Forecasters Remain Cautious Given Inflation, Interest Rate Uncertainty
The real estate market has cooled over the past quarter, as buyers face mounting economic pressure from inflation, bloated housing prices, and escalating interest rates. But the question in most forecasters’ minds is what will happen in 2023 with inflation and interest rate projections in – as yet – unknowable territory.
Although experts are all over the map when it comes to predicting interest rates – projections for 2023 are currently ranging from 5% to 9% – everyone agrees that it largely depends on the Consumer Price Index and the Federal Reserve’s interest rate decisions that result from that data.
Economic predictions are often based on “the way it happened in the past,” but economic fundamentals are rarely exactly the same mix as in the past. Such is the case today, where economic fundamentals are largely stable and housing inventory remains tight – a promising recipe for a decent, albeit softer, purchase market in 2023.
Rodney Anderson, Executive Vice President, National Agency Manager with Alliant National, noted on a recent October Research webinar that while we are currently experiencing a slowdown in the market, it’s difficult to say what portion of that is seasonal and how much is interest rate-related.
“We’ve had a sellers’ market for a long time, and now, we are returning to equilibrium,” he said. “But if you look at the number of houses on the market, we are still in a sellers’ market, with a lot of regions experiencing only a 3-months’ supply, so there is continued support for prices to remain fairly stable.”
Although there remain a lot of unknowns, many economic forecasters retain a sense of cautious optimism based on what we do know, while lenders and real estate professionals are facing the reality of lower sales and originations in 2023.
Key Factors: CPI and FOMC
The Federal Reserve’s battle against inflation remains one of the key factors in the overall economic outlook for next year, as well as the outlook for the real estate markets, since with each incremental rise in the interest rates, a new segment of buyers will be priced out of the market.
The Federal Reserve has maintained a hard line with regard to inflation, and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell did not soften his tone during his Dec. 14 presentation following the December meeting of the FOMC, where he announced the Fed would be raising the interest rate another half percent.
“Price stability is the responsibility of the Federal Reserve and serves as the bedrock of our economy,” Powell said at the outset of his speech. “Without price stability, the economy does not work for anyone and without price stability we will not achieve a sustained period of strong labor market conditions that benefit all.”
In addition, Powell said he anticipated that “ongoing increases would be appropriate in order to attain a stance of market stability that is sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to 2% over time.”
One positive indicator in December was the Consumer Price Index, which showed inflation had slowed to 7.1%. While that stat was encouraging, Powell said it was not enough to deter further interest rate hikes.
“It will take substantially more evidence to provide confidence that inflation is on a sustained downward path,” he said.
With the target federal funds rate range now at 4.25-4.5% and Powell suggesting further hikes, it is now anticipated that the federal funds rate could rise to 5.5% in 2023, adding some further deterioration to the pool of potential buyers.
Federal Reserve reports stable economic activity
The Federal Reserve’s Nov. 30 release reported economic activity was flat or up slightly across most of the districts, a sign that the economy continues to hold its own despite the known headwinds of inflation, high interest rates and global issues.
Reports across sectors were uneven. Not surprisingly, lending, home sales, apartment leasing and construction all exhibited slowing trends while improving inventory in the auto industry has resulted in an increase in sales in some districts. In addition, spending was up in travel and tourism, and as well as in restaurants and hospitality. Manufacturing was also up slightly on average.
Employment numbers remain steady
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 263,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.7%, according to the Dec. 2 release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, health care, and government. Employment declined in retail trade and in transportation and warehousing.
Consumer confidence concerns were largely allayed by record Black Friday and Cyber Monday spending. Although inflation has taken its toll on consumers, low unemployment has kept spending steady across many sectors, including mortgage and rent payments, a factor that is keeping foreclosures contained.
Employment is also a major factor in keeping foreclosures down, and while labor demand is weakening, according to the Federal Reserve, businesses are expressing a reluctance to lay off due to hiring difficulties. Most importantly, most districts reported a fairly positive outlook, pointing to stable or slowing employment growth and at least modest further wage growth moving forward.
Real estate and lending projections
While the economy overall appears to be stable, the real estate market continues to decelerate.
According to the National Association Realtors (NAR) Nov. 30 report, pending home sales slid for the fifth consecutive month in October, falling 4.6%. Three of four U.S. regions recorded month-over-month decreases, and all four regions recorded year-over-year declines in transactions.
