Home owner vacancy rate unchanged
2009/04/30, 2:20 pm
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The vacancy rate of home owner housing was virtually unchanged in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the rate in 2007, with vacancies at 2.9 percent and 2.8 percent respectively, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The vacancy rate in the first quarter of the last two years is about 70 percent higher than it was from 1995 to 2005, when the first quarter home owner vacancy rate never rose above 1.8 percent and generally stood at 1.7 percent or lower.

The rental vacancy rate has also remained steady for the last two years at about 10.1 percent.

Source: The U.S. Census Bureau (04/28/2009)


Big cities see declining rents
2009/04/30, 2:17 pm
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Rents are getting more affordable across the United States, prompting apartment owners to get more creative to hold down vacancies and prevent turnover.

According to Victor Calanog, research director at real-estate data firm Reis, 50 percent of apartment buildings reduced rents in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, the highest percentage since Reis began tracking apartment data in 1980.

Average asking rents fell 0.6 percent, to $1,046, in the U.S. in the first quarter, compared with the previous quarter. Meanwhile, the average effective rents, which include free months and other landlord incentives, fell 1.1 percent, to $984.

Effective rents fell in 64 of the 79 markets that Reis tracks. The nation’s largest quarterly decline came in San Francisco, where effective rents fell by 2.8 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Other notable rent declines:

  • New York: 2.6 percent
  • San Jose, Calif.: 2.5 percent
  • Long Island, N.Y.: 2.3 percent
  • Charlotte: N.C. 1.3 percent
  • Chicago: 1.2 percent
  • San Antonio, Texas: 0.9 percent
  • Cleveland: 0.9 percent

Some apartment owners, for example, have dropped rents on a temporary basis to allow tenants time to find a new job.

But Mary Gwyn, chief innovator for Apartment Dynamics, a property management training and consulting firm that also manages apartment communities in North Carolina, says she recommends against giving renters financial incentives. She says allowing new tenants to live for free for a month or two damages profits and could create tension with existing tenants who aren’t getting the same deal.

Gwyn says apartment managers can prevent turnover by creating a better sense of community in the development.

“People want to live in a neighborhood where they feel that someone knows their name and cares about their circumstances,” Gwyn says.

Source: MSN Real Estate (04/24/2009)

Tax credits driving buyers into the real estate market
2009/04/24, 3:21 pm
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CHARLESTON — A federal tax incentive for first-time homebuyers is greasing the rusty wheels of South Carolina’s residential real estate industry for the first time in months, according to agents and brokers across the state.

Agencies are reporting an increase in traffic and closings because of the federal tax incentive that gives up to $8,000 to first time homebuyers who qualify and close by Dec. 1.

“Over the last three weeks the news has been encouraging — lots of activity,” said Nick Kremydas, chief executive of the S.C. Realtors Association. “My members are very optimistic, and they haven’t been this optimistic in a while.”

That sentiment is echoed across the Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry, as Realtors and agents hope the increase in traffic and closings will create momentum for a turn around in the residential real estate market.

“The market where they live might not be as good as it could be, but first time homebuyers don’t have that baggage,” said Rebecca Gooden, a broker with Keller Williams Realty and Gooden-Faircloth Real Estate in Mount Pleasant.  “It has been a great incentive. When you think about it, people want to own they just need that extra little push or a reason to do it.”

A federal tax credit, up to $8,000, is available to first-time buyers — those who haven’t owned a home for three years — and that combined with low interest rates and lower-than-usual home prices has been enough to double some of the business agents are seeing.

“Just in the last 45 days, we’ve written six contracts for first time homebuyers, and they are very, very excited,” said Tiffany Johnson-Gunn, a Realtor with ERA Wilder Realty in Columbia. “Their first question when they are in here is ‘How do I get that $8,000 tax credit and do I have to pay it back?’”

Buyers don’t have to pay it back, which is one of the biggest draws for the program, but the clock is ticking on taking advantage of the tax credit. Homes sales must close by Dec. 1 to qualify. Typically, home closings take 30-45 days from the time of the initial offer, and closing on a short-sell or foreclosure property could take up to 90 days.

