Housing news dominates the headlines this week. The Commerce Department reported on Tuesday that sales of newly constructed homes rebounded in April, up from the dip in March, as the spring buying season got underway. New Home Sales rose by 6.8% to an annual rate of 517,000, which was above the 510,000 expected. Since April 2014, sales are up a whopping 26%. The median price for a newly constructed home in April was $297,300, up 8.3% from a year ago. The report comes after a contrast in Existing Homes, which makes up a bulk of the market, which fell 3.3% in April.
Data from the Case Shiller 20-city Index on a year over year basis revealed that home prices rose by 5% from March 2014 to March 2015. Home prices have now risen year-over-year for 35 consecutive months following the housing bubble bust in 2007 and 2008. The 5% gain was above the 4.6% expected, while matching the February annual gain. From February to March, prices were up 0.9%. “The pattern of consistent gains is national and seen across all 20 cities covered by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices,” said David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee.
The last positive report today showed that May Consumer Confidence rose from April. The Index rose to 95.4 in May, above the 94 expected and up from April’s reading of 94.3. The report read that business conditions remained “good” last month, while the employment component said that those stating jobs are plentiful rose to 20.7% from 19%. The monthly Consumer Confidence Survey®, based on a probability-design random sample, is conducted for The Conference Board by Nielsen, a leading global provider of information and analytics around what consumers buy and watch.
I write to you today to recommend Alpha Mortgage and specifically Tara Stewart and her team, for Lender of
the Year. I know of no more deserving mortgage team in the four county area that Stevens Fine Homes serves
than this one.
I first came to know Tara when she began servicing the Stevens account with Bank of America. At the time, I
was an on-site sales person and her dedication to my buyers and her persistence through rough spots really
impressed me. It impressed our management team so much that when she made the move to Alpha Mortgage,
we followed and made Tara’s team at Alpha an additional preferred lender. Shortly after, I transitioned from
sales agent to Sales and Closings Coordinator and began working with Tara on a daily basis.
I couldn’t ask for a better partner for our sales agents and myself than Tara and her Alpha team. Stevens Fine
Homes buyers range from young, first home buyers to move up families to retirees and Tara handles each with
the same high degree of respect, enthusiasm and attention to detail. She has guided hopeful buyers through
months of tedious credit repair to finally reach their ultimate goal – a brand new home. Many of these folks
thought that homeownership was out of their reach – they didn’t have a clue how to get there – but Tara showed
them that with patience and hard work, they could make their dream a reality.
Tara has worked in partnership with our agents to procure and retain prospects by co-sponsoring neighborhood
events, developing professional marketing pieces and reaching out to area general brokerage agents to
recommend Stevens Fine Homes for their clients. Her extensive knowledge and understanding of new
construction and our organization in particular, makes her an invaluable resource for our team. She is an expert
on the varied mortgage products available and is able to determine the best loan for each buyer based on their
particular needs. Our agents trust her instincts without hesitation and are able to convey that trust to their buyers.
She is a great communicator and is always available to answer a call from an agent or buyer or meet at a
moment’s notice. I’m not sure how she pulls it off, but she manages to do all of that and attend 99% of our
buyers’ closings. Not an easy feat while managing almost half of our 220 closings last year.
In closing, I would like to say that, on a personal level, I have never known a more kind, sincere and caring
individual than Tara. That compassionate spirit is genuine and carries over to her professional relationships –
her clients know that she is truly concerned about them and their families. I guess it’s why she got into the crazy
world of mortgage in the first place – to help people! Please give Tara Stewart and her Alpha team your vote for
Lender of the Year. I have worked with many lenders in this area over the past 7 years and while most are
capable and knowledgeable, there isn’t one who outshines Tara. I thank you for your time and consideration.
Home builder sentiment across the nation edged lower in December, but still remains robust as 2014 comes to an end. The National Association of Home Builders Housing Market Index fell to 57 this month, which was just below the 58 expected and down from the 58 recorded in November. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good rather than poor. Within the report it showed that current sales conditions and expectations for future sales declined, while the traffic gauge of prospective buyers held steady.
In another sign that the U.S. economy has improved from the depths of the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve reported on Monday that factory production rose by 1.1% in November from October. Output at factories has risen 4.8% over the past year, which is above levels seen before December 2007. Despite a global slowdown, the U.S. has continued to recover, led by a boost in auto sales, food, wood, plastics and rubber products.
Today is the busiest day of the shipping season for the U.S. Post Office and FedEx with just 10 days until Christmas. The nation’s largest shipper, the Post Office, says it will process 640 million pieces of mail on Monday, up 33 million from last year. The Post Office further reported that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it expects to deliver 12.7 billion cards, letters and packages. FedEx reports that it will ship 22.6 million packages on Monday while it will deliver 290 million packages during the same period, up 9% from 2013.
The National Federation of Retailers (NRF) reported today that Black Friday weekend sales didn’t sizzle, which could be attributed to deals that began before Thanksgiving. The NRF said that sales from Thanksgiving through Sunday is estimated to hit $50.9 billion, down from the $57.4 billion in 2013, an 11% decline. The NRF went on to say that during the four-day period, 2014 online sales will be flat from last year. Another reason for the ease in sales could be that shoppers are holding out until later in the holiday shopping season to see if they can get better deals.
In a move that could potentially make it possible for hundreds of thousands of additional consumers to get mortgages, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have relaxed lending standards beginning today, December 1st. The new measures stem from an agreement in October where lenders had blamed the lack of clarity on when they would be penalized for making mistakes on mortgages they sell to Fannie and Freddie. The new standards should include faster turnaround times for mortgage applications to be processed. In addition, lenders be able to consider reduced credit scores and look past one time events when consumers suffered a hit on credit scores.
Fannie Mae released its Economic and Housing Outlook report for November late last week revealing that “economic growth in the U.S. is slowing from the strong mid-2014 numbers to a more moderate pace heading into next year.” Fannie Mae said that full economic growth is expected to be around a modest 2.5% in 2015. Fannie went on to say their view of housing starts, home sales, and home price trends will be largely unchanged next year and that “mortgage activity in 2015 will be very similar to 2014.”
News from abroad read that Japan has fallen into a recession after the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined for two consecutive quarters. A recession is defined as a significant decline in economic activity, which includes industrial production, employment, real income and wholesale retail trade. A recession is measured by two consecutive negative quarters of GDP data. Japan’s GDP fell by 1.6% in the third quarter after falling 7.3% in the second quarter.
The New York State Manufacturing Index bounced back in November after a somewhat weak reading in October. The index rose by 10.2 this month, up from the 6.2 registered in October, but lower than the 12.0 expected. The general business index signaled that business condition activity continued to expand in November, though at a slower pace from the May to September period. Within the report it showed that the employment component edged lower.
A recent study reveals that first-time homebuyers are faced with many challenges with the mortgage process, according the J.D. Power 2014 Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction study. The big issues facing first time homebuyers is growing student loan debt and affordability. Recent data shows that among the respondents purchasing a home, 58% are first timers. In addition, lack of experience and uncertainty regarding the process is also a barrier when it comes to first time buyers.