Archives for November 2013

Quick Tips To Prepare Your Home For The Winter

Quick Tips To Prepare Your Home For The WinterThe calendar has turned and with that we receive less sunlight, colder temperatures, and shorter days ahead, it’s an opportune time to cross those last-minute maintenance items off your homeowner to-do list.

Practicing preventive care – both inside and outside your home – can save thousands of dollars in repairs come later this winter. What follows is a brief checklist to get you started.

For Outside The Home:

  • Inspect exterior lights and outlets. Be sure that none of the outlets are cracked or broken, or have exposed wires.
  • Clean gutters and clear all blockages. If leaves are falling, redo after leaves are off all trees.
  • Inspect and test outdoor railings and stairs.
  • Have problem trees trimmed, including those that may damage your home in a storm.
  • Protect outdoor water faucets from freezing. Consider using foam cups, sold at hardware stores.

For Inside The Home:

  • Change batteries in all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, whether they’re “dead” or not.
  • Vacuum refrigerator condenser coils, plus the front bottom grill. Empty and clean the drip pan.
  • Inspect wood stoves and fireplace inserts. Hire a certified chimney sweeper to clean the chimney, if needed.
  • Insulate bare water pipes running through your home to prevent freezing and to limit condensation on cold-water lines.
  • Inspect automatic garage door opener. Lubricate chains according to manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure bolts and screws are properly tightened and secured.

As a constant series of chores, home maintenance is a four-season job and one which should not be taken lightly. The tasks of each season are unique and this month is mostly preparatory in advance of colder weather.

If your routine maintenance uncovers larger issues including a faulty HVAC unit, or a leaking faucet, for example, seek professional help to make the repair.

Get The Low Down On Pending And Existing Home Sales This Month

Get The Low Down On Pending And Existing Home Sales This MonthThe National Association of REALTORS reported Monday that pending home sales dropped by -0.60 percent in October after falling at a revised rate of -4.60 percent in September. According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for NAR, 17 percent of real estate agents reported delays in loan closings due to the government shutdown in early October.

Lenders were unable to verify borrower income through the IRS, which was closed during the shutdown. October was the fifth consecutive month with fewer pending home sales reported.

Homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are waiting to sell, and recent spikes in mortgage rates were cited as factors contributing to fewer pending sales.

Pending home sales are defined as homes for which signed purchase offers have been received and are considered an indicator of future home sales. The NAR notes that most pending sales close within 30 to 60 days of an offer being signed.

High Demand And Low Supply Of Homes Thwarts Buyers

Would-be homebuyers may be including their dream homes on their wish lists for the holidays as many areas continue to experience a short supply of homes against high demand. In desirable areas this can lead to bidding wars and homes being sold before they are listed for sale.

Cash buyers are benefitting from these situations, while first-time and moderate income buyers may be sidelined due to affordability issues and the inability to compete with cash buyers.

Mortgage rates fell last week and the previous week. While a recovering housing market has been causing home prices to rise, economists described current readings for pending sales as a “pause” in the housing market recovery and said that a significant decline in home sales could adversely impact overall economic recovery.

Regional Pending Sales Mixed

Pending sales for the Northeast and Midwestern regions increased slightly and declined in the South and West. This suggested to some economists and analysts that the formerly hot housing market is cooling off along with the weather. Some decline in home sales is expected during fall and winter months.

Sales Of Existing Homes Better Than Expected

October sales of existing homes surpassed expectations of 5.10 million sales with a reading of 5.12 million existing homes sold. Again, the government shutdown and related concerns of consumers and home builders were cited as reasons for sales falling shy of September’s reading of 5.29 million existing homes sold.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – November 25, 2013

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – November 25, 2013Last week’s scheduled economic news was varied, but mortgage rates fell and jobless claims were significantly lower than expected. The minutes for last month’s FOMC meeting were released, and confirmed the Federal Reserve’s intention to leave its quantitative easing program unchanged at least for the near term.

The National Association of Homebuilders Wells Fargo Housing Market Index for November indicated that builder confidence, while still positive, dipped by one point to a reading of 54 as compared to an anticipated reading of 55, and October’s revised reading of 54.

Retail Sales for October Rose By 0.4 Percent

NAHB noted that uncertainty over the federal budget and political gridlock may have kept builder and consumer confidence levels from achieving further gains in November.

