The national housing market is clearly showing signs of recovery and nowhere is the improvement more evident than in the performance of the nation's largest master-planned communities.
A master-planned community is a community that was carefully planned from its inception and is typically constructed in a previously undeveloped area. Land use conflicts are less frequent in planned communities since they are planned so carefully and methodically.
John Burns Real Estate Consulting recently surveyed nearly 100 large-scale residential planned communities across the United States to compile a list of the 50 best-selling communities. "Our consulting team has consulted on or visited the vast majority of these communities," Burns said.
Together, these communities totaled 22,806 new home sales in 2012, which is a 46 percent increase over the 15,599 new home sales in these communities during the previous year, according to the survey report.
Sales improved year-over-year at 48 of the 50 top master planned communities. Virtually every master-planned community in this year's survey experienced more sales in 2012 than in 2011. In fact, sales at 11 master-planned communities increased more than 100 percent.
Q: Is FHA raising its mortgage insurance premiums?
A: The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) recently announced it would increase the mortgage insurance premiums it charges as part of several steps being taken to shore up its finances. It will also require borrowers to pay mortgage insurance for the life of the loan.
Annual mortgage insurance premiums will rise by 0.10 percent for most new mortgages and 0.05 percent for loans of $625,500 or more. Also, homeowners with FHA-backed mortgages will be required to continue paying the premiums, based on the unpaid balance, for the life of the loan.
Premiums no longer will be canceled when a homeowner has repaid 22 percent of the loan's principal.
Q: Is the number of households still decreasing?
A: No, household formations, which stagnated when recession kept many young Americans from leaving their parents' home or forced others to return to them, are now increasing, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors.
"The number of households increased 1.1 million in 2011 and nearly 1.2 million last year, underpinned by gradual labor market gains and steady economic improvement," the report stated.
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The gains are being felt the most in the rental market, where rising demand has triggered a spike in new apartment construction. Increased building activity, in turn, has also stimulated such related areas as furniture sales.
By comparison, the U.S. homeownership rate has not risen much from a 15-year low reached in the first quarter of last year.
Q: Are home sales still rising?
A: Sales slipped down in December. The Pending Home Sales Index fell 4.3 percent to 101.7, the sharpest month-to-month drop since April the National Association of Realtors reported.
Economists had expected a smaller 0.3 percent decrease to 106.1 from November's originally reported 106.4. The November index was revised down to 106.3.
NAR economist Lawrence Yun blamed a tight inventory for the weakening index. Yun also noted the lack of homes costing less than $100,000, especially in the West.
Q: To what extent are rents expected to increase this year?
A: The housing market is recovering well and will continue to show positive signs this year. Both Fannie Mae and the National Association of Home Builders report low vacancies in rental units and climbing rents for 2013.
Fannie Mae expects asking rent prices to increase about 2.5 percent this year and expects vacancy rates to increase to about 6 percent, keeping in line with historical norms.
Q: What proportion of renters lose their security deposits?
A: According to a national survey taken by Rent.com, more than a quarter (26 percent) of renters have lost their security deposit at some point.
About 37 percent of men and 44 percent of women said they did not get their deposits back because they moved out early. More women than men lost a deposit due to pet damage.
About 36 percent of renters who did not get their deposits back said the landlord gave no explanation. This is likely illegal although tenant/landlord laws vary by state, but according to several state law websites, the landlord must return the deposit less any lawful deduction.