Mortgage Rates & Refis

TheStreet.com quoted me in Mortgage Rates Expected to Rise and Push Down Refinancing Levels. It reads, in part,

Mortgage rates will continue their upward climb in 2017 as the economy demonstrates additional growth and inflation, but this will of course dampen the enthusiasm for homeowners who have sought to refinance their mortgages up until early this year.

The levels of refinancing will definitely “take a hit relative to 2016,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, a New York-based financial content company.”

A survey conducted by RateWatch found that 56.57% of the 400 financial institutions polled said it is unlikely mortgage rates will fall and unlikely there will be an increase in refinancing in 2017. RateWatch, a Fort Atkinson, Wis.-based premier banking data and analytics service owned by TheStreet, Inc., surveyed the majority of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions in the U.S. between December 16 and December 29, 2016 on how the Donald Trump presidency will affect the banking industry. The survey found that 35.71% said an increase in refinancing levels is very unlikely, while 6.29% said such an increase is somewhat likely, 1.14% said one would be likely and 0.29% said it would be very likely.

Mortgage rates, which are tied to the 10-year Treasury note, are predicted to fluctuate between 4% to 4.5% in 2017 “with a brief trip below 4% in the event of a market sell-off or economic stumble,” McBride said.

The 4% threshold is critical for homeowners, because when mortgage rates fall below this benchmark level, more consumers are in a position to refinance “profitably,” which is why 2016 experienced a “surge in activity,” McBride said.

When rates rise about the 4% level, the number of homeowners who opt to refinance declines dramatically and “refinancing levels will be notably lower in 2017,” he said.

The mortgages in the 3% range gave many homeowners the opportunity to refinance last year, some for the second time, as many consumers also chose to refinance their mortgages during the 2013 to 2015 period.

As the economy expands and workers are experiencing pay increases, the number of home sales should also rise in 2017.

“People who are working and receiving a pay increase will buy a house whether mortgage rates are 4% or 4.5%,” McBride said. “They may buy a different house, but they will still buy a house.”

Refinancing activity is likely to continue ramping up in January rather than later in the year as the “recent dip in rates allows procrastinators to act before rates continue their movement up,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. “As interest rates resume their ascent and get closer to 4.5% on the 30-year mortgage, the number of households who can benefit from refinancing will diminish. That’s why we expect lenders to shift their focus to the purchase market this year.”

Economic growth resulted in interest rates rising before the election and in its aftermath. The rates rose because of the expectation from the financial markets of expanding fiscal policies leading to additional growth and inflationary pressures, Smoke said.

Mortgage rates will continue to rise in 2017 as a result of more people being employed, and this economic backdrop will favor the buyer’s market instead of the refinancing market. Current data from the Mortgage Bankers Association already demonstrates that refinancing activity has declined compared to 2016 due to higher interest rates, Smoke said.

“Rates have eased a bit since the start of the year as evidence of a substantial shift in inflation remains limited and the financial markets oversold bonds in December,” he added.

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Borrowers should be concerned with increased interest rate volatility in 2017, said David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School. The Trump administration has been sending out mixed signals, which may lead bond investors and lenders to change their outlook more frequently than in the past.

“Borrowers should focus on locking in attractive interest rates quickly and working closely with their lender to ensure that the loan closes before the interest rate lock expires,” he said. “While there is no clear consensus on why rates went lower after the new year, Trump has not set forth a clear plan as to how he will achieve those goals and Congress has not signaled that it is fully on board with them. This leaves investors less confident that Trump will make good on those positions, particularly in the short-term.”

The Housing Market Under Trump

photo by http://401kcalculator.org

TheStreet.com quoted me in Interest Rates Likely to Rise Under Trump, Could Affect Confidence of Homebuyers. It opens,

Interest rates should increase gradually during the next four years under a Donald Trump administration, which could dampen growth in the housing industry, economists and housing experts predict.

The 10-year Treasury rose over the 2% threshold on Wednesday for the first time in several months, driving mortgage rates higher with the 30-year conventional rate rising to 3.73% according to Bankrate.com. Mortgage pricing is tied to the 10-year Treasury.

Housing demand will remain flat with a rise in interest rates as many first-time homebuyers will be saddled with more debt, said Peter Nigro, a finance professor at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I.

“With first-time homebuyers more in debt due to student loans, I don’t expect much growth in home purchasing,” he said.

