New Home Supplies Fall To An 18-Month Low

New Home Supply 2009-2011

If you plan to buy of new construction in Georgia sometime in 2012, don't expect today's low prices. Like everything in housing of late, the market for newly-built homes appears to be stabilizing and, in some markets, improving.

As foreshadowed by this month's strong Homebuilder Confidence survey, the Census Bureau reports that the number of new homes sold rose to a 6-month high in October, climbing to 307,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

A "new home" is a home that is considered new construction. It's the opposite of an "existing home".

Home buyers are comparing new construction to home resales and liking what they see. At the current sales pace, the nation's complete new home inventory would now be depleted in just 6.3 months. This marks the lowest home supply since April 2010 -- the last month of the last year's federal homebuyer tax credit.

By building only to meet new demand, builders are keeping home supplies in check, and home prices stable. They've also found a niche market -- 80% of homes sold last month sold for less than $300,000.

Split by region, the Census Bureau reports October's New Home Sales as follows :

  • Northeast Region : +0.0% from September 2011 
  • Midwest Region : +22.2% from September 2011 
  • South Region : -9.5% from September 2011 
  • West Region : -14.9% from September 2011 

Unfortunately, the data may be incorrect.

Although the October New Home Sales report says that sales climbed 1.3 percent last month, the government's data was published with a ±19.7% margin of error. This means that the actual New Home Sales reading may have been as high as +21.0 percent, or as low as -18.4 percent. Because the range of values includes both positive and negative values, the Census Bureau assigned its October data "zero confidence".

As home buyers, then, we can't take our market cues from the published data. Instead, we should look to other metrics including Housing Starts data and the aforementioned homebuilder confidence survey. Each points to strength in the new home market, and foretells higher home prices in 2012.

If you're in the market for new construction, consider writing an offer soon. Home prices remain low and mortgage rates do, too -- a combination that keeps home payments low. Next year, that may not be the case.


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

Non-Farm Payrolls Nov 2009-Oct 2011Mortgage markets worsened slightly last week through a bouncy, holiday-shortened trading week. Markets were closed Thursday for Thanksgiving and re-opened only briefly Friday.

As in past weeks, though, economic, political, and financial news from the Eurozone dictated the direction of U.S. mortgage-backed bonds.

As Greece -- and now Italy -- have faltered, investors have sought to preserve their respective principal, moving money from unsafe assets to safe ones, a class which includes Fannie Mae- and Freddie Mac-backed mortgage bonds.

This investment pattern is known as "safe haven" buying and it's why mortgage rates tend to improve when large economies grow unstable. Government mortgage bonds are considered among the safest securities available.

The average 30-year fixed rate mortgage is available for 3.98%, according to Freddie Mac, with borrowers expected to pay an accompanying 0.7 discount points. 1 "discount point" is a loan fee equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

"No-point loans" carry higher rates than the Freddie Mac-published figures, but come with lower closing costs.

This week, there are several reasons to expect mortgage rates to rise throughout Georgia.

First, markets are speculating that the IMF will lend Italy 600 billion euro to help avert financial crisis. This move would reverse the safe haven buying that's characterized the last few weeks of trading, thereby leading mortgage rates higher.

A second reason is that they are early reports that Black Friday shoppers out-spent analyst estimates. Consumer spending is the largest part of the U.S. economy so, if spending is up, the economy should be up, too. 

As before, this would reverse some of the safe haven buying that's helped keep mortgage rates low.

Lastly, this week is stuffed with new data including Friday's always-important Non-Farm Payrolls report. Wall Street expects 116,000 net new jobs created in November. If the actual figure is much higher, mortgage rates will rise.

Expect mortgage rates to be volatile this week. Your quoted mortgage rates could vary by as much as a quarter-percent from day-to-day. If you're nervous about losing a low rate that's been offered to you, consider locking in.


Conforming Loan Limits Unchanged For 2012

Conforming loan limits (1980-2012)

A conforming mortgage is one that, literally, conforms to the mortgage guidelines as set forth by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

Conforming mortgage guidelines are Fannie's and Freddie's eligibility standards; an underwriter's series of check-boxes to determine whether a given loan should be approved.

Among the many traits of a conforming mortgage is "loan size".

Each year, the government re-assesses its maximum allowable loan size based on "typical" housing costs nationwide. Loans that fall at, or below, this amount meet conforming mortgage guidelines. Loans in excess of this limit are known as "jumbo" loans.

Between 1980 and 2006, as home values increased, conforming loan limits did, too, rising from $93,750 to $417,000. Since 2006, however, despite falling home prices in many U.S. markets, the conforming loan limit has held steady.  This will remain true for 2012 as well. 

In 2012, for the 7th straight year, the national, single-family conforming mortgage loan limit will remain at $417,000.

The complete 2012 conforming loan limit breakdown, by property type :

  • 1-unit properties : $417,000
  • 2-unit properties : $533,850
  • 3-unit properties : $645,300
  • 4-unit properties : $801,950

However, there are some areas nationally that have earned "loan limit exceptions" based on the local median sales prices. These areas are known as "high-cost" areas and loan limits within these regions range from $417,001 to a maximum of $625,500.

Some examples of high-cost areas include San Francisco (along with a most of California), New York City, and most of Hawaii and Alaska. Nationally, there are approximately 200 such "high-cost" areas.

Verify your local conforming loan limit and loan limits across Georgia via the Fannie Mae website. A complete county-by-county list is published online.


More Sales, Less Inventory : Home Prices Headed Higher?

Existing Home Supply -- Oct 2011 - Oct 2011 The housing market continues to signal that a broad rebound is underway. In October, despite sparse home inventory, the number of properties sold increased 1.4% nationwide.

According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, October Existing Home Sales gained 70,000 units as compared to September, registering 4.97 million existing homes sold overall.

An "existing home" is a home that has been previously occupied and, as compared to prior months, the stock of homes for sale is depleted. 

Just 3.3 million homes were listed for sale last month. This represents a 2 percent drop from September and marks the sparsest home resale inventory of 2011.

The current home supply would last 8.0 months at today's sales pace -- the fastest rate since January 2010. 

The real estate trade group's report contained other noteworthy statistics, too :

  1. 34 percent of all sales were made to first-time buyers
  2. 29 percent of all sales were made with cash
  3. 28 percent of all sales were for foreclosed homes, or short sales

It also said that one-third of transactions "failed" as a result of homes not appraising for the purchase price; failure to achieve a mortgage approval; and, insurmountable home inspection issues.

This 33% failure rate is huge as compared to September 2011 (18%) and October 2010 (8%). It underscores the importance of getting pre-qualified to purchase, and of selecting a home "in good condition".

For today's Atlanta home buyer, October's Existing Home Sales may be a "buy signal". Supplies are falling and sales are increasing. Elementary economics says home prices should begin rising, if they haven't already.

Remember : The data we're seeing is already 30 days old. Today's market may be markedly improved already.

The good news is that mortgage rates remain low. Freddie Mac reports that the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate is 4.000% with 0.7 discount points, making homes as affordable as they've been in history.

With rising home values, you may end up paying more to purchase your new home, but at least you'll pay less to finance it.


Maximum FHA Loan Limits Restored To $729,750

FHA Loan Limits RestoredAfter a brief return to lower, pre-2009 levels, FHA loan limits have been restored. As signed into law last Friday, maximum FHA loan limits are -- once again -- as high as $729,750.

The move creates additional mortgage financing possibilities in more than 650 U.S. counties, and promises to increase the FHA's mortgage market share, which has grown from 6% in 2007 to roughly 30% today.

The change in FHA loan limits also marks the first time that FHA loan limits exceed those of conventional mortgage-backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Conventional loans remain capped at a maximum of $625,500.

For home buyers in Kennesaw and nationwide, FHA-insured mortgage offer several advantages over comparable conventional loans, the most commonly cited of which is that FHA-insured loans require a down payment of just 3.5 percent.

FHA-insured mortgages carry other advantages, too, however.

First, FHA home loans are not subject to loan-level pricing adjustments (LLPA). This means that, all things equal, buyers and would-be refinancers with credit scores below 740; or, who live in multi-unit homes; or, who have high loan-to-values are not subject to additional loan fees as a conventional mortgage applicant might.

Second, after 6 months of on-time payments, FHA-backed homeowners are eligible for the FHA Streamline Refinance. The FHA Streamline Refinance is among the simplest loan products for which to qualify with no appraisal required. Even if you're "underwater" on your mortgage, you can still be streamline-eligible.

