How to find your affordable home

affordable home
The affordable home (infographic from nvaha.org)

The latest headline for the Case-Shiller Home Price Index boasts, “hits all-time high for sixth consecutive month” (us.spindices.com). The data for May’s S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index revealed a 5.6 percent year-over-year increase for the US Census divisions.  However, the month-over-month Case Shiller composite indices decreased about 0.1 percent.  Seattle, Portland, and Denver continue to lead in home price growth with double digit gains.  The Washington DC region posted a 1.0 percent gain in May and a modest annual increase of 3.6 percent year-over-year.  The bottom line is that homes are becoming more expensive. And as a home buyer, you want to know how to buy an affordable home.

David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, provided analysis of this week’s release suggesting that the continued climb of home prices is a manifestation of the housing market, and not necessarily reflective of the economy.  He stated:

“Home prices continue to climb and outpace both inflation and wages…Housing is not repeating the bubble period of 2000-2006: price increases vary across the country unlike the earlier period when rising prices were almost universal; the number of homes sold annually is 20% less today than in the earlier period and the months’ supply is declining, not surging. The small supply of homes for sale, at only about four months’ worth, is one cause of rising prices. New home construction, higher than during the recession but still low, is another factor in rising prices.”

Rising home prices are impacting the housing market and making it difficult to find an affordable home. The latest National Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index (nar.realtor) indicates that buying a home is less affordable compared to the same time last year, which decreased from 161.2 to 158.8.  Additionally, the median sales price for a single family home jumped 4.6 percent.

Even though home prices continue to climb, the good news for home buyers is that mortgage rates are still relatively low.  According to last week’s Freddie Mac Mortgage Rate Survey (freddiemac.com), the 30-year fixed rate mortgage dropped from 4.03 percent to 3.96 percent.  Although slightly higher from the same time last year (3.45 percent), historically low interest rates help make a home purchase affordable.

Although wages are not increasing on the same pace as home prices, home buyers are benefiting from low mortgage rates.  However, a concern that is echoed throughout the industry is the continued low inventory of homes for sale.  The low inventory of homes, specifically turn-key homes, is a factor in increasing home prices and making it harder to find an affordable home.

If you’re a home buyer and are frustrated with the competition, think outside of the box.  It’s true the best looking and well priced homes are receiving multiple offers and sell quickly.  The competitive atmosphere is pushing home prices higher.  However, keeping an open mind could help you to not only cope with the current market, but also help you find your next home.

One way home buyers are finding their affordable home is by renovating a distressed home.  Homes that languish on the market and are in need of repair or renovation may be a “diamond in the rough.”  Renovation loans, such as the FHA 203k or Fannie Mae’s HomeSyle loan can make the process easier and affordable. Renovation loans are designed to help buy and renovate a home. There are a various renovation loan programs, so having a long conversation with a qualified renovation loan specialist can help you decide which program is best for you.

Be prepared and line up your licensed contractors. Renovation loans require documentation and plans from your licensed contractor. Most of these programs will provide funding in stages. However, there are a few renovation loan programs that are “streamlined” and designed for less expensive renovations. Check with your lender for qualifications, loan limits and requirements.

Additionally, you don;t have to look in the MLS to find your affordable home. Work with an experienced agent who has the savvy to find homes for sale that are not currently listed for sale. These may include (but not limited to) for sale by owners, expired listings, and auctions.

Home owners who did not have luck selling their homes earlier in the year may be open to selling to you. Your agent can find and contact home owners who have recently taken their homes off of the MLS.

Look for homes that are “For Sale by Owner.” It used to be hard to find the FSBO, and you would have to drive through neighborhoods to look for the “For Sale by Owner” signs. But of course the internet has made it easier to find the FSBO. They are listed in the MLS by listing placement services.  They are also posted online on “for-sale-by-owner” sites, as well as Zillow, Trulia, or Craigslist.

Neighborhood listservs and internet groups are a great way to fnon-MLS homes for find FSBO’s.  But you have to be a resident of the neighborhood, or know someone who is a resident to get access to the listserv.

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Housing affordability in a post recession world

HomesI talk to lots of people at open houses. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that although some express concerns about increasing home prices and their ability to buy a home, many also express their exasperation with increasing rents. And although home prices and ability to get a mortgage are among top concerns for home buyers, according to Realtor® Magazine (Top 6 Home Buyer Concerns, realtormag.realtor.org, August 24,2015); buyer apprehensions have not changed much over the years. There is always a group of buyers who fuss over home prices, down payments, and mortgages. So much so, that it seems as if it is a permanent part of the housing landscape.

