Why Facebook retargeting ads are a digital land grab for agents right now

It’s amazing how fast the business landscape can change. We’re seeing it right now, with the vindictive coronavirus wreaking havoc on our economy, our health and our real estate businesses. 

Many of us are scrambling just to maintain our business, let alone grow it while the market falls apart around us.

But as with any crisis, opportunities always emerge. In all the uncertainty, some will end up thriving and growing while most do not.

Dustin Brohm, Columnist

So which opportunities can the average real estate agent take advantage of in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak and economic collapse?

Making every $1 spent on real estate marketing and advertising goes much, much further than it would have even a month ago. 

Think about it. So many competitors are now sitting on the sidelines and playing defense! You literally have less competition for the attention of the consumer, at a time when those consumers are scrolling their news feeds much more than usual. Those real estate agents who decide to play offense, and do the right things, can really end up winning big and growing while most are moving backward or playing it safe.

So what exactly should you be spending your precious marketing dollars on right now? Facebook video ads retargeted to people who already know you.

Of course, you could always do what 98% of other Facebook advertisers do, and go right for the conversion or the sale. Almost all of your competitors use Facebook ads for nothing more than trying to capture leads from an audience who has never seen them before. They focus on capturing leads from a cold audience of people who don’t know anything about them. But that’s the hardest way to get leads and to get people to hire you!

It’s much easier to get someone to click a button, watch a video or do a certain thing when they already know who you are. When you are already familiar to them. The best way to stay in front of this “warm audience,” those who already know you, is through a tactic called retargeting. 

Every major online retailer does it. You’ve been retargeted before. Why do you think it is that when you look at a particular product on Amazon that it all of a sudden starts showing up in your news feed? Or when you visit a companies website and then start seeing ads for them everywhere? That is called retargeting, and we, as real estate agents, can use the same strategy to stay in front of our network.

Retargeting is when you show an ad, or a series of ads, to a group of people who have taken a certain action. For example, you show a video ad to only people on your email list. You could show ads to only people who have visited your website, engaged with one of your Facebook posts, or watched one of your previous videos. 

By spending money marketing to those who have already seen you before somehow, every dollar you spend will go so much further. That’s smart even in the best of times, but in this new world of coronavirus-led disruption, it’s absolutely imperative. Spending your money intelligently can mean the difference between maintaining your average level of business over the next six months, or being completely out of business in 6 months.  

You do retargeting Facebook ad campaigns through whats called “custom audiences,” which is like a box of people who have taken a certain action or meet some criteria that you specify, and then running an ad campaign targeted to just that custom audience (aka only the people in the box). There are countless videos out there, like this one, that can teach you how to do it. You just have to take the initiative to seek out the information, and then do it. 

I challenge you to figure out how you can spend more money on marketing right now, while your competition is less than it’s been in years. Make the investment of time and money to learn how to do these ad campaigns the right way.

Facebook ads are a tool, which can be used correctly and effectively, or when used ineffectively, can be completely useless. Hire a coach, take a course, but ultimately you need to have control over your ads. If you just outsource it to some other company, you have no control over the content of the ads, nor their effectiveness, not to mention you are paying much more than if you learned how to do them yourself.

I’m a firm believer that any real estate agent right now who invests some time and some money to master their own ability to generate leads and build awareness of their brand will look back six to 12 months from now – their businesses thriving and enduring – and they’ll only wish they had spent even more.

Think of this time right now as a digital land grab, so you can start dominating the precious news feed real estate of everyone in your sphere of influence. 

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Here’s how to support International Women’s Day all year

Haley Parker Fairway HW+

International Women’s Day is a great time to consider the powerful influence that women exert not only in the mortgage industry but in their communities.

In honor of International Women’s Day, Haley Parker, area business development manager at Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp., sat down with HousingWire to talk about the biggest challenges women face in the industry, along with some heartfelt advice on how women can move into more leadership positions.

Parker encourages women to express who they are and their passion to get the job done — to show up and make a difference. And as they do, they lift even more women within the industry.

“A confident woman who knows her worth, is courageous enough to think for herself and understands the strength in adversity, personally and professionally, will become who she is always meant to be,” Parker said. “You should never overlook the power and impact of a woman who leads with her heart on her sleeve.”