The Consumer Price Index for October contracted by -0.10 percent against expectations of 0.00 percent growth and September’s reading of 0.20 percent growth. The Core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy sectors, rose by 0.10 percent against expectations of 0.20 percent and was unchanged from September’s reading.

The National Association of REALTORS reported that Existing Home Sales for October were lower than for September’s reading of 5.29 million, but slightly exceeded the expected reading of 5.10 million. October’s reading came in at 5.12 million sales of existing homes.

Analysts attributed the lower reading to tight supplies of available homes in many areas and higher home prices and mortgage rates that impacted affordability.

The FOMC minutes indicated that the committee has ongoing concerns over national unemployment rate of 7.20 percent against the committee’s target unemployment rate of 6.50 percent.

Weekly Jobless Claims were notably lower at 323,000 new jobless claims as compared to the prior week’s reading of 344,000 new jobless claims. Analysts and investors had expected a reading of 334,000 new jobs. Analysts noted the Veterans Day holiday as a likely contributor to the lower reading for new jobless claims.

Freddie Mac provided good news in its weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey; the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage fell from 4.35 percent to 4.22 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.70 percent. The rate for a 15-year mortgage fell from 3.35 percent to 3.27 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.70 percent. 

The average rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage remained unchanged at 2.61 percent with discount points unchanged at 0.40 percent. This was encouraging news for home buyers and homeowners who have recently faced rising mortgage rates and home prices.

What’s Coming Up

This week’s schedule for economic reports includes several of interest to mortgage and housing professionals. Pending Home Sales will be out on Monday; Tuesday’s calendar is full with Housing Starts and Building Permits, the Case-Shiller Housing Market Index, the FHFA Home Price Index and the Consumer Confidence Index.

Wednesday’s news includes Weekly Jobless Claims, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index and Leading Economic Indicators. No economic news is scheduled for Thursday or Friday in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Thanksgiving Decorating Ideas For Your Home

Thanksgiving Decorating Ideas For Your HomeThanksgiving is right around the corner, and if you’re opening your home for the family get together, that usually means you’ll be decorating. 

If you’ve racked your mind for ideas and none sound just right, here are a few decorating ideas that might help you along your way.

Fall Leaves

Decorations don’t have to be expensive, just look outside the door of your home. Brightly colored fall leaves, either randomly placed on the table or bunched in small arrangements, can really brighten up a table.

Turkey Napkins

Folded turkey napkins is a simple way to spruce up your Thanksgiving table. Use linen napkins for a classy touch.

Thanksgiving Centerpiece 

A cornucopia is a great idea for the centerpiece. Filled with leaves, small pumpkins and other fall foliage or fruits, cornucopias remind us to be thankful for nature’s bounty.

Candles 

Candles can add a warm touch to any Thanksgiving dinner. The key for candle placement is to arrange them in places where a person’s breath won’t blow the flame out, generally between where people sit instead of in front of them.

Thanksgiving Wreaths

Thanksgiving wreaths can be fun to make, and a well-made wreath may even bring some surprising compliments. Tasteful and elegant at any time, wreaths made in fall colors are a beautiful addition to your decorations.

Thanksgiving Baskets

Thanksgiving baskets can be simple, inexpensive decorations for your home. Acorns or other nuts, mixed with fall leaves and a few flowers from your garden, will brighten up any room. Hang small baskets from wall hooks, or place larger baskets in corners.

No matter what Thanksgiving decorations you use, whether elegant or fun, hand-made or store-bought, the key is not to overdo it. Don’t let yourself get so caught up in making the decorations perfect that you forget to enjoy your friends, family and food. 

May you have many things to be thankful for in the years to come. Happy Thanksgiving!

Fed Meeting Minutes Show Hope In Economic Growth

Fed Meeting Minutes Show Hope In Economic GrowthThe minutes of the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting held October 29 and 30 were released Wednesday. The meeting began with a report from the Manager of the System Open Market Account and included updates on developments within domestic and foreign financial markets.

According to the report, no intervention by the Federal Reserve was required on foreign currencies during the period between the last and current FOMC meetings.

