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Clear Capital® Reports National Double Dip

U.S. home prices double dip as West, South and Northeast regions fall prey to the last grip of winter.

TRUCKEE, CA – May 5, 2011 – Clear Capital (www.clearcapital.com) today released its monthly Home Data Index™ (HDI) Market Report, and reports prices have double dipped nationally 0.7 percent below prior lows experienced in March 2009. This month’s HDI Market Report provides the most current (through April 2011) and relevant analysis of how local markets performed compared to the national trend in home prices.

Report highlights include:

  • National quarterly home prices changed -4.9%; while year-over-year national price changes reached -5.0%.
  • National home prices have fallen 11.5% over the previous nine-month period, a rate of decline not experienced since 2008.
  • In a sign of the continued volatility and fragility of home prices, all the major Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) tracked in this month’s report showed quarter-over-quarter price declines.
  • National REO saturation rate reaches 34.5%.

“The latest data through April shows a continued increase in the proportion of distressed sales that are taking hold in markets nationwide,” said Dr. Alex Villacorta, director of research and analytics at Clear Capital. “With more than one-third of national home sales being REO, market prices are being weighed down as many markets have not regained enough footing to withstand the strain of the high proportion of REO sales.

In light of the compounding effects of winter’s seasonal slowdown and increased distressed sale activity, the market now faces the true test of whether prices can rebound in the historically active spring season,” added Villacorta.

As national home prices reached new lows this past winter, hopes remain for a spring revival. Markets have entered uncharted territory, however, as this current home buying season will be the first since 2008 without any tax credit incentive. A note of caution to those looking for a strong end to 2011: The last time no incentives were in place and distressed inventories were this high, home prices fell sharply.

Home Price and REO Saturation Parallels to 2008

Past market reports have shown periods of stabilization. Movements of home prices certainly have been less dramatic than during the start of the downturn in 2006, and two years of mixed seasonal gains and losses have given the appearance that prices are stabilizing, or at least bouncing along a trough.

This assumption of stabilization also considers the last two years have marked a period of external stimulus in the form of tax credits. As an alternative and cautionary reference, below is a comparison between the housing market from spring 2008, through the end of the year; compared to the post tax credit period of late 2010 through April 2011.

National REO Saturation (2008 to 2011)

Continue reading at Clear Capital

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Aspen, CO – Local architectural firms start to rebuild their staffs

Uptick in business has them cautiously optimistic about a rebound

Some of the larger architectural firms in Aspen and Basalt have hired additional employees this spring after cutting up to half of their staffs during the recession.

Poss Architecture and Planning, Harry Teague Architects, Cottle Carr Yaw Architects and Design Workshop’s Aspen branch have each hired three or four workers in recent weeks. Partners in each firm said business is up this spring and they are bringing on additional workers to help with projects on the books.

“This year is just different from last year in a positive way,” said John Cottle, a partner with Cottle Carr Yaw Architects.

However, the owners of each of the firms said they remain very cautious about the business outlook because there is so much uncertainty beyond the next year or so. Bill Poss said 2007 and 2008 were the best years in his firm’s 35-year history. He doesn’t expect business to return to that level in some time. On the other hand, any uptick in business over 2010 is welcomed.

“Last year was pretty bad,” he said.

Architectural firms are somewhat like a canary in the coal mine for the construction industry. Projects they work on translate into work for contractors and subcontractors six months or so later. Poss said he is constantly being quizzed by friends in the construction world who want to know if his business is picking up.

The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. His firm is working on a large hotel in North Carolina that had been temporarily placed on hold when the recession hit. It is an encouraging sign that the owners have felt the economy has recovered enough that they are moving ahead with the design, Poss said. “That’s about a 12-month deal” for his firm, he said.

Poss is getting more calls this year than last year from property owners in the Roaring Fork Valley who are considering building homes. While the interest is encouraging, he noted that “nobody’s pulled the trigger, so to speak.”

Consumers of architectural services, like consumers of all types, are shopping for the best prices. His firm has reduced its prices, which required it to cut costs. That meant laying off employees after the recession struck, and cutting salaries for the remaining staff.

