Breaking Down The Federal Reserve Statement (January 2013 Edition)

FOMC statementThe Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted to maintain the Federal Funds Rate within its current range of zero to 0.25 percent, and to continue its current stimulus program of purchasing $85 billion monthly in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities (MBS).

Citing weather-related events such as Hurricane Sandy and drought in the Midwest, the committee said in its statement that information received since its December 2012 meeting "suggests that growth in economic activity has paused in recent months in large part because of weather-related disruptions and other transitory factors."

Concerns over the then-looming fiscal cliff crisis may have also contributed to the economic contraction during the last quarter of 2012. Positive economic trends observed by the Fed included:

  • Improved household spending
  • Improving housing markets
  • Growth in business fixed investments

The Fed initiated its third round of quantitative easing (QE3) in September as part of an ongoing effort to hold down interest rates and to encourage business spending. The benchmark Federal Funds Rate will remain between zero and.0.25 percent until the unemployment rate falls to 6.5 percent and provided that inflation remains stable.

The Fed Funds Rate has stayed near zero since December 2008.

The national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in December, and Wall Street expects it to be 7.7 percent for January. The Department of Labor will release its monthly jobs report on Friday; this report includes the monthly unemployment rate. Inflation is expected to remain at or below the Fed's target level of 2.0 percent or less for the medium-term.

While noting that "strains on global financial markets have eased somewhat," the FOMC said that it "continues to see downside risks to the economic outlook." Low overall interest rates and gradual inflation work in favor of home buyers as home prices and mortgage rates are likely to rise at a gradual pace.

Mortgage rates in Atlanta improved slightly after the FOMC release.


How To Paint Your Home's Exterior Walls

Paint your home's exterior to improve its curb appealWhen preparing to sell a home, few things improve its curb appeal more than a fresh coat of exterior paint.  

Many people are intimidated by the thought of painting their home's exterior, and choose to hire a third-party to handle the work. But, you can do it yourself, with these easy steps.

First, before starting, you'll want to inspect your home. Examine all walls, look under the eaves, and pay attention to door frames and windows.  Be on the lookout for peeling paint, mildew and rough surfaces and make a note of them.

Next, gather the tools you'll need to do the job. These include :

  • A power washer
  • A 2-3” inch putty knife
  • A 2-3” inch pull scraper
  • A wire brush
  • A sander
  • Chlorine bleach

Then, to create a clean surface on which to paint, power-wash the walls with plain water. Detergents are not needed, and may not work as well as plain water, anyway.

Follow-up your wash with the putty knife and wire brush to remove the remaining paint. Note where paint has peeled, blistered or wrinkled. Avoid gouging the surface by holding the putty knife perpendicular to the wall, and by using moderate force.

For areas that won't easily clean, use your pull scraper. It's used the same way as the putty knife, but it has a sharp blade attached that quickly works through old paint.

Next, sand your home's exterior smooth using a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a sanding block. An electric sander may be more effective for large areas; it'll save you time and energy.

If during the cleaning process, you find mildew, be sure to remove it. A simple mix of chlorine bleach will do the job. Mildew will show through the new coat(s) of paint, so be sure to be rid of it before beginning.

Lastly, with your home cleaned and primed for paint, wait for "good painting weather" and get started. Soon you'll be ready to list your Alpharetta home for sale.


Pending Home Sales Post 20th Consecutive Month Of Annual Gains

Pending Home Sales IndexThe National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) reports that the Pending Home Sales Index fell 4.3 percent in December as compared to the month prior. The index now reads 101.7.

The Pending Home Sales Index measures the number of U.S. homes that have gone "into contract", but have not yet closed. The report is based on data collected from local real estate associations, and from national brokers.

Despite December's drop, however, the annual rate at which contracts for a home purchase were drawn increased 6.9 percent from one year ago, and marked the 20th consecutive month of annual purchase contract gains.

NAR reports that 80% of homes under contract are closed with 60 days, with the majority of the remained homes "sold" within months 3 and 4.

Analysts believe that December's Pending Home Sales Index drop is not a result of a weakening housing market. Rather, it's a function of a falling national home supply; in particular, a shortage of homes in the West Region offered a prices under $100,000.

