Let's Talk Hot Off The Press
with Buffini & Company
Exclusive Interview With Dr. Lawrence Yun, NAR Chief Economist
In the current climate, there is a lot of misinformation and uncertainty in the marketplace. In this episode, Brian welcomes back NAR Chief Economist Dr. Lawrence Yun to get an update on the ongoing effects of the Coronavirus on the economy and housing. Informed by the very latest data, this special podcast will give you clarity and perspective on today’s real estate landscape.
May 5th, 2020.
The Podcast Every Homeowner Needs to Hear – an Interview with Dr. Lawrence Yun #214
DAVID LALLY: Welcome to “The Brian Buffini Show,” where we explore the mindsets, motivation, and methodologies of success. My name is David Lally, I’m the producer of the show. I know we may be in challenging times, but that’s just why we’ve been working on shows to keep us upbeat and focused on the good stuff. Let’s listen in.
BRIAN BUFFINI: Well, the top of the morning to you, and welcome to “The Brian Buffini Show.” It’s my pleasure, once again, to be joined by Dr. Lawrence Yun, the Chief Economist for the National Association of REALTORS®. Lawrence, I was just mentioning to you off-air, that we’ve had all of these famous people and celebrities and sports stars on our program. However, episode 201, entitled, This Too Shall Pass, has become our most listened to podcast episode ever. What can I say? You are the official rock star of “The Brian Buffini Show.” We’re delighted to have you back.
LAWRENCE YUN: Oh, wow. Thank you for inviting me. Very surprised on the number of listeners, but very good to hear.
BUFFINI: It shows that people are really interested in the content, and also very concerned about what’s going on. I was looking forward just to have a short call today, to get a quick update on where we’re at, and what you see. I know we’ve had two really neat reports. We have the existing home sales report came out. Also, what I think is fantastic is, I saw the results of this flash survey you’ve done, of 90,000 realtors.
I just think it’s very, very valuable. I’m going to give you the context of that. Just right now, what I’m seeing is I’m doing a lot of different interviews, I’ve got members of the government coming on, I’ve got all these other characters I’m inviting, and then you watch this stuff on the media, and there’s 15 different reports that say the opposite things, not just on the virus, not just on medicines, not just on reopening states, but also I’m watching people like the “Shark Tank” experts giving advice on real estate.
Mark Cuban is an interesting guy, he knows his way around the basketball court, but I’m watching him do a half-hour on real estate, giving people terrible advice based on no data. I wanted to come straight to the horse’s mouth, and straight to the source of a lot of very cool data, and that we could get into this today and really help, not just people in the real estate business, but consumers who are homeowners, people who are thinking about buying or selling a home, some great information so they could make intelligent decisions.
Since we last talked, 30 million people have filed for unemployment. It’s 18% of the workforce. A lot of draconian measures have been taking place, and here we are. What’s your take of where the market is right now, and what the status of the housing market is?
YUN: Week to week, things are changing just so fast. First, the 30 million people who are filling for unemployment insurance. Those are tough times, to say, that people have to file, but we also have to understand that this is a government-imposed lockdown. The massive stimulus package, the spirit of the stimulus package is to assure that lost income is pretty much almost replaced. I know that many people, the unemployment insurance claims, or say, real estate brokerages, small business owners, some of the small business administration loans are just insufficient to really compensate.
At the same time, we do have some people who are getting a little more in unemployment insurance compared to what they were getting on hourly wage, but this is only temporary. It’s just to replace lost income. It ends in July, unless it is prolonged with new congressional legislation, but the spirit is to replace lost income. At least for the real estate market, interesting dynamic. First, I think the first couple of weeks, there was a degree of shock factor.
We see it on the images on television, about people going to hospital, ventilators, how dangerous is the virus, so essentially shut down for the first couple of weeks when the lockdown was imposed. What I am seeing in recent weeks, the past couple of weeks, is that buyers are slowly coming back to the market. They’re a little disappointed on lack of inventory, but 70% of the workforce will secure employment. They are looking at historically low mortgage rates, and they are just looking for the right home that meets their needs.
BUFFINI: No question. Again, we’re seeing a lot of results to this, I think we can dive in a little bit into the flash survey in a minute here. I thought it was very revealing some of the statistics you shared, but I think one of the things that would surprise people who are watching the nightly news, folks are sitting at home. Folks are looking at their home and going, “I need to make some changes.” 35% of people surveyed in a recent survey of, I think it was 112,000 homes, said they planned a major remodel in the next 90 days.
