Lock Now? Friday's Job Report Expected To Push Mortgage Rates Up.

Net new jobs (2009-2011)Friday is a pivotal day for mortgage markets and conforming mortgage rates across Georgia. At 8:30 AM ET, the government will release its March Non-Farm Payrolls report.

More commonly known as "the jobs report", the monthly Non-Farm Payrolls is a market-mover and home buyers would do well to pay attention. Depending on the report's strength, mortgage rates could rise, or fall, by a measurable amount tomorrow morning.

It's because so much of the today's mortgage market is tied to the economy, and economic growth is dependant on job growth.

With more job growth, there's more consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy. Additionally, it generates more payroll taxes to local, state and federal governments. This, too, puts the broader economy on more solid footing.

Between 2008 and 2009, the economy shed 7 million jobs. It has since recovered 1.5 million of them. Friday, analysts expect to count another 190,000 jobs created. If the actual figure falls short, expect mortgage rates to ease.

Otherwise, look for rates to rise. Probably by a lot.

If you're shopping for a mortgage right now, consider your personal risk tolerance. Once the BLS releases its data, it will be too late to lock in at today's interest rates. If the idea of rising mortgage rates makes you nervous, execute your rate lock today instead.

On a 30-year fixed rate loan, each 1/8 percent increase to rates adds roughly $7 per $100,000 borrowed.


January 2011 Case-Shiller Index : Weak And Flawed

Case-Shiller Annual Change January 2011

Standard & Poors released its Case-Shiller Index for the month of January this week. The index is a home valuation tool, measuring the monthly and annual changes in home prices in select cities nationwide.

January's Case-Shiller Index gave a poor showing. As compared to December 2010, home values dropped in 19 of the Case-Shiller Index's 20 tracked markets. Only Washington, D.C. gained. The results were only modestly better on an annual basis, too.

18 of 20 markets worsened in the 12 months ending January 2011.

According to the report, values are down 3.1% from last year, retreating to the same levels from Summer 2003. As a buyer or seller in today's market, though, don't read too much into it. The Case-Shiller Index is far too flawed to be the final word in housing.

The index has 3 main flaws, in fact.

The first flaw is the Case-Shiller Index's lack of breadth. The report is positioned as a national index, but its data is sourced from just 20 cities nationwide.

Putting that number in perspective: the Case-Shiller Index tracks home values from fewer than 1% of the 3,100 U.S. municipalities -- yet still calls the report a "U.S. Average".

A second flaw in the Case-Shiller Index is how it measures home price changes, specifically. Because the index only considers "repeat sales" of the same home in its calculations, and only tracks single-family, detached property, it doesn't capture the "full" U.S. market. Condominiums, multi-family homes, and new construction are ignored in the Case-Shiller Index algorithm. 

In some regions, homes of these excluded types represent a large percentage of the market.

And, lastly, the Case-Shiller Index is flawed because of the amount of time required to release it.

Today, it's almost April and we're talking about closed home resales from January which is really comprised of homes that went under contract in October -- close to 6 months ago. Sales prices from 6 months ago is of little value to today's Kennesaw home buyer, of course.

The Case-Shiller Index can be a helpful tool for economists and policy-makers trying to make sense of the broader housing market, but it tends to fail for individuals in BrookStone like you and me. When you want accurate, real-time housing figures for your local market, talk to your real estate professional instead.


Pending Home Sales Rebound; Suggest Brighter Spring For Housing

Pending Home Sales (Aug 2009 - Feb 2011)

On a seasonally-adjusted basis, the Pending Home Sales Index rose 2 percent last month, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. A "pending home sale" is defined as a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed.

February's Pending Home Sales Index rebound breaks a 2-month losing streak, and reverses the recent downward momentum in housing. Both Existing Home Sales and New Home Sales volume showed a sizable loss last month. 

For buyers and sellers of real estate in Kennesaw , the Pending Home Sales Index is of particular import. It's one of the few forward-looking indicators in housing, and February's data suggests a stronger spring season than was the winter.

Region-by-region, Pending Home Sales data varied:

  • Northeast Region: -10.9%
  • Midwest Region : +4.0%
  • South Region : +2.7%
  • West Region : +7.0%

3 of 4 regions showed marked improvement, which is good for housing. In the fourth -- New England -- it's likely that inclement weather hampered results.

February was colder-than-normal and the month capped a record-breaking snowfall season for the region. Anecdotally, fewer homes are sold in the cold-and-snow of winter and it's likely that the weather affected local housing markets.

Looking to March and April, therefore, we should expect Existing Home Sales data to rebound. This is because 80% of "pending" homes close within 60 days, and because improving weather should release pent-up demand for housing.

