|Organization||Estimated percentage of deals that were all-cash in July 2012||Estimated percentage of deals that were all-cash in July 2013|
|Goldman Sachs Group||50-plus%||55-plus%|
|National Association of Realtors||27%*||31%*|
4 Things All Buyers Should Keep in Mind
Mortgage interest rates are still low
It sounds cliche, but real estate is buyer beware
You should never buy a property that you don’t love
Shop properties for at least 4 to 12 months
Jump in mortgage rates hurts US sales of new homes
WASHINGTON — Americans cut back sharply in July on their purchases of new homes, a sign that higher mortgage rates may slow the housing recovery.
U.S. sales of newly built homes dropped 13.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 394,000, the Commerce Department said Friday. That's the lowest in nine months. And sales fell from a rate of 455,000 in June, which was revised down from a previously reported 497,000.
The housing rebound that began last year has helped drive economic growth and create more construction jobs. But mortgage rates have climbed a full percentage point since May. The increase has begun to steal some momentum from the market.
Sales of new homes are still up 7 percent in the 12 months ending in July. Yet the annual pace remains well below the 700,000 that is consistent with a healthy market.
July's drop "may mark an uh-oh kind of moment for the housing recovery," said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities.
Homebuilder stocks declined sharply Friday, even as overall market indexes rose. Shares of Toll Brothers Inc., D.R. Horton Inc. and Lennar Corp. — three of the nation's largest builders — all fell more than 3 percent in afternoon trading.
And major homebuilders' shares have been dropping steadily since late May. The slide began after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke first signaled that the Fed might reduce its bond purchases later this year. The bond purchases have helped keep mortgage rates and other borrowing costs low.
The average rate on a 30-year mortgage reached 4.58 percent this week, according to Freddie Mac. That's up from 3.35 percent in early May and the highest in two years.
The impact on would-be buyers' finances is significant.
Take someone who locked in the early May rate on a $200,000 mortgage. They would have a monthly payment of around $875. But the same mortgage at last week's average rate would cost $1,025 a month.
The difference adds up to $150 more each month — or $54,000 over the lifetime of a 30-year loan. The monthly figures don't include taxes, insurance or initial down payments.
Potential buyers appear to have noticed that financing a home purchase has become more expensive. The number of Americans applying for mortgages to buy homes has plummeted 16 percent since the end of April. And builders began work on the fewest single-family homes in eight months in July.
Still, mortgage rates remain low by historical standards. The same $200,000 loan would cost a buyer $1,330 a month at a 7 percent rate, the average since 1985.
Most economists expect the housing recovery will continue, albeit at a slower pace.
"We've been spoiled by low rates," Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com. "People are gnashing their teeth now over a rate we had never seen four years ago." He notes that, based on their figures dating back to 1985, rates on the 30-year loan had never sunk below 5 percent until 2010.
The impact of higher mortgage rates has surfaced in the new-home market faster than the re-sale market because the new-home sales are measured when contracts are signed.
Higher rates may have also caused potential buyers to cancel some purchases of new homes. Vitner says that may explain why sales were revised down in May and June. Most of the revisions occurred in sales of homes not yet under construction. Buyers don't need mortgages until construction begins.
Sales of previously occupied homes reached a nearly four-year high last month. But that report measured completed sales, which typically reflects mortgage rates locked in a month or two earlier.
The jump likely reflected a rush by home buyers to lock in lower rates. Next week, a measure of contract signings in July will be released. Many economists expect that will drop.
Fed officials are closely watching the impact of higher mortgage rates on the housing recovery. The drop in sales could strengthen the hand of those Fed members who want to delay reducing the bond purchases.
Though new homes represent only a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to data from the homebuilders association.
"The spike in mortgage rates is slowing the pace of improvement," Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist for BTIG, an institutional brokerage, said in an email. "Given the speed at which housing was improving, and the growing talk of a renewed bubble, some moderation, assuming it doesn't materially worsen, is not a terrible outcome."
Davis housing project must overcome city's anti-growth streak
A housing development proposed for a former tomato cannery in Davis could be the last subdivision built in the university town, provided it can overcome the city's powerful anti-growth streak.
As planned, The Cannery project would include a 7-acre organic farm, a "market hall" filled with small eateries and artisan food vendors, a 2-mile bike loop and 547 apartments and single-family homes of varied types and sizes on roughly 100 acres.
Food giant ConAgra, which owns the property, is working with The New Home Co., a housing developer, to advance the project. The Davis Planning Commission and City Council are scheduled to take it up in a series of hearings in September and October.
