November 16, 2011

Waiting to sell until home prices ... fall?

You hear all the time about homeowners waiting for home prices to rise before trying to sell. But what about waiting to sell until prices drop even more?

Some homeowners who don't intend to sell or buy next year say that's the basic plan. "I own a home and want to wait for prices to fall further before buying elsewhere" is actually the most popular answer so far in this week's poll for those who aren't in the market.

"That makes no sense," Wonk reader George wrote in a comment. "Waiting for prices to fall further just hurts you more on the selling side. Logic would dictate you sell now, rent then buy later if you feel prices will fall further."

I offered that as a poll option because Wonk reader elweedz has mentioned that he would have gone the sell, rent, buy route but he couldn't get his wife on board with the plan to not be homeowners for a while. So he's simply waiting to sell.

"Equity is not found money. I have 100k in 'equity' in my home but, I cant spend it without selling my home," he wrote in a comment. "If I sell my home and want to stay in the same community then I will need it to buy the next home. Now, if both my current home and my next home were worth 100k less then it wouldnt make a difference to me."

Are you also waiting to sell until prices drop further? What are your reasons?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:18 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Polls

November 15, 2011

Poll: Do you plan to buy or sell a home next year?

Quick poll to satisfy my curiosity: Do you see yourself buying or selling anytime soon?

If you're not in the market, why?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Polls

May 3, 2011

Free housing!

Nearly half of men under 25 -- at least those surveyed by -- are paying zilch for their living arrangements. It's no great secret how: They're depending on the kindness of family, or in some cases friends.

They're not the only ones.

The recession and sluggish recovery have put many more people in the category of living with Mom and Dad (or Sis or some other relative with a roof over their heads) out of financial necessity, regardless of age. And in good times and bad, there are always those who move in with family to take care of aging or ill loved ones.

Is this you -- or was it? Is it more upside or downside -- more togetherness or stress?

While we're on the subject, have a poll:

Along with its survey, released a Top 10 list of cities for bachelors. Houston was No. 1. No. 10? Baltimore.

"Baltimore, MD attracts singles with charming and scenic Inner Harbor bars and restaurants," the company said in a press release. "Statistics say there are plenty more single ladies than men in this city, and it’s both affordable and unique."

Not being a bachelor, I can't possibly weigh in on this one. What do you think?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Polls, Renting

March 28, 2011

Renting vs. owning in a battle royale

If anyone is delighted by the paradigm shift that came with the housing crash, it's apartment owners. They'd been arguing for years that renting isn't a waste of money, but few people seemed to agree until a lot of folks who bought during the market's height ended up way underwater on their mortgages.

Five years after the housing bubble started deflating, many more people are renting -- some by choice, some not. The homeownership rate in the Baltimore metro area, for instance, peaked at 75 percent at the beginning of 2006 and is now down to 66 percent, according to Census Bureau estimates. Homebuying activity is on the rise again, but from a pretty low bottom.

Loyalists on both sides of the own vs. rent debate are continuing to fight it out for hearts and minds.

Continue reading "Renting vs. owning in a battle royale" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Polls, Renting

February 25, 2011

Which direction do you want home prices to head?'s Holden Lewis made an observation via Twitter this week that, in less than 140 characters, sums up one of the points readers here sometimes make: "Are falling home prices bad news? Would falling used-car prices be bad news? There are two sides to every trade."

The Wall Street Journal's Robbie Whelan had a response: "Falling used car prices are inevitable and would be way worse if millions of Americans had poured all their equity into jalopies."

What's your answer? (You don't need to stay under 140 characters.)

And, more fundamentally, are you rooting for prices to keep falling, stay where they are or go back up?

Here, have a poll:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Polls, Question of the day

December 29, 2010

Real estate poll: Are you appealing your assessment?

American homeowners were asked in a new BIGresearch poll whether they're appealing to have their property taxes lowered. About one-quarter say they either plan to or already have. Another one-quarter haven't decided.

So there's a lot of tax angst out there. But what about here, specifically?

On the one hand, Maryland sent out notices this week to the one-third of homeowners who were just reassessed for tax purposes, and 95 percent of them have lower valuations now than they did three years ago. Average drop: 22 percent. On the other hand, two-thirds of homeowners were last assessed a year or two ago, and prices have continued to fall since.

Satisfy my curiosity: Do you plan to appeal your assessment? (You can play along if you're not in Maryland, too -- just make sure you choose the appropriate category.)

Once average assessed values began to fall in Maryland, so did the number of people contesting those new valuations. But out-of-cycle appeals -- the petitions mailed in by owners who weren't just reassessed -- have skyrocketed:

Continue reading "Real estate poll: Are you appealing your assessment?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Polls, Property taxes

December 20, 2010

Americans aren't expecting a quick housing-market turnaround

Nearly 60 percent of Americans think the housing market won't recover until after 2012, according to a recent survey by real estate site and foreclosure-tracking site RealtyTrac. More than 20 percent are especially bearish, expecting no turnaround until 2015 or later.

Predicting the market is a tricky thing, as I was reminded when I took a walk down forecast memory lane for this post. For instance:

In January 2008, economist Lawrence Yun with the National Association of Realtors predicted while he was in town that the local market had bottomed. "Ten years from now, people will look back at 2008 and say, 'Wow, that was a great time to become a homeowner," he said. (Instead, 2008 was the year of the financial meltdown.)

In May of that year, the managing partner of hedge fund Traxis Partners declared in a Wall Street Journal piece that the worst was over for the U.S. housing market. (Nope.)

Fannie Mae's chief executive said around the same time that his best guess at when things would start improving was 2010. (Home sales and prices were on the upswing in many places early in the year, but once the homebuyer tax credit expired, that trend reversed.)

The company that spun off CoreLogic predicted in 2009 that home prices in Maryland would be 4 percent higher in October 2010 than they were a year earlier. (Instead, they fell.)

That's just a small sampling of the too-optimistic forecasts, of course. (And they're not limited to words. Here's a visual!) The pessimists have the advantage here -- it'll be a while yet before we'll know if the most bearish of bears are just as far off the mark.

But why let that stop you from joining in on the forecasting fun? Weigh in:

Continue reading "Americans aren't expecting a quick housing-market turnaround" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Housing forecasts, Polls, Survey says ...

December 7, 2010

Real estate poll: What's most important?

Say you know where you want to buy, and you've already narrowed down the homes in that location to the ones where the price works for you.

What's the deciding factor?

Wonk reader Matt James suggested a poll to this effect because he's curious to hear whether it's bedroom number, yard size, house style or something else entirely that breaks the tie. 

Let's assume good condition. What's most important to you?

Please forgive the back-to-back short posts. I'm in day four of a rotten cold, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Polls

October 6, 2010

'Great time to buy' a home? Weigh in

Lots of you had something to say about real estate agent Creig Northrop's opinion in this week's Q&A that it's a great time to buy -- and sell. "I'm a barber and now is a good time to get a cut," shot back one reader.

Sounds like a poll. Or, rather, two polls. Weigh in:

As commenter Josh says, the bears and bulls have battled it out for years with prognostications about where prices are headed. ("Thus far the bears are up," he writes.)

On a related note: Personal Real Estate Investor magazine's September/October issue features Baltimore as a city, or possibly region, worth investing in. (For cash flow, not for big price gains -- the magazine quotes a market analysis firm called Local Market Monitor forecasting possible price declines for a year, followed by modest increases.)

Here's my plea to newbie or out-of-town investors eager to pick up a few homes cheap enough to put on a credit card:

Continue reading "'Great time to buy' a home? Weigh in" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Polls

August 22, 2010

The last time you moved

We're a mobile bunch, we Americans, but less so than we used to be.

As demographer William H. Frey notes in "The Great American Migration Slowdown," a Brookings Institution report, "The credit crisis and Great Recession that followed left Americans flat-footed, as would-be movers were unable to find financing to buy a new home, buyers for their existing homes, or a new job in more desirable areas." In the 2007-2008 period, which he analyzed in his '09 study, the migration rate was lower than it had been at any time since World War II.

So I guess I'm not surprised that many of you haven't moved for a while. About 45 percent of you who took last week's poll have been in your home -- rented or owned -- for at least five years. Last move "before 2000" was the most popular answer, with 14 percent of the vote. (One reader hasn't moved since 1969.)

Even so, a fair number of you switched homes pretty recently. Eighteen percent of you moved this year, including some in the past month. Thirteen percent more moved last year.

Even if you have nothing stopping you from moving, you might not want to go anywhere -- we all know people who are happily ensconced. My parents have lived in their home for more than 30 years.

Are you settled in for the long haul (or looking to find a long-haul place), or do you see yourself as a frequent mover for years to come?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Moving, Polls

August 15, 2010

Real estate poll: When did you last move?

Lots of people are feeling stuck in place nowadays. They can't easily sell their home because they're underwater. Or they're anxious about buying. Or they'd like to rent a bigger place but don't know if their job situation is stable.

This is the pent-up demand -- and, except for the renters, the pent-up supply -- that we all hear so much about.

It got me wondering: How long has it been since you all last moved?

Do you want to move? Or do you happily see yourself where you are now for a while?

It's been nearly 11 years since I last moved, though being in the middle of a renovation project feels pretty similar. Half my possessions are in boxes, and I don't know what's where.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Moving, Polls

July 11, 2010

Real estate poll: Predict home prices

Wonk reader Jaded indirectly suggested today's poll when he predicted where home prices will head from here. I figured you all might like to play this parlor game.

Put on your forecasting hat and weigh in:

What does Jaded think? "I'm predicting a further 7-10% decline in home prices in the Baltimore metro area," he wrote in a comment Friday. (He didn't specify the time period, so this prediction might not be strictly comparable with the poll.)

He's hoping prices will fall, even though he's a homeowner:

"When are we going to realize that this market is still way over inflated and has nowhere to go but down? I know that no one wants to hear that but lower prices are the only thing that is going bring about equilibrium. I own my home and don't want its value to decline but in a few years I hope to be able to purchase a larger home and if prices go up I'll never be able to afford more house! I don't mind a little depreciation now in order to be able to move up later."

It makes sense that renters would root for lower home prices, but I think people (and certainly policymakers) assume that homeowners want the slump to be Over with a capital O. So, homeowners: Do you want prices to rise, or do you agree with Jaded?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Housing forecasts, Polls

June 20, 2010

The housing market's impact on (would-be) sellers

There's a lot of pent-up supply out there -- homeowners who would sell, if only they thought the market would cooperate. That's what Zillow concluded after surveying Americans recently, and many of you said as much in the newest Wonk poll.

Just over a third of homeowners who took the poll in the last week -- about whether market conditions have interfered with plans to sell -- said they're delaying putting their home on the market as a result. That was the most popular answer by far.

Tied for second were "Yes, I tried to sell and couldn't" and "No, I had no plans to sell," each with about 21 percent of the vote.

Eight percent of homeowners who took the poll said they decided to stay put long-term because of market conditions. Seven percent said they sold with minimal issues. And the rest said they either had a headache of a time selling or ended up in a short-sale situation (of course, the latter is usually also the former).

