Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS
Jeff Shauger, Associate Broker, ABR, CDPE, CRS, ePRO, GRI , SRES, SRS

Jeff's Blog

Research Predicts New Construction Starts to Rise 2 Percent this Year

June 28, 2012 2:02 am

Revised research now predicts that total construction starts for the U.S. will increase 2 percent this year to $445 billion, up from the $434 billion reported for 2011. According to the 2012 Dodge Construction Outlook Midyear Update projections from McGraw-Hill Construction (part of The McGraw-Hill Companies) the revised forecast, while slightly better than the flat performance for 2012 construction starts predicted last fall, still portrays an industry struggling to gain upward momentum.

"The construction industry has yet to move from a hesitant up-and-down pattern to more sustained expansion," states Robert A. Murray, vice president of Economic Affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "After plunging 23 percent in 2009, new construction starts edged up only 1 percent in 2010 and were unchanged in 2011, so the modest 2 percent increase predicted for 2012 is really more of the same. On the plus side, energy costs are now receding, interest rates are very low, and lending standards are beginning to ease for commercial real estate development."

Given these divergent factors, the construction market this year continues to see a mix of pluses and minuses by major sector, as follows:
  • Single-family housing in 2012 will advance 21 percent in dollars, corresponding to a 19 percent increase in the number of units to 490,000 (McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge basis). While still at a very low amount, single-family housing for the past year has been able to register small yet steady gains.
  • Multifamily housing in 2012 will climb 19 percent in dollars and 18 percent in units, given rising occupancies and rents, which reflect elevated demand from potential homebuyers still reluctant or unable to move ahead with purchasing a single-family home.
  • Commercial building in 2012 will grow 10 percent, following the 12 percent gain in 2011. Warehouses and hotels will see the largest percentage increases, joined this year by a moderate gain for stores while office construction sees more privately financed projects but less government office buildings.
  • The institutional building market in 2012 will fall an additional 10 percent, after sliding 11 percent in 2011. The tough fiscal environment for states and localities continues to dampen school construction, and the uncertain economic environment is restraining health care facilities.
  • The manufacturing building category in 2012 will retreat 20 percent, following the 75 percent jump in 2011 which featured the start of several unusually large projects.
  • Public works construction in 2012 will slide a further 6 percent, after last year's 14 percent decline. This reflects government spending cuts and the absence of a multiyear federal transportation bill.
  • Electric utility construction in 2012 will essentially hold steady with its exceptionally strong 2011 amount, helped by this year's start of two large nuclear power projects.
Source: McGraw-Hill Construction

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Foreclosure Crisis Subsiding?

June 28, 2012 2:02 am

Severely delinquent balances among first mortgages are on the decline, according to Equifax's May National Consumer Credit Trends Report. While still elevated relative to historic levels, the May 2012 total of $450 billion in delinquent balances represents a 37 percent decline from the peak of more than $700 billion in January 2010. Of note is that 70 percent of outstanding delinquencies among first mortgages still remain tied to loans opened between 2005-2007.

The greatest level of change was seen among severely delinquent non-agency first mortgage loans (90+ days past due or in foreclosure), which fell 45 percent to $320 billion in May 2012 from its peak of $580 billion in January 2010. By comparison, agency-sourced (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA) first mortgages reported as severely delinquent declined just 9 percent to $130 billion in May 2012 after peaking at $142 billion in January 2010. Similar reductions in severely delinquent totals were seen among home equity installment loans, which declined 31 percent from their peak in February 2011 ($880 million) to May 2012 ($615 million).

"That severe mortgage delinquencies are trending downward is not surprising given generally improving economic conditions," explains Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "What is surprising is that even with the foreclosure moratoriums and the slow resolution of foreclosure backlogs, the downward trend has been a steady, consistent drumbeat of recovery. If this pace continues, we expect the volume of severely delinquent mortgage balances to return to mid-2007 levels by the end of 2014."

Other highlights from the most recent data include:
  • Home equity revolving balances fell 18 percent from their peak of $680 billion in May 2009 to $560 billion in May 2012.
  • Total credit limits among home equity revolving accounts have declined 27 percent to $1.02 trillion in May 2012 since their peak in March 2008 ($1.30 trillion).
  • Year-to-date total mortgage write-offs through May 2012 are down 28 percent from their 2010 peak. Home mortgage balances are down 12.5 percent in May 2012 from their record-high of $9.8 trillion set in Oct. 2008. Total mortgage debt outstanding now sits at $8.6 trillion.
Source: Equifax, Inc.

