Friday, March 28, 2008

Got Google Presentation

On Tuesday April 1st I will be giving a presentation at the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors which will cover all the items listed below. This is a presentation targeted to lenders and real estate agents. Make sure you RSVP to our office at 805 965-7091 so we know how many folks to prepare for. We have a lot to cover and we will do our best to get through it all but we want to respect every one's time. We will start at 2:30 and plan to go until 3:30. We will stay after to answer any questions you may have. If there is enough interest we will have some follow up presentations which will go in to more depth on the topics people are looking to hear about.

See You In Escrow!

Learn how to create a very powerful Google start page that can display as little or as much information as you want.
Blogging is becoming a very large part of any businesses online presence, learn how to navigate the Lawyers Title blog as well as get ideas on how to create and use your own blog.
Get a brief introduction to Active Rain, an online Real Estate Community. Learn how Lawyers Title is using it to increase it's visibility and referrals.
Get a quick overview of how Gmail is being used, not only as an email tool but as a place where you can view more than one account in as spam free an environment as possible.
Google Reader
Learn about readers in general and how they are used to keep up on items of interest, and maybe your competition. ;o)
One of the most powerful photo applications out there. Create slide shows and albums for your business.
Get a brief over view of how to use this mapping tool, see how Lawyers Title is using it to display information.
Google Maps
See below, you may not understand how easy maps like the one below are to create

View Larger Map

Google Docs
Google is doing what it can to compete with Microsoft Office and you will learn how you can use these tools as well. Including how to embed a presentation on your blog or website.
Lawyers Title does it, why shouldn't you.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is The Real Estate Market Improving?

Call me busy or just someone who has his priorities wrong, but I finally made time to update the loan activity charts for February 2008.

I was not in any way thinking that I would see any signs of an improved real estate market especially after seeing how few home sales occurred in February.

You probably don't need to be reminded that lenders have tightened their lending requirements and there have been a number of foreclosures in Santa Barbara County. These foreclosures have had an effect on all the communities but have caused Santa Maria and Lompoc's real estate market to struggle for a number of reason.

The biggest issue is lower home values caused in great part to the lenders doing everything they can to get foreclosed properties off their books. These lower home prices are the reason many people can't refinance out of their existing loans. The properties are under water or don't have any equity.

So, you might ask, when is the good news coming? After looking at the lending activity charts for February we may be seeing a change in our real estate market.

Both the Santa Barbara and Lompoc communities saw the largest number of residential refinances occur since October of last year.

Santa Maria had an upward number as well and was just a couple of refinances away from having its best month since October of 2007. Combine that news with the increase in home sales in that area from January to February and you might surmise things are moving in the right direction.

It's hard to imagine a better situation for all of us than to see the refinance business get moving again. I think with the increased underwriting and the new laws about predatory lending the new loans should be pretty rock solid loans that hopefully are helping homeowners get out of the pinch they found themselves in because of the loans they originally took.

Just the fact that these areas are seeing increased lending activity makes me think that appraisals and property values may be stabilizing to some degree. I think the next sign we should see is an increase in the number of home sales.

I wouldn't expect that to be to far off, but I don't expect it to happen until after the tax man cometh.

I welcome your thoughts.

See You In Escrow!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Conforming Loan Limits Permanent?

I received an email the other day that spelled out a campaign that the National Association of Realtors has begun.

The conforming loan limits that went in to place earlier this month are not intended to stay in place permanently. They are scheduled to roll back to the previous numbers on January 1st 2009.

The National Association of Realtors is asking for FHA Reform Now!

They are stating that the new conforming loan limits are showing evidence that they are providing stability, liquidity and security in to the housing market.

They have created a sample letter that can be used to send to you elected officials, like Lois Capps and Barbara Boxer or Dianne Feinstein in California.

One thing I think is going to challenge this campaign is that it appears on the surface to be self serving. I don't really think this is the case.

Real Estate agents would benefit from a quicker turn around in the housing market, but I think the people that are being hurt most are actual homeowners who are struggling to figure out how to keep their homes.

With the increased limits they would appear to have more options when it comes to financing. Below is the exact verbiage from the email I received.

See You In Escrow!

Our new conforming loan limits are scheduled to expire at the end
of 2008. Help keep these new limits permanent by answering this
Call for Action. Please follow this link
and send your elected representatives a letter explaining that we
need these new conforming loan limits permanent.

