Cold Spell Underscores Need for Marin County Homeless Shelter

With Winter arriving in full force this week, Marin County shelters have been full to capacity, and there’s an obvious need for more shelter, lending credence to the ongoing attempts to establish a County shelter facility.  Currently, the only safe shelters for the area’s homeless are a handful of churches that open their doors to those seeking shelter from the deadly cold.  According to the director of Marin’s Department of Health and Human Services, Larry Meredith, there are hundreds of homeless people living in Marin County and there are simply not enough shelters to accommodate them.  “We need to take care of people who may have fallen on hard times or may be unable to help themselves,” Meredith said in a statement. “That’s what we do.”

In an attempt to address the need for shelter for homeless in the county, officials have begun looking into the possibility of building a year-round facility dedicated to providing homeless folks with a safe haven from the elements.  In addition to a handful of County officials, several cities have joined in on the planning, including San Rafael and Novato, two cities being considered as locations for the shelter.  But despite the ongoing discussions about the project, one major hurdle needs to be overcome before construction can begin:  funding.  Currently, there has not been any money dedicated to the project from the County or city officials.  The idea of a homeless shelter maintained by the county is still very much in the early stages, but several sources said that private donations would likely have to fund at least half of any potential project.

<li><a href=”news-120613-mortgage-rates.html”><font color=”blue”>Mortgage Rates Move Higher for 2nd Straight Week</font></a></li>


12 2013

New Home Sales Surge 25 Percent in October

The US Census Bureau reported Wednesday that new home sales surged 25 percent in October, underscoring the strength of the housing recovery as 2013 nears an end. According to the report, new homes sold in October at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 444,000 units. The group also revised figures for September, reducing the month’s pace to 354,000. October’s reading, meanwhile, easily surpassed Wall Street expectations, as a group of economists in a recent Thomson Reuters poll projected an annual pace of 425,000 homes sold, on average.


October’s surge in new home sales is an encouraging sign for the world’s largest economy, considering the crucial role the sector plays in the overall economy. When new home sales are high, construction of new homes follows suit, providing a lift not only to the housing sector but also to the broader economy. According to estimates provided by the National Association of Home Builders, every new home built in the US contributed to the economy by creating 3 to 4 jobs for at least a year, while also creating tax revenue for local and state governments. Of course, October’s sales pace of 425k is still well below historic norms, but a stark improvement nonetheless, especially considering that mortgage rates are significantly higher than they were a year ago.


In addition to increasing new home sales, Wednesday’s report also showed a decline in existing inventory of new homes for sale. This is even better news, according to some economists, as any increase in demand will lead to new construction more quickly, meaning jobs will be created. According to the report, builders had enough homes ready to sell to last 4.5 months at October’s sales pace. That figure is less than half what it was at the height of the recession and down starkly from September’s supply of 6.4 months.


12 2013

Mortgage Demand Slips for 5th Straight Week

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported Wednesday that demand for home loans continued to decline in the last week of November as rising interest rates continued to impact the mortgage refinancing market. The MBA’s seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications, reflecting both refinance and purchase loan requests, fell 12.8 percent in the week ended November 29th. The decline represents the fifth straight week in which demand for home loans dropped off, and the index is now sitting at its lowest level since the first week of September. The MBA also noted that an adjustment was made to the latest report to account for the Thanksgiving holiday.


Mortgage demand has been slipping for a number of months now as interest rates make their way back up from record lows set last year. Interest rates have been on the rise because economists expect the Federal Reserve to begin unwinding stimulus measures aimed at keeping the rates down. Known as quantitative easing, the Fed’s program entails the monthly purchase of $85 billion worth of Treasury bills. Since mortgage rates track the yield on the 10-Year T-bill, these purchases keep rates down by reducing the yield of the bonds. Speculation about when or how fast the Fed would exit the program has been impacting rates for months, affecting demand for mortgages in the process.


While the latest weekly decline in mortgage applications primarily reflected a slump in refinancing activity, purchase demand slipped as well, though not nearly as steeply. The MBA’s measure of refinancing dropped a whopping 17.5 percent, while the gauge of purchase demand slipped just over 4 percent.


