Month: August 2013

Red-hot housing market is cooling slightly

Data show home prices aren’t rising as fast as they did earlier this year, and multiple-bid competitions aren’t as intense as inventories of homes increase.

 

By Kenneth R. HarneyAugust 23, 2013, LA Times

WASHINGTON — Do you feel that hint of a chill starting to swirl through the housing market? The cooling is slight, but it’s real.

Home prices are not rising as fast in most metropolitan areas as they did earlier this year and much of 2012. Multiple-bid competitions — fierce in many places this spring and late last year — aren’t as intense in many markets. Inventories of homes for sale have increased this summer, reversing near droughts of listings that helped fuel higher prices.

Add in rising mortgage rates, and you’ve got a distinct, measurable momentum shift in the pace of the nationwide housing recovery. The revival is still well underway — it’s just not as effervescent.

Consider some key numbers:

•Asking prices declined one-third of a percent in July, the first drop on a monthly basis since last November, according to data compiled by Trulia.com. Quarter-to-quarter data through July confirm the moderating trend line.

•Pending home sales — in escrow but not yet closed — dropped four-tenths of a percent in June, according to the National Assn. of Realtors. Resales of houses in June declined 1.2%.

•Inventory rose in a number of the hottest markets recently, after hovering near record lows for a year or more. Low inventories stoke buyer competition and bidding wars that can send prices up sharply. Plentiful inventories give buyers more to choose from and tend to calm things down. According to data compiled by Realtor.com from Multiple Listing Services around the country, inventories rose 7.8% during July in Los Angeles, 12.5% in San Diego, 8.3% in Seattle, 6.5% in TampaSt. Petersburg, Fla., and 4.5% in Boston. Trulia estimates that nationwide inventories are up 6% since January.

•Not as many potential buyers are out shopping, and it’s not just because everybody is at the beach. Redfin, the online real estate brokerage, measured a 3.5% drop in home showings by agents last month. That contrasts with a 3.1% monthly gain a year earlier. Not surprisingly, signed offers were down 11% in July compared with June. Plus, the number of multiple-bid competitions is dropping in major markets — down 5.3 percentage points from June to July alone. In San Diego, the monthly decline exceeded 10%.

•Affordability is beginning to erode as the result of cumulative home price increases plus higher mortgage interest rates. The National Assn. of Home Builders’ housing opportunity index covering 225 metropolitan areas, released in mid-August, found affordability down 4.4% from the previous quarter. The index measures the percentage of households that can afford to buy the median-priced home with a 10% down payment.

None of this is surprising — or alarming — to housing and mortgage economists who track market movements. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for Freddie Mac, the big mortgage investor, believes that the recovery is simply moving into a “second, more sustainable” phase. During the last 18 months, he said, “we saw eye-popping numbers” on prices and sales, though the outsized increases were coming off the lows of a deep recession and housing bust.

But price gains in the double digits that were commonplace in coastal California, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and parts of Florida starting two years ago have gradually begun to self-correct. When prices get out of reach of growing percentages of borrowers, demand slacks off and price increases slow down. That’s the trend taking hold now, Nothaft said. Sales should continue to see “healthy” growth and prices should continue to rise, he said, “but the percentages will be less.”

The second phase of the recovery actually started earlier this year, said Jed Kolko, chief economist for Trulia, “when inventories began bottoming out.” Kolko sees the current, more moderate phase continuing for what could be an extended period.

But the true housing market potential won’t fully be realized, he said, until the next phase. That’s when the consumers who have been missing in action thus far — younger, first-time buyers stymied by the economy and student loan debt burdens and often still living with their parents — finally jump into the marketplace and start buying homes.

Home prices across the US defy gravity despite rising rates

Published: Monday, 26 Aug 2013
By:  | CNBC.com Economics Reporter

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Home prices are going up, up, up, but it’s not a bubble just yet.

