Monthly Archives: June 2017

Refis could see uptick in second and third quarters | Katonah Real Estate

In the first quarter of 2017, refinances fell 45% from the fourth quarter, however the second and third quarters could see a turnaround in refi activity, according to a first look at Black Knight’s soon to be released Mortgage Monitor.

This chart shows refinance activity each week from October through June as refinance candidates fell from 8.6 million to 4.4 million.

Click to Enlarge

Black Knight

(Source: Black Knight)

Since interest rates fell below 4%, the financeable population rose to its highest point for 2017. While the current 4.4 million borrowers is down significantly from October, it is an increase of 56% or 1.6 million borrowers from mid-March’s low.

Borrowers who refinanced in the first quarter of 2017 cut their monthly mortgage payments by an average of $109 per month, or a total aggregate savings of $36.5 million per month. This marks the lowest total monthly savings since 2008 and a decrease from the fourth quarter’s $59 million.

But since the first quarter, savings have increased once again to a total of $1.1 billion or $260 per borrower each month.

This chart shows the total monthly savings borrowers saw each month.

 

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https://www.housingwire.com/articles/40426-refis-could-see-uptick-in-second-and-third-quarters?eid=311691494&bid=1785932

Mortgage rates average 3.88% | Bedford Real Estate

Freddie Mac (OTCQBFMCC) today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing the 30-year fixed mortgage rate dropping to a new 2017 low.

News Facts

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.88 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending June 29, 2017, down from last week when it averaged 3.90 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.48 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.17 percent with an average 0.5 point, the same as last week. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.78 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 3.17 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 3.14 percent. A year ago at this time, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.70 percent.

Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Visit the following link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.

Quote
Attributed to Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac.
“The 30-year mortgage rate fell 2 basis points to 3.88 percent this week. However, the majority of our survey was conducted prior to Tuesday’s sell-off in the bond market which drove Treasury yields higher. Mortgage rates may increase in next week’s survey if Treasury yields continue to rise.”

Builder Confidence Remains Solid | Bedford Hills Real Estate

Builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes weakened slightly in June, down two points to a level of 67 from a downwardly revised May reading of 69 on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).

Builder confidence levels have remained consistently sound this year, reflecting the ongoing gradual recovery of the housing market. As the housing market strengthens and more buyers enter the market, builders continue to express their frustration over an ongoing shortage of skilled labor and buildable lots that is impeding stronger growth in the single-family market.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 30 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

All three HMI components posted losses in June but remain at healthy levels. The components gauging current sales conditions fell two points to 73 while the index charting sales expectations in the next six months dropped two points to 76. Meanwhile, the component measuring buyer traffic also moved down two points to 49.

Buyers Rush Past Market Challenges | Pound Ridge Real Estate

Existing home sales increased 1.1% in May, and 55% of homes sold last month were on the market less than a month as buyers overcame low inventory and higher prices. Although May inventory increased 2.1%, it remains 8.4% lower than a year ago and fell year-over-year for the 24th consecutive month. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that at the current sales rate, the May unsold inventory represents a 4.2-month supply, down from a 4.7-month supply a year ago. May existing sales were up 2.7% from the same month a year ago, and reached a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.62 million compared to a downwardly revised 5.56 million in April. Total existing home sales include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops.

May existing sales increased 6.8% in the Northeast, 3.4% in the West and 22% in the South, but declined 5.9% in the Midwest. Year-over-year, the South was up 4.5%, the West by 3.4% and the Northeast by 2.7%, while only the Midwest was down slightly.

Homes stayed on the market for only 27 days in May, compared to 29 days in April, and 32 days a year ago. The May timeframe was the shortest in the history of that series which began in May 2011. The May first-time home buyer share was 33%, down from 34% in April, but up from 30% in May a year ago.

The May all-cash sales share increased to 22% from 21% in April, and was unchanged from a year ago.  Individual investors purchased a 16% share in May, up from 15% in April, and up from 13% a year ago. Some 64% of investors paid cash in May, up from 57% of investors in April.

The May median sales price jumped 5.8% from last year to $252,800, representing the 63rd consecutive month of year-over-year increases. The May median condominium/co-op price of $238,700 was up 4.8% from the same month a year ago.

