Good News From The Real Estate Bust! – End of Subruban Communities

December 20, 2009

The housing crush has had a range of side effects across the nation. However, with more and more new home developments struggling to fill the new properties, a new phenomenon has appeared. There are fewer and fewer new suburban developments showing up on the fringes of communities.

Expansion that was so rampant in the real estate boom has suddenly disappeared or stalled midproject, leaving empty houses gaping at passerbys.Some of these communities are filled with homes that are in foreclosure which makes it harder to sell a home next door. Home owners have vacant lots next to them and they need to stop foreclosure themselves.

What are the pros and cons to the recent disappearance of these suburban communities? Besides the obvious financial troubles with the construction companies associated with these areas, there is an impact for the local homeowners as well.

With fewer inhabitants and stalled increases in the homeowners to these commuter communities, morning commutes into the city are less than what might have been if these suburban areas had filled. Enticed by lower prices and more house available through these suburban communities, more and more homeowners looked to purchase these properties during the real estate boom years. However, as the real estate market has stopped, these homes are not being filled, making the commute to the city a little easier.

Areas like Prince William County have shown the impact of this suburban community disappearance. With a deflated real estate market and increasing gas prices, the foreclosures have pushed median home prices down 32 percent in just the last year alone. Fewer individuals are on the interstate and more are crushed into crowded buses headed to Washington D.C. This area of the county has seen the impact of tightened credit restrictions and fewer buyers. The bubble has popped here and the impact was swift and sudden.

Zillow recently performed an analysis of markets to determine what has happened to the inner and outer suburbs in major cities nationwide. What they found was very interesting. Essentially, the prices for inner suburbs, those within a ten mile radius from the center of the city had changed little. However, as the radius grew larger and larger as far as fifty miles from the center of the city, the prices dropped drastically.

Of course, if the city was close enough to another major metropolitan area such as the case with Washington D.C. and Baltimore, for example the prices would begin to rise again as proximity to the neighboring town increased. Other cities proved the opposite reaction. Some areas like Atlanta, Dallas and Detroit that often have rough and tumble downtown areas still saw improved prices in the suburbs far away from the center of the city. Detroit has a weak economy in the center of town, making homes here less desirable than the benefits offered in the surrounding communities. Atlanta, on the other hand, has had a number of premium condos built that has offset the nearby home values.

An oversupply of new homes in the suburbs is affecting the existing home communities nearby. As fewer and fewer new home developments are being purchased, these properties are drastically reducing their prices to get the homes sold. Oftentimes, these price drops ultimately cause the entire neighborhood to lower prices because the competition is all around.

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The Trouble with Mortgages

August 4, 2008

Have you been looking for a new home lately? If you are one of the lower numbers of Americans looking for a new home and a new mortgage, you might be in for a surprise. New mortgages have gotten more difficult to secure as the housing sector fights to eliminate the defaulting mortgage disasters that have dictated the market activity lately.

While new mortgages might be more scarce, the long-term impact of more stable mortgages cannot be underestimated. Much of the trouble in the housing market currently is due to poor choices by uneducated home buyers and shady practices by lending businesses who were looking for a quick profit without regard to the overall impact these unstable mortgages would have on the economy.

The recent troubles of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are in direct result to the ailing mortgage market. Borrowers are paying for the mistakes of others by paying roughly 10% more in monthly mortgage costs. Why the higher costs for people that have not defaulted on their own payments? These additional costs are the answer to the lack of confidence in the real estate market. In other words, not only are new mortgages more scarce, they cost more as well, doubly hitting new home buyers. Unfortunately, these negative aspects do nothing to stimulate the stagnant real estate market as a whole.

The cost of borrowing money has increased as businesses like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have had to borrow money in the bond market to pay for the current mortgages they have received from lenders. As the negative financial situation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac sustains, the additional costs are filtered down to lenders looking to establish a new home mortgage. Also, as it is more expensive for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to obtain mortgages, it will increase overall mortgage rates as well.

