A string of positive economic reports on the housing market over the past few weeks show the hangover from the first-time homebuyer tax credit is easing and demand for housing is slowly increasing. New home sales for August were of their lows from July and existing home sales rose a better than expected 7.6%. Perhaps the best news of the past week was the Commerce Department’ s report that new home construction surged 10.5% in August and 2.2% from a year ago. Many economists feel builders are beginning to anticipate a future shortage of housing when the economic recovery gets into full gear. Home prices also showed a 3.2% year-over-year increase in July according to the S&P Case-Schiller Home Price Index.
Mortgage rates remain just barely off their lows for the year but are still extremely attractive with the benchmark thirty-year, fixed-rate sitting at 4.25% with no points. The fifteen-year fixed also remains near historic lows at 3.75% with no points. Thirty-year government loans for FHA, VA and Rural Development are currently in the 4.25% to 4.375% range with no points. Rates have managed to stay low despite a month-long rally in the stock market thanks to continued weak employment and this month’s decision by the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee to leave rates unchanged and the return of European debt concerns.
On the local front, Rural Development funding has been restored and we are beginning to see a resurgence in first-time homebuyers entering the market and using the popular zero-down program to take advantage of low home prices, interest rates in the low 4% range and Rural Development’s lack of a monthly mortgage insurance component to purchase more home for the money than anyone would have thought possible just a few years ago. Those exceeding the $70,750 annual household income limit for Rural Development can still take advantage of this buyer’s market with FHA financing which only requires 3.5% down and has comparably low interest rates to Rural Development and no geographic restrictions. And let’s not forget one the most popular government loans for our area, VA Guaranteed, which allows for 100% financing, no income limits, no geographic restrictions and no monthly mortgage insurance.
Lastly, we have seen a steady increase in condominium purchases since early August when it became clear that BP had the Deepwater Horizon spill capped. While out-of-state second home buyers and investors were mostly taking a wait and see approach in June and July, we now see them returning in earnest to take advantage of rock bottom prices and all that Panama City Beach has to offer. The impact of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International airport and low-fare carrier Southwest is evident in the big increase in the number of buyers from Nashville, Texas and Northeast. The most encouraging thing about the current condo market demographic is that they are almost exclusively true second-home buyers who plan to use their unit as much as possible and allow their friends and families to use and enjoy when it is vacant. This sets the foundation for a sustainable condo market and steady price appreciation without the investors and flippers that brought so much volatility to the market in the past