With growing concern over soaring allergies and child asthma rates, more Americans are taking a closer look at their homes and how they may be affecting their health. It’s prompted some home buyers to look at the amount of toxins a home may be emitting as well as its air quality.

In 2009, a survey conducted by homebuilder Meritage Homes revealed a growing concern among homeowners about the impact a home could have on their health. It motivated the builder in 2014 to add features to improve airflow and reduce toxins in its homes, such as improved air filters, whole-house water treatment, and low-emitting materials.

It also prompted more salespeople to ask buyers about any respiratory issues too when helping them to locate the right home. In the U.S., 17.7 million adults and 6.3 million children have asthma and more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies.

Evolutionary Home Builders has made building a healthy home its primary focus. The company’s Evolutionary Pro Homes are marketed to meet the physical needs of professional athletes and designed to provide more oxygen, fresh air, and negative ions than traditional homes. The builder also claims it reduces the levels of toxins and allergens in its homes. Brandon Weiss, the founder of the company, says doctors have shown, via pre- and post-occupancy, how improved indoor environments can enhance performance.

More homebuilders are considering whether healthier building standards should be added to their homes too. However, the extra costs associated with building this way has been a big area of concern. But costs are heading down, which has prompted more builders to consider what elements they can offer.

Some builders are opting to become a partner in EPA’s voluntary Indoor airPLUS certification program. The certification program was launched in 2009 to provide construction specifications that protect indoor air quality. It’s recognition for builders who go “above and beyond” building standards in creating healthier indoor environments, says Bob Axelrad, EPA senior policy adviser for indoor environments.

Participants see indoor air quality and health as “the next important value proposition that they have to offer home buyers,” Axelrad says.

Other programs to help home owners determine the health of a home include WELL Building Standard, LEED for Homes, International Living Future Institute, the Healthy Building Network and BuildingGreen’s Health Product Declaration Open Standard,  Greenguard, and Cradle to Cradle.

“Overall, health is a strong purchase driver, and there’s increasing concern about indoor air quality,” says Lee Ann Head, Shelton Group’s vice president of research. “But there’s work to be done to better communicate about the topic.”

Meritage Homes says at first they promoted a home’s health-based benefits along with energy efficiency. But they found the message wasn’t resonating. Buyers also were getting intimidated by the jargon, such as MERV (maximum efficiency rating value) air filters and low-VOC (volatile organic compound) materials. Now, its sales team focuses on “reminding consumers that they can and should have a better functioning home than they’ve had,” says C.R. Herro, vice president of energy efficiency and sustainability for Meritage.

Indeed, “we’re starting a conversation to get people to realize, wouldn’t it be great to have fresh air to breathe? Wouldn’t it be great to have a new house that doesn’t smell like a new car?” says Carl Grimes, managing director of the Hayword Healthy Home Institute. “It’s possible, and it doesn’t have to cost much more or even more to build a lot of these features into homes now.”

Source: “The Next Big Thing: Healthy Homes,” BUILDER (Nov. 30, 2016)

Older home owners who leverage the equity in their home may be better off in funding their retirement, according to a new study by the Urban Institute. However, the recession may have hampered many retirees’ abilities to do so.

“Not only does a house meet the basic needs of shelter, but it’s an asset that typically can be used to build wealth as home owners pay down their mortgages,” the study’s authors note. “In fact, many retirement security experts argue that the conventional three-legged stool of retirement resources—Social Security, pensions and savings—is incomplete because it ignores the home.”

Before the recession, home owners aged 65 or older could have used their home’s equity to increase their retirement income by over 50 percent – up to $60,000 –either by borrowing a home equity line of credit, selling their home at a profit, or taking a cash-out refinance or second mortgage. However, the Urban Institute’s study notes that percentage fell to 50 percent – up to $49,000 – by 2012, even though retirees accumulated an average 10 percent more equity than in 1998. Home owner’s equity grew from $117,000 to $166,000 between 2000 and 2006 before falling to $129,000 by 2012.

The study’s authors say that older home owners have more opportunity to unlock the wealth potential of their homes in retirement, particularly now with the recession over.

“The majority of older adults, regardless of income, race and ethnicity, and education, own homes that they could use to help finance their retirement,” the authors note.

Source: “Study: Home Equity Still a Retirement Failsafe?” RISMedia/Urban Institute (Nov. 13, 2016)

2016 was marked by low interest rates and a surge of millennials entering the housing market, so what can real estate professionals expect to see in 2017? MarketWatch recently broke down some major themes that will impact your business in the upcoming year.

