best cat trees for apartments according to Wirecutter, a product review website owned by The New York Times Company.

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Housing Affordability Falls in February as Home Price Growth Surges

At the national level, housing affordability declined in February compared to a year ago according to NAR’s Housing Affordability Index. Affordability declined in February compared to January as the median family income rose by 3.5% while the monthly mortgage payment increased 5%. The effective 30-year fixed mortgage rate1 was 2.73% this February compared to 3.53% one year ago, but the median existing home sales price rose 16% from one year ago.

Line graph: Housing Affordability Index, February 2020 to February 2021

As of February 2021, the national and regional indices were all above 100, meaning that a family with the median income had more than the income required to afford a median-priced home. The income required to afford a mortgage, or the qualifying income, is the income needed so that mortgage payments make up 25% of family income.2 The most affordable region was the Midwest, with an index value of 230.7 (median family income of $84,595, which is more than twice the qualifying income of $36,672). The least affordable region remained the West, where the index was 117.9 (median family income of $92,172 and qualifying income of $78,192). The South was the second-most affordable region with an index of 180.5 (median family income of $78,311 and qualifying income of $43,392) The Northeast was the second most unaffordable region with an index of 170.5 (median family income of $96,972 with a qualifying income of $56,880).

Bar chart: U.S. and Regional Median Family Income and Qualifying Income

Housing affordability3 declined from a year ago in two of the four regions. The Northeast had the biggest decline of 7.0%. The Northeast region experienced the strongest price growth compared to a year ago of 23.1%. The West region fell of 1.3% and had the second strongest price growth of 21.2%. The South had a modest increase of 0.3%, followed by the Midwest with a gain of 0.1%.

Affordability is down in all four regions from last month. The West had the biggest decline of 9.8%, followed by the South which fell of 7.5%. The Midwest was down 6.5%, followed by the Midwest region with the smallest dip of 3.0%.

Nationally, mortgage rates were down 80 basis points from one year ago (one percentage point equals 100 basis points).

Bar chart: U.S. and Regional February Housing Availability, 2021 and 2020

Compared to one year ago, the monthly mortgage payment rose to $1,033 from $984, an increase of 5%. The annual mortgage payment as a percentage of income increased to 14.4% this February from 14.2% from a year ago due to higher incomes and lower interest rates. Regionally, the West has the highest mortgage payment to income share at 21.2 % of income. Home prices in the West have reached an all-time high of $500,100. The Northeast had the second highest share at 14.7%, followed by the South with its share at 13.9%. The Midwest had the lowest mortgage payment as a percentage of income at 10.8%. Mortgage payments are not burdensome if they are no more than 25% of income.4

Bar chart: U.S. and Regional Mortgage as a Percent of Income, 2021 and 2020

Incomes took a step back in February mostly due to the stimulus payments that boosted the incomes of many households. This week the Mortgage Bankers Association reported mortgage applications decreased 5.1% from one week earlier. Mortgage credit availability was unchanged in February. Refinance applications are also down for the fifth straight week.

What does housing affordability look like in your market? View the full data release.

The Housing Affordability Index calculation assumes a 20 percent down payment and a 25 percent qualifying ratio (principal and interest payment to income). See further details on the methodology and assumptions behind the calculation.


1 Starting in May 2019, FHFA discontinued the release of several mortgage rates and only published an adjustable rate mortgage called PMMS+ based on Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey.  With these changes, NAR discontinued the release of the HAI Composite Index (based on 30-year fixed rate and ARM) and starting in May 2019 only releases the HAI based on a 30-year mortgage. NAR calculates the 30-year effective fixed rate based on Freddie Mac’s 30-year fixed mortgage contract rate, 30-year fixed mortgage points and fees, and a median loan value based on the NAR median price and a 20 percent down payment.

2 The 25% mortgage payment to income share takes into consideration that a homeowner has other expenses such as property insurance, taxes, utilities, and maintenance, so that total housing expenses are no more than 30% of income. Housing costs are not burdensome if they account for no more than 30% of income.

3 A Home Affordability Index (HAI) value of 100 means that a family with the median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home. An index of 120 signifies that a family earning the median income has 20 percent more than the level of income needed pay the mortgage on a median-priced home, assuming a 20 percent down payment so that the monthly payment and interest will not exceed 25 percent of this level of income (qualifying income).

4 Total housing costs that include mortgage payment, property taxes, maintenance, insurance, utilities are not considered burdensome of they account for no more than 30% of income.

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The Indestructible Townhouse

When it comes to architectural survivors amid Manhattan’s eternal churn of destruction and redevelopment, it is hard to top the 211-year-old, four-story brick landmark at 67 Greenwich Street in the financial district. Originally the townhouse of the merchant Robert Dickey, the decorous Federal-style dwelling was built in 1810 near the island’s southern tip, when nearby wharves bustled with trade and lower Greenwich Street was among the city’s poshest addresses.

In the two centuries since, as Lower Manhattan came to be defined not by forests of ship’s masts but by forests of skyscrapers, the house has weathered an astonishing amount of upheaval. The disruption it has survived includes a neighborhood-ravaging fire, a street-widening project that claimed its rear stable, the construction and deconstruction of elevated railways running past both its front and back doors, the digging of subway tunnels on either side of its foundation, the wholesale razing of neighboring post-Revolutionary War houses for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and, finally, the 9/11 attacks a few blocks north.

Now the Greenwich Street and Trinity Place facades of the long-deteriorating house have been handsomely restored by its owner, Trinity Place Holdings, the real estate outfit that emerged from the 2011 bankruptcy of the Syms discount clothing chain. The entirely rebuilt interior of the Dickey House will become part of a new home for Public School 150, which will also occupy most of the bottom eight floors of a new 42-story condominium next door at 77 Greenwich Street, where a bunkerlike Syms store previously stood.

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2021 Spring Market Starting Off Hot and Highly Competitive

The 2021 spring market is starting off at the lowest level of inventory of homes on the market in nearly 40 years, with job growth ramping up amid an aggressive fiscal policy and continued low mortgage rates. Homebuyers are likely to face the most competitive spring market in years. Here are the latest indicators on inventory, pending sales, home prices, job growth, and mortgage rates that are pointing to a hot spring market in a broad swath of metro areas.

Shortage of 2.4 million homes for sale to meet 6 months of supply

The inventory of existing and new single-family homes for sale is the lowest since 1982.1 As of the end of February 2021, the inventory of homes for sale stood at a historic low of 1.07 million (1.03 million of existing homes, 42,000 new single-family homes), which is equivalent to just 1.8 months of the average monthly sales of 582,917 (518,333 of existing homes, 64,583 of new single-family homes), a near historic low (1.7 months in December 2020 and January 2021 were the historic lows).

Historically, six months of the average monthly demand has kept home prices from overheating. At six months of inventory, there should be 3.49 million homes on the market, but as of February, only 1.07 million homes are on the market, resulting in a gap of 2.4 million homes for sale.

Line graph: Homes for Sale vs. Number of Homes Required for 6-Month Supply, January 1999 to September 2020

There’s a dire lack of inventory across all metropolitan areas. Realtor.com reported that only 4 out of 381 metro areas or just 1% of metropolitan areas had more active listings in March 2021 compared to one year ago (Odessa, Texas, Urban Honolulu, Midland, Texas, and Harrisonburg, Virginia). The decline in active listings are mind-boggling, with 375 out of 381 metro areas posting double-digit declines.

Demand (pending listings) is outstripping supply (active listings) in 70% of metro areas

A leading indicator of home sales and a good indicator of the demand for homes is pending listings. Most pending listings will turn into sales, and based on NAR’s Realtors® Confidence Index Survey, 6% of contracts are terminated (latest data as of February 2021).

In 70% of metro areas (265 out of 381 metro areas tracked by realtor.com®), the number of pending listings that can be expected on a given day in the month was higher than the number of active listings that can be expected on any given day in the month.

The ratio of pending sales to active listings is an indicator of how hot the market is. The top 5 metro areas with the largest ratios were Provo-Orem, Utah (6.9);  Boise City, Idaho (5.0); Jacksonville North Carolina (5.0); Fayetteville North Carolina (4.6); and Bremerton-Silverdale, Washington (4.2).

Listing prices are rising at double-digit rates in 64% of metro areas

Prices are the best indicator of demand and supply fundamentals. As of March, 64% of metro areas are posting double-digit year-over-year price appreciation, based on realtor.com® listings. The strongest price appreciation is occurring in the metro areas of Utah, Idaho, and Montana: Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho (76.9%); Great Falls, Montana (68.4%); Twin Falls, Idaho (58.4%); Logan, Utah, Idaho (54%), and St. George, Utah (51.2%). Idaho and Utah are the only states where non-farm payroll employment is higher as of March 2021 compared to one year ago.

Explore housing market trends across metro areas using this tool:

Expectation of higher mortgage rates in the future will drive demand now

Mortgage rates are still trending at historic lows, with the 30-year fixed rate mortgage falling to 3.13% in the week of August 8, still a tad lower than 3.33% one year ago (April 10). NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun expects mortgage rates to hover at below 3.5% in 2021. Mortgage rates are likely to go up, not down. Inflation rates are still trending at below 2% and with the average inflation targeting adopted by the Federal Open Market Committee, the federal funds rate can remain at 0 to 25% in 2022. However, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate is driven by the 10-year Treasury Note, and as the economy continues to improve, current bond investors will tend to shift away from lower-yielding Treasury Notes and move into the higher-yielding equities (stocks) market, which will lead to lower demand for bonds and higher interest rates. Buyers expecting higher mortgage rates will tend (and should) get into the homebuying market now, pushing up demand.

Sustained employment growth will tend to increased home demand

Employment continues to recover under highly accommodating monetary policy and a strong dose of fiscal expansion (hovering at $5 trillion with the passage of the $1.9 trillion 2020 CARES Act, $900 billion 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the $1.9 trillion 2021 American Rescue Plan).

In March, the economy created 916,000 jobs. Since May 2020, the economy has created 13.9 million nonfarm payroll jobs, with the number of lost jobs now at just 8.5 million. Counting the self-employed, 17.5 million jobs have been created, with the unemployment rate falling to 6%.

The job recovery is broad-based, with all industries showing jobs gains since May (although only the finance and insurance industry and federal government have higher nonfarm employment in March 2021 compared to peak employment in February 2020).

Bar chart: Jobs Created, by Industry, May 2020 through March 2021

1 NAR started tracking single-family and condominium existing home sales in 1999 but collected data on single-family homes starting in 1982.

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Where Are Real Estate Taxes Lowest (and Highest)?

The coronavirus pandemic has closed many doors over the past year, from restaurants to gyms, theaters and offices. But it has also opened some new opportunities thanks to the expansion of video technology and remote work, which employers are now embracing. Demand for new homes is spiking around the country, and many at-home workers, unbound from their commutes, are free to consider moving anywhere that fits their budget.

But before you get too excited about that house in the country, which seems to cost about the same amount you’d get for selling your apartment, check the property taxes. They may just be off the charts.

For a sense of what’s affordable, check out WalletHub’s recent rankings of median property taxes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, which were determined by using the latest available U.S. census figures (2019) for median home values and median property taxes paid.

