(AP) WASHINGTON – Sales of new homes in the United States rose 3.6 percent in July to match a two-year high reached in May, the latest sign of a steady recovery in the housing market.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that new-home sales reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 372,000. That’s the same as in May, which was the highest since April 2010.

In the past 12 months, sales have jumped 25 percent. Still, the increase is from a historically low level. New-home sales remain well below the annual pace of 700,000 that economists consider healthy.

One trend holding back sales is that there aren’t many newly built homes available. New homes for sale dipped last month to 142,000, the lowest on records dating back to 1963.

The housing market is making a modest but steady recovery in part because homes are more affordable: Mortgage rates have fallen to near-record lows. Housing prices are about one-third lower than at the peak of the housing bubble in 2006. Those trends have helped lift sales of both new and previously occupied homes.

Nearly half of younger homeowners are “underwater”
Rise in home sales reflects steady improvement

Sales of previously occupied homes increased in July from June, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. Sales have jumped 10 percent in the past year.

Other recent reports also point to a recovery. Home prices have begun rising nationwide. They increased 2.2 percent in May from April, according to one leading index. That was the second straight increase after seven months of flat or declining prices.

Builders, meanwhile, are growing more confident because they’re seeing more traffic from potential buyers. An index of builder confidence rose to its highest level in five years in August.

Builders responded by applying for the largest number of building permits in nearly four years last month. They broke ground on slightly fewer new homes in July than in June. But that was after the number of housing starts had reached a 3½-year high in June.

Though new homes represent less than 20 percent of the housing market, they have a disproportionate impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to statistics compiled by the National Association of Home Builders.

The housing market has a long way to go to reach full health. Some economists forecast that sales of previously occupied homes will rise 8 percent this year to about 4.6 million. That’s still well below the 5.5 million annual sales pace that is considered healthy.

Another factor holding back sales is that many people are still having difficulty qualifying for home loans. Banks have tightened credit standards for mortgages, according to a report last month by the Federal Reserve.

by Associated Press CBS Moneywatch Aug 23, 2012

New-home sales rise to match 2-year high – CBS News

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The Scottsdale City Council has delayed consideration of the conditional-use permits and liquor licenses required for the bars at developer Shawn Yari’s downtown beach-club complex.

The vote Tuesday to postpone the requests were among 35 items on the council’s consent agenda, which were approved with a single, unanimous vote.

The beach-club requests were postponed until the council’s Sept. 11 meeting.

The complex, Scottsdale Retail Plaza, is now under construction on most of the block that housed Myst nightclub on Shoeman Lane and Suede restaurant and bar on Indian Plaza.

The Planning Commission gave favorable recommendations to the conditional-use permits on July 11.

Randy Grant of G&G Consulting requested the continuances on behalf of the establishments. He did not state a reason in his letter to Planning Department staff. Planning director Tim Curtis confirmed that no reason was given.

City Clerk Carolyn Jagger said the council’s rules specify automatic approval of the first continuance request.

Bill Crawford, president of the Association to Preserve Downtown Scottsdale’s Quality of Life, told the council that the delay until after Tuesday’s primary election suggests there may be political reasons involved. Crawford is running for council and the association has been which has been critical of problems associated with the city’s entertainment district.

Two current members of the council, Mayor Jim Lane and Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp, are seeking re-election.

by Edward Gately – Aug. 23, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com

Beach-club complex votes on permits, licenses are delayed

US home sales rose 2.3 percent, sign of recovery

Posted: September 15, 2012 by arena111 in home sales

WASHINGTON — Americans bought more homes in July than in June, the latest evidence that the housing market is slowly recovering.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million in July, a 2.3 percent increase from the previous month’s rate, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

The industry’s recovery has grown more consistent, though it remains slow and uneven. July sales were below the 4.6 million annual pace reached in April and May. And the annual sales pace is below the roughly 5.5 million that economists consider healthy.

