Record visits to this weekend

Maybe it was the subject matter – the upper end of the market – but whatever the reason my blog had a record number of visits this weekend.

If you stumbled on my site by chance, please either “friend” Oliver Reports on Facebook or sign up at for email alerts of new postings.

I publish one or more articles every Saturday on a variety of real estate related topics. My goal is to make the articles short and topical.

As my home page says, Oliver Reports is: “The source for Marblehead and North Shore real estate news.”

And I also publish comments on the Boston market from time to time because of the influence that market has on the entire region.

Open House waterfront home with dock and nearly an acre in park-like setting

Come see this wonderful Colonial on Sunday 12:00 – 2:00 pm.
36 Crestwood Road (West Shore Drive to Shorewood Road to Pinecliff Drive to Crestwood).
Waterfront, updated, 4 bedroom 3,820 s.f. Colonial on nearly an acre in park-like setting with private dock. Home overlooks Wyman’s Cove and has views to the Beverly shore. Master suite has views up the harbor and beyond. Hardwood floors, central air, finished walkout lower level, & two car garage. Radiant heat in bathroom floors. with interactive floor plans.

Oceanfront compound Open House Sunday

11 Crown Way. Sunday 2:00-3:30
Two properties on one lot make this ideal for extended family, nursing home alternative or just for a weekend and summer retreat without having to battle the traffic.
This spectacular oceanfront compound offers an elegantly restored, south facing, sun-drenched 6,265 sq. ft. main home with 15 spacious rooms including 7 bedrooms and 4 1/2 baths. Uniquely protected from coastal storms. Plus Marblehead’s most stunningly located carriage house offers an additional 2,404 sq. ft. Access to a private beach. Wonderful neighborhood and potential for a private mooring.

Where have all the buyers gone?

Wait a minute, don’t I mean sellers? Isn’t the lament – posted here and everywhere else – that the housing market is being held back by the lack of sellers?

Well, yes, that is certainly true at lower price levels. In MHD, for example,there are just 16 Single Family Homes (SFHs) available for sale under $500,000, compared with a total of Sold, Under AGreement and with an Accepted Offer (SUAGAO) of 59 so far this year. That works out to less than 2 months of supply, when 6 months is regarded as a stable market.

But while the market at the higher end is booming in Boston and robust elsewhere, buyers at $1.5 million and above seem largely to have given the North Shore a pass, at least so far.

Here are some numbers I ran yesterday for Marblehead which I found startling. So far this year, the number of SFHs under $1.5 million that had either Sold, were Under AGreement or had an Accepted Offer (SUAGAO) was 124. The number available for sale was just 59, so sales and pending sales were more than twice the available supply.

Now let’s look at SFHs at $1.5 million and above. The number available was 35 – or more than half the number under $1.5 million. But the number that have sold or received an accepted offer (SUAGAO) was….4. Let’s be explicit. If sales at this level were at the same pace as sales below $1.5 million the number of sales and accepted offers would be 73. But it is just 4. (more…)

Waterfront property in Marblehead $1 million below Assessed Value

One of the surprises to me this year has been the relatively low level of activity in Marblehead waterfront property. I know there is quite a lot of supply, but with the top end hitting new highs in Boston and other cities it does seem that there is an opportunity to buy wonderful property at a great price. As my attorney said to me when I closed on my house many years ago: “they can’t make any more waterfront”.

Recently a beautifully elegant waterfront property came on the market for $1 million below its Assessed Value. The house does need some updating – and I know from personal experience how much it can cost to restore an old house – but if you are in the market for a traditional, New England waterfront property, this is well worth a look.

I’d love to tell you more about this house but apparently it would be a breach of ethics for me to do so as I might be deemed to be recommending a property listed by another Realtor. Go figure.

While there may appear at first glance to be a lot of waterfront homes for sale at the moment, the detailed analysis that a buyer at this level would undertake quickly shows that there are several different categories, by location, condition and style for example, that whittle the number down rapidly when a buyer’s criteria are considered.

And as I point out in another post this morning, the buyers at the upper end are active elsewhere. Surely the delights of summer on the water in Marblehead will attract buyers soon!

Would you like four years of college tuition payments with that mortgage, madam?

What is the difference in interest payments between a 15-year and 30-year mortgage on a $500,000 loan?

Go on, guess. $25,000? $50,000? That sounds like a lot, but it’s not even close. Total interest payments on a 30 year loan at 3 5/8 % come to over $320,000. At today’s rate of 2 7/8 %, the total on a 15 year loan would be just……$116,000. That’s a saving of $204,000 !!! Yay, Harvard for free! (more…)

Home prices down nearly 30% !!!!

What, you missed the news which was reported this week? Perhaps you were too focused on watching the stock market reach record highs.

This week’s Case-Shiller report included the following: “Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks, the peak-to-current decline for both Composites is approximately 29-30%. The recovery from the early 2012 lows is 8.7% and 9.3%, respectively.”

In simple terms, while prices nationally are up nearly 10% from their lows, they are still DOWN almost 30% from their 2006 highs.

To put that in stock market terms in a week when the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 15,000, the equivalent for housing would be 10,500. That doesn’t sound so good. (more…)

The Flaws of the Case-Shiller Index

When the Case-Shiller index, the most widely quoted index of housing prices, reported this week Read report that home prices rose 8.6% for its 10-City index and 9.3% for the 20-City index for the year to February, the news was greeted with headlines such as CBS’s “Us Home Prices Surging”.

Well, as the Beach Boys sang a long while ago, “You Know I hate to be a Downer”, but this is a good time to remind everybody that, as I have mentioned regularly in my year end reviews, the Case-Shiller Index has serious flaws.

