Existing Home Supply

Home resales slipped more than 5 percent last month, putting a damper recent housing market enthusiasm.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, Existing Home Sales fell to 4.37 million units in June 2012 on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This is 250,000 fewer home sales per year as compared May’s figures which NAR has revised 2 percentage points higher.

The pace at which homes are selling has slowed, too. As compared to May, the Existing Home Supply rose 0.2 months. At the current pace of sales nationwide, the national home supply would now be exhausted in 6.6 months.

A home supply of 6.0 months is believed to mark a market in balance. There are currently 2.39 million homes for sale nationwide — the lowest total in 3 months and more than 24% below than the listed inventory at this point last year.

Other noteworthy statistics from the Existing Home Sales report include :

  • First-time buyers accounted for 32% of all purchasers in June, down from 34% in May
  • Real estate investors accounted for 19% of all purchasersin June, up from 17% in May
  • Cash buyers accounted for 29% of all purchasers in June, up from 28% in May

In addition, distressed sales as a percentage of all sales was unchanged in June as foreclosures sold for an average discount of 18 percent below market value. Short sales nationwide sold at an average 15 percent discount.

More on “distressed sales” : In June, distressed homes accounted for 25% of all home resales, the smallest percentage of homes sold with such status since the real estate trade group began tracking the data in 2008.

Despite falling home sales and rising home supplies, however, home resales are expected to return to growth in July. Last month’s Pending Home Sales Index spiked to a 2-year high, and 80% of homes under contract close within 60 days. This portends well for July’s Existing Home Sales data, due in 4 weeks.

Low mortgage rates and rising rents in San Diego and in many U.S. cities continue to fuel the U.S. housing market. Home buyers should expect higher home prices ahead.

Housing StartsNew construction housing is in a post-recession rally.

As reported by the Census Bureau, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, last month’s Single-Family Housing Starts rose 5 percent to 539,000 units nationwide. This is the highest reading since April 2010, the last month of that year’s federal home buyer tax credit.

A “housing start” is a new home on which construction has started.

June’s strong numbers also mark the fourth consecutive month during which Single-Family Housing Starts have climbed. This, too, has not occurred since April 2010.

The data is yet one more signal to Temecula home buyers that today’s new construction market has its worst days behind it.

Home builders think so, too.

Earlier this week, the National Association of Homebuilders released its monthly Housing Market Index, a metric which tracks homebuilder confidence. Home builders report higher sales levels and massive foot traffic as compared to just 12 months ago. They also expect second-half sales in 2012 to climb sharply.

It’s no wonder that home builder confidence rose to a 5-year high. Builders are building homes and buyers are buying them.

Today’s market for new homes has been spurred forward by low mortgage rates, but rising rents have played a part, too. In many parts of the country, a comparable home is less expensive to own than to rent, which creates an incentive for renters to buy homes instead.

The availability of low downpayment mortgage programs via the FHA and other government agencies helps as well.

It’s a good time to be home buyer. Mortgage rates are at all-time records, home prices remain low nationwide, and the real estate market is believed to be entering the beginning of a sustained, multi-year recovery.  

If you’re undecided about whether now is a good time to buy a new home, speak with your real estate agent. The cost of home ownership may never be as low as it is today.

NAHB Housing Market IndexHomebuilder confidence is soaring.

For the second time in three months, the National Association of Homebuilders reports that the Housing Market Index made sizable gains. 

The Housing Market Index measures homebuilder confidence in the new construction market and is scored between 1-100. Readings above 50 indicate favorable conditions in the single-family new home market. Readings below 50 indicate poor conditions.

The Housing Market Index leaped to 35 in July, a 6-point improvement and the index’s biggest one-month gain since September 2002.

The HMI is now up 14 points this year and is more than double its value of one year ago.

The Housing Market Index itself is a composite of three separate survey questions sent to NAHB members monthly. The questions are basic :

  1. How are market conditions for the sale of new homes today?
  2. How are market conditions for the sale of new homes in 6 months?
  3. How is prospective buyer foot traffic?

