Friday, April 1, 2011

Green tech challenges for residential zoning

Just passing along an interesting article from today's Cincinnati Enquirer that many of you might find interesting. It discusses how area zoning commissions are tackling growing use of solar panels and wind turbines in residential areas....

Cincinnati Enquirer article

Saturday, February 5, 2011

SAVE act aims to factor energy efficiency in mortgages

Many in the real estate industry have for some time been trying to make the argument to consumers about "total home ownership costs". That is, considering not only your initial costs, but ongoing maintenance and utility costs in the equation. While banks seem to be a little behind the curve on this, proposed regulation known as the Sensible Accounting to Value Energy act (the "SAVE" act) would have federally backed mortgages, such as FHA loans, apply energy efficiency as part of the overall appraisal and underwriting standards when purchasing a home.

This is not necessarily a new concept, as energy-efficient mortgages (EEM) have been around for years. However EEMs have seen little use during their existence due in large part from a lack of understanding or familiarity by either consumers or lenders along with certain requirements that can be somewhat burdensome during a purchase transaction.

The SAVE act, on the other hand, seems to be gaining wide industry support to incorporate efficiency standards directly in the mortgage process. As one industry professional noted on current methods: "This means that a $5,000 upgrade for granite countertops is reflected in appraisals, while a $5,000 upgrade for a highly-efficient HVAC system is not." From a lender's risk management perspective, it only makes sense to include energy use in evaluating a mortgage as the hidden costs of high utility bills are a potential risk factor in a borrowers ability to repay.

I would anticipate that there will be some negative reaction in a few corners, most likely from those who would see their home as being the "loser" when compared to newer or more updated homes. However, whether these folks know it or not, buyers already discount the value of their homes as they become ever more savvy about looking past just the pretty face and seeing what lies beneath.

To learn more about the proposed standards and status of the regulations, see the Institute for Market Tranformation's SAVE act website.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snapshot of 2005 - 2010 sales shows tax credit impact

Last month, I discussed the challenge for 2010 sales and how the tax credit pushed sales forward from later months. Thanks to our broker's sales manager, I now have a chart that shows how sales after July 2010 almost literally fell off a cliff.

Always nice to have a visual! Anyhow, the remaining Cincinnati MLS statistics from December continued to show challenges for sellers with an increase in inventory of 8% while closings fell 9%. Not exactly the direction we'd like to see.

Stay tuned for January numbers coming out in a couple of weeks. Based on the increased showing activity, we might just get a slightly pleasant surprise in year over year comparisons.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Will 2011 finally see a real uptick in sales?

The 2nd half of 2010 was, to put it mildly, something of a challenge in the real estate industry. Once the tax credit expired, sales took a pretty hard dip for the remainder of the year. Although there seems to have been a bit more activity towards the end of the year, 2011 is projected to be more of a "transitional" year as opposed to any kind of full-fledged recovery. Here's a brief look back and my own outlook for the new year.

2010 in review

The beginning of the year got off to a hurried start as first-time buyers were rushing to find something that fit their budgets before the tax credit expiration. Most real estate analysts and professionals recognized that this was "pulling forward" sales, but we all went along for the ride anyway. Few, if any, seemed to think that sales would fall off at the rate that actually occurred. Double digit percentage decreases in sales volume were encountered from July through December.

Perhaps lessening the pain was the unprecedented, and unexpected, drop in mortgage rates. For the better part of the summer and fall, rates continued a steady drop until 30-year rates were in the 4 - 4.25% range, levels not seen since the 1950's. Although they popped back up a bit in December, they were still mostly under 5%.

As we entered the Fall market, the foreclosure situation went from bad to just plain ugly. The media was all over the use of "robo-signers" and the potential for fraudulent foreclosures. The actual number of homeowners that were impacted by said fraud were found to be very few and far between. Nevertheless, banks were forced to put a hold on foreclosure processing until they could clean up their act.

Finally, the year would not be complete without a look at inventory and pricing. Inventory remains sky high relative to sales levels, sitting at 12.5 months through November. The one bright spot for the Cincinnati market was that prices seemed to find a foothold, with the average price increasing marginally month over month. (See November's charts)

2011 and forward

While the rest of the economy seems to be finding its footing again, most economists seem to suggest that housing will remain a drag on the broader economy until sometime in 2012. My personal prediction is that the Cincinnati area will see a modest uptick in both sales and pricing in the 2nd half of the year. Some of the factors in play include:
  • Jobs, jobs, jobs. Without an increase in jobs, housing will be stuck in neutral. Fortunately, all the indicators show the number of area jobs increasing on a slow, but steady, basis.
  • Foreclosure pipeline. It is nearly a given that foreclosures will continue to occur at historically high rates through 2011, and continue to pressure prices and inventory. The positive is that they are expected to decline from 2010 levels and that they are mostly impacting low priced homes and areas of the country hit hardest (e.g., Florida, Arizona, Nevada, and California).
  • The "new normal". Gone are the days (mostly) that everyone was looking for bigger and bigger homes. A certain downsizing mentality has taken hold where once a buyer who might have wanted that 4000 sq. ft. McMansion a few years ago, instead is looking at a more modest 2800 sq. ft. that is 75% of the price. The average home size began to tick down in 2008 and the trend is expected to continue.
  • The Mortgage Interest Deduction. If Congress really begins to seriously tackle tax reform, expect the mortgage interest deduction to be a point of contention. When the Deficit Reduction Commission suggested lowering the threshold to $500,000 in December, it was "knives out" on many fronts. If the MID is lowered, expect higher end home sales to take a bit of a hit (and reinforcing the downsizing move noted above).
I don't doubt that 2011 will be another tough year for those who are on the sell side, but I also expect that buyers will find fewer and fewer bargains available which might be the push towards a more balanced market in 2012 and later.