Planning Ahead For The Federal Reserve's Next Move

Fed Funds Rate v 30-Year Fixed RateIn Washington, D.C. today, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) begins a 2-day meeting, its fifth of 8 scheduled meetings this year.

Mortgage rates are expected to change upon the FOMC's adjournment. Rate shoppers and home buyers of Marietta would do well to be alert.

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

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

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

The Fed Funds Rate and Freddie Mac's 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate move along different paths. Sometimes, the two converge. Other times, they diverge. They've been separated by as much as 529 basis points in the past 12 years, and they've have been as near to each other as 52 basis points.

Clearly, there's no correlation between the Fed's Fed Funds Rate and the common 30-year mortgage. However, with its words, the Federal Reserve can influence the direction in which mortgage rates move -- on occasion, by a lot.

We'll be witness to this Wednesday.

When the FOMC adjourns, it is expected to announce no change in the Fed Funds Rate. Yet, based on the verbiage of the post-meeting statement, mortgage rates will rise or fall accordingly. If the Fed notes that the economy is sagging and that new stimulus is planned, mortgage rates are expected to drop throughout Georgia. This is because new, Fed-led stimulus would be a boon for mortgage markets which would, in turn, drive mortgage rates down.

Conversely, if the Fed acknowledges growth in the U.S. economy and/or little need for new stimulus, mortgage rates are expected to rise.

Either way, expect rates to change -- we just can't know in what direction. The FOMC adjourns at 2:15 PM Wednesday.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : July 30, 2012

ECB meets ThursdayMortgage markets booked major losses last week after European leaders spoke of their determination to preserve the European Union. Mortgage rates jumped Thursday and Friday as investors sold positions of relative safety, including bonds, and moved their money into stock markets.

Mortgage rates closed the week at a 14-day high and, if not for last week's GDP figures, conforming mortgage rates in Georgia would likely have closed even higher.

The Commerce Department said GDP slipped to +1.5% last quarter, down from +2.0% from January-March. The slowdown suggests that the U.S. economy may not meet analyst's 2012 projections, and gives the market hope that the Federal Reserve will add new stimulus at its scheduled, 2-day meeting this week.

The Fed meeting is just one of the story lines affecting mortgage rates this week. For rate shoppers in Marietta and nationwide, it will be a risky week to float a rate.

For a brief run-down of the events of the week :

  • Wednesday afternoon, the Federal Open Market Committee adjourns. Wall Street believes that the economy has slowed enough to justify new market stimulus. It's unclear whether the Federal Reserve agrees. If new stimulus is added, and if the package is sufficiently large, mortgage rates should drop. Otherwise, mortgage rates should rise.
  • Thursday, the European Central Bank meets, after which the ECB is expected to announce an aid package for Spain, and a general plan to hold the European Union together. If the plan is well-received by markets, mortgage rates will rise. If the plan is panned, mortgage rates will fall.
  • Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its July Non-Farm Payrolls report. Economists expect 100,000 jobs created in July. If the actual figure falls short, mortgage rates should fall.

It's important to understand that each of these three events represents major risk to rate shoppers. Mortgage rates will be volatile this week, and that volatility is expected to continue until mid-September, at minimum.

If you're shopping for a mortgage, therefore, the longer you wait to lock, the bigger your mortgage rate risk. Especially with rates at all-time lows; rates have been falling for so many weeks, there's a lot of ground to cover on the way back up. 


Pending Home Sales Index Falls Just Short Of 100

Pending Home Sales Index June 2012

Home sales appear headed for a mid-summer breather. 

One month after posting a multi-year high, the Pending Home Sales Index retreated to 99.3 in June -- a strong reading in its own right.

A "pending home sale" is a home that is under contract to sell, but not yet sold. June's value of 99.3 marks the 14th consecutive month during which the index showed year-to-year gains.

Last year in June, the index read 90.7.

For home buyers in Atlanta and nationwide, the 14-month winning streak is one worth noting -- specifically because the Pending Home Sales Index is different from the other housing market data that tends to make headlines.

Unlike the FHFA's Home Price Index, for example; or the monthly New Home Sales data which both report on how housing performed in the past, the National Association of REALTORS®' Pending Home Sales Index looks at how housing will perform in the future.

With high correlation, the Pending Home Sales Index predicts how Existing Home Sales will perform two months hence. This is because 80% of homes under contract convert to "closed sales" within 60 days of going into contract, and many of the rest convert within Months 3 and 4.

In addition, June's near-100 reading is significant.