Interest rates will also be affected by the size of the fiscal stimulus since additional infrastructure spending and associated debt “could push interest rates up through the issuance of more government debt,” Nigro said.

Even if interest rates spike in the next year, banks will not benefit, because there is a lack of demand, said Peter Borish, chief strategist with Quad Group, a New York-based financial firm. The economy is slowing down, and consumers have already borrowed money at very “cheap” interest rates, he said.

The policies set forth by a Trump administration will lead to contractionary results and will not spur additional growth in the housing market.

“I prefer to listen to the markets,” Borish said. “This will put downward pressure on the prices in the market. Everyone complained about Dodd-Frank, but why is JPMorgan Chase’s stock at all time highs?”

An interest rate increase could still occur in December, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. With nearly five weeks before the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the market can contemplate the potential outcomes.

“While the market is now indicating a reduced probability of a short-term rate hike at that meeting, the Fed has repeatedly indicated that they would be data-driven in their decision,” he said in a written statement. “If the markets calm down and November employment data look solid on December 2, a rate hike could still happen. The market moves yesterday are already indicating that financial markets are pondering that the Trump effect could be positive for the economy.

“The Fed is likely to start increasing the federal funds rate at a “much faster pace starting next year,” said K.C. Sanjay, chief economist for Axiometrics, a Dallas-based apartment market and student housing research firm. “This will cause single-family mortgage rates to increase slightly, however they will remain well below the long-term average.”

Since Trump has remained mum on many topics, including housing, predicting a short-term outlook is challenging. One key factor is the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who are the main players in the mortgage market, because they own or guarantee over $4 trillion in mortgages, remain in conservatorship and “play a critical role in keeping mortgage rates down through the now explicit subsidy or government backing which allows them to raise funds more cheaply,” Nigro said.

It is unlikely any changes will occur with them, because “Trump has not articulated a plan to deal with them and coming up with a plan to deal with these giants is unlikely,” he said.

Trump could attempt to take on government sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist for Trulia, a San Francisco-based real estate website.

“If he does, it’s going to be a hairy endeavor for him, because he’ll need bipartisan support to do so,” he said.

Since he has alluded to ending government conservatorship and allowing government sponsored enterprises to “recapitalize by allowing retention of their own profits instead of passing them on to the Treasury,” the result is that banks could have their liquidity and lending activity increase, which could help boost demand for homes, McLaughlin said.

“We caution President-elect Trump that he would also need to simultaneously help address housing supply, which has been at a low point over the past few years,” he said. “The difficulty for him is that most of the impediments to new housing supply rest and the state and local levels, not the federal.”

Even on Trump’s campaign website, there is “next to nothing” about his ideas on housing, said David Reiss, a law professor at the Brooklyn Law School in New York. The platform of the Republican Party and Vice President-elect Mike Pence could mean that the federal government will have a smaller footprint in the mortgage market.

“There will be a reduction in the federal government’s guaranty of mortgages, and this will likely increase the interest rates charged on mortgages, but will reduce the likelihood of taxpayer bailouts,” he said. “Fannie and Freddie will likely have fewer ties to the federal government and the FHA is likely to be limited to the lower end of the mortgage market.”

Leverage in a Tight Market

photo by Rex Pe

TheStreet.com quoted me in Home Shoppers Seeking Leverage in a Tight Market. It opens,

Homebuyers have faced tight supply issues this year, and obtaining leverage in this market has been challenging.

The lower inventories pushed sales in July down by 3%, according to the National Association of Realtors, a Chicago-based trade organization. The decline has resulted in sales falling back to levels in March and April with an annualized pace of 5.39 million, bringing the sales pace down by 2% from July 2015. The level of inventory of homes for sale has declined by 6%.
As the faster summer buying pace has moved into the fall phase when there are fewer buyers, consumers have a greater advantage as homes are on the market longer. For both May and June, the listings stayed on Realtor.com a median of 65 days. By July, that figure rose to 68 days and August brings even more options and should end at 72 days. The reduction of inventory has occurred for 47 consecutive months, helping sellers, but restricting options for buyers.

For homebuyers who want to nab their dream house in the neighborhood they have been eyeing, they still have leverage, but here are some tips to improve the process.

