Realtors support national 'Fast Help' bill

The Silicon Valley Association of Realtors joins its counterparts at the state and national level in supporting the passage of the Fast Help For Homeowners Act.

The proposed legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton), would help speed up the short sale approval process by requiring subordinate lien holders to respond to short sale requests within 45 days.

The short sale bill would establish guidelines requiring the primary lien holder to inform secondary and any subsequent lien holders of a request for short sale. The bill would also impose a 45-day deadline for subsequent lien holders to respond to both the primary lender and the consumer following a short sale request.

“We support any effort toward improving and speeding up the short sale process for distressed homeowners who are seeking an alternative to foreclosure,” said Suzanne Yost, president of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors.

Both the National Association of Realtors and California Association of Realtors have come out in support of the proposed bill. According to the trade associations, members continue to report that short sale transactions are being held up by a lack of response to short sale requests.

Early findings from a recent lender satisfaction survey conducted by the CAR found that nearly half of all properties sold as short sales in California had subordinate liens. Additionally, communicating with the holders of the subordinate

liens often created obstacles to closing these transactions.

“Short sale transactions are difficult as is. When subordinate lien holders refuse to respond to offers, additional unnecessary barriers to homeownership are created. The FHFH Act will eliminate this major hurdle,” said LeFrancis Arnold, president of the state group.

The NAR has been actively pushing the mortgage servicing industry for years to improve the short sale review and approval process, especially in cases where second liens are involved.

“Second mortgage lien holders frequently hold up and cancel the short sale transaction while trying to collect the largest possible payout in exchange for releasing the homeowner’s lien, even though the secondary lien holder often gets nothing if the home ends up going into foreclosure,” said Moe Veissi, president of the NAR.

Realtors contend that streamlining the short sale approval process for both primary and secondary lien holders will help close more short sale transactions. They are urging the swift passage of the Fast Help for Homeowners Act. “We continue to support thoughtful reform that will improve the short sale process for homeowners,” said Yost.

Information in this column is presented by the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors at www.silvar.org. Send questions on any topic to rmeily@silvar.org.

Realtors support national ‘Fast Help’ bill

The Silicon Valley Association of Realtors joins its counterparts at the state and national level in supporting the passage of the Fast Help For Homeowners Act.

The proposed legislation, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton), would help speed up the short sale approval process by requiring subordinate lien holders to respond to short sale requests within 45 days.

The short sale bill would establish guidelines requiring the primary lien holder to inform secondary and any subsequent lien holders of a request for short sale. The bill would also impose a 45-day deadline for subsequent lien holders to respond to both the primary lender and the consumer following a short sale request.

“We support any effort toward improving and speeding up the short sale process for distressed homeowners who are seeking an alternative to foreclosure,” said Suzanne Yost, president of the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors.

Both the National Association of Realtors and California Association of Realtors have come out in support of the proposed bill. According to the trade associations, members continue to report that short sale transactions are being held up by a lack of response to short sale requests.

Early findings from a recent lender satisfaction survey conducted by the CAR found that nearly half of all properties sold as short sales in California had subordinate liens. Additionally, communicating with the holders of the subordinate

liens often created obstacles to closing these transactions.

“Short sale transactions are difficult as is. When subordinate lien holders refuse to respond to offers, additional unnecessary barriers to homeownership are created. The FHFH Act will eliminate this major hurdle,” said LeFrancis Arnold, president of the state group.

The NAR has been actively pushing the mortgage servicing industry for years to improve the short sale review and approval process, especially in cases where second liens are involved.

“Second mortgage lien holders frequently hold up and cancel the short sale transaction while trying to collect the largest possible payout in exchange for releasing the homeowner’s lien, even though the secondary lien holder often gets nothing if the home ends up going into foreclosure,” said Moe Veissi, president of the NAR.

Realtors contend that streamlining the short sale approval process for both primary and secondary lien holders will help close more short sale transactions. They are urging the swift passage of the Fast Help for Homeowners Act. “We continue to support thoughtful reform that will improve the short sale process for homeowners,” said Yost.

Information in this column is presented by the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors at www.silvar.org. Send questions on any topic to rmeily@silvar.org.

China’s Gift to U.S. Homeowners

They are increasingly rich, hungry for the good things this country has to offer, buying high-end homes, and don’t mind paying huge amounts of cash upfront to get them without going into debt. If you don’t think this reads like a typical American story today, you’re right—these new homeowners are Chinese living in the U.S.