The number of first-time homebuyers, critical to a housing rebound, rose to 34 percent of sales, up slightly from June. In a healthy market, first-time buyers make up about 40 percent of sales. Purchases are being restrained by low levels of homes available for sale and by tight credit standards.

“Rising single-family home sales indicate that households are feeling increasingly confident taking on larger purchases as their (finances) improve,” Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, said in a note to clients.

Other recent reports have contributed to the picture of a healing industry. Home prices are rising nationwide. And builders are growing increasingly confident because they’re seeing more traffic from potential buyers. An index of builder confidence rose to its highest level in five years in August.

Builders responded by applying for the largest number of building permits in nearly four years last month. They broke ground on slightly fewer new homes in July than in June. But that was after the number of housing starts had reached a 31/2-year high in June.

In July, the number of unsold homes ticked up to 2.4 million. It would take about 6.4 months to exhaust that supply at the current sales pace. That’s just above the six months’ inventory that typically exists in a healthy economy.

Even with near-record-low mortgage rates, many would-be buyers are having difficulty qualifying for loans or can’t afford the larger down payments being required by banks.

Hiring picked up a bit in July, which could support more home sales in the coming months. Job growth helps consumers feel more secure about their finances and typically encourages more of them to buy a house.

Employers added 163,000 jobs last month, the most since February. Job gains had averaged only 73,000 in the April-June quarter, raising fears that the economy was faltering and might even slip into recession.

by Christopher S. Rugaber – Aug. 22, 2012 Associated Press

US home sales rose 2.3 percent, sign of recovery

In the latest sign that the U.S. home-building industry has finally found its footing, Toll Brothers Inc., the nation’s largest builder of luxury homes, reported a 46% increase in quarterly earnings and posted a double-digit gain in revenue.

Toll’s results follow strong earnings from other home builders and increasing confidence in the market for newly built homes. Across the sector, companies such as PulteGroup Inc., D.R. Horton Inc. and Meritage Homes Corp. have reported earnings jumps, and last week, the National Association of Home Builders said builder confidence had risen to its highest level since February 2007.

“It feels good to be making money again,” said Martin Connor, Toll’s chief financial officer, in a conference call with analysts Wednesday.

For the fiscal third quarter ended July 31, Toll Brothers reported a profit of $61.6 million, or 36 cents a share, up from $42.1 million, or 25 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 41% to $554.3 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected earnings of 18 cents a share on $510 million in revenue.

Orders of new homes—a crucial metric for builders—surged 57% to 1,119, a further sign the rebounding activity seen this year may be more than just a blip.

“Top to bottom, this result was easily the best we’ve seen in the industry this quarter. One must look hard to find a negative,” wrote Stephen East, an analyst with ISI Homebuilding Research, in a client note. “The luxury market has been one of the best, if not the best segment in housing. Throw in lack of competition, and the recipe is there for [Toll’s] continued outperformance.”

Toll executives chalked up the strong results to low mortgage rates and renewed interest from consumers as the economy continues to improve.

“Why is demand up, in light of macro trends? People on the sidelines for seven years, incredible interest rates, homes more affordable than ever, families tired of waiting,” Toll Chief Executive Douglas Yearley said during Wednesday’s conference call. “Confidence is up, and people are coming back out.”

Toll also has been able to increase profit margins by raising prices on its homes. Gross margin, excluding interest and write-downs, was 24.4%, compared with 23.4% a year earlier, and the average price on contracts signed for Toll homes was $603,000, up from $570,000 in the prior-year period.

These price increases can be attributed in part to the lack of competition from existing homes. Inventories of unsold, previously owned homes have been falling steadily for the past year, from 8.7 months’ supply to six months’ supply in July, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

“With an industrywide shortage of inventory in many markets, we are enjoying some pricing power,” Toll said in a written statement.

While Toll’s contracts and home-building revenue rose in all four regions of the country in which it operates over the past nine months, the biggest gains were in the West.

