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Existing-home sales post third gain in 4 months

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

Increased demand from investors and first-time homebuyers helped boost existing-home sales in January -- the third increase in the past four months, the National Association of REALTORS® reported.

NAR said total existing-home sales -- including single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops -- were up 4.3 percent from December to January, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.57 million.

While that's essentially unchanged from the same time a year ago, for-sale inventory was down 20.6 percent from a year ago, to 2.31 million homes, a 6.1-month supply of homes at the current pace of sales.

Many housing analysts view a six-month inventory of homes as a good balance between supply and demand -- a larger inventory of homes can indicate an oversupply of homes for sale, which can undermine prices. When inventories drop below six months, the shortage of homes for sale can drive up prices.

"The broad inventory condition can be described as moving into a rough balance, not favoring buyers or sellers," NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement.

Yun cited the statistics as evidence that a government proposal to convert bank-owned properties into rentals on a large scale "does not appear to be needed at this time."

"Foreclosure sales are moving swiftly with ready homebuyers and investors competing in nearly all markets," he said.

Merrill Lynch analysts Michelle Meyer and Ethan Harris think part of the drop in inventory is due to delays in the foreclosure process in the aftermath of the so-called "robo-signing" scandal.

With top banks nearing a final settlement with state attorneys general, they expect the foreclosure process to accelerate, and for inventory to swell to eight months later this year.

The first REO-to-rental transactions are weeks away, but the property pools offered this year may be smaller and more manageable for groups of qualified local investors than previously assumed, Ken Harney reports.

NAR said foreclosures and short sales accounted for 35 percent of sales in January, and that the national median existing-home price for all housing types was down 2 percent from a year ago, to $154,700.

Investors purchased 23 percent of homes in January, up from 21 percent in December, while the percentage of first-time homebuyers increased from 31 percent in December to 33 percent in January.

Nearly one in every three January home sales was an all-cash transaction. A survey of NAR members showed more than half had at least one contract canceled or delayed in January, often as a result of a mortgage application being turned down or because appraisals come in below the negotiated price.

Single-family home sales were up 3.8 percent from December to January, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.05 million. That's a 2.3 percent increase from a year ago. The median existing single-family home price was $154,400 in January, down 2.6 percent from the same time a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales increased 8.3 percent from December to January, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 520,000. That's a 10.3 percent decline from a year ago. The median existing condo price was $156,600 in January, up 2 percent from January 2011.

At the regional level, the West saw the biggest jump in sales, an 8.8 percent increase from December to January. Sales were down 3.1 percent from a year ago, however, and the median price was also down 1.8 percent from January 2011, to $187,100.

The Midwest saw the smallest jump in sales, with sales up 1 percent from December to January. Although that was a 3.2 percent increase from a year ago, the median home price fell 3.9 percent from January 2011, to $122,000.

In the South, existing-home sales rose 3.5 percent from December to January but were unchanged from a year ago. The median price in the South was $134,800, down 0.3 percent from a year ago.

Existing home sales were up 3.4 percent from December to January in the Northeast, and up 7.1 percent from a year ago. At $225,700, the median price in the Northeast dropped 4.2 percent from January 2011.

Inman News®

ALL Homeowners with oil heating systems must read this!

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

 

New Home Heating Oil Law goes into effect
 

The new law requires that by September 30, 2011, owners of one- to four-unit residences that are heated with oil must already have or will need to install an oil safety valve or an oil supply line with a protective sleeve on their heating equipment. Installation of these devices must be performed by a licensed oil burner technician. Technicians are employed by companies that deliver home heating oil, or they are self-employed. It is important to note that heating oil systems installed on or after January 1, 1990 are most likely already in compliance because state fire codes implemented these requirements on new installations at that time.
 
For those who need to install this equipment, state officials estimate that the typical cost of installing either an oil safety valve or oil supply line with a protective sleeve ranges from $150 to $350 (including labor, parts, and local permit fees). While it is an expense that is not insignificant, the costs to clean up a leak can be thousands of dollars.

It is important for home owners to remember that this rule applies to all home owners, regardless of whether they are selling their home or not. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has an excellent, easy-to-understand document that explains this new rule. For more information, visit http://www.mass.gov/dep/cleanup/laws/hhsl.htm

What Happens When You Walk Away From Your Home?

by Ingrid Miles, CBR, REALTOR®

It was just last summer that Charlotte Perkins made the hardest decision of her life as she and her husband Jim were caught in the vise of the housing bust.

Wanting to downsize their lives as they headed toward retirement, they bought a new house in Mesa, Arizona, before they sold the old one, also in Mesa. Their previous home had been appraised at nearly $400,000 at the height of the market, but as the housing crisis ravaged Arizona, they were told they'd be lucky to get $200,000 for it.

They were carrying a loan of $260,000 on their original home alone, meaning they were well 'underwater,' owing much more than it was worth. Combined with the mortgage on the new house, their housing payments had become an "anchor around our necks," she says, threatening to gobble up all their retirement savings and leave them with nothing.

The couple made a difficult call: They would do a 'strategic default,' and simply stop paying the old mortgage. "We really had to wrestle with it," said Perkins, 60. "We had worked all of our lives to build good strong credit, and we're proud people. But it came down to, 'Can we keep doing this?' We had to say 'No.'"

