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With prices surging in many markets across the country, experts recommend that buyers line up their financing early and consider more affordable neighborhoods. (Getty Images)

Whether you're looking to buy or sell a home in 2018 – or find the perfect rental – it helps to know what you're up against. Experts say timing will be paramount for homebuyers in the coming months, while sellers will likely have an easier time making a successful deal. Meanwhile, renters may find more amenities and negotiating power.

Here’s what to expect from the housing market in 2018.

Buying and Selling

With tight seller's markets being the leading narrative on homebuying over the past few years, Americans are unsure about their ability to buy a home, according to a recent survey of 2,000 adults published by real estate information company Trulia earlier this month. Just 25 percent of respondents believe 2018 will be a better time to buy a home than 2017, according to the report.

These attitudes have been pervasive for years and are beginning to wane on homebuyer enthusiasm. High rents hinder would-be first-time buyers' ability to save, while interest rates are expected to rise and home prices continue to swell in midlevel housing throughout the U.S.

“It’s difficult to save up for a down payment,” says Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist for Trulia.

Trulia anticipates the homeownership rate – 63.9 percent as of the third quarter this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau – to continue the slight upward trend. Interested buyers will have to remain diligent about their research and keep a close eye out for new properties coming on the market. It will also be imperative for buyers to have their financing in order and tap attentive real estate agents to help make an appealing offer on a house, as there will likely be more than one offer on available homes in many markets.

Affordable homes will still be found in the suburbs and outlying neighborhoods of major markets. Millennials have been late to homebuying due to slower income growth than previous generations, points out Michael Fallon, chief investment officer for The Fallon Company, a real estate development and investment company based in Boston. That makes moving to a more affordable neighborhood key, but it's unclear if millennials are slow to embrace the suburbs because they like the convenience of city living or they simply don't feel confident enough to buy. “We haven’t seen that shift to the suburbs yet,” he says. “The contention is maybe that won’t happen.”

For sellers, on the other hand, enthusiasm is up – likely because home prices have continued to climb in recent years. The Trulia survey reports 31 percent of respondents believe 2018 will be an even better year to sell than 2017. Of course, this enthusiasm doesn't translate to more options for buyers: Americans may feel it's a great year to sell their home, but only 6 percent of homeowners currently plan to do so in 2018, according to Trulia. The lack of new inventory spells opportunity for those who choose to sell, but will keep many would-be first-time buyers from jumping into homeownership due to stiff competition.

[Read: 6 Do's and Don'ts for Selling Your First Home.]

New Construction and Development

Since the Great Recession, one of the housing market’s biggest struggles has been a lack of new inventory coming on the market. New construction hasn't kept pace with the growth of U.S. households, and while construction has picked up in recent years, much of the development has been in multifamily buildings – apartments for rent or condominium communities – leaving many prospective homebuyers out in the cold.

“Much of [the new development] centers around trying to create an environment that allows tenants and residents – all users – to have that live, work and play feel,” with a mix of retail, office and residential spaces so residents don't have to travel far, Fallon says.

In addition to more mixed-use communities that blend commercial and residential property, expect the size of individual apartments, condos and houses to get smaller as well. Jeremy Swillinger, a licensed real estate salesperson at Level Group Inc. in New York City, says many new apartments and condos in the city are shrinking to increase profit for developers, and residents so far have been willing to compromise. These smaller footprints are appearing in many other major markets as well.

“Four years ago, developers were making two-bedrooms that were 1,200 square feet, now they’re making them 1,000 square feet,” Swillinger says. “From the buyer’s angle, it’s: ‘It’s not enough square feet for me, but it’ll still work.’ They want to stay in the city.”

[See: The 25 Best Affordable Places to Live in 2017.]

Renting

If more first-time buyers don't embrace the suburbs, the share of renters versus homeowners in the U.S. will continue to grow in 2018. New construction following the recession has largely focused on meeting demand for rental options, and major cities in particular are beginning to experience some relief in rental rates – and even incentives for renters – with the completion of many new properties.

