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Real Estate Outlook: Faster Recovery?

by Desi Sowers

It's been a long time since we've seen the Wall Street Journal run a front-page article suggesting that the national economy appears to be rebounding faster than most analysts forecast. But that happened last week.

And over the past couple of years, we haven't seen retail sales -- a key barometer of consumer confidence -- jump by almost two percent in a single month. But we saw that last week as well.

And then there's real estate: The latest Federal Reserve "beige book" on economic conditions nationwide, issued last week, said something we haven't heard in a long, long time. Housing activity is up in 11 of the 12 bank districts.

All of this, of course, sounds like promising news for home sales in the coming months. In fact, Freddie Mac's economists see total sales this year at least 10 percent higher than last year, even with the possibility of higher mortgage interest rates.

But there are complications in the mix: The Fed's "beige book" report essentially said, yes, housing is on an upward path at the moment, but what happens to sales after the home purchase tax credits expire mid-year?

Will expansion elsewhere in the economy be able to sustain sales and prices?

Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, has similar concerns. In his latest commentary, Yun says steadily rising employment will be essential to keeping housing positive once the credits disappear.

The employment report for March was encouraging: 162,000 net new jobs, Yun noted, even in hard hit sectors like manufacturing. Yun's forecast model projects one million additional new jobs this year, plus another two million next year.

But even that sort of rebound in employment won't be enough to replace the 8.2 million jobs lost in the recession years. So the unemployment challenge is likely to be with us for a few years -- at best.

Meanwhile, though foreclosures remain troublingly high, the rate of delinquencies on existing mortgages may have actually peaked and could be headed downward. Equifax and Moody's Economy.com report that the percentage of home loans thirty days late dropped in the first quarter - the first decline in four years.

And in major housing markets that took hard hits during the bust, signs of recovery continue to multiply. For example, in the six counties of Southern California, home sales were up 33 percent in March over February, and were up five percent over 2009 levels, according to MDA Data Quick.

Even median prices were on the rise -- by 14 percent over year-earlier levels.

Written by  Kenneth R. Harney
April 19, 2010

Pending Home Sales Show Healthy Gain, Hint at Spring Surge

by posted by Desi Sowers

RISMEDIA, April 7, 2010—Pending home sales rose in February 2010, potentially signaling a second surge of home sales in response to the home buyer tax credit, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in February, rose 8.2% to 97.6 from a downwardly revised 90.2 in January, and remains 17.3% above February 2009 when it was 83.2. The data reflects contracts and not closings, which usually occur with a lag time of one or two months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the improvement is another hopeful sign. “The rise in buyer contact activity may signal the early stages of a second surge of home sales this spring. The healthy gain hints home prices are continuing to flatten,” he said. “We need a second surge to meaningfully draw down inventory and definitively stabilize home values.”

The PHSI in the Northeast rose 9.0% to 77.7 in February and is 18.9% higher than February 2009. In the Midwest the index jumped 21.8% to 97.9 and is 18.7% above a year ago. Pending home sales in the South increased 9.2% to an index of 107.0, and the index is 17.5% higher than February 2009. In the West the index fell 4.8% to 98.0 but is 14.6% above a year ago.

“Anecdotally, we’re hearing about a rise of activity in recent weeks with ongoing reports of multiple offers in more markets, so the March data could demonstrate additional improvement from buyers responding to the tax credit,” Yun said.

The Top 5 Tax Perks for Buyers, Sellers and Homeowners - 2009 Tax Edition

by posted by Desi Sowers

It's tax time, but it doesn't have to be excruciating, especially if you bought, sold or owned a home in 2009.  While so many of us think of tax time as time to write a check, the Obama Administration's stimulus package promised to reverse that tradition, effectively writing a check (in tax credit format) to buyers, sellers and even  short sellers and those who lost a home through foreclosure.

Take this quick list of tax tips to your personal tax guru and cash in your check from Uncle Sam!

    1.  2009-10 First-time Homebuyer
     Tax Credit
  • Who It Helps: Recent (or current!) homebuyers who had not owned a home in the 3 years prior to buying, but bought one in 2009 or this year (must be in contract on or before April 30, 2010).  Depending on when you bought (or buy! there's still some time left!) income and purchase price limits may apply.
  • How It Helps: Depending on your income and purchase price, you can receive up to an $8,000 fully refundable tax credit.  (That means if you were already getting a refund, you'll get a bigger one!) You can claim the credit on your 2009 tax return (the one you file on April 15th), even if you bought in 2010.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: Per the IRS website, "because of the documentation requirements for claiming the credit, taxpayers who claim the credit on their 2009 tax return must file a paper — not electronic — return and attach Form 5405."


    2.  2009-10 Move-Up Buyer Tax Credit

  • Who It Helps: Current homeowners who have lived in the home they are selling, or have already sold, as their principal residence for five consecutive years of the last eight years who closed escrow between November 7, 2009 and July 1, 2010, so long as they are in contract on or before April 30, 2010.
  • How It Helps: Eligible homeowners can receive a tax credit of as much as $6,500, depending on income. You can claim the credit on your 2009 tax return (the one you file on April 15th), even if you bought in 2010.
  • IMPORTANT NOTE: Can't e-file to collect this one, either - see #1, above.


    3.  Energy Efficient Housing Tax Credits
  • Who It Helps: Homeowners who invested in making their homes more energy-efficient in 2009 and 2010.
  • How it helps: Offers them a 30 percent tax credit on qualifying purchases of energy-efficient furnaces, windows and insulation.

 

 

    4.  Private Mortgage Insurance Deduction
  • Who It Helps: Homeowners who bought a home in 2009, and put less than 20 percent down on their homes. These are the folks whose lenders required them to pay for PMI, or private mortgage insurance.
  • How It Helps: Allows them to deduct the costs - upfront and monthly - of PMI.

 

 

    5.  The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act 

  • Who It Helps: Short sellers, owners who lost homes through foreclosures or had their mortgage balance reduced through loan modifications.
  • How It Helps: Normally, when a loan is cancelled or forgiven through, for example, a short sale or foreclosure, the cancelled debt is transformed into taxable income - and the IRS comes looking for their cut.  Under this Act, qualifying mortgage debt forgiven through foreclosure, short sale or loan modification is allowed to be excluded from taxable income.  The forgiven mortgage debt must be a loan on your personal residence, and must be related to the purchase of your home (if you pulled a bunch of cash out and did a short sale on that mortgage, you might not qualify).

 


On top of these above-and-beyond tax credits, deductions and exemptions, longtime and brand-new homeowners should also look forward to claiming meaty tax deductions for basic closing costs (origination fees, taxes and points - oh my!), property taxes and mortgage interest deductions.

As always, talk to your tax preparer to see if you qualify for any of these tax perks.  And don't delay - the countdown to April 15th is on.

Written by Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Trulia's In-house Consumer Advocate

 

New Listing: Exceptional Home, Panoramic Views, 5 Acres

by Desi Sowers

10 Staging Tips to Help Your Home Sell

by /posted by Desi Sowers

10 Staging Tips to Help Your Home Sell

Want to sell your home? Get out the bucket, mop and Mr. Clean. The key to making a positive first impression is simple, said Sandra Rinomato, host of HGTV’s popular “Property Virgins” show.

“Get it clean, clean, clean,” said Rinomato. “If your house isn’t clean, it instantly sends up negative thoughts that the home is not well maintained. If your house is spotless, you’re ahead of the game,” she said.

But don’t stop there, advised Rinomato. To increase your chances of making a sale, “stage” the house to make it as attractive as possible. Until recently, “Staging meant pulling out all the stops—setting the dining table with your best china and crystal, arranging flowers, lighting candles,” she said. “Now we take the minimalist approach. Basically, you want to strip the house to its bare essentials, depersonalize it so potential buyers can superimpose themselves and their lifestyle on the house.”

Rinomato offered the following tips for staging a home:

1. Visit model homes and examine shelter magazines for inexpensive decorating ideas. Always keep in mind you are not decorating for yourself but for the general public.

2. Start with the outside. Give the house a fresh coat of paint, add shiny hardware to the front door and plant a few flowers to send a subliminal message the house is loved and well cared for.

3. Declutter every room to make it look larger. Get rid of family pictures, trophies and knickknacks. Closets and drawers should be no more than 30% full.

4. Invest in eco-friendly but bright lights. Open the drapes or remove them completely. “Light, bright rooms give the impression this is a happy place—and everyone wants to move into a happy place,” said Rinomato.

5. Feature only a few pieces of furniture with mainstream appeal. Pull pieces away from walls to make rooms look bigger.

6. Make sure a room’s primary use is obvious. A bedroom should look like a bedroom, not an office, hobby center or gym.

7. Bedrooms and kitchens are difficult to stage because they are in daily use, but make the effort. Clear everything off the counters and nightstands, roll up the rugs and hide the laundry hamper. Buff the cabinets with car wax and clean under the sinks. Invest in pristine white bed linens and towels.

8. Minimize the “pet effect.” Remove food bowls and litter boxes to the utility room. Deodorize thoroughly.

9. Organize the utility room and garage. Hang up the bicycles, roll up the hose. Renting a storage locker is worth the cost if it helps you sell faster and for a higher price.

10. Once your house is staged, invite your friends or Realtor over and walk them through to get an objective opinion.

Written by Jean Patteson

New Christiansburg Listing - Great Neighborhood, Fabulous Yard!

by Desi Sowers

What Home Sellers Don't Tell Buyers

by /posted by Desi Sowers

As buyers ease back into the battered real-estate market, they're often hitting a stumbling block: fibbing by home sellers.

Eager to unload their abodes, some sellers exaggerate the size of their lots or their houses. Others minimize their property-tax or utility bills, conveniently forget about pests, or play down flooding problems or noise.

Real-estate experts say that while such misrepresentations aren't new, the tough market of the past few years has made buyers more wary, partly because they can't expect rising home prices to bail them out of costly mistakes. As a result, deals are taking longer, and more of them are falling apart as buyers find properties sometimes aren't all they're supposed to be.

More than 30 states have disclosure laws requiring sellers to tell prospective buyers and agents about leaky roofs and other problems, according to the National Association of Realtors. But there's often a gray area involving the disclosure of problems the seller may not know about, such as a long-ago flood or hidden mold.

States are also increasingly passing laws requiring homeowners to disclose environmental issues, such as the presence of radon gas, a contaminant linked to lung cancer, and underground fuel tanks. In California, the checklist of required disclosures is so long that a cottage industry has sprung up of firms that help sellers prepare the forms.

Given the complexity of disclosure laws, it's not surprising that potential buyers don't hear about every problem in a house. Besides the issue of fibbing, sellers may genuinely not know about problems. And even if they do, the laws generally don't apply to bank-owned homes transferred in foreclosures, which now constitute a larger share of sales.

Buyers need to do their own due diligence and not rely exclusively on what sellers and agents say. They should hire an independent home inspector or home-inspection engineer, one not referred by the seller—and be aware that real-estate agents typically represent the seller.

Here are some of the common misrepresentations and white lies that buyers may hear as they shop for a house, according to real-estate experts and state regulators:

• "This house is on two acres." Disputes about property dimensions—how many square feet in a house or condo, or its exact boundaries—are common. Sometimes buyers don't learn the exact dimensions until the lender's appraisal.

Listing agents usually accept a seller's word on property dimensions, says Diane Saatchi, a senior vice president at Saunders & Associates, a real-estate firm in Bridgehampton, N.Y. "We tell everyone to verify," she says. Smaller dimensions also can cause an appraisal to come in lower than the agreed-upon purchase price. Low appraisals are a leading cause of ruined deals in today's market. A properly worded appraisal contingency in the purchase contract would allow you to scuttle the deal or find other financing if the appraisal comes in low, says New York real-estate attorney Michael Xylas.

• "We don't have pests." A basic home inspection generally doesn't include a peek inside walls or underground for termites and mold, which are among the top complaints. Inspections for mold and radon gas also generally aren't included; usually buyers must order these inspections separately. Other inside-the-wall problems include faulty wiring and old plumbing, which also may require specialists.

James Holtzman, a financial adviser at Legend Financial Advisors Inc. in Pittsburgh, says sellers of the 1901 house he bought in August 2006 said its electrical wiring was completely upgraded, yet an electrical inspection revealed only one of three floors had been totally upgraded. The seller then knocked $6,000 off the sales price before they went to contract so Mr. Holtzman, 35 years old, could pay for the necessary work.

• "This place never floods." Even arid states such as Arizona and New Mexico have occasional flash floods, and water and drainage problems aren't always obvious. June Walbert, 52, a certified financial planner at USAA, a financial-services company, says her San Antonio house received a clean bill of health from a home inspector before she bought it six years ago. But 10 days after she moved in, the sewer backed up, flooding the house, and she had to fork over $2,800 for repairs. "It was a rude surprise," says Ms. Walbert, who adds she asked her home inspector and the seller for compensation, but didn't get it.

Bill Richardson, outgoing president of the American Society of Home Inspectors, says a general home inspection wouldn't catch that unless the sewer line was visible from the basement or water backed up into sinks and tubs or toilets.

• "Taxes and maintenance costs are low." Home buyers often gripe about tax and utilities bills that are higher than sellers said they were. Homeowner association and condo dues and assessments are also common complaints. Sometimes sellers simply underestimate the bills, or forget to include recent or expected increases, agents and brokers say. Taxes can also be deceptively low because of unrecorded improvements like decks and finished basements. Ask to see recent bills, and check with the tax assessor's office for up-to-date information.

• "This is a quiet neighborhood." Sellers may play down distractions that could drive you crazy, such as barking dogs or idling buses. A charming park by day could be a teen hangout at night. Your best bet is to view a property at different times of the day. "I can't tell you how many times in my career buyers didn't go there in the night time, even though I told them to. You spend more time in the house at night than during the day," says Ms. Saatchi, the New York real-estate agent. Talk to neighbors and peruse the local newspapers and blogs to get a feel for a place, and check with police for crime.

• "There's going to be a golf course, a pool and a party room." Builders of many developments that broke ground during the housing boom ran out of money before the project was completed. Many homeowner and condo associations also are strapped because of delinquencies and defaults. Some states require upfront disclosures about this, but you should also ask neighbors, not just sellers, about any promised facilities. Also, check titles to be sure that specific parking spaces, storage units or other facilities are included in a property sale.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D2  Written By M.P. MCQUEEN

Real Estate Outlook: 2010 Stark Contrast to 2009

by Desi Sowers

Real Estate Outlook: 2010 Stark Contrast to 2009

Even the grumpiest, grinchiest economist would have to admit that New Year's 2010 looks a whole lot more positive for real estate and housing than things did last year at the same time.

You may remember that dark and scary time. We had just come through the Wall Street financial panic, but it wasn't yet clear what the federal government could - or would - be able to do to prevent a total collapse.

The outlook right now is a complete contrast: Home sales have been rising for months, thanks in part to the federal tax credit programs; new home starts and permits are up in most parts of the country; and prices generally are trending up in most of the markets that got shell-shocked in the bust.

Now new market data from last week point to continued growth just ahead, but with an ominous warning sign as well.

The latest pricing numbers released by the Federal Housing Finance Agency found home values nationwide up modestly in the latest month -- by six tenths of a percent. That sounds really small, but annualized it comes to more than seven percent, which is not bad at all.

And recent sales results from key local markets also are encouraging. For example, in November, every major metropolitan area in Florida saw sales of houses and condos up compared with the year before for the second straight month.

Overall, according to the Florida Association of Realtors, sales of houses were 61 percent higher than November of 2008. Condo sales were up by an amazing 111 percent!!

Plus consumer confidence has been trending upward nationally, by 7.5 percent during December, according to the University of Michigan's bellwether survey.

But now to a sobering subject: Mortgage money is getting more expensive, week after week. At least one big player in the market -- Freddie Mac -- is projecting rates to move from just over five percent today for 30-year loans to 6 percent or higher later in 2010.

