Places for Home Builders to Dig In

Where are the best markets to build and sell new homes these days?

Amid a flurry of housing news this week, including President Barack Obama’s latest mortgage-refinance proposal, comes an interesting piece of real-estate analysis in the building sector. Houston-based Metrostudy has analyzed the strongest markets for home builders. They include: San Diego; Southern California; Texas’s Rio Grande Valley; St. George, Utah; and Orlando.

The research is by Brad Hunter, chief economist at Metrostudy, a company that, among other things, sends observers out each month to hundreds of new-home communities to count how many single-family homes are under construction, occupied and vacant. Metrostudy’s work is a complement to the U.S. Census’s monthly housing starts numbers and vacancy survey.

Mr. Hunter’s analysis of about 80 markets found that most areas saw housing starts fall in the fourth quarter. (Housing starts in November reached a 19-month high, but they were flat the following month.)

There were a few other key points in Metrostudy’s analysis:

1. San Diego, which showed some signs of recovery in home prices earlier this year, showed “significant strength” towards the end of the year. Construction began on 440 new homes there in the fourth quarter of 2011, a 46.7% increase over the previous quarter. Part of this increase comes because the third quarter numbers were abysmal. But San Diego also showed a 72.8% increase in absorption of new homes, meaning more houses are selling and supply is shrinking, making it a good market for builders.

2. A few of the usual suspects are some of the worst new-home markets in the country, including exurban Central California (starts down 8.2% in the fourth quarter compared with the prior quarter) and Las Vegas (32.9% decrease) as demand continues to lag there and inventory remains roughly flat.

3. Northern Virginia, which has stayed relatively strong during the housing downturn because of its proximity to job centers related to the federal government, is starting to falter. Metrostudy found that starts of single-family detached homes there fell 22.1% in the fourth quarter, and at year end, home construction was down 14.7% annually. Fewer people are moving in as well, as absorption fell 10.9% in the quarter, and inventory rose 17.7%, the highest level of any market observed.

Mortgage Rates Return To Historic Lows Following FOMC Announcement

Mortgages Rates spent 2 days at 4.0% in terms of rounded average “Best-Execution” rates (for detail on what that means, READ THIS POST from a few days ago).  Today, that rounded average has returned to 3.875%.  Although the underlying average isn’t as low as it’s ever been (3.88 vs 3.82), lenders tend to price loans in 1/8th (.125%) increments, meaning that 3.875% has been the lowest sustainable best-execution rate.  In short, we’re back to the promised land. 

The improvements came on the heels of today’s FOMC Announcement (Federal Open Market Committee or simply “The Fed”) which surprised some market participants with it’s inclusion of new verbiage describing how long the Fed anticipated that it would keep its “Fed Funds Rate” at so-called “exceptionally low levels.”  Until today, this verbiage read “through mid-2013,” but is now changed to “through late-2014.”  Markets weren’t necessarily expecting the inclusion of the word “late,” and although mortgage rates would have likely improved with a simple mention of 2014, the “late” part added fuel to that fire.  

While this indeed breaks the sideways trend at higher rates over the past 2 days, it’s up to the rest of the week to solidify the rebound.  In essence, markets will have an opportunity to respond to the eternal question: “is that your final answer.”  While the data through the end of the week doesn’t possess the gravity of today’s FOMC announcement, it could be enough to nudge the Best-Execution rate back to 4.0% depending on how it’s received.  In that sense, the risk posed by one singular event today is replaced by the risk posed by a group of events tomorrow and Friday.  3.875% is just barely back in the picture today, but it’s too soon to say whether or not the past two days at 4.0% were the exception to a long-term trend, or the beginning of a new one. 

Today’s BEST-EXECUTION Rates

  • 30YR FIXED –  3.875% mostly, with a few lenders at 4.0% still
  • FHA/VA -3.75%
  • 15 YEAR FIXED –  3.375% and more 3.25’s
  • 5 YEAR ARMS –  2.625-3.25% depending on the lender

Ongoing Lock/Float Considerations

  • Rates and costs continue to operate near all time best levels
  • Current levels have experienced increasing resistance in improving much from here
  • There are technical reasons for that as well as fundamental reasons
  • Lenders tend to get busier when rates are in this “high 3’s” level
    and can throttle their inbound volume by raising rates or costs.
  • While we don’t necessarily think rates are destined to go higher,
    given the above facts, there seems to be more risk than reward regarding
    floating
  • But that will always be the case when rates
    operating near historic lows

…(read more)

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Pending Home Sales Decline in December, Remain Above a Year Ago

Pending home sales fell off of the
19-month high reached in November according to figures released on Wednesday by
the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), but were still higher than one
year ago.  NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index
(PHSI) dropped from 100.1 in November to 96.6 in December, a decline of 3.5 percent.  December pending home sales were still 5.6
percent above the December 2010 index of 91.5.

The PHSI is a measure of signed
sales contracts for home purchases where the transaction has not closed.  It is considered a forward indicator as the
sale is usually finalized within one or two months of contract signing.  An index
of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the trend line remains
positive.  “Even with a modest decline, the preceding two months of
contract activity are the highest in the past four years outside of the
homebuyer tax credit period,” he said.  “Contract failures remain an
issue, reported by one-third of Realtors® over the past few months,
but home buyers are not giving up.”

Yun said some
buyers successfully complete the sale after a contract delay, while others stay
in the market after a contract failure and make another offer.  “Housing
affordability conditions are too good to pass up,” he said.  “Our hope is
lending conditions will gradually improve with sustained increases in closed
existing-home sales.”

On a regional
basis results were mixed with three regions showing increases on a year to year
basis but only one increasing during the December.

Pending Home Sales by Region

Region

Index in

December

Chg Nov to
Dec.

(%)

Chg Dec.
2010 to

Dec. 2011
(%)

Northeast

74.7

-3.1

-0.8

Midwest

95.3

+4.0

+13.3

South

101.1

-2.6

+4.9

West

107.9

-11.0

+3.7

U.S.

96.6

-3.5

+5.6

NAR also issued an economic forecast which predicts a healthy growth in
both real and nominal GPD over the next two years with real GDP growing in a historically
normal range of around 3 percent and the unemployment rate falling under 8
percent by 2013. 

Housing starts are expected to improve to around 750,000 in 2012 and
reach a million the next year – both figures well below the historically
typical 1.5 million.  Housing sales, both
new and existing, will remain relatively flat with new home sales reaching a
half million by the end of 2013.  
Existing home sales are estimated to have totaled 4.26 million in 2011
and will rise gradually to 4.45 million and 4.62 million in 2012 and 2013
respectively. 

Inventories are not projected into the future, but the supply of existing
homes is trending down and is now around 2.25 million.  The inventory of new homes has declined to a
nearly negligible level, however given the pace of sales, both inventories
represent about a six month supply.

NAR expects
median prices of both new and existing homes to rise only slightly from current
levels of$223,400 and $166,100 during 2012 but will rise more rapidly during
2013 to a median level of $235,800 and $172,600 by year end.

…(read more)

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Square Feet: In New York, Anxiety Over Billions in Maturing Real Estate Loans

In New York City alone, nearly $70 billion worth of commercial mortgages that were issued as collateral for bonds in 2007 are maturing this year.



Taste for Spanish Property Is Tested

Two cash-strapped Spanish regions are rushing to close sales of more than 100 office buildings to U.K. and U.S. money managers for about $1.17 billion, in this year’s first big test of investor appetite for Spain’s battered property sector.