Word to know: Surban

The suburbs are not dying, in fact John Burns Consulting says almost 80 percent of residential growth to occur in suburban communities over the next 10 years. Suburbs are, however, incorporating urban amenities like pedestrian-friendly shopping areas, general walkability, and entertainment options. This new type of suburbia also has a new name: Surban.

“These developments are more than simply mixed-use,” says Danielle Leach, a senior consultant at John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Chicago. “Surban living is becoming a new way of life for many: where the blend of urban and suburban living provides the best of both worlds.”

Housing preference to know: the Move-Up

Many millennials are skipping the starter home altogether and are focusing on the “move-up” home. According to Jessica Lautz, managing director for research at NAR, many millennial buyers have put themselves in a good position in terms of savings, and want something more than a condo or a starter home. You’ll want to make sure you’re pointing your millennial clients in this direction when helping them with their home search.

Demographic to know: Generation Z

Believe it or not, the next generation of buyers, those who make up Generation Z, are already becoming a focus for real estate professionals, since the first wave will turn 18 in 2017. Gen Z grew up in a much different time than the millennial generation, and experts say they overwhelmingly aspire to be homeowners. At a recent panel at the 2016 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Orlando, a group of Gen Z kids revealed that they want to be reached via technology platforms that were on their level like Snapchat, and not Facebook, which they say is for “old people.” They also ranked green features and location as things they find important. Working with a real estate pro is also important to them. In fact,a  whopping 81 percent of Gen Z said they want to work with an agent when buying a home.

Source: “5 big real-estate trends to watch in 2017,” MarketWatch (Nov. 15, 2016)

Does your listing’s neighborhood offer walkability? If so, you’ll want to tout the latest findings from a study that show residents who live there are bound to be healthier.

In a new study published in the Lancet, researchers analyzed 14 cities in 10 countries to determine whether or not the cities’ layout contributed to an increase in resident’s health. Researchers tracked the physical activity of 14,222 adult participants over a week using Fitbit-style accelerometers.

“We studied neighborhoods ranging in socioeconomic status and culture,” says lead author James Sallis of the UC San Diego School of Medicine. “Those built with more activity-supportive environmental features had residents who did more physical activity.”

Researchers found the biggest city design factors that led to a greater amount of “moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity” were those with prevalence of residential density, park, and public transport density. After all, people living near parks are more likely to use them. Residential density contributes to greater walkability because the more compact a neighborhood is, the more easily residents can walk to do their errands instead of driving, researchers note. Indeed, residents in densely populated cities tend to get up to 90 minutes more physical activity per week than those who don’t.

Further, researchers showed that public transit density tends to spur more walking among residents too because people often walk to the closest station instead of driving.

“People who live in walkable neighborhoods that are densely populated, have interconnected streets, and are close to shops, services, restaurants, public transport, and parks tend to be more physically active than residents of less walkable areas,” according to the study.

Of the cities studied globally, residents in Wellington, New Zealand, were found to walk the most per day at an average of 50 minutes. Meanwhile, the lowest amount of walking time was in Baltimore, Md., at 29 minutes.

Source: “The Well-Designed City Is a Healthy City, All Over the World,” Factoexist.com (Oct. 27, 2016)

Foreclosure inventories nationwide dipped 31.1 percent in September year-over-year, and completed foreclosures were down 7 percent in that time. But that doesn’t mean the foreclosure crisis is over everywhere, and some real estate professionals are still seeing elevated business from foreclosures in some markets.

CoreLogic’s September 2016 National Foreclosure Report showed that five states alone accounted for 36 percent of completed foreclosures nationally. Those five states with the highest number of completed foreclosures in the 12 months ending in September were:

  1. Florida: 53,000
  2. Texas: 27,000
  3. Michigan: 24,000
  4. Ohio: 23,000
  5. Georgia: 21,000

Meanwhile, the five places with the highest foreclosure inventories were:

  • New Jersey: 3%
  • New York: 2.7%
  • Maine: 1.8%
  • Hawaii: 1.8%
  • District of Columbia: 1.6%

Still, while foreclosures remain problematic for these areas, the national picture shows an improving picture for delinquencies. The national foreclosure inventory included 0.9 percent – or 340,000 – of all homes with a mortgage in September compared to 1.3 percent – or 493,000 – in September 2015, CoreLogic reports. Also, the number of mortgages in serious delinquency (those that are 90 days or more past due) fell by 24.8 percent in September year-over-year. The serious delinquency rate now stands at 2.6 percent – or 1 million mortgages, the lowest level since August 2007.

“Completed foreclosures have fallen by a total of more than 100,000 homes during the 12 months prior to September 2016,” says Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “The decline in foreclosures is one of the drivers in the drop in vacancies, which is positive for home owners and communities. Heading into 2017 we see that prices, performance, and production – the three most important drivers of the real estate market – are all improving.”

