Wednesday, March 28, 2012
The shrinking inventory has prompted bidding wars and pushed up home prices in many communities.
At the end of February, the supply of homes for sale was just under 24,000, down 42 percent from a year earlier, mostly because of a 52 percent drop in foreclosures during the past year, according to the latest monthly real-estate report from Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business.
As banks take back fewer homes through foreclosure, fewer homes go to auction or back on the market.
Tuesday's report, which said that home prices could keep climbing if the inventory of homes for sale remains low, was the most optimistic from ASU since the beginning of the region's housing crash in 2007.
"Supply is tight, in a pretty extreme way, and it looks like it will stay that way for months," said Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at ASU.
Orr said that as long as supply is tight and there are more buyers than sellers, Phoenix-area home prices will continue to climb.
Metro Phoenix's median home price has steadily been increasing since last August, when it fell to a 12-year low of $113,000. The region's median for February was $124,500, up 8 percent from a year earlier.
Climbing home prices could entice more homeowners who bought before the boom to try to sell their homes.
More sellers would increase supply, balancing the market and aiding many frustrated buyers who are currently being outbid on foreclosures and short-sale homes.
"Now, I have a ton of buyers and no properties to sell them," said Diane Brennan of Scottsdale-based Keller Williams Integrity First Realty.
"I warned buyers for months they should act quickly. Many didn't pull the trigger before because they were waiting for the bottom," she said.
There is a potential problem lurking in the recent trend: Some appraisals aren't keeping pace with the increases in home prices.
Orr said appraisers are still looking at prices from three months ago.
In some parts of metro Phoenix, though, home prices have climbed 5 percent or more since the beginning of the year.
by Catherine Reagor - Mar. 27, 2012 10:48 PM The Republic | azcentral.com
Fewer Phoenix-area homes for sale; prices up
A report Monday by the National Association of Realtors showed the index of pending home sales, reflecting deals that have gone into contract but haven't yet closed, rose 9.2% last month from a year earlier, continuing a rise largely fueled by investors' purchases of foreclosed properties. The index fell by 0.5% from January.
While buyers are starting to step forward, however, home builders and real-estate agents report an elevated level of contracts falling apart, as buyers run into trouble qualifying for mortgages amid tough lending standards.
Another common complaint: low appraisals that come in below a negotiated value, requiring sellers to cut their price or buyers to put more money down in order to keep a deal from collapsing. As a result, the pending sales figures could be overstating actual sales as buyers sign multiple contracts over the course of several months.
The number of contracts signed to purchase homes in February posted another strong gain in the latest sign that housing demand is up from the depressed levels of the previous 18 months. Nick Timiraos has details on The News Hub. Photo: Bloomberg News
Still, analysts say that housing demand appears to be stronger than at any point in the past year. Low prices are luring investors who can convert properties into rental units and make double-digit returns. More first-time buyers could face added urgency to move as landlords begin to raise rents and mortgage rates rise from record lows.
"We are seeing very strong activity out there," said Ivy Zelman, chief executive of research firm Zelman & Associates. Buyers are tired of deferring moves, and rising rents "have really pushed people off the fence," she said. "We're not ready yet to wave the victory flag and say home prices are going up, but we're confident they're stabilizing."
Monday's report showed that purchase activity was up 18.4% and 19% from a year ago in the Northeast and Midwest, respectively, after an unseasonably warm winter. Contract activity fell by 1.8% in the West.
Real-estate agents in many parts of the country say inventories of homes for sale are declining, leaving more buyers competing for less supply. Shrinking inventories could be a consequence of the decline in home prices, which has left more sellers unable or unwilling to sell their homes at a loss.
In Orange County, Calif., the number of homes listed for sale is down by 36% from a year ago. Meanwhile, the number of homes under contract is up 25% to its highest level in four years, according to Steven Thomas, a local housing-market analyst.
So far this year, nearly one in six homes listed for sale have gone under contract within their first three days across the 18 markets covered by Redfin Corp., a Seattle-based brokerage, said Glenn Kelman, the firm's chief executive.
by Nick Timiraos The Wall Street Journal Mar 28, 2012
Demand For Homes Continues To Show Recovery - WSJ.com
This has put housing in short supply and helped to boost homes prices by nearly 16 percent since values bottomed out in September 2011, according to an Arizona State University report.
The findings are probably a shock to Valley residents used to gloomy housing news, said Mike Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU.
“They think we have a glut but we have a shortage, and it’s almost as stressful as having a glut as to have a shortage,” Orr said.
Many buyers have become dispirited after making multiple offers and not getting a home. That problem will likely get worse in the next few months because spring is the most active time for home buying, Orr said.
The shortage is made worse because new home construction had fallen so dramatically.
Builders completed about 4,000 homes a month at the peak of the housing boom, but that’s fallen to about 400 a month now. Orr expects builders can double production but he said they face limits because so many construction workers left the state when the housing market crashed.
“I can’t see them building enough to change a shortage into an adequate supply, at least not in the short term,” he said.
The February housing report includes Maricopa and Pinal counties. Its findings include:
• Median sale prices rose 8.3 percent from February, from $115,000 to $124,500. That includes new homes.
• The average price per square foot rose 4.1 percent, from $81.07 to $84.36.
• Monthly foreclosures are up from February but down 9 percent from February 2011.
• Foreclosure completions were down 52 percent in the last year.
• Bank-owned sales dropped 40 percent.
Low-end and moderately priced homes are in the highest demand, Orr said.
Housing wasn’t hurt by gas prices of nearly $4 a gallon, Orr said. But it has affected where people want to buy and made central locations more desirable.
Orr said the improving housing news doesn’t indicate the market is healthy or normal yet. Prices need to rise about 33 percent based on trends of long-term average pricing, Orr said. That would place values at $120 per square foot. Prices had fallen to $78 but are now at $90.
“I don’t know when we’ll get back to normal,” Orr said. “Arizona, housing prices in particular, seems to be a very volatile market.”
by East Valley Tribune msnbc.com Mar 28, 2012
Housing availability plummets 42% as prices rebound - Local News - Phoenix, AZ - msnbc.com
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
WASHINGTON - Fed chairman Ben Bernanke says that the U.S. job market remains weak despite three months of strong hiring and that the Federal Reserve's existing policies will help boost economic growth.
Bernanke's comments Monday to a group of economists in Arlington, Va., drove stocks higher. Many took his cautious words about the economy to mean the Fed is likely to stick to its plan to hold short-term interest rates at record lows through 2014.
Though the hiring has helped support consumer confidence and incomes, "we have not seen that in a persuasive way yet," Bernanke said. The Fed needs to "remain cautious" in deciding what its next moves should be, he said.
Further job gains will likely require stronger consumer and business demand, Bernanke said in a speech to the National Association for Business Economics' spring conference.
The association has 2,500 member economists who work for corporations, universities, the government and trade associations. Bernanke was addressing the group for the first time since 2008.
After Bernanke spoke, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 160 points, its third-biggest gain of the year. Broader indexes also increased.
The surge in hiring since December had led some economists to predict that the Fed might consider raising rates earlier than planned. But many took Bernanke's cautious tone as a firmer commitment to the late-2014 timetable.
And some viewed the speech as a signal that the Fed might take further steps, if the economy falters, to try to further drive down long-term borrowing rates. The goal would be to encourage more spending by consumers and businesses.
Robert Dye, chief economist at Dallas-based Comerica bank, said the Fed might extend a program of shuffling its investment portfolio to shift more of its holdings into long-term Treasuries. That could help lower long-term rates. Or the Fed could launch another round of bond buying.
"The chairman is very much keeping additional monetary-policy options on the table," said Dye, who attended the NABE conference.
Employers added an average of 245,000 jobs a month from December through February. The unemployment rate has fallen nearly a full percentage point since summer, to 8.3percent.
Still, the economy grew at an annual pace of just 3 percent in the October-December quarter. Economists think growth has slowed in the January-March quarter to around a 2 percent annual rate.