The national housing inventory is currently at an 11-year low. However, regionally, results varied :

  • Northwest : -5.4 percent from November; +8.4 percent from one year ago
  • Midwest : +0.9 percent from November; +14.4 percent from one year ago
  • South : -4.5 percent from November; +10.1 percent from one year ago
  • West: -8.2 percent from November; -5.3 percent from one year ago

Although December's Pending Home Sales Index dropped as compared to November, the year-to-year growth of pending home sales suggests a broader improvement in the U.S. housing market. Furthermore, the index is a strong indicator of existing home sales, which means that this season's home sales should outpace those from 2012.

The Pending Home Sales Index is bench-marked to 100, the value from 2001, which was the index's first year of existence. 2001 was considered a strong year for the housing market so last month's 101.7 is considered a positive measure for the housing market.

Analysts project a strong Spring market in Atlanta and nationwide.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 28, 2013

FOMC meeting this weekMortgage rates rose last week as investors gained confidence in the global economy. China and Europe posted better-than-expected manufacturing rates, U.S. Jobless Claims fell for the second straight week, and the worst of the European debt crisis appears to have passed.

Last week's economic news provided further evidence of a strengthening U.S. economy.

The National Association of REALTORS® released its Existing Home Sales report, which indicates that existing home sales improved by 13 percent on a year-over-year basis and are now at their highest point since 2007. The group expects sales of existing homes to increase by 9 percent in 2013.

The Commerce Department released its monthly New Home Sales report; while new home sales for December fell short of Wall Street's expectations, sales of new homes are almost 20 percent higher than they were one year ago.

Growing demand for homes coupled with lower inventories of available homes suggests that the days of rock-bottom home prices and low mortgage rates are dwindling.

According to Freddie Mac, the average mortgage rate for a 30-year fixed rate loan was 3.42 percent with borrowers paying 0.7 percent in discount points plus closing costs. The average rate for a 15- year fixed rate mortgage was 2.71 percent with borrowers paying 0.7 percent in discount points plus closing costs.

While slight, the week-over-week increase in mortgage rates in Atlanta could become a trend.

Weekly Jobless Claims fell below Wall Street forecasts for the second week in a row. 330,000 new jobless claims were filed; far fewer new claims were filed than the 360,000 new jobless claims expected by investors. New jobless claims also fell below the prior week's 335,000 new jobless claims. Fewer jobless claims are a sign of a stabilizing economy.

Mortgage rates typically rise as investors gain confidence in the economy and financial markets.

This week's economic news calendar is jam-packed.

Investors await the outcome of the  Federal Open Market Committee's first scheduled meeting of 2013, treasury auctions are scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the Pending Home Sales Index will be released.

Plus, the Department of Labor's Non-farm Payrolls Report and Unemployment Report will be released Friday morning.


Reasons To Attend Your Own Home Inspection

Be present for your home inspectionAs a home buyer in Atlanta , you can get a feel for whether a home's systems and appliances are in working order. However, you can't know for certain until after the home's been inspected.

This is why real estate agents recommend that buyers hire a licensed home inspectors immediately after going into contract. It's the best way to really know the home which you're buying. 

By definition, a home inspection is a top-to-bottom check-up of a home's physical condition and systems, including a review of the structure, and its plumbing and electrical systems. Home inspections are not the same as a home appraisal, which is a valuation of the property.

When you commission a home inspection, you should be present for it. Here are 3 reasons why :

Seeing For Yourself
There's a big difference between reading a report and seeing "live" what may be right or wrong with a home. With first-hand knowledge of a potential issue, you'll be in a better position to determine whether a problem warrants contract cancellation, or whether it's an additional negotiation point. 

Discovering The Home
Via a home inspection, you will learn where the systems reside within a home (e.g.; boiler room, garage), and how to operate them. This is a valuable educational opportunity and most inspectors are happy to share what they know. It's also a chance to ask questions about maintenance and upkeep.

Better Understanding
A home inspector's job is to review and disclose the condition of the home. The inspector's report, however, is just a summary on paper. In being present for the inspection, a buyer will be able to visualize and understand the report's conclusions more clearly. This can make for more effective re-negotiations with the seller, in the event that damage or distress is identified.

So, what should you do during the home inspection? Your primary tasks are to watch, listen, learn and ask questions. A professional home inspector will welcome your participation in the process.


Existing Homes For Sale At Lowest Point In 11 Years

Existing Home SupplyHome sales dropped last month, but not because demand was lacking. There are fewer homes for sale than at any time in the last 11 years.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales for December 2012 fell to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized rate of 4.94 million homes from November's tally of 4.99 million existing homes.

The Existing Home Sales report is based on the number of closings for previously-owned, single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops. It's estimated that existing homes account for 85 to 90 percent of all home sales nationwide.

