January 13, 2012

2012 resolutions

I'm still sick, so I don't have energy for much except asking a few questions.

What are you hoping to accomplish this year? Pay down debt? Save a down payment? Find an apartment that suits you better? Earn more? Worry less?

Is your home helping you get where you want to be in 2012 or keeping you from getting there? Or is it simply a nice place to spend your free time?

Is the state of the housing market pushing you to do, or not do, something this year? Does it have any bearing on your life?

OK, those are actually a lot of questions. Even when I'm sick, I'm curious.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Question of the day

December 8, 2011

Question of the day: Do you feel confident about your job?

Lack of confidence that price drops are done is an oft-cited reason for people holding off on buying a home. But the other big one is income -- would-be buyers who aren't earning enough, aren't earning anything (unemployment remains high) or are earning plenty to afford a place but are anxious about the possibility of their job going poof.

Do you feel relatively confident about your job? Is it a positive or a negative in the should-I-buy equation?

While I try to recover from whatever icky virus I have, talk amongst yourselves.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Question of the day

September 27, 2011

Autumn home selling and buying

Home sales in the Baltimore area generally peak in June and slide pretty much for the rest of the year, so you can see why some would-be sellers pull their homes from the market with the idea of trying again the next year.

But some homes are always changing hands. Even during the anxiety-filled 2008, when the financial crisis had really set in, 1,339 homes sold in the weakest month (November). So yeah, there are buyers buying and sellers selling during the fall.

Are you hoping to be one of them?

If you're looking, why now? If you're trying to sell, what made you decide to stay on the market -- or go on it -- during this time of year?

On the flip side, if you've decided to stop looking or trying to sell, what was the deciding factor?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Question of the day

June 24, 2011

'Shadow inventory' dips, but still high

The so-called shadow inventory -- homes that aren't on the market now but soon could be thanks to the foreclosure crisis -- receded in April, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic.

The company estimates the total at 1.7 million homes nationwide, down from 1.9 million in April 2010. (Both numbers add up to a five-month supply of homes because the pace of sales was faster last spring, with the federal tax credit in effect, than it is now.) CoreLogic attributes the drop to a combination of fewer homeowners newly behind on payments and a "high level" of distress sales.

A few interesting tidbits:

o Homes whose owners are seriously delinquent on their payments but not in foreclosure account for almost half the shadow inventory. The rest -- in equal split -- are homes in the foreclosure process and properties repossessed by banks but not yet on the market.

o The shadow inventory plus all homes for sale -- the "visible" inventory -- added up to 5.7 million units in April. To put it another way: Three in every ten of those properties are in the shadow group.

o CoreLogic says shadow inventory has dropped 18 percent since peaking in January 2010. But its chief economist, Mark Fleming, expects several more years before total absorption "given the long timelines in processing and completing foreclosures."

Here's the question of the day, folks: Does the much-discussed shadow inventory make any difference to you? If you're thinking of buying, is this potential pipeline holding you back for now? Sellers, has it factored into your strategy at all?

May 26, 2011

Keep or scrap? The home seller's dilemma



Most people put their own unique stamp on their homes in some way. But the advice when you sell is depersonalize, depersonalize, depersonalize, right down to the paint on the walls and carpet on the floor.

That's probably an excellent idea when it comes to getting rid of the cruddy beanbag in your living room. But are sellers better off keeping some touches?

It was precisely because I didn't question the rule of thumb that I wasn't wild about my husband's plan to put wallpaper in our toddler's room last summer. Wallpaper! Buyers hate wallpaper. This was no mild pattern, either, but a colorful jungle scene across the entirety of one wall.

And what happened once it was up? Well, I was completely won over. I went into the wallpapering knowing that it would have to come down before we ever tried to sell (someday), but now some tiny part of me wonders if someone else would enjoy it as much as I do. So I can well understand how sellers think, "But I love this -- surely the right buyer will, too!"

Buyers, set the record straight: Do you find yourselves connecting better with homes that are an off-white blank slate for you to superimpose your own tastes, or does lack of personality leave you cold on the walk-through? What homeowner touches have you liked -- if any -- and what did you hate?

Maybe we should have a "thumbs up or down" feature here for would-be sellers.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Housing market experiences, Question of the day

April 7, 2011

Seeing the housing market with 20-20 vision

Some predicted a housing bust before it happened. Some of those people even predicted a big one. But most Americans, including those who should have been minding the store, went blithely along under the assumption that prices would not take a sharp U-turn.

This makes me wonder what we're not paying attention to now that we ought to be zeroing in on -- good trend or bad.

There's so much noise, it's hard to focus. Foreclosures. Robo-signing. Mortgage terms potentially changing. Mortgage-interest deduction potentially shrinking. The economy trying to right itself. What's in store for mortgage rates. How prices compare with incomes. How prices compare with rents. Federal budget cuts on the one hand, BRAC on the other.

It's all so much easier when you can throw on the 20-20 hindsight glasses.

But hey, give it a shot anyway. Here's your question of the day: How do you think the housing market will change in the next few years -- assuming you foresee any change -- and why?

Will the results be better or worse for most of us?

