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Housing Recovery Gains Steam

May 25, 2012 5:48 am

According to recently released statistics from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), existing-home sales rose 3.4 percent in April and remain above a year ago, while at the same time, home prices continued to increase.

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 3.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.62 million in April; this is 10 percent higher than the 4.20 million-unit level in April 2011. Additionally, improvements in sales and prices were broad based across all regions.

According to NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, the latest numbers indicate that a housing recovery is well underway. Yun stresses this recovery is not just being fueled by investors looking to profit from rental income, but also by individual occupant buyers.

“The general downtrend in both listed and shadow inventory has shifted from a buyers’ market to one that is much more balanced, but in some areas it has become a seller’s market,” adds Yun. Decreasing foreclosure inventory is helping home values stabilize and increase in some areas, sparking multiple-offer scenarios.

According to NAR, the national median existing-home price for all housing types jumped 10.1 percent in April from a year ago, following a 3.1 percent increase in March. This marks the first back-to-back price increase since June and July of 2010 when the gains were less than one percent.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Consumers Prefer Online Banking to Traditional Branch Banking

May 24, 2012 5:46 am

More than half of consumers prefer to do their banking online and nearly half would do all of their banking online if they could. This was a key finding of the national consumer survey on retail banking trends conducted by Rosetta one of the nation's largest digital and direct interactive agencies.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said their bank's website is their primary method of banking, while only 32 percent said the branch was their primary method of banking. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they would do all banking online if they could.

The survey found that consumers use online banking most frequently to:

  • check account balances and recent activity
  • make an individual bill payment to another account
  • transfer money between accounts
  • obtain financial information
  • mobile banking capabilities may further reduce the need for consumers to visit a retail branch

The survey also found that the digital banking experience lags traditional retail banking in security, usability and rewards. Sixty-four percent of respondents cited a need for stronger online security and privacy features; 57 percent of respondents cited a need for “clear and easy-to-follow” online layouts; and 58 percent of respondents expressed interest in rewards/points programs for online banking.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Survey Says, There is a Little Geek in All of Us

May 24, 2012 5:46 am

Being a "geek" has never been cooler—or more respected. According to a recent survey by information technology staffing firm Modis, 54 percent of Americans rated geeks to be extremely intelligent, an increase from 45 percent in 2011. In addition, 71 percent of survey respondents identified geeks as the go-to people for technology advice vs. 56 percent last year. Perhaps most impressive is that more than half of Americans (51 percent) define geeks as professionally successful, a significant jump from 31 percent in 2011.

"The past year has seen a lot of very public coverage of high-profile, extremely successful 'rock star' technology executives – it would seem the high public profile of these tech 'celebrities' has really boosted public perception of geeks in the US," said Jack Cullen, president of Modis. "Geeks have essentially taken their place in the mainstream. And rightly so!"

Being the go-to people for technology advice also comes with an attachment to technology that seems greater than their non-geek counterparts. More than 60 percent of geeks said they would be very stressed out by losing the files on their computer's hard drive, yet only 49 percent would feel the same about going through a relationship breakup.

Yet geeks aren't the only ones obsessed with technology. Though 69 percent of non-geeks are quick to label geeks as addicted to tech, they themselves are attached, as well. Of those surveyed, 67 percent of non-geeks said they would have a difficult time living without at least one tech accessory for the day, of a list of devices including computers, smartphones, or MP3 player. That's only slightly lower than the 69 percent of geeks that said the same.

And both geeks and non-geeks are guilty of socially inappropriate use of technology. A shocking 5 percent of all respondents confessed to having used a device such as a smartphone during a funeral and 9 percent have used a tech device during a religious service. In addition, nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of those surveyed—geek and non-geek—have used a device during a date and 18 percent have used one during a business meeting.

Other findings include:

- Geeks are still old-fashioned when it comes to communication. When asked from a list of items which would be the most difficult to live without, 71 percent of geeks chose pen and paper over devices such as a computer (58 percent), smartphone (41 percent), and MP3 player (25 percent). 
- Technology can be dangerous for geeks and non-geeks. According to the survey, 32 percent of Americans admit to using their personal devices while driving a car, despite state laws banning it for safety reasons. However, geeks are the biggest culprits, with 45 percent of geeks admitting to using their device while driving, compared to 30 percent of non-geeks. 
- Men are more tech obsessed than women. According to the survey, men are more likely than women to be told that they use technological devices too often, including their desktop PC (17 percent v 9 percent), portable music player (10 percent v. 5 percent), and gaming console (16 percent v. 2 percent). Men are also more likely to use a device at the dinner table (36 percent v. 27 percent).

