Posted in Around The Home

Save Money By Preventing Water Heat Loss In Your Home

Water heater energy savingsHow much energy is your home wasting on water?

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, water heating can account for 25% of a home’s energy use. This is a substantial percentage, representing thousands of dollars per year in energy costs.

The good news is there are multiple ways to increase your home’s energy-efficiency with respect to heated water.

The Department of Energy provides a list. 

  1. Reduce hot water usage : Fix leaks, install low-flow fixtures, and use high-efficiency clothes washers and dishwashers.
  2. Lower the hot water temperature : 120ºF is ideal. Each 10ºF drop in temperature saves up to 5% and slows corrosion.
  3. Insulate your water heater : A simple blanket wrap costs $25 and will save you up to 9% in costs
  4. Insulate your water pipes : Water will be delivered 4ºF hotter which means lower energy use.
  5. Install a timer : If your heater is electric, turn it off during non-peak hours such as overnight
  6. Use greywater heat recovery systems : 90% of water’s energy is typically lost down the drain.

Some of the above items are costly to implement, and others are inexpensive. Most can be handled without hiring a plumber, especially those items at the top of the list.

As a Manhantten homeowner, take control. Apply these energy-saving, water-heating strategies and you’ll not only save money each month, but you’ll lengthen the useful life of your home’s appliances and plumbing.

If you’re in need a plumber referral, please ask.

Posted in Federal Reserve

Fed Minutes : A Fed Divided Reaches Comprise

Fed Minutes

Wednesday, the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its 2-day meeting September 20-21, 2011.

The release shows a divided Fed in disagreement about the current U.S. monetary policy. The group reached compromise for new economic stimulus, however, and maintained its commitment to accommodative interest rates.

Wall Street reacted tepidly to the minutes. Mortgage rates in Westchester worsened slightly post-release.

The Fed Minutes gets less press than the FOMC’s post-meeting press release, but it’s every bit as important. Because it details the conversations that take place among voting and non-voting Fed members at FOMC meetings, the Fed Minutes is an inside-look at the debates and discussion that lead to new monetary policy.

As examples, here are some of the topics covered at the September FOMC meeting :

  • On growth : Economic growth was slow, but “did not suggest a contraction”
  • On housing : The market continues to be “depressed by weak demand”
  • On rates : The Fed Funds Rate will remain low until mid-2013

Then, with Fed members divided on whether the central bank should add new stimulus, it reached a compromise instead, launching the $400 billion “Operation Twist” program. Operation Twist is meant to lower longer-term interest rates, including mortgage rates.

Since Operation Twist began, mortgage rates are higher by nearly 0.375%.

Also noteworthy within the Fed Minutes was concern for an economic slowdown and how the Federal Reserve may react. According to the record, a slowdown may prompt the Fed to introduce its third round of qualitative easing, or QE3. An out-sized stimulus plan would likely lead rates higher.

Nothing will happen until the Fed’s next meeting, however. Chairman Ben Bernanke & Co meet next November 1-2 for a 2-day meeting..

Posted in The Economy

Retail Sales Expected To Rise; Mortgage Rates Should Rise, Too

Retail Sales 2008-2011

The American Consumer is alive and well, it seems.

Friday morning, the Census Bureau will release its Retail Sales figures for September. The report is expected to show an increase in gross receipts for the 15th straight month with analysts predicting a 0.6 percent increase from August.

The projected increase represents the largest jump in Retail Sales in six months and would likely lead mortgage rates higher for buyers in Westchester and   nationwide.

The connection between Retail Sales and mortgage rates is fairly straight-forward. Retail Sales are the majority component of “consumer spending” and consumer spending represents the majority of the U.S. economy — up to 70 percent, by some estimates.

And, as the economy goes, so go mortgage rates.

10 months ago, mortgage rates shot forward to start the year. This is because expectations were high for a strong economic rebound. Conforming and FHA rates crossed 5 percent at the time and were headed toward six.

By mid-April, though, it was clear that economic data was falling short of predictions. As a result, mortgage rates declined, kicking off the 2011 Refi Boom. Then, by August, on ongoing economic softness, mortgage rates in New Jersey fell further, making new all-time lows.

Expectations for a recovery have returned. Rates are now rising.

Last week’s strong jobs report sparked hope for the U.S. economy and investors have been voting with their dollars. Mortgage rates are now up 7 consecutive days and Friday’s Retail Sales report could cement the trend.

If you’re shopping mortgage rates today, there’s risk in “floating”. You may want to lock your rate before Friday’s Retail Sales report drives rates even higher.

The Retail Sales report will be released at 8:30 AM ET.

Posted in Around The Home

Quiz : What’s The First Thing You Should Do After A Home Purchase?

Change your locks when you buy a new homeDid you remember to handle the most basic safety precaution for your new home?

When people buy homes — in Bronx or wherever —  , there’s a tendency to think “Big Picture” on home improvements. Flooring, painting and furniture are common “just-moved-in” purchases, as are cable television and utilities packages.

The most important move-in purchase, though, may also be the least expensive — deadbolts for your doors.

Every home has at least one — and sometimes up to dozen — keyed points of entry. And until you change those locks, there’s no telling just how many people may have access to your home.

For example, your home’s prior owners may have shared house keys with any/all of the following people :

  • Real estate agents
  • Neighbors and friends
  • Parents, brothers and sisters
  • Home cleaning service
  • Dog walkers and pet sitters

Those keys will still gain entry into your home until you change the locks. This is why your first act homeowner should be to replace all your home’s keyed entries with new locks and/or deadbolts.

Locks and deadbolts come in a variety of designs and finises, with varying price points. A basic single-cylinder, keyed deadbolt costs less than $15, and a powerful digital-entry, keyless system sells for $200-plus. There are a bevy of models at prices in between, too.

Regardless of which lock system you choose, don’t procrastinate on installation. Ideally, your locks should be changed on the same day of purchase, as close to closing’s completion as possible.

Hardware stores carry most deadbolt varieties and many can be installed with just a screwdriver. For complicated installations, talk to a locksmith.

Posted in Mortgage Rates

Should I Refinance My Home?

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640

With mortgage rates at all-time lows, you may be asking “Is now a good time to refinance?”. This short interview from NBC’s The Today Show offers good insight.

Refinancing a mortgage is about more than just “low rates”. For example, there are costs associated with giving a new mortgage and even with the average, 30-year fixed rate mortgage near 4 percent, the costs of a such a move can outweigh the benefits — both in the short- and long-term.

The video originally ran in September when mortgage rates averaged 4.09%. Rates are different today, but the offered advice remains relevant.

Some of the key points raised include :

  • The lowest rates come with the highest costs. Consider a slightly higher-rate option from your bank.
  • Falling home values may make it harder to qualify for a refinance in the future. Your best time to act may be now.
  • If you’re many years into a 30-year loan, you can consider switching to a 15-year mortgage to avoid “resetting” your term.

And, lastly, the interviewee makes a strong point that your refinance should save you enough money to make paying the closing costs “worth it”. Make sure the break-even point on your closing costs versus your monthly savings occurs within a reasonable time frame.

At 4 minutes, the The Today Show video is short, but dense with quality information. For follow-up on whether a refinance makes sense for your situation, be sure to talk with your loan officer.

Posted in Mortgage Rates

Freddie Mac : Mortgage Rates Sub-4 Percent

Freddie Mac PMMS average rates

Mortgage rates have dropped past 4 percent.

For the first time in more than 40 years, data from Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey shows the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage falling below 4 percent, dropping to 3.94 percent nationwide. It’s the lowest average 30-year fixed reading in the survey’s history.

In addition, Freddie Mac shows the 15-year fixed and 5-year ARM making new all-time lows, too, falling to 3.26% and 2.96%, respectively.

It’s a great time to be shopping for a mortgage or buying a home in Bronx. Because mortgage rates are dropping, housing payments are dropping, too. As compared to 8 months ago, for every $100,000 borrowed, homeowners now pay $66 less principal + interest each month.

On a $300,000 mortgage, that’s $71,280 saved in 30 years.

Mortgage rates have been lower for several reasons, some of which include :

  • U.S. economic growth has been slower-than-expected
  • Uncertainty surrounds Greece and the Eurozone
  • The Federal Reserve’s “Operation Twist

In general, demand for mortgage bonds has been high and that’s caused mortgage rates to fall. It should be noted, however, that although the 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell below 4 percent this week, the amount of discount points required to lock that rate rose by 10 basis points, or $100 per $100,000 borrowed.

Homeowners in New York are paying bigger fees for these lower rates. If you plan to move within a few years, these fees may wipe out your low-rate savings.

As you shop for a mortgage, pay attention to more than just rates. Low rates are great, but not when they come with high costs. Talk to your loan officer for help with making a plan than works for you.

Posted in The Economy

A Mortgage Rate Strategy Ahead Of Friday’s Jobs Report

Estimated NFP results September 2009

Mortgage rates are prepped to make big moves in the next 36 hours. Is it time for you to call in your rate lock?

Friday, at 8:30 AM ET, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the Non-Farm Payrolls report for September. Issued monthly, the “jobs report” offers sector-by-sector job creation figures from the month prior, and reports on the national Unemployment Rate.

Last month, exactly zero net new jobs were created, the government said. This month, economists expect a net 60,000 new jobs created.

Depending on where the actual monthly figure falls, FHA and conforming mortgage rates in Bronx may be volatile. The jobs reports tends to have out-sized influence on the mortgage bond market.

The connection between the jobs market and the mortgage market is fairly straight-forward. As jobs go, so goes the economy. This is because more working Americans leads to a stronger economic base.

