Asheville Mountain Real Estate Blog

Asheville, NC real estate for sale. Information for buyers, sellers and mountain homeowners, without pressure. Rich content for those who are far away about what it is like to live here through the generous use of media. And some nostalgia with our, "Baby Boomers' Fun Stuff", Thanks for stopping by.

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Location: Mars Hill, NC, United States

A small, highly personalized real estate firm specializing in mountain homes and land in greater Asheville.

Friday, March 28, 2008

February 2008 Housing Statistics

The Quick Summary
Buyers need not hurry. Builders are actively working to lower inventory and prices. Individual sellers of existing homes might be seeing the light in terms of lower prices. It is elementary that prices must fall before normalcy returns. The question is by how much.

Supply: Still Grappling With Mega Inventories
Building Permits, Starts and Completions, (PDF): Permits starts and completions, the key elements that foretell new home supply, were down 36.5%, 28.4%, and 25.8% respectively when compared with Feb, 2007. This has been the pattern for many months now.

The market needs less inventory, so The Big Picture called this "perversely good news", under the headline, "Great News! Housing Starts and Permits Plummet". Paper Economy gives its usual regional breakdown, showing that in the South, things were slightly worse on all three measures.

New Home Inventories, (PDF): Despite the big cutbacks by builders, there was no effect on the supply of new homes, which came in at a 9.8 months' supply. This is tied for the highest level in the last 12 months, and is the highest level since 1981. Many months of cutbacks from 20% to 40%, without declines in inventory is a testament to the current state of demand.

Existing Home Inventories, (PDF): Came in at a 9.6 months' supply. During 2005 supply stood at a mere 4.5 months for this sector. It's a long road back.

Measures of Demand
New Home Sales, (PDF): 29.8% less than last year, or an annual rate of 590,000 units, Money CNN informs us this is the lowest rate in 13 years. In 2006, the nation saw 1,051,000 units sold, a decline of 43.8%. The median price is 2.9% less than last year.

The Big Picture succinctly outlines how this new home sales report stacks up historically, while The Wall Street Journal outlines some of the pricing tactics builders are using to lure buyers and trim those record inventories.

Paper Economy, in its regional breakdown, shows us that no part of the nation was spared, though the South fared better this time around by a couple of percentage points.

Existing Home Sales, (PDF): Sales were 23.8% less than last February, and 29% less than 2005, while prices fell 8.2%. The Wall Street Journal indicates this is the largest decline on record. Let's see what others have to say for perspective.

The Big Picture provides context, while Paper Economy shows us that the South was a bit better off than the rest of the nation in February.

Forecast
Prices have to fall more, and buyers have time. Robert J Samuelson had a widely cited piece in The Washington Post indicating, calmly, that the current situation calls for levels as they were in around 2004. Merril-Lynch chimes in as well. Paul Krugman of The New York Times, also sees double digit price decreases as a requisite ingredient.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Baby Boomer Thursdays: Girl Groups-The Shirelles

This week's installment....

It was in the spring of 1961 that The Shirelles, a group of 19 and 20 year old females from Passaic, NJ hit the charts in big way, and firmly established the "girl group" sound America came to love in that era.

That year they would land, Will You Still Love Me Towmorrow?, Dedicated to the One I Love, and Mama Said in the Top 5 on US Pop Charts. Baby It's You and Soldier Boy came the following year. The Shirelles still perform today.

Essential Shirelles Links
The Shirelles Website

Shirelles Profile at History of Rock

Shirelles Video Performances if the one below should disappear from the web.

This Week's Video: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, written by Carole King.

2 minutes & 45 seconds
ENJOY !

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Drought in Asheville: Update March, 2008

We have written a good bit in the past year about the drought here in Western North Carolina, covering how this impacts everything from white water rafting, to fly fishing and skiing. Where are we now that the new year is 11 weeks old, and we have actually seen some region wide rains?

From Mountain Express, we learn that our region has made some gains in the department of rainfall. For 2008, we are approximately normal for rainfall, but Asheville remains around 13 inches, or 35% less than normal for the past 365 days.

Stream flows have recovered to some degree, and the bottom now looks to be almost 60% of normal, a big improvement from summertime, 2007. The Western counties have been downgraded from "extreme" to "severe" drought conditions. Hopefully, the pattern of precipitation will allow a slow return to normalcy.

The Asheville Citizen Times recently ran a story on a local real estate agent who "moonlights as a dowser". We covered dowsing in June, 2007, with several outbound links and resources in this article about buying mountain land.


Essential Drought/Water Links
Droughtscore.org: Find out how your part of the nation is doing.

North Carolina State University: Offers this page with tons of information about landscaping, gardening, native plants, and drought resistant plants, as well as this document, (PDF), on conserving water in the home.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Baby Boomer Thursdays: Motown's House Band

This will be one of the more didactic, (fancy word for teaching), baby boomer postings, but the people involved deserve it.

Every boomer knows the stars of the Motown record label, performers such as Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, and many more. But few of us know the musicians who played on all those records, largely in obscurity.

Known as The Funk Brothers, these players backed up the vast majority of Motown's artists. So many, that in the end they had played on more charted records than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys combined. No one owns a larger share of the soundtrack of our lives than The Funk Brothers.

Their story has been preserved in the 2002 award winning film, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, highly recommended. The first video clip below is from that film, where the band was reunited for a live show. The song is (Your Love is Like a) Heatwave. Originally from Martha and the Vandellas, and topped out at # 4 in 1963.

3 mins and 7 seconds, the look on the face of the late drummer Pistol Allen at 2:50 is one of many peak moments in the film.
ENJOY !


And because it is the right thing to do, here is the original version with Martha and the Vandellas.

2 mins and 48 seconds, ENJOY !

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Pent Up Supply": Will Housing Markets Contribute Another Word of the Year in 2008?

Many are aware that The American Dialect Society chose "subprime"as its word of the year for 2007. It is doubtful that the housing market will spawn another winner this year, and pent up supply is more than one word anyway. But there is reason to believe that the term could have a higher profile in the coming months.

Two Sides of the Coin
Google the phrase "pent up demand", and the roughly 430,000 search results demonstrate how firmly this term is entrenched in our lexicon. The idea was one of the main engines of the Post-WW II boom in the USA. The concept frequently permeates market talk, and is one of our oldest and best economic friends.

Google the term "pent up supply" on the other hand, and a user will see only around 2,500 results; 99% less than its more renowned and respected cousin. So where is the case to be made for this term to gain recognition?

A Possible Definition
For purposes of the housing market, one might define pent up supply along these lines:
Properties that are not current, active listings, but likely to become active at some point in the future. These may have been held back intentionally, by sellers unwilling to list in a soft market. Or, as in the case of foreclosures, properties likely to enter the supply stream by way of circumstance over intention.
Tying Up Some Threads for Pent Up Supply
In recent months, certain threads or memes have popped up in the rhetoric of real estate analysis. In more "normal" markets, their impact on supply might be discounted.

But with present conditions they will exert a greater than usual influence, perhaps making the idea of pent up supply a factor in its own right for 2008. Let's take three different looks.

1) Vacancy Rates
Vacancy rates are disseminated quarterly at this page from census.gov. As with many indexes related to housing, it too is in record unfavorable territory.

In October, 2007, Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis spelled out a very preliminary way to asses the data. In short, the number of US homes sitting vacant, minus the number that are currently listed for sale equals:
...a huge potential supply of homes that for some reason or other is, (sic), not listed yet.
Seeking Alpha has also been on the case of vacancy rates and their impact on supply. Vacancies for Q4 2007 were around 50% more than two years ago, and represented more than 2 million idle homes:
Think back to Econ 1A and 1B, when we learned about how when there is too much supply, what must happen to price in order for demand to be filled?
The obvious reply is that prices must fall. Current numbers are "the highest vacancy rate in U.S. history", and thus represent a significant source of supply from this sector for 2008.

How large? Larger than in the past, possible arithmetically up to 50% larger, seems like a reasonable first answer to that question.

The most current census document is here.

2) Foreclosures and Supply
Foreclosure in its various stages, acts as a conduit for vacancy rates and/or future active listings. It is a source of pent up supply that will see new highs in 2008 adding further softness to prices.

CNN Money shows us that the year 2007 registered 51% more homes foreclosed than in 2006. The main thrust of this new supply however took place after July, 2007. Foreclosures in Q4 2007 were the highest on record. Interest Rate Roundup pegs the latest February, 2008 report at 60% more than 12 months ago, via Realty Trac.

The Big Picture had this to say about the impact of foreclosures on supply:
The projected supply of foreclosed homes is about ~45% of existing home sales -- adding four months to the supply of existing homes. According to Dale Westhoff of Bear Stearns, this is a "fundamental shift" in the housing supply...

Looking in the near term, the pattern of mortgage resets, and thus potential foreclosures, is depicted in the chart at the right, (which is all over the web). We will not return to Spring 2007 levels until August, 2008. (Reset numbers in billions $).

3) Sellers in Waiting

This is an intuitive, and admittedly anecdotal category, less empirical than vacancies or foreclosures, but one we suspect is several times larger than in past markets. It is in our part of the world, the sellers in waiting.

We would identify a couple of sub groups here:
A) Listings that have been taken off the market, to "give it a break" so to speak until the market improves.

B) Sellers who never listed at all in a soft market, either by their own choice, or they were advised to hold off.

It seems to us that all one can really do here is play with numbers to determine if sellers in waiting is a worthy idea. If for example, 1 in every 4 agents had a seller in waiting, that would add something like 325,000 homes, or around 8% to the supply of existing homes.

What's the real number? Take your pick.

And In The End....
The market has been trying for many months now to cut supply with, declines in production of new homes, and record price decreases for both new and existing homes. Supply, and now pent up supply, are still winning that race.

On the flip side, the existence of pent up demand has been demonstrated, the real question is demand at what price before buyers return.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Foreclosures to Impact March Madness?

Just a light hearted little post for today.

From The Wall Street Journal Developments blog, we learn that some homeowners are seeing as much as a 44% increase in cable TV bills, and the culprit is the wave of foreclosures.

Specifically, the story comes from Tampa, FL, and this "odd twist to the foreclosure drama", arises with cable TV deals secured through home owners associations. As homes become vacant, HOA's need to recoup lost revenue, and cable bills rise.

Just in time for March Madness.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Pending Home Sales Index: January, 2008

The last piece of housing data released for any month is the Pending Home Sales Index, (PHSI), and the January, 2008 measurement came out last week at 19.6% less than one year ago.

The PHSI was down in every region of the US, and in the South, it declined by 23.8%. This is consistent and not that surprising when we consider the overall supply and demand data for housing which we summarized some days ago.

The obvious conclusion here is simply that the market is not reducing excessive inventories of homes and land by way of any increases in demand. The burden for that lies, as it has for many months, with sellers, and ideas about lower prices.

Comments on The PHSI From Around the Web
The Wall Street Journal

Paper Economy

The Big Picture

Builder Magazine

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Baby Boomer Thursdays: Neil Sedaka's Birthday


March 13, 2008 marks the 59th birthday of Neil Sedaka, certainly one of the most prolific songwriters in rock and roll history. Wikipedia informs us about some of his hits:
The best-known Billboard Hot 100 hits of his early career are "The Diary" (#14, 1958), "Oh! Carol" (#9, 1959), "You Mean Everything to Me" (#17, 1960), "Calendar Girl" (#4, 1960), "Little Devil" (#11, 1961) "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen" (#6, 1961), "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" (#1, 1962), and "Next Door To An Angel" (#5, 1962).
Sedaka also had a hand in best selling songs for many other artists including Connie Francis who benefited from the likes of "Stupid Cupid" (#15 in 1958), "Fallin'" (#30 in 1958), and "Where the Boys Are" (#4 in 1961).

Essential Neil Sedaka Links
Neil's Website

Sedaka Bio Capsule at History of Rock

This Week's Video Clip
Approximately 3 Mins, The 1962 Hit, "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do".
Find many more Neil Sedaka video performances here.
ENJOY !

