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Sept. 21, 2023

Why a Budget Is So Important When Buying a Home

Sept. 20, 2023

Single-family rent increases 3.3% year over year in June: CoreLogic

Sept. 13, 2023

Using Retirement Funds for Your Kids' Education

Sept. 8, 2023

Younger Generations Can Help Older Ones With Estate Planning

Sept. 5, 2023

Housing starts tick back up in July in spite of headwinds


August 16, 2023, 2:33 pm By 

Housing starts picked up significantly in July to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.452 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was up 3.9% from June and up 5.9% from a year ago. Meanwhile, permits for future construction eked a 0.1% gain from June but were 13% lower from a year ago.

The increase in housing starts came after an unexpected slump last month and beat expectations. The Census Bureau also adjusted June’s figures down to 1.398 million from 1.43 million.

Overall, single‐family housing starts in July came in at a rate of 983,000. This is 6.7% above the revised June figure of 921,000. The July rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 460,000. Single-family permits increased (+0.6%) to 930,000 in July while multifamily permits came in at 464,000.

Completed homes fell 11.8% from the prior month and were 5.4% below the July 2022 level. The pace of single-family home completions picked up from the prior month, boosted by gains in the Midwest and West.

Meanwhile, there are just over one million multifamily units under construction, a record.

Still, it’s a good, not great report, economists said. Housing starts have been down for 13 of the last 15 months on a year over year basis. And the NAHB/Wells Fargo builder confidence index also fell in August, the first decline in 2023.

Declines in the current pace of sales and the next six months pushed the index down, said George Ratiu, chief economist at Keeping Current Matters. 

In spite of the affordability challenges, homebuyers remain eager to buy. Developers and construction companies seem to “have come to terms with the affordability challenge and have been erecting smaller homes at more approachable prices this year,” said Ratiu. 

Though there are near-term and medium-term challenges with mortgage rates and waning affordability, the fundamentals still look good, economists said.

“Higher mortgage rates threaten affordability and builder supply-side challenges remain, but the housing market remains fundamentally underbuilt and existing homeowners aren’t moving,” said Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at First American. “While builders can’t make existing homeowners move, they can add more new homes to the housing stock.”

Completions were down in July, but that is about one year after permits and starts began to decline, leaving fewer homes in the pipeline and thus dampening completions, said Nicole Bachaud, an economist at Zillow.

“New construction remains a vital source of new inventory in this market, with many builders still offering incentives that allow for more buyers to find opportunities in the new homes market, so continuing to build is important to the overall health of this market,” she said.

There are other challenges for prospective homebuyers to overcome, said Travis Hodges, a managing director at insurance brokerage VIU by HUB. It’s become much more difficult to secure homeowners insurance in several markets, and rising costs are a big concern.

“With insurance premiums expected to be up 7% this year on average, finding coverage at a reasonable price is key for new home buyers to carry a mortgage,” Hodges said.

States like California and Florida, which are both prone to extreme weather events, are now facing issues of multiple carriers leaving the market. A similar situation might happen in Maui after catastrophic wildfires destroyed parts of the island. 

Sept. 2, 2023

Why the Fed is celebrating after jobs week

September 1, 2023, 6:26 pm 


Jobs week cleared up the skies for the Federal Reserve members, who are smiling — big time — after a series of data lines gave them what they wanted: a softer labor market! 

While the labor market isn’t breaking, it has become more pliant in the data lines the Fed focuses on. After Friday’s jobs report, which had some one-time variables, we can say that the economy is heading into an area where the Fed will feel much more comfortable, and we should not have any more rate hikes.

We need to focus on this week’s data to better understand the labor market. First, let’s take a look at Friday’s jobs report.

From BLSTotal nonfarm payroll employment increased by 187,000 in August, and the unemployment rate rose to 3.8 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment continued to trend up in health care, leisure and hospitality, social assistance, and construction. Employment in transportation and warehousing declined.

The headline number beat estimates but had negative revisions in the previous months; we had a big jump in the labor force, which was the biggest reason the unemployment rate ticked up higher. We also had some one-time variables as one trucking company filing for bankruptcy, and the actors’ strike, which hit the data this month. Here is the breakdown of the jobs gained and lost:

In this job report, the unemployment rate for education levels:

  • Less than a high school diploma: 5.4% from 5.2% 
  • High school graduate and no college: 3.8% from 3.4% 
  • Some college or associate degree: 3.0% 
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher: 2.2% from 2.0%. 

The key to the unemployment rate jumping was a big move in the labor force, especially from ages 55 plus in this report.