Friday, March 21, 2008

How Have The Local Title Co's Been Affected?

Needless to say this is an interesting post for me to write. I get to see our P&L every month and we have certainly seen better days.

Late last year we had to close our Lompoc and Santa Maria branches because we just couldn't do enough business there to break even. Those 2 markets have been extremely hard hit by foreclosures.

The bad news for the local title companies there is that most of the REO sales are handled by regional offices in either Southern California or Northern California, which means that none of the local title and escrow companies see any of that income on their books.

We weren't the only ones to pull out of those markets, Stewart Title pulled out of Lompoc and then eventually pulled out of the county entirely. United General announced this week that they are pulling out of Santa Barbara and San Luis Counties at the end of this month.

These closings are big news, but it is just part of the picture. Every company locally has had layoffs, and the people that are out of work right now are very talented people. There hasn't been any company that hasn't been affected.

I have had a number of interviews with people who have been layed off and I haven't been in a position to hire any of them even though I know they are good at what they do and have the experience that I only dream of having new employees have.
Where will it all end? Good Question, and one I'm not sure I really know the answer to. I have talked to people at other companies and some seem to think we might see another title company close sometime this year. Others think that we are seeing some signs that the market may improve.

Improve to what is the next question. Will we see some increased refinance activity? Will the number of sale transactions pick up? I haven't seen any signs of a pick up yet, but many of the folks I've spoken to don't think it will happen until the second half of the year.

I certainly feel for all the wonderful people who worked in this industry who now find themselves out of work. I want to say to the folks in Santa Barbara County who are in this industry or have been in this industry, you have made it a well respected and honorable industry to work in. This county is lucky to have or have had these professionals handling the real estate transactions that happen here.

See You In Escrow

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Home, Condo, & Commercial Sales For February

I can't speak for everyone, but I am a visual person and so when I get property sales information I enjoy seeing it on a map.

I have been lucky enough to find a service called zeemaps that allows you to display information easily and quickly. One of the features I really like is you can zoom in and out of specific areas to view what has sold.

I have just recently completed the maps for the Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Lompoc, and Santa Ynez Valley areas.

The Santa Barbara area includes all the home and condo sales as well as any commercial properties that have sold in February. You can zoom in to any of the areas like Carpinteria, Goleta, or Montecito to see what is selling and for how much or just view the entire South County of Santa Barbara.

The North County area is split in to 2 maps. One covers the Santa Maria area and the other Lompoc and the Santa Ynez Valley. These maps also includes all the homes and condos as well as commercial properties that sold in February.

I am looking to make some enhancements to the information that I'm making available on these maps, such as property type and bedrooms and baths. I think these enhancements will really make these maps a comprehensive place to get sales information for our area.

The really important thing to know is that I believe this already is the most comprehensive place to find out about property sales in the Santa Barbara County area since it is generated using CORT's information.

This means that you aren't just getting the property sales that are reported to the Association of Realtors. You also are not subject to someone trying to hide a sales price on the back of a grant deed, because the good people at CORT do additional research to find the actual sales price. The sales price is a public record and so you can attempt to hide it, but with enough knowledge of the recorders office you can find it.

Please let me know if you think there are any other additional changes I can make. You can refer to the maps on the right hand side of the blog whenever you need them.

See You In Escrow!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Santa Barbara Foreclosure Trends

I know this is going to come off as some kind of understatement, but I'll write it anyway. "This is a very interesting Real Estate Market!"

Updating the numbers for the Foreclosures Trends is just like updating any of the other numbers I look at each month, Crazy!

If you remember when I first started this chart it was a little void of much historical data for the number of loans that are adjusting here in Santa Barbara County. As you can see we are starting to see a trend there.

The number is down to 41 in February. I can tell you the number will go up to the 180 mark as soon as May, so don't think we have seen the end of that.

You can also see from the chart that the number of Notice of Defaults that are recorded seems to have plateaued in the 280 range for the last couple of months.

This in turn affects the number of properties going back to the banks reflected in the number of Trustees Deeds being recorded. February had 95 of those record down from 98 in January. This will cause the number of bank owned listings to increase in the coming months.

The number of Bank owned Properties that sold in February rose to 24. This is a relatively good sized increase over the 17 in January and December that were recorded. I would expect to see this number be pretty consistent over the next few months. It may rise some as well since the number of Trustees Deeds has been pretty high for the last couple of months.

I think the key is going to be what is happening with the number of Notice of Defaults recorded in the coming months. If that number grows even though the number of loans adjusting has decreased then we can guess that those loans aren't as big a problem as once thought.

See You In Escrow!

Friday, March 14, 2008

76 Station, A HOT Topic!

"Save Coast Village Road" is one groups cry!

The firestorm that has surrounded the 76 station on Coast Village Road is causing some real debate.

Over at Santa Barbara's Blog, they received over 35 comments on the subject including one from me.

I personally am not as well informed as I should be on this topic and I am guessing others may be in the same boat.

I do know Jeff Farrell, who is a very active and giving community leader has spoken out against the proposed project that is under consideration. Many of the neighbors have as well.

If you read all the comments on many of the local blogs you may find that many of the folks in this community are o.k. with what is being proposed.

John Price and his comments certainly seem understandable. I thought I would do as comprehensive a job as I can to put up some links to any and all the websites and articles that may be appropriate.

Read on and make your own decision. If anyone has a link or information to include just post a comment. Thanks!

The Independent
The Independent
Daily Sound
Coast Village Road Gateway
Save Coast Village Road
Santa Barbara's Blog

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Can You Believe These Numbers!

The Cort information for February came in and I can't believe how few properties closed escrow.

The home sales for Carpinteria, Goleta, Santa Barbara, & Montecito combined only hit 87. I have been in this community for about 20 years and I can't remember the number ever being that low.

It isn't unusual for the number of transactions to dip a little from January, which they did, but I just can't get over how low that number has gone.

I feel like I'm in the middle of a good old staring contest. The first person to blink loses. The buyers are staring at the seller expecting them to lower their prices and the sellers are saying I won't go any lower.

Who will blink first?

What I am hearing is that many of the sellers don't need to sell and so if they don't get their price then they will just take their property off the market.

What I'm hearing about buyers is that they are seeing properties they would like to purchase, but they think the prices are going to go lower.

I talked with a stock broker yesterday and the topic of timing the stock market came up and we both agreed it is next to impossible to do. I think the same goes for the real estate market. If buyers are waiting for the prices to decrease, they may just miss the boat on what could be the perfect home for them.

Rates are very good right now, prices have come down and buyers have choices. Sounds like a pretty good environment to me to be buying a home.

Here is how the numbers broke down.

Montecito was the only community to have it's number go up from January. The number of sold properties in Montecito was 17, up from 10 in January.

Santa Barbara saw a small decline in the number of sold properties, going from 41 to 38 in February.

The Goleta area had 26 sold properties down from 31 in January.

Last but not least was the Carpinteria area, going from 10 in January to 6 in February.

I think we will see some increased numbers in March for sold properties. I am basing that on the number of escrows we as a company have opened and are in the process of closing. Time will tell if that increase is going to be significant or not. I'm not expecting it to be, and if it isn't we may see some kind of a small surge towards the end of the year.

See You In Escrow!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Santa Barbara Commercial Property Update

I had the privilege of attending the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce Issues & Policy Round table today.
The topic was Local Commercial Real Estate Trends. The speaker was Mark Mattingly of Pacifica Commercial Realty.

Mark did a very good job of reviewing the number for 2007 and putting them in to perspective. Some of his comments outlined how the vacancy rates we have here locally are some of the lowest in the State. He also spoke about how the lease rates have continued to rise.

Much was made of the impact of UCSB and it's technology spin offs. It was made very evident from Mark's comments and some of the guests that UCSB is a hot bed of technology and those new technologies often spawn new local companies that outgrow their spaces quite quickly.

Another comment that Mark made was as the defense industry shrank here locally it had just the opposite affect on local businesses. Many people from that industry created companies using some of the same technologies that had been created for the government.

All of Mark's presentation focused on the commercial market and did not mention retail. There were some comments from some of the guests regarding how retail seemed to be shrinking. The responses seemed to think this was related to the credit crunch our country is experiencing.

Mark ended his presentation by saying he thinks it will be a pretty good year for commercial real estate here on the south coast. I'm going to post some statistics below that Mark shared with all of us.

See You In Escrow!