And, lastly, at least in today's market, FHA mortgage rates are below those of the conventional market.

The downside of FHA financing, however, is that all FHA mortgages require mortgage insurance and FHA mortgage rates are often higher versus a comparable conventional loan. This means that, although its mortgage rate may be lower, the payment for an FHA home loan may be higher as compared to a Fannie Mae mortgage with similar credit traits.

FHA loans aren't always optimal, but with higher FHA loan limits, expect the FHA's market share to increase.

Check your local FHA loan limit at the HUD website.


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

Congressional super-committee deadline influences mortgage ratesMortgage markets went unchanged last week as Wall Street traded on new debt stress within the Eurozone, and stronger-than-expected economic data here at home.

Rates moved very little from Monday to Friday and the storyline's not expected to change much this week for today's rate shoppers.

According to Freddie Mac, conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgages remain priced at 4.000% with 0.7 discount points on average, where 1 discount point equals one percent of the loan size. For people who prefer "zero-point" mortgages, expect a mortgage rate above 4.000%.

By contrast, loans with 1 point or more are priced below 4.000 percent.

However, in this holiday-shortened trading week, mortgage volatility should be up, and rates may finally break from the 4.000 benchmark we've hovered since November 1.

What's unclear is whether rates will rise or fall.

For 8 months, we've talked of how events in Greece have influenced the U.S. mortgage market and, how each time Greece moved to the precipice of default, the U.S. mortgage bond market improved, causing mortgage rates to fall.

Last week, similar default concerns emerged for Italy and Spain. This applied downward pressure on U.S. mortgage rates, but a strong retail sales report; a better-than-expected New Home Sales data; and soaring homebuilder confidence renewed talk of domestic inflation in 2012 and beyond. 

Inflation erodes the value of the U.S. dollar and leads to higher mortgage rates.

This week, we get a full set of data :

  • Monday : Existing Home Sales
  • Tuesday : FOMC Minutes; GDP; 5-Year Treasury Auction
  • Wednesday : Jobless Claims; Personal Income and Outlays; Consumer Sentiment

In addition, Wednesday marks the deadline for the congressional "super-committee" tasked with finding $1.2 trillion in federal budget savings over the next 10 years. The committee was formed in the wake of August's downgrade of U.S. federal debt by Standard & Poors.

If Congress fails to meet its goal in time, stock markets should suffer and mortgage rates may fall.


Housing Starts Rising; New Construction Turns The Corner?

Housing Starts (2009-2011)Another day, another signal that the market for newly-built homes is improving.

Single-Family Housing Starts rose to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 430,000 units in October – a 4 percent increase from September and the highest reading in 3 months.

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

The increase in surprised Wall Street analysts, although it shouldn't have.  

Earlier this week, the National Association of Homebuilders showed that Homebuilder Confidence is at its highest point since May 2010, the effect of better market conditions and more sold units. Rising housing starts amid a lift in builder confidence is to be expected -- the two metrics have moved with loose correlation since mid-2000.

However, as with everything in real estate, Single-Family Housing Starts volume varied by location. The nation's 4 regions posted wide-ranging results :

  • Northeast Region : + 10.0% from September
  • Midwest Region : -4.1% from September
  • South Region : +11.3% from September
  • West Region : -10.2% from September

Buyers of new construction in Kennesaw can infer two key points from last month's data.

First, with more homes will being built, home supply should rise, thereby softening pressure on rising home prices. This should help keep homes affordable.

However, the second point is that, with builder confidence rising, buyers are less likely to win price concessions and "free upgrades" in negotiations.

The last 6 weeks of 2011 may be your optimal time to buy new construction. Home prices remain affordable and mortgage rates are rock-bottom. In addition, because there are typically fewer active home buyers during the holidays, you'll be more likely to locate one of the few remaining new construction "deals".

Talk to your real estate agent about local trends and new construction. 


Homebuilders Getting Optimistic; Higher Home Prices Ahead?

Housing Market Index 2009-2011Homebuilder confidence continues to rise.

Just two months after falling to a multi-month low, the Housing Market Index surged again in November, climbing another three points to 21. It's the second straight month that the HMI posted a 3-point gain, catapulting the index to an 18-month.

The Housing Market Index is monthly report from the National Association of Homebuilders. It's meant to measure confidence among the nation's homebuilders, scored on a scale of 1-100.