12 2013

Pending Home Sales Drop for 5th Straight Month

The National Association of Realtors reported Monday that pending US home sales fell for a fifth straight month in October, surprising economists who were expecting a slight increase. The housing recovery, which had been gaining strength for months before the summer, has slowed a bit in the last few months as rising interest rates have made home buying more expensive. The NAR’s reading on pending home sales, which measures the number of consumers who signed contracts to buy existing homes, fell 0.6 percent last month following a stout 4.6 percent slide in September. In a recent survey conducted by Bloomberg, a group of economists had projected a 1 percent gain in October’s reading.


While October’s unexpected decline is a disappointment, and five straight dropoffs is discouraging, many economists were not alarmed at the latest pending sales report, saying that the market was due for an adjustment after solid numbers during the summer. When mortgage rates shot up on speculation about the unwinding of federal stimulus measures, thousands of Americans got antsy and accelerated their home shopping to try and lock in interest rates before they went up more. As a result, many Americans who might be in the market for homes now are already locked into a mortgage, leaving less prospective buyers in the market.


According to the NAR’s report, pending sales are down 2.2 percent on a year-over-year basis. The seasonally-adjusted index came in at 102.1 for October, the lowest the index has hit this year. Of the four regions of the country, the biggest decline in pending sales took place in the West, where contracts to buy homes fell 4.1 percent. Contracts also slipped in the South, while the Midwest and Northeast regions saw gains.


11 2013

Mortgage Rates Slide for First Time in 3 Weeks

Mortgage rates fell off last week, following three straight weeks of increases, according to a report issued Thursday by Freddie Mac.  This week’s decline in rates was one of just a few since 2013 began, and one of the sharpest slides this year.  The average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage dropped off 13 basis points, the 15-year fixed average dropped 8 basis points and the rate for a 5 year, adjustable rate mortgage slid 6 basis points.  The only major mortgage type that didn’t pull back was the one-year ARM, which held steady from last week’s levels.

According to Freddie Mac’s report, the average rate for the 30 year mortgage fell from last week’s 4.35 percent to 4.22 percent.  Of course, that’s well off the rate’s historical lows and despite the decline, the rate has still surged from an average of 3.34 percent at the beginning of the year.  The 15 year average fell from last week’s 3.35 percent down to 3.27 percent, but is up nearly three-fourths of a percent since January 1st.  Both rates are well below their high for the year, however, as the 30 year topped out in August at 4.58 percent.


11 2013

Tiburon Men’s Tennis Team Claims National Title

Last weekend was a fruitful one for the Tiburon men’s tennis team, which secured the national title at the USTA League Adult 40 & Over 4.5+ Championships held at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the Coachella Valley. The team successfully navigated round robin play on Friday and Saturday before dispatching the Cleveland, Ohio team by a score of 3-2 in the semifinals on Saturday morning, then cruised through the final, earning the title with a relatively easy 4-1 victory over the National runner-up from East Brunswick, New Jersey. Playing out of the Tiburon Peninsula Tennis Club, the team consists of team captain Jeff Babikian, William Breck, Paul Bressie, Polo Cowan, Daniel Grossman, Thomas Leverte, Michael Seifer, Douglas Sullivan, Hal Wagner and Thomas Wyman.


11 2013

Job Market Improvement Causing Marin County Traffic Congestion

While it’s not likely that any Americans are pining for the good old days of the recession, the economic recovery has had some negative impacts on residents who deal with heavy traffic during their daily commutes. As businesses grow more confident in the recovery and ramp up hiring, those newly employed workers are taking to the highways, clogging up roadways that are already congested. Nowhere is this more apparent than in California, particularly in Marin County, where many commuters are complaining that their daily trips to work are taking nearly twice as long as they did just a year ago.


Traffic congestion is certainly not a new problem for Californians, as the state’s cities often crowd Top 10 lists of the nation’s most congested communities. But these problems have gotten worse in recent months as businesses in Silicon Valley, the Bay Area and elsewhere have ramped up hiring. Nationwide, drivers spend an average of just over 38 hours stuck in traffic each year, according to data obtained from the Texas Transportation Institute. When looking just at California’s metro areas, however, that figure balloons to 62 hours each year.


