Buyers are back in the Emerald City, with more homes to choose from and better prices
f the dramatic slowdown in Seattle’s housing market has you waiting for a crash to buy your next home, don’t hold your breath.
New housing data indicates the so-called Emerald City is already pulling out of a monthslong slump, during which the median luxury home price fell 13% in six months, sales plummeted and some predicted doomsday scenarios where skilled workers would flee Seattle, birthplace of Microsoft and Amazon, for budding tech hubs in the South and East Coast. But in January and February, Seattle-based agents reported bustling open houses and an earlier-than-usual start to the spring buying season. So if you’re looking to take advantage of the city’s softened market conditions—it’s now or never.
“Nothing’s going to come crashing down,” said Skylar Olsen, director of economic research at Zillow. “This isn’t a housing bubble popping, this is a market adjustment.”
A thriving technology industry has fueled the housing market in Seattle over the past eight years, with Amazon alone adding roughly 40,000 new jobs in that time. The median home price soared 138% since the post-recession trough in 2013, and the city enjoyed significant population growth as highly skilled, well-paid workers ditched Silicon Valley and San Francisco in favor of Seattle’s relative affordability.
Home price has climbed each year by double digits, faster than almost anywhere else in the U.S., which made the sudden jolt to the market last summer all the more jarring. By the fourth quarter of 2018, the median luxury sales price was $2.23 million, down 13% from its May peak of $2.562 million and sales dropped more than 20%, according to data provided by real estate site Redfin, which defines luxury as the top 5% of sales.
Seattle wasn’t alone. Many U.S. cities experienced slowing sales and waning price growth in the second half of 2018, as affordability, the uncertainty of midterm elections and rising interest rates put off buyers. Seattle suffered the added uncertainty of HQ2, Amazon’s national search for a second headquarters, which some feared would draw talent and jobs away from the retail giant’s base.
On top of that, volatility in tech stocks, including Amazon, broke years of record growth, bruising compensation last year for high earners in the Seattle area. Last year, the technology-heavy Nasdaq 100 index plunged 23% from an all-time high in August to its lowest point of the year on Christmas Eve. Tech stocks have since picked back up, though not to the levels they were trading at last summer.
At one point, Redfin reported that search traffic showed more house hunters looking to move out of Seattle than into it—sparking speculation that area residents were already abandoning the city.
All of that, it appears now, was wildly overblown.
“We don’t quite know where the bottom is, but there’s no real reason that we will have a crash like we did during the last downturn,” Ms. Olsen said. “If you think about Seattle long-term, I don’t think buyers should have cause to think that if they buy now, they will be underwater in five years.”
It’s likely the median sales price will continue to decline in the coming months. But that’s more a reflection of last year’s fracas rather than a real-time lens into market conditions because closing data has a time lag.
Instead, buyers and sellers should look at the recent boost in pending sales, a timelier measure. In the city of Seattle, there were 762 homes that went into contract in January, a near-30% increase compared to a year ago, according to data from the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. The pricey Eastside, which includes Bellevue, across Lake Washington from Seattle, has also seen a bump in activity. Pending sales there increased 10% in January compared to a year ago.
Grant Burton, a Seattle-based real estate agent who works in upmarket neighborhoods including Capitol Hill, Madison Park and Denny-Blaine, said he’s had an exceptional start to the year, particularly for the $2 million to $4 million market.
“It was like night and day, the ball dropped on New Year’s and I had a flood of people coming to buy, coming to look at homes,” Mr. Burton said.
Inventory in the city has more than doubled since this time last year, building up during the slowdown in 2018 and giving buyers more options. Meanwhile, a recent decline in 30-year mortgage rates has also boosted confidence and purchase power.
“We’ve had an early spring that I am blown away by,” Mr. Burton said.
Savvy house hunters are starting their search before the high season—traditionally from May to September—when an annual horde of buyers crowd the market. At the moment, buyers are competing with two or three other bidders on homes rather than a dozen other people, brokers said.
“Now could be a sweet spot for buyers,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist at Redfin. “If you see a home that’s been sitting on the market for a while, you might be able to negotiate and buy it for less than the asking price.”
