The overall economy is expected to fare well in 2024 according to economists from across the spectrum. However, real estate sales will likely remain muted through much of the year due to low inventory and elevated interest rates.
An anticipated recession failed to materialize in 2023, and now the economy is predicted to experience a soft landing in Q1 2024. Goldman Sachs is especially optimistic, projecting U.S. GDP growth to hit 2.1% in 2024 compared to other economists who see growth in the 1-1.8% range for the year.
“It was fair to wonder last year whether labor market overheating and an at times unsettling high inflation mindset could be reversed painlessly,” said David Mericle, Goldman Sachs Research chief US economist, in a recent economic report. “But these problems now look largely solved, the conditions for inflation to return to target are in place, and the heaviest blows from monetary and fiscal tightening are well behind us.”
Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for RSM, a global network of independent assurance, tax and consulting firms, also sees a slow first quarter, followed by an uptick to 1.8% in the second half of 2024 and possibly accelerating into 2025.
“We expect that policy tailwinds from both the fiscal and monetary authorities will set the stage for strong productivity and growth in the years ahead as inflation eases back to a much more tolerable range,” Brusuelas said in his 2024 outlook report in the December edition of The Real Economy.
While all indications point to economic fundamentals being strong enough to keep the overall U.S. economy on stable ground in 2024, consumer confidence and real estate sales are likely to remain at a low ebb next year.
Looking at the economy through a consumer lens, The Conference Board is a bit more pessimistic, noting in its November forecast that the economy is likely to buckle early in the year, leading to a short and shallow recession.
“This outlook is associated with numerous factors, including elevated inflation, high interest rates, dissipating pandemic savings, rising consumer debt, and the resumption of mandatory student loan repayments,” they noted. “We forecast that real GDP will grow by 2.4% in 2023, and then fall to 0.8% in 2024.”
On the upside, consumer confidence was up 2.9% in November after three months of decline. The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence, however, fell to 46 in Q4 2023, down from 48 in the third quarter, as most business leaders are also anticipating a mild recession in early 2024.
Interest rates freeze real estate sales
With interest rates hovering in the 7.5-8% range as we bid goodbye to 2023, prospective homebuyers will continue to face a double conundrum in 2024:
- High interest rates have put many more available properties in the unaffordable range.
- Fewer homes are coming on the market as homeowners with low rates are staying put.
Some relief is on the horizon as homebuilders remain cautiously in the market to fill the supply gap. Many regions of the country are reporting strong new home sales, as homebuyers ready and willing to invest drift away from the paltry supply of existing homes to the new home market.
Freddie Mac statistics support this idea, with the GSE reporting that existing home sales were at their lowest level in 13 years in the month of September, but new home sales were showing remarkable resilience.
“New home sales have taken on increased importance for the housing market as the share of total home sales that are new increased to 16.1%, the highest share since 2005,” Freddie Mac reported. “The U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that new home sales in September 2023 were at an annualized rate of 759,000, up 12.3% from August and 33.9% from September 2022. Overall, the inventory of new homes for sale has decreased 5.4% from last year.”
Fannie Mae sees existing home sales declining in the near term but surging again as 2024 progresses.
“Regardless of whether the economy manages a soft landing or enters a mild recession, the ESR Group forecasts mortgage rates in 2024 to retreat from their recent highs and average 6.8% by the fourth quarter,” Fannie Mae said in its November assessment. “As such, the ESR group expects home sales to begin to increase modestly over 2024 but to remain constrained by the likely persistence of the low supply of homes for sale.”
Navigating the market
Interest rates, while high, are not in uncharted territory and homebuyers in the past have learned how to navigate higher interest rates through a plethora of tactics.
Real estate agents and loan officers who are knowledgeable and consultative with their customers may help keep the market afloat in 2024 by assisting their prospective homebuyers with a range of options, such as:
- Backpedaling expectations towards more affordable homes.
- Encouraging buyers to increase downpayments to lower their monthly payments.
- Educating borrowers about alternative products such as adjustable-rate mortgages.
- Negotiating seller concessions.
- Working with homebuilders to moderate costs in new home construction.
