Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mortgage Rates Stay Low Helping to Keep Housing Affordability High

In Freddie Mac's results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey®, the average fixed mortgage rates remained largely unchanged and near their record lows helping to keep housing affordability high for those borrowers who are in the market. The 30-year fixed dipped to 3.99 percent, and at 3.27 percent, the 15-year fixed averaged just slightly above its all-time low of 3.26 percent on October 6, 2011.


  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.99 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending December 8, 2011, down from last week when it averaged 4.00 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.61 percent. 

  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 3.27 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.30 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.96 percent. 

  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.93 percent this week, with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.90 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.60 percent.

  • Attributed to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist, Freddie Mac. 
    "Thirty-year fixed-rate loans have declined 0.62 percentage points from a year ago, and median sales prices on existing homes are off 4.7 percent in the year ending with October. 

    These low rates and home prices have pushed housing affordability to record highs this year. For instance, the National Housing Affordability Index, which dates back to 1971, reached another all-time record high in October for the sixth time in 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Monthly principal and mortgage interest payments accounted for a mere 12.6 percent of median family incomes that month. This level of affordability likely contributed to the rise in conventional mortgage applications for home purchases over the week of December 2nd to the most in nearly a year."

  • 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.80 percent this week with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.27 percent.
  • Fed: House Flipping Led to Deeper Housing Collapse

    There’s been much debate over the root causes of the housing meltdown that catapulted the nation into the worst financial crisis in 80 years – from lax lending and subprime loans to over-leveraging in the secondary market.
    A new report from researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York focuses on the sharp run-up and subsequent collapse in housing prices during the 2000s.
    It concludes that real estate investors who used mortgage credit to purchase multiple residential properties with the intent of flipping, or reselling them within a short period of time, played a larger role in fueling the housing bubble than previously recognized.
    These investors, the Fed researchers say, helped push prices up during 2004-2006, but when prices began to head south, they defaulted in large numbers, which served to intensify the housing cycle’s downward leg.
    Fed officials point out in their report that investors are more likely than owner-occupants to walk away from an underwater property. As such, lenders typically factor in that higher default risk by requiring larger down payments from buyers who acknowledge that they won’t be living in the house.
    The expansion of the nonprime mortgage market during the 2000s, however, provided the perfect opportunity for optimistic investors to get low-down-payment credit, according to the report. “Buy-and-flip” investors, in particular, were able to make higher bids on houses, even if they had relatively little cash.
    At the peak of the boom in 2006, the New York Fed’s researchers found that over a third of all U.S. home purchase lending was made to people who already owned at least one house.
    In the four states with the most pronounced boom-and-bust cycles – Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada – the investor share was as high as 45 percent.
    Overall, the investor share of mortgage-financed home purchases roughly doubled between 2000 and 2006, with the largest increases seen among those owning three or more properties, according to Fed data.
    In 2006, Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada investors owning three or more properties were responsible for nearly 20 percent of originations, almost triple their share in 2000, Fed officials report.
    “Longstanding tradition in the mortgage lending business and the predictions of economic models hold that investors will quickly default if prices begin a persistent fall. This is what happened starting in 2006,” according to the Fed researchers.
    From 2007 to 2009, they found that investors were responsible for more than a quarter of seriously delinquent mortgage balances nationwide, and more than a third in Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada.
    “We conclude that investors were much more important in the housing boom and bust during the 2000s than previously thought,” the researchers wrote in a blog post explaining their findings.
    They stress that the availability of low- and no-down-payment mortgages in the nonprime sector enabled investors to make highly leveraged bets on house prices, which likely allowed the bubble to inflate further and caused millions of owner-occupants to pay more for their homes.
    “In the end, even the value of the 20 percent down-payments made by responsible, prime borrowers was wiped out — leaving the housing market, and the economy, in the vulnerable state we find them in today,” according to the researchers at the New York Federal Reserve.

    BofA developing foreclosure rental programs to deal with distressed properties

    Friday, December 9th, 2011, 3:35 pm

    Bank of America (BAC: 5.27 +0.76%) is looking at a new program to rent a home back to the borrower after foreclosure.
    "There are programs that we are quite interested in," said Ron Sturzenegger, who leads the bank's legacy asset servicing division, in an interview with HousingWire. "We are talking with investors that would come in and buy these houses and would lease them back to who would now be the now tenant."
    In February, BofA formed the division to handle the servicing for delinquent mortgages, loans no longer being written, and to sort out outstanding representation and warranty claims. Currently, more than 35,000 employees at the bank are sorting through 1.1 million loans 60 days delinquent or worse, according to its third-quarter financial statement.
    The Federal Housing Finance Agency is working on an REO rental program for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It received more than 4,000 ideas on how to do it.
    But private banks own $50.4 billion worth of REO properties, too, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and millions of these homes are sitting vacant.
    Sturzenegger described how their idea would work.
    "We are looking at programs where you can capture somebody before the REO process and offer a deed-for-lease. We would go to the customer and say, 'We'll do a short sale. Will you be interested in leasing your property back? We're still going to sell the property. You will no longer be the owner. But you can be a tenant now in that same property and save you from moving on,'" he said.
    Sturzenegger stressed the bank would still sell the REO as before in areas where there is a market for them and they can still get reasonable bids. But some areas are so saturated with inventory, there isn't enough investor or homebuyer demand and properties can sit for years uninhabited.
    Rick Sharga, the executive vice president at Carrington Mortgage Holdings, said in an interview that many firms, including Carrington are preparing to participate.
    "We already have the infrastructure and assets in place to participate effectively," he said. "Everyone is waiting on final direction from the FHFA."
    Sturzenegger stressed the private program at BofA is in its infancy.
    "It's in the very early stages," he said.

    Residential Housing Ready to Awaken?

