Mortgage Rates Drop For The First Time In 4 Weeks

Freddie Mac mortgage rates

After 4 weeks of rising costs, Marietta mortgage rates finally recede.

According to Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate dropped 7 basis points to 3.59% this week. Depending on where you live, however, you may find that your offered mortgage rates varies. Freddie Mac's "published rate" is a national average based on a survey of more 125 banks.

The rates you receive as an individual vary by bank, and vary by region.  

Mortgage applicants in the North Central Region were most likely to get the lowest rates of all applicants nationwide last week. By contrast, applicants in the Southeast Region were most likely to get the highest rates.

Average mortgage rates in the five U.S. regions, as tracked by Freddie Mac :

  • Northeast Region : 3.59 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage
  • West Region : 3.58 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage
  • Southeast Region : 3.64 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage
  • North Central Region : 3.57 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage
  • Southwest Region : 3.61 percent for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage

Across all 5 regions, mortgage rates were quoted with an accompanying 0.6 discount points, on average, plus a full set of closing costs. 1 discount point is equal to one percent of your loan size. Closing costs vary by county.

One year ago, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate averaged 4.22%. Today, it averages 3.59%. This 63 basis point difference yields a $36 monthly savings per $100,000 borrowed. 

On a $250,000 mortgage, that's $1,080 in savings per year.

If watched mortgage rates rise through August and felt as if you missed the market bottom, consider this week your second chance. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage does remains above its all-time low of 3.49 percent, but this week's drop in rates in encouraging. It's the biggest one-week drop in rates in more than 3 months.

Talk to your loan officer about how today's mortgage rates can work for your budget. 


Pending Home Sales Index Makes New High For 2012

Pending Home Sales Index

In July, the third time this year, the Pending Home Sales Index crossed its benchmark value of 100, moving to 101.7. 

A "pending home sale" is a home under contract to sell, but not yet sold. Data for the index is collected by the National Association of REALTORS® and published monthly.

The rise in July's Pending Home Sales Index reading is important for two reasons -- both of which highlight a U.S. housing market in recovery. Buyer and sellers in Canton and across the country would do well to pay attention.

First, the Pending Home Sales Index is at its highest point since April 2010, the last month of that year's federal home buyer tax credit.

From this, we can infer that the rate at which homes are selling in Georgia and nationwide is approaching the same "stimulated" levels that the tax credit afforded two-plus years ago. The difference is that today there are no buyer tax incentives.

The Pending Home Sales Index readings have climbed steadily since the tax credit's expiration, too :

  • July 2010 : 78.4 reading
  • July 2011 : 90.5 reading
  • July 2012 : 101.7 reading

Second, because the Pending Home Sales Index is a relative index; and, because it was assigned a value of 100 when it was launched by the real estate trade group in 2001, when the PHSI reads higher than 100, it tells us that homes are going under contract at a faster pace than they did during the index's first year.

2001 was a strong year for the U.S. housing market. 2012 is on path to be a stronger one.

80% of homes go to closing within two months of contract so, based on the July 2012 Pending Home Sales Index, we should expect for the Existing Home Sales report to rise through the rest of summer and into fall. Home supplies may drop and home prices may rise.

The housing market has expanded slowly and steadily dating to October 2011. Based on last month's PHSI, that momentum will continue. 


New Home Sales Reach Multi-Year High

New Home Sales 2010-2012The market for newly-built homes remains strong.

As reported by the U.S. Department of Commerce, 372,000 new homes were sold in July on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. A "new home" is a home that can be considered new construction.

July's New Home Sales report highlights what today's buyers of new construction and the nation's home builders have witnessed for themselves already -- that the market for newly-built homes is improving in Marietta and nationwide.

The number of new homes sold in July on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis matches the tally from May 2012, and is the highest reading since April 2010, the last month of that year's federal home buyer tax credit.

The South Region continues to account for the majority of new construction sales, posting a 48% market share in July. South Region sales were up 9.1 percent as compared to one year ago. The other 3 regions posted higher sales volume as well :

  • South Region : +9.1% from July 2011
  • Northeast Region : +30.4% from July 2011
  • Midwest Region : +21.7% from July 2011
  • West Region : +63.8% from July 2011

Also noteworthy is that the increase in new home sales is coming at a time when new home supplies are slipping.

At the end of July 2012, there were just 142,000 new homes for sale nationwide. This is the smallest new home housing stock in at least 7 years, and a signal that buyers are buying homes faster than builders can build them. At the current pace of sales, the national supply of new homes would sell out in 4.6 months.

Because economists believe that a 6.0-month supply represents a market in balance, the current new home market is decidedly a "sellers market". Buyers throughout Georgia should expect higher new home prices ahead.

Dating back to October 2011, the housing market has shown slow, steady growth. Home prices have moved higher and so has builder confidence. If you're in the market for new construction consider going into contract soon. The longer you wait to buy, the more you may be asked to pay.


Government : Home Prices Up 3.0% In Last 12 Months Nationwide

Home Price Index, monthly since April 2007

The housing market recovery appears to be sustainable.