That is partly because of an expansion on the West Coast over the past year. In November, Toll bought Seattle-based builder CamWest Development LLC, and this year began selling its first homes in the Pacific Northwest. In June, Toll expanded its presence in Orange County, Calif., by paying $110 million for a half-share of Baker Ranch, a large land parcel near Irvine, Calif., that is slated for 2,000 homes.

For the most recent quarter, revenue increased 66% from the North and 5.3% from the Mid-Atlantic region. The South was up 41%, and the West climbed 75%.

Toll’s shares, which have more than doubled over the past year, rose 3.8% to $33.01 at 4 p.m. Wednesday in composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

by Robbie Whelan Wall Street Journal Aug 22, 2012

Toll Brothers Posts Strong Growth – WSJ.com

In a city known for resorts, golf and nightlife, Scottsdale has quietly veered down a different path the past two decades by protecting 33 square miles of desert and mountain terrain in its McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

The city’s 21,400-acre preserve has grown to include 60 miles of trails in the picturesque McDowell Mountains, with rocky paths leading to cactus-studded Windgate Pass, Tom’s Thumb, Sunrise Peak and Lost Dog Wash.

But Scottsdale’s effort to protect more than a quarter of the city’s land area faces a steep challenge with funding running out and land-acquisition costs that could run as high as half a billion dollars.

While the city will add 6,400 acres by the end of the year, city leaders — cautious in the post-recession recovery — are hesitant to commit themselves to new funding to pay for the final 12 percent of the land targeted for the preserve. Scottsdale is not currently pursuing funding initiatives to complete the preserve.

“That is something the citizens are going to have to decide,” said Scottsdale City Council candidate Virginia Korte, a former preserve task-force chairwoman. “It’s going to require additional taxation.”

Preserve advocates, who twice persuaded voters to approve sales-tax increases to fund land conservation, must contend with a new set of challenges:

The land targeted to complete the 34,400-acre preserve is likely to be the most expensive the city has acquired at state land auctions.

Scottsdale could encounter competition at future auctions from developers eager to build expensive homes after years of sitting on the sidelines.

State matching grants through the Growing Smarter conservation fund are likely to run out next year. That fund has provided Scottsdale with $62 million for 6,800 acres of preserve land and Phoenix with about $106 million for 6,300 acres for its preserve.

Scottsdale’s preserve advocates also will be vying for funding along with other interests eager for money to build the city’s Desert Discovery interpretive center, a multipurpose event arena at WestWorld and a Western museum.

In their favor, conservationists say their success in growing the preserve from nothing 20 years ago will persuade residents to support acquisition of the final acreage to create a preserve more than twice the size of Phoenix’s South Mountain Park, one of the nation’s largest city parks.

Opening the northern preserve areas will add another 160 miles of trails and broaden the use for mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers on flatter desert terrain.

The city tallied 291,000 preserve visits last year, and that is expected to increase as more trails and facilities are completed over the next few years, said Scott Hamilton, Scottsdale trail planner.

Jacques Girard, a McDowell Sonoran Conservancy hiking guide, said he enjoys taking visitors out to learn about the desert flora and fauna.

“I came here from Canada, and I used to think the desert was the most barren place,” he said. “But since I’ve been hiking, I’ve learned so much about this magical place called the Sonoran Desert.”

Scottsdale tourism interests have generally supported the preserve, which is used by residents and out-of-town visitors, and three resorts have been proposed that would take advantage of their proximity to its growing network of trails.

The preserve is a sanctuary for bobcats, javelinas, deer, coyotes, raptors, birds, snakes and lizards. It also provides vast desert and mountain terrain for non-motorized recreation.

“We have quite strong support from citizens that are willing to support the preserve vision,” said James Heitel, McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission chairman. “That’s brought us to this stage, and the power of those winds will probably help the politicians follow that breeze.”

