Foreclosures, Short Sales Weigh Down Prices
2009/05/12, 6:50 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: , , ,

The median home price for U.S. metro areas posted a year-over-year decline in the first quarter of 2009, reflecting a high volume of foreclosures and short sales, which typically sell for 20 percent less than traditional homes, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® reports.

The national median existing single-family price was $169,000, which is 13.8 percent below the first quarter of 2008 when conditions were closer to normal. Foreclosures and short sales accounted for nearly half of transactions in the first quarter.

NAR data shows that 134 out of 152 metropolitan statistical areas reported lower median existing single-family home prices in comparison with the first quarter of 2008, while 18 metros had price gains.

NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said there are two levels of pricing in the current market.

“Traditional homes in good condition have held their value much better, so owners shouldn’t be overly concerned about median prices,” he said. “Most sellers can expect a good return if they’ve been in their home for a normal period of home ownership and haven’t excessively tapped their equity.”

Existing-Home Sales Sluggish

Meanwhile, the sales pace remained slow overall. Total state existing-home sales, including single-family homes and condos, were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million units in the first quarter, down 3.2 percent from 4.74 million units in the fourth quarter, and 6.8 percent below the 4.93 million-unit pace in the first quarter of 2008.

Seventeen states saw a sales increase from the fourth quarter, and six states were higher than a year ago; complete data for one state was not available. Sales in the first quarter do not reflect an impact from the first-time home buyer tax credit.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, sees the market in a lull before an upturn. “Over the past couple months, contract activity for home sales, buyer traffic and inquiries about the $8,000 tax credit have all increased,” he said. “Housing affordability conditions are at record high levels and we expect a measurable increase in home sales during the second half of the year, which would help stabilize prices in most areas.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 5.06 percent in the first quarter from 5.86 percent in the fourth quarter; the rate was 5.88 percent in the first quarter of 2008.

Yun said some areas showed dramatic drops in home prices. “In areas with the biggest price declines, we also see much higher levels of distressed sales which are distorting the data,” he said. “We are very much in a bifurcated market with sharp differences between foreclosures and short sales on one hand, and traditional homes on the other. In many cases homes are selling below replacement construction costs, which speaks to great value in the current market.”

State, Local Bright Spots

The largest first-quarter sales gain from a year ago was in Nevada, up 116.8 percent, followed by California which rose 80.6 percent; Arizona, up 50.2 percent; and Florida with a 25.0 percent increase. Virginia and Minnesota also experienced double-digit sales increases.

The largest single-family home price increase in the first quarter was in the Cumberland area of Maryland and West Virginia, where the median price of $114,900 rose 21.1 percent from a year ago.

Next was the Davenport-Moline-Rock Island area of Iowa and Illinois at $100,300, up 13.8 percent from the first quarter of 2008, followed by Columbia, Mo., where the median price increased 6.0 percent to $152,600.

Median first-quarter metro area single-family home prices ranged from a very affordable $30,300 in the Saginaw-Saginaw Township North area of Michigan to $570,000 in Honolulu. The second most expensive area was the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area of California, at $450,000, followed by the Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine area of California at $435,800.
Other affordable markets include Akron, Ohio, at $50,100, and the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area of Ohio and Pennsylvania at $51,200.

Condo Trends

In the condo sector, metro area condominium and cooperative prices – covering changes in 56 metro areas – showed the national median existing-condo price was $172,800 in the first quarter, down 20.2 percent from the first quarter of 2008. Five metros showed annual increases in the median condo price and 51 areas had declines.

The strongest condo price increases were in Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine, at $196,900, up 11.2 percent, followed by the Wichita, Kan., area, where the median condo price of $113,900 rose 6.8 percent from the first quarter of 2008, and Bismarck, N.D., at $132,400, up 6.0 percent.

Metro area median existing-condo prices in the first quarter ranged from $75,200 in Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., to $345,900 in San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont. The second most expensive reported condo market was Honolulu at $300,000, followed by the New York-Wayne-White Plains area of New York and New Jersey at $282,300.

Other affordable condo markets include the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area of Florida at $90,600 in the first quarter, and the Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville area of California at $93,800.

Regional Sales Volume, Prices

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 10.3 percent in the first quarter to a pace of 693,000 units and are 20.1 percent below a year ago.

The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast declined 15.9 percent to $235,500 in the first quarter from the same period in 2008. The best gain in the region was in Syracuse, N.Y., where the median price of $113,700 rose 3.1 percent from the first quarter of 2008, followed by Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y., at $99,200, up 2.7 percent, and Binghamton, N.Y., where the median rose 0.5 percent to $110,300.

In the Midwest, existing-home sales slipped 2.2 percent in the first quarter to a pace of 1.04 million and are 13.1 percent below a year ago.

