November 30, 2014

How Empty And Worthless Is The Power Of Kings

It’s Friday desk clearing time for this blogger. “Kenneth Lewis, who retired as Bank of America Corp.’s CEO after the housing crisis almost toppled the firm, is selling a South Carolina island home for less than it cost 12 years ago. The house is in contract to sell for about $2.5 million, its most recent asking price, according to listing broker Sally Papineau. Lewis, his wife and another couple spent $3 million in 2002, public records show. ‘Unfortunately, we did not get there as much as we would have liked,’ Lewis said by e-mail.”

“The recovery of home prices in Arizona appears to have all but stalled. New figures from the Federal Housing Finance Agency show prices paid for Arizona homes during the third quarter of this year were, on average, seven-tenths of a percent higher than the second quarter. Michael Orr, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, said virtually all of that occurred very early this year.”

“Potentially more concerning is that Orr does not believe the sales price numbers used to put reports like this together are actually accurate. ‘I think they’re too optimistic because people have been making a lot of concessions to buyers,’ he said. ‘And they don’t show up in the recorded prices.’ Orr said, though, that what happens is the buyer demands the seller pay all of the closing costs, including those normally paid by the buyer. ‘That can be the equivalent of $6,000 or $7,000 that the seller eats,’ he continued. ‘So there’s really more discount going on than is really being recorded.’”

“Orr can speak from personal knowledge. A home he listed at $163,000 sold for $165,000. And that’s the figure that shows up on sales documents. But after Orr paid all the costs, the real selling price is probably closer to $160,000.”

“October sales of Santa Clarita Valley homes increased 2.1 percent over September 2014, bucking the statewide trend of flattened home sale numbers. Median prices cooled, however, dropping 6.7 percent from September and mirroring statewide price dips. Median prices have increased year to year for 27 straight months, the realty group reported. ‘The activity we’re seeking suggests the Santa Clarita housing market is much closer to a normal, healthy market than many other areas of the state,’ said Jim Link, the association’s CEO. ‘The slowdown of price increases shows the market is working.’”

“A glut of available properties has cooled Surrey’s condo market, while demand for single-family homes remains hot. The abundance of condominium developments has depressed condo/apartment prices across the city since last October, which Ray Werger, president of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, attributes partly to ‘overbuilding.’”

“Housing prices have fallen, thanks largely to a softening Melbourne market, new data shows. Preliminary results from CoreLogic RP Data show average prices in the mainland state capitals were down by 0.4 per cent in the first 26 days of November, compared with the October average. ‘The soft result can mostly be attributed to a more substantial decline in Melbourne where dwelling values are down 2.1 per cent,’ CoreLogic RP Data research director Tim Lawless said. Meanwhile, housing loans rose 7 per cent over the year to October, compared with 5 per cent growth in the previous year.”

“Apartment rentals in south Mumbai, south Delhi and Gurgaon have fallen by 20-30% in the last one year, according to property consultants. Compounding the problem is a rise in supply of apartments and homes in many locations. In south Delhi, rentals have dropped by up to 50% in areas like Vasant Vihar, Greater Kailash and Shanti Niketan. ‘Owners are finding it difficult to rent out their apartments or homes unless they are willing to reduce their demand,’ said Sunil Kapur of Delhi-based KK Real Estate.”

“Two luxury homes in Singapore are on the market at prices that would mean losses of nearly $3 million each as the local property market continues to weaken. The mortgagee sale of the two units in a luxury Sentosa Cove condominium, at fire-sale prices comes amid signs that banks are forcing more cash-strapped owners to offload property to meet loan shortfalls. But the losses are still less than those suffered from the sale of two other 2,777 sq ft apartments in the project earlier.”

“Mr Tan Tee Khoon, executive director of residential services at Knight Frank Singapore, said defaulting borrowers could have had difficulties selling their properties in the tepid secondary market, while an increased supply of new units in the prime districts means that it is harder to find a tenant. ‘Sentosa’s exclusive location makes it less accessible than homes on the main island and harder to lease now,’ he said. ‘Also, borrowers who default are more likely to have been speculators.’”

