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Market Watch: 5 Real Estate Trends to Watch in 2015

By

DANIEL GOLDSTEIN

PERSONAL FINANCE REPORTER

Credit crunch to continue for many

LoanDepot’s Hsieh says he has been encouraged by the recent moves by the federal government to expand credit by allowing agencies to buy loans with lower down payments as well as other moves that are designed to give lenders more guidance and confidence in making loans.

“There’s lots of communications coming out that we need to increase availability of credit the marketplace,” he said.

Still, the overall tightness in credit standards will continue to hurt first-time borrowers in 2015, especially the millennials. While the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to begin buying loans in 2015 with as little as a 3% down payment, Trulia’s Kolko says that is unlikely to help.

“For young people, a slightly lower down payment requirement won’t solve the problem of not having a good steady job and a good credit history,” Kolko says. Many millennials are struggling with crushing student loan debt burdens and jobs that don’t pay well, which hurts the all-important debt-to-income ratio that’s computed into lending decisions.

Scott Everett, president of Supreme Lending in Dallas, which made more than $4 billion in home loans in 2014 says that compliance costs of Dodd Frank regulations and fear of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will spur another round of mergers and consolidation among lenders in 2015. “A compliance department that used to have two people now requires twenty-two,” he said.

Local markets to watch

For real estate investment hot spots for the wealthiest like New York, property is likely to get even more expensive, as economic and political turmoil make other markets look less attractive.

“Hong Kong, Moscow and Dubai are no longer ‘safe’ investment spots compared to New York and London,” said CityRealty’s Levy, who expects nearly a dozen ultra-luxury apartments in Manhattan to sell for more than $100 million each in 2015.

Elsewhere in the U.S., former Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee and even Detroit are trying to repurpose themselves and could provide investors new opportunities. “You can get in at one-tenth the cost,” of a New York or a San Francisco, says Levy.

Elsewhere, cities like Boulder, Colo. and Austin, Texas, have become technology hubs and established themselves as good markets for real estate investments. “Smaller cities are going to be an interesting story for the next couple of years,” he said. Other North American hot spots will continue to be Miami and Toronto, he said.

On the flip side, Daren Blomquist of RealtyTrac says that inland California, which was hit badly in the last real estate crash, could be due for yet another correction, as a result of the five-year long drought that has devastated crops and ranching in the typically fertile valley that stretches for hundreds of miles from Chico to Bakersfield. “It’s really in dangerous territory because of the drought,” he said. “They are still reeling from the last crisis and unemployment is still really high.”

Gas prices could affect the housing market

The late 2014 gift of lower gas prices (which could act as a $1,000 to $2,000 tax break for middle class families) could carry over into the housing market, at least in a small way.

Blomquist says lower gas prices could boost the refinance markets or encourage move-up borrowers. “I don’t see it moving the needle that much, [but] it could make some homeowners more comfortable tapping their equity,” for a large purchase such as a boat or a vacation home.

Gas prices fell for 88 straight days between Sept 25 and Dec. 22, according to AAA, to a national average of $2.39, down 85 cents a gallon from a year ago. The savings amount to about $450 million a day for consumers, AAA said.

If low(er) gas prices do last for at least a year or two, Blomquist said it could help the entry-level home buyer who typically has to “drive till you qualify.” It could also help some far-flung suburban communities like Stockton, Calif., which bore the brunt of foreclosures when gas prices soared and commuters could no longer afford their homes. Kolko of Trulia says lower gas prices “could alter some housing patterns with some willing to have a longer commute,” he said.

The oil-price crash of the 1980s brought down real estate markets like Houston, and to a lesser extent, Dallas. The good news: Today those markets are more diversified, with technology and financial services companies and more corporate headquarters than 30 years ago, says CityRealty’s Dan Levy. “There isn’t the crazy overbuilding that we saw during the tail end of the S&L crisis,” in the late ‘80s and early 1990s, Levy said.

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