The Mortgage Corner

Total existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 0.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.97 million in April, reports the National Association of Realtors. This could be a trend, as housing inventories are also increasing, while foreclosure rates continue to fall, allowing more homes on the market. Sales activity is 9.7 percent above the 4.53 million-unit level in April 2012.

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Graph: Calculated Risk

Total housing inventory at the end of April rose 11.9 percent, a seasonal increase to 2.16 million existing homes available for sale, a 5.2-month supply at the current sales pace, compared with 4.7 months in March. Listed inventory is 13.6 percent below a year ago, when there was a 6.6-month supply, with current availability tighter in the lower price ranges. Inventories are improving, but more homes need to be available for sale to continue the upward trend.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the market is solidly recovering.  “The robust housing market recovery is occurring in spite of tight access to credit and limited inventory.  Without these frictions, existing-home sales easily would be well above the 5-million unit pace,” he said.  “Buyer traffic is 31 percent stronger than a year ago, but sales are running only about 10 percent higher.  It’s become quite clear that the only way to tame price growth to a manageable, healthy pace is higher levels of new home construction.”

Meanwhile, according to the First Look report for April by Lender Processing Services (LPS), the percent of loans delinquent decreased in April compared to March, and declined about 10 percent year-over-year, reports Calculated Risk. Also the percent of loans in the foreclosure process declined further in April and were down almost 25 percent over the last year.

LPS reported the U.S. mortgage delinquency rate (loans 30 or more days past due, but not in foreclosure) decreased to 6.21 percent from 6.59 percent in March. Note: the normal rate for delinquencies is around 4.5 to 5 percent. The percent of loans in the actual foreclosure process declined to 3.1 percent in April from 3.37 percent in March, but that is still higher than pre-recession levels.

One danger signal to a continued housing recovery are rising mortgage rates, however. They have been rising from as low as 3.25% for the conforming 30-year fixed rate to 3.625 percent today.  And this has caused mortgage applications to drop. The Refinance Index decreased 12 percent from the previous week. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 3 percent from one week earlier.

“Mortgage rates increased to their highest level since March last week, leading to the largest single week drop in refinance applications this year,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice President of Research and Economics. “The refinance index has fallen almost 19 percent over the past two weeks and is back to its lowest level since late March. Purchase activity declined over the week but is still running about 10 percent above last year’s pace at this time.”

Given consumers’ slow growing incomes, such low interest rates have been the main driver of housing sales. We can only hope the Federal Reserve continues its Quantitative Easing purchases of securities to keep interest rates low enough for housing to fully recover.

Harlan Green © 2013

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