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SXSW: Mayors address using data to solve housing challenges

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) At SXSW, three mayors on stage address the challenges of housing and how data can be used to solve the multi-pronged crises.



sxsw housing

The critical nature of data

We all know that data collection is at an all-time high. Facebook knows what to sell you based on your browsing history since you’re logged in, your smart thermostat knows when you’re home and when you’re away regularly, your phone knows everywhere you’ve been, and companies are tapping into this data every microsecond.

But what about city governments? How are they tapping into the available data, and further, how are they using it to solve local housing challenges?

Short answer: They’ve just scratched the surface.

SXSW panel on housing challenges

At South By Southwest (SXSW), Denver Mayor, Michael Hancock, Milwaukee Mayor, Tom Barrett, and Cambridge Mayor, Denise Simmons all spoke about current and future initiatives they’re working on to address housing demands.

On stage, Mayor Simmons focused extensively on Cambridge’s inclusionary zoning efforts and Mayor Hancock acknowledged that Denver can’t build their way out of their 35,000 unit deficit (despite many initiatives to do just that). Both Cambridge and Denver are dynamically different than Milwaukee which has battled a long population decline and is finally growing but has a more intense focus on lower income families with strong actions against bad landlords and blight homes.

Mayor Simmons uses available studies to address tensions with developers who fight the city’s increases in requirements for portions of properties to meet affordable housing standards.

But when pressed, all three danced around questions of using the data for more granular specifics than affordable housing units, population growth, and transportation challenges. This again reiterates that city governments have barely scratched the surface and while not addressed during the panel, we would note that data collection and good data analysis can be extremely expensive and when a government is trying to squeeze money from the budget already, it’s still not a reality.

Politics and housing

But people are working on to make it a reality. In the halls of SXSW you’ll hear buzzing about government data hackathons and it’s not about hacking into the government, rather private citizens taking the endless public data and turning it into something useful for citizens and governments. You’ll also hear a considerable anti-Trump sentiment, as is common among people at massive tech conferences.

And as you’d guess, three politicians on stage took the opportunity to sidenote their fears about the federal budget squeeze. Although HUD Secretary Ben Carson vowed to protect lower income neighborhoods during his confirmation hearing, there is a potential $6B HUD budget cut on the horizon.

All three mayors expressed that they already struggle with their current funding and that stripping federal funding, particularly community development block grants (CDBGs), would be devastating to their efforts.

Affordability, front and center

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has continued to note with urgency that affordability is one of the most pressing issues on the housing industry, and all three mayors are using available data to implement initiatives to help their local citizens.

There is massive opportunity for local and state governments to use available data to do so much more than just push back on developers – data can transform sustainability efforts, how healthy we are as communities, and how we connect.

We asked Mayor Barrett how they were partnering with the Realtor community on affordability and he noted they were working with the Wisconsin Realtors Association but didn’t dive into details.

Again, this is where we see another tremendous opportunity – for brokerages, local boards, and state associations to partner with mayors to offer their data to local governments, to lend their time and talent to tackle affordability challenges.

While housing is so much more than affordability, with populations shifting in and out of urban and suburban areas, it is currently a core theme when talking to anyone in a position to impact the future of housing. Particularly mayors.

Let’s talk again in 10 years

When we have this discussion again 10 years from now, you’ll hear more about data being used to track upward mobility of residents, sustainability as part of housing requirements, new ways of meshing private and public dollars, and much more.

The NAR Center for Realtor Technology (NAR CRT) has been partnering with universities, private companies, and taking other creative measures to study how data can be used. For example, they’ve asserted that some day all smart thermostat data could be collected and become a line item in the MLS so that you can search for a home or eventually a neighborhood based on air quality. And based on discussions with them, even that is just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

City governments will catch up to the CRT model of constantly digging, theorizing, and partnering to research without having to blow the entire city budget on a data firm. So let’s talk again in a decade – I can’t wait!


Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Real Estate Big Data

Are people jumping back on the flipping bandwagon?

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) House flipping is fun to watch on tv, but the housing crash ended the big wave of investor flips – is it that time again?



flipping houses

Just when you thought all those shows about flipping houses on HGTV were going to be obsolete, the entity behind the nation’s largest property database, ATTOM Data Solutions, drops news that home flipping may be on the rise in emerging markets.

ATTOM’s Q3 2017 U.S. Home Flipping Report found that there was an influx of flipping and market competition in 44 out of the 93 metropolitan markets.

“A more than nine-year low in the ratio of flips per investor is evidence of this increased competition,” Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, said at the release of the report on Thursday. “[This] is pushing many investors to new metro areas that often have weaker market fundamentals but also come with a bigger supply of discounted distressed properties to flip.”

In order to perform the statistical analysis included in the report, ATTOM maintained its analytical definition of flipping from previous years. The property data firm defines a flipped home as a property “sold in an arms-length sale for the second time within a 12-month period based on publicly recorded sales deed data” that was collected by their research firm.

Areas with the largest revitalized interest for flippers: Baton Rouge, Louisiana (up 140 percent); Winston-Salem, North Carolina (up 58 percent); Salem, Oregon (up 51 percent); Indianapolis, Indiana (up 51 percent); and Buffalo, New York (up 47 percent).

