Florida Home Sales Up 23.8% and Condo Up 17.7% in Dec.

24 01 2020

The holiday season was a time of good cheer for Florida’s housing market, with more closed sales, higher median prices and increased pending sales, plus more pending inventory in December 2019 compared to a year ago, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®.

Sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 25,557 last month, up 23.8% from December 2018.

Florida condo-townhouse sales were up 17.7% year-to-year. The statewide median price for single-family homes rose 5.9% to $270K, and condo-townhouse prices were up 8.1% to $200K. Pending inventory and new pending sales also rose statewide in both categories.

“Continued low interest rates are sparking buyer demand across Florida; however, a constrained supply and tight inventory of for-sale homes is putting pressure on home prices to rise,” says 2020 Florida Realtors President Barry Grooms, a Realtor and co-owner of Sarabay Suncoast Realty Inc. in Bradenton. “Existing single-family homes had a 3.4 months’ supply of inventory in December, while condo-townhouse properties showed a 5.2 months’ supply. In a positive sign, new pending sales rose 11.9% for single-family existing homes last month and new pending sales for condo-townhouse units increased 8.3%.

“Buying or selling a home can be a complex process, but a local Realtor stands ready to help.”

Statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties in December rose year-over-year for 96 months in a row. The statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes was $270,000, up 5.9% from the previous year, according to data from Florida Realtors Research Department in partnership with local Realtor boards/associations. Last month’s statewide median price for condo-townhouse units was $200,000, up 8.1% over the year-ago figure. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

According to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), the national median sales price for existing single-family homes in November 2019 was $274,000, up 5.4% from the previous year; the national median existing condo price was $248,200. In California, the statewide median sales price for single-family existing homes in November was $589,770; in Massachusetts, it was $405,000; in Maryland, it was $301,000; and in New York, it was $280,000.

Looking at Florida’s condo-townhouse market in December, statewide closed sales totaled 9,605, up 17.7% from the level a year ago. Closed sales may occur from 30- to 90-plus days after sales contracts are written.

Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. Brad O’Connor points out that Florida’s housing market this December showed very different data trends than the previous year. In December 2018, the state was experiencing weak existing home sales growth and rising inventory levels driven in part by higher interest rates, a troubled stock market and uneasiness generated by an impending shutdown of the federal government, according to O’Connor.

“Closed sales of existing single-family homes were up by nearly 24% compared to last December, while closings in the condo-townhouse category were up by almost 18%,” he says. “So why such a big jump? Well, part of it is explained by the fact that sales were unusually weak at the end of 2018, driven in part by a sharp increase in the average 30-year mortgage rate.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the entire increase in sales, he adds.

“The average 30-year mortgage rate spent the entire second half of 2019 in the range of 3.5% to 3.8%, flirting with historical lows,” O’Connor says. “And in the months since the mid-year yield curve scare that spooked the financial markets, the Federal Reserve has dropped the federal funds rate three times, restoring calm to the national economy. Here in Florida, we saw new pending sales for both property types begin surging in October, and now, with the December figures, we see a significant share of those deals successfully closed by year’s end.

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.72% in December 2019, down from the 4.6% averaged during the same month a year earlier.

Source: Floridarealtors.org.





Housing sales, inventory trending up in Florida

4 12 2018

Florida’s housing market reported more closed sales, rising median prices and more new listings in October compared to a year ago, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors®. Sales of single-family homes statewide totaled 22,272 last month, up 8.5 percent compared to October 2017.

October marked 82 consecutive months (more than six and a half years) that statewide median sales prices for both single-family homes and condo-townhouse properties increased year-over-year.

Rising interest rates are having a ripple effect across the housing market as the Federal Reserve increases borrowing costs. Analysts expect the Fed to raise rates again a few times in 2019. Areas with strong job or population growth, like Florida, may be able to weather higher mortgage rates, analysts say.

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.83 percent in October 2018, up from the 3.90 percent averaged during the same month a year earlier.





Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Accept 3% Down Payment Mortgages

21 10 2014

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are close to allowing consumers to buy a home with as little as a 3 percent down payment and still have the mortgages backed by the two agencies.

More details are expected to be announced in coming weeks, but the move from a 5 percent down payment could increase the ability of creditworthy but cash–strapped consumers to become homeowners and help a faltering housing market regain its traction. Both agencies at one point had accepted 3 percent down payments. Fannie Mae stopped accepting loans with 3 percent down payments last year, while Freddie Mac stopped accepting them in June 2011.

“Through these revised guidelines, we believe that the enterprises will be able to responsibly serve a targeted segment of creditworthy borrowers with lower down payment mortgages by taking into account compensating factors,” said Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie and Freddie’s overseer, during a speech Monday at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual convention in Las Vegas. “It is yet another much-needed piece to the broader access-to-credit puzzle.”

Watt also announced other policy initiatives to make lenders more comfortable with the federal government’s mortgage purchase guidelines in the hope it will loosen their purse strings.

“It’s a very big deal,” said Dan Gjeldum, a senior vice president at mortgage lender Guaranteed Rate. “It will dramatically reduce the expense for a first-time homebuyer. The easier it is to do business with the agency, the easier it’s going to be for consumers to work with mortgage companies.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do not originate mortgages directly to homebuyers. Instead, lenders sell mortgages that meet certain criteria to the two agencies, which in turn package them into securities and sell them to investors. The investments are guaranteed, which means that investors recoup losses if the homeowner defaults. Fannie and Freddie can force lenders to repurchase bad loans.

The upshot of those assurances is a more cautious lending environment that is leaving some would-be buyers on the sidelines.

Watt said Monday the FHFA was taking steps to clarify the circumstances under which Fannie and Freddie could force a lender to repurchase a loan, in an effort to reduce lender confusion. “I hope our actions provide sufficient certainty to enable your companies to reassess existing credit overlays and more aggressively make responsible loans available to creditworthy borrowers,” Watt said in prepared remarks distributed by the FHFA.