Source:  CoreLogic

There are 18.8 million veterans and veteran families in the U.S. That’s a huge pool of potential buyers and sellers.

Traditionally, the home ownership rate for veterans of the U.S. military has outpaced non-veterans. In 2006, the ownership rate for veterans was 79.5 percent, which is 12.3 percentage points higher than that of non-veterans, according to data provided by the National Association of REALTORS®.

In 2015, veterans and active-service members comprised 21 percent of all home buyers. Veterans move a median of 75 miles from the home they previously sold to their new home purchased. Active-duty military most often purchase a home due to a job relocation.

They turn to real estate professionals for guidance as they move to new locales.  Veterans and active-service military got their information from real estate professionals more than any other source, according to the 2016 Veterans and Active-Military Home Buyers and Sellers Profile. The report, released by NAR, shows that 85 percent of veterans and 86 percent of active-service military purchased their home through a real estate agent.

Real estate professionals are gaining extra training in how to best reach this expansive buyer and seller segment. NAR offers members the Military Relocation Professional certification, for example. It’s a one-day certification program that shows how real estate professionals can reach out to this niche and how to help vets take advantage of military benefits in their home purchases.

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine

Getting involved in community projects and charity work is a great way to both give back and make your name more recognizable in your neighborhood. However, it’s not easy to devote substantial time to good deeds when you have a real estate business to run and a family to feed.

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See REALTOR® Magazine’s complete coverage of the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Orlando at realtorm.ag/orlando.

Past winners of REALTOR® Magazine’s Good Neighbor Awards, which honors REALTORS® who make extraordinary charitable contributions to their communities, discussed how they strike such a balance in their own lives at a Sunday session during the 2016 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Orlando, Fla. Greg Adamson, a 2009 Good Neighbor whose Heart 2 Home Foundation in Salt Lake City provides home renovations for disadvantaged owners, said getting family members involved in his cause kills two birds with one stone.

“Heart 2 Home has become an important part of our family,” Adamson said. “My wife and kids are involved, and that has made it easier to balance time. It’s just such a part of who we are, and I really want my kids to have that legacy.” But make no mistake about it: Juggling charity work, family, and business isn’t easy. Adamson said if you care enough about the help you’re providing through good works, you’ll make sacrifices. “When we do a project, it’s time-consuming… But I know that if I don’t do it, I’ll regret it.”

2013 Good Neighbor Award winner Tina McDonough agreed. She’s built a powerhouse fundraising team that participates in Susan G. Komen events — such as a three-day, 60-mile walk — to fight breast cancer. Her husband and three kids often join. “It’s become a family affair,” she said, noting that both her son and husband have joined her on the fundraising walks. “You bring your family into it, and then they see why you’re so passionate about it.”

But what happens to your business when you’re busy with your charity work? 2012 Good Neighbor Rocky Balsamo said it’s all about having good systems in place. Balsamo said he does nearly half of the production on his team, which he said is the top real estate team in his county. But when he decided to become executive director of the Center for FaithJustice, an organization that provides schoolchildren with community service opportunities and education about poverty, he turned to his team to fill the gaps in their business.

“I could rely on my team members to take my clients out on showings if I wasn’t available. You have to have systems in place if you’re going to take on these kinds of endeavors. You have to have people, colleagues you can rely on,” Balsamo said.

—Graham Wood, REALTOR® Magazine

Open floor plans are in demand in today’s housing market. But listings lacking one may not be hampered after all. In fact, if a new study is right, you might even turn that closed floor plan into a selling point: Its results suggest that open floor plans cause home owners to overeat, which in turn could make them gain weight.

Easy access to the kitchen in an open floor plan could prompt more visits to grab something to eat, the study suggests. Researchers in the study, recently published in the journal Environment and Behavior, found that participants in an open floor plan made about 10 percent more serving trips than participants in a closed floor plan scenario. Each time they got up to snack, participants ended up consuming an average of 170 more calories in the open setting plan than in the closed floor plan.

“Open kitchen-dining area floor plans remove visual and physical barriers between humans and food,” says study co-author Kim Rollings, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. “Our results suggest that people may eat more in a dining area with direct view of and access to the serving area, versus a separate dining space. … In order to reduce food consumption, results suggest that serving areas should be placed out of sight from diners. Diners may also choose to eat in areas facing away or separated from buffet-style serving areas.”

For the study, Rollings and co-author Nancy Wells, an environmental psychologist from Cornell University, tracked the eating behaviors of 57 college students in two dining scenarios: one in which they had a direct view of the food-serving area (an open floor plan) and another in which they did not have direct views of the kitchen (a closed floor plan).

