Sunday, August 31, 2008

Watch the Weather Impact Mortgage Rates

Hurricane Gustav is bearing down on the Gulf of Mexico, causing mortgage rates to riseThree years to the week after Hurricane Katrina caused $81.2 million in damages, Tropical Storm Gustav is charting a similar Gulf of Mexico path.

Memories of Katrina are making oil traders nervous.  The 2005 storm shut down 30 platforms and 9 refineries.  And, this week, oil prices are up nearly 4 percent on fears that the market, once again, may be disrupted by storm. 

Mortgage rates are edging higher on the news.

The link between oil prices and mortgage rates is not a direct one, but it's worth paying attention to. 

Rising oil prices strain business and consumer budgets, creating inflationary pressures on the economy.  And at no time was this relationship more evident than in May and June of this year.  As oil prices reached new, all-time highs almost daily, Americans felt the impact each time they opened their wallets -- the Cost of Living inflation gauge reached a 17-year high in July 2008.

Inflation is the enemy of mortgage rates so as inflation rises, mortgage rates tend to rise, too. 

And this is one reason why mortgage rates are ticking higher this morning -- there is an overriding fear that Gustav will strengthen into a full-fledged Hurricane before making landfall, causing damage to oil refineries and shipping ports around the Gulf of Mexico.

Damage reduces oil supplies and that causes oil prices to rise.  It's basic supply and demand.

Gustav is expected to make landfall Monday or Tuesday.  If the storm continues on its path, we may see mortgage rates continue to trend higher.  If the storm dissipates, rates should reverse.

Friday, August 29, 2008

More Proof Real Estate is Local!

Real estate requires local analysis -- not nationalStories on TV about the national real estate market are misleading to Americans.

This is because there is no such thing as a "national real estate market".

Consider the latest American Housing Survey. It found that there are 124,377,000 homes in America spread across:

  • 50 states, with
  • More than 30,000 incorporated cities, and with
  • An innumerable number of neighborhoods

And yet, the media repeatedly groups all 124 million homes into one giant lump and then gives an analysis. No matter how you slice and dice the data, a home in Oregon can't be compared to a home in Mississippi.

This is why national real estate statistics are somewhat useless.

To get real estate analysis that matters, look local instead. And I don't mean stats from your state -- I mean stats from your neighborhood. It's the only way to know what's driving home prices on your street.

Unfortunately, finding local data like this isn't easy; it's far too narrow to be covered by the press. So, the best place to get local real estate data is from a local real estate agent or from somebody else with access to raw real estate data in and around your neighborhood.

By talking to "in the market" professionals that know your backyard, you'll get a much clearer picture of your local market -- good or bad -- than the national media could ever provide.

Real estate is a local market so your real estate data should be local, too.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Homeowners Benefit from Lower Housing Starts!

Housing starts are down and that may be good news for home sellersHousing Starts measure the number of new housing "units" on which construction has started and in July, Housing Starts fell to its lowest levels since March 1991.

For homeowners, this is a welcome bit of good news because as fewer homes are built, there is less inventory from which home buyers can choose, making their homes a more important part of the existing home inventory.

With fewer homes for sale, the supply-and-demand curve shifts in favor of home sellers and this adds a support floor for home prices. In addition, with less new construction , those homes built in the past few years become more attractive to potential home buyers who are looking for the newest home possible.

For home buyers, though -- and for the opposite reason -- the low number of Housing Starts may not be as welcome.

With fewer new homes on the market, owners of "used" homes may feel less pressure to lower their asking prices or to make other concessions to interested buyers. This means that home buyers may pay more for a home, or get fewer "throw-ins" on the contract.

For all of the hocus-pocus that surrounds real estate data, in the end, home prices are based on the supply of homes versus the demand for homes. When supply outpaces demand, home prices fall.

Homebuilders learned this lesson and July's Housing Starts data supports that.

(Image Courtesy: Wall Street Journal Online)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mortgage Insurance Rates on the Rise

Mortgage insurers are losing money and passing it on to homeownersPrivate Mortgage Insurance (PMI) is an insurance policy paid to a lender in the event that a homeowner defaults on his home loan.

