Sunday, December 28, 2008

RE-FIs May Slow CLosings on Sales

Underwriting turntimes plus the Holiday Season put 45-day rate locks into focusIn late-November, the Federal Reserve pledged $600 billion to buy mortgage-backed securities. The announcement drove down mortgage rates and started the Refi Boom.

Then, the Federal Reserve made a second series of statements after its scheduled meeting last Tuesday, causing mortgage rates to plunge again. This started the Refi Boom's second wave.

Because of the surge in refinance activity, mortgage lenders are "backed up"; initial file reviews are taking up to 12 business days in some cases.

Typically, this process takes 2 days.

Underwriting delays are problem for refinancing Americans because when a mortgage rate is locked, it's most often locked for 30 calendar days -- the standard Rate Lock Agreement contract length. If the mortgage doesn't close within those 30 days, the applicant must either pay an "extension fee" to preserve the lock, or risk losing the rate altogether.

30 days may seem like a long time, but let's consider a few external variables:

  • December 24, 25, and 26 plus January 1 and 2 are lost to holiday
  • December 27, 28 plus January 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, and 18 are lost to weekends
  • January 19 is lost to federal holiday
  • 3 days are lost to the Right To Cancel clause

This leaves 13 days to get from Application to Closing, and of those 13 days, 12 of them are being spent on the initial review. 30-day rate locks, therefore, may be inadequate with some mortgage lenders. A 45-day agreement may be required instead.

Typically, 45-day rate locks carry higher rates or higher fees, versus their 30-day counterparts. This amounts to a "tax" on borrowers, a result of the nation's rush to refinance en masse. It also may preclude a homebuyer's ability to close in 30 days.

As always, the best way to preserve a rate lock is to be as responsive as possible to the process. Return paperwork when asked, schedule appraisals immediately, and arrange to signing closing paperwork on the first available day.

With mortgage rates low, application volume -- and underwriting turntimes -- should remain high into early-2009, so the actual impact on sellers is probably going to be minimal, but should be considered by sellers and buyers.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Simple Real Estate Definitions:Refinance

The 1003 -- a mortgage applicationA mortgage is a contract between a lender and borrower, defining the terms by which a home loan must be repaid. 

The paperwork, signed by both parties, includes provisions for things like:

  • The interest rate
  • The length of the loan
  • The amount of money to be borrowed

But, like all loans, a mortgage loan can be paid off at any time.  So, when market interest rates fall, homeowners will often exercise their right to an "early payoff" by securing a new loan that pays off the old one.

This process is most commonly known as a refinance.

A refinance is the changing of the loan terms against a property, often for a better interest rate or a lower monthly payment.  When the refinance process is complete, the original lender's loan is paid in full using the money from the new lender's loan and the former's relationship is officially terminated.

There's no rule against how many times a person can refinance, nor is there an easy way to determine whether or not a refinance makes sense.  In general, if you can reduce your monthly payment while limiting your closing costs, to refinance is a smart decision. 

However, there are other reasons to refinance, too, including:

  1. To convert from an ARM into a fixed rate mortgage (or vice versa)
  2. To extract equity for paying off third-party debts or for cash
  3. To extend a loan from 15 years to 30 year for payment relief

Because there are fewer third-parties involved with a refinance, it's often simpler and less expensive than a comparable purchase transaction.  The paperwork stack is often smaller, too.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Low Rates + Too Many Houses= Opportunity

Existing Home Sales fell below the 5-million trendline in November 2008

For the first time in over a year, the sales of "used homes" fell below the 5-million unit trendline, helping to push the total home inventory higher by 0.1 percent nationwide.

Based on the rate at which homes are selling nationwide, it would take 11.2 months for the existing housing supply to be exhausted. In our market, the existing housing supply would be exhausted well before that benchmark.

For home buyers, this is an opportune time for negative news on housing.

First, sellers know that between now and the Super Bowl, housing activity will be light. The general scarcity of buyers may force a seller to accept a bid he wouldn't have accepted otherwise.

Second, the economy is showing weakness and that, too, can concern a home seller. Buyers are less likely to extend themselves during times of economic uncertainty, further reducing the buyer pool and, again, putting pressure on the seller to "make a deal".