Published with permission from RISMedia.


May 2012 U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook

May 24, 2012 5:46 am

Freddie Mac released recently its U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for May showing for the most part encouraging signs with the release of several first-quarter 2012 economic indicators.

Outlook Highlights

  • Initial estimates for first-quarter 2012 economic growth was 2.2 percent, slower than the previous quarter, but better than three of the past four quarters.
  • Personal consumption expenditures grew at a 15.3 percent annual rate reflecting continuing strength in consumer durables such as cars and kitchen appliances.
  • Residential fixed investment like new housing construction and remodeling expenses have been a net positive contributor to growth for four straight quarters; however, it remains weak for this stage of the economic recovery compared with previous business cycles.
  • Home prices at or near a trough in many markets bodes well for further declines in delinquency rates.
  • Fixed-rate mortgage rates are the lowest in more than 60 years, providing extraordinary home-buyer affordability in many areas and likely translating into a sales pickup relative to last year.

According to Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac, vice president and chief economist, "Taken together, the first-quarter data releases provide an encouraging sign for both the macroeconomy and the housing recovery. While not uniformly positive, for the most part the data trend in the right direction."

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Consumer Spending Index Moves Upward, Declining Home Prices Slows

May 23, 2012 5:46 am

The Deloitte Consumer Spending Index (Index) posted another monthly increase in April as the pace of falling new home prices slowed. The Index tracks consumer cash flow as an indicator of future consumer spending.

"The Index has been undergoing a mix of changes as housing, energy prices and unemployment tip back and forth each month," explains Carl Steidtmann, Deloitte's chief economist and author of the monthly Index. "On the positive side, some stability in home prices over the last two months helped the Index move upward. However, with a jobless recovery, falling incomes and rising savings rates, consumer spending growth may turn sluggish."

Deloitte's analysis of additional factors influencing consumer spending indicate:

- Real consumer spending posted a small rebound in the first quarter due to a rise in auto sales driven by a significant reduction in the quality of auto lending.
- A significant decline in driving may be having an impact on retailing. Over the past 12 months through February, miles driven are down 1.1 percent from a year ago. There have only been three periods of declining driving in the past 40 years: 1973 -- 1974; 2008 -- 2009 and now. Higher energy prices are one factor, but increased consumer spending over the Internet and more telecommuting must be playing a role as well.- Despite an improvement in the real price of new homes, it will likely be a long time before prices begin rising. Simultaneously, the steady decline in jobless claims has reversed.

The Index, which comprises four components — tax burden, initial unemployment claims, real wages and real home prices — rose to 2.07 from an upwardly revised reading of 1.88 the previous month.

Highlights of the Index include:

Tax Burden: The tax burden fell slightly this month. The significant rise in tax refunds has given a boost to household cash flow and temporarily pulled down the tax rate.
Initial Unemployment Claims: The decline in claims has stabilized and reversed in recent weeks, and initial unemployment claims are up more than 12 percent from a year ago. 
Real Wages: With energy prices rising, real wages continue to fall, and are down 0.9 percent from this time last year. 
Real Home Prices: Prices fell slightly in the most recent month, and are down 1.45 percent from a year ago. A slowdown in the pace of real home prices is a positive as it becomes less of a drag on the Index.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Spring Activity Cools But Housing Shows Improvement

May 23, 2012 5:46 am

Housing activity indicated a promising start for the first quarter of 2012 that substantially outpaced performance during the same period last year. However, the monthly pattern suggests some loss of momentum late in the quarter. According to Fannie Mae's Economic & Strategic Research Group, a slowdown in momentum may be mirroring many economic indicators and may partly be the result of unusually warm weather at the start of the year that pulled some activity forward. 

"Despite the loss of momentum as we move through the spring months, we expect that home sales will rise slightly more than 7 percent during 2012," said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. "Our outlook is bolstered by improvements in consumer sentiment seen in our National Housing Survey results, which show that consumer views of housing market conditions have become more supportive of home purchases and their outlook on home prices. Interestingly, we're seeing a pick up from depressed levels in the 'good time to sell' category, suggesting rising optimism about the housing market."

