Tuesday, July 30, 2013

US home prices rise 12.2% in May, sign of stronger housing recovery

WASHINGTON — U.S. home prices jumped 12.2 percent in May compared with a year ago, the biggest annual gain since March 2006. The increase shows the housing recovery is strengthening.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released Tuesday also surged 2.4 percent in May from April. The month-over-month gain nearly matched the 2.6 percent increase in April from March — the highest on record.
The price increases were widespread. All 20 cities showed gains in May from April and compared with a year ago.

Prices in Dallas and Denver reached the highest level on records dating back to 2000. That marks the first time since the housing bust that any city has reached an all-time high.
Home values are rising as more people are bidding on a scarce supply of houses for sale. Steady price increases, along with stable job gains and historically low mortgage rates, have in turn encouraged more Americans to buy homes.

Higher home prices help the economy in several ways. They encourage more sellers to put their homes on the market, boosting supply and sustaining the housing recovery. And they make homeowners feel wealthier, encouraging consumers to spend more.

The index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The May figures are the latest available. They are not adjusted for seasonal variations, so the monthly gains reflect more buying activity over the summer.

Mortgage rates have surged since early May, though the increase would have had little impact on the current report. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage has jumped a full percentage point since early May and reached a two-year high of 4.51 percent in late June.

Rates jumped after Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Federal Reserve could slow its bond-buying program later this year if the economy continues to improve. The Fed’s bond purchases have kept long-term interest rates low, encouraging more borrowing and spending.

In recent weeks, Bernanke and other Fed members have stressed that any change in the bond-buying program will depend on the economy’s health, not a set calendar date.

Since those comments, interest rates have declined. The average on the 30-year mortgage was 4.31 percent last week.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Article courtesy of Washington Post

Friday, July 26, 2013

Four Ways to Reach Home Buyers Using Social Media


We don't have to tell you that the last decade has been a roller coaster ride for the real estate industry. Things have picked up since the economic meltdown of 2008, but it's still hard out there, and real estate agents continue seeking new strategies to find and engage with potential home buyers. Newspaper and TV ads are slowly disappearing and are being viewed as especially prehistoric to the 25-40 crowd - a crucial demographic for the industry. These potential buyers instead are glued to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, and believe it or not, they are posting about homes - trying to find them them, sell them, fix them and make living in them better.  

The challenge facing real estate agents is to land on future and current homeowners' radar, get involved in these online conversations, and set the stage before they need to choose a real estate agent. Many have already dug in: a recent study from the Home Buying Institute noted that 78.6% of agents who used social media as a sales tool outperformed those who weren't using it, and more than 40% of the agents surveyed said they have closed between two and five deals, as a direct result of social media marketing.  

Sounds great, but how to best use social media to fuel your business? Here are four things to keep in mind when establishing your social media strategy: 

1. Use the Right Social Media Platform for Your Message 
Social media is a beast that in nearly all cases is best tackled with a multi-pronged strategy. While you may be more personally familiar with one network than the others, all of the major social networks have a feature or angle that can be exploited for real estate purposes, and it's important to differentiate them. What's the point in having multiple social accounts if they're all spitting out the same content at the same time? 

A Facebook page can be used exclusively to spotlight new releases; an Instagram feed can showcase gorgeous exterior photos of the latest available houses in the area, a Pinterest page can focus on interiors, a Twitter account can feed in relevant local news and housing updates. But consistency is key, and if you don't have the time or resources to run 4-5 social media pages with different content on each, a consistently updated one with all of the above is the next best thing.  

2. Local, Local, Local 
Whatever network you use, there is nothing that says "We really get this area, so we get you" as well as a steady stream of hyperlocal news flashes and comments. There is more to buying a house than the house itself; the restaurants, cafes, schools, and shopping opportunities all play a role in the decision. Call out residents of specific neighborhoods and let them know about a great new pizza place is opening nearby, the scholarship winners from the high school, a new open mic poetry night that's having its first show, or a yoga class that's seeking new members.
Additionally, with the housing market in so much flux and so much interest and reporting dedicated to it, it's crucial to showcase localized industry data that could be key to someone seeking a new place to buy or rent. This data can include where the highest or lowest rent can be found, current mortgage rates, highly rated developments, and even the area stores that might have the best sales on patio furniture or home decorating goods.  

3. Establish Trust
Although many will be personalized, sharing content from outside sources can be just as effective as original content. Curating from a wide range of trusted third-party sources -- whether it's Realty Times, New York Magazine's real estate section, or the local paper -- will garner as much attention, respect, and engagement from your followers as most original content.    

