Archive for the Mortgage Rates Category

Thoughts About the Latest Fed Action on Rates….

Posted in American Economy, Buying a Home, Mortgage Rates, Real Estate Prices on August 18, 2011 by David Griffith

Is the Fed Preventing a Housing Market Rebound?

Daniel Indiviglio, August 18, 2011

Its latest policy to keep interest rates near zero through mid-2013 could backfire and prevent home sales instead of encouraging them

Basic economic theory says that when mortgage interest rates are low, consumers should feel more encouraged to buy a home. But right now, that intuitive theory might not hold. Kathleen Madigan at Real Time Economics proposes that the Federal Reserve’s latest proclamation — that short-term interest rates would be kept near zero through mid-2013 – might discourage home buying. Could this be possible?

When Certainty Can Hurt

This might seem like a backwards idea. To be sure, the last thing that the Fed would aim for is to make the housing market worse off. So why would it allow one of its policies to keep home sales artificially low? This might be an unfortunate and unintended consequence of its desire to calm the broader market.

The logic works here because home prices are declining. Nobody is sure how far they might fall or when they’ll finally hit bottom. But we can feel fairly confident that prices aren’t there yet. But what do we now know? Interest rates will be low for another two years. So why hurry to buy a home now?

Savvy potential home buyers who can wait the market out now have a good reason to do so. They don’t have to worry about interest rates rising before the market bottoms. Instead, they can wait for the market to continue to decline. If it appears to bottom out in the next two years, then they can step in and finally buy at that time. But if prices keep declining over this period, then they’ll be smart to buy in the first half of 2013, just before interest rates might begin rising. In the near-term, you might be better off waiting.

This actually makes a lot of sense. Prior to the Fed’s August revelation, one of the best arguments for why it might make sense to buy a home in the near future was that interest rates will rise. As long as the Fed is holding them down, then this argument begins to disintegrate.

Some Reasons to be Skeptical

But there are a couple of reasons why the Fed’s action might not endanger home sales.

Mortgage Interest Tracks Long-Term Rates

First, the Fed’s action specifically targets short-term interest rates. They’ll certainly be very low through mid-2013. But a 15-, 20-, or 30-year mortgage will face prevailing long-term interest rates. While short-term interest rates often have some influence over longer-term rates, the two aren’t always directly correlated. In other words, we could see longer-term interest rates begin to rise even as short-term rates are kept low.

For example, in October, the government may no longer guarantee very large mortgages in some markets. That should cause their interest rates to rise a little, since banks and investors will add a default risk premium to those rates. These and other market shocks specific to housing or longer-term rates could still affect mortgage interest rates.

Home Price Movements Are Regional

Second, home prices may continue to decline nationally, but some markets will stabilize faster than others. Some already appear to be healing. So the question of whether to take advantage of low interest rates really depends on where you want to buy a home. In worse-off markets, it may be wise to wait. But in markets showing signs of recovery, low rates might make now the perfect time to buy.

Will the Fed’s Words Do More Harm Than Good?

Are we seeing this theory in action? We actually might be. On Wednesday, the Mortgage Bankers Association revealed that mortgage purchase applications plummeted 9% last week to their lowest level in more than a year. While they explained the reason for this decline as general consumer nervousness, what if the Fed was partially responsible? It did, after all, announce its new policy on Tuesday afternoon last week.

If this counterintuitive theory holds, then the Fed might want to revisit its decision. The U.S. economy would benefit significantly if home sales began to rebound. Residential investment is providing very little support to the nation’s economic growth at this time, and the construction sector remains one of the hardest hit by layoffs. Perhaps in this case, a little uncertainty could have been a good thing.

 

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The Next ‘Shoe to Fall’ for California Housing

Posted in Buying a Home, Doing Business in California, Mortgage Rates, Real Estate Prices on May 12, 2011 by David Griffith

Federal Retreat on Bigger Loans Rattles Housing

DAVID STREITFELD, On Wednesday May 11, 2011, 1:40 am EDT

MONTEREY, Calif. — By summer’s end, buyers and sellers in some of the country’s most upscale housing markets are slated to lose one their biggest benefactors: the deep pockets of the federal government. In this seaside community of pricey homes, the dread of yet another housing shock is already spreading.

“We’re looking at more price drops, more foreclosures,” said Rick Del Pozzo, a loan broker. “This snowball that’s been rolling downhill is going to pick up some speed.”

For the last three years, federal agencies have backed new mortgages as large as $729,750 in desirable neighborhoods in high-cost states like California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Without the government covering the risk of default, many lenders would have refused to make the loans. With the economy in free fall, Congress broadened its traditionally generous support of housing to a substantial degree.

