Homebuilder Confidence Doubles In 12 Months

NAHB Housing Market IndexHomebuilder confidence is soaring.

For the second time in three months, the National Association of Homebuilders reports that the Housing Market Index made sizable gains. 

The Housing Market Index measures homebuilder confidence in the new construction market and is scored between 1-100. Readings above 50 indicate favorable conditions in the single-family new home market. Readings below 50 indicate poor conditions.

The Housing Market Index leaped to 35 in July, a 6-point improvement and the index’s biggest one-month gain since September 2002.

The HMI is now up 14 points this year and is more than double its value of one year ago.

The Housing Market Index itself is a composite of three separate survey questions sent to NAHB members monthly. The questions are basic :

  1. How are market conditions for the sale of new homes today?
  2. How are market conditions for the sale of new homes in 6 months?
  3. How is prospective buyer foot traffic?

For July 2012, home builders reported huge gains. Current home sales are up 6 points; sales expectations for the next six months are up 11 points; and buyer foot traffic is up 6 points.

All three survey answers made 5-year highs. Not since 2007 has sales volume and foot traffic been as strong, and over the next 6 months, builders expect a blow-out finish to the year.

It’s no surprise, either.

Low mortgage rates have lowered monthly housing payments to levels below monthly rent for a comparable home. Plus, programs such as the FHA 3.5% downpayment program continue to help first-time buyers get in homes.

There is a downside to rising homebuilder confidence, however. When builders feel more comfortable about their business and the prospects for the future, they’re less likely to make sales concessions to to offer free upgrades. If you’re shopping for new construction, therefore, consider moving up your time frame.

Home affordability remains historically high today. It may not be so tomorrow.

Foreclosure Starts Rise For Second Straight Month

Foreclosure changes June 2012

The number of U.S. homes receiving foreclosure notices topped one million through the first six months of 2012, according to RealtyTrac.

There were 1.046 million foreclosure filings between January – June 2012, says the foreclosure-tracking firm in its Midyear 2012 Foreclosure Market Report. The tally represents a 2 percent increase from the immediate six months prior.

A “foreclosure filing” includes all of the following foreclosure-related actions : (1) Default notices, (2) Scheduled auctions, and (3) Bank repossessions. 

One notable fact from within the report is that, even as the number of repossessed homes dropped nationwide, the number of homeowners receiving a Notice of Default or lis pendens rose. These notices are the first step in the foreclosure process which means that we should expect the national foreclosure pipeline to fill later this year.

It’s no coincidence that foreclosure starts are rising now, either.

Earlier this year, a $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement provided banks with the necessary framework and rules by which they can foreclose upon a home. Prior to the this settlement, fearing legal liability, some banks chose to slow — or halt — foreclosure starts entirely. Since the settlement’s announcement, though, foreclosure activity has resumed.

For today’s home buyers, the foreclosure market represents an interesting opportunity. Homes purchased while in the various stages of foreclosure can often be purchased for a lower price than homes which are not in foreclosure; one reason why foreclosed homes account for 25 percent of all home resales

However, be careful that you don’t confuse “less expensive with “less costly.

Foreclosed homes are often sold as-is and may be in various stages of disrepair at the time of purchase. Spending money to repair a foreclosed home in order to make it habitable could wipe out the money saved on its sales price. Your best real estate “deal”, therefore, may be a non-distressed home in sound, move-in ready condition.

If you’re buying foreclosures — or even considering it — be sure to talk with a real estate agent. The process of buying a foreclosed property is different from buying a “regular” home. You’ll want somebody experienced on your team.

How To Revive A “Brown Lawn”

Brown lawnsDuring summer months, a lush, green lawn can transform into a brown one within weeks. And heat, while oftentimes a catalyst, is not always the culprit.

As a homeowner, you can take precautions to minimize the likelihood of a brown lawn.

First, let’s look at the reasons why a lawn may go brown, starting with drought stress.

Drought stress is a condition caused by excessive heat and/or lack of water. Drought stress can lead to dormancy, a normal condition for grasses of all types. A good test for draught stress is to step on one of the grass’ brown patches. If your footstep remains as an imprint in the grass, it’s likely that your lawn is water-deprived.

Brown spots from drought stress appear randomly and without pattern. This is different from brown spots that may occur because a sprinkler system is miscalibrated, or because some lawn sections are shaded whereas others are exposed to direct sunlight.

Lawns which have been dormant for long periods of time may need to be reseeded.