Poss said he and his partners recently hired three more drafting people and interns and are considering hiring a fourth person. Even so, the firm isn’t anywhere close to where it was three years ago in terms of the staff count when it employed 56 people. That fell to about 22 at the lowest point and is now creeping back toward 30 workers, he said.

Poss said business has always been cyclical. He has experienced a downturn every five to seven years. This downturn was different because it was so severe and long. He said laying off so many employees was unpleasant because it had so many consequences.

“I had to lay off 30 families, not just individuals,” he said.

Harry Teague, another longtime veteran architect in Aspen, said it has been common over the years for the staffs of architectural firms to expand and contract, depending on the firm’s number of projects. Employees who were laid off from one firm could usually find work with another.

“The roller coaster is not particularly unique to this time” he said.

What was different in this cycle is that business dropped off for virtually all firms at once, according to Teague. That was tough because people who were laid off had a tough time finding new jobs with different firms.

Teague said his firm’s work is also picking up this year so he has hired four people, boosting the total to 12. He described the positions he hired for as a mix of architects, project managers and designers as well as interns.

Teague’s firm is working on a project at the Aspen Music School campus on Castle Creek Road, including the replacement of a building that can no longer be used. His firm is also designing a school in Crestone, Colo., a home in Telluride and a home in the Roaring Fork Valley. He is also the architect for a river center proposed by the Roaring Fork Conservancy in Basalt. That project is scheduled to be reviewed by the Basalt Town Council and Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday.

Overall, Teague said, it does feel as though the level of activity is increasing.

Cottle said his firm is staying busy with a combination of local, regional and even international projects, a combination of residential and commercial.

“Aspen is stronger than most of the other places where we work,” he said.

The firm is receiving more calls of inquiry so far this year compared to the last couple of years, he said. Cottle is encouraged because potential clients are exploring a variety of projects and seem serious about moving ahead.

The firm recently added four positions, one permanent and three tied to current projects, Cottle said. It’s too soon to tell if business has truly turned around, so he and his partners will remain cautious with their projections and with their hiring. Cottle said they don’t want to get in a position of hiring workers for permanent positions only to lay them off again. That’s rough on everybody, he said.

Cottle Carr Yaw employed 38 workers from 2000 through the end of 2008 and intentionally didn’t expand beyond that point. They laid off roughly half the staff during the lean last couple of years and are back to 20 employees with the recent hires.

Kurt Culbertson, chairman of the board for Design Workshop, said the firm hired two entry-level workers and two mid-level experience workers in its Aspen office within the last six months. The position were for landscape architects. They are looking to fill another two positions.

The firm — which also has offices in Denver, Tahoe, Austin, Salt Lake City, and Asheville, N.C. — works on everything from resort planning to residential gardens. The Aspen office is benefiting from an increase in business overseas as well as domestically and in the Roaring Fork Valley, according to Culbertson. He said some potential clients are even looking into real estate development, which has been on hold for the last couple of years.

Culbertson said the Aspen office of Design Workshop reduced its staff by about half after the recession.

“It hasn’t been fine times,” he said.

He’s been with the firm through five recessions, this one being the worst. The name of the game is living to fight another day.

“You can’t hire people back if you’re not in business,” Culbertson said.

Via The Aspen Times

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Don’t string me along, U.S. temp workers say

Don’t string me along says architecture temp Althea Norwood Roberts

* Quarter of jobs created in past year were temporary
* Temps about 2 percent of overall employment
* Companies still cautious about permanent hiring

By Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Althea Norwood Roberts gives employers three months to turn her temporary job into a permanent one. Then she looks elsewhere.

That’s as long as a company needs to see if she’s a good fit, the 35-year old single mother from California believes.
Norwood Roberts, currently temping for an architecture firm, is like millions of other Americans who are wondering if she will get permanent work.

“Temping is kind of like dating. It’s a trial-run for the company,” she said. “If they can’t make up their mind about you after 90 days, it’s probably not going to happen, they’re stringing you along.”

Norwood Roberts, who has a five-year old daughter, wants a job with security, good benefits and a pension. “It is not optional at this point. It is a necessity,” she said.

