Despite Low Rates, Pending Home Sales Slip In August

Pending Home Sales graphDespite the lowest mortgage rates of all-time, home buyers are slowing the pace at which they're buying homes.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, the Pending Home Sales Index fell 1 percent in August.

The Pending Home Sales Index measures homes under contract, but not yet sold, nationwide. In this respect, the Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking housing market indicator; a predictor of future home sales.

It's one of the few national indices that "looks ahead" to future market conditions. Most housing data, by contrast, describes past events.

On a regional basis, only the South Region showed improvement in August's Pending Home Sales Index report : 

  • Northeast Region: -5.8%
  • Midwest Region : -3.7%
  • South Region : +2.6%
  • West Region : -2.4%

That said, even the value of regional data can be questioned. Like all things in real estate, the number of homes going under contract will vary on the local level.

For example, in the Northeast Region where pending home sales slipped in August, there are close to a dozen states. Some of those states performed better than others, and there is no doubt that cities and towns exist in the region in which pending home sales actually climbed.

As a national/regional report, the Pending Home Sales Index cannot show local market data and, for that reason, it's somewhat irrelevant to everyday buyers and sellers in Marietta. If you're in the market to buy or sell a home today, it's your local housing market data that matters to you. 

We watch the Pending Home Sales Index because it paints a broad picture of housing nationwide. To get local market conditions, though, you'll want to talk with a local real estate professional.


Case-Shiller Index : 85% Of Tracked Cities Showed Home Price Improvement In July

Case-Shiller monthly change (June - July 2011)

Standard & Poors released its monthly Case-Shiller Index this week. The Case-Shiller Index measures home price changes from month-to-month, and year-to-year, in 20 select U.S. cities. It also reports a "national" index; a composite of the values in said cities.

The most recent Case-Shiller Index shows a 0.9% rise in home values from June to July 2011. Home values were higher in 17 of the 20 tracked cities. Only Phoenix and Las Vegas fell. Denver was flat.

Also noteworthy is that, of all of the Case-Shiller cities, Detroit posted the strongest 1-year, home price improvement. As compared to July 2010, home values are higher by 1.2 percent in Detroit. This bests even Washington, D.C. -- long-believed to be the nation's healthiest housing market.

That said, we should be careful of the conclusions we draw from July's Case-Shiller Index -- both on a city-wide level, and on a national level. This is because, as with most "home price trackers", the Case-Shiller Index has flaws in its methodology. 

The first Case-Shiller Index flaw is its limited scope. Although it's purported to be a "nationa"l housing index, the data that comprises the monthly Case-Schiller Index is sourced from just 20 U.S. cities. These 20 cities represent just 0.6% of the more than 3,100 municipalities nationwide.

The second Case Shiller Index flaw is that the sample sets include single-family, detached homes only. iCondominiums, multi-unit homes, and new construction are specifically excluded from the Case-Shiller Index.

In some markets, "excluded" home types outnumber included ones.

And, lastly, the Case-Shiller Index is flawed in that it takes 2 months to gather data and report it. It's nearly October, yet we're still discussing the real estate market as it existing in July. For buyers and sellers in Atlanta , July in ancient history. 

The Case-Shiller Index is useful for tracking long-term trends in housing, but does little to help individuals with their choices to buy or sell a home. For relevant, recent real estate data, talk to a real estate agent in your market. Real estate agents are often the best source for real-time, real estate data.


New Home Sales Figures Better Than Reported

New Home Sales August 2010 - August 2011According to the Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold slid for the fourth straight month in August, easing 2 percent from July. On a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, home buyers bought 295,000 newly-built homes last month.

August marked the lowest new home sales tally since February. News outlets are jumping on the story, with at least one calling it a "blow" to the housing market.

That's an unfair assessment.

It's tough for the new home market to tally big sales numbers when the number of homes for sale is dwindling and, in August, that's exactly what we saw. The number of new homes for sale nationwide fell to 162,000 last month. This is the fewest number of new homes for sale since at least 1993, the first year the Census Bureau tracked such data.

In other words, using New Home Sales as a housing market gauge may be misleading. A better metric may be new home supply

In August, new home supply edged 0.1 months higher to 6.6 months. This means that, at today's sales pace, the complete new home inventory would be sold out in 6.6 months.

It's the second-fastest reading in 2 years.

