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Pending Home Sales Index Rises Back Above 100

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Pending Home Sales IndexLow home prices and mortgage rates have combined to push home affordability to record levels nationwide. Home buyers are taking advantage.

The Pending Home Sales Index rose 7 percent in November to rise to its highest level since April 2010, the last month of last year’s home buyer tax credit program. 

The Pending Home Sales Index is published monthly by the National Association of REALTORS®. It measures homes under contract nationwide, but not yet “sold”. 

In this way, the Pending Home Sales Index is different from other housing market indicators. It’s a “forward-looking” figure; a predictor of future home sales. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, more than 80% of homes under contract close within 60 days. 

By contrast, housing data such as the Existing Home Sales report and the New Home Sales report “look back”.

November marks the second straight month of Pending Home Sales Index improvement. The housing market metric made big gains of 10 percent in October 2011, as well.

On a regional basis, each part of the country showed an increase in homes under contract.

  • Northeast Region: +8.1 percent from October 2011
  • Midwest Region : +3.3 percent from October 2011 
  • South Region : +4.3 percent from October 2011
  • West Region : +14.9 percent from October 2011

However, we must discount the value of even the regional data, somewhat. Like else in real estate, the volume of homes going under contract vary by locality.

Throughout the West Region, for example, the region in which pending home sales increased the most from October, there are nearly a dozen states. Undoubtedly, some of those states performed better than others in terms of “homes under contract”, but we don’t have an indication of which states those were.

In addition, within each state, every city, town, and neighborhood realized its own unique market in November, and produced its own sales statistics.

For buyers and sellers throughout the country, therefore, it’s more important to watch data on a local level than on a national one. Reports like the Pending Home Sales Index are helpful in showing national trends, but as an individual, what you need are local trends.

For local real estate data, be sure to ask your agent.

Nationally, Home Prices Off 18.3 Percent From April 2007 Peak

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Home Price Index since April 2007 peakThe government confirms what the private-sector Case-Shiller Index reported yesterday. Nationwide, average home values slipped in October.

The Federal Home Finance Agency’s Home Price Index shows home values down 0.2% on a monthly, seasonally-adjusted basis. October marks just the second time since April that home values fell month-over-month.

The Case-Shiller Index 20-City Composite showed values down 0.7 percent from September to October.

As a home buyer , it’s easy to look at these numbers and think housing markets are down. Ultimately, that may prove true. However, before we take the FHFA’s October Home Price Index at face value, we have to consider the report’s flaws.

There are three of them — and they’re glaring. As we address them, it becomes clear that the Home Price Index — like the Case-Shiller Index — is of little use to everyday buyers and sellers.

First, the FHFA Home Price Index only tracks home values for homes backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgages. This means that homes backed by the FHA, for example, are specifically not computed in the monthly Home Price Index.

In 2007, this was not as big of an issue as it is today. in 2007, the FHA insured just 4 percent of the housing market. Today, the FHA is estimated to have more than one-third of the overall housing market.

This means that one-third of all home sales are excluded from the HPI — a huge exclusion.

Second, the FHFA Home Price Index excludes new home sales and cash purchases, accounting for home resales backed by mortgages only. New home sales is a growing part of the market, and cash sales topped 29 percent in October 2011.

Third, the Home Price Index is on a 60-day delay. The above report is for homes that closed in October. It’s nearly January now. Market momentum is different now. Existing Home Sales and New Home Sales have been rising; homebuilder confidence is up; Housing Starts are showing strength. In addition, the Pending Home Sales Index points to a strong year-end.

The Home Price Index doesn’t capture this news. It’s reporting on expired market conditions instead.

For local, up-to-the-minute housing market data, skip past the national data. You’ll get better, more relevant facts from a local real estate agent.

Since peaking in April 2007, the FHFA’s Home Price Index is off 18.3 percent.

New Home Sales Approach Bull Market Territory

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

New Home Supply 2010-2011New home inventory is approaching bull market territory.

According to the Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold rose 2 percent in November. On a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, home buyers bought 315,000 newly-built homes last month.

November’s New Home Sales data marks the 4th straight month of rising sales volume, lifting the housing-market metric to a 7-month high, and adding to the housing market’s recent show of strength. 

Last week, we learned that Existing Home Sales also climbed in November.

The big story in the New Home Sales report, though, is the remaining new home supply nationwide.

With just 158,000 homes “on the market” and the pace of home sales hastening, the complete, national inventory of “new homes” would now be sold in just 6.0 months, a 0.2-month improvement from October. This is the quickest home sales pace in nearly 6 years for the new construction market. 

It’s even faster than in April 2010 — the buyer-deadline month of last year’s federal home buyer tax credit.

Home builders expect the trend to continue, too. Buyer foot traffic is on the rise and builders have a strong outlook for the next 6 months.

It’s an unsettling series of developments for today’s home buyers. As home supplies drop and builders gain confidence, the ability of an buyer to negotiate for price reduction and/or upgrades shrinks.

If you’re a home buyer in search of new construction, therefore, consider that the best new construction “deals” of the next 12 months may be the ones you find today.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : December 27, 2011

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Existing home sales Mortgage markets worsened last week on renewed optimism from the Eurozone, additional evidence of a U.S. economic recovery, and ongoing strength in housing.

The action sparked a stock market rally at the expense of mortgage bonds, sending conforming and FHA mortgage rates meaningfully higher for the first time in more than 2 months.

Markets closed early Friday and remained closed Monday. When they re-open today, conforming mortgage rates will already have bounced off last week’s new, all-time lows.

As reported by Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 3.91 percent nationwide, with an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus closing costs. 1 discount point is equal to 1 percent of your loan size such that 1 discount point on a $100,000 loan is equal to $1,000.