Difficulty selling has real consequences for people. Duane commented, "I had 2 homes on the market in 2008 when this thing first started. They were on the market for over a year, not one buyer, and the banks wouldn't even work with me to do a short sale or deed in lieu...One went into foreclosure, and I have no idea what Chase is doing with the other. Chase has agreed to do a deed in lieu on my primary home in Baltimore city though, I am moving back to D.C."

I sympathize with everyone feeling jerked around by market conditions -- would-be sellers and buyers both. 

Renters didn't get to participate in last week's poll, so this one is just for you folks:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Polls

June 13, 2010

Real estate poll: Trying to sell and can't?

To sum up the month of May: The number of newly listed homes for sale in the Baltimore metro area was more than double the number of new pending deals.

It hasn't been easy being a seller for, oh, several years now. Many people have felt the sting of the market reversal -- especially those who purchased in the crazy days when it wasn't easy being a buyer.

What about you? Share your tale of woe, or at least take this week's poll:

Don't worry, renters. You'll get your turn next week.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Polls

May 2, 2010

First-time home buyer tax credit over at the right time?

The debate some of you readers have been having here (and here) about the first-time home buyer tax credit is, in part, about timing. Too soon to expire or good riddance to bad tax policy?

Don, who's trying to buy in San Diego, says the lure of the tax credit encouraged buyers to up their offers so "that $8000 is really given to the sellers (and banks!)" He's glad it's over.

Joanne, another buyer, had the same bidding-war experience but is of a different mind about the credit. "I would rather see the tax credit extended as to see the government give more welfare to those that sit and not work and expect a handout," she commented.

So, here, let's make it a poll: Was the credit expiration well-timed?

A few notable stats:

Homebuyer tax credits claimed by Americans through the middle of February for purchases in 2008 and 2009: 1,795,429

Value of those credits: $12.7 billion

Number of credits claimed by Maryland residents: 29,298

Value of those credits: $206.5 million

April 18, 2010

Your thoughts on high home prices

Reader Josh Dowlut posed a question recently: "are high or 'strong' real estate prices desirable or not?"

If you expected that homeowners and renters would be on opposite sides of this debate, surprise: More than half the homeowners who took the Wonk poll say high prices aren't good -- just like most of renters. (Renters are less split about it, though: Only a few said high home prices are good.)

All told, 62 percent of folks who took the poll (owners or not) said "feh" to high prices.

Does this match up with your views on home values?

Have the roller-coaster events of the last decade altered your views, by chance?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Polls

April 4, 2010

Real estate poll: Are high home prices good?

A running theme among comments on this blog is whether falling home prices are bad or good. Where the debaters stand usually depends on where they sit (in a house or a rental, that is), but not always.

So Josh Dowlut's recent poll suggestion -- "are high or 'strong' real estate prices desirable or not?" -- should be right up everyone's alley.

Tell us:

Now ponder this:

If high prices are preferable, what could/should be done to help more workers afford homes?

If lower prices are preferable, what could/should be done to help people stuck in homes they can't sell because they're underwater?

What sort of housing-market resolution would benefit everyone, at least long-term?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Polls

March 10, 2010

Home buying by price range

It probably won't surprise you to hear that the action in the Baltimore metro area's housing market last year was in non-ritzy price ranges. First-time buyers tempted by the $8,000 tax credit aren't the demographic for mansions.

Here's how home sales in the metro area changed in 2009 compared with 2008, by price range:

Under $250,000: 12,500 homes sold, up 20 percent

$250,000-$349,999: 5,500 homes sold, down 7 percent

$350,000-$499,999: 3,350 homes sold, down 11 percent

$500,000-plus: 2,200 homes sold, down 13 percent

Just for fun, share your go-to price range:

On a related note, real estate search site Trulia says price reductions on homes currently for sale are still significant around here. The average drop in Baltimore: 12 percent. The average drop in Baltimore for homes above $1 million: 18 percent.

An 18 percent decrease on a $1.5 million home is enough money to buy some homes with -- $270,000. But that's chump change compared with some of the asking-price decreases out there. Consider this five-bedroom Canton condo, reduced from $3 million to $2 million.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Polls

February 28, 2010

The slump's effect on homeownership views

Many of you tell me the housing slump has changed your view of homeownership -- just not in the same way. Some of you have been put off the idea altogether. And some of you rushed out to buy.

I asked you to share how it affected you, and the results of that Wonk poll were really interesting. Unscientific, of course, but interesting.

That's because they suggest a definite difference depending on whether you currently own a home.

The most popular answer for homeowners was that the slump hasn't affected their view of homeownership at all (43 percent of homeowners picked that option), while "it's made me less enthusiastic" was a close second (38 percent).

But for renters? "Less enthusiastic" was No. 1, by a mile -- more than half the renter vote. No. 2, with not quite a quarter of the vote, was "more enthusiastic."

I can see why people who don't have any home values to lose would be encouraged to see dropping prices, because cheaper homes should be to a renter's advantage. But that's a lot of dampened enthusiasm out there among you polled renters. Are you thinking the whole concept of owning a home might be a bad idea?

Just over one in 10 renters and the same percentage of homeowners say the slump has made them never want to buy (or buy again).

But two people wrote in the opposite answer about the slump's effect: "It's made me become a homeowner" and "It made me buy a home."

Homeowner Lisa commented that "the slump has confirmed my conviction to stick with the old fashioned notion that a house is a long-term investment whose sale should be used to top up your retirement nest egg when the day comes."

"I've got 10 years to retirement and a lot of equity in my home, so can weather the slump," she wrote. "It's pretty scary that there will likely be a lot of very impoverished seniors over the next decade with lousy pensions, if all all, and no home equity to speak of."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

February 23, 2010

Puzzling home prices

"Just reduced!" might work great at a department store, but not with homes -- assuming you Wonk readers are representative of the buying public.

Just 7 percent of you said in a Wonk poll that your first instinct is the just-reduced home is a deal (minor or major). More than half assume the home is STILL overpriced.

Wonk reader Michele wrote in recently with some concrete examples of homes that sure appear to be in the latter category -- real head-scratchers, in her opinion.

"When I look at these houses, I have to ask: In what sense is this house for sale?" Michele writes. "These houses are on the market officially, part of the inventory, but I wouldn't be inclined to look at them, because the pricing seems to make no sense."

She adds, "I imagine that there can be some debate about whether a house is overpriced. I'm talking about houses where the pricing history suggests a kind of cluelessness that I can't see as subject to much debate. These houses must be overpriced because their pricing history is hard to explain any other way."

Here are some of the puzzles, all in Bel Air -- with addresses redacted to protect the apparently clueless. (Her details, like days on market, are up to date as of about a week ago when she wrote me.)

Continue reading "Puzzling home prices" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Polls

February 21, 2010

Real estate poll: The slump's psychological effect

The Great Depression had a lasting impact on how an entire generation lived. What about the Great Recession?

Or, more specifically, the housing slump that kicked it off?

I'm curious to know if it's changed your view of homeownership, which for many years has been seen as the American dream, a way to build wealth and all sorts of other warm and fuzzy things.

So weigh in. (And add a comment if you're in the mood, because a poll can't possibly get at subtleties.)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Polls

January 31, 2010

Real estate poll: Cautious optimism

Most of you -- the survey-takers among you, at least -- are calling a bottom on home prices in your own neighborhoods. Just over 60 percent believe prices will stop falling at some point this year.

Here's how last week's Wonk poll turned out:

26 percent believe home prices in your own neighborhoods will flatten out this year, the most popular answer.

21 percent said they'll fall for a while but then flatten out

20 percent expect continued falling through the year, but not as bad as last year

11 percent are in the "worse to come" camp, predicting bigger price drops this year

10 percent see blue skies ahead this year -- price increases

7 percent think prices will fall as sharply this year as last year

5 percent believe prices will fall for a while but then start to rise

And one reader wrote in an answer: "Same for 15 years out."

Thanks for playing, folks. Now: Next poll!

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

January 23, 2010

Real estate poll: Is the worst over?

Recently, the poll-takers amongst you weighed in on how your home values have changed since 2007. One in three said you've lost more than 20 percent in value -- the most popular answer. (The next most popular, picked by 22 percent, was a drop of 5 to 10 percent.)

Now I'm wondering where you see things going. Do you think the worst of the price drops are over? Just like the last poll, you can play along if you're a renter. Just consider the wider neighborhood of homes around you.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

January 10, 2010

Poll results: You care, you really care

Some of you would gladly rent or purchase a place with a shady past, assuming the price was right, but most of you who took last week's poll say "no way." Someone else can live in the chainsaw-murderer mansion, thanks very much.

Just 3 percent of poll-takers said that what went on in a home they're interested in doesn't matter to them.

It was a choose-all-that-apply poll. Here's how the "I'd care if ..." answers ranked:

Tied for No. 1: If there was a murder there and if whatever happened caused structural problems -- both got 39 votes.

No. 2: If the previous owner/tenant used the property for selling illegal goods (14 votes).

No. 3: If it's renown for ghosts (13 votes).

Rather than making it a multiple-choice poll, I should have just included an "all of the above and then some" option. Several of you offered that as a write-in vote. (My favorite: "Yes, yes, yes and more yes!")

And one of you noted that what would particularly bother you is if the place had been used as a meth lab. Yeah, that would bother me too.

What previous life would you especially want for a home you were going to rent or buy? A long stint in the hands of a home-improvement expert?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

January 9, 2010

2009: An up year for home sales, if nothing else

It looks like 2009 is the year that shook off the housing slump. The dropping-sales part of that slump, anyway -- at least for now.

The number of home sales in the Baltimore metro area rose 3 percent last year, at least according to preliminary numbers. That's the first annual increase since 2005, the last hurrah of the buying frenzy.

Prices took longer to peak -- on average, at least, they were rising until well into 2007. Last year, they dropped about 9 percent, bringing the average to $280,000 in the Baltimore metro area. (That's below the 2005 figure, for those of you keeping score.)

Read more about it in today's story, or see the monthly figures at Metropolitan Regional Information Systems' website. MRIS doesn't tally up an annual number until mid-February, to allow for late entries of sales into the system and some data cleaning, so all these 2009 stats are my calculations from their monthly figures.

Despite the increase, sales are still way down from a typical year, let alone the peak. But average sale prices remain well above where they were at the start of the last decade. As Housing Watch pointed out recently, Baltimore-area home prices were 98 percent higher in the third quarter of last year than they were in 2000, using the National Association of Realtors figures. That's the second-largest increase among metro areas, behind only Allentown, Penn.

Depending on your point of view, that's either good news or bad. I'll let you all do the editorializing.

One of the troubles about average sale prices is that they're, well, an average of sales. A perfect cross-section of homes doesn't necessarily sell every year. That's why economists like to look at measures that try to get at changes in same-home prices.

So here's an information-gathering poll for everyone's edification. Compared with 2007 (the peak in prices, if averages are telling the true story), how have your values changed?

Continue reading "2009: An up year for home sales, if nothing else" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:32 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Housing stats, Polls

January 3, 2010

Off-putting real estate question of the day

When people ask questions on real estate search engine Trulia, the queries are usually along the lines of, "How can I fix my credit so I can buy a home?" or "Do sellers have any liability after selling their house?"

Not so common: "Will the murder of a homeowner inside the home being auctioned or sold affect either the auction price or the selling price of the home?"


