You Snooze, You Lose

by Tom Tousignant

in Blog, Home Buying, Mortgages, Refinancing

False Illusions and What You Need to Know

Homebuyer Alert…

For prospective homebuyers who are on the fence about making a home purchase, the next few months represent a countdown of sorts for two reasons.

The first of these, the coming expiration of huge tax incentives, may be a bit more obvious to most borrowers. April 30, 2010 is the last day to enter into a home purchase contract and still potentially qualify for a federal income tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time homebuyers and up to $6,500 for repeat homebuyers. The credit can be claimed only on contracts that close by June 30, 2010.

Secondly, beyond the waning benefit of the Federal income tax incentive, another form of stimulus will soon disappear, as the Federal Reserve winds down a program that has been keeping home loan rates artificially low.

Rate Alert…

The lowest rates of 2009 were driven down to their attractive levels because of the Fed’s Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) purchase program. Home loan rates have an inverse relationship with the value of MBS. When these securities trade higher on the market, rates move lower and vice-versa. So when the Fed started buying MBS’s, the prices increased, to push mortgage rates lower.  The continued purchases in 2009 have kept mortgage rates low for pretty much the full year.

The Fed has consistently stated that the program will end in March, 2010.  In October, they started to ration the MBS purchases to make the $1.25 trillion last through March.  This rationing was intended to prevent home loan rates from spiking as the program is phased out. It’s sort of like weaning the market off of its life-saving treatment instead of forcing it to go cold turkey.

Already, some in the media have mistakenly reported the extension of the program through March as good news, telling consumers that rates will continue to decline, and remain low into the spring. This gives a false sense of security that homebuyers and refinancers simply cannot afford.

The problem is…

Those reports do not accurately report what’s going on or where rates are really headed. That can have a very costly impact on consumers who may miss out on historically low rates if they listen to these media outlets.

Here’s what’s really going on…

In May 2009, the Federal Reserve’s purchases of MBS peaked at an average of $25 Billion per week. As of November, the average weekly purchases dropped down to $14 Billion. At the end of November, the Fed had already used over 80% of the allocated funds for MBS, meaning less than 20% remained to be used over four months.

Making the problem worse is that the Fed now has less money available to purchase MBS while at the same time, the supply of these securities has increased as a result of refinance and purchase activity that was triggered by lower rates.

Why is that important?

As the Fed now has fewer funds to last through the remaining months of the program, its ability to keep rates low will wane.
As the Fed’s program winds down and ends, we’ll likely see two things happen.

First, we will probably see higher levels of volatility—with rates sometimes shifting dramatically in the middle of the day. That means it is more important than ever for buyers to work with a knowledgeable mortgage professional who has a finger on the pulse of the market at all times and can provide trusted, proven advice.

Second, since MBS will have less support from the Fed, rates are likely to rise over time.

In short, while rates are still very good, they may not be for long.

What should you do to protect yourself?

First and foremost, work with a knowledgeable mortgage originator who studies and monitors the market.

Second, don’t be fooled by media stories that only report the headlines and don’t understand the underlying implications of the Fed’s actions. If you ever hear something in the news but aren’t sure what it means to your situation, feel free to call or email me for in-depth answers and advice.

Finally, if you haven’t yet explored how the current rate environment might benefit you or someone you know, let’s arrange a time to sit down and discuss your unique situation as well as your short- and long-term goals. Remember, rates are still very good, but they may not be for long.

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