Drought stress also reduces your lawn’s natural defenses against pests and disease. This includes plant-based pests such as weeds which can starve your grass of much-needed food and water, as well as insects such as lawn grubs and chinch bugs. 

These two forces, as well, can lead to brownout.

Lastly, your grass may be dying. Either from a lack of aeration; or, cutting grass blades too short to provide “natural shade”; or, over-watering among other reasons, your grass may not live forever and, when it dies, it’s likely to thin and turn brown.

The good news is that each of these conditions is non-permanent. You may not have stopped your lawn from turning brown, but, generally, you can nurse it back to being green.

To water a brown lawn back to health, start with a steady watering schedule — typically 2 hours every few days (approximately 1 inch of water) — and be careful not to over-water. Then, just wait. It may take a lawn 3-4 weeks to return to its natural green color.

Then, to manage weeds, use an over-the-counter herbicide. For larger weed problems, get treatment by a professional lawn care company. The same is true for pests, too. Tackle them yourself but using a lawn care company can be more efficient and effective.

Revisiting Housing Market Predictions For 2012

Revisiting predictions for 2012When the calendar flips to a new year, analysts and economists like to make predictions for the year ahead.

So, today, with the year half-complete, it’s an opportune time to check back to see how the experts’ predictions are faring (so far).

If you’ll remember, when 2011 closed, the housing market was showing its first signs of a reboot. Home sales were strong, home supplies were nearing bull market levels, and buyer activity was strong.

Homebuilder confidence was at its highest point in 2 years and single-family housing starts had made its biggest one-month gain since 2009. 

In addition, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates had just broke below the 4 percent barrier and looked poised to stay there.

There was a lot about which to be optimistic in January 2012.

Yet, there were obstacles for the economy. The Eurozone’s sovereign debt issues remained in limbo, oil prices were spiking, and the Unemployment Rate remained high — three credible threats to growth.

At the time, analyst predictions for the economy occupied both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between.

Freddie Mac said home prices would rise in 2012, for example, whereas analysts at CBS News said they’d fall. Both made good arguments.

As another example, American Banker said mortgage rates would rise in 2012. The LA Times, however, said just the opposite. And, the problem with these predictions is that each party can make such a sound defense of their respective positions that it’s easy to forget that a prediction is really just an opinion.

Nobody can know what the future holds.

A lot has changed since those predictions were made :

  • Job growth slowed sharply after a strong Q1 2012 
  • Oil costs dropped rapidly beginning in early-May
  • Spain and Italy have joined Greece as potential sovereign debt trouble-zones

Now, none of this was known — or expected — at the start of the year yet each has made a material change in the direction of both the housing and mortgage markets.

Today, home prices remain low and 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates now average 3.56% nationwide. Home affordability is higher than it’s been at any time in recorded history and, at least for now, low downpayment mortgage products remain readily available.

The experts never saw it coming.

6 months from now, the markets may be different. We can’t know for sure. All we can know is that today is great time to be a home buyer. Home prices and mortgage rates are favorable.

Fed Minutes Suggest Fiscal Stimulus Later This Year

FOMC Fed MinutesThe Federal Reserve released the minutes from its June Federal Open Market Committee meeting, revealing a Fed divided on the future of the U.S. economy. Mortgage rates are higher after the release of the minutes.

The Fed Minutes is the detailed recap of an FOMC meeting. It is the companion piece to the more brief, more well-known post-meeting FOMC press release.

For a comparison, whereas the Fed’s June 20, 2012 press release contained 5 paragraphs and 490 words, the same meeting’s minutes contain 62 paragraphs and 7,508 words. The extra detail afforded by the extra words Wall Street gives insight into the nation’s central banker.

The June Fed Minutes, for example, suggest that the Fed may soon add new economic stimulus. 

Recent data suggests that the U.S. economy is expanding, but more slowly that it was at the start of the year. The Fed acknowledged that this, in part, is the result of “below-trend” growth in Euro-area economies, plus a general slowdown in China.

The Fed also said that “strains in global financial markets” continue to pose “significant downside risks” to the U.S. economy. The Fed expects U.S. growth to “moderate over coming quarters”.

Other notes from with the Fed Minutes included : 

  • On housing : Home sales, construction and prices suggest improvement
  • On inflation : Prices are stable, and inflation will remain “subdued” through 2014
  • On new policy : Rapid fiscal tightening poses a “downside risk” to the economy

In addition, there was discussion about whether the Fed is missing its dual mandate of low inflation and low unemployment. Several Fed member discussed the need for new stimulus to raise employment and to raise the rate of inflation. This action could occur as soon as next month.