More sales plus higher home demand tends to lead home prices higher. If you're in the market for a new home, consider that your best negotiation leverage comes in a weak market. As the seasons turn, your leverage looks poised to slip.

The best time to buy this year may be right now.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : March 28, 2011

Jobs in focus this week (again)Mortgage markets worsened last week as nuclear meltdown concerns eased across Japan, and the war within Libya moved closer to a potential finish.

Wall Street voted with its dollars, and a return to risk-taking emerged. "Safe haven" buying softened last week and, as a result, conforming mortgage rates in Georgia made their biggest 1-week spike since late-January.

Mortgage rates remain historically low, but well above their November 2010 lows.

This week, rates could run higher again. Friday's jobs report is a major story and it will affect mortgage rates in Marietta and across the country. Jobs are a key component of the nation's economic recovery, and as the economy has improved, mortgage rates have tended to rise.

Economists expect that 190,000 jobs were created in March. If they're correct, it will raise the 12-month tally to 1.3 million net new jobs created nationwide. This is still less than the 2 million jobs lost in the 12 months prior, but it's a positive step that suggests sustained growth.

A positive net new jobs figure for March would mark the first time since June 2007 that jobs growth was net positive 6 months in a row. If March's final figures are better than expected, expected mortgage rates to rise. If the figures are less, look for rates to fall.

The Unemployment Rate is expected to stay sub-9.0 percent, too.

Other news that could change rates this week include Monday's Pending Home Sales report, Tuesday's Consumer Confidence data, and any one of the 4 speeches from members of the Fed. In general, data and/or rhetoric that suggest more growth in 2011 will cause mortgage rates to rise.

If you are still floating a mortgage rate and have yet to lock one in, this week may represent your last chance for low rates. Good news about the economy will put pressure on mortgage rates to rise.


15-Year Fixed Rate Mortgages Look Cheap Compared To Comparable 30-Year Fixeds

Comparing 30-year fixed to 15-year fixed (2006-2011)

It's a great time for Kennesaw buyers and homeowners to look at the 15-year fixed rate mortgage.

According to Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the relative "discount" of a 15-year fixed rate loan as compared to a comparable 30-year product is the largest in recorded history. The interest rate spread between the two benchmark products is now 0.77%, nearly double the recent, 5-year average of 0.44%.

Despite its lower rates, however, homeowners that opt for a 15-year fixed mortgage should be prepared for higher monthly payments. This is because the principal balance of a 15-year fixed is repaid in half as many years as with a 30-year amortizing product.

The payment increase is 41% higher at today's rates. If you can manage that, though, you'll reap dramatic interest payments savings over time. For each $100,000 borrowed at today's market interest rates, your mortgage interest costs on a conforming 15-year term mortgage will be lower by $56,000 versus an identically-structured 30-year term. The more you borrow, the more you save.

That said, not everyone should use the 15-year product.

One reason you may want to avoid 15-year products is because the higher payments may lead to financial stress. Unless your monthly income far exceeds your monthly debts, choosing a 30-year product may feel safer for you.

Another reason is that, with less mortgage interest paid, 15-year mortgages don't allow for as many mortgage interest tax deductions. This can have tax implications to you each year. Or, maybe you prefer to have your home leveraged, investing "spare dollars" in stocks and bonds.

These are all legitimate cases to stick with a 30-year term, but if you've ever explored the idea of using a 15-year fixed rate mortgage for your home, today, the math is in your favor. Talk to your loan officer before the rates start rising.


New Home Sales Fall To All-Time, Recorded Low. Maybe.

New Home Sales (2010 - 2011)Sales of newly-built homes plunged 17 percent to an seasonally-adjusted, annualized 250,000 units in February, and the supply of new homes rose to 8.9 months in February -- a 1.5 month jump from January.

It's the lowest New Home Sales reading in recorded history, according to the Census Bureau, and the third straight report to signal that home values may be slow to rise in Atlanta and nationwide this season.

Earlier this week, the National Association of REALTORS® reported Existing Home Sales down 10 percent from February, and the Federal Home Finance Agency said home values slipped 0.3 percent between December and January.

The media has picked up on the trend, too. 

  • No Spring In Housing's Step (WSJ)
  • Is Housing Really In Recovery (CNBC)
  • Experts See Weak Recovery (UPI)

There's two interesting angles here. First, the one that's largely neglected in the stories online.

Although New Home Sales read -17% last month, the data's Margin of Error read ±19%. This means that, once additional homes are added to February's New Home Sales tally, it's possible that the reading actually rose 2%.

Because the Margin of Error exceeds the measured reading, February's New Home Sales figures are of "zero confidence". The Census Bureau even says as much in its report.

Or, if the initial reading is accurate, a second story emerges. Namely, how an increase in home supply may help this season's buyers to negotiate better prices for a home, and upgrades from a builder.

