Feb. pending home sales up 3.5%

March 29, 2016

WASHINGTON – March 28, 2016 – Pending home sales rose solidly in February to its highest level in seven months, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Led by a sizeable increase in the Midwest, all major regions except for the Northeast saw an increase in February contract activity.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 3.5 percent to 109.1 in February from a downwardly revised 105.4 in January and it’s 0.7 percent higher year-to-year. The index has now increased year-over-year for 18 consecutive months, though last month’s annual gain was the smallest.

“After some volatility this winter, the latest data is encouraging in that a decent number of buyers signed contracts last month, lured by mortgage rates dipping to their lowest levels in nearly a year and a modest, seasonal uptick in inventory,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

“Looking ahead, the key for sustained momentum and more sales than last spring is a continuous stream of new listings quickly replacing what’s being scooped up by a growing pool of buyers,” Yun adds. “Without adequate supply, sales will likely plateau.”

According to Yun, last month’s noticeable slump in existing-home sales had one silver lining: Price appreciation lessened to 4.4 percent, which is still above wage growth but more favorable than the 8.1 percent annual increase in January.

“Any further moderation in prices would be a welcome development this spring, particularly in the West, where it appears a segment of would-be buyers are becoming wary of high asking prices and stiff competition,” adds Yun.

Existing-homes sales this year are forecast to be around 5.38 million, an increase of 2.4 percent from 2015. The national median existing-home price for all 2016 is expected to increase between 4 and 5 percent. In 2015, existing-home sales increased 6.3 percent and prices rose 6.8 percent.

The PHSI in the Northeast declined 0.2 percent to 94.0 in February, but it’s still 12.6 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest, the index shot up 11.4 percent to 112.6 in February, and it’s now 2.5 percent above February 2015.

Pending home sales in the South increased 2.1 percent to an index of 122.4 in February but it’s 0.4 percent lower than last February. The index in the West climbed 0.7 percent in February to 96.4, but it’s now 6.2 percent below a year ago.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®


The annual hot home buying season starts April 1

March 16, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. – March 14, 2016 – Sellers, start your pressure washers. Buyers, hold off on purchasing new furniture for your future abode.

April 1 marks the beginning of sellers’ season for residential real estate, a four-month span during which more than 37 percent of homes for sale in the Tampa Bay region will get new owners.

Right now, it’s a sellers’ market, but that doesn’t mean those putting their homes on the market don’t have to spruce up and make repairs before sticking that sign out front.

“You have buyers coming out of the woodwork after the winter and looking to purchase,” said Daren Blomquist, chief economist for real estate research firm RealtyTrac. And a lot more houses will go on to the market, so there will be competition.

“Homes tend to sell faster in the spring because of the demand,” Blomquist said. Once school starts winding down, people are ready to look for their new locations.

“The first thing sellers need to do is look at their house with a critical eye,” said Barbara Jordan, immediate past president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. “They really need to look at curb appeal, number one. Pressure wash the driveway, make it bright, get rid of the mold from last summer’s humidity and rain.”

Weed out the flower beds and throw down some new mulch, Jordan said. And pressure wash the front door – first impressions matter.

It is also really important to make sure all major systems in the house are functioning, including electrical, plumbing and air conditioning.

“If you have been living with leaking fixtures for months, fix them,” Jordan said.

A roof can be a real show-stopper, she said. “In order to get insurance, a roof must have three years of life left on it. The typical lifetime for a roof is 15 to 17 years. If you are coming up on 12 years, you need to take a critical look at it.”

Realtor.com suggests all homeowners do their own walk-throughs. Look for leaks under sinks and around toilets, water stains on ceilings or near doors and windows, wood rot around outside doorframes or window ledges.

Cracks in walls and floors or doors that don’t shut correctly can be red flags to buyers, Realtor.com warns. Inspect for these things inside and outside the house.

In between all that, get rid of the clutter, Jordan said. “Too much stuff and boxes in corners need to go.

Patio areas, especially in Florida, can sell homes, she said. “Make sure the patio is pressure washed, get rid of the weeds between the pavers and put out some flowers.”

And here’s a critical tip, she said. Get wide-angle professional photos of the house that can be posted on the Internet. That’s where buyers will first find a house they are interested in purchasing.


8 Bad ‘Home Improvement’ Habits

March 4, 2016

Home owners can overdo it when it comes to the upkeep of their home. This Old House recently spotlighted several ways that home owners’ enthusiasm for home ownership may actually harm the house.