And lastly, because the government has been trying to force mortgage rates down as a way to stimulate the economy, the weak housing data is actually making it cheaper to finance a home. This means that a well-qualified home buyer can better stay within budget.

Each 0.500 percent rate reduction saves $33 per $100,000 borrowed.

It is important to remember, though, that the U.S. housing market is not national -- it's highly localized. This is one reason why national real estate reports can be misleading. Just as figures from Phoenix have little to do with statistics from St. Paul, even data from neighboring ZIP codes can vary. In our marketplace, prices have not been adversely effected, even though the number of homes sold in 2008 was less than in 2007.

The universal truth, however, is that a home that is priced fairly will sell more quickly than a home that is not. And, until the Super Bowl passes in 45 days, expect fewer buyers to be out there competing for them.

(Image courtesy: The Wall Street Journal Online)

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Explaining the Federal Reserves latest Moves

The Federal Reserve lowered the Fed Funds Rate to near 1.000 percent December 16 2008

The Federal Open Market Committee voted to cut the Fed Funds Rate by at least three-quarters percent December 16th. The benchmark rate now rests in a range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC identified three key economic sectors in which activity has weakened since October. The FOMC noted that:

  1. The U.S. job market is deteriorating
  2. Consumer spending levels are falling
  3. Business investment is contracting nationwide

The Fed intends its rate cut to provide stimulate to each of these areas.

In addition, the voting members of the FOMC singled out inflation as a diminishing threat to the economy. This is an important admission because it's well-known that cuts to the Fed Funds Rate can spark inflation. Rapidly falling oil prices and commodity costs, therefore, likely paved the way for today's historic cut.

In its announcement to markets, the Fed gave The People what they wanted -- a reassurance that the policy-making group would "employ all available tools" to help turnaround the economy. Lowering the Fed Funds Rate to an all-time low is one such step; its plan to purchase mortgage-backed debt in the open market is another.

With the promise of lower rates, and the abundance of inventory, buyers are seeing an unprecedented opportunity to create stability for their families and utilize their increased buying power to obtain secure housing and future financial benefits by owning their own home

Parsing the Fed Statement
The Wall Street Journal Online
December 16, 2008

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Philadelphia's Housing Market OMG I'm their Expert!

The City of PhiladelphiaImage via WikipediaLike everyone, I spend part of my day at the computer, reading news, looking at my emails, and deciding which of them to read.

Since I subscribe to a number of publications on-line, I have to pick and choose the ones that get my attention first. SO this morning, as I was reviewing that I looked at my RealtyTimes headlines to see a headline reading, "Hot Market: City of Brotherly Love Grows Jobs". Obviously, as the CEO of Philadelphia's largest Century 21 firm, this is news I can use, so I jump right on the link and start reading the article, figuring that here is additional information for our agents to share with potential buyers.

As I read the article the second paragraph jumps out at me;
Blogger and real estate broker Bill Lublin says, "In Philadelphia, our real estate market has seen some decline in the number of homes sold through the MLS this year, but a remarkable stability in price. Combined with the affordable interest rates available to buyers to day, our city is poised (according to Smart Money Magazine) for a housing recovery."

I'm crushed! How do I quote myself to my agents? But the article goes on the retrieve its value by quoting a Philadelphia Business Journal article quoting a Brookings Institution study. entitled "Recent Immigration to Philadelphia: Regional Change in a Re-Emerging Gateway". Gateway cities are defined as cities where there are substantial immigrant popultions, and this study showed that This article showed that there has been tremendous growth in immigrant population, providing data showing that 75 percent of Philadelphia's labor growth over the past 8 years came from our immigrant population.

The article went on to note that Philadelphia's job growth was the 6th largest in the country, and that our prices were relatively flat , with little decline since last year, bucking the national trend and providing additional security for Philadelphia area home buyers.

So in the final analysis,even if I am the expert they quoted, , the good news they reported had solid and substantial roots in common sense for Philadelphia's home buyers. What a relief!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Unemployment Increases and so Does Housing Affordability

The economy shed 533000 jobs in November 2008According to the government, American businesses are cutting staff at an accelerated pace, most recently paring 533,000 jobs this past November.

It's the largest one-month decline since December 1974 and raises the year-to-date job losses to 1.9 million workers.

However, there is a silver lining in the data for all Americans -- both employed and unemployed.

With each piece of negative news about the economy, Washington is more likely to pass new stimulus packages to the benefit of household budgets.

On one front, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has already alluded to further Fed Funds Rate cuts at the Fed's two-day meeting starting December 15. Because the Fed Funds Rate is directly tied to Prime Rate, any cut in the benchmark lending rate would lead "floating" interest rates lower on home equity credit lines and other revolving debt.

And this talk from the Fed also comes on the heels of its $500 billion pledge to buy mortgage-backed bonds. That demand-shifting move was announced last week and drove mortgage rates lower. It also marked the official start of the refinancing boom.

And, lastly, Capitol Hill is already responding to the jobs data with calls for "urgent" action. It's a vague term, to be sure, but history has shown that Congress could pass any number of measures, each meant to put more money into household budgets nationwide.

The U.S. is in a verified recession and Washington is throwing the kitchen sink at it.

The end result is that today's job data is a non-event of sorts for active home buyers. Mortgage markets expected a poor reading and they got it. Normally, data like this would cause mortgage rates to spike but this is not a normal market.

Now, with markets expecting additional stimulus, mortgage rates are edging lower today with hopes of an economic rebound.

Employers cut 533,000 jobs in Nov., most since 1974
Barbara Hagenbaugh
December 5, 2008, USA Today

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lower Gas Prices Helps Sell Houses

Gas prices are down for 78 consecutive days as of December 3 2008For the 78 consecutive days, gas prices fell nationwide through December 3rd. At $1.81 per gallon, the average price at the pump is less than half what it was at its peak in July.

And although gas prices vary by locale, the cost of a fill-up is worthy of national news.

The main reason why national gas prices matter is because of something called the Wealth Effect -- people's tendency to spend more money when they have a perceived feeling of being worth more.

Low gas prices can amplify the Wealth Effect, leading to higher levels of consumer spending nationwide -- the primary driver of the U.S. economy.

But more important than the Wealth Effect is the reverse Wealth Effect. That's when consumers have a perceived feeling of being worth less and their spending reflects it. This past summer is a terrific example of it.

Soaring gas prices, Wall Street troubles, and negative campaigning constantly reminded Americans of what was wrong with the economy. It follows, therefore, that retail sales figures plunged in September and October. Once the election passed, however, and gas prices fell, a gentle optimism returned.

Not surprisingly, consumer confidence rose in November.

All of this matters to real estate because as Americans regain their confidence and feel more "wealthy", they will be more likely to make "move up" purchase, buy new home appliances, and take other actions that propel the economy forward.

Oh, and mortgage rates trolling at 3-year lows certainly helps, too.

(Image courtesy:

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Monday, December 8, 2008

HGTV Automates the Paint Swatch

Use the Color Picker for the perfect 60-30-10 combination

When choosing a room's paint colors, Interior Designers follow the 60-30-10 Rule.

The 60-30-10 Rule says that color usage in a space should be based on percentages:

  • 60% of the room should be a dominant color
  • 30% of the room should be a secondary color
  • 10% of the room should be an accent color

It's a design method used by the world's top designers and featured in countless design magazines. But, you don't have to spend money on a professional to get your color combinations right.

Courtesy of HGTV, the Choose Color tool shows 39 off-the-shelf palettes and uses them to apply the 60-30-10 Rule to actual rooms in a house. The interactive tool also features in-line design tips to make the most of your space and budget.

Visit HGTV to color your rooms and learn more about good design.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Existing Housing Sales Stable!

12-month history for Existing Home Sales ending in October 2008In real estate, the term existing home refers to a "used" property; one that can't be classified as new construction.

The number of existing homes sold each month is tracked by the National Association of REALTORS. The report is often used as a gauge for the health of the real estate market nationwide.

In October, nearly 5 million existing homes sold across the U.S. This figure represents a slight drop from September's reading, and a equally slight drop from the October 2007 data.

But, October's Existing Home Sales figures marked the 14th straight month in which Existing Home Sales straddled 5-million units. This is a remarkable statistic because 14 months of anything is a pattern, not a blip. Despite what the news tells us, Americans are buying and selling real estate at a somewhat steady clip.

In Philadelphia, our real estate market has seen some decline in the number of homes sold through the MLS this year, but a remarkable stability in price. Combined with the affordable interest rates available to buyers to day, our city is poised (according to Smart Money Magazine) for a housing recovery. Smart buyers who can should be out there buying right now.

