Home Values Rose In November 2009 By Another 0.7 Percent

January 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Home Price Index April 2007 to November 2009

Reporting on a two-month lag, the government said home values rose 0.7 percent in November.

National home prices are at their highest point since February 2009.

But before we look too much into the FHFA’s Home Price Index, it’s important that we’re cognizant of its shortcomings; the most important of which is its lack of real-time reporting.

According to the National Association of Realtors™, 80% of purchases close within 60 days. As a result, because of its two-month delay, the Home Price Index report actually trails today’s market data by an entire sales cycle.

This is one reason why home values appear to be rising even while new data shows that both Existing Home Sales and New Home Sales fell flat last month. The home valuation report is using data from November; the sales reports are using data from December.

The Home Price Index is a trailing indicator and next month, as the Spring Market gets underway, the government will be reporting data from the holidays.

The same is true for the Case-Shiller Index. It, too, operates on a 2-month lag.

All of that said, however, long-term trends do matter in housing and the Home Price Index has shown consistent improvement over the last 10 months. In many markets, home sales are up, home supplies are down, and values have increased. This trend should continue into the early part of 2010, at least.

If you’re wondering whether now is a good time to buy a home , consider low prices, cheap mortgages and an available tax credit as three good incentives. By May, none of them will likely be available.


A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (January 27, 2010 Edition)

January 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishThe Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that the U.S. economy “has continued to strengthen”, that the jobs markets is getting better, and that financial markets are supportive of growth.

There was no mention of the housing market’s strength. The last 3 statements from the Fed included that specific verbiage.

It’s the fifth straight statement in which the Fed spoke about the economy with optimism. This should signal to markets that 2008-2009 recession is over and that economic growth is returning to U.S. economy.

The economy isn’t without threats, however, and the Fed identified several in its press release, including:

  1. Credit remains tight for consumers
  2. Businesses are reluctant to hire new workers
  3. Housing wealth is down

The message’s overall tone, however, remained positive and inflation appears is still within tolerance.

Also in its statement, the Fed confirmed its plan to hold the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period” and to wind down its $1.25 trillion commitment to the mortgage market by March 31, 2010. This is noteworthy because Fed insiders estimate that the bond-buying program suppressed mortgage rates by 1 percent through 2009.

Mortgage market reaction to the Fed press release is, in general, negative. Mortgage rates are rising this afternoon.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is March 16, 2010.


A Rate-Locking Strategy Ahead Of The Fed’s Meeting Today

January 27, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Fed Funds Rate (Jan 2007 - Jan 2010)The Federal Open Market Committee ends a scheduled, 2-day meeting today in Washington. It’s the first of 8 scheduled meetings for the policy-setting group in 2010.

The group adjourns at 2:15 PM ET.

As is customary, upon adjournment, the Fed will issue a press release to the markets recapping its views of the country’s current economic condition, and the outlook for the near-term future.

The post-meeting statements from the Fed are brief but comprehensive. And Wall Street eats them up. Every word, sentence and phrase is carefully dissected in the hope of gaining an investment edge over other active traders.

It’s for this reason that mortgage rates tend to be jittery on days the FOMC adjourns. Wall Street is frantically re-balancing its bets.

Today should be no different.

The FOMC is expected to leave the Fed Funds Rate within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent — the lowest it’s been in history. However, it’s what the Fed says Wednesday that will matter more than what it does.

After the Fed’s last meeting in December, it made several observations:

  1. The jobs market is getting “less worse”
  2. The housing sector is making improvements
  3. Financial markets are stabilizing further

The economy is gradually improving, the Fed told us, but there are still risks to the economy ahead. Furthermore, inflation remains in check.

As compared to December’s press release, today’s FOMC statement will be closely watched. If the Fed changes its verbiage in any way that alludes to strong growth and/or inflation in 2010, expect mortgage rates to rise as Wall Street moves its money from bonds to stocks.

Conversely, reference to slower growth in 2010 should lead rates lower.

We can’t know what the Fed will say so if you’re floating a mortgage rate right now or wondering whether the time is right to lock, the safe approach would be to lock prior to 2:15 PM ET Wednesday. After that, what happens to rates is anyone’s guess.


Existing Home Sales Plummet In December, But It Was Expected

January 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Existing Home Sales Dec 2008-Dec 2009Just one month after from blowing away Wall Street, December’s Existing Home Sales hit the skids, shedding nearly 17 percent and falling to a 4-month low.

Don’t be alarmed, though. The plunge was expected. And not just because Pending Home Sales cratered last month.