The average American household spends $2,471 on property taxes each year. In the places with the highest median property taxes, the monthly tax payment on a median-price home is often more than half the mortgage payment. Topping the list is New Jersey, where the median-priced home was valued at $335,600. For this house, a 30-year-fixed mortgage at 3.25 percent with a 20 percent down payment would require a monthly mortgage payment of $1,168, plus about $696 in real estate taxes. Once you know the tax rate, an online mortgage calculator, like ours can determine monthly payments at any interest rate and price.

suburban real estate boom that has unfolded amid the pandemic. Finally, build in a buffer for increases, because tax payments, unlike those for many mortgages, are not fixed — your state or county will reassess the value of your property eventually.

This week’s chart, based on WalletHub’s findings, shows the places where real estate taxes are highest and lowest.

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Instant Reaction: Mortgage Rates, April 8, 2021

Mortgage rates dropped this week, following the trend of the 10-year Treasury yield. Freddie Mac reported today that the average rate on the 30-year fixed rate home loan fell to 3.13% from 3.18% the previous week.

In the meantime, the job market is gaining momentum, adding nearly 1 million jobs in March. In fact, that was the fastest acceleration since August last year. As more people reenter the work place, the demand for housing is expected to increase as Americans set their sights on homeownership and mortgage rates remain historically low. As a result, with housing supply at record lows, we need to add more homes in the market. Housing starts may have cooled off in February but it seems that this was mostly due to weather effects. Expect construction to wrap up in the following months. Meanwhile, 11.7 million single-family homes are occupied by renters which implies that 15% of single-family homes are owned by investors. However, investors are hesitant to sell their property due to the capital gains tax. By reducing the capital gains tax, investors would be more motivated to sell their properties, thus increasing housing supply.

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$300,000 Homes in Massachusetts, Ohio and North Carolina

New Bedford is a coastal city of about 95,000 that was a 19th-century whaling capital. This house, in the downtown County Street Historic District, has easy access to stores, restaurants, bars, tea shops and bakeries. The New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, a 13-block district that commemorates the area’s maritime heritage, is less than a mile east. Just beyond that is the Acushnet River, where ferry terminals provide service to Nantucket and other destinations. Buttonwood Park, a 97-acre park with a zoo, is less than a mile west.

Size: 1,124 square feet

Price per square foot: $266

Indoors: The house was recently modernized, with a new kitchen and bathrooms, vinyl flooring that resembles wood planks and a layout that opens up the main level from front to back. The foyer now flows into the living room on either side of a chimney that includes a rear-facing, wood-burning fireplace.

The open kitchen was rebuilt at the other end, with white Shaker-style cabinets, granite counters and a pair of industrial-style stainless steel pendant lamps hanging over a peninsula with bar seating.

Beyond the kitchen are a bedroom with a wide closet and a hall bathroom with a glass-enclosed shower, a marble-topped vanity and Moroccan-patterned cement floor tiles.

remax.com


neighborhood erupted in protests after numerous instances of police brutality against its largely Black community culminated in the 2001 shooting death of an unarmed Black teenager named Timothy Thomas. OTR, as the area is known, has since undergone substantial redevelopment.

cutlerhomes.com


lrbrealestate.com

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House Hunting in Sweden: A Sauna-Topped Water Tower Near Stockholm

This four-bedroom home is a converted, 108-foot water tower on Vaxon, an island in the Stockholm Archipelago, about 35 minutes east of central Stockholm, Sweden’s capital. The brick tower was built in 1923 on one of the highest points in the area to supply drinking water, and was being used as a reserve as late as 1989, said Jan Tivenius, an agent with Residence-Christie’s International Real Estate, which has the listing.

The current owners bought it in 2000 and converted it into a seven-story home with an electric sauna at the lantern-like top. The property, on about a third of an acre inside a hilly park with pine trees, has considerable income-generating potential, Mr. Tivenius said: Telecom companies currently lease antennae space on the tower’s rooftop, and a small apartment over a two-car garage in a separate A-frame wood cabin can also be rented out.