ERA Wilder Realty holds monthly workshops to educate buyers about the tax incentive.

Unlike the incentive passed for 2008, which was essentially an interest-free loan, this incentive is a tax credit that would be claimed taken on a federal tax return.

“You actually get paid to buy a house,” said Seth Siegler, president of Simplistate LLC, a new brokerage in Charleston that offers buyer rebates as an incentive. “You’re getting the house on sale, you’re getting the gigantic tax credit and sometimes you’re getting a buyer rebate.”

Siegler said an upturn in stocks and spring weather also has helped bring some buyers into the market.

Whether this will translate into a true momentum shift in the market remains to be seen. Nick Sabatine, chief executive officer of the Greater Greenville Realtors Association, said the National Association of Realtors expects that 2 million homebuyers will take advantage of the incentive by the deadline, which could carry over into the fall. 

“What I’m hoping will happen (is) this will create some momentum for the end of the year,” Sabatine said. “I think we’ve bottomed out. Hopefully, by November things will be on the upswing again. This will be the impetus that we need to do that. Activity breeds activity, so I think any activity is good.”

Carolina One President and CEO Patty Scarafile said even before the tax credit was offered, the National Association of Realtors predicted that 60% of homes would be purchased by first-time homebuyers in 2009.

“The people, when they find out what the opportunities are, are just blown away,” Scarafile said. “If you combine that $8,000 advantage and you look at the selection and the interest rates and the value out there, what an incredible opportunity it is.”

Scarafile said sellers who are going to move their homes in the next two years have no reason to wait because they can make up a perceived loss by purchasing a home priced at a good value.

“I really think with all of the REOs and foreclosures that are in the market, and are going to be in the market for a while, I don’t think pricing is going to restore itself for a couple of years,” she said.

Where to get foreclosure help – All the Links you need!
2009/04/22, 5:53 pm
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With all the dubious assistance programs and out-right scams preying on home owners facing foreclosure, it can be difficult to find legitimate help.

Here’s a list of programs that are either operated by the U.S. government or have its seal of approval:

  • Call (888) 995-HOPE, the Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline to reach a nonprofit, HUD-approved counselor through HOPE NOW, a cooperative effort of mortgage counselors and lenders to assist homeowners.
  • The Controller of the Currency’s consumer information site for banking-related questions is

Source: Controller of the Currency (04/21/2009)

Mortgage Volume Is on the Rise
2009/04/22, 5:50 pm
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Mortgage applications rose last week after being down slightly the previous week, probably because of the Easter and Passover holidays. The increase was driven by refinances, though purchases were down.

Mortgage application volume reached 1,172.2, an increase of 5.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from 1,113.2 a week earlier.

On an unadjusted basis, the index rose 5.3 percent compared to the previous week and was up 76.9 percent compared with the same week a year ago.

The refinance index was up 7.7 percent, while the purchase index declined 4.2 percent. The refinance share of total applications was 79.7 percent.

Mortgage interest rates were up slightly:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 4.73 percent from 4.70 percent
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages remained unchanged at 4.46 percent
  • 1-year ARMs decreased to 6.19 percent from 6.21 percent

Source: Mortgage Bankers Association (04/22/2009)

Freddie Mac acting CFO found dead
2009/04/22, 3:12 pm
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WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) – David Kellermann, acting chief financial officer of mortgage giant Freddie Mac (FRE.P) (FRE.N), was found dead on Wednesday in his suburban Virginia home, a Fairfax County police spokeswoman said.


Police were called at 4:48 a.m. EDT (8:48 GMT) to Reston, Virginia, spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell told Reuters.


Local media reported that Kellermann’s wife called in an apparent suicide, but Caldwell did not elaborate on the cause of death. The incident is under investigation, she said.


Kellermann, 41, had worked with Freddie Mac for more than 16 years and was named acting CFO in September.