The Baltimore buyer asking the query has his or her eye on a home that last sold for $950,000 in 2007.

Would you be put off a house because something bad happened there, even if the crime was unusual for the neighborhood? Here, take the poll:

UPDATE: Forgot to mention this is a multiple-choice poll. Feel free to care about all the scenarios mentioned.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Polls

December 26, 2009

Your 2010 home-price predictions

Hope may spring eternal, but many of you responded with skepticism to First American CoreLogic's prediction that Maryland home prices will be 4 percent higher next October than they were in October of this year.

Forty-one percent of you Wonk readers who took the poll this week expect prices will fall. Thirty-four percent of you think they'll rise, though not necessarily the amount First American is forecasting. And 24 percent of you believe prices will be flat.

(Among the bearish folks, the breakdown between those who expect a slight decrease vs. those who expect a significant one was about 60/40. Among the bulls, the most popular answer was an increase of about 4 percent, followed by less than 4 percent, and finally "I expect prices will increase more than that.")

And one reader wrote in an answer: "Depends where in MD. Balt = signif down. DC= up."

Frank Rizzo summed up a number of the bears' concerns in a comment:

Once the rate subsidies expire, mortgage rates will be at least 6%, if not 7% since investors do not want to buy the paper. When the tax credit expires the end of next year, you will see prices fall again as people will be forced to pay more money out of pocket. The 3.5% down payment [required by FHA] has left many buyers with very little skin in the game. As more and more homeowners become underwater, you will see more strategic defaults which only make the problem worse. The housing bubble was over inflated by these very same programs. Instead of letting the free market correct itself, Gov't intervention is only trying to "re-inflate" a bubble that will once again burst.

The chief executive of real estate search engine Trulia, Pete Flint, noted some of the same issues when he recently made predictions for U.S. real estate in 2010:

Continue reading "Your 2010 home-price predictions" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Housing forecasts, Polls

December 23, 2009

Baltimore due for increasing home prices in 2010?

First American CoreLogic, which follows the housing market, has its share of downer statistics. Lots and lots of homeowners under water on their mortgages, for instance. But this week it released a home-price forecast to give those homeowners some hope.

It believes Maryland home prices will be a little more than 4 percent higher next October than they were in October of this year. (You read that right -- higher.) That's a bigger increase than the not quite 2 percent the company is projecting for the nation as a whole.

An increase would be a big turnaround from the 12 months ending in October 2009. First American estimates that Maryland home values dropped more than 11 percent, the sixth-highest decrease in the country. (Nevada was No. 1, down 24 percent, followed by Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Idaho.)

North Dakota -- that island of low unemployment -- saw home prices rise 7 percent in the 12 months ending in October, according to First American.

So: 4 percent higher prices in Maryland next October? What do you think?

Take the poll:

Continue reading "Baltimore due for increasing home prices in 2010?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Housing forecasts, Polls

December 19, 2009

How much does green space matter?

A group of Dutch researchers, sifting through disease and disorder data from physicians, concluded recently that people living near parks and other islands of green are less unhealthy, anxious and depressed. They found that the effects are particularly noticeable based on the amount of green space within 1 kilometer of people -- about six-tenths of a mile.

The strongest connection was for children under 12, middle-aged adults and lower-income residents. "For a few disease clusters the relation for children was especially strong, for example for vertigo ... and severe intestinal complaints," the authors wrote, adding: "The strongest relation for children was found for depression."

This got me wondering how much you all value (or don't value) parks, gardens and other green spaces. Have you chosen your homes with these things in mind? Perhaps you didn't and are regretting it? Or maybe -- counter to these researchers' findings -- you live near a park and are being driven crazy by the noise?

I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Or just take this poll:

Do you think your community in general has too little, too much or just the right amount of green spaces?

VERY COOL UPDATE: Wonk reader Ben Hyman happens to have put together a map showing proximity to parks in the sense this study is talking about. Here it is:

Continue reading "How much does green space matter?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors, Polls

December 14, 2009

Split property-tax rate: Yea or nay?

Good discussion, folks, on the city's request to be allowed to tax owners of uninhabitable properties at higher rates than other homeowners. But most of you are silent members of this community, and I'm curious how you all feel about it.

So here's an easy way to weigh in:

In the last property-tax poll, you weighed in on whether the city should significantly lower its property-tax rate now (economist Anirban Basu's suggestion).

Continue reading "Split property-tax rate: Yea or nay?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Polls, Property taxes

December 10, 2009

Waiting for home sales

Statistics on November home sales and pending deals in the Baltimore metro area are due out today, so we'll see which trend had the upper hand -- the annual slowdown around the holidays, or the $8,000 and $6,500 incentives to buy buy buy.

I recently asked you in a Wonk poll whether you had plans to be in the housing market this winter. Two thirds of you said yes, which might be a bellwether of a busier-than-usual season or just a sign that you only put up with my wonkishness when you're in the market. So who knows. But here's how the poll breaks down:

Forty-one percent of you say you hope to buy.

Thirteen percent of you hope to sell.

Twelve percent hope to buy and sell.

Thirty percent have no plans to be in the market this winter.

None of you said you're in the market for a new apartment.

And four of you wrote in your own answers:

"hope to get approved and ready for early spring"

"Interested, but uncertain"

"Waiting for the post-incentive re-crash"

And "Not until home prices fall an additional 20%."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 2:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Polls

December 4, 2009

Foreclosure "shadow inventory"

Some of you have wondered how many foreclosed homes are on the sidelines of the housing market, neither for sale nor in the process of being sold. Lender Processing Services, a mortgage-industry services provider that tracks nearly 45 million loans across the country, says the answer is nearly 30 percent ... of properties in foreclosure for 12 months.


That's "twice the level of the prior year," the firm noted this week in a report looking at data through the end of October.

On top of that, Lender Processing Services said, mortgage holders haven't started foreclosure proceedings on almost 30 percent of loans with at least six missed payments. Two years ago, it was 13 percent. (The Mortgage Bankers Association, seeing similar trends, said lenders are trying to work out modifications with borrowers.)

Nearly 13 percent of loans in Maryland were either delinquent or in the foreclosure inventory in October, according to Lender Processing Services. That's 14th highest in the nation.

I asked recently how rising delinquencies and foreclosures are affecting you. Here's what you said (keeping in mind that it was a "choose any that apply" poll):

Continue reading "Foreclosure "shadow inventory"" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Polls, The foreclosure mess

November 29, 2009

Real estate poll: Are you in the market?

Winter, as you've probably heard many times before, is not a big season for home buying and selling. But this winter, there's the federal tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers and up to $6,500 for repeat buyers to entice people into searching, icky weather or no.

There's some spring in there, to be sure -- you have until April 30 to sign a contract. But most of the time between now and then is decidedly winter.

I'm curious: Are you planning to buy or sell during the season? Or, for that matter, go apartment-hunting? Weigh in:

November 22, 2009

Foreclosure ripple effects

Know 10 people with prime mortgages? Odds are that one of them is behind on the payments. That was the delinquency rate in Maryland and the U.S. at the end of September, an astonishingly high figure for borrowers who were supposed to be good credit risks. 

The Mortgage Bankers Association blamed unemployment, which last month hit 7.3 percent in Maryland and 10.2 percent on average nationwide. Falling home prices are another factor, the trade group notes.

So: Are we at the point where everyone is affected in some way by the rising tide of foreclosures and delinquencies? Enlighten us all by weighing in on this choose-all-that-apply poll:

Have a tale to tell? Please share.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls, The foreclosure mess

November 12, 2009

Economist: Lower Baltimore's property tax rate now

Baltimore has the region's least expensive homes on average, so you might think it would see an outsized benefit from a tax credit aimed at getting first-time home buyers to the settlement table. Instead, the city's sales have increased the least. Only last month, in fact, did they stop falling compared with a year earlier.

Baltimore economist Anirban Basu is convinced the city's property tax rate is to blame.

The city's rate -- $2.268 for every $100 in assessed value -- is more than twice as high as the property tax rates in Maryland's counties. Baltimore County comes closest, at $1.10 per $100. The difference has for years frustrated residents, given city real estate agents indigestion and prompted talk that "something must be done." (The rate is six cents lower than it was in 2002, but most of the Baltimore suburbs lowered their rates, too.)

"We know that people who transact on the basis of an $8,000 tax credit care deeply about their tax exposure," said Basu, who has called for a steep drop in the city's rate. "It's unlikely that people who are looking to minimize their tax bill would choose the city first. It's not that nobody bought in the city, ... it's that not as many people bought in the city as had been anticipated by analysts."

He called on city leaders to lower the property tax rate now, despite the tight budget situation.

"The point is, you can't tax people who don't live here," Basu said. "What the tax is doing is keeping people who would want to live here from being here. ... There's now growing pent-up demand to move out of the city, and this demand is motivated by a desire for greater value."

Read on for a chart, a poll and Basu's thoughts on what drove buyers to the city in a big way during the bubbly years.

Continue reading "Economist: Lower Baltimore's property tax rate now" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: First-time buyer tax credit, Polls, Property taxes

October 29, 2009

First-time AND second-time home buyer credit?

Senators have cut a deal to extend and expand the popular first-time home buyer tax credit, though -- as The Wall Street Journal notes -- don't count on it just yet.

The tentative agreement worked out by Senate negotiators would allow buyers to sign contracts through April 30 as long as they close by June 30. First-timers would continue to be eligible for up to $8,000, while some repeat buyers could get up to $6,500.

Which repeat buyers? "The reduced credit would be available to all home buyers who have been in their current residence for a consecutive five-year period in the past eight years," the WSJ reports.

This hasn't yet passed the Senate, which is trying to decide which other economic measures to tack on to a bill, and it faces skepticism in the House. (As you'll recall, a number of people have allegedly claimed the credit despite not qualifying as first-time buyers, not being old enough to buy a house, not actually buying a house, etc.)

What do you think? Weigh in:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:32 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: First-time buyer tax credit, Polls

October 25, 2009

Real estate poll results: The time (of year) to buy


Photograph of Massachusetts scene from Library of Congress collection, via Flickr


Home sales drop as the weather turns cold, but does that mean people actively dislike buying in the winter?

I asked you in the most recent Wonk poll, and some of you said yes. But -- take heart, ye would-be sellers contemplating the arrival of the slow season -- not the majority.

The most popular answer, with 39 percent of the vote, was "time of year doesn't matter to me" when it comes to buying or selling a home.

Twenty-two percent of you opted for "anytime except winter." On the other hand, seven percent prefer winter over any other season for buying or selling.

Seventeen percent prefer spring.

Ten percent prefer summer.

And five percent prefer fall.

As MrRational noted in a comment on the poll:

Continue reading "Real estate poll results: The time (of year) to buy" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Polls

October 18, 2009

New real estate poll: Seasonal considerations

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York;

And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. -- William Shakespeake, Richard III

The devious Richard means the family of York, not a literal house. But he happens to be right about the real estate market: Winter is pretty discontenting for sellers. As the weather worsens and holidays loom, most people are thinking about food and gifts, not home inspections and settlements.

Take last year, for example. Some 2,600 contracts were signed in the Baltimore metro area in April of '08. In November? Fewer than 1,500. And just 1,328 in December.

But there were contracts signed, so people do buy and sell in every season -- happily or not.