David Palmer, a Seattle agent affiliated with Redfin, also said he’s seen an uptick in activity since the start of the year.
“I don’t think this year will be as crazy as the last five were, but things are already picking back up,” he said in a Redfin report published this week. “Even as buyers return, home sellers should expect to negotiate more than they have in the past few years. The days of buyers waiving all contingencies are behind us.”
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2018 was a milestone year. According to the ATTOM Data Solutions 2018 U.S. Home Sales Report, home seller profits hit a12-year high – the highest level since 2006.
Our Market Ranked #3 in the Country
The Seattle/Bellevue/Tacoma area ranked #3 in seller return on investment for the entire country. The remaining cities in the top five were all located in California.
While the local market has softened some since the beginning of the year, it’s still a great time to sell. Sales are up and there aren’t enough homes on the market to meet demand. Buyer interest is projected to be high throughout 2019.
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For many people, their mortgage is the largest expense they will ever incur in their lives. So if given the chance, it only makes logical sense you would want to pay it off as quickly as possible. On the other hand, a mortgage is also the cheapest money you will ever borrow, and it’s generally considered good debt. Any extra money you obtain could be definitely be put to good use elsewhere.
The reality is, however, a little less cut and clear. For some homeowners, paying off their mortgage earlier is the right answer. While for others, it would be far more advantageous to invest their money.
Advantages of paying off your mortgage earlier
- You’ll pay less interest: Each time you make a mortgage payment, a portion is dedicated towards interest, and another towards principal (we’ll ignore other costs for now). Interest is calculated monthly by taking your remaining balance, the length of your amortization period, and the interest rate agreed upon with your lending institution.
If you have a $300,000 mortgage, at a 4% fixed rate over 30 years, your monthly payment would be around $1,432.25. By the time you finish paying off your mortgage, you would have paid a total of $515,609, of which $215,609 were interest.
If you wanted to lower the total amount you pay on interest, you don’t need to make a large lump sum to make a difference. If you were to increase your monthly mortgage payment to $1,632.25 (a $200 a month increase), you would be saving $50,298 in interest, and you’ll pay off your mortgage 6 years and 3 months earlier.
Though this is an oversimplified example, it shows how even a small increase in monthly payments makes a big difference in the long run.
- Every additional dollar towards your principal has a guaranteed return on investment: Every additional payment you make towards your mortgage has a direct effect in lowering the amount you pay in interest. In fact, each additional payment is, in fact, an investment. And unlike stocks, bonds, and other investment vehicles, you are guaranteed to have a return on your investment.
- Enforced discipline: It takes real commitment to invest your money wisely each month instead of spending it elsewhere.
Your monthly mortgage payments are a form of enforced discipline since you know you can’t afford to miss them. It’s far easier to set a higher monthly payment towards your mortgage and stick to it than making regular investments on your own.
Besides, once your home is completely paid off, you can dedicate a larger portion of your income towards investments, your children or grandchildren’s education, or simply cut down on your working hours.
Advantages of investing your money
- A greater return on your investment: The biggest reason why you should invest your money instead comes down to a simple, green truth: there’s more money to be made in investments.
Suppose that instead of dedicating an additional $200 towards your monthly mortgage payment, you decide to invest it in a conservative index fund which tracks S&P 500’s index. You start your investment today with $200 and add an additional $200 each month for the next 30 years. By the end of the term, if the index fund had a modest yield of 5% per year, you will have earned $91,739 in interest, and the total value of your investment would be $163,939.
If you think that 5% per year is a little too optimistic, all we have to do is see the S&P 500 performance between December 2002 and December 2012, which averaged an annual yield of 7.10%.
- A greater level of diversification: Real estate has historically been one of the safest vehicles of investment available, but it’s still subject to market forces and changes in government policies. The forces that affect the stock and bonds markets are not always the same that affect real estate, because the former are subject to their issuer’s economic performance, while property values could change due to local events.
By putting your extra money towards investments, you are diversifying your investment portfolio and spreading out your risk. If you are relying exclusively on the value of your home, you are in essence putting all your eggs in one basket.
- Greater liquidity: Homes are a great investment, but it takes time to sell a home even in the best of circumstances. So if you need emergency funds now, it’s a lot easier to sell stocks and bonds than a home.
Misael Lizarraga is a real estate writer with a passion for teaching real estate concepts to first time buyers and investors. He runs realestatecontentguy.com and is a contributing writer for several leading real estate blogs in North America.
This post originally appeared on the Windermere.com Blog.
January brought more good news for homebuyers. Prices were down, inventory was up and interest rates hovered near a nine-month low. Those factors drove more buyers into the market and resulted in an uptick in sales for the month. We’ll see how this transitioning market evolves as we head into the prime Spring home buying season.
The most expensive region in King County saw prices soften in January. The median price of a single-family home on the Eastside dropped 3 percent over last January to $910,000. It’s an excellent time for buyers to leverage the cooling market and negotiate terms that work best for their needs. Last January, 39 percent of the homes in this area sold for over asking price. This January, that figure dropped to 12 percent. With its favorable business climate and high rankings for both economic growth and technology capabilities, demand on the Eastside is projected to remain strong.
January marked the first time home prices in King County decreased year-over-year in seven years. The median price of a single-family home was $610,0000, a drop of 3 percent over the prior year. Inventory more than doubled. Unlike recent months, this was due primarily to more people putting their homes on the market, as opposed to homes taking longer to sell. Despite the surge in listings there is just two months of available inventory, far short of what is needed to meet demand.
The median price of a single-family home in the city was $711,500 in January, a decrease of 6 percent year-over-year. Despite a 107 percent increase in homes for sale compared to a year ago, Seattle continues to have the tightest inventory in King County with less than two months of supply. A booming economy that shows no signs of slowing continues to draw more people to the city. The area will have to significantly add more inventory to meet that growing demand.
The median price of a single-family home in January inched up 1 percent from last year to $455,000. That price is down from the median of $470,000 recorded in December. Snohomish County also saw a surge in inventory with the number of homes on the market double of what it was last year at this time.
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The following analysis of the Western Washington real estate market is provided by Windermere Real Estate Chief Economist Matthew Gardner. We hope that this information may assist you with making better-informed real estate decisions. For further information about the housing market in your area, please don’t hesitate to contact your Windermere Agent.
The Washington State economy continues to add jobs at an above-average rate, though the pace of growth is starting to slow as the business cycle matures. Over the past 12 months, the state added 96,600 new jobs, representing an annual growth rate of 2.9% — well above the national rate of 1.7%. Private sector employment gains continue to be quite strong, increasing at an annual rate of 3.6%. Public sector employment was down 0.3%. The strongest growth sectors were Real Estate Brokerage and Leasing (+11.4%), Employment Services (+10.3%), and Residential Construction (+10.2%). During fourth quarter, the state’s unemployment rate was 4.3%, down from 4.7% a year ago.
My latest economic forecast suggests that statewide job growth in 2019 will still be positive but is expected to slow. We should see an additional 83,480 new jobs, which would be a year-over-year increase of 2.4%.
Home Sales Activity
- There were 17,353 home sales during the fourth quarter of 2018. Year-over-year sales growth started to slow in the third quarter and this trend continued through the end of the year. Sales were down 16% compared to the fourth quarter of 2017.
- The slowdown in home sales was mainly a function of increasing listing activity, which was up 38.8% compared to the fourth quarter of 2017 (continuing a trend that started earlier in the year). Almost all of the increases in listings were in King and Snohomish Counties. There were more modest increases in Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap, Skagit, and Island Counties. Listing activity was down across the balance of the region.
- Only two counties—Mason and Lewis—saw sales rise compared to the fourth quarter of 2017, with the balance of the region seeing lower levels of sales activity.
- We saw the traditional drop in listings in the fourth quarter compared to the third quarter, but I fully anticipate that we will see another jump in listings when the spring market hits. The big question will be to what degree listings will rise.
Home prices, although higher than a year ago, continue to slow. As mentioned earlier, we have seen significant increases in inventory and this will slow down price gains. I maintain my belief that this is a good thing, as the pace at which home prices were rising was unsustainable.
When compared to the same period a year ago, price growth was strongest in Skagit County, where home prices were up 13.7%. Three other counties experienced double-digit price increases.
Price growth has been moderating for the past two quarters and I believe that we have reached a price ceiling in many markets. I would not be surprised to see further drops in prices across the region in the first half of 2019, but they should start to resume their upward trend in the second half of the year.
Days on Market
The average number of days it took to sell a home dropped three days compared to the same quarter of 2017.
- Thurston County joined King County as the tightest markets in Western Washington, with homes taking an average of 35 days to sell. There were eight counties that saw the length of time it took to sell a home drop compared to the same period a year ago. Market time rose in five counties and was unchanged in two.
Across the entire region, it took an average of 51 days to sell a home in the fourth quarter of 2018. This is down from 54 days in the fourth quarter of 2017 but up by 12 days when compared to the third quarter of 2018.
I suggested in the third quarter Gardner Report that we should be prepared for days on market to increase, and that has proven to be accurate. I expect this trend will continue, but this is typical of a regional market that is moving back to becoming balanced.
This speedometer reflects the state of the region’s real estate market using housing inventory, price gains, home sales, interest rates, and larger economic factors. I am continuing to move the needle toward buyers as price growth moderates and listing inventory continues to rise.
2019 will be the year that we get closer to having a more balanced housing market. Buyer and seller psychology will continue to be significant factors as home sellers remain optimistic about the value of their home, while buyers feel significantly less pressure to buy. Look for the first half of 2019 to be fairly slow as buyers sit on the sidelines waiting for price stability, but then I do expect to see a more buoyant second half of the year.
As Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, Matthew Gardner is responsible for analyzing and interpreting economic data and its impact on the real estate market on both a local and national level. Matthew has over 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.
In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, Matthew sits on the Washington State Governors Council of Economic Advisors; chairs the Board of Trustees at the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the University of Washington; and is an Advisory Board Member at the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the Unversity of Washington where he also lectures in real estate economics.
This post originally appeared on the Windermere.com Blog.
After months of slowing sales and moderating prices, the housing market may be poised to rebound. Favorable mortgage interest rates have been a key driver. In the mid-January:
- The 30-year fixed rate was 4.59%. This reflects a decrease of half a point from 60 days prior.
- This marked the 10th consecutive week of flat or weekly declines.
- The number of people who applied for loans to buy a home or refinance rose to an 11-month high.
Buyers Taking Advantage of Lower Interest Rates
As we head into the peak spring home buying season, more buyers and sellers are expected to enter the market. The local economy remains strong and home prices here continue to moderate. There is an abundance of inventory, and depending on how many additional homes come on the market, prices may moderate even further.
Potential buyers who held off because of higher interest rates in the fourth quarter of 2018 will want to take advantage of today’s lower rates before they go up. All indications point to strong demand this spring.
Click to view the Quarter 4 Eastside Market Review.
A cool-down in prices and a surge in inventory spelled out good news for buyers in December. Median home prices throughout the region continued to moderate. The number of homes for sale more than doubled over a year ago. Condo inventory more than quadrupled. While we’re still far short of the four to six months that are considered a balanced market, December moved us closer in that direction. As winter months traditionally bring slower sales and lower prices, we’ll be able to determine a more solid trend when the peak real estate season comes this spring.
The number of single-family homes and condos on the market in December tripled as compared to a year ago on the Eastside. With an abundance of choices for buyers, homes here took longer to sell. However, well-priced homes still sold within weeks rather than days, which was the case earlier in the year. As with all of King County, home prices here continued to moderate. The median price of a single-family home was $909,000. That’s down 3 percent from a year ago, but up from November’s median price of $885,000.
In December, the median price of a single-family King County home was $639,000. That is 0.6 percent more than the same time last year and a welcome respite from the double-digit increases we saw for much of 2018. Inventory was up as well, soaring 143 percent from a year prior. The trend toward a more balanced market is good news for buyers. Instead of having to make a decision in a matter of hours, buyers now can take the time to consider their options and negotiate a price and terms that work best for them.
Last December there were only 299 homes on the market in Seattle. This December there were 1,111. Despite the sharp uptick, Seattle has the tightest inventory in King County with less than two months of supply. Demand is predicted to stay high in 2019. With an abundance of high-paying jobs and not enough people to fill them, Seattle’s population is expected to grow at twice the national rate this year. Prices have continued to moderate from the unsustainable increases of last year. The median price of a single-family home inched up 2 percent from the year prior to $739,000.
