Pending Home Sales Slip In May

Pending Home Sales IndexThe housing market took a breather in April.

After forging past its benchmark value of 100 in March, April's Pending Home Sales Index dropped back to 95.5, its lowest reading of the year. The data suggests fewer home resales throughout Georgia and nationwide in the months ahead.

A "pending home" is a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed. The Pending Home Sales Index is tracked and published monthly by the National Association of REALTORS®.

As a housing market indicator, the Pending Home Sales Index is fundamentally different from other housing metrics which often make headline news.

Unlike the Existing Home Sales report, for example; or the New Home Sales report, the Pending Home Sales Index is purported to be predictor of future housing market performance. It measures the number of homes newly under contract in a given month and, because we know that 80% of homes under contract close within 60 days, the Pending Home Sales Index can foreshadow what's next for housing.

Other housing market metrics report on events which have already occurred.

Based on April Pending Home Sales Index, therefore, buyers and sellers should expect to see a pull-back in closed home sales through May and June. However, like everything in real estate, home sales remain a local market.

Even by region, performance varied : 

  • Northeast Region : +0.9% from March 2012
  • Midwest Region : -0.3% from March 2012
  • South Region : -6.8% from March 2012
  • West Region : -12.0% from March 2012

Despite three regions posting losses, it's worth noting that, on an annual basis, all four regions showed gains, led by the Midwest at 23 percent. 

If you're shopping for homes right now, the Pending Home Sales Index suggests that the current market may be "soft", a scenario which can create ideal home-buying conditions. With mortgage rates low, home affordability has never been higher.


Foreclosures Fall To 5-Year Low

Foreclosures April 2012

Foreclosures filings fell 5 percent between March and April of this year, and by 11 percent as compared to one year ago. The data comes from RealtyTrac. The foreclosure-tracking firm tallied fewer than 189,000 foreclosure-related actions last month -- the fewest number since July 2007.

Rapidly-declining foreclosure figures are another signal that the U.S. housing market may already be in recovery.

According to RealtyTrac's methodology, a "foreclosure filing" is any one of the following foreclosure-related events : (1) A default notice on a home; (2) A scheduled auction for a home; or, (3) A bank repossession of a home.

All three showed improvement in April :

  • Default Notices were down 4% from March 2012
  • Scheduled Auctions were down 4% from March 2012
  • Bank Repossessions were down 7% from March 2012

Furthermore, April's bank repossessions figure is notable. With just 51,415 homes reclaimed by banks, last month's total represents a 26 percent drop from April 2011, and is the 18th consecutive month during which bank repossessions fell. This figure suggests that banks are seeking alternatives to foreclosure, including loan modifications and short sales, when appropriate.

Indeed, the National Association of REALTORS® reports that 11 percent of April's home resales were short sales.

Whether you're a first-time home buyer or an experienced one, homes in various stages of foreclosure can be alluring. They're readily available and often come cheap as compared to non-distressed properties. However, make sure to look beyond just the "list price". Foreclosed homes are often sold as-is. This means that the property could be run-down or rife with defects that render it uninhabitable and/or un-lendable.  

If you plan to buy a foreclosed property in Atlanta , therefore, engage an experienced real estate professional. You can learn a lot about how foreclosures work by doing research on the internet, but when it comes to writing contracts and checking homes for defects, you'll want an experienced agent on your side.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates : Week Of May 29, 2012

Jobs in focus this weekMortgage markets worsened slightly last week as demand for mortgage-backed bonds slacked. There was little surprise in U.S. economic data and the unfolding story lines of the Eurozone continued unabated.

Mortgage rates in Georgia worsened slightly on the news, climbing for the first time in two weeks.

The change was a small one, however, and rates only eased higher Wednesday through Friday. As such, Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey failed to capture the change -- Freddie Mac's survey is conducted Monday and Tuesday. 

According to the Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate slipped to 3.78% last week, on average, down from 3.79% during the week prior. At the same time, the number of discount points charged by banks increased to 0.8 from 0.7.

Stated differently, 30-year fixed rates mortgage rates dropped but mortgage applicants paid higher fees to get access to them. 1 discount point is equal to $1,000 per $100,000 borrowed.

Freddie Mac also reported no change in the 15-year fixed rate and the 5-year adjustable rate mortgage rates. Average mortgage rates for the twp benchmark products remained at 3.04% and 2.83%, respectively, with no change in discount points.

This week, mortgage rates figure to show a bit more movement. It's a 4-day week because markets were closed for Memorial Day, and there is a glut of new data set for release. Most notably, the May Non-Farm Payrolls report hits Friday morning.

