What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 31, 2012

Jobs report is due Friday and could move mortgage ratesMortgage bonds improved last week, pushing mortgage rates lower in Georgia and nationwide.

Positive economic news and strong housing data was trumped by ongoing Fiscal Cliff discussions on Capitol Hill.

The "Fiscal Cliff" is meant to represent January 1, 2013 -- the date on which mandatory spending cuts are enacted by Congress and on which tax rates increases for many U.S. taxpayers.

Some analysts believe that if these two events are to occur simultaneously, it would derail the current U.S. economic expansion and revert the economy back into recession. That concern has spurred a flight-to-quality which has benefited mortgage bonds and, therefore, U.S. mortgage rates.

For example, last week, Freddie Mac reported the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate at 3.35 percent nationwide for borrowers willing to pay an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus a full set of closing costs. This is a 0.02 percentage point reduction from the week prior.

The average 15-year fixed rate mortgage rate was unchanged last week at 2.66 percent for borrowers paying an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus closing costs.

In this holiday-shortened week, mortgage rates may fade again.

Congress convened over the weekend in order to discuss the impending Fiscal Cliff, and ways to avoid it. Talks have been ongoing since this year's election yet it appears unlikely that the simultaneous expiration will be avoided.

How this would affect the economy is unknown but mortgage markets would witness an immediate boost of demand, leading Atlanta mortgage rates lower. Conventional, FHA and VA mortgage rates would all likely benefit.

And then, Wall Street will turn its attention to Friday's December Non-Farm Payroll report.

Mortgage rates are expected to make big moves upon the report's release. This is because, earlier this month, the Federal Reserve said it would begin raising the Fed Funds Rate only after the Unemployment Rate reaches 6.5 percent. Currently, the Unemployment Rate is 7.7 percent. If December's jobless rate slips, moving closer to the Fed's stated target, mortgage rates are expected to rise.

Similarly, if the Unemployment Rate rises, mortgage rates are expected to drop.


Fixing Up An Historic Home : The Three Rs

Fix up an historic homeIf you enjoy both history and fixing things, then you may have trouble driving by historic homes for sale in Marietta without feeling the urge to buy and fix one up.

Before you do, however, you should know the three R's of fixing historic homes -- Restoration, Renovation, and Repair.

"Restoration" is the process of returning a home to its original state. Restoring historic homes often requires city and state permission. It's essential that you check to see whether your home is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP); or, whether it's located in a historic district. If either is true, there may be a specific set of rules to follow while renovating.

Restoration can be an expensive endeavor. For a home to keep its historic value, the materials used must match the home's original materials, including furnishings. This can be costly because of antique value.

Renovating is less complicated and less restrictive as compared to restoring. However, via a renovation, a home often becomes a more "modern" living space, which can lower the home's historic value. Be sure that your home is not listed in the NRHP or located in an historic district before beginning renovations.

Depending on size of the project(s), renovations can be expensive, too. However, it's easier to find great deals on modern appliances as compared to the antique appliances required for a restoration.

Repairs are often less intensive than a restoration or renovation. For repair, be sure to use materials which fit the home's character, which may include plaster walls and wooden floors, for example. Matching original materials is not important in the home repair process..

The cost of a repair project will depend on the size and volume of required repairs.

The differences between a restoration, renovation and repair of an historic home may be minor, but those small differences will change your costs, your timeline and your procedural red tape. Speak with an qualified architect if you're unsure of your obligations as the owner of a historic home.


Case-Shiller Index Posts 4% Annual Home Price Gain

HPI from peakThe U.S. housing market continues to make home price gains.

Earlier this week, the S&P/Case-Shiller Index showed home prices gaining 4.3 percent during the 12-month period ending October 2012, marking the largest one-year gain in home prices since May 2010.

The Case-Shiller Index measures changes in home prices by tracking same-home sales throughout 20 housing markets nationwide; and the change in sales price from sale-to-sale. Detached, single-family residences are used in the Case-Shiller Index methodology and data is for closed purchase transactions only.

Between October 2011 and October 2012, home values rose in 18 of the 20 Case-Shiller Index markets, with previously-hard hit areas such as Phoenix, Arizona leading the national price recovery.

The top three "gainers" for the 12 months ending October 2012 were :

  • Phoenix, Arizona : +21.7 percent
  • Detroit, Michigan :  +10.0 percent
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota : +9.2 Percent

Only Chicago and New York City posted annual home value depreciation. On average, homes lost -1.3% and -1.2% in value, respectively.

It should be noted, however, that the Case-Shiller Index is an imperfect gauge of home values

First, as mentioned, the index tracks changes in the detached, single-family housing market only. It specifically ignores sales of condominiums, co-ops and multi-unit homes. 

Second, the Case-Shiller Index data set is limited to just 20 U.S. cities. There are more than 3,000 cities nationwide, which illustrates that the Case-Shiller sample set is limited.

And, lastly, the home sale price data used for the Case-Shiller Index is nearly two months behind its release date, rendering its conclusions somewhat out-of-date.

That said, the Case-Shiller Index joins the bevy of home value trackers pointing to home price growth over the last year. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), for example, reported similar home price growth with its October 2012 House Price Index (HPI).

Home values rose 0.5 percent between September and October 2012 nationwide, the FHFA said, and climbed 5.6 percent during the 12 months ending October 2012.

Economists attribute increasing home prices to higher buyer demand, record-low mortgage rates and the gradual improvement of the U.S. economy.


How To Install A Water Heater Jacket

Water heater savingsA simple way to save money is to improve your home's energy efficiency rating.  For example, Marietta homeowners can save up to 9 percent per year on water heating costs simply by installing a water heater jacket.

Water heater jackets are easy to install. Here's how you do it :

First, before you go shopping, check whether your water heater is a gas model, or an electric one. Then, write down your water heater model number. Most water heater jackets list compatible water heater models on their respective packaging. Look for jackets with a value of "R-8".

Then, as you start your project, be sure to turn the water heater off.

Water heater jackets are pre-cut to make installation simple. Remove the outer packaging and separate the jacket's pre-cut pieces. There will likely be a top, a body and belts. You'll want to have plenty of duct tape on hand, too.

Next, shape the top of the water heater jacket to fit your appliance.  Trim around the pipes which enter the water heater, then tape the areas closed. This will form a strong seal.

Tape the top edges down to the side(s) of the water heater.

Then, take the body of the water heater jacket and wrap it around your water heater's mid-section. Have the belts ready and secure them, taking care that the belts don't push the insulation down more than one-quarter of its thickness.

Lastly, outline the access plate with a pencil on the insulation exterior, and use scissors or a knife to cut the insulation out. Tape the edges to avoid fraying and set the water heater to a temperate no higher than 130 degrees.

Note that outfitting a gas water heaters with jackets can be more complicated than with electric water heaters because of construction. If your water heater is a gas model, consider hiring a professional to handle your installation.


What's Ahead for Mortgage Rates This Week: December 24, 2012

Existing Home SalesMortgage markets worsened last week amid ongoing discussions budget and tax conversations in Washington, D.C., and the release of key housing and economic data.

Mortgage rates climbed in Georgia and nationwide.

Freddie Mac reported the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate at 3.37 percent nationwide for borrowers willing to pay an accompanying 0.7 discount points at closing, plus closing costs -- an increase of 0.05 percentage points from the week prior.

The average 15-year fixed rate mortgage rate was listed at 2.65 percent nationwide with an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus a full set of closing costs.

With certain government funding and tax reductions set to expire December 31, legislators appear unlikely to avoid what's been called the "Fiscal Cliff". Some economists believe that reaching January 1 with no agreement in place will set the economy in to recession.

Mortgage rates tend to improve on "negative" news for the economy, which partially explains why mortgage rates made a small comeback late in the week.

In other news, according the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales reached their highest point since November 2009, climbing to 5.04 million homes sold on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. In addition, the real estate trade group reports that the Existing Home Supply has dropped to 4.8 months -- a figure firmly suggesting a "seller's market".