The Pending Home Sales Index is normalized to 100, a value which corresponds to the average home contract activity in 2001, the index’s first year of existence. 2001 was an historically-strong year for the housing market which means that June's market action was also strong.

For today's home buyers, the Pending Home Sales Index implies that the current market is somewhat "soft" as compared to May, a scenario which lends itself to buyer-friendly negotiations. Plus, with mortgage rates at all-time lows, home affordability has never been higher.

It's an opportune time to buy a home in East Cobb. By next month, the market may look different.


New Home Sales Slow After Fast Start To 2012

New Home Supply 2010-2012

The number of newly-built homes sold slipped 8 percent in June from the month prior, says the U.S. Census Bureau in its latest New Home Sales report. The June data shows 350,000 homes sold nationwide on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

The home sale tally fell short of Wall Street expectations but the Census Bureau revised higher its previously-released results for March, April and May by a collective 33,000 units. This left the June New Home Sales report as the weakest of the last five months, yet still stronger than the 21 months preceding February.

In other words, despite retreating from May, the June New Home Sales data was still quite strong. As compared to June of last year, sales of newly-built homes are higher by 15% and the national inventory of new homes for sale is down to 144,000 units.

This marks a 13 percent inventory reduction in just twelve months.

At the current sales pace nationwide, the complete stock of new homes would "sell out" in 4.9 months, a noteworthy data point because analysts believe that a 6.0-month supply of homes marks a market in balance. Home supplies of below 6.0 months suggest a "seller's market" where sellers have pricing power and excess leverage in negotiations. 

Home supplies have been south of 6.0 months since October 2011. This is the same month that marked a shift with other housing data points, too, including Existing Home Sales and the Home Price Index.

Since October 2011, the average new home sale price is higher by 6% nationwide, a trend that should continue in Canton through the end of 2012 and into 2013 -- especially with mortgage rates at new all-time lows and home affordability at all-time highs. As more buyers enter the market amid limited supply, prices are expected to rise.

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


Home Values Rise 0.8% In May 2012

Home Price Index from peakThe housing market's bottom is 9 months behind us. Home values continue to climb nationwide.

According to the Federal Home Finance Agency's Home Price Index, home values rose 0.8% in May on a monthly, seasonally-adjusted basis. May's reading marks the sixth time in seven months that home values rose.

Values are now higher by 4 percent since the market's October 2011 bottom.

As a Marietta home buyer or seller, though, it's important to understand what the Home Price Index measures. Or, more specifically, what the Home Price Index doesn't measure.

Although widely-cited, the HPI remains widely-flawed, too. It should not be your sole source for real estate data.

As one example of how the Home Price Index is flawed, consider that the HPI only tracks the values of homes with an associated Fannie Mae- or Freddie Mac-backed mortgages. Homes with mortgages insured by the FHA are excluded, as are homes paid for with cash.

5 years ago, this wasn't a big deal; the FHA insured just 4 percent of the housing market and cash sales were relatively small. Today, though, the FHA is estimated to insure more than 30% of new purchases and cash sales topped 17 percent in May 2012.

That's a sizable subset of the U.S. housing market.

A second flaw in the Home Price Index is that it tracks home resales only and ignores new home sales. New home sales represent roughly 10% of the today's housing market, so that's a second sizable subset excluded from the HPI.

And, lastly, we can't forget that the Home Price Index is on a 60-day publishing delay.

It's nearly August, yet we're only now receiving home valuation data from May. A lot can change in the housing market in 60 days, and it often does. The HPI is not reporting on today's market conditions, in other words -- it's reporting on conditions as they existed two months ago. Information like that is of little use to today's buyers and sellers in East Cobb.

For local, up-to-the-minute housing market data, skip the national data. Talk with a local real estate agent instead.

Since peaking in April 2007, the FHFA's Home Price Index is off 16.0 percent.


Mortgage Rates Down 1 Percent In One Year

Freddie Mac Mortgage Rates

Another week, another new low for mortgage rates. 

According to Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell 3 basis points to 3.53% last week nationwide. The 3.53% mortgage rate is available to mortgage applicants who are willing to pay 0.7 discount points, on average, plus a full set of closing costs.

One year ago, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate was 4.52%. Today, it's nearly one percent lower. For every $100,000 borrowed at today's rates as compared to July 2011, a mortgage applicant will save $57 per $100,000 borrowed, or $684 per year.

Over 30 years of a loan, those savings add up.

30-year fixed rate mortgage rates have now dropped through 5 consecutive weeks, and in 11 of the last 12 weeks, a streak dating back to late-April. Depending where you live, however, you may not get access to 3.53% mortgage rates. As Freddie Mac's survey reveals, mortgage rates vary by region.

