Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Supply Of New Homes At 6.1 Months Nationwide

New Home Supply 2010-2011
New Home Sales slowed into the New Year but the market for newly-built homes remains strong. For home buyers in Georgia and nationwide, December's New Home Sales report is yet one more signal that the housing market recovery may be underway.

According to the Census Bureau, the number of new homes sold in December 2011 slipped 2 percent to 307,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis nationwide.

A "new home" is a home that is considered new construction; a home for which the buyer will be the first owner and tenant.

As compared to December 2010, last months' sales volume fell seven percent. It's a statistic that suggests housing market weakness. However, in looking at a different component of the New Home Sales report -- the supply of homes for sale -- we're forced to reconsider.

At the current pace of sales, every new home for sale nationwide would be "sold" in a matter of 6.1 months. 

Economists believe that a 6.0-month supply defines a market in balance -- anything quicker is termed a "seller's market". Statistics like that are enough to create urgency among today's Metro Atlanta home buyers. 

Unfortunately, the Census Bureau's data may be wrong.

Although December's New Home Sales report shows sales down 2 percent, the government's data was published with a ±13.2% margin of error. This means that the actual New Home Sales figure may have been as low as -15.2 percent, or as high as +11.2 percent. And, because the range of possible values includes both positive and negative numbers, the Census Bureau had no choice but to assign its December data "Zero Confidence".

It will be a few months before final revisions are made to December New Home Sales data. Until then, therefore, buyers should take cues from the market-at-large and the market-at-large hints at recovery. One example of this is homebuilders showing more confidence in their product than at any time in the last 5 years.

If your plans for 2012 call for buying new construction, therefore, consider using this lull to "make a deal". As the year progresses, the great values in housing may be gone.

For more information about the Atlanta area real estate market, please email me at ed@edshort.com or call me at 404.918.2500.

~ Ed Short, Atlanta REALTOR®

Monday, January 30, 2012

5 Simple Ways To Declutter Your Home

Declutter your home to help it sell faster
When a home is listed for sale, its "clutter" can be the difference between a rapid sale and no sale at all.

Clutter, in its strictest sense, is defined as anything untidy; or in a disorderly state. In real estate, the term is broadened to include unnecessary furniture pieces; unwieldy artwork or collections; stacks of papers and/or magazines; and anything that otherwise restricts the open flow of a home's floor plan.

In other words, clutter is anything that distracts from your home's natural footprint.

As a home seller in Metro Atlanta, understanding how your home's clutter can affect a buyer is paramount to helping your home sell faster, and at a higher contract price.

First, there's the psychological angle. A potential home buyer may see clutter and think "mess".  Few people want to buy a house they find messy or otherwise disorganized.

Second, there's the practical angle. A home that appears full of "things" also appears as if its lacking in storage space. This, too, can turn off buyers.

When you list your home for sale, here are basic tips to de-clutter your home. Some of this advice may not be practical with respect to your home, in particular, so make sure to ask your real estate agent for follow-up help.
  1. In each room, remove photos, trophies, plaques and other personal items on display.
  2. Remove large collections such as dolls, cars, miniature cans, and the like.
  3. Remove worn throw rugs
  4. Remove items from kitchen countertops, including small appliances
  5. Remove items from bathroom countertops
You should also consider removing distinctive artwork from your walls, or replacing pieces with items that are more bland.

The over-reaching goal of de-cluttering is to depersonalize and neutralize your home so a buyer can visualize himself/herself living there. De-cluttering your home can also make your home appear larger, accentuating the features of each room. 

It's no wonder that minimally-cluttered homes tend to have a wider appeal among buyers.

Please feel free to share other de-cluttering ideas you have in the comments area.

For more information about the Atlanta area real estate market, please email me at ed@edshort.com or call me at 404.918.2500.

~ Ed Short, Atlanta REALTOR®

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pending Home Sales Index Posts Second Best Month Since April 2010

Pending Home Sales 2011
After 3 consecutive months of growth, the housing market appears to have eased a bit in December.