The new home market represents an interesting opportunity for home buyers in Atlanta. Builders are facing new competition from bank-owned homes and foreclosures, dragging builder confidence to all-time lows. Furthermore, builders have low expectations for the next 6 months.

As a buyer, you can use this to your advantage. Builders may be more willing to negotiate on price and finishes versus this time last year. You may find a good "deal" in new construction once you go in search of it. 


Existing Home Sales Jump; Home Supplies Falling

Existing Home Sales Aug 2010 - Aug 2011

Are home resales rebounding?

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales rose 8 percent in August from the month prior, and 19 percent as compared to August of last year.

"Existing homes" are homes that are previously owned; ones that cannot be considered new construction.

A total of 5.0 million existing homes were sold last month on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This is slightly better than the 12-month home resale average, a statistic partially powered by "distressed sales". Distressed homes -- homes in various stages of foreclosures or sold via short sale -- accounted for 31 percent of all home resales in August.

At the current rate of sales, the national home resale inventory would be depleted in 8.5 months. This pace is a full month faster as compared to July, and the lowest home supply reading since March 2011.  

Other noteworthy facts from the August Existing Home Sales report :

  • There are currently 3.58 million existing homes for sale nationwide
  • 29 percent of home buyers paid cash in August
  • Real estate investors bought 22% of homes in August, up from 18% in July

Home prices throughout Kennesaw are based on Supply and Demand and, at least right now, it appears the supply is dropping. Furthermore, with mortgage rates at all-time lows, it's reasonable to expect demand to pick up. These two conditions should lead home prices higher.

If you're shopping for a home right now, recognize the trends and work them to your advantage. It may be "cheapest" to buy now.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 26, 2011

Fed Funds Rate 2008-2011Mortgage markets improved last week as the Federal Reserve provided new market stimulus and the Eurozone continued to grapple with Greek's sovereign debt issues.

Conforming mortgage rates fell in Georgia last week overall, dropping for the second straight week.

For rate shoppers, the best day on which to lock a mortgage rate last week proved to be Thursday.

Fresh off the Federal Reserve's Wednesday afternoon announcement that the group will launch a $400 billion program in support of longer-term bonds, mortgage rates fell. This occurred because mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds, and mortgage bonds are a beneficiary of the Fed's new program.

Those gains were short-lived, however, because Friday morning, when the market opened, mortgage bonds were deteriorated, and that momentum carried through to the afternoon.

By the time the markets closed for the weekend, nearly all of the Fed-led gains had been drained from mortgage bonds.

Within a matter of 48 hours, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates had plunged -- then surged -- 0.250 percent.

The speed at which rates changed underscores how tough it can be to shop for a mortgage these days. If you were quick on Thursday, you locked your rate at its low. If you "slept on it", though, or even took too much time to think, you not only missed the best mortgage rates in more than 50 years, you missed it by entire quarter-percent.

On a $200,000 mortgage, that's an approximately monthly payment difference of $30 per month.

This week, mortgage rates should be similarly volatile. There is a lot of economic news set for release, and the Eurozone is rumored to have a plan to save Greece from debt default.  Depending on the strength of said data, and the passage of a Greek default plan, just how mortgage rates will change is unknown.

If you're shopping for mortgage rates, the safe path is to lock what you can. Mortgage rates may fall this week, but what if they don't? Rates have a lot farther to rise than to fall.


Building Permits Rising Nationwide; Housing Starts To Follow

Housing Starts 2009-2011Single-Family Housing Starts fell for the second consecutive month, dropping to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 417,000 units in August 2011.

A "Housing Start" is defined as a home on which ground has broken.

We shouldn't put too much faith in the findings, however. Although housing starts were lower last month, as noted by the Census Bureau, the margin of error in the August Housing Starts report exceeded the actual result.

From the official report:

  • August's Published Results : -1.4% from July 
  • August's Margin of Error : ±10.3% from July

Therefore, August's Housing Starts may have actually increased by up to +8.9% from July, or it may have dropped as much as -11.7%. We won't know for sure until several months from now, after the Census Bureau has gathered more housing data.

One thing is certain, though -- the long-term trend in Housing Starts is "flat". There has been little change in new home construction since last summer.

The same can't be said for Building Permits.

Considered a pre-cursor to Housing Starts, Single Family Building Permits climbed 2.5 percent with a minuscule Margin of Error of ±0.9 percent.