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Avoid Fireworks Injuries

June 27, 2012 1:58 am

While we all love a brilliant fireworks display, especially on the Fourth of July, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 21,692 people were treated for injuries related to fireworks in 2011. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) offers fireworks safety tips to help prevent injuries during this year’s festivities.

"Many people view these mini explosives as harmless, when in fact they can be very dangerous to people of all ages," says orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson William Obremskey, MD. "Take it from one who picked up a ‘dud’ as a kid and suffered minor burns. You can also lose a finger, damage your eyes or worse. To avoid injury, people should not use fireworks at home, but instead find a park or outdoor location that showcases fireworks."

The Academy offers the following safety guidelines for adults who do choose to use fireworks. While these tips may seem a simple matter of common sense, they are consistently ignored by many each year:
  • Check with your local police department to determine if fireworks can be discharged legally in your area. If so, determine which types are legal.
  • Never buy or use illegal fireworks. Their quality cannot be assured.
  • Only adults should light fireworks.
  • Never hold lighted fireworks with your hand or place them near the body.
  • Always have water handy in case of a fire. For example, a hose hooked to a faucet or a bucket of water.
  • Read the caution label on packaging before igniting.
  • Wear safety eyewear when using fireworks.
  • Soak used fireworks in water before discarding.
  • Never try to relight a firework.
  • If you are injured using fireworks, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Never allow young children to play with or go near fireworks, including sparklers. They
  • seem harmless but sparklers can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees.
  • Never handle fireworks if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Source: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage Averages 3.66 Percent

June 27, 2012 1:58 am

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing average mortgage rates easing amid worsening economic indicators. Both the 30-year fixed and the 5-year ARM registered new average record lows.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.66 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending June 21, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.71 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.50 percent.

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.95 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.98 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.69 percent.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.77 percent this week, with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.80. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.25 percent.

The1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.74 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.99 percent.
According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist for Freddie Mac, “Treasury bond yields eased somewhat this week on some worsening economic indicators bringing mortgage rates back into record low territory. Industrial production fell in two of the last three months ending in May, and below the expected market consensus forecast. In addition, consumer sentiment fell in June to its lowest level this year, according to the University of Michigan survey.

"However, there were also some positive indicators on the housing market. Construction on one-family homes rose for the third consecutive month in May to an annualized pace of 516,000. Furthermore, homebuilder confidence rose in June to its highest reading in over five years."

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Home Prices Rise in April

June 27, 2012 1:58 am

Data through April 2012, released recently by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, a leading measure of U.S. home prices, showed that on average home prices increased 1.3 percent in the month of April for both the 10- and 20-City Composites. This comes after seven consecutive months of falling home prices as measured by both indices.

April's data indicate that on an annual basis home prices fell by 2.2 percent for the 10-City Composite and by 1.9 percent for the 20-City Composites, versus April 2011. While still negative, this is an improvement over the annual rates of -2.9 percent and -2.6 percent recorded for the month of March 2012. Both Composites and 18 of the 20 MSAs saw increases in annual returns in April compared to those published for March; only Detroit and New York fared worse in April, posting annual returns of +1.2 percent and -3.8 percent respectively, falling below their March returns of +3.9 percent and -3.0 percent. For the seventh consecutive month, Atlanta posted the only double-digit negative annual return at -17.0 percent, its 22nd consecutive month of negative annual returns. Ten of the 20 MSAs saw positive annual returns – Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Tampa and Washington D.C. No cities posted new lows in April 2012.

In April 2012, both Composites were up by 1.3 percent in the month, resulting in annual returns of -2.2 percent and -1.9 percent, respectively.

"With April 2012 data, we finally saw some rising home prices," says David M. Blitzer, chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. "On a monthly basis, 19 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites rose in April over March. Detroit was the only city that saw prices fall, down 3.6 percent. In addition, 18 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites saw better annual rates of return. It has been a long time since we enjoyed such broad- based gains. While one month does not make a trend, particularly during seasonally strong buying months, the combination of rising positive monthly index levels and improving annual returns is a good sign.”

