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Fourth Quarter Metro Area Home Prices Show Strongest Performance in Seven Years

February 12, 2013 2:36 am

A growing number of metropolitan areas had higher median home prices in the fourth quarter, with the national price showing the strongest year-over-year increase in seven years, according to the latest quarterly report by the National Association of Realtors®. A companion report shows record high housing affordability conditions for metro areas in 2012.

The median existing single-family home price rose in 133 out of 152 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) based on closings in the fourth quarter compared with same quarter in 2011, while 19 areas had price declines. In the third quarter, 120 areas showed increases from a year earlier, while in the fourth quarter of 2011, only 29 metros were up.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said all the conditions for strong price growth are at play. "Home sales are on a sustained uptrend, mortgage interest rates are hovering near record lows and unsold inventory is at the lowest level in 12 years," he said. "Home sales are being fueled by a pent-up demand and job creation, along with still favorable affordability conditions and rents rising at faster rates. Our population has been growing faster than overall housing stock, so supply and demand dynamics are very much at play." Yun added that more housing construction is needed to relieve some of the pressure in the market and keep home prices from overheating.

The national median existing single-family home price was $178,900 in the fourth quarter, up 10.0 percent from $162,600 in the fourth quarter of 2011, which is the strongest year-over-year price increase since the fourth quarter of 2005 when the median price jumped 13.6 percent. In the third quarter, the price rose 8.8 percent from a year earlier.

The median price is where half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less; medians are more typical than average prices, which are skewed higher by a relatively small share of upper-end transactions.

A shrinking market share of lower priced homes continues to account for some of the price growth. Distressed homes - foreclosures and short sales generally sold at deep discounts - accounted for 23 percent of fourth quarter sales, down from 30 percent a year ago.

Total existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, rose 5.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.90 million in the fourth quarter from 4.66 million in the third quarter, and were 12.1 percent above the 4.37 million pace during the fourth quarter of 2011. Sales in the last quarter were at the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2009 when they reached 4.95 million.

At the end of the fourth quarter there were 1.82 million existing homes available for sale, which is 21.6 percent below the close of the fourth quarter of 2011 when 2.32 million homes were on the market. Unsold inventory is at the lowest level since January 2001 when there were 1.78 million homes for sale.
According to Freddie Mac, the national commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage averaged a record low 3.36 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 3.54 percent in the third quarter and 4.01 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Source: NAR

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Online Shopping Study Shows Boomers' Purchasing Behavior Still Growing, Millennials Steady

February 12, 2013 2:36 am

Although the ongoing study by The Integer Group® has shown an increase in online shopping over the last three years, the latest study is showing online shopping overall has leveled out. Even though online shopping is steady, Boomers are continuing to increase their online purchases (up 4.5 percent since 2011) and the percentage of Millennials who reported purchasing more online is down 7 percent from 2011. This was revealed in the latest issue of The Checkout, an ongoing shopper behavior study conducted by Integer® and M/A/R/C Research.

"Millennials may be feeling the pinch of a still-slow economy and making the decision to watch spending more closely. It could also be that we are starting to reach a plateau in online-shopping adoption," said Craig Elston, senior vice president, Insight & Strategy at The Integer Group.

Even though many shoppers in the survey noted that they are shopping about the same amount online as they were three months ago, there are some interesting shifts in purchase categories. Since January 2012, online purchasing of health and beauty has increased significantly among shoppers aged 50 to 64, growing nearly 12 percent. The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who say they've purchased any products online, even once, has dropped in all categories except books, music, and tickets. Overall, none of these categories saw major growth from 2011 to 2012.

Data for The Checkout comes from a national survey conducted by Integer and M/A/R/C where consumers are asked about their shopping attitudes, shopping behaviors, and economic outlook. Topics range from criteria shoppers use to select retailers, to which in-store stimulus is most likely to drive purchase, to factors that might lead shoppers to leave an aisle empty-handed.