Weigh in: Do you have a seasonal preference?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

October 11, 2009

Real estate poll results: First-time buyer tax credit

Many of you are probably feeling frazzled. I say that because the top answer in last week's poll -- the one about your relationship to the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit -- is "trying to buy in time to get the credit; haven't signed a contract yet." That's how a quarter of you poll-takers describe your situation.

Yikes! Time's a-wasting. The deadline's Nov. 30, and real estate agents have warned that it can easily take more time than you have left to get from contract to closing if you're using an FHA-insured loan.

But that all goes out the window if the credit gets extended, which it might. (There's even talk about upping the amount or expanding it to all buyers.)

Here's what the rest of you poll-takers said:

Bought this year; have gotten or will get the credit. Booyah! (Twenty percent)

Trying to buy in time to get the credit; have a contract but haven't closed yet. (Nineteen percent)   

Purposely waiting until the credit expires before buying. (Thirteen percent)

Six percent of you aren't a buyer or seller, 5 percent say you bought this year but don't qualify for the credit, 4 percent are trying to sell and hoping the credit will help, another 4 percent are interested in buying but don't care about the credit, and 1 percent have sold or are selling to a first-time buyer.

Several others wrote in answers. For instance:

"Bought last year with the $7500 credit that has to be repaid. Wish I'd waited!" (The $8,000 credit doesn't have to be repaid unless you move out within three years.)

"Previously bought and would buy and sell if it wasn't first time buyers only!!!!"

"Want to buy with the credit but what's out there for sale is garbage!"

"Bid on shortsale 5 months ago..waiting on bank. Need to close Nov 30!"

Here are your opinions about what should happen to the credit:

Continue reading "Real estate poll results: First-time buyer tax credit" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:16 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Polls

October 5, 2009

The first-time buyer tax credit and you

The $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers (or more precisely, people who haven't owned a home in three years and meet the income limitations -- try saying THAT five times fast) is due to expire the end of next month. I'm curious how many of you are doing some serious house-hunting to try to beat the deadline, and how many of you have been affected one way or another by the credit so far.

The numbers suggest an impact. Buyers in the Baltimore metro area signed 19 percent fewer contracts in February than a year earlier. The drop in March -- the first full month after the program was altered so the money doesn't have to be paid back -- was a much more modest 4 percent. Signed contracts began rising in April.

In August, the most recent numbers from Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, the number of new contracts was up 25 percent from a year earlier.

So it certainly looks like there's buying going on that wouldn't have happened this year if not for the thought of $8,000 in the bank. But who knows -- it could be a huge coincidence. Help sort it out by noting how (if at all) the credit has affected you:

But wait -- there's more!

Continue reading "The first-time buyer tax credit and you" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: First-time buyer tax credit, Polls

October 4, 2009

The right-sized house for you



I asked you recently what sort of house sounds ideal to you, size-wise. I didn't ask what you could afford, mind you -- just what you'd like. Even so, most of you opted for something far short of palatial.

Forty-six percent of you said in last week's poll that 2,000 to 2,999 square feet sounds just right. (Here's an example of a house in that size range.)

And 38 percent say just right is smaller -- 1,000 to 1,999 square feet.

Eight percent chose 3,000 to 3,999 square feet. Four percent went for the biggest option -- 5,000 square feet or more. Two percent selected 4,000 to 4,999 square feet

The very smallest option -- under 1,000 square feet -- got the smallest number of votes. But two of you did raise your hands for this sort of home.

One voter who goes by gardener commented that "as a single person I don't need much 'stuff' and would like to minimize maintenance time and effort. I'd rather spend the time outdoors."

Wonk reader Lisa also weighed in:

OK, so let's put it in terms of space use instead of square feet. My kids will be out of the house in a very few years... even then, I believe in 3-4 bedrooms -- i.e. our bedroom, a guest room, and a study, or even small his/hers studies -- (my husband gave his den up to our son a while back and has never really adapted to the loss of "personal" space). Then, I prefer a kitchen nook for breakfast, if possible, and separate living/dining rooms, but that can depend on the layout. The older Baltimore homes often haven't got a finished basement (as recroom), but guess what? Without one, Baltimoreans ACTUALLY USE their elegant living and dining rooms. All this can happen in approx 1800-2200 sq feet and be exceedingly comfortable.

How much space do you have, and does it work for your needs?

(Photo from the Library of Congress via Flickr)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Polls

September 27, 2009

Real estate poll: The right-sized house

The 6,700-square-foot Dream Home is a reminder -- to me, at least -- that what's too big a house for one person is just right for another. And maybe even too small for someone else. (The Little Red Riding Hood theory of house hunting.)

So tell me -- what's your idea of the "just right" house?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:19 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Polls

September 13, 2009

Poll results: If you controlled FHA

If you were in charge of the world -- or at least the Federal Housing Administration -- you would require that FHA-insured loans had higher down payment requirements. That was the most popular answer in last week's Wonk poll, which asked what changes (if any) you'd make at the agency, which is seeing rising default rates.

So: 42 percent of you opted for more money down. Here's what the rest of you poll-takers said:

Twenty-one percent think FHA lending rules are too restrictive. Loosen 'em up, you say.

Thirteen percent say the lending practices are just right.

Another thirteen percent say FHA ought to increase the minimum down payment and the monthly premiums.

And six percent are in favor of higher monthly premiums alone.

Two of you wrote in your own answers, which both happened to be the same -- stop lending.

I should've asked you where you were coming from, dagnabbit. Is it prospective buyers who are in favor of looser lending rules? Or sellers? Are renters or homeowners more likely to want the bar set higher?

Two readers who commented on the poll had different perspectives:

Continue reading "Poll results: If you controlled FHA" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

September 6, 2009

New real estate poll: FHA loans

As defaults increase on FHA-insured loans, so has chatter about the agency's future. Will the Federal Housing Administration require a bailout, industry players wonder?

I know this is of interest to many of you, whether you're a potential FHA borrower, an anxious housing-market watcher or an aggravated taxpayer. So weigh in.

What would you do if you took over the mortgage program?

Have you had any recent experience with FHA-insured loans? How did the process go?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

Poll results: Staying and going

About a quarter of you need a new place and expect to move soon. But just as many of you can't move soon, even though you need a new place, too.

That's what folks said in last week's Wonk poll. And even though it's hardly scientific, I think it tells us something about the state of the housing market -- and economy -- today. 

More on that in a moment. First, the rest of the results:

--Many of you (forty-one percent) are happy where you are and have no plans to move soon.

--Five percent of you are happy where you are but have to move soon, anyway. (Here's hoping it's for a better job and not because you're losing your house.)

Several of you wrote in your own answers:

"I'd love to move, I even know where I'd like to live, but prices are too high."

"I'd like to move but need a new job."

"I want to move from apt. to house, but like you, job situation is iffy." (I told you last week that I'm in the "need more space" category, but one hesitates to take on a bigger mortgage when one works in an industry that's laying off people right and left.)

And three people said they either just moved or are in the process of moving. 

I also asked you how long you've been living in your home. Not long, in most cases.

Twenty-eight percent said between two and five years. Twenty-two percent said between one and two years. Seventeen percent said a year or less. That's two-thirds of you right there.

Thirteen percent each said between five and 10 years, and between 10 and 20 years.

And seven percent of you have been where you are more than 20 years.

The good news is that many of you are happy with your housing situation or are able to move to improve it. Hooray for good news!

The not-so-good news is that a significant number of you -- as many as the soon-to-be-movers -- want to move too but can't. Job uncertainty, affordability problems, probably "can't sell my house" issues -- these are weighing on some of us, and thus on the housing market as a whole.

Have you found creative ways to alter your home -- in the renovation or organizational sense -- so it meets your needs without moving? Do share.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

August 30, 2009

New real estate poll: Staying or moving

Few of us stay in the same house all our lives -- it's the nature of our transient society, not to mention our penchant for moving out of Mom and Dad's when we grow up.

I've been wondering, though, how many people are staying put when they'd rather not. Homeowners stuck because their mortgage balances are higher than their values, for instance. Or folks leery of getting a bigger place (for rent or sale) because of recession-fueled job insecurity.

I'm in the second group, as it happens. What little space I have is chock full of baby gear, but you sort of think twice about taking on more debt when your employer is in bankruptcy.

So share with me: Are you satisfied with your home? Wish you could move on, but can't?

And while you're at it, share how long you've been where you are:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

August 27, 2009

Dueling surveys on home values

Most Americans -- about 80 percent -- think their own home's value has bottomed out and will either stay put or rise in the next six months, according to a recent Zillow poll. Now we've got two new surveys on prices to compare and contrast.

Real estate site HomeGain surveys Realtors on a regular basis, and they're not quite as optimistic as homeowners. Just under 70 percent think home prices will stay put or rise in the next six months, HomeGain said. But more of the Maryland agents surveyed think things have bottomed out around here. Almost 80 percent believe prices won't fall in the next six months, according to numbers the company supplied to me.

I asked you all the same question, as it happens. Just under 60 percent of you (at least those of you who weighed in) think your own home's value won't fall in the next six months. So you're the least optimistic. But still, that's about six in 10 of you who see better days ahead.

Back to the HomeGain survey:

About 88 percent of the Maryland agents polled think their clients' homes lost value in the last year. (By comparison, 76 percent of you think your own home lost value.)

Many Maryland agents think people remain unrealistically optimistic about their home values. About four in 10 of the local agents surveyed said their average homeowner client thinks the property is worth 10 to 20 percent more than they think it's worth.

On the flip side: Nearly as many agents said their buyer clients think listing prices are 10 to 20 percent too high. And that's even though those listing prices might be lower than what owners originally wanted to ask.

HomeGain said it polled two dozen Maryland agents as part of the nearly 1,100 Realtors surveyed nationwide.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Polls

August 25, 2009

Real estate poll results: Foreclosures and short sales

Fifty-eight percent of you are either interested in buying a short sale or foreclosure, or you're in the process of doing so. At least that's what you said in the most recent Wonk poll.

That doesn't sound like great news for traditional home sellers. But of course there's a difference between trying to buy and actually settling -- more on that in a moment.

Here's the poll-result breakdown:

Forty percent of you say you'd like to buy a foreclosure or short sale (in which a buyer sells for less than the mortgage balance and the lender eats the difference) as a primary residence. An additional six percent would like to buy one or the other as an investment.

Twelve percent of you say you're in the process of buying a foreclosure or short sale, in all cases but one as a primary residence.

Ten percent of you own a home you bought as a foreclosure or short sale.

Six percent of you are trying to sell via short sale.

And 20 percent of you aren't interested in buying a foreclosure or short sale, which includes one write-in answer from a formerly interested buyer: "tired of slow banks and want to buy a traditional sale." (The other write-in answers: "waiting for the bottom in LA," "willing to buy a home I like at late 1990's prices" -- hi, Darwin Rules! -- and "I can't afford to buy a house.")

BigDragon, who had a contract on a short sale, said in a comment that he got sick of waiting. "After 4 and a half months of silence from the seller's bank I gave up and chased after a new construction townhouse. I've been looking for a place of my own all year long. As a first time home buyer I honestly expected this process to be over in a month or two and not the year it's almost taken. ... It's nice to be able to see real progress from the builder."

