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I have been waiting for more than five years to offer this advice. It is now time in most cities across the country to buy a new home or refinance your existing home with thirty-year fixed rate mortgage debt. And this from the author of The Coming Crash in the Housing Market published in 2003 and my 2006 book, Sell Now! The End of the Housing Bubble. Let me explain why.

Home Prices Relative to Peak Prices During Bubble
Home prices are off anywhere from 10% to more than 60% in cities across the country. There is no reason to believe that prices were “fair” during the bubble as we have seen they were largely caused by loose and aggressive lending by banks and non-banks. But, it is always better to buy at a discount rather than at a historical peak, and these seem like awfully big discounts. And by my calculations, in most cities across the country, real prices adjusted for inflation have just about come into line with where prices were in 1997, before all this crazy bank lending started, so there should be little additional downside risk by buying today. There are still some neighborhoods across the country that have not seen very dramatic declines in price, many of them very wealthy and expensive enclaves, but given the distribution of incomes lately heavily weighed toward the wealthy, these areas may never see a really large home price decline.

Home Prices Relative to Construction Costs or Replacement Costs
Homes in many cities across the country are now selling for as little as $60 to $70 a square foot. Depending on the quality of construction and the underlying land value, this represents a 50% to 65% discount to the costs you would incur if you tried to build a similar home today in these cities. While there is no guarantee that there will be a strong rental market in the short run, in the long run it just seems to make sense to buy if you can acquire assets at half or less of the cost of building them.

Home Prices Relative to Incomes and Rents
During the peak years of the housing bubble, entire cities like San Diego were seeing their homes priced on average at 11 times the area’s median family income. Such prices financed primarily with debt are by definition unsustainable. Now, because banks have pulled back on their lending formulas, homes in many cities are changing hands at three to four times average family incomes. Similarly, at the peak, houses traded at such large multiples of possible rents that it made the projects uneconomic from the start. Now, with homes trading at more reasonable multiples of rents, houses and condos can be purchased that are immediately cash flow positive in year one and enjoy all the upside of any appreciation that will occur as inflation returns.

Home Prices in Real Terms, Not US Dollar Terms
We still talk about home prices in dollar terms, which is silly because the dollar has lost 98% of its purchasing power relative to a more stable asset like gold over the last fifty years. If instead of pricing houses in dollars, we look and see what a home would cost in ounces of gold, we see that houses today are a real bargain. As a matter of fact, this graph shows that average homes, measured in the number of gold ounces it would take to buy them are now trading at forty year historical lows.

You might argue that this is because gold is priced highly today. I would argue that gold’s purchasing power has changed very little over time, it is the dollar that is depreciating and thus giving the appearance that the price of gold is rising. Actually, gold is quite stable relative to other assets and commodities and it is the dollar that is highly volatile and declining in value due to the US funding its deficits by printing dollars.

The Real Bubble – US Treasuries and Future Inflation
The real bubble out there is longer US Treasuries and 30-year fixed rate mortgages for homebuyers. With US debt equal to its GDP and equal to more than four times our government’s total tax revenues and with annual deficits of $1.3 trillion and growing, it is amazing to me that people will lend to the US for thirty years for less than 3.0% a year. Even more amazing is that individual homeowners can borrow at 4.0% (around 3% after tax) for thirty years on a fixed rate basis, some 300 basis points better than Italy which has a lot more people and makes much better shoes. Homes may not appreciate greatly in real terms over the next twenty years, but they don’t have to if inflation comes back, which is the only way the US and Europe are going to get out from under the huge debts on their countries and their banks. You may not make a lot in real terms on the house, but if inflation returns, you could make a killing on your investment as your thirty year debt becomes worth less and less in real terms. Run the numbers, but if inflation and interest rates go back to say, 7% to 8%, you could easily make eight to ten times your equity investment on the house because you locked in your borrowing costs and home appreciations historically have always correlated well with unanticipated inflation.

So, run, do not walk to your neighborhood banker and either finance a new home purchase or take out the maximum amount of money he or she will lend you on a home equity loan and buy hard assets, not financial securities, with the money. When inflation comes roaring back the only perfect hedge is to be a borrower, not a lender or investor. Shakespeare said “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” but they didn’t have huge government deficits and the risk of future inflation back in the Bard’s time.
John R. Talbott, previously a Goldman Sachs investment banker, is a best selling author and economic consultant to families. You can read more about his books, the accuracy of his predictions and his family consulting activities at www.stopthelying.com.

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The $40-million sale is one of the highest this year in L.A. County.

La Belle Vie, the mammoth Bel-Air residence built in 1993 for philanthropist Iris Cantor by her husband, Bernard Gerald Cantor, has sold for $40 million, public records show. The sale is one of the highest this year in Los Angeles County.

The mansion had been marketed at $53 million since 2009. It was designed to house the Cantors’ extensive art collections.

The 35,000 square feet of living space include a three-story entry hall, a formal library, a media room, a gym, a billiards room, a beauty salon, three kitchens, 12 fireplaces, nine bedrooms, 21 bathrooms and a staff wing. The property includes a pool, a tennis court and a 10-car garage.