“With local cash supplies running low, debtors in Ordos, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, are reportedly handing over everything from bottles of wine to entire houses to pay off their creditors. Ordos, once a prosperous city, is now mired in debt thanks to local asset price bubbles, unrealistic government planning and a lack of real economic development. Certain creditors may be reluctant to accept the current situation, but the goods being offered now can help them minimize their losses. With local cash stocks running dry, those who refuse other forms of repayment could be left with nothing.”

“Reiterating his earlier pledges, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi said, ‘We will do what we must to raise inflation and inflation expectations as fast as possible.’ ‘He is clearly outright quantitative easing, buying government bonds directly,’ says Gary Jenkins, chief credit strategist for London–based hedge fund firm LNG Capital. As to how effective this path might be, Jenkins has some doubts, although he believes it is still likely to be deployed. ‘Central banks are like Homer Simpson. They keep touching the hot stove and saying ‘D’oh!’ over and over until someone pulls them away.’”

“The experts got 2014 wrong. The consensus at the beginning of the year was that GDP growth would pick up fairly strongly in developed economies, government bond yields would finally rise and commodity prices would hold steady at elevated levels. Wrong, wrong and wrong. It looks like most economists made a fundamental error. They underestimated the power of one of the great economic forces of the epoch – disinflation.”

“Rather than trying to fight even harder against the metaphorical tide, central bankers could learn from the earliest recorded version of the story of King Canute and the literal tide. The 11th century English monarch attempted to tell the incoming sea what to do, but the waters refused to obey. However, the point of the story is often missed. Henry of Huntingdon, who wrote it down, did not want to chastise Canute or his courtiers for having grandiose notions. He wanted to show that Canute recognised ‘how empty and worthless is the power of kings,’ and that the sea obeyed a higher power.”

“In the same way, demographic trends may well make disinflation too overwhelming to fight. Central bankers, along with politicians, employers and voters, might try to emulate Canute’s response. He ‘leaped backwards’ to keep from getting too wet. The big leap for the authorities is to rethink their horror of gently declining wages and prices. There is actually not that much to be afraid of. Workers, shoppers, companies and investors are not stupid. They can easily adjust to a new but basically stable monetary order.”

“Central bankers aren’t stupid either. When they warn about deflation, for the most part they are actually worried about a different but related problem: the excessive levels of leverage in many economies. Deflation automatically increases the ratio of debt to GDP, while managed inflation gently and helpfully erodes it. After years of wanton debt expansion, the 2 percent inflation rate currently considered optimal by the authorities is too low to really be much assistance. Central bankers and their political bosses will have to figure out ways to deal with debt other than shrinking it by inflating wages and prices. In the meantime, a more realistic and less fearful appraisal of the disinflationary tide would lead to better predictions, more appropriate monetary and fiscal policies – and a healthier economy.”

Bits Bucket for November 30, 2014

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November 29, 2014

Bits Bucket for November 29, 2014

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November 28, 2014

Bits Bucket for November 28, 2014

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November 27, 2014

A Quick Scan Of Data Can Be An Eye-Opener

For a Thanksgiving respite, I’ll point out this blog is nearing its tenth year anniversary. A trio of posts that month in 2004.

“Saturday, December 11, 2004″

“Subprime Lending Surges”

“Pricing bubbles often end in a parabolic rise, which we probably saw last year. It is no surprise that what is holding up the market now is lending to so-called subprime borrowers. I view this as bad news for this market as these folks will be in financial trouble even faster. Consider that the risk to mortgage lenders increases, suggesting some desperation for borrowers. ‘Overall, new originations of subprime mortgages totaled an estimated $375 billion through the end of September, a figure that marked a 63 percent year-to-date rise. Putting that number into perspective, one out of every six new residential mortgages made this year has gone to a credit-impaired’..borrower.”

“Wednesday, December 22, 2004″

“Most Influential List Revealing’”

“The website Builder Online recently published an editors list of people of whom ‘when these individuals speak, do other people listen? More important, do they act? Each of the professionals who made the cut left no doubts.’”

“I think it is telling that number one is Fed Chair Allan Greenspan who ‘can continue the current housing boom or grind it to a halt’. And number two is Franklin Raines, who as CEO of Fannie Mae, signed off on financials that must be restated negatively to the tune of nine billion dollars. And who was forced out of that position today.”

