Good news during Thanksgiving week for real estate agents…and us!

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Many real estate lawyers rely on their local real estate agent friends for the bulk of their residential closing business. When business is good for them, it’s good for us! Two recent stories in national publications are good signs for all of us.

First, an article from Housing Wire dated November 12, which you can read here, indicates more Americans are using real estate agents than ever before, including Millennials. The article cites a Harris Insights housing consumer study, which shows a full 90% of consumers use real estate agents to buy and sell their homes. These numbers are higher than those shown in previous similar studies, up 5 points from 2014 and 9 points from 2001.

We have all assumed that Millennials, ages 18 – 34, are replacing real estate agents with technology, but this study found the 91% of them use real estate agents in their transactions. According to this article, that number is higher among the Gen X group, ages 35 – 44, at 94%.

Surprising to me, this study indicates the older generations are more likely to cut real estate agents out of their transactions. Only 81% of consumers ages 55 and older indicate they use real estate agents in their transactions. And, apparently, more educated consumers enjoy the use of real estate agents in buying and selling their homes. High school graduates reported 83% use, while college educated consumers reported 94%. Higher income earners were also more likely to use real estate agents (98% of $75,000 – $100,000 earners vs. 79% of $50,000 or less earners.)

Read the article and the underlying study for more insight.

The second article that caught my attention is from Realtor Magazine on November 7. This article, entitled “Big Night of Midterm Wins for Realtors®”, reported that candidates across the country at federal, state and local levels won elections with the promise to benefit the real estate industry’s goals of strong communities and healthy residential and commercial property markets.

This article reports that the National Association of Realtors® supported hundreds of candidates they considered to be real estate champions, regardless of party affiliations.

It’s budget time for me, and our company is predicting a slight softening of residential and commercial markets in 2019. This positive news for our real estate agent partners makes me feel better about the year to come!

Here’s wishing everyone a very happy Thanksgiving with family and friends!

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Two positive articles for dirt lawyers from national sources

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REALTOR®Mag is reporting that although financing remains the top roadblock to successful closings, fewer real estate agents are reporting financing as an issue today as opposed to previous months. This trend is a good one! Check out the article here.

The article indicates that, according to the REALTORS® Confidence Index, which is based on the responses from 2,500 real estate agents nationwide, the decline in complaints about financing may reflect an improvement in the economy, better credit histories from buyers and an improvement in loan evaluation processes.

But the article does report that appraisals are becoming a growing concern. Real estate agents indicated that a shortage of appraisers, valuations that are not in line with market conditions and “out-of-town” appraisers who are not familiar with local markets create the difficulties.

And for the first time in eleven years, the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac conforming loan limit has increased to $424,100, allowing more home buyers to avoid jumbo loans, obtain lower interest rates and deliver lower down payments. The non-conforming loan limit had previously been stuck at $417,000. Read the article from INFOGRAPHIC here.

The economic news surrounding real estate closings is generally positive nationally. And the news is good in South Carolina, too. I’ve traveled around the state a good bit since the beginning of the year, and everywhere I go, I ask lawyers about business.

Early in the year, it seemed residential practices were sluggish in some markets while commercial practices were extremely busy statewide. In the last few weeks, I’m hearing much more encouraging news about residential practices, and commercial lawyers continue to report that business is excellent.

Our office is in the middle of a seminar series we have entitled “The future’s so bright, we have to wear shades.” We’re drinking the Kool-Aid and enjoying these economic good times. Those of us who weathered 2008 – 2012 deserve it!

What’s Happening with Our Nation’s Malls?

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Three recent Realtor® Magazine articles explore the rise and fall of our nation’s malls. I highly recommend that you read the interesting articles entitled “Dying Suburbia Malls Become Housing Mecca” (October 7); “Will the Death of Malls Save the Suburbs?” (October 6); and “The Nation’s Malls are Getting Major Redo” (July 19) for the full story. The October 6 article, the most comprehensive, was written by Clare Trapasso.

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Northland Center, largest mall in the world when it opened in 1954, is now closed.

Summarizing, enclosed malls are basically a post-World War II American phenomenon. These hulking projects vary in size but may be as large as 1.2 million square feet of shopping, dining, movie and other recreation space. In 1970, there were around 300 enclosed malls across the country. By 1996, this number had increased to around 1,040.  Now major stores are closing, and many malls are going dark.

The October 7 article quotes Ellen Dunham-Jones, an urban design professor at Georgia Tech, with the statistic that around 200 malls have closed down in the past two years.

What happened to our malls? It’s a simple answer: the internet.

More and more shoppers are skipping brick-and-mortar retailers to shop online. The malls that are surviving appear to be those with high-end shops that provide luxury experiences shoppers can’t get online. Dunham-Jones pointed to valet parking and chic boutiques with fitting rooms that can take pictures from different angles.

Landlords who once courted department store anchors are now looking for funky boutiques and innovative restaurants. The prediction is that more and more enclosed malls will close, and the question becomes, what will happen to the underlying real estate?

These articles, targeting Realtors®, indicate readers may be renting and selling these properties for mixed-use purposes, including housing! Some malls are being converted into public parks, office space, medical complexes, sports facilities, micro-apartments and condominiums. The theory is that a person can live in an apartment or condo in one of these retrofitted malls and walk to shopping, movie theaters and doctors’ offices.

Some developers like the idea of transforming these acres of flat real estate with existing infrastructure. Malls often contain 50 to 100 acres, including the massive parking lots, and that’s the size of many planned communities and subdivisions. In some areas desperate for housing space, malls may provide a sensible solution.

In one California location, a 30-acre “green roof” is being considered, which would include almost 4 stay tunedmiles of public trails, vineyards and a wine bar.

It sounds as if future potential uses of our dying malls may only be limited by the imagination of developers. The developers I know and love have great imaginations, so stay tuned!