Sunrise scene over residential zone of Saga City, Kyushu, Japan - July 2018

A major concern for homebuyers is that a future recession increases the potential for job loss, making mortgage payments difficult. (Getty Images)

About six months – that's how much longer, as of now, the current economic expansion is compared to the previous 120-month record set in the 1990s. Yet, as time stretches, forecasts and speculations about an impending recession abound.

Amid trade disputes and political ambiguities, the Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates twice this year alone, triggering concerns for an upcoming economic downturn, even if Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell has offered an optimistic outlook.

Still, recessions elude clear-cut predictions. Conventional indicators, like the inverted yield curve, or the negative spread between the 10-year and 2-year Treasury bonds, occurred earlier in 2019. Yet, other factors such as the unemployment rate, mortgage rates and construction levels remain healthy.

“None of us have a crystal ball to predict or know exactly if and when a recession is going to come,” says Frank Nothaft, chief economist with CoreLogic. “You can never rule it out. The risk of a recession still is pretty low for the next 12 months.”

[Read: What’s Dragging Down the Value of Your Home?]

While Nothaft says the nation’s economy is most likely to continue growing into 2020, albeit at a slower pace, consequential disruptions such as a starved oil supply, a monetary policy error or slowing global markets may spur a recession in the U.S.

But what does this all mean for the housing market?

With record-low mortgage rates, real estate appears to chart a steady course in a stark contrast to the homebuying frenzy that precipitated the Great Recession over a decade ago.

Today, the housing market may even be the buoy that keeps the economy from dipping into a recession because of the tight availability of homes.

“Right now, we are facing a housing shortage, not enough homes for the population growth,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist and senior vice president of research at the National Association of Realtors. “So, homebuilders need to build more, housing (starts need) to rise. When housing (starts) and homebuilding activity rise, generally we don't have an economic recession.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, seasonally adjusted housing starts in August totaled nearly 1.4 million, or some 6.5% more than a year ago. Meanwhile, building permits – at about 1.5 million – are 12% above the rate in August 2018.

If a downturn does materialize in 2020, Yun expects it to be shallow and short. Home sales may dwindle, but prices might resist a drop. Home prices fell in only two of the five recessionary periods since the 1980s.

Statistics aside, a survey released by realtor.com and Toluna Research in August shows that 36% of active home shoppers expect a recession in 2020, while 17% think the downturn may come earlier, in 2019.

But what are homebuyers to do in the months of uncertainty leading toward a potential recession?

Well, if we now live in the pre-recessionary period, home shoppers, Nothaft says, should consider taking advantage of its rare confluence of characteristics.

“It's a very good housing market right now,” he says. “And I'll tell you one of the reasons for it. This is the first time in the post-World War II period, that we have (an) unemployment rate below 4% and at the same time we have mortgage rates below 4%.”

[Read: How to Save Enough for a Down Payment]

Here are several personal factors to take into account when a home purchase coincides with national economic anxiety:

  • Personal finances
  • Location
  • Housing needs

Personal Finances

Purchasing a house is a major financial decision – especially in a volatile market. An economic slowdown, for example, usually triggers layoffs, impacting one’s ability to repay loans and amass savings.

“It is important for a family to feel financially secure” Nothaft says. “If they are worried about losing their jobs; if they're worried about a recession, then they should hesitate. They shouldn't necessarily jump in and make a big commitment to buy the most expensive thing they're probably ever going to buy.”

Home shoppers ought to also expand their budgets for any repairs or renovations that often present themselves in newly bought homes – a necessity that could further muddle a home purchase decision.

While applicable to any market condition, such considerations particularly resonate today, when the starter-home inventory is again shrinking, and prices, in most locales, keep edging up.

Location

What could be worse than buying a home beyond one’s means – present and future – is being saddled with mortgage payments for a depreciating house.

While, nationally, home values are projected to maintain an upward trajectory, some local markets may experience price dips. The slowdown of the oil-reliant industries of North Dakota and the stagnation of exorbitant-price metros such as Seattle and San Francisco serve as examples of local economies where the housing sector may be poised for a correction.

