1,345
The top five projects with the greatest ROI in the report’s “upscale” cost category are:
  1. Garage Door Replacement (85.0% ROI)
    Average Cost: $3,304
    Average Resale Value: $2,810
  2. Entry Door Replacement (fiberglass) (77.8% ROI)
    Average Cost: $3,276
    Average Resale Value: $2,550
  3. Window Replacement (vinyl) (73.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $15,282
    Average Resale Value: $11,286
  4. Window Replacement (wood) (73.0% ROI)
    Average Cost: $18,759
    Average Resale Value: $13,691
  5.  Grand Entrance (fiberglass) (70.1% ROI)
    Average Cost: $8,358
    Average Resale Value: $5,855
Regionally, the Pacific division (California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii) saw an average payback of 78.2 percent for all projects, with 10 projects posting cost-recouped levels of at least 90 percent. The East North Central states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin, however, saw an average of just 54.9 percent, with no single project offering a payback of as much as 80 cents on the dollar.
At the other end of the spectrum are projects with the lowest returns on investment—improvements generally not in demand by the market. Again on a national scale, the five projects with the lowest ROI in the “midrange” cost category are:
  1. Bathroom Remodel (64.8% ROI)
    Average Cost: $18,546
    Average Resale Value: $12,024
  2. Master Suite Addition (64.8% ROI)
    Average Cost: $119,533
    Average Resale Value: $77,506
  3.  Backyard Patio (54.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $51,985
    Average Resale Value: $28,546
  4.  Backup Power Generator (54.0% ROI)
    Average Cost: $12,860
    Average Resale Value: $6,940
  5.  Bathroom Addition (53.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $43,232
    Average Resale Value: $23,283
The five projects with the lowest ROI in the “upscale” cost category are:
  1. Major Kitchen Remodel (61.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $122,991
    Average Resale Value: $76,149
  2. Master Suite Addition (59.9% ROI)
    Average Cost: $250,687
    Average Resale Value: $150,140
  3. Bathroom Remodel (59.1% ROI)
    Average Cost: $59,979
    Average Resale Value: $35,456
  4. Bathroom Addition (57.1% ROI)
    Average Cost: $81,515
    Average Resale Value: $46,507
  5. Deck Addition (composite) (56.4% ROI)
    Average Cost: $39,339
    Average Resale Value: $22,171
The 2017 Cost vs. Value Report compares, across 99 markets, the average cost of 29 popular remodeling projects with their average value at resale one year later. Average resale value is calculated based on estimates provided by real estate professionals. View the full report, including project descriptions and city-level data, here.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

ANOTHER FAT YEAR FOR REAL ESTATE? SIX HOUSING MARKET PREDICTIONS FOR 2017

OC Register

If economic indicators are any guide, Orange County’s housing market is heading for a fifth straight year of rising home prices, increased sales, more rent hikes and booming home construction.

But this year’s housing indicators don’t take one major wild card into account: President-elect Donald Trump.

“The issue here isn’t the trends. The trends are positive,” said Christopher Thornberg, a former UCLA professor and founding partner of Beacon Economics. “On the other hand, you’ve got this new administration coming in, and we’re not sure (what policies) they’re going to pursue.”

Tax cuts and increased infrastructure spending would stimulate economic growth, Thornberg said. That’s good for housing.

But a trade war with China and an ideological confrontation with California “could really hurt our economy, and all bets are off,” he said.

“The fundamentals are there for another year of rising prices, another year of rising rents. But that could be tipped over by Trump and company.”

Forecasting long has been characterized as risky, as being either lucky or wrong, as akin to searching for a black cat in a dark room. Still, when it comes to housing, there are plenty of forecasts to choose from.

With that in mind, here are six predictions for 2017.
1. Home prices rising
Highlight: Orange County home prices are projected to rise 2 percent to 6 percent this year.

Home prices in the county have been rising steadily since the housing market turned around in the spring of 2012. According to CoreLogic, prices have been up year over year for 54 straight months, rising $216,000, or 50 percent, from May 2012 to this past May.

The median price for all homes combined – or the price at the midpoint of all sales – shattered the all-time high in May and June this year, driven mainly by record prices for new homes. If the forecasts are accurate, the median for existing homes – still lagging prerecession highs – also will set new records this year.

