Westside Real Estate Derby has Santa Monica Making a Run

KentuckyDerbyRaceThis headline is inspired by the upcoming Kentucky Derby as the year in luxury real estate is rounding the first quarter turn.  As a new report shows the favorite Beverly Hills in the lead with an long shot making big gains.

Santa Monica saw a drastic upswing in luxury home sales in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year, a market report released  last month.

While Beverly Hills remains the local leader in the sale of homes for more than $3 million, Santa Monica has joined Pacific Palisades, which saw a reduction in total sales, in a two-way tie for second place, according to Sotheby’s International Realty’s Greater Los Angeles Market Report, released April 13.

The report, which analyzed Q1 2016 against Q1 2015, found that 27 homes were sold in Beverly Hills, a 23 percent increase over the 22 homes sold last year. Santa Monica sold 24 luxury homes, an 85 percent increase over the 13 sold last year. Pacific Palisades, which also sold 24 homes, experienced a 20 percent reduction over the same period last year when it led the region with 30 luxury home sales.

The Santa Monica luxury housing market is booming as more and more buyers are attracted to beachfront locations near the iconic Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place. It has now joined Beverly Hills and the Pacific Palisades as a top destination for luxury buyers.

Billionaire Beach Anyone

Billionaire beach malibu carbon beachWith pristine views along one of Malibu’s most exclusive coastlines, Carbon Beach, also known as “Billionaire’s Beach,” has become home to many high-net-worth celebrities and homeowners. Owners of properties on Carbon Beach, Malibu, include Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, Larry Ellison, chief executive of the software giant Oracle, and David Geffen, co-founder of the DreamWorks film studios, and other business tycoons. Ellison loves Carbon Beach so much that he owns 10 properties there.

Extending just a mile along the Pacific Coast, the ultra-exclusive community of Carbon Beach houses only 90 residences owned by some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, alongside neighboring tech titans, attorneys and financiers. Carbon Beach is also home to the Malibu Beach Inn, a boutique hotel with a popular oceanfront restaurant.

What makes Carbon Beach so great — and expensive?

Locals talk about the breadth and dryness of the sand driving up prices to a minimum of $15 million for a small beachfront lot. And unlike Malibu Colony homes, the houses tend to be built right on the sand, with no seawall blocking the view of the beach from the patio. Carbon Beach’s relative exclusivity – in terms of price and public access – is its main selling point.

Carbon Beach residents are surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean and enjoy close proximity to a host of amenities including lifestyle destinations, such as Malibu Colony Plaza, Malibu Country Mart and the historic Malibu Pier. And in just a few minutes drive, you can find yourself dining at some of the most prestigious restaurants such as Mastro’s Ocean Club, Mr. Chow and Nobu Malibu, where internationally acclaimed chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s signature fusion cuisine is served in a chic dining room where every table enjoys ocean views.

Residents of Carbon Beach are surrounded by the best of Southern California’s outdoor living, with hiking, biking, equestrian trails, and even surf spots at Surfrider Beach, Little Dume and Zuma Beach available to its community members. The ultimate California lifestyle of the area beckons both full-time and part-time residents back again and again.

Los Angeles Luxury Real Estate Bidding Wars

los angeles luxury real estate marketFew real estate markets are as exciting or as interesting as the Los Angeles. Not only are many homes filled with rich histories or owned by celebrities, but the luxury homes here can often have some of the most fabulous amenities in the country. And to add to that ‘interesting’ factor, a new trend has shown up – bidding wars and all-cash offers.

In our latest luxury real estate market upswing we’ve already seen firsthand just how much people are willing to fight for the home that they want. The big factor driving things forward is simple – inventory levels for the high end of  the Los Angeles real estate market are lower than ever, and that’s especially true in the case of the luxury home market. This sudden shortage of homes being listed means that people are now ready to pay higher prices for the home that they want.

Recent data suggest that another housing bubble burst isn’t likely to occur any time soon. This is because today’s current price appreciation is not driven by speculation or high-risk loans. Instead, it’s just a simple economic formula of supply and demand. Values have already increased dramatically and it’s expected that they’ll rise by as much as 35% over the next 4 years.

That means two things. The first is that buying a home is trickier than ever, with bidding wars occurring on an almost regular basis and cash offers trying to help persuade sellers to accept an offer quickly.

The second is that this could be a great time to invest in the luxury home market and properties in the area. New developments from the Palladium Residences to Millennium Hollywood are offering chances to purchase homes in the area which could turn into valuable properties later. It’s an exciting time in the LA real estate market, and one that’s well worth taking a look at more closely.

Santa Monica Offers Luxurious Life of Liesure

Pier at NightSanta Monica has long been the image of the Southern California lifestyle, with its picturesque beachfront, bustling pier and iconic Ferris wheel. Local life revolves around the outdoors, evidenced by its boardwalk teeming with visitors, joggers and bikers enjoying the fresh, sea air and ocean vistas. The city offers a blend of laid-back beachy vibe and upscale cosmopolitan chic, with a thriving downtown that offers some of L.A.’s best dining, shopping and healthful amenities. As L.A.’s Westside continues to grow in popularity, Santa Monica has become one of the city’s most sought-after neighborhoods, enticing a diverse population of young families, students, surfers, yogis, entertainment execs and entrepreneurs.

Santa Monica is renowned for its healthy and notoriously active lifestyle, home to not one, but four farmers’ markets overflowing with colorful produce every week, including the ever popular Wednesday morning market on Arizona Avenue.  Numerous fitness offerings include the well-known Equinox and SoulCycle as well as top-rated yoga studios.  Residents jog the beach bluffs, climb the infamous Santa Monica stairs and bike along the beach paths, enjoying the city’s Breeze Bike Share program, a 500-bike system presented by Hulu.

Additionally, Santa Monica will soon offer better accessibility to Downtown Los Angeles when the EXPO Light Rail connection opens on May 20. It will mark the first time in 53 years Santa Monica residents have been able to hop a train for easy access to Downtown and the rest of the city.

With its perfect blend of relaxed seaside style and walkable urban appeal, Santa Monica remains among L.A.’s most in-demand real estate markets while inventory, specifically for new construction product, remains at an all-time low. There are still deals to make, please contact me with any questions.

Luxury Real Estate and the Elections

real-estate-and-elections-300x282With the national elections ramping up, many voters already have voter fatigue (also called voter apathy). That is, we’re already so tired of hearing about the elections that we don’t bother to vote at all. In fact, voter apathy is quite high in the United States: Somewhere between a third to a half of eligible voters do not vote in national elections and even fewer vote in local elections.

But, “the likelihood that a homeowner will vote in a local election is 65%, compared to 54% for renters” and they are 3% more likely to vote in national elections than renters.

Here’s why not voting is a bad idea:

  1. Local elections can affect the marketability of your home

The value of your home is determined by a variety of factors, one of which is the rating of the local schools and another is the infrastructure of the community (the age and condition of the bridges, roads, drainage, street lights and other municipal projects). When a municipal bond issue comes up for vote, the outcome can affect both your bottom line through property and sales taxes, and the community desirability via new roads, better schools and protection from flooding (for example).

  1. National elections can affect home prices

The affect on home sales prices is not because of the specific outcome of the elections, but because consumers become more nervous about the economy during election years. When larger blocks of homeowners vote, they are placing their trust in the economy and the expectation that home values will rise.

  1. Direct effect on property taxes:

Some propositions have direct effect on your property taxes and the sharing or distribution of municipal expenses. For instance, in an upcoming election in Texas, directly changes the amount that a homeowner is able to exempt from property taxes (the homestead exemption) and makes that change a constitutional amendment … meaning that it takes another vote of the State’s entire electorate to change it. You might think that this would raise marketability to non-child families and lower marketability to families with children, but proponents believe that instead, it will increase home values across the board, thereby increasing tax revenue to schools.

One aspect of participating in local elections is that the homeowner gets to know what is important to other people in their community. Being part of a community is one of the benefits of homeownership. Connecting with your neighbors to improve your schools, streets and bridges can bring a sense of civic pride and camaraderie to your neighborhood.

As your local real estate professional we can indicate which areas in your neighborhood adversely affect the market value of your home. If you can help improve those things now, you should, so that when you’re ready to sell, your home’s value is at its highest.

The Upside of Downsizing Your Home

Downsizing your homeMost people think of downsizing as something you do in retirement. It can happen when the kids leave home or retirement looms or your first grandchild is born hundreds of miles away. You start to think about leaving a house that’s now too big for you and downsizing to a smaller house or condo or a retirement community. So, you sell the large family home to moving to a smaller, retirement-style home, free up some cash and have more to spend on leisure.

To many, downsizing is a negative: smaller house, less space, cutting back. But, downsizing can be an important step in “upsizing” your life. You just have to determine what “downsizing” means to you.

Smaller Space, Bigger Life

Moving to a smaller space (as in “fewer square feet”) doesn’t have to mean that you have less living space. Many family homes have large square-footage cut up into little spaces to house multiple family members. When downsizing from a large family home, look for a layout that maximizes the living space so that you don’t feel closed in. That might mean an open floor plan, more windows, adding outdoor living space, foregoing formal spaces or even choosing a wall-less loft.

An important idea to keep in mind is that downsizing shouldn’t mean moving into a smaller version of what you already have. Moving from a four-bedroom/three-bath 5000 square-foot home into a four-bedroom/three-bath 1800 square-foot home just feels cramped and crowded. Moving your living area, home office and master bedroom into an 1800 square-foot two bedroom, open floor plan, however, can seem like a mansion. In fact, some people find that fewer rooms mean more living area to enjoy.

Less space doesn’t necessarily translate into less money. For example, you may long to live downtown, You may find the lifestyle you want in an active-adult community or a continuing-care retirement community

Freed-Up Cash? Or, Freed-Up Life?

Okay, yes, for some people, the purpose of downsizing is to free up cash for other things. If however, freeing up cash isn’t your aim—for example, if you need to reinvest all the money from the sale of your family-sized home as part of your financial plan—downsizing into an upscale high-rise condominium or townhome in your favorite urban area can massively upgrade your lifestyle.

Think of it … spend your evening at the theatre, dining out or entertaining friends at the rooftop pool. Just being able to lock the door and head to the airport for some long-anticipated trip without having to arrange for a house-sitter, lawn-care and yard work, or the myriad other requirements of property frees you to travel on a whim, be spontaneous, grab a good deal on a weekend cruise or visit the kids and grandkids as often as you like.

Even if you can’t afford a luxury place, where you locate your new home can free up your life from the tedious efforts of maintaining a larger property. If having freedom to do other things is important to your new life goals, make certain your real estate professional knows: lifestyle options may exist that you’ve never thought of.

If you’ve thought about downsizing, your real estate professional can help you determine the best options for your lifestyle and goals.

How Accurate is Your Zestimate

zestimateI am often asked about the accuracy of home valuations available online. I generally reply that Zillow and the other sites are a good place to start if you want to get a general estimate of what your home is worth. A “Zestimate” will give you a property value range, based on public records of the property’s:

  • Physical attributes
  • tax assessments
  • Prior transaction data

The drawback? These estimates are generated by a computer, not a knowledgeable real estate professional. Improvements and defects are not taken into consideration. Intangible features like ocean view, curb appeal, high-traffic streets and other factors are not considered. The estimate is really more of a snapshot of the overall market than an accurate estimate of a particular homes value.

