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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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Vacation Home Blog and News

April 3, 2009

Alternative Energy is Essential to Moving the Economy Forward

Filed under: Economy — Tags: , , , — Jim Marks @ 11:05 am

Have you noticed how oil prices are¬†constantly one step ahead of the stock ¬†markets whenever they go up. You can take that as a warning that every time the market/economy improves, the cost of gas, food, and energy will go up, and drag things right back down again. You can watch the value of crude oil go up with every twitch in the market. That’s why it’s imperative that we change our energy sources immediately.

The moves planned in the stimulus bill and the budget will do something that should have been done decades ago. By retrofitting government buildings with green technology and providing incentives to private ventures, businesses and homeowners, this has the potential to vastly improve the renewable technologies, not only in efficiency, but in cost. Why? Because it provides a strong incentive to mass-produce these products, and it creates a highly competitive market.

A burst of economic rerouting that recreates the solar industry on a local basis will add an army of small businesses to economies both urban and rural. And it will provide higher paying jobs. This is an essential part of moving the US economy forward. Although most renewable energy projects are very expensive right now, that could change quite rapidly, especially if coupled with substantial credits for private projects by businesses and homeowners.

A surge in alternative energy sources over the next year could counter rising oil costs’ stranglehold on the economy. In my last entry, I blamed the insurance industries. Not all of them, but those that have taken advantage of consumers and small businesses, and engaged in risks well outside of their “actuarial” guidelines.

Looking back to just last year, however, our dependence on oil, and our failure to diversify energy sources on a massive scale over the last 3 decades, was the real catalyst in bringing the economy down like a house of cards. Sure, there were problems with sub-prime loans that would have to be dealt with. But, when gas and oil prices soared up to $4.00 a gallon, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only were most people saddled with unaffordable or substandard healthcare coverage that took thousands of dollars out of their pockets with each year they aged… Not only was the education of their children in jeopardy… Not only were their retirement savings disappearing at an alarming rate… And, at a time when salaries and wages had fallen substantially behind the cost of living. But now, the cost of commuting, groceries, electricity, travel¬†and everything around them was rising dramatically, while their wages became stagnant or went down to save costs for business.

The energy catalyst caused a major retraction in the economy, which in turn resulted in job losses, and wage cuts, and ultimately sent the foreclosure rate racing towards disaster.¬† To put it bluntly, it was like throwing gas on a worldwide tinderbox, and striking a match by raising energy prices at a blazing pace. So, as you can see, we can’t let companies, particularly those involved with insurance, go unregulated. And, we have to get oil out of the energy picture. It’s not only a danger to the environment, it’s a constant threat to a stable economy. Let’s go green everywhere possible.


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 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.


February 1, 2009

Stimulus Package Can Help the Real Estate Market With a 4% Mortgage

Filed under: Economy — Tags: , , , , — Jim Marks @ 3:34 pm

It looks like Barack Obama’s stimulus package will pass one way or another. I’m really surprised that republicans decided to treat this as a party loyalty, walk-in-lockstep, stooge parade, but I guess that’s their prerogative. Who cares if their Republican Gubernatorial counterparts disagree strongly with them because their silly budgets are falling apart, and without help their next crisis will be setting up refugee camps. It’s the partisan message that’s really important, right? I know they’re holding out for more tax cuts, and feel they have nothing to lose, but that’s a major waste of time. Tax cuts are not going to make huge differences at this point. If tax cuts were the answer we would never have gotten here in the first place. Taxes are lower now, and have been in the entire lead up to this crisis, than they’ve been at any time since the 1950’s. They didn’t prevent this economic calamity, and they’re not going to solve it. In fact, they’ll just create larger deficits through less revenue.

The biggest problem in this downturn is related to greed, and to draining workers and small businesses so that they can barely participate. Tax cuts for average workers, who buy and consume just about everything that makes huge corporations and banks wealthy, would amount to a few extra dollars a week–hardly enough to make the tiniest dent in the problems they’re facing right now. In fact, it would be barely noticable as they downgraded from Walmart to the Salvation Army; from MacDonald’s to the soup kitchen as full time jobs are replaced with part time employment, with few or no benefits. Imagine the position hospitals will be in when half the population has no health insurance and no money.