While there are always seasonal declines in the fall, the year-over-year number was more dramatic, with pending transactions down 37%.
“October was a difficult month for home buyers as they faced 20-year-high mortgage rates,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “The West region, in particular, suffered from the combination of high interest rates and expensive home prices. Only the Midwest squeaked out a gain.”
On the upside, Yun was hopeful that the upcoming months will see buyers returning to the market if mortgage rates moderate, as they have in the past few weeks.
Taking a hard look at the numbers, Freddie Mac, in its most recent analysis, noted that home sales have fallen to a forecasted 5.4 million units at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in the third quarter of 2022 from 7 million earlier this year. The GSE forecasts that home sales activity will bottom at around 5 million units at the end of 2023.
“We expect house prices to decline modestly, but the downside risks are elevated,” Freddie Mac noted. “As the labor market cools off, housing demand will remain weak in 2023, potentially resulting in declines in prices next year. However, home price forecast uncertainty is wide due to interest rate volatility and the potential of a recession on the horizon.”
Freddie Mac predictions include:
Overall originations are expected to hit $2.6 trillion in 2022 and slow to $1.9 trillion in 2023
Mortgage originations will end the year at $1.9 trillion and slow to $1.6 trillion
Refinance originations slowed to $747 billion and will deteriorate to $310 billion in 2023
The Wild Card: Consumer confidence
Data can certainly tell us a lot, but at the end of the day, consumer experience and assessments can impact the long-range reality, and consumer confidence is decreasing, according to the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index.
While not dramatic, the index backtracked to 100.2 from 102.2 in October. In addition, consumers assessment of the current conditions decreased to 137.4 from 138.7 last month, and consumers’ short-term outlook declined to 75.4 from 77.9.
Consumer confidence can keep the economy and the real estate market moving forward, while hubris can take us into unsustainable territory, as we learned in 2008. A little reality check may not be a bad thing as we all continue to keep tabs on the data and plan for a softer market in 2023.
As the country’s leading independent title insurance underwriter for the independent title agent, Alliant National has a responsibility to help confront the growing threat of fraud in our industry. One way we do this is through our Crime Watch program, which incentivizes agencies to report instances of fraud that they encounter. As part of the program, firms that prevent a fraudulent transaction that was to be insured by Alliant National may be eligible to receive a reward of $1,000.
Coffelt Title – An Active Partner In Fraud Detection
Coffelt Land Title, Inc., a title insurance agency that does business throughout Missouri and Kansas, recently detected three instances of fraud, and submitted them to Alliant National for award consideration.
Jessica Wackerman, who works at Coffelt as a title searcher and examiner, noticed a potentially fraudulent transaction while examining a series of files on three properties involving one buyer. “Looking at all of them together, I noticed some issues with the deeds as far as the same formatting, the spelling of grantor and grantee names, as well as notary names,” she said. “I then did some digging and found lots of issues – such as finding death information on one individual.” After noticing this and collecting the requisite information, she quickly notified her contact at Alliant National and sent in copies of the deeds and commitments.
Taken together, these various properties represented a potential fraud amount of nearly $20,000, pointing to the importance of vigilance when it comes to detecting and reporting fraud. As Jessica explains: “Alliant National’s Crime Watch program is a great thing for the agents and underwriter. It protects everyone, but it also ensures that the agents are looking into anything that might seem a little suspicious. The incentive is a nice reward for doing the research to produce all the information.”
Of course, no single program can entirely prevent or mitigate a problem as endemic as real estate fraud, which is why agencies must take other steps to protect themselves and the customers they serve. Coffelt Title itself has taken that idea to heart, investing in staff training and education to help employees catch fraud before it is too late.
Alliant National Is Making A Difference In Fraud Prevention
“I think all title companies need to be more aware of the fraud that is happening in their markets. They should not act under the assumption that it won’t happen to them or their customers,” said Jessica when asked about fraud in the title industry.
We couldn’t agree more, which is why Alliant National launched the Crime Watch program in the first place. Over the past year, we have seen the program pay off in spades. In 2022, Alliant National agents, through this program, collectively reported to us 12 instances of attempted fraud, totaling a potential liability amount of $1.8 million. In recognition of these agent sleuths, we have issued $12,000 in awards. We’re proud of our agents’ efforts to combat this systemic problem in the industry and, as this year draws to a close, would like to thank the following Crime Watch award recipients for making title insurance a safer and more sustainable field:
Siesta Title Escrow and Services LLC | FL | Amanda Pertuch
Title Professionals of Florida (TPF) | FL | David D. Lanaux
Alliance Nationwide Title Agency, LLC | MO | Daniel Onwiler
Alliance Nationwide Title Agency, LLC | KS | Ben Chapman
Siesta Title Escrow and Services LLC | FL | Claire Hooper
Coastal Title Services | FL | Brianna Steel
Legacy Title & Escrow, LLC | FL | Kathy Morgan
Caldwell County Abstract and Title Company, LLC | MO | Megan Eitel and Amanda McGinley
After a rich career split between technology and title, Bob Grohol has a unique perspective on the title industry – particularly on digital trends reshaping the field.
Bob’s career path through these industries began in 1982 when he started working at a computer shop. This early professional interest stuck, and Bob would work in the field for the next 17 years, holding positions in computer technology, telecom and software.
His initial transition to title insurance came in the form of RamQuest Software – one of the industry’s main title and closing software solutions. At the time, RamQuest was looking to grow its Ohio business, and despite having no previous experience in the industry, Bob jumped at the chance, immersing himself in all things title. “Despite not knowing a HUD Settlement Statement from a hole in the ground at that time, I learned quickly,” said Bob. “And I continue to learn something new almost every day.” Bob eventually left RamQuest in 2009, transitioning back to the world of software for nearly four years. In 2012, he would make another career change back to real estate and title insurance – where he works to this day.
“In 2012, I was exploring options, and I reached out to Manoj Purohit, whom I’ve known for over 15 years,” said Bob. “Manoj referred me to eRecording Partners Network (ePN).” Similar to RamQuest, ePN was looking to expand in Ohio and the surrounding states, and Bob was a perfect fit. He tapped into existing title industry contacts and resources to grow business, and over time, he became responsible for operations in about 26 states.
Working at ePN gave Bob particular insight into a mission-critical process of the title industry. “Document recording is one of the final steps in the real estate transaction process. The quicker a title agent can get documents recorded, the quicker the final policies can be issued – lessening gap time,” he explained. “Traditional paper document recording can potentially take days or weeks to happen. Plus, it’s possible for documents to be lost, damaged or altered.” By digitizing this process, title agents gain new efficiencies and competitive advantage. “Documents can potentially be eRecorded in minutes, and most, within a couple of hours. With eRecording, documents can’t be lost or damaged. It is also more secure in many ways,” Bob said.
eRecording is an example of digital transformation: a gradual shift from manual or analog processes to digital ones. From Bob’s perspective, while it has taken time for eRecording to develop, it is now fully mainstream, indicative of an industry that is slowly but surely adopting new technologies. “It has taken over 20 years to get where we are today. Almost 2,500 counties are set up for eRecording across 49 states, plus D.C.,” Bob noted.
Of course, while technology may be transforming the field, other elements that make it special or determine one’s success in it have largely remained the same. “To me, the title industry has always felt like a big family. People do move around from time to time – to new companies and roles – but a lot of the same great people are still around,” Bob said. “I enjoy the ‘camaraderie’ between all of those involved with the title insurance business: agents, vendors, underwriters, etc. Everyone is about helping others fulfill the ‘American Dream’ of home ownership. To be successful, follow-up and follow-through are very key. Whether it’s with agents, internal team members or just in general, always do what you say you’re going to do.”
Get the word out on your company by posting a steady stream of short-form content.
One thing is for sure, businesses like yours will always need an effective way to get their messages out. One of the best ways to do so is through microblogging. Producing short, snappy updates on your company is a great way to build connections with your audiences and promote your business goals and initiatives. Here is what you need to know.
What is Microblogging?
As the name suggests, microblogging is a form of blogging defined by short posts that seek to maximize engagement. Twitter has largely been the leader in this space since the mid-2000s, but many other options have emerged since then. Microblogging is no longer solely about posting short text-based messages. Today, it also encompasses video and photography-based blogging.
Why Should You Care About Microblogging?
