Thursday, July 28, 2011

Foreclosure activity down in most U.S. metro areas

LOS ANGELES – July 28, 2011 – Most of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas are seeing a sharp drop in foreclosure activity as banks take longer to move against homeowners who are behind on their mortgage payments.

In the first half of this year, 84 percent of metropolitan areas with a population of at least 200,000 saw their foreclosure rate drop versus the same period last year, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

The firm tracks notices for defaults, scheduled home auctions and home repossessions - warnings that can lead up to a home eventually being lost to foreclosure.

All told, foreclosure activity declined in 178 of the country’s 211 largest metropolitan areas during the first six months of the year.

The decline is due to delays in the foreclosure process as lenders work through foreclosure documentation problems that first surfaced last fall. Those problems prompted them to resubmit paperwork on many properties that had been slated for foreclosure and led to a slew of government investigations of the mortgage industry.

Mortgage banks also have put off taking action against newly delinquent borrowers in order to try loan modifications or other tactics aimed at avoiding foreclosure. Lackluster home sales this year also have provided little incentive for lenders to evict homeowners and chance having the property sit empty and unsold for months.

Some 1.7 million potential foreclosures are being held up, according to real estate firm CoreLogic.

The slowdown in foreclosure activity has been most pronounced in states where courts play a role in the foreclosure process and now have to wade through a logjam of cases.

The 20 metropolitan areas that saw the biggest annual declines in foreclosure activity are in New York, Maryland, Florida, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois – all judicial foreclosure states, RealtyTrac said.

Syracuse, N.Y., led the decline, posting a 78 percent drop in its foreclosure rate versus the January-through-June period last year. The city had the third-lowest foreclosure rate among the 211 metropolitan areas in RealtyTrac’s report.

Despite the slowdown in the pace of foreclosures, many cities continue to have elevated foreclosure rates.

California, Nevada and Arizona, among the states most affected by the housing bust and ensuing foreclosure crisis, account for the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rate for the first six months of the year.

Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., registered the highest foreclosure rate in the nation, with one in every 19 households receiving a foreclosure-related notice – nearly six times the national average. But the metropolitan area’s foreclosure activity fell 17.9 percent from the first six months of last year.

The Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Ariz., metropolitan area was second, with one in 28 households receiving a foreclosure warning, even as foreclosure activity fell nearly 17 percent from the same period in 2010.

California is home to seven of the metro areas that were among the top 10 metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rate in the first half of the year, led by Modesto with one in every 30 households receiving a foreclosure-related notice.

Bucking the trend, some metropolitan areas saw their foreclosure rates spike in the first six months of this year.

Among those, Seattle posted the sharpest increase, a 10 percent jump versus the same period last year, RealtyTrac said. One in every 98 households got a foreclosure-related notice.

Job loss, rather than time-bomb mortgages resetting to higher payments, has become the main driver behind rising foreclosures.

The Seattle metropolitan area’s unemployment rate stood at 9.2 at the beginning of the year, but it has eased of late, sliding to 8.5 percent in May.

Still, the metro area has seen the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits due to large-scale layoffs increase this year. In the first quarter, it was ranked 8th highest on the basis of initial unemployment claimants due to layoffs, up from 15th a year earlier.

“The lag time between job loss and foreclosure is a little longer than it is in a normal cycle,” said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at RealtyTrac. “We could be seeing a fallout from job losses there over the last year or two.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

U.S. Consumers more upbeat in July - New York

NEW YORK – July 26, 2011 – The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index improved slightly in July after declining in June. The Index now stands at 59.5, up from 57.6 in June. The Present Situation Index decreased to 35.7 from 36.6. However, the Expectations Index, which gauges expectations for six months in the future, rose to 75.4 from 71.6 last month.

“Consumer confidence posted a modest gain in July, the result of an improvement in consumers’ short-term outlook,” says Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. “ Consumers’ appraisal of current business and employment conditions, however, was less favorable as concerns about the labor market continue to weigh on attitudes. Overall, consumers remain apprehensive about the future, but some of the concern expressed last month has abated.”

Consumers stating current business conditions are “good” decreased to 13.4 percent from 13.7 percent, while those claiming business conditions are “bad” increased to 39.0 percent from 38.4 percent. Consumers’ appraisal of the job market was also less favorable. Those claiming jobs are “hard to get” increased to 44.1 percent from 43.2 percent, while those stating jobs are “plentiful” remained unchanged at 5.1 percent.
Consumers’ short-term outlook improved moderately in July. The proportion of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 17.7 percent from 16.5 percent. However, those anticipating business conditions will worsen also increased to 15.2 percent from 14.9 percent.

Consumers were also mixed about the outlook for the labor market over the next six months. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased to 16.7 percent from 13.8 percent. However, those expecting fewer jobs also increased to 21.8 percent from 20.7 percent. The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes rose to 15.7 percent from 14.1 percent.

The Nielsen Company conducts the monthly Consumer Confidence Survey for the Conference Board based on a probability-design random sample. The cutoff date for July’s preliminary results was July 14, 2011.

Florida Consumer Confidence up in July - University of Florida Study

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – July 26, 2011 – Increased optimism about making major purchases played a significant role in consumer confidence, according to a new University of Florida survey. UF’s monthly index rose two points in July to 68.

Four of the five components that make up the index increased or remained unchanged. The biggest improvement was in confidence to purchase big-ticket items such as cars and appliances, which rose five points to 77.

“Some of this may have to do with declines in gas prices during the month of June and much of July,” says Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “This leaves more money in people’s budgets for other purchases.”