Last summer, the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was roughly 1.5% higher than the yield on a 10-year Treasury note. Now, the rate is about 2.5% points and have increased .3% since late June alone as a reflection of the troubles of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

More and more lenders are tightening their standards, either because of their own reluctance to get brought into the current mortgage mess or because of new government standards that will most likely dictate the new regulations. Some of the new standards include escrow accounts for taxes and a more thorough review of the future home buyers income and ability to pay the full mortgage payment each month. As more and more lenders are scared they will lose mortgages, they are demanding that current applicants provide a very clean and precise application to avoid future complications.

Initially, when the mortgages problems began, the government called on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help with assisting lenders whose loans were defaulting. Now with the questionable status of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac government sponsors, there is a risky and worried feeling in the marketplace, calling into question the ability of these sponsors to help lenders at all.


The Pain of Home Over-Improvement

August 3, 2008

Upgrade your kitchen and master bath and you will instantly see a high financial payout is the common wisdom in the home improvement market. But putting in high-end appliances and upgrades to your home does not instantly ensure a full recoup of the costs plus profit. There are other factors involved in a smart home improvement plan.

Updating a kitchen with all of the latest high-end materials like granite countertops and cherry cabinets used to be a sure-fire way to improve a home, and its price on the market. Nowadays, however, home sellers are discovering that they might have taken on too many home improvements and priced themselves out of their neighborhood.

There is much more inventory on the market currently than there was during the real estate boom. For this reason, home buyers are less and less impressed with granite countertops and custom design work. However, for the sellers who have spent thousands with the hope that the improvements would help them sell their homes fast and for more money, a nightmare awaits. Upscale renovations are now returning roughly 70% of their initial costs, giving many home sellers a startling shock. Sellers who have thought their upgrades to be a sure thing are instead left wondering what went wrong.

The danger and pain of over-improving a home is growing. Fewer and fewer high-end projects are seeing the profits that were promised and investors are not seeing the return they expect.

An upscale bathroom renovation can cost an average of $50,590. However, analysts estimate that only $34,588 can be added to a home value, making only a 68.4% return. In 2006, bathroom renovations would show a 72.8% return. Kitchens can have a better return overall with roughly 74.1%.

If a homeowner is making the changes only to help with the home sale and price, the results might not be what they expect. However, if the homeowner wants to upgrade the kitchen, bath or overall layout of the home for themselves as well as future home sales, these renovations are the smarter move. These homeowners can enjoy the upgrades and recoup their costs in future sales years after the renovations have been completed. In other words, if you do upgrades for your home for yourself and your family, you are making the smart investment. If you are making these changes only for a no-name sellers increased interest, you will not see a big return on your investment.

The impact of these reports on negative returns on upscale improvements has shown a decline in the demand for high-end materials. The demand for luxury appliances declined from 65% to 47% in 2007. Items like wine refrigerators decreased from 53% to 49%.

Where are the upgrades that make the most sense for your property? Increasing curb appeal is always a smart move. With a strong curb appeal, the property is more apt to get serious buyers who are interested in the home. The return on these investments can be up to 88%, but if the curb appeal secures your future sale, it is worth every penny.


Smart Real Estate Improvements – Windows

July 29, 2008

There are a number of quick and easy tips and tricks you can do to improve your home. Before you start making changes, however, analyze if the change you want to make will have the impact that you are looking for. After all, sales pitches can sometimes fall short of your reality and knowing what you are getting into beforehand can help you make the right choices for your budget.

Changing old single-pane windows to the new double-pane ones can be a smart upgrade for most homes. However, you may hear the enticing statistic that just by changing your old windows to the new, more efficient versions you will cut your heating and cooling bills by 50%.

While the new double-pane windows will be twice as efficient for your home, windows only make up a portion of your homes frame. If you have fewer windows, your energy savings will be proportional to the space covered by these new double-panes. If you have just a fraction of your home using window space, your energy savings might only be 25%. Considering that the price of installing new windows can run as high as $1,200 per window, you will be long gone before your new windows pay for themselves in saved energy costs.

