Pending home sales at a 10-year high

May 27, 2016

WASHINGTON – May 26, 2016 – Pending home sales rose for the third consecutive month in April and reached their highest level in over a decade, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

All major regions saw gains in contract activity last month except for the Midwest, which saw a meager decline.

The Pending Home Sales Index – a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings for homes that have not yet sold – hiked 5.1 percent higher to 116.3 in April from an upwardly revised 110.7 in March. Year-to-year, it’s 4.6 percent above April 2015 (111.2).

After last month’s gain, the index has now increased year-over-year for 20 consecutive months. Vast gains in the South and West propelled April’s pending sales in April to its highest level since February 2006 (117.4), says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

“The ability to sign a contract on a home is slightly exceeding expectations this spring, even with the affordability stresses and inventory squeezes affecting buyers in a number of markets,” Yun says. “The building momentum from the over 14 million jobs created since 2010 and the prospect of facing higher rents and mortgage rates down the road appear to be bringing more interested buyers into the market.”

Mortgage rates have remained below 4 percent in 16 of the past 17 months, but Yun says it remains to be seen how long they will stay this low. Along with rent growth, rising gas prices – and the fading effects of last year’s cheap oil on consumer prices – could edge up inflation and push rates higher. For now, Yun foresees mortgage rates continuing to hover around 4 percent in coming months, but inflation could potentially surprise the market and cause rates to increase suddenly.

“Even if rates rise soon, sales have legs for further expansion this summer if housing supply increases enough to give buyers an adequate number of affordable choices during their search,” adds. Yun.

Following the housing market’s best first quarter of existing-sales since 2007 (5.66 million) and a decent increase (1.7 percent) in April, Yun expects sales this year to climb above earlier estimates and be around 5.41 million – a 3.0 percent boost from 2015. After accelerating to 6.8 percent a year ago, national median existing-home price growth is forecast to slightly moderate to between 4 and 5 percent.

Pending sales in the Northeast climbed 1.2 percent to 98.2 in April, and are now 10.1 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest, the index declined slightly (0.6 percent) to 112.9 in April, but it’s still 2.0 percent above April 2015.

Pending home sales in the South jumped 6.8 percent to an index of 133.9 in April – 5.1 percent higher than last April. The index in the West soared 11.4 percent in April to 106.2, and it’s now 2.8 percent above a year ago.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®


FHA may be reopening doors to condo financing

May 24, 2016

WASHINGTON – May 23, 2016 – Could the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) finally be opening its doors again to financing more condominium units? If so, that could be excellent news for young, first-time buyers and for seniors who own condo units and need a reverse mortgage to supplement their post-retirement incomes.

Here’s why: FHA financing offers not only 3.5 percent minimum downpayments but is far more lenient than other options on crucial issues such as credit scores and debt-to-income ratios. Plus FHA is the dominant source of insured reverse mortgages – the only game in town for the vast majority of seniors.

But if a condo building is not certified as eligible for financing by FHA, all the individual units in the project are ineligible for mortgage financing as well. Young families can’t buy using FHA loans, sellers can’t sell and seniors can’t tap their equity through a reverse mortgage. It used to be different – for years FHA allowed so-called “spot” loans on individual units – but no more.

But maybe things are about to change. In a speech last week to the National Association of Realtors, Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro said revisions to controversial FHA rules on condos have been completed and only await final Obama administration approval. The changes would simplify controversial certification procedures for condo buildings and amend other rules that have knocked thousands of condominium buildings out of eligibility.

Since adopting highly restrictive qualification rules early in the current administration, FHA – once a major player in the condo field and the go-to source of financing for moderate-income purchasers – has steadily seen its market share shrink. FHA once financed 80,000 to 90,000 condo units a year, but last year volume fell below 23,000. Many condo homeowner associations began losing their eligibility several years ago, and because of what they consider onerous recertification requirements, have never sought to reapply.

Castro provided no details on what changes are coming. But real estate and condo industry sources say they could build upon reforms announced last November that appear to have had at least modest success in encouraging condo homeowner boards to get onboard again.

Two California-based consultants who help associations and community managers work through the certification hoops told me they have seen a jump in activity in recent weeks. Condo boards that had been resistant to the FHA rules “aren’t fighting them as much any more,” said Natalie Stewart, president of FHA Review. “People need to sell their homes, people need to buy” affordable condo units, so some associations grudgingly are returning to the FHA fold.

Jon Eberhardt, president of Condo Approvals, LLC, said “we certainly have seen an uptick” in FHA certification applications. “I wouldn’t call it monumental, simply a steady growth” in the wake of last November’s changes, he added.

Dawn Bauman, senior vice president for government affairs at the Community Associations Institute, a Virginia-based group that represents 33,000-plus condo and homeowner associations and managers, confirmed that she’s also detected “an increase in the number of applicants” for condo certification and that regional FHA offices have been “more flexible” in recent months in evaluating applications.

What will be crucial to continuing the positive trend, industry experts say, is for the upcoming guidelines to make changes beyond simply streamlining condo certifications.

