Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dallas home prices drop in one survey, rise in another

The latest research on Dallas-area home prices will cause a lot of head scratching.

One report released Tuesday says local home prices were down at the end of the year, while a second benchmark national survey found they were still rising.

"Which one do you believe?" asked Texas A&M University economist James Gaines. "We researchers are confused, too."

According to the monthly S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, Dallas-area home prices fell 2.4 percent in December from a year earlier – the biggest drop yet in this closely watched housing study.

The Dallas numbers were still much better than the almost 9 percent nationwide decline in Case-Shiller's report.

But another respected home-price survey came up with the exact opposite conclusion about the Dallas-area housing market.

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight's numbers say that home prices here in the fourth quarter were 2.95 percent higher than a year earlier.

And nationwide, the federal agency estimates that prices inched up 0.84 percent.

Disagreement among analysts is nothing new, and most housing studies have subtle differences in their conclusions, depending upon how the research is done.

But rarely do two such important home price gauges released on the same day provide such dramatically different data.

"I track four or five of these things, and most of the time, they are not that far apart," said Dr. Gaines, who is in Texas A&M's Real Estate Center.

The volatility of many housing markets caused by falling sales and rising foreclosures is making it harder for analysts, he said.

"These indexes have trouble when things are changing," Dr. Gaines said. "When things are nice and smooth and steady, they are consistent.

"But when the market is going up or down, they can get the data off."

Case-Shiller and the federal housing office take different routes to formulate their home price indexes.

Case-Shiller says it tracks the prices of typical single-family homes in 20 metropolitan areas. The survey does not include condominiums and townhouses. It only covers pre-owned properties – no new construction.

The Case-Shiller researchers say they compare "arms-length sales" of specific single-family homes.

The agency's index, on the other hand, is a weighted, seasonally adjusted measure of home prices based on data received from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage investors. It doesn't include any information on homes priced above $417,000. And it includes information from all home purchases and refinancings.

Another commonly quoted home price gauge – the National Association of Realtors' quarterly home price report – just looks at changes in median sales prices on the Realtors' multiple listing services.

That survey found that Dallas-Fort Worth home prices were up 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter and fell more than 5 percent nationwide.

"That doesn't mean every house in America just went down 5 percent," Dr. Gaines said.

But the broad conclusion should be that home prices are flat to declining in North Texas.

"I don't think there is any doubt that the market is slowing down."

But not every neighborhood is acting the same, Dr. Gaines said.

"Dallas is a huge market," he said. "Within Dallas there are some submarkets which are doing very well and some areas which are doing very poorly."

The best way to use home price studies is to look at the overall trends, said William B. Brueggeman, chairman of Southern Methodist University's Real Estate Department.

Getting the surveys to agree "has been a problem for some time," said Dr. Brueggeman.

"In a perfect world if you had a constant stream of information on every transaction you could do it.

"But reality is not that way."

He said that the Case-Shiller index is more mathematical and statistical while reports such as the Realtors' survey just combine all the sales data and pick a median.

Even though their numbers are different, both Case-Shiller and the federal housing office have more somber takes on nationwide housing.

"Home prices across the nation and in most metro areas are significantly lower than where they were a year ago," Robert J. Shiller, professor at Yale University and one of the developers of the index, said in a statement. "Wherever you look, things look bleak."

Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight Director James B. Lockhart said in his report that "prices for home purchases in the quarter fell in every state except Maine."

"While the market weakness is most significant in areas that saw the greatest price run-ups during the boom, other states have clearly not been immune to recent declines," he said.

Area 4Q Index Level 1-Year Change
Atlanta 129.43 -3.4%
Boston 164.59 -3.4%
Charlotte 131.90 2.3%
Chicago 160.03 -4.5%
Cleveland 112.07 -6.3%
Dallas 120.77 -2.4%
Denver 130.98 -4.5%
Detroit 103.30 -13.6%
Las Vegas 196.05 -15.3%
Los Angeles 233.03 -13.7%
Miami 231.71 -17.5%
Minneapolis 155.37 -8.0%
New York 201.80 -5.6%
Phoenix 187.67 -15.3%
Portland 182.47 1.2%
San Diego 202.45 -15.0%
San Francisco 189.23 -10.8%
Seattle 184.88 0.5%
Tampa 200.13 -13.3%
Washington 217.78 -9.4%
Composite-10 200.55 -9.8%
Composite-20 184.86 -9.1%
SOURCE: Standard & Poor's

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fannie and Freddie increase fees.

Effective April 1, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will increase the "delivery" fees they charge lenders based on FICO scores, down payment amounts and other loan characteristics.

Under the new guidelines, even applicants who assumed that their FICO credit scores would get them favorable rates will be charged more unless they can come up with down payments of 30 percent or more.

For example, a buyer with a 699 FICO score who brings a down payment of about 25 percent to the table will be hit with a 1.5 percent delivery fee at closing under the new guidelines. A buyer with a FICO score between 700 and 720 will pay an extra three-quarters of a point. Someone with a 739 FICO — once considered a platinum guarantee of the best rates available — will get dinged with a quarter-point add-on.

Condominium buyers who cannot come up with a 25 percent down payment will be hit with a three-quarter point add-on penalty, no matter how high their credit score.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

First-time Tax Credit Increase to 8K And Doesn't Have To Be Repaid

Actually, I may have spoken too soon on the Democrats killing the $15,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers. Although it surely would have provided incentive to help remove the oversupply of homes for sale and foreclosures in some areas, at least they managed to sweeten the existing tax credit.

For starters, the tax credit doesn't have to be repaid back to the government as long as you stay in your new home for three years. Also, the maximum credit ceiling has been increased to $8,000 from $7,500. And, it really will put more after-tax money in your pocket. Big time! Check out the example below.

For example, if a qualified home buyer expected, notwithstanding the tax credit, federal income tax liability of $5,000 and had tax withholding of $4,000 for the year, then without the tax credit the taxpayer would owe the IRS $1,000 on April 15th. Suppose now that the taxpayer qualified for the $8,000 home buyer tax credit. As a result, the taxpayer would receive a check for $7,000 ($8,000 minus the $1,000 owed). That's a pretty sweet incentive.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dems Kill Increased Home Buyer Tax Deduction.

As the democrats continue to bemoan the state of the economy and falling home prices, it seems incredulous that they voted out the $15,000 first-time home buyer tax deduction that had been proposed in the $800 Billion stimulus package. They also killed the tax credit for buying new American cars from our nations' struggling automakers. Seems to me like those 2 tax credits could have gone a long way to help right our ship. I just don't get it. The American people need to unite and demand term limits for U.S. senators and congressmen. Washington indeed is broken. Let's just hope they don't financially break the country.