Details: Chapman University forecasts a 5.7 percent increase; Cal State Fullerton, up 6 percent; the California Association of Realtors, up 3.2 percent for all Southern California. Steve Thomas of ReportsOnHousing.com expects a smaller gain – around 2 percent – because of rising mortgage rates.

The reason: Continued improvement in the employment market, solid income gains and more people moving into homes of their own, said Anil Puri, director of CSUF’s Woods Center for Economic Analysis and Forecasting. Competition for a limited number of homes also is pushing prices higher. “Those are big drivers in the housing market,” Puri said.

2. More home sales
Highlight: Southern California home sales will increase slightly from last year.

Details: Chapman and CSUF didn’t issue specific numbers, but the state Realtor association predicts sales across Southern California will increase 0.7 percent. Thomas predicts a slight sales decrease from 2015-16 levels.

A total of 31,641 Orange County homes changed hands through October, CoreLogic figures show. That’s up 2.3 percent from 2015 to the highest level since the recession but still is 10 percent below the average for the past 29 years.

The reason: Again, more jobs, higher incomes and more people looking for housing.

“Sales are going to start showing a greater rate of increase (in 2017),” said Raymond Sfeir, director of Chapman’s Anderson Center for Economic Research.

3. Builders busier
Highlight: Construction will increase in Orange County for a seventh straight year, increasing by 3 percent to 13 percent.

Details: Chapman predicts builders will pull permits for 11,602 new housing units this year, up from an estimated 11,262 last year. CSUF predicts developers will build 14,000 units. The California Homebuilding Foundation’s CIRB report, however, predicts permits will drop to 11,000 units this year.

Chapman and CSUF also predict that construction jobs will increase 3.5 percent to 6 percent, rising to at least 106,000 workers.

“Things are looking positive for the construction market,” Puri said.

4. Mortgage rates up
Highlight: Interest rates for a fixed, 30-year mortgage will be 1 percentage point or more above the 2016 average of 3.6 percent.

Details: California Realtors forecast in October that mortgage rates would be around 4 percent throughout 2017 but now are revising that estimate, said Jordan Levine, a Realtor economist. He predicts rates could be in the 4.5 percent range this year and possibly as high as 5 percent. Other forecasters had the same prediction.

Higher rates translate into higher homebuying costs.

For example, if rates hit 4.5 percent, monthly mortgage payments for a median-price home will go up about $300 – an increase of nearly $4,000 annually, Thomas calculated.

If rates hit 5 percent, monthly mortgage payments will rise almost $500, or nearly $6,000 annually.

Most economists said higher rates will dampen but not halt this year’s expected increase in home prices and sales.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” Sfeir said.

5. Affordability down
Highlight: By year end, Orange County’s median family income will pay only 60 percent of the amount needed to buy a median-priced home, Chapman reported.

Chapman also predicts that median home prices this year will be 8.6 times the median income, compared with 6.1 times the median price statewide.

“Housing affordability in the county hasn’t been that low since the beginning of the Great Recession,” the Chapman forecast said. “The only affordable way for many lower-income families to find housing in the county is through rental housing.”

6. Smaller rent hikes
Highlight: Asking rents for an Orange County apartment will increase 2.7 percent to 4 percent this year.

Details: Axiometrics forecast a 2.7 percent rise; CoStar forecast a 3 percent increase; and MPF Research expects local rents to go up 4 percent.

Apartment trackers reported that 2016 rent hikes ranged from 3 percent to 5 percent.

Rents here have been rising steadily for 6½ years, up 20 percent since 2010, according to Reis Inc.

Orange County had the eighth-highest apartment rent among 79 large U.S. metro areas in the third quarter of 2016.

If the forecasts are accurate, the county’s average asking rent will range from $1,826 to $1,849 a month.

Orange County has almost 10,000 units under construction, but that’s too few to meet demand, said Joshua Ohl, a CoStar senior market analyst.

“Even with all that supply coming online, we still have 34,000 to 35,000 units of undersupply,” Ohl said.

The question is how long can landlords continue to push up rents.

“I guess as long as tenants keep paying,” he said.

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