In its most recent report, the FHFA said the average FICO credit score of borrowers was 744 for Fannie Mae and 742 for Freddie Mac, lower than at the end of 2013. FICO scores range from 300 to 850.

Borrowers who put down less than 20 percent on a home purchase typically pay mortgage insurance that continues until their equity in the home reaches 20 percent. Reducing the down payment requirement to 3 percent from 5 percent will require a longer period of mortgage insurance and benefit mortgage insurance providers.

Homebuyers with lesser credit scores and smaller down payments traditionally flocked to mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration that required down payments of only 3.5 percent. However, to aid the agency’s finances, the upfront fees and monthly insurance premiums associated with those loans have increased, reducing demand for them and keeping more first-time buyers on the sidelines.

Watt’s announcement is the latest step in the federal government’s effort to continue a housing market recovery that has stagnated lately, confounding industry watchers. Last month, Fannie Mae shortened the waiting period that homeowners who have gone through a bankruptcy, a foreclosure or a short sale must wait before they can again purchase a home.

Addressing the convention earlier Monday, David Stevens, president and CEO of the mortgage bankers, noted that 2014 purchase loan originations are expected to be more than 10 percent below last year’s level.

Even billionaire Warren Buffett has recently weighed in on the market’s malaise, saying he didn’t understand why low interest rates and economic improvement weren’t fueling a housing market recovery. “You would think that people would be lining up now to get mortgages to buy a home,” he said at a conference this month.

At one point, there was speculation that the average interest rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage would hit 5 percent by year’s end, but analysts now think that threshold won’t be hit until halfway through 2015. Last week, the average fixed interest rate on a 30-year mortgage was 3.97 percent, the lowest it’s been since June 2013.

However, most consumers rarely see rates that low because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as extra-cautious lenders, tack on credit overlays tied to consumers’ down payment amounts and credit scores.

“Mortgages are still tough to get,” said Pradeep Shukla, president of the Mainstreet Organization of Realtors. “Lenders are still extra cautious. On the whole, what is most important is consumer confidence and that is still lacking.”

Source: Chicago Tribune





Residential Real Estate Price Growth is Strongest Since 2005

4 02 2014

Home prices — both nationwide and in Jacksonville — are on the rise, according to a report from CoreLogic.

Across the United States, home prices have increased 11 percent from December 2012 to December 2013, including distressed sales.

The CoreLogic Home Price Index report on Tuesday reported the 22nd consecutive monthly year-over-year increase in US home prices based on Multiple Listing Service data.

In Jacksonville, home prices increased 9 percent including distressed sales and 11.5 percent when distressed sales are excluded, on a year-over-year basis.

Sales jumped 1.5 percent from November to December.

The CoreLogic report follows a report from RealtyShack showing an increase in home flipping.

See the full CoreLogic report here.

Source: CoreLogic and Jacksonville Business Journal





Florida’s Residential Real Estate Recovery on Strong Footing

12 02 2013

Closed sales, pending sales and median prices all rose in Florida in 2012, while the inventory of homes for sale shrank compared with 2011, Florida Realtors reported.

“Throughout 2012, we’ve seen increasingly strong signs that the state’s housing market is in solid recovery,” 2013 Florida Realtors President Dean Asher said in a news release.

Asher, broker and owner of Don Asher & Associates in Orlando, said several factors are spurring the recovery forward, including strong job creation and low interest rates on mortgages.

“These positive fundamentals in the housing sector continue to attract potential homeowners and investors; however, they’re facing a limited inventory of available for-sale homes in many areas,” he said.

Statewide closed sales of existing single-family homes totaled 204,414 in 2012, up 8.5 percent from 2011, according to data from Florida Realtors’ industry data and analysis department in partnership with local Realtor boards and associations.

In the fourth quarter, closed sales of single-family existing homes totaled 52,624, up 21.2 percent from the same time a year ago. Closed sales typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

Pending sales, contracts that are signed but not closed, for existing single-family homes rose 17.6 percent in 2012 from 2011’s figure. The statewide median sale price for single-family existing homes in 2012 was $145,000, up 9 percent from the previous year.

Looking at the fourth quarter of 2012, the statewide single-family, existing-home median price was $150,000, up 11.1 percent from the same quarter a year ago.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the preliminary national median sale price for existing single-family homes for all of 2012 was $176,600, up 6.3 percent from 2011, which was the strongest annual price gain since 2005.

In California, the statewide median sale price for single-family existing homes for 2012 was a preliminary $319,340; in Massachusetts it was $298,000; in New York it was $215,000; and in Illinois it was $139,000.

The median is the midpoint, with half the homes selling for more and half for less. Housing industry analysts note that sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties distort the median price down because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes, according to the release.

Looking at Florida’s year-to-year comparison for sales of townhouses and condos, a total of 101,876 units sold statewide in 2012, up 2 percent from 2011. Pending sales for townhouses and condos for the year increased 6.2 percent from 2011.

The statewide median sale price for townhouse and condo properties in 2012 was $106,000, up 17.8 percent over the previous year. In the fourth quarter, closed sales of townhouses and condos totaled 24,743, up 14.3 percent from the same time a year ago. Pending sales of townhomes and condos rose 21.6 percent over the same quarter a year ago.

The statewide median price for townhomes and condos in the fourth quarter was $111,900, up 24.3 percent year-to-year.

The inventory for single-family homes stood at a 5.5-months’ supply for the fourth quarter and inventory for townhouses and condos was at a six-months’ supply for the same period, according to Florida Realtors.

“To an extent, we have seen these numbers before in monthly reports, but it’s often good to step back and look at the statistics from a more aggregated level,” Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. John Tuccillo said. “They clearly show the robustness of Florida’s housing recovery in sales and the beginnings of what we see as a sustained growth in prices. Of particular interest is the growth in cash sales. This is indicative of the growing interest of investors and foreign buyers in Florida real estate, but also points to the difficulties presented by the current financing climate that households wishing to buy face.”

The interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.66 percent for 2012, down from the previous year’s average of 4.45 percent, according to Freddie Mac.

Source: South Florida Business Journal





U.S. Home Prices Rose Last Year By Most in 6.5 Years

6 02 2013

U.S. home prices jumped by the most in 6 1/2 years in December, spurred by a low supply of available homes and rising demand.

Home prices rose 8.3 percent in December compared with a year earlier, according to a report Tuesday from CoreLogic, a real estate data provider. That is the biggest annual gain since May 2006. Prices rose last year in 46 of 50 states.

Home prices also increased 0.4 percent in December from the previous month. That’s a healthy increase given that sales usually slow over the winter months.

Steady increases in prices are helping fuel the housing recovery. They’re encouraging some people to sell homes and enticing would-be buyers to purchase homes before prices rise further.

Higher prices can also make homeowners feel wealthier. That can encourage more consumer spending.

Most economists expect prices to keep rising this year. Sales of previously occupied homes reached their highest level in five years in 2012 and will likely keep growing. Homebuilders, encouraged by rising interest from customers, broke ground on the most new homes and apartments in four years last year.

Ultra-low mortgage rates and steady job gains have fueled more demand for houses and apartments. More people are moving out into their own homes after doubling up with friends and relatives in the recession.

At the same time, the number of previously occupied homes for sale has fallen to the lowest level in 11 years.

“All signals point to a continued improvement in the fundamentals underpinning the U.S. housing market recovery,” said Anand Nallathambi, CEO of CoreLogic.

The states with the biggest price gains were Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, California and Hawaii. The four states where prices fell were Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The housing recovery is also boosting job creation. Construction companies have added 98,000 jobs in the past four months, the best hiring spree since the bubble burst in 2006. Economists forecast even more could be added this year.

Housing has been a leading driver of past recoveries. But the bursting of the housing bubble pushed a flood of foreclosed homes on the market at low prices. That made it hard for builders to compete.

And a collapse in home prices left millions of homeowners owing more on their mortgages than their houses were worth. That made it difficult to sell.

Now, six years after the bubble burst, those barriers are fading. Some economists forecast that housing could add a point or more to economic growth this year.

Source: The Associated Press





Housing Affordability Index Rose to Record Level in Past Two Decades

23 02 2012

Nationwide housing affordability, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI), rose to the highest percentage recorded in the 20-year history of the index during the fourth quarter of 2011. However, prospective homebuyers continued to have trouble qualifying for a mortgage thanks to tighter credit standards and a soft economy.

HOI data released last week indicates that 75.9 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the fourth quarter were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,200, the highest percentage recorded in the 20-year history of the index.

“While today’s report indicates that homeownership is within reach of more households than it has been for more than two decades, overly restrictive lending conditions confronting homebuyers and builders remain significant obstacles to many potential homes sales, even with interest rates at historically low levels,” said Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Gainesville, Fla.

In Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio, Pa. – the most affordable major housing market in the country during the fourth quarter – 95.1 percent of all homes sold during the quarter were affordable to households earning the area’s median family income of $54,900.

Also ranking at the top of the most affordable major housing markets, in descending order were Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla.; Modesto, Calif.; Harrisburg-Carlisle, Pa.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Among smaller housing markets, the most affordable was Kokomo, Ind., where 99.2 percent of homes sold during the fourth quarter of 2011 were affordable to families earning the median income of $59,100. Other smaller housing markets at the top of the index included Fairbanks, Alaska; Cumberland, Md.-W.Va.; Lima, Ohio; and Rockford, Ill.

In New York-White Plain-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J. – the least affordable major housing market during 2011’s fourth quarter – 29.0 percent of all homes sold were affordable to those earning the area’s median income of $67,400. It’s the 15th consecutive quarter in which the New York metropolitan division held the position.

Other major metro areas at the bottom of the affordability index included Honolulu; San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, Calif.; Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif.; and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif., respectively.

Ocean City, N.J., where 47.5 percent of the homes were affordable to families earning the median income of $70,100, was the least affordable of the smaller metro housing markets in the country during the fourth quarter. Other small metro areas ranking near the bottom included Laredo, Texas; San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.; Santa Cruz-Watsonville, Calif.; and Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas.

Source: National Association of Home Builders





2011 Housing Market: A Year in Review

26 12 2011

Ring out the old and ring in the new! We have seen a lot of changes in Year 2011 in housing market. As we are gearing up to welcome 2012, here’s looking back at the top stories in housing market this year:

