VIDEO : Who Should — And Should Not — Be Paying Down Their Mortgage

July 31, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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Financial advice is rarely one-size-fits-all, but this interview with Suze Orman is worth a watch.

In 5 minutes with NBC’s The Today Show, Ms. Orman covers a ton of relevant ground for homeowners and the public-at-large:

  • Who should — and shouldn’t — be paying down their mortgage
  • What backlash to expect from the Dow’s 40% run-up since March
  • Why July 2009 is so different of an environment from July 2008

Then, as a bonus, Orman explains the relationship between bond prices to bond yields. It’s the heart of why mortgage rates rise when inflation is present.

A lot of what Orman talks about is spot-on, but that doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate for your individual situation. Before acting on Orman’s opinions, talk to your financial professional first.

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The Little-Known Reason Why Mortgage Rates Are Rising This Week (And Why They May Go Higher Still)

July 30, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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Too much supply and not enough demand leads to lower pricesAfter starting the week with a run lower toward 5 percent, mortgage rates have reversed course.

It started mid-day Tuesday and the culprit is Basic Economics. Here’s why.

Mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds and — like most things — mortgage-backed bonds prices are based on Supply and Demand.

When bond supplies grow faster than the corresponding demand for them, bond prices tend to fall and when bond prices are down, bond yields are up.

Meanwhile, this week, the U.S. Treasury is making its largest weekly auction in history. $115 billion in new debt, to be exact. This means that before the week is through, $115 billion in new bond supply will have been introduced into the market and — so far — demand hasn’t kept pace with the new supply.

Prices are plunging.

For home buyers and rate shoppers, this is especially bad news because mortgage-backed debt is less desirable to investors than is treasury debt. As a result, when treasury debt loses values, mortgage-backed debt tends to lose value, too. Not always, but most of the time.

So, beginning with Tuesday afternoon’s auction, debt supplies have been growing faster than buyer demand.

Bond markets are suffering from an abundance of debt supply and it’s been a big reason why mortgage rates are rising. The week’s not over yet, either. $28 billion is due for auction Thursday.

If demand at the auction is similarly low, watch for mortgage rates to spike again.

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Using The Case-Shiller Index To Predict The End Of The Recession

July 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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Case-Shiller Index one-month results April-May 2009

For May, the Case-Shiller Index showed home values up in 15 of its 20 tracked U.S. markets. It’s the first time in nearly 3 years that the index showed such strength and a signal that home prices may be turning higher for good.

According to a Case-Shiller Index spokesperson, “this could be a signal that home price declines are finally stabilizing.”

However, just because the Case-Shiller Index indicates home values are stabilizing, doesn’t necessarily make it true. Real estate is a local phenomenon and the Case-Shiller Index tracks just 20 U.S. cities.

Residents of every other town are unaccounted for.

Additionally, even within the 20 tracked cities, there are distinct neighborhoods and pockets that are under-performing the general market — just as there are those that are over-performing. The Case-Shiller Index can’t get that granular.

Despite its imperfections, the Case-Shiller Index remains a helpful, broader measurement of U.S. real estate. Economists believe that housing led the U.S. into the recession and they believe housing will lead us out, too.

If that’s true, May’s figures are the next step in the right direction.

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More Housing Strength : New Home Sales Surge In June

July 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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Months of Supply (New Homes) -- June 2009Once again, the housing market is showing that its worst days may be over.

According to the Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold in June leapt by 11 percent from the month prior. It stands as the biggest one-month jump in 8 years.

A “new home sale” is when a home in any stage of construction — not yet started, under construction, or already completed — goes under contract, often with a builder. It’s the opposite of an “existing home sale”.

In addition to surging sales, the monthly supply of new homes fell to its lowest level in 11 years.

Because home values are based on the relative supply and demand for a particular home in a particular area, anytime that demand for homes grows faster than supply, we would expect prices to rise.

Indeed, that’s what we’ve been seeing. The combination of low interest rates, seller-paid incentives and a first-time home buyer tax credit is bringing buyers into the market faster than new supply can come online. It’s one reason why home prices have stopped falling across many parts of the country.

It’s also why home buyers may find it tougher to get “a good deal” in real estate later this year and into 2010. If demand stays high and supplies fall further, sellers should regain the upper-hand in contract negotiations.

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How Burglars Can Get Into Your Home In Less Than A Second

July 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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The above video may be among the most disquieting 4 minutes of your day.

Home burglaries are on the rise and many burglars are using a lock-picking technique called “Lock Bumping” to enter into homes. Using a special key and a hammer-like tool, pin-tumbler locks can be “broken” in less than a second, according to NBC’s The Today Show, 95 percent of U.S. homes are “protected” by such locks.

In the video, you can see how it’s done first-hand. After the video, you’ll probably want to start looking for new locks for doors.

Now, replacing locks can be a do-it-yourself project, but you may want to leave it to a professional. Rather than searching the Yellow Pages for a locksmith, however, consider using Angie’s List instead — the site features an unbiased “customer review” section that you can’t get from the phone book.

If you’ve never used Angie’s List, note that it does require a membership fee, but annual and multi-year memberships come with a 110% Money-Back Guarantee. If the service isn’t everything you hoped, there’s very little risk.

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Home Supply Falls To An 8-Month Low

July 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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Existing Home Supply June 2009The national home supply is falling, down to its lowest levels since December 2008.

In June, there was 9.4 months of supply, down from a year-ago level of 11.0 months. It’s one more sign that the housing market may be mending itself.