According to the Federal Housing Finance Agency's Home Price Index, home prices rose by a seasonally-adjusted 0.7 percent between May and June 2012. The index is now up 3.0% over the past 12 months, and made its biggest quarterly gain since 2005 last quarter.

The FHFA's Home Price Index measures home price changes through successive home sales for homes whose mortgages are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and for which the property type is categorized as a "single-family residence". 

Condominiums, multi-unit homes and homes with jumbo mortgages, for example, are excluded from the Home Price Index, as are all-cash home sales.

June's HPI gives buyers and seller in Canton reason to cheer, but it's important to remember that the Home Price Index -- like so many other home valuation trackers -- has a severe, built-in flaw. The HPI uses aged data. It's nearly September, yet we're talking numbers from June.

Data that's two months old has limited meaning in today's housing market. It's reflective of the housing market as it looked in the past.

And, even then, to categorize the HPI as "two months old" may be a stretch. Because it often takes 45-60 days to close on a home sale, the home sale prices as reported by the July Home Price Index are the result of purchase contracts written from as far back as February 2012.

Buyers and sellers in search of real-time home price data, in other words, won't get it from the FHFA.

The Home Price Index is a useful housing market gauge for law-makers and economists. It highlights long-term trends in housing which can assist in allocating resources to a particular policy or project. For home buyers and sellers throughout Georgia , however, it's decidedly less useful. Real-time data is what's most important.

For that, talk to a real estate professional.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 27, 2012

Greece bailout plans revisitedMortgage markets improved last week. Mixed data highlighted the U.S. economy's slow, steady expansion; the Federal Reserve changed market expectations for the new stimulus; and, sovereign debt concerns moved back to the forefront in Europe.

Conforming mortgage rates fell last week for the first time this month, breaking a 4-week losing streak that had stymied would-be refinancing households in Georgia and nationwide.

Mortgage rates had been higher since the start of August.

In published minutes from its July 31-August 1, 2012 Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the Federal Reserve revealed that, absent "substantial and sustainable" economic growth, many of its members believe further monetary easing would be warranted.

Recent data shows that growth may be sustainable, but it's hardly substantial. 

  • Job growth is higher in 22 straight months, but averaging less than 100,000 net new jobs per month over the past three months
  • Housing data shows a steady home sales growth, but a dwindling home inventory of new homes and home resales
  • GDP grew 1.5% in Q2 2012, down from 2 percent during the first three months of the year

Should the Fed add new stimulus, it would likely come in the form of a third round of quantitative easing, a program by which the Federal Reserve purchases government-backed bonds on the open market, including mortgage-backed bonds.

The new-found demand for bonds helps raise their respective prices which, in turn, moves down their respective yields.

"QE3" would push mortgage rates lower, likely. It's not expected to be released (if at all) until the FOMC's next scheduled meeting, September 12-13, 2012. There is a small chance it's announced this Friday, however; the Federal Reserve is meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for its annual retreat.

For this week's rate shoppers, this week is filled with data and rhetoric. New U.S. housing data will be released along with recent inflation statistics. Both have the ability to cause mortgage rates to rise. In addition, second quarter GDP figures will be revisited and revised. If they're revised lower, Fed-led stimulus may be more likely.

Lastly, Eurozone leaders reconvene to discuss the terms of Greece's bailout. If terms are changed for the worse for Greece, mortgage rates may drop in a bout of safe-haven buying.


Mortgage Rates Dropping After Release Of Fed Minutes

Fed minutes August 2012Eariler this week, the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its 2-day meeting which ended August 1, 2012. Since the release, mortgage rates have dropped.

The Fed Minutes are released on a schedule, three weeks after the FOMC adjourns from one of its 8 scheduled meetings of the year.

The Fed Minutes are meeting minutes; like you'd see after a corporation shareholder meeting, or after a condo board meeting. Specifically, the Fed Minutes details the conversations among Federal Reserve members which shape our nation's economic policy.

The most recent Fed Minutes show a central bank closer to adding new market stimulus that previously believed.

At its last meeting, the Federal Reserve's debate focused on the rate of economic growth and whether it was occurring too slowly to be long-lasting. The Fed appears to think so. Without a "substantial and sustainable strengthening" in the pace of economic expansion, it said, additional monetary stimulus would be "warranted fairly soon".

Other notes from within the Fed Minutes included :

  • On employment : Unemployment rates will "decline only slowly"
  • On housing : The market appears "to have improved, somewhat"
  • On inflation : Retail energy costs are keeping consumer prices low

However, the Fed expressed an "unusually high level of uncertainty" about its assessments owing to the ongoing European sovereign debt problems. "Spillovers" remain possible and default threats continue to weigh on markets. 

The Federal Reserve's next scheduled meeting is September 12-13, 2012.

Since the minutes were released -- and for the first time this month -- mortgage rates in Georgia made a big move lower. This is in contrast to the rest of August through which mortgage rates have climbed steadily.

According to Freddie Mac, on August 1, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate was 3.49% nationwide. Today, the rate is 3.66%. Between now and the Fed's next policy-making meeting September 13, though, mortgage rates are subject to change. If today's mortgage rates fit your budget, consider locking in. 