Terp05 played the short-sale waiting game too and ended up with the house -- six months after putting in a contract:

Continue reading "Real estate poll results: Foreclosures and short sales" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

August 17, 2009

New real estate poll: Foreclosures and short sales

Start looking at homes on the market, and it won't be long before you come across foreclosures and short sales. In early July in Howard County, for instance, four out of every 10 homes for sale under $200,000 fell into those "distress" categories.

So -- who's buying?

You tell me:

Investors are the traditional buyers for distress properties, but first-time buyers have looked at this market post-bubble in hopes of getting a deal (or something in their price range).

The "yes but" I often hear is condition -- and for short sales, the uncertainty. Short sales require a lender's OK, and lenders sometimes take months to respond to an offer ... even if that response is a simple "no." (Real estate agents expect first-timers to stop considering short sales now that the deadline for the $8,000 tax credit is approaching.)

Got a story to share? Comment away.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Polls

August 16, 2009

Poll results: Calling the housing-market bottom(s)

A plurality of you (there's your word of the day) don't think the Baltimore metro area's housing market has hit bottom yet. But you do think prices and sales will stop falling around the same time.

That was the result of last week's twin Wonk polls, which asked you to put on your forecasting hat.

The most popular answer was 2010 for a market bottom, both for sales (30 percent of votes) and prices (33 percent of votes).

Here are the rest of your answers:

For a bottom in home sales, 20 percent of you said "now," 17 percent said 2011, 16 percent said not for years and 15 percent said by the end of the year. (If you add the "now" folks to the "end of the year" folks, you get a plurality of people who think sales have or will stop falling this year.)

For a bottom in average home prices, 26 percent said 2011, 22 percent said not for years and 18 percent said this year.

And one reader said "when we have 1999 prices" for both questions. (Darwin Rules, I presume?)

You had a lot to say about this topic, not surprisingly.

Continue reading "Poll results: Calling the housing-market bottom(s)" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:32 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Polls

August 9, 2009

Real estate poll: Forecasting the housing-market bottom

I've been trying to avoid polls that ask you to get out your crystal ball, but hey -- since all the cool kids are talking about housing-market bottoms ...

It's really two questions: When will home sales stabilize, if they haven't already, and when will prices stop falling?

So, voilà -- two polls.

The first is about buying activity. Do you think home sales in the metro area have stopped falling, and if not, when? (Sales rose slightly in June vs. a year earlier, so you'll be opining on whether it's a trend or a blip.)

And what about prices?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Polls

Poll results: Location, location, location

Forget parks, snazzy restaurants, family and friends -- what you really want near you is your job.

That was the most popular answer by far in last week's Wonk poll, in any case. Thirty-six percent of you picked "close to work" as your locational priority in selecting a home. An additional six percent said your priority is splitting the distance between your job and your spouse or significant other's job, which means four in 10 of you have commute uppermost in your mind.

The next most popular answer (with 22 percent of the vote) was good schools.

Seventeen percent of you are most interested in having lots of fun things to do nearby.

Nine percent will make sure family and/or friends are close by.

And one or two folks each picked these answers as No. 1 priorities: lots of parks/trails/natural spaces, active community organizations, safety and "away from people." (The last two were write-ins.)

I didn't include safety on the list because I figured it's important to everyone. I wanted to see what people consider the key priority besides, you know, staying alive. Wonk reader Jelena summed up that imperative with this comment on the poll: "If I can't feel safe in my own home/community, the schools and commute don't really matter." (She included "healthy environment" in the overall category of safety -- "e.g. no highway in the backyard."

Real estate agents say schools are generally top-of-list for people with kids, so the "commute is king" results in this poll might mean that many of you don't have children. Or perhaps a number of you consider school options after you've narrowed down neighborhood choices based on commute time.

That's the thing -- I'm sure many of you have a number of need-this-near-me priorities. So what's better, living in a neighborhood that satisfies all of them partially, or giving up most of your locational desires in exchange for getting a few exactly right?

Continue reading "Poll results: Location, location, location" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From home to work, Polls

August 2, 2009

Real estate poll: Location, location, location

Location is key in real estate, or so the saying goes. But what makes a location work for you? What do you want in the surrounding community?

I've been musing about this thanks to a comment by Wonk reader Alek, who writes that people with lousy commutes have only themselves to blame: "You choose where to work, and you choose where to live." Which is of course true -- but a lot of people feel compelled to weigh factors beyond commute when they decide where to live.

I don't mean price or rental costs, in this case. I'm talking about the things you want near you -- amenities, family, you name it.

What's most important to you? Weigh in on this week's poll:

I'd be interested to hear the top five or 10 factors you want in a location, and what you're willing to give up -- or already have given up -- to get priorities.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Polls

July 27, 2009

Poll results: From home to work and back again



Some of you are loving your commutes. Others not so much.

I know because I asked you to share in last week's twin polls, which asked how long your drive to work lasts and what you think of it.

Half of you have commutes that generally take you less than 30 minutes one way. (Most common answer: 20 to 29 minutes.) One lucky soul reports an 11-minute commute -- by foot.

The rest of you aren't so fortunate.

Eighteen percent have commutes that last 30 to 44 minutes one way.

Fourteen percent drive 45 to 59 minutes one way.

Thirteen percent report commutes that take anywhere from a hour to 89 minutes.

And 5 percent of you, poor things, have one-way commutes of at least an hour and a half. Yes, one way.

Despite the range, three-quarters of say your commutes are at least "OK." (Twenty-seven percent say "excellent.")

Eighteen percent say your commute is lousy.

Five percent of you say it's truly awful and you can't wait to move or switch jobs. (The same five percent who commute three hours a day round-trip, perhaps ...)

And one person says he or she hates the commute but gets to work from home a lot. So perhaps that averages out to an OK?

Nick T., whose workplace is only a few minutes from the place he's renting, commented on the poll with his personal calculation of the cost discount "required to buy with an extended commute (all else being equal)":

0-5 Minutes: -10% (would pay more!)
5-10 Minutes: No Effect - Base House
10-20 Minutes: 10%
20-30 Minutes: 20%
30-60 Minutes: 45%
+60 Minutes: It better be free!

What's your calculation?

And what do those of you with lousy or awful commutes do to get through the grind? Mine's just this side of lousy, and I listen to recorded books.

(Traffic photo by Sun photographer Jed Kirschbaum)
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: From home to work, Polls

July 19, 2009

New real estate poll: Your commute

After some of you mused about acceptable distances between home and work, I started wondering how long your commutes are -- and what you think about them, since a 30-minute drive is in the eye of the beholder.

Share your experience in this week's poll. Er, polls. (If you commute to an institution of higher learning, feel free to participate, too.)

What do you like about your commute, if anything? What drives you crazy? If you're looking for a new place to buy or rent, how important a factor is commute time?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: From home to work, Polls

July 12, 2009

Poll results: How you'd like to question the experts

I'm planning to find people with housing-related expertise -- an appraiser, a forecaster, etc. -- to answer your questions. But first, I wanted to know how you'd like to ask those questions. Live on the blog or not?

Fifty-three percent of you said "not live" -- you'd rather submit questions in advance.

Thirty-three percent said live with the option to submit questions in advance.

Thirteen percent said live, period.

It sounds like we'll go with not live, at least the first time, and see how that goes. Few of you took this poll, so I hope the question-submitting is more -- ah -- lively than these results.


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

July 5, 2009

New poll: Weigh in on Q&As

So: Q&As with housing experts -- with the Q's coming from you rather than me. You've already weighed in on the types of experts you're most interested in questioning (though feel free to keep suggesting professions or specific people in these comments). Now let me know how you'd like to do it. Live? Not?

The nice thing about a live chat is that it can turn into a conversation, with answers to questions begetting more questions. The downside: You'll miss it if the time doesn't work for you. (Worse, if no one shows up on the blog at the allotted time, the chat will become the proverbial tree falling in the woods.)

Take a moment to tell me whether you'd come to the blog for a live chat -- almost certainly over lunch hour -- or whether you'd prefer another option:


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

Poll results: The experts you'd like to question

I'm thinking of lining up some expert-types willing to do live (or email) Q&As with you folks. When I mentioned that last week, I asked you to choose the sorts of experts you're most interested in questioning.

The results of the multiple-choice poll:

Housing-market forecaster got the most interest, with 19 votes. Not surprising, since the direction of prices and sales is always a hot topic among commenters here.

Close behind was appraiser -- also not surprising, what with recent debate about the effectiveness of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct.

After that, in order of popularity:

Mortgage originator

Credit-score expert

Real estate agent (a few of you offered specific suggestions -- thanks!)

And with one vote each: home stager, successful investor and flipper. (The last two were write-ins.)

Now, here's the thing: Housing forecasters -- good ones, at least -- have plenty of opportunities to appear in the national media. I don't want to convince one to free up a half-hour to an hour for a live chat and then have no one show up to ask questions. They'll never do it again -- ya follow?

So here's the deal: I'll look for a knowledgeable local appraiser willing to give this a go, and you be ready to pepper him or her with great questions. If that goes well, I don't see why we can't do this with a forecaster next, and then a mortgage originator and so on down the line.

Does that sound like a plan?

In secondary poll results, I asked you if you'd like to see fewer polls. (Yes, a poll about polls. Oh the irony.)

Almost half of you say you like the weekly polls and to keep doing them. Twenty-seven percent of you have no opinion one way or the other. Nineteen percent of you say less frequent polls would be preferable.

Of the remaining two voters, one of you opted for the choice to stop the polls altogether, and the other wrote in this suggestion: "how about doing some REAL reporting?" (Er -- you do realize you don't have to read this blog if it annoys you, right?)

I think Wonk reader MrRational's recommendation could make most folks happy: "Having polls is a great feature; but don't feel obliged to create one because of a schedule." So I'll still aim to do regular polls, but if nothing suggests itself in a particular week, I won't sweat it.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:08 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

June 28, 2009

New real estate poll: Ask the experts

I'm thinking of lining up various experts willing to answer your housing-related questions. But it's only worth doing if there's enough interest from you, the potential question-askers.

So weigh in below. Which of the following Q&As would you want to participate in? (You can pick as many as you want.)

Have a particular expert you'd like to see answering the Q's? Comment below. (Thanks to Kevin R for offering the first suggestion.)

And now, because two Wonk commenters think weekly polls are a bit much: another poll! (Stay with me here.) I've been putting up a poll every weekend, but there's no reason to continue if it leaves most of you cold:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Polls

Real estate poll results: Government intervention

I asked you a week ago what you all thought about federal government efforts to support the housing market via spending. Good idea? Bad? Good idea badly executed?

Seventy percent of the folks who took the poll say "bad idea." (One of you suggested Uncle Sam would be better off giving good borrowers low-cost refi's.)

Nineteen percent say "good idea badly executed," including the reader who wrote in "good idea in theory but bad in actuality," which seems like basically the same point to me.

That leaves 11 percent who say "good idea" without the "but."

I asked people to identify whether they're renters or homeowners. Would renters disagree with taxpayer spending on the housing market (most would-be buyers prefer lower prices) while homeowners, concerned about their property values, offer three cheers?