Last week, mortgage rates by region were listed as follows :

  • Northeast Region : 3.56% with 0.7 discount points 
  • West Region : 3.49% with 0.7 discount points
  • Southeast Region : 3.58% with 0.7 discount points
  • North Central Region : 3.52% with 0.7 discount points
  • Southwest Region : 3.56% with 0.7 discount points

Homeowners and home buyers in California, Oregon and Washington, therefore, received the lowest rates in the country, on average. Owners and buyers in Florida and Georgia, by contrast, received the highest rates.

This week, though, mortgage rates are lower everywhere.

With Spain at risk for a sovereign default and China warning of slow growth, mortgage rates began the week by falling yet again. If you're eligible to refinance, therefore, the timing may be right to lock a mortgage rate. Similarly, if you're an active home buyer in Marietta , today's low rates will bolster your maximum purchasing power.

Talk to your loan officer about capitalizing on the lowest rates of all-time. Rates throughout Georgia may not rise beginning next week, but when they do rise, they'll likely rise quickly.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : July 23, 2012

Freddie Mac mortgage ratesMortgage markets improved last week on expectations for new Federal Reserve stimulus, plus ongoing concerns about the European Union's future.

Mortgage-backed bonds climbed to new all-time highs, which helped conforming mortgage rates drop to new all-time lows.

The average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate is now 3.53% nationwide, according to government mortgage-backer Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey. The 3.53% rate is available to mortgage applicants willing to pay 0.7 discount points plus a full set of closing costs where 1 discount point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage rate dropped last week, too, falling to 2.83% nationwide, on average.

Even as mortgage rates in Atlanta drop, however, rate shoppers should be wary of a potential rate reversal. This is because July's rapid drop in mortgage rates, mostly, has been fueled by market speculation.

First, with employment data lagging, inflation pressures low, and slower-than-expected economic growth, Wall Street now believes that the Federal Reserve will launch its third round of quantitative easing next week, a move that would likely include large-scale mortgage bond purchases.

New, Fed-led demand for mortgage bonds would lead mortgage rates lower for homeowners and rate shoppers throughout Georgia.

And, second, investors are preparing for a potential sovereign debt default in Spain, the Eurozone's fourth largest economy. The Greek economy, by contrast, which faces similar struggles, is 5 times smaller than Spain's. A Spain default, too, would likely lead U.S. mortgage rates lower.

That said, if neither event comes to pass -- if the Fed passes no new stimulus and Spain receives an ample-sized bailout -- mortgage rates would be expected to rise as Wall Street re-adjusts its expectations for the future.

The change would happen quickly, too.

This week, markets will continue to take their cues from the Fed and the Eurozone, but with an eye toward U.S. housing data. The housing market is linked to economic growth so strong results may lead mortgage rates higher.

The June New Home Sales report is released Wednesday; the June Pending Home Sales Index is released Thursday.


Existing Home Supply Ticks Higher To 6.6 Months Nationwide

Existing Home Supply

Home resales slipped more than 5 percent last month, putting a damper recent housing market enthusiasm.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales fell to 4.37 million units in June 2012 on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This is 250,000 fewer home sales per year as compared May's figures which NAR has revised 2 percentage points higher.

The pace at which homes are selling has slowed, too. As compared to May, the Existing Home Supply rose 0.2 months. At the current pace of sales nationwide, the national home supply would now be exhausted in 6.6 months.

A home supply of 6.0 months is believed to mark a market in balance. There are currently 2.39 million homes for sale nationwide -- the lowest total in 3 months and more than 24% below than the listed inventory at this point last year.

Other noteworthy statistics from the Existing Home Sales report include :

  • First-time buyers accounted for 32% of all purchasers in June, down from 34% in May
  • Real estate investors accounted for 19% of all purchasersin June, up from 17% in May
  • Cash buyers accounted for 29% of all purchasers in June, up from 28% in May

In addition, distressed sales as a percentage of all sales was unchanged in June as foreclosures sold for an average discount of 18 percent below market value. Short sales nationwide sold at an average 15 percent discount.

More on "distressed sales" : In June, distressed homes accounted for 25% of all home resales, the smallest percentage of homes sold with such status since the real estate trade group began tracking the data in 2008.

Despite falling home sales and rising home supplies, however, home resales are expected to return to growth in July. Last month's Pending Home Sales Index spiked to a 2-year high, and 80% of homes under contract close within 60 days. This portends well for July's Existing Home Sales data, due in 4 weeks.