2012 was a good year for housing. Sales of existing homes climbed 12.8 percent as compared to the December 2011 tally, which may be a strong indicator of future mortgage originations and short-term demand for home-related goods.

Based on preliminary sales figures, the number of home resales in 2012 grew 9.2 percent to 4.65 million homes as compared to 4.26 million homes sold during 2011. This marks the highest number of home resales sold in 5 years -- a time which predates the recession of last decade.

In addition, the median price of a homes resale read $180,800 in December, which is a 11.5 percent increase as compared to December 2011, and the tenth consecutive month of year-over-year median price growth.

Not since November 2005 has the median home resale price climbed this quickly

Furthermore, the supply of existing homes fell to 4.4 months in December, down 0.4 months from November. At the current pace of sales, the national home resale inventory will be sold by June. This is an important statistic because home supply of less than 6.0-months is thought to represent a "seller's market".

There are also just 1.82 million existing homes for sale nationwide -- the fewest since January 2001, and a 22 percent reduction from one year ago. With buyer demand high and home inventory down, home prices are likely to rise in Alpharetta and nationwide throughout 2013.


Buying A Home In A Golf Community

Golf course communitiesIt's January, but home sales in golf communities remain strong like in the rest of the country.

If you're looking to buy a home in a golf course community, either as a primary residence or as a vacation or retirement home, there are additional home traits which make buying on a golf course different from buying a typical Alpharetta single-family residence.

Here is a quick primer of home characteristics to consider when buying in a golf community.

Land Plot 
When looking at homes within a golf course community, be aware of its location with respect to the community entrance. Homes nearest to the entrance will receive the most drive-by traffic and may be slightly more noisy that a home which is situated far from the entrance. However, homes close to the entrance will also be more navigable for visitors.

How security-conscious is the community? Golf course communities tend to be gated communities but each will have varying levels of security. Some will have 24-hour gatepersons to manage and monitor traffic into the community. Others will use a pass-key system. Determine what's most important to you.

Proximity To Golf Course
Consider the physical location of the home relative to the golf course(s). Homes which are situated near tee boxes are less likely to be struck by errant golf shots, but may be louder because of chatty players. Homes off the golf course are typically free of all such hazard.

Many golf communities feature amenities such as swimming pools, exercise facilities, and clubhouses. Some have tennis courts and other recreational outlets. Do these services require extra fees? Is there a mandatory membership cost, with minimum monthly purchase levels? Be sure to ask.

Association Dues And Restrictions
As with most planned community/association, golf communities typically require annual or monthly membership dues; and publish a list of rules by which homeowners must abide. For example, home improvements may be restricted by the rules of the community. Before buying, review the association by-laws carefully.

Golf course communities are a terrific way for golf enthusiasts play (nearly) year-round, and can provide a terrific lifestyle even beyond the golf game. If you plan to buy in a golf community, use the tips above to help with your research.

Then, when you're ready, talk to a real estate professional for help with your purchase.


Tips For Selling Your Home In The Colder Winter Months

Shovel snow on the walkwaysReal estate agents in |**CITY**| will tell you that it can be harder to sell a home in the winter. The days are colder and shorter, leaving less time to show a home to potential buyers.

The good news, though, is that most buyers looking at houses in the winter aren't just killing time. They're serious enough about finding a new home to house hunt at a time when most people might rather stay inside.

There are a several steps you can take to make a good impression on home buyers this winter.

First, if there's snow or ice on the ground, make sure walkways are safe. Spread out ice melt or sand to provide traction during snowy weather. Shovel the snow on the driveway and sidewalks to make your home more inviting. Be sure to place a mat on which for visitors to wipe their feet.

Second, warm up the house. Buyers will remember the house that was pleasantly warm on a frigid day. This also demonstrates to buyers that your furnace is in good working order.

Next, to make a "welcoming scent", bake cookies the day of the showing. Some people are sensitive to the fragrances in air fresheners and perfumes, so skip spraying those when expecting someone to look at your house.

You can also serve snacks in the kitchen. Give the buyer a reason to linger in your home by leaving a light snack in the kitchen. If the weather is cold, consider providing chili or soup in a crock-pot to keep it warm with festive disposable bowls. Or, to keep it simple, you can provide coffee or hot chocolate and cookies.

Lastly, to make your house appear warm and inviting during cold winter months, turn all the lights in the house on; place warm-toned throws and decorator pillows around the living room. Play soothing classical or jazz music; keep the volume low enough that buyers can talk quietly to each other.