Iris Cantor is chairwoman and president of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, which supports the visual arts and medical, educational and cultural institutions. B. Gerald Cantor, who died in 1996 at 79, cofounded the securities firm Cantor Fitzgerald.

The widow of legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling put the 4.7-acre residence up for sale more than two years ago at $150 million. Petra Ecclestone, the daughter of British billionaire and Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone, is in escrow to buy the property, a report says.

Candy Spelling’s sprawling estate in Holmby Hills, which has bragging rights as the most expensive residential listing in the U.S., reportedly has been sold to a 22-year-old British heiress.

Spelling, widow of legendary TV producer Aaron Spelling, put the 4.7-acre residence up for sale more than two years ago at $150 million, and she held firm to that price despite one of the worst real estate downturns in generations.

Now, Petra Ecclestone, the daughter of British billionaire and Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone, is in escrow to buy the property, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper did not identify anyone confirming the sale, and did not say how much Ecclestone, a sometime fashion designer, is slated to pay for the property.

Spelling and her representatives either declined comment or did not return calls from The Times.

Known as “The Manor,” the home is the largest in Los Angeles County at 56,500 square feet, or slightly larger than the White House.

Spelling, the mother of actress Tori Spelling, once described it to The Times as the “greatest entertainment house ever” with a “kitchen where you can cook for two or 800.”

The home was completed in 1991 and was built to the Spellings’ specifications. Candy Spelling supervised the construction. The mammoth home boasts a bowling alley, a flower-cutting room, a wine cellar/tasting room, a barbershop and a silver storage room with humidity control, among other spaces.

Outside is a tennis court, a koi pond, gardens, a citrus orchard and a swimming pool with a pool house. The motor court can accommodate 100 vehicles and there are 16 carports. A service wing houses the staff in five maids’ bedrooms and two butlers’ suites. The house is believed to have more than 100 rooms.

Spelling will be moving into a 16,500-square-foot penthouse condo in Century City. She agreed to pay $47 million for the top two floors of a 41-story building in 2008 but subsequently got a price break, closing the deal last year for $35 million.

The numbers report for the home-building industry couldn’t have been more grim in February: New-home construction in the U.S. fell to a pace that would translate to about 250,000 homes for all of 2011, which would be the fewest built since the Commerce Department began keeping track in 1963.

If home building isn’t dead, there’s certainly time to think about what it would look like when it revives, perhaps from 2013 to 2015. That’s according to John McIlwain, a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, which studies trends in housing and development.

McIlwain regularly talks with builders and developers across the country. He expects that when home building once again is flourishing, the big master-planned subdivision that was the face of residential construction for so long won’t have disappeared, but it will look different and be restyled to appeal to a broader array of buyers, especially those who have little in common with the old notion of “a family equals two parents with two kids.”

He talked about what he sees ahead:

Is the big master-planned community dead?

It’s not dead, but it depends on where you are in this country. There are very, very few subdivisions being started, because, by and large, there’s no financing for land development. Prices have come down, but it’s pretty hard for developers to go out and borrow to buy land.

Some developers are taking new approaches to building out their existing communities. They’re selling sections of land to builders in smaller chunks. Instead of saying, “Why don’t you take 500 lots?” as they once did, they’re saying, “Take 50 lots and target them for one particular market, such as empty-nesters.”

To whom are they marketing these chunks?

These builders and developers are beginning to think more in terms of life cycle than in terms of first-time buyer or move-up buyer, etc.

One group is empty-nesters in their late 50s and early 60s who are going to continue to work. They don’t want a big home, but one that’s open and wired and has high ceilings, which helps to visually compensate for the smaller spaces.

Older baby boomers, 56 to 65, haven’t really started to come to grips with aging, but they will in the next five years. They’re going to want a one-story home or an elevator for a two-story.

And home buyers today are more diverse than they have been. Builders should consider marketing to single women, some with kids and some without. Or to two women, offering them two equal master bedrooms.

There’s going to be a need for multigenerational spaces that can accommodate grandparents, adult children and young grandchildren. This is going to be particularly in demand where there is heavy Latino and Asian buying.

What about the houses themselves? Do you buy into the notion that we’re over the McMansion phase and desirous of something compact?

I think you’re right to be skeptical of some kind of fundamental cultural shift for Americans. For post-World War II Americans, it was decades of “I want to express my success with bigger cars, bigger TVs and bigger homes.”

But the median size of new homes already is steady or dropping. Smaller lots already have become acceptable because people don’t have time to take care of them.

With younger adults who may be buying in a few years, longer-term, this generation isn’t going to be able to afford bigger, bigger, bigger. Financial conservatism is replacing the go-for-broke house. These buyers will be willing to trade the over-the-top features that used to be put in just for resale value in exchange for flexible, open spaces that are energy-efficient. And they do want to be able to work at home, with wired and wireless connectivity. (LA Times)

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Sales of U.S. previously owned homes rose in March as a mounting supply of properties in or near foreclosure lured investors.