Existing Home Sales Rise To 4.47 Million

Existing Home SalesHome resales climbed 2% last month as the housing market continues its measured, steady recovery.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales rose to 4.47 million units in July on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis.

An "existing home" is a home that cannot be classified as new construction and, despite a reduction in the national homes inventory, the number of previously-occupied homes sold in July was higher by 10% as compared to one year ago.

The Existing Home Sales also reported the folliowing :

  • First-time buyers accounted for 34% of all purchasers, down from 34% in June
  • Real estate investors accounted for 16% of all purchasers, down from 19% in June
  • Cash buyers accounted for 27% of all purchasers, down from 29% in June

In addition, the real estate trafde group reports that distressed sales accounted for a smaller percentage of the overall home resale market in July. Just 24% of home resales were for homes in various forms of foreclosure or short sale.

This is down one percent from June, and five percent from July 2011.

It also marks the smallest percentage of homes sold in "distressed" status since the trade group began to track such data 4 years ago.

Lastly, nationwide, the supply of homes for sale dropped to 6.5 months. At the current pace of sales, therefore, the complete U.S. home resale inventory would be sold by the end of Q1 2013.

There are now 2.40 million homes for sale -- a 24% reduction from July 2011.

For today's Atlanta home buyers, the July Existing Home Sales report reinforces the notion that housing is in recovery and what the nation's home builders have been saying since late-2011 -- the next six months for housing will likely be strong. Growth may not be linear, but it figures to be consistent.

With home inventory low and mortgage rates the same, the home resale market looks ripe for good deals.


States With The Highest And Lowest Closing Costs, 2012

Closing costs by state, 2012

Mortgage rates have been on steady decline in Georgia since the start of 2012 as uncertainty for the future of the Eurozone and questions about the soundness of the U.S. economy have led investors into mortgage bonds in droves, lowering the 30-year fixed rate mortgage to its lowest point in history.

But it's not just mortgage rates that are down. Closing costs are, too.

According to Bankrate.com's annual Mortgage Closing Cost Survey, the average mortgage applicant paid seven percent fewer closing costs in 2012 as compared to 2011, on average. The year prior, costs had increased thirty-seven percent, on average.

A "closing cost" is any fee paid in conjunction with a mortgage settlement that would not be payable if the home was financed with cash. Closing costs for purposes of the Bankrate.com survey include such items as underwriting fees and appraisal costs. County transfer stamps, where required, however, were not included.

Like everything in real estate, closing costs vary by locale. There are some states in which closing costs tend to be high, and other states in which closing costs tend to be low.

The five states with the lowest closing costs for 2012, on average, are :

  1. Missouri : $3,006
  2. Kansas : $3,193
  3. Colorado : $3,199
  4. Iowa : $3,257
  5. Arkansas : $3,325

By contrast, the two most expensive states in which to close a mortgage this year are New York ($5,435) and Texas ($4,619). All figures assume a $200,000 loan size with 20 percent equity and excellent credit.

The good news is that, as a home buyer or refinancing household, you're often not required to pay the closing costs which are itemized by your bank. When asked, many lenders will offer a low-closing cost or zero-closing cost option.

With low- and zero-closing cost programs, qualifying mortgage rates are raised by a small amount, which increases your monthly mortgage payment. Up-front settlement costs, however, are reduced or eliminated. 

Opting for a low- or zero-closing cost mortgage is a trade-off between upfront costs and ongoing costs. Talk to your loan officer about your options to see which path is best for you.

View average closing costs for all 50 states at Bankrate.com.


Single-Family Housing Starts Remain Strong

Housing StartsThe market for newly-built homes remains strong.

As reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, July featured 502,000 single-family housing starts nationwide on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, marking the fourth straight month during which single-family starts posted north of one-half million.

The last time this milestone occurred was in the four months ending April 2010 -- the last month of that year's federal home buyer tax credit.

A "housing start" is a home on which construction has started and the rise in single-family housing starts is yet one more signal to buyers in Marietta and nationwide that the housing market has likely put its worst days behind it.

Home builders, it appears, agree with that sentiment.

Last week, the National Association of Homebuilders reported builder confidence to be at a 5-year high. Sales levels have been growing since January and builders expect the next six months to be blowout.

One of the main drivers of today's new construction market is rising rental costs throughout many U.S. markets. It has helped to create an influx of new home buyers at a time when low mortgage rates have helped to keep new homes affordable.

As compared to one year ago, today's home affordability is high.

  • July 2011 : A $1,000 mortgage payment afforded a loan size of $196,200
  • July 2012 : A $1,000 mortgage payment afforded a loan size of $223,000

That's a 13.7% purchasing power increase in just twelve months -- one reason why builders report buyer foot traffic through new construction at pre-recession levels.

The ability for buyers to access low downpayment mortgage programs is helping home sales, too.

The FHA offers a 3.5% down payment program and today's home buyers are taking advantage. FHA mortgages now account for an estimated one-third of purchase money mortgages, and the VA and USDA are gaining market share, too, with their respective 100% financing program for certain qualified buyers.