    After half a decade of withering sales and slumping prices, there are strong and diverse signs that the single-family housing market is poised for a rebound.
    In some metropolitan areas, the market has bottomed, with both sales and prices on the rise and foreclosures on the decline.
    This contrarian - and largely overlooked - thesis flies in the face of the persistent gloom that has nagged the industry since 2007, when the subprime crisis flared.
    Industry analysts and players cite a number of reasons - some traditional (employment), others unique to the post-credit bubble era (foreclosures)  - for the long-awaited sea change. An analysis of industry and government data also support the forecast.
    "It has become increasingly apparent to us that the pieces for a housing rebound next year are beginning to fall into place," declared Barclays Capital analyst Stephen Kim in a recent note to investors.
    Proponents admit that the nascent rebound could easily be derailed, but stress that after years of government efforts to support sales and prices as well as the volatile impact of foreclosures, the market has regained a measure of normalcy.
    "With the exception of really hard-hit markets, the vast majority is ready to turn around," adds Jerry Howard, president and CEO of the National Association of Home Builders, NAHB. "The Washington, D.C., area is not only ripe for recovery, they need to start building units."
    The iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction Index Fund (NYSE Arca: itb), for example, is up some 38 percent, while the S&P 500 is up about 21 percent.
    Nevertheless, skeptics overwhelmingly outnumber the optimists, given the false-starts of previous years, the economy's sub-par performance, a new wave of distressed properties and the capacity for the European debt crisis to spook business, consumers and investors.
    "I think it's premature," says Richard Smith, CEO of Realogy, the nation's largest real estate company, whose brands include Century 21, Coldwell Banker and Sotheby's International. "We see little indications here and there. Transaction volume is improving. Prices are still under pressure. This isn't going to be one of those spiked robust recoveries."
    Smith is echoing the conventional industry calculus: that price increases follow sales growth amid consistently strengthening demand.
    There's been little conventional, however, about this housing slump, which is one reason it's had so many false bottoms. Among its many firsts - housing starts fell through 1 million annual units, foreclosures topped 2 million in three consecutive years, and home prices declined on a national basis.
    The catalysts to recovery are mostly the same: for potential buyers, residential rents have now risen enough to consider buying; existing-home inventory is the lowest in five years, while that of new homes is at a 40-year low; affordability is at a record high; delinquencies have peaked; consumer confidence is on the rise ; and job growth is accelerating.
    For investors, with a continuation of the gold rally in question, real estate is beginning to look like a viable inflation hedge alternative, while rising rents mean greater profits.
    That thinking may help explain why the iShares Dow Jones US Home Construction Index Fund(NYSE Arca: itb), a broad barometer for the housing market, is up some 38 percent from the stock market's October bottom, while the S&P 500 is up about 21 percent.
    Finally, there's the intangible fatigue with bad news, and a desire to end the negative feedback loop.
    "We believe there is sizable housing demand that could be released into the market," says Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the National Association of Realtors, NAR.
    The NAR is forecasting existing home sales will rise 5 percent in both 2012 and 2013; prices will edge up 2 percent in each of those two years, then 4 percent in 2014.
    The NAHB is forecasting a 5.1-percent increase in new home sales and a 10-percent increase for new home starts in 2012.
    Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
    A turnaround in the housing market will require continued improvement in the job market.
    The economy has created jobs 13 months in a row for a total of almost 1.9 million. Weekly jobless claims have been routinely below the key level of 400,000, and the national jobless rate is down to 8.6 percent.
    There are already signs in some markets that an improving employment picture is boosting housing demand and sale prices.
    In cities such as Tampa, Fla., South Bend, Ind., Grand Rapids, Mich., Raleigh, N.C., Wichita, Kan., and Green Bay, Wis.., the median sales price of an existing single family home increased 1-2 percent in the third quarter, during which time the jobless rate and/or payrolls growth improved dramatically.
    Even in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. metropolitan area - considered the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis a few years ago - prices were just 1.4 percent lower in the third quarter than the previous year.
    A new index by the NAHB and First American, the Improving Markets Index, IMI, launched in September, tracks housing markets throughout the country that are showing signs of improving economic health. Thirty cities - including San Jose, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Winston-Salem, N.C. - are showing growth in permits, sales and employment.
    In San Diego - where in the last year the jobless rate has fallen from 10.4 percent to 9.7 percent and 24,000 jobs have been added - home inventory is down to two months; in some areas of San Francisco (9.4 vs. 10.3 percent), it is one month.
    More broadly, 40 percent of all states showed existing home sale increases on both a quarterly and annual basis in the third quarter, according to National Association of Realtors data. That includes high foreclosure-rate states, such as California, Georgia, Michigan and Utah. All but six states showed double-digit gains year over year.
    Location, Location, Location
    There's even a strong case to be made that the foreclosure crisis is easing.
    "The pipeline of distressed property is plentiful but less than last year," when foreclosure activity hit a record 2.18 million, says Yun.
    For the first nine months of 2011, foreclosure activity is down sharply from the same period last year (26.59 percent), whether it is the worst-off states - (Florida, 54.98 percent; California, 31.51 percent; Utah, 27.41 percent) - or better-off ones (New York, 46.57 percent; Mississippi, 33.25 percent; South Dakota, 26.59 percent), according to RealtyTrac, which tracks the data.
    Third-quarter foreclosures (610,337) were up 1 percent from the previous quarter but down 34 percent from the year-ago period.
    The wild card right now is an impending wave of new foreclosed properties on the market, following the removal of state moratoria and the settlement of state and federal lawsuits with lenders and loan servicers.
    It's unclear how many properties will hit the market, but conservative estimates put the number at over a million.
    Still, of the top 20 markets in the new wave, nine are in California, five in Florida and two in Ohio, according RealtyTrac, so the impact will be fairly concentated.
    Another question is whether that wave will be a tsunami or merely a breaker. If the market is in fact recovering, why would banks want to weaken it again by deluging it with cheap properties.
    "You could see them trying to gauge the market like speculators," answers Howard.
    Kim of Barclays is among those who say the threat is exaggerated, perhaps misunderstood. He estimates that 40 percent of the foreclosed properties haven't had a payment made on them in two years, which means they are in poor condition and thus unattractive to many buyers.
    "The deterioration has been great," he says. "It flies in the face of all the bearish arguments."
    Kim's thesis is that there are now two kinds of buyers in the market; those who'll take a chance on a bargain-priced, distressed property and those who'll only make a conventional transaction. He says it helps explain why the Core Logic data he used for his latest report shows non-distressed prices flat or slightly higher in the past year.
    "Even if the banks decide to move their inventory more aggressively, and I suspect they will, it's OK because the buyer is making a distinction," explains Kim.
    "There's a ready appetite for it," adds Smith of Realogy, who agrees that there's substantial pent-up demand for housing in general but also great uncertainty. "If you can relieve consumers of some of that uncertainty, then I can see a nice little recovery."
    That's the psychological dimension of the wild card - the negative feedback loop that has plagued housing.
    Optimists say most of the uncertainty and fear is gone.
    "The major driver of negative sentiment was that prices were going down across the market by large amounts," says Kim of Barclays. "Buyers need to see a stabilization."
    A contributing element to that is the unwinding of government intervention - whether to artificially spur demand - as was the case with the first-time buyer tax incentive program of 2009 and 2010 - and/or to retard and prevent foreclosures.
    Many regard those efforts as largely ineffective, if not counter-productive because they delayed the inevitable - a deep descent to a market bottom, which has finally been touched.
    "The numbers you're looking at you can trust," says Kim. "There are no exogenous factors."
    Though tight lending conditions and forthcoming regulations of the Dodd-Frank legislation are still an issue for some, sweeping housing finance reform is off the agenda for at least the next year.
    "You're back to the natural forces of the market," says Howard of the builders association.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2011