April pending sales dipped for the second consecutive month, so the May bump in existing sales was good news. New home sales have grown 11.3% this year, and both jobs and incomes continue to grow, suggesting an improving market for new single-family construction.

read more…

 

http://eyeonhousing.org/2017/06/may-buyers-rush-past-market-challenges/

Why homeownership is near 50-year low | Bedford Real Estate

The job market continues to show improvement, and interest rates remain historically low, yet the homeownership rate in the U.S. remains near a 50-year low.

The National Association of Realtors released a new white paper titled, “Hurdles to Homeownership: Understanding the Barriers” which lays out five reasons for the low homeownership rate. NAR released its paper in recognition of National Homeownership month at the Sustainable Homeownership Conference at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The decline and stagnation in the homeownership rate is a trend that’s pointing in the wrong direction, and must be reversed given the many benefits of homeownership to individuals, communities and the nation’s economy,” NAR President William Brown said. “Those who are financially capable and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home should have the opportunity to pursue that dream.”

The research, commissioned by NAR, was prepared by Rosen Consulting Group, and jointly released by the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business.

“Low mortgage rates and a healthy job market for college-educated adults should have translated to more home sales and upward movement in the homeownership rate in recent years,” NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said. “Sadly, this has not been the case.”

“Obtaining a mortgage has been tough for those with good credit, savings for a down payment are instead going towards steeper rents and student loans, and first-time buyers are finding that listings in their price range are severely inadequate,” Yun said.

Here are what NAR says are the five main barriers to homeownership:

Post-foreclosure stress disorder:

There are long-lasting psychological changes in financial decision-making, including housing tenure choice, for the 9 million homeowners who experienced foreclosure, the 8.7 million people who lost their jobs and the young adults who witnessed the hardships of their family and friends, NAR explained.

Mortgage availability:

Credit standards did not normalize after the Great Recession, NAR’s study showed. Borrowers with good-to-excellent credit scores are not getting approved at the rate they were in 2003, prior to the period of excessively lax lending standards.

The growing burden of student loan debt:

Young households are repaying an increasing level of student loan debt that makes it extremely difficult to save for a down payment, qualify for a mortgage and afford a mortgage payment, especially in areas with high rents and home prices. NAR found in a survey released last year, student loan debt is delaying purchases from Millennials and over half expect to be delayed by at least five years.

Single-family housing affordability:

Lack of inventory, higher rents and home prices, difficulty saving for a down payment and investors weighing on supply levels by scooping up single-family homes have all lead to many markets experiencing decaying affordability conditions, the study showed. Unless these challenges subside, RCG forecasts that affordability will fall by an average of nearly nine percentage points across all 75 major markets between 2016 and 2019, with approximately 5 million fewer households able to afford the local median-priced home by 2019.

Single-family housing supply shortages:

Fewer property lots at higher prices, difficulty finding skilled labor and higher construction costs are among the reasons cited by RCG for why housing starts are not ramping up to meet the growing demand for new supply.

read more…

https://www.housingwire.com/articles/40385-nar-here-are-5-reasons-for-low-homeownership-rate?eid=311691494&bid=1783075

William Raveis must pay Elliman $5M damages in agent-poaching case | Armonk Real Estate

“They’ll eventually be out of Westchester County,” Bill Raveis declared back in 2015, referring to rival firm Douglas Elliman’s move into William Raveis Real Estate’s stronghold.

Not quite two years later, the opposite is turning out to be true.

On Tuesday, a jury upheld Elliman’s claim that Raveis and a former Elliman manager conspired to poach top agents from its office in Armonk, N.Y. The jury awarded Elliman $5 million in damages.

The rival firms have sparred viciously both in New York City and its wealthy suburbs to the north since 2014, when Elliman opened an office in Greenwich, Conn., in the heart of Raveis country.

That year, the suburban powerhouse, which is based in Connecticut, broke into Manhattan with an office headed by Paul Purcell, a former Elliman president, and Kathy Braddock.

The firms’ battle came to a head in mid-2015 when Raveis accused Elliman of blocking all emails that came from the firm — a move Bill Raveis likened to a “baby tantrum.” Elliman, meanwhile, said Raveis was sending mass emails to brokers in New York City in an attempt to lure them away.

Elliman sued Raveis and former manager Lisa Theiss in 2015 for allegedly conspiring to “decimate” its brach by secretly recruiting the firm’s top agents, according to court papers. The suit alleges that Theiss poached 10 agents, including four “top producers,” from her former firm and lured them to Raveis’ newly opened office across the street.