The median price of a single-family home was up 4 percent from last year to $470,000 in December – the same price the area posted the previous month. Inventory has more than doubled in the past year due to more sellers listing their homes and fewer sales. However, at 2.6 months of supply the area has a long way to go before becoming a balanced market.
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As we step forward into 2019, eco-friendly “green homes” are more popular than ever. Upgrading your home’s sustainability improves quality of life for those residing in it, but it is also a savvy long-term investment. As green homes become more popular, properties boasting sustainable features have become increasingly desirable targets for homebuyers. Whether designing a new home from scratch or preparing your current home for sale, accentuating a house with environmentally-friendly features can pay big dividends for everyone.
While the added value depends on the location of the home, its age, and whether it’s certified or not, three separate studies all found that newly constructed, Energy Star, or LEED-certified homes typically sell for about nine percent more than comparable, non-certified new homes. Plus, one of those studies discovered that existing homes retrofitted with green technologies, and certified as such, can command a whopping 30-percent sales-price boost.
There are dozens of eco-friendly features that can provide extra value for you as a seller. To name a few:
Cool roofs keep the houses they’re covering as much as 50 to 60 degrees cooler by reflecting the heat of the sun away from the interior, allowing the occupants to stay cooler and save on air-conditioning costs. The most common form is metal roofing. Other options include roof membranes and reflective asphalt shingles.
Fuel cells may soon offer an all-new source of electricity that would allow you to completely disconnect your home from all other sources of electricity. About the size of a dishwasher, a fuel cell connects to your home’s natural gas line and electrochemically converts methane to electricity. One unit would pack more than enough energy to power your whole home.
For many years, fuel cells have been far too expensive or unreliable. But as technology has improved, so too has reliability. Companies like Home Power Solutions and Redbox Power Systems have increased the reliability of these fuel sources while reducing their size. Much like we’ve seen computers and cell phones shrink in size while improving reliability and power, fuel cells continue to be refined.
A wind turbine (essentially a propeller spinning atop an 80- to 100-foot pole) collects kinetic energy from the wind and converts it to electricity for your home. And according to the Department of Energy, a small version can slash your electrical bill by 50 to 90 percent.
But before you get too excited, you need to know that the zoning laws in most urban areas don’t allow wind turbines. They’re too tall. The best prospects for this technology are homes located on at least an acre of land, well outside the city limits.
Another way to keep the interior of your house cooler—and save on air-conditioning costs—is to replace your traditional roof with a layer of vegetation (typically hardy groundcovers). This is more expensive than a cool roof and requires regular maintenance, but young, environmentally conscious homeowners are very attracted to the concept.
Combining a heat pump with a standard furnace to create what’s known as a “hybrid heating system” can save you somewhere between 15 and 35 percent on your heating and cooling bills.
Unlike a gas or oil furnace, a heat pump doesn’t use any fuel. Instead, the coils inside the unit absorb whatever heat exists naturally in the outside air, and distributes it via the same ductwork used by your furnace. When the outside air temperature gets too cold for the heat pump to work, the system switches over to your traditional furnace.
Geothermal heating units are like heat pumps, except instead of absorbing heat from the outside air, they absorb the heat in the soil next to your house via coils buried in the ground. The coils can be buried horizontally or, if you don’t have a wide enough yard, they can be buried vertically. While the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of a hybrid, air-sourced system, the cost savings on your energy bills can cover the installation costs in five to 10 years.
Solar panels capture light energy from the sun and convert it directly into electricity. Similarly to wind turbines, your geographical location may determine the feasibility of these installments. Even on cloudy days, however, solar panels typically produce 10-25% of their maximum energy output. For decades, you may have seen these panels sitting on sunny rooftops all across America. But it’s only recently that this energy-saving option has become truly affordable.
In 2010, installing a solar system on a typical mid-sized house would have set the homeowner back $30,000. But as of December 2018, the average cost after tax credits for solar panel installation was just $13,188! Plus, some companies are now offering to rent solar panels to homeowners (the company retains ownership of the panels and sells the homeowner access to the power at roughly 10 to 15 percent less than they would pay their local utility).