  1. When more people work, consumer spending grows
  2. When more people work, governments collect more taxes
  3. When more people work, household savings increases

Each of these items are strengths to a recovering economy.

For rate shoppers, Friday’s job report could cause mortgage rates to rise — or fall. If the actual number of jobs created exceeded the 60,000 consensus estimate, look for mortgage rates to climb.

Conversely, if new jobs fell short of 60,000, expect that rates will drop.

Home affordability is at all-time highs because mortgage rates are at all-time lows. If you’re under contract for a home or looking to refinance, eliminate some of your interest rate risk. Lock ahead of Friday’s Non-Farm Payrolls release.

Get your rate lock in today.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Home Values Rose For the 4th Straight Month

Home Price Index from April 2007 peak

The government is confirming what the private sector has already shown —  home values are on the rise.

The Federal Home Finance Agency’s Home Price Index shows home values rose 0.8% in July.

July marks the fourth straight month that home values climbed and the FHFA’s Home Price Index is the latest in a series of “rising home values” reports — an encouraging trend for buyers and sellers in Bronx and nationwide.

Last week, the S&P Case-Shiller Index showed home value up nearly 1 percent in July. CoreLogic reached a similar conclusion.

Nationwide, values are back to their highest levels since November 2010. Clearly, the housing market in New York is moving in the right direction. Or is it?

Although the data from the government and from private firms such as CoreLogic is encouraging, it’s also flawed. As such, we have to be careful about the conclusions we draw from the data.

The flaws of Home Price Index are glaring :

  1. Only homes backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac are included in the index. In today’s market, because of the FHA’s popularity, that leaves 1 of 3 homes “uncounted”.
  2. Only home resales are counted. New home sales are omitted entirely.
  3. The data comes with a 60-day delay. The October market is different from July’s.

Despite these shortcomings, however, the Home Price Index remains relevant. It’s among the most through home valuation models and it’s often used by economists and policy-makers.

When the Home Price Index is rising, Wall Street and Capitol Hill take notice. For residents of “Main Street”, however, the data may not be as important. To get local, up-to-date market statistics in Queens, for example , talk with a professional real estate agent.

Since peaking in April 2007, the FHFA’s Home Price Index is off 17.6 percent.

Posted in Mortgage Guidelines

Conforming Loan Limits Drop In High-Cost Areas

Conforming Loan Limits lowered in 2011

For homeowners in high-cost areas nationwide, conforming and FHA loan limits have dropped by as much as 14 percent.

Effective October 1, 2011, the temporary mortgage loan limits that allowed for non-jumbo loan sizes of up to $729,750 are no longer.

$729,750 is above the “normal” loan limit of $417,000.

The elevated limits were put in place in 2008 as the economy and financial sector entered its crisis. At the time, there was little private money to serve buyers and would-be refinancers whose loan sizes exceeded Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s maximum $417,000 loan limits.

For most people whose loan sizes exceeded that threshold, mortgage financing was unavailable. There were no lenders to back the loan size.

This was of particular importance in places such as New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. where home prices routinely top $1 million. For people in these areas, unless they had a downpayment that could lower their respective loan sizes to $417,000 or lower, mortgages were mostly unavailable.

Congress recognized this and, as a result, gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac temportary authorization to purchase and securitize home loans of up to $729,750 in value, depending on where the subject property was located.

The program helped housing, leading Congress to pass more permanent, location-specific loan limits. Later that same year, Congress passed the Housing and Recovery Act of 2009 which, in part, made high-cost loan limit pricing permanent, albeit at $625,500.

The $729,750 temporary limits expired Friday, September 30, 2011. Today, the maximum allowable conforming loan size is $625,500.

If you live in a high-cost area, therefore, take note. Mortgage rates may be low, but the amount of loan for which you qualify may be less than you expect, and you may find yourself ineligible.

The complete list of high-cost areas is available online.

Posted in Around The Home

Fall Fix-Ups For Your Home

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640

It’s October and the fall season has officially started. For homeowners throughout New Jersey and nationwide, the change of season is a well-timed, “preventative maintenance” reminder.

As temperatures cool, there are a handful of do-it-yourself projects you should undertake in order to keep your home in tip-top shape through the winter. This 4-minute piece from NBC’s The Today Show highlights just a few of them.

Calling it a “Fall Fix-Up Checklist”, The Today Show’s interview is fast-paced and wide-ranging. Some of the topics covered include :

  • Pick up all fallen leaves to limit damage to grass and “critter” invasions
  • Unclog gutters to protect windows and foundations
  • Turn off outside water sources and remove water from pipes and hoses

The home-tip video also shares how to find air leaks in your home, and how to fix them. Reducing air leaks can lower your home’s heating and cooling bills by thousands of dollars annually.

Although the highlighted projects are DIYs, you may feel more comfortable hiring a professional. Know your “handyman limits”, and remain safe at all times.