South Orange County Blog from Bob Phillips

What Would Americans Do With an Extra Couple Hundred Bucks?

An article from The Atlantic, by Gillian B. White, dated  10/8/2015

That’s not a hypothetical question. Falling gas prices mean the average household will be about $700 richer this year.

shopping cartsFor most Americans, trying to cut back on bills involves a mix of discipline and sacrifice: Moving into a smaller place, searching for sales at the grocery store, or forgoing air conditioning on hot days, for examples. But drivers around the country have been getting a reprieve without any effort thanks to falling gas prices. So what are they doing with the unanticipated bonus in their bank accounts? Not saving it, a new report from J.P. Morgan finds.

The price of gas peaked at about $3.70 a gallon in 2014. At present, that price has declined by about $1.50. While those single-gallon prices might seem insignificant, they add up. Take the example of a Toyota Camry, one of the nation’s top-selling cars with a fuel tank that holds around 17 gallons: Filling a totally empty tank at the peak would cost over $60. Now it would cost a much more reasonable $37. And for those who rely on their car as the main method of transportation, that’s a big deal. It’s been estimated that over the course of 2015, Americans will save on average $700 thanks to the dip in gas prices. That’s more than government stimulus checks in recent years, which paid out between $300 and $600.

And they’re spending it—most of it, at least. According to the J.P. Morgan Institute, Americans are spending about 80 cents for every dollar they’ve saved. They’re going out to restaurants—which accounted for nearly 20 percent of gas savings—shopping for clothes, and buying groceries, electronics, and appliances.

These findings imply that Americans are feeling surprisingly upbeat about the economy. Were they more pessimistic, economists would expect them to be saving a greater portion of the money for the expected tough times ahead, or using the money strictly for essentials, like housing and bills. Other recent reports on the impact of lowered gas prices have painted a less optimistic picture. The Council of Economic Advisors puts the consumption bump at closer to 45 percent of gas savings, and a Gallup poll found that though nearly 60 percent of respondents said they’re feeling the positive effects of lower prices, only about one-quarter said that that they were spending the extra money. The bulk of respondents told Gallup that the money was going toward bills or savings.

So what explains the difference? The study’s authors, Diana Farrell and Fiona Greig note that these discrepancies could be related to sample size or more limited data in those surveys. In their study, J.P. Morgan analyzes the spending of 25 million clients via transactions on debit and credit cards between October 2012 and June 2015. While that certainly is a robust sample, it too has its own limitations and biases. For instance the bank’s data won’t capture transactions made with cash or on other credit or debit cards, which could be money that families are using for essentials rather than a night out or a new television. The data could also be skewed to reflect the habits and demographics of the bank’s clientele. For instance, the survey finds that gas bills account for only 2.9 percent of individual’s incomes in 2014 while the Consumer Expenditure Survey reports that it accounts for 3.7 percent, which could reflect a difference between where these sample groups live, their access to public transportation, or their income.

Nonetheless, some of the broad trends are intriguing. The data show that the gas-price infusion is obviously not spread equally among all Americans. It’s more heavily concentrated among those who live in the South and Midwest where people drive more, over greater distances, and have decreased access to and use of public transportation. The savings are also more meaningful for low-income households—who saw their monthly disposable income climb by more than 1 percent for those pulling in less than $30,000 a year—and young people.

Though the money spent on gas makes up a nominal amount of consumption in the grand scheme, the impact of gas prices on American families can be a telling way to assess how confident people are feeling about spending. It could also help predict spending trends should prices hold steady, or increase in the future. That could help inform policy decisions on things like gas taxes. For an economy that’s been puttering along with little wage growth, increasing costs of living, and little disposable income—spending is a good thing. It puts more money into businesses, which then creates more jobs and helps spur further economic growth. And there hasn’t been quite enough of that since 2008.

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What’s Your Outlook on the Real Estate Market?