But the human voice can't disappear completely. Social media is still all about people, and while technology can assist in discovery and curation, it can never replace the nuance of a brand's voice. Successful marketers present the shared story as only a portion of the big picture, adding the "why" or "how" to show that this makes a difference for the reader and highlights you and your business as a trusted source of information.  

The human voice aspect extends to relationships as well. A recent California Associations of Realtors study showed that 67% of agents using social media said they use it to keep in touch with clients. Making yourself open and communicative on social media - publicly responding to buyers' inquiries, highlighting staff and recent clients, commenting on clients' posts, etc. - goes a long way in establishing trust and faith.  And remember that faith and trust in you will lead to repeat business or that referral you need.    

4. Actively Seek Leads
Social media is a great source for sales leads. For example, if you're a real estate agent in the Denver area, keep an eye on tweets in which users ask for recommendations or houses that recently went on sale. If you don't have the time, utilize a service to find them for you. Realtors ignoring this ongoing stream of comments and inquiries on social media platforms also may be turning their backs on countless new customers.  Fortunately, technology can help you oversee all of these social media conversations in one place. 

Social media is growing into a more valuable and cost-effective tool to bring home-buyers to your door, so those minutes spent developing your skills there ultimately may become the most valuable investment you can make to succeed in the real estate business.

Article courtesy of Realty Times

Thursday, July 25, 2013

New home sales up 8.3% in June


New home sales in June hit their highest level in more than five years, a sign of the housing market's strength in the face of recent increases in mortgage rates.

The Commerce Department said sales rose 8.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 497,000, the best pace since May 2008. May's sales rate was also revised lower to 459,000.
"The jump in new home sales is great news, but whether it was due to growing demand or fears of even higher mortgage rates is not clear," said Joel Naroff, chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisors.

It's too early to say that higher rates will not slow the housing market, he said.

People who had been thinking about buying a home may have moved faster as rates rose in June, boosting last month's sales as they tried to beat further rate increases. Now rates appear to have stabilized, and that may keep some potential buyers from making a purchase, leading to softer demand in the future, Naroff said.

The supply of new homes on the market remains tight. At last month's sales pace, the inventory would sell out in 3.9 months. A six-month supply is considered normal.

Tight supplies are contributing to higher prices, one reason that U.S. homebuilders are growing increasingly confident about their business.

The median sales price of new homes sold last month was $249,700, up 7.4% from a year ago.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index jumped to 57 this month from 51 in June. That was the third-consecutive monthly gain.

A reading above 50 indicates more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor.
Meanwhile, existing home sales fell by about 1% in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.08 million, the National Association of Realtors reported on Monday. The annualized sales pace for January through June is about 5 million, the strongest first half since 2007.

The average fixed rate on a typical 30-year mortgage was 4.58% for the week ended July 19, down from 4.68% the week before, the Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday. 

Applications for mortgages to buy homes decreased.2% from a week earlier, the MBA said.

Freddie Mac will release its weekly mortgage rate survey on Thursday.

Article courtesy of USA Today

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Social Media Tips for Real Estate

social_media_share_buttonAs of October 2012, Facebook reached 1 billion monthly active users. LinkedIn® has 175 million professionals worldwide, including all Fortune 500 companies. Twitter users generate an average of 400 million tweets each day. And, according to the 2013 National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Member Profile, technology tools such as websites, social media and mobile apps are integral to REALTORS®’ business success. A growing number are embracing new technologies and marketing strategies to attract buyers, including social media. Fifty-six percent of NAR members are using social media while an additional 9 percent plan to in the future. The use of social networking sites is more widespread among younger REALTORS®, with 79 percent of those 29 and younger using social media.

For example, save homebuyers time by enabling them to preview potential homes online via social media, like Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube. This maximizes the exposure of the home and is convenient and efficient for would-be buyers. Those that have previewed it online will be much more serious if they decide to come for an actual walk-through.

Yet the landscape is changing so quickly that it’s hard to stay current with the latest and greatest. Here are tips on how to use some new and also enduring social media tools to maximize your home sales and enhance your client relationships.

Using Instagram
Instagram is an easy-to-use and share photo service, which is increasingly used by agents to take photos of property listings, for example, using different angles and lighting filters. Agents can photograph key features of the home and share comments about the home or its features. Instragram complements other social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. Users can connect their Twitter and Instagram accounts, as well as Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr, in order to push photos out through these sites and gain exposure.  
Using Google+
While it has not been as widely embraced as other social media sites, Google+ can be a very powerful networking tool to connect with potential buyers and sellers, as well as others in your field. Unlike Facebook, where most users have adopted strict privacy settings, Google+ users often make their profiles and posts public to promote networking and interaction. Also, there are far fewer posts and distractions on Google+, so it can be easier to be heard. Moreover, Google+ has search engine optimization (SEO) benefits, since content is indexed by Google quickly.