According to the National Association of REALTORS®, December's Pending Home Sales Index slipped 4 percent from the month prior. The index measures the number of homes under contract to sell nationwide, but not yet sold.

Despite falling below its benchmark "100 value," December's Pending Home Sales Index is the reading's second-highest value since April 2010 -- the last month of last year's home buyer tax credit program.

In other words, the housing market continues to show signs of improvement, propelled by low home prices and the cheapest mortgage rates of all-time.

Freddie Mac's mortgage rate survey put the 30-year fixed rate mortgage at an average of 3.96% in December -- a 75-basis point improvement from December 2010. This helps to make homes more affordable nationwide.

On a regional basis, December's Pending Home Sales Index varied :
  • Northeast Region: -3.1 percent from November 2011
  • Midwest Region : +4.0 percent from November 2011 
  • South Region : -2.6 percent from November 2011
  • West Region : -11.0 percent from November 2011
But even regional data is only so helpful. Like everything in real estate, data must be local to be relevant.

Throughout the West Region, for example, the U.S. region in which pending home sales fell the most, several states must have performed better than the regional average. And, undoubtedly, there were cities, towns, and neighborhoods that experienced marked market growth.

Unfortunately, the Pending Home Sales Index can't capture that data. Nor can it identify the markets in which home sales suffered.

For today's Metro Atlanta home buyers and sellers, therefore, it's important to understand our local market and the drivers of local activity. Reports like the Pending Home Sales Index can paint a broad picture for U.S. housing, but for data that matters to you, you'll want to look local. Please contact me for all the latest Metro Atlanta real estate information.

For more information about the Atlanta area real estate market, please email me at ed@edshort.com or call me at 404.918.2500.

~ Ed Short, Atlanta REALTOR®

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Simple Explanation Of The Federal Reserve Statement (January 25, 2012)

Putting the FOMC statement in plain English
Today, the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee voted to leave the Fed Funds Rate unchanged within its current target range of 0.000-0.250 percent.

The Fed Funds Rate has been near zero percent since December 2008.

For the third consecutive month, the Fed Funds Rate vote was nearly unanimous. Just one FOMC member dissented in the 9-1 vote, objecting only to the language used in the Fed's official statement.

In its press release, the Federal Reserve noted that the the U.S. economy has "expanding moderately" since its last meeting in December 2011, adding that the growth is occurring despite "slowing in global growth" -- a reference to ongoing economic uncertainty within the Eurozone.

The Federal Reserve expects moderate economic expansion through the next few quarters but is wary of "strains" from global financial markets, and these three threats to the U.S. economy:  
  1. The housing sector remains "depressed"
  2. The unemployment rate remains "elevated"
  3. Fixed business investment has "slowed"
On the positive side, the FOMC said that household spending is rising and inflation remains in-check. The group also believes that employment will gradually improve nationwide going forward.

The Federal Reserve neither introduced new economic stimulus, nor discontinued existing market programs.

Immediately following the FOMC's statement, mortgage markets rallied, pressuring mortgage rates to fall in and around Metro Atlanta. 

Mortgage rates remain near all-time lows and, for homeowners willing to pay points plus closing costs, conventional, 30-year fixed rate mortgages can be locked at below 4 percent. If you're in the process of buying or refinancing a home in Georgia, it's a good time to lock a mortgage rate with your lender.

The FOMC's next scheduled meeting is a one-day event slated for March 13, 2012.

For more information about the Atlanta area real estate market, please email me at ed@edshort.com or call me at 404.918.2500.

~ Ed Short, Atlanta REALTOR®

The Federal Reserve Meets Today: Mortgage Rates Expected To Move

Interest rate difference between 30-year fixed and Fed Funds Rate 2000-2012
The Federal Open Market Committee adjourns from a scheduled 2-day meeting today, its first of 8 scheduled meetings this year.

