More help coming to stem foreclosures

By Nancy Cook | Bloomberg

The White House on Friday announced plans to expand aid for mortgage borrowers who have fallen behind on payments during the coronavirus pandemic.

Enhanced assistance will be provided to homeowners with government-backed mortgages who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, with the aim cutting some monthly payments by roughly 25%, according to a White House fact sheet.

The move is designed to more closely align options for mortgages backed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the USDA, and the Veterans’ Affairs Department with those offered for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the White House said.

As the economy has started to return to life following the Covid-19-caused lockdowns, administration officials continue to closely monitor the housing market. Housing prices have climbed during the pandemic. At the same time, with millions of Americans out of work, people have struggled to pay mortgages or rent.

The administration wants to ensure people do not lose their homes or apartments in the middle of a massive public health crisis if they cannot pay their bills.

Earlier this year, the Biden extended a moratorium on foreclosures and the time period during which homeowners could enroll in mortgage forbearance programs if they had government-backed loans. In June, the administration extended the foreclosure moratorium for one final month until July 31 and the forbearance window until Sept. 30.

Roughly 7.2 million American households used the forbearance options.

This latest step seeks to provide some help to those with government-backed mortgages.

Read the telltale signs that can signal a home is right for you

When you are buying or selling a house, as with all other aspects of life, pay attention to the signs. The “For Sale” signs for sure, but the more subtle and innocuous signs more specifically. If you see something, hear something or feel something that sends you a positive (or negative) vibe during your transaction, pay attention.

If you see a tree in the front yard that’s the same size and variety as one in the front yard of your childhood home, where you spent many a summer’s day playing in the tire swing your Uncle Bob hung one Fourth of July, that’s a good sign.

If, on the other hand, that’s the tree your kitten Tiger fell to her death from, that could be a sign, too. You may want to pass on that house and move on with your tour.

If you notice a kitchen has the same appliances as the house you grew up in, you may see that as a sign you’ve come home again and submit an offer post haste. Unless there was a short in the oven that sparked the fire that burned your childhood home down, then just move on to the next option.

If you notice a framed poster of a famous painting you had thumbtacked to the wall of your first apartment, that may be a sign this was meant to be your home. If the framed print is of a vampire with blood dripping off of his fangs, you might want to reflect on your mental state at that point in your life and check your other options.

If you smell freshly baked cookies, homemade bread or a familiar perfume when you first enter a house, pay attention to the emotions those fragrances bring up and act accordingly.

Sellers need to read the signs, too.

If the buyers’ offer is demanding, incomplete, missing a pre-approval letter, with no proof of funds for the down payment and closing costs and is delivered with the pages scanned out of order and upside down, this may be a sign that you should wait for the next offer.

There are signs around you all of the time. Some make you happy, optimistic, hopeful and secure. Others make you feel fearful, skeptical, apprehensive or downright afraid.

So, don’t just pay attention to a home’s features, finishings and financials. Be like the Kung-Fu master coaching young Grasshopper. Take in all the other signs around at every point in the process. These may lead you to a wonderful outcome, or they may help you steer clear of a train wreck, a money pit, or worse, perhaps a haunted house.

Leslie Sargent Eskildsen is an agent with RealtyOne Group West and a board member at the California Association of Realtors. She can be reached at 949-678-3373 or leslie@leslieeskildsen.com.

‘It’s crazy’: Orange County home sales up 67%, median price soars to $900,000

Southern California’s housing boom stormed into June with home prices setting a fifth-straight record and sales soaring to the highest level in almost 15 years.

Bidding wars and buyer concessions remain the norm, with seven out of 10 homes selling over the asking price, agents and CoreLogic said. But the market frenzy has cooled somewhat as people turned their attention to summer activities, the supply of homes for sale increased and buyers became wary of overpaying.

CoreLogic also forecasts home-price growth likely peaked in June and will slow through the rest of the year.

The median price of a Southern California home — or price at the midpoint of all sales — hit $680,000, up 22.5% in a year, DQ News/CoreLogic reported Tuesday, July 20. By comparison, annual price gains averaged 9.5% over the past nine years.

Record prices also were set in all six counties in the region. In Orange County, the median price for all homes hit $900,000, while the cost of an average, mid-priced house topped $1 million for a second straight month. The median-priced condo — considered the more affordable homeownership option — now trades at $627,000 in Orange County and $635,000 in Los Angeles County.

“It’s crazy. It’s the craziest I’ve ever seen it,” said Suzanne Seini, co-owner of Irvine-based Active Realty. “It’s tough for (buyers). I think they get disheartened.”

Related: Bidding war tips: Do’s and don’ts for homebuyers

Sales last month totaled 27,012, the most for any month since August 2006.

June’s total sales were up 52% from a year ago, when the housing market was depressed by pandemic lockdowns and open houses were banned, something that was reversed just last month. More significantly, however, June’s sales tally was up 12.3% from the previous month.

Low mortgage rates continue to motivate buyers, with 30-year fixed mortgages averaging 2.9% this year so far, according to mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

But that’s just a part of the story, said CoreLogic Deputy Chief Economist Selma Hepp.

Almost a third of the homes sold in June were over $1 million, compared with 18% the previous June, skewing the averages higher.

“Households who are able to purchase higher-priced homes have not been hit as hard financially and may have, in fact, benefited from a burgeoning stock market,” said Hepp. “Thus (they) were able and willing to spend more on the house and bid up the price.”

And there’s more buyer demand due to the sheer number of millennials coming of homebuying age at the same time they were saving money because they were eating out and traveling less during the pandemic.

Agents interviewed estimated 70%-95% of the homes are getting multiple offers. Buyers still are bidding over the asking price and making concessions like waiving their right to kill the deal if the lender’s appraisal comes in too low.

Cash is still king

Arash Yazdanian is one example of how brutal the housing market has been for buyers.

In early 2020, Yazdanian, 44, and his wife sold their Aliso Viejo home to improve their chances of getting their offer accepted on a home with a bigger backyard for their kids. He figured it would take two to three months to find a replacement house. It ended up taking well over a year.

The Yazdanians looked at close to 100 houses, putting down offers on four of them. In each case, cash buyers got the house, he said.

“Financing a home seems like an odd thing to do these days,” Yazdanian said. “You put in an offer, and they say, ‘we have better offers for all cash.’ ”

Related: Zero-down mortgages are back a decade after mortgage meltdown

After months of watching prices going up and up, the couple had all but given up. Then a five-bedroom house in Laguna Hills with a large yard and a pool caught their eye. This time, their agent advised them to bid at least $50,000 over the asking price — more than $200,000 over their original budget — and to drop the appraisal contingency. They agreed to an escrow of just 22 days.

Their deal closed July 8, and they’re getting ready to move in.

“We’re excited it’s over,” said Yazdanian, a vice president for a mortgage company. “We don’t have to look anymore.”

Agents say they’ve seen a shift in recent weeks, with buyers now more hesitant to bid six figures over the asking price, saying they don’t want to buy at the top of the market.

Some are saying, “I’m out. I’m just going to keep on renting,” Seini said. “Things aren’t affordable.”

  • The median house price in Los Angeles County is $860,000
    This home on Bluebell Ave. in North Hollywood sold for $860,000 on June 4, according to Redfin. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • This house on Fuchsia in Lake Forest sold for $1.02 million on June 30, according to Redfin. The median home price in Orange County is $1.019 million. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • This neighborhood in the 92630 Lake Forest zip code had one of the busiest Junes for home sales in the region. According to DQ News/CoreLogic, sales nearly tripled to 153 transactions last month, and the median price jumped 32% to $924,750. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The median house price in Riverside County is $535,000. This house on Dixie Ln. in Riverside sold for $535,000 on June 25, according to Redfin. (Google maps)

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Last winter, homes were getting 100 showings in 10 days and 20 to 30 offers, said Stephanie Vitacco, an agent with Keller Williams Encino-Sherman Oaks. Now, there are perhaps five to seven showings in that time and one to three offers.

“It’s like someone took their foot off the pedal,” Vitacco said. “It’s not as chaotic as it was earlier in the year.”

The good news for buyers is Southern California listings bottomed out in February and increased 10 percent — some 3,600 homes — since then, figures from Zillow show. On the other hand, listings are 18% lower than during the depths of pandemic lockdowns, down some 8,700 listings year over year.

Will prices come down?

Expect a gradual decrease in the appreciation rate, economists and industry insiders say, but don’t hold your breath for a slump.

Freddie Mac issued a quarterly forecast last week predicting prices will rise 12.1% in 2021, with gains slowing to 5.3% in 2022.

“The housing market remains strong even as certain obstacles have begun to slow sales across the country,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist.

Debi Durzi, an agent with Park Regency Realty in Granada Hills, expects prices to go up for another 8-12 months, then will level off. It’s “not necessarily going to crash,” she said.

“A market can’t keep going and going and going,” Vitacco added. “Something will change. It will shift.”

Here’s a county-by-county breakdown of June’s numbers:

  • Los Angeles County’s median rose 23.1% to $790,000; sales were up 68.9% to 8,555 transactions.
  • Orange County’s median rose 17.6% to $900,000; sales were up 67.2% to 4,146 transactions.
  • Riverside County’s median rose 20.0% to $510,000; sales were up 43.8% to 4,790 transactions.
  • San Bernardino County’s median rose 21.3% to $442,750; sales were up 41.7% to 3,547 transactions.
  • San Diego County’s median rose 24.9% to $750,000; sales were up 34.5% to 4,789 transactions.
  • Ventura County’s median rose 22.7% to $736,000; sales were up 47.6% to 1,185 transactions.

Southern California home prices set fifth straight record as sales soar

Southern California’s housing boom stormed into June with home prices setting a fifth-straight record and sales soaring to the highest level in almost 15 years.

The median price of a Southern California home — or price at the midpoint of all sales — hit $680,000, up 22.5% in a year, DQ News/CoreLogic reported Tuesday, July 20. By comparison, annual price gains averaged 9.5% over the past nine years.

In dollar terms, the median jumped $125,000 during the 12 months ending in June, the second-biggest one-year gain in records dating back to 1989. The only other month with a bigger year-over-year gain was May, when the median jumped $131,500.

Record prices also were set in all six counties in the region. In Orange County, the median price for all homes hit $900,000, while the median for an existing house topped $1 million for a second straight month. The median price for condos hit record highs in both L.A. and Orange counties, rising to $635,000 and $627,000 respectively.

“It’s crazy. It’s the craziest I’ve ever seen it,” said Suzanne Seini, co-owner of Irvine-based Active Realty. “It’s tough for (buyers). I think they get disheartened.”

Sales last month totaled 27,012, the most for any month since August 2006. That averages more than 1,200 home sales a day.

June’s total was up 52% from a year ago, when sales were depressed by pandemic lockdowns and the banning of open houses, which only just resumed last month. More significantly, however, June’s sales tally was up 12.3% from the previous month.

Some of the lowest mortgage rates in history, coupled with more buyers entering their homebuying years and demand for more space during the pandemic have been the key reasons cited for rising demand among buyers, experts have been saying.

While some agents say things may have cooled slightly in July, sellers still hold all the cards in today’s market.

Agents interviewed estimated 70-95% of the homes are getting multiple offers. Buyers still are bidding over the asking price and making concessions like waiving their right to kill the deal if the lender’s appraisal comes in too low.

“In my 33 years, I have never experienced what I experienced from the middle of last year through spring of this year,” said Stephanie Vitacco, an agent with Keller Williams Encino-Sherman Oaks. “It was truly unprecedented. But then, again, we’ve never been through a global pandemic either.”

Arash Yazdanian is one example of how brutal the housing market has been for buyers.

In early 2020, Yazdanian, 44, and his wife sold their Aliso Viejo home to improve their chances of getting their offer accepted on a home with a bigger backyard for their kids to play in. He figured it would take two to three months to find a replacement house. It ended up taking well over a year.

The Yazdanians looked at close to 100 houses and got outbid by cash buyers on four.

“Financing a home seems like an odd thing to do these days,” Yazdanian said. “You put in an offer, and they say, ‘we have better offers for all cash.’ ”

The couple had all but given up. Then a five-bedroom house in Laguna Hills with a large yard and a pool caught their eye. This time, their agent advised them to bid at least $50,000 over the asking price — and more than $200,000 over their original budget — and to drop the appraisal contingency. They agreed to an escrow of just 22 days.

Their deal closed on July 8, and they’re now getting ready to move in.

“We’re excited it’s over,” said Yazdanian, a vice president for a mortgage company. “We don’t have to look anymore.”

June’s numbers reflect deals originally signed in April and May.

But Seini and Vitacco both said they’re seeing a shift in the market in recent weeks, with buyers now more hesitant to go well over the asking price.

Some are saying, “I’m out. I’m just going to keep on renting,” Seini said. “Things aren’t affordable.”

Fear of overpaying and the normal summertime distractions of vacations and weddings resulted in fewer showings and less intense bidding wars, Vitacco said. Last winter, homes were getting 100 showings in 10 days and 20 to 30 offers, she said. Now, there are perhaps five to seven showings in that time and one to three offers.

“It’s like someone took their foot off the pedal,” Vitacco said. “It’s not as chaotic as it was earlier in the year.”

Buyers also are being more cautious, with some saying they don’t want to buy at the top of the market.

“I’m not seeing $100-K offers over the asking price,” Seini said. “And people are being more realistic about where the appraisal is going to come in.”

But the market remains challenges as listings remain tight.

Zillow reported that while listings were up 0.6% from May in Los Angeles and Orange counties and up 3.8% from May in the Inland Empire, they’re down 9% from a year ago in L.A.-Orange County and down 30% in the Inland Empire.

How much longer will prices continue to rise?

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac issued a quarterly forecast last week predicting prices will continue rising through next year, but at a much slower pace as mortgage rates gradually increase.

While U.S. house price growth is expected to be 12.1 percent in 2021, it’s forecast to slow to 5.3 percent in 2022.

“The housing market remains strong even as certain obstacles have begun to slow sales across the country,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist.

Debi Durzi, an agent with Park Regency Realty in Granada Hills, expects prices to go up for another 8-12 months, then will level off. It’s “not necessarily going to crash,” she said.

“A market can’t keep going and going and going,” Vitacco added. “Something will change. It will shift.”

Here’s a county-by-county breakdown of June’s numbers:

  • Los Angeles County’s median rose 23.1% to $790,000; sales were up 68.9% to 8,555 transactions.
  • Orange County’s median rose 17.6% to $900,000; sales were up 67.2% to 4,146 transactions.
  • Riverside County’s median rose 20.0% to $510,000; sales were up 43.8% to 4,790 transactions.
  • San Bernardino County’s median rose 21.3% to $442,750; sales were up 41.7% to 3,547 transactions.
  • San Diego County’s median rose 24.9% to $750,000; sales were up 34.5% to 4,789 transactions.
  • Ventura County’s median rose 22.7% to $736,000; sales were up 47.6% to 1,185 transactions.

Ban on plastics use at beaches and parks in Laguna Beach is now in effect

A ban on single-use plastic containers and straws in Laguna Beach parks and on its beaches and trails went into effect last week, as city officials hope to curb pollution made worse by the thousands of people who visit the seaside town daily during the summer and rest of the year.

Early offenses will come with a warning and education, but people could later face an administrative citation, the new law says.

The new restrictions on the use of plastics, which also target plastic take-out bags and utensil sleeves, are part of the Neighborhood & Environmental Protection Plan city leaders approved earlier this year to address the impact the more than 6 million annual visitors to Laguna Beach can have on its residents. New rules also include not feeding wild birds, and the city will also start closing parks earlier at 10 p.m. and increase the cleaning of some beaches and other public areas. The city is spending about $2 million on its efforts.

The enhanced plastics ban is the first of its kind in Orange County – there are 38 cities in California that ban single-use plastics. In 2007, Laguna Beach also became OC’s first city to ban Styrofoam or polystyrene.

“Plastic waste is an enormous source of ocean pollution and we hope this ordinance sets an

  • People walk along the sand at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, CA on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. The city council recently approved changes to the municipal code to address negative impacts of visitors to the town. Some of the changes restrict the feeding of wild birds, single-use straws on beaches and trailheads and prohibit the abandonment of personal property in public spaces. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A man feeds a gull at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, CA on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. The city council recently approved changes to the municipal code to address the negative impacts of visitors to the town. Some of the changes restrict the feeding of wild birds, single-use straws on beaches and trailheads and the use of enclosed shade structures on the beach. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Laguna Beach is protecting its coastline. On June 15, the city institituted a new ban on single-use plastics distribution and use. (Photo by Lisa Gallick for the Orange County Register)

  • With plastics washing into the ocean at unprecedented levels, state and federal lawmakers are increasingly reduce their one-time usage. (File photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

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example for all coastal cities,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “We have been working with our restaurants and they have been very willing to work with us. The city realizes plastics won’t go away overnight and we are already working to educate our local businesses and beachgoers as to where they can find plastic-free products.”

City officials have embarked on a marketing program and sent a letter to each restaurant operating in town. For some, making the change will be easier than for others.

Laurent Vrignaud, who operates Moulin, a French restaurant on the Promenade at Forest, said the switchover won’t be a problem.

“Whatever the rules are, we obey them,” he said. “I just go along with the flow.”

It’s easy for him because his food for years has already been packaged in bio-degradable containers and paper products. His silverware is made from potato starch, he said.

Vrignaud already isn’t a fan of to-go service, he said. “I come culture where you don’t consume food on the go.”

But not far down the promenade, another restaurateur isn’t so happy with the city’s new law.

“I’m all for protecting the environment,” said Alessandro Pirozzi, who operates Alessa, an Italian restaurant. “But, this will decrease our already little margin of profit. It will be difficult to find new products. We are looking for alternatives for hot food that can be microwaved, but we really don’t know what to do.”

Councilman Peter Blake said he is happy with the city’s efforts to combat the plastics problem.

“I’m disgusted by the amount of plastics on the beach,” he said. “This gives everyone – residents, restaurants and tourists – an opportunity to understand that we are all stewards of the bluebelt and the greenbelt. Just like we did with the smoking ban, we give people a chance. If you’re eating a salad from a single-use container, you’ll get a warning, but next time, please don’t do it anymore. It’s the big picture of how we protect our oceans.”

Blake said it’s his hope the new laws will bring about change.

“For me, I’m looking for compliance,” he said, adding that on Friday he stopped police officers to point out large shade structures along Main Beach. Those are also now prohibited because they interrupt the sight lines for lifeguards whose job is to oversee safety along the shore.

Storing bikes at beaches or local parks also is no longer allowed. And leaving unattended belongings at these public places is also a no-no.

New weekend crews will focus on litter pickups in some of the town’s most visited areas, such as South Laguna, North Laguna, the Top of the World neighborhood and along Coast Highway. The city is also increasing its trash collection services. And, more trash containers have been added in areas of the city where visitor use is high.

Charlotte Maserik, a board member of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, which works to protect local beaches and marine life, applauds the city’s efforts.

“The no-smoking ordinance has made a huge difference on our beaches and ocean since its inception a couple of years ago,” she said of the reduction seen in cigarette butts.

“Laguna Beach has always fought for and believed in environmental sustainability, and the banning of single-use plastics on our beaches is in keeping with our commitment to protecting our beaches and the sea life dependent on a healthy ocean,” she said.

Hoiyin Ip, a Dana Point resident, has spent the last several years advocating for no-smoking and plastics bans at city councils in coastal communities.

“The timing of the ban is great,” she said. “It became effective in Plastic Free July. And since the Festival of Arts is on city property, many visitors get to witness the change.”