With low rates, low downpayments and soon-to-rise home prices, it's a good time to be a home buyer. If you've been shopping new construction, consider going under contract soon. As mortgage rates and prices rise, your personal home affordability falls.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 20, 2012

Jobs reportMortgage markets worsened for the third straight week last week as the U.S. economy showed new signs of expansion, and as little new news came from Europe.

August has been a rough month for rate shoppers. Since the start of the month, mortgage rates in Atlanta have climbed steadily and are now at a 7-week high.

According to Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage is 3.62% nationwide, on average, for homeowners willing to pay 0.6 discount points plus a full set of closing costs. 1 discount point is equal to one percent of your loan size.

Homeowners not wishing to pay discount points are seeing 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates as high 4.00%.

These are the highest mortgage rates since Independence Day.

This week, mortgage rates may continue to move higher. There is a bevy of economic data set for publication in addition to the Federal Reserve's release of its July/August meeting minutes. Mortgage rates are expected to get more bumpy as the week progresses.

No data will be released Monday or Tuesday. During these first two days, expect momentum and sentiment to drive markets. Lately, both have favored "higher rates".

Then, Wednesday morning, the National Association of REALTORS® releases its July Existing Home Sales report. Strong numbers will likely lead mortgage rates higher. That is, until that day's 2:00 PM ET release of the Fed Minutes. This will be the week's big market-mover.

Prior to its last meeting, the FOMC had said economic stimulus would be warranted given certain conditions and Wall Street took that to mean that the Federal Reserve was close to adding new stimulus. When the Fed did not add said stimulus August 1 as expected, mortgage rates rose.

The Fed Minutes will provide insight into some of the debate the shaped the discussion/non-discussion of new stimulus and, depending on what market sees, mortgage rates may rise or fall Wednesday -- perhaps by a lot.

Then, on Thursday, the government releases its New Home Sales data for July. This, too, can influence mortgage rates.

If you're not yet locked on a mortgage, it may be prudent to lock your rate in. Mortgage rates have trended higher this month, and may continue to move in that direction.


Mortgage Rates Rise For Third Straight Week

30-year fixed rates rise

Mortgage rates in Atlanta keep on rising.

According to Freddie Mac's weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, for the third straight week, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate rose, this time tacking on 3 basis points on a week-over-week basis to 3.62%, on average, nationwide. The 3.62% mortgage rate is available to mortgage applicants willing to pay 0.6 discount points plus a full set of closing costs.

Freddie Mac's published mortgage rates are compiled from a 125-bank survey.

Looking back, it appears that national 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates bottomed at 3.49% in late-July. In the weeks leading up to that bottom, mortgage rates had dropped in 11 of 12 weeks. Since then, though, rates have climbed steadily, moving to a 7-week high, depending on where you live. 

Mortgage rates vary by region. As reported by Freddie Mac, mortgage applicants in the South Region currently pay the highest rates. Applicants in the North Central currently pay the lowest.

  • Northeast Region : 3.62% with 0.6 discount points
  • West Region : 3.59% with 0.6 discount points
  • Southeast Region : 3.68% with 0.6 discount points
  • North Central Region : 3.58% with 0.6 discount points
  • Southwest Region : 3.66% with 0.6 discount points

Meanwhile, mortgage rates don't figure to drop in the coming weeks. The same forces that drove mortgage rates down between January-July of this year are the same ones that are driving rates up today -- expectations for new Federal Reserve-led stimulus.

Earlier this year, the economy was stalling; growing slowly, but not convincingly. This led to Wall Street speculation that the Federal Reserve would implement a bond-buying program that would lead mortgage rates down, among other outcomes. The Fed said it would do what is necessary to keep the economy on track which only served to fuel such speculation.

Last month, however, at the Federal Open Market Committee, Ben Bernanke & Co. did not add new stimulus, and seemed content to take a "wait-and-see" approach with the economy. And, since then, Europe appears to have put itself on-track and the U.S. economy has shown signs of expansion.   

This August rise in rates is Wall Street reversing its bets; making plans for no new stimulus at all.

Mortgage rates so remain low, though. If you've yet to join this year's refinance boom, or if you're hunting for a home, consider locking something in. In a few weeks, mortgage rates may be higher still.


Homebuilder Confidence Rises To 5-Year High

NAHB HMI 2010-2012Home builder confidence rises again.

For August 2012, the National Association of Homebuilders reports the monthly Housing Market Index at 37 -- an increase of more than 100% from one year ago and the highest HMI value since February 2007.

The Housing Market Index is an indicator of homebuilder confidence and when it reads 50 or better, the HMI suggests favorable conditions for home builders. Readings below 50 suggest unfavorable conditions for builders.

Despite the recent rise in home builder attitudes, however, the Housing Market Index remains mired below 50 where it's been since April 2006.

For new construction home buyers in Canton , the HMI may offer insight into the market for new homes through the end of this year. This is because the NAHB Housing Market Index is a composite survey, meant to gauge builder sentiment in three specific areas -- current business, future business, and buyer activity.

When all three fronts are rising, it points to an improving market for sellers (i.e. home builders). Unfortunately, though, what's good for sellers can be damaging to buyers. Builders are less willing to make concessions on price or product when markets are getting stronger.