The surge in home prices over the past year may have some homebuyers wondering if the market has gotten ahead of itself. Rising interest rates aside, however, housing prices in most parts of the country appear to have plenty of room to move higher if the wider economic recovery remains intact.

The latest data on price gains Thursday showed home prices advanced 7.7 percent in the year through June, a rise that has fed on itself as fence-sitting homebuyers move to buy before prices rise further.

West coast housing markets have seen the biggest gains. The Federal Housing Finance Agency report showed prices in June were 17 percent higher than a year earlier in the Pacific area, which includes California and Washington.

House prices jumped 11 percent in the Mountain region, which included Nevada and Arizona. The Middle Atlantic region—New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—had the smallest increase, at 2.5 percent.

The government data echo other reports of healthy gains in home sales and prices. The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that the median price of a previously owned home jumped 13.7 percent for the year ended in July to $213,500.

A recent rise in mortgage rates is also spurring buyers to lock in rates before they climb further.

“When you start to see interest rates rise, people are going to want to jump in,” said Beth Ann Bovino, deputy chief economist at Standard & Poor’s. “All those people on the fence come back into the market. But that’s a good thing.”

Higher borrowing costs could eventually price some buyers out of the market and slow the pace of home sales. Sales of new single-family homes fell sharply in July to their lowest level in nine months, the Commerce Department reported Friday. Sales dropped 13.4 percent to an annual rate of 394,000 units, and the government also revised sharply lower its estimate for home sales in June.

But sales of previously owned homes, a much larger share of the overall market, picked up by 6.5 percent last month to the fastest pace since November 2009, according to the Realtors report.

However, the inventory of homes for sale remains tight—just 5.1 months’ worth at the current sales pace—which has helped sellers and home builders boost their asking prices.

After a long drought in new home construction, that tight supply is expected to continue to support prices.

“We have a number of locations where the next home sold may take as much as one year to deliver, because our backlogs are so big at individual communities,” said Douglas Yearly, CEO of luxury home builder Toll Brothers. “That’s when we raise price.”

There are early signs that rises in prices and borrowing costs may be cooling demand.

Mortgage applications for both home purchases and refinancings dropped for a second-straight week as rates rose, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Demand fell 4.6 percent in the week ended Aug. 16 as the rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 4.68 percent, matching this year’s high mark.

Rates have been rising since May, when the Federal Reserve first signaled it may begin tapering off its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. That easy-money policy has been a critical stimulus in reviving the housing market from its historic 2007 collapse.

New home sales down 13.4% in July
Jim Iuorio, TJM Institutional Services explains why the latest data on housing is an “awful” number and what it means for the recovery.

The continued pickup in the pace of home sales and prices will depend heavily on whether the job market continues its slow recovery and incomes continue to rise. That disposable income represents the buying power required to fuel the housing market’s continued recovery. And despite the recent jump in prices, homes in most local markets remain affordable by historical standards.

One of the most widely used measures—the Realtors affordability index—stood at 178 in June—down from a peak of 200 during the depths of the housing bust—but well higher than average levels. (The index, which factors in prices, incomes, borrowing costs and other variables, shows that a family with the median national income has 178 percent of the income needed to qualify for a mortgage that covers 80 percent of a median-priced house.)

Other measures indicate that, despite rapid gains, homes are reasonably valued, according to a research note from Capital Economics.

After the sharp declines following the housing bust, home prices have yet to reach levels in line with the long-term trend since 1975, according to the report. Prices are some 15 percent below that trend as measured by the Case-Shiller price index and 11 percent lower based on the FHFA’s data.

And the cost of buying a house is still cheap in relation to the cost of renting, suggesting prices haven’t yet reached a point where they will cool demand, according to Capital Economics housing economist Paul Diggle, who prepared the report. “The most reliable measure still suggests that housing is undervalued,” he said.

Even if rising prices and rates don’t scare away potential homebuyers, the continued housing recovery will depend on the availability of credit, which tightened considerably after the wave of rogue lending that fueled the mid-2000s housing bubble.