But why should you care about microblogging at all? The data shows a clear correlation between blogging and tangible business benefits. According to recent data, “Companies with blogs produce an average of 67 percent more leads monthly than companies that don’t blog.”[i] What’s more, “Businesses that blog get 55 percent more website visitors than businesses that don’t.”[ii]
How to Get Started
While you can simply hop on Twitter to start microblogging, there are a variety of other options to explore. Let’s look at other tools agencies can use to tell their brand story:
Short-Form Videos: You have probably heard by now, but sites like TikTok have come to dominate the cultural sphere, taking up the space once occupied by Facebook. The attraction to these sites is obvious. TikTok lets you easily create compelling videos for your prospects and customers. Statistics show potential customers prefer videos over other forms of content.
Photo-Sharing Services: Similar to video, utilizing photos when sharing company updates leads to higher engagement levels. Therefore, leveraging a photo-centric site like Instagram for your microblog is a great way to expand its reach. And if you don’t want to limit yourself to just one, there are ample alternatives on the market just waiting for you to investigate.
Tried-and-true: Never discount some of the tried-and-true social media sites. For instance, LinkedIn is a great option for posting long-form, thought leadership content to grow your profile on the network and simultaneously increase your professional network.
Other Options: Of course, we could probably list microblogging options forever. Medium is yet another example of a low-cost site that offers a useful way to position your firm as an industry leader. And you can use it to post content featuring text, photos and videos.
Microblogging is a Key to Your Digital Strategy
Today’s business opportunities are on the internet. Including blogging in your digital strategy can grow traffic and raise brand awareness, not to mention drive leads and increase your overall profitability.
Digitization has changed business; how can you take advantage?
If you spend any time on technology websites or blogs, then you have probably heard the term “digital transformation.” In the broadest sense, digital transformation or “DX” refers to the adoption of digital services to replace non-digital or analog applications and tools. When digital transformation is done well, it has been shown to increase innovation, customer experience, productivity and bottom-line profitability. For agents, there are numerous areas where you can deploy digital technology for business advantage. In this blog, we will examine what you can gain from going digital, as well as some best practices for a successful transition.
Benefits Of DX
Let’s look a bit closer at a couple of the potential benefits DX holds. First, digital tools can streamline incoming communication, letting customers effortlessly navigate to a specific department or agent. Switching to a digital phone system like voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) also give agencies additional functionality like automatic call-back features, call volume management, call monitoring and more. These tools contribute to happier customers, higher productivity and better brand awareness.
Next, DX can help you develop a well-rounded, 360-degree view of your customer base. Flexible, scalable tools like customer relationship management (CRM) software serve as a strong foundation for a modern, interconnected tech stack. Other services can be layered on top of a CRM to create an even more comprehensive digital suite. Integrate your email marketing service to better target prospects. Interweave collaboration software to align your departments or agents. Whatever you choose, it is now more than possible to unify your external and internal operations for maximum efficiency through the power of technology.
DX Implementation Best Practices
To ensure your digital transformation is a success, never assume that the technology itself is a magic bullet. Just like any business initiative, DX must be approached strategically. The first step is to get a clear idea of the problems you’re trying to solve. Second, you must have the right culture in place. There is a wise old saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and that certainly holds for digital transformation. DX is a complex process. Without a culture that embraces change, experimentation and open-mindedness, it won’t be easy to adapt to new systems, solutions and tools.
Measuring the ROI of DX
Measuring your DX’s ROI is also a critical piece of the process. Unless you have clear metrics in place, it is difficult if not impossible to determine if your investment has paid off. Begin by determining the cost metrics of your digital transformation. This includes not only the direct expenses for new digital technology, but also indirect costs related to business network infrastructure, consulting activity, and staff onboarding and training time.
Equally important is stacking these costs up against your value metrics. These could include bringing in more prospects, building out better customer personas, improving staff productivity or expanding company profitability. As with any business goal (IT-related or not) you’ll want these metrics to be SMART – that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely – so you can weigh them easily against your costs.
DX is Your Path Toward a Future-Proof Business
Digital transformation is the way forward for any business looking to better engage with customers, collaborate well internally, while also safeguarding against future disruption. While not a cure-all, a well-executed DX can give you a clear advantage over competitors.