Low mortgage rates and rising rents in Canton and in many U.S. cities continue to fuel the U.S. housing market. Home buyers should expect higher home prices ahead.


Singe-Family Housing Starts Rise For 4th Straight Month

Housing StartsNew construction housing is in a post-recession rally.

As reported by the Census Bureau, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, last month's Single-Family Housing Starts rose 5 percent to 539,000 units nationwide. This is the highest reading since April 2010, the last month of that year's federal home buyer tax credit.

A "housing start" is a new home on which construction has started.

June's strong numbers also mark the fourth consecutive month during which Single-Family Housing Starts have climbed. This, too, has not occurred since April 2010.

The data is yet one more signal to Marietta home buyers that today's new construction market has its worst days behind it.

Home builders think so, too.

Earlier this week, the National Association of Homebuilders released its monthly Housing Market Index, a metric which tracks homebuilder confidence. Home builders report higher sales levels and massive foot traffic as compared to just 12 months ago. They also expect second-half sales in 2012 to climb sharply.

It's no wonder that home builder confidence rose to a 5-year high. Builders are building homes and buyers are buying them.

Today's market for new homes has been spurred forward by low mortgage rates, but rising rents have played a part, too. In many parts of the country, a comparable home is less expensive to own than to rent, which creates an incentive for renters to buy homes instead.

The availability of low downpayment mortgage programs via the FHA and other government agencies helps as well.

It's a good time to be home buyer. Mortgage rates are at all-time records, home prices remain low nationwide, and the real estate market is believed to be entering the beginning of a sustained, multi-year recovery.  

If you're undecided about whether now is a good time to buy a new home, speak with your real estate agent. The cost of home ownership may never be as low as it is today.


Homebuilder Confidence Doubles In 12 Months

NAHB Housing Market IndexHomebuilder confidence is soaring.

For the second time in three months, the National Association of Homebuilders reports that the Housing Market Index made sizable gains. 

The Housing Market Index measures homebuilder confidence in the new construction market and is scored between 1-100. Readings above 50 indicate favorable conditions in the single-family new home market. Readings below 50 indicate poor conditions.

The Housing Market Index leaped to 35 in July, a 6-point improvement and the index's biggest one-month gain since September 2002.

The HMI is now up 14 points this year and is more than double its value of one year ago.

The Housing Market Index itself is a composite of three separate survey questions sent to NAHB members monthly. The 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?

For July 2012, home builders reported huge gains. Current home sales are up 6 points; sales expectations for the next six months are up 11 points; and buyer foot traffic is up 6 points.

All three survey answers made 5-year highs. Not since 2007 has sales volume and foot traffic been as strong, and over the next 6 months, builders expect a blow-out finish to the year.

It's no surprise, either.

Low mortgage rates throughout Georgia have lowered monthly housing payments to levels below monthly rent for a comparable home. Plus, programs such as the FHA 3.5% downpayment program continue to help first-time buyers get in homes.

There is a downside to rising homebuilder confidence, however. When builders feel more comfortable about their business and the prospects for the future, they're less likely to make sales concessions to to offer free upgrades. If you're shopping for new construction, therefore, consider moving up your time frame.

Home affordability remains historically high today. It may not be so tomorrow.


Foreclosure Starts Rise For Second Straight Month

Foreclosure changes June 2012

The number of U.S. homes receiving foreclosure notices topped one million through the first six months of 2012, according to RealtyTrac.

There were 1.046 million foreclosure filings between January - June 2012, says the foreclosure-tracking firm in its Midyear 2012 Foreclosure Market Report. The tally represents a 2 percent increase from the immediate six months prior.

A "foreclosure filing" includes all of the following foreclosure-related actions : (1) Default notices, (2) Scheduled auctions, and (3) Bank repossessions. 

One notable fact from within the report is that, even as the number of repossessed homes dropped nationwide, the number of homeowners receiving a Notice of Default or lis pendens rose. These notices are the first step in the foreclosure process which means that we should expect the national foreclosure pipeline to fill later this year.

It's no coincidence that foreclosure starts are rising now, either.

Earlier this year, a $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement provided banks with the necessary framework and rules by which they can foreclose upon a home. Prior to the this settlement, fearing legal liability, some banks chose to slow -- or halt -- foreclosure starts entirely. Since the settlement's announcement, though, foreclosure activity has resumed.