People are looking at their homes, people are starting to get stir-crazy. There’s also a lot of millennials, who are a key part of the market, who are saying it’s time to buy. We got record low interest rates, and we’re just seeing a little bit of a forestalling of people putting their houses on the market, to some degree, but I think people would be surprised to see how much activity is actually going on in the market in real world terms.
YUN: Absolutely. The first couple of weeks, again, that shock factor, but sooner or later, people do have to go out even to the grocery store. What people are finding is that to buy a home, to do it online and maybe visit a couple of homes, physical in-person visit, they’re recognizing, with social distancing protocol, that trying to purchase
a home and get the deal done is far safer than visiting grocery stores. Even in a restaurant business, it was shut down 100% at the restaurant, but now the restaurant businesses are down only about 50%. It is still down, not good news, but at least people are now saying, “Takeout orders are fine.”
People are becoming accustomed to the new normal, of social distancing. Consequently, here in Virginia, where I am calling from, the sales activities are down only moderately, while other states with stricter lockdowns, just because of governors’ orders, it is down more dramatically just because people simply cannot go outside.
BUFFINI: You bet. Maybe we can dive in for a second. Would you be comfortable sharing some of the March existing home sales numbers, and what’s your take is on that?
YUN: The March numbers, it was down 8% from the prior month. More interestingly, the pending contracts was down 20% in March, but this is just due to the fact that we have far fewer listings, buyers just simply taking a pause. When we survey the potential buyers and potential sellers, they are indicating that they are not out of the market, but simply delaying the entry point. They just want an all clear signal from the governor before re-entering the market. It’s simply a delay in some places where the economy is slowly reopening.
In Texas, Georgia, we are beginning to see listings beginning to come on quite strongly. Therefore, the buyers are getting more excited with more inventory choices. It is simply a pause button, but as the economy, hopefully, safely reopens, there will be more real estate transactions, more people interested. The thing on the flash survey, interestingly, the most poignant point was, there’s no panic among home sellers. They’re indicating the price listed pre-pandemic is pretty much the price they’re currently listing without any discount on those prices.
BUFFINI: Here’s why I wanted you to mention this. I appreciate you guys doing this. Kudos to your team. I know they work hard. You know that the Buffini organization are huge fans of your team because you do great work. Here was, April 20th, 90,000 realtors, and 74% survey, said no reduction and less price, and that sellers remain calm, and there’s no panic selling. Now, like I mentioned, aforementioned, Mr. Cuban, he was saying, “Hey, if I was an escrow right now, I’d just reduced my offer by 30%.” It’s just not based in anything that’s real. It’s not based in what people understand.
People are projecting how they view stocks into something that’s important to people as where they live. We know that 71% of sellers have stopped open houses, if that makes sense. There’s the two stats that really jumped out to me. 55% of sellers are delaying the process a couple of months, and 44% of buyers have delayed the process a couple of months. I asked you on our This Too Shall Pass podcast, does it look like summer will be spring in regards to the typical sales season? This data suggests that this summer will actually act like springtime in real estate. You agree with that?
YUN: I am hopeful that that will be the case, but nonetheless, the spring buying season, the term spring buying season is there because many families with school-aged children, wants to complete the deal before the next school year begins, so that they don’t want their children to be disrupted in the middle of the school year, make new friends at the new school, so they don’t want that.
If this pandemic case, and the path of the virus are such that we are in a lockdown for a longer period, the summer season will certainly be better than what it is now because as people are becoming more accustomed to social distancing protocol, but if we miss the spring buying season, it’s going to be a little tough to fully make up for it. Interestingly, the survey that you also mentioned, from the buyer’s perspective, many of the buyers are not anticipating price reduction as well.
Maybe they face that before the pandemic, and if they are anticipating some price reduction, they’re saying maybe about up to 5%, but that’s under normal market condition, where the buyers are always never putting a full price bid, but slightly under. Buyers are acting normal, sellers are acting normal, and of course, people are unemployed, they are in uncertain situation, but 70% of Americans have secure employment. Fortunately, at least this massive stimulus bill is providing some income support for those without job security.
