Home Front: First-time buyers reap reward of median price in Sacramento County
For all the pain and trouble associated with this housing bust, one thing is clear: It’s getting better and better for first-time buyers.
And few places beat Sacramento, according to a new report from the California Association of Realtors.
CAR says 80 percent of Sacramento County first-timers could afford a median-priced entry-level home in the first quarter of 2009.
The same quarter in 2008 it was 65 percent – considered then to be amazing.
Only the high desert region of Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley’s Merced County – which has seen a median entry-level price tumble to an astonishing $89,040 – were more affordable than Sacramento County. (Median is where half the homes cost more and half less.)
In California, 69 percent of buyers could afford a median-priced entry-level house at $213,040, CAR said.
The report, issued Thursday, pegged Sacramento County’s entry-level median at $143,870, requiring a qualifying income of $25,720 based on 10 percent down and a 4.96 percent interest rate. Sacramento County tends to do well in CAR’s affordability index with its relatively good public-sector salaries and its inland California home values.
Median sales prices for all existing homes sold in Sacramento County have dropped by a third in the past year to $160,000, according to researcher MDA DataQuick. They’re off 57 percent from an August 2005 high of $374,000.
Roadblocks still abound for first-time buyers, including qualifying for loans. Many of these great prices, too, are attached to beat-up bank repos that account for two-thirds of sales and reflect the stresses of their previous owners.
Yet there are lots of first-timers out there, say real estate agents, and they’re scoring. It’s the happy corner of a market still greatly suffering from its many excesses of 2003-2007.
Stagers losing their role
Remember when people "staged" their homes to sell, and an entire industry of stagers grew up around them?
Home Front, wondering what happened to them all, checked in with Placer County real estate agent Lisa Morris, who staged many of her own listings in those good times.
Staging, it appears, is largely another casualty of a market heavy with repos, short sales and price-cutting.
"I just think the Sacramento and Placer area has been hit so hard, there’s just no money for that," said Morris. She’s working a lot now in San Mateo County, where "almost any normal sale is staged."
Staging still happens in the capital region. But Morris told a story about trying to unload some accessories and spare furniture used to turn houses into showcases.
"Some of the stagers I called were out of business," she said. Many of the rest had their own extras taking space in storage.
A small anecdote tells a big story. There were few takers.
Protect yourself from scams
Chalk up three months between Home Front warnings to dodge loan-modification scams. This one is prompted by a ripped-off caller who urged a new reminder, saying, "These guys are getting rich on other people’s heartaches."
An e-mail writer, "under water," also wonders about calls from 800 numbers, hawking a new "bailout program" for Sacramento County residents.
Once more: Be wary of those who call or ring doorbells offering help, and especially wary of those with a friend or relative who can help you.
The California Department of Real Estate says this is what borrowers should know before dealing with someone offering to get a loan modified:
• If your lender has issued a notice of default against you (after you missed numerous payments), loan-modification companies cannot collect an advance fee, even if they have a real estate license.
• Lawyers are exempt and can charge an upfront fee if they are rendering legal services and operating under the scope of their licenses.
• If you haven’t received a notice of default you can be charged an advance fee. But the firm must provide an agreement for you to sign that explains what services will be performed, when they will be performed and what they will cost.
• Before you sign it, the agreement must have been sent to the Department of Real Estate for review and permission to collect upfront fees. Those fees then must be held in a trust account and spent only on agreed-upon services.
A look at real estate agents
Finally, here’s a new National Association of Realtors survey with a quick, interesting look at real estate agents.
The typical agent is 54 years old, registered to vote, and voted in the last national and local election.
Six in 10 are women and 14 percent are fluent in more than one language. About 40 percent own at least one investment property and 16 percent have a vacation home. Nine in 10 use a computer and e-mail daily and 42 percent use phones with wireless e-mail and Internet capability.
The findings are from responses of 8,113 NAR members.