Friday, August 21, 2009

July home sales surge more than 7 percent

The U.S. housing market is rebounding faster than expected. The question is, can it last? Home resales in July posted the largest monthly increase in at least 10 years as first-time buyers rushed to take advantage of a tax credit that expires Nov. 30. Sales jumped 7.2 percent and beat expectations, the National Association of Realtors said Friday.


AP Real Estate Writer

The U.S. housing market is rebounding faster than expected. The question is, can it last? Home resales in July posted the largest monthly increase in at least 10 years as first-time buyers rushed to take advantage of a tax credit that expires Nov. 30. Sales jumped 7.2 percent and beat expectations, the National Association of Realtors said Friday.

"We've got tens of thousands of homes perfect for the first-time homebuyer and we've taken advantage of that," said George Hackett, president of Coldwell Banker Real Estate in Pittsburgh.

Sales hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.24 million in July, from a pace of 4.89 million in June. It was the fourth-straight monthly increase and the strongest month since August 2007. Sales had been expected to rise to an annual pace of 5 million, according to economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

The risks to that healthy pace, however, are job cuts, mortgage rates and the looming end to the homebuyer tax credit. And the last one could be a doozy because first-time buyers are snapping up one out of every three homes.

First-time buyers get a credit of 10 percent of the purchase price of a home, up to $8,000. The credit phases out for singles earning more than $75,000 and couples earning more than $150,000. The real estate industry is lobbying to have the credit extended but its unclear if Congress will be swayed.

"I would not be at all surprised to see a dip at the end of the year once the tax credit expires," said Robert Dye, senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group.

The home sales report was another sign that the U.S. economy is on the verge of a long-awaited recovery after enduring a brutal recession and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Economic activity in both the U.S. and around the world appears to be leveling out and "the prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Friday.

But fallout from the recession will linger for some time. Unemployment rose in July in 26 states and fell in 17, the Labor Department said Friday. That is driving up foreclosures, which are not expected to level off until sometime next year.

Sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties made up about a third of all transactions last month, down from nearly half earlier this year. In places like San Diego and Orlando, buyers are snapping up foreclosed properties at deep discounts, and inventories are low.

Those sales helped drag down the national median sales price by 15 percent to $178,400.

Stephen Stoyko hunted off-and-on for two years before he bought a four-bedroom, two-story foreclosure this week for $320,000. The home in Roswell, Ga., north of Atlanta, was initially priced at $335,000.

Stoyko expects to spend about $7,000 to replace missing kitchen appliances and light fixtures - a cost will be at least partially offset by the first-time homebuyer tax credit. "It's bigger than I needed, but the price was right," he said.

The inventory of unsold homes on the market rose to 4.1 million, from 3.8 million a month earlier as buyers who had held their homes off the market in the past decided to list them for sale. That's a 9.4-month supply at the current sales pace, unchanged from June.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Median U.S. home price rise from 1st quarter to 2nd

A real estate group says U.S. home prices posted a gain in the second quarter, another sign that the ailing housing market is finally coming to life.

The National Association of Realtors says the median sales price in the quarter was $174,100, up 4 percent from the first quarter, but still almost 16 percent below a year ago. Prices, however, were still down from a year ago in 129 out of 155 metropolitan areas the group tracks.

Total sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.76 million, from 4.58 million in the first quarter, but were still about 3 percent below a year ago.

By ALAN ZIBELAP Real Estate Writer

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pending Home Sales Surge; Fifth Straight Monthly Rise

By: with wires

Pending home sales rose for the fifth consecutive month in June, easily topping expectations, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The Pending Home Sales Index rose 3.6 percent to 94.6 from an upwardly revised reading of 91.3 in May, and is 6.7 percent higher than in June 2008. Reuters had expected an 0.6 percent increase.

The last time there were five consecutive monthly gains was July 2003.

The housing market's collapse is at the heart of the longest U.S. recession since the Great Depression and reviving the sector is critical to healing the economy. The data served as further evidence that the housing market was starting to claw out of a three-year slump.

"Historically low mortgage interest rates, affordable home prices and large selection are encouraging buyers who've been on the sidelines. Activity has been consistently much stronger for lower priced homes," said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Pending home sales were higher in all four regions than last month, and only the west experienced a decrease from a year ago. The index in the Northeast rose 0.4 percent to 81.2 in June and was 5.8 percent above the same period last year. In the Midwest, the index climbed 0.8 percent to 89.9. It was 11.6 percent higher than June 2008.

The index in the South jumped 7.1 percent to 100.7 in June and was 8.9 percent higher versus a year ago. In the West, the index rose 2.9 percent to 100.4, but was 0.2 percent below June 2008.