BUFFINI: Sure. One of the things I loved was that 27% of the agents surveyed, were able to complete transactions, respecting social distancing, and they used e-signatures, virtual tours, messaging apps, and exterior on appraisals, which I love the spirit of real estate people. Pure entrepreneurs, we’re going to figure it out, we’re going to get it done, we’re going to get deals done.
I’ve been in the midst of two commercial transactions, and my 67-year-old broker, who’s been around a long time, has figured out new technologies and new ways of doing things, and we’ve been able to do deals, and it speaks to the entrepreneurship and the spirit of the typical realtor, and also this, there is still a great desire for people to buy, for people to sell, and for people to own a home. Now, I’m going to ask you a very unfair question, and you know me, Lawrence, we’re friends, I’m not putting you on the spot.
Here’s what’s unfair about this question. 50 of the largest companies in the United States who reported earnings for the first quarter, refused to give guidance for the rest of the year. They basically say, it’s impossible, they’re not going to be able to forecast their numbers, and they’re not going to be able to say where they’re going to be at the end of the year. I have a very high opinion of Lawrence Yun. I’m going to say 50 CFOs of publicly traded companies can’t give us guidance, but I’m going to ask you this question because there’s so much misinformation.
People are saying we’re going to finish the year at 2 and 2.5 million transactions and things like that. I’m not going to pin you to a number, but where do you think we’ll end up at the year? If you just take in a Lawrence Yun guess, where do you think we’ll finish the year up?
YUN: It’s not a pure guess. We run some models, we look at how many people are unemployed and their home ownership rate and so forth, and looking at the figures in areas where there is more relaxed government lockdown, meaning that people can visit homes versus say, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where everything is locked down with strict restrictions. Looking at all those pictures, I anticipate the year as a whole, in 2020, the sales activity will be down about 10% to 15%. That is not too bad, considering that we hit a pause button for several months, but I think the prices, we’re going to set an all-time high.
Now, this is a little unfair answer because last year was an all-time high in terms of prices. Even if we squeak out a 1% or 2% price gain, that is still a new high, but I think that home prices will not decline because of the inventory shortage that we have, there is no expectation for the buyers for any big discount. In fact, I would say for any buyers out there, if you think you can just low-ball an offer, just see how difficult it is to find a home with a low-ball offer. People have to be very realistic in offering. That is my forecast.
Coming to 2021, we have all this pent-up demand. I think the sales will increase about 15%, and the prices rising 3% to 5%. One can say that economy, moving positively, job creation, housing market, plus, plus. It’s just that in 2020, we hit a pause button for a few months.
BUFFINI: Fabulous stuff. Again, I know you’re not making guesses here, you’re looking at forecasts. This is what you do all day. Like I said, all these corporations are saying, “I can’t give guidance.” We have the political landscape, we have the media landscape, and then we have some data. There are some data we know, and there are some basic principles we know, of the concepts of supply and demand, and also the dynamic of how real estate works.
Like you said, will there be NFL football with 80,000 people in the stands, is a totally different question than, can a qualified buyer be walked through a property, in a sanitary way, to look at a home, make an offer on a home, do some physical inspections, and close on a home, and then the agent organizes an antiviral cleaning of the property at the end of closing? Is very different than what these other dynamics are. I would say to you, if we end up 2020, and we’ve lost 10% to 15%, that would be remarkable. It would be fantastic and very acceptable for a bump in a year.
YUN: Not only did we try to look at every factors, but we also looked at past disasters events. Now, the current pandemic, it’s so new, nothing is comparable, but when I looked at New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina, when unemployment rate shot up from 5% to 15% within days, but with a massive disaster relief funding going into the city, the unemployment rate quickly went down once the city began to reopen. Unemployment rate came down to 5%, pre-disaster levels, and home prices actually rose throughout.
Now, one may say there was some home demolition and housing shortage, but for the current nationwide housing situation, we had a housing shortage before the pandemic, and we have even acute shortage today because of not enough listings. Another example is after the tragic events of 9/11. Home prices in the New York City areas actually increased in 2001 and 2002 and 2003. There’s nothing to suggest just because we are hit with this pause button, that automatically, things will come apart.
BUFFINI: That’s why you might be our most popular guest in history, Lawrence, because this is the stuff that’s hard to get, and it’s so encouraging. I think it’s great for people to know that housing is so stable. We talked about it the last time we met. The stock market had come down 30%, and of course, since then, the stock market has come up in just the month of April alone, the Dow is up 11%, the S&P is up 12.8, and the NASDAQ is up 15%. That doesn’t happen in real estate. It doesn’t happen in real estate without like what happened in 2008, which is the complete capitulation of the mortgage market and all of those types of dynamics.
