Housing Starts Surge 9 Percent; Signal A Strong Fall Season

Single-family housing starts

Builders are busy once again.

According to the Census Bureau, Single-Family Housing Starts rose to 453,000 on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis in June — a 9 percent spike from the month prior and the highest reading in 3 seasons.

A “Housing Start” is defined as a home breaking ground on new construction.

June’s reading is largest one-month jump since June 2009. The reading surprised Wall Street despite that the Homebuilder Confidence survey may have foreshadowed the results.

Monday, the National Association of Homebuilders reported that builders are more confident about the future of the new home sales market, and forecast a large increase in sales over the next 6 months.

For buyers of new construction, the news is mixed. Rising confidence may mean that builders are less willing to negotiate on upgrades and/or price, but rising construction levels add inventory to an already fragile market.

Adding to the nation’s home supply without a corresponding increase in buyer demand shifts negotiation leverage away from builders. 

The Census Bureau also reported on Building Permits.

In June, permits for single-family homes rose by 1,000 units nationwide on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This, too, bodes well for housing because 89 percent of homes with permits start construction within 60 days.

Momentum should carry forward into fall.

If you’re buying new construction , ask your real estate agent about local home supply, and how the market is trending. With mortgage rates low and the fall buying season approaching, you may find some of your best deals in the next few weeks.

Led By Expectations Of A Strong Fall Season, Homebuilder Confidence Bounces Back

Housing Market Index (Homebuilder Confidence)

Homebuilder confidence is bouncing back.

One month after an unceremonious dip highlighted by poor sales figures and dim prospects for the future, the National Association of Homebuilder’s Housing Market Index rebounded two points to 15 in July.

The monthly Housing Market Index is scored on a 1-100 scale. Readings above 50 indicate favorable conditions for homebuilders and the “new home” market. Readings below 50 indicate unfavorable conditions.

The Housing Market Index has not read higher than 50 in more than 5 years.

As a housing metric, the HMI is actually a composite of three separate surveys, self-reported by builders. The surveys ask about current single-family home sales volume; projected single-family home sales volume; and current buyer foot traffic levels.

In July, the responses read as follows : 

  • Current single-family sales : 15 (+2 from June)
  • Projected single-family sales : 22 (+7 from June)
  • Buyer foot traffic : 12 (Unchanged from June)

The most noteworthy reading is the rapid rise in Projected single-family home sales. Although builders aren’t experiencing more foot traffic, they think sales will spike between now and the New Year. 

That could spell bad news for home buyers.

When builders harbor higher expectations for the future, they’re less willing to make concessions for upgrades and/or price. Your likelihood of getting “a great deal” as a buyer diminishes.

That’s why it’s good that mortgage rates are still so low. Low mortgage rates help with home affordability and can offset slight jumps in sale price.

Mortgage rates remain just above their lowest levels of 2011, and of all-time. 

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week : July 18, 2011

Greece roiling mortgage marketsMortgage markets worsened last week as concerns for the global economy drove new rounds of “safe haven” buying. Fear continues to dominate mortgage bond market movement and rate shoppers are benefiting.

Conforming and FHA mortgage rates fell for the second straight week last week, and closed out Friday with favorable momentum to the downside. 

There were three main mortgage market drivers last week.

The first is tied to the Eurozone.

Although the Greek Parliament reached agreement on austerity measures for the nation-state two weeks ago, concerns that a debt crisis could spill into Italy, Portugal, Ireland, and/or Spain resurfaced last week. The debt of both Ireland and Portugal was downgraded to Junk status, and Italy and Spain may follow soon.

U.S. bond markets gained on the news.

The second story was the just-released Fed Minutes. Notes from the FOMC meeting showed that Ben Bernanke & Co. debated a slowing U.S. economy, the weakening domestic jobs market, and whether a third round of economic stimulus would be necessary. This, too, dragged mortgage rates lower.

The third story is one that’s still forming — the U.S. Debt Ceiling Debate. For now, the issue remains on the market periphery, but as the August 2 debt limit deadline nears, expect more influence over day-to-day mortgage rates. 

Other factors in mortgage rates this week include the Existing Home Sales report; Housing Starts data; Homebuilder Confidence Survey; and, Jobless Claims.

Mortgage rates are low but remain volatile. If you’re wondering whether now is a good time to lock your rate, consider that it’s better to be safe than sorry. If mortgage rates rise this week, the rise may be permanent.

Rates can only stay low for so long.

Retail Sales Rise For 12th Straight Month In June

Retail Sales 2010-2011The American Consumer will not be deterred.

Despite worsening jobless figures and an increase in the Cost of Living, Retail Sales are climbing. In June, for the 12th straight month, retail receipts rose, excluding cars and auto parts.

Analysts expected no change from May. Instead, receipts topped $321 billion — an all-time record.

For home buyers and would-be refinancers , this is a bit of unwelcome news. Mortgage rates are rising in the wake of the Retail Sales data release.

This is because Retail Sales account for roughly half of consumer spending, and nearly one-third of the economy overall. A rise in Retail Sales, therefore, suggests stronger growth ahead.

Here’s how it happens.

As consumers spend more money, businesses sell more product. So, to accommodate burgeoning demand, business hire additional employees, and are forced to make additional capital expenditures as well. 

