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Economists keep rosy view for 3% growth in 2014

September 9, 2013

NEW YORK – Sept. 9, 2013 – Business forecasters maintained their rosy view of the U.S. economy in 2014, predicting 3 percent growth by the second quarter of next year, low inflation and improving employment.

The top economists surveyed by the National Association of Business Economics (NABE) between Aug. 8 and Aug. 20 also said there’s an 80 percent likelihood that the pickup in growth will prompt the Federal Reserve to trim its monthly $85 billion purchases of mortgage bonds and Treasury bills next year.

The NABE’s 43 respondents said in a report released Monday that there’s a 45 percent chance the Fed will begin its so-called “tapering” as early as this year.

But economists trimmed their expectations for the second half of 2013 since the last survey, in May.

The economists predicted that real gross domestic product would grow at a 2.3 percent annualized rate in the third quarter through September, down from 2.5 percent seen earlier; and 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 2.8 percent seen earlier. They were less optimistic about consumer spending, industrial production and private investment in nonresidential structures, equipment and software.

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Slowdown in home prices? No reason to panic

August 14, 2013

rising-prices-300x225NEW YORK – Aug. 14, 2013 – Though home prices have risen nearly 12 percent from a year ago, a slowdown is expected soon. But many analysts say it’s no cause for concern.

“Prices are still going to rise – just not as at brisk a pace as we’ve seen over the past year,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “This should calm down those pundits who have fretted over a new crop of housing bubbles.”

According to a report by Goldman Sachs economists, home prices will likely moderate because they have returned to “fair value” and are no longer being viewed as “undervalued,” as they were for the past two years. Also, a rise in mortgage rates may cause some buyers to re-evaluate their options.

For the first time this year, buyer traffic dropped below agents’ expectations, and “the next few months will be crucial to determining whether this is just a pause or something more,” the Goldman Sachs report notes.

The report also notes that investors will likely slow their purchases as the number of foreclosures starts to dry up. What’s more, the inventory of homes for sale is starting to loosen as more sellers look to put their homes on the market. Those sellers, in turn, will then be looking to purchase another home, so prices will still likely continue to rise until new-home construction catches up.

“With the improving underlying housing demand driven by household formation and economic recovery, we think housing activity will remain on an upward trajectory, despite occasional ups and downs along the way,” says the Goldman report.

Source: “Why Home-Price Growth Will Slow,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 12, 2013)

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Higher Home Prices Cool Buying Frenzy

June 6, 2013

Daily Real Estate News | Thursday, June 06, 2013

The recent rise in home prices has more investors concerned that it will be increasingly difficult to turn a profit from their rental investments. Nearly half of U.S. real estate investors say they expect to purchase fewer rental homes in the next year, according to a recent survey conducted by polling firm ORC International.

Just 10 months ago, the percentage of investors who said they intend to buy fewer homes stood at 30 percent—compared to 48 percent today. Only about 20 percent of the investors surveyed say they plan to buy more homes in the next year—a drop from the 39 percent who reported they intend to buy more homes last August.

More than half of the investors surveyed who own rental properties say they plan to hold them for at least five years or more, and 33 percent plan to hold them for 10 years or more.

“Higher prices are reducing returns on investment and investors are responding by cutting back on their purchasing plans until conditions sort out,” says Chris Clothier, a partner in MemphisInvest.com and Premier Property Management Group. “Fewer foreclosures, rising property values, and competition from hedge funds are making it tough to find good ideals on distressed sales. On the other hand, investors are planning to hold onto their rental properties for at least eight to 10 years and realize the benefits of rising rents and low vacancy rates. Cash flow is much more important than appreciation.”

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A Primer on Real Estate’s Shadow Inventory

April 3, 2013

By Sarah Parr

The real estate industry and the consumer economy have some recent, positive news. CoreLogic published a report last week indicating that the shadow inventory of homes is down 28 percent from when it peaked in 2010. CoreLogic determined the shadow inventory figure by calculating the number of very delinquent homes, properties in foreclosure and homes held as REOs (real estate-owned) by mortgage servicers, but are not yet listed on multiple listing services (MLS).

