Case-Shiller Shows Home Price Improvement In A Majority Of Cities Nationwide

March 31, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Case-Shiller Monthly Change Dec 2009 - Jan 2010

Standard & Poors released its Case-Shiller Index Wednesday. The report shows that, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, between December and January, home prices rose in more than half of the index’s tracked markets.

The strength of this month’s Case-Shiller report, however, should be put in context.

For one, the report is on a 2-month delay; it’s showing data from January, before the start of the Spring Buying Season and before the rush to beat the tax credit. Anecdotally, buyer interest has been strong since, leading to the types of multiple offer situations that drive home prices northward.

In other words, home values may be even higher than what’s reflected in the January Case-Shiller data above.

Furthermore, the Case-Shiller Index measures home values in just 20 cities nationwide and they’re not even the 20 biggest cities. Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio and San Jose are specifically excluded from the report and each ranks among the country’s 10 most populous areas.

Despite its flaws, though, the Case-Shiller Index remains important. Much like the government’s Home Price Index, the private-sector report helps to finger broad housing trends and housing is still considered a keystone in the U.S. economic recovery.

Even if it’s two months slow.

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Get Your FHA Mortgage Application Started — Fees Increase 1/2 Percent Starting Monday, April 5, 2010

March 30, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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FHA closing costs increase by 1/2 percent April 5 2010Starting Monday, April 5, 2010, getting an FHA mortgage will be more expensive for borrowers.

In new guidelines set forth earlier this year, the FHA announced plans to raise additional revenue and reduce the overall risk of its mortgage portfolio.

The changes include the following:

  1. Increase Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premiums from 1.75% to 2.25% for everyone
  2. A plan to reduce seller concessions from 6 percent to 3 percent
  3. An increase in minimum downpayment for FICOs 580 or lower

For your own loan, to avoid being subject to higher loan costs, make sure to have your FHA Case Number assigned prior to Monday, April 5, 2010. That means you’ll want to give a full mortgage application before the weekend so your lender can register your loan in time for the deadline.

But don’t leave your application to the last minute.

Friday is Good Friday so most banks will be closed. Your true FHA deadline, therefore, is Thursday April 1.

Also worth noting is that the FHA isn’t done with its changes.

In its policy statement, the group also announced its plans to petition Congress to raise monthly mortgage insurance premiums. The FHA’s formal request, in summary:

  1. Raise monthly premiums by roughly 0.30%, or $25 per $100,000 borrowed per month
  2. Lower upfront mortgage insurance premiums by 1.25%, or $1,250 per $100,000 borrowed at closing

For now, the request is neither approved nor acknowledged by Congress. It’s merely a request. And in the event that Congress does approves it, the FHA reserves the right to change its projections. Either way, it means higher costs for consumers.

The best plan, therefore, is to get your FHA mortgage into underwriting ahead of the switches because borrowing money will be harder, and more costly.

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The Baker’s Edge Nonstick Brownie Edge Pan Makes Perfect, Double-Edged Brownies

March 29, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Baker's Edge all edges brownie panFor fans of “edge” pieces, this brownie pan from Baker’s Edge is a cookware best-seller and for good reason. It’s built strong and bakes double-edged, extra chewy brownies to perfection inside and out.

Made from heavy-gauge cast aluminum, the Brownie Edge Pan is a continuous baking chamber that channels heat to all pan parts equally. The result is a more evenly-cooked, better tasting batch of brownies. And with a 9 by 12 by 2 inches capacity, the pan is large enough to handle most homemade and box mixes.

Like cookware, you often get what you pay for with respect to baking products and, at $35 from Amazon.com, the Baker’s Edge Nonstick Brownie Edge Pan may be worth every penny.

Buy one for yourself, or as a housewarming gift for a friend. It’s perfect brownies every time.

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The Home Price Index Shows Home Values Lower Broadly, But Not Specifically

March 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Home Price Index April 2007 to January 2010

Home values fell again in January, according to the Federal Home Finance Agency’s Home Price Index. Values were reported down 0.6 percent, on average.

We say “on average” because the Home Price Index is a national report. It doesn’t capture the essence of a local market , or even a city market.