Nope: A majority of homeowners and renters who took the poll think it's a bad idea. But more homeowners than renters do think it's a good idea, or a good idea badly executed. Sixty-three percent of homeowners say "bad idea," compared with 80 percent of renters.

Does this match the thinking of Marylanders in general, let alone Americans? No idea. This poll might have been open to anyone, but I can't imagine the demographics of poll-takers magically worked out to be a random sample.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

June 20, 2009

New real estate poll: Your tax dollars at work

The new-buyer tax credit. Higher-than-normal loan limits for FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages. Billions for foreclosure prevention and neighborhood stabilization.

The government's doing a lot to try to improve the housing market, both directly (by encouraging buying) and indirectly (by encouraging lenders to work with troubled borrowers rather than foreclose).

Good idea? Bad? Good idea badly executed?

Whether you're a homeowner or renter, you probably have an opinion. So have your say:

Answers appear in random order.

Got an opinion that requires more than a one-sentence answer? Comment away.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:24 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Polls

Real estate poll results: Now hear this

I asked you last weekend what sorts of topics you like to read about here, because if I'm not blogging about things you all are interested in, what's the point, right?

The poll allowed multiple answers. Here's how you ranked the options:

1. Home sales, prices and similar stats -- 19 percent of the vote

2. Local housing news (besides sales and prices) -- 16 percent

3. Property taxes -- 11 percent

4. Mortgages, rates, credit -- 10 percent

5. Home improvement and maintenance -- 9 percent

6. National housing news with some impact on the area -- 8 percent

7. Finding a home/apartment -- 8 percent

8. Q&As -- 7 percent

9. Renting issues -- 6 percent

10. Foreclosure and/or foreclosure prevention -- 5 percent

And one reader wrote in an answer: "Stuff for first time buyers who are still waiting for bottom."

Thanks for the insight into your preferences, folks. I'll keep it all in mind.

Does this ranking match up with your interests?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:06 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Polls

June 13, 2009

Real estate poll: Your post here

I'm sure you have opinions about what constitutes an interesting and/or useful blog post about real estate. Perhaps you've been keeping those opinions to yourself. Hold back no longer -- now you can leave me some multiple-choice feedback, and you don't even need a No. 2 pencil.

Remember, it's multiple choice. Pick everything that interests you and feel free to write in answers.

Oh, and I'm always happy to get emails suggesting blog topics. Thank you to everyone who's contributed to the idea jar.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

Real estate poll results: Low offers

Homeowners might feel insulted by an offer that's a lot lower than their asking price, but many will come back with a counteroffer rather than a straight "no." Or at least that's what folks said in the latest Wonk poll.

About 40 percent of the (self-identified) homeowners say they'd make a counteroffer, most "a bit lower" than their asking price and some midway between offer and asking.

Nearly as many -- 36 percent -- say they'd counter-offer "unless it's really low, in which case 'no thanks.'"

And 8 percent say they'd just take the offer, thanks very much. Hey, a willing buyer is a willing buyer.

The remaining 15 percent are either confident that their asking price is reasonable or they're unable to go any lower, because their policy on low offers is to just say no.

If you'll recall, the previous poll asked buyers if they expect a reduction in asking price as part of the negotiation. As of right now, just over half say yes (and a quarter of the total expect a big reduction). Another quarter say it depends on what the asking price is.

Sounds like most buyers and sellers alike -- at least the ones taking wonky polls -- anticipate real negotiation will be going on. Do you find that to be true in practice, folks?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:46 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

June 7, 2009

Real estate poll: Low-low offers

Homebuyers got a chance to weigh in on their price expectations via poll last week. Now it's your turn, sellers and future sellers.

Let us know: What's your policy about how to respond to significantly low offers? To "lowball," according to Merriam-Webster, is "to give a markedly or unfairly low offer." In this market, that seems to be in the eye of the beholder -- one person's "unfairly low" is another person's "just right."

So for purposes of this poll, let's say an offer that's at least 15 percent below your asking price. A $255,000 offer for a house on the market for $300,000, for instance.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:40 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Polls

June 6, 2009

Real estate poll results: The price you'd offer

You homebuyers out there keep telling me that typical asking prices are too high. How, I wondered, does this affect your sense of the way contract negotiations ought to go?

Thus the most recent Wonk poll, which asked if you expect sellers to decrease the price when you're negotiating.

Here are your answers, as of right now:

Half of you said yes, you do expect it. (You're equally split between those expecting a big decrease and those expecting a modest decrease.)

Twenty-eight percent said it depends on the price of the house.

Seventeen percent said you look for homes you think are fairly priced to begin with.

Three percent of you don't expect a price drop but do want other concessions.

And one of you offered your own answer: "No, I don't think sellers have room to move down."

Thanks for playing, folks.

Stay tuned for the next poll, which will give sellers an opportunity to weigh in. And while you're waiting, why not comment below: Are sellers best off asking for a fair price to start with -- neither above nor below market value -- or is the lesson of today's poll that many buyers always expect a price drop no matter what?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:27 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Polls

June 1, 2009

Price reductions -- and a new real estate poll

Anyone who likes a sale will appreciate Trulia's new "price reduced" feature, which lets you query the real estate search engine for homes in your area with lowered asking prices. I searched on homes reduced at least 20 percent in the last month and got 48 hits. Including one property in the Pen Lucy neighborhood that Trulia says was reduced by more than half last month.

Redfin also has a price-reduced option, but it shows you everything reduced in the time period you pick -- it doesn't let you specify, say, only the 20-percent-plus drops. (And there's a lot of homes with at least small reductions in the last month. Even searching only for reduced foreclosures got me 133 results on Redfin.) ZipRealty, meanwhile, will show you all price reductions, period -- no asking for just the ones reduced, say, last week.

Have you seen other sites with handy price-reduced features?

All this got me wondering: Does "JUST REDUCED!!" whet your interest as buyers? Does "20 percent off" have the same appeal when it's applied to houses that it does for shoppers looking for a deal on jeans?

And I'm sure homeowners would like to know this: Do you buyers out there expect sellers to drop their asking prices -- regardless of what the price is -- as part of contract negotiations? Or would you be happy to pay the asking price if you think it's fair? (I get the impression that some sellers price their homes with the expectation that they'll be asked to reduce it no matter what they're asking.)

Take a moment to answer by way of the new poll:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:06 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Polls

May 31, 2009

Real estate poll results: Rental costs

More people are renting because of the housing slump -- some by choice, some not. That's the sort of thing that would normally drive up rents ... except that more homeowners are turning landlord because they can't sell for the price they want.

What's all this mean for rental costs? I asked you tenants out there, and you weighed in on the latest Wonk poll. As of right now:

Forty-one percent of you said your monthly rent has risen this year or is due to rise. (About half are seeing a big increase and half are seeing a small increase.)

Another 41 percent said your rental costs have stayed the same.

And eighteen percent are the lucky ones whose rent has dropped or is due to drop. (A small decrease for most of you in that group. A big one for a really fortunate few.)

Thanks for taking the poll, folks. I'd be interested to know whether you tenants seeing declines in rent are in apartment units or homes. And whether people hit with big increases are planning to move.

Got a suggestion for a future poll? Let me know.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

May 23, 2009

New real estate poll: Rental costs

Many of you are renters -- or at least that's what the results of the last poll suggest -- so I thought I'd put together a poll just for you.

Shed some light on how your rental costs are changing (or not) in these strange days. On the one hand, falling homeownership rates. On the other hand, more homes for rent because sales are still dropping. So what's winning, supply or demand?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:43 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Polls

Real estate poll results: Asking prices

How 'bout dem asking prices for Baltimore-area homes?

I put this to you a week ago, and nearly nine in 10 of you said "overpriced." And about four in 10 of you polled folks say you're homeowners, so this isn't just coming from renters in search of rock-bottom deals.

Here's the full breakdown as of right now:

Forty-three percent chose "overpriced by more than 20 percent."

Thirty-five percent opted for "overpriced by 10 to 20 percent."

Nine percent said "overpriced by less than 10 percent."

Ten percent, meanwhile, said "fairly priced," and the remaining three percent chose "underpriced by 10 to 20 percent." (No one opted for the other underpriced options.)

I also asked for a bit of demographic information to put the answers into context -- and help me get to know you better.

Forty-eight percent of you say you're renters hoping to buy now or in the fairly near future, and 14 percent are homeowners hoping to sell within that same time period.

Twenty-four percent of you are homeowners not planning to sell anytime soon, and 13 percent are renters not planning to buy anytime soon.

And one person identified him or herself as an industry pro.

Thanks for weighing in, everyone. Are these results what you expected?


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:39 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

May 16, 2009

Real estate poll: Baltimore-area asking prices

No subject draws more debate on this blog than home prices. Not even property taxes. So I know you'll all want to weigh in on this new poll.

Oh, go on, it'll only take a few seconds.

It's true that asking prices vary considerably, so all you can do is say what you think about the majority you're seeing. Oh, and I normally randomize the order of answers, but in this case I feared that would simply end up being confusing. I doubt your opinion of prices will be swayed by answer order, in any case.

While we're at it, take another few seconds and tell me about yourself:

You'll fit into two categories if you're an industry professional, but I'd suggest choosing "industry pro" since that's what you do for a living. And if you're scratching your head about what to pick because you're staying with friends or relatives -- go for one of the "renter" choices.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 2:15 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Polls

May 15, 2009

Real estate poll results: Affordability

I asked you recently if the slump has made homes more affordable for you. It's a different question than "do you think prices are good" -- many of you have strong opinions about that -- but I figured it was equally worthwhile. Here are your answers on the poll, as of right now:

Thirty-eight percent said, "I still can't afford any homes around here."

Thirty percent said you can afford nicer homes now than before.

Twenty-one percent said the value of your own home is down as well as the price of homes you might buy.

And eleven percent said, "I can afford to buy a home now -- I couldn't afford anything before."

I'm wondering about you folks who opted for the first answer. Can you truly not afford to buy anything in the metro area, either because the prices are too high or because of debt/mortgage issues? Or can you not afford the price of any home you'd be willing to buy?

The end result is the same, of course -- you're not going to buy a home you're not willing to buy. But I'm curious whether you're being aggravated by rundown homes for sale in your price range or if you're finding nothing whatsoever listed for the price you could afford.

While we're on the subject of affordability: Maya Brennan, one of the authors of the recent Paycheck to Paycheck report, ran an analysis to see if accountants, bookkeeping clerks, customer service representatives, general managers, receptionists and stock movers could afford to buy in Scranton, Penn.

If all those positions in that place sound oddly familiar, then you probably watch The Office. She wondered if the characters could live where they work.

Answer: Yes, for most of them. The median-priced home in Scranton was $85,000 last year.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:10 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

May 10, 2009

Baltimore real estate poll: Affordability

Average home prices fell a significant amount last month across the Baltimore metro area, so it seems like a good time for a new poll: Has the housing downturn made more homes affordable to you?

As usual, the order of answers is randomized.

This poll isn't meant to get your opinion on whether home prices are too high, too low or just right, by the way -- only whether you've noticed a real difference in the sorts of homes you could buy if you wanted to.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

May 1, 2009

Poll results: recession and spending habits

There's been so much talk lately about a U-turn into frugality -- including the impacts on home buying -- that I asked you to weigh in. How (if at all) has the recession changed your philosophy of spending and saving?