Heitel and former preserve Chairman Howard Myers argue that buying the final tracts of the preserve would be cheaper than paying for roads, utilities and public facilities if the areas along Pima Road near Dynamite Boulevard are developed.

Mayor Jim Lane, running for re-election this year, said his preference is to take a “good hard look” at the tradeoffs of developing the area, the city’s economic condition and “whether or not this is necessary, cost-effective and somewhat lends itself to the overall program.”

Mayoral challenger John Washington said the question is whether voters have the appetite to tax themselves for the new land as they have in past elections in 1995 and 2004.

“The bottom line is if we can’t pay in a reasonable fashion that’s palatable to the voters, that’s an issue unto itself,” Washington said.

Korte said the recommended preserve boundary is “not cut in stone.”

“I think the citizens will need to weigh other critical needs in our community, such a creating a more robust arts and cultural and tourism community,” she said.

Last land parcels costly

The McDowell Sonoran Preserve generally stretches from Cactus to Pinnacle Peak roads and from Thompson Peak Parkway east to 136th Street. The city has been adding thousands of acres in far northern Scottsdale over the past three years, primarily northwest of 136th Street and Dynamite Boulevard.

A 2011 McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission report estimated it could cost $550 million to acquire the final parcels of state land for the preserve, close to 6,600 acres.

Scottsdale has already spent about $500 million on land-acquisition costs and an additional $300 million on legal and financial costs for municipal bonds for the preserve’s existing 21,400 acres, said Kroy Ekblaw, city preserve director.

Scottsdale plans to bid on 6,400 acres of state trust land late this year that is appraised at $88.2 million. Those three parcels south of the Stagecoach Pass road alignment connect the preserve to the Tonto National Forest and provide a land bridge considered vital for wildlife habitat.

Scottsdale is completing the Tom’s Thumb trailhead improvements this month, and the Brown’s Ranch trailhead will open additional trails next summer.

City wants matching funds

As residents debate whether to come up with additional funding for the final, costliest acreage, the city still has money to spend on preserve land.

Scottsdale hopes to receive up to $10 million from the state Growing Smarter fund to buy 6,400 acres of state trust land at three auctions in December. The city also is gearing up to buy 2,400 acres of steep, mountainous terrain southwest of Bell Road and 136th Street next year at an undetermined cost.

Scottsdale expects to have $100 million to $130 million in bonding capacity for preserve acquisitions over the next few years, said Lee Guillory, city finance director.

Scottsdale’s sales-tax measures for the preserve expire in 2025 and 2034. Extending the measures would not provide any immediate increase in the city’s bonding capacity for the preserve.

The preserve commission has considered other ways of raising funds, including user fees, an improvement district funded by property taxes or another sales-tax measure. Voters would have to approve those tax hikes.

Scottsdale is likely to spend about $88 million on this year’s three acquisitions, including the $10 million from the state Growing Smarter fund.

Next year, Scottsdale would have $25 million to $55million in bonding capacity to acquire 2,400 acres .

However, any leftover preserve money for Scottsdale after 2013 would be far short of the hundreds of millions of dollars needed for the remaining acreage.

Those parcels of state trust land are generally northeast of Dynamite Boulevard and Pima Road near the Legends Trails golf community, along with two parcels southwest of that intersection.

The Arizona State Land Department is likely to wait to sell those parcels until the real- estate market improves and the agency can get premium prices .

The land is zoned for low-density residential development, but it could command high prices because it’s some of the last large tracts of Scottsdale land available for development.

State fund dwindles

Environmentalists say there has not been support for additional conservation funding at the Arizona Legislature in recent years.

Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, said lawmakers created the Growing Smarter conservation fund in 1998 to thwart the Sierra Club’s growth-management initiative, which would have more severely restricted urban sprawl.

The Growing Smarter referendum, approved by voters, has contributed about $174 million to conservation of open space over the past decade. Annual allocations of $18 million expired in 2011, and the fund has dwindled to $40 million this year.

