Thursday, June 14, 2012

Record-Low Rates Send Loan Demand Soaring

Mortgage applications for home purchases and refinancings jumped 18 percent last week, reaching the highest volume since 2009, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s report for the week ended June 8. Loan requests for home purchases — which is a future gauge of home sales — ticked up 12.8 percent alone for the week. Refinancing applications climbed 19.2 percent. "Refinance volume increased as borrowers were able to lock in at mortgage rates below 4 percent, and purchase application volume was its highest level in over six months," says Michael Fratantoni, MBA's vice president of research and economics. Source: "Mortgage Applications Rose Last Week: MBA," Reuters (June 13, 2012)

Median List Prices Bounce Back

The median national list price of for-sale homes is inching upward, increasing 3.17 percent last month compared to May 2011, according to newly released data from May of 146 markets tracked by “Signs of recovery are evident in a growing number of markets that were once the epicenter of the housing crisis,” reports. “For example, the recovery process that began in Florida approximately one year ago has since spread to Phoenix and most recently California.” The following are the metro areas that have seen the largest month-over-month increases in median list prices in May: 1.Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc, Calif.: 19.08 percent increase in May over April 2.Oakland, Calif.: 10.15 percent 3.South Bend, Ind.: 7.01 percent 4.Detroit: 5.56 percent 5.San Jose, Calif.: 5.20 percent 6.Washington, D.C.-Md.-Va.-W.Va.: 5 percent 7.Salt Lake City-Ogden, Utah: 4.55 percent 8.Sacramento, Calif.: 4.50 percent 9.Wilmington-Newark, Del.-Md.: 4.25 percent 10.Reno, Nev.: 4.17 percent By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine Daily News

Signs of the Pending ‘Foreclosure Wave’ Emerge

Foreclosure filings — which include default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions — soared 9 percent in May from the previous month, RealtyTrac reports. The pick-up in foreclosures for the month marked the first monthly increase since January and had some in the housing industry saying that the “foreclosure wave,” as predicted, has finally made landfall. Following a $26 billion mortgage settlement in April between the nation’s five largest banks and state attorneys general, the industry had predicted that foreclosures would rise this summer. Banks had delayed processing some foreclosures during the settlement as they made new checks of their paperwork and overhauled their foreclosure procedures. Now, they’re quickening their pace. Bank repossessions soared 7 percent in May, RealtyTrac reports. Foreclosure starts were also on the rise, jumping 12 percent from April, and were 16 percent higher than they were compared to May of last year. "The jump in May foreclosure starts shows that it's going to be a bumpy ride down to the bottom of this foreclosure cycle," says Brandon Moore, CEO of RealtyTrac. However, the number of short sales continues to grow, which may help lessen the foreclosure impact on overall home values that occurred in the past. The higher percentage of foreclosure starts in May will likely end up as short sales or auction sales rather than bank repossessions, says Moore. “Disposing of distressed homes by pre-foreclosure sale can benefit lenders and servicers because pre-foreclosure homes sell at a higher average price point than bank-owned homes,” Moore says. The average price of a pre-foreclosure home in the first quarter sold for more than $27,000 higher than the average price of a bank-owned home. Source: “Foreclosures Spike 9% in May,” CNNMoney (June 14, 2012) and RealtyTrac

Green Marketing Should Go Beyond Energy Efficiency

Many home builders can make some big mistakes when marketing their high-performance green houses, researcher Suzanne Shelton, CEO of the Shelton Group, said at the recent NAHB National Green Building Conference in Nashville, Tenn. The first mistake is assuming that consumers prefer green homes. Shelton's research has found that about 40 percent of buyers are interested in a green home, but as many as 62 percent are interested in an energy-efficient one. This means that builders of these homes should use their marketing to emphasize energy efficiency. The top energy-efficient features that buyers look for are Energy Star–qualified appliances, high-efficiency windows, and high-efficiency HVAC equipment. Still, marketers should not concentrate too much on energy. Many buyers are either apathetic or angry when talking about their utility bills. Green-home builders should manage buyers’ expectations of how much money energy-minded features can save them, as many buyers have unrealistic expectations of how much they can save on utilities. Marketing should also be specific, Shelton says, like, "Save 5 percent on your energy bill by setting your thermostat back 5 degrees for eight hours a day." The majority of Americans do not turn to green products for environmental reasons, so home marketing messages should not be connected to the environment. Most buyers will focus more on their own comfort or convenience. Source: "Green Marketing Should Go Beyond Energy Efficiency," EcoHome (05/12/2012)

