Kelli Grant Group

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices AZ

Homebuilder Confidence Slips 3 Points In April

NAHB Housing Market IndexFor the first time in 3 months, homebuilder confidence has slipped. 

As measured by the National Association of Homebuilders, the Housing Market Index dropped three notches in April to a reading of 25. The report measures homebuilder confidence in the newly-built, single-family housing market. 

When the Housing Market Index reads 50 or better, it reflects favorable market conditions. Readings below 50 reflect unfavorable conditions.

According to the scale, not since April 2006 have housing market conditions have been deemed “favorable” but, recently, homebuilder confidence has picked up. Between September 2011 and March 2012, confidence doubled.

April’s reading remains that second-highest since 2007.

So what does “builder confidence” mean? The formula is a little bit tricky.

The Housing Market Index is actually a composite figure. It’s the combined result of three separate surveys sent to homebuilders monthly. The surveys ask about current single-family sales volume; projected single-family sales volume over the next 6 months; and current home buyer “foot traffic”.

The NAHB compiles the results into the Housing Market Index.

In April, builder responses worsened on all 3 questions :

  • Current Single-Family Sales : 26 (-3 from March 2012)
  • Projected Single-Family Sales : 32 (-3 from March 2012)
  • Buyer Foot Traffic : 18 (-4 from March 2012)

At first glance, the data reveals a weakening market for newly-built homes and this may be true; we won’t know for another few months whether April’s confidence setback is an historical blip or the start of a trend. The change in builder psyche, though, is a change that today’s new home buyers in Scottsdale can exploit.

Two months ago, builders expected 2012 to be a banner year for home sales. Today, they’re not so sure.

Buyers of new construction, therefore, may find it easier to negotiate with builders for price reductions, “free upgrades”, and/or other concessions. Plus, with mortgage rates still resting near historical lows, financing a newly-built home is cheaper than at any time in recorded history.

The Spring Buying Season is underway. For buyers of new construction, there are deals to be found.

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April 17, 2012 Posted by | Housing Analysis | , , | Leave a comment

How To Use Newspapers To Kill Garden Weeds

Kill weeds with newspapersApril 22 is Earth Day, a day to raise awareness about, and to celebrate, the Earth’s natural environment. It’s also a day for people of Phoenix to do something good for the planet.

There are lots of ways to help the environment, including by reducing your net electricity usage, by conserving fresh water supplies, and by planting trees. You can also reduce the use of chemicals and pesticides in your home’s garden or yard.

One such trick is replace chemical-heavy pesticides used for weed killing with your local newspaper instead. Newspapers can be effective in killing weeds, and preventing new ones from growing, while also protecting the Earth from contaminants.

The method is basic — use a wet newspaper “carpet” blocks both sunlight and oxygen from reaching the soil, starving weeds that have already grown, and those that have yet to break soil.

Here’s how to do it :

  1. Confirm that your newspaper uses soy-based ink — most local dailies do.
  2. Stack a dozen pieces of newsprint and thoroughly wet it
  3. Place the wet pages on the area affected by weeds
  4. Cover the wet pages with a thin layer of mulch

That’s it. Over several weeks, the covered weeds will decompose into the soil, providing nourishment to other plants and vegetation. If you find that the initial newsprint stack “failed”, repeat the above steps, doubling up on the number of news pages and mulch.

Make sure that your newsprint is the “standard” newsprint, too. Avoid glossy circulars and coupon pages which use different paper and often use less Earth-friendly ink.

April 16, 2012 Posted by | Around The Home | , , | Leave a comment

Mortgage Rates Fall For Third Straight Week

Freddie Mac Mortgage Rates

After a brief surge north of 4 percent last month, mortgage rates have settled down, near their lowest levels of all-time.  

According to Freddie Mac’s weekly Primary Mortgage Market Survey, for applicants willing to pay 0.7 discount points plus a complete set of closing costs, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate fell to 3.88 percent this week.

0.7 discount points adds $700 to your mortgage closing costs for each $100,000 borrowed.

Mortgage rates are down this week on “safe haven” buying. The move is triggered by Wall Street’s concern that Spain and Italy will have trouble servicing their respective sovereign debt. In response, investors are selling risk-heavy assets and using the proceeds to purchase U.S. government-backed bonds.

This creates demand for mortgage bonds which, in turn, pressures mortgage rates lower.

The storyline is similar to what transpired in Greece last year, and, at least for now, it gives Scottsdale home buyers reason to cheer. So long as economic uncertainty remains, mortgage rates may stay low.

Of course, like all things in real estate, though, mortgage rates are local. Rates offered by banks varied by region.

