Although it may seem like there has been a full housing market recovery based on reports that are released, there are still many areas that remain depressed. Prices on homes have been increasing, yet many homeowners are still eligible for special mortgage programs aimed at helping them recover at a faster pace. While last year was a turnaround for the housing market, there is still a long way to go before it reaches the levels seen during the housing bubble. The housing market and economy, at this point, still remain very fragile.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of the Treasury recently released the Obama Administration's Housing Scorecard for the month of December. This scorecard is a report on the nation's housing market. According to the report, home prices showed large annual gains for the 12 months ending October 2012. HUD Senior Advisor on Housing Finance Michael Berman stated that "As the December housing scorecard indicates, our housing market is continuing to show important signs of recovery -- with the FHFA and Case-Shiller housing price indices up 5.6% and 4.3%, respectively, from one year ago".

According to the Scorecard, for the month of October, more than 81,000 loans were refinanced through HARP, the Home Affordable Refinance Program. Since the beginning of 2012, a total of 790,600 loans were refinanced through the HARP program. HARP has been very successful at refinancing underwater homeowners who have loans that were sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac prior to June 1, 2009. This program has helped may homeowners save money, save time and begin to build equity back faster while, at the same time, prevented many strategic defaults.

The same can be said for the success of the FHA streamline program which allows homeowners to refinance without the need of an appraisal. FHA purchase and refinance programs have had a huge impact on stabilizing the housing market in all areas of the country. While FHA has always been known to help low to middle income consumers, the increase in FHA loan limits has now brought higher income consumers to FHA's loan programs. When home prices fell and unemployment soared and sub-prime lending disappeared, FHA continued to finance mortgages. During the housing boom and up until housing crisis, FHA had very little mortgage business as consumers were attracted to designer loans instead. According to Moody's Analytics, if new mortgages were not insured by FHA in October 2010, housing prices would have fallen an additional 25% by the end of 2011, new and existing home sales would have dropped an additional 40% and new home construction would have fallen 60%. Further, the result would have been an additional 2% contraction of the economy and an unemployment rate of 12% as an additional three million jobs would have been lost. It is often overlooked at the impact that the Federal Housing Administration has on the nation especially in its time of need.

In other data, the National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index showed that the number of metropolitan areas increased for the fifth straight month in January. The IMI rose from 201 markets in December to 242 In January. The National Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index was at 198.2 in November and projects that 2012 will be at a record 194 when all data is in for the year. Builder's Confidence for January remains unchanged at 47 which is the highest since April of 2006, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. Tight credit conditions and difficulties in obtaining accurate appraisals continue to be concerns amongst builders.

While special programs are still available and housing continues to recover in 2013, it is hoped that set backs will be few. While mortgage rates are kept low, refinances should continue to put money back into consumers' pockets which will help the economy. With several significant issues on the table, such as the impending debt ceiling, it is impossible speculate about how the market will turn out this year because just about anything can happen.

FreeRateUpdate.com surveys more than two dozen wholesale and direct lenders' rate sheets to determine the most accurate mortgage rates available to well qualified consumers at about a 1 point origination fee.

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