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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fixing Up An Historic Home : The Three Rs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Case-Shiller Index Posts 4% Annual Home Price Gain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How To Install A Water Heater Jacket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mortgage rates climbed in Georgia and nationwide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, the Pending Home Sales Index is released.


Housing Starts, Building Permits Rising Into 2013

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

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

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

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

As compared to one year ago:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


3 Ways To Purchase Foreclosed Properties

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

There are three main ways to buy a foreclosed home.

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

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

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

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


Homebuilder Confidence Rises For 9th Straight Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Short Sales Outnumber Foreclosure Sales For Third Straight Quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets will respond to Fiscal Cliff discussions, too.


Improving Market Index : Up To 201 Cities For December 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mortgage Rates Rising On 26 Straight Months Of Jobs Growth

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

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

Three job sectors in which employment rose in November include :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Federal Reserve Begins A 2-Day Meeting Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They've been as close as 0.52 percentage points.

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

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

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

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

The FOMC adjourns at 12:30 PM ET.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Energy-Saving Tips For The Holiday Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Short Sale : Writing A Letter Of Hardship

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

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

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

The short sale process starts with a letter of hardship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How To Maintain Adequate Homeowners Insurance Coverage

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

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

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

Here are four common components of a homeowners insurance policy :

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last week, the economy was shown to be improving.

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

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

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

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