Market News

Instant Reaction: October Housing Starts

The following is NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun’s reaction to this morning’s U.S. Commerce Department report on residential construction in October:

“The South region is quickly getting back on its feet with a big jump in new housing starts, after a pause in the prior month from the aftermath of the hurricanes. The Midwest and the Northeast regions also made gains. Only the West region, the very region that is most in need of new supply, experienced fewer housing starts.

Overall, the total activity for the country is moving in the right path. More supply will boost future home sales. The West region, however, could experience slowing job growth as affordability conditions worsen from the ongoing inventory shortages that are driving up prices. This could ultimately force residents and potential job seekers to start looking to other parts of the country.” 

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The Anatomy of a First-time Buyer in 2017

Prospective first-time buyers in recent years have had to navigate several obstacles on their path to homeownership, including higher rents and home prices, tight inventory conditions and repaying student loan debt.

These impediments are a big reason why first-timers were only 34 percent of all transactions in the National Association of Realtors®’ 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, which is far below the long-term historical average of 39 percent since the survey debuted in 1981.

Amidst these ongoing supply and affordability challenges, here is the typical makeup of a successful first-time buyer:

  • Age – 32 years old
  • Household income – $75,000
  • Cost of home purchased – $190,000
  • Down payment amount – 5 percent
  • Student loan debt – $29,000
  • Type and location of home purchased – Single-family home in a suburban area

NAR HBS First-time Buyers

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First Whole Foods, Now IKEA: What Latest Amazon News Means for Homeowners

Over the course of Oct. 26, Amazon’s stock price rose dramatically. In the morning, it was valued at $972 a share, and by the end of the day, it had skyrocketed to just over $1,100. This soar in price—more than 7 percent in after hours trading—was no coincidence. Earlier in the day, Amazon released its […]

The post First Whole Foods, Now IKEA: What Latest Amazon News Means for Homeowners appeared first on RISMedia’s Housecall.

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Damage-Free Decorating Ideas for Your Home

By Brentnie Daggett Decorating and organizing your home with damage-free techniques is something we all can get behind. If you are a renter, you want to ensure you don’t damage your rental space and risk losing your security deposit. As a homeowner, it’s always better to preserve the integrity of your space, although you have […]

The post Damage-Free Decorating Ideas for Your Home appeared first on RISMedia’s Housecall.

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View the Possibilities With Virtual Staging

By Brian Balduf, VHT Studios

Appealing to home buyers is all about making that emotional connection. Smart marketers know emotions trump other factors, especially when you hear buyers say the listing “just feels right.” They may be searching for a new house, but they’re envisioning their next home.

Buyers’ emotional experience while home shopping is heightened even more by stunning real estate photography that is the attention-grabber in the age of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and Houzz.

Breathtaking photographs and video stir buyers’ emotions and imaginations and prompt dreams about how they’ll live in that home.

New virtual staging tools go even one step further. Virtual staging makes a listing stand out and allows buyers to visualize their dreams – not only in their minds – but on their monitors or mobile devices.

When marketing to those buyers, virtual staging allows real estate professionals to present the rooms of a listing in many styles and functions, enabling agents to reach the widest audience possible by appealing to myriad tastes and lifestyle needs.

Virtual Staging blows up the current one-size-fits-all listing model and gives real estate pros far greater flexibility in customizing a listing to the desires and expectations of their perceived audiences.

It starts with high quality photographs, the standard for showing how a home is currently furnished and decorated today for its current owner.  Virtual staging tools inserted into or enhancing those photographs amp up the features of a listing and showcase why each room is a great space and how it can be used, whether the prospective owner is a workout enthusiast, a craft hobbyist, or a new parent.

Also, virtual staging eliminates the expense of renting furnishings or hiring traditional stagers, while allowing buyers to mentally prepare how they can live in their prospective home.

Virtual staging helps buyers look beyond the stark, off-putting appearance of a vacant room. It also presents decorating options that enhance, for instance, a living room containing worn carpeting and outdated furniture that could leave a bad impression.