    Housing to gradually improve in 2012, NAR economist says

    Gradual improvement in the housing market is expected next year, with existing-home sales edging up 4% to 5% and new home sales getting an even bigger boost off this year's record lows, the chief economist of the nation's largest real estate group said Friday.

    "Tight mortgage credit conditions have been holding back homebuyers all year, and consumer confidence has been shaky recently," Lawrence Yun, chief economist of theNational Association of Realtors, said. "Nonetheless, there is a sizeable pent-up demand based on population growth, employment levels and a doubling-up phenomenon that can’t continue indefinitely."

    Yun, who made his comments during the annual NAR conference for real estate agents under way in Anaheim, Calif., projected gross domestic product growth of 1.8% for 2011, rising to 2.2% in 2012 with the unemployment rate declining to 8.7% by the second half of 2012.

    Mortgage interest rates, he predicted, would gradually rise from record 2011 lows to 4.5% by the middle of 2012.

    "Very favorable affordability conditions will dominate next year as well, which will probably be the second best year on record dating back to 1970. Our hope is that credit restrictions will ease and allow more homebuyers to take advantage of current opportunities."

    Existing-home sales are forecast to edge up about 1% this year. Based on NAR’s current projection model, existing-home sales would total 4.96 million in 2011. NAR is revising downward existing-home sales totals in recent years although it expects little change to previously reported comparisons based on percentage change.
    New-home sales for 2011 are projected at 302,000 this year, a record low, with expectations that they will rise about 23% to 372,000 in 2012.

    Housing starts are forecast to rise about 8% to 630,000 from 583,000 in 2011.

    With falling inventory, the median home price should rise in 2012, he said.  "Home prices have yet to show a definitive stabilization pattern in most areas. Still, given an over-correction in prices, there likely will be moderate appreciation in 2012," Yun said.

    Richard Peach, senior vice president at the Federal Reserve Board of New York, said the economy continues to disappoint. "Among the significant structural impediments are the legacy of the housing boom and bust, and fiscal contrition at the state and local level."

    He promoted moving foreclosures by giving incentives to military service members.

    "My idea is to allocate certificates to 2.5 million service members who served in Afghanistan and Iraq that could be used as a down payment on a foreclosed home in the Fannieor Freddie portfolio," he said.  This would help to absorb the inventory and stabilize the housing market.

