Is The Housing Crisis Over and Out?

Housing Is On The Upswing

The Good News

The worst of housing times may be slowly working its way into a dim memory as home buyers are returning to the marketplace. The national housing stats are suggesting that the terrible pain of the last six years may, at last, be coming to an end.  According to the National Association of Realtors [NAR], national home sales rose 3.4% in April for a total of 4.6 million homes sold  and the median home price for the nation rose to $177,400, a full 10% over last year. Of course, the  NAR has a vested interest in the health of the housing sector and its stats may be on the rosy side, as many commentators have pointed out. Still, 10% increase in value, even 5%, is terrific news.

house arrow up

For more good news,  purchases of new homes rose almost 10% over last year. At the same time the purchase price of these new homes rose almost 5% to a national median of $235,700. Housing starts are up over 50% from their 2009 low.  So, it does seem as if there is some ground for optimism. Finally, the combination of  incredibly low mortgage rates and low home prices has begun to attract the public, still stunned from the worst economic downturn in decades.

Why Is This Happening?

For the millions still underwater and behind in outrageous payments, even thinking that the housing crisis may be on its way out is a cruel joke. Nevertheless, there are some solid reasons for an eventual and actual end to the housing crisis of the last few years.  Our U.S, labor market has been improving over the last two years ever so gradually, diminishing the ranks of the unemployed slightly month by month. Add to that enticing mortgage rates which remain at historic lows and it makes sense that home buyers with the wherewithal would begin to have enough confidence in their future prospects to make that big home purchase.

Rent vs. Buy

Rental rates have been rising throughout the country and renting has many advantages over owning a home. Nevertheless, rental rates are still much higher than the cost of owning a home in great swaths of the country. This is based on purchasing a home with 20% down and owning the same home for at least 5 years  Additionally,these stats take into consideration only the purchase price of the home,  not the ongoing costs of maintaining it.

Though for the most part  in Southern California rental rates are still cheaper than owning a home, the allure of home ownership is still a strong pull both for the younger, first-time buyers as well as older, more experienced ones. The many young people who have returned to live with Mom and Dad or those who have rented with roommates for several years are now yearning to live free–in their own homes.

Is The Crisis Finally Over?

Millions of homes are still underwater. Millions of homeowners are still faced with foreclosure or the prospect of short sale. With that in mind,  the housing crisis is certainly not over.  Despite the modest recovery in the U.S., now our global trading partners are starting to slow down or even crash themselves, especially the EU and the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India, China], which had been keeping the economic engine stoked.  This country is recovering and we may manage to keep up the trend going mainly by satisfying pent-up internal demand, especially in housing.

 

Should I Buy Or Sell Now?

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It seems clear that now and for the rest of this year, it’s a good time to buy a home. Prices are still very low and mortgage rates are very low. Both of these factors are likely to extend through the end of the year and into 2013.

For those thinking of selling, it’s a more mixed picture. For those deeply underwater, home prices are unlikely to spike in the next few years, so better to bite the bullet and sell now.  For those who want to move up, this  seems to be the ideal time to make the move. And, of course, many have little choice in the matter: whether it’s through marriage, divorce, new babies or new jobs, selling is really the only option.

 

 

Home Buyer’s Credit, Am I Eligible?

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Remember the $8000 home buyer’s credit? It’s set to expire at the end of this month, November 2009. Never fear, though, Congress has thoughtfully both renewed and expanded it.

For first-time home buyers: This is the extension of the first-timer’s credit, only now it’s even better. Before, you were completely phased out–meaning no credit at all–if you as a single made above $95,000 or as a couple over $170,000. Now, singles can earn up to $125,000 or couple up to $225,000 and still get the credit.  That’s a big improvement, especially in big cities where wages are higher to match the cost of living.

Who is a first-timer? If you are over 18 and haven’t owned a home in the past three years, you’re a first-timer. For this credit, you must have an accepted contract on a home before April 30, 2010 and, oh yes, you cannot buy that home from a relative. And, you must keep the home at least three years or pay back the credit.

Now, the expansion: Move-up buyers are now eligible to receive up to $6500 tax credit as well. Same income rules apply: not over $125,000 for singles and not over $225,000 for couples.

You don’t even have to sell your current residence, but the new home must become your principal residence. If you do sell your current home, watch carefully because for purposes of this credit, any taxable profits must be added to your income. But, wait, taxable profits? Remember that if you are selling your principal residence, as a single you can deduct up to $250,000 gain as tax free and a couple up to $500,000. So, this is really an issue for high-priced properties owned for the most part a good long time. Most recently-purchased homes in California are underwater at this point.

So, this is a good thing,no?

