Archive for October, 2012

19 of 20 Case-Shiller Index Markets Improve In August

October 31, 2012

Case-Shiller Index : Home Prices Between July and August 2012

Home value rose to close out the summer, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller Index, a national home-valuation tracker.

Nationwide, values rose 0.9% between July and August 2012 with 19 of 20 tracked markets showing improvement. Only one tracked city — Seattle, Washington — showed a decrease, falling just 0.1 percent.

On an annual basis, 17 of the 20 Case-Shiller Index markets improved, led by Phoenix. Home values in the Arizona city are up 18.8 percent from August 2011. The next closest city in terms of home price gains is Detroit, Michigan at 7.6 percent

We should temper our excitement for the August Case-Shiller Index, however. Although it suggests an ongoing U.S. housing recovery, the methodology of the Case-Shiller Index is far-from-perfect. In fact, one could argue that the index is more effective for policy-makers than for actual buyers and sellers of real estate.

There are three reasons for this :

  1. The Case-Shiller Index tracks home prices of single-family homes only. Multi-unit homes are excluded.
  2. The Case-Shiller Index can be distorted by “discounted” home sales (e.g.; foreclosure, short sale).
  3. The Case-Shiller Index publishes on a two-month delay — data is hardly current.

Beyond the above three points, however, the Case-Shiller Index falls short in another area — it ignores the basic tenet of housing that “all real estate is local”. In using 20 cities to represent the entire United States, the Case-Shiller Index reduces more than 3,100 municipalities into a single “market”.

Even within its 20 tracked cities, the Case-Shiller Index fails short as a housing market barometer. This is because — even with cities — home values vary. Some zip codes perform better than others, for example, as do some streets. The Case-Shiller Index can’t capture markets with that level of detail.

National housing data helps in spotting broader trends of growth but provides very little for today’s active buyers and sellers of real estate who need “real-time” data. For that, talk to a local real estate agent.

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Pending Home Sales Index Suggests Housing Momentum Into 2013

October 30, 2012

Pending Home Sales Index 09-2012The home resales is expected to finish the year with strength.

Last month, for the fifth straight month, the Pending Home Sales Index hovered near its benchmark value of 100, registering 99.5 in September.

he Pending Home Sales Index tracks homes under contract to sell, but not yet sold, and is published by the National Association of REALTORS®. The index is a relative one. It compares today’s housing market activity to the housing market activity of 2001 — the index’s first year of existence.

The Pending Home Sales Index has averaged 99.1 this year.

Among housing market indicators, the Pending Home Sales Index is unique. It doesn’t report on prior market activity as the Existing Home Sales and New Home Sales reports do. By contrast, the Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking indicator.

The real estate trade association tell us that 80% of U.S. homes under contract go to closing within 60 days, and many of the rest go within Months 3 and 4. In this way, the monthly Pending Home Sales Index can foreshadow to today’s home buyers and sellers what’s next for housing.

Based on September’s Pending Home Sales Index, then, we should expect to see closed home sales stay strong through November and December. That said, home sales are expected to vary by region.

Here is how the Pending Home Sales Index broke down by area last month as compared to one year ago on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis :

  • Northeast Region : +26.1% from September 2011
  • Midwest Region : +19.3% from September 2011
  • South Region : +17.6% from September 2011
  • West Region : +0.8% from September 2011

Often, the last few months of a year are considered to be a “slow” period for the housing market. Based on regional, annual Pending Home Sales Index improvements, though, 2012 may be different. The market looks poised to finish with momentum that may carry home prices higher into 2013.

For today’s home buyers, mortgage rates remain low and home prices have only started to climb.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : October 29, 2012

October 29, 2012

The jobs report puts the economy is focusMortgage markets ended the week slightly better last week. Wall Street took its cues from U.S. economic data, from developments in Europe, and from the Federal Reserve, moving mortgage rates lower in Utah and nationwide.

Pricing for both conforming and FHA mortgage rates improved between Monday and Friday, with the majority of gains occurring late in the week.

The timing of the gains explains why Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate report showed the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate rising this week when, in fact, it did not. Because Freddie Mac conducts its mortgage rate survey at the start of the week, its survey respondents had no time to acknowledge late-week improvements.

Freddie Mac said the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate rose to 3.41% for home buyers and refinancing households willing to pay 0.7 discount points at closing plus a full set of closing costs. 

Mortgage applicants choosing zero-point mortgages should expect a higher rate.

The biggest event of last week was the Federal Open Market Committee’s seventh scheduled meeting of the year. The FOMC’s post-meeting press release described the U.S. economy as growing, and inflation as stable. The Fed re-iterated its pledge to QE3, a stimulus program geared at keeping mortgage rates suppressed. The group also said it would hold the Fed Funds Rate low until at least mid-2015.

Lastly, the Fed showed optimism about the broader U.S. housing market — and for good reason. Since October 2011, housing has trended higher and last week saw the release of the September New Homes Sales report and the September Pending Home Sales Index. Both showed strength.

This week, the market’s biggest story is Friday’s release of the October Non-Farm Payrolls report. Jobs are a keystone in the U.S. economic recovery so the monthly jobs report holds sway over mortgage rates. If the number of jobs created exceeds Wall Street expectations, mortgage rates will rise and purchasing power will shrink.

The U.S. economy has added jobs in each of the previous 24 months. 

New Home Supply Remains Firmly In “Seller’s Market” Territory

October 26, 2012

New Home Supply chartThe U.S. housing market appears headed for a strong close to 2012.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold jumped to 389,000 units in September 2012 on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

Not since the expiration of the $8,000 federal home buyer tax credit in April 2010 have new homes sold at such volumes.

September’s tally marks a 5.7 percent increase from the month prior, and a 27 percent increase from September 2011. There are now just 145,000 new homes for sale nationwide and, according to the National Association of Homebuilders, buyer demand continues to grow.

At today’s pace of home sales, the entire U.S. inventory of new homes for sale would sell out in 4.5 months. By way of comparison, in January 2009, new home supply was 12.1 months.

When home supplies dip below 6.0 months, analysts say, it signifies a “seller’s market”; one in which sellers tend to benefit from negotiation leverage over buyers. The national New Home Supply has been below 6.0 months since October 2011.

Perhaps that’s one reason why the average new home sale price has climbed 14.5 percent over the past 12 months to $292,400; and why median new home sales prices have made a similar jump.

With builders reporting prospective buyer foot traffic at its highest level since 2006, home supplies are shrinking at a time when buyer demand is rising.  Low mortgage rates and affordable housing choices contribute, too.

30-year fixed rate mortgage rates have been under 4 percent for all of 2012, and are now under 3.50% nationwide. Low rates make for low monthly payments but, like home prices, conditions can’t remain buyer-friendly forever.

For today’s home buyers of new construction, the outlook for finding “great deals” in 2013 may be grim. New home prices are expected to rise and supplies will continue to get scarce. The best homes in the new construction market, therefore, may be the ones you buy today.

By early-next year, low home prices may be gone, and low mortgage rates may be, too.

Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (October 24 , 2012)

October 24, 2012

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishThe Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent Wednesday.

For the ninth consecutive meeting, the vote was nearly unanimous. And, also for the ninth consecutive meeting, Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker was the lone dissenter in the 9-1 vote.

The Fed Funds Rate has been near zero percent since December 2008.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve noted that, since its last meeting six weeks ago, the U.S. economy has been expanding “at a moderate pace”, led by growth in household spending. However, “strains in global financial markets” continue to remain threat to U.S. economic growth, a comment which references to the Eurozone and its economy.

The Fed’s statement also included the following economic observations :

  1. Growth in employment has been slow; unemployment is elevated
  2. Inflation pressures remains stable, and below 2%
  3. Business spending on equipment and structures has slowed

In addition, the Fed addressed the housing market, stating that there have been “further signs” of improvement, “albeit from a depressed level”.

Finally, the Federal Reserve re-affirmed its commitment to its most recent stimulus program, a bond-buying program known as QE3.

Via QE3, the Federal Reserve has been purchasing $40 billion in mortgage-backed bonds monthly, with no defined “end date”. QE3 is meant to suppress U.S. mortgage rates.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has said that QE3 will remain in place until the U.S. economy has recovered in full, at least. It’s a plan that may help home buyers in Utah and nationwide. Since QE3 launched, mortgage rates have moved to new all-time lows.

