Existing Home Sales (Feb 2010 - Feb 2011)Existing Home Sales fell 10 percent last month, according to a report from the National Association of REALTORS®.

On an annual basis, 4.88 million homes were sold in February — the first time annualized home resales dropped below 5,000,000 since November 2010.

An “existing home” is one that’s not considered new construction.

And it’s not just sales volume that’s down. Home inventory is higher, too. At the current pace of sales, the number of months needed to sell the complete home resale inventory rose by 1.1 months, to 8.6 months nationally.

It’s the biggest one-month jump in supply since July 2010 — the month after last year’s federal home buyer tax credit program expired.

The data is somewhat unexpected, too. NAR’s Pending Home Sales report is a reliable predictor for the housing market and, based on recent findings, home sales were projected to climb in February. It’s unclear why they didn’t.

Regardless, the February sales data reveals an interesting breakdown by buyer-type. Notably, the percentage of first-time home buyers in the market grew by more than any other segment.

  • First-time home buyers : 34% of all sales, +5% from January
  • Repeat buyers : 47% of all sales, -1% from January
  • Real estate investors : 19% of all sales, -4% from January

Cash buyers represented 33 percent of all sales, up 1 tick from the month prior.

For Peoria home buyers, February’s Existing Home Sales data suggests more home supply and lower home prices this spring. However, rising mortgage rates could eliminate the monthly savings attributed to falling home values.

To get the most from your mortgage-buying dollar, lock while rates are low.

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Fed Funds Rate vs 30-Year Fixed Rate MortgageMortgage markets improved again last week despite an inflation-acknowledging statement from the FOMC and stronger-than-expected jobless data.

Usually, events like this would lead mortgage rates higher, but violence in the Middle East and worsening fear for public safety in Japan took center stage instead, spurring a massive, global flight-to-quality instead.

Rate shoppers in Peoria  benefited.

As safe haven buying increased last week, conforming mortgage rates dropped, falling to their lowest levels since January. It marked the 5th straight week through which mortgage rates improved and is the longest such streak since August 2010.

This week, rates may run lower again. You may not want to gamble on it, though. Here’s why.

In general, when there’s inflation in the U.S. economy, mortgage rates rise. This is because inflation devalues mortgage bonds, the underlying security on which mortgage rates are based.

So, last Tuesday, the Federal Open Market Committee met and in its post-meeting press release, the group said inflation pressures were building, a signal that rates should rise. It then went one step further.

To keep the economy from slipping back into recession or into disinflation, the FOMC also said it plans to keep its existing monetary policies in place for the foreseeable future.  This, too, is considered inflationary — another signal that rates should rise. And they did. 

Immediately following the FOMC announcement, mortgage rates spiked. But it didn’t last.

Starting Wednesday, the battles in Libya grew more intense, and Japan battled with its own domestic crisis (i.e. a potential nuclear meltdown). The economic implications of the events spurred the purchase of “safe” assets, and mortgage bonds improved.

And this is why mortgage rates won’t stay low for long.

Eventually, Wall Street will come to terms with Libya and Japan and the flight-to-quality will reverse. Inflation, however, is not likely to lessen. At least, not anytime soon.  Therefore, this week may represent the low-point in mortgage rates for a while. It’s important to lock your low rate while you still can.

There isn’t much economic data due this week so mortgage rates will take their cues from the broader market. If you haven’t locked a rate yet, or were waiting for rates to fall, this might be your best chance. Call your loan officer as soon as possible and get a fresh rate quote today.

Housing Starts (March 2009 - Feb 2011)Single-family housing starts plunged unexpectedly last month. Nationwide, starts fell 12 percent from the month prior; and 29 percent from February of last year.

February’s figures represents the worst 1-month drop in housing starts since May 2010 — the month that followed the expiration of last year’s federal home buyer tax credit — and puts single-family housing starts at a 24-month low.

In addition, single-family Building Permits plunged last month, too, shedding 9 percent from January. A building permit is a local government’s certification and approval to begin home construction.

Housing permits are an excellent forward-indicator for the housing market. This is because 93 percent of homes start construction within 60 days of permit-issuance. Fewer permits, therefore, directly reduces the number of new homes coming to market in the coming months.

For home buyers in Peoria looking at new construction or existing homes, this news should create a sense of urgency.

Home prices are based on supply and demand and overall home supply looks headed for a fall. Plus, with mortgage rates retreating and homebuilders projecting higher sales this summer, buyers may face rising home prices before long.

Sellers look poised to regain negotiation leverage.

For now, though, home affordability remains high with properties inexpensive and mortgage rates still low, historically. If you plan to buy a home in 2011, the February 2011 Housing Starts data may be reason to move up your time frame.

With home supplies dropping, prices are likely to rise.

NAHB Housing Market Index (April 2009-March 2011)Homebuilders are optimistic about the housing market this spring, relative to recent months.

According to the monthly Housing Market Index as published by the National Association of Homebuilders, after 4 straight months of reading 16, March homebuilder confidence ticked 1 point higher to 17.

It’s the highest confidence reading in 10 months.

A value of 50 or better indicates “favorable conditions” for home builders; with more builders viewing sales conditions as “good” than “poor”.

HMI hasn’t read higher than 50 since April 2006.

Regionally, the Housing Market Index showed mixed results. Confidence fell 1 point in the Northeast, held firm in the Midwest, and rose in the Southeast and West regions by 2 points and 4 points, respectively.