These techniques each can help your home seem more inviting this winter.


Simple Fixes To Help Your Home Sell More Quickly

For sale signIf one of your New Year's Resolutions is to sell your Alpharetta home, there are a few simple steps you can take to help prepare it for showings.

With a prospective buyer in mind, take a tour of your home, making a list of the good, the bad, and the not-so-bad. You may spot areas in need of major renovation; and areas which could benefit from just a basic touch-up.

It's these latter areas which will likely yield the biggest return on your investment so, in preparation for making your home "buyer ready", consider these steps.

The first thing a buyer will notice is the outside of your home. Sometimes called "curb appeal", first impressions are very important to the sale of your home. Therefore, be sure to trim bushes, rake leaves, and clean up the yard in order to make your house seem more inviting. Clear unnecessary clutter from the yard and walkway to your home.

Paint the walls of the room a light, neutral color to "open up" the space. Replace old light fixtures with new modern ones; replace all old bulbs; and consider adding a ceiling fan to each bedroom. This can increase the room's appeal. 

If your tub has seen better days, have it resurfaced. Remove mildew stains in, or around, baths and showers. Replace stained silicone seal and grout, where needed. Check all light fixtures for burned out bulbs. Add lighting, if necessary, to make the bathroom brighter.

Your kitchen might also benefit from sprucing up. Do not gut-renovate your kitchen. Rather, refinish or paint its cabinets. Install new, clean-looking handles. Add a new back splash, if you think it will help. 

You'll spend a small sum to make these improvements but the rewards can be more home showings, which can lead to more home offers, which can help you get the price you want for your property.

Your home may also sell more quickly.


Homebuilder Confidence Nearly Triples In 2 Years

NAHB HMI January 2013The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) Housing Market Index ended its 8-month winning streak this month, posting a value of 47. The January 2013 reading is on level with last month, and remains at a near 7-year high.

The Housing Market Index (HMI) is a measure of home builder confidence. 

HMI readings below 50 indicate a "poor" new construction conditions for single-family homes nationwide; ratings above 50 signal "good" ones.

Not since April 2006 has the Housing Market Index crossed into "good" territory, but the past two years have witnessed the HMI nearly triple; and the index is up from a reading of 25 just twelve months ago.

Values would have likely increased this month, too, if not for builder uncertainty. The NAHB cites concern over prolonged legislative decisions as contributing factors to this month's builder confidence reading. Specifically, the trade group expressed concern over the future of the federal income tax deduction for home mortgage interest and spending cuts related to the recent, so-called "fiscal cliff".

As compared to the month prior, this month's HMI showed the following :

  • Current housing conditions were mostly unchanged between December and January
  • Sales expectations the next six months dropped slightly between December and January
  • Prospective home buyer foot traffic increased slightly between December and January

January marks the tenth consecutive month through which buyer foot traffic has increased. Foot traffic is now at its highest level in nearly 7 years.

The NAHB Housing Market Index suggests a slow, steady rise in confidence among the nation's home builders. This is occurring, in part, because of improving housing market conditions both nationally and regionally. Another factor is rising confidence among today's home buyers.

Home sale prices Atlanta remain relatively low and mortgage rates sit below 4 percent. With demand for homes growing, prices are expected to rise. Home buyers this season may be more likely to get a good "deal" than the buyers of spring or summer.


Improve Your Credit Score To Get Better Mortgage Rates

Credit score FICO improvementFor home buyers in Alpharetta and nationwide, credit scores can change low mortgage rates and alter home loan approvals.

Borrowers with high credit scores get access to lower mortgage rates, for example, and can find the mortgage approval process to be more smooth that borrowers with low credit scores.

If your credit score is low, here are some basic ways to help improve it. 

Get The Reports
Download an updated version of your credit report from each of the three major reporting bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The reports may mirror each other, but credit accounts -- especially derogatory ones -- sometimes don't appear on all three. Ordering reports from all three bureaus is a safety step. Note that the credit bureaus each use different scoring models so your credit scores will vary.

Check For Errors
Yes, credit reports can have errors in them. Should you find any items on any of the three credit reports which, in your opinion, do not belong or are erroneous, contact the credit bureau regarding removal. Errors on a credit report must be addressed with each bureau individually. 