Separately, the Commerce Department reported single-family housing starts rising, too; down 4.1 percent in November but up nearly 23 percent as compared to November 2011.

This week, Fiscal Cliff discussions are likely to dominate mortgage markets. The trading week will be holiday-shortened and volume will be lighter-than-normal. This may lead to volatile pricing and rapid interest rate movements.

Markets close early Monday and remain closed through Tuesday. Wednesday, markets re-open with no new data set for release. Then, Thursday, scheduled economic news events resume Thursday with New Home Sales, Jobless Claims and Consumer Confidence due.

Friday, the Pending Home Sales Index is released.


Housing Starts, Building Permits Rising Into 2013

Housing Starts November 2011Single-family housing starts took a small step back in November.

According to the monthly Housing Starts report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, single-family housing starts tallied 565,000 in November 2012 on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This marks a 4 percent decline from October, but is more than 100,000 higher than the count from 12 months ago.

Clearly, the nation's new home construction market is expanding.

On a regional basis, single-family housing starts have been strongest in the Midwest; and Hurricane Sandy appears to have affected the number of starts across the Northeast.

As compared to one year ago:

  • Northeast Region : Housing starts down 19% on an annual basis
  • Midwest Region : Housing starts up 40% on an annual basis
  • South Region : Housing starts up 24% on an annual basis
  • West Region : Housing starts up 33% on an annual basis

It's expected that new construction growth will continue into 2013, too. This is because the Department of Commerce report also showed Building Permits mostly unchanged for November at 565,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis.

As compared to November 2011, this marks a 25% increase. Permits for multi-family homes are up 17%, too.

There are more building permits being issued today that at any time in the last 4 years.

For home buyers, this may be good news. Rising permits and housing starts suggests a more healthy U.S. economy, but it also means that home supplies may not be as tight throughout the next few months.

Overly-tight home supplies in some U.S. markets have contributed to rapidly rising home values. With more construction and larger home inventories, home prices may rise in 2013 less slowly.

The good news, though, is the mortgage rates in Alpharetta remain near all-time lows and low- and no-downpayment mortgage programs are abundant. For today's home buyer, there are plenty of affordable ways to purchase a home.

Talk with your real estate agent and your loan officer to see which plan works best for you.


3 Ways To Purchase Foreclosed Properties

Foreclosure signThe process of buying a foreclosed home is slightly different from the process of buying a non-foreclosure home.  If you want to invest in Marietta foreclosures, therefore, it is important to understand the different ways by which to purchase a foreclosed home.

There are three main ways to buy a foreclosed home.

Buying before the auction
Some delinquent homeowners may want to sell their homes before facing an actual foreclosure.In this instance, the homeowner, in agreement with the lender, agrees to sell the home for less than the amount owed on the mortgage.This is called a short sale. Short sales are "pre-foreclosures", of sorts. By broadening your home search to include short sales, you can identify homes that may be sold at a discount.

Buying at the auction
Another way by which you can invest in foreclosure homes is by buying the home at auction. From area to area, the legal requirements for the sale of a foreclosed home at auction may differ. If you plan to buy at auction, you'll want to be familiar with your area's customary judicial proceedings.

Buying after the auction
Buying after the auction means buying bank-owned properties. This can be the most lucrative and safest means of investing foreclosure properties. This is because lenders often reduce the sales prices of their home inventory in order to "sell it quickly". It can be expensive for banks to own foreclosed homes, and few banks are equipped for managing owned homes. Check with your local real estate agent to see what, if any, bank-owned homes are available for sale in your area.

The process of buying a distressed home is different from the process of buying a "traditional" one. Therefore, regardless of which path you follow to buy a foreclosed property, have an experienced real estate professional on your team.


Homebuilder Confidence Rises For 9th Straight Month

Housing Market Index December 2012The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released its Housing Market Index (HMI), showing another monthly gain -- its ninth in a row.

The HMI -- a gauge of homebuilder confidence -- rose 1 point to 47 in December 2012, lifting the index to its highest levels since April 2006.

Readings under 50 indicate unfavorable housing conditions for builders. Readings over 50 signal "good" conditions. Coincidentally, the last time that the HMI read above 50 was April 2006, too.

The Housing Market Index is based on a survey which the NAHB sends to its members. The survey asks the nation's builders to rate the current housing market conditions.

In December, home builders reported gains in two of the three areas surveyed:

  • Current Single-Family Sales: 51 (+2 from November 2012)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales: 51 (-1 from November 2012)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic: 36 (+1 from November 2012)

It's noteworthy that buyer foot traffic has climbed over nine straight months and is now at it's highest reported level in nearly 7 years. Low mortgage rates and rising home prices throughout Alpharetta have compelled today's renters and existing homeowners to consider their home buying options.

This was none more apparent that in the Northeast Region in which builder confidence grew twelve points to 42. The Midwest Region also showed a strong improvement, climbing 2 points to 53. The West and South regions fell slightly between November and December.

For today's buyers, rising builder confidence may be a signal that home prices are headed higher. Confident home sellers -- including the nation's builders -- are less likely to make price concessions into an improving market, or may be less likely to offer free upgrades to buyers.

Therefore, if you are in the market for a newly-built home, consider that you may get the best "deal" by acting sooner rather than later. Mortgage rates are rising and home prices are, too. Six months from now, your costs of homeownership may be higher.


Short Sales Outnumber Foreclosure Sales For Third Straight Quarter

Short sales risingForeclosure-tracker RealtyTrac reports falling foreclosure sales nationwide as banks get better at selling homes via short sale.

In its Q3 2012 report, RealtyTrac says that 193,059 homes in some stage of foreclosure were sold, accounting for 19% of all residential home sales. In addition, pre-foreclosure sales -- also known as "short sales" -- climbed 22% on a year-over-year basis.

For the first time since 2007, the number of short sales outnumbered the number of homes sold in foreclosure over three consecutive quarters.

The average price of a short sale home fell by 5 percent as compared to a year ago which may reflect an eagerness on the part of mortgage lenders to dispose of distressed properties before they fall into foreclosure. Foreclosures can increase a lender's losses, and foreclosed properties be expensive to manage.

Compare the average Q3 2012 sale price of a home in short sale versus one in foreclosure :

  • Average sale price of a residential property in short sale : $191,025
  • Average sale price of a residential property in foreclosure : $161,954

It's not just the higher home sale prices that have pushing banks to settle on short sales, either. Short sales are less costly, too. Foreclosing on a home requires banks to pay court costs, among other fees, and which positions the short sale outcome as a clear winner for many banks. 

For homebuyers in Georgia , the banking industry's shift toward short sales is welcome news.

Buying a short sale has been a notoriously slow process with a lack of defined timeline. As banks improve their distressed sales division, they're getting faster and more efficient. This makes it "easier" for a buyer to buy a home in short sale.

However, don't buy a short sale without the help of an experienced, licensed real estate professional.

The negotiation process is different for a short sale than with a "traditional" home purchase. Time lines are different, responsibilities are different, and purchase contract language may be different, too. The same is true for buying a foreclosure.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 17, 2012

Mortgage rates drop, according to Freddie MacMortgage bonds worsened last week, moving mortgage rates higher. Economic news was mostly positive and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) changed some of Wall Street expectations for future monetary policy.

Freddie Mac reported the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate at 3.32 percent nationwide for borrowers willing to pay an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus closing costs. The average 15-year fixed rate mortgage rate was listed at 2.66 percent nationwide with an accompanying 0.6 discount points plus closing costs.

Both mortgage rates had climbed by week's end, however. Mortgage rates made their best levels Monday afternoon. Between Tuesday and Friday, mortgage rates in Alpharetta climbed.

Also last week, the National Association of Homebuilders/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI) reported 201 improving metropolitan economies nationwide. This index uses data including local employment statistics and home values to determine whether an area's economy is "improving".

76 new areas were added to the IMI list in December as compared to November. The geographic diversity the newly-added markets suggests an overall improvement in the national economy.