4th Quarter Office R&D Vacancy Rates

Carpinteria 5%
Goleta 3.3%
Santa Barbara 2.4%

R&D/Office Lease Rates 4th Quarter 2007 (asking price)

Carpinteria $1.49 gross
Goleta $1.74 gross
Santa Barbara $2.65 gross

4th Quarter Industrial Vacancy Rates

Carpinteria 2.7%
Goleta 4.0%
Santa Barbara .04%

Industrial Least Rates 4th Quarter 2007 (asking price)

Carpinteria $1.40 gross
Goleta $1.33 gross
Santa Barbara $1.37 gross

Monday, March 10, 2008

February 2008 Santa Barbara Association of Realtors Statistics

You may or may not know this, but the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors puts out their official statistics once a month. They wait until the 5th business day of the month to pull their statistics. This policy is consistent with the National Association of Realtors and the California Association of Realtors.

The local statistics that are compiled cover the South County communities of Carpinteria, Summerland, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Hope Ranch, and Goleta.

The Santa Barbara Association breaks down their numbers by property type, price range and district. Some of the most commonly used information is median price , the days on market, the number of new listings, and the number of sold properties.

So much is made of the median price and whether it is going up or down.

I don't think that will really give us an idea of how healthy our market is so I'm going to focus on a couple of things here. Those things are the number of currently pending transactions, days on market, and new listings.

My thoughts are these, our market is just like most others. It is based on supply and demand. Therefore if you start tracking the number of properties that are currently in escrow and you track how long it is taking properties to sell you can get a good idea of the demand.

As far as the supply goes, I think you need to keep an eye on the number of properties that are coming on the market. That gives you an idea of how many folks are deciding to sell or where your supply is.

Here are those numbers for Feb 08 vs. Feb 07 for condos
There were 33 properties in escrow in 08 vs. 38 in 07.
Days on market in 08 was 86 vs. 165 in 07.
The number of new listings for 08 was 51 vs. 74 in 07.

Some of the differences are pretty striking. February of 2008 is showing a significant decrease in the time it takes to sell a property. Combine that with fewer properties to sell and just a few less properties in escrow and you could argue that the demand for Condominiums is going up. That strikes me as a healthy market. I have heard that properties that are coming on the market are better priced and sellers are more ready to sell than they were a year or more ago. These are the pieces of information that make me believe the volume of properties that are selling is going to start increasing.

What are the numbers for homes in the Santa Barbara area Feb. 08 vs. Feb 07?
There were 79 properties in escrow in 08 vs. 95 in 07.
Days on Market in 08 was 96 vs. 105 in 07.
The number of new listings for 08 was 140 vs. 120 in 07.

The statistics for home sales don't show quite the same picture as the ones for condos. As you can see the time to sell a home is decreasing but isn't as significant as it was with condos. The number of properties in escrow is significantly less and the number of listings is up. So if you use the same logic here you aren't seeing the demand improving yet. The good news is that the days a property is taking to sell is coming down. That tells me that well priced homes are getting snapped up. Maybe these numbers are telling us that sellers haven't quite figured out where they need to be based on the demand that is out there. Time will tell. I do think the next few months will start showing some of the same signs the condo market is showing.

So my quick opinion on the health of the market is that we are seeing signs of it transitioning from one where supply was high and demand was low to one where the supply and demand are more balanced. It will be fun to see if I'm even close.

See You In Escrow!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Are There Any Deals Today?

Being asked the question about getting a good deal on a piece of property these days always seems to turn the conversation to foreclosures and bank owned properties.

These bank owned properties are better known as REO's or Real Estate Owned. I decided to do a little homework on the REO's in Santa Barbara County. The properties I decided to check out were the ones where a deed had been recorded making the foreclosing lender the new owner of the property.

I found that there were 203 properties in January and February that the banks had taken back. Of these 203 properties here is how they broke down by city

Buellton 1
Carpinteria 4
Goleta 8
Guadalupe 5
Lompoc 36
Los Alamos 2
Orcutt 1
Santa Barbara 13
Santa Maria 130
Santa Ynez 2
Solvang 1

It doesn't take a degree in mathematics to look at these numbers and see that Lompoc and Santa Maria are where most of the foreclosure activity is. Nearly 82% of the properties are in those 2 areas.

The South Coast has a little over 12% of the properties that went back to the foreclosing lender in January and February. The remaining 6% are spread out amongst the Santa Ynez Valley and the smaller cities in the North County.