In a statement Tuesday, Elliman Chair Howard Lorber said he was pleased that the jury saw fit to rectify Raveis’ “egregious and outrageous actions.”

In an email, Bill Raveis said he disagreed “with all aspects of the jury’s decision,” and added that his firm would “vigorously be pursuing [an] appeal.”

Both Raveis and Elliman have been going after the Westchester market, which is still dominated by Houlihan Lawrence and Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty. Raveis logged $439 million in Westchester sales in 2016 while Elliman followed with $378 million, according to a recent analysis by The Real Deal. 

 

read more…

 

https://therealdeal.com/2017/06/20/william-raveis-must-pay-elliman-5m-damages-in-agent-poaching-case/

House hunting in Sweden | Pound Ridge Real Estate

AN ATTIC APARTMENT NEAR THE CENTER OF STOCKHOLM

$2.76 MILLION (23.9 million Swedish krona)

Once an attic used for storage, this two-bedroom, two-bathroom, roughly 2,500-square-foot space was converted into an apartment around 1970 and last renovated in 2013. It is on the seventh and eighth floors of a 1915 building with seven units on a quiet street in Ostermalm, a fashionable neighborhood just east of Stockholm’s city center.

The apartment has crisp white walls, oak floors, high ceilings and a terrace overlooking nearby rooftops. The front door opens onto a hallway that leads to a family room with a balcony and a staircase up to the main living area. The large upstairs living room has built-in bookshelves and large sliding doors opening onto a terrace. Up several steps to the left of the living room is a television room; on the right is an office with a skylight. Both the office and the family room downstairs could be used as bedrooms, said Jan Lundqvist, a broker with Residence, the Swedish real estate firm and Christie’s affiliate that has the listing.

Past the living room are the kitchen and dining area. A small hall leads to two bedrooms. One, the master suite, has a generous walk-in closet and an adjoining laundry room. As is typical in Sweden’s older homes, Mr. Lundqvist said, the bedrooms share a bathroom. (A second bathroom is on the same floor near the entrance, by the stair landing.)

The building’s amenities include bike storage, a parking garage and a communal wine cellar in the basement. Restaurants, tennis courts, parks with jogging trails and public transit are all within walking distance. The Stockholm Arlanda Airport is about a half-hour drive.

MARKET OVERVIEW

Home prices in Sweden have increased sharply since the 2008 global financial crisis, driven by the combination of a strong economy, low mortgage rates, a chronic housing shortage and rapid population growth, specifically an influx of refugees and others moving to urban centers for jobs and schools. But even during the recession Sweden’s real estate market didn’t suffer much, thanks to the shortage of housing and the swift countermeasures taken by the government and central bank, said Olof Manner, head of research for Swedbank, a financial services group based in Stockholm.

Prices are now about 50 percent higher than they were in 2008, he said. “I don’t think we have a bubble,” he said of the market. “But it’s very richly priced.”

Recently, however, the price increases have been slowing, Mr. Manner said. In 2015, prices rose 15 percent over the previous year; in 2016, that number fell to 10 percent. Home prices are now 7 percent higher than they were at this time last year, he said.

He attributed this to several factors: Banks have become stricter about mortgage applicants’ debt-to-income ratios; the government recently changed its mortgage amortization rules to require faster repayment schedules on new loans; fixed mortgage rates have risen slightly; and the novelty of the low rates has worn off.

A continuing challenge, he added, is that there aren’t enough new homes being built to meet demand, and the ones that are built don’t suit the refugee population’s need for small, affordable units.

Elisabeth Hallberg, a broker and manager with Per Jansson, a luxury real estate agency in Stockholm, said it’s a seller’s market. “The problem for the real estate agent is not to find buyers; it’s to find sellers,” she said, estimating that about 70 percent of the transactions she worked on in the past year have had multiple offers, and many had received an offer before the first open house.

The most desirable areas in the city, agents said, are Djurgarden, a parklike area with well-appointed villas, and Ostermalm, where this apartment is. Lars Fogelklou, the chief executive and a founder of Residence, said that in Djurgarden, high-end apartments can sell for between 20 million Swedish krona ($2,312,640) and 100 million Swedish krona ($11,563,200). Agents said prices in Ostermalm range from between 3 million Swedish krona ($346,896) and 10 million ($1,156,320) at the lower end, and up to around 70 million Swedish krona ($8,094,240) or 80 million ($9,250,550) at the higher end, with a few properties reaching 100 million Swedish krona ($11,563,200).