The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest was down 6.8 percent to $132,400 in the first quarter from the same period in 2008. After Davenport-Moline-Rock Island and Columbia, the next strongest metro price increase in the region was in Springfield, Ill., where the median price of $111,400 was 3.9 percent higher than a year ago, followed by Topeka, Kan., at $106,500, up 3.1 percent, and Bloomington-Normal, Ill., at $153,800, up 1.9 percent.

In the South, existing-home sales declined 2.5 percent in the first quarter to an annual rate of 1.70 million and are 12.7 percent lower than the same period in 2008.

The median existing single-family home price in the South was $146,600 in the first quarter, down 10.8 percent from a year earlier. After Cumberland, the strongest price increase in the region was in Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas, with a 5.0 percent gain to $129,100, followed by Oklahoma City, at $129,900, up 4.0 percent, and Shreveport-Bossier City, La., at $136,000, up 3.4 percent.

Existing-home sales in the West slipped 0.9 percent in the first quarter to an annual rate of 1.16 million but are 24.3 percent above a year ago.

The median existing single-family home price in the West was $237,600 in the first quarter, which is 19.8 percent below the first quarter of 2008. The strongest price gain in the West was in the Salt Lake City area, where the median price of $230,100 rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier, followed by Farmington, N.M., at $191,200, up 0.7 percent.


Beazer Homes settles federal securities fraud case for $30.5 million
2009/05/11, 6:48 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: , , ,

The national homebuilder admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to settle the case that alleged it misled investors about its lending practices. On Friday, Beazer Homes reported a loss of $114 million for the quarter ended March 31, including losses related to a federal investigation of its lending.



By Ashley Fletcher Frampton
Published May 11, 2009

National homebuilder Beazer Homes, which has communities in the Charleston area, has agreed to settle a securities class action lawsuit that alleged the Atlanta-based homebuilder misled investors about its home financing and business practices.

The $30.5 million settlement, if approved by the court, would end the case originally filed in March 2007 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

In the settlement agreement, Beazer Homes admitted no wrongdoing.

In the consolidated lawsuit, lead plaintiffs Glickenhaus & Co. and Carpenters Pension Trust Fund for Northern California claimed that Beazer artificially inflated its stock price by presenting false statements about its business success.

The lawsuit claimed that Beazer had been making improper loans to low-income buyers, some of whom would not be able to pay for them. Meanwhile, the homebuilder issued overly optimistic financial outlooks, the lawsuit said.

Beazer’s lending practices prompted an investigation by federal officials and critical news stories in The Charlotte Observer, both of which caused stock prices to fall, the lawsuit said.

Beazer stock reached a high of $48 per share in December 2006, the lawsuit said. Today, the homebuilder’s stock is trading at $3.09 per share.

The class in the lawsuit includes purchasers of the company’s common stock between Jan. 27, 2005, and May 12, 2008.

On Friday, Beazer Homes reported a loss of $114 million, or $2.97 per share, for the quarter ended March 31. In the same quarter last year, Beazer lost $228.7 million, or $5.93 per share.

In its earnings statement, the homebuilder said an investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina is ongoing, and the company recognized a total of $13 million for the quarter in expenses related to the investigation.

The company said homebuilding revenue declined 53.2% for the quarter because of a 48.1% decline in home closings and a 9.9% decline in the average selling price of homes closed compared with the same period of the prior year.

House passes bill to protect borrowers
2009/05/08, 6:54 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: , ,

House Passes Bill to Protect Borrowers
A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 7 requires mortgage lenders to take borrowers’ repayment ability into account. It also makes it possible for borrowers to take legal action against entities that pool mortgages and sell them as securities on the secondary market.

The bill also will force lenders to retain a 5 percent interest in mortgages other than standard 30-year fixed and adjustable-rate loans. However, adjustable-rate mortgages that carry prepayment penalties or fees greater than 2 percent do not qualify for the exemption.

Source: Washington Post, Dina ElBoghdady (05/08/09)

Top 10 US towns for living well
2009/05/08, 6:50 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: ,

Small cities can be comfortable places to live and great spots to operate a business, according to a new report from Forbes magazine and business relocation specialist

They identified 10 cities and towns with fewer than 100,000 people, favorable business environments, and well-educated workforces. Their study also took into account natural beauty, high salary levels, and local restaurants and cultural attractions.

The following, according to their analysis, are their top 10 towns that offer great places to live and work.

1. Boulder, Calif.
2. Doral, Fla.
3. Fairfax, Va.
4. Mountain View, Calif.
5. Cupertino, Calif.
6. Newton, Mass.
7. Columbia, Md.
8. Rockville, Md.
9. Coral Gables, Fla.
10. Foster City, Calif.

Source: Forbes, Matt Woolsey (05/04/2009)

More homes get multiple offers
2009/05/07, 6:25 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: ,
More homes for sale are attracting multiple offers as buyers pursue lower-price homes and banks low-ball asking prices to attract competing bids on foreclosures.