Dan Green in his The Mortgage Reports ( takes up the argument this week, pointing out that:
“1.The Case-Shiller Index tracks values of detached, single-family homes only
2.The Case-Shiller Index includes sales of discounted, distressed homes
3.The Case-Shiller Index publishes on a 2-month time delay

In this way, the Case-Shiller Index ignores multi-unit homes and condos; and allows its findings to be dragged down by foreclosures and short sale which sell at discounts of 20%; while applying price data from contracts written as many as 5 months ago.

Furthermore, the home index falls apart when we consider its limited scope. All real estate is local, yet the Case-Shiller Index tracks 20 U.S. cities and calls itself a “national” index. There are 3,100 municipalities in the United States. The Case-Shiller Index accounts for fewer than 1 percent of them.” (more…)

Marblehead and North Shore home sales in April

In April the number of Single Family Homes (SFHs) sold in Marblehead was 23 against 17 last year, bring the Year To Date number to 54 compared with 44 last year,

As of May 1 there were 58 SFHs with an accepted offer. Were all these to close by June 30 – which they won’t, but others not yet with an accepted offer will – total sales for the first half of the year would be around 110.

Last year’s sales reached 229, the highest total since the extraordinary 285 of 2004. We are unlikely to challenge the 2004 level but we do seem to be moving back into the 220-240 range of the early 2000s.

Condo sales so far are 6 against 7. A further 8 had accepted offers as of May 1. At this stage it seems quite likely that sales will not match last year’s 42.

For the 17 North Shore cities and towns I track, sales of SFHs increased 6% for the first four months of the year while condo sales were up 12%.

North Shore Housing Inventory remains low in May

Using the same data as in previous months, the inventory of Single Family Homes (SFHs) remained pretty steady at 4.6 months supply as of May 1, compared with 4.5 months at April 1. For condos, supply increased from 5.0 months to 5.5 months.

April sees a flood of new properties coming to market for the peak spring selling season so an increase in supply is normal. In actual numbers, there wee 725 SFHs available (that is without an accepted offer) compared with 623 a month earlier, while there were 346 available condos, up from 292 a month earlier.

These numbers make the point that while the absorption rate remains high, there are now more properties available for sale, as one would expect at this time of year.

I am not publishing the tables I have shown in recent months because I have decided to change my methodology. I have been using the Last 3 Months for calculating absorption rates and hence how many months of supply is represented by the available properties. The problem with that is that is that it makes no allowance for seasonality. For example, April’s number of homes for sale – the start of spring selling – was compared with actual sales in January- March, the slowest quarter of the year.

For this month I am using the Last 12 Months believing that this will smooth out some of the seasonality. It’s not perfect, but then neither is the weather in New England and that’s the real cause of the seasonality.

Using L12M, the inventory for SFHs drops to just 3.6 months, with Peabody under 2, and several under 3. Here is the table:

Source: MLS, Oliver Reports

Source: MLS, Oliver Reports

Similarly, condo supply drops to 4.4 months, with Salem, the largest condo market, being one of the tightest. Here’s the condo table:

Source: MLS, Oliver Reports

Source: MLS, Oliver Reports

The equation is unchanged: low inventory + low mortgage rates = higher prices.

Open House Sunday for Waterfront, updated 3820 sq.ft. Colonial with private dock in park-like setting of nearly an acre

36 Crestwood Road $1,375,000
West Shore Drive to Shorewood Road to Pinecliff Drive to Crestwood Road
Open House tomorrow, April 28, 12:30 to 2:30.
Click here for full details

Where have all the sellers gone?

While median prices in Massachusetts continued to rise in March (Single Family Homes up 7.8%, condos up 8%), a lack of homes for sale contributed to a 3.3% decrease in year over year sales (although last year we really had no winter) for SFH, while condo sales were up 2.5%.

A continuing concern is the shortage of homes for sale, with inventory down 30% from a year ago for SFHs and 34% for condos, translating into 5.1 and 4.3 months’ supply respectively. (more…)

How to refinance to today’s low mortgage rates when you don’t qualify

Many borrowers would like to refinance to take advantage of today’s low rates but for a variety of reasons – from being under water on their loan to owning a condo in a mixed use building – do not qualify.

Now there’s a Do It Yourself solution, which takes just a few minutes.

Intrigued? Read on. (more…)

Boston Strong

As some of you know, I have been close to bombs in the past, while living in London during the IRA’s campaign and also with the World Trade Center.

I am a firm believer in not allowing terrorists to prevent us from living our lives, although necessarily certain changes have to be made. As the British war-time motto, now popular again, said: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” We will NEVER let terrorists win, however long the fight.

I also look forward to the day when Marathon runners who were stopped are invited back to complete their run.

In honor of the victims, and in prayerful thanks to our law enforcement officials – and the residents of Boston – for their steadfast efforts, I shall pause in my real estate writings and today post only the link to Boston Strong t-shirts ($15 of the $20 purchase price is donated to the One Fund) and to the Fund itself.

Please give generously.

Boston Strong T-shirt

The One Fund

Keep Calm and Carry On

Can We Afford Another Housing Boom?

As I read this editorial Can We Afford Another Housing Boom? in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, the refrain of “Oh when will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?” from “Where have all the flowers gone?” by Pete Seeger (although I was hearing the Peter, Paul and Mary version), came into my head.

Some people may be surprised that the WSJ should be a critic of policies aimed at driving home prices higher, but I think what the Journal is trying to point out is that government-sponsored social engineering of the housing market is exactly what played such a large role in the last boom and bust cycle.

There are several variations of the following quote but as an Englishman I will use Winston Churchill’s: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

“Oh when will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?”