As of April 2012, average home prices across the United States are back to the levels where they were in early 2003 for the 20-City Composite and to mid-2003 levels for the 10-City Composite. Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks through April 2012, the decline for both Composites is approximately 34 percent. Both Composites recently reached their index level lows in the current housing cycle in March 2012, down approximately 35 percent from their peaks.

Source: Case Shiller

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Americans Want to Know: What’s in My Hot Dog?

June 26, 2012 1:56 am

As National Hot Dog Month approaches in July and Americans prepare to chow down on an estimated 150 million wieners on Independence Day alone, a new survey finds that while many Americans differ in preferences for what's on their hot dogs, 77 percent of Americans are concerned about what's in their hot dogs.

Despite consumers' hunger for hot dogs, the survey, sponsored by organic and natural meat firm Applegate, also found that 74 percent agree that most are of "low quality."

The survey found that 81 percent of people who consume hot dogs would rather purchase franks with a short ingredient statement that listed beef, water, sea salt and spices versus one with items like sodium phosphate and sodium nitrite. Additionally, 73 percent of respondents thought it was important for hot dogs to be made from animals that were not administered antibiotics or hormones, underscoring just how important this issue has become for shoppers.

In an effort to help Americans better understand what's really in their hot dogs, Applegate launched earlier this month. On the website, visitors can interact with videos and graphics rife with wiener puns and fun frank facts.

The "What's In Your Hot Dog Survey" showed that when it comes to condiments, the yellow stuff cuts the mustard. Mustard was the top topping, followed by ketchup, onions and relish. The topping used least often is tomatoes.

The survey revealed some regional favorites for dressing a dog.
  • For Southerners, chili edges out relish and onions and comes in just behind mustard and ketchup.
  • Midwesterners enjoy pickles on their franks more than any other region of the country.
  • It's cheese please for hot dog eaters in the Western United States.
  • Northeasterners like to top their franks with sauerkraut.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Nearly Half of Americans Have Insufficient Emergency Savings

June 26, 2012 1:56 am

Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) do not have enough emergency savings to cover three months' expenses, up from 46 percent last year at this time, according to recently released research from Twenty-eight percent have no emergency savings (up from 24 percent last year). The generally recommended cushion is six months' expenses, and only 25 percent of Americans have saved that much (compared with 24 percent last year).

A similar poll that was taken in 2006 found that, at the time, a whopping 61 percent of Americans failed to have enough emergency savings to cover three months' expenses. "While we've seen some improvement since then, the bottom line is that much more progress is needed," explains Greg McBride, CFA, senior financial analyst for "Having sufficient emergency savings is critical to avoiding high-cost credit card debt when unexpected expenses arise."

There are two noteworthy improvements, however:
  • Thirty-two percent of Americans are currently reporting that they are less comfortable with their savings versus one year ago, a new low and down from the peak of 47 percent that were less comfortable in August 2011
  • Eighteen percent are less comfortable with their debt than 12 months ago, a new low and down from the peak of 27 percent in October 2011 and November 2011
The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI).


Published with permission from RISMedia.


What to Expect From a Housing Counselor

June 26, 2012 1:56 am

As a still recovering economy continues to affect many homeowners who are struggling to make their mortgage payments, more and more Americans are forced to consider reaching out for help.

For those facing foreclosure — or who fear they may face it in the future — a call to a HUD-certified housing counselor can help. In fact, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) highlights the effectiveness of housing counseling in helping homeowners remain in their homes.

To help homeowners better understand the housing counseling process, the financial experts at MMI offer the following rundown of what to expect from a session with one of MMI's HUD-certified housing counselors:

Prior to calling, make sure you know and/or have access to the following information, as the counselor will ask for these things in order to better assess your situation: your monthly income; monthly expenses; debts and assets; and mortgage information – including servicer, payment amount, interest rate, amount of loan, date loan was acquired and your last contact with servicer.

A typical phone call lasts about an hour and begins with the privacy disclosure. Your counselor will then take time to answer any questions you may have. You will then be asked to discuss your specific hardship (the reason you're having difficulty making payments), which will give your counselor an accurate understanding of your situation in order to make the best possible recommendation.

Your counselor will explain your options based on your specific situation. Upon gathering the necessary information (listed above) and reviewing your specific hardship, your counselor will recommend the nonprofit resources and services that will be of most benefit to you. Then you will be offered information on all of the options available to you, as well as the foreclosure information specific to your state.

