The National Association of REALTORS® Pending Home Sales Index rose for the third straight month last month.
A “pending home sale” is a home under contract to sell, but not yet closed.
The Pending Home Sales Index rose 5 percent in March, posting its second-highest reading since April 2010. Not coincidentally, that month marked the expiration of last year’s federal home buyer tax credit.
Home buyers and sellers in Trabuco Canyon would do well to watch the Pending Home Sales Index each month. This is because — unlike most government and private data — the Pending Home Sales Index is a “forward-looking” indicator.
Because 80% of “pending” homes close within 2 months, and a significant share of the rest close within months 3 and 4, the Pending Home Sales Index tends to correlate to future strength (or weakness) in housing.
The Pending Home Sales Index, in other words, is an excellent precursor to the Existing Home Sales report, issued monthly.
By region, the Pending Home Sales Index varied last month.
- Northeast : -3.2% from February
- Southeast : +10.3% from February
- Midwest : +3.0% from February
- West : +3.1% from February
All 4 regions were worse from a year ago.
As with everything in housing, however, we must remember that real estate is neither national, nor regional. It’s local. Sales volume may be higher in areas like the Midwest, but that doesn’t mean that all Midwest markets are experiencing similar gains, if any gains at all.
To get local real estate data for Orange County, for example , talk to a real estate agent that specializes in that area. It’s the best way to know what’s happening on the street level.
Earlier today, the Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.
The vote was 10-0 — the third straight meeting after which the FOMC vote was unanimous.
In its press release, the FOMC noted that since its March 2011 meeting, the economic recovery is proceeding “at a moderate pace” and that labor markets conditions are “improving gradually”. Household spending and business investment “continue[s] to expand” but the housing sector remains “depressed”.
Furthermore, the FOMC’s statement discussed the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of (1) Managing inflation levels, and (2) Fostering maximum employment. The statement acknowledged recent inflation pressures on the economy, but it expects those pressures — because they’re related to oil and food prices — to be “transitory”. Unemployment remains “elevated”.
The FOMC statement also re-affirms the group’s plan to keep the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period” of time, and to keep its $600 billion bond market support package — more commonly called “QE2” — intact.
The statement’s verbiage suggests that a third support package may be created after QE2 ends in June 2011, depending on the needs of the economy.
Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been positive thus far. Mortgage rates in Trabuco Canyon are unchanged, but leaning lower. And, as always, market sentiment could shift quickly. If you like today’s mortgage rates, consider locking in.
The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is a 2-day event, June 20-21 2011.
After posting an all-time low in February, New Home Sales rebounded strongly last month.
Based on joint research from the Census Bureau and HUD, 300,000 new, single-family homes were sold on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis in March. It’s an 11 percent improvement from February, and right in-line with the 6-month average.
The supply of available new homes improved, too, in March, falling by close to a full month.
At the current pace of sales, the entire new home housing stock would be sold in 7.3 months. This is the second-best reading in a year, a statistic partially-supported by the relatively small number of new homes on the market.
There are now just 183,000 new homes available for sale across Rancho Santa Margarita and the country. That’s the smallest reading since the Census Bureau started to keep New Home Sales records beginning in 1995.
However, it should be noted that the March New Home Sales data is suspect. The reading’s margin of error exceeds it actual measurement by almost double. It’s possible that sales volume fell in March instead of rising, therefore. The Census Bureau says as much in its footnotes:
The change [in new home sales] is not statistically significant; that is, it is uncertain whether there was an increase or decrease [in March 2011].
We won’t know for certain until future data revisions are made.
If you’re a home buyer in South Orange County , though, and want to stay ahead of the market, you won’t want to take chances. If the Census Bureau finds its data to be accurate after revisions are made, new home prices will already have started to rise.
You may get your best home value by buying sooner rather than later.
The Federal Open Market Committee starts a two-day meeting today, the third of its 8 scheduled meetings this year.
The FOMC is a special, 12-person committee within the Federal Reserve. It’s led by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and the group is responsible for voting on our nation’s monetary policy. This includes setting the Fed Funds Rate, the rate at which banks borrow money from each other overnight.
The general public tends to confuse the Fed Funds Rate for “mortgage rates” but, as shown in the chart at top, the two interest rates are very different. There is no direct correlation between the Fed Funds Rate and everyday mortgage rates in Trabuco Canyon.
Since 1990, the two benchmark rates have been separated by as much as 5.29 percent, and have been as close as 0.52 percent.
Today, the separation between the Fed Funds Rate and the national average for a standard, 30-year fixed rate mortgage is 4.625 percent. This spread will widen — or shrink — beginning 12:30 PM ET Wednesday. That’s when the FOMC adjourns and releases its public statement to the markets.
According to Wall Street, there’s a 100% chance that the FOMC leaves the Fed Funds Rate in its current “target range” of 0.000-0.250 percent, the same range in which it’s been since December 2008. Depending on the verbiage in the press release, plus the comments of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in his scheduled, 2:15 PM ET press briefing, mortgage rates aren’t expected to steady as well.
