Posted in The Economy

Mortgage Rates Climb Sharply After Retail Sales Report

Retail Sales 2010-2012The U.S. economy is expanding, fueled by a renewed consumer optimism and increased consumer spending.

As reported by the Census Bureau, Retail Sales in February, excluding cars and auto parts, rose 1 percent to $335 billion as 11 of 13 retail sectors showed improvement last month.

February markets the 19th time in twenty months that U.S. Retail Sales increased on a month-over-month basis.

Unfortunately, what’s good for the economy may be bad for Westchester home buyers and mortgage rate shoppers. Home affordability is expected to worsen as the U.S. economy improves.

The connection between Retail Sales and home affordability is indirect, but noteworthy — especially given today’s broader market conditions.

First, let’s talk about affordability.

Last week, the National Association of REALTORS® released its monthly Housing Affordability Index, showing that homes are more affordable to everyday home buyers than at any time in recorded history. For buyers with median earnings buying median-priced homes, monthly payments now comprise just 12.1% of the monthly household income.

The real estate trade group considers 25% to be the benchmark for home affordability. Today’s payment levels are less than half of that.

The reasons why today’s homes are so affordable are three-fold :

  1. Home prices remain relatively low as compared to peak pricing
  2. Fixed- and adjustable-rate mortgage rates remain near all-time lows
  3. Average earnings are increasing nationwide

Rising Retail Sales, however, can derail the trend. This is because Retail Sales measures consumer spending and consumer spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy. As the economy expands, the forces that combined to raise home affordability so high begin to wane. 

First, in a recovering economy, mortgage rates tend to rise and, throughout 2012 and 2013, home prices are expected do the same. Second, as average earnings increase, it can spur inflation which is bad for mortgage rates, too. 

Home affordability is at all-time highs today. But, in part because of February’s Retail Sales data, we should not expect these levels to last. Mortgage rates are higher by 1/4 percent since the Retail Sales data was released — roughly $16 per $100,000 borrowed — and are expected to rise more throughout the spring home purchase season.

Retail Sales are up 6 percent from a year ago.

Posted in Federal Reserve

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (March 13, 2012)

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.

For the fourth consecutive month, the Fed Funds Rate vote was nearly unanimous. Just one FOMC member dissented in the 9-1 vote.

The Fed Funds Rate has been near zero percent since December 2008. It is expected to remain near-zero through 2014, at least.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve noted that the the U.S. economy has “expanded moderately” since the FOMC’s January 2012 meeting, adding that growth is occurring despite “strains in the global financial markets” that pose “significant downside risks” to long-term outlooks.

The Federal Reserve now expects moderate economic expansion through the next few quarters and a gradual easing in the national Unemployment Rate.

The Fed also noted that :

  1. The housing sector remains “depressed”
  2. Labor conditions have “improved further”
  3. Household spending has “continued to advance”

With respect to inflation, the Fed said that rising oil and gasoline prices will “push up” inflation temporarily, but not over the long-term.

At its meeting, the Federal Reserve neither introduced new economic stimulus, nor discontinued existing market programs. The Fed re-affirmed its intentions to hold the Fed Funds Rate at “exceptionally low” levels through late-2014, and to buy mortgage-backed bonds in the open market.

Immediately following the FOMC’s statement, mortgage markets worsened slightly, pressuring mortgage rates higher in and around Westchester. 

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is a two-day event slated for April 24-25, 2012.

Posted in Federal Reserve

The Fed Meets Today : Protecting Your Housing Payment

Comparing the 30-year fixed versus the Fed Funds RateThe Federal Open Market Committee meets today, its second of 8 scheduled meetings this year. As a home buyer or would-be refinancing household in Queens , get ready for changing mortgage rates.

The Federal Open Market Committee is the 12-person sub-committee within the Federal Reserve that votes on the nation’s monetary policy. Led by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the FOMC’s most prominent role is as steward for the Fed Funds Rate.

The Fed has said repeatedly that it intends to keep the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000 for an “extended period of time”, through 2014 at least.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that Westchester mortgage rates will remain low as well. Mortgage rates are not set by the Federal Open Market Committee. Mortgage rates are set by Wall Street.

As proof that the Fed Funds Rate is distinct from mortgage rates, consider that, since 2000, the difference between the Fed Funds Rate and the average, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate has been as wide as 5.25% and as narrow at 0.50%.

If the Fed Funds Rate was tied to mortgage rates, the chart at right would be linear.