The Federal Reserve’s fear of wages spiraling out of control like we saw in the 1970s wasn’t a valid concern. As the growth rate of inflation fades, so should their fear on this topic. Wage growth has been slowing down since January of 2022. It might still be too hot for the Federal Reserve, but anyone who isn’t blind can see it’s not spiraling out of control. As the chart below shows, average hourly wage growth data is slowing down from a hot level.

Job openings

The job openings data is one of the Fed’s favorite labor market indicators: They use it to talk about how tight the labor market is. I believe the Fed members want to see the job openings data return toward 7 million so they have to be very pleased with the job openings falling below 9 million this week. As we can see in the chart below, the labor market isn’t as tight as it used to be.

Quits rate

Another great data line for the Fed this week is that the quits rate has returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. With fewer people quitting for better-paying jobs, this makes the Fed much happier, especially in the lower-wage service sector, because people making more money on the low end isn’t something the Fed will tolerate. As Fed members have said recently, they want to see labor softness in the service sector.

This was an epic jobs week because the Fed can say that they’re really making progress on attacking the labor market. Once you get a trend in labor data, it’s tough to reverse course quickly, especially as the Fed is in restrictive territory with their rates. Let’s not forget that the student loan debt payments are about to go online, which means less disposable income in the economy. The 10-year yield is slightly below my peak forecast for 2023 of 4.25%, sitting currently at 4.18%.

The things to focus on for the next 12 months are: the Fed is in restrictive territory with rates, student loan debt payments are about to start again and the labor market is getting less tight. When I say Fed members are happy about this week, it’s an understatement. They are very excited that the economy has a lot of variables that will attack the labor market.


Sept. 2, 2023

Housing sector is showing signs of picking back up.


August 25, 2023, 11:40 am By 

In a hawkish tone, Jerome Powell said that Federal Reserve (Fed) officials are prepared to raise the federal funds rate further and hold it at high levels until they are confident that inflation is moving sustainably down to the 2% target. And that’s unclear at this point.

There are some sources of pressure on U.S. prices — among them is the housing market, Powell said Friday morning during an economic policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. 

“So far this year, GDP [gross domestic product] growth has come in above expectations and above its longer-run trend, and recent readings on consumer spending have been especially robust,” Powell said. 

“In addition, after decelerating sharply over the past 18 months, the housing sector is showing signs of picking back up. Additional evidence of persistently above-trend growth could put further progress on inflation at risk and could warrant further tightening of monetary policy.”

Powell said that the effects of monetary policy became apparent soon after liftoff in the housing sector. Mortgage rates doubled in 2022, causing housing starts and sales to fall and house price growth to plummet. 

In fact, mortgage rates kept an upward trend in 2023, following the Fed’s moves to combat persistent inflation. On Friday, the 30-year fixed mortgage rate was 7.37% at Mortgage News Daily, the highest in over two decades. Economists see rates potentially reaching the 8% level

Regarding the housing services inflation, Powell said it lagged the monetary tightening. According to him, the main concern here is rents, which have only begun to slow down. “We will continue to watch the market rent data closely for a signal of the upside and downside risks to housing services inflation,” he said. 

Other components of inflation show different trends.

Core goods inflation has fallen sharply due to tighter monetary policy and the slow unwinding of supply and demand dislocations. Less sensitive to the Fed moves, nonhousing services, which account for over half of the core PCE and include items such as health care and transportation, have moved sideways since liftoff, Powell said. 

The labor market continues to rebalance, with improved supply and moderated demand. This rebalancing has eased wage pressures. The Fed expects the trend to continue, but evidence that the tightness in the labor market is no longer easing could also call for a monetary policy response, Powell said. 

Committed to the 2% target 

The core PCE inflation index, closely watched by the Fed officials, peaked at 5.4% on a 12-month basis in February 2022 and declined gradually to 4.3% in July 2023. 

The lower monthly readings in June and July of 2023 were welcome but only “the beginning of what it will take to build confidence that inflation is moving down sustainably toward our goal,” Powell said.

“We can’t yet know the extent to which these lower readings will continue or where underlying inflation will settle over coming quarters. Twelve-month core inflation is still elevated, and there is substantial further ground to cover to get back to price stability.”

The Fed, however, remains committed to the 2% inflation target, Powell said. It’s challenging to know when such a stance has been achieved in real-time, he remarked. 

Despite Powell seeing the current rate as restrictive to the economy, he can’t identify with certainty the neutral rate of interest – the rate at which monetary policy is neither stimulating nor restricting economic growth – which brings uncertainty about how high rates should be. In addition, it’s not clear the duration of the lags with which rate hikes affect economic activity and inflation. 