1. Having light bulbs that are too bright. You want a well-lit home, but exceeding a lamp or light fixture’s recommended wattage can be dangerous, particularly with incandescents or halogen lights, says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for Underwriters Laboratories. “Using a bulb with too-high wattage will cause the fixture and its wiring to overheat,” he notes, which could then allow the heat to travel to the wall or erode the insulation on the wires and lead to a house fire. Check the fixtures label to make sure you use the correct wattage.

2. Planting trees near driveways or walkways. A line of trees to the house may up its curb appeal but adding young trees near driveways or walkways could be putting your slab at risk. As these trees grow taller, their roots will go outward, potentially pushing up the paving and causing it to buckle or crack. This Old House recommends planting small trees that will remain under 20 feet at maturity and that are at least 10 feet from paved areas. For larger trees, leave at least a 20-foot radius.

3. Overscrubbing a sink. Don’t overdo it with abrasive cleaners; they can scratch the sink. “Cleaners with a grit or grain to them will wear away at the finish and dull it,” Kohler‘s Mike Marbuch told This Old House. “That will make the sink more prone to gunk sticking to it—actually making it look dirtier.” Try a liquid cleanser like vinegar or lemon juice on the sink and avoid scrubbing it every day.

4. Overdoing it with can lights. Excessive recessed lighting in a home can cause a lot of air leaks. Recessed lighting is known as causing heat-sucking air leaks, especially when the fixtures are unsealed in vaulted ceilings. Airtight recessed lighting fixtures are available that are rated for insulation contact (IC). Also, use as few recessed lights as you can, especially when it comes to adding them to cathedral ceilings or in rooms directly below unconditioned attics.

5. Spreading too much mulch outside. “Over-mulching will suffocate plants, confuse their root systems, and prevent water from percolating into the soil,” notes the article at This Old House. “If you’ve mulched so much that tree trunks and flowers’ and shrubs’ lower branches are covered by or dragging in it, you’ve gone overboard.” Have mulch no thicker than 3 inches.

6. Using glass cleaner on mirrors. Watch out for store-bought sprays that promise to make your glass sparkle. “A drop of liquid running around the mirror’s edge can cause the reflective backing to lift or craze,” This Old House notes. The black edge can occur from using ammonia- or vinegar-based cleaners. This Old House recommends using warm water and a soft, lint-free cloth to clean mirrors. Or if you do use the sprays, spray it onto a dry cloth first and not directly onto the glass.

7. Repainting too much. “Excessive paint is detrimental – especially on an older house, which may have layers of thicker oil-based paint, which becomes brittle with age,” notes This Old House. To avoid thick, cracked, or peeling paint, be sure to carefully power-wash prior to painting, sand areas that need it, and then use 100 percent acrylic-resin exterior paint.

8. Fertilizing too much. Fertilizing too often can spur more weeds to grow. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency warns over-fertilizing can cause “nutrient pollution,” which is when nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from lawn fertilizers and then leads to an overgrowth of algae that can even pollute local waterways. Some lawn experts recommend only fertilizing twice a year, late summer and fall only.

View all 19 tips at This Old House.

Source: “19 Ways You’re Killing Your Home With Kindness,” This Old House (February 2016)


Surprising Tax Credits for Homeowners

March 4, 2016

WASHINGTON – March 3, 2016 – Many homeowners may be working on their taxes now, and Realtors can help them make the most of home improvements. The website, http://www.homeselfe.com/, a home energy assessment app and web service for homeowners, recently released a list of significant tax credits available to people who made energy efficiency upgrades to their homes in the 2015 tax year.

“If you upgraded your home in 2015 by adding insulation, one of the most cost-effective upgrades you can make, you already know you are saving on your utility bills every month – plus you may be eligible for a tax credit on that investment,” said Ameeta Jain, co-founder and spokesperson of Homeselfe.

The company says homeowners can earn up to $500 on their return by taking into account small upgrades made last year, including:

  • Biomass stoves
  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
  • Advanced main air-circulating fans (tax credit amount of $50)
  • Insulation (10 percent of the cost, up to $500)
  • Roofs (metal and asphalt)
  • Water heaters (non-solar earns a tax credit of $300)
  • Windows, doors and skylights (tax credit amount is 10 percent of the cost excluding labor)

Homeselfe created flowcharts and other information to help homeowners determine whether they qualify for energy-related tax credits.

“Not taking advantage of (qualified energy-efficient upgrades) is throwing away your hard-earned cash,” says Jain. “We want to empower families to receive the maximum refund allowed on their tax returns by providing them insight into the energy credits that are available.”

Source: “Do You Qualify for A Home Energy Tax Credit?” Homeselfe (Feb. 10, 2016)

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