Home Buying Tips

Before consumers start shopping, they should work on improving their finances and avoid making any large purchases such as a car. After finding out your FICO score, the goal is to find ways for it to rise above 700, which means you will qualify with more lenders and obtain a lower interest rate, saving you thousands of dollars, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company.

Determine how much you can carve out of your savings for a down payment, but still maintain six months of emergency funds, especially if you are buying an older home which may have unexpected repairs.

The average down payment in 2016 is 11% across the U.S., but it depends vastly on the market and loan you are seeking.

“If you are struggling to come up with a down payment necessary for your market or type of mortgage, research down payment assistance programs,” he said. “Get all of your financial records organized, including recent bank and financial statements, the last two years of income tax filings and pay statements.”

There are many opportunities available since mortgage rates remain near historic lows and are unlikely to see substantial moves soon.

“The buying opportunity is still substantial and now the annual cycle means you will face less competition on homes that are on the market,” Smoke said.

Sellers want to see serious buyers, so getting pre-approved from a lender is important.

“A pre-approval letter as part of an offer will communicate to the seller that you have the ability to close,” he said.

Sellers still have an advantage and even though there are fewer potential buyers with fall right around the corner, the existing inventory remains low, so getting a house under contract can still be problematic, Smoke said.

“Don’t expect sellers to feel desperate,” he said. “Sellers may still act like it is the spring. Listen to the advice of your realtor on the composition of the initial offer so that you are more likely to keep the conversation going rather than face complete rejection.”

While you continue to search for another home, maintain your savings and increase the amount of your down payment and keep paying down your credit cards and student loans. Consumers who will be receiving a bonus in December should include these funds it into their down payment. If the interest rates for your credit card rates are fairly low, consider bulking up your down payment since mortgage rates are very low, said Colby Sambrotto, president of USRealty.com, a New York-based online real estate broker. said. These measures will help increase your odds as you house hunt.

“Ask your lender to recalculate your loan preapproval to reflect your updated debt-to-income ratio and the greater amount you can put down,” he said. “That can reframe your search parameters.”

Down payment assistance is available through employer and community group programs. Some companies will offer loans if you remain employed there for a certain number of years, said Sambrotto. A good source for more information about various programs is Down Payment Resource.

“The loans are usually geared to encourage employees to buy around a certain area, usually within walking distance of the employer,” he said.

Location is Key

Transportation can emerge as a “hidden cost” if your commute includes costly tolls or you want quicker access to cultural and sporting events, schools for children, shopping districts and professional education opportunities.

“Narrow your search to neighborhoods that offer economical options for commuting and routine errands,” Sambrotto said. “Look for neighborhood groups on Facebook and ask to join the conversation so you can quiz current residents about the true cost of living in that area.”

While homeowners might prefer a standard standalone house, a two-family duplex might be a better option, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York. These homes have a clear advantage because they generate investment income along with various financing, tax and capital gains advantages which the traditional single-family house does not have.

“Think through your preferences and then take a fresh look at the market,” he said. “You might have that idealized picket-fenced house in mind, but a duplex will expand the number of houses you can look at. They also bring along all sorts of additional maintenance responsibilities with them, so they are not right for everyone.”

Down in ARMs

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TheStreet.com quoted me in Top 5 Lowest 7-Year ARM Rates. It opens,

U.S. mortgage rates have continued to decline in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, low Treasury rates and stagnant economy, giving potential homeowners an opportunity to save money because of the dip.

The current market conditions give homeowners in the U.S. an opportunity to take advantage of the continuation of low mortgage rates since the Federal Reserve has not increased interest rates.

But, how do you snag the absolute lowest rates, especially if you don’t plan on staying in your first home for more than seven years and are learning toward 7/1 adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs)?

The 7-year ARMs are attractive to consumers, especially first-time homebuyers, because the interest rates are lower, helping you save more money each month compared to the traditional 30-year mortgage.

“You get what amounts to a fixed rate mortgage, but at a lower rate than the traditional 30-year fixed,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst of Bankrate, a North Palm Beach, Fla.-based financial content company.

While lower monthly payments are appealing, the interest rates reset after seven years, and it can be difficult to determine how much they will increase.

“If your timetable changes, then you may want to reconsider the loan you have,” he said. “You don’t want to be in the position of facing rising monthly payments that squeeze your budget or jeopardize your ability to afford your own home.”

