When the economy was struggling following the financial crisis and housing crash, interest rates were kept low to encourage economic activity. However, as the economy and job market have improved, the Fed has gradually begun to raise rates. This is part of the reason mortgage rates are higher than they were last year at this time. But, though there has been a slight upward trend, more recently, rates have been somewhat flat. Joel Kan, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s VP of economic and industry forecasting, told CNBC there’s a reason for this and it can be seen in the results of the MBA’s most recent measure of mortgage application demand. “Treasury yields were up slightly thanks to the Fed signaling more rate hikes this year, the strong economy, and low unemployment,” Kan said. “But continuing trade tensions between the U.S. and China kept Treasury rates down, which meant mortgage rates were unchanged from the week before.” In short, though the economy is strong, global economic uncertainty has been keeping rates from moving significantly higher in recent weeks. Still, despite flat rates, the MBA found demand for mortgage loans was also relatively unmoved from one week earlier. More here.
Searching for a home to buy can be frustrating. Mostly because it’s not always easy to find a house in the right neighborhood with every one of the features you dreamed of. If you find the perfect kitchen, the house will have too few bedrooms. Or you’ll find a house with the right number of bedrooms and the kitchen will be too small. In other words, buying a house means compromise. And, in today’s market, buyers are having to make difficult choices. For example, a new analysis from the National Association of Realtors’ consumer website found that for 73 percent of recent buyers school district was an important factor in deciding which house to buy. But, among those buyers, nearly 80 percent said they had to give up other home features in order to find a house in their preferred district. Some of the features these buyers said they gave up included a garage, a large backyard, an updated kitchen, and an outdoor living area. In short, you might not get everything you want in one house. So prioritize your wish list and know what’s most important to you. More here.
New numbers from the National Association of Realtors show sales of existing homes were basically flat in June and are now 2.2 percent lower than they were at the same time last year. And yet, buyer demand has been high all year. So why aren’t more homes selling? Well, according to Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, it’s because there are too few homes for sale. “The root cause is without a doubt the severe housing shortage that is not releasing its grip on the nation’s housing market,” Yun says. “What is for sale in most areas is going under contract very fast and, in many cases, has multiple offers.” In short, if there were more homes for sale, sales numbers would likely be up and prices would be coming down. That’s why it’s encouraging that the total number of homes for sale was up 4.3 percent last month and is now just slightly higher than at the same time last year. But, despite rising inventory, there still aren’t enough homes to match current buyer demand in many markets.
Maintenance is a big part of being a homeowner. Put simply, owning a home means having a never-ending to-do list and, depending on your level of know-how, some of it will require the help of a professional. These jobs can range from major renovations such as putting an addition on your house to basic upkeep and repairs like having ducts cleaned and fixing leaks. Essentially, you are your home’s temporary caretaker and how well you take care of it will affect not only how comfortable and enjoyable your home is to live in but also how much you can ask for it when you sell. These days, it seems Americans are increasingly interested in fixing up their homes. In fact, newly released data from the National Association of Home Builders shows home remodeling contractors are busy right now. So what kind of jobs are most in demand? Well, results show demand is highest for basic maintenance and repairs, while additions and alterations – both major and minor – saw slight declines during the second quarter. In short, Americans are tackling their to-do lists and fixing up their homes. This could be due to improved economic conditions and a stronger job market, though it may also be that current homeowners are tending to their homes in hopes of listing them someday soon. More here.
