Archive for Blog
North America birthed its first “active” house in St. Louis, Mo. in March of this year. What is an “active” home? Essentially, it incorporates a comprehensive green design on the interior and exterior of the dwelling and uses a variety of energy-efficient, environmentally friendly practices and guidelines, according to Time. The “active” design is built to produce and conserve energy, whereas the “passive” house focuses on the latter.
But is the active home affordable for the average homebuyer? Matt Blecher, principal of Verdatek Solutions LLC, a specialist in green building who managed the project, noted that it must be affordable if the marketplace is going to support it. The St. Louis home cost about $500,000 to build, more than double the average listing price of homes for sale in the same area. However, prospective buyers can rest assured that running an active house should cost considerably less than keeping a traditional property that requires external power and energy sources.
David and Thuy Smith, owners of the Webster Groves house, say that their new residence fits right into the older, more traditional neighborhood, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Their active property has clapboard siding, a stone-trimmed foundation, and a wraparound porch with tapered Craftsman-style columns, proving that environmentally friendly housing can take both traditional and modern forms.
For pictures and more details of America’s first active home, check out the website, activehouseusa.com.
Follow these tips from Time to run your air conditioning units without breaking the household budget.
Interest rates for 15- and 30-year fixed mortgages continue to stay low, reports CNN Money. Last year, the 15-year fixed rate averaged 3.07 percent, but last week, it dipped to 2.56 percent. The 30-year fixed rate averaged 3.35 percent, which is only a 0.04 percentage point above the record low of November 12, 2012.
These interest rates help both potential homebuyers and existing homeowners. Competitive rates help drive consumer demand for houses and increase prices. Over the last 12 months, the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index measured a 9 percent gain in residential property prices, enabling underwater homeowners to regain some of their lost equity.
Mortgage refinance applications have gone up. Last week, they jumped by 1.8 percent, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, and accounted for nearly three-quarters of all home loan applications. HARP’s share of refinance applications was 34 percent last week, marking a high point since the MBA started tracking such applications in February 2012.
As of May 1, 2013, the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,500 or less) decreased to 3.60 percent, the lowest since December 2012′s rate of 3.65 percent. The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages decreased to 2.84 percent, the lowest rate since December 2012′s rate of 2.89 percent.
Houses are moving at the highest prices the market has seen since May 2008, reports The Seattle Times.
King County homes sold at a median price of $400,000 in April. That’s 11.1 percent above last year’s level and 2 percent higher than that of March 2013, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service. In Snohomish County, the median price for homes sold was $295,000, which is 15.5 percent higher than the median in April 2012.
A total of 3,221 single-family homes were listed for sale in King County last month, which is 35 percent lower than the inventory that was available the same time in 2012. The double-digit rise in home prices is not sustainable over time, says Glenn Crellin, associate director for research at the University of Washington’s Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies. What the market needs for price stability is a combination of new construction properties, additional homeowners willing to list their properties for sale, and the release of foreclosed homes by banks. For homeowners who are looking to make a move, now might be that time.
Need more information? Check out Trulia’s map for King County’s average list and median sales prices.
Lumber prices in North America are rising as the U.S. housing market recovers, Chinese demand continues, and Canada’s export of lumber is constrained due to a beetle infestation, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. In March, sales of new single-family properties jumped 1.5 percent, and housing starts rose to a 1.04 million annual rate, the fastest since 2008. According to the National Association of Builders, a 2,400-square-foot home in the U.S. typically requires about 14,400 board feet of softwood lumber.
The mills that slowed production as a result of the housing bubble are now starting to ramp up, but builders are challenged by the rising cost of materials. Construction companies are paying more for lumber and other materials used heavily in residential building. For example, the Toll Brothers Inc., the biggest U.S. luxury-home builder, paid approximately $3,000 more per home in material and labor costs in its fiscal first quarter ended January 13, with lumber comprising two-thirds of that additional expenditure.
Gerry Van Leeuwen, vice president at consultant International Wood Markets Group in Vancouver, said that “for the first time ever, we have a recovery in North American housing alongside a very robust China market, and Canada cannot go back to peak production any time soon.” The combination of these factors are causing prices to go up around the world.
According to Finance & Commerce, the cost of certain building materials went up by double digits in the past year. Gypsum products jumped 14 percent, lumber and plywood 10.8 percent, and architectural coatings including paint 10.1 percent. Passing off the higher material costs to buyers is easier to do in places where demand for new construction is high but tougher in regions where inventory of existing homes can meet consumer needs. With the current trend of rising home prices, however, builders are better able to handle the higher costs. Shawn Nelson, president of New Spaces, based in Burnsville, Minn., noted that builders will be “able to sell their homes at price points that make sense for them now.”
