Super Bowl Weekend traditionally marks the start of the Spring Buying Season in real estate. Anecdotally, real estate agents will tell you that buyer activity tends to tick higher at this time of the year.
Meanwhile, with mortgage rates still trolling near all-time lows and Congress debating a first-time homebuyer tax credit, 2009 may bring out even more buyers than we’ve seen in the past.
Just having your home on the market may not be enough to attract an offer, though — the home has to have appeal. That brings us to home staging — the process by which a homeowner re-organizes and re-presents his home to appeal to as many potential buyers as possible.
Home staging is part-science, part-art, and part-psychology. Homebuyers tend to judge homes within the first 8 seconds of seeing them so making a quality first impression can mean the difference between getting multiple bids, and just getting a lot of foot traffic.
The 4-minute video gives some quick-and-easy tips, including:
- Create more light in the home
- Clean up the closets and thin them out
- Remove the clutter from every room in the house
Even though home inventories are falling, supplies are still higher than in previous years. Home sellers wanting to stand out in a crowd may want to consider staging their homes to help them sell more quickly.
Staged homes sell for as much as 17% more money and as much as 40% faster than non-staged ones.
The Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged today. It remains within a target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.
In its press release, the FOMC reiterated most of the key points from its December 2008 statement, including:
- The U.S. employment outlook continues to deteriorate
- Consumers and businesses continue to cut spending
- The housing sector is still showing weakness
In addition, the FOMC addressed the “extremely tight” credit conditions for U.S. households and business, even as it said some financial markets are showing signs of improvement.
To the Fed, the latter is a precursor for the former. For Americans needing new mortgages or other forms of credit, it may mean that getting approved gets easier sometime late this year.
Most importantly, the Fed’s press release again mentioned the policy-setting group’s intention to “employ all available tools” to promote economic growth. This includes the open-market purchasing of mortgage-backed debt that has helped fuel the current Refi Boom. The Fed indicated a willingness to extend the program beyond the initial $500 billion, if necessary.
For each of the Fed’s interventions, though, there is a trade-off.
Buying securities costs money and the Fed — literally — comes up with the cash by printing it. The extra supplies devalue the U.S. dollar which, if left unchecked, can cause the Fed’s plan to backfire in the form of runaway money supply-led inflation. The Fed is aware of this risk and is pledged to monitoring it closely.
Overall, mortgage rates worsened today after the Fed’s statement.
Parsing the Fed Statement
The Wall Street Journal Online
January 28, 2009
The Federal Open Market Committee adjourns from its 2-day meeting today.
The monetary policy-setting group is expected leave the Fed Funds Rate within its current target range of 0.00-0.250 percent.
This is the lowest range for the Fed Funds Rate in history and, frankly, there isn’t much room left to go lower. Therefore, markets aren’t really concerned about what happens to the benchmark lending rate today.
Instead, markets will focus on the Fed’s ideas to revive the U.S. economy.
In its post-FOMC press release last month, the Federal Reserve pledged to “employ all available tools” to get the economy moving in the right direction. At the time, some of those tools were already in play, including making direct loans to large companies and buying bad debts from commercial bank balance sheets.
And since that meeting, the Fed has put its money where its press release is.
Early this year, the Fed started a program to buy $500 billion in mortgage-backed debt and those ongoing purchases are part of what’s keeping mortgage rates relatively low. The Fed has since made it easier for member banks to borrow money, too.
Each of these steps is meant to pour gas into the U.S. economic engine and the Fed is pledged to keep trying new approached until something works. And this is what mortgage markets will be concerned with today.
If the Fed’s next stimulus plan is deemed ineffective or too costly for its own good, mortgage markets will likely sell off, causing mortgage rates to rise and making housing payments more expensive. The jump could be somewhat sudden because Fed announcements are often met with emotional, knee-jerk reactions.
By contrast, if the Fed’s next steps are deemed on target, expect mortgage rates to fall only slightly. To some extent, this outcome is already priced into rates as of this morning.
The FOMC’s official press release hits at 2:15 PM ET.
Don’t let the plunging median sales price fool you — December’s Existing Home Sales data has home sellers smiling.
Just one month after falling below the 5-million unit trend line, sales volume roared back by 300,000 homes in December, surprising housing analysts and making a case that this spring’s Buying Season could be a competitive one.
Falling home prices helped fuel home sales. Nationally, the median sales price — the point at which half of all homes sold for more and half sold for less — was $175,400, down $32,000 from last year.
However, the most important part of December’s Existing Home Sales report isn’t making headlines.
At December’s sales pace, it would now take 9.3 months to exhaust the existing home supply. Last month it was 11.2 months. This means that buyers are competing to purchase fewer homes which, in turn, puts upward pressure on home prices.
This is Supply and Demand at its most basic definition.
Economists have long said that the keystone of housing’s recovery will be rebalancing in home supply. Coupled with the all-time low in housing starts, December’s Existing Home Sales data signals future strength.
Winter’s halfway over, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to make smart, money-saving, winter heating choices.