That said, the FOMC can influence mortgage rates. 

After its meetings, the FOMC issues a standard press release to the public which reflects the group’s overall economic outlook. When the FOMC statement is generally “positive”, mortgage rates tend to rise in response. This is because investors often assume more risk in an improving economy and this can harm bond market prices — including those for mortgage-backed bonds.

Conversely, when the Fed is generally negative in its statement, mortgage rates can improve.

Since the FOMC’s last meeting, there has been little about which to be negative with the U.S. economy. Housing and manufacturing are improving; employment is higher; and global markets are regaining their respective footing. The Fed may make note of it. Or, it may not.

Regardless, mortgage rates are expected to move so consider locking your mortgage rate ahead of today’s 2:15 PM ET statement.

There too much risk in floating.

Posted in Around The Home

How To Remove Soap Scum From Shower Doors

Clean shower doorsDirty shower doors can ruin an otherwise sparkling-clean bathroom. The soap scum that accumulates isn’t just unsightly; it contains body oils and skin particles that provide for a perfect bacteria breeding ground.

Supermarket shelves in Westchester are filled with bathroom cleaners that promise to cut through soap scum, but the cleansers don’t always work and those that do often contain harsh chemicals that can irritate your skin.

Cleaning shower doors can be more safe and more pleasant, then, when you use chemical-free household products, many of which you likely have in your kitchen already.

White vinegar makes an excellent soap scum remover, for example.

To remove soap scum from your shower doors using white vinegar, pour non-diluted white vinegar into a spray bottle, and then spray your shower doors until the soap-scummy sections are completely saturated. Let the vinegar sit for several minutes. This allows the white vinegar time begin breaking down the soap scum.

Spritz the surface again, if necessary, to keep the surface wet.

After the white vinegar has had some time to work, wipe the soap scum away with a non-scratching sponge.

If the soap scum is particularly stubborn, cutting through it completely may require a mild abrasive.

After letting the vinegar soak for several minutes, sprinkle baking powder on your sponge and remove the soap scum using a moderate amount of pressure and small circular motions. If your shower doors are textured, you may need to switch to a scrub brush to get into the crevasses.

Reapply baking soda and re-spritz the doors with vinegar as needed to remove the soap scum completely. Then, just rinse away the residue with hot water.

Give the shower floor a final rinse after the residue drains.

Posted in Mortgage Guidelines

FHA Drops Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium To 0.01% For Qualified Borrowers

FHA MIP scheduleThe FHA is making more changes to its flagship FHA Streamline Refinance program.

Beginning mid-June 2012, certain current, FHA-backed homeowners will be able to refinance their existing FHA mortgage into a new one, without having to pay the government-backed group’s new, costly mortgage insurance premium schedule.

Earlier this week, the FHA rolled out its new MIP schedule.

Beginning April 9, 2012, new FHA mortgages are subject to a 1.75% upfront mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) and an annual mortgage insurance premium of up to 1.25% for loan sizes up to, and including, $625,500; or 1.60% for loan sizes exceeding $625,500.

Upfront MIP is typically added to the loan size as a lump sum. Annual MIP is paid via 12 monthly installments. Both add to the long-term costs of homeownership.

However, the FHA’s new MIP schedules will not apply to all FHA-backed homeowners equally. Homeowners whose FHA mortgages were endorsed prior to June 1, 2009 will benefit from a different, less costly MIP schedule.

For these homeowners in search of a streamline, the MIP schedule is as follows :

  • Upfront MIP : 0.01% of the loan size
  • Annual MIP : 0.55% of the loan size, with no adjuster for loan sizes over $625,500

The new schedule is detailed in FHA Mortgagee Letter 12-04 and it lowers the cost of FHA Streamline Refinancing for long-time, FHA-backed households in New Jersey and nationwide to almost nothing.

As a real-life example, an FHA-backed homeowner whose $100,000 mortgage dates to 2008 could refinance via the FHA Streamline Refinance program and pay just $10 in upfront MIP, with a corresponding annual MIP payment of just $550, or $45.83 monthly. 

By comparison, every other FHA-backed homeowner with a $100,000 mortgage pays $1,750 in UFMIP and as much as $1,600 in annual MIP.

The new streamline refinance MIP schedule is in effect for FHA mortgage applications with case numbers assigned on, or after, June 11, 2012. It is not available for loan applications made prior to that date.