In addition to the women working in the industry, you could argue that even the housing market’s future is female. A new report from Compass and Better.com found that not only are women buying more homes, but they have higher credit scores.

Last year alone, Better.com reported that the majority of women who are married co-borrowers made more than their spouses. Women earned an average monthly salary of $5,666 versus $3,035 for men.

From the team making the loans to the borrowers the industry serves, women are taking a more prominent seat at the table. International Women’s Day offers one day to remember the amazing impact women make, but let’s remember to carry this energy throughout the year, supporting women all-year long.

Watch the full video interview with Parker below.

The rest of this content is for HW+ members. Join today with a HW+ Membership! Already a member? log in

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How is the coronavirus impacting real estate agents?

By now, you have undoubtedly heard about this thing going around called the coronavirus.

According to the Center for Disease Control, the virus has been identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China.

As of today, the virus has been confirmed in over 95,000 people across the world and is being directly tied to the deaths of more than 3,000 people.

Mary Frances Coleman
Mary Frances Coleman, Columnist

Depending on who you are listening to, the fear of a pandemic is either very real or being blown out of proportion and causing unnecessary panic. 

No matter which side you’re on, there are some very real discussions going on amongst real estate industry professionals on social media platforms and at ongoing conferences about what effect the virus may have on the industry.

As you may know, real estate agents have very strong opinions on just about everything, and this topic seems to be top of mind.

This is leading to talks on the effect of the stock market drop on purchases and sales of houses. When the market dips, people tend to become more conservative and hold on to their money. 

That could certainly translate into fewer home purchases, people staying put instead of moving up and also the slowdown on remodeling and improvements due to lack of disposable income. Cash buyers also do not want to sell stocks at a potential loss to cover a close of escrow, and some are even canceling transactions and forfeiting earnest money as a result.

The weaker financial markets do cause less stability in the real estate markets, but some will look at the positive and discuss the opportunity for investors with money to scoop up properties that may not appreciate as quickly as when the financial markets are strong. Some would-be investors may finally pull the trigger on purchasing an investment property. 

Impact on the rental market

The interesting component that wasn’t necessarily part of the discussion during the last financial market downturn is the presence of investment properties used solely as short term rentals. The Airbnb craze has led to a number of investors purchasing for the short term rental market, especially in areas that are heavily traveled and vacation destinations. 

As we see warnings about the spread of COVID-19 and airport advisories being issued regarding travel, could vacationers stop vacationing?

I have a trip planned for Europe this summer with my grown children, but all of that is under review right now as Italy has become third behind China and South Korea in terms of known cases of the virus being reported. 

With the potential for summer vacation plans being canceled, owners of Airbnb, VRBO and other short term rental platforms facing cancellations could be in a quandary.

Much of the income derived to pay off debt on investment property comes during the summer, and if those plans do not manifest into actual stays, what happens to the mortgage payment?

Impact on how agents represent clients

This is another issue I am seeing first hand.

 I live in Scottsdale, Arizona where the month of March is filled with winter visitors enjoying 80 degree days without a cloud in the sky. The population nearly doubles over the winter months, as this is a second home destination. This is also a very good time to be in real estate. Many of the first time visitors are loving the weather and talking about coming here every year.

That’s great for the long term rental market, the short term rental market, as people come year after year and eventually decide to buy their own place here instead of renting. 

This entire scenario brings me to my next question, and one that has been floating around in social media posts by agents: “Has fear of the Coronavirus changed how you are representing your clients?”

I am a member of a number of private Facebook groups for real estate agents and I have seen this question posted across almost every one of them. The answers have been interesting and have elicited even larger responses about how the industry operates as a whole today.

Although most agents have indicated they are not altering their representation of clients, they have been commenting on the changes they have made to the manner in which they represent clients, specifically regarding open houses. 

Many agents have stated they are handing out mini bottles of hand sanitizer at open houses, and explaining as people enter that they are not shaking hands as usual.

There must be a huge run on Clorox disinfectant wipes at the store, as many agents are also suggesting wiping down surfaces after patrons leave the open house. Some have commented that they are taking disinfectant wipes into properties they are showing buyers and using them on doorknobs and other direct to hand surfaces.

