Matrix Blog

Brokers, Agents, MLS, NAR

[NAR] Existing Home Sales Jump Artificially

May 25, 2010 | 11:23 pm | |


[click to open]

Last month NAR told us that this month would see another period of robust sales activity as buyers sought to beat the expiration of the first time buyers and existing hoimewoners tax credit on April 30th.

NAR was right about the jump in existing home sales this month.

Still, no real trend is apparent here.

The federal government provided a stimulus to buy homes to help jump start housing and the economy. Pure market forces didn’t deliver the buyers to the closing table this month on their own. What I love about sales stats over housing price stats is sales trends tend to lead price trends. So its a bit weird to say that prices are stabilizing when a key driver of demand was the tax credit – that fueled surge in sales which helped stabilize prices. Remove the stimulus and prices fall.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the gain was widely anticipated. “The upswing in April existing-home sales was expected because of the tax credit inducement, and no doubt there will be some temporary fallback in the months immediately after it expires, but other factors also are supporting the market,” he said. “For people who were on the sidelines, there’s been a return of buyer confidence with stabilizing home prices, an improving economy and mortgage interest rates that remain historically low.”

When sales drop over the next few months, it would be reasonable to expect sales prices to fall too as the artificial stimulus leaves the economy.

Here are this month’s metrics:

  • existing-home sales increased 7.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.77 million units in April from an upwardly revised 5.36 million in March
  • existing-home sales are 22.8 percent higher than the 4.70 million-unit pace in April 2009.
  • housing inventory rose 11.5 percent to 4.04 million existing homes available for sale, an 8.4-month supply up from an 8.1-month supply in March.
  • inventory is 2.7 percent above a year ago, but remains 11.6 percent below the record of 4.58 million in July 2008.
  • national median existing-home price was $173,100 in April, up 4.0 percent from April 2009.
  • distressed homes accounted for 33 percent of sales last month, compared with 35 percent in March.


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[Interview] Chris Meyers, COO, Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate

May 20, 2010 | 10:16 pm | Podcasts |

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[The Housing Helix Podcast] Leah Caro, President/Principal Broker of Bronxville-Ley Real Estate, President of Westchester Putnam Association of Realtors

May 17, 2010 | 3:42 pm | Podcasts |

I have a great conversation with Leah Caro, President and Principal Broker of Bronxville-Ley Real Estate and President of Westchester Putnam Association of Realtors.

I met Leah when I was the keynote speaker at the last two annual Westchester Real Estate, Inc. awards luncheons. She is a candid and knowledgeable real estate broker who is very active within her profession, currently serving as the Chair of the Professional Standards Committee for the New York State Association of Realtors, and is a Director in both the State and National REALTOR Associations among others.

Check out the podcast.

The Housing Helix Podcast Interview List

You can subscribe on iTunes or simply listen to the podcast on my other blog The Housing Helix.


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[Interview] Leah Caro, President/Principal Broker of Bronxville-Ley Real Estate, President of Westchester Putnam Association of Realtors

May 17, 2010 | 3:25 pm | Podcasts |

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[NAR] Existing Home Sales – 3 Month Decline, Supply Most in Nearly 2 Years

March 24, 2010 | 12:06 pm |


[click to open report]

NAR released their February Existing Home Sales report.

Its becoming apparent to even the most optimistic that job growth will be the yardstick that determines when housing will improve to a point where it is self-sustaining.

“It’s a fragile recovery” in housing, said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates, in St. Petersburg, Florida. “We ultimately need to see job growth to get a sustainable rebound.”

Seasonally we expect inventory to rise in the spring, we also expect sales to rise.

Purchases dropped 0.6 percent to a 5.02 million annual rate, the lowest level in eight months, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed today in Washington. There were 3.59 million houses for sale, a 312,000 increase from January that marked the biggest gain since April 2008.

NAR’s chief economist is calling for a second surge or we are headed for problems.

Sales are up 7% compared with a year ago, the NAR’s data showed.

“We need to have a second surge,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the real estate lobbying group. However, the jury’s still out, he said.