For July 2012, home builders reported huge gains. Current home sales are up 6 points; sales expectations for the next six months are up 11 points; and buyer foot traffic is up 6 points.

All three survey answers made 5-year highs. Not since 2007 has sales volume and foot traffic been as strong, and over the next 6 months, builders expect a blow-out finish to the year.

It’s no surprise, either.

Low mortgage rates throughout New York have lowered monthly housing payments to levels below monthly rent for a comparable home. Plus, programs such as the FHA 3.5% downpayment program continue to help first-time buyers get in homes.

There is a downside to rising homebuilder confidence, however. When builders feel more comfortable about their business and the prospects for the future, they’re less likely to make sales concessions to to offer free upgrades. If you’re shopping for new construction, therefore, consider moving up your time frame.

Home affordability remains historically high today. It may not be so tomorrow.

Foreclosure changes June 2012

The number of U.S. homes receiving foreclosure notices topped one million through the first six months of 2012, according to RealtyTrac.

There were 1.046 million foreclosure filings between January – June 2012, says the foreclosure-tracking firm in its Midyear 2012 Foreclosure Market Report. The tally represents a 2 percent increase from the immediate six months prior.

A “foreclosure filing” includes all of the following foreclosure-related actions : (1) Default notices, (2) Scheduled auctions, and (3) Bank repossessions. 

One notable fact from within the report is that, even as the number of repossessed homes dropped nationwide, the number of homeowners receiving a Notice of Default or lis pendens rose. These notices are the first step in the foreclosure process which means that we should expect the national foreclosure pipeline to fill later this year.

It’s no coincidence that foreclosure starts are rising now, either.

Earlier this year, a $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement provided banks with the necessary framework and rules by which they can foreclose upon a home. Prior to the this settlement, fearing legal liability, some banks chose to slow — or halt — foreclosure starts entirely. Since the settlement’s announcement, though, foreclosure activity has resumed.

For today’s Temecula home buyers, the foreclosure market represents an interesting opportunity. Homes purchased while in the various stages of foreclosure can often be purchased for a lower price than homes which are not in foreclosure; one reason why foreclosed homes account for 25 percent of all home resales

However, be careful that you don’t confuse “less expensive with “less costly.

Foreclosed homes are often sold as-is and may be in various stages of disrepair at the time of purchase. Spending money to repair a foreclosed home in order to make it habitable could wipe out the money saved on its sales price. Your best real estate “deal”, therefore, may be a non-distressed home in sound, move-in ready condition.

If you’re buying foreclosures — or even considering it — be sure to talk with a real estate agent. The process of buying a foreclosed property is different from buying a “regular” home. You’ll want somebody experienced on your team.

Brown lawnsDuring summer months, a lush, green lawn can transform into a brown one within weeks. And heat, while oftentimes a catalyst, is not always the culprit.

As a homeowner, you can take precautions to minimize the likelihood of a brown lawn.

First, let’s look at the reasons why a lawn may go brown, starting with drought stress.

Drought stress is a condition caused by excessive heat and/or lack of water. Drought stress can lead to dormancy, a normal condition for grasses of all types. A good test for draught stress is to step on one of the grass’ brown patches. If your footstep remains as an imprint in the grass, it’s likely that your lawn is water-deprived.

Brown spots from drought stress appear randomly and without pattern. This is different from brown spots that may occur because a sprinkler system is miscalibrated, or because some lawn sections are shaded whereas others are exposed to direct sunlight.

Lawns which have been dormant for long periods of time may need to be reseeded.

Drought stress also reduces your lawn’s natural defenses against pests and disease. This includes plant-based pests such as weeds which can starve your grass of much-needed food and water, as well as insects such as lawn grubs and chinch bugs. 

These two forces, as well, can lead to brownout.

Lastly, your grass may be dying. Either from a lack of aeration; or, cutting grass blades too short to provide “natural shade”; or, over-watering among other reasons, your grass may not live forever and, when it dies, it’s likely to thin and turn brown.

The good news is that each of these conditions is non-permanent. You may not have stopped your lawn from turning brown, but, generally, you can nurse it back to being green.