    Take advantage of expiring tax deductions

    There are several tax credits and deductions set to expire at the end of the year, and given the federal deficit problem, there's a good chance they won't be extended. If you want to take advantage of them, you need to act before Jan. 1, 2012.
    Mortgage insurance premium deduction
    If you itemize deductions, you may deduct the premiums you pay for mortgage insurance, just like you do mortgage interest. However, this deduction is phased out if your income exceeds certain levels. To qualify for the full deduction, a couple or a single taxpayer must have an adjusted gross income of $100,000 or less. The deduction is phased out completely if AGI exceeds $109,000.
    This deduction, which was first enacted for 2007, is scheduled to expire at the end of 2011. Thus, your payments are deductible only if you pay them during 2011; a payment after 2011 is not deductible.
    Education expenses deduction
    A deduction of up to $4,000 for qualified education expenses is available for 2011. All or part of the amount you pay can be for classes beginning in 2012. But you must make your payments during 2011, because the deduction expires at the end of the year. This deduction is not available if your modified adjusted gross income is more than $80,000 ($160,000 if filing a joint return). Nor is it available if any of education tax credits are claimed.
    Home energy credit
    First, any homeowner may qualify for an energy credit of up to $500. You can qualify for the credit if you purchase during 2011 solar panels to generate electricity or for water heating, or install wind energy equipment, a geothermal heat pump, or certain types of fuel cells to generate electricity. The credit is up to 30 percent of the amount you spend, up to the $500 limit. This credit is not available for purchases in 2012.
    Sales tax deduction
    If you itemize, you can deduct either your state and local taxes or your sales taxes paid during the year. This deduction is a boon for people who live in states with no or low income taxes. However, the deduction for sales and use taxes instead of state income taxes is scheduled to expire at the end of 2011. To maximize this deduction, you should make any large purchases before the end of the year.
    Adoption credit
    A tax credit for adoption expenses (adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, travel, etc.) has been available for many years. However, an enhanced adoption credit is available for adoptions finalized before 2012. The credit is up to $13,360 of adoption expenses. For 2011, this is a nonrefundable credit, meaning you qualify for it even if it exceeds the amount of your 2011 tax liability. This means that you could qualify for a tax refund even if you did not have federal income tax withheld.

    Sales of new homes up in October, but prices fall

    WASHINGTON – Americans bought slightly more new homes in October, a hopeful sign for the troubled housing market. But the median sales price fell to its lowest level of the year, and the overall sales pace is trailing last year's — the worst in half a century.
    • New home construction in Canonsburg, Pa.
      Gene J. Puskar, AP
      New home construction in Canonsburg, Pa.
    Gene J. Puskar, AP
    New home construction in Canonsburg, Pa.
    The report suggests housing continues to drag on theU.S. economy and is a long way from recovering.
    New-home sales increased 1.3% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 307,000, theCommerce Department said Monday. That's less than half the 700,000 that economists say must be sold to sustain a healthy housing market.
    Last year's 323,000 new homes sold were the fewest since the government began keeping records in 1963. This year isn't faring much better.
    While new homes sales represent a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
    For many Americans, buying a home is too big a risk more than four years after the housing bubble burst.
    Home prices have tumbled, the job market remains weak and unemployment has been stuck near 9% for more two years. Some people who want to buy can't qualify for a loan or make the higher down payments that banks are demanding.
    Sales are slumping even though mortgage rates are hovering above historic lows.
    Builders are struggling to compete with foreclosures and short sales — when lenders accept less for a house than the mortgage on the home — which are at an average discount of 20%. That has made many re-sales a bargain compared with new homes.
    Yet sales of previously owned homes are also dismal. They rose slightly last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million units, the National Association of Realtorssaid last week. That's below the 6 million that economists say is consistent with sales in a healthy market and barely ahead of last year's totals, which were the fewest since 1997.

    Keep Your Home Warm

    Heating expenses have skyrocketed in the past few years and many homeowners are finding it hard to make ends meet while keeping toasty. Here are some simple tips you can try in order to keep warm and on budget.

    First, consider your options when it comes to what method of heating you use. Gas, both natural and propane, can easily break the bank when temperatures dip.

    Many homeowners are switching to energy efficient infrared heaters that can be moved from room to room as needed. These homeowners swear by these small units and note that their heating bills dropped dramatically after starting their use.

    If there are multiple electric companies offering services to your area be sure to check and see who has the cheapest rates. You'd be surprised how much their charges can vary!

    Next, do you have the option to burn wood? Many homes come equipped with wood-burning fireplaces and wood stoves. With the proper fans or duct-work you can heat an entire home.

    If you live in a rural area and have access to trees, you may have free firewood at your disposal (after putting in a little sweat and time). Otherwise, most cities have local businesses that sell wood by the bundle or rick.