As is common in real estate, results varied by region:

  • Northeast : +3.3 percent from July
  • Midwest : +6.3 percent from July
  • South : -1.3 percent from July
  • West : +11.3 percent from July

When permits are issued, 86 percent of them begin break ground within 60 days. Therefore, expect Housing Starts and new home inventory to rebound in the months ahead.

For now, housing remains steady. And, with mortgage rates at all-time lows, homebuyer purchasing power in an around Kennesaw is higher than it's been in history. If you're in the process of shopping for a home, talk with your lender to plan your mortgage budget.


A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (September 21, 2011 Edition)

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

The vote was 7-3 -- the second straight meeting at which the FOMC adjourned with as many 3 dissenters. Prior to that last meeting, there hadn't been 3 FOMC dissenters since 1992.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve presented a dour outlook for the U.S. economy, noting that since its last meeting in August:

  1. Economic growth "remains slow"
  2. Unemployment rates "remain elevated"
  3. The housing sector "remains depressed"

The Fed also said that there are "significant downside risks" to the economic outlook, tied to strains in the global financial markets.  

The news wasn't all bad, however.

The Fed noted that business investment in equipment and software continues to expand, and that inflationary pressures on the economy appear to have stabilized. The Fed then re-iterated its plan to leave the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near 0.000 percent "at least until mid-2013". This means that Prime Rate -- the rate to which credit card rates and lines of credits are often tied -- should remain unchanged at 3.250 for at least another 2 years.

Furthermore, as expected, the Federal Reserve launched a market stimulus plan aimed at lowering long-term interest rates. The Fed will sell $400 billion in Treasury securities with a maturity of 3 years or less, and use the proceeds to buy the same with maturity between 6 and 30 years.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been positive this afternoon. Mortgage rates in Georgia are improving, but note that Wall Street sentiment can shift quickly -- especially in a market that's as uncertain as this one.

If today's mortgage rates and payments fit your household budget, consider locking in a rate. Rates can change swiftly.

The FOMC's next meeting is a 2-day affair, scheduled for November 1-2, 2011.

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (September 21, 2011 Edition)

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

The vote was 7-3 -- the second straight meeting at which the FOMC adjourned with as many 3 dissenters. Prior to that last meeting, there hadn't been 3 FOMC dissenters since 1992.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve presented a dour outlook for the U.S. economy, noting that since its last meeting in August:

  1. Economic growth "remains slow"
  2. Unemployment rates "remain elevated"
  3. The housing sector "remains depressed"

The Fed also said that there are "significant downside risks" to the economic outlook, tied to strains in the global financial markets.  

The news wasn't all bad, however.

The Fed noted that business investment in equipment and software continues to expand, and that inflationary pressures on the economy appear to have stabilized. The Fed then re-iterated its plan to leave the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near 0.000 percent "at least until mid-2013". This means that Prime Rate -- the rate to which credit card rates and lines of credits are often tied -- should remain unchanged at 3.250 for at least another 2 years.

Furthermore, as expected, the Federal Reserve launched a market stimulus plan aimed at lowering long-term interest rates. The Fed will sell $400 billion in Treasury securities with a maturity of 3 years or less, and use the proceeds to buy the same with maturity between 6 and 30 years.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been positive this afternoon. Mortgage rates in Georgia are improving, but note that Wall Street sentiment can shift quickly -- especially in a market that's as uncertain as this one.

If today's mortgage rates and payments fit your household budget, consider locking in a rate. Rates can change swiftly.

The FOMC's next meeting is a 2-day affair, scheduled for November 1-2, 2011.

The Fed Adjourns At 2:15 PM ET Today : What It Means For Mortgage Rates

Comparing 30-year fixed to Fed Funds Rate (1990-2011)

The Federal Open Market Committee adjourns from a two-day, scheduled meeting today, the sixth of 8 scheduled meetings this year, and the seventh Fed meeting overall.

The FOMC is a designated, 12-person committee within the Federal Reserve, led by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. The FOMC is the voting members for the country's monetary policy. Among its other responsibilities, the FOMC sets the Fed Funds Rate, the overnight rate at which banks borrow money from each other.

Note that the "Fed Funds Rate" is different from "mortgage rates". Mortgage rates are not set by the Fed. Rather, they are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds, a security traded among investors.