The FOMC is a designated, rotating, 12-person committee within the Federal Reserve, led by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Members of the FOMC sub-committee are the voting members of the Federal Reserve; the ones that ultimately determine U.S. monetary policy.

The most well-known Federal Reserve monetary policy tool is the central bank's Fed Funds Rate. The Fed Funds Rate is the prescribed interest rate at which banks borrow money from each other for a period of one night. 

The Fed Funds Rate can only be changed by FOMC vote.

For home buyers and would-be refinancing households in Metro Atlanta, it's important to recognize that the Fed Funds Rate is an interest rate separate and distinct from "mortgage rates." Mortgage rates are not voted upon by the Federal Reserve. Rather, mortgage rates are based on the price of mortgage-backed bonds, a security bought and sold among investors.

Historically, there is little correlation between the Fed Funds Rates and 30-year fixed rate mortgage rates throughout Georgia. Going back 20 years, the benchmark rates have been separated by as much as 5.29% and have been as near as 0.52%. 

The spread has even gone negative, most recently in 1979 and 1981 -- a period marked by high inflation.

Today, the separation between the Fed Funds Rate and the average, 30-year fixed rate mortgage rate is roughly 3.60%. Beginning at 12:30 PM ET, however, that spread is expected to change. The FOMC will make its statement to the press at that time, and will release its quarterly forecast to the markets.

As Wall Street reacts to the Fed's press release and projections, mortgage rates will move.

Investors expect the Fed to vote the Fed Funds Rate unchanged from its current range near 0.000 percent, but are unsure of how the Fed will characterize the U.S. economy. If the Fed speaks optimistically on the economy, stock markets should rise and mortgage bonds should fall, driving mortgage rates higher.

Conversely, if the Fed shows concern for future economic growth, mortgage rates should drop. Either way, today figures to be volatile one for mortgage markets. 

When mortgage markets get volatile, the safe play as a rate shopper is to lock your mortgage rate immediately. There too much risk in floating

For more information about the Atlanta area real estate market, please email me at ed@edshort.com or call me at 404.918.2500.

~ Ed Short, Atlanta REALTOR®

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Existing Home Sales Approach Bull Market Territory

Existing Home Supply 2011
The housing market finished 2011 with strength, and is carrying measurable momentum into 2012. 

According to data from the National Association of REALTORS®, on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis, December's Existing Home Sales climbed by 120,000 units overall from the month prior on its way to an 11-month high.

An "existing home" is a home that's been previously occupied; that cannot be considered new construction.

After 4.61 million existing homes were sold in December, there are now just 2.38 million homes for sale nationwide. The last time the national home supply was this sparse was March 2005.

At today's sales pace, the complete, national home inventory would be exhausted in 6.2 months -- the fastest pace since before the recession. A 6.0-month supply is believed to represent a market in balance. 

The December Existing Home Sales report contained noteworthy foreclosure and short sale statistics, too :
  • Foreclosures sold at an average discount of 22% to market value
  • Short sales sold at an average discount of 13% to market value
  • Together, foreclosures and short sales accounted for 32% of all home sales
Clearly, "distressed homes" remain a large part of the U.S. housing market.

Furthermore, in its report, the real estate trade group also noted that one-third of homes under contract to sell nationwide succumbed to contract failure last month. That's up from 9% one year ago.

Contract failure occurs for a multitude of reasons, most notably homes appraising for less than the purchase price; the buyer's failure to achieve a mortgage approval; and, insurmountable home inspection issues. December's high failure rate underscores the importance of getting pre-approved as a buyer, and of buying homes in "good condition."

For today's home buyer in Metro Atlanta, December's Existing Home Sales figures may be construed as a "buy signal." Home supplies are dropping and buyer demand is rising. This is the basic recipe for higher home prices ahead.

If your 2012 plans call for buying a home, consider that home values throughout Georgia are expected to rise as the year progresses. The best values of the year may be the ones secured this winter.

