Cheaper to buy than rent in 78% of major cities

Trulia: Dropping prices and rising rents boost affordability

It is cheaper to buy a home than to rent one in 39 of the nation’s 50 largest cities, according to a quarterly report released today by real estate search and marketing site Trulia.
Trulia’s rent vs. buy index compared the median list price with the median rent on two-bedroom apartments, condominiums and townhomes listed on Trulia.com as of April 1, 2011, in the 50 most populous cities in the U.S. While 72 percent of the cities favored buying in the previous quarter’s report, 78 percent favored buying in this latest report.
“With home prices nearing a double dip and more foreclosures expected to flood the housing market over the next two years, the decision between renting and buying a home across most of the country has clearly moved in favor of buying,” said Ken Shuman, Trulia’s spokesperson, in a statement.
“As we head into the summer buying season, those looking to buy a home should be encouraged by improvements in the market and feel optimistic about their chances of finding an affordable home — much more so than in previous years.”
more…

Are you getting your money’s worth with appraisal?

Despite Federal Reserve regulations that took effect April 1 requiring lenders to pay appraisers fair fees, many appraisers say they are still offered $200 to $250 by lenders for work billed to consumers at $450 or more.

MAKING SENSE OF THE STORY

  • Last year’s Dodd-Frank financial reform law mandated that appraisers receive fees that are “customary and reasonable” for their local market areas, yet the Appraisal Institute says that is not happening.
  • While a portion of the difference between what consumers are billed and appraisers are paid goes to the management companies that connect lenders with local appraisers and take a percentage for their services, often times lenders make a profit from the appraisal as well.
  • Home buyers should care about this for several reasons.  For starters, accurate appraisals are a concern for consumers, as appraisals can be deal-breakers if the appraisal comes in too low. When performed competently, appraisals can be accurate measures of the equity in a home when the homeowner refinances or seeks a second mortgage.
  • Most experienced independent appraisers refuse to work for $200 to $250 because they can’t pay their overhead at that rate, leading less-experienced appraisers, who sometimes travel long distances and are unfamiliar with the area, to conduct the appraisal, which can lead to inaccurate, appraisals.
  • The Appraisal Institute is seeking to persuade the Federal Reserve to tighten its regulations, which created a loophole for lenders and management companies that wanted to keep paying low fees to appraisers.  In the meantime, consumers should demand transparency, asking how the appraisal fee was distributed and why.

Read full story

Chase Chases California Growth

Chase plans to open 100 new branches and add more than 1,500 jobs in California this year. The new branches will extend Chase’s network to more than 900 bank branches and more than 3,000 ATMs across California.
The total represents nearly half of Chase’s new branch plans in 2011. It also plans to add a total of 525 to 700 branches in California by 2015.

Chase will open about 65 branches in Southern California, including Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and San Diego counties. About 20 branches in Northern California including San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento Delta and
about 15 branches in Central California, including Kern, Tulare, Fresno and Madera counties.

“California is one of Chase’s high-priority growth markets, and we plan to invest significantly in the people, facilities and technology needed to serve California consumers and businesses well,” said Pablo Sanchez, head of Chase’s branch network in the Western United States.

Contributed
By Mark Heschmeyer

U.S. Census Bureau Fact or Fiction: 13 Percent Residential Vacancy Nationwide

Thanks to foreclosed homes sitting on the market and depressed sales prices and property values, it is getting harder to move homes for sale in many areas of the country. While many real estate investors are finding ways to work around this, traditional homeowners are, in many cases, giving up and moving on. As a result, last week the national vacancy rate for residential properties hit 13 percent last week – up nearly 1 percent from 2007. These numbers were reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. This means “more downward pressure on home prices,” says chief economist for Metrostudy, Brad Hunter, pessimistically, predicting that things are going to continue to get worse before they improve[1].
The vacancies are not evenly distributed, either. Maine leads the nation with 22.8 percent vacancy, but Vermont, Florida, Arizona and Alaska also have vacancy rates of 15 percent or higher. However, in many of these states second homes or vacation homes may be contributing to the appearance of high vacancy rates, and when these vacation homes are removed from the equation Florida, Arizona and Nevada top the list with vacancy rates around 10 percent.
This information was released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau last week. Many analysts complain that these types of surveys by the Census Bureau are misleading and alarmist since the studies do not distinguish between types of vacancies. “Someone is home, at least part of the year” in many of the homes that are counted vacant, points out Dan DeWitt, a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times who wrote a scathing reprimand last Friday in response to these numbers, pointing out that the Census just asks participants to identify the property where they spend the most time and does not actually factor in vacation homes that are paid for and not delinquent or truly abandoned[2].
DeWitt roundly criticized reporting that “generously added to the percentage of empty houses and, well, didn’t do all they could to put the figure in perspective.” Do you think that this type of study is in any way useful to investors? Can any reporting on the housing market even be trusted?

Contributed by Bryan Ellis

Will The Recovery Will Be Bifurcated?

Big Lenders and Big Borrowers Will Be the First in Line as Credit Returns to the Economy.

These are the best of times for cash-rich borrowers and lenders, but they continue to be tough times for less well-funded borrowers and lenders. Just as the investment markets are bifurcated with top-notch properties in top-tier cities commanding escalating prices and lower tier properties and cities still fighting uphill climbs, so too does it appear that the capital markets are split between the haves and have-nots.

“There seems to be a dam that is keeping the flood of capital provided by the Federal Reserve from flowing to smaller real estate borrowers and properties,” said Chris Macke, senior real estate strategist for CoStar Group. “Expanding the recovery in commercial real estate hinges on breaking this dam.”

The split between cash-rich businesses and those in need of capital has set the stage for a bifurcated economy, with growing challenges for small- and medium-sized companies.

“Depending on where you stand, the debt maturity crunch ahead could either look like a crack in the pavement or the entrance to the Grand Canyon,” Deloitte LLP reported in a new paper this week entitled: A Tale of Two Capital Markets.

In it, lead researcher Dr. Ajit Kambil, research director, CFO Program, Deloitte United States, reported that cash is also unevenly distributed across industries, not just among companies within a particular sector. Unless the financial services industry lends or invests its cash in varied industries, companies outside of financial services could face potentially severe credit constraints.

Deloitte said the convergence of growing demand for debt with supply constraints has created a new normal in the capital markets. A more accurate descriptor would be two new normals – reflecting dramatic differences between cash-rich and cash-challenged companies. Competition for capital will most likely favor investment grade companies over non-investment grade companies as both seek to refinance debt obligations.

What is true across industries is also true within the commercial real estate industry, according to CoStar Group. Last September, CoStar’s Property & Portfolio Research (PPR) subsidiary “delved into how larger banks are much better positioned than smaller banks to “earn their way out” of the current cycle,” said Mark Fitzgerald, a CoStar debt strategist. “And as they recover, with life insurers in better shape as well, this contributes to the bifurcated market, as both of these sources of capital tend to lend on larger, coastal assets, whereas small banks are in worse shape, and this will hurt the recovery in secondary and tertiary markets.”

Since the downturn began, earnings for larger banks, while far from strong, have outperformed their smaller counterparts, CoStar reported. Perhaps the most important reason why this is so is the portfolio composition for larger institutions. The 20 largest banks hold 61% of all bank assets but are underexposed to commercial real estate loans. The bigger banks also have been more aggressive in taking write-downs.

CoStar’s Fitzgerald projected that large banks will “earn their way out” of the Recession in about two years, while regional and community banks could take two to four times as long.

As the economic recovery develops, CoStar Group projects that it will bring mixed blessings to CRE investors.

On the one hand, economic recovery enables banks to earn their way out faster, achieve better execution on poorly underwritten or nonperforming loans, and therefore sell distressed CRE assets at a faster pace.

On the other hand, such economic recovery minimizes the attractiveness of the distressed asset opportunity, as pricing is firmer and disposition of assets is likely to be at a controlled pace.

Furthermore, the modest pace at which banks return to health will minimize the amount of “fuel” (leverage) available to propel a robust rebound in asset values.

With limited leverage, borrower liquidity now also matters. And in that regard, big firms hold the edge. The 9,000 largest companies hold $9 trillion in cash reserves and that level of liquidity makes them more fundable.

An analysis of non-investment grade debt and changing credit spreads finds smaller companies are especially vulnerable to increasing spreads and volatility in credit markets. Differences in cost or difficulties in access to capital can be a key source of competitive disadvantage.

Deloitte research said that most non-investment grade debt is generally concentrated among small companies with market capitalization of less than $5 billion while larger companies’ debt is almost completely investment grade. For the most part, smaller companies tend to have lower credit ratings and company size is a key variable in credit ratings.

Deloitte research found that prior to the recession, companies in the aggregate were accumulating cash in excess of what they needed to grow. This was fortunate as many companies entered the recent recession with unprecedented amounts of cash on their balance sheets – allowing them the flexibility to navigate the worst of the credit crisis.

