Dec 042017

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By G. Steven Bray

For the direction of mortgage rates, it’s mostly about the tax reform bill. When passage of the Senate version looked imminent, rates jumped up to the highest levels in a month. As we discussed last time, markets equate tax cuts with higher growth and potentially higher inflation, which correlate with higher interest rates.

It appears it will take a couple weeks for the House and Senate to reconcile their plans, and during that time, I don’t expect a lot of rate movement, absent a bombshell headline, even though this Fri we have the Nov jobs report and next week a Federal Reserve meeting. These are usually top tier events attracting the careful attention of investors. However, this month they’re liable to cause nary a stir.

The jobs report hasn’t seen much reaction from markets in months. It continues to show the economy plugging along. It would have to miss expectations badly to turn heads.

The Fed meeting has more potential because of the post meeting commentary. Markets are pricing in a nearly 100% chance of a rate hike, but investors think the tax cuts can negate any drag on the economy from higher rates. However, the commentary could shed more light on the Fed’s future plans or its thinking on inflation trends, either of which could move the market.

Nov 272017

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By G. Steven Bray

The tax reform plans currently being considered in Washington could change the mortgage interest deduction, and housing industry leaders are asserting that the change is going to decimate homebuying. Let’s see if the facts support their outrage.

Currently, only 21% of taxpayers use the mortgage interest deduction, and most reside in coastal states where home prices and/or property taxes are high.

If the House tax reform plan were to become law, the loan amount eligible for the mortgage interest deduction would drop from $1 million to $500k, and it would reduce the maximum deduction for property taxes to $10k.

Let’s consider the case of couple with a $300k mortgage. In the first year, they would pay roughly $13k in mortgage interest. If we assume their yearly property tax bill is $7k, they probably would be much better off under the House tax plan. Instead of a $20k deduction, they would get a $24k standard deduction. And remember that mortgage interest declines over the life of the loan, so the advantage of the new plan would increase each year.

Given that the median home price in TX is $269k, most TX homebuyers clearly would be better off under the new plan. Those who would be worse off will be folks who have mortgages greater than $500k and folks in areas with very high property taxes. Thus, any effects to the TX housing industry would be limited to high-end communities.

Rate update: Watch out for tax reform

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Watch out for tax reform
Nov 222017

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By G. Steven Bray

It’s Thanksgiving week, and bond markets are pretty quiet. Rates are bouncing around in a very narrow range as they’re apt to do when everyone is full of turkey. However, that quiet may belie building pressure to move interest rates.

The biggest motivator of movement is the tax reform plan. As it sits now, markets seem cautiously optimistic that something will come of Congressional action. That optimism seems to have placed a floor under rates, but the caution is keeping them from moving much higher.

In simple terms, a large part of the tax plan is tax cuts. Tax cuts typically boost economic growth. Economic growth creates competition for goods (such as employees and raw materials), leading to higher prices for those goods. Higher prices, aka inflation, are the enemy of low interest rates.

At least that’s the way it seemed to work in the past. The world seems awash now in many raw materials, so higher growth might have a minimal impact on their prices. And the Philips Curve, which basically says low US unemployment should lead to higher wages, seems to have less relevance due in part to globalization.

That said, if the Senate next week seems to be coalescing around a tax plan, any tax plan, I expect rates will edge up a bit.

I wish you and your family a blessed Thanksgiving.

Qualifying with rental income from Airbnb

 Loan Guidelines, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Qualifying with rental income from Airbnb
Nov 202017

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By G. Steven Bray

With the growing popularity of Airbnb and other short term rental options, Freddie Mac has updated its conventional loan guidelines to allow you to use that rental income to qualify for a mortgage. However, the conditions for inclusion are rather tight.

To use short-term rental income for qualifying, you must have a two-year history of receiving it as documented on Schedule E of your tax return. Freddie contends that short-term rental income tends to fluctuate, so a historical view is needed. You can expect Freddie to take the lower amount or an average of the two years as qualifying income. Also note that short-term rental income for your primary residence, like renting out your home during SWSX, will not count as qualifying income even if you do it every year.

Freddie announced one other significant change to its guidelines for rental income. If you don’t have at least one year of investment property experience, Freddie will limit the amount of rental income that can count as qualifying income to 30% of the net rental income from your investment property. Freddie says the limit addresses the risk that rental income is a new type of income for the borrower.