Last week's major event, however, was the 2-day Federal Reserve meeting, which adjourned Wednesday.

The post-meeting press release after included the Fed's commitment to hold the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent where it's been since December 2008. However, the Fed announced a change to in its plans to raise the Fed Funds Rate from near-zero at a future date.

Previously, the Fed had said it would raise the Fed Funds Rate beginning in mid-2015. Now, the Fed says it will start to raise rates when the national unemployment rate reaches 6.5 percent.

This week, mortgage rates have a lot to move on including Housing Starts (Wednesday) and Existing Home Sales (Thursday) from the housing sector; Jobless Claims (Thursday) from the Labor Department; and a key inflation reading from the Department of Commerce. Each has the capability to move mortgage rates.

Markets will respond to Fiscal Cliff discussions, too.


Improving Market Index : Up To 201 Cities For December 2012

December IMI includes 201 citiesLast week's National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index (IMI) brought positive news about U.S. housing markets and the broader U.S. economy, in general.

According to the IMI, there are now 201 U.S. markets which can be considered "improving".

To meet this standard, a local area economy must exhibit at least six consecutive months of improvement in terms of local employment, single-family housing permits and area home prices; and, at least six months must have passed since each of these readings were at their respective low points, called troughs.

The Improving Market Index added 76 metropolitan areas in December as compared to the month prior. 45 states are now represented on the list, in addition to the District of Columbia.

The cities deemed "improving" aren't limited to recent, high-profile hot spots such as Detroit, Michigan; and Phoenix, Arizona, either. Several of the newly-included areas for December were :

  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Bloomfield, Illinois
  • Ithaca, New York
  • Riverside, California
  • Seattle, Washington

The geographic diversity of this month's Improving Market Index suggests a nationwide economic recovery in progress. More jobs, a steady supply of available homes, plus rising home prices helps communities thrive.

Unfortunately, it may also mean less opportunity to buy homes as rock-bottom prices.

As sellers and home builders gain confidence in the economy, it may be more challenging for today's Alpharetta buyers to get a "great deal".  In addition, an improving, post-recession economy will likely lead mortgage rates higher, robbing home buyers of their purchasing power.

Freddie Mac says that the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate is 3.32% nationwide. In a fully-recovered economy, that rate could be 5 percent or higher. The impact on monthly housing payments would be palpable.

The National Association of Homebuilders expects more markets to join the Improving Market Index list through 2013. Today's home buyers may want to lock in today's low rates before economic improvement leads mortgage rates higher.


Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (December 12 , 2012)

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

For the tenth consecutive meeting, the FOMC vote was nearly unanimous. Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker was the lone dissenter in the 9-1 vote.

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

In its press release, the Federal Reserve noted that, since its last meeting in late-October, the U.S. economy has expanded "at a moderate pace" despite "weather-related disruptions". It also acknowledged that "strains in global financial markets" remain a threat to U.S. economic growth.

This comment is in direct reference to the Eurozone, its sovereign debt concerns, and its nation's economies.

The Fed included the following observations in its statement, too :

  1. Growth in employment is expanding but unemployment is elevated
  2. Inflation pressures are stable, and below the Fed's target range of 2%
  3. Business spending on equipment and structures has slowed

In addressing the housing market, the Fed said that there has been "further signs" of improvement and the group re-affirmed its commitment to the $40-billion monthly QE3 bond buying program.

QE3 is meant to suppress U.S. mortgage rates from rising too high, too quickly.

Lastly, the Federal Reserve announced an explicit economic target for when it will begin to consider raising the Fed Funds Rate from its current target range near 0.000%. When the national Unemployment Rate reaches 6.5%, the Fed said, it will likely move to start raising its benchmark borrowing rate. 

Previously, the Fed had provided only a date-based target of mid-2015.

The 6.5% Unemployment Rate target may be pre-empted by rising inflation rates. The Fed does not expect price pressures to mount prior to jobless rates dropping from the current 7.7% levels, however.

Mortgage rates in Atlanta are rising post-FOMC announcement. Many lenders raised mortgage rates mid-day Wednesday in response to the Fed's statement. 

The FOMC's next scheduled meeting is a two-day event scheduled for January 29-30, 2013.

Mortgage Rates Rising On 26 Straight Months Of Jobs Growth

Non-Farm PayrollsAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and its November 2012 Non-Farm Payrolls report, the U.S. economy added 146,000 net new jobs last month.

November's job growth exceeded Wall Street expectations of 90,000 jobs added for the month, and was a small increase from October's 138,000 jobs added.

Three job sectors in which employment rose in November include :

  • Retail : 58,000 jobs added
  • Business and Professional Services : 43,000 jobs added
  • Healthcare : 20,000 jobs added

It appears that the effects of Hurricane Sandy were muted, although they may be temporarily overshadowed by seasonal factors.

After losing more than 7 million jobs in 2008 and 2009, the U.S. economy has since recovered more than 4.6 million jobs. Job growth has reached 26 consecutive months and is expected to remain consistent through 2013.

In addition, the BLS report showed the national unemployment rate dropping 0.2 percentage points in November to 7.7 percent. This is the lowest Unemployment Rate since January 2009.

Growing employment is a strong indicator of economic expansion, which traditionally leads to rising mortgage rates.

When mortgage people work, more income is earned and more taxes are paid. This often leads to higher levels of both consumer spending and government spending, both of which spur additional hiring and economic expansion.

When the economy is in expansion, equity markets often gain and bond markets often lose. When bond markets are in retreat, mortgage rates in Alpharetta rise. This relationship takes on added importance this week with the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) scheduled to adjourn.

The Non-Farm Payrolls Report is a top economic indicator and is a key part of economic and policy decision made Capitol Hill and within the Federal Reserve. As one example, recent Federal Reserve stimulus has been specifically aimed at lowering the national Unemployment Rate. As the economy improves and as jobs are regained, the Fed may be less likely to support low rates.

If you're floating a mortgage rate, consider locking in. Rates can't stay low forever.


The Federal Reserve Begins A 2-Day Meeting Today

Fed Funds RateThe Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) begins a 2-day meeting today, its last of 8 scheduled meetings this year.

The Federal Open Market Committee is a 12-person subcommittee within the Federal Reserve. It's the group which votes upon U.S. monetary policy. 

The monetary policy action for which the FOMC is most well-known is its setting of the Fed Funds Funds. The Fed Funds Rate is the interest rate at which banks borrow money from each other overnight.

Since late-2008, the Fed Funds Rate has been near zero percent.

Prime Rate, a business and consumer interest rate used in lines of credit and credit card rates, is based on the Fed Funds Rate. Prime Rate has been similarly unchanged since 2008.

One rate which the Federal Reserve does not set is the 30-year fixed rate mortgage (FRM) rate.

Like all other mortgage rates, the 30-year FRM is based on the market value of mortgage-backed bonds; securities bought and sold by investors.

There is no correlation between the Federal Reserve's Fed Funds Rate and the everyday homeowner's 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate. Some months, the two rates converge. Other months, they diverge. Since 2000, they've been separated by as many as 5.29 percentage points.

They've been as close as 0.52 percentage points.

However, although the Federal Reserve does not set U.S. mortgage rates, that doesn't mean that it can't influence them. The Fed's post-meeting press release has been known to make mortgage rates get volatile.

If, in its post-meeting press release, the Fed notes that the U.S. economy is slowing and that new economic stimulus is warranted, mortgage rates will likely fall throughout Georgia. This is because additional Fed stimulus would likely lend support to U.S. mortgage markets which would, in turn, boost demand for mortgage-backed bonds.

Conversely, if the Fed acknowledges stronger-than-expected growth in the U.S. economy and no need for new stimulus, mortgage rates are expected to rise.

Either way, mortgage rates will change Wednesday upon the FOMC's adjournment -- we just don't know in which direction. Rate shoppers may see fluctuations of as much as 0.250 percent.