Lenders are much choosier than they were six years ago, but there are signs they’ve begun to ease up a bit on credit standards as they compete for new borrowers. And after paring down a large pile of debt accumulated during the credit boom, those potential buyers are better able to take on a new mortgage payment.

That will help the housing market better weather the ongoing rise in interest rates, according to S&P’s Bovino.

“We’ve had four years of cleaning up our balance sheets, getting our fiscal homes in order,” she said. “I think we do have the capabilities to cushion that blow (from higher rates).”

Higher prices sap foreign investor interest in US’ real estate market

By Julie Haviv, Reuters
August 19, 2013, http://www.chinapost.com.tw

NEW YORK — Foreign investors, who rapaciously scooped up U.S. real estate during the 2007-2009 recession, are backing away from the same markets they so eagerly jumped into a few years ago.

Real estate brokers say demand from international investors has flagged in locations that have been most attractive to overseas buyers — markets such as San Francisco, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Miami.

Many of those markets are back on solid footing after stumbling during the housing crisis. Property prices have risen, while the dollar — against the Indian rupee in particular, and to a lesser extent the Canadian dollar — has appreciated over the past year, despite hitting a speed bump in recent weeks.

As a result, real estate is no longer the bargain it once was for foreigners. That is discouraging new sales, while many foreigners who already own property — especially those who bought strictly as investment — are turning into sellers.

Kevin Kieffer, a broker who sells property in San Francisco for Keller Williams Realty, said in that area buying from foreigners has dropped by at least 30 percent in the last few months.

“That is partly due to the fact that prices escalated so quickly in the San Francisco area,” he said. “But some of my foreign clients have also mentioned the value of the dollar as another reason they decided not to buy.” At the same time, domestic demand for real estate held steady, he said.

Calamitous declines in many of the nation’s housing markets during the economic crisis had attracted droves of international investors seeking to cash in on a weak U.S. dollar and rock-bottom property prices. Many were attracted to Sun Belt markets that had been battered by the crisis.

The opposite trend is now gathering steam, and that will likely spell the end of the double-digit price gains seen recently in markets such as San Francisco and Miami, say people in the real estate business community.

International sales of U.S. residential real estate dropped by US$14 billion to US$68.2 billion for the 12 months ending in March, the latest data available from the National Association of Realtors. Foreign purchases comprise 6.5 percent of the US$1.050 trillion in total U.S. existing home sales.

Sluggish foreign economies and unfavorable exchange rates are reasons behind the decline, the NAR said. That hurts cities dominated by foreign buying but has little impact on large stretches of the country.

The NAR recorded buying from 68 countries, with Canada, China, Mexico, India and the United Kingdom accounting for about 53 percent of the transactions in the year ending in March.

At 23 percent, Canada took in the largest share. But real estate website Trulia.com said Canada’s share of foreign-based searches of its site fell 9 percent year-over-year in the second quarter.

The dollar is up more than 2 percent versus the Canadian dollar in the last six months. That’s a reversal from 2012, when the dollar fell 2.7 percent against the Canadian dollar, commonly called the loonie because of the image of a waterfowl engraved on the coin.

Dissolving Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac may hurt borrowers

There’s no consensus on how to replace Fannie and Freddie, but without them home loans will almost certainly be more expensive.

 

By Kenneth R. Harney August 16, 2013, LA Times

WASHINGTON — You may have seen two sets of news reports recently that didn’t quite add up: First, President Obama called for the liquidation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the country’s largest providers of funds for home mortgages. Then, Fannie Mae announced its sixth straight quarterly profit and said it was sending $10.2 billion in dividends to the Treasury. Freddie Mac also reported a hefty profit — $5 billion over the previous three months — and said it is providing $4.4 billion in dividends to the government.

Both companies also summarized what they’ve been doing for home buyers and owners since their takeover by the federal government in September 2008. Given the president’s call for them to disappear, it’s worth taking a quick look.

