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Archive for April, 2013

Zero Hedge: “Presenting: The Housing Bubble 2.0”

Tyler Durden:

It was just seven short years ago that the prices at the epicenter of the housing bubble, Los Angeles, CA rose by 50% every six months as the nation experienced its first parabolic move higher in home prices courtesy of Alan Greenspan’s disastrous policies: a time when everyone knew intuitively the housing market was in an epic bubble, yet which nobody wanted to pop because there was just too much fun to be had chasing the bouncing ball, not to mention money. Well, courtesy of the real-time real estate pricing trackers at Altos Research, we now know that the very worst of the housing bubble is not only back, but it is at levels not seen since the days when a house in the Inland Empire was only a faint glimmer of the prototype for BitCoin.

Urf.

A lot of the people I talk to in Phoenix are trying to time their exit. It wasn’t this way in 2005-2006; I had people still eager to buy ten months after the market had turned.

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The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the world’s first peripatetic computer: You walk, you work and you thrive.

You walk, you work – and you get the job done.

I was walking around the house Saturday — busily working away, headset in my ear, making phone calls and dealing with emails — when it hit me:

The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the world’s first peripatetic computer.

It’s easy and natural to work — to do real work — while walking. Salesmaniacs know that you work better on the phone when you’re walking and talking, but that’s just one aspect of the the sheer utility of doing the desk work where the work is, instead of trying to disgarble the mangled reports of intermediaries.

Comprehensive reviews of the S4 abound, pick your poison. I’m Apple to the core since 1985, so this was a big move for me. I have zero doubt that all smartphones are rip-offs of Apple, that without the iPhone, cell phones would still look and disappoint like the the Nokias and Motorolas of yore. But Samsung is number two and it is trying harder than Apple is now — a lot harder.

The unique features of the phone are gee-whiz and boy-howdy both, doubt you nothing, but that’s all just geekery (and the whole Android universe is rife with the kind of self-satisfied jargonistic needlessly-arcane asshattery that made normal people shun Unix (Eunichs?) geeks even before they made DOS for the dumb ones). What makes the S4 work is the way it’s made for work.

Like this:

* Size: Nice in my hand, maybe just a touch big for the wimminz, but very pocketable, unlike the largely-comparable Galaxy Note 2. (Between the lines: Leaving the phone out of the iPad and iPad Mini was an unforced error on Apple’s part.)

* Weight: That plastic shell feels cheesy, but it makes the phone super-light. I can hold it stationary in one hand indefinitely, easily, without rest or stress. I sold my iPad 2 because the weight of the thing made it, de facto, a crippled laptop, not a usefully-mobile computing solution.

* Software: This is still the weakest link for true peripateticism, computing while ambulating, working while you walk, but we’re getting there. The whole “app” diversion has been a disaster, with millions of people possessed of dozens of one-off (cr)apps, each one of which is really just a showy database client. But because Google is (dimly, slowly) catching onto the idea that the essential component in computing is not the device, not the code and not the data but the end-user, device-irrelevant computing gets better and better. As it does, the amount of work you can get done wherever you are grows dramatically.
 

This is my notifications screen, with my TV remote always ready to hand. Note that the phone is aware that earbuds are plugged in. The software suggestions it makes are all useless, but at least it's trying. Note to Google: Heuristics. You know how to do it.

This is my notifications screen, with my TV remote always ready to hand. Note that the phone is aware that earbuds are plugged in. The software suggestions it makes are all useless, but at least it’s trying. Note to Google: Heuristics. You know how to do it.

* Hardware: Beyond cool, so go read those reviews. There’s built-in biometric stuff and — soup to nuts — an IR blaster. I have a remote for our TV “widgeted” into my lock screen. Best news of all: A user-accessible micro-SD slot. I have the 16GB phone, augmented by a 64GB memory card for, I kid you not, fifty-six bucks. I have 80 gigs of static ram on my phone!

* Camera: Better than my point-and-shoot — by a lot. The sharing support everywhere is first rate, but it’s easy to move photos or videos wherever you want them.

* Battery: It’s a slow charge for a long life, a good trade-off. Much better, the battery is user-swappable, so dedicated road warriors can keep a spare or two fully-charged.

But wait. There’s more.

I can have a desk when I sit down, yet the computer comes with me when I move.

Take a look at this docking station. Power, monitor, hard-disk, keyboard, mouse — desktop. The S4 and this dock are, as of now, the perfect solution for working a conference: The workstation stays at your seat as you, the phone and your headset work the breaks, then everything is back to a desktop/laptop-like solution when you sit back down.