When homebuilder confidence reads 50 or better, it reflects favorable conditions for homebuilders. Readings below 50 reflect unfavorable conditions.

The Housing Market Index has not read north of 50 since April 2006.

As an index, the HMI is actually a composite reading; the result of three separate surveys sent to homebuilders each month. The National Association of Homebuilders asks it members about current single-family home sales volume; projected single-family home sales volume over the next 6 months; and current "foot traffic".

In November, builder responses were stronger in all 3 categories :

  • Current Single-Family Sales : 20 (+3 from October)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 25 (+1 from October)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 15 (+1 from October)

And, beyond the headline data, there is an important, noteworthy item in this month's Housing Market Index.

In November, "Current Single Family Sales" climbed 3 points for the second straight month, and is now at the highest point since May 2010 -- the month after last year's home buyer tax credit expired. And, this increase in sales volume is occurring as new home construction is falling, thereby reducing home inventory nationwide.

That's an important point for Marietta home buyers.

With more new home sales and fewer new home listings, prices are likely to increase into 2012. Especially with home builders predicting higher sales levels over the next 6 months, and seeing higher levels of buyer foot traffic through their properties today.

For now, though, home prices are stable and mortgage rates are low. This creates low-cost homeownership throughout Georgia , and helps new home construction remain affordable.

If you're in the market for new home construction, the next 60 days may prove to be your best time to get "a deal".


Government Releases Additional HARP Guidance For Underwater Homeowners

Making Home Affordabie

Tuesday, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac unveiled lender instructions for the government's revamped HARP program, kick-starting a potential refinance frenzy across Georgia and nationwide.

HARP stands for Home Affordable Refinance Program. The updated program is meant to give "underwater homeowners" an opportunity to refinance at today's low mortgage rates.

In the two-plus years since its launch, HARP's first iteration helped fewer than 900,000 homeowners. HARP II, by contrast, is expected to reach millions.

Lenders begin taking HARP II loan applications December 1, 2011.

To apply for HARP, applicants must first meet 4 basic criteria :

  1. The existing mortgage must be guaranteed by Fannie Mae or by Freddie Mac
  2. The existing mortgage must have been securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac prior to June 1, 2009
  3. The mortgage payment history must be perfect going back 6 months
  4. The mortgage payment history may not include more than one 30-day late payment going back 12 months 

If the above criteria are met, HARP applicants will like what they see.

For HARP applicants, loan-level pricing adjustments are waived in full for loans with terms of 20 years or fewer; and maxed at 0.75 for loans with terms in excess of 20 years.

This will result in dramatically lower mortgages rates for HARP applicants -- especially those with credit scores below 740. Some applicants will find HARP mortgage rates lower than for a "traditional" conventional mortgage.

In addition, HARP applicants are exempted from the standard waiting period following a bankruptcy or foreclosure, which is 4 years and 7 years, respectively.

These two items are inclusionary and should help HARP reach a broader U.S. audience.

HARP contains exclusionary policies, too.

  1. The "unlimited LTV" feature only applies to fixed rate loans or 30 years or fewer. ARMs are capped at 105% loan-to-value.
  2. Applicants must be "requalified" if the proposed mortgage payment exceeds the current payment by 20%.
  3. Applicants must benefit from either a lower payment, or a "more stable" product to qualify

And, of course, HARP can only be used once. 

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will adopt slight variations of the same HARP guidelines so make sure to check with your loan officer for the complete list of HARP eligibility requirements.


Foreclosure Filings Climbing; 4 States Account For Half Of Nationwide Activity

Foreclosures per capita October 2011

Foreclosed homes are a hot market throughout Georgia -- and supplies are ramping up.

According to foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, October's foreclosure filings rose 7 percent to 231,000 filings nationwide.

A "foreclosure filing" is any one of the following foreclosure-related events : A default notice on a home; a scheduled auction for a home; or, a bank repossession of a home. Because of this definition, a single home can account for up to 3 foreclosure filings -- one from each category. 

Because of this, we may glean more relevant insight into the foreclosure market by separating RealtyTrac's foreclosure report into "event types".

  • Default Notices : Up 10% from September 2011; Down 31% from October 2010.
  • Scheduled Auctions : Up 8% from September 2011; Down 38% from October 2010.
  • Bank Repossessions : Up 4% from September 2011; Down 27% from October 2010.