The types of properties that are now owned by the bank break down like this
Condominiums (Residential) 21
Multi Family Units 8
Residential Agriculture 2
Single Family Residence 170
Vacant Land 2

Single Family Residences continue to be the types of properties that are being foreclosed on. Maybe next month I will take a look to see how many are second homes or primary residences. Either way these properties are putting a drain on the residential market.

Some specifics about the loan amounts that were foreclosed upon are these
Average Loan Amount $409,129
Highest Loan Amount $1,348,319
Lowest Loan Amount $15,000

These loans that were foreclosed on have some interesting characteristics. The oldest loan was taken out on December 3rd 1997 for $88,738 on a single family residence on Lockwood Dr. in Santa Maria. The most recent loan was taken out on April 27, 2007 for $181,000 on a single family residence on Concha Loma Dr. in Carpinteria.

I find this information all pretty fascinating, but does it help answer the question about there being any real deals out there when you are looking for property. I don't think it does. I don't think it will, but at least you are now armed with hopefully more than you knew before about the properties that have been taken back by the lender.

If you would like more information on these properties click here and you will be taken to a map of the county showing these 203 properties. Good Luck in your search.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Good News For Santa Barbara County Real Estate

As some of you may know, the conforming loan limit for Santa Barbara County was going to be raised as part of the Economic Stimulus Package.

It was only going to be raised to $587,500 because the median price for the county was being severely affected by the lower home prices in the Santa Maria and Lompoc areas.

After finding this out the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors began a campaign to write letters to our elected officials to make them aware of this situation.

The Mayor of Santa Barbara and Council Members reached out to their contacts in Washington to help stimulate the change. No matter what had happened I have to give some positive feedback to Mayor Blum. She answered emails and was very approachable.

The information got in to the right hands, and Lois Capps and others picked up the banner.

Lois Capps even wrote a response to a letter I wrote that Noozhawk was nice enough to publish.

Now the next step is to see if these new loan limits will reflect a reduction in interest rates.

Either way, this is a very good start to helping the property owners in our county. This will give buyers some additional options when it comes to financing. It should also give anyone who is needing or wanting to refinance those same options.

CNN has a pretty good explanation of what has been approved so far as well as some comments from HUD.

Lois Capps has an more information on her site regarding how the Economic Stimulus Package will work.

See You In Escrow!

Santa Maria and Lompoc Loan Activity

Residential Loan Activity in the North County for January 2008 was what you would have expected.

Santa Maria continued to see declining numbers, while Lompoc's numbers were mixed. The number of refinances in Lompoc was less, while the number of purchase loans increased by a few.

If you compare these numbers to the numbers from about a year ago, the refinance market is off significantly. The purchase market is off, but it isn't quite as drastic.

The refinance market in the north county continues to be affected by a decline in home prices, and a large number of bank owned properties on the market. This coupled with a good interest rate environment makes it an interesting dynamic.

There will continue to be a market for refinancing, but it will be hampered by appraisals coming in lower than expected and borrowers being scrutinized more closely than in the past. I expect the numbers to start to improve, but not by that much.

With respects to home sales and the purchase market, we are in a seasonally slow time of year and those numbers should rise in the coming months, but how much is really going to be interesting, especially when the economic stimulus package the government is putting in place kicks in.

The change in the conforming loan limits will also be something to factor in to what might happen in Santa Maria and Lompoc.

See You In Escrow!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

#1, 2nd Year In A Row!

Below is some self promotion, but every now and then I just think you have to do it, so please indulge me. This is copied and pasted from an email we recieved today. Thanks!

Today, Fortune named LandAmerica the Most Admired Company in the Mortgage Services industry for the second year in a row. We ranked first out of hundreds of companies, holding our top position from last year.

Based on information provided from industry participants, including executives, customers and competitors, Fortune rated all the companies in categories ranging from innovation and financial soundness to quality of management, products and services. This year, the Most Admired Companies for Mortgage Services were as follows:

1. LandAmerica
2. Washington Mutual
3. Fidelity National Financial
4. First American
5. Sovereign Bancorp

Our overall score was 7.64, up from last year’s 7.49, although Fortune didn't provide individual attribute rankings this year. This high placement in our industry recognizes our adherence to our Guiding Principles. Our emphasis on Personal Values, our Drive for Excellence, and our outstanding Management Practices pay off not only in making this a great company to work for, but one that’s nationally praised.