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Do current mortgage rates and housing indicators make this a perfect time to buy?

October 5th, 2012

Until recently, there have been four main reasons people have avoided either buying their first home or trading up to a better house:

  1. They think mortgage rates could go still lower, and have adopted a wait-and-see policy.
  2. They don’t want to buy an asset that’s likely to depreciate in value, and house prices have been falling.
  3. Their current home loan is “underwater” (their home is worth less than the amount they owe on their mortgage).
  4. Their credit score is so damaged they can’t get a mortgage.

Today, all those factors are turning around very quickly and it begs the question: Will there ever be a better time to buy a home?

Current mortgage rates at all-time lows

At the time of writing, current mortgage rates have hit an all-time low. By the time you read this, they may have moved up or down very slightly, but it’s highly likely that you could get a home loan at rates your parents would never have dreamed possible.

Freddie Mac reports that 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.36 percent with a 0.6 point during weekending October 4. That compares with 3.94 percent this time last year. Could they go down further? Who knows, but last week they were 3.40 percent. In any event, it seems unlikely they could fall by much and, if they do, you could always refinance.

House prices recovering

After years of traumatic falls, house prices are finally showing signs of a sustained recovery. On September 25, Reuters reported that home prices across the country rose in July for the sixth consecutive month. The report went on: “Six years after its collapse, economists believe the housing market has turned a corner.

One million+ fewer homes underwater

Also in September, CoreLogic published data that showed that 1.3 million American mortgages that were underwater at the end of 2011 “surfaced” during the first six months of this year. That’s a whole lot more people who can now purchase or refinance, and that could well boost the growth in property prices.

Credit scores improving

In yet another September report, Experian, one of the big-three credit bureaus, showed that the creditworthiness of Americans is slowly improving. The average Vantage credit score across the country is now up to 750. Again, this expands the pool of people who stand to be approved for mortgages, which could also help fuel the housing market recovery.

Is now the time to make your move?

Of course, you may be one of those whose home loan is still underwater and/or whose credit score remains badly damaged. However, if you are in a good position and have been putting off buying your first home or trading up, you may see these trends as a unique opportunity. You could now have a chance to cheaply buy an appreciating asset at an incredibly low mortgage rate. Wait, and you may find the best bargains gone and home loan rates rising again.

Of course, if there’s one thing we’ve learned in recent years, it’s that there is no such thing as certainty in financial matters, and trends can quickly reverse. Nevertheless, these indicators point to an exceptional opportunity for home buyers right now, making the thought of acquiring that dream home irresistible.

Peter Andrew

Peter Andrew has over 25 years of experience writing about marketing, advertising and management. He regularly covers consumer credit card topics for IndexCreditCards.com and other personal finance publications including Fox Business, TheStreet and MSN Money. He also writes frequently about mortgages and auto loans. Peter has spent extended periods living overseas, in the UK, France and Africa. He lives with his partner of 20+ years, and wastes too much of his time on cryptic crosswords.

Should you get a mortgage if you have bad credit?

March 18th, 2011

Advertisements promising mortgages for those with bad credit are a dime a dozen. But often, the claims are exaggerated and mortgage loan applicants are turned down because they are seen as too big of a risk. When people are approved for a loan even though they don’t have great credit, they end up paying more because of high interest rates. You may be determined to not let having bad credit keep you from getting a mortgage, but should you really get a loan?

Not-so-ancient history

The reason mortgage lenders review your credit history is to determine what kind of consumer you are. Having bad credit is a sign that something in your past and present has kept you from being financially responsible. Maybe you fell on hard times after a job layoff, divorce or major illness in your family. However you got to where you are, money has been handled in a way that indicates that lending money to you at this time might be a mistake.