If you are serious about selling, you will need more than a general estimate. Your homes unique features will need to be considered in order to reach an accurate estimate of its current value. An accurate comparable market analysis is based on:

  • Property type and size
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Age, condition and style
  • Location and appeal

To gather the data necessary for an accurate analysis it is necessary to research the Multiple Listing Service data, preview comparable properties or view online photos and compare that data to the subject property. Zillow and other home valuation tools are important in today’s market and certainly make interesting reading, but they are not a replacement for a professional opinion.

Are you thinking about selling your home? Call me today for a comparable market analysis. I will do the necessary research to determine an accurate valuation of your property. Of course there is no cost for the service or obligation.

Eco Friendly Home Tech That Really Works – Run Your Home on a Battery

tesla-powerwallThe biggest challenge to solar energy is the inability to both capture it and store it in any meaningful way. In fact, while efficiency in capturing solar power has increased from about 15 percent of most solar panel models to 35 percent efficiency in the higher ends, even when captured the energy grid is unable to store and regulate its flow throughout the day.

Enter the Tesla Powerwall

Elon Musk, CEO of electric carmaker Tesla Motors, announced earlier this year that Tesla’s new Powerwall for the home and Powerpack for commercial use already garnered 38,000 preorders. The Tesla Powerwall offers 92 percent efficiency in DC round-trip power.

Here are the basics: The Powerwall home battery charges via electricity generated by solar panels. As solar energy wanes throughout the evening or on a cloudy day, the battery supplies energy back to your home instead of pushing it into the public power grid. The Powerwall also offers energy during a power outage, so homeowners in storm-prone areas or country homes with unreliable utility service can access emergency power.

The Powerwall utilizes a lithium ion battery with technology similar to that in Tesla automobiles and installs on the wall of your garage, basement or even outdoors. The sleek-looking unit is shipped in a self-contained, space-saving unit that can be mounted up on any wall, even in a closet. One can combine two or more batteries to get even more power. The fact that it is wall-mounted is vital, because it means you don’t have to have a battery room … filled with nasty batteries … It’s designed to work very well with solar systems right out of the box.

For larger homes, or those with higher power consumption requirements, multiple batteries can be installed together with up to 90 kWh total available power. Each battery in its weather resistant enclosure is just 51.2 inches by 33.9 inches and only 7.1 inches deep.  The system uses rooftop solar panels connected to the Powerwall and an inverter that directs current from both the solar panels and the Powerwall battery into your home’s alternating current power system.

For an example of how much energy your home uses in the day, consider that your refrigerator consumption is commonly 4.8 kWh/day (kilowatt hour per day) while your washer and dryer together equal about 5.6 kWh/day. Add to that your lights, laptop, flat screen television or stereo and you’re looking at about 2.5 kWh/day additional consumption. Of course, the first question that comes to mind for a cutting –edge home technology like this is the cost. According to Tesla Motors specifications, the home-sized batteries cost just $3000 for the 7-kWh model and $3500 for the 10-kWh version. Each comes with a 10-year warranty. If you’re looking for an energy efficient home that conforms to the requirements for solar panels, let your real estate professional know. We can optimize your search so that you find the home that is just right f

Are We Nearing Another Real Estate Bubble?

Housing_Bubble_articleThe “bubble” word has reentered the real estate conversation and with it, much worried comparison between current market conditions and those of the mid-2000s housing bubble.

It’s easy to see why the word has been resuscitated: thanks to low inventory levels coupled with burgeoning buyer demand, many markets are indeed becoming frothy. Bidding wars have erupted in the most desirable neighborhoods and some buyers have started adopting pre-2007 tricks to win those face-offs including worrisome non-contingent offers at full asking price or higher.

Last week, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released their Existing Home Sales Report. The report announced that the median existing-home price in June surpassed the peak median sales price set in July 2006. This revelation created many headlines in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today exclaiming that home prices had hit a “new record”.

Does this mean we have another problem on our hands? Not really… Even after adjusting for inflation, median prices aren’t a great barometer because they can be distorted by the “mix” of what’s selling. In 2009, for example, median prices plunged in part because an unusually large share of homes were selling out of foreclosure. Bank-owned homes tended to cluster at lower price points both because they weren’t as well maintained and mortgage companies were motivated to sell quickly to cut any losses. Prices were already falling, of course, but looking at changes in median prices probably overstated the rate of decline. There may be other reasons to worry abo ut housing affordability by comparing prices with incomes or prices with rents for a given market. But crude comparisons of nominal home prices with their 2006 and 2007 levels shouldn’t be used to make claims about a new bubble.

But before we start worrying about unsustainable home prices and the future bubble they could inflate, let’s take a look at several factors emerging now that will likely make that worrisome run-up in home prices slow down in coming months.

  1. Inventory Levels Won’t Stay Tight – As prices increase more owners become right-sided on their mortgages, a financial factor that enables them to more easily list and sell their homes. Confidence among prospective sellers is rising, with 40% of Americans believing now is a good time to sell, according to a Fannie Mae survey
  2. The Mix Of Homes Is Changing – Both that dwindling supply and the subsequent rise in prices have led to a decrease in distressed sales. Simultaneously, as distressed activity ebbs, luxury sales have surged, also pushing median prices higher.
  3. Mortgage Rates Are Rising – While those rising rates will do little to actually derail housing’s recovery, they will put downward pressure on the dramatic run-up in home prices.

Bottom line, home values are appreciating. However, they are not increasing at a rate that we should have fears of a new housing bubble around the corner.

Home Buyers Interested in Down Payment More Than Rates

lower down payment Changes in down payment requirements have more influence over home buyers’ willingness to buy than changes in mortgage rates, according to a new study published by economists at the New York Federal Reserve.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations found evidence that buyers and renters impact of interest rates is highly overrated compared to the impact of even small changes in down payment requirements. The study found that decreasing the required down payment from 20% to 5% increases the willingness to purchase on the average about 15% among all buyers and 40% among renters.  Decreasing interest rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, though it would save the buyer much more than the lower down payment, raised the willingness to purchase a home by only 5% on average.

A key takeaway is that the effect of a change in down payment requirements on housing demand strongly depends on households’ financial situation. For instance, a loosening of down payment requirements will have little effect on the willingness to purchase for a new home of current owners with substantial equity, or of renters with substantial liquid savings.  The results also imply that macroprudential measures such as a loan-to-value (LTV) cap may predominantly affect the lower end of the housing market, and that the effect on house prices will depend on the state of the economy and other asset markets,” said economists Andreas Fuster and Basit Zafar of the New York Federal Reserve.

Wealthy Chinese Flood Market With Special Federal Program

chinese real estate investorsThe Chinese are coming here with their money, and, often, with their families. Rather than seeing China as the land of opportunity, more Chinese have been establishing homes in America, particularly in California, where they account for roughly one-third of foreign homebuyers, with upward of 70 percent paying cash. Overall Chinese investment in U.S. real estate has grown from $50 million in 2000 to $14 billion in 2013, surpassing all other foreign investors.

Chinese are buying U.S. homes and investing in U.S. mega-developments. Chinese home shoppers spent $28.6 billion on U.S. homes in the year ending in March, double the amount two years earlier, the National Association of Realtors reported. At least $10 billion of that went to buying homes in California.

In addition, Chinese citizens seeking green cards are a growing source of cash for housing and commercial developments under a federal program known as EB-5. The program allows foreign investors to get permanent U.S. residency for themselves, their spouse and children under 21 if they invest enough to create at least 10 jobs here. EB-5 investors in 2014 claimed the full 10,000-visa allotment by August. This year’s allotment was gone by May. More than 80 percent of the visas are going to Chinese citizens.

Since most foreign investors don’t have the ability to create their own businesses, designated organizations pool cash from multiple investors, funneling the money into job-creating development projects. Minimum investments range from $500,000 to $1 million. The most recent data available shows EB-5 investments totaled almost $2 billion in 2013, of which $317 million was spent in residential and commercial real estate development, according to Invest in the USA, an industry trade group.

EB-5 spending in the county, totaled $25.1 million in 2013, up from $2.1 million, Invest in the USA reported. “It’s very hard to get residency here. EB-5 is a foolproof way,” Fieldstone said. EB-5 money also is helping to finance the Hunters Point Shipyard and Treasure Island projects, two San Francisco housing developments managed by Orange County-based FivePoint Communities, he said.

Is Another Housing Bubble Forming

Housing_Bubble_articleA lot of forces came together in the early 2000s to fuel the US housing boom while putting it at risk of its ultimate crash.  Two trends related to loose lending standards stand out: 1) lots of new homebuyers were able to get mortgages, and 2) many of those new borrowers were able to do so by putting very little money up front. Combining these two forces, you got a massively leveraged housing market.

After the housing market bust we experienced  in 2008, many experts have been quick to warn that a new bubble may be forming in some areas of the country. There’s not yet a bubble, despite factors reminiscent of the last housing bubble, including low interest rates and somewhat lax rules on down payments for first time buyers. But this is no longer the case. And this lower leverage may be the most important difference between the housing market today and the housing bubble because it reduces the risk of a major downturn.

The biggest challenge facing the housing market right now is the lack of inventory available for sale. Prices are determined by supply and demand. If prices continue to outpace inflation and income in these areas, that can eventually become a problem. Right now buyer demand is out-pacing seller supply, across many price ranges, driving prices up.Current homeowners list their home to either trade up or downsize, opening up inventory for first-time buyers to come in. One can’t happen without the other. But current homeowners aren’t flooding the market with “For Sale” signs. Some are worried they won’t be able to find a new house or they’re still waiting to recoup their home’s value lost in the crash.

If you are a homeowner debating listing your home for sale this, now is the time, meet with a local real estate professional who can guide you through the process.

Asian Ultra Rich Buying Trophy Properties

super-rich-asianThe ranks of the super-rich are swelling, but nowhere faster than in Asia. Ultra-high-net-worth individuals, classified as having a net worth of more than $30-million (U.S.) each, are snapping up properties all over the world.

Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Sydney, and Toronto were found to be the most desirable cities for the affluent home buyer last year, according to the recently released 2015 Luxury Defined report from Christie’s International Real Estate.

The average starting price for a luxury home around the globe is $2-million. Beverly Hills, where luxury begins at $8-million, has the highest price entry point.

Ultra-high-net-worth individuals are looking to diversify their portfolios into different asset groups, one of which is luxury real estate. They’re looking for a safe place to invest at a reasonable rate of return. Just as some ultra-rich buy masterpieces of art or exquisite jewels, an emerging trend in the luxury market is the “trophy home. The trophy home is becoming effectively a collectible asset class.  The ultra-high end of the real estate market established new benchmarks for price in 2014, with buyers buoyed by the global economic recovery and soaring stock market prices. Five properties around the world changed hands for more than $100-million. In the same way people may buy a Picasso, those same buyers are now buying some of those trophy properties. Trophy is the new buzzword in luxury real estate.

Asia had the highest growth rate in its super-rich population last year, increasing by 3.5 per cent compared with the global average of 3.1 per cent, according to the 2015 Wealth Report by Knight Frank, an international property consultancy. Real estate is increasingly seen as a mainstream investment class, accounting for 38 per cent of an investment portfolio on average among the ultra-wealthy in Asia.

Asia’s ultra-wealthy population will surpass that of North America in the next 10 years by 11 per cent. The especially affluent in Asia hold more in total wealth than those in North America, with net assets of $5.9-trillion and $5.5-trillion respectively. The super-rich in China and Hong Kong own the most number of homes, at 4.7 and 4.6 respectively, compared with the global average of three.

Ultra-high-net-worth property investors are becoming increasingly confident and are looking to diversify their property portfolios by exploring new asset classes and locations. They invest in these key cities as they’re deemed to be safe haven and have a historical trend of good capital appreciation.  And the Asian investors are flocking to the West Coast.

