Posted in Housing Analysis

Foreclosure Filings Climbing; 4 States Account For Half Of Nationwide Activity

Foreclosures per capita October 2011

Foreclosed homes are a hot market throughout New Jersey — and supplies are ramping up.

According to foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, October’s foreclosure filings rose 7 percent to 231,000 filings nationwide.

A “foreclosure filing” is any one of the following foreclosure-related events : A default notice on a home; a scheduled auction for a home; or, a bank repossession of a home. Because of this definition, a single home can account for up to 3 foreclosure filings — one from each category. 

Because of this, we may glean more relevant insight into the foreclosure market by separating RealtyTrac’s foreclosure report into “event types”.

  • Default Notices : Up 10% from September 2011; Down 31% from October 2010.
  • Scheduled Auctions : Up 8% from September 2011; Down 38% from October 2010.
  • Bank Repossessions : Up 4% from September 2011; Down 27% from October 2010.

These breakdowns suggest that, although improved as compared to last year, the foreclosure market is growing. At least, it’s growing in some parts of the country. We can’t forget that — like everything real estate — foreclosures are a local phenomenon. 

In October, just 4 states accounted for more than half of the country’s foreclosure filings. Those four states — California, Florida, Michigan and Illinois — represent just 26% of the U.S. population.

Even on a per household basis, the figures remain disproportionate :

  • Top 10 Foreclosure States : 1 foreclosure per 341 households, on average
  • Bottom 10 Foreclosure States : 1 foreclosure per 7,434 households, on average

The nationwide foreclosure rate was 1 foreclosure per 563 households.

As a Manhantten home buyer, foreclosures are worth watching. They account for 18% of home resales nationwide and, in some markets, can be bought at steep discounts versus a comparable “non-distressed” home. That is part of their appeal, in fact.

But just because foreclosed properties can be a “deal”, it doesn’t mean you should rush to buy one. Buying a foreclosed home from a bank is different from buying a non-foreclosed home from a “person”. The contracts and negotiation process are different, and foreclosed homes are sometimes sold as-is.

“As-is” means “this home may have defects”.

Therefore, if you plan to buy a foreclosed home, talk with a real estate professional first. You can learn a lot about the housing market online, but with respect to writing an offer on a property, you’ll want an experienced agent on your side.

Posted in Around The Home

Using Space Heaters? Use This Safety Advice.

Space heater safety tipsSpace heaters are popular among homeowners in Westchester because, as portable appliances, they can heat a small space quickly and inexpensively. It requires less energy to run a space heater than to raise the temperature of an entire home by a few degrees.

However, space heaters can be dangerous, too.

In its November 2011 report, the National Fire Protection Association reveals that heating equipment was involved in an estimated 58,900 home structure fires, 480 civilian deaths, 1,520 civilian injuries and more than $1.1 billion in damage.

Space heaters caused a disproportionate percentage of the accidents : 

  • 79% of all home heating-related civilian deaths 
  • 66% of all home heating-related civilian injuries 
  • 52% of all home heating-related property damage

If you use space heaters, therefore, please remember to read (and follow) the manufacturer’s instructions for proper usage, and to obey basic safety standards.

First, never place anything flammable within three feet of a space heater. Space heaters get very hot, very quickly and can ignite rugs, paper and curtains.

Next, make sure your space heater is placed on the floor, on level ground. Do not rest it on books, or on furniture.

Also, make sure to turn space heaters off when leaving a room, or when going to bed. Space heaters are not meant to replace whole-home heating and should not be left unattended under any circumstance.

The Underwriters Laboratory makes a list of general safety tips available on its website. Considering how much damage space heaters can cause, the list is worth committing to memory.

Posted in Mortgage Guidelines

Banks Resume Tightening Mortgage Guidelines

Mortgage guidelines get tougher

As part of its quarterly survey to member banks nationwide, the Federal Reserve asked senior loan officers whether last quarter’s “prime” residential mortgage guidelines have tightened, loosened, or remained as-is.

A “prime” borrower is defined as one with a well-documented, high-performance credit history; with low debt-to-income ratios; and who chooses to finance a home via a traditional fixed-rate or adjustable-rate mortgage product.

After a 2-year easing cycle, the nation’s biggest bank banks report that they’ve reversed course, and are raising the bar on mortgage approvals.

For the period July-September 2010, 88% of responding loan officers admitted to tightening their prime guidelines, or leaving them “basically unchanged”.

If you’ve applied for a home loan of late, you’ve experienced this first-hand.

