Home prices rose to a new high in the third quarter, according to a new report from ATTOM Data Solutions, curator of a property database and property data provider of Data-as-a-Service.
Home prices rise to new high | North Salem Real Estate Single-family homes and condos sold for a median price of $270,000 in the third quarter.
Homeowners are also getting more profit than ever on the sale of their home. Homeowners who sold their home in the third quarter earned a median profit that ticked up to a post-recession high of 34.5%, up from 34.4% in the second quarter of 2019 and 34.3% in the third quarter of 2018, according to the report.
And homeowners are getting more profit on their homes not only because of rising home prices, but also they are seeing their equity rise as the average homeownership tenure hit a new high of 8.19 years in the third quarter. This is up 3% from the previous quarter and previous year, according to the report. For reference, homeownership tenure averaged 4.2 years between the first quarter of 2000 and the third quarter of 2007.
“The seven-year U.S. housing boom is back in high gear,” said Todd Teta, ATTOM Data Solutions chief product officer. “After a series of relatively small price increase quarters, home prices saw quite the uptick, seller profits rose and the problem of distressed sales continued to fade, helping to make the third quarter the strongest in four years.”
“That all happened as mortgage rates sank back to near-historic lows, which clearly powered the market upward along with stock market surges and a continued strong economy,” Teta said. “There had been signs before the latest surge of a cooling market, but they seem to have diminished, at least for now.”
But while these rising home prices are great for homeowners and sellers, it is also creating an affordability crisis for homebuyers, especially at the lower end of the market.
As housing affordability continues to be a cause of concern for the nation’s homeowners, a report from the National Association of Homebuildersindicates that many Americans now perceive the problem to be a crisis.
August 2019 saw an annual increase of 3.2% for home prices nationwide, inching forward from the previous month’s pace, according to the Case-Shiller Home Price Index from S&P Dow Jones Indices and CoreLogic.
The 10-City and 20-City composites reported a 1.5% and 2% year-over-year increase, respectively. During the month, 11 of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment, whereas 17 of 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment.
“The U.S. National Home Price NSA Index trend remained intact with a year-over-year price change of 3.2%,” said Philip Murphy, Managing Director and Global Head of Index Governance at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “However, a shift in regional leadership may be underway beneath the headline national index.”
According to the index, Phoenix, Charlotte, and Tampa reported the highest year-over-year gains among all of the 20 cities.
In August, Phoenix led with a 6.3% year-over-year price increase, followed by Charlotte with a 4.5% increase and Tampa with a 4.3% increase. Seven of the 20 cities reported larger price increases in the year ending August 2019 versus the year ending July 2019.
“Phoenix saw an increase in its year over year price change to 6.3% and retained its leading position,” Murphy said. “However, Las Vegas dropped from No. 2 to No. 8 among the cities of the 20-City Composite, falling from a 4.7% year-over-year change in July to only 3.3% in August.”
“Meanwhile, the Southeast region included three of the top four cities. Charlotte, Tampa, and Atlanta all recorded solid year-over-year performance with price changes of 4.5%, 4.3%, and 4.0%, respectively,” Murphy said. “In the Northwest, Seattle’s year-over-year change turned positive (0.7%) after three consecutive months of negative year-over-year price changes. The 10-City Composite year-over-year price change declined slightly from July to 1.5%, while the 20-City Composite year-over-year price change remained steady at 2.0%. San Francisco was the only city to record a negative YOY price change (-0.1%).”
The graph below highlights the average home prices within the 10-City and 20-City Composites:
Total existing home sales, including single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, dropped 2.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million in September. However, sales were still 3.9% higher than a year ago.
The first-time buyer share rose to 33% in September from 31% last month and 32% a year ago. The September inventory stayed the same at 1.83 million units from August but decreased from 1.88 million units a year ago. At the current sales rate, the September unsold inventory represents a 4.1-month supply, up from a 4.0-month supply last month and down from a 4.4-month a year ago.
Homes stayed on the market for an average of 32 days in September, up from 31 days last month and equal to a year ago. In September, 49% of homes sold were on the market for less than a month.
The September all-cash sales shared 17% of transactions, down from 19% last month and 21% a year ago.
The September median sales price of all existing homes was $272,100, up 5.9% from a year ago, representing the 91st consecutive month of year-over-year increases. The median existing condominium/co-op price of $248,600 in September was up 4.5% from a year ago.