Bernanke said the combination of modest economic growth and rapid declines in unemployment is something of a puzzle. Normally, it takes roughly 4 percent annual growth to lower the rate by 1 percentage point over a year.
He offered some reasons for the unexpected decline in unemployment. Employers may be hiring rapidly because they cut too many jobs during the recession. He also said that government revisions may later show stronger economic growth over the past year.
But Bernanke cautioned that he doesn't expect the unemployment rate to keep falling at its current pace without much stronger growth and more robust hiring. He noted that the rate is still roughly 3 percentage points higher than its average over the 20 years preceding the recession.
"Despite the recent improvement, the job market remains far from normal," Bernanke said. "The number of people working and total hours worked are still significantly below pre-crisis peaks."
Bernanke also expressed concerns about the millions who have been out of work for more than six months. Those long-term unemployed Americans have made up more than 40 percent of the unemployed since December, he said. In the severe 1981-82 recession, long-term unemployment never exceeded 25 percent.
"Long-term unemployment is particularly costly to those directly affected, of course," Bernanke said. "But in addition, because of its negative effects on workers' skills and attachment to the labor force, long-term unemployment may ultimately reduce the productive capacity of our economy."
The Fed is concerned that the recovery could falter, as it did last year. Americans aren't seeing big pay increases. Gas prices are high. And Europe's debt crisis could weigh on the U.S. economy.
As long as inflation remains tame, analysts think the Fed will likely hold interest rates down to give the economy more support. Most economists don't think Fed officials will change their interest-rate policy at their next meeting on April 24-25 and will ease credit only if the economy slows further. While the recent job-market gains may continue, analysts think the record-low rates will continue as well, at least through this year. The Fed could reconsider the timetable next year, if the job gains prove more enduring.
But for now, most economists sense the Fed is committed to its plan.
"The clear tone of Chairman Bernanke's statement is that he is defending the Fed's current highly accommodative position," said David Jones, chief economist at DMJ Advisors.
by Martin Crutsinger - Mar. 26, 2012 06:27 PM AP Economics Writer
Bernanke says US job market weak despite gains
Three years after the training ballparks were built, fans are left with little more to do than walk to and from the parking lots.
Land that had been planned to house a hotel and convention center, restaurants and offices became mired in foreclosures, bankruptcies and legal wrangling.
Leaders in both cities worry how they will pay off the complexes. Dwindling tourism-tax revenue collected by the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority has meant a funding shortfall for stadium improvements.
Glendale and Goodyear are on the hook for $63 million and $43 million in stadium costs, respectively, that city leaders had expected would be paid by the tourism authority.
With a legal battle over development rights winding down, Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord talks of circumstances beyond the city's control.
"It's a very emotional time," she said. "Some of those memories and heartaches are going to linger, but I think this is the time to finish it up, and we'll just get on with whatever next is going to happen with our stadium."
Glendale is also deflated over expectations surrounding its spring-training complex, Camelback Ranch Glendale. The city borrowed $200 million for the project. Sales taxes from surrounding amenities were expected to help pay for it.
"Camelback Ranch to me is the big drain," Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs said two months ago during discussions on how the city could restructure its debt.
But both cities are taking steps to jump-start construction. Goodyear recently settled a lawsuit, a move city leaders hope will pave the way for commercial development around its remote ballpark southeast of Estrella Parkway and Yuma Road. And land surrounding Glendale's ballpark, once tied up in foreclosure, is up for sale again. Much of the land surrounding the stadiums is on the market again or is expected to be soon.
Goodyear earlier this month approved paying $1.1 million to settle with a bank and landowner, a move that will soon put roughly 100 acres around its $123 million ballpark up for sale.
For Glendale, the lender that foreclosed on a huge chunk of land was the only bidder to buy it. A key 70-acre parcel next to the stadium was put on the block two months ago.
"We've had offers," said Mark Winkleman, chief operating officer of ML Manager LLC. "Nothing that we've accepted yet, but we hope to before too long."
