Sunday, October 30, 2016

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

• 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.

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BEFORE YOU BUY THAT HOME, AVOID UTILITY BILL SHOCK

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 Allconnect.com can help you find providers by address and ZIP code, while Opensignal.com 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.

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HOUSING DEMAND PICKS UP STEAM


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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SEPTEMBER 2016 PENDING HOME SALES AND MARKET PULSE SURVEY

Amid declining affordability and tight housing supply, California pending home sales rise in September

LOS ANGELES (Oct. 24) – California pending home sales improved from the previous month and year, however, overall market conditions appear to be slowing down and closed transactions plateauing, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) said today.

Cooling market conditions were reflected in C.A.R.’s September Market Pulse Survey,** with most leading indicators showing a decline in growth and REALTORS® becoming less optimistic about market expectations and more concerned with lower housing affordability.

Pending home sales data:

• Statewide pending home sales increased in September on a seasonally adjusted basis, with the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI)* rising 5.3 percent from 121.3 in August to 127.7 in September, based on signed contracts. On an annual basis, California pending home sales were up 10.5 percent from the September 2015 index of 115.5 – the sixth consecutive year-to-year increase.

• At the regional level, for Southern California as a whole, pending sales dropped 4.6 percent on a monthly basis, the third month-to-month decline. On an annual basis, pending sales were up 15.3 percent in the region. Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties posted healthy year-over-year increases of 15.9 percent, 13.3 percent, and 15.7 percent, respectively.

• For the Bay Area as a whole, pending sales were 2 percent higher than August and 8.6 percent higher than September 2015, driven by strong year-over-year pending sales gains of 20.2 percent in San Mateo County and 24.2 percent in Santa Clara County. In San Francisco County, pending sales inched up 1.9 percent.

• Overall pending sales in the Central Valley posted a 5 percent monthly increase and a 7.5 percent annual gain. One exception for the region was Kern County, where pending sales declined 4.5 percent from a year ago, due to a decline in oil prices and the economy’s reliance on the energy sector.


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Friday, October 7, 2016

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

• Privately-owned housing starts in August were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,142,000, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 5.8 percent below the revised July estimate of 1,212,000, but is 0.9 percent above the August 2015 rate of 1,132,000.

• Small, mortgage applications ticked up 2.9 percent from one week earlier, according the Mortgage Bankers Association’s latest Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending Sept. 30.

• The refinance share of mortgage activity edged up to 63.8 percent of total applications, increasing from 62.7 percent the previous week. The adjustable-rate mortgage share of activity increased to 4.5 percent of total applications.

• The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased from 3.66 percent to 3.62 percent, marking the lowest level since July 2016.

• The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) decreased to 3.6 percent from 3.64 percent.

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SUMMER HOUSING MARKET NOT COOLING DOWN THIS FALL

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The summer housing market saw high demand next to rising home prices, but don’t expect Fall to bring any relief. In fact, it could bring the hottest fall in a decade, new data from realtor.com shows.

Home sales in September moved 4% faster than last year, according to the data. The number of days on market is also expected to decreased by three days from last year.

In August, Lawrence Yun, the National Association of Realtors Chief Economist, said that without new housing construction, the housing recovery could stall.

Housing inventory declined annually for 15 consecutive months, and properties closed 11 days quicker than August last year, according to the Pending Home sales report by NAR.

Inventory also remains down as less than 450,000 new listings came on the market in September, while the median home price rose 9% from last year to $250,000, a new high for the month.

“House hunters who were shut out this summer because of fierce competition could fare better this fall, with more opportunities to buy and mortgage rates still near all-time lows,” realtor.com Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke said. “But don’t expect bargains—prices haven’t come down from this summer’s record highs.”

“Overall, the fundamental trends we have been seeing all year remain solidly in place as we enter the traditionally slower sales season, and pent-up demand remains substantial as buyers seek to get a home under contract while rates remain so low,” Smoke said.

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2016's BEST PLACES TO RAISE A FAMILY IN CALIFORNIA

California once drew legions of fortune seekers to its short-lived Gold Rush. Although few newcomers are likely to strike gold in the literal sense today, the Golden State continues to charm big dreamers — not just aspiring actors and tech-preneurs, either. California’s many other riches are a magnet for families in search of opportunity.

There’s no shortage of economic activity in the state, for one. California’s GDP of $2.5 trillion in 2015 exceeded those of all but five countries. That’s due in part to its way of setting kids up for success, by establishing some of the best universities in the world. And once employed, workers benefit from a comprehensive paid family-leave program. California was the first state to offer that incentive to American families and remains one of only a handful of states to implement such a policy.

Add to that list of priorities an abundance of fun and entertainment options, including Disneyland and Universal Studios. For outdoor-loving families, the state teems with natural beauty, providing plenty of opportunities to explore.

Such a combination of qualities makes California the ideal place for parents to raise their children. But it’s not all moonlight and roses throughout the state — some cities are more family-friendly than others. WalletHub’s analysts therefore compared 240 Golden State cities to determine which among them is most conducive to family life. In making such a comparison, we examined each city across 21 key metrics, ranging from “number of attractions” to “number of pediatricians per capita” to “unemployment rate.” Scroll down for the winners, additional expert commentary and a full description of our methodology.


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