On the other hand, if you need new windows, it makes sense to get the more energy efficient ones. Also, you can use the double-paned items as a future selling point if you plan sell property in upcoming years. For this reason, the choice for double-pane windows would be a smart move. However, if you are installing the windows in a home with less window space only to enjoy reduce energy costs, the price might not be worth it for you.

A recent study from the 2007 National Association of Realtors showed that many sellers got close to 80% of the cost of new windows back with the sale of their home. However, character can make a big difference. If you put in the wrong windows and lose some of your homes architectural style, you can see the loss when it comes time to sell your home.

Look at the current pattern of your windows. If they are multiple pieces of glass separated by dividers, you should consider putting in new windows that feature the same pattern. If the cost of true divided windows is too much for your budget (custom windows can start at $2,000), look into the standard solution of snap-on grilles that give the appearance of divided glass from the inside.

Keeping the character of your home overall is a very important step when considering upgrades and changes to your house. Removing built-in cabinets or mantelpieces can strip the home of the intrinsic value that future buyers are looking for, so before you make any upgrades that involve removing some of the older details of the home, think about the future. Downscale the home and you will be downscale the price as well.


The Pain of Closing Costs

July 21, 2008

Closing costs can be one of the trickiest things new home buyers face when purchasing a property. It is the hidden costs and surprise jack-in-the-box that pops up just as your hopes that the purchase is finally complete and have been set in place. Closing costs are the reason that many people turn to alternative methods for selling or buying a home, such as with For Sale By Owner or just listing it on a free advertising space online like Craigslist.

While it might seem silly to let your home sale be dependent upon a website like Craigslist, it can be a successful, and more affordable way to sell or buy your home by avoiding closing costs.

Closing costs are the fees that the seller and buyer pay during the closing process, including the costs that the seller will pay to both their realtor and the realtor that you use to find their home. The savvy home seller will factor these closing costs into the final price for their property, making the price increase. If you can find a home that is being offered through an alternative method of sale like For Sale By Owner, you can forego these closing costs and save thousands of dollars in realtor fees. Of course, on the other hand, you will not have the expertise and assistance of the realtor throughout your home buying or home selling experience.

In addition to the realtor closing costs, the fees that are put into a mortgage at the last hour can also add up. For this reason, the final cost of a new home might be significantly larger on closing day than the home buyer expected. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been monitoring ways to regulate how lenders can put these additional fees into the mortgage as a way to safeguard future homebuyers from these unexpected increases. Since all of the little pieces add up, regulating the final closing costs can become yet another way the real estate and lending market will stabilize after all of the recent slumps and uncertainty.

If you are looking to refinance your home, you should call your existing lender first. By calling the lender with whom you already have an existing relationship, you will be able to streamline the process since they already have all of your information, saving a lot of paperwork and additional fees. You can save as much as 50% on title insurance if you ask for a reissue rate from your lender as well.

If you are buying a new home, try petitioning your existing home lender. They will be anxious to keep your business and assuming you have a good working relationship, you might get a better-than-market offer from them.

Pay attention to the fees associated with your final closing costs. There will be more than a dozen fees associated with your closing statement, including the application fee, appraisal fee, document preparation fee, recording, underwriting and more. Lenders are required to give a good-faith estimate on the closing costs within three days of the loan application. Look over these numbers to see what you can negotiate ahead of time to say money.


The Fight over Mortgage Rules

July 20, 2008

Considering the current state of the real estate market, it came as no surprise that the Federal Reserve would swoop in to regulate and tighten allowances on mortgages for homebuyers. The overhaul of the mortgage lending system is in full swing with consumer groups and lenders on both sides of the arguments. The hope is that these regulations will put the current mortgage lending industry in a more stable and profitable situation in the long-run. Currently, the extension of credit to homebuyers that are incapable of fulfilling their end of the deal harm the lending company, the homebuyer and the real estate market in general.

Currently, many consumer groups are claiming that mortgage regulations are too lax with a variety of loopholes. These loopholes make it too easy to allow reckless lending, which in turn causes more and more instability in the real estate market. However, industry specialists and mortgage lenders argue that these more stringent proposals will become a larger burden on current and future lenders and will reduce the amount of credit they can extend. In essence, a restriction on the amount of credit available is exactly what the Federal Reserve is analyzing the need for. After all, the number of homebuyers who gained credit through unsteady means has put the real estate market in its current unbalanced slump.