An unpaved driveway wends up the hill to the tower’s main entrance, which opens into the combined kitchen, living and dining area, with 16-foot ceilings and herringbone oak floors. The circular brick walls are lined with large arched windows. A second entrance at the back provides access to a wood deck.

report from Nordea, a large Nordic bank. The government agency Statistics Sweden reported an overall price increase of 6 percent for one- and two-dwelling buildings, and 10 percent price growth for vacation homes.

That growth has been driven almost exclusively by demand for houses, as opposed to condos and other apartments, said Susanne Spector, an economist and the chief analyst for Nordea. As in many other markets around the globe, the pandemic has shifted buyers’ priorities toward properties with garden space and room to work remotely, she said.

The supply of homes is limited, as “the normal rotation of older people moving from their houses to city centers has been broken, since people have to stay home,” she said.

Unlike most other European countries, Sweden has relied heavily on voluntary measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, rather than impose strict lockdown measures. As of April 2, the country had reported 813,191 Covid-19 cases and 13,498 deaths. Its excess mortality rate in 2020 was considerably lower than in most European countries, but higher than in its Nordic neighbors.

Nevertheless, consumer confidence has continued to grow, further fueling price growth. Many households feel well positioned to buy, Ms. Spector said: “Household wealth increased during 2020 — it was a very good year for households overall. Most people have kept their jobs, interest rates are low, and the stock market has boomed.”

Hemnet, a Swedish listing site. In February, the average time on market for houses hit an all-time low of 18 days, he said.

Camilla Eggenberger, an agent overseeing Swedish sales for Fantastic Frank, said that in her 33 years in the market, she’s never seen this large a divide between the demand for houses versus apartments. Everyone wants a piece of land, she said.

“The Swedish people are known for being very concerned about how they live,” she said. “We spend a large amount of our income on our homes. Now more than ever people are cocooning, and I think they’re spending even more money on their homes.”

In greater Stockholm, with about 2.4 million residents in the metropolitan area, the market for houses is extremely brisk. “It’s crazy, really,” Mr. Tivenius said. “Prices have risen 15 to 20 percent in a year.”

In the suburban areas immediately around the city, houses typically average 10 to 15 million Swedish krona ($1.14 million to $1.72 million), depending on the area, he said. Anything cheaper than that would require considerable renovation. More exclusive properties are priced between 15 and 20 million krona ($1.72 million to $2.29 million), with seafront properties typically closer to 35 million ($4 million), he said.

Apartments in central Stockholm average around 100,000 krona a square meter, or $1,060 a square foot, he said.

Statistics Sweden reported that 37,979 vacation homes were foreign-owned — about 6 percent of the total. Norwegians accounted for about a third of those owners, closely followed by Germans and Danes, at 27 percent each. Another 2.2 percent are owned by Swedes living abroad.

In Stockholm, fewer than 1 percent of vacation homes are foreign owned.

Ms. Eggenberger said her nonresident buyers are often diplomats or Swedish citizens who are returning to the country after working elsewhere for many years “with a lot of money to spend.”

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in Sweden. It is usually not necessary to hire a lawyer — the seller’s agent typically handles everything in the transaction, Mr. Tivenius said.

In greater Stockholm, the agent’s commission can vary, but on houses it usually averages around 1.5 to 2 percent, he said.

christiesrealestate.com

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What’s Up With Those Weird-Looking Mushrooms?

They appear spontaneously, or so it seems, popping up out of the mulch, rising in a single spot on the lawn or bursting from between the pathway pavers like little marshmallows. But there is an intricate master plan at work, just not one to which most gardeners are privy.

What are the mushrooms in our gardens trying to tell us — and would you be surprised to learn it’s mostly good news?

“Without the fungi we wouldn’t have soil, at least not the way we know it now,” said John Michelotti, of Catskill Fungi in Big Indian, N.Y., a family farm on land his great-great-grandfather bought, where Mr. Michelotti spent his childhood summers. “Their filamentous underground mycelia are essential for the nutrient cycling and balance of our soils, plants, microbial life — and ecosystems as a whole.”