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mars Hill, NC To Allow Beer & Wine Sales

By way of The Asheville Citizen Times, we read that beer and wine will now be available at Mars Hill restaurants and retail locations. This comes about after many years of on and off discussion. The final vote was almost 2 to 1 in favor of the proposition.

Mars Hill is the last of the three towns in Madison County to approve such a measure. The county seat of Marshall, did so in November, 2007.

In the Town of Hot Springs, such a proposal has been in effect for a number of years. Few there would disagree that it helped enhance commerce and tourism in that resort town of 600, located some 30 miles from here.

The move brought about a previously absent "night life" to downtown, spawned at least one new restaurant, and ushered in an era of consistent live entertainment at local venues.

Hopefully downtown Mars Hill and Marshall will experience a similar kind of renaissance. They surely have the ambiance that prevails in this part of the world.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

"Microclimates": Part 3 on Asheville & Mountain Weather

In Part 1 of our series, we discussed the lapse rate. Summarizing briefly, the lapse rate is the phenomenon whereby temperature decreases as our elevation above sea level increases. In Western North Carolina, a part of everyday life might include 2,000 feet or more changes in elevation.

The lapse rate is generally a decrease of 3.56 degrees F for every 1,000 feet. It is this that allows our area to have snow, and escape the summer heat.

In Part 2, we talked about orographic lift. Simply, that when an air mass rises over the mountains here, it cools, loses its ability to hold moisture, and could result in localized precipitation.

For Part 3, we will look at "microclimates". The easy definition is, an area where the climate differs from that which surrounds it. Wikipedia goes on to say:
The term may refer to areas as small as a few square feet (for example a garden bed) or as large as many square miles (for example a valley)

and later in that article, for our purposes....

Another contributory factor to microclimate is the slope or aspect of an area. South-facing slopes in the Northern Hemisphere and north-facing slopes in the Southern Hemisphere are exposed to more direct sunlight than opposite slopes and are therefore warmer for longer.
In regions where it might snow, this can easily be seen on the shady side of one's home, that place where the snow lingers for days after the rest of the yard has melted.

In the mountains of North Carolina, and thus when buying land or a home in our area, it is important to discern where the sun shines over the course of the day, BEFORE making that offer.

Let's finish with a set of resources on microclimates and landscaping your yard from About.com.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

January 2008 Housing Statistics

Each month, housing statistics dribble out over the course of a week or so. We round 'em up, in a supply and demand format, all in one place for easy reference.

The Quick Summary
The picture of rising supply, in spite of drastically falling production is too familiar by now. For many months now no region of the USA has escaped the pattern of falling sales units, falling prices, and falling production, yet rising inventory. With inventories anywhere from 50% to 60% higher than last year, it will be many more months before the basics of supply and demand reach stability.

Supply Factors
New Home Inventory, (PDF): The latest numbers show a 9.9 months' supply of new homes. This is a new high for the past 12 months and is 65% above the so-called "normal" level of 6 months' supply.

That inventories should rise is notable enough after the dramatic slowdowns in new building for the past year. However, falling demand has consistently outpaced repeated 20% to 30% declines in production so that the latest numbers represent the highest inventory levels since the dark days of 1981.

Permits, Starts. Completions, (PDF): These three indexes were down 33.1%, 27.9%, and 26.7% respectively from January, 2007. Interest Rate Roundup provides further context on building. Declines of this magnitude would be big news in any industry, but are merely repetitive for housing at this point.

Existing Home Inventories, (PDF): Expressed as "months' supply", were 53.7% higher than January, 2007, tied for the highest level in the past 12 months. Not much elaboration necessary as to what any of this means for buyers and sellers.

Demand Side Factors
New Residential Sales, (PDF): In the words of Paper Economy, new home sales for January, 2008 showed a:
...continued deterioration of the already hideous falloff in demand for new residential homes both nationally and in every region resulting in an astounding median sales price drop of 15.09%.

On a year-over-year basis new home sales are continuing to weaken, dropping a truly ugly 33.9% below the sales activity seen in January 2007 and plunging a whopping 56.67% since the peak set in July 2005.
In the South, things were slightly worse, where new home sales declined 34.8% from a year earlier.

