Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Real Estate Outlook: Jumps and Gains


You can take your economic cues from the Federal Reserve Board' s latest assessment…or you can take them from the nation's consumers directly, as measured by the Conference Board's monthly Consumer Confidence survey.

Both are now essentially saying the same thing: The economy is surely but steadily getting stronger, consumers feel better than they have in months about their prospects, but the ongoing concern -- and it's a big one -- is unemployment and creating new jobs.

The Consumer Confidence index -which is based on interviews with 5,000 households per month -hit its highest mark in more than a year. At the same time, Federal Reserve Board announced its decision to hold interest rates at their low current levels, and observed that the economy is still very much in recovery mode - a slow healing process that the Fed doesn't want to diminish by raising rates.

Meanwhile, the federal government's latest numbers on home prices should definitely make consumers more confident when it comes to home purchases and whether the downcycle has come to an end.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency's monthly home price index showed an average national seasonally-adjusted gain of seven tenths of a percent, including a big two percent jump in the Western states.

The Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller monthly home price index also rose in 14 of the 20 major markets it tracks. That was the sixth consecutive month of price improvements from Case-Shiller, which, as you may recall, used to be the most negative price index of all.

Housing sales numbers came in low during December - a decline which had been widely forecast by analysts. The National Association of Realtors reported that home resales fell by nearly 17 percent for the month.

Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the association, said that was caused primarily by the overloading of sales in September, October and November, as first-time buyers rushed to complete purchases before the expiration date for the $8,000 tax credit.

The earlier sales took all the ooomph out of closings at the end of the year.

Nevertheless, select markets did see some big jumps in sales: In Florida, for example, sales of single family houses were up by 33 percent for the month compared with the prior year, and condo sales gained an amazing 91 percent!

At the same time, mortgage financing continues to be a big plus in the equation as well: Rates were stable last week -- five percent for 30-year fixed loans and 4.3 percent for 15-year loans - according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Better yet: applications for new loans to purchase homes jumped by 3 percent last week.

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