Just another day in NJ politics

Hat Tip Gator. From NJ101.5:

NJ Democratic boss stares down officials at corruption-case news conference

Like a boss, Democratic power broker George Norcross sat defiantly in the front row on Monday as the state Attorney General’s Office outlined a blockbuster corruption case.

Attorney General Matthew Platkin and his team said the charges were rooted in a years-long investigation involving a criminal enterprise run by the 68-year-old Norcross and at least five associates.

One of his brothers, 61-year-old Philip Norcross, of Philadelphia, and former Camden Mayor Dana Redd, now living in Sicklerville, are defendants facing counts that include first-degree racketeering, retaliation, concealing, intimidation and threatening.

The indictment says that the “Norcross enterprise” illegally sought and secured property rights along the Camden waterfront to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in state-backed tax credits.

Media coordinators for the OAG tried unsuccessfully to get George Norcross and his attorney, Michael Critchley, to move from the front row of chairs at Monday’s news conference.

Critchley then took issue with the team’s advance instruction that questions would only be fielded from members of the press.

“Turns out that powerful people don’t like being held accountable,” Platkin said at one point from the podium while outlining the case, directly in front of George Norcross.

George Norcross, for decades one of the most powerful unelected people in New Jersey government and politics, is presently a resident of Palm Beach, Florida, according to Platkin’s team.

Beyond racketeering, the defendants were also charged with counts of financial facilitation, misconduct by a corporate official, official misconduct and conspiring to commit theft by extortion, criminal coercion, financial facilitation, misconduct by a corporate official and official misconduct.

Just days earlier, criminal charges were filed against two other Norcross associates who also serve as South Jersey Transportation Commissioners.

Both men, from Sewell, were accused Friday of blocking payments to an engineering firm whose executive refused to go along with a political request from Norcross, Politico reported.

Posted in New Development, New Jersey Real Estate, Politics | 61 Comments

What’s it take to get banned by Freddie and Fannie?

From the Real Deal:

Meridian makes cuts to New Jersey office 

Meridian Capital Group has let go of brokers in its New Jersey office as the brokerage goes through a leadership shakeup and a blacklist from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The commercial brokerage laid off a number of brokers, but the company still plans to keep some of their top producers, according to a source. Meridian’s website still lists an office in Iselin, New Jersey. Meridian declined to confirm the exact number of layoffs.

“Meridian is transforming into a leaner and more efficient company that will continue to lead the CRE and multifamily brokerage space,” the company said in a statement. 

The firm is seeking to revamp its executive team after Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae halted business with the firm amid allegations that some brokers falsified financials to secure larger loans than they otherwise would have obtained. 

Meridian rose to be one of the largest brokerages for mid-size landlords in New York City. A large portion of its business came financing deals with Fannie and Freddie. In the first quarter of this year, Herzka told an audience at a real estate conference in New Jersey that Meridian closed $4 billion of new business with 99 lenders.

After news broke about Meridian’s blacklist, the company hired Brian Brooks, the former acting comptroller of the currency and worked for Fannie Mae. Brooks said he is considering measures to ensure financials sent to lenders are accurate, according to the Wall Street Journal. He is also considering mandating board approval for larger deals.

“We want our brokers to be scrappy and hungry, but we will be checking,” Brooks told the Journal. “We will cut brokers who cut corners.”

Posted in Mortgages, NYC, Risky Lending | 26 Comments

Covid claims another

From NorthJersey.com:

Coach USA bus company files for bankruptcy. How will it impact NJ riders?

Paramus-based Coach USA — one of the largest private bus companies in the country — filed to begin Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings this week.

Dan Rodriguez, vice president of public affairs for Coach USA, said the company has struggled to regain ridership since the COVID-19 pandemic, not unlike the fiscal challenges being experienced around the country by for-profit transportation companies and subsidized agencies, including NJ Transit, which is expected to have a nearly $1 billion deficit in 2026.

“For the last several months, we’ve been carefully evaluating a broadband of strategic options and what we wanted to ensure was what would best support our communities, our customers and our employees who depend on us,” Rodriguez told NorthJersey.com.