Rollings says that open floor plans may be great entertaining spaces by putting the kitchen on display, but she suggests architects may want to rethink their design approaches given that too much openness of a kitchen and eating areas may prompt people to overeat.

Source: “How Your Open Floor Plan Could Be Affecting Your Health,” Chicago Tribune (Sept. 23, 2016)

You may want to dust off your marketing outreach and get ready to target first-time home buyers once again. The 2017 housing market is looking bright, fueled by a big wave of first-time home buyers emerging.

First-time home buyers are predicted to make up more than half of home buyers next year – up to 52 percent, surging from 33 percent in 2016, according to realtor.com®’s Active Home Shopper Report, based on survey data from buyers who plan to purchase homes in the spring or summer of 2017. Also, realtor.com® predicts that will spark greater demand for suburban homes in the new year.

Millennials are finally expected to unleash their buying arm in 2017. They are predicted to make up 61 percent of the first-time home buyers under age 35 in the new year. The top motivators getting millennials moving now are getting married or moving in with a partner, growing tired of their current living space, and planning to increase their family size.

“This represents an ‘oh shift’ moment in housing,” says Jonathan Smoke, realtor.com®’s chief economist. “With so many first time buyers in the market, competition will be even fiercer next year for affordable starter homes in the suburbs. Those looking to buy may want to consider a winter home purchase in order to avoid bidding wars and higher prices spurred by a potential increase in millennial buyers.”

Indeed, affordability will remain a pressing concern in 2017. In 2016, 40 percent of home buyers said lack of inventory was their biggest barrier to home ownership. But in 2017, the main barrier is expected to shift to affordability and mortgage qualification, realtor.com®’s research team finds. Thirty-seven percent of first-time home buyers who plan to buy next spring said their largest impediment to home ownership is saving for a down payment; another 30 percent said finding a house within their budget would be their biggest hurdle.

Many first-time buyers are setting their sights on suburbia. Forty-three percent of first-time home buyers say they prefer to buy a home in the suburbs, citing greater security, privacy, and a better fit for growing families.

Overall, the top cited features first-time buyers say they want in new homes is safety, increased living space, and larger yards. Millennials also show the highest preference for moving to a single-family home (39%) and townhome (34%), and are showing decreased desire for a multifamily home (15%), condo (10%), or mobile home (2%), according to the realtor.com® survey.

What’s more, they’re motivated to buy in order to improve their financial situation. They say they want to purchase a house that will create a financial investment for them that they can grow over time.

Source: “Realtor.com® September Home Shopper Surveys Point to Big Shift Ahead,” realtor.com® (Oct. 17, 2016)

In metros were home owners pay the least amount for housing, they often spend some of the highest amounts on energy each year. On the other hand, in some of the priciest areas, owners get more of a break, according to a new report by Redfin.

Energy costs should be an important factor guiding home buyers. After all, energy bills can increase total housing costs by as much as 50 percent or more. This is particularly common in the Rust Belt, Redfin researchers note.

Learn how low energy prices might affect housing in certain areas.

Home owners living in Cleveland, Rochester, Cincinnati, and Buffalo pay more for energy—relative to their annual housing costs —than home owners in the 71 other metro areas nationwide that Redfin analyzed. Meanwhile, seven of the 10 metros where home owners spend the least on energy (relative to their annual mortgage) are located in California. For example, in San Francisco and San Jose, energy bills add 2 to 3 percent to annual housing costs, some of the lowest in the nation.

According to Redfin’s study, the following cities have the highest energy costs in the nation:

  • Cleveland, Ohio, where home owners spent an average of $3,500 in annual energy costs, amounting to 54% (energy as percent of housing costs)
  • Rochester, N.Y.: $2,900; 50%
  • Cincinnati: $3,600; 47%
  • Buffalo, N.Y.: $3,000; 46%
  • Indianapolis, Ind.: $3,000; 40%
  • Providence, R.I.: $4,000; 37%
  • Columbus, Ohio: $3,300; 36%
  • Manchester, N.H.: $4,200; 32%

Meanwhile, these cities have the lowest energy costs nationwide:

  • Portland, Ore.: where home owners spent an average of $1,000 each year in energy bills, amounting to 6% (energy as percent of housing costs)
  • Honolulu: $1,800; 5%
  • Ventura County, Calif.: $1,200; 5%
  • Los Angeles: $1,200; 4%
  • San Diego: $1,100; 4%
  • Oakland, Calif.: $1,400; 4%
  • Seattle, Wash.: $900; 4%

Source: Redfin