It’s not just the conventional 30-year fixed that made new lows last week, either. All of Freddie Mac’s reported rates fell to new, all-time lows.

  • 30-year fixed : 3.91% with 0.7 discount points
  • 15-year fixed : 3.21% with 0.8 discount points
  • 5-year ARM : 2.85% with 0.6 discount points

These rates are no longer valid, however. FHA mortgage rates rose slightly last week, too.

This week, mortgage rates will be more volatile than usual. There isn’t much economic data on which to trade, and it’s a holiday-shortened week (again). Look for geopolitics and momentum to nudge markets forward, therefore — a potentially bad combination for today’s rate shoppers. There is very little room for mortgage rates to fall, but lots of room for them to rise.

If the stock market rallies to close 2011, mortgage rates will rise right on with it.

For now, rates remain historically low. If you’ve been shopping for a mortgage — waiting for rates to fall — this last week of the year may be your last chance at sub-4 percent, fixed-rate mortgage rates. Don’t wait too long or you might miss it.

It’s a good time to execute on a rate lock.

Pay Your Mortgage Early, Boost Your 2011 Federal Income Tax Deductions

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Increase your 2011 tax deductionsTime is running out to boost to your 2011 federal tax refund. All you have to do is make your January 2012 mortgage payment while it’s still December.

It’s a simple tax strategy that works because of how mortgage interest is paid, and of how the U.S. tax code is written.

Different from rent which is paid for the month ahead (i.e. “you’re paying January’s rent”), mortgage payments are made only after mortgage interest has accrued (i.e. “you’re paying for money you’ve already borrowed from the bank”).

This is called “paying interest in arrears” and U.S. tax code states that the mortgage interest is tax-deductible in its year paid, subject to limitations.

By making the January 2012 mortgage payment in December 2011, therefore, homeowners who itemize their on their tax returns can apply their January mortgage payment’s interest portion to their 2011’s tax returns.

The alternative is to pay the mortgage on schedule, and wait for April 15, 2013 to claim the credit.

If you choose to pre-pay your mortgage and typically send your payment via USPS, give your check ample time to be delivered to your lender, and processed. Mail your check no later than Saturday, December 24.

For homeowners that pay electronically, the process is simpler. Edit your online bill pay program to have your mortgage payment post no later than Thursday, December 29.

Make note, however. Not all mortgage interest is eligible for tax-deductibility, and not all homeowners who pay mortgage interest should itemize said interest on their tax returns.

Before prepaying on your mortgage, ask your tax professional for advice.

Home Supplies Fall To 7.0 Months Nationwide; Buyer Demand Strong

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Existing Home Supply 2010-2011

Home resales moved to a 10-month high in November, the latest in a series of strong showings from the housing sector.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, November’s Existing Home Sales rose to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 4.42 million units nationwide —  a 4 percent climb from October 2011.

An “existing home” is a home that has been previously occupied and cannot be categorized as new construction.

Home buyers and sellers should take note of November’s numbers because — behind the headlines — there’s a series of statistics that foretell higher home prices ahead.

First, the total number of homes for sale nationwide dipped to 2.58 million, an 18% reduction from November 2010 and represents the fewest number of homes for sale since February 2007. 

At the current sales pace, the complete home resale inventory would be sold in 7.0 months.

And, second, the real estate trade group reports that 33% of all homes under contract “failed” for some reason last month.

Contract failures can occur because of mortgage denials in underwriting; home inspection issues; and homes appraising for less than their respective purchase prices.

In other words, despite a reduction in the number of homes for sale, and a rash of failed contracts, Existing Home Sales volume is still on the rise.

Broken-down by buyer-type, here’s to whom home sellers were selling in November :

  • First-time buyers : 35% of home resales, up from 34% in October 2011
  • Repeat buyers : 46% of home resales, down from 48% in October 2011
  • Investor buyers : 19% of home resales, up from 18% in October 2011

Given high demand for home resales and shrinking home supplies, we should expect that home prices will rise through December 2011 and into early-2012, at least. Recent Housing Starts data supports this notion. 

Thankfully, mortgage rates remain low. Low mortgage rates help keep homes affordable.

Housing Starts Show Strength In Housing

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Housing Starts 2007-2011

The new construction housing market continues to show strength across the country.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Single-Family Housing Starts rose to 447,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis in November — a 2 percent increase from October.

A “Housing Start” is defined as breaking ground on new home construction.

November’s figures mark the third straight month of Single-Family Housing Starts gains. The new construction metric is now 15 percent above its all-time low, set in February of this year.

None of this should be a surprise to new home buyers.

Housing data has been trending better since September with sales volumes rising and home inventories falling. Basic economics tells us that home prices should soon rise.

The good news is that low mortgage rates should keep homes affordable.

Since mid-November, the average, conventional 30-year fixed rate mortgage has hovered near 4.000% nationwide with an accompanying 0.7 discount points plus closing costs. 1 discount point equals one percent of your loan size. This is down from near 4.500% six months ago, and the drop has made a big impact on home affordability. 

  • June 2011 : $200,000 mortgage costs $1,013.37 per month
  • December 2011 : $200,000 mortgage costs $954.83 per month

This represents $700 in savings per year. It’s no wonder home builders report the highest buyer foot traffic in 3 years

Meanwhile, the market shows little signs of slowing down. Building Permits are on the rise, too.

Permits for single-family homes rose to their highest levels of year in November and 89 percent of those homes will start construction within 60 days. This means that Single-Family Housing Starts should stay strong through the early part of 2012, and into the spring.

If you’re planning to buy new construction , therefore, talk to your real estate agent soon and consider moving up your time frame. With mortgage rates low and next year’s buying season approaching, you may find that the best “deals” will come within the next few weeks only.

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