Pay Up 
Or, rather, pay down. Be diligent about paying down your credit card balances in order to lower the percentage of your credit line(s) in use. In general, aim for a 30% ratio or less. An added benefit of paying down debt is that it can lower your total monthly debt load, which can increase your maximum home purchase price.

For items which are harming your score, such as a 30-day or 60-day mortgage late payments, medical collection items, and/or judgments, consider writing a brief letter which explains the circumstance of the derogatory credit event. Such a letter won't help your score to improve, but it can help your lender to make better credit decisions, which can aid in "exceptions", if required.

Making even minor changes to an overall credit profile can yield measurable long-term results. It can also result in lower mortgage rates.


Selling? Improve The Appearance Of Your Home's Bathrooms.

Bathroom remodel tipsFull-scale bathroom remodeling can be expensive and, in today's Marietta housing market, you won't likely get all of the money back that you put into it at the time of sale.

Knowing that bathroom projects tend to have a low return on investment, therefore, here are a few inexpensive changes which you can make to spruce up bathrooms in a home for sale.

Most sellers will notice if the fixtures in a bathroom are old, and it can have a negative effect on their view of your home. Buy a new set of bathroom fixtures at a home improvement store. Most stores have matching towel racks and bathroom tissue holders, too. There is a wide selection of stainless steel, wood or ceramic fixtures available at most stores, too.

A fresh coat of paint is a simple way to improve the overall look of a bathroom. Choose paints with a light, neutral color to make the room seem more spacious.

If your bathroom floor has tiles, it's a good idea to add fresh grout to brighten up the bathroom's overall look, or, at least, to clean the grout so that it looks like new. Scratched linoleum should also be replaced. There is plenty of inexpensive flooring which is easy to install, in a variety of patterns and colors at your local hardware or flooring store.

Prospective buyers should be able to imagine themselves living in your home. It's easier for them to do that when your home is free of clutter. This is even true in the bathroom. Clear out your medicine cabinet. (Yes, many buyers will look in there.) Leave only the essentials such as toothpaste and hairbrushes.

Making a good impression on your prospective buyers can be easier when you've redone a bathroom.  It doesn't require much money, and it may increase the final sale price of home.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 14, 2013

30-year mortgage ratesMortgage rates rose last week nationwide during a week of sparse economic news.

Thursday's weekly jobless claims report showed 371,000 new claims, which was 1,000 fewer jobless claims than for the prior week. Wall Street expectations of 365,000 new jobless claims turned out to be too optimistic.

The semi-quarterly statement released Thursday by the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that the region's inflation remains below its 2 percent ceiling as established by central banker. Economic weakness in the Eurozone is expected to persist into 2013 with signs of recovery becoming evident toward the end of this year.

ECB cited financial and structural reforms as essential to economic recovery, and noted that national governments within the Eurozone have been slow to implement such reforms. Without such reforms, Euro-area economies may continue to struggle, which would likely lead investors to seek a safe haven in the bond market, moving bond prices higher.

As bond prices rise, mortgage rates in Marietta and nationwide typically fall.

Also last week, Freddie Mac's Primary Mortgage Market Survey reported the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rising from 3.34 percent to 3.40 percent for buyers paying 0.7 percent in discount points plus closing costs. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose from 2.64 percent to 2.66 percent.

Required discount points for the 15-year fixed rate mortgage rose from 0.6 to 0.7 percent.

Import prices for December released Friday were reported at -0.1 percent, below the consensus estimate of +0.1 percent. This report measures the prices of goods purchased in the U.S, but produced abroad and is considered an important indicator of inflationary trends affecting internationally produced goods.

Inflation tends to harm mortgage rates.

Next week's economic calendar is full of economic data and includes the release of the Producers Price Index (PPI), Retail Sales figures, the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The Fed is also set to issue its Beige Book report, and the NAHB Housing Market Index and Consumer Sentiment report will be released.

Mortgage rates remain low, but are rising.


Help Your Pets Adjust To Your New Home

Help pets adjust to a new homeMoving to a new home can be a difficult transition for everyone in the family, including the furry, four-legged members.

Dogs and cats develop a strong bond with their environment so when they are relocated from their territory it can cause them stress.

Here are some tips to ease your pets' transition to a new home :

Keep Your Mood Calm
Pets are very tuned-in to your emotions and will sense your mood. If you are stressed throughout the moving process, your cat or dog will pick up on this and it will make him anxious. Try to remain calm and give your pet plenty of attention and reassurance during the process of moving.