As of January 2013, the shadow inventory includes 2.2 million housing units, or in real estate terms, nine months of supply. Florida currently has 16 percent of the total shadow inventory in the United States.

Defining the shadow inventory

In real estate, the shadow inventory refers to all of the homes held by banks, but not offered for sale, and homes that people are waiting to put on the market when prices increase even more. Vacant houses in some stage of foreclosure, known as “zombie foreclosures,” also comprise about half or more of the shadow inventory. Many homeowners anticipate foreclosure and move out of the house, leaving it vacant for a period of time.

What creates the shadow inventory?

The finalization of the National Mortgage Settlement in April 2012 caused the shadow industry to grow because of a 59 percent spike in properties in some stage of foreclosure, according to RealtyTRAC. Because of the settlement, banks have been required to work with homeowners on loan modifications, and their homes are kept off the market. The states in which the shadow inventory grew are mostly judicial process states since these states are more prone to having court backlogs of foreclosure cases. Foreclosure cases in these states typically take much longer to process.

The effects on real estate

Real estate professionals initially feared properties in the shadow inventory would be listed all at once and depress surrounding property values. Reuters reported that properties in the shadow inventory have been listed in miniature spurts, though, and the small inventory has actually caused an increase in prices in some areas. Investors have also helped mitigate potential flooding of the market by buying up some of the shadow inventory, according to a TIME article. These investors are a part of firms that buy out distressed real estate when it first hits the market. They often beat individual buyers with cash offers, sometimes before properties are listed.

All the same, a shadow inventory can create ambiguity for homeowners looking to sell their homes and for predicting when a local market can expect full recovery in the housing market. The shadow inventory can also affect overall housing inventory data.

Sarah Parr is a Central Florida-based writer who blogs about foreclosure issues for Altamonte Springs foreclosure lawyers.

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Chris, that is NOT a sinkhole!

March 8, 2013

Today I had to explain to a new seller of mine that you cannot toss a case or two of wine into a sinkhole and call it a wine seller.

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Are banks easing up on mortgage standards?

March 6, 2013

NEW YORK – March 6, 2013 – A very tight mortgage lending environment “promises improvements this year as the drivers of tough credit standards reverse,” according to Moody’s Analytics ResiLandscape Report. Still, lending will remain tight by historical standards, the report notes.

Tight underwriting conditions have been one of the main obstacles to a housing market recovery. But the credit agency says that those conditions began to ease somewhat this year and likely will continue to do so.

“Rising house prices give lenders more breathing room to extend credit,” the analysts at Moody’s noted.

Over the past year and a half, large lenders have loosened up or, at least, held standards stable on prime loans for mortgage originations, according to the Survey of Senior Lending Officers.

Aiding lenders’ confidence is that mortgage delinquencies have fallen to pre-recession rates.

“Being right-side up on the mortgage improves a borrower’s credit profile. It also lowers the risk of default and increases the likelihood of trade-up buying,” according to Moody’s report.

Mortgage supply will remain constrained, but “improved consumer credit quality combined with steady growth in jobs, low mortgage interest rates and modestly rising house prices makes it clear that more households will be able to qualify for a mortgage,” Moody’s said. “Greater credit availability will, in turn, help drive stronger home sales and stronger price appreciation.”

Source: “Slight opening of credit spigot aids housing outlook,” HousingWire (March 4, 2013)

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Bank of America mortgage exec talks about Fla. housing market

March 5, 2013

BRADENTON, Fla. – March 5, 2013 – As first time buyers begin coming back into the real estate market, we take a look at what is going on in the mortgage industry since last year’s $25 billion settlement with the country’s five largest mortgage lenders.

Under the settlement, mortgage lenders agreed to make unprecedented changes in how they service mortgage loans and handle foreclosures. With the backing of a federal court order and the oversight of an independent monitor, the agreement created dozens of new consumer protections, making the servicing process substantially more transparent.