There's often more to a real estate story than its headline and February's New Home Sales proves it.


10 U.S. Cities With The Steepest Rent Increases (2010)

Rent is risingHome sales data is easing so far in this calendar year. Home resales and new construction have dropped to multi-month lows and, in many cities, home supplies are rising. One housing sector that's not slowing, however, is rentals.

The rental market is booming.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the average apartment vacancy rate is 6.6% nationwide, down from 8.0% last year. In addition, the number of occupied apartments rose by more during Q4 2010 than during any comparable period of the last 10 years.

It's a major reason why rents are up 2.3%.

Some areas, however, fared worse than others. This study of rent increases as published on MSNBC, for example, lists the 10 U.S. cities in which rents increased the most last year. And they may not be the cities you'd expect.

In order:

  1. Greenville, SC (+11.2%; $669 average monthly rent)
  2. Chattanooga, TN (+10.4%; $726 average monthly rent)
  3. Savannah, GA (+8.4%; $866 average monthly rent)
  4. Portland, OR (+8.1%; $875 average monthly rent)
  5. San Jose, CA (+8.0%; $1,716 average monthly rent)
  6. Nashville, TN (+8.0%; $786 average monthly rent)
  7. Tacoma, WA (+8.0%; $900 average monthly rent)
  8. Denver, CO (+7.5%; $873 average monthly rent)
  9. Washington, DC (+7.4%; $1,473 average monthly rent)
  10. Raleigh, NC (+7.4%; $785 average monthly rent)

Big cities New York (#18), San Francisco (#19), and Chicago (#24) showed modest gains, by comparison.

Not everyone across Georgia wants to be a homeowner, but renters are facing a squeeze. With mortgage rates historically low and home values slow to recover, in many cities, the cost-benefit analysis is shifting toward buying.


Existing Home Sales Unexpectedly Drop In February

Existing Home Sales (Feb 2010 - Feb 2011)Existing Home Sales fell 10 percent last month, according to a report from the National Association of REALTORS®.

On an annual basis, 4.88 million homes were sold in February -- the first time annualized home resales dropped below 5,000,000 since November 2010.

An "existing home" is one that's not considered new construction.

And it's not just sales volume that's down. Home inventory is higher, too. At the current pace of sales, the number of months needed to sell the complete home resale inventory rose by 1.1 months, to 8.6 months nationally.

It's the biggest one-month jump in supply since July 2010 -- the month after last year's federal home buyer tax credit program expired.

The data is somewhat unexpected, too. NAR's Pending Home Sales report is a reliable predictor for the housing market and, based on recent findings, home sales were projected to climb in February. It's unclear why they didn't.

Regardless, the February sales data reveals an interesting breakdown by buyer-type. Notably, the percentage of first-time home buyers in the market grew by more than any other segment.

  • First-time home buyers : 34% of all sales, +5% from January
  • Repeat buyers : 47% of all sales, -1% from January
  • Real estate investors : 19% of all sales, -4% from January

Cash buyers represented 33 percent of all sales, up 1 tick from the month prior.

For Marietta home buyers, February's Existing Home Sales data suggests more home supply and lower home prices this spring. However, rising mortgage rates could eliminate the monthly savings attributed to falling home values.

To get the most from your mortgage-buying dollar, lock while rates are low.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : March 21, 2011

Fed Funds Rate vs 30-Year Fixed Rate MortgageMortgage markets improved again last week despite an inflation-acknowledging statement from the FOMC and stronger-than-expected jobless data.

Usually, events like this would lead mortgage rates higher, but violence in the Middle East and worsening fear for public safety in Japan took center stage instead, spurring a massive, global flight-to-quality instead.

Rate shoppers in Marietta  benefited.

As safe haven buying increased last week, conforming mortgage rates dropped, falling to their lowest levels since January. It marked the 5th straight week through which mortgage rates improved and is the longest such streak since August 2010.

This week, rates may run lower again. You may not want to gamble on it, though. Here's why.

In general, when there's inflation in the U.S. economy, mortgage rates rise. This is because inflation devalues mortgage bonds, the underlying security on which mortgage rates are based.

So, last Tuesday, the Federal Open Market Committee met and in its post-meeting press release, the group said inflation pressures were building, a signal that rates should rise. It then went one step further.

To keep the economy from slipping back into recession or into disinflation, the FOMC also said it plans to keep its existing monetary policies in place for the foreseeable future.  This, too, is considered inflationary -- another signal that rates should rise. And they did. 

Immediately following the FOMC announcement, mortgage rates spiked. But it didn't last.

Starting Wednesday, the battles in Libya grew more intense, and Japan battled with its own domestic crisis (i.e. a potential nuclear meltdown). The economic implications of the events spurred the purchase of "safe" assets, and mortgage bonds improved.

And this is why mortgage rates won't stay low for long.

Eventually, Wall Street will come to terms with Libya and Japan and the flight-to-quality will reverse. Inflation, however, is not likely to lessen. At least, not anytime soon.  Therefore, this week may represent the low-point in mortgage rates for a while. It's important to lock your low rate while you still can.

There isn't much economic data due this week so mortgage rates will take their cues from the broader market. If you haven't locked a rate yet, or were waiting for rates to fall, this might be your best chance. Call your loan officer as soon as possible and get a fresh rate quote today.


Good News For Sellers -- Housing Starts Plummet In February

Housing Starts (March 2009 - Feb 2011)Single-family housing starts plunged unexpectedly last month. Nationwide, starts fell 12 percent from the month prior; and 29 percent from February of last year.

February's figures represents the worst 1-month drop in housing starts since May 2010 -- the month that followed the expiration of last year's federal home buyer tax credit -- and puts single-family housing starts at a 24-month low.

In addition, single-family Building Permits plunged last month, too, shedding 9 percent from January. A building permit is a local government's certification and approval to begin home construction.

Housing permits are an excellent forward-indicator for the housing market. This is because 93 percent of homes start construction within 60 days of permit-issuance. Fewer permits, therefore, directly reduces the number of new homes coming to market in the coming months.

For home buyers in Marietta looking at new construction or existing homes, this news should create a sense of urgency.

Home prices are based on supply and demand and overall home supply looks headed for a fall. Plus, with mortgage rates retreating and homebuilders projecting higher sales this summer, buyers may face rising home prices before long.

Sellers look poised to regain negotiation leverage.

For now, though, home affordability remains high with properties inexpensive and mortgage rates still low, historically. If you plan to buy a home in 2011, the February 2011 Housing Starts data may be reason to move up your time frame.

With home supplies dropping, prices are likely to rise.


Homebuilders Expect More Sales Volume This Year

NAHB Housing Market Index (April 2009-March 2011)Homebuilders are optimistic about the housing market this spring, relative to recent months.

According to the monthly Housing Market Index as published by the National Association of Homebuilders, after 4 straight months of reading 16, March homebuilder confidence ticked 1 point higher to 17.

It's the highest confidence reading in 10 months.

A value of 50 or better indicates "favorable conditions" for home builders; with more builders viewing sales conditions as "good" than "poor".

HMI hasn't read higher than 50 since April 2006.

Regionally, the Housing Market Index showed mixed results. Confidence fell 1 point in the Northeast, held firm in the Midwest, and rose in the Southeast and West regions by 2 points and 4 points, respectively.

As an index, the monthly survey is actually a composite of three separate homebuilder surveys -- a report on single-family sales; a report on current buyer foot traffic; and a projection for single family sales in the next 6 months.

March's HMI breakdown shows that builders expect sales to be brisk over the next few months. Projected Single-Family Sales is running at its highest level since May 2010 -- right as the $8,000 federal homebuyer tax credit was ending.

  • Single-Family Sales : 17 (Unchanged from February)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 12 (Unchanged from January)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 27 (+2 from February)

For home buyers in Marietta and across the country , the March Housing Market Index may signal the end of "builder discounts" and free upgrades. As home sales increase, builders are often less likely to make concessions.

In conjuction with rising mortgage rates and new, mandatory loan costs, buying a newly-built home may never be as inexpensive as it is right now.

If you expect to buy a newly-built home this year, consider moving up your time frame. The longer you wait, the more it may cost you.


A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (March 15, 2011 Edition)

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishToday, for the second straight meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee voted unanimously to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

The vote was 10-0.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that since its January 2011 meeting, the economic recovery "is on firming footing", and that the labor markets are "improving gradually". In addition, household spending "continues to expand". Nonetheless, the Fed said, the economy remains constrained by rising commodity prices and the "depressed" housing sector.

The FOMC statement also re-affirms the group's plan to keep the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent "for an extended period", and to keep its $600 billion bond market support package -- more commonly called "QE2" -- intact.

And, lastly, for the third straight time, the Federal Open Market Committee's post-meeting release statement included a paragraph detailing the Federal Reserve's dual mandate of managing inflation levels, and fostering maximum employment. Although it acknowledged inflationary pressures on the economy, the Fed said inflation remains too low for the economy currently, and that unemployment remains "elevated". 

In time, the Fed expects both measurements to improve.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC has been negative since the statement's release. Mortgage rates in Kennesaw are unchanged, but poised to worsen.

The FOMC's next scheduled meeting is a 1-day event, March 15, 2011.