For a housing market just starting its recovery, foreign investment in U.S. residential real estate has been a bright spot, and there’s no sign of the trend letting up. According to data released last month by the National Association of Realtors, non-U.S. buyers accounted for $82.5 billion in residential property sales in the 12 months ended March 2012. Chinese purchasers made up 11 percent of this total, while Canadians continued to represent the largest swath at 24 percent. Perhaps even more striking is the fact that 27 percent of Realtors surveyed by the NAR reported working with international clients in the last year. Along with China and Canada, buyers from countries including Mexico, India, and the U.K. combined to make up 55 percent of purchases from abroad—mainly concentrated in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, and New York. The fastest growth in recent years is among Chinese buyers.

The global interest is driven by several different factors, yet for the Chinese in particular, the chance to get their children into top universities is probably the largest motivation. To Chinese parents, the opportunity provides proof that their years of effort have paid off. “The Chinese work very hard—it’s part of their culture,” says Cathy Zhao, a real estate broker in Maryland who has served many wealthy Chinese clients. “For them, the most important thing is education, and with prices being very low as they are, they see a chance to get near a good school.” And once here, most international buyers want to stay, Zhao adds, because their chance of a better-paying job is still better in the U.S. than back home.

The chance to earn a prestigious degree is not the only reason Chinese buyers find the U.S. market increasingly appealing. “There is an increasing number of wealthy Chinese who are buying in the U.S. to diversify their portfolio,” says NAR economist Jed Smith, who helped compile the annual survey. “Even with the rally in recent months, homes here still look very good from an investment point of view.”

Unlike Japanese corporations in the 1980s, which bought at the top of the market in their quest for big-name commercial properties, the Chinese are more interested in good deals. With residential real estate prices still almost a third less than they were at their peak in 2007, it’s a strategy that may well pay off if job growth returns and triggers a rally in the housing market, according to Smith.

Last year the average price of a foreign-purchased U.S. home was more than $400,000, which is double the national average—so the search for good value might only extend so far. That high figure becomes even more impressive when one considers that buyers from abroad often lack credit scores and access to mortgages, and frequently opt to pay the whole price upfront. “[S]ales transactions can often be completed quickly as many Chinese purchasers prefer all-cash deals,” Pamela Liebman, president and chief executive officer of the Corcoran Group, a New York real estate firm, writes in an e-mail. Liebman also says that her company has serviced more Chinese clients this year than at any time in the past, and that their interest is not just in residential real estate but in commercial property as well. Sixty-two percent of purchases by foreign buyers last year were in cash, according to the NAR. Zhao says many of the deals are for very large homes, capable of supporting several generations under one roof, which is a preference for affluent families.

Foreign buyers still make up a small part of all U.S. sales, accounting for just 4.8 percent of the total dollar amount in the last year. While in relative terms this represents an increase, the numbers will probably not spur a nationwide real estate recovery.

“In a market the size of New York, it would take a substantial influx of any one buyer group to significantly affect market prices,” writes Liebman of Corcoran. “The number of Chinese purchasers of New York real estate has not reached the critical mass it would require to impact prices.” It’s a point echoed by Smith of the NAR. “The only thing that will really get the market back to where it was is jobs. Really it’s all about jobs in the end,” he says.

That may be true, but the pattern of recent years might allow Americans to take some solace in the fact that their country is still top of the list when it comes to places where individuals from around the world want to live and learn.

Pending homes fall in June, supply blamed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes unexpectedly fell in June as fewer properties came on the market, an industry group said on Thursday, pointing to weak home resales in July.

The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in June, slipped 1.4 percent to 99.3. May’s reading was revised down to show a 5.4 percent increase from a previously reported 5.9 percent.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected signed contracts, which become sales after a month or two, to rise 0.2 percent.

“Buyer interest remains strong but fewer home listings mean fewer contract signing opportunities,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

“We’ve been seeing a steady decline in the level of housing inventory, which is most pronounced in the lower price ranges popular with first-time buyers and investors.”

Pending home sales were up 9.5 percent in the 12 months to June. Home resales fell sharply in June.

Contracts in the Northeast fell 7.6 percent in June and slipped 0.4 percent in the Midwest. In the South, contracts declined 2.0 percent.

