I recently traveled to Orlando, Florida to attend the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Annual Convention. The conference features the best of the real estate industry in terms of speakers, committee meetings, and a trade show expo for attendees from around the country to both learn and share. One of my favorite highlights is the Economic and Housing Market Outlook presentation by the NAR Chief Economist, Lawrence Yun, Ph.D. This year, Dr. Yun was joined by Dennis Lockhart, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, to update all of us on the economic challenges and opportunities facing the real estate market. Some key points brought forward by Mr. Lockhart include the prediction of a moderate pace of interest rate growth in 2017, the "normalizing" of underwriting standards that should increase credit availability, and continuing shortage of affordable housing supply that leads to pent up demand. Dr. Yun highlighted many statistics reporting the market's health and some forecasts for what to expect in 2017. Annual home sales continued to show small but positive gains yet again last year. We have seen upward growth since the low point in 2009, but the proportion of new home sales to existing home sales is still much smaller than what we saw during the peak years. Median and average home prices continue to make steady upward strides at or above the record levels. The median existing-home sales price for September 2016 came in at $234,200. Having ready and able home buyers is key to keeping the numbers growing. According to a national map provided, Montana is categorized as having strong buyer traffic, with only Washington and Oregon hitting the very strong mark. Pending home sales are closely tracked and are considered a top indicator of real estate market strength. Recent numbers through September 2016 show a 1.5% upward shift. That puts the index at 2.4% above the same month in 2015. In fact, NAR states the reported value has been higher when comparing year-over-year in 22 of the last 25 months. While demand is still strong, the shortage of inventory is the main contributor to why these numbers are not even higher. A less positive note is the rate of homeownership reported. The nation is currently near a 50 year low, with the most recent rate hovering above 63%. In the early 2000s, we were seeing homeownership rates above 69%. Younger households, ages 34 and younger, are significantly lower at 37% than the 65+ households which are right below 80%. A couple of factors that contribute to this disparity include the wealth gap between the two demographic groups and the increase in student loan debt carried by many younger adults, among others. Social benefits of homeownership were also emphasized for an abundance of reasons. Children fare better with school performance and socially; higher levels of community and volunteer involvement are reported; and even overall health improves especially from increased confidence. To go a step further, sustainable homeownership is truly the key, as foreclosure strips away those benefits. Fortunately, the level of borrower delinquency continues to decline as well as the number of both short sales and foreclosures. Dr. Yun made a comparison of "normal versus now," which was quite interesting. Using the year 2000 as the baseline for normal, existing home sales were at 5.2 million and now are at 5.3 million. New home sales dropped from 900,000 to 500,000. The population has increased from 282 million in the United States to 324 million, while jobs have only increased from 132 million to 145 million. Interestingly, the total household wealth in our country increased from $44 trillion in 2000 to $85 trillion in 2016. The nation's overall economy goes hand in hand with the housing market health. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is one measure relied upon to compare an economy's growth over the long run. The GDP utilizes rates of personal consumption, business investment, government spending, and imports/ exports. The annual rate has been below 3% for eleven straight years now. Though 2016 has been quite low, the forecast for the next two years is more optimistic. Unemployment figures can be a bit tricky to decipher but very pertinent as they reflect adults actively looking for work. Recent numbers reported for the nation were 4.9%. If you look on the flip side, the employment number (a figure accounting for adults who do have jobs) shows a fairly flat trend with no rise year over year. As we look to the future of real estate and some predictions, the housing forecast is promising. New home sales are anticipated to be as high as 700,000 by 2018. Ideally existing home sales will go as high as 5.7 million. Median price growth has been very high and is likely to taper off and decrease. The mortgage rates for a 30 year loan are predicted to rise to as high as 4.5% which is still very low historically speaking. The bottom line after looking at all of the facts and figures is that homeownership matters. It is important on an individual, community, regional and national level for both personal and economic reasons.