There are lots of dates and deadlines in the FHA’s new streamline program. If you’re too early — or too late —  you could miss your optimal refinance window. Talk with your loan officer, therefore, and put a plan in place. You’ll be glad to be prepared.  

Posted in The Economy

Mortgage Rates Expected To Rise On A Strong Job Report

Net New Jobs Feb 2010-Feb 2012With home affordability at an all-time high, buoyed by the lowest mortgage rates ever, it’s been a terrific time to buy or refinance a home using a mortgage.

The good times may not last, though, so today marks an ideal time to lock a mortgage rate. Friday brings risk. Here’s why.

Since 2010, weak economic conditions have been a primary catalyst for low mortgage rates in New Jersey. Over the last 12 months, though, manufacturing output has been rising, consumer spending has been climbing, and business investment has increasing.

In other words, the economy is improving. However, it’s the jobs market that’s believed to be the economic recovery keystone. When jobs come back, analysts say, so does the economy.

Assuming that’s true, a recovery may already be well underway.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. jobs market has grown for 16 straight months now, adding 2.5 million net new jobs along the way. It’s one reason why the February jobs report matters so much to housing. 

Rate shoppers would do well to pay attention.

Friday, at 8:30 AM ET, the government will release its Non-Farm Payrolls report for February. Wall Street expects the report to show 210,000 new jobs were created in February, a figure slightly higher than the rolling, 6-month average for job growth. This would be a positive economic indicator.

If the analysts are correct, mortgage rates are likely to rise on the news, harming home affordability.

Furthermore, affordability could be harmed by a lot if the number of net new jobs created exceeds the 210,000 tally expected. It’s not a far-fetched scenario. Wall Street’s “whispers” put the actual jobs figure somewhere between 250,000-300,000. A reading lije this would cause mortgage rates to spike and would add money to a prospective monthly mortgage payment.

If the idea of rising mortgage rates makes you nervous, consider taking your nerves out of the equation. Call your loan officer today. Lock your rate ahead of Friday’s Non-Farm Payrolls release.

Posted in Mortgage Rates

Are You Wasting $471 Per Month On Your Mortgage?

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

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage rate survey, for 13 straight weeks, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage has held below 4.000% for mortgage applicants willing to pay up to 0.8 discount points plus a full set of closing costs.

These are the lowest mortgage rates in history and now — with a bevy of loan programs for the nation’s 11 million “underwater homeowners” including HARP, the FHA Streamline Refinance, and the VA IRRRL — millions of U.S. homeowners can exploit the current mortgage rate environment.

In this 4-minute clip from NBC’s The Today Show, you’ll learn about today’s mortgage market and your refinancing opportunities in New Jersey.

The video begins by telling us that 14 million credit-worthy Americans have yet to refinance their respective mortgages, and are leaving an average of $471 in “wasted savings” on the table each month which adds up to more than $5,600 annually.

That’s a big number.

Some of the video’s other key points include :

  • Refinancing is “worth the hassle” when mortgage rates are as low as they are today
  • The best rates are reserved for homeowners with the highest credit scores
  • Comparison shop — your current mortgage lender may not offer you the best rates

Furthermore, the video reveals the characteristics of the homeowner type most likely to benefit from a refinance. These traits include having with 20% equity in the home; have plans to live in the home for at least the next 36 months; carrying a current mortgage rate of 5 percent or higher.

It should also be added that, with a zero-closing-cost or low-closing-cost mortgage, even a small reduction in your mortgage rate can make a refinance worthwhile.

Mortgage rates are low but can’t stay low forever. If you haven’t participated in the Refi Boom, talk with a loan officer and review your mortgage options. You may be able to save hundreds of dollars per month with just modest closing costs. 

Posted in Statistics

Home Affordability Reaches An All-Time High

Home Opportunity Index (2005-2012)Home affordability moved higher last quarter, boosted by the lowest mortgage rates in history, a rise in median income, and slow-to-recover home prices throughout New York and the country.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the quarterly Home Opportunity Index read 75.9 in 2011’s fourth quarter. More than 3 in 4 homes sold between October-December 2011, in other words, were affordable to households earning the national median income of $64,200.

Never in recorded history have U.S. homes been as affordable on a national level. Even on a regional and local level, affordability soared.

Affordability was highest in the Midwest; 7 of the 10 most affordable markets nationwide were in the nation’s heartland. 

