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A new survey shows that consumers saving for a home are willing to forego modern conveniences in order to secure a down payment. That may even mean giving up phones, Internet, cable TV, or Starbucks, according to a newly released survey by the business advisory firm the Collingwood Group.

Potential first-time home buyers are making such sacrifices because they want to be able to make a sizable down payment on their home purchase. Nearly two-thirds recently surveyed by TD Bank say they’d like to put 20 percent down or more on their home purchase. The bank polled more than 1,000 consumers who were not home owners but intended to purchase a home within the next five years.

First-time home buyers are increasing their ranks lately, with their share in the housing market rising to 32 percent in May. That matches their highest share since September 2012, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. A year ago, first-time buyers represented 27 percent of all buyers.

The survey showed that around 62 of potential first-time buyers are making plans to purchase a home within the next two years.

“It’s encouraging to see interest from the first-time home buyers, who have been cautious for much of the housing recovery,” says Scott Haymore, head of pricing and secondary markets at TD Bank. “Consumers are gaining confidence in the economy and many are looking to enter the housing market within the next two years.”

Some additional survey findings include:

  • More than two-thirds of consumers – 68 percent – who say they’re looking to purchase their first home say they want a move-in ready home, while one-third said they’d buy a fixer-upper.
  • Forty-three percent of consumers say they’re looking to buy their first home in a suburban area outside of a city compared to 20 percent who say they desire a home in a big city or metro area.
  • Respondents ranked the most desired amenities in their first home as a backyard or pool, an attractive design, and energy efficient/smart home technologies.
  • The largest barriers preventing respondents from purchasing their first home was the need to save for a down payment and pay down debt. Also, more than one in five consumers – 22 percent – who are looking to purchase their first home said they couldn’t find a home in their price range.

source:  MReport 


Shortages of labor and subcontractors -- first surfacing last year -- have grown even more widespread this year, according to a survey of single-family builders conducted by the National Association of Home Builders in June. 

The shortages are most evident in basic skills like carpentry. Sixty-nine percent of builders reported a shortage of construction workers willing an able to do rough carpentry. Framing crews and bricklayers or masons are also among the reported shortages. 

A shortage of subcontractors is also alarming, builders noted in the survey. In the construction of a single-family home, three-quarters of the construction work is usually completed by subcontractors, according to NAHB. Seventy-four percent of builders reported a shortage of subcontractors compared to 69 percent for labor directly employed. 

"The incidence of shortages is surprisingly high given the rate of new home construction, which has only partially recovered from its 2008 downturn," NAHB notes in its blog, Eye on Housing. The shortage is substantially higher than it was at the peak of the 2004-2005 boom, when annual starts averaged around 2 million compared to current rates of about 1 million, NAHB notes. 

The most common effects of the shortages have been leading builders to have to pay higher wages/subcontractor bids and forcing them to raise home prices. Also, builders say the shortage has made it difficult for them to complete projects on time. 

source:  National Association of Home Builders’ Eye on Housing Blog 


Once former home owners, who have experienced a foreclosure, get a better handle on their credit, how long do they have to sit on the sidelines until they can secure future financing to buy a home again? 

An article in The New York Times notes “there are plenty of asterisks and conditions” when it comes to how long a borrower must wait after a “significant derogatory event,” like a foreclosure or short sale. 

In general, however, the Times notes that the longest wait to buy again will come if there is a foreclosure in the former home owner’s past. 

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have a three-year waiting period following a foreclosure, and a two-year wait following a short sale, deed in lieu, or discharge or dismissal of bankruptcy. However, if borrowers can justify that the circumstance for the foreclosure or bankruptcy occurred because of an illness or job loss — or other “extenuating circumstance” — that may help reduce their wait. But with no such extenuating circumstances, these former home owners may have to wait longer, even up to seven years following a foreclosure or four years after bankruptcy, the article notes.

For loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration, borrowers with perfect credit afterwards also will, in general, have to wait three years after a foreclosure and two years after a bankruptcy is discharged, The New York Times notes. 

Following a short sale, borrowers will have to wait three years to secure another FHA loan —however, there are plenty of exceptions. Borrowers will have to wait three years if they were in default at the time of the short sale and had no extenuating circumstances. However, if the borrowers were on time with all their payments a year prior to the short sale, they may have no wait at all and might even qualify for an FHA loan immediately. 

“The key is to avoid the foreclosure,” Andrew Wilson, a spokesman for Fannie Mae, told the newspaper. “That is what will help you be eligible for the shorter period.”

source:  New York Times


Many home buyers complain that one of the biggest hurdles they face is qualifying for financing. So what are some ways that home shoppers can ensure they qualify for a better mortgage deal — particularly one that takes advantage of the near record-breaking low mortgage rates?

A recent article at Money Magazine highlighted some of the following tips when shopping for a mortgage:

1. High credit scores count. The lowest mortgage rates go to home shoppers with credit scores of 760 or higher. Avoid opening new lines of credit or loans for at least three months prior to getting a loan. Also, on your open accounts, try to pay off those balances. “One large balance — even if it’s paid off at the end of the month — can ding your score by 20 points or more,” according to the article at Money Magazine.

2. Gather plenty of quotes. Most experts say shopping around can pay off. Gather at least six quotes from lenders on mortgage rates because they can vary quite a bit from lender to lender. Request quotes from local and regional lenders as well as national ones for comparison. Be sure to ask about estimated closing costs, too, which can be anywhere from 2 percent or more of the loan balance.

3. Ask about lock-ins. To make sure the rate doesn’t go up when you’re under contract, ask about a lock-in period on the loan, in which lenders agree to not raise the interest rate within a certain time period. Home shoppers should ask their lender and REALTOR® how long it takes to close loans similar to theirs and see how long they can lock a rate in for. Some lenders will charge several hundred dollars to extend a lock-in agreement, so experts recommend learning the lock-in terms beforehand when shopping for the best mortgage deal.

source:  Money Magazine


Prices for solar panels are falling fast. Compared to a five years ago, prices for panels and installed systems are about 45 percent less, retailers and installers say.

With rebates offered by many states, some buyers are paying a little less than twice what they would have a two years ago.

"Solar is now affordable for people for whom it wasn't before," says Jeff Wolfe, CEO of groSolar, a Vermont solar-panel system installer and distributor.

California entrepreneurs, who call themselves One Block Off the Grid, are getting even better prices by organizing home owners into buying groups.

source:  Wall Street Journal



Which cities offer the best value?

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine ranked metro areas by best “value,” factoring in low cost of living, strong economies, and personal amenities.

The following are the six metro areas that topped its list, including each city’s unemployment rate, median household income, and cost-of-living index (the index is based on the national average of 100; cities with a score below 100 have a lower cost-of-living).

1. Omaha, Neb.
Unemployment rate: 4.6%
Cost-of-living index: 90.3
Median household income: $53,457

2. Charlotte, N.C.
Unemployment rate: 10.4%
Cost of living index: 93
Median household income: $53,168

3. Nashville, Tenn.
Unemployment rate: 8.5%
Cost of living index: 90.7
Median household income: $51,352

4. Colorado Springs, Colo.
Unemployment rate: 9.3%
Cost-of-living index: 92.0
Median household income: $56,576

5. Knoxville, Tenn.
Unemployment rate: 7.7%
Cost-of-living index: 89.7
Median household income: $45,727

6. Lexington, Ky.
Unemployment rate: 7.8%
Cost-of-living index: 89.1
Median household income: $48,158

source:  Kiplinger’s Personal Finance


More homeowners' groups may be operating with insufficient reserves, which could one day result in an unexpected increase in costs to home owners.

An estimated 70 percent of association-governed communities are underfunded, a rise from 60 percent a decade ago, according to a new report from the consulting firm Association Reserves.

Associations that lack adequate reserves may impose large special assessments for emergency repairs, says Robert Nordlund, Association Reserves' founder. What’s more, home owners who don’t pay could then face liens against their property, or the association could even have the power to foreclose on them.