For today's Canton home buyers, the foreclosure market represents an interesting opportunity. Homes purchased while in the various stages of foreclosure can often be purchased for a lower price than homes which are not in foreclosure; one reason why foreclosed homes account for 25 percent of all home resales

However, be careful that you don't confuse "less expensive" with "less costly".

Foreclosed homes are often sold as-is and may be in various stages of disrepair at the time of purchase. Spending money to repair a foreclosed home in order to make it habitable could wipe out the money saved on its sales price. Your best real estate "deal", therefore, may be a non-distressed home in sound, move-in ready condition.

If you're buying foreclosures -- or even considering it -- be sure to talk with a real estate agent. The process of buying a foreclosed property is different from buying a "regular" home. You'll want somebody experienced on your team.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : July 16, 2012

Retail SalesMortgage markets improved last week on slowing economic growth worldwide and investor thirst for "safe" investments.

China's economy posted to its weakest growth since 2009 and economic activity in the Eurozone continued to sag. Both events resulted in a broad-based sell-off of equities and non-U.S. bonds. Mortgage bonds benefited from last week's flight-to-quality as bond pricing moved higher.

When mortgage bond prices rise, mortgage rates fall.

According to Freddie Mac, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate is now down to 3.56% nationwide for borrowers willing to pay 0.7 discount points plus a full set of closing costs. The 15-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 2.86%, on average.

Both mortgage rates are all-time records, rewarding today's Canton home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers. The principal + interest mortgage payment on a $200,000 mortgage is now just $904.80 per month.

Low rates may not last forever.

One reason why low rates may not last is that, also last week, the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its June 2012 meeting. In it, the Fed appeared more ready to add new market stimulus than Wall Street had expected. The market's initial reaction was to push mortgage rates higher because new stimulus would encourage risk-taking among traders, and invite inflation.

This week will see the release of a number of key data points for the U.S. economy :

  • Monday : Retail Sales
  • Tuesday : Consumer Price Index
  • Wednesday : Housing Starts
  • Thursday : Existing Home Sales; Initial Jobless Claims

If any of these reports show better-than-expected results, mortgage rates are expected to rise. In addition, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke begins a 2-day congressional testimony beginning Tuesday. The chairman's words can move mortgage markets.

Mortgage rates remain at historical loans. If you have not yet locked a mortgage rate, talk to your loan officer soon.


Revisiting Housing Market Predictions For 2012

Revisiting predictions for 2012When the calendar flips to a new year, analysts and economists like to make predictions for the year ahead.

So, today, with the year half-complete, it's an opportune time to check back to see how the experts' predictions are faring (so far).

If you'll remember, when 2011 closed, the housing market was showing its first signs of a reboot. Home sales were strong, home supplies were nearing bull market levels, and buyer activity was strong.

Homebuilder confidence was at its highest point in 2 years and single-family housing starts had made its biggest one-month gain since 2009. 

In addition, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates had just broke below the 4 percent barrier and looked poised to stay there.

There was a lot about which to be optimistic in January 2012.

Yet, there were obstacles for the economy. The Eurozone's sovereign debt issues remained in limbo, oil prices were spiking, and the Unemployment Rate remained high -- three credible threats to growth.

At the time, analyst predictions for the economy occupied both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between.

Freddie Mac said home prices would rise in 2012, for example, whereas analysts at CBS News said they'd fall. Both made good arguments.

As another example, American Banker said mortgage rates would rise in 2012. The LA Times, however, said just the opposite. And, the problem with these predictions is that each party can make such a sound defense of their respective positions that it's easy to forget that a prediction is really just an opinion.

Nobody can know what the future holds.

A lot has changed since those predictions were made :

  • Job growth slowed sharply after a strong Q1 2012 
  • Oil costs dropped rapidly beginning in early-May
  • Spain and Italy have joined Greece as potential sovereign debt trouble-zones

Now, none of this was known -- or expected -- at the start of the year yet each has made a material change in the direction of both the housing and mortgage markets.

Today, home prices remain low and 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates now average 3.56% nationwide. Home affordability is higher than it's been at any time in recorded history and, at least for now, low downpayment mortgage products remain readily available.

The experts never saw it coming.

6 months from now, the markets may be different. We can't know for sure. All we can know is that today is great time to be a home buyer in Atlanta. Home prices and mortgage rates are favorable.


Fed Minutes Suggest Fiscal Stimulus Later This Year

FOMC Fed MinutesThe Federal Reserve released the minutes from its June Federal Open Market Committee meeting, revealing a Fed divided on the future of the U.S. economy. Mortgage rates are higher after the release of the minutes.

