Monday, June 25, 2007

May home sales in Chicago down almost 21%

Home sales in the Chicago area plummeted 20.7% last month compared with May 2006, according to the Illinois Assn. of Realtors.

A total of 9,750 single-family homes and condominiums were sold in the nine-county Chicago area last month, with the median home price rising 1.2% from the year-earlier period to $252,388. The biggest drop in sales last month occurred in outlying DeKalb, Grundy and McHenry counties. Sales in Cook County fell 20.1%.

Through May, sales in the nine-county area were down 17.4% from last year to 38,423, according to the association.

The home-sales figures were more grim nationwide.

Sales of existing homes fell in May to the lowest level in four years while the median home price dropped for a record 10th consecutive month.

The National Assn. of Realtors reported that sales of existing single-family homes and condominiums dropped by 0.3% to 5.99 million in May, the slowest sales pace since June of 2003.

The median price of a home sold last month dropped to $223,700, down 2.1% from a year ago. It marked the 10th straight price decline compared with a year ago, the longest stretch of weakness on record.

The sales decline reflected weakness in the South, where sales dropped by 3.4%, and the West, where sales were down by 0.8%. Sales actually showed strength in the Northeast, rising by 5.8%, and the Midwest, where they were up 0.7%. In a troubling sign for the future, the inventory of unsold homes rose by 5% to 4.43 million units in May, a level that would take 8.9 months to clear out at the May sales pace. That is the highest inventory level since the last deep slump in housing in 1992.

Analysts said housing is being hurt by high inventories and the recent crisis in subprime mortgages, which has caused lenders to tighten their standards, making it harder for potential buyers to qualify for loans.

They said all of the housing troubles seem to be causing a crisis in confidence, making people delay decisions to buy homes.

"I think psychological factors are currently the biggest drag on the housing market, in addition to a disruption from tighter credit for subprime borrowers," said Lawrence Yun, senior economist with the Realtors.

The current slump in housing is the worst since the 1989-92 downturn. It is occurring after a prolonged boom that saw sales of new and existing homes set new records for five consecutive years.

Analysts believe that the median home price, the midpoint where half the homes sold for more and half for less, will continue falling until builders move further to cut back on production of new homes coming on the market.

The Realtors are predicting that the median home price will decline by 1.3% this year while sales are forecast to drop by 4.6%. It would be the first annual price decline in four decades of record-keeping.

Another potential problem is mortgage rates, which have been trending higher in recent weeks although they still remain below their historical averages.

According to Freddie Mac, the average commitment rate for 30-year mortgages was 6.26% in May, up from 6.18% in April.

(From AP, staff)

Mega South Loop Development

3,000 housing units, hotel on drawing board for vacant riverside site

Two Chicago developers aim to build as many as 3,000 homes, a hotel, stores and a marina along the Chicago River just south of downtown, transforming an 8-acre tract that has sat empty for 36 years into a densely packed urban neighborhood.

Estimated to cost $1.6 billion, the 3.5-million-square-foot project four blocks south of the Sears Tower would mark a big step forward in the South Loop's residential renaissance and bring life to a dead stretch of the Chicago River. Sources say the developers, Rokas International Inc. and Frankel & Giles, have agreed to pay about $55 million for the parcel, which, like Block 37 in the central Loop, has stubbornly resisted development.

"That site is a gaping hole," says architect Dirk Lohan of Chicago-based Lohan Anderson, who did planning work there in the early 1990s.

The question is whether Rokas and Frankel & Giles can succeed where others have failed. It's unclear whether the city will grant them the zoning change they need to build such a dense project, which would jam into the site about a million square feet more than current zoning allows. The developers, who decline to comment, also plan to ask the city for about $25 million in tax-increment financing to help pay for a riverwalk and other infrastructure, a source says.

Another challenge: the slumping condo market, which could make financing the development difficult.

Designed by Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architecture, the project would include as many as eight buildings — one exceeding 80 stories — and about 125,000 square feet of retail space. The residential component would be a mix of condos, apartments and senior housing. A hotel, with as many as 500 rooms, and a 40-slip marina would round out the complex.

With its riverside location and proximity to downtown and public transit, "it's a great piece of real estate," says Peter Dumon, president of Harp Group Inc., an Oakbrook Terrace-based development firm that has reviewed the latest proposal for the property.

Yet he declined an offer to develop the hotel in the project, noting that hotel guests are unlikely to venture south of the Congress Expressway. Harp instead is considering buying development rights for an apartment tower on the site.