Virtual staging presents a property’s potential and can attract and interest different audiences with a variety of lifestyles.

See for yourself how virtual staging was used successfully by Robert Pribyl and Bernadette Ray, with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff Realty Group in Chicago. Robert says they took advantage of virtual staging’s flexibility for a vacant and fully remodeled 130-year old house in the trendy Logan Square neighborhood.



Virtually staged by VHT Studios

“This neighborhood is very hot. It’s become a magnet for millennials and high-net worth investors, so we needed to showcase how single professionals or families with different needs might live in the home,” Pribyl says. “I like the modern furniture that buyers see in the living room – it fits the style of the buyers I’m trying to attract. The home looks more appealing to buyers when they can see select rooms that are furnished.

They used virtual staging to showcase how a bedroom might appeal, for instance, to a young couple with a newborn. They also transformed that same vacant bedroom into an office and an exercise room for a young entrepreneur or a workout enthusiast.




Virtually staged by VHT Studios


Virtually staged by VHT Studios

In the finished basement, virtual staging allowed the duo to show the space’s potential as a child’s playroom and man-cave for TV sports fans and game lovers.



Virtually staged by VHT Studios


Virtually staged by VHT Studios


Virtually staged by VHT Studios

In just four weeks after installing virtual photographs, they received multiple offers on the listing, and as of this writing, they were in negotiations with potential buyers.

Virtual staging opens many real estate marketing options which up until now have been impossible to deploy. There are now unlimited ways to present a room’s functions or decor through virtual tools.

Real estate professionals are also applying flexibility to how they use virtually staged photographs. In addition to websites, advertising and brochures, agents are using enlarged virtually staged photographs that depict multiple room functions and placing them on easels in each room of their listings. This allows buyers to instantly recall the virtually staged home they viewed online, as well as to envision the many possibilities.

Also, consider these other virtual tools that can solve common headaches that real estate professionals have had to work through over the years:

  • Virtual paint is helpful when walls need a fresh coat of paint or when dated wallpaper needs a makeover.
  • Virtual declutter removes mementos and personal effects that may be cherished by the owner but are distractions to buyers.
  • And virtual twilight wows buyers and with warm, romantic, and welcoming exterior views that appeared to be photographed at dusk.

Here’s another example of a virtually staged living space at a listing in Rosemont, Ill. See how the space has been configured to appeal to different style preferences.



Virtually staged by VHT Studios


Virtually staged by VHT Studios


Virtually staged by VHT Studios

Don’t Try This at Home!

Some digital photography pros may be tempted to hire a Photoshop hobbyist to digitally alter photos with virtual enhancements. Having great Photoshop skills doesn’t guarantee beautiful virtual staging.

Installing a virtual couch into a photograph and hitting “Sharpen My Image” may do more harm than good to a vacant room.  Often the end result looks like the old Colorforms stickers we played with as kids.

Experienced virtual stagers are studio and image specialists who have composition skills in real estate photography and know how to blend multiple exposures in which lighting, window views, and details are merged to create the final composite photography.

They also understand perspective, shadows, and size in relation to room dimensions.

We advocate trusting your visual marketing to a pro, just as real estate brokers advocate to their clients.

The newest visual marketing tools are proof that real estate marketing is no longer a one-size-fits-all proposition. Smart professionals are adopting these tools to reach a much wider audience, to make a greater first impression on potential buyers, and sell homes faster and at the best price.

Brian BaldufABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Balduf, CEO, chairman and co-founder of VHT Studios, has built the Rosemont, Ill.-based firm into the nation’s largest real estate photography and image management services company. Since he co-founded the company in 1998, VHT Studios has helped more than 200,000 real estate professionals sell more than $200 billion in properties through its nationwide network of hundreds of photographers and image specialists. Delivering to real estate professionals their most powerful selling tools – high quality photography and video – Balduf has worked to ensure their properties get seen more, sell faster and at the highest price. For more information, visit, The VHT Studios Blog or find us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram.