An article by Colin Robertson, of TheTruthAboutMortgage.com, 7/23/2015

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So here’s a true story. Yesterday, a good friend of mine asked the following question via text message: “What’s your outlook on the real estate market…we are looking to buy a place soon.”

That’s the exact message he sent over last night; there weren’t any emoticons by the way, sadly.

I saw the message but did my best to avoid answering it for about half an hour. Then I finally cracked and responded with the following:

“In a word, overpriced. But if you really want to buy a home that’s your deal. It’s not always about the investment.”

Now in the past I may have just left it at “overpriced,” but I’ve learned that such remarks are often met with resistance. I also don’t want to ruin anyone’s grand plans.

And it’s true, buying a home isn’t just about the investment. It’s not simply about timing the market and making a killer profit, that is, unless you’re a real estate investor.

For most people it’s a home. It’s a place to live. There are reasons to buy other than turning a profit.

So my outlook has changed, or perhaps broadened, to include benefits beyond making money.

But my point was basically that it’s not an ideal time to buy in terms of investment, but it could be a great time to buy a home if there’s one you really like and want to own.

At the end of the day, if he gets the home he wants, he’ll probably be happy, even if it doesn’t double in value in five years. Even if it flat lines or drops, he’ll probably still be happy if he truly loves the home.

And over time, he’ll surely build equity and come out ahead as home prices reach new heights.

National Median Sales Price Reaches All-Time High

Yesterday, the National Association of Realtors reported that the national median sales price reached an all-time high.

The price of a median existing home climbed to $236,400 in June, a 6.5% increase from a year earlier, enough to surpass the previous peak median sales price reached in July 2006 ($230,400).

For the record, the median sales price has increased year-over-year for 40 consecutive months, so yes, home prices have been on a tear.

Home sales have also been white-hot, with existing sales hitting their highest level in over eight years (February 2007).

Properties are also being scooped up faster than ever, with the average time on market only 34 days in June, down from 40 days in May, making it the shortest amount of time since NAR began tracking in 2011.

I also got word from a real estate agent friend that new home sales are picking up again. Recently, builders were offering discounts, but now that inventory is so low, they’re increasing prices and slashing discounts.

This is basically a testament to the supply/demand imbalance that is causing home prices to keep rising, and making bidding wars a common situation.

It’s for these reasons that I don’t love the current market as a buyer. At the same time, selling isn’t ideal either because there’s a good chance home prices will continue to increase.

In fact, if you look at real prices adjusted for inflation, home prices aren’t really at new all-time highs. In today’s dollars, the median would have to be closer to $260,000.

So buying because you love a home still makes sense today, as it always will. And you’ll probably do just fine if you can afford the home and stay in it for several years.

But if I had to take a side, I’d say that home prices are bloated and the competition is fierce. That certainly makes it a lot less attractive to buy today than in the very recent past. I’m taking a wait and see approach. ( End of Colin’s article.)

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Four Excellent Reasons to Buy a Home So You Can Get out of the “Renting Rut”

Three Excellent Reasons to Buy a Home So You Can Get out of the Renting a home is a good option for some, but buying a home just might be the best thing for you.

There are some big advantages to buying a house that will help you get out of your renting rut and focus more on your future.

#1.)  Build Equity

Did you know that when you rent a home, you help someone else build equity? Any changes that you make with your landlord’s approval puts money back in his or her pocket. Keeping the yard clean and taking care of routine maintenance builds equity in that property. When you buy a home of your own, you have the chance to build equity of your own, which can add significantly to your net worth.

#2.)  Save On Your Taxes

When you rent a house, you cannot deduct the money you spend on your taxes. Though some states will let you make a small deduction based on the total amount you spend in rent each month, you cannot make any deductions on your federal taxes. When you buy a home, you can save with a few different types of deductions.

The federal government lets you make a deduction if your home is worth more than what you currently owe on your taxes. If you purchased your first home, you can make a deduction in regards to your property taxes. You can also deduct money that you spend on some renovations and energy saving appliances.