However, this flipping increase of 47 percent of markets is bucking the national trend of shifting away from flipping. Nationally, the report finds that while from Q3 to Q2, the rate of home flipping has decreased 0.5 percent, the overall home flip rate comparing Q3 2016 to Q3 2017 has stagnated at 5.1 percent. Also, return on investment (ROI) is decreasing, which might be driving this declining rate.

As detailed in the report, only 37 percent of major metropolitan markets are experiencing an increase of average gross home flipping return on investment (ROI) in Q3. The rest of markets? They’re experiencing an ROI downturn, receiving lowest average gross flipping ROI since Q2 2015.

“Home flipping profits continue to be squeezed by a dwindling inventory of distressed properties available to purchase at a discount and increasing competition from fair-weather home flippers often willing to operate on thinner margins,” Blomquist said.

It looks like we shouldn’t count out the creation of “Flip this House: Baton Rouge” coming soon to a TV near you.

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Real Estate Big Data

The average first time home buyer struggles with debt and down payments

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) For years, the first time home buyer has been squeezed out of the market, but for those qualifying, what are the traits of today’s average first timer?



first time home buyer young couple renting divorce

While the nation’s housing supply tightens and home prices continue to rise, first time home buyers are also struggling to save enough for a down payment while burdened with student loan debt.

As a result, only 34 percent of 2017 home buyers were first time homeowners, a minor decrease from 35 percent in 2016, according to the National Association of Realtors 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. This figure continues to fall away from the long-term historical market average of 39 percent, per the NAR.

The typical first time home buyer? A 32-year-old with an average household income of $75,000 who carries some lingering student loan debt.

While millennials are in their prime home buying years, the NAR found debt and saving for a down payment are the most significant home buying hurdles. A quarter (25 percent) of new first time buyers said saving for a down payment was the most difficult task they faced during the process and more than half (55 percent) said student loan debt delayed their home purchase.

Among the surveyed home buying newbies, 41 percent indicated they have student loan debt, which is up from the 40 percent recorded in 2016. And, the average debt balance has increased even more in the past year, reaching an average of $29,000 compared to $26,000 in 2016. More than half of debt-carrying buyers owe at least $25,000, too.

The typical first time home? A single-family home in a suburban area with a median purchase price of $190,000. And, as saving for a down payment is difficult for many young buyers, the average first time home buyer down payment averaged 5 percent in 2017, the lowest percentage recorded by the NAR since 2013. The average down payment figure also indicates such buyers finance nearly 10 percent more (95 percent) of their home purchases than repeat buyers (86 percent).

In addition to personal finance burdens, first time buyers have struggled to find affordable options as the housing inventory in many parts of the U.S. tightens and prices increase for what is available. When buyers are on a budget and balancing debt, this can dampen the dreams of homeownership and prolong the time spent searching for their first home. Overall, the 2017 NAR survey found the average home buying search lasts 10 weeks.

Regardless of reality, many currently believe that it’s just too expensive to buy.

“With the lower end of the market seeing the worst of the supply crunch, house hunters faced mounting odds in finding their first home,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “Multiple offers were a common occurrence, investors paying in cash had the upper hand, and prices kept climbing, which yanked homeownership out of reach for countless would-be buyers.”

The NAR annual Profile of Buyers and Sellers survey is survey data-based snapshot of home buyers who have purchased a home in the past 12 months, which, for the latest report, meant between July 2016 and June 2017.

While the new first time home buyer stats may not be the most promising, these findings can help real estate professionals better understand the current housing market and better assist home buyers – especially younger buyers who may benefit from more guidance.

first time home buyer

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Real Estate Big Data

Retailers are selling off their real estate to survive

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) It’s no secret that retailers have struggled, and those that intend on surviving are looking to their most valuable assets to get creative with.




With brick-and-mortar sales plummeting and more and more customers shopping online, retailers nationwide are laying off employees, shutting down stores, and desperately trying to adapt to changing conditions.

Department stores in particular are hurting. Decades ago, when department stores were having a heyday and browsing a huge inventory was a novelty experience, many companies like Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Sears bought or built enormous stores in prime locations.

Now, these companies are having a hard time moving inventory – but they sure do have some lucrative real estate. Many are leasing out parts of their stores to smaller retailers or as office space to startups and tech companies. Some are creating partnerships to share their store space. And some are simply selling these properties all together. Is this a savvy strategy for generating capital? Or the desperation tactics for sinking ships?

The number of companies selling some of their most noteworthy stores certainly gives credibility to what people are calling the “retail apocalypse.” In the past few years, Macy’s, who laid off 10,000 employees this year, has sold stores in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. Sears began selling real estate two years ago, and many J.C. Penney locations have also closed down.

Hudson’s Bay Company, which owns Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue, recently announced that they would sell their Fifth Avenue building in Manhattan to tech startup WeWork for $850 million. Lord & Taylor will then lease one or two floors from WeWork, who will use the rest of the building for their offices. Hudson’s Bay Company is also looking to sell another department store in Vancouver.

According to Garrick Brown, director of retail research for real estate broker Cushman & Wakefield, “some department store companies have real estate holdings that are move valuable than the retail business itself.” He says that some department stores are “getting choked” because they can’t face the facts that their giant locations are unnecessary and costly.

So while some companies, like Sears, may have waited until it was too late to make a last-ditch effort at selling their real estate, others may be selling or leasing their store locations as the next step towards the innovations they’ll need to survive.

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