“It would seem the editors saw the most influence from a central banker and a disgraced bureaucrat, not very comforting picks for the industry.”

“Sunday, December 05, 2004″

“Fannie Mae Weakens Financially”

“A quick scan of Fannie Mae quarterly financial data can be an eye-opener. Of course, the most recent quarter isn’t available due to the accounting problem, but lets use what is available; the four quarters from June 30, 2004 and back. Compared to the quarter ending September 30th, 2003, Net Income has declined 58%. And if the Securities and Exchange Commission rules against the mortgage giant on accounting for derivatives, the firm will have to post a 9 billion dollar charge. Investors have also upped the shares “short”; that is betting the stock price will fall, some 2.28 million shares in the past month.”

Bits Bucket for November 27, 2014

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November 26, 2014

The Days of Double-Digit Appreciation Rapidly Fade Away

The Aurora Sentinel reports from Colorado. “While the housing market across the metro region continues to tighten, homes in Aurora are some of the most affordable in the state, according to a new market report released by Coldwell Banker. Average home prices in Aurora sit just under $297,000, which is significantly below the statewide mean of $407,000. Ed Hardey, board chair of the Aurora Association of Realtors, said that the rate of appreciation in Aurora has been staggering. ‘Aurora has seen dramatic appreciation in the past year, and prices show no indication of going down at all,’ he said. ‘The home that you bought six months ago is worth far more today than when you made your initial purchase.’”

From Bloomberg. “Growth in million-dollar home sales is slowing in areas including Miami, Las Vegas and Los Angeles as rising prices and the strengthening U.S. dollar discourage foreign investors who helped lead the recovery. ‘If the domestic buyer doesn’t step in. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the market stall,’ said Peter Zalewski, principal of CraneSpotters, a Miami-based real estate consulting firm. ‘It’s becoming too expensive for foreigners to buy in South Florida at the same pace as previous years. Foreign currencies are weakening against the dollar and local real estate prices are on the rise. It’s creating a perfect storm to push the foreign buyers away, or limit what they can acquire.’”

“Cash deals in the Las Vegas area have dropped in part because investors that helped revive the market by purchasing single-family homes after the crash have pulled back, said Kolleen Kelley, president of the Nevada Association of Realtors. Not only were investors buying low-priced homes to rent out, some were purchasing high-end foreclosures and reselling them for a profit, she said. ‘We don’t have big diversified economy here,’ Kelley said. ‘When the market starts slowing down, it really starts slowing down.’”

Vegas Inc in Nevada. “Southern Nevada homebuilders continue to struggle this year, with lower sales and a rising volume of canceled deals, a new report shows. Builders pulled 514 construction permits in October, ‘much less than we had hoped to see,’ Home Builders Research President Dennis Smith wrote. Buyers increasingly are canceling sales, Smith reported. Buyers backed out of 21 percent of new-home sales contracts in Henderson last month, up from 12 percent in April, according to Smith. In North Las Vegas, cancellation rates jumped to 34 percent from 25 percent in that period; in the northwest valley, it went to 24 percent from 13 percent; and in the southwest valley, it rose to 22 percent from 19 percent.”

The Seattle Times in Washington. “Housing prices showed further signs of cooling in September, with prices falling in the Seattle area and almost half of the cities in the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city index, officials said. ‘The days of double-digit, home-value appreciation continue to rapidly fade away as more inventory comes on line, and the market is becoming more balanced between buyers and sellers,’ said Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries.”

Crain’s Chicago Business in Illinois. “The big-money investors that gobbled up thousands of local homes aren’t as hungry anymore. Institutional investors accounted for 4.7 percent of Chicago-area home sales in the third quarter, down from 7.6 percent a year earlier, according to RealtyTrac. Investor activity peaked at 10 percent of the sales in first-quarter 2013. The question is whether traditional homebuyers can pick up the slack. ‘That’s the only way the recovery can be sustainable, is if more traditional buyers get involved,’ said RealtyTrac VP Daren Blomquist. ‘The good news is the traditional buyer has less competition, but it probably means there’s not a lot of great affordable inventory in that market right now. If there were, the investors would be jumping on it.’”

