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Homes Selling as Fast as They Did During Housing Boom

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Strong demand and still limited supply mean homes are now selling nearly three times as fast as they normally would. The average number of days a listing stayed on the market in April was 46, down from 62 in March and down from the normal pace of 90-120 days, according to the National Association of Realtors.

“I have a seller, his house came on, he got a full-price offer, and he refused to take it because he wanted multiples. Really?” asked Jane Fairweather, a real estate agent in Montgomery County Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Fairweather said homes in her market are selling in an average of 23 days because inventories are way down and demand is strong. The number of listings in Montgomery County were down 41 percent in April from 2011. In April of 2011, one third of the listings went under contract. In April of this year, 67 percent went under contract.

home sold sticker on for sale sign in front yard”I don’t think it’s a boom we have to worry about because this is all about low interest rates and low inventory,” noted Fairweather. “This is not about easy money. The standards for borrowing are still very tight.”

The sales pace is back to what it was during the housing boom in 2005 and 2006, but the circumstances are of course very different. Back then it was all about easy money, and now it’s about stiff competition for limited supply. “We need to see home builders increase production,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR, in a press conference. “We need a 50 percent increase in starts.”

Home builders are actually slowing production, trying to take advantage of home price gains that are nearing double digits. High-end home builder Toll Brothers, based in Horsham, Pa., reported that it raised prices by $26,000 on average, or about 5 percent, during the second quarter. The average price of a contract signed in the quarter was up sixteen percent from a year ago.

While homes are certainly selling faster, double-digit price gains are not considered healthy, especially when wage growth is nowhere near that. At some point buyers will hit the wall, unable to afford the homes they want. First-time homebuyers are already dropping out of the market, representing just 29 percent of homebuyers in April, according to the NAR. That’s the lowest in two years. Rising mortgage rates, now at their highest in two months, are playing a part, but there are also fewer low-end homes to buy. The number of homes in the foreclosure process is now down nearly 25 percent from a year ago, according to a new report from Lender Processing Services.

Just 18 percent of home sales in April were of distressed properties, the lowest since the Realtors began tracking this number in 2008. Compare that to 35 percent about a year and a half ago. Sales of homes priced below $100,000 were down 10 percent in April compared to a year ago, while every other price range saw sales gains. Those who can get credit are now competing for what little there is to buy, and pushing prices well beyond expectations. “I don’t see it lasting,” added Fairweather. “I think the minute they increase interest rates, you’ll see people pull back.”

Re-imagining the landmark Silver Lake Reservoir

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February 15, 2014, 10:39 a.m.

In one of his earliest boyhood memories, Dion Neutra walked out the front door of his family’s Silver Lake home and down to the water’s edge. It was the early 1930s, and the wall around Silver Lake Reservoir was so low that he could fling a fishing line above it and into the water.

But over the next eight decades, the architect — who trained under his father, Richard Neutra, a master of Modernism who lived and worked out of Silver Lake — watched as the water he loved began to change. It was drained several times and its shoreline pushed back. At one point a barbed wire-topped fence went up, and it seemed more off-limits than ever.

This fortress-like treatment was a necessity. It protected the drinking water stored in Silver Lake — and in the smaller, adjacent Ivanhoe Reservoir — from contamination. But an upcoming Los Angeles Department of Water and Power project will disconnect the reservoirs from the city’s drinking water system as part of a federal mandate to phase out open-air reservoirs. It opens up the possibility of transforming the space near the water into something more recreational.

And the prospect of re-imagining an L.A. landmark has sparked a rush of ideas and enthusiasm — from neighborhood newcomers to lifelong residents like Neutra.

Now, people are pitching and debating ideas of how to get the area freed up and transformed into something more park-like. There’s the Silver Lake Plunge plan, which would transform the smaller reservoir into a swimming area. An early rendering of the beach-meets-pool mash-up shows a sandy shore dotted with sunbathers and umbrellas and a lake partly delineated with lanes for swimming laps.

Another plan conceived by the Silver Lake Reservoirs Conservancy would transform the dam between Ivanhoe and Silver Lake into an esplanade. The design for the project — which conservancy president Craig Collins described as visionary but very preliminary — shows kids playing on a bench and a man jogging along a walkway with views of the water to both sides. Charles Herman-Wurmfeld of the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council wrote his own manifesto, in which he imagines an opened-up area where people can get into the water and asks people with other ideas to email him with “Dreaming about a new park” in the subject line.

Even Neutra, 87, has launched a petition on, where he asks people to help spread the word about his plan to build a boardwalk and truck in dirt to make the amount of water the reservoirs hold more sustainable.

“I have a lot of hope that this will all work out well,” he said. “I hope I live to see it.”

All these ideas have generated a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Some longtime residents are wary of the fenced-in lake turning into a full-fledged recreation area, with traffic, noise and crowds.

At a Neighborhood Council meeting in Silver Lake on Monday evening, presenters from Silver Lake Plunge and the conservancy shared their plans to a combination of applause and frustrated sighs. As Catherine Geanuracos presented her idea, which some people have nicknamed “The Hipster Beach,” a woman in the third row mumbled about how young people probably love the idea. A few minutes later, when a board member from the conservancy shared community-suggested ideas for the reservoirs’ future — adding a boardwalk or an amphitheater for events — the same woman let out a series of loud scoffs and muttered: “Oh, come on!”

During a question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting, Lyle Henry — who has lived in a home near the reservoir for 25 years — raised his hand and said he’s concerned about any changes that could cause more congestion. Several people clapped, a woman shouted “That’s right!,” and a couple of others chimed in with “amens.”

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents some of the area around the reservoirs, said that although he understands the concerns, he thinks locals need to open up to the idea of them becoming more of a regional destination.

“When you create a beautiful area, you can’t seal it off,” he said. “That’s something people psychologically need to get used to.”

Once its 18-month, $27-million project is complete, the DWP will have drained Silver Lake and replaced a bypass pipe underneath it. The work, slated to begin early next year, includes draining Ivanhoe and removing the black rubber balls put in place a few years ago to prevent a sunlight-triggered reaction that created a carcinogen in the water. The lost storage space will be replaced by a new underground reservoir near Griffith Park called the Headworks Reservoir.

Susan Rowghani, the Department of Water and Power’s director of engineering for water systems, said that although the agency is committed to refilling both reservoirs, it is meeting with different groups about the area’s future. She said it’s possible that it could eventually lease the land around the reservoirs to the Department of Recreation and Parks. But the DWP will retain jurisdiction of the reservoirs, she said, because there will still be functioning dams on site.

Though O’Farrell said he thinks it’s unlikely that any other projects will be piggybacked onto the DWP project, he’s in discussions with the agency to open up part of the reservoir during construction so people can get a peek at what’s happening. He hopes that by watching the changes, people will get excited — and creative — about the future of the already popular area.

Every evening people drive in from nearby neighborhoods to use the 2.2-mile jogging path around the reservoir. On weekends, people from all over L.A. swarm to the meadow, the grassy area east of the water. Last year, when a national magazine called Silver Lake the country’s second-best big-city neighborhood, it listed the reservoir as one of the area’s main perks.

The infatuation isn’t new. In 1907, shortly before Silver Lake got its first fill-up, The Times, in a story headlined “STUPENDOUS,” predicted it would become the city’s finest body of water and “a favorite resort for pleasure seekers.”

Since then, the area has undergone a steady stream of changes. In the 1950s, Silver Lake’s earthen banks got a concrete cover, and an eastern sliver that jutted up against Silver Lake Boulevard was filled in because it didn’t get enough circulation and often stagnated. A couple of decades later, it was shut down again for a multimillion-dollar makeover after an inspection in the wake of the 1971 Sylmar earthquake found it didn’t meet safety standards.

Then, in 2008, both reservoirs were drained because of bromate contamination and hundreds of thousands of black balls were poured into Ivanhoe to prevent the carcinogen from forming again. So when news of the upcoming drain-and-refill surfaced, neighbors let out a collective grumble. But then ideas started to percolate, and now they’re starting to spread.

PHOTOS: Silver Lake Reservoir

When Geanuracos showed up at the meadow on a recent Saturday — only a few weeks after she announced her project at her birthday party — she wore a white T-shirt that read “Silver Lake Plunge.” A couple of her friends came too, and they set up easels and two poster boards. One showed the conservancy’s design and the other her “Swim Silver Lake” concept.

Passersby riding bikes and pushing strollers paused to check out the designs. About 75 people stopped by, and nearly all of them said they liked the idea of making the area more recreational. One man called the swimming plan “rad,” and another told Geanuracos she was doing the Lord’s work. When Herman-Wurmfeld dropped by to say hello, he knelt in front of the poster boards and put his palms on the dirt, praying for transformation in the area.

Geanuracos laughed. Then she shrugged and joined him.

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Home Sales: Best since 2006

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Homeowners sold 5 million homes in 2013, a rebound year for the industry that marked the highest level of sales since the housing boom year of 2006.

The report from the National Association of Realtors showed that there were 5.1 million previously owned homes sold in the year, up 9.2% from 2012 and up nearly 20% from 2011.

December sales were up slightly from November, the first month-over-month rise in the reading since July. Mortgage rates have been rising steadily since hitting record lows in May, raising the cost of purchases for home buyers.

The Realtors attributed the full-year gain to rising prices, lower unemployment, a drop in foreclosures and pent-up demand, as well as mortgage rates that are still low by historical standards, even with the steady increases most of the year.

The median price of a home sold in the year was $197,100, up 11.4% from the previous year. Rising prices have reduced the number of homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth, helping to bring more buyers into the market. Tight supplies of homes for sale are keeping prices high, as the report showed less than a 5-month supply at the end of the year.

Related: 10 hottest housing markets for 2014

Part of the tight supply is due to the sharp drop in distressed home sales. Only 14% of the homes sold in December were in foreclosure or were short sales for less than the amount owed on the existing mortgage. A year earlier, nearly a quarter of sales were distressed home sales. To top of page