Friday, June 25, 2010

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (June 23, 2010 Edition)

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishToday, in its first meeting in 5 weeks, the Federal Open Market Committee voted 9-to-1 to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged.
The Fed Fund Rate remains within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.
In its press release, the FOMC said that, since April, "the economic recovery is proceeding" and that the jobs market "is improving gradually". Business spending "has risen significantly", too, with the exception of commercial real estate.
Today's statement is the 8th straight press release in which the Fed shows optimism for the U.S. economy, dating back to June 2009.  Since that time, the Fed has terminated all of the programs it created to support the economy through the economic crisis.
The recession is widely believed to be over.
And, although the Fed's statement acknowledged economic growth, it did highlight lingering threats, too.
  1. Employers are still reluctant to hire new workers
  2. European debt concerns could spill-over to the U.S.
  3. Bank lending is contracting
Also, as expected, the Fed re-affirmed its plan to hold the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent "for an extended period", citing that "inflation has trended lower" recently.
Mortgage market reaction has been positive thus far. Mortgage rates in Colorado are slightly improved post-FOMC.
The FOMC's next scheduled meeting is August 10, 2010.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

May 2010 Existing Home Sales Is Better Than The Headline Data Suggests

Existing Home Sales May 2009-May 2010Existing Home Sales dropped in May for the first time in 3 months but still managed to post its second-highest since November 2009, buoyed by the expiring federal tax credit program.
An "existing home" is a home that cannot be considered new construction; a resale of an existing home.  Existing Home Sales fell 2.2 percent in May.
The press is calling the drop in sales "unexpected" and disappointing, but a deeper look at the data shows the news isn't as bad as it first appears.
First, on a regional basis, sales were mostly solid. Only the Northeast region posted a loss. The West even managed a gain.
  • Northeast : -18.3 percent
  • Midwest : 0.0 percent
  • South : +0.5 percent
  • West : +4.9 percent
Second, the supply of homes for sale dropped to 8.3 in May and, because home prices are based on supply and demand, this is a positive for pricing.
By comparison, in 2008, the average existing home inventory was 10.4 months.
And, lastly, in May, first-time home buyers represented 46 percent of all buyers. The number was likely buoyed by the tax credit program but that doesn't damper the fact that first-time buyers provide a support floor for the housing market.  Keep in mind that, in a 'normal' market, first time homebuyers make up about 1/3 of homebuyers.
First-time buyers in Denver enable "existing owners" to move-up to bigger homes, which, in turn, trickles up to the mid-size and jumbo markets.
Analysts expected more from May's numbers and that may explain why the reaction to the data is generally negative.  However, in many cities, home resales did just fine.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Largest Historic Homes In The United States

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NCIn 2009, the median size of new homes started was roughly 2,100 square feet. This figure was down from 2,200 square feet between 2005-2007 which, itself, was down from 2,350 in 2004.
Homes are getting smaller across the United States.
But, as compared to the nation's largest homes, the shrinking is laughable. The Biltmore Estate, built in 1895 by George Washington Vanderbilt II, measures 175,000 square feet -- 83 times the size of a typical home today.
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina is the largest home in the country and, meanwhile, another Vanderbilt-built property built in 1895 checks in at number two. The Breakers, in Newport, Rhode Island, measures 165,000 square feet and cost $150 million to build in today's dollars, adjusted for inflation.
Both homes are open to the public.
The next three largest U.S. estates in terms of square footage are:
Hearst Castle, arguably the most famous "large home" in the country, measures 60,645 square feet and ranks 7th.
See the complete list of Largest Historic Homes In The United States, including their build date and architecture style, on Wikipedia.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Home Buyer Tax Credit Extension Has Not Been Passed Into Law (Yet)

Tax credit was not extended -- yetAs its June 30, 2010 closing deadline approaches, the federal home buyer tax credit is back in the news.
Unfortunately, the headlines are misleading.
Contrary to what you may have read (or heard), the federal home buyer tax credit has not been extended past June 30, 2010. At least not yet. And here's why there's confusion.
Look at these headlines from earlier this week:
  • Senate Extends Date On Home-Buying Tax Credit (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • U.S. Senate Approves Extension Of Home Buyer Tax Credit (NASDAQ)
  • Senate Approves Home Tax Credit Extension (Reuters)
Nothing above is factually incorrect, but each neglects a key piece of the country's law-making process -- it takes more than the Senate to pass a law. For a bill to become a law, it must pass the Senate and the House of Representatives and then it must be ratified by the President.
To date, we've only cleared just one of those 3 steps.
This means that the federal home buyer tax credit has not been formally extended. As of now, it's still in discussion.  Ultimately, though, if the extension does pass, it's expected to extend the closing date deadline for Henderson and Denver home buyers beyond the original June 30, 2010 date into September 2010.
Homeowners must still have been in contract as of April 30, 2010 to claim up to $8,000 in federal tax credits.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Good News For Sellers : Housing Starts Fall To 1-Year Low In May 2010

Housing starts June 2008 - May 2010Single-family housing starts plummeted to a one-year low in May, just 30 days after soaring to a 20-month high.  It's no wonder home builders are confused.
Against a revised April figure, Housing Starts fell 97,000 units in May, a figure representing almost one-fifth of the total market size.
It's the worst showing for Housing Starts since May 2009, a surprise to builders and economists alike.
Furthermore, single-family Building Permits plunged in May, too -- down 10 percent from April. A permit is a certification from local government that authorizes home construction.
Housing permits are a precursor to Housing Starts with 82% of homes starting construction within 60 days of permit-issuance. Fewer permits, therefore, directly reduces the number of new homes coming to market in the coming months.
For home buyers in Henderson , this should create a sense of urgency.
Home prices are based on supply and demand and supply appears to be falling about the same time that economists predict a surge in home demand.  It could spell rising home prices and a complete loss of negotiation power with home sellers.
For now, though, home affordability remains high with properties cheap and mortgage rates near all-time lows. If you plan to buy a home later this year, the May 2010 Housing Starts data may be a reason to move up your timeframe a bit.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Shopping And Paying Bills Online? Here are Methods To Protect Your Online Financial Identity

