Tag Archives: home sales

Catastrophe Worsens for Housing Market — Home Prices and Home Sales Fall Again

As Congress meets to bailout the financial industry and George Bush vies with Freddie Krueger for the nation’s archetypal face of visceral terror, the latest report from the Census Bureau shows that the housing catastrophe continues to get worse. 

Here’s the summary of the bad news:

  • New homes sales in August dropped to the lowest level since January 1991.
  • Home prices hit a four-year low. 
  • Inventory continues to rise, creating more downward pressure for home prices.

And here are some of the ugly new numbers:

  • New home sales had a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 460,000, down 11.5 percent from a revised 520,000 in July and down 24.5 percent from a year ago.
  • Only 39,000 new homes were sold in July, the lowest level since December 1991.
  • Prices for new homes were at their lowest level since September 2004.
  • The median price of a new home sold in August was $221,900, down 5.5 percent from $234,900 in July and down 6.2 percent from $236,500 a year ago.
  • 166,000 new homes came on the market in August, bringing total inventory to a seasonally adjusted 408,000, equal to 10.9-month supply, up from a 10.3 month supply in July.
  • New home sales fell 31.9 percent in the Northeast, 2.1 percent in the South and 36.1 percent in the West. Only the Midwest showed an increase in new home sales, up 7.2 percent.
  • Three out of four builders reported having to pay buyers’ closing costs or offer other incentives such as expensive features for free in order to maintain sales.

The housing market is so bad that the main cheerleader for an I-can-see-the-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel approach to the real estate crisis – the National Association of Realtors (NAR) – has finally admitted, albeit with NAR’s typical understatement of the obvious, that “the pendulum in the mortgage market has swung too far.”

But if you’re looking for a bright side to the nation’s residential real estate fire sale, NAR’s number one Pollyanna-in-Chief, economist Lawrence Yun, still has a bromide to offer.

“August sales reflect higher interest rates before the government takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and the sudden drop in mortgage interest rates over the past couple weeks is improving housing affordability,” Yun said. “With higher loan limits and a beefing up of the FHA program, all the mechanisms have been falling into place to increase mortgage availability.”

Yeah.  Right.

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Proof We’re in a Recession

Here’s proof that we’re in a recession: Starbucks is closing 600 stores.

According to the New York Times, “Starbucks said Tuesday that it planned to close another 500 underperforming stores and eliminate as many as 12,000 full- and part-time positions. The company, which now plans to close a total of 600 underperforming stores, will take related charges totaling more than $325 million. Most of the stores, which are company owned, will be closed by the end of the first half of its fiscal year, which ends September 2009, the company said. Starbucks estimated that total pretax charges associated with the closures, including costs associated with severance, would be $328 million to $348 million. The nation’s largest coffee chain said 70 percent of the stores targeted for closure have been open since the beginning of fiscal 2006. The job losses would represent about 7 percent of the company’s global work force.”

These closings are clearly fallout from the housing bust.  As the Times noted, Starbucks had “aggressively opened stores in areas like California and Florida, which have been hardest hit by the housing downturn. ”

The next time economists get together to discuss whether we’re really in a recession, they may have to meet somewhere other than the local Starbucks. 

It might be closed.

 

Home Prices Slip Again in Biggest Fall on Record

Home prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas fell in April 2008 by the most on record.

The Case-Shiller Index of 20 large cities for April 2008 shows housing price declines are accelerating, and are now falling at a rate of 15.3% from last year’s levels.

The report also showed that home prices fell 1.4 percent in April from a month earlier after a 2.2 percent decline in March.

There’s one bit of “good” news in the report: home price declines were less than expected.  According to economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, the index was forecast to fall 16 percent from a year earlier.

Not surprisingly, the housing bust continues to be most severe in previous boom areas in the West and Florida. 

Here are the markets where prices are falling fastest:

Las Vegas: -26.8%
Miami: -26.7%
Phoenix: -25.0%
Los Angeles: -23.1%
San Diego: -22.4%
San Francisco: -22.1%

Average of 20 large cities: -15.3%

The decline in home prices appears to be spreading.  Chicago showed a 9.3 percent decline and prices in New York City declined by 8.4 percent.  Charlotte, North Carolina, showed a decline for the first time.

According to Bloomberg.com, “One bright spot in the report was that more cities showed a gain in prices in April compared with the previous month. Houses in eight areas rose in value, compared with just two in March. Month-over-month gains were led by Cleveland and Dallas.”

 

Financial Sector Blamed by U.S. Report as Primary Cause of Nation’s Economic Decline

While there is still disagreement among economists over whether the U.S. is in a classically defined recession, there can’t be any doubt that the economy is in serious trouble and has been for quite some time, and that the primary culprit is the nation’s financial sector.

The dismal economic growth figures announced this week by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis underscore just how bad our national economy is, and which regions of the country and sectors of the economy have been hit the hardest.

The new estimates released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show that economic growth slowed in most states and regions of the U.S. in 2007. Real GDP growth slowed in 36 states, with declines in construction and finance and insurance the leading factor in most state’s economic losses.

