What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 31, 2011

Non-Farm PayrollsMortgage markets improved last week ahead of Memorial Day and a 3-day weekend. Bond pricing ending the week higher, pushing conforming mortgage rates in Georgia down for the 5th week out of six.

Most economic news reported worse-than-expected. Initial Jobless Claims increased sharply, GDP was unchanged, and Durable Orders posted the largest one-month decline since October. Each of these stories reduced inflationary pressures on the economy, contributing to lower mortgage rates.

However, the main driver for U.S. mortgage rates last week was Europe.

One year ago, Greece pledged to lower its spending, cut its deficit, and reduce the number of public programs and benefits. In economic circles, this is known as austerity. For more than a month, however, despite the austerity measures, there has been concern that Greece will fail to meet its debt obligations.

Last week, that concern spiked. It triggered a flight-to-quality that helped U.S. mortgage bonds, and led mortgage rates lower.

Conforming and FHA mortgage rates are now at their lowest levels in more than 6 months.

This week, the biggest news is May's Non-Farm Payrolls report. Although, expect for rates to carve out wide ranges from day-to-day. Until the Greece scenario reaches a resolution, Wall Street will be on edge.

  • Tuesday : Consumer Confidence, Case-Shiller Index
  • Wednesday : ADP Challenger Report
  • Thursday : Initial Jobless Claims
  • Friday : Non-Farm Payrolls Report

Plus, four members of the Fed have scheduled speeches.

If you're still floating a mortgage rates, or have otherwise not locked in, luck is on your side. Mortgage rates look poised to fall over the next few days, however, markets have been known to reverse quickly. Therefore, if you've been quoted on a rate that looks acceptable to you, you may not want to gamble on mortgage rates falling further.

The safest decision may be to commit to what's available to you today.


Home Affordability Still Soaring; New Records Reached

Home Affordability Q1 2011

Home affordability moved higher last quarter, buoyed by stable mortgage rates and falling home prices in Georgia and nationwide. The National Association of Home Builders reports that Q1 2011 Home Opportunity Index reached an all-time high for the second straight quarter last quarter.

Nearly 3 of 4 homes sold between January-March 2011 were affordable to households earning the national median income of $64,400. It's the 9th straight quarter in which home affordability surpassed 70 percent, and the highest reading in more than 20 years of record-keeping.

From metropolitan area-to-metropolitan area, though, affordability varied.

In the Midwest, for example, affordability was high. 7 of the 10 most affordable markets were in the Midwest, including Kokomo, Indiana, in which 98.6% of homes were affordable to median income-earning families. Indianapolis, Indiana placed second for "big city" affordability.

The most affordable "big city" last quarter was Syracuse, New York. With a 94.5% affordability rate, Syracuse ranks 8th nationally in the Home Opportunity Index. It's the second time that Syracuse placed first in the last 4 quarters.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of home affordability, the "Least Affordable Major City" title went to the New York-White Plains, NY-Wayne, NJ area for the 12th consecutive quarter. Just 24.1 percent of homes were affordable to households earning the area median income, down more than 1 percent from the last reading.

Regardless of where you live, remember that rising mortgage rates can levy more pain on your household budget than can rising home values. And mortgage rates are expected to rise long before home prices do.

The rankings for all 225 metro areas are available for download on the NAHB website.


Home Price Index Shows Values Down 19 Percent From Peak

HPI delta from peakHome values dropped for the sixth straight month in March 2011, according to the Federal Home Finance Agency's Home Price Index. The Home Price Index is a government-sponsored home value tracker.

The HPI report is the latest in a string of "falling home values" stories -- a trend that's troubling home sellers across Kennesaw and nationwide.

However, although the Home Price Index says home values are falling, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are. Like most statistics in the housing sector, the Home Price Index is plagued by poor methodologies and a lack of timeliness.

In short, the Home Price Index is flawed. In three ways.

