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  • Writer's pictureMike Roberts

Real Estate News in Brief


Sharply higher mortgage rates dented homebuyer sentiment in February. However, the inventory of homes for sale remains very low across the country, suggesting that peak-to-trough home price drops will be limited. In fact, most forecasters expect low single-digit % home price appreciation at the national level in 2023.

A combination of stronger-than-expected jobs reports and Fed Chairman Powell’s strangely hawkish testimony before Congress saw average 30-year mortgage rates move above (and stay above) 7% for the entire week.

CoreLogic’s Home Price Insights for March showed that national home prices had dropped 0.2% MoM in February 2023, but remained up 5.5% YoY. The data giant forecasts 3.1% price growth over the next year.

It noted, however, that home prices in California, Idaho, Montana and Washington were now down YoY. Three states were still seeing double-digit price growth: Florida, Maine and South Carolina. [Source: CoreLogic]

The ADP payroll report showed that the US added 242,000 jobs in February, stronger than the ~200,000 expected by economists. [The number was boosted, however, by unusually chunky seasonal adjustments.] Annual pay was up 7.2% YoY. According to ADP, “Job gains are solid and wage growth is elevated.” [Source: ADP]

Higher mortgage rates led Fannie Mae’s HPSI (Home Purchase Sentiment Index) to drop from 61.6 in January to 58.0 in February, ending three months of improving consumer sentiment. 24% of respondents said that they were concerned about losing their job, up from 18% in January 2023 and just 9% at the beginning of 2022. [Source: Fannie Mae]

Portal Kombat?

With the money-losing distraction of iBuying now over (for Zillow and Redfin), market transaction volumes down sharply, realtor.com in play, and Zillow and Redfin both aiming for profitability, ‘Portal Kombat’ is likely to heat up again.

The majority of consumers start their housing search online. The battle for eyeballs was over years ago, and the property portals won. Today, Zillow, realtor.com and Redfin welcome several hundred million visitors monthly.

Zillow has a lot of arms.

Zillow.com — Still dominating, still ambitious Depending on the source, Zillow enjoys 2–3 times as much unique traffic as the #2 property portal, realtor.com. The average unique Zillow visitor also views 2–3 times as many pages per visit as they do on realtor.com and Redfin.

NOTE: Many articles claim that Zillow has 15–30% fewer listings than realtor.com. We quickly checked 10 cities in 10 states and found Zillow to have 20–25% fewer listings — so that sounds about right.

As a result of its higher visitor numbers, Zillow is able to charge more for exposure (advertising) and referrals. Zillow has made no secret of its plans to double its revenues from agents, while at the same time creating (or acquiring) all the tools necessary to build a housing “super app”.

The “super app” is about simplifying and streamlining the homebuying process — and, of course, generating revenues at every node in the rent-buy-maintain-sell-buy property lifecycle.

Realtor.com — On the move? If you’re new to the industry, it might surprise you to learn that realtor.com has nothing (well, very little) to do with the NAR (National Association of Realtors). But to most consumers (and many agents), it certainly looks like it’s the official portal of REALTORS®. It isn’t.

In 2014, realtor.com’s parent company (Move Inc.) was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp for $950 million. The backstory to this sale is long and complicated. It suffices to say that many agents were (and still are) furious that the NAR “sold out” to a company that gets to use their designation to generate lead gen and referral fees from them.

Realtor.com is not a one-off for NewsCorp. The media giant also owns 61% of The REA Group (ASX Ticker: REA), which is effectively the “Zillow of Australia”. REA’s main site, Realestate.com.au, generates 3.3 times the amount of traffic as the #2 Aussie portal. In addition, NewsCorp also owns a majority stake in PropTiger, a leading property portal in India.

In January 2023, NewsCorp announced that it was “engaged in discussions with CoStar Group, Inc. regarding a potential sale of Move Inc.” at a reported price of $3 billion. On February 22, NewsCorp announced that those talks had fallen through, but said that it will continue to “assess opportunities” for Move Inc.