Trophy Property Where All The Rage Last Year

trophy propertyAs the global economy continues its recovery, record sale prices of luxury goods and luxury homes continue to capture headlines and intrigue the buying public around the world. What we are seeing in our current market is that $100 million is now the benchmark for this ultra-exclusive category, as more consumers move to collect “trophy” properties. More properties above $100 million were listed in 2014 than ever before.

As the number of wealthy individuals rises, inventory in coveted markets is dwindling and extravagance is spreading to new areas. A thriving real estate market tends to have a cascading effect across the luxury sector, with consumers turning to other categories after a property is secured. Location, lifestyle, and provenance, particularly at the top end of the luxury residential real estate market, are the hallmarks of value and often equally as important as price when high net worth individusals consider a property purchase.

The traditional luxury market has often been pegged at $1 million and higher, according to Christie’s. The ultra-affluent, however, regularly escalate the benchmark. London and Beverly Hills, CA have the highest entry-points with luxury homes starting at $6 and $8 million, respectively. High-value urban market sales rose 15 percent from the year-ago period, largely because of millennials growing up and baby boomers transitioning into new phases of life.,Cities are still performing strongly, not at the levels we saw in 2014, but we expect 2015 to see sustained, healthy growth from major economic hubs. Second home markets led the growth of high-value sales in 2014,

As the global affluent continue to thrive, markets everywhere will rejuvenate.

Don’t Pay Too Much Property Tax

PropertyTax_jpg_800x1000_q100When tax time rolls around, many homeowners are surprised at the amount of property tax they owe. If you disagree with the stated value of your property, it’s worth a closer look to see if your bill has increased fairly. Statistics vary by area, but experts estimate that between 30 and 60 percent of taxable property in the United States is over-assessed, and this leads to higher property tax bills. Yet typically fewer than 5 percent of taxpayers challenge their assessments, even though the majority who do so win at least a partial victory when properly prepared. Are your property taxes too high?

To be sure you’re not paying more than you should, check the following factors.

Basic errors

First, verify that there are no mistakes on your property card — a document that records information such as dimensions, acreage and value. Errors like these can — and do — occur, and they’re actually quite common. But you won’t know about discrepancies if you haven’t seen your home’s card and reviewed it carefully. Get a copy at the town hall, bringing any errors to the immediate attention of the assessor

Comps

After you pull your home’s property card, take a look at a few of your neighbors’ cards — specifically, neighbors who have homes that are similar to yours in terms of age, size, style, condition and location. How do their assessments line up with yours?

Caps

There is often a cap on the maximum amount that property taxes on primary residences may be increased — but it’s up to you to make sure you’re being protected by it. For example, California’s constitution mandates that property taxes on primary residences cannot exceed 1% of the property’s market value and that the assessed taxable value of a property cannot go up by more than 2% a year unless the property is sold — regardless of how much the property may increase in value in market terms.

Exemptions

Are you taking advantage of special exemptions? Some states offer tax reductions for veterans, the disabled, and senior citizens. Some also provide reductions for historic buildings and special energy-efficient systems. Ask about these — and other incentives for tax reductions — that you may be eligible for. It’s worth a shot.

Is Owner Financing a Good Idea for Home Sellers?

buyers-sellers street signIn this current market, with home prices trending up, but access to financing is more difficult post housing bubble. So, if you want to sell your home, is it a good idea to offer seller financing?

What does seller-financing mean?

An alternative form of financing seen during a seller’s real estate market is owner or seller financing or owner carryback. This means the owner participates in financing the buyer’s purchase of the property, either in whole or in part.

Unlike a traditional bank mortgage where a lump sum is given to the buyer to purchase the home, seller financing means that the seller allows the buyer to make payments directly back to the seller. Most often, the homebuyer signs a promissory note with the seller that outlines the selling price, the interest rate, repayment schedule and even the consequences if the buyer defaults.

In most cases, a seller-financed note is short-term. Since most sellers don’t want to carry a note for 15 to 30 years, the typical note is for around five years with a balloon payment at the end where the buyer secures a standard loan for the remaining balance.

Unless the seller and buyer have an experienced real estate broker assisting him or her in an owner finance, the chances for serious problems arising from the transaction can be significant to both the seller and the buyer.

Is it good for the seller?

Sellers may choose to offer financing for any number of reasons, but some include:

Being able to sell “as is.” If your home requires costly repairs, selling through owner financing may allow you to pass those costs on to the buyer instead.

Potential investment income. Buyers looking for owner financing may be willing to pay a higher interest rate to you than you would receive through any other type of investment. Typically, you must own the home free and clear, and the buyer takes on taxes, insurance and any association dues so all income from the payments goes to the seller.

Opening up the purchase to additional buyers. Potential homeowners that were hit with difficulty during the housing bubble may not be able to get traditional financing even though they are now able to make mortgage payments. Self-employed or contractor may not be able to get favorable loans due to tighter underwriting requirements and may desire purchasing through seller financing.

Some possible pitfalls include what happens if the buyer defaults. If the promissory note is executed correctly, the seller gets the home back along with all of the monies paid to date. At that time the seller is free to sell the home again, but the “buyers” may leave behind damage and the need for costly repairs.

Some things to consider

If you are new to owner financing, make sure to work with a real estate attorney and a professional real estate agent to make sure the sales contract and promissory note fully protect you. There may be tax ramifications to seller financing, so be sure to contact your CPA or tax professional.

The most common problem arising out of an owner finance of a sale to the buyer is when the seller’s loan comes due for payment. Many times the buyer makes a claim that there are problems with the home that were not disclosed by the seller before close of escrow in an attempt to reduce the balance owed on the loan.

Since it is in your interest for your buyer to be able to refinance at the end of the note, offer to report the payments to credit reporting agencies to help build your buyer’s credit score. While individuals typically cannot report directly to these agencies—they have strict lender guidelines—services like Virgin Money can manage and report payments for you to alternative credit reporting companies such as PRBC, that many mainstream lenders now refer to for information on potential mortgagees.

On its face, an owner financing situation seems like a good idea. However, if the transaction is not properly supervised by an experienced real estate brokerfor both the seller and the buyer, many hidden traps may emerge.

If you’re considering selling your home, and wonder about seller financing, talk to us. We can help connect you with professionals to guide you through the process while we market your home.

Tight Inventory Challenges Propel Home Prices

spring home salesA fourth national market report has added to the evidence that winter inventories are extraordinarily—even dangerously—low.  Realtor.com has joined RE/MAX, NAR and Zillow in reporting levels significantly below last year.

The dramatic drop in listings tracked by REMAX echoed findings by NAR, Realtor.com and Zillow that supplies are tighter than they were last year and even two years ago when lack of supply sparked double digit prices increases and bubbles in several California markets

The realtor.com January National Housing Trend Report shows that inventory has decreased 6.7 percent month over month and 8.7 percent year over year.

Sales were also down dramatically from December. the number of home sales decreased 32.1 percent from a robust December and were nearly 5 percent below sales in January 2014, according to the National Association of Realtors. Typically, January closings are lower than those in December. Higher prices, coupled with weak supply, caused an unexpectedly large drop in January home sales.

Most markets are struggling to achieve the proper balance of homes for sale and qualified buyers, said realtor.com.  Low inventory has become a national challenge as homeowners opt to stay put longer—a record 10 years—rather than move up and move on. Most housing markets are appreciating in value as homes sell faster. In fact, prices increased 8.8% in January over 2014, according to the report.

On a year-over-year basis, the Median Sales Price has now risen for 36 consecutive months. Price appreciation is the result of pressure from year-over-year inventory losses. Inventory has dropped by roughly 10 percent for the last three months. There is strong demand, but it is hitting a roadblock in supply. Potential buyers are saying they can’t find a home that meets their needs and/or budget.

We are not seeing enough growth in inventory to support recovering demand Prices will therefore continue to rise in a market when demand outstrips supply. Home prices are beginning to grow at a faster pace again, which is not good for the spring market. Sticker shock was behind weak sales in 2014, but as price gains began to ease, buyers came back. Now prices are heating up again due to severely weak supply.

3 Things You Don’t Want to Hear From Your Realtor

bad realtorYou’ve decided to sell your house. You begin to interview potential real estate agents to help you through the process. You need someone you trust enough to:

Set the market value on possibly the largest asset your family owns (your home)

Set the time schedule for the successful liquidation of that asset

Set the fee for the services required to liquidate that asset

An agent must be concerned first and foremost about you and your family in order to garner that degree of trust. Make sure this is the case.  Be careful if the agent you are interviewing begins the interview by:

  1. Bragging about their success
  2. Bragging about their company’s success

    An agent’s success and the success of their company can be important considerations when deciding on the right real estate professional to represent you in the sale of the house. However, you first need to know they care about what you need and what you expect from the sale. If the agent is not interested in first establishing your needs, how successful they may seem is much less important.Look for someone with the ‘heart of a teacher’ who comes in prepared well enough to explain the current real estate market and patient enough to take the time to show how it may impact the sale of your home. Not someone only interested in trying to sell you on how great they are.

  3. “You Know, As it Happens, I’m Also a Mortgage Broker”Some real estate professionals believe it is necessary to supplement their income by wearing a variety of different hats. As anybody who has been through getting a mortgage loan can tell you, it can’t be that much work to print out 99 pages of documents to sign. The trouble is it’s not as simple as it looks, and to be a loan specialist requires a ton of training, experience and knowledge. To avoid a conflict of interest, I advise hiring separate real estate professionals who specialize in their line of work, and do not allow your real estate agent to package your mortgage financing or vice versa.

    You have many agents from which to choose. Pick someone who truly cares.

Chinese Spending Billions on California Real Estate

california real estate marketWealthy Chinese with a few million yuan to burn will spend billions on U.S. real estate in the years ahead, according to a report released Wednesday by CB Richard Ellis, a large global real estate firm.

The United States is the country of choice for China buyers.  Canada and Australia come in next at No. 2 and No. 3 respectively. That rich Chinese individuals and savvy corporations are buying up real estate in world class cities is no surprise at this point.

News of new Chinese real estate deals are popping up every quarter.  Similar moves happened with the Japanese back in the 1980s. Now it’s China’s turn. And by most estimates, they are snatching up high end real estate in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, in particular. In California, China is the third largest foreign buyer of real estate, following Mexico and people from the Philippines, according to Realtor.org.  Across the country, however, Chinese purchasers bought over $10 billion of U.S. real estate in 2011 and account for 9% of foreign U.S. house buyers, second only to Canadians, according to Juwai.com, a Chinese real estate website geared towards international home shoppers.

By comparison, and across the 50 states, the Chinese buy more U.S. homes than Indians, Mexicans or the British. While Mexicans are big in California and all across the south, China still ranks within the top five foreign nationalities buying real estate in 44 states.  China, for instance, is ahead of Mexican buyers throughout the more costly Northeast. They already are the number one foreign buyer group in states like West Virginia and Massachusetts. They are number two in New York, Maine, Indiana, Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming and Hawaii.

Companies are starting to cater to this niche globe trotter looking for their dream home. The Chinese are interested in real estate as both investment opportunities and also second homes outside of China. The properties they purchase as their own personal homes tend to be in the $1 million to $5 million range whereas as investment purchases range from $500,000 to $2 million, according to Affinity China.

Residential properties are as hot as commercial ones right now. Home prices in the U.S., coupled with economic uncertainties and tight regulations designed to curb a housing bubble in China, are driving record Chinese investments in the U.S. residential and commercial real estate markets, according to the Asia Society, a multinational think tank with offices throughout the U.S. and Asia Pacific.