The jobs report affects mortgage rates because mortgage rates are linked to U.S. economic strength. Wall Street is expecting to see 164,000 net new jobs created in May. If the actual results fall short of that estimate, mortgage rates should fall. If the actual number exceeds estimates, mortgage rates should rise.

Other releases include the Case-Shiller Index, Consumer Confidence, the Pending Home Sales Index, and Personal Income and Outlays. 


30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Rates Fall To 3.78% Nationwide

Freddie Mac mortgage rates

For the fifth consecutive week, conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates have dropped to new all-time lows.

According to this week's Primary Mortgage Market Survey from Freddie Mac, "prime" mortgage applicants willing to pay 0.8 discount points plus closing costs can secure a mortgage rate of 3.78%, on average.

This is a small improvement in rate over last week when the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate was 3.79% with 0.7 discount points.

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

Like everything in real estate, though, mortgage rates are local. Freddie Mac reports that the mortgage rates available to consumers varied by region.

  • Northeast Region : 3.78% with 0.7 discount points 
  • West Region : 3.74% with 0.9 discount points
  • Southeast Region : 3.79% with 0.7 discount points
  • North Central Region : 3.83% with 0.6 discount points
  • Southwest Region : 3.81% with 0.7 discount points

North Central Region residents currently pay the lowest fees and get the highest rates. For residents of the West, it's the opposite. Everywhere, however,mortgage rates are down. As compared to one year ago, today's monthly carrying cost for a conforming, 30-year fixed rate mortgage is lower by $50 per $100,000 mortgaged, or $600 per year.

A $300,000 mortgage would save $1,800 annually.

Mortgage rates have been dropping because Wall Street remains concerned for the futures of Greece, Spain, Italy and the European Union. Several European nations are at-risk for a sovereign debt default and Greece remains a threat to leave the EU. To protect against potential loss, investors have been moving money away from risky holdings toward safer ones -- a class that includes U.S. mortgage-backed bonds.

As demand for the bonds rise, prices do, too. This leads mortgage rates lower and so long as economic uncertainty remains, mortgage rates are expected to stay low.

Low mortgage rates make this a good time to buy or refinance a home. Talk to your loan officer to review your mortgage options.


New Home Sales Rise For 7th Month Out Of 8

New Home Supply (2011-2012)The April New Home Sales report suggests that the market for newly-built homes is as strong as the market for existing ones. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold rose 3.3 percent in April to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 343,000 units sold -- its second-highest reading since April 2010.

April 2010 marked the last month of that year's federal home buyer tax credit program.

April's New Home Sales data also marks the 7th of eight consecutive months during which the number of new homes sold climbed nationwide, a streak unequaled in recent history. During this period, the supply of new homes for sale has dropped 13%. 

The complete new home inventory is down to 146,000 homes nationwide.

At the current pace of sales, home buyers in Atlanta and across the county would exhaust the complete supply of newly-built homes in 5.1 months.

This, too, is a significant figure.

When home supplies fall below 6 months of inventory, it's widely believed to indicate a "seller's market" and there hasn't been more than 6 months of a new home supply since October 2011. This has placed upward pressure on new home prices and helps to explain why the average home sale price is up 9% from just 6 months ago.

Homes are selling, and they're rising in price -- a trend that today's buyers should expect to continue through the summer and fall months.

Record-low mortgage rates have moved home affordability to an all-time high with home builders now reporting the highest levels of buyer foot traffic at any time since 2007. As builder confidence grows, buyers can expect to find fewer "great deals" -- especially as demand for homes outpaces supply. 

If you're a home buyer in search of new construction, therefore, the best new construction "deals" of 2012 may be the ones you find today. By 2013, the deals may be gone.


Existing Home Sales Climb 3.4 Percent In April

Existing Home Supply

Low mortgage rates are helping to make homes more affordable. It appears home buyers have taken notice.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales rose 3.4% in April from the month prior, registering 4.62 million homes sold on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

An "existing home" is a home that's been previously occupied. April's sales volume represents a 10 percent jump from April of last year.

For buyers and sellers in Marietta , the April Existing Home Sales report supports the notion that the housing market may be improving; that the "bottom" occurred sometime in late-2011. Home values have been rising in many U.S. markets and home builders now report the highest levels of foot traffic through models since 2007.

Demand for U.S. housing is growing.

It also helps that home affordability is at an all-time high. Not in recorded history have this many homes for sale been affordable to buyers earning a moderate household income, on a percentage basis. Additionally, there is now a larger stock of homes from which buyers can choose.  

In April, the number of homes for sale nationwide jumped 9.5 percent to 2.54 million -- the largest home resale inventory of the year.

At the current pace of sales, it would take 6.6 months for the complete home inventory to sell. Analysts consider a 6.0-month supply to be a market in balance. Anything less than a 6-month supply suggests a "buyer's market".

Home values peaked nationwide in April 2007. Since then, it's been an uneven recovery. Some markets came back quickly, while others did not. On a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, even, there's signifcant variance in how home values have fared.

In other words, although the April Existing Home Sales report indicates housing strength nationally, it's the local data that matters most to today's buyers and sellers. To get real-time real estate data for a particular street or area, talk with a local real estate agent.


Home Affordability Reaches New High In Q1 2012

Home Affordability 2005-2012Falling mortgage rates and stagnant home prices are making a positive effect on home affordability nationwide. Never before in recorded history have so many homes been affordable to households earning a moderate annual income.

Last week, the National Association of Home Builders reported the Home Opportunity Index at 77.5 -- it's highest reading of all-time. The index indicates that more than 3 of every 4 homes sold last quarter were affordable to households earning the national median income of $65,000.

Last quarter marks the 12th straight quarter -- dating back to 2009 -- in which the index surpassed 70. Prior to this run, the index had never crossed 70 even once.

That said, like most real estate statistics, the Home Affordability Index has a national purview. National data is of little value to homeowners in specific cities such as Canton , or in specific neighborhoods such as BrookStone.

Last quarter, home affordability varied by region.

In the Midwest, for example, affordability was highest. 7 of the top 10 most affordable markets nationwide were spread throughout Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. The top two spots, however, went to an East Region town (Cumberland) and a Pacific Northwest Region city (Fairbanks, Alaska), respectively.

The top 5 most affordable cities for home buyers in Q1 2012 were:

  1. Cumberland, MD (99.0%)
  2. Fairbanks, AK (98.9%)
  3. Wheeling, WV (97.0%)
  4. Kokomo, IN (95.8%)
  5. Indianapolis, IN (95.8%)

At #17, the Lakeland/Winter Haven, Florida area was the top-ranked South Region city last quarter.

By contrast, the Northeast Region and Southern California ranked among the least affordable housing markets -- again. Led by the New York-White Plains, NY-Wayne, NJ area, 8 of the 10 least affordable areas were in the Mid-Atlantic and California, and for the 16th consecutive quarter the New York metro area was ranked "Least Affordable".

Just 31.5 percent of homes were affordable to households earning the area median income there, up from 25.2 percent six months ago.

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


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 21, 2012

Existing Home Sales Mortgage bonds improved last week on lingering concerns for the European Union, plus weaker-than-expected economic data here at home. Global investors were net buyers of mortgage-backed securities last week, pushing mortgage rates lower nationwide.

According to Freddie Mac's mortgage rate survey, conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates slipped to 3.79%, on average, last week for borrowers willing to pay 0.7 discount points and a full set of closing costs.

This is the lowest on-record.

15-year conforming fixed rate mortgage rates also fell to a new all-time low, registering 3.05% with 0.7 discount points and closing costs.

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

Unfortunately, not all mortgage applicants in Georgia are getting access to Freddie Mac's posted rates. This is because the "national mortgage rates" assume a 30-day closing window and few banks have been closing loans in 30 days lately. Persistently low mortgage rates have created an appraiser scarcity which, among other reasons, is forcing banks to stretch the traditional 30-day closing window by fifteen days or more.

Longer rate locks carry higher mortgage rates.

For home buyers in Marietta , purchase money loans can often be accommodated in 30 days. For refinancing households, however, the process can take up to 60 days. As a result, refinancing homeowners are finding the 3.79% mortgage rates promised by Freddie Mac's survey somewhat elusive.

This week, though, as chatter of a European Union dissolution grows, investors are seeking safety of principal. Lately, they've been finding it in the U.S. mortgage bond market. As demand for mortgage bonds rises, mortgage rates should fall for both 30-day locks and 60-day ones.

This will aid everyone looking for a home loan.

Other news set for release this week includes April's Existing Home Sales report and New Home Sales report. Both will be closely watched because housing is tied to U.S. economic recovery. Strong results in either data set may push mortgage rates higher. 


Is More Fed-Led Stimulus On Its Way?

FOMC minutesThe Federal Open Market Committee released its April 2012 meeting minutes this week, revealing a Federal Reserve in the ready in the event additional monetary stimulus is needed.

The Fed Minutes function much like the minutes from a business meeting; or, condominium association meeting, for example. It's a detailed review of the conversations and debates between FOMC members, and is typically published 3 weeks after a Federal Reserve meeting.  

The Fed Minutes is a follow-up statement on the FOMC's more well-known, post-meeting press release. It's also much more lengthy.

Whereas the April 25, 2012 press release totaled 444 words, the Fed Minutes spanned 6,618

Those extra words are important, too, because the detail offered within the Fed Minutes lends insight into how our nation's central bank views the U.S. economy, its strengths and weaknesses, and its threats.

From the Fed Minutes, some of the Fed's comments includes :

  • On employment : Unemployment may remain elevated through 2014
  • On housing : Tight underwriting is "holding down" the housing market
  • On rates : The Fed Funds Rate should remain low until late-2014

There was also substantial talk about Europe and its role in the U.S. economy. Notably, U.S. financial institutions have been actively reducing their European exposure to contain damage in the event of a full-blown economic crisis abroad.

This has had the net effect of lowering mortgage rates in Georgia. Mortgage bonds often benefit from economic uncertainty.

In addition, because several Fed members acknowledged a willingness to add new stimulus to the U.S. economy, mortgage markets are accounting for the possibility it could happen. It's unclear whether stimulus would be added after the Fed's next meeting, or at some point later in the year, or at all.

The FOMC has its next scheduled meeting June 19-20, 2012.


Single-Family Housing Starts Powers Ahead

Housing StartsThe new construction housing market continues to improve.

One day after the National Association of Homebuilders reported a 5-year high in homebuilder confidence, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that single-family housing starts rose 2 percent for the second straight month last month.

In April, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, the government reports 492,000 single-family housing starts. A "housing start" is a home on which ground has broken.

In addition, March's single-family housing starts were revised higher. What was previously reported as a three percent loss was re-measured and changed to a 0.2% gain.

The April tally marks a six percent increase over the one-year moving average and, along with the March revision, suggests that the springtime housing market may have just been seasonal. 

In March, a number of reports suggested a housing retreat :

Since then, though, low mortgage rates and affordable home prices appear to have sustained the new construction market, which now appears poised for a strong 2012. 

As one mark of proof, active buyers of newly-built homes in Atlanta and nationwide are scheduling "model home" showings at the fastest pace since 2007. The burst of foot traffic high has builders upping their sales expectations for the next 6 months.

A scenario like this would normally lead new home prices higher, but the pressure for prices to rise may be offset by the amount of new home supply coming online.

In addition to a rise in Housing Starts, the Census Bureau also reports that, in April, the number of Building Permits for single-family homes rose 2 percent to move to its second-highest level since March 2010 -- the month preceding the end of the 2010 federal Home buyer tax credit.

86 percent of homes break ground within one month of permit issuance.

It's unclear whether housing is on a steady path higher, but there's a growing body of evidence that suggests the market bottom has already passed.


Homebuilder Confidence Moves To 5-Year High

NAHB HMI Homebuilder Confidence is on the rise once again.

After a brief dip in April, the National Association of Homebuilders reports that the Housing Market Index rose 5 points in May to 29. The increase marks the sharpest climb in homebuilder confidence on a month-to-month basis in 10 years, and raises the index to a 5-year high.

The Housing Market Index is scored from 1-100. Readings above 50 indicate favorable conditions in the single-family new home market overall. Readings below 50 indicate poor conditions.

The HMI has not been above 50 since April 2006.

The Housing Market Index itself is a composite reading as opposed to a straight-up homebuilder survey. The published HMI figure is a compilation of the results of three specific questionnaires sent to NAHB members monthly.

The survey questions are basic :

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

This month, builders are reporting strong improvement across all three surveyed areas. Current home sales are up 5 points; sales expectations for the next six months are up 3 points; and buyer foot traffic is up 5 points to its highest point since 2007.

With mortgage rates low and home prices suppressed, the market for new homes is gaining momentum, a conclusion supported by the New Home Sales report which shows rising sales volume and a shrinking new home inventory nationwide.

The basics of supply-and-demand portend higher new home prices later this year -- a potentially bad development for buyers of new homes in Georgia and nationwide. With demand for new homes rising, builders may be less likely to make sale price concessions or to offer "upgrade packages" to buyers of new homes.

If you're shopping for new construction in or around Atlanta , therefore, consider moving up your time frame. Home affordability is high today. It may not be tomorrow.


Home Affordability Getting A Springtime Boost From Greece

Greece affects U.S. mortgage ratesHome affordability is receiving a boost from across the Atlantic Ocean this spring.

For the third time in as many years, a weakening Eurozone is pushing May mortgage rates to new lows throughout Georgia and nationwide.

The story centers in Greece and begins in 2010.

2 years ago, it was uncovered that successive Greece governments had purposefully misreported the nation-state's economic statistics in order to meet European Union standards. The fraudulent data had permitted Greek governments to spend beyond their means while hiding deficits from EU auditors.

The realization that Greece was heavy in debt with little means to repay its creditors resulted in a massive bailout from the IMF and the rest of the Eurozone nations. The terms for Greece said that, in order to receive its €110 billion aid package, Greece would be required to enact strict spending controls.

