Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mortgage Rates Fall Even Lower This Week

Fixed-rate mortgages continue their free fall, with the 30-year fixed rate mortgage averaging 3.63 percent this week and the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage staying below 3 percent, Freddie Mac reports. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is at its lowest level since the week ending May 23, 2013, when it averaged 3.59 percent.
"Mortgage rates continued to fall, albeit at a slower pace,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. Mortgage rates are falling amid declining bond yields and oil prices, Freddie Mac notes.
Freddie Mac reports the following national averages with mortgage rates for the week ending Jan. 22:
  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.63 percent, with an average 0.7 point, dropping from last week’s 3.66 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 4.39 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 2.93 percent, with an average 0.6 point, dropping from last week’s 2.98 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.44 percent.
  • 5-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 2.83 percent, with an average 0.4 point, dropping from last week’s 2.90 percent average. Last year at this time, 5-year ARMs averaged 3.15 percent.
  • 1-year ARMs: averaged 2.37 percent, with an average 0.4 point, holding the same from last week. A year ago, the 1-year ARM averaged 2.54 percent.
Source: Freddie Mac

Ready for a Jolt to the Housing Market?

The strengthening of the economy will drive the housing market forward this year and make up for last year’s “unspectacular” housing activity, according to Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group’s report, released Thursday. Stronger wages for many Americans likely will lead to a higher rate of household formation in 2015, Fannie researchers note.
Fannie economists point to several positives in the housing recovery’s favor: Low gasoline prices, stronger labor market conditions, rising household net worth, improving consumer and business confidence, and reduced fiscal headwinds. Fannie economists predict the economy to climb to 3.1 percent this year, up from its prior estimate of 2.7 percent.
"Our theme for the year, ‘Economy Drags Housing Upward,’ implies that both housing and the economy will pick up some speed in 2015, but that the economy will grow at a faster pace," says Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. "We have revised upward our full-year economic growth forecast to 3.1 percent for 2015, which is not yet robust but still an improvement over last year’s growth. Consumer spending should continue to strengthen due in large part to lower gas prices, giving further support to auto sales and manufacturing. We believe this will motivate the Federal Reserve to begin measures to normalize monetary policy in the third quarter of this year, continuing at a cautiously steady pace into 2016 and 2017, likely keeping interest rates relatively low for some time."
The strength in the broader economy, along with employment and income growth, is expected to lead to a more active housing market, Duncan says. Fannie economists are predicting that home sales will increase 5.8 percent this year, due to low mortgage rates and the gradual easing of lending standards.
"Most of that is likely to come from growth in existing home sales, but we expect the rising share of new home sales to lead to a healthy increase in single-family construction of about 19 percent, or 765,000 units,” Duncan adds. “Although we don’t view this as signaling a breakout year for housing, we do expect to see broad-based improvement in 2015 following a disappointing and uneven year for the housing recovery in 2014."
Source: “2015 Economic Outlook: Economy Drags Housing Upward,” Fannie Mae (Jan. 22, 2015)