FOMC: Key Data Delayed by Shutdown

The FOMC noted moderate economic growth in the period since its last meeting, but also noted that several federal agencies delayed release of key statistics due to the government shutdown in early October. The FOMC minutes included updates on several economic sectors including:

Labor: Private non-farm payrolls for September increased at a slower rate than for August and the unemployment rate remains high at 7.20 percent. The FOMC has set a target unemployment rate of 6.50 percent as a benchmark for considering changes to the Fed’s quantitative easing program, which supports lower long-term interest rates and mortgage rates.

A high rate of part-time employment and a slight drop in full-time employment may indicate why would-be home buyers remain on the sidelines. FOMC members noted that while weekly unemployment claims rose during some weeks in October, this was likely fall-out related to the government shutdown.

Manufacturing: Production rose slightly, but was flat other than for motor vehicles. The committee expected to see gains in production in the near term.

Personal Consumption Expenditures: This sector rose in August and retail sales excluding autos were significantly higher in September. Factors impacting consumer spending were mixed. Homeowners enjoyed increasing home prices and home equity, but overall consumer sentiment declined even as disposable income increased in August.

Housing: The committee said that little current data was available for the housing sector due to the shutdown. Building permits and housing starts for single family homes rose in August. After a significant drop in July, sales of new homes rose in August while sales of existing homes fell. Pending home sales also fell during August and September.

Quantitative Easing: FOMC members decided not to alter its current QE program during its September meeting; this caused investors and analysts to revise their expectations for the Fed taking action to reduce its current pace of $85 billion in monthly bond purchases.

Expectations for the total amount of asset purchases under QE were revised upwardly, which suggested that no major changes in current Fed monetary policy is anticipated.

Overall, the minutes of October’s FOMC meeting echoed the committee’s recent perception of moderate economic growth as expressed during its 2013 meetings, and its intention to maintain asset purchases and the target federal funds rate at current levels in the coming months.

4 Tips To Save For That Down Payment

4 Tips To Save For That Down Payment In order to save up a huge amount of cash for the down payment on your first mortgage, you need a solid savings plan!

When you take out a mortgage on your new home as a first time homebuyer, the more you can pay as a down payment the better. The down payment on a mortgage reduces the principle of the loan and means that you will be paying tens of thousands less in interest payments over the life of the loan.

Most financial experts recommend that you should save up at least 20% of the value of the home as a down payment. Depending on the value of the home that you want to buy, this can be a serious chunk of money.

The conventional saving tricks of skipping your morning latte and eating dinner at home just aren’t going to cut it when saving up this much money! You will need some strategies for saving big.

Here are some tips to help you get closer to that down payment:

Make A Separate Savings Account

No matter how much you have already saved for your down payment, create a new savings account to put the money in. When the money is in your personal account it is so much more tempting to spend it on day to day expenses. Also, a savings account will give you a better rate of interest so that you can help you money grow.

Pay Off Your Credit Cards First

If you have credit card debt, you will be paying interest charges to the credit card company every month. These charges can really add up, especially if you are only paying the minimum on your loans. If you can pay down this debt you will have extra money every month to put into your savings instead.

Get A Part-Time Job

If you want to accelerate yourself towards having your down payment saved up, you could consider taking on a part-time job in addition to your full-time job on a few evenings and weekends.

It doesn’t have to be something that you do forever, but even sticking with it for six months to a year will give you thousands in extra income that you can put straight towards your down payment.

Make A Backwards Budget

Do you find that after you have paid all of your bills and your living expenses, there is nothing left over to save? Rather than calculating all of the money that you use on your monthly expenses and then saving whatever is left afterwards, why not make your budget the other way around?

Start off with how much you want to be able to save per month then subtract that amount from your net income. The number you have left is what you have to live off.

You will find that you naturally change your habits to make this amount of money work for you and if it if not enough you can increase your income by getting a side gig. These are just a few ways that you can save up for a down payment on your first home in order to save money over the years on your mortgage.

Housing Market Index Shows Builder Confidence Remains Above 50

Housing Market Index Shows Builder Confidence Remains Above 50The National Association of Home Builders released its Housing Market Index  for November on Monday. This month’s HMI reading was 54 against expectations of a reading of 55. October’s reading was also 54 after being downwardly revised.