“Has everything in the gas tank been used up?” Yun asked. “Or is this just a pause before the next step up?”

It’s hard to imagine a “pause” in February. I was surprised a complaint about the weather wasn’t used.


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[Interview] The Wealth Report 2010 Knight Frank, Andrew Shirley, Editor + Liam Bailey, Head of Residential Research

March 23, 2010 | 4:55 pm | | Podcasts |

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[HVCC and AMCs Violate RESPA?] Here’s a possible solution

March 16, 2010 | 12:01 am | |

I was provided an interesting solution to the AMC appraisal issue from Tony Pistilli, a certified residential appraiser who has been employed for over 25 years in the appraisal area, at governmental agencies, mortgage companies, banks and has been self employed.

He wants appraisers to get the word out. His solution is compelling.

Anyone who reads Matrix knows what I think of the Appraisal Management Company and the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) problem in today’s mortgage lending world.

Here’s a summary of the his article before you read it:

  • Appraisers, Realtors, Brokers HATE the HVCC.
  • AMC’s and Banks LOVE the HVCC.
  • Regulators are disconnected from the problem just like they were when mortgage brokers controlled the ordering of appraisals during the credit boom.
  • Appraisers and borrowers are paying for services the banks receive.
  • Banks should pay for the services received from the AMC’s.
  • Appraiser’s fees should be market driven.
  • Banks should be held accountable for the quality of the appraisal.

AMC/HVCC appears to violate RESPA (Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act) since a large portion of the appraisal fee is actually going for something else coming off the market rate fee of the appraiser.

(RESPA) was created because various companies associated with the buying and selling of real estate, such as lenders, realtors, construction companies and title insurance companies were often engaging in providing undisclosed Kickbacks to each other, inflating the costs of real estate transactions and obscuring price competition by facilitating bait-and-switch tactics.

The Ultimate Solution for the Appraisal Industry

by Tony Pistilli, Certified Residential Appraiser and Vice-Chair, Minnesota Department of Commerce, Real Estate Appraiser Advisory Board, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Since the inception of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) in May 2009, there has been much discussion, and misinformation, about the benefits and harm caused by the controversial agreement with the New York Attorney Generals office and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. This agreement, originally made with the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, requires Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to only accept appraisals ordered from parties independent to the loan production process. Essentially, this means, anyone that may get paid by a successful closing of the loan cannot order the appraisal.

In the past 6 months while the Realtors© and Mortgage Brokers associations point fingers at appraisal management companies for their use of incompetent appraisers who don’t understand the local markets, appraisers are complaining that banks are abdicating their regulatory requirements to obtain credible appraisals by forcing them to go through appraisal management companies at half of their normal fee.

Banking regulations allow banks to utilize the services of third party providers like appraisal management companies, but ultimately hold the bank accountable for the quality of the appraisal. Unfortunately, the banking regulators have yet to express a concern that there is a problem with the current situation.

I need to state that appraisal management companies can provide a valuable service to the lending industry by ordering appraisals, managing a panel of appraisers, performing quality reviews of the appraisals, etc. However, banks have been enticed by appraisal management companies to turn over their responsibility for ordering appraisals with arrangements that ultimately do not cost them anything.

The arrangement works like this, the bank collects a fee for the appraisal from the borrower; orders an appraisal from the appraisal management company who in turn assigns the appraisal to be done by an independent appraiser or appraisal company. During this process the appraisal fee paid by the borrower gets paid to the appraisal management company who retains approximately 40% to 50% and pays the appraiser the remainder. So for the $400 appraisal fee being charged to the borrower, the appraiser is actually being paid $160-$200 for the appraisal. Absent an appraisal management company the reasonable and customary fee for the appraisers service would be $400, not the $160 to $200 currently being paid to appraisers.

Rules within the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) have allowed this situation to occur, despite prohibitions against receiving unearned fees, kickbacks and the marking up of third party services, like appraisals. RESPA clearly states, “Payments in excess of the reasonable value of goods provided or services rendered are considered kickbacks”.

