Friday, January 13, 2017


OC Register

If economic indicators are any guide, Orange County’s housing market is heading for a fifth straight year of rising home prices, increased sales, more rent hikes and booming home construction.

But this year’s housing indicators don’t take one major wild card into account: President-elect Donald Trump.

“The issue here isn’t the trends. The trends are positive,” said Christopher Thornberg, a former UCLA professor and founding partner of Beacon Economics. “On the other hand, you’ve got this new administration coming in, and we’re not sure (what policies) they’re going to pursue.”

Tax cuts and increased infrastructure spending would stimulate economic growth, Thornberg said. That’s good for housing.

But a trade war with China and an ideological confrontation with California “could really hurt our economy, and all bets are off,” he said.

“The fundamentals are there for another year of rising prices, another year of rising rents. But that could be tipped over by Trump and company.”

Forecasting long has been characterized as risky, as being either lucky or wrong, as akin to searching for a black cat in a dark room. Still, when it comes to housing, there are plenty of forecasts to choose from.

With that in mind, here are six predictions for 2017.
1. Home prices rising
Highlight: Orange County home prices are projected to rise 2 percent to 6 percent this year.

Home prices in the county have been rising steadily since the housing market turned around in the spring of 2012. According to CoreLogic, prices have been up year over year for 54 straight months, rising $216,000, or 50 percent, from May 2012 to this past May.

The median price for all homes combined – or the price at the midpoint of all sales – shattered the all-time high in May and June this year, driven mainly by record prices for new homes. If the forecasts are accurate, the median for existing homes – still lagging prerecession highs – also will set new records this year.

Details: Chapman University forecasts a 5.7 percent increase; Cal State Fullerton, up 6 percent; the California Association of Realtors, up 3.2 percent for all Southern California. Steve Thomas of expects a smaller gain – around 2 percent – because of rising mortgage rates.

The reason: Continued improvement in the employment market, solid income gains and more people moving into homes of their own, said Anil Puri, director of CSUF’s Woods Center for Economic Analysis and Forecasting. Competition for a limited number of homes also is pushing prices higher. “Those are big drivers in the housing market,” Puri said.

2. More home sales
Highlight: Southern California home sales will increase slightly from last year.

Details: Chapman and CSUF didn’t issue specific numbers, but the state Realtor association predicts sales across Southern California will increase 0.7 percent. Thomas predicts a slight sales decrease from 2015-16 levels.

A total of 31,641 Orange County homes changed hands through October, CoreLogic figures show. That’s up 2.3 percent from 2015 to the highest level since the recession but still is 10 percent below the average for the past 29 years.

The reason: Again, more jobs, higher incomes and more people looking for housing.

“Sales are going to start showing a greater rate of increase (in 2017),” said Raymond Sfeir, director of Chapman’s Anderson Center for Economic Research.

3. Builders busier
Highlight: Construction will increase in Orange County for a seventh straight year, increasing by 3 percent to 13 percent.

Details: Chapman predicts builders will pull permits for 11,602 new housing units this year, up from an estimated 11,262 last year. CSUF predicts developers will build 14,000 units. The California Homebuilding Foundation’s CIRB report, however, predicts permits will drop to 11,000 units this year.

Chapman and CSUF also predict that construction jobs will increase 3.5 percent to 6 percent, rising to at least 106,000 workers.

“Things are looking positive for the construction market,” Puri said.

4. Mortgage rates up
Highlight: Interest rates for a fixed, 30-year mortgage will be 1 percentage point or more above the 2016 average of 3.6 percent.

Details: California Realtors forecast in October that mortgage rates would be around 4 percent throughout 2017 but now are revising that estimate, said Jordan Levine, a Realtor economist. He predicts rates could be in the 4.5 percent range this year and possibly as high as 5 percent. Other forecasters had the same prediction.

Higher rates translate into higher homebuying costs.

For example, if rates hit 4.5 percent, monthly mortgage payments for a median-price home will go up about $300 – an increase of nearly $4,000 annually, Thomas calculated.

If rates hit 5 percent, monthly mortgage payments will rise almost $500, or nearly $6,000 annually.

Most economists said higher rates will dampen but not halt this year’s expected increase in home prices and sales.

“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” Sfeir said.

5. Affordability down
Highlight: By year end, Orange County’s median family income will pay only 60 percent of the amount needed to buy a median-priced home, Chapman reported.

Chapman also predicts that median home prices this year will be 8.6 times the median income, compared with 6.1 times the median price statewide.