Your Mortgage Rate Strategy For Today's FOMC Meeting

Fed Funds Rate Nov 2007 - March 2011The Federal Open Market Committee meets today in Washington D.C. The FOMC is a special group within the Federal Reserve, led by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and consisting of 12 members.

The FOMC's official schedule calls for 8 meetings annually at which it reviews the nation's economic and financial conditions, and chooses whether to change existing monetary policy.

The group's last rendez-vous was a 2-day affair, January 25-26, 2011.

Today's FOMC meeting represents a bona fide risk to home buyers and rate shoppers in Marietta and across the country. This is because when the Fed meets, Wall Street gets nervous which, in turn, causes mortgage rates to get volatile. And, as mortgage rates go, so goes home affordability. 

Rate shoppers learned this the hard way after the FOMC's last meeting.

In January, Wall Street deemed the Fed's status quo message too soft on the looming threat of inflation. As a result, conforming mortgage rates rose through 7 of the next 10 days, driving pricing to its worst levels of the year.

This may happen again beginning today.

At 2:15 PM ET, the FOMC will adjourn and make a press release to the markets. The Fed is expected to keep the Fed Funds Rate near its target range of 0.000 percent, and to keep its $600 billion bond buy program in place. That doesn't mean mortgage rates will idle, however.

Depending on the verbiage of the Fed's statement, Wall Street will make its new bets. A tough approach on inflation should push mortgage rates down; a soft approach should pressure rates up. Either way, you may want to lock your mortgage rate prior to 2:15 PM ET -- just to be safe.

Once the Fed adjourns, you're at the market's mercy.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : March 14, 2011

FOMC meets this weekMortgage markets improved last week in a week of few economic releases. The one major data point -- Retail Sales -- showed stronger-than-expected, but markets reacted mildly. The report's strength was whispered in advance of the actual release; its reading validated Wall Street's growing faith in the U.S. economy.

Most action last week revolved around the Middle East:

In response to these events, Wall Street continued its flight-to-quality. Mortgage-backed bonds are now at their best levels since early-February. Mortgage rates have improved 4 straight weeks.

Unfortunately for rate shoppers in Georgia , the gains have been meager. Conforming mortgage rates have only dropped slightly.

This week, however, the market could move in either direction.

The biggest news on tap is the Federal Open Market Committee's 1-day meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. The Fed is expected to leave the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000 percent, but that doesn't mean that mortgage rates won't change. The FOMC's post-meeting press release will be closely scrutinized on Wall Street. Any changes in theme, tone, or message will cause mortgage rates to dart.

This week also marks the return of housing data with Housing Starts, Building Permits, and Homebuilder Confidence due for release. Housing is believed to be key to the economic recovery so strength in these reports should lead mortgage rates higher.

In addition, several inflation-related data sets will be released including Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index. Inflation is generally bad for mortgage rates and with gas prices rising to a multi-year high, pressure will be on for mortgage rates to rise.

Lastly, there's Japan.

The nation's earthquake, tsunami, and (now) looming nuclear threat will have implications on the global bond market. Mortgage rates may benefit while the crisis remains unresolved. 

If you've floated a mortgage rate over the past few weeks, it may be time to lock that rate down. Economic factors should be pushing rates higher, but geopolitics and natural disasters are keeping them low.

It's a perfect time to commit to a loan.


FHA Streamline Refi Changes : No Income, No Job Required

New FHA Streamline Guidelines Spring 2011FHA Streamline Refinance guidelines are changing. For the better.

In an effort to improve its loan portfolio, the FHA is loosening approval standards on its popular refinance program, rendering large groups of homeowners suddenly FHA Streamline-eligible.

Now, that may seem counter-intuitive -- lowering qualification standards in order to reduce loan defaults -- but in the FHA's case, it makes complete sense. It's because the FHA doesn't make loans. It insures them. What's good for FHA-insured homeowners is good for the FHA, therefore.

All things equal, lower housing payments for its insured homeowners should correlate to fewer FHA loan defaults in Georgia and   nationwide.

One interesting facet of the FHA's new rulebook is the manner in which the government group is applying common sense to the approval process. So long as the homeowner is current on their mortgage and there's a demonstrable benefit in the refinance, the FHA reasons, there's good reason to insure the new loan.

The FHA defines "current on the mortgage" as being up-to-date on payments, and having zero 30-, 60-, or 90-day lates within the last 12 months. Demonstrating benefit is a little more tricky.

According the FHA, "benefit" is defined by refinance type.

When refinancing any fixed rate mortgage, or an existing ARM to a new ARM, the borrower's new monthly (principal + interest) + (mortgage insurance premium) must be 5% or more below the current levels to meet the FHA's minimum benefit requirements

The refinance of any ARM to a fixed rate mortgage is considered an acceptable benefit.

Beyond that, Streamline Refinance guidelines are simple:

  • Income is not verified, or required
  • Employment is not verified, or required
  • Assets are not verified, unless required to meet closing costs

Note that an appraisal is not required, either This allows "underwater" homeowners to refinance their FHA-insured home loan without penalty. The downside is that without an appraisal, the new loan size may not exceed the current principal balance plus the FHA's 1% upfront mortgage premium. All other charges must be paid as cash at closing.

The FHA Streamline program is a refinance program special to FHA-insured homeowners. To confirm your own eligibility, check with your lender.


Loan Fees Set To Rise For Conforming Mortgage Applicants

LLPA rising April 1 2011Beginning April 1, 2011, Fannie Mae is increasing its loan-level pricing adjustments. Conforming mortgage applicants in Georgia should plan for higher loan costs in the months ahead.

If you've never heard of loan-level pricing adjustments, you're not alone; they're an obscure mortgage pricing metric and, thus, are rarely covered by the media. That doesn't make them any less relevant, however.

LLPAs are mandatory closing costs assessed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, designed to offset a given loan's risk of default. LLPAs were first introduced in April 2009.

This April's amendment is the 6th increase in 2 years. LLPAs can be costly.

In addition to an up-front, quarter-percent fee applied to all loans, there are 5 additional "risk categories" in the LLPA equation:

  1. Credit Score : Lower FICO scores trigger additional costs
  2. Property Type : Multi-unit homes trigger additional costs
  3. Occupancy : Investment properties trigger additional costs
  4. Structure : Loans with subordinate financing may trigger additional costs
  5. Equity : Loans with less than 25% equity trigger additional costs

Adjustments range from 0.25 points (for having a 735 FICO score) to 3.000 points (for buying an investment property with just 20% downpayment). And they're cumulative. This means that a borrower that triggers 3 categories of risk must pay the costs associated with all 3 traits.

Loan-level pricing adjustments can be expensive -- up to 5 percent or more of your loan size in closing costs. The fees can be paid a one-time cash payment at closing, or they can be paid in the form of a higher mortgage rate.

The loan-level pricing adjustment schedule is public. You can research your own loan scenario at the Fannie Mae website, but you may find the charts confusing.

Phone or email your loan officer if you're unsure of what you're reading.


Federal Income Tax Deadline Extended To April 18, 2011

Taxes due April 18 2011

April 15 is the traditional due date for federal income taxes. It's a deadline so ingrained in the American psyche that the April 15 calendar date is often called, simply, "Tax Day".

In 2011, however, federal taxes aren't due April 15. They're due April 18. It's because of a combination of holiday, calendars, and tax law.

The change centers on Emancipation Day.

Emancipation Day is a public celebration in the District of Columbia. Named a holiday in 2005, Emancipation Day honors President Abraham Lincoln's April 16, 1862 signing of the Compensation Emancipation Act.  

Emancipation Day is a non-working day in the nation's capitol but, this year, Emancipation Day falls on a Saturday. The municipality will observe the holiday Friday instead. This means that all of Washington, D.C. will be "closed" Friday, April 15 -- the usual tax filing deadline date.

This includes the IRS.

Therefore, to accommodate Emancipation Day, the government is extending this year's federal tax filing deadline to April 18, 2011. This year marks the second time Emancipation Day has forced the change of federal tax filing deadlines.

Also, as a non-related coincidence, tax filers in Georgia taking extensions to October 15 will also get a few extra days. October 15 is a Saturday so the extended tax deadline rolls over to the following Monday -- October 17, 2011.


Home Affordability Peaked Last Quarter; Purchasing Power Sinks 10%

Home Opportunity Index 2004-2010

Home affordability reached an all-time high in 2010's last quarter. Unfortunately for home buyers in Georgia , it's been a different story since, however.

As mortgage rates cratered, and with home values soft, the Home Opportunity Index reached its highest level in 20 years. The index is published by the National Association of Home Builders. 

Close to 74 percent of the new and existing homes sold between October-December 2010 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400. It's the 8th straight quarter in which the Home Affordability Index surpassed 70 percent.

Prior to 2009, the HOI rarely topped 65 percent.

That said, though, as with everything in real estate, home affordability is a local event. For example, take the Elkhart/Goshen area of northern Indiana. 97 percent of homes sold there last quarter were affordable to families making the area's median income. 

This level of affordability is likely related to state capital Indianapolis, a perennial top-scorer itself.

For the second straight quarter -- and the 22nd time dating back to 2006 -- Indianapolis led all major metropolitan areas with a 93.5 affordability rating.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the home affordability spectrum, the "Least Affordable Major City" title went to the New York-White Plains, NY-Wayne, NJ area for the 11th consecutive quarter. Just 25.5 percent of homes were affordable to households earning the area median income.

