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5 mortgage and housing trends in fall 2012

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Real Estate » 5 Housing Trends In Fall 2012

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5 fall 2012 housing trends
5 fall 2012 housing trends

Homebuyers and refinancers seeking the best deal possible: You are running out of time.

While it's too early to even consider calling this a seller's market, buyers will have to work a little harder to find the home of their dreams at a bargain this fall. That's especially true for those who want a newly built home.

You may get a good deal on a short sale as long as you are willing to wait. After new rules go into effect this fall, the short-selling process might be less painful than it is now.

If you are not interested in buying, selling or refinancing your home, that might be because you are too busy with home improvement projects. If that's the case, know that you are not alone.

Here are five housing trends you can expect to see this fall.

Homebuyers, the market's just not that into you
Homebuyers, the market's just not that into you

Potential homebuyers entering the housing market this fall will face a harsh and somewhat confusing reality: It looks like a buyer's market, but it's not.

The inventory of for-sale homes, including foreclosed properties, continues to shrink in many parts of the country. As a result, it will probably take longer for buyers to find their ideal home. And they may not necessarily find the bargains they expect.

"Yes, there are good deals today, especially in the distressed-property market," says Shaun White, a vice president for the Re/Max real estate network. "But because the inventory is so greatly reduced, it is more difficult to get your offer accepted. There are bidding wars going on in many parts of the country."

The average inventory of homes for sale nationwide was about 4.6 months in August, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the market hasn't really turned into a seller's market yet. Many underwater homeowners have taken their homes off the market, contributing to the low inventory levels. And there are millions of foreclosures in the pipeline that will eventually hit the for-sale market.

"There are still a lot of foreclosure properties that we have to work through," White says. "We won't have a sustainable recovery until that happens."

Last chance to refi?
Last chance to refi?

Mortgage rates are being pulled in different directions. Borrowers who want to grab a low rate should act before the tug of war is over.

The Federal Reserve has been doing whatever it can to hold rates down, including printing billions of dollars per month to buy mortgage bonds. But higher mortgage fees, imposed by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, will push rates up this fall.

Starting Nov. 1, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will raise the guarantee fees they charge loan originators. On average, the increