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Survey Asks What Makes A House A Home

There are plenty of surveys asking prospective home buyers what features are most important to them when looking for a house to buy. Most of them find buyers naming storage space and energy efficiency among their top priorities. But extra closets and low energy bills aren’t things normally associated with making a new house feel like home. So what does make a house a home? A recently released survey from IKEA tries to answer that question by exploring how people feel in their house and what makes them feel most at home. For example, 63 percent of respondents said they cook to create the feeling of home and associate certain foods with being at home. Among younger respondents, playing music was an important part of achieving that feeling, with 65 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 saying they play music to get a homey feeling. Smells and sounds play a big role in what makes us feel safe and comfortable but social interaction and privacy are also important. Nearly 50 percent of respondents said home is where they have their most significant relationships while, at the same time, 25 percent said they’d choose to spend an hour alone if they had one to spare. Overall, survey respondents seemed to feel experiences were more important than things and wanted their homes to reflect their desires and give them a place to do what they most love. More here.


Household Growth Is On The Rise

Following the housing crash, the homeownership rate fell from its peak and the number of Americans forming new households slowed. But according to a new report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, household growth is once again on the rise. In fact, the report shows that the pace of household growth increased from 653,000 in 2013 to 1.0 million in 2014 and1.3 million in 2015. That’s good news for the health of the housing market, especially since young Americans are expected to form 2 million households per year over the next 10 years. Chris Herbert, managing director of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, says there are still some lingering challenges holding buyers back, however. “Tight mortgage credit, the decade-long falloff in incomes that is only now ending, and a limited supply of homes for sale are all keeping households – especially first-time buyers – on the sidelines,” Herbert said. “And even though a rebound in home prices has helped to reduce the number of underwater owners, the large backlog of foreclosures is still a serious drag on homeownership.” Still, evidence shows buyer demand is high and homeownership continues to be a goal for most Americans. As Herbert says, “The question is not so much whether families will want to buy homes in the future, but whether they will be able to do so.” More here.


Money Matters Hold Back Housing Sentiment

The number of Americans who say it’s a good time to sell a house rose 5 percent in June, according to Fannie Mae’s monthly Home Purchase Sentiment Index. That represents an all-time survey high. Combined with a 3 percent bump in the number of survey respondents who said it was a good time to buy a house, the results seem to show an increasing optimism about the real estate market. But though participants may see opportunity, concerns about their personal income and the direction of the overall economy may be holding them back. In fact, money worries led to a 2.1 percent drop in overall sentiment from the previous month’s highs. “The HPSI’s pullback in June from last month’s survey-high reading suggests a slight weakening in the 12-month outlook for housing activity,” Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s senior vice president and chief economist, said. “Pending home sales have pulled back in the face of continued home price growth, and we’re seeing some softening in the higher priced components of the market. Growing pessimism about the overall direction of the economy gives us further pause as it now stands at the highest level we’ve seen in our National Housing Survey in the last two years.” According to Duncan, real improvement will require more affordable homes available for sale and a significant boost in Americans’ income growth perceptions. More here.


Mortgage Rates Drop To Near Record Lows

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, average mortgage rates fell to their lowest level in more than three years last week. And, in the case of jumbo loans, rates fell to lows not seen since 2011. Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, told CNBC that financial market volatility is behind the rate drop. “Mortgage rates have been low for years, but the impact of Brexit has brought us close to record lows once again, with jumbo rates already at their lowest levels, giving more borrowers a larger incentive to refinance,” Fratantoni said in reference to Britain’s exit from the European Union. In fact, refinance activity – which is more sensitive to rate fluctuations – surged last week, climbing 21 percent from the week before. With rates down across all loan categories, including FHA loans and 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, that’s no surprise. Purchase activity also benefited from falling mortgage rates. The seasonally adjusted purchase index was up 4 percent and is now 23 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. More here.


Low Inventory Presents Challenge For Buyers

Home buyers looking to buy a house this year have been met with a more challenging housing market than in years past. Following the housing crash, supply outweighed demand and the market favored buyers. With more homes than buyers, prices were low and buyers had all the negotiating power. This year, on the other hand, higher home prices, fewer choices, and more competition from other buyers have led to increasing concerns about affordability and the likelihood of finding the right house. According to a recent gathering of housing economists at the annual convention of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, low inventory is at the root of all of these issues. That’s because, when there are more buyers than there are homes for sale, home prices increase and sellers have the upper hand. Speakers at the convention, including the National Association of Realtors’ chief economist, Lawrence Yun, and Realtor.com’s, Jonathan Smoke, pointed to inventory as key to balancing the market and helping moderate home price increases. “One thing holding back the market is supply,” Smoke said. “Inventory continues to be constrained despite demand.” Yun agreed, calling inventory, “grossly inadequate.” Fortunately, high buyer demand and still-low mortgage rates have helped affordability levels and kept home sales numbers up despite low inventory in many markets. More here.