The first big flaw in the Home Price Index is that it only measures the values of homes with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Homes financed via FHA, or via other means are specifically excluded from the calculation. For today's purchase market, that leaves more than 1 in 4 homes "uncounted" -- a big percentage of the market.

Second, the Home Price Index determines home values by measuring price change from sale to subsequent sale. This eliminates new homes -- a major market segment.

And, lastly, the Home Price Index reports on a 60-day delay; we're only now seeing data from March. This two-month lag renders the HPI a trailing indicator for the housing market instead of a forward-looking one. If you're a home buyer looking for market insight, the HPI can't give it -- it's out-dated and out of season.

Despite its shortcomings, though, we can't ignore the Home Price Index completely. It's among the most thorough home valuation models available, and it's used in public policy discussions. When the HPI says prices are down, Wall Street and Capitol Hill take notice, and that trickles down to everyday life on Main Street.

Since peaking in April 2007, the Home Price Index is off 19.1 percent.


New Home Sales Increase For The Second Straight Month

New Home Supply 2010-2011Sales of newly-built homes surprised Wall Street, jumping 7 percent to an seasonally-adjusted, annualized 323,000 units last month.

In addition, the supply of new homes dropped to 6.5 months — a 2-month decrease from October 2010 and the best reading in a year.

The report runs counter to recent reports from the National Association of Homebuilders and the National Association of REALTORS® which suggest a looming housing slowdown. April's New Home Sales report runs counter to that theory; it shows ongoing, steady, staggered improvement in terms of sales volume and sales inventory.

Broken-down by sales prices, the New Home Sales report also showed that homes are selling across all price tiers. The "luxury market" improved most:

  • Up to $199,999 : +1,000 homes from March
  • $200,000 to $399,999 : +2,000 homes from March
  • $400,000 and over : +3,000 homes from March

These figures suggest that that move-up buyers -- not first-timers -- are driving the new home market. Homes under $200,000 now account for just 40% new home sales, down from 46% a year ago.

However, as with most months, it's important that we recognize the New Home Sales data's margin of error. Although New Home Sales showed a 7% improvement in April, the reported margin of error was ±17%. This means that the actual reading could have been as high as 24 percent, or as low as -10 percent. 

It's a huge range, and because it encompasses both positive and negative values, the Census Bureau assigned its April reading "zero confidence". It's right there in the footnotes.

For home buyers in Atlanta , rising sales and falling supply may mean higher home prices. And, combined with the issuance of fewer building permits, supplies may be constrained into the summer months. This, too, would pressure home prices higher.


Memorial Day Messes With Mortgage Rates

Vacation weeks are rough on mortgage ratesMortgage rates across the state are near year-to-date lows, but locking them in this week may be difficult. As Memorial Day nears, and Wall Streeters get a head-start on the long weekends, trade volume in the mortgage bond markets will dip.

When bond volume drops, mortgage rates get jumpy. It's a relationship based more on scarcity than actual market fundamentals.

It works like this:

  1. Conforming and FHA mortgage rates are based on the "market price" of a mortgage-backed bond
  2. Mortgage-backed bonds can't be bought or sold without a buyer and a seller at a specific price

As Friday gets closer this week, and more and more Wall Street traders will leave for their "extended" 3-day weekend, and bond markets will be left with fewer and fewer participants. This will create a market situation in which it's harder to match a buyer and seller at any given bond price, resulting in larger mortgage rate shifts than usual.

These jumps in rates are exaggerated during periods of economic uncertainty like these. What's more, there's a lot of economically-important data due for release this week. That, too, can put markets in hysterics.

If this were a "normal" week, mortgage rates would be volatile. The coming of Memorial Day is just adding to the mix.

Mortgage rates may rise in Atlanta this week, or they may fall.  Either way, if you have the opportunity to lock something favorable, consider doing it.  Rates are low and likely won't last.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 23, 2011

Low rates reversingMortgage markets were unchanged last week, despite improving on four of five days. Economic data was worse-than-expected almost across the board, but neither FHA nor conforming mortgage rates in Georgia budged.