WHO BUYS IN STOCKHOLM

Most of Stockholm’s luxury home buyers are Swedish, some of them Swedes returning from abroad, agents said.

Ms. Hallberg estimated that about 20 percent of her clients are from Switzerland, Germany, the United States, Britain and France. Over the past year, Mr. Fogelklou said, a few of his clients (about 5 percent) have been from China, Germany and the United States; a much larger share (about 40 percent) were expats returning to Sweden.

BUYING BASICS

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying property in Sweden, said Jonas Bergquist, a Stockholm-based partner with Magnusson, a law firm with offices in the Baltic region and Scandinavia.

Read more…

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/07/realestate/real-estate-in-sweden.html?_r=0

Geothermal heating | Katonah Real Estate

It is cooler than the air in the summer and warmer in the winter. The earth’s subsurface is an enormous heat sink — a solar battery — and it takes a large amount of energy to keep it in equilibrium. This heat energy comes in great part from the sun, a renewable and inexhaustible source of energy. In lesser amounts, it also comes from the center of the earth that we now know is a heat generator. The inner core of the earth is primarily made of a solid sphere of iron within a larger sphere of molten iron. Calculations show that the earth, originating from a molten state many billions of years ago, would have cooled and become completely solid without an energy input. It is now believed that the ultimate source of this energy is radioactive decay within the earth that continues to this day; the decay produces gradually diminishing temperatures from the earth’s center to the surface. This does not mean that dangerous radioactivity is a hazard to us. We can tap into all of this heat energy, transfer it into our home for heating and return that energy back to the earth during cooling: thus we are really borrowing heat from the earth.

Geothermal units use the same 100-year-old technology found in your refrigerator. They are both devices that move heat energy. It is worth noting that the refrigerator is the most reliable, longest-life appliance in your home. As the diagram in the slideshow explains, a refrigerator removes heat energy from food and moves it into your kitchen. A geothermal system removes heat energy from the earth to heat your home and in the summer removes heat energy from inside your home back to the earth.

Heat naturally flows “downhill” from the warmest medium to the coolest medium. A heat pump is a machine that causes heat energy to flow in the direction opposite from its natural tendency, or “uphill” in terms of temperature. Because work must be done (energy must be applied) to accomplish this, the name heat “pump” is used to describe the device.

A refrigerator and a heat pump are about the same physical size, are quiet appliances usually contained within a single enclosure, have similar components (compressor, evaporator, etc.), and both transfer heat energy. And they each require a refrigerant, a material used in a refrigeration cycle which undergoes a phase change from a gas to a liquid, and back again.

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http://www.motherearthnews.com/renewable-energy/energy-efficiency/geothermal-heat-system-ze0z1704zols?newsletter=1&spot=headline&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MEN%20GEGH%20eNews%2006.16.17&utm_term=MEN_GEGH_eNews&_wcsid=24FE5BB810FAD26243359F90C7740FB292B789E42357F9D3

Why Grenfell Tower Burned | Bedford Corners Real Estate

Flames and smoke engulfed Grenfell Tower in London this month, resulting in at least 79 deaths.CreditToby Melville/Reuters

LONDON — The doorbell woke Yassin Adam just before 1 a.m. A neighbor was frantically alerting others on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower about a fire in his apartment. “My fridge blew up,” the man shouted.

Residents of Grenfell Tower had complained for years that the 24-story public housing block invited catastrophe. It lacked fire alarms, sprinklers and a fire escape. It had only a single staircase. And there were concerns about a new aluminum facade that was supposed to improve the building — but was now whisking the flames skyward.

The facade, Mr. Adam said, “burned like a fire that you pour petrol on.”

The incineration of Grenfell Tower on June 14, the deadliest fire in Britain in more than a century, is now a national tragedy. The London police on Friday blamed flammable materials used in the facade for the spread of the blaze and said the investigation could bring charges of manslaughter. Hundreds of families were evacuated from five high-rises that posed similar risks.

Flames consumed the tower so quickly that arriving firefighters wondered if they could even get inside. People trapped on the higher floors screamed for their lives through broken windows. At least 79 people died, a toll that is expected to rise as more bodies are recovered. Survivors have charged that the facade was installed to beautify their housing project for the benefit of wealthy neighbors.