Since January 2009, Fannie says it has provided funding for 3.1 million home purchases and 11.4 million refinancings of existing home loans. It has also helped 1.3 million borrowers who were behind on their payments and heading for foreclosure with loan modifications, workouts and other forms of assistance.

It has already paid back $95 billion of the $116 billion in taxpayer funds the government lent it, and could pay the rest next year. It expects to be profitable for the “foreseeable future,” the result of the high credit quality of the new loans it’s making and because of declining losses on its existing mortgages.

Meanwhile, Freddie Mac has financed 1.8 million home purchases, 7.2 million refinancings and 872,000 loan modifications or workouts. As of next month it will have paid back $41 billion of the $71 billion in assistance extended by the government. Its 2.8% rate of serious delinquencies is far below the mortgage industry average of 6.4%.

Both companies also provide significant financial support for rental apartment construction.

Wait a minute. Didn’t both companies go off the rails in the years immediately preceding the housing bust, investing in subprime and other loans that contributed to the severity of the housing bust?

No question. But here’s the point: The president and congressional critics want to dismantle Fannie and Freddie, but what’s to replace them? That’s a thorny political thicket. Not only is there no consensus on how to do it but also little discussion of the potential costs for home buyers and owners. What would capital punishment for Fannie and Freddie mean to consumers?

Start with higher mortgage interest rates. Without the federal guarantees supplied by Fannie and Freddie, the costs of mortgages are virtually certain to rise. Economists atMoody’s Analytics estimate that dumping the companies and switching to a plan advocated by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) would increase the interest rate for the average mortgage borrower by one-half to three-quarters of a percentage point.

The Corker-Warner plan would usher in a mortgage marketplace heavily dominated by big banks and their Wall Street partners. There would be no direct federal guarantee on mortgage securities, which Fannie and Freddie currently provide. The primary risks would be assumed by lenders and investors. There would instead be a federal backstop insurance arrangement in which investors could be covered in the event of catastrophic losses caused by an economic meltdown. The plan would be modeled after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., with participating lenders paying for insurance coverage.

On the House side, a competing bill sponsored by the chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), would provide no federal backing whatsoever for the vast majority of new mortgages — the Federal Housing Administration would survive but with heavy new restrictions. With not even a backup guarantee of federal insurance in the event of another mortgage crisis, banks would require higher interest rates from borrowers to protect themselves and might also be hesitant to commit money for long terms at fixed rates, putting the widespread availability of 30-year mortgages in doubt. They’d most likely prefer shorter term, adjustable rate loans, which shift more of the interest rate risk to the borrower.

The take-away on all this: Fannie and Freddie have had their problems, but they’re now pulling in big bucks for the Treasury and still funding the bulk of American home loans under tight federal oversight. What replaces them matters — especially the retention of some form of federal guarantee to keep rates affordable. Dumping them precipitously in favor of a totally privatized mortgage market might sound attractive, but it would mean you’d almost certainly pay more when you need a home loan.

kenharney@earthlink.net

Distributed by Washington Post Writers Group

Southland Home Sales Jump in July

August 14, 2013 DQnews.com

Southern California home sales surged in July, rising to an eight-year high for that month as buyers found more homes for sale. The median sale price held steady with the prior month but rose nearly 26 percent from a year earlier, marking the seventh consecutive month with a year-over-year gain exceeding 20 percent, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 25,419 new and resale houses and condos sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties last month. That was up 17.6 percent from 21,608 sales in June, and up 23.5 percent from 20,588 sales in July 2012, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.

Last month’s sales approached a historically normal level. They were 0.5 percent below the average number of sales – 25,541 – in the month of July since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin. Southland sales haven’t been above average for any particular month in more than seven years.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos sold in the six-county region last month was $385,000, the same as in June and up 25.8 percent from $306,000 in July 2012. The June and July medians are the highest for any month since April 2008, when the median was also $385,000.

