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Real Estate In Brief: Home improvement spending, Realtors on TV and more

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Homeowners appear to be spending more on maintenance and remodeling projects, reflecting an increasing preference in getting more life out of a home rather than trading up for a new one. According to a report from BuildFax, which aggregates property data for insurance and financial firms, nationwide spending on remodeling is up nearly 9 percent since July 2017, and has grown around 30 percent in the last five years. As HousingWire pointed out, other recent data seems to confirm growth in residential remodeling activity and a trend of older homeowners “aging in place” rather than moving or downsizing. For example, Home Depot’s most recent quarterly earnings report showed strong sales growth thanks to increased interest in home improvement. According to BuildFax, housing maintenance spending has also grown around 5 percent since last year.

In other real estate news:

  • Four new TV spots for the National Association of Realtors highlight the importance for buyers of finding an agent “who gets you” with quirky riffs on oddball clients. In one of the NAR advertisements, part of a campaign by Arnold Boston, two open house visitors marvel at the Brazilian walnut floors in the home by lying face-first on them for what we assume is an absurdly long amount of time. In another, a would-be buyer is encouraged by the Realtor to take his time as he luxuriates in the listing’s high-end shower, fully clothed. The spots are part of NAR’s “Get Realtor” campaign.
  • The latest housing starts and permit data out from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development show that both figures grew only modestly in July. Privately-owned housing starts were 0.9 percent above the previous month but down 1.4 percent on the year. Permit authorizations grew faster, finishing July 1.5 percent higher than June and 4.2 percent above 2017 levels. Analysts expect this to point toward a continual uptick in the supply of new homes available. However, other signs point to a slowdown in construction as the overall housing market shows signs of a slowdown. “Given the chronic lack of affordable housing and rapidly escalating home prices, it is worrisome that on a per capita basis, the country is producing new single-family housing stock at a rate that is similar to the trough of a typical recession,” said Freddie Mac chief economist Sam Khater.
  • Home equity figures are swelling thanks to surging home values and a generally strong economy, according to a report on U.S. mortgage borrowing activity during Q2 2018 from ATTOM Data Solutions. The report estimated that 24.5 percent of all U.S. properties under a mortgage — some 13.6 million households — were what researchers considered “equity rich,” meaning that the home’s market value was at least 50 percent greater than the total balance of all loans against the property. At the same time, ATTOM found that more than 10 percent of active mortgages were “seriously underwater,” meaning the combined outstanding loan balance was at least 25 percent higher than the property’s estimated market value. The states with the highest percentage of seriously underwater mortgages included Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio.
  • With help from the National Association of Realtors, representatives of the real estate communities from several Central and South American nations signed an accord to adhere to a standard code of ethics in real estate transactions. The agreement was a joint effort between NAR, the Latin American Real Estate Confederation (Confederación Inmobiliaria Latinoamericana) and the Costa Rica Chamber of Real Estate Brokers. The accord is expected to streamline real estate transactions within the member nations themselves, as well as between each other and the U.S.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proposed changes to the Military Lending Act that would significantly reduce the level of federal oversight against predatory lending that targets military service members. In response, all 48 Democratic U.S. Senators as well as independent Sen. Bernie Sanders signed a letter to CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney to oppose the changes. Under the proposal, the CFPB would no longer actively monitor mortgage lending data to spot potential cases of fraud or predatory practices against military service members, and instead rely mostly on complaints from service members to initiate investigations.

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