High delinquency rates and defaults since 2007 have caused the banks to rethink what they will lend, and to whom. As a result, today’s mortgage lenders scrutinize assets, incomes, and credit scores to make sure that nothing “slips by”.

For today’s home buyers and would-be refinancers, the mortgage approval process can be challenging as compared to how it looked just 18 months ago.

  • Minimum credit scores requirements are higher today
  • Downpayment/equity requirements are larger today
  • Debt-to-Income ratio requirements are more strict today

In other words, although mortgage rates are the lowest that they’ve been in history, fewer applicants can qualify. And, with more the housing market still in recovery, it’s likely that guidelines will tighten again in 2012.

Therefore, if you’re among the many people in Bronx wondering if it’s the right time to buy a home or refinance, consider that, although mortgage rates may fall, approval standards may not.

The best rate in the world won’t matter if you’re not eligible to lock it.

Posted in Personal Finance

This Holiday Season, Think Twice Before Saving 15 Percent At The Register

FICO recipeWith Halloween behind us, retailers are in the Holiday Spirit. Businesses know that consumers spent a median $556 on holiday gifts last year and they want this year to be just as strong.

That’s why it’s barely November and, already, Black Friday ads clog our mailboxes and the airwaves. Retailers want our dollars and they’re offering great deals to early shoppers.

There’s one discount a smart shopper should think twice, however — the ever-present “Open A Charge Card Today And Save 15%” promotion. In the short-term, deals like this will save money. 

Over the long-term, however, opening a charge card could cost you much, much more — especially if you plan to refinance your home or buy a new one.

Applying for a charge card can lower your credit score up to 85 points.  

According to the myFICO.com website, as a category, “New Credit” accounts for 10% of your 850 possible credit points, comprising the following credit traits :

  • Your number of recently opened accounts
  • Your number of recent credit inquiries
  • Time elapsed since your recent credit inquiries
  • Your proportion of new accounts to all accounts

Each trait is a negative in the FICO-scoring credit algorithm which means that, with each in-store charge card application, your credit score is likely to fall. How far your score will fall depends on the rest of your credit profile.

Meanwhile, low FICO scores correlate to higher loan fees.

Using a real-life example, assuming 20% equity in a home, for either purchase or refinance, look how loan fees for a $200,000 conforming mortgage change by FICO score :

  • 740 FICO : There will be no added loan costs
  • 720 FICO : You’ll have a 0.250% increase in loan costs, or $500
  • 700 FICO : You’ll have a 0.750% increase in loan costs, or $1,500
  • 680 FICO : You’ll have a 1.500% increase in loan costs, or $3,000
  • 660 FICO : You’ll have a 2.500% increase in loan costs, or $5,000

You can see first-hand how expensive low credit score can be — much more costly than the 15% saved at the mall. That’s why people planning to refinance to today’s low rates and soon-to-be Bronx homeowners, shouldn’t rush to save 15% at the register. 

For people in want of a mortgage, high FICO scores are worth protecting.

Posted in Personal Finance

Tips For Maximizing Your Home’s Appraised Value

Maximizing your home appraisalA home appraisal is an independent opinion of your home’s value, performed by a licensed home appraiser. Appraisals are part of the traditional home purchase process, and lenders require them for most refinances, too.

Appraisers are trained professionals. First, they derive a base for your home’s value based on the recent sales prices of homes that are comparable to yours in terms of bedrooms, bathrooms, style, and square footage.

Then, accounting for features and amenities that make your home different, the appraiser applies “adjustments” to that base value.

This methodology is called the “Sales Comparison” approach and the result is your home’s appraised value.

It’s the most common appraisal method used by lenders.

As a homeowner in Bronx , you can’t affect the sales prices of your home’s comparable properties, but you can help your appraiser understand how your home stands apart from these homes. This, in turn, can affect your home’s adjustments, resulting in a higher appraised value.

With home appraisals, every valuation dollar can matter. With that in mind, here are a few tips for maximizing your home’s appraised value :

  1. Be home for your appraisal so you can answer the appraiser’s question, if there are any.
  2. Mention any new roofing, flooring, HVAC, plumbing, or windows you’ve installed since purchase.
  3. Don’t mention projects or repairs you’re “about to undertake”. Appraisers don’t credit for unfinished projects.
  4. Make minor household fixes prior to the appraisal (e.g.; leaky sink, running toilet, peeling paint). 
  5. Present a tidy home. This can contribute to a higher “overall condition” adjustment.