Invite me to your show. I want to prove this will work beautifully!

I’ll have more to say about the S4 as I have more time with it. But so far it’s doing for me what my Macbook Pro, my iPhone and my erstwhile iPad could not do: Giving me a way to work when the only flat surface available to me is my left hand.

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The end-times are upon us: DocuSign spam…

From my mail this morning:

DocuSignSpam

That’s a spoofed email — no links back to the mothership, and a big, fat executable at the bottom. I’m betting it’s WinPoison, so it probably won’t hurt my iMac, but I won’t be researching that question.

But: Be alert. Whether it’s spam, malware or a phishing line, nothing goes wrong until you make the mistake of clicking on the wrong file or link.

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Kotkin: “Why the next great American cities aren’t what you think.”

Joel Kotkin at The Daily Beast:

Once considered backwaters, these Sunbelt cities are quietly achieving a critical mass of well-educated residents. They are also becoming major magnets for immigrants. Over the past decade, the largest percentage growth in foreign-born population has occurred in sunbelt cities, led by Nashville, which has doubled its number of immigrants, as have Charlotte and Raleigh. During the first decade of the 21st century, Houston attracted the second-most new, foreign-born residents, some 400,000, of any American city—behind only much larger New York and slightly ahead of Dallas-Ft. Worth, but more than three times as many as Los Angeles. According to one recent Rice University study, Census data now shows that Houston has now surpassed New York as the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse metropolis.

Why are these people flocking to the aspirational cities, that lack the hip amenities, tourist draws, and cultural landmarks of the biggest American cities? People are still far more likely to buy a million dollar pied à terre in Manhattan than to do so in Oklahoma City. Like early-20th-century Polish peasants who came to work in Chicago’s factories or Russian immigrants, like my grandparents, who came to New York to labor in the rag trade, the appeal of today’s smaller cities is largely economic. The foreign born, along with generally younger educated workers, are canaries in the coal mine—singing loudest and most frequently in places that offer both employment and opportunities for upward mobility and a better life.

Over the decade, for example, Austin’s job base grew 28 percent, Raleigh’s by 21 percent, Houston by 20 percent, while Nashville, Atlanta, San Antonio, and Dallas-Ft. Worth saw job growth in the 14 percent range or better. In contrast, among all the legacy cities, only Seattle and Washington D.C.—the great economic parasite—have created jobs faster than the national average of roughly 5 percent. Most did far worse, with New York and Boston 20 percent below the norm; big urban regions including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and, despite the current tech bubble, San Francisco have created essentially zero new jobs over the decade.

[….]

The reality is that most urban growth in our most dynamic, fastest-growing regions has included strong expansion of the suburban and even exurban fringe, along with a limited resurgence in their historically small inner cores. Economic growth, it turns out, allows for young hipsters to find amenable places before they enter their 30s, and affordable, more suburban environments nearby to start families.

This urbanizing process is shaped, in many ways, by the late development of these regions. In most aspirational cities, close-in neighborhoods often are dominated by single-family houses; it’s a mere 10 or 15 minute drive from nice, leafy streets in Ft. Worth, Charlotte, or Austin to the urban core. In these cities, families or individuals who want to live near the center can do without being forced to live in a tiny apartment.

And in many of these places, the historic underdevelopment in the central district, coupled with job growth, presents developers with economically viable options for higher-density housing as well. Houston presents the strongest example of this trend. Although nearly 60 percent of Houston’s growth over the decade has been more than 20 miles outside the core, the inner ring area encompassed within the loop around Interstate 610 has also been growing steadily, albeit at a markedly slower rate. This contrasts with many urban regions, where close-in areas just beyond downtowns have been actually losing population.

[….]

Pressed by local developers and planners, some aspirational cities spend heavily on urban transit, including light rail. To my mind, these efforts are largely quixotic, with transit accounting for five percent or less of all commuters in most systems. The Charlotte Area Transit System represents less a viable means of commuting for most residents than what could be called Manhattan infrastructure envy. Even urban-planning model Portland, now with five radial light rail lines and a population now growing largely at its fringes, carries a smaller portion of commuters on transit than before opening its first line in 1986.

But such pretentions, however ill-suited, have always been commonplace for ambitious and ascending cities, and are hardly a reason to discount their prospects. Urbanistas need to wake up, start recognizing what the future is really looking like and search for ways to make it work better. Under almost any imaginable scenario, we are unlikely to see the creation of regions with anything like the dynamic inner cores of successful legacy cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco. For better or worse, demographic and economic trends suggest our urban destiny lies increasingly with the likes of Houston, Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Raleigh and even Phoenix.

