Friday, January 29, 2010

Hazards of Old Buildings, Utility Companies and Government Officials

A year ago, was in the process of rehabbing a duplex. The duplex has been around since roughly 1950. Unlike most duplexes that are given unit numbers or letters(like A/B or 1/2), this one has two separate addresses (15025 & 15027). I finished the unit, but it hasn't rented because, after serious and expensive modifications, I haven't felt the desire to put just anyone in.
Turns out that was for the best, because, after failing to get a loan modification for my place, I'm letting the bank have it, and moving into the nicest rental I own. I'm actually gaining square footage, new plumbing, ceiling fans in every room and tile floors throughout. I'm losing my garage, but I have another where I do most of my work anyway.
That brings me to getting the gas turned on. I called Southwest Gas and they told me it's been more than a year since my gas-air test and I would have to do another. This involves getting another permit from the county and having an inspector verify that the gas lines will hold three PSI for 10 minutes.
I went down to the Victorville branch of San Bernardino Building and Safety office, and the counter technician told me I needed to get A/B addressing for the duplex, and that I had to call Code Enforcement to in San Bernardino to get them, or have CE call her and "allow" me to use the addresses that have been in existence for 50-60 years, all because her computer didn't have the addresses.
It took a week but I finally got my permit. There wasn't any change on the forms at the Building and Safety office.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why isn't your short sale going quickly?

Jeremy Brandt has just had an article on fraud (by the banks) is occurring in short sale transactions. It was just picked up by CNBC.

This is a link to Jeremy Brandt's article.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why isn't the economy recovering?

I have been saying for some time that California real estate isn't headed for a recovery, but another dip (barring government intervention like the tax credits, and no growth policies like in SF). It's widely acknowledged that small businesses provide 70% of the jobs in the US.

The current federal and state governments are ideologically opposed to freedom for the people. The lack of transparency and the desire to regulate practically everything is evidence of this.

If you haven't read anything by The Heritage Foundation you need to read this article. More taxes on investment and on earnings to fund "health care". Which is little more than direct payments to insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies. These new taxes when combined with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will take capital from investors.

Less money for investors, means less jobs. Investors use jobs as a multiplier for their capital. As long as a business is profitable, it is reasonable to hire more employees to make more profit. When taxation and regulation cause a business to become unprofitable, it either adapts or closes, leaving employees struggling as they must  find new sources of income. Read this article about a jobless recovery--which to me is an oxymoron.

As our economy continues to worsen, people are spending less (read this article). I've seen empty commercial buildings all over Southern California. Commercial landlords are handing back keys to the bank, just as homeowners have. There won't be any commercial property bailout--as there is no sympathy from the current administrations for profit makers.

An aside: If you have seen a number of commercial building projects in the works and are thinking this is a sign of an improving economy, you need to think again. If builders do not complete currently approved plans, they will have to submit new plans. These new plans will have to comply with newer building codes, and the newest set of Energy Efficiency codes are much stricter, which will mean much more expensive buildings. I think the builders are hoping that the economy recovers by the time they are done building (and hopefully it is)

So, after all these small businesses go out of business (or don't open at all due to startup costs) we will continue to see more people unemployed. These people are also likely to fall behind on house payments and eventually lose them, adding even more foreclosures to the market.

Let's not forget, that there are lots of public employee unions that are investors. They have retirement accounts that are invested in stocks. So profits also help unionized employees, too. Though, as many of the public employee retirements are guaranteed, any shortfall in retirement accounts caused by a decrease in value of stocks will leave taxpayers (once again) footing the bill, further slowing the economy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Answer to Ben

Recently, Ben asked a question on Trulia. I tried to answer it there, but the guidelines against spam prevented me from linking a couple relevant articles, so I'm reposting it here.

From Ben:
I have a 10 year interest only loan with 7 years left and no equity. I am current on my payments but the home is about $150,000 up side down.

I make 3 figures a year and have a 7 plus fico. I was recently denied a loan for a second home because of the status of my current home, and they think I will " Buy & Bail " The bank also countered and said I need to sell my current home to qualify. I also contacted my bank for assistence/guidence but there was'nt one thing they can do or advise. We need a bigger home, Should I sell my home short sale status?

This answer is going to go against the grain, but I'm in the area and know exactly what you're struggling with. I could rent a house that is new and twice the square footage for what my mortgage payment is in the High Desert.

The first thing to remember is that CA is a non-recourse state. The only thing the bank can do is hurt your credit and foreclose. They can not go against your other assets. If the loan on the house was not used to take money/equity out of the house, and is the purchase money loan, there is a form to fill out so that you do not pay taxes on the banks loss on the loan.

As you have not paid any principal down, I would advise you to think of all the money spent as rent (that has been an interest deduction--call it a rebate on the rent). I don't believe prices are going up in the next 3 years. In fact, the there are a lot of reasons to believe the government is propping up the housing market, and the Association of Realtors spent a lot of money keeping the tax credit going.

If you need a bigger house, and the above applies to you as far as your loan goes, WALK AWAY FROM YOUR HOUSE. Possibly ask your lend for a "cash for keys" deal, where you give them a "deed-in-lieu" of foreclosure and they pay you a small amount to move. It will help you get your credit back faster.

Read these two articles( refer to my blog, Trulia won't allow me to post the links here--The articles are HERE & HERE), and portions of my blog that refer to reasons why the housing market is going to be stale. Don't worry about your credit score. A credit score is good for acquiring debt.

There are a lot of larger houses in our area that you can rent for $1500/month. You also won't have to deal with maintenance. There are even some rent-to-owns, but most RTO's and lease-options require you to assume all duties of an owner.