It's a a 6-point improvement from Q2 2010, however.

The rankings for all 225 metro areas are viewable on the NAHB website but regardless of where you live, it's important to remember that rising mortgage rates this year have made homes less affordable in all markets across the United States. We won't see a repeat record in this quarter's HOI once it's calculated and published.

Home buyers in Atlanta have lost 10% of their purchasing power since November, and mortgage rates look poised to rise even more.

If your plans call for buying a home later this year, consider moving up your time frame. The long-term costs of homeownership are rising, and affordability, therefore, is falling.


Military Personnel Can Still Claim The $8,000 Homebuyer Tax Credit

Tax credit extended for military householdsFor certain members of the military, and for certain federal employees, there's just 2 months remaining to get use the federal home buyer tax credit.

Eligible persons include members of the uniformed services, members of the Foreign Service, and intelligence community employees who served at least 90 days of qualified, extended duty service outside of the United States between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2010.

Spouses of persons meeting the above criteria are eligible as well.

The federal home buyer tax credit ranges up to $8,000 for first-time home buyers, and up to $6,500 for existing homeowners. Existing homeowners must have lived in their "main home" through 5 of the last 8 years to be eligible.

Claiming the federal tax credit is a two-step process. First, eligible persons must be under contract for a new home on or before April 30, 2011.  The home's closing must then occur on or before June 30, 2011. 

The IRS does not make date exceptions.

Furthermore, both the buyer(s) and the subject property must meet certain minimum eligibility requirements:

  • The home may not be purchased from a parent, spouse, or child
  • The home may not be purchased from an entity in which the seller is a majority owner
  • The home may not be acquired by gift or inheritance
  • Each buyer must meet tax credit eligibility standards
  • The home sale price may not exceed $800,000
  • Buyers may not earn more than $125,000 as single-filers; $225,000 as joint-filers

The complete program description is published on the IRS website.

Another important note is that the IRS is giving eligible buyers a tax credit as opposed to a deduction.  This means that a taxpayer qualifying for the full $8,000, and for whom the "normal" 2011 federal tax liability is $8,000, will have zero federal tax liability in 2011.

For additional information regarding your tax credit eligibility, call an accountant. Speaking with a tax professional is often worth the cost.


FHA : Monthly Mortgage Insurance Premiums To Rise April 18, 2011

FHA Mortgage Insurance Increase April 18 2011For the third time in 12 months, the FHA is changing its mortgage insurance costs. 

Effective for all FHA case numbers assigned on, or after, April 18, 2011, annual mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) will increase 25 basis points.

The change will add $250 to an FHA-insured homeowner's annual loan costs per $100,000 borrowed, and applies to all borrower's equally. Current FHA borrowers are unaffected.

To understand the FHA is to understand why premiums are rising.

As an institution, the Federal Housing Administration plays a much larger role in the U.S. housing market today than it did just 5 years ago. According to its own records, the FHA's percentage of purchase money business in Georgia and nationwide expanded from 4 percent in FY 2006 to 19 percent in FY 2010.

Rapid growth like this has strained the FHA's capital and, indeed, in its official statement, the FHA alludes to this, stating that the MIP increase will "significantly strengthen" its reserves. By law, the FHA must maintain a certain minimum level of reserves.

FHA mortgage insurance varies by loan term, and by loan-to-value and, beginning April 18, 2011, the new insurance premiums are as follows:

  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value > 90% : 0.50% per year
  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 90% : 0.25% per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value > 95% : 1.15% per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 95% : 1.10% per year

To calculate your monthly mortgage insurance premium, multiply your starting loan size by your insurance premium, and divide by 12. 

There is no change planned to the 1 percent upfront mortgage insurance premium charged by the FHA.


Make A Mortgage Rate Plan BEFORE Friday's Jobs Report

Unemployment Rate 2008-2011Mortgage rates could move higher beginning tomorrow morning. The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its February jobs report at 8:30 AM ET.

Home buyers and rate shoppers in Kennesaw would be wise to take note. The jobs report is almost always a market-mover.

Consider last month.

Although net job creation fell well-short of expectations in January -- just 36,000 jobs were added -- the national Unemployment Rate dropped to 9.0%, its lowest level in 2 years. The marked improvement surprised economists and sparked inflationary concerns within the investor community.

This, in turn, caused mortgage rates to rise.

In the days immediately following the jobs report's release, conforming rates across Georgia jumped 0.375 percent. That's equivalent to a mortgage payment increase of $22 per month per $100,000 borrowed.

A similar spike could occur tomorrow.