With the growing number of mortgage defaults nationwide, mortgage insurers are finding their balance sheets under attack and their revenues in the red.

So far this year, mortgage insurers have paid out $6 billion in claims.

In response to the losses, the mortgage insurance industry is using two tactics to return to profitability -- and both mean bad news for homeowners.

  1. Raise the minimum standards to get insurance
  2. Raise the annual mortgage insurance cost

This is very similar to what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are doing to shore up their respective balance sheets; lending to only the most credit worthy, and making sure to charge them for their commensurate risk.

Because of the higher PMI rates, it's getting more expensive for small-downpayment home buyers to finance their homes. And that's if they can even still get mortgage insurance.

Some mortgage insurers now require a 10 percent minimum downpayment in certain states.

So with the number of mortgage defaults expected to rise through 2009, qualifying for PMI should get more expensive and more difficult. If you plan to make a small downpayment on your next home -- or plan to remortgage your current low equity home -- consider moving up your timeframe.

It may not be as cheap or as easy to get financing as it is today.

(Image courtesy: The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Your Purchasing Power Just increased!

PPI is up 9.8 percent since last year, but expectations for a drop are keeping mortgage rates in checkThe Producer Price Index is a business inflation meter and it's now up 9.8 percent annually.

This is a huge number for PPI and represents the highest year-over-year rate of inflation since 1981.

Normally, blowout inflation like this would be terrible for mortgage rates but mortgage markets are actually improved since last Tuesday's data release.

Usually, a rocketing PPI would create an inflation expectation on Wall Street which would, in turn, cause mortgage rates to rise, impacting home affordability.

Yesterday, however, that's not what happened.

Upon the PPI release, Wall Street looked at the 9.8 percent number and simply shrugged it off. "Of course PPI is high," traders thought. "Did you see how high energy costs were last month?"

Traders know that in July, oil prices reached an all-time high of $147.27 per barrel and, since then, crude is down more than 20 percent. Because of this, Wall Street has now turned its attention to the August PPI data, thinking it will much more calm than July's.

In other words, instead of fearing inflation, traders believe the worst of it is over, providing an unexpected boost to home buyers in need of mortgages. As inflation expectations fall, mortgage rates are following suit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

REALTOR Code of Ethics - Articles 4, 5 and 6

More of the ongoing series of videos about the REALTOR Code of Ethics. Articles 4, 5, and 6 discuss the REALTOR's obligations to Clients and Customers.

In this Centennial Year, the Code of Ethics is an ever more important part of the REALTOR legacy. Consumer's rights are protected by the Code as administered by the local Association of REALTORS. In the Philadelphia area, that association is the Greater Philadelphia Association of REALTORS, one of the Charter Associations of the National Association of REALTORS.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Getting" the Pending Home Sales

The Pending Home Sales Index shows that buyer demand is rising and that is good for the real estate marketWhen home sellers accepts a contract on MLS-listed property, the property's official status changes from "Active" to "Pending".

By measuring the number of "Pending" homes nationwide, the National Association of Realtors® publishes its once-monthly Pending Homes Sales Index.

The real estate industry group positions the report as a predictor of future home sales activity, stating that 80 percent of homes under contract will "close" within 60 days, and most others will close within 120 days.

But, although using the Pending Home Sales report as a crystal ball may be its intended use, it may not its best use. 

This is because of the index's methodology:

  1. It doesn't measure new construction homes
  2. It doesn't track For Sale By Owner properties
  3. Its sample set covers just 20 percent of MLS transactions

In addition, in a tough mortgage climate such as the one we're in now, a greater percentage of pending sales will fail to close at all because of lack of financing.

The Pending Home Sales Index still has its place, however -- it's a terrific look at the buy-side demand for homes. 

When the Pending Home Sales Index is rising, we can infer that more buyers in the market for homes and this is a signal of market strength.  After all, pending sales can't happen unless there are buyers out there.  And with more buyers competing for homes, home prices tend to rise.

This is why the June's Pending Home Sales report is so intriguing. 

In June -- for the second time in three months -- the Pending Home Sales Index posted a large gain even as economists were calling for a loss.  The inference here is that buyers are not only finding good value in all four regions of the country, but are willing to make bids on homes listed for sale.