There have been suggestions to require those entering an open house to put on a mask, booties and gloves, but those are few and far between. 

The dilemma of whether to hand out business cards, or worse, to require people to sign in using the same pen everyone else does, is real.

It’s fascinating to read the comments that seem to be more set on furthering hysteria instead of having an actual discussion. My favorite comment so far has been an agent who advised in one of the forums that “agents should all stay home” and that she will be “happy to take care of your clients during the crisis!”

As agents contemplate putting distance between themselves and their clients out of health concerns, the situation brings up a larger question: How personal is real estate at this point?

Enter: Technology

Throughout this article, I have been articulating personal experiences, and the question of how personal real estate really is is no exception. 

Last week, I closed on a house in Boise, Idaho without ever having seen it in person. Now I’ve been in this business for almost 30 years and have more knowledge about what to look for and the questions to ask than most, but as I went through the process I started wondering how much personal interaction is really necessary nowadays.

I used a very good agent in Boise whom I have known for years, and she did an excellent job doing all of the things a typical buyer would need and never once did the fact that I was not present effect her representation or fiduciary duties. 

The house is for my son who attends Boise State University, and he was there for the whole process and sent me videos of the neighborhood…etc. My agent and I poured over the home inspection, I watched the videos she sent of every aspect of the property and it was actually a very simple process. 

So, if I can get everything I need information wise online and through the participation of my agent, do I ever really have to meet her in person and expose myself to things like COVID-19?

I remembered back to when I was actively representing clients in the mid-’90s. There was no Zillow, no instant information about sex offender registries and other due diligence items, no e-signature platforms and also, no iPhones. While working in Scottsdale, I represented a variety of second-home buyers from the midwest. I would frequently make videos – yes, with an actual video camera – and send VHS tapes through the mail to my clients back in Chicago to see the homes they were interested in before they bought.

I really don’t see any difference today, other than it’s much easier now. My agent in Boise Facetimed me whenever she was at the property and even from her office when we needed to discuss certain ways to proceed.

Could COVID-19 lead to a change in the real estate industry and create a new process for purchase and sale that does not involve such up close and personal interaction? 

The technology landscape has made it feasible to instantly communicate, watch 3D videos of properties and the surrounding areas, perform lifestyle searches and even place your existing furniture in a property online. 

Maybe we don’t really need to see it in person before we buy it! We do that now when we book Airbnbs, or even hotels, for that matter. 

However, most of us understand that real estate will always require personal contact and experience.

If you don’t physically interact with the property, how can you tell if there are smells in the house, barking dogs next door or if the neighbors have the flag flying outside of a rival football team?

COVID-19 has already affected the stock market, travel, the food industry, the real estate industry and, in some regards, how we maneuver through everyday tasks and life itself. Whether it will permanently cause a change in how we do business is yet to be seen.

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Zillow Offers announces expansion to Cincinnati

Zillow Offers has expanded yet again, and launched in the Cincinnati market.

The Ohio market is the 24th market that Zillow Offers has branched out to, and the company says it still has plans to expand Jacksonville and Oklahoma City this year.

“Sellers across the country have shown that they’re looking for more certainty, control and convenience during one of the most stressful experiences they’ll go through,” said Zillow President Jeremy Wacksman. “We’re thrilled to introduce this type of service to the greater Cincinnati area and help sellers find a new, simpler way to sell their home and move on to the next chapter of their lives.”

Through the Zillow Offers program, if the home qualifies, the owner will receive an initial cash offer from Zillow within 48 hours. In this case, a Cincinnati-based broker will also be assisting customers during their transactions.

If the homeowner accepts the offer, the seller gets to choose a date to move out, and not worry about cleaning or repairs. Zillow then makes the necessary repairs and/or improvements and sells the house back into the market. (For more on what, exactly, is an iBuyer, read this.)

In 2019 alone, more than 6,500 homeowners sold their homes to Zillow, the company said.

By bringing Zillow Offers to Cincinnati, Zillow says it is expanding its local presence as an employer, with around a dozen new positions and plans to hire more in the future as Zillow Offers grows, the company said.