In the past year, about a quarter of all jobs created in the United States were temporary as companies remained cautious about the outlook for the economic recovery.

Over the past three recessions, temps — who are easier to hire and fire — have suffered the quickest and most severe cuts to their numbers at the beginning of a downturn, and then led broader employment gains when the economy recovered. For a graphic see http://r.reuters.com/geb97r

The pace of temporary job creation after the most recent recession — an average of about 25,000 per month — has been faster than in the past two, potentially a good sign for a labor market struggling with a jobless rate of 9 percent.

In the 17 months after the 2001 recession — the same period which has lapsed since the one in 2007-09 — employers added just 1,400 temporary jobs a month and the lag between the pick-up in temp hiring and the economy starting to add full-time jobs was 10 months longer.

But the faster pace of temporary hiring this time around hasn’t yet translated into significant full-time job creation.

“It will be a really good sign when we see those temporary jobs turn into permanent jobs,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said this month.

Peter Capelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says the jury is still out on whether the U.S. labor market is undergoing a structural change towards more temp workers or whether companies are just biding their time until demand for their products picks up and they add more long-term employees.

“It’s probably a bit of both. Another thing may be that employers are using temp work as a more thorough interview process, so it could be masking permanent hiring,” he said.

That is a trend that Randstad, the world’s second-biggest staffing firm, is seeing.

Randstad said more of its clients than in prior recoveries are using a “temp to perm” approach to hiring, to try the employee out before committing to taking them on.


Some companies are actively shifting to what they say is a more flexible workforce.

In January, Lowe’s, the home improvement giant, slashed 1,700 middle-management jobs and said it would add thousands of part-time customer service employees.

One of the middle managers laid off was Dean Lutz, 43, from South Carolina. Lutz says the job market is the worst he has seen in his career, with most available jobs either seasonal or part-time.

“Honestly, jobs available out there aren’t very good.” he said. Companies “don’t want to pay benefits or higher wages.”

Lowe’s move is “emblematic of an evolution that took place starting in the late 1970s in which employers showed less commitment to their workers,” said Gary Burtless, a professor at the Brookings Institution.

But he said there is little evidence to suggest that temporary hiring has become more common in the past couple of years, with temporary workers as a share of overall employment peaking at 2.4 percent at the height of the dotcom bubble.

Despite the faster pick-up, the number of temporary jobs is still down about 15 percent from before the recession.

Tom Bonds, vice president of operations at the Huron Valley Steel Company in Anniston, Alabama, said he expects a shift back to permanent workers once there is more clarity about the economic and regulatory outlook.

“We prefer full-time workers, because they are going to be there … with temps there is no loyalty both ways,” he said.

While temporary workers may be high caliber at times of high unemployment, the cream of the crop may be quickly snapped up once the recovery picks up steam.

Norwood Roberts, the single mother in California, is optimistic. She has had two previous temporary jobs in the past 10 years, both of which turned into permanent positions.

“I have been able to juggle things so far. Some people don’t have that luxury,” she said. “I am one of the lucky ones.”

(additional reporting by Nick Zieminski, Dan Burns and Dhanya Skariachan)


(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2011. Click For Restrictions. http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp

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U.S. architecture billings index falls in January

* January ABI 50.0, down 3.9 pts

* New projects index falls 5 pts to 56.5

* Cautious optimism for design industry: AIA

NEW YORK, Feb 23 (Reuters) – A leading indicator of U.S. nonresidential construction activity weakened last month after two months of improving numbers, an architects’ trade group said on Wednesday.

The monthly Architecture Billings Index fell almost 4 points in January to 50.0, a level that indicates neither expansion nor contraction of demand for design services, the American Institute of Architects said.

The billings index is considered a predictor of construction spending about nine to 12 months in the future, since buildings are designed long before they are erected. The latest readings suggest an anticipated recovery in U.S. nonresidential construction may not gain traction this year.

A separate index of inquiries for new projects fell more than five points to 56.5, according to the AIA.

