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Is Your Home Your Piggy Bank?

October 18, 2018

A recent study shows that for the first time ever, accessible (or “tappable,” the term used by the study) US home owner equity has exceeded $6 trillion.  The number of home owners with equity that they can access has reached about 44 million.  In the first half of 2018, this tappable home equity increased by about $636 billion.

Ultimately this means that many Americans can utilize their home equity to fund home renovation projects, cover education costs, consolidate higher-interest debt, or fund other household needs.  Americans typically access their home equity in one of two ways, a home equity line of credit (HELOC) or doing a cash out refinance on their entire mortgage.  Here are some costs and benefits of each option:

Cash Out Refinance:

  • Interest rate is typically fixed.
  • Fully amortizing – some of each monthly payment is principal.
  • Pays off existing mortgage so borrower starts with a new loan term and interest rate.

HELOC:

  • Variable interest rate.
  • Interest only payments – balloon due at end of loan term, often 10 years
  • Lower closing costs than a cash out refinance.
  • Does not change your current mortgage interest rate or amortization term.

So which option is best you ask?  Well, that depends considerably on the home owner’s circumstances.  As a mortgage lender, here are some questions I think a home owner should ask him / herself to help determine which option is right:

  • Do I want a fixed payment or can I live with changing interest rates and payments?
  • Am I disciplined enough to proactively pay down my loan quickly, or will I only make minimum payments?
  • How much do I need?  $100,000 for a home renovation or $10,000 for a home repair?
  • Why do I need to access my home’s equity?  Is the reason really worth tapping my equity?

Answers to these questions form the basis for a home owner’s decision.  In the next post, I will opine on my preferred options based on these questions, and give a recent client scenario.

Do you have a friend considering a renovation or needing funds for a child’s education in the next 3 months?  Please refer them to me.  I will ask them these questions and coach them to make the best decision for their own unique circumstances. 

 

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Atlanta Home Market Update

September 26, 2018


A new report on the Atlanta housing market shows a significant decline in home sales, year over year, along with a much greater decline in Atlanta home sales as compared to the national housing market.  The number of August Atlanta home sales declined 7.1% from 2017 to 2018.  The national decline in home sales was only 1.1% for the same period.  The data shows varying results for different parts of the metro area:

  • Cobb County sales declined 9%
  • DeKalb County sales declined 8%
  • Clayton sales declined 17%
  • Gwinnett County reported a more than 10% sales decline
  • On the other hand, Fulton County sales increased 14%

Atlanta home prices continue to increase, even while the number of sales decrease.  One example of this is the Old Fourth Ward section of Atlanta.  From 2017 to 2018, the number of home sales declined 19%.  But at the same time, average prices in the Old Fourth Ward have risen by about 35%.

Atlanta’s housing challenge is an inventory shortage, especially at the lower end of the home price spectrum.  ReMax reported that the supply of homes listed for sale in metro Atlanta was down 13% in August as compared to August 2017.  Ultimately, buyers compete against each other for desirable homes and this forces prices up.

From my experience, it seems that homes priced under $300,000 have seen strong competition this year.  One client found a home priced around $260,000 in an attractive Gwinnett neighborhood.  My client’s offer was one of about 20 offers on this one house.  Some Realtor friends have told me about making offers on Atlanta condos where the listing agent received 12 – 15 other offers.

It is very tough for buyers to compete in this market.  I have several clients who have decided to put home ownership on hold until 2019.  It takes patience and persistence to keep going.

For pointers on how a lender can help a buyer compete, see this prior Mortgage Blog post:  https://wp.me/p1Gub-YJ.  Buyers should talk with Realtors about other ways to make their offers more attractive.  Effective ideas include:

  1. If cash is available, the buyer can offer to pay the purchase price regardless of the property’s appraised value.
  2. The buyer must have a flexible schedule to visit homes and make offers right when they hit the market.
  3. The buyer can consider writing a personal note to the seller explaining why the house is perfect.  (I’ve seen this work before.)