Banks are allowed to collect a loan origination fee. This fee is intended to cover the costs of the bank related to underwriting and approving a loan. Ordering and reviewing an appraisal is certainly a part of that process. Understanding that banks ultimately have the regulatory requirement to obtain the appraisal for their lending functions, why is it that borrowers and appraisers are paying for these services that are outsourced to appraisal management companies? Does the borrower benefit from a bank hiring an appraisal management company? Does an appraiser benefit from a bank hiring an appraisal management company? The answer to those two questions is a very resounding, no! Clearly the only one in the equation that benefits is the bank, so why shouldn’t the banks be required to pay for the outsourcing of the appraisal ordering and review process?

It is here where I believe the solution for the appraisal industry exists. Since banks are the obvious benefactor from the appraisal management company services, the regulators should require that the banks, not the borrowers or appraisers, pay for the services received. This one small change in the current business model would allow appraisers to receive a reasonable fee for their services and in turn they should be held more accountable for the quality and credibility of the appraisals they perform. Appraisal fees would be competitive among appraisers in their local markets, much like the professional fees charged by accountants, attorneys, dentists and doctors. Appraisal management companies would suddenly be thrust into a more competitive situation where their services can be itemized and their quality and price be compared to those of competing providers. This will ultimately lead to lower fees and improved quality of services to the banks. The banks will then have a very quantifiable choice, do they continue to outsource their obligations to an appraisal management company and pay for those services or do they create an internal structure to manage the appraisal ordering and review process? Either way, the banking regulators need to hold the banks more accountable at the end of the process.

When all of the previously discussed elements are present, I believe the appraisal industry will be functioning the way it was intended. Appraisal independence will be enhanced and borrowers will be rewarded with greater quality and reliability in the appraisal process. This is exactly the change that is needed, in addition to the HVCC, to stop the current finger pointing and address the poor quality and non-independent appraisals that have been and are still rampant in the industry.


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[New Mortgage Program] Getting Paid To Sell Short

March 8, 2010 | 10:40 am | |

The Obama administration has come up with a radically aggressive plan to reduce foreclosure activity which has remained alarmingly high. The key ingredient is to encourage lenders/services to allow more short sales – selling the home for less than the amount of the mortgage without going after the debtor for the shortfall. Mortgage modification plans have not been successful to date.

The New York Times page 1 story today Program Will Pay Homeowners to Sell at a Loss does a masterful job in presenting the program and summarizing the problems of the issue to date, I just wish the title wasn’t so simplistic.

Perhaps I am missing the point, but I feel like this solution has focused on the wrong side of the mortgage default equation. Are servicers going to forgive $200,000 in principal to get $1,000? Are homeowners going to move forward because they get $1,500 (more than the servicer) in relocation fees?

The flood of short sale requests are already overloading many bank’s ability to handle the administration of this crisis – hard to see them able to manage the process any more efficiently.

However, the only way out of this crisis is a solution with principal foregiveness in the equation or people will simply walk away and perhaps the servicer/lender ends up being hurt more. No easy answer I suppose.

Real estate agents will determine property value

One mechanical aspect of this process which demonstrates the administration’s and government in general’s disconnect in the need for neutral analysis of value. Real estate agents, who are paid to sell property, determine the “reserve” price above which the lender/servicer must adhere to.

Under the new federal program, a lender will use real estate agents to determine the value of a home and thus the minimum to accept. This figure will not be shared with the owner, but if an offer comes in that is equal to or higher than this amount, the lender must take it.

Mr. Paul, the Phoenix agent, was skeptical. “In a perfect world, this would work,” he said. “But because estimates of value are inherently subjective, it won’t. The banks don’t want to sell at a discount.”

How about a neutral party in the process? A qualified appraiser? (not the yahoos doing AMC work in high volume). I would assume the agents selecting the number are not allowed to sell the property (huge assumption on my part) but why not have someone who can’t ever sell the property, whose full time job it is to estimate market value, be assigned that task?

The devil is in the details.


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Appraisal Journal Study Cites Flaws In Zillow AVM

March 3, 2010 | 2:38 pm |

[click to open report]

Zillow has been one of the most visible and talked about AVMs (Automated Valuation Models) in the US and enjoyed considerable press during the housing boom. Of course they have always been at the mercy of the quality of public record data despite their technology prowess.