Questions for you

Getting a home loan is a major financial decision that can really backfire if not handled properly. Ask yourself the following questions before applying for a mortgage:

  1. Are you really ready to take on the payments for the mortgage loan, taxes and insurance? Tax payments are set by your town based upon a property assessment, but mortgage and insurance payments will be affected by your credit score.
  2. Why can’t you wait to buy a home? Are you currently living in a rental and having difficulty keeping up with the monthly payments? Getting a mortgage loan isn’t going to improve that dilemma in most cases. Remember, owning a house means you’ll be responsible for repairs, upgrades, yard work and anything else that comes up.
  3. Why should mortgage lenders trust you to repay a loan? Be honest about your financial behavior up to this point. Have you been dishonest with others and yourself when dealing with bill collectors and creditors? Are you constantly making excuses for why you’re late with payments? Do you tell your kids or other family members to lie to bill collectors when they call? These are signs that you probably are not ready to get a home.

Repair credit before mortgage application

The bottom line is that going through the steps to repair credit can prepare you for getting a mortgage loan down the line. If you need help doing this, find a reputable debt counseling agency in your community.

All-cash deals made up 28 percent of home purchases in 2010

March 4th, 2011

Having enough money to purchase a home outright might seem like a fantasy, but 28 percent of all homes bought in 2010 were all-cash deals, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Areas that had more depressed housing markets had more all-cash purchases.

Among the areas that saw a lot of these purchases is Miami-Fort Lauderdale, were over 50 percent of purchases involved cash buyers. About 42 percent of real estate purchases in Phoenix were all-cash deals.

“The prices were just irresistible,” Richard Stoker, who paid cash for two condos in Miami Beach, Fla., told the Wall Street Journal. “Florida’s been hit pretty hard.”

No mortgage loans

Buyers who pay with cash may receive a discount off the price of a home.They also have the freedom that comes with owning a property free and clear of a mortgage. Often people who are able to purchase a house with cash are investors. According to San Diego-based DataQuick, “All-cash deals have become popular in many Western markets where prices have dropped sharply, luring investor buyers who don’t always qualify for traditional mortgages. Moreover, sellers favor the relative speed and certainty of all-cash transactions.”

While investors are more likely to do all-cash deal, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t buyers out there who can afford to buy a home without a mortgage. The Money Saving Mom blog describes in a series of articles how one couple scrimped and saved to get the money they needed to buy a home in an all-cash deal. Buying a home with cash isn’t for everyone and requires a lot of sacrifices and careful planning. To determine if it is even possible to aim for the goal of buying a house with cash, you may need to work with a financial advisor to put together a plan.

What if you need a mortgage?

If, however, paying cash is too unrealistic of a goal to achieve, you’ll need to plan for getting a home loan if you want to buy a house. Be prepared to provide plenty of documentation about your income and assets when applying for a home mortgage. You also want to have the best credit possible since many mortgage lenders expect you to have a credit score of at least 720 to qualify for the best mortgage rates.

Report shows African-Americans, Latinos are less likely to receive mortgages

February 24th, 2011

African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to receive mortgage loans as the housing crisis has deepened, according to a recent report from ComplianceTech, a provider of technology and mortgage data analysis for government agencies, nonprofits and financial institutions. The analysis of data from 2004 to 2009 shows that there are disparities in the availability of mortgage credit to African-Americans and Latinos. Members of these groups have more difficulty financing a home regardless of whether they are new home buyers or homeowners looking to refinance.

The sub-prime mortgage crisis

The analysis also debunks the erroneous notion that mortgage lending to minorities was at the root of the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Data in the report show that whites actually received the highest number and dollar volume of sub-prime mortgage loans, and are likely to have more mortgage loans in foreclosure. Whites received 4.1 million sub-prime mortgages between 2004 and 2009, Latinos 1.3 million, African-Americans 1.2 million and Asians 179,000.

The report states:

As the foreclosure crisis threatens the financial stability and mobility of families across the country, it will be particularly devastating to African American and Latino families, who already lag behind their white counterparts in terms of income, wealth and educational attainment. Furthermore, the indirect losses in wealth that result from foreclosures as a result of depreciation to nearby properties will disproportionately impact communities of color.Fewer prime mortgages

African-Americans and Latinos have lower origination rates and higher costs when they are approved for mortgages. Between 2004 and 2009 the market share of prime rate mortgage loans for African-Americans fell 62.67 percent and 61.62 percent for Latinos. The market share of prime rate mortgages grew 12.54 percent for whites and 19.6 percent for Asians.

