The Daily Mortgage Advisor

Practical Mortgage Advice for Valued Clients

Browsing Posts published by Ken Watson, CMPS

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Existing Home Sales Dec 2008-Dec 2009Just one month after from blowing away Wall Street, December’s Existing Home Sales hit the skids, shedding nearly 17 percent and falling to a 4-month low.

Don’t be alarmed, though. The plunge was expected. And not just because Pending Home Sales cratered last month.

When November’s Existing Home Sales surged, it was clear to observers that an expiring $8,000 federal tax credit was the catalyst. At the time, the tax program was slated to expire November 30 and the looming deadline pushed a lot of would-be buyers from a December time frame into November.

The expiration date has a cannibalizing effect on December’s sales figures. It was only later that Congress extended the tax credit to June 30, 2010.

So, with home sales plunging in December, it’s no surprise that home supplies rose for the first time in 9 months. Home Supply is calculating by dividing the number of homes for sale by the current sales pace.

The national housing supply now rests at 7.2 months.

Despite December’s Existing Home Sales report appearing shaky, it’s actually terrific new for home buyers.

See, for the past few months, as housing has been improving, sellers nationwide have been bombarded by messages of “hot markets” and rising home prices by the media. Psychologically, a seller is more likely to hold firm on price if he believes the housing market is improving and now December’s data is deflating that argument.

This is why we say there’s always two sides to a housing story — the buyers’ side and the sellers’ side. And, usually, what’s good for one party is bad for the other. It’s what we’re seeing now.

Because of soft data like December’s Existing Home Sales, buyers may retake some negotiation leverage that’s been lost since Spring 2009, helping to improve home affordability and, perhaps, spur more sales.

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The FOMC meets this week -- mortgage rates will be volatileConforming and FHA mortgage rates improved last week on the combination of weaker-than-expected economic data and new anti-banking rhetoric from the White House.

The S&P 500 shed nearly 4 percent in its worst weekly showing since October 2009 as all 10 sectors fell. As the money left stock markets, it made its way to bonds — including the mortgage-backed variety.

As a result, mortgage rates fell for the third straight week.

Since shedding 300 basis points in December, mortgage bond pricing has recovered a bit more than half of those losses. It’s helping with home affordability and opening new refinance opportunities around the country.

This week, though, mortgage rates could rise back up. There’s a lot going on.

First, on Monday, the December Existing Homes Sales report will be released. The report is expected to be extremely weak as compared to November. This is because of a combination of factors including:

  1. The initial tax credit expiration date of November 30, 2009
  2. Sharply rising mortgage rates throughout the month of December
  3. A general slowdown from the holidays and from the weather

Therefore, don’t be surprised by the newspaper headlines you see Tuesday morning.

Other data this week includes the Case-Shiller Index — a measure of home prices nationwide — and the New Home Sales report. The Case-Shiller Index has registered mild home price improvement over the past 8 months and its latest report is expected to show the same. New Home Sales should be similarly strong.

But, the biggest news of the week is the first Federal Open Market Committee meeting of 2010.

The Fed meets Tuesday and Wednesday this week and Wall Street will be watching closely. The Fed is not expected to change the Fed Funds Rate from its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent, so, instead, markets will watching for the Fed’s post-meeting press release.

What the Fed says about the economy will be much more important that what it specifically does about the economy for now. If the Fed says the economy is growing as expected, look for mortgage rates to rise. Conversely, if the Fed says the economy is at risk, expect mortgage rates to fall.

The safest rate lock strategy this week is to lock your mortgage rate before the Fed’s 2:15 PM ET adjournment Wednesday. Rates will be bouncy all week, but once the Fed’s press release hits the wires, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.

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Housing Starts Jan 2008-Dec 2009A “Housing Start” is a privately-owned home on which construction has started. It’s an important gauge of housing health because it tracks new housing stock nationwide.

In December 2009, starts fell by nearly 7 percent.

The news is mildly disappointing but not too bad. The likely cause for the Housing Starts drop is December’s rough weather conditions. It’s tough to break ground when Mother Nature won’t coordinate and last month was especially hazardous in a lot of parts of the country.