Experienced Realtors can offer more effective tips for winning the contract.  If you have a friend or coworker wanting to buy a home in Atlanta, ask if they want their lender to help them beyond financing a house by helping win the contract.  Then refer them to me.  We at Dunwoody Mortgage will do all in our power to help them win the contract and close on the purchase, and we will do it quickly too.


How the Lender Can Help Win the Contract

August 14, 2018


The last post covered reasons why we have such a sellers’ market in Atlanta real estate.  Now let’s cover how a lender can help win a contract.  We lenders have a few ways to help strengthen our buyers’ offers relative to competitors.

Firstly, many listing agents prefer to work with local lenders rather than the national and online lenders.  The Realtors also like the ability to communicate with local lenders – they can call us with any issues or questions and often get a faster response than with a national lender.  I once had a Realtor who was listing a home tell me, “We chose your client’s offer because they had a letter from you, and we know that you would make the closing happen on time.”  Trust is important and we local lenders work hard to build that trust in our markets.

Secondly, when my clients make an offer, sometimes the listing agent will call me to verify the information provided in the prequalification letter.  I’m always happy to talk with the agents, and I use this as a chance to actively promote my client’s strengths.  I once took a call from a Realtor on the Saturday of a holiday weekend.  When I answered she immediately responded, “Oh thank goodness!  A lender who works Realtor hours not bankers hours.”  We can be available on weekends and in the evenings to help our buyers.  I have volunteered to proactively call listing agents on my client’s behalf.  It helps to promote my client’s strengths.

The most powerful way a lender can help a buyer win a contract is to underwrite the buyer with a “to be determined” property — before the buyer actually makes an offer.  We fully underwrite the buyer, but without the property-specific details.  So there’s no appraisal, no title work, etc. (until a house is under contract).  This gives the ability to provide a letter stating that underwriting has already approved the borrower.  It also allows us to shorten the closing timeframe (since we don’t have to underwrite the buyer again) and potentially eliminate the financing contingency, which is standard on most home purchase contracts.  Having underwriting approval positions the buyer strongly relative to other offers with only prequalification letters.  The only offer stronger is a cash offer.  In competitive markets expecting multiple offers on listed homes, this approach can position the buyer to better win.

If you have a friend or family member who has been making home purchase offers and is frustrated about not winning, have them contact me.  We at Dunwoody Mortgage will do everything possible (from a lender perspective) to help them win.

 

A Seller’s Market – Thoughts on Why

July 26, 2018


The seller’s market continues on in the Atlanta area.  I have recently heard Realtors talking about their clients making offers on homes that have 12 – 15 competing offers.  One Realtor friend told me about a home that he listed last December.  The Realtor did painstaking research on the neighborhood and comparable properties.  The analysis said a fair price was $299,000.  The winning offer was $355,000!  That’s about 18% over the asking price.

So how did we get to this point?  According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, one key factor is that for over 10 years now, home construction has not kept pace with US population growth.  The article stated that current home construction per household is close to its lowest level in 60 years – since the late 1950’s.  In years past, this lower construction level was somewhat offset by the number of foreclosed homes available for purchase.  But that is no longer the case as foreclosure rates have decreased dramatically since the Great Recession.

In the Atlanta metro area, this housing “shortage” is compounded by population growth.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported in June that the metro area’s recent annual population growth of 1.5% exceeds the rates for eight of the top ten US metro areas.  With this growth rate, Atlanta is on pace to surpass the population of Philadelphia by 2022, becoming the eight most populous city in the country.

See the source image

All of this affects the mentality of a big group of potential home buyers.  They currently own a home, and they want to move to meet the needs of a growing family or shorten their commute.  But their income level will not support two mortgages, so their offers must be contingent on selling their current home.  That creates two problems.  The first is that sellers can choose from multiple offers and they are much more likely to choose a non-contingent offer than a contingent one.  Secondly, these would-be home buyers are very reluctant to list their current home without having a new home under contract.  And it makes sense – they don’t want to sell their current house and not be able to buy a new one.  Let’s face it…moving stinks, and having to move twice stinks twice as much.  So many would-be home buyers are “sitting on the sidelines,” waiting for the market to get less competitive before they seriously look for homes.

Dunwoody Mortgage can actually help our clients better position themselves to win competitive home purchase situations.  You ask, “How can the lender help the buyer win a contract?”  I’ll tell you…in the next blog post.  If you or someone you know wants to buy a house and doesn’t have time to wait for the next post, call me.  I would love to tell you how Dunwoody Mortgage can help home buyers win in this sellers market.


Study Shows Financial Benefits of Home Ownership – Part 4

May 30, 2018


Here is another observation from the homeownership study by Laurie S. Goodman and Christopher Mayer (https://www.urban.org/research/publication/homeownership-and-american-dream) – home ownership is especially prevalent for Americans near retirement age, and this suggests that “most households view homeownership as a critical part of a life-cycle plan for savings and retirement” (p. 43).

The study notes that home ownership rates peak at or near retirement.  80% of Americans aged 65 to 74 own a home.  In most European countries, the ownership rate at this age peaks between 75 and 90 percent.  This is much higher than the ownership rate for younger households.  Home equity for older households in large European countries exceeded 8 trillion euros in 2013.  At the same time, seniors in America held 5 trillion euros in home equity. 

Regarding home ownership effects on retirement savings, the authors conclude, “This pattern suggests that home equity often plays an important role in retirement savings, although homeowners often don’t access the equity directly except for the rent-free use of the property” (p. 34).  The bottom line is that wealth built from home ownership plays a key role in retirement savings for many, many people.

Do you have a friend in Georgia who is renting and laments that she will never be able to retire?  Connect your friend with me at Dunwoody Mortgage.  We will explore all options to see if we can get her in a home.  If not now, we can help her plan for a future home purchase.  Then she can start building her wealth every month instead of building wealth for her landlord.

Study Shows Financial Benefits of Home Ownership – Part 3

May 8, 2018

Here is another conclusion from the homeownership study by Laurie S. Goodman and Christopher Mayer (https://www.urban.org/research/publication/homeownership-and-american-dream) – although homeownership carries risks, over time, homeownership correlates with strong wealth accumulation.  The wealth accumulation benefits show the strongest links to owners who maintain their homeownership during market fluctuations (page 53).  In my opinion, this is one of the strongest arguments for home ownership.

With every mortgage payment, the homeowner increases equity and wealth because each payment has a principal component.  If you want to keep your house, you must make your payments, and you grow your equity with each payment.  You grow your wealth by paying a bill.  This means that even folks with less financial discipline – who may not set aside money for “savings” – still build wealth with every mortgage payment.  So homeowners grow wealth first by making their regular payments.

 

Secondly, price appreciation also provides long-term wealth benefits.  The study notes that “Homes have generally appreciated in price over time,” (page 52).  So over time, the homeowner increases his / her ownership percentage of a generally appreciating asset.  Since we humans have to pay for a place to live, why not build wealth as you pay for housing as opposed to rent payments that are simply an expense?

The study also states that homeowners can increase their home’s value by making some improvements themselves.  The home owner’s “sweat equity” serves as yet another way to grow wealth through home ownership.

To wrap up, I’ll quote this statement, “There is little evidence of an alternative savings vehicle (other than a government-mandated program like Social Security) that would successfully encourage low-to-moderate income households to obtain substantial savings outside of owning a home” (page 43).  Like the regular Social Security contributions we make, mortgage payments serve like a “forced savings plan.”  Unlike Social Security, which is subject to the whims of politicians and bureaucratic calculations, homeowners own a specific asset which can appreciate and in which they can invest more.  What’s not to love?

As noted in the first paragraph, home owners must be able to hang on during market fluctuations.  Buying a home with a short-term horizon can decrease wealth.  We all endured a home price roller coaster from 2006 to 2013.  Although this period is fresh in our minds, remember that the only other time when we had home price swings of that magnitude was during the Great Depression.

In the next post, we will explore some other “pitfalls” of ownership, from a financial perspective.  For now, do you have a friend who expresses frustration about ever-increasing rent payments?  Ask them if they would like to increase their own net worth every month (instead of their landlord’s net worth).  Then refer them to me.  We at Dunwoody Mortgage will help them plan effectively for long-term ownership and wealth accumulation.  And we will take great care of them through the process.