These breakdowns suggest that, although improved as compared to last year, the foreclosure market is growing. At least, it's growing in some parts of the country. We can't forget that -- like everything real estate -- foreclosures are a local phenomenon. 

In October, just 4 states accounted for more than half of the country's foreclosure filings. Those four states -- California, Florida, Michigan and Illinois -- represent just 26% of the U.S. population.

Even on a per household basis, the figures remain disproportionate :

  • Top 10 Foreclosure States : 1 foreclosure per 341 households, on average
  • Bottom 10 Foreclosure States : 1 foreclosure per 7,434 households, on average

The nationwide foreclosure rate was 1 foreclosure per 563 households.

As a Marietta home buyer, foreclosures are worth watching. They account for 18% of home resales nationwide and, in some markets, can be bought at steep discounts versus a comparable "non-distressed" home. That is part of their appeal, in fact.

But just because foreclosed properties can be a "deal", it doesn't mean you should rush to buy one. Buying a foreclosed home from a bank is different from buying a non-foreclosed home from a "person". The contracts and negotiation process are different, and foreclosed homes are sometimes sold as-is.

"As-is" means "this home may have defects".

Therefore, if you plan to buy a foreclosed home, talk with a real estate professional first. You can learn a lot about the housing market online, but with respect to writing an offer on a property, you'll want an experienced agent on your side.


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

Italy influencing U.S. mortgage ratesAmid a dearth of new U.S. economic data, Eurozone developments led mortgage markets down in last week's holiday-shortened trading week. Mortgage rates across Georgia worsened slightly, increasing week-over-week for the first time in a month.

Freddie Mac reports the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 3.99% with an accompanying 0.7 discount points. Discount points are loan fees, and 1 discount point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

Greece has dominated mortgage market headlines since February. As the nation-state aims to reign in its national spending, it has also adopted harsh austerity measures. The combination is meant to prevent future debt defaults, but global investors remain concerned that problems in Greece may spill over into other Eurozone nations.

As those concerns have grown, U.S. mortgage markets have benefited. This is because U.S. mortgage markets are backed by the U.S. government, and investors treat the U.S. mortgage market as "safe" compared to other security-types.

Safe investments are in high demand during uncertain times, often improving in price. This pattern is known as Safe Haven Buying and it's one reason why mortgage rates tend to fall when the economy is sagging. Mortgage rates move opposite of mortgage bond prices.

This week, U.S. economic data returns, but markets will still be watching the Eurozone. Sunday, Italy changed leadership, in part, to restore market confidence in its ability to get its debt load under control. 

Expect developments in Italy to sway U.S. mortgage rates this week. In addition, rates will respond to a rash of economic data and Fed speakers :

  • Tuesday : Producer Price Index, Retail Sales, 5 Fed speakers
  • Wednesday : Consumer Price Index, Housing Price Index, 2 Fed speakers
  • Thursday : Housing Starts, Jobless Claims, 1 Fed speaker

Mortgage rates remain near all-time lows, with not much room to drop. If you're shopping for a mortgage rates, therefore, consider locking in. As Greece and Italy show signs of moving forward, expect Safe Haven Buying to recede, and mortgage rates to rise.


Banks Resume Tightening Mortgage Guidelines

Mortgage guidelines get tougher

As part of its quarterly survey to member banks nationwide, the Federal Reserve asked senior loan officers whether last quarter's "prime" residential mortgage guidelines have tightened, loosened, or remained as-is.

A "prime" borrower is defined as one with a well-documented, high-performance credit history; with low debt-to-income ratios; and who chooses to finance a home via a traditional fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage product.

After a 2-year easing cycle, the nation's biggest bank banks report that they've reversed course, and are raising the bar on mortgage approvals.

For the period July-September 2010, 88% of responding loan officers admitted to tightening their prime guidelines, or leaving them "basically unchanged".

If you've applied for a home loan of late, you've experienced this first-hand.

High delinquency rates and defaults since 2007 have caused the banks to rethink what they will lend, and to whom. As a result, today's mortgage lenders scrutinize assets, incomes, and credit scores to make sure that nothing "slips by".

For today's home buyers and would-be refinancers, the mortgage approval process can be challenging as compared to how it looked just 18 months ago.