Instead, markets grappled with the just-released Fed Minutes which weighed heavily on investors and on Wall Street.With the release of the minutes, it's increasingly clear that the Federal Reserve will end its support for bond markets on schedule in June, and that a Fed Fund Rate hike is possible within the next 12 months.

Not surprisingly, the date of the Fed Minutes release -- Wednesday -- was the singular "down day" for mortgage markets last week.

After falling for 4 straight weeks, Atlanta mortgage rates appear to have troughed. This week they could rise, and there's no shortage of data on which for bonds for trade.

  • Tuesday : New Home Sales; Speeches from Fed's Plosser and Bullard
  • Wednesday : Durable Goods; FHFA Home Price Index
  • Thursday : GDP; Initial Jobless Claims
  • Friday : Core PCE; Pending Home Sales; Consumer Sentiment

There's other forces on markets, too. First, there are 3 bond auctions -- a 2-year, a 5-year, and a 7-year. Weak demand for any of the three will lead mortgage rates higher.

And, second, this is a holiday week. Memorial Day is next Monday and, with the 3-day weekend ahead, expect large numbers of Wall Streeters to skip out on Friday (and likely part of Thursday, too). As the week concludes, therefore, bond volume will thin, amplifying mortgage rate movement -- up or down.

If you're shopping for a mortgage, it's a good time to look at locking in. As the week progresses, mortgage rates should become less predictable and more volatile.


Distressed Homes Now Selling At A 20 Percent Discount

Existing Home Sales April 2011The housing market recovery stalled last month. At least temporarily.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales slipped 1 percent in April from the month prior, falling to 5.05 million units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. The reading is exactly in-line with report's 6-month average which also reads 5.05 million units.

The data may appear "average", but there's another angle to consider. 

In April, as compared to March, the supply of existing homes for sales spiked. At the current pace of home sales, it would now take 9.2 months to exhaust today's complete home inventory. This is almost one full month worse than March. It's the worst home supply reading of the year.

There are also more homes "on the market" today than at any time since September 2010.

Other noteworthy statistics in the April Existing Home Sales report include:

  • 31 percent of all homes sold in April were purchased with cash
  • First-time home buyers bought 36 percent of all homes in April
  • Distressed properties typically sold at a 20 percent discount

This "discount", it should be noted, is a major reason why distressed properties accounted for 37 percent of the home resales in April. Home buyers are finding bargains when they're willing to consider homes in various stages of foreclosure and short sale.

Overall, the April Existing Home Sales report represents opportunity for home buyers in and around Marietta. Home sales are stagnant, supplies are rising and there's no shortage of properties from which to choose. Furthermore, mortgage rates remain low.

If you're considering a home purchase this fall, home supply may not be as ample, and financing conditions may not be as favorable, post-Labor Day. Talk to your real estate agent about what's possible today. You may want to move up your time frame.


Fed Minutes Put The Heat On Mortgage Rates To Rise

FOMC Meeting MinutesThe Federal Reserve released its April 2011 Federal Open Market Committee meeting minutes Wednesday. In the hours since, mortgage markets have worsened; rates in Georgia are higher by 1/8 percent this morning, at least.

The "Fed Minutes" is published 8 times annually, three week after each scheduled FOMC meeting. The minutes are the Federal Reserve's official recap of the conversations and debates that shaped the prior FOMC session.

Another way to consider the Fed Minutes is as the companion piece to the more well-known FOMC press release. The press release is issued on the day of adjournment, and is brief, narrow, and high-level. The statement makes broad comments on the economy and outlines new monetary policy.

By contrast, the Fed Minutes is delayed, lengthy, and rife with details. The minutes highlights arguments and discussion points between Fed members, and digs deep into underlying economic issues.

The FOMC press release is measured in paragraphs. The Fed Minutes is measured in pages.

Here is some of what the Fed discussed last month:

  • On inflation : Higher levels are "transitory"; will level-off with commodity prices
  • On housing : The market remains depressed. "Vacant properties" are harming construction.
  • On stimulus : The Fed will stick to its $600 billion support plan

In addition, at its meeting, the Federal Reserve discussed an exit strategy for its market support. The details are undecided, but the debate shows that the Fed is anticipated a change in policy sometime soon. 

Wall Street estimates that a gradual economic tightening will begin within 12 months.

Mortgage rates have been fading since mid-April. The Fed Minutes may be the catalyst of a reversal. The Federal Reserve expects growth in the U.S. economy and growth tends to boost stock markets at the expense of bonds.

As bond markets fall, mortgage rates in Kennesaw rise.

Currently, Freddie Mac reports the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate as 4.63% -- the lowest of the year.


Building Permits Fade Faster Than Expected

Housing Starts (May 2009-April 2011)Single-family housing starts dropped by 21,000 units in April on a seasonally-adjusted annual basis.

The Housing Starts report measures the number of homes on which new construction "broke ground". It's tracked by the U.S. Department of Commerce which releases new data monthly.

Single-family housing starts fell 5 percent as compared to March 2011, and 30 percent as compared to April one year ago. 

The figures were worse than what Wall Street expected. For just the second time in 2 years, monthly single-family housing starts dropped below 400,000 units. In addition, single-family Building Permits fell in April as well, shedding 2 percent from March.

A building permit is a local government's approval to start home construction and when permits are down, new construction follows. This is because 93 percent of homes begin construction within 60 days of permit-issuance.

Fewer permits, as a consequence, means fewer new homes. Therefore, if you're looking at new construction in or around Kennesaw , April's numbers may spark a sense of urgency.

Home prices are a function of home supply and demand and, based on the Housing Starts data, supplies appear headed for a fall. Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, demand should be rising -- foot traffic is highermortgage rates are lower, and job growth is picking up

This should lead new home prices higher in time. For now, though, home affordability remains high.

It's a good time to look at new home construction.


Home Builders Seeing More Sales Today; Fewer Sales Tomorrow

NAHB HMI Index 2009-2010Home builder confidence can't shake its range, according to the National Association of Home Builders. The group's monthly Housing Market Index put May's builder confidence reading at a level of 16.

The Housing Market Index is scored on a scale of 1-100. A reading above 50 suggests favorable conditions for the new home housing market, as reported by home builders. A reading below 50 suggests unfavorable conditions.

May marks the sixth time in 7 months that the HMI posted a 16, the longest such plateau in the index's history.

The HMI has not posted higher than 50 since April 2006.

As an index, the HMI is a composite of three separate surveys sent to home builders each month. The surveys are meant to capture the current and projected single-family home sales volume, in addition to buyer foot traffic levels.

Versus April, there was little change:

  • Current single-family sales : 16 (+1 from April)
  • Projected single-family sales : 20 (-2 from April)
  • Buyer foot traffic : 14 (+1 from April)

Broken down, the Housing Market Index for May shows that home builders are experiencing a boost in sales and foot traffic today, but expect that boost to fade between today and November. For home buyers in Atlanta , this can present an opportunity.

With home builder confidence stagnating, and with a worsening sales expectation for the next 6 months, builders may be more willing to negotiate with you on home prices and/or the costs of upgrades. Builders may also be more willing to make concessions in your sales contract that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

Your real estate agent can help you to identify the negotiable items of your offer.

In addition, today's home buyers can exploit the recent strength of the mortgage market. Surging mortgage bond demand since April has pushed mortgage rates down to their lowest levels of the year. If you can find a home you love, therefore, it can be financed on the (relative) cheap, too.

Conforming mortgage rates in Georgia fell through 5 consecutive weeks before rising last week.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 16, 2011

Greece default concernsMortgage markets worsened overall last week for the first time in 5 weeks.

Better-than-anticipated economic data plus dwindling concerns for Greece's sovereign debt combined to a spark a bond sell-off. Conforming mortgage rates moved higher in Georgia as a result.

