Posted in Housing Analysis

Housing Starts Tick Lower; Building Permits Tick Higher

Housing Starts 2009-2011Single-Family Housing Starts fell to a seasonally-adjusted, annualized 425,000 units in July, according to the Census Bureau.

A “Housing Start” is defined as a home on which construction has started and ground has broken.

Furthermore, Single-Family Housing Starts were revised lower for both May and June of this year, by 6,000 units and 2,000 units, respectively.

The data may be worthless, however.

Like in most months, the government’s official report states that the Housing Starts numbers have a margin of error exceeding their actual measurement. Mathematically, this renders the data statistically irrelevant.

  • July Published Results : +4.9%
  • July Margin of Error : ±8.9%

In other words, July Housing Starts made have increased by as much as 13.8%, or they may have dropped up to 4.0%. We won’t know for certain until several months from now, when the Census Bureau gathers more data.

Regardless, the trend in Housing Starts has been flat since last summer. July’s reading is in-line with the 12-month average and, not surprisingly, New Home Sales have been mostly flat over the same time span.

Also included in the Housing Starts report is the Building Permits tally. As compared to June, permits were higher by a half-percent nationwide, with varying results by region.

  • Northeast : +2.9 percent from June
  • Midwest : +0.0 percent from June
  • South : -1.4 percent from June
  • West : +4.9 percent from June

When permits are issued, 86 percent of them start construction within 60 days. This means that new home sales and housing stock should follow the Building Permits trend, but on a 2-month delay.

Expect improvement into the fall season.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Homebuilders Expect A Soft Winter Housing Market

Homebuilder confidence 2009-2011

Two months after posting their worst confidence reading of 2011, home builders say they foresee no improvement in the immediate- or medium-term market for new homes nationwide.

In August, for the second straight month, the Housing Market Index read 15.

The HMI is a monthly housing survey, published by the National Association of Homebuilders. It’s scored on a scale of 1-100 with readings over 50 suggesting favorable home builder conditions. Readings under 50 suggest unfavorable conditions.

The Housing Market Index has been below the 50-point benchmark since 2006.

To calculate the HMI, home builders are asked 3 separate questions, each addressing the different element of the new home sales business.

  1. How are today’s market conditions for the sale of new homes?
  2. How do you expect market conditions to be 6 months from now?
  3. How are the current foot traffic of prospective buyers?

Based on the August answers to these questions, builders are witnessing an improvement with the current market, partially fueled by low mortgage rates, but expect momentum to fade into early-2012.

As a home buyer in Manhantten , this may bode well for you. If you can wait to buy a home, you may find builders more willing to concede on price or upgrades.

The other side of that conversation, though, is that while you may save money on the home, you may lose it in your monthly payments. Rising mortgage rates can quickly zap your savings — adding tens of thousands in interest costs to your budget long-term.

For now, home prices remain low and mortgage rates do, too. Home affordability is at an all-time high. Take advantage of what the market gives you.

Posted in Personal Finance

If You’re A Landlord, You Need A Landlord Insurance Policy

Landlord rental insuranceThe ranks of the landlords are growing. Along with an increasing number of “accidental landlords”, real estate investors now account for close to 20 percent of all home resales, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

If you plan to buy a rental property in Bronx , or to convert your current residence for long-term rental, make sure your home is properly insured.

A traditional homeowners insurance policy may be unsuitable for landlords.

A landlord insurance policy typically covers the home itself; the owner’s possessions in the home; structures on the land including garages and sheds; and, minimal liability coverage in the event of injury or lawsuit.

It’s common for landlords to increase that minimal liability coverage, adding an umbrella policy for $1,000,000 or more. Umbrella policies protect your home from an unfavorable lawsuit related to just about anything — housing-related or not. 

Optionally, a policy may includes provisions for “lost rental income”.

Annual premiums for a landlord insurance policy are often 20% more costly than for a standard homeowners policy. This puts the average landlord insurance premium near $950 per year.

Premiums vary by state, too. The top 3 most expensive states in which to insure a rented home are:

  • Texas : $1,752 per year
  • Florida : $1,668 per year
  • Louisiana : $1,386 per year

At $464 per year, Idaho is the least expensive state in which to hold a landlord insurance policy.

Talk with your insurance agent about your insurance options as a landlord. There are tens of choices and coverages from which you can choose. Let a professional help you pick the best choice.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Foreclosures Sink To 4-Year Low

Foreclosure concentration July 2011Foreclosure activity continues to slow.

According to RealtyTrac, a national foreclosure-tracking firm, the number of foreclosure filings nationwide fell 35 percent as compared to July 2010, a statistic suggesting that the housing market continues to improve.

“Foreclosure filing” is a catch-all term encompassing default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions.

Filings fell to a 44-month low in July 2011.

For all the improvement, though, activity remains concentrated in just a few states. More than half of all bank repossessions last month occurred in just a handful of states.

In July, 6 states accounted for 52% of activity.

  1. California : 19% of all repossessions
  2. Georgia : 8% of all repossessions
  3. Florida : 7% of all repossessions
  4. Texas : 6% of all repossessions
  5. Michigan : 6% of all repossessions
  6. Arizona : 6% of all repossessions

At the other end of the spectrum is Vermont. With just 11 repossessions for all of July, Vermont accounted for 0.016% of repossessions nationwide.

