April 12, 2012

Buy Now While You Can

The Chicago Tribune reports from Illinois. “Ken Neumann is back building houses in the Chicago area, but he’s no longer focused on constructing thousands of homes in subdivisions for entry-level buyers. Instead, he’s tearing down homes in long-established communities and building houses for a more discerning, upscale clientele. There’s one other difference: Neumann Homes Inc., a name synonymous with the spectacular rise and fall of Chicago’s home-building market, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Neumann is operating under the Greenscape Homes brand.”

“On Nov. 1, 2007, Neumann, which also had operations in Wisconsin and Colorado, sought reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, owing at least $235.6 million to eight banks, suppliers and contractors, and an additional $137 million to its largest unsecured creditors, according to court documents. Ken Neumann agreed to pay $1.125 million to settle certain disputes. Neumann set his sights on teardowns in established west suburban communities, constructing in their place semicustom homes under the Greenscape Homes name and pricing most of them from the mid-$400,000 range to more than $700,000.”

“He opted not to use the Neumann name while the bankruptcy case continued but said, ‘I’m not ashamed of being Ken Neumann.’”

The Chicago Sun Times in Illinois. “For homeowners planning to sell this year, condolences are in order. With the median price hitting a new low since its 2007 peak, Realtors say a big chunk of today’s sellers are in the ‘have-to’ camp as the home buying season is set to shift into higher gear. For home buyers, it remains a dream market.”

“Twenty-five-year-old Sandra Becerra closed in February on a three-bedroom, 1½-bath tri-level home in Burbank she snapped up for $145,000. She said it originally listed for $220,000 two years ago. She put 5 percent down and got a 30-year, fixed-rate FHA mortgage with a 3.875 percent interest rate. ‘I went for it because I just thought it was such a great deal. I didn’t really want to pass it up,’ Becerra said.”

Minnesota Public Radio News. “Homes sales are heating up this spring in the Twin Cities as buyers compete over a tight inventory of homes. Anna, 32, and Evan, 29, want something bigger their family can grow into. But finding what they want in their price range of $250,000 to $450,000 has been tougher than they expected. They want to get into a home by the beginning of next year. They hope it doesn’t take that long, Anna said. ‘Right now, everyone knows it’s a good time to buy with the historically low mortgage rate and the ten-year low housing prices,’ she said.”

“Sally Rousse, 48, didn’t have to update her home. But she did lower the price by almost $150,000 to just over $700,000 since she first tried to sell last year. When the house didn’t sell after a few months, Rousse took it off the market. The market in Rousse’s price range near the Minneapolis lakes is slow and prices have dropped significantly. She needs to sell her house this year to cut her family’s expenses. ‘I guess I felt I took it personally at first. I thought ‘Why don’t they like my house.’ and I didn’t really understand the market and how it works, and how people wait and wait and wait and see what’ll happen and if you’ll drop the price,’ Rousse said. ‘Every month that we stay here is more money that we are spending that we could be saving for things that we want to do,’ she said.”

The Journal Sentinel in Wisconsin. “Sales of existing homes in metro Milwaukee rose almost 23% in the first quarter, but prices continued to slide, data shows. Economist Brian Jacobsen said the southeast region of the state ’seems to be following the general pattern for the nation of slightly more sales, but prices going nowhere fast. There’s likely going to continue to be a shift in potential homeowners preferring to rent than buy, unless they can get a great bargain,’ said Jacobsen, ‘Job insecurity is a major impediment to buying a home. Low interest rates aren’t enough to entice buyers into the market. Jobs are key.’”

“A separate report showed that permits to construct new homes rose 8.8% in Wisconsin’s biggest population centers in the first quarter of 2012. ‘There are a number of builders that are putting up spec homes right now,’ said Dominic Collar of Oshkosh-based MTD.”

The Toledo Blade in Ohio. “Despite a few slightly positive statistics and anecdotes of improving sales, local real estate agents and national data tracking firms say that five years into the nation’s housing crisis the Toledo area’s foreclosure problem remains as bad as ever. ‘I think there’s still a lot of them in the pipeline that we haven’t seen and which won’t come onto the market until maybe after the election. There could be political reasons why we maybe aren’t seeing them yet,’ said Glennis Przymierski, a foreclosure specialist with the Danberry Realtors. ‘I think there’s a lot of homes in limbo right now that people are trying to sell for more than they can get and eventually they are going to end up in foreclosure.’”