First-Time Home Buyers: Help from City of Pasadena

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In previous posts, I’ve discussed federal help for first-time home buyers. First-time buyer means anyone who has not purchased a home in the past 3 years.

All financial aid programs have financial limits, but  a variety of  LOCAL programs are available for low-income first-time home buyers.These programs are offered in many Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange County cities. These counties also all have programs to aid first-time home buyers.

In this area, the City of Pasadena has a program for buyers under certain income limits. And, buyers who meet these limits can receive up to $200,000 on a home price of up  to $425,000! That’s terrific! Here’s the chart:

Family size 1

$50,300

Family size 2

$57,400

Family size 3

$64,600

Family size 4

$71,800

Family size 5

$77,500

Family size 6

$83,300

At the moment, the City of Pasadena’s program, like most of the other ones offered, is OUT OF MONEY. Beginning in the new fiscal year, July 1, City of Pasadena program and several others in our area will be funded again.

Right now, I am gathering a list of buyers so we can prepare and be ready with a property set to go as soon as the program funds again. Working closely with a local lender who specializes in these programs, I plan to help my clients be among those who benefit from these plans BEFORE THE MONEY RUNS OUT.  The money does run on fairly quickly, so, if you think you might qualify, call now!!

Call me to get on the list of buyers. Call me for info about programs in other cities and other counties.

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Homeowner Stability Initiative=Obama’s Housing Plan

We in these hard-hit states with many foreclosures [CA, FL, NV, AZ] have been waiting for this plan and now we have it. It’s not what we expected, at least not what I expected, but what creative ideas on how to handle the foreclosure crisis and not reward the foolhardy or the fraudulent.

The Obama Homeowner Plan has three distinct parts:

1. Help those who are CURRENT on their mortgages to refinance. They do NOT  need to show a hardship.

2. Help for those who are BEHIND on their mortgages get loan modifications. They DO  need a hardship, but that is broadly defined.

3. Help for HOME BUYERS by providing tax credits and low interest rates.

The main complaint that stable homeowners, especially those in areas, like ours, hit hard by foreclosure is that their tax payer dollars are going to “save” the imprudent, the insolvent and the extravagent. This plan tries mightily to avoid helping those kinds of borrowers. When introducing it, President Obama was very determined to point out that this does help even good payers who have never missed a payment. “Every foreclosure reduces neighboring home values around 9%,” he said, “and this will help prevent foreclosures.”

I do hope he is right. I do know that nationwide foreclosures are up 81%  over 2008 and 226% over 2006. This crisis hits about every state with the BIG FOUR, California, Nevada, Florida and Arizona, leading the plunge.  It’s also estimated that by 2012 8.1 million homes or 16% of all homes will be or have in foreclosure. That’s frightening.
foreclosure-next-exit

In sum, I don’t know whether this plan will work. I can see already that more people, even those upside down on their home value will be able to refinance as this plan makes it more palatable for the lenders. If they can’t refinance, they can get a loan mod more easily.  Failing those remedies, the plan even smooths the way for short sales which can take forever.

Mortgage Rates To Go To Record Lows!

The Federal Reserve has began purchasing Mortgage-backed Securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This has driven mortgage rates to record lows.  The 30-year fixed rate is projected to reach 4.5% by the beginning of 2009.

This could be your chance to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity.

The U.S. Treasury Dept. is considering a plan proposed by the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry trade group, to purchase mortgage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in an attempt to restore confidence in mortgage-backed securities and encourage banks to make additional loans.
Under the plan, the Treasury Dept. would purchase 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages, which should restore confidence in mortgage-backed securities and encourage banks to make more loans.  As a result, banks could lower the rates on mortgage-backed securities, which could lower mortgage rates for consumers.The idea is to restore confidence in mortgage-backed securities, encouraging banks to make more loans, knowing that they will be able to sell them to the federal government. That should lower the rates on mortgage-backed securities and in turn mortgage rates.

Who will benefit from this plan?

The prime beneficiaries and the prime targets are home buyers. The whole idea is to provide low rates to more potential home buyers can qualify for loans.

Of course, California still has some of the highest-priced real estate in the country.  Many loans here go over the limit at which the government entities, Fannie and Freddie,  will purchase loans. Such jumbo loans are those over $729,750 until December 31st and then to $625,500 for 2009. These lower rates will not apply to such non-conforming loans.

Other beneficiaries are those who would like to refinance. Here in California, though, only those who do not owe more than their homes are worth or who, indeed, have significant equity in their homes will be able to take advantage of this boon.

