Nela Richardson is chief economist at Redfin.
Are you optimistic about 2015? The economy?
Yes! There are a lot of positive trends happening in the economy now, after years of it being pretty much stuck in place. The latest job report highlights how far the economy has come, posting over 300,000 jobs in one month, but also just how far the economy has to go (a lot of those jobs were part-time and low-wage ones). In 2015, I think the jobs picture will improve enough to finally put some upward pressure on wages, which have barely kept up with the rate of inflation for years. For a healthy and sustainable housing market, it’s important that incomes grow in conjunction with home prices. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading in the right direction.
The housing market?
Yes! One of the bigger juggernauts of the housing market finally loosens up next year: extremely short supply. After two years of strong home prices, many would-be sellers who bought during the boom years have now built enough equity to sell their homes. We especially think that the market will see an uptick in midpriced homes for sale, and an increase in affordable inventory will be a breath of fresh air to buyers. Prices are also slowing next year, and the number of offers that will face a bidding war is decreasing. Sustainable price growth is good for everyone, even sellers! That’s because today’s sellers are often tomorrow’s buyers, and vice versa. In sum, buyers in 2015 will have more time and more choices in which to make their homebuying decision.
My success is directly linked to the time, energy and passion I put into my work and I’m brimming with all three … OK, two of the three, there’s never enough time! I am extremely excited about next year and our opportunities as a company to help consumers make the right homebuying decisions for them. Personally, I feel honored to be part of an industry that people care so much about and plan their lives around, and one that is so crucial to the American economy.
What are you worried about?
I am worried about those who are being left behind economically. For a long time, homeownership was a way to build wealth for the middle class. In many areas of the country, home values have gone up so high and so quickly that the middle class have been priced out because their incomes have not kept pace.
How much do you fret about global events?
Global events have a tremendous impact on consumer sentiment and business confidence. Both are crucial for a strong economy where people and businesses think it is OK to spend, especially on something as expensive as a home. I am constantly tracking global events for this reason. One of the side effects of economic volatility abroad is that the U.S. is still a safe haven for overseas wealth and foreign investors looking for safe assets in the U.S. to put their money, which helps keep long-term interest rates in the U.S. low. Also, international investment in real estate has a significant impact on prices and supply of homes for sale in many cities like Miami, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The way global events affect the level of foreign buying of real estate is worth keeping tabs on.
Will mortgage rates go up or down next year?
Up, but they will increase slowly, with dips along the way, and remain under 5 percent for the year. I expect rates on the 30-year mortgage rate to top out at 4.7 percent. Rates, historically, have been much higher. In a survey conducted by Redfin, 83 percent of respondents considered a “normal” rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan to fall under 5 percent, even though rates have averaged 6.7 percent since 1990 and were much higher before then. Our Redfin agents report that rates have been so low for so long they’ve taken some of the urgency out of the market. Buyers know that they don’t have to “buy now” to get a low rate.
Will home prices appreciate next year?
Yes, but slowly. We expect home price growth to slow to 3 percent in 2015, a pace much closer to the historical average than has been posted in the two previous years. In expensive markets like Silicon Valley, prices may have already topped out, and we could see a dip in prices next year.
Will agents be more productive next year? Why or why not?
Redfin is always working on tools, apps and services to help our agents work as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Will the portals play a bigger role in real estate next year?
Since I’ve joined Redfin, I’ve learned that homebuyers and sellers are extremely educated and have an insatiable appetite for information about homes and the real estate market. This makes my job both exciting and rewarding! I predict that as we continue to see more transparency in the market, homebuyers will want even more information about the nuances of the market, and those who can provide that will do well.
What will be the biggest source of real estate leads next year?
Redfin.com will continue to be the biggest source of leads for Redfin agents. But every year we are reminded of the importance of referrals from past and current clients.
Are you making plans to expand, contract or maintain your business this year?
Redfin will continue to grow and build our brokerage in 2015. I’m excited to continue providing homebuyers, home sellers, builders, investors and the real estate-obsessed with timely information about what’s going on in your local market.
What is the biggest challenge for the industry in the coming year?
Consumers are presented with an increasing amount of information and options. It’s up to those of us in the industry to help them navigate the process of buying or selling a home and sort through all the information at their fingertips.