Freddie Mac’s survey of 125 banks showed the following regional breakdown :

  • Northeast Region : 3.88% with 0.8 discount points 
  • West Region : 3.85% with 0.8 discount points
  • Southeast Region : 3.91% with 0.8 discount points
  • North Central Region : 3.89% with 0.6 discount points
  • Southwest Region : 3.90% with 0.8 discount points

The best mortgage “deals” are currently available to North Central Region residents. The most expensive loans are for those in the Southeast.

Relative to history, though, all mortgage rates look inexpensive. Conforming 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates have never been as low as they are today. It’s a bonus for home buyers because cheap mortgage rate yield cheap mortgage payments. Home affordability remains near all-time highs.  

If you’re unsure of whether now is a good time to buy or refinance, the answer is yes. Talk to your loan officer to review your mortgage options.

April 13, 2012 Posted by | Mortgage Rates | , , | Leave a comment

Tax Tips : What To Do With Your Tax Refund

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32545640

The typical U.S. taxpayer will receive roughly $3,000 in federal income tax refunds this year — an average of $250 per month. So, what would you do with an extra $250 monthly? This segment from NBC’s The Today Show offers some advice. 

Whether you’ve already filed your annual taxes for 2011, filed an extension, or will squeak by on the deadline, you could probably be doing more with your taxes. The above video shares some tips. It’s four minutes of solid insight on tax refunds, tax withholdings, and reducing your household’s overall “bad debt”. There’s something for everyone.

Among the points covered in the tax refund piece :

  • Consider changing your personal payroll exemptions so your 2012 refund is $0
  • Remember that refunds are not “free money” — it’s your money. Spend wisely.
  • Use your tax refund to fund retirement accounts

Advice is also shared about how to use your tax refund to fund a reserve account, or emergency fund. As a homeowner or home buyer in Scottsdale , applying tax refunds to a savings accounts in this manner can go a long way. When you’re a homeowner, maintenance costs can be sudden and unexpected. A furnace can explode, for example; or, a roof could spring a leak. Having money set aside for crisis is essential.

Having a savings account will also improve your household’s long-term financial stability. 

As a reminder, in most years, federal income tax is due April 15. However, with Tax Day falling on a Sunday and with the federal government closed for a holiday the following Monday, U.S. taxpayers in Arizona and nationwide get a reprieve until Tuesday, April 17, 2012.

April 12, 2012 Posted by | Taxes | , , | Leave a comment

The Top 10 Cities In Which To Raise A Family

Great places to raise a familyLooking for a great place to raise a family? Forbes Magazine has a list that may help you.

Titled “The Best Cities For Raising A Family“, Forbes has compiled and analyzed data from America’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, accounting for seven lifestyle factors including cost of living, commuting ease, school quality, crime density, and home affordability.

Given these selection criteria, it’s no surprise that Grand Rapids, Michigan took top honors. The area’s low median income is offset by an extremely low cost of living and a school system that’s among the best in the nation. Nearly 90% of the homes in Grand Rapids are affordable families earning the median income — the seventh-highest affordability ranking in the country — and commutes are quick.

Since the housing peak, home prices are down just 12% in Grand Rapids — a figure below the national average.

The complete Top 10 list for the Forbes “The Best Cities For Raising A Family” piece were:

  1. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  2. Boise, Idaho
  3. Provo, Utah
  4. Youngstown, Ohio
  5. Raleigh, North Carolina
  6. Poughkeepsie, New York
  7. Omaha, Nebraska
  8. Ogden, Utah
  9. Cincinnati, Ohio
  10. Worcester, Massachusetts

Now, before you make a home-buying decision based on the Forbes report, remember that real estate is a local market and even city-wide statistics can be too broad to be helpful to everyday home buyers in Phoenix. Even within Grand Rapids, there are some neighborhoods that outperform in terms of home valuations and school quality, for example; and some areas from which a daily work commute may be more cumbersome. 

For accurate, real-time housing data for any of the above markets or for a smaller neighborhood like Gainey Ranch , be sure to ask a real estate professional.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Rankings | , , | Leave a comment

Homes Get More Affordable On March Jobs Data

Unemployment Rate

Americans continue to get back to work.

Last Friday, in its Non-Farm Payrolls report for the month of March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced 120,000 net new jobs created, plus combined revisions in the January and February reports of +4,000 jobs.

The March report marks the 18th straight month of job growth nationwide — the first time that’s happened in 5 years.

The Unemployment Rate dipped in March, too, falling one-tenth of one percent to 8.2%. This is its lowest national Unemployment Rate since February 2009.