Wall Street scrutinizes job growth because with more working Americans, there's more consumer spending, and consumer spending accounts for 70% of the U.S. economy. A blow-out number tomorrow would change expectations for the future, and lead rates higher again.

The economy shed 7 million jobs between 2008 and 2009 and has barely made 1 million of them back. Tomorrow, analysts expect to see 183,000 jobs created. If the actual reading is lower-than-expected, mortgage rates should fall and home affordability will improve.

Anything else and mortgage rates should rise. Likely by a lot.

Therefore, if you're shopping for a mortgage right now, consider your risk tolerance. Once markets open tomorrow, you can't get today's rates.


Ignore The Case-Shiller Index; Focus On The Future Instead

Case-Shiller December 2010

Last week, Standard & Poor's released its Case-Shiller Index for December 2010. The index is a home valuation tracker, meant to meausure the change in home prices from one period to the next.

December's Case-Shiller Index showed major devaluations nationwide. As compared to December 2009, on a year-over-year basis, home values fell in 18 of the Case Shiller Index's 20 tracked markets, and the U.S. National Index dropped 4 percent overall. 

The retreat puts December's home values at similar levels as compared to early-2003.

That said, buyers and sellers in the Vinings area would be wise to take the findings lightly. The Case-Shiller Index is inherently flawed. As such, its results are neither practical -- nor relevant -- to everyday Americans.

There are 3 Case-Shiller flaws, in fact.

The first flaw is the index's limited sample set. Wikipedia lists 3,100+ municipalities nationwide and we can be certain that real estate is bought and sold in all of them. The Case-Shiller Index, however, measures just 20 of them. That's less than 1% of all U.S. cities. And then, within those tracked cities, Case-Shiller reports an average, lumping disparate neighborhoods and streets into one big number.

The "national figures" aren't really national, and the "city data" doesn't apply to your home, specifically.

The second Case-Shiller Index flaw is how it measures home value changes. The index only consider at "repeat sales" of the same home, so long as that home is a single-family, detached property. Condominiums, multi-family homes, and new construction are ignored in the Case-Shiller Index.

Because distressed properties account for such a high percentage of resales lately -- 36% in December --foreclosures and short sales skew Case-Shiller Index worse.

And, lastly, the Case-Shiller Index is flawed by "age". Because it reports closed sales a 60-day delay, December's Case-Shiller Index is measuring the values of home sales contracts from September and October. The Case-Shiller Index, therefore, is a snapshot of the not-so-recent past, and does little to tell us about the next 60 days.

Overall, the Case-Shiller Index is helpful tool for economists and policy-makers, but it doesn't do much good for individual homeowners across the city of Kennesaw or anywhere else. For accurate, real-time housing data in your local market, talk to a real estate professional instead.


Pending Home Sales Drop For Second Straight Month

Pending Home Sales July 2009 - January 2011After a strong run to close out 2010, the market for home resales softened a bit in January.

On a seasonally-adjusted basis, the Pending Home Sales Index dropped 3 percent last month, and December's figures were revised downward for a loss, too, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

A "pending home sale" is defined as a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed. 

The forward-looking index is now at a 3-month low on a national level, but still well ahead of its rolling 6-month average.

Unfortunately, national data isn't overly helpful for buyers and sellers of real estate. The National Association of REALTORS® knows this, of course, and makes an effort to get more granular, supplementing the Pending Home Sales Index report with a region-by-region breakdown

Between December and January, only the South Region increased in sales volume. The Midwest led the losers:

  • Northeast Region: -2.4%
  • Midwest Region : -7.3%
  • South Region : +1.4%
  • West Region : -5.2%

Even still, however, regional data remains too broad to be practical. The South Region, for example, is comprised of multiple states with thousands of cities and town. The housing market dynamics of a specific neighborhood in a specific regional city will differ from that of another neighborhood in another regional city.

Real estate data must be local to be relevant.

Overall, then, what may be most telling from January's Pending Home Sales Index is how weather can influence results.

Most of the country faced drastic weather conditions in January, ranging from raging snowstorms to bitter cold. Events like that tend to put a damper on home sales, a contributing factor in why the number of new contracts fell.

Another reason is rising mortgage rates. Conforming and FHA rates rose week-by-week in January, robbing home buyers of 10% of their purchasing power. This, too, can slow down purchase activity as buyers adjust their expectations.

Looking forward, we should expect the Pending Home Sales Index to resume rising. Inclement weather doesn't kill demand; it just delays it. And mortgage rates have settled somewhat. These two factors should help release pent-up demand just as the Spring Homebuying Season gets underway.

As more buyers enter the market, negotiation leverage will shift to home sellers, pressuring Kennesaw home prices higher. The lowest prices of the year -- and the cheapest financing -- could be what you see today.