This rise in spending prompts other businesses to hire and spend; to meet their own respective demand surges. There’s a chain reaction-like effect.

Then, with businesses carrying larger payrolls and bigger staffs, federal, state and local governments realize bigger tax bases and can fund new and existing projects. 

This, too, leads to hiring and the cycle repeats.

A weak economic outlook dragged down mortgage rates last week. This week’s Retail Sales data reversed that flow. Mortgage rates are higher by 1/8 percent — roughly $8 per $100,000 borrowed.

Retail Sales are up 8 percent from a year ago.

For The 9th Straight Month, Foreclosure Filings Fall

Foreclosure changes 2010-2011

For the 9th straight month last month, foreclosure activity slowed.

According to foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, the number of foreclosure filings dropped 29 percent nationwide on an annual basis in June. The phrase “foreclosure filing” is a catch-all term, comprising default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions.

June marked the ninth consecutive month of sub-300,000 filings after 20 months above it — a promising signal for the housing market nationwide.

It’s also noteworthy that each of the 10 most foreclosure-heavy states showed fewer foreclosures in June 2011 as compared to June 2010, led by Florida’s 54% decline. Florida is one of 4 states on the leading edge of foreclosure activity since 2007.

The other 3 states performed similarly well in June:

  • California : -22% on an annual basis
  • Arizona : -7% on an annual basis
  • Michigan : -25% on an annual basis

The decrease in foreclosure filings comes at a time when buyer demand is highest. According to the National Association of REALTORS®, “distressed properties” account for more than 30 percent of all home resales and no wonder — homes in various stages of foreclosure or sold by short sale are selling with discounts of 20 percent versus comparable non-distressed homes.

For buyers in search of foreclosures , talk with a licensed real estate. Buying homes in foreclosure follows a different process path as compared to buying a “traditional” home. Make sure you seek the help of a professional.

Fed Minutes Hint At New Economic Stimulus

FOMC Minutes June 2011The Federal Reserve released its June 2011 Federal Open Market Committee meeting minutes Tuesday. It contained no surprises and, as such, mortgage rates have idled in the hours since.

The Fed Minutes is published 8 times annually, three weeks after each scheduled Federal Open Market Committee meeting. It’s the official log of the meeting’s conversations and debates.

The Fed Minutes is the lengthier companion piece to the FOMC’s more well-known, post-meeting press release. As compared to the brief-and-focused press release,by comparison, the Fed Minutes are long and detailed.

June’s press release was 458 words long. Its minutes totaled 6,889 words.

The June minutes reveal some interesting perspectives from within the Federal Reserve, too.

  • On growth : Economic recovery had been slower than the committee expected
  • On housing : The market remains depressed. Foreclosures are “holding back” construction.
  • On rates : The Fed Funds Rate should remain low for an “extended” period

In addition, the Federal Reserve discussed whether a new round of economic stimulus was necessary. Committee members agreed that a poor outlook for employment in the medium-term would make this move more likely.

There was little that surprised Wall Street in the June Fed Minutes. This is why market reaction has been muted since its release.

The FOMC meets next August 9. If jobs data continues to weaken between now and then, expect the stimulus chatter to continue. It’s unclear, however, how this would impact mortgage rates.

For now, mortgage rates remain near their all-time lows, and they have much more room to rise than to fall. If you’re shopping for a loan, therefore, the timing is right for a lock.

What Is Annual Percentage Rate (APR)?

Truth-In-Lending snapshot

More commonly called APR, Annual Percentage Rate is a government-mandated mortgage comparison tool. It measures the total cost of borrowing over the life of a loan into dollars-and-cents.

A loan’s APR is printed in the top-left corner of the Federal Truth-In-Lending Disclosure, as shown above. When quoting an interest rate, loan officers are required by law to disclose a loan’s APR, too.

APR is meant to simplify the process of choosing between two or more loans. The theory is that the loan with the lowest APR is the “best deal” for the applicant because the loan’s long-term costs are lowest. However, the loan with the lowest APR isn’t always best.

APR makes assumptions in its formula that can render it moot.

First, APR assumes you’ll pay your mortgage off at term, at never sooner. So, if your loan is a 15-year fixed rate, its APR is based on a full 15 year term. If you sell or refinance prior to Year 15, the math used to make your loan’s APR becomes instantly flawed and “wrong”.

Example: Let’s compare two identical loans — one with discount points and a lower interest rate; and one without discount points and a higher mortgage rate. The loan with discount points will have a lower APR in most cases. However, if the homeowner sells or refinances within the first few years, the loan with the higher APR would have been the better option, in hindsight.

Second, APR can be “doctored” early in the loan process.

Because the APR formula accounts for third-party costs in a mortgage transaction, and third-party costs aren’t always known at the start of a loan, a bank can inadvertently understate them. This would make the APR appear lower than what it really is, and may mislead a consumer.

And, lastly, APR is particurly unhelpful for adjustable-rate loans. Because the APR calculation makes assumptions about how a loan will adjust during its 30-year term, if two lenders use a different set of assumptions, their APRs will differ — even if the loans are identical in every other way. The lender whose adjustments are most aggressively-low will present the lowest APR.

Summarized, APR is not the metric for comparing mortgages — it’s a metric. For relevant comparison points, talk to your loan officer.