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New home sales: 'Really good news'

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Sales of newly constructed single-family homes spiked 11% in June to an annualized rate of 384,000 homes, according to a report released Monday.

The gain over May was much greater than expected. A consensus of housing industry analysts had forecast seasonally adjusted sales of 352,000, according to Breifing.com.

However, sales are still 21% below the levels of a year ago, when new homes sold in June at an annualized rate of 488,000, according to the report released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Four years ago, during the height of the housing boom, the sales rate for June was 1,374,000, nearly three-and-a-half times higher than last month.

Still, the report was very positive, according to Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland who had forecast June sales to be at the 350,000 level. "That is really good news. Considering what's going on in existing home sales, with all the foreclosure activity sending down home prices, for new homes to jump like that is a good indicator that the economy is bottoming out."
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March 29, 2009

Are Insurance Companies Breaking The Economy?

Filed under: Economy — Tags: — Jim Marks @ 12:52 pm

We’ve become a nation with an insurance-poor economy, or worse, an insurance raped economy. One of the largest contributing factors to our broken economy was the combination of banking and insurance, which had been separated since the Great Depression due to the role that combination played back then. But, it’s greater than that. In fact, it’s pervasive.

If you owned a vacation home anywhere near the areas affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, you probably know very well just how unfair and useless insurance companies can be. Insurance is no longer a loss/coverage proposition. Most often it’s an agreement as to how insurance companies can pay the absolute least amount, or find a reason or loophole to deny coverage. Worse yet, they recover any payouts by raising premiums against those who dare to file claims. It’s now recommended that you get a high-deductible plan for homes and auto insurance, so you’ll pay the first $1,000 on your own in order to avoid steep premium increases if you file a claim. By any standard, that’s a ridiculous proposition.

Consider health insurance. They’ve raised the cost of it by double digits every year for the last 2 decades. In fact, the average cost of healthcare for an individual is now more than 5 times higher than it was in 1990. In 1990, the average health care cost per employee was approximately $145/month. In 2009, companies can expect to pay an average of $805/month. Salaries and wages have not even begun to keep up with this runaway train. And, during this time, the healthcare system has declined dramatically in comparison to rest of the industrialized world. The average life expectancy in 1990¬† was 71.8 for men and 78.8 for women. The latest information for¬†2005 shows the lifespan for men increased to 73.5, and decreased to 78.65 for women. You’d expect with the huge increases we’ve been paying that we’d be living to 120. The cost of healthcare in the US is now nearly double of what it would cost anywhere else on earth. Yet, we’ve gone down from a ranking of 11th to 42nd in terms of life expectancy over the last two decades when compared with other countries.

Do you see a common thread here? I work for a real estate company, and the error and omissions insurance will go up 10% this year, despite the fact that the company expects to do less business or the same as last year. There were no claims filed. Yet, a 10% increase seems to be in order to the insurance companies. Why? Because insurance companies invested heavily into the market and lost. The same thing has happened to life insurance companies. But, of course, they’ll just raise the premiums, and voila… it’s no longer their problem. It’s yours. They don’t lose. Of course, that’s the business model. But, shouldn’t they be responsible for the risks they take? It’s time we make these companies accountable. The era of deregulation was the biggest disaster for US workers in modern times. The most lucrative consumer market in the world has been fleeced, and can no longer support the legal theft that has been going on for nearly three decades. But, that’s about to change. Now, if it’s not a bargain, it’s not going to sell. If it’s not needed, it’ll sit in the showroom.

We just have to figure out a way to apply this to insurance companies, and still be able to drive, go to the hospital, get a mortgage, and run a business.¬† Note, this has very little to do with your local insurance agent or agency, who actually work for you to find the best deal possible to fit your needs. This is another corporate/conglomerate issue focused on quarterly profits, and oblivious to the needs of it’s customers. It’s about monetary control of the government to the point where they write and manipulate¬†the laws at both the federal and state levels. Maybe we could regulate them back to reasonable standards? No loopholes? No constant escalation of cost to value?

Any ideas?


March 21, 2009

Modular Vacation Homes

Filed under: Building a Vacation Home — Tags: , — Jim Marks @ 4:15 pm

When you’re looking for a new vacation home, there are many options. You can buy a “spec” home from a builder who’s selling one home at a time in a development. You can have one custom built. You can build your own vacation home, too.

If you’re extremely handy and you know your way around framing, carpentry, plumbing, siding, roofing, and electrical work, you could probably save yourself a bundle by building yourself. But if you have only a limited knowledge, you might want to try your hand with a modular. Of course, most modular home dealers will handle everything for you if you want, but you can save money by doing a lot of the work yourself, and being your own GM.

Cape Chalet style home
I had this modular Cape/Chalet place right on the foundation. By doing a lot of the work myself, I saved about 20% of the cost of the home. When buying a modular home, you can make out very well by adding length to it. For instance, this home comes 28′ x 36′ in its standard size. For each additional 2 feet, it cost $1,200. I added an additional 10 feet for a cost of $6,000. That’s an additional 280 square feet of living space for about $22 sq ft. Generally, the cost of building runs between $100 – $150 per square foot of living space. That additional length would normally have cost at least another $28,000.