Income inequality is a hot topic these days. But what about housing market inequality? Well, a recent analysis looked at 50 of the largest metropolitan areas with an eye for which had the biggest city-wide disparity between high-end homes and the lowest-priced available homes. The results may surprise you. That’s because, the housing markets with the widest range between the high and low end of the market aren’t necessarily the markets that would immediately come to mind. In other words, cities like San Francisco – which features some of the country’s highest priced homes – were more equal than Midwestern cities where the cost of living is much lower. In fact, the number one most unequal housing market was Detroit, where the home values range from $32,000 to $431,000. Salt Lake City, on the other hand, was the most equal market, with median prices between $191,000 to $597,000. In this case, inequality might just be better for buyers. That’s because, the most unequal markets offer a wider range of prices for buyers to choose from, which means home buyers at all ends of the spectrum will have an easier time locating something that fits their budget. More here.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, demand for mortgage applications was down 2.5 percent last week. But, though there was a decline in the overall number of home buyers looking to secure financing, there was an increase in buyers seeking loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. And, since FHA loans typically have lower down payment requirements, this could be a indication that, despite the market’s current challenges, first-time home buyers are returning. Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, told CNBC last week’s results provide some evidence of that. “The mix of business changed, with FHA purchase volume increasing as conventional and VA volume decreased,” Fratantoni said. “This indicates that more first-time buyers are entering the market, even as the market as a whole continues to be restricted by tight inventories of homes available for sale.” Also in the report, average mortgage rates saw little movement last week, with rates virtually unchanged across all loan categories. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications.
This summer, home buyer demand has been high while the supply of homes for sale has remained lower than normal. But, if you’re a builder, those are perfect conditions. After all, when there are more buyers than homes, building more homes is the quickest way to balance the market. Because of that, the National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index – which measures builder confidence on a scale where any score above 50 indicates more builders view conditions as good than poor – has seen an uptick in optimism this year. Builders have been generally positive about the new home market and their prospects for the year. In July, for example, the index scored a 68, with components measuring sales conditions and expectations for the next six months in the mid 70s. In other words, builders are feeling good. And that’s encouraging news for prospective home buyers, as more new homes can help alleviate upward pressure on prices. But Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist, says it’s not all good news. “Builders are encouraged by growing housing demand, but they continue to be burdened by rising construction material costs,” Dietz said. “Builders need to manage these cost increases as they strive to provide competitively priced homes, especially as more first-time home buyers enter the housing market.”
With rental costs and home prices both increasing, it’s become more challenging for renters to save for a down payment. How much so? Well, according to one recent analysis, the typical renter will have to save for nearly six and a half years to come up with a 20 percent down payment on a median-priced home. And, since the median home value is currently $216,000, depending on your prospective neighborhood, it could take even longer to save up for a house. Renters who aspire to homeownership shouldn’t get discouraged, though. Despite the fact that a 20 percent down payment is the standard amount recommended by financial experts, it is not a requirement in order to buy a house. In fact, depending on the particular terms of your mortgage, you can put down as little as 3 percent. In 2017, for example, 29 percent of first-time buyers had a down payment between 3 and 9 percent. That’s why it’s important to explore your options before deciding homeownership is out of reach. More here.
The vast majority of surveyed Americans say that homeownership is among their retirement goals, according to a recent survey. In fact, 85 percent of non-retiree respondents said they want to own their own home in retirement and believe they can pay off their mortgage before they retire. But, though non-retiree participants feel like they’ll have their mortgage paid off in time, more than 25 percent of retired respondents said they’re still paying off a mortgage and over half of those had a balance of more than $50,000. In short, Americans may be a bit too optimistic. But regardless of whether or not they make it, the debate about homeownership and retirement will continue. On the one hand, tax breaks and equity make a good case for the wealth-building benefits of owning a home. But, on the other hand, property tax, maintenance and potential renovation costs can add unpredictability to a household budget that may largely be fixed. In the end, which situation is the right one for you will ultimately depend on your personal finances, assets, and outlook – as there is no one-size fits all strategy for meeting your retirement goals. More here.
The challenge of finding an affordable entry-level home in today’s housing market gets a lot of coverage. First-time buyers facing higher rent, difficulty saving for a down payment, and low inventory are an important demographic and their habits have implications for the overall health of the market. But, at the same time as the starter-home market has been hot, demand for luxury homes has also ramped up. In fact, new research shows sales of homes $1 million and higher are up 25 percent over last year – which represents the largest jump since January 2014. In short, the improved economy and job market has also led to an increase in demand for luxury homes, the same way it has elevated demand across all segments of the housing market. Among specific regions, northern California leads the pack with four of the top 10 fastest-growing luxury markets. Other fast-growing markets include Denver, Seattle, and Nashville, which all have seen homes on the high-end of the market going under contract in fewer days than at this time last year. More here.