Ask Ray About Real Estate: With economic headwinds on the horizon, sell now or plan to hold

When asked by a client “Is this a good time to sell?,” about 99 percent of real estate agents will exclaim “This is a great time to sell!” (Never mind that their answer is likely the same whether or not it’s actually a good time to sell.)

In fact, now is a great time to sell. In Seattle and surrounding communities there is a severe shortage of listings. Interest rates remain at their lowest level in a year, despite the Federal Reserve’s recent rate hike. Seattle remains the No. 1 city searched by Chinese investors. Meanwhile, area home prices are at a record high.

Yes, it’s an excellent time to sell — if you’re ready to sell. If you plan to sell sometime in 2017, I encourage you to pick up the phone and call your Realtor today. Preparations to list your home can take weeks, or even months. Plan now to take advantage of the highest home prices in history.

But if you don’t plan to sell in 2017, then I suggest you make a plan to hold your property for about five years. Using the recent Great Recession as a guide, local real estate prices fell more than 30 percent, and remained in a slump between 2008 to 2013. The next recession may follow a similar pattern, falling home prices and all.

By nature, I’m an optimist, and I’m uncomfortable as a purveyor of gloom and doom. But I also can’t ignore the increasing number of negative data points.

  • The year 2017 may have “the most dangerous and overvalued stock market on record” — even worse than the pre-Depression crash of 1929, according to an opinion piece on by Brett Arends. According to the World Bank, the total U.S. stock market is now valued at more than 150 percent of annual gross domestic product. That is way above historic norms, and about the same as it was at the market extreme of 2000.
  • Reuters news service reported that oil prices slid nearly 5 percent on June 7 as energy demand continues to decline. Declining energy demand is a sign of overall economic decline. OPEC and other entities suggest that too much supply is the issue; an attempt to distract from the reality of lower consumption and the falling wealth of consumers.                                                                                           
  • Thousands of retail stores, the primary indicator of the health of the American economy, are set to close in 2017, according to business and consumer outlet  Sweeping bankruptcies and downsizing are ravaging the retail sector. 
  • Roughly 102 million working-age Americans do not currently have a job. This includes the 95 million Americans who are not classified as unemployed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics because they assume these people have been unemployed so long they do not want to work. The bureau classifies such people as    “not in labor force” – defined as people who aren’t working, but aren’t looking, either. Indeed, a majority of this population is comprised of retirees, students, stay-at-home parents, and the disabled. A 2015 study of those figures conducted by the bureau for The Washington Post found that 6 million people classified as “not in labor force” wanted a job, though they were not actively searching for one, and some. 
  • The current rate of homeownership in the U.S. is 63.6 percent, a figure which comes near an all-time low — and lower than last year’s 63.7 percent, according to figures tracked by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “Today’s homeownership report is fairly underwhelming, with most key indicators largely remaining flat or changing only modestly,” Zillow Chief Economist Svenja Gudell said.       

Recently, the Federal Reserve moved to increase interest rates despite scant evidence of inflation. The real reason the Fed chose to raise interest rates was to cut off the flow of easy money, which has pumped up stock prices. Without a stream of no-cost money to fuel the stock market, you can expect the stock market will stall, and we may see investors dumping tech stock and taking profits. (Note: The vast majority of gains in equities over the past year is attributed to only five stocks issued by the four major tech companies — the FANG stocks.)

There’s a recession on the horizon, and its arrival is not a matter of “if,” but “when.” There’s no need to panic. Now is the time to make plans. If you’re ready to sell, pick up the phone and call your Realtor. If you’re not ready to sell, then plan accordingly. Remember: The sky isn’t falling.  We’ll weather the looming recession just as we’ve weathered every other recession. But planning ahead can make a real difference in how you come out the other end.

RAY AKERS is a licensed Realtor for Akers & Cargill Properties in Seattle. Send your questions to or call 206-722-4444.