Posted in Mortgage Rates

Mortgage Rates Fall Back Below 4%

Freddie Mac Weekly Mortgage Rates

After a brief run-up two weeks ago, mortgage rates are back below 4 percent. It’s good news for home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers of Bronx because with lower mortgage rates come lower mortgage payments.

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the national, average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell to 3.99 percent this week from last week’s 4.08 percent.

Last week had marked the first time since December 2011 that the benchmark rate crossed north of 4 percent — a span of 16 weeks.

And, it wasn’t just rates that got cheaper this week — closing costs dropped, too.

Freddie Mac’s survey showed that the average number of discount points to accompany a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell one-tenth of a percent this week to 0.7, where one discount point is equal to one percent of your loan size.

As a real-life example, a $200,000 Long island mortgage with an accompanying 0.7 discount points would be subject to an additional $1,400 one-time closing cost. Last week, that cost was $1,600.

Note, though, that these are average mortgage rates for the nation. On a local level, rates may be higher or lower, and so may the accompanying number of discount points.

For example, in this week’s Freddie Mac survey, each U.S. region boasts its own “average rate” :

  • Northeast Region : 4.00% with 0.7 discount points
  • West Region : 3.94% with 0.9 discount points
  • Southeast Region : 4.01% with 0.8 discount points
  • North Central Region : 3.99% with 0.6 discount points
  • Southwest Region : 4.02% with 0.8 discount points

These rates are each well below the average rates of a year ago when the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 4.86%. 

Low mortgage rates can’t last forever so if you’ve been wondering whether now is a good time to buy a home or refinance one; or whether rising rates will harm your monthly budget, the answer may be yes. A weak economy held mortgage rates low last year. An improving economy should push rates higher this year.

Talk to your loan officer and review your home loan options. Looking ahead to spring and summer, mortgage rates appear poised to rise.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Case-Shiller Shows Uneven Recovery For U.S. Housing

Case-Shiller Home Value Changes

Recent data suggests that the U.S. housing market is in recovery. However, the data also shows this to be an uneven recovery.

According to the monthly S&P/Case-Shiller Index, for example, home values rose in three of 20 tracked markets between December 2011 and January 2012. 17 tracked markets showed home prices still in decline.

It’s easy to point to the Case-Shiller Index as evidence that the housing market in New Jersey has yet to bottom, but we have to consider the Case-Shiller Index’s shortcomings — specifically in a recovering economy.

For example, the Case-Shiller Index is based on changes in home prices of a single home, through successive sales. This means that to calculate its home price index, the Case-Shiller searches for sales of the same home over a period of time and calculates the difference in contract price. 

This methodology can distort the home price tracker downward during times of weak economy because there is no distinction made for homes sold in foreclosure or as a short sale.

35% of all homes sold in January were “distressed”, says the National Association of REALTORS®.

Another distortion in the Case-Shiller Index is that the model neglects all home types that are not of type “single-family residence”. This means that multi-unit homes and condominiums are excluded from the Case-Shiller Index model.

In some markets, such as Chicago and New York City, condominiums account for a large percentage of overall sales. 

Lastly, the Case-Shiller Index is published with a “lag”, which renders it useless to buyers and sellers of Westchester in search of real-time, relevant data. The most recent Case-Shiller Index is published with a 60-day delay, and accounts for home purchase contracts written between October and December 2011.

Since October, the U.S. economy has added more than 1 million jobs and the economy has moved into “moderate expansion”, according to the Federal Reserve. Data that’s two seasons old does little to help us today.

Making sound real estate decisions is about having timely, relevant data at-hand when it’s needed. The Case-Shiller Index fails in that respect. It’s good for highlighting the U.S. housing market on the whole, as it existed in the past. For real-time market data, though, you’ll want to talk with an active real estate agent.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Pending Home Sales Index Remains Strong Into Spring

Pending Home Sales IndexThe housing market took a step back in February, but remains near post-recession highs.

According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, February’s Pending Home Sales Index slipped 0.5 percent from the month prior, to 96.5.

The Pending Home Sales Index is a monthly report which measures the number of homes under contract to sell, but not yet sold, nationwide.

The index is benchmarked to a value of 100, the average level of home contract activity in 2001, the first year that pending home sales data was analyzed. It also happened to be a year of historically-high levels of home contract activity. Therefore, a Pending Home Sales Index reading of 100 suggests a strong housing market nationwide.

The index has read north of 90 since October 2011.

On a regional basis, February’s Pending Home Sales Index varied :

  • Northeast Region: -0.5 percent from January 2012
  • Midwest Region : +5.7 percent from January 2012
  • South Region : -3.3 percent from January 2012
  • West Region : -2.6 percent from January 2012

Mild weather may have helped the Midwest Region last month but even regional data can only tell us so much. Like everything in real estate, housing data must be local to be relevant.