Record low morgage: Mortgage rates hit a record low of 3.94 percent this year. The lowest rates we have seen in years.
Once-in-a-generation time to buy: Homes sold for a fraction of their value five years ago, and excess inventory provided every buyer with a range of options. In some cities, homeownership became cheaper than renting. But job insecurities made buyers nervous to commit. Those who did found it difficult to get financing despite stellar credit scores. As a result, 2011 saw a real estate market with great deals, yet fewer buyers than needed. In 10 years, however, many Americans may look back on 2011 as the best time in a generation to invest in real estate-.
More homeownership: Most renters want to buy a home: 72 percent consider homeownership a good financial decision, and 64 percent believe the time is right, according to the National Association of Realtors® 2011 Housing Pulse survey.
The economy rebounded, sorta, kinda, a little: The Florida economy remained sluggish as unemployment rates stayed uncomfortably high and home sales stayed uncomfortably low; but, across the board, the state showed signs of recovery, with almost every economic indicator suggesting brighter days ahead.
Strong home sales: Home sales edged higher most months; selling prices held their own and, in a few cases, median selling prices rose. Floridians’ consumer confidence also rose toward the end of the year after bobbing around for most of the summer. Employment followed, and while the state has a long way to go to hit “normal,” it reached a 2011 level of “better than last year.”
Attractive commercial market: Florida investors increasingly want to buy office, retail and industrial properties. Vacancy rates, while high, have stabilized, along with rental rates. Core assets (essential to businesses) are selling and lenders – including the life insurance companies – are lending again. Banks are more realistic about prices for distressed properties, and 2012 should see the entry of more commercial tenants. “With modest economic growth and job creation, the fundamentals for commercial real estate should gradually improve in the coming year,” adds Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.
Florida Legislature: We got Amendment 4 and scrapped the cap: Florida Realtors had a number of victories in the 2011 Florida Legislature, but none as important as a constitutional amendment voters will consider in November 2012, and none so hard-fought as a law to “scrap the cap” on Florida’s affordable housing trust funds. Amendment 4, if approved by Florida voters, will create a property tax increase cap of 5 percent each year on non-homestead real estate, down from the current 10 percent cap. It will also give some first-time homebuyers a property tax break that decreases over time. In 2012, Florida Realtors will roll out its “Yes on 4” campaign. In the “scrap the cap” victory, the Florida Legislature agreed to allow all doc stamps earmarked for the affordable housing Sadowski Trust Fund to actually go into the fund.
Fasten your seatbelts. Property insurance is a bumpy ride: Lawmakers wrestled with a question that has been around for years: Should property insurance be affordable or available? If affordable, a major storm could bankrupt the state. If widely available, the cost could drive buyers away and hurt current homeowners. Citizens Property Insurance, the state-owned insurer, sits squarely in the middle of the debate since it covers most of the high-risk properties and, should a major storm hit, would force all Floridians to help pay for damages. To attract private insurers to the state and cut down on the number of owners under Citizens, Gov. Scott and lawmakers made changes. Sinkhole coverage became optional and much more expensive. Citizens dropped about 7,500 coastal homes in early December, and policy costs and rules are set to become even stricter in 2012. The uneasy balance between affordable or available insurance shifted a bit closer to the “available” side.
HAMP, HARP, TARP do little for at-risk homeowners: Falling home values and risky mortgages caused more Florida owners to face foreclosure. The government created, and modified, a number of programs slated to help owners keep their homes, but most applied only to about half of those in trouble – owners who had mortgages held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Even then, however the carrots held out by HAMP, HARP, TARP and others didn’t entice lenders that feared principal cuts and long-term changes. The issue led to some strategic defaults – foreclosures where investors could afford to pay but walked away as a financial decision – court backups, and a system that allowed some non-paying owners to live in a home for over two years before authorities finally foreclosed. Analysts expect the problem to improve but continue in 2012.
Should we slow the recovery to avoid another crisis? U.S. regulators have conflicting goals: Speed the recovery but, at the same time, take steps to make sure it never happens again. Unfortunately, it hasn’t figured out how to do both. While the federal government has tried to spark home sales through a number of programs (see No. 7 above), it has also created obstacles to homeownership by boosting mortgage rules, tightening appraisal standards and restricting the amount homeowners can deduct from federal taxes. A key concern of Realtors heading into 2012 is the qualified residential mortgage (QRM) rule – a minimum standard that mortgage loans must meet before Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac will consider buying them. Some lawmakers have suggested a 20 percent downpayment, a high standard that will force many buyers to wait years before they can afford homeownership. The discussion will continue in 2012.
2011 Realtors are different than 2005 Realtors: The skills needed to sell a house have changed. Realtors spend a lot more time talking to banks, trying to find out what’s happening with a client’s short sale; asking what paperwork they needed to file or re-file; and understanding new laws that oversee what they can do – and can’t do – when working with short-sale sellers. Realtors learned to accept disappointment – sales that fell apart at the last minute; appraisals that came in lower than hoped; and clients who wanted a bargain below any reasonable expectations.

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!





Florida existing home and condo sales up in November

25 12 2011

Florida’s existing home and existing condo sales continued its positive upswing in November, according to the latest housing data released by Florida Realtors. Existing home sales increased 11 percent last month with a total of 12,993 homes sold statewide compared to 11,664 homes sold in November 2010.

“It’s really clear that two things are happening in Florida real estate,” said Florida Realtors Chief Economist Dr. John Tuccillo. “No. 1, sales are moving upward – not by a large increase, but definitely, positively on an upward trend. Second, prices are stabilizing. Now, it doesn’t mean that prices have turned around but they are stabilizing, and that’s vital for the market to gain equilibrium.

“The more important factor is that sales are increasing and in large part, that’s due to lenders becoming more educated on how to deal with distressed properties more effectively and in a more timely manner – and that’s helping the Florida real estate markets recover.”

Seventeen of Florida’s metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) reported higher existing home sales in November; 10 MSAs had higher existing condo sales.

The statewide median sales price for existing homes remained relatively flat last month at $130,100; a year ago, it was $130,600. According to analysts with the National Association of Realtors (NAR), sales of foreclosures and other distressed properties continue to downwardly distort the median price because they generally sell at a discount relative to traditional homes. The median is the midpoint; half the homes sold for more, half for less.

The national median sales price for existing single-family homes in October 2011 was $161,600, down 5.8 percent from the previous year, according to NAR. In California, the October statewide median resales price was $278,060; in Massachusetts, it was $275,000; in Maryland, it was $221,765; and in New York, it was $215,900.

In Florida’s year-to-year comparison for condos, 5,590 units sold statewide in November, a 2 percent gain over the 5,464 units sold in November 2010. The statewide existing condo median sales price last month was $86,700; a year earlier, it was $83,000 for a 4 percent increase. The national median existing condo sales price in October was $160,300, according to NAR.

“In recent weeks, we’ve seen encouraging reports of jobs growth and improvements in Florida’s economy,” said 2011 Florida Realtors President Patricia Fitzgerald, manager/broker-associate with Illustrated Properties in Hobe Sound and Mariner Sands Country Club in Stuart. “Mortgage rates have remained at record lows and home prices appear to be stabilizing in many local markets across the state – all positive signs for the housing recovery.”

