microphoneSeptember 2016 — While Siri and Google Now are well-established smartphone features, it is in the smart home that voice control systems will live out their full potential. Smart TVs, smart refrigerators, smart plugs, and more will extend the reach and simplicity of managing the smart home environment using voice. With ABI Research forecasting more than 120 million voice-enabled devices to ship annually by 2021, voice control, which combines speech recognition and natural language processing, is quickly becoming the key user interface within the smart home.

"Led by the success of Amazon's Alexa platform, smart home voice control is creating new competition and demands for wireless speaker and other vendors to include voice capabilities in their devices," says Jonathan Collins, research director at ABI Research. "But the scaling of voice control applications in the smart home breeds complexity. Vendors will need to evaluate how and when to bring voice control into smart home devices in order to best tackle adding the service into wider smart home systems."

BankSeptember 2016 —For the first time since 2012, mortgage originations are expected to top $2 trillion in 2016, according to Freddie Mac's monthly Outlook for August. Low mortgage interest rates are spurring a burst of refinance activity, and strong home sales and house price growth are supporting purchase mortgage activity.

  • Revising down GDP growth to 1.5 percent in 2016 and 1.9 percent in 2017. Expecting low mortgage interest rates and strong home sales to boost 2016 forecasted mortgage originations by $175 billion over last month's forecast.
  • Projecting interest rates to remain below 4 percent in 2016 as well as 2017. Revising down the 2017 mortgage rates forecast to 3.7 percent for the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage and 2.1 percent for the 10-year Treasury yield.
  • Forecasting total home sales to reach 6.04 million in 2016 (the highest level in a decade) versus 5.96 million forecasted last month. Expecting housing construction to remain on an upward trend, but at a slower pace of increases. Revising down the housing starts forecast for 2016 and 2017 to 1.2 million and 1.4 million, respectively.

green houseSeptember 2016 — The best technique for pricing a home when listing it for sale is setting the asking price just below a round number, according to recent research published by the Journal of Housing Research, an official publication of the American Real Estate Society (ARES).

"These findings will help real estate professionals and sellers of homes develop more informed listing and marketing strategies to better suit sellers' needs," says Ken Johnson, Ph.D., ARES publication director, real estate economist at Florida Atlantic University's College of Business and co-developer of the Beracha, Hardin and Johnson Buy vs. Rent Index. "The results of this study take a lot of guess work out of the marketing of homes for real estate professionals."

keysAugust 2016 — Fannie Mae recently announced enhancements to HomeReady®, the affordable mortgage option designed to meet the diverse needs of today’s borrowers. HomeReady allows borrowers to provide as little as 3 percent down, and was the first affordable lending option to offer creditworthy borrowers the ability to qualify with income from non-borrower household members. HomeReady continues to evolve with enhancements that expand access to credit responsibly and promote successful homeownership.

sunAugust 2016 — Zero-energy houses are a new type of green home built to return zero-dollar energy bills. The houses are becoming universally viable, due to advancements in energy-efficient technology and the declining cost of construction.

Owners of zero-energy homes pay nothing for energy consumption (other than a monthly grid fee), and cut their carbon footprint to near-zero. The typical zero-energy house is made of thick exterior walls, and is outfitted with an efficient HVAC system and solar panels. The home is connected to the grid, so that excess energy generated by the home throughout the day can be distributed back into the grid and power the home at night.

According to the Net-Zero Energy Coalition (NZEC), over 6,000 houses in the U.S. and Canada are “zero-energy ready”—able to self-supply at least 90 percent of their annual energy demand. Just 9 percent of the houses in the NZEC inventory are “zero-energy,” or able to supply 100 percent of their annual energy demand. “Net producers,” which are homes that supply 110 percent or more of their annual energy demand, comprise only 4 percent of the houses in the NZEC inventory.

peopleAugust 2016 — What makes a homeowner happy? A safe community? A short commute? What about walkability?

The answer is all of the above, according to HomeAdvisor.com’s recently released Homeowner Happiness Index, an industry indicator ranking the happiest cities in the nation.

“A homeowner’s quality of life is more likely to be dependent on their community and access to important attractions and services than it is on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in their home,” said Dr. Karen Ruskin, HomeAdvisor’s happiness expert, in a statement.

Square footage is indeed less of a factor in determining a homeowner’s happiness, the Index shows. Natural light, on the other hand, is an important consideration—naturally-lit homes tend to appear more spacious.

gatedJuly 2016 — Homes in gated communities command significantly higher prices – almost $30,000 on average – but these neighborhoods’ additional amenities can also reduce sale prices because they bring maintenance costs that outweigh the benefits of the amenities, according to recent research published by the American Real Estate Society (ARES).

“This study provides clear evidence that homes in gated communities sell at a premium relative to comparable homes in non-gated communities,” said ARES Publication Director Ken Johnson, Ph.D., real estate economist at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Business and co-developer of the Beracha, Hardin and Johnson Buy vs. Rent Index.

Johnson refers to a study published by ARES in the Journal of Real Estate Research, conducted by professor Evgeny L. Radetskiy, Ph.D., of La Salle University and professors Ronald W. Spahr, Ph.D., and Mark A. Sunderman, Ph.D., of the University of Memphis.

big houseJuly 2016 — The latest national index produced by Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University faculty indicates the United States housing market as a whole is moving deeper into buy territory suggesting that, on average, residential housing markets around the country are sound.

Based on numbers from the end of the first quarter, the latest Beracha, Hardin & Johnson (BH&J) Buy vs. Rent Index comes on the heels of the latest S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, which found home prices nationally climbed 5.4 percent since March 2015.

“This appears to be driven by a steady but strengthening job market, rising rents relative to rising ownership costs and recent slower growth in traditional financial portfolios consisting of stocks and bonds,” said Ken Johnson, Ph.D., a real estate economist who is one of the index’s authors and an associate dean of graduate programs and professor in FAU’s College of Business.

uscapitolbuildingJuly 2016 — Take action now to urge your Senators to co-sponsor S. 3083, the “Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act,” a companion bill to H.R. 3700. The act makes needed reforms to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) condominium loan program by removing burdensome FHA condo approval processes and restrictions on the number of condos available to homebuyers. The House of Representatives passed HR 3700 unanimously with a bipartisan vote of 427-0 and now we need the Senate to act!

Up

July 2016 — Fannie Mae’s Home Purchase Sentiment Index™ (HPSI) increased 1.6 points to 85.3 in May, reaching a new all-time survey high and rebounding from an 18-month low in March. Three of the six HPSI components increased in May, led by a 7 percentage point increase on net in the share of consumers reporting that their income was significantly higher than it was 12 months ago. In addition, the net share of consumers who expect that home prices will go up over the next 12 months rose 5 percentage points, followed by a 3 percentage point increase in the net share of consumers who expect mortgage interest rates to go down over the next 12 months. Changes in the HPSI Good Time to Buy, Good Time to Sell, and job security components were minimal in May.

fhaJune 2016 — While the Federal Housing Administration’s overhaul of its Single-Family Housing Policy Handbook last year offered loan originators more clarity on lending policies and loan underwriting standards, some changes made to the property valuation policies are causing confusion and delays, according to speakers at a real property valuation forum at the 2016 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

All properties bought or refinanced with an FHA loan have to be appraised by a HUD-approved home appraiser. When purchasing a property with a conventional loan product, the appraiser focuses on determining the market value of the home; however, with an FHA-insured loan, the appraiser not only determines market value but also inspects the home to ensure it meets certain minimum property standards. Requiring appraisers to take on home inspection-type duties to ensure standards are met appears to blur the line between appraisals and home inspections and has raised questions among consumers, agents and appraisers.