Carla, her full legal name, a former conservancy director, said Scottsdale residents should be proud of the preserve conservation effort but insisted the city needs a strategy for acquiring the final parcels.

“It’s really disappointing nobody has stepped up to really advocate for full completion of the preserve,” said Carla, one of the grass-roots preserve advocates in the early 1990s. “If you’re going to quit the plan, then have an honest discussion with citizens and let them either approve or disapprove it.”

By Peter Corbett and Beth Duckett, The Republic|azcentral.com Aug 22, 2012

A challenge to finish preserve – USATODAY.com

In 2005, at the height of the housing-market boom, real-estate agent Greg Markov met with a woman who had gotten in over her head with a large loan and mortgage she couldn’t afford.

Phoenix Heritage Real Estate Group

Where: 17235 N. 75th Ave., Suite C-150, Glendale.

Employees: Six.

Interesting stat: Short sales increased 33 percent from January2011 to January 2012, according to RealtyTrac, a provider of real-estate information.

Details: (602) 253-4030, phoenixheritage.com.

It was Markov’s first short-sale transaction, and it planted the seed for Phoenix Heritage Real Estate Group, his Glendale firm that specializes in short sales.

At the time, Markov was doing well as an agent for another company. But there weren’t many colleagues who could advise him on the challenges with this type of sale.

“The reaction at the firm was, ‘OK, what do we do with this?’ We were in an up market. It was an anomaly,” Markov recalled.

In a short sale, the lender agrees to let the home be sold for less than the full amount still owed.

After navigating the bank maze, managing the expectations of the seller and buyer and working through other details specific to a short sale, Markov started to notice a pattern with homeowners in what was, at the time, a pleasant housing climate. He knew that his first short-sale client, who “had no business getting a loan in the first place,” was not a unique situation.

In 2006, Markov, a sailing enthusiast, anticipated the wind shift. He left the firm and started Phoenix Heritage, which is licensed by Arizona-based brokerage HomeSmart Real Estate, with the intention of focusing on short sales.

Markov and his former business partner put their company’s signs around abandoned facilities. Soon, they were getting 100 calls each day. By the start of 2007, Markov’s new business was getting busier.

In the firm’s first year, Markov had five listings. By the end of 2007, he had 100. Currently, he has 30-50 on any given day.

His team consists of agents who specialize in certain aspects of the process. For example, Markov realized early on that potential buyers had needs that were just as important as those of the sellers. He brought on specialists to handle that dynamic.

Markov said he has received considerable business from buyers who had met with other agents who didn’t understand the process and tried to steer them away from short-sale properties.

A native of Moscow, Markov emigrated from Russia to the United States with his family and settled in Phoenix, where he graduated from North High School. He attended Grand Canyon University but left before graduating to enter the software-development industry.

After a few years, Markov got burned out and started going to real-estate school.

A year later, the software company he was working for was sold, and the new owners let all employees go. He used his severance as capital for getting started in his new career.

When Markov started Phoenix Heritage, his was among the first local agents to deal with short sales. Finding experts to learn from was difficult, but he found an agent in Michigan who agreed to coach him over the phone for a fee.

“We would say, ‘short sale,’ and people asked if it was like short-selling in stock. That’s how little we knew about it,” Markov said.

That’s when Markov started teaching short-sale classes to agents.

“If you can’t get a good education, then start offering it,” he said. “There’s no better way to learn than to teach.”

Markov also faced skeptics who believed Markov’s business model was based on a fleeting trend and who didn’t think the housing crash would last. Some agents thought it was a fluke and decided to wait it out.

“Some took a longer vacation and thought it would go back to business as usual,” he said.

Other real-estate veterans were hesitant to learn about short sales.

“Some looked at me sideways and said, ‘That’s for you youngsters,'” said Markov, 35, who was 30 when he started teaching short-sale classes.