The other index components that rose were perceptions of personal finances now compared with a year ago, which increased three points to 57, and expectations of personal finances a year from now, which climbed one point to 75. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years remained at 72. The only component to decline was perceptions of U.S. economic conditions over the next year, which fell one point to 59.

Another reason for the increase was improved confidence among seniors, which rose five points to 66. A decline recorded last month, McCarty says, was due in large part to seniors’ uncertainty over potential cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Although the federal government has not yet released its budget plans, the delay in reducing those programs may have led to a slight improvement. Seniors may also have learned that proposed entitlement cuts might not affect those in or near retirement as much as previously thought.

State unemployment was unchanged in June at 10.6 percent, ending five consecutive months of decline (national unemployment was 9.2 percent as of July 8). Home sales in Florida were down in June, but the median price for a single-family home ($138,000) in Florida increased for the fourth consecutive month.

The research center, part of the Warrington College of Business Administration, conducts the Florida Consumer Attitude Survey monthly. Respondents are 18 or older and live in households telephoned randomly. The preliminary index for June was collected from 414 responses. The index is benchmarked to 1966, so a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2; the highest is 150.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Home building spikes in June after dismal spring

WASHINGTON (AP) – July 19, 2011 – Builders broke ground on more single-family homes and apartments in June, as the home-building industry tried to shake off a historically bad spring.

The Commerce Department says builders began work on a seasonally adjusted 629,000 homes last month, a 14.6 percent increase from May. Still, that’s roughly half the 1.2 million homes per year that economists say must be built to sustain a healthy housing market.

Much of the increase came from a surge in apartment construction, a volatile part of the industry. That jumped 31.8 percent last month.

Single-family home construction rose a more modest 9.4 percent. Building permits, a gauge of future construction, increased 2.5 percent. June’s building pace was the best showing since January and single-family home construction saw the biggest monthly increase since June 2009, when the recession ended.

Though new homes represent just 20 percent of the overall home 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 taxes, according to the builders’ trade group.

Builders are nearly 31 percent ahead of the 477,000-per-year pace from April 2009, which was the lowest point on records dating back to 1959. Still, they are down roughly 73 percent from their peak of nearly 2.3 million homes in January 2006.

Cash-strapped builders are struggling to compete with deeply discounted foreclosures and short sales. A short sale is when lenders allow borrowers to sell their homes for less than what is owed on the mortgage.

New-home sales fell in May to a seasonally adjusted pace of 319,000 homes per year. That’s far below the 700,000 homes per year that economists consider healthy.

One reason is that previously occupied homes are a better deal than new homes. The median price of a new home is more than 30 percent higher than the median prices for a re-sale. That’s more than twice the markup in healthy housing markets.

Loans are also harder to get. Most private lenders are requiring 20 percent downpayments and higher credit scores for the best rates.

The weak housing industry is also holding back the U.S. economy. In past modern-day recessions, housing accounted for 15 to 20 percent of overall economic growth. This time around, between 2009 and 2010, housing contributed just 4 percent to the economy.

In the past month, President Barack Obama said the housing market has “been most stubborn to us trying to solve the problem.” And last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the troubles facing home construction and sales were more persistent than previously thought.

The National Association of Home Builders said Monday that its survey of industry sentiment rose to 15 in June. That’s after a May in which builder outlook hit its lowest level in nine months. But the index is still just seven points above the lowest reading on record, in January 2009. And any reading below 50 indicates negative sentiment about the housing market. The index hasn’t reached 50 since April 2006, the peak of the housing boom.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Foreign buyers help housing market

MIAMI – July 6, 2011 – Foreign buyers are helping to stoke home sales in U.S. vacation hot spots decimated by the real estate crash, especially in southern Florida.

For the 12 months ending in March, 31 percent of Florida’s home sales were to foreign buyers, up from 10 percent in 2007, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors.

In Arizona, 6 percent of sales in the same period were to foreigners. That was down from 11 percent last year but still up from 5 percent in 2007, the data show.

Foreign buyers are being enticed by low U.S. home prices, down 30 percent nationwide since peaking in 2006, and the weakened dollar, which makes their money go further. Since the start of 2006, the Canadian dollar has soared 18 percent against the U.S. dollar, while the euro has gained 22 percent, says data tracker Oanda.

U.S. home prices, meanwhile, have fallen far more than the national average in some places, down 55 percent from their peaks in Miami-Fort Lauderdale and Phoenix, and 36 percent in Los Angeles, says Those are three of the most popular areas for foreigners searching for real estate on Trulia’s website, that company says.

Sales are so brisk in the Miami region now that more houses and condominiums could sell this year than in 2005, the peak year, says Ronald Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors in Coral Gables, Fla.

“International buyers have been the fuel for the Miami recovery,” Shuffield says.

About 40 percent of buyers are international vs. less than 35 percent before the bust, he estimates. Many buyers are South American investors snapping up condominiums to rent out, says Peter Zalewski of market researcher Condo Vultures.

In the Phoenix region, there are at least 20 percent more foreigners in the market now than usual, says Don Hammer, manager of Realty Executives in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

One of those shoppers is retired hedge fund manager Peter Duerr of Austria. He’s planning to buy a home in Scottsdale, having sold one there in 2005. “The U.S. is a great buy right now,” Duerr says.

The largest share of foreign buyers, 23 percent, come from Canada, the Realtors’ survey found. China followed at 9 percent. The survey includes foreigners living abroad, those in the U.S. with long-term visas and new immigrants.