paintbrush1February 2016 — A fresh coat of paint is an upgrade well worth the effort. Your best bet for color?

The lighter, the better, says Paint Quality Institute Paint and Color Expert Debbie Zimmer.

"Deep, saturated shades have been popular for years, but the palette that's in vogue right now is just the opposite," says Zimmer. "Interior designers and colorists are favoring lighter hues, including off-whites, that just tease the eye with traces of color."

Interestingly enough, there is a psychological benefit to a lighter indoor environment. Brighter surroundings can lift our spirits, and soft tints derived from certain color families—green and blue, for example—can feel restorative after a stressful day.

Vaguely reminiscent of the "pastels" of yesteryear, the light colors that are gaining popularity today are more sophisticated ensembles, often marrying three or more different hues to create soft color that is often hard to put a name to. Layering color in this way produces fascinating visual effects.

social mediaFebruary 2016 — As you ready for the busy spring season, keep in mind that the majority of your audience will be searching for you online.

“Your online marketing presence should be a main focal point of your business planning, especially when it comes to social media,” says Patty McNease, director of marketing for Homes.com.

Here are fresh marketing ideas to help you start your year off right.

Utilize Automation.

The less time you need to spend in front of a computer sending emails or composing tweets, the more time you’ll have for what you do best — home transactions.

Today, advancements in automated marketing have made it possible for agents to save hours each week while still connecting with clients and generating new leads. Services such as CRM integration, lead nurturing and management, automated email marketing, and sales cycle management are now easier than ever, and are helping to revolutionize real estate marketing.

peopleFebruary 2016 — Home sales are poised to zoom to the highest levels since 2006 this year, following a fast start and rosy 2016 housing forecasts.

Gains in new home construction and existing home sales are both expected to push total home sales to the highest levels in years. The new-home construction market is expected to see the most gains in 2016, said the National Association of Realtors, which is forecasting a 12 percent year-over-year increase in housing starts and a 16 percent year-over-year growth in new home sales. The gains in existing-home sales are expected to be more moderate, with expectations of a three percent year-over-year gain.

“The improvements we’ve seen over the last few years have enabled a recovery in the existing-home market…,” said Jonathan Smoke, realtor.com’s chief economist. Total sales for existing and new homes are expected to reach six million for the first time since 2006 next year.

consumers1February 2016 — The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had increased in December, improved moderately in January. The Index now stands at 98.1 (1985=100), up from 96.3 in December. The Present Situation Index was unchanged at 116.4, while the Expectations Index increased from 83.0 to 85.9 in January.

“Consumer confidence improved slightly in January, following an increase in December,” says Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Consumers’ assessment of current conditions held steady, while their expectations for the next six months improved moderately. For now, consumers do not foresee the volatility in financial markets as having a negative impact on the economy.”

WizardJanuary 2016 — Rising home prices over the last few years are finally putting more money back into home sellers’ pockets, a trend that should continue through 2016. Homeowners who sold during the latter part of 2015 saw an average price gain of $40,658 — or 17 percent — from the purchase price of their property — the highest average price increase for sellers since the third quarter of 2007, according to RealtyTrac’s 2015 U.S. Home Sales Report.

“An increasing number of home owners have been cashing out the home equity they’ve gained during the housing recovery of the past three years,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “That may be a good decision because the data points to a plateauing market going forward. Home price appreciation is slowing, a trend that will continue if interest rates rise in the coming months as expected. Meanwhile the threat of rising interest rates combined with lowered premiums for buyers using FHA loans is spurring more demand.”

energy starJanuary 2016 — Several home features are gaining momentum in real estate, according to CBSHome.com, including these four you may want to talk up in your listings:

Energy efficiency. Bigger used to be better in real estate, but the cost of maintenance and particularly the heating of bigger homes has prompted some buyers to be less tempted to supersize their digs. Many buyers are being swayed toward homes that are more economical to maintain and also have a warmer, cozier vibe. Solar power is also inching up on the desirability scale, as homebuyers are seeing the advantage of reducing their electric bills.