Housing experts urge home buyers to ask for a copy of the homeowner group’s most recent reserve study and ask about the percentage of residents who are more than 60 days delinquent on their fees. It affects the association’s cash flow, and when “you’re buying into a nonprofit corporation, you need to find out if that corporation is stable,” Nordlund notes.

source:  Kiplinger’s Personal Finance 


Only 16 percent of the nation’s population lives in a rural area -- the lowest on record, the Associated Press reports. The rural population has continued to drop over the years and is expected to fall even further as the U.S. population increases from 309 million to 400 million by mid-century and more people set up roots in cities and suburbs, bypassing rural areas, demographers say. 

Rural areas in the Great Plains and Appalachia, as well as areas of Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Texas, could see significant population declines in the coming years as many young adults flock to the cities or suburbs. 

"Some of the most isolated rural areas face a major uphill battle, with a broad area of the country emptying out," Mark Mather, associate vice president of the Population Reference Bureau, told the Associated Press. "Many rural areas can't attract workers because there aren't any jobs, and businesses won't relocate there because there aren't enough qualified workers. So they are caught in a downward spiral."

Meanwhile, metro areas are expanding, posting double-digit percentage population gains in the last several decades, with the biggest gains in suburbs or small- to medium-sized cities. The 10 fastest-growing places were small cities that were being incorporated into the suburbs of expanding metro areas (with the majority falling in California, Arizona, and Texas), the AP reports.

source:  Associated Press


Existing-home sales will likely rise about 7 percent this year, as a strengthening economy and job growth leads to a healthier market, according to the National Association of REALTORS®' 2015 housing forecast.

"Home prices have risen for the past three years cumulatively about 25 percent, which boosts confidence in the market and traditionally gives current home owners the ability to use their equity buildup as a down payment towards their next home purchase," says Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "Furthermore, first-time buyers are expected to slowly return as the economy improves and new mortgage products are made available in the marketplace with low down payments and private mortgage insurance."

Still, Yun points to several "speed bumps" that could jeopardize the pace of the housing market', particularly the anticipated rise in mortgage rates. Yun points out that many home owners who have locked in some of the lowest mortgage rates in history in recent years may be more hesitant to give up their low financing rate to move. Lenders are also being slow to ease underwriting standards to more normalized levels.

Yun anticipates that sales will rise to 5.3 million in 2015.

Yun is also forecasting growth in home prices, but at a more moderate pace than seen in recent years. The national median existing-home price for 2014 was near $208,000, up 5.6 percent from 2013, but it's expected to moderate between 4 percent and 5 percent growth in 2015.

source:  National Association of REALTORS®


More home owners are considering adding a bunker to their backyard.

It initially was the 9.0 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis in Japan, as well as the ever present tensions in the Middle East, that prompted doomsday bunker sales to skyrocket in recent years, as much as 1,000 percent in some cases.

When it comes to bunkers, there are plenty of options to choose from too — from reserving your spot in a giant warehouse-sized building that even has medical facilities to luxury, nuclear-safe tents. 

Northwest Shelter Systems has seen sales of its bunkers increase 70 percent since tensions first rose in the Middle East. The company offers shelters ranging in price from $200,000 to $20 million. sells portable shelters, bomb shelters, and underground bunkers. Inquiries for its shelters has jumped 400 percent since the crisis in Japan, with sales reaching all-time highs for its $9,500 nuclear biological chemical shelter tents. 

Hardened Structures says interest has soared for its apocalyptic shelters, radiation protection tents, and nuclear, biological, and chemical air filters.

Doomsday bunker company Vivos says orders for its bunkers have spiked nearly 1,000 percent. The company sells rooms in 200-person doomsday bunkers. A reservation requires a minimum deposit of $5,000. One of its bunkers in Nebraska can withstand a 50 megaton blast and is 137,000 square feet. It can house 950 people for up to one year and even contains a medical and dental center as well as a pet center.