As we head into the Holiday Season, buyer activity should slow, reducing demand for homes. At the same time, however, widespread foreclosure moratoriums should reduce the number of homes available to buy. These forces should counter-act to help keep the market (and prices) in balance.

(Image courtesy: USA Today)

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Deflation and What it Means -

Plunging consumer prices brings on fears of deflationBusiness television and newspapers have made deflation a hot topic this week and, since Monday, Google has tracked 13,000 mentions of it.

Deflation is a recurring cycle in which the prices of goods and services fall. Isolated to one industry or sector, falling prices is the natural result of competition.

For example, when DVD players were first introduced, they were tagged at $800.

Today, you can buy them for less than $20.

Across many industries, however, and happening at the same time, falling prices can shut down the economy. Rather than buy things on the cheap, people stop buying anything at all. And why would they? The same items will cost less tomorrow.

And this is the problem with deflation -- it halts consumer spending and consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the U.S. economy. When it stops, the economic result is dwindling corporate revenues which leads to:

  1. Layoffs of the workforce, which leads to...
  2. Less consumer spending, which leads to...
  3. Dwindling corporate revenues, which leads to...

And the spiral continues.

Deflation can be much more insidious that its expansionary counterpart -- inflation. Inflation is when the prices generally rise over time and it's an economic condition through which governments can comfortably navigate. Deflation, on the other hand, is more rare and, therefore, fewer practical control measures exist.

Whether the U.S. economy will slip into deflation is a matter of debate.

The Fed has cut the Fed Funds Rate to promote economic growth and those changes can take up to 12 months to work their way through the economy. Deflationary pressures we're seeing today, in other words, may have already been addressed and corrected by Ben Bernanke's 10 rate cuts in the last 14 months.

Until the market figures it out, though, expect that each mention of deflation will hurt the stock market and help the bond market -- including the mortgage-backed variety. This should help lower mortgage rates and make homes more affordable.

(Image courtesy: The Wall Street Journal)

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Vacuum cleaners are meant clean our homes, but in addition to picking up dirt, dust and mites, most vacuum cleaners also spread harmful bacteria.

As revealed in this this 4-minute video from NBC's Today Show, E. Coli, salmonella and other virus-causing entities are commonly found on vacuum cleaner under-bristles and, in some cases, bacteria can be 100 times more concentrated than on a public toilet seat.

The video goes on to give some general rules to limit indoor germ exposure -- some more practical than others. The rules include:

  • Avoid wearing shoes indoors
  • Wash your hands after playing on the carpets and rugs
  • Don't stop vacuuming

And, of course, having the right hardware can help, too.

If it's time to replace that old vacuum, start your search online with a discount store like Most online sites will have a wider selection than your local hardware store and shipping is usually free.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2009 Jumbo Loan Limits

2009 Conforming Loan Limit TableFor the 4th consecutive year, the government has set the conforming mortgage loan size limit at $417,000.

A conforming mortgage is one that, quite literally, conforms to the mortgage guidelines set forth by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

The 2009 conforming loan limits, as released by the government, are:

  • 1-unit properties : $417,000
  • 2-unit properties : $533,850
  • 3-unit properties : $645,300
  • 4-unit properties : $801,950

Loans in excess of conforming loan limits are more commonly called "jumbo", or "super jumbo" home loans, depending on their size.

Out-sized mortgages like these are often more costly than their conforming-mortgage counterparts because jumbo loans are not guaranteed by the U.S. government like Fannie Mae loans are.

There are exceptions to the loan limits, however.

Left over from the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, specific, "high-cost" areas around the country have their own conforming loan limits, not to exceed $625,500. There are 59 designated high-cost regions in the U.S., most of which are in California.

Loan limits are re-assigned each year, based on "typical" housing costs around the country. Since 1980, as home prices have increased, so have conforming loan limits. As home prices have fallen in recent years nationwide, however, the conforming loan limit has not.

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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Not Caulking Your WIndows? Might As Well Leave Them Open!

Windows of a brick building in Washington DCImage via Wikipedia

If the amount of air that leaked from a typical home's gaps and cracks was measured, it would equal the amount of air that leaves through an open window.

