I’ve been reading a tremendous amount recently on the subject of building and it’s impact on local real estate markets. Over the past several weeks, at every opportunity both privately and out on the town, I have talked with people who are involved in the supply side of housing: builders, contractors, and suppliers (big box stores, retail, specialty flooring goods, roofing, paint, cabinet suppliers, lumber stores etc.).
Here is a glimpse into the local Puget Sound market from an individual heavily immersed into building and who I would characterize as exceptionally credible. Below are a few of the weekly e-mail updates I’ve received over the past several weeks. The individual works for a large builder and has agreed to let me post some of the e-mails:
End of September update:
…and I don’t ever read about the builder’s side of things on your blog or any blog about Seattle. The newspapers never talk about it. It is very wierd. Our inventory around the sound has increased 85% from last year. Sales have totally fallen off. Some builders are planning on functioning on fewer neighborhoods but increasing their sales rates to stay at the same level. So instead of have 8 communities selling 5 a month you have 4 selling 10/month. The problem with that is that you have 1-3 field managers per neighborhood and 1-2 sales agents and so on. We just had just about every sales agent buy a new 35k-60k car in teh last 8 months. The average age is probably 30.
1st week of October Update:
Last week, we had 8 sales and 7 cancellations. This is beginning to be the story everywhere. We still have quite a bit of traffic but for other builders it is different. It has dropped off 75%. Builders are using incentives but it is not working. They can’t even get people to show up. The poeple that didn’t buy contingent I feel sorry for. Land prices have come down, but it still doesn’t pencil
2nd week of October Update:
….Standing inventories are becoming a big problem for some.
3rd week of October Update:
They have a lot of inventory down there. We aren’t planning on buying anything unless it is of compelling value. I have been tracking standing inventory, specs, which is getting interesting. Most site agents I talk to all say the same thing. Traffic has stopped, not declined, stopped. The further out markets are feeling it first. 80% of our buyers are on ARM’s, not the toxic kind. It’s the only way they can afford to buy.
Today (Oct. 25th) Weyerhauser announced a decline in earnings.
“While anticipated, the housing market decline was more abrupt and drove wood products prices and demand into a deeper plunge than expected,” said Weyerhaeuser Chief Executive Steven Rogel in a statement.”
So, if there are any small builders, contractors or supply side people that would like to comment on local experiences, please fill us in.
In other news
Our escrow office has experienced a lot more refinances lately. I am seeing more fixed rates than in months past, but ARM’s are still king. Refinance business has sustained our business over the last two years. While our market share has increased by taking baby-steps and being very fiscally conservative, we do know of companies (escrow & mortgage) that are showing the earmarks of struggling.
Today, Fidelity National Title announced it will eliminate 650 jobs. Personally, while I understand they answer to Wall Street, I find this hard to stomach because title companies have been absolutely raking in obscene amounts of income while riding the appreciation wave over the past few years. For those new to purchasing, title insurance premiums are based upon the sales price of a home, generally speaking. When home prices go up, premiums tag along for the ride.
In contrast, when you close a home sale at a escrow company like ours, our price is generally fixed, irrespective of the sales price. In other words, there is not necessarily more work in closing a $250,000 home vs. a $800,000 home. Same goes for refinances. I just can’t understand why consumers fall for all the fluff out there. I don’t care where people go to do business, just shop for crying out loud. Sorry for the rant, I just can’t believe some of the settlement companies are charging people $250.00 for loan document e-mail fees. In years past, loan documents were delivered overnight by UPS or FedEX. Today, they are e-mailed which is highly streamlined to save time. So now you see these junk e-mail fees. Total garbage. I wonder what junk fee will be invented next?
This week I had the pleasure of telling some clients that they would not be receiving more money back than anticipated when their cash-back refi closed. Why? $10K ‘n change pre-payment penalty. That takes the cake this month.
More to come…