Modern, up-to-date kitchens. Remodeling a kitchen can be one of the costliest home improvement projects to take on. That’s why many buyers are looking for a kitchen that already has been updated. They’re looking for a sleek, modern-looking kitchen with stainless steel appliances.

downarrow2016January 2016 — Once all the rage, for sale by owner transactions are declining steadily in the face of a revived market, according to the NAR’s 2015 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report. Nearly 90 percent of respondents surveyed say they worked with a real estate agent to buy or sell a home.

That has pushed for-sale-by-owner transactions to the lowest share ever, according to the survey. Eighty-nine percent of sellers said they sold their home with an agent, while for-sale-by-owner sales only accounted for about 8 percent of transactions (down from 9 percent the last three years).

“Although the Internet and digital technology have created several channels for sellers to market their listings to a wider cast of potential buyers, the preference to use an agent to sell a home has never been stronger,” says Chris Polychron, NAR’s president.

The majority of homebuyers reported that the Internet was their first step in their home search. Still, 88 percent of buyers who searched for homes online ended up purchasing through a real estate agent.

hurdleJanuary 2016 — The share of first-time buyers declined for the third consecutive year and remained at its lowest point in nearly three decades. The overall strengthening pace of home sales over the past year was driven more by repeat buyers with dual incomes, according to an annual survey released recently by NAR.

In this survey, the share of first-time buyers declined to 32 percent in 2015 (from 33 percent a year ago), which is the second-lowest share since the survey’s inception (1981) and the lowest since 1987 (30 percent). Historically, the long-term average shows that nearly 40 percent of primary purchases are from first-time homebuyers.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says the housing recovery’s missing link continues to be the absence of first-time buyers.

“There are several reasons why there should be more first-time buyers reaching the market, including persistently low mortgage rates, healthy job prospects for the college-educated, and the fact that renting is becoming more unaffordable in many areas,” he says.

smallhouseJanuary 2016 — The low end of the market is where it’s at. That according to data from Clear Capital’s Home Data Index (HDI) Market Report, which found there are drastically different dynamics going on at the extremes of nearly all markets.

“As the housing recovery continues to unfold, we are clearly seeing a growing dichotomy between the low price tier and top price tier market performance,” says Alex Villacorta, Ph.D., vice president of research and analytics at Clear Capital.

“By and large, the low price tiers of the Top and Bottom Metro Statistical Areas (MSAs) are significantly outperforming their top tier counterparts. For both first time homebuyers and investors, this should signal a major opportunity in these lower tiers. For any buyers of high end properties this clear trend signals the need to be highly vigilant with investment strategies in this market segment.”

December 2015 — Historically the common market pattern is for home inventories to rise sharply, February through April, max out July or August and slide back down into the holidays and the new year; 2015 is no different in this respect.

The good news is that 2015 showed a more robust personality in the number of homes sold and the market price of those sales. Because homes were selling for more money, housing affordability slipped as a result, but only slightly. The average homebuyer earns roughly 1 1/2 times the money it takes to afford the average house selling in September; that is in line with the market for the past three years.

Comparing year over year the “Month’s Supply Inventory” is significantly lower for 2015 than it was in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In those years, peaking in the summer of 2011 at the rate homes were selling it would have taken almost 2 years to sell off the housing stock on the market in any given month. For 2015 Month’s Supply is edging down toward 10 months on hand. Prices are up and inventories are keeping a healthy pace with demand.

UpDecember 2015 — The housing market is poised for one of its largest expansions in history. By 2024, demographic and economic changes are forecasted to bring 15.9 million additional households on board, according to a new study released by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

That means an average of 1.6 million additional households per year, sparking “housing market growth over the next decade that would be among the strongest the U.S. has ever seen,” according to the report.

The MBA report says the bulk of that growth will be from increases in the number of households that are headed by those age 60 and older and households headed by age 45 and younger. Those age group increases are expected to mitigate the decline among households age 45 to 60.

“An aging population should gradually increase demand for home ownership, partially offsetting the influence of a more racially and ethnically diverse population on home ownership rates,” the MBA report notes.