Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fed Chair Bernake Addresses Housing along with Economic Outlook

Yesterday, in a speech before the National Italian American Foundation, New York, New York , Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke gave his views on the economic outlook. With regards the housing market, he had these words to say:

"Housing has played a significant role in the recent slowing of overall activity, and developments in this sector are likely to have an important influence on economic growth going forward as well. As you know, the correction in the housing market that is now in train follows a boom during the first half of this decade. Between 2000 and late 2005, the pace of construction of single-family homes rose more than 40 percent, and sales of both new and existing homes increased by a similar amount. Nationally, home prices increased about 60 percent over that period--an average figure that masks considerable variation in the rate of price appreciation across cities and regions, as home prices rose exceptionally rapidly in some "hot" locations but only modestly in others.

No real or financial asset can be counted upon to pay a higher risk-adjusted return than other assets year after year, and housing is no exception. Thus, a slowing in the pace of house-price appreciation was inevitable. Moreover, the sustained rise in prices, together with some increase in mortgage interest rates, sowed the seeds of the correction by making housing progressively less affordable. Declining affordability ultimately served to limit the demand for housing, leading to a deceleration in house prices and slowing home purchases.

The drop in home sales that began earlier this year has led homebuilders to curtail the rate of new construction. Indeed, single-family housing starts are down about 35 percent since their peak earlier this year. Obtaining a precise read on home prices is difficult: During a period of weak demand, potential sellers often choose to leave their homes on the market longer or even to remove them from the market, rather than accept price offers that are below their expectations. The timeliest data on house prices do not fully account for changes in the composition of home sales by location, size, and other characteristics. Moreover, the data do not capture hidden price cuts, as when builders try to stimulate sales through the use of "sweeteners" such as paying the customer's mortgage points or upgrading features of the house at no additional cost. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the rate of home-price appreciation has slowed significantly for the nation as whole. Some areas have continued to experience gains--albeit smaller ones than before--while other markets have seen outright price declines.

Notwithstanding the sharp reduction in starts of new single-family houses, inventories of both new and existing homes for sale have increased markedly this year. For example, according to the most recent data, homebuilders currently have about 550,000 new homes for sale, roughly half again the number that has been typical during the past decade. Moreover, the official statistics likely understate the full extent of the inventory buildup, as many homebuilders have reported a sharp increase this year in the number of buyers canceling signed contracts. A home for which the sales contract is cancelled becomes available for sale once again but is not included in the official data on the inventory of unsold new homes. To reduce this inventory overhang, builders are likely to continue to limit the number of new homes under construction.

Although residential construction continues to sag, some indications suggest that the rate of home purchase may be stabilizing, perhaps in response to modest declines in mortgage interest rates over the past few months and lower prices in some markets. Sales of new homes ticked up in August and increased a bit further in September. The University of Michigan's survey of consumers shows an increase in the share of respondents who believe that now is a good time to buy a home, from 57 percent in September to 67 percent in November. Meanwhile, an index of applications for mortgages for home purchases has been trending up since July. Although these developments are encouraging, we should keep in mind that even if demand stabilizes in its current range, reducing the inventory of unsold homes to more normal levels will likely involve further adjustments in production. The slowing pace of residential construction is likely to be a drag on economic growth into next year."

A full copy of his address is available on the website of the Federal Reserve Board .

Monday, November 20, 2006

Massachusetts Realtors Release 3rd Quarter Housing Market Report

Massachusetts Association of Realtors® The Voice for Real Estate™ in Massachusetts

256 Second Avenue, Waltham, MA. 02451-1139 Telephone (781) 890-3700 Fax (781) 890-4919
FOR RELEASE NOVEMBER 20, 2006 CONTACT: John Dulczewski
AFTER 10 A.M. (781-839-5507)