Nationally, real economic growth slowed from 3.1 percent in 2006 to 2.0 percent in 2007, one percentage point below the average growth of 3.0 percent for 2002–2006.

According to the BEA report, “The deceleration in growth in 2007 was most pronounced in Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada. Each of these states had experienced faster real growth than the nation since 2003, but slowed dramatically between 2006 and 2007, to rates below the national average (chart 2). In 2006, Arizona and Nevada were in the highest growth quintile, and California and Florida were in the second–highest quintile. But in 2007, Arizona dropped to the third quintile; California dropped to the second–lowest quintile; and Florida and Nevada dropped to the lowest quintile. In Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, construction subtracted more than one percentage point from real GDP growth. In California, construction and finance and insurance combined subtracted one percentage point from real growth.”

Forty-nine states saw losses in the construction industry 2007.  The sole exception was Wyoming with a 6.0 percent increase in construction. Nationwide, the combined drop in construction was 11.0 percent.

The largest drop in construction in dollar terms was in California, down $10.8 billion, which accounted for 1-in-6 of the $67 billion lost in construction work nationwide between 2006 and 2007.

In terms of percentage of construction work losses, the hardest hit states were:

New Hampshire -18.70%
Michigan -16.74%
Delaware -16.34%
Florida -15.96%
Arizona -15.53%
Maine -13.82%
Iowa -13.77%
Virginia -13.55%
Vermont -13.47%
California -13.46%

The BEA clearly identifies the credit crisis, and its domino effect on related industries such as real estate and construction, as the primary cause of the nation’s economic woes. 

BEA noted that “A downturn in the finance and insurance industry group accounted for nearly half of the slowdown in economic growth in 2007.”

“Construction’s value added declined 12.1 percent in 2007 after falling 6.0 percent in 2006. Real estate and rental and leasing value added growth slowed to 2.1 percent in 2007 from 3.4 percent in 2006.”

Four industry groups — finance and insurance, construction, mining, and real estate — “accounted for about one quarter of GDP in 2007. However, they accounted for nearly 80 percent of the slowdown in economic growth.”

These figures support what we’ve been saying for a long time: the real estate market (and related industries like construction) will not recover until the financial markets are stablized.

Pending Home Sales Rise — But Don’t Expect the Housing Market to Recover Soon

There was some unexpected positive news on the housing front today: pending home sales rose in April 2008 to the highest level since October 2007, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

NAR complies a monthly “Pending Home Sales Index” (PHSI), which tracks housing contract activity based on signed real estate contracts for existing single-family homes, condos and co-ops. Modeling for the PHSI looks at the monthly relationship between existing-home sale contracts and transaction closings over the last four years. The PHSI gives figures for the nation and four regions, and includes seasonally adjusted as well as not seasonally adjusted figures.

A reading of 100 on the PSHI is equal to the average level of sales activity in 2001.

April’s PHSI figures show that the seasonally adjusted index of pending sales for existing homes across the nation rose to 88.2 percent from a March reading of 83.0 percent.

March’s figure of 83.0 percent was the lowest since the index was started in 2001.

Moreover, the April 2008 figure of 88.2 percent is still 13 percent below April 2007’s reading of 101.5 percent.

Some regions fared much better than others.

The region that did best was the West — with a seasonally adjusted figure of 98.8, its highest level since June 2007.  The West also showed an 8.3 percent increase from last month and a 4.0 percent increase from 95.0 percent a year ago. 

The Midwest — at a seasonally adjusted rate of 83.7 percent — posted a 13.0 percent increase from last month, but a 13.1 percent drop from last year’s figure of 96.4 percent.

The South — at a seasonally adjusted rate of 88.8 percent — showed a moderate 4.6 percent increase over last month, but that was still a stunning 22.5 percent decline from last year’s figure of 114.6 percent.

The worst region in regard to pending home sales was the Northeast — with a seasonally adjusted rate of 79.3 percent — which indicated both a monthly decline ( -1.9 percent) and a sharp decline (-12.2 percent) from 101.5 percent a year ago.

As usual, NAR strained to see these very modest national gains in the most positive light, claiming that they show that “the underlying fundamentals point to a pent-up demand.”

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun again predicted that an upturn in the housing market is just around the corner.

“Home sales are at about the same level as they were 10 years ago, yet the population has grown by 25 million people and we have over 10 million more jobs,” Yun said. “The housing market has been underperforming by historical standards, partly because buyers were hampered by mortgage availability issues, but that’s improved and an upturn is more likely.”

Other analysts are not nearly as optimistic about the meaning of the PHSI figures. 

They point out that banks are dumping properties at fire-sale prices, and that inventories will continue to grow as foreclosures continue to rise.  NAR’s PHSI does not differentiate between full-market sales, short-sales, and foreclosures.

Even NAR’s economist Lawrence Yun acknowledges that much of the increase in pending home sales comes from “bargain hunters” who have “entered the market en mass.”