A Main Street never built
Camelback Ranch, at Camelback Road and 107th Avenue, is surrounded by 166-acres that was to be called Main Street. Developers spent $120 million on land and zoning to build a sprawling, sports-themed office, shopping and resort complex. The land could support 2.8 million square feet of development.
But when the market crashed and developers defaulted on loans, ML Manager, successor to lender Mortgages Ltd., began foreclosure proceedings. ML Manager has control of roughly 86 acres near the ballpark, including a 70-acre site on the southwestern corner of 99th and Maryland avenues.
The city hopes the land will ultimately contain mixed-use development primarily focused on employment, residential, lodging and higher-end retail.
The complex is on land owned by Glendale, but the land is actually in Phoenix.
A broker offering the land has plans to approach a new ownership group of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who share Camelback Ranch with the Chicago White Sox. There are several groups of bidders vying for the Dodgers.
"There is a need out there today for amenities and housing for the teams," said Brent Moser, Cassidy Turley executive vice president.
The other option for the area is a limited-service hotel, Moser said. The developer has taken calls from those who want land to build higher-end hotels closer to Loop 101 and Westgate City Center, in time for the area to host the Super Bowl in 2015, Moser said.
Apartments would likely be the easiest to build on land near the stadium, but "I don't know if that's the highest and best use for this property long-term," Moser said.
The White Sox believe growth around the stadium is only a matter of time.
"Certainly, more stores, shops, restaurants and hotels benefit White Sox fans during their visits to spring training, but that scale of economic development benefits Glendale and the residents of the West Valley year-round as well," said Scott Reifert, team spokesman.
'No win here'
At Goodyear Ballpark, where the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians train, attendance has been at the bottom of the Cactus League for two consecutive seasons.
Development plans around the stadium called for a hotel and convention center, restaurants and offices.
But legal battles between a bank, city and family landowners broke out over costs associated with streets, utilities and other work needed to develop land around the stadium.
When the disagreement threatened to delay construction of the ballpark, Goodyear took control of the loan and finished the job.
In June 2009, the bank sued, saying the city's action accelerated the due date on its loan to the family, and they defaulted in 2008. The suit was part of the bank's effort to foreclose on the land surrounding the stadium and south of Lower Buckeye Parkway.
The family filed a lawsuit against the city in January 2010, arguing the city received benefits it did not pay for.
The settlement agreement reached by the City Council earlier this month clears up all the issues related to the title of the land and its development rights.
The bank plans to market the property as soon as a bankruptcy court agrees to the settlement.
City officials say there has been development inquiries about the land, but it has been tied up in litigation. They want to put the issue behind them.
"Unfortunately, there is no win here in this situation," said Vice Mayor Joanne Osborne before approving the settlement.
by John Yantis - Mar. 26, 2012 09:32 PM The Republic | azcentral.com
Goodyear, Glendale eye vacant land near ballparks
Monday, March 26, 2012
But there also are a lot of added costs that come with purchasing a home. For buyers unable to make a down payment of at least 20 percent of their home’s purchase price, one of those costs is private mortgage insurance, or PMI. A PMI policy is coverage that you, the homebuyer, pay for, but it protects your lender in case you default on the loan.
Now, however, some PMI payers can use those insurance payments as a tax deduction when they file their returns.
This tax deduction was created as part of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 and originally applied to private mortgage insurance policies issued in 2007.
But because the housing market was slow to recover, lawmakers have extended this tax break. It now is in effect for premiums paid through 2011.
The private mortgage insurance deduction can be taken for policies issued by private insurers as well as insurance provided by the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service.
If you itemize deductions you will find the private mortgage insurance deduction in the “Interest You Paid” section of Schedule A. It is claimed on line 13.
What amount of PMI do you claim? You should find the amount in box 4 of the Form 1098 (or the substitute year-end loan information statement) that your lender sent you.
While it’s easy to claim the PMI deduction, make sure you meet the requirements.