If the stimulus was enacted, mortgage rates would likely rise because inflation, in general, is a threat to low mortgage rates.

The next Federal Open Market Committee meeting is a 2-day affair scheduled for July 31-August 1, 2012. 

84 U.S. Markets Improving In July

Improving Market Index July 2012

Where economic growth goes, housing growth often follows.

That’s why it’s good news for homeowners that 84 U.S. metropolitan areas are showing “measurable and sustained growth” this month, according to the National Association of Homebuilders’ Improving Market Index.

The Improving Market Index is a derivative report, based on the results of three separate data series which examine a city’s local economy.

The data series used in the IMI are :

  1. Employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  2. Home price data from Freddie Mac
  3. One-unit building permits from the Census Bureau

The NAHB compiles this data monthly, assigning a given metropolitan area the label “improving” if the following two conditions are met. First, all three data series above must show growth or expansion in the current month.

Second, at least six months must have passed since any of the above that area’s most recent economic “bottom”.

Because of this second clause, the IMI is focused on long-term trends in city growth, singling out only those markets in which sustained economic growth is occurring. The six-month requirement causes “blips” of growth remain ignored, and uncounted. 

The July IMI showed 84 improving markets nationwide, a 4-city increase over June 2012. 11 new cities were added to the index including Jackson, Michigan; Springfield, Massachusetts; and, Houston, Texas. Seven cities fell off the list.

32 states are represented in this month’s IMI, and the District of Columbia, too.

For home buyers, there isn’t much actionable information in the Improving Market Index. We don’t see how many homes were sold in the month prior, for example. Nor do we see how quickly homes are selling in a particular ZIP code. But what the IMI can provide is a broad look at whether a local economy has found its footing. 

When economies are strong, it can create competition for homes which can drive up home sales prices. 

The complete Improving Markets Index is available for download at the NAHB website. But, for a better feel of what’s happening on a local level, talk to a real estate agent.

Home Purchasing Power Jumps To New Highs

Purchasing power grows in Q2 2012

With mortgage rates down to all-time lows, you can buy a lot more home for your money. Home affordability is at an all-time high.

According to last week’s Freddie Mac mortgage rate survey, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage has dropped to 3.62% nationwide. This is down from 4.08% in March, and down from 4.60% from one year ago.

Mortgage rates are “on sale”.

Falling mortgage rates can make one of two changes to the way a home buyer looks at properties. They can either make a given home’s monthly housing payment that much more affordable to a buyer, or they can expand that buyer’s home purchasing power to a higher, maximum price point.

Since July 2011, that maximum price point increase has been significant.

Assuming a principal + interest payment of $1,000 per month and a 30-year loan term, a category that includes 30-year fixed rate mortgages and most adjustable-rate mortgages, here’s a maximum loan size comparison of the last 12 months : 

  • July 2011 : A payment of $1,000 affords a maximum loan size of $197,130
  • July 2012 : A payment of $1,000 affords a maximum loan size of $219,409

With an increase in maximum loan size of more than $22,000 in just 12 months, it’s no wonder that multiple-offer situations are becoming more common — today’s buyers know that low home prices and low mortgage rates are combining to make home buying more affordable than at any time in recent history.

However, the buyer-friendly environment can’t last forever.

First, home prices have started to rise nationwide. Demand for homes has outpaced home supply in many U.S. markets and that leads home prices higher. Second, low mortgage rates can’t last forever.

A recovering economy will lift mortgage rates back above 4 percent, a scenario that will hit home affordability hard.

Home-buying conditions are optimal this season. If you’re in the market for a new home, talk to your real estate agent and loan officer about maximizing your home purchasing power.

Top 10 U.S. Cities For Public Parks

Park rankings by cityFor the first time in more than 100 years, the growth in America’s cities is outpacing the growth in its suburbs. 

According to the 2011 estimates of the U.S. Census Bureau, between July 2010 and July 2011, city centers grew faster than their surrounding suburbs in 53% of the nation’s largest housing markets. 

Compare this to just 9.8% during the 10 years prior.

Cities now compete with suburbs on a number of fronts including job availability, housing costs, and access to amenities, a category which includes proximity to public parks.

Parks are important to a city. Studies prove that parks help to attract home buyers, to retain retired homeowners, and to raise home values. And now, with the creation of ParkScore, it’s easy to compare park systems between U.S. cities.

ParkScore is an at-a-glance assessment of a city’s park system. Published by The Trust for Public Land, ParkScore considers “every publicly owned park space” within the nation’s largest cities and assigns an overall score based on total acreage, services provided, and access.