The Union Tribune in California. “After a sluggish summer, the pace of home price appreciation in San Diego County’s housing market slowed again in September. It continued an intense slowdown in the pace of appreciation from a little more than a year ago, when prices were increasing 21.5 percent annually. At that time, the market’s large gains were driven by investor-led activity like foreclosure resales and fixing-and-flipping. ‘Prices continue to trend upward but most importantly they continue upward at a sustainable rate,’ said Mark Goldman, a loan officer and real-estate lecturer at San Diego State University. ‘We all want our houses to double in value, the problem with that is you end up with a market that’s going to collapse on its own weight.’”

The News Miner in Alaska. “Numbers collected by the Fairbanks North Star Borough show 150 foreclosures occurred through September of this year in the Fairbanks Recording District. That’s up from the 137 foreclosures for the same time period last year. In 2012, the number of foreclosures through September was 117. In 2011, the number was 102. Laura Burke, executive director of Fairbanks Neighborhood Housing Services, said her agency, which provides low-interest loans, is seeing a slight increase in the number of late payments, and she is bracing for harder times to come. ‘There is something in the air,’ she said. ‘I think it’s going to hit us again pretty hard.’”

“Audrey Foldoe, a real estate professional in Fairbanks for more than 30 years, said some of the foreclosures are a result of people simply walking away from their mortgages. Some people bought a home when prices in the real estate market were high about 10 years ago but now can’t sell their home for what they owe on the mortgage, she said. ‘One of the biggest factors is the fuel,’ she said. ‘A lot of people operate month to month,’ Foldoe said. ‘Any little thing is going to throw it off.’

“The Fairbanks housing market is strong with a large inventory and low interest rates, she said, making it even harder for strapped sellers to find a buyer. Sellers have to make concessions.”

Bits Bucket for November 26, 2014

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November 25, 2014

The Runaway Property Boom Looks To Be Over

The Mirror reports from the UK. “Foreign buyers accounted for almost three-quarters of home purchases in central London in 2012, according to a report by one property group, and more than half were snapped up by buyers from Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Malaysia. But many of these high-end homes are bought by wealthy foreign-based investors and left empty. Labour MP Sadiq Khan said: ‘Londoners are being priced out of the housing market by an influx of foreign buyers, who see London property as an investment and in many cases leave properties sitting empty as ‘ghost homes’.”

The Vancouver Sun in Canada. “Senior economist Robin Wiebe, a former analyst at the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, says it’s true, Vancouver’s prices are out of whack with personal incomes. Wiebe says the only things that could reverse the escalation of West Coast prices is a significant downturn in China’s economy or a move by Beijing to restrict the ability of its citizens to take money out of the country. The idea of Chinese buyers being in some way responsible for higher housing prices in the city is controversial. Vancouver’s politicians and realtors, fearing a public backlash, have long been downplaying the notion.”

“The cat now appears to be well out of the bag. As Wiebe says, ‘If China’s economy slows, that has the potential to cool Vancouver’s housing demand, stall sales and price growth.’”

The Telegraph on China. “China has abandoned its policy of monetary tightening, cutting interest rates for the first time in over two years to head off a corporate crunch. China is uncomfortably close to deflation, made worse by the plunge in the Japanese yen, and by China’s quasi-peg to the soaring US dollar. The country is importing a contractionary policy at a time when its housing boom is already wilting, with prices down for the last six months.”

“Wei Yao from Societe Generale said bad loans are rising at a clip of 50pc a year. ‘The worst is still to come and banks know it. Chinese banks have doubled their loan loss provisions,’ she said. ‘But the bigger concern lies with state-owned enterprises (SOE). We estimate SOE debt at close to 100pc of GDP, twice as much as private corporate borrowing. Given that banks have always preferred SOEs, a disproportionally large part of banks’ balance sheets is probably locked in to non-performing SOE loans,’ she said.”

The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. “The heady days of Sydney’s runaway property boom look to be over, with numbers of buyers at open homes and auctions halving in recent weeks. Experts say the flood of listings in November has diluted the number of buyers searching for homes. ‘We’re certainly seeing a waning of house price growth in Sydney,’ said Domain Group’s senior economist, Dr Andrew Wilson. ‘There is no surge in activity in our economy that’s pushing up real incomes to give us the capacity to keep bidding up house prices.’”