Purchases increased 3.7 percent to a 5.1 million annual rate, exceeding the 5 million median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed today in Washington. All-cash deals accounted for 35 percent of transactions, the most on record, the group said.

Unemployment, falling property values and stricter loan rules may push the number of households losing their homes to a record level this year, a sign the market will take time to recover. Even with last month’s gains, housing may remain a weak component in the economic recovery that began in June 2009.

“We continue to just tread water along the bottom,” said John Herrmann, a senior fixed-income strategist at State Street Global Markets LLC in Boston. “The housing market is fairly depressed. We think home prices will fall further.”

Stocks climbed as sales at companies from Intel Corp. to Yahoo! Inc. exceeded estimates and commodity producers gained. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 1.3 percent to 1,329.69 at 12:37 p.m. in New York.

Estimates for March existing home sales ranged from 4.59 million to 5.4 million, according to the median of 74 forecasts in the Bloomberg survey.

Paying Cash

The share of all-cash transactions is the highest since monthly tracking began in August 2008, Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the Realtors’ association, said at a news conference today in Washington. Yearly figures before 2008 showed the share at about 10 percent, Yun said.

Distressed properties, which include foreclosures and short sales, accounted for 40 percent of all deals last month, according to Yun. Purchases by investors climbed to 22 percent of transactions last month, up from 19 percent in February.

“This is part of the cleansing process that needs to occur,” Yun said, referring to distressed sales. “Home sales are strongest in the very-low price range” of less than $100,000, he said, reflecting the increase in demand by investors paying in cash.

Sales rose in three of four U.S. regions in March, led by an 8.2 percent gain in the South. The West fell 0.8 percent.

The median sales price fell 5.9 percent from March 2010 to $159,600 last month as less-expensive properties became a bigger share of the market. Sales of houses priced at $100,000 or less were up 9.6 percent from March 2010, compared with a 6.3 percent drop for the market as a whole, the report showed.

More Supply

The number of previously owned homes for sale climbed to 3.55 million. At the current sales pace, it would take 8.4 months to sell those houses compared with 8.5 at the end of the prior month. Supply in the eight months to nine months range is consistent with stable home prices, the group has said.

Federal Reserve officials, in a statement following their March 15 monetary policy meeting, said that while the “economic recovery is on a firmer footing,” residential real estate is still “depressed.” The central-bank committee is scheduled to next meet April 26-27 in Washington.

Home prices dropped in the 12 months to January by the most in more than a year, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index of home values. In 20 cities, prices fell 3.1 percent, the biggest year-over-year decrease since December 2009, the group said March 29.

Foreclosures

Some underlying home values are less than the mortgages on the properties. CoreLogic Inc. last month estimated that about 1.8 million homes were delinquent or in foreclosure, a so-called “shadow inventory” set to add to the 3.5 million existing homes already on the market.

Cheaper homes and distressed properties are making homebuilders pessimistic. Builders overall are not optimistic. The National Association of Home Builders’ confidence fell to 16 this month, according to the group’s gauge released this week. A reading under 50 means a majority of builders view conditions as poor.

KB Home, the Los Angeles-based homebuilder that targets first-time buyers, this month reported a bigger-than-expected loss for the quarter ended Feb. 28 as orders plunged.

“We do not anticipate a net profit for 2011,” Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Mezger said during a conference call with analysts on April 5. “The economy is continuing to improve. Even so, this recovery has yet to include significant job growth and has not spilled over into housing.” (Bloomberg)

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All-cash buyers grabbed a record 30.9% share of California house and condo sales in January. In Southern California’s most expensive communities, cash deals now account for as much as two-thirds of home sales.

Cash talks. And it’s speaking loudly in California real estate these days, even in the nicest parts of town.

All-cash buyers grabbed a record 30.9% share of the Golden State’s houses and condos in January as low prices lured investors and others, according to San Diego research firm DataQuick Information Systems.

Cash activity has been brisk for months in foreclosure-ridden areas such as Riverside and San Bernardino. But now, the cash buyer has become a major player in Southern California’s most expensive communities, where cash deals account for as much as two-thirds of home sales.

The trend is being driven by several factors, analysts say, including the difficulty of getting a “jumbo” loan from lenders still stinging from the mortgage meltdown. It also reflects speculation by wealthy investors who believe home prices are at or near a bottom.

“A lot of people think housing will outperform other financial investments,” said Andrew LePage, a DataQuick analyst. “This is just a place to park their money.”

In the Southland’s $1-million-and-up market, 29.2% of buyers paid cash last year — the highest percentage since 1994, DataQuick statistics show. For homes selling for $5 million and up, 62.2% paid cash.

Overall, cash deals constituted 27.8% of Southern California home sales in 2010, the most since DataQuick began tracking the market in 1988. It’s also more than double the 13% average for cash sales over the last decade.

The shift toward cash purchases started when foreclosures became a significant factor in the market, said Gary Painter, director of research at the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate. That’s because investors buying properties on the courthouse steps don’t go looking for mortgages.

To read the full article visit: http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-fi-cash-only-20110301,0,7049248.story

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