South Orange County Blog from Bob Phillips

Lock Now? Friday’s Job Report Expected To Push Mortgage Rates Up.

Posted in The Economy by southorangecounty on March 31, 2011

Net new jobs (2009-2011)Friday is a pivotal day for mortgage markets and conforming mortgage rates across California. At 8:30 AM ET, the government will release its March Non-Farm Payrolls report.

More commonly known as “the jobs report”, the monthly Non-Farm Payrolls is a market-mover and home buyers would do well to pay attention. Depending on the report’s strength, mortgage rates could rise, or fall, by a measurable amount tomorrow morning.

It’s because so much of the today’s mortgage market is tied to the economy, and economic growth is dependant on job growth.

With more job growth, there’s more consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy. Additionally, it generates more payroll taxes to local, state and federal governments. This, too, puts the broader economy on more solid footing.

Between 2008 and 2009, the economy shed 7 million jobs. It has since recovered 1.5 million of them. Friday, analysts expect to count another 190,000 jobs created. If the actual figure falls short, expect mortgage rates to ease.

Otherwise, look for rates to rise. Probably by a lot.

If you’re shopping for a mortgage right now, consider your personal risk tolerance. Once the BLS releases its data, it will be too late to lock in at today’s interest rates. If the idea of rising mortgage rates makes you nervous, execute your rate lock today instead.

On a 30-year fixed rate loan, each 1/8 percent increase to rates adds roughly $7 per $100,000 borrowed.

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January 2011 Case-Shiller Index : Weak And Flawed

Posted in Housing Analysis by southorangecounty on March 30, 2011

Case-Shiller Annual Change January 2011

Standard & Poors released its Case-Shiller Index for the month of January this week. The index is a home valuation tool, measuring the monthly and annual changes in home prices in select cities nationwide.

January’s Case-Shiller Index gave a poor showing. As compared to December 2010, home values dropped in 19 of the Case-Shiller Index’s 20 tracked markets. Only Washington, D.C. gained. The results were only modestly better on an annual basis, too.

18 of 20 markets worsened in the 12 months ending January 2011.

According to the report, values are down 3.1% from last year, retreating to the same levels from Summer 2003. As a buyer or seller in today’s market, though, don’t read too much into it. The Case-Shiller Index is far too flawed to be the final word in housing.

The index has 3 main flaws, in fact.

The first flaw is the Case-Shiller Index’s lack of breadth. The report is positioned as a national index, but its data is sourced from just 20 cities nationwide.

Putting that number in perspective: the Case-Shiller Index tracks home values from fewer than 1% of the 3,100 U.S. municipalities — yet still calls the report a “U.S. Average”.

A second flaw in the Case-Shiller Index is how it measures home price changes, specifically. Because the index only considers “repeat sales” of the same home in its calculations, and only tracks single-family, detached property, it doesn’t capture the “full” U.S. market. Condominiums, multi-family homes, and new construction are ignored in the Case-Shiller Index algorithm. 

In some regions, homes of these excluded types represent a large percentage of the market.

And, lastly, the Case-Shiller Index is flawed because of the amount of time required to release it.

Today, it’s almost April and we’re talking about closed home resales from January which is really comprised of homes that went under contract in October — close to 6 months ago. Sales prices from 6 months ago is of little value to today’s Rancho Santa Margarita home buyer, of course.

The Case-Shiller Index can be a helpful tool for economists and policy-makers trying to make sense of the broader housing market, but it tends to fail for individuals in South Orange County like you and me. When you want accurate, real-time housing figures for your local market, talk to your real estate professional instead.

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Pending Home Sales Rebound; Suggest Brighter Spring For Housing

Posted in Housing Analysis by southorangecounty on March 29, 2011

Pending Home Sales (Aug 2009 - Feb 2011)

On a seasonally-adjusted basis, the Pending Home Sales Index rose 2 percent last month, according to the National Association of REALTORS®. A “pending home sale” is defined as a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed.

February’s Pending Home Sales Index rebound breaks a 2-month losing streak, and reverses the recent downward momentum in housing. Both Existing Home Sales and New Home Sales volume showed a sizable loss last month. 

For buyers and sellers of real estate in Trabuco Canyon , the Pending Home Sales Index is of particular import. It’s one of the few forward-looking indicators in housing, and February’s data suggests a stronger spring season than was the winter.

