Housing Market Appears to be in Sustained Recovery

by Anirban Basu 19. July 2012
Despite Braking Economy, Housing Moves Ahead

After re-accelerating late last year and during the initial months of 2012, the pace of economic growth and job creation has slowed more recently. In June, national employment expanded by just 80,000 jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. June represented the third consecutive month during which national job creation was well below 100,000 jobs. During the first three months of the year, the nation's average monthly employment gain was 226,000 jobs. During last year's fourth quarter, the nation's output expanded at a 3 percent annualized pace, but during the first half of 2012, the nation's economy expanded at a less than 2 percent pace.

Maryland has not been immune to the slowdown. Unemployment in Maryland has increased for a third consecutive month in May (6.8%) and the state has been losing jobs. Whether Maryland's economy will continue to decelerate in unclear. Also unclear is whether or not recently observed housing market momentum can persist in the face of broader macroeconomic weakness.

A recent Wall Street Journal article simply proclaimed that the "housing market has turned." Nationally, nearly 10 percent more existing homes were sold in May than in the same month one year earlier. Builders began work on 26 percent more single-family homes in May 2012 than a year earlier and the stock of unsold newly built homes is back to 2005 levels. A recent survey of 47 forecasters found that 44 believed that the housing market has reached its bottom.

Maryland has been participating in housing's recent recovery, but there are indications that the pace of recovery has slowed. Home sales statewide increased 10.5 percent in May on a year-over-year basis. But in June, the year-over-year was just 1.7 percent, with 11 Maryland jurisdictions reporting year-over-year sales gains. Many of the observed gains in unit sales, though certainly not all, took place among core metropolitan area jurisdictions. This is likely a reflection of the influence of first-time buyers, who have been setting off cascading sales dynamics. By contrast, in counties with less dense job markets and first-time buyer influence, sales growth has been less consistent.

Price dynamics remain positive in Maryland. In June, average price was up 6.7 percent on an annual basis while median price was up 8.5 percent. Sixteen jurisdictions experienced year-over-year increases in average sales prices and 19 reported increases in median sales prices in June. Certain jurisdictions continue to experience falling home prices, however, including a number of Eastern Shore jurisdictions: Dorchester County (average price declined 55.8%; median price up 0.1%), Kent County (average price slipped 18.8%; median price fell 25.9%), Somerset County (average price dipped 9.4%; median price fell 18.9%), and Worcester County (average price slid 14.4%; median price decreased 17.2%).

Looking Ahead

Despite growing confidence among economists, there are reasons to remain nervous about the housing industry. Consumer confidence is declining again and job growth slowed dramatically during the second quarter relative to the first both nationally and in Maryland. The next several months should be months of progress, however. Pending sales in Maryland were up on a year-over-year basis in both May (+375 units) and June (+282 units). In June 2011, Maryland's supply of housing inventory stood at 7 months. A year later, inventory had declined to 5.1 months - a level consistent with rising home prices and greater urgency among prospective buyers.

 

Anirban Basu is Chairman & CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc., an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore, Maryland. Basu is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's most recognizable economists, in part because of his consulting work on behalf of numerous clients, including prominent developers, bankers, brokerage houses, energy suppliers and law firms. On behalf of government agencies and non-profit organizations, Basu has written several high-profile economic development strategies, including co-authoring Baltimore City's economic growth strategy. His opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of 1st Mariner Bank.

How to Stay Cool when Temperatures are Hot

by Wade Barnes 16. July 2012

Average Baltimore TemperaturesSummer is officially upon us, and with it comes the heat and humidity we know all too well here in Baltimore.  Staying cool when the temperatures are hot can be a costly proposition, but there are a few tips we’d like to share so you don’t have to break the bank.

 

The basics... 

º Blow hot air: By having a fan simply move the air around the house, you’ll actually feel cooler.  Running ceiling fans counter-clockwise, especially in elevated levels in the house, creates an upward draft, bringing the cool air up to help better circulate the efforts of your air conditioner.    

º 78° Rule: We’ve all heard it before - 78° is the magic number.  By keeping your thermostat set at 78°, your home will be comfortable and you won’t overwork your air conditioning unit.    

º Close blinds: By keeping the sunlight out, the rooms won’t heat as quickly and the temperature will remain more stable. 

º Don’t cool unused space: While this may seem intuitive, if you have unused space, there’s no need to keep it at 78°.  Close the air ducts in unused rooms and gain efficiency and comfort in rooms you do use. 