Transporting Your Pet
A few weeks before the move, introduce your pet to his pet carrier so that he becomes familiar with it. It will be much less scary for him to be transported in a carrier, which already has recognizable smells and perhaps a favorite chew toy or blanket inside. When you are moving your pets to your new home, it is a good idea not to feed them for about three hours before setting off, as this can help to prevent accidents while in transit.

Upon Arrival
When you get to your new residence, place your pets in one room of the house and provide them with water, food, and a few familiar possessions. Keep them in a closed room while you move things in, as the process of moving boxes and furniture can be chaotic and doors can be left open. Once everything has been moved in, you can take the time to give your pet some one-on-one attention.

Dogs find routines comforting, so try to stick to the same schedule of feeding and walking in your new home. Cats will want to explore and rub their scent all over the house to claim it as their territory. A cat might attempt to return to its old home after a move, so keep it indoors for a few weeks at first.

These are just a few ways that you can make moving to a new home a better experience for your beloved pets. If you'd like more suggestions for helping your pets and family adjust to a move, call or email me with your questions.


What To Do When Your Home Doesn't Appraise At Its Purchase Price

Experienced home sellers in Marietta know that reaching a sales agreement with a potential buyer can be just the start of the negotiation process. There are often inspection issues to resolve, among other items.

One particular negotiation point which can present difficulties for both buyers and sellers is when a home's appraised value falls short of its contracted sales price.

Home appraisal remedies for home sellersSometimes, this happens because the home's price was inflated. Other times, it's the result of a faulty appraisal.

As a home seller, there are some common appraisal problems of which you should be aware. Here are some of them, and how to seek remedy so that the home sale process remains smooth.

Inaccurate comparisons
An appraiser will assign your home's value based on comparable properties and recent sale prices. However, some homes -- notably those in foreclosure; sold via short sale; or which were abandoned -- sell at a discount as compared to non-distressed properties. An appraiser may want to ignore these types of comparable homes, or make proper valuation adjustments.

Ignored market conditions
The housing market can improve quickly as we've seen in some U.S. markets since 2011. Appraisers, though, may not consider a local market's demand and its rapidly rising prices -- especially after the recent downturn from last decade. If an appraiser is not taking into account such information as multiple offer situations, low local inventory, and days on market, your home's appraised valuation may be affected.

Slow turn-around time
Appraisers operate under strict time guidelines. When an appraisal takes more time than usual, therefore, it's often the result of the appraiser's uncertainty on the home's value. This is a common scenario for unique homes for which comparable properties are scarce. It can also be the case for when an appraiser is unfamiliar with your area. If an appraisal takes an inordinate amount of time to complete, consider asking your REALTOR® to review the figures.

To err is human and appraisers make mistakes occasionally. How you handle those mistakes as a seller can be the difference between a sold home and a canceled contract.


27 Months Of Consecutive Job Growth Helping Home Prices Rise

Job growth helping housing recoveryThe Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Non-Farm Payrolls report for December exceeded Wall Street's expectations by 5,000 net new jobs, showing 155,000 positions created in December.

The December tally raised the economy's 12-month total to 1.84 million net new jobs created nationwide. Jobs added in December mark the 27th consecutive month of job growth.

Job sectors showing the strongest growth to close out 2012 included:

  • Health Care
  • Drinking and Eating Establishments
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing

Private-sector hiring is driving the jobs market, too. 168,000 new private sector jobs were added in December. Government jobs fell by thirteen thousand.

Monthly job creation has averaged +153,000 jobs since 12 months ago. It's a fine measure of growth but economists believe it's not enough job creation to significantly reduce the national unemployment rate. 14.4 percent of workers are categorized as under-employed.

December's national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, representing 4.8 million job seekers. This figure matched Wall Street's expectations and was equal to November revised unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.

The improving jobs market and national unemployment rate make an impact on both mortgage rates and Alpharetta home prices.

Job creation suggests an expanding economy, which typically leads mortgage rates higher. In addition, with more employed persons nationwide, the potential home buyer pool grows larger, which introduces new demand to the housing market. With more demand, all things equal, home prices rise.

Job growth is one reason why home values climbed more than 5 percent in 2012, according to the Federal Home Finance Agency; and why the national housing supply would be exhausted in fewer than 5 months, at the current sales pace. Demand for homes is high and today's low mortgage rates are extending buyer purchasing power in Georgia.

For home buyers, the expanding U.S. economy and steady job growth suggests that home prices may not rocket higher this year, but will continue to increase, little by little.