A formal government inquiry into the fire has just begun. But interviews with tenants, industry executives and fire safety engineers point to a gross failure of government oversight, a refusal to heed warnings from inside Britain and around the world and a drive by successive governments from both major political parties to free businesses from the burden of safety regulations.

Promising to cut “red tape,” business-friendly politicians evidently judged that cost concerns outweighed the risks of allowing flammable materials to be used in facades. Builders in Britain were allowed to wrap residential apartment towers — perhaps several hundred of them — from top to bottom in highly flammable materials, a practice forbidden in the United States and many European countries. And companies did not hesitate to supply the British market.

A Lethal Wrapping

The building was recently renovated. New insulation and cladding were installed on the exterior; both contained flammable materials.

SPREADING OF FIRE

CREATING A CHIMNEY EFFECT

CAVITY

CLADDING

PANELS WITH

PLASTIC CORE

OLD WALL

INSULATION

OLD WALL

CAVITY,

ABOUT

2 INCHES

AIR

Radiant heat from the burning cladding and insulation, combined with air rushing through the gap, increased the intensity of the fire.

Flammable cladding and insulation enabled the fire to spread rapidly on the exterior of the building.

The facade, installed last year at Grenfell Tower, in panels known as cladding and sold as Reynobond PE, consisted of two sheets of aluminum that sandwich a combustible core of polyethylene. It was produced by the American manufacturing giant Alcoa, which was renamed Arconic after a reorganization last year.

Arconic has marketed the flammable facades in Britain for years, even as it has adjusted its pitch elsewhere. In other European countries, Arconic’s sales materials explicitly instructed that “as soon as the building is higher than the firefighters’ ladders, it has to be conceived with an incombustible material.” An Arconic website for British customers said only that such use “depends on local building codes.”

Emergency services personnel inside Grenfell Tower, where a flammable facade — which had all burned away in the fire — helped spread the blaze. CreditRick Findler/Press Association, via Associated Press

For years, members of Parliament had written letters requesting new restrictions on cladding, especially as the same flammable facades were blamed for fires in Britain, France, the United Arab Emirates, Australia and elsewhere. Yet British authorities resisted new rules. A top building regulator explained to a coroner in 2013 that requiring only noncombustible exteriors in residential towers “limits your choice of materials quite significantly.”

Fire safety experts said the blaze at Grenfell Tower was a catastrophe that could have been avoided, if warnings had been heeded.

“How could that happen in our country at this time?” asked Dennis Davis, a former firefighter who is vice chairman of the nonprofit Fire Sector Federation.

Mr. Adam, 44, had seen posters hung by the management company telling tenants to shut their doors and stay inside in the event of a fire. But Mr. Adam, his wife, his daughter and his pregnant sister ignored the instructions and ran.

“Anyone who listened to the fire brigade and stayed where they are,” Mr. Adam said in an interview the next day, “they lost their lives.”

Locals watched as the fire ripped through the building, a 24-story public housing block.CreditDaniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

‘How Is That Possible?’

The first call to the London Fire Brigade came at 12:45 a.m., according to an official statement. Six minutes later, as the first firefighters reached the scene, brigade veterans struggled to fathom the speed of the blaze.

“That is not a real block with people in it!” one firefighter exclaimed, his astonishment captured in a video that later was shown on the BBC and Sky News and was shot inside his vehicle as it sped toward the building.

Other firefighters in the vehicle were heard gasping in horror.

“There are kids in there,” one said.

“How is that possible?”

“It has jumped all the way along the flats — look!”

How “are we going to get into that?” another asked, using an expletive.

Flames in an ordinary fire burst out of windows, moving from the inside out. Grenfell Tower burned in reverse, moving inward from the building’s exterior. The flames quickly tore upward in streaks through the facade, filling apartments with toxic black smoke. Torrents of orange and red branched out of the first streaks and shot upward. The flames encased the building in a cylinder of fire.

“I have never seen such a phenomenal fire, a building engulfed top to bottom in flames,” Dany Cotton, the London fire commissioner, said later that day. More than 200 firefighters battled the blaze. They brought 40 fire engines and other vehicles.

“Committing hundreds of my firefighters into a building that at points looked like it couldn’t possibly stand up due to the level of fire — I actually felt physically sick with anxiety about what was happening,” Ms. Cotton added. But the firefighters went in.