º  Plant trees: Planting trees to help block the summer sun will not only keep the sunlight from coming in through the windows, it will also keep the exterior of your house cool, which means heat won’t penetrate through the walls.  As an added bonus, when autumn comes around, the leaves will fall which will allow the sun to once again brighten your day and heat the house during the winter.

 

The mechanics...

º Air filter: Perhaps the simplest and most inexpensive tip is to replace your air filter every three months.  Allowing air to flow freely will reduce the energy required to run your air conditioning system.  On top of that, the air you’ll breath will be clean, crisp, and refreshing.

º HVAC service: You should have your air conditioning system maintenance performed annually.  By sealing leaks, cleaning ducts, and checking refrigerant levels you can see significant improvements in efficiency and reduction in cost.

º Programmable thermostat: While the 78° rule still applies, if you’re not home during the day or if you can stand it a bit warmer at night, using a programmable thermostat can really impact the bottom line. 

º Consistency: While programmable thermostats are good because they create only slight variations in the temperature difference, turning the air conditioning on and off repetitively is not.  When your system is on, you’re not only cooling the air, you’re cooling the walls, ceilings, floors and everything in-between.  It takes a long time to cool all things solid but once they’re cool, they help keep the air cool too. 

 

The replacement…

If you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns with regards to your air conditioning unit, it might make sense to upgrade.  By installing an Energy Star system, you may qualify for Energy Star tax credits, and you’ll most certainly decrease the cost to cool your home during the summer.  If your system breaks unexpectedly or you need help financing this upgrade, consider using the equity in your home by obtaining a home equity loan or line of credit. 

For more energy saving tips, see Spring Forward with These 5 Energy Saving Tips.

If you’ve decided to beat the heat by getting out of town, be sure read Traveling Tips: keep the costs low and the fun level high.

How I Graduated Debt-Free from College

by Andrew Schreiber 10. July 2012

Student LoansOur college years can be some of the best years of our lives, and of course we all know the educational benefits, but many of us do not think about the long term financial effects. That future bill left to be paid can be extremely alarming. According to Consumer Reports, the average debt outstanding for 2011 graduates is almost $23,000; however, we’ve all heard horror stories about people who have accrued well over $100,000 of debt by the time they’ve graduated. This is a scary amount of money. In another perspective, the next time any of us will borrow that kind of money will likely be to buy a house, which can take 30 years to repay.

As a soon-to-be graduate, one of my personal goals for college was to graduate debt-free, which I'm happy to say I am about to accomplish. Following through with this goal has put me in a better position for future financial success. Here are some tips to help avoid or minimize debt:

Look for Scholarships and Grants

Many students never attempt to apply for grant or scholarship money because they believe that they will never be chosen. Never assume that you do not fit the correct criteria or demographic to obtain a grant or scholarship. Apply to any opportunities available.

Work Through School

Working while attending school is not the most popular idea, but it will dramatically help in the long run. Working will help pay for those expenses that you would otherwise be dependent on loans to pay. Some complain they are too busy, but it's possible to find a job that is compatible with your school schedule. Many colleges offer job opportunities that have flexible hours and are on campus.

Pick a School Close to Home

Remaining at home after high school is not always the most enjoyable choice, but it will help minimize your future debt. Consider attending an undergraduate and/or graduate program that is close by so you can continue living at home. If living on your own is the only option, look for off campus living arrangements further away from school, where cheaper rent can be readily available.

Do Not Be Afraid to Go to Community College

I, like many other students, did not know what I wanted to study in college, so I transferred to a less expensive school. I completed all of my general requirements and received an Associate’s Degree before I finally transferred to a four year university. Doing this gave me time to decide what degree path I wanted to pursue without running up large amounts of debt.

If You Take Out Loans, Be Smart

Sometimes taking out loans is inevitable. If you do have to take out loans, be sure not to borrow more than you absolutely need. Do not borrow money to buy unnecessary things such as entertainment expenses or new tech toys. Also, try to acquire Federal loans because they are typically less expensive than private loans. A good rule to follow is avoid borrowing more than you reasonably expect to earn in your first full year of working.

To help manage your finances in college, check out our 1st Access Checking account, designed with students in mind.

If you found this article helpful, check out these related articles:

Debt to Income Ratio: What it is and how it helps (or hurts) your chances of getting a loan

Mom, You Want Me to Put My Money WHERE?

The Imaginary Mortgage - Fake It Til You Make It



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