On the list of needed reforms:

  • The return of spot loans. That alone would significantly expand opportunities for millennials, minorities and seniors.
  • An end to FHA’s blanket prohibitions against community-benefit homeowner transfer fees collected by some condo associations when units change hands. In California, this ban alone has led to the loss of thousands of units from FHA financing – a huge problem in areas where affordability is tough and condos are the lowest-cost alternative for many consumers.
  • Relaxation of strict limits on commercial space in residential condo properties. Revenues from commercial leases are important to the financial health of urban condominiums, but current FHA caps render many buildings ineligible.

Copyright © 2016 the Boston Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Calculating Your Debt-to-Income Ratio

May 13, 2016

Calculating Your Debt-to-Income Ratio in 2 Easy Steps

 

Have you ever sat down and calculated exactly how much money you spend each month on bills? If so, you are already halfway to calculating your DTI. In essence, your debt-to-income ratio is the amount of money you have left over after paying all your monthly expenses. But if you want a bank to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars on loan to you, you have to get specific.

What Is Your DTI?   What the bank is trying to ascertain is whether you have enough money left over after paying all your debts each month to afford a mortgage payment; the lower your DTI ratio, the better your chances of getting a loan.   Your goal is to have a debt-to-income ratio that is lower than 35%. At 50%, most banks will turn you down because, for all intents and purposes, you are living paycheck to paycheck, and a mortgage payment would be too big of a financial risk to the bank. But at 35%, with debt taking up only around a third of your income, you have more than enough to cover the expense of a mortgage.   How to Calculate Your DTI   Debt is only half of the equation. The other half is how much income you bring in. That number is easy if you have only one source of income. You don’t count bonuses or gifts or any other irregular income.   1. Use all sources of regular income that you receive every month. That includes your salary, retirement income, Social Security, dividends, etc.   2. Next, divide your total monthly payments or debt by your monthly income. So what kinds of expenses or debts do you include? These debts will include amounts that you owe based on a contract, such as your rent, car payment, credit card payments and student loans.   You don’t, however, include expenses like electric, gas and other utilities that vary from month to month. You also don’t include taxes in your DTI calculation, either for your expenses or for your income. Use your total gross income before taxes.

Ways to Improve Your DTI   If you find out that you have a DTI that is 50% or higher, you will have to spend some time eliminating some of your debt and/or increasing your income before you are ready to buy a house. To improve your DTI, try:

  • Paying off debts.
  • Paying down credit cards (closing accounts can hurt your DTI).
  • Pay all bills on time for one year.
  • Refinance your debt (reduce your interest rate).

There are many websites that offer their own debt-to-income ratio calculators. Here are a few from Bankrate, Money Under 30 and Finance Solutions:


Feb. pending home sales up 3.5%

March 29, 2016

WASHINGTON – March 28, 2016 – Pending home sales rose solidly in February to its highest level in seven months, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). Led by a sizeable increase in the Midwest, all major regions except for the Northeast saw an increase in February contract activity.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, rose 3.5 percent to 109.1 in February from a downwardly revised 105.4 in January and it’s 0.7 percent higher year-to-year. The index has now increased year-over-year for 18 consecutive months, though last month’s annual gain was the smallest.

“After some volatility this winter, the latest data is encouraging in that a decent number of buyers signed contracts last month, lured by mortgage rates dipping to their lowest levels in nearly a year and a modest, seasonal uptick in inventory,” says Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

“Looking ahead, the key for sustained momentum and more sales than last spring is a continuous stream of new listings quickly replacing what’s being scooped up by a growing pool of buyers,” Yun adds. “Without adequate supply, sales will likely plateau.”

According to Yun, last month’s noticeable slump in existing-home sales had one silver lining: Price appreciation lessened to 4.4 percent, which is still above wage growth but more favorable than the 8.1 percent annual increase in January.

“Any further moderation in prices would be a welcome development this spring, particularly in the West, where it appears a segment of would-be buyers are becoming wary of high asking prices and stiff competition,” adds Yun.

Existing-homes sales this year are forecast to be around 5.38 million, an increase of 2.4 percent from 2015. The national median existing-home price for all 2016 is expected to increase between 4 and 5 percent. In 2015, existing-home sales increased 6.3 percent and prices rose 6.8 percent.

The PHSI in the Northeast declined 0.2 percent to 94.0 in February, but it’s still 12.6 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest, the index shot up 11.4 percent to 112.6 in February, and it’s now 2.5 percent above February 2015.

Pending home sales in the South increased 2.1 percent to an index of 122.4 in February but it’s 0.4 percent lower than last February. The index in the West climbed 0.7 percent in February to 96.4, but it’s now 6.2 percent below a year ago.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®


The annual hot home buying season starts April 1

March 16, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. – March 14, 2016 – Sellers, start your pressure washers. Buyers, hold off on purchasing new furniture for your future abode.

April 1 marks the beginning of sellers’ season for residential real estate, a four-month span during which more than 37 percent of homes for sale in the Tampa Bay region will get new owners.

Right now, it’s a sellers’ market, but that doesn’t mean those putting their homes on the market don’t have to spruce up and make repairs before sticking that sign out front.