This is why so many Home & Garden experts recommend a recaulking of your home prior to the Winter -- a solid caulk job can reduce a home's Winter energy bill by 20 percent.

In this 2-minute video from Home Depot, learn how you can to identify leaky windows, and then how to fix them using caulk, putty knives and a host of other tools. Or, if DIY is not your style, find a competent contractor online.

The project is small so the costs should be low.

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Predictions always make me uneasy. If they're correct I want them to be true right away. If they're inaccurate, I hate the false hope, but I've always felt pretty confident about the real estate market in Philadelphia.

Our market doesn't get the benefit of the huge wall street salaries that Manhattan has, nor the large compensation earned by entertainers and the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, so our peaks are not stratospheric, but our valleys are not as deep either. And obviously, our recoveries come earlier as well.

Recently Smart Money published an article about entitles "Home Prices: Now for the Good News" which had the following information;

Philadelphia bashers like to note how the city doesn’t quite keep pace with its northeastern neighbors New York and Boston. When it comes to real estate, that may be a good thing. While prices in the Big Apple and Beantown soared during the bubble years from 2003 to 2006, the City of Brotherly Love charted slow and steady growth. Over the past year, Philadelphia prices have stayed stable, while New York and Boston suffered small declines. And only 7 percent of Philly-area homeowners sold for a loss in the past year, according to Zillow—well below the national average of almost 24 percent.

The region did see some overbuilding, but employers such as pharmaceutical and other health care companies are drawing an influx of newcomers to the suburbs.

That’s especially true in Collegeville, a former bedroom community 30 minutes northwest of Philly’s city center that is now home to operations of both Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline, with mutual fund giant Vanguard just a few towns down the road. So named for the leafy campus of Ursinus College, Collegeville offers multi-acre horse farms and country estates for executive types, with more quaint accommodations in town for tweedy academics. Prudential Fox & Roach, a brokerage with about 4,000 agents in greater Philadelphia, says Collegeville prices are up 16 percent this year. “We are getting a lot of lowball offers, but we are negotiating them up,” says realtor Megan Goldstein. Other Philly suburbs are benefiting from the more traditional migration of young families from the city center. The Boyds, the couple who sold their house in town at a profit, are using the proceeds to buy a four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home in a new development in Skippack, Pa.

So it seems that once again, a third party source is telling people that Philadelphia's real estate market is a good bet - And that now is probably a good time to get out there and buy-

Its nice to be validated....

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Get your Mortgage Now - Not Later!

75 percent of banks surveyed reported that prime mortgage guideline got tougher in Q3 and Q4 2008The Federal Reserve confirmed what most of us already knew -- getting qualified for a "prime mortgage" is increasingly more difficult.

In a quartely survey of 84 banks, 75 percent of respondant banks tightened mortgage guidelines over the last 3 months for the most qualified of home loan applicants.

"Prime" is a vague term when it comes to mortgages, but, historically, a prime borrower is one that can document:

  • A well-documented credit history
  • Very high credit scores
  • Very low debt-to-incomes

Historically, banks bent over backwards to lend money to this class of borrower. Today, they're thinking twice.

The chart's steep ascent reinforces that members of all tax brackets face consequences from the current credit market turmoil. And, although some corners of credit looked poised to recover -- interbank lending, for one -- the mortgage market is yet unaffected and should be among the last to thaw.

All prospective home buyers should prepare for the likelihood that mortgage guidelines continue to toughen before they start to ease. Mortgage applicants on the cusp of being approved today will almost certainly be turned down for a mortgage in 2009.

Owning real estate can require a tremendous amount of advance planning and, sometimes, looking at the past is the best way to prepare for what's coming ahead.

According to the Federal Reserve's survey, what's coming ahead is more mortgage application scrutiny.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

How Unemployment May Make your House More Affordable

The economy shed 240,000 jobs in October 2008On the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Non-Farm Payrolls report.

More commonly, it's called the "jobs report" and the October's data is trending with the rest of 2008.

After shedding another 240,000 jobs last month, the economy has now put 1.2 million Americans out of work this year and unemployment rates have climbed to 14-year highs.

As a strange twist, though, today's weak jobs data may lead to a positive turn for the economy and for housing in 2009.

In the wake of the jobs report, members of Congress are already calling for both tax cuts and direct stimulus to reverse the course of the economy. Both of these actions would put money back into U.S. citizens' household budgets, spurring consumer spending nationwide.

