- Political uncertainty affects trade, consumer prices, home prices and mortgage interest rates.
- Big baby boomer and millennial populations (who want different things in their homes) are causing generational disruption and housing mismatch.
- The proliferation of real estate technology is also going to have a big impact on consumers, agents and brokers.
DENVER — Every year, the Counselors of Real Estate (CRE) surveys its members to discover what the most pressing issues facing the real estate industry might be.
Today, at the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) conference in Denver, CRE chair Scott Muldavin unveiled a list of the 10 challenges the industry will face.
“As real estate agents, we’re all futurists,” said Muldavin, pointing out that purchasing a home, securing a mortgage and even signing a lease are all activities that require some thought about the future.
In a departure from previous years, Muldavin started the list with the item that CRE members think is the most pressing one for the industry to face right now.
1. Political polarization and global uncertainty
“Today we’re going to start at the top because political polarization and global uncertainty is an issue that permeates almost all the other issues,” Muldavin explained.
He noted that resurging nationalism, threats to the European Union and the possibility of war with Iran or North Korea — plus uncertainty relative to trade deals — are all contributing to this challenge.
“There are a lot of unintended consequences,” he noted.
Political polarization and global uncertainty have a particular impact on trade, so port, gateway and coastal communities might find themselves with economic or other problems that they haven’t yet had to tackle.
Add to that the fact that the consumer price index, home prices and interest rates are all rising, mortgages are less affordable and communities are increasingly polarized, and you can see how this issue would affect homeownership on an individual and national scale.
2. The technology boom
“One of the biggest booms today is actually the boom in applications,” said Muldavin, noting that in 2011, $186 million was spent on real estate tech applications, and that number had ballooned to $2.7 billion in 2016.
“This move is going to change every aspect of buying, selling and managing real estate,” he said.
Technology will affect home sales in the following ways:
- Robotics has come alive — and that means your job might not be safe, which could have an impact on the number of households that can afford to buy a home.
- Autonomous vehicles are coming sooner or later — Muldavin thinks sooner — and that’s going to mean buildings and parking garages are probably due for some redesign, and builders need to start thinking about that now.
- Consumers are coming to expect growing sophistication from service providers who leverage technology, so those service providers better be ready to deliver.
- Smart home devices are becoming increasingly popular.
- Wireless access and bandwidth are key for residential properties.
- New modes of transportation and new transportation models could be a boom for the suburbs.
3. Generational disruptions
The two biggest generations in the United States — millennials and baby boomers — have very different challenges and varying priorities and needs when it comes to housing, and that gets especially squirrelly when the two groups need to share living spaces.
This means that office, public and residential living spaces should be designed with the demands of both groups in mind, whenever possible, to meet the needs of this side-by-side generational workforce.
And while young renters and buyers have income limits and are marrying and moving to the suburbs later in life, older owners are downsizing and selling so they can move back to the cities.
4. Retail disruption
“This is not exactly a new issue that the retail markets are having a problem,” said Muldavin.
“Between 1970 and today, malls grew at twice the rate of the population.” He noted that the United States has 40 percent more retail space than Canada, five times more than the United Kingdom and 10 times more than Germany. That’s…a lot, especially when you combine it with the wonders of shopping online.
So is it any surprise that so many retail storefronts are closing up shop?
“Retail’s not dying,” assured Muldavin, “but people like experiences” — so current retail stores might be converted to climbing gyms, offices or what Muldavin calls “omnichannel” stores.
And this will all roll up to impact residential real estate; properties within walking distance will be within high demand, and retail disruption can be a residential value determinant, so it’s unwise to ignore it.
5. Infrastructure investment
“Infrastructure is a long-term problem relative to our competitiveness,” said Muldavin, and it’s another one we can’t ignore — it won’t fix itself and it’s only going to keep deteriorating.
He discussed the the infrastructure plan outlined by the Trump administration and said it would push funds into public transportation and other important infrastructure projects.
However, infrastructure projects of this scope are typically taken on when unemployment is relatively high — which it is definitely not right now; we’re at an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent in the U.S., the lowest since 2001.
So where are those infrastructure workers going to come from, and how much will they need to be paid?
There are commercial opportunities for fund management, plus advantages for ports and communities that support global transportation routes, and more infrastructure likely means more jobs (and therefore more money to buy a home), better access to housing and work and other necessary places, improved utilities, improved delivery of goods and more.
“The losers are going to be rural areas, water, electrical grids, parks — anything that doesn’t have a direct public source,” Muldavin said.
6. Housing: The big mismatch
“Affordability is a big issue, but in Cleveland you can still buy a house for $80,000,” Muldavin noted. “So affordability’s not a problem everywhere. The places where jobs are being created, you have huge affordability issues. What they really need to do is get jobs moving to where we have housing that’s affordable.”
This is just one example of the big housing mismatch. Others include:
- Boomers want large apartments for their downsizing plans while developers have been building much smaller units for millennials.
- There are far too few starter homes to meet demand in most markets.
- The poor demand for old, large homes in the suburbs can also hinder move-up or downsizing buyers seeking a change.
7. Lost decades of the middle class
Middle class wages haven’t grown in 20 years, Muldavin noted.
“We have a real challenge in this and it has significant implications for real estate relative to homebuying.”
Is it any surprise that homeownership rates have dropped? Muldavin said that they’re forecasted to go even lower — to 60 percent or below. “We’re not expecting a homebuying boom,” he said.
8. Real estate’s emerging role in health care
Is anyone in the U.S. (aside from perhaps pharmaceutical companies) happy with the state of health care? Muldavin noted that we spend $3 trillion on health care every year in this country, and our outcomes rank 50 out of 55 developed countries surveyed. “We’re not getting a lot done,” Muldavin said, “and real estate has a key role in turning this around.”
That includes both increased health care infrastructure — urgent care centers, ambulatory care centers, clinics and other health care-related locales are popping up to help alleviate the burden from hospitals — and buildings themselves can help enhance and promote our health.
There are programs that can control carbon dioxide and lighting levels, for example, to promote alertness and align with circadian rhythms for better sleep.
“The problem with immigration and the polarization is we don’t have a comprehensive strategy,” said Muldavin.
There are, of course, implications of toughening the borders against immigration:
- It blocks access to skilled workers.
- It impacts innovation.
- It hampers multifamily development, rents and home sales.
- It impacts home and rental unit size, as immigrant families are often larger.
- There will be fewer new household formations, fewer renters and fewer buyers.
10. Climate change
Muldavin explained that whether or not you believe in rising sea levels and climate change, it’s going to affect real estate — because new scientific algorithms might convince other people that your property will soon be (literally) underwater.
“It doesn’t even have to be true for it to affect real estate,” he said.
Muldavin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area by the water, and he explained that his big concern is less about his property and more about how he gets there (and leaves).
“If the access road floods now, I can’t get to my house today,” he said. If it gets worse….
“Even if it’s wrong, the perceptions can affect values a lot,” he said “and particularly for baby boomers when your home is such a huge part of your equity and investment, are you going to take a huge risk and not sell or move?”