Posted in Around The Home

My Home Is Flooded. What Do I Do?

How To Respond To A FloodWith large swaths of the country bracing for an historic Mississippi River flood, it’s important to remember that floods aren’t just regional.

Flood waters can strike any city, in any state, at any time. According to, floods are the #1 most common disaster in the United States. $709 million in flood insurance claims were paid to households, businesses, and renters in 2010 — more than one-third of which went to people outside of “high-risk areas”.

Should a flood hit your home or place of business, will you know what to do? The first 24 hours are crucial.

First, make sure that your home is safe from danger. Floods can damage a home’s structural integrity, creating cracks and gaps in its foundation, among other problems. If you see any such damage, your home may be unsafe for re-entry.

Next, check for exposed power lines and damaged gas and sewer pipes. Notify your local utility company and be prepared to wait for a service representative. During times of natural disaster, utility companies receive a lot of inbound phone calls.

A good follow-up is to disconnect your home’s power at its circuit breaker. This way, electricity can’t mix with water in your home by accident — a potentially lethal combination.

Once your home is safe, use a camera to document damage. Note: Do this before you start removing water or making repairs because it’s evidence for the insurers.

You’ll also want to throw out food and other items that have come into contact with flood waters. Flood waters may contain raw sewage and other contaminants that can harm you.

Lastly, contact your insurer and explain your situation. Be sure to follow your insurer’s exact instructions because you don’t want to do something that will void your claim. If you plan to make an immediate repair, notify your agent. Document your conversation with date, time, and topics discussed.

Like utility companies, your insurer may be overwhelmed with phone calls during a local flood. Optionally, you may call your insurer’s headquarters instead. 

Just one inch of water can cause serious damage to your home. When flood waters hit, know what to do.

Posted in The Economy

Rising Retail Sales Threaten Low Mortgage Rates

Retail Sales May 2009-April 2011Another day, another piece of evidence that the U.S. economy is expanding.

Thursday, the Census Bureau released the April Retail Sales report. Excluding cars and auto parts, retail receipts rose for the 10th straight month and, at $321 billion, reached an all-time high.

Retail sales account for roughly half of consumer spending, and roughly one-third of the economy overall.

For home buyers and rate shoppers in Manhantten , the sales figures have positive and negative implications.

On the positive side, more retail sales suggests more confidence in the U.S. economy. This can spark a growth cycle that benefits the country, on the whole.

  1. Consumers spend more money
  2. Businesses sell more product
  3. Businesses expand payroll to meet new product demand
  4. Governments collect more taxes; fund more projects
  5. Consumers gain more confidence and the cycle repeats

Furthermore, rising employment rates help to support higher levels of home sales which, in turn, can lead to higher home prices in New York.

This is why Retail Sales data is so important to Wall Street and economists. It can hold clues to the future of the U.S. economy.

On the negative side, however, rising Retail Sales figures can harm home affordability. In addition to the aforementioned pressure on home prices, a strengthening economy can lead to higher mortgage rates. The weak economy of 2009-2010 is a major reason why mortgage rates were so low for so long.

As the economy improves, therefore, it follows that rates should reverse.

Each 1/8 percent increase to mortgage rates raises a mortgage payment $8 per $100,000 borrowed.

Retail Sales are up 7 percent from a year ago.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Foreclosure Filings Fall To 40-Month Low

Foreclosures concentrate in 5 states in April 2011Foreclosure activity continues to drop nationwide.

Based on data from foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings nationwide fell below 220,000 in April 2011, a 9 percent decrease from March.

A “foreclosure filing” is defined as any foreclosure-related action including Notice of Default, Scheduled Auction, or Bank Repossession.

April marks the seventh straight month in which foreclosure filings have dropped and total filings are down more than one-third year-over-year.

One reason why filings are down is that banks are letting more time pass between delinquency and foreclosure, exploring alternative courses of actions such as short sales and loan modifications. It now takes, on average, 400 days from an initial default notice to bank repossession.

That’s more than double the 151-day average of early-2007.

Another reason may be that job growth is returning to the U.S. and job creation is associated with fewer home loan defaults.