Because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the economy, this would be expected to push the economy forward at a time when it natural forces are slowing it down.

In addition, markets are betting that the Federal Reserve will cut the Fed Funds Rate below its current 1.000 percent level. This, too, would spur spending because the Fed Funds Rate is directly tied to consumer credit card rates and business credit lines.

Expectations for stimulus are one reason why mortgage rates have not risen today as high as they otherwise would have if this were a "normal" market.

Mortgage rates are slightly elevated as we head into the weekend, but don't be surprised if there's a late-afternoon push that brings them lower. For active home buyers, this could help home affordability as we cruise towards the holiday season.

(Image courtesy: USA Today)

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Pesidential Election is Finally Here!

Tina Fey & Sarah Palin  side-by-side on SNLImage by TaraLivesOn via Flickr
I don't about you, but I'm really glad that election day is here.

Not because I'm so glad that my candidate might win the election, or because I think that somehow everything will get better tomorrow after the election is done and the people have made their decision. I'm not even glad about it because of the obvious historic imapct of the election - that no matter what happens today, tomorrow will be a first for our country. Either the first African American President or the First Female Vice President.

No, I'm almost embarrassed to say I'm glad today is election day becuase it may mean an end to the ongoing speculation analysis ad second guessing done by the media. Though I must admit that i Loved Tina Fey's impressions of Sarah Palin (possibly the only thing about the election I have not tired of) I am over the endless accusations and suppositions and analysis.

Maybe tomorrow, whoever it is, can possibly get started thinking about actually running the country and getting our economic problems resolved in an expeditious manner. It would be a real relief!

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Friday, October 31, 2008

If Demand is Up and Supply is Down - Are We Starting to Recover?

Versus August, September 2008 Existing Home Sales volume grew by 5.5 percentStatistics are what you make of them, but sometimes, they can provide good perspective.

For example, from its peak in 2005 to its trough in late-2007, the number of "used" homes sold nationwide plunged.

  • In 2005: Roughly 7 million homes sold annually
  • In 2007: Roughly 5 million homes sold annually

Through all of 2008, though, Existing Home Sales volume has been essentially flat. Some months up, some months down, but always hovering near the 5 million unit mark.

The data from September is no different.

For the 13th consecutive month, the number of home resales nationwide straddled the 5 million benchmark, clocking in at 5.18 million units. This tells us that everyday Americans are still buying and selling real estate at a fairly steady clip -- despite what the news keeps telling us.

Versus August, September sales volume grew by 5.5 percent.

Now, couple this two other data points and we can see that the housing market is showing multiple signs of strength:

  1. The national home supply is now down to 9.9 months
  2. The number of homes under contract is up 7.4 percent

Again, though, statistics are what you make of them. Just as there are positive signals about real estate, there are negative ones, too. The credit markets are one example of that.

But, either way, with a full year of stable sales volume behind us and stories of recovery in beat-up markets like California, we can't ignore the idea that housing may be done trolling its bottom.

It takes willing buyers and willing sellers to turnaround a market. It appears that housing may have both.

(Image courtesy: The Wall Street Journal Online)

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Phillies World Series Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Well the Phillies are the World Champions. I never thought I would be blogging about that, but here we are.

Our four major teams haven't won a championship since 1983 and that's somewhere around 100 opportunities we have missed. I was at a couple of them like the 2001 NBA playoffs against the Lakers, and the 2004 Super Bowl against the New England Patriots, and the major difference here was that at the end of the game, our entire city celebrated. Not a bad difference.
Enjoy the music of the string band that was playing at the left field entrance of Citizens Bank Park the evening that the 5th game started.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Monthly Foreclosure Rate Drops

Nationwide, foreclosures fell 12 percent in September 2008According to foreclosure-tracking service RealtyTrac, the foreclosure rate is falling nationwide. 

Versus August, foreclosures fell by 12 percent in September 2008 as more than half of the states showed month-over-month improvement. 

Most interesting in the data is that several states that led the foreclosure boom in 2007 now appear to be leading the charge out of it.

For example:

  • In Arizona, foreclosures are down 9.43 percent
  • In California, foreclosures are down 31.64 percent
  • In Colorado, foreclosures are down 6.22 percent
  • In Illinois, foreclosures are down 5.14 percent
  • In Michigan, foreclosures are down 22.43 percent

But despite September's promising data, the press is choosing to report that foreclosures are up 71 percent over the same period last year.  The data is accurate, but not necessarily relevant. 

When home buyers and sellers engage real estate markets, they rarely think in annual terms.  For them, it's about buying or selling this month, or next month, or the month after that.  When someone is "in" the market, their mentality is "right now".

In other words, annual data is more befitting of an economist, while month-to-month data is more befitting of you.  Of course foreclosures are up 71 percent since last year -- a lot has happened since then.  But on a monthly basis, signals point to improvement.

September's foreclosure data may be a signal of market recovery, or it may just be a blip.  Time will tell, really.  Either way, RealtyTrac's foreclosure data reinforces what most real estate professionals already know and that's that markets all over the country are showing signs of life.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How Will the Fed Affect the Market ?

Markets are unsure of what the Federal Reserve will do at its October 2008 FOMC meetingThe Federal Open Market Committee adjourns from its scheduled 2-day meeting today at 2:15 P.M. ET and the markets are eagerly awaiting the central bank's press release.

In it, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to address the U.S. economy, the future of credit, and the new Fed Funds Rate.

It's this last point to which mortgage rate shoppers should pay attention -- when the Fed Funds Rate falls, mortgage rates tend to rise.

The inverse relationship between mortgage rates and the Fed Funds Rate is based on the idea that cuts to the Fed Funds Rate are designed to add gas to U.S. economic engine.

In theory, over time, Fed Funds Rate cuts work to improve Corporate America's balance sheets, thereby rewarding shareholders. Therefore, when the Fed Funds Rate falls, or is expected to fall, investors often rush to buy stocks before their prices get bid up. Part of that process, of course, includes selling the "safe" parts of their portfolio which are usually loaded with mortgage-backed bonds.

If you were looking for a reason why mortgage rates tanked Tuesday while the Dow Jones added 11%, now you have it.

The Fed Funds Rate stands at 1.500% and markets are split about how far the FOMC will cut it this afternoon:

  • A "pause" is expected by 2 percent of traders
  • A 0.250% rate cut is expected by 5 percent of traders
  • A 0.500% rate cut is expected by 45 percent of traders
  • A 0.750% rate cut is expected by 40 percent of traders
  • A 1.000% rate cut is expected by 8 percent of traders

Without a consensus opinion among traders, no matter what the Fed does today, a lot of investors will be forced to rebalance their portfolios to account for their "bad bets". This will add to market volatility for sure.

Mortgage rates are calm this morning. The calm likely won't last. If you are floating your mortgage rate and want to avoid additional risk, consider locking your rate prior to the FOMC press release.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Santiago Calatrava, Architect

Architects design the world we live in and there is often so little we see of their work as the art form it truly is. Framed by Pink Floyd's music, I thought I would share with you some exceptional architecture. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Who Knows What the Future Holds?

Predicting the future has always been an inexact science but that doesn't stop the experts from tryingAs the stock market dips then jumps then dips again, it's important to remember that markets are unpredictable and nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.

Unfortunately, that doesn't stop the analysts from trying.

An obvious example comes from May of this year. As the price of oil crossed $120 per barrel on its way to an all-time high of $147, a Goldman Sachs analyst was quoted as saying that $200 oil was "likely".

It seemed like a logical conclusion at the time.

Today, though, just five months after the prediction, the analyst's "likely" scenario looks downright laughable. Oil is off by more than 40 percent since that day. And there's hundreds of examples just like this, all around us.

Every day, economic experts and analysts are on television, telling us what's going to happen in the future:

  • They tell us when housing prices will reach a bottom
  • They tell us when stock markets will rebound for good
  • They tell us what the economy will do over the next 12 months

But none of them operate with the proverbial crystal ball -- it's all on "gut".

Another example is from today's In the wake of the government's banking response, a mortgage analyst predicts 7 percent interest rates over the next six months This would represent a 1.5 percent from the recent lows.

The rate prediction may be accurate, or it may not. We won't know for another six months. But what we know today, though, is that mortgage rates are all over the place -- just like the stock market. One day up, another day down. And nobody knows what they'll do tomorrow.