As the chart at top illustrates, the Fed Funds Rate and conforming mortgage rates in Marietta have little correlation. Since 1990, the two benchmark rates have been separated by as much as 5.29 percent, and have been as close as 0.52 percent.

Today, the separation between the Fed Funds Rate and the national average for a standard, 30-year fixed rate mortgage is roughly 4 percent. This spread will change, however, beginning 2:15 PM ET Wednesday. That's when the FOMC adjourns from its meeting and releases its public statement to the markets.

There is no doubt that the Fed will leave the Fed Funds Rate in its current target range of 0.000-0.250%; Fed Chairman Bernanke plans to leave the benchmark rate as-is until at least mid-2013. However, the Fed is expected to add new support for markets.

Unfortunately, there are few clues about how the Fed will support markets, and there is no consensus opinion regarding the size of the said support. As a result, mortgage rates should be bouncy today. First, they'll be volatile ahead of the Fed's statement. Then, they'll be volatile post-Fed statement.

Even if the Fed does nothing, mortgage rates will change. This is because Wall Street is prepping for an announcement and -- no matter what the Fed says or does -- investors will want to react accordingly.

When mortgage markets are volatile, the safest move is to lock your mortgage rate in. There too much risk to float.


Homebuilder Confidence Stays Flat

Home builder confidence 2000-2011

Homebuilders are feeling worse about the market for new homes nationwide.

With construction credit tight and competition from foreclosures increasing, the National Association of Homebuilder's Housing Market Index slipped 1 point in September, falling to levels just below the index's 12-month average.

The HMI measures homebuilder confidence nationwide. It's the result of 3 separate homebuilder surveys, each designed to measure a specific facet of the homebuilder's business.

  1. How are market conditions for the sale of new homes today? 
  2. How are market conditions for the sale of new homes in 6 months?
  3. How is prospective buyer foot traffic?

Each component survey showed a drop-off from August. Responses fell 1 point, 2 points, and 2 points, respectively. Together, September's composite reading was 14 out of a possible 100 points. Readings over 50 are considered favorable. 

The HMI not been above 50 since April 2006.

With homebuilder confidence low -- and stagnant -- buyers of new homes Kennesaw in should remain alert for "deals". Builders are more likely to offer free upgrades and other concessions to incoming buyers. The availability of such deals may increase as the seasons change and as the year comes to a close.

Low mortgage rates are making new homes attractive, too. Last week, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates fell to their lowest levels of all-time. As compared to just 8 weeks ago, 30-year fixed rate mortgage payments are lower by 5 percent at all loan sizes, down $27 per month per $100,000 borrowed.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 19, 2011

FOMC meets September 20-21Mortgage bonds worsened last week as Eurozone default fears eased abroad, and expectations for a domestic stimulus increased. 

Mortgage rates rose for the first time in three weeks last week, pushing conforming and FHA mortgage rates in Georgia off their all-time, historical lows. Rates were at their lowest Tuesday morning, then rose through Friday's afternoon closing. 

Markets open this week with an eye toward the world's central banks.

In the Eurozone, central bankers (continue to) discuss the debt burdens of Greece and whether a coordinated intervention is necessary. Without it, some economists believe that the nation-state will default on its sovereign debt, which would then create additional financial stress within other nations in the region.

Italy is included among those countries.

In the United States, central bankers are making equally-important choices. 

The Federal Open Market Committee will emerge from a 2-day meeting Wednesday and is expected to announce new stimulus for the U.S. economy.

Since 2009, the Federal Reserve has twice stimulated the economy via an open-market, bond buying initiative. The programs created demand for mortgage bonds which, in turn, lowered mortgage rates for U.S. homeowners. If the Fed chooses this path a third time, expect for mortgage rates to fall in Atlanta.

If the Fed's sponsored stimulus is something else, however -- or if the Fed choose to do nothing -- mortgage rates may rise.

There is economic data due this week, including the Existing Home Sales and Housing Starts report, but it will be the world's central bankers that sit in spotlights. 

Expect volatile mortgage rates this week. Wall Street can only guess what governments will do to stimulate their respective economies and can lead to wild swings in pricing. The "safe play" is to lock a rate while we're still near all-time lows.

Once rates reverse higher, they're expected to rise quickly.