Existing-Home Sales Rebound: 5 Stats to Know

Home sales picked up at the end of 2014, closing off a year that had a sluggish start but then showed encouraging signs in the second half, according to the National Association of REALTORS®’ latest housing report, released Friday.
Existing-home sales rose 2.4 percent in December month-over-month, bouncing back after a dismal November. Total home sales –reflecting completed transactions of single-family homes, townhomes, condos, and co-ops – reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million in December.
“Home sales improved over the summer once inventory increased, prices moderated, and economic growth accelerated,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. “Sales were measurably better in the second half – up 8 percent compared to the first six months of the year.”
Overall for 2014, the median national existing-home price was $208,500, reaching the highest level since 2007, and a 5.8 percent increase from 2013 when it was $197,100. However, total existing-home sales were 3.1 percent lower in 2014 compared to 2013, NAR reports.
Here’s a closer look at five housing stats from NAR’s latest report -- reflecting December 2014 data -- to gauge the market:
1. Home sales: Single-family home sales rose 3.5 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million compared to 4.32 million in November. Single-family home sales are 4 percent above the pace a year ago. Existing condo and co-op sales, on the other hand, dropped 5 percent in December.
2. Home prices: The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $209,500 – 6 percent higher than year ago levels. This marks the 34th consecutive month of year-over-year price gains.
3. Days on the market: Properties typically stayed on the market in December for 66 days, a slightly shorter time frame than a year ago when the average was 72 days. Short sales were on the market the longest amount of time at a median of 98 days in December, while foreclosures sold in 61 days. Non-distressed homes averaged 66 days on the market. About 31 percent of homes that were sold in December were on the market for less than a month, according to NAR.
4. Distressed sales: Foreclosures and short sales edged up slightly in December, reaching 11 percent of sales compared to 9 percent in November. However, distressed sales are down from 14 percent a year ago. Of December existing-home sales, 8 percent were foreclosures and 3 percent were short sales. On average, foreclosures sold for a discount of 15 percent below market value while short sales were discounted 12 percent.
5. Inventory: Total housing inventory at the end of December fell 11.1 percent to 1.85 million existing homes available for sale. That represents a 4.4-month supply at the current sales pace, which is down from 5.1 months in November. Unsold inventory is now 0.5 percent lower than a year ago.
“A drop in housing supply in December raises some affordability concerns in the months ahead as minimal selection and the potential for faster price appreciation could offset the demand from buyers encouraged by a stronger economy and sub-4 percent interest rates,” says Yun. “Housing costs – both rents and home prices – continue to outpace wages and are burdensome for potential buyers trying to save for a downpayment while looking for available homes in their price range.”
By Region
The following is a look at how existing-home sales performed across the country in December:
  • Northeast: existing-home sales fell 2.9 percent to an annual rate of 660,000. Sales are 3.1 percent above year ago levels. Median price: $246,600, up 3.2 percent above a year ago.
  • Midwest: existing-home sales dropped 3.5 percent to an annual level of 1.09 million in December. Sales are 2.7 percent below December 2013. Median price: $159,100, up 5.3 percent from a year ago.
  • South: existing-home sales in the South climbed 3.8 percent to an annual rate of 2.17 million in December. Sales are 7.4 percent above December 2013. Median price: $184,100, up 6.6 percent from a year ago.
  • West: existing-home sales surged 9.8 percent to an annual rate of 1.12 million in December. Sales are 2.8 percent above a year ago. Median price: $299,600, up 5.6 percent year-over-year.
Source: National Association of REALTORS®

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Housing Starts Reach Six-Year Highs

Housing starts for single-family homes surged to the highest level in more than six-and-a-half years, a promising sign at the end of 2014, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
"The last piece of the economic puzzle is starting to come together now as housing construction is coming back. The housing market is continuing to heal," Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York, told Reuters.
Homebuilding has been significantly low despite recent economic growth. Household formation has been running at about 500,000 a year – way below the 1-million mark that most economists consider healthy for the sector.
But the Commerce Department’s report on Wednesday hints at a turnaround: Single-family housing starts, the largest portion of the homebuilding market, rose 7.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 728,000 units in December. It’s the highest level since March 2008.
Meanwhile, groundbreaking on the volatile multi-family market fell slightly at 0.8 percent in December.
Overall, housing starts – reflecting the single-family and multi-family markets – increased 4.4 percent in December to a 1.09 million-unit rate.
Economists point to several factors as helping to lift the new-home market, notably the 30-year mortgage rate is down more than 80 basis points from early 2014, the government’s move to ease credit conditions, and overall wage and employment growth.
"This should allow for many more individuals to enter the market. We expect much of the improvement to occur in sales at the lower end of the market, which has been lagging the overall housing recovery," says David Nice, an economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago.
Overall for 2014, groundbreaking on single-family and multifamily homes rose 8.8 percent to 1.01 million units – the highest since 2007.
However, the new-home market still has a ways to go. Building permits – a sign of future homebuilding activity – dropped 1.9 percent in December – mostly attributed to an 11.8 percent drop in the multi-family segment. Yet, single-family permits increased 4.5 percent, marking the highest level since January 2008. Building permits in the South in December reached their highest level since February 2008.
Source: “U.S. Single-Family Housing Starts Highest Since Early 2008,” Reuters (Jan. 21, 2015) and “Housing Starts End Year Solidly, Up 4.4%,” Dow Jones Business News (Jan. 21, 2015)

Lower Rates Drive a Refinancing Rush

As mortgage rates continue to fall, many home owners are scoring monthly savings by refinancing their mortgages, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s latest mortgage activity survey.
Mortgage application volume, reflecting applications for refinancings and home purchases, surged 14.2 percent last week on a seasonally adjusted basis. Total application volume is now 41 percent higher than it was a year ago. The jump in applications almost was completely driven by an increase in refinancings.
Mortgage applications for refinancings rose 22 percent from the previous week and are up 63 percent from year ago levels, the MBA reports. Meanwhile, applications for home purchases, viewed as a leading gauge of future home buying activity, dropped 3 percent on a week-to-week basis but are 3 percent higher than this time last year.
"This increase was largely due to mortgage rates dropping to their lowest level since May 2013,” says Mike Fratantoni, the MBA’s chief economist. “However, the recent reduction in FHA mortgage insurance premiums also played a role: FHA refinance applications increased 57 percent last week.”
Earlier this month, the Federal Housing Administration announced a drop in its annual insurance premiums from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent, which could save an average borrower about $80 on a monthly payment. In his State of the Union address last night, President Barack Obama cited the cut as a factor to improve the middle-class economy.
The MBA reports that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.80 percent last week. Lenders are reporting some of the most credit-worthy borrowers are now able to snag rates as low as 3.625 percent on a 30-year fixed-rate loan.
Source: “Mortgage Applications Rise on Refinancing Surge,” CNBC (Jan. 21, 2015)

