Fastest Moving Home Markets Require Agility
To help members get the homes they want while staying ahead of the whirlwind of changes in the some of the nation's fastest moving real estate markets, credit unions have adopted a number of strategies.
According to a recent study from the online real estate firm Trulia, in the 10 hottest real estate markets in the U.S. on average, homes sold in less than 60 days after going on sale. As a result, experts said some credit unions in these areas have faced two unique challenges: Modifying their programs to help their members have their best chance to buy the house they want and keeping their mortgage programs up to date to maintain pace with rapidly shifting conditions.
Steve Rick, senior economist for CUNA, said there wasn't a specific factor that led to homes selling quickly in these markets but suggested that different facets of two broad trends have played a role.
“What you will find is that a lot of these fast-moving markets have a pretty strong job market and a history of pretty short supplies,” Rick said.
The strong employment has increased wages which gave people more confidence when shopping for a house and upped the demand from home seekers looking to settle in those communities.
Supply is often small because, historically, many of these markets have not allowed home building to keep pace with population growth for a number of reasons, Rick explained.
For instance, most of the California communities that ranked among the fastest growing markets had restricted home building to no more than 10 new homes for every 1,000 units of existing homes, according to Trulia.
“Reasons might include concerns over the environmental impact of new housing to zoning problems,” Rick said.
“But the net result is the same; too few houses available for the numbers of people who need to buy them so homes sell faster and bring higher prices.”
A number of credit unions in these fast moving communities have taken steps to try to adapt to the situation, including turning to a specialty CUSO for assistance.
Because seven of the 10 fastest moving markets are in California, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based firm CU Realty Services reported high interest from credit unions in the Golden State.
In early June, the CUSO signed on three California credit union clients and a housing finance CUSO with more in the pipeline to come later this summer, said Tina Powers, CU Realty's chief operating officer.
CU Realty said it currently serves more than 100 credit unions in 21 states, either directly or through a housing finance CUSO.
Among CU Realty's strategies is helping credit unions become their members’ first real estate resource by providing online real estate search tools and a network of highly qualified Realtors that provide their services to credit union members at a discount, according to Powers.
Powers said these two strategies were especially useful in the fast moving markets because they helped members obtain information quickly about new listings and real estate availability.
“Being the first buyer on the scene can't overcome all the obstacles but it can make a big difference,” Powers said.
Several of CU Realty's member credit unions have also adopted tactics to help members win bidding wars on properties, Powers noted.
“A credit union member might be pre-approved for $350,000,” she explained. “But instead of giving the member just one pre-approval letter for that amount, the credit union might give four letters: one for $300,000, one for $315,000, one for $330,000 and the last for $350,000.”
Powers said breaking the approval block into four letters allows the member to make bids on a property without necessarily letting the seller know how high they are approved to go on price.
“If the seller saw the $350,000 right off the bat, they are unlikely to sell for less than $350,000,” Powers said.
Another tactic is to extend pre-approval letters and interest rate lock-ins in anticipation of what may be a prolonged house search, Powers added.
Besides several cities in California, Boston is also among the fastest real estate markets in the country, according to Trulia. Massachusetts’ largest state-chartered credit union has shifted some of its mortgage policies to help members compete.
Robert Cashman, president/CEO of the $1.3 billion Metro Credit Union in Chelsea, Mass., said the cooperative has urged its members to use a ramped up pre-approval program.
“We have offered it in the past, but I would say we had too much of a pre-approval culture in home buying before,” Cashman said.
“But now, we have gone to our members through a variety of different channels to urge them, if they are thinking about buying a house, to come in and talk to us and get preapproved so they can be ready to make an offer when they need to do it.”
Metro also has a network of Realtors it can recommend to members. Cashman said the housing professionals have helped them do things such as getting preliminary inspections done so that an offer can be made with as few contingencies as possible.
Carol Hauck, president/CEO of the $260 million First University Credit Union in Sacramento, Calif., expressed a little surprise that her market was on the list and said that while houses have been selling quickly there, some resistance from buyers kept the prices from climbing too quickly.
Sacramento's market first began heating up with sales about 15 months ago with the bulk of that growth coming from foreclosures and distressed properties that were being sold for cash to investors and flippers, Hauck said. While the demand for these types of sales has died down, the pace has remained fast but buyers are still wary.
“The market is competitive for buyers and inventory is very low, but we also see a hesitance from members to be too aggressive since unemployment is still high and the economy is still unsure,” Hauck wrote in an email to CU Times.
Hauck added, “We, too, are providing multiple approval letters, go as long as possible with 90-day pre-approvals and up to 60-day locks, and look for ways to incent members to not only get pre-approved by us to buy their dream homes but close their loan with us.”