Perhaps they were more guilty of overhyping the reliability of their “Zestimates” in the early days by presenting value estimates precisely down to the dollar. But hey, it was cool to see how much your neighbor’s house was worth.

There was an interesting article in Valuation Review (subscription) and HousingWire.

The study concludes that:

Zestimates on Zillow.com are no more accurate than homeowner’s estimates.

When it comes to using the Zillow.com automated valuation model (AVM) to get a free listing price on a house, users may be getting what they paid for, according to a report published by the Appraisal Institute that finds the Web site overestimates the values on homes almost as often as the actual homeowners.

Zillow has become the real estate punching bag to the real estate community. And once again, they are on the defensive in the media coverage of this report.

Here’s the issue:

The key issue regarding Zillow’s Zestimates is whether they reflect transaction prices. Zillow has been described both as “a useful site” and as “categorically wrong.” There have been many instances of praise and many instances of complaints by homeowners using the Web site to estimate the value of their homes. Realtors in general have also been critical of the values produced by Zillow.

Agents had issues with over valuation because they tended to set seller’s expectations too high. Of course, appraisers have an ax to grind with a service that was perceived to trivialize their expertise in valuation.

The report, “Zillow’s Estimates of Single-Family Housing Values,” was authored by Daniel Hollas, Ronald Rutherford and Thomas Thomson, doctors in economics, real estate and business, respectively. The report was published in the quarterly technical and academic publication of the Appraisal Institute, the nation’s largest association of real estate appraisers.

View the report.

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[AVPO] Another Valuation Pseudo Offering: “Appraiser Assisted BPOs”

February 21, 2010 | 6:18 pm |

Last week the appraisal community was up in arms about a $55 “appraisal” product that was an appraisal but no self-respecting appraiser could complete the report completely, be USPAP compliant and still make a meager living. The consensus is that it will attract shysters and promote short cuts. There is a rabid discussion forum on this topic right now on LinkedIn if you are a member of the group.

A new product by First American has now appeared which is explained in technicolor by Tyler King, our resident Phish fan and hipster over at Commercial Grade called an AVPO:

So to recap: The (licensed) appraiser looks at a set of comps, from these comps logical adjustments are made, and the appraiser formulates a value opinion. Yes…I see…that sounds nothing like an appraisal.

aside: First American owns eAppraisIT, who’s slogan on their web site, incredibly, is “Redefining Value.” For those who may have forgotten, NYS AG Andrew Cuomo filed suit against eAppraisIT back in 2007 for conspiring with Washington Mutual to inflate real estate appraisals.

First American claims “this is not an appraisal” to which the Appraisal Foundation replies:

While it is not within our purview to determine whether any particular product or service complies with USPAP, we can tell you that, as far as USPAP is concerned, the product appears to qualify as an appraisal or an appraisal review assignment. The press release states, in part:

“While this is not an appraisal, a licensed appraiser confirms the specific set of values determined by a local Realtor® by looking at comparable sales and verifying accuracy. If discrepancies are found, the appraiser provides a new set of values, complete with an explanation of how they were determined.”

If an appraiser is required to comply with USPAP (such as a licensed appraiser in a state that mandates such compliance), the above product would have to comply with STANDARDS 1 and 2, or STANDARD 3.

Best regards,

John S. Brenan
Director of Research and Technical Issues
The Appraisal Foundation
www.appraisalfoundation.org
(202) 624-3044


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Appraisers and Foreclosure Sales Bring Havoc to Housing Markets

January 29, 2010 | 12:30 am | | Articles |

I authored the following article for RealtyTrac which appeared on the cover of their November 2009 subscriber newsletter called Foreclosure News Report. It features a column for guest experts called “My Take.”

When Rick Sharga invited to write the article, he provided the previous issue which featured a great article by Karl Case of the Case Shiller Index and I was sold.

I hope you enjoy it.