Lastly, schedule the appraisal for a time that is convenient for your entire household. An appraiser needs to see, measure, and take photos of every room in your home. If a room’s door is closed because of a resting child, for example, the appraiser may need to schedule a second appointment to complete the appraisal, and that can raise your appraisal costs.

Posted in Around The Home

Your Home Has A Smoke Detector. Are You Sure It’s Really Working?

Smoke tests offer more safetyAn estimated 356,000 in-home fires caused more than $7 billion in U.S. residential property damage in 2009, according to data from the United States Fire Administration.

The fires caused more than 12,000 injuries, and killed more than 2,500 people in Bronx and nationwide.

Unfortunately, many of affected homes did have smoke detectors — they just weren’t working properly. This is why it’s critically important to test your home’s smoke detectors at least once annually.

When you test a smoke detector, you’re making sure that the alarm will trigger in the event of a real-life fire. A proper test will confirm that the batteries have useful life, and that the device’s smoke detection components are operating as expected.

To test your smoke detector, here’s what to do :

  1. Make a checklist of your home’s smoke detectors
  2. Go to the first smoke detector
  3. Ask a helper to go to the farthest point from the detector within your home
  4. Press the smoke detector’s testing button up to 10 seconds to activate the alarm
  5. Confirm with your helper that the alarm could be heard from his/her location
  6. Note on the checklist whether the smoke detector worked, or needs replacement

You can also take your test a step further.

Just because the smoke detector’s alarm can be heard from the farthest point in your house doesn’t mean that the alarm will sound in the event of a real fire. Therefore, you may want to buy a “smoke test”.

Smoke tests are aerosol cans that simulate a bona fide in-home fire. You can buy them for less than $15 at your local hardware store, or at Amazon.com. If your smoke detector fails to sound its alarm in the presence of a “real fire”, make sure you replace it right away.

Posted in Statistics

The Most Expensive ZIP Codes In The Country (2011 Edition)

Most Expensive ZIP CodesIn the housing market, amenities and location have as much to do with a home’s value as the everyday forces of supply-and-demand. Whereas the latter causes home values to rise and fall over time, the former creates a starting point for said values. 

Where you live — and the features of your home — determine your home’s price range. Naturally, homes in some areas are consistently higher-valued than homes in others.

Using data compiled by real estate market data firm Altos Research, Forbes Magazine presents America’s 10 most expensive ZIP codes. California and the New York Metro area dominate the list.

  1. Alpine, NJ (07620) : $4,550,000
  2. Atherton, CA (94027) : $4,295,000
  3. Sagaponack, NY (11962) : $3.595,000
  4. Hillsborough, CA (94010) : $3,499,000
  5. Beverly Hills, CA (90210) : $3,469,891
  6. New York, NY (10012) : $3,392,574
  7. New York, NY (10013) : $3,317,962
  8. Water Mill, NY (11976) : $3,300,000
  9. Montecito, CA (93108) : $3,099,348
  10. Old Westbury, NY (11568) : $3,095,000

In fact, of the top 50 most expensive ZIP codes, only 6 are located outside of California and New York regions. 3 are Colorado resort towns — Snowmass (81654), Aspen (81611) and Telluride (81435) — one is in Maryland, one is in Florida, and the last is in Washington State.

Chicago-suburb Kenilworth (60043) is the top-ranked Midwest ZIP code. It placed 86th overall.

The Forbes list may be interesting but, to home buyers or sellers in Bronx , it should not be the final word in home values. Real estate is a local market which means that — even within a given ZIP code — prices can vary based on street and neighborhood.

Look past general data and get specific. Talk to your real estate agent for local market pricing.

Posted in Federal Reserve

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (November 2, 2011 Edition)

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishWednesday, 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 nearly unanimous, with just one dissenting voter. There were 3 dissenters at each of the FOMC’s last two meetings.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve presented an improved outlook for the U.S. economy, noting that since its last meeting in September, there’s new evidence that the economy “strengthened somewhat” in the third quarter.

One example cited is that consumer and business spending continues to rise while inflationary pressures on the economy remain modest. This indicates controlled growth — a plus in a recovering economy.   

The economy remains slowed by a number of factors, though, as noted by the Fed :

  1. “Continuing weakness” in the labor market
  2. Softness in commercial real estate
  3. A “depressed” housing market

In response to mixed economic conditions, the FOMC opted to “do nothing” today; it introduced no new monetary policy, and revised none of its existing market stimulus. The Fed re-iterated its plan to leave the Fed Funds Rate in its current range near 0.000 percent “at least until mid-2013″ and affirmed “Operation Twist” — the program in which the Fed sells Treasury securities with a maturity of 3 years or less, and uses the proceeds to buy mortgage bonds with maturity between 6 and 30 years.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC statement has been negative this afternoon. Mortgage rates throughout New York are rising because analysts expected the Fed to launch new, bigger stimulus plans. It didn’t. Rates may drift higher for the new few days, too.