#3.)  Put Your Personal Touch On Things

As long as you continue renting, you live in a home that belongs to someone else. Your landlord has final say over what you do and do not do. This often means that you cannot make repairs or significant changes without seeking approval first.

Renting a home lets you put your personal touch on things. You can paint the walls any colors you want, rip out the carpet to add hardwood flooring or even make significant changes outside to turn your new home into your dream home.

#4.)  Interest Rates Are STILL Incredibly LOW!

One factor that has contributed to home affordability has been the incredibly low interest rates that have been available for the last couple of years.

Now that you know more about the benefits of buying a home and how that purchase can get you out of the rental rut you’re in currently, isn’t it a good time to give me a call? I would be thrilled to assist you in becoming a homeowner. Let’s go home shopping!

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Three iPhone and Android Apps That Make Managing Your Mortgage Payments Quick and Easy

Three iPhone and Android Apps That Make Managing Your Mortgage Payments Quick and EasyYour mortgage payment may be among the largest payments you make every month. While certainly an important part of your budget, this payment is also critical to helping you build equity in your home because it attributes to mortgage principal reduction. Managing your mortgage payments can be challenging, but there are some incredible apps available for use with Android or iPhone smartphones that can simplify your mortgage management tasks.

Mortgage Mentor

This app is available for both iPhones and Android devices, and is designed to be compatible with all types of mortgages. It can calculate PMI for adjustable rate and variable rate mortgages, and it can help you to determine the true cost of a mortgage. Through the use of this intelligent app, you can track your account information in real-time, or you can manipulate the numbers to help you to make more thoughtful and intelligent decisions about your finances.

Loan Calculator Pro

This app is only currently available on iOS devices, but those with this operating system may want to download it today. It has some of the same capabilities as Mortgage Mentor, but it goes a step above and beyond by providing you with mortgage payment notification reminders. It also has a unique feature that allows you to set a final payoff date for your mortgage, and it will calculate how much money you need to pay per month toward your mortgage to accomplish this goal.

Bill Payment Log

The Bill Payment Log app is a unique program that can entirely replace the outdated manual entry checkbook balancing task. It is suitable for use with iOS, Android and even Windows. You can use it to monitor and track payments for all credit accounts, including mortgages. While it does not have the analytical tools associated with some of the other mortgage apps, those who are looking for an all-in-one app that facilitates bill payment tasks for all accounts, this may be a great option to consider.

Making your mortgage payments on time is important, but you also may need to know if you need to pay extra each month and what the effects of that will be. You may also be concerned about “what if” scenarios for your adjustable rate mortgage. There are numerous apps available on the market today that can help you to facilitate your efforts, and these are among the leading choices available.

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Southern California Rents Are UP

prices-upShould You rent or buy? This is a question many would-be homeowners ask themselves. All too often You are left with the thought that owning is simply unaffordable. Fortunately, I have news for anyone who is “on the fence” about buying or renting; the decision to buy might become a little easier, as a new study from USC  predicts that rents will rise over the next two years.

According to the research performed by USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate, rents across Southern California are expected to rise significantly by 2016 – the latest reminder of growing affordability difficulties throughout California.

In Los Angeles County, it’s expected rents will jump by 8.2% by 2016, increasing to an average monthly rent of $1,856. Similarly, rents are expected to increase by 8.6%, 9.9% and 6.9% across Orange County, the Inland Empire and San Diego County respectively.

On average, the SoCal region is expected to see an 8% bump, increasing faster than the 3%-4% rise we’ve seen this year, or more than 10% since January 2013.

What impact will higher rent have on the housing market? While the study from USC suggests that rental vacancy rates will slightly decline, many RE professionals are certain that this bump will be enough to drive some renters back into the buying market.

