Pending Home Sales Rise To 22-Month High

Pending Home Sales Index 2011-2012The housing market appears headed for a strong spring season.

After a brief setback in December, the Pending Home Sales Index resumed its climb in January, posting a 2 percent gain over the month prior.

The data puts pressure on Winter Park home buyers. This is because a “pending home” is a home that’s under contract to sell, but has not yet sold. It’s tracked by the National Association of REALTORS® and, among all housing statistics, it’s the only one that’s “forward-looking”.

The Pending Home Sales Index is important to home buyers throughout FL because 80% of homes under contract to sell close within 60 days of contract. In this way, the Pending Home Sales Index forecasts the housing market 1-2 months into the future.

This is very different from how NAR’s Existing Home Sales report works; or, how the Census Bureau’s New Home Sales report works. These two metrics tell us what’s already happened in housing.

By contrast, the Pending Home Sales Index tells us what’s coming next.

January’s Pending Home Sales Index reading lifts the monthly metric to its highest level since April 2010 — the month during which the 2010 federal home buyer tax credit expired — foreshadowing a strong housing market through March and April 2012, at least.

This should not be news, of course. The nation’s home builders have said “foot traffic” is rising and home supplies are scarce nationwide. The only wild-card for housing is the high contract cancellation rate.

As compared to last January when just 9 percent of home purchase contracts “failed”, this January saw 33 percent of contracts fail. High failure rates undermine the Pending Home Sales Index’s viability as a forward-looking housing market indicator.

Despite contract failures, though, the combination of low mortgage rates and low home prices is enticing to today’s home buyers. Expect home sales to climb in the coming weeks which will lead to a strong spring season for housing. 

Maximum FHA Loan Limits Restored To $729,750

FHA Loan Limits RestoredAfter a brief return to lower, pre-2009 levels, FHA loan limits have been restored. As signed into law last Friday, maximum FHA loan limits are — once again — as high as $729,750.

The move creates additional mortgage financing possibilities in more than 650 U.S. counties, and promises to increase the FHA’s mortgage market share, which has grown from 6% in 2007 to roughly 30% today.

The change in FHA loan limits also marks the first time that FHA loan limits exceed those of conventional mortgage-backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Conventional loans remain capped at a maximum of $625,500.

For home buyers in Winter Park and nationwide, FHA-insured mortgage offer several advantages over comparable conventional loans, the most commonly cited of which is that FHA-insured loans require a down payment of just 3.5 percent.

FHA-insured mortgages carry other advantages, too, however.

First, FHA home loans are not subject to loan-level pricing adjustments (LLPA). This means that, all things equal, buyers and would-be refinancers with credit scores below 740; or, who live in multi-unit homes; or, who have high loan-to-values are not subject to additional loan fees as a conventional mortgage applicant might.

Second, after 6 months of on-time payments, FHA-backed homeowners are eligible for the FHA Streamline Refinance. The FHA Streamline Refinance is among the simplest loan products for which to qualify with no appraisal required. Even if you’re “underwater” on your mortgage, you can still be streamline-eligible.

And, lastly, at least in today’s market, FHA mortgage rates are below those of the conventional market.

The downside of FHA financing, however, is that all FHA mortgages require mortgage insurance and FHA mortgage rates are often higher versus a comparable conventional loan. This means that, although its mortgage rate may be lower, the payment for an FHA home loan may be higher as compared to a Fannie Mae mortgage with similar credit traits.

FHA loans aren’t always optimal, but with higher FHA loan limits, expect the FHA’s market share to increase.

Check your local FHA loan limit at the HUD website.

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