“If you’re a renter, there are options – there’s incentives, there’s free months’ rent. You have the pick of the litter, currently,” Swillinger says.

You won't see rental rates in a luxury buildings suddenly dropping to midlevel prices, but you can expect a bit more power when it comes to negotiating your lease. Especially if you’re looking at a neighborhood where more than one new building is beginning to lease to tenants, leasing agents will have to up the ante to attract tenants.

And if more consumers opt to purchase a home in 2018, renters will have even more bargaining power – not always in the rent itself, but with incentives like free rent for a month or two, free parking spaces or waived amenities fees.

[See: 8 Apartment Amenities You Didn't Know You Needed.]

Tax Changes for Homeowners

Residents in big coastal markets like New York and Los Angeles may see more change coming their way with tax reform, which has tentatively passed both the House and Senate. (Congress is working to reconcile the differences between the two forms of the bill to pass it into law.)

Currently, interest can be deducted from federal taxes on mortgage debt of up to $1 million. The bill that passed in the Senate keeps the deduction as is but removes the deduction for equity debt. The House reduced the maximum deductible debt to $500,000. Both cap state and local property tax deductions at $10,000.

Until the new tax law passes, it remains up in the air how much homeownership will be affected. However, experts agree that any of the proposed changes would have the biggest effect on coastal markets – particularly in New England – where property taxes are highest, while the middle of the country will be largely unaffected.


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“The tax plan, in whatever form it passes, will predominantly cool the expensive coastal markets, but the rest of the country will be relatively unaffected,” McLaughlin says. “Just because most homeowners actually do not take the mortgage interest deduction because their mortgage isn’t high enough to justify itemizing.”

Residents in states like New Jersey or New York, which have high property taxes compared to most of the U.S., may want to take a closer look at a potential home purchase and whether the price is still worth it, explains Jeffrey Citron, a real estate expert and co-managing partner for the law firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP in New York City.

“People are going to be looking at homes, particularly the very high-priced homes, and sitting back and saying, ‘Wait a second, am I really going to pay $3 million for a home in Scarsdale and pay these school taxes if they’re not deductible?’” he says.

Tax reform isn’t expected to have a profound impact on homeownership in the long run, however, at least not on its own. Still, it could lead to some minor changes in the housing market.

“It doesn’t mean that the fundamental benefits of homeownership are changing under a Trump administration, but just that uncertainty typically causes people to hesitate rather than act,” McLaughlin says.


8 Potential Headaches to Be Aware of Before Becoming a Homeowner

Be ready for things to go wrong.

The facia board is rotted and the gutters a re falling away from the house.  Look for other images in this series.

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No one loves shelling out money for unexpected expenses, but sometimes that seems like a rite of passage in homeownership. “Most of the time, the unhappy surprises are simply due to people being unaware of the things that can crop up,” says Brad Hunter, chief economist for HomeAdvisor. First-time homebuyers in particular may not know what to expect after closing on a home, and there’s nothing worse than developing buyer’s remorse about one of the largest investments you’ll ever make. Here are eight headaches to prepare for if you’re looking to purchase a house.

A suddenly less-than-desirable location

A suddenly less-than-desirable location

Aerial View of school buildings and a track Central Texas near Austin

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Buying a house across the street from a high school didn’t seem like such a bad idea when you saw how nicely renovated it was. But when you don’t have kids and Friday night football games are keeping you up later than you would like, you realize you should have made a pros-and-cons list regarding the location. Don’t let a charming interior override a location you dislike or a lot that will give you flooding problems. “If you don’t like your lot, don’t buy the house, because you cannot change that,” says Kim Wirtz, a Realtor for Century 21 Affiliated in Lockport, Illinois.

A high monthly mortgage payment

A high monthly mortgage payment

House keys over the hundred dollar banknotes against wooden background

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One of the most crippling headaches to deal with is a monthly mortgage payment you find you can’t quite afford. Lysette Portales, a real estate agent with Century 21 Jim White & Associates in Treasure Island, Florida, says she stresses to clients that they should shop around for a mortgage with multiple lenders and inquire with each about different program options. “A lot of them might be able to do 100 percent [financing],” she says, noting that many homebuyers typically only know about a couple mortgage programs and settle for one without considering what would be most affordable option both now and down the line.