Source: The Integer Group

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Blizzard May Cause Mold Damage for Thousands of New Englanders

February 12, 2013 2:36 am

As New Englanders dig out from last week's historic blizzard, a silent threat is creeping into their homes: mold. The snow accumulation on roofs and the high drifts against homes will soon start to melt as temperatures increase. While temperatures are expected to rise above the freezing point during the day, however, they are predicted to retreat below 32 degrees during the night, creating ideal conditions for ice damming and moisture penetration. Such conditions are breeding grounds for mold growth.

After a blizzard or any type of major storm, it is recommended that homeowners inspect their attics, basements and other moisture-prone areas for signs of damage and to consider calling a specially-trained and accredited mold inspector to detected hidden deficiencies. To eliminate any doubt about the safety of your air quality or home environment, a mold inspector uses specialized detection equipment such as digital moisture meters and infrared cameras to identify areas susceptible to mold growth. If mold is present, additional diagnostic testing equipment can be used to identify and quantify the type of fungal activity.

For homeowners that choose to hire a properly-equipped, environmental engineering company, they may be able to detect these hidden deficiencies and storm damage before family members start to get sick or areas of the home cannot be salvaged. Concerned parties should check their homeowner's insurance policy regarding storm damage and specifically inquire about any mold coverage they have. This coverage may include the proper testing and inspecting along with any remedial actions to thwart mold-related illnesses.

Source: IndoorDoctor, LLC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Consumer Housing Sentiment Continues to Rise as Employment Concerns Wane

February 11, 2013 2:36 am

Increasing confidence in home sales and an improved sense of job security provide further evidence of the strengthening of the housing market, according to Fannie Mae’s January 2013 National Housing Survey results. Underlying the growing sense of optimism, the percentage of survey respondents who think it is a good time to sell a home continued to climb to 23 percent last month from 11 percent the same time last year. While expectations regarding personal finances stayed relatively flat last month, other housing indicators remained at or near survey highs, indicating consumers remain confident in the stability of the housing market.

“The housing market continues to firm, with consumer home price expectations for both rental and ownership properties near the strongest levels that we’ve seen in the survey’s two-and-a-half-year history,” said Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae. “Concerns about job loss are waning as payrolls are growing – a trend that may give potential homebuyers more confidence that they can meet the financial obligation of homeownership. The upward trend over the past year and a half in the share of consumers who say it’s a good time to sell may reflect two related events. First, homeowners see that home prices are improving. Second, the number of homeowners who are underwater is declining, reducing a barrier for those owners who need to sell their home in order to buy a new one.”

Survey Highlights

Homeownership and Renting

• The average 12-month home price change expectation fell slightly from last month’s survey high to 2.4 percent.
• At 41 percent, the share of those surveyed who believe home prices will go up in the next 12 months decreased by 2 percentage points from December’s survey high, while the share who believe home prices will go down returned to the survey low of 10 percent.
• The percentage of those surveyed who think mortgage rates will go up decreased by 3 percentage points to 41 percent, while those who think they will go down dipped slightly to 7 percent.
• Twenty-three percent of respondents say it is a good time to sell a house, up by 12 percentage points year-over-year.
• At 3.7 percent, the average 12-month rental price change expectation fell 0.9 percent from last month’s survey high.
• Fifty percent of those surveyed say home rental prices will go up in the next 12 months, a slight increase over December, and the highest level since the survey’s inception.
• The share of respondents who said they would buy if they were going to move held steady at 65 percent.

The Economy and Household Finances

• At 39 percent, the share of respondents who say the economy is on the right track increased slightly over December.
• The percentage who expect their personal financial situation to get better over the next 12 months rose by 3 percentage points to 43 percent.
• Twenty-three percent of respondents say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago, holding steady from last month.
• Thirty-eight percent reported significantly higher household expenses compared to 12 months ago, the highest level since December 2011.
• The percentage who are concerned they will lose their job in the next 12 months declined 1 percentage point to 19 percent, a survey low.