The critical reason for this is likely to be missed by those who worship at the altar of density and contemporary planning dogma. These cities grow primarily because they do what cities were designed to do in the first place: help their residents achieve their aspirations—and that’s why they keep getting bigger and more consequential, in spite of the planners who keep ignoring or deploring their ascendance.

Read the whole thing. I’ve been pimping Kotkin here for years. When you see his name out on the nets, give him your time. He’s been dead right about what’s happening in American cities, where Richard Florida has been dead wrong.

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If the condominum is not VA-approved, how do I get a VA home loan offer accepted?

Many veterans in California purchase properties which are classified as condominiums.  Some are large complexes, with professional HOA management, some are small complexes (under 6 units) with no monthly HOA fee and an informal cost-sharing agreement, and some are townhomes.  All share on thing in common–they are listed on the county records as a condominium.  This, the VA loan can not be funded until the condominium complex is approved.

The Southern California market has shifted, seemingly overnight from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market.  Many listing agents are presenting multiple offers to sellers.  Sadly, sellers leave some money on the table because the best offer is one using a VA home loan.  The sellers believe that the VA home loan can not be used because the condominium complex does not have a VA approval.

Buyer’s agents jobs then, are to present the VA offer with an eye towards minimizing the risk associated with it.

First, the buyer’s agent would do well to present documentation which demonstrates that the veteran is a strong buyer.  Some successful agents go so far to present my automated underwriting findings along with asset and income documentation (with the veteran’s permission, of course).  Demonstrating that the veteran has the credit, income, and asset requirements, to be approved for the loan amount, shows that the veteran is “bankable”.

Second, the buyer’s agent might address the three common concerns, sellers have with VA loans in the cover letter.  The cover letter should highlight that the veteran earned the no-down payment loan as compensation for his or her service to our country.  I sometimes call this “wrapping the offer in the flag” and the buyer’s agent should not be shy about doing it.  If the veteran served overseas, highlight it. If the veteran earned a distinctive award, highlight it.

The buyer’s agent should be clear about whether the seller is being asked to pay for the VA non-allowable costs and specify the dollar amount.  If the offer does not include seller-paid costs, the letter should state who is paying for those costs (usually the lender) and reference the section in the offer which states that.  I generally recommend that agents use this language

“VA non-allowable costs to be  paid by lender.  Seller not required to pay any of the veteran’s non-allowable closing costs”

The buyer’s agent should discuss the condominium approval process in the cover letter, too.  The lender’s name, email, and number should be included, along with 2-3 references who can confirm that the lender knows how to get the complex VA-approved.    This point is important.  The lender should be able to demonstrate proficiency in the complex approval complex and should state that the appraisal can be ordered before the complex is approved.  Not all lenders will do this.  Many lenders state that the complex has to be approved prior to ordering the appraisal–that just ain’t so.  The loan can be processed, underwritten, and approved before the complex approval comes in.  Ultimately, the lender should have a full approval with one condition remaining; the complex approval.

Finally, the buyer’s agent should confidently present the VA Amendatory Clause with the offer.  The VA Amendatory Clause is nothing to hide.  Sellers should understand that the appraisal will be performed conditioned upon the complex approval.  Ultimately, that means that the veteran buyer’s deposit is refundable if the complex can’t be approved.  If the buyer is bearing the cost of the attorney opinion letter, that should be disclosed as well–it shows that the veterans has “skin in the game” and a vested interest in a quick closing.

VA home loans are a great tool for buyers who have served our country.  Sellers can get top-dollar for their properties if they address the “risks” a VA offer might present, have a game plan for how to mitigate those risks, and help the agents, veteran, and lender to close the loan quickly.  Communication is key to a successful VA home loan transaction and that communication starts with a prepared buyer’s agent.

 

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What’s big, dumb, sclerotic and panics on command? A California Association of Realtors member, apparently.

So this big dumb robot shows up on the front porch this morning:

Believe it or not, it’s from the California Association of Realtors. The robot exists to support this video:

Get it? There’s a meet-cute featuring pre-tween pretend robots, and this clunky piece of junk communicates… what…?

My reaction? “Urf. Now I’m going to have to waste time mocking this nonsense…”

Okayfine. You will note that the robot seems to be suggesting that California Real Estate is something of a slot machine.