There are 160 employees currently based in the Cincinnati office, where dotloop, a Zillow Group brand, has been headquartered since 2009.

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Former Treasury housing advisor Craig Phillips joining HouseCanary

Craig Phillips, who served as Department of the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s top housing advisor and the Trump administration’s point person on reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before stepping down in 2019, has a new job in the housing industry.

Phillips will be joining HouseCanary, a provider of software and analytics for the real estate industry that specializes in valuations and appraisals, as a senior advisor.

According to the company, Phillips will be working with CEO and Founder Jeremy Sicklick and the senior team at HouseCanary to help the company in its mission to automate real estate appraisals.

Phillips left the Treasury Department in Summer 2019, stepping down before enacting major changes at Fannie and Freddie.

Phillips joined the administration in 2017, signing on as Mnuchin’s top housing advisor after leaving BlackRock. At Blackrock, Phillips served as head of financial markets advisory and client solutions.

According to Phillips’ BlackRock bio, he joined the company in 2008. Previously, Phillips served as a managing director of Morgan Stanley from 1994 to 2006. While at Morgan Stanley, he worked in the company’s Fixed Income division, and was responsible for oversight of its global Securitized Products Group.

The New York Times described Phillips as a “veteran Wall Street mortgage trader,” and it was believed that his mortgage-related experience would help the administration pursue GSE reform.

Despite speaking out on multiple occasions about the administration’s plans to reform Fannie and Fannie, Phillips left the Treasury before the administration moved to begin the process of ending the conservatorship of the GSEs.

Craig Phillips

And now, Phillips is joining HouseCanary at what the company calls a “pivotal time” in the mortgage industry. The company cites the recent change to the real estate appraisal rules.

Last year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve approved a policy that increased the threshold for needing a real estate appraisal from $250,000 to $400,000. That was the first time the threshold had been raised since 1994.

Under the policy, certain home sales of $400,000 and below will no longer require an appraisal.

The new rules do not apply to loans wholly or partially insured or guaranteed by, or eligible for sale to, a government agency or government-sponsored agency.

What that means is that loans sold to or guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration, Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentDepartment of Veterans Affairs, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac still require an appraisal, per each agency or companies’ rules.

But the rule does apply to loans that are either held in portfolio by lenders or sold to secondary market investors via the private-label securitization market.

Companies like HouseCanary, which provides automated property valuations, stand to benefit from this change.

Investors seem to see the appeal of HouseCanary, as the company raised $65 million earlier this month.

“I am honored to have Craig join HouseCanary in this strategically important role,” Sicklick said. “Craig is a proven leader and pioneer in the mortgage and banking industry. His background in innovation, the private and public sector, and regulatory and financial systems are an asset to HouseCanary as we continue to build the most accurate valuations in the housing industry.”

Phillips said that he is excited to join HouseCanary at such a unique time in the housing business.

“Technology changes will likely enable a disruption of the traditional appraisal process as we now know it, benefitting both consumers and lenders,” Phillips said. “HouseCanary has developed industry-leading analytics that have the ability to support a frictionless home purchase and borrowing experience. I’m excited to join at this period of growth and innovation for the company and the industry.”

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House & Home

This article originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of House & Home

Lynda Reeves portrait

You can probably imagine how many scouting shots of condos and newly renovated houses arrive in our office every month. Over the 30-plus years of looking at thousands of photos, patterns emerge that can’t be ignored. Some have been great, while others, not so much….

The problem is when a certain look reaches a tipping point, and we’re over it, having seen the exact same thing in so many renovations, there must be the inevitable backlash, right? For example, there was the “Ionic column trend.” Back in the ’80s, when walls were coming down on the ground floor of old Victorian houses, fat faux columns complete with Doric or Ionic plaster capitals were going up. They were all the rage for at least a few years. And then they weren’t.

Or how about the pass-through window between the kitchen and dining room? It was the first step to the open kitchen we now take for granted, and it’s one of the first things that gets ripped out in today’s renovations.

For a time, we were in love with front foyers and hallways. Long, narrow corridors from the front door through to the back of our houses were not only expected, they were necessary to avoid having to step from the entryway right into your living room.