You will then review an action plan, which your counselor will create based on the information covered in the session. You will receive a written copy of the action plan, which will be used to prepare a recommendation to your lender based on the option that best fits your needs (if you choose an option).

At the conclusion of the counseling session, you will be offered the opportunity to participate in a conference call with your lender to go over the recommendation and see if your lender will be able to assist you. You should note that, while telephone contact is not required and is completely optional, it is an important part of the process in order for your lender to help you avoid foreclosure.

In the event you are not able to work with the lender to keep your home, you will be told what to expect and you may be offered a post-foreclosure counseling session. In this session you will learn more about what to expect after you transition out of the home.

If you are already in foreclosure, the most important thing you can do is stay in contact with your lender and seek help as soon as possible. While the foreclosure process varies by state, there a number of options that may allow you to slow or suspend the foreclosure activity — all of which your counselor can explain to you in detail.

Source: Money Management International

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Vanilla Top Ice Cream Flavor with Americans

June 25, 2012 1:56 am

Vanilla is the most popular ice cream flavor, premium ice cream is the best-selling type of ice cream and frozen yogurt is resurging in popularity among Americans. These are a few of the findings from a recent survey of International Ice Cream Association (IICA) member companies, which make and distribute an estimated 85 percent of the ice cream and frozen dessert products consumed in the United States. IICA and the International Dairy Foods Association, its umbrella organization, announced the results of the recent survey today at the 30th Annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party, the official launch of National Ice Cream Month, which runs throughout the month of July.

Of the companies participating in the survey, 92 percent said that vanilla is the most popular flavor among their consumers. Chocolate chip mint and cookies-and-cream ice cream tied for second place with 3.7 percent saying it was most popular.

Premium ice cream, which has a lower amount of aeration and a higher fat content than regular ice cream, is the most popular variety with consumers, according to the ice cream company survey. Nearly 70 percent cited premium ice cream as the most popular product, while 10 percent said that novelties are most popular. Novelties are defined as separately packaged single servings of a frozen dessert, such as ice cream sandwiches and fudge sticks.

While survey participants noted a strong demand for premium ice cream and novelties, 52 percent said they are seeing increased demand for frozen yogurt. Nearly 15 percent of respondants said they are also seeing an increased demand for no-sugar-added ice cream.

When asked about inclusions, which are ingredients added to ice cream, the majority of companies surveyed said that pecans are the most popular nut and strawberries are the most popular fruit added to their frozen products. Sixty percent of the participating companies named pecans most popular, and 32 percent cited peanuts as most popular with their consumers. More than three-quarters of respondents named strawberries as the top fruit, while 12 percent said cherry and another 12 percent named raspberries as the favorite fruit inclusion.

Among novelties, the ice cream sandwich is most widely made; 91 percent of participating companies make and market ice cream sandwiches. Nearly 75 percent of the companies responding offer an ice cream cone novelty. Bars, sticks and mini-cups are also popular products, according to the survey, which allowed for more than one response in this category.

Approximately 1.53 billion gallons of ice cream and related frozen desserts were produced in the U.S. in 2011. The U.S. ice cream industry generated total revenues of $10 billion in 2010.

Source: International Ice Cream Association

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Introducing 'America's Vainest Cities'

June 25, 2012 1:56 am

Tampa, Fla., is home to the vainest people in America, while the citizens of Des Moines, Ia. are the least concerned with appearances, according to a report in Men's Health magazine.

To determine the rankings, Men's Health added up each city's percentage of Botox users, folks who go for dye jobs, and people who will spend anything to look younger. Also tallied were sales of at-home hair dyes, teeth whiteners, and shapewear , as well as per-capita rates of cosmetic procedures, cosmetic dentists, plastic surgeons, and tanning salons. Foursquare provided information on where people check into those salons most often.

The 10 Most Vain and 10 Least Vain cities are as follows:

Most Vain

      Least Vain 

Tampa, FL

      Memphis, TN

Plano, TX

      Toledo, OH

Atlanta, GA

      Detroit, MI

Las Vegas, NV

      Burlington, VT

Dallas, TX

      Fort Wayne, IN

Pittsburgh, PA

      Kansas City, MO

Houston, TX

      Fargo, ND

Miami, FL

      Sioux Falls, SD

San Francisco,CA 

      Lincoln, NE

Providence, RI

      Des Moines, IA

Source: Men's Health magazine

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