Solar water heaters
Rooftop solar panels can also be used to heat your home’s water. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average homeowner who makes this switch should see their water bills shrink by 50 to 80 percent.
Many of the innovative solutions summarized above come with big price tags attached. However, federal, state and local rebates/tax credits can often slash those expenses by as much as 50 percent. So before ruling any of these ideas out, take some time to see which incentives you may qualify for at dsireusa.org and the “tax incentives” pages at Energy.Gov.
Regardless of which option you choose, these technologies will help to conserve valuable resources and reduce your monthly utility expenses. Just as importantly, they will also add resale value that you can leverage whenever you decide it’s time to sell and move on to a new home.
This post originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.
What a year it has been for both the U.S. economy and the national housing market. After several years of above-average economic and home price growth, 2018 marked the start of a slowdown in the residential real estate market. As the year comes to a close, it’s time for me to dust off my crystal ball to see what we can expect in 2019.
The U.S. Economy
Despite the turbulence that the ongoing trade wars with China are causing, I still expect the U.S. economy to have one more year of relatively solid growth before we likely enter a recession in 2020. Yes, it’s the dreaded “R” word, but before you panic, there are some things to bear in mind.
Firstly, any cyclical downturn will not be driven by housing. Although it is almost impossible to predict exactly what will be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”, I believe it will likely be caused by one of the following three things: an ongoing trade war, the Federal Reserve raising interest rates too quickly, or excessive corporate debt levels. That said, we still have another year of solid growth ahead of us, so I think it’s more important to focus on 2019 for now.
The U.S. Housing Market
Existing Home Sales
This paper is being written well before the year-end numbers come out, but I expect 2018 home sales will be about 3.5% lower than the prior year. Sales started to slow last spring as we breached affordability limits and more homes came on the market. In 2019, I anticipate that home sales will rebound modestly and rise by 1.9% to a little over 5.4 million units.
Existing Home Prices
We will likely end 2018 with a median home price of about $260,000 – up 5.4% from 2017. In 2019 I expect prices to continue rising, but at a slower rate as we move toward a more balanced housing market. I’m forecasting the median home price to increase by 4.4% as rising mortgage rates continue to act as a headwind to home price growth.
New Home Sales
In a somewhat similar manner to existing home sales, new home sales started to slow in the spring of 2018, but the overall trend has been positive since 2011. I expect that to continue in 2019 with sales increasing by 6.9% to 695,000 units – the highest level seen since 2007.
That being said, the level of new construction remains well below the long-term average. Builders continue to struggle with land, labor, and material costs, and this is an issue that is not likely to be solved in 2019. Furthermore, these constraints are forcing developers to primarily build higher-priced homes, which does little to meet the substantial demand by first-time buyers.
In last year’s forecast I suggested that 5% interest rates would be a 2019 story, not a 2018 story. This prediction has proven accurate with the average 30-year conforming rates measured at 4.87% in November, and highly unlikely to breach the 5% barrier before the end of the year.
In 2019, I expect interest rates to continue trending higher, but we may see periods of modest contraction or leveling. We will likely end the year with the 30-year fixed rate at around 5.7%, which means that 6% interest rates are more apt to be a 2020 story.
I also believe that non-conforming (or jumbo) rates will remain remarkably competitive. Banks appear to be comfortable with the risk and ultimately, the return, that this product offers, so expect jumbo loan yields to track conforming loans quite closely.
There are still voices out there that seem to suggest the housing market is headed for calamity and that another housing bubble is forming, or in some cases, is already deflating. In all the data that I review, I just don’t see this happening. Credit quality for new mortgage holders remains very high and the median down payment (as a percentage of home price) is at its highest level since 2004.
That is not to say that there aren’t several markets around the country that are overpriced, but just because a market is overvalued, does not mean that a bubble is in place. It simply means that forward price growth in these markets will be lower to allow income levels to rise sufficiently.
Finally, if there is a big story for 2019, I believe it will be the ongoing resurgence of first-time buyers. While these buyers face challenges regarding student debt and the ability to save for a down payment, they are definitely on the comeback and likely to purchase more homes next year than any other buyer demographic.
Matthew Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K.
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