Are All Pieces in Place for Recovery ?

In predicting the state of the economy for this year, most analysts seem to be forecasting another lackluster year of recovery. However, we are not sure that all the pieces are not in place for the economy to have a stronger year.

Why do we think this could be the case? Two words: five years. In the past months we have heard the term five years repeated again and again. For example, in mid-January first time unemployment claims fell to a level not seen in five years. December housing starts were also the strongest seen in five years.
Is this a coincidence? We think not. Car sales are the strongest we have seen in five years and American household formulation has also increased to a point not seen in….you guessed it, five years. Even states and local governments have started hiring again with this sector expected to add jobs for the first time in several years. We are not saying that there are not potential roadblocks. Even if the Federal budget negotiations are resolved, a solution will translate into a shrinking Federal workforce. The European debt crisis is far from over and there are many homes in the “shadow inventory” awaiting foreclosure. Yet, for the first time in five years we can say that the positives outweigh the negatives as we gear up for 2013.
As we approach the first major data of 2013 in the form of the January employment report, we are hoping that consumers and businesses feel exactly the same way in this regard.

As prices rise, rental home investors seek new markets

Rapid price increases are forcing real estate investors to shift their focus, and money, to new markets as they scramble to buy more homes to rent.

Major real estate investors are buying fewer homes in some hot markets while expanding in others as they race against rising prices to turn more distressed homes into rentals.
Phoenix, which has led the nation with rapid home-price gains, is among the first markets to see investors’ interest cool. The percentage of Phoenix homes bought by investors fell to 28% in November after cresting at almost 36% in August and is now on a “clear downward” trend.
Investor interest also may be close to “peaking” in some California markets where prices have risen rapidly because higher acquisition prices cut financial returns.
Meanwhile, major investors are stepping up purchases elsewhere, especially in Southeastern cities such as Atlanta and Tampa. Home shoppers there are now seeing the multiple offers, bidding wars and shrinking supplies of homes for sale that occurred in Phoenix as investors swooped in.
CoreLogic states Phoenix home prices were up 24% in November year-over-year, vs. 7.4% for the nation.
Major institutional investors are amassing a $10 billion war chest to pursue the single-family rental market, estimated JPMorgan Chase in a recent research report.
They’re betting that they can get distressed homes on the cheap, fix them up and rent them out, often to families who lost homes to foreclosure, and make money on home price appreciation in a few years.
The companies generally seek three-bedroom, two-bath homes in the $100,000 to $125,000 range that can rent for more than $1,000 a month, analysts say.
With $10 billion to spend, that would roughly equate to 80,000 homes, although the investment funds continue to raise money, there are currently 12 million single family rentals, most owned by mom-and-pop investors.
The Blackstone Group, for one, has spent $2.5 billion since early last year buying 16,000 homes. It’s now adding 2,500 homes a month, it says. It’s believed to be the biggest player in the group, but most are private, so information is limited. Like many of the big investors, Blackstone started investing in Phoenix. It next moved into California, then Atlanta, Tampa, Orlando, Chicago, Las Vegas and Charlotte. Blackstone has accelerated its buying because home prices have risen faster than it expected, says Jonathan Gray, Blackstone’s head of real estate. In some markets, the window to buy before prices rise too much “is closing faster” than in others, he says.
Colony Capital expects to invest up to $150 million a month this year to acquire single-family rentals. It bought 5,000 homes last year, it says. Colony, has slowed purchases in Phoenix. Consultant Burns says Atlanta is perhaps the hottest investor market now. Local real estate experts are seeing the impact.