In August, home builders saw strength across all three categories :

  • Current Single-Family Sales : 39 (+3 from July)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 44 (+1 from July)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 31 (+3 from July)

Especially noteworthy in the August HMI is that builders project more sales for the next six calendar months than they have projected at any time in the last 5 years. With mortgage rates at all-time lows and buyer foot traffic growing, it's no wonder confidence is high.

When demand for homes is strong amid stagnant or falling supplies, home prices rise and that's exactly what we're seeing in many U.S. markets. It's a good time to be a Georgia home buyer today, but market momentum appears to be shifting.

If you're in the market for a newly-built home, therefore, the best "deal" may be the one you get today. Next year, your costs may be higher. 


Home Affordability Sinks For The First Time In 12 Months

Home Affordability Index 2012 Q2Rising home prices are taking a toll on today's home buyers. For the first time in 4 quarters -- and despite falling mortgage rates -- home affordability is sinking. 

Earlier this week, the National Association of Home Builders reported the Home Opportunity Index, a measure of home affordability, down to 73.8 for the second quarter of the year. This marks the metric's first "down" quarter since the second quarter of 2011, and is its lowest reading since December 2010.

A home is considered "affordable" when its payments meet standard mortgage underwriting criteria for families earning the local median income. This definition is used for homes across all U.S. markets -- including for homes in Canton.

73.8% of homes sold last quarter were affordable to households earning the national median income of $65,000. This is the 13th straight quarter dating back to 2009 that the index surpassed 70. Prior to 2009, the Home Opportunity Index had not crossed 70 even one time.

Like all real estate data, home affordability varied by locale.

In the Midwest, for example, affordability was highest. 7 of the top 10 most affordable markets nationwide were spread throughout the nation's heartland. An Alaskan city took the top spot.

The top 5 most affordable cities for home buyers in Q2 2012 were:

  1. Fairbanks, AK (98.7%)
  2. Mansfield, OH (98.1%)
  3. Springfield, OH (95.9%)
  4. Carson City, NV (95.4%)
  5. Kokomo, IN (95.4%)

At #23, Ocala, Florida (91.7%) was the top-ranked South Region city last quarter.

By contrast, the Northeast Region and Southern California remained among the least affordable housing markets nationwide. Led by the New York-White Plains, NY-Wayne, NJ area, 9 of the 10 least affordable areas were in the Mid-Atlantic and California, and for the 17th consecutive quarter the New York metro area was ranked "Least Affordable".

Just 29.4 percent of homes were affordable to households earning the area's median income there, down from 31.5 percent three months ago.

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


Should You Lease Or Buy Your Next Car? It May Affect Your Mortgage.

Should you lease a new car, or should you buy one? Like most financial questions, the answer depends on your situation. For some people, leasing a car presents distinct economic advantages. For others, buying a car is the way to go.

There's plenty of online material to help you choose your optimal path, but this 3-minute piece from NBC's The Today Show serves as an excellent summary. In it, you'll learn about the basics of leasing a car, and for whom leasing can be a great fit. You'll also hear reasons to avoid a lease completely.

The NBC interview makes all of the following points :

  • Leasing allows you to drive a car that may be "too expensive" to purchase
  • Leasing puts you in a new car, with the latest safety features and gadgets, every few years
  • Buying a car means that you have no mileage limits, and can sell at any time

For many people, it concludes, buying a car is preferable to leasing one, with a notable exception being those people who can claim their car or truck as a tax deduction. Be sure to check with your tax advisor if you plan to take that route.

However, for another group -- homeowners and active home buyers -- leasing a car can invite mortgage approval trouble. This is because a car lease payment is assumed by a mortgage underwriter to be a perpetual debt; one that never reduces or gets extinguished. When a lease is complete, it must be replaced with a new lease, and so on.

Therefore, no matter how many payments remain in a lease, mortgage applicants must use the full car lease payment for purposes of a mortgage approval.

By contrast, for people whom are owners of their automobiles, car payments must only be added to debt ratios if more than 10 car payments remain until the car's loan is paid-in-full. For homeowners and buyers in Marietta , this can improve debt-to-income ratios and support a higher purchase price on a home.

There is no firm rule for whether it better to lease a car or to own one. The arguments for both sides are compelling and reasonable. Start with the video, then do your own research. 


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 13, 2012

30-year mortgage ratesMortgage markets worsened last week as the investors moved back into risk-taking mode. Better-than-expected economic data in the U.S. plus a general feeling that the ongoing Eurozone issues will be soon be resolved (or lessened) contributed to a second straight week of rising mortgage rates.

One such data point was the weekly Initial Jobless Claims report.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of U.S. workers filing for first-time unemployment benefits unexpectedly dropped 6,000 from the week prior on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Economists had expected a week-over-week increase.

In addition, government-backed mortgage securitizers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac both announced quarterly profits last week of a combined $8.3 billion. This, too, reflects well on the economy because both companies attributed strong results to a recovering housing market.

Conforming rates in Canton rose for the second straight week, according to Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey.