All racial groups experienced a decline in the volume of prime mortgage loans. African-American prime loan volume plunged to $19.5 billion in 2008 from $82 billion in 2004. Latino prime mortgage loan volume fell to $40.2 billion in 2009 from $171 billion in 2004. Prime mortgage loan volume for whites fell to $876 billion in 2009 from $1.2 trillion in 2004, while Asians saw loan volume decline to $90.6 billion in 2009 from $121 billion in 2004. However, white and Asian borrowers saw increases in prime loan volume between 2008 and 2009, while African-Americans and Latinos experienced declines.

Cash-in refinances break record in 4th quarter

February 3rd, 2011

More homeowners than ever paid down mortgage loan balances while refinancing their homes in the fourth-quarter of 2010, according to Freddie Mac. During the period, 46 percent of homeowners who refinanced mortgages brought cash to closing to lower their principal balance. That is the highest “cash-in” share since Freddie Mac began tracking refinance activity in 1985.

Paying down mortgages and other debt

Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said in a statement:

Consumers are generally shedding debt, and mortgages are just another way they’re doing it. Between 2007 and the third quarter of 2010, mortgage debt declined more than $400 billion, according to the Fed. The estimated volume of net equity cashed out in our report do not account for the homeowners who have paid off their mortgages in their entirety.

Cash-out refinancing

Freddie Mac also reported that the percent of cash-out refinances, in which homeowners cashed out some home equity, fell to a record low. Borrowers who increased their mortgage loan balance by at least 5 percent accounted for 16 percent of mortgage refinancing. The cash-out refinance share has averaged 62 percent over the past 25 years.

Getting a cash-out refinance deal has gotten tougher for many borrowers as the housing crisis has dragged on. Lower home values, high unemployment and tougher lending standards all have put the brakes on the my-house-is-a-piggy-bank mentality that swept America before the housing downturn.

Taking advantage of low mortgage rates

Some savvy homeowners who still have good credit have can use current market conditions to their advantage. Instead of using low mortgage rates to simply lower monthly payments, you can choose to also reduce the amount of principal being refinanced by bringing cash to closing. This strategy can give you a choice of making the new lower payments or continuing to pay down your mortgage faster by sticking with the higher payments you made before refinancing. Either way you end up paying out less interest over the life of the mortgage loan.

When shopping around to compare mortgage loans, let lenders know that you are interest in bring cash to closing to pay down the principal. This could work in your favor and allow you to get a better mortgage rate. Bring cash to closing also could push up your home equity enough to get rid of monthly mortgage insurance (MI) payments.

US home prices dropped 4.1 percent in 2010

January 7th, 2011

U.S. home prices fell 4.1 percent in 2010, according to a report from Clear Capital. The provider of data services for the real estate industry also said that home prices dropped in 70 percent of major markets, pressured by high unemployment and REO saturation above 22 percent during the year. REO saturation is the proportion of homes that are sold as bank-owned.

Is there a recovery?

Dr. Alex Villacorta, senior statistician with Clear Capital, said in a statement:

Some housing markets are well on their way to recovery, while others are experiencing a renewed downturn reminiscent of the housing crash only two years ago. Understanding which path a given market is likely to follow is dependent on several key factors, but the two clear drivers are local unemployment rates and the prevalence of distressed homes.

Housing markets change

Only eight major markets experienced double digit declines during the year, indicating that rapid and severe declines are subsiding. Those markets were Dayton, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wis.; Tucson, Ariz.; New Haven, Conn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Richmond, Va.

Of the 15 major markets that had price gains, six were in California, a state that has been hit hard by the housing crisis and had a lot of homeowners default on mortgage loans. Those markets were Riverside, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, and Fresno.

Home mortgage applications

Some housing markets were lifted by home buyers taking advantage of a government tax credit. The tax credit encouraged many people to apply for mortgages while interest rates were at or near historical lows. Without the tax credit some homeowners may not have enough money saved up for a mortgage loan down payment and may put off buying a house.

Markets expected to continue struggling

The clear Capital data indicates that housing markets in the West may continue to struggle this year, and that Arizona may post double digit declines. Major Arizona cities have unemployment below the national average, but REO saturation in Tucson is more than 12 percentage points above the national level and more than 19 percentage points for Phoenix.