From Trulia.com

The housing market is experiencing year-over-year home price gains. The September 29th release of the S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index (spindices.com) that indicated the 10-city composite increased about 4.5% year-over-year, while the 20-city composite increased about 5% year-over-year. And a recent report from Zillow Research (zillow.com) that indicated median national home prices increased about 3.3% year-over-year during August, while median national rent increased 3.8% during the same period. However, owning a home may be presently a lower percentage of income when compared to other historical periods: Zillow Research indicated that the U.S. Share of Income Spent on Mortgage was about 15% during June 2015, and the U.S. Share of Income Spent on Rent was about 30% during June 2015; while the Historic Share of Income Spent (during 1985 to 1999) was 21% and 24% respectively.

Infographic: Americans Living With Roommates: A Growing Trend | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista.com

Home prices certainly affect housing affordability. However, affordability may also be affected by the cost of qualifying of a mortgage. Although there is a recent movement for lenders to loosen credit guidelines, qualifying for a mortgage is still more difficult today than it was a decade ago.

Laurie Goodman, Director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute, recently wrote about how the lack of private-label mortgage securitization has affected many who don’t fit government backed mortgage guidelines. (Mortgage securitization is what provides the mortgage market liquidity, and allows banks to make the loans.) Goodman had this to say about the present lack of private-label mortgage securitization: “The disappearance of this market has affected the availability and cost of mortgages for one group of borrowers—those with less wealth and less than perfect credit who do not quality for government-backed loans” (Why you should care that private investors don’t want to buy your mortgage anymore, urban.org, October 9, 2015).

Goodman pointed out that prior to the great recession, the private-label mortgage securitization market was thriving; however post recession, private-label securitization has all but “collapsed.” Presently, mortgages are primarily government backed and or purchased by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, VA and others; which eliminates many borrowers with imperfect credit and/or don’t meet strict guidelines. However, if the private-label securitization further retreats or is eliminated, she predicts that borrowers with perfect credit and those living in “expensive” regions (such as Washington DC, New York, San Francisco) will be affected as well.

Tight credit guidelines may not be the only reason for many renters to rule out a home purchase. Not having an adequate down payment is another reason many don’t qualify for a mortgage. The lack of savings by Americans was documented by a survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (7th Annual Savings Survey Reveals Persistence of Financial Challenges Facing Most Americans, consumerfed.org, February 24, 2014).

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Value vs. affordability – how inflation affects home prices

homes for saleHome buyers have been tagged as being too picky for not buying homes this year. Surely home buyers have a right to be particular; after all, they’ll be spending a lot of time in the house – and spending a lot of money to get it too! But, maybe there are other reasons that home buyers have become hesitant.

Consider the uncertainty that immediately followed the Great Recession, when home sales volume dropped off. At that time home buyers seemed overly analytic, weighing many factors including short term value. Yet in truth they were fearful about economic uncertainty, and paying for a home that could potentially depreciate after closing.

The specter of another housing bubble in late 2013 may have seemed farfetched by many. But the double digit appreciation in many housing markets around the country reminded many home buyers of the environment that existed in the pre-downturn “go-go” market of 2005-2007. Anecdotal reports of bidding wars and high listing prices in early 2014 may have scared off some home buyers who reported not wanting to participate in such a market.

Reasons for home sales sluggishness during the latter part of this year may have been signs that the fear of a home price bubble was being realized by home buyers. As home buyers sought value, home sellers wanted higher home price appreciation. Was the psychology of fear playing a part in the ongoing home pricing struggle?

In hindsight, the limited housing inventory that existed during 2013 may have caused upward pressure on home prices by forcing increased competition among home buyers. The rapid home price appreciation may have also been the reason for many home owners to go to market. Brimming with listings, housing inventory swelled to levels not seen in years. Yet it may not be home prices per se that is at issue, but rather affordability.

Affordability goes beyond just the purchase price of a home. It comprises the overall costs of home ownership; which includes monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners’ insurance, regular and emergency maintenance, and utility costs. Putting aside home prices, home buyers are faced with the prospect of sharply inflating ownership costs. Consider the April 25th LA Times article reporting on utility costs (U.S. electricity prices may be going up for good; latimes.com); Ralph Vartabedian stated, “… the price of electricity has already been rising over the last decade, jumping by double digits in many states, even after accounting for inflation. In California, residential electricity prices shot up 30% between 2006 and 2012, adjusted for inflation, according to Energy Department figures. Experts in the state’s energy markets project the price could jump an additional 47% over the next 15 years.”

Savings also affect the affordability of a home. Marilyn Kennedy Melia, in her May 17th feature: Savings Habits and the Housing Market: American are saving less, issues with affording a home (nwitimes.com), reported that a lack of savings is preventing some home buyers from purchasing homes by not having enough for a down payment and/or little for homeownership costs. She described a recent Bankrate survey that indicated “…51 percent of Americans have more emergency savings than credit card debt, the lowest percentage since the financial site began tracking this issue in 2011.” Doug Robinson, of NeighborWorks America, was quoted to say, “Two-thirds of the people who faced foreclosure didn’t have any emergency savings…

© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.