What You Need to Know About Your Listing Agent

questions-which-you-must-ask-your-real-estate-agent-1-638Are you thinking of selling your house? Are you dreading having to deal with strangers walking through the house? Are you concerned about getting the paperwork correct? Hiring a professional real estate agent can take away most of the challenges of selling. A great agent is always worth more than the commission they charge just like a great doctor or great accountant.

Real estate agents are key to buying or selling a home, but not all agents are created equal.You want to deal with one of the best agents in your marketplace. To do this, you must be able to distinguish the average agent from the great one. Having a good rapport and feeling comfortable with the agent is imperative since you’ll have to disclose personal information, like your wish list, finances and timelines. “If you don’t get along with this person and don’t like their style, no matter how good they are, it’s a long process and you want to have a good working relationship with your realtor

Here are the top 5 demands to make of your Real Estate Agent when selling your house:

1. Tell the truth about the price

Too many agents just take the listing at any price and then try to the ‘work the seller’ for a price correction later. Demand that the agent prove to you that they have a belief in the price they are suggesting. Make them show you their plan to sell the house at that price – TWICE! Every house in today’s market must be sold two times – first to a buyer and then to the bank.

The second sale may be more difficult than the first. The residential appraisal process has gotten tougher. Surveys show that there was a challenge with the appraisal on almost 20% of all residential real estate transactions. It has become more difficult to get the banks to agree on the contract price. A red flag should be raised if your agent is not discussing this with you at the time of the listing.

2. Understand the timetable with which your family is dealing

You will be moving your family to a new home. Whether the move revolves around the start of a new school year or the start of a new job, you will be trying to put the move to a plan.

This can be very emotionally draining. Demand from your agent an appreciation for the timetables you are setting. Your agent cannot pick the exact date of your move, but they should exert any influence they can, to make it work.

3. Remove as many of the challenges as possible

It is imperative that your agent knows how to handle the challenges that will arise. An agent’s ability to negotiate is critical in this market.

Remember: If you have an agent who was weak negotiating with you on the parts of the listing contract that were most important to them and their family (commission, length, etc.), don’t expect them to turn into a super hero when they are negotiating for you and your family with the buyer.

4. Can I talk to your three most recent clients?

Talking directly with former clients will give you a better understanding of an agent’s style. Ask whether an agent’s clients are mostly from referrals or repeat business — it’s a sign that clients have had good experiences with the agent.

5. Get the house SOLD!

There is a reason you are putting yourself and your family through the process of moving.

You are moving on with your life in some way. The reason is important or you wouldn’t be dealing with the headaches and challenges that come along with selling. Do not allow your agent to forget these motivations. Constantly remind them that selling the house is why you hired them. Make sure that they don’t worry about your feelings more than they worry about your family. If they discover something needs to be done to attain your goal (i.e. price correction, repair, removing clutter), insist they have the courage to inform you.

How Do I Increase My Home Value?

improve your home chicagoA common question for prospective home sellers is “How can I increase my home’s value or get a higher selling price?” In our earlier articles on this subject, we discuss low budget and economical fixes and upgrades that can increase the perceived value of your home. In this article, we discuss those higher cost items that only give you a high return on your investment if you have high equity in your home or will lose more money if it doesn’t sell quickly.

Many buyers look for a home they can move into immediately. While the specifics depend on the age and condition of your home, here are the priority renovations that increase your home’s appeal and return on investment potential.

  • Kitchen. No matter what the other advantages of your home, if the buyers do not like the kitchen, they are less likely to make an offer. new appliances. New, matching appliances including ovens and stovetops or ranges, dishwashers, refrigerators, microwaves and refrigerators instantly update a kitchen. So, if you are planning major upgrades, head to the kitchen first.
  • Paint, refinish or replace the cabinets. If your cabinets are dated, damaged or dark, consider replacing them or painting them with a lighter, newer version that still fits into the home’s style. If you’ve never painted cabinets, consider hiring a professional since they are more difficult than painting walls, and poorly painted cabinets actually decrease the appeal of your kitchen.
  • Replace countertops. If granite is all the rage in your neighborhood and comparable homes have granite countertops, consider this upgrade. Granite requires professional installation to measure, cut and polish the rock correctly. A less expensive version, granite tile, is easier to install, but has less overall value.
  • Add Upgrade lighting, fans and fixtures to match the style of your new cabinets and countertops.
  • Kitchen floors with carpeting, vinyl or worn and broken tile should be replaced with new ceramic or other tile, wood, or another new product. Make sure you only replace kitchen floors with flooring that can handle the traffic, spills and constant cleaning that a kitchen requires.
  • Bathrooms. No new homeowners want to feel as if they are using someone else’s bathroom. Replace the vanity, sink and toilet. Use low-flow toilets, water-saving faucets and other green products. Replace the floor and shower surround with a neutral tile. If your bathroom has a built-in tub/shower replace it or have it professionally refinished to look fresh and new.
  • Living areas. Carpets harbor dirt, dust mites and stains. Replacing the carpet in major living areas with hardwood increases the visual appeal of your home. As an instant upgrade, hardwood gives your home that updated look. It also attracts buyers that cannot live in carpeted homes for health reasons.
  • Heating, air conditioning and water heater
  • These major home appliances often are out-of-sight and out-of-mind, but a new buyer wants to know they’ll work when they need them.
  • Exteriors. To increase the value of your home, improve the “R” rating and make your home more economical, consider replacing the roof, insulation, siding and windows. If your home has hail or other storm damage, check with your homeowner’s insurance to see if they will cover the replacement. Using better quality, energy-saving products gives your home more curb appeal and buyers know they won’t have to worry about leaks and drafts when weather hits.

Let us help …

We can assess the potential R.O.I. for these and similar upgrades to your home. Call us for an evaluation of your home’s fair market value.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Selling Your Home

PrintWhen you prepare to put your home on the market, you hope that everything will go the way you imagine and that is your home will sell for over listing price the very first day it goes on the market. The reality isn’t so rosy. Selling your home – especially if you’ve never done it before – can be surprisingly time-consuming and emotionally challenging. Strangers will come into your home and poke around in your closets and cabinets. They will criticize a place that has probably become more than just four walls and a roof to you, and then, to top it all off, they will offer you less money than you think your home is worth.

With no experience and a complex, emotional transaction on your hands, it’s easy for first-time homesellers to make lots of mistakes, but with a little know-how, many of these pitfalls can be avoided altogether. Read on to find out how you can get the highest possible price for your home within a reasonable time frame – without losing your mind. So if you’re thinking of doing any of the following five no-no’s, stop yourself right now.

Mistake No.1 – Getting Emotionally Involved
Once you decide to sell your home, it can be helpful to start thinking of yourself as a businessperson and a homeseller rather than as the home’s owner. By looking at the transaction from a purely financial perspective, you’ll distance yourself from the emotional aspects of selling the property that you’ve undoubtedly created many memories in. Also, try to remember how you felt when you were shopping for that home. Most buyers will also be in an emotional state. If you can remember that you are selling not just a piece of property but also an image, a dream and a lifestyle, you’ll be more likely to put in the extra effort of staging and perhaps some minor remodeling to get top dollar for your home.

Mistake No.2 – Hiring the first realtor you meet.
Selling your home is one of the largest transactions you’ll ever have, so why wouldn’t you interview several applicants to help you? You can ask friends and family for referrals, but there are several questions you should ask. Make sure the agents you interview are experienced selling homes in your neighborhood and the type of home you want to sell. To get the listing, potential agents may employ a number of strategies, including suggesting or agreeing with you to list a high price for your home. Don’t fall for it. Choose the agent who is straight with you, about the market and about your home.

Mistake No.3 – Ignoring the market.
Every market is different and those differences can impact the sales price of your home, the number of days your home spends on the market, and whether your home sells or not. You have to face the reality of market conditions to influence the success of your home’s sale. If home prices are going up, you’ll do well, but it will be more expensive to purchase your next home, unless you move to a less expensive market or home. And if prices are going down, you may not net what you were hoping for, but your next purchase may be a bargain, if you stay in the same area.

Mistake No.4 – Trying to Hide Significant Problems
Any problem with the property will be uncovered during the buyer’s inspection, so there’s no use hiding it. Either fix the problem ahead of time, price the property below market value to account for the problem, or list the property at a normal price but offer the buyer a credit to fix the problem. Realize that if you don’t fix the problem in advance, you may turn away a fair number of buyers who want a turnkey home. Having your home inspected before listing it is a good idea if you want to avoid costly surprises once the home is under contract.

Mistake No.5 – Setting an Unrealistic Price
When your home is overpriced, it’s underdressed for the party. Everyone notices that it doesn’t quite fit in. Buyers who can afford your home quickly notice that your home doesn’t quite measure up to others in the same price range. Buyers who could afford your home if it were priced correctly are unlikely to make offers because they’ll be searching in a different price range.

Mistake No.6 – Not Preparing Your Home for Sale
Sellers who do not clean and stage their homes are throwing money down the drain. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, that’s OK – there are many things you can do on your own. Failing to do these things will not only reduce your sale price, but may also prevent you from getting a sale at all. For example, if you haven’t attended to minor issues like a broken doorknob, a potential buyer may wonder whether the house has larger, costlier issues that haven’t been addressed. Have a friend or agent with a fresh pair of eyes point out areas of your home that need work – because of your familiarity with the home, you may have become immune to its trouble spots. Decluttering, cleaning thoroughly, putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls and getting rid of any odors will also help you make a good impression on buyers.

Mistake No.7 – Skimping on Listing Photos
So many buyers look for homes online these days and so many of those homes have photos that you’ll be doing yourself a real disservice if you don’t offer photos as well. At the same time, there are so many poor photos of homes for sale that if you do a good job, it will set your listing apart and help generate extra interest. Good photos should be crisp and clear, should taken during the day when there is plenty of natural light available, and should showcase your home’s best assets. Consider using a wide-angle lens if possible – this will allow you to give potential buyers a better idea of what entire rooms look like.

Do things right from the beginning and you’ll have a smoother, easier, and more profitable transaction.

Los Angeles High End Home Sales Surging

luxury real estateBy most measures, the housing market these days is a bit sluggish. Prices are flat. Sales are drooping. A lot of people are priced out.

But not everyone. The high end is hopping.

Luxury home prices in Los Angeles continued to soar in the third quarter, posting five straight quarters of double-digit gains, boosted by low interest rates and tight inventory, according to a survey by First Republic Bank.

Luxury home sales in Southern California are hitting levels not seen in decades. The number of homes bought for $2 million or more in recent months is the highest on record. Sales worth $10 million or more are on pace this year to double their number from the heights of the housing bubble.

The value of luxury homes (or homes valued at more than $1 million) in the Los Angeles area jumped 13 percent from the third quarter a year ago and 3.7 percent from the second quarter. The average price for a luxury home in the area hit an all-time high of $2.61 million. The third quarter was strong across most markets from West L.A. to Malibu, prices are very strong and buyer interest is greatest for homes selling for $2 million to $5 million

Low interest rates, a strong stock market and waves of cash sloshing in from overseas are boosting demand for high-dollar homes. A record 1,436 homes worth $2 million or more were sold in the six-county Southland in the second quarter, according to CoreLogic DataQuick.

The biggest difference in the luxury market between now and a decade ago is that the world is smaller. Wealthy international buyers are scooping up second homes, investment properties and safe havens for their cash. And it’s easier for them to scout — and travel — the world to do so.

