Bond yields push up mortgage rates this week

Freddie Mac reported today that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 5.25 percent for the week, up from last week’s 5.20 percent and down from 6.52 percent last year at this time.

The 15-year FRM this week was 4.69 percent in comparison with 4.68 percent last week and 6.07 percent a year ago.

Five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages edged up to 4.75 percent this week from 4.74 percent the prior week.  They were 6.07 percent last year.

One-year Treasury-indexed ARMs were 4.80 percent this week versus last week’s 4.77 percent and last year’s 5.27 percent. Continue reading

The bottom is coming, the bottom is coming!

Economists and headlines are having a field day with the latest reports on existing-home sales, new-home sales and, from Case-Shiller and the federal government, prices.  (See the posts below, as well as my latest newsletter.)




So trumpets the New York Times in the lead story on Page 1 today.  But whoa, fellas!  Let’s not rush to judgment.  Continue reading

Apartment dwellers should ignore these data

S&P/Case-Shiller reported today that the annual rate of decline in house prices is slowing.

Although still negative, the rate of the 10-City and 20-City Composites, which exclude apartment sales, improved in May for the fourth consecutive month in 2009, the company said.

The 10-City and 20-City Composites declined 16.8% and 17.1%, respectively, compared with the same month last year. These values are improvements over April’s data, which show annual declines of 18.0% and 18.1%, respectively. After 16 consecutive months of record annual declines, beginning in October 2007 and ending in January 2009, the indices have now shown four consecutive months of improvement in annual returns.

case shiller“The pace of descent in home price values appears to be slowing” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at Standard & Poor’s. He continued:

“There is a clear inflection point in the year-over-year data, due to four consecutive months of improved rates of return, after the steep decline that began in the fall of 2005. In addition to the 10-City and 20-City Composites, 17 of the 20 metro areas also saw improvement in their annual returns compared to those of April. Looking at the monthly data, 13 of the 20 metro areas reported positive returns; and the 10-City and 20-City Composites reported positive returns for the first time since the summer of 2006. To put it in perspective, these are the first time we have seen broad increases in home prices in 34 months. This could be an indication that home price declines are finally stabilizing.

“While many indicators are showing signs of life in the U.S. housing market, we should remember that on a year-over-year basis, home prices are still down about 17% on average across all metro areas, so we likely do have a way to go before we see sustained home price appreciation.”

Continue reading

Smile about June sales of new homes, then frown

Sales of newly built, single-family homes rose 11 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000 units, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Coming on the heels of an upwardly revised number for May, the gain marks a third consecutive month of improved sales activity.  Whether it’s a great leap forward remains to be seen.

In fact, the number of sales on a seasonally adjusted basis–36,000–represented the weakest June sales since 1982.

And there are plenty of factors that suggest the cheery news needs to be taken with at least half a grain of salt.  Continue reading

Sellers await a better offer only at their own risk

It isn’t often that initial offers and subsequent contract prices are made public.  However, one transaction that recently surfaced demonstrates an important point.

When Alex Reyfman, former head of credit derivatives research for Bear Stearns, sold his co-op at 245 West 107th St. to William H. Ulfelder, who became the Nature Conservancy in New York’s director earlier this year, the price was $1,555,000.

This is what $1.555 million buys.

This is what $1.555 million buys.

The listing says the apartment has three bedrooms, a chef’s kitchen, a walk-in pantry, a 54-bottle wine refrigerator, a library, a 26.5-foot-long living room and white oak plank floors. Continue reading

My friend Dan renovates economically on schedule

It would almost never occur to me to believe the claims of a company that

Not Dans kitchen before, but one that demands renovation.

Not Dan's kitchen before, but one that demands a total renovation.

promised to save me much more money than any other one.  I’ve long believed that if something sounded too good to be true–well, you know the rest.

But I fell into conversation recently with Dan, a friend of mine from the gym.  He just finished the total renovation of his kitchen.  Not only did he save a ton of money  by having purchased all the merchandise from DirectBuy, but the process was efficient and the company quickly resolved a scheduling issue. Continue reading

Bruni and Carter: Separated at birth?

An engrossing excerpt from restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s forthcoming book, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, caught my eye in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

Fascinated, I read the account of his youthful indulgence, which so closely paralleled mine – thankfully, only up to a point.  But here are some tidbits that resonated:

  • As a youngster, he would demand and devour two hamburgers at a time, wanting more.  For my school lunch, my mother had to pack two sandwiches.
  • Bruni remembers almost everything about his childhood in terms of food.  I am told that when I was 2 years old and my folks engaged in a rare indulgence in a lobster at a restaurant, guess who ate the whole thing?  Of that I don’t have a specific recollection, but ah, those BLTs in later years, the slices of processed cheese smeared with French’s yellow mustard, the fresh (rather than canned) vegetables that I urged my mother to try cooking, the apple pie I mastered at 15.
  • He recalls, as well, ice cream smothered with his mother’s homemade chocolate sauce.  Continue reading

As landlords choke, Manhattan renters can cheer

Rents are falling, according to one brokerages latest report.

Rents are falling, according to one brokerage's latest report.

The numbers above speak for themselves with regard to the current rental situation.  As shown, the greatest change in the last 12 months has been in doorman one-bedroom units, for which rents tumbled 10.34% on average.

The statistics were compiled by the Real Estate Group, which commented: Continue reading

Hook, line and maybe sinker, some brokers hope

Anyone who has tried to rent or maybe even buy an apartment advertised on Craigslist knows the drill.  They call the broker, hear that place is gone and face a determined effort to keep them on the phone with promises of gold at the end of their particular rainbow.

Frequently, the listing is just fake and the product of, therefore, an unethical broker.

classifiedsStill, genuine listings can be found everywhere, not only on Craigslist but in the New York Times and on the Web sites of numerous real estate brokerages. Except. . . they are not what is implied: the individual broker’s exclusive listings.

These are called “open listings.” Continue reading

Visions of Silestone don’t dance in their heads

Bernie and Ruth used to entertain here; now theyre just entertaining.

Bernie and Ruth used to entertain here; now they're just entertaining.

In the old days, nothing energized prospective buyers more than the chance to impose their vision on their new homes, even if those apartments and townhouses had just been updated. Tear down those walls! Buy an even bigger Sub-Zero! Install built-in bookcases! Refinish the floors! Re-do the baths!  Get photographed for the New York Times!

No matter the condition of those purchases, they wanted the properties to reflect their own personality, taste, needs and aspirations. Thus, places that “needed work,” as the phrase goes, particularly resonated with such purchasers. They were eager to pay the carrying costs of two residences while work was done, put up with the inevitable frustrations of dealing with contractors, and spend and spend and spend to their heart’s delight.

They were flush with cash, filled with notions of modern design, and fated to go way over budget.

Those were the olden times of a couple of years ago, and those times now are long gone. Continue reading