Wells Fargo Seeks More of Mortgage Market Share

Wells Fargo is already the top bank when it comes to issuing home mortgages, but it wants an even bigger part of the pie. Wells Fargo issued about 34 percent of all home mortgages and 13 percent of mortgages for purchases in the first quarter. That’s more than triple the number of its closest rival, JPMorgan Chase, and marks a record for the lender in highest market share for all mortgages, including new home purchases and refinancings. The company reportedly is encouraging its loan officers to issue even more loans to home buyers. In a conference in mid-January, sales managers with the bank reportedly dressed as cowboys touting the slogan “40% or BUST!” to encourage loan officers to lend more for new-home purchases to reach the goal of 40 percent of the market share. Since news of the motivational rally leaked to the press, company leaders are quick to say they aren’t concerned about market share or and don't have a specific market share goal with lending. In some markets, reports are surfacing of loan officers being enticed to lend more with company offers of prize drawings for whomever files more loan applications and meets with more real estate agents. But is the lender’s increased market share coming at a price? Financial analysts say it doesn’t appear that Wells Fargo is dropping its underwriting standards in order to achieve a larger share of the mortgage business. Instead, financial analysts say the company is able to take a bigger share due to a retreat from rival banks in the mortgage business. Still, Wells Fargo’s increasing volume in the mortgage business has some regulators concerned that they are getting too big. “We have seen a great deal of concentration in mortgage origination and in mortgage servicing in recent years,” Edward J. DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said in a speech on May 15 in Washington, D.C. “Policy makers need to think hard about where and how regulatory requirements contribute to this growing concentration in the marketplace, and what might be done to reverse this.” Source: “Wells Fargo Bankers Toting Guns Aim at 40% of Market: Mortgages,” Bloomberg (June 12, 2012)

Inventory of For-Sale Homes Falls 20% From Year Ago

The number of homes on the market continues to become a shrinking pool. Inventory of for-sale single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and co-ops dropped 20 percent in May compared to year-ago levels, according to data from of 146 markets. Inventories in May declined in all but two -- Philadelphia and Shreveport-Bossier City, La. -- of the 146 markets tracked by While inventories were on the decline, the median national list price was on the rise, inching up 3.17 percent in May compared to May 2011. “These key indicators continue to suggest that the housing market is steadily moving along a path of stabilization and gradual recovery,” notes. 12 Markets Where Inventories Have Dropped the Most California metro areas are seeing some of the largest drops in inventories of for-sale homes. From May 2011 to May of this year, the following metro areas have posted the highest drops in the country with their housing inventories, with inventories falling 35 percent or more in the last year. Those metros are: 1.Oakland, Calif.: -56.60% 2.Fresno, Calif.: -48.76% 3.Bakersfield, Calif.: -48.59% 4.Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz.: -44.71% 5.Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.: -42.65% 6.San Jose, Calif.: -40.80% 7.Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla.: --39.76% 8.Stockton-Lodi, Calif.: -39.25% 9.Atlanta: -39.19% 10.San Francisco: -38.90% 11.Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.: -37.43% 12.Sacramento: -35.92% By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine Daily News