“As is often the case, we are navigating by the stars under cloudy skies,” Powell said. “We will proceed carefully as we decide whether to tighten further or, instead, to hold the policy rate constant and await further data.”  

Aug. 30, 2023

Loan Estimate and Closing Disclosure: Key Docs


Your lender is required to send you a loan estimate after you complete your mortgage loan application. This three-page form is important: It lists the important financial details of your mortgage loan.

The loan estimate will list your loan's interest rate and monthly payment. It will also estimate how much you'll pay in closing costs, the fees charged by your lender and other third-party providers to originate your loan.

The loan estimate will also list any penalties you might face for paying off your loan too early and provide an estimate for how much you might have to pay in homeowners' insurance and property tax payments.

Why does the loan estimate matter?

Once you receive your loan estimate, it's important to look it over carefully. Make sure you agree with the closing costs and interest rate listed. If you have any questions about how much your lender or other providers are charging, now is the time to ask.

After you review your loan estimate you can decide to move forward with your loan application. You'll then provide additional information about your finances -- such as copies of your recent paycheck stubs and bank account information -- to your lender. Your lender will review this information when deciding whether to officially approve you for a mortgage.

What is a closing disclosure?

During the approval process, your lender will send you another important form, the closing disclosure. This is a five-page form that lists the final costs of your mortgage loan. While the loan estimate was an estimate of how much you'll pay for your mortgage, the closing disclosure lists exactly what you'll pay at the closing table.

The disclosure will spell out how much you'll pay each month for your loan and how much you'll pay in closing costs. The disclosure will also list your loan's terms, such as its interest rate, the total amount you have borrowed and how many years it will take you to pay it off.  Your lender must provide you with your closing disclosure at least three business days prior to the official closing date of your mortgage loan.

Why your closing disclosure matters.

Once you receive your closing disclosure, study it carefully, too. Make sure that the closing costs and loan information are the same or almost the same as what your lender listed on your loan estimate.

It's common for some closing costs to be slightly higher or lower than what was listed in the loan estimate. The key word here, though, is "slightly." If you see big differences from the loan estimate, contact your lender. If you are uncomfortable with the differences, you don't have to move forward with your loan closing.

The loan estimate and closing disclosure are both designed to make it easy for you to understand how much you’ll pay for your mortgage loan. Don’t pass up the opportunity to be an educated homebuyer: Study both of these documents carefully.

Aug. 24, 2023

The Advantages of Retro Home Design


Reusing furniture, repurposing flooring and adopting sustainable materials and lighting that consume less energy, protect natural resources and lower emissions from the manufacture and delivery of new products is desirable. Natural materials like wood, rattan, clay and stone add warmth and lightness to home decor.

Wondering how to get into retro designing in an eco-friendly way? Try these tips:

  • Buy reclaimed. Reclaimed wood is an environmentally sound choice, given its versatility and growing popularity. It can be used for countertops, flooring and walls. It saves the time, money and energy that would be required to produce a similar and newer product.
  • Deconstruct your home. Before tearing down walls, see what you can salvage and reuse. Consider everything from light fixtures to flooring, tile, bricks, cabinets and molding.
  • Consider buying pre-owned materials — a cost-effective way to redo your home. Salvage shops often have high-quality cabinets in great condition.
  • Reface instead of replacing. Consider repainting cabinets. New doors and drawers can also give tired cabinets a whole new look.
  • Visit salvage yards and antique shops. Consignment shops are great places to visit for items such as doorknobs, light fixtures and even mantels.
  • Add skylights. If you don't like using lights in the middle of the day, install skylights to provide natural lighting. Strategically place them in the most frequently used spaces throughout the day, like the kitchen, sitting room or powder room.
    • Install shades to deflect sunlight when necessary. Skylights can help reduce your total energy consumption too.
  • Repurpose kitchen work tops, such as marble that has already been used.
  • Work with reclaimed hardwood panels. They are preseasoned, so they won't warp once placed. Scaffold boards are strong and reasonably simple to get, and they have a unique texture that suits both floors and display walls.
  • Consider cork, which has excellent acoustic and thermal characteristics, and when it is used as flooring, it is soft and springy, wipeable and waterproof.

Time to go shopping

Visit local flea markets, yard sales and antique stores to find one-of-a-kind pieces that have been redone with new upholstery or paint — ideal for a lived-in look at a fraction of the price of something new while supporting sustainability and eco-friendliness. The nonprofit Habitat for Humanity has stores that sell salvaged materials, furniture and appliances from remodeled or demolished homes, as well as items from store closeouts and surplus material from contractors, distributors and manufacturers.