As for small businesses, unless they’re making huge profits, there’s no benefit for them either. They can’t get a refund or any extra capitol. They can forward their losses into the next 3 years, or average their losses, but only highly profitable businesses will be able to use tax cuts to any great advantage. You have to admit, there aren’t that many hugely profitable small businesses in this economy, begging for tax breaks. A credit or refund, yes. But that’s not going to happen.

Knock it off with the stupid tax cuts. They’re for the extremely wealthy so they can feather their nesteggs to make things a little more cushy while the rest of the country suffers even more. Most small businesses in this country have less than 5 employees. Can you really see these companies taking on new hires because they got a tax break they can’t use?

Now, there’s one thing I heard out of the Republican camp the other day that is absolutely worthwhile, if not vital to stimulate the economy. And that’s a bid to offer government backed mortages to homebuyers and homeowners at 4%. Mitch McConnell says these should go to anyone who qualifies. This would make a huge difference, particularly for homeowners who are now underwater. And, it would create many more opportunities for buyers of real estate. The alternative of letting home prices spiral downward without any relief for current homeowners will eventually swallow up any stimulus package.

At this point in the year, the job market is not going to improve until seasonal jobs are returned to the mix. Without those, which will begin to come back in another 2 months, there are still going to be major job losses. Make peoples’ homes more affordable with lower mortgage rates, and that will stop a lot of the hemorraging. Not only that, but it will make it more affordable for renters to own.

One of the largest economic engines in this country is the homebuilding and real estate market. Focus on that.

As for the bank bailouts, apparently, there are an enormous amount of banks that are actually insolvent, but aren’t making that clear (read: hiding) on their books. It’s also becoming obvious that the government bailout for these folks is like dumping an endless stream of money into a black hole. Take the hit and close these fugitives from bankruptcy now. Or, nationalize them and resolve the debts with full transparency. The longer we wait, the worse it’ll be. Everyone involved in the subprime loans should take a hit. If I understand correctly, some entities actually profit on foreclosures, or lose nothing and have no incentive to negotiate. Let’s put an end to that. Let’s make it illegal for anyone to profit or even break even on a foreclosure. It’s that type of underhanded business dealing that has devastated the real estate market. We shouldn’t be placing one of our most important economic engines in the hands of profiteering “masters of the universe”. Let’s fix it now, and get back to the business of enjoying vacation homes.


January 25, 2009

Another Year of Stay-cations?

Last year, the cost of fuel caused many people to just stay home for vacation. It simply cost too much to travel, and that cost was added on to everything from groceries to hardware. That pretty much broke the bank for millions of people who suffered through stagnant pay, rapidly rising costs, and a loss of equity in their homes.

Now, we’re supposedly in a recession, but it could be a depression, or even some new breed of economic malady. And, everyone is cutting back seriously on their spending. This year, despite the dramatic rollback on fuel costs, we’re probably looking at another summer of “stay-cations”, as the vast majority of consumers remain tight-fisted with their hard-earned money. A lot of vacationers will be trading down from their normal travel, and driving to local destination areas. And many others will be staying–at home.

Those who already own a vacation home will most certainly be taking advantage of that. But it looks like the “stay-cation” may be here to stay for awhile. This year’s cause will be the economy. But, even when the economy turns around, you can expect the price of fuel to surge right back up again when demand increases.

That’s why it’s imperative to start seeking out alternative energy sources immediately. They’ve been here for years. In fact, the first automobiles were electric. (Here’s an amusing history of early electric cars.) Electric trains and buses preceded them. But combustion engines won out due to cheaper sources of fuel, and popularity. People associated the noise with power, and electric cars faded away.

It’s time we got over the notion that noise equals power and get back to refining electric vehicles. It has long been known that there’s enough wind in the midwest to run just about everything in this country, including cars. There’s enough solar energy in the deserts to do the same things. What’s missing is a massive grid to carry all the electricity safely, and efficiently. Sort of like the highway system that we made for automobiles, or the railroad network. Right now, our energy sources are mostly from imported sources. The quicker we gain our energy independence, the more likely we’ll be able to go back to our much needed vacations again.


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