The maximum ParkScore is 100.

According to its publisher, the 10 cities nationwide with the highest ParkScores are :

  1. San Francisco, California (74.0)
  2. Sacramento, California (73.5)
  3. Boston, Massachusetts (72.5)
  4. New York, New York (72.5)
  5. Washington, D.C. (71.5)
  6. Portland, Oregon (69.0)
  7. Virginia Beach, Virginia (68.5)
  8. San Diego, California (67.5)
  9. Seattle, Washington (66.5)
  10. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (66.0)

ParkScore rankings place a high premium on the “percentage of city residents living within a 10-minute walk of a public park”. It’s no surprise, therefore, that some of the top-finishers included San Francisco, Boston and New York City — three cities known for their abundance of public parks.

ParkScore bottom-finishers included Fresno, California; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Louisville, Kentucky.

The complete ParkScore rankings are available at http://parkscore.tpl.org, along with each city’s score and ranking analysis.

30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Rates Fall To 3.62% Nationwide

30-year fixed rate mortgage rates30-year fixed rate mortgage rates made new, all-time lows once again this week.

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey of more than 125 banks nationwide, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell 4 basis point to 3.62% nationwide.

The rate is available to conforming, prime borrowers willing to pay an accompanying 0.8 discount points plus a full set of closing costs. A “prime” mortgage applicant typically has excellent credit, verifiable income, and at least 25% equity in their home.

And, it’s not just the 30-year fixed rate mortgage that made new lows in this holiday-shortened week, either. The 15-year fixed rate mortgage did, too, falling 5 basis points to 2.89%, on average.

The 15-year fixed rate mortgage requires 0.7 discount points plus closing costs.

Discount points are a one-time, up-front closing cost, based on loan size. If your loan requires 1 discount point, that means that your loan has a closing cost equal to 1 percent of your loan size. If your loan requires two discount points, the fee would be equal to two percent of your loan size; and so on.

So, based on this week’s Freddie Mac survey, a home buyer opening a $200,000 mortgage and paying 0.8 discount points would face to a one-time $1,600 fee to be paid at closing.

The good news is that discount points are optional. 

To avoid paying discount points, simply ask your lender for a “zero points” loan. You’ll get a higher mortgage rate than what Freddie Mac shows in its survey, but you’ll pay fewer closing costs.

Today’s low rates are terrific for both home buyers and existing homeowners looking to make a refinance. As compared last year at this time, mortgage rates are down by 98 basis points — nearly one full percentage point.

Mortgage payments are much lower today as compared to July 2011 : 

  • July 2011 : $512.64 principal + interest per $100,000 borrowed
  • July 2012 : $455.77 principal + interest per $100,000 borrowed

Today’s rates yield an 11 percent payment discount as compared to last year.

Mortgage rates are unpredictable so there’s no guarantee that low rates will last forever, much less through the summer. If today’s rates meet your household budget, consider locking something in.

Mortgage Rate Risk Ahead Of Friday Morning’s Jobs Report

Non-Farm Payrolls Since July 2010

Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its Non-Farm Payrolls report. More commonly called “the jobs report”, Non-Farm Payrolls is a monthly market-mover.

Depending on the strength — or weakness — of the data, mortgage rates will change. Perhaps sharply. Unfortunately, we can’t know in which direction.

If you’re actively shopping for a mortgage , therefore, today may be a prudent day to lock a mortgage.

The job report’s connection to mortgage rates is straight-forward. As the number of U.S. citizens earning paychecks increases, reverberations are felt through the economy.

First, higher levels of income are tied to higher levels of consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy. More working citizens, therefore, builds a larger overall economic base.

Next, as the overall economic base grows, businesses produce and sell more goods, necessitating the hiring of additional personnel and the purchase of more raw materials — both positives for the economy.

And, lastly, as more paychecks are written, more taxes are paid to local, state and federal governments. These taxes are often used to fund projects and purchase goods and services which, in turn, grow the economy as well.

Tying it all together, the health of the U.S. economy is a major factor is setting day-to-day mortgage rates. This is why rate shoppers face risk with tomorrow’s Non-Farm Payrolls report.

Between 2008 and 2009, the economy shed 7 million jobs. It has since recovered 3.9 million of them and, Friday, analysts expect to see another 100,000 jobs created in June. If the actual number of jobs created exceeds this estimate, look for mortgage rates to rise. 

If the actual number of jobs created falls short of 100,000, mortgage rates may fall.

The government releases Non-Farm Payrolls data at 8:30 AM ET Friday.