“You have buyers coming out of the woodwork after the winter and looking to purchase,” said Daren Blomquist, chief economist for real estate research firm RealtyTrac. And a lot more houses will go on to the market, so there will be competition.

“Homes tend to sell faster in the spring because of the demand,” Blomquist said. Once school starts winding down, people are ready to look for their new locations.

“The first thing sellers need to do is look at their house with a critical eye,” said Barbara Jordan, immediate past president of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. “They really need to look at curb appeal, number one. Pressure wash the driveway, make it bright, get rid of the mold from last summer’s humidity and rain.”

Weed out the flower beds and throw down some new mulch, Jordan said. And pressure wash the front door – first impressions matter.

It is also really important to make sure all major systems in the house are functioning, including electrical, plumbing and air conditioning.

“If you have been living with leaking fixtures for months, fix them,” Jordan said.

A roof can be a real show-stopper, she said. “In order to get insurance, a roof must have three years of life left on it. The typical lifetime for a roof is 15 to 17 years. If you are coming up on 12 years, you need to take a critical look at it.”

Realtor.com suggests all homeowners do their own walk-throughs. Look for leaks under sinks and around toilets, water stains on ceilings or near doors and windows, wood rot around outside doorframes or window ledges.

Cracks in walls and floors or doors that don’t shut correctly can be red flags to buyers, Realtor.com warns. Inspect for these things inside and outside the house.

In between all that, get rid of the clutter, Jordan said. “Too much stuff and boxes in corners need to go.

Patio areas, especially in Florida, can sell homes, she said. “Make sure the patio is pressure washed, get rid of the weeds between the pavers and put out some flowers.”

And here’s a critical tip, she said. Get wide-angle professional photos of the house that can be posted on the Internet. That’s where buyers will first find a house they are interested in purchasing.


Average rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 3.62%

February 26, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) – Feb. 25, 2016 – Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week as anxiety over the global economy persisted. Long-term rates resumed their decline after being unchanged last week following six straight weeks of easing.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 3.62 percent from 3.65 percent last week. That puts it well below the 3.80 percent it marked a year ago.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages declined to 2.93 percent from 2.95 percent last week.


Pending Home Sales Tick Up in December

February 19, 2016

WASHINGTON (January 28, 2016) — Pending home sales were mostly unchanged in December, but inched forward slightly, fueled by a large increase in the Northeast that outpaced declines in the other three major regions, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, crawled 0.1 percent to 106.8 in December from a downwardly revised 106.7 in November and is now 4.2 percent above December 2014 (102.5). The index has increased year-over-year for 16 consecutive months.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says contract activity closed out the year on stable footing but lost some momentum, except for in the Northeast. “Warmer than average weather and more favorable inventory conditions compared to other parts of the country encouraged more households in the Northeast to make the decision to buy last month,” he said. “Overall, while sustained job creation is spurring more activity compared to a year ago, the ability to find available homes in affordable price ranges is difficult for buyers in many job creating areas. With homebuilding still grossly inadequate, steady price appreciation and tight supply conditions aren’t going away any time soon.”

According to Yun, although healthy labor market conditions will persuade more households to buy, it’s possible overall demand could be somewhat curtailed in coming months. The stock market’s sizeable losses since the start of the year and the effect slowing manufacturing activity is having in some areas — especially in the energy sector — could cause some to hold off on buying.

“The silver lining from the market turmoil in recent weeks is the fact that mortgage rates have slightly declined,” says Yun. “Buyers looking to close on a home before the spring buying season begins may be rewarded with a mortgage rate at or below 4 percent.”

Existing-homes sales this year are forecast to be around 5.34 million, an increase of 1.5 percent from 2015. The national median existing-home price for all of this year is expected to increase between 4 and 5 percent. In 2015, existing-home sales increased 6.5 percent and prices rose 6.8 percent.

Rents — which have far outpaced wages in recent years — are expected to slightly slow to 3.3 percent growth in 2016 from 3.6 percent a year ago. Multifamily housing starts are expected to reach 420,000 units this year, the highest level since 1987.

The PHSI in the Northeast increased 6.1 percent to 97.8 in December, and is now 15.3 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest the index decreased 1.1 percent to 103.6 in December, but is still 3.6 percent above December 2014.

Pending home sales in the South declined 0.5 percent to an index of 119.3 in December but are 1.0 percent higher than last December. The index in the West decreased 2.1 percent in December to 97.5, but remains 3.4 percent above a year ago.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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*The Pending Home Sales Index is a leading indicator for the housing sector, based on pending sales of existing homes. A sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed, though the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing.

The index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. In developing the model for the index, it was demonstrated that the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.

An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined. By coincidence, the volume of existing-home sales in 2001 fell within the range of 5.0 to 5.5 million, which is considered normal for the current U.S. population.

NOTE: Fourth quarter of 2015 metropolitan area home prices will be released February 10, Existing-Home Sales for January will be reported February 23, and the next Pending Home Sales Index will be February 29; release times are 10:00 a.m. ET.