“Our number one priority continues to be to provide our customers with uninterrupted safe and affordable transportation here in New Jersey and beyond,” Rodriguez said.

Coach USA has roots in the bus industry that are over 100 years old. Today, it has 25 business segments, employs about 2,700 people and operates about 2,070 buses across the U.S. and Canada for its charter, airport shuttles and scheduled route services, including 30 private scheduled service routes in New Jersey and 35 routes in contract with NJ Transit.

Among its most known brand names is the affordable intercity bus-booking brand, Megabus.

In 2023, Coach’s total ridership was only 45% of what it was before the pandemic, according to court documents. This is well below that of the region’s transit agencies, including NJ Transit, which has recovered about 80% of ridership.

“After the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the first quarter of 2020, the company’s revenues slowly rebounded, with revenues reaching nearly 58% of pre-pandemic levels in 2022,” according to documents filed in court. “At the same time, however, operating expenses increased disproportionately, largely due to rising fuel, insurance, labor costs and other inflationary impacts on the cost base.”

Posted in Crisis, Employment, New Jersey Real Estate, NYC | 16 Comments

Another month, another record

From Redfin:

U.S. Home Prices Hit Another Record High, But Mortgage Rates Are Starting to Decline–Which Could Give Buyers Relief

The median U.S. home-sale price hit an all-time high of $394,000 during the four weeks ending June 9, up 4.4% year over year–the biggest increase in about three months. But there are signs that home-price growth could ease soon. Asking prices have leveled off, and 6.5% of home sellers are cutting their asking price, on average, the highest share since November 2022. Prices are already declining in four U.S. metros: Austin, TX, Fort Worth, TX, San Antonio, TX and Portland, OR. 

Meanwhile, the typical homebuyer’s monthly housing payment dipped to $2,829, which is $30 below April’s record high. Median housing payments have fallen slightly since April despite record sale prices because weekly average mortgage rates have declined to 6.99% .

Mortgage rates are likely to decline further over the summer, which would keep monthly housing costs from spiraling up again. Daily average mortgage rates dropped to their lowest level in three months on June 12 after the latest CPI report showed that inflation is continuing to cool. And although the Fed forecast just one interest-rate cut this year at its June 12 meeting, it’s possible the Fed wasn’t able to fully consider the fresh inflation data in time for the meeting; they may revise their projection at the next meeting. (It’s worth noting that daily rates have been volatile for the last several days; they soared after last Friday’s hot jobs report before dropping back down).  

“The latest inflation report is good for homebuyers because it has already sent mortgage rates down, though this week’s Fed meeting will temper mortgage-rate declines,” said Chen Zhao, Redfin’s economic research lead. “But on the other side of the coin, if lower mortgage rates bring back more demand than supply, that could erase the possibility that home-price growth softens, and push prices up even further. Lower rates and higher prices may ultimately cancel each other out when it comes to homebuyers’ monthly payments.”

For now, high costs are keeping some prospective homebuyers on the sidelines. Pending home sales are down 3.5% year over year, the biggest decline in over three months, and Redfin’s Homebuyer Demand Index–a measure of requests for tours and other buying services from Redfin agents–is down 18%, sitting at its lowest level since February. But there is one encouraging sign for demand: Mortgage-purchase applications are up 9% week over week. On the selling side, new listings are up 7.8% year over year, but they’re below typical springtime levels, which is why home prices keep rising despite tepid demand. 

Posted in Housing Bubble, Mortgages, National Real Estate | 42 Comments

Pays to own a home in NJ

(Until it doesn’t)

From CoreLogic:

Homeowner Equity Insights – Q1 2024

CoreLogic analysis shows U.S. homeowners with mortgages (roughly 62% of all properties*) have seen their equity increase by a total of $1.5 trillion since the first quarter of 2023, a gain of 9.6% year over year.

In the first quarter of 2024, the total number of mortgaged residential properties with negative equity decreased by 2.1%  from the fourth quarter of 2023, representing 1 million homes, or 1.8% of all mortgaged properties. On a year-over-year basis, negative equity declined by 16.1% from 1.2 million homes, or 2.1% of all mortgaged properties, from the first quarter of 2023.

Because home equity is affected by home price changes, borrowers with equity positions near (+/- 5%) the negative equity cutoff are most likely to move out of or into negative equity as prices change, respectively. Looking at the first quarter of 2024 book of mortgages, if home prices increase by 5%, 110.000 homes would regain equity; if home prices decline by 5% 153,000 would fall underwater. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast TM projects that home prices will increase by 3.7% from March 2024 to March 2025.

U.S. homeowners with a mortgage continued to see healthy annual equity gains in the opening quarter of 2024. As one of the nation’s most expensive states with perpetually high housing demand, California homeowners saw the largest equity gain in the country at $64,000, with those in the Los Angeles metro area netting $72,000 year over year. Most of the other large equity gains were concentrated in the Northeast, including New Jersey ($59,000), a state that has ranked in the top three for annual appreciation in CoreLogic’s monthly Home Price Insights report since last fall.

Posted in Economics, Mortgages, National Real Estate, New Jersey Real Estate | 85 Comments

How does this nonsense even make the news?

From the Bergen Record:

Thinking about a staycation? Avoid these 2 NJ cities and travel to these instead

We all need a getaway every once in a while, but you don’t always need to travel far to have a good time. Sometimes it’s better to just take a short trip to a nearby city for a staycation or a day trip.

But certain locations might offer more options for entertainment, relaxation and experiences than others, meaning that not every city might be an ideal destination. In fact, two North Jersey cities were named among the worst places for a staycation in the nation.

In a report released by WalletHub this week, a total of 182 cities across the country were ranked from best to worst cities for staycations in 2024. These cities — which include the 150 most populated U.S. cities, as well as at least two of the most populated cities in each state — were ranked on 42 key metrics across three factors: recreation, food and entertainment, and rest and relaxation.

Jersey City and Newark were both included in WalletHub’s ranking, and both ranked among the 20 worst cities for a staycation in the nation.

Out of the 182 U.S. cities included, Newark ranked 167th overall and received a score of 31.93. The Essex County city ranked 119th for recreation, its highest ranking out of the three factors considered in the report. And, it also ranked 132nd for food and entertainment, as well as 165th for rest and relaxation.

Posted in Humor, Where's the Beef? | 87 Comments

If you have to ask…

From Newsweek:

Map Shows States With Highest Hidden Housing Costs

The average annual cost of owning and maintaining a single-family home now exceeds $18,000, according to a new study.

Homeownership is often considered a pathway to building wealth, but the ongoing costs of maintaining a home can add up significantly. An analysis by Bankrate round that homeowning costs across the U.S. have increased 26 percent since 2020, at the same time as rising inflation, median house prices hovering around $390,000 and mortgage rates are just below seven percent.

Bankrate’s findings reveal stark differences between states, influenced by factors like home values, local taxes, and inflation.

“The price of everything, including homes and building materials has gone up over the past four years, so it’s not a surprise that we found that hidden costs have gone up, too,” the report’s co-writer Jeff Ostrowski told Newsweek. “One major factor is that home values have surged.”

The study highlights that single-family homeowners in high-cost states like California, Hawaii, and New Jersey pay more than $25,000 annually in ownership and maintenance costs. In contrast, states like Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi have the lowest costs, with annual expenses around $12,000.

New Jersey stands out for its high property taxes, which average $10,026 annually—the highest in the nation. Combined with a median home price of $502,400, resulting in $10,048 in maintenance costs, and additional expenses, New Jersey homeowners spend about $25,573 per year on hidden costs​​.

Posted in Economics, National Real Estate, New Jersey Real Estate, Property Taxes | 83 Comments

More affordable homes?

From USA Today:

High prices and mortgage rates have plagued the housing market. Now, a welcome shift

Mortgage rates are high, home prices are lofty and selection is slim.

There isn’t much to like about the housing market, except for one small positive: more affordable homes are coming onto the market, according to real estate marketplace Realtor.com.  

In May, the national median listing price inched up 0.3% to $442,500 from a year earlier, but price per square foot rose 3.8%, Realtor.com said. Since May 2019, the median listing price has jumped 37.5% while price per square foot soared 52.7%.

With huge price gains since 2019, homes don’t feel like a bargain. But Realtor.com says the big difference between the percentage changes in listing price and price per square foot indicates more affordable homes are for sale now.

“The share of inventory of smaller and more affordable homes has grown, which helps hold down the median price even as per-square-foot prices grow further,” said Realtor.com’s chief economist Danielle Hale. “Some much-welcomed news for prospective buyers.”

In May, there were 35.2% more homes for sale than a year earlier, Realtor.com said, the seventh consecutive month inventory rose, which is good news for buyers in itself, it said.  

But “a deeper dive into the mix of homes for sale shows a 46.6% increase in homes priced in the $200,000 to $350,000 range across the country year-over-year, even surpassing last month’s high of 41.0%, indicating affordable homes continue to enter the market,” it said.

Inventory growth in this price range outpaced all other price categories in every month from February through May, it said.

Posted in Economics, Housing Bubble, National Real Estate | 39 Comments

Still hot

From NorthJersey.com:

Real estate update: May marks 7th month of housing inventory growth across the nation

May marked the seventh consecutive month of housing inventory growth across the nation, signaling that the number of homes for sale may slowly be returning to normal.

“The biggest eye-catcher for me is the fact that inventory is rising sharply, said Realtor.com’s Senior Economist Ralph McLaughlin. “There are 35.2% more homes on the market than this time last year, an incredible trend in the direction of normality.”

Despite this inventory increase, the national median listing price increased by 0.3% in May compared to last month. While median listing prices have remained similar to what was seen this time last year, the median list price per square foot has increased by 3.8%. And, overall, homes have spent more time on the market in May, the second month in a row, compared to last year.

In New Jersey, 13 counties saw an increase in new home listings compared with May 2023, and 11 counties saw new home listings increase compared with April.

Passaic County was the only North Jersey county to see inventory increase from this time last year. With 332 new listings in May, Passaic County saw an increase of 9.21% from May 2023 and 9.93% from last month. And, while not an increase in inventory, Hudson and Morris counties had 480 and 544 new listings, which was about the same compared with May 2023.

Bergen County was the only North Jersey county to see inventory decreases compared with May 2023 and last month. The county had 874 new listings in May, a 2.02% decrease from May 2023 and a 2.89% decrease from last month. Then, Essex and Sussex counties had 492 and 246 new listings in May, respectively — a 3.91% and 4.65% decrease from last year.

Bergen County was the only North Jersey county to see inventory decreases compared with May 2023 and last month. The county had 874 new listings in May, a 2.02% decrease from May 2023 and a 2.89% decrease from last month. Then, Essex and Sussex counties had 492 and 246 new listings in May, respectively — a 3.91% and 4.65% decrease from last year.

In North Jersey, homes stayed on the market for the shortest period of time in Morris and Passaic counties, at 17 and 19 days, respectively. Listings are staying on the market for about 24 days in both Bergen and Essex counties, and 31 days in both Hudson and Sussex counties.

Nearly every New Jersey county had an increase in median home prices compared with May 2023, but four counties saw prices decrease from last month: Atlantic, Essex, Hunterdon and Warren.

Morris County had the highest median price increase in North Jersey at 15.35%, with a median listing price of $749,725. Bergen and Hudson counties had median listing prices of $807,500 and $675,000 — a 7.7% and 4.01% increase from May 2023, respectively — while Passaic and Sussex counties had increase of 8.58% and 1.89%, with median listing prices of $499,450 and $407,475.

Essex County was the only North Jersey county to see a slight decrease in median listing prices from April. At $580,000, Essex County had a median price increase of 8.51% from May 2023, but a .39% decrease from last month.

Posted in Demographics, Economics, Housing Bubble, National Real Estate, New Jersey Real Estate | 20 Comments

Tick tick tick

From the Daily Mail:

Home prices are falling in these 4 former boomtowns – it’s a bad omen for the rest of America

Home prices are falling in four former hotspots – as near-record housing costs push homebuyers away. 

Three of the metros where prices are falling are in Texas, according to new insights from real estate company Redfin.

The sudden drop in values comes after millions of Americans fled to the state during the Covid-19 pandemic – pushing prices through the roof. 

In Austin, home price sales have declined 2.9 percent year over year.

The so-called pandemic ‘boomtown’ has seen an influx of people in recent years – in part due to a thriving tech industry in the city. 

Home prices in San Antonio and Fort Worth have both fallen 1.2 percent, according to the data, while sale prices in PortlandOregon, are down 0.9 percent. 

Nationwide, price drops are at their highest since November 2022, according to Redfin, which suggests other areas may also see costs decline soon.

Across the US, house prices rose 4.4 percent from a year earlier to an all-time high during the four weeks ending June 2, according to Redfin. 

The median sale price during the period was $392,200. 

But there are early indicators that the national price growth could soften soon, with one in 15 home sellers cutting their asking price over the time period.

Portland, Oregon, meanwhile, saw the fourth largest year-over-year price decline, according to Redfin. 

In a reversal of growth trends, more people left Oregon that moved into the state in 2022. 

According to Redfin, the typical active listing has been on the market for 46 days – up 2.3 percent year-over-year.

This suggests home listings are growing stale faster than they were a year ago, as high mortgage rates and housing costs are causing would-be buyers to back off. 

Posted in Demographics, Economics, Employment, Housing Bubble, National Real Estate | 25 Comments

Jobs Day!

From Yahoo Finance:

May jobs report expected to show more signs of cooling labor market

The May jobs report is expected to show further signs of cooling in the labor market.

The monthly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, slated for release at 8:30 a.m. ET on Friday, is expected to show nonfarm payrolls rose by 185,000 in May while the unemployment rate remained flat at 3.9% from the previous month, according to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg. In April, the US economy added 175,000 jobs, while the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 3.9%.

Here are the key numbers Wall Street will be looking at compared to the previous month, according to data from Bloomberg:

  • Nonfarm payrolls: +185,000 vs. +175,000 previously
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9% vs. 3.9% previously
  • Average hourly earnings, month over month: +0.3% vs. +0.2% previously
  • Average hourly earnings, year over year: +3.9% vs. +3.9% previously
  • Average weekly hours worked: 34.3 vs. 34.3 previously

The report comes as the stock market has hit record highs amid a slew of softer-than-expected economic data, which increased investor confidence that the Federal Reserve could cut interest rates as of September. Entering Friday’s print, markets are pricing in a 67% chance the Fed cuts rates in September, up from a roughly 50% chance seen a week ago, per the CME FedWatch Tool.

Posted in Economics, Employment, National Real Estate | 103 Comments

First to fall

From the Daily Mail:

The cities where house prices are set to DROP – and most are in the south

The cost of real estate only continues to inch upwards in states like New York and Connecticut. However, a new report from financial analytics company CoreLogic indicates that several metro areas, mostly in the South, are likely to see a decline.

Despite skyrocketing home prices in cities like Miami and West Palm beach, two metros in the Sunshine State are expected to see a drop: the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville region and the Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach region.

In each city, CoreLogic analysists predict over a 70 percent chance of a price drop by spring 2025, classifying the risk level as ‘very high.’

This goes for other metropolitan areas as well. Just over the border, Georgia’s  Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell region is expected to see a drop, as well as the Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin metro in nearby South Carolina.

These turning tides aren’t limited to the South, either; on the opposite coast, Spokane and the greater Spokane Valley in Washington are due for a price decrease.

Nationwide, CoreLogic’s analysts expect the growth in year-over-year home prices to slow a bit into 2025.

Posted in Economics, Housing Bubble, National Real Estate | 274 Comments

Don’t leave just yet

From InsiderNJ:

Stay NJ Task Force Releases Report Recommending Changes to Simplify and Improve New Jersey’s Property Tax Relief Programs

Today, the Stay NJ Task Force released its report providing recommendations for the State to implement the new Stay NJ program while simplifying and aligning its property tax relief programs – Stay NJ, ANCHOR, and Senior Freeze – with the goal to make the application process more accessible for New Jersey taxpayers. 

The report recommends for the State to create one streamlined application that would be used to determine a taxpayer’s eligibility for all three programs simultaneously. Each program currently has its own application, though some taxpayers may be eligible for multiple programs. 

The Task Force recommends for the new streamlined application to be available no later than February 1, 2025. This expedited timeline would ensure the application is ready in time for the start of what would be the next Senior Freeze application season. This recommendation also led the Task Force to recommend that legislation is enacted at least 90 days before the application becomes available.

The recommendations also include ensuring the calendar year for benefit determination for all programs will be based on the year immediately preceding the application year – with the exception of the Senior Freeze Program for first time applicants – addressing a common source of confusion for some taxpayers, as well as aligning the way income is calculated across all three programs.

The report was approved unanimously by the six members of the Task Force, which met seven times since December 2023. 

The goal of the initial Stay NJ law is to deliver a streamlined annual property tax benefit that shall amount to 50 percent of the property tax bill on a principal residence for senior homeowners with an annual gross income under $500,000. The Task Force was charged with reviewing all of the existing property tax relief programs and presenting a report to the Governor and the Legislature with recommendations on how to achieve that goal.

Posted in Demographics, Economics, New Jersey Real Estate, Politics | 37 Comments

Pending sales post biggest drop in 3 years

From CNBC:

Pending home sales in April slump to lowest level since the start of the pandemic

Signed sales contracts on existing homes dropped 7.7% in April compared to March, the slowest pace since April 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors.

These so-called pending sales are a forward-looking indicator of closed sales one to two months later. Pending sales were 7.4% lower than in April of last year.

Sales were expected to be flat compared to March.

Since the count is based on signed contracts, it shows how buyers are reacting to mortgage rates in real time. The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage ended March at around 6.9% and then took off, hitting 7.5% by the end of April, according to Mortgage News Daily.

With home prices still climbing and supply very low, leading to increased competition, that jump in rates had a huge effect on sales.

“The impact of escalating interest rates throughout April dampened home buying, even with more inventory in the market,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR. “But the Federal Reserve’s anticipated rate cut later this year should lead to better conditions, with improved affordability and more supply.”

Sales were down in every region of the country, but they fell hardest in the Midwest and West. The former has some of the most affordable markets in the nation, and the latter has some of the most expensive.

Perhaps in reaction to the slow sales pace in April, the share of sellers cutting prices in May hit 6.4%, the highest level since 2022, according to a new report from Redfin. The median asking price also dropped for the first time in six months.

Active inventory in April was 30% higher than in April 2023, according to Realtor.com, which suggests the summer market could be more active than last year.

Posted in Economics, Housing Bubble, Mortgages, National Real Estate | 117 Comments

Until AI takes over

From the APP:

College pays off in NJ: 7th highest median earnings for graduates

If you’re graduating from a New Jersey college, you might be in great shape.

According to a new study, the Garden State ranks in the top 10 of the highest median earnings.

The study, conducted by Teach Simple, uses data from the U.S. Department of Education to analyze institutions in each state based on the median earnings of individuals who began college 10 years ago to reveal the ranking. The study also looked at average annual cost that a student who receives federal financial aid will pay to cover expenses (e.g. tuition and living expenses) to attend a school, and the average graduation rate within eight years of entering the school. 

New Jersey ranks seventh, with an average of each institution’s median earnings at $57,381. It also says the average annual cost of NJ schools is $15,473 and the graduation rate is about 50 percent.

The top five states are Massachusetts ($65,319), Rhode Island ($64,818), Connecticut ($64,720), Maryland ($60,286) and Washington, D.C. ($59,364). California came in at No. 6 ($58,675), with Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Illinois rounding out the top 10.

The five states with the lowest pay are New Mexico ($38,417), Mississippi ($39,235), Arkansas ($41,481), Kentucky ($42,000) and North Dakota ($43,000).

Posted in Demographics, Economics, Employment, New Jersey Real Estate | 119 Comments