Known as Franklin Point, the property is the former site of Grand Central Station, a rail terminal demolished in 1971. The developers have signed contracts to buy the tract from Jacksonville, Fla.-based railroad company CSX Corp., which owns 6 acres of the site, and D2 Realty Services Inc., which owns about 2 acres. CSX did not return calls. David Kleiman, a D2 principal, declined to discuss terms.


The developers are negotiating with city officials over rezoning the property and will also need support from neighborhood groups and Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd).

Then there's the challenge of selling enough condos to land a loan for the project. The condo glut could ease by then, but the supply of unsold units downtown reached 6,507 at the end of the first quarter, up 62% from a year earlier, according to Chicago-based consultancy Appraisal Research Counselors.

Founded in 2000 by Lithuanian immigrant Andrius Augunas, Rokas has developed several smaller condominium projects in the South Loop but nothing on the scale of Franklin Point. Frankel & Giles, which also specializes in the South Loop, has a longer résumé, including a 274-unit condo tower at Prairie Avenue and 18th Street.

If it comes to fruition, the Franklin Point project would anchor and enliven the western edge of the South Loop, where residential development has been slow to take off. D2 Realty proposed a less-dense project there than the current proposal but dropped the plan about two years ago amid an impasse in talks with the city. In the early 1990s, Harris Bancorp Inc. scratched plans to build a back-office building on the site.

"It's kind of like Block 37," says Mr. Kleiman, referring to the central Loop parcel that is finally being developed after a 15-year delay. "Hopefully, this will be the time."

©2007 by Crain Communications Inc.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Rates Up Again: Brutal Week

The Mortgage Bankers Association's seasonally adjusted index of home-loan application activity rose 6.6 percent to 666.5 for the week ended June 8. The index of purchase activity advanced 7.2 percent, while refinancing activity bumped up 5.6 percent.

Meanwhile, mortgage rates climbed to an 11-month high, with the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate hitting a 10-month high of 6.84 percent, according to's weekly national survey of large lenders, the average 30-year fixed mortgage has an average of 0.27 discount and origination points.

The average 15-year fixed rate mortgage popular for refinancing increased by a similar amount, to 6.53 percent. Adjustable rate mortgages were no different, with the average one-year ARM nosing higher to 6.19 percent and the 5/1 ARM bounding up to 6.67 percent.

Mortgage rates staged a significant increase over the past week, and it came in the absence of any major economic data. Instead, rising interest rates overseas proved to be the catalyst, even though the Federal Reserve stands pat here at home, Bankrate said. Higher interest rates and strong economic growth in other parts of the world could force Uncle Sam to pay higher yields to attract funds from foreign investors.

Fixed mortgage rates have increased more than one-half percentage point since mid-May. At the time, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 6.32 percent, meaning that a $165,000 loan would have carried a monthly payment of $1,023.46. With the average 30-year fixed rate now 6.84 percent, the same loan originated today would carry a monthly payment of $1,080.08.

Fixed mortgage rates still remain the better refinancing alternative for adjustable rate borrowers facing sharp payment adjustments.

Source:, Mortgage Bankers Association

Bank-Owned Properties Drive Down Prices

Bank-owned real estate isn’t being discounted, insists Patrick Carey, the executive in charge of foreclosed properties at Wells Fargo & Co.’s real estate division.

"The impact on the neighborhood and the community is vital with us," Carey says. "We don't want to flood a community with below-market-priced homes and cause further deterioration."

But research suggests that if that’s true, it may be temporary. Owners are likely to discount their asking prices 20 percent or more in communities where foreclosed homes make up 8 percent or more of sales, according to the study by Christopher Cagan, an economist with title insurer First American Corp.

In 1995, at the depth of the region's last housing downturn, lender-owned homes accounted for 7 percent of all sales — and sold at an average discount of 15 percent, the study found.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Annette Haddad (06/08/07)

Foreclosure Properties Way Up

Foreclosures Hit 37-Year High
More home owners entered the foreclosure process during the first three months of 2007 than during the record-setting final quarter of 2006, according to a report by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The MBA’s Chief Economist Doug Duncan predicts that delinquencies would continue to rise, peaking later this year. He also points out that the rate would have fallen if it weren’t for substantial increases in seven states.

"The percentage of loans in foreclosure would be well below the average of the last 10 years were it not for Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana," Duncan says. "And the rate of foreclosures started nationwide would have fallen were it not for the big jumps in California, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona. Those states have special circumstances that do not reflect what is happening in the rest of the country."

Seasonally adjusted, 0.58 percent of loans entered the foreclosure process last quarter, compared with 0.54 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006 and 0.41 percent in last year's first quarter. The rates for the past two quarters are the highest in the survey's 37-year history.

— REALTOR® Magazine Online and The Wall Street Journal, Damian Paletta and James R. Hagerty (06/15/07)