Marketplace - American Public Media

Fewer homeowners are now 'under water'

Tue, 2015-03-17 10:19

From 2009 to 2011 — after home prices had crashed in the wake of the housing crisis — more than 25 percent of American homeowners were underwater. CoreLogic now reports that as of the end of 2014, 10.7 percent of homeowners were underwater: A situation also known as negative-equity, in which a homeowner owes more on their mortgage(s) than the house is currently worth.

Percentage of U.S. homeowners who are 'underwater' and have negative-equity in their property, i.e., they owe more on their mortgage (or multiple mortgages) than the mortgaged property is currently worth.  


CoreLogic senior economist Frank Nothaft says some of the decline in negative equity in recent years is due to underwater homeowners losing their homes to foreclosure, or eliminating their mortgage through a short-sale. But he says most of the improvement has resulted from the gradual rise in home prices. Nothaft anticipates that the improvement will continue, with home prices rising 5 percent in 2015. 

CoreLogic reports that some states still have very high rates of negative equity: Nevada (24 percent), Florida (23 percent), Arizona (19 percent), Mississippi (17 percent), Illinois (16 percent), Rhode Island (16 percent), and Ohio (15 percent). Those rates have also fallen; as many as 50 to 75 percent of homeowners were underwater in some of these states during 2009-11.


The current nationwide negative-equity rate of 10.7 percent is still extremely high by historic standards, says Nothaft. “We still have about 5 million homeowners underwater, but continuing to be current on their mortgages and making their monthly payments,” he says.

Such a homeowner may not face foreclosure or bankruptcy, but they’ll find it difficult to sell — to upsize or downsize as their lifestyle or family-composition changes — or to relocate to a different region for better job opportunities or retirement.

“I think of it as freezing people in place,” says Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey School of Public Policy. Domestic migration fell dramatically during and after the recession, he says, with people’s mobility limited by “houses they couldn’t sell and fear of changing jobs.”

Now, domestic migration is picking up again. Johnson says a direct causal link to the improving job and housing market is hard to prove, but he believes that’s part of what’s driving the change.

“One of those places where we're seeing growth pick up is in amenity and retirement areas, places with lots of golf courses and things like that,” says Johnson. Florida, for instance, is again gaining population — likely driven in part by retirees selling their homes in northern climes.

Also, employers are now competing more aggressively for qualified workers, says economist John Canally at LPL Financial. So a potential employee who is locked in by negative equity might now be able to move, care of their new employer. “Companies today might be a little more willing to help someone who’s relocating,” says Canally, “to buy that person's home in Miami and help them relocate in Dallas, where four or five years ago they were not.”

Romneycare helps reform how doctors are paid

Tue, 2015-03-17 08:45

For years, Massachusetts has sat at the front lines of health reform. Before we had the Affordable Care Act, there was "Romneycare."

Now, as the Obama Administration looks to better control healthcare spending, the nation once again turns to the Bay State.

How do you spend less on healthcare? One way is to get doctors to stop doing stuff that they get paid to do right now, like order tests, and send patients to the hospital. In Massachusetts, they’re stopping thanks to an agreement between Blue Cross Blue Shield and medical providers, says Harvard’s Michael Chernew.

“It looks like a meaningful reduction in spending, roughly upwards 10 percent of spending,” he says.

The state’s largest insurer effectively gives doctors a budget and a choice: go under and share some of the savings, or go over and face a penalty. Chernew’s work suggest this could be a national model.

The challenge is making sure those incentives don’t make docs stint on care, says primary care Dr. Tim Ferris.

“That could work to undermine the trust between a patient and a doctor. Is the doctor doing everything they can to help the patient,” he says.

Still Ferris, a payment reform cheerleader, says not only can change lower spending, it can also make care more convenient for patients.



Housing market recovery is limping along

Tue, 2015-03-17 08:45

The Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development report on residential construction for February is out Tuesday.

Economists expect a moderate decline in housing starts from January, and a slight uptick in housing permits. In January, housing starts were up 18.7 percent from the previous year; permits were up 8.1 percent year-over-year.

Economist Patrick Newport at IHS Global Insight says the housing sector – both homebuilding and existing-home sales – is growing by approximately 5 percent on an annual basis at this point. To contribute meaningfully to the economic recovery, he says the sector would have to grow by at least 20 percent annually.

Instead, he says, “the market for single-family construction has hardly improved at all in the last 18 months.” Multifamily housing is doing much better, with many young people moving to hip urban centers on the coasts — like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. — and choosing to rent or buy small apartments. Luxury home-building is also doing better than the market for single-family starter- and move-up homes; people in upper wealth brackets have experienced more recovery in their assets since the recession ended than lower- and middle-income Americans.

These developments mirror the struggle of many mid-market homebuilders, and their construction workforce. Construction payrolls peaked in March 2007 at 7.7 million; the crash left only 5.4 million construction workers employed by January 2011, a 30 percent decline. Now, construction employment in the U.S. has recovered to 6.3 million—still nearly 20 percent below the peak.

Employment, hours, and earnings in the construction sector, from the national Current Employment Statistics survey.

Courtesy:Bureau of Labor Statistics

“The housing market started crashing about ten years ago, and we’re just barely a third of the way back, so we’re just improving at a snail’s pace,” says Newport.

The biggest challenge is demographic, says Daren Blomquist at RealtyTrac. “With the homeownership rate at historic lows, especially among the younger crowd, the first-time homebuyer is largely absent in this market,” he says.

Female power fuels Pinterest's value

Tue, 2015-03-17 08:43

The buying power and influence of women is fueling interest in Pinterest, the online photo-sharing site that's something of a digital scrapbook.

The company says it has raised $367 million in its latest round of funding, valuing Pinterest at $11 billion — more than double its previous valuation less than one year ago.

"Women still are some of the biggest spenders. They control a lot of the... family budget. In categories where they are not the buyer, they are also an influencer," says Carol Phillips, president of the marketing consultancy Brand Amplitude and professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame.

Pinterest has some important user stats. Women make up about 70 percent of its users. And, one-third of its users are in $100,000+ households, which is also important, says Don Stanley, who teaches digital marketing at the University of Wisconsin and is founder of 3Rhino Media.

"Pinterest is a mature network," Stanley says, "It has the deepest penetration in demographics that tend to have the higher socioeconomic statuses."

Congressman resigns over Downton Abbey faux pas

Tue, 2015-03-17 08:43

Last month, the Washington Post published a piece about a Republican congressman. 

Aaron Schock, who's 33, had outfitted his Capitol Hill office with "a gold-colored wall sconce," a "crystal chandelier," and "massive arrangements of pheasant feathers." 

All that was inspired by one of the congressman's favorite shows, "Downton Abbey." 

That article raised some questions — namely, about how he paid for that redecoration, and Schock ultimately spent $40,000 to re-pay the government.

Well this morning, Politico reported Schock "billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car," but when he sold that car, it "had ... roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer." 

This afternoon, Congressman Schock resigned.

And so, he'll have to give up something that was so important to Lord Grantham: His title. for companies

Tue, 2015-03-17 08:43

ICANN,  the organization that governs internet domain names, recently rolled out hundreds of new domain extensions. We still have ".com" and ".net," but they're joined by ".app" and ".baby," as well as foreign language extensions. 

The domains that had multiple bids went to auction or arbitration, and Google broke records by paying $25 million for ".app". Johnson & Johnson paid $3 million for ".baby" and a Chinese corporation paid $600,000 for ".信息" which is Chinese for "information."

The most controversial new domain may be ".sucks" which will be administered by a company called Vox Populi. They won the rights to administer the extension in an auction — the exact price they paid is confidential. 

Vox Populi says ".sucks" will serve as a place for consumers to publicly air grievances against companies, but the pricing scheme raised eyebrows by allowing trademarked corporations to purchase their ".sucks" domain names early for $2,500


Starbucks leaves room for a conversation about race

Tue, 2015-03-17 07:37

The number of Starbucks locations worldwide as of late 2014. Now, some of those cafes could also start serving discussion on race relations. A new company initiative has baristas writing "Race Together" on cups, and striking up a conversation about racial divides in the U.S. It's upping the ante significantly from McDonald's "Pay with Lovin'" promotion, and it's skewered thoroughly over at the Washington Post's Compost blog.


The estimated number of Americans who spend any given night homeless on the street. Oakland, California carpenter Greg Kloehn is trying to fight homelessness in his city by building tiny houses on wheels out of salvaged wood, appliance parts and other debris.

$28.5 billion

The bonus pool for securities employees in New York last year, according to a report from the city comptroller last week. That's almost twice the roughly $15 billion all American workers earning minimum wage made in 2014, according to the New York Times' Upshot.


The total amount of money remaining on former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland's contract. Borland announced Tuesday he plans on retiring from the NFL. Borland cited health concerns over concussions for leaving the league after playing professionally for one year.


The price for a pack of Gillette Fusion ProGlide razors on Amazon. That's especially startling when razor handles can be purchased more or less for a song. You've always wondered by blades are so expensive, so we looked into it for our ongoing series investigating your questions about business and the economy.

PODCAST: A cost/benefit analysis for playing in the NFL

Tue, 2015-03-17 07:35

First up: San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland surprised the sports world by announcing he'll retire from professional football at age 24, due to the risks associated with concussions. We chat with Sports Business Journal's Daniel Kaplan about Borland's decision and what it means for the game. Then, it's a short trip over to Oakland, where we talk to carpenter Greg Kloehn, who uses salvaged wood and junk to build tiny homes for people without them.

Quiz: Women at the head of the class

Tue, 2015-03-17 07:32

Most college professors are male, but that’s not the case in earlier education, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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