Throughout the South Region, for example, the area in which contract activity fell most on a monthly basis, there are states which performed better than the regional average, and states which performed worse. Furthermore, even within those states, there are some cities which over-performed, and others which underperformed.

It’s why we can’t put too much stock in national housing news. Buyers don’t buy nationally — they buy locally.

Today’s home buyers and sellers in Bronx , therefore, should look beyond the national Pending Home Sales Index and into local market drivers. The Pending Home Sales Index can paint a broad picture of the U.S. housing market but for data that matters to you specifically, it’s not as widely helpful. 

To get relevant, timely local real estate data, talk to a real estate professional.

Posted in Housing Analysis

New Home Sales Slip In February

New Home SalesSales of “new homes” fell to the lowest levels in four months last month.

According to the Census Bureau’s monthly New Home Sales report, 313,000 new homes were sold in February 2012 on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, representing a 1.6% drop from the month prior.

A “new home” is a home for which there has been no prior owner nor tenant.

At first glance, the data looks negative for the housing market; a suggestion that the well-publicized housing market recovery may be slowed. However, within February’s New Home Sales report are three important counter-statistics worth mentioning.

First, although annualized home sales volume slipped 5,000 units in February, this occurred as the number of homes for sale nationwide remained constant at 150,000. This is the fewest number of new homes for sale since at least 1993 — the first year that the Census Bureau tracked such data.

A small home supply promotes rising home values when buyer demand is rising and, in February, buyer demand held firm.

A second reason to remain optimistic on housing is that New Home Supply was 5.8 months in February. This means that, at the current pace of sales, the entire new home inventory will be “sold out” in 5.8 months.

Housing experts say that when home supplies fall below 6.0 months, it’s bullish for housing.

And, as a third reason to look past the New Home Sales headline figure, last month’s reporting Margin of Error was huge.

According to the government, the February New Home Sales data was published with a ±23.9% margin of error. This means that the actual New Home Sales sales volume may have dropped as much as -25.5%, or may have climbed by as much as +22.3%. 

Because the range of possible values includes both positive and negative numbers, the Census Bureau assigned its February data the “zero confidence” label.

It will be several months before February’s New Home Sales data is revised. Until then, buyers in Manhantten would do well to take cues from the real estate market-at-large which shows steady, gradual improvement. 

If your 2012 housing plans call for buying new construction, consider using February’s results as a window to “make a deal”. As the year progresses, great values in housing may be gone for good.

Posted in Around The Home

How To Replace Cracked, Dirty Grout

How to replace groutTile is among the most versatile home surfacing materials. It can be as functional and good-looking on your home’s walls as it can be on counter tops, adding a polished look to your kitchen or bathrooms.

Tile is also easy-to-clean — so long as it’s well-maintained.

Proper tile cleaning is more than just a daily wipe-down. Cleaning tile requires a periodic resealing of the tiles themselves, as well as a re-grout for when the existing grout cracks, or stains.

Replacing grout is a job that’s low on skill but large on elbow grease. You can hire it out to a handyperson in Bronx , or you can handle it in-home. If you choose to replace your own grout, here are the steps you’ll want to follow.

First, you’ll need some tools :

  • Hammer and screwdriver
  • Grout scraper
  • Putty knife
  • Damp sponge
  • Dry cloths
  • Grout
  • Grout sealer

Start by using your screwdriver to loosen bits of the damaged and/or dirty grout. Tap the screwdriver with the hammer gently to avoid scratching your tile. Once you’ve loosened the grout, use the grout scraper to remove the remnants. 

Next, pour new grout into the crevices between the tiles and smooth it into place using the putty knife. The motion is similar to that of buttering a slice of bread. Scrape up the excess grout as you work. Continue spreading the grout until you’ve finished a several-foot section.

Before the grout has dried, use a damp sponge to wipe the tiles clean and neaten the grout lines. You can also use your finger to smooth and remove excess grout from between the tiles.

Repeat the grouting and cleaning process until all of the grout has been replaced. Allow the grout to dry for the length of time recommended by the manufacturer.

Next, using the dry cloths, buff the tiles, using a forceful, circular motion to remove any remaining grout residue.

Then, as a final step, for long-lasting protection, seal the grout using a commercial grout sealer from a hardware store.

Keeping grout in good condition does more than just make your kitchen or bathrooms look great — it protects the surfaces beneath the tile, too. Re-grouting tile is a basic home improvement task that can pay for itself many times over.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Existing Home Sales Stay Strong; Spring Season Underway

Existing Home Sales

The market for home resales stays strong.

Despite sparse home inventory, the National Association of REALTORS® reports that 4.59 million existing homes were sold in February on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. An “existing home” is a home that cannot be classified as new construction.