When November’s Existing Home Sales surged, it was clear to observers that an expiring $8,000 federal tax credit was the catalyst. At the time, the tax program was slated to expire November 30 and the looming deadline pushed a lot of would-be buyers from a December time frame into November.

The expiration date has a cannibalizing effect on December’s sales figures. It was only later that Congress extended the tax credit to June 30, 2010.

So, with home sales plunging in December, it’s no surprise that home supplies rose for the first time in 9 months. Home Supply is calculating by dividing the number of homes for sale by the current sales pace.

The national housing supply now rests at 7.2 months.

Despite December’s Existing Home Sales report appearing shaky, it’s actually terrific new for home buyers.

See, for the past few months, as housing has been improving, sellers nationwide have been bombarded by messages of “hot markets” and rising home prices by the media. Psychologically, a seller is more likely to hold firm on price if he believes the housing market is improving and now December’s data is deflating that argument.

This is why we say there’s always two sides to a housing story — the buyers’ side and the sellers’ side. And, usually, what’s good for one party is bad for the other. It’s what we’re seeing now.

Because of soft data like December’s Existing Home Sales, buyers may retake some negotiation leverage that’s been lost since Spring 2009, helping to improve home affordability and, perhaps, spur more sales.


The Right Way To Make Your Bed When Your Home Is Listed For Sale

January 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Well-made beds aren’t just for comfort — they’re for presentation, too. Especially when you’re selling your home. A pristine bed conveys an image of cleanliness and order to potential home buyers and that can help you get more of your asking price at the point of negotiation.

When homeowners don’t take the time to make a bed, buyers wonder what else around the home is getting neglected.

And there’s a proper way to make a bed, too.

In this 15-step video from Howcast, you’ll learn how to start with a stripped down mattress, add bedding, pillows and a blanket, and end with the hotel-quality look that today’s home buyers expect. The alternative is to leave a bed sloppy, reducing your home’s overall appeal.

To make a bed the right way takes less than 2 minutes. When your home is listed for sale, make making the bed a part of your daily routine.


Housing Permits Spike For The Second Straight Month

January 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Housing Starts Jan 2008-Dec 2009A “Housing Start” is a privately-owned home on which construction has started. It’s an important gauge of housing health because it tracks new housing stock nationwide.

In December 2009, starts fell by nearly 7 percent.

The news is mildly disappointing but not too bad. The likely cause for the Housing Starts drop is December’s rough weather conditions. It’s tough to break ground when Mother Nature won’t coordinate and last month was especially hazardous in a lot of parts of the country.

More cheery, however, is that for the second straight month, Housing Permits exploded.

A housing permit is an certification from local government that authorizes construction. After posting a 7 percent gain in November, permits rose by another 8 percent in December.

It’s a signal that housing is, indeed, in recovery — despite the falling number of actual starts. More permits mean that builders plan to bring more homes on the market for what’s expected to be a very busy spring home-shopping season.

According to the Census Bureau, 82% of homes start construction within 60 days of permit-issuance. Therefore, Housing Starts should start rising soon anyway.

For home buyers, the news couldn’t be better.

With more homes coming online, competition among home sellers should increase, and that will suppress the rise in home prices nationwide.

It’s basic economics. When home supplies grow faster than home demand, prices fall.


Spring 2010 FHA Guidelines Make Borrowing Tougher And More Expensive

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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New FHA guidelinesSecuring an FHA mortgage is about to get more expensive.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Federal Housing Authority outlined policy changes to its mortgage assistance program. The shift is meant to both reduce the government group’s portfolio risk while strengthening its overall financials.

For consumers, the changes mean higher costs.

As listed in the official announcement, there are 3 major guideline updates for the FHA:

  1. Upfront mortgage insurance premiums are increasing to 2.25% from 1.75%
  2. Minimum downpayments for applicants with sub-580 FICOs are rising to 10 percent
  3. Seller concessions are being limited to 3%, down from today’s allowable 6%

Furthermore, the FHA has appealed to Congress to raise an FHA borrowers’ monthly mortgage insurance premiums.

To read the FHA’s statement, it’s clear what the group is trying to balance. On one side, the FHA wants to provide affordable financing to families that need it. That’s its mission statement. On the other side, though, the FHA must manage the risk that comes with insuring lesser-quality loans.

To that end, the FHA is stepping up its enforcement of “bad lenders” in hopes of stopping problems where they start.

Also in its new policies, the FHA is introducing a “termination clause”. If banks or loan officers that produce more than their fair share of bad loans, they lose their right to originate FHA mortgages.