The median price has risen on a year-over-year basis for 16 consecutive months, with those annual gains ranging between 10.8 percent and 28.3 percent over the past 12 months. July’s median remained 23.8 percent below the peak $505,000 median in spring/summer 2007. The median fell by $256,000 from that peak to its $249,000 trough in April 2009, and it has now regained just over half – 51.8 percent – of that peak-to-trough loss.

In a sign of continued market confidence, Southern California home buyers continue to put near-record amounts of their own money into residential real estate. In July they paid a total of $5.39 billion out of their own pockets in the form of down payments or cash purchases. That was up from $5.25 billion in June and up from $3.61 billion a year ago.

“July home sales came in very strong, and we think a lot of the increase in activity can be chalked up to a rising inventory of homes for sale. The jump in mortgage rates a couple of months back might have spurred more buying, too. The market continues its rebalancing act, with more and more people who’ve been ‘underwater’ now able to sell their homes at a profit, or at least break even. As the mismatch between supply and demand eases, it will be more difficult for home prices to rise as steeply as we’ve seen over the past year,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

It appears that the bulk of July’s 25.8 percent year-over-year gain in the Southland median sale price reflects rising home prices, while a small portion – perhaps one-fifth – reflects a change in market mix. (This change consists of a big increase in mid- to high-end sales and a big decline in sales of lower-cost distressed properties.)

In June, the lowest-cost third of the region’s housing stock saw a 26.5 percent year-over-year rise in the median price paid per square foot for resale houses. The annual gain was 23.4 percent for the middle third of the market and 18.4 percent for the top, most-expensive third.

Activity in the middle and upper price ranges continued to far outpace sales in the more affordable markets.

Last month the number of homes that sold from $300,000 through $800,000 – a range that would include many move-up buyers – rose 51.7 percent year-over-year. The number that sold for $500,000 or more jumped 73.5 percent from one year earlier, while $800,000-plus sales rose 77.5 percent.

In July, 33.1 percent of all Southland home sales were for $500,000 or more, down a bit from a revised 34.0 percent of sales in June and up from 23.0 percent a year earlier. Last month’s share of over-$500,000 sales was the second-highest – behind June – since February 2008, when 34.2 percent of all sales crossed that price threshold.

The number of Southland homes sold below $200,000 last month dropped 26.4 percent year-over-year, while sales below $300,000 fell 17.6 percent. Low-end sales have been relatively weak largely because of a fussy mortgage market and an inadequate supply of homes for sale. Many owners can’t afford to sell their homes because they still owe more than they are worth, and lenders aren’t foreclosing on as many properties, further limiting supply.

In July foreclosure resales – homes foreclosed on in the prior 12 months – accounted for 7.8 percent of the Southland resale market. That was down from a revised 9.0 percent the month before and down from 20.7 percent a year earlier. Last month’s foreclosure resale rate was the lowest since it was 7.3 percent in June 2007. In the current cycle, foreclosure resales hit a high of 56.7 percent in February 2009.

Short sales – transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property – made up an estimated 14.5 percent of Southland resales last month. That was the lowest level since it was 14.1 percent in May 2009. Last month’s short sale figure was down from an estimated 16.1 percent the month before and down from 26.2 percent a year earlier.

Absentee buyers – mostly investors and some second-home purchasers – bought 27.4 percent of the Southland homes sold last month, which is the lowest share for any month this year. Last month’s level was down from 28.6 percent in June and down slightly from 27.5 percent a year earlier. The absentee share has ratcheted down gradually each month this year since hitting a record 32.4 percent in January. The monthly average since 2000, when the absentee data begin, is 18.3 percent. Last month’s absentee buyers paid a median $312,000, up 34.5 percent from a year earlier.

After hitting a peak earlier this year, the share of homes flipped has generally trended a bit lower, but rose modestly in July. Last month 6.0 percent of all Southland homes sold on the open market had previously sold in the prior six months. That’s up from a flipping rate of 5.6 percent in June and up from 4.5 percent a year ago. (The figures exclude homes resold after being purchased at public foreclosure auction sales on the courthouse steps).