There are many modular homes that are designed specifically for different types of vacation areas. Some are designed for mountains, others for lakes, and still others for oceanfront properties. Don’t mistake modular homes for manufactured homes (mobile homes). Modular homes have the same features as a “stick-built” or “site-built” home. In fact, many modular homes are more solid than a handcrafted home. They often have up to 1/3 more framing, and are put together more cohesively for the simple fact that they will most likely be driven over many miles of roads to reach their destination, and they have to get there intact.

Modular homes are usually built in a controlled environment, so the framing, decks, and exterior of the home aren’t exposed to rain, heat, humidity, or frigid conditions during the building process. This prevents warping and

The great thing about building with a modular is that it’s not an overwhelming task to do even from a distance. Once you’ve got the prices from local subcontractors, your building permit, and electric installation lined up, you’re ready to apply for your loan. One thing I’d warn against is trying to assemble the modular home with your own hired crew. Let the dealer handle that. I’ve known of a few people who’ve tried to go it on their own, and they ended up with a lot of problems, and no recourse.

If you’re in a hurry to get your vacation home up, check out some of the modular homes available, and determine the work you’re capable of doing yourself if you want to save money.


March 20, 2009

Buying a Vacation Home?

Filed under: Vacation Home Market — Tags: , , — Jim Marks @ 4:04 pm

It’s difficult to find just the right moment to buy during these turbulent economic times. There are certainly a lot of bargains out there, and many are in the most popular areas of the country. In fact, many vacation destinations in Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, the Gulf Coast, and much of the East Coast have seen drastic price drops, many in the 30% – 50% range. And, it seems as though the interest rates get lower every day.

But, this isn’t going to go on forever. Despite the seemingly neverending spiral of dire economic indicators, things are going to turn around. And, it also appears there’ll be a strong probability that inflation will be our next major problem.

Prices will be rising from multiple pressure points. The greatest one will be the devaluation of the dollar due to a white-hot printing press to cover government spending. Another attack will come from big oil as soon as the economy begins to show any sign of coming around. And a major attack is going to be launched by the working populace as they demand the return of a viable middle class that was beaten down for nearly three decades with false consumer price indexes, the near extinction of unions, and erosion of employee rights, protection, and benefits.

Buying before the inflation goes haywire can provide enormous value over the long run. Back in the late 70’s, when inflation was perhaps at it’s worst, was when I bought my first home for $26,000. 5 years later, it was worth $85,000 … nearly triple the amount. But, the price of cars, groceries, appliances¬†and insurance doubled over that same period. You would buy as soon as you needed something, because waiting would cost you more. It paid to buy immediately. I wonder if people will be able to take advantage in the same way this time around? If so, the time to start would be very soon.


March 8, 2009

Have Some Areas Already Hit Bottom?

Filed under: Economy,Vacation Home Market — Tags: , — Jim Marks @ 3:13 pm

It’s tough to say, but some of the most recent data in my neck of the woods suggest we have. Up here on the Maine/New Hampshire border, we’re in vacationland. There are more vacation homes in this area than primary homes. And, our market generally depends on how well the local metropolitan areas are doing (those within a 4 hour driving range are the most likely vacation home buyers).

The most recent data shows that of 14 markets in New England, the hardest hit area lost 8% value in the median sales of homes in 2008. But, what’s most interesting is that during the last quarter of 2008, 10 out of 14 metropolitan markets in New England saw appreciation in their markets. Nothing stunning; these gains were no higher than 1.4% for the quarter, and were generally a fraction of a percent. But here’s the kicker: the last quarter of 2008 was during the worst economic news imaginable. Prices of homes were going up after the September nosedive of the economy, where we’re still spiraling now.

As for the vacation home market up here, January was worse than ever. But February brought an abrupt change. And this week, we’ve had two properties with multiple offers that are very much in line with market values. One of these properties has been on the market for two years without an offer, then suddenly two in one weekend? And, this property is in the $700K range. Are people dumping their stocks entirely? Hmm… The other property was priced about 5% less than the only similar property that has sold in that development, and that sale was 19 months ago.

One thing that people need to remember is that real estate markets are nearly always evaluated by “median” sales. If the median home sales figure is $200,000 in a given area, that means that half of the homes sold were below this figure, and half were above. So, it really is a very poor indicator of home values in any given area. To demonstrate this, if buyers were focusing mostly on starter homes and the lowest end of the market, the median value would be very low. Likewise, if people were buying the million dollar homes and ignoring the rest, it would bring the value way up. In either case, it would be out of proportion.

At any rate, if 10 of the 14 major metro areas in New England saw appreciation in the last quarter of 2008, then people are starting to buy more expensive homes. Are you in a vacation home market? Check the metropolitan areas closest to your location.


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