The FOMC adjourns at 12:30 PM ET.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 10, 2012

FOMC meets this weekMortgage bonds worsened last week as Fiscal Cliff talks moved closer to resolution and as the U.S. economy showed continued signs of growth.

Conforming mortgage rates in Georgia rose slightly, edging off the all-time lows late in November.

According to Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey, the average 30-year fixed rate conforming mortgage rate was 3.34% last week for home buyers and refinancing households willing to pay 0.7 discount points at closing plus a full set of closing costs.

Freddie Mac also showed the 15-year fixed rate mortgage averaging 2.67% with an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus closing costs.

1 discount point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

The two big stories that moved rates worse last week were the Fiscal Cliff talks and the November jobs report.

With respect to the Fiscal Cliff, mortgage rates worsened as Capitol Hill moved closer to a deal which would avoid the dual-event of expiring U.S. tax break and a mandated government spending rollback. These events are both scheduled to occur December 31, 2012. 

Some analysts believe that these two events -- in unison -- could slow U.S. economic growth to the point of recession. Other analysts aren't so sure. However, Wall Street is choosing to be cautious. This is why a break in talks has been good for mortgage rate shoppers of late; and why steps toward avoiding one or both scenarios has been bad for rate shoppers.

Mortgage rates often rise when economic growth is expected. This explains why November's jobs report pushed mortgage rates worse Friday, too -- Wall Street underestimated the Non-Farm Payrolls report which showed 146,000 net new jobs created, and didn't expect to see the national Unemployment Rate drop to 7.7%.

This week, mortgage rates may rise again with new inflation data and a Retail Sales report set for release.

The big event, though, is the Federal Open Market Committee's 2-day meeting scheduled, set to begin Tuesday. The FOMC is not expected to add new economic stimulus, but the Fed's words can carry as much weight as its policies and actions.

The Fed will issue a statement to the markets at 12:30 PM ET Wednesday, and will host a press conference shortly thereafter. Mortgage rates are expected to remain volatile all week.


Energy-Saving Tips For The Holiday Season

Energy-saving at holiday timeWith the holiday season comes more than colder weather -- there are the parties, the baking, the fixing of family dinners, and, in some cases, the stringing of holiday lights. It's also a time of year when home energy use can spike, leading to a very large January electricity bill.

This year, do what you can to conserve energy through the holidays and the New Year. Try following these simple tips.

If you string lights outside of your home, try LED (Light-Emitting Diode) lighting. LED lights use 86% less electricity than comparable incandescent lights and have numerous safety advantages. For example, LED lights are shatterproof, present no fire hazard, and, because they emit almost no heat, are safe to the touch. 

Reduce Your Home Thermostat
When you home is filled with people, or the ovens are working overtime, or both, the temperature can rise by several degrees. Rather than opening a window or leaving a door ajar, consider lowering your home's thermostat, or turning off the heat altogether. Each degree "colder" that you set you set your thermostat decreases your home's energy usage up to 3 percent.

Plan Your Meal
Holiday meals are often prepared in advance of dinner and then reheated or warmed to be ready for company. This leads to running the oven, microwave or stove-top multiple times for each served dish. When possible, prepare foods at the same time and warm in the oven at the same time. In running your appliances less, you will save on energy costs.

Use Your Dishwasher At Capacity
Some dishes require hand-washing. For everything else, use a dishwasher. Dishwashers use less water than is required to wash and rinse plates, utensils and pots and pans by hand. They can also use up to 50% less energy than is required to heat the water you'll need to wash your dishes manually.

The holiday season can be full of excesses. Don't let your energy bill be one of them.


November 2012 Non-Farm Payrolls Report May Show Hurricane Sandy Effects

Non-Farm PayrollsFloating a mortgage rate? Consider getting locked Thursday.

ADP released its November 2012 Employment Report Wednesday in which the payroll-processing firm reported 118,000 new jobs created last month.

The company said the service sector created 114,000 new positions, the construction sector created 23,000 new positions, and goods-producing businesses created 4,000 new jobs, among others. There was a 16,000 decline in manufacturing employment.

ADP's monthly Employment Report can influence mortgage rates. This is because it's typically released during the same week as the Non-Farm Payrolls report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and can sometimes provide a preview.

The Non-Farm Payrolls report -- more commonly called "the jobs report," is a sector-by-sector breakdown of the U.S. employment situation, which includes changes in the national Unemployment Rate.

In a recovering economy, as jobs go, so goes the economy and, this month, the jobs forecast is clouded because of the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

In its Employment Report, ADP estimates that Hurricane Sandy reduced payrolls by 86,000 jobs across manufacturing, retail, leisure and hospitality, and temporary help industries.

Without Hurricane Sandy, the report may have shown north of 200,000 new jobs.

Prior to Wednesday, Wall Street expected Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls report to show 93,000 net new jobs created in November, and no change in the U.S. Unemployment Rate. The ADP report did little to change those expectations.

Regardless, Friday's release remains a market risk to Marietta buyers. The jobs report is closely watched because of its links to the broader domestic economy. When more workers are employed, more income is earned, and more money is spent.

This drives economic growth, of course, because consumer spending accounts for 70% of the U.S. economy and when the economy is expected to expand, mortgage rates tend to rise.

If you are currently in the market for, or are undecided about a mortgage, therefore, consider locking your mortgage rate today. If Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls report shows more jobs created than were estimated, mortgage rates are likely to rise -- maybe even sharply.

Non-Farm Payrolls is released at 8:30 AM ET.


Short Sale : Writing A Letter Of Hardship

Short SaleA short sale is when a property is sold for less than its remaining mortgage principal balance, and executed as a way for both the existing homeowner and mortgage lender to reduce their respective losses.

Typically, although not always, short sales are reserved for situations of extreme financial hardship; just prior a bank beginning foreclosure proceedings.

Short sales are not automatic, however. Homeowners must often prove the merits a short sale to their lender, which often involves documenting that selling the home for less than its worth is the best and most viable option for all parties involved. 

The short sale process starts with a letter of hardship.

To prove your short sale worthiness to the bank, you'll be asked to submit a cover letter which explains your hardship, and to provide full financial disclosure. You will also need your original purchase contract, a balance sheet of your income and expenses, your asset statements and proof of income, and two years of federal tax returns.

Lenders prefer handwritten letters and are more apt to agree to a short sale for homeowners who may have lost jobs or encountered significant medical bills, as opposed to those who engaged careless spending.

Draft a compelling letter and avoid extraneous details. Be short, be thorough, and be complete.

In addition, note that the following traits can help speed your short sale approval : 

  • The home is marketable
  • A second lien holder, if one exists, is amenable to short sale proceedings
  • A foreclosure is not scheduled within the next four months

Choosing to short sale your home in Alpharetta or anywhere else , though, is not something which a homeowner should pursue alone.

The process of selling a home in a "distressed" state is significantly different from selling a non-distressed home. Homeowners selling in a short sale should seek the advice and counsel of an experienced real estate agent.


How To Maintain Adequate Homeowners Insurance Coverage

Maintain adequate homeowners insurance coverageIn the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, stories have emerged of homeowners whose hazard insurance coverage was too low to cover the damage to their respective properties. 

Unfortunately, this scenario is common among U.S. homeowners, and is not just limited to damage from natural disasters. Homeowners in Marietta and nationwide are often woefully under-insured against catastrophe in its many forms.

Whether you're buying a home, or own one already, revisit your hazard insurance policy choices and be sure that your bases are covered.

Here are four common components of a homeowners insurance policy :

Dwelling/Building Coverage 
Look for the amount listed under this section and divide it by the square footage of your home. Talk to your insurance agent, your real estate agent and perhaps even your contractor to determine whether your current coverage is sufficient. Be sure to consider lot size and building materials.

Liability Protection
What if a person is injured on your property and decides to sue? Whether your dog bit someone's hand or a guest slipped on a wet floor, lawsuits can be expensive. Most liability policies start at $100,000.