I think it’s great for people to know, “Boy, there is something I can count on.” The housing market, such a crucial part of the economy, that it’s stable, that its pricing is stable, and we’re still in a housing shortage, and people are still having babies, and people still have to move. Some people have been in their house and go, “I want to leave where I am and go somewhere new.”
YUN: If I can add just with one other point is that this massive stimulus package, where is the government getting the money? They’re running up a huge astronomical federal budget deficit, but who is purchasing US debt? The federal reserve is simply printing the money and handing it over. Econ 101 would say that if you put so much money, and put into the economy, it will lead to inflation. Fortunately, America is in an extraordinarily privileged situation, where the US dollar, in times of uncertainty, financial panic, people want the dollar. Because of that, there will not be inflation this year or next year, let’s say five or six years from now.
If we get little above average inflation rate, say 5%, 6%, or like 1970 style, 10% inflation, which I don’t think will happen, but say 5% or 6%, just imagine people will purchase home today, they’re locked in at a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. The monthly mortgage payment is not rising, it’s just fixed, while everything else is rising, this is already a very good investment return. Furthermore, when inflation is there, people want some hedge against inflation, and real estate has always provided that good hedge against inflation.
BUFFINI: You just put together probably the best presentation a real estate agent can give, in regards to, why is it a good time to buy? The answer is on a national level, on an economic level, on a basic needs level, it’s all there. There’s a shortage of inventory, you’ve been forced to stay at home. It’s the one thing you could count, and we’re historically low interest rates. I think at the time of recording this, I saw a 30-year mortgage at 3.49% this morning. Remarkable how cheap that money is. Then you’re looking at, like you said, trillions and trillions of dollars that the fed’s pumping out. It has to show up at some point in time.
Real estate has always, like you said, been a great hedge against inflation. With a consistent lockdown, 30-year mortgage is win, win, win every time you look around. It is a great thing to be in real estate business. It’s almost like this. I was talking to my mother in Ireland. She’s 89 years of age, and a smart little lady. She said to me, “Brian, well maybe God’s being good to real estate right now because it was so hard in the last recession.” I said, “Well, maybe that is true.” God’s being good to the realtors and the real estate owners. Great stuff.
As you take a look at this, and you look at the landscape, we have just a huge number of people who buy and sell and own homes listing, but we also have this real estate community. Let me ask you. What encouragement or what advice would you have for someone who’s in the real estate community, and what advice would you have for someone who’s a consumer?
YUN: For the real estate industry, just like as with any small business owner, it’s challenging times. Also, a bit of uncertain, scary times, but the stimulus package, also please tap into all the resources that are available, and they are lobbied hard for the unemployment insurance availability for independent contractors for the first time ever. Again, the lost income is not the fault of realtors. It’s just the government-imposed lockdown. Please tap into the resources.
I would say that the real estate industry, even in normal times, is quite competitive. There are 20% of the agents who do exceptionally well, and people say, “Why do they do well?” They keep in touch with their clients because the trust factor is the most important, and providing factual information to their past clients, potential clients, I think that develops their trust level, but just say, “This is an adversity.” You go through the adversity, but come out at the end, the other side to say, “I have more knowledge, I have more relationship build up.” That will be a very good starting point for the upturn that I anticipate will be happening later in the year.
For the consumers, mortgage rate 3%. Wow. If one has a secure employment, just consider what opportunities are available. I know they wants to see more inventory, but I expect that once the economy steadily reopens, hopefully safely reopens, more inventory will show up, and mortgage rates will remain very, very low. Consider taking opportunity, but don’t overstretch your budget. Stay within your budget. That will be a very good way to assure that one has a successful homeownership.
BUFFINI: Beautiful. Beautiful. Okay, I’m going to switch gears on you, Lawrence. I’m going to do something that you really don’t usually do. I want to talk a little bit about you because you have a great story. We are shared in one bond where we both grew up in other countries and fought our way to get here, and have built a life for ourselves here, and we have a great appreciation for. Where your father was from, and so on and so forth. Can you just do a little bit of this? Can you, just briefly, tell the folks your story, where you came from, and how you came to be the economist that you are today?