Entering 2011, homebuyers, real estate investors, and housing industry analysts speculate on what the coming year has in store for the housing market. Many will look back on 2010 as a “year of disappointment.” Uncle Sam made numerous attempts to stabilize a lifeless housing sector and give it new life by pumping billions of dollars into a multitude of programs -- First-Time Homebuyer Credit, Making Home Affordable, Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), and Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) – only to come up woefully short in its efforts. In addition, the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package failed to produce advertized economic improvements.
Home Values: Will We Finally Reach the Bottom?
Real estate analysts’ and other market watchers’ predictions for the housing market’s recovery in 2011 cover the spectrum. For example, economist Mark Zandi believes homes will continue to lose value, but has a more optimistic outlook than most, predicting a decline somewhere in the neighborhood of 6%. However, Forbes tends to have a pessimistic view regarding the decline, anticipating an addition drop of 20%, on top of previous loss of value, before the market hit the long-awaited bottom.
Some metropolitan regions of the country that have a stronger employment outlook, such as Texas Washington D.C. and parts of the Midwest may experience a small increase in home prices. Nonetheless, the consensus seems to lean toward 2012 as the likely beginning of a recovery at best.
Foreclosures: What to Expect for Home Values
Foreclosures have the most significant impact on home values. Undoubtedly, homeowners’ inability to pay their mortgages will continue to exert downward pressure on home values through 2011. According to a joint release by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OC) and the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), the end of the third quarter revealed a 31.2 percent increased in foreclosures over the previous quarter. That figure represents a 3.7 % increase over the third quarter ending 2009. In the third quarter of 2010, approximately 1.2 million homeowners found themselves experiencing some form of foreclosure action by mortgage lenders. This represents a 4.5% jump from the second quarter and more than a 10% increase over the same quarter in 2009.
Simultaneously, figures from the third quarter of 2010 showed a 17% decreased in the number of homeowners who qualified for the Home Affordable Modification Program compared to the second quarter. Loan modifications give qualified homeowners financial relief by reducing the amount of their monthly mortgage obligations. A recent Congressional Oversight Panel study reports HAMP end up helping about 800,000 homeowners. This number falls drastically short of the 4 million borrowers initially targeted for assistance through the program.
Mortgage Interest Rates: Will the Historic Lows Continue?
On December 30, 2010, the 30-year fixed rate stood at 4.250; the 3-year adjustable rate mortgage was 1.87530 percent. As of this writing, home mortgage rates fall lower than this time last year. Many analysts believe interest rates will stay below 5 percent; others like the Mortgage Bankers Association, expect a measured increase in mortgage interest rates to about 5.1 percent for 2011. The bottom line -- homeowners can still look forward to low home mortgage rates in 2011.
How Will the Job Outlook Change?
Employment still presents a major concern for the depressed real estate market as we go into 2011. Of the 8.5 million jobs lost from 2008 through 2009, businesses have generated only 1 million replacement positions. The concern about a weak employment market and the possibility of job layoff keep many likely homebuyers on the sidelines. A strong job market may motivate homebuyers to jump into the real estate market, especially with low prices and attractive mortgage interest rates. Economists expect the current 9.8 percent unemployment rate to decrease slightly -- below 9 percent in 2011. This assumes the economy meets the anticipated expected growth rate and business orders go up for the year. Employment experts look for a net gain of 2.5 million new jobs in 2011.
Advice for Homebuyers
With all the forecast and predictions about the upcoming year, the best approach for those contemplating buying a home still lies in following proven advice:
• Educate yourself about the local real estate market in your area. Although mortgage rates and home prices will remain low, some market will experience an increase in home values, jobs and populations.
• Strengthen your financial situation by saving money for a down payment and closing costs. Many lenders now require a 10 percent down payment along with a strong work history. Research shows more homebuyers choosing FHA mortgages over conventional mortgages because of less stringent qualifications standards and the lower down payment of 3.4%.
• Remember, you are in a real estate buyer’s paradise. This means you have the upper hand and may have enough advantage to negotiate the asking price down or persuade the seller to assist you in “buying down” the mortgage interest rate.
In addition to the above guidelines, play it safe and spend only what you can afford. In fact, take this rule even further and buy less than what you can qualify to purchase.