 

Study Shows Financial Benefits of Home Ownership – Part 2

April 11, 2018

When considering a home purchase, people generally like to have some data to analyze the pros and cons.  Luckily for you, I found a recent study that discusses some of these details.  Also luckily for you, I read it so you don’t have to read it!  You can find a link to the report below, but let’s hit some of the highlights.

The homeownership study by Laurie S. Goodman and Christopher Mayer (https://www.urban.org/research/publication/homeownership-and-american-dream) first concludes that financial returns for a home purchase in a “normal” market are “strong” and typically outperform the stock market.  Goodman and Mayer analyzed home (not apartment) rental data from Zillow, national home ownership cost data from the American Housing Survey (plus other sources for local market data), along with home sales price data.   Their analysis begins by assuming a home purchase at the end of 2002, prior to significant home price increases in 2003 – 2006 followed by the decline in the 2007 – 2012 years (If you want more details, you can see of yourself using the link above on pages 44-45).

The authors go on to explain how they compare the costs of renting a house versus the costs and equity appreciation vs. tax benefits of home ownership.  I’ll let you chew through the details.  They provide a detailed table analyzing multiple years of home ownership relative to other potential investments.  It is very interesting to look at the details on an annual basis over the study’s time frame.  (You can find this information on pages 45 – 46).

(Perhaps a home is not best for everyone)

Ultimately, the authors conclude (page 47) that owning a house “appears to be generally financially advantageous relative to renting, regardless of whether a home buyer itemizes deductions.”  Another key finding reads, “Including the value of deductions, the homebuyer would have outperformed all the alternative investments in all years.”  Note that they report buyers who did not itemize would show a few years of underperforming a comparative index.

As a mortgage lender, I wish there were additional analysis using returns for down payments of less than 20% (the authors’ assumption), as many of my clients do make smaller down payments.  I also find it interesting to consider the “holding period” of home ownership relative to the changes in property values seen during the period of 2008 through 2016.  Bottom line, it really helps the home owner’s return when property values appreciate – no duh, right?

More details to come in a future post.  For now, do you know someone considering buying a Georgia home in the next 3 months?  Are they thinking about renewing a lease?  If so, forward this post to them and ask them to call me.  We can discuss the financial pros and cons of their decision.  If they elect to buy, we at Dunwoody Mortgage will take great care of them and work hard to make their mortgage experience great.

Study Shows Financial Benefits of Home Ownership – Part 1

March 28, 2018

People have often asked me if owning a house is better financially than renting.  Owning and renting both have pros and cons, and trying to quantify financial comparisons can be quite challenging.  I have recently reviewed a detailed study on home ownership by Laurie S. Goodman and Christopher Mayer.  Their article is entitled Homeownership and the American Dream.  Here is a link where you can download the report .pdf if you want to review the entire document:  https://www.urban.org/research/publication/homeownership-and-american-dream

I will spend the next few posts highlighting some of their findings.  Here is a quick summary of their conclusions:

  • Financial returns for a home purchase in a “normal” market typically outperform the stock market.
  • Home ownership encourages savings in low-to-moderate income households better than alternative savings strategies (except perhaps for a government-required program like Social Security).
  • Home ownership is prevalent in almost all countries and especially so for people nearing retirement age, indicating that most households consider homeownership an important part of saving for retirement.

The bottom line is that home ownership is still good financially for most homeowners, based on the report’s analysis.

Home ownership may not be the best option in certain circumstances.  For example, if a potential career change may require you to move in 2 years or less, renting may be a better financial choice due to a home purchase’s transaction costs.  And the report highlights that the magnitude of ownership’s financial benefits depends on details like property tax rates, itemization of tax return deductions, etc.

Do you know someone considering buying a Georgia home in the next 3 months?  Are they debating whether to renew their lease?  If so, forward this post to them and ask them to call me.  We can discuss the financial pros and cons of their decision.  If they elect to buy, we at Dunwoody Mortgage will take great care of them and work hard to make their mortgage experience great.

How Government Policy Impacts Mortgage Rates

February 20, 2018

Mortgage interest rates continue rising.  Other recent blog posts have covered the impacts of inflation, the Federal Funds rate, and stock market influences on mortgage rates.  Another major influence on mortgage rates is government policy. 

