Illinois could pay off up to $40,000 of your student loans to help you buy a house

House Sold
  • The Illinois SmartBuy program pays off up to $40,000 in student loans to help buyers buy a house.
  • The program also provides $5,000 to be used for a down payment or closing costs.
  • With house prices reaching record highs, the program may help increase home equity and affordability.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

If you live in Illinois and have outstanding student loans, the state could pay off some of your debt to help you buy a house.

The SmartBuy program, offered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority, helps anyone who wants to buy a home in Illinois by paying off up to $40,000 in student debt, or a loan amount equal to 15% of the home purchase price. According to the Chicago Tribune, between the start of the program in December and early April, it has paid off an average of $24,100 in student debt for each buyer, and people from outside the state have even been inclined to move there to make use of the program.

“I’m getting a lot of interest,” Chanon Slaughter, a vice president of mortgage lending at Guaranteed Rate, told the Tribune. “I am getting folks literally saying, ‘I want to move back to Chicago for this program.'”

Along with paying off student loans, the program also provides $5,000 that can be used for a down payment or closing costs.

There are a few catches, though: A buyer’s outstanding student debt must be paid in full at the time of the home purchase, and if the buyer chooses to sell the house within three years of the purchase, they must repay a portion of the student loan assistance. The other catch is that Illinois has allocated $25 million to the program, so it’s only expected to help between 600 and 1,000 homebuyers.

Here are the program’s eligibility requirements, according to its website:

  • The buyer must have at least $1,000 in student loans;
  • The buyer’s FICO “mid-score” must be 640 or higher;
  • The buyer’s income must be under or at the limits for the county where the property is located, which can be found on the IHDA mortgage website;
  • And the assistance cannot be applied retroactively – the buyer must be buying a new primary residence.

This program has the potential to tackle two simultaneous affordability crises – the $1.7 trillion pile of student debt and the skyrocketing price of the median house since the housing market reopened during the pandemic, exacerbated by a serious inventory shortage. It isn’t the only experimental economic program being offered in Illinois, either. Evanston, a city in Illinois, approved spending on March 22 for a $10 million reparations fund that compensated Black residents through $25,000 housing grants.

Insider previously reported that the average home sale price hit a record high March, and the spiking housing costs have concerned housing experts, like Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather, who said in a statement that they could be putting homeownership out of reach for too many Americans.

“That means a future in which most Americans will not have the opportunity to build wealth through home equity, which will worsen inequality in our society,” Fairweather said.

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Home prices in Seoul rose by 22% last year, the biggest increase in any major city in Asia

Seoul South korea
Home prices in Seoul increased by 22%.

  • The average home price in Seoul, South Korea, rose by 22% year over year in 2020.
  • That’s the biggest price increase of any major city in Asia, per a new report from Knight Frank.
  • Home prices in New Zealand, Turkey, and Russia also saw major increases.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Home prices in Seoul are taking off.

The South Korean city saw a 22% increase in home prices from Q4 2019 through Q4 2020, according to a new report from global wealth consultancy Knight Frank.

It’s the biggest price increase among all major cities in Asia, and it far eclipses the next-highest price change amongst cities in the region. No other Asian city tracked a greater than 10% increase in the same time period.

Seoul, a city of around 9.9 million, is trying to position itself as an alternative to Asia’s financial hubs, and many locals are finding themselves priced out of the real estate market.

The city has faced an increasingly dire affordability crisis since President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017. Despite the government announcing nearly two dozen measures to curb increases over the past three years, home prices in Seoul have risen by 50% since 2017, per a Reuters report.

Skyrocketing home prices in cities across New Zealand and Russia

Urban home prices globally increased by an average of 5.6% in 2020, Knight Frank reported. That’s up from 2019, when home prices saw a 3.2% increase.

In a press release, Victoria Garrett, head of residential, Asia-Pacific, for the firm said buyer confidence is expected to grow with vaccine rollout and addressed fears of a housing bubble.

“Governments are now starting to watch residential markets closer to minimise the risk of asset bubbles,” Garrett said.

The three biggest home price changes over the 12-month period were all recorded in Turkey, though the report notes price growth in Turkey is linked to high inflation and changes with the lira. Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul led the ranking with 30.2%, 29.4%, and 27.9% changes respectively.

New Zealand’s home prices are also taking off, with two major cities – Auckland at a 26.4% increase and Wellington at 18.4% – ranking among the top 10 cities globally. Bloomberg recently reported that the housing market in New Zealand is “brutal,” citing a dilapidated bungalow in an Auckland suburb that sold for NZ$1.81 million and a national median home price that’s 6.7 times higher than the average annual income.

Russian cities, too, made appearances in the report’s top ten rankings with St. Petersburg (25.4% increase) and Moscow (21.2% increase) at No. 5 and No. 7 respectively.

For its global residential cities index, Knight Frank tracks the movement in mainstream residential prices across 150 cities worldwide.

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There are 40% fewer homes on the market than last year, report finds

for sale sign
  • There are 40% fewer homes on the market than last year, a report by Black Knight finds.
  • Housing prices have steadily climbed through the pandemic, and supply keeps dropping.
  • Experts worry that increased housing prices are putting homeownership out of reach for many.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Housing prices have skyrocketed during the pandemic, as it seems many people bought new homes. But something else is going on, too: not enough homes are hitting the market.

A report from real estate analytics corporation Black Knight puts into perspective just how dire the situation is: housing inventory is down by 40% compared to the same time last year, with new listing volumes down 16% year-over-year in January and 21% in February, amounting to a 125,000 deficit in inventory compared to 2020 levels.

“Any hopes of 2021 bringing an influx of homes to the market and lessening pressure on prices appear to be dashed for now,” Ben Graboske, Black Knight’s data and analytics president, told real estate news site HousingWire.

Housing affordability is at its lowest point since 2019 due to the low inventory and increased housing prices, and as Insider previously reported, the increased prices are largely thanks to the low supply of lumber and high demand for houses.

The National Association of Home Builders found that the average price of a family home has increased by $24,368 since last April, mostly because of diminishing building supplies when lumber mills shut down at the beginning of the pandemic for safety reasons. After the mills began to reopen, lumber prices spiked by 200%, and in March, housing-data platform Zonda found that at least 70% of builders were intentionally raising home prices to slow demand and give them more time to acquire materials.

Also in March, a report from real-estate brokerage Redfin found the average home sale price hit an all-time record – increasing 16% year-over-year to $331,590 – and that one in three homes had sold for more than its asking price in February.

The increase in housing prices was of concern to Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather, who said in the report that it’s putting homeownership out of reach for many Americans.

“That means a future in which most Americans will not have the opportunity to build wealth through home equity, which will worsen inequality in our society,” Fairweather said.

Insider’s Taylor Borden reported on March 23 that the number of homes for sale could run out in just two months, and experts expect inventory to remain at record lows.

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What Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan means for you

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President Joe Biden speaking on an Amtrak train in February 2011.

  • President Joe Biden announced the first part of his infrastructure package on Wednesday.
  • It’s called the American Jobs Plan, and it would have wide-reaching impacts on millions of Americans.
  • Here’s how some of its provisions – like technology and transportation – could impact you.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden is willing to spend big.

Just the first part of his next sweeping economic package – focused on various types of infrastructure spending – has a price tag of $2 trillion. Taken together with the second part of the package, to be announced in coming weeks, it could result in around $4 trillion of spending.

In his Wednesday announcement of the American Jobs Plan, Biden emphasized the importance of rebuilding not just crumbling roads and bridges, but the middle class as a whole.

“Even before the crisis we’re now facing, those at the very top in America were doing very well, which is fine,” Biden said. “They were doing great. But everyone else was falling behind.”

He added: “We all will do better when we all do well. It’s time to build our economy from the bottom up and from the middle out, not the top down.”

The package certainly faces a long, rocky road before anything becomes law. But if all of its provisions get passed, here’s how the current plan could impact you.

Anyone who commutes – whether by train, bus, or car – could feel the impact of the infrastructure package

Broadly, transportation infrastructure would get a $621 billion investment. The biggest expenditures go towards modernizing roads, bridges, and highways; electric vehicles; public transit; and Amtrak.

“The American Jobs Plan will build new rail corridors and transit lines, easing congestion, cutting pollution, slashing commute times, and opening up investment in communities that can be connected to the cities, and cities to the outskirts, where a lot of jobs are these days,” Biden said. “It’ll reduce the bottlenecks of commerce at our ports and our airports.”

Electric-vehicle ports would see heavy investments, and Americans would have beefed-up incentives for buying clean-energy cars. They’ll be able to drive them on 20,000 modernized miles of roads and highways, or hop on a revamped Amtrak route.

“Imagine what we can do, what’s within our reach, when we modernize those highways,” Biden said. “You and your family could travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas onboard a high-speed train. “

Students of color and researchers would get more funding

Biden would allocate $180 billion to research and development. That includes yet more funding for climate causes, with $35 billion for climate research and development alone. It’s part of his efforts to reverse a long trend of declining federal money going to R&D.

“Decades ago, the United States government used to spend 2% of its GDP – its gross domestic product – on research and development,” Biden said. “Today, we spend less than 1%. I think it’s seven-tenths of 1%.”

Notably, the plan has special carve-outs targeted at students of color. Half of the $40 billion allocated for upgrading research infrastructure would go to Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), as well as Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). HBCUs and MSIs would also get $10 billion – and an additional $15 billion for creating over 200 centers at them to serve as research incubators.

“The American Jobs Plan is the biggest increase in our federal non-defense research and development spending on record,” Biden said.

Workers, especially in the care industries, would get new benefits (like childcare at work)

Care workers and the people who rely on them stand to see big infusions of cash. The package would direct $400 billion towards home and community care for the elderly and disabled, expanding both access to services and benefits for workers in the space.

“For too long, caregivers – who are disproportionately women, and women of color, and immigrants – have been unseen, underpaid, and undervalued,” Biden said.

Childcare facilities would get $25 billion for upgrades; there would also be a tax credit incentivizing employers to build childcare facilities.

Biden is also calling for an end to sub-minimum wage provisions, where employers can pay disabled workers less than the federal minimum wage.

Unions were also a big topic throughout his speech, with Biden self-identifying as a “union guy.” He called for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

“Unions built the middle class,” Biden said. “It’s about time they start to get a piece of the action.”

Everyone would get access to (affordable) broadband Internet

Technology overhauls worth more than $300 billion could mean more affordable and equitable internet access across the country.

Biden proposed a $100 billion investment in broadband to ensure it reaches 100% coverage across the country while promoting price transparency.

In his speech on Wednesday, Biden said that more than 35% of rural Americans lack access to high-speed Internet, and the disparity has only worsened during the pandemic. His infrastructure plan would help with that.

“When I say ‘affordable,’ I mean it,” Biden said. “Americans pay too much for Internet service. We’re going to drive down the price for families who have service now, and make it easier for families who don’t have affordable service to be able to get it now.”

Small businesses and out-of-work Americans would benefit from new programs

On top of the aid for small businesses and American manufacturers in the stimulus package, Biden wants to invest $400 billion to strengthen and protect American businesses. The infrastructure bill builds on the president’s “buy American” executive order in January and would encourage and promote domestic production of goods.

“Not a contract will go out, that I control, that will not go to a company that is an American company with American products, all the way down the line, and American workers,” Biden said.

Workers can also expect to see investments in job creation and job training efforts, and workforce protections would be strengthened, as well, including efforts to prevent workplace discrimination and supporting the right to unionize.

More affordable housing would get built

The housing sector can expect massive improvements from Biden’s $300 billion investment to revamp homes, schools, and federal buildings across the country. 500,000 homes would be built and rehabilitated for low- and middle-income homebuyers, and jobs would be created to build 1 million affordable and accessible housing options.

“We’ll build, upgrade, and weatherize affordable, energy-efficient housing and commercial buildings for millions of Americans,” Biden said.

Along with building affordable housing, Biden’s plan would update community college infrastructure and invest $28 billion to modernize Veterans Affairs clinics and hospitals and promote more sustainable federal buildings.

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Inside a real-life $2.8 million ‘Flintstones’ home in California

  • The Flintstone House is an eccentric house in Hillsborough, California.
  • It was designed in 1976 by William Nicholson and most recently purchased by Florence Fang in 2017 for $2.8 million.
  • Large dinosaur statues and other Flintstone-themed artwork cover the front and back yards.
  • Town officials from Hillsborough sued Florence Fang, stating that her property doesn’t comply with the community’s code.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This is the Flintstone House. If you’re ever driving down Berryessa Way in Hillsborough, California, you can’t miss it. The house stands out among its neighbors with its smooth purple-and-orange domes, not to mention the huge dinosaur sculptures in the yard. When William Nicholson designed the house in 1976, he didn’t have “The Flintstones” in mind. That designation came later.

William Nicholson: When it first was nicknamed the Flintstone House, I was really taken aback because, I mean, this was my baby, this was my creation, and, you know, you had a pride of authorship come in there.

Narrator: Nicholson was actually inspired by the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. He had visited the mosque, and the interior domed ceiling made him want to design a home from the inside out. So even though the house gets a lot of attention for its funky exterior, the inside is also a sight to behold.

Colorful stained-glass windows are built into the walls. Round built-in shelves line the walls of the kitchen along with fun details like these swirling designs in the ceiling. Inside the tallest orange dome is a sitting area called the conversation pit. An orange upholstered couch curves around the front of the fireplace, and a big window looks out onto a succulent garden and patio.

The house has three bedrooms and two baths. One of the bathrooms has a stone bathtub and shower. Upstairs is the smallest bedroom that could also be used as a painting studio or just a lounge space. The house is filled with artwork and sculptures added by the owner, Florence Fang.

Florence Fang: Everything to me is a piece of art. Even the light is a piece of art. And all the windows, and the shape.

Narrator: Fang bought the house for $2.8 million in 2017. She says she’s loved the house since the first time she came inside. The conversation pit is her favorite part.

Fang: Every time I walk in this room, and there’s a high ceiling, and you’re sitting here, you just feel like yourself, kind of small. And you feel like so peaceful, but when you’re looking outside, and you see the cars on the bridge, and then suddenly you realize you still belong to the world, still belong to the community. That’s a very nice feeling.

Narrator: The house was already painted orange and purple when Fang bought it, but she took the “Flintstones” theme to a whole new level. Along with “Flintstones” sculptures, colorful mushrooms dot the yard. Aliens, dinosaurs, and other funky objects cover the property. But not everyone appreciates the eccentric decorations.

Town officials in Hillsborough filed a lawsuit against Fang, calling the house an eyesore that doesn’t comply with the community standards. But Fang is defending her vision. She says her house represents the idea of the American dream with all different kinds of creatures living together in harmony. And Nicholson agrees.

Nicholson: Why shouldn’t the house be fun? Why shouldn’t environments that we do be fun? Why shouldn’t architecture that we do be fun? This is fantastic, and this is what Florence has caused to happen.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in April 2019.

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The US housing-inventory crisis is starting to bite existing home sales, which fell the most since August last month

FILE PHOTO: Homes are seen for sale in the northwest area of Portland, Oregon March 20, 2014.  REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Homes are seen for sale in the northwest area of Portland.

  • Existing home sales fell 6.6% in February to the slowest rate since August, according to NAR data.
  • Inventory held at a record-low 1.03 million, underscoring the market’s supply-demand imbalance.
  • The median selling price crept higher to $313,000 to tie the record high seen in October.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sales of previously owned homes in the US declined more than expected in February as the housing market’s supply shortage further curbed the recent buying spree.

Existing home sales fell 6.6% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.22 million, according to data published by the National Association of Realtors. The reading is the first decline since November and drags the pace of sales to its lowest since August. Still, sales are up 9.1% from the year-ago level.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a more modest drop to a 6.49 million sales rate.

The median existing-home price crept higher to $313,000, marking 108 consecutive months of year-over-year gains. The new level ties October’s record high and sits 15.8% above the year-ago level.

Home inventory remained at a record-low 1.03 million units at the end of last month. Unsold units now count for two months of sales at their current rate, up slightly from January’s 1.9 month supply.

Supply was down 29.5% year-over-year at the end of February, underscoring the shortage that’s contributed to higher prices and a now-slowing pace of sales. Home purchases first boomed at the start of the pandemic as record-low interest rates pulled borrowing costs lower. Mortgage rates set several record lows in 2020 and further boosted buying activity.

Supply strains have since lifted prices even higher, and mortgage rates are now reversing their months-long decline. Lumber shortages have also pressured costs, with the National Association of Home Builders saying last month that rising material costs are adding $24,000 to the price of new homes.

These obstacles will likely curb the market’s rally as the economy reopens, Nancy Vanden Houten, lead US economist at Oxford Economics, said.

“We look for the pace of existing-home sales to drift lower over the course of the year as headwinds from a lack of supply and eroding affordability are partially offset by the tailwinds of still-strong demand, particularly from younger households and a solid recovery,” she added.

The National Association of Realtors is more bullish toward the strained market. While affordability is weakening, strong savings and a boost from Democrats’ latest relief package should keep demand elevated through 2021, Lawrence Yun, chief economist at NAR, said.

“Various stimulus packages are expected and they will indeed help, but an increase in inventory is the best way to address surging home costs,” he added.

Contractors are struggling to rise to the occasion. Building starts for new privately owned residences fell 10.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.42 million in February, according to the Census Bureau. That’s the lowest level since August and marks a second straight month of decline.

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Homeowners in richer neighborhoods are being taxed at roughly half the rate of homeowners in lower-income neighborhoods

Home for sale
  • A study found houses in lower-income neighborhoods in the US are taxed more than those in rich ones.
  • In Chicago, more costly homes were effectively taxed at around 1.5% while cheaper homes were taxed at around 4%.
  • In largely Black neighborhoods, homeowners are taxed around 50% more than in nearby neighborhoods.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A new study found that if you own a house in a lower-income neighborhood in the US, you’re typically being effectively taxed around twice as much as a homeowner in a wealthier nearby neighborhood.

The study, conducted by researcher Christopher Berry and The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and first reported by The Washington Post, analyzed a trove of data from the tax and deed database company Corelogic. Berry studied the records from “individual property sales, including addresses, sale prices, and assessed values” from 2006 through 2016. The data covered 2,600 counties that contain 99% of the US population, according to the study.

While the property tax rate you pay as a homeowner should be the same in principle as others in your county, regardless of the sale price of your home, the research concluded that in reality this is not the case.

In Chicago, for example, the study found that the most expensive homes in Chicago, those priced at more than $500,000, were taxed at an effective rate of around 1.5% or less, while those sold for less than $100,000 saw and effective tax rate of around 4%. Similar discrepancies were noted in cities including Detroit, New York, and New Orleans.

“This pattern jumps out from the data, so it didn’t take me long to see once I had the data,” Berry told Insider. “I think the issue is that not many people are looking at these data.”

“Even experts on the property tax often overlook the issue of assessment quality,” Berry added. “Meanwhile, assessors, who really should be looking at these issues, have developed a set of standards and practices that tend to sweep the problem under the rug.”

tax_regressivity_chicago

So, how does a city go about setting the property tax anyway?

“The property tax is, in principle, an ad valorem tax, meaning a tax proportional to the property’s value,” Berry explained in his research. “Unlike a sales tax or a value-added tax, the property tax is not levied at the time of a transaction, but at regular intervals, usually annually.”

“Because most properties sell infrequently, their value in any given tax cycle must be estimated, a job that falls to the office of the local assessor,” Berry added. “The accuracy and fairness of the property tax depends fundamentally on the accuracy and fairness of the valuations estimated by assessors.”

While homeowners can appeal the city’s assessment of their house, the study notes that appeals are disproportionately pursued by those who own expensive property, which could contribute further to the problem.

“Since no way of measuring regressivity is perfect, they have essentially thrown up their hands and said, maybe it’s just measurement error,” Berry told Insider. “But the truth is that the magnitude of regressivity is much too big to be the result of measurement error.”

Berry found that in predominantly Black neighborhoods, homeowners faced an effective property tax around 50% higher than homeowners in nearby neighborhoods located within the same county.

Accurate and fair tax assessments are vital to buyers who are trying to build wealth.

“This is an example of structural racism,” Berry told The Washington Post. “African Americans and other minorities are more likely to own low-priced homes. This means that minorities are more likely to be overtaxed because they are more likely to own low-priced homes.”

The national homeownership rate for Black families in the US is 44% while for white families it is 73.7%, Insider reported, which contributes to a gap in the accumulation of wealth from owning a home for Black families living in America.

A study published in October from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that Black Americans pay $390 more in property taxes annually than white Americans, on average. Factoring in higher mortgage-interest payments and insurance premiums, Black Americans on average pay $13,464 more than white Americans across the duration of their home loans, according to MIT.

According to Berry, giving taxpayers transparency is one way to see equal tax assessments for all homeowners.

There are three main opportunities to increase equity in assessments, according to Berry.

  • Increased transparency: “Assessors should be more transparent about the quality of assessments and the existence of widespread regressivity,” Berry said. “You can’t fix a problem if you’re not willing to acknowledge that it exists. This is basically where we are right now. Higher level governments, particularly state governments, could do more to force assessors to be transparent and accountable.”
  • Better data and better statistical models: “Better data could come from more efforts at keeping updated information about properties and better coordination between assessors are other offices that have relevant information, such as building permits,” Berry said.
  • Additional sources of relief for owners of low-priced properties: These are the people “most likely to be overassessed,” Berry said. “For instance, exemptions could be more generous. In Detroit, owners who have income below the federal poverty rate are exempted from property taxes.”

Even with these improvements Berry still believes that there will always be some amount of regressivity in assessments.

“The root, irresolvable problem is that there will always be features of properties that buyers and sellers can see but assessors can’t. This will lead to regressivity for reasons explained in the paper. Even the best assessor isn’t going to be able to fix these problems when important property features are not in the data.”

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A California couple bought a home over a year ago, but because of a legal loophole the previous owner refuses to leave

for sale sign
  • A couple bought a home for half a million dollars in California in 2020, but haven’t moved in.
  • The seller refuses to leave the property, though its been over a year.
  • The couple’s real estate agent says the seller is taking advantage of the state’s eviction moratorium.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A couple bought a home in Riverside, California, in January 2020, but over a year later they haven’t been able to move in because the seller refuses to leave, Fox 11 LA reported.

Tracie and Myles Albert bought the four-bedroom home in cash for the asking price of $560,000, real estate agent Chris Taylor told Fox 11. After the sale went through, though, the seller refused to turn over the keys or leave the home, the agent said.

“It’s genuinely unfathomable to me that we live in a state where something like this is even possible. They closed escrow on this home January 31, 2020,” Taylor told the news station. The couple closed on the house weeks before state-mandated lockdowns and other measures — including a moratorium on evictions — were enacted to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Meantime, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill extending the state’s eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. The couple and real estate agent say that they’ve tried to get the seller evicted, but authorities say their hands are tied.

“They have this case under a COVID tenant situation, of no evictions when it doesn’t fall under that at all. This transaction went through in January 2020 before any of that, it isn’t a renter who was getting thrown out. It’s the guy who collected all of this money,” Myles Albert said in a statement.

The previous owner who is allegedly still living in the house did not come to the door when a Fox 11 reporter sought comment.

“This year alone, we’ve handled at least 7 maybe 8 cases of this exact type of situation” eviction attorney Dennis Block said.

California is notorious for a housing shortage, and the pandemic has only exacerbated things.

Evictions have been paused in many parts of the country, but some moratoriums have already expired. In some cases, they are insufficient to protect the people they’re intended for. CBS 8 has reported on cases in California bound by the same laws as Riverside where landlords are finding loopholes to evict renters.

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US mortgage rates hit a 9-month high – and they’ve been climbing since January as inflation fears rise

Model homes and for sale signs line the streets as construction continues at a housing plan in Zelienople, Pa., Wednesday, March 18, 2020.  U.S. new home sales fell 4.4% in February with bigger declines expected in coming months as the coronavirus puts a major crimp on home sales. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Model homes and for sale signs line the streets as construction continues at a housing plan in Zelienople, Pa., Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

  • The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose to 3.09% this week, its highest level since June.
  • Rates have been rising since January as markets gird for economic reopening and stronger inflation.
  • Still, demand for homes is handily outstripping supply as new construction fails to accelerate.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Mortgage rates continue to climb in the US as concerns of rising inflation counter past months’ historically low borrowing costs.

The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose to 3.09% this week, according to data from Freddie Mac. That’s the highest level since late June and compares to a reading of 3.05% one week prior. Still, the 30-year rate average sits well below its year-ago level of 3.65%.

The average 15-year fixed mortgage rate rose to 2.4% from 2.38% last week to hit, hitting its highest point since September.

Mortgage rates have steadily risen since January as investors position for stronger inflation as the economy rebounds. Treasury yields underpin a wide range of borrowing rates including those for home loans, and the recent sell-off in government bonds placed upward pressure on mortgage rates. The 10-year yield rose to a 14-month high following the Federal Reserve’s March policy meeting on Wednesday, signaling rates will trend higher in the coming weeks.

The trend hasn’t yet pushed potential buyers out of the market, Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac, said in a statement. While the 30-year average rate now sits well above its January floor of 2.65%, borrowing costs are still relatively low. Robust demand for new homes also signals the housing market boom has plenty of staying power, the economists said.

“Residential construction has declined for two consecutive months and given the very low inventory environment, competition among potential homebuyers is a challenging reality, especially for first-time homebuyers,” Khater added.

More barriers than just higher mortgage rates

The housing market was one of the few pockets of the economy to see activity surge through the pandemic. The Federal Reserve’s decision to cut interest rates to record lows one year ago dragged mortgage rates to historically low levels and spurred fresh demand.

But while interest rates remain near zero, mortgage rates have been more closely tracking Treasury yields. The near-zero rates that sparked the housing boom are no longer its primary driver.

New hurdles have emerged from the strained relationship between buyers and builders. Home prices shot higher as demand handily outstripped supply. And though rates have risen through the spring, contractors are still unable to keep up with the market.

That supply-demand imbalance is now forcing potential homebuyers to pay above listing prices just to secure a purchase. The sale-to-list price ratio tracked by Redfin rose to 100.1% for the week that ended March 7, its highest level since data collection began in 2016. The firm also found median sales prices for newly listed homes reached a record high and that new listings were down 17% year-over-year.

Even pricier materials are contributing to soaring home costs. The National Association of Homebuilders said last month that factory shutdowns last March slammed lumber supply chains and led to a spike in the commodity’s price. Elevated lumber costs now add roughly $24,000 to the price of a new home, NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke told HousingWire.

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Surging lumber costs have increased the average cost of a new house by $24,000

lumber and building materials store
  • Lumber prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic began, adding $24,000 to the price of new homes.
  • Demand for materials soared during the pandemic as supply tightened with factories idle.
  • The National Association of Home Builders chair said vaccine rollout should help bring costs down.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

While the pandemic hit the US, everyone seemed to want their own house. With mortgage rates at record lows and no need to commute to work in cities for at least 2020, prices soared everywhere. But they’re also soaring because there isn’t enough wood out there: lumber, to be exact.

Now it’s clear how much the lumber shortage is adding to the skyrocketing price of new homes: a whopping $24,000.

That stat is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), which found the price of an average family home increased by $24,386 since April, with the market value of a multifamily home increasing by $8,998 over the same time period.

A report from the NAHB in February said the lumber supply chain impact came as factories shut down almost immediately last March for safety reasons, and then as demand spiked, supply couldn’t keep up. Lumber prices have jumped by almost 200% since April 2020.

“The elevated price of lumber is adding approximately $24,000 to the price of a new home,” NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke told real estate news site HousingWire. “Though builders continue to see strong buyer traffic, recent increases for material costs and delivery times, particularly for softwood lumber, have depressed builder sentiment this month. Policymakers must address building material supply chain issues to help the economy sustain solid growth in 2021.”

Zillow’s Producer Price Index found that February’s 2.8% annual increase in sales was the strongest it had been since October 2018, meaning that while more houses are being sold, supply for building materials, like lumber, remain low and costly.

On March 12, the NAHB, along with more than 35 other housing organizations, wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo asking her to examine the lumber supply chain and look into solutions for the high costs.

“Housing and construction can do their parts to create jobs, boost the economy to its pre-pandemic strength, and provide safe and affordable housing for all Americans, but in order to do so the federal government needs to address skyrocketing lumber prices and chronic shortages,” the letter said.

Building 1,000 average single-family homes creates 2,900 full-time jobs and generates $110.96 million in taxes and fees, the letter said, emphasizing the economic benefits the government would reap in finding solutions to the expensive building materials.

Fowke told HousingWire that the continued rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will help decrease the costs of lumber since more mills will be able to safely reopen, and with more homes being built, home builder confidence should rise. (Homebuilder confidence fell by two points in March.)

The timeline on when material prices will decline is yet to be determined, but prices might start to come down with President Joe Biden on Monday promising 100 million COVID-19 shots in the next 10 days.

“Shots in arms and money in pockets – that’s important,” Biden said.

Read the original article on Business Insider