Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman has been known for making some strong statements about the housing market, and last week he issued his latest proclamation, warning of a slowdown that is beginning to develop across the country, even more so in expensive markets like Seattle and San Francisco.
Kelman, on the company’s quarterly earnings call with investors, said he expects sales to decline in August and September over figures from a year ago. Not only is a consistently low supply of homes for sale to blame, but frustrated buyers tired of getting beaten out on offer after offer are deciding to sit out.
What’s striking about this change is that it seems to have been driven by dissident demand from homebuyers, not just a low supply of homes for sale. Nationwide, there were still 5 percent fewer homes for sale in July 2018 than in July 2017. But in Seattle, Portland and San Jose where prices have increased the most, the percentage of homes selling in the first two weeks on the market declined in June from 61 percent to 52 percent.
And the percentage of listings that dropped their prices increased from 31% to 33%. June sales were down in these markets by double-digits and inventory was up also by double-digits. The trend is continuing in July and reports are now coming in from Washington D.C., Boston, Virginia and parts of Chicago as well, that homes there are getting harder to sell.
As U.S. home prices have increased faster than wages for 70 straight months, buyers in markets like these have finally had enough, at least for now. There are still plenty of markets where homebuyer demand is strong. But for the first time in years, we are getting reports from managers of some markets that homebuyer demand is waning, especially in some of Redfin’s largest markets.
Kelman added that in July the percentage of homes nationwide that sold above list price declined on an annual basis for the first time since March 2015.
In addition to the slowing home market, Kelman took the wind out of investors sails, lowering the company’s targets for revenue and profits in the next quarter. Redfin’s stock then went into free fall, dropping 25 percent by end of day Friday to the lowest price since its 2017 IPO with slight up and down movements Monday morning.
The slowing real estate market comes as the company is doubling down on its direct home sales business, Redfin Now. Kelman said that the company is making Redfin Now a permanent part of its long-term strategy. As Redfin Now expands to more markets the company is being “very beady-eyed about which homes Redfin Now buys,” with the potential of a slowdown looming.
Redfin is in a unique position to see the trends on the horizon in the housing market, with a huge network of agents in a variety of markets and lots of sales data. Kelman noted that this trend has only taken hold recently, with sales in three out of the last four weeks slowing dramatically, though still rising over a year ago.
But what’s different is that if your real estate agents saying, I put a home on that normally would have sold in a week, and it’s still on the market a month later. I expected to get eight competing offers, I got one and it was below the asking price. And then when you look at the data to see if that supports the anecdote, it does, and this is a nuance point. But days on market isn’t changing that much that how long sold homes take to sell. But the percentage of listings to sell within two weeks is decreasing. What that means is that for the homes that sell, they’re still selling reasonably fast, but more and more there are homes that we thought would sell that don’t.
And I would say that’s concentrated in some of our larger markets. One of the things that we’re sensitive to is whether this is a decline in the overall sales volume in the United States or a shift. So for example, if Seattle or San Francisco has just gotten too expensive and now everybody’s buying in Phoenix and Denver, that doesn’t really affect U.S. sales volume. And we think some of that is happening, a place like Pittsburgh still has strong sales growth.
But we also think that there is probably going to be a slowdown in U.S. sales growth, if not a reversal in August or September. And there’s a case to be made that the whole market will get better there’s a case to be made that it won’t. I’m not presenting this as a fact, but if you want to know what we think is the most likely outcome that’s our view of it.
Local reports bear out Kelman’s observations. The Northwest Multiple Listing Service reported earlier this month that the “days of multiple offers are days of the past.” Inventory was up in July, while pending and closed sales are down on annual basis.
NWMLS doesn’t mention frustrated buyers sitting out, but the numbers show that might be the case in Seattle. Should these buyers see the news of a slowdown and decide to jump back into the market, this trend could be but a blip as inventory still remains 38 percent below historical averages across the U.S. Kelman said.
As the clock continues to tick forward, millennial buyers will make up an even greater share of the market. The struggles faced by the generation, in addition to the challenging housing situation suggests a need for major changes to the market.
“The postwar explosion in new construction and transit infrastructure to accommodate baby boomers hasn’t happened for millennials, who are coming of home-buying age with lower wage growth, higher credit, more congested roads and more student debt than previous generations,” Kelman said. “This younger generation of would-be homebuyers is bewildered, many are living in their parents basement. Until the market becomes more balanced, it will take longer and be harder for these folks to find a home.”