Rates Remain Low / Housing Starts Tumble

Mortgage rates continue to hover near record lows with the rate on the benchmark thirty year flirting with 4.875% this week. The rate on the fifteen year fixed rate has dipped below 4.50% coming in at 4.375%. Thirty year rates on most government loan programs including FHA. VA and Rural Development have eased to 5%. Rates were helped this week after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech on Monday in which he cited “economic headwinds” as rationale for keeping rates low for the foreseeable future. Low interest rates helped keep the value of the dollar low against other major currencies and driven the price of gold to record highs in recent weeks as investors look for a safe alternative to the U.S. currency.
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Pending Home Sales Rise

The National Association of Realtors reported on Monday that the September Pending Home Sales Index jumped 6.1% t0 110.1 after a 6.4% rise in August. The big rise far surpassed analysts’ expectations who anticipated a more modest rise of 1.2%. Most economists contributed the large increase to the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 first-time homebuyers rushing to take advantage of the $8,000 tax credit set to expire on November 30th. To that end, many analysts are anticipating a drop in pending home sales after November 30th. The NAR report helped offset a Commerce Department report last Thursday that showed new home sales fell unexpectedly on September after rising for five straight months. Commerce said new home sales fell 3.6% in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 402,000. It was the first decline since March. Ironically, the drop was also attributed in part to the expiring first-time buyer credit. Go figure.
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Rates Lower – Single Family Starts Fall

We have had some good news on the housing front over the past week as the National Association of Homebuilders reported that builder confidence rose in September for the third consecutive month to its highest level since May of 2008. The Census Bureau also released a report on August home starts that showed builders broke ground on 598,000 new homes, up 1.5% from July.

The good news was tempered, however, by a surprising drop in the number of single family home starts. While overall starts were up, thanks to a resurgence in multi-family property starts, single-family starts actually fell 3% in August. Some analysts suggested the drop in single-family home starts could simply be an anomaly and point to the overall report as yet another sign that the housing market has bottomed.

Mortgage rates have continued to defy the rally in the stock market with the benchmark conforming thirty-year, fixed-rate settling in at 5.125% with no points. The fifteen year fixed also improved to just under 4.50% as the bond market continues to bet that the Federal Reserve will keep rates low for the foreseeable future. Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, has helped reaffirm this belief by stating that while the economy may be approaching the end of the recession the overall economy, and particularly job growth, are likely to remain weak for some time. With the apparent lack of any inflationary pressures on the horizon, the Fed is determined to keep monetary policy very accommodating to insure the economy does not slip back into recession. Over the short-run, I expect mortgage rates to remain in their current narrow range and could ease even further.

One late report out this week from the IRS said that, so far, 1.4 million first-time homebuyers have taken advantage of the $8,000 tax credit. The credit is due to expire on November 30th though there are already some calls from Congress that it should be extended. I’ll keep you posted.

Rates Ease and Home Prices Post Record Fall

Mortgage rates have eased since last week with the rate on the benchmark thirty-year, fixed-rate falling back below 5.50% to settle in at 5.375%. That’s a .25% improvement since last week’s spike up to 5.625%. Rate shave been benefiting form some profit taking in the stock market which has cooled a bit in August following it’s month long rally in July. This is interesting considering last Friday’s unemployment report for July showed far fewer jobs lost for the month than economists expected and an actual decline in the overall unemployment rate to 9.4%. News like this usually provides the impetus for renewing a stock rally as it indicates an economy that may be pulling out of recession and stocks did surge on the news but have since pulled back as worries that we’re not out of the woods yet continue to linger. I have felt all along that the optimism on Wall Street over the better part of this year has been premature and has put the cart well before the horse. The fact bond prices have remained high and rates low supports this theory.