But now Democrats and Republicans agree that the taxpayer should no longer be responsible for homes valued well above the national average, and are about to turn a top slice of the housing market into a testing ground for whether the private mortgage market can once again go it alone. The result, analysts say, will be higher-cost loans and fewer potential buyers for more expensive homes.

Michael S. Barr, a former assistant Treasury secretary, said the federal government’s retrenchment would be painful for many communities. “There’s always going to be a line, and for the person just over it it’s always going to be an arbitrary line,” said Mr. Barr, who teaches at the University of Michigan Law School. “But there is no entitlement to living in a home that costs $750,000.”

As the housing market braces for more trouble, homeowners everywhere have been reduced to hoping things will someday stop getting worse. In some areas, foreclosures are the only thing selling. New home construction is nearly nonexistent. And CoreLogic, a data company, said Tuesday that house prices fell 7.5 percent over the last year.

The federal government last year backed nine out of 10 new mortgages nationwide, and losses from soured loans are still mounting. Fannie Mae, which buys mortgages from lenders and packages them for investors, said last week it needed an additional $6.2 billion in aid, bringing the cost of its rescue to nearly $100 billion.

Getting the government out of the mortgage business, however, is proving much more difficult than doling out new benefits. As regulators prepare to drop the level at which they will guarantee loans — here in Monterey County, the level will drop by a third to $483,000 — buyers and sellers are wondering why they should be punished simply for living in an expensive region.

Sellers worry that the pool of potential buyers will shrink. “I’m glad to see they’re trying to rein in Fannie Mae, but I think I’m being disproportionately penalized,” said Rayn Random, who is trying to sell her house in the hills for $849,000 so she can move to Florida.

Buyers might face less competition in the fall but are likely to see more demands from lenders, including higher credit scores and larger down payments. Steve McNally, a hotel manager from Vancouver, said he had only about 20 percent to put down on a new home in Monterey County.

If a bigger deposit were required, Mr. McNally said, “I’d wait and rent.”

Even those who bought ahead of the changes, scheduled to take effect Sept. 30, worry about the effect on values. Greg Peterson recently purchased a house in Monterey for $700,000. “That doesn’t get you a palace,” said Mr. Peterson, a flight attendant.

He qualified for government insurance, which meant he needed only a small down payment. If that option is not available in the future, he said, “home prices all around me will plummet.”

The National Association of Realtors, 8,000 of whom have gathered in Washington this week for their midyear legislative meeting, is making an extension of the loan guarantees a top lobbying priority.

“Reducing the limits will put more downward pressure on prices,” said the N.A.R. president, Ron Phipps. “I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense.” But he said that in contrast to last year, when a one-year extension of the higher limits sailed through Congress, “there’s more resistance.”

Federal regulators acknowledge that mortgages will get more expensive in upscale neighborhoods but say the effect of the smaller guarantees on the overall housing market will be muted.

A Federal Housing Administration spokeswoman declined to comment but pointed to the Obama administration’s position paper on reforming the housing market. “Larger loans for more expensive homes will once again be funded only through the private market,” it declares.

Brokers and agents here in Monterey said terms were much tougher for nonguaranteed loans since lenders were so wary. Borrowers are required to come up with down payments of 30 percent or more while showing greater assets, higher credit ratings and lower debt-to-income ratios.

In the Federal Reserve’s quarterly survey of lenders, released last week, only two of the 53 banks said their credit standards for prime residential mortgages had eased. Another two said they had tightened. The other 49 said their standards were the same — tough.

The Mortgage Bankers Association has opposed letting the limits drop, although a spokesman said its members were studying the issue.

“I don’t want to sugarcoat this,” said Mr. Barr, the former Treasury official. “The housing finance system of the future will be one in which borrowers pay more.”

The loan limits were $417,000 everywhere in the country before the economy swooned in 2008. The new limits will be determined by various formulas, including the median price in the county, but will not fall back to their precrisis levels. In many affected counties, the loan limit will fall about 15 percent, to $625,500.

Monterey County, however, will see a much greater drop. The county is really two housing markets: the farming city of Salinas and the more affluent Monterey and Carmel.

Real estate records show that 462 loans were made in Monterey County between the current limit and the new ceiling since the beginning of 2009, according to the research firm DataQuick. That was only about 1 percent of the loans made in the county. But it was a much higher percentage for Monterey and Carmel — about a quarter of their sales.