InvestmentNews.com ranks Seattle as one of the best places to live in the U.S. based on median income, cultural amenities, the area’s colleges, percentage of the population holding graduate degrees, and employment levels.
Here’s the full list from twelfth to first place:
- St. Paul
- San Diego
- New York
- Portland, OR
- Washington, D.C.
- San Francisco
The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) underwent some significant changes in 2012, evolving into HARP 2.0 and spurring a surge in refinances under the government-run program. Based on the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) 2012 report, HARP volume represented 22 percent of the total refinance volume in the fourth quarter. Additionally, 1,074,755 refinances were completed through HARP in 2012, bringing the total number of HARP refinances to over 2.1 million since the program’s inception.
So what specific changes attributed to the growth in HARP refinances? HARP 2.0 gives better access to borrowers who are at risk of losing their homes, particularly those who are severely underwater, reports Ilyce Glink of CBS MoneyWatch. Meg Burns, senior associate director for housing and regulatory policy for the FHFA, wrote in an email that “removing the 125 percent loan-to-value ceiling, waiving certain representations and warranties for lenders, eliminating the need for a new property appraisal and eliminating certain risk-based fees for borrowers who refinance into shorter-term mortgages has proven successful.”
According to CBS MoneyWatch, HARP 2.0 appeals to more lenders in part because the program does not hold the new originator responsible for anything that occurred with the first loan. “The limited success of HARP 1.0 can be attributed to a lack of lenders that embraced the program,” said Spencer Llewellyn, executive director of Loans 101, a company that provides data to the public about the mortgage industry.
As a result of the revamp, the market has seen a 600 percent annual increase in the number of underwater homeowners who received HARP loans.To find out what HARP 2.0 can do for you, check out www.makinghomeaffordable.gov.
Housing starts in the U.S. have increased by 7 percent from February to March, surpassing the 1 million mark for the first time since June 2008, reports the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
- Housing starts from February to March increased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.04 million, based on the Commerce Department’s report.
- Apartment construction led the way with a nearly 31 percent increase to an annual rate of 417,000.
- Single-family home building dropped 4.8 percent to an annual rate of 619,000 from February’s pace of 650,000.
- Applications for building permits dipped 3.9 percent to an annual rate of 902,000 from February’s rate of 939,000.
The April survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo indicates that builder confidence fell slightly due to increasing costs for building materials and concerns over the supply of developed lots and labor. Still, March’s starts was about 46 percent higher than the same month last year, a clear indication that the housing market will add to overall economic growth this year. While housing construction fell 5.8 percent in the Northeast, it rose 10.9 percent in the South, 9.6 percent in the Midwest, and 2.7 percent in the West.
Historically low mortgage interest rates and relatively low housing prices have created a real win-win situation for home buyers. But some would-be buyers have run into credit challenges with stricter lending standards. That could be changing, based on the quarterly FICO/PRMIA survey that measures the sentiment of lending among bank risk professionals, according to the Niche Report.
The survey shows that about 20 percent of the bank risk professionals questioned expect the approval criteria for loans to relax. That’s up from 12.1 percent in the prior quarter. The Professional Risk Managers’ International Association (PRMIA) conducted the survey for FICO, posting the following results:
- 71 percent of respondents say home prices are “rising at a sustainable pace” in the context of mortgage lending risk
- 39 percent of respondents expect mortgage delinquencies to decrease over the next six months
- 59 percent of bankers expect the supply of credit for residential mortgages to meet demand over the next 6 months.
Dr. Andrew Jennings, chief analytics officer at FICO and head of FICO Labs, said that while “mortgage lenders have been understandably guarded over the past five years…the improvement in their sentiment should be welcome news.” Jennings anticipates that more lenders will expand their mortgage and home equity businesses, but they will proceed with caution. This is a positive forecast for potential buyers with less than stellar credentials who can still demonstrate their financial ability to support a mortgage.
Every year Seattle Magazine publishes its list of the best neighborhoods in the Seattle metro area. A total of 15 made the cut, based on the following criteria — the presence of a unique urban village, walkability, interesting homes, green space, and a strong community identity.
If you’re in the market to relocate, click on the city name to get a resident’s perspective on what makes the neighborhood feel like home.
- Queen Anne
- Capitol Hill
- Columbia City
- West Seattle
- West Bellevue
- South Lake Union