    It's not all about what heaters you use, though. Sometimes it's about keeping cold air out and warm air in. First, check around all your windows and doors for places that need recaulked. Be sure all windows are firmly closed and if you have a drafty door, consider installing an outside storm door.

    The same maintenance check goes for older homes' insulation. Insulation can be insufficient or entirely lacking. Take a good look at your attic and decide if you need to install do a little upgrading.

    There are multiple options, including those large fluffy rolls (in varying grades for varying temperatures), spray insulation, and even thin sheets that can reflect cold air out.

    Insulated curtains can also be a beautiful way of keeping warm air inside your home. Some claim to reduce energy loss by as much as 40 percent.

    These are just a few tips! Keeping warm can be difficult in the coldest of days this season. Take a few precautions and do research on the latest energy prices and you're sure to stay on budget.

    Existing-Home Sales Improve

    Amidst turmoil in the stock market and continued crisis in both our own and European debts, the latest figures from the National Association of Realtors show that existing-home sales improved slightly in October.

    Though this rise was marginal, any upward movement is reason for some holiday cheer in the real estate market.

    The NAR reports that existing-home sales were up 1.4 percent in October and are a promising 13.5 percent above October 2010.

    Three of four regions saw growth last month, with the West leading the way at a 4.4 percent rise.
    The Midwest and South rose 2.8 and 2.1, respectively. The Northeast was the only region to see a decline in October, falling 5.1 percent.

    Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the market has been fairly steady but at a lower than desired level. "Home sales have been stuck in a narrow range despite several improving factors that generally lead to higher home sales such as job creation, rising rents and high affordability conditions. Many people who are attempting to buy homes are thwarted in the process," he said.
    The numbers could be higher for October had a large number of contract failures not held back a recovery. These contract failures are due in part to appraised values ending up less than negotiated prices, meaning the loan falls through.

    Many would-be buyers are also sidelined by tight credit standards.

    NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said consumers can increase their odds of obtaining a mortgage by being aware of how credit scores are determined. "If you want to get a mortgage, don’t buy a car or take on new installment debt or credit cards," he said.

    "Pay all your bills on time, maintain old credit lines and don’t use more than 30 percent of your credit limit," he said.

    Home sales could be on the rise, additionally, due to buyers taking advantage of affordability.
    According to the NAR, the national median home price for existing-homes is currently $162,500. This is down another 4.7 percent from October 2010. Distressed properties are accounting for less of the market, which means prices are falling in response to other economic conditions.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Short Sales Offer Significant Discounts in Several Major Cities

    With 9,145 completed short sales, the Los Angeles area had more short sale transactions than any other metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the second quarter of this year, according to a recent blog post from RealtyTrac.
    Short sales are growing throughout the nation as distressed homeowners and servicers continue to seek alternatives to foreclosure and home buyers increasingly opt for the significant discounts that come with short sales.

    These short sales came with an average discount of 32 percent and at an average price of $350,237.
    Phoenix ranked second in number of short sales for the second quarter with 8,434 short sales, which came withan average discount of 27 percent and an average price of $133,793.
    According to the RealtyTrac blog post, the metros with the highest numbers of short sales in the second quarter were:
    1. Los Angeles
    2. Phoenix
    3. Cape Coral – Fort Myers, Florida
    4. Oxnard – Thousand Oaks – Ventura, California
    5. Reno – Sparks, Nevada
    6. San Francisco
    7. San Jose
    8. Portland
    9. Atlanta
    10. Milwaukee
    Short sale savings averaged more than 30 percent in Cape Coral – Fort Myers, Florida; San Francisco; San Jose; and Milwaukee.
    Reno – Sparks, Nevada, experienced a 50 percent rise in short sales from the first quarter to the second quarter of the year, while San Francisco saw a 47 percent rise in short sales.
    Atlanta and Milwaukee also saw significant increases in short sales over the quarter – 21 percent and 20 percent respectively.

    Recession Fears Eased: Economy Grows at 2.5 Percent in Third Quarter

    The economy grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the three months ending Sept. 30, the government reported, easing fears that the nation would fall into a second recession but still too slow a pace to cut significantly into the high unemployment rate.

    “We’re inching our way forward,” says Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.

    The new data from the Commerce Department on Thursday showed slow but steady improvement in the economy throughout 2011. The third-quarter data was in line with economists’ projections.