Using Pinterest

Since its launch in 2010, Pinterest has become the fastest-growing social media site. In fact, Pinterest has surpassed LinkedIn® and Google+ for referral traffic. Because Pinterest is so visual, it can be a great fit for marketing. You can post visually appealing pictures of homes for sale, gardens, before and after photos, neighborhoods, as well as “how-to” videos, etc. Follow your clients on Pinterest to learn about their dream homes and their styles and preferences, which can help you identify potential homes they might be interested in. It can also be very helpful to partner with local businesses, such as painters, carpenters, landscape architects. Pin their most appealing images to your pinboards and promote them with comments. Don’t forget to include a link back to your website

Using Facebook
We’re all quite familiar with Facebook by this point, but not all of us are using it to grow our businesses. Ideally, establish business pages, rather than using your personal pages, to promote properties, invite clients to open houses, and share relevant content with “friends” and clients. This might include articles, links to your blogs posts (note that you can set blog posts automatically to link to your Facebook account), photos of house tours, new listings, etc. If you are using your personal page to share information about your business, it’s essential to make sure your page creates the image you want conveyed to your clients. Facebook’s privacy settings can be helpful and filter which content different groups are able to see, but it’s best to keep it professional and appropriate across the board.

Using Twitter
Plan a strategy to provide relevant, interesting and timely content to engage your followers in a conversation. You can also share good content from others that reinforces your message. This can include invitations to an upcoming open house, comments about the industry or homebuying experience, or links to your own website that features your newest blog post or video about, say, how to buy a short-sale home. You can write multiple Twitter posts at one time and then schedule them to be released at set times, using a tool such as HootSuite.        

Connecting with clients via social media is a ripe opportunity to foster client relationships and gain exposure for your business. To learn more about how technology can help your business, NAR’s e-PRO certification and Tech Edge events enable REALTORS® to hone their skills in mobile marketing, online reputation management, Google and cloud computing, content strategy, social media, the importance of photo and video, and much more. 

Article courtesy of RISMedia

Home sales take a breather, but prices hit five-year high

A single family home is shown for sale in Encinitas, California in this May 22, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files

(Reuters) - U.S. home resales unexpectedly fell in June after two straight months of hefty increases, but a surge in prices to a five-year high suggested the housing market recovery remained on course.

The National Association of Realtors said on Monday home sales fell 1.2 percent to an annual rate of 5.08 million units. Still, the sales pace was the second highest for any month since November 2009.

While the NAR suggested that a spike in mortgage rates had contributed to dampening sales last month, economists were skeptical, noting that the resales mostly reflected contracts signed in May.

"The rise in mortgage rates is a headwind, but it's probably not enough to derail the home sales recovery. The fundamentals in the market are still very good," said Guy Berger, an economist at RBS in Stamford, Connecticut.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected sales to increase to a 5.25 million unit pace in June. Sales, which were up 15.2 percent from their year-ago level, fell in three regions and were flat in the Midwest compared with May.

Mortgage rates have been rising in anticipation of the Federal Reserve starting to reduce its massive monetary stimulus later this year.

According to Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate increased 0.53 percentage point in June to 4.07 percent, its highest level since October 2011. Still, mortgage rates remain low and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last week expressed optimism the housing market recovery would continue.

The recovery, marked by a surge in prices and dwindling inventories, is helping to shore up the economy by bolstering household finances and supporting consumer spending.
Financial markets largely shrugged off the report.

Even though sales pulled back last month, there was little in the home data to suggest an unraveling of the recovery.

The median price for a previously owned home soared 13.5 percent from a year ago to $214,200, the highest since June 2008. The inventory of unsold homes on the market rose 1.9 percent from May, pushing the months' supply to 5.2.

While that was up from May's 5.0 months, it remained below the 6.0 months that is normally considered as a healthy balance between supply and demand. Economists say tight supply has weighed on sales.

Other details of the report were also encouraging. Distressed properties - which can depress prices because they typically sell at deep discounts - accounted for only 15 percent of sales last month.

That was the lowest since the Realtors group started monitoring them in October 2008. These properties, foreclosures and short sales, had made up 18 percent of sales in May.