Distressed homes are in high demand with today’s home buyers. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, they account for 30% of all home resales. That’s no surprise, either.

Distressed homes typically sell at 20 percent discounts as compared to non-distressed ones.

But, if buying a foreclosure is in your agenda, be sure to do your homework. Buying bank-owned homes is different from buying from “people”. The contracts are different, the negotiations are different, and the homes are sometimes sold with defects.

If you plan to purchase a foreclosure in Westchester , therefore, be sure to speak with a licensed real estate agent first. There’s plenty of available information online but when it’s time to buy, have an experienced agent on your side.

Posted in The Economy

Strong Job Growth In July Trumped By Credit Downgrade

Non-Farm Payrolls Aug 2009-July 2011More Americans are getting back to work.

The latest Non-Farm Payrolls survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 117,000 net new jobs were created in July, thumping analyst estimates and surprising Wall Street investors.

In addition, May and June’s originally-reported figures were both revised higher:

  • May 2011 was revised higher by 28,000 jobs
  • June 2011 was revised higher by 28,000 jobs

The national Unemployment Rate slipped to 9.1 percent.

The jobs report’s strong readings would typically be a boon to stock market and a threat to mortgage rates. This is because more employed Americans means more disposable income spent on products and services; and more taxes paid to governments at the federal, state and local level.

This combination fuels consumer spending and supports new job growth, a self-reinforcing cycle that spurs economic growth and often to draw investors into equities.

This month, however, the market reaction has been decidedly different.

Since the Friday release of the July Non-Farm Payrolls report, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has lost close to 6 percent of its value. Furthermore, mortgage bonds — which typically sink on a strong jobs figure — have thrived.

High demand for mortgage-backed bonds have pushed mortgage rates below their all-time lows set last November; the biggest cause of which is Standard & Poor’s credit downgrade of U.S. government-issued debt.

Ironically, the credit rating downgrade sparked a surge of safe haven bidding that has been tremendous to rate shoppers and home buyers in Westchester and nationwide. Bond buyers are flocking to the U.S.

If you’ve been shopping for a mortgage, therefore, or recently bought a home, use this week’s action to your advantage. Call your lender and ask about rates. You may be surprised at what you find.

Posted in Federal Reserve

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (August 9, 2011 Edition)

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishTuesday, 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 7-3 — the first time in 5 meetings that the nation’s Central Bank was non-unanimous and the first time since 1992 that the FOMC adjourned with as many as three dissenters.

In its press release, the FOMC had little good to say about the U.S. economy, noting that since its last meeting in June:

  1. Growth has been “considerably slower” than expected
  2. Labor market conditions have deteriorated
  3. Household spendng has “flattened”

The Fed also noted that the housing sector remains depressed.

On the positive side, the Fed said that business investment in equipment and software continues to expand, and that energy costs have dropped and no longer contribute to inflationary pressures on the economy.

In fact, the Fed worries that inflation may be running too low for the country’s good.

To that end, the Federal Reserve has pledged to keep the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near 0.000 percent “at least until mid-2013”. This is a departure from prior statements in which the Fed gave no such date.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been positive this afternoon. Mortgage rates in New York are improving, but note that sentiment can shift quickly — especially in a market as uncertain as this one.

If today’s mortgage rates look good in your household budget, consider locking in a rate.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is September 20, 2011.

Posted in The Economy

Mortgage Rates Drop After U.S. Credit Downgrade

Mortgage rates are runningMortgage rates continue drifting downward, despite — or because of — a ratings downgrade on long-term U.S. government debt. Standard & Poors issued a single-notch downgrade after Friday’s market close, from AAA to AA+.

Of the roughly $9.4 billion in publicly-held U.S. debt, 72 percent is long-term (i.e. with duration of 2 years or longer).

U.S. short-term debt was not downgraded.

When an entity — government, business, or other — is cited for a credit downgrade, it means that the risk of lending money to that entity has increased. In theory, higher risk should lead to higher borrowing costs and higher consumer rates.

Except in today’s U.S. Treasury and mortgage bond markets, the opposite is occurring. U.S.-backed bonds are in demand, leading rates lower. It’s an unexpected response to the S&P downgrade.

There are 3 main reasons why mortgage rates aren’t rising.

First, Wall Street is “brushing off” S&P’s downgrade, citing the rating agency’s opinion as flawed. This is, in part, the result of a supposed “math error” in the S&P findings, as caught by the U.S. Treasury.

Second, global finance leaders have made public statements since the Friday downgrade re-asserting their faith in the U.S. government’s ability to repay its debts. This is helped stabilize bonds as well.

And, third, of the three major rating agencies, only Standard & Poor’s downgraded long-term U.S. debt. Competitors Moody’s and Fitch instead chose to re-affirm the top-status rating for U.S. government-issued debt after last week’s debt ceiling accord.

The likely cause for falling rates today is that the global economy is showing signs of a slowdown and the U.S. Treasury market remains the largest and most liquid bond market in the world. Ergo, they’re relatively safe — despite the credit rating of the nation backing them.