Regardless, in the states in which foreclosures are occurring, bank repossessions are concentrating among just a few. 

5 states accounted for half of the country’s April REO:

  • California : 19.8 percent
  • Arizona : 9.5 percent
  • Michigan : 7.5 percent
  • Florida : 6.7 percent
  • Texas : 5.6 percent

Collectively, these 5 states represent just 32 percent of the nation’s population.

On the other end of the chart, Vermont accounted for a measly 0.007% of April’s foreclosure filings.

If you’re a first-time home buyer considering foreclosed homes in Bronx , or a seasoned investor adding to your portfolio, the good news is that foreclosures are selling at steep, 20 percent discounts relative to non-distressed homes. Just make you know what you’re buying. Foreclosure purchases carry different risks and follow different procedures than “traditional” sales.

Rely on a seasoned real estate agent to navigate the deal.

Posted in Mortgage Guidelines

Conforming ARMs From 2004-2006 Are Adjusting To 3 Percent

Pending ARM Adjustment Spring/Summer 2011

When a mortgage applicants chooses an adjustable-rate mortgage over a fixed-rate one, he accepts a risk that — at some point in the future — the mortgage’s interest rate will rise. Lately, though, that hasn’t been the outcome.

Since mid-2010, conforming mortgages have adjusted below their initial “teaser” rate consistently, giving homeowners in New York and nationwide reason to ride their respective adjustable-rate mortgages out.

For example, this month, conforming 7-year and 5-year ARMs are adjusting near 3.011 percent based on the most common loan terms of 2004-2006. It’s because of how adjustable-rate mortgages are structured.

Adjustable-rate mortgages follow a defined lifecycle. First, the ARM’s mortgage rate is pegged; held fixed for a set number of years. This period ranges from one year to 10 years; periods of five and seven years are most common.

When the initial fixed-rate period ends, the mortgage rate then adjusts based on a pre-set formula. The formula is established by contract in the mortgage closing paperwork, and is commonly defined as:

(Adjusted Mortgage Rate) = (2.250 percent) + (Current 1-Year LIBOR)

Next, every 12 months, based on the same formula as above, the ARM adjusts again until 30 years have passed and the loan is paid is full.

It’s important to recognize that in the above equation, LIBOR is a variable so as LIBOR goes, so goes your adjusted mortgage rate. And because LIBOR is ultra-low right now, adjusted mortgage rates are ultra-low, too. LIBOR is expected to stay this way until the global economy has recovered more fully. Analysts predict a higher LIBOR by mid-2012.

So, if you have an adjustable-rate mortgage that’s due to reset this season, don’t rush to refinance. For at least one more year, you can benefit from low rates and low payments.  As for the next adjustment, though, that’s anyone’s guess.

Posted in Mortgage Rates

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 9, 2011

Non-Farm PayrollsMortgage markets improved last week on a bevy of economic and geopolitical news. Conforming mortgage rates in Brooklyn improved, falling to their lowest levels of 2011.

It’s a welcome development for home buyers and rate shoppers nationwide. Mortgage rates were expected to rise throughout most of this year.

There were four big stories that contributed to falling rates last week.

The first was the news that Osama bin Laden was killed. The news was announced over the weekend, and by the time markets opened Monday morning, the price of oil was already falling. Falling oil prices reduce inflationary pressures on the economy and because inflation contributes to rising mortgage rates, the absence of inflation helps them to fall.

This news carried markets to Thursday morning. That’s when the Department of Labor announced that Initial Jobless Claims had suddenly and unexpectedly surged to an 8-month high. Last week’s report featured the biggest one-week jump in claims in more than 2 years.

This, too, pushed mortgage rates lower, casting doubt on the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.

Then, Friday morning, those doubts were cast aside. When the government released its Non-Farm Payrolls report for April, it showed job creation topping 200,000 for the third straight month. We would have expected mortgage rates to rise on news like this, but they didn’t.

Rates fell instead — mostly because the strength of the U.S. jobs report rendered mortgage-backed bonds more attractive to global investors.

The last story, though, is the one worth watching long-term.

Late-Friday, in response to its growing debt issues, it was reported that Greece may withdraw from the Eurozone. An outcome such as this is unlikely, however, the possibility was enough to spark a flight-to-quality that benefited U.S. mortgage rates. Conforming and FHA rates ended Friday lower, reaching their best levels since December.

This week, there isn’t much economic news set for release so the above stories will continue to influence markets and rates. Geopolitics can change quickly, though, so if you’re floating a mortgage rate and waiting for the bottom, don’t wait too long. Markets can reverse in a snap.

If you see a rate you like, the safest move is to lock it.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Foreclosures And Short Sales Distorting “Home Price Trackers”

HPI Monthly Changes From April 2007 Peak

In an echo of February’s Case-Shiller Index report, the government’s own home price-tracker — the Home Price Index — showed home values slipping between January and February 2011.

The Federal Home Finance Agency data had home values down 1.6 percent nationwide in February, on average, marking the fourth straight month in which prices fell. 

Furthermore, all 9 regions posted losses from the month prior:

  • Mountain Region : -3.7% from January
  • East South Central : -0.6% from January
  • South Atlantic : -0.9% from January
  • New England : -2.0% from January

Before you draw conclusions, however, note that the data at which we’re looking has several major flaws to it.

First, it’s old. We’re now in the first week of May and the FHFA’s most recent release only covers through February, a time period ending roughly 60 days ago. That’s a long delay and today’s purchase market in Westchester looks much different from the one of February. 

Just ask a real estate agent and they’ll tell you — purchase activity is rising.

Second, the FHFA Home Price Index reports on home value changes between consecutive Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac-securitized transactions only. This might be creating an overweight of “distressed properties” in the index which, in turn, drags down valuations.

Distressed homes account for 40% of all home resales and typically sell at 20 percent discounts.

And, lastly, although the Home Price Index is a national report, real estate as a market is decidedly not national. To the contrary, it’s extremely local. As an individual, you don’t buy, sell or own homes in all 50 states. You buy them in a specific state, and a specific neighborhood ; in places like Long island. 

The national data is useless to you in that respect.

We can’t discount the Home Price Index data entirely, but should remember that it paints a clearer picture of where housing has been versus where housing is going. As a home buyer or homeowner, it’s the future of home values that matters more.

Posted in The Economy

Job Growth Returning To “Normal” Levels — A Bad Sign For Mortgage Rates

Job Growth (2000-2011)

Be prepared for Friday morning. Mortgage rates and home affordability could worsen quickly. At 8:30 AM ET, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its April Non-Farm Payrolls report and momentum has been strong.

The monthly jobs report is a market-mover and analysts expect that 196,000 new jobs were added last month. If those expectations are exceeded — by even a little — Wall Street would take it mean “economic strength” and the stock market would be boosted.

Too bad for rate shoppers, though; a move like that would also lead to higher mortgage rates throughout New York. This is because, coming out of a recession, reports of economic strength tend to push mortgage rates up. We’ve seen it happen multiple times in the last 8 months.

Since losing more than 7 million jobs between 2008 and 2009, employers have added 1.3 million jobs back to the economy. And we’re learning that there’s plans for fewer job cuts in the future. It’s clear that the jobs market is improving and this is why tomorrow’s Non-Farm Payrolls report is so important.

A “weak economy” helped keep mortgage rates low for a very long time. A strengthening economy will reverse that tide.

So, consider your personal risk tolerance today, in advance of tomorrow’s Non-Farm Payrolls report. If the thought of rising mortgage rates makes you nervous, call your loan officer and lock in a rate today. Once tomorrow’s data is released, after all, the market might look changed.

Posted in Around The Home

How To Screen For A Good Home Contractor

Home remodeling projects are expected to top $130 blllion this quarter, their highest total since Q1 2008. A likely catalyst is that the average cost of a home improvement project is falling fast.

With the economy loosening up and contractor costs on a downswing, some in Brooklyn homeowners are choosing to put money back into their respective homes, and making home improvements. If you’re among them, you’ll want to make sure you’ve properly screened your contractor. 