Heidi Daunt, with Treehouse Mortgage, said loans too large for a government guarantee currently carried interest rates of at least 6 percent, more than a point higher than government-backed loans.

“That can definitely blow a lot of people out of the water,” Ms. Daunt said.

Can’t Get a Mortgage Loan – Join the Party!

Posted in American Economy, Buying a Home, Mortgage Rates, Real Estate Prices on April 6, 2011 by David Griffith

David Griffith’s Note: Another unintended consequence of our financial crisis, which we can blame on the failure of government watchdogs and Wall Street greed, is that the pendulum has now swung back too far in the other direction, from easy credit to non-existent credit, and home buyers can’t get a loan, even with great credit and substantial cash in the bank.

Les Christie, April 6, 2011

Yep, mortgage interest rates are low, but there’s a catch: It doesn’t matter how cheap rates are if you can’t get a loan.

And these days, only highly qualified borrowers can get financing — let alone the best rates.

Nearly a quarter of people who apply for loans are turned down, according to the Federal Reserve.

“Good borrowers with one or two blemishes on their credit are being denied credit,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

The denial rates tell only half the story. Many potential buyers aren’t even applying for loans because they assume they can’t get one.

“A lot of people know it’s very difficult to get a mortgage and they’re not even trying,” said Alan Rosenbaum, CEO of GuardHill Financial, a New York-based mortgage broker.

That shows up in credit scores for loans financed with backing from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The average credit score has risen to 760 from 720 a few years ago. For FHA loans, the average score has gone to 700 from 660. Loans made to borrowers with sub-620 scores are almost nonexistent.

Another factor keeping people out of the mortgage market is that lenders now require much more up-front cash. The median down payment for purchase is about 15%. During the housing boom, it approached zero.

On most loans, banks want 20% down. On $200,000 purchases, that’s $40,000, an insurmountable obstacle for many young house hunters. Or, in New York City, where the median home price is $800,000, buyers need $160,000 up front.

Industry insiders say all these factors have reduced the pool of buyers, lowering demand for homes and hurting prices.

“We feel it really reduces the demand for houses,” said Mike D’Alonzo, president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. “It’s an unbelievable buyer’s market, but there hasn’t been as much activity as you would expect because not as many people qualify for loans.”

Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Association of Home Builders said, “You only have to look at the recent sales reports to see what the impact of the credit crunch has had. The statistics speak for themselves.”

Sales of existing homes in February, despite very affordable prices, were 30% off their peak, and home prices fell for the sixth consecutive month in January.

Anthony Sanders, director of Real Estate Entrepreneurship at George Mason University, speculates the tougher credit standards may have stripped as much as 30% of the buyers off the market, compared with normal times.

And it’s about to get harder for buyers. Federal regulators proposed rules last week that are designed to discourage risky lending but that will also likely further restrict lending.

Banks would be required to keep 5% of some loans, specifically those with less than 20% down payments, on their books rather than selling them all off as securities. As a result, banks make be unlikely to issue loans where less than 20% is put down. So much for first-time buyers.

“We think the new rules are appalling,” said the NAHB’s Howard. “Only the wealthy will be able to buy homes at low interest cost.”

It could also further erode consumer demand for homes.

“It’s disturbing,” said Lennox Scott, head of John LA. Scott Real estate in the Pacific Northwest. “We’re just starting to feel healthier in inventory levels and prices and this is a potential headwind.”

The immediate impact, should the new regulations get adopted, should be minor, according to Steve O’Connor, spokesman for the Mortgage Bankers Association. That’s because Fannie, Freddie and FHA loans are all exempt from the requirements and they represent more than 90% of the market right now.

The government, however, wants to reduce the presence of all three agencies in favor of private lenders, and banking experts fears the long-term impact of abandoning the field to mostly private companies.

“For the first time in 100 years,” said Howard, “the government is discouraging you. It’s saying ‘We intend to make it more difficult for you and your kids to buy homes.'”

Life Without Fannie or Freddie

Posted in Buying a Home, Mortgage Rates on March 6, 2011 by David Griffith

Without Loan Giants, 30-Year Mortgage May Fade Away

NEW YORK TIMES

by Binyamin Appelbaum  Friday, March 4, 2011

How might home buying change if the federal government shuts down the housing finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan, the steady favorite of American borrowers since the 1950s, could become a luxury product, housing experts on both sides of the political aisle say.

Interest rates would rise for most borrowers, but urban and rural residents could see sharper increases than the coveted customers in the suburbs.

Lenders could charge fees for popular features now taken for granted, like the ability to “lock in” an interest rate weeks or months before taking out a loan.

