11-05

When love collides with real estate, the result is increasingly a prenuptial.

More couples are opting for prenuptials, according to a recent survey of 1,600 members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a professional group based in Chicago. In the survey, conducted from mid-September to mid-October, 63% of the respondents reported an increase in prenups over the past three years.

Alton Abramowitz, president of the group, says his Manhattan-based firm would facilitate one or two prenups a year 30 years ago. Now, his practice is conducting two to four a month.

Mr. Abramowitz says the rise is prenups is in part because more people are getting married at an older age, have more wealth coming into a marriage and are more sophisticated about their financial assets. And the asset people are often most concerned about is real estate. About 80% of respondents say the protection of separate property, often real estate, is the most commonly covered item in prenups. “Easily 90% of prenups have provisions dealing with residences, sometimes multiple residences,” says Mr. Abramowitz, speaking of his firm’s prenuptial practice.

Separate property typically includes assets that were inherited or gifted, owned before marriage or earned after the couple separates. In some cases, separate property can become commingled with community property. “Often someone owns a house before getting together with their partner. They want to make sure the house remains theirs,” says Emily Doskow, an attorney in Oakland, Calif., and an author of several books for Nolo, a publisher of consumer legal guides based in Berkeley.

That is where a prenuptial comes in.

“If you don’t have a prenup, then your state’s law determines who owns what during marriage and what happens to your properties after divorce,” Ms. Doskow says. “What you can do with a prenup is make decisions other than what your state’s law would decide.”

Raymond Rafool, a divorce attorney in Miami, sees many prenups that are used to tailor how real estate will be divided. “I’ve done prenup agreements that say once this is over, the wife has to move from the marital home. They give her 90 days after filing and then say she has to move,” he says.

Prenups can also dictate property that a couple has yet to own. “You can say, ‘Anything that I buy and put in my name is my property.’ That’s the beauty of a prenuptial,” Mr. Rafool says.

Mr. Rafool generally recommends prenups because they set expectations from the onset, though he adds that they aren’t for everyone. “Sadly, I’ve been involved in prenuptial agreements where the parties decided not to get married as a result of the negotiation,” he says.

Lawyers say prenups for higher-net-worth individuals typically cost between $15,000 and $50,000, though some can be well over $60,000 depending on their complexity.

Still, prenups remain rare. Only 3% of people who are engaged or married have a prenuptial agreement, according to a 2010 survey by Harris Interactive. Dora Puig, a high-end residential real-estate broker in Miami, says one-quarter of her clients will speak openly about having a prenup—but clam up as soon as their spouse walks into the room. “It’s never brought up in front of the couple. It’s always between me and the person purchasing” the property, she says.

(Source: WSJ.com)

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11-04

Fixed-rate mortgages continued to trend downward for the second consecutive week and are now at their lowest levels since June.

The average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage dropped  0.03 percentage point from the previous, according to the latest survey by mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. Previously at 4.13 percent, the 30-year average is now trending at 4.1 percent. At this time last year the average was 3.39 percent. It’s now at its lowest level since it averaged 3.93 percent in June.

After falling to 3.24 percent a week ago, the 15-year-fixed rate average dropped to 3.20 percent. A year ago, it averaged 2.7 percent. The 15-year-fixed average has not trended below the 3 percent threshold since May. It hit its highest mark in August when it spiked to 3.6 percent.

Concerns about a softening housing market and the economy’s recovery, particularly the Federal Reserve’s decision to continue its bond-buying stimulus program, have been cited as the main reasons behind the decline in loan rates. As part of the massive stimulus program, the Fed is currently buying $85 million in bonds each month, in an effort to keep long-term interest rates affordable.

“Fixed mortgage rates eased further leading up to the Federal Reserve’s Oct. 30 monetary policy announcement,” Frank E. Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said in a statement. “The Fed saw improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions since it began its asset purchase program, but noted the recovery in the housing market slowed somewhat in recent months and unemployment remains elevated. As a result, there was no policy change which should help sustain low mortgage rates in the near future.”

Rates have dipped in each of the two weeks following the conclusion of the federal government shutdown. Beginning in May, averages on fixed-rate mortgage loans had climbed more than a percentage point; however, both the 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate loans are now trending at their lowest levels since June 20.