Housing supply is an important metric because home values across every U.S. market are rooted in Supply and Demand. When the supply of available homes outpaces buyer demand, home values tend to fall. And, by contrast, when homes are relatively scarce, values tend to rise.

We’re still a long way from historical averages, but dwindling home inventory may be one reason why the national median sale price rose by $7,000 last month.

A reduction in inventory may also explain why two other popular home value metrics — the government’s Home Price Index and the private-sector’s Case-Shiller Index — are each showing signs of a rebound, too.

However, before we get too excited, it’s important to remember that home sales of late have been spurred by low mortgage rates and by the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit. A real estate trade group says first-timers represent 29 percent of the market, for example.

But so long as rates remain low and buyer stimulus is in place, we can expect that the recent trends in real estate will continue. Inventory should continue to drop and prices should start to rise.

Therefore, if you’re planning to buy a home in the next 12 months, buying sooner rather than later may be a smart way to save on your next home.

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The Home Price Index Shows That Home Values Increased In May

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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The FHFA Home Price Index May 2009Home values around the country appear to be leveling.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s latest Home Price Index report shows values up by nearly 1 percent in May versus the month prior.

Since peaking in April 2007, values remain off by 11 percent nationwide.

The FHFA Home Price Index is an interesting metric. Different from the Case-Shiller Index which collects data from just 20 U.S. markets, the Home Price Index reflects every U.S. home that backs a mortgage sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

In this sense, the FHFA Home Price Index is more “national” than the Case-Shiller Index but the HPI has its flaws, too.

The House Price Index specifically excludes from its measurements the sales price on any home purchase with any of following traits:

  1. Is new home construction
  2. Is a multi-unit property
  3. Is financed by an entity other than Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac

Because of these exclusions, some analysts say the report is incomplete. The same could be said of every method of home valuation, however.

Therefore, what’s most important to today’s home buyers and sellers is that each of the “popular” home valuation reports shows similar patterns. Home prices appear to have stopped falling and may be even starting to recover.

It won’t be for a few years that we’ll be able to look back and point to the exact month that real estate bottomed. Nevertheless, considering how the data has presented as of late, it’s reasonable to think that we’ve already hit it. Certainly, that’s what the Home Price Index suggests.

For a region-by-region breakdown of the Home Price Index, visit the FHFA website.

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Mortgage Rates Drop On Ben Bernanke’s “Exit Strategy”

July 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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A mortgage market rally followed the Ben Bernanke testimony on Capitol HillMortgage markets rallied Tuesday while Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke gave his semi-annual testimony to Congress.

By the time the day was over, some conforming mortgage rates were down by as much as 0.250 percent.

One of the leading causes for the market rally was Chairman Bernanke revealing an “exit strategy” from its massive market stimulus.

Until Tuesday, the Fed hadn’t gone into much depth about means and methods by which it would unwind its interventions. In addition to penning a widely-read Op-Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday, Bernanke testified to Congress that the Federal Reserve has a viable “exit strategy”.

Wall Street was pleased to hear it.

The specter of long-term inflation has spooked the mortgage markets off-and-on since the start of the year. It’s one of the reasons why mortgage rates have been so jumpy, and why they crossed 6 percent last month. Inflation is terrible for mortgage markets.

So, with the fear of inflation subsiding — at least temporarily — mortgage rates sunk Tuesday.

With any bit of luck, momentum will carry rates lower today and through the rest of the week. But, don’t get greedy. Mortgage markets are notoriously fickle and one “bad” statement from the Fed Chairman could cause rates to rise right back up.

Bernanke’s complete Tuesday testimony can read online at the Federal Reserve website.

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Housing Starts Make Its Largest Leap Since 2004

July 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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Housing Starts June 2009Housing Starts soared in June, thumping analyst expectations for the second straight month.

A “housing start” is a new home on which construction has started. Last month’s jump in single-family starts is the largest one-month jump since 2004.

To Wall Street, June’s figures are the latest signal that the country’s housing markets may be on the mend.

For home sellers, however, the news may not be so rosy. With more homes expected to come on the market, price competition among sellers could intensify and — all things equal — that would push sales prices lower.

So far in 2009, that hasn’t happened.

As home supply has grown, it’s been met by off-setting buyer demand. Spurred by low mortgage rates and an $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit, Americans appear to find today’s home buying conditions somewhat ideal.

As a result, purchase activity has been strong and first-time home buyers now account for close to 30 percent of existing home sales.

Rising Housing Starts can be a double-edged sword. It shows strength that builders are more optimistic about the economy, but too much optimism can lead to a glut of unsold homes and that could reverse the recovery’s momentum.

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Reduce Hot Water Waste With The Right Showerhead

July 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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Evolve Showerhead

In the past few years, the home appliance “green” movement has gone mainstream.

Thanks to new products carrying affordable price tags, today’s eco-conscious homeowners are finding it easier to protect both the environment and their household budgets at the same time.

One such earth-friendly product is the Roadrunner low-flow showerhead from Evolve.

The Roadrunner is an interesting product because it’s designed for how most people shower.

Because the water always starts cold, most of us will turn a shower on and then do other things while the water heats up. Maybe we’ll brush our teeth or make the bed or something else to kill time. All the while, heated shower water spills down the drain at the rate of two-and-a-half gallons per minute.

The Roadrunner halts the waste.

Once it senses the shower water has reached a comfortable 95 degrees, the Roadrunner showerhead slows the shower’s water flow to a trickle. Just pull the attached cord, and the full flow returns.

Unlike its competitors, the Evolve Roadrunner saves water costs and energy costs — an estimated $250 in savings annually. It can be bought on Amazon.com for about $40, or at Evolve’s website.

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