Real Estate Stories of the Past Couple Weeks

A Snowy Street in Hartford as Monday Morning Arrives

There have been a number of interesting articles about real estate in the financial press over the past couple weeks. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what you may have missed while you were off for the holidays…

Wall Street Journal, December 23rd: Data from the National Association of Realtors shows that Home Sales, Prices Brighten (subscription required). Though the current data is positive, the author expresses concern about “a continuing flood of foreclosures and the eventual withdrawal of government life support.” They note that the housing has been strongest in “middle-class homes with short commutes,” something that rings true in the Greater Hartford markets.

Wall Street Journal, December 24th: The next day, the headlines reversed to New-Home Sales Drop 11.3% as Impact of Stimulus Fades (Subscription Required). This time the data came from the Commerce Department, which noted that the measure was very volatile (it had risen 7.4% the previous month) and new home sales make up less than 15% of total home sales. And in our area, new home sales are far less than 15% of the total.

Wall Street Journal, December 24th: On the same page, we learn that Resession Alters Migration Pattern in US. Although this story isn’t directly about real estate, it is interesting to consider the implication of people moving around the country on local real estate markets. A large map shows the population changes by state for 2004-2005 and then for 2008-2009. Florida and Nevada showed the most dramatic shifts, from strongly growing to modestly decreasing populations. Connecticut appears to be consistent across the two time periods with both reflecting losses of between 0 and 50,000 people.

Wall Street Journal, December 29th: Everyone who loves a good house hunting story definitely needs to read this tale as A Picky Home Buyer Pursues an Epic Hunt for ‘the One’ in the San Francisco Bay Area. It took over two years and 298 properties for Lidia and Doug Pringle to find the right place to call home. Wow.

Calculated Risk, December 30th: During the past two declines in home values (early 1980s and early 1990s), prices did not bottom until the unemployment rate peaked.

The Big Picture, December 31st: Morgan Stanley released a research piece suggesting that the 10 Year Treasury could rise to 5.5% in 2010. What caught our eye was that they estimated that the higher Treasury rates could push rates for 30-year fixed mortgages up to between 7.5% and 8%. These rates are, of course, much higher than buyers are used to seeing. The commentary basically says that Morgan Stanley must be concerned about inflation increasing, and that the charts the commentators use to look at the market show strong increases in inflation expectations over the past year.

Wall Street Journal, December 31st: The Department of Housing and Urban Development have had Rules to Clarify Cost of Mortgages in the works for a while, tightening the requirements around Good Faith Estimates that lenders give to buyers when quoting mortgage rates. Their overall goal is to force lenders to report all of their fees and rates in a way that allows borrowers to more easily compare rates between lenders. It will be interesting to see how this transition goes as lenders and real estate attorneys adjust to new regulations.

Wall Street Journal Blogs, January 1st: The Five Key Housing Issues to Watch in 2010 are 1. mortgage rates; 2. the future of Fannie, Freddie, and the FHA; 3. loan modifications; 4. more loan resets; and 5. the tax credit.

New York Times, January 1st: Some feel that the Federal Government’s effort to modify loans is Adding to Housing Woes. They argue that allowing homeowners to remain in their homes by modifying their mortgage has been counterproductive. Homeowners have their hopes falsely raised and waste money trying to keep a home they simply cannot afford before finally defaulting on the modified mortgage.

So that’s the word on The Street as the real estate markets move into 2010. The headlines seem to have a negative bias, highlighting concerning data, unsuccessful recovery programs, and the unfortunate reality of many Americans struggling. We’ll have to see how it all plays out here in Greater Hartford. And as always we’ll hope for the best and plan for the worst.

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