Friday, May 15, 2009

Rates Below 5% for Ninth Week Straight

Freddie Mac reports a slight rise this week in the 30-year fixed mortgage rate to 4.86 percent from 4.84 percent in the previous week.Rates have been below 5 percent for nine weeks in a row. Last year at this time, the average 30-year rate was 6.01 percent.

The 15-year fixed mortgage rate climbed to 4.52 percent from 4.51 percent. Meanwhile, the five-year adjustable mortgage rate slipped to 4.82 percent from 4.9 percent; and the one-year ARM fell to 4.71 percent from 4.78 percent. Freddie Mac collects mortgage rates on Monday through Wednesday of each week from lenders around the country.

Source: Freddie Mac

Homes May Be Undervalued Today

After dropping for two years, home prices appear to be bottoming out, and any further declines would be an overcorrection, NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun told thousands of practitioners at the REALTORS® Midyear Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.The median national home price today is about $169,000, down almost 14 percent from a year ago and an estimated 30 percent from its peak. Today’s prices are justified by the fundamentals of the economy and may even represent an undervaluation, Yun said.Lender Policies Hinder RecoveryDistressed sales, which today comprise about 50 percent of transactions nationwide, are creating market distortions in otherwise stable neighborhoods. “We’re only capturing transaction prices,” he said, and those prices might be 20 percent to 25 percent below actual values. For that reason, it’s possible that widely cited projections that a third or more of homeowners are underwater might be off the mark, he said. The consequences of these missed projections could be huge. Lenders, shying away from refinancing mortgages of troubled owners, exacerbate the downward spiral of homeowners’ financial position and that, by extension, hurts the broader economy

.Contributing to the problem is the lack of reasonably priced financing for higher-cost homes at a time when declining prices, low rates, and the home buyer tax credit are helping the entry-level market. Indeed, while housing overall is at a 9.5 month supply, down from double digits not that long ago, homes above $729,750—the threshold for jumbo loans—face a 40-month supply.Key TestBy summer, all of the incentives that have been put into place by the government will have had several months to work, Yun said. If sales start picking up significantly, then prices should stabilize and trigger a broader economic recovery. If sales don’t show a significant response, then the federal government might have to look at another big injection of funds into the economy, something no one has an appetite for.Yun’s forecast reflects the brighter scenario: “My projection is home sales will be 10 to 20 percent higher the second half of this year than last year and we will come out of this recession in 2010,” he said.

—Robert Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine

Discounts Weigh Down Metro Home Prices

The median home price for U.S. metro areas posted a year-over-year decline in the first quarter of 2009, reflecting a high volume of foreclosures and short sales, which typically sell for 20 percent less than traditional homes, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® reports. The national median existing single-family price was $169,000, which is 13.8 percent below the first quarter of 2008 when conditions were closer to normal. Foreclosures and short sales accounted for nearly half of transactions in the first quarter.

NAR data shows that 134 out of 152 metropolitan statistical areas reported lower median existing single-family home prices in comparison with the first quarter of 2008, while 18 metros had price gains.NAR President Charles McMillan, a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dallas-Fort Worth, said there are two levels of pricing in the current market. “Traditional homes in good condition have held their value much better, so owners shouldn’t be overly concerned about median prices," he said.

"Most sellers can expect a good return if they’ve been in their home for a normal period of home ownership and haven’t excessively tapped their equity." Existing-Home Sales SluggishMeanwhile, the sales pace remained slow overall. Total state existing-home sales, including single-family homes and condos, were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million units in the first quarter, down 3.2 percent from 4.74 million units in the fourth quarter, and 6.8 percent below the 4.93 million-unit pace in the first quarter of 2008.Seventeen states saw a sales increase from the fourth quarter, and six states were higher than a year ago; complete data for one state was not available. Sales in the first quarter do not reflect an impact from the first-time home buyer tax credit.Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, sees the market in a lull before an upturn. “Over the past couple months, contract activity for home sales, buyer traffic and inquiries about the $8,000 tax credit have all increased,” he said.

“Housing affordability conditions are at record high levels and we expect a measurable increase in home sales during the second half of the year, which would help stabilize prices in most areas.”According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 5.06 percent in the first quarter from 5.86 percent in the fourth quarter; the rate was 5.88 percent in the first quarter of 2008.Yun said some areas showed dramatic drops in home prices. “In areas with the biggest price declines, we also see much higher levels of distressed sales which are distorting the data,” he said. “We are very much in a bifurcated market with sharp differences between foreclosures and short sales on one hand, and traditional homes on the other. In many cases homes are selling below replacement construction costs, which speaks to great value in the current market.”State, Local Bright SpotsThe largest first-quarter sales gain from a year ago was in Nevada, up 116.8 percent, followed by California which rose 80.6 percent; Arizona, up 50.2 percent; and Florida with a 25.0 percent increase. Virginia and Minnesota also experienced double-digit sales increases.The largest single-family home price increase in the first quarter was in the Cumberland area of Maryland and West Virginia, where the median price of $114,900 rose 21.1 percent from a year ago.