These cash reserves are unevenly distributed and mainly reside in the financial services industry, with about $2 trillion of cash outside financial services. Unless this cash is deployed to refinance companies, there is a potential deficit in refinancing non-financial service industry debt.

These are the best of times for cash-rich borrowers and lenders, but they continue to be tough times for less well-funded borrowers and lenders. Just as the investment markets are bifurcated with top-notch properties in top-tier cities commanding escalating prices and lower tier properties and cities still fighting uphill climbs, so too does it appear that the capital markets are split between the haves and have-nots.

“There seems to be a dam that is keeping the flood of capital provided by the Federal Reserve from flowing to smaller real estate borrowers and properties,” said Chris Macke, senior real estate strategist for CoStar Group. “Expanding the recovery in commercial real estate hinges on breaking this dam.”

The split between cash-rich businesses and those in need of capital has set the stage for a bifurcated economy, with growing challenges for small- and medium-sized companies.

“Depending on where you stand, the debt maturity crunch ahead could either look like a crack in the pavement or the entrance to the Grand Canyon,” Deloitte LLP reported in a new paper this week entitled: A Tale of Two Capital Markets.

In it, lead researcher Dr. Ajit Kambil, research director, CFO Program, Deloitte United States, reported that cash is also unevenly distributed across industries, not just among companies within a particular sector. Unless the financial services industry lends or invests its cash in varied industries, companies outside of financial services could face potentially severe credit constraints.

Deloitte said the convergence of growing demand for debt with supply constraints has created a new normal in the capital markets. A more accurate descriptor would be two new normals – reflecting dramatic differences between cash-rich and cash-challenged companies. Competition for capital will most likely favor investment grade companies over non-investment grade companies as both seek to refinance debt obligations.

What is true across industries is also true within the commercial real estate industry, according to CoStar Group. Last September, CoStar’s Property & Portfolio Research (PPR) subsidiary “delved into how larger banks are much better positioned than smaller banks to “earn their way out” of the current cycle,” said Mark Fitzgerald, a CoStar debt strategist. “And as they recover, with life insurers in better shape as well, this contributes to the bifurcated market, as both of these sources of capital tend to lend on larger, coastal assets, whereas small banks are in worse shape, and this will hurt the recovery in secondary and tertiary markets.”

Since the downturn began, earnings for larger banks, while far from strong, have outperformed their smaller counterparts, CoStar reported. Perhaps the most important reason why this is so is the portfolio composition for larger institutions. The 20 largest banks hold 61% of all bank assets but are underexposed to commercial real estate loans. The bigger banks also have been more aggressive in taking write-downs.

CoStar’s Fitzgerald projected that large banks will “earn their way out” of the Recession in about two years, while regional and community banks could take two to four times as long.

As the economic recovery develops, CoStar Group projects that it will bring mixed blessings to CRE investors.

On the one hand, economic recovery enables banks to earn their way out faster, achieve better execution on poorly underwritten or nonperforming loans, and therefore sell distressed CRE assets at a faster pace.

On the other hand, such economic recovery minimizes the attractiveness of the distressed asset opportunity, as pricing is firmer and disposition of assets is likely to be at a controlled pace.

Furthermore, the modest pace at which banks return to health will minimize the amount of “fuel” (leverage) available to propel a robust rebound in asset values.

With limited leverage, borrower liquidity now also matters. And in that regard, big firms hold the edge. The 9,000 largest companies hold $9 trillion in cash reserves and that level of liquidity makes them more fundable.

An analysis of non-investment grade debt and changing credit spreads finds smaller companies are especially vulnerable to increasing spreads and volatility in credit markets. Differences in cost or difficulties in access to capital can be a key source of competitive disadvantage.

Deloitte research said that most non-investment grade debt is generally concentrated among small companies with market capitalization of less than $5 billion while larger companies’ debt is almost completely investment grade. For the most part, smaller companies tend to have lower credit ratings and company size is a key variable in credit ratings.

Deloitte research found that prior to the recession, companies in the aggregate were accumulating cash in excess of what they needed to grow. This was fortunate as many companies entered the recent recession with unprecedented amounts of cash on their balance sheets – allowing them the flexibility to navigate the worst of the credit crisis.

These cash reserves are unevenly distributed and mainly reside in the financial services industry, with about $2 trillion of cash outside financial services. Unless this cash is deployed to refinance companies, there is a potential deficit in refinancing non-financial service industry debt.

Contributed
By Mark Heschmeyer