Freddie says the changes are effective Feb 9th of next year, but some lenders may implement them earlier.

Congress looks to private market to cover flood risk

 Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Congress looks to private market to cover flood risk
Nov 162017

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By G. Steven Bray

Back in Aug, I reported that on Congress’ to-do list was reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP. The program will expire on 12/8 unless Congress does something.

Tues, the House passed what it calls the 21st Century Flood Reform Act. The biggest reforms in the bill are provisions to encourage the private flood insurance market, transferring some of the risk away from the government.

Supporters of the reforms say that it will allow for lower cost policies that could appeal even to folks who aren’t required to have flood insurance. 80% of the flooded homes in Houston didn’t have flood insurance mainly because it wasn’t required. They weren’t located in a recognized flood zone. A lower-cost flood policy that could be bundled with homeowner’s and auto policies could be an attractive option.

Opponents of the bill say it will allow the private market to cherry pick the least risky properties from NFIP, making it financially unsound.

The bill also contains a $1 billion mitigation fund. A Pew Charitable Trust study showed that just 1% of homes covered under NFIP have produced almost a third of the claims due to repeat flooding. The funds will help folks modify their homes to reduce flood risk or to help them relocate.

The bill now goes to the Senate where its fate is uncertain. What is certain is that Congress must act in the next month to avoid disrupting the real estate markets in flood-prone communities.

Rate update: rates caught in an updraft

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: rates caught in an updraft
Nov 152017

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By G. Steven Bray

Did you catch the dip in mortgage rates last week? It was sweet while it lasted. Rates bumped back up at the end of the week.

If you didn’t catch it, let’s see what the crystal ball holds for rates going forward. Markets seem focused on two issues:

– The first is inflation. Despite the unprecedented efforts of the Federal Reserve, inflation has been virtually non-existent throughout this recovery. The Fed has a target rate of 2%, and the Fed’s favored measure, the PCE, hasn’t been that high in a long time.

This morning, we got the Oct Consumer Price Index. While this isn’t the one the Fed watches, it has historical significance, and markets pay attention. Several other inflation metrics recently have indicated budding pricing pressure, but the CPI remained pretty tame with core inflation still under 2%. So, while markets wait for the next inflation report, they’ll probably turn their full attention to the second issue.

– And that is tax reform. Given the current positive momentum, rates are feeling an updraft. Granted the House and Senate plans differ, but I don’t think markets are particularly concerned about which plan wins. They only care about the boost that lower tax rates will give the economy. And an economic boost should pressure interest rates higher.

Of course, one scary headline could quickly deflate this momentum. But absent that, I suggest you remain defensive for higher rates.

The death of down payment assistance?

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Nov 032017

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By G. Steven Bray

Recent surveys indicate that saving for a down payment is one the biggest hurdles to homeownership. With rising home prices, that hurdle may seem like a moving target. Some homebuyers are turning to down payment assistance programs for help.

Well, Freddie Mac just threw cold water on one popular method of funding these programs. It’s called differential rate pricing or premium pricing. The lender provides assistance equal to 3 to 5% of the loan amount in exchange for a substantially higher interest rate. As Freddie correctly discerned, the result is a no down payment, higher-rate mortgage, which violates current conventional loan guidelines. As of 11/1, Freddie will disallow its use with low down payment loan programs.

I have not heard if Fannie Mae is planning a similar prohibition, but given that both agencies are owned by the government, one has to wonder. FHA officials have been squabbling among themselves for over a year about the legality of premium priced programs. For now, they are permitted.

If you’re struggling to find the funds for a down payment, I suggest you check out my Can I Qualify with limited savings videos for ideas. You also may want to check with your city or county for down payment assistance that doesn’t use premium pricing. Keep in mind that most of these programs have income and purchase price limits, and you may have to repay some or all of the assistance if you don’t stay in the home for 5 to 10 years.

Rate update: Fed nomination is a chance to lock your rate

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: Fed nomination is a chance to lock your rate
Oct 312017

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By G. Steven Bray

If you haven’t locked your mortgage rate, this week could provide a great opportunity. Interest rates have been on a gentle path higher since early Sep. Markets generally are reacting to positive economic data and the possibility of tax reform.

This week should provide four big headlines that could move rates, and two involve the Federal Reserve.