The protections range from requiring a single point of contact for borrowers, establishing case review and paperwork processing requirements and deadlines, and restricting practices such as “dual tracking” in which banks pursue a loan modification while simultaneously pursuing a foreclosure.

The $25 billion settlement was with the country’s five largest mortgage lenders including Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Ally/GMAC. The settlement raised hopes for a real estate recovery. It’s especially urgent in Florida, the state that leads the nation in foreclosures yet which also posted strong across-the-board improvements in 2012.

If you have or want a home loan or refi from Bank of America in Florida, the person ultimately responsible is 54-year-old Tampa-based senior vice president Sandy Robertson. The Bradenton Herald’s Stephen Frater caught up with Robertson on Friday for an exclusive interview with the banking giant’s go-to-guy for mortgages in the Sunshine State, “the nation’s most troubled real estate market.”

Q: What is Bank of America’s portion of the housing debt market?

A: The bank is the fourth largest bank in the country and has the largest share of the market in Florida.

Q: Currently in Florida, 11 percent of the housing stock is distressed by some definitions, and 40 percent of the market is underwater. Some underwater owners take a calculated decision to walk away and take the credit hit. Does that concern you?

A: Much of the distressed housing stock is due to a backlog in the foreclosure process. The bank is working more on proactive short sales and CACs are located in Tampa Bay to help people make the transition easier. People should contact their lender and talk with them when they are underwater. I have a more bullish outlook on the topic. The bank has been able to do more proactive short sales and I’m excited to see the appreciation in home prices. The numbers are trending in a new direction.

Q: Recent “bank-owned” data shows that 45 percent of homeowners believe owning is more affordable than renting. What is the buy-versus-rent calculus in the Florida market following the great recession?

A: The rise in rents relative to home prices may encourage buyers to enter the housing market. Interest rates are also at historic lows, and affordability is high due to lower home prices and low interest rates. Rental prices are dramatically increasing in the Florida market which is another reason why purchasing a home is a more affordable option in many cases.

Q: Please describe Bank of America’s program for low-to-moderate income buyers.

A: The bank offers quarterly programs and seminars in the market, which educates buyers on the home-buying process. The goal is to provide a realistic view of a buyer’s true budget versus what they think they can afford. A buyer should focus on paying themselves first and save for a down payment. Customer Assistance Centers (CAC) are also available in the market to help find resolutions.

Q: With the recession and many people taking hits to their credit score, what is the “new” normal?

A: The standard has not changed much except what we are seeing now is more documentation being needed in terms of income earnings and bank statements. The loan process has changed over the last few years – it takes longer now. Borrowers must be prepared to fully document income and expenses.

Q: Fifty-percent of deals in the Miami market were cash-only in 2012. Is this a new trend? Will it continue?

A: This is not necessarily an increase or something new. We’ve been seeing this in the market over the past two years. In 2012, there was a range of 30-70 percent of cash buyers in any market depending on where in the state they were located.

Q: How is the prominence of cash buyers affecting first-time homebuyers?

A: We believe over time we will see less cash buyers as inventory continues to shrink and new development emerges. The best thing for a potential home buyer to do is to work with a lender upfront. It is important to note that more construction will go into the first-time homebuyer market going forward.

Q: What can a potential buyer with a credit score of 600 and a regular job expect? Can this person buy a home?

A: The best thing for someone in this situation to do would be to come in and talk with a lender. We may have some work to do, but they should come in and have a talk with us.

Q: President Obama touched on difficulties people are having with refinancing and mortgage availability during his State of the Union address. How will this be fixed?

A: The relation of loan to value is the biggest issue right now, along with unemployment. The unemployment rate is even higher in Florida. Job growth will be critical in fixing the current state of housing and refinancing options. The state of Florida had a rate of about 50% of the market being underwater homeowners; this has now dropped to approximately 38%. Through the HARP Program (a federal program for homeowners not behind on mortgage payments but unable to get traditional refinancing because the value of the home has declined, they may be eligible to refinance through the U.S. HUD Home Affordable Refinance Program with a new, more affordable, more stable mortgage.) Bank of America has been able to provide help to many underwater homeowners with HARP.

