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Will 2015 Be Better or Worse for Real Estate?

Recovering prices are drying up the stock of affordable homes in major metro areas, but shoppers in a mood to buy are optimistic.

Whether you’re looking to sell your home or spent the last year waffling between renting or buying, you probably have one question as we head into the new year: Will 2015 be better — or are we headed into another year of the same?

There’s no such thing as a real estate crystal ball, and anyone who claims to have all the answers probably has a hidden agenda. With many factors to consider, let’s take a closer look.

The recovery process — where are we?

Trulia’s Chief Economist Jed Kolko recently came to the conclusion that while none of the five measurements in Trulia’s Housing Barometer are completely back to normal, most are making progress. It’s been three years since prices bottomed out in 2011, and we are still very much in recovery mode with rebound effects slowing; housing prices are no longer significantly undervalued and the investor market is drying up.

As a former broker, I have to agree — the investor well is indeed dry. In the past week alone I’ve received calls from three investor groups inquiring about off-market deals in the Seattle metro area. They complained that rising prices have impacted the number of available opportunities and so they’re looking for additional sources. (Sorry! No deals here.)

The good news is that most of us think things are about to get better. Regardless of the slowing rebound effects, there is optimism in the air. According to the Trulia study, consumers think 2015 will be an improvement over 2014 for all real estate activities, especially for sellers.

The millennial factor

Undoubtedly, the purchasing power of the millennial demographic packs a serious punch. And it seems that homeownership still plays a key role in the American dream, especially among young adults — an overwhelming 93 percent of young adult renters responded yes when asked if they will be purchasing a home someday.

However, while millennials are willing to purchase a home, they are encountering barriers to executing on their dream. Hurdles such as saving a down payment, qualifying for a mortgage, and cleaning up derogatory credit items are fairly straightforward, but what about market affordability?

Making tough choices

“The number of homes for sale in my market within my price range is discouragingly low,” says Elizabeth Archer of Ukiah, CA. “I am really tired of renting, but I love the area and I’m not willing to look elsewhere. I’m crossing my fingers that some affordable houses will be for sale this spring.”

Archer is experiencing a widespread affordability issue termed the “millennial mismatch.” Millennials can afford markets where they don’t live, but they can’t afford many of the markets where they do live. They find themselves faced with a tough choice: rent for the long term or live in a less-desirable city.

From over 100 major metro cities, there were only two notable exceptions where millennials currently live and also can buy: Oklahoma City, OK, and Baton Rouge, LA. These cities have a high population of millennials and better-than-average affordability.

The bottom line

Although consumers are feeling hopeful, young people are having trouble finding jobs and affordable housing in areas they want to live in. Further hampered by weak construction growth, the housing recovery needs to play nice with the overall economic recovery to make an impactful difference.