Choosing A 15-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Over A 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage

Comparing 30-year fixed rate mortgages and 15-year fixed rate mortgages

It's not just 30-year fixed rate mortgages that are posting all-time lows these days. The 15-year mortgage has been plunging, too.

If you've ever considered a 15-year loan term, it's a terrific time to talk to your lender. According to Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey of roughly 125 U.S. lenders, at 3.30 percent, the 15-year fixed rate mortgage is at its lowest point in history.

The 3.30% rate doesn't come for free, however. Based on average loan term nationwide, borrowers in Georgia choosing to "go 15" should expect to pay 0.6 discount points at closing. 1 discount point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

With low rates, 15-year fixed rate mortgage can be enticing; a primary benefit is the huge reduction in the long-term interest costs of your loan. The downside, though, is that monthly mortgage payments can be relatively large.

At today's mortgage rates, a 15-year fixed rate loan carries a principal + interest payment of $705.10 per $100,000 borrowed -- a 46% increase over a comparable 30-year fixed rate loan. If you can manage the bigger payments, though, you'll reap $47,000 in interest payments savings per $100,000 borrowed in paying off your loan in full.

$47,000 per $100,000 borrowed is a huge amount of savings and those saved monies can be used to fund items such as college, home improvement, and retirement, among others.

That said, the 15-year fixed rate mortgage is not for everyone.

Because it comes with higher monthly payments, the 15-year fixed rate mortgage may add financial stress to your household budget. And, once you have committed to a 15-year loan term and its payments, you're can't "go back". Your lender won't revert your loan to a 30-year schedule without a refinance, and a refinance could be costly.


Annual Foreclosure Filings Down For 11th Straight Month

Foreclosure Change August 2010-2011

On an annual basis, foreclosure filings fell last month. As compared to August 2010, last month's foreclosure filings dropped 33 percent. "Foreclosure filing" is a catch-all term, comprising default notices; scheduled auctions; and bank repossessions.

The study was published by foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac and this month's report reveals a slowing rate of foreclosure within each of the Top 10 most foreclosure-heavy states.

All news is not good, however. 

On a monthly basis, foreclosure filings spiked, led by a surge in default notices. Default notices made their biggest one-month jump since August 2007 on the way to a 9-month high last month. Default notices are the first step in the foreclosure process so this jump may foreshadow a large number of bank repossessions as foreclosures "make their way through the process".

It's also noteworthy that just 6 states housed half of the nation's bank repossessions last month.

  • California : 18 percent of bank repossessions
  • Florida : 8 percent of bank repossessions
  • Georgia : 7 percent of bank repossessions
  • Michigan : 6 percent of bank repossessions
  • Texas : 6 percent of bank repossessions
  • Arizona : 6 percent of bank repossessions

As a home buyer in Atlanta , foreclosures can save you money. The National Association of REALTORS® reports that distressed homes sell with typical discounts of 20 percent versus comparable, non-distressed homes. However, buying a home from a bank is a different process from buying a home from a "person". Contract negotiations are different and it can take months to finally close on a foreclosed home.

If you're buying a foreclosed, therefore, enlist the help of a professional real estate agent. Real estate agents can help you navigate the sometimes-complicated world of foreclosures, and help you come out ahead.


Capitalize On Low Interest Rates In Overlooked Places

It's no secret. Rates are low right now. And, it's not just mortgage rates, either -- all types of rates are scraping rock-bottom. Borrowing rates, lending rates and savings rates are at or near their all-time lowest levels.

As a homeowner in Marietta , one way to take capitalize on today's low rates is to apply to refinance your home. But there are other ways to take advantage, too.

In this 5-minute piece from NBC's The Today Show, you'll learn of a half-dozen ways to exploit the current rate environment, including:

  • Refinance a car loan from a high rate to a low rate, for cheap, in an hour
  • Balance transfers between credit cards with teaser rates lasting up to 20 months
  • Move some savings to an "online" bank where savings rates are higher

The interview's theme is to examine both where you're spending and saving your money, and make sure you're doing what's best for your budget.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has pledged to hold the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000% until at least 2013. So long as the Fed Funds Rate is low, there will be places you can save.


Adjustable-Rate Mortgages Starting To Adjust Higher

ARM adjustments creeping higher

For the first time in a year, homeowners with adjusting mortgages are facing rising mortgage rates. The interest rate by which many adjustable-rate mortgages adjust has climbed to its highest level since September 2010, and looks poised to reach higher.