Source: Fannie Mae

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Looking for Love Online? Be Aware and Protect Yourself

February 11, 2013 2:36 am

Millions of Americans use dating sites, social networking sites and chat rooms to meet people. And many forge successful relationships. But scammers also use these sites to meet potential victims. They create fake profiles to build online relationships, and eventually convince people to send money in the name of love. Some even make wedding plans before disappearing with the money.

An online love interest who asks for money is almost certainly a scam artist.

How to Recognize a Scam Artist

The relationship may not be what you think, especially if your sweetheart:

• wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or IM,
• claims love in a heartbeat,
• claims to be from the U.S., but is traveling or working overseas,
• plans to visit, but is prevented by a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour.
Scammers also like to say they’re out of the country for business or military service.

What You Can Do About It

You may lose your heart, but you don’t have to lose your shirt, too. Don’t wire money to cover:

• travel
• medical emergencies
• hotel bills
• hospital bills for a child or other relative
• visas or other official documents
• or losses from a temporary financial setback

Don’t send money to tide someone over after a mugging or robbery, and don’t do anyone a favor by making an online purchase or forwarding a package to another country. One request leads to another, and delays and disappointments will follow. In the end, the money will be gone along with the person you thought you knew.

Report relationship scams to the Federal Trade Commission, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complain Center, or your state Attorney General.

Source: FTC

Published with permission from RISMedia.


From Arizona to Hawaii, How Does Your City’s Air Fare?

February 11, 2013 2:36 am

Are you breathing clean? On average, people take more than 21,600 breaths a day, yet two-thirds of the American population does not think about the quality of the air they are breathing.

The AirGenius Awards, sponsored by the makers of the new Honeywell AirGenius Air Cleaner, set out to ‘clear the air’ by assessing the nation’s cities based on specific criteria related to air quality. 
So where can you find the cleanest air in America? In short, the answer is Florida. The awards, evaluated by scientists at the leading consulting firm Environmental Health & Engineering, highlighted six Florida metropolitan areas in the top 25, with Palm Bay/Melbourne/Titusville in first place. 

“Data on pollen counts, particulate matter and ozone concentrations, public smoking laws, and ‘green’ city rankings for the 100 most populated U.S. cities were used in this assessment,” says Dr. Ted Myatt, ScD, a senior scientist at the leading environmental consulting company Environmental Health & Engineering and Biological Safety Officer at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Massachusetts. “The results are relevant to city dwellers and homeowners, particularly the elderly, young children, and individuals with allergies or asthma.”

Below is a list of the top 10 U.S. areas with the cleanest air:
1. Palm Bay/Melbourne/Titusville, Fla.
2. Cape Coral/Fort Myers, Fla.
3. North Port-Bradenton/Sarasota, Fla.
4. Honolulu, Hawaii
5. Tucson, Ariz.
6. Colorado Springs, Colo.
7. Albuquerque, N.M.
8. Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue, Wash.
9. Charleston/North Charleston/Summerville, S.C.
10. Lakeland/Winter Haven, Fla.


Published with permission from RISMedia.


A Solid Foundation: Education an Important Factor to Consider When Choosing an Agent

February 8, 2013 5:14 pm

When it comes to choosing a real estate agent to help you through the process of buying or selling a home, finding someone you feel comfortable with who has experience in the area(s) in which you’re interested in purchasing is only half the battle. In fact, it’s just as important to take an agent’s education and background into consideration before deciding who will best represent you throughout the transaction. While real estate rules and regulations change all the time and even vary from state to state, savvy agents understand the importance of continuing their education long after obtaining their real estate license.

“The industry is multifaceted and depending on whether you are working within residential, industrial, commercial or land, the rules that govern may change,” says Tracye Davis Rhea, CE Administrator for IREM. “When the transaction, management or administrative rules change, this results in changes to current CE rules that pertain to gaining, maintaining and/or retaining a real estate licensing that was created to protect the consumer.”

The economic environment weighs heavily on how each state governs their licensees as well. Trends and current global events also contribute to how each state governs the real estate environment. Typically, rules and regulations are created to protect the general public, not a state’s licensees.

“Some states may require that their licensees hold multiple licenses (such as Illinois) in order to perform multiple real estate duties within their jurisdiction, legally,” Rhea says. “Some states require only one type of license (like Montana), which allows licensees to have less rules and regulations to be aware of, but also creates more and more consumer complaints regarding daily practices which may not be in the best interest of the general public.”

One of the biggest hot topics within the industry is that licensed REALTORS® have taken on the roles of the non-licensed real estate professionals and have not been properly trained to perform all their responsibilities correctly.

“Due to their lack of knowledge and incorrect training and education, many mistakes are made, which have resulted in huge ethical and risk management issues,” Rhea says. “State governing bodies find it difficult to protect the public it serves when it has no jurisdiction over the non-licensed or the rules they are expected to respect and practice every day.”

There are plenty of continuing education classes that a REALTOR® can take to stay on top of the constantly changing marketplace. The most popular classes these days deal with marketing, social media and leadership skills.

A good agent will take the time to stay on top of all things related to the real estate industry, so don’t be shy when it comes to asking a potential agent about their education.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Porches Making a Comeback: Get Yours in Tip Top Shape

February 8, 2013 5:14 pm

Thanks to urban living and vintage tastes, front porches are once again in vogue as homebuyers add them to their must-have list. As porches continue to make a comeback, sellers are using them to their advantage in order to attract prospective buyers and even sweeten the deal.

Porches are typically architecturally unified with the rest of the house, using similar design elements as the rest of the structure. Some may even be integrated into the roofline or upper stories.

Since the front porch is the first thing a prospective buyer will see when they come to your home, it’s important to create a warm, inviting style. Not only will this enable prospective buyers to imagine themselves living within the home, they’ll also be able to picture themselves enjoying a warm summer breeze while sitting on the porch.

If your porch is old or run down, get it back into tip top shape by investing in a paint job. Be sure to sand away any rough spots as well. Once the porch itself has been fixed up, complete the look by getting rid of any old, dingy or rusty light fixtures. By replacing outdated fixtures with decorative lighting in classic designs such as black metal, bronze, brass or chrome, you’ll create a look that will appeal to the masses.

When it comes to adding life to your porch, stage it the way you would stage any other room within your home by incorporating the right mix of colors, textures, lighting and design accessories. Simply adding plants and a water fountain will go a long way toward creating a tranquil and inviting entryway. Don’t go overboard with decorations though, as you don’t want the porch to look cluttered, or have anything blocking the walkway.

Of course, no porch would be complete without a porch swing. Most people have probably thought about sitting outside, reading a book and enjoying a drink, at one time or another, and a porch swing provides the perfect place to do just this.

Plus, kids love porch swings, so this simple addition will get any children who come to see the house with a prospective buyer smiling before even going inside.

While antique looking wooden swings can set the perfect mood, don’t be afraid to go with a more modern 21st Century couch-like swing. If your porch is large enough, you may want to think about incorporating a rocking chair or double glider, as this will entice potential buyers to sit and imagine living in the house.

Porches with screens are also in demand since they keep bugs out, however, if your porch is screened-in, be sure the screen is clean before potential buyers show up. Some homeowners are going a step further by adding curtains to create a little more privacy. Curtains are also a great way to shade the sun from an area of the porch, making it even more enjoyable to sit and spend time outside.

A well thought out porch can be quaint and welcoming and can even be the deciding factor in someone purchasing your home, so be sure to use it to your advantage if you’re in the process of selling.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Quality Listing Photos Capture More Than Your Home's Best Features

February 8, 2013 5:14 pm

According to a study by the National Association of REALTORS®, 98 percent of homebuyers who searched for a home online listed photos as one of the most useful features of real estate websites.

After all, this is the age of the smartphone and tablet, when photos are running wild on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, so when buyers come across a listing with no visuals, it will send a message—warranted or not—that there’s something wrong with the home.