But at least your CAR member agent has his squarish mechanical head screwed on right.

And in a batteries-not-included world, your mechano-Realtor comes complete with two enormous D-cells, which must have added considerably to the postage.

The box didn’t provide a lot of insight into why one should choose a CAR-certified RealtorBot, but it was fun imagery:

Ultimately, though, it’s the test of the marketplace that matters. And a CAR-approved RealtorBot can panic mindlessly like no other.

Hey, CAR members: No tar, no feathers in California? This is your money I’m having such a good time with…

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Apparently, insanity is buying the same house over and over again, even though you never qualify.

You just can’t make this shit up: Obama administration pushes banks to make home loans to people with weaker credit. Why not? It worked out so well the last time.

The Obama administration is engaged in a broad push to make more home loans available to people with weaker credit, an effort that officials say will help power the economic recovery but that skeptics say could open the door to the risky lending that caused the housing crash in the first place.

President Obama’s economic advisers and outside experts say the nation’s much-celebrated housing rebound is leaving too many people behind, including young people looking to buy their first homes and individuals with credit records weakened by the recession.

In response, administration officials say they are working to get banks to lend to a wider range of borrowers by taking advantage of taxpayer-backed programs — including those offered by the Federal Housing Administration — that insure home loans against default.

Housing officials are urging the Justice Department to provide assurances to banks, which have become increasingly cautious, that they will not face legal or financial recriminations if they make loans to riskier borrowers who meet government standards but later default.

Officials are also encouraging lenders to use more subjective judgment in determining whether to offer a loan and are seeking to make it easier for people who owe more than their properties are worth to refinance at today’s low interest rates, among other steps.

Obama pledged in his State of the Union address to do more to make sure more Americans can enjoy the benefits of the housing recovery, but critics say encouraging banks to lend as broadly as the administration hopes will sow the seeds of another housing disaster and endanger taxpayer dollars.

“If that were to come to pass, that would open the floodgates to highly excessive risk and would send us right back on the same path we were just trying to recover from,” said Ed Pinto, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former top executive at mortgage giant Fannie Mae.

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Can Bernanke Keep Mortgage Rates This Low Into 2015?

I’ve been a vocal critic of Ben Bernanke.  I thought his Quantitative Easing schemes would eventually create a bubble in the Treasury and mortgage-bond markets.  Bernanke has committed to keeping rates low for another 18-24 months.

I was wrong.  I violated the first rule of market prognostication (from the late Marty Zweig):  Don’t Fight the Fed

Let me give you some background.  Mortgage rates are driven by the secondary market (which is a fancy word for bond buyers on Wall Street).  I offered an abbreviated history of secondary mortgage marketing , six years ago, here on Bloodhound Blog.  Essentially it works like this:

  • Home buyer applies for a loan with a mortgage originator
  • Originator processes the loan for submission to a lender
  • Lender underwrites the loan to agency guidelines (FHA, FNMA, FHLMC, VA)
  • Lender funds the loan
  • Lender secures guaranty from agency
  • Lender retains servicing rights but assigns rights to principal and interest to an investment bank
  • Investment bank packages loans in a pool, carves up the pool into bonds, and sells them to individual investors

Two things are important in secondary marketing:  the agency guaranty and the ability to sell the bonds.  The agency guaranty offers a sense of security to the investors and the demand for the bonds must be there.  When I thought rates would rise, because of runaway inflation, I posited the the Federal Reserve Bank’s power was quickly deteriorating.  What I hadn’t anticipated was that central banks, all over the word, were in even worse shape.  The Fed might be ugly but she’s the prettiest gal at the dance.

Last month, I asked Alan Nevin, economist with the London Group, “What if the buyers run away?”  To which, he replied, “Where will they go?”.

This is not a pollyannish answer.  Where WILL investors go?  I offered these options:  Hong Kong, Australia,  and Canada

Then it hit me–the world wide capital market is huge and the options for capital investment are limited.  Imagine the global capital market as a 64-gallon trash can.  The Hong Kong, Australian, and Canadian bond markets are like a shot glass, a pint bottle, and a quart can.  Even if you tried to dump all that trash into those three little receptacles, you’d have at least 63 gallons of trash which needed a landfill.

The domestic treasury and mortgage-backed securities markets are that landfill—a great place to dump all of that trash.  Maybe Hong Kong, Australia, and Canada can pull some capital away from the domestic bond markets but The Fed-controlled landfill is still a good place for investment.  For now…

 

 

 

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