The Southland scores points with these buyers for its weather, its glamour and a population diverse enough that nearly any transplant can feel at home. And despite its reputation as one of the nation’s least-affordable housing markets, Los Angeles can look like a steal compared with other high-end havens. Private wealth managers around the world think California is a very good market right now, compared to New York or London, L.A. real estate is a bargain.”

But it’s not just foreign money that’s heating up the high end.

A surging stock market has boosted portfolios for domestic buyers in recent years, especially for those who have money to invest. Low interest rates have made mortgages cheap. And banks — still risk-averse — are offering lower rates and better terms to deep-pocketed borrowers than to cash-strapped first-time buyers. Meanwhile, wealthier households have seen their incomes grow faster than average in recent years.

High-end home sales are surging in “Silicon Beach,” too, with tech entrepreneurs and Bay Area transplants scooping up multimillion-dollar homes in Santa Monica, Venice and Marina del Rey. Many of the buyers work in the area and prefer walkable neighborhoods, relatively close to work, to the traditional hubs of Westside glitz.

5 Reasons to Buy a House Now

best-time-to-buy-a-homeThe down payment, interest rate, economic factors, qualification variables can be so confusing. Rising rates, loosening requirements, down payment options, buyer’s market, seller’s market. What does it all mean for you if you want to buy a home? The truth is that while the banks might have a magical formula to determine your mortgage worthiness, determining if the time is right really comes down to three main questions:

Do you want to buy a home?
Are you financially prepared?
Is your credit where it needs to be?

If your answer is yes, then you should take that leap of faith and go for it. Here are six reasons to do it now.

1. Prices are good. In most regional markets, home prices are still gaining, but have slowed. This is good news if you were afraid that big price gains would put homeownership out of reach and also bodes well for your long-term equity once you purchase. Attempting to buy a home when the market is at its lowest point—or to sell at the peak—is tricky. Like trying to time the stock market. ,you might get lucky one or two times, but overall, timing the market does not work. It is all about purchasing power, and that’s a reflection of price and interest rates, which will both be higher in the future.”

2. Rates are low. Mortgage interest rates are still low—for now. A 30-year-fixed-rate loan now averages 4.16%, according to Freddie Mac, but many economists believe we will see 5% rates next year. As interest rates increase, so do your monthly payments. Imagine the unthinkable. paying over 18% interest on a 30-year fixed mortgage.  That was the reality for home buyers in October 1981. The average rate has been 5.18% since the start of this country’s history,” making today’s rates, which hover around historic lows at 4%, sound even better.

3. Loan requirements are softening. It is not quite the look-the-other-way-and-stamp-it-approved levels of 2008, but the overly tough restrictions that followed have loosened. Major lenders are making adjustments, and lowering the minimum FICO score for borrowers applying for loans. You can look to banks that have lowered loan-to-value standards in certain markets for both jumbos and conforming mortgages. For buyers that can mean an easier road to loan approval, even without a ton of money upfront and perfect credit.

4. Fewer buyers around the holidays means less competition. Sellers that are actively looking to sell their homes during the holiday months — namely, October through December — are serious about shedding their residences. This often works in favor of savvy buyers looking to get favorable terms on an aquisition. Having less competition on the buyer’s side can mean lower prices on homes, in addition to fewer counter-offers to compete against.

5. It’s time to move on with your life. The ‘cost’ of a home is determined by two major components: the price of the home and the current mortgage rate. It appears that both are on the rise. But, what if they weren’t? Would you wait? Look at the actual reason you are buying and decide whether it is worth waiting. Whether you want to have a great place for your children to grow up, you want your family to be safer or you just want to have control over renovations, maybe it is time to buy.

If the right thing for you and your family is to purchase a home this year, buying sooner rather than later could lead to substantial savings.

How Elections Affect Home Owners

your_vote_counts_button_3One of the very first discussions the Founding Fathers had was about how to balance the rights of all individuals with the rights of those who owned property. They knew that if only property owners could vote, the rights of individuals and minorities might be suppressed … but, if voting extended to non-property owners, the rights of property owners could be unfairly overruled. In the end, they left the question of voter rights to the individual states. Now, nearly 240 year later, with suffrage extended to all citizens, with or without property, the question remains:

“Do elections affect property owners differently than non-property owners?”

Levies

Nearly every municipality imposes property taxes on homeowners for, well, owning homes (and other property). The tax authority typically bases these taxes, or mill levies, as a percentage of the assessed value of the property owned. Proceeds from levies on property fund local services including:

  • Law enforcement
  • Roads, bridges, street lights, and other infrastructure
  • Public schools
  • Emergency services
  • Debris and snow removal

Each locality and school district sets the property tax rates each year to meet the needs of that community. This means that tax rates vary widely from one municipality to another, and even between neighborhoods. They can increase each year, or may even decrease. For homeowners, voting for or against a levy affects property owners in two ways:

The actual tax increase affects a property owner’s bottom line. Yearly property tax increases might push the cost of owning a home higher than the owners plan, or higher than their income can bear. Putting stress on property owners’ financial situation may make it more difficult for them to maintain their property. Homes in distress can bring down the value of an entire neighborhood.

When homeowners vote to increase levies—such as those that provide local services, upgraded roads, improved schools or increased emergency personnel—they are voting to increase the value of their homes and communities, making them more attractive to buyers.

Voting for or against levies is a delicate balance between increasing an owner’s outgo with increasing the property’s value and the community’s desirability. Researching the fiscal impact of the levy you intend to vote on is an important first step in determining how it may affect your bottom line.

Sales Taxes

Taxes based on the sale of goods typically spread the burden of the tax across both property owners and non-property owners. Sometimes, however, a sales taxis for a specific neighborhood or commercial area. If you own property in an area with a higher sales tax rate than one nearby, it can determine how easily you keep your space leased to shop owners since customers may choose to shop elsewhere.

If you are new to home ownership, increases in sales taxes make purchasing furnishings and appliances more expensive. If you are considering upgrades and improvements, renovations or additions, a tax increase may expand your scope costs.

Other Taxes

Taxes specifically affecting homeowners include those like the one embedded in the Affordable Care Act. It taxes the capital gains income of upper-bracket homeowners that sell their home at a sizable profit and even taxes rental income from investment property.

Candidates

Decisions by both national and local elected officials—from state senators to congressional representatives, governors to county commissioners, city council members to school board members—impact the future levies imposed on local property. Knowing your candidates and how they hope to legislate their agenda can affect both your bottom line and your property values.

Not only are elections about national and state officials, international and social concerns or party platforms—they are about local schools, streetlamps, parks and 911 services.

Voting

Do not leave decisions that affect property ownership to others. Take the time to vote in your local and national elections. Balance how a levy can affect your immediate bottom line with the impact it might have on the sale of your property

Out With The Old House, When Buying the New?

Buy-sell-hold-skaffoldThe current housing market, while up in most areas, has one basic problem: low supply. With many buyers choosing to keep their old home when they purchase a new home, fewer homes are on the market, driving up demand.

Buyers that do not need the equity in their current property in order to purchase the home into which they are moving, are choosing to become landlords instead. The financial crisis and ensuing recovery has increased the demand for rental housing. In fact, the cycle of buyers not selling their current home before buying a new one reduces the supply for homes to buy, thereby raising the prices and pricing entry-level buyers out of the market. Unable to buy the home they can afford, they then seek to rent a home that better meets their needs instead, resulting in rental price increases due to higher demand.

For those able to become landlords, it is somewhat of a perfect storm since the ability to demand a higher rent increases the income from your rental property, increasing your equity.

Don’t forget the other advantages of being a landlord too. Since your former home is now a business for tax purposes, repairs, maintenance, utilities, taxes, insurance, some fees, and other costs may be tax deductible. Be sure to consult a qualified tax accountant to find out what your tax liabilities or deductions may be when making your former home a rental. Remember too that collected rents count as business income, so be sure to establish proper accounting records for your property.

Some property owners, especially if they lived in the property, find it difficult to make the shift from homeowner to landlord. They mourn painting over their faux finishes with generic rental neutrals, and seeing a nursery turned into an office. They worry about potential damage to their property, and the associated costly repairs, and they fret about the possibility of months without a renter and having to pay on two mortgages at once.

The best solution toward making this shift is to hire a professional property manager. A professional helps you establish the appropriate rental amounts to cover both the initial mortgage and other costs and repairs that may become necessary. In addition, they offer a buffer between the owner and the renter that keeps the relationship entirely professional. Having a property management service handle your rental and renters can give you peace of mind while ensuring that your former home is in good hands.

As your real estate professional, we can connect you with a property management professional, so let us know what your plans are so we can help.

Luxury Real Estate Defined

luxury real estateWhile the term “luxury” can be subjective, a luxury home or luxury real estate is generally defined as a property priced within the top 5-10% of a given real estate market. In most markets that is a home of value of more then one million dollars in the Los Angeles market it’s defined by an entry-level price of about $2 million.

However, there’s more to luxury than a price tag, a home that may have a unique quality or distinct feature that makes it stand out in the luxury real estate marketing arena. One’s perspective has as much to do with the definition as does the opulence, location or architectural significance of a particular property. We offer the following common characteristics of homes classified as luxury:

Exclusive location

Luxury starts from the ground up, and requires a home to be built on pristine property that usually offers an exclusive view. This includes lakefront, mountaintop and ocean-side real estate.

Natural Materials

There’s nothing mass produced about a high-end home, especially when it comes to the material it was constructed with. Common luxury materials include hardwood, marble and granite – all of which carry a timeless beauty, and are built to last.

Clean Design

Luxury calls for a clean and crisp design that is timeless rather than on-trend. Too much clutter can appear cheap rather than chic. That’s why luxury features the very best of a home’s collection, resulting in a richer look.

Harmony

In an upscale home, every element of the house works together in harmony. A luxury home can be classic, contemporary or transitional, but conforms to a consistent style of architecture, furniture, décor and landscape.

Attention to Detail

Detailed décor finishes off a luxurious look, and is handled with the same amount of care and thoughtfulness as constructing the home. While luxury can be bought, it can’t be mass-produced – so decorating an interior to be luxurious takes time to get to details just right.

Has the Real Estate Market Peaked

Positive Housing MarketOne of the oddest things about this current housing market is the dwindling amount of supply.  For areas like Los Angeles and nationwide, total housing supply has been on a downward trajectory since 2010.  While an environment of rising home prices, less supply, and hungry buyers would lead you to believe that more home building would be occurring, not much of that has actually happened.Though the housing market is recovering nicely, it is not doing quite as well as some analysts had predicted. There has been no shortage of excuses offered as to why this is: the rise in interest rates, more stringent lending standards, the weather. However, we feel that there is one factor that is most responsible for curtailing the number of houses sold – the number of houses available for sale!

Inventory Levels are BELOW Historic Norms

In a recent economic forecast, Freddie Mac addressed this exact issue: “Including newly built homes in the inventory count, the total number of homes offered for sale relative to the number of households in the U.S. has been running at the lowest level in more than 30 years, as shown in the second exhibit. The relatively low for-sale inventory reflects several features of today’s market.” “A supply-constrained market (holding other factors constant) will result in a decline in the volume of sales and an increase in real transaction prices.”

NAR Report Confirms Inventory Constriction

History shows us that a balanced real estate market requires a six month supply of available housing inventory. The National Association of Realtors released their Existing Homes Sales Report last month. The report revealed that we are still only at a 5.5 month supply of homes for sale. We have not reached the 6 month mark in over two years. The recent increase in buyers now looking will again put a strain on this number. .

Bottom Line

While inventory levels remain below historic norms, it will remain a seller’s market. This being the case, if you are considering selling your home, now may be the time to list it for sale.