Thus, parsing local trends and grasping granular differences between cities – neighborhoods, even – could prevent a home purchase from going sour in a recession. It might also afford shelter for one’s wealth during an economic whirlwind.

[Read: Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2019.]

Housing needs

Combined with its location, the home itself contributes to its owner’s ability to build equity. To do so, though, the size and shape of a house should bear desirability but also reflect the market conditions.

“I think that buyers will sit on the fence in an uncertain time, until they know that there is value in the home they're trying to purchase,” says Lois Kirschenbaum, associate real estate broker with Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty in New York. “They're not going to overpay.”

As a result, in slowing economies, houses with “aspirational prices” languish and the real estate sector turns into a buyer’s market, where sellers offload their properties at terms favorable to shoppers. Still, homebuyers should warily evaluate their housing needs and assemble a long-term budget in order to avoid becoming another motivated seller when economic uncertainty morphs into a recession.

The commitment to a new home should encompass an understanding of personal and market factors that an economic downturn could exacerbate as well as a degree of readiness for such a possibility.

“It may be next year, maybe it's two years, maybe three years from now, before you are faced with a recession, before you are faced with job loss," Nothaft says. "But if you've done your homework, then you will be prepared to weather even those difficult periods where you're under financial distress.”

The current national real estate outlook – even if possibly pre-recessionary – appears favorable, both Nothaft and Yun agree.

“Given the low interest rate environment today, and the fact that home prices, in my view, will be rising, I will say if a person is financially ready (to buy a house), they should take advantage of the situation,” Yun says.


10 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster

Ensure a quick sale.

Upscale modern house for sale

(Getty Images)

Selling your home quickly not only allows you to move on with your life, it also means fewer days of keeping your home in pristine condition and leaving every time your agent brings prospective buyers for a tour. According to real estate information company Zillow, the best time to list a home for sale is on a Saturday between May 1 and 15; homes listed during those times sell six days faster and for 0.7% more than the average annual home price. But how fast your home actually sells, and at what price, depends on factors beyond timing. Here are 10 secrets to selling your home faster, no matter when you list it.

Updated on March 20, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Pick a selling strategy.

Pick a selling strategy.

African American neighbors greeting each other over fence

(Getty Images)

Before putting a for sale sign in your yard, it's important to pick the selling strategy that will work best for you. The for-sale-by-owner option may be best if you feel confident in your ability to market the home and negotiate. If your time is better spent on other details, a real estate agent could be best. If you need to sell the home quickly, you may want to inquire with an iBuyer, an entity that can make the deal close faster than the typical homebuyer. You should feel confident in the selling strategy you choose, and avoid switching from one to the other while your house is on the market. Buyers could be turned off by the constant changing of circumstances.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Close-up of a man photographing with a camera

(Getty Images)

According to NAR's 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 44% of recent buyers started their search online. Of those, 87% found photos very useful in their home search. If your listing photos don’t show off the features of your home, prospective buyers may reject it without even taking a tour or going to the open house. Hiring a professional photographer and posting at least 30 photos of your home, inside and out, is a good way to attract buyers. Photography is often free for home sellers, as shoots are often conducted at the expense of real estate brokers as part of marketing the property.

Clean everything.

Clean everything.

Not prepared to miss a spot!

(People Images/ Getty Images)

Nothing turns off buyers like a dirty house. Hire a company to deep clean if you can’t do it yourself. “When the (home) is on the market, no matter what time of day or night, it should be clean and neat,” says Ellen Cohen, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City.

Key places to clean while your home is on the market include:

  • Kitchen countertops.
  • Inside cabinets and appliances.
  • Floors and room corners where dust collects.
  • Shelves.
  • Bathroom counters, toilets, tubs and showers.
  • Inside closets.
  • Windows, inside and out.
  • Scuffed walls, baseboards and doors.
  • Basement and garage.

Depersonalize the home.

Depersonalize the home.

Modern living room

(Getty Images)

Remove all your family photos and memorabilia. You want buyers to see the house as a home for their family, not yours. Remove political and religious items, your children’s artwork (and everything else) from the refrigerator and anything that marks the house as your territory rather than neutral territory. The same goes for any collections such as figurines, sports memorabilia or kids' toys that can make a buyer think less about the house and more about you. Family photos can be replaced by neutral art or removed entirely – just be sure to remove any nails and repair nail holes where any hanging photos used to be.