Richard Green, director of the Lusk Center, commented on the matter saying, “Though the economy and employment have improved, renters’ incomes are stagnant. So while net absorption and occupancy rates are moving in the right direction, affordability continues to worsen.”

In South Orange County, we are presently entering the Fall buying season, during which prices tend to become more negotiable. ( I usually recommend this time of year – until the end of January – as THE best time of the year to buy a house.)  Softer, more negotiable prices, combined with historically low interest rates, make for an unusually good environment, for buyers.  If you’re even just in the thinking about it stage, this might be a good time to get serious, and give me a call.

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Experiencing ‘Purchase Anxiety’? How to Calm Your Nerves Before Committing to Buy a New Home

Experiencing 'Purchase Anxiety'? How to Calm Your Nerves Before Committing to Buy a New HomeWhether this is your first big purchase, or your family is moving to a new location or looking for more space, buying a home has its share of ups and downs.

It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious about whether or not you’ve found the right property. Here are some things you can do to make yourself feel more secure with your decision.

Do The Math

You’ve probably already done this, but it’s okay to go over it a number of times to be sure. Factor in your household income and all the bills you expect to pay every month. Add everything up.

It sounds like a stressful activity, but when you look at the numbers and realize that buying a home is actually doable, it can be a liberating feeling.

When you know for sure you can make it as a homeowner without getting underwater, you will feel more confident.

Meet The Neighbors

If you haven’t had the chance to knock on a couple of doors yet, you should spend some time saying hello to people in the neighborhood. The more you can get to talking with families that are just like yours, the more you will be able to picture yourself as a member of the community.

If you have kids, find out if there are other kids the same age nearby. That will help to ease their anxiety about moving as well.

Ask Your Agent

Don’t feel like you are being overly cautious if you ask your real estate agent and or mortgage professional your lingering questions. Make sure you’re getting a good price for the area, and make sure you know about any issues with the condition of the property.

You should be able to trust that your realtor and mortgage professional are excited for your decision.

Familiarize Yourself With The Neighborhood

Take a drive and figure out which stores you’re nearest to, the route you can take to get to work, and which other amenities you might take advantage of. Home buyers often underestimate how important living in a safe neighborhood with plenty of accessible businesses can be.

The more you can imagine yourself living at your new address, the better you will feel.

Remember, never sign the papers on a new home unless you feel one hundred percent secure in your buying decision.

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Can One Missed Mortgage Payment Affect Your Credit Rating? Yes! Here’s What to Do if You Miss One

Can One Missed Mortgage Payment Affect Your Credit Rating? Yes! Here's What to Do if You Miss OneMost people don’t know whether or not a single missed mortgage payment can have serious consequences for their credit score.

The good news is that there are things that can be done to mitigate the damage and help anyone who has missed a payment repair their credit. What are some options to help homeowners get back in the good graces of their creditors?

Own Up To The Mistake

The best thing to do is to admit that the payment was missed and immediately make amends for it. For the most part, mortgage lenders are sympathetic to the fact that people miss payments for reasons that may be beyond their control.

By calling the lender as soon as it appears that a payment may be late or not forthcoming at all, it is easier to make arrangements to roll that payment back into the mortgage or take other steps to decrease the odds of a negative remark being made on a credit report.

Don’t Let A Single Missed Payment Turn Into Multiple Missed Payments

While a single missed payment can hurt a credit score, it is important to not compound the mistake by missing more payments. In some cases, someone may decide to make up for the late payment before making any further payments.

However, that only makes the mistake worse because a borrower will be considered late on all subsequent payments. It is better to make the most current payment on time and make the late payment the secondary priority.

Hire A Third-Party If Necessary To Negotiate A Loan Modification

It is important to not let emotion get in the way of negotiating a modification to a mortgage. When a borrower hires a credit counselor or a bankruptcy attorney to talk his or her creditors, the negotiations can stay professional and on topic.

In most cases, a lender will be willing to make modifications for those who need them because it is better to get the money from the borrower willingly instead of having to go through a foreclosure proceeding.