To water a brown lawn back to health, start with a steady watering schedule — typically 2 hours every few days (approximately 1 inch of water) — and be careful not to over-water. Then, just wait. It may take a lawn 3-4 weeks to return to its natural green color.

Then, to manage weeds, use an over-the-counter herbicide. For larger weed problems, get treatment by a professional lawn care company. The same is true for pests, too. Tackle them yourself but using a lawn care company can be more efficient and effective.

Revisiting predictions for 2012When the calendar flips to a new year, analysts and economists like to make predictions for the year ahead.

So, today, with the year half-complete, it’s an opportune time to check back to see how the experts’ predictions are faring (so far).

If you’ll remember, when 2011 closed, the housing market was showing its first signs of a reboot. Home sales were strong, home supplies were nearing bull market levels, and buyer activity was strong.

Homebuilder confidence was at its highest point in 2 years and single-family housing starts had made its biggest one-month gain since 2009. 

In addition, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates had just broke below the 4 percent barrier and looked poised to stay there.

There was a lot about which to be optimistic in January 2012.

Yet, there were obstacles for the economy. The Eurozone’s sovereign debt issues remained in limbo, oil prices were spiking, and the Unemployment Rate remained high — three credible threats to growth.

At the time, analyst predictions for the economy occupied both ends of the spectrum, and everywhere in between.

Freddie Mac said home prices would rise in 2012, for example, whereas analysts at CBS News said they’d fall. Both made good arguments.

As another example, American Banker said mortgage rates would rise in 2012. The LA Times, however, said just the opposite. And, the problem with these predictions is that each party can make such a sound defense of their respective positions that it’s easy to forget that a prediction is really just an opinion.

Nobody can know what the future holds.

A lot has changed since those predictions were made :

  • Job growth slowed sharply after a strong Q1 2012 
  • Oil costs dropped rapidly beginning in early-May
  • Spain and Italy have joined Greece as potential sovereign debt trouble-zones

Now, none of this was known — or expected — at the start of the year yet each has made a material change in the direction of both the housing and mortgage markets.

Today, home prices remain low and 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates now average 3.56% nationwide. Home affordability is higher than it’s been at any time in recorded history and, at least for now, low downpayment mortgage products remain readily available.

The experts never saw it coming.

6 months from now, the markets may be different. We can’t know for sure. All we can know is that today is great time to be a home buyer in San Diego. Home prices and mortgage rates are favorable.

FOMC Fed MinutesThe Federal Reserve released the minutes from its June Federal Open Market Committee meeting, revealing a Fed divided on the future of the U.S. economy. Mortgage rates are higher after the release of the minutes.

The Fed Minutes is the detailed recap of an FOMC meeting. It is the companion piece to the more brief, more well-known post-meeting FOMC press release.

For a comparison, whereas the Fed’s June 20, 2012 press release contained 5 paragraphs and 490 words, the same meeting’s minutes contain 62 paragraphs and 7,508 words. The extra detail afforded by the extra words Wall Street gives insight into the nation’s central banker.

The June Fed Minutes, for example, suggest that the Fed may soon add new economic stimulus. 

Recent data suggests that the U.S. economy is expanding, but more slowly that it was at the start of the year. The Fed acknowledged that this, in part, is the result of “below-trend” growth in Euro-area economies, plus a general slowdown in China.

The Fed also said that “strains in global financial markets” continue to pose “significant downside risks” to the U.S. economy. The Fed expects U.S. growth to “moderate over coming quarters”.

Other notes from with the Fed Minutes included : 

  • On housing : Home sales, construction and prices suggest improvement
  • On inflation : Prices are stable, and inflation will remain “subdued” through 2014
  • On new policy : Rapid fiscal tightening poses a “downside risk” to the economy

In addition, there was discussion about whether the Fed is missing its dual mandate of low inflation and low unemployment. Several Fed member discussed the need for new stimulus to raise employment and to raise the rate of inflation. This action could occur as soon as next month.

If the stimulus was enacted, mortgage rates would likely rise because inflation, in general, is a threat to low mortgage rates.

The next Federal Open Market Committee meeting is a 2-day affair scheduled for July 31-August 1, 2012.