As an index, the monthly survey is actually a composite of three separate homebuilder surveys — a report on single-family sales; a report on current buyer foot traffic; and a projection for single family sales in the next 6 months.

March’s HMI breakdown shows that builders expect sales to be brisk over the next few months. Projected Single-Family Sales is running at its highest level since May 2010 — right as the $8,000 federal homebuyer tax credit was ending.

  • Single-Family Sales : 17 (Unchanged from February)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 12 (Unchanged from January)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 27 (+2 from February)

For home buyers in Scottsdale and across the country , the March Housing Market Index may signal the end of “builder discounts” and free upgrades. As home sales increase, builders are often less likely to make concessions.

In conjuction with rising mortgage rates and new, mandatory loan costs, buying a newly-built home may never be as inexpensive as it is right now.

If you expect to buy a newly-built home this year, consider moving up your time frame. The longer you wait, the more it may cost you.

Putting the FOMC statement in plain EnglishToday, for the second straight meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee voted unanimously to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

The vote was 10-0.

In its press release, the FOMC noted that since its January 2011 meeting, the economic recovery “is on firming footing”, and that the labor markets are “improving gradually”. In addition, household spending “continues to expand”. Nonetheless, the Fed said, the economy remains constrained by rising commodity prices and the “depressed” housing sector.

The FOMC statement also re-affirms the group’s plan to keep the Fed Funds Rate near zero percent “for an extended period”, and to keep its $600 billion bond market support package — more commonly called “QE2” — intact.

And, lastly, for the third straight time, the Federal Open Market Committee’s post-meeting release statement included a paragraph detailing the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of managing inflation levels, and fostering maximum employment. Although it acknowledged inflationary pressures on the economy, the Fed said inflation remains too low for the economy currently, and that unemployment remains “elevated”. 

In time, the Fed expects both measurements to improve.

Mortgage market reaction to the FOMC has been negative since the statement’s release. Mortgage rates in Scottsdale are unchanged, but poised to worsen.

The FOMC’s next scheduled meeting is a 1-day event, March 15, 2011.

Fed Funds Rate Nov 2007 - March 2011The Federal Open Market Committee meets today in Washington D.C. The FOMC is a special group within the Federal Reserve, led by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and consisting of 12 members.

The FOMC’s official schedule calls for 8 meetings annually at which it reviews the nation’s economic and financial conditions, and chooses whether to change existing monetary policy.

The group’s last rendez-vous was a 2-day affair, January 25-26, 2011.

Today’s FOMC meeting represents a bona fide risk to home buyers and rate shoppers in Peoria and across the country. This is because when the Fed meets, Wall Street gets nervous which, in turn, causes mortgage rates to get volatile. And, as mortgage rates go, so goes home affordability. 

Rate shoppers learned this the hard way after the FOMC’s last meeting.

In January, Wall Street deemed the Fed’s status quo message too soft on the looming threat of inflation. As a result, conforming mortgage rates rose through 7 of the next 10 days, driving pricing to its worst levels of the year.

This may happen again beginning today.

At 2:15 PM ET, the FOMC will adjourn and make a press release to the markets. The Fed is expected to keep the Fed Funds Rate near its target range of 0.000 percent, and to keep its $600 billion bond buy program in place. That doesn’t mean mortgage rates will idle, however.

Depending on the verbiage of the Fed’s statement, Wall Street will make its new bets. A tough approach on inflation should push mortgage rates down; a soft approach should pressure rates up. Either way, you may want to lock your mortgage rate prior to 2:15 PM ET — just to be safe.

Once the Fed adjourns, you’re at the market’s mercy.

FOMC meets this weekMortgage markets improved last week in a week of few economic releases. The one major data point — Retail Sales — showed stronger-than-expected, but markets reacted mildly. The report’s strength was whispered in advance of the actual release; its reading validated Wall Street’s growing faith in the U.S. economy.

Most action last week revolved around the Middle East:

In response to these events, Wall Street continued its flight-to-quality. Mortgage-backed bonds are now at their best levels since early-February. Mortgage rates have improved 4 straight weeks.

Unfortunately for rate shoppers in Arizona , the gains have been meager. Conforming mortgage rates have only dropped slightly.

This week, however, the market could move in either direction.

The biggest news on tap is the Federal Open Market Committee’s 1-day meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. The Fed is expected to leave the Fed Funds Rate near 0.000 percent, but that doesn’t mean that mortgage rates won’t change. The FOMC’s post-meeting press release will be closely scrutinized on Wall Street. Any changes in theme, tone, or message will cause mortgage rates to dart.

This week also marks the return of housing data with Housing Starts, Building Permits, and Homebuilder Confidence due for release. Housing is believed to be key to the economic recovery so strength in these reports should lead mortgage rates higher.

In addition, several inflation-related data sets will be released including Consumer Price Index and Producer Price Index. Inflation is generally bad for mortgage rates and with gas prices rising to a multi-year high, pressure will be on for mortgage rates to rise.

Lastly, there’s Japan.

The nation’s earthquake, tsunami, and (now) looming nuclear threat will have implications on the global bond market. Mortgage rates may benefit while the crisis remains unresolved. 

If you’ve floated a mortgage rate over the past few weeks, it may be time to lock that rate down. Economic factors should be pushing rates higher, but geopolitics and natural disasters are keeping them low.

It’s a perfect time to commit to a loan.