As the housing bust drags on, many homeowners are thinking like Perkins. Almost 11 million homes are now underwater, says financial information provider CoreLogic. Around 3.5 million homeowners are behind in their payments and another 1.5 million homes are already in the foreclosure process, according to online marketplace RealtyTrac.

As banks start to work through their backlog of distressed properties, the New York Federal Reserve estimates that 3.6 million foreclosures will take place during the next couple of years.

So, the question is: Does it make sense to keep paying a massive mortgage, knowing that it might be decades before a home regains its prior value? Or is that akin to - as columnist James Surowiecki recently wrote in the New Yorker - "setting a pile of money on fire every month"?

"I constantly get the saddest e-mails from people saying, 'I've exhausted all my life savings, my retirement is gone, and now I have to default,'" said Jon Maddux, CEO of YouWalkAway.com,

a foreclosure agency that helps clients with strategic default (and charges a fee for it). "But if they had seen the writing on the wall a couple of years earlier, stopped paying the mortgage and stayed in the home throughout the whole process, they would be in a much better financial position."

Moral Quandary

There's a moral component to that decision, of course. People naturally feel embarrassed about breaking a contract and not paying their bills; no one wants to be branded a deadbeat. But remember that companies default on their obligations when it makes financial sense for them to do so, via the bankruptcy process. Even the Mortgage Bankers Association itself, in a flourish of irony, arranged for a short sale of its Washington headquarters.

It's not personal; it's business. So think of strategic default as a business decision, and do a cold-eyed cost-benefit analysis of whether it makes sense for you, advises Carl Archer, an attorney with Maselli Warren in Princeton, New Jersey.

"People think it reflects on their integrity, and say 'I wasn't raised this way,'" said Archer. "But the more businesslike attitude is to say that there's a contract, there are penalties for violating that contract, and sometimes it just makes financial sense to break it."

The penalties largely revolve around your credit record, which admittedly gets blown up in the near-term. For a few years you can likely forget about qualifying for a mortgage or a car loan. When lenders are ready to take a chance on you again, you'll have to pay for the privilege, with stiff interest rates due to your default history.

What Happens to Scores

Charlotte Perkins watched her credit score go from a pristine 800 to 685, dropping every time she missed a payment. Credit-scoring firm FICO estimates that someone with a 680 score would see that number sink between 85-100 points after a strategic default, and someone with 780 could crater 140-160 points.

Not desirable, of course, but not the end of the world either. For Perkins, for instance, she already had a loan on her Ford Escape, and the mortgage on her new house, before she even started the default process. She hasn't seen any changes on her credit cards since, in terms of limits or interest rates.

Now that the previous home was auctioned off in December, she can start slowly rebuilding her credit, a process that should take about seven years.

Strategic default isn't a decision to be taken lightly, of course. If everyone did it, the housing market -- and the banks -- would be in much worse shape than they already are.

The following are some of the issues to keep in mind:

1. Look to it as a last resort, not a first option. Your financial troubles could be alleviated with a simple refinancing, especially since 30-year mortgage rates are near record lows of below 4 percent. If the banks are hesitant to rework your loan, look into the number of government programs designed to keep you in your home, which can be researched at MakingHomeAffordable.gov.

2. Location, location, location. Each state has its own rules and regulations regarding foreclosures, which affect both the length of the process and what you could be liable for in the end. In so-called 'non-recourse' states like Arizona, California and Texas, a lender cannot come after you for any deficiency (for instance, if your mortgage was $300,000 and they're only able to sell the property for $200,000). In other states they can pursue the difference, in theory - which is why some homeowners opt to file for bankruptcy, to free themselves from those potential obligations as well.

3. Use the interim to save like a demon. If you're in a state like New York or Florida, which require a judicial review of every foreclosure, it might be a couple of years before you actually have to pack up. In the meantime, be extremely disciplined about stockpiling cash. That will help you with a down payment for a rental, to pay for a car in cash if you need to, or to clear up other debts you might have. "Save money as if you were still paying the mortgage," says Archer. "If you don't, then you'll run out of both time and money, and then you'll be in a real tough spot."

4. Know the tax implications. Historically, if you have a debt that's forgiven, the canceled amount is considered taxable by the IRS. In the wake of the housing bust, though, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act was drafted to spare you those taxes. That legislation expires at the end of 2012, though - so if it's not extended, you could potentially face a tax bill for the difference.

5. Talk to a professional. A bankruptcy or real-estate attorney can help you through a very tricky process. The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, for instance, has a searchable database of lawyers at www.nacba.org.

"Strategic default is not an easy decision, and there's a cost either way," said Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com. "Would you rather be $200,000 underwater, or would you rather have seven years of damage to your credit report? It depends whether you're finally at the point where enough is enough."

 

Displaying blog entries 1-3 of 3

Contact Information

Photo of Ingrid Miles, CBR, SRES, Lead REALTOR Real Estate
Ingrid Miles, CBR, SRES, Lead REALTOR
Keller Williams Realty
11 South Main St & 1 Merrimac St
Topsfield & Newburyport MA 01983 & 01950
Direct: 978-471-9750
978.861.4218
Fax: 978-861-4218

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