Buyers paying with cash accounted for 29.4 percent of last month’s home sales, down from 30.5 percent the month before and down from 31.8 percent a year earlier. The cash share of purchases has declined each month since hitting an all-time peak of 36.9 percent this February. Since 1988 the monthly average for cash buyers is 16.2 percent of all sales. Cash buyers paid a median $328,000 last month, up 39.6 percent from a year ago.

Credit conditions again showed signs of easing a bit.

Last month 10.9 percent of Southland home purchase loans were adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) – the highest for any month since ARMs were 12.6 percent of the market in July 2008. Last month’s ARM level was up from 9.6 percent the prior month and 6.2 percent a year earlier. Since 2000, a monthly average of about 32 percent of Southland purchase loans have been ARMs.

Jumbo loans, mortgages above the old conforming limit of $417,000, accounted for 28.3 percent of last month’s Southland purchase lending – the second-highest, behind June, since August 2007, when jumbos were 36.7 percent of the market. Last month’s figure was down insignificantly from 28.6 percent the prior month and up from 20.2 percent a year earlier. In the months leading up to the credit crunch that struck in August 2007, jumbos accounted for around 40 percent of the home loan market

All lenders combined provided $7.11 billion in mortgage money to Southern California home buyers in July, the highest amount since $7.95 billion in August 2007.

Government-insured FHA loans, a popular low-down-payment choice among first-time buyers, accounted for 18.5 percent of all purchase mortgages last month. That was down from 19.5 percent the month before and 27.9 percent a year earlier. In recent months the FHA share has been the lowest since spring 2008. The decline reflects tighter FHA qualifying standards implemented in recent years as well as the difficulties first-time buyers are having competing with investors and cash buyers.

DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.

The typical monthly mortgage payment Southland buyers committed themselves to paying last month was $1,537, up from $1,483 the month before and up from $1,106 a year earlier. Adjusted for inflation, last month’s typical payment was 35.9 percent below the typical payment in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. It was 47.5 percent below the current cycle’s peak in July 2007.

Indicators of market distress continue to decline. Foreclosure activity remains well below year-ago and far below peak levels. Financing with multiple mortgages is very low, and down payment sizes are stable, DataQuick reported.

To view the county-by-county chart, visit DQNews.com.

Small home repair jobs with a big payoff

By Josh Garskof  CNN Money August 13, 2013

home repairsYou don’t need a home workshop — or even a toolbox — to do these quick and easy repairs.

(Money Magazine)

Maintaining a home is like eating a healthy diet. Everyone knows there’s a whole list of things that should be done, but nobody really wants to spend the weekend painting the guest room, snaking out a slow sink drain, or cleaning out the gutters.

Still, just as some delicious, low-carb dinners are easy to prepare, not all maintenance tasks are onerous either. Some of the smartest upkeep projects you can do require less time than it takes to grill a salmon steak.

Even if you’re lucky enough to have a great handyman’s number programmed into your smartphone, these jobs are just too quick and effortless to hire out. Says Gino Goe, a property manager in Santa Barbara: “The most meticulous weekend warriors don’t think to do these things, yet anyone can knock them out in minutes for virtually no cost, even if you don’t have a basement workshop — or own a flannel shirt.”

And they’ll make your house more comfortable, efficient, and beautiful.

Increase efficiency

Whether your mechanical equipment is state of the art or aging and inefficient, you can reduce your energy costs by ensuring that it’s operating at peak effectiveness.

Start by taking a leaf blower to your air conditioner’s condenser (the box sitting outside) or the outfacing end of your window units to remove the muck and debris within, recommends Biddeford, Maine, plumber Jim Godbout. That move alone could knock 10% to 15% off your cooling costs, he says.

