Down Payments Jump to Record Highs

Home buyers are putting more money down on a home purchase than ever before. The size of down payments during the second quarter climbed to a median of $19,900, a record high, according to ATTOM Data Solutions’ research, which dates back to the first quarter of 2000. What’s more, this marks a 19 percent jump from $16,750 in this year’s first quarter.

The median down payment was 7.6 percent of the median sales price of homes purchased with finances during the second quarter, according to the report. That percentage is at a nearly 15-year high. California buyers tend to bring the highest down payments.
Source: “U.S. Refinance Originations Drop to Four-Year Low in Q2 2018,” ATTOM Data Solutions (Sept. 11, 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.

Millions of Consumers Getting a Credit Score Boost

An overhaul in how several major credit reporting agencies factor in negative credit information is prompting millions of consumers’ credit scores to rise. Collection events were struck from 8 million consumers’ credit reports in the 12 months ending in June. The New York Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that consumers who had at least one collections account removed from their credit reports are seeing an 11-point increase to their scores.

Critics have long claimed such dings to scores are prone to errors or that they’ve unfairly kept many out of the borrowing market. Equifax, Experian PLC, and TransUnion have all agreed to revamp reports, which stems from a 2015 settlement with state attorneys general on the matter. In the settlement, the firms agreed to remove some non-loan related items that were sent to collection firms, such as gym memberships, library fines, and traffic tickets. They also agreed to strike medical-debt collections that have been paid by a patient’s insurance company.

Source: “Overhaul Boosts Credit Scores of Millions of U.S. Consumers,” The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 15, 2018)

5M Renters Have Fallen Prey to Online Scams

More than 43 percent of renters say they’ve found online rental listings that seemed fraudulent, and more than 5 million say they’ve actually been scammed—sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars—according to a new report released by rental website ApartmentList.com.

The survey revealed that the most common scam is a “bait-and-switch” one, where a different property is advertised than the one that is actually available. The scammer is often able to collect a deposit or get a lease signed for the fake property. Another common scam is the “hijacked ad,” where a scammer takes a home that is legitimately for sale and poses as a fake landlord to collect funds. Apartment List also warns of a growing scam in which a listing property that is already leased is posted online. The scammer then attempts to collect application fees or security deposits from an unsuspecting consumer.

Source: “Ready to Rent a Home? Beware of These New Scams,” CNBC (Aug. 9, 2018)

Another ‘Client’ to Please: The Family Pet

Home buyers are increasingly being swayed by their pets when choosing which property to purchase. Three-quarters of home buyers say they would even pass up an otherwise perfect home—their dream home—if it did not meet their pets’ needs, according to a new realtor.com® survey of more than 1,000 consumers who’ve closed on a home in 2018.

Pet owners comprised 80 percent of recent home buyers—with dogs and cats being the most common types of pet—according to the survey. Younger buyers and those with children appeared to be the most influenced by their pets’ needs when shopping for a home, according to the survey.

Pet owners gave their two most desired features in a home: a large backyard and outdoor space. Other top features pet owners say they valued in a home included a garage, large square footage, a dog run and sturdy flooring.

Source: “One of the Family: Three-Quarters of Home Buyers Would Pass Up Dream Home for Pets’ Needs,” Move Inc. (Aug. 8, 2018)

Hike in Mortgage Rates Reduces Affordability

Borrowers got stuck with higher mortgage rates again this week. Mortgage rates are now at their fourth highest level of the year, Freddie Mac reports.

“The higher rate environment, coupled with the ongoing lack of affordable inventory, has led to a drag on existing-home sales in the last few months,” says Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

The Federal Reserve this week voted to hold off on raising its short-term rate, “but the embers of a strong economy potentially stoking higher inflation, borrowing costs will likely modestly rise in the coming months,” Khater adds.

Freddie Mac reports the following national averages for the week ending Aug. 2:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.60 percent, with an average 0.4 point, rising from last week’s 4.54 percent average. Last year at this time, 30-year rates averaged 3.93 percent.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 4.08 percent, with an average 0.4 point, increasing from last week’s 4.02 percent average. A year ago, 15-year rates averaged 3.18 percent.
Source: Freddie Mac

Too Much Income Devoted to Making Rent

Renters are struggling to catch a break. In seven of the largest U.S. cities, the average household would need to make at least six figures to comfortably afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment, according to a new study by SmartAsset, a personal financial website. SmartAsset researchers looked at how much it takes to afford average rental rates in the nation’s 25 largest cities.

Households that spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing are considered “cost burdened” by most economists. SmartAsset researchers found rents in California’s largest cities took some of the biggest bites out of American’s paychecks. Four California cities ranked in the top 10 on the list: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and San Diego.

A separate study, recently released by PropertyShark and RentCafe, found that if renters could save enough for a down payment they may fare better as homeowners. Renters in more than half of the 50 cities in the study could barely make it until payday, while in 44 of the 50 cities tracked, homeowners were projected to be able to save money each month.

An Artificial Lawn Isn’t Maintenance-Free

Artificial grass, which comes in multiple textures, finishes, and colors, can give homeowners a low-maintenance alternative to natural lawns. But it has pros and cons.

Artificial grass doesn’t need watering and remains green all year, which is a big selling point for homeowners. It works well in most climates, particularly dry climates, but it’s not totally maintenance-free. For example, you’ll need to rinse an artificial lawn to clear it of dirt and debris. Also, you’ll need to “groom your lawn to fluff the blades of grass and keep it from becoming matted,” Rob Turley, general manager at Custom Turf in Finleyville, Pa., told realtor.com®.

Artificial lawn materials can be pricey and require special equipment to install, costing between $8 to $20 per square foot, Turley says. Natural grass costs about $0.25 per square foot, for comparison.

Source: “Is Artificial Grass Right for Your Yard? 5 Factors to Consider,” realtor.com® (July 23, 2018)