steven.bray

Aug 092018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Other than the short tantrum mortgage rates performed a couple weeks ago, the market has been in a summer slumber. And even that tantrum didn’t take rates out of the range they’ve inhabited the last few months. This week’s economic headliner could change that, but I doubt it.

Friday brings the release of the all-important Consumer Price Index (CPI), the granddaddy of inflation measures. Wholesale inflation, wage inflation, and oil prices all ticked higher earlier this year, and many analysts expected consumer inflation would follow in short order. We got a hint in that direction a couple months ago, which brought markets to attention.

However, since then, these other inflation measures have relaxed again. Wholesale inflation, released yesterday, and wage inflation, as indicated by the big jobs report last week, were flat. Oil prices, too, have flattened, and the Personal Consumption Expenditures Index, the broader inflation measure favored by the Fed, slipped back below 2%.

So, all eyes are on the CPI tomorrow. Given the weakening of the other measures, a reading that moves the index higher could make rates jump again. Unfortunately, a moderate reading probably won’t lead to much lower rates but will instead just let rates continue to slumber in their current range.

Getting a mortgage without leaving your bedroom

 Mortgage Process  Comments Off on Getting a mortgage without leaving your bedroom
Jul 232018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

The real estate and mortgage industries historically have been paper intensive. Getting a mortgage typically involved signing lots of paper documents. That is changing, and many companies now allow you to apply for a mortgage online, but a truly paperless mortgage process has been elusive. Documents signed at closing require a notary seal, and Texas law required a notary to be physically present when a borrower signed the closing documents.

That changed this summer with the implementation of HB 1217, which introduced online notarization to Texas. To understand why it took so long for this to become a reality, you have to consider a notary’s functions.

The concept of a notary public dates backs to at least ancient Rome, and today’s notary public still operates as an officer of the State. A notary’s primary duty is to show that a disinterested party has notified the signer of a document as to the significance of that document and has ascertained that the signer’s identity, signature, and reasons for signing the document are genuine. That was difficult to do in the past without the signer physically appearing before the notary.

HB 1217 has allowed us to ease our way into the 21st century by redefining “personal appearance” to include the use of two-way audio-video communications. With this, Texas becomes the third state to allow notarization of documents this way.

Being an online notary requires a special commission, and online notaries have extra record-keeping responsibilities, so it may take a while before online notarization becomes common. The state also allow online notaries to charge a small fee for the service.

I understand the first online mortgage closing in TX occurred a couple weeks ago, and it may not be too long until you can buy a home start to finish without getting out of your pajamas.

Jul 162018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

It feels like deja vu all over again. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will expire on Jul 31 unless Congress acts to extend it. The program currently is operating on a short-term extension passed in March.

In Nov, the House passed a package of bills that extended the program until 2022. However, they included reforms, including the expansion of private flood insurance to compete with the federal program. While most recognize the program needs to be reformed, the Senate wasn’t comfortable with the scope of the House vision.

Without its own NFIP reform bill, the Senate has opted to kick the can down the road one more time. It slipped another short-term extension into the Farm Bill passed at the end of Jun.

Unfortunately, the Senate version of the Farm Bill differs significantly from the House version. The two bills now go to conference committee to find a compromise that can pass both chambers. The problem is compromise could take a long time, and the clock is ticking on NFIP.

If Congress fails to extend the program, it would have to stop issuing and renewing policies. Realtors estimate this could impact as many as 40,000 loan closings each month.

Congressmen and Senators, especially those from coastal areas, are well aware of what a disaster that would be, especially with the onset of the hurricane season. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Congress strip the extension from the Farm Bill and pass a standalone bill just in the nick of time.

Rate update: Trade war vs inflation

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Trade war vs inflation
Jul 102018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

If you’ve been waiting to lock your mortgage rate, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you haven’t lost any ground. Rates have been remarkably flat for the last few weeks. The bad news is that if you were hoping for lower rates, your hopes went unfulfilled.

Rates seem to be caught in a tug of war. On one side, we have trade war fears. Traders have been yo-yo-ing in response to constant headlines. Now, it’s quite possible that trading partners are using the headlines to manage their bargaining positions, but this leads to uncertainty, which exerts downward pressure on rates.

