Earlier this week, the private-sector Case-Shiller Index showed home prices slightly lower between November and December. Thursday, the public-sector Home Price Index showed the same.
Publishing on a 2-month lag, the Federal Home Finance Agency said home prices fell by 1.6 percent nationally in December. And that’s an average, of course. Some regions performed well in December as compared to November, others didn’t.
- Values in the Middle Atlantic states improved slightly
- Values in New England were essentially unchanged
- Values in the Mountain states sagged, down 3.5%
These aren’t just footnotes. They’re an important piece toward understanding what national real estate statistics really mean. In short, “national statistics” are just a compilation of a bunch of local statistics.
For example, if we dig deeper into the FHFA Home Price Index 70-page report, we find that cities like Terre Haute, IN, Buffalo, NY, and Amarillo, TX posted year-over-year home price gains. You won’t see that in a “national” report.
Furthermore, it’s a sure bet that those same cities, you could find neighborhoods that are thriving, and others that are not. Just because the city shows higher home values overall, it won’t necessarily be the case for every home in the city.
Every street in every neighborhood of every town in America has its own “local real estate market” and, in the end, that’s what should be most important to today’s buyers and sellers. National data helps identify trends and shape government policy but, to the layperson, it’s somewhat irrelevant.
So, when you need to know whether your home is gaining or losing value, you can’t look at the national data. You have to look at your block — what’s selling and not selling — and start your valuations from there.
The housing recovery showed particular weakness in the New Homes Sales category last month — good news for homebuyers around the country.
A “new home” is a home for which there’s no previous owner.
New Home Sales fell 11 percent from the month prior and posted the fewest units sold in a month since 1963 — the year the government first started tracking New Home Sales data.
Right now, there are roughly 234,000 new homes for sale nationwide and, at the current sales pace, it would take 9.1 months to sell them all. This is nearly 2 months longer than at October 2009’s pace.
The reasons for the spike in supply are varied:
- The original home buyer tax credit expired in November
- Weather conditions were awful in most of the country in January
- Weak employment and consumer confidence continue to hinder big ticket sales
Now, these might be less-than-optimal developments for the economy as a whole, but for buyers of new homes, it’s a welcome turn of events. Home prices are based on supply and demand, after all.
As a result, this season’s home buyers may be treated to “free” upgrades from home builders, plus seller concessions and lower sales prices overall.
It’s all a matter of timing, of course. New Home Sales reports on a 1-month lag so it’s not necessarily reflective of the current, post-Super Bowl home buying season. And from market to market, sales activity varies.
That said, mortgage rates remain low, home prices are steady, and the federal tax credit gives two more months to go under contract. It’s a favorable time to buy a new home.
Using data compiled in December, Standard & Poors released its Case-Shiller Index Tuesday. The report shows home prices down just 2.5% on an annual basis, a figure much lower than the 8.7% annual drop reported after Q3.
According to Case-Shiller representatives, the housing market is “in better shape than it was this time last year”, but some of the summer’s momentum has been lost. 15 of 20 tracked markets declined in value between November and December 2009.
Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note the 5 markets that didn’t decline — Detroit, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego. Each of these metro regions were among the hardest hit nationwide when home prices first broke. Now, they’re leading the pack in price recovery.
For some real estate investors, that’s a positive signal. But we also have to consider the Case-Shiller Index’s flaws because they’re big ones.
- Case-Shiller data is reported on a 2-month lag
- The Case-Shiller sample set includes just 20 U.S. cities
- There’s no “national real estate market” — real estate is local
That said, the Case-Shiller Index is still important. As the most widely-used private sector housing index, Case-Shiller helps to identify broader housing trends and many people believe housing is a key element in the economic recovery.
If the markets that led the housing decline will lead the housing resurgence, December’s data shows that full recovery is right around the corner.
You can’t get your mortgage rates from the newspaper. Last week proved it. Again.
Friday morning, headlines and around the country read that mortgage rates were down 0.04 percent, on average, since the week prior.