More cheery, however, is that for the second straight month, Housing Permits exploded.

A housing permit is an certification from local government that authorizes construction. After posting a 7 percent gain in November, permits rose by another 8 percent in December.

It’s a signal that housing is, indeed, in recovery — despite the falling number of actual starts. More permits mean that builders plan to bring more homes on the market for what’s expected to be a very busy spring home-shopping season.

According to the Census Bureau, 82% of homes start construction within 60 days of permit-issuance. Therefore, Housing Starts should start rising soon anyway.

For home buyers, the news couldn’t be better.

With more homes coming online, competition among home sellers should increase, and that will suppress the rise in home prices nationwide.

It’s basic economics. When home supplies grow faster than home demand, prices fall.

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New FHA guidelinesSecuring an FHA mortgage is about to get more expensive.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Federal Housing Authority outlined policy changes to its mortgage assistance program. The shift is meant to both reduce the government group’s portfolio risk while strengthening its overall financials.

For consumers, the changes mean higher costs.

As listed in the official announcement, there are 3 major guideline updates for the FHA:

  1. Upfront mortgage insurance premiums are increasing to 2.25% from 1.75%
  2. Minimum downpayments for applicants with sub-580 FICOs are rising to 10 percent
  3. Seller concessions are being limited to 3%, down from today’s allowable 6%

Furthermore, the FHA has appealed to Congress to raise an FHA borrowers’ monthly mortgage insurance premiums.

To read the FHA’s statement, it’s clear what the group is trying to balance. On one side, the FHA wants to provide affordable financing to families that need it. That’s its mission statement. On the other side, though, the FHA must manage the risk that comes with insuring lesser-quality loans.

To that end, the FHA is stepping up its enforcement of “bad lenders” in hopes of stopping problems where they start.

Also in its new policies, the FHA is introducing a “termination clause”. If banks or loan officers that produce more than their fair share of bad loans, they lose their right to originate FHA mortgages.

As a result, homebuyers should expect tougher FHA underwriting in 2010. Not because the FHA says so, necessarily, but because banks don’t want to do “bad loans”. Lenders are incented to turn down at-risk applicants and, already, we’re seeing examples of this. Despite FHA allowing 580 FICOs and lower, many banks have made 620 their minimum.

Some have other guideline overlays, too.

The FHA’s new guidelines don’t go into effect until spring. So, between now and then, the old guidelines will apply. Therefore, if you know you’re going to need an FHA home loan in the next few months, consider moving up your time-frame.

If nothing else, you’ll save some money at closing.

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100 days remain for the Home Buyer Tax Credit ExpirationNovember 6, 2009, Congress voted to extend and expand the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit program. There’s 100 days left to claim it.

The expiration date of the up-to-$8,000 tax credit has been pushed forward to spring, requiring homebuyers to be under contract for a home no later than April 30, 2010, and to be closed no later than June 30, 2010.

In addition, “move-up” buyers were also added to the program’s eligibility list meaning you don’t have to be a first-time home buyer to be eligible for the tax credit. If you’ve lived in your home for 5 of the last 8 years, you meet the IRS requirements.

Move-up buyers are capped at a total tax credit of $6,500.

The tax credit’s basic eligibility requirements remain the same:

  • You can’t purchase the home from a parent, spouse, or child
  • You can’t purchase the home from an entity in which they’re a majority owner
  • You can’t acquire the home by gift or inheritance
  • All parties to the purchase must meet eligibility requirements

The new law includes some notable updates, however.

First, the subject property’s sales price may not exceed $800,000. Homes sold for more than $800,000 are ineligible. And, also, household income thresholds have been raised to $125,000 for single-filers and $225,500 for joint-filers.

And lastly, don’t forget that the program is a true tax credit — not a deduction. This means that a tax filer who’s eligible for the full $8,00 credit and whose “normal” tax liability totals $5,000 would receive a $3,000 refund from the U.S. Treasury at tax time.

The complete list of qualifying criteria is posted on the IRS website. Review it with a tax professional to determine your eligibility. Then mark your calendar for April 30, 2010.

There’s just 100 days to go.