As a result, homebuyers should expect tougher FHA underwriting in 2010. Not because the FHA says so, necessarily, but because banks don’t want to do “bad loans”. Lenders are incented to turn down at-risk applicants and, already, we’re seeing examples of this. Despite FHA allowing 580 FICOs and lower, many banks have made 620 their minimum.

Some have other guideline overlays, too.

The FHA’s new guidelines don’t go into effect until spring. So, between now and then, the old guidelines will apply. Therefore, if you know you’re going to need an FHA home loan in the next few months, consider moving up your time-frame.

If nothing else, you’ll save some money at closing.


There’s 100 Days Left To Claim The Homebuyer Tax Credit

January 20, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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100 days remain for the Home Buyer Tax Credit ExpirationNovember 6, 2009, Congress voted to extend and expand the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit program. There’s 100 days left to claim it.

The expiration date of the up-to-$8,000 tax credit has been pushed forward to spring, requiring homebuyers to be under contract for a home no later than April 30, 2010, and to be closed no later than June 30, 2010.

In addition, “move-up” buyers were also added to the program’s eligibility list meaning you don’t have to be a first-time home buyer to be eligible for the tax credit. If you’ve lived in your home for 5 of the last 8 years, you meet the IRS requirements.

Move-up buyers are capped at a total tax credit of $6,500.

The tax credit’s basic eligibility requirements remain the same:

  • You can’t purchase the home from a parent, spouse, or child
  • You can’t purchase the home from an entity in which they’re a majority owner
  • You can’t acquire the home by gift or inheritance
  • All parties to the purchase must meet eligibility requirements

The new law includes some notable updates, however.

First, the subject property’s sales price may not exceed $800,000. Homes sold for more than $800,000 are ineligible. And, also, household income thresholds have been raised to $125,000 for single-filers and $225,500 for joint-filers.

And lastly, don’t forget that the program is a true tax credit — not a deduction. This means that a tax filer who’s eligible for the full $8,00 credit and whose “normal” tax liability totals $5,000 would receive a $3,000 refund from the U.S. Treasury at tax time.

The complete list of qualifying criteria is posted on the IRS website. Review it with a tax professional to determine your eligibility. Then mark your calendar for April 30, 2010.

There’s just 100 days to go.


Interesting Homes : The Skinniest Home In The City Sells For $2.1 Million

January 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Skinny car is wider than a houseThe next time you think you’ve outgrown your home, imagine what life would be like in New York City’s “skinniest home”. It’s barely wider than your wingspan.

In Greenwich Village, there’s a single-family, 3-story residence in which the interior living space width measures just 8 1/2-feet. By way of reference, that’s 4 inches more narrow than the Smart Fortwo electric automobile.

Even the home’s USPS street address hints at its size. Built on an alleyway, nestled between 75 Bedford Street and 77 Bedford Street, the diminutive home is officially known as 75 1/2 Bedford.

It just sold for $2.1 million.

Meanwhile, big price tags for little homes is nothing new. In 2008, the “Little House” in Toronto sold for the equivalent of $511 per square foot.

(Image courtesy: Wikipedia)


Retail Sales Dropped In December And Now So Are Mortgage Rates

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Retail Sales December 2009

Mortgage rates are dropping this morning on weaker-than-expected Retail Sales data from December. Lower rates means more bang for your home-buying buck.

Excluding motor vehicles and parts, December’s “ex-auto” sales receipts were down roughly $500 million from November. Analysts had expected receipts to grow.

The relevance of Retail Sales to home affordability isn’t obvious, but it’s definitely logical.

Retail Sales is directly related to consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy. When consumer spending slows, the economy often does, too. It leads investors to seek out “safe” investments.

It’s the reason why stock markets often drop on weak economic data — stocks are among the riskiest investment classes available.

Conversely, the best place to find safety is in the market of government-backed bonds. This world includes products like U.S. Treasuries and many of the mortgage-backed bonds that help set mortgage rates. Weak economic data puts mortgage bonds in demand.

For rate shopper, this is good news. More demand for mortgage bonds causes mortgage rates to fall. Mortgage rates are lower this morning because Wall Street is shedding some risk.

December’s Retail Sales report closes out a year of generally-weak data. 2009 marks just the second time that Retail Sales fell year-over-year since the government started tracking it 40 years ago. The other year was 2008.

For home buyers around the country, though, today may represent an opportune time to lock a mortgage rate. Housing data is still improving and other economic indicators are showing strength. Soon, Wall Street will shift from a “safe” mentality and move toward risk.

When it does, mortgage rates will rise.


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