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

International Sales Continue to Climb in U.S. Market

Due to low prices and the relative weakness of the dollar, international buyers continue to identify the U.S. as a desirable place to own property and make a profitable investment. According to the National Association of REALTORS®' 2012 Profile of International Home Buying Activity, total residential international sales in the U.S. for the past year ending March 2012 equaled $82.4 billion, up from $66.4 billion in 2011. Total international sales were evenly split between non-resident foreigners and recent immigrants. The survey asked REALTORS® to report their international business activity within the U.S. for the 12 months ending March 2012. “Today’s advantageous market conditions have drawn more and more foreign buyers to the U.S. in recent years, signaling how desirable and profitable owning property in this country can be,” said NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates, Inc. in Miami, Fla. “Low housing prices, a good inventory condition and increased buying power with today’s exchange rates help attract international clients. Foreign buyers also have the advantage of working with a REALTOR®. REALTORS® who specialize in serving international clientele have a truly global perspective; they know what hurdles foreign buyers face when purchasing property in the U.S., and have the expertise and knowledge that comes from working with clients from different cultures and real estate practices.” International buyers bought homes throughout the country, but four states accounted for 51 percent of the purchases – Florida, California, Texas and Arizona. Florida has been the fastest growing destination of choice, accounting for 26 percent of foreign purchases. California was second with 11 percent and Texas and Arizona accounted for seven percent. Proximity to the home country, the presence of relatives and friends, the convenience of air transportation, and climate and location are all important considerations to prospective foreign buyers. Locations on the East Coast generally attract European buyers, while Asian buyers tend to purchase on the West Coast, particularly California. Florida attracts a diverse set of international buyers including South Americans, Europeans and Canadians. Meanwhile, Texas remains popular among Mexican buyers. Within markets in an individual state, it is not unusual to find concentrations of people grouped by nationality. “Foreign buyers recognize that owning a home in the U.S. has many benefits, both financial and social,” said Veissi. “Many purchase property as an investment, vacation home, or to diversify their portfolio. In addition, many recent immigrants view homeownership as an important accomplishment. They believe that being a homeowner is one of many ways they become established in the U.S. and attain stability, security, and a sense of community.” International buyers came from all over the globe, but Canada, China (The People’s Republic of China including Hong Kong), Mexico, India, and the United Kingdom accounted for 55 percent of all international transactions, according to the survey. Canada and China remain the fastest-growing home countries. Canada accounted for 24 percent of international sales while China accounted for 11 percent, up from nine percent in 2011. Mexico was third with eight percent of sales and India and the U.K. both accounted for six percent. Forty-five percent of international purchases were under $250,000. In addition, there appears to be a gradual increasing trend toward purchases in the $250,000 to $500,000 price range. In 2012 this range accounted for 30 percent of purchases, up from 28 percent in 2011. The average price paid by an international buyer was $400,000 compared to the overall U.S. average of $212,000. Several reasons account for why the average international home price is higher than the average overall price. The international client is typically wealthier than the domestic buyer and is looking for a property in a specialized niche, for example, a larger property suitable for multi-generational living, or a property that establishes the individual’s presence and standing in the community. Many homes purchased by foreign buyers are used as a primary residence. Vacation and rental use are also major reasons for a purchase. More than half – 66 percent – of survey respondents reported international buyers purchased detached single-family homes. About half of international buyers, 52 percent, preferred to buy in a suburban area and about a quarter, 23 percent, bought in a central city/urban area. Sixty-two percent of international purchases were all cash, which has increased since 2007. International buyers still experience many financing challenges when purchasing a home in the U.S. In fact, among transactions that failed, REALTORS® reported that in 26 percent of the cases financing issues were the problem. The difficulties facing foreign buyers in trying to obtain a mortgage include lack of U.S.-based credit history and hurdles in meeting mortgage requirements. Other reasons for not purchasing properties were cost/taxes/insurance and immigration laws. Twenty-seven percent of REALTORS® reported having worked with international clients this year. Fifty-two percent of REALTORS® reported that international transactions accounted for one to 10 percent of their total transactions, while 27 percent reported that they made up more than 10 percent of total transactions. REALTORS® specialization on the buyer’s side of the market – such as foreign language capabilities, cultural affinity or orientation with the prospective purchaser and experience in explaining the U.S. real estate – appear to be important in working with foreign buyers. NAR helps REALTORS® expand their businesses globally. The Certified International Property Specialist designation prepares REALTORS® to service the growing international market in their local community by focusing on culture, exchange rates, investment trends, and legal issues. The CIPS® Global Network is comprised of more than 2,000 REALTORS® worldwide. In addition,® International delivers U.S. residential listings to buyers across the global, as well as listings from international data providers. As NAR’s official property website,® increases exposure of U.S. properties to global markets and helps REALTORS® grow their global business. Last month over 950,000 international unique visitors searched for U.S. properties on the site (as reported by Omniture Site Catalyst for May 2012 as an aggregate of all countries other than the U.S.). Source: NAR

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Landlords Cash in on Higher Demand

Taking advantage of an increase in home owners-turned-tenants, apartment landlords are raising their rents and expect to continue to do so. During the first quarter, monthly apartment asking rents increased 2.2 percent year-over-year, reaching an average of $1,070, according to Reis, a property research firm. Vacancies are at lows and developers are trying to rush projects of multifamily housing to meet the increased demand from renters, but continued constraints on lending has put the brakes on many projects, particularly in smaller markets. "I'm optimistic about the multifamily sector, certainly for the next two years," Kevin Thorpe, chief economist at Cassidy Turley, a commercial property brokerage, told Investor’s Business Daily. "We've entered a period of sustained rent growth. The reason behind analysts’ optimism: Young professionals are increasingly turning to renting and more than 3 million former home owners, who have been displaced by foreclosures or short sales, are turning into renters. Demand for single-family home rentals is increasing too, according to CoreLogic. A four-month supply of single-family homes is now available for rent, which is down from five months a year ago, according to CoreLogic data. Source: “Rents Rise as Apartments See Demand,” Investor’s Business Daily (June 7, 2012)