According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.99 percent in November, down from the 4.30 percent average during the same month a year earlier. Florida Realtors’ sales figures reflect closings, which typically occur 30 to 90 days after sales contracts are written.

Related: NAR: Existing home sales continue to climb in November

Source: National Association of Realtors





Less Jumbo Loan, More Military Eligible for HAFA, VA Covers Higher Loan Fees

4 10 2011

October brings about new changes that impact the U.S. housing market one way or another.

Jumbo loans are now less jumbo

As expected, the cutoff point where a government-backed conventional loan becomes a jumbo loan dropped lower on Oct. 1, 2011. Effective today, the federal government lowered the cutoff point where a conventional mortgage becomes a jumbo loanThis is done to encourage more private lending. The change impacts the maximum amount of a home loan that qualifies for funding through FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The impact in Florida will be less severe than in expensive housing markets elsewhere, however, since the maximum coverage amounts vary by region.

In addition, the maximum insured loan rates could still go higher should Congress choose to authorize it. The National Association of Realtors® previously issued a Call for Action, asking Realtors to contact their legislators. NAR says the lower convention loan limits will impact home sales at a time when the market cannot afford further stress.

You can search the database for new loan limits, both FHA and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, on https://entp.hud.gov/idapp/html/hicostlook.cfm.

More military can take advantage of HAFA

More military service members underwater on their homes may now be able to take part in the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) program, allowing them to qualify for short sales and deeds-in-lieu of foreclosure. The Treasury Department clarified its guidelines for HAFA, after many military families complained that the program failed to consider a permanent change of station as a financial hardship. The omission prevented many from taking part in the program. The underwater military members say they were current on their mortgage until receiving orders to move.

“An example of such hardship includes a service member citing a ‘Permanent Change of Station’ order as the basis for his or her financial hardship when requesting HAFA, even if such service member’s income has not been decreased, so long as the service member does not have sufficient liquid assets to make his or her monthly mortgage payments,” the Treasury said in a directive sent to mortgage servicers Thursday.

VA to cover higher loan fees

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it will cover extra costs for veterans who struck deals on home loans but now face the possibility of higher fees amid confusion over a federal law change. The problem involves a Sept. 8 notice from the Department of Veterans Affairs loan operations that said fee rates would be lower beginning Saturday. Congress delayed that lower rate until November.

The change would have forced lenders who already had deals on home loans to increase the fee or pay it themselves. It could have taken longer to close mortgage deals because the fees changed the loan’s terms.

VA spokesman Josh Taylor said fee differences will be waived if veterans had closed loans at lower rates than required with new legislation.

Source: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Treasury Moves to Help More Military Qualify for HAFA,” HousingWire (Sept. 29, 2011), “VA to Cover Extra Costs Amid Home Loan Confusion,” Associated Press.





Drop in Loan Limits Has Many Concerned

12 09 2011

In less than a month, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will scale back the size of loans they buy from lenders, which some industry groups are saying will hurt home sales and could further dampen a housing market recovery. The drop in the conforming loan limit may make it more difficult for some buyers to purchase homes in expensive markets, housing experts say.

The current loan limits are set to expire Oct. 1. If an extension isn’t granted, the maximum mortgage amount in high-cost areas will drop from $729,750 to $625,500 (although that limit will vary throughout the country).

Some banks, such as Bank of America, have already stopped taking new applications for jumbo loans at the current rate so that they can process the ones already in the pipeline in time for the Oct. 1 deadline.

The drop in the conforming loan limit is expected to impact 2 percent of homes nationwide, but will have a much greater effect in some areas. For example, some analysts say 10 percent of the housing market in New York will be affected.

Pamela Liebman, CEO of New York real estate company the Corcoran Group, told USA Today that the new loan requirements will “put a lot of buyers out of the market.”

Meanwhile, lobbying efforts are continuing, as several industry groups, including the National Association of REALTORS®, are urging Congress to act quickly on a two-year extension to maintain the GSE loan limit at $729,750.

Source: “Coming Loan Changes Could Squeeze High-Priced Home Markets,” USA Today (Sept. 6, 2011)





Obama Announces Mortgage Refinancing Plan

12 09 2011

President Obama vowed to help more Americans refinance their mortgages during his speech to a joint session of Congress on 9/8/11.

“To help responsible home owners, we’re going to work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near 4 percent,” Obama said during his speech. Such a move would “put more than $2,000 a year in a family’s pocketbook and give a lift to an economy still burdened by the drop in housing prices,” he added.

Obama’s speech provided no specifics about the refinancing plan. He used the speech mostly to preview his American Jobs Act, a bill that would include tax cuts for small businesses, extend unemployment benefits, and provide other aid that would set out to help workers and spur more jobs.

Some critics said Obama’s speech did not contain enough to help the ailing housing market.

“That’s not the bold stroke that I want,” Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, told HousingWire after the speech. “It’s not just refinance; we want people to be able to sell their homes.”

Some housing advocates said more needs to be done to address the massive number of foreclosures plaguing many housing markets.

“To get the economy moving forward, we simply must address the millions of people in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure,” adds Orson Aguilar, executive director of research group The Greenlining Institute. “This massive shadow inventory is a dead weight on the housing market and the whole economy, and we can’t ignore it.”

Some housing advocates praised the president’s refinancing proposal, saying it will help underwater home owners lock in record low rates and lower their monthly mortgage bill.

Source: “Obama Pushes Infrastructure Bank, Pledges Housing Fix,” American Banker (Sept. 8, 2011) and “Obama’s Job Plan Doesn’t Do Enough for Housing, Critics Say,” HousingWire (Sept. 8, 2011)





Economic Growth Trudges Ahead

22 10 2010

The nation’s economy grew modestly in recent weeks, with nine of 12 districts expanding, according to a Federal Reserve report released Wednesday. The economic picture was mixed in the Cleveland and Richmond areas, and it weakened in the Atlanta region.

On the bright side, auto sales and travel and tourism perked up, and lackluster lending markets improved slightly, according to the Fed’s beige book, named for the color of its cover.

Overall, the survey portrayed an economy that continued to plod along in September and early October – after expanding fairly robustly early this year – as many nervous businesses put off capital investment and hiring.

“On balance, national economic activity continued to rise, albeit at a modest pace,” it stated.

Manufacturing and retail sales were up moderately, while housing and commercial real estate were still in the doldrums. The job market remained listless.

Still, the report, which provides a ground-level snapshot of every region in the country, amounted to an improvement on the Fed’s July-August survey, which showed “widespread signs of deceleration.” Economists said the latest report did nothing to dampen speculation that the Fed will launch a new round of government bond purchases at its Nov. 3 meeting to lower long-term interest rates and spark the economy. Brian Bethune of IHS Global Insight anticipates $500 billion to $750 billion in purchases, less than the $1.7 trillion the Fed snapped up in late 2008 and early 2009.

Factories continued to be a bright spot last month. Makers of semiconductors boosted output in Boston, Dallas and San Francisco. Auto production surged in the Cleveland and Chicago areas. And Chicago metal makers reported their strongest sales this year. But activity slackened in the Philadelphia and Richmond areas. And freight shipments slowed in the Cleveland and Atlanta regions.

Retail sales were “flat to moderately positive” in most areas. Purchases were stronger than expected in Kansas City, and back-to-school spending provided a lift in Philadelphia and Dallas. Sales of both new and used cars were robust in most regions. But traffic eased some in the Richmond and Atlanta areas.

“Retailers said consumers are slowly regaining confidence, but remain price-conscious and were largely limiting purchases to necessities and non-discretionary items,” the beige book says.

The assessment was more subdued than last week’s monthly retail sales report from the Commerce Department. The 0.6 percent jump in retail sales beat estimates, and marked the third-consecutive monthly increase.

Manufacturers and retailers have been hit by higher commodity and shipping costs lately but generally have not been able to pass them through to frugal customers, the report said.

Travel, meanwhile, picked up in San Francisco as a result of a brisk business and convention trade, while Minneapolis and Kansas City saw more tourists.

While hotel occupancy was still high in New York, “October bookings were somewhat weaker than expected.” Atlanta was still feeling the effects of the Gulf oil spill, but that led to increased tourist activity in northeast Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. The outlook for the rest of the year was “positive.”

Housing “remained weak.” Philadelphia saw a jump in existing home sales, while Richmond, Kansas City and Dallas saw sales of higher-priced homes tick up. But Atlanta home builders cited rising foreclosures and “downward price pressure” on prices.

Meanwhile, commercial real estate rents continued to fall, though apartment leasing has picked up recently.

While lenders remain tight-fisted, credit conditions improved in Chicago, and Richmond and Chicago lenders are more zealously competing for “quality loans.” But demand for commercial loans was still weak as businesses put off capital spending “because of economic and public policy uncertainties.”

Hiring, meanwhile, was still “limited.” Many firms are hesitant to hire, “given economic softness,” though demand for temporary workers continued to grow in some areas. Wages were stagnant, as “firms anticipated increased costs of employee benefits as a result of health care reform.”

Source: USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Paul Davidson.





NACA’s Save the Dream Tour Promotes Mortgage Relief

7 03 2010

Last week Boston-based Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) traveled to Palm Beach County’s Convention Center in South Florida to promote “Save-A-Thon” event.

NACA brought an army of bank representatives – at least 100 from Bank of America alone – and NACA counselors who meet face-to-face with troubled borrowers, wrapped in blankets and travel-weary after flying from as far away as California, waited for the salvation of a mortgage modification. This non-profit group is offering free help to homeowners with lowering monthly payments through federal programs and agreements it has with many of the nation’s major lenders.

And while the event seemed at times like a church revival as homeowners with success stories were brought to a microphone to testify, there were sincere solutions occurring on the convention center floor.

Teresa Holston, a registered nurse who traveled from Los Angeles for the event, started crying when she spoke of her new 2 percent interest rate, a reduction from 9 percent.

“It’s like a new lease on life,” said Holton, who got in trouble when she refinanced her home and broke up with a boyfriend who was paying part of the mortgage. “I am just so grateful.”

For many homeowners, NACA’s event was the last attempt in a months-long struggle to work with their banks through the Obama administration’s Making Home Affordable Program.

The program offers incentives to banks to lower monthly payments by reducing – sometimes temporarily – interest rates and principal amounts, or offering a principal forbearance, which cuts the principal balance on the front end, but tacks it onto the end of the life of the loan.

NACA founder and CEO Bruce Marks pushes for even better terms. He asks lenders to permanently reduce interest rates. If there is a principal forbearance, he asks that a mandatory repayment be made only if there is a profit made on the sale of the home.

He doesn’t always get his way. Many of the loans modified Thursday had reduced interest rates that will adjust at the end of five years. Still, the reduction helps the borrower now with making monthly payments.

“Frankly, it makes business sense for them to be working with us now,” Marks said about lenders. “These servicers have very good machinery to foreclose on people, but not to modify a loan.”

Marks has been criticized for his guerilla-style tactics, which include rallying outside bank executives’ homes. His operation is paid for partly with federal grants, having received $25 million last year, Marks said. Detractors complain he is not forthcoming with his success rates and should be more transparent since he is getting taxpayer dollars. He says about 30 percent of clients receive a same-day modification. Up to 80 percent eventually get their payments reduced, Marks said.

Bully or not, Marks has persuaded many major lenders to send representatives to his unconventional “Save the Dream” workshops.

NACA has legally binding agreements with all the major lenders/servicers and investors (i.e. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) covering over 90% of homeowners to achieve to a restructure or forbearance and is advocating against others. While servicers, investors and government agencies often fight against long-term solutions, NACA will continue advocating with homeowners to achieve a long-term affordable payment that is locked-in for the remaining term of the mortgage. All of NACA’s services are Free. NACA also provides for free a forensic audit to determine any violations in obtaining your current mortgage.