‘Fantastic Fungi’ if you want to really appreciate the puffballs in your lawn,” said Mr. Michelotti, who has a walk-on in the documentary — and a favorite recipe for puffball piccata.

Again: Enough with the eradication efforts. First, you can’t eradicate them — most of the fungi’s life is unseen, below ground, and continues even if the fruiting bodies are removed. And “if you pick them and toss them somewhere, or mow them, you’re actually helping spread their spores,” Mr. Michelotti said.

Edible mushroom cultivation — accomplished by inoculating logs with shiitake spawn or growing oyster mushrooms in coffee grounds on the kitchen counter — has soared in popularity.

Although we are already unintentionally growing mushrooms in our yards, Mr. Michelotti nudges us to try our hand at deliberately growing delicious workhorses like wine cap king Stropharia (Stropharia rugosoannulata) in mulched paths or beds. The annual almond Agaricus could be cultivated in finished compost, alongside squash vines, or you could inoculate a compost heap or undisturbed garden bed with blewits (Clitocybe).

Sources of spawn like Field & Forest Products and Mushroom Mountain offer extensive selections with detailed how-to instructions on each species.

Gary Lincoff, who died in 2018. Best known as the author of the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms,” Mr. Lincoff taught at the New York Botanical Garden for more than 40 years. In a project that ran from 2010 until his death, he recorded more than 100 species there, each living otherwise unheralded among that world-class plant collection.

Mr. Michelotti became interested in mushrooms through cooking, and then foraging. It was Mr. Lincoff who led the first event he attended, and Mr. Michelotti urges each of us to go on a guided walk or check out a local club meeting. (The North American Mycological Association website has a club directory.)

If you need more encouragement, The Mushroom Expert website by Michael Kuo is a go-to, as are the classic books “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World” by Paul Stamets and “Mushrooms of the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada” by Timothy J. Baroni. Doug Bierend’s “In Search of Mycotopia: Citizen Science, Fungi Fanatics, and the Untapped Potential of Mushrooms” was recently published. And if you prefer memoir-style mycological inspiration, try Long Litt Woon’s “The Way Through the Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning.”

As for Mr. Michelotti’s guided walks, they’re less “Is it edible?” than Fungi 101. He covers the interconnection of nature through mushroom morphology, ecological roles, fungi in history and in current medicine and science. And he always finds something to add a dose of the “wow” factor.

A few years ago, he was scheduled to lead a walk in woods he had never visited. “Don’t you want to come early to find the good spots?” the organizer asked him. No, he replied, he didn’t need to plot an advance route.

A Way to Garden, and a book of the same name.

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Paramus, N.J.: Low Taxes and Lots of Shopping

For decades, shoppers from miles around have flocked to the mega malls and countless strip centers of Paramus, N.J., making the Bergen County borough a regional retail hub. But for the 26,000 residents who already live there, the best part about all those businesses is that they carry a lot of the property tax burden, giving homeowners a break.

“One of the main draws for Paramus buyers are the low taxes,” said Lisa Sammataro, a Keller Williams real estate agent in Ridgewood.

killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ms. Abdulla launched a Facebook group called Progressive Paramus Women of Color and Allies; the group now has close to 300 members. “I feel pride in how we’ve all come together,” she said.

New Jersey Multiple Listing Service showed 24 homes on the market in Paramus, from a four-bedroom Cape Cod built in 1949, listed for $449,000, to an expanded six-bedroom split-level with an attached professional office, built in 1952 on an acre, listed for $2.25 million.

As the pandemic has made suburban living more attractive to many city dwellers, home prices and sales volume have risen over the past year, according to the multiple listing service. In the 12 months ending on March 15, 299 homes sold in Paramus, up 26 percent from the previous 12 months. Prices jumped 10 percent over the same period, to a median of $700,000.

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