Home Buyers Find Market Isn't What They Expected

A shortage of “move-in ready” homes and bidding wars over houses in good condition are leaving potential buyers scrambling to find a home to buy, according to media reports. Housing inventories have sunk nationwide, leaving home shoppers with fewer options. Bidding wars are back, and in some markets the shortage is prompting buyers to try to bid on homes even before they are listed, reports The Los Angeles Times. In April, the number of for-sale homes was 2.5 million, which marks the lowest number for an April since 2006, according to National Association of REALTORS®’ housing data. “The sharp drop in inventory along with rock-bottom interest rates have helped stabilize even some of the hardest-hit markets, including the Southland, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami,” The Los Angeles Times reports. “Some real estate professionals are concerned that the lack of inventory might turn off potential buyers, stifling the recent recovery in home sales.” While buyers are suddenly feeling a sense of urgency, sellers are feeling they can wait, says Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin. Meanwhile, investors are snatching up bank-owned properties at bargains, new construction remains at historic lows, and home owners are taking a “wait-and-see-approach” before they list their homes. That’s left many buyers scrambling to find a property. Some home owners are hesitant to sell, held back by negative equity and waiting for more of a bounce-back in home prices before they list. "With the downturn, it seems like there are a lot of people who have been waiting in the wings to pounce, and because the rates are low, there is just a lot more competition," says one LA-area home shopper, Eddie David, who says he and his wife have been outbid on three different properties recently. "We tried to get in on a couple other homes, and even though it had been just a week or two weeks, it was just too late." Source: “Shortage of Homes for Sale Creates Fierce Competition,” The Los Angeles Times (June 10, 2012)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Signs of Sustained Recovery Abound

The various small businesses that drive the country's housing market are reporting signs that the industry may be making a real and sustained comeback. At the start of this year's spring selling season, home builders and real estate professionals alike expressed optimism about the growing number of prospective buyers showing up at open houses and inquiring about current house listings. It now appears that interest has translated into sales in many markets. Mark Prather, whose real estate agency, ERA Buy America Real Estate Services is on the border of Los Angeles and Orange counties, states, "We had a terrific March, better April, and May is going to be the best closing month since 2006." Other success stories are being reported across the nation, as business is being driven by pent-up demand. Many people had put off buying a home since prior to the recession, and prices are lower after plummeting during the housing crisis. In addition, rising rents are making buying more attractive, and mortgage rates are at record lows. The National Association of Realtors states that more than 1.3 million previously occupied homes were sold from January through April—a 7 percent increase from more than 1.2 million a year ago. Source: "Housing Market is Perking Up,"Buffalo News/Associated Press (06/11/12)

Record Low Rates Inaccessible to Many

Fixed-rate mortgages have been at all-time lows for nearly six weeks, increasing home buyers’ purchasing power and helping to trim home owners monthly mortgage payments—at least for those who qualify. An increasing number of home buyers and refinancers say they are shut out of the cheaper borrowing conditions due to banks’ tightened lending standards, according to new data released last week by the Federal Reserve. One Washington home owner with a top-notch credit score says he has been trying to refinance his mortgage but has been told “no” by banks because his mortgage is underwater. He told The New York Times that interest rates will at some point rise again, “and I should have been able to get those low rates. It’s not fair.” “While low rates are supposed to encourage Americans to take more risks, ordinary Americans have been unwilling or unable to take advantage of them,” The New York Times notes in a recent article. “There’s definitely winners and losers in this kind of extremely low interest rate environment,” Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, told The New York Times. “In this case, any borrower that has access to the capital markets and doesn’t have to fill out a loan application at a bank is definitely going to have a tremendous advantage.” Many policy makers say a housing recovery will be put on hold until banks start lending more. “The real problem is that relatively few borrowers meet the tougher standards of today even if they could benefit from refinancing, and that is the frustration,” Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, told The New York Times. Cecala says that in 2003 there was nearly $4 trillion in mortgage originations (which includes home purchases and refinancing activity). However, in 2011, despite the lower mortgage rates, total originations were $1.4 trillion. Source: “In Era of Cheap Money, Consumers Are Shut Out,” The New York Times (June 8, 2012)

FHA Hopes Bulk Sales Will Curb Foreclosures

The Federal Housing Administration announced it will begin selling off distressed mortgages in bulk, which may help prevent foreclosures for thousands of home owners. Beginning in September, FHA says it hopes to sell 5,000 mortgages each quarter. The move will also help the FHA get rid of some of the 700,000 or so seriously delinquent mortgages that it holds. Many of those delinquent loans originated from 2007 and 2009, the height of the housing crisis. Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan says there may be a greater opportunity for investors to buy the troubled loans and either reduce the principal on the loans or offer rent-to-own plans, thereby keeping more home owners in their homes. Home owners whose loans are sold might one day get a call from someone saying “‘Hey, we’re willing to cut your payment dramatically, or cut the balance on your loan dramatically,” Donovan said. “There are going to be a set of options that might arrive on that doorstep as the best news that home owner has ever heard.” Source: “U.S. Agency to Sell Off Loans to Stem Foreclosures,” The New York Times (June 8, 2012)