If the Fed projects higher growth in late-2011/early-2012, or hints at new market stimuli, expect mortgage rates to rise on concerns about inflation. Inflation is bad for mortgage rates, in general.
On the other hand, if the Fed indicates that the economy is slowing down, or that it plans to withdraw its existing, $600 billion bond market stimulus, look for mortgage rates to fall.
It’s hard to be a home buyer in the South Orange County area when the Federal Open Market Committee meets. There’s just so much that can change mortgage rates and rising mortgage rates can affect purchasing power in a flash.
In the 6 months since November 2010, home affordability is off 9%.
So, if you’re shopping for mortgages, or just floating a rate, consider getting locked in before the FOMC issues its press release Wednesday. Once the statement hits, mortgage rates could soar.
Mortgage markets improved slightly through last week’s holiday-shortened trading sessions. Better-than-expected housing data led mortgage rates higher Tuesday and Wednesday, but rates retreated Thursday morning in advance of Good Friday.
Markets were closed Thursday afternoon and Friday. They re-open this morning.
Conforming mortgage rates in California ended last week unchanged overall. It’s a strange outcome considering that Standard & Poor’s issued a downgrade on U.S. debt Monday.
In most instances, a debt downgrade would lead investors away from a particular group of securities — in this case, a group that includes mortgage-backed bonds. However, Wall Street reacted in the opposite.
When S&P issued its opinion, however, mortgage bonds rallied.
Some say this is because the downgrade will force Congress to address a rising debt-load; others think a downgrade slows growth which, in turn, slows down inflation. Both scenarios are considered a positive for mortgage bonds. Hence, mortgage rates fell.
This week, momentum could reverse. In addition to a slew of housing and economic data including New Home Sales, Pending Home Sales, and Consumer Confidence data, the Federal Open Market Committee is meeting for the third time this year. And this month, the FOMC is meeting a little differently.
Usually, when the FOMC gets together, it adjourns and releases a press statement to the markets at 2:15 PM ET. This month, though, the FOMC will release its statement at 12:30 PM ET, and then Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will hold a press briefing at 2:15 PM ET to address the aforementioned statement. He’s expected to add growth forecasts to the official FOMC release, among other items.
Whenever the FOMC meets, mortgage rates can be volatile. This week, with the new press briefing format, that volatility is even more likely.
If you’re floating a mortgage rate or wondering whether to lock, mortgage rates will be at their “calmest” levels of the week Monday and Tuesday. Once Wednesday hits, and the FOMC statements begin, expect for rates to change.
Home resales rose 4 percent last month, according to the March Existing Home Sales report. A total of 5.1 million homes were sold on an annualized, seasonally-adjusted basis.
The strong results re-establish the national, long-term trend toward rising home resales.
March marked the 6th month out of eight in which sales volume has increased and sales are up 32 percent from July 2010 lows.
Home supply has resumed its downward trajectory, too.
At the current pace of sales, the entire home resale inventory would be depleted in 8.4 months. This is 0.1 months faster as compared to February, and a full month faster than the 12-month average.
The Existing Home Sales report also included a breakdown by buyer-type.
- First-time buyers bought 33% of homes, down from 34% in February
- Repeat buyers bought 45% of homes, down from 47% in February
- Investors bought 22% of homes, up from 19% in February
35 percent of buyers paid in cash.
And, perhaps most noteworthy, according to the National Association of REALTORS®, 40 percent of March home resales were “distressed properties”. Distressed homes include foreclosures, short sales, and REO and typically sell at discounts “in the vicinity” of 20 percent.
Home prices in Coto de Caza are based on the basic economic theory of Supply and Demand. So, with home supplies dropping and demand for homes rising, it’s reasonable to expect home values to rise later this year.
If you’re in the market for a home, play the recent trends to your advantage. Today, homes are affordable and mortgage rates are low. This may not be the case later this year. The best “deals” of the year may be what you buy now.
According to the Census Bureau, seasonally-adjusted, single-family Housing Starts rebounded in March, increasing 8 percent over February’s 2-year low.
We can’t put too much faith in the data, however, because for the second straight month, the government reports that the data’s margin of error — 15 percent — exceeds its actual measurement.
As written in the footnotes, there’s no “statistical evidence to conclude that the actual change [in Housing Starts] is different from zero.”
In other words, single-family Housing Starts may have dropped up to 7 percent last month, or may have increased by as much as 22 percent. We won’t know for certain until several months from now. As the Census Bureau gathers more data, it will revise its initial monthly findings.
Such adjustments are common. February’s starts were revised higher by 4.5%, for example.
Also included in the Census Bureau’s report is the March 2011 Building Permits tally. As compared to February, permits were higher by 6 percent nationwide. This is a noteworthy development because permits-issued is an excellent forward-predictor for housing.
When permits are issued, 86 percent of them will start construction within 60 days. This means that new home sales and housing stock should follow the Building Permits report trend, but on a 2-month delay.