Q: What are some of the bank’s Web-based tools used to educate homeowners or would-be buyers?

A; I would refer your readers to our online Home Loan Guide. It is a comprehensive tool for potential home buyers and current homeowners on mortgages, refinancing, and home equity. It is located at, https://www.bankofamerica.com/home-loans/home-loan-guide.go.

Much of the information used in our local market seminars is also included in this guide.

Copyright © 2013 The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.), Stephen Frater. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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Many improving their bad credit as economy improves

March 4, 2013

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – March 4, 2013 – Melvin Montesino endured the full brunt of the Great Recession: A lost job, then foreclosure and even bankruptcy.

Since then Montesino has been on the rebound, working two jobs while improving his damaged credit. “It wasn’t easy. Some banks even turned me down for a prepaid credit card,” he said.

But his efforts have paid off. Despite the foreclosure and bankruptcy, he will close on a three-bedroom, two-bath home in Coral Springs later this month. “It’s pretty spacious,” he said.

The South Florida housing market is filled with thousands of others trying to start over after the recession left them with severe dings to their credit. Many are making good progress. In fact, South Florida is second only to the Los Angeles metro area in the number of people who have improved their once sub-prime credit scores in the year that ended Sept. 30, according to Equifax, the national credit reporting agency.

Some 40,000 people in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties raised their credit scores to 620 or above in a year, removing them from the Subprime/Risky category that meant they had to pay the highest interest rates – if they could get credit, Equifax found. That netted a 3.6 percent decline in the number of South Floridians with bad credit, a substantial improvement.

“People are getting back on their feet and improving their credit,” said Howard Dvorkin who founded the Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit, Consolidated Credit Counseling Services. More people are optimistic about starting over – calls for help in improving low credit scores are up about 25 percent from just a year ago, he said.

In January, consumers in the three counties had an average credit score of 645, just three points below the national average, the consumer website CreditKarma.com reported.

Many South Florida lenders are trying to help out. Deerfield Beach senior mortgage specialist Adam Cohn said his company, The Mortgage Firm, provides free counseling to help people improve their credit scores so they can better qualify for a home loan.

Cohn, who helped Montesino get a loan for his Coral Springs house, said some South Floridians just need a little nudge, such as encouraging them to pay off credit cards with balances less than $500 to boost their credit score.

One woman took his advice and recently raised her score 30 points to 650. That got her a conventional loan for a home in Davie, Cohn said, a loan she otherwise would not have been eligible for.

Cohn said he also was able to help a man qualify for a loan on a Boynton Beach house after improving his credit score despite filing for bankruptcy five years ago.

“He’ll be closing in the next couple of weeks,” Cohn said.

Some who were forced into bankruptcy or a short sale of their home because of extenuating circumstances beyond their control – and not because of overspending – can qualify for a mortgage in as little time as 24 months, said secondary lender Freddie Mac spokesman Brad German. Those who are foreclosed on have to wait longer – at least three years – to get a Freddie Mac loan, German said.

In Parkland, contractor Ken Viviano sees his recent truck loan from Miramar-based Tropical Financial Credit Union as the start toward rebuilding his damaged credit and eventually buying a new home. He now is trying to short sale his Parkland home that he can’t afford.

“Life was good for many years. Then someone flipped the switch,” Viviano said. Large construction companies could not even pay his company for assignments already finished, Viviano said. “That wiped out my savings and caused me to go into bankruptcy,” he said.

But now the economy is better, he said. Viviano said he and his workers are concentrating on individual homeowners’ kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects.

He is grateful Tropical Financial gave him a chance.

Credit union staffers are aware of the financial trauma that South Florida went through and are willing to take a risk on members who are working again and have the money to pay on debts, said Tropical Financial’s chief lending officer, Helen McGiffin. “We’ll look at their alternate payments, such as utility bills, to see if they have been paying.”

To get a mortgage on the Coral Springs house, Montesino said he was able to improve his credit score to above 700. His break: A bank agreed to give him a prepaid credit card. He said he paid that and other bills faithfully and in the last two years was able to get other credit.