Posted in Around The Home

First-Aid Guide For Furniture

Furniture First-Aid TechniquesWhen furniture arrives in your home, it’s factory-issued, perfect and clean. From that day forward, however, accidents can happen, causing damage to your pieces. Sometimes the damage is permanent.

Know how to react when the inevitable spill or scratch occurs and you can “save” your furniture and extend its useful life.

From Martha Stewart, these “first-aid for furniture” tips should come in handy.

Wood

  • Moisture “rings” : Pour table salt on the white rings/haze and cover with a terry cloth. Apply hair dryer on low setting until rings are gone.
  • Alcohol spills : Blot spills immediately, do not rub. Apply small amounts of ammonia to damage.
  • Wax spills : Allow to cool and harden, then freeze the wax with an ice cube in a sandwich bag. Use a butter knife to gently scrape off wax.

Fabric

  • Red wine stains : Cover wine with table salt and let sit until salt has wicked up the wine. Vacuum salt and repeat, as necessary. Blot remaining stains with damp cloth and dish soap.
  • General spills : Repeatedly blot with a damp white cloth. Use white cloths to prevent dye transfer.
  • Oil spills : Cover spill with baking soda and vacuum once absorbed. Blot remaining stains with rubbing alcohol

Leather

  • General stains : Blot with all-purpose household cleaner. To prevent fading in the upholstery, avoid products with bleach or bleach alternatives.
  • Scratches : Apply saddle soap to a damp cloth and rub the scratch to help it “blend in”. It won’t go away.

The tips on leather furniture also makes mention that you should never bother with touch-up kits or colored markers. It’s nearly impossible to match leather colors and your repair work will only make the scratch more noticeable.

Posted in Mortgage Rates

Mortgage Rates Make New 2011 Lows

Freddie Mac mortgage rates

Mortgage rates in New York plunged to new 2011 lows this week. 

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the national, average 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell to 4.39% this week — the lowest 30-year fixed reading since November 18, 2010.

The 0.16 drop from last week is the largest one-week rate drop in more than 2 years, and, although the 30-year fixed remains above its all-time lows from November 2010, two other benchmark products made new records this week.

Both the 15-year fixed rate mortgage and the 5-year ARM are reporting lower than at any time in recorded history.

Freddie Mac puts those average rates at 3.54% and 3.18%, respectively.

Mortgage rates are dropping for several reasons, including :

  • U.S. economic growth is slower-than-expected
  • The U.S. government plans to curb its spending
  • Global investors seek the safety of U.S.-backed bonds

The first two items are unfavorable for business and, as a result, stock markets have sold off all week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average posted an 8-day losing streak and Thursday it made its biggest one-day loss since 2008.

When equities lose, bonds tend to gain. This leads mortgage rates lower.

Mortgage rates also fell on “safe haven” buying; bond buys made because of their relative safety to risky assets. Mortgage bonds are considered “safe” so when economies and geopolitics are uncertain, mortgage rates improve.

Going forward, there are reasons for mortgage rates to fall again. The economy won’t rebound overnight and neither will investor confidence. However, markets can be fickle and rates have been known to reverse quickly.

With rates as low as they’ve been history, it’s an advantageous time to refinance your home loan, or purchase a new property.

Posted in Personal Finance

Closing At The Start Of September? Watch Out For Labor Day.

Plan ahead for Labor Day closingsHome sales have heated up, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

More homes are going under contract this summer than went during the winter or spring seasons. Many of these homes are scheduled for late-August/early-September closings. 

If your home is among them, plan ahead. 

Like for the rest of the U.S. workforce, Labor Day is a popular vacation time in the real estate, title and mortgage industries. Closings come together more slowly when the parties involved are on holiday. In addition, when issues arise, they are often slower to resolve because not everyone is “present”. 

Therefore, if you’re under contract to buy or sell your home, or have a refinance in-process with a lender, get proactive with your home and your loan. Finalize your approval as quickly as possible.

Here are some tips to help your loan clear faster:

  1. Prepay your first year of homeowners insurance, effective your closing date. Provide proof of payment to your lender.
  2. Document and deposit all gifts and retirement withdrawals to be used at your closing as early in the process as possible.
  3. Get Power of Attorney forms signed by all parties, and lender-approved, if applicable.
  4. When your lender makes a paperwork request, fulfill the request within 24 hours.

There are steps you can take to make your closing go more smoothly, too.

First, if your transaction is purchase, don’t leave your walk-through for the last-minute. Schedule it for as early as reasonable. This way, if there’s an issue, there’s ample time to resolve it. Remember, it’s harder to solve problems when one or more parties to the transaction is away on vacation.

Second, if you have planned time off between now and your closing, make it known, and be reachable in the event of emergency by phone, email or both.

Lastly, if possible, avoid scheduling your closing for the Friday before Labor Day or the Tuesday after. Real estate, title and lender offices are notoriously short-staffed and overworked on these two days. Routine tasks take longer than usual.

You can’t stop people from going on vacation, but you can plan for it. It would be foolish not to.