California markets that improved this year and posted gains may not experience that again this year. Also, housing markets in the South also are expected to struggle, with four of the 10 worst declining markets being in that region.

Mortgage rates are up so should you apply for a loan now?

December 17th, 2010

Mortgage rates have risen over the past few weeks, contributing to a decline in mortgage applications. The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 4.83 percent this week, compared with 4.61 percent last week, according to Freddie Mac. This rate was 4.17 percent in November, the lowest point recorded by Freddie Mac since it began tracking rates in 1970.

Historical mortgage rates

Have you been dragging your fee about applying for a mortgage refinance or a loan to purchase a home? If so, don’t panic. While mortgage rates have risen during the past few weeks they are still near historic lows. For instance, if you had applied for a mortgage in October 1981, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages were averaging 18.45 percent, according to HSH Associates. Even as recently as 2008, mortgage rates rose above 6 percent.

Improve your profile as a borrower

Mortgage rates can change at any time, but that’s no reason not to shop around to find a good deal. Take steps now to make yourself a more attractive candidate for refinancing or a new home loan. Use the following tips to improve the chance of getting a mortgage:

  • Clean up your credit. Read your credit reports to find inaccurate or outdated information. Contact the credit reporting agency and creditors to clear up any mistakes. Do not wait until you are about to apply for a mortgage loan to do this.
  • Pay off as much debt as possible. Not only do credit cards have high interest, but having too much debt from them can keep you from getting approved for mortgage refinancing or a loan to purchase a property. The less high-interest debt you have, the more income you can put toward monthly mortgage payments.
  • Save as much as possible. Whether you are trying to refinance or buy a home, your ability to bring more cash to the closing can improve your chances of getting a loan. When buying a property, the larger the down payment, the less your monthly payments on a mortgage. If you are refinancing, bringing cash to closing–a cash-in refinance–can boost your home equity, making you a more attractive loan candidate to mortgage lenders.

Shop for mortgage deals

Mortgage rates may continue to climb, or they may fall again. You can’t time the market, so it’s not really worth it to try. If you really want to get a home loan to purchase a property or refinance, go ahead and do what you need to do to qualify for the best loan.

Rising “shadow inventory” could keep housing market down

November 27th, 2010

The “shadow inventory” of U.S. real estate rose to 2.1 million homes in August 2010, according to data from CoreLogic, a mortgage research firm. These numbers represent an 8-month supply of homes, compared to a 5-month supply, or 1.9 million homes, a year earlier.

Troubled home loans

Shadow inventory includes homes that are in foreclosure, homes that have mortgage loans that are at least 90 days past due, and real estate owned (REO) properties owned by mortgage lenders but not yet listed for sale. Shadow inventory usually is not included in official statistics about unsold properties. The visible supply of unsold inventory was 4.2 million units, unchanged from a year earlier.

The total supply of unsold homes at the end of August was 23 months, compared with 17 months a year earlier. Usually a supply of 6 to 7 months is considered normal.

“The weak demand for housing is significantly increasing the risk of further price declines in the housing market,” Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic, said in a statement. “This is being exacerbated by a significant and growing shadow inventory that is likely to persist for some time due to the highly extended time-to-liquidation that servicers are currently experiencing.”

Problems with shadow inventory

Homes included in shadow inventory may be difficult to sell even if they eventually are put on the market. They may be located in areas that have many distressed homes. The properties may need a lot of repairs before they can even be marketed properly.

Delinquent mortgage loans

Meanwhile, the delinquency rate for mortgage loans fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 9.13 percent of all loans outstanding at the end of the third quarter of 2010, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice President of Research and Economics, said in a statement:

“Most often, homeowners fall behind on their mortgages because their income has dropped due to unemployment or other causes. Although the employment report for October was relatively positive, the job market had improved only marginally through the third quarter, so while there was a small improvement in the delinquency rate, the level of that rate remains quite high. As we anticipate that the unemployment rate will be little changed over the next year, we also expect only modest improvements in the delinquency rate.”

The delinquency rate includes mortgage loans that behind at least one payment but not in the process of foreclosure. The quantity of home mortgages that were in foreclosure fell to 4.39 percent in the third quarter, down from the previous quarter and down from a year earlier.

