Pending home sales fell in January

Pending home sales have fallen.The National Association of Realtors Pending Home Sales Index dropped 2.8 percent in January, falling from a mark of 91.5 in December to 88.9 last month.

Despite the drop, pending housing sales are doing much better than they were last June (http://www NULL.marketwire NULL.com/press-release/Pending-Home-Sales-Decline-in-January-1402874 NULL.htm), when the rate was 20.6 percent lower. The pace of sales for the month of January was 5.36 million. This is slightly higher than the expected number.

"The housing market is healing with sales fluctuating at times, depending on the flow of distressed properties coming on the market," said Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

More good news for Houston real estate is that the index indicated that the South rose 1.4 percent to 97.7. The number is currently 0.4 percent below last January, but is well above the national average.

The Houston real estate market has been higher in many areas than the rest of the country, but it is still not out of the woods. Demand for Houston homes is still where it was a few years ago.

Commercial vacancy rates declining, rent rates are increasing

Commercial vacancy rates are decliningVacancies are predicted to lower in the office sector, industrial real estate, retail and multifamily rentals over the course of the next year, and rent is forecast to go up 3.4 percent this year.

The expected vacancy rate for commercial real estate in 2011 is believed to decline from 16.5 percent to 16.0 percent for the office sector; from 14.2 to 12.9 percent for industrial real estate; 13.0 percent to 12.9 percent for retail and from 5.8 percent to 4.9 percent for multifamily rentals, according to a report by the National Association of Realtors (http://www NULL.realtor NULL.org/press_room/news_releases/2011/02/commercial_rates).

This is encouraging news for potential Houston real estate investors, and the fact that rent is predicted to rise, is positive news for the next year.

"Rising apartment rent in combination with rising oil prices could push the overall inflation rate beyond a comfort level, which could then force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates later this year or early in 2012," NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said.

Houston real estate buyers will have to keep a close watch on the market, as these projections will have a big impact on decision making over the next 12 months.

Houston Realtors take home awards from 2010 recognition event

Houston Realtors do well at awardsAlong with several individual honorees, the Houston Association of Realtors took home a group prize for the most innovative real estate program of the year for their "H-Town Day" in 2010, the Texas Association of Realtors announced today.

The group's chairman, Dwight Hale, said the awards were an opportunity to celebrate real estate professionals who have contributed to the advancement of the industry in Texas.

"This event is a celebration of the past year's achievements and a chance to honor all those who have devoted their time, energy and efforts to enhancing our industry," he said.

In addition to the innovation award, three Houston Realtors were inducted into the national parent organization's Omega Tau Rho fraternity, founded to recognize excellence in the profession. They were Mario Arriaga, Danny Frank, and Chaille Ralph. Chairman Hale was also received into the fraternity, the group noted.

With numerous top-level professionals operating in the area, it's no wonder the future looks reasonably bright for the Houston property market. Several recent studies have demonstrated the potential for strong growth and recovery from the housing crash.

Report: Mortgage rates spike, causing slowdown in applications

Mortgage application rates down, interest rates upThe number of Americans applying for mortgages shrank quickly over the past week, according to statistics from the Mortgage Bankers Association, thanks in part to a sharp upturn in interest rates.

The group said its market composite index, which is a measurement of the number of mortgage applications seen, sank by 7.7 percent when compared to the previous week's figures.

Michael Fratantoni, the MBA's vice president of research and economics, said the strengthening economy may have had something to do with the increased rates and slumping volume for mortgages.

"Mortgage rates increased last week as many incoming economic indicators continue to show stronger growth than had been anticipated. Refinance volume continues to be low, as fewer homeowners with equity have any incentive to refinance. We are at the beginning of the spring buying season, but purchase volume remains weak on a seasonally adjusted basis," he said.

Other economic indicators, however, have been largely positive for the Houston area, as job growth showed signs of returning and economic stress levels continued to drop, experts say.

Mortgages rates remain steady as applications bounce back

Mortgage rates have remained low and steady.The Mortgage Bankers Association (http://www NULL.mbaa NULL.org/NewsandMedia/PressCenter/75572 NULL.htm) says mortgage rates have continued to remain historically low, while mortgage volume has picked back up following a drop the week before.

The group says that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages during the week ending January 28 had an average interest rate of 4.81 percent, up just slightly from 4.8 percent the week before.

The MBA's weekly report also showed a sharp increase in applications compared to the previous week, which was skewed by the influence of the Martin Luther King holiday. Purchase applications gained more than 9 percent while refinancing numbers increased by nearly 12 percent.

"Applications increased this week relative to the holiday week," said Michael Fratantoni, MBA's vice president of research and economics. "Looking over the past two weeks, purchase applications are flat, and refinance applications are down about five percent."

However, interest rates aren't expected to stay low forever. The MBA's recent forecast for 2011 predicted that rates would be 5.3 percent by the end of this year, which would increase the cost for people looking to buy Houston homes.

Texas home sales fall below ’09 levels

Home sales in Texas last year were below 2009 levels.Data from the Texas Association of Realtors (http://www NULL.texasrealtors NULL.com/public/MR/About/Media/News/NR2011-02-01 NULL.cfm) finds that the number of homes sold in the state last year was down from 2009.

The Texas Quarterly Housing Report finds that there were just under 203,000 homes sold in the state last year, down roughly 5 percent from the previous year. However, much as has been the case in the Houston real estate market, prices remained strong, gaining 1 percent over the same time period.

"It's clear Texas was not immune to the economic downturn in 2010 and that showed in the number of homes sold. However, it's encouraging to see that Texas real estate held its value so well during the year, which bodes well for homeowners as the recovery continues," said Dwight Hale, 2011 chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors.

The largest reason for the drop was the data from the fourth quarter of last year, which fell 18.9 percent below 2009 levels. However, analysts said the homebuyer tax credit skewed those results, increasing sales at the end of 2009, and pulling forward others into the first half of 2010.

Overall, the prices for Houston homes have remained higher than the state as a whole. According to the Houston Association of Realtors, the median home price in December was $157,500, roughly 7 percent above the $147,400 state-wide median price last year.

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