Now, again, the uptick doesn't mean that the pending sales will necessarily close, but it does tell us that more home buyers are finding "now" to be a good time to buy real estate.

That sort of insight is what make the Pending Home Sales Index worth tracking.  When buyer demand is rising, the real estate market isn't usually far behind.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Leaky Toilets Cost Fortunes!

Hydroclean prevents toilet bowls from over-filling, saving 1,000s of gallons of water per yearAny plumber will tell you -- toilets are among the least efficient appliances in a person's home.  20 percent of them leak up to 200 gallons of water per day -- the equivalent of an 80-minute shower.

At an average cost of $2 per 1,000 gallons, the EPA estimates that homeowners literally flush $146 of water down the drains each year.

But toilets also waste money by overfilling with water; even low-flush varieties waste 32 ounces per flush.  Because of overfills, an average household of 4 people with 2 toilets squanders an additional 6,575 gallons of water in a calendar year, or $13.15.

Enter the $15 HydroClean toilet valve.

Built by a plumber, the HydroClean product prevents toilet overfills, detects leaks, and cleans the toilet tank for you.  It installs in 5 minutes and the Web site says no special skills are needed.

Within the next 5 years, 36 states expect to suffer water shortage.  Using HydroClean, you can help conserve water and conserve dollars.

HydroClean is available at retail stores and online.

Drinking Water Costs and Federal Funding, June 2004

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fannie Mae Fees May Increase Buyer Costs

Fannie Mae added new Adverse Market Delivery Charges and Loan-Level Pricing AdjustmentsFannie Mae announced a new risk-based pricing model and additional mortgage delivery fees this week, adding to the cost of buying a home.

Risk-based pricing was first introduced by Fannie Mae this past April. It added new, mandatory loan fees for high-risk borrowers while rewarding a small group of low-risk borrowers with fee credits.

In the updated model, even 720 credit scores with a 20 percent downpayment won't protect mortgage applicants from the risk-based fees and they can range as high as 2.750 percent, depending on credit scores and downpayment size. 

Fannie Mae will continue the practice of rewarding high-downpayment borrowers with fee credits.

Fannie Mae's second pricing change involves the Adverse Market Delivery Charge and it is not risk-based -- it applies to all applicants equally. 

First introduced in December 2007, Adverse Market Delivery Charges are mandatory surcharges on all conforming mortgages.  The fee was initially a quarter-percent.  It's now doubled to 0.500 percent.

Combining risk-based pricing and delivery fees, mortgage applicants have two choices to pay them:

  1. As a one-time fee, paid at closing, payable to the lender
  2. As an interest rate increase, payable month-after-month to the lender

The one-time fee is calculated by multiplying to fee amount by the applicant's loan size and dividing by 100.  The interest rate increase is calculated as a general rule, where each 0.500 percent in fees can be substituted for a 0.125 percent increase to a mortgage rate.

The fees become "official" October 1, 2008, but lenders are expected to deploy them much sooner.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New conforming mortgage guidelines threaten owners of second homes and investment properties

Conforming mortgage guidelines are the Home Loan Rule Book, delineating between applicants that approved for a mortgage and those that do not.

Effective today, the rule book just got a little bit tougher.

According to Fannie Mae, homeowners converting their primary residence into a second home or investment property will be subject to additional underwriting scrutiny. Fannie Mae is leery of lending to people that may be over-extended.

The complete underwriting update is available at the Fannie Mae Web site but some of the more important points are summarized below, divided into Second Home and Investment Property.

Second Home Guideline Changes

  • Without 30 percent equity in the second home, mortgage applicants must have 6 months worth of PITI reserves for both properties in their bank accounts.
  • With 30 percent equity, the PITI reserve can be reduced to 2 months.

Previously, there was no minimum reserve requirement. Now, a second home buyer needs to know that they can carry that property for a period of time with their current savings.

Investment Property Guideline Changes

  • With 30 percent equity in an investment property, 75% of the monthly rental income can be applied toward the applicant's monthly household income.
  • Without 30 percent equity, rental income may not be applied to the applicant's monthly household income and 6 months PITI is required for both properties.