For more information, visit http://www.naca.com. You can find out about the workshop participation in Jacksonville. Check out their website.

Source: NACA and The Palm Beach Post





Home Purchase Loan Demand at Lowest Since 1997

24 02 2010

U.S. mortgage applications fell for a third straight week, with demand for home purchase loans sinking to the lowest level in 13 years as inclement weather weighed, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.

A continued drop in demand for purchase loans, a tentative early indicator of home sales, would not bode well for the hard-hit U.S. housing market, which remains highly vulnerable to setbacks and heavily reliant on government intervention.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported an 8.5 percent decline in its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications, which includes both purchase and refinance loans, for the week ended February 19.

The four-week moving average of mortgage applications, which smoothes the volatile weekly figures, was up 1.6 percent.

The MBA’s seasonally adjusted purchase index fell 7.3 percent, the lowest level since May 1997.

“As many East Coast markets were digging out from the blizzard last week, purchase applications fell, another indication that housing demand remains relatively weak,” Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s vice president of research and economics, said in a statement.

“With home prices continuing to drift amid an abundant inventory of homes on the market, potential homebuyers do not see any urgency to lock in purchases,” he said.

The MBA’s seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications decreased 8.9 percent.

The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 68.1 percent of total applications from 69.3 percent the previous week. The shares of adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARM, increased to 4.7 percent from 4.4 percent the previous week.

A rise in rates may have played a role. Interest rates on mortgages typically play less of a role in home purchase loan demand than in refinancing activity.

The MBA said borrowing costs on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, excluding fees, averaged 5.03 percent, up 0.09 percentage point from the previous week.

That is above the all-time low of 4.61 percent set in the week ended March 27, 2009, but below the year-ago level of 5.07 percent. The survey has been conducted weekly since 1990.

“Demand is waning due to rising mortgage rates and the fear that rates will move higher after March 31,” said Alan Rosenbaum, president of Guardhill Financial, a New York-based mortgage banker and brokerage company.

Mortgage rates are expected to rise when the Federal Reserve stops buying mortgage-related securities at the end of March.

The MBA said fixed 15-year mortgage rates averaged 4.35 percent, up from 4.33 percent the previous week. Rates on one-year ARMs increased to 6.80 percent from 6.67 percent.

The lowest mortgage rates in decades and high affordability helped the hard-hit U.S. housing market find some footing in 2009 after a three-year slump.

More key insight into the state of the housing market will emerge on Wednesday when the U.S. Commerce Department releases January new U.S. single-family home sales data.

Source: Reuters and Fidelity Investment





Fed Raises Interest Rate Charged to Banks In First Move Since 2008

20 02 2010

The Federal Reserve, taking its first step to return lending to normal after more than two years of extraordinary actions to prop up the economy, on Thursday raised its discount rate — the interest rate it charges on emergency loans to banks — by one-quarter percentage point.

The increase, to 0.75 percent from 0.50 percent, takes effect on Friday.

Officials said the move was not meant to be a broad tightening of credit. Rather, they said, it was intended to discourage emergency borrowing when other financing is available to banks.
The discount rate had been at 0.50 percent since December 2008.

Source: New York Times





Government Ends Federal Support for Mortgage Rates

27 01 2010

Expect low mortgage rates to end in March 2010. Washington Post ran this article this week:

For more than a year, the government pulled out the stops to revive homebuying by driving down mortgage rates.

Now, whether the housing market is ready or not, the government is pulling out.

The wind-down of federal support for mortgage rates, set to end in two months, is a momentous test of whether the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have succeeded in jump-starting the housing market and ensuring it can hold its own. The stakes for the economy are massive: If the market again falls into a tailspin, homeowners could face another wave of trouble, and it would deal a body blow to President Obama’s efforts to get the economy on track.

Keeping the mortgage rates at historic lows, which required a commitment of more than $1 trillion, was viewed within the administration as a central plank of the economic strategy last year, senior officials said. Though the policy did not attract as much attention as rescue efforts to bail out banks, it helped revitalize homebuying in some parts of the country and put money in the pockets of millions of homeowners who were able to refinance into lower monthly payments, the officials added.

“We did what we thought was necessary to stabilize the market, but we don’t think the government should continue special efforts forever,” said Michael S. Barr, an assistant secretary at the Treasury Department. “As you bring stability, private participants come back in. We do expect this now that the market has stabilized. I’m not going to say there will be no effect on rates, but we do think you are seeing market signs and market signals that there should be an orderly transition.”

A few federal officials and many industry advocates disagree, saying the government is exiting too soon. They offer dire warnings of higher rates and a slowdown in home sales. Fed leaders say they will end a marquee program supporting the mortgage markets in March. Obama’s economic team, led by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, has decided not to replace it and has been shutting down its own related initiatives.

Over the past year, these programs have enabled prospective homebuyers to get cheap loans, helping those buying and selling property as well as those eager to refinance existing mortgages. If the end of the initiative drives up interest rates, say from 5 percent to 5.5 percent, homeowners could be deterred from refinancing, industry officials say. A sharper increase in rates could make homes too expensive for many buyers, forcing them from the market and causing the recent pickup in home sales to stall.

“Mortgage rates are the lifeblood of the housing market, and we have cautioned the Fed about the sudden stoppage of this program,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors.

But senior government officials said it could be hard to reverse course without damaging the credibility of the Fed and the administration. If the government loses the trust of the financial markets, preparing them for policy changes could be tougher, possibly resulting in economic disruptions. The officials said they also worry that the mortgage market is becoming overly dependent on federal support, inserting the government too deeply into private enterprise.

Only a new crisis would be able to persuade the administration and the Fed to change their minds, officials said.

“This is a worthy experiment to see if they can begin exiting after providing an unprecedented amount of money to one sector of the economy,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. “It’s a close call, though. I can see why they are debating it.”