Consumers on fixed incomes and saddled with student loans and credit card debt might opt for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage, because it represents “permanent payment affordability,” McBride said. The principal and interest will never change, because it is a fixed rate and can be easier to budget.

“It may not always be the optimal choice, but it is the safest choice,” he said.

Adjustable rate mortgages can still be beneficial if homeowners take advantage of the savings each month and allocate it towards paying down debt or into an emergency fund.

“Even if you’re still holding the 7-year ARM at the end of seven years, that doesn’t automatically turn it into a bad decision,” McBride said. “You will have banked seven years of savings relative to the fixed rate mortgage that can help you absorb any payment increases until you refinance or sell the home.”

Many consumers gravitate toward the 30-year mortgage, because the payments are stable and have been very low, said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. Others are seeking the 7-year ARM, because they are more likely to qualify for a mortgage.

Mortgage activity so far in 2016 reveals that only 3% of mortgages have had shorter rate terms, according to Realtor.com’s analysis of purchase mortgage activity. Hybrid term mortgages such as the 7/1 ARM typically increase in share when “mortgage rates rise because the shorter fixed term offers a lower rate, often between 40 and 100 basis points,” he said. “The lower rate translates into a lower payment for the duration of the initial term, which is seven years.”

Each lender utilizes a benchmark such as a the 10-year U.S. Treasury or LIBOR rate and a margin, which is “what is added to the benchmark to determine your new rate,” Smoke said. The loans also have a cap on how high any single rate change can be and also a ceiling on how high the rate can ever be, he said.

At the end of the seven years, homeowners can choose to refinance to a lower fixed rate, but need to budget for the closing costs.

A lower rate upfront can be favorable for younger homeowners, but examining the ceiling rate and how it will impact your monthly payments is crucial.

“A mortgage broker or lender can help you walk through scenarios to determine if your timeline could benefit,” Smoke said. “To help calm any nerves about just how high your payment could go, ask yourself if you are willing to exchange the initial seven year savings for how long you might keep that mortgage after the seven-year period is up.”

Paying the premium for the peace of mind that your payments will remain static means that if interest rates rise several percentages in the next few years, you won’t be faced with having to consider the lower rate options or lower priced homes and/or more money down, he said.

“That’s why hybrids will likely become more popular in the future compared to how little they are used today,” Smoke said.

Since people have a tendency to change homes every seven years on average, a 7/1 ARM could be a good option because the savings can be substantial, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in N.Y.

“Even if you are not planning to move now, the future may bring changes such as divorce, frail relatives, job loss or new job opportunities,” he said. “Some people like the certainty of the 30-year fixed rate mortgages, but it is worth calculating just how much that certainty will cost you.”

Buying in a Boom

Marcin Wichary

TheStreet.com quoted me in How Consumers Can Buy Houses in a Booming Market. The story reads, in part,

Home prices have also risen compared to last year as the number of homes sold rose in all parts of the country except for the Midwest, according to a recent report from PNC, the Pittsburgh-based financial institution. The median sale price for an existing single-family home was $288,300 in July, up from $279,700 in June.

“The housing market continues to gradually recover from the Great Recession, supporting economic growth,” Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC. “Stronger demand and good affordability are supporting home sales and pushing up house prices.”

Many economists are predicting that home prices will continue to increase this year. PNC said prices will rise by 3.7% in 2015 and 2.7% in 2016, down from 6.6% in 2014.

“This year we [saw] inventory continue to grow in August and while overall demand is strong, the trend in median days on market is suggesting that the market is finding more of a balance,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of Realtor.com, the San Jose, Calif. real estate service company. “This bodes well for would-be buyers who have been discouraged by the inability to find a home to buy this spring and summer.”

Consumers who are still eager to purchase a home still have many opportunities left to negotiate a deal within their price range. While it is tougher to buy a house in a tight market, here are some tips to give homebuyers a head start.

Looking for a house in the fall is generally a better bet. Even though there are fewer homes on the market right now, there are “definitely less buyers, so there’s less competition,” said Mark Lesses, a broker with Coldwell Banker in Lexington, Mass.

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Renters Who Wait Can Benefit

Buying a house during a tight market could prove to be an expensive endeavor. Staying out of the market might be a good option, because housing prices could level off and decline, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in N.Y.

“Sometimes it is cheaper to rent,” he said. “Don’t try to time the real estate market. Look at your needs and what you could afford, and consider if it is a good choice.”