Some days, newspaper headlines are a terrible place to get your real estate news.
Today is one of those days.
After the September New Home Sales report showed sales volume down from August, the mainstream media jumped on the story:
- New Home Sales fall a surprising 3.6%
- Surprise Drop In New Home Sales
- Stocks slide as New Home Sales fall
But the headlines miss the point, somewhat. Yes, home sales volume is important to housing, but it’s not as important as home supply.
A deeper look at the New Home Sales data reveals an interesting comparison point:
- New home sales volume fell 3.6%
- The number of new homes available for sale fell 3.8%
In other words, sales outpaced supply — a running theme this year and a positive signal for housing.
Since peaking in January 2009, the supply of newly-built homes has now dropped by 40 percent. The average sale price is up 15% over the same period.
This is why you can’t get your real estate news from the headlines. You have to dig a little bit deeper to get the real story.
September’s New Home Sales report was plenty strong. The housing market recovery continues.
The national housing supply fell to a 2-year low last month, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
At the current sales pace, existing home inventories would sell out in 7.8 months — 30 percent faster versus November 2008.
For a 10-month window, that’s a major housing supply reduction and it helps to explain why multiple-offer situations have been so common lately.
Moreover, the same report from NAR showed sales activity reaching its highest point since July 2007, too.
If you’re looking for evidence that the long-standing Buyers Market is ending, this month’s Existing Home Sales report might be it.
Even median sales prices — typically dragged lower by distressed and foreclosed properties — declined at its slowest pace in a year. The market may have turned a corner.
Home prices are rooted in the basic economics of supply and demand.
- When supply outweighs demand, home prices fall
- When supply lags demand, home price rise
Since March 2009, the market has been moving in the right direction. Low mortgage rates, ample housing supply and a first-time home buyer tax credit fueled buy-side demand so that home prices are now rising in many U.S. markets.
Of course we already knew all this in Orange County, California. We have been experiencing multiple offers as commonplace, in the lower price ranges, since February.
If home supplies stay on this path into 2010, expect home prices to rise even more.
For August, the Case-Shiller Index showed annual home values improving across 19 of 20 U.S. markets. It’s the first time in 3-plus years that the benchmark housing index has shown such strength.
According to a Case-Shiller Index spokesperson, “The rate of annual decline in home price values continues to improve.”
It’s yet another sign that housing may have already bottomed.
However, just because the Case-Shiller Index shows a stabilization in home values, that doesn’t necessarily make it true. This is because real estate happens on the local level and the Case-Shiller Index is more “national”. It tracks data in just 20 U.S. cities.
Homeowners everywhere else are unaccounted for.
Furthermore, even within the 20 tracked Case-Shiller markets, there’s no allowance for the natural sub-markets that exist. Some neighborhoods under-perform and some neighborhoods out-perform.
Case-Shiller treats them all the same.
Despite its imperfections, though, the Case-Shiller Index remains a helpful, broader measurement of U.S. real estate. Economists believe that housing led the U.S. into the recession and they believe housing will lead us out, too.
If that’s true, August’s Case-Shiller data is another step in the right direction.
RISMEDIA, October 26, 2009—Existing-home sales bounced back strongly in September with first-time buyers driving much of the activity, marking five gains in the past six months, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Existing-home sales–including single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops–jumped 9.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million units in September from a level of 5.10 million in August, and are 9.2% higher than the 5.10 million-unit pace in September 2008. Sales activity is at the highest level in over two years, since it hit 5.73 million in July 2007.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said favorable conditions matched with a tax credit are boosting home sales. “Much of the momentum is from people responding to the first-time buyer tax credit, which is freeing many sellers to make a trade and buy another home,” he said. “We are hopeful the tax credit will be extended and possibly expanded to more buyers, at least through the middle of next year, because the rising sales momentum needs to continue for a few additional quarters until we reach a point of a self-sustaining recovery.”
Even with the improvement, Yun said the market is underperforming. “Despite spectacular gains in the stock market, principally from the financial sector recovery, most of the 75 million home owning families have more wealth tied to their homes. Home values could soon turn consistently positive and help the broad base of middle-class families, but we are not there yet,” he said. “We’re getting early indications of price stabilization, but we need a steady supply of qualified buyers to meaningfully bring inventories down and return us to a period of normal, steady price growth and to fully remove consumer fears, which would then revive the broader economy. Without a firm foundation for middle-class wealth recovery, the post-recession economic growth likely will be one of the weakest in U.S. history.”
Early information from a large annual consumer study to be released November 13, the 2009 National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, shows that first-time home buyers accounted for more than 45% of home sales during the past year. A separate practitioner survey shows that distressed homes accounted for 29% of transactions in September.
NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said affordability conditions remain historically high. “Potential first-time buyers can take heart in that affordability conditions this year are the highest on record dating back to 1970, but with the first-time buyer tax credit scheduled to expire at the end of next month, people could hold back from entering the market,” he said. “Our read is that housing overshot on the downside because homes are selling for less than replacement construction costs in much of the country, and the home price-to-income ratio has fallen below the historical average,” McMillan said.
Total housing inventory at the end of September fell 7.5% to 3.63 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 7.8-month supply at the current sales pace, down from an 9.3-month supply in August. Unsold inventory totals are 15.0% below a year ago.
“The current housing supply is the lowest we’ve seen in two and a half years,” Yun said. “If we could continue to absorb inventory at this pace, home prices would return to normal, modest appreciation patterns next year.
According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to 5.06% in September from 5.19% in August; the rate was 6.04% in September 2008. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $174,900 in September, which is 8.5% lower than September 2008. Distressed properties continue to downwardly distort the median price because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes in the same area.
Single-family home sales rose 9.4% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.89 million in September from a pace of 4.47 million in August, and are 7.7% above the 4.54 million-unit level in September 2008. The median existing single-family home price was $174,900 in September, which is 8.1% below a year ago. Existing condominium and co-op sales jumped 9.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 680,000 units in September from 620,000 in August, and are 9.7% above the 561,000-unit pace a year ago. The median existing condo price was $175,100 in September, down 11.7% from September 2008.
Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast increased 4.4% to an annual level of 950,000 in September, and are 11.8% higher than September 2008. The median price in the Northeast was $234,700, down 7.0% from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the Midwest jumped 9.6% in September to a pace of 1.25 million and are 7.8% above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $147,600, which is 1.0% below September 2008.
In the South, existing-home sales rose 9.0% to an annual level of 2.06 million in September and are 10.8% higher than September 2008. The median price in the South was $153,500, down 7.6% from a year ago.
Existing-home sales in the West surged 13.0% to an annual rate of 1.30 million in September and are 5.7% above a year ago. The median price in the West was $219,000, which is 15.0% below September 2008.
Mortgage markets were volatile last week, making it very difficult to shop for mortgage rates.
On most days, lenders issued multiple rate sheets with the trend putting rates higher in the morning, and lower in the afternoon.
Overall, mortgage rates were unchanged on the week. It broke a three-week streak through which mortgage rates rose.
Rates remain roughly one-half percent higher than the lows of early-October.
The biggest positive for rate shoppers last week was tame economic data — specifically concerning the Producer Price Index and the housing sector.
The Producer Price Index is an inflationary, Cost of Living-like measurement for businesses and it went negative in September. Analysts weren’t expecting that and the surprise pulled rates down an eighth.
At least temporarily.
We say “temporarily” because — all week long — a steadily-weakening U.S. dollar was leading mortgage rates higher.
All things equal, mortgage rates rise as the dollar loses value and, last week, the dollar touched a 14-month low versus the Euro. The greenback’s weakness countered most of the “positive” news for rate shoppers and is a major reason why rates were so volatile.
The volatility should continue into this week, too. With little data and no Fed speakers, look for mortgage rates to move with the market’s momentum.
Lately, momentum has been pulling rates higher so if you’re floating a rate and trying to time a bottom, the chances are good that we already passed it. Consider locking your rate before rates rise much further.
Once rates break 6 percent, they may not come back down.
According to the government, home values edged lower last month.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Home Price Index report shows values down by 0.3 percent from the month prior — the index’s first down month since April.
The Home Price Index is based on the value of homes financed via Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac and, in this sense, the FHFA Home Price Index is more of a “national” real estate index than its private-sector cousin, the Case-Shiller Index.
But like the Case-Shiller, the HPI is as notable for what it specifically excludes as for what it includes. Most notably, the Home Price Index doesn’t account for homes meeting any of the following descriptions:
- Is considered new construction
- Is a multi-unit property
- Is financed by an entity other than Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
Given the resurgence of FHA financing this year, this last exclusion is especially glaring. FHA represents about one-third of all mortgage loans in 2009.
Because of these exceptions, some analysts label the Home Price Index incomplete. The same could be said of every method of home valuation, however. Case-Shiller only collects data from 20 markets, for example.
In light of these shortcomings, therefore, what’s most important to today’s home buyers and sellers is to know that each of the “popular” home valuation reports show similar patterns — home prices have leveled and may be starting to recover in earnest.
For a region-by-region breakdown of the Home Price Index, visit the FHFA website.
With crude oil at its highest levels since October 2008, retail gas is up 8 cents per gallon this week.