The 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate now averages 3.59% nationwide for mortgage applicants willing to pay 0.6 discount points plus a complete set of closing costs where 1 discount point is a loan fee equal to one percent of your loan size.  This is a 10 basis point increase from late-July, when rates averaged 3.49%.

The 15-year fixed rate mortgage also moved higher, registering 2.84% last week after recently posting at 2.80%, on average.

This week, there won't be much data to move markets. We'll see the release of the Producer Price Index and the Consumer Price Index -- two inflationary gauges for the U.S. economy -- as well as July's Retail Sales report. Beyond that, however, there won't be much. Therefore, be wary of day-to-day momentum in the mortgage bond market.

Between January and July, momentum took mortgage rates lower; eventually to an all-time low. Since August 1, however, that momentum has reversed.

If you're floating a mortgage rate or are otherwise not yet locked, get with your loan officer quickly. Mortgage rates may fall between today and Friday, but there's much more room for rates to rise instead.


5 States Home To 50% Of Foreclosure Activity Nationwide

Foreclosure stats July 2012Foreclosure pipelines are re-filling nationwide.

According to data from RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure-tracking firm, the number of foreclosure filings dipped below 192,000 in July 2012, a 3 percent decrease from the month prior.

RealtyTrac defines a "foreclosure filing" as any foreclosure-related action, including a Notice of Default, a Scheduled Auction, or a Bank Repossession.

July marks the 22nd straight month during which foreclosure filings fell on a year-over-year basis. At some point soon, however, that streak may end. This is because, for the third straight month, on an annual basis, foreclosures starts are on the rise.

More than 98,000 homes started the foreclosure process in July, a 6 percent increase from July of last year. Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania experienced the biggest increases, rising 201%, 164% and 139%, respectively.

Each is a judicial foreclosure state, which means that foreclosures must go through the state court system prior to auction.

Nationwide, just a few states accounted for the majority of July's total foreclosure activity. 5 states were home to more than half of all tracked activity, according to RealtyTrac.

  • California : 21.9 percent
  • Florida : 13.3 percent
  • Illinois : 7.2 percent
  • Georgia : 5.7 percent
  • Texas : 5.2 percent

Collectively, these 5 states represent just 33 percent of the nation's population.

In contrast to the five states above, the bottom 14 states accounted for just 1 percent of the nation's foreclosure activity, led by North Dakota. In North Dakota, just 3 foreclosure filings were made in July. Other "fewest foreclosure" states in July included District of Columbia (7 filings), Vermont (31 filings), and South Dakota (63 filings).   

For home buyers in Marietta , with more foreclosed properties expected to go for sale this year and next, there will be some excellent "deals" and discounts -- foreclosed homes typically sell at discounts of 20% or more as compared to comparable, non-distressed homes. However, foreclosed homes are often sold as-is, which means they may have defects.

Before placing a bid on a foreclosed home, therefore, make sure to have an experienced real estate agent on your side. Buying a foreclosed home may save you money at your closing, but may cost you money longer-term.


Improving Market Index Spans 32 States, District Of Columbia

Improving Market Index

80 U.S. metropolitan markets are showing "measurable and sustained growth" this month, according to the National Association of Homebuilders' Improving Market Index.

It's good news for the economy and good news for housing. 

The NAHB's Improving Market Index is meant to identify U.S. markets in expansion. It's a composite of the three distinct data sets which, as a group, present a more holistic view of a given city's growth :

  1. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the IMI tracks employment figures
  2. From Freddie Mac, the IMI tracks home price data
  3. From the Census Bureau, the IMI tracks single-family building permits

The home builder trade group compiles this data and, in order for a given metropolitan area to earn the label "improving", the area must meet two specific growth conditions.

First, in a given city, each of the above data sets must show growth or expansion in the current calendar month. If one of the three do not show growth, the city cannot qualify.

Second, in a given city, at least six months must have passed since the most recent trough of all of the above metrics.  It's this second clause that can make the Improving Market Index meaningful.

By focusing on long-term growth trends within a city, the IMI ignores "blips" and seasonal irregularities. 

The August IMI shows 80 improving markets nationwide, a 4-city decrease from July 2012. 5 new cities were added to the index including Miami, Florida; Terre Haute, Indiana; and Lubbock, Texas. Nine cities fell off the list.

Overall, 32 states are represented in the IMI, and the District of Columbia, too.

For today's Atlanta home buyers, the IMI doesn't provide much actionable information. It doesn't show home prices, for example, nor the current demand for homes. What it shows is the strength of local economies, though, and in many cases, as the economy heats up, so do home prices.

The complete Improving Markets Index is available for download at the NAHB website.


Mortgage Standards Stop Tightening; Lending Soon To Loosen?

Fed Senior Loan Officer SurveyAs another signal of an improving U.S. economy, the nation's biggest banks have started to loosen mortgage lending guidelines.

As reported by the Federal Reserve, last quarter, no "big banks" reported stricter mortgage standards as compared to the quarter prior and "modest fractions" of banks reported easier mortgage standards. 