Analysts are interested to see which way the Federal Reserve heads. More than 2,500 comments had been submitted on proposals that had prompted a review of the current mortgage lending situation. However, any revisions on the mortgage lending industry now will not help current homeowners who have already fallen behind on their mortgage payments and trying to avoid foreclosure. However, the idea is that with revised mortgage restrictions, they can prevent the current real estate crisis from occurring again in the near future. In particular, the aim is to prevent the real estate crisis on subprime mortgages.

The hope is to have responsible mortgage lending and home purchases to encourage stable lending and a stronger economy overall. However, the Federal Reserve wants to restrict mortgage availability with credit lenders while simultaneously offering plenty of credit to stable qualifiers.

There are four new rules for lending that the Federal Reserve will consider, including some of the following:

  • Preventing lenders from engaging in a practice that will make loans difficult to afford
  • Limiting prepayment penalties
  • Requiring lenders to establish an escrow account for taxes and insurance of the property
  • Verifying income and assets for all potential lending candidates 

These rules would make mortgage lending more stable across the board, although lenders state that these restrictions would make future lending more difficult. In addition, the regulations would disallow banks that pay brokers for steering homeowners into higher-priced loans, rather than the more appropriate loans they can afford. The brokers would also be unable to coerce appraisers into stating the home value for less than it currently is for the mortgage lending process. Unfortunately, these practices all contributed to the current demise of our real estate market situation.


Mortgage Rules and Regulations: More is Needed

July 18, 2008

The Federal Reserve is reviewing the rules and regulations for the mortgage industry. The proposed regulations come after thousands of people have requested a review of the requirements lenders follow when establishing credit for home purchases.

With the revised proposal and a look at revisions in the lending requirements, the Federal Reserve are trying to answer critics who have said that changes needed to be made years ago. Many lending experts have stated that if the Federal Reserve had stepped in when the instable lending situation was being created years ago, the unscrupulous lenders could have been stopped, stifling the real estate boom, but also preventing the currently poor lending situation.

Many experts have stated that if a range of rules had been put in place years ago, many of the things that are currently happening in the lending and real estate sector would not have occurred. In fact, a former Federal Reserve governor, the late Edward Gramlich pushed for a stronger regulation in the mortgage industry, to no avail.

However, despite the current proposed regulations that would be enforced with future mortgage lending, consumer groups say that more needs to be done. Some of these regulations include verifying the homebuyers income and establishing an escrow account for taxes and insurance. However, some consumer groups argue that more needs to be done to prevent foreclosure.

Some consumer groups say that the Federal Reserve should prevent lenders from establishing credit without looking at the borrower’s ability to pay. By looking at the ability to repay the debt on the credit extended, the lender can prevent a pattern of extending credit to homebuyers who cannot afford it. The rules and regulations would prevent the potential for misbehaving lenders who concentrate more on their bottom lines and commissions than the future financial situation of these loans. With housing experts claiming that our economy is experiencing one of the worst housing collapses in the last 50 years, the rules and regulations would prevent the situation from occurring again.

Prepayment penalties would be abolished with the current mortgage lending regulations. The rule would prevent lenders from increasing payments towards the mortgage at least 60 days before the monthly payments increased. In addition, hidden additional fees cause confusion for the consumer and are advocated to be removed as well.

However, there are arguments against these proposed regulations. At minimum, experts argue that there would be fewer homeownership as less and less mortgages could be approved. As many people have the majority of their equity in their homeownership, the reduced number of properties able to be purchased would affect current homeowners looking to sell their home as well as the portfolio for thousands of individuals.

The biggest mortgage regulation would fall towards subprime mortgages. There should be more clear guidelines on lenders who will evaluate how borrowers will be able to pay back their financial debt. The combination of these regulations will help to restore the housing market and economy overall, preventing future foreclosures and instability.