This is because of the formula by which adjustable-rate mortgage adjust.

Each year, when due for a reset, an adjustable-rate mortgage's rate changes to the sum of fixed number known as a "margin", and a variable figure known as an "index". For conforming mortgages, the margin is typically set to 2.250 percent; the index is often equal to the 12-month LIBOR.

LIBOR stands for the London Interbank Offered Rate. It's a rate at which banks lend to each other overnight.

Expressed as a math formula, the adjusting ARM formula reads :

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

LIBOR has been rising lately, which explains why ARMs are adjusting higher as compared to earlier this year. There has been considerable stress on the financial sector and LIBOR reflects the uncertainty that bankers feel for the sector. 

LIBOR last spiked after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 amid global financial fears. Analysts expect LIBOR to rise into 2012 because of bubbling concerns in the Eurozone.

Despite LIBOR's rise, though, most adjusting, conforming ARMs are still resetting near 3 percent. For this reason, homeowners with ARMs in Georgia may want to consider letting their respective loans adjust with the market.

This is because an adjusting mortgage rate near 3 percent may be better than what's available with a "fresh loan" -- even as 5-year ARMs rates make new all-time lows. Unlike a straight refinance to lower rates, an adjusting loan requires no closing costs, requires no appraisal, and requires no verifications.

So, if you have an adjustable-rate mortgage that's set to reset this season, don't rush to refinance it. Talk to your lender and uncover your options. Your best course of action may be to stay the course.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 12, 2011

Eurozone trouble aids mortgage ratesMortgage markets improved last week as a weakening Eurozone and questions about the U.S. economy sparked a global flight-to-quality. Conforming and FHA mortgage rates improved for the second week in a row.

The storylines should sound familiar by now. They are the same ones that have dictated the path of mortgage rates since April 2011. As a result, according to Freddie Mac, mortgage rates across Georgia and nationwide are now at an all-time low.

Not in 50 years of tracking mortgage rates has pricing been so favorable.

Last week's holiday-shortened week didn't begin well for rate shoppers in Kennesaw. Rates moved higher on the expectation of additional economic stimulus from two separate parts of the government -- the Federal Reserve and Congress. 

Wall Street held high hopes for Ben Bernanke's address to the Economic Club of Minnesota, and for the President's address to a joint session of Congress. It expected Fed Chief Bernanke to reveal clues about the Fed's next move; and it expected the President to unleash a massive jobs creation program that would put more Americans to work.

Both outcomes would have harmed mortgage rates as money flowed into stocks. However, neither happened. Bernanke kept mum on the Federal Reserve's options and the White House announced a jobs program smaller in scope than was expected.

Mortgage rates fell throughout the day Thursday then received a big boost Friday.

Amid rumors of a pending Greek default and the potential credit downgrades of several Eurozone banking groups, safe haven buying picked up and drove mortgage rates down.

Markets open this week with rates lower than they've ever been in history.

There isn't much new data set for release this week so market expectations will continue to set the direction in which mortgage rates go. If concerns for a Eurozone default rise, mortgage rates should fall. Conversely, if Eurozone chatter settles, mortgage rates should rise.

For now, mortgage rates remain at all-time lows and should not be taken for granted. If you see a rate that makes sense for you, consider locking it in.


Home Affordability Still Tops Nationwide

Home Opportunity inde 2005-2011Home affordability slipped slightly last quarter, dragged down by rising mortgage rates and recovering home prices in Georgia and nationwide.

The National Association of Home Builders reports a Q2 2011 Home Opportunity Index reading of 72.6. This means that nearly 3 of 4 homes sold last quarter were affordable to households earning the national median income of $64,200.

Q2 2011 marks the 10th straight quarter -- dating back to 2009 -- in which the index surpassed 70.

Prior to 2009, the index had never crossed 70 even one time.

However, we must remember that the Home Affordability Index is a national survey. From region-to-region, and town-to-town, home affordability varied.

In the Midwest, for example, affordability was highest. 14 of the 15 most affordable markets nationwide were spread throughout Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. Only Syracuse (#9) cracked the list from other regions. 