Freddie Mac's deputy chief economist, Amy Crews Cutts, says the Federal Reserve's scheduled phase-down of its multi-billion dollar purchases of mortgage backed securities, plus expected moderate growth in the economy, will force rates at least a percentage point higher.

Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com, agrees. He said last week that six percent for mortgages "sounds about right. I don't think there's any question rates are headed up."

Bottom line here: If you or your clients care about rates, nail down financing sooner, not later. It could cost you if you wait.

Home Improvement Trends for the New Year

by /posted by Desi Sowers

Most homeowners are unlikely to be building, remodeling or decorating with abandon in 2010, given the slow recovery from the recession. But if you do plan to update your home or garden, here are some trends to keep in mind.

Home decor. The sleek, sophisticated but comfortable style known as “soft contemporary” will be a key look for the New Year, said Kris Kolar, vice president of interior design at Robb & Stucky Interiors. Instead of the eclectic clutter that has been popular for a while, there will be a move toward using just one or two eye-catching accents. These “punctuation-mark pieces,” featuring hand-worked techniques that give a custom look, may include special materials such as mother-of-pearl, flame mahogany and stainless steel.

Furniture. The environmental movement is getting stronger, said Jackie Hirschhaut, spokeswoman for the American Home Furnishings Alliance. Increasingly, furniture is being built using natural-fiber fabrics, recycled metals and sustainable woods. Red will be the trendiest accent color for furniture, she predicted. And home offices will continue to boom as growing numbers of Americans work from their residences.

Color. Classic neutrals and pops of exotic brights are the key shades at Pittsburgh Paints, which recently announced four color palettes for 2010.

The “Canvas” palette includes deep gray-browns and gray-blues, muted beige and chalky white. “Pink City” offers vibrant pinks, spicy oranges, grays and chocolate-brown. “Grace” includes elegant hues such as pale butter, bronze-gold and sea foam. And “Zest” reinvents the style of Palm Springs circa 1950, mixing high-energy yellows with gray, white and black.

Landscaping. Organic vegetable gardens, like the one installed at the White House are likely to be a huge trend in 2010, said Orlando, Fla., horticulture expert Tom MacCubbin. Community gardens are a growing trend, especially those that involve children. Of all vegetables, he predicts tomatoes will be especially popular. In the landscape, perennial plants that last longer than annuals and need less care are a strong trend, he added. Trendy plants include gold mound duranta, a shrub with acid-green foliage, and perennial bulbine, which sports spikes of yellow blooms.

New-home construction. The era of the extravagant McMansion is over, said Nathan Cross of NWC Construction in Orlando. When building new homes, people are increasingly budget-conscious. “It’s back to basics. Even the pool is a no-frills deal,” he said. About the only area where homeowners may be prepared to splurge a little is the master suite. Energy-efficiency will be important. So will going green: “So long as it’s a green trend that doesn’t cost too much.” Outdoors, some homeowners will be installing fireplaces, fire pits and summer kitchens.

Remodeling. The trend toward making minor improvements to home exteriors is likely to extend into next year—for good reason. It gives homeowners the biggest bang for their bucks when it comes to selling their homes. In terms of costs recouped, eight out of the top 10 home-improvement projects this year were exterior upgrades that cost less than $14,000, according to Realtors Report’s annual Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report. A steel entry-door replacement topped the list, recouping 128.9% of costs, followed by upscale fiber-cement siding replacements (83.6%), wood deck additions (80.6%), and several types of window replacements (more than 70%). The two interior projects that landed on the top-10 list were attic-bedroom additions (83.1% recouped) and minor kitchen remodels (78.3%). The least profitable remodeling projects in terms of resale, and therefore not likely to be popular in 2010, were home-office remodels and sunroom additions.


Written by Jean Patteson

Foreclosure Anyone?

by /Posted by Desi Sowers
Eighty-Eight Percent of Current Homeowners Looking to Trade-Up to Larger Home are Willing to Consider Purchasing a Foreclosure

Displaying blog entries 741-750 of 865

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