Buy Now Hard Money

Underpromise. Overdeliver.

Browsing Posts in Housing Sales and Values

Retail Sales (2009-2010)Consumers keep spending, the economy keeps growing.

Mortgage rates are easing lower this morning on just-released, slightly worse-than-expected Retail Sales data from December 2010.

Excluding motor vehicles and auto parts, December’s sales receipts were $1.5 billion higher from November. Analysts had expected a number north of $2 billion.

Despite falling short of estimates, however, December’s reading is the highest in Retail Sales history, surpassing the previous record set in July 2008, set during the recession. In addition, December’s strong numbers helped 2010’s year-over-year numbers go positive for the first time in 3 years.

Although the data is a mixed bag for Wall Street, home affordability is improving today.

The link between Retail Sales and home affordability may not be up-front obvious, but in a post-recession economy like ours, it’s often tight. Retail Sales is another name for “consumer spending” and consumer spending makes up more that 70% of the U.S. economy.

As spending grows, the economy tends to, too.

Investors recognize this and start chasing “risk”. It becomes a boost for the stock market, but those gains are made at the expense of “safe” asset classes which include mortgage-backed bonds. Mortgage-backed bonds are the basis for conforming and FHA mortgage rates so, as bond markets sell off, asset prices fall and rates move up.

Thankfully, rate shoppers will avoid that scenario today — at least for today. December’s Retail Sales results are a factor in the bond market’s early-day improvement. Conforming and FHA mortgage rates across the state of Massachusetts should be lower today.

Non-Farm Payrolls (Jan 2009-Dec 2010)On the first Friday of each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Non-Farm Payrolls report.

More commonly called “the jobs report”, the government’s data include raw employment figures and the Unemployment Rate.

The jobs report hit the wires at 8:30 AM ET today. It’s making big waves in the mortgage market and may help home affordability for buyers this weekend, and would-be refinancers across New Hampshire.

For this month, and for the rest of 2011, employment data will figure big in mortgage markets.

7 million jobs were lost in 2008 and 2009. Fewer than one million jobs were recovered in 2010. For the economy to fully recover, analysts believe that jobs growth is paramount.

Consider how job creation influences the economy:

  1. More jobs means more income and more spending
  2. More spending means more business growth
  3. More business growth means more job creation

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle and, as business grows, the economy expands, pushing stock markets higher. This tends to lead mortgage rates higher, too, because bonds can lose their appeal when stock markets gain.

According to the government, 103,000 jobs were created in December, and October’s and November’s figures were revised higher by a net 50,000 jobs for a total of 153,000 new jobs created. Economists expected a net gain of 135,000.

The Unemployment rate fell to 9.4, its lowest level since mid-2009.

Wall Street is voting with its dollars right now. Mortgage bonds are improving, pointing to slightly lower mortgage rates today.

The December jobs report was “average”, and home affordability is improving.  That means that investors will have a larger pool of end buyers, but also more competition for bargain properties

Pending Home Sales (May 2009 - November 2010)The housing market continues to expand, and surprise.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, November’s Pending Home Sales Index gained 3 percent from October. A “pending home sale” is a home under contract but not yet closed.

The index is now at its highest point since April 2010’s federal tax credit contract expiration deadline.

If the tax credit really did “borrow” sales from the summer months, as has been theorized, housing has rebuilt its foundation.

We know this because, of all the housing data available to  homeowners and home buyers, the Pending Home Sales Index stands apart as a forward-looking report — its designed purpose as described in its methodology.

Because 80% of all homes under contract close within 60 days, and a statistically significant share of the rest close within months 3 and 4, the Pending Home Sales Index is an excellent predictor of future Existing Home Sales data.

This is in contrast to the New Home Sales data and Case-Shiller Index, as examples, which both describe the real estate market as it existed two months in the past. The Pending Home Sales Index reports on housing as it exists right now. We should expect January’s Existing Home Sales report, therefore, to show marked strength, consistent with a housing market recovery.

The downside of the Pending Home Sales Index is that it’s a national report and real estate is not sold nationally — it’s sold locally. To get a feel for your home market and how it’s faring, talk to a licensed real estate agent with access to local home sale data.

If pending sales data is available, so much the better. Forward-looking figures can be more helpful than data that’s already old.

Case-Shiller October 2010

The Case-Shiller Index posted awful numbers in its most recent reading. Each of the index’s 20 tracked markets showed home price deterioration between September’s and October’s respective reports. Some markets fell as much as 2.9 percent.

The drop in values is nothing about which to panic, however. The Case-Shiller Index is just re-reporting what we already knew. It’s a common theme with the Case-Shiller Index, actually; a trait traced to the report’s methodology.

The Case-Shiller Index is an imperfect housing indicator with 3 inherent flaws.

The first flaw is that the index makes use of a limited data set, tracking values in just 20 cities nationwide. That data set is then projected across the more than 3,100 other municipalities in the United States. The “national figures”, therefore, aren’t really national.