Valuable Add-Ons
Few homeowners policies cover valuables such as art, jewelry, antiques, gold, or wine collections. However, you can usually add coverage for these items for a small annual fee. Appraisals are sometimes required.

Condominium Stipulations
When you live in a condominium or a co-op, the building often has coverage for the "walls out". Everything inside a unit remains the responsibility of the homeowner. To be sure, however, prior to purchasing coverage for a condo or co-op, show your insurance agent the homeowners association hazard policy for recommendations.

A little bit of insurance coverage goes a long way when it comes to unforeseen disasters -- but only if you maintain proper coverage. Speak with your insurance agent regularly to make sure you've never under-insured. Accidents, after all, are unexpected by definition.


A Look At This Week's Mortgage Rates : December 3, 2012

Freddie Mac 30-year fixed rate mortgage ratesLow mortgage rates are pumping up home affordability.

Average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates made a new all-time low in November, continuing this year Refinance Boom and giving fuel to the budding housing market recovery.

At month-end, Freddie Mac's survey of 125 banks nationwide put the benchmark product's rate at 3.32% for borrowers willing to pay 0.8 discount points. This is just 0.01 percentage point above the record-low rate establishing prior to Thanksgiving.

The 15-year fixed mortgage is similarly low, posting 2.64 percent nationwide, on average. This, too, is only slightly higher the all-time low set the week prior.

Falling mortgage rates have helped to offset rising home prices in many U.S. cities. 

Steady job creation and rising consumer confidence has swelled the pool of home buyers nationwide, causing home inventories to shrink and home prices to rise. The improving economy has also led to rising rents and now, within many housing markets, it's less costly to buy and own a home than to rent a comparable one.

A $1,000 mortgage payment affords a $225,000 mortgage payment in Alpharetta.

Last week, the economy was shown to be improving.

  • The Commerce Department showed that the Gross Domestic Product increased at a 2.7% annual rate in Q3 2012
  • The Labor Department showed first-time unemployment filings dropping by 23,000 claims
  • The Pending Home Sales Index jumped to its highest point since April 2010
  • The Existing Home Sales report showed home sales up 2.1%
  • The Case-Shiller Index showed home values making annual gains 

In addition, Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said that the central bank will take action to speed economic growth, should the U.S. economy start to side-step. 

This week, there is little on the U.S. economic calendar, save for Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls report. Wall Street is expecting to see 80,000 net new jobs created in November, and a rise in the national Unemployment Rate to 8.0%.

If the report's actual results are stronger-than-expected, mortgage rates will likely climb from their all-time lows. If the report comes back weak, rates should stay unchanged.


Pending Home Sales Index Leaps To Multi-Year High

Pending Home Sales IndexHomes were sold at a furious pace last month.

According the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), the Pending Home Sales Index rose 5.2 percent in October, crossing the benchmark 100 reading, and moving to 104.8.

It's a 5-point improvement from September's revised figure and the highest reading April 2010 -- the last month of that year's federal home buyer tax credit.

October also marks the 18th consecutive month during which the index showed year-to-year gains.

As a housing market metric, the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) differs from most commonly-cited housing statistics because, instead of reporting on what's already occurred, it details what's likely to happen next.

The PHSI is a forward-looking indicator; a predictor of future sales. It's based on signed real estate contracts for existing single-family homes, condominiums, and co-ops. Later, when the contract leads to a closing, the "pending" home sale is counted in NAR's monthly Existing Home Sales report.

Historically, 80 percent of homes under contract, and thus counted in the Pending Home Sales Index, will go to settlement within a 2-month period, and a significant share of the rest will close within months 3 and 4. The PHSI is a predictor of Existing Home Sales.

Regionally, the Pending Home Sales Index varied in October 2012 :

  • Northeast Region : 79.2; +13 percent from October 2011
  • Midwest Region : 104.4; +20 percent from October 2011
  • South Region : 117.3; +17 percent from October 2011
  • West Region : 105.7; +1 percent from October 2011

A Pending Home Sales Index reading of 100 or higher denotes a "strong" housing market.

Of course, with rising home sales comes rising home values. 2012 has been characterized by strong buyer demand amid falling housing supplies. It's one reason why the Case-Shiller Index and the FHFA's Home Price Index are both showing an annual increase in home prices. Plus, with mortgage rates low as we head into December, the traditional "slow season" for housing has been anything but.

The housing market in Marietta is poised to end 2012 with strength. 2013 is expected to begin the same way.


Case-Shiller Index Verifies Home Value Gains Through Q3 2012

Case-Shiller Index September 2012

The housing market continues to expand.

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Index, which was released earlier this week, U.S. home prices rose in September for the sixth straight month, climbing 0.3% as compared to the month prior.

On an annual basis, values are higher by 3.0%.

The Case-Shiller Index findings are a composite reading of 20 U.S cities, 17 of which showed home price gains in September. Detroit and Washington D.C. showed slight declines, and New York City showed no change.

Leading the recovery, though, appears to be Phoenix, Arizona. The previously hard-hit city has seen home values gain 20.4% over the last 12 months. Also noteworthy is that Atlanta, Georgia reversed 26 consecutive months of home value declines in September, posting a +0.1% annual growth rate.

Average U.S. home prices have climbed back to mid-2003 levels.

On a month-over-month basis, value change by city varied. San Diego, California and Las Vegas, Nevada both posted gains of 1.4 percent from August, leading the Case-Shiller Index's 20 tracked cities. Minneapolis, Minnesota and Phoenix showed gains of 1.1 percent.

Los Angeles, California rounded out the Top Five, posting a 1% gain month-over-month.

Despite the index's strong findings, however, we should remember to temper our expectations. The Case-Shiller Index -- like most home value trackers -- is wildly flawed. Buyers in Marietta should follow its gospel with caution.

Here's why.

First, the Case-Shiller Index tracks values for single-family homes only. As a result, it doesn't account for multi-unit homes or for condos and co-ops. This is a big deal in cities such as Chicago and New York where high-rise units are common.

Another flaw in the Case-Shiller Index is that it's 60 days delayed. It's nearly December yet we're still reviewing data from September. In housing market terms, September was a different market. Real-time data trumps data from last season. 

That said, the long-term trends as shown by the Case-Shiller Index, are overwhelmingly positive. As a Case-Shiller Index spokesperson remarked, "It is safe to say we are now in the midst of a recovery in the housing market."


Which Is Better : 15-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Or 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage?

15-year fixed rate or 30-year fixed rate?As a home buyer or refinancing household in Marietta , you have choices with respect to your mortgage.

You can choose a loan with accompanying discount points in exchange for lower mortgage rates; you can choose adjustable-rate loans over fixed rate ones; and, you can choose loans with principal + interest repayment schedules or repayments which are interest only, as examples.

For borrowers using fixed rate loans, there's also the choice between the 30-year and 15-year fixed rate mortgage. Each has its positives and negatives and neither is "better" than the other.

Choosing your most appropriate fixed-rate term is a matter of preference and, sometimes, of budget.

The 15-Year Mortgage
With a 15-year fixed rate mortgage, mortgage rates are often lower as compared to a comparable 30-year fixed rate mortgage. However, because loan repayment is compressed into half as many years, the monthly payment will necessarily be higher, all things equal. On the other side, though, homeowners using a 15-year fixed rate mortgage will build equity faster, and will pay less mortgage interest over time.

The 30-Year Mortgage
With a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, mortgage rates tend to be higher as compared to a 15-year fixed rate loan, but payments are much lower -- sometimes by as much as 50%. Lower payments come at a cost, however, as mortgage interest costs add up over 30 years. Regardless, 30-year fixed rate mortgages remain the most common mortgage product for their simplicity and low relative payment.

Which One Is Right For You?
There is no "best" choice between the 15-year fixed rate mortgage and the 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Choose a product based on your short- and long-term financial goals, and your personal feelings regarding debt. Mortgage applicants choosing the 30-year fixed rate mortgage can qualify to purchase homes at higher price points, but those using the 15-year fixed rate product will stop making payments a decade-and-a-half sooner.