(Waltham, MA.) – After three consecutive summers of steady home sales and price growth, the residential real estate market in Massachusetts experienced a healthy correction in sales and selling prices during the third quarter of 2006, according to a report issued today by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors® (MAR). While demand has eased, the more moderate sales pace and softening in selling prices, combined with today’s higher inventory levels and a steady drop in mortgage rates in recent months, has helped boost affordability levels in the Bay State and usher in one of the strongest buyers markets in years, say MAR officials.
The Realtors® report specifically shows that 11,650 detached single-family homes were sold across Massachusetts in the third quarter of 2006, a decline of 23.4 percent from the comparable quarter last year when 15,211 homes were sold. It’s the sixth consecutive quarter that activity in the single-family home market has declined from the same period a year earlier, and this year’s third quarter sales volume is the lowest for a summer quarter in over a decade, dating back to July-September 1995 when 11,373 homes sold. Sales of condominiums also decreased sharply this past summer, sliding 22.3 percent, from a third quarter record high of 7,124 units sold from July-September 2005 to 5,538 condos sold in the same three-month period this year.
“Although the market has not been nearly as busy as the last few years, housing demand is still healthy. Remember, we are coming off the best year for home sales on record, so business appears to be slower than it actually is,” stated MAR President David Wluka, of Wluka Real Estate in Sharon. In fact, the 2005 third quarter set a record for highest residential sales volume for a single quarter in state history with 22,335 homes and condos sold, so the 17,188 homes and condos sold in third quarter this year seems modest even though it’s the eighth highest sales total ever recorded for a summer quarter in the Bay State.
“The more relaxed sales pace during the third quarter is the result of a waiting game buyers and sellers have been engaged in over the past year,” Wluka said. “Buyers recognize that there’s no shortage of homes for sale, so they’ve been sitting back watching to see if prices will go lower. Meanwhile, many sellers have, until recently, been slow to make price concessions, and they’ve also stopped looking at homes until they are able to reach agreement on the sale of their current home,” he explained.
Regionally, in the third quarter, sales of detached single-family homes fell in all areas of the state from the same period last year, with sales declining 16-20 percent in greater Boston and western Massachusetts; 25 percent in Barnstable and Worcester Counties, the South Shore, and northeastern Massachusetts; and 40 percent in the Greater Fall River-New Bedford area. In the condominium market, sales also declined in every region over the past year, with activity down 12-16 percent on the South Shore and in western Mass.; 20 percent in greater Boston and Worcester County; and roughly 30 percent or more in all other areas.
“Across the state, the markets experiencing the largest corrections are those where home prices climbed too high and too fast,” Wluka noted. “However, as income levels rise and more jobs are added to the local economy, sales should rebound,” he said.
The reality is the sales pace during the boom years from 2003-2005 was unsustainable and unhealthy for the housing
market, according to Realtors®, whereas the current climate reflects more normal activity and favorable conditions for buyers.

2006 Third Quarter Home Sales Report – add one
“In recent months we’ve seen steady improvement in housing affordability, as many sellers have made significant price reductions and mortgage rates have declined to around 6 ½ percent. Today’s market also features the largest selection of homes for sale in many years, which offers plenty of room for negotiation,” stated Wluka. “For first-time buyers and those previously priced out of the market, now is a good time to be house-hunting before inventory shrinks over interest rates start to climb.”
Indeed, while the number of single-family properties for sale continued to rise during the third quarter over the same three-month period a year ago, data from the MAR report also suggests that the supply of unsold homes and condos may have leveled off between the spring and summer quarters of 2006. Notably, over the past year, the inventory of detached single-family homes and condos on the market has risen steadily by 19 percent, from a monthly average of 53,690 listings (or 7.2 months of supply) in the third quarter of 2005 to 63,945 listings (or 11.2 months of supply) in the same quarter this year. However, the number of residential listings rose less than 1 percent from the second quarter, which saw a monthly average of 63,433 listings.
Additionally, after declining to their lowest level in six months in September, mortgage interest rates remained stable last month, as the average for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage in Massachusetts was unchanged at 6.53 percent.
“Those buyers who attempt to time the market often end up losing some of their purchasing power because rates rise before prices bottom out,” cautioned Wluka. “Now that prices have come down and our economy is growing again, we expect buyers will get more serious. There’s even some evidence of pent-up demand because buyers have been waiting out the market.”
Indicative of this point is the increased time it takes to sell residential property, which has risen by more than a month over the past year. This summer, detached single-family homes were on the market an average of 116 days before selling, compared to just 81 days for homes sold from July-September 2005. Similarly, market time for condominiums increased from an average of 76 days in the third quarter last year to 111 days for units placed under agreement in the same quarter this year.
“With today’s more plentiful supply of homes for sale, properties have to be priced right and well maintained or they are going to be overlooked,” observed Wluka. “Sellers who over-estimate the value of their home risk limiting the pool of buyers who can afford it, and the longer a property sits on the market the more difficult it becomes to sell,” he added.
With sellers continuing to outnumber buyers in the current market, selling prices for single-family homes and condos fell modestly this past summer, the MAR report found. The statewide median selling price for detached single-family homes decreased 4.9 percent, from a record high quarterly median price of $370,000 in the 2005 third quarter to $352,000 in the same quarter this year. It’s the third consecutive quarter that the median selling price has declined on an annualized basis, and the third quarter price drop of approximately 5 percent is the largest year-to-year price decline in over a decade, dating back to the first quarter of 1993 when the statewide selling price of detached homes fell 5.5 percent the over comparable quarter in 1992.
Prices also retreated in the condominium market last quarter, with the statewide median selling price for condos slipping 2.5 percent, from an all-time high median price of $282,000 in the third quarter last year to $275,000 in the third quarter of 2006. Notably, this marks the first year-to-year quarterly decline in condo prices in more than seven years, dating back to the fourth quarter of 1998 when the statewide selling price for condos dipped 0.2 percent from the same quarter a year earlier.
On a regional basis, selling prices in the detached single-family home market were flat over the past year in western Massachusetts, inching up 0.7 percent, but slid 2 percent in greater Boston and on the South Coast, 3-4 percent in Barnstable and Worcester Counties, and 5-6 percent in the Northeast and South Shore regions. Median selling prices for condos also lost ground in most regions, but improved 25 percent on the South Coast and a modest 1-2 percent in Cape Cod and western Mass.
“Prices remain soft in many areas, but are likely to stabilize as supply and demand becomes more balanced,” said Wluka.
Sales and price data from the MAR report reflects transactions occurring through Realtor®-affiliated multiple listing
services in the Commonwealth, and account for approximately 80 percent of all real estate sales in Massachusetts.
-30- 11/20/06