The second flaw is that, even within the tracked 20 cities, not all home sales are included. The Case-Shiller Index only tracks sales of single-family, detached homes, and within that market subset, it only uses homes that are “repeat sales”. This specifically excludes sales of condominiums and multi-family homes, and new construction.

Lastly, Case-Shiller Index’s third flaw is its “age”. The Case-Shiller Index reports on a 60-day delay, and the values it reports are tied to contracts written even longer ago.  Sales contracts from July and August are responsible for October’s closings so when we see the Case-Shiller Index as reported in December, some of the data it’s reporting is 5 months old already. That’s too old to be relevant.

Looking back at 2010, housing was at its weakest between May and August. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the most recent Case-Shiller Index shows significant weakness.  Looking forward, we should expect the report to improve — especially because of how strong New Home Sales and Existing Home Sales have been since summer.

The Case-Shiller Index is helpful for economists and policy-makers. It’s not much good for individual homeowners, however. For accurate, real-time housing data, talk to a real estate professional instead.

Predicting mortgage and housingWith 2010 coming to a close, the “experts” are out in full force, making predictions for next year’s housing and mortgage markets on business television and in the papers.

Predictions for 2011 are wide-ranging:

The problem with housing and mortgage predictions is that — like all predictions — they’re just educated guesses about the future. Nobody knows what will really happen with the housing and mortgage markets in 2011. All anyone can do is theorize. As laypersons, though, it can be hard to separate theory from fact.

Television can make that task even more difficult at times.

As an example, when a well-dressed economist goes on CNBC and presents a clear, succinct argument for why home prices will fall on 2011, we’re inclined to believe the analysis and conclusion. After all, the outcome seems plausible outcome given the facts. But then, immediately after, a different economist presents an opposite argument — that home prices will rise in 2011 — and her analysis seems sound, too.

Even Freddie Mac can’t see the future.

Last year, the government group predicted mortgage rates to 6 percent in 2010. That never happened, of course. Instead, conforming mortgage rates dropped over a 7-month period this year to levels best be described as “historic”.  Freddie Mac couldn’t have been more wrong.

So, what’s a homeowner to believe?

About the only thing that’s certain right now is that mortgage rates remain low by historical standards, and that home prices do, too. Also, that both housing and mortgage markets appear to be riding momentum higher into 2011.  This suggests that it will be more expensive to buy and finance a home by the end of 2011.

Until that time, however, predictions are just guesses.

Existing Home Supply (Nov 2009 - Nov 2010)Existing Home Sales jumped another 6 percent in November, the report’s third month of improvement since bottoming in July.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, a quarter-million more existing homes were sold during the annual period ending in November as compared to October.  An “existing home” is a home that cannot be considered new construction.

Additionally, the national housing supply dropped by a full month. At the current pace of existing home sales, the complete stock of homes for sale will be exhausted in 9.5 months.

November’s strong housing data is yet another signal to buyers that the housing market’s foundation has been rebuilt, and that a rebound is imminent.  It’s helped that there are great “deals” on which for buyers to pounce.

In November, short sales and foreclosures accounted for one-third of all existing homes sold, and carried an average price discount of 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively, as compared to non-distressed sales.

Repeat buyers continue to power the market, too, representing more than half of all home buyers.

  • First-time buyers : 32% of all buyers
  • Investors : 19% of all buyers
  • Repeat buyers : 51% of all buyers

This breakdown suggests that housing has regained its footing. First-time buyers can’t support a market long-term like repeat buyers can and, as compared to 12 months ago, the percentage of repeat buyers is now up 14 points.

Home buyers take note. Raw sales volume is rising and available inventory is dropping. Basic supply-and-demand tells us that this will lead home prices higher. Furthermore, mortgage rates are rising quickly, increasing the cost of homeownership.

If buying a home is a part of your plan for 2011, consider accelerating your purchase time frame. Existing homes account for more than 80% of homes sold nationwide. If the market keeps improving like this, your home affordability will worsen.

National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index (Nov 2009-Dec 2010)Home builder confidence is holding firm this month, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The group’s monthly Housing Market Index survey posted 16 for December. That’s the same value as from November. It’s also equal to this 2010’s average HMI reading.

HMI is scored on a scale of 1-100, and is a composite of 3 separate home builder surveys measuring single-family sales; projected single-family sales over the next six months; and prospective buyer foot traffic.

The results of the 3 surveys were as follows:

  • Single-Family Sales : 16 (unchanged from November)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 25 (unchanged from November)
  • Prospective Buyer Foot Traffic : 11 (from 12 in November)

Values of 50 or better indicate favorable conditions for home builders. Values below 50 indicate unfavorable conditions.

In other words, although improving, conditions for home builders remain less from excellent. Home buyers can use this to their advantage. When builders feel pressure from the market, they’re more likely to offer discounts.