The New York Times reports that Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s economy.com, believes that April 2008 marks the bottom for home sales, but he also believes that home prices won’t bottom out for another year. ”It’s the beginning of the end of the housing downturn, but it will be a long painful ending,” he said.

We think that Zandi is being overly optimistic — when the housing downturn ends depends on many factors, including straightening out the mortgage and credit industries, that are still a very long way off.

 

Housing Meltdown Continues as Home Prices Fall 14.1 Percent

Despite a slight uptick in the sales of new homes, there is new evidence that the U.S. housing slump will not end anytime soon. 

Yesterday the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Index showed that national home prices fell 14.1 percent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, the lowest since its inception in 1988.

And even though the sales of new homes were up slightly in April, they remained near their lowest levels since 1991.

New home sales were up 3.3 percent from March, but were down a stunning 42 percent from a year ago.

April’s new home sales were the second-lowest since October 1991, behind only March of this year.

The National Association of Realtors, in its typically disingenuous fashion, spins these bleak figures as an “easing” of home sales.

According to the New York Times, “Even markets that once seemed immune to the slump, like Seattle, are weakening. Prices nationwide might fall as much as 10 percent more before a recovery takes hold, economists said. As the home-buying season enters what is traditionally its busiest period, there are simply too many homes in many parts of the country, and too few people with the means to buy them. The situation is likely to get worse because a rising tide of foreclosures is flooding the market with even more homes, while a slack economy and tight mortgage market are reducing the pool of potential buyers.”

Those who can hold on to their properties are not selling at current prices and those who can buy are waiting for prices to fall still lower.

And they will get lower.

With more than 4.5 million homes on the market, and with a rising tide of foreclosures that continues to add dramatically to that figure, prices are certain to continue to fall even further.

There is plenty of money waiting for prices to stabilize, but that won’t happen for quite a while.

First, something must be done to stop the flood of foreclosures that are adding to the nation’s already overloaded housing supply.

Second, the banks and lenders must respond to the Federal Reserve’s lowering of interest rates by passing these lower rates on to more borrowers.

Our guess is that little or nothing will happen on these fronts until after the presidential election.

Meanwhile, the meltdown continues.

 

 

Realtors Settle Anti-Online Broker Lawsuit with Justice Department — NAR Agrees to Stop Blocking Access to Web Listings

Online realtors will now have the same access to Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data and other services as traditional real estate brokers, according to a proposed settlement reached on Tuesday between the U.S. Justice Department and the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

In September 2005, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division filed an antitrust lawsuit against NAR charging that its obstruction of Internet based reatlors and its restrictive MLS policies were stifling competition and hurting consumers. The Justice Department said that these policies prevented consumers from receiving the full benefits of competition, discouraged discounting, and threatened to lock in outmoded business models. 

The case was scheduled to go to trial in federal court in Chicago in July 2008.

Under the terms of the settlement, brokers participating in a NAR-affiliated MLS will not be permitted to withhold their listings from brokers who serve their customers through virtual office websites (VOWs). 

In addition, brokers will be able to use VOWs to educate consumers, make referrals, and conduct brokerage services.  Such brokers will not be excluded from MLS membership based on their business model. 

NAR agreed to report to the Justice Department any allegations of noncompliance.  NAR also has agreed to adopt antitrust compliance training programs that will instruct local Associations of Realtors about the antitrust laws generally and about the requirements of the proposed settlement

You can read the proposed settlement here.

“Today’s settlement prevents traditional brokers from deliberately impeding competition.  When there is unfettered competition from brokers with innovative and efficient approaches to the residential real estate market, consumers are likely to receive better services and pay lower commission rates,” said Deborah A. Garza, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division.  “In addition, under this settlement, NAR will foster compliance with the antitrust laws by educating its members and its 800 affiliated MLSs.”

According to the Justice Department, “the first rule challenged by the Department required MLSs to permit traditional brokers to withhold their listings from VOWs by means of an ‘opt out’  NAR does not permit brokers to withhold their listings from traditional broker members of an MLS.  Many local MLSs adopted NAR’s policy before NAR suspended its policy during the Department’s investigation.  In one market in which the MLS adopted the policy, all brokers withheld their listings from the one VOW in the community, which was then forced to discontinue its popular website.”

“The second rule prevented a broker from educating customers about homes for sale through a VOW and then referring those customers (for a referral fee) to other brokers, who would help customers view homes in person and negotiate contracts for them.  Some of the VOWs that focused on referrals also passed along savings to consumers as a result of increased efficiencies.

“Collectively, NAR’s policies prevented consumers from receiving the full benefits of competition in the residential real estate industry.”

NAR called the settlement a “favorable” conclusion to the Justice Department’s antitrust lawsuit.  “This is clearly a win-win for the real estate industry and the consumers we serve,” said NAR President Richard F. Gaylord.

NAR points out that the final order expressly provides that NAR does not admit any liability or wrongdoing and NAR will make no payments in connection with the settlement.

The proposed settlement between NAR and the Justice Department still needs to be approved by a federal judge.