The most granular that the monthly Home Price Index gets is regional and January’s report shows that:

  • Values in the Mountain states rose 2.0%
  • Values in the Pacific states were flat
  • Values in the East North Central states fell 1.8%

It’s hardly helpful for home buyers entering the market, or home sellers trying to properly price a home. Furthermore, because the Home Price Index reports on a 2-month delay, its data fails to reflect the current market conditions.

Versus January — the period from which HPI data is collected — mortgage rates are lower, buyer activity is up, and the federal home buyer tax credit is closer to expiring. These each can have an impact on housing.

Ultimately, national real estate data like the Home Price Index is best suited for lenders and policy-makers. National data helps to identify trends that shape formal policy, but it doesn’t help you, specifically.

Since peaking in April 2007, the Home Price Index is off 13.2 percent.

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The Average Household Will Get $2,800 In Tax Refunds. Will You?

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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April 15 is Tax Day and the IRS estimates that the average U.S. household will receive a $2,800 tax refund this year. If you’re among the Americans expecting a refund, this 4-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show may be helpful. It’s a talk about how to receive a refund and what to do with it.

Some of the key points discussed include:

  1. Why state-issued tax refunds may be delayed this year
  2. How wage-earning people can claim their “Making Work Pay” tax credit of up to $800
  3. How to direct a tax refund to a 529 college savings plan for an even bigger tax refund

There’s also some sensible pointers on using tax refunds to pay down credit card debt, and to fund retirement plans, among other purposes.

If you haven’t started your tax planning yet, try to avoid leaving it for the last weekend. Not only will your tax preparer have more time for you now, but you’ll leave yourself more time to track down important statements and receipts that can boost your federal and state tax deductions.

Taxes are due in 21 days.

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Existing Home Sales Flatten And Point To A Much Better Spring

March 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Existing Home Sales Feb 2008-Feb 2010As expected, Existing Home Sales fell in February, slipping 30,000 units versus January’s numbers. It’s the 4th straight month in which Existing Home Sales were lower, month-over-month.

An “existing” home is one that is previously owned and lived-in (i.e. not new construction).

Existing Home Sales peaked in November 2009, just as the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit was set to expire. Immediately thereafter, according to the National Association of Realtors

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CNNMoney.com Predicts The Best And Worst Real Estate Markets For 2010

March 23, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Real estate is localCNNMoney.com recently published its 2010 forecast and projections for home prices in the country’s largest metro markets.

Listed as “Top 25” and also comprehensively by state, CNNMoney.com’s home price forecasts puts Santa Rosa, California at the top of 2010’s home appreciation list and Hanford, California at its bottom.

The 10 cities projected for highest home appreciation in 2010 are:

  1. Santa Rosa, CA : +6.0%
  2. Cheyenne, WY : +4.7%
  3. Kennewick, WA : +4.6%
  4. Merced, CA : +4.4%
  5. Bremerton, WA : +4.2%
  6. Fairbanks, AK : +4.2%
  7. Corvallis, OR : +4.1%
  8. Tacoma, WA : +3.9%
  9. Anchorage, AK : +3.8%
  10. Bend, OR : +3.3%

The Pacific Northwest is the region most heavily-represented among price gainers. The Southeast and Middle Atlantic are most represented on the under-perform list.

However, just because a city’s homes are expected to appreciate (or depreciate) in 2010, that doesn’t mean that every home within its limits will follow suit. Real estate cannot be grouped on a city level like CNNMoney.com tries to. There will always be areas in demand within city limits in which prices rise, just as there will be out-of-demand areas in which prices fall.

Real estate data can’t be grouped by city or even by ZIP code, really.

Real estate is more local than that.

When we say “real estate is local”, it means that every street in every town has a distinct set of traits that drives its home values. Homes that are one block closer to the train; or, homes that are facing north; or, homes that are made of brick. Each of these characteristics can affect a home’s desirability which, in turn, can affects its sales price.

National surveys can’t capture “essence” like this. They only report on the aggregate.

For local real estate data, look to established, publicly available websites and to active, local real estate agents. Both will have data and insight that can help you. National surveys often make for good headlines, but do little to help homebuyers find good value.