Improving Economy Helps Buoy Housing

Recent drops in oil prices and mortgage rates, along with positive tailwinds in the economy, are helping to jump-start the housing market in the new year, according to Freddie Mac’s newly released 2015 U.S. Economic and Housing Market Outlook for January. Consumers are gaining confidence, which is expected to translate to higher home sales in the coming months. Some economists are skeptical on whether this latest jolt will stick around for the entire year, however.
Freddie Mac economists note that mortgage rates continue to remain well below expectations, and they predict that mortgage rates will remain low at the beginning of 2015, staying around 4 percent for the first two quarters of the year at least. Last week, mortgage rates dipped to a 20-month low with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate plunging to a 3.66 percent national average and the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage dropping to 2.98 percent.
“We … expect these low mortgage rates to help the growing purchase market continue to expand and reach the highest levels we’ve seen since 2007,” the economists note in the forecast.
But rates likely will move up by the end of the year. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of REALTORS®, says that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage could average around 5 percent – or higher – by the end of this year.
"I would not be surprised if it is above 5 percent because when mortgage rates move or interest rates move, it is generally not in a slow creep," Yun told Bankrate.com.
That said, many potential home buyers remain sidelined due to high monthly rents that have prevented many from being able to save for a down payment on a home. Freddie Mac believes its new announcement, along with Fannie Mae, of offering mortgages with down payments as little as 3 percent, along with the Federal Housing Administration’s recent announcement that it will cut its premiums for new and refinancing borrowers by a half percentage point to help increase mortgage availability to first-time home buyers.
Economists also note in Freddie Mac’s report that home prices will likely rise by 3.5 percent this year. In addition, in the labor market, wages are expected to rise, helping to give consumers greater confidence. The National Federation’s Independent Business Index for December showed that small businesses expect to raise employee compensation to the highest level since 2006.
Still, economists worry that some of the positives in the housing market may be for a “limited time only,” influeneced by unexpected weaknesses in the global economy as well as what the Federal Reserve ultimately does with mortgage rates. While mortgage rates are expected to largely remain low for the next two quarters, many economists are expecting rates to move higher in the second half of the year.
"On balance there are a lot of positive opportunities in the U.S. economy at the start of the year, and the real question is whether or not households and businesses will be able to seize these opportunities and make the most of them,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “The reprieve in interest rates and drop in gas prices should help to spur economic growth. Until rates start to rise later in the year, housing markets should respond positively, and we anticipate increases in home sales and continued improvement in construction activity.”
Source: “January U.S. Economic & Housing Market Outlook,” Freddie Mac (January 2015) and “Housing Market’s ‘Interesting Times,’” Bankrate.com (Jan. 19, 2015)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mortgage Rates Kick Off 2015 at 20-Month Low

Borrowing costs moved even lower this week, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaging 3.73 percent, its lowest average since May 2013.
"Mortgage rates fell to begin the year as 10-year Treasury yields slid beneath 2 percent for the first time in three months,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “Meanwhile, the Fed minutes indicated ongoing discussion regarding the timing of the first rate hike.” Many housing economists have predicted that mortgage rates will rise sometime this year, with the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage likely reaching the upper 4 percent or 5 percent range by the end of the year.
Freddie Mac reports the following national averages with mortgage rates for the week ending Jan. 8:
  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.73 percent this week, with an average 0.6 point, dropping from last week’s 3.87 percent average. The 30-year rate has not averaged this low since May 23, 2013, when it was 3.59 percent. A year ago at this time, 30-year rates averaged 4.51 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.05 percent, with an average 0.5 point, dropping from last week’s 3.15 percent average. Last year at this time, 15-year rates averaged 3.56 percent.
  • 5-year hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 2.98 percent, with an average 0.5 point, dropping from last week’s 3.01 percent average. A year ago, 5-year ARMs averaged 3.15 percent.
  • 1-year ARMs: averaged 2.39 percent, with an average 0.4 point, falling from a 2.40 percent average the previous week. Last year at this time, 1-year ARMs averaged 2.56 percent.
Source: Freddie Mac