Lower Your Mortgage Balance

Gradually, the government’s new programs aimed at mitigating the mortgage crisis are coming online. The latest one debuted October 1st.  It’s called Help for Homeowners, and it is for those who have FHA mortgages. Note: only FHA mortgage holders are eligible for this one. FHA [Federal Housing Authority] loans are generally for first-time buyers.

Help for Homeonwers–October 1st marked the release of FHA’s Help for Homeowners program.  This program allows homeowners who owe more than the value of their home to refinance into a 30-year-fixed loan.  The best part is that a client’s loan balance will be reduced to  90% of the current value.  So, if you owe $350,000 and the current value of your home is $300,000, your new loan will be $270,000. This is a very good deal.

Any excess will be required to be forgiven by the lender. In the above example, that would be $80,000 forgiven.  Further, the FHA eliminates any subordinate liens and gives the lender  a coupon.  What does the homeowner give the FHA in return? The homeowner agrees to share a percentage of the future appreciation with FHA.  FHA will use this appreciation equity when the home is sold to reimburse subordinate lienholders.

This is a fantastic program and will help many upside-down homeowners.  Here in Southern California this wonderful program may not offer much help, though, for several reasons.  Prices here were so high that FHA loan limits did not apply to most purchases. Also, so many easy-credit, no-money-down, stated-income loans were available that most borrowers bypassed the strict requirements of FHA. As a result, most SoCAl homeowners, newly-minted  in the last 3 to 5 years, would not have FHA loans.

April Prices for San Gabriel Valley & L.A. County

Here we are almost to June, and now we have the April real estate prices for L.A.County.

As we’ve come to expect, prices are DOWN. For April 2008 as compared to April 2007, prices are down 21%. Since last year the sub-prime crisis hit in August and lenders almost stopped lending for about 7 months, we can expect that downward total to keep plummeting until at least August 2008. And, yes, prices will keep going downward, though at a slower rate until the end of 2008 and into 2009.

Again, as mentioned in previous posts, this is not so shabby really as prices were rising at a rate of 20% and in some places almost 30% for four years straight. The Affordability Index sank to an all-time low and sales stagnated. Now, at least, led by foreclosures and short sales, prices are down to more affordable levels for buyers. And, buyers, especially first-timers, so vital to a healthy real estate market and missing in action for years are returning.

So, where are we this month? L.A. County prices are down 21% for single family homes to a median of $450,000 and condos are down 14% to a median of $307,000. Given the vastness of L.A. County, that doesn’t mean much because everything depends on location.

Thus, Malibu prices are down 20% to a median of $1,735,000, while Pomona’s three zip codes are down 36.7% to a median of $273,000–big difference…. Then, we have Rancho Palos Verdes, a seeming winner just a couple of months ago, down almost 19% to a median of $968,000. Compare that to Baldwin Park down 21.7% to a median of $365,000.

So, which areas are the big winners? There are very few…In the San Gabriel Valley, San Marino’s values jumped 20% to a median of $1,465,000; San Dimas managed a 7% increase in value to a median of $530,000. Claremont and Glendora [91741] eked out a 3% increase to a median of $550,000 and $619,000 respectively. Way to go! Other cities increasing in value include parts of Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Culver City and Hermosa Beach.

The rest of county posts pretty grim numbers—unless you are a buyer, of course.
Pomona was one of the hardest hit in this area followed by Arcadia [down over 20% to a median of $696,000 averaging its 3 zips], Azusa [ down 23% to a median of $355,000], Covina [down 24.4% to a median of $401,000 averaging its 3 zips] and the beat goes on… Diamond Bar is down 7% to $560,000; Duarte is down 8% to $442,000; even Sierra Madre lost almost 30% to a median of $680,000, while Monrovia is down 9% to $543,000. La Verne leads the pack with a whooping 31% loss in value to a median of $450,000. Pasadena has lost double-digit value in every single area even prestigious 91105.

To better understand what is happening, we do need to keep in mind several factors. First, home owners in some of the originally more inexpensive areas such as Baldwin Park, Covina, Pomona have more modest incomes and so are more likely to suffer in the current economic downturn, losing their homes to foreclosure in greater numbers. Foreclosure sales are about the only game in town at this point, and so are leading the downward price trends in the more inexpensive areas as first-time buyers come into the market.

Conflicting information for properties in more desirable areas–San Marino way up, for instance, while neighboring Arcadia and South Pasadena are way down, San Dimas is up while La Verne is way down when both share the same school district–is more problematic. Often, as with Rancho Palos Verdes, for instance, a few more months of statistics will give us a better idea. Initially, RPV looked immune to the crisis, but as this month’s stats show, it’s turned out to be every bit as vulnerable as neighboring Redondo Beach down about 21% over its 2 zip codes. Time will tell what is really going on.