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Healthcare 101: Insurance Challenges for Realtors® and other Independent Contractors

medical statistics and graphic charts with stethoscopeNearly nine in 10 Realtors®, members of the National Association of Realtors®, are independent contractors of their real estate firms. As an independent contractor, many typically don’t have access to traditional employer-provided benefits, such as health insurance. As debate continues around the Affordable Care Act and more insurance companies drop out of the individual and small group insurance market, it is more important to NAR than ever to ensure affordable health insurance options are available to Realtors® and other individuals who are also self-employed or independent contractors.

This was the topic of discussion at the recent Healthcare 101 session during the 2017 Realtors Conference & Expo in Chicago. Sharon Millett, former NAR president and session moderator, summarized the challenges of overhauling the complex and ever-changing healthcare industry by acknowledging, “Healthcare can’t and won’t be fixed easily or quickly.”

History of Health Insurance

Panelist Fritz Busch, a consulting actuary with Milliman in Brookfield, Wisconsin offered attendees a brief history of health insurance, which only dates back 80 years to World War II.  “Since employers couldn’t increase wages, paid health care and other benefits were introduced as a way for employers to circumvent wage and price controls,” he said. Citing Kaiser Family Foundation data, he said more than half of all Americans get their health insurance from their employers, in the large group health insurance market.

Individual Insurance Options and Affordable Care Act

ACAsmallFor those who aren’t eligible for large group employer provided insurance, individual health insurance is a type of policy individuals can purchase for themselves or their family, but plans can be expensive and coverage limited.

The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it’s commonly called, aimed to provide cost effective, quality individual and small group insurance coverage (plans for small businesses or startups) for many who had previously been uninsured. “The individual market was dysfunctional prior to the ACA, so the bill’s writers tried to apply the risk pool rules of the group market to the individual market,” said speaker Chris Condeluci, principal of CC Law & Policy in Washington, D.C.

A health insurance risk pool is a group of individuals whose medical costs are combined to determine premiums. Typically, the higher costs of the sick or less healthy are offset by the lower costs of the healthy and, generally, the larger the risk pool, the lower and more stable the premiums. “It’s all about the risk pool. The more people you get in the pool, the more you can spread the risk. The unbalanced pool that we have today is why we are seeing so many of the problems in the individual market and with ACA,” said Condeluci.

Busch agreed, and said another issue is that when it comes to insurance, individuals tend to optimize at specific times, for example, when they anticipate surgery, pregnancy or the onset of a disease, like diabetes, and when coverage is most expensive to policy providers. In addition, he said, more young, healthy adults than anticipated elected to opt out of the ACA and to pay the mandate penalty. “The ACA needed those healthy people in the risk pool to offset the costs of the sicker, older people who did elect to get individual coverage,” said Busch. Lastly, he said, the ACA’s mandated health benefits, like maternity, dental, vision, mental health and substance abuse benefits, which many plans didn’t previously include, also contributed to the increase in costs of many individual insurance plans.

Recent Trump Healthcare Executive Order

On October 12, the White House issued an executive order to several agencies to consider changes to increase access to more affordable health insurance options, including through Association Health Plans, or AHPs.

The order allows small businesses to band together to form AHPs and purchase health insurance coverage across state lines in the large group health insurance market, which would be exempt from some ACA regulations and perhaps reduce insurance premiums for policyholders. While many Realtors® first thought this was good news, the order, unfortunately, does not directly apply to coverage for self-employed individuals or independent contractors.

You can read more about the executive order and watch a video on what NAR is currently doing to advance regulatory and legislative changes needed to make AHP plans a workable option for Realtors® at

Association Health Plans, a group insurance option for independent contractors

While NAR can’t currently offer group insurance to Realtor® members, many of which are self-employed or independent contractors, under the executive order, Condeluci said the way the order was written, it could be interpreted that it’s a change the administration might be considering.


He said, however, that there is political opposition to this from groups who believe there is benefit to having more and healthier independent contractors in the individual insurance market. Condeluci recommended that Realtors® take swift and strong action if this regulatory change is proposed to ensure it does happen.