Life without Fannie and Freddie is the rare goal shared by the Obama administration and House Republicans, although it will not happen soon. Congress must agree on a plan, which could take years, and then the market must be weaned slowly from dependence on the companies and the financial backing they provide.

The reasons by now are well understood. Fannie and Freddie, created to increase the availability of mortgage loans, misused the government’s support to enrich shareholders and executives by backing millions of shoddy loans. Taxpayers so far have spent more than $135 billion on the cleanup.

The much more divisive question is whether the government should preserve the benefits that the companies provide to middle-class borrowers, including lower interest rates, lenient terms and the ability to get a mortgage even when banks are not making other kinds of loans.

Douglas J. Elliott, a financial policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Congress was being forced for the first time in decades to grapple with the cost of subsidizing middle-class mortgages. The collapse of Fannie and Freddie took with it the pretense that the government could do so at no risk to taxpayers, he said.

“The politicians would like something that provides a deep and wide subsidy for housing that doesn’t show up on the budget as costing anything. That’s what we had” with Fannie and Freddie, Mr. Elliott said. “But going forward there is going to be more honest accounting.”

Some Republicans and Democrats say the price is too high. They want the government to pull back, letting the market dictate price, terms and availability.

“A purely private mortgage finance market is a very serious and very achievable goal,” Representative Scott Garrett, the New Jersey Republican who oversees the subcommittee that oversees Fannie and Freddie, said at a hearing this week. “No one serious in this debate believes our housing market will return to the 1930s.”

Still, powerful interests in both parties want the government instead to construct a system that would preserve many of the same benefits, with changes intended to minimize the risk of future bailouts. They say the recent crisis showed that the market could not stand on its own.

“The kind of backstop that we have now, if it didn’t exist, we would have had a much more severe recession and a much sharper fall in home values,” said Michael D. Berman, chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, which represents the lending industry.

Hanging in the balance are the basic features of a mortgage loan: the interest rate and repayment period.

Fannie and Freddie allow people to borrow at lower rates because investors are so eager to pump money into the two companies that they accept relatively modest returns. The key to that success is the guarantee that investors will be repaid even if borrowers default — a promise ultimately backed by taxpayers.

A long line of studies has found that the benefit to borrowers is relatively modest, less than one percentage point. But that was before the flood. Fannie, Freddie and other federal programs now support roughly 90 percent of new mortgage loans because lenders cannot raise money for mortgages that do not carry government guarantees.

One prominent investor, William H. Gross, the co-head of Pimco, the major bond investment firm, has estimated that he would demand a premium of three percentage points to buy such loans — a cost that would be passed on to the borrower.

Proponents of a private market want the government gradually to withdraw its support, allowing investors to regain confidence. They argue that interest rates would eventually settle into roughly the same patterns that held before the financial crisis.

Some supporters of government backing also like the idea, believing that it will demonstrate the need for a backstop.

“I myself am eager to see whether there needs to be a guarantee,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a crucial Democratic voice on housing issues.

Fannie and Freddie also make ownership more affordable by allowing borrowers to repay loans with fixed-interest rates over an unusually long period. A person who borrows $100,000 at 6 percent interest will pay $600 each month for 30 years, compared to $716 each month for 20 years.

The 30-year loan first became broadly available by an act of Congress in 1954 and, from then until now, the vast majority of such loans have been issued only with government support. Most investors are simply not willing to make such a long-term bet. They prefer loans with adjustable rates.

Alex J. Pollock, a former chief executive of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago, said such loans would remain available in the absence of a federal guarantee, but they might be harder to find. And lenders might demand a larger down payment. Or a better credit score.

That would be a very good thing, said Mr. Pollock, now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Longer terms make ownership affordable only by increasing the total cost of the loan, because the borrower pays interest for a longer period. Moreover, Mr. Pollock noted that over the last several years, borrowers with adjustable-rate loans paid less as interest rates fell, while those with fixed rates kept paying the same amount for devalued homes.

“One of the reasons that American housing finance is in such bad shape right now is the 30-year mortgage,” he said, noting that such loans are not available in most countries. “For many people, it’s not at all clear that that’s the best product.”

Fannie and Freddie also allow a wide swath of the American public to borrow money at the same interest rates and on the same terms. Borrowers who did not meet their standards were forced to pay higher interest rates to subprime lenders, but the companies essentially persuaded investors to treat a vast number American families as if they were interchangeable.

They took messy bunches of loans, with risks as variable as snowflakes, and created securities of uniform quality, easy to buy and sell. The result was one of the most popular investment products ever created.