This is known as "austerity" and the deal was met with outrage by the Greek public. There's been general social unrest ever since and, on May 6 of this year, Greece held a special "early election" to elect all 300 members to its legislature.

No party won majority in the elections.

7 different groups garnered seats in the parliament last week with anti-austerity groups faring well. It's spurred concern that Greece will end its bid for fiscal restraint, and that Greece may choose to leave the 17-nation Eurozone.

The uncertainty surrounding Greece is helping U.S. mortgage rates to make new lows. As concerns mount for the future of Greece -- and the Eurozone, in general -- global investors seek safer markets for their money.

The U.S. mortgage-backed bond market is one such market.

With the implied backing of the U.S. government, mortgage-backed bonds are viewed as nearly risk-less and investors clamor for safety of principal during uncertain times. The boost in demand drives bond prices up and bond yields down, resulting in lower mortgage rates for home buyers and refinancing households of Marietta.

So long as Greece struggles to form its government and flirts with a sovereign debt default, mortgage rates should continue to face downward pressure. U.S. rates may not fall week after week, but analysts expect any rise in rates to be muted.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 14, 2012

Homebuilder ConfidenceMortgage markets worsened slightly last week as positive U.S. economic news overshadowed growing concerns for the Eurozone's future. Political and economic issues continue to weigh on Greece and Spain, and it's still unknown how France's new President will change that nation's fiscal direction. 

Conforming mortgage rates in Georgia edged higher on the week overall.

Last week was light on economic data, but the figures released suggest an improving U.S. economy.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 3.7 million job openings nationwide this past March, marking the highest amount since July 2008. Voluntary separations (i.e. "quit jobs") increased, too -- also at levels not seen since 2008.

Voluntary separations may hint at labor market improvement because employees rarely leave a steady-paying job without the prospect of a new job ahead. Furthermore, the four-week moving average of first-time unemployment claims fell for the first time in a month.

The jobs market is one of two key sectors expected to lead the economy forward this year.

The other is housing and, this week, there will be two key housing reports for Wall Street to review. The first is Tuesday's homebuilder confidence survey from the National Association of Homebuilders. The second is Wednesday's Housing Starts data for April.

Mortgage rates may also be affected by the Tuesday release of the Retail Sales report and Consumer Price Index report; and, by the Federal Reserve's Wednesday release of the FOMC Minutes from its last meeting.

For home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers, mortgage rates remain at all-time lows. According to Freddie Mac, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate nationwide is 3.83% for borrowers willing to pay 0.7 discount points and a full set of closing costs -- the lowest rate-and-fee combination in Freddie Mac's recorded history.

However, low mortgage rates may not last much longer -- especially if the Eurozone can reverse course on its ailing economies.

Mortgage rates remain volatile and sensitive to changes in market conditions. If today's mortgage rates fit your budget, consider locking in.


Mortgage Rates Make New All-Time Lows (Again)

Mortgage rates

Conforming mortgage rates continue to drop.

For the second straight week, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to a new, all-time low nationwide. According to Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate dropped 1 basis point to 3.83% this week for borrowers willing to pay 0.7 discount points plus a full set of closing costs.

The 15-year fixed rate mortgage also set a mortgage rate record, registering 3.05% with an accompanying 0.7 discount plus closing costs.

Discount points are a one-time, up-front closing cost, based on loan size. 0.7 discount points is equal to 0.7% of the borrowed amount. A home buyer in Canton opening a $200,000 mortgage and paying 0.7 discount points, therefore, would be subject to a one-time $1,400 fee paid at closing.

Borrowers wanting to avoid paying discount points can expect higher mortgage rates than Freddie Mac's reported national average.

Falling mortgage rates are nothing new throughout Georgia. Since peaking in February 2011, mortgage rates of all types have been in steady decline. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage has shed 122 basis points since that date, falling from 5.05%; the 15-year fixed rate mortgage has shed 124 basis points, falling from 4.29%.

Low mortgage rates give today's home buyers additional purchasing power, stretching home affordability to new heights.

Low rates also help existing homeowners to lower monthly mortgage payments. For example, as compared to mortgage rates just 15 months ago, homeowners refinancing into today's 30-year fixed rate mortgage stand to save 13.4 percent on their respective mortgage payments. 

A comparison :

  • February 2011 : $539.88 principal + interest per $100,000 borrowed
  • May 2012 : $467.67 principal + interest per $100,000 borrowed

A homeowner with a $300,000 mortgage at February 2011 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates would save $2,600 annually with a refinance to this week's low rates. Even accounting for discount points and closing costs, the "break-even point" on savings like that comes relatively quickly.

Mortgage rates can't be predicted so there's no guarantee of low rates forever. If today's rates meet your budget, consider locking something in. Speak with your loan officer about your options.