Readings over 50 generally indicate that a majority of builders surveyed are confident in current housing market conditions, but the current pause came after two months of decline in home builder confidence. While the short term index readings are lower than in past months, the HMI is currently 20 percent higher than last year.

David Crowe, chief economist for NAHB said that “the fact that builder confidence remains above 50 is an encouraging sign.” Mr. Crowe also cited federal debt and budget issues as factors that keep builders and consumers from building and buying homes.

Fluctuating Mortgage Rates Of Concern To Builders, Home Buyers

Home builders are also subject to the impact of volatile mortgage rates, which can create affordability issues for first time and moderate income home buyers. There is some good news concerning mortgage rates as the Federal Reserve announced its plant to keep its quantitative easing program in effect in the coming months.

QE was implemented in 2012 and consists of the Fed purchasing $85 billion per month is treasury and mortgage-backed securities with the goal of keeping long-term interest rates and mortgage rates low.

Home builder confidence readings are not in synch with construction rates, as builder confidence was rapidly driven by excessive demand for homes against minimal inventories of available homes in many areas.

Components of November’s HMI provide more precise indications of builder confidence. November’s reading for confidence in sales of single family homes within the next six months fell from 61 in October to 60 in November.

Builder sentiment for current home sales was unchanged at 58 and the November reading for builder confidence in buyer foot traffic fell by one point from 43 in October to 42.

Regional Home Builder Confidence Readings Mixed

Regional builder confidence readings for November were as follows:

Northeast: This region gained 14 points with a reading of 44 for November.

South: Builder confidence rose by one point to a reading of 55.

Midwest: November’s reading declined by eight points to 54.

West: The reading for November was one point lower at 58.

Home sales are typically slower during the holiday season and winter months.

What’s Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week – November 18, 2013

What's Ahead For Mortgage Rates This Week- November 18,2013The Veterans Day holiday on Monday contributed to a quiet week for economic news. On Wednesday the reading for the federal budget deficit for October fell from September’s reading of -$120 billion to -$92 billion.

Freddie Mac Released Its Primary Mortgage Market Survey On Thursday

The average mortgage rates increased across the board, but remain below historical levels. The rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage rose by 9 basis points from 4.16 percent to 4.35 percent with discount points decreasing from 0.80 percent to 0.70 percent.

The average 15-year mortgage rate rose from 3.27 percent to 3.35 percent with discount points the same at 0.70 percent. The rate for a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage increased from 2.96 percent to 3.01 percent with discount points moving from 0.50 percent to 0.40 percent.

Weekly Jobless Claims were released Thursday and were reported at 339,000 new claims. This was higher than the expected number of 335,000 new claims, but lower than the prior week’s reading of 341,000 new claims.

In other news, Janet Yellen, the President’s choice for chairing the Federal Reserve, defended the Fed’s quantitative easing policy during her first confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. QE, which involves Fed purchases of $85 billion monthly in Treasury and mortgage backed securities, was designed to keep long-term interest rates and mortgage rates low.

Credit Reporting Agency: Mortgage Defaults Reach 5-Year Low In Q3 2013

TransUnion, one of three major credit reporting agencies in the U.S., reported that mortgage defaults fell to a five-year low to a reading of 4.09 percent for the third quarter of 2013.

This reading is lower year-over-year than the revised reading of 5.33 percent for the third quarter of 2012. The reading for third quarter 2013 mortgage defaults is also lower than the reading of 4.32 percent for the second quarter of 2013.

A mortgage default is defined as a home loan that is at least two months past due on payments.

Analysts cite moderate but stable job gains, comparatively low mortgage rates and a short supply of available homes as factors contributing to improvements in the housing sector. Analysts noted that mortgage defaults have declined during the past five quarters.

As defaulted mortgage loans made before the economy crashed are foreclosed, mortgage defaults were expected to continue falling. TransUnion reported that it expects mortgage defaults to fall below 4.00 percent by year-end.

What’s Coming Up: NAHB Index, FOMC Minutes

This week, the National Association of Home Builders is scheduled to release its Home Builder Confidence Index for November.

Along with the weekly releases of Jobless Claims and Freddie Mac’s PMMS report on mortgage rates, the FOMC is expected to release the minutes of its last meeting. Existing Home Sales for October are also set for release.

5 Great Questions To Ask At An Open House

5 Great Questions To Ask At An Open HouseAn open house gives you a great opportunity to look more closely at real estate you might be interested in buying. It also affords you the chance to chat with the owner or real estate agent so you can bring up any issues or hesitations you have with the home.

Knowing what to ask can be difficult, so below are examples of questions to ask at the next open house you attend.

Why Has The Seller Decided To Sell Now?

If you ask why the seller is moving, you could learn valuable information to help determine your offer or possibly whether or not you want to buy the home.

Knowing whether the owners are about to go into foreclosure, have experienced trouble in the neighborhood, or if they’ve retired and completely paid off the home can help you understand how urgently they need to sell their property.

Has The Seller Had Any Other Offers?

Don’t forget that you are not only negotiating with the seller for a price, you are also competing with other potential buyers. It really helps to know what you are up against.

It is important to understand that you might not get a 100% straight answer to this question as most sellers know that competition or perceived competition can cause a potential buyer to move forward more quickly and at a higher price.

If you’re comfortable in this discussion, you might want to try and see if you can find out the details of any other offers.

Does The Property Have Special Ownership Costs?

Ask the agent or owner about the other costs associated with owning the property, such as Home Owners Association fees within a condo complex or a gated community. It’s important to know about these extra expenses in advance so you can make an informed offer.

You may also want to ask about any pending litigation concerning the property. Litigation is not always a deal killer, but it’s better to know the details before you sign closing documents.

What Furniture And Appliances Are Being Sold With The House?

Most of the time, a seller will include their major appliances such as the refrigerator, stove and dishwasher with the home, but this isn’t always the case. If you don’t already have these items, it’s important to know whether they are included in the purchase price.

Is There Anything Else That You Want To Leave With The Home?

This is an important question to ask. Especially if there are specific things in the home that you have a strong interest in. Perhaps there is custom art work or a pool table that fits perfectly in the game room.

The seller may be eager to part with those items and include them in the sale of the home or sell them at a large discount. The open house is a great opportunity to learn more about a home before making the decision to buy it, so be sure you ask the right questions.

How To Be Energy Efficient This Fall

How To Be Energy Efficient This FallSummer has been over and Fall is really here, temperatures are beginning to drop, and you’re dreading having to turn the heat on for the first time. Firing up the furnace can burn a hole in your pocket, but there’s something you can do about it. Consider these tips to help lower your heating bill.

Replace Your Air Filters

Get new air filters for your central heating and cooling. The filters get clogged and it takes more and more energy to keep your house warm. Be sure to clear out any dust bunnies or cobwebs from behind the filter. Use a vacuum if necessary.

Does Your Attic Need Insulation?

Heat rises, and if your attic is not adequately insulated, then your central heating system will be stuck sending all your hot air (and your heating bill) straight through the roof. There are three options for attic insulation: roll on insulation, spray on insulation, or polyurethane foam. Roll on insulation is the best option for the do-it-yourselfers out there, but you might consider using polyurethane foam if you plan to turn that attic space into a bedroom.

Caulk Up The Windows

Cold air is constantly sneaking into your house through the cracks in your window. Use a temporary silicone caulk to seal up your windows during the winter. When you’re ready to open them up again in the spring, the silicone caulk will crack right off without damaging the paint.

Wrap Your Pipes

Wrapping your pipes will insulate them from the cold to prevent freezing, as well as saving you money on energy bills. Use a special insulation sleeve from the hardware store or do it the old fashioned way with heat tape. This is especially important if you have pipes in an crawlspace or basement that isn’t insulated.

Let The Light In

You don’t have to buy special panels to take advantage of solar power. Open the curtains on south-facing windows, and heat up your house the natural way. With the sun’s help, you won’t need to bump your thermostat up as often.

Be Smart With The Thermostat

Don’t be afraid to turn your thermostat down a little bit. If you’re leaving the house for a while, bump it down a few degrees and give your system a rest. Try throwing an extra blanket on the bed and dropping a few degrees before bed. You’ll only see a difference on your bill. You might try a programmable thermostat as well!

Now that it’s getting cold, you can finally make some hot chocolate and put on your brand new coat, but you shouldn’t have to wear it inside. With these easy tips you can learn to keep your house warm without having to crank up the thermostat.