Luxury Loans Surge To Record Levels

luxury home buyerBanks are handing out mortgages of as much as $10 million to the wealthy in record numbers while first-time home buyers struggle to get loans. Wealthy borrowers are having an easier time getting a mortgage, with banks issuing a record number of mortgages in excess of $1 million while continuing to keep lending tight for first-time home buyers, Bloomberg News reports.

These high-net-worth borrowers do act differently than first-time buyers, who borrow because they have to.  High-net-worth borrowers don’t have to borrow. They choose to, so they’re very strategic about what, why, and when they borrow. The wealthy are choosing to borrow while mortgage rates are still low, with some fetching mortgage rates as low as 3.15 percent for a seven-year adjustable-rate mortgage. By choosing to finance, the wealthy borrowers are avoiding having to liquidate other investments to purchase the home.

In Southern California, millionaires are boosting demand for the largest loans because of an improving economy and brisk sales of luxury homes gives them confidence in the market, said Mark Cohen, a mortgage broker at lender Cohen Financial Group in Beverly Hills. Cohen, whose average loan has increased to $1 million from $800,000 this year, said he gave a $9.9 million mortgage recently to an executive at a publicly traded company in Brentwood

For wealthy home buyers of single-family homes, the number of loans from $1 million to $10 million in the 100 largest metro areas soared by more than 15,000 in the second quarter, the highest point ever, according to CoreLogic, a housing data provider.

The luxury market has been heating up in recent months. During the first half of this year, sales of homes costing at least $2 million in 30 of the biggest metro areas increased to the highest since at least 2006, CoreLogic reports. What’s more, sales of existing homes of $1 million and more rose 8.5 percent in June compared with a year ago, which was the biggest jump among all price ranges, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Los Angeles Real Estate Surging

Home-Prices-UpThere is very little doubt that the real estate market is on much firmer ground that it was five years ago. Home values are rapidly rising and a confluence of factors will likely continue to drive the market even higher. Pent-up demand, job growth and still-slow mortgage rates continue to put pressure on home prices. The median price of a home in Los Angeles County rose by 5.9 percent in June, compared with the same month a year ago, while the number of homes sold dipped by 7.5 percent, a real estate information service announced today. According to DataQuick, the median price of a Los Angeles County home was $450,000 last month, up from $425,000 in June 2013. A total of 6,792 homes were sold in the county, down from 7,342 during the same month the previous year.  In many markets price appreciation has slipped into the more sustainable single-digit range, compared with gains exceeding 20 percent this time last year. Home values are rrising and a confluence of factors will likely continue to drive the market even higher. Consider the following:

  • Prop 13 – A voter initiative passed in 1978 amid an anti-tax revolt, it caps California property tax rates at 1.25% and freezes assessed property values at the original purchase price. While no one likes higher taxes, the measure artificially constrains inventory and make prices soar because it offers older homeowners a remarkable disincentive to sell.
  • Greater investment property ownership – Investors flooded the middle market after real estate hit bottom during the financial crisis, gobbling up foreclosures and short sales at bargain basement prices and converting them into rentals – further squeezing what little affordable inventory exists within these markets.
  • Lack of available land – In the most desirable neighborhoods within Los Angeles land is scarce. And when there is development in such neighborhoods, it often involves tearing down a $1 million home and replacing it with one that is three times more expensive.
  • Foreign buyers inflating prices – From locating a property to negotiating price to going through each exhaustive step of the mortgage process, buying a home often takes months. But for wealthy foreign buyers seeking the safe haven of US-based hard assets, and making all-cash offers to sweeten their deals, it only takes weeks.  And by frequently going above market prices in their offers, foreign buyers have helped drive up the price for everyone else.

Introducing: 2014 Innovator Awards Finalists

Inman News is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2014 Innovator Awards. We are humbled to be recognized in the category of Most Innovative Real Estate Agent.

gary gold inman news innovator

 

Heart of the Home Moves Outside

Outdoor-Living-Room-Design-IdeasMany of us take pride in our homes, investing countless hours rearranging and remodeling the interior. But it can also be refreshing to step out of the confines of the inside and spend some time outside. As millions of Americans ready their outdoor space for summer season, a new study reveals just how enamored U.S. homeowners are with their backyards. Eighty-three percent of homeowners across the country say their outdoor living space is the favorite place in their home. And it is the most used space in American households just behind the kitchen, and way ahead of the game room, living room and dining room. According to Saber’s “Outdoor Living 2014” survey, approximately 81 percent of respondents called their outdoor space “the heart of the home.”

As your clients are prepping their homes for the summer selling season, they may want to keep outdoor space in mind. The outdoor space s a major factor in today’s home buyers decision and they are very engaged in making it comfortable. Turning a yard, patio, porch or other outdoor area into a functional living space can be a rewarding task, and will expand your living space to the outdoors. Americans view their backyard as both a Zen spot and an entertainment zone and the space is outfitted accordingly with a grill, shade, chairs & dining sets and access to wi-fi. Universally, on the top of our wish list for our outdoor space is a pool or hot tub. Home seller should consider how this group and lead the way in defining how an outdoor space can be used and decorated. With the right setup, you can spend more time in the sunshine and fresh air, and host events al fresco for friends, family and neighbors.

Luxury Real Estate is Leading the Recovery

luxury real estate salesWhen real estate values dropped during the downturn and other investments lost their luster, luxury residences really became an investment focus and became a portfolio as much as a lifestyle purchase.

The luxury market has been leading the recovery for about two years. The pause button might have been hit on home sales this year, but the luxury market is keeping pace.  Sales of the priciest 1% of homes in the U.S. are up 21.1% so far this year, following a gain of 35.7% in 2013. For the rest of the market, sales have dropped 7.6% since the start of the new year. There are currently more than 9 million millionaires in the U.S., according to Millionaire Corner Affluent Market Insightsand they’re spending. According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of homes costing $1 million or above increased 7.8% in March from the same period a year ago. During that same time, homes costing $250,000 or less dropped 12%

There are many factors stimulating the growth of the top sector of the real estate market. First of all, the wealthy are opting to invest in fewer stocks due to the volatility of the European markets. Instead, they are taking advantage of historically low mortgage rates and investing in real estate assets. Foreign buyers from Asia, Russia and Latin America are also contributing to the decreased inventory of real estate in the most sought after U.S. neighborhoods.

While it seems wealthy individuals are comfortable with the economic recovery and spending money again, that doesn’t mean they’ve totally forgotten about the housing bubble burst.  When it comes to luxury home purchases, it’s not all about the McMansions. Many high-income buyers are not actually downsizing, but moving to big cities like New York and Los Angeles—the top two luxury markets in the U.S.

When it comes to buying a home with a seven-figure price tag, here’s what  buyers are demanding:

Décor that Tells a Story. Owners want to be able to tell their guests stories about a home’s features. It’s like luxury travel; it’s all about the experience. They want their home to have a story.

Not Your Average Amenities. People paying top dollar want all the bells and whistles from their homes

Outdoor Living Space. Not only do these buyers want a big back yard that they can landscape and entertain in, they also want to be able to cook outdoors. Affluent homeowners want outdoor space that offers room for multiple gardens, swimming pools, and maybe even a putting green.

Every Chef’s Dream Kitchen. According to Leslie Piper, consumer housing specialist at realtor.com, 54% of luxury buyers identify a chef’s kitchen as their top feature when house hunting.

Green for Green. Expert says wealthy homeowners want properties that have environmentally-friendly appliances and features–and are willing to pay extra for them.

Wine Cellar. Move over wine fridge, luxury homeowners want a wine cellar that allows for both case and bottle storage.

Want to Sell Your House? What About the Price?

house price-tagAre there any negative effects from changing the listing price of a property? This question haunts Brokers/Agents as well as sellers of property every day.The housing market is recovering nicely. Prices have increased by double digits over the last twelve months. Competition from the shadow inventory of lower priced distressed properties (foreclosures and short sales) is diminishing rapidly. Now may be the perfect time to sell your home and move to the dream house or beautiful location your family has always talked about.

The one suggestion we would definitely offer: DON’T OVERPRICE IT!! Sellers should be aware of the critical necessity of getting the price correct from the start. Sellers wanting to over list will ultimately take longer to sell and will sell their property for less. Even though prices have increased by more than 10% over the last year, the acceleration of appreciation has slowed dramatically over the last few months. As an example, in their April Home Price Index ReportCoreLogic revealed that home prices actually depreciated by .08% this month as compared to last month’s report.

Because investor purchases are declining and there are more listings coming onto the market, we believe that sellers should be very cautious when they price their house. The alternative might be that you could lose money by overpricing your home at the start.  On average, properties which experience a listing price change take longer to sell and suffer a price discount greater than similar properties. Furthermore, bigger price changes are found to experience even longer marketing times and greater price discounts. Finally, as for which properties are most likely to experience a price change, Knight finds that the greater the initial markup; the higher the likelihood that any given property will experience a listing price change.

Bottom Line Though it is a great time to sell your house, pricing it right is crucial. Get guidance from a real estate professional to ensure you get the best deal possible.

Southern California Luxury Real Estate Outpaces the World

9305-Nightingale-Dr28Southern California luxury estates are in extremely high demand. Whether buyers and sellers are California natives or have arrived in Los Angeles for the first time, the beauty and amenities offered by living in Southern California are unmatched almost anywhere

While 2013 was noted globally for wealth creation as the global economy continued its recovery, Los Angeles and Southern California luxury estates became known globally for a huge leap in supply of the most exclusive properties while seeing their time on the market drop by an eye-popping 47%. The market for the highest end luxury, $5 million and up, is extremely strong as estates of this size are selling in 77 days on average The market experienced a 40% jump in supply and still sold faster in Southern California than every other market except one world wide. Southern California broke records with 4,514 sales at 2 million plus, an increase of 33% and L.A. County also eclipsed previous highs with 2,628 sales.

Luxury estates are becoming to a certain extent a global capital market and the world is embracing the incredible values and offerings of the Los Angeles market. The upswing in pricing and demand in L.A.’s luxury market was not only fueled by local billionaires, many foreigners, house flippers and celebrities added to the mix. A lot of foreign money is funneling into SoCal properties, in particular Beverly Hills and Bel-Air which are still considered good value by comparison. It’s a real estate phenomenon that when people start paying more for houses, other people follow suit and don’t mind paying more, and so on and so on. With home prices rising, equity gains have prompted the segment of the market that was waiting on the sidelines to make their move releasing pent-up demand

What Luxury Consumers Want

kimridge-ken-new-10-051The luxury home buyer is an important contingent of today’s real estate market, as luxury homes tend to drive trends throughout the entire balance of the marketplace. The luxury consumer is considered a trendsetter in most industries, and to see the strong connection this consumer has with ‘home’ is very significant as we look at the real estate market as a whole

Luxury home owners and buyers place a high value on real estate, according to a new survey of 500 luxury home buyers.

In fact, the survey finds that 75 percent of luxury home buyers believe home ownership is a sounder investment than the stock market. What’s more, 57 percent of luxury home owners say home ownership is a bigger indicator of success than their job or title. The luxury home buyer has high standards and invests the money and time, to making their home fit their needs and reflect who they are. It’s remarkable that they do this so well that nearly all — 93 percent — believe their house is the best one on their block.