“The picture looks slightly better in Wood County, which has seen numerous foreclosure cases in its Perrysburg subdivisions. Foreclosure cases there decreased by 6 percent through the first three months to 127 cases, according to Cindy Hofner, the county clerk of courts. But the court’s work load hasn’t gotten any lighter. ‘It is slowing a bit as far as new cases, but we are still dealing with foreclosures from several years ago,’ she said.’”

The Herald Bulletin in Indiana. “Stephen Kowell was ready to move out of his Chesterfield home, abandoning it and letting it go into foreclosure. Kowell said he is no longer able to keep up with his house payments. He attended Occupy Anderson’s ‘Occupy Your American Dream’ foreclosure information session to learn about his options. By the time it was over, Kowell knew that leaving his home wasn’t the best option. ‘It feels less overwhelming,’ he said. ‘The seminar was well worth it. Now I don’t feel like I’m alone. I understand things.’”

“About a dozen people attended the session. Anderson real estate agent Helen Wean, a facilitator with Occupy Anderson, said that with the hundreds of abandoned homes throughout the city, she expected to see a bigger turnout. ‘I guess that once you have walked away from your house, you have given up,’ Wean said.”

The Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. “Pam Stephenson suspects she owes more on her home than it’s worth. So Stephenson, who purchased her Boone County home about nine years ago, made the trip to the Boone County Government Center yesterday to hear whether she could get any help from the programs set up after a settlement between five of the nation’s largest banks, 49 states and the federal government.”

“Doug Ommen, the division chief of the Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, spoke to eight people who attended. Ommen’s presentation also detailed shortfalls in the settlement. Because banks often sell the loans they make to other investors, they don’t always hold the loan they service. Homeowners whose loan no longer is owned by one of the five banks are out of luck ‘There are a huge number of people out there … who may not be able to benefit from that,’ Ommen said.”

“For Stephenson, who wanted to know whether her home was underwater, Ommen couldn’t help her because the appraisal parameters of the settlement still are being finalized. ‘I didn’t get a clear answer,’ Stephenson said.”

The Kansas City Star. “The 50th Spring Parade of Homes kicks off this weekend, and while home building activity is improving, it’s leaden compared with the golden years, when more than 10,000 homes were built each year in much of the last decade. But now many Kansas City area builders and others believe the pendulum has swung too far, with an average of only 2,700 homes going up the last four years. Some predict there will be a shortage of new speculative or ’spec’ homes to choose from.”

“Fifty years ago, the average home on the Spring Parade had three bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, a two-car garage and cost about $20,000, according to the Builders Association. This year, the average price is $402,750, and the house has four bedrooms, three and a half baths and a three-car garage. Lending standards also were tighter. Saul Ellis, a former home builder who moved on to develop some of Johnson County’s more high-end subdivisions, said that in the mid-1960s, a buyer had to put 20 percent down and show the bank an income level four and a half times the monthly payment.”

“But after many years of getting bigger, the average new home is 15 to 20 percent smaller than previously. Dan Whitney, a housing consultant at Landmarketing Inc. said some of the downsizing is in response to the housing crisis. ‘People are adjusting,’ he said. ‘The ‘McMansion’ isn’t over, but the McMansion is smaller.’”

From KCTV 5 Kansas City. “Sally Moore with Keller Williams Eastland Partners says now is the time to buy. Moore said she is about to close on six brand-new homes in her community, which is more than double the number of homes she sold last year at this time. Moore says what people are seeing on TV could make the market change sooner than they might expect. ‘Now when you turn on the news, instead of all the down reports on the housing market, the economy, the unemployment rate, things are turning more positive. People listen to that,’ Moore said.”

“Builder Kevin Stallings says with the up-tick in the housing market here in the metro area, people need to act fast before prices continue to rise. He noted interest rates, too, are slowly creeping upwards. ‘We don’t get six-month price locks, we get month-to-month at this point. This is appliances, this is light fixtures, drywall, lumber, asphalt, shingles. We get month-to-month locks, that is it. It has never been like that, and every month as the economy comes back, they’re raising their prices so we have to pass it on to the consumer. So buy now while you can,’ Stallings said.”

Bits Bucket for April 12, 2012

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