The last question of the day asked accidental landlords -- people renting their former homes because they can't afford to sell -- how the rental business is treating them. Interesting discussion, including advice from chappy10, an on-purpose landlord:

"If you're only getting enough to pay mortgage, taxes, and insurance, you are LOSING your money renting. You need a COMFORTABLE margin--I'd say 20-25%, minimum, to make up for wear and tear. Even if it's not for 5-10 yrs in the future, you need to do roof repair, buy new water heaters, change the locks and deadbolts, have the HVAC serviced, etc."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Housing forecasts, Housing history, Question of the day

March 4, 2011

Question of the day: Are you renting your home out?

The housing bust created a new breed of landlords -- homeowners renting their places out because they can't sell them, at least not for an amount they're willing to take. ("Accidental landlord" returns 100,000 hits on Google.)

Is this you?

I'm curious to hear the ups and downs, whether you take care of "the toilet's leaking" calls yourself and if it's all been worth it. (Some real estate pros are doing a brisk business helping connect owners and tenants, so please weigh in too, you guys.)

Others, of course, are renting a home or homes out by choice. How is that going? Do you think you've got an advantage over the accidental landlords?

And renters: How do you like (or not) having a landlord with just the one property?

OK, fine, so these are the questions of the day. Hard to stop at just one.

The last Q of the day asked (via a poll) whether you were rooting for home prices to rise, fall or stay flat. In a testament to how divisive the subject is, 46 percent said "up," 40 percent said "down" and all the rest -- minus a few write-in votes -- said "no change."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Question of the day

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

February 8, 2011

Question of the day: What's your real estate beef?

Wonk reader SLL offered a warning for homebuyers yesterday that was based on hard experience:

"I was under contract to buy a foreclosure that had been winterized, and just as an FYI to anyone else thinking of buying a foreclosure -- it's a nightmare to get the house dewinterized for the (information purposes only) inspection," SLL wrote on this post about avoiding a pipe burst in a foreclosure near you.

"You just have to be a pain -- keep bugging the bank's real estate agents every day -- from the moment you have a verbal agreement until it's been confirmed that the house has been dewinterized. Also make sure it's in your contract, too (I think it's standard language in the standard MD State purchase contract) -- that all the utilities must be turned on in time for the inspection or else the contract can be voided b/c the seller didn't hold up its end of the deal. Most of the banks that own foreclosures hire a separate agency that handles the winterization, so it can be very difficult to get the house dewinterized in time for your inspection."

Realtor John K. offered an amen to that: "Often my buyers end up just paying for it themselves in order to get it done and move on. It can cost about $100-150 for the de-winterization. The worst part is that you then have to pay to RE-winterize it, and then pay AGAIN to de-winterize it once you settle."

So here's my question to you all: What argh-inducing issues have you run into as a buyer, seller or renter? What's your real estate beef?

Continue reading "Question of the day: What's your real estate beef?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Question of the day

January 7, 2011

Question of the day: Will you move in 2011?

My daughter is sick and I'm exhausted, so I'm going to ask you all to talk amongst yourselves today. Here's a question to chew on: Do you plan to move this year, either to switch rentals, jump from renting to owning or sell your home and buy elsewhere?

If so, why?

If not, are you happy where you are or staying put for other reasons?

The last question of the day got you all discussing whether you had any plans to buy or sell a home during the holidays, typically a low point for sales.

Wonk reader Brian said then that he was taking a break until spring because there was nothing for sale that he wanted to buy. And he shared his frustration about all the economic and market uncertainty: "It's tough to even pay fair market value when prices are potentially still falling. I worry about losing the great interest rates by waiting but I worry much more about overpaying and then taking a loss if I need to sell."

SZ was about to take a break as well -- from trying to sell -- "when out of the blue buyers who saw our house in August gave us a contract a few weeks ago. So now we are selling and buying in mid-January. We'll be packing during the winter holidays and settlement is scheduled for our son's bday in January. I didn't think it would happen now, and it will be hectic, but we're happy to have it!"

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:22 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Question of the day

November 25, 2010

Question of the day: Holiday home shopping

The holidays are always the low point of the year for home buying -- people have other things (and other sorts of purchases) on their minds.

But some hardy souls are buying and selling real estate.

Are you in that group, either buying, selling or trying? Do you prefer this time of year, or are you participating in a kicking-and-screaming sort of way?

If you're hitting the pause button, when will you return to the fray?

The last question of the day went well. Thanks to all who shared humorous, strange and stomach-turning tales of the oddest homes for sale they've ever seen. I laughed out loud at the story of the house that seemed plucked out of 1984.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. You readers are part of what I'm thankful for.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 1:00 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Question of the day

November 5, 2010

Question of the day: Oddest place you ever saw?

We all know there are some unusual, amusing, hair-raising, stomach-churning or just plain odd homes out there -- for sale or rent. Maybe you've seen one. Maybe, if you've been looking for a new place for a while, you've seen a lot.

Tell your tale. C'mon, share.

It's not exactly the "High Comedy Listing of the Day" as suggested by Wonk reader elweedz -- I don't like to point and laugh at identified folks, so you can imagine how little I like most reality TV -- but hey, there's no harm in writing about "can you believe this" experiences. Including odd-but-oddly-awesome places. (See enough off-white walls, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, and maybe you'll want something out of the ordinary for a change of pace.) 

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Question of the day
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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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