Region-by-region, Pending Home Sales data varied:

  • Northeast Region: -10.9%
  • Midwest Region : +4.0%
  • South Region : +2.7%
  • West Region : +7.0%

3 of 4 regions showed marked improvement, which is good for housing. In the fourth — New England — it’s likely that inclement weather hampered results.

February was colder-than-normal and the month capped a record-breaking snowfall season for the region. Anecdotally, fewer homes are sold in the cold-and-snow of winter and it’s likely that the weather affected local housing markets.

Looking to March and April, therefore, we should expect Existing Home Sales data to rebound. This is because 80% of “pending” homes close within 60 days, and because improving weather should release pent-up demand for housing.

More sales plus higher home demand tends to lead home prices higher. If you’re in the market for a new home, consider that your best negotiation leverage comes in a weak market. As the seasons turn, your leverage looks poised to slip.

The best time to buy this year may be right now.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : March 28, 2011

Posted in mortgage rates by southorangecounty on March 28, 2011

Jobs in focus this week (again)Mortgage markets worsened last week as nuclear meltdown concerns eased across Japan, and the war within Libya moved closer to a potential finish.

Wall Street voted with its dollars, and a return to risk-taking emerged. “Safe haven” buying softened last week and, as a result, conforming mortgage rates in California made their biggest 1-week spike since late-January.

Mortgage rates remain historically low, but well above their November 2010 lows.

This week, rates could run higher again. Friday’s jobs report is a major story and it will affect mortgage rates in Trabuco Canyon and across the country. Jobs are a key component of the nation’s economic recovery, and as the economy has improved, mortgage rates have tended to rise.

Economists expect that 190,000 jobs were created in March. If they’re correct, it will raise the 12-month tally to 1.3 million net new jobs created nationwide. This is still less than the 2 million jobs lost in the 12 months prior, but it’s a positive step that suggests sustained growth.

A positive net new jobs figure for March would mark the first time since June 2007 that jobs growth was net positive 6 months in a row. If March’s final figures are better than expected, expect mortgage rates to rise. If the figures are less, look for rates to fall.

The Unemployment Rate is expected to stay sub-9.0 percent, too.

Other news that could change rates this week include Monday’s Pending Home Sales report, Tuesday’s Consumer Confidence data, and any one of the 4 speeches from members of the Fed. In general, data and/or rhetoric that suggest more growth in 2011 will cause mortgage rates to rise.

If you are still floating a mortgage rate and have yet to lock one in, this week may represent your last chance for low rates. Good news about the economy will put pressure on mortgage rates to rise.

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15-Year Fixed Rate Mortgages Look Cheap Compared To Comparable 30-Year Fixeds

Posted in mortgage rates by southorangecounty on March 25, 2011

Comparing 30-year fixed to 15-year fixed (2006-2011)

It’s a great time for Trabuco Canyon buyers and homeowners to look at the 15-year fixed rate mortgage.

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the relative “discount” of a 15-year fixed rate loan as compared to a comparable 30-year product is the largest in recorded history. The interest rate spread between the two benchmark products is now 0.77%, nearly double the recent, 5-year average of 0.44%.

Despite its lower rates, however, homeowners that opt for a 15-year fixed mortgage should be prepared for higher monthly payments. This is because the principal balance of a 15-year fixed is repaid in half as many years as with a 30-year amortizing product.

The payment increase is 41% higher at today’s rates. If you can manage that, though, you’ll reap dramatic interest payments savings over time. For each $100,000 borrowed at today’s market interest rates, your mortgage interest costs on a conforming 15-year term mortgage will be lower by $56,000 versus an identically-structured 30-year term. The more you borrow, the more you save.

That said, not everyone should use the 15-year product.

One reason you may want to avoid 15-year products is because the higher payments may lead to financial stress. Unless your monthly income far exceeds your monthly debts, choosing a 30-year product may feel safer for you.

Another reason is that, with less mortgage interest paid, 15-year mortgages don’t allow for as many mortgage interest tax deductions. This can have tax implications to you each year. Or, maybe you prefer to have your home leveraged, investing “spare dollars” in stocks and bonds.