The Fed Minutes is the detailed recap of an FOMC meeting. It is the companion piece to the more brief, more well-known post-meeting FOMC press release.

For a comparison, whereas the Fed's June 20, 2012 press release contained 5 paragraphs and 490 words, the same meeting's minutes contain 62 paragraphs and 7,508 words. The extra detail afforded by the extra words Wall Street gives insight into the nation's central banker.

The June Fed Minutes, for example, suggest that the Fed may soon add new economic stimulus. 

Recent data suggests that the U.S. economy is expanding, but more slowly that it was at the start of the year. The Fed acknowledged that this, in part, is the result of "below-trend" growth in Euro-area economies, plus a general slowdown in China.

The Fed also said that "strains in global financial markets" continue to pose "significant downside risks" to the U.S. economy. The Fed expects U.S. growth to "moderate over coming quarters".

Other notes from with the Fed Minutes included : 

  • On housing : Home sales, construction and prices suggest improvement
  • On inflation : Prices are stable, and inflation will remain "subdued" through 2014
  • On new policy : Rapid fiscal tightening poses a "downside risk" to the economy

In addition, there was discussion about whether the Fed is missing its dual mandate of low inflation and low unemployment. Several Fed member discussed the need for new stimulus to raise employment and to raise the rate of inflation. This action could occur as soon as next month.

If the stimulus was enacted, mortgage rates would likely rise because inflation, in general, is a threat to low mortgage rates.

The next Federal Open Market Committee meeting is a 2-day affair scheduled for July 31-August 1, 2012. 


84 U.S. Markets Improving In July

Improving Market Index July 2012

Where economic growth goes, housing growth often follows.

That's why it's good news for homeowners that 84 U.S. metropolitan areas are showing "measurable and sustained growth" this month, according to the National Association of Homebuilders' Improving Market Index.

The Improving Market Index is a derivative report, based on the results of three separate data series which examine a city's local economy.

The data series used in the IMI are :

  1. Employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  2. Home price data from Freddie Mac
  3. One-unit building permits from the Census Bureau

The NAHB compiles this data monthly, assigning a given metropolitan area the label "improving" if the following two conditions are met. First, all three data series above must show growth or expansion in the current month.

Second, at least six months must have passed since any of the above that area's most recent economic "bottom".

Because of this second clause, the IMI is focused on long-term trends in city growth, singling out only those markets in which sustained economic growth is occurring. The six-month requirement causes "blips" of growth remain ignored, and uncounted. 

The July IMI showed 84 improving markets nationwide, a 4-city increase over June 2012. 11 new cities were added to the index including Jackson, Michigan; Springfield, Massachusetts; and, Houston, Texas. Seven cities fell off the list.

32 states are represented in this month's IMI, and the District of Columbia, too.

For Georgia home buyers, there isn't much actionable information in the Improving Market Index. We don't see how many homes were sold in the month prior, for example. Nor do we see how quickly homes are selling in a particular ZIP code. But what the IMI can provide is a broad look at whether a local economy has found its footing. 

When economies are strong, it can create competition for homes which can drive up home sales prices. 

The complete Improving Markets Index is available for download at the NAHB website. But, for a better feel of what's happening in Canton on a local level, talk to a real estate agent.


Home Purchasing Power Jumps To New Highs

Purchasing power grows in Q2 2012

With mortgage rates down to all-time lows, you can buy a lot more home for your money. Home affordability is at an all-time high.

According to last week's Freddie Mac mortgage rate survey, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage has dropped to 3.62% nationwide. This is down from 4.08% in March, and down from 4.60% from one year ago.

Mortgage rates are "on sale".

Falling mortgage rates can make one of two changes to the way a Atlanta home buyer looks at properties. They can either make a given home's monthly housing payment that much more affordable to a buyer, or they can expand that buyer's home purchasing power to a higher, maximum price point.

Since July 2011, that maximum price point increase has been significant.

Assuming a principal + interest payment of $1,000 per month and a 30-year loan term, a category that includes 30-year fixed rate mortgages and most adjustable-rate mortgages, here's a maximum loan size comparison of the last 12 months : 

  • July 2011 : A payment of $1,000 affords a maximum loan size of $197,130
  • July 2012 : A payment of $1,000 affords a maximum loan size of $219,409

With an increase in maximum loan size of more than $22,000 in just 12 months, it's no wonder that multiple-offer situations are becoming more common -- today's buyers know that low home prices and low mortgage rates are combining to make home buying more affordable than at any time in recent history.

However, the buyer-friendly environment can't last forever.