Regional planners say The Cannery could serve as a model for future development across the greater Sacramento region.
"It really hits a lot of the marks in terms of the general principles of our Blueprint," said Mike McKeever, executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the region's transportation planning agency. The Blueprint is SACOG's long-range plan that promotes compact, mixed-use development near jobs and public transportation.
The University of California, Davis, is expected to be one of the region's main job generators in the coming years – both in terms of direct employment and related businesses such as biotech, McKeever said. Davis, he said, needs more types of housing to accommodate young professionals, families and seniors.
According to SACOG, Davis needs to plan for more than 1,000 new homes by 2021 to meet its obligations under state law to house its share of the region's growing population.
Plans for The Cannery call for a variety of housing types at different price points, including 2,100- to 3,500-square-foot family homes and more-compact houses with small second units above the garage. Also part of the mix are row homes, low-income apartments and upscale "stacked flats" with elevator service intended to appeal to seniors.
Housing in Davis has become increasingly expensive and scarce since new construction stopped because of resident opposition and the recession. Enrollment in the local schools has been declining over the past decade.
The site of the former Hunt-Wesson cannery, about 2 miles from the main campus, is the last large parcel in Davis not zoned for agriculture or open space. That means it can be developed without a vote by Davis residents who, under the terms of a ballot measure first passed in 2000, must approve the rezoning of farmland for housing.
The ordinance, commonly referred to as Measure J, is unique in the Sacramento region. Only a handful of communities in the state have similar provisions; most of the others are in wealthy, coastal enclaves.
The Davis measure was renewed in 2010 as Measure R. It passed overwhelmingly, and it is expected to be renewed again in 2020.
Under Measure J, Davis voters defeated two subdivisions requiring votes in the past decade.
In 2005 they shot down Covell Village, which proposed nearly 1,900 housing units and retail shops on about 400 acres of farmland beyond the city's northern boundary. The project lost by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.
In 2009, by a 3-to-1 ratio, they defeated a much smaller project called Wildhorse Ranch. It proposed 191 homes on the site of a 26-acre horse farm.
After the last development lost by a large margin – 75 percent to 25 percent – some developers and residents said Davis would never grow beyond its current boundaries as long as voters had their say.
The Cannery is an infill project that requires only City Council approval. Still, some residents are already vowing a fight at the ballot box, either by persuading council members to put it to a popular vote or by using the initiative process to force an election.
"If the council won't put it on the ballot, some Davis residents will put it on the ballot," said lawyer Michael Harrington, who said he thinks the land should remain zoned for commercial or industrial use.
Some say letting voters decide the fate of The Cannery would undermine the the purpose of Measure J, which was meant to protect farmland, not to require votes on infill development.
"The point is it shouldn't go to a vote because it isn't part of Measure J," said Eileen Samitz, a former Davis planning commissioner who championed the ballot measure and opposed prior developments on farmland. "It would be a misuse and could endanger the future of Measure J."
The Cannery's potential to accommodate new housing was used as an argument against both Covell Village and Wildhorse Ranch. Building it would largely fulfill the city's future growth needs, Samitz said.
"It's become a beautiful project which has had an enormous amount of community input," she said. "Now is the time to move forward."
3 lessons learned from home flippers
Lex Levinrad is getting phone calls. More than he can handle. His Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Distressed Real Estate Institute is flooded with requests these days from regular people – teachers, plumbers, paint salesmen – who want to invest in South Florida real estate now thathome prices are rising.
Many who attend his monthly seminars around the area are learning the art of "flipping" – buying properties at deep discount, fixing them up and reselling within a few months to traditional buyers.
Levinrad, 46, a South African native who says he's bought and sold more than 500 homes, shows aspiring investors how to do the math and where to find the deals.
He also counsels them to be careful, to avoid the mistakes that led to the housing crash. He said investors often pay too much for homes and underestimate the cost of repairs.
"They become emotionally attached to the house, get greedy and stubborn and won't sell unless they make a certain profit," he said. "That's how they get stuck."
Here are three golden rules of real estate investing:
-Don't buy with the expectation that the home will shoot up in value. During the housing boom,too many flippers got burned by counting on fast price appreciation. When the market tanked, so did they.
"If you buy only hoping that prices are going up, it's the same as going to (Las) Vegas," Levinrad said.
Flippers must buy at enough of a discount that gives them instant equity in the home, Levinrad said. That allows them to turn around and sell without having to wait for prices to rise.
Without instant equity, it's best to hold off – unless investors are willing to become a landlord, he said.
