Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Real Estate: Third quarter housing affordability fall as home prices rise

(Fresno Bee file photo. Sign for house for sale in the Fresno High area.)

The California Association of Realtors has some good news and bad news to report.

The good news is that home prices continue to rise or at least remain stable. But the bad news is that the rise in home price continues to drive home affordability down in Fresno and other central San Joaquin Valley counties.

In Fresno County, 56% of prospective homebuyers could afford a median-priced single-family house compared to 61% during the second quarter of the year, the association said in its third quarter report released last week.

Last year at the same time, affordability was much higher at 69%.

A Fresno buyer would have to earn $37,920 a year to afford a median-priced home at $184,550.

Home affordability levels have also fallen in other Valley counties. About 62% of the buyers in Kings and Madera counties could afford to buy a home compared to 70% and 71% during the second quarter, respectively. In Tulare County, 61% of the buyers could qualify compared to 66% the previous quarter.

Even with the declines, the Valley still remains one of the most affordable areas statewide to buy a home.

Only 15% of the buyers in San Mateo could afford to buy a home and 16% in San Francisco. In the Sacramento area, 50% of the homebuyers could buy while 35% of the buyers in Los Angeles could afford a home.

Real Estate: Fresno County home prices inch up in September

The pace of Fresno County’s home price appreciation is slowing down, but the median home price of an existing single-family home still inched up higher in September compared to the month before, a monthly report said.

The median home price of a home in Fresno was $185,830 last month compared to $184,000 in August, the California Association of Realtors monthly housing report said.

In September 2012, the median home price was $159,130.

Madera and Tulare counties followed a similar trend with home prices increasing nearly 12% and 3.2% month-over-month respectively. Kings County, however, saw an 8.4% fall in home prices.

Real Estate: Home price appreciation slows down

The strong and fast climb in the median price of an existing home in Fresno County and other communities nationwide this summer is starting to slow down.

Fresno’s median home price increased slightly to $184,000 last month from $183,870 in July, according to a monthly housing report released Monday by the California Association of Realtors.

Tulare County home prices followed the same trend increasing to $158,460 in August from $157,140 the month before. But Kings County saw a strong jump in median home price to $184,000 from $173,330.

The only odd ball was Madera County where the median home price fell to $170,000 from $175,710, the report said.

Home sales are also slipping although that’s not unusual in Fresno where there has been a low inventory of houses for sale this year.

Home sales were down 4.5% last month in Fresno. Madera and Tulare saw sales fall by 5% and nearly 11% respectively. In Kings County, home sales increased 26.5%.

The change of pace in home price appreciation and sales is expected as the housing market heads out of the busy months and into fall, said Leslie Appleton-Young, the association’s vice president and chief economist.

“As housing supply loosens up with the seasonal slowdown, annual home price increases are expected to taper as we’ve observed in the last two months,” Appleton-Young said.

Real Estate: Valley cities could get shut out of USDA rural housing programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is changing the way it defines rural communities, a move that could shut out residents in 923 California cities — including seven in Fresno County — from accessing its rural housing programs.

On Oct. 1, the USDA will start using population statistics from the 2010 Census to determine if a city or community is rural. Those areas with a population of 10,000 people or less, or fewer than 20,000 people if located in a metropolitan statistical area, will be considered rural, the USDA said.

The department has been using 1990 population statistics, under a grandfather clause, to determine eligibility. That clause, which set the rural population at 25,000, will expire this year unless Congress extends it or takes some sort of action, the USDA said.

Under the new rule, Fresno cities like Coalinga, Kerman, Kingsburg, Mendota, Parlier, Reedley and Selma would no longer be eligible for the program. Another eight cities in Kings, Madera and Tulare counties would also lose the federal help.

Last fiscal year, the USDA distributed more than $53 million in home loans and home repair programs to moderate- and low-income Fresno County homebuyers and homeowners.

“For a lot of families these programs are the only options they have for purchasing a home,” said Sarah Marquart, public affairs specialist for the USDA. “It’s unfortunate to see a lot of these communities not be eligible any longer.”

For nonprofit housing agencies like Self-Help Enterprises of Visalia, the rule change could have a devastating effect.

Over the last 10 years, Self-Help has built more than 80% of its homes in the Valley cities that are slated to become ineligible. And most of the agency’s homeowners use the USDA direct loan program.

Under the new rule, “the families that participate in our program would not have access to the best direct mortgage available,” said Tom Collishaw, vice president of Self-Help. “And Self-Help would not be able to use the grant it received from the USDA to help people. Suddenly we wouldn’t be able to help people in those areas.”

Nothing simple about property buys for high-speed rail route

A conceptual view of a high-speed train running through the Valley.

Monday’s story about efforts by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to acquire property, and the resulting displacement of businesses along the route in the Fresno and Madera areas such as Angelo’s Drive In or Keith’s Automotive, struck a chord among readers who interrupted their Labor Day weekend to leave me phone messages and send a few emails.

It seems to underscore the complexity of the process involved in securing land for public works projects, including right of way for big ones like the controversial high-speed train project. There are two big factors at the heart of the issue:

  • People who own businesses, farms and homes in the path of the railroad route have not only invested their money, but their effort and their sweat, into something that stands to be swept away, if and when the project is built; and
  • They’re feeling a little pushed around by the process, and in some cases insulted by offers that don’t reflect what they believe their property and business is worth — that is, they don’t think it is what the lawyers call “just compensation.”

No wonder property owners, homeowners and affected businesses can find themselves confused and angry. But here’s some info that we weren’t able to work into Monday’s story.

The story reported that the rail authority has, as of last week, made more than 120 formal written offers to owners of land along the proposed railroad route in Fresno and Madera counties. Those written offers are based on appraisals done by consultants to the rail agency. You can see a copy of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s parcel-by-parcel right of way plan here (warning: it’s a large file!). The right of way plan has been incorporated into the agency’s contract with Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons, the contracting consortium hired to design and build the first 29-mile section of the system in Fresno and Madera. You can find an interactive, clickable map of parcels identified by the rail authority as those likely to be needed earliest (by the end of September) here.

When the authority makes a written offer to a property owner, it triggers a complex process in which “most property owners probably are not aware of what the law provides in terms of compensation for an impacted business owner,” said Anthony Leones, an eminent-domain attorney for Miller Star Regalia, a Bay Area law firm that prepared a newsletter about high-speed rail and land issues.

“What a business owner needs to do when they get an offer is, first of all, understand that the offer may not be inclusive of all their potential damages,” Leones said. “A business can be damaged in a lot of ways, even if they’re only taking a portion of the property. … For businesses, the situation is a lot more complex and they should understand that the initial offer is not a final offer, and they don’t have to accept it.”

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Patterson, Bigelow seek audit of high-speed rail land acquisition

A pair of freshman GOP lawmakers from the Valley want the Legislature to examine how the California High-Speed Rail Authority is going about getting the property it needs for right of way.

Jim Patterson

Frank Bigelow

Assembly Members Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, and Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, submitted their request to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. The pair want to know what policies or safeguards are in place to ensure that property owners receive fair offers for their land, and whether there is a process for landowners to appeal appraisal values before eminent domain or condemnation takes place.

Like many other Republican legislators, Patterson and Bigelow have been outspoken critics of the rail agency and its plans in the San Joaquin Valley. As a member of the Madera County Board of Supervisors, Bigelow was among a board majority that voted to sue the rail authority last year over environmental approval of  the Merced-Fresno section. The authority hopes to begin construction on the first 30-mile stretch of the planned statewide rail system, from northeast of Madera to the south end of Fresno, later this summer. But the authority can’t build on land if it doesn’t own the property.

“We cannot allow the authority to continue a reckless, headlong pursuit of high-speed rail that results in taking as much property as they can for the least amount of compensation,” Patterson said in a joint statement he issued Tuesday with Bigelow. “Private property owners nee to be treated fairly and adequately compensated for the loss of their land and business.”

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Vidak, off to quick Senate fundraising start, nets $90k in 10 days

On March 10 — which was just 10 short days ago — Hanford Republican Andy Vidak announced on his Facebook page that he would seek the 16th state Senate seat that came open when Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio abruptly resigned last month.

Since then, Vidak said, he’s been working the phones, seeking both support and cash.

Andy Vidak

He’s off to a good start, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site.

By March 13, records show, Vidak was already recording a string of donations.

The most recent filing was today. The total so far — close to $90,000.

To date, almost all of the cash is coming from agriculture, though Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare also chipped in $4,100 from her 2018 state Senate account.

Contributions also include $2,500 from Allbright Cotton of Fresno and $4,100 each from Madera farmer Chester Andrew and Cutler-based Golden Star Citrus.

As of this afternoon, the other candidates, including Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez and Shafter City Council Member Fran Florez — the two highest-profile Democrats — have yet record any donations, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site.

In the meantime, the list of people who have at least pulled campaign papers — the first step toward a run for the seat — has grown to seven.

Besides Florez, Perez and Vidak, other candidates who already had pulled papers included Fresno resident John Estrada and Francisco Ramirez Jr.

They are now joined by Jerry Armendariz and Arif Mohammad, who have unknown hometowns and list no ballot designation.

Gov. Brown appoints Nevarez to Bigelow’s Madera Co. Supervisor seat

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday appointed Manuel Nevarez to replace the departed Frank Bigelow on the Madera County Board of Supervisors.

Nevarez, a Madera resident, will face re-election in June 2014. That is when Bigelow’s current term expires.

Bigelow, of O’Neals, won a seat last November in the state Assembly.

Nevarez has been an account executive at PMAC Lending Services Inc. since 2010 and owner of ACN Inc. since 2008. He is registered as “no party preference,” which used to be known as “decline-to-state.”

But between 2007 and last September, he was registered as a Republican. Through the early part of last decade, he was registered as decline to state.

Bigelow is a Republican, and the district — which covers places such as Madera Ranchos and Yosemite Lakes Park — leans GOP.

In addition to his work in the financial sector, Nevarez is a member of the Madera Community Action Network and chairman of the Madera Unified School District Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee.

The position, which does not require state Senate confirmation, pays $71,515 per year.

Innovative Sierra Foothill Conservancy expands again

The innovative Sierra Foothill Conservancy has added another 280 acres to its growing swath of protected land — the old Tallman Ranch at the edge of Clovis where you’ll find deer, quail, ducks and the occasional wild hog.

The land is now called the Ted K. Martin Wildlife Preserve. Martin. 89, a lifelong resident of the Fresno-Clovis area, provided the $1.3 million to buy and maintain the property.

Earlier this year, Martin donated $2 million to the Fresno Regional Foundation to restore and preserve the San Joaquin River.

The new property becomes part of a 25,000-acre conservancy in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Mariposa counties. The organization is known for working with landowners to maintain natural foothill conditions.

Research has shown that grazing cattle help thin out the invasive grasses introduced by European settlers more than a century ago.

Well-managed grazing prevents sensitive vernal pools from being overrun by the invasive grasses. It has helped restore an elegant ecosystem on the distinctive flattop mountains in the foothills.

But this conservancy does much more than lease land for grazing. Two years ago, it launched its own beef herd called Sierra Lands Beef. A few hundred head help bring in more money for the conservancy.

The newest property in the conservancy was once a working cattle ranch with an interesting history, according to executive director Jeannette Tuitele-Lewis. She said the property, which is about 1,400 feet in elevation, was originally bought for $10 in the mid-1930s.

There are four ponds, fed from streams in the area, she said. There are two houses, one of which will be occupied by a caretaker.

“Access will be more restrictive than other parts of the conservancy,” she said. “This is an important wildlife area.”

There’s no fast-track likely for Valley high-speed rail hiring

The prospect of California’s high-speed train project, and construction that could start as soon as next summer in the central San Joaquin Valley, seems to shine like a light at the end of the tunnel for many unemployed workers.

There’s been so much written about unemployment here in the Valley: the monthly unemployment figures from the state Employment Development Department, occasional stories about large-scale layoffs by companies in the Valley. It all gets a little overwhelming sometimes. But that’s nothing compared to the desperation of people who want a job but cannot find one.

Since Thursday, when the California High-Speed Rail Authority adopted a policy aimed at promoting the hiring of disadvantaged workers by contractors, my phone line and email have been lit up by wishful job-seekers wanting to know when, where and how they can apply for work on the massive infrastructure project.

I can hear the hope in their voices as they talk about seeing the story in the paper or on The Bee’s website, only to hear them go crestfallen when I have to tell them that no major hiring is likely to happen anytime soon.

What happened last week was a policy decision by the state rail authority, not a hiring decision by contractors. There are five teams of contractors who have until mid-January to submit their bids for the first stage of construction from Madera through Fresno. The policy lets those companies know what the state’s expectations are for hiring people from economically disadvantaged communities, or workers who themselves are disadvantaged by virtue of being in one of the following categories:

  • Homeless
  • Veteran
  • Single parent who has custody of a child
  • On public assistance
  • Lacking a high school diploma
  • Having a criminal record
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Apprentice with fewer than 15% of the necessary hours to graduate from a trade program

It’s unlikely that any of the would-be contractors will be doing any hiring until they know they’ve got the job. And the rail authority does not expect to award the major contract until next summer.

That’s not much comfort to the guy who wrote that he recently lost his job, or to the fellow who told me on the phone that he’s been out of work since 2009.

Still to come: The rail authority and its would-be contractors will have to come to grips with agreements that the companies already have with labor unions to hire union workers for the project. It’s yet to be seen to what extent that could be a problem for non-union businesses hoping to land work as subcontractors on the rail line, or how much of a potential obstacle it may be for workers here in the Valley.