On the other hand, job growth is returning, the economy is expanding, and mortgage rates are rising. These 3 factors are thought to boost housing markets. So, despite an unfavorable HMI reading, home builders might still be less willing to “make a deal”; holding out for a better 2011.

November’s strong Housing Starts data supports that line of thinking.

If you’re buying a newly-built home , or expect to buy sometime in 2011, keep an eye on home builder sentiment surveys. The better the builders feel, the more you may be asked to pay to buy your next home.

Home Affordability - Top and Bottom 5 markets 2010 Q3

Last quarter, with home prices still relatively low and mortgage rates making new, all-time lows almost weekly, the cost of home ownership was extraordinarily low in New Hampshire and most U.S. markets.

According to the National Association of Home Builders’ quarterly Home Opportunity Index, 72.5 percent of all new and existing homes sold between June-September 2010 were affordable to families earning the national median income. This ties the all-time high for home affordability, set in the first quarter of 2009.

The data also underscores that, when compared to historical norms, it’s a fantastic time to be a home buyer.

Prior to 2009, the Home Opportunity Index rarely topped 65. The index has remained above 70 ever since.

All real estate is local, though, and on a city-by-city basis, home affordability varied last quarter.

For example, 96% of homes sold in Kokomo, IN are affordable for families earning the area’s median income. This handily beat the average figure and led the nation. Looking at major cities, Indianapolis led the pack.

93% of homes in Indianapolis are affordable to families earning the area’s median income. This ranks #9 nationwide.

On the opposite end of the affordability scale is the New York-White Plains, NY-Wayne, NJ region. For the 10th consecutive quarter, the New York Metro region ranks last in U.S. home affordability. Just 23% of homes are affordable to families earning the local median income, although this is 3 points higher versus Q1 2010.

The rankings for all 225 metro areas are available online.

Regardless of where your hometown ranks relative to its neighbors, home affordability remains high as compared to historical values. That said, with mortgage rates rising and home sales expected to climb this winter, it’s unlikely that the Home Opportunity Index will improve.

Buying a home may never be this inexpensive again. If you planned to buy in mid-2011, consider moving up your time frame.

Pending Home Sales (Apr 2009 - Oct 2010)The Pending Home Sales Index surged 10 percent in October as low mortgage rates and low home prices spurred buyers into action.

A “pending home sale” is an existing home under contract to sell, but not yet closed. The Pending Home Sales Index is at its highest level since April 2010 — the contract deadline date for this year’s federal home buyer tax credit program.

The jump may also explain why home builder confidence is rising even as the number of new homes sold fades. Builders are seeing buyers’ renewed interest in housing first-hand and expect the next 6 months to be dramatically better.

On a regional basis, gains in October’s Pending Home Sales Index varied as compared to September. The Midwest led the charge, and the West was the laggard.

  • Northeast Region: +19.6%
  • Midwest Region : +27.3%
  • South Region : +7.1%
  • West Region : -0.4%

Home buyers should take last month’s Pending Home Sales Index to heart. According to the National Association of Realtors®, 80 percent of homes under contract close within 60 days, so we can reasonably expect November’s and December’s existing homes sales data to be similarly strong.

In other words, the housing market is heating up and may have already shifting toward sellers. Changes like that lower buyer leverage, and increase the cost of homeownership. Coupled with rising mortgage rates, the shift is even more defined.

The best time to buy a home this year may have already passed. The next best time may be right now.

Talk to your real estate agent if you’re planning to buy a home in 2011. It may be smart to move up your time frame.

Case-Shiller Change In Home Values September 2009-2010

Standard & Poors released the September Case-Shiller Index Tuesday. The Case-Shiller Index is a home-value tracker. The report shows home prices down 0.7% from August and values fading, in general.

Case-Shiller representatives assessed the findings as “another weak report; weaker than last month”, citing deterioration in 18 of 20 tracked markets. Upward pricing momentum from the summer is slowing and values remain 30% off the market’s June 2006 peak. It could spell bad news for home sellers this winter.

That said, the Case-Shiller Index is imperfect; its methodology flawed. The index is not meant for use by individual buyers or sellers — for 3 reasons.

First, the Case-Shiller Index reports on a 2-month delay. Today is December 1 and we’re discussing data from September. In the 8 weeks since, the economy has shifted to a net jobs gainer, and the Federal Reserve has committed to $600 billion in re-investment.  These are major developments that weren’t a part of September’s housing market, but are relevant today.

Especially because employment is largely believed to be a keystone to housing.

Second, the Case-Shiller sample set is limited to just 20 cities nationwide. This means that most U.S. home sales are specifically not included in the Case-Shiller Index’s monthly findings.

And that ties into reason number three — all real estate is local. No matter what the Case-Shiller Index says about the country, what matters to your local market is what’s happening in your local market. Each neighborhood has its own housing economy and that’s something that can’t be captured by a national report.