These are all legitimate cases to stick with a 30-year term, but if you’ve ever explored the idea of using a 15-year fixed rate mortgage for your home, today, the math is in your favor. Talk to your loan officer before the rates start rising.

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New Home Sales Fall To All-Time, Recorded Low. Maybe.

Posted in Housing Analysis by southorangecounty on March 24, 2011

New Home Sales (2010 - 2011)Sales of newly-built homes plunged 17 percent to an seasonally-adjusted, annualized 250,000 units in February, and the supply of new homes rose to 8.9 months in February — a 1.5 month jump from January.

It’s the lowest New Home Sales reading in recorded history, according to the Census Bureau, and the third straight report to signal that home values may be slow to rise in Coto de Caza and nationwide this season.

Earlier this week, the National Association of REALTORS® reported Existing Home Sales down 10 percent from February, and the Federal Home Finance Agency said home values slipped 0.3 percent between December and January.

The media has picked up on the trend, too. 

  • No Spring In Housing’s Step (WSJ)
  • Is Housing Really In Recovery (CNBC)
  • Experts See Weak Recovery (UPI)

There’s two interesting angles here. First, the one that’s largely neglected in the stories online.

Although New Home Sales read -17% last month, the data’s Margin of Error read ±19%. This means that, once additional homes are added to February’s New Home Sales tally, it’s possible that the reading actually rose 2%.

Because the Margin of Error exceeds the measured reading, February’s New Home Sales figures are of “zero confidence”. The Census Bureau even says as much in its report.

Or, if the initial reading is accurate, a second story emerges. Namely, how an increase in home supply may help this season’s buyers to negotiate better prices for a home, and upgrades from a builder.

There’s often more to a real estate story than its headline and February’s New Home Sales proves it.

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10 U.S. Cities With The Steepest Rent Increases (2010)

Posted in The Economy by southorangecounty on March 23, 2011

Rent is risingHome sales data is easing so far in this calendar year. Home resales and new construction have dropped to multi-month lows and, in many cities, home supplies are rising. One housing sector that’s not slowing, however, is rentals.

The rental market is booming.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the average apartment vacancy rate is 6.6% nationwide, down from 8.0% last year. In addition, the number of occupied apartments rose by more during Q4 2010 than during any comparable period of the last 10 years.

It’s a major reason why rents are up 2.3%.

Some areas, however, fared worse than others. This study of rent increases as published on MSNBC, for example, lists the 10 U.S. cities in which rents increased the most last year. And they may not be the cities you’d expect.

In order:

  1. Greenville, SC (+11.2%; $669 average monthly rent)
  2. Chattanooga, TN (+10.4%; $726 average monthly rent)
  3. Savannah, GA (+8.4%; $866 average monthly rent)
  4. Portland, OR (+8.1%; $875 average monthly rent)
  5. San Jose, CA (+8.0%; $1,716 average monthly rent)
  6. Nashville, TN (+8.0%; $786 average monthly rent)
  7. Tacoma, WA (+8.0%; $900 average monthly rent)
  8. Denver, CO (+7.5%; $873 average monthly rent)
  9. Washington, DC (+7.4%; $1,473 average monthly rent)
  10. Raleigh, NC (+7.4%; $785 average monthly rent)

Big cities New York (#18), San Francisco (#19), and Chicago (#24) showed modest gains, by comparison.

Not everyone across California wants to be a homeowner, but renters are facing a squeeze. With mortgage rates historically low and home values slow to recover, in many cities, the cost-benefit analysis is shifting toward buying.

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Existing Home Sales Unexpectedly Drop In February

Posted in Housing Analysis by southorangecounty on March 22, 2011

Existing Home Sales (Feb 2010 - Feb 2011)Existing Home Sales fell 10 percent last month, according to a report from the National Association of REALTORS®.

On an annual basis, 4.88 million homes were sold in February — the first time annualized home resales dropped below 5,000,000 since November 2010.

An “existing home” is one that’s not considered new construction.

And it’s not just sales volume that’s down. Home inventory is higher, too. At the current pace of sales, the number of months needed to sell the complete home resale inventory rose by 1.1 months, to 8.6 months nationally.

It’s the biggest one-month jump in supply since July 2010 — the month after last year’s federal home buyer tax credit program expired.