The survey revealed some of the following insights into the luxury home buyer and owner:

  • They desire multiple homes: Fifty-three percent say they prefer owning multiple “lifestyle” homes to support their lifestyle activities, such as skiing or attending the theatre. Fifty-eight percent of the luxury home buyers surveyed say they already owned multiple homes to support their lifestyle activities.
  • They’re willing to sacrifice square footage for luxurious amenities: Sixty-percent of luxury home buyers surveyed said they would rather have as many upgrades as they can afford in their home rather than greater square footage. Ninety-four percent of those surveyed would be willing to give up 1,000 square feet of living space in their next home in order to get the amenities they most desire, such as living in a better neighborhood, living in a house with “character,” more land, access to dining and entertainment, and a shorter commute.
  • They want a high-tech home. Sixty-six percent expressed a stronger desire for having a “smart” home than a “green” home. Eighty-seven percent said they would not even consider purchasing a home that wasn’t tech-friendly.
  • They also value their outdoor spaces. Luxury homebuyers also placed a high value on outdoor amenities as must-have essentials in a home. For example, they expressed a big interest in having a garden oasis, outdoor fireplace or firepit, and a separate guest house outside of the main home.

Forty percent of luxury buyers say the biggest challenge in searching for a high-end luxury home is to find a property that meets their family’s needs; 20 percent say it’s limited number of properties offered. What’s prompted their search for a luxury home? The realtor.com survey found that 19 percent of luxury home shoppers say a recent success in their career has prompted their home search, while 17 percent say they entered the market because they’re newly retired

Luxury Real Estate is on the Rise

Luxury-Los-Angeles-Real-Estate-For-SaleWith more millionaires and billionaires in the world than ever before, pent-up demand and increasing consumer confidence, luxury real estate sales have been surging around the world. Luxury properties are once again one of the hottest real estate market trends, as London, New York and Los Angeles report a burgeoning luxury housing market. According to Spectrem’s Millionaire Corner Affluent Market Insights report for 2014, the number of Millionaire households in the U.S. has reached a record of over 9 million. There are 132,000 households with a net worth over $25 million.

Christies International Real Estate released its second annual Luxury Residential Property Market report, looking at the market in 10 of the world’s major markets – Cote d’Azur, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Sydney and Toronto. Those markets were compared against each other in terms of sales price, prices per square foot, percentage of non-local and international buyers, and the number of luxury listings per population.

London was rated No. 1 based on its top sale of a property for $101.5 million, and it also had the top per square foot sales average of $4,683. New York and Los Angeles were second and third, respectively, with a significant growth in luxury sales volume. Here in Los Angeles, the mega mansion Fleur de Lys just sold for more than any other house in Los Angeles County ever: $102 million. In an all-cash sale

Most Expensive Sale in US History?

gt0518gtestate-201In what is believed to be the most expensive acreage in US history — the highest single family home sale price in the entire country — the 50-acre waterfront Copper Beech Farm estate sold Friday for $120 million. Purchased by an undisclosed buyer through the “Conversation Institute, LLC”, is a 51-acre farm with a mansion.  The acreage, the location, the price, and the history are all unparalleled! According to Curbed.com, the sale of the home at 499 Indian Field Rd. in the private Mead Point enclave, is the second-largest recorded in U.S. history — the most expensive being Montana’s Broken O Ranch, which sold in 2012 for $132.5 million.

The Copper Beech Estate, which had been owned by John Rudey, a timber magnate with holdings in Washington state, was built in 1898 by the Lauder Greenway family, who were founders with Andrew Carnegie of U.S. Steel. In the coming years, the sprawling stone-and-shingle mansion, built in the French Renaissance fashion, would crown an estate that grew to more than 100 acres at one time, before the Lauder-Greenway family began donating large parcels of land for various causes. It boasts 4,000 feet of private beach on Long Island Sound as well as two islands. comprised of a 30.6 acre parcel and a 20-acre parcel, the property listed in May 2013 with a pricetag of $190 million. There were price reductions and then an offered option of purchasing 30.6 acres of the estate — including the 12-bedroom main house — for $76.9 million.

Chinese Buyers Heat Up Los Angeles Property

chinese home buyers in los angelesBuying American real estate is becoming a fashion for some Chinese to show off wealth and status. According to a report by the National Association of Realtors  and  the Huron Report (a leading luxury publishing and events group) the United States is the number one destination to relocate to for more than 60% of China’s wealthiest residents. Chinese investors now make up the second-largest group of foreign buyers of homes in the US.  With a “huge” influx of wealthy mainland Chinese looking towards purchasing high-end properties across the U.S. China is now one of the fastest growing sources of international buyers in the U.S. real estate market. A report from the Bank of China said, nearly half of China’s richest are considering emigration, with the United States, Canada and Singapore being the top three destinations.

There are more Chinese homeowners in the U.S. today than ever before. Better economic conditions, business ties and easier travel sanctions contribute to this trend. In recent years, attracted by the pleasant natural environment, well developed economy, and great education resources, Chinese buyers flock into the property market in California, which is one of the top 5 property markets for international buyers.  The most common reasons for them to emigrate are their children’s education, a desire for better medical treatment, and the fear of pollution in China. Compared with the houses in China, the US properties are much cheaper in terms of price per unit area of land. They are worthwhile no matter whether they are bought for investment or self-use.

Many of them are calling Los Angeles home. LA area homes are in high demand for wealthy Chinese buyers, and in many areas this is pushing prices beyond boom-era peaks. Areas like Arcadia’s 91007 ZIP Code experienced an increase in median home sale price past $1.32 million last quarter, which is 30.5% past 2007 highs according to DataQuick. In the 91006 ZIP Code average home sale prices are also up 23.7%.

In view of that, many local contractors begin to add some Asian taste in their new constructions. Chinese Feng Shui element is taken into these new buildings. As the Bloomberg Newsweek reported, the purchases made by Asian immigrants, especially those from China, is one of the reasons for the booming of the property market in Southern California.

Home Buying Season Shaping Up

imagesPP39YVA8The majority of housing markets are entering the 2014 home buying season in significantly better shape than they were one year ago.  The outlook for a more abundant, more affordable selection of homes for sale this spring improved considerably in February.  This is signaling growing seller optimism and a strong, early start to the spring home-buying season. Sellers in most markets are responding to the price increases of the past year, suggesting they are increasingly optimistic about the housing recovery and the underlying strength of market demand through 2014, according to the latest February data from realor.com.

While February inventories remain low by historic standards, following seasonal patterns, they will probably continue grow over the next two months with the coming of spring. With the spring buying season around the corner, inventories of new listings are growing. Despite the increase in inventory, the median list price jumped by more than 2 percent in February. These list price increases are another sign of seller confidence going into the selling season as sellers price their homes in anticipation of market conditions in the coming months.

There are positive signs that the market is more balanced and that we will not see a repeat of last year’s overheated markets, soaring prices and multiple bid situations. On a year-over-year basis, the median list price and the size of the for-sale inventory were up by 7.57% and 10.14 percent, respectively. Record low inventories last January set the stage for a selling season featuring soaring prices, bidding wars and the outbreak of price bubbles in several California markets. The improved conditions for sellers prompted many to list their homes, but not enough to measurable improve the inventory picture as real estate markets go into hibernation to prepare for the 2014 season.

Luxury Around the World

luxury real estate around the worldIn a recent post we explored what really defines a home as luxury, since the term has often been abused. This is because “luxury” is subjective. Indeed, what one person might consider luxurious can be quite drab to someone else.

Regional markets, however, do have their own quirks, and usually the properties tagged with the “luxury” label in an area are comparable to each other. Here are a few major cities and the defining features of their luxury real estate markets.

New York

In the Big Apple, space is a commodity that is hard to come by. Luxury homes in the city might not necessarily be large in the physical sense, at least compared to rural and suburban homes in more spread out areas. No, luxury in New York is defined by uniqueness of design, history of the property, and the credentials of the architect. In a city where people of every personality type exist, your home has to have its own style in order to stand with the elite.

Chicago

Generally, the price point for luxury homes is $1 million or more. The area you target will determine what you can get for those millions you’re spending. In Chicago, you’re likely to be able to get a lot more property space than if you are in New York City. Chicago’s general real estate market actually has lower costs than many major U.S. cities, but it is also home to some of the highest purchases.    It has been noted that wealthy business people prefer urban situations so that they can easily maintain connections with business contacts. Being near an airport is convenient for those that travel.

Because of Chicago’s business-oriented vibe, luxury is defined largely by price tag, with size and amenities as supplemental factors. Pools and other outdoor features are big attractions for summertime usage.

London

In London, recent tax increases for homes priced over 2 million pounds are making buyers feel as if they’re not welcome in the city. This might be the explanation for younger buyers choosing other locations for their luxury purchases. Unlike New York and Chicago, London’s luxury market is on the decline.

Even more so than New York, London luxury is defined by the historical aspects of a property and the reputation of the names associated with it. Even new properties will emphasize historical-inspired architecture to use to its advantage. The story is the most important aspect of the property.

Thanks to Toby Lancaster for his contribution to this post.

Why the Luxury Housing Market is Hot

los angeles luxury housingThe real estate market feels like it’s bouncing back. Whether it’s Beverly Hills or Malibu, Bel Air or Pacific Palisades, the high-end Los Angeles real estate market has been the hot topic. The high end market has really been thriving — but why? Because there are hundreds and thousands of variables involved in the real estate market, it’s impossible to pinpoint a single cause for this development. But the luxury housing market is downright hot in several markets. Barring a stock market correction — unlikely given how investors reacted positively to the Federal Reserve reduction in bond purchases in December — the trend means the spring home buying season could be a good one, especially for those who are shrewd or lucky enough to have high-end properties in their portfolio.  The National Association of REALTORS® recently announced that sales of properties worth more than $1 million increased by almost a third in October 2013 nationwide compared to the previous year. In September, however, sales of the same properties increased by a whopping 40 percent. Not bad.

Knowing luxury sales are doing well is just the first step in taking advantage of the trend, of course. You also have to know why they are doing well, which means acquiring insight about why the wealthy have been growing wealthier in recent years. First, the stock market is going gangbusters. While naysayers predict a plateau, it still has plenty of room to grow. Just keep in mind that our luxury survey found that 75 percent believe that investing in a home is actually more a sound investment than the stock market itself! Second, foreign wealthy buyers are on the march, especially in in the West, where South American and Asian tycoons are investing in real estate. International buyers represented 23 percent of all home sales in Florida in 2013, for example. Given the difficulties of non-U.S. residents obtaining loans, they tend to pay in cash, too. Lastly, builders are swarming into the luxury home market after years of sitting on the sidelines, giving the wealthy more options. The new builds won’t depress prices anytime soon, however, according to Toll Brothers, because inventories are still low.

In addition to its value as an investment, there are many other less obvious benefits to owning high-end real estate. To own an expensive home up in the hills — whether it is overlooking a glittering city or a calm ocean — is a symbol of status; it is a culmination of hard work, sweat and tears. Furthermore, high-end real estate is usually secluded, therefore offering peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the increasingly crowed Los Angeles County. Lastly, expensive property allows for more freedom and flexibility when it comes to personalizing one’s home; regardless of whatever an owner does with their house, the land itself will retain its value. All in all, the recent boom in the high-end Los Angeles real estate market is likely a good sign for the real estate market at large. Whether it is a luxurious mansion in Malibu, or a modest single-family house in Sherman Oaks, now is the time to find a great Los Angeles real estate and buy a home.

Experts Say Home Values to Rise Through 2018

043013_homeprices_600A recent survey of over 100 real estate experts and investment and market strategists asked panelists to predict the path of home values through 2018. Even the pessimists expect home prices to rise for the next five years. The idea that homes are a good stable investment has largely been debunked, in particular by Yale economist Robert Shiller. As usual, he is  reluctant to declare that home prices had bottomed. With that said, home prices are impressively up 23% from their March 2012 lows.