The Fed also used its meeting to announce that it intends to hold the Fed Funds Rate near its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent until mid-2015, at least.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is a two-day event and its last of the year, December 11-12, 2012.

Home Supplies Drop To Multi-Year Low

October 24, 2012

Existing Home Supply drops to 5.9 months

As the third quarter closed, home resales showed considerable momentum nationwide.

The National Association of REALTORS® reports Existing Home Sales at 4.75 million units in September 2012 on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, an 11 percent increase from one year ago.

An “existing home” is a home that’s been previously occupied; a resale.

The reading marks the second-highest tally of the year — second only to August 2012 when 4.83 million homes were sold on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. The real estate trade association reports that there are now just 2.32 million previously-occupied homes for sale nationwide.

It’s the thinnest national home supply since March 2005 and, at today’s sales pace, all 2.32 million homes would sell in 5.9 months.

A 6.0-month home supply is thought to represent a market in balance. September’s home supply, therefore, suggests a market which favors sellers. Buyers in many U.S. markets may have noticed this shift. Multiple-offer situations are increasingly common and “right-priced” homes are selling quickly.

The median Time on Market is down 31 percent from last year to 70 days nationwide.

Meanwhile, for purchasers of foreclosures and short sales, September Existing Home Sales report included interesting data on the relative value of buying “distressed” property :

  • Foreclosures sold at an average discount of 21% to market value last month
  • Short sales sold at an average discount of 13% to market value last month

And, although distressed homes remain a large part of the U.S. housing market, their relative size is shrinking.

In September, foreclosures and short sales accounted for roughly 1 in 4 home sales. Earlier this year, that figure was 1 in 3.

For today’s home buyer, September’s Existing Home Sales report may be a “buy signal”. With home supplies down and demand for homes rising, home prices are poised to increase through the last three months of 2012 and into the start 2013.

The Most Expensive U.S. ZIP Codes (2012 Edition)

October 23, 2012

Most expensive ZIP codes in the U.S.Since late-2011, home values have climbed in many U.S. markets.

The government’s Home Price index puts the increase at +3.7% an annual basis and the National Association of REALTORS® shows home sale prices up 11% since last year.

The price at which a home sells is determined by the economic force of supply-and-demand but location and amenities matter, too; establishing a baseline from which supply-and-demand can work. 

Using data compiled by real estate market data firm Altos Research, Forbes Magazine recently presented America’s 10 most expensive ZIP codes for 2012. California and the New York Metro area dominate the list.

  1. New York, NY (10065) : $6,534,430
  2. Alpine, NJ (07620) : $5,745,038
  3. Atherton, CA (94027) : $4,897,864
  4. Sagaponack, NY (11962) : $4,180,385
  5. Hillsborough, CA (94010) : $4,127,250
  6. New York, NY (10014) : $4,116,506
  7. Los Altos Hills, CA (94022) : $4,016,050
  8. New York, NY (10021) : $3,980,829
  9. Rolling Hills, CA (90274) : $3,972,500
  10. New York, NY (10075) : $3,885,409

As an illustration of how home prices have climbed since Forbes publishes last year’s Most Expensive ZIP code list, this year’s #10 — Upper East Side, New York City, New York — would have ranked third in 2011.

The Forbes list may be interesting but, to home buyers or sellers , it’s far from the final word in home values. Real estate remains a local market which means that — even within a given ZIP code — prices can vary based on street and neighborhood, and home characteristics.

Look past the general data and get to the specifics. Talk to your real estate agent for local market pricing.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : October 22, 2012

October 22, 2012

FOMC meets this week -- mortgage rates get volatileMortgage markets worsened last week as hope for a European economic rebound and stronger-than-expected U.S. economic data moved investors out of mortgage-backed bonds.

Mortgage rates all of types — conventional, FHA and VA — lost ground last week, harming home affordability reducing purchasing power nationwide.

Rising rates also thwarted would-be refinancing households hoping to time a market bottom.

The increase runs counter to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey which showed the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate dropping 2 basis points to 3.37% nationwide.