On the other side, we have inflation. The Federal Reserve’s favored inflation metric, the personal consumption expenditures index, finally rose to the Fed’s target of 2% in May. Analysts attribute the rise to the robust economy. Even though last Friday’s jobs report didn’t show elevated wage inflation, it did show that job growth remains strong. A strong labor market does exert pressure on wages in some parts of the economy even if the overall inflation rate remains tame.

So, which side will win? We could find out this week. This Thurs, we get the granddaddy of inflation reports, the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Analysts predict 2.3%, which is as high as the CPI has been since the Great Recession. A higher number could pull the rope in favor of inflation, leading to a quick jump in mortgage rates. However, a number that matches expectations probably will leave rates stuck in their current range for another couple weeks – waiting for the next headline.

USDA shrinks areas eligible for RD mortgage

 Loan Programs, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on USDA shrinks areas eligible for RD mortgage
Jul 012018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

The USDA Rural Development loan is a great option for homebuyers in rural locations. It requires no down payment and has lower monthly mortgage insurance than an FHA loan.

The loan is only available in areas that USDA considers “rural,” but USDA’s rural includes some areas you might not expect. USDA provides an eligibility map you can use to determine if a particular property is eligible, and a new map went into effect on Jun 4th, which narrowed the eligible area just a bit.

The biggest changes I noticed in the map are around Austin. Most of the fast-growing suburbs of Hutto, Buda, Kyle, and Leander were eligible under the previous map. Now, they’re ineligible. However, more distant suburbs, like Dripping Springs, Liberty Hill, Bastrop, and Taylor remain eligible.

In the Houston area, the expansion of the ineligible areas occurred mainly to the south and southwest and around Conroe. The I-10 corridor to the west and east, and the I-69 corridor to the northeast appear unaffected.

Around the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, more of the fast-growing 380 corridor is now ineligible, but otherwise the metro escaped mostly unaffected.

In the San Antonio area, more of the 281 and I-35 corridors are ineligible as is the suburb of Boerne. However, the boundary to the west appears unchanged.

We’ve got a link to the eligibility map on our Web site or in the text version of our blog.

USDA Rural Development eligibility map

Fannie housing index shows market still strong

 Real Estate Market, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Fannie housing index shows market still strong
Jun 302018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Fannie Mae’s housing index rose to another record high last month despite the continued divergence of attitudes about buying and selling a home. The good-time-to-sell indicator rose 1 point last month and now stands at +46 while the good-time-to-buy indicator fell by 1 point and stands at +28. A positive reading means more consumers think it’s a good time to buy or sell than not, so both indicators still suggest strength in the housing market.

The good-time-to-sell indicator has been rising steadily over the past year and is 14 points higher year-over-year. The good-time-to-buy indicator has been relatively flat over the past year, which is good news given the increase in mortgage rates and home prices over the same period.

One possible contributor to the still positive good-time-to-buy indicator is consumers’ attitudes about renting. An overwhelming majority still say they would buy rather buy than rent if they were going to move. In addition, consumers expect rents to rise faster than home prices over the coming year, meaning waiting to buy a home could be an expensive choice.

Respondents continue to report strong personal financial conditions. Again this month they expressed an increased sense of job security, and more reported that their incomes had increased significantly in the last year. Both indicators also are higher year-over-year.

Rate update: Tariff Twitter good for rates

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Tariff Twitter good for rates
Jun 192018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Rates have had it good lately:

– First up was the inflation report. It matched expectations. While this put the core rate at 2.2%, above the magic 2% mark, markets were worried it would be higher. Additionally, the Fed’s favored inflation metric, the PCE, continues to be below 2%.

– Next came the Federal Reserve. While the Fed raised short term rates as expected and increased the chances of a 4th rate hike this year, Chairman Powell said that he wasn’t concerned at all with inflation getting out of control and, maybe more importantly, that we’re getting closer to a “neutral Fed funds rate.” Analysts concluded that the trajectory of Fed policy is about as tight as it’s going to get, and bond markets sighed in relief.

– The next day brought the European Central Bank meeting. The ECB did announce it will end its asset purchase program by the end of the year, a negative for rates. However, it also said it doesn’t expect to hike rates until the end of next summer, and the ECB president made a case for economic weakness during his press conference. Bond markets cheered.