Metro Housing Markets Improve Year-Over-Year

According to Freddie Mac’s Multi-Indicator Market Index – which measures how far individual housing markets have rebounded since their post-recession lows – nearly 100 percent of the nation’s top metropolitan areas have shown year-over-year improvement. Additionally, 49 of 50 states have also posted positive annual gains. Len Kiefer, Freddie Mac’s deputy chief economist, says the nation’s housing markets continue to improve and, if global economic uncertainty keeps mortgage rates low for an extended period, there may be more gains to come. “Seven years into the recovery from the Great Recession, most of the nation’s housing markets remain below their historical benchmarks, but continue to grind higher month-by-month,” Kiefer said. “Nationally, MiMi in April 2016 is 84.1, a 7.37 percent year-over-year increase and the 48th consecutive month of year-over-year increases … If global factors like the Brexit put significant downward pressure on long-term mortgage rates, the U.S. housing market could benefit from increased affordability, helping to partially offset the impact of house prices, which are rising around six percentage points year over year nationally.” Compared to last year, the most improved metro areas included Orlando, Tampa, Denver, Cape Coral, and Portland. More here.


Pending Sales Down After Consecutive Gains

The National Association of Realtors Pending Home Sales Index tracks the number of contracts to buy homes signed each month. The Index’s focus on signings, not closings, means it is often a good indicator of future home sales. In May, the Index fell 3.7 percent. It was the first monthly decline after three consecutive months of increases. It was also the first time in two years that results dropped below year-before levels. But despite the seemingly bad news, May’s reading was still the third highest in the past year. Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, said there are not enough homes available for sale to keep up with the level of demand. “With demand holding firm this spring and homes selling even faster than a year ago, the notable increase in closings in recent months took a dent out of what was available for sale in May and ultimately dragged down contract activity,” Yun said. “Realtors are acknowledging with increasing frequency lately that buyers continue to be frustrated by the tense competition and lack of affordable homes for sale in their market.” All four regions of the country experienced month-over-month declines, according to May’s report. More here.


Mortgage Demand Up 38% From Last Year

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Applications Survey, demand for mortgage applications was 38 percent higher last week than during the same week one year ago. Largely driven by refinance demand, the year-over-year improvement has benefited from mortgage rates remaining near record lows. But purchase demand is also up over last year. In fact, demand for loans to buy homes is now 13 percent higher year-over-year. Week-over-week results, on the other hand, look a little different. For example, last week’s results found a 2.6 percent drop in the number of requests for mortgage applications. Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist, said the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union was behind some of the volatility. “Whether the impact of Brexit will be contained to the initial shock of the ‘Vote Leave’ victory or will have a longer-term impact on markets is unclear …” Fratantoni said. “MBA’s best guess at this point is that the impact on the mortgage market will be to keep mortgage rates lower for longer, leading to another pickup in refinance activity in the near future.” Last week, average rates varied depending on the type of loan. Interest rates for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances were down. So were rates on 15-year fixed-rate loans. Rates for FHA loans were unchanged from one week earlier and 30-year loans with jumbo balances increased slightly. The MBA’s weekly survey has been conducted since 1990 and covers 75 percent of all retail residential mortgage applications. More here.

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Survey Finds Home Prices On The Rise

The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index is considered the leading measure of U.S. home prices. Released monthly, the index looks at home price movement on both a monthly and annual basis. According to the most recent release, home prices are up 5 percent over last year’s level. David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee at S&P Down Jones Indices, says prices continue to rise, though there is some uncertainty on the horizon. “The housing sector continues to turn in a strong price performance with the S&P/Case-Shiller National Index rising at a 5 percent or greater annual rate for six consecutive months,” Blitzer said. “The home price increases reflect the low unemployment rate, low mortgage interest rates, and consumers’ generally positive outlook. One result is that an increasing number of cities have surpassed the high prices seen before the Great Recession … However, the outlook is not without a lot of uncertainty and some risk.” According to Blitzer, economic uncertainty caused by events in Europe and the U.S. election could have an effect in the coming months. In addition, the index found prices beginning to soften in some markets. For example, the latest release shows 16 of the 20 cities included in the index having experienced either a price decrease or smaller increases on a month-over-month basis. More here.


Americans See Housing As Key To Security

A recent survey from the MacArthur Foundation found Americans overwhelmingly feel that affordable housing is an important part of achieving economic security. In fact, 85 percent of respondents said it was very important to achieving a secure, middle-class lifestyle. The only thing that ranked higher was a good job. Still, a majority of participants also said affordability was a problem in America and that it is more difficult to find an affordable place to live now than it was for previous generations. Julia Stasch, president of the MacArthur Foundation says too many Americans feel their dreams of owning a home are unattainable. “Too many Americans today believe the dream of a decent, stable home, and the prospects for social mobility, are receding,” Stasch said. “Having a decent, stable, affordable home is about more than shelter. It is at the core of strong, vibrant, and healthy families and communities. This survey demonstrates that the public wants action to address the nation’s real and pervasive housing affordability challenges.” The feeling that something should be done to address the issue is strong, with 86 percent of renters and 71 percent of homeowners agreeing that elected leaders should be making affordable housing a priority. More here.