A sampling of said headlines includes:
- US Mortgage Rates Drop For 2nd Straight Week (Reuters)
- Mortgage Rates On 30-year US Loans Fall To 4.93% (Business Week)
- 30-Year Fixed Mortgage Rate Falls Farther Below 5% (Marketwatch)
The story behind the headline was sourced from the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey, am industry-wide mortgage rate poll of more than 100 lenders. The PMMS has reported mortgage rate data to markets since 1971 and is the largest of its kind.
Unfortunately, rate shoppers can’t rely on it.
See, unlike governments and private-sector firms, when consumers are in need mortgage rate information, they need the information delivered in real-time; for making decisions on-the-spot. Consumers need to know what rates are doing right now.
The Freddie Mac survey can’t offer that.
According to Freddie Mac, the survey’s methodology is to collect mortgage rates from lenders between Monday and Wednesday and to publish that data Thursday morning. The survey results are an average of all reported mortgage rates. The problem is that mortgage rates change all day, every day. The PMMS results are skewed, therefore, by methodology.
And, meanwhile, the issue was compounded last week because mortgage rates shot higher Wednesday afternoon — after the survey had “closed”. The market deterioration ran into Thursday, too — again, unable to be captured by Freddie Mac’s PMMS.
Although the newspapers reported mortgage rates down last week, they weren’t. Conforming mortgage rates were higher by at least 1/8 percent, or roughly $11 per $100,000 borrowed per month. In some cases, rates were up by even more.
Newspapers and websites can give a lot of good information, but pricing is far too fluid to rely on a reporter. When you need to know what mortgage rates are doing in real-time, make sure you’re talking to a loan officer. Otherwise, you may just be getting yesterday’s news.
Replacing a home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) air filter is one way to keep the unit’s motor running right. It’s an oft-forgotten part of keeping a well-run home. And, it’s simple, too.
In the two-minute video above, you’ll learn how to replace an air filter from start-to-finish. There’s no need for tools and no need for experience — the job is about as basic as home maintenance jobs come.
Air filters should be changed at least quarterly but it’s okay to change on a monthly rotation, too — especially if your home has shedding pets, or is under construction or repair. Just remember that not all air filters are created equal.
In this famous video, we see how $0.99 filters can fail to get the job done. Spending $10-15 for a filter that works is a better idea.
Save money by buying in bulk.
Sometimes, headlines for housing can be misleading and this week gave us a terrific example.
On Wednesday, the Commerce Department released its Housing Starts data for January 2010. The data showed starts at a 6-month high.
A “Housing Start” is a privately-owned home on which construction has started.
Headlines on the Housing Starts story included:
- U.S. Housing Starts Hit 6-Month High (Reuters)
- U.S. Economy Receives Home Building Boost (Shepparton)
- Housing Starts Post Sharp Rebound (ABC)
Based to the headlines, the housing market looks poised for rapid growth through the Spring Market.
The real story, though, is that although Housing Starts increased by close to 3 percent last month, the growth is mostly attributed to buildings with 5 or more units. This includes apartments and condominiums — a sector of the housing market that’s notoriously volatile.
If we isolate Housing Starts for single-family homes only, we see that starts grew by just 7,000 units last month and have failed to break a range since June 2009. January’s tally is slightly below the 8-month average.
Perhaps more interesting than the Housing Starts, though, is the Commerce Department’s accompanying data for Housing Permits. After a 5-month plateau that ended in November, Housing Permits posted multi-year highs for the second straight month.
According to the Census Bureau, 82% of homes start construction within 60 days of permit-issuance.
One reason permits are up is that home builders want to capitalize on the federal homebuyer tax credit’s dwindling time frame. Sales are expected to spike in March and April and more homes will come online to deal with that demand. Home buyers should shop carefully, but with an eye on the clock.
As the tax credit’s April 30, 2010 deadline approaches, competition for homes may be fierce.
Mortgage markets reeled Wednesday after the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its January 26-27, 2010 meeting. Mortgage rates are now at their highest levels since the start of the year.