Of course, none of these concessions makes up for lack of supply. Luring home sellers who are locked into mortgages in the 3-4% range back into the market is going to continue to be a challenge until overall rates begin to moderate, which by all predictions is unlikely to happen until the latter half of 2024.
Keeping an eye on fundamentals
As we enter 2024, it will be imperative for business owners to keep their eye on economic fundamentals both nationally and in their own market as they navigate a slower real estate market.
Although the job market has slowed in recent months, the outlook remains strong for stable employment in 2024, with some anticipation of a modest increase in unemployment. Regional variations are likely to have some impact on the real estate outlook in specific markets.
According to Goldman Sachs, real disposable income is forecast to grow nearly 3% in 2024. Solid job growth, real wage growth and an increase in interest income should keep consumer spending strong.
Higher interest rates are likely to take a toll on business investment, but if recessionary fears continue to abate, this may become a non-issue in 2024.
U.S. imports, which reached a zenith during the pandemic, have eased back in the past year. According to Goldman Sachs research, U.S. exports are expected to show some improvement in the coming year, as foreign economic growth accelerates, narrowing the trade deficit.
If interest rates begin to moderate in the latter part of 2024, real estate sales could improve under the strength of a wave of Millennials who are eager to move up to home ownership.
However, the specter of even a mild recession coupled with diminished consumer savings so necessary for a downpayment, growing credit card debt, lack of affordable housing, and high interest rates could delay a real estate market comeback well into 2025, especially for first-time homebuyers.
Today’s title professionals face ever-increasing cybersecurity threats, all of which can cause major disruption and economic loss. With October being Cybersecurity Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to review the latest trends affecting our industry and understand how to mitigate some of the top challenges.
I. Wire fraud remains number one
Wire fraud continues to be the number one threat to title agents, their customers and the vitality of their business. According to the latest FBI reports, the average cost per wire fraud incident is nearly $200K, and the total number of incidents recorded this year will likely break records.
Take the following actions to derail some of the most common schemes, including phishing, business email compromise and social engineering:
- Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) for system access.
- Ensure the latest security patches are promptly installed. Read our tips on keeping programs updated consistently.
- Consider upgrading your antivirus protection with endpoint detection and response (EDR), a dynamic tool that leverages AI technology to reinforce your security.
II. Watch out for fraudulent sellers
Seller theft, one of the most significant emerging threats, involves a scheme where the seller’s identity is falsified, leading to a bogus and fraudulent sale. There is no shortage of information online regarding real estate transactions, making it easy for thieves to obtain these details. Here are some of the best strategies for combating these fraudsters:
- Use encryption to protect communications and all identifying information, including emails and data that is “at rest,” that is, data housed physically on a given computer storage device.
- Verify and validate identification through available electronic tools.
- Confirm and reconfirm throughout every step of the transaction. Slow down. Take time to verify.
To reduce fraudulent transactions and lower premiums, Alliant National has initiated a crime watch program, which incentivizes policy-issuing agents to detect and prevent illicit activity. Learn more about the program and get involved.
III. Privacy remains the focus
Ten states have now enacted comprehensive privacy laws. Six have passed laws this year alone, with Texas being just the latest to do so. All 50 states now have data breach reporting laws. Many statutes impose a significant daily fine for late notice or a private right of action for failure to comply and negligence.
What all these legislative moves imply is that privacy and sensitive data protection remains at the forefront of our industry. Title leaders must ask themselves if they are staying current on the latest technologies and techniques to guarantee end-to-end data protection, including:
- Developing a written security plan and devoting the necessary time and resources to ensure employees are trained sufficiently. maintaining complete records is important as well.
- Encrypting sensitive and non-public information, which is essential to protect against unauthorized access and breaches.
- Knowing and abiding by your state-specific breach reporting requirements.
IV. Practice secured electronic document storage
Title agencies routinely deal with electronic documents that contain large quantities of sensitive information and which represent a highly attractive target for today’s criminals. In fact, according to recent research, “88% of organizations worldwide were experiencing spear-phishing attempts in 2019. And 68% of business leaders felt their cybersecurity risks were drastically increasing.”[i]
Here are some principles to help keep these bad actors at bay:
- Ensure you are applying encryption to protect digitally stored documents.
- Perform periodic backup and recovery tests to ensure the availability and integrity of stored records.
- Maintain and test disaster recovery and business continuity plans.
V. Adhere to all regulations
Regulatory compliance requirements have increased and will continue to evolve to address shifting cybersecurity and consumer privacy issues. Stay abreast of some of the most pressing changes to the landscape:
- The current patchwork of complex state privacy and data breach laws is expected to continue growing without any expected federal legislation.
- The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) has been updated for the first time since the early-aughts to address data security and privacy. Modifications to the law’s security safeguard rules are going into effect in June 2023 and will be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
- The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has released a draft of proposed 2023 privacy protection requirements modeled after the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS).
Taking action can keep you safe
Wire fraud. Seller falsification. Regulatory compliance. It seems like every day there is a new thing for the busy title agent to worry about. Staying apprised of the latest news and best practices, however, can help, as can seeking out the expertise of an experienced technology provider. Taking these steps, along with carrying comprehensive insurance for cybercrime and liability, can reinforce your security posture for maximum protection.
For more tips on building a safe and secure title operation, check out our other blogs focusing on IT.
[i] 2020 State of the Phish: An in-depth look at user awareness, vulnerability and resilience (proofpoint.com)
From global economic trends to local housing affordability, numerous factors promise to shape the real estate market heading into the final quarter of the year. In general, the economic outlook both globally and within the U.S. remains subdued as we approach 2024, with many forecasters highlighting inflation and monetary policy as the drivers.
The Conference Board has predicted global GDP to grow by 2.9 percent in 2023, slowing to 2.5 percent in 2024. Emerging economies are expected to fare better than the U.S. and Europe, which are both anticipating lackluster performances once all is said and done this year. Although the U.S. economy has been surprisingly resilient in the aftermath of the pandemic, boasting strong employment numbers and healthy consumer spending, the Conference Board is anticipating a short and shallow recession in 2024, largely due to high interest rates, ongoing inflation, mounting consumer debt and dissipated consumer savings.
All of these factors are likely to prey on the housing market as well, and may serve to keep new homebuyers out of a market that has become increasingly unaffordable due to escalating interest rates and stubbornly limited inventory, which has kept prices elevated.
Chilly Q4 housing market
The housing market typically slows in the fourth quarter as buyers step away amid the approaching holidays. However, many industry pundits are predicting housing sales to slow faster than in years past due to the plethora of economic challenges homebuyers are facing.
In its September outlook report, Fannie Mae noted that mortgage origination activity had slowed to levels not seen since 2011.
“The new home market, which showed surprising strength over the first half of 2023, due in part to a limited inventory of existing homes for sale, may now be taking a breather,” Fannie Mae reported. “We forecast total home sales to be around 4.8 million in 2023, which would be the slowest annual pace since 2011 and 4.9 million in 2024. Similarly, our expectation for 2023 mortgage originations was downgraded from $1.60 trillion to $1.56 trillion in 2023 and from $1.92 trillion to $1.88 trillion in 2024.”
Further exacerbating the situation, some buyers are sitting out due to fears that housing has become overvalued and are hesitant to buy a home that may lose its value, if the market should take a sudden downturn. This is a regional reality, however. While the run-up in prices over the past few years in several western cities is ripe for a correction, many markets across much of the country increased at a moderate and sustainable pace, boding well for price stability.
New home sales decline
Despite builder concessions to offset high interest rates, new home sales continued to drop as the summer waned.
Sales of newly built, single-family homes in August fell 8.7% to a 675,000 seasonally adjusted annual rate, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.
“Builders continue to grapple with supply-side concerns in a market with poor levels of housing affordability,” said Alicia Huey, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a custom home builder and developer from Birmingham, Ala. “Higher interest rates price out demand, as seen in August, but also increase the cost of financing for builder and developer loans, adding another hurdle for building.”
As a result of all of these factors, builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes in September fell five points to 40, according to NAHB.
Consumer confidence mixed
With employment numbers on solid ground to date, consumers generally express optimism not only about their own jobs, but about available prospects in the larger market.
On the downside, the Conference Board noted in September that overall consumer confidence fell for the second month in a row in September with consumers expressing concern about rising prices, the volatile political situation and rising interest rates.
Interest rates: The wrench in the gears
Recognizing that the ongoing interest rate hikes are paralyzing the market, NAHB, the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) and National Association of REALTORS (NAR) joined forces in October to ask the Federal Reserve to refrain from further rate hikes.
In their October 10 letter to the Fed, the organizations pointed out that a primary source of inflation has been housing, highlighting that in July alone, shelter inflation was responsible for 90% of the gain for consumer prices.
Rather than exacerbating the problem with higher interest rates, the organizations suggested the federal government should be focused on facilitating the construction of affordable housing.
“Sustained, widespread or further increases in interest rates make this economic goal more challenging by limiting lot development and home construction, exacerbating housing supply, and pricing out millions of households from the goal of homeownership,” the letter said.
In September, MBA SVP and Chief Economist Mike Fratantoni acknowledged that the FOMC is still considering further rate hikes and in addition signaled that much-anticipated rate cuts would come later and slower than anticipated in 2024. But he remained optimistic that 2024 would see a turnaround.
“We expect that inflation will continue to drop closer to the Fed’s target, the job market will continue to slow, and that mortgage rates should begin to reflect that the Fed’s moves in 2024 will be cuts – not further increases,” Fratantoni said in his commentary. “This should provide some relief in terms of better affordability for potential homebuyers.”
Limited affordable housing continues to plague the market overall. In part, homebuilders have begun to scale back the size and scope of amenities in their new builds to try to address the immediate issue of rising interest rates, but those efforts do not address the wider issue that can only be resolved by a concerted effort to address the problem on both the national and community level.
Affordable housing advocates offer several pathways to improved inventory, including incentivizing builders to build more affordable housing, increasing production of manufactured housing, addressing zoning and other restrictions that are preventing the creation of affordable housing where it is most needed, expanding the National Housing Trust Fund, and increasing resources for Federal affordable housing programs. The continued strength of the economy overall bodes well for a brighter 2024 for the housing market. However, the pace of recovery hinges on the FOMC effectively meeting its target to curb inflation, allowing interest rates to retreat. Concurrently, industry groups, local communities, and the federal government must tackle the pressing issue of housing affordability.
According to PositivePsychology.com, as humans we are innately wired to pursue instant gratification. It’s natural for us to want good things, and to want them NOW. In fact, the urge for immediacy surely benefited pre-modern humans as their very survival often hinged upon making instantaneous decisions followed by taking immediate actions (e.g. “there’s a Tyrannosaurus rex headed my way … I’d better run and take cover!”). Humans today are not so different from their ancient ancestors – we, too, want immediacy, especially when it comes to the acquisition of wealth – whether that translates into the speed with which we receive funds or the swiftness with which we get title to real property under contract.
A Catalyst Corporate Credit Union blog reported that recent studies have shown “[a] staggering 70% of consumers express that having faster payment options from their financial institution is an important driver of satisfaction.” Thanks to advances in fintech, we now have a payment rail with two trains riding upon it to deliver that instant gratification. These two “trains” are Real Time Payments (RTP) and FedNow. They both move so FAST (almost instantaneously) that you and your customers can enjoy the ability to transfer funds 24/7, 365 days of the year in real time. With no waiting periods to transfer funds, just imagine how much faster your closings can take place – they can occur on holidays, weekends, and anytime convenient for you and the parties to the transaction!
Since 2017, RTP has been operated by The Clearing House (TCH), a consortium of member financial institutions; TCH’s RTP Network lists approximately 373 participating Financial Institutions (FIs).
On July 20, 2023, FedNow – the Federal Reserve’s interbank, instant payment infrastructure – went live; it launched with 35 participating FIs, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service and 16 service providers, but it has the potential to service all depository institutions eligible to hold accounts at the Reserve Banks – currently estimated at more than 10,000 banks and credit unions! FedNow promises to be a real game-changer for the national economy, and especially for our industry.
Let’s talk about what FedNow can do for you. At this time, the FedNow Service supports account-to-account and consumer-to-business bill pay use cases. The maximum credit transfer amount is $500,000, but participating FIs have the option to provide a lesser amount (so you may want to check with the transferor’s FI in advance to make sure that you know its dollar limits). With FedNow, businesses and individuals can also request a payment (referred to as a RFP or “Request for Payment”) from a recipient. For example, with FedNow you can electronically send “Betty Buyer” a request for the balance of cash needed to close her transaction; there is even a “zero-dollar request for payment” pre-validation tool available to make sure that the end-customer has the ability to receive and act on the RFP prior to the biller actually sending one. We can anticipate that FedNow will be able to do even more in the future as its functionality is expected to increase in phases. To learn more about FedNow, and when and how it may be available for your use, please visit FedNowExplorer.org.
Lastly, if you want to know more about the BIG picture – RTP, FedNow, the Good Funds Laws, and Payment Service Providers (e.g. Venmo and PayPal) – and how these mechanisms and laws affect each other and work together, read our in-depth white paper, “Moving Money in a Real Estate Transaction.”
Younger generations are increasingly striving for homeownership. Here’s how you can reach them!
Millennials and Gen Z are entering the housing market in greater numbers, and it’s a big opportunity for agents who know how to respond. Successfully courting these younger homebuyers starts by shifting your marketing mindset and adopting new tools and strategies in the process.
Many millennials were slow to enter the homeownership game, although not for lack of trying, and not due to eating too much avocado toast as a young Australian millionaire famously suggested in 2017. Having come of age during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, home ownership amongst this generational demographic has often lagged behind its predecessors, with educational debt being cited as one of the biggest contributing factors.
In recent years, however, the picture has changed, with nearly 62% of 40-year-olds now owning their own home. Right behind them is Gen Z, with data showing that 30% of 25-year-olds are homeowners, which is 3% higher than their Gen X parents when they were the same age.[i]
The implications for those in the real estate community are obvious. To connect with and convert this demographic, you need to reevaluate your marketing programs. By taking intentional steps to promote your services through channels these younger generations use, you can be better positioned for business success both today and tomorrow.
Let’s begin by focusing on social media. Although we have covered social in a variety of other blog posts, it merits repeating here. Why? Because it remains an incredibly important channel for younger individuals. Over 1 in 4 millennials use social media to find products and services, and nearly half use different social platforms to conduct research.[ii] By developing your presence on these channels, and by interweaving multi-media attributes like short-form video, you can make a larger impact and grow your brand awareness.
These days, having a mobile-friendly online presence is a must, especially if you are trying to reach millennials and Gen Z. Research shows that over 96% of internet users ages 16-64 own a smartphone[iii] and well over 50% of people use these devices to access websites.[iv]
What does this mean for title agencies? Just put yourself in the mindset of a consumer! Let’s say title agency #1 has a website that looks great on your device while title agency #2 does not, which one would you think is going to take care of your needs while closing on a new home? I would suspect you know the answer, and that should tell you everything you need to know about why a mobile website matters.
If there is one thing you need to know about younger generations like millennials and Gen Z it is that they grew up doing a lot of comparative analysis via review sites like Yelp, Google, Foursquare, etc. Take some time to establish a presence across these review sites and stay active by responding to user comments and complaints. The benefits of doing so are two-fold: Not only will you become more visible to younger users who are using the sites, but you will also showcase that you are a responsive, reliable company committed to customer satisfaction.
Even in a heavily digitized economy like ours, good old word-of-mouth marketing still can’t be beaten. One of the best ways to build this positive buzz is by developing relationships with real estate agents who help guide customers through the home-buying process.
As anyone who has been involved in real estate for a while knows, this is an industry that is forever changing. The rise of millennials and Gen Z home buyers is just one recent development. By getting digitally savvy and making an honest effort to create positive word-of-mouth, you can capitalize on this opportunity and capture more of their business.
[i] The Race to Homeownership: Gen Z Tracking Ahead of Their Parents’ Generation, Millennials Tracking Behind (redfin.com)
[ii] Here’s Why Millennials Use Social Media – Marketing Charts
[iii] Mobile marketing statistics compilation | Smart Insights
[iv] Internet Traffic from Mobile Devices (June 2023) (explodingtopics.com)