South Orange County Blog from Bob Phillips

As Homebuilder Confidence Stagnates, Deals Abound

Posted in Homebuilders by southorangecounty on September 30, 2010

Housing Market Index (2000-2010)

Home builder confidence held firm this month, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ monthly Housing Market Index. September’s reading of 13 equaled a 17-month low.

The HMI is on a 1-100 scale. A value of 50 or better indicates “favorable conditions” for home builders.

Broken down, the Housing Market Index is actually a weighted composite of 3 separate surveys which measures current single-family sales; projected single-family sales; and foot traffic of prospective buyers.

None of the 3 September surveys improved from August:

  • Single-Family Sales : 13 (unchanged from August)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 18 (unchanged from August)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 9 (from 10 in August)

Builder confidence is lower in 2010 than at any point in recorded history.


For home buyers in Coto de Caza , the drop in sentiment creates opportunity. With builders feeling “down”, there’s a greater likelihood for discounts and free upgrades. It can mean more house for your home buying money.

Plus, with the supply of both new and existing homes elevated, and foreclosures still hitting the market, conditions aren’t soon likely to change.

Then, couple all that with all-time low mortgage rates and monthly housing payments look as affordable as ever.

If your plans call for buying a home in the early part of 2011, you may want to consider moving up your time frame. Today’s market looks ripe for a good deal.

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Case-Shiller Shows Slowing Growth In Home Prices… Two Months Ago

Posted in Case-Shiller Index by southorangecounty on September 29, 2010

Case-Shiller Change In Home Values June-July 2010

For the 17th straight month, the Case-Shiller Index reports that home values are rising across the United States. As compared to June, July’s prices were up by 4 percent.

However, despite the improvement, July’s Case-Shiller Index showed weaker as compared to prior months.

  • In June, just 3 cities posted year-to-year reductions in home value. In July, 10 of 20 did.
  • In June, just 1 city posted a month-to-month reduction in home value. In July, 7 of 20 did.

As a spokesperson for Case-Shiller said, values “crept forward” in July. But not that it matters — the Case-Shiller Index is a better tool for economists than it is for homeowners in Coto de Caza. This is for 3 reasons.

First, the Case-Shiller Index is on a 60-day delay but real estate sales are based on prices today. A lot can change in 60 days, and it often does. Therefore, the Case-Shiller Index is a better snapshot of the former market than the current one.

Second, the Case-Shiller Index is geographically-limited. It tracks just 20 cities, ignoring some of the largest metropolitan areas in the country including Houston, Philadelphia, and San Jose. Smaller cities like Tampa are included.

And, lastly, national real estate data remains somewhat useless anyway. All real estate is local, rendering citywide statistics too broad to have any real meaning to an individual. To find out what’s happening on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood level, you can’t look to a national survey — you have to look to a local real estate agent instead.

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New Home Sales Unchanged In August; Market Stabilizing

Posted in New Home Sales by southorangecounty on September 28, 2010

New Home Supply August 2009 - August 2010Existing Home Sales rebounded last month after a lackluster July. New Home Sales data, by contrast, did not.

After an upward revision to July’s data, New Home Sales remained unchanged at 288,000 units in August. It marks the second-lowest number of units sold in a month since 1963, the year government started its record-keeping.

At the current pace of sales, the newly-built home inventory would be depleted in 8.6 months.

The August New Home Sales was weaker-than-expected, but both Wall Street investors and Main Street economists are shrugging it off. The numbers were foreshadowed by weakening housing figures from earlier this summer.

For example:

  1. Building Permits dropped between March and June
  2. Housing Starts dropped between April and July
  3. Homebuilder confidence continues to sag

Together, these three data points suggest that the market for new homes will be soft through at least this month.

With New Home Sales fading and colder months ahead, it may be an opportune time for home buyers in Rancho Santa Margarita to look at new construction. Builders are eager to move inventory and the cost of materials remains low.

Buying “new” may never be cheaper — especially with mortgage rates as low as they are. The 0.750 percent drop in rates since January has shaved $188 off of a $200,000 mortgage’s monthly cost. That’s $2,250 per year in savings.