Waypoint Homes, one of the market’s pioneers, expects to own 10,000 homes by the year’s end. It started four years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area and owns 3,300 homes, says managing director Doug Brien.
Its estimated that investors are buying 40% of foreclosed homes in the Atlanta area, triple the level of a year ago. Almost all foreclosures for sale draw multiple offers, often 10 or more. Tampa, too, has seen an uptick, Realtors say.
A year ago, $125,000 homes in foreclosure could have been purchased “all day long,” says Brad Monroe, managing broker for Prudential Tropical Realty in Tampa. “Now, there’s 16 offers on each one of them within two days,” many from cash-paying investors.
Tampa’s inventory of homes for sale in December stood at 3.3 months, based on the pace of sales. That was about half its level of a year earlier, shows data from the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. Generally, a 6-month supply is considered a balanced market between buyers and sellers.
Atlanta’s November home prices were up almost 5% from a year ago and Tampa posted a similar gain.Institutional investors have largely circled cities that were hardest hit by the real estate downturn that started in 2006.
In Phoenix, home prices fell almost 60% from their pre-bust peak before they started to recover. Las Vegas posted a similar drop. Tampa dropped almost 50%. The markets have more going for them than just cheap home prices. Phoenix, Tampa, Atlanta and Las Vegas — all markets where investor buyers are busy — have seen positive year-over-year job growth since July 2011, which will in turn help drive housing demand.
The first task for investors is to buy at the right price. In many hard-hit markets, prices have bounced faster than anyone anticipated even a year ago. That then makes good buys harder to find, says Rick Sharga, executive vice president with Carrington Mortgage Holdings. In recent months, Carrington has slowed its buying in single-family rentals, Sharga says. “As prices go up, it gets harder for investors to get the returns they’re looking for.”
In his report, analyst Paolone also warned that too many investors shopping in the same areas will drive prices up and eat into rental returns.
Burns says that’s already happening in some places. Single-family rentals that returned 10% annually three years ago may be now running closer to 6%. That’s too low for some investors, he says.
Nationwide, investors purchased 19% of homes in November, the National Association of Realtors says, down from 23% of sales in January and February of last year.
NAR economist Lawrence Yun says the percentage of homes being purchased by investors may decline more this year as regular home buyers make up more of the market, assuming a continued economic recovery.
Burns’ data shows investors accounting for much higher levels of total home sales in some cities. It also shows a levelling off or decline in recent months in the share of homes bought by investors in a variety of markets, including Tucson; Oakland; Tacoma, Wash.; Minneapolis; Washington, D.C.; and Durham, N.C.
Burns also says a peak may be near for Sacramento and Riverside. Both California cities have seen home prices rise faster than the national average.In November, Sacramento prices were up almost 13% year-over-year. Riverside’s were up 10%. Tight inventories will also slow investors. In Sacramento, the inventory of homes for sale fell to 1.6 months in December, based on the pace of sales, the California Association of Realtors says- “Investors have bought up everything that’s worth buying in many of the hardest-hit markets” The value of good timing.
Even if investors slow purchases in a city, they may circle back around, says Waypoint’s Brien.Waypoint was late to get to Phoenix, starting purchases there only last year. But as competitors have slowed buying there, Waypoint has seen “a little bit better buying opportunity,” Brien says. He expects the same thing to happen elsewhere. Investors will pull back when prices rise too fast, then return when price gains slow, as more people list homes for sale.
While investor buyers have helped prop up prices, they’re making it tougher for regular home shoppers to compete. With most homes getting multiple offers or are part of a bulk buy , many every day buyers don’t even get a look in.
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US Home prices will rise 6% in 2013

