Home Ownership


A new law goes into effect today requiring the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all single family homes in California.  However, there seems to be some confusion about the exact requirements and how the new law applies to rental homes and apartments, so here’s what you need to know.

A carbon monoxide detector is required in all single family homes that have fossil-fuel burning appliances such as a gas heater, water heater, or stove, fireplaces, and/or an attached garage.  If you are the owner of a qualifying home that you rent to others or plan to sell, you must have a detector installed immediately.  If you rent a single family home, please contact your landlord or property management company to make sure that your home is protected.  All multi-family rental units have until January 1, 2013 to have the detectors installed.  Installation of the detectors is now required prior to close of escrow on all single family home sales transactions.

According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, carbon monoxide poisoning kills approximately 200 people every year.  It is called the silent killer as the gas is colorless, tasteless, odorless and otherwise undetectable.  Most carbon monoxide accidents are caused by faulty LP and natural gas heating systems. 

The detectors cost $10 – $50 each and must be a model approved by the State Fire Marshal.  Like smoke detectors, they should be mounted high on the wall or ceiling and there should be one on every story of your home.  Some homes with alarm systems may have the detector connected to their existing system, so please check with your security company provider.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness

If you or a family member has these symptoms, or the alarm on the detector goes off, get everyone outdoors, and then call for help. 

Please don’t leave yourself and your family unprotected.  Make sure your detector is installed today!

Anyone who knows me would probably say that I’m a fairly optimistic person, but lately it seems as though the real estate market is developing into a vicious cycle with no way to correct itself.   In a report released on Monday, the researchers at Capital Economics said that we could expect nationwide home prices to fall an additional 3% this year, bringing the year’s total decline to about 5%.  So, despite the fact that some markets inSan DiegoCountyhave seen modest gains in home prices over last year, overall, the picture is less than rosy.

So what are the driving forces behind this downward spiral?  Well, the obvious answer is that there are many complicated factors at play, but the cycle we’re seeing is really pretty simple:   Housing prices are falling due to low demand and too much inventory. Normally after a recession, home sales start to pick-up, but that’s not what we’re seeing.  Instead, demand is being strangled by increasingly stringent lending requirements which restrict buying power.  So instead of more buyers coming into the market to take advantage of the low interest rates, we’re seeing fewer that are able to qualify because of high credit score and/or high down payment requirements.   Even existing homeowners looking to sell and buy up or down are caught in a stalemate as most have limited or no equity to leverage against a new property. 

The cycle picks up momentum every time prices drop.  Lower prices, mean less equity for existing homeowners and for those with a mortgage, an increasing number of borrowers are choosing strategic default.  These voluntary defaults are adding to the foreclosure inventory already on the market and the estimated 5 million foreclosed homes lurking in the shadows.  And so the cycle continues; more foreclosures create a bloated inventory.  With an insufficient number of buyers able to buy, sales drop and prices fall, which breeds more foreclosures, and on, and on.

As I’ve noted before, I’m no economist and certainly don’t have all the answers, but there are clearly two actions that could put the brakes on falling prices and encourage increased sales:

  1. Congress should oppose the Quality Residential Mortgage (QRM) requirements being proposed.   The QRM would require an unnecessarily high down payment of 20% and impose a very stringent debt-to-income ratio for conventional loans.  The result would be that more borrowers would seek FHA loans, which in turn would likely raise qualification standards and insurance requirements.  The bottom line result will be fewer qualified buyers and fewer sales.
  2. Banks need to address the issue of negative equity by offering programs that provide principal reductions.  When a borrower feels that he/she is paying on lost equity that they will never recoup they are more likely to choose to default, adding to the inventory glut.

Do you have any ideas about breaking the cycle of falling prices?  I’d love to hear from you!

 

I think we all agree that the lack of regulation in the mortgage lending industry was a primary cause of the housing market collapse.  Not everyone with a pulse should qualify for a zero- down, $400,000 mortgage.  However, the new rules being proposed by the federal government could be the fatal blow to a struggling housing industry that is barely surviving on life-support.

The cornerstone of the proposal is the idea that the very best rates and terms for conventional loans would be reserved for the very best borrowers…..sounds somewhat reasonable, until you understand what an exclusive club that would be, and how difficult it would make buying for first-time or lower-income borrowers.

First, a 20% down payment would be required.  In some parts of the country, you can buy a nice home for $150,000, but even so that would mean a down payment of $30,000 – a big number for a lot of people.  But here inSan Diegowhere a nice 2 bedroom condo is going to cost you around $320,000, a buyer would need $64,000, which is most likely a staggering sum for anyone considering a condo purchase.

If you think that sounds a bit harsh, you’ll love the other suggested requirements for the so-called “Qualified Residential Mortgage” or QRM:

  • Strict debt-to-income ratios.  A max of 28% of gross monthly income could be used for housing expense and total monthly debt could not exceed 36%.  Currently, both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae guidelines take other factors besides DTI into consideration, and Freddie can go up to an overall debt-to-income ratio of 45%.  And of course, this is fully documented income, so tough luck for the self-employed.
  • To refinance your existing loan for a better rate you would need a minimum of 25% equity, and if you wanted to take out any cash, 30% equity would be required.  Today’s requirements vary by lender, but are no where near that strict.
  • Pristine credit.  If you were 60 days late on any account in the past two years you would not qualify.

So to put this into perspective, let’s see what someone might be able to afford here inSan Diegowhere the median household income is $67,000.  Their total monthly housing expense, including tax and insurance could not exceed $1,563.  This means they could purchase a single family home for $295,000 (if they could find one that would qualify for conventional financing), but would need a down payment of $59,000.  Presuming their monthly take-home pay is $4,466 and they are currently renting a 2 bedroom apartment for $1200, and after all other expenses they could still manage to save $500 a month, it would take these would-be home buyers 9.8 years to save for the down payment!

What if you don’t qualify?  Get ready to pay-up.  The mortgage industry estimates that non-QRM rates will be from .75 – 3.00% higher, again pushing more people out of the market with higher rates.  So if you are like the majority of today’s borrowers and don’t have a big down payment, make an above average income and have perfect credit you could be paying 8.00% interest while the QRM borrower will pay just 5.00%.  Sounds really fair and I’m sure that will mean a big boost to the housing market, right?

This is a total over-reaction that threatens to kill the small gains and recovery that we’ve seen in the past year.  I agree that reforms are necessary, but requirements should not be so stringent that home ownership is only accessible to a privileged minority.  If only the wealthy can purchase a home, some of our troubled neighborhoods (where the QRM buyers won’t want to live themselves) will be owned by investors and would-be buyers will be doomed to a life-time of renting from them.  I don’t know about you, but to me this doesn’t sound like a way to re-build neighborhoods or salvage the American Dream of home ownership.

Research and analytics company CoreLogic reported last week that 23% of all homeowners owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth.  All together, the negative equity of our nation’s homes is around $750 billion. 

I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty scary that nearly one quarter of all homes have negative equity.  Even if those homeowners don’t default and continue to pay their mortgage, this is a huge deterrent to recovery for the housing market.  In a healthy market, many of these folks would be selling and buying, either trading up or downsizing, or simply moving to a different location.  Instead, 11.1 million homeowners are stuck in their homes, unable to sell because of negative equity.

As noted in previous posts, I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m certainly not an economist, but as I’ve mentioned, one possible solution seems pretty obvious:  Principal reduction.  Since the top of the market in April of 2006, home values have dipped by an average of 32.8%.  The majority of the people who are underwater today bought or refinanced at the height of the market…..what if their mortgages were reduced by 30%?  Do you think that would help reduce defaults and stimulate sales?  Of course it would!

Logically, this seems like a good idea.  If banks are going to lose the money anyway if a home is foreclosed or sold short, why not take the loss up front and bring some real stability back to the housing market?  Although a few banks have offered some principal reductions, it is rare, and I have yet to hear a really good answer as to why more don’t. If you understand what seems to be some twisted bank logic, please explain it to me.

In the meantime, I predict that we will see an increase in short sales. As banks are providing few meaningful loan modifications and with the economy still shaky, even those people intent on staying in their homes despite negative equity may be forced to sell because of loss of job, decreased income or relocation.  Fighting $750 billion in negative equity is a not a battle that will be quickly won.

Over the past two years we’ve all become somewhat numbed by the landslide of bad news about foreclosures and the declining value of our homes.  And if you’re in the real estate business, you’ve eagerly watched for the monthly sales statistics, anxious for a glimmer of hope. But beyond the news articles and charts of numbers are the real stories of individuals and families and lives forever changed.

No one buys a home with the idea that they might lose it one day.  We all buy a house with a vision of it being the place we call home until we move-up, downsize, or for one reason or another, decide to move.  And because it is ours, we put a lot of love (and money) into making it reflect our tastes and lifestyles.  We paint, we plant, we remodel – we make it distinctly ours.

When threatened with foreclosure, there are a lot of emotions, depending on the situation; anger, fear of the future, sadness and a sense of loss are a few.  But the overwhelming feeling that people express to me is a sense of helplessness.  Losing their home is usually not their decision and they often feel powerless to control the direction of their lives.

For many, a short sale offers an opportunity to put a positive spin on what is otherwise a negative situation.  Instead of losing your home, you are making a conscious decision to sell it – you are in control of the situation.  You are choosing to sell and salvage your credit rating; you are choosing to rebuild your financial picture; you are choosing to close one chapter, put the hurt behind you, and move forward with your life.

Facing a financial loss such as losing your home to foreclosure can be devastating.  A short sale may have benefits that go well beyond your credit report by helping you start that new chapter on a positive note.  Please feel free to call or email with any questions.

I’m almost feeling like we can breathe again.  We’re not out of the woods, but here in San Diego, we’re headed in the right direction.  And surprisingly, the next generation of home buyers is not running screaming into the night frightened by the plague of foreclosures, but rather embraces the idea of one day owning a home.  Check the numbers.  What do you think?

According to a January 2011 Harris poll conducted on behalf of Trulia, the American Dream of home ownership is alive and well.  70% of those surveyed say that home ownership is still part of their dream, and 78% of homeowners surveyed say that their home is the best investment they ever made.  Well, those are probably folks who didn’t buy in 2004-2006.  Buyers during those years are probably the 20% who feel trapped in an underwater equity home or the 14% who are considering just walking away.  Like I said, we’re not out of the woods.

But what I found very refreshing is that 88% of 18-34 year olds aspire to be homeowners, and overall  in the west 70% of renters plan to become homeowners.  In my estimation, this group will drive the long-term recovery, and drive the next real estate bump in value. Only 10% plan on buying in the next 24 months, but they will help prime the pump.  By 2015 we could be in the midst of the next upswing.

So when to buy?  Consult with your accountants and money managers, but my bet is now….just as we turn the corner and start to head up.

Home prices across the country have taken a roller coaster ride over the past few years with far more hair-raising dips than inclines.  According to a Fiserv, Inc. report, the ups and down may not be totally over, but the financial services company predicts that by the end of 2011 75% of U.S. metro areas will see stable prices.

The good news for San Diego is that we are only one of three metro areas that had prices stabilize in recent months.  San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are the other two.  Still suffering are hard-hit areas including Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas where prices are not expected to smooth out until late 2012.

This is not to say that we won’t see some price reductions in certain neighborhoods, but overall the downward slide in value is over for most San Diego homeowners.  Foreclosures, unemployment, and restricted access to credit will continue to be the three negative factors influencing our market, but increased demand based on low prices and low interest rates seems to be balancing our market favorably.

So is this a good time to buy?  As I’ve said before…..absolutely!  Prices are already increasing in many areas, but if you’re curious about where you can get the most bang for your buck in San Diego county, give me a call.

In a survey of the 50 largest U.S. cities, Trulia found that it is still more affordable to buy than rent, even in San Diego.  But does this survey tell the whole story?

According to the guidelines the company used, a price-to-rent ratio of 1-15 means that it is more affordable to buy than rent, a ratio of 16 – 20 indicates it is more expensive, but still might make financial sense, and a ratio of 21+ means that it is definitely much more expensive to buy than rent.  San Diego scored a 15, and only 4 cities were over 21, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and a surprise, Kansas City, MO.