Region 2005 2006 Percentage Change
Cape Cod 1,103 823 - 25.4 %
Central 2,731 2,032 - 25.6 %
Greater Boston 3,484 2,805 - 19.5 %
Northeast 3,009 2,230 - 25.9 %
Southeast 539 321 - 40.4 %
South Shore 2,147 1,593 - 25.8 %
West 2,198 1,846 - 16.0 %

STATEWIDE 15,211 11,650 - 23.4 %


Region 2005 2006 Percentage Change
Cape Cod $404,200 $390,000 - 3.5 %
Central $303,500 $290,000 - 4.4 %
Greater Boston $515,000 $505,000 - 1.9 %
Northeast $408,000 $382,950 - 6.1 %
Southeast $288,000 $280,000 - 2.8 %
South Shore $369,900 $350,000 - 5.4 %
West $215,000 $216,500 + 0.7 %

STATEWIDE $370,000 $352,000 - 4.9 %

Data for this report reflects residential sales reported to Realtor®-affiliated multiple listing services systems in Massachusetts, including the MLS Property Information Network, Inc.; the Multiple Listing Service of the Berkshire County Board of Realtors®; Cape Cod & Islands Multiple Listing Service, Inc.; the North Bristol County Board of Realtors® MLS; and Southeastern Mass. MLS.





Region 2005 2006 Percentage Change
Cape Cod 269 178 - 33.8 %
Central 724 574 - 20.7 %
Greater Boston 3,443 2,743 - 20.3 %
Northeast 1,585 1,118 - 29.5 %
Southeast 97 62 - 36.1 %
South Shore 658 573 - 12.9 %
West 348 290 - 16.7 %

STATEWIDE 7,124 5,538 - 22.3 %


Region 2005 2006 Percentage Change
Cape Cod $268,450 $275,000 + 2.4 %
Central $215,500 $208,750 - 3.1 %
Greater Boston $345,000 $337,000 - 2.3 %
Northeast $242,900 $240,050 - 1.2 %
Southeast $151,250 $189,900 + 25.6 %
South Shore $269,400 $254,900 - 5.4 %
West $156,600 $157,450 + 0.5 %

STATEWIDE $282,000 $275,000 - 2.5 %

Data for this report reflects residential sales reported to Realtor®-affiliated multiple listing services systems in Massachusetts, including the MLS Property Information Network, Inc.; the Multiple Listing Service of the Berkshire County Board of Realtors®; Cape Cod & Islands Multiple Listing Service, Inc.; the North Bristol County Board of Realtors® MLS; and Southeastern Mass. MLS.

Talking Points:

• Despite the more than 20 percent decline in sales activity in the detached single-family home and condominium markets in the third quarter – which represents the largest year-to-year quarterly sales decline since the second quarter of 1995 when single-family sales fell 20.2% and condo sales decreased 13.5% -- housing demand remains historically strong, as the 2006 third quarter residential sales volume of 22,335 detached homes and condos sold ranks as the eighth highest on record for the summer quarter.
Notably, third quarter data reflects market activity as far back as May – when the interest rates were higher and many sellers had not yet made price reductions. Thus, while this report is comprised of data that lags the current market, anecdotal evidence from across much of the state suggests that there has been a measurable increase in buyer activity during the past 4-6 weeks.