There are benefits with both product types so, if you're unsure of which path works best for you, speak with your loan officer for guidance and advice.


Simple, Inexpensive Ways To Prep Your Home For Sale

Tips for better home staging

When Alpharetta homeowners get ready to list, advice will often come from all corners of their personal and social network -- what within the home to upgrade; what to repair; what to replace.

And, although some advice remains valuable, much of it can be ignored.

The costs of an expensive upgrade are rarely recouped at the time of sale and studies show that smaller, simpler actions can yield a bigger return on your investment of time and money.

Here are four inexpensive, yet highly effective, ways to prepare your home for sale.

Improve the curb appeal
It's not just the inside of your home which should be inviting to buyers -- the outside of your home should be, too. Trim hedges, maintain the lawn, power wash the walls and try to inject some color, where possible. Your yard is your home's first impression on buyers. Make it a great one.

Lighten up the place
Extra sunlight lends an airy feeling to your home, and interior lights provide cozy glow. Therefore, wash your windows, pullback your drapes, replace burnt-out bulbs, and add outdoor lighting to your landscaping, if possible. Also, keep your home lit in the evenings in the event that potential buyers drive by after-hours. With the lights on, your home will look cheery instead of dark and gloomy.

Store unnecessary furniture and personal objects
Less can be more when it comes to showing your home so put your knick-knacks, your stacks of books and your fridge-covering artwork in storage. Be sure to avoid stashing personal items in closets because buyers expect closets to be clutter-free as well.

Paint a pretty home
A new coat of paint will freshen up any room so paint where needed. However, stick to neutrals such as grays and tans. Also, consider repainting rooms bathed in bright, fun colors -- this can divert a buyer's attention away from the home and toward money-costing "projects" that would come with buying the home.

With the help of your REALTOR® and a little hard work, these tips should help you increase your home's appeal to a wide variety of buyers without breaking the bank. It may even help you sell your home more quickly.


More Bullish Data : Housing Starts Climb 3.6%

Housing StartsAccording to a joint release from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Housing Starts rose 3.6% in October 2012, climbing to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized rate of 894,000 units.

A "housing start" is a new home on which construction has started and the report gives buyers and sellers across Georgia yet one more reason to be optimistic for the 2013 housing market.

Regionally, Housing Starts varied.

The West and Midwest Regions posted gains between September and October 2012; and, the South and Northeast Regions posted declines. The latter was affected by the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

  • West Region : +17.2% from the month prior
  • Midwest Region : +8.9% from the month prior
  • South Region : -2.5% from the month prior
  • Northeast Region : -6.5% from the month prior

Single-family housing starts -- starts for homes not considered multi-unit properties or to be apartment buildings -- was mostly unchanged, slipping 1,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted annualized basis.

The Housing Starts data is the third housing-related release this week that hints at a strong start for the 2013 housing market.

Early in the week, the National Association of Homebuilders released its Housing Market Index (HMI), a measure of home builder confidence in the new construction market. The HMI posted 46 -- the highest reading since 2006. With mortgage rates low and buyer traffic high, builders are expecting a rash of sales between now and the New Year, and an elevated number of closing over the next six months, in general.

The HMI is scored on a scale of 1-100. One year ago, it read 19.

Then, the National Association of REALTORS® showed Existing Home Sales climbing 2.1% and home supply fell to a multi-year low. At the current sales pace, the entire U.S. home inventory would be sold in just 5.4 months. Analysts believe that a home supply of less than 6.0 months favors home sellers.

In unison, these three housing market reports suggest a sustained, national housing market recovery. Home prices are expected to rise into next year's housing market.


Existing Home Sales Move Higher In October

Existing Home Sales October 2012After a small decline in September, Existing Home Sales rebounded in October, increasing a modest 2.1%.

The housing market's slow, steady recovery continues as sales volume in all four regions expanded last month with the exception of the Hurricane Sandy-affected Northeast.

The National Association of REALTORS® monthly Existing Home Sales Report comprises completed sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums, and co-ops. The Existing Home Sales report is compiled on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. It shows a 10.9 percent sales increase as compared last year.

Sales volume might otherwise be higher, however, if not for a lack of homes for sale.

Total housing inventory fell 1.4 percent to 2.14 million homes last month which, at the current sales pace, represents a 5.4-month national supply -- the lowest in more than 6 years.

The lack of supply amid burgeoning demand has led home prices higher nationwide. October's median existing home sale price was $178,600 -- an 11.1% increase from October 2011 and the eighth consecutive month during which the median sales price rose.

The last time that occurred was during the eight months ending May 2006.

In addition, the Existing Home Sales report showed that the median time on market in October rose to 71 days, up 1 day from September 2012. As compared to October 2011, however, median time on market is down 26% from 96 days.

Other noteworthy statistics from the October Existing Home Sales report include : 

  • Foreclosures and short sales accounted for 24% of sales
  • Foreclosures sold for an average discount of 20% to market
  • Short sales sold for an average discount of 14% to market

Furthermore, thirty-two percent of homes sold in October were on the market for less than one month. 20% were on the market for six months or longer.

Record-low mortgage interest rates continue to spur housing, as do low prices. Neither will last indefinitely. If you plan to purchase a home in Atlanta in 2013, therefore, consider moving up your time frame. Home ownership will likely increase in cost as the year moves on.


Homebuilder Confidence Spikes To 6-Year High

NAHB Housing Market IndexThe National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released its Housing Market Index (HMI) Tuesday, which showed sharp, 5-point increase to 46 for November 2012, marking the seventh consecutive monthly gain for the HMI, and lifting the index to its highest point since May 2006.

Readings under 50 indicate unfavorable housing conditions for builders. Readings over 50 signal "good" conditions. 

The Housing Market Index is a measure of builder confidence, published monthly, based on a survey sent to NAHB members which asks them to rate housing market conditions.

In November, home builders reported gains in two of the three areas surveyed:

  • Current Single-Family Sales: 49 (+8 from October 2012)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales: 53 (+2 from October 2012)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic: 35 (unchanged from October 2012)

Builders report growing demand for new homes as inventories for alternative properties -- distressed and foreclosed homes, for example -- shrink nationwide.

Even Hurricane Sandy did little to suppress builder confidence.

The NAHB survey was conducted in the two weeks immediately following Hurricane Sandy so the Housing Market Index does reflect builder sentiment during that period. All regions of the country posted confidence gains in November.

The South Region showed a 4-point gain to 43; the West Region showed a 3-point gain to 47; the Midwest Region showed a 3-point gain to 45; and the Northeast Region showed a 2-point gain to 31.  

Despite the gains, builders in Alpharetta and nationwide still report challenges with home appraisals and tight credit conditions. In addition, a shortage of buildable lots in some areas is limiting the ability for home builders to put more single-family homes on the market.

As builder confidence grows, today's buyers throughout Georgia should prepare for the possibility of higher home prices. Confident sellers are less likely to make price concessions or to offer free upgrades.

If you are in the market for a new home, therefore, the time between now and the New Year may be the best opportunity to make a bid on a home. Starting next year, low prices may be gone.


Federal Reserve : New Economic Stimulus May Be Warranted

Is more Fed stimulus in store for 2013?The Federal Reserve released its October Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting minutes last week, revealing a Fed in disagreement about the future of the U.S. economy and about what, if any, stimulus may be warranted in the next 12 months.

The "Fed Minutes" recaps the conversations and debates that transpire during an FOMC meeting, and is published 3 weeks after the meeting adjourns. 

According to the October minutes, FOMC members "generally agreed" that a housing recovery is under way nationwide, citing increased housing prices, higher sales volume, and rising construction in many parts of the country.

FOMC members made no major policy changes at their last meeting, but agreed that a continuation of additional asset purchases would likely be necessary in 2013, in order to achieve a substantial improvement in the labor market.

Other notes from within the Fed Minutes included:

  • On housing: Signs of improvement are "encouraging", and mortgage rates are at historic lows
  • On inflation: Essentially "unchanged", notwithstanding recent increases in energy prices
  • On Europe: Production indicators signal contraction in business activity and expansion
  • On employment: Employment is rising, and unemployment remains high

The economic forecast prepared by the FOMC staff shows an uptick in consumer spending, residential construction, and labor market conditions which more than offset recent downgrades in the business fixed investment and the industrial production outlooks.

Through 2013, economic activity is projected to accelerate gradually, supported by a lessening in fiscal policy restraints. The Fed also anticipates that Atlanta home buyers will benefit from looser credit standards.

Low mortgage rates are helping home buyers, too.

According to Freddie Mac, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate was 3.34% last week, down from 3.55% in September. This has given a boost to buyer purchasing power nationwide and the year-end housing market may reflect it. Demand for homes remains strong.

The next FOMC meeting is scheduled for December 11-12, 2012.


Bank Repossessions Slip For 24th Consecutive Month

Foreclosures per household October 2012

According to data from RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure-tracking firm, the number of foreclosure filings increased 3 percent in October as compared to September 2012, climbing to 186,455 U.S. properties.

RealtyTrac defines a "foreclosure filing" as any foreclosure-related action including a Notice of Default, a Scheduled Auction, or a Bank Repossession. On average, 1 in every 706 U.S. homes had a foreclosure filing during the month of October.

For the 24th consecutive month, the number of bank repossessions fell, down less than 1% from the previous month and down 21% from October 2011. Bank repossessions dropped in 37 states, plus the District of Columbia, indicating that banks are seeking alternatives to foreclosure.

Distressed home sales, which include foreclosures and short sales, represented 23% of sales in the second quarter of 2012, down from 30% a year ago, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Florida again posted the top foreclosure rate nationwide.

One in every 312 Florida housing units had some sort of foreclosure filing in October as foreclosure starts moved to a 12-month high. Monthly filings increased 2% from last month.

In Nevada, the monthly increase was larger, rising 41% month-over-month, lifting it from the fifth-highest rate in September 2012, to the second-highest in October 2012.

Third-ranked Illinois saw a 6% increase in foreclosure filings over September 2012. California and Arizona rounded out the top five.

Hurricane Sandy made an impact on the foreclosure market, too, with a foreclosure moratorium being put into effect in the states most affected such as New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.

For Atlanta home buyers planning to venture into the home foreclosure market, there are well-priced homes for sale. However, understand that a foreclosure property is often sold “as is,” and that you may not be allowed into the property prior to the sale to inspect for damage. Home may have termites, been gutted by previous tenants or owners, or be filled with lead paint or asbestos.

For this reason, it's a good idea to engage an experienced real estate professional when buying foreclosure properties. Real estate agents can guide you through the foreclosure process and give advice regarding contracts and home inspections.


Your November Gardening Task List

November gardening listFor homeowners who keep a garden, with the change of seasons comes a task list.

There are basic tasks for gardeners -- for example, raking the leaves, sharpening your tools. And, there are advanced tasks, too, which includes identifying and removing plants and trees which may be dead, and covering compost to prevent rain storms from leaching nutrients.

For homeowners in frost-free areas, November is a good time to plant roses and azaleas; prune flowering trees; and, start your fall vegetable garden.

The cooler fall and winter months are terrific for leafy greens such as spinach and kale; and carrots. Protect plants with row covers, when necessary.

For homeowners in colder parts of the county, November is when you should circle evergreens with burlap and wrap the bottoms of young trees with mesh wire to protect from wildlife; and empty and roll up garden hoses for storage.

It's also when bulbs should be planted. Tulips, crocuses and hyacinths are easy to plant and will welcome you come springtime.

For all homeowners, consider this list : 

  • Aerate lawns to improve root development and drainage
  • Check and clean gutters from fallen leaves, needles, and twigs
  • Perform a round of weeding

And then, to discourage weed growth throughout the winter, place down a pre-emergent, and mulch around bedding plants, shrubs, and trees.

If your temperatures in your area tend to go below freezing, be aware of your plants which are sensitive to de-icing salts. Consider buying sand or sawdust for traction purposes near these plantings instead.

Lastly, remember that the fall months are a terrific time to take note of what worked in your garden during the summer, and what didn't. Use a notebook and put your findings to paper. Attention paid now will pay dividends next spring.


Mortgage Approvals : Documents You'll Need For Your Lender

Bank guidelines loosenAccording to the Federal Reserve's quarterly Senior Loan Officer Survey, it's getting easier to get approved for a home loan.

Between July - September 2012, fewer than 6% of banks tightened mortgage guidelines -- the fourth straight quarter that's happened-- and roughly 10% of banks actually loosened them.

For today's buyers and refinancing homeowners in Marietta , softening guidelines hint at a quicker, simpler mortgage approval process; one which gives more U.S. homeowners better access to today's ultra-low mortgage rates. 

However, although banks are easing guidelines, it doesn't mean that we're returned to the days of no-verification home loans. Today's mortgage applicants should still expect to provide lenders with documentation to support a proper loan approval.

Some of the more commonly requested documents include :

  • Tax returns, W-2s, and pay stubs : In order to prove income, lenders will want to see up to two years of income documentation. Self-employed applicants may be asked for additional business information. Borrowers earning income via Social Security, Disability Income, Pension or other means should expect to provide documentation.
  • Bank and asset statements : To verify "reserves", banks will often require up to 60 days of printed bank statements, or the most recently quarterly reports. Be prepared to explain deposits which are not payroll-related -- banks adhere to federal anti-money laundering laws.
  • Personal identification documents : To verify your identity, banks often require photocopies of both sides of your drivers license and/or U.S. passport, and may also ask for copies of your social security card.

In addition, if your credit report lists collection items, judgments, or federal tax liens, be prepared to discuss these items with your lender. Sometimes, a derogatory credit event can be eliminated or ignored during underwriting. Other times, it cannot.

The more information that you share with your lender, the smoother your mortgage approval process can be.

As the housing market improves and lender confidence increases, mortgage guidelines are expected to loosen more. 2013 may open lending to even more mortgage applicants.


When It Pays To Refinance Your Mortgage -- Literally

Why Refinance

To refinance a mortgage means to pay off your existing loan and replace it with a new one.

There are many reasons why homeowners opt to refinance, from obtaining a lower interest rate, to shortening the term of the loan, to switching mortgage loan types, to tapping into home equity.

Each has its considerations.

Lower Your Mortgage Rate
Among the best reasons to refinance is to get access to lower mortgage rates. There is no "rule of thumb" that says how far rates should drop for a refinance to be sensible. Compare your closing costs to your monthly savings, and determine whether the math makes sense for your situation.

Shorten Your Loan Term
Refinancing your 30-year fixed rate mortgage to a 20-year fixed rate or a 15-year fixed rate is a sensible way to reduce your long-term mortgage costs, and to own your home sooner. As a bonus, with mortgage rates currently near all-time lows, an increase to your monthly payment from a shorter loan term may be negligible.

Convert ARM To Fixed Rate Mortgage
Homeowners with adjustable-rate mortgages may want the comfort of a fixed-rate payment. Mortgage rates for fixed-rate mortgages are often higher than for comparable ARMs so be prepared to pay more to your lender each month.

Access Equity For Projects, Debts, Or Other Reasons
Called a "cash out" refinance, Alpharetta homeowners can sometimes use home equity to retire debts, pay for renovations, or use for other purposes including education costs and retirement. Lenders place restrictions on loans of this type.

A refinanced home loan can help you reach specific financial goals or just put extra cash in your pocket each month -- just make sure that there's a clear benefit to you. Paying large closing costs for small monthly savings or negligible long-term benefit should be avoided.

Many lenders offer low- or no-closing costs options for refinancing. Be sure to ask about it.


For November : Home Maintenance To-Do List

Seasonal Home MaintenanceThe calendar has turned to November; the month during which we transition from fall into winter.