Last month’s sales data represents a 9 percent improvement from the year prior.

There are now just 2.43 million homes for sale nationwide — a 19% reduction versus a year ago. The complete home inventory would “sell out” in 6.4 months at the current sales pace.

Some analysts believe that a 6-month home supply indicates a housing market in balance.

The real estate trade group’s report contained other noteworthy statistics, too :

  1. 32 percent of home sales were made to first-time buyers
  2. 33 percent of home sales were made with cash (i.e. no mortgage)
  3. 34 percent of home sales were of foreclosed homes or homes in short sale

In addition, nearly one-third of all home sales “failed” last month, the result of homes not appraising at the purchase price; or, the buyer’s inability to secure mortgage financing; or, insurmountable home inspection issues.

Even accounting for last month’s high contract failure rate,though,  the Existing Home Sales report still posted its second-highest reading since May 2010. For today’s Manhantten home buyer, the data may be a “buy signal”.

As compared to last fall, home supplies are down and home sales are up. Basic economics tell us that home prices should start to rise shortly — if they haven’t already. After all, the Existing Home Sales data is 30 days old, reporting on February. It’s nearly April today.

The good news is that homes remain affordable. With conforming and FHA mortgage rates in the low-4 percent range, home affordability is at its highest in history. Home prices may rise this spring, but at least your mortgage payment should remain low.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Buyer Foot Traffic Through New Construction Up Nearly Threefold Since 2009

HMI 2000-2012

Home builder confidence in the newly-built, single-family housing market remains high.

In March, for the second consecutive month, the National Association of Homebuilders reports the Housing Market Index at 28 — a doubling of the reading from just 6 months ago and, along with last month, the highest HMI value since June 2007.

When home builder confidence reads 50 or better, it reflects favorable builder conditions in the single-family, new home market. Readings below 50 suggest unfavorable builder conditions.

The HMI itself is a composite reading. It’s the result of three separate surveys sent to home builders by the trade association. The NAHB asks builders to report on their current single-family home sales volume; their projected single-family home sales volume for the next 6 months; and, their current buyer “foot traffic”.

Approximately 400 surveys are returned each month. The results are compiled into the NAHB Housing Market Index.

In March, home builders provided mixed replies to the survey questions :

  • Current Single-Family Sales : 29 (-1 from February)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 36 (+2 from February)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 22 (Unchanged from February)

It’s noteworthy, despite slowing sales in March, that home builders expect a surge in new home sales over the next 6 months. The reasons for this are several and should be of interest to today’s home buyers.

First, the jobs market is heating up. The U.S. economy has added more than 1 net new million jobs over the last 6 months and that is increasing the pool of potential home buyers in New York and nationwide. 

Second, the housing market, in general, is improving. Home sales are brisk in many U.S. markets and home supplies are dropping. This creates pressure on home prices to rise.

And, third, low mortgage rates have helped pushed home affordability to all-time highs. More home buyers earning the national median income can afford a median-priced home than at any time in history. 

It’s all culminated in a monthly Buyer Foot Traffic reading which, at 22, is nearly triple the foot traffic reading from just three years ago. Home buyers — in Manhantten and everywhere else — are out in full-force, capitalizing on today’s buyer-friendly market.

If you’re looking to buy new construction in the second half of 2012, consider moving up your time frame. Market conditions are constantly changing, and may move out of your favor. As builder optimism increases, the price you pay for your new home may increase, too. 

Posted in Mortgage Guidelines

Loans For Underwater Homeowners : HARP 2.0 Now Available

Making Home Affordabie

The new, revamped HARP program is now available in New Jersey and   nationwide. It was officially released Saturday, March 17, 2012 by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

HARP is an acronym. It stands for Home Affordable Refinance Program. HARP is the conforming mortgage loan product meant for “underwater homeowners”. Under the HARP program, homeowners in Westchester can get access to today’s low mortgage rates despite having little or no equity whatsoever.

HARP is expected to reach up to 6 million U.S. homeowners who would otherwise be unable to refinance.

HARP is not a new program. It was originally launched in 2009. However, the program’s first iteration reached fewer than 1 million U.S. households because loan risks were high for banks, and loan costs were high for consumers.

With HARP’s re-release — dubbed HARP 2.0 — the government removed many of HARP’s hurdles.

In order to qualify for HARP, homeowners must first meet 3 qualifying criteria. 

First, their current mortgage must be backed either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Loans backed by the FHA or VA are ineligible, as are loans backed by private entities. This means jumbo loans and most loans from community banks cannot be refinanced via HARP.

  • To check if your loan is Fannie Mae-backed, click here.
  • To check if your loan is Freddie Mac-backed, click here.

The second qualification standard for HARP is that all loans to be refinanced must have been securitized by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac prior to June 1, 2009. Mortgages securitized on, or after, June 1, 2009 are HARP-ineligible.