Economic growth slowed in the first quarter of 2012 to 2.2 percent at an annualized rate, down from 3.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. While still modest, the recent pace of growth is stronger than the same time last year and accompanied by a better balance of upside and downside risks compared to a year ago. Consumer spending was the primary driver of growth, posting the best showing since the end of 2010. However, while the strength in consumer spending is encouraging, it will likely be unsustainable going into the current quarter due to the lack of income support. Overall, incoming data suggest that growth will continue to be sluggish in the current quarter, and the pace of activity should firm just slightly in the second half of the year. For all of 2012, Fannie Mae expects growth to come in at 2.3 percent—little changed from the view we have held since the beginning of the year.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Struggling Homeowners Have Concerns About Mortgage Relief Help

May 23, 2012 5:46 am

What would you do if you couldn’t make your mortgage payments? According to a recent survey, most homeowner would first turn to family for help.

Money Management International (MMI) recently conducted a national housing survey to learn how homeowners would act if they were struggling with mortgage payments. Survey respondents said they would first seek help from family or friends (50 percent) followed by their lender (26 percent) then from housing counseling or mortgage relief program (13 percent). 

When asked about concerns regarding available resources and options for mortgage assistance, survey respondents stated they were concerned about scams/fraudulent services (53 percent), that the services would cost them money that they couldn't afford to pay (51 percent), and that the process was confusing or they would choose a solution they did not fully understand (45 percent).

Additional findings from the study include:

  • 25 percent reported they or someone they know needed assistance making mortgage payments during the last four years.
  • 57 percent would seek help only after a job loss, 35 percent if they knew they would miss at least one mortgage payment, and 27 percent if they had missed one mortgage payment
  • 63 percent of respondents who sought help did so when they were 1 to 3 months behind on their mortgage payments. 22 percent were 4 to 6 months behind, and 4 percent were 7 or more months behind before they sought help.

Free and safe foreclosure prevention help is available. Homeowners who have questions or concerns about their mortgage payment or loan should consider meeting with a HUD-certified housing counselor to discuss their options.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Consumers Would Cash in Credit Card Rewards for Extra Vacation Days

May 22, 2012 5:44 am

With the summer travel season on the horizon, Americans are more savvy than ever about making the most of their rewards programs, according to the Capital One Rewards Barometer, a quarterly survey among American consumers that focuses on how they accumulate and redeem credit card rewards.

Fifty percent of respondents who plan to travel this summer will use credit card rewards to cover some of their summer vacation expenses, up from 42 percent compared to the Rewards Barometer results in 2011. Interestingly, nearly 19 percent were even willing to trade in as much as $200 worth of rewards for an extra vacation day, if it were an option.

When it comes to using rewards toward summer travel expenses, airfare tops the list (58 percent) of most popular redemption options followed by hotels (42 percent) and gas (18 percent). Sixty-seven percent of respondents are planning to travel this summer and a majority of summer travel budgets range from $500 - $2,000 (54 percent). Eighteen percent of travelers plan to spend between $2,001 and $3,000 for a summer getaway. Surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of these travelers do not plan to go away on popular summer holiday weekends, including Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day.

When traveling this summer, mobile devices can be a traveler's best friend from finding local hot spot coupons or using rewards for last minute travel deals. More than 30 percent of respondents who have a mobile device use it for on-site vacation research, such as restaurants, gas stations, coupons and deals. Meanwhile, 22 percent get ahead of the game by using their mobile device for pre-vacation research, and 14 percent book travel through their mobile device. For those who would like to redeem their rewards via a mobile rewards app, hotel (58 percent) and air travel (49 percent) were the top two options.

