The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey shows a 1.3 percent increase in mortgage loan applications last week. Also, the seasonally adjusted purchase index jumped 6.8 percent and is at the highest level since last October. Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice President of Research and Economics, said the increases may be due to buyers hoping to capitalize on the home buyer tax credit before it expires at the end of next month. The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages also moved up to 5.04 percent from 5.01. More here and here.
According to Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller home-price index, prices gained 0.3 percent in January, with year-over-year numbers showing the smallest decline in nearly three years. David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P said, though there is continued improvement in year-over-year data, the rebound in prices seen last fall is fading, noting that fewer cities experienced month-to-month gains in January than in December 2009. More here and here.
The Home Affordable Modification Program, announced in 2009, hoped to help 3 to 4 million borrowers stay in their homes, but resulted in only 170,000 permanent loan modifications. Facing criticism and an estimated 11 million potential foreclosures this year, The Obama administration announced a new $14 billion program, which shifts their efforts toward the expanded use of principal write-downs for unemployed homeowners and those in areas where home values have dropped most severely. The plan includes three to six months of temporary assistance for the jobless and incentives for mortgage servicers to write down part of the principal balance. FAQs here and here. More here and here.
Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities, says the government isn’t likely to propose any major housing industry reform this year because of continued uncertainty in the market.
In a televised interview, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said he was definitely optimistic about short-term prospects for housing and the economy. Greenspan, who headed the Fed from 1987 to 2006, said, though housing prices appear near their bottom, the recovery will be fragile until there is true stabilization. More here.
According to The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, the average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 5.01 percent last week, up .10 percentage points from the week before. The MBA report also said that, though demand for loan applications fell 4.2 percent, the four-week average was up 1.9 percent. More here.
According to The National Association of Realtors, sales of previously owned homes fell .06 percent in February. Despite the third straight month of decline, sales were 7.0 percent higher than February 2009. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said year-over-year sales have been up for eight months but the key test for the housing recovery is what happens as the tax-credit deadline approaches. The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $165,100 in February, down 1.8 percent year-over-year. More here and here. A graph of monthly existing-home sales since 2005 below.
According to IHS Global Insight’s updated quarterly study of housing prices, the market is nearing stabilization after prices declined an average of 37 percent in overvalued metropolitan areas since 2005. The study, which looks at the 330 largest metro areas, concluded that two years of drastic price depreciation ended last summer and, by the end of 2009, there were no extremely overvalued areas and, in fact, the housing market is now slightly undervalued overall. In 2005, IHS warned of a looming price collapse based on finding 52 extremely overvalued U.S. markets. James Diffley, group managing director of the IHS regional services group, said that the collapse has now been borne out. Highlights here. More here.
Nicolas Retsinas, director of Housing Studies at Harvard University, argues that it is difficult to determine the actual state of the housing industry because of the amount of government support it’s currently receiving. According to Retsinas, real recovery will only occur once foreclosures aren’t dominating the market and people feel secure enough in their jobs to consider buying a home.
The home-buyer tax credit offering $8,000 to first-time buyers and $6,500 to repeat buyers is set to expire at the end of April. The program, having already received two extensions in February and December 2009, isn’t expected to be extended past the April 30 deadline, which leaves prospective buyers only a few more weeks to qualify. In order to receive the credit, buyers must have a signed contract on or before April 30 and the purchase must be complete by June 30. Walter Molony, a spokesman with the National Association of Realtors, cautions those getting into the market now to be prepared to make quick decisions. Six things to keep in mind here. Key info here.