The West saw a 2.6 percent increase in contracts in June.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

People on the Move 07/30/12

Essner brings experience to Century 21 Ashland Realty

(Photo)

Rick Sinclair, a broker for Century 21 Ashland Realty in Cape Girardeau, announced the hiring of Linda Essner as broker/sales. She brings more than 17 years of experience. Essner is a multimillion-dollar producer and has earned recognition by the National Association of Realtors and membership in the Century 21 Master’s Club. She is also a graduate of the Realtor Institute, earning her GRI designation.

Chateau Girardeau names Kolmer as administrator, CFO

(Photo)

The Chateau Girardeau has announced the appointment of Mark A. Kolmer as administrator and chief financial officer. Kolmer recently relocated from the Indianapolis area, where he served as the chief financial officer for MicroMetl Corp. He was born and raised in St. Louis, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s of business administration from St. Louis University.

Penn named chairman for United Way Board of Directors

The United Way of Southeast Missouri recently announced the appointment of Stan Penn as the new chairman of the board of directors. He replaced Jean Mason, the SEMO Division manager of Ameren Missouri, who served her maximum term of nine years on the board. Penn has been on the board for five years and has also served as treasurer of the board, campaign chairman and chairman of the Finance Committee. He previously served on the Rogue Valley United Way board in Medford, Ore., for five years. Penn is region president of Southeast Missouri for US Bank. He is responsible for sales, service, operations and credit quality in this 24 branch region.

— From staff reports

Realtors(R) Support Setting Deadline for Subordinate Lien Holder Short Sale Decisions


WASHINGTON, DC, Jul 19, 2012 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) —
A proposed bill may soon help speed up the approval process for
homeowners selling their home through short sale by requiring
subordinate lien holders to review and respond to short sale requests
within 45 days.

The legislation, “The Fast Help for Homeowners Act,” was offered in
Congress today by U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) and is strongly
supported by the National Association of Realtors(R).

“As the leading advocate for homeownership, Realtors(R) know that
issues and delays with secondary lien holders remain an obstacle to
streamlining the short sale process,” said NAR President Moe Veissi,
broker-owner of Veissi Associates Inc., in Miami. “Short sale
negotiations are much more difficult for borrowers who have multiple
servicers involved and ongoing delays continue to severely limit the
number of homeowners who are approved for short sales, forcing many
homeowners into foreclosure.”

The proposed legislation would establish guidelines requiring the
primary lien holder to inform secondary and any subsequent lien
holders of a request for short sale. The bill would also impose a
deadline for subsequent lien holders to respond to both the primary
lender and the consumer following a short sale request.

NAR has been actively pushing the mortgage servicing industry for
years to improve the short sale review and approval process,
especially in cases where second liens are involved. Veissi praised
Rep. McNerney for his efforts on the bill and urged Congress to pass
it quickly.

“Second mortgage lien holders frequently hold up and cancel the short
sale transaction while trying to collect the largest possible payout
in exchange for releasing the homeowner’s lien, even though the
secondary lien holder often gets nothing if the home ends up going
into foreclosure,” said Veissi. “While efforts have been made to
improve primary lien holders’ response times, issues still abound
with second and subsequent lien holders, and this legislation is a
step in the right direction.”

Realtors(R) continue to report that short sale transactions are being
held up due to a lack of response regarding acceptance of short sale
requests. NAR wants mortgage servicers to approve reasonable short
sale offers so that homeowners can avoid foreclosure, and minimize
the negative impact on families, home values and neighborhoods.

NAR believes that streamlining the short sale approval process for
both primary and secondary lien holders will help close more short
sale transactions. “We applaud any effort to help improve the short
sale process and give distressed homeowners’ alternatives to
foreclosure,” said Veissi.

The National Association of Realtors(R), “The Voice for Real Estate,”
is America’s largest trade association, representing 1 million
members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial
real estate industries.

Information about NAR is available at
www.realtor.org . News releases
are posted in the website’s “News and Commentary” tab. NAR supports
public policies and policymakers who support the positions of
Realtors(R) and their clients and customers on private property
rights, housing issues and homeownership, regardless of political
party affiliation.



        
        For further information contact:
        Sara Wiskerchen
        202/383-1013
        Email Contact
        
        
        


SOURCE: National Association of Realtors



 
http://www2.marketwire.com/mw/emailprcntct?id=E1112BA3D820C5F9            


Copyright 2012 Marketwire, Inc., All rights reserved.