First, home prices have started to rise nationwide. Demand for homes has outpaced home supply in many U.S. markets and that leads home prices higher. Second, low mortgage rates can't last forever.

A recovering economy will lift mortgage rates back above 4 percent, a scenario that will hit home affordability hard.

Home-buying conditions are optimal this season. If you're in the market for a new home, talk to your real estate agent and loan officer about maximizing your home purchasing power.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : July 9, 2012

Unemployment RateMortgage markets improved last week as concerns for U.S. economic growth wrestled attention away, albeit temporarily, from the Eurozone. Mortgage bonds improved to record prices, lowering mortgage rates across Georgia and nationwide.

The biggest news of last week's holiday-shortened trading week was the Friday release of last month's Non-Farm Payrolls report.

In it, the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the economy added 80,000 net new jobs in June, and that the initial tallies for April and May were overstated by a combined two thousand jobs. Wall Street had expected to see at least 100,000 jobs created in June.

When the actual number of jobs fell short of expectations, stock markets sold off and bond markets gained.

According to Freddie Mac, last week's 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate averaged 3.62% nationwide for borrowers with conforming mortgages willing to pay 0.8 discount points at closing, plus a full set of closing costs.

For every $100,000 borrowed on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, you'll pay just $456 per month -- the lowest in history.

15-year fixed rate mortgages averaged 2.89% with 0.7 discount points.

Both products set record-low mortgage rates, based on Freddie Mac's data. However, by the week's end, after the jobs report, both rates had moved lower still to the benefit of Marietta home buyers and rate shoppers. 

This week, with little new economic data set for release, mortgage markets are expected to turn attention back to Europe. Early Monday, Greece's new government won a key confidence vote in Parliament which ends a period of uncertainty during which the nation-state was without a clear leader.

This is one step toward resolving the debt issues that have plagued Greece but not the last step. How markets respond to Greece's next actions will, in part, shape the direction of mortgage rates here in the United States. With optimism, mortgage rates will rise.

Should Greece falter, mortgage rates will fall.

Mortgage rates are expected to remain volatile for at least the next 3 weeks. If you're floating a mortgage rate or wondering whether it's time to lock a rate with your lender, consider locking in. With mortgage rates at 3.62% on average, rates have much more room to rise than to fall. 


30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Rates Fall To 3.62% Nationwide

30-year fixed rate mortgage rates30-year fixed rate mortgage rates made new, all-time lows once again this week.

According to Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey of more than 125 banks nationwide, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell 4 basis point to 3.62% nationwide.

The rate is available to conforming, prime borrowers willing to pay an accompanying 0.8 discount points plus a full set of closing costs. A "prime" mortgage applicant typically has excellent credit, verifiable income, and at least 25% equity in their home.

And, it's not just the 30-year fixed rate mortgage that made new lows in this holiday-shortened week, either. The 15-year fixed rate mortgage did, too, falling 5 basis points to 2.89%, on average.

The 15-year fixed rate mortgage requires 0.7 discount points plus closing costs.

Discount points are a one-time, up-front closing cost, based on loan size. If your loan requires 1 discount point, that means that your loan has a closing cost equal to 1 percent of your loan size. If your loan requires two discount points, the fee would be equal to two percent of your loan size; and so on.

So, based on this week's Freddie Mac survey, a home buyer in Canton opening a $200,000 mortgage and paying 0.8 discount points would face to a one-time $1,600 fee to be paid at closing.

The good news is that discount points are optional. 

To avoid paying discount points, simply ask your lender for a "zero points" loan. You'll get a higher mortgage rate than what Freddie Mac shows in its survey, but you'll pay fewer closing costs.

Today's low rates are terrific for both home buyers throughout Georgia and existing homeowners looking to make a refinance. As compared last year at this time, mortgage rates are down by 98 basis points -- nearly one full percentage point.

Mortgage payments are much lower today as compared to July 2011 : 

  • July 2011 : $512.64 principal + interest per $100,000 borrowed
  • July 2012 : $455.77 principal + interest per $100,000 borrowed

Today's rates yield an 11 percent payment discount as compared to last year.

Mortgage rates are unpredictable so there's no guarantee that low rates will last forever, much less through the summer. If today's rates meet your household budget, consider locking something in.


Mortgage Rate Risk Ahead Of Friday Morning's Jobs Report

Non-Farm Payrolls Since July 2010

Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its Non-Farm Payrolls report. More commonly called "the jobs report", Non-Farm Payrolls is a monthly market-mover.

Depending on the strength -- or weakness -- of the data, mortgage rates will change. Perhaps sharply. Unfortunately, we can't know in which direction.