"Hopefully, in the months ahead, we'll see an even closer relationship between contract activity and closed transactions," said NAR president Charles McMillan.

The organization's Housing Affordability Index fell from record peaks reached in recent months but remains 36.6 percentage points above one year ago.

The Clock is Ticking! Decision Time Draws Near for First Time Buyer's Credit

While the economy continues to show signs of improvement and many housing markets are beginning to heat up, scores of would-be buyers are still waiting on the sidelines for further positive housing trends. But for first-time buyers, time is running short on the federal government's $8,000 tax credit.

Though the official expiration date of the credit is December 1, in reality on-the-fence buyers will need to make a decision one way or the other fairly soon. The reason: in order to qualify for the credit, the home purchase must close by December 1st. Merely having loan approval, an accepted offer or a signed contract won't be enough to qualify for the Housing and Economic Recovery Act.

Decision-Making Timeline - While each transaction is unique, closing a real estate deal is no speedy matter. On average, closing takes place 45 to 60 days after the date that the contract is signed. In order to meet the December 1st deadline, this would mean having a signing date in late September or early October. Those who consider the tax credit an important incentive but are still unsure about entering the market will need to make a decision one way or another before many more summer days pass.

To have any chance at finding a home and having an offer accepted by early October, buyers will want to wade into the home buying process right away. The immediate steps include making a final list of desired home attributes, scouting favorite neighborhoods and areas, starting the mortgage pre-approval process and beginning the home search process online.

Potential for Delays - Buying a home is a complicated process, and it is not unusual for purchases involving first-time buyers to take slightly longer than those involving experienced buyers. Some of the delays that first-time buyers may face over the coming months:

Competition with Other Buyers
While home may be selling at a lower rate than in years past, in many areas changes in inventory have created extremely competitive buying environments. Foreclosures or other homes with greatly lowered asking prices are particularly sought after, and in many cases investors are very active in the marketplace.

Disclosures & Contingencies
The seller is obligated to disclose any material facts about the property, including any property defects or any lawsuits regarding claim to ownership on the property. Disclosures can stall negotiations and delay the contract signing depending on their nature and severity. Contingencies (written clauses in the sales contract that give protection to both the buyer and the seller of a home) can also result in some delay in negotiation, particularly if the contingency requires the seller to make specific repairs.

The lender will arrange for appraisal of the property, which will include a thorough inspection of the home's interior and exterior. The appraiser's report will describe the physical characteristics of the property and comparable property values will be used to determine the value of the property. If the appraisal of the home's value is lower than the agreed upon sales price, the buyer's chance of loan approval can be in jeopardy. In addition, recently added rules for appraisers have been causing some delays based upon anecdotal evidence.

Loan Approval
While interest rates remain advantageous for buyers, lenders are being much more fastidious during the approval process. Obtaining pre-approval can help prevent many delays.

The Holiday Season
Buyers who submit an offer in mid-fall may likely run into another roadblock to a pre-December 1st closing date: the approaching holiday season. Closing a real estate sale requires the work and attention of a number of professionals; from real estate agents to attorneys to bankers. Like many Americans, it is not uncommon for individuals in these fields to use up vacation time in the last few weeks of November. Securing a closing date during Thanksgiving week may be something approaching miraculous.

Additional Delays for Short Sales and Foreclosures
Buyers who make an offer on a short sale property or bank-owned foreclosure may find that it takes a significantly longer time to receive a reply than expected. Overall, buying these types of properties is a longer process than buying homes listed on the market by individual owners.

KEY Elements for First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit

1.) The tax credit only applies to first-time home buyers. The law defines a "first-time" buyer as any buyer who has not owned a home within the previous three tax years. For married couples, the homeownership history of both individuals must meet this qualification.

2.) The tax credit is only available for homes purchased between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 1, 2009. For the purposes of this credit, the purchase date is the date when closing occurs and the title to the property transfers to the new home owner.

3.) As long as the property is purchased by a qualified buyer for use as a principal residence, any type of home, including single-family detached homes, townhouses, condominiums and manufactured homes can qualify for the credit.

4.) The tax credit does not have to be repaid provided that the buyers use the home as their principal residence for at least three years.

5.) The full tax credit is only available for individuals with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 and for married couples with a combined adjusted gross income of up to $150,000. The tax credit phases out for anyone above those income thresholds.

6.) The tax credit applies for up to 10 percent of the home's purchase price, with a maximum of $8,000. For example, a first-time buyer of a $50,000 home would be eligible for a tax credit of $5,000 while a buyer of a $150,000 home could receive a tax credit of a maximum of $8,000.

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