Shares of Freddie Mac slid 9.3 percent to 78 cents in premarket trade.


The U.S. government intervened last year to take over Freddie and rival mortgage finance company Fannie Mae as mounting losses on housing investments weakened their balance sheets and played a role in the U.S. housing and global credit crisis.


The two government-sponsored enterprises had a hand in about half of the entire U.S. mortgage market and were taken over in an effort to ward off further damage to the U.S. housing market.


According to Freddie’s website, Kellermann was responsible for the company’s financial controls, financial reporting, tax, capital oversight and compliance with the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley accounting standards. He also oversaw the company’s annual budgeting and financial planning processes.


Before taking over as acting CFO, he served as senior vice president, corporate controller and principal accounting officer. (Reporting by Walden Siew; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

Less than 1% of homes in foreclosure in SC metro areas
2009/04/22, 2:07 pm
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CHARLESTON — Less than 1% of the homes owned in South Carolina’s largest metropolitan areas are in foreclosure, according to data released this morning. A national comparison of homes owned vs. homes in foreclosure shows the foreclosure problem to be concentrated in a relatively small number of metro areas, said the CEO of RealtyTrac, a national real estate data tracking firm. The Columbia metropolitan statistical area posted the second-lowest percentage of homes in foreclosure statewide for the first quarter of 2009. Spartanburg’s metropolitan statistical area posted the lowest percentage of homes in foreclosure for the first quarter of 2009. The second highest rate was in the Greenville-Mauldin-Easley MSA. The Charleston-North Charleston metropolitan statistical area posted the highest percentage of homes in foreclosure at 0.77%. RealtyTrac released its analysis of foreclosures in the nation’s 203 MSAs, which include metropolitan areas with at least 200,000 people. The analysis shows a percentage of the number of homes in a region that have received at least a notice of default, which is one of the first steps in the foreclosure process. The Columbia MSA ranked 155 out of 203 with 0.19% of homes with at least one foreclosure filing during the first three months of 2009. The Columbia metro area saw a 20.39% decline in foreclosures in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. The Greenville-Mauldin-Easley MSA ranked 66 with 0.59%. The Greenville metro area saw a 0.06% decline in foreclosures in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. The Charleston-North Charleston MSA ranked 51 with 0.77%. The Charleston metro area saw a 36.56% increase in foreclosures in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., posted the highest percentage at 4.48%. Merced, Calif, was the next highest at 4.21%. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., was third at 3.85%. Stockton, Calif, was fourth at 3.72%. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., finished the top five at 3.54%. “The metro areas with the highest levels of foreclosure activity in the first quarter of 2009 paint a picture of concentrated problems in a relatively small number of hard hit areas,” said James J. Saccacio, RealtyTrac’s CEO. Saccacio said sales activity appears to be increasing in some of these larger markets as home prices have fallen to levels that are attractive to first-time homebuyers and investors. “While we expect many of these metro areas to continue to experience high levels of foreclosure activity throughout 2009, we also expect to see other markets rise up the ranks as unemployment rates surge throughout the country,” he said. Foreclosures in South Carolina MSAs Metro statistical area Rank out of 203 in U.S. % of homes with filings Charleston-North Charleston 51 0.77% Greenville-Mauldin-Easley 66 0.59% Myrtle Beach-Conway-NMB 93 0.40% Augusta-Richmond County* 104 0.36% Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord* 127 0.27% Columbia 155 0.19% Spartanburg 172 0.12% * Out of state regions include parts of South Carolina in this MSA. Nationally, RealtyTrac reported 0.63% of homes in the U.S. had a foreclosure filing in the first quarter of 2009 or 803,489 homes. Last week, RealtyTrac reported a 9% increase in foreclosure activity across the U.S. from the last quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009. Saccacio attributed a declining rate of actual bank ownership of foreclosed on properties, called REOs, for the quarter to an early year moratorium on foreclosures. RealtyTrac forecasted that a large number of new notices of default and a lifting of the moratorium could increase those numbers in the second quarter of the year. Published April 22, 2009