First, note when you paid the mortgage insurance. The deduction is allowed only if you took out the mortgage on which you pay PMI on or after Jan. 1, 2007. No PMI premiums are deductible if they were made in connection with a home loan that was made before that date.
Any associated PMI premiums on new mortgages issued through 2011 will qualify for the deduction.
If you refinanced your home since Jan. 1, 2007, you also qualify for the PMI deduction on that loan. Be careful how you structure your refi. The mortgage insurance deduction applies to refinances up to the original loan amount, but not to any extra cash you might get with the new home loan.
You also might be able to deduct private mortgage insurance payments on a second home loan. As with your primary residence, the loan on the second home must have been issued in 2007 or later to be deductible.
The additional property also must be for your personal use as a second or vacation home. If you rent it out, then you could end up paying the PMI without any help from the Internal Revenue Service, unless you claim tax breaks on the home as rental property.
Finally, while there is no statutory limit on the amount of PMI premiums you can deduct, the amount might be reduced based on your income. The deduction disappears completely for most homeowners whose adjusted gross income is $109,000 or $54,500 for married filing separately taxpayers.
Mortgage rates jumped this week as investors became more optimistic about economic growth in the United States.
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose 14 basis points to 4.29 percent. A basis point is one-hundredth of 1 percentage point.
The 15-year fixed-rate rose 10 basis points to 3.48 percent. The average rate for 30-year jumbo mortgages, generally loans for more than $417,000, rose 12 basis points to 4.85 percent.
The 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage rose 10 basis point to 3.24 percent. With a 5/1 ARM, the rate is fixed for five years and adjusted annually thereafter.
The volume of mortgage applications decreased 7.4 percent last week, compared to one week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
by Kay Bell Bankrate.com Mar 23, 2012
1 tax break homeowners may have missed - East Valley Tribune: Money
Saturday, March 24, 2012
The 228-unit apartment complex will be going up on a 14-acre parcel of land that Scottsdale-based P.B. Bell Companies bought from the Arizona State University Foundation on March 6 for about $2.8 million, according to R. Chapin Bell, president of the real-estate management and development firm.
To date, Morrison Ranch has developed 2,300 single-family lots in five neighborhoods, and Bell said he has special plans for the complex, to be built on a parcel in the Highland Groves area, near Big League Dreams near Elliot and Power roads.
"We're very excited about it," Bell said. "What's different about it is there are so many high-density developments, with 24 or even 28 units per acre. This has a lower density, with 16 units per acre. And that creates more open spaces that people can enjoy, with more landscaping, lush trees (and) green grass. It will have a nice, open feel to it."
The land is part of a nearly 80-acre parcel that Marvin and June Morrison donated to the ASU Foundation in 1998. As part of that deal, ASU's College Of Agribusiness became the Morrison School of Agribusiness and Natural Resources at the ASU Polytechnic campus at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa.
Nearly all of the 14 acres owned by P.B. Bell was part of that donation, said Scott Morrison, one of the co-owners of the ranch.
None of the buildings in the development -- a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units -- will be higher than two stories. The complex will include a resort-style pool, fire pits, grills, ramadas with TVs, a spa and a resident lounge with kitchen facilities. There also will be a playground for children.
Bell said the units will include granite countertops, custom cabinetry and upgraded flooring, and will lease for about $800 to $1,200 a month.
MT Builders of Scottsdale will start construction within 90 days.
by John Stanley - Mar. 23, 2012 01:52 PM The Republic | azcentral.com
Apartments on tap at Morrison
When Bob Whipple was recovering from knee-replacement surgery late last year, he counted 39 friends and neighbors who came to visit him.
And why not? Most didn't have far to walk.
He and his wife, Helen, live in Sagewood, an upscale-retirement complex near the
"I went to our health facility next door and stayed in a lovely private room for a week," said Whipple, a gregarious 79-year-old, speaking of his post-surgery recovery. "It never cost us a cent, not a penny. They have to take care of us no matter what, at no extra cost."