This contradiction occurred because Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey is conducted Monday through Wednesday, and because the majority of the surveyed banks reply to Freddie Mac on Tuesday. As a consequence, Freddie Mac failed to capture this week’s mid-week movement that took mortgage bonds to a one-month worst.

Access to Freddie Mac mortgage rates is for “prime” borrowers and requires payment of discount points plus closing costs.

This week, mortgage rates may rise again. There is a lot of news on which for Wall Street to trade, beginning with the week’s biggest story — the Federal Open Market Committee’s 2-day meeting scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

At the FOMC’s last meeting, the Federal Reserve introduced a third round of qualitative easing (QE3), a program through which the Fed will work to keep mortgage rates low until the economy’s recovery is more complete.

The Fed is expected to announce no new stimulus in this, its seventh of eight scheduled meetings for 2012, however, mortgage rates are typically volatile in the hours after the FOMC adjourns.

New housing data is set for release this week, too.

Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau will release September’s tally of New Home Sales. Given the recent strength in Housing Starts and rising confidence among the nation’s home builders, New Home Sales may best analyst calls for 385,000 new home sold last month on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

Strength in housing has recently correlated with rising mortgage rates.

The housing market’s forward-looking Pending Home Sales Index is released Thursday.

How To Improve Your FICO Score

October 19, 2012

The U.S. housing market recovery is underway. New home sales are at a multi-year high, housing starts are at pre-recession levels, and home builders plan for a strong 2013.

Since late-2011, falling mortgage rates have boosted buyer purchasing power. Now, today, in many U.S. markets, the number of active home buyers outnumbers the number of active home sellers. It’s among the reasons why home supplies remain scarce and why home prices are rising.

Roughly 20 percent of today’s home buyers purchase homes with cash. For everyone else, the ability to gain mortgage approval depends on income, assets, and, most importantly, credit scores. Your credit score is a predictor of your future payment performance and lenders pay close attention. 

If you plan to buy a home in the next 12 months, spend some time with this The Today Show interview. It’s five minutes of practical credit scoring advice, including separation of credit score myth from credit score fact.

Among the credit scoring tips shared :

  • How to get your credit checked without harming your credit score
  • The value of using automatic payments with credit cards
  • How to use “old” credit cards to boost your credit score

You’ll also learn about utility companies and why you should never be late with payment.

As compared to August 2011, last month’s average, mortgage-financing home buyer’s FICO score improved 9 points to 750. The average “denied” mortgage applicant’s FICO score was 704. Clearly, standards are high. However, credit scoring is a system and, with time, you can improve your rating. 

Watch the interview and find ways to make your credit score better. With better credit comes better mortgage rates.

Single-Family Housing Starts Rise To 4-Year High

October 18, 2012

Housing StartsThe housing market continues to improve.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, Single-Family Housing Starts rose to 603,000 last month, an 11 percent increase from the month prior and the highest reading in more than 4 years. 

A “housing start” is a home on which construction has started and home builders are breaking ground at rates not seen even during the 2010 federal home buyer tax credit period.

It’s a signal to home buyers throughout Utah that the U.S. housing market may be permanently off its bottom.

At least, the nation’s home builders seem to think so.

Earlier this week, the National Association of Homebuilders reported home builder confidence at a 5-year high and nearly triple the levels of last September.

Buoyed by rising sales volume and the heaviest foot traffic since 2006, builders expect the next 6 months of sales to outpace the current rate. It may spell higher home prices for today’s new construction buyer.

Thankfully, mortgage rates remain low.

As compared to last year, today’s buyers have extended purchasing power. Assuming a 20 percent downpayment and a conforming home loan :

  • September 2011 : A $1,000 mortgage payment afforded a purchase price of $202,000
  • September 2012 : A $1,000 mortgage payment afforded a purchase price of $226,000

That’s an 11.9% increase in purchasing power increase over just twelve months. When combined with today’s rising rents throughout many U.S. markets, demand for new construction homes remains high and builders have taken notice.  Buyers should, too.

With mortgage rates low, low downpayment programs available and home prices poised to rise, it’s an opportune time to be a home buyer. Housing has been trending better since late-2011 and will likely carry that momentum forward into 2013. 

If you’ve been shopping new construction, remember that as mortgage rates and home prices rise, home affordability drops.