    Consumer spending, particularly on automobiles, helped boost growth. Personal consumption increased by 2.4 percent, compared with just a 0.7 percent increase in the second quarter.

    Much of that increase, as well as other economic activity, was consumers and businesses catching up after the extremely slow growth of early this year, caused in part by the supply-chain disruptions of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Swonk said.

    But even trying to make up for the slow growth in early 2011, the “re-acceleration” of the economy in the third quarter was not at breakneck speed, Swonk said.

    “Given the weakness we saw earlier in the year, this is catch-up with not a lot of catch-up,” she says. “Two steps forward with one step back.”

    Kathy Bostjancic, director for macroeconomic analysis at the Conference Board, called the third-quarter growth “an unsustainable spurt.” She noted the group’s closely watched index of consumer confidence plunged this month to levels not seen since the recession ended in 2009.

    “Continued woes in the housing market are overshadowed by consumer concern over the anemic labor market, as highlighted by the decline in consumer sentiment back to 2008-09 levels,” Bostjancic says in a statement. “Sustained economic growth above 2.0 percent is simply unlikely.”

    Still, the threat of a double-dip recession is on hold for now, although the economy is “still muddling along, not cruising along,” Swonk said.

    Fears of a second recession were stoked when the economy barely grew in the first three months of the year, expanding at an annual rate of just 0.4 percent. A recession is two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.

    Things were looking only slightly better in the summer, when the government estimated that the economy grew at an anemic 1 percent rate in the second quarter.

    That reading in August, combined with continued poor job creation and the historic downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard&Poor’s after the bitter debt-ceiling debate, led economists to warn the nation was in danger of slipping into a second recession a little more than two years after the last one ended.

    But last month the government revised second-quarter economic growth up to 1.3 percent. And increased consumer spending and other data began pointing away from another downturn.

    Pending home sales index rises from one year ago

    A monthly index that trackspending sales of U.S. resale homes rose in September compared to a year ago, while falling on a month-to-month basis, the National Association of Realtors reported today.
    Also today, NAR released its latest forecast report for 2011 and 2012, revising up an earlier prediction for U.S. real gross domestic product growth in the wake of third-quarter GDP data released today.
    Third-quarter data showed a 2.5 percent rise in GDP, compared with 1.3 percent in the second quarter. NAR expects U.S. GDP growth of 1.8 percent for the full year in 2011, with 2.3 percent GDP growth in 2012. A previous NAR forecast, released last month, anticipated U.S. GDP growth of 1 percent this year and 1.3 percent in 2012. Actual U.S. GDP rose 3 percent in 2010 and declined 3.5 percent in 2009.
    NAR's Pending Home Sales Index, which measures real estate sales contracts signed but not yet closed, increased 6.4 percent year over year, to 84.5, in September. On a monthly basis, the index declined 4.6 percent. The index typically represents about 20 percent of all existing-home transactions. An index score of 100 is equal to the average level of sales contract activity in 2001, which was the first year examined by the trade group.
    The index rose on an annual basis in all four U.S. regions. The Midwest saw the greatest increase, up 12.3 percent to 71.5. The region also saw the greatest month-to-month index decline, down 6.2 percent.
    In the West, the index jumped 5.6 percent on a year-over-year basis in September, to 105.8 -- the highest index value of any region. The region also saw the smallest monthly index drop, down 2.1 percent.
    In the South, the index rose 5 percent year over year, to 91.6. On a month-to-month basis, the index slipped 5.5 percent in the region.
    The Northeast saw a 4 percent index increase compared to a year ago, to 60.6, and a monthly decline of 4.7 percent.
    In its latest economic forecast, NAR projects 4.955 million sales of resale homes this year (up 1 percent compared to 2010), and 5.169 million existing-home sales in 2012 (up another 4.3 percent), with the existing-home median price falling 4 percent this year, to $165,900, and rising 2.6 percent in 2012.
    Sales of new, single-family homes, meanwhile, are forecast to fall 4.7 percent this year, to 307,000, and to rise 21.3 percent next year, to 372,000. The median price of a new home is projected to rise 1.8 percent this year, to $225,000, and jump 3.5 percent in 2012.
    The interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is not expected to change much. The rate was 4.7 percent in 2010, and NAR forecasts a rate of 4.5 percent for the full year in 2011, and 4.7 percent in 2012.
    NAR forecasts the unemployment rate to average 9 percent in 2011, and to improve to 8.7 percent in 2012; last year's unemployment rate was 9.6 percent.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Foreclosure notices rise in 3Q, but down from a year ago

    LOS ANGELES – More U.S. homes are entering the foreclosure process, but they're taking longer to be sold or repossessed by lenders.

    The number of U.S. homes that received a first-time default notice during the July to September quarter increased 14% from the second quarter, RealtyTrac said Thursday.
    That increase signals banks are moving more aggressively now against borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments than they have since industrywide foreclosure processing problems emerged last fall. Those problems resulted in a sharp drop in foreclosure activity.
    The surge in default notices means homeowners who haven't kept up their mortgage payments could now end up on the foreclosure path sooner. Initial default notices are first step in the process that can lead to a home being taken back by a lender.
    In all, 195,878 properties received a default notice in the third quarter. Despite the sharp increase from the second quarter, the total was still down 27% from the third quarter last year, RealtyTrac said.

    National Mortgage Rates

    30 yr fixed mtg4.19%
    15 yr fixed mtg3.46%
    5/1 ARM3.04%
    $30K home equity loan6.00%
    $30K HELOC4.65%
    About these rates
    Lenders took back 196,530 homes during the quarter, down 4% from the second quarter and down 32% from the quarter last year.
    Banks remain on track to repossess some 800,000 homes this year, down from more than 1 million last year, Saccacio said.
    RealtyTrac had originally anticipated some 1.2 million homes would be repossessed by lenders this year.
    A pickup in foreclosure activity also means a potentially faster turnaround for the U.S. housing market. Experts say a revival isn't likely to occur as long as there remains a glut of potential foreclosures hanging over the market.
    The third-quarter increase in initial default notices was largely a product of a spike in August. In September, default notices were off 10% from August, RealtyTrac said.
    Still, the jump in initial defaults during the July to September period is significant because it is the first increase after five quarterly declines, suggesting banks are gradually addressing their backlog of homes in foreclosure and are now beginning to move on more recent home loan defaults, said RealtyTrac CEO James Saccacio.
    "While foreclosure activity in September and the third quarter continued to register well below levels from a year ago, there is evidence that this temporary downward trend is about to change direction, with foreclosure activity slowly beginning to ramp back up," Saccacio said.
    Foreclosure activity began to slow last fall after problems surfaced with the way many lenders were handling foreclosure paperwork, namely shoddy mortgage paperwork comprising several shortcuts known collectively as robo-signing.
    Many of the nation's largest banks reacted by temporarily ceasing all foreclosures, re-filing previously filed foreclosure cases and revisiting pending cases to prevent errors.
    Other factors have also worked to stall the pace of new foreclosures this year. The process has been held up by court delays in states where judges play a role in the foreclosure process, lenders' reluctance to take back properties at a time of slow home sales and a possible settlement of government probes into the industry's mortgage-lending practices.
    Those settlement talks, led by a group of state attorneys general, have been undermined in recent weeks after state officials in some states, including California and Massachusetts, have broken with the rest of the states.
    While banks appear more willing to start the foreclosure countdown on borrowers, they haven't put a dent in the overall length of the foreclosure process.
    In the third quarter, it took an average of 336 days, or 11.2 months, for a home to go from an initial notice of default to being foreclosed by a lender, RealtyTrac said.
    That's up from 318 days, or 10.6 months, in the second quarter and represents the longest span of time for the foreclosure process since the first quarter 2007, the firm said.
    In some states, it's even longer.
    It took an average of 986 days, almost three years, for the foreclosure process to play out in New York in the third quarter — longest time of any state, RealtyTrac said.
    New Jersey was a close second at 974 days; Florida was third at 749 days, or just over two years.
    Not all states are seeing an increase in the time it takes for homes to move through the foreclosure process.
    In Texas, homes made it through the foreclosure process in an average of 86 days during the third quarter, down from 92 days in the second quarter, RealtyTrac said.