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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