Predicting the future has always been an inexact science but that won't stop the experts from trying. And the experts are wrong as often as anybody else.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Real Estate Definitions: Amortization

Amortization is what determines how much of a monthly payment goes to principal, and how much goes to interestIn the widest definition possible, amortization (pronounced: am-ohr-tih-ZAY-shun) is the scheduled process by which a loan's principal balance pays down to $0.

The opposite of an amortizing loan is an interest only loan for which there is no scheduled principal repayment schedule.

With respect to mortgages, amortization is what determines how much of a monthly payment goes to principal, and how much goes to interest. Amortization schedules are the same for all fixed rate, non-interest only home loans including 15- and 30-year fixed rate mortgages, as well as all non-interest only ARMs.

Monthly principal and interest payments on a mortgage are based on the mathematical formula above, where:

  • P = principal
  • A = payment
  • r = monthly interest rate
  • n = number of payments

Now, if you've ever paid on an amortizing home loan, you don't need to use the formula to know that mortgage amortization schedules are dramatically front-loaded with interest.

In other words, in the early years of loan, the interest due on a mortgage is relatively high versus the principal due. And, if you've ever heard someone say, "You don't pay down much of a loan in the first few years," now you know -- mathematically -- why that is.

This interest-heavy mortgage repayment schedule helps banks to collect as much loan interest as possible up-front, offsetting potential loan losses.

But, just because the bank sets an amortization schedule doesn't mean that a homeowner can't change it. In any given month, a borrower can prepay extra principal to the lender, thereby changing the formula and accelerated the loan payoff date.

There are calculators online that do the prepayment math for you, but before making extra payments, talk with your loan officer or financial advisor first. Prepaying your mortgage could trigger a stiff penalty from your lender, or put your liquid assets at risk. Prepayment is not a bad plan, but it may be a bad plan for some.

(Image courtesy: Mortgage News Daily)

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Mortgage Insurance Makes Small Down Payments Cost More

As mortgage insurance defaults rise, rates increase and guidelines tightenPrivate Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is a mortgage lender's insurance policy against highly-leveraged homeowners. It's typically required when homeowner equity is less than 20 percent at the time of closing.

With PMI defaults up 40 percent over last year, though, private mortgage insurers are taking big losses.

They're also taking outsized steps to prevent additional claims going forward and that is bad news for low-equity homeowners and home buyers.

The first PMI change new, higher insurance rates.

Like home insurers that adjust premiums after a worse-than-expected storm season, PMI insurers are raising mortgage insurance rates for all homeowners, regardless of credit history. The higher premiums are meant to offset the higher losses.

And, the second change is that some PMI firms are discontinuing coverage for "high-risk" transaction types. This includes purchases of non-owner occupied properties, and cash out refinances above 85 percent loan-to-value.

Both changes, however, point to similar conclusion about home loans: Home equity is increasingly important for today's homeowner.

PMI rates are higher than they were six months ago and the rising default rates makes it likely that rates will rise again soon. As PMI rates increase, so does the cost of homeownership for people whose lenders require it.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Go Phillies

Philadelphia: Citizen's Bank Park - Robin Robe...

Image by wallyg via Flickr

I'm a home town sports fan. I follow the Philadelphia, Eagles and the Sixers regularly. I suffer with them through all of the almost wons and the agonizing seasons because that's what Philadelphia sports fans do. But I have to admit I'm not much of a baseball fan. When I was a kid, I loved the Phillies. My Mom was a huge baseball fan, and she loved Robin Roberts and the Whiz Kids, and I loved my mom so I loved them too. (I'm actually still kind of fond of Robin Roberts - great pitcher AND a neat name). But in 1964, with a 6 1/2 game lead for the championship, the Phillies proceeded to loose 10 straight games, which went down as one of the worst "chokes" in Major League Baseball, and tore my young heart out. So I stopped following baseball for the most part.

This year, the Phillies got me back, but I have to admit that I'm hopping on the bandwagon. I'm not going to pretend to be one of the true faithful that have struggled over the past few years as they almost made it, but I am a happy guy. One of baseball's oldest franchises is fighting it out with one of baseball's newest, and they're earning their name of the "Fightin' Phillies". An underdog going into the 1st game, without home field advantage, the Phillies won the first game in the series last night. I've been a fan in Phillie too long to get too excited, but I'm back for this ride - hope its a good one!

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