– Finally, we were treated to tariff Twitter. Markets don’t really care about the imbalances caused by prior administations’ trade policy. More important is the uncertain effects of the various proposed tariffs. I still say a full-blown trade war is unlikely. The targets of the tariffs have more to lose, and negotiation is the most likely outcome. However, the uncertainty may keep a lid on rates for now.

Rate update: The Quitaly effect

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: The Quitaly effect
Jun 052018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

As expected, the Italian drama was temporary, and interest rates moved back up last week. Fortunately, markets seem unconvinced that anxiety won’t return. Rates have leveled out for now during a fairly quiet week for economic data.

Next week could be a very different story. Both the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank meet, and output from those meetings has a high potential to affect the direction of rates. While it seems almost certain the Fed will raise short term rates again at this meeting, it’s Fed head Powell’s post-meeting press conference and the dot-plot that probably will garner the most market attention. Any suggestion that the Fed will be more aggressive could push rates back up to their recent highs.

I think the ECB has a greater chance to push rates the other way. It’s been hinting it will end it’s easy money policy in the near future. Confirmation of that is probably more likely than denial, but the ECB has been cagey in its responses to the rumors. It still could dissipate market energy without an outright denial.

Turning to economic data, we’ve been watching inflation lately. The PCE index, the Fed’s favored measure, continues to show tame inflation with the core reading still below the magic 2% mark. However, the jobs report showed wage inflation ticked up slightly. Other measures show even faster wage growth. As long as the PCE doesn’t accelerate, I suspect the Fed won’t change its rate hike trajectory, which is neutral for rates. However, if the Consumer Price Index starts to rise, it’s likely to change consumer and investor inflation expectations, and that would be bad for rates.

Rate update: Watch Italy if you want lower mortgage rates

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Watch Italy if you want lower mortgage rates
May 232018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

Last time we discussed the case for lower mortgage rates and the fact that unexpected headlines could put some downward pressure on rates. Well, that seems to be the case this week. In addition to news about trade negotiations with China, the Korean and Iranian nuclear deals, and the political drama in Washington, markets had to digest political headlines out of Italy.

Italian headlines affecting US mortgage rates? There’s a good reason for it, and one possible outcome could lead to significantly lower rates.

Italy recently held parliamentary elections with no party taking a majority. However, populist parties that generally oppose Italy’s membership in the European Union had strong showings, and two of them agreed to form a coalition government.

From a market standpoint, the EU represents stability. Much as the Brexit vote caused rates to plummet, an EU breakup could do the same. Italy is the third largest economy in the EU, and while it probably could survive Italy’s departure, that departure could cause other, smaller countries opposed to EU reforms to bolt as well.

For now, I think it would be smart to take advantage of the dip in rates as I think it will be temporary (absent more headlines). The coalition parties have pared back some of their more radical proposals, and it would take many months for them to implement the ones that remain. However, it’s another drip in the bucket trying to pull rates back down from their 7-year highs.

Cool map helps you decide whether to rent or buy

 Real Estate Market, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Cool map helps you decide whether to rent or buy
May 192018
 

For more information, please contact me at (512) 261-1542 or steve@LoneStarLending.com.

By G. Steven Bray

For many, the decision whether to rent or buy can be a confusing one. I’ve found a multitude of surveys and tools that claim to help you with the decision, but with so much information, analyzing your own situation can be overwhelming.

I came across an interesting Web site the other day that analyzes the rent vs buy data in an easy-to-digest format – a US map using shading to indicate whether buying or renting makes more sense. The map presents the results on a county-by-county basis, and you can zoom in to see the specific results for your county.

The map also allows you to choose a breakeven point – the point at which buying and renting are equally advantageous. Set this to the number of years you think you would live in the same location, and the map resets the shading to show you areas where buying or renting is better.

Finally, it’s important to consider the assumptions used to produce the map. The producers used US Census data to determine average rents and home prices. For the “buy” scenario, the producers assumed a 20% down payment, a 4.5% mortgage rate, and $2000 in closing costs. The last two could be a bit low depending on your situation, and unfortunately, many folks don’t have 20% for a down payment. Give me a call if you want me to calculate the breakeven point for your specific situation.