Next was the Davenport-Moline-Rock Island area of Iowa and Illinois at $100,300, up 13.8 percent from the first quarter of 2008, followed by Columbia, Mo., where the median price increased 6.0 percent to $152,600.Median first-quarter metro area single-family home prices ranged from a very affordable $30,300 in the Saginaw-Saginaw Township North area of Michigan to $570,000 in Honolulu. The second most expensive area was the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area of California, at $450,000, followed by the Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine area of California at $435,800. Other affordable markets include Akron, Ohio, at $50,100, and the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area of Ohio and Pennsylvania at $51,200.Condo TrendsIn the condo sector, metro area condominium and cooperative prices – covering changes in 56 metro areas – showed the national median existing-condo price was $172,800 in the first quarter, down 20.2 percent from the first quarter of 2008. Five metros showed annual increases in the median condo price and 51 areas had declines.The strongest condo price increases were in Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine, at $196,900, up 11.2 percent, followed by the Wichita, Kan., area, where the median condo price of $113,900 rose 6.8 percent from the first quarter of 2008, and Bismarck, N.D., at $132,400, up 6.0 percent. Metro area median existing-condo prices in the first quarter ranged from $75,200 in Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., to $345,900 in San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont.

The second most expensive reported condo market was Honolulu at $300,000, followed by the New York-Wayne-White Plains area of New York and New Jersey at $282,300. Other affordable condo markets include the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area of Florida at $90,600 in the first quarter, and the Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville area of California at $93,800.Regional Sales Volume, PricesRegionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast fell 10.3 percent in the first quarter to a pace of 693,000 units and are 20.1 percent below a year ago.The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast declined 15.9 percent to $235,500 in the first quarter from the same period in 2008. The best gain in the region was in Syracuse, N.Y., where the median price of $113,700 rose 3.1 percent from the first quarter of 2008, followed by Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y., at $99,200, up 2.7 percent, and Binghamton, N.Y., where the median rose 0.5 percent to $110,300. In the Midwest, existing-home sales slipped 2.2 percent in the first quarter to a pace of 1.04 million and are 13.1 percent below a year ago.The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest was down 6.8 percent to $132,400 in the first quarter from the same period in 2008.

After Davenport-Moline-Rock Island and Columbia, the next strongest metro price increase in the region was in Springfield, Ill., where the median price of $111,400 was 3.9 percent higher than a year ago, followed by Topeka, Kan., at $106,500, up 3.1 percent, and Bloomington-Normal, Ill., at $153,800, up 1.9 percent.In the South, existing-home sales declined 2.5 percent in the first quarter to an annual rate of 1.70 million and are 12.7 percent lower than the same period in 2008.The median existing single-family home price in the South was $146,600 in the first quarter, down 10.8 percent from a year earlier. After Cumberland, the strongest price increase in the region was in Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas, with a 5.0 percent gain to $129,100, followed by Oklahoma City, at $129,900, up 4.0 percent, and Shreveport-Bossier City, La., at $136,000, up 3.4 percent.Existing-home sales in the West slipped 0.9 percent in the first quarter to an annual rate of 1.16 million but are 24.3 percent above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West was $237,600 in the first quarter, which is 19.8 percent below the first quarter of 2008. The strongest price gain in the West was in the Salt Lake City area, where the median price of $230,100 rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier, followed by Farmington, N.M., at $191,200, up 0.7 percent.

Source: NAR

Big Improvement to First-Time Buyer Tax Credit

Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, on Tuesday said that the Federal Housing Administration is going to permit its lenders to allow home buyers to use the $8,000 tax credit as a down payment.Previously, most buyers wouldn't receive the funds until after they filed their tax return, and that deterred some people from using the credit. The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® has been calling for the change. “We all want to enable FHA consumers to access the home buyer tax credit funds when they close on their home loans so that the cash can be used as a down payment,” Donovan says. His remarks came in an address to several thousand REALTORS® gathered Tuesday morning at "The Real Estate Summit: Advancing the U.S. Economy," at the 2009 REALTORS® Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C..He says FHA’s approved lenders will be permitted to “monetize” the tax credit through short-term bridge loans. This will allow eligible home buyers to access the funds immediately at the closing table.

Other Solutions for Today's MarketDuring his address at the summit, Donovan went on to say that the Obama administration plans to further stabilize the housing market. “I do think we have some early signs that the market overall is stabilizing,” Donovan says. “Since January we’ve seen both home sales moving up and down around a relatively stable number and we are seeing the first signs that the rapid decline in home prices is starting to abate.”The morning session included a panel discussion that was moderated by CNBC’s Ron Insana. Panelists examined cutting-edge solutions necessary to promote and preserve homeownership and real estate development, stimulate the economy, and protect the nation’s taxpayers. They also shared their ideas on what the role and responsibility of the federal government is in the revitalization effort. “Right now the Federal Reserve is the market,” said panelist Jay Brinkman, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“What will be the effect when the Fed stops buying?” Brinkman explained that an exit strategy must be planned for the long-term; the federal government cannot continue to support the mortgage markets indefinitely.“We are thrilled that so many high-caliber individuals were able to join us today at this important meeting to promote stability in the housing market and the U.S. economy,” said NAR President Charles McMillan. “We look forward to an ongoing dialogue and action toward this goal, during our midyear meetings this week and beyond.”The real estate summit is part of the 2009 REALTORS® Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo. During the week ending May 16, more than 8,500 REALTORS® will attend meetings, visit lawmakers and inspire action on Capitol Hill.

Source: NAR