After a plethora of good news on the housing front we finally received a sobering report on June home prices this week. The National Association of Realtors on Wednesday said that home prices fell a record 15.6% for the three month period ending June 30 compared with the same period in 2008. Analysts attribute much of the decline on the excess inventory of distressed properties on the market, those that are either in foreclosure or short-sales, as these properties on average sell at a 15% discount compared to non-distressed properties. Yet there was a glimmer of hope in the report as median home prices actually rose 4% and quarter-over-quarter home sales rose 3.8%. Though fairly typical of a normal spring buying season, it is yet another sign that the worst of the housing market correction may be behind us.

Rates Hold, Home Sales Picking Up

Mortgage Rates have managed to survive some significant volatility in both the equity and bond markets over the past week to remain at 5.50% for thirty-year, fixed-rates. Stocks reacted positively last week after some better than expected initial corporate earnings but have since pulled back on more sober earnings reports and a second monthly decline in consumer confidence. Bond market volatility has been driven by a reaction to stocks along with a massive $200 billion government debt auction this week.

It is expected that the Chinese and others will readily buy up this new debt but concerns linger as to how much of an appetite they will have in the long run as the Federal Reserve raises an unprecedented amount of cash to pay for stimulus and the purchase of mortgage-backed securities. As I have discussed before, it is this delicate balance between the issuance of new government bonds, creating excessive supply, and the purchase of mortgage-backed securities, to create demand, that has managed to keep rates low thus far. If bond prices can hold up through this week we should see reduced volatility and perhaps a slight dip in rates next week.

Last Friday the National Association of Realtors released June existing home sales figures that, while showing an increase of 3.6%, also showed prices of existing homes were 15.4% lower than in June of 2008. Still, the 3.6% increase in sales was slightly better than the 3.4% most economists had expected. On an even more positive note, the government said on Monday that new home sales rose by a whopping 11% in June to a seasonally adjusted 384,000 homes. And while that was still 21% below the same month last year, it still easily beat economists’ forecasts of 352,000 new homes sold.

Perhaps the best news of the week came on Tuesday when the Case-Shiller index of home prices was released for May showing that home values rose on a monthly basis for the first time in nearly three years. The .50% increase was the first month-over-month increase since July of 2006. The Case-Shiller index also showed that home prices for May were off some 17.1% in the 20 major markets but May also marked the fourth straight month where the year-over-year decline lessened in those markets.

I have been reporting a lot of real estate statistics over the past eight months and what jumps out at me most is that in January it seemed for every positive report on housing, there were two that were negative. . . a kind of ‘one step up and two steps back’ scenario. By the middle of the spring, I was reporting roughly a 50/50 split between good news and bad news but now, for the last several months, all I am seeing is positive news. Granted, much of it, though positive, has not exactly been enough to make one jump for joy for a resurgent real estate market but it has been encouraging nonetheless. Two things are abundantly obvious in the recent data. Home sales, both new and existing, are rising and home prices are stabilizing. This has what has long been needed to correct the oversupply of housing through lower prices and increased demand. Let us hope this positive trend continues.

The Beach Show – Our New Real Estate TV Show

Well, folks, here it is.  I’ve been talking about doing this for a while, I’ve been tweeting about it for weeks and we’ve finally gotten the kinks worked out.  The Beach Show is your ONLY internet TV show all about real estate in Panama City Beach.

Each week we’ll publish a video of the Three Hot Deals of the Week that show you what you need to be buying.  These deals will range from $60/foot attached townhomes to $150/foot beach-front cottages to new luxury homes in Wild Heron.  All of them are steals and most of them go under contract within a few days of them being featured – no necessarily from our efforts, but because they are hot deals.

The deals on the show will sell whether we feature them on the show or not, but the object is to get them in front of you before someone else buys them.  The real estate market may still be in the proverbial toilet, but there are still hot deals out there that disappear faster than you can say 3 Hot Deals of the Week!


Visit TheBeachShow.com and read the show notes.

Also, in addition to the 3 Hot Deals of the Week, we have two other segments we feature each week from our good friends Karen Smith and Hunter Palmer.  Visit TheBeachShow.com to read Real Estate Tips by Karen Smith and The Mortgage Minute from Hunter Palmer.