Kitchens were prized for the number of overhead cabinets and the amount of storage that could be crammed into that huge island. The style was heavy wood with carved mouldings. Ugh!

I recall when the first condos hit the luxury end of the market. The best ones were built out with panelled walls, deep mouldings, English- or French-style mantels and miles of built-in bookcases and cabinets. Except for the views, you could easily be in a traditional mansion instead of a box in the sky.

Today, we’ve turned the tables. Old houses are being renovated to look like new condos with open-concept floor plans replacing traditional formal rooms for the loft look that is popular with both the luxury market and the more moderate midrange buyer.

outdoor-indoor living windows

Right now, I’m looking at scouts from Montreal of two different renos by two different designers, and I can hardly tell them apart. It’s the new “It” Look, and it’s a formula: wide open from the front door through to the backyard. White walls, one big room dominated by the open kitchen/living/dining area. Blond wood floors, sleek, airy cabinets and loads of light through big windows and NanaWalls, and plenty of room for dramatic art. That’s what we’re seeing over and over again.

I asked Maggie Lind of Chestnut Park Real Estate, whose clients tend to be affluent, downtown couples and families, if it’s true that most buyers are looking for the same thing. Most of all, I wanted the hit list of what you should do if you’re renovating and want to have the best chances to maximize your investment on a resale.

entryway with glass stairs

She agreed. “There is still the affluent buyer who appreciates a house with formal rooms, although they admit to rarely using them”she said. But, by far, most people want open-concept layouts. “Clean lines, open spaces, easy to come home to” was her description of the new dream home. I asked her about my theory that people must be sick of seeing the same look over and over again. Wrong, she told me. Apparently, there’s comfort in the familiar, and we’re far from tiring of a style that is prized by most buyers in urban markets across North America.

laundry room with textured tile

I asked Maggie to review my hit list of “wants,” and she added a few surprises that you should consider if you’re renovating. If you can check all these boxes in your renovation, you’ll have a prime house for resale.

  • Real hardwood floors over engineered wood floors. Light blond is fine, but dark floors and mid-tones are making a comeback.
  • Signature ranges. “People love their Wolf stoves,” says Maggie, but they also love complete suites of appliances including drawer microwaves, wall ovens and wine fridges by high-end brands such as Miele, Sharp, JennAir, LG, Thermador and Fisher & Paykel.
  • Exhibition kitchens with eating counters, always open to family rooms or dining areas.
  • “Wine storage walls” made of glass that line a dining room or kitchen, instead of basement wine cellars.
  • Mudrooms are a must, along with good laundry rooms.
  • Basement walkouts to a backyard or deck, especially for a family house.
  • Principal bedrooms with a walk-in closet, an ensuite bath with a freestanding tub, a separate shower and water closet and double sinks.
  • Gas fireplaces for ease.
  • An elevator corridor for a future elevator in houses that are more than two storeys. A working elevator is the best, but just having thought out the space and allowed for it is in itself a huge plus for a future buyer.
  • Sliding or folding glass doors that open up wide to the outdoors.

I also canvassed several agents who all agree on the single biggest-selling feature: high-end buyers want a house that is done. Great kitchens and bathrooms will sell a house. No one wants to have to do that work. If they did, they would most probably buy a “redo” that needs a total renovation.

And then there is that other factor: location, location, location…. But you already know that.

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HomeServices earnings grow 10%, Warren Buffett says

Warren Buffet’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders published on Saturday featured the usual folksy wisdom from the “Oracle of Omaha,” and gave a glimpse into the earnings of its HomeServices of America affiliate, the nation’s second-largest real estate brokerage.

HomeServices net income grew to $160 million in 2019, compared with $145 million in 2018. That’s a gain of 10%, fueled by a years-long acquisition spree.

Last year, for example, HomeServices purchased one of its own franchisees, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty, increasing its Florida footprint by 40 offices and 1,750 agents.

Buffett, the fourth-richest man in the world, according to Forbes’ real-time ranking, didn’t offer any pearls of wisdom related to his real estate brokerage business. The explanation of HomeService’s income gain in the annual report that accompanied his letter was pretty dry.