In addition to new workers, traffic in Marin County has also been impacted by construction around town, a process that seems never-ending. One of the biggest problem areas in Marin County is the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, where traffic is commonly backed up for miles with cars trying to get across. As a result, the Transportation Authority of Marin has vowed to spend $190,000 to alleviate congestion on the bridge, including expanding to three eastbound lanes during the evening commute in an attempt to get through rush hour more quickly.


11 2013

Average 30-Year Mortgage Rate Jumps 19 Basis Points

McLean, Virginia-based mortgage insurer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that mortgage rates continued to rise this week as economists continue to await the unwinding of the Federal Reserve’s bond buying program. According to the report, the average rate this week for a 30-year, fixed-rate loan was 4.35 percent, nearly 20 basis points ahead of last week’s average of 4.16 percent. The average 30-year rate has now gained over a full percentage point year-over-year, as it stood at 3.34 percent during the same week a year ago. The rate hasn’t surged much since June, however, when it crept over the 4 percent mark for the first time since the recession.


The 30 year fixed mortgage, the most common type of home loan used in home purchases, was not the only mortgage type for which rates moved higher last week, as the popular refinancing option the 15-year fixed loan averaged 3.35 percent this week. That’s up just 8 basis points from last week’s 3.27 percent average and 70 basis points above the year-ago average of 2.65 percent. So-called adjustable-rate, or hybrid loans were mixed, meanwhile, with the 5-year ARM’s average climbing from 2.96 percent to 3.01 percent and the 1-year ARM holding steady at 2.61 percent. To calculate average rates, Freddie contacts lenders from across the country from Monday to Wednesday of a given week, then issues the results on Thursdays.


11 2013

Housing Distress Indicators Fall to Post-Recession Lows

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported this week that the four major measures of distress in the US housing market have reached their lowest levels since the sector crashed in 2008, as all four fell dramatically during the third quarter. The report showed steep dropoffs in not only foreclosure starts, but also in delinquency rates, serious delinquencies and loans in foreclosure, underscoring the momentum enjoyed by the market this year. All four of these measures are at their lowest levels since the onset of the worst economic downturn in the US since the Great Depression.

The MBA’s reading on the mortgage delinquency rate, which tracks all mortgages in which a borrower is 30 days late but not yet in foreclosure, fell to 6.41 percent in the three months ended October 31st, marking its lowest level since 2008′s 2nd quarter. Serious delinquencies, meanwhile, or those where the borrower is at least three months behind on payments, fell to 5.65 percent of all outstanding home loans. This figure includes homes that are in the midst of the foreclosure process, a category that accounted for 3.08 percent of US home loans last quarter. The impact distressed properties are having on prices is declining, as well, as short sales, foreclosures and other distressed homes only accounted for about 18 percent of sales last quarter, down from nearly a quarter of all sales in the same period in 2012.

In a separate report, RealtyTrac reported that foreclosure starts were initiated on just under 175,000 homes in the third quarter, marking the lowest total since the second quarter of 2006, at the onset of the crash. The figure represents a 13 percent decline from the previous quarter and a staggering 39 percent slide from last year’s third quarter. The improvement is rather wide-spread, as well, as 38 of the 50 US states saw improvement in foreclosure starts, led by California and Arizona, two of the states hit the hardest by the foreclosure crunch.


11 2013

Mill Valley Couple Employs Home Swapping to Reduce Vacation Costs

Americans spend billions of dollars every year on travel expenses, the majority of which is commonly spent on lodging. Whether it be a 5-star hotel, timeshares or rented condominiums, where we stay is often the most expensive part of a trip. It is precisely because of that fact that one Mill Valley couple has turned to home swapping as a way to cut down on the cost of their vacations, joining a growing number of Americans in the practice. Joe Friedman and Leslie de Leeuw have employed the technique more than 55 times over the last twelve years or so, trading homes with residents of cities as close as Santa Barbara and as far away as New Zealand.


Friedman and de Leeuw began home swapping in 2004, when they traded homes with some friends in Santa Barbara for a week. The idea got the couple thinking, and they decided they could likely swap homes for all their vacations. They had recently taken a trip to France, spending thousands of dollars on lodging, and figured that house swapping would be a great way to reduce vacation expenses. Their first home swap occurred via Craigslist, where a Boulder, Colorado couple were offering a home swap to Marin County residents, but they have since swapped homes for vacations across Europe, Mexico, Canada, and other parts of the United States.


11 2013