The top 5 most affordable cities in Q2 2011 were:

  1. Kokomo, IN (95.8%)
  2. Wheeling, WV (94.7%)
  3. Lansing, MI; East Lansing, MI (94.4%)
  4. Bay City, MI (94.3%)
  5. Youngstown, OH; Warren, OH; Boardman, OH (93.7%)

By contrast, the Northeast Region and Southern California ranked as the least affordable markets. Led by the New York-White Plains, NY-Wayne, NJ area, 7 of the 10 least affordable areas were in New York, New Jersey, and California. For the 13th consecutive quarter the New York metro area was ranked "Least Affordable".

Just 25.2 percent of homes were affordable to households earning the area median income there.

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


After A Pause, Mortgage Guidelines Resume Tightening

Mortgage guidelines tighteningMortgage guidelines appear to be tightening with the nation's largest banks.

In its quarterly survey to senior loan officers nationwide, the Federal Reserve uncovered that a small, but growing, portion of its member banks is making mortgage approvals more scarce for "prime" borrowers.

A prime borrower is described as one with a well-documented payment history, high credit scores, and a low monthly debt-to-income ratio.

Of the 53 responding "big banks", 3 reported that mortgage guidelines "tightened somewhat" last quarter. This is a tick higher as compared to prior quarters in which only 2 banks did.

46 banks reported guidelines unchanged from Q1 2011.

When mortgage guidelines tighten, it adds new hurdles for would-be home buyers in Atlanta. Tighter lending standards means fewer approvals, and that can retard home sales across a region.

Just don't confuse "tighter standards" with "oppressive standards".

While it is more difficult to get approved for a purchase home loan in 2011 as compared to 2006, the same basic rules apply:

  • Show that you have a history of paying your bills on time
  • Show that your income is sufficient to cover your obligations
  • Show that you can make a downpayment

And the good news is that, once approved, you'll benefit from some of lowest mortgage rates in history.

Last week, the average 30-year fixed mortgage was below 4.250% for buyers willing to pay points, and the average 5-year ARM was below 3.000%. The 15-year fixed rate loan was similarly low.

For as long as delinquency rates remain high, expect mortgage guidelines to continue to tighten through the rest of 2011 and into 2012. Therefore, if you're a "fringe" borrower looking at a purchase in the fall or winter season, consider moving up your time frame. Changing guidelines may render you ineligible for a mortgage.


As Jobs Tally Fades, Mortgage Rates Fall

Net new jobs, rolling average

The U.S. economy is no longer adding new jobs.

Last Friday, in its monthly Non-Farm Payrolls report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the U.S. economy added exactly zero new jobs in August as the national Unemployment Rate held steady at 9.1 percent.

Despite the "zero" reading, the jobs figures were in the red. This is because the BLS issued revisions to its June and July figures that adjusted the two months of data down by 58,000 jobs.

Economists had expected a monthly reading of +75,000. Their estimates missed.

The weaker-than-expected jobs data fueled a stock market sell-off that pushed stocks down 2.5% and spurred a bond market rally. 

Mortgage bonds -- the securities on which mortgage rates in Kennesaw are based -- improved Friday ahead of Labor Day Weekend, and carried that momentum into Monday. While the U.S. markets were closed, global investors snapped up "safe" assets in fear of a second wave of financial crises. Already this year, markets have grappled with sovereign debt concerns in Greece and Portugal.

Now, Italy is facing similar international scrutiny, forcing markets to question the health of the Eurozone.

Concerns like these tend to benefit home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers and that's exactly what we're seeing.

Mortgage rates are falling this week. Rates may reverse quickly, however.

Later this month, the Federal Reserve and White House are each expected to add stimulus to the U.S. economy. If they do, it may push investors back into risky assets including equities at the expense of safe securities. This would spark a bond market sell-off and send rates higher.

Possibly by a lot.

Therefore, if you're currently looking for home or comparing rates between lenders, consider executing sooner rather than later. Mortgage rates are low today, but low rates may not last. And when rates reverse higher, it will likely happen fast.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 6, 2011

Eurozone debt concerns resurfaceMortgage markets improved last week on a weak jobs report, expectation for new market stimulus, growing evidence of a global economic slowdown. Rates were especially volatile, too, with the long Labor Day Weekend looming.

Overall, conforming mortgage rates in Georgia improved for the first time in 3 weeks. On a product-by-product basis, though, mortgage rates are faring differently.

According to the Freddie Mac weekly mortgage rate survey, last week, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage was unchanged but the 15-year fixed rate mortgage and the 5-year ARM fell.