The Fed’s policymaking body sets a key interest rate at periodic meetings, which in turn influences rates for all kinds of loans. But mortgage rates also are shaped by the health of the market financing these loans.

Banks typically create giant pools of home loans and turn them into securities that can be traded on the open market. When the system is working, many investors buy these mortgage-backed securities, providing a stream of money for lenders so they can make loans at relatively cheap rates. But the trading of these securities seized up when the financial crisis struck and panicked investors. Government officials feared that the mortgage market would collapse.

The Fed and the Treasury stepped into the breach, becoming the only major buyers of these mortgage-related securities, and they kept the mortgage market flush with cash. The Treasury spent about $220 billion, and the Fed pledged $1.25 trillion, the single largest foray the central bank has made into the markets since the onset of the crisis. In essence, the Fed has been printing money and funneling it to people looking to buy a house or refinance an existing mortgage.

At the same time, the federal government stood behind mortgage-finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by taking them over and pledging to cover their losses. That helped the firms lower borrowing costs, since lenders know they can’t fail, and the companies passed on their savings to mortgage borrowers in the form of low rates.

Combined, these federal efforts helped push down the rates ordinary Americans pay for a mortgage. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined from 6.04 percent in November 2008, according to Freddie Mac data, and hit an all-time low of 4.71 percent about a year later.

Refinancings surged, while homebuying perked up. Existing-home sales climbed nearly 10 percent in September, their highest level in more than two years.

The policy was the government’s most effective salve for the ailing housing market at a time when other initiatives, such as the administration’s attempts to modify the mortgages of struggling homeowners, produced far more disappointing results.

Now the government wants to end its support for low rates and has been striving to persuade others to buy mortgage securities.

The success of this approach hinges on the willingness of private investors, from China to big Wall Street funds, to buy large amounts of the mortgage securities and fill the void left by the government.

On Christmas Eve, Treasury officials announced a move that would cover losses suffered by investors who buy these securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together now back about half of the nation’s $12 trillion mortgage market. The goal was simple, officials said. They wanted private investors to be reassured that mortgage securities are safe to buy.

As the economy showed signs of recovery at the end of last year, the administration and the Fed decided to end their support.

The Treasury stopped buying mortgage securities in December. The Fed said it would taper off purchases gradually, ending them by March 31.

Obama’s economic team could have raised the limits on how much mortgage securities Fannie and Freddie can buy, allowing those firms to replace the Fed’s purchasing program. But Barr said the administration thinks the mortgage business will stand on its own without such special assistance, similar to the way the nation’s biggest banks weaned themselves off federal bailout funds by raising private capital.

“The basic goal is to implement a gradual process where the government’s role in the economy goes down,” Barr said. “It has to be consistent with the basic goal of stability, but it is appropriate.”

Administration and Fed officials expressed confidence that rates will rise only modestly – perhaps a quarter of a percentage point. They attribute their optimism to the lengthy notice they have given the market. The markets already should have anticipated the government’s exit by adjusting interest rates higher. Yet mortgage rates have been falling slightly the past few weeks.

The optimism at the White House and the Fed, however, is not shared across the government. A few senior policymakers at the central bank view the economic recovery as still too fragile, suggesting that purchases perhaps should expand further. These dissenters also warn that mortgage rates could shoot up, perhaps to 6 percent or higher, because private investors buying securities would demand a greater rate of return than the Fed. To reach it, lenders may have to raise rates for consumers.

“Presumably, there is pent-up demand from the private sector, but the question is: At what rate are they going to be interested?” said Eric S. Rosengren, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, who has indicated that he supports expanding the Fed’s mortgage securities purchase program.

There also could be unintended consequences to the government’s pull-out. Last year, big investors such as Pimco sold their mortgage-backed securities to the government and used that money to buy bonds and stocks. That extra cash, which propped up stock prices, could drain away after federal support ends.

Real estate and mortgage finance officials said the timing of the government’s exit seems especially ill-conceived, since the Fed’s support would end just a month before a homebuyer tax credit program, which the real estate industry has credited with jump-starting home sales.

Given the importance of the housing market, some industry officials doubt whether the government will follow through with its pledge to exit the mortgage market in March. Fannie and Freddie officials say that the companies together can buy about $300 billion of mortgage securities by the end of the year before they hit their federally mandated limits. Though it appears reluctant to do so, the administration could use that buying power to cushion the blow after the Fed’s program ends, the industry officials said.

“I believe they do want to end it in March, but it’s like all New Year’s resolutions,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities. “The Fed’s New Year resolution is to go on a diet, go to the gym, give up drinking and clean the garage. They might be able to do one of those things, but to do all four is tricky. They have to drain all the liquidity they added to the financial market so we don’t see a resurgence in inflation, but do it in a way so that the economy does not slip into recession.”

Source: Washington Post





U.S. Housing Permits Climb 8.9% to Highest Level in a Year

17 12 2009

Builders in November broke ground on more U.S. homes, a sign the recovery in homebuilding may carry through into 2010.

The report on housing starts showed building permits increased to a 584,000 pace, the highest level since November 2008, from 551,000 the prior month, said the Commerce Department today in Washington. Permits were forecast to rise to 570,000.

Construction of single-family houses, which accounted for 84 percent of the industry last month, increased 2.1 percent to a 482,000 rate.

Work on multifamily homes, such as townhouses and apartment buildings, jumped 67 percent to an annual rate of 92,000.

All four regions showed a gain in starts in November, led by a 16 percent increase in the Northeast. Work began on 12 percent more homes in the South, 3 percent in the Midwest and 1.9 percent in the West.

Government tax credits, lower home prices and borrowing costs near record lows may boost sales and construction in coming months. Federal Reserve policy makers today are forecast to reiterate a pledge to keep rates low for “an extended period” to sustain the recovery and lower a jobless rate that economists project will average 10 percent in 2010.

Source: Bloomberg








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