Appraisers and Foreclosure Sales Bring Havoc to Housing Markets
By Jonathan Miller
President/CEO of Miller Samuel Inc.
11-2009

In many ways, the quality of appraisals has fallen as precipitously as many US housing markets over the past year. Just as the need for reliable asset valuation for mortgage lending and disposition has become critical (fewer data points and more distressed assets) the appraisal profession seems less equipped to handle it and users of their services seem more disconnected than ever.

The appraisal watershed moment was May 1, 2009, when the controversial agreement between Fannie Mae and New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, known as the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, became effective and the long neglected and misunderstood appraisal profession finally moved to the front burner. Adopted by federal housing agencies, HVCC, or lovingly referred to by the appraiserati as “Havoc” and has created just that.

During the 2003 to 2007 credit boom, a measure of the disconnect between risk and reward became evident by the proliferation of mortgage brokers in the residential lending process. Wholesale lending boomed over this period, becoming two thirds of the source of loan business for residential mortgage origination. Mortgage brokers were able to select the appraisers for the mortgages that they sent to banks.

Despite the fact that there are reputable mortgage brokers, this relationship is a fundamental flaw in the lending process since the mortgage broker is only paid when and if the loan closes. The same lack of separation existed and still exists between rating agencies and investment banks that aggressively sought out AAA ratings for their mortgage securitization products. Rating agencies acceded to their client’s wishes in the name of generating more revenue.

As evidence of the systemic defect, appraisers who were magically able to appraise a property high enough to make the deal work despite the market value of that locale, thrived in this environment. Lenders were in “don’t ask, don’t tell” mode and they could package and sell off those mortgages to investors who didn’t seem to care about the value of the mortgage collateral either. Banks closed their appraisal review departments nationwide which had served to buffer appraisers from the bank sales functions because appraisal departments were viewed as cost centers.

The residential appraisal profession evolved into an army of “form-fillers” and “deal-enablers” as the insular protection of appraisal professionals was removed. Appraisers were subjected to enormous direct and indirect pressure from bank loan officers and mortgage brokers for results. “No play, no pay” became the silent engine driving large volumes of business to the newly empowered valuation force. The modern residential appraiser became known as the “ten-percenter” because many appraisals reported values of ten percent more than the sales price or borrower’s estimated value. They did this to give the lender more flexibility and were rewarded with more business.

HVCC now prevents mortgage brokers from ordering appraisals for mortgages where the lender plans on selling them to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac which is a decidedly positive move towards protecting the neutrality of the appraiser. Most benefits of removing the mortgage broker from the appraisal process are lost because HVCC has enabled an unregulated institution known as appraisal management companies to push large volumes of appraisals on those who bid the lowest and turn around the reports the quickest. Stories about of out of market appraisers doing 10-12 assignments in 24 hours are increasingly common. How much market analysis is physical possible with that sort of volume?

After severing relationships with local appraisers by closing in-house appraisal departments and becoming dependent on mortgage brokers for the appraisal, banks have turned to AMC’s for the majority of their appraisal order volume for mortgage lending.

Appraisal management companies are the middlemen in the process, collecting the same or higher fee for an appraisal assignment and finding appraisers who will work for wages as low as half the prevailing market rate who need to complete assignments in one-fifth the typical turnaround time. You can see how this leads to the reduction in reliability.

The appraisal profession therefore remains an important component in the systemic breakdown of the mortgage lending process and is part of the reason why we are seeing 300,000 foreclosures per month.

The National Association of Realtors and The National Association of Home Builders were among the first organizations to notice the growing problem of “low appraisals”. The dramatic deterioration in appraisal quality swung the valuation bias from high to low. The low valuation bias does not refer to declining housing market conditions. Despite mortgage lending being an important part of their business, many banks aren’t thrilled to provide mortgages in declining housing markets with rising unemployment and looming losses in commercial real estate, auto loans, credit cards and others. Low valuations have essentially been encouraged by rewarding those very appraisers with more assignments. Think of the low bias in valuation as informal risk management. The caliber and condition of the appraisal environment had deteriorated so rapidly to the point where it may now be slowing the recovery of the housing market.

