Housing Outlook Varies by Region
How's the housing market doing in your part of the country? The Federal Reserve released its latest "Beige Book" report on Thursday, providing a snapshot of economic conditions in each of the Fed's 12 districts across the country, including residential mortgage and real estate activity.
Since the last report, which comes out every month and a half, the Fed noted continued improvement in housing markets in many districts, but that growth had slowed. Some of this appeared to be due to the unusually harsh weather seen since the previous report. Most districts reported rising home prices, driven by low inventories of homes for sale.
Here's a look at residential real estate and mortgage highlights from each district.
1st - Boston
Pending home sales got off to a good start in 2014, increasing in all New England states but Rhode Island. There's optimism for the regional housing market going forward, although the harsh winter is expected to remain a deterrent for the immediate future.
On an annual basis, home prices are up in four of the six New England states but down in Connecticut and Vermont. In Massachusetts and Boston in particular, price gains are being driven by low inventory levels and realtors express concerns that high prices could discourage first-time buyers.
2nd - New York
Housing markets were reported mixed throughout the region, though with home sales resilient in New York state despite the weather and prices there up 10 percent from last year. In New York City, sales of co-ops and condos slowed in January and February, a trend blamed on reduced buyer traffic owing to the winter weather.
Weather was also seen as a drag on both sales and new home construction in northern New Jersey, but the bigger concern there is that market fundamentals remain weak. Mortgage delinquencies are still high and the market remains burdened by a large inventory of distressed properties.
3rd - Philadelphia
Fundamentals are said to point to an improved mortgage lending environment, with some boost from pent-up demand once the weather improves. However, sales of existing homes are flat or declining, and existing home sales, pending sales, new listings and buyer traffic are said to be down or at best flat through much of district. Overall, industry sources are not optimistic for a significant improvement in the real estate market in 2014 over last year's performance.
4th - Cleveland
Residential mortgage activity showed a modest increase, particularly for new home sales, while demand for home equity loans rose slightly. Meanwhile, the region's homebuilders are predicting steady growth in the housing market this year.
5th - Richmond
There are signs of steady improvement in home sales in the mid-range markets. Homebuyer traffic and pending sales overall have increased in recent weeks, though with some impacts from the winter weather. Several reports say that overall residential mortgage lending, including refinancing, is at a near standstill due to winter storms. Single family home construction is said to be showing slow improvement.
6th - Atlanta
Prices and sales for both new and existing homes are up over their levels of one year ago, though price increases are slowing. Real estate brokers appear to be more optimistic than they were in the previous report, while lenders are reporting increases in purchase mortgages, though not enough to offset the decline in refinancing. The supply of homes for sale is down compared to this time last year.
There are reports that some community bankers have been exited the residential mortgage business due to concerns over new regulations, but others appear to be shrugging off the changes.
7th - Chicago
The region saw modest increases in home sales in January and February, though the pace of growth has slowed. The winter weather is blamed for construction delays that have dampened new home sales.
Home prices continue to slowly rise, pushed by a low inventory of homes for sale. Difficulty in obtaining construction financing is keeping new home inventories low, while tight credit overall is resulting in a large number of sales being done in cash.
8th - St. Louis
Residential real estate markets continue to improve, with home sales up year-over-year in most parts of the district. Louisville and Little Rock reported particularly strong gains.
Overall credit worthiness for residential mortgages is up, but demand for prime residential loans was much weaker in the fourth quarter of 2014, apparently due to declining demand for refinancing.
9th - Minneapolis
Residential real estate activity has declined since the previous report, but construction activity is up. Double-digit declines in home sales compared to this time last year were reported in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, although prices have risen on limited inventory.
10th - Kansas City
The region has seen a slight decrease in residential real estate activity since the last report, but stronger demand is expected in the months ahead as the weather improves. Current sales are being driven by homes in the low- to mid-price ranges, as high-end sales have been sluggish in most areas.
Home prices are up overall, with sales expected to pick up with improving weather. Mortgage demand was reported as down slightly from one year ago, but is expected to rise in the months ahead, with purchase demand exceeding the drop in refinancing.
11th - Dallas
Sales of new single-family homes have been trending upward, while inventories of new and existing homes remain low. Some softness has been seen in residential real estate lending, probably due to falling refinance activity.
12th - San Francisco
Residential real estate activity continues to increase, with home prices rising in most areas, though at a slower pace than before. Still, the pace of home sales is below historic norms in many areas.
In Idaho, mortgage applications have increased since the last report, although the number of completed sales transactions is down for the same period.