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Low Mortgage Rates — Finally Having Impact on Housing Market?

CIN Alert for January 24, 2012

Vicky and Joe had always dreamed of buying a nice neat home in a Northern city suburb. That dream came true in 1972 when they purchased a Cape Cod style three bedroom home for $45,000 with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of 7.5%.

Joe remembers telling Vicky at the time that they would never see rates that low again, and over most of the next 40 years he was right.

However, something quite unusual has happened during the past several years: mortgage rates have plummeted to new record low levels, most recently 3.88 %. Of course, Joe and Vicky, now retired, don’t need the low rates anymore, but for many others – including their kids and grandkids — those rates seem very inviting.

Inviting they may be, but the low rates have not thus far been able to trigger a strong stimulation of the US housing market as (sad to say) relatively few people qualified for the lower rates. High unemployment and small wage gains have made it harder for many people to qualify. Other would-be borrowers didn’t want to sink money into a home that they fear could lose value over the next few years.

However, new statistics just released would seem to indicate that things are beginning to change. Perhaps there is good news coming over the horizon.

“Existing home sales rose for the third consecutive month in December, according to data released Friday by the National Association of Realtors, which touts the upswing as a sign of recovery in the national housing market.

“Sales of existing homes rose to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.42 million during the final month of the year, marking a 5% increase over the downwardly revised 4.39 million homes sold in November and a 4 percent increase over the 4.25 million homes sold in October.

“The number of homes sold in December 2011 also marked a 3.6 percent increase over the 4.45 million homes sold during the same month one year ago. “The pattern of home sales in recent months demonstrates a market in recovery,” NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said in a statement. “Record low mortgage interest rates, job growth and bargain home prices are giving more consumers the confidence they need to enter the market.” (Source: The Washington Post)

Builders are hopeful that the low rates will boost sales even more as the year progresses. In fact, low mortgage rates were cited as a key reason the National Association of Home Builders survey of builder sentiment rose in December to its highest level in more than a year.
Mortgage rates are one of the major issues your CIN editors monitor and report on regularly in our Housing Section, which is designed to provide information to prospective homebuyers, their counselors and advisors, lenders, developers, and others focused on the critical issues surrounding housing.

These include aspects of arranging financing and other details of the purchasing process, such as obtaining a fair appraisal of the value of the intended home. We also present information on various bank mortgage lending programs and mortgage banking programs to help borrowers understand the process they are entering as they select a home for purchase. Here’s a sample of some articles recently included in CIN’s Housing Section:

One million homeowners may get mortgage writedowns: U.S.
(Source: Reuters) About one million American homeowners would get write downs in the size of their mortgages under a proposed deal with banks over shady foreclosure practices. The deal, which could be struck within weeks, would mark the largest cut in the mortgage load since the start of the credit crisis.

Do FHA Mortgage Borrowers Still Face Credit Score Layering?
(Source: Our Broker.com) More than a year has passed since HUD announced that it would investigate 22 lenders on possible ‘Layering’, the addition of requirements on top of FHA standards. The investigations are in response to 22 complaints the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) filed with HUD alleging that the loan activities of the mortgage originators showed that their home lending practices deny FHA- insured loans to African-Americans and Latinos with credit scores as high as 640.

WSJ: Home Equity Squeeze Sparks Reverse Mortgage Revival
(Source: Reverse Mortgage Daily) The real-estate crunch left most home values with much to be desired, prompting a revival in reverse mortgages. Although the number of reverse mortgage endorsements has decreased compared to its peak a few years ago, lending has been picking up, with MetLife Bank’s 2011 reverse originations increasing by 171% compared to the previous year.

Confidence Among U.S. Homebuilders Climbs to Highest Since 2007
(Source: Bloomberg) Confidence among U.S. homebuilders rose in January to the highest level in more than four years as sales and buyer traffic improved. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo sentiment gauge increased to 25 this month, exceeding the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News and reaching the highest level since June 2007.

Feds investigating possible fraud at GE’s former subprime unit
(Source: i watch news) Federal authorities are investigating possible fraud at General Electric Co.’s former subprime mortgage arm amid increased public pressure to hold Wall Street accountable for its role in the financial crisis.

Mortgage, foreclosure issues top AG’s complaint list for the first time
(Source: Boston.com) Complaints about mortgage, loan modification and foreclosure issues soared in 2011 and were the biggest source of problems for consumers who asked the Massachusetts State Attorney General’s office for help.

COMMENTARY:
Why Falling Home Ownership Is a Good Thing
(Source: The Motley Fool) Commentator Dan Caplinger opines that falling levels of home ownership may not be such a bad thing, since for many, owning a home never made financial sense and avoiding the burden of having so much debt on one’s biggest asset can make financial life a lot easier.

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