Home buyers’ negotiating power gains: Zillow

Home buyers in much of the United States paid thousands of dollars below asking prices in December and for the first time in 11 months gained negotiating power, real estate website Zillow.com said on Tuesday.

According to December Zillow Real Estate Market Reports, buyers paid 2.7 percent less, or a median of $5,618 below the listing price on homes bought in December, up from $5,538, or 2.6 percent, for homes bought in November.

The gain, however, was still far less than December 2008 when buyers bargained a median 4.5 percent, or $10,018, off the last listing price, Zillow said.

The data is calculated by comparing the last listing price of individual homes and the final sale price.

November had marked the 10th consecutive month discounts shrunk, meaning buyers were negotiating less and less off the final asking price each month. [Read the full article]

D.R. Horton posted its first quarterly profit in three years Tuesday and predicted it would stay in the black at least through the first half of this year.

Homebuilders have seen orders improve in recent months due to low mortgage interest rates and tax credits for homebuyers. Many anticipate sales will surge in coming weeks as homebuyers race to beat the April 30 deadline to qualify for a tax credit.

The results, which beat expectations, buoyed investors. D.R. Horton’s stock climbed almost 11 percent, or $1.27 a share, to $13.18.

D.R. Horton “is kind of our best pick on a block that’s still a little bit shaky,” said Robin Diedrich, an analyst with investment firm Edward Jones.

But the big question hovering over the industry, however, is whether sales will slow or fall off a cliff when the government support vanishes. [Read the full article]

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A northern Idaho senator is trying a fourth year to toughen punishments for businesses that employ illegal workers, against opposition from the dairy and construction industries that say this should be a federal issue. At the heart of the disagreement: E-Verify, the currently voluntary federal system that lets businesses check on a worker’s status.

WHAT IS E-VERIFY? An Internet-based, U.S. Department of Homeland Security system. Nationwide, more than 182,000 employers are enrolled in the program, with more than 8.7 million queries run in fiscal year 2009.

WHO WANTS IT? Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, is pushing to require Idaho employers to use the system to root out illegal workers he says cost Idaho millions of dollars. Those found guilty of knowingly hiring illegal workers would face fines of up to $50,000 and the loss of their business licenses. Jorgenson has the backing of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, a group trying to convince U.S. [Read the full article]

Unemployment rose in most cities and counties in December, signaling that companies remain reluctant to hire even as the economy recovers.

The unemployment rate rose in 306 of 372 metro areas, the Labor Department said Tuesday. The rate fell in 41 and was unchanged in 25. That’s worse than November, when the rate fell in 170 areas, rose in only 154 and was unchanged in 48.

The metro employment numbers aren’t seasonally adjusted and can be volatile. Many of the increases were due to seasonal factors.

For example, Ocean City, N.J., which bills itself as “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” saw its unemployment rate jump to 16.4 percent in December from 14.8 percent the previous month.

That’s double the 8 percent it reported in July, even though the nation’s economy was in worse shape then.

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Ocean City is one of the 19 metro areas that reported unemployment rates of at least 15 percent. [Read the full article]

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