Firefighters stood amid debris in a children’s playground near the tower. CreditNeil Hall/Reuters

The building they entered was built in 1974 in an architectural style known as Brutalism, and the original concrete structure, built without cladding, would have contained the fire in one apartment long enough for firefighters to prevent it from spreading very far. But the building’s floor plan gives a picture of what happened. Refrigerators in most apartments appear to have been positioned against an exterior wall, next to a window and just a few inches from the cladding installed in the renovation.

When the refrigerator on the fourth floor burst into flames, the fire ignited the flammable cladding and shot up the side of the building. The London police confirmed that on Friday and identified the refrigerator brand as Hotpoint. But experts who saw footage of the blaze had known the culprit at once. “You can tell immediately it’s the cladding,” said Glenn Corbett, an associate professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The first well-known use of aluminum cladding on a high-rise was on the Alcoa Building, in Pittsburgh, erected as the manufacturer’s headquarters. Makers of cladding promoted it as both aesthetically striking and energy-efficient, because the aluminum surface reflects back heat and light. Demand for cladding surged with rising fuel costs and concerns about global warming, and over time, producers began selling it in a thin “sandwich” design: Two sheets of aluminum around a core made of flammable plastics like polyethylene.

The cladding is typically paired with a much thicker layer of foam insulation against the building’s exterior wall, as was the case at Grenfell Tower. Then the cladding may be affixed to the wall with metal studs, leaving a narrow gap between the cladding and the insulation.

But by 1998, regulators in the United States — where deaths from fires are historically more common than in Britain or Western Europe — began requiring real-world simulations to test any materials to be used in buildings taller than a firefighter’s two-story ladder. “The U.S. codes say you have to test your assembly exactly the way you install it in a building,” said Robert Solomon, an engineer at the National Fire Protection Association, which is funded in part by insurance companies and drafts model codes followed in the United States and around the world.

No aluminum cladding made with pure polyethylene — the type used at Grenfell Tower — has ever passed the test, experts in the United States say. The aluminum sandwiching always failed in the heat of a fire, exposing the flammable filling. And the air gap between the cladding and the insulation could act as a chimney, intensifying the fire and sucking flames up the side of a building. Attempts to install inflammable barriers at vertical and horizontal intervals were ineffective in practice.

As a result, American building codes have effectively banned flammable cladding in high-rises for nearly two decades. The codes also require many additional safeguards, especially in new buildings or major renovations: automatic sprinkler systems, fire alarms, loudspeakers to provide emergency instructions, pressurized stairways designed to keep smoke out and multiple stairways or fire escapes.

And partly because of the influence of American architects, many territories around the world follow the American example. But not Britain.

Protesters tried to enter Kensington Town Hall as they sought more information about missing relatives and friends. CreditDan Kitwood/Getty Images

Safety vs. Cost

British schoolchildren study the Great Fire of London, in 1666, the way American pupils might learn about the Boston Tea Party or the first Thanksgiving. But the legacy of the fire is also still felt in Britain’s building codes, experts say. London’s original great fire leapt across wooden buildings. And since then, British building codes have focused primarily on the principle of stopping the spread of flames between buildings or, within larger structures, between units.

With fire prevention in Britain, “you put all your eggs in one basket,” said Edwin Galea, director of the Fire Safety Engineering Group at the University of Greenwich. And for decades, this was fairly effective. Britain has long reported far fewer deaths from fires relative to population than the United States, and typically, fewer than 350 residents die each year in fires (compared with more than 3,000 in the United States).

But as early as 1999, after a fire in Irvine, Scotland, British fire safety engineers warned Parliament that the advent of flammable cladding had opened a dangerous loophole in the regulations. The Irvine fire saw flames leap up panels at Garnock Court, a 14-story public housing block. One resident died, four others were injured and a parliamentary committee investigated the causes.

“To a certain extent, we are hoisted by the petard of what happened here in 1666, the Great Fire of London, and we look at fire as a horizontal problem, with a fire in one building affecting the exterior of another building,” Glynton Evans, a fire safety adviser to the firefighters’ union, said to Parliament. “The problem with cladding is that it will, if it is able, spread fire, and it will spread it vertically.”

The firefighters and engineers warned Parliament that British codes required only that the aluminum used in cladding resist ignition, even though the heat of a fire would breach the surface and expose the flammable material inside. Nor did the British rules require a test to evaluate risks in real-world conditions.