This 4-minute video from the NBC Today Show covers the important stuff:
- Because “circular” thermostats are only accurate to within 6 degrees, what you should do about it
- How to know if your furnace is energy-efficient
- How “pull-away” caulking can seal window that leak heat
- Using eco-heaters for room-by-room warming
The video’s highlighted ways to winterizing your home range in cost from a few dollars to a few thousand dollars. Each, however, pays for itself via home heating bill savings in time.
When a homeowner sells his home and decides to buy a new one, there are 3 basic options for the residence — sell it, keep it, or rent it.
Unfortunately, no matter which path they choose, move-up homebuyers in need of a new conforming mortgage will find qualifying for a home loan to be more difficult this season than in the past.
Mortgage guidelines are dramatically tighter for people “carrying two mortgages”.
Among the changes this spring’s buyers face:
Selling the primary residence
If you plan to close on your new home prior to the closing of your existing home — even if it’s only by a day — both payments must be listed as monthly debts on your mortgage application. This will disqualify the majority of homebuyers.
Converting your residence to a second home
If your current home has less than 30 percent equity in it, your mortgage application for the new home will not be approved unless you can show 6 months worth of mortgage payments + taxes + insurance in reserves for the current home and new home combined.
Converting your residence to an investment property
If your current home has less than 30 percent equity in it, any rental income derived from a tenant is disallowed on your mortgage application for the new home. You must still count the mortgage payment + taxes + insurance as a monthly debt.
In other words, being a move-up buyer isn’t as simple as it used to be. New lending rules make buying a new home an exercise in timing and financial planning. And the rules are expected to get tougher, too.
Therefore, if you expect to be a move-up buyer in the next 12 months, consider moving up your timeframe or — at least — planning ahead for it.
Understanding the new mortgage landscape and how they can influence your upcoming purchase may be the difference between getting approved for a home loan, and getting turned down.
After improving through 11 straight weeks, mortgage rates finally ticked higher last week. This, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey. The Freddie Mac survey showed that mandatory mortgage fees rose last week, too.
Unfortunately, the bad news for rate shoppers doesn’t stop there.
Because Freddie Mac’s rate survey is conducted on Tuesday but its reports aren’t released until Thursday, the published data doesn’t even account for the previous 48 hours of activity in which rates and fees have risen further.
Versus last week, 30-year fixed, conforming mortgage rates are up 0.16% on average nationwide. On a $200,000 home loan, this equates to a roughly $20 extra per month, or $7,055 over the life of a 30-year loan.
The Era of Low Rates may not be over, but it may be time to get off the fence.
(Image courtesy: Freddie Mac)
The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index is a popular measure of domestic home prices, released monthly.
The index reports on the largest 20 U.S. markets, painting a broad picture of real estate values nationwide.
Despite the Case-Shiller Index’s two obvious flaws — (1) it only counts repeat sales on single-family residences, and (2) it only includes 20 major housing markets — the model makes it easier to identify broader real estate trends in our nation’s largest cities.
Data, though, is just data. It often takes a good picture to bring it all home. Enter The New York Times.
On its website, The Gray Lady has posted an interactive Case-Shiller graphic. For each of the 20 cities studied, users can compare how home values rose versus the national composite throughout the early part of the decade, and how values have fallen since.
Not surprisingly, of the 20 cities that showed stable growth pre-2006, nearly all are outperforming in the current real estate climate.
For spot heating, many homeowners turn to portable electric space heaters; it’s often more efficient to plug one in than to raise the household thermostat by a degree or two.
But using a space heater isn’t as safe as it is simple. According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2005, space heaters were responsible for:
- 32% of home heating-related fires
- 57% of home heating-related property damage
- 73% of home heating-related civilian deaths
Space heaters cause a disproportionate amount of damage versus central heating systems and fireplaces. Therefore, it’s important to practice safety and care when using space heaters.
Some basic space heater safety tips include:
- Don’t place anything that can burn within three feet away of the space heater.
- Make sure that your space heater has the label of a recognized testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratory.
- Never use an extension cord on a space heater.
- Turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
And, of course, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions.
Heating Safety Tips
National Fire Protection Agency
Another week, another headline screams how mortgage rates have falled to an all-time low.
Freddie Mac published its weekly mortgage rate survey Thursday and found that the “average” mortgage rate is now 4.96 percent, the lowest since the survey started in 1971.
But, if we look beyond the headline, we find that there’s another part of the story worth watching. Mortgage rates are falling but the number of points required to lock those rates is not.
Lenders now require an average payment of 0.7 points to get the 4.96 percent rate from the headlines. That’s up from 0.6 percent last week and 0.4 percent a year ago.
A “point” is a fee equal to 1 percent of the loan size.
Therefore, to get access to a 4.96 percent interest rate on a $200,000 home loan, today’s lender would require an extra $200 versus last week and $600 versus last year. Today’s mortgage borrower would be subject to a $1,400 closing cost in addition to the “typical” closing costs accompanying a purchase or refinance.
This is a period of historically low rates — there’s no doubt about that. However, the cost of getting access to low rates is increasing. The press doesn’t always tell that part of the story and it’s one more reason to look deeper than the headlines.