The Indian Express. “The weighed average cost of a new apartment in tony South Mumbai has soared to a dizzying high of Rs 7.5 crore, leading to peaking of an inventory pile-up to such an extent in the area that it will take more than eight years for many units to get sold. ‘The kind of pricing of super-luxury residences is unaffordable even to the high-end buyers who are, as it is, minuscule as compared to the spate of launches in the segment,’ said Paras Gundecha, builder and former president of Maharashtra Chamber of Housing Industry.”

Gulf Business on Dubai. “It’s been a year since the Dubai real estate market began to slowdown. Property agent Knight Frank reports the amount invested in Dubai property in the first half of 2014 was less than half that invested in the same months of 2013. However, price falls have been fairly rare until recently. Motivated-sellers, as they are known in the trade, now find that they have to reduce their prices to find buyers in all but the most popular locations.’

“Residential units available for rent or sale hit 192,000, admittedly a figure that multiple listings would net down to a much lower amount. In mid-October, that figure was down but still high at 164,000. It is impossible to estimate exactly how many empty units for rent or sale this now represents. But this could easily be 30 to 40,000 when netted out. There are also around 15,000 units being added annually to this inventory by developers, according to the survey. There has also been a marked deterioration in the economic outlook for Dubai over the summer.”

The Star on Kenya. “Real estate investors’ interest in building and buying bedsitters is increasing because the units offer a fasteer return on investment and higher financial liquidity. High mortgage rates have led to a slowdown in the property market over the last few months as potential home owners delay buying decisions waiting for interest rates and prices to reduce. Consequently, property developers are left with a cash hitch and glut in high-end and middle-income units, prompting them to venture into bedsitters which are easier to sell or rent.”

“While smaller houses always have higher demand, bigger houses can stay empty for months, said Property expert Clifford Mwenda. ‘I have four big housing units that I have been pushing in the market for a while, without success. I attribute it to the prices we have quoted, which are high and cannot be compared to bedsitters,’ he said. ‘As an investor, the bank will never take away your property. You are always liquid, unlike those who spend too much on expensive houses and are unable to sell them,’ he says.”

The Daily Express in Malaysia. “In a project located in Kota Damansara, Selangor when the first block was launched in 2012, all the 400-odd units were sold in less than a week. When the second block was launched, the next 400-odd units took a longer time to sell. The developer has launched the third and final block at about RM1,200 per sq ft but there were only 80 buyers after its launch early this month. Das Gupta the principal of Stocker Roberts & Gupta Sdn Bhd says the lettings market is very weak and this weakness is evident in all sub-segments of the property market.”

“Many of the sectors are ‘flat’ and many buildings – both office buildings and condominiums – are empty. Owners will be forced to reduced rental, he says, referring to the overall property market. He says the paltry capital appreciation was evident since a year ago and he expects the situation to persist one more year, at the minimum. Says Gupta: ‘Never in the last 20 years have I seen so many bungalows in Damansara Heights – one of Kuala Lumpur’s premium residential suburb – up for sale, with owners asking realistic prices.’”

Bits Bucket for November 25, 2014

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November 24, 2014

Hearing The Word Oversupply Just About Everywhere

The Los Angeles Times reports from California. “By most measures, the housing market these days is a bit sluggish. But the high end is hopping. Luxury home sales in Southern California are hitting levels not seen in decades. Sales worth $10 million or more are on pace this year to double their number from the heights of the housing bubble. The number of homes bought for $2 million or more in recent months is the highest on record. Sales have been brisk, said Joan Marcus Colvin, New Home’s senior VP of sales, marketing and design, especially at that Newport condo building, the Meridian, where 34 units have sold since February, at an average price of nearly $3 million.”

“That’s without even having a model home to show customers — the site is still under heavy construction. ‘It’s quite a testament to the strength of the high end of the market,’ Colvin said. ‘These were bought sight unseen. We couldn’t even stand people there and show them it.’”