In another sign of underlying strength, properties are selling more quickly. A home's median time on the market in June was 37 days. That was down from 41 days in May and 70 days a year ago, and it was the fewest days since the NAR started monitoring that number in May 2011. Before the market collapsed in 2006, it usually took about 90 days to sell a home.
About 47 percent of all homes sold in June had been on the market for less than a month.
"The underlying fundamentals are indicative of a continuation of the broad-based housing market recovery as affordability remains near record levels and mortgage rates remain low from a historical perspective," said Gennadiy Goldberg, an economist at TD Securities in New York.

But there were some potential red flags in the report.

First-time buyers accounted for 29 percent of the transactions, far below the 40 percent to 45 percent economists and real estate professionals view as ideal. These buyers are being sidelined by stringent lending practices and lean inventory in the low end of the market.
Investors, who have been the main drivers of sales, bought 17 percent of the homes in June.
That was down a touch from 18 percent in May and 19 percent a year ago. The NAR said it was unclear whether this was just an anomaly or a sign the sustained increase in home prices was starting to make investors a bit more cautious.

Cash sales accounted for 31 percent of transactions in June, down from 33 percent in May.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Article courtesy of Reuters

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Online Features Do Home Shoppers Like the Most?

We all know that the Internet is the preferred way for today’s consumers to shop for homes, but what features catch their eye the most with online listings?

online-home-shoppers-features-like-most-narNews flash! Consumers today really like shopping online, particularly when it comes to homes. Ninety percent of home shoppers today, in fact, conduct their home shopping using the Internet, and even older shoppers are now starting to embrace the wonderful world of the World Wide Web.

Such information is hardly surprising to any agent with their ear to the ground, and admittedly, it’s not all that useful; sure, agents need to utilize the Internet more fully, but how should they go about doing it?

Thankfully, the National Association of Realtors dug a little deeper with recent surveys of homebuyers, and they calculated two hugely helpful stats: first, what homebuyers specifically look for when shopping for homes online; and second, how useful they find those features when they accompany each listing. What did NAR find? 

85% found photos very useful
80% found info in properties very useful
42% found video virtual tours very useful
42% found agent contact info very useful
40% found interactive maps very useful
36% found area info very useful

Article courtesy of Chicago Agent Magazine

Marketing Your Listing for Today's Buyers

When a house is up for sale, professional photos of the property can increase its perceived value by 13%, according to a new study by VHT Studios. On a $250,000 home, 13% equates to a rise of $32,500. 
A decade ago, real estate sales involved pounding a sign in the yard and securing an agent to mail out postcards and place newspaper ads. Today it requires a considerable amount of internet and image savoir faire. 

"If you haven't been in the real estate market for five or ten years, you may be surprised how much the home-buying experience has changed thanks to the Internet," said Brian Balduf, Chairman, VHT Studios, a firm that provides photography and digital marketing for homes and businesses. 

The housing recovery is well under way prompting many to dream of pocketing a profit from selling their homes. Technology, however, has forever changed the way homes are sold post 2008. 

VHT's consumer survey reported that 80% of buyers find their homes online. 

"Buyers use iPads and tablets to shop online and compare homes for sale," Balduf said. "They scan hundreds of listings, looking for properties that catch the eye." 

To maximize the sales price of your home, consider the tips below:
  • 1. Use a professional photographer. The cost of hiring a professional photographer could be well worth the investment. "Selling your home has become an online beauty contest," Balduf said. "Buyers are visually-oriented. So sellers need to provide the best possible pictures of their house on the Internet to grab buyers' attention and motivate them to set up a showing."
  • 2. Post a video of your home on YouTube. About 21% of buyers look for videos online. "Grabbing the attention of web-savvy buyers requires professional-quality photographs, publishing a video on YouTube.com and providing interactive floor plans," Balduf said.
  • 3. Include floor plans in your listing. Interactive floor plans that show how rooms relate to each other are an increasingly popular marketing tool. "Some brokerages have begun making interactive floor plans standard," Balduf said. "The combination of floor plans and professionally-taken photos creates the ultimate shopping experience for buyers."
  • 4. Clear out clutter. Your house will show better if it's clean and well-organized. Potential buyers are interested in buying a home not furnishings. "Take a minimalist approach and clear out personal items around the house, such as piles of paperwork, books, houseplants and photos," said Balduf.
  • 5. Select an agent who knows how to create a perception that draws more buyers to a listing. "It's obvious from even a cursory glance at real estate listings that some agents overlook the importance of good quality photographs and videos but home buyers don't," Balduf said. 

Article courtesy of The Street



Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Housing Listings Multiply in June

Here comes the housing inventory.

The number of homes listed for sale increased by 4.3% in June to 1.9 million homes, the highest level in the last year, according to data released Monday by Realtor.com.