A fire in 2015 at the Address Downtown Dubai, a hotel in the United Arab Emirates that had flammable cladding on its exterior. CreditNicolas Cornet/European Pressphoto Agency

“If the cladding cannot resist the spread of flame across the surface, then it will vertically envelop the building,” Mr. Evans warned, in testimony that now seems prophetic. “In other words, the fire will spread to the outside of the building, and it will go vertically.” Many other fire safety experts would repeat those concerns in the following years.

But manufacturers argued against new tests or rules. Using fire-resistant materials was more expensive, a cost that industry advocates opposed.

“Any changes to the facade to satisfy a single requirement such as fire performance will impinge on all other aspects of the wall’s performance as well as its cost,” Stephen Ledbetter, the director of the Center for Window and Cladding Technology, an industry group, wrote in testimony to Parliament

“Fire resistant walls,” he added, “are not economically viable for the prevention of fire spread from floor to floor of a building,” and “we run the risk of using a test method because it exists, not because it delivers real benefits to building owners or users.” (In an interview last week, Mr. Ledbetter said his group had updated its position earlier this year to warn against the type of cladding used at Grenfell Tower.)

Business-friendly governments in Britain — first under Labor and then under the Conservatives — campaigned to pare back regulations. A 2005 law known as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order ended a requirement for government inspectors to certify that buildings had met fire codes, and shifted instead to a system of self-policing. Governments adopted slogans calling for the elimination of at least one regulation for each new one that was imposed, and the authorities in charge of fire safety took this to heart.

“If you think more fire protection would be good for U.K. business, then you should be making the case to the business community, not the government,” Brian Martin, the top civil servant in charge of drafting building-safety guidelines, told an industry conference in 2011, quoting the fire minister then, Bob Neill. (“Should we be looking to regulate further? ‘No’ would be my answer,’” Mr. Neill added.)

Mr. Martin, a former surveyor for large-scale commercial projects like the Canary Wharf, told his audience to expect few new regulations because the prime minister at the time, David Cameron, wanted to greatly reduce the burden on industry, according to a report by the conference organizers.

An apartment at Grenfell Tower showed the devastation of the fire.CreditLondon Metropolitan Police, via European Pressphoto Agency

Two years later, in 2013, a coroner questioned Mr. Martin about the application of building regulations in the case of another London fire, which killed six people and injured 15 others at a public housing complex called Lakanal House. Mr. Martin defended the existing regulations, including the lack of a requirement for meaningful fire resistance in the paneling on the outside of an apartment tower.

A questioner told him that the public might be “horrified” to learn that the rules permitted the use of paneling that could spread flames up the side of a building in as little as four-and-a-half minutes. “I can’t predict what the public would think,” Mr. Martin replied, “but that is the situation.”

Moving to a requirement that the exterior of a building be “noncombustible,” Mr. Martin said, “limits your choice of materials quite significantly.”

After the coroner’s report, a cross-party coalition of members of Parliament petitioned government ministers to reform the regulations, including adding automatic sprinklers and revisiting the standards for cladding. “Today’s buildings have a much higher content of readily available combustible material,” the group wrote in a letter sent in December 2015 that specifically cited the risk of chemicals in “cladding.”

“This fire hazard results in many fires because adequate recommendations to developers simply do not exist. There is little or no requirement to mitigate external fire spread,” added the letter, which was first reported last week by the BBC.

In 2014, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, an organization in the United States, counted 20 major high-rise fires involving cladding. In at least a half-dozen — in France, Dubai, South Korea, the United States and elsewhere — the same type of panels installed at Grenfell Tower caught fire. A 2014 fire in Melbourne, Australia, resulted in multiple investigations into the dangers of combustible cladding. Another fire broke out in Dubai, around a 60-story skyscraper, on New Year’s Eve of 2015, and yet another, around a 70-story skyscraper there, this April.

But in Britain, still no changes were made. “The construction industry appears to be stronger and more powerful than the safety lobby,” said Ronnie King, a former fire chief who advises the parliamentary fire safety group. “Their voice is louder.”

A wall covered with tributes to the victims. CreditMarko Djurica/Reuters

‘Pray for Us’

As recently as March, a tenant blogger, writing on behalf of what he called the Grenfell Action Group, predicted a “serious and catastrophic incident,” adding, “The phrase ‘an accident waiting to happen’ springs readily to mind.”