Home prices rose 7.5% last year, largest increase in six years, and will rise 6% in 2013, market researcher CoreLogic predicts in a report out today.

The same forces that helped propel prices last year will be in play this year, including improved housing demand fueled by good affordability, fewer foreclosed homes for sale and a low inventory of unsold homes, the company says.

Total home sales increased 6% last year, to 4.2 million, marking the first increase since 2005.
The healthy jump in home prices in 2012 “was really a big surprise,” from what many economists expected earlier in the year, says Patrick Newport, IHS Global Insight economist.
Prices were helped last year by fewer distressed home sales. Sales of bank-owned homes fell more than 20% to 600,000.

Through November, home prices rose 7.4%, the biggest year-over-year increase in more than six years.

Home prices rose in all but six states in November, and the sharpest increases were in Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, North Dakota and California. And just 13 of 100 large cities that CoreLogic tracks reported year-over-year price declines.

Earlier last year, some real estate analysts expected a flood of foreclosed homes to hit the market after five major lenders reached a settlement over foreclosure practices with state and federal officials. That didn’t happen.

Short sales also made up more of the overall home sales last year, accounting for 23%. That’s the highest level since the real estate downturn began. A short sale is when banks allow a house to be sold for less than what’s owed on the mortgage loan.

Rising home prices should encourage more sellers to list their homes for sale. The supply of homes for sale fell to 4.8 months in November, the National Association of Realtors says. That’s the lowest level in more than seven years. Realtors consider a six-month supply to be a balanced market between buyers and sellers.

Chinese buyers lead foreign investment in US housing market

As the U.S. housing market slowly starts to recover, foreign investment is helping it along.

According to the National Association of Realtors, non-American buyers accounted for $82 billion in home sales last year. More than $7 billion of that is by the Chinese, who are now the second largest foreign home purchasers after Canadians. They’re buying high-end, multimillion-dollar homes from California to New York and paying cash.
The investors are the people who have their own businesses or maybe were part of the government. Some of these homes are specifically catered to Chinese buyers. Fox News visited a home listed at $8 million in Pasadena, Calif., that had two kitchens, the smaller one had ventilation for the cooking for aromatic or foods like fish. It also has a lower level in-law suite and even a koi pond.
People from China tend to do a lot more business in their homes so they want their homes to really scream that they’ve made it and they’re successful. The Chinese like the U.S. because their money goes further. In Shanghai, $2 million might only get you a two-bedroom condo.
“You get a huge bang for your buck, you get land, you get good schools, you get a safe environment, nice community life, ” said Linda Chang, a realtor who works with her son, Brent, in the San Marino and Pasadena areas of California.
Chang says while many other real estate markets have suffered, her area has flourished thanks to Chinese and other foreign buyers.
“It’s been fantastic for the U.S. housing market because we have not suffered as other communities have,” said the elder Chang. “In fact, our property values have increased.”
While some of the Chinese buyers live in the U.S. full or part-time, realtors estimate about 40 percent of the homes are for investments. They’re snapping up houses in states hit hard by foreclosures such as Nevada and Florida. Some are buying two or three homes at a time.
According to Shanghai magazine Hurun Report, mainland China has almost 1 million millionaires and nearly half of them say they want to invest in the United States.
“It’s a sign of their status,” said Betty Chan, who deals with Chinese buyers in Las Vegas.
Buyers from China also invested almost $2 billion in commercial property in 2011, or quadruple what they spent several years ago.

Foreclosures fall in nearly two-thirds of US largest metro areas

With 62% of the nation’s 212 largest markets seeing foreclosure activity shrink during the latest quarter, the ongoing decline is yet another sign that the housing market is starting to stabilize.

During September, foreclosure activity in 58% of the major metro markets had even dropped below September 2007 levels.
The numbers indicate that “most of the nation’s housing markets are past the worst of the foreclosure problem,” Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac’s vice president said in the report.
Major cities like San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Diego saw foreclosures fall by double-digit percentages of 26% or more.
Stockton, California., which saw a 21% decline in foreclosures, still managed to claim the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, however. “That foreclosures there are still the highest in the country speaks to how severe the problem was,” said Blomquist.
Other California cities in the top 10, Riverside, Vallejo, Modesto, Merced, Bakersfield and Sacramento, all posted year-over-year declines of between 22% and 34%.

Yet, there are still some trouble spots, particularly in Florida. In Miami, which had the 10th highest foreclosure rate, filings rose 11%. In Jacksonville, foreclosures were up 32%, Palm Bay saw a 64% increase, Tampa was up 43% and Orlando notched a 15% jump.
Blomquist attributed Florida’s problems to the after effects of the robo-signing scandal. Florida is a “judicial state,” where foreclosures get processed through the courts. Lenders hesitated to bring foreclosure cases before a judge until they were confident their paperwork would stand up to the stepped-up scrutiny that followed the scandal. But now that new rules have been put in place through the $25 billion mortgage settlement, they are playing catch-up.
Of the metro areas with the 20 highest foreclosure rates, all are still in California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, with two notable exceptions. Chicago saw a 34% jump from a year-ago, and had the ninth highest foreclosure rate. Atlanta had the 15th highest rate. The good news there: Foreclosures fell 20% year-over-year.
In Las Vegas, filings fell dramatically — 71% — because of state legislation passed last year that requires lenders to file affidavits vouching for their paperwork and their foreclosure action against a borrower. Lenders now bypass the foreclosure process entirely in Nevada, working with troubled borrowers to arrange short sales even before filing notices of default.