With less sunlight, colder temperatures, and shorter days ahead for Alpharetta , it's an opportune time to cross those last-minute maintenance items off your homeowner to-do list.

Practicing preventive care -- both inside and outside your home -- can save thousands of dollars in repairs come later this winter. What follows is a brief checklist to get you started.

For outside the home :

  • Inspect exterior lights and outlets. Be sure that none of the outlets are cracked or broken, or have exposed wires.
  • Clean gutters and clear all blockages. If leaves are falling, redo after leaves are off all trees.
  • Inspect and test outdoor railings and stairs.
  • Have problem trees trimmed, including those that may damage your home in a storm.
  • Protect outdoor water faucets from freezing. Consider using foam cups, sold at hardware stores.

For inside the home :

  • Change batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, whether they're "dead" or not. 
  • Vacuum refrigerator condenser coils, plus the front bottom grill. Empty and clean the drip pan.
  • Inspect wood stoves and fireplace inserts. Hire a certified chimney sweeper to clean the chimney, if needed.
  • Insulate bare water pipes running through your home to prevent freezing and to limit condensation on cold-water lines.
  • Inspect automatic garage door opener. Lubricate chains according to manufacturer's instructions. Make sure bolts and screws are properly tightened and secured.

As a constant series of chores, home maintenance is a four-season job and one which should not be taken lightly. The tasks of each season are unique and November's jobs are mostly preparatory in advance of colder weather.

If your routine maintenance uncovers larger issues including a faulty HVAC unit, or a leaking faucet, for example, seek professional help to make the repair. 


Questions First-Time Home Buyers Should Ask

First-time home buyer questionsNationwide, mortgage rates are low in Georgia and home prices remain relatively low, too. This combination, plus rising rents, is pushing renters in some cities -- including Alpharetta -- toward first-time homeownership.

Buying your first home can be exciting, but you should also do your research to make sure that you ask the proper questions of the process, and make the best choices for yourself and your household.

For example, recommended questions for first-time buyers to ask home sellers include :

What major repairs have been made to your home?

Although standard disclosure forms are supposed to provide information regarding past damage and renovation to the property, there are occasionally repairs that are omitted or otherwise forgotten.  Be proactive and ask pointed questions about the roof, the foundation, and the electrical system. Some home issue have a way of resurfacing many years later and it's best to know in advance. •

To which school district does the home belong?

As a first-time homebuyer, you may or may not have school-aged children. However, in many areas, public school rankings positively (or negatively) affect home values. Ask your real estate agent for school district data. Consider asking the seller for feedback, too.

Is this a "distressed" property, and what does that mean to me?

For many home buyers, the allure of a foreclosed home or a home in short sale can be large. Prices are discounted as compared to comparable real estate -- sometimes by as much as 20%. However, many distressed properties are sold as-is,” with little room for negotiation. This means that homes may be defective or, worse, uninhabitable. Ask your real estate agent for help with distressed homes and their suitability to your home buying needs.

After asking the above questions, and other questions, too, it's important to remember that buying a home can be an emotional decision; and one that requires using your "brain" as much as your "heart". Try to keep emotions in check so that you don't overpay for a home that's unsuitable, for example.


Improving Market Index Swells To 125 In November

Improving Market Index 125 MarketsThe U.S. economy continues to improve.

The National Association of Homebuilders released its Improving Markets Index Tuesday. The report attempts to identify U.S. metropolitan areas in which the economy is improving, demonstrating "measurable and sustained growth".

125 U.S. markets are qualified as "improving" this month, a 22-market jump from the month prior and and all-time high for the index which launched late last year.

Compared to November 2011, this month's IMI has climbed more than four-fold, rising from last year's reading of 30. This jump suggests that housing recovery is firmly taking root, helping to generate needed jobs and economic growth across much of the country.

So what qualifies a market as "improving"? The NAHB uses strict criteria.

First, the group gathers data from the three separate, independent sources :

  1. Employment growth from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  2. Housing price appreciation from Freddie Mac
  3. Single-family housing permits growth from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Next, for each of the above data sets, the National Association of Homebuilders separates for local data in each U.S. major metropolitan area.

And, lastly, armed with data, the NAHB looks for areas in which growth has occurred for all three data points for six consecutive months; and for the most recent "bottom" is at least six months in the past.

In this way, the Improving Market Index doesn't just measure housing market strength -- it measures general economic strength. 

Of the 22 markets added to the Improving Market Index in November, the following cities were included : San Diego, California; Gainesville, Florida; Omaha, Nebraska; Louisville, Kentucky; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Several markets dropped off the list, too, including Hanford, California; Orlando, Florida; Terre Haute, Indiana; and Greenville, North Carolina.

The complete list of 125 metropolitan areas on November's IMI, plus breakouts of the metropolitan areas newly added and dropped is available online at http://www.nahb.org/imi.


October Jobs Report Blows Away Estimates; Mortgage Rates Falling

U.S. Non-Farm Payrolls 2010-2012

Another month, another good showing for the U.S. economy.

Mortgage rates are performing surprisingly well after Friday's release of the October 2012 Non-Farm Payrolls report. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly report beat Wall Street expectations, while also showing a giant revision to the previously-released job tallies of August and September.

171,000 net new jobs were created last month against calls for 125,000 and revisions for the two months prior totalled 84,000.

October also marked the 25th consecutive month of U.S. job growth -- a period during which 3.8 million jobs have been reclaimed. This sum represents more than half of the 7.3 million jobs lost between 2008-2009.

Nationally, the Unemployment Rate rose by one-tenth of one percent last month to 7.9%. It may seem counter-intuitive to see unemployment rates rise even as job growth soars. However, it's a sign of economic strength.

October's rising Unemployment Rate is the result of more workers entering the U.S. workforce and actively looking for jobs, a manifestation of rising consumer confidence levels and optimism for the future.

Typically, mortgage rates in Georgia would worsen on a strong jobs report like this. This month, however, rates are improving. This is mostly the result of Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to create a drag on the U.S. economy with its $50 billion damage tag.

The storm has Wall Street looking past the strong jobs report, positioning itself for the next few months. Investors are moving into less risky assets until the uncertainty surrounding the storm's effects subside. Mortgage-backed bonds are considered "safe" and are benefiting from this safe haven buying pattern.

For home owners and buyers in Marietta and nationwide, the shift is yielding an opportunity to lock mortgage rates at artifically-low levels. 30-year fixed rate mortgages remain well below 3.50% for borrowers willing to pay discount points, and home affordability is approaching an all-time high.

Home values are expected to rise through 2013 so consider this week's low rates a gift. If you're in a position to go to contract and/or lock a mortgage rate, you may want to take that step today.


How To Help Your Home Appraise At Its Fair Market Value

Home values are rising in many U.S. markets. The S&P/Case-Shiller Index has home values up 1.2 percent as compared to last year, and the government's Home Price Index shows an increase of 3.7 percent.

This has been partially evidenced by rising median home sales prices nationwide. Versus last year, the median sale price of a new construction home has climbed 17 percent, and the median sale price of an existing home sale is higher by 10 percent.

For home sellers, an improving market means the chance to net more proceeds from a home sale. Or does it?

In this 3-minute piece from NBC's The Today Show, we hear about the home appraisal process and how it may be limiting the number of home sales nationwide, plus the prices at which homes are selling. 

The interview includes several key insights into the home appraisal process :

  • In a rising housing market, a home's appraised home value may be lower than its "true" market value
  • Short sales and foreclosures can make a negative impact on a home's appraised value
  • Consolidation in the appraisal industry has lowered product quality and may be harming valuations

One key take-away from the video is that home owners in Marietta should provide their home appraisers with as much relevant information as possible -- especially information which may not be publicly-available. This includes records of recent "all-cash" sales of comparable homes which were never formally listed for sale.

One in three purchase agreements are canceled because of appraisal issues, according to the interview. Take steps to make sure yours is not among them.