For more information about the Atlanta area real estate market, please email me at ed@edshort.com or call me at 404.918.2500.

~ Ed Short, Atlanta REALTOR®

Monday, January 23, 2012

When Should I Change My Home's Air Filters?

Keep a clean air filter
How long has it been since you last changed your home's air filters? 

Home air filters trap and remove dust and particles from the air you breathe; leaving "clean air" to circulate your home. 

Clean air in your home is important because it promotes better health.

One way to keep your home's air as clean as possible is to replace its used air filters at least once per quarter; or once monthly in homes with shedding pets or that otherwise "get dusty".

Changing air filters is among the easier do-it-yourself chores for a Metro Atlanta homeowner; a task that takes less than one minute. The secondary benefit of doing it is that new filters help keep your HVAC unit in tip-top shape. 

Here's how to change your home's air filter:
  1. Open the air filter compartment door/slider on your HVAC unit.
  2. Note the size of your current filter. It's typically written on the frame.
  3. Note the direction in which the filter is pointing. There may be an arrow on its frame.
  4. Purchase a new filter at a hardware store. Make sure the sizes matches the size from Step 2.
  5. Remove the old filter. 
  6. Replace old filter with the newly purchased one from Step 4. Make sure the arrow is pointing in the same direction as the original filter's arrow.
  7. Using a marker, note the date of filter change on the side of the filter.
  8. Close the air filter compartment door/slider.
And that's it.

When you find a filter type and style that you like, consider buying them in bulk -- it can be helpful to have extra air filters laying around the home for when you need them -- especially during season changes when you may want to replace filters more frequently.

In addition, when purchasing air filters, don't opt for the cheapest available. Often, the least expensive filters allow large particles to recirculate through the HVAC unit, and back in to your home. Choose a middle- or top-line product instead.

Your home and your health will thank you.

For more information about the Atlanta area real estate market, please email me at ed@edshort.com or call me at 404.918.2500.

~ Ed Short, Atlanta REALTOR®

Friday, January 20, 2012

Behind The Housing Starts Headlines, The Story That Matters

Housing Starts 2010-2011
When it comes to housing data, sometimes you have to look past the headlines. December's Housing Starts data offers a terrific illustration of why.

Each month, the Census Bureau tallies Housing Starts for the month prior. A "housing start" is a home on which construction has started.

The Housing Starts report is separated by property type. There is a count for single-family homes; a count for 2-4 unit homes; and a count for buildings of 5 units or more, a category including apartments and condominiums.

In December, as reported by the government, Housing Starts fell 4 percent nationwide overall. This runs contrary to recent strength in housing and the story was quickly picked up by the press:
Now, although these headlines are factually true, they're also are a little bit misleading.

Housing Starts did fall 4 percent last month but that was for all Housing Starts, across all three property types. Data like this is somewhat irrelevant to home buyers in Georgia or anywhere else nationwide.

Few buyers purchase 2-4 unit homes, and almost nobody purchases an entire apartment building. Rather, it's the Housing Starts reports' "single-family" tally that matters because that's the home type that the majority of home buyers purchase.

In December, for the fourth straight month, Single-Family Housing Starts increased.

Single-family housing starts climbed 4 percent last month to 470,000 units on a seasonally-adjusted, annualized basis. This is the highest number of Single-Family Housing Starts since April 2010 -- the last month of last year's home buyer tax credit.

The Single-Family Housing Starts data is the latest in a series of data that point to a housing rebound nationwide. New Home Sales, Existing Home Sales, Pending Home Sales and Homebuilder Confidence has each posted multi-month highs and all are poised for strong gains into 2012.

If you're planning to buy a home in 2012, consider buying in between now and March rather than at some point later. Home prices -- and mortgage rates- are likely to move higher.

For more information about the Atlanta area real estate market, please email me at ed@edshort.com or call me at 404.918.2500.

~ Ed Short, Atlanta REALTOR®