Redfin — All about monetizing that traffic While Zillow and realtor.com are essentially similar, Redfin is different:

  • It’s a brokerage with a really popular portal (not a popular portal with some brokerage)

  • In fact, it’s got the 3rd most-popular property portal (13.4% market share according to Zillow)

  • That kind of traffic makes it, by far, the most-visited brokerage website.

  • Yet its brokerage business only has ~1% market share.

  • Redfin’s market capitalization is under $1 billion, but its peer realtor.com almost sold for a multiple of that.

Make no mistake, there is big value in Redfin’s site traffic, but it’s difficult to fully monetize because: 1) Redfin must be careful to not refer too many leads to non-Redfin “Partner” agents, and 2) A potential buyer can’t really separate the portal (Redfin.com) from the broker (Redfin).

In its most recent financial results presentation, Redfin said that it is “developing additional ways to monetize our audience including better leveraging our partner network, mortgage marketplace and display ads.”

QUESTION: I’d like to hear from you. Do you consider Zillow or realtor.com as more ‘agent-friendly’ and if so, why? Please email me: scott@listreports.com

Mortgage Market

Federal Reserve Chairman Powell’s strangely hawkish testimony before Congress, together with solid-looking jobs numbers (JOLTS + ADP), saw the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage move above and stay above 7% for the entire week.

The next FOMC (Fed) meeting will be held on March 15–16. The fed funds futures market is currently pricing in a 50–60% probability of a +50 bps hike. It would be odd for the Fed to accelerate the pace of tightening after repeatedly tapping the brakes (+75 bps → +50 bps → +25 bps), but anything can happen.

Where Are They Now?

I fossicked through my digital files and found realtor.com’s “Hottest Housing Markets” from February 2021 (exactly two years ago). At the time, these were the metro areas that had the best combination of online views per listing (high demand) and low days on market (speedy sales). They included cities like Vallejo, CA; Coeur d’Alene, ID; Ogden, UT; and Austin, TX.

So where are they now?

  • Median listing prices for the Top 20 rose an average of just 13% between February 2021 and February 2023. That’s not very hot. [But keep in mind that listing prices are NOT the same as sales prices.]

  • Median days on market (DOM) doubled from an average of 27 days in February 2021 to 58 days in February 2023.

  • Reno, NV; Ogden, UT; and Austin, TX saw their median DOMs increase by nearly 2 months over the last two years!

  • Three of the Top 20 cities saw their median listing prices DECLINE between February 2021 and February 2023 (Coeur d’Alene, ID; Colorado Springs, CO; and Oxnard-Thousand Oaks, CA).

More than anything, this analysis is a reminder that the US is a big country and, as such, national (and state-level) statistics can miss the considerable variance in outcomes happening at the county or metro level.

They Said It

“While 2023 kicked off on a more optimistic note for the U.S. housing market, recent mortgage rate volatility highlights how much uncertainty remains. Nevertheless, the continued shortage of for-sale homes is likely to keep price declines modest, which are projected to top out at 3% peak to trough.

Home price depreciation and strong income growth are expected to boost affordability, which is particularly important for first-time buyers. This group has accounted for a higher share of mortgage applications since last summer, as first-time buyers don’t need to surrender an extremely low mortgage rate like current homeowners.” — Selma Hepp, Chief Economist for CoreLogic

Inspiration

YOU are the super-app.

You know what Zillow and realtor.com never will. You’ve got the soft skills that hard data can’t match. You know your clients and grow with them as they buy their first home, have kids, buy an investment property, and plan for retirement.

You know in an instant why that new listing looks cheap, but isn’t.

You’ve got relationships with great lenders, handymen, electricians, interior designers, landscapers, insurance brokers, lawyers and piano teachers.

You anticipate problems and find creative solutions.

Instead of fearing technology, you know its blind spots.

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