Archive for January, 2010

Home Values Rose In November 2009 By Another 0.7 Percent

January 29, 2010

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

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

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 disected 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 rebalancing 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

Existing Home Sales Dec 2008-Dec 2009Just one month after 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 had 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 news 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 their 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.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 25, 2010

January 25, 2010

The FOMC meets this week -- mortgage rates will be volatileConforming and FHA mortgage rates improved last week on the combination of weaker-than-expected economic data and new anti-banking rhetoric from the White House.

The S&P 500 shed nearly 4 percent in its worst weekly showing since October 2009 as all 10 sectors fell. As the money left stock markets, it made its way to bonds — including the mortgage-backed variety.

As a result, Utah mortgage rates fell for the third straight week.

Since shedding 300 basis points in December, mortgage bond pricing has recovered a bit more than half of those losses.  It’s helping with home affordability and opening new refinance opportunities around the country.

This week, though, mortgage rates could rise back up.  There’s a lot going on.

First, on Monday, the December Existing Homes Sales report will be released.  The report is expected to be extremely weak as compared to November.  This is because of a combination of factors including:

  1. The initial tax credit expiration date of November 30, 2009
  2. Sharply rising mortgage rates throughout the month of December
  3. A general slowdown from the holidays and from the weather

Therefore, don’t be surprised by the newspaper headlines you see Tuesday morning.

Other data this week includes the Case-Shiller Index — a measure of home prices nationwide — and the New Home Sales report. The Case-Shiller Index has registered mild home price improvement over the past 8 months and its latest report is expected to show the same.  New Home Sales should be similarly strong.

But, the biggest news of the week is the first Federal Open Market Committee meeting of 2010. 

The Fed meets Tuesday and Wednesday this week and Wall Street will be watching closely.  The Fed is not expected to change the Fed Funds Rate from its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent, so, instead, markets will watching for the Fed’s post-meeting press release.

What the Fed says about the economy will be much more important that what it specifically does about the economy for now.  If the Fed says the economy is growing as expected, look for mortgage rates to rise. Conversely, if the Fed says the economy is at risk, expect mortgage rates to fall.

The safest rate lock strategy this week is to lock your mortgage rate before the Fed’s 2:15 PM ET adjournment Wednesday.  Rates will be bouncy all week, but once the Fed’s press release hits the wires, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.

Sargents Briefing Jan 22 2010

January 22, 2010

Spring 2010 FHA Guidelines Make Borrowing Tougher And More Expensive

January 21, 2010

New FHA guidelinesSecuring an FHA mortgage in Utah 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.

FHA’s 90 day resale rule waived

January 20, 2010

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

January 20, 2010

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.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 19, 2010

January 19, 2010

Inflation squeezes mortgage ratesMortgage markets showed little conviction last week, carving out just a narrow trading channel. There was very little data on which for markets to move, leaving mortgage rates momentum-bound.

Luckily for rate shoppers, mortgage rate momentum was favorable. Rates were slightly lower Monday through Thursday before breaking downward Friday afternoon. Home shoppers this past weekend caught a nice break.

Last week marked the second straight week in which mortgage rates fell.

This week, in holiday-shortened trading and with little economic data set for release, expect mortgage rates to again move on momentum. The biggest report of the week is Wednesday’s Producer Price Index.

Producer Price Index is important to mortgage rates because of its role in inflation.  PPI is akin to a Cost of Living-type measurement, but for business.  As business costs rise, the thought goes, it’s not long before consumer costs rise, too. Businesses eventually pass on costs, after all.

In this manner, a rising Producer Price Index can foreshadow rising consumer prices, and, therefore, inflation.

Inflation is awful for mortgage rates.

PPI expectations have revised downward this month, especially because last week’s data showed a deceleration in consumer prices nationwide. If PPI isn’t as weak as expected, mortgage rates will rise.

Other influential data this week includes Housing Starts, Consumer Confidence and Initial Jobless Claims.

So far, 2010 has been favorable for mortgage rates in Utah and around the country. If you’re in need of a rate lock, this week may be a good time to take one.