Some of it was due to a bump in refinancing activity, the report said. Like many brokerages, HomeServices offers mortgage, title, escrow and insurance services.

“The increase was primarily due to higher after-tax earnings at existing mortgage businesses due to increased refinance activity and earnings attributable to recent business acquisitions, partially offset by lower after-tax earnings at existing brokerage businesses primarily from lower units and margins,” the report said, the only discussion of the brokerage in its 144 pages.

HomeServices is part of Berkshire’s energy subsidiary, Berkshire Hathaway Energy – previously known as MidAmerican Energy. The parent company Buffett leads owns a wide range of businesses, including Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, Geico, and Duracell.

Overall, Berkshire Hathaway reported $81.4 billion of net income for 2019, $53.7 billion of that coming from net unrealized gains in the stocks it holds.

Buffett did show some of his signature dry wit in a discussion about losses stemming from a fire at one of the French factories operated by Lubrizol, a chemical company Berkshire Hathaway bought for $9 billion in 2011.

Luckily, insurance will cover a big chunk of the losses, but the insurer is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett said.

“One of the largest insurers of Lubrizol was a company owned by . . . uh, Berkshire,” Buffet wrote. “In Matthew 6:3, the Bible instructs us to ‘Let not the left hand know what the right hand doeth.’ Your chairman has clearly behaved as ordered.”

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Purchasing a home drives 15% of buyers to tears

Purchasing a home can be one of the most stressful financial transactions most people ever make, causing about a third of buyers to lose sleep.

That’s according to a new survey from Seattle real estate startup Flyhomes asking 1,000 people about the stress of homebuying. About 15% of respondents said they were reduced to tears during the process while 20% got in a fight with their spouse or partner because of the stress.

Almost two-thirds of the buyers said purchasing a property “was more stressful than they expected,” the Flyhomes report said.

“Stress and homebuying tend to go hand-in-hand, even more than people think,” it said.

About 40% said they spent more than they expected to when purchasing a home, the report said. Half of the people who overspent say that they paid more than $20,000 more than they expected to – and 14% went more than $50,000 over budget.

Almost a quarter of buyers said they had some regrets about their purchase. When asked about specifics, over half say their new home required unexpected repairs or maintenance, a quarter said property taxes were higher than they expected, and 20% said maintenance was more work than they expected.

There were other regrets:

  • Almost 1 in 5 said they weren’t happy with the location.
  • About a third said they wished they’d bought a larger house.
  • One in 5 said they wished they had more bathrooms.
  • Nearly a third said they wished for a larger kitchen.

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Record number of renters believe renting is more affordable than owning

A recent report from CoreLogic showed that home prices increased 4% year over year in December, and projected the U.S. price index will rise by 5.2% by December 2020.

As home prices continue to rise nationally, it’s little wonder that Freddie Mac’s latest “Profile of Today’s Renter and Owner” found that the majority of current renters believe renting is more affordable than owning.

However, the percentage of renters who hold that belief has increased dramatically in the past year.

A whopping 84% of renters said they believe renting is more affordable than owning – an all-time high for the survey. For comparison, this number is up 17 percentage points from February 2018.

The survey also found that affordability issues affect the average renter more than a homeowner. Freddie Mac said there are 42% of renters who paid more than a third of their household income on rent.

This is compared to only 24% of homeowners who spend that amount on mortgage payments.

But there is good news for renters looking to own. Given current low interest rates, 40% of renters said they plan to purchase a home.

“The housing market is strong and, based on our survey, the low mortgage rate environment may inspire both renters and owners to make an educated move this spring,” said David Brickman, Freddie Mac CEO. “While Baby Boomers tend to be satisfied with their current housing situation, younger generations are still struggling to determine whether to rent or purchase a home, largely due to lack of supply and affordability constraints.”

And that lack of supply stretches beyond single-family housing. Last year saw record-high occupancy rates in multifamily housing with a shortage of supply. Naturally, this drove rent growth. Many of the renters surveyed by Freddie Mac voiced their worry in this area.

Almost 70% of renters said they are growing more concerned about their rent going up in the next 12 months, while 68% are concerned about not being able to afford their larger expenses. Even so, according to the majority surveyed, renting is still the more affordable option.

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