“All Realtors®, and not just NAR, will need to be proactive and respond to the comment period to ensure that changes made to make Association Health Plans are a workable option for independent contractors,” said Condeluci. He cautioned though that change may come slow. “Even if we see guidance before the end of the year with a proposed regulation and a public comment period, it could be more than a year before a final rule is published and takes effect, meaning there may not be any new changes for the 2018 insurance market.”

Like other health insurance plans, Busch said the issue for NAR going forward with  any AHP plan will be how to get healthy people to buy insurance and not just the unhealthy or sick ones, to help offset premium costs and the risk pool. “The association will need young members to join and help pay subsidies for older members to offset and make affordable the costs of their monthly plans,” he said. “But making young people pay more means less could join.”

Realtor® Insurance Marketplace

REALTORS® Insurance MarketplaceIn the meantime, NAR provides health, dental, vision and supplemental solutions, both public and private major medical health insurance exchange options, to its members through the REALTORS® Insurance Marketplace. Plans available through the Marketplace are administered through SASid, Inc., a trusted NAR partner that offers full complimentary consultative services and can talk members through their options and help them find the best solutions for themselves and their family.

For further updates on health care reform and NAR’s advocacy on this issue, visit

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Use Plants to Showcase a Healthier Home

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR(R) Magazine

You can clean the air with plants. And in an age when “healthy home” is what so many buyers are saying they crave, you may find this a cheaper alternative to improving the air quality in a home by just being smarter about the plants you choose to stage with.

The Center for REALTOR(R) Technology has been studying how plants can improve indoor air quality, and has written a book on the topic, “A Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air.” The book focuses on which plants can improve air quality in commercial settings. Their findings can also apply to residential spaces too.

At the 2017 REALTOR(R) Conference & Expo this past weekend, CRT showcased an orb of clean-air plants on the show floor. We thought it looked like a chic space for an outdoor oasis of fresh air. But as the healthier-home trend catches on more, maybe we’ll even see this idea move indoors—like an indoor tropical paradise home office orb. After all, the cleaner air is supposed to make you more productive.


CRT’s clean-air orb display during the 2017 REALTOR(R) Conference & Expo

The average American spends about 90 percent of their time indoors. Yet, indoor air quality is about five to 10 times worse than outdoor air quality.

Certain plants, however, can actually improve the air quality of a space and even make people more productive and healthier, research shows. For example, dracaena warneckii is known for cleaning benzene and formaldehyde from the air—chemicals that are often linked to some furnishings. The “Money Plant,” or also known as Devil’s Ivy, is known as one of the hardiest house plants to kill and also will rid these potentially harmful chemicals from the air. The Chinese evergreen is another plant that is known to clean indoor air, and as a bonus for when selling a home, it’s known to bring good luck to those who grow it.

Infuse more clean-air plants into your next listing. Maybe buyers will notice there’s something different in the air.


A sample taken from CRT’s book “A Pocket Guide to Cleaner Air”



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Counselors of Real Estate Highlight Challenges for Industry

Each year, the Counselors of Real Estate offers its insights on the factors, trends and issues that are shaping the residential and commercial real estate industries. CRE’s analysis offers insights into opportunities and challenges facing real estate professionals, as well as how the economic environment is changing the industry landscape.

2017 CRE Chair Peter Burley, a real estate economist and market/investment research executive, said real estate professionals have 10 “elephants in the room” to consider. Topping the list: political polarization.

Burley cited tax reform, immigration, global conflicts and other concerns, adding that real estate professionals should be concerned about the uncertainty that the current political environment creates when it’s unable to effectively address major issues.

“The thing is, real estate investors really like risk. They can price it. But they don’t like uncertainty,” Burley said. “When uncertainty prevails, we start to question what it is that we’re doing.”

Coming in at number three, Burley pointed to “generational disruptions” facing the industry.

“This is going to be on our list for quite awhile,” Burley said, as he noted for the audience that there are more millennials than baby boomers in America.