As home supplies dwindle and mortgage rates rise, finding “great deals” in new construction will undoubtedly get tougher. Take advantage of today’s market conditions, combined with builder pessimism. It may be the right combination at the right time to get that new home for cheap.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 27, 2010

Posted in Weekly Review by southorangecounty on September 27, 2010

Fed Funds Rate September 2007-September 2010Mortgage markets improved last week as markets digested a bevy of data from the housing sector, plus the scheduled Federal Open Market Committee meeting

In back-and-forth trading, conforming mortgage rates in California bottomed out Wednesday before rising through Friday’s afternoon close. Rates still managed to eke out improvement on the week overall.

According to Freddie Mac, mortgage rates remain near their lowest levels of all time.

Despite low rates, however, rate shoppers are finding it a challenge to lock the “best price”. This is because Wall Street is conflicted about the future of the U.S. economy and, as a result, mortgage pricing has been extra volatile.

For as much data that points to economic growth, there are numbers that suggest a pullback, too. Traders are undecided in either direction and mortgage pricing reflects it. It’s not uncommon for mortgage rates to vary by as much as 3/8 percent in a given week.

This week, without much new data due for release, prepare for even swifter swings in rates. In the absence of “numbers”, momentum- and trend-trading should amplify the market’s normal drops and spikes.

A sampling of the week’s economic data includes Tuesday’s Consumer Confidence report and Case-Shiller Index, Thursday’s Jobless Claims and Gross Domestic Product data, plus Friday’s consumer income and spending figures.

Notably missing from the week’s economic calendar is the jobs report which is typically issued on the first Friday each month. The release is delayed a week to October 8.

If you’re still floating a mortgage rate or have yet to commit to a refinance, consider that mortgage rates are primed to rise. They’ve been falling for 22 weeks and when the market turns, it’s expected to turn quickly.

Talk to your loan officer about your refinance options while mortgage rates are still low.

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Existing Home Sales Rebound In August, Give Hope For Autumn

Posted in Existing Home Sales by southorangecounty on September 24, 2010

Existing Home Supply (August 2009 - Augsut 2010)Sales of existing homes in recovered in August, perhaps the result of a post-tax credit normalization.

As compared to July, Existing Home Sales rose 8 percent in August, buoyed by falling interest rates and slow-to-rise home prices. There’s lot of “good deals” out there and home buyers in Rancho Santa Margarita are taking advantage.

The housing gains are relative, however. August’s total units sold barely crossed 4 million and still trails the average figures of the last few years by close to 1 million units.

Despite that, the August Existing Home Sales report can be considered a strong one. This is for several reasons:

  1. Sales volume increased in August without tax credit or government intervention
  2. Sales growth is not limited by geography. All 4 regions — Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West — showed improvement last month.
  3. Repeat buyers are driving the market, representing 48 percent of sales, up from forty-three percent in July.

And, perhaps most important to the housing market market, the number of available home resales dropped by almost one full month last month.  At the current sales pace, the national inventory would be depleted in 11.6 months.

For home buyers, the data presents an interesting opportunity. With average mortgage rates rising from their best levels ever and home affordability cresting in places like Orange County , this autumn may represent the turn-around point for the housing market nationwide.

If you’re planning to move in early-2011, consider moving up your time frame.

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Housing Starts Rise In August, But By Less Than The Headlines Report

Posted in Housing Starts by southorangecounty on September 23, 2010

Housing starts September 2008 - August 2010The number of single-family Housing Starts rebounded in August, climbing 4 percent from July’s 14-month low.

A “Housing Start” is defined as a home on which construction has started and the August increase represents 18,000 single-family units nationwide.

If you only read the headlines, however, you would think the data was stronger. This is because the Housing Starts data is actually a composite of 3 types of homes — single-family, multi-family, and apartments — but  the press tends to lump them all three together.