It’s bad news for home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers. The same force that’s driving oil higher is linked to rising mortgage rates.
We’re talking about the weakening U.S. Dollar which is now at its worst levels versus the Euro in 15 months.
Crude oil is priced in U.S. dollars, by the barrel. When the dollar loses value, more of them are needed to buy the same barrel of oil. As a result, predictably, the price of crude oil goes up.
Now, there are other reasons why crude oil is rising, but the fading U.S. dollar is one of the major ones and it’s why we’re addressing it.
The dollar has a similar impact on mortgage rates.
Mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage bonds that — like crude oil — are also denominated in dollars. As the dollar loses value, so do mortgage bonds. This causes demand for bonds to drop and prices on bonds to fall.
Because bond prices and bond rates move in opposite directions, mortgage rates rise and thisis precisely what’s happening on Wall Street today.
Since touching a 5-month low in early-October, mortgage rates have tacked on as much as 1/2 percent, depending on the product. Moreover, with the dollar showing no signs of a rebound, the upward pressure on rates should continue.
If you’re trying to time the market bottom, you may have already missed it. Consider locking your mortgage rate before rates increase even more.
And your everyday signal that rates are rising? Just check your price at the pump. If gas prices are up, it’s likely that mortgage rates are, too.
Housing Starts on single-family homes gained last month, marking the 8th time that’s happened this year.
A “Housing Start” is a home for which the foundation has been excavated and, considered alongside other key market metrics, September data suggests that the housing market has stabilization is complete.
Momentum in housing is overwhelmingly positive:
- Homes under contract are soaring
- National home supplies are way down
- Home values are up in a lot of markets
Despite the positive news, the press is calling September’s Housing Starts data a “bummer“. Citing a drop in monthly building permits, the media purports that housing will slow in the months ahead.
The conclusion may be right, but the rationale is may be wrong.
The probable cause for fewer permits isn’t that the housing market is overdone. It’s that home builders are choosing to exercise caution given the pending expiration of the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit and a still-growing number of foreclosed homes.
It’s unclear what housing demand will be beginning in December and the last present a builder wants for the holidays is an excess of inventory.
It makes sense that building permits are down, in other words.
Looking back at February of this year, there’s a host of signs that housing is on the path to recovery. Now, that path won’t be a straight line and there’s bound to be setbacks, but September’s Housing Starts is not one of them.
Housing Starts are up 40 percent on the year.
The new Good Faith Estimate makes its debut January 1, 2010.
Expanded from 1page to 3, the legislators responsible for the new Good Faith Estimate want it to be simpler for homeowners and home buyers to understand than the former version.
By most accounts, Congress will meet this goal.
The new Good Faith Estimate includes plain-English explanations of every fee, charge, and interest payment involved in a purchase or refinance. It also includes a section called “The Shopping Cart” in which applicants can compare lenders.
The new Good Faith Estimate is concise, too. Using a series of “Yes/No” checkboxes on Page 1, mortgage lenders specifically note:
- The interest rate on the mortgage
- Whether the interest rate can change over time
- Whether the loan carries a prepayment penalty
- The length of the rate lock
Currently, this information is spread across 3 separate forms.
Furthermore, the new Good Faith Estimate simplifies rate-and-fee comparisons, showing applicants how a lower rate can be available for a higher set of fees, and vice versa.
For all of its clarity, though, the new Good Faith Estimate still fails to address the issue of “suitability”. As in, is this the right loan for the right borrower? That’s something only a loan officer can do.
For suitable advice, talk with a loan officer who both listens to your needs and helps you plan for them. Great terms on an unsuitable loan are often worse than “good” terms on the right one.
Mortgage markets worsened last week on better than expected economic data, causing mortgage rates to rise.
Last week was the third consecutive week that mortgage rates moved higher and, since touching a multi-month low in early-October, conforming mortgage rates are up by about a half-percent.
It’s likely rates will continue to rise, too. That’s because the same force that held rates down for so long is now the force pulling them up — expectations for the U.S. economy.
Over the last 6 months, it wasn’t clear in what direction the country was headed. The housing sector has been gaining in strength, but the rest of the economy has been a question mark.
Last week put an end to some of those questions:
- Retail Sales posted stronger-than-expected results
- Consumer Sentiment matched September 2008 levels
- Jobless and continuing claims fell below consensus estimates
Expectations for the U.S. economy are changing on the fly. As a result, stock markets gained last week and mortgage markets lost.
This week, rates could move higher still. There are an unusually large number of key economic reports including on housing and inflation, plus a handful of speeches from key Federal Reserve members.
With each positive announcement, mortgage rates should rise.