Levinrad and David Dweck, founder of the Boca Real Estate Investment Club in Coconut Creek, Fla., say flippers should buy a home for no more than 65 percent of the market value after repairs. If a house is worth $100,000 after it's renovated, and it requires $10,000 in work, the maximum price an investor should pay is about $55,000.
Dweck's advice: Don't skimp on renovations and save the receipts to show appraisers.
"The biggest challenge right now is appraisals," Dweck said. "The more ammunition you have to give appraisers, the better. But there is absolutely no guarantee."
Maher Hanna, a student of Levinrad's seminars who started investing full-time this year, said flippers – particularly beginners – may have to be satisfied with modest profits.
"There's a saying: Bulls make money, bears make money, but pigs gets slaughtered," Hanna said.
-Do your own due diligence. Investors should know the true value of a house without relying solely on outside sources.
Too many novice investors take a real estate agent's word, Levinrad said. Even appraisals may offer only a ballpark figure, he said.
The best way to determine value: Travel to the neighborhood, attend open houses and see what similar-size homes are selling for.
Also find out how many other homes in the area are listed and for what prices. Flippers should price their renovated properties slightly below market value to attract interest. That will ensure they don't have to keep the home any longer than necessary, Levinrad said.
-Know your exit strategy. If an investor is planning to buy, renovate and resell, stick to the plan.
Some investors change course and end up regretting it. They may realize they'll make less money on the deal than originally expected, so they hold the home and rent it instead.
But then they discover they aren't prepared to be landlords – from the hassles of dealing with problem tenants to the high cost of maintaining the homes.
"Something that was supposed to be a profitable and enjoyable experience turns into a nightmare," Levinrad said. "If your profit is less than you anticipated, consider it a lesson learned and move on to another property."
Sales surge seen in pricey Tahoe homes
Evidence of a resurging real estate market is evident on the shores of Lake Tahoe, where premium-priced, high-end properties are moving.
Sierra Sotheby's International Realty's Lexi Cerretti recently closed her third lakefront home sale in Lake Tahoe this summer, with the sale prices at $11.8 million, $6.2 million and $5.3 million.
By comparison, there were only 10 lakefront home and condo sales in all of 2012.
"Many high net-worth buyers are looking to either establish residency in Nevada or purchase second homes with plans to transition up to Lake Tahoe in the future from California," Cerretti said.
Local home inventory rises 21% in July
The number of homes on the market inSacramento County and the city of West Sacramento jumped by more than 21 percent in July compared with June, helping to ease a severe inventory shortage that has forced up prices this year, the Sacramento Association of Realtors said in its latest report.
In July, there were 2,071 active listings in the group's coverage area, up from 1,706 the month before and more than double the all-time low of 984 units in Jan- uary, the association said.
Housing inventory is typically measured as the time it would take to sell all the homes on the market. In July, there were 1.3 months of inventory, compared with 1.1 months in June. Earlier this year, there was less than a month of inventory on the market. Anything less than three months of inventory is considered a sellers' market.
The ultra-tight supply of homes for sale has been a major factor in pushing prices skyward this year as buyers tried to take advantage of historically low interest rates and relatively low prices.
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Investors scoop up 1,200 acres in Rancho Murieta
A group led by current homeowners paid an undisclosed price for 1,200 acres at Rancho Murieta, including the two 18-hole golf courses and more than 700 acres of undeveloped land that's being eyed for hundreds of additional houses.
The deal, which closed Friday, is the latest chapter in the occasionally turbulent history of the isolated slice of suburbia 20 miles southeast of Sacramento along Highway 16.
Four decades after it was founded, the county's first master-planned community has only about 2,500 homes – half as many as originally planned. Part of the problem was unstable ownership; during the 1980s and early '90s, Rancho Murieta was controlled by a swashbuckling Yolo County agribusinessman who lost the property to foreclosure.
"People who live here love it," said John Sullivan, a Rancho Murieta homeowner and leader of the group that just made the big purchase. "We've had our turmoils in the past and it's our mission … to finish the job."
Sullivan's group wants to build hundreds of homes on the property. He also plans to build an 83-room hotel and other amenities on a separate parcel that he and other investors bought last year near the community's gas station on Highway 16.
The hotel, expected to cost around $12 million, would serve visitors to Rancho Murieta's equestrian center, Sullivan said.
"The closest hotel is 14 miles away – we're looking forward to getting that hotel finished as quickly as we can," he said.
The purchase serves as further evidence of recovery in the area's housing market, said Greg Paquin of the Gregory Group, a Folsom real estate consultant.