As a sampling, here are a some headlines on the story:

  • US Stock Futures Rise After Housing Starts Surge (WSJ)
  • Housing Starts At 4-Month High, Hint At Stability (Fox)
  • Housing Starts Jump 10.5% In August (Marketwatch)

Now, it’s not that the news is wrong, per se, it’s just not necessarily relevant.  Few home buyers  in Coto de Caza are buying multi-family homes or entire apartment complexes. Most buy single-family and, for the first time since April, single-family starts are on the rise — just not by as much as you’d believe from the papers.

Even still, we can’t be entirely sure that the August Housing Starts data is accurate anyway.

A footnote in the Department of Commerce report shows that, although single-family starts are said to have increased 4 percent, the data’s margin of error exceeds its actual measurement, meaning the data has “zero confidence”.

In other words, starts may have dropped in August, but it’s something we won’t know for sure until revisions are made later this year.

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The Best Home Buying Season of the Year!

Posted in home affordability, Mortgage Rates, Real estate by southorangecounty on September 22, 2010

The Best Home Buying Season of the Year!

Have you been sitting on the fence, considering buying your next home?  If you’ve been reading my newsletters or blogs for at least the past couple of years, this is just a refresher course.  If you haven’t, this would be a good time to look a little closer.

In Southern California, the last quarter of each year is usually the best time of the entire year for a home buyer to get serious – for quite a few good reasons.  First, the inventory of available homes typically creeps up after summer, and this year is no exception.  So, more houses to choose from.

Second, the majority of buyers have ALREADY made their move.  They wanted their kids to be in school come the end of summer, or a variety of other reasons.  So, there is less competition for the houses that become available – in practically every price range.

Third, as we approach the Holidays, there will be even fewer buyers out there, because they’re distracted by the season.  Fewer buyers translates to more unsold houses, AND more sellers who are increasingly anxious to get their houses sold before the Holidays, so that they can relax and enjoy that special time of year.

This year there is a new reason to buy now – the lowest interest rates on record are still around.  So, houses are more affordable this year, than they’ve been in probably a decade.

It appears to be a veritable perfect set of conditions for a serious home buyer.  But what about the poor economy, you ask?  I suppose you’ve heard that there might be a “double dip” in housing, on the horizon – where prices will have still another substantial drop.  If you Google double dip you’ll get a LOT of articles predicting such an event, but if you check out the dates of the articles, and look for the most recent ones, you’ll notice that more and more people in the know are starting to predict that a double dip isn’t very likely – especially in Southern California.

Oh, you’ve also heard about the alleged “Shadow Inventory”, an impending Tsunami of foreclosures coming soon, which will severely impact home prices, as well?  Again, more and more people in the know are coming to the conclusion that THAT event isn’t going to happen, either.  Of course there are more foreclosures on the way, but it now seems as though their numbers, and their impact, will be similar to those of the last year and a half – more of a trickle, than a Tsunami, and easily absorbed by existing ready, willing, and able buyers.

In conclusion, if you are getting serious, but have been thinking that YOU might wait until after the Holidays,  let me remind you that the home buying season in Southern California begins almost every year after January 15th, and that the following 4 or 5 months is the BUSIEST season to buy.  More buyers, competing with you – resulting in fewer properties being available to choose from, which usually results in prices nudging upward, and a potential for multiple offers on the nicer of the houses remaining available.  Add to those reasons, the very real possibility of higher interest rates.

All good reasons to avoid that Spring time busiest time of the year – and to consider getting serious right now.  I’m available now – let’s go home shopping!

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A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (September 21, 2010 Edition)

Posted in FOMC by southorangecounty on September 21, 2010

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishToday, in its 7th meeting of the year, the Federal Open Market Committee voted 9-to-1 to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged. 

The Fed Funds Rate remains at a historical low, within a Fed’s target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

In its press release, the FOMC said that the pace of economic recovery “has slowed” in recent months. Household spending is increasing but remains restrained by high levels of unemployment, falling home values, and restrictive credit.

For the second straight month, the Federal Reserve showed less economic optimism as compared to the prior year’s worth of FOMC statements dating back to June 2009. However, the Fed still expects growth to be “modest in the near-term”.

