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Real estate CEO: Record-low housing inventory is 'freaking us out'

Diana Olick
Real estate CEO: Record-low housing inventory is 'freaking us out'

The number of homes for sale in America has been falling steadily for the past year, but the situation is apparently getting much worse as spring demand heats up.

"The inventory is reaching historic lows. It's never declined faster than it did last month. It's freaking us out — it's affecting our business; it's limiting our sales," said Glenn Kelman, CEO of Seattle-based Redfin, a real estate firm. "We're going to be fine in terms of market share, but I think the overall industry for the first time is seeing sales volume really limited by the inventory crunch."

Kelman considers Redfin more as a technology company and touts his ability to track closely the more than 80 metropolitan markets it covers. He blames the lack of inventory on a new dynamic in housing.

"It's a new landlord nation where everybody is renting out their basement. When somebody moves up they don't sell their old place, they rent it out to somebody else, and it's because they want to keep that 30-year mortgage for 30 years, and it's because they can easily find somebody on Airbnb who will take the place," Kelman said.

Homes in April sold the fastest since Redfin began tracking the market in 2010. The typical home went under contract in just 40 days, 10 days faster than April 2016. As a result, 1 in 4 homes sold above their list price, which is the highest percentage Redfin has recorded.

Home prices continue to move higher as well, but, "It's not a bubble," said Kelman emphatically, who cites tight credit as keeping the bubble at bay.

Inventory of homes for sale fell about 7 percent nationally in March, compared with a year ago, according to the National Association of Realtors. Like most, Kelman blames the problem on a lack of new construction. On the single-family side, homebuilders are still putting up 18 percent fewer homes than the 25-year average.

"Cranes fill the sky in every town, but they're building office buildings," he said, noting that while employment is going up, there's no commensurate increase in the number of houses. In fact, he added, when people do construct housing, they're opting to build apartment complexes because tight credit is keeping many would-be buyers out of the market. "There is so much demand in terms of rent that it doesn't make sense to build properties for sale."

Watch: Homeowners doing more renovations, spending more

Correction: Glenn Kelman is CEO of real estate firm Redfin. His role in the company's history was misstated in an earlier version of this article.



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