One of the criticisms of appraisers today is that they are using comparable sales commonly referred to as “comps” that include foreclosure sales. Are these sales an arm’s length transaction between a fully informed buyer and seller is problematic at best. While this is a valid concern, the problem often pertains to the actual or perceived condition of the foreclosure sales and their respective marketing times.

Often foreclosure properties are inferior in condition to non-foreclosure properties because of the financial distress of the prior owner. The property was likely in disrepair leading up to foreclosure and may contain hidden defects. Banks are managing the properties that they hold but only as a minimum by keeping them from deteriorating in condition.

In many cases, foreclosure sales are marketed more quickly than competing sales. The lender is not interested in being a landlord and wants to recoup the mortgage amount as soon as possible. Often referred to as quicksale value, foreclosure listings can be priced to sell faster than normal marketing times, typically in 60 to 90 days.

The idea that foreclosure sales are priced lower than non-foreclosure properties is usually confused with the disparity in condition and marketing times and those reasons therefore are thought to invalidate them for use as comps by appraisers.

Foreclosure sales can be used as comps but the issue is really more about how those comps are adjusted for their differing amenities.

If two listings in the same neighborhood are essentially identical in physical characteristics like square footage, style, number of bedrooms, and one is a foreclosure property, then the foreclosure listing price will often set the market for that type of property. In many cases, the lower price that foreclosure sales establish are a function of difference in condition or the fact that the bank wishes to sell faster than market conditions will normally allow.

A foreclosure listing competes with non-foreclosure sales and can impact the values of surrounding homes. This becomes a powerful factor in influencing housing trends. If large portion of a neighborhood is comprised of recent closed foreclosure sales and active foreclosure listings, then guess what? That’s the market.

Throw in a form-filler mentality enabled by HVCC and differences such as condition, marketing time, market concentration and trends are often not considered in the appraisal, resulting in inaccurate valuations. As a market phenomenon, the lower caliber of appraisers has unfairly restricted the flow of sales activity, impeding the housing recovery nationwide.

In response to the HVCC backlash, the House Financial Services Committee added an amendment to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency Act HR 3126 on October 21st which among other things, wants all federal agencies to start accepting appraisals ordered through mortgage brokers in order to save the consumer money.

If this amendment is adopted by the US House of Representatives and US Senate and becomes law, its deja vu all over again. The Appraisal Institute, in their rightful obsession with getting rid of HVCC, has erred in viewing such an amendment as a victory for consumers. One of the reasons HVCC was established was in response to the problems created by the relationship between appraisers and mortgage brokers. Unfortunately, by solving one problem, it created other problems and returning to the ways of old is a giant step backwards.

We are in the midst of the greatest credit crunch since the Great Depression and yet few seem to understand the importance of neutral valuation of collateral so banks can make informed lending decisions. Appraisers need to be competent enough to make informed decisions about whether foreclosures sales are properly used comps. For the time being, many are not.


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[NAR] Existing Home Sales Plunge…As Expected

January 25, 2010 | 10:11 pm | |


[click to expand]

Last month home sales spiked as first time home buyers rushed to take advantage of the tax credit before the November 30 expiration and no one was sure that the credit would be extended. As a result, the December sales reflect the sharpest decline in existing home sales in 40 years.

From the NAR press release for existing home sales:

After a rising surge from September through November, existing-home sales fell as expected in December after first-time buyers rushed to complete sales before the original November deadline for the tax credit.

fell 16.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate1 of 5.45 million units in December from 6.54 million in November, but remain 15.0 percent above the 4.74 million-unit level in December 2008.

NAR couched the bad news with a sprinkling of good news:

  • 5,156,000 existing-home sales in 2009, 4.9 percent higher than the 4,913,000 transactions recorded in 2008; the first annual sales gain since 2005.
  • National median existing-home price for all housing types was $178,300 in December, 1.5% higher than 2008

The worry here is not about the 16.7% decline – the concern is the removal of the tax credit as a stimulus for demand. I’m not advocating one way or the other – I am merely observing that housing does not yet stand on its own two feet so calling a bottom or a recovery is a mischaracterization.


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