Multiple bids have picked up in recent months in California and other states hit hard by foreclosures and steep price drops, real estate executives say.

“If a house is in a good neighborhood, is maintained and is a good value, it’ll get multiple offers,” says Julie Holt, owner of Anclote Title Services in Tarpon Springs, Fla. One in 10 homes now draw multiple offers, up from one in 30 last fall, she says.

Multiple bids usually signify a market in which prices are rising and buyers outnumber sellers. That’s not true now, given rampant foreclosures, still-falling prices in many regions and low demand for higher-price homes. Multiple offers on distressed properties are also not new, but their recent frequency offers hope for the real estate market, says Beth Peerce, treasurer of the California Association of Realtors (CAR).

“When you begin to see people willing to fight for a property, that’s a good sign,” she says. “We are beginning to see the beginning of the end of a disaster time.”

The competition is driven by prices — California’s are down 39% from a year ago, CAR says — low mortgage rates and a new federal tax credit of up to $8,000 for some first-time buyers.

Other hard-hit regions are also seeing more multiple offers, mainly on:

Lower-end homes. In Phoenix, where prices have dropped 50% from their 2006 peak, competition has heated up for homes under $150,000, says Realtor Michael Orr, who publishes the Cromford Report on the Phoenix-area market. He recently considered bidding on one house for $70,000. It had received 14 offers, and Orr was told to bid $110,000 to be considered.

Good values. Holt just handled a closing on a Tarpon Springs home close to schools that was listed at $185,000. It won three bids and sold at $192,000. Three years ago, the home would have sold for $280,000, Holt says. Higher-price homes are also getting more multiple bids. “People who always wanted to live on the water are realizing it is time to buy before prices go up,” Holt says.

Some bidders may think foreclosure bargains are waning, says Mike Lyon, CEO of Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento. That market has 1,600 bank-owned properties for sale, vs. 2,800 a year ago, he says.

He says banks have lured multiple bids by setting below-market prices. Lyon cautions that government steps to curb foreclosures have delayed some.

“People are perceiving that they are running out. But there will be more,” he says.

Fannie Mae seeks foreclosure freeze only in S.C.
2009/05/07, 2:20 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: , ,

Mortgage-backer Fannie Mae said it singled out South Carolina for an unusual court-ordered freeze on home foreclosure sales because the state gives local judges the authority to dismiss delayed cases, which other states do not.

Fannie Mae isn’t seeking a similar temporary freeze in other states, said Brian Faith, spokesman for the mortgage company.

“In South Carolina, judges have the discretion to cancel an ongoing foreclosure process if there is a significant delay between the foreclosure judgment date and the actual foreclosure sale,” Faith said in a statement.

If masters-in-equity — the special county judges that usually handle foreclosures in South Carolina — were to dismiss delayed cases, “the process begins anew, which leads to higher costs and losses,” Faith said.

“The court ruling effectively addresses this situation,” he said.

Fannie Mae suspended its foreclosure proceedings in late 2008 and during the first of quarter of 2009 while it reviewed cases for potential workout strategies, Faith said. In some cases, that created significant delays.

At Fannie Mae’s request, the S.C. Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order late Monday afternoon on foreclosure sales for some homes. It targets properties that could be eligible for a mortgage modification program that President Barack Obama’s administration is rolling out. The program offers more affordable mortgage payments to homeowners whose loans are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and who meet certain other criteria.

Fannie Mae did not want homeowners potentially eligible for the program to lose their homes in foreclosure before they had a chance to participate. The mortgage company estimates that more than 1,000 homes in South Carolina were headed to foreclosure sales this week. It filed the petition for a temporary restraining order on Friday.

Obama announced the Home Affordable Modification Program in February, but details were not outlined until April 6.

Masters-in-equity say they are still sorting through the implications of the S.C. Supreme Court order, which requires lenders seeking foreclosure to submit affidavits by May 15 stating whether loans in default are eligible for the modification program.

Homes not eligible will continue in the foreclosure process, according to the restraining order.

Published May 7, 2009

Prime mortgage demand is up
2009/05/05, 6:37 pm
Filed under: 1 | Tags: , ,

Demand for prime mortgages was up substantially in the first quarter of this year for the first time since early 2007, according to a Federal Reserve survey of loan officers released Monday.

The rise in demand comes at a time when rates are low, but about 50 percent of banks say they are tightening lending standards.

More than 65 percent of the banks tightened standards on the kinds of loans available to borrowers with blemished credit. Only two of the 53 domestic banks and 23 branches of foreign parent banks surveyed reported that they were offering adjustable-rate loans.

Banks also reported that they were tightening standards for commercial lending, credit cards, and other consumer loans.

Source: The Associated Press, Jeannine Aversa and Reuters News, Mark Felsenthal (05/04/2009)