The following tips can help rewards card holders save some money and make their summer vacations more satisfying:
  1. Redeem on the go. Find a rewards card that lets you redeem straight from your mobile device.
  2. Earn rewards on vacation. Rack up rewards for your next trip while you're on your current one. Use your rewards card to pay for vacation expenses such as tickets, meals or local tours.
  3. Include all fees in your vacation budget. Avoid sticker shock post vacation by making sure you account for any extra fees charged when booking travel with rewards or foreign transaction fees for overseas travelers. Better yet, find a rewards credit card that doesn't charge these fees.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Fewer Immigrants and Newborns, More Elderly Slow U.S. Population Growth

May 22, 2012 5:44 am

Lower immigration levels, an aging population, and declining fertility rates are driving a decline in U.S. population growth, according to a new Population Reference Bureau (PRB) analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Between 2010 and 2011, the U.S. population increased by 0.7 percent, after averaging 0.9 percent growth each year from 2000 through 2010, reported Mark Mather, PRB associate vice president for Domestic Programs. We added just 2.3 million people from 2010 to 2011, compared with 2.9 million from 2005 to 2006, just five years earlier.

The current decline is a "significant departure" from recent trends but "it's too soon to tell whether it will continue or is a short-term result of the recession," he said.

The U.S. population is currently projected to reach "majority-minority" status (the point at which less than 50 percent of the population is non-Hispanic white) in 2042. But a sustained drop in immigration levels and fertility rates would slow the pace of minority population growth.

Drop in Immigration: Between 2010 and 2011, net migration was estimated at around 700,000, down from 1.4 million per year in 2000 and 2001. This decline contributes to slower growth in the Latino and Asian American populations, and has been linked to job losses in occupations often filled by recent immigrants, as well as stricter immigration law enforcement.

Population Aging: Between 2010 and 2011, the number of children declined by 190,000, while the number of elderly increased by 917,000; just a decade ago we added more children than elderly. Also down sharply is growth in the number of working-age adults, including those in prime childbearing ages. With more baby boomers retiring and fewer people of reproductive age, births could decline further, and the United States could start to resemble elderly-heavy, slow-growth European countries, Mather noted.

Declining Fertility Rates: There were an estimated 4 million births between 2010 and 2011, down from 4.2 million at the recent peak of U.S. population growth between 2005 and 2006. The total fertility rate (TFR) stood at an average of 2.0 lifetime births per woman in 2009—down from 2.1 a few years ago—but preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics suggest that the TFR could drop below 2 births per woman in 2010. Births among Latina women, a group with historically high fertility rates, could drop below 2.5 per woman in the near future.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


REALTORS Raise Awareness at Real Estate Rally

May 22, 2012 5:44 am

An estimated 13,000 REALTORS® converged on the grounds of the Washington Monument last week to make their voices heard on behalf of homeowners, real estate investors, and those who aspire to homeownership.

At the Rally to Protect the American Dream, REALTORS® from every state in the country joined invited members of Congress to demonstrate their commitment to preserving access to homeownership and robust real estate investment.

“REALTORS® know that homeownership is an investment in our collective futures, and we’re here today to protect the American Dream of homeownership,” said National Association of Realtors® President Moe Veissi. “Homeownership and investment in real estate impacts families, communities, small businesses and the nation’s economy in a very meaningful way. Today, we’re proud to be showing the country that homeownership matters.”

In the current economic and political climate, REALTORS® are working to ensure that people who want to own a home or invest in real estate and can responsibly afford to do so will continue to have the opportunity to do that. Toward that end, REALTORS® are advocating better access to affordable financing, reform of the secondary mortgage market, improved liquidity in residential and commercial lending, and preservation of the tax benefits associated with homeownership.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) addressed the crowd of REALTORS® at the event.

“I commend the National Association of Realtors® for keeping the issue of homeownership at the forefront when we talk about our economic recovery,” said Rep. Hoyer. “Stabilizing the housing market remains a central issue for Democrats, who understand we will not have robust economic growth without a vibrant housing market and that access to homeownership remains a critical component of the American Dream.”

Sen. Isakson said, “Homeownership always has been, and remains to this day, a part of the American Dream. It is the biggest and most important investment that the average American family makes, and that’s why we should remain focused on the value of the housing market and the important role it plays in our country. It is my hope that this rally encourages Congress and the president to move forward with policies that are supportive of housing, which is vital to job creation and the recovery of our economy.”

The rally was part of NAR’s week-long Midyear Legislative Meetings, during which REALTORS® and guests met with members of Congress, federal regulators and industry experts to address pressing real estate issues and public policies in support of private property rights, homeownership and housing issues.

Published with permission from RISMedia.