This outlook is consistent with recent research showing that the recession is over, and that growth has resumed — albeit at a slower pace than what was originally expected.

The Fed also highlighted strengths in the economy:

  1. Growth is ongoing on a national level
  2. Inflation levels remain exceedingly low
  3. Business spending is rising

As expected, the Fed re-affirmed its plan to hold the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period”.

There were no surprises in the Fed’s statement so, as a result, the mortgage market’s reaction to the release has been neutral. Mortgage rates in California are thus far unchanged this afternoon.

The FOMC’s next meeting is a 2-day affair scheduled for November 2-3, 2010.

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The Federal Reserve Meets Today. Should You Lock Your Rate Before It Adjourns?

Posted in FOMC by southorangecounty on September 21, 2010

Comparing 30-year fixed mortgage rate to Fed Funds Rate since 1990The Federal Open Market Committee adjourns from its 6th scheduled meeting of the year today, and 7th overall.

Upon adjournment, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will release a formal statement to the market. In it, the Fed is expected to announce “no change” to the Fed Funds Rate.

Currently, the Fed Funds Rate is within a target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.  It’s been at this same level since December 2008.

Note that the Feds Funds Rate is not “a mortgage rate” — nor is it a a consumer rate of any kind. The Fed Funds Rate is a rate that defines the cost of an overnight loan between banks. And, although the Fed Funds Rate has little direct consequence to everyday Coto de Caza homeowners, it is the basis for Prime Rate, the interest rate on which most consumer cards are based, plus many business loans, too.

Therefore, because the Fed Funds Rate won’t change today, neither will credit card rates.  Mortgage rates, however, are a different story.  Mortgage rates should change today — regardless of what the Fed does.

It’s more about what the Fed says.

In its statement, the Federal Reserve will highlight strengths and weaknesses in the economy, and threats to growth over the next few quarters. Depending on how Wall Street interprets these remarks, mortgage rates may rise or fall.

If the Fed’s comments signal better-than-expected growth, bond markets should lose and mortgage rates should rise. Conversely, if the Fed’s comments signal worse-than-expected growth, mortgage rates should fall.

If you’re actively shopping for a mortgage, it may be prudent to lock your rate ahead of the Fed’s announcement today. The Fed adjourns at 2:15 PM ET.  Call your loan officer to lock your rate.

The Fed meets 8 times annually.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : September 20, 2010

Posted in Weekly Review by southorangecounty on September 20, 2010

FOMC meets this weekMortgage markets were highly volatile, yet relatively unchanged last week in back-and-forth trading on Wall Street. Global investors are grappling with the state of U.S. economy and unable to discern whether it’s growing, or slowing.

As an real-world illustration, the government’s August Retail Sales report showed strong growth nationwide. However, in looking at a subset of that same data that accounted for rising gas prices, and excluded automotive-related sales, the results were far more tame.

In other words, despite the winning headlines, there was no clear conclusion in August’s Retail Sales.

As another example, consumer confidence dropped to its lowest level since August 2009, it was reported last week. Now, on most days, this statistic would lead mortgage rates lower, but the figures happened to be offset by improving employment report that suggests a looming jobs recovery.

Again, markets got confused and without clear direction, mortgage rates have been dancing.

Last week, conforming rates carved out a range close to 0.375 percent, making it difficult for California rate shoppers to zero-in on pricing. 30-year fixed rates worsened, 15-year fixed held steady, and ARMs improved overall.

This week, expect rates to be equally jumpy.  There’s a lot of housing data due for release and the Federal Open Market Committee is meeting.

  • Monday : Homebuilder Confidence Survey
  • Tuesday : Housing Starts, Building Permits, FOMC Meeting
  • Wednesday : FHFA Home Price Index
  • Thursday : Existing Home Sales
  • Friday : New Home Sales

That’s one housing-related release per day, and a Federal Reserve meeting to boot. Today’s low rates could be vanished by Friday. 

Therefore, if you haven’t already, it may be time to call your loan officer for a refinance. Rates could certainly fall further, but they’re looking more likely to rise.

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