Let the light in.

Let the light in.

Sunlight through a bedroom window.

(Getty Images)

People love light and bright, and the best way to show off your house is to let the sunshine in. Open all the curtains, blinds and shades, and turn lights on in any dark rooms. If the natural light situation is lacking in any room, strategically place lamps or light sources throughout to set the mood. And while your house is on the market, open all curtains and turn on lights every time you leave your house for work or errands in case you get word that a buyer would like to tour the space before you get home.

Be flexible with showings.

Be flexible with showings.

Woman realtor talking to a young family

(Getty Images)

Buyers like to see homes on their schedule, which often means evenings and weekends. Plus, they want to be able to tour a home soon after they find it online, especially in a hot market where they're competing with other buyers. If your home can be shown with little or no notice, more prospective buyers will see it. If you require 24 hours’ notice, they may choose to skip your home altogether. "That's one less person who gets to see the property," Cohen says. Be ready to leave quickly as well – if you're still cleaning up or hanging around outside when the buyer arrives, it can make for an awkward interaction.

Set the right price.

Set the right price.

House with for sale sign in yard and open wooden fence

(Getty Images)

No seller wants to leave money on the table, but the strategy of setting an unrealistically high price with the idea that you can come down later doesn’t work in real estate. Buyers and their agents have access to more information on comparable homes than ever, and they know what most homes are worth before viewing them. A home that’s overpriced in the beginning tends to stay on the market longer, even after the price is cut, because buyers think there must be something wrong with it. "Pricing correctly on the lower side tends to work much better," Cohen says.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Self storage units

(Getty Images)

Nothing makes a home seem smaller than too much big furniture. Rent a self-storage container or a storage unit and remove as much furniture as you can. It will immediately make your home seem calmer and larger. Remove knickknacks from all surfaces, pack them away and store the pieces upon which you displayed them. Take a minimalist approach to books, throw rugs and draperies, and clear off your kitchen and bathroom countertops, even removing appliances you normally use. If you can scale down the contents of your closets, that’s even better, because it makes the home's storage space look more ample.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Couple preparing to paint living room

(Getty Images)

A new coat of paint will do wonders to freshen up your home, both inside and out. This is the time to paint over your daughter’s purple bedroom, nix the quirky turquoise bathroom and cover up the red accent wall in your dining room. Busy wallpaper can also turn off potential buyers. Your goal is to create a neutral palette so buyers can envision incorporating their own personal touches in the home. "You just want people to see the space for what it is," Cohen says. Rather than a stark white, consider neutral shades of gray, taupe and cream on the walls.

Spruce up the front of your home.

Spruce up the front of your home.

With white pillars, steps in the entry way

(Getty Images)

You’ve heard it 100 times before, and it’s still true: Curb appeal matters. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. A new or freshly painted front door, new house numbers and a new mailbox can breathe life into your entryway. Fresh landscaping and flowers in beds or in pots also enhance your home’s first impression. Trim trees and bushes, tidy up flower beds, remove dead leaves from plants, clear out cobwebs from nooks near the entrance and pressure-wash walkways, patios and decks. Leave the outdoor lights on, too, because prospective buyers may drive by at night.

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Aerial view of house roofs in suburban neighborhood

(Getty Images)

  • Pick a selling strategy.
  • Invest in a professional photographer.
  • Clean everything.
  • Depersonalize the home.
  • Let the light in.
  • Be flexible with showings.
  • Set the right price.
  • Remove excess furniture and clutter.
  • Repaint in neutral colors.
  • Spruce up the front of your home.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, housing market, existing home sales, pending home sales, new home sales, home prices, economy, recession


Dima Williams is a reporter and editor who covers the residential real estate industry with an emphasis on economics, policy as well as luxury. As a managing editor for a national real estate website and magazine, Williams extensively collaborated with top producing agents across the country to develop expert opinion pieces and advice articles. Connect with Williams on LinkedIn.

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