While a missed mortgage payment can be bad news for a credit score, it is possible to make amends for the missed payment while minimizing long-term damage to a borrower’s credit score. By owning the mistake, staying current on all future payments and working with a third-party, it may be possible for a lender to forget that the missed payment ever happened.

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An Insider’s Guide to Reducing Your Remaining Mortgage Years Through a Smart Refinance

Reasons_Why_You_Should_Consider_Refinancing_Your_MortgageIs it always the best idea to pay off a mortgage over 30 years? While it may help a homeowner lower his or her monthly payment, it can mean paying more in interest and waiting several more years to build sufficient equity in the home.

The question is…how can a homeowner reduce the amount of time it takes to pay off a mortgage by refinancing his or her loan? A few methods for reducing your mortgage term are explained below.

Refinance From A 30-Year Mortgage To A 15-Year Mortgage

For those who don’t want to wait any longer than necessary to pay off their home loan, it may be possible to refinance to a shorter-term mortgage. Instead of taking 30 years to pay off the loan, a homeowner can opt to pay off the loan in 10 years or 15 years. The shorter the term, the less interest will be paid on the loan.

Get A Lower Interest Rate With A Shorter-Term Mortgage

Another good reason to shorten a mortgage term is because it could lower the loan’s interest rate. Instead of paying 4.5 percent over 30 years, it may be possible to pay 4 percent over 15 years. This gives the mortgage holder the chance to build equity in the home faster as they are paying more of the principal balance with each payment. While a mortgage holder can pay more than the minimum amount on a longer-term mortgage each month, it could still end up costing more overall due to the terms of the loan. Be sure to ask your mortgage professional about your options here.

Stop Paying Mortgage Insurance

Those who are paying mortgage insurance could be paying $200 or more per month for nothing more than the right to protect the lender against default. Homeowners who could qualify for a conventional loan should attempt to refinance to a conventional loan if possible to avoid making this payment. Instead of going toward mortgage insurance, put that money toward the principal balance on the loan. There are, of course, risks involved with this approach so be sure to fully discuss them with a professional.

How Can Someone Refinance A Loan?

Now that you know how to pay off your mortgage faster through a refinance, how can someone go about refinancing a home loan? Fortunately, refinancing is similar to the process of securing the home’s first loan. All a borrower will need to do is find a lender that he or she wants to work with, find an offer that works for that borrower and then close on the deal. Although there may be closing costs associated with the new loan, some lenders may be willing to waive some or all of them on a refinance.

Paying off a mortgage as soon as possible can help a borrower save money while building equity in the home at a faster pace. This gives a homeowner financial strength as well as the flexibility to sell the house in the future without worrying about losing money in the deal. To find out more about refinancing options, talk to a mortgage lender.  I have a few excellent local choices, if you need a recommendation for one.

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9 out of 10 homebuyer assistance programs have funding

Down Payment Resource estimates 7 out of 10 homes for sale could qualify

From Inman News, June 13th 2014

piggy-bank-300x199An analysis of homebuyer assistance programs available through state and local housing finance agencies (HFAs)  and nonprofit groups around the nation found that 90 percent are funded, and that 70 percent of homes for sale could be eligible for one or more programs.

The analysis of 1,654 homebuyer assistance programs, by Down Payment Resource, found that Southern states had the greatest number of programs (598). But the 228 programs offered in the Northeast were the most likely to be funded — 96.5 percent had money to provide help to eligible buyers such as down payment and closing cost assistance, grants, tax credits, and affordable first mortgages with competitive or below-market interest rates.

A state-by-state breakdown shows California had the most programs — 283 — but that only 81.6 percent were  funded. Hawaii had 13 programs, but only six were funded.