On average, panelists say they expected nationwide home value appreciation of 4.5 percent this year, with a steady slowdown in appreciation rates each year through 2018. But it’s worth noting that the most pessimistic quartile of those surveyed also see prices going up. It’s a modest amount, but they see prices going up a cumulative 10.9% through 2018. That’s a 2.1% rate annualized. Based on current expectations for home value appreciation during the next five years, panelists predicted that overall U.S. home values could exceed their April 2007 peak by the first quarter of 2018

Should we be worried that almost no one sees prices falling? The good news is that all of these home price bulls don’t see prices accelerating to bubble-era rates. Throughout the recovery, large-scale investors have purchased thousands of homes nationwide, particularly lower-priced vacant and foreclosed homes, fixing them up and keeping them in their portfolios as rental properties. This investor activity helped put a floor under sales volumes during the depth of the housing recession, but also created competition for many would-be buyers and contributed to rapid price spikes in some areas.

Panelists were also asked when the Federal Reserve should end its ongoing stimulus efforts, known as “quantitative easing.” Since September 2012, the Fed has been purchasing tens of billions of dollars worth of Treasury bonds and mortgage securities each month, which has helped keep mortgage interest rates low and stimulate demand. The program is now being wound down. More than 70 percent of the experts want to see the monetary stimulus reduced to zero before the end of this year, and the current pace of tapering will get us there.

The Rich Like Real Estate in 2014

elite10opThe rich aren’t just buying penthouses for the luxury. The real estate market is rebounding and U.S. millionaires say real estate is the top alternative asset to own this year according to Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley Wealth Management surveyed 1,004 U.S. investors ages 25 to 75. The investment bank released a survey on Friday showing that 77 percent of investors with at least $1 million in assets owned real estate, according to Bloomberg. Direct ownership of real estate was the number one alternative choice for 2014 and real estate investment trusts was the second most popular, according to the survey. The third most sought after alternative investment this year are collectibles.

Wealthy investors see stocks getting expensive and interest rates staying stable or even declining over the next couple of years, that’s why they are looking more closely at alternatives including real estate for returns and income. According to a separate study released, high net worth individuals who have at least $10 million in investable assets, increased their average allocation to real estate last year to 21 percent as of the fourth quarter from 19 percent in the first three months of 2013

There is also some sense of urgency to get into the real estate game, this year may be the tail-end of attractive investments in property before interest rates rise. Wealthy foreigners are also buying up high-rise properties in New York City. The interest in pricey U.S. properties stems from their safety because they’re denominated in dollars, the world’s reserve currency. This helps domestic millionaires maintain the value of their property investments.

Hybrid ARMs Dominate Mortgage Offerings

hybrid mortgagesHybrid ARMs continued to be the most popular loan product offered by lenders and chosen by ARM borrowers according to Freddie Mac’s 30th Annual Adjustable-Rate Mortgage (ARM) Survey of prime loan offerings, which was conducted January 6 to January 10,

Homebuyers have preferred fixed-rate mortgages the past few years because of the low interest rates and the certainty of the monthly principal and interest payment. As longer-term rates rise, ARMs with their lower initial interest rates will become more appealing to loan applicants. Hybrid ARMs are particularly attractive because they have an initial extended fixed-rate period of 3 to 10 years — and then adjust annually thereafter. Nearly all of the ARM lenders participating in the survey offered a hybrid. The 5/1 hybrid (a five-year fixed-rate initial period before the rate resets annually) was by far the most common, followed by the 3/1, 7/1 and 10/1. Far less common were ARMs where the re-pricing frequency was fixed for the life of loan, such as a one-year adjustable, a 3/3 ARM (which adjusts once every three years), or a 5/5 ARM (which adjusts every fifth year).

Banks are definitely doing more ARMs because they’re selling the consumer what they’re asking for, which is a lower monthly payment. In early January 2014, the interest rate savings for the 5/1 hybrid ARM with a 30-year term — the most common ARM offered in today’s market — compared to the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage amounted to about 1.36 percentage points. For a $250,000 loan, the monthly principal and interest payment on a 5/1 hybrid would be about $194 less than on the 30-year fixed-rate loan over the first five years of the loan.

Many borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages were among the first to default during the downturn. When their rates adjusted after an initial teaser period, they were unable to refinance and got stuck owing sharply higher payments. This time around will be different, lenders say, because underwriting standards are tougher for hybrid ARMs, so borrowers will be less likely to get squeezed when interest rates reset. Moreover, regulators have all but banned the interest-only and balloon payment features that made ARMs ticking time bombs during the financial crisis.

For many, it makes a lot of sense to take a shorter-term mortgage, If the borrower is in a situation where they’re not going to be in that home for more than seven years, it would be incorrect for them to take the fixed rate when the ARM is giving them a benefit of lower monthly payments.

‘Luxury’ is a Much Abused Word in Real Estate

luxury real estateProperty ads urge us to “indulge in opulence” and promise to “pamper you in comfort”. While the glossy brochures and virtual tours may impress you, you often find that the features offered don’t justify the exorbitant price tag of a luxury home.

Luxury is by far the most abused word by residential real estate. As the term is freely used, it becomes important to know the essential features that define luxury.

Living space
Generous living space is a primary requirement of any well-designed home. Luxury homes must offer spacious living rooms,  large gourmet kitchens, well equipped media room and oversized closets  with elaborate systems to organize wardrobes, ample dressing areas and space to pack suitcases.

Attention to detail
In every aspect — from the wood work, to the wall coverings, the hardware, the electric switches, the kind of lighting. Technology is a significant detail with amenities like  home automation systems and electronic surveillance. — A luxury home remains pristine if well maintained.

Exclusivity
While these amenities may be widely available, one key must-have in a luxury home is exclusivity; it must be shared by a small number of people.

Your style
All said, you should see if what you are getting is ‘your’ style. After all, it may turn out that the designer features do not match your personality and definition of lifestyle.

Custom-built
Ideally you may wish to have every aspect — floor plan, materials, features, amenities — designed exclusively for you. Short of full custom, you will definitely want your luxury home to be customized with a high end renovation offering a move-in ready home

Low Inventories Threaten Home Selling Season

housing crystal ballRecord low inventories last January set the stage for a selling season featuring soaring prices, bidding wars and the outbreak of price bubbles in several California markets. The improved conditions for sellers prompted many to list their homes, but not enough to measurable improve the inventory picture as real estate markets go into hibernation to prepare for the 2014 season. November listings were only 0.18 percent above levels of November 2012, when inventories in the Realtor.com database had already begun the dramatic decline that culminated in the spring, 2013 shortages. With inventory levels enter the winter at virtually the same level last year, should sellers remain leery of the market, inventories may not restock sufficiently to meet buyer demand next spring, setting the stage for a repeat of last year’s wild spring and summer conditions. Despite the remarkable price gains in 2013-exceeding 13 percent through the third quarter in the latest Case-Shiller numbers and the freeing of millions of owners from negative equity sellers seem to be pulling back. Recent consumer surveys have tracked a significant decline in consumer confidence in home price expectations.  In addition, the share of those who expect mortgage rates to climb in the next 12 months remained at an elevated level since it spiked in June.

Luxury Housing Trend is Move-In-Ready Homes

ScreenHunter_569 Jan. 02 21.42Ultra-luxury homes are coming on the market complete with designer furnishings, art, knickknacks, linen and even electric toothbrushes.

When Elton John sold his  West Hollywood condominiums last year, the buyer got more than four walls. The units came with the singer’s designer furnishings, knickknacks and tableware — even his snake-skin-covered bed frame. Now, one of the condos is back on the market at $3.995 million, along with all the contents.

Some buyers are drawn by the luster that comes from owning a celebrity’s onetime belongings. They are buying an instant lifestyle.  Others, such as time-stretched executives and those shopping for second homes from a distance, want places they can use right away, without having to sweat the small stuff. Some are so smitten with a seller’s taste or custom furnishings that they want the whole package. For sellers, offering a fully outfitted home is a chance to leave behind decor suited to a particular home and start fresh on the next house.

Once the stuff of vacation rentals or corporate housing, fully appointed homes are the latest fad in the ultra-luxury market. There is a segment of the market that wants to have a fully furnished residence they appreciate the convenience of not having to shop or furnish them. High end buyers are purchasing places whose sellers have left them in meticulous move-in condition, down to stocked linen closets, full liquor cabinets and tissues on the dresser.

Although the trend is popping up in other wealthy pockets nationwide, it’s gaining traction in Los Angeles circles in which style and convenience trump expense. This all inclusive tactic also is being tried at newly built luxury condo developments. At the Carlyle Residences on Wilshire Boulevard, buyers of two-bedroom units can opt for “turnkey” packages starting at $150,000. For three-bedroom units the add-ons start at $250,000. The well-stocked condominiums combine contemporary furniture with vintage pieces, high-end appliances.LED televisions, Villeroy & Boch dinnerware, exotic indoor plants are included. The buyer doesn’t even need to bring a toothbrush. A pair of $170 rechargeable Philips Sonicares are standing by in the master bathroom.

You don’t have to do anything, it’s all done.

Home Owners Will Regain More Equity in 2014

home-equityMore home owners will be are edging above water with their mortgages 2014. The number of underwater homes continues to shrink , regaining equity during the third quarter. A house is said to have negative equity or be underwater when more is owed on the mortgage than the market value of the property. Negative equity can occur because of a decline in value, an increase in mortgage debt or a combination of both. Currently, about 13 percent of homes with a mortgage remain in negative equity compared to 14.7 percent the end of the second quarter. An estimated 42.6 million homes in the U.S. have positive equity. About 20 percent of those homes, however, have less than 20 percent of equity or what is considered “under-equitied”. This according to CoreLogic’s latest negative equity analysis reports. The majority of the homes that have positive equity are in the high-end housing market. Rising home prices continued to help homeowners regain their lost equity in the third quarter of 2013. “We should see a further rebound in consumer confidence and economic growth in 2014 as more homeowners escape the negative equity trap,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic.

Home Buyers Planning Moves This Winter

Buying-a-HomeHome buyers unable to find a home earlier this year due to limited inventories and competition from all-cash offers are looking to retry their luck in the winter, according to realtor.com®’s Winter Home Buyer Report. “This summer and spring, home-buying season was particularly challenging for buyers, especially first-time home buyers trying to compete with all-cash offers and bidding wars because of reduced inventory,” says Alison Schwartz, vice president of corporate communications at realtor.com®. Consumers looking to buy a home during the winter months told realtor.com that lingering conditions from the past home-buying season, including inventory challenges and all-cash offers, continue to set the tone for them as they enter the winter season. But winter home buyers know they’ll face some challenges. Forty-five percent of those surveyed say they believe they will be up against inventory challenges again, with few homes for sale within the price range they desire. Twenty-nine percent also say that winter weather makes house-hunting unpleasant. While the majority of winter home buyers describe themselves as relocation buyers, downsizers are also a large portion of those looking to buy a house in the next four months, according to the report. There are advantages to looking for a home in the winter, Motivated sellers, better prices and less competition between buyers are some of the top reasons winter home buyers are interested in purchasing a home. Of those looking to buy this winter, 23 percent are planning to make a down payment of 10 to 20 percent, according to the realtor.com® survey. Twenty-two percent are planning to put down 21 to 99 percent in cash; 19 percent plan to put down 100 percent cash; and 13 percent are planning to make a down payment of 3.5 percent to qualify for a Federal Housing Administration loan.