Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Northampton County Real Estate: Worst February Since 1983

Relying on information supplied by realtors, The Morning Call tells you that, although prices are down, January home sales were up 5.6% over the same period in 2009. Of course, that's inconsistent with the 7.2% national decline reported in Huffington Post. It's also inconsistent with my own research, which shows a seven per cent drop in January Northampton County deed transfers, compared to the same period last year.

How about February? Is the real estate market finally picking up?

Northampton County deed transfers are down 15% in February, compared to the same period last year. In fact, the 297 deeds recorded in February is the lowest number since 1983, when 277 deeds were recorded.

Over the past five years, Northampton County's real estate transfers have declined forty-six per cent. If the first two months of this year is any indication, that trend will continue for a sixth year.

Ironically, Northampton County's thirteen-person Recorder of Deeds staff is the largest in County history. Recorder Ann Achatz tells me she thinks there were only 7 0r 8 persons in 1983, the last time things were this bad.

Fiscal Affairs Director Vic Mazziotti tells me no efforts have yet been made to cross-train employees to be able to work in different departments. Right now, when things are slow in the Recorder's office, it would make sense for workers there to learn the ropes in different row offices that get busier when the economy worsens. That way, the County can avoid making additional hires or laying people off.

Mazziotti agrees, and tells me a study is under way.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Democrats: Cleaning up Republican messes since 1933.

Anonymous said...

Another Study? Really? Well at least the Stoffa Administration found something they are good at. Deflect, ignore and do a Study. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Stoffa has really screwed up Northampton county!

Anonymous said...

We don't need no steenkin' study. Seigfried did it in Court Services. Just do it. Nothing in the contracts that say you can't. As long as within job description.

Anonymous said...

Very good post, Bernie.
Seems you did a lot of research and your point about the deed transfer dept needing to cross-train employees is excellent. Imagine if all govt. workers were cross-trained to fill-in when others ill or on vacation. What a savings to exhausted taxpayers.

Mitch Cumstein said...

Bravo! Great work and research. It gives those of us who follow your blog good insight. Certainly not what we're hearing from the Mcall or the LVAR.

I fear we are witnessing the paralysis of the RE market locally. Buyers are not buying for reasons such as falling housing prices, job fears, inability to finance. Worse, sellers CAN'T sell at market prices because they owe or are close to owing more than the market value.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"We don't need no steenkin' study. Seigfried did it in Court Services. Just do it. Nothing in the contracts that say you can't. As long as within job description."

Now people in the Recorder's office are still busy doing data entry on deeds recorded long before there were computers. But I think it makes sense to take some of them to another busy division like Civil Division, and have them perfrom some functions there. Similarly, the Tax Claim Bureau gets very busy every year before the tax sale.

Sending employees to other departments makes them more diverse and they might enjoy their jobs a bit more. It saves the county money and enables nonbusy departments to retain staff while avoiding layoffs.

This is something Conklin has already done in other departments.

Anonymous said...

"Democrats: Cleaning up Republican messes since 1933."

Who's been running this blue county in a blue state for how long? Is there a single Clinton-era slimeball who wasn't/isn't connected to Fannie Mae? Which party championed the easy mortgage programs that are currently upside down? Wasn't it Barney Frank and Chris Dodd who fought regulation and reform and said Fannie was fundamentally sound as it was hitting the fan? R's aren't blameless, but Ds have plenty of exposure here. Nobody ever heard about the 1920 Depression because Coolidge's lack of stimulus-type tinkering let the market correct it in months. We saw the prolonging effect of FDR's flailing and needed a war to get us out.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, I am really confused. Where is the LVAR getting their numbers? Are they based in any way on deed transfers? When a house sells, doesn't that show up in deed transfers?

I am not entirely sure I understand what is being presented in the numbers.

Geoff

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good time to buy!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Geoff,

I believe the numbers being used by the LVAR are flawed. They rely on agreements of sale, which can and do often fall through. I am relying on actual recorded deeds. If anything, I am overinflating the real estate market because my datta include quitclaims, deeds settling estates and dollar deeds between family members.

The reality is that the real estate market is depressed. It has been depressed for 5 years. last February's are the worst numbers since 1983.

Anonymous said...

I understand the discrepency now. While tracking deeds gives us a more accurate accounting of sales volume, it does not provide an accurate accounting of value (dollar sales, for example, don't reflect value). The MCall article may have a better accounting of value. To get the most accurate picture, we probably have to look at deeds, admit that this number is likely generous on total transactions, and sales price, admitting that this number likely reflects properties that never went to settlement.

I do agree that the area real estate market is likely depressed. Drops in settlements (at least measured through deed transfers) and pricing back that up.

Here is what concerns me the most: the 1990's and early 2000's were high growth years for the LV. The biggest areas of growth were in real estate sectors. Without real estate growth, the LV regional economy is in trouble. Any discussion on the future of the LV needs to incorporate that we are likely not going to see the same strength in our regional economy until new sectors start to emerge to compensate for our real estate drop off.

Geoff

Anonymous said...

Real estate is a bi-product of employment. If the economy gets better, real estate will get better. It had been a pretty good run for 15+ years of boom time. The correction is painful, but necessary to correct overbuilding and underqualifieds who defaulted. Ours is one of the most stable housing markets in the country and hasn't seen dramatic drops in value. And the empty commercial space just keeps popping up. I don't think we've seen that correction, yet.

Anonymous said...

12:12,

Put the crack pipe down.

Seriously.

You will thank me later.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:12

Drugs are bad, umkay?

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:12

How is the HOPE and CHANGE going?

Unemployment won't go above WHAT if we don't do the Porkulus?

Why is Obama 0 for 3 on the stump since becoming President?

Anonymous said...

Why did heavily Democrat New Jersey just vote in a REPUBLICAN Governor?

Anonymous said...

But, but, but -

What about Obama's tax-credit for first-time homebuyers?

Bernie O'Hare said...

In fairness, the real estate market in the LV has deteriorated overt eh past five years. I think it's safe to call it a bipartisan problem. The bottom fell out before the Wall Street crisis or anything else.

I'll add that I don't see a correlation with emplyment, although that certainly sounds logical. My experience tells me that when the economy goes south, the first place that happens is in real estate. Then the jobs dry up. When we recover, there could still be high unemployment.

We have not recovered.

Mitch Cumstein said...

Great website for housing info:

http://patrick.net/housing/crash.html

BTW see the bankruptcy filing by the builder who has a development in Upper Saucon?

Anonymous said...

Conklin hasn't done squat! So much bullshit that goes unchallanged.

Anonymous said...

Northampton county is in very sad shape.

Anonymous said...

Bernie!! I have recorded a number of agreements in the past few months and have had to wait weeks to get them back. They make it seem like the place is bustling and they are backed up with work. What gives? This seems to be about morale. As the County keeps cutting and dumping on these gals and others doing the day to day business of the County, they all seem to go on hyper slow mode and no one in the Management seems to car. Oh... I forgot, they are being cut too! It is time for the County to start treating their workers better, from the bottom to the top. Or, service will continue to suffer. And... guess who pays for that suffering service, me, you and our clients!

Bernie O'Hare said...

That has nothing to do w/ morale or being hyper slow. Everything recorded must be proofed. The turn around time is about two days to a week right now. I'm there every day and see no evidence that anyone in that office is in slow mode.

Anonymous said...

Didn't you know that Ohare lives in the government Center. he bathes in the public restrooms and has free use of any county resource he wants. he is Stoffa's roving spy.