Also, slide your clothes dryer forward, pull off the vent hose, and vacuum out the built-up lint (get directions at ThisOldHouse.com). That can cut the laundry-related portion of your electric or gas bill by as much as 25% to 30%, estimates Godbout, the former president of the Maine Plumbing and Heating Contractors Association.

How to negotiate a great bargain

And if your heating system uses radiators, buy a “key” for a few cents from your favorite hardware retailer and use it to bleed the air out of the system (see FamilyHandyman.com for a step-by-step guide). That could slash next winter’s heating bills by as much as 20%, Godbout says.

Make things last

A few simple moves can also prolong the life of costly-to-repair elements of your house. Windowsills are extremely prone to rot, for instance, so peek out each window to check for any cracks in the sill paint, says Castle Rock, Colo., contractor Dean Bennett.

Use a few dollar’s worth of exterior caulk to seal any fissures that you find and keep rainwater out. If the paint damage is extensive, the problem has unfortunately moved beyond a quick fix: Hire a pro to scrape and repaint them or do the job yourself.

Similarly, pruning back shrubs to leave a foot of air space around your building — checking your lawn irrigation system to ensure that the spray isn’t hitting the house or garage — will help delay your next $6,000 to $10,000 paint job.

To keep your garage door tracks, casement window gearboxes, and balky doorknobs working smoothly — and without annoying creaks and groans — simply spray them with WD-40. “It not only lubricates moving parts but also cleans them and makes them moisture-resistant,” says Fran Carito, a handyman in Watertown, Mass.

Use it or lose it

Like muscles and gray matter, your home’s mechanical equipment will age a lot more gracefully if you put it through its paces now and then.

“If you tend not to use your garbage disposal, for example, running it occasionally will help prevent it from freezing up when a guest or caterer — or homebuyer — tries to turn it on someday,” says Carito.

Do the same with forgotten Jacuzzi pumps, the plumbing fixtures in a rarely used attic bathroom, and the emergency shutoffs for your water and electrical supply lines. Find the valves under your sinks, behind your showers, and on the mains in your basement, and gently turn them closed and then open them again to help ensure they will work when you really need them someday. (One caveat: If your plumbing is more than 50 years old, don’t touch the valves. Hire a plumber to check and replace them, if needed; likely cost: about $100 to $200 apiece.)

To “exercise” your circuit breakers, flip each one into the off position and then back on again. You’ll have to reset all your digital clocks, but this breaks up any corrosion on the contacts, which could otherwise prevent the safety device from doing its essential job: shutting off the power if there’s ever a dangerous overload on the wiring.

Maximize beauty and comfort

The persistent problems that can make a home feel outdated and unkempt needn’t be such a struggle. Take, for example, that relentless black mildew that forms on your shower grout.

“The bathroom vent fan isn’t powerful enough to prevent it,” says Jeff May, an indoor air quality professional in Tyngsborough, Mass. “The only way to really dry things out is to direct an oscillating fan into the open shower after the morning rush to evaporate all of the moisture.”

You can also increase fading shower pressure by removing the showerhead (gently turn it counterclockwise like a screw, using a Crescent wrench if necessary), then soaking it in white vinegar, which breaks up mineral buildup that clogs the holes over time, turning your once invigorating shower into a trickle.

And here’s a restaurant secret that will brighten your tarnished stainless-steel sink: Barkeeper’s Friend ($5 at Amazon), a specialty nonbleach cleaner, will remove water marks and stains so the sink looks new again. As with all the best maintenance jobs, no elbow grease is required.

Homebuyer demand falls in July

Tours drop 3.5%, offers dip 11%

August 13, 2013 housingwire.com

Homebuyer demand took a step down in July, with the month posting fewer home tours and less home offers,Redfin’s Real-Time Demand Pulse report found.

July tours dipped 3.5% from June, compared to the same period a year ago when tours were up 3.15%.

Additionally, offers in July fell 11% from June, while offers were flat during the same time period in 2012.