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So You Want to Live … Where?

Phil Hall
Sep 24, 2014

Choosing a place to purchase a home is always a challenging decision, and a trio of new lists on the best markets for buyers and sellers can either expand horizons or lead to data overload, depending on your capacity for absorbing research. Of course, it would help the industry if more people were applying for home loans. According to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending Sept. 19, decreased 4.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis and five percent on an unadjusted basis from one week earlier. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 0.3 percent from one week earlier; the unadjusted Purchase Index decreased two percent compared with the previous week and was 16 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The Refinance Index decreased seven percent from the previous week, while the refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 56 percent of total applications from 57 percent the previous week.  Although the overall mortgage application environment continued to seesaw last week, a number of markets saw their desirability increase. According to the latest Zillow analysis of buyers' and sellers' markets, homeowners in the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Dallas have the most negotiating power, with final sale prices largely at or above asking. For those looking to buy a home, according to Zillow, the Northeast and Midwest offer the most favorable conditions for those in pursuit of a buyers’ market. Zillow identified the Top 10 Sellers Markets as San Jose; San Francisco; Seattle; Dallas-Fort Worth; Denver; Riverside, Calif.; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Nashville; and Sacramento. On the flip side, Zillow’s Top 10 Buyers Markets were Providence, R.I.; Cleveland; Milwaukee; Chicago; Pittsburgh; Tampa; the New York City-Northern New Jersey region; Cincinnati; and Jacksonville, Fla. “Real estate has always been local, but as we continue to put the housing recession further in the rearview mirror, the largely uniform performance of local markets is also fading,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. “We now have several different types of markets emerging, including markets that are still muddling along the bottom; markets that shot up immediately after the recession ended and are now cooling quickly; and markets that are still very hot. Each of these environments presents unique challenges and opportunities for buyers and sellers, and what works in one area won't necessarily work in another.” However, not everyone is looking to buy a home in a major metropolitan market. The latest edition of Money Magazine did its own number crunching into what it billed as “the nation's top small cities with populations between 50,000 and 300,000,” using housing data (with an emphasis on affordability) and other socio-economic measurements to determine its annual Best Places to Live list. Topping the magazine’s list was McKinney, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, which was celebrated by Money’s editors as being “a hotbed for growth-industry jobs” where “housing options range from restored Victorians to Texas-style mansions … with three-bedrooms averaging in the low $200,000s.” Rounding out Money’s Best Places to Live Top 10 are Maple Grove, Minn.; Carmel, Ind.; Castle Rock, Colo.; Kirkland, Wash.; Columbia & Ellicott City, Md.; Clarkstown, N.Y.; Ames, Iowa; Rochester Hills, Mich.; and Reston, Va. But for those that are looking for a career and a lifestyle in a global urban center, they will need a big wallet to afford the costs of an A-list metropolis lifestyle. According to latest analysis from international real estate firm Savills, London has become the world’s most expensive city for companies to locate employees—the new research found London’s real estate costs for executives rose by an annualized rate of 10.6 percent in the first six months of 2014, with the annual cost per employee at $120,568. The British capital overtook Hong Kong, which had previously topped Savills’ Live/Work Index for the past five years. New York, the only U.S. city in the Top 10, came in third, followed by Paris, Tokyo, Singapore, Moscow, Sydney, Dubai and Shanghai. “This year has seen much more modest real estate price growth in nearly all our world cities and some have shown small falls,” said Yolande Barnes, director of Savills World Research. “We expect this subdued trend to continue as investor interest and market activity shifts to second-tier cities.”
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