Facilities such as Sagewood bundle retirement-resort living with elder health care. Simply put, you live independently in an apartment until you need assisted living, memory help or skilled nursing care. The concept has been around for a while but is getting a new look as the oldest Baby Boomers retire, though it's clearly not for everyone.
Sagewood, operated by privately held Life Care Services of Des Moines, Iowa, provides resort-style amenities expected of an upscale complex, such as four restaurants and two swimming pools, jacuzzis, weight and fitness facilities, classes and special-interest clubs. Weekly housekeeping is provided in each home, and a monthly allowance covers most meals.
Sagewood offers on-site health care at no extra cost, except for added meal expenses and medical supplies required during health stays, and ancillary services from doctors and medical specialists. Sagewood is regulated by the Arizona Department of Insurance.
"We're basically offering long-term health care," said Stewart Ingram, the facility's executive director. "It's a life-care contract."
Sagewood is open to people 62 and up, with the average age 77 or 78, Ingram said.
Various other apartment retirement complexes in metro Phoenix have a similar focus, typically combining assisted living, nursing care, memory care and other services in an active-adult atmosphere.
These include Vi at Grayhawk, Vi at Silverstone,
Life Care Services has been in business for four decades.
"It's not a new concept," Ingram said. The firm operates about 90 such communities.
Because homes are taking a lot longer to sell these days, making it tough for prospective residents to move in, some developments are dangling incentives. For instance, Sagewood is offering interest-free financing for up to 18 months to help residents pay part or all of the one-time entrance fee.
"That allows clients to leave their homes, come to Sagewood and enjoy all the services and amenities ... while waiting for their homes to sell," Ingram said.
Part of Sagewood's marketing approach is to get seniors thinking about these issues before they're forced to. Many people wait until they face a health emergency, but by then, they're often hurried into making hasty decisions.
The Sagewood experience doesn't come inexpensively. Life Care Services charges one-time entrance fees ranging from about $310,000 to $1.1 million, depending on the size of the apartment, which you don't own. The entrance fee for a second person is $12,000. That's on top of monthly fees ranging from about $2,400 to $4,100, plus around $1,100 for a second person, covering rent, most meals, most utilities, weekly housekeeping and more. Sagewood has 19 floor plans ranging from 750 to 2,400 square feet, Ingram said.
But Life Care Services does offer a return-of-capital program that makes the up-front cost easier to bear. The company returns 80 percent of the entrance fee to residents if they decide to move out or to beneficiaries when residents die. The company promises a full refund to anyone moving out in the first four months.
The 278-apartment Sagewood property, which opened two years ago, is about 60 percent occupied.
It's important to note that not everyone will need significant assisted-living or nursing care, though it's hard to predict how much you might require. Long-term-care insurance can be a lower-cost option for people who can qualify medically for it, with a 60-year-old couple in good health likely to pay an annual premium of about $3,000 for a standard policy, reports the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance. But premiums rise the older you get, and you become less likely to qualify for coverage as you age.
A full year of assisted-living care averaged about $36,000 in
Sagewood residents aren't required to have a long-term-care insurance policy, but they must maintain coverage for Medicare Parts A and B and supplemental insurance, the company said. Prospective residents also must pass a memory health assessment, and they can't need 60 or more minutes of personal care a day.
Not for everyone
Those prices make Sagewood unaffordable for a lot of retirees, and there are other possible impediments. For example, although pets are allowed, smoking is not, even within apartments. Also, Sagewood is a high-density community, which means there are rules everyone must follow.
"If you make up your mind that you don't want to be around a lot of people, this place isn't for you," Helen Whipple said.
Husband Bob, a retired certified public accountant, ran the numbers before the couple sold their Carefree house and moved to Sagewood. In terms of monthly costs, he said living at Sagewood came to within $50 of what they had been spending. They felt the extra outlay was worth the peace of mind.
The Whipples have two sons, both married and living out of state. They said both welcomed the move, in part because it relieves them of potential caregiving pressure.
"I'm not sure if it was our sons or our daughters-in-law who rejoiced the most," Bob Whipple quipped.
By Russ Wiles azcentral.com Mar 23, 2012
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