Regionally, all regions saw a decline in existing home sales in September compared to the previous month, ranging from 0.9% in the West to 3.1% in the Midwest. On a year-over-year basis, sales rose in all four major regions except for the Midwest, ranging from 1.5% in the Northeast to 6.0% in the South. Sales in the Midwest was nearly unchanged to September 2018.
This monthly decline indicates that sales are not consistently increasing in response to falling mortgage rates, as rapidly rising home prices and tight inventory continue to weigh on housing sector and prevent home sales growth. As mortgage rates below 4% are very attractive to homebuyers, more new home building is needed to meet housing demand. Indeed, supported by low mortgage rates and solid job growth, builder confidence continued to improve, which rose to 20-month high in October.
From a boat on the Hudson or a riverbank in Rockland County, Indian Point is hard to miss: two hulking, gray domes perched on the river’s edge. The facility appears otherworldly — a structure that might look more at home on the moon, rather than the sleepy village of Buchanan.
Over the years, Indian Point’s impact on Westchester life — from economics to ecology to energy — has also been hard to miss. From the power plant’s opening in the 1960s up to present day, it’s been a source of controversy: “Wood, Field and Stream; Con Edison Engineers Trying to Halt Mass Killing of Fish in Hudson,” reads a New YorkTimes headline from 1963. Fifty-one years later, the Times was still reporting a similar theme, claiming that as many as a billion fish eggs and other small aquatic organisms were being ”parboiled” each year by the plant’s river-water cooling system.
You may have also spotted the “Close Indian Point” bumper stickers or those ominous bright-blue evacuation signs, even the occasional protest.
But the power plant has brought boons, too: thousands of high-paying jobs for Westchester residents; monumental tax payments to nearby municipalities; and, of course, energy. The plant’s two active reactors generate a combined 2,000 megawatts of electricity — enough to power millions of homes.
In recent years, however, safer energy sources, like wind power, and cheaper energy sources, like natural gas, have emerged — all while critics of Indian Point have found some prominent allies. Governor Andrew Cuomo says often that the plant’s proximity to New York City, and its potential for disaster, is unacceptable. In this changing environment, questions about the power plant’s demise began to be framed not as “if” but “when.” In early 2017, when New York State and Entergy (which owns and operates Indian Point) announced they would shutter the plant over the course of four years, the decision wasn’t shocking.
The first of the plant’s two active reactors will go offline in April 2020, the second in April 2021. (A third reactor closed decades ago.) Then comes years, maybe even decades, of decommissioning. In 2021, Entergy plans to sell the property to Holtec International, a company with experience dismantling nuclear plants that has a presence in the U.S., the U.K., India, and elsewhere. “They have special expertise that Entergy doesn’t have,” explains Jerry Nappi, Entergy’s director of communications. “They can decommission the plant decades sooner than we would be able to.”
But even if the closure isn’t a shock, the impact is still monumental on a region that has become deeply entwined with its power plant. Despite careful planning for the shutdown, a range of Westchester players — from local governments and taxpayers to Entergy employees and environmental advocates — are anticipating big changes. And they won’t just affect the 2,200 people who call Buchanan home or the 42,000 residents of the town of Cortlandt. The economic, environmental, and energy impacts will be felt across the entire county, experts say.
Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi, Hendrick Hudson School Superintendent Joseph Hochreiter, and Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker.
Linda Puglisi has served as town supervisor of Cortlandt for 14 terms — some 28 years. “Did we know Indian Point was going to close eventually? Of course,” says Puglisi. “We just didn’t know they were going to close now.”
Few people understand Indian Point’s relationship with Westchester better than Puglisi, who, unsurprisingly, holds the distinction of Cortlandt’s longest-serving supervisor. But when the closure announcement was made in 2017, Puglisi says she found out at the same time as everyone else.
“The economic fallout of this is extremely significant,” Puglisi says. “It’s the largest taxpayer in the town of Cortlandt,” referring to the $800,000 a year the town receives from Indian Point. Meanwhile, in Buchanan, about one-half of the village’s annual revenue comes from Indian Point taxes. A local fire district and library are set to lose the lion’s share of their funding, too, Puglisi explains.
One of Cortlandt’s school districts, Hendrick Hudson, will suffer, as well. The district gets $24 million from Indian Point — “one-third of their revenue,” Puglisi says.
In total, “It adds up to $32 million a year that all the [affected] entities are going to lose,” Puglisi continues. “This is a huge challenge, one of the biggest challenges in New York State.” And that already prodigious number doesn’t even contemplate millions more dollars that Entergy pumps into the community in sponsorships, donations, intiatives and volunteerism.
It’s a challenge without a clear solution. A PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement between Entergy and municipal governments, negotiated in 2015, will provide some tax revenue over 10 years. “Payments ramp down for three years after the shutdown and then hold at a certain level,” explains Nappi. The payments will decrease by 30% after the first year, 60% the following year, and 90% the third year. “And then [payments] hold at 10 percent until the PILOT is over in 2025,” Nappi says.
Attempts to remedy the shortfall include Cortlandt seeking vacant or underused land to capitalize on. Puglisi says she hopes for new industries or perhaps a new corporate park. Local officials are also seeking state and federal cessation funds — support for communities facing shortfalls from energy company closings. But the state fund that Puglisi is lobbying only has about $45 million for all state communities that have energy plants closing, she says, not nearly enough to cover the $32 million-per-year shortfall for Indian Point alone.
What about new development projects to fill that tax void — some new taxpayer on Indian Point’s 240 acres, many of which are waterfront? “We lobbied for that,” Puglisi explains, but building on a former nuclear site isn’t so easy. “The decommissioning of the plants could take up to 60 years,” she says, citing NRC data. (Some radioactive materials will remain on the site for a period even after the plant stops functioning.)
Westchester County will be affected by all this, too, as approximately 1% percent of the county’s property tax comes from Indian Point. “It has less of an impact on Westchester County tax roll, although it’s not insignificant,” says Catherine Borgia, the county legislator representing parts of Cortlandt and Peekskill, among other areas. Borgia says her focus is supporting the economic redevelopment of the most affected municipalities, like Cortlandt and Buchanan, and maintaining the environmental safety of the site of the power plant.
Tax revenue is one thorny problem; jobs are another. Indian Point presently has about 950 employees, from control-room operators to security personnel, and around 170 of them live in Westchester. Despite one of the reactors going offline in 2020, the entirety of that staff will remain until the plant fully closes down, in April 2021. “[Entergy] committed to no reduction in workforce prior to April 2021,” Nappi explains.
The New York State Department of Labor has also stepped in. According to the state’s most recent annual closure report, the agency is deploying a rapid-response team to assist Indian Point employees with résumé services, LinkedIn training, interview best practices, and job leads.
Still, these developments aren’t enough to allay local anxieties. “It’s our largest employer,” Puglisi says, “[with] good-paying jobs.” According to her, the loss of those jobs will impact close to 5,000 people when you take into account employees’ children, grandchildren, and other family members in the vicinity. “Entergy is based in New Orleans,” says Puglisi, “a lovely place to visit, but we don’t want our people to have to move far away. We want them to stay in the area and be retrained and reskilled.”
A local task force — made up of unions and lawmakers, among others — is hoping to mitigate the fallout through retirement packages and retraining programs. There’s also state-level legislation, S5305B, a bill by New York State Senator Pete Harckham to address the issue. The bill aims to protect union jobs and wages during the decommissioning process. The bill “will help keep families in place by preventing a decommissioning company from coming in and displacing our well-trained workforce, replacing them with unskilled, non-union, low-wage out-of-towners,” Harckham explained in a recent press release. (At press time, the bill still needed to pass in the state assembly before proceeding to the governor’s desk.)
Employees and their families won’t be the only ones affected by the closure — Westchester businesses will be, too. “[Employees] go to local delis; they go to local gas stations; they go to local restaurants,” Puglisi explains. “There’s a trickle-down impact on our community.”
Deb Milone, president of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce, says the chamber is working closely with Entergy and the Indian Point staff as the plant and the region prepare for the shutdown. Nestled in a side street in downtown Peekskill, the chamber represents more than 520 members spread across Croton, Cortlandt, Peekskill, and Putnam Valley, and other municipalities. “It’s mostly small and medium-sized businesses,” Milone explains, defining “small” as businesses with 10 or fewer employees. (Some big businesses are members, too — including Entergy, BASF, and NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital.)
Many of the small businesses have April 2021 on their minds. “The effect the shutdown will have on the local business community is a concern, but having the decommissioning process done quickly, safely, and efficiently is of paramount importance and will benefit the entire region including the business community,” Milone says. “The closer you are to the plant, the more it’s being discussed.” She expects that restaurants, mechanics, and dry cleaners in places like Buchanan and Montrose will feel the impact worse than, say, businesses in Peekskill or Yorktown.
Milone says it’s difficult for those small businesses to prepare or even anticipate what will happen come 2021. Some are pessimistic: One merchant she spoke with expects to lose 40% of its business. Others are more optimistic, including Milone herself. She recently spoke with members of a chamber of commerce in Vermont, within a community that already lost its nuclear power plant. “[They] said there really wasn’t a major downturn to their small business community,” Milone reports.
“Entergy is based in New Orleans. A lovely place to visit, but we don’t want our people to have to move far away. We want them to stay in the area.”
—Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi
Comiserating with the merchants, of course, are homeowners in Cortlandt, Peekskill, and the surrounding area. At present, “there’s really no impact on the values of the homes,” explains Joseph Lippolis, an associate real estate broker with River Towns Real Estate in Peekskill. (Lippolis also serves on the local task force, alongside Puglisi.) “We don’t see any massive exodus from the area, and the area is at fair market value.”
Lippolis doesn’t foresee a future exodus, either: “You’re going to see a normal flow of home sales over the next several years,” he predicts. Lippolis says longstanding local perks — strong schools, proximity to the Hudson and Manhattan — will continue to prove alluring to buyers. He does, however, anticipate a hike in property taxes, which might prove burdensome to retirees in Buchanan and Cortlandt.
Might there be a real estate silver lining? Over the years, some families shopping for a new home have balked at the idea of living in the shadow of a nuclear power plant. Now, with Indian Point shutting down, might there be an influx? Lippolis doubts it: “It’s not like we’ve ever had homes that remained vacant because of Indian Point.”
How to Decommission a Nuclear Power Plant Decommissioning Indian Point will be a meticulous and time-consuming process — for several years, experts will be on-site handling and carting away radioactive materials. According to Joe Delmar, senior director of Government Affairs and Communications at Holtec, the company being considered to be tasked with dismantling the plant, the decommissioning process breaks down into these five steps: Turning it off. First up is taking the reactors offline. “Entergy will shut down Unit 2 by April 30, 2020, and Unit 3 by April 30, 2021, permanently defuel each reactor and place the used fuel in their respective spent-fuel pools.” Dealing with the fuel. Then it’s time to transport that radioactive fuel. “Once sufficiently cooled, the fuel will be placed in stainless-steel and concrete canisters and transported to the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Facility on the Indian Point property.” Dismantling. Holtec begins disassembling the facilities. “Radioactive equipment and components are dismantled per an approved decommissioning plan.” Removal. In order for the Indian Point property to eventually become usable real estate, all these radioactive substances and parts need to be carted away. “Contaminated components are securely packaged and transported to a licensed off-site facility.” Inspection. Last, the site has to meet government standards. “The site is inspected by state and federal agencies to ensure the property has been returned to conditions outlined in the decommissioning plans. Both the state and federal agencies will continue to monitor the site.”
Lawmakers, employees, and merchants aren’t rejoicing over the plant’s closure, but another demographic is: environmental advocates. For those touting ecological and safety concerns, Indian Point’s closure is cause for celebration. “We think it’s very good news,” says Richard Webster, legal director at Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog agency based in Ossining. “It’s had a huge impact on the environment; there’s a huge safety risk.”
The nonprofit — which protects the Hudson River and its offshoots — has come into conflict with the nuclear plant more than once. “We originally got involved with Indian Point because the cooling system was killing millions of fish,” Webster says. “It was having a major impact on the ecology of the Hudson.”
That first melee started in the early 2000s, but others followed. Webster continues: “As we looked at the plant more, we realized there were many other problems,” including earthquakes, apparently. “Turns out there were more faults than they thought,” he says. Degradation was another: “The bolts that hold the inside of the reactor together were fatigued and broken,” he says. Then, there was the problem of evacuation: “There’s very high population density around the area,” Webster explains, and in case of an accident, he believes, realistic evacuation would be “next to impossible.”
Webster makes clear that the closure doesn’t solve all environmental problems: “Some challenges remain the same, and there are some new ones.” The spent fuel in the reactors have to be carefully handled and stored, for example. “It’s very radioactive; it’s really unsafe to work around,” Webster explains. Riverkeeper is also a critic of Holtec, the company proposed to be purchasing and dismantling Indian Point. “Holtec in particular has some serious problems. They’re the worst entity out there to do the job,” Webster says, likely referencing bribery and corruption allegations that triggered a two-month debarment and $2 million administrative fee imposed on Holtec in 2010 by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). This followed an investigation by the TVA’s Office of the Inspector General that claimed Holtec made illegal payments to a TVA supervisor in Alabama in return for a contract to build a storage system for the facility’s spent nuclear fuel rods. Then, in 2014, Holtec CEO Kris Singh gave a false answer on an application to the state of New Jersey (for a $260 million tax break for a new power plant in Camden), having answered “no” to a question asking if the applicant had ever been barred from doing business with a state or federal agency. But in a statement to Westchester Magazine, a spokesperson for Holtec said: “In December 2010, the brief debarment was removed and Holtec was cleared of any wrong doing [sic]. TVA restored full business relationships with Holtec, including on October 1, 2012, awarding Holtec a ten (10) year contract valued at approximately $300 Million. TVA currently remains a valued client of Holtec today,” adding that the false answer was “an oversight” that Holtec had revised with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.
When unpacking the economic and environmental impacts of the closure, one might overlook another big question: How do you replace 2,000 megawatts of electricity? Indian Point’s output — which is distributed throughout Con Ed’s infrastructure — is enough to power about 5% of the state, according to Riverkeeper. Where will that come from after April 2021?
“It does not appear that there will be a significant shortage in energy availability,” says Borgia, the county legislator. “The grid is very interconnected; if there’s a [local] shortage, we’re able to draw from other sources.” Borgia sees the shift as a chance to invest in renewable energy: “It’s an economic-development opportunity — [renewables] are a burgeoning field right now.”
When New York announced the closure in 2017, Governor Cuomo noted: “The state is fully prepared to replace the power generated by the plant at a negligible cost to ratepayers.” That “negligible cost” works out to about a net 1% increase on consumers’ electricity bills, according to a report by Synapse Energy Economics, an energy-research firm. The replacement energy could come from hydropower generated in Quebec, among other venues.
In March, residents got a small taste of life without Indian Point. During a partially unplanned two-week shutdown, the region drew power not from nuclear reactors but rather natural gas and renewables. “The grid’s operating fine without Indian Point, and we’ll have more than enough energy to compensate for its 2021 shutdown,” said Cliff Weathers of Riverkeeper — which is a party to the shutdown agreement — during a March interview.
Borgia sees [the closure] as a chance to invest in renewable energy. “It’s an economic-development opportunity.”
Any breakup is tough — especially when the entities are a sprawling metropolitan area and a 50-year-old nuclear power plant. As Westchester untangles itself from Indian Point, all the major players are keen to avoid unnecessary fallout.
“We’re doing every single thing we can think of,” explains Puglisi, the Cortlandt supervisor. “I do not want this beautiful community to ever become distressed. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that never happens.”
What may take even longer than sorting out the economic and energy impacts is the decommissioning — that is, dismantling those hulking gray domes and the nuclear equipment and waste within — which could take decades. Still, Westchester residents are willing to look that far in the future: “It’s very important that we clean up that area and get that acreage back for future uses and environmental uses,” Puglisi says.
Riverkeeper’s Webster is equally forward-looking: “Eventually we are going to be able to restore this site. In its time, it was the technological marvel of the day, but now, technology has moved on.”
Making the click-through worthwhile: California burns, but the state’s politicians don’t want to look at the policy choices that led to this point; Kamala Harris starts to see that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train; the U.S. Army feels compelled to respond to a presidential tweet; and Twitter announces a ban on political advertising that includes at least one glaring loophole.
Watching California Burn
It’s an overstatement to declare that progressivism or the Democrats ruined California — at least by themselves. But as the state burns from gargantuan wildfires, California Democrats are going to have to confront the fact that their state’s serious troubles reflect more than just bad luck. Policy decisions have consequences, and the full consequences are rarely seen clearly by advocates of particular policies.
New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo is in an apocalyptic mood about his home state, blaming the state’s worsening problems on “a failure to live sustainably.”
I’m starting to suspect we’re over. It’s the end of California as we know it. I don’t feel fine.
It isn’t just the fires — although, my God, the fires. Is this what life in America’s most populous, most prosperous state is going to be like from now on? Every year, hundreds of thousands evacuating, millions losing power, hundreds losing property and lives? Last year, the air near where I live in Northern California — within driving distance of some of the largest and most powerful and advanced corporations in the history of the world — was more hazardous than the air in Beijing and New Delhi. There’s a good chance that will happen again this month, and that it will keep happening every year from now on. Is this really the best America can do?
Probably, because it’s only going to get worse. The fires and the blackouts aren’t like the earthquakes, a natural threat we’ve all chosen to ignore. They are more like California’s other problems, like housing affordability and homelessness and traffic — human-made catastrophes we’ve all chosen to ignore, connected to the larger dysfunction at the heart of our state’s rot: a failure to live sustainably.
You don’t hear as much about Calexit these days, do you? There are currently ten fires burning.
The boss recalled that “In 2016, then-governor Jerry Brown actually vetoed a bill that had unanimously passed the state legislature to promote the clearing of trees dangerously close to power lines. Brown’s team says this legislation was no big deal, but one progressive watchdog called the bill ‘neither insignificant or small.’” How often do you see a bill that passed unanimously get vetoed?
Most progressives blame the wildfires as an inevitable side effect of climate change, which gets their public policy decisions off the hook. Noah Rothman writes, “While utility providers make a convenient scapegoat, public policy is more to blame for California’s conundrum. Most wildfires are not caused by faulty electrical equipment but natural factors and human error. The state’s utilities are required by law to extend their networks to housing developed in high-risk areas, and, in a state with an acute housing shortage, more and more residences are built inside danger zones. What’s more, the patchwork of federal, state, local, tribal, and private interests that are responsible for forestry management have run up against the state’s onerous regulatory environment.” If you can’t clear out underbrush or clear out any trees, you end up with a ton of underbrush that burns quickly and hotter.Stay Updated with Morning Jolt
A guided tour of the news and politics driving the day, by Jim Geraghty.
If you want to find a surprising development in all of this, it’s that this disaster is bad enough to interrupt the usual partisan passions: “His team is performing above and beyond expectation,’’ [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom said of Trump, following a visit to meet with the senior residents of Las Casitas Mobile Home Park in American Canyon, which has been without power since Saturday. “Every single request we’ve had to the administration has been met.’’
Many parts of California look like paradise — nice weather year-round, a beautiful coast, redwood forests, gorgeous mountain ranges. This leads to many, many people wanting to live there, probably more than the region could reasonably manage, in terms of effective governance, the economy, and ecologically. The progressive response to this is schizophrenic. California’s Democratic political establishment believes that efforts to find and deport illegal immigrants are xenophobic and wrong. They offer driver’s licenses and Medicaid coverage to those who enter the country illegally. Then they lament strained state services, overcrowded schools, sprawl, and unmanageable population growth.
As Kevin observed, “California is great if you are too rich or too poor to care about the marginal costs of living there, but if you have a more average income (and are looking to raise a family on it) then hopping across the border to Nevada must look attractive.” Earlier this year, the New York Times noted the growing philosophy that California was a place for young, bright, ambitious people to make their fortune, which they would then enjoy spending somewhere else.
Despite some folks missing the point, earlier this year I observed that California’s cities earning the worst grades on air quality despite the toughest emissions laws in the country revealed the limits of regulation. Few rules can overcome geography: California’s cities have a lot of people, a lot of cars and traffic, and a lot of sunny days. When you live in a valley surrounded by high mountains, the smog doesn’t disperse easily. And that’s before accounting for the wildfires.
The Thousand Islands — if you’ve even heard of them — are probably best known as the home of a certain sweet-and-spicy salad dressing. Unless, of course, you happen to be the fancy type of person who builds themselves a villa. The islands on the St. Lawrence River dividing New York from Canada have been sprouting ritzy summer homes for the rich and famous for more than a century. Which is a bit strange, when you think about how one of the earliest of those homes was clearly the target of a family-destroying curse.
House of Horrors
As far as we can tell, there aren’t any ghost stories associated with Carleton Villa — none that made it on to the internet, anyway. Maybe that’s because there don’t really need to be. The house’s well-documented history is more than enough on its own to give any passerby the willies.
Let’s go back to the beginning. In 1894, William Wyckoff was on top of the world. About eight years previous, he and two of his business partners had purchased the Remington Typewriter Company and turned it into an incredibly lucrative business. Looking for some well-earned R&R, he commissioned the architect William Henry Miller to design a luxurious house on Carleton Island, one of the 1,800 islands in the Thousand Island archipelago.
It was beautiful. Covering seven acres, the estate was notable for the stately stonework, towering turrets, and eye-popping stained glass that was the envy of any passing boater. But even before Wyckoff and his family moved in, a dark shadow began to pass over them. One month before move-in day, William’s wife Francis passed away from cancer. But that was only the beginning. The very first night that the rest of the family moved in, William Wyckoff suffered a heart attack in his sleep. He never woke up.
The family fortunes only fell further. Clarence Wyckoff, the youngest son, inherited the house after his father’s death. Then the Great Depression hit — hard. As the bank accounts drained, desperate measures became necessary. The Wyckoffs sold Carleton Villa to General Electric, who planned to demolish the building for scrap and build a new employee resort and plant on the site. But this, too, failed to happen. That beautiful stained glass was removed — along with the rest of the windows — and in the service wing, the entire floor of a bedroom was cut directly out. The marble cladding around the mansion’s most prominent feature, the four-story tower, was removed as well, greatly weakening its foundation. But when World War II broke out, the demolition stopped. It never started again.
It wouldn’t have been pleasant to live in Carleton Villa in those days, but imagine what it’s like now. Other than the occasional urban spelunker, the house has been virtually abandoned ever since. Its tower is now long gone, torn down when it began to threaten the rest of the structure. But perhaps not all hope is lost. In fact, are you in the market? If you’ve got $495,000 handy, the place could be yours — as long as you’re all right with a bit of a fixer-upper. Elsewhere on Carleton Island, other monied residents with more modern houses have firmly established themselves. You know what that means. Once you’ve got the spooky old house, all you need is a mask and Halloween sound effects and you’re three-quarters of the way to scaring off your neighbors and getting an island to yourself.
National home prices increased modestly in August. New York and Las Vegas experienced price declines while Phoenix led the way with a 9.1% annual growth rate in August.
The Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index, reported by S&P Dow Jones Indices rose at a seasonally adjusted annual growth rate of 4.2% in August, following an increase of 2.1% in July. On a year-over-year basis, the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index posted a 3.2% annual gain in August, up from 3.1% in July. After six straight months of declines of the rate of growth, the annual growth rate increased for the first time in August.
Meanwhile, the Home Price Index, released by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.1% in August, following a 4.9% increase in July. On a year-over-year basis, the FHFA Home Price NSA Index rose by 4.6% in August, after an increase of 5.1% in July. It was the lowest annual growth rate since October 2014.
In addition to tracking home price changes nationwide, S&P also reported home price indexes across 20 metro areas. In August, local home prices varied and their annual growth rates ranged from -5.2% to 9.1%. Among the 20 metro areas, four metro areas exceeded the national average of 4.2%. Phoenix, Miami and Seattle had the highest home price appreciation in August. Phoenix led the way with a 9.1% increase, followed by Miami with a 6.1% increase and Seattle with a 6.0% increase.
Home prices in two metro areas declined in August. They were New York (-5.2%) and Las Vegas (-1.7%). New York has experienced negative home price appreciation for six straight months this year.
Californians are bracing for power outages throughout the state as utilities consider sweeping blackouts amid returning high winds.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced Monday it could shut off power to 605,000 customers Tuesday and Wednesday in its latest bid to reduce the wildfire risk. That means well over 1 million people could lose power.
The counties are Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba.
Some shutoffs took place Tuesday morning.
That blackout would cover more than two dozen Northern California counties and would come just days after a much larger power shut-off that covered nearly 1 million customers over the weekend. That outage is believed to have affected more than 2 million residents in the Bay Area and other northern regions.
To the south, a forecast of more Santa Ana winds prompted Southern California Edison to say it could shut off power to more than 350,000 customers. Those shut-offs include Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
The blackouts are a new and controversial tactic designed to prevent wind-driven brush fires caused by downed utility lines. Officials think the tactic is effective. But two major fires this month — the Kincade fire in Sonoma County and the Saddleridge fire in L.A. — may have been caused by downed power lines.
With the Kincade fire spreading, Santa Rosa residents were forced to evacuate in darkness early Sunday amid PG&E power outages, using flashlights and cellphones as light sources.
Elsewhere, businesses have closed, and plans have been canceled. Food has spoiled in refrigerators.
PG&E on Monday revealed it had failed to notify about 23,000 of its customers of precautionary power shutdowns earlier this month and also disclosed that its equipment malfunctioned near two fires that broke out in Contra Costa County on Sunday afternoon.
The utility identified the incidents in filings to the California Public Utilities Commission the same day the CPUC announced it would investigate how PG&E and other utilities handled shut-offs this year amid competing demands. Critics want PG&E to stop causing more wildfires, but the utility also has come under fire for the widespread blackouts, often without adequate notice to the public and vulnerable populations.
The utility de-energized lines to 729,000 of its customers between Oct. 9 and 12, but notifications were not sent to about 23,000 customers, including 500 with medical conditions, PG&E stated in a CPUC filing.
The utility failed to notify some people because, among other reasons, there was no contact information on file with the company or the customers were overlooked because of the shifting grid patterns that the utility was establishing, according to PG&E officials who declined to comment beyond what was stated in the report.
The company said it tried to reach customers who required power for medical equipment — known as medical baseline customers — through any means necessary, including phone calls, text messages, emails or knocks on the door.
“Of the 30,026 medical baseline customers impacted, PG&E verified 29,144 received notice prior to de-energization,” the report stated. “A total of 28,138 confirmed receipt of a notification, which included 5,080 door knocks. The medical baseline customers that did not confirm receipt of an automatic notification prior to de-energization had received multiple contact attempts.”
Home renovation spending reached a record high this summer, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Although they expected those numbers to continue to soar through the end of 2019, the JCHS now says it expects a complete stall come 2020.
The Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity released by the Remodeling Futures Program at JCHS said that annual gains in homeowner spending for improvements and repairs will dissipate by the second half of 2020.
To that point, the LIRA states that the annual home improvement and maintenance expenditures will post a modest decline of 0.3% through the third quarter of 2020.
“Continued weakness in existing home sales and new construction will lead to sluggish remodeling activity next year,” said Chris Herbert, managing director of the JCHS. “Slowdowns in other key indicators of improvement spending—project permitting, sales of building materials, and home prices—also suggest the remodeling market may be reaching a turning point.”
Back in July, JCHS said that it expected remodeling spending to total a record $331 billion for all of 2019.
Now, the furthest projection in the index (the end of Q2 2020) suggests that spending over the prior 12 months will probably total $323 billion.
“At $325 billion, owner improvement and repair spending in the coming year is expected to essentially remain flat compared to market spending of $326 billion over the past four quarters,” says Abbe Will, associate project director in the Remodeling Futures Program at the Center. “However, today’s low mortgage interest rates may help counter some of these headwinds, which could buoy home improvement expenditure over the coming year.”
Buoyed by a strong economy and continued low mortgage rates, the New York State housing market showed an upward climb in sales and listings in September, according to the housing market report released today by the New York State Association of REALTORS®.
Closed sales in New York totaled 11,467 units in the month of September, a 1.6-percent increase from this time last year. New listings and pending sales rose substantially in September – up 7.5-percent to 18,161 homes and 7.6-percent to 11,182 respectively.
For the third quarter, closed sales were down marginally, 0.8-percent to 38,722 homes but both new listings and pending sales trended upward. There were 56,361 new listings this quarter, a 1.2-percent increase, while pending sales rose 4.9-percent to 37,766 homes.
Interest rates remained low, down 0.1-percent to 3.61 percent on a 30-year fixed mortgage, according to Freddie Mac. This is the fourth consecutive month that interest rates were below 4.0-percent.
Median sales prices once again climbed in September, up 5.7-percent to $280,000. Quarterly prices surged upwards as well, rising 5.5-percent to $290,000. Inventory levels were down for September, 2.9-percent to 71,737 homes for sale.