This Month in Real Estate
December 2009




Small steps to economic recovery continued last month. Among the positive readings was the report of a third quarter GDP growth rate of 2.8 percent, which followed four consecutive quarterly declines. This advance comes in well ahead of that of our Canadian neighbors, whose economy was once anticipated to be the first country out of recession, and by significant margin. Canada posted marginal 0.4 percent growth. Unemployment fell in November for the first time since April 2008. A strong rebound in home sales activity from year ago levels also points to a firmer stabilization.


With the extension of the $8,000 federal housing tax credit into spring 2010, first-time buyers will now have an additional few months to purchase their dream homes. Expansion of the income restrictions now gives possibilities for higher earners to participate too. And the $6,500 tax credit now available to established homeowners with five consecutive years or more in their homes broadens the opportunity landscape. This in turn will allow the housing market more time to find a more solid footing on a sustainable recovery. 

Although economists continue to debate the overall shape of the recovery, it is widely agreed that the U.S. economy will take a long time to rebound. Unemployment is expected to remain high for several quarters and the number of underemployed is expected by some economists  to remain a drag on growth prospects. On the brighter side, according to some economists, a slow and steady growth will likely fair better for the long-term well-being of the economy. Slower, sustained growth can help prevent dangerous asset bubbles, like the recent housing and technology bubbles, from growing and bursting.

The Housing Market

Existing Home Sales - Up 24% from last year

  • Existing home sales recorded another strong gain in October with many buyers rushing to beat the deadline for the first-time buyer tax credit scheduled to expire at the end of November. Sales surged 10.1 percent to 6.1 million units over September sales of 5.54 million and are 23.5 percent above the 4.94 million-unit level seen last year. Sales activity is at the highest level since February 2007 when it reached 6.55 million.

Median Home Price - Very favorable

  • Low home prices are contributing to extremely favorable affordability conditions. Existing-home price was $173,100 in October, 5 percent higher from its low in January but still 7.1 percent below October 2008. Distressed properties, which accounted for 30 percent of all transactions in October, continue to hold down the median home price, as they typically sell for 15 to 20 percent less than traditional homes.


Inventory - Lowest level in more than 2.5 years

  • “We are getting closer to a general balance between buyers and sellers,” according to Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. The supply of homes is now at the lowest level in more than two and a half years. Total housing inventory at the end of October fell 3.7 percent to 3.57 million existing homes available for sale, representing a seven-month supply at the current sales pace, down from September’s eight-month supply. Compared to a year ago, there are now 15 percent fewer homes on the market.


Mortgage Rates – Back at 4.78%

  • Remaining at attractive levels for people looking to buy a home or refinance, historically low interest rates are boosting the market. Rates for 30-year fixed loans fell to 4.95 percent in October from 5.06 percent the month before. During the week ended November 25, rates again dropped to the low 4.78 percent reached in the spring. As the economy enters its recovery phase and concerns over inflation come back, mortgage rates are expected to go up.


Affordability – Best since 1970s

  • Unprecedented interest rates, low home prices, as well as the first-time buyer tax credit are lifting the housing market. All these factors combined are “adding to the buying power of the typical family, with affordability conditions this year at the highest on record dating back to 1970,” according to Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. So far this year, the home price-to-income ratio has fallen well below the historical average of 25 percent. The ratio now stands at 15 percent.


Sources: National Association of Realtors, Freddie Mac

Government Action

New Fannie Mae Policies

"First Look"

In many markets dominated by distressed properties, buyers jumped off the fence in droves and as a result the number of homes for sale in the first tier of the market decreased significantly. When a new foreclosure becomes available for sale, it often is snapped up by investors with cash on hand, leaving the average home buyer looking for a place to live out of luck.       


Fannie Mae introduced a new “First Look” initiative to address this and aid in the stabilization of neighborhoods.

  1. During the first 15 days a Fannie Mae REO is on the market, only buyers who will live in the home and public entities committed to the best interests of the community may purchase it.
  2. Buyers will have 45 days to close, up from 30 days.
  3. Earnest money requirement may be reduced.


This will hopefully give the average home buyer a greater chance of purchasing foreclosures and provide support to hard-hit neighborhoods, because owner-occupants are more invested in the long-term vitality of a community whereas investors typically are more invested in their monetary return from the property.       


Increased Credit Scores

Fannie Mae is raising its minimum credit score from 580 to 620. This risk management measure will help protect Fannie Mae from future defaults and foreclosure by raising their standard and accepting less risky loans.              


While risk management is a sound and healthy approach for an entity that the economy depends on, this underscores the importance that potential home buyers check their credit report early in the process, allowing more time to clear up any errors.         

Earlier this year, Experian, one of three major credit-reporting bureaus, began exclusively providing complete credit report information when purchased directly from Experian or obtained from the government annual credit report.

Source: National Association of Realtors


FHA Signals Efforts to Manage Risk


In an effort to secure its financial health, the Federal Housing Administration plans to require borrowers to have more “skin in the game” soon. Over the past three years, FHA’s market share has boomed from about 2 percent of all new loans to about 30 percent of all new loans this year and 20 percent of refinances. The escalading volume that the administration is currently handling calls for stricter requirements as evidenced by FHA’s capital ratios falling to nearly 0.5 percent well below the minimum of 2 percent.


The agency is still analyzing the levels and time frames it wishes to tighten its standards but they expect to:

  1. Increase minimum down payments
  2. Increase minimum credit scores
  3. Increase insurance premiums
  4. Lower the amount of seller concessions

As one of the major players in the mortgage market, the health of FHA is imperative to the housing market and flow of credit to home buyers, as well as to the health of the overall economy. Taking measures to safeguard the agency from needing a government tax payer-funded bailout is a notable risk management measure.


According to a Keller Williams research study, the typical first-time buyer put down 3.5 percent this year. Those who want to take advantage of the tax credit before the April 30 contract, June 30 closing deadline may want to beef up their savings and check their credit report now in anticipation of any changes.

Sources: National Association of Realtors, KW Research First Time Home Buyer Survey

Topics For Buyers & Sellers


First Time & Distressed Property Home Buyers


What are other first time buyers doing?

The tax credit extension and expansion in November has fueled new discussion about home buyers and the housing market in 2010. Here’s a look at first-time buyers in 2009.

  1. The median age is 28, significantly down from where it was in 2005 at 32.
  2. Location or Neighborhood was the No. 1 “must-have” for 36% of buyers.
  3. 2 out of 3 sellers paid at least part of the buyer’s closing costs.
  4. 76% used their own savings for the down payment.  
  5. 1 in 4 had help from their family for the down payment.

As elevated levels of distressed properties are expected to continue for the next few years, here is a glimpse of buying a distressed property:

  1. 27% of foreclosures* were purchased by investors.
  2. 47% of  distressed* properties were purchased by first-time buyers.
  3. 89% of those first time buyers that purchased a distressed property were motivated by the $8,000 tax credit.
  4. 7 in 10 agents have seen an increase in multiple offers
  5. Approximately 3 out of 5 agents discuss the differences between buying distressed and traditional properties at the buyer consultation.
          * Distressed – Short Sale and REO, Foreclosure – REO Only


Contact me,
Mike Sundberg,

your local real estate expert,

for information about what's going on in our area. 



Newsletter Contents

1. Commentary

2. The Housing Market

3. Government Action

4. Topics for Buyers
    and Sellers


For a more detailed report with additional graphs and government action, please see the This Month in Real Estate PowerPoint Report. 

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