The 5-year ARM is at a new all-time low for qualified borrowers.

A drop in 5-year ARM rates throughout Kennesaw without a corresponding drop in 30-year fixed mortgage rates signals that markets expect the economy to stabilize over the long-term but with weakness in the near-term. The 5-year ARM's ultra-low rates suggests marked weakness ahead.

The 5-year ARM may get another boost this week, too.

While U.S. markets were closed for Labor Day, Eurozone nations were hit with new wave of sovereign debt concern, this time centered on Italy. Greece, Portugal and Ireland have already been the subject of debt default debate this year. Italy's inclusion hit equity market hard and safe-haven buying re-commenced.

This should give a good start to mortgage rates this week. Look for rates to start lower. That's not to say, however, that they'll finish the week lower. With very little economic data due for release, markets will move on momentum and momentum can change in a flash.

The two biggest potential market movers both come Thursday. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks in Minnesota at 1:00 PM, and United States President Barack Obama addresses the nation at 7:00 PM. Both speeches are highly anticipated and should cause markets to move.


Home Values Rose In June 2011

Case-Shiller Changes May to June 2011

Has housing turned the corner for good?

The June 2011 Case-Shiller Index reading posted strong numbers across the board, with each of the index's 20 tracked markets showing home price improvement from May.

Some markets -- Chicago and Minneapolis -- rose as much as 3.2 percent.

The rise in values is nothing about which to get overly excited, however. The Case-Shiller Index is just re-reporting what multiple data sets have already shown about the summer housing market; that it was stronger than the spring market, and that a recovery is underway, but occurring locally, at different rates.

For example, the June 2011 Case-Shiller Index shows the following :

  • Denver, Dallas, Washington D.C., and the "California Cities" bottomed in 2009. Each has shown steady improvement since.
  • None of the Case-Shiller cities showed negative growth between May and June 2011.
  • 12 of Case-Shiller's tracked cities have improved over 3 consecutive months.

In isolation, these statistics appear promising, but it's important to remember that the Case-Shiller Index is a backward-looking data set, focusing on just a portion of the national housing economy.

As an illustration, the Case-Shiller Index's "national report" only includes data from 20 cities nationwide. They're not the 20 biggest cities, either. Smaller metropolitan areas such as Minneapolis (#48) and Tampa (#51) are included.

Larger ones including Houston (#4), Philadelphia (#5) and San Jose (#10) are not.

In addition, the Case-Shiller index fails to track sales of condominiums, multi-unit homes and new construction. In some markets, including Chicago, these excluded home type can represent a large share of the overall market.

The Case-Shiller Index is a fine data set for policy makers and economists. It describes the broader housing market and shows long-term trends. For the individual home buyer in Kennesaw , however, it's much less useful. More than "broad data", you want focused data that's current and relevant.

The best place for data like that is a local real estate agent.


With The Jobs Report Looming, Mortgage Rates May Rise

Non-Farm Payrolls (Sep 2009 - est. Aug 2011)

If you're shopping for a mortgage rate, today may be a good day to lock one down. That's because Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its Non-Farm Payrolls report for August 2011.

The "jobs report" tends to have a big influence on mortgage bonds and mortgage rates in Kennesaw.

The jobs report is a monthly issuance, providing sector-by-sector analysis of the U.S. workforce. It also report the national Unemployment Rate.

Wall Street expects the August Non-Farm Payrolls data to show 75,000 jobs created in August, down from 117,000 in July; and it expects that the Unemployment Rate will remain unchanged at 9.1%.

The jobs report's connection to mortgage markets is straight-forward -- as jobs go, so goes the economy. This is because when the number of working Americans rises :

  1. Consumer spending gets a boost
  2. Government tax collection gets a boost
  3. Household savings gets a boost

These are each good turns in a recovering economy.

For today's rate shoppers and home buyers, though, it won't be the actual number of jobs created that matter as much as how close that jobs figure is to Wall Street's expectations. If the number of jobs created exceeds the 75,000 estimate, look for mortgage rates to rise.

Conversely, if job creation falls short of 75,000 in August, mortgage rates are expected to rise.

Home affordability remains at all-time lows and mortgage rates do, too. If you've been wondering whether now is the right time to lock a rate, you can remove some risk by locking ahead of Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls release.

The report will be released at 8:30 AM ET.