In this 4-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show, you’ll learn tips for picking a good home contractor. The advice is mostly common sense, and worth heeding. For example:

  • Only select registered/licensed, and insured contractors for work in your home
  • Don’t automatically select the lowest bid; you may want to discard it instead
  • Communication skills matter. You must be able to express your wants, and have that message understood.

And lastly, if this is your first time working with a particular contractor, be sure to ask for references and follow-through on them, too. Sometimes, past customers can tell you more about a contractor than you can learn yourself.

Posted in Mortgage Rates

Geopolitics Have Mortgage Rates Poised To Change

Geopolitics make mortgage rates moveAmong the most challenging aspects of shopping for a mortgage is how rates change constantly. It’s hard to pin them down.

For example, in 2011, mortgage rates have expired every 3-and-a-half hours, on average. That’s fast.

There’s two main catalysts for changing mortgage rates.

The first can be grouped as “scheduled events”; the planned release of market data which includes the Existing Home Sales report, or a scheduled government statement such as when the Federal Open Market Committee meets. When the outcomes of these event-types either exceed, or fall short, of Wall Street’s expectations, mortgage markets react.

Home buyers and rate shoppers in Westchester realize this as higher (or lower) mortgage rates.

Then there’s the other type of catalyst — the “unscheduled event”.

Unscheduled events take many forms and are often called “surprise developments”. The Federal Reserve’s plan to inject $750 billion into mortgage markets in 2009 was one such surprise. Most geopolitical events fall into this category, too. 

Unscheduled events are often unsettling to Wall Street because investors don’t have specific contingency plans for them like they would if, say, this month’s jobs report comes back exceedingly strong. For example, investors didn’t expect North Korea to fire missiles over Japan in 2008, nor did they expect a volcano to erupt in Iceland last spring.

When unscheduled, unexpected events occur, the market’s first — and natural — reaction is to scramble to make sense of it. Mortgage rates get jostled as a result and can take days to settle back to normal.

We’re experiencing an “unexpected event” right now.

In response to Sunday’s evening’s presidential address, markets are now upended. The dollar is strengthening, oil prices are falling, and stock markets are rising. Each of these items are altering mortgage rates across New Jersey. 

Even today, markets remain unsettled.

Therefore, if you’re shopping for a mortgage rate, keep one eye on the news and the other on the rate-lock trigger. During periods of unexpected activity, mortgage rates can change quickly so be ready to shop, and be ready to lock.

Mortgage markets wait for no one.

Posted in Mortgage Rates

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : May 2, 2011

Fed Funds Rate 2008-2011Mortgage markets improved last week overall. Bigger concerns for Eurozone debt combined with lesser concerns for domestic inflation to push U.S. mortgage rates lower.

Last week marked the 3rd consecutive week through which conforming mortgage rates dropped, the longest such streak since February.

Mortgage rates in Manhantten are now scraping their lowest levels of the year.

A few interesting stories developed last week.

First, the Federal Open Market Committee met and voted to hold the Fed Funds Rate within its target range of 0.000-0.250. In its post-meeting press release, the FOMC said that inflation has been “pushed up” in recent months, but that believes, long-term, that inflation will moderate.

This message pleased the inflation-sensitive bond markets, the place where mortgage rates are made. Bond prices rose in response, and mortgage rates fell.

Then, because markets believe Greece can’t meet its current debt obligations without restructure, a bout of safe haven buying began, benefiting domestic mortgage-backed bonds and, therefore, mortgage rates.

It’s a terrific example of how world events can change mortgage rates for buyers and would-be refinancing households across New Jersey.

This week, mortgage rates will take their cues from the Greece story as it continues to develop, and from Friday’s Non-Farm Payrolls report. The jobs report is always a potential market-mover.

Economists expect to see 196,000 jobs added in the economy for April. If the actual number is larger-than-expected, look for mortgage rates to rise on better prospects for the U.S. economy. If the number falls short, look for rates to drop.

With last month’s mortgage rate rally, this week marks a good time to lock a rate. Based on current market fundamentals, it appears that there’s much more room for rates to rise than to fall. This may be as low as rates get all year.