“Housing affordability in the county hasn’t been that low since the beginning of the Great Recession,” the Chapman forecast said. “The only affordable way for many lower-income families to find housing in the county is through rental housing.”

6. Smaller rent hikes
Highlight: Asking rents for an Orange County apartment will increase 2.7 percent to 4 percent this year.

Details: Axiometrics forecast a 2.7 percent rise; CoStar forecast a 3 percent increase; and MPF Research expects local rents to go up 4 percent.

Apartment trackers reported that 2016 rent hikes ranged from 3 percent to 5 percent.

Rents here have been rising steadily for 6½ years, up 20 percent since 2010, according to Reis Inc.

Orange County had the eighth-highest apartment rent among 79 large U.S. metro areas in the third quarter of 2016.

If the forecasts are accurate, the county’s average asking rent will range from $1,826 to $1,849 a month.

Orange County has almost 10,000 units under construction, but that’s too few to meet demand, said Joshua Ohl, a CoStar senior market analyst.

“Even with all that supply coming online, we still have 34,000 to 35,000 units of undersupply,” Ohl said.

The question is how long can landlords continue to push up rents.

“I guess as long as tenants keep paying,” he said.



So-called “sale fails” are on the rise.

Deals to sell homes are falling through at a faster rate than they were a year ago, according to a report released Wednesday by real-estate site Trulia. which found that Indeed, “on an annual basis, the failure rate has nearly doubled to 3.9% in 2016, up from 2.1% in 2015,” the report revealed. The real estate site looked at all listings that were pulled for the first two months of each quarter from the fourth quarter of 2014 through the fourth quarter of 2016.

Home sale deals fail for three main reasons, said Felipe Chacon, a housing data analyst for Trulia:
1) A buyer can’t get financing.

2) The inspection turns up something bad.

3) The appraisal doesn’t match up to the sale price.

More first-time buyers — many of them young and with lower incomes — are attempting to buy a starter home now. First-time homebuyers made up 35% of sales in 2016 up from 32% in 2015, the National Association of Realtors found. And members of this group is more likely to have trouble getting financing, as they are typically not familiar with the process and may not bring as long of a credit history or as much equity to the table, says Chacon.

Don’t miss: Don’t be afraid to buy a fixer-upper in 2017

Plus, many baby boomers are putting their homes on the market as they downsize and prepare for retirement. These homes tend to be older and thus are more likely to have issues that an inspector will catch, the study concluded. Finally, with home prices climbing steadily, many sellers ask high sums — and many buyers agree to those sums. The problem is that an appraiser might not, and the sale fails.

Of course, most of the time, when a buyer and seller make a deal, it does go through. Sale fails represent just 4.3% of all listed properties. And certain kinds of homes (high-end newer homes, for example) are far less likely to end up in a failed deal than others. Furthermore, buyers whose sales do go through are more likely than in the past to be able to pay their mortgage, thanks to stricter lending guidelines since the Great Recession.



Foreclosure activity dropped significantly in 2016 to its lowest point in 10 years, according to the 2016 U.S. Foreclosure Market report from ATTOM Data Solutions, a fused property database.

Foreclosure filings, including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, occurred at 933,045 properties in 2016, down 14% from 2015’s 717,522 properties. This marked the lowest level of filings since 2006.

ATTOM’s report reflected that .7% of all homes had at least one foreclosure filing in 2016, also the lowest point since 2006.

ATTOM’s year-end foreclosure report is a count of unique properties with a foreclosure filing during the year based on publicly recorded and published foreclosure filings.

The data from December shows foreclosure filings decreased 1% from November and 17% from December 2015. This marks the 15th consecutive month with annual decreases in foreclosure activity.

“The national foreclosure rate stayed within an historically normal range for the third consecutive year in 2016, even as banks continued to clear out legacy foreclosures from the last housing bubble, particularly in the final quarter of the year,” said Daren Blomquist, ATTOM Data Solutions senior vice president.

“Foreclosures completed in the fourth quarter had been in the foreclosure process 803 days on average, a substantial jump from the third quarter and indicating that banks pushed through significant numbers of legacy foreclosures during the quarter,” Blomquist said. “Despite that push, we still show that more than half of all active foreclosures nationwide are on loans originated between 2004 and 2008, with a much higher share of legacy foreclosures in some markets.”

Despite this decrease, foreclosure activity still decreased in 12 states including Delaware which increased 45%, Rhode Island by 29%, Massachusetts by 21%, Connecticut up 21% and Hawaii by 20%.