FTC rule cracks down on mortgage relief firms

November 19th, 2010

A new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rule is aimed at cracking down on mortgage relief companies that make use deceptive practices. Some homeowners who are struggling financially have become victims of various mortgage relief scams that have proliferated during the housing crisis.

No advance fees for mortgage relief

The FTC rule makes it illegal for firms offering help with mortgage loans to collect advance fees before any services have been provided. Some companies that offer foreclosure rescue or loan modifications services have required homeowners seeking assistance to pay large sums of money upfront without delivering on their promises. Some of the companies claim that they are affiliated with the government and government programs that offer housing assistance.

“At a time when many Americans are struggling to pay their mortgages, peddlers of so-called mortgage relief services have taken hundreds of millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of homeowners without ever delivering results,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. “By banning providers of these services from collecting fees until the customer is satisfied with the results, this rule will protect consumers from being victimized by these scams.”

Documentation before collecting money

Now mortgage relief companies must provide written proof that a mortgage lender or servicer has agreed to make changes to a mortgage loan before any fees can be collected. Companies that offer help with mortgages also must inform consumers that they have the right to turn down an offer without paying any fees.

Mortgage relief firms also must disclose to consumers that:

  • They are not affiliated with or approved by the government
  • They are not affiliated with or approved by mortgage lenders
  • Mortgage lenders may not agree to modify home loans
  • If they tell customers to stop making payments on a mortgage, that they could lose their home and damage their credit

False claims about help with home mortgages

Mortgage relief companies also must refrain from making false claims about their services. Among those false claims are those that about the likelihood that customers will get the results they want, refund and cancellation policies, whether the company provides legal representation for consumers, and the amount of money a homeowner will save using the company’s services. The FTC rule also prohibits mortgage relief firms from telling consumers to stop communicating with their mortgage lenders or loan servicers.

Are mortgages with no down payment making a comeback?

September 5th, 2010

Think no-down-payment mortgages are dead because of the housing crisis? Think again. The Affordable Advantage program run by Fannie Mae has allowed some home buyers to purchase a property with only $1,000 as a down payment. The mortgage loan program helps people with moderate incomes purchase homes, and housing grants can be applied toward the down payment.

Four states pilot mortgage program

Only four states are offering the mortgage loan program at this point: Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. An article in the New York Times says the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority has issued 500 loans since March.

While it may seem risky to issue mortgages with low down payments, some housing experts seem to believe that the program’s requirements can cut the risk of homeowners defaulting. Only 30-year fixed-rate mortgages are available through the Affordable Advantage program. Risky adjustable-rate mortgage loans are not available.

Verifying borrower information

Homebuyers must have a credit score of at least 680 and live in the home purchased. Mortgage lenders also must verify the income and assets of home buyers, something that did not always occur before the housing crisis and contributed to a surge in sub-prime lending.

“In addition, we want to see what other lines of credit people have, and their performance. We look at their work history. We call their employers,” Kate Venne, spokesperson for the Wisconsin HFA, told the Washington Independent. The program helps borrowers if they become unemployed. Also, there is no requirement for mortgage insurance, which can bump up monthly fees.

Should you apply for a home loan?

If you live in one of the four states and are wondering whether or not to apply for a home mortgage through the program, here are some things to consider:

  • Are you really ready to take on mortgage payments and other expenses associated with home ownership? In addition to principal and interest, you need cash to cover homeowners insurance, property taxes, utilities, routine maintenance, and home repairs.
  • Would you rather save up a larger down payment to lower your monthly housing costs? Remember, the larger your down payment, the lower your monthly mortgage costs.
  • Do you need to clean up your credit to qualify for a home loan through the Fannie Mae program? Being on time with bill payments, reducing debt, and deleting outdated information in a credit report can help raise your credit score.

Finally, consider whether you are willing to buy a home in this economy. Housing prices and mortgage rates are low, making it a good time to buy a home. But home values could continue to fall even after you purchase a property. Honestly assess your tolerance for risk, as well as your commitment to staying in a home that could decline in value if the economy doesn’t improve.