“This slowdown is indicative of what is likely to be a very gradual improvement in business conditions at architecture firms for the better part of this year,” said AIA chief economist Kermit Baker. “We’ve been taking a cautiously optimistic approach for the last several months and there is no reason at this point to change that outlook.”

The AIA’s billings index dropped below 50 in January 2008, indicating falling demand, and stayed below that mark until last November. The separate inquiries index only fell below 50 briefly in 2008. It is typically higher than the billings index, as prospective customers solicit bids from multiple architecture firms.

Most diversified industrial companies get at least some revenue from nonresidential construction, selling machinery used for erecting buildings or components such as elevators or electrical and cooling systems.

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Bernanke Encouraged by Drop in Unemployment, Cautions Full Recovery Will Take Years

Fed Chair Ben Bernake

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress on Wednesday that the sharp drop in unemployment over the last two months is encouraging but cautioned that it will take several years for hiring to return to normal. 

In prepared testimony before the House Budget Committee, Bernanke also warned that failing to forge a plan to reduce the government’s $1 trillion-plus deficits over the long term could eventually hurt the economy. 

The unemployment rate was 9 percent in January after the fastest two-month decline in 53 years. 

Those declines “provide some grounds for optimism on the employment front,” Bernanke said.

Bernanke is making his first appearance before the House since Republicans took control last month. He is expected to face tough questions from them, despite being a member of the party. 

The Fed chief said the economy is strengthening, helped by more spending by consumers and businesses. However, the economic recovery won’t be assured until companies step up hiring on a consistent basis. 

Bernanke’s remarks suggest the Fed will stick with its plan to buy $600 billion worth of Treasury debt by the end of June. The program is aimed to invigorate spending and the economy by lowering rates on loans and by boosting prices on stocks. 

Despite rising prices for gasoline and for many industrial and agricultural commodities, Bernanke said inflation remains “quite low.” He blamed the higher prices on strong demand from fast-growing countries such as China — not the Fed’s stimulus policies. 

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., worries that the Fed’s stimulus policies, including debt purchases, could trigger inflation or fuel speculative buying of stocks or other assets. 

“Many of us fear monetary policy is on a difficult track,” Ryan said. 

However, Ryan expressed more concerns about the nation’s exploding government deficits. If left unchecked, it will eventually hurt the economy. Ryan favors budget cuts to get the deficits under control.

Hat Tip to Associated Press

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Construction Spending Drops in December

Construction spending fell 2.5% sequentially in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $787.9 billion, 6.4% behind the rate of December, 2009, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday morning.

Residential construction fell 4.1% from November to a rate of $226.4 billion, a drop of 6.3% from the prior December. Total private construction was at a rate of $486.9 billion, 2.2% below the revised November estimate of $498.0 billion and 9.8% below December, 2009.

The value of private construction in 2010 was $507.3 billion, 14.3% behind 2009. Residential construction in 2010 was $241.4 billion, 1.7% below 2009.

For public construction, the seasonally adjusted annual rate was $301.0 billion in December, 2.8% below November and 11.2% below December, 2009.Highway construction was at a rate of $84.9 billion, 1.6% below November but 7.5% ahead of December, 2009.

The value of public construction in 2010 was $306.8 billion, 2.7% below 2009. Educational construction in 2010 was $74.4 billion, down 13.6% from 2009, and highway construction was $83.3 billion, 1.7% above 2009.

Via AIA.org

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1,517 new building permits in NYC last year

Mr. LiMandri, 45, is the commissioner of the Department of Buildings, which oversees nearly a million properties in New York City, by enforcing various building codes and laws. He was appointed in 2008, after the resignation of Patricia J. Lancaster, following a series of construction accidents, including a crane collapse in Manhattan that killed seven people.

Robert D. LiMandri

Q The department just released its 2010 annual report. Can you discuss some of the numbers?

A There are 975,000 buildings and properties in New York City and we have 1,109 employees, 337 of whom are inspectors. We performed 335,449 inspections last year; issued 136,294 construction permits and 1,517 new building permits and 67,069 violations.

What many people don’t realize is that we do about 450,000 plan reviews a year. Last year it was 457,375. That rivals some of the largest architectural firms.