Previously, 75% of the rental income was allowable regardless of equity, and minimum reserve requirements were 2 months. Due to the number of "investors" who bought property without equity, and then walked away from the properties when they were unable to rent them, some method of involving the investor in the success and failure of the investment was sought.

Even though just a small percentage of Americans own second homes or investment properties, the conforming mortgage guideline changes impacts homeowners everywhere.

Changing mortgage guidelines impact the supply and demand curve for housingThis is because more restrictive guidelines lead to two separate, but concurrent, outcomes:

  1. The demand for homes reduces because fewer buyers qualify for mortgages
  2. The supply of homes increases because fewer sellers can refinance into more affordable home loan

Less demand and more supply places downward pressure on home prices.

Now, remember that mortgage guidelines continuously evolve and what's accurate as August 1, 2008, may not be accurate six months down the road. In other words, confirm what you're reading about mortgages online with your loan officer before making any real estate-related decisions.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Capital Gains Tax Change

The new housing law changes the capital gain exclusion rulesMonday, President Bush signed the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 into law and the press jumped on the obvious storylines:

  • First-time home buyers get a $7,500 purchase "credit"

  • Conforming loan limits move to $625,000

  • Delinquent homeowners get a lifeline from the FHA

  • Local governments get federal money for buying and restoring foreclosed homes

However, tucked away on the last few pages of the text, in a section called "Revenue Offsets", there's an important tax implication. The new housing law changes the way in which capital gains exclusions are calculated on the sale of a residence.

Under the old system, a taxpayer was entitled up to $250,000/$500,000 of tax-free gains from the sale of a home if filing separately/jointly provided he lived in the residence for at least 2 of the preceding 5 calendar years.

Savvy homeowners exploited this verbiage, moving from home-to-home every 2 years to avoid paying capital gains, especially in states where the prices were rising so rapidly that they could make tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in that short 2 year window.

The new law thwarts this tactic.

Capital gains exclusions are now calculated by taking the capital gains on the sale of the home and multiplying it by a ratio of how long a person has lived in a home, by how long that person owned the home.

In the example above, a person living in a home for 2 of 5 years would be entitled to 40 percent of tax-free gains on a home sale instead of all of it. Therefore the impact on home buyers who are not planning on relatively short term moves (under 5 years) will be minimal. Like many other of the bill's provisions, the lawmakers attempted to direct this bill to relief for the home buyer who is trying to find a place for their family, and not the real estate investor or "flipper". As always, however, it's best to talk with a qualified accountant about how tax code changes may impact you personally.

The new capital gains rules go into effect starting January 1, 2009.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Freddie Mac's SEC Filing : Makes Buying a House In Philly Today's Concern

Freddie Mac may be raising loan fees on all of its guaranteed mortgagesSometimes, the hardest part about news is knowing where to find it.

In its filing with the SEC last week, Freddie Mac stated that it will "pursue increases" to its middleman fee. This would likely make buying a home more expensive for every conforming borrower in the country.

The exact verbiage from the filing is extremely opaque and unless a person knew what things like "delivery fees" were, or "bulk and flow transactions", he'd be inclined to skip right over the offending passage, tucked away on Page 72 in a paragraph labeled Business Outlook.

But, if we paraphrase the passage and simplify it for laypersons, it reads something like the following:

We didn't charge enough fees in 2007 to account for the massive number of defaults. We don't plan to make that mistake again in 2008.

Strangely, in the entire 1,394-page filing, this passage is the only mention of "future default costs" leading to more loan charges. In other words, it's easy to see why this story didn't get picked up by the major news outlets.

To the media, the major angle in Freddie Mac's filing was that it registered to sell $10 billion worth of securities. For everyday Americans, though, the major story was a different one -- mortgage fees may never be as low as they are today.

Therefore, if you know that you'll need a new, conforming home loan soon -- for either a home purchase or a refinance -- consider moving up your timeframe. Whether rates rise or fall, it's likely you'll pay a more money to borrow money only because you waited. And combined with Philadelphia's rating by Forbes Magazine as one of the 10 Best Places to Buy in the US, going out and finding the right home today is the smart move.

The implied fee increase would be the third this fiscal year, following increases in December 2007 and in April 2008.