June Existing-Home Prices Rise Again, Sales Down With Constrained Supply

WASHINGTON, DC–(Marketwire -07/19/12)-
Existing-home prices continued to show gains but sales fell in June with tight supplies of affordable homes limiting first-time buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Total existing-home sales(1), which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, declined 5.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.37 million in June from an upwardly revised 4.62 million in May, but are 4.5 percent higher than the 4.18 million-unit level in June 2011.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the bigger story is lower inventory and the recovery in home prices. “Despite the frictions related to obtaining mortgages, buyer interest remains solid. But inventory continues to shrink and that is limiting buying opportunities. This, in turn, is pushing up home prices in many markets,” he said. “The price improvement also results from fewer distressed homes in the sales mix.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 3.68 percent in June from 3.80 percent in May; the rate was 4.51 percent in June 2011; recordkeeping began in 1971.

The national median existing-home price(2) for all housing types was $189,400 in June, up 7.9 percent from a year ago. This marks four back-to-back monthly price increases from a year earlier, which last occurred in February to May of 2006. June’s gain was the strongest since February 2006 when the median price rose 8.7 percent from a year prior.

Distressed homes(3) — foreclosures and short sales sold at deep discounts — accounted for 25 percent of June sales (13 percent were foreclosures and 12 percent were short sales), unchanged from May but down from 30 percent in June 2011. Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 18 percent below market value in June, while short sales were discounted 15 percent. “The distressed portion of the market will further diminish because the number of seriously delinquent mortgages has been falling,” said Yun.

NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi Associates Inc., in Miami, said there’s been a steady growth in buyer interest. “Buyer traffic has virtually doubled from last fall, while seller traffic has risen only modestly,” he said. “The very favorable market conditions are helping to unleash a pent-up demand, which is why housing supplies have tightened and are supporting growth in home prices. Nonetheless, incorrectly priced homes will not attract buyers.”

Total housing inventory at the end June fell another 3.2 percent to 2.39 million existing homes available for sale, which represents a 6.6-month supply(4) at the current sales pace, up from a 6.4-month supply in May. Listed inventory is 24.4 percent below a year ago when there was a 9.1-month supply.

First-time buyers accounted for 32 percent of purchasers in June, compared with 34 percent in May and 31 percent in June 2011. “A healthy market share of first-time buyers would be about 40 percent, so these figures show that tight inventory in the lower price ranges, along with unnecessarily tight credit standards, are holding back entry level activity,” Yun said.

All-cash sales edged up to 29 percent of transactions in June from 28 percent in May; they were 29 percent in June 2011. Investors, who account for the bulk of cash sales, purchased 19 percent of homes in June, up from 17 percent in May; they were 19 percent in June 2011.

Single-family home sales declined 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.90 million in June from 4.11 million in May, but are 4.8 percent above the 3.72 million-unit pace in June 2011. The median existing single-family home price was $190,100 in June, up 8.0 percent from a year ago.

Existing condominium and co-op sales fell 7.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 470,000 in June from 510,000 in May, but are 2.2 percent higher than the 460,000-unit level a year ago. The median existing condo price was $183,200 in June, which is 6.9 percent above June 2011.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast dropped 11.5 percent to an annual pace of 540,000 in June but are 1.9 percent above June 2011. The median price in the Northeast was $253,700, down 1.8 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest slipped 1.9 percent in June to a level of 1.02 million but are 14.6 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $157,600, up 8.4 percent from June 2011.

In the South, existing-home sales declined 4.4 percent to an annual pace of 1.73 million in June but are 5.5 percent above June 2011. The median price in the South was $165,000, up 6.6 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West fell 6.9 percent to an annual level of 1.08 million in June and are 3.6 percent below a year ago. The median price in the West was $233,300, up 13.3 percent from May 2011. Given tight supply in both the low and middle price ranges in this region, sales in the West are stronger in the higher price ranges.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

NOTE: For local information, please contact the local association of Realtors® for data from local multiple listing services. Local MLS data is the most accurate source of sales and price information in specific areas, although there may be differences in reporting methodology.

(1)Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings from multiple listing services. Changes in sales trends outside of MLSs are not captured in the monthly series. A rebenchmarking of home sales is done periodically using other sources to assess the overall home sales trend, including sales not reported by MLSs.
Existing-home sales differ from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which account for more than 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample – about 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month – and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.
The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.
Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.