The data is somewhat unexpected, too. NAR’s Pending Home Sales report is a reliable predictor for the housing market and, based on recent findings, home sales were projected to climb in February. It’s unclear why they didn’t.

Regardless, the February sales data reveals an interesting breakdown by buyer-type. Notably, the percentage of first-time home buyers in the market grew by more than any other segment.

  • First-time home buyers : 34% of all sales, +5% from January
  • Repeat buyers : 47% of all sales, -1% from January
  • Real estate investors : 19% of all sales, -4% from January

Cash buyers represented 33 percent of all sales, up 1 tick from the month prior.

For Trabuco Canyon home buyers, February’s Existing Home Sales data suggests more home supply and lower home prices this spring. However, rising mortgage rates could eliminate the monthly savings attributed to falling home values.

To get the most from your mortgage-buying dollar, lock while rates are low.

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What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : March 21, 2011

Posted in mortgage rates by southorangecounty on March 21, 2011

Fed Funds Rate vs 30-Year Fixed Rate MortgageMortgage markets improved again last week despite an inflation-acknowledging statement from the FOMC and stronger-than-expected jobless data.

Usually, events like this would lead mortgage rates higher, but violence in the Middle East and worsening fear for public safety in Japan took center stage instead, spurring a massive, global flight-to-quality instead.

Rate shoppers in Coto de Caza  benefited.

As safe haven buying increased last week, conforming mortgage rates dropped, falling to their lowest levels since January. It marked the 5th straight week through which mortgage rates improved and is the longest such streak since August 2010.

This week, rates may run lower again. You may not want to gamble on it, though. Here’s why.

In general, when there’s inflation in the U.S. economy, mortgage rates rise. This is because inflation devalues mortgage bonds, the underlying security on which mortgage rates are based.

So, last Tuesday, the Federal Open Market Committee met and in its post-meeting press release, the group said inflation pressures were building, a signal that rates should rise. It then went one step further.

To keep the economy from slipping back into recession or into disinflation, the FOMC also said it plans to keep its existing monetary policies in place for the foreseeable future.  This, too, is considered inflationary — another signal that rates should rise. And they did. 

Immediately following the FOMC announcement, mortgage rates spiked. But it didn’t last.

Starting Wednesday, the battles in Libya grew more intense, and Japan battled with its own domestic crisis (i.e. a potential nuclear meltdown). The economic implications of the events spurred the purchase of “safe” assets, and mortgage bonds improved.

And this is why mortgage rates won’t stay low for long.

Eventually, Wall Street will come to terms with Libya and Japan and the flight-to-quality will reverse. Inflation, however, is not likely to lessen. At least, not anytime soon.  Therefore, this week may represent the low-point in mortgage rates for a while. It’s important to lock your low rate while you still can.

There isn’t much economic data due this week so mortgage rates will take their cues from the broader market. If you haven’t locked a rate yet, or were waiting for rates to fall, this might be your best chance. Call your loan officer as soon as possible and get a fresh rate quote today.

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Good News For Sellers — Housing Starts Plummet In February

Posted in Housing Analysis by southorangecounty on March 18, 2011

Housing Starts (March 2009 - Feb 2011)Single-family housing starts plunged unexpectedly last month. Nationwide, starts fell 12 percent from the month prior; and 29 percent from February of last year.

February’s figures represents the worst 1-month drop in housing starts since May 2010 — the month that followed the expiration of last year’s federal home buyer tax credit — and puts single-family housing starts at a 24-month low.

In addition, single-family Building Permits plunged last month, too, shedding 9 percent from January. A building permit is a local government’s certification and approval to begin home construction.

Housing permits are an excellent forward-indicator for the housing market. This is because 93 percent of homes start 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 Rancho Santa Margarita looking at new construction or existing homes, this news should create a sense of urgency.

Home prices are based on supply and demand and overall home supply looks headed for a fall. Plus, with mortgage rates retreating and homebuilders projecting higher sales this summer, buyers may face rising home prices before long.

Sellers look poised to regain negotiation leverage.

For now, though, home affordability remains high with properties inexpensive and mortgage rates still low, historically. If you plan to buy a home in 2011, the February 2011 Housing Starts data may be reason to move up your time frame.

With home supplies dropping, prices are likely to rise.

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