California Passes Solar Panel Law

Starting in 2020, all new homes constructed in California will be required to have between 2 kilowatts and 3 kilowatts of electricity sourced directly from solar panels. State legislators, whom have been considering such a measure for some time, officially voted recently to amend state building codes.

The new mandate, however, won’t be cheap to homeowners. The upfront costs of installing typical solar panels ranges from $8,000 to $12,000. The timing of the move also worries residents who lost their homes in recent wildfires in California because the mandate will add to their rebuilding costs.

Housing Hurdles Taint Healthy Economy

As housing inventory increases and home prices begin to ease, the door to home ownership is opening for more buyers. But Freddie Mac economists aren’t optimistic that the real estate market will be able to break even with last year’s sales levels.

In their September forecast, Freddie’s economists point to a booming economy and job market, but point out a stalled housing market. They consider the main factors to be weaker housing affordability, constraints that are limiting home building, and ongoing supply and demand imbalances.

Economists predict that many prospective buyers will continue to have difficulty breaking into the market. They are forecasting home sales for both new and existing homes to fall 0.8 percent this year and for home price growth to moderate at 5.5 percent.

Source: “Freddie Mac September Forecast,” Freddie Mac (Sept. 24, 2018)

Mortgage Interest Rates Jump to 6-Week High

A strong job market and consumer credit are driving up mortgage rates for the third consecutive week and now to their highest level in six weeks. Mortgage rates are 0.82 percent higher than a year ago—the largest year-over-year increase since May 2014, Freddie Mac reports.

Despite the higher rates, Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist, expects buyer demand to remain high. “This spectacular stretch of solid job gains and low unemployment should help keep home buyer interest elevated,” Khater says. “However, mortgage rates will likely also move up, as the Federal Reserve considers short-term rate hikes this month and at future meetings.”

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages for the week ending Sept. 13:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.60 percent, with an average 0.5 point, up from last week’s 4.54 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.78 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.06 percent, with an average 0.5 point, climbing from last week’s 3.99 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.08 percent.
Source: Freddie Mac

Most Buyers Seek Financing Before Showings

The first step buyers most often take in their home shopping pursuit is to check up on financing and to make sure they can even afford a home, according to a new survey of 1,000 recent buyers. The survey was commissioned by loanDepot and mellohome, a real estate services provider. The majority of these customers—nearly 74 percent—sought financing first in their homebuying journey before looking at homes. For first-time buyers, that percentage jumps to 85 percent.

“This is definitely a shift from 10 years ago,” says Chris Heller, CEO of mellohome. “It emphasizes how customers are changing their approach to home buying. In the past, they relied on a real estate agent to drive the entire process. Now the customer is taking charge and doing a lot of the groundwork before they even get an agent involved.”

Heller says that buyers are learning that getting their financing in check upfront can better prepare them to shop for a home “with confidence and puts them in a more advantageous, competitive position, especially in tight markets.” A preapproval letter for financing can help when they go to make an offer, he says.

Home Loan Approval with a Lower Credit Score

New mortgages are being approved with lower credit scores, and FHA loans appear to be leading the shift, according to studies by credit developer FICO and other entities. “As we get further away from the Great Recession, underwriting criteria seems to have eased, and a broader section of consumers are obtaining mortgages as a result,” according to FICO’s report.

From January to March of this year, borrowers who were approved for FHA loans—which offer low down payment options for first-time home buyers—had an average credit score of 672, according to FHA data. During that same period in 2011, the average credit score for an FHA borrower was 701. FHA borrowers also have had higher debt-to-income ratios in recent years. Debt-to-income ratios measure monthly household income against other debt, such as credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans.

Mortgage Rates Mostly Flat This Week

Mortgage rates mostly held steady this week after posting a sizable jump last week.

“Following a strong surge last week, rates held relatively flat this week,” says Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “The 30-year mortgage rate remained unchanged at 3.94 percent.  The markets’ reaction to the upcoming announcement of the next Fed chair may impact the movement of rates in next week’s survey.”

Freddie mac reports the following national averages for the week ending Nov. 2:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages; averaged 3.94 percent, with an average 0.5 point, the same average as last week. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.54 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.27 percent this week, with an average 0.5 point, rising from last week’s 3.25 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 2.84 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

Consumers: Home Appraisals Still Falling Short

Appraisals continue to lag homeowners’ price expectations, according to the latest Quicken Loans’ National Home Price Perception Index, which compares homeowners’ initial estimates and appraiser’s opinions of home values. Appraised values were 1.35 percent lower than homeowners’ expectations in August. That has narrowed from a 1.55 percent difference in July.

Many homeowners are still not understanding their home’s current value, according to the analysis. The perceptions can vary quite a bit across the country, too. For example, home values are 3 percent higher than homeowners’ estimated values in the West, while they are 3 percent lower than expected in the Midwest and Northeast.

More interesting data and graphs at: quickenloans.com/press-room/2017/09/12/quicken-loans-study-shows-consumers-continue-to-be-too-optimistic-with-anticipated-home-value/

Will These Lower Interest Rates Entice Buyers?

Fixed-rate mortgages continued to drop this week, lowering borrowing costs for home buyers.

“Following a mild decline last week, the 10-year Treasury yield rose 1 basis point this week,” says Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac’s chief economist. “The 30-year mortgage rate similarly remained relatively flat, falling just 1 basis point to 3.89 percent. Mortgage rates are continuing to hold at low levels.”

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages for the week ending Aug. 17:

  • 30-year fixed rate mortgages: averaged 3.89 percent, with an average 0.4 point, dropping from last week’s 3.90 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.43 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.16 percent, with an average 0.5 point, falling from last week’s 3.18 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 2.74 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

The Housing Market Is Outperforming Forecast

The housing market has been off to a roar this spring. In fact, the market is performing so strongly that the National Association of REALTORS® has upgraded its forecast for the year.

At the start of the year, home sales were expected to match last year’s pace due to higher mortgage rates and diminishing affordability. But the market is hardly slowing down, notes Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist. He now predicts existing-home sales to rise by 3.5 percent, and home prices likely will increase 5 percent this year.

“With no imminent threat of a recession, the housing market’s strong first quarter sets the foundation for continued gains the rest of the year,” Yun writes.

Source: “First Quarter GDP May Be Cool, But Housing Market Downright Balmy,” The Hill (May 1, 2017)

More Homeowners Tackle Renovation Projects

Homeowners are sprucing up their properties and undertaking more remodeling and repair projects, according to a recent study.

The Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity, released by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, shows an annual growth in home improvement and repair expenditure this year that will remain above its long-term trend of 5 percent. Index authors, however, foresee a steady decline from 7.3 percent in the first quarter to 6.1 percent by the first quarter of 2018.

The National Association of Home Builders’ Remodeling Market Index also showed an increase in the first quarter of 2017, marking the highest reading in activity since 2015. The NAHB’s index shows that more remodelers are reporting that activity is higher now compared to the prior quarter. “A milder than usual winter has led to increased remodeling activity and a positive outlook for spring,” says Dan Bawden, the chairman of NAHB Remodelers. “Remodelers are seeing stronger market conditions with customers more willing to spend money on both small and large projects.”

—Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine