Realtor.com added a new filter that allows people to look at homes for sale based on the commuting distance to their work.
The new search option, created in response to user feedback, is designed to help buyers understand how long it will take to drive to and from work before pulling the trigger on a home purchase, realtor.com said in a statement. About 85% of people in a survey of 600 users of realtor.com said they would compromise on various home features, including lot size, square footage, and style of the home, to reduce their commute time.
“Buyers would choose to save their sanity and sacrifice various home amenities in turn for a shorter commute,” realtor.com said.
The new feature currently is available only on the company’s IOS app, meaning right now you can only see it on iPhones, which represent about a third of the mobile market. In coming days it will be added to realtor.com’s Android app as well as its website, according to Shannon Baker, a spokeswoman for realtor.com.
The average American’s commute inched up to 26.9 minutes from 26.6 minutes in 2018 from the previous year, according to Census data. While that 18-second increase was small, it added up to two and a half extra hours on the road when tallied over the course of the year.
Washington, D.C., has the nation’s worst commute, at an average 41 minutes each way, according to Geotab, a company that sells GPS fleet management systems, based on its computation of Census data. That’s followed by Boston and New York, both at 40 minutes. San Francisco is fourth, at 36 minutes, followed by Atlanta and Chicago, at 35 minutes. Los Angeles and Miami are seventh and eighth, at 33 minutes. Rounding out the top 10 is Philadelphia and Seattle, both at 32 minutes.
Wall Street rating agencies gave a collective thumbs-down to Westchester County this week, downgrading its bond rating, based on its past two years of deficit spending and the use of the county’s reserves to balance its budget.
Whether the downgrade will drive up borrowing costs — and higher county spending — will be determined by market conditions when the county sells $200 million in bonds next week.
But one agency warned it could drop the rating several notches more if the county continues its practice of including phantom revenues in the budget and raiding its rainy day fund at year’s end to erase the red ink.
The downgrades by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings come as the county Board of Legislators reviews County Executive George Latimer’s 2019 budget, which would be balanced by having a county-affiliated agency borrow $22 million in a one-shot deal to pay for day-to-day expenses.
It’s not exactly the sustainable revenue stream that S&P was looking for to assure municipal bond investors.
For Latimer, and for homeowners, it is a case of pick your poison.
Go with his complex parking-lot deal to glean the $22 million one-shot, or increase county property taxes by 6 percent this year to pay the bills, and cover $98 million in new spending.
There’s also a possible move in Albany to seek an increase in the county sales tax.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, left, speaks with Leslie Gordon of Feeding Westchester, John Ravitz, Executive Vice President of the Westchester Business Council, and Susan Fox of the Westchester Institute for Human Development during the annual breakfast of the Westchester Business Council at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown Nov. 28, 2018. Latimer was the guest speaker at the breakfast. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
The downgrades are the results of seven years of tax austerity under Latimer’s predecessor, Rob Astorino, who held the line on the county property tax-levy from 2011 through 2017. Latimer’s response to the Astorino era, however, has caught the bond rating agencies’ eye as well.
During his first year in office, Latimer settled the Civil Service Employees Association contract, to which no funds were appropriated in the 2018 budget. So the county expects to dip deeply into its reserves to pay for the labor settlement.
“The honeymoon is over,” declared Joe Markey, market president of KeyBank, at Wednesday morning’s Business Council of Westchester breakfast at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown.
How low can Westchester’s rating go? Certainly much lower than the AA+ rating issued on Tuesday, and the negative outlook issued by S&P. Moody’s Investor Services that downgraded Westchester in 2017.
Lower bond ratings can raise the interest rates because the investment is seen as riskier. Higher rates drive up borrowing costs on obligations that remain on the backs of taxpayers for 20 years.Exactly how much a lower bond rating increases rates depends on market conditions at the time of issuance.
“We remain concerned over the county’s ability to sustainably align revenue and expenditures and rebuild reserves to a level consistent with that of similarly rated or higher-rated peers,” the report said.
In other words, Westchester’s rating could go lower if it continues to rely on speculative revenues, and then is forced to backfill the shortfall with reserves.
Here we go again
That could happen again in Latimer’s first budget.
It remains to be seen whether the Democrat-controlled county board will back Latimer’s one-shot sale of several acres of land, located in the Bronx River Parkway Reservation, Westchester County’s first park. Latimer wants to sell the parking lots that serve patrons of the park’s Westchester County Center and provide spaces for White Plains commuters.
The Westchester County Local Development Corporation would pay $22 million for the park’s parking lots, which generate $2.5 million a year in county revenue. The LDC would sell tax-exempt revenue bonds to raise the $22 million.
It seems certain that the deal won’t be concluded by year’s end. The county has yet to make an application to the LDC for the sale. The LDC needs to change its charter to allow the deal, which requires approval by the state Attorney General. And the parkland sale must be first recommended by the Westchester County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Board, which meets Thursday to discuss the issue.
The Latimer administration wants to remove the parking lots at the Westchester County Center from a county park, and sell them to a public nonprofit. (Photo: David McKay Wilson/The Journal News)
S&P warned that including the park sale in the budget could create problems if the Board of Legislators fails to approve the final deal.
“Should this transfer not occur as planned, management may be required to fill the gap with expenditure reductions, an additional property tax increase above the planned 2 percent, or fund balance,” the report stated.
The report also warned about the Latimer administration’s rosy forecast for a 5 percent increase in sales tax revenues for 2019.
Latimer has so far said he’s not willing to raise property taxes more than 2 percent for 2019.
Sales tax could be next to go up
The S&P report notes that the county plans to seek an increase in the county sales tax during the 2019 session, though no revenue from the increase was included in Latimer’s budget plan.
The county’s sales-tax rate, which is now 1.5 percentage points – is part of the combined sales tax that’s charged in Westchester. The overall sales-tax rate includes New York state sales tax of 4 percent, 0.375 percent for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority; 2.5 percent for the cities of Mount Vernon, White Plains, and New Rochelle; and 3 percent for Yonkers.
Winning an increase in Albany could provide a revenue stream big enough to right Westchester’s fiscal ship and return S&P’s outlook to stable. But if that doesn’t happen, and Westchester does another year of deficit spending, the outlook could grow even dimmer.
“Should the aforementioned risks to the fiscal 2019 budget materialize and reserves continue a downward tend, providing limited cushion to insulate the financial position from disruptions related to tax reform or economic downturn, we could lower the rating, potentially by multiple notches,” the report said.
Total housing starts posted a decline in September due to flat conditions for single-family construction and a pullback for apartment development. Total starts declined 5.3% in September but are 6.4% higher for 2018 on a year-to-date basis, according to the joint data release from the Census Bureau and HUD.
The pace of single-family starts was roughly flat in September, decreasing 0.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 871,000. Slight gains off the summer soft patch for single-family mirror a minor uptick of the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, now registering a score of 68. While builders are benefitting from recent declines in lumber prices (at least relative to spring and summer’s elevated levels), they continue to report concerns about labor access issues.
On a year-to-date basis, single-family starts are 6% higher as of September relative to the first nine months of 2017. Single-family permits, a useful indicator of future construction activity, were up slightly (2.9%) in September and have registered a 5.6% gain thus far in 2018 compared to last year.
Multifamily starts (2+ unit production) pulled back in September to a 330,000 annual rate. After a strong start to the year, multifamily development is moving closer to our forecast of leveling-off conditions. On a year-to-date basis, multifamily 5+ unit production is 7.3% higher thus far in 2018, while multifamily 5+ unit permitting is trending lower with just a 0.8% year-to-date increase relative to 2017.
With respect to housing’s economic impact, 54% of homes under construction in September were multifamily (607,000). The current count of apartments under construction is down slightly from a year ago. In September, there were 522,000 single-family units under construction, a gain of more than 9% from this time in 2017.
Regional data show – on a year-to-date basis – mixed conditions. Single-family construction is down 1% for the year in the Midwest and flat in the Northeast. Single-family starts are up in the larger building regions of the South (4.9%) and the West (14.6%).
Households headed by adults age 65 or older devoted a quarter of their 2013 income to housing, which includes spending on mortgage interest, rent, property taxes, maintenance, repairs, homeowners’ and renters’ insurance, and utilities.
Older households are more than three times as likely as younger households to own their homes free and clear (58 versus 17 percent). Yet, the lack of a mortgage doesn’t reduce their housing costs much because they still have to pay property taxes, maintenance, repairs, insurance, and utilities. In fact, those costs combined make up more than half of what older households with mortgages spend on housing.
Housing doesn’t eat up much more of household budgets for older adults than for adults younger than 65, who allocated 21 percent of their 2013 income to housing. What’s surprising, though, is that seniors spend so much on housing even when they aren’t saddled with mortgages.
Older homeowners without mortgages spent 18 percent of their 2013 income on housing, including 8 percent on utilities, 5 percent on property taxes, and 5 percent on maintenance. Older renters spent much more of their income—43 percent—on housing because their incomes, on average, were half as much as homeowners without mortgages. This share is well above the 30 percent cutoff commonly used to identify burdensome housing costs.
Low-income seniors spend an even larger share of their income on housing. Nearly 7 million adults age 65 or older receive incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty level, a reliable indicator of inadequate income. They spent a staggering 74 percent of their income on housing in 2013. Those with more income but less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level devoted 41 percent of their income to housing.
According the Federal Reserve Bank of New York the outstanding amount of home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) was the only debt category to record a decrease in the third quarter of 2015. Home equity lines of credit are an important source of financing for home remodeling projects. Over the quarter, the outstanding amount of HELOCs fell by 1.4%, $7 billion, and over the year, it shrank by 3.9%, $20 billion. An earlier postdocumented the decline in the outstanding amount of HELOCs beginning in 2009, and the most recent reportfrom the Fed indicates that the trend continues.
According to bank-level analysis of the Consolidated Reports of Condition and Income, commonly referred to as “call reports”, the decline in the outstanding amount of HELOCs reflects a decrease at larger-sized banks. In contrast, the outstanding amount of HELOCs at smaller sized banks has risen in recent years. As illustrated in Figure 1 below, in 2001 the outstanding amount of HELOCs at the 20 largest banks as measured by total loans and leases, was equal to the combined amount of HELOCs on the balance sheets of all other banks. The outstanding amount of HELOCs was split nearly evenly until 2003, even as the total amount was rising.
However, beginning in 2003, the outstanding amount of HELOCs on the balance sheets of the Top 20 banks soared, peaking at $475.9 billion in 2009. Since 2009, the outstanding amount of HELOCs has collapsed, falling to $314.7 billion by 2015. Meanwhile the outstanding amount of HELOCs held at all other banks doubled between 2001 and 2004, but then declined to $131.6 billion by 2006. Instead of an up-and-down cycle, the outstanding amount of HELOCs held at all other banks remained steady through the financial crisis. In recent years, the outstanding amount of HELOCs held at other banks has risen slightly. Since the outstanding amount of HELOCs on the balance sheets of all other banks is rising while declining at the Top 20 banks, then the gap between the two cohorts is converging.
Perhaps you have heard that it’s getting easier to get approved for a mortgage to buy a home. Yet the first-time buyers you work with don’t seem to be doing any better than they did six, 12 or even 24 months ago.
The news reports you’ve been reading are misleading. They may accurately trends for refi mortgages or mortgages as a whole but not for purchase loans—mortgages to buy houses–which is the focus of most of the public concern about standards.
What’s going on?
Six months ago I published an article titled “Why Lending Standards Won’t Get Better”. ‘’Today’s lending standards were written to protect lenders and federal budgeters, not to help renters become homeowners. Despite pressure from the public, lending standards probably won’t change much more in the foreseeable future than they already have,’ I wrote at the time.
I’m sorry to say, it looks like I was right. We are deep into the best market for home sales in nearly a decade and the latest hard data shows that it is just as difficult to qualify for a purchase mortgage in July as it was last March–or even in March 2012.
Reports of that looser standards are making it easier to get a mortgage are of two types:
Some are simply surveys of lenders or experts, like the Federal Reserve’s quarterly Survey of Senior Loan Officers or Pulsenomic’s survey of real estate economists and experts. Both made headlines in recent months by announcing access to credit has eased, or is easing. Both are based on perceptions, expectations and attitudes, not on hard data.
Others, like the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index, combine purchase loans with refis to provide a picture of credit accessibility that’s virtually useless for a discussion of home purchases and the barriers facing first-time buyers. The fact is that standards for refis are indeed significantly lower while standards for purchase loans have been virtually frozen for years. For example, median FICOs for conventional closed refis in July were 727, for conventional closed purchase loans 757—a 30 point difference. Combining data on the two different uses hides what is really going on to purchases loans.
Standards for refis have loosened much more for refis than for purchase loans. A good way to measure the difference between standards used to make lending decisions is to review and compare the real-life results of those decisions. Below is an update of a table I included in my May article expanded to include July 2015 and refi data, for comparison purposes. It includes data on closed loans for the two most popular categories of mortgages for home buyers, FHA and conventional loans. The data come from Ellie Mae, the industry-leading mortgage processing platform which processed approximately 3.7 million loan applications in 2014.
How Lending Standards Differ for Conventional and FHA Refi and Purchase Loans
March 2012-July 2015
Percentage improvement, March 2012-July 2015
Conventional Purchase Loans
Back end DTI*
Conventional Refi Loans
Back end DTI*
FHA Purchase Loans
Back end DTI*
FHA Refi Loans
Back end DTI*
Average FICO scores, loan-to-value ratios, and debt-to-income ratios from Ellie Mae Origination Insight Reports
Over the past 16 months, the three critical metrics used to show the impact of lending standards—FICO scores, loan-to-value ratios and debt-to-income ratios have barely while refis have indeed become measurably more accessible to borrowers.
The four-bedroom, 2.5-bath home on Cromwell Bridge Road in Towson listed in June for $324,900. And lingered.
June Piper-Brandon, a real estate agent with Century 21 New Millennium, and the seller, David Walcher, recently reduced the price by about $25,000. Even so, no one showed up at an open house this weekend.
“We keep dropping the price and hoping,” Piper-Brandon said.
The good news and the bad news in Baltimore’s real estate market is the same for both buyers and sellers: Prices aren’t going up.
Nationwide home prices recovered to pre-housing-crash levels in June, rising 6.5 percent year-over-year after months of steady gains, according to the most recent existing home sales data from the National Association of Realtors.
But the median cost of a home in the Baltimore metro area increased just 1.5 percent last month from July 2014, to $259,900, according to a report released Monday by RealEstate Business Intelligence. And so far this year, the median price has fallen about 1.6 percent and remains about 10 percent off the 2007 peak.
The affordability may be fueling demand. More homes sold in Baltimore City and the five surrounding counties last month than in any July since 2005, continuing an eight-month streak of year-over-year, double-digit gains. The 3,623 deals were 23 percent more than a year ago. The number of pending deals also rose nearly 16 percent.
But the disconnect between local and national prices coupled with the increased demand may be causing pricing confusion in the Baltimore market.
“I don’t know too many markets in the country that look like Baltimore,” said John Heithaus, the self-identified “chief evangelist” for RealEstate Business Intelligence, the affiliate of the region’s multiple listing service that produces the monthly housing analysis. “Clearly, yes, for the entire [mid-Atlantic] region, [prices in] the Baltimore metro is certainly lagging, but what we want to see is increases in sales.”
Piper-Brandon said some homeowners have gotten encouraged to sell as more emerge from being underwater. But many prospective buyers are still backing away and opting to rent.
“We’re certainly seeing people going back to work, but they’re not making as much money as they used to make,” she said.
After dropping the price on his home, Walcher, 48, said his family is in no rush — they just found a bigger home with a pool they liked more. They bought the property from a bank after a foreclosure, so there’s some wiggle room.
“I think this may be an opportunity for somebody to take advantage of the situation we’re in and get a good deal that might not be available at other times,” said Walcher, an insurance agent. “If it doesn’t sell, OK, I had planned to live here for 20 years anyway.”
Danielle Hale, the National Association of Realtors director of housing statistics, said price increases nationally reflect pressure created by relatively low inventories and rising demand. However, she said, demand remains lower than expected, given population growth, which some observers chalk up to slowly rising incomes, more renters and fewer people creating new households, among other factors.
Those dynamics are part of the story in Maryland, where job creation and income growth have lagged behind the rest of the country in recent months. The region’s stagnant prices also reflect a continued churn of distressed properties, which drag down prices while feeding supply.
Foreclosures and short sales — with a median price of $118,000 — increased 43.5 percent year-over-year in July, to 673, or 18.5 percent of all transactions.
Many of the distressed properties date to delinquencies that started in the recession, and are just now appearing as the market adjusts to regulatory changes. While the situation is improving, Maryland continues to have one of the three worst delinquent markets in the country, according to a recent RealtyTrac report.
“It’s that lingering overhang,” said Frank Nothaft, a Washington-based senior vice president and chief economist for CoreLogic. “The serious delinquency rate has come down a great deal in the Baltimore market. … It’s still really high.” The delinquent market continues to weigh especially on Baltimore City, where the median sales price was $135,000, the same as in July 2014. Of the 700 home sales in the city, about 200 — more than 28 percent — were short sales or foreclosures, similar to last year’s share, according to RBI.
But the city in July also saw a 17.1 percent increase in closed sales and 11.4 percent increase in pending sales.
“The city seems to have weathered the potential storm of the civil unrest,” said T. Ross Mackesey, president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. “We still have a huge distressed-property problem.”
John Kaburopulos, an agent with Keller Williams Flagship of Maryland, listed a recently rehabbed two-bedroom rowhouse on Lehigh Street in Greektown for $165,000 at the end of May, but recently dropped the price to $150,000 to try to attract more interest.
As many Gloucester County towns have seen, these vacant properties quickly fall into disrepair. As the grass grows out of control, so do many other issues. Abandoned houses become targets for vandalism, squatters and drug dealers. Many are targets for metal thieves, who remove copper piping, wiring and other goodies to sell to scrap dealers.
These situations endanger neighboring properties both by introducing safety issues and dragging down property values in the area. When no one is accountable for these properties, it’s often local taxpayers who pick up the tab for mowing the grass and dealing with any other maintenance issues.
The current estimate on the number of abandoned or vacant properties in Gloucester County sits at 3,300, according to county officials — about 3 percent of the county’s more than 110,000 housing units.
For only $300, you can build this durable outdoor cooking unit that can function as a stove, oven, grill, and smoker.
The firebricks are stacked without mortar to allow for expansion and contraction as the temperature changes.
This DIY, wood-fired, outdoor masonry stove can be used four ways: for baking, grilling, cooking, and smoking. Whatever your cooking needs, our outdoor stove/oven/grill/smoker can do it, thanks to interchangeable grill grates and griddle surfaces. If you want to grill steaks or fish, use the grill grate. If you want to bake bread, slide on the steel griddle, stack some bricks on top to retain heat and add the door to hold in the heat. If you want to use the stove top, just slide the metal plate (or griddle) over the top of the firebox.
The MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors and I wanted to design a highly efficient, multi-purpose stove that uses little firewood (or charcoal) and retains heat for baking and cooking. So, we included a thick insulation layer of lightweight perlite/cement between the firebox and surrounding concrete block, and we included a removable door. This design holds the heat in the firebox where it’s needed. (Perlite is the porous white stuff often found in potting soils. You can buy this mined mineral product at garden centers.)
You can build the outdoor oven in stages, a few hours at a time. (You’ll need a few days between some steps.) Check local building codes before you start building. The oven is made from materials you can buy at local hardware or building stores. You may be able to find some of the materials at a salvage yard, too. (See the materials list and the building diagram). Detailed instructions for building the outdoor brick oven are below. Even if you only use it to bake bread, you can save enough money in one year to more than pay for the $300 cost.
Ideally, the stove is built to a comfortable height with concrete countertop space on each side, plus a roof to protect against the elements. We covered the concrete blocks with tile, primarily for aesthetic reasons, but you could apply stucco over the blocks, or just paint them or use the services of Central PA house painters. Having an outdoor sink and storage space nearby is also convenient.
Our outdoor oven requires a fire in the firebox for about 45 minutes to one hour to reach a baking temperature of 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Or, if you want to grill, you can start in less than half an hour. For comparison, it can take about three hours to get a clay earthen oven up to proper baking temperature. That’s a lot of time and firewood expended, which really adds up if you’re using the oven frequently. The firebrick used in our stove reaches cooking temperature more quickly than clay because its higher density makes it more efficient at conducting heat.
Another key design element is the firebox size — not too small, not too large, but just right. Properly sized fireboxes heat up quickly, have improved combustion, produce less smoke and stay hotter longer. We measured cookie sheets, bread pans, medium and large roasting pans, canners and baking dishes to arrive at our optimal firebox size of 13 inches wide by 28 inches deep by 13 1/2 inches high.
From installing rooftop solar panels to putting in new triple pane windows and EnergyStar appliances, people today make all kinds of home upgrades that save energy and lower their utility bills.
But when they opt to sell their “green” home, it’s often less than clear how such upgrades are valued in the real estate market by appraisers, lenders, or purchasers — or even how information about a home’s energy characteristics should be conveyed to real estate agents and potential homebuyers.
“People do upgrade [for energy efficiency], but the problem is, a lot of that information on what they’re doing doesn’t get to the marketplace, doesn’t find its way into the real estate transaction,” says Maria Vargas, who directs theBetter Buildings Challenge program at the Department of Energy.
The department aims to change that with a newly announced program. The agency’s Better Buildings initiative, which seeks to slash overall energy use across U.S. buildings by 20 percent in 10 years, has already been successful in the commercial sector, but now it is turning to the residential arena — with a focus on advancing home energy efficiency.
One surprising strategy for doing so will be helping to improve the flow of information about home energy efficiency (and its effect on driving lower utility bills) in the real estate market — thus helping it to be better valued in markets. To do so, the Energy Department is partnering with those who spread and use this information, including the Appraisal Institute, a professional association for real estate appraisers, the Council of Multiple Listing Services — which ties together the large number of local MLS organizations that provide informational databases of real estate listings — and the National Association of Realtors’ Center for Realtor Technology.
“We want to move in, move out, in a few years, to really accelerate this market,” says Vargas, “so we are better enabling homeowners, and the whole transaction process around selling a home, to include energy efficiency information.”