Choosing "Green Homes"

Green Home"Green" homes can be great for the environment and can save you money over time.

For environmentally-conscious homeowners wanting to minimize their footprint and their energy bills, there are four areas upon which to focus. 

In-Home Energy-Efficiency
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as of December 2012, buildings account for 68 percent of the nation's total energy consumption. Green homes can reduce this figure via energy-efficient appliances; well-sealed, double-glazed windows; and good insulation. Alternative energy sources such as solar panels can also reduce energy use.

Green Building Materials
Building materials are determined to be "green" based on manufacturing, shipping, and reclamation procedures, and are composed of renewable resources. Reclaimed materials such as wood from an old barn; or recovered newspapers for use in insulation are often considered to be green. Counter-tops made from recycled materials are often considered green, too. Ceramic tiles, because of how much energy is required to form them, are often not considered green unless reclaimed from a demolition project. 

Home Location And Orientation
A home for which the main living areas are facing south will be warmed by the sun in winter, and will not be overheated by the sun in summer. This is considered "green", as is proper window placement which allows for cross-breezes which can lower energy costs on warmer days. Living in proximity to work and other frequented spots can reduce automotive energy consumption, too.

Indoor Air Quality
Good air quality means promoting a safe, toxin-free environment. Using non-toxic paints in your home plus other green materials can improve air quality. Most notably because, over time, synthetic paints and materials break down, releasing harmful particles into the air.

When buying a green home in Marietta , be sure to ask questions of the seller including how the home was built, which materials were used in construction, and whether the home's appliances are Energy Star-rated.


What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : January 7, 2013

Jobs data moves mortgage rates higherMortgage rates in Marietta rose during the first week of 2013.

The fiscal cliff crisis was resolved prior to the market's opening Wednesday, when legislators voted to approve a deal. While many tax cuts were extended for taxpayers earning less than $450,000 annually, other facets of the fiscal cliff issue are yet to be addressed, including budget cuts for federal government agencies.

Investors were surprised to learn that the Fed may end its third round of quantitative easing (QE3) sometimes in 2013. The FOMC meeting minutes for December 2012 suggested that Fed support for its QE3 program has waned as the economy has improved.

First-time jobless claims increased for the week ending December 29, 2012 to 372,000 from the prior week's 350,000, worse than Wall Street's consensus opinion of 360,000 new jobless claims.

The December 2012 Non-Farm Payrolls surpassed analyst expectations, posting 155,000 net new jobs for the month. The report also showed the national Unemployment Rate rising one-tenth of one percentage point to 7.8%. When the jobless rate falls to 6.5%, the Federal Reserve is expected to begin raising the Fed Funds Rate from its current target range near zero percent.

Overall, mortgage rates rose by as much as 0.25 percentage points last week. However, because the increase occurred wholly between Wednesday and Friday, Freddie Mac's weekly mortgage rate survey failed to include it.

Freddie Mac reported the previous week's average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.34 percent for borrowers paying 0.7 percent discount points plus closing costs. The average rate for a 15-year fixed rate mortgage was 2.64 percent for borrowers paying 0.7 discount points plus closing costs.

As this week opens, mortgage rates are considerably higher.

This week's scheduled economic news includes Treasury auctions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; weekly Jobless Claims report on Thursday; and not much else. There will be planned speeches, however, from five members of the Federal Reserve, including Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker.

Fed President Lacker was the lone dissenting vote among voting FOMC members in each of last year's policy votes. 


Pending Home Sales Index Cruises To Multi-Year High

Pending Home Sales IndexHome buyers continue to push the U.S. housing market forward.

In November, for the second straight month, the Pending Home Sales Index eclipsed its benchmark reading of 100, posting a value of 106.4.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) is published monthly by the National Association of REALTORS®. It tracks homes under contract to sell, but not sold. The PHSI is relative index, comparing current contract activity to the activity of 2001 -- the first year for which "pending homes" were tallied for an index.

The Pending Home Sales Index has posted an average score of 100.2 from January 2012 through November 2012, the most recent month for which there's data. This is a significant data point because it means that the 2012 housing market is performing better than the 2001 housing market; one which is widely considered a strong one for housing.

It's also meaningful because it foreshadows a strong market for 2013. With an increasing number of homes under contract to sell, it can be assumed that "closed units" will increase in the future, too.

The National Association of REALTORS® says that 80% of U.S. homes under contract go to closing within 60 days, and that many of the remaining homes go to closing within days 61-120.