Funding for homebuyer assistance programs comes from sources that include mortgage revenue bonds and mortgage-backed securities. During the depths of the housing downturn, the lack of liquidity in bond markets made it difficult or impossible for HFAs to issue bonds, and many scaled back their programs and raised rates. The federal government helped revive the programs by buying securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backed by new mortgage revenue bonds issued by the HFAs.

Down Payment Resource is a tool developed by Atlanta-based Workforce Resource that helps homebuyers and real estate agents providing services to them determine whether they, and homes they are interested in buying, qualify for down payment assistance and other homebuyer assistance programs.

The tool is available through the Down Payment Resource website, downpaymentresource.com, and about two dozen partner organizations, including 19 multiple listings services.

When MLSs integrate the Down Payment Resource tool with listings data, consumers shopping for homes on websites operated by the MLS and its member brokers and agents see a special icon next to for-sale listings that may qualify for assistance programs. Buyers are prompted to answer a few questions to see if they, themselves, are eligible for the available programs.

Three MLSs are launching Down Payment Resource tool this month, and all have a high percentage of listings that could be eligible for one more more assistance programs:

  • Corpus Christi, Texas-based Coastal Bend MLS (83 percent of listings eligible for one or more programs).
  • South Dakota-based Realtor Association of the Sioux Empire (75 percent of listings eligible).
  • Intermountain MLS (Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho, with 87 percent of listings eligible).

Rob Chrane, president and CEO of Down Payment Resource, said buyers taking advantage of down payment assistance and other programs are able to apply savings to moving expenses, emergencies and retirement. Most assistance programs also require homeownership counseling, which has been shown to decrease the risk of default and foreclosure.

Although many programs are reserved for first-time homebuyers, anyone who has not owned a home in the last three years will typically qualify as a first-time homebuyer.

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California Home Sales “Jump” Higher in March

An article by Colin Robins, from DSNews.com, April 17th, 2014:

quizzical-lookThe California Association of Realtors (CAR) reported 367,000 closed escrow sales of existing single-family detached homes, seasonally adjusted at an annualized rate. March marked the fifth straight month with sales below the 400,000 level, and the eighth month of declining sales on a year-over-year basis.

According to the group, “The statewide sales figure represents what would be the total number of homes sold during 2014 if  sales maintained the March pace throughout the year.”

Sales increased from February by 1.4 percent, but were down 12.3 percent from March 2013.

“While the demand for housing was up from February, the market is taking a hit from lower housing affordability compared to a year ago, which led to a decline in home sales from last year,” said CAR president, Kevin Brown. “Moreover, concerns over tighter lending standards and increased borrowing costs are also contributing factors to the sluggish market as they both negatively impact the bottom line of home buyers who obtain financing through mortgages.”

Home prices jumped upward as well, reversing a February decline to land on a 7.7 percent increase for March. March’s price  was 14.9 percent higher than prices from March 2013. Prices have increased on a year-over-year basis for two full years, with 21 straight months of double-digit annual gains.

Housing inventory tightened in March, with the available supply of existing, single-family homes for sale slipping to four months.

“While housing inventory has loosened since last year, it’s still below what’s considered typical in a normal market,” said CAR VP and Chief Economist, Leslie Appleton-Young. “Many of the listings continue to be priced above what the market will bear and are not moving. As such, even with improved home prices over the past year, new listings are lagging because would-be sellers who have limited options on where to move are hesitant to put their properties on the market.” ( End of Colin’s article.)

From Bob Phillips:  I plugged in a photo of a guy with a quizzical look on his face because – to me – the headline word “jump”  used by the author didn’t seem to match the article.  To me, there were a few ups & downs, but I sure didn’t detect a “jump” either in the number of sales, or in prices. “Nudge”, maybe, even “move”, but not a “jump”.

To me, the current market in South Orange County seems fairly mixed, with no discernible movement, or pattern.  I’m seeing more of a balance, between buyers and sellers, with no distinct advantage, for either.  I would call it either normal, or possibly neutral, but definitely not jumping, for anyone.

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