Averages on hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage loans were mixed this week. The average rate on a five-year ARM fell from 3 percent to 2.96 percent week over week. The rate on a one-year ARM rose slightly from 2.6 percent to 2.64 percent.

The number of mortgage applications submitted showed a strong spike this week. However, it should be noted that the government shutdown previously slowed the submission process substantially, which could have contributed to the increase in applications.

Looking ahead, rates are expected to remain relatively the same in the short-term. In the latest Mortgage Rate Trend Index by Bankrate.com, 70 percent of analysts polled believe rates will remain unchanged over the next week. Another 20 percent believe rates will continue their downward trend.

“I don’t expect to see much of a difference in rates,” opined FBC Mortgage planner Jim Sahnger. “The Fed says it is data-dependent, as are most traders. Just haven’t seen much in the data to indicate a rise in rates.”

The same cannot be said for the long-term, as many expect the fed’s stimulus program to be curbed come January and rates to rise significantly. The 30-year fixed-rate average is expected to be around 4.6 percent in Q1 of 2014 and hit the 5 percent threshold by Q3.

“At the end of the day it’s really not sustainable to have mortgage financing at 3.5, 4 percent,” says Mark Fleming, chief economist for Corelogic. “Rates have been subsidized in some way but that subsidy is being removed and the cost of financing housing will rise. We can’t stay down at this level indefinitely.”

(Source: Realtor.com)

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11-01
References to wine rooms in luxury listings are on the rise, and views, windows and outdoor spaces are some of the most in-vogue amenities in luxury homes, according to an analysis of listing descriptions by real-estate website Trulia.

BN-AF501_Trulia_DV_20131031101108High-end listings are more likely to reference oversized windows, floor-to-ceiling windows, ceiling windows and large windows compared with a year earlier. Panoramic views and ocean views are also trending upward, as are outdoor entertaining spaces, such as roof decks and terraces. “Recently, there’s been more of an emphasis overall on nature and natural materials. This trend in luxuries could be part of the same shift,” says Jed Kolko, chief economist and head of analytics at Trulia.

Sellers have limited space in the listing description to entice potential buyers, and so the amenities they list reflect larger buying trends in the luxury market. “The listing words show what the seller or seller’s agent believe are most important to make their listing stand out,” Mr. Kolko says.

Trulia compared luxury homes listed between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, with homes listed in the year prior, between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. Trulia defined luxury listings as homes that were priced at least four times above a metro’s median listing price.

BN-AF503_Trulia_DV_20131031102058The amenity that saw the most growth is the marble bath, which is 78% more common in luxury listings now than a year ago, according to the analysis.

On the flip side, luxury listings are 16% less likely to mention a “BBQ”—the amenity that saw the biggest drop. References to other kitchen and cooking amenities and formal rooms, like formal dining and living rooms, also declined

(Source: WSJ.com)

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10-31

The U.S. housing market has made some great strides in 2013, but it’s facing a slowdown due to government dysfunction, a sputtering economy and imminent volatility over the next debt-ceiling debate, according to Freddie Mac’s latest U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook.

Although, getting a mortgage shouldn’t be affected by any potential market decline, the report stated.

If you’re looking to buy a home, now may be the best time in terms of mortgage rates. Freddie Mac estimates that 30-year-fixed loans will “hover around 4.3 percent” through the end of the year, and then begin heading higher in early 2014.

Other key takeaways from the report:

• Due to the U.S. government shutdown, growth projections for the national housing market were scaled back by 0.5%.

•  Foreclosed home sales and depressed levels of new home construction are resulting in tighter inventories for homebuyers – leaving them with fewer houses to choose from and higher prices.

• New housing units will top out at 1 million this year and 1.15 million next year, levels that Freddie Mac analysts call “below normal.”

• The U.S. housing market is at the mercy of a sluggish U.S. economy, which is expected to reach “full potential” until 2015 — or later.