(2)The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to the seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if more data is received than was originally reported.

(3)Distressed sales (foreclosures and short sales), all-cash transactions, investors and first-time buyers and are from a monthly survey for the Realtors® Confidence Index, posted at Realtor.org.

(4)Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, condos were measured quarterly while single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions).

The Pending Home Sales Index for June will be released July 26 and existing-home sales for July is scheduled for August 22. Metro area home prices for the second quarter will be reported August 9; all release times are 10:00 a.m. EDT.

Information about NAR is available at www.realtor.org. News releases are posted in the website’s “News and Commentary” tab. Statistical data in this release, as well as other tables and surveys, are posted in the “Research and Statistics” tab of www.realtor.org.

For further information contact:
Walter Molony
202/383-1177
Email Contact

Declining inventories signal return of seller’s market

Though many home shoppers who assume they are still in a buyer’s market find it hard to believe, one of the sobering fundamentals shaping real estate this summer is shrinking inventory: The supply of houses for sale is down significantly in most areas compared with a year ago, sometimes dramatically so. And that is having important side impacts — raising prices and homeowners’ equity stakes, and reducing total sales.

In major metropolitan markets from the mid-Atlantic to the West Coast, the stock of homes listed for purchase is down by sometimes extraordinary amounts — 50 percent or more below year-ago levels in several areas of California, according to industry studies. In Washington, D.C., and its nearby suburbs, listings are down by 28 percent, reports Redfin, a national online realty brokerage. In Los Angeles, available inventory is 49 percent lower than it was last summer, San Diego by 53 percent. In Seattle, listings are off by 41 percent. According to the National Association of Realtors, total houses listed for sale across the country in June were 24 percent lower than a year earlier. The dearth of listings is often more intense in the lower- to mid-price ranges.

Peggy James, an agent with Erick Co. of Exit Choice Realty in Prince William County, Va., says she gets calls “all the time” from buyers asking, “Where are all the new listings? Are you agents bluffing” — holding back? But the reality is that “there just haven’t been many” listings in some high-demand price categories lately, she said. In Orange, Calif., Carlos Herrera, broker-owner of Casa Blanca Realtors, said “it’s really strange right now. We have many buyers but few sellers.”

Just south of San Francisco, Redfin agent Brad Le says inventory in Silicon Valley is down so drastically — and demand so strong — that the bidding wars are spinning off the charts. “We’re not just talking about 10 or 15” offers, he said, “but sometimes 40 and 50.” Some buyers are inserting escalation clauses into their contracts to keep pace with counter-bids, and waiving financing contingencies, inspections and even agreeing to increase their down payments to counter any differences between the accepted sale price and the appraised value. One modest, 1,700-square-foot house recently was listed at $879,000. It drew more than 50 competing offers and sold to an all-cash buyer for $1,050,000 in less than a month.

Silicon Valley is in its own special economic niche, but declining inventories are nationwide. In its latest survey of 146 large markets, Realtor.com found that 144 had lower supplies of listings last month than a year earlier. Online real estate and mortgage data firm Zillow reports that some of the steepest declines in inventory are in places that got hit the hardest during the bust, and where sizable percentages of owners still are underwater on their mortgages. In Phoenix and Miami, for example, 55 percent and 46 percent of owners respectively have negative equity.

Both cities have seen significant drops in inventory, and both are experiencing strong appreciation in home prices. According to data from research firm CoreLogic, Phoenix prices are up 14.7 percent for the year and Miami by 9.7 percent.

What’s behind the widespread declines in listings? Analysts say negative equity plays a major role — it discourages people who might otherwise want to sell from doing so. They don’t want to take a big loss, especially in a slowly improving price environment. So they sit tight rather than list. Banks with large stocks of pre-foreclosure and foreclosed properties are doing the same, creating a so-called “shadow inventory” of houses estimated to total 1.5 million units.

Where’s this all headed? Stan Humphries, chief economist for Zillow, says the likely trend is for more of the same: Constricted supplies will lead to price increases, especially in segments of local markets where demand is strongest. Longer term, price increases will gradually rewind the cycle, increasing owners’ equities and convincing more of them to list and sell. This, in turn, should put a brake on price increases.

Bottom line for anyone looking to list or purchase anytime soon: Though conditions vary by location and price segment, lower supplies of houses available for sale are putting sellers in stronger positions than they’ve been in years.