Rate shoppers were hit especially hard last Tuesday.

At Monday's close, conventional fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgages were posting their lowest levels of 2011, but by Tuesday's market close, rates had climbed as much as 0.250 percent across the board. In some cases, more.

The spike highlights how quickly mortgage rates can change in a recovering economy, and why "floating" a rate can be costly.

This week, mortgage rates figure to be equally volatile. There's a large set of market-changing data planned for release, and several Fed members have planned public appearances, including a 9:00 AM ET, Monday morning kickoff from Fed Chairman Bernanke.

  • Monday : Bernanke speech; Homebuilder Confidence Survey
  • Tuesday : Housing Starts; Building Permits
  • Wednesday : FOMC Minutes
  • Thursday : Existing Home Sales

In addition, Thursday brings a second rate shopper-risk.

The Initial Jobless Claims will be released at 8:30 AM ET and it will be closely watched by Wall Street. Initial claims are sharply higher since the end of April and investors believe the jobs market is key in a sustained economic recovery. If the data shows that initial claims receded, mortgage rates are expected to rise in response.


Foreclosure Filings Fall To 40-Month Low

Foreclosures concentrate in 5 states in April 2011Foreclosure activity continues to drop nationwide.

Based on data from foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings nationwide fell below 220,000 in April 2011, a 9 percent decrease from March.

A "foreclosure filing" is defined as any foreclosure-related action including Notice of Default, Scheduled Auction, or Bank Repossession.

April marks the seventh straight month in which foreclosure filings have dropped and total filings are down more than one-third year-over-year.

One reason why filings are down is that banks are letting more time pass between delinquency and foreclosure, exploring alternative courses of actions such as short sales and loan modifications. It now takes, on average, 400 days from an initial default notice to bank repossession.

That's more than double the 151-day average of early-2007.

Another reason may be that job growth is returning to the U.S. and job creation is associated with fewer home loan defaults.

Regardless, in the states in which foreclosures are occurring, bank repossessions are concentrating among just a few. 

5 states accounted for half of the country's April REO:

  • California : 19.8 percent
  • Arizona : 9.5 percent
  • Michigan : 7.5 percent
  • Florida : 6.7 percent
  • Texas : 5.6 percent

Collectively, these 5 states represent just 32 percent of the nation's population.

On the other end of the chart, Vermont accounted for a measly 0.007% of April's foreclosure filings.

If you're a first-time home buyer considering foreclosed homes in Marietta , or a seasoned investor adding to your portfolio, the good news is that foreclosures are selling at steep, 20 percent discounts relative to non-distressed homes. Just make you know what you're buying. Foreclosure purchases carry different risks and follow different procedures than "traditional" sales.

Rely on a seasoned real estate agent to navigate the deal.


Conforming ARMs From 2004-2006 Are Adjusting To 3 Percent

Pending ARM Adjustment Spring/Summer 2011

When a mortgage applicants chooses an adjustable-rate mortgage over a fixed-rate one, he accepts a risk that -- at some point in the future -- the mortgage's interest rate will rise. Lately, though, that hasn't been the outcome.

Since mid-2010, conforming mortgages have adjusted below their initial "teaser" rate consistently, giving homeowners in Georgia and nationwide reason to ride their respective adjustable-rate mortgages out.

For example, this month, conforming 7-year and 5-year ARMs are adjusting near 3.011 percent based on the most common loan terms of 2004-2006. It's because of how adjustable-rate mortgages are structured.

Adjustable-rate mortgages follow a defined lifecycle. First, the ARM's mortgage rate is pegged; held fixed for a set number of years. This period ranges from one year to 10 years; periods of five and seven years are most common.

When the initial fixed-rate period ends, the mortgage rate then adjusts based on a pre-set formula. The formula is established by contract in the mortgage closing paperwork, and is commonly defined as:

(Adjusted Mortgage Rate) = (2.250 percent) + (Current 1-Year LIBOR)

Next, every 12 months, based on the same formula as above, the ARM adjusts again until 30 years have passed and the loan is paid is full.

It's important to recognize that in the above equation, LIBOR is a variable so as LIBOR goes, so goes your adjusted mortgage rate. And because LIBOR is ultra-low right now, adjusted mortgage rates are ultra-low, too. LIBOR is expected to stay this way until the global economy has recovered more fully. Analysts predict a higher LIBOR by mid-2012.

So, if you have an adjustable-rate mortgage that's due to reset this season, don't rush to refinance. For at least one more year, you can benefit from low rates and low payments.  As for the next adjustment, though, that's anyone's guess.


What To Fix Before You List

Fixes before you listWith housing prices down across the country, there are a lot of homeowners in Marietta barely breaking even on their respective home sales. Some are even losing money.

You may find yourself in that position, too; wanting to sell, but worried about bringing cash to your own closing.

It creates an interesting dilemma. You want your home to "show nicely" relative to comparable properties, but you don't want to invest big dollars that may never be recouped into upgrades or renovations. So what do you do?

The answer is simple. Do the bare minimum.

From an advice piece in the Wall Street Journal, we learn of 10 basic home improvement projects that will help your home have better showings. The advice requires almost no technical skills, and the projects be tackled in a weekend.

The theme? Handled your home's delayed maintenance.

  1. Repair or remove screen doors with holes and tears
  2. Pressure wash windows, sidewalks, and siding
  3. Paint your front door and polish the doorknob
  4. Pull weeds, seed bare spots, and lay down mulch
  5. Touch up holes, dings and cracks in paint
  6. Clean grout and re-caulk sinks, bathtubs and showers
  7. Buy new cabinet hardware
  8. Fix leaky faucets and toilets
  9. Spray lubricant on squeaky doors
  10. Get clutter into storage and out of the way

Now, you'll notice that none of these projects can be considered "major". By contrast, each is minor; they're the items you'd add to your to-do list for work on "another day". However, they're extremely important for a home that's about to be listed.

Here's why. A prospective buyer doesn't notice that the above repairs were made. He only notices if they weren't made. When a buyer sees ripped screens or chipped paint in your home, it makes him wonder what else hasn't been cared for. This is the why you should also hire an exterminator prior to selling your home. If a buyer spots a trail of ants in your home, it's unlikely you'll get an offer.

You don't need to spend big bucks to get your home ready for sale, but you may to use apply elbow grease. The good news is that time spent up-front can be worth it in the end. Homes that show better tend to sell faster, and at higher prices.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 9, 2011

Non-Farm PayrollsMortgage markets improved last week on a bevy of economic and geopolitical news. Conforming mortgage rates in Marietta improved, falling to their lowest levels of 2011.

It's a welcome development for home buyers and rate shoppers nationwide. Mortgage rates were expected to rise throughout most of this year.

There were four big stories that contributed to falling rates last week.

The first was the news that Osama bin Laden was killed. The news was announced over the weekend, and by the time markets opened Monday morning, the price of oil was already falling. Falling oil prices reduce inflationary pressures on the economy and because inflation contributes to rising mortgage rates, the absence of inflation helps them to fall.

This news carried markets to Thursday morning. That's when the Department of Labor announced that Initial Jobless Claims had suddenly and unexpectedly surged to an 8-month high. Last week's report featured the biggest one-week jump in claims in more than 2 years.

This, too, pushed mortgage rates lower, casting doubt on the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.

Then, Friday morning, those doubts were cast aside. When the government released its Non-Farm Payrolls report for April, it showed job creation topping 200,000 for the third straight month. We would have expected mortgage rates to rise on news like this, but they didn't.

Rates fell instead -- mostly because the strength of the U.S. jobs report rendered mortgage-backed bonds more attractive to global investors.

The last story, though, is the one worth watching long-term.

Late-Friday, in response to its growing debt issues, it was reported that Greece may withdraw from the Eurozone. An outcome such as this is unlikely, however, the possibility was enough to spark a flight-to-quality that benefited U.S. mortgage rates. Conforming and FHA rates ended Friday lower, reaching their best levels since December.

This week, there isn't much economic news set for release so the above stories will continue to influence markets and rates. Geopolitics can change quickly, though, so if you're floating a mortgage rate and waiting for the bottom, don't wait too long. Markets can reverse in a snap.

If you see a rate you like, the safest move is to lock it.


Foreclosures And Short Sales Distorting "Home Price Trackers"

HPI Monthly Changes From April 2007 Peak

In an echo of February's Case-Shiller Index report, the government's own home price-tracker -- the Home Price Index -- showed home values slipping between January and February 2011.

The Federal Home Finance Agency data had home values down 1.6 percent nationwide in February, on average, marking the fourth straight month in which prices fell. 

Furthermore, all 9 regions posted losses from the month prior:

  • Mountain Region : -3.7% from January
  • East South Central : -0.6% from January
  • South Atlantic : -0.9% from January
  • New England : -2.0% from January

Before you draw conclusions, however, note that the data at which we're looking has several major flaws to it.

First, it's old. We're now in the first week of May and the FHFA's most recent release only covers through February, a time period ending roughly 60 days ago. That's a long delay and today's purchase market in Atlanta looks much different from the one of February. 

Just ask a real estate agent and they'll tell you -- purchase activity is rising.

Second, the FHFA Home Price Index reports on home value changes between consecutive Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac-securitized transactions only. This might be creating an overweight of "distressed properties" in the index which, in turn, drags down valuations.

Distressed homes account for 40% of all home resales and typically sell at 20 percent discounts.

And, lastly, although the Home Price Index is a national report, real estate as a market is decidedly not national. To the contrary, it's extremely local. As an individual, you don't buy, sell or own homes in all 50 states. You buy them in a specific state, and a specific neighborhood ; in places like Vinings. 

The national data is useless to you in that respect.

We can't discount the Home Price Index data entirely, but should remember that it paints a clearer picture of where housing has been versus where housing is going. As a home buyer or homeowner, it's the future of home values that matters more.


Job Growth Returning To "Normal" Levels -- A Bad Sign For Mortgage Rates

Job Growth (2000-2011)

Be prepared for Friday morning. Mortgage rates and home affordability could worsen quickly. At 8:30 AM ET, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its April Non-Farm Payrolls report and momentum has been strong.

The monthly jobs report is a market-mover and analysts expect that 196,000 new jobs were added last month. If those expectations are exceeded -- by even a little -- Wall Street would take it mean "economic strength" and the stock market would be boosted.

Too bad for rate shoppers, though; a move like that would also lead to higher mortgage rates throughout Georgia. This is because, coming out of a recession, reports of economic strength tend to push mortgage rates up. We've seen it happen multiple times in the last 8 months.

Since losing more than 7 million jobs between 2008 and 2009, employers have added 1.3 million jobs back to the economy. And we're learning that there's plans for fewer job cuts in the future. It's clear that the jobs market is improving and this is why tomorrow's Non-Farm Payrolls report is so important.

A "weak economy" helped keep mortgage rates low for a very long time. A strengthening economy will reverse that tide.

So, consider your personal risk tolerance today, in advance of tomorrow's Non-Farm Payrolls report. If the thought of rising mortgage rates makes you nervous, call your loan officer and lock in a rate today. Once tomorrow's data is released, after all, the market might look changed.


How To Screen For A Good Home Contractor

Home remodeling projects are expected to top $130 blllion this quarter, their highest total since Q1 2008. A likely catalyst is that the average cost of a home improvement project is falling fast.

With the economy loosening up and contractor costs on a downswing, some in Kennesaw homeowners are choosing to put money back into their respective homes, and making home improvements. If you're among them, you'll want to make sure you've properly screened your contractor. 