In two or three years, you'll qualify for a loan again. And prices are likely to be at or near the same levels UNLESS our country's economic policies end up in currency devaluation ala Venezuela or Zimbabwe in which case we all have bigger problems than home ownership.

Ben, If you've come here, do some research on "recourse vs. non-recourse states" and talk to your accountant to see where your mortgage falls as far as tax liability.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Coming Inflation may make now a good time to buy. Times are strange.

I just wrote an article on my political blog about currency devaluation and inflation. I don't want to cut and past the whole thing here. But, buying real estate has always been a hedge against inflation. I still stand by the prediction that housing prices will, in general, drop. However, they could drop in value, and still increase in price if we get a currency devaluation or rampant inflation.

Furthermore, properties can be bought in the Inland Empire for less than the cost of construction. So, there are bargains and lots of them out in the market. I do believe that more foreclosures and REO's and short sales are on their way. We are going  to have deals for quite some time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Here's a link for homeowner's who need to hire someone.

Here's the link, and below is my commentary.

I would like to point out that in California, all jobs over $500 in labor and materials should be performed by a contractor, if you're not going to do it yourself. Though if you follow here guide for payment under painting you may not be left  in the lurch.

Also, I don't think a garbage disposal changeout is beyond most peoples ability. It's time consuming the first time (3 hours), but if you have a newer model (within the last 7-10 years) you can probably get the same brand which will match up to your old mountings. Don't forget to remove the knockout if you're hooking a dishwasher up, or you'll be trying to figure out why the dishwasher doesn't drain.

I've found that hot coffee also helps with unclogging drains. The heat and the acidity seem to break up grease, and the coffee helps clean stainless steel.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Even More Reasons Real Estate May Drop

I've been mentioning for months that real estate, in most cases is going to drop. In special cases like beach front property, and areas where development is limited or not allowed, this won't be true, or as true.

Here are some links and reasons:
3 reasons home prices are heading lower

Housing Inventory Still Dramatically Oversupplied — Before You Add In The Foreclosures

Resets Projected to Cause Mortgage Crisis in 2010

Q3 2009 U.S. Foreclosure Heat Map

A nationwide forecast for real estate is below. If you look to the left side, you can click on your state

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More predictions for a double dip in the California real estate market.

I was reading an article based on an LA Times article that reports that certain areas of CA real estate market are recovering.

As I've mentioned before, housing near the ocean, and in other specialty locations will rise. The article confirms this by saying San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco have had the highest recovery rates, and have increased for 5 months running. All of these cities have ports and beaches. All of the locations are pretty much built up, so there's nowhere to build. In SF's case, there are laws preventing construction. There are certain areas of SD county that can be built, but new building codes put in place after the fires of 2005.

Low density areas are still having problems. When prices in the big city start to drop, people (especially commuters)  in the outlying areas migrate inwards, leaving a high vacancy rate in places like the Inland Empire and farming communities like El Centro.

The downward trend in these markets certainly hampers the ability of these local governments to garner a money from property taxes as the foreclosed properties sell for less money and must be assessed on a lower valuation. This leaves these areas on a downward spiral until investors start returning.

Some investors can buy cheaply and charge lower rents, bringing rental values down further. For rental properties, valuation is based on rent rolls, so if landlords and property managers lower their rates to compete with new owners, then they can apply for lower assessments from the county. This can lead to even less services, and perhaps result in blighted areas, barring some sort of intervention/assistance from higher levels of government.

My experience as an investor and as a building inspector has shown me one thing about government intervention in the housing market. It is tied up in low-income projects. While the goal of assisting low income people may seem on the surface noble, the unintended consequences are dire, generally resulting in generational economic suffering. One of the principals of success is "How do you learn to be successful (or insert whatever adjective you like) people if you aren't surrounding yourself with successful people?" People in public housing learn to be people in public housing. (For a good start in mimetic theory, check out this link)I've also heard anecdotal evidence of prejudice against poor white people by administrators of color in low-income communities, but that's another story.

As long as there is a shortage of rentals, property prices will stabilize. So we are seeing prices stabilizing and rising (though probably temporarily) in the coastal areas. And we are seeing prices stabilize in other areas, but if you see lots of "move-in specials" in the local papers and online classifieds, be prepared to see prices drop in those areas, especially after the federal subsidies (tax credits) expire.

In fact, the $8000 tax credit was causing all sorts of pressure to buy at the end of last year. The new $6500 tax credit has put some wind in the sails of the CA housing market, and will allow people in outlying areas to move closer to the big cities, or upsize their dwelling in the suburbs. After it expires, if there is a commercial downturn, and people lose their income, we are going to see more foreclosures in the residential sector.

Then prices will come down again, unless there is further intervention by the federal government, but with all the red ink they are bleeding, that may not happen, though inflation may cause the property values to rise in any case. That raises the question, how do we cope with rising prices if the economy is stagnating or in a recession/depression? Keep in mind, all the federal stimulus of FDR extended the Depression into the Great Depression. (Read this article for a thorough treatment)

Obviously, we have to pay the piper at some point. The government will have to either raise taxes (further punishing owners and producers) or cut services or some combination of the two. I have yet to see any government program save money, so I don't buy into any statements of that nature, as no government program has come in under budget in anyone's memory that I know. The politicians have a vested interest in providing services in exchange for votes, so I'm not optimistic that we will see any action on that part.

Just some of my thoughts about what's coming down the road.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Keeping up

Lately I seem to be doing a lot more reading than writing. I've got several articles open in various tabs, that I really want to comment on. However, real life calls me away.

Happy New Year Everyone!