Q Do you have more or fewer inspectors now?

A Slightly fewer, through attrition and budget cuts. But we’re doing more with less and using technology to be more efficient.

Q How so?

A We’ve been trying to make it easier for people to get permits, to do plan reviews, online. Electricians can go online as of last year: they put in their ID numbers, pay for the permit online and print it. Construction permits will also go online this year.

The other piece is dealing with plans online. We hope to pilot that by the end of this year. You would submit your plans — the simplest plans, not the big complicated ones. You open an account with us, send it to us electronically. We look at it when we’re available — we might ask questions or note objections — and e-mail it back to you.

Q Could this work with the big developers?

A The number of large buildings that get built every year is like 200 to 300. So if you are a large developer/owner like the Rudins or the Resnicks, you’re doing these kinds of filings on a regular basis. Instead of hiring someone to drop off stuff for us to look at, they can save transaction time.

Q How much time?

A We saw that when they went online for electrical permits, the processing time went from days or weeks to minutes.

Q Getting back to the annual report, what does it tell us about the city’s recovery?

A It’s in pockets. Permits for new buildings and major alterations fell around 19 percent last year, to 13,000 from 16,000. But permits for small-scale alterations — like moving a wall — rose 6 percent, to nearly 103,000. People are still doing smaller work, and that drives the economy as well.

We’re starting to see pockets of demolitions. We just had seven or eight sites in the last couple of weeks. When you see demolitions come back, it’s a leading indicator that development is coming.

Also, in Manhattan there are four or five large sites, where maybe they slowed construction, that are starting to pick up. It’s the heart of the winter so it’s going to be slow anyway, but we’re hoping that the spring will bring a set of new buildings.

Q It’s been over two years since you took office. What are some of your biggest accomplishments?

A We’ve been working on transforming this department — making it more accountable and instilling confidence in our training programs. We put G.P.S. tracking on our 337 inspectors, so we know where our people are. We conducted a facade safety initiative, and we investigated illegally converted apartments. We used Craigslist and posed as tenants.

Q Have you been able to curb construction accidents?

A We had a reduction in 2010 from the year before by about 28 percent. Clearly there’s been less large-scale construction, but also I am very satisfied that the industry has heard us and responded.

Contractors are using cocoon-netting systems to protect the top four floors during the very early stages of construction. These innovative systems prevent people from falling, as well as falling debris. I’m hoping it will become a city standard.

Building a building is complex, and there are a lot of people you depend on to do it well, and it takes just one of them not to do their job for things to go awry. Our job is to make sure that they put safety ahead of profit.

Q Let’s talk about some of the new regulations for this year.

A The big thing that’s coming down the pike is the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which will rank buildings by energy efficiency. Owners have to benchmark their buildings — if they’re over 50,000 square feet — and upload information about utility bills into a federal Web site by May 1. The next step is that every 10 years they will have to go through an audit process.

Hat tip to the NYT

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Freelancer Bill of Rights

To support our Get Paid, Not Played campaign, freelancers at our Monthly Member Meetings produced this draft of a Freelancer Bill of Rights to empower themselves to demand fair treatment from clients. Our goal is to offer a space for freelancers to articulate the minimum work standards that they have the right to expect when taking a job or gig.

Read more about the Freelancer Bill of Rights

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AIA NY Panel Discussion: NBAU Employment Outlook for Architects

When: 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 26

Where: At The Center
AIA New York Chapter
536 LaGuardia Place
NY, NY 10012
(212) 683-0023

This panel discussion will take a look at what architects might expect in terms of employment and workforce trends this year.

Speakers: David C. McFadden, Founder/CEO of Consulting for Architects, Inc. and Daniel A. Cloke, President, Parade A|E|C Staffing

The economy has changed radically throughout the world and the impact has been strongly felt in the design community in New York City. The NBAU program focuses on what design professionals need to do now for themselves and their firms.

Please RSVP as a light lunch will be served.  Check local weather report for snow forecast.

Events in this series are provided at no cost thanks to our sponsors: Chief Manufacturing, Lutron Electronics and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP


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