  • Minimum credit scores requirements are higher today
  • Downpayment/equity requirements are larger today
  • Debt-to-Income ratio requirements are more strict today

In other words, although mortgage rates are the lowest that they've been in history, fewer applicants can qualify. And, with more the housing market still in recovery, it's likely that guidelines will tighten again in 2012.

Therefore, if you're among the many people in Marietta wondering if it's the right time to buy a home or refinance, consider that, although mortgage rates may fall, approval standards may not.

The best rate in the world won't matter if you're not eligible to lock it.


This Holiday Season, Think Twice Before Saving 15 Percent At The Register

FICO recipeWith Halloween behind us, retailers are in the Holiday Spirit. Businesses know that consumers spent a median $556 on holiday gifts last year and they want this year to be just as strong.

That's why it's barely November and, already, Black Friday ads clog our mailboxes and the airwaves. Retailers want our dollars and they're offering great deals to early shoppers.

There's one discount a smart shopper should think twice, however -- the ever-present "Open A Charge Card Today And Save 15%" promotion. In the short-term, deals like this will save money. 

Over the long-term, however, opening a charge card could cost you much, much more -- especially if you plan to refinance your home or buy a new one.

Applying for a charge card can lower your credit score up to 85 points.  

According to the myFICO.com website, as a category, "New Credit" accounts for 10% of your 850 possible credit points, comprising the following credit traits :

  • Your number of recently opened accounts
  • Your number of recent credit inquiries
  • Time elapsed since your recent credit inquiries
  • Your proportion of new accounts to all accounts

Each trait is a negative in the FICO-scoring credit algorithm which means that, with each in-store charge card application, your credit score is likely to fall. How far your score will fall depends on the rest of your credit profile.

Meanwhile, low FICO scores correlate to higher loan fees.

Using a real-life example, assuming 20% equity in a home, for either purchase or refinance, look how loan fees for a $200,000 conforming mortgage change by FICO score :

  • 740 FICO : There will be no added loan costs
  • 720 FICO : You'll have a 0.250% increase in loan costs, or $500
  • 700 FICO : You'll have a 0.750% increase in loan costs, or $1,500
  • 680 FICO : You'll have a 1.500% increase in loan costs, or $3,000
  • 660 FICO : You'll have a 2.500% increase in loan costs, or $5,000

You can see first-hand how expensive low credit score can be -- much more costly than the 15% saved at the mall. That's why people planning to refinance to today's low rates and soon-to-be Atlanta homeowners, shouldn't rush to save 15% at the register. 

For people in want of a mortgage, high FICO scores are worth protecting.


Tips For Maximizing Your Home's Appraised Value

Maximizing your home appraisalA home appraisal is an independent opinion of your home's value, performed by a licensed home appraiser. Appraisals are part of the traditional home purchase process, and lenders require them for most refinances, too.

Appraisers are trained professionals. First, they derive a base for your home's value based on the recent sales prices of homes that are comparable to yours in terms of bedrooms, bathrooms, style, and square footage.

Then, accounting for features and amenities that make your home different, the appraiser applies "adjustments" to that base value.

This methodology is called the "Sales Comparison" approach and the result is your home's appraised value.

It's the most common appraisal method used by lenders.

As a homeowner in Atlanta , you can't affect the sales prices of your home's comparable properties, but you can help your appraiser understand how your home stands apart from these homes. This, in turn, can affect your home's adjustments, resulting in a higher appraised value.

With home appraisals, every valuation dollar can matter. With that in mind, here are a few tips for maximizing your home's appraised value :

  1. Be home for your appraisal so you can answer the appraiser's question, if there are any.
  2. Mention any new roofing, flooring, HVAC, plumbing, or windows you've installed since purchase.
  3. Don't mention projects or repairs you're "about to undertake". Appraisers don't credit for unfinished projects.
  4. Make minor household fixes prior to the appraisal (e.g.; leaky sink, running toilet, peeling paint). 
  5. Present a tidy home. This can contribute to a higher "overall condition" adjustment.