Housing inventory has steadily declined over most of the past two years. Listings typically climb heading into the spring and summer, when housing activity hits a seasonal peak. But inventories appear to be posting larger-than-usual gains in many markets right now as they rise from their lowest levels in at least a decade. Economists say rising home prices could convince more sellers to test the market if price increases keep up.

Nationally, the number of homes listed for sale stood 7.3% below their levels of one year earlier. The year-over-year decline stood at 18.6% in February, by contrast.

Among the nation’s 30 largest markets, listings were above the levels of a year earlier in four places. All four of those markets had seen big inventory declines over the past two years. Housing inventory was up by 11% in Sacramento, Calif.; by 10.9% in Atlanta; by 6.2% in Phoenix; and by 2.2% in Miami.

Another five cities posted declines of less than the national average decline of 7.3%: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, and Charlotte, N.C.

By contrast, inventories were far below last year’s level in Boston (-35.1%), Denver (-30.1%), Detroit (-25.7%), Seattle (-23.2%), and San Francisco (-21.7%).

For the last two years, real-estate agents in a growing number of markets have complained that the low supply of homes for sale has limited the number of transactions—even though the supply constraints have propelled home prices higher.

The question now is whether higher inventory will lead to higher sales volumes, and whether it will also slow the pace of home-price gains. Another wild card: how homeowners respond to mortgage rates that have jumped by at least a percentage point over the last two months.
Compared with May, inventories rose in 20 cities, according to Realtor.com. The data showed a spike in listings in Southern California, with inventories rising by 51.5% in Orange County, by 45.7% in Los Angeles and by 18.1% in San Diego.

Nationally, median asking prices rose by 0.5% in June from the previous month to $199,900, and by 5% from one year ago. Some 27 of the top 30 metro areas posted annual gains.
The Realtor.com figures include sale listings from more than 800 multiple-listing services across the country. They don’t cover all homes for sale, including those that are “for sale by owner” and newly constructed homes that aren’t always listed by the services.

Article courtesy of Wall Street Journal

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Foreclosures hit lowest level in 7.5 years

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fewer U.S. homes entered the foreclosure process or were repossessed by banks in June, the latest sign that the nation is shaking off its housing bust hangover.

Lenders initiated the foreclosure process on 57,286 homes last month, the lowest level for any month in 7.5 years, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.
Foreclosure starts are on pace to reach roughly 800,000 this year, down from 1.1 million last year, the firm said.

Completed foreclosures, when the lender repossesses a home, are on track to hit a half-million, or about a quarter below last year's total.

The trend comes as the U.S. housing recovery continues to gain strength, propelled by steady job gains, low interest rates, improving consumer confidence and growing demand for homes at a time when there's a thin supply of available homes for sale in many markets.

That's helped boost home prices, which jumped 12.2% in May from a year earlier — the biggest gain in seven years, according to data provider CoreLogic.

Even so, foreclosures remain a potential drag on housing in many states, including Florida, Nevada, Illinois and Ohio.

"Halfway through 2013, it is becoming increasingly evident that while foreclosures are no longer a national problem, they continue to be a state and local market problem," said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.

Homes scheduled for auction in states like Florida, where the courts play a role in the foreclosure process, were up 34% in June from a year earlier, the firm said.

Scheduled home auctions doubled last month in New Jersey and Florida, which also posted the highest foreclosure rate of any state — nearly three times the national average — in the first six months of the year, the firm said.

Most homes lined up for public auction typically end up going back to lenders, which opens the door for the properties to be placed on the market as sharply discounted foreclosed homes later this year or in 2013.

Nationally, the inventory of previously occupied homes on the market was 10% below prior-year levels in May, according to the National Association of Realtors. So the potential for more foreclosures going on sale will likely be welcome news to would-be homebuyers in markets where there is a tight supply of available homes.

The number of homes that entered the foreclosure process in June was down 21% from May and about 45% below June 2012's total.

Lenders repossessed 35,507 homes last month, down nearly 9% from May and a drop of 35% from a year earlier.

That's still short of the 25,000 or so a month that Blomquist considers the benchmark for foreclosures in a "normal" housing market.

At the height of the housing boom in 2006, completed foreclosures averaged 22,000 a month. They peaked in September 2010 at 102,000.

Tighter lending standards for home loans since the housing bubble burst have helped slow the pace of foreclosures.

About 75% of the 824,292 U.S. homes in the foreclosure process as of June are tied to loans that were originated between 2004 and 2008.

"That's a good sign that the lending has much improved and we're not seeing high foreclosure rates on mortgages that have been taken out since 2008," Blomquist said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Article courtesy of USA Today