Existing Home Sales, (PDF): This index declined 23.4% from a year ago. We like Paper Economy because they never mince words, and always provide context. The existing home sales report provides:
...confirmation that the nation’s housing markets are declining dramatically with EVERY region showing significant double digit declines to sales of BOTH single family homes and condos as well as large increases to inventory and a continued explosion in monthly supply as a result of the collapsing pace of sales.
In the South, sales for single family homes declined 22.0%, with median prices down by 5.9%.

The Forecast
Inventories on a months' supply basis continue to rise, despite big cutbacks in production and declining prices. When this severe imbalance is finally rectified, it will not occur in an instant, but will be seen coming from months away. This gives buyers no reason to act, and provides those who need to sell with some difficult decisions on price.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Asheville Sunset

Well, actually 15 miles North of Asheville.

A couple of days ago, after a day of driving wind and rain, some high pressure came in just at sunset. These photos seemed worth sharing, and were taken at around 2,500 feet elevation, in the Middle Fork area of Madison County. We thought the light was spectacular, though a bit eerie.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Baby Boomer Thursdays: The Dave Clark 5

Baby boomer Thursdays are back after a brief hiatus. It seems only fitting that this week's installment should spotlight The Dave Clark 5.

Many may already know that Mike Smith, (second from left), keyboard player and vocalist for The DC-5 passed away last week at the age of 64. He was the face and the voice of such hits as, Do You Love Me, Bits and Pieces, Glad All Over, Because, and I like It Like That.

The band chalked up 18 top 40 hits between October of 1963 and May of 1967, and Dave Clark was in fact, the drummer.

Essential DC-5 Links:
DC-5 on Wikipedia
DC-5 on Google
DC-5 Video Performances on the Web Find your favorite tune.

This Week's Video Clip
The very nice ballad "Because", which reached #3 in the USA in September of 1964. This is a 2 minute 38 second performance from Shindig! The camera zooms in on the late Mike Smith, sometime after 1:30.

ENJOY !

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Springtime in Asheville: Initial Landscaping Resources

As winter fades, like the thoughts of young men whose fancy turns to love, so it is for gardeners, whose thoughts turn to, well, seed catalogs.

For avid diggers in the dirt, the daily mail brings new delights. As companies become more Web-oriented however, the opportunity to actually see plants and flowers online is a welcome benefit.

For Novices
Spring Hill Nursery is well known nationwide and they are especially helpful for novices. There is a nice tool bar on their website for any needs from shrubs, to bulbs, hedges, trees, and vines.

For some commonly used plants around the home such as tulips, daffodils and such Brecks.com and Michigan Bulb.com have great selections and money back guarantees!

Tools of the Trade
No garden planning would be complete without a few tools or some garden and yard art; among the best and newest are found at Gardeners' Supply Company.

Heirloom and Native Plants
One of our newest finds is a company that specializes in rare seeds and heirloom plants. We had been looking for a name for a particular annual vine, and SelectSeeds.com has proven to be a valuable resource for homeowners with such needs.

We have written a few times in the past about the values of using native plants for one's mountain home, and Gardens of the Blue Ridge is a fine answer to such matters.

They specialize in plants native to the mountains, including an extensive collection of wildflowers. For additional information on gardening with native plants, the N.C. Botanical Gardens is always a good bet.

Fruit Trees and Groundcover
Looking for fruit trees? Stark Brothers or Gurneys.com have wonderful selections, and will even help you pick the right ones for your zone. They each have extensive collections of vegetable and herb seeds as well, should you ever decide to grow a Victory Garden.

Classy Ground Covers.com, a N.C. nursery, specializes in seeds and suggestions for every situation, from dry, to shady, boggy, wet, dry or steep. That covers most anything you might find in our part of the world, and beyond.

Hard to Find Plants
We have had good results with a small nursery in Washington State for some hard to find items, such as Harry Lauders’ Walking Stick. Burnt Ridge Nursery specializes in trees and plants from a climate similar to ours; enough so that their plants will (usually) grow here in the mountains.

Thanks for stopping by!