Just over half of you (52 percent) said it hasn't changed anything because you've always been frugal.

A little over a fifth (22 percent) said it's changed the way you'll spend and save for the rest of your life.

Seventeen percent said you're spending less until the economy improves.

Six percent say the economy hasn't changed anything because you're still in "spend, spend, spend, baby!" mode.

And the remaining two voters left other answers. One: "Time to buy properties at a discount." The other: "It made me work harder to become debt free. I'm almost there."

Thanks for playing, folks. Thoughts? Comment away. And I'm open to suggestions for the next poll.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

April 20, 2009

Poll: The recession and your spending habits

People's ideas about saving and spending deeply affect the way they live, including if and when to buy a home and what sort of home it should be. With that in mind, I'm wondering how -- if at all -- the recession is changing the way you save and spend. Do you think this moment in history, like the Great Depression, will permanently alter the way today's teens and adults think about money? Or is it a speed bump?

That's part of the debate in Andrea Walker's story today about consumers cutting back.

Join the debate! Weigh in on this poll:

The order of answers is randomized, in case you were wondering.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:10 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Polls

March 21, 2009

Poll: What you said about low mortgage rates

This week's poll asked what you think about the Federal Reserve's efforts to lower mortgage rates by purchasing $1.2 trillion in debt from Fannie and Freddie and in mortgage-backed securities. Good idea or no? Here are the results, as of right now:

--Thirty-nine percent chose, "No, because it's only delaying the pain"

--Twenty-four percent opted for, "Yes, because I need to sell/buy/refinance a house"

--Twenty percent said, "No, because mortgage rates ought to reflect the market"

--Fifteen percent voted for, "Yes, because it will help with the recovery"

And one Wonk reader wrote in an answer: "This will further devalue the dollar and further set the stage for greater inflation." (This story points out several "early indications that that was happening.")

So: about 60-40 in favor of a thumbs down.

On a related note, I thought it would be interesting to show how much costs for a $250,000 mortgage can range depending on the interest-rate environment. Here are some different monthly payments, rounding to the nearest 10:

--$1,310 at 4.8 percent

--$1,470 at 5.8 percent

--$1,630 at 6.8 percent

--$1,800 at 7.8 percent

--$1,980 at 8.8 percent

--$2,160 at 9.8 percent

Even a change of half a percentage point (which happened between Wednesday and Thursday mornings) really does affect a borrower's bottom line. And sellers too, indirectly.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

March 19, 2009

Mortgage rates drop

The Federal Reserve spent a lot of money yesterday to make mortgage rates fall even lower. So far it's gotten its wish.

Interest rates for 30-year fixed mortgages have dropped to 4.8 percent this morning, according to quotes given on the Zillow Mortgage Marketplace. Yesterday, rates were as high as 5.3 percent before the Fed announced that it's purchasing more mortgage-backed securities and debt from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (How much? What $1.2 trillion can buy.)

The Sun's story today notes that this is aimed at lowering interest rates to combat recession. I know some of you Wonk readers have strong opinions about low mortgage rates, so weigh in:

The order of answers is randomized. And you're welcome to add your own, though no one but me will be able to see your answer unless you also note it in a comment.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

March 3, 2009

What you said about the mortgage-interest deduction

As of a few minutes ago, half of you think the tax deduction for mortgage interest is good just the way it is.

Just over 20 percent of you believe higher-income homeowners shouldn't get the full deduction, 16 percent say no one should get a tax break for paying a mortgage and 10 percent say homeowners should continue getting their break if renters get one, too.

Of the remaining two votes, one was for lowering the tax break for all homeowners and the other was a write-in: "why not for renters too, but I also dont like any taxes period!"

As Wonk reader Tim points out, the limit the Obama administration proposed isn't the first cap on the mortgage-interest tax break -- it's a lower one. Right now, the limit for fully deducting your interest is $1 million for a mortgage and $100,000 for a home equity loan.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

February 28, 2009

Poll: Mortgage tax deduction

The homeowners' mortgage-interest tax deduction is in the news this week because the Obama administration wants to reduce the amount that higher-income Americans can itemize. From The Wall Street Journal:

Households that currently pay income taxes at the 33% and 35% rates would only be able to claim deductions at the 28% rate. That means that for every $1,000 in deductions, a household in the top tax bracket would realize a tax savings of $280, down from the current $350. The proposal wouldn't take effect until 2011.

Supporters say it's a good idea because wealthier folks don't need subsidies to buy houses, while detractors -- including the National Association of Realtors -- say this would hurt the housing market at a time when it can't take more lumps.

I'm curious what you think about the mortgage deduction. Weigh in:


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:43 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

February 24, 2009

What you said about home prices

As of 9 a.m. today, 77 percent of you declared falling home prices to be a good thing. Twenty-three percent of you say it's bad.

That might suggest that a lot of you are trying to buy a home, especially your first home.

But the other nugget I draw from this is -- in case it wasn't clear already -- you're not in lockstep on this issue. Seventy-seven percent may be a significant majority, but almost a quarter of folks is nothing to sneeze at. And both sides have cogent points to make, because some of you have made them here already.

If you wonder why I do my best to present information without saying "this is good" or "this is bad," well ... this is why. It's sometimes clear that something is good or bad for a particular group, like borrowers, but often the ripples are pretty complex. (And besides, I'm a reporter, not a columnist -- damn it, Jim -- and so I really need to stay away from opinionatin'.)

But that's OK. You get to bring your own opinions. And I'm always interested to hear them.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:16 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Polls

February 21, 2009

Poll: Are falling home prices bad or good?

Those of you who comment here are frequently offering your opinion about home prices. But some of you never comment. So take a few seconds, all of you, to let me know whether falling prices strike you as a good thing or a bad thing.

Yes, I realize it's a complex issue and you might think it's bad and good, but humor me here. Which of the two answers is more in line with your way of thinking?

The order of answers is randomized, so no, it's not an attempt to influence you.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:39 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Polls

February 7, 2009

Poll: Fix the housing market

OK, you probably don't have the power to -- all by yourself -- fix the housing market. But chances are you have strong opinions about what it would take.

So weigh in. If you had one wish from a genie (a genie who would let you make only housing-related wishes), what would you do to help bring some stability back?

I've included, in no particular order, the answers I've heard from either you folks or economists. But feel free to write in your own wish if it's not there. (If you do, you might want to write it in a comment as well -- otherwise, no one can see it but me.)

UPDATE 2/10 at 6:30 p.m.: Fifty-three percent say faster-falling home values are what the housing-market doctor ordered. Eighteen percent say job gains. Thirteen percent opted for easier credit. "Fewer foreclosures" and "rising home values" got 6 percent and 5 percent of the vote, respectively.

The "other" answers, since you can't see them, are (exactly as written) "cheaper closing costs, lower realtor commissions," "A FREE MARKET!" and "personal responsibility for buyers."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 3:57 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Polls

January 30, 2009

Homes for sale vs. homes sold: Take the poll

"When will things get back to normal" is the million-dollar question for the housing market. What exactly is normal -- that's at least a $500,000 question.

Here's a stab at the second one: when the number of people trying to sell isn't so much higher than the number of people buying. There were about four-and-a-half homes on the market for every one that sold in 2000, before the boom. In 2005, when you could stick a "for sale" sign in your yard one day and take it down the next, that figure dropped to two.

Last year? Eleven.

This is known in the biz as "months supply." At the rate people are buying homes, it would take 11 months to turn all the listings into sales if nothing else came on the market.

Some say a four-month supply is normal. Some say five. Some say six. I wish we had decades of home sale statistics for our area, but Metropolitan Regional Information Systems' numbers start in the late '90s.

For argument's sake, let's say 2000 was our normal. When do you think homes for sale vs. homes sold will get back to that point? (And remember, it's not the same question as "when will sales increase.")

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 5:53 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

January 24, 2009

Here's what you said

Chances are you're a Baltimore homeowner who's not planning on selling anytime soon. That's the upshot of the "Tell Me About Yourself" poll results.

Well, OK, not quite. The results -- as of 1 p.m. today -- show that more than a third of you who took the poll live in the city and about 40 percent of you own a home you're not intending to sell in the near future. But naturally there's no way to know how much the city resident group and the not-selling-my-home group overlap.

Thirty-five percent of you are renters interested in buying soonish; 11 percent are homeowners trying to sell now or in the near future. The rest of you are either renters not planning on buying anytime soon or residents with a different situation altogether. (One reader wants to buy property without selling his or her current home.)

Just under half of you live in the Baltimore 'burbs, the largest group (23 percent) in Baltimore County. The rest of you -- 17 percent -- live outside the metro area.

Thanks for playing, folks! You're a pretty diverse group, and I'll try to find things that will interest people who aren't going anywhere as well as the buyers and sellers.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

January 23, 2009

Poll: Tell me about yourself

Every so often I like to ask about your place in the housing world, demographically speaking, so I can keep that in mind when I look for interesting news and links.

Help me out, kind readers, by taking the two polls below:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

January 18, 2009

Poll: When will home sales increase?

Home sales in the Baltimore metro area have been dropping since October 2005 and in December were down 17 percent from a year earlier. When will the number of homes changing hands go up instead of down?

It's anyone's educated guess. So put in your own two cents:

UPDATE as of 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 23: You're not a hugely optimistic bunch -- just 17 percent of you think home sales will start increasing this year. Twenty-eight percent say 2010, 20 percent chose 2011, 16 percent opted for 2012 and 17 percent say "years from now."

Two voters put in their own answers. One said "when prices vs income vs mrtg policies align." The other? "Never."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:53 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

October 5, 2008

Poll: Home sales

A lot has happened in the last few weeks. Seems high time for another poll about the housing market:

Better yet -- chime in below about why you think things will turn around soon, not so soon or really not soon.

UPDATE at 8:30 p.m. 10/7: About 40 percent of you say 2010. Just over a quarter predict things will turn around next year, 12 percent think it'll be years from now, 8 percent say 2012 and 6 percent each opted for "soon" and 2011.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

September 25, 2008

Poll: $700 billion bailout in your hands

OK, you don't really get to decide the fate of the $700 billion bailout plan, which last I checked appears to be stalling in Congress. But you can weigh in on it here. Ain't blog democracy grand?

EDIT on Sept. 27 at 9 p.m.: Ten percent want to see the plan passed, 40 percent say pass but with major changes and half of you say "no way."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

September 6, 2008

Poll: Predict August prices

You're an opinionated bunch, so why leave the housing-market predictions to the economists? Step right up and guess which direction Baltimore metro area home prices headed in August, the figures that Metropolitan Regional Information Systems expects to release this Wednesday.

You'll notice I don't specify median or average in the poll below -- that's because everyone has their own preference. Well, every wonk. So you pick. To get you started, keep in mind that the average home price was $323,134 in August 2007 and the median was $279,900. (You can see past price figures at MRIS.)

UPDATE as of 8 p.m. 9/9: Three-quarters of you think prices will be down from a year earlier. Ten percent think prices will be down vs. two years ago, 12 percent think prices will be down vs. three years ago and 2 percent think prices will rise.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

August 21, 2008

Poll: How-to Mondays -- useful or not?