"Clearly that's part of the message – the market's good," Paquin said.
Sullivan said his group includes the owners of the equestrian center.
Sullivan has been involved in various leadership roles at Rancho Murieta for years and is associated with two development firms, Cosumnes River Land and Lone Pine Investments.
The housing and the hotel would require approval from the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. The housing project is probably two years away from securing approval, while the hotel proposal is much further along.
The county approved more than 600 new homes on different parcels at Rancho Murieta before thehousing market collapsed in 2007. Those plans are still pending, with permits held by several different developers.
Those 2007 approvals were controversial. The Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators questioned the potential loss of habitat. Some current residents were fiercely opposed, saying the new homes would violate earlier promises about open space.
The group that bought the land Friday could propose a development plan that would meet with fewer objections. The 700 acres could handle 1,100 new homes, but Sullivan said "our plan is to be somewhat lower in the density."The land is generally north of the Cosumnes River and east of the main entrance on Murieta Parkway.
"Most of the investors have been residents for decades," Sullivan added. "We've been in Rancho Murieta since almost the beginning, one way or another."
Rancho Murieta was developed by the pension trust fund of Operating Engineers Local 3, a major union based in the East Bay.
The union has operated an apprenticeship training program at Rancho Murieta for years. Union trainees operating heavy machinery carved out the golf courses, man-made lakes and other features of the property.
In 1985, the union pension fund sold the community to Jack Anderson, a highly successful tomato farmer from Davis.
Anderson added Rancho Murieta to a growing portfolio that included 200,000 acres of farmland, the Dunes casino in Las Vegas and the gleaming "Emerald Tower" office building on Capitol Mall in Sacramento.
The sale followed several years of litigation, in which Anderson claimed the pension fund had reneged on an earlier deal to sell him the property.
In 1993, the pension fund took Rancho Murieta back. It foreclosed on the property after Anderson defaulted on a $27 million note, one in a series of defaults and other financial troubles that would bring his empire to ruin by the end of the 1990s.
Officials with the union and its pension fund couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday. Ken Noack Jr., a Cornish and Carey Commercial broker who represented the pension fund in the sale, said he wasn't sure why the union wanted to unload the property.
Noack said the union will lease about 50 acres back from the new owners to continue running the training center.
"They'll be here for the foreseeable future," Sullivan said.
Wave of new El Dorado development projects fuels fight with slow-growth advocates
In the county that brought the Gold Rush, surging with newcomers and rough-hewn mining camps, prospects of another boom are unnerving the modern-day populace.
Amid an improving real estate economy, developers are proposing nearly 7,000 new houses for the western slope of El Dorado County.
The new wave of potential major projects is emerging after a 2004 county general plan that promised to preserve the county's rural character while anticipating up to 21,000 additional houses.
In a region renowned for perhaps the most bitter growth battles in the lower Sierra Nevada,current residents are pushing back. Where miners once ravaged land for gold, determined homeowners are digging in for a protracted political fight to protect rustic lifestyles from new people, more houses and increased traffic.
Slow-growth advocates are now threatening a 2014 vote to limit new construction.
"We are shaking our heads and saying there is no way these can fly," said Bill Center, an environmental activist and former county supervisor.
The last time the county pondered such a development surge – approving ongoing projects that are bringing 11,000 new houses to El Dorado Hills – voters revolted by passing Measure Y in 1998. It prohibited any residential project of five or more units that caused or worsened traffic gridlock during peak commuting hours. Voters reaffirmed a follow-up measure 10 years later.
Wary of resistance, major investors, including the developer of the upscale Serrano community in El Dorado Hills, are now promising nature-friendly "agri-suburbia" residential projects.
They pledge to respect oak woodlands, wildlife passageways and local traditions of winemaking and apple growing while paying for new roads and building the future of El Dorado County.
In the biggest project, Parker Development Co., the Serrano developer, is seeking to build 3,236 homes and townhouses, a shopping center and an outdoor pavilion amid oak trees, a quarry lake and rusted iron remnants of a turn-of-the-century limestone mine.
Another development firm, tied to the Gallo winemaking family, is planning 800 houses nearby. The two projects pledge to set aside 640 acres for a regional park, more than half the size of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
"We're going to present the Board of Supervisors with a first-class plan," said Bill Parker, president of Parker Development, who expects a vote next summer. "We hope they realize there is no more logical piece of land to develop than Marble Valley."
In this corner of El Dorado County's growth politics, Thomas Howard, Parker Development's vice president of construction, leads a tour in a picturesque valley, past limestone outcroppings and golden, tree-shaded vistas.