And in its absence, experts on housing finance say that fewer borrowers would qualify for the best interest rates.

Susan M. Wachter, a real estate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said a new government guarantee was needed to preserve a homogenous market.

“There needs to be a systematic way of preventing” fragmentation, said Professor Wachter. “That’s what we need a bulwark against. Because if there isn’t, it will occur.”

The government seems least likely to maintain a final set of benefits — leniencies in loan terms that taxpayers effectively have subsidized for borrowers.

Fannie and Freddie slashed the requirements for down payments in recent years, saying that they were helping people with minimal savings become homeowners. Two-thirds of the borrowers whose loans were guaranteed by the companies from 1997 to 2005 made a down payment of less than 10 percent. But borrowers who invest less default more often. The Obama administration has said that it wants the companies to demand a minimum down payment of 10 percent.

A quirkier example is the ability to “lock in” an interest rate. Fannie and Freddie permitted lenders to make such promises at no risk because the companies had already obtained commitments from investors. In the companies’ absence, borrowers seeking rate locks may need to pay for them.

How Global Events Affect Your Ability to Buy a Home

Posted in American Economy, Buying a Home, Doing Business in California, Mortgage Rates, Real Estate Prices on March 4, 2011 by David Griffith

Today we live in a global economy, an interconnected world where goods and capital move freely at lightning speed across countries. The widely accepted view is that globalization not only benefits all countries across the world but lends itself towards the betterment of the economy as a whole.

As we have seen, globalization can also have a negative impact with a domino effect in times of turmoil and unrest. This impact affects the financial markets both in the U.S. and abroad.

Flight to Safety When there is political unrest, which was sparked recently in Egypt and has spread like wildfire throughout the Middle East, global investors get nervous. Often they shed their risky assets like Stocks and flee to the safe haven of the U.S. Dollar and U.S. Bond market.

This geopolitical unrest can create a buying binge, which helps Bond prices improve. And when Bond prices improve, so do home loan rates. However, there are growing concerns that trump the disturbing news coming from the Middle East, which will be the guiding force of home loan rates in the times ahead. What might that be?

Inflation, Inflation, Inflation Inflation is the arch enemy of Bonds and home loan rates, even if inflation is across the pond. The increase in global unrest, not just in Egypt but in other parts of the world as well, is mostly attributed to economic factors – primarily runaway inflation in commodities and food.

The People’s Bank of China has raised interest rates a couple of times, most recently by 0.25% in an effort to head off a continued rise in consumer prices in China. The culprits? Soaring food prices and higher raw material costs lead the pack.

China has also tightened lending standards by requiring banks to raise their capital reserve requirements. In their latest reporting, China’s inflation rose by 4.9% year over year. This was lower than their expectations, however it still marked their highest reading in a couple of years. China may have to tighten their belt some more.

Brazil is appearing on the scene with the hottest rates of inflation in six years. They are attributing this to a rise in food costs and increased bus fares. It is anticipated the Central Bank will raise the benchmark interest rate in March for a second straight time in an effort to contain the spike in inflation.

The British are grappling with inflation as well. Their year over year reading struck a hot 4%, which is twice the rate of the Central Bank’s target. The UK has yet to address this with rate hikes because their economy is in such bad shape that any hike would make matters worse.

Inflation is beginning to become a problem in Europe where it has risen to 2.4%. This is super hot and well above the European Central Bank‘s (ECB) comfort zone of beneath 2%.

With an inflation problem in Europe, the ECB will eventually have to raise rates to fight it. When they do, the Euro will strengthen against the dollar, making European Bonds relatively more attractive than U.S. BondsThis attraction will likely put a damper on U.S. Bond purchases, and could also cause home loan rates to rise.

Many of these countries within Europe have a high number of union workers. They could very well demand pay increases to offset the higher cost of living resulting from inflation. This would exacerbate matters.

As we see signs of inflation around the world, the U.S. isn’t immune. With the second round of Quantitative Easing, known as QE2, the Federal Reserve’s stated goal is to boost Stock prices, create inflation, and lower the unemployment rate. These are all unfriendly to Bonds and could also cause home loan rates to move higher. As the old trading saying goes, “Don’t Fight the Fed.” It’s a bit like the Golden Rule, “He with the gold, rules.” If the Fed wants to accomplish these goals at the expense of Bonds, they probably will.

Some Good News Despite inflation rising around the world, the global economy will continue to recover and growth will continue to expand. Consumer confidence has picked up, hitting the highest level since February 2008. With continued confidence as the economy picks up speed, housing may begin to show signs of improvement as well.