In May 2010, Retail Sales at non-store retailers topped $29 billion, up 16 percent from May 2009. Clearly, Americans are doing an increasing amount of shopping online.  And we're paying our bills online, too.
But how well are we protecting our identities?
In this 5-minute piece from NBC's The Today Show, you'll learn the basics of online fraud and methods to minimize the likelihood of identity theft.  Furthermore, the tips go beyond the basic "choose a challenging password".  For example, you'll hear about:
  • Why you shouldn't pay bills from a coffee shop
  • Who might be hiding behind an unprotected public wifi network
  • The dangers of storing credit card numbers with an online retailer
And, although, at one point, the interviewee goes over the top with respect to spyware and anti-phishing prevention, the point being made is a good one -- you can't be too careful with your online financials and common sense goes a long way.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Change Your Air Filters Monthly (But Don't Go Cheap)

3M Filtrete for HVAC units
As the mercury rises into the summer months, don't forget to change your home's air filters regularly.  It not only extends the life of your HVAC unit, but can help keep your energy costs down, too.
Not all air filters are created alike, however. Don't go cheap.
Your local hardware store carries a variety of air filters ranging in price from less than a dollar to $20 or more per filter. They're all purported to do the same job, but after watching this 1-minute video, you'll see why cheaper isn't necessarily better.
Airborne particles are smaller than most mesh filters. Pleated filters are recommended instead.

Most high-quality air filters start around $11 and can be purchased in bulk at discounts of up to 20 percent.  3M's Filtrete line of products is a popular, well-selling brand and can last up to 3 months.
If your home has shedding pets or is dust-prone, consider changing them monthly.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bank Reposessions Reach Record Levels For The Second Straight Month

Foreclosure concentration, by state (May 2010)
According to foreclosure-tracking firm, bank repossessions reached record levels for the second straight month in May, topping 93,000 properties nationwide.
As compared to May 2009, all 50 states now show an increase in annual REO activity.
Data like that won't surprise today's active home buyers in Brighton or Denver.  Foreclosed homes are prevalent, available and accounted for one-third of all home resales made in April.
Furthermore, total foreclosure actions -- the sum of REO, default notices, and foreclosure auctions in May -- topped 300,000 for the 15th straight month.
Foreclosures remain a huge influence on the housing market.
However, two interesting trends emerged in the data:
  1. 9 of the top 10 metro areas for foreclosure posted annual activity decreases
  2. Each of the top 4 states for Foreclosures per Household posted annual activity decreases
We can infer, therefore, that foreclosure activity may be in permanent decline in the areas hardest hit through 2007, 2008, and 2009.  In 2010, the data shows, foreclosures are waning.
This is reason for optimism -- especially as FHA delinquencies slow nationwide. As fewer homeowners go delinquent, the pace of foreclosures will slow further and that should help boost home values on every block in the country.
If you've been considered bank-owned homes for your own purchase, give a look at the RealtyTrac foreclosure report.  It's provides insight on a state-by-state level, and in the nation's largest metropolitan areas.

Then, to complement your research, talk to your real estate about the foreclosure market and what opportunities may exist.   Competition for bank-owned homes can be fierce at times, but there's plenty of "deals" out there.
You just have to know where to look.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Conforming Loan Costs Are Rising, Says Freddie Mac

Mortgage discount points are risingMortgage rates may be dropping, but mortgage costs are not.
According to Freddie Mac, the average required discount points on a conforming mortgage rate are higher by 0.1 percent since early-May.
A "discount point" is prepaid mortgage interest; an up-front fee paid by a borrower in exchange for a lower mortgage rate. In most cases, discount points are tax-deductible.
Tax-deductible or not, though, rising costs are rising costs and Freddie Mac glosses over it.  In its weekly press release, the government group offers mortgage rate comparisons to weeks prior, but doesn't do the same for required points.
The press fails to mention discount points entirely.
An increase of 1/10 percent in discount points costs homebuyers and refinancing households in Henderson an extra $100 per $100,000 borrowed.
The hike reminds us that there's more to a mortgage than just its rate -- costs matter, too.  And if you've only been watching the headlines, you would have missed how costs are rising.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Uncharted Territory- the End of the Tax Credit

The end of April marked an historic event.

Think about it.  Never before in American history has there been a homebuyers' tax credit.  On April 30th, it expired.
We are in uncharted territory

If you were planning on buying your first home, or even replacing the home that you had lived in for 5 of the last 8 years, you would get FREE money from the government if you were under contract by the last day of April.  That contract would have to close by the end of this month to qualify for the tax credit.

So, what impact will this have on our market?  No one actually knows.  The first deadline for the credit was scheduled for the end of November, 2009.  Eager first time homebuyers rushed to the closing table to make the November 30 deadline- in spite of the holiday weekend that bumped right into the deadline.

This time, however, the impact seemed slightly less notable.  Many houses went under contract well before the April 30 deadline, and closings were spread out over April, May and June.  There is speculation that some home sales were "borrowed" from the coming months because of the tax credit, and this certainly has some merit.  

Meanwhile, showings of for sale properties dropped.  If you are trying to sell a home, you have seen this effect.  It's time to sit tight and have patience.  

As I said, we are in uncharted territory.