He describes a future gateway road to a residential community – with wine grapes to be planted on roadsides and the center median – and a winery and bed-and-breakfast cottages to be built in grasslands ahead. "Everybody who lives in this community will be able to say, 'I own a winery,' " Howard says.
A few miles higher in the foothills, a line of hand-painted roadside signs screams in urgency over another proposed subdivision called San Stino.
On Mother Lode Drive, amid country houses and roadside farms, a sign reads, "HELP US." Three more follow: "Stop." "1,045." "Houses."
"Oh I hate it," says Kristine Killeen, gazing to the back of their property and the boundary of the planned 645-acre San Stino development. "Too many cars, too many people. They're going to double the population of Shingle Springs."
Greg Killeen said the subdivision construction would disrupt what the couple felt they were promised eight years ago when they moved to the area from San Jose: a quiet life amid large acreage properties.
Next-door neighbor Walt LaFranchi, who moved his family there from San Francisco in 1990, says, "I would say, 'No San Stino' and, literally, 'Not in My Backyard.'
"Why is this development leapfrogging El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park and going right into the heart of Shingle Springs?"
The San Stino property, between French Creek and Old French Town roads, is zoned for houses on 5-acre parcels. But the community designation says developers may seek approval from the county for higher-density construction there.
Attorney Joel Korotkin, a partner in the San Stino project, argued the development is thoughtfully planned – with suburban houses on clustered lots to set aside 40 percent of the land as open space.
"This represents a progressive idea of developing the land," said Korotkin, who says he's hoping to address neighbors' concerns. "You stay off slopes. You preserve the tree cover and the wetlands. You try what you can do to fit in."
El Dorado County, which topped 20,000 residents in 1850, two years after James Marshalldiscovered gold in Coloma, didn't surpass 30,000 people until after 1960. But since 1980, it has more than doubled in population to over 180,000.
Real estate market forecasts suggest nearly 12,000 homes could be built in El Dorado County over the next two decades. And just across the border with Sacramento County, Folsom is planning to add 10,000 houses south of Highway 50, adding to potential regional congestion.
"We need to have balanced growth," said Supervisor Ron Mikulaco of El Dorado Hills, who says he also worries about development drying up water supplies. "But I'm not hearing people say shut the gate behind us. I hear people say, 'We've got to be smart.' "
The six-county Sacramento Area Council of Governments has adopted regional planning principles that recommend managing new growth with "sustainable communities" that protect open space and are close to transportation and other amenities.
One project included in the SACOG regional plan is the Marble Valley custom home, townhouse and residential development in El Dorado Hills. SACOG Chief Executive Mike McKeever said it meets the agency's "blueprint principles," including diverse housing types and "preserving natural resources."
Center says the Marble Valley plan reflects an "urbanist perspective" that is "appropriate for midtown Sacramento." But he calls it a disaster for El Dorado County that would gridlock Highway 50.
Similar sentiments are being voiced on other projects as residents are creating anti-development Facebook pages, rallying neighbors and giving fits to would-be builders.
"We're going to see a lot of pressure on politicians when they get hit with 500 emails," said Craig Sandberg, an attorney for Tilden Park, a proposed hotel, commercial and residential development near Highway 50 that is also drawing the ire of residents in Shingle Springs. "Social media has made it a whole new world."
It was the San Stino project, one of the first of the proposed developments to go before county planners, that particularly revealed residents' growth-averse pulse.
Heeding neighbors' protests, supervisors refused to approve a county contract for an environmental study for the project – even though the developer was to pick up the costs.
Korotkin, who says he is continuing to work to win support for San Stino, said he went ahead and hired a consultant to prepare the document.
His development group is also seeking approval to build 605 houses south of Green Valley Road in El Dorado Hills. That project – Dixon Ranch – faces resistance from a neighbors' group called the Green Valley Alliance.
Another project by Parker Development – which would build a total of 1,028 homes on the former El Dorado Hills Golf Course and a second site – is also stirring controversy.
"It has conjured up all the warring factions," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Ron Briggs, who was elected in 2006 on a platform of keeping the county rural.
Briggs said supervisors are going to have to face major decisions on the county's future over the next two years.
Seeking consensus, Briggs is trying to keep the developers talking with the "no (traffic) gridlock people" who passed Measure Y. He also says he wants to include voices of the "new element" – recent residents who bought homes expecting newfound rural lifestyles to be preserved.
"They say they want economic growth and sane development, but just don't do it here," Briggs said.
Obama takes questions on housing in Zillow chat