Lastly, schedule the appraisal for a time that is convenient for your entire household. An appraiser needs to see, measure, and take photos of every room in your home. If a room's door is closed because of a resting child, for example, the appraiser may need to schedule a second appointment to complete the appraisal, and that can raise your appraisal costs.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : November 7, 2011

Fed Funds Rate 2008-2011Mortgage markets improved last week as optimism for a Greek Bailout program faded, triggering a global flight-to-quality assets. Fear of a Eurozone rift outweighed positive economic remarks from the Federal Open Market Committee and an in-line U.S. jobs report.

Although the Federal Reserve said the economy had "strengthened somewhat", a statement backed up by Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls data which -- with revisions -- met analyst expectations, concern that Greece may not receive its aid caused mortgage to fall.

Conforming mortgage rates dropped throughout Georgia Monday and Tuesday, pushing rates to near their lowest levels of the year. Rates remained low through Friday.

According to Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage market survey, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage is 4.00% nationwide, plus closing costs and an accompanying 0.7 discount points.

A "discount point" is a one-time loan fee paid at closing, where 1 discount point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

As an example, 1 discount point on a $300,000 home loan costs $3,000.

This week, with no new economic due for release, the fate of mortgage rates in Kennesaw again depends on what develops in Europe. If Greece cannot reach accord within its own parliament, and cannot enact the austerity measures as dictated by its aid package, mortgage rates should fall this week, too.

However, if Greece can reach agreement and move forward, it will appease investors worldwide and U.S. mortgage rates should resume rising. Likely by a lot.

Remember : The U.S. economy has shown slow, steady improvement of late and, normally, this would result in higher mortgage rates for consumers. That's not what we've experienced, however. Instead, fears of a Greek debt default have dominated headlines.

As soon as markets are certain that Greece has a way forward, attention will return to the U.S. economy, and mortgage rates are expected to rise.

Therefore, float your mortgage rate with caution this week. Depending on global events, mortgage rates may rise or fall. Eliminate your interest rate risk. Lock your rate today.


The Most Expensive ZIP Codes In The County (2011 Edition)

Most Expensive ZIP CodesIn the housing market, amenities and location have as much to do with a home's value as the everyday forces of supply-and-demand. Whereas the latter causes home values to rise and fall over time, the former creates a starting point for said values. 

Where you live -- and the features of your home -- determine your home's price range. Naturally, homes in some areas are consistently higher-valued than homes in others.

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

  1. Alpine, NJ (07620) : $4,550,000
  2. Atherton, CA (94027) : $4,295,000
  3. Sagaponack, NY (11962) : $3.595,000
  4. Hillsborough, CA (94010) : $3,499,000
  5. Beverly Hills, CA (90210) : $3,469,891
  6. New York, NY (10012) : $3,392,574
  7. New York, NY (10013) : $3,317,962
  8. Water Mill, NY (11976) : $3,300,000
  9. Montecito, CA (93108) : $3,099,348
  10. Old Westbury, NY (11568) : $3,095,000

In fact, of the top 50 most expensive ZIP codes, only 6 are located outside of California and New York regions. 3 are Colorado resort towns -- Snowmass (81654), Aspen (81611) and Telluride (81435) -- one is in Maryland, one is in Florida, and the last is in Washington State.

Chicago-suburb Kenilworth (60043) is the top-ranked Midwest ZIP code. It placed 86th overall.

The Forbes list may be interesting but, to home buyers or sellers in Marietta , it should not be the final word in home values. Real estate is a local market which means that -- even within a given ZIP code -- prices can vary based on street and neighborhood.

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


A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (November 2, 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 nearly unanimous, with just one dissenting voter. There were 3 dissenters at each of the FOMC's last two meetings.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve presented an improved outlook for the U.S. economy, noting that since its last meeting in September, there's new evidence that the economy "strengthened somewhat" in the third quarter.

One example cited is that consumer and business spending continues to rise while inflationary pressures on the economy remain modest. This indicates controlled growth -- a plus in a recovering economy.   

The economy remains slowed by a number of factors, though, as noted by the Fed :

  1. "Continuing weakness" in the labor market
  2. Softness in commercial real estate
  3. A "depressed" housing market

In response to mixed economic conditions, the FOMC opted to "do nothing" today; it introduced no new monetary policy, and revised none of its existing market stimulus. The Fed re-iterated its plan to leave the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near 0.000 percent "at least until mid-2013″ and affirmed "Operation Twist" -- the program in which the Fed sells Treasury securities with a maturity of 3 years or less, and uses the proceeds to buy mortgage bonds with maturity between 6 and 30 years.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been negative this afternoon. Mortgage rates throughout Georgia are rising because analysts expected the Fed to launch new, bigger stimulus plans. It didn't. Rates may drift higher for the new few days, too.

