Homeownership Help

The House of Representatives passed a $400 million bill to provide help for down payments and closing costs for 80,000 lower-income home buyers. "The American Dream Downpayment Act" will offer grants averaging $5,000 to first-time home buyers whose incomes are less than 80 percent of a local area's median. The bill, which had bipartisan support, passed the House on a voice vote in autumn, and a similar bill is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by the president. The bill's sponsors estimate it could create 2,500 jobs and aid in the construction of 1,000 homes.

Condo Value Explosion

The National Association of Realtors reports that condos have appreciated faster in value than single-family homes during the past year: 15 percent versus 7.5 percent. Perhaps for that reason, condominiums are an increasingly popular investment choice, especially in cities, where they beckon to working professionals, empty-nesters, seniors, singles, students, and young families.

Single-Family Homes vs. Condos
(Median Sales Price)
Year Homes Condos
1998 $128,400 $100,600
1999 $133,300 $108,000
2000 $139,000 $111,800
2001 $147,800 $123,200
2002 $158,200 $142,200
Source: National Association of Realtors

For the Record

For the first time since the National Association of Realtors began reporting metro area home prices in 1982, home prices in all 126 metropolitan statistical areas it now surveys showed a year-over-year increase in the second quarter of 2003. Forty areas experienced double-digit annual increases in median existing home prices. David Lereah, NAR's chief economist, said that this is the most exceptional home-price survey the association has ever reported.

Del Webb Enters Reno

Del Webb, the active-adult brand of Pulte Homes, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is expanding to the Reno, Nev., market for the first time. Its new community, Sierra Canyon, will offer about 850 single-family homes and recreational amenities on nearly 300 acres of the Somersett master planned community, near downtown Reno and Lake Tahoe. Sales are expected to begin in late spring 2004, with the planned opening of six model homes during the summer.

Rent? Charge It

An increasing number of Americans are able to pay their rent by credit card. More than 1,000 properties, totaling 350,000 rental units nationwide, now accept Visa for rent payments, up 43 percent from a year ago, according to the credit card company. Many landlords prefer plastic, saying that they relieve the headaches of bounced checks and late payments. For renters, charging it may be more convenient than writing a check, and they can accrue frequent flyer miles.

Greening Brownfields

The New York State Senate recently voted 51-9 to set standards for developing abandoned properties where contaminants have barred construction. The measure includes a $135 million package in tax credits for developers of these brownfields. It also shields builders from liability as long as they comply with cleanup standards. Some of the sites may be designated for new housing. With liability removed, banks may be open to financing these developments.

Industry Movers and Shakers

Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Pulte Homes has announced three executive promotions, effective Jan. 1, 2004. Steven C. Petruska has been named the company's COO. Petruska fills a position left vacant when Richard J. Dugas assumed his current position as Pulte's president and CEO. Petruska joined the company in 1984 and has held a number of positions. Most recently, he served as area president for the Arizona and Nevada operations.

Pulte has also announced the promotion of Patrick J. Beirne to regional president of the West. Beirne has been with Pulte for 17 years, most recently serving as president of the Midwest area.

Jeffrey K. Parsigian has been promoted to regional president of the East. Parsigian has been with Pulte for 20 years, most recently serving as president of the Great Lakes region. "In promoting Steve, Patrick, and Jeff, we have strengthened the company's leadership and put in place the organizational structure for the future," said Dugas.

Technical Olympic USA (TOUSA) has made two management changes. First, Cora Wiltshire has been named the division president for the company's Virginia operations. Wiltshire joins the company after leaving Taylor Woodrow, where she served as the Florida regional president. She brings more than 26 years of experience to the company. The second management change came with the announcement that Pete Strawser will run TOUSA's mortgage operations. Strawser brings more than 10 years of experience in the mortgage business.

Personnel changes? E-mail Jill Ralph at: jralph@hanleywood.com

Up and Down

Luxury home prices are sagging in many well-to-do markets, yet are holding strong in others, according to Fidelity National Information Solutions. Defined as homes of more than 4,000 square feet, compiled from 15,000 public transactions, markets where luxury home prices have changed most significantly compared to 2002 are:

Chicago/Cook County
Market: Down 3.85 percent
Median: $800,000
Why: Turn-of-the-century homes need renovations.

Fairfield County, Conn.
Market: Down 9.71 percent
Median: $1,465,000
Why: Wall Streeters not searching for trophy homes these days.

Palm Beach County, Fla.
Market: Down 6.83 percent.
Median: $810,600
Why: Over supply of "starter" homes and condos in the $1 million to $3 million dollar range.

Cleveland/Cuyahoga County
Market: Down 9.17 percent
Market: $545,000
Why: Home prices shot up too high, too fast.

Boulder County, Colo.
Market: Up 3.24. Luxury
Median: $780,000
Why: Local high-tech lay offs; big forest fires in the area.

Los Angeles
Market: Up 18.48 percent
Median: $1,250,000
Why: Not enough buyers for old movie-star homes with 14 bedrooms in the $10-million range.

Taylor Woodrow Expands

Taylor Woodrow has established a Southwest Florida division, the third division the company has established in the state. The company plans to build approximately 200 homes in the division this year, with projected revenue of nearly $80 million, says Doug Schwartz, president of the new division. "By 2006, we are projecting the division will build 400 [or more] homes locally," said Schwartz. The company recorded revenues of more than $815 million on 808 closings in the U.S. in 2002.

Matthews and Mortgages

Matthews Brothers Homebuilders, of Cordova, Tenn., and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage recently agreed to join forces to fund mortgage loans for Matthews Brothers customers. The joint venture will be called Builders Capital Mortgage.Mark S. Matthews, president of Matthews Brothers, says he's seen some bait-and-switch tactics and unnecessarily high interest rates. "Customers need an advocate in their builder," he says. Builder magazine recently named Matthews Brothers, an $80 million residential construction company, as the 33rd fasting-growing home builder in the country.

Consumer Cam

Regal Classic Homes installed a $2,300 system to monitor the construction of a 6,000-square-foot residence near Orlando. A camera on a pole allows the buyers to check the status of their home online at any time, or supervisors to check on the work's progress. Though cameras are often installed for security purposes, Web cams may grow in popularity.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.