CNN on New York. “Sales of multimillion dollar residential properties are up 120% so far this year, according to CityRealty. Many of this year’s sales have taken place at the new, super-luxury buildings that are popping up in neighborhoods just south of Central Park, the Upper East Side and in Chelsea, said Pam Liebman, CEO of Corcoran Group. The cost of acquiring land to build on in Manhattan is so sky-high that builders are aiming for the very high end and charging many millions for the apartments. ‘That’s the only way the math works,’ said Liebman.”

National Mortgage Professional. “The number of homes for sale continued to increase across the U.S. in October, a good sign for buyers—but with a catch. In many parts of the country, supply increased more among the most expensive homes than low- and mid-priced homes, according to Zillow. In Denver, there were almost four times as many homes available for sale in the upper price tier (priced at $357,900 or more) than there were homes priced in the lowest price tier (less than$219,000). The same was true in many other markets. Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix and Nashville had at least two times more homes for sale in the top tier than the bottom tier.”

“As the market has cooled, buyers looking for less expensive homes did find some relief in the hottest metro areas, including San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay Area. In San Francisco, the number of low-priced homes on the market rose by 39 percent, but there were fewer high-priced homes on the market.”

The Arizona Republic. “More owners of metro Phoenix’s high-end houses are trying to sell, but there fewer buyers in the market for a house costing between $500,000 and $3 million. The Valley’s luxury housing market had been bucking the overall slowing trend until recently. In September, 213 houses priced above $500,000 sold in east Phoenix and the northeast Valley. That’s down 10 percent from August and down 7 percent from September 2013, according to housing analyst Mike Orr’s Cromford Report.”

“The report tracks luxury home sales in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills, Rio Verde, Arcadia, Biltmore, Cave Creek and Carefree, where most of metro Phoenix’s more expensive neighborhoods are located. Listings of houses priced above $500,000 in these areas climbed to 2,295 in September, up 3.6 percent from August and 19 percent from September 2013. Demand from high-end buyers has enticed more owners of the Valley’s most expensive houses to try to sell.”

The Sun Sentinel in Florida. “Home listings are on the rise across South Florida — especially in the picked-over lower price ranges, a new report shows. In Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, 10,001 for-sale properties were priced below $149,950 in October, a 49 percent increase from a year ago, according to Zillow. Mid-tier and high-end listings also increased, but not by nearly as much as the low-priced properties.”

“Amanda Wilson, an agent for EWM Realty in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said many low-end homes are foreclosures that haven’t been maintained. Some have missing appliances or structural and roofing issues — costs that easily stretch into the tens of thousands of dollars. ‘Finding something that they’re proud to live in is hard,’ Wilson said. ‘Most buyers in that price range don’t have $30,000 or $40,000 that they can put into the house. They’re middle class America. Every penny counts.’”

The Philadelphia Inquirer in Pennsylvania. “I spent the first six months of the year hearing real estate agents complain there just wasn’t enough for sale to satisfy prospective buyers. The supply shortage - that is, a shortage of houses that buyers wanted, houses that were up to date and properly priced - lasted well past the spring selling season ending June 30. And it was widespread. For ‘Town by Town’ in the Sunday Business section, I visited 26 municipalities and neighborhoods in eight counties, and of the 75 real estate agents and builders I interviewed, all but two started the conversations lamenting a shortage of listings.”

“But after the usual summer sales lull ended at Labor Day, Veteran agent Gary Segal, who sells in eastern Montgomery County, and other agents said, folks began listing their houses at a pace Realtors had been hoping for back in the spring. Unfortunately, there were fewer prospective buyers in the fall market than there had been four months earlier, so ‘almost overnight,’ Segal said, ‘the seller’s market became a buyer’s market again.’”

“The dynamic has changed just about everywhere, said Martin Millner, an agent with Coldwell Banker Hearthside in Yardley. ‘There isn’t tremendous buyer demand, and yet more houses are going on the market,’ he said. The high-end market dynamic is changing as well, Millner said. He repeated an observation by a friend of his who sells more expensive houses that ‘it is the worst he’s seen in 35 years.’”

“As I like to emphasize, real estate is local down to the neighborhood and even the block. But I’m hearing the word oversupply just about everywhere in the region now. Where have all the buyers gone?”

Bits Bucket for November 24, 2014

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