Therefore, it today's mortgage rates fit your household budget, consider locking in a mortgage rate. Mortgage rates are very low right now, relative to history. It may not last.

The FOMC's next meeting -- its last scheduled meeting of the year -- is December 13, 2011.

More Risk To Home Affordability : Friday's Jobs Report

Job growth since 2000

Within the next 48 hours, mortgage rates may get bouncy. The Federal Open Market Committee will adjourn from a 2-day meeting and October's Non-Farm Payrolls report is due for release.

Of the two market movers, it's the Non-Farm Payrolls report that may cause the most damage. Rate shoppers across Georgia would do well to pay attention.

Published monthly, the "jobs report" provides sector-by-sector employment data from the month prior. It's a product of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and includes the national Unemployment Rate.

In September, the economy added 103,000 jobs, and job creation from the two months prior was shown to be higher by 99,000 jobs higher than originally reported. This was a huge improvement over the initial August release which showed zero new jobs created.

When September's jobs report was released, mortgage rates spiked. This is because of the correlation between jobs and the U.S. economy. There are a lot of economic "positives" when the U.S. workforce is growing.

  1. Consumer spending increases
  2. Governments start more projects
  3. Businesses make more investment

Each of these items leads to additional hiring, and the cycle continues.

Wall Street expects that 90,000 jobs were created in October 2011. If the actual number of jobs created exceeds this estimate, it will be considered a positive for the economy, and mortgage rates should climb as Wall Street dumps mortgage-backed bonds in favor of equities.

Conversely, if the number of new jobs falls short of 90,000, it will be considered a disappointment, and mortgage rates should rise.

There is a lot of risk in floating a mortgage rate today. The Federal Reserve could make a statement that drives rates higher, and Friday's job report could do the same. If you're under contract for a home or planning to refinance, eliminate your interest rate risk.

Lock your mortgage rate today.


Make Your Mortgage Rate Strategy : The Federal Reserve Starts A 2-Day Meeting

Comparing the Fed Funds Rate to Mortgage RatesThe Federal Open Market Committee begins a scheduled, 2-day meeting today, the seventh of its 8 scheduled meetings this year, and the eighth Fed meeting overall.

The FOMC is a 12-person sub-committee within the Federal Reserve. It's the group responsible for setting the nation's monetary policy and is led by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The FOMC's most well-known role is as the steward of the Fed Funds Rate. This is the overnight rate at which U.S. banks borrow money from each other. The Fed Funds Rate is a unique, "banking" interest rate, and should not be confused with consumer interest rates, a category which includes "mortgage rates".

Mortgage rates are not set by the Federal Reserve. 

Rather, mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds. If mortgage rates correlated to the FOMC's Fed Funds Rate, the chart at right would be linear.

That said, the FOMC does exert influence on mortgage markets.

After its FOMC meetings, the Federal Reserve issues a press release to the public. In it, the central banker summarizes economic conditions nationwide, highlighting threats to the economy and areas of strength.

When the Federal Reserve's statement is generally "positive", mortgage rates tend to rise. This is because a strengthening economy invites investors to assume more risk, spurring equity markets at the expense of all bonds types, including the mortgage-backed kind.

When bond markets lose, mortgage rates rise.

Conversely, when the Fed is generally negative, bond markets gain, pushing mortgage rates lower throughout Georgia.

The Fed can also influence mortgage rates via new policy.

At its last meeting, the FOMC launched a new, $400-billion round of mortgage-market stimulus known as Operation Twist. The added mortgage-bond support led mortgage rates lower post-FOMC meeting. 

The Fed may expand Operation Twist as soon as Wednesday afternoon. It may also take no such steps at all. Unfortunately, there are few clues about what the Federal Reserve may do next, if anything at all. As a result, mortgage rates will be a moving target for the next 36 hours. First, they'll be volatile before of the Fed's statement. Then, they'll be volatile after the Fed's statement.

Even if the Fed does nothing, mortgage rates will change so your safest play is to lock a mortgage rate ahead of Wednesday's 2:15 PM ET adjournment.

There too much risk in floating.