Clearly, the jobs market is moving in the right direction. Yet, after the Non-Farm Payrolls report was released Friday morning, stock markets dropped and bond markets gained — the opposite of what a casual market observer would expect.

It happened because, although job growth was strong, Wall Street decided it just wasn’t strong enough. The market expected 200,000 jobs created in March at least and the actual reported figure fell short.

Lucky for you, Wall Street’s pain is Main Street’s gain. After the jobs report was released, mortgage rates immediately dropped to a 3-week low, making homes more affordable in Arizona and throughout all 50 states.

The market’s reaction is an excellent example of how important jobs data can be to home affordability — especially in a recovering economy.

The economy shed 7 million jobs between 2008-2009 and has since added more than half of them back. Wall Street pays close attention to job creation because more working Americans means more consumer spending, and more consumer spending means more economic growth.

Rate shoppers caught a bit of a break on the March payroll data. By all accounts, the labor market recovery in underway and, as it improves, higher mortgage rates are likely nationwide. For now, though, there’s a window for low mortgage rates that buyers and would-be refinancing households can try to exploit.

If you’re actively shopping for a home or a mortgage, today’s mortgage rates may be at “last chance”-like levels. Once rates rise, they’re expected to rise for good.

April 10, 2012 Posted by | The Economy | , , | Leave a comment

Build Your Own Rain Barrel To Save Money, Environment

Rain barrelAccording to the EPA, during summer months, lawn and garden watering account for roughly 40% of a typical home’s water use.

It’s a statistic that reminds us how “green lawns” can be wasteful to both the environment and household budgets  — especially with drought conditions expected and water costs rising in many U.S. municipalities.

As a homeowner in Phoenix , to help Mother Nature and your wallet, consider added a rain barrel to your home.

A rain barrel is a rain-capturing system that collects and stores water runoff from your roof. Often attached to a home’s gutter system, a standard rain barrel collects and holds 55 gallons of water which can then be reused to water plants, wash cars, and clean driveways among other uses. Because the water is natural (i.e. not treated with chlorine or lime), it’s also ideal for window washing.    

Rain barrels can be purchases at most hardware or garden stores, or online via Amazon.com, for example. Or, they can be hand-built.

To install your rain barrel, first find a location for it, either under a downspout or near one. Make sure to select a stable location because water weighs roughly 8 pounds per gallon. A full rain barrel will weigh over 400 pounds, therefore, so be sure the ground beneath the it is solid and flat.

Next, if your rain barrel is hand-built, use PVC piping to reroute falling water into the mouth of the barrel itself, making sure to create a water-tight seal between the piping and the downspout. Or, if you’re using a store-bought rain barrel, follow the manufacturers instructions to “connect” the rain barrel to the downspout.

And, as the last step, be sure that the mouth of the rain barrel is protected from outside debris such as leaves, flowers and bugs. A formal lid or a covering made of wire mesh makes for a suitable protective cover. Most store-bought rain barrels will be sold with a covering.

That’s it. Just remember that basic maintenance will be needed. Water caught by a rain barrel should be used regularly to prevent “standing water” and protective screens should be cleaned regularly.

For a step-by-step guide to building your own rain barrel at home, click here.

April 9, 2012 Posted by | Around The Home | , , | Leave a comment

Jobs Report Due Friday; Mortgage Rates Expected To Change

Non-Farm Payrolls estimateIf you’re out shopping for a home this week, or trying to lock a mortgage rate, with Friday comes home affordability risk. Consider locking your mortgage rate today.

The March Non-Farm Payrolls report is due for release Friday morning and mortgage rates are expected to move. Unfortunately for the home buyers and rate shoppers of Phoenix , we can’t know in which direction that will be.

The prudent play may be to lock your mortgage rate today.

On the first Friday of each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Non-Farm Payrolls report. More commonly called “the jobs report”, the release is a bona fide market-mover, month after month. 

Depending on how the March jobs data reads, FHA and conforming mortgage rates could rise — or fall — by a measurable amount post-release. This is because today’s mortgage market is closely tied to the economy, and the economy is closely tied to job growth.

The connection between jobs and mortgage rates is basic.

More workers leads to higher levels of consumer spending nationwide and consumer spending accounts for the majority of the U.S. economy.

In addition, when more workers are paid, more taxes are paid, too. Local, state and federal governments collect more monies when payrolls are rising which, in turn, benefits projects that purchase new goods and services, and, in many cases, results in the hiring of additional personnel.

Job creation can be a powerful, self-reinforcing cycle. 