The monthly Pending Home Sales Index, therefore, can foreshadow to today's Bridge Mill buyers and sellers what's ahead for the housing market.

The Pending Home Sales Index is a forward-looking indicator.

Based on November Pending Home Sales Index, we should expect to the home resale market to remain strong, and to pick up strength, through the first quarter of 2013. Demand for homes is high, mortgage rates are low, and buyers are looking to get a good deal.

The first few months of the year are often thought to be "slow" for the housing market. This year, however, that may not be the situation. If you're actively looking for homes in Alpharetta , the best prices may be the ones you get this winter.


Post-Fiscal Cliff, Mortgage Markets Turn Attention To Jobs Data

Unemployment RateMortgage rates moved higher Wednesday up congressional leaders voted to avoid the "Fiscal Cliff".

Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) fell as investors bid up stock prices. Confidence among investors and consumers typically causes mortgage rates to rise. That's what happened Wednesday.

For Thursday and Friday, expect jobs data to dictate where Alpharetta mortgage rates are headed.

The Federal Reserve has said that the national Unemployment Rate will dictate future monetary policy, with the central banker planning to raise the Fed Funds Rate from its target range near zero percent once joblessness falls to 6.5%. Currently, the jobless rate is 7.7 percent.

As the jobs market improves, equity markets should follow, causing mortgage rates to -- again -- move higher.

Thursday's Initial Jobless Claims report has already influenced today's mortgage rates. New claims rose 10,000 to 372,000 for the week ending December 29, 2012. This is slightly higher than Wall Street expected and mortgage bonds are moving better on the news.

Now, Wall Street turns its attention to Friday's Non-Farm Payrolls report. 

More commonly called "the jobs report", Non-Farm Payrolls is a monthly publication from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, detailing the U.S. employment situation, sector-by-sector. The economy has added 4.6 million jobs since 2010 and analysts expect another 155,000 added in December 2012.

The Unemployment Rate is expected to tally 7.8%.

As more people get back to work, the nation's collective disposable income rises, which gives a boost to the U.S. economy. Furthermore, more taxes are paid to local, state and federal governments which are often used to finance construction and development -- two jobs creators in their own right.

Furthermore, as the ranks of the employed increase, so does the national pool of potential home buyers. With demand for homes high and rents rising in many U.S. cities, demand for homes is expected to grow. Home supplies are shrinking.

If you're currently floating a mortgage rate, or wondering whether it's a good time to buy a home, consider than an improving economy may lead mortgage rates higher; and an improving jobs market may lead home prices higher.

The market is ripe for a refinance or purchase today.


How To Make An Emergency Preparedness Kit For Your Home

Home Emergency KitSome natural disasters can be forecast -- hurricanes, snow storms and, in some cases, flooding. Other disasters occur unexpectedly, such as tornadoes and earthquakes. 

As a homeowner or renter in Marietta , it's a safe idea to prepare for disaster or unexpected emergency. Every home should maintain a ready, working emergency kit for such a time.

Here are some items to include in your home's emergency kit :

  • Waterproof Container : Store items in a locking, plastic container
  • Battery-Powered Radio : A small radio can receive weather updates and emergency broadcasts. Pack extra batteries, or use a hand-crank radio, instead.
  • Light Source : Pack multiple flashlights and many spare batteries. LED flashlights are more expensive than "older" flashlights, but won't lose battery power as quickly. Pack candles and matches, as well.
  • Water : Pack bottled water, storing larger bottles in a cool, separate place. Add several bottles of sport drink for variety, if desired.
  • Food : Pack non-perishable food such as canned fruits and vegetables; protein sources such as peanut butter or canned tuna; crackers and cookies; nuts and dried fruits. Remember to pack a can-opener, if needed. Include plastic utensils, if necessary.
  • Blankets : At least two blankets should be packed. Consider packing multiple sets of clothes, for different temperatures and seasons.
  • First-Aid Kit : A proper first-aid kit should include antiseptic, bandages, aspirin, an ace bandage, and allergy medicine for allergic reactions.
  • Emergency Contact List : Include a list of your local utility companies; phone numbers at which to contact friends and loved ones; and, your primary care physician's number.

After packing your emergency kit, make sure to store it in an easy-to-reach location away from power lines, power sources, and any place that may be "extra dangerous" during a crisis. For example, storing an emergency kit in a garage or a shed may be safer than storing it in a basement or in a bedroom closet.

In an emergency, a little bit of preparation can go a long way. Be prepared and be safe.