The time to foreclose increased in the fourth quarter of 2016 to a new record high of 803 days, a jump of 29% from the third quarter and an increase of 27% from last year. This is the longest foreclosure time since ATTOM began tracking in the first quarter of 2007.



OC Register

Real estate appraisers are the industry’s professional party poopers.

They’re paid to keep an eye on valuations so buyers, lenders – and even sellers – know a home price is within logical boundaries. If appraisers get skittish about the housing market, deals and loans get harder to complete.

I watch a curious regional home-price index from the Real Estate Research Council of Southern California, a group of property industries analysts and insiders operating out of Cal Poly Pomona.

The group produces a housing benchmark by having volunteer appraisers go out every six months to value the same 308 homes in the seven-county area to gauge pricing patterns. The group has done this since 1943, with a major revision in 1990.

To me, when you compare the appraiser indexes to traditional benchmarks – say, CoreLogic’s widely quoted median selling price – you get a sense of whether broad valuation trends are consistent with the logic appraisers use. Look, appraisers are human and have their own faults. But computer-created valuations missed badly in the last housing boom-to-bust, too.

I tossed the appraisers’ indexes and CoreLogic data into my trusty spreadsheet, with the caveat that the council tracks one extra county – seven, including Santa Barbara – in their regional math vs. the six counties followed by the Southern California area median. Here are five things I learned:

1. Values are up
Appraisers are by nature stingy and often slow to change their math.

But the index shows regionwide values are up 7 percent in the year ended in October. That’s the biggest gain since October 2014.

By county, October’s annualized gains were, high to low: Riverside, 8.4 percent; San Diego, 8.0 percent; Orange County, 7.2 percent; Los Angeles, 6.5 percent; San Bernardino and Santa Barbara, both at 6.4 percent; and Ventura, the low at 6.2 percent.

All October county gains were above previous results for October 2015 and April 2016.

2. Reasonable median
The region’s appreciation gain topped the corresponding increase in the area home price median, 7 percent vs. 6.9 percent.

That’s pretty insignificant and may be more appraiser skepticism catching up slowly to market conditions. This is the first time since October 2014 the appraiser index’s gains topped the area median.

Only Riverside County’s latest appraisers index report showed a larger year-over-year gain (8.4 percent) than the respective county median (8.1 percent.)

3. Mixed neighborhoods
Regional or county measures don’t speak to what’s happening on your block.

Gains may seem geographically universal, but not on a house-by-house basis. Another interesting fact from the appraisers is the share of houses with falling valuations.

Regionally, 8 percent of the homes revisited by appraisers were valued less this time around vs. October 2015. That’s down from 10 percent last April and 12 percent a year ago.

This share of “losers” ran in October on a county basis from a high in Los Angeles at 14.0 percent; to Orange County’s 10 percent; Ventura, 6 percent; San Bernardino, 3 percent; San Diego, 2 percent; and none in Riverside and Santa Barbara.

4. Long-run upswing
A longer-term view suggests only thin skepticism of regional appreciation.

When you look at price changes since October 2013, the appraisers’ regional index averaged 8.2 percent year-over-year gains.

On the county level, similar gains run from a high of Riverside at 10.6 percent; then Los Angeles, 8.7 percent; San Bernardino, 8.4 percent; San Diego, 7.2 percent; and Ventura 6.7 percent; to a low in Orange County of 6.4 percent.

5. Regional variances
Ponder gaps between housing appreciation rates derived from the appraiser index and the area median.

Regionally, gains averaged 8.2 percent annually for three years. That’s 0.6 percentage points above what the area median is telling us. That form of “approval” was also found in Riverside (by a regional high 1.6 percentage points) and Los Angeles (plus 0.6 percentage points.)

Conversely, appraisers seem to doubt pricing changes in San Bernardino (where appraisers put pricing gains 1.3 percentage points lower than the median) and Ventura (0.5 percentage points lower.) Gains in Orange and San Diego counties were basically the same by either count.

These too many numbers prove one thing: Housing is very local.


Sunday, October 30, 2016


• Purchases of new U.S. homes in September stayed close to an almost nine-year high, showing residential real estate was maintaining momentum heading into the quieter selling season. 

• Sales climbed 3.1 percent to an annualized rate of 593,000 from an August pace that was weaker than initially reported, Commerce Department data showed Wednesday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for 600,000 pace in September. Purchases in June and July were revised lower.

