Seasonality, regional divergence key trends to watch
Lance Lambert, former real estate editor at Fortune, discussed his theory of the market’s headwinds and tailwinds — and the “tug-of-war” they’re playing.
- Lambert recently left Fortune to launch ResiClub, a data-driven residential real estate news and research outlet.
- He said “regional bifurcation” in the market is one of the biggest trends to watch for next year.
- Agents who have built relationships with home builders, he noted, “have done much better over the past year.”
Longtime real estate reporter and editor Lance Lambert recently left his role at Fortune to start a new venture, a residential real estate news and analysis outlet called ResiClub.
Lambert, who has built a sizable social media presence by sharing and highlighting real estate data, spoke with Real Estate News about his new project, the ever-changing residential real estate beat, and important real estate themes to keep an eye on. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was the impetus behind ResiClub, and how long has it been brewing in the background?
I had been wanting to do it for a while but was waiting for the right opportunity while building my own personal brand, learning a bit more about the areas I didn't know as much about, and making some more connections.
I felt like now was a great time because housing affordability has deteriorated to four-decade lows, essentially, and there's a lot of attention on trying to figure out what the heck is going on. And so my audience is not only the high-intent buyers and sellers who are trying to figure this out, but also industry pros.
I also wanted to fill in some of the areas where I would like to see more robust coverage, such as home builders, institutional homebuyers and proptechs (real estate startups). And then of course, I really just want to continue doing what I've done well in this space, which is all my charts and analysis.
There's so much data out there today. Does that make it harder for the average American to find accurate information?
U.S. homebuyers and sellers have had a tough few years because they've been fed a lot of information, and sometimes the information doesn't necessarily match the reality they see on the ground. And what has happened on the ground has shifted many times. I do think once a buyer or seller gets serious about it and gets out there, they find out what the reality is in their market very quickly.
One of the things I do is show people how seasonality works in housing, because that's very important. And so if you see some of my charts that show several years of pricing data by month, you can kind of see, oh, the first half of the year is the seasonally strong period nationally, and the bottom half is weaker.
I think what's happening — and this has been my theory for 12 months — is that the U.S. housing market has a very big headwind and a very big tailwind. The headwind is deteriorated affordability, which puts downward pressure on price, and the tailwind is a lack of resale supply, which puts upward pressure on price. But I think the seasonality that comes into play — the first half being stronger, the second half being weaker — is kind of playing matchmaker right now. So it's like a tug-of-war essentially.
Another thing that I try to do is show that there's a lot of regional divergence — particularly since summer 2022. It's been very tricky to write headlines for housing, because we've experienced very different things in different pockets of the country.
What are some of the big stories to watch out for over the next six months?
The number one thing for me is regional bifurcation. I am definitely of the view that there's still downside risk in the market. And I'm also very much of the view that there are pockets of the country that have been very resilient and could very much continue to be.
Since summer 2022, we've had more of an '80s or early '90s vibe where a lot of markets are still going up, but there are markets going down. And in the national market, we're meeting this close equilibrium where prices have held because the market headwinds and tailwinds kind of even each other out.
In markets like Austin, where the prices went even higher during the pandemic — because of that outside California money rushing in — the deteriorated affordability is even more magnified. And so that's what's pushing prices down there. And then you have other parts of the market where resale inventory is even tighter than nationally. For instance, in Hartford, Connecticut, for every four homes that were for sale in September 2019, there is now one home for sale. So Austin's down 10% (from peak) and then Hartford is up 8%.
Will there still be opportunities for agents with new home builders?
One of the first things the home builders did when mortgage rates spiked was bring back the agent commissions. They needed help finding buyers and leads, and so they brought back the money they had stopped pumping out to agents during the pandemic. So, some agents who have been close to builders relative to their peers have done much better over the past year.
But I think agent incentives will continue. Builders still have the margins. And the only way they would not is if the market got really hot — and I'm talking really hot in terms of builders having full pricing control. While builders have done better over the past year, they still don't have full price control.