There are no exceptions to this rule.

And, lastly, the third HARP qualification standard is that the existing mortgage must be accompanied by a strong repayment history. Homeowners must have made the last 6 mortgage payments on-time, and may not have had more than one 30-day late within the last 12 months.

If the above three qualifiers are met, HARP applicants in Queens will find mortgage guidelines lenient overall :

  • Refinancing into a fixed rate mortgage allows for unlimited loan-to-value
  • The standard 7-year “waiting period” after a foreclosure is waived in full
  • Except in rare cases, home appraisals aren’t required for HARP

Furthermore, HARP mortgage rates are on par with non-HARP rates. This means that HARP applicants get access to the same mortgage rates and loan fees as non-HARP applicants. There’s no “penalty” for using HARP.

To apply for HARP, check with your loan officer today.

Posted in Around The Home

How To Store Your Winter Clothes For The Summer Season

Storing winter clothes for the summer As the Bronx weather turns warmer and the days grow longer, it’s time to pack away your winter clothes to make room for spring and summer things — just make sure to store your cold-weather clothes properly.

They’ll look better, wear longer, and will be ready to go when winter rolls around again next year.

Here’s what to do.

First, you’ll want to launder your winter clothes before you pack them up — even if they were never worn and/or don’t appear to be soiled. Clothes can sometimes have spots or stains that aren’t readily visible. Use unscented detergents, and skip fabric softeners and other additives that could attract insects.

Take items that can’t be washed to the dry cleaner.

Next, you’ll put your clothes into storage containers. Ideally, use bags or boxes that won’t degrade and will seal out dirt, dust, insects and moisture.

Fold clothing neatly before adding it to the container and pack “loosely”, allowing air can circulate. Tuck a lavender or cedar sachet into each container to help repel bugs. Both lavender and cedar are safer for use than mothballs and they smell much better.

For bulky items such as coats, use padded hangers and cover the clothing with heavy plastic wardrobe bags. If you don’t have padded hangers and don’t want to buy them, drape wood hangers with folded towels to fill in the shoulders of your coats without stretching them.

Keep the storage boxes and hangers in a dry place, away from sunlight. Sunlight can fade your fabrics.

Then, make sure to clean your closets thoroughly before filling them with the next season’s clothes. Dust the shelves and ceiling, wipe bars and flat surfaces, and give the floor a good vacuum.

Your closet will be clean and fresh and ready for the new season.

Posted in Housing Analysis

Foreclosure Volume Slated To Rise This Spring

Foreclosure increases by state Feb 2012

After a series of months during which foreclosure volume was low, total filings have started to rise again, says RealtyTrac. 

In February, 21 states posted a year-over-year increase in monthly foreclosure filings, according to the national foreclosure-tracking firm. This is nearly twice as many states as compared to December 2011, marking the highest monthly reading since November 2010.

A “foreclosure filing” is defined to include any one of the following foreclosure-related events : (1) The serving of a default notice, (2) A scheduled home auction, or (3) A bank repossession.

Nationally, the number of foreclosure filings fell 2 percent from January. However, it’s a trend that may reverse. Foreclosure volume is expected to rise over the next few months.

This is because the $25 billion mortgage servicer settlement provides a framework for servicers to execute necessary foreclosures, from notice-to-auction. Some analysts believe that foreclosure filings were artificially depressed in 2011 because of the absence of such guidance. 

Like all things in real estate, though, foreclosures remain local.

For example, nationally, there was one foreclosure for every 637 housing units. On a state-by-state basis, however, the results looked different.  

  • Nevada : 1 foreclosure for every 278 housing units
  • California : 1 foreclosure for every 283 housing units
  • Arizona : 1 foreclosure for every 312 housing units
  • Georgia : 1 foreclosure for every 331 housing units
  • Florida : 1 foreclosure for every 341 housing units

Even on a city-by-city level, foreclosure concentration varied. Figures from several select cities include : 

  • Atlanta : 1 foreclosure for every 244 housing units
  • Chicago : 1 foreclosure for every 302 housing units
  • New York : 1 foreclosure for every 3,439 housing units
  • Seattle : 1 foreclosure for every 1,229 housing units
  • Washington : 1 foreclosure for every 1,198 housing units

One reason why foreclosure concentration is worth tracking is because homes in various stage of foreclosure are often sold at deep discounts as compared to similar, non-distressed homes. It’s no wonder foreclosed homes are in high demand among today’s Bronx home buyers. 

However, if you plan to buy a foreclosure in New York , be sure to work with an experienced real estate agent. Foreclosed homes are often sold “as-is”, and may be defective at best and uninhabitable at worst. It makes good sense to have an advocate on your side to help with contracts and inspections.