Items that are on their last legs

Items that are on their last legs

A man uses a flashlight to help him see the hot water heater in a dark closet

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Whether it's the roof, water heater or furnace, aging home systems will need replacement. And that may end up being sooner than you’d like, especially if you didn’t pay close attention to the age and condition of the roof, plumbing, electric and heating and cooling systems when your inspector pointed them out. HomeAdvisor’s 2015 New Homeowner Survey found that 75 percent of homeowners face an unexpected emergency within a year of purchase. To expect the unexpected, Hunter points to the survey’s recommendation that homeowners plan to spend 1 percent of the home’s purchase price on unplanned repairs. Maintaining at least that much in your emergency fund will help keep you from dipping into other savings from year to year.

Old systems

Old systems

An old air conditioner unit, in need of updating, sitting in tall weeds

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It’s important to pay attention to a home's aging big-ticket items before you even make an offer. “A lot of homebuyers are distracted by how cute a home can be,” Portales says, adding that she makes it her job to point out the age of the roof, air conditioning unit, water heater and more to buyers. Then when it comes time to calculate an offer, you should factor in the cost of those pieces that will need immediate replacement when determining how much you think the home is worth.

An air conditioner that's not the same

An air conditioner that's not the same

During hot summer night with air conditioning system breakdown trying to find a way to sleep in the refrigerator. Very dark atmosphere. Picture fades to black on left.

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Wirtz says one of the things in a home that seems to always break or have issues within the first year of its purchase is the air conditioner. But it’s not always because it breaks down – she says it simply might not be as effective as the new homeowner wants it to be. “It may not be cooling like they’re used to,” Wirtz says. You can either learn to deal with a little less cooling, bring in an HVAC pro to inspect and fix any problems or research any DIY fixes that might get it cooling better – like air conditioner cleaning spray.

Unseen leaks

Unseen leaks

An old pipe breaks in freezing weather in Baku, Azerbaijan

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Home inspectors aren’t able to see through walls, so the discovery of a pipe leak isn’t uncommon after you’ve moved into the home. But this is one repair you want to make as quickly as possible. “When there’s water that is not stopped, it can create mold – and mold remediation is extremely expensive and extremely difficult,” Hunter says. Mold growth in your home can cause serious health problems, so it’s imperative to address any moisture issues as quickly as possible to avoid it becoming any more dangerous, let alone more expensive.

Surprise renovation expenses

Surprise renovation expenses

Contractor discussing renovations

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Fixer-uppers are all the rage these days, as many homebuyers are willing to take on renovation projects in exchange for a slightly lower price tag. But when budgeting for your renovations, leave plenty of room for the discovery of existing problems once your contractor looks behind the walls. The HomeAdvisor survey found 51 percent of homeowners spent more time on home projects than they expected. “Even if you have a fully vetted, well-reviewed contractor … they still might uncover issues that maybe a previous contractor left incomplete,” Hunter says. He recommends leaving around 10 percent extra space in your budget for surprise problems of any kind.

Problems that pile up

Problems that pile up

Mold grows on a wall next to a damp stained wood door.

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All too often it feels like the problems in a home have a snowballing effect, but you don’t have to go broke tackling them all at once. “Day one, [homeowners] won’t have to tackle all those projects,” Hunter says. “They can use the list of items found by the home inspector as a checklist and prioritize the items on that list and create a budget.” You should immediately address those problems that create a health or safety issue, such as a broken step or leak in your roof that could lead to mold. But replacing an older dishwasher can wait until next year, when you have more room in your home repair budget.

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


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News. Since joining the Consumer Advice team in 2015, she has focused on breaking down the homebuying and selling process, as well as reporting on trends in the real estate industry and their effect on the public. Thorsby previously worked in research and communications for commercial real estate information company CoStar Group, and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, where she worked for the student-run newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at dthorsby@usnews.com.