The Fed meets this week for its next to last meeting of the year. Pretty much no one expects the Fed to change short term rates Wed, but analysts will slice and dice the post-meeting announcement to try to predict the Fed’s future actions. Of particular interest will be any reaction to persistently low inflation.

The second Fed headline is the expected nomination of the next Fed chair. Trump is expected to nominate Jerome Powell. Powell is seen as more likely to keep interest rates low and friendlier towards measured deregulation. Markets also like that he already is a Fed member, which provides some continuity. Rumors of his nomination pushed rates down Fri and Mon, but it’s quite possible the actual announcement could bump rates still lower.

The third headline is the tax reform plan, expected on Wed. Rumors are circulating that the tax cuts could be implemented in a staggered fashion over five years. While markets still will view the cuts as positive for the economy (and bad for rates), up until now they’ve been trading on expectations of an immediate economic boost. A staggered rollout would dampen their enthusiasm and could be positive for rates.

Our final headline is probably the least important, which is funny because it used to pack such a punch. Friday, we’ll get the monthly jobs report. Markets are expecting the report to show 300k jobs created in Oct. I think the report would have to miss the mark significantly for markets to even care.

All of these headlines overlay the factors we’ve discussed the last few weeks. Economic sentiment remains frothy in markets and among consumers. Inflation is minimal, and expectations are it will remain that way. Markets are mostly ignoring other news, both domestic and overseas. The takeaway is that this week’s headlines could bump rates lower, but be prepared for them to rise again once the headlines fade.

No down payment loan for hurricane victims

 Loan Programs, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on No down payment loan for hurricane victims
Oct 302017

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By G. Steven Bray

Government reports show Hurricane Harvey completely destroyed almost 13k homes and damaged more than 200k. As folks continue to recover from this destructive storm, some may be able to take advantage of a special FHA mortgage program specifically designed for disaster victims.

The program, called 203(h), allows a disaster victim to purchase a new home with no down payment. While the damaged home must be located in the federally declared disaster area, the new home can be anywhere. The damage to the existing home must be to such an extent that reconstruction or replacement is necessary.

As this is an FHA mortgage, it will have both up-front and monthly mortgage insurance. You can roll the up-front mortgage insurance into the loan. However, you cannot roll the closing costs into the loan. Check out my Can I Qualify video on our Web site for ideas how to cover closing costs.

The program’s guidelines provide flexibility. While you’re still responsible for any mortgage on your damaged home, we don’t have to count it when qualifying you if you provide evidence of insurance coverage. We also can ignore any late payments or other credit hiccups that resulted from the disaster as long as your credit was satisfactory before the disaster.

If this program sounds like it could help you, it’s important not to let too much time pass. You must apply for the new mortgage within 1 year of the disaster declaration date, which was 8/25. An equally important consideration is your credit. While lenders can ignore credit dings resulting from the disaster, the credit bureaus won’t, and late payments could depress your credit scores. You will find most lenders apply their standard credit score limits to the program. If you’re finding it hard to balance your finances post-disaster, it may make sense to take advantage of the program before your scores sink too low.

Rate update: New Fed chair could be unfriendly for low rates

 Interest Rates, Residential Mortgage  Comments Off on Rate update: New Fed chair could be unfriendly for low rates
Oct 252017

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By G. Steven Bray

If you’re still floating your interest rate, you may be kicking yourself this week. Mortgage rates have risen 1/8% in the last week. While rates still are very low by historical standards, they’ve been fairly stable lately, making the rise seem rather abrupt.

Last week I recommended caution if you’re watching rates, and I’ll reiterate that this week. I don’t believe the forces pushing rates higher have subsided just yet. Sentiment still seems frothy, which negates the effects of factors that would limit rate increases, such as persistently low inflation.

In addition, we’ve added a couple other factors that seemingly work against lower rates. First is the nomination for Chair of the Federal Reserve. Trump is said to be seriously considering two individuals: John Taylor and Jay Powell. Markets consider Taylor to be less friendly towards low rates. Trump said he is “very, very close” to deciding, and it was reported he asked senators at lunch Tues if they approved of Taylor. The response from senators was positive, and markets took notice.

The second factor is a pending announcement from the European Central Bank. The ECB previously promised it would let us know about its plans to taper its bond buying program after tomorrow’s meeting. ECB bond buying is akin to the Fed’s quantitative easing, which led to record low interest rates. It’s not certain what if anything the ECB will announce, but markets are hedging for the worst.