While some agents work with a professional photographer who has the equipment and lenses to make a house look its best, others take the shots themselves. In some instances, agents will have the seller supply the images.

Regardless of who is taking the photos, before the camera even comes out, make sure the house is in pristine condition. This means removing clutter, adding some color and getting the house as tidy as possible.

Once you begin taking photos, be sure to capture enough angles to give a good overview of the exterior, interior and even the surroundings. While some listings simply show just the kitchen and bedrooms, it’s important to include enough photos to really grab the attention of prospective buyers. In fact, the more photos you show, the more time potential buyers will spend looking at your house online, upping their interest.

Photography experts recommend taking shots of the home around sunset to give your photos a deep, warm glow. And if possible, shoot interior shots with the sun’s light shining through.

One mistake people make when taking photos of their home is that their verticals are not completely vertical, so it looks as if the room is going to fall in. If you use a wide-angle lens and shoot up or down, it can look like the walls are converging instead of standing parallel to one another. Therefore, it’s important that the person shooting knows what they’re doing.

It’s also a good idea to use a tripod when shooting to ensure that you get the steadiest images possible.

When shooting outside, be sure to take photos of the front and back of the house as well as any features such as a deck, pool or garden, which can be used as selling points. Last but not least, make sure the lawn is properly trimmed and remove any clutter like trashcans or sports equipment before you photograph the outside of your home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Looking to Sweeten the Deal? Leave Behind Window Treatments as an Added Perk

February 8, 2013 5:14 pm

No matter what type of real estate market we’re faced with, selling a home can be a daunting process, however, with some out-of-the-box thinking, sellers can often find simple ways to sweeten the deal. If you’re in the process of packing your belongings and deciding what should stay behind, you may want to take another look at your window treatments. Odds are, the home you’re moving to won’t have the same size windows as your current place, so the curtains, shades and blinds will be useless to you. At the same time, they could be right up a potential buyer’s alley.

Some people spend a lot of money on window treatments and for many, it may feel like you’re throwing away thousands of dollars if you just leave them with the house. Plus, there’s a good chance that whoever buys your home will want to put their own decorative spin on the place and will eventually replace them anyway.

Still, the addition of window treatments can be a factor in helping to sell your house. People love getting things for free, especially if it’s something expensive that they would have to add to their budget when moving in. Plus, stylish and well-built window treatments are a great eye-catcher in a home and can boost the resale value of a home considerably.

If you decide to leave your window treatments behind, it’s important to replace any blinds or shades that are broken or have obvious tears, and always clean everything (even the drapes!) so there’s no dust or film. If you plan to take your window treatments with you, you can either show the home with everything in tact, explaining that they’re not staying, or replace them before a showing with window treatments that will remain with the home.

If you’re considering buying new window treatments to attract prospective buyers, there’s no lack of options. You don’t need to buy top-of-the-line curtains since you can create the same effect with the addition of inexpensive drapes, shades or blinds.

Natural blinds, fabric shades and light drapery can offer privacy while still letting light into the home. Wood, metal, and plastic blinds, thick draperies, and even shutters are great if you don't want people outside seeing anything past the glass.

Window treatments that insulate will add a lot of value to your home and attract buyers who are looking for green elements, as they will help save money on energy bills. Cellular shades are ideal for this as they let light filter in without the heat from the sun.

Other window coverings providing a combination of insulation and an impediment to air flow include thick drapes, reversible shades and thick or magnetically sealing Roman blinds.

If you’re buying these just for the purpose of attracting a buyer, make sure to go with neutral colors or sheer curtains as they will work best with any decorative style a new homeowner may have.

The last thing to remember is even if you have made the decision to take your window treatments with you, if a buyer comes along and wants to buy the house—with the curtains included—be flexible. In most cases, it will be worth giving them up rather than waiting for another interested party to come along. Plus, you’ll have the fun of shopping for curtains all over again for your new home.

Published with permission from RISMedia.