But Burley offered a unique perspective that challenged conventional wisdom about the behaviors of millennials and boomers.

“It’s not just that baby boomers and millennials are looking for different things,” Burley said. “It’s that they’re competing for the same spaces and expecting different things.”

Burley cited an example of a millennial family and a “downsizing boomer” looking at the same apartment. While the boomer asks “where’s the dining room,” according to Burley, a millennial asks “how close are we to the nearest bar and grill?”

Burley turned the conversation from there over to Joseph Nahas, Jr., 2018 CRE chair and senior vice president at Equus Capital Partners.

Nahas tackled the issue of “retail disruption,” pointing out that while many retailers are shrinking their brick-and-mortar footprint, many others are moving to expand.

That expansion, however, is clearly changing.

“We’re even seeing that some retailers are measuring logistics in cubic feet as opposed to square feet,” Nahas said. “They’re looking at ceiling heights that approach 30-plus feet… and looking to go vertical, not just horizontal. “

Nahas pointed to commercial changes in the residential market as well. Demand for retail space in walking distance from housing is up, as are locating experiences convenient to housing. But according to Nahas, one of the biggest changes for developers has yet to unfold.

“Developers of retail really have to think forward and start to ask, ‘how will the design of centers be affected by driverless cars?’” Nahas said. “I think you’ll see, in the medium term, a different plan before planning commissions on new constructions [to] reflect that.”

Nahas also described what he called a “housing mismatch” in the economy, asking “what ever happened to the starter home?”

Affordable housing is too hard to find, Nahas said, while the luxury market has “a demand problem.”

“Boomers and millennials… we have to serve both,” Nahas said. “It’s not an either/or.”

Additional issues making the CRE list include immigration, climate change, and the “lost decade” for the middle class. The two experts also laid out a “watch list” of issues on the horizon that included tax reform, monetary policy, and cannabis.

Nahas and Burley offered their insights at a panel titled “The Top 10 Real Estate Game Changers 2017-18.” The event took place as part of the Realtors® Conference and Expo in Chicago.

CRE Top 10 Real Estate Game Changers, 2017-18

  1. Political Environment
  2. The Technology Boom
  3. Generational Disruptions
  4. Retail disruption
  5. Infrastructure investment
  6. The Housing Mismatch
  7. Lost Decades of the Middle Class
  8. Real Estate’s Emerging Role in Healthcare
  9. Immigration
  10. Climate Change



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Student Loan Debt Keeps Millennials From Buying Homes, Starting Businesses

Real estate industry experts and researchers  presented data and discussed the effects of student loan debt on millennials’ ability to participate in the housing market and own a business, during a panel titled “Digging Out: Growing Your Business While Paying Off Debt” at the 2017 REALTORS® Conference & Expo.

According to Jessica Lautz, managing director of survey research and communication, millennials are incredibly entrepreneurial. “Many millennials want to start their own business, they want to be their own boss and they want to have flexible hours, and this makes real estate a very attractive career path.”

However, 40 percent of millennials surveyed said that student loan debt is keeping them from starting their own business.

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The panel also discussed how brokerages are having a hard time not only recruiting but retaining millennials.

“We know that only 4 percent of REALTORS® began their career in real estate, and that real estate is usually a second or third career,” said Lautz. “NAR research shows that many millennials who are currently paying off their student loans are unhappy in their current careers, making them prime candidates for recruitment into real estate.”

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Panelist Megan Hornsby, a REALTOR® with RE/MAX  Preferred Associates in Ohio, discussed being a millennial graduate with $40,000 in student loan debt. “I had a salaried job in property management working 9-to-5, but the cost of living and renting meant that I wasn’t putting a dent in any of that debt,” said Hornsby. It wasn’t until Hornsby bought her first investment property that she was able to start paying down her debt.

Student loan debt is keeping many millennials from being able to buy that property that can help them build equity, delaying those that rent an average of seven years.

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For more information on how student loan debt is affecting not only the housing market, but all of the major financial milestones of millennials, view the NAR’s Student Loan Debt and Housing Report.

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