• Estimates ranged from 518,000 to 662,000. The Commerce Department revised the August reading down to a 575,000 pace from a previously estimated 609,000. July was revised to a 629,000 rate, still leaving it at the fastest since November 2007.

• The revisions over the previous three months underscore the data’s volatility, one reason economists prefer to look at longer term trends. The report said there was 90 percent confidence the change in sales last month ranged from a 13.1 percent drop to a 19.3 percent increase.

• The residential real estate market still is supported by job-market improvement and cheap mortgage rates. The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.52 percent in the week ended Oct. 20, holding near the record-low 3.31 percent reached four years ago, according to Freddie Mac figures dating to 1971.



Housing affordability isn't just about your monthly mortgage or rent payment. Utilities can be a stealth budget buster.

Median spending on utilities is $2,715 per year – or $226 per month – for single-family homes, according to a new analysis from real estate website Trulia. Even when you're comparing homes of similar sizes and prices in the same region, it found, energy costs can vary widely based on factors like the local utility providers' rates, the age of your home and the size of the lot it sits on.

"If you're moving to a single-family home for the first time, or moving to a new area in general, this is definitely something you should be paying attention to," said Felipe Chacon, a housing data analyst at Trulia.

(Trulia's analysis used July data from UtilityScore, tallying water, natural gas and electricity rates into a single price per square foot. It also looked at climate data as a predictor of energy bills at the local and metro levels, but per the report, "the correlation was underwhelming.")

For example, homes in Three Points, Arizona, have utility costs 2.5 times as high as those in nearby Avra Valley, Arizona — $620 per month versus $240 — despite the two Tucson suburbs having homes comparable in square footage and value. Much of the difference stems from larger lots in Three Points, said Chacon, which can trigger bigger water bills for maintaining the landscaping.

To avoid a surprise, ask about utilities during your hunt. Real estate listings often include estimates, but it's smart to ask for a copy of recent statements to see real numbers, said Cathy Seeber, a certified financial planner and partner at Wescott Financial Advisory Group in Philadelphia.

"Most give you annual information, so you can see what the historical bills have been," she said.

Don't assume high figures can be solved by say, making home improvements to boost energy efficiency, said Chacon. Look to see how the utility divides the bill — some have a high fixed charge for providing service and lower rates based on usage, limiting your ability to save. Smaller utility companies also often have higher rates because they don't have the same economies of scale that big utilities do, he said.

While you're at it, consider costs and coverage options for other home services like internet, cable or satellite TV, said Seeber — who has seen clients buy a home only to sell it quickly because they couldn't get decent cellphone reception or high-speed internet. Sites like can help you find providers by address and ZIP code, while maps wireless coverage. When in doubt, said Seeber, ask the neighbors how they've fared.

If you find utility costs to be bigger than expected in a new place, conduct a home energy audit to locate the trouble spots. The Department of Energy offers guidelines to do the assessment on your own; many state agencies and utilities also offer free or low-cost professional audits.

Some improvements quickly pay for themselves. Sealing air leaks and weather-stripping windows could cut bills by as much as $166 and $83 per year, respectively, according to government estimates, while insulating your water heater tank could save another $45.



Demand for single-family housing reached its highest level since June 2013, having picked up momentum after Labor Day, according to Redfin’s Housing Demand Index for September 2016.

According to Redfin, buyer demand rose by 13.3 percent over-the-month in September up to a level of 105, its highest level in three-plus years, after nearly 32 percent more potential buyers toured homes and nearly 27 percent more potential buyers made offers.

A reading of higher than 100 for the Redfin Housing Demand Index indicates stronger or higher-than-expected demand, while a reading of lower than 100 indicates weak demand. For September 2015, the reading was 101.

This data indicates that there is a healthy pool of buyers ready and willing to purchase a home as long as they find the right one, according to Redfin.

“Buyer demand gained momentum after Labor Day when a pop of fresh listings hit the market,” said Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson. New listings are up 3.3 percent compared to last year at this time. “More than any other factor, new listings pulled buyers into the market in September. The pace of this demand will only be sustained if the supply of homes for sale continues to improve.”

Despite the new listings that hit the market after Labor Day, Redfin agents still reported a need for more inventory in what has turned out to be a lengthy housing supply shortage. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that in September, there were 2.19 existing homes for sale, which was 6.8 percent lower than September 2015’s inventory despite a slight monthly increase.

“Inventory has been extremely tight all year and is unlikely to improve now that the seasonal decline in listings is about to kick in,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said. “Unfortunately, there won't be much relief from new home construction, which continues to be grossly inadequate in relation to demand.”


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