For many tenants, an object of scorn was Grenfell Tower’s quasi-governmental owner, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization. It was created under legislation seeking to give public housing residents more say in running their buildings, and its board is made up of a mix of tenants, representatives of local government and independent directors. But Kensington and Chelsea is the largest tenant management organization in England, a sprawling anomaly supervising roughly 10,000 properties, more than 30 times the average for such entities. Tenants came to see it as just another landlord.

The organization had promised residents of Grenfell Tower that the renovation last year would improve both insulation and fire safety. Board minutes indicate that it worked closely with the London Fire Brigade throughout the process, and local firefighters attended a briefing afterward “where the contractor demonstrated the fire safety features.” During a board meeting last year, the organization even said it would “extend fire safety approach adopted at Grenfell Tower to all major works projects.”

Dany Cotton, the London fire commissioner, said that she had never seen “such a phenomenal” blaze, and that sending hundreds of firefighters into it made her “sick with anxiety.” CreditMatt Dunham/Associated Press

But the principal contractor, the Rydon Group, based in East Sussex, England, assigned the facade work to a specialist firm that was struggling financially during the project. The firm, Harley Curtain Wall, went out of business in 2015 and transferred its assets to a successor, Harley Facades.

Another subcontractor, Omnis Exteriors, said on Friday that it had not been told that the flammable Reynobond cladding was going to be combined with flammable interior insulation. That was a problem, the firm said in a statement, adding that the cladding “should only be used in conjunction with a noncombustible material.”

The cladding itself was produced by Arconic, an industry titan whose chief executive recently stepped down after an unusual public battle with an activist shareholder. Arconic sells a flammable polyethylene version of its Reynobond cladding and a more expensive, fire-resistant version.

In a brochure aimed at customers in other European countries, the company cautions that the polyethylene Reynobond should not be used in buildings taller than 10 meters, or about 33 feet, consistent with regulations in the United States and elsewhere. “Fire is a key issue when it comes to buildings,” the brochure explains. “Especially when it comes to facades and roofs, the fire can spread extremely rapidly.”

A diagram shows flames leaping up the side of a building. “As soon as the building is higher than the firefighters’ ladders, it has to be conceived with an incombustible material,” a caption says.

But the marketing materials on Arconic’s British website are opaque on the issue.

“Q: When do I need Fire Retardant (FR) versus Polyethylene (PR) Reynobond? The answer to this, in part, depends on local building codes. Please contact your Area Sales Manager for more information,” reads a question-and-answer section.

For more than a week after the fire, Arconic declined repeated requests for comment. Then, on Thursday, the company confirmed that its flammable polyethylene panels had been used on the building. “The loss of lives, injuries and destruction following the Grenfell Tower fire are devastating, and we would like to express our deepest sympathies,” the company said. Asked about its varying product guidelines, the company added, “While we publish general usage guidelines, regulations and codes vary by country and need to be determined by the local building code experts.”

Aluminum coils at a plant in Tennessee belonging to Arconic, the manufacturer of the combustible cladding used at Grenfell Tower. CreditLuke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Hassan Ibrahim, who lived in an apartment on the 23rd floor of Grenfell Tower, was traveling outside England the day of the fire. His wife, Rania, and their two small children were not so lucky. As the smoke and flames drifted upward, Ms. Ibrahim debated with a neighbor whether to risk opening her door.

“Don’t open the front door,” her neighbor told her. “You are not going to be able to breathe — you are just going to bring the smoke in. You have your children. Standing near the door with all the smoke is not going to help you.”

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https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/24/world/europe/grenfell-tower-london-fire.html?_r=0

New home sales rise | Katonah Real Estate

New home sales increased in May, partially reversing the previous month’s decrease, according to the latest report from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sales of new single-family homes in May increased to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 610,000 home sales, the report showed. This is an increase of 2.9% from April’s 593,000 and is 8.9% above last year’s 560,000 sales.

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Home sales

(Source: HUD, U.S. Census Bureau)

The median sales price of new homes sold increased from last month’s $309,200 to $345,800 in May. The average sales price for new homes sold came in at $406,400 for the month.

The seasonally adjusted estimate of new homes for sale at the end of May came in at 268,000 homes, the same as the previous month. However, with the faster sales pace, this represents a 5.3-month supply, down from April’s 5.7 months.

 

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https://www.housingwire.com/articles/40507-new-home-sales-reverse-course-increase-in-may?eid=311691494&bid=1795724