The Fed Minutes is a follow-up document, delivered 3 weeks after an official FOMC meeting. It’s a companion piece to the post-meeting press release, detailing the debates and discussions that shaped our central bankers’ policy decisions.
The Minutes is a terrific look into the Fed’s collective mind and, yesterday, Wall Street didn’t like what it saw. Specifically, the report disclosed that:
- The Fed plans to break support for mortgage markets after March 31, 2010
- Raising the Fed Funds Rate will be a key part of the Fed’s strategy to tighten monetary policy
- The fundamentals behind consumer spending strengthened modestly
Furthermore, the Fed Minutes said that there is a growing risk of “higher medium-term inflation”. Inflation, of course, is awful for mortgage rates.
Overall, the Fed’s economic optimism appeared stronger after its January meeting as compared to its December one. A stronger economy should lead to better job growth and higher home prices throughout 2010.
Mortgage rates were up yesterday but they remain historically low. And many analysts think that after March 31, 2010, rates will rise even more. Therefore, if you’re buying a home in the near-term, or know you’ll need a new mortgage, consider moving up your time frame.
Every 1/8 percent makes a difference in your household budget.
According to the Census Bureau, 2.8 million people commute to work 90 minutes or more each day, in each direction.
Now, your daily commute may not be as long, but time spent in cars, trains and buses is time away from work and from family. Drive-time can affect a person’s Quality of Life and it’s one reason why Forbes Magazine’s Best and Worst Commutes is worth reviewing.
Measuring travel time, road congestion and travel delays in the 60 largest metropolitan areas, Forbes ranks city commutes from best-to-worst with Salt Lake City topping the list and Tampa-St. Petersburg finishing it.
The Top 5 Commutes, as compiled by Forbes:
- Salt Lake City, Utah
- Buffalo-Niagara Falls, New York
- Rochester, New York
- Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisconsin
- Albany-Schenectady-Troy, New York
The bottom 5 are Tampa-St. Petersburg, Detroit, Atlanta, Orlando, and Dallas-Forth Worth.
Long commutes shouldn’t deter you from moving to a particular city, but the potential commute should be consideration. Before making an offer on your next home, make a rush-hour commute to work from your potential new neighborhood. Then imagine doing it every day.
You can read the complete Forbes list of Best and Worst Cities for Commuters on its website.
Sometimes, price tags just don’t want to unstick. No matter how hard you scrub and scrape, tacky residence stays behind. Turns out, getting “the stick” off your stickers isn’t so hard when you have the right tools.
In this 2-minute video from eHow.com, you’ll learn how to remove stickers and adhesive-based price tags from common household items including:
- Wooden furniture
- Glass vases and other glassware
- Plastic pieces
- Cardboard boxes
The best part? All the supplies you’ll need are already in your home.
Consumer Sentiment has been on the rise since last February and it’s something to which home buyers should pay attention.
The affordability of your next home may hinge on consumer confidence.
As the economy recovers from a near-the-brink recession, many of the elements of a full recovery are in place. Business investment is returning, household spending is expanding, and financial systems are gaining strength.
Consumer confidence is at a 2-year high.
What’s missing from the recovery, though, is jobs growth. Another net 20,000 jobs were lost in January. Data like that hinders economic growth.
That said, twenty-thousand jobs lost is a much better figure than the several hundred thousand that were shed per month throughout early-2009, but it’s still a net negative number. Not only does household income drop when Americans lose jobs but so does the average American’s confidence in his or her own economic future.
This is one reason why jobs growth is so closely watched by Wall Street — jobs are linked to higher confidence levels which, in turn, is believed to spur consumer spending.
Consumer spending represents 70% of the U.S. economy.
As confidence rises, it could be good news for the economy, but bad news for home buyers. More spending expands the economy and, all things equal, that leads mortgage rates higher.
Same for home prices. More confidence means more buyers which, in turn, squeezes the supply-and-demand curve in favor of sellers.
Later this morning, the University of Michigan will release its February Consumer Sentiment survey. If the reading is higher-than-expected, prepare for mortgage rates to rise and home affordability to worsen.