If you're a regular Wonk reader (and thanks very much if you are), you know that the regular feature here is the How-to Monday post. It covers various aspects of living in the area -- how to find apartments, how to improve your credit so you'll pay less for a mortgage, how to handle problem neighbors.

The posts get a lot of hits, but just because you're clicking doesn't mean you find it worthwhile in the end. I'd like to know if you do because -- with fewer reporters on staff here now -- I can't afford to waste my time on not-so-worthwhile things.

So weigh in: Very useful, somewhat useful or not useful?

If you think it would be more useful if only I would cover [your topic here], suggest it -- either in the comments below or by email. Next Monday's How-to grew out of a Wonk reader's question.

UPDATE on 8/28: Ninety percent of you (well, the 20 of you who cared enough to vote) said to keep on reporting the How-to posts. So I will.

At least until I go on maternity leave. Then I do plan to take a break.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

August 9, 2008

Is your Zestimate a good estimate?

There's been a lot of debate -- in news stories and more recently on this blog -- about the accuracy of's Zestimates of home values. I'd like to conduct an unscientific experiment, if you'll indulge me: Check out the Zestimate of your home (or a few homes in your neighborhood, if you're living in an apartment complex and would like to play along) and see whether it matches up with your sense of the value.

Yes, yes, I realize your sense of the value might not be entirely unbiased, but do your best. You'll get your Zestimate if you type your address into the "find homes" box on the Zillow front page.

So what do you think?

UPDATE at 8:30 p.m. on 8/10: So far, almost half of you think your Zestimate is about right. Twelve percent say it's way too high, 14 percent say it's a bit too high, 19 percent say it's a bit too low and 2 percent say way too low.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Polls

August 2, 2008

Poll: Trouble with your mortgage?

Commenter January 1954 suggests a poll to find out how many Wonk readers need a primer on foreclosure -- in other words, whether folks are having mortgage troubles. OK, Jan (can I call you Jan?), but only because you contributed the 800th comment to this blog.

I'm joking, of course. All suggestions for polls are gladly considered.

Without further ado, weigh in (and note that the first two categories are phrased to allow renters to participate, too):

UPDATE as of 9 a.m. on 8/9: The good news is that most of you say you're not having trouble AND don't know anyone who is: 58 percent of you have picked that option so far. Twenty-five percent say you're not having trouble but do know someone who is. Five percent are having trouble but aren't behind, and another 5 percent are behind.

If you're in the trouble category or know someone who is, check out this How-to on foreclosure-prevention resources.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:50 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls

July 23, 2008

What costs more: Living in the city or the 'burbs?

If there's one thing current and former Baltimore residents have strong opinions about, it's property taxes. That's because the city's rate is twice as high as Baltimore County's and more than twice the rate of the rest of the counties.

I posted a "yes, but" argument yesterday from Bob Aydukovic of the Downtown Partnership, who says you could save $8,000 or so a year by moving downtown and getting rid of one car. Readers responded with examples of needing cars even if you live downtown, with complaints about city services, with the "yes, but" of higher insurance costs.

As I mentioned yesterday, I'd love to see a calculation of total living costs in the city vs. the suburbs. Failing that, though, I'm interested to know how you think it all comes out. Weigh in:

EDIT at 8:45 p.m.: The results so far are 39 percent for "somewhat higher," 34 percent for "much higher," 14 percent for "about the same" and 13 percent for "somewhat lower." That's about three-quarters who say costs in the city are higher than the 'burbs.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Polls

July 18, 2008

To pay off faster, or not to pay off faster

There's a comment-duel on a recent How-to post about ways to pay off your mortgage faster. Readers are debating whether you should want to pay it faster, whether it's better to save on mortgage interest or put the extra money you have now into other investments rather than locking it up in your house.

It seems an excellent topic for a poll. Weigh in:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:09 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

July 9, 2008

Name your price

Yesterday's post about home prices set off a firestorm of comments, but I know many more of you have opinions than the inclination to write about them. So here's an opportunity to weigh in with the click of a button.

What's your opinion of asking prices? Too hot, too cold or just right?

As a follow-up, help me get to know you better: Which category most closely describes you? (In the interest of simplicity, choose one of the "renter" categories if you're staying with family or friends, even if no actual money is changing hands.)

EDIT on Thursday at 8 p.m.: Well, this has certainly been a popular topic. More than 100 votes so far on each poll. The results as they stand now:

Fifty-seven percent think asking prices in the Baltimore metro area are "much too high" and 27 percent think they're "a bit too high" (together, more than eight out of 10). Thirteen percent say prices are "about right," while a lone voter picked one of the "too low" categories.

Judging by the results of the other poll, many of the people who think prices are too high are renters -- but not all. Forty-six percent say they're renting with an interest in buying in the near future, while 5 percent are renters who don't plan to buy soon (together, just over half). Thirty-one percent say they're homeowners who aren't in the market to sell. Most of the rest are homeowners trying to sell now or in the near future.

Have a hot topic you'd like to see me poll readers about? Let me know.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:18 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Polls

July 4, 2008

Step right up to play the blame game

Most people seem to agree that the housing downturn is not a blameless phenomenon. Whom to blame, though -- that's the question.

Homeowners for getting mortgages or lines of credit they couldn't afford? Lenders for making loans no sane professional would touch? Wall Street for happily distributing those loans throughout the financial stratosphere as mortgage-backed securities? The feds for keeping interest rates rock-bottom low and hyping homeownership? Real estate agents and others in the industry for assuring Americans that, no matter what, "now is a great time to buy"?


I pose this question because two journalists have weighed in with a book called Chain of Blame: How Wall Street Caused the Mortgage and Credit Crisis. So, without further ado, I'd like to hear which group you most blame. (Just to be absolutely clear: Choosing one group does not necessarily mean you're saying the rest were innocent.)

UPDATE at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday: Most of you think either homeowners or the mortgage industry is most to blame -- the two categories each have 31 percent of the vote at the moment. Next after that: the "Everyone's equally to blame" category, with 22 percent.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:19 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Polls

June 28, 2008

Retirement wealth hurt by housing market

What happens when your home is your biggest investment: Homeowners near retirement age are suffering markedly from dropping prices, says the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In a new study, the Washington think tank projected wealth -- or, rather, lack of wealth -- among people who will be ages 45 to 54 next year:

The first scenario assumes that real house prices fall no further than their level as of March 2008. The second scenario assumes that real house prices fall an additional 10 percent as a 2009 average. The third scenario assumes that real house prices fall an additional 20 percent for a 2009 average. The projections show that the vast majority of families in these age cohorts will have little or no wealth by 2009 in any of these scenarios and that the cohorts just approaching retirement will have very little to support themselves in retirement other than their Social Security. The projections also show that a large number of families in these age cohorts will have little or no equity in their homes in 2009.
The picture is brighter for renters, as the press release notes:
In fact, the renters within each wealth quintile in 2004 will have more wealth in 2009 under all three scenarios, than will the homeowners from the same quintile. These projections underscore the dramatic impact of policies that promoted homeownership during the housing bubble.

Well -- you know what comes next. Poll time:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:10 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

June 22, 2008

Government loans for everyone?

Martin Feldstein has a proposal: Let the federal government take on a piece of people's mortgages to stop a self-reinforcing downward spiral on home values.

In an opinion article published in The Washington Post (and picked up elsewhere), the Harvard professor and president of the National Bureau of Economic Research writes:

Such a program might be structured this way: The federal government would offer all homeowners with mortgages the opportunity to replace one-fifth of their existing mortgage (up to some dollar limit) with a government loan. This loan would carry a substantially lower interest rate than the individual's mortgage (reflecting the government's cost of funds). It would be a full-recourse loan that would have to be repaid regardless of what happens to the borrower's mortgage or home. By law, it would take priority over all non-mortgage debt.

... Because this program would, in effect, swap government bonds for individual IOUs, it would not involve any increase in government spending or in the deficit. Because the loans would appeal primarily to those who now have positive equity in their homes, it would not reward people who made high-risk purchases and now have high negative equity.

Most plans to help homeowners -- those facing foreclosure or hurt by the slump in other ways -- have proved controversial. So -- weigh in:


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 4:57 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Polls

June 19, 2008

Cutting back to afford the house

A U.K. charity said today that nearly one in four households is stressed or depressed thanks to housing costs, while one in nine has sold possessions to make their mortgage or rent. See Shelter's press release about the survey HERE.

How are things in your neck of the woods? Weigh in on our own poll:

Have you taken any creative -- or desperate -- measures to better afford housing? Are you finding better deals now on rent or mortgages? Comment away.

EDIT at 8:30 p.m.: And the winner at the moment is ... very affordable, with 35 percent of the (admittedly limited) vote. Always nice to hear good news! Still, "somewhat high" and "very difficult to cover" together add up to 41 percent. Here's hoping you voters find something that works with your budget.

EDIT on Friday at 8:30 p.m.: There's a number of extra votes now, 24 hours later, which changes things. Top category: "Somewhat high for my budget," with 39 percent of the vote. Together, the "too high" categories add up to 55 percent. "Very affordable" has about a quarter of the vote. Feel free to keep voting -- the polls never close here.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

June 14, 2008

Poll: How has the housing market affected you?

Doesn't matter what the market change is: Some will benefit and some won't. With that in mind, weigh in -- has the housing slowdown (or its ripples) affected you at all? If so, how?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Polls

June 3, 2008

A prediction on home prices

Irwin Kellner, chief economist for MarketWatch, in an opinion piece on the housing market today, predicts that the buyer's market could turn in favor of sellers "before you know it":

I would agree with those who say that it will take many months before balance is restored between supply and demand. There are simply too many homes for sale at asking prices that are still too high for housing to do a 180.

Nor am I expecting another housing bubble to form, not in this decade anyway.

All I would like to point out is that, in broad macro terms, the average house is no longer as overpriced as it once was. That being the case, it is no longer prudent to assume that home prices have to fall a lot more before they stabilize.

All right -- your turn to opine:

UPDATE: Of the 47 who voted as of 7 p.m. today, 26 percent of you think 2010, 23 percent of you say 2009 and an equal percentage say 2011. Nineteen percent chose the "years from now" option, and 9 percent picked this year.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:13 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Polls

May 16, 2008

Fannie Mae changes down payment rules

Mortgage giant Fannie Mae, which in December began requiring higher down payments in markets it deemed to be declining, said today that it's scrapping that policy. Buyers of single-family homes will be able to put down as little as 3 percent nationwide.

That's for loans made to people who will occupy the homes they're buying and handled through Fannie's automated underwriting system. Loans underwritten in other ways will require 5 percent down.

Here's what the company says in a press release:

"As another part of our 'Keys to RecoveryTM' initiative, we are today announcing that we will be equalizing the down payment requirements for borrowers in all parts of the country, regardless of local market conditions," Marianne Sullivan, Senior Vice President, Single-Family Credit Policy and Risk Management, said. "This new down payment policy reinforces our goal to support successful home-owning, not just home-buying, as we seek to bring liquidity to all communities and help the housing market recover."

Fannie, a major player in the market because it buys and securitizes mortgages made by other lenders, said it can afford to make this change because its new model for automated underwriting "will limit risk layering and assess each loan more precisely."

So, folks -- now seems as good a time as any to try out our snazzy new ability to do blog polls:

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 10:23 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Polls
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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