On the House: The state of real estate misery

Is your glass half-empty or half-full today?

I think mine is half-empty. I’m looking at a statistic from the search engine Redfin that says one in four real estate listings comes under contract after less than 14 days on the market.

Which prompts two responses from me: First, how long does it take to move the three other houses? Second, how many of those contracts collapse under the weight of appraisals?

As of May, according to Prudential Fox Roach’s HomExpert Market Report, properties were spending an average 98 days on the market, four fewer than the same month in 2011.

In May 2010, the average was 80 days, and that was at the end of the government’s $8,000 tax-credit program for qualified buyers.

The National Association of Realtors reported in April that one in three of its members was reporting a contract cancellation. I have neither heard nor seen anything that would suggest that the situation has changed.

Before one can make blanket statements about the market, one needs to consider that houses won’t sell quickly if they are in places where no one wants to live. They also won’t sell quickly if they are overpriced.

Therefore, the one in four that reaches agreement in less than 14 days is likely to be in the right location and also properly priced.

There are some indications that the housing market is, indeed, improving. Yet Trulia, another real estate search engine, maintains that in the hardest-hit foreclosure states, housing will be an issue that could determine which presidential candidate gets the most votes.

Trulia has developed a “housing misery” index to determine how and where the candidates will focus on the issue.

These are the criteria it uses for the index: •The percentage change in home prices from each state’s own peak during the last decade’s real estate bubble until today, based on information from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Big price drops lead to more underwater borrowers and less household wealth, which hurt the housing market and hold back economic recovery. •The percentage of mortgages either severely delinquent or in foreclosure, based on data from CoreLogic, the real estate information service.

Defaults and foreclosures damage consumer confidence in the housing recovery. Foreclosures hurt not only the people who lose their homes, but their neighbors, as well.

Four states stand out: Nevada, Florida, Arizona, and California. In those states, home prices are 40 percent or more below their bubble-era peak — almost 60 percent in Nevada. Florida also has the highest share of home loans on which borrowers are either delinquent or in foreclosure.

Things are looking up here. In all but Nevada, this misery index has fallen several points in the last year.

But housing misery has been spread out across other regions of the country, too. The index is 30 or above in Michigan and Illinois in the Midwest; Georgia in the South; Maryland and New Jersey in the Mid-Atlantic, and Idaho, Washington and Oregon in the Northwest.

At the other extreme, Texas escaped housing misery altogether. Prices are no lower today than they were during the bubble, and relatively few home loans are delinquent or in foreclosure.

How will housing play out in the presidential campaign? Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko says voters in key swing states will surely want to hear what the candidates have to say.

“And what will they say?’ Kolko asks. “As the incumbent, Obama needs to point to some clear housing-policy successes; as the challenger, Romney needs to point to some fresh new ideas about housing.”

“They’ve both got their work cut out for them,” Kolko says.

 

Contracts to buy US homes fell slightly in June

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans signed fewer contracts to buy previously occupied homes last month, the latest sign the housing market recovery is uneven.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its index of sales agreements fell 1.4 percent last month to 99.3. May’s reading was revised down to 100.7.

A reading of 100 is considered healthy. The index is 9.5 percent higher than it was a year ago. The index bottomed at 75.88 in June 2010 after a homebuyers’ tax credit expired.

Contract signings typically indicate where the housing market is headed. There’s generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed deal.

[Click here to check home loan rates in your area.]

Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at MFR Inc., noted that even with last month’s drop, the index has risen since January and is higher than it was in April. That could translate into higher sales of previously occupied homes in July.

Most economists say the housing market is recovering, but at a slow and uneven pace.

Builders are more confident and breaking ground on more homes. Construction of new single-family homes rose to a two-year high last month. Mortgage rates are at record lows. And home prices nationwide have stabilized after losing a third of their value in the past six years.

Sales of both new and previously occupied homes fell in June, but remain higher than they were a year ago.

One trend that is holding back sales has been low inventories. There were 144,000 new homes for sale in June, just above May’s 143,000 — the lowest on records dating back to 1963.

And the inventory of previously occupied homes also fell last month, to 2.39 million. That’s a drop of more than 24 percent from last year, the Realtors’ group said last week.

It would take about six and a half months to exhaust the supply at the current sales pace. That’s close to the six months’ supply that economists consider healthy.