If you're actively shopping for a mortgage in Atlanta , therefore, today may be a prudent day to lock a mortgage.

The job report's connection to mortgage rates is straight-forward. As the number of U.S. citizens earning paychecks increases, reverberations are felt through the economy.

First, higher levels of income are tied to higher levels of consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy. More working citizens, therefore, builds a larger overall economic base.

Next, as the overall economic base grows, businesses produce and sell more goods, necessitating the hiring of additional personnel and the purchase of more raw materials -- both positives for the economy.

And, lastly, as more paychecks are written, more taxes are paid to local, state and federal governments. These taxes are often used to fund projects and purchase goods and services which, in turn, grow the economy as well.

Tying it all together, the health of the U.S. economy is a major factor is setting day-to-day mortgage rates across Georgia. This is why rate shoppers face risk with tomorrow's Non-Farm Payrolls report.

Between 2008 and 2009, the economy shed 7 million jobs. It has since recovered 3.9 million of them and, Friday, analysts expect to see another 100,000 jobs created in June. If the actual number of jobs created exceeds this estimate, look for mortgage rates to rise. 

If the actual number of jobs created falls short of 100,000, mortgage rates may fall.

The government releases Non-Farm Payrolls data at 8:30 AM ET Friday.


Pending Home Sales Index Hits A 2-Year High

Pending Home Sales IndexHomes are going under contract at a quickening pace.

In May, for the second time in 3 months, the Pending Home Sales Index crossed the 100 barrier, stretching to 101.1. A "pending home sale" is a home under contract to sell, but not yet sold.

Statistically, the Pending Home Sales Index reading is significant for two reasons.

First, the index's reading is at its highest since April 2010. From this, we infer that today's pace of home buying in Georgia and nationwide is approaching the "stimulated" levels of two years ago -- but without the federal stimulus.

This is a positive signal for the housing market.

Second, because the Pending Home Sales Index is a relative index; and, because it was assigned a value of 100 upon its inception in 2001, readings higher than 100 imply that the housing market is performing better than it did during the index's first year.

2001 happened to be a strong year for housing. 2012, it seems, is shaping up to be a better one.

And, there's another reason why the Pending Home Sales Index matters so much to buyer and sellers of Atlanta -- the Pending Home Sales Index is among the few "forward-looking" housing market indicators.

Rather than report on how the housing market looked 30-60 days in the past, as the Case-Shiller Index does; or the Existing Home Sales report, the Pending Home Sales Index looks 30-60 days to the future.

80% of homes under contract sell within 2 months so, as the Pending Home Sales Index goes, so goes housing. Based on May's data, therefore, we can assume that home sale figures will rise through the summer.

If you're shopping for homes right now, consider going under contract while the market remains somewhat soft. Mortgage rates are low and so are home prices. It makes for good home-buying conditions.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : July 2, 2012

EU affecting U.S. mortgage ratesMortgage markets improved only slightly last week despite a large 2-day rally that lasted through Wednesday and Thursday.

Unfortunately for mortgage rate shoppers in Canton , markets were worse throughout the other 3 days of the week, which kept mortgage rates from dropping to new all-time lows. 

As with many weeks since the start of the year, political and economic action within the Eurozone dictated the direction of domestic mortgage rates. Last week's 2-day EU Summit was the major driver of markets. 

In the days leading up to the summit, mortgage rates worsened as optimism in summit's outcome grew. This is because a stable Europe is good for the world's economy which, in turn, encourages Wall Street investors to move money from "safe investments" such as U.S. mortgage bonds into more risky ones such as equities.

This creates an excess supply of mortgage bonds which causes mortgage rates to move higher.

Then, on the day prior to the summit, the optimism faded. Several Eurozone leaders expressed an unwillingness to compromise, rhetoric which drove investors back into "safe" asset classes, explaining the mid-week drop in mortgage rates.

However, Friday, in a surprise move, EU officials announced a plan to recapitalize Europe's banks and to reduce borrowing costs for Spain and Italy, once again, pushing investors back into a risk-taking mood.

The news in Europe overshadowed strong housing reports here in the United States.

New Home Sales and the Pending Home Sales Index both gave strong results and inflationary pressures were shown to be in check. The housing market continues its slow, steady recovery.

This week, mortgage rates are expected to remain volatile. The markets have had the weekend to pick through the EU agreement and, later this week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the June 2012 Non-Farm Payrolls report. In addition, this is a holiday week so trading volume is expected to be lighter-than-usual.

Mortgage markets will be closed Wednesday.