Today, Markov teaches classes of 50-150 agents across the country and tailors his curriculum to the state he visits. He recently published a free online short-sale book.

Phoenix resident Patrick McNamara contacted Markov after hearing about him from real-estate agents who took Markov’s class. McNamara was faced with a residential short sale and hoped to avoid the horror stories he heard from others who had gone through the process.

McNamara was so pleased with how smoothly the transaction went, he has recommended Phoenix Heritage to friends and colleagues.

“They were absolutely phenomenal. He has a well-oiled machine in place where each person on his team has a certain set of responsibilities and each excels at what they do,” McNamara said. “With all of that, the client benefits.”

A combination of diligence and creativity has been vital to Markov’s success, he said.

“Short sales can be a mine field. You need to commit to doing them well, doing them right. Only a couple of bad things need to happen before you get a bad reputation,” he said.

“You need to constantly reinvent yourself and figure out how to do it better.”

By Georgann Yara, Special for the Republic|azcentral.com Aug 21, 2012

Valley agent did well by focusing on SHORT SALES – USATODAY.com

Redevelopment plans for the shuttered Mountain Shadows resort in Paradise Valley have been revised in hopes of accommodating residents and town officials.

But not everybody is pleased with it, including an ally of financially troubled resort.

The new plan eliminates all three-story elements but increases density by 20 percent, said Rick Carpinelli, senior vice president of acquisitions and development for Crown Realty and Development, the resort’s owner.

Previously, Crown Realty had proposed a mass of six, three-story buildings intended for resort/residential.

The new plan consolidates those buildings into two buildings and decreases their heights to two stories.

“Getting feedback from residents and the planning commission, we hope the new plan will build consensus in order to move forward with the project,” he said.

Crown Realty has been working through the town’s special-use-permit process to redevelop the resort property at 56th Street and Lincoln Drive.

On June 28, the town council adopted a “statement of direction,” which is intended to guide the commission in its review. Since then, the commission has been receiving input from Crown representatives and residents.

Both residents and commissioners have had issues with the initial plan, ranging from density and heights to preservation of the resort golf course.

Mountain Shadows resident Pamela Covella came to Crown’s defense saying she appreciated the work they’ve done with the town and residents by bringing forward a revised plan.

“It’s time to get specific. If Crown received more specific direction we would have more forward movement,” she said. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be, but Crown has never shut the door in our face.”

However, many residents and commissioners continue to have issues with the plan.

Planning Commissioner Chair Maria Syms said it’s too dense.

“We can do a lot better,” she said.

Commissioner Lou Werner said the planning commission’s goal is to craft stipulations and make a recommendaation to council.

“There may be a lot of talk about drawings but at the commission level the drawings don’t matter,” he said. “Despite the plan, let’s not forget that it could get thrown out.”

In April, the 68-acre Paradise Valley property, at 56th Street and Lincoln Drive, went into default on a $32 million loan. MTS Land LLC and MTS Golf LLC, affiliates of Crown Realty and owners of the Mountain Shadows resort, subsequently filed for bankruptcy last month.

To help stay financially afloat, Crown Realty entered into a preliminary joint-venture partnership agreement with Solage Hotels and Resorts in May.

Crown officials said the group, which has at least eight resort properties in North America along with its sister company, Auberge Resorts, would help brand, finance and manage the Mountain Shadows resort.

However, at Thursday’s planning commission meeting, Carpinelli told town officials that Solage isn’t happy with the proposed revised plan for redevelopment.

But Carpinelli said the preliminary agreement between Crown and Solage still stands.

“We have a term sheet and an agreement. It’s a 50-50 partnership. The relationship is there,” he said. “But (approval of the special-use permit) is needed to solidify the agreement. Parameters are needed in order to solidify an agreement.”

by Philip Haldiman – Aug. 20, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com

New Mountain Shadows resort plan consolidates buildings