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The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Power Broker Roundtable this month discusses improving the homeownership rate by addressing housing inventory, student loan debt and tax reform.

Robert Bailey
Broker/Owner, Bailey Properties, Santa Cruz, Calif.; Liaison for Large Residential Firms Relations, NAR

Steve Brown, Co-Owner, Irongate, Inc. REALTORS®, Dayton, Ohio
Kit Hale, Partner, MKB REALTORS®, Roanoke, Va.
Greg Zadel, Broker/Owner, Zadel Realty, Denver, Colo.

Robert Bailey: 2016 was a robust year for real estate, and if the pundits and pollsters are to be believed, the outlook for 2017 is encouraging. Unemployment is expected to drop, and home prices and interest rates to rise only modestly—a good scenario for the housing market. Yet low inventories persist in many regions and we continue meeting resistance in our efforts to draw in millennials, many of whom are still paying off school debt and putting off marriage and family. So, as we settle into the new year, what’s the key to bringing more buyers into the market?   

Steve Brown: We need to deal with three major issues: we need to be on guard to see that tax incentives and the mortgage interest deduction remain in place; we need to deal with student debt, perhaps by restructuring it so younger buyers can accumulate a down payment even while they’re paying down their student loans; and we need to increase the housing inventory.

Kit Hale: I think that’s pretty much right on, Steve—and I think we need to recognize and deal with the generational differences we face. My wife and I bought our first home when I was 27. My daughter, at that age, is nowhere near ready to settle down yet—and even when she is, it seems like millennials are looking for a different kind of lifestyle. Our generation got out of the city. We wanted to be out in the suburbs. Young people today grew up with social media. They want to live in sociable, walkable communities—either with sidewalks and big front porches, or village center-type neighborhoods, where the drug store, grocery and cleaners are only steps away.


RB: I hear you, Kit. It’s the old story. Everything old is new again.

Greg Zadel: Let’s talk about affordability. In many cases, as we all know, it’s cheaper to own a home than to rent one—but the down payment is a problem. We need to be more innovative with down payment assistance programs. In Colorado, our state association worked with the legislature to set up a First-Time Homebuyer Savings Accounts Act, which was recently enacted. Any Coloradan first-timer can set aside up to $50,000 toward the cost of purchasing a new home, and the earnings on those funds are totally free from state taxes.


RB: Let’s address the issue of housing stock. What if we are more successful in drawing in younger buyers? Are there enough homes on the market, especially at the first-time buyer price points?

KH: We have a seven-month inventory in Southwest Virginia at the moment—which, I know, is more than a lot of regions have—but we still have a shortage at the lower price points, largely because sellers are staying put in the older neighborhoods.

SB: New construction is key, as well. It would help to find ways to reduce the debt risk to builders who are building homes on spec, not just at entry-level price points, but also on custom homes with the kinds of amenities that draw the move-up buyers.

GZ: Again, consumer education is critical. Sellers need to understand what a great time this is to move up, while home prices are still affordable and interest rates are pretty much bottomed out.

KH: And buyers—especially young buyers—need to have the facts about the down payment assistance programs available in nearly every state. As brokers, we have a responsibility to get our agents out there, and talking.

SB: So, tax incentives. Financing options. Down payment assistance programs—and educational seminars. Does all that add up to increasing homeownership this year?

RB: That, and convincing the young people who are forming households to strike while the iron is hot.

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