The data comes from the Fed's quarterly Senior Loan Officer Survey, a questionnaire sent to 64 domestic banks and 23 U.S. branches of foreign banks. The survey is meant to gauge, among other things, direct demand for consumer loans and banks' willingness to meet this demand.

Not surprisingly, as mortgage rates fell to all-time lows last quarter, nearly all responding banks reported an increase in demand for prime residential mortgages where "prime residential mortgage" is defined as a mortgage for an applicant whose credit scores are high; whose payment history is unblemished; and, whose debt-to-income ratios are low.

Consumers were eager to buy homes and/or refinance them last quarter and 6% of the nation's big banks said their credit standards "eased somewhat" during that time frame. The remaining 94% of big banks said standards were left unchanged.

The ease of getting approved for a home loan, however, is relative.

As compared to 5 years ago, Atlanta home buyers and rate shoppers face a distinctly more challenging mortgage environment. Not only are today's minimum FICO score requirements higher by up to 100 points, depending on the loan product, applicants face new income scrutiny and must also demonstrate a more clear capacity to make repayments.

Tougher lending standards are among the reasons why the national home ownership rate is at its lowest point since 1997. It is harder to get mortgage-approved today as compared to late-last decade.

For those who apply 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've been shopping for a home, or planning to refinance, with mortgage rates low, it's a good time to commit. 


Closing At The End Of August? Plan Ahead For Labor Day Weekend.

Labor Day ClosingPlanning to make a late-August purchase closing? Keep an eye on your calendar. The last Friday of this month coincides with Labor Day Weekend, which may make for a complicated, end-of-month closing.

If you're planning to close on, or around, August 31, 2012, plan ahead. Leaving anything to the proverbial last minute could delay your closing by hours in a best-case scenario, and by days in a worst-case.

This is because Labor Day is among the most popular vacation times of the year in the real estate, title and mortgage industries and, as Labor Day approaches, it's increasingly hard to resolve "issues" related to settlement -- not all parties are readily available for resolution.

A small closing issue, therefore, can spiral into a major one when you can't reach your attorney; or, when the title company is short-staffed, for example. 

For Canton home buyers currently under contract, and for homeowners with a refinance in-process, the best defense at a time like this is a good offense. Get proactive with the mortgage process.

These steps can help your end-of-month closing go more smoothly this month :

  1. Prepay your first year of homeowners insurance, effective your closing date. Provide proof of payment to your lender.
  2. Document and deposit all gifts and retirement withdrawals to be used in conjunction with your closing as early in the process as possible.
  3. If applicable, get Power of Attorney forms signed by all parties, and lender-approved in advance. Don't leave this for the last week.
  4. When your lender makes requests for paperwork, fulfill the requests within 24 hours, when possible.

In addition, if you're a home buyer, consider scheduling your home walk-through for as early as can be reasonable. That way, if there's an issue to resolve, there's ample time to address it among all parties.

Furthermore, if you have planned vacation time between today and your closing date, make it known to all parties, and make sure to be reachable in the event of emergency by phone and/or email.

Real estate brokerages, title companies and mortgage lenders are notoriously short-staffed as Labor Day approached. Routine tasks take longer than usual. Plan ahead for August 31, therefore. It would be foolish not to.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : August 6, 2012

Unemployment RateMortgage bonds worsened last week in a news- and event-heavy week. A series of non-action from the world's central banks -- including the Federal Reserve -- plus a better-than-expected jobs report pushed mortgage rates to their highest levels in more than a month.

Conforming mortgage rates rose in Atlanta and nationwide last week.

The week wasn't without drama, however. Mortgage rates carved out a wide range.

When the week opened, mortgage markets were in a rally mode. The European Central Bank had previously said that it would do whatever was needed to preserve the European Union. However, details failed to emerge on that plan, leading to a "risk off" scenario in which investors moved money into the relative safety of bonds, a class which includes mortgage-backed securities.

Mortgage rates dropped Monday and Tuesday.

Then, Wednesday, beginning at 2:15 PM ET, mortgage rates spiked. The timing coincides with the end of the Federal Open Market Committee's scheduled 2-day meeting and its statement to the markets. In it, the Fed said it will leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged in its target range of 0.000-0.250%, and that it will not add new stimulus to the markets or the economy.

Wall Street had expected the Federal Reserve to launch new support for bond markets and, when the Fed chose against it, bond markets sold off, sending mortgage rates higher.

Thursday, mortgage rates, once again, slipped. This occurred after the European Central Bank emerged from a meeting with no clear plan to "save the Euro". Markets believe the ECB will take some action, but because that action won't happen right away, investors once more poured into the relative safety of mortgage bonds.

Lastly, on Friday, the U.S. Non-Farm Payrolls report showed 163,000 net new jobs added in July, far exceeding analyst expectations of 100,000 net new jobs. The surprise result sent stock markets soaring and bond markets sinking. The 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose all day, and is now at its highest level in close to 6 weeks.

Freddie Mac reported the 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 3.55% last week. It's higher than that now.

This week, there isn't much economic data on which for markets to move so expect to see rhetoric and momentum take center stage. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke makes two public appearances and Eurozone leaders will continue to be in the news.

If you're floating a mortgage rate right now, a prudent move may be to lock it.


Freddie Mac 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Rates Rises To 3.55%

30-year fixed rate mortgage rateMortgage rates couldn't fall forever, it seems.

This week, for the first time since mid-June, the 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate climbed on a week-over-week basis, moving 6 basis points to 3.55%, on average, nationwide.

According to Freddie Mac, 3.55 percent is the highest average rate at which the benchmark product has been offered in close to 4 weeks.

The Freddie Mac published mortgage rate is available for prime borrowers willing to pay a full set of closing costs plus an accompanying 0.7 discount points.

Discount points are a one-time, upfront mortgage loan fee to be paid at closing where 1 discount point is equal to one percent of your loan size. In this way, a Canton home buyer who pays one discount point at closing will be responsible for an additional $1,000 in closing costs per $100,000 borrowed.

However, although Freddie Mac says that the average mortgage rate is 3.55%, not everyone who applies for a conforming mortgage will get access to that rate. This is because Freddie Mac's published rates are the ones offered to "prime" borrowers, the definition of which often includes :

  • Top-rated credit scores, typically 740 or higher
  • Verifiable income using two year's of tax returns 
  • Home equity of at least 25%

Borrowers not meeting the above criteria should expect slightly higher mortgage rates and/or discount points. In some cases, such as when an applicant's credit score is below 680, mortgage rates may be higher by as much as 0.500%.

Although mortgage rates are up this week, though, the impact on home affordability is muted. Mortgage payments rose just $3 per month per $100,000 borrowed this week as compared to last week. 3.55% remains the third-lowest Freddie Mac rate of all-time.

Mortgage rates remain unpredictable and there's no guarantee for low rates to last forever -- much less through August. If today's mortgage rates meet your needs, therefore, consider locking something in.


Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (August 1 , 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. The vote was nearly unanimous.

Only one FOMC member, Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker, dissented 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 the U.S. economy has "decelerated somewhat" since January. Beyond the next few quarters, though, the Fed expects growth to "remain moderate" and then gradually pick up.

There was no mention of strain in global financial markets and its threat to the U.S. economy, as the Fed had made in its last two post-meeting press releases.

The Fed's statement also included the following observations about the economy :

  1. Household spending is "rising at a somewhat slower pace"
  2. Inflation has declined, mostly on lower oil and gas prices
  3. Unemployment rates remain "elevated"

Furthermore, the Fed addressed the housing market, stating that, despite signs of improvement, the sector overall remains "depressed".

The biggest news to come out of the FOMC meeting, though, was that there was no news.

First, the Federal Reserve is leaving its "Operation Twist" program in place. Operation Twist sells shorter-term securities off the Federal Reserve's balance sheet, using the proceeds to purchase longer-term securities. This move puts "downward pressure on longer-term interest rates" and makes "broader financial conditions more accommodative."

Second, the Fed re-iterated its pledged to keep the Fed Funds Rate at "exceptionally low" levels at least through late-2014.

And, third, to Wall Street's surprise, there was no announcement of a third round of quantitative easing, a market stimulus plan by which the Federal Reserve buys U.S. treasuries and mortgage-backed bonds on the open market. QE3 would have likely led mortgage rates lower.

The FOMC's next scheduled meeting is a two-day event slated for September 12-13, 2012.

Mortgage markets are rising post-FOMC.

Case-Shiller Index Shows Home Values Rising Nationwide

Case-Shiller Index May 2012

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Index, home values rose 2.2% nationwide, with all 20 tracked markets making month-to-month improvement. On an annual basis, 17 of the 20 Case-Shiller Index markets improved.

Despite the positive report, however, our enthusiasm for the May Case-Shiller Index should be tempered. This is because the index's methodology is less-than-ideal for today's Atlanta home buyer.

There are three main reasons why :

  1. The Case-Shiller Index tracks values for single-family homes only
  2. The Case-Shiller Index is distorted by distressed, discounted home sales 
  3. The Case-Shiller Index publishes on a 2-month lag

Perhaps even more important, though, is that the Case-Shiller Index ignores a basic tenet of the housing market -- all real estate is local. It's not possible for 20 cities to represent the U.S. housing market as a whole. Even more egregious is that the 20 markets tracked by the Case-Shiller Index don't represent the country's twenty most populated cities.

The Case-Shiller Index specifically excludes home sale data from Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio and San Jose -- four of the nation's 10 most populated cities. Yet, the index does include data from cities such as Minneapolis, Minnesota and Tampa, Florida.

These two cities rank #48 and #55, respectively.

Furthermore, in its 20 tracked cities, the Case-Shiller Index still manages to fail as a reliable housing market barometer. This is because home values vary by zip code, by neighborhood, and by street, even. All 20 Case-Shiller Index cities showed gains in May, but there remains areas within each metropolitan area in which values outpaced the Case-Shiller Index findings, and areas in which values fell short.

The Case-Shiller Index provides broad, generalized housing market data and that works for an economist. For an active home buyer or seller, though, making smart real estate decisions requires having timely, relevant real estate data at-hand when it's needed. 

For data like that, talk with a real estate agent.