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Do Your Spring Cleaning Like Martha Stewart

March 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Spring CleaningSpring is here and homeowners are starting their respective Spring Cleaning rituals.

In some households, Spring Cleaning is best tackled in a single weekend filled with rubber gloves, ratty clothes, and sweat. In other homes, it’s a less serious undertaking. Either way, to clean a home from top-to-bottom, you need to have a plan.

If you’ve never used the Martha Stewart, 9-step Spring Cleaning Organizer, check it out. It covers the basics:

  • Cleaning shades and windows
  • Sorting through wardrobes for “old” clothes
  • Cleaning and rotating mattresses and cushions

For most of the cleaning, everyday household cleansers and a vacuum or rags will do the trick.

There are a few items on the list, however, that require heavy-duty appliances; ones you may not keep at-home. For example, cleaning carpets is best-handled with a steam cleaner. You can choose to rent cleaning equipment from a local hardware store, or considering hiring an Angie’s List contractor to do the job. It’ll be more expensive, but the job will be done properly.

Also on the list is a reminder to check batteries in smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and flashlights.

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For Clues About The Future Of Mortgage Rates, Watch For Inflation

March 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Inflation is bad for mortgage ratesHomes are more affordable across the nation as the housing market emerges from a slow winter season with mortgage rates still near 5 percent.

Soft housing and low rates are an excellent combination for home buyers but whereas home values rise with a gradual pace, mortgage rates change in an instant. It’s something worth watching.

Each 0.25% increase to conventional or FHA rates adds approximately $16 per month for each $100,000 borrowed. Mortgage rate volatility can change your household budget.

If you’re trying to gauge whether rates will be rising or falling, one keyword for which to listen is “inflation”. Mortgage rates are highly responsive to inflation.

By definition, inflation is when a currency loses its value; when what used to cost $2.00 now costs $2.15. As consumers, we perceive inflation as goods becoming more expensive. However, it’s not that goods are more expensive, per se. It’s that the dollars used to buy them are worth less.

This is a big deal to mortgage rates because mortgage bonds are denominated, bought, and sold in U.S. dollars. As the dollar loses value to inflation, therefore, so does the value of every mortgage bond in existence. When bonds lose their value, investors don’t want them and bond prices fall. Mortgage rates move opposite of bond prices.

Prices down, rates up.

In today’s market, the relationship between inflation and mortgage rates is helping home buyers. The Cost of Living made its smallest annual gain in 6 years last month and the Fed has repeatedly said that inflation will stay low for some time. The combination is driving investors to buy mortgage bonds which, in turn, suppresses rates.

So long as it lasts, the cost of homeownership will remain relatively low. Combined with the expiring tax credit, the timing to buy a home may be as good as it gets.

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Single-Family Housing Starts Hold Steady For The 8th Straight Month

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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Housing Starts Mar 2008-Feb 2010Single-family Housing Starts idled last month, dropping just 3,000 units from the month prior, or 0.2%.

According to the Commerce Department’s report, February marked the 8th straight month in which Housing Starts straddled the half-million marker, dating back to June 2009.

This is a different slant on the Housing Starts story as told by the press.

Most publications are reporting that Housing Starts fell 5.9 percent in February. Technically, this is true. Housing Starts did fall 5.9 percent last month. However, the Housing Starts data is comprised of three parts:

  1. Single-Family Housing Starts
  2. 2-4 Unit Housing Starts
  3. “Apartment Building” Housing Starts (i.e. 5 or more units)

The press tends to lump all 3 together but that’s not relevant for everyday homeowners and buyers.

2-4 unit homes, and apartments and condos are a different housing class as compared to single-family homes and are notoriously volatile, too. Single-family starts are more steady and better reflect the country’s housing stock.

Single-family housing starts are up 32 percent over the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, the pace of new buyers has not kept up with the pace of new housing stock. Therefore, because home prices are based on supply-and-demand, the price for a newly-built home was down, on average, 7 percent nationwide in January.

With the federal home buyer tax credit expiring soon, home buyers will likely create new demand for homes. And with Housing Starts holding steady near 500,000, that should push prices higher through the spring months.

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