“It was pretty rough in 2008,” said Montesino who has since gone on to work in air conditioning and as a courier. “But you keep working hard.”

Credit score levels

A credit score reflects your creditworthiness to lenders. Increase your score by paying bills on time; using no more than 30 percent of your available credit; obtaining your credit report and disputing errors. Here’s what the scores mean:

720-850 (Excellent) – Earns the best financing terms.
700-719 (Very Good) – Favorable financing.
620-699 (Average) – Qualifies for most loans at higher interest rates
500-619 (Subprime/Risky) – Highest interest rates, credit uncertain.

Copyright © 2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Donna Gehrke-White. Distributed by MCT Information Services. Staff writer Richard Burnett contributed to this report.

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U.S. new-home sales jump to highest in 4½ years

February 26, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) – Feb. 26, 2013 – U.S. new-home sales jumped in January from the previous month to the highest level since July 2008, a sign that the housing recovery is accelerating.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that new-home sales rose nearly 16 percent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 437,000. The percentage increase was the largest in nearly 20 years. And December’s sales were revised higher to 378,000 from 369,000.

Steady job creation and near-record-low mortgage rates are spurring more Americans to buy houses. Sales of previously occupied homes rose to the highest level in five years last year.

At the same time, the number of previously occupied homes for sale is at a 13-year low. That shortage creates more demand for new homes. Builders began construction on the most houses and apartments in four years last year.

The supply of new homes for sale was unchanged last month at 150,000. That’s barely above August’s total of 143,000 – the smallest supply of new homes on records dating back to 1963.

At the current sales pace, it would take just 4.1 months to exhaust the number of new homes for sale, the lowest in eight years. Low inventories should encourage more construction.

Though new homes represent less than 20 percent of the housing sales market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to data from the National Association of Homebuilders.

The increase in home building has helped boost construction hiring. The industry has gained 98,000 jobs since September, the best stretch since the spring of 2006.

Still, the increases in new-home sales are coming from depressed levels. Sales plummeted to a record low in 2011. And sales are still well below the 700,000 annual level that economists consider healthy.

The biggest gain in new-home sales was in the West, where they soared 45.3 percent. The supply of previously occupied homes in that region has fallen sharply. Sales jumped 27.6 percent in the Northeast, 11.1 percent in the Midwest but only 3.2 percent in the South.

A separate report Tuesday showed that home prices accelerated in December. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 6.8 percent in December compared with the same month a year earlier. That’s up from November’s 5.5 percent gain over the previous November.

Rising home prices can fuel the housing recovery by encouraging people to buy before prices increase further. They can also bring more sellers off the sidelines.

Higher home values also make homeowners feel wealthier, building confidence and encouraging more spending. And banks are more likely to provide mortgage loans if they are confident that home prices are rising.
AP Logo Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press, Christopher S. Rugaber, AP economics writer.

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4 big short sales hang-ups

February 21, 2013

NEW YORK – Feb. 21, 2013 – Short sales are increasing this year, and these transactions can take up to three times longer than a traditional transaction. A lot can go wrong in that timeframe.

These are the most common delays, according to a recent article by George “Gee” Dunsten, a real estate broker and president of Gee Dunsten Seminars.

Title issues: Be sure to do a title exam at the beginning in order to identify all individuals on the deed and mortgages – and determine all lien holders.

Lack of communication with the lender: Lost documents and misunderstandings commonly cause delays. Make it a habit to follow up with the mortgage servicer twice a week to avoid avoidable problems.

Delaying the start: Some short sales don’t begin until a contract to purchase has been initiated, but this can add up to two extra months to the process. The lender won’t even look at a buyer contract until a seller candidate for a short sale is approved and the market value has been determined, Dunsten says.

Incomplete packages: Make sure you carefully submit all documents completely and accurately. Submitting incomplete packages is another common culprit of delays. All homeowner financial information needs to be kept current and forwarded to the servicer every 30 days, says Dunsten.

Source: “Avoiding the Dirty Dozen Barriers to Short Sale Success,” RISMedia (Feb. 20, 2013)

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