In 2008, the Federal Reserve implemented a program called “quantitative easing” (QE).  The Fed created money to buy securities like mortgage backed securities and public bonds from banks.  This new money increased bank reserves.  The idea is that the new cash would motivate banks to lend more money.  In buying new assets, stock prices would rise, and interest rates would fall, thus boosting investment further.  Given the trillions of dollars of assets purchased, it’s logical to assume that interest rates on all types of debt are lower than they would have been without QE.

The Fed ceased QE security purchases in October 2014.  A government policy used to keep rates low ended, and experts wondered if mortgage rates would increase.  But rates stayed near their historic lows until November 2016.  Rates rose quickly after the election by almost a full percentage point, and then slowly retreated over most of 2017.

In October 2017, the Fed began “normalizing its balance sheet” by selling its securities holdings – selling the bonds purchased in QE.  Experts predicted this policy would have the reverse effect of QE:

·       Bond price decreases due to increased supply (as the Fed sells its holdings).

·       Falling bond prices lead to increases in bond yields, which translates to rising interest rates.

And that appears to be happening.  From a lender’s perspective – QE was great.  I loved quoting interest rates less than 4%.  And now it’s frustrating and stressful to see interest rates rising and continuing higher.  But it makes sense given the broader economic and government policy environment.

It is impossible to accurately predict where mortgage rates will go.  Sudden changes in government policy, international relations, etc. can cause mortgage rates to change direction.  Given that caveat, it appears likely that mortgage rates have truly left the historic low levels of the last few years and will likely not return there anytime soon.  I think it is logical to expect rates to continue rising for the short term.

So, if you know someone in Georgia who is considering a home purchase, it may be a good financial move to pull the trigger before rates go much higher.  Refer that someone to me and we can explore their loan options together.  We at Dunwoody Mortgage offer competitive rates in this changing environment, and as a small company, we can go directly to our executives to work out the best pricing “deal” possible.  In addition to competitive rates, we consistently deliver outstanding service to get home buyers to closing on time.

Recent Mortgage Rate Changes

February 13, 2018

Wow!  Our economic world has gone crazy in recent weeks.  The Dow Jones average has dropped about 7.9% since its high on January 26, less than 3 weeks ago.

Mortgage interest rates have been changing dramatically too.  Rates have increased a half point (0.5%) since January 2.  Back in mid-December, I quoted an interest rate to a first-time home buyer named John.  Today, in mid-February, I would likely have to charge him 0.625% more than what I quoted in December.

So, what is driving the rapid mortgage rate changes?  In short, Wall Street, economic factors, and government policy.

To understand the basics, first realize that the vast majority of conventional mortgages are sold by lenders to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Fannie and Freddie then package these mortgages into mortgage backed securities (MBS).  Money managers, pension funds, insurance companies, mutual funds, etc. buy the MBS to keep in their investment portfolios.  They buy and they sell them like other investments. 

That means that the same economic factors that influence stock and bond prices – economic productivity, unemployment, inflation, and government policy – all impact mortgage interest rates.  And MBS must compete with other investment vehicles such as stocks and bonds to attract investors.

Many experts consider the market for 10 Year Treasuries as a benchmark or comparison for MBS.  Both investments offer stable, predictable cash flows.  Since January 2, 2018, the 10 Year Treasury rate has increased almost 0.4%.  Looks like interest rates on these competing investment vehicles are rising at the same time.

Given recent positive unemployment figures and wage growth, inflation concerns are increasing.  Higher inflation expectations tend to drive higher interest rates on Treasuries, bonds, and MBS.  Let’s face it, if investors expect inflation to be 3%, they will want to earn more than 3% on their fixed-income investments, right.  So as inflation concerns rise, it is logical to expect mortgage interest rates to rise accordingly.

When it comes to mortgage interest rates, there’s much more to consider, and we will delve into more details in future posts.  For now, if you know someone in Georgia who is considering a home purchase, please have them contact me.  We at Dunwoody Mortgage offer competitive rates in this changing environment, along with outstanding service to get home buyers to closing on time.