Between 2008 and 2009, the economy shed 7 million jobs. It has since recovered half of them. Friday, analysts expect to count another 200,000 jobs created. If the actual number of jobs created exceeds estimates, look for stock markets to gain and bond markets to lose. This leads to higher mortgage rates — especially with the Federal Reserve zeroed in on the labor market.

If the actual number of jobs created in March falls short of expectations, however, mortgage rates may fall.

Unfortunately, by the time the report is released, it will be too late to act on it. The release is made at 8:30 AM ET and bond markets are closed for Good Friday.

April 5, 2012 Posted by | The Economy | , , | Leave a comment

Fed Minutes Causes Mortgage Rates To Rise Suddenly

FOMC Minutes March 2012The Federal Reserve has released the minutes from its last FOMC meeting, a 1-day affair held March 13, 2012. Mortgage rates in Arizona are rising on the news.

For the un-indoctrinated, 3 weeks after it meets, the Federal Open Market Committee, the sub-group within the Federal Reserve that votes on U.S. monetary policy, publishes its meeting minutes.

Similar to the minutes from a corporate event, or condominium association meeting, the Fed Minutes recounts the conversations and debates that transpired throughout the meeting.

The Fed Minutes is a lengthy publication, often filling 10 pages or more. By contrast, the more well-known publication from the FOMC — its post-meeting press release — tends to span 6 paragraphs or less.

The extra detail contained within the Fed Minutes is Wall Street fodder, especially given the current economic uncertainty. Investors look to the Federal Reserve for clues about what’s next for the U.S. economy.

Lately, the minutes has made an out-sized impact on mortgage rates. The Fed’s words continue to swing the mortgage-backed bond market.

Today is no different.

March’s Fed Minutes is a dense one and markets are reacting. The text shows a central bank softly divided on future U.S. economic policy, and in debate about whether existing market stimulus should be removed.

The Fed has said that it’s expecting high levels of unemployment and low levels of inflation in the coming months, an outlook that leaves little reason to introduce a third round of stimulus. This is the primary reason why mortgage rates in Scottsdale have been climbing since the Fed Minutes’ release.

Since mid-March, mortgage rates dropped on speculation that the Federal Reserve would introduce a mortgage bond purchase program this quarter. Today, those expectations have reversed.

According to the minutes, the Federal Reserve believes that additional market stimulus would only be necessary “if the economy lost momentum”, or if inflation remained too far below 2 percent per year. Currently, Core PCE — the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation — is running slightly below 2 percent.

The Federal Reserve’s next scheduled meeting is April 24-25, 2012 — its third of 8 scheduled meetings this year.

April 4, 2012 Posted by | Federal Reserve | , , | Leave a comment

FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums Increasing April 9, 2012

FHA MIP increasingPlanning to use an FHA-backed mortgage for your next home loan? You might want to get your application in gear today.

Beginning next week, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is changing the way it charges mortgage insurance to U.S. homeowners. For the fourth time since 2010, FHA mortgage insurance premiums are rising for all FHA-backed homeowners.

For FHA Case Numbers assigned on, or after, Monday, April 9, 2012, there are two planned changes.

First, FHA Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premiums (UFMIP) will increase by 75 basis points to 1.75%, or $1,750 per $100,000 borrowed. Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium is paid at closing, and typically added to an FHA borrower’s loan size.

The current UFMIP rate is 1.000 percent.

Second, annual FHA mortgage insurance premiums are rising. All new FHA-backed loans will be subject to a 10 basis point increase in annual mortgage insurance premiums, costing homeowners an extra $100 per $100,000 borrowed per year.

The new FHA annual mortgage insurance premium schedule follows :

  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value > 90% : 0.60% MIP per year
  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 90% : 0.35% MIP per year
  • 15-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 78% : 0.00% MIP per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value > 95% : 1.25% MIP per year
  • 30-year loan term, loan-to-value <= 95% : 1.20% MIP per year

In addition, for loans above $625,500, beginning with FHA Case Numbers assigned on, or after, June 11, 2012, there will be an additional 25 basis point increase in annual MIP.

To calculate your monthly MIP obligation as a FHA homeowners, multiply your starting loan size by your insurance rate from the list above, then divide by 12.

Note that the FHA mortgage insurance changes apply to new FHA Case Numbers only. If you have an FHA mortgage approval in-process, or an existing FHA home loan, you are not subject to the new MIP schedule. To avoid paying the FHA’s new MIP schedule, therefore, begin your FHA mortgage application today.

Once your FHA Case Number is assigned, you’re locked in to today’s lower premiums.

April 3, 2012 Posted by | Mortgage Guidelines | , , | Leave a comment