Therefore, it today’s mortgage rates fit your household budget, consider locking in a mortgage rate. Mortgage rates are very low right now, relative to history. It may not last.

The FOMC’s next meeting — its last scheduled meeting of the year — is December 13, 2011.

Posted in The Economy

More Risk To Home Affordability : Friday’s Jobs Report

Job growth since 2000

Within the next 48 hours, mortgage rates may get bouncy. The Federal Open Market Committee will adjourn from a 2-day meeting and October’s Non-Farm Payrolls report is due for release.

Of the two market movers, it’s the Non-Farm Payrolls report that may cause the most damage. Rate shoppers across New Jersey would do well to pay attention.

Published monthly, the “jobs report” provides sector-by-sector employment data from the month prior. It’s a product of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and includes the national Unemployment Rate.

In September, the economy added 103,000 jobs, and job creation from the two months prior was shown to be higher by 99,000 jobs higher than originally reported. This was a huge improvement over the initial August release which showed zero new jobs created.

When September’s jobs report was released, mortgage rates spiked. This is because of the correlation between jobs and the U.S. economy. There are a lot of economic “positives” when the U.S. workforce is growing.

  1. Consumer spending increases
  2. Governments start more projects
  3. Businesses make more investment

Each of these items leads to additional hiring, and the cycle continues.

Wall Street expects that 90,000 jobs were created in October 2011. If the actual number of jobs created exceeds this estimate, it will be considered a positive for the economy, and mortgage rates should climb as Wall Street dumps mortgage-backed bonds in favor of equities.

Conversely, if the number of new jobs falls short of 90,000, it will be considered a disappointment, and mortgage rates should rise.

There is a lot of risk in floating a mortgage rate today. The Federal Reserve could make a statement that drives rates higher, and Friday’s job report could do the same. If you’re under contract for a home or planning to refinance, eliminate your interest rate risk.

Lock your mortgage rate today.

Posted in Federal Reserve

Make Your Mortgage Rate Strategy : The Federal Reserve Starts A 2-Day Meeting

Comparing the Fed Funds Rate to Mortgage RatesThe Federal Open Market Committee begins a scheduled, 2-day meeting today, the seventh of its 8 scheduled meetings this year, and the eighth Fed meeting overall.

The FOMC is a 12-person sub-committee within the Federal Reserve. It’s the group responsible for setting the nation’s monetary policy and is led by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The FOMC’s most well-known role is as the steward of the Fed Funds Rate. This is the overnight rate at which U.S. banks borrow money from each other. The Fed Funds Rate is a unique, “banking” interest rate, and should not be confused with consumer interest rates, a category which includes “mortgage rates”.

Mortgage rates are not set by the Federal Reserve. 

Rather, mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds. If mortgage rates correlated to the FOMC’s Fed Funds Rate, the chart at right would be linear.

That said, the FOMC does exert influence on mortgage markets.

After its FOMC meetings, the Federal Reserve issues a press release to the public. In it, the central banker summarizes economic conditions nationwide, highlighting threats to the economy and areas of strength.

When the Federal Reserve’s statement is generally “positive”, mortgage rates tend to rise. This is because a strengthening economy invites investors to assume more risk, spurring equity markets at the expense of all bonds types, including the mortgage-backed kind.

When bond markets lose, mortgage rates rise.

Conversely, when the Fed is generally negative, bond markets gain, pushing mortgage rates lower throughout New Jersey.

The Fed can also influence mortgage rates via new policy.

At its last meeting, the FOMC launched a new, $400-billion round of mortgage-market stimulus known as Operation Twist. The added mortgage-bond support led mortgage rates lower post-FOMC meeting. 

The Fed may expand Operation Twist as soon as Wednesday afternoon. It may also take no such steps at all. Unfortunately, there are few clues about what the Federal Reserve may do next, if anything at all. As a result, mortgage rates will be a moving target for the next 36 hours. First, they’ll be volatile before of the Fed’s statement. Then, they’ll be volatile after the Fed’s statement.

Even if the Fed does nothing, mortgage rates will change so your safest play is to lock a mortgage rate ahead of Wednesday’s 2:15 PM ET adjournment.

There too much risk in floating.