8-Fold Increase In "Improving Markets" Since September

Improving Markets IndexThe economic recovery continues nationwide, but the recovery's an uneven one.

Some metropolitan areas are faring very well this year, posting measurable gains in both employment and housing. Other metropolitan areas, by contrast, are struggling.

To help identify those markets in which growth is occurring, the National Association of Homebuilders created the Improving Market Index, a metric analyzing three separate, independently-collected data series "indicative of improving economic health".

The IMI's three collected data series are :

  1. Employment Growth (as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  2. Home Price Growth (as published by Freddie Mac)
  3. Single-Family Housing Growth (as published by the Census Bureau)

A metropolitan area is considered to be "improving" if all three indicators show growth at least six months after the respective area's most recent trough, or "bottoming out".

In May, there are exactly 100 U.S. markets that qualify for the NAHB's Improving Market Index, down from 101 last month but higher by more than 800% from the reading in September 2011, the index's inaugural release.

17 areas were added to the Improving Market Index list this month including Phoenix, Arizona; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Bend, Oregon. 18 areas were removed from the May IMI.

83 metropolitan areas remained from April.

There is little actionable information in the Improving Markets Index but the report does a good job of highlighting how "real estate markets" can't be summarized on a national level and remain relevant to everyday home buyers and sellers across Georgia and nationwide. For example, Fort Collins, Colorado is listed as an Improving Market. However, Greeley, Colorado -- located just 30 miles away -- was just downgraded from the same list. 

Home values and economies vary by region, by state, by city, by neighborhood, and even by street.

The complete Improving Markets Index can be viewed at the NAHB website but for the best read of what's happening in your neighborhood, talk to a local real estate agent.


With LIBOR Low, Don't Rush To Refinance Your ARM

Pending ARM Adjustment

Is your mortgage scheduled to adjust this season? You may want to let it. This year's ARM-holding homeowners in Georgia are finding out that an adjusting mortgage may be the simplest way to get access to today's low mortgage rates -- without paying the closing costs.

Currently, conventional adjustable-rate mortgages are adjusting to near 3.00 percent.

If your home is financed via an adjustable-rate mortgage, you're likely cognizant of your loan's life-cycle. At first, your ARM's initial mortgage rate is agreed upon between you and your lender, a rate that both parties agree will remain in place from anywhere from one to 10 years, with periods of five and seven years being most common.

Then, after the initial "teaser rate" expires, the mortgage's mortgage rate adjusts according to a pre-determined formula -- one that's also agreed upon at closing. The loan is then subject to an identical mortgage rate adjustment every 12 months thereafter until the loan is paid in full.

The most common conforming mortgage adjustment formula is to add 2.25 percent to the then-current 12-month LIBOR rate.

Today's 12-month LIBOR is 1.05% so, as a real-life example, an adjustable-rate mortgage that's leaving its teaser rate period this week would adjust to 3.30%.

If you're a homeowner who took a 7-year ARM in 2005, or a 5-year ARM in 2007, your newly-adjusted mortgage rate should be roughly 2 percent lower than your initial teaser rate. On a $250,000 mortgage, a 2 percent mortgage rate reduction yields $298 in monthly savings.

Therefore, if you have an adjustable-rate mortgage that's due to reset, don't rush to refinance it. For at least one more year, you can benefit from low mortgage rates and low payments.

As for next year's adjustment, however, that's anyone's guess.


Reverse Mortgages : Pros And Cons

Despite several big-name banks pulling the product from their respective home loan offerings, reverse mortgages remain a popular mortgage choice among homeowners aged 62 or over.

A reverse mortgage is exactly what it sounds like -- a mortgage in reverse. Rather than borrow a fixed amount of money then pay that loan balance down to zero as with a "forward" mortgage, a reverse mortgage starts at a given loan balance and works its way up as scheduled payments are added to the existing loan balance.

This 4-minute piece from NBC's The Today Show highlights a few pros and cons of reverse mortgages, and the reasons why you may want to consider one, including :

  • No mortgage payments are ever due on your home
  • There is no credit check required for a reverse mortgage
  • There is no income requirement to qualify for a reverse mortgage

There are some basic qualification standards for the reverse mortgage program including a requirement that all borrowers on title must be 62 years of age or older; and that the subject property be a primary residence. Loan fees can also be higher than with a conventional-type mortgage.

If you meet the qualification standards, though, with a reverse mortgage, you have flexibility in how your home equity is distributed to you. You can receive a lump-sum payment, elect for monthly installments over time, create a line of credit, or a combination of all three. 

Like all mortgages, reverse mortgages are complex instruments. That's one reason why all reverse mortgage borrowers are required to attend counseling -- the government wants you to be certain that you understand the nuances of the reverse mortgage program.

Your lender will want you to understand the program, too.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 7, 2012

Unemployment RateAfter two weeks of no change, mortgage markets improved last week, pushing mortgage rates lower throughout Georgia.

The majority of the improvements occurred Friday after the April jobs report failed to impress Wall Street, and after it became clear that the Eurozone's struggles with sovereign debt would continue.

According to Freddie Mac, conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates fell to 3.84% nationwide, on average, for borrowers willing to pay 0.8 discount points at closing plus a full set of closing costs. 

1 discount point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size such that one discount point on a $200,000 loan would require $2,000 to be paid at-closing.

Freddie Mac's reported rates for the benchmark 30-year fixed rate mortgage are the lowest in recorded history.

The 15-year fixed rate mortgage is also at its lowest point in history. According to Freddie Mac's survey, the 15-year fixed averaged 3.07% with 0.7 discount points last week. One year ago, the rate was 3.89%.

This week, with a data-sparse economic calendar, mortgage markets will likely take cues from events in Europe. Notably, France has elected a new leader, one that prefers growth over austerity; and voters in Greece have "punished" austerity-backing leaders, in the process creating a split parliament.

Each event adds uncertainty to an already unstable economic environment and uncertainty favors U.S. rate shoppers.

Doubt spurs investors to seek "safe" assets and U.S. government-backed bonds -- including mortgage backed bonds -- meet that criteria. As demand for mortgage bonds rise, mortgage rates tend to fall.

This week, rates are starting the week improved. Whether it's a knee-jerk reaction to Eurozone news from the weekend, or low rates are here to stay is tough to know. Therefore, if today's mortgage rates look good to you, consider locking something in. There's more room for rates to rise than to fall.


Planning For A Memorial Day Closing

Memorial Day ClosingsPlanning to close on your home at the end of May? Plan ahead. Memorial Day is coming and the holiday may delay your closing.

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and the 3-day Memorial Day weekend is a popular vacation time in real estate-related industries.

Real estate agents tend to take time off because fewer of their clients are actively home shopping on a holiday weekend; mortgage lenders are closed because banks don't operate on a federal holiday; and, title agents are often away from the office because the former two groups aren't working.

But what's supposed to be a 3-day weekend is actually a 4.5-day one. This is because many people leaving for a Memorial Day vacation will not go to work on the Friday before the holiday, and then getting back into the "work groove" on Tuesday can be a half-day affair.

Therefore, if you're under contract to buy a home in Canton , or to sell one; or if you have a refinance in progress that's expected to close at month-end, there are some steps you should take to get pro-active with your closing. If you're going to lose 4-and-a-half days at the end of the month, you'll want to try to make those days up while the month is still young.

Here are 3 quick tips to speed up your closing and approval.

First, get your homeowners insurance policy picked out. Do your comparison shopping, select an insurer, and then prepay your first year of insurance, effective your closing date. Pay by check and not credit card, if possible, to avoid harming your credit score.

Provide your proof of payment to your lender immediately.

Next, if you're using a Power of Attorney, have your documents signed by all interested parties and submit them to your lender for review. Don't assume that your attorney's Power of Attorney documents will be acceptable to a bank -- banks require specific verbiage. If the documents are rejected, make the requested fixes and resubmit.

Banks do not compromise on Power of Attorney letters.

And, lastly, if you're accepting gifts or using retirement funds for your downpayment, be sure to have your paperwork reviewed and on file with your lender as soon as possible. Do not wait to withdraw funds until just before closing, either. Have everything in the proper checking account at least one week in advance, and ready for your closing.

There are other steps you can take, too, to make sure your end-of-May closing goes smoothly and they all amount to "preparedness".

When you're asked for paperwork, provide it quickly. When you're asked to sign a document, sign it on the same day. When you're needed to attend a home inspection or an appraisal, do it during your first available opening.

Just leave as little as possible to the "last minute", and everything should go well.


Make A Mortgage Rate Plan Ahead Of The Jobs Report

Non-Farm Payrolls 2000-2012

Been shopping for a mortgage rate? You may want to lock something down. Tomorrow morning, mortgage rates are expected to change. Unfortunately, we don't know in which direction they'll move. 

It's a risky time for Georgia home buyers to be without a locked mortgage rate.

The action begins at 8:30 A.M. ET Friday. This is when the government's Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its April Non-Farm Payrolls report.

The monthly Non-Farm Payrolls report is more commonly known as "the jobs report" and provides a sector-by-sector breakdown of the U.S. employment situation, including changes in the Unemployment Rate.

In March 2012, the government reported 120,000 net new jobs created -- half the number created during the month prior, and the third straight month of declining job creation. The Unemployment Rate fell one-tenth of one percent to 8.2%.

For April, economists expect to see 160,000 net new jobs created, and no change in the national Unemployment Rate.

Based on the accuracy of those predictions, mortgage rates in Atlanta are subject to change. If the actual number of jobs created in April exceeds economist expectations, mortgage rates should rise. Conversely, if the actual number of jobs created falls short, mortgage rates should drop.

Job growth's link to mortgage rates is straight-forward. Jobs are an economic growth engine and mortgage rates are based economic expectation. Therefore, as the number of people entering the U.S. workforce increases, so do Wall Street's growth projections for the economy. When that happens -- especially in a recovering economy such as this one -- mortgage rates tend to rise.

So, for today's rate shoppers, Friday's job report represents a risk. The economy has created jobs for 18 straight months, a winning streak that has added 2.9 million people to the U.S. workforce. If that winning streak continues and expectations are beat, mortgage rates are likely to rise off their all-time lows, harming home affordability in BrookStone, among other areas.


Home Values Start The Year Strong

HPI 2007-2012

Home prices started the year on an upswing. 

According to the Federal Home Finance Agency's Home Price Index, home prices rose by a seasonally-adjusted 0.3 percent between January and February 2012. The index is up 0.4% over the past year, offering a counter-story to the Case-Shiller Index's assertion that home values are sinking.

Last week, Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Index said home values had dropped more than 3 percent in the prior 12 months. 

As a home buyer or seller in Atlanta , data showing "rising home values" or "falling home values" may be of interest to you, but we can't forget that most home valuation trackers -- including both the government's Home Price Index and the private sector Case-Shiller Index -- have a severe, built-in flaw.

Both used "aged" data. Today, the calendar reads May. Yet, we're still discussing February's housing data.

Data that is two-plus months old is of little value to everyday buyers and sellers wanting to know the "right now" of housing. And, even then, characterizing the data as "two-plus months old" may be a stretch. This is because the home values used in the Home Price index and the Case-Shiller Index are collected from actual transactions, but at the time of closing.

Considering that most purchases require 45-60 days to close, we can know that when we look at the Home Price Index and Case-Shiller Index reports for February, what we're really seeing is a snapshot of the housing market as it existed two-plus month plus 60 days ago.

Data that's 5 months old is of little relevance to today's buyers and sellers. Today's market is driven by today's economics.

The Home Price Index is a useful gauge for economists and law-makers. It highlights long-term trends in housing which can be helpful in allocating resources to a particular project or policy. For home buyers and seller throughout Georgia , though, it's much less useful. Real-time data is what matters to you.

For that, talk to a real estate professional.


Mortgage Guidelines Resume Tightening Nationwide

Senior Loan Officer SurveyDespite an improving U.S. economy, the nation's banks remain cautious about what they will lend, and to whom.

Last quarter, by a margin of 3-to-2, more banks tightened residential mortgage lending standards for "prime borrowers" than did loosen them.

A "prime borrower" is defined as one with a well-documented credit history, high credit scores, and a low debt-to-income ratio. The insight comes from the Federal Reserve's quarterly survey of its member banks.

Last quarter, of the 54 responding banks :

  • 0 banks tightened mortgage guidelines considerably
  • 3 banks tightened mortgage guidelines somewhat
  • 49 banks left guidelines basically unchanged
  • 2 banks eased mortgage guidelines somewhat
  • 0 banks eased mortgage guidelines considerably

By contrast, in the quarter prior, not a single surveyed bank reported tighter residential mortgage guidelines. The period from January-March was a step backwards, therefore, for the fledgling U.S. housing market.

Overall, getting approved for a mortgage is tougher than it used to be. Banks enforce higher minimum credit score standards; ask for larger downpayment/equity positions; and require higher monthly income relative to monthly debt obligations.

It's one reason why the homeownership rate is at its lowest point since 1997.

Another reason why homeownership rates may be down is that prospective home buyers believe the hurdles of today's mortgage approval process may be impassably high. That's untrue.

There are many U.S. homeowners and renters -- even here in Atlanta -- that were approved for a home loan last quarter -- prime borrowers or otherwise. Some had excellent credit, some had modest credit. Some had high income, some had moderate income. Many, however, took advantage of low-downpayment mortgage options such as the FHA's 3.5% downpayment program, and the VA's 100% mortgage program for military veterans.

Despite a general tightening in mortgage standards, loans are still available and banks remain eager to lend.

It is harder to get approved today as compared to 5 years ago, but for those that try and succeed, the reward is access to the lowest mortgage rates in a lifetime. Mortgage rates throughout Georgia continue to push home affordability to all-time highs.

If you're in the market to buy a new a home or refinance one, your timing is excellent.