The review site Yelp conducted research that shows that searches for reclaimed materials are up by 38%. Many home projects are currently being centered around getting back to the root of materials. Strip down lacquered cabinetry to expose the unfinished walnut underneath, or replace existing countertops with a marble slab with raw edges.

Using sustainable materials and lighting that consumes less energy looks good too. They bring a soft, modern aesthetic that is rooted in organic wood tones and clean, natural colors with the absence of excess, creating a positive impact on well-being and inspiring a sense of connection with nature.

Vintage or refurbished elements can add uniqueness and charm. With repurposed flooring, you can use pallets, copper pennies and recycled wood materials. Reusing furniture, repurposing flooring and adopting sustainable materials and lighting — current decor trends — stem from retro style reemerging in modern ways.

Aug. 23, 2023

Where are mortgage rates headed?


August 13, 2023, 5:00 pm By 

Last week ended with a wild ride for mortgage rates. We anticipated the two inflation reports could help mortgage rates, however, we had a bad bond auction last Thursday, and the 10-year yield rose sharply. Weekly active inventory grew slowly again and purchase apps were down week to week again.

  • Weekly active listings rose by only 4,270
  • Mortgage rates went from 7.03% to 7.19%
  • Purchase apps were down 3% week to week

Mortgage rates and bond yields

Last week we started with lower bond yields as we anticipated inflation reports to continue the trend of slower year-over-year inflation data. This happened as expected, except we had a lousy bond auction, which meant too much debt supply came online with insufficient buyers. This pushed yields higher Thursday and Friday to move mortgage rates to 7.19%.

A valid case for higher mortgage rates in the short term is that we are simply going to be in an environment where we don’t have a lot of bond buyers versus the supply coming in, thus making it harder for mortgage rates to go lower. We saw an example of that last week.

For my 2023 forecast, my range on the 10-year yield has been between 3.21%-4.25%, emphasizing that the bond yields can go lower than 3.21% only if the labor market breaks. The labor market breaking to me is if jobless claims on a four-week moving average go over 323,000; currently, that data is 231,000. As the economy has stayed firm, bond yields are at a higher level of my range for 2023.

Weekly housing inventory

The painful housing inventory story of 2023 continues as we had yet another week of slow inventory growth. Last year when mortgage rates spiked higher, inventory growth was much faster, but we were also working from the lowest levels recorded in history in March of 2022. This year, it’s been a much different story. 

  • Weekly inventory change (August 4-August 11): Inventory rose from 487,870 to 492,140
  • Same week last year (August 5-August 12): Inventory rose from 543,898 to 550,175
  • The inventory bottom for 2022 was 240,194
  • The inventory peak for 2023 so far is 492,140
  • For context, active listings for this week in 2015 were 1,203,577

As we can see in the chart below, inventory growth has been so slow that active listings have been negative year over year for some time now. For those calling for a massive inventory spike since 2008, the last few years have not gone as planned.

New listings data has been trending at the lowest levels recorded in history for more than 12 months. However, even with higher mortgage rates in the last few months, we haven’t seen a new leg lower in this data line, which means we might be forming a workable bottom in 2023. As you can see in the chart below, 2023 has had a clear divergence versus 2021 and 2022 data, which were already at all-time lows before last year.

Here’s how new listings this week compare to the same week in past years:

  • 2023: 60,759
  • 2022: 73,384
  • 2021: 79,184

Purchase application data

Purchase application data was down again by 3% last week, making the count year-to-date at 14 positive and 16 negative prints. If we start from Nov. 9, 2022, it’s been 21 positive prints versus 16 negative prints. Mortgage rates near or above 7% are simply too high to promote real growth in this data line, which is working from a historical bottom. 

So, when rates fall, moving the needle higher for purchase apps won’t take much. However, for now, rates this high have facilitated more negative week-to-week data than positive, leading to lower sales as this data line looks out 30-90 days. While we aren’t seeing sales collapse like last year, we aren’t growing sales meaningfully from the recent lows. 

The week ahead: Tons of economic data

This week, we have various economic data reports that can move mortgage rates and give us a sense of where the housing market is going. Retail sales and the Leading Economic Index are out this week. Also, we get two key data lines for housing this week: the homebuilders survey by NAHB/Wells Fargo and housing starts!

What I am looking for in housing data is what the builder survey indicates for the next six months. In last month’s report, we saw a slight decline in this data line. For this week, I want to see how mortgage rates react to the batch of new economic data.