“The housing recovery keeps chugging along despite a constant barrage of disruptions to the broader economy,” Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said in a statement released with the report. “We’re likely going to see the housing recovery slow down, but not shut down, as we close out the rest of this year due to tight inventories in many markets, rising mortgage rates and slumping consumer confidence. Fortunately, the housing recovery should continue to absorb the economic shocks in stride and improve next year.”

Industry observers advise sellers not to take a chance, and strike while the market is still relatively hot.

The actionable item is for home sellers to put their house on the market now, said Bruce Taylor, president of ERA Key Realty Services in Whitinsville, Mass. “Some of our towns have such a low inventory level that almost any house will sell at a top price, primarily because buyers are anxious to find something that fits their needs and budgets.”

“Financing isn’t a factor,” Taylor said. “There is plenty of money available at very good interest rates.”

He agreed with Nothaft’s assessment of a slower, weaker market right now.

“Housing sales may decline just due to the lack of inventory,” Taylor said. “Prices haven’t risen quite enough yet to bring everyone above water. We expect that will happen by the end of 2014. Meanwhile, new construction will begin hitting the market in early 2014 and that will feed some of the demand.”

Like sellers, buyers should act now, given the headwinds rolling down the pike.

“Buyers have their best options now,” Taylor said. “Even though inventory is tight, we don’t expect that to change until prices rise higher. The best deals are the ones available now.”

As for mortgage rates, the 10-year Treasury note remains the key benchmark for buyers, sellers, homebuilders, and real estate professionals.

“T-note rates will be impacted by any phase-out of quantitative easing on the part of the Federal Reserve,” Taylor said. “But there will be no change in [quantitative easing] until job growth exceeds 180,000 new jobs per month. Last year it happened in January. This year, your guess is as good as Freddie’s.”

(Source: Realtor.com)

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10-30

The home mortgage market received some good news recently with reports that underwater mortgages have been drying up fast, putting the U.S. housing market on firmer, higher ground.

According to CoreLogic, 2.5 million U.S. home properties in the second quarter of 2013 emerged from being in negative equity (meaning their mortgage balance was higher than their home’s value)—a state commonly referred to as being underwater. The real estate data service found that 7.1 million homes, or 14.5 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage, were still in negative equity at the end of the second quarter, down from 9.6 million homes at the end of the first quarter. The total number of mortgaged residential properties with equity currently stands at 41.5 million.

CoreLogic reported that the problem is consolidating, with 35 percent of all negative equity mortgages in five states — Florida, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, and Georgia.

What’s led to the significant turnaround reflected in the data?

“The U.S., and more specifically the Georgia market, have been in a recovery period for about 18 months now,” said Cal Haupt, chief executive officer at Georgia-based Southeast Mortgage. “Valuations are returning to normal valuations, and in some cases appreciating beyond what was expected.”

Mark Twerdok, head of KPMG’s credit risk practice, agreed.

“Seeing fewer underwater mortgages is no mystery, given the continued rise in home values over the last 12 months,” Twerdok said. “Investor buying has been the initial driver of the appreciation in areas with the most underwater homes. Now, investor buying has widened to include the owner-occupied market [buyers who intend to live in the homes they purchase]. This is good news since these more-traditional buyers will ensure the appreciation trend will continue over the near future.”

In addition, as long as new construction does not change the supply/demand balance in favor of excess supply, appreciation should persist until most of the underwater loans are gone,” Twerdok said.

However, he warned about the potential impacts of continued shifts in the housing market down the road of the economy’s recovery from the Great Recession.

“Areas that have benefited from the price bounce may have trouble once investors exit the market because increased interest rates will potentially sap buying power,” Twerdok said. “There is also the unresolved issue of easier credit underwriting and the emergence of a private securitization market,” which might drive up demand and cause home values to rise.

“Without certainty, there will likely be more headwinds in the path of rising home values,” Twerdok said.

A reduction in home foreclosures has also helped reduce the number of underwater mortgages. The vast majority of foreclosures over the past five years involved homes that were underwater, and they have since been sold or rented under new terms with new borrowers, said Tim Coyle, a senior director with the financial services arm of LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

“In addition,” Coyle said,  ”loss-mitigation departments have been working with borrowers to do work-outs for things like short sales, loan modifications, and deed in lieu of foreclosures.”

(Source: Realtor.com)

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