In this 4-minute piece from NBC's The Today Show, you'll learn tips for picking a good home contractor. The advice is mostly common sense, and worth heeding. For example:

  • Only select registered/licensed, and insured contractors for work in your home
  • Don't automatically select the lowest bid; you may want to discard it instead
  • Communication skills matter. You must be able to express your wants, and have that message understood.

And lastly, if this is your first time working with a particular contractor, be sure to ask for references and follow-through on them, too. Sometimes, past customers can tell you more about a contractor than you can learn yourself.


Geopolitics Have Mortgage Rates Poised To Change

Geopolitics make mortgage rates moveAmong the most challenging aspects of shopping for a mortgage is how rates change constantly. It's hard to pin them down.

For example, in 2011, mortgage rates have expired every 3-and-a-half hours, on average. That's fast.

There's two main catalysts for changing mortgage rates.

The first can be grouped as "scheduled events"; the planned release of market data which includes the Existing Home Sales report, or a scheduled government statement such as when the Federal Open Market Committee meets. When the outcomes of these event-types either exceed, or fall short, of Wall Street's expectations, mortgage markets react.

Home buyers and rate shoppers in Marietta realize this as higher (or lower) mortgage rates.

Then there's the other type of catalyst -- the "unscheduled event".

Unscheduled events take many forms and are often called "surprise developments". The Federal Reserve's plan to inject $750 billion into mortgage markets in 2009 was one such surprise. Most geopolitical events fall into this category, too. 

Unscheduled events are often unsettling to Wall Street because investors don't have specific contingency plans for them like they would if, say, this month's jobs report comes back exceedingly strong. For example, investors didn't expect North Korea to fire missiles over Japan in 2008, nor did they expect a volcano to erupt in Iceland last spring.

When unscheduled, unexpected events occur, the market's first -- and natural -- reaction is to scramble to make sense of it. Mortgage rates get jostled as a result and can take days to settle back to normal.

We're experiencing an "unexpected event" right now.

In response to Sunday's evening's presidential address, markets are now upended. The dollar is strengthening, oil prices are falling, and stock markets are rising. Each of these items are altering mortgage rates across Georgia. 

Even today, markets remain unsettled.

Therefore, if you're shopping for a mortgage rate, keep one eye on the news and the other on the rate-lock trigger. During periods of unexpected activity, mortgage rates can change quickly so be ready to shop, and be ready to lock.

Mortgage markets wait for no one.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 2, 2011

Fed Funds Rate 2008-2011Mortgage markets improved last week overall. Bigger concerns for Eurozone debt combined with lesser concerns for domestic inflation to push U.S. mortgage rates lower.

Last week marked the 3rd consecutive week through which conforming mortgage rates dropped, the longest such streak since February.

Mortgage rates in Atlanta are now scraping their lowest levels of the year.

A few interesting stories developed last week.

First, the Federal Open Market Committee met and voted to hold the Fed Funds Rate within its target range of 0.000-0.250. In its post-meeting press release, the FOMC said that inflation has been "pushed up" in recent months, but that believes, long-term, that inflation will moderate.

This message pleased the inflation-sensitive bond markets, the place where mortgage rates are made. Bond prices rose in response, and mortgage rates fell.

Then, because markets believe Greece can't meet its current debt obligations without restructure, a bout of safe haven buying began, benefiting domestic mortgage-backed bonds and, therefore, mortgage rates.

It's a terrific example of how world events can change mortgage rates for buyers and would-be refinancing households across Georgia.

This week, mortgage rates will take their cues from the Greece story as it continues to develop, and from Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls report. The jobs report is always a potential market-mover.

Economists expect to see 196,000 jobs added in the economy for April. If the actual number is larger-than-expected, look for mortgage rates to rise on better prospects for the U.S. economy. If the number falls short, look for rates to drop.

With last month's mortgage rate rally, this week marks a good time to lock a rate. Based on current market fundamentals, it appears that there's much more room for rates to rise than to fall. This may be as low as rates get all year.