• The decline in prices during the third quarter, over the same period last year, is largely a function of supply and demand. Most sellers have come to accept the fact that the market has changed however, and in recent months have adjusted their prices to be more competitive given today’s higher inventory levels.

• The inventory of unsold homes and condos has risen 19 percent over the past year to a monthly average of 63,945 listings in the third quarter, thus providing plenty of choice for buyers entering the housing market. Total listings have declined 3 ½ percent since the second quarter however, an indication that supply and demand may becoming more balanced in the months ahead, which should in turn bring price stability.

• The 5 percent decline in the statewide median home price and 2.5 percent drop in the statewide condo median price during the past year are modest. More significant price declines, on the order of a 20-30% correction as forecasted by some who wrongly predicted a housing “bubble” in the local market last year, are unlikely. In fact, Moody’s, in its latest housing market report, now believes home prices in metropolitan Boston are now “near bottom” and likely will stabilize by the beginning of 2007.

• Along with today’s more realistic pricing, mortgage interest rates remain very attractive, having dropped to a six month low in September and remained stable at 6.53 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage in Massachusetts. As a result, housing affordability has improved over the past year, especially for entry-level buyers looking to purchase their first home.

• We’re now enjoying some of the best buyers’ market conditions in years. In fact, with mortgage rates and prices now lower, a wide choice of homes available for sale, and the economy growing again, there’s every reason to believe that the pent-up demand created by buyers who’ve been sitting out the market will lead to improved activity in the months ahead.
Notably, for those buyers who have yet to get serious about purchasing, its important to remember that those who attempt to time the market often end up losing some of their purchasing power because rates rise before prices bottom out.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Real Estate, Politics and New England Weather

Tip O'Neil is quoted "All politics is local". And in proper perspective, so is real estate.
Real estate markets are local markets. What makes one street or neighborhood more or less desireable than another, if not individual preference?

So how was it that that the cost of housing in Massachusetts skyrocketed? With fewer than normal houses on the market and a pent up demand, coupled with very favorable interest rates, the cost was bid up and up. And yet, the sales continued. All sorts of creative financing was also used to support the demand.
Those of us, who have been in real estate for some time, had "sticker shock" as each new listing came on the market at higher and higher list prices. Home owners, seeing their neighbors' house on the market at a high listing price, jumped on the bandwagon and listed their property at an even higher price. At first, this upward spiral was sustained by demand and the 'low cost of money' (interest rates were on the way down, then). Eventually the market became saturated with listings at very high prices, and buyers began to resist.

Now it seems that the pendulum is swinging back. Some buyers are just waiting it out. Others are trying to use their best negotiating skills to get lower prices. Still others have left the state to buy elswhere. Sellers are either facing the new reality or they are taking their properties off the market after 6, 8, 12 months without a sale. This looks like Supply and Demand are trying to b ring the market back into balance.

In his acceptance speach, our new governor-elect just touched on the subject by saying he has a "mandate to make ... housing more affordable." That's going to be difficult. What can the governor of any state do to make housing more affordable. When people talk about "affordable housing", they are usually talking about housing, rentals or sales, that cost less than market value. Who is going to pay for the difference?

Part of the reality of Massachusetts and New England is the weather and the season. As the temperature goes down, so will the number of persons out there on a weekend looking at houses. It's better to stay indoors and watch the Patriots play or go to the mall to shop. If it gets really cold, then staying indoors becomes first choice. And if we have any kind of snowfall after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, the malls will be packed as soon as the roads are cleared.

This will be good. The crisp cool air and the clean white snow will help to clear our minds, if only for a little while.

Then we will all be ready for the first signs of the Spring buying season!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Real Estate Saleperson Class Announced for Weekend in November

This may be the last weekend class before the end of the year! Annex Real Estate School announces that it will be holding an INTENSIVE pre-licensing course starting Friday evening, November 17th from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm. The class will continue on Saturday and Sunday, November 18 and 19, from 8 am to 6 pm, both days. Students completing all 24 hours will meet the Massachusetts state requirement of classroom instruction to take the state examination. A press release will be available on November 6th at the PR LEAP website.

For more information, you can visit the School Website or email The school phone number is 617-472-4330 ext 318.