The Top 5 most affordable U.S. cities in Q4 2011 were:

  1. Kokomo, IN (99.2% home affordability)
  2. Fairbanks, AK (97.5% home affordability)
  3. Cumberland, WV (96.9% home affordability)
  4. Lima, OH (96.0% home affordability)
  5. Rockford, IL (95.5% home affordability)

These are each considered “small markets”. The most affordable “major market” was the Youngstown, Ohio area, where 95.1% of homes sold were affordable to households earning the area’s local median income.

Not surprisingly, America’s “least affordable cities” were regionally-concentrated, too, with 7 of the 10 least affordable markets located in either California or Texas.

San Francisco (#3), Santa Ana (#4), and Los Angeles (#5) led for the Golden State but, for the 15th consecutive quarter, the New York metropolitan area took “Least Affordable Market” honors.

Just 29 percent of homes in and around New York City were affordable to households earning the area’s median income last quarter. It’s a large jump from the quarter prior during which 23 percent of homes were affordable.

The rankings for all 225 metro areas are available for download on the NAHB website.

Posted in Around The Home

How To Keep A Stainless Steel Product Shining

Shine Stainless Steel

With their sleek, modern look, over the past 10 years, stainless steel appliances have move from “hot trend” to commonplace.

However, as any Manhantten homeowner with stainless steel appliances will tell you, to keep a stainless steel surface free from marks, drips and fingerprints can be a futile exercise. Streaks and smudges will happen — they can’t be avoiding.

There are tricks, however, for keeping your stainless “shining”. You’ll need a microfiber cloth and a small bowl, plus some dish detergent, and some WD-40 or furniture polish. 

First, start with a single teaspoon of dish detergent in a quart of hot tap water. Using the microfiber cloth to avoid scratching the appliance’s surface, rub the mixture firmly in the direction of the steel’s grain.

Rinse the surface with clean, hot water and dry it immediately.

If the smudge remains, as a second attempt, spray a little WD-40 or furniture polish on the surface of the stainless steel appliance and buff the mark away using the microfiber cloth.

Then, if the smudge still remains, apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the appliance surface and — again with the microfiber cloth — rub in the direction of the grain. This will remove the mark, but it will also dull the stainless steel’s shine.

Therefore, to restore the appliance’s luster, use a small amount of WD-40 or furniture polish, or buff the appliance with a drop of mineral oil. 

You may also use a commercial stainless steel cleaner to clean your home’s appliance and these products work well. However, they’re often thick with chemicals and can be more expensive than one of the do-it-yourself solutions presented above.

Sometimes, though, it takes a specialty product to get the job done.

Posted in Mortgage Guidelines

FHA To Raise Mortgage Insurance Premiums April 1, 2012

FHA MIP Changes April 1 2012Beginning April 1, 2012, the FHA is once again raising mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) on its newly-insured borrowers throughout Westchester and the country.

It’s the FHA’s fourth such increase in the last two years.

Beginning April 1, 2012, upfront mortgage insurance premiums will be higher by 75 basis points, or 0.75%; and annual mortgage insurance premiums will be higher by 10 basis points per year, or 0.10%.

For borrowers with a loan size of $200,000, the new MIP will add $1,500 in one-time loan costs, plus an on-going, annual $200 increase in total mortgage insurance premiums paid.

All new FHA loans are subject to the increase — purchases and refinances.

The FHA is increasing its mortgage insurance premiums because, as an entity, the FHA is insuring a much larger percentage of the U.S. mortgage market than ever before. 

In 2006, the FHA insured 2 percent of all purchase-money mortgages. In 2011, that figure jumped to 18 percent. Unfortunately, as the FHA has insured more loans, it’s number of loans in default have climbed, too, forcing the FHA to boost its reserves.

Beginning April 1, 2012, the new FHA annual mortgage insurance premium schedule is as follows :

  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value > 90% : 0.60% MIP per year
  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 90% : 0.35% MIP per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value > 95% : 1.25% MIP per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 95% : 1.20% MIP per year

In order to calculate what your FHA annual mortgage insurance premium would be on a monthly basis, multiply your beginning loan size by your insurance premium in the chart above, then divide by 12.

In addition, for loans over $625,500, beginning June 1, 2012, there is an additional 25 basis point increase to annual MIP.

To avoid paying the new FHA mortgage insurance premiums, start your FHA mortgage application today. Existing FHA-insured homeowners will not be affected by the change.

Mortgage insurance premiums will not rise for loans already made.