Permits were strong in all 4 regions last month:
- Northeast : +2.6 percent from February
- Midwest : +10.0 percent from February
- South : +5.3 percent from February
- West : +5.3 percent from February
With Building Permits rising, we can infer that the housing market is improving.
Therefore, if you’re currently looking for new construction, consider that the market may be less favorable for buyers 4-6 months from now than it is today. Especially because homebuilders are already projecting higher sales volume.
The better time to buy new construction — relative — may be now.
Homebuilder confidence is falling — a good sign for buyers of newly-built homes in and around Orange County.
According to the National Association of Homebuilders, the Housing Market Index slipped one point to 16 in April. It’s the 5th time in 6 months that the index read 16 — a figure exactly in line with the 1-year average, but still considered “poor”. The Housing Market Index reports on a scale of 1-100.
Values of 50 or better representing “favorable conditions”. Values below 50 are considered “unfavorable”.
It’s been 5 years since the Housing Market Index read north of 50.
As an index, the HMI is actually a composite of three separate surveys, the results of which can be as telling as the final, compiled results. The surveys focus on specific aspects about a homebuilder’s business, and use the broader responses to gauge overall market “sentiment”.
The 3 questions are:
- How are market conditions for the sale of new homes today?
- How are market conditions for the sale of new homes in 6 months?
- How is prospective buyer foot traffic?
In April, interestingly, home builders felt market conditions were worse across the board, but still cited higher buyer foot traffic. This may be the result of a combination of rising mortgage rates and falling home values. Both tend to be bad for builders, and both tend to spur home buyers into action.
As a home buyer this spring, therefore, use the HMI data to your advantage. When home builders feel less confident on housing, buyers can often exact better concessions and/or upgrades during the negotiation process.
And, so long as mortgage rates continue to rise, that pressure on builders should build.
Mortgage markets improved last week, buoyed by two days of out-sized gains. Mortgage rates bounced off their 8-week highs on much weaker-than-expected inflation data, and debt concerns abroad.
It’s an abrupt change in mortgage rate momentum.
Since the Federal Reserve’s March 2011 meeting, in which the Fed said rising energy costs are “putting upward pressure on inflation“, inflation chatter has figured big for Coto de Caza mortgage rates. With each tick higher in gas prices; in every conversation on U.S. debt load; as fruits and vegetables get more expensive at the supermarket, Wall Street’s fears of inflation have grown, and rate shoppers have suffered.
The connection between inflation and mortgage rates is straight-forward. Inflation is the devaluation of the U.S. dollar — the currency in which mortgage bonds are denominated. As the dollar loses values, so do mortgage bonds, therefore, leading mortgage rates to rise, inevitably.
Leading up to last week, concerns peaked and rates did, too. And then, a strange thing happened. The government’s March inflation report showed inflation well under control.
The results surprised Wall Street and the trades that had previously served to pump rate up, last week, ran in reverse.
The biggest gains were made Friday.
This week, inflation takes back-seat to housing data. There’s a lot of it coming.
- Monday : Homebuilder Confidence Index
- Tuesday : Housing Starts and Building Permits
- Wednesday : Existing Home Sales
- Thursday : Housing Market Index
There’s no data due Friday with markets closed for Good Friday.
This is a holiday-shortened week so expect low trading volume to render rates more erratic than typical. If you’re not yet locked in to a mortgage rate with your lender, consider doing it this week.
Foreclosure activity is much slower this year than last.
According to foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, the number of national foreclosure filings plunged 35 percent in March 2011 as compared to March 2010, a statistic that reflects a more healthy housing market and more robust outlook for 2011.
A “Foreclosure filing” is defined as any of the following : a default notice, a scheduled auction, or a bank repossessions. Foreclosures filings were down in all but 8 states last month.
Activity remains concentrated, too. More than half of all bank repossessions can be tied to just a handful of states.
In March, 6 states accounted for 51% of activity.
- California : 15% of all repossessions
- Florida : 9% of all repossessions
- Arizona : 7% of all repossessions
- Michigan : 7% of all repossessions
- Texas : 6% of all repossessions
- Nevada : 5% of all repossessions
At the other end of the spectrum is Vermont. With just 5 repossessions for all of March, Vermont accounted for 0.008% of repossessions nationwide.
Distressed homes remain in high demand among today’s home buyers, accounting for almost 40% of all home resales. It’s no wonder, either. Distresses home typically sell at a steep, 15 percent discount as compared to non-distressed properties.
Buying foreclosures can be a great “deal”. However, make sure you’ve done your homework.
Buying homes from banks is different from buying a homes from “people”. Contracts and negotiations are different, and homes are often sold with defects.
If you plan to buy a Trabuco Canyon foreclosure, therefore, make you you speak with a licensed real estate professional before submitting a bid. You can research a home online and learn a lot of the process, but when it’s time to purchase, put an experienced agent on your side.