That all sounds well and good, but it should be pointed out that the survey compared the cost of buying versus renting 2 bedroom apartments, condos and townhomes, not single family residences.  The company arrived at the numbers by comparing the median list price of homes offered on their website for 2 bedroom units to the median rent for a comparable home.  Also, I’m not sure that looking at list price is an accurate indicator as most homes do not sell at list price.

The other problem I have with the survey is that it doesn’t take into account the level of demand for apartments or townhomes versus single family homes.  In New York or San Francisco, there is a much higher demand for condo living than there is here in San Diego.  I believe a more accurate survey for our market would be the comparison of buying versus renting a 3 bedroom 2 bath single family home analyzing sales price and actual rent paid.

The survey results did however indicate an interesting shift in the demographics of who is buying and renting.  According to Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for Trulia, “Lifelong renters are seizing the opportunity to become homeowners while affordability is high. At the same time, a growing number of long-time homeowners are finding themselves tenants – some by choice and others by necessity.”

In the end, I don’t really believe that renting or buying a home is just about the numbers, and who is under the roof with you is much more important than the cost.

We live on the edge of a canyon, and the homes across the street are on narrow lots, perched on a steep hill about 50 feet above our home.  Last night, I awoke in panic as the foundation on one of the homes began to crumble in the heavy rain and started sliding down the hill towards our home.

Luckily it was a dream, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.  Would we get out in time?  Would I have time to grab anything before our home was crushed?  What would I take?  When I got up this morning and reassured myself that both homes were very much intact up on the hill, I wondered if our insurance would cover our home if my nightmare had been a reality.  And the truth is, I have no idea.

We all heard the horror stories after the last two wildfires swept San Diego County…stories of those with no insurance, but even more frequently, those who were under-insured.  Disasters such as wild fires or flooding can happen to any of us, but how prepared are we to recover our losses and rebuild our homes and our lives?

My way-too-real dream reminded me that a call to my homeowner’s insurance agent for a New Year’s check-up might be a good idea.  Here are a few things to review: 

  • What is the deductible?
  • Are we covered for flooding?  Any limitations on fire coverage?
  • Are we sufficiently covered for loss of use?
  • Would our additional coverage pay for removal of debris if the house across the street did slide down the hill into ours?
  • Do we have an endorsement for guaranteed replacement cost of our home?
  • Is our personal property adequately covered?
  • And finally, are we getting all of the discounts that might be available to us?

This morning I’m very thankful that we didn’t have to make a midnight run for our lives, but I think I’ll sleep better once I know we’re covered, just in case……

Once again, Santa forgot to bring me a crystal ball.  So this look into the future of the housing market is based on trends from the past year, projections from those that crunch the numbers, and my gut feelings based on life in the real estate trenches.

Foreclosures continued to be the top story in 2010 with robo-signing and questionable practices making headlines.  In 2011 so-called shadow inventory will be making news as it grows and clogs the pipeline.  This includes borrowers that are 90 days or more delinquent, homes in foreclosure, and bank-owned properties not yet on the market.  S & P estimates that it will take 41 months to clear the backlog, continuing to slow the recovery.

Short sales will increase as the government and lenders try to stem the deluge of foreclosures that add to the shadow inventory.   Right now about 35% of defaults end in a cure or short sale.  I see that number growing as banks and the government iron out the problems with HAFA (Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives), and the processing of short sales is streamlined.

Loan modifications will continue to be largely unsuccessful.   There is some hope for small improvement in the numbers if the FHA principal reduction program can be expanded.

Mortgage interest rates jumped this last month, but are gradually heading down.   Frank Nothaft, chief economist for Freddie Mac foresees rates staying below 5.00% throughout the year.  Let’s hope he’s right.

Home sales will increase, especially for first-time buyers, provided interest rates remain low and the economy continues to improve.  If unemployment continues to decrease and incomes increase we should see an increase in home sales over 2010 by the 2nd half of the New Year.

Home values throughout most of the country will reach the bottom by mid-year and many areas, such as San Diego County will see modest gains of 2.00 – 4.00%.  The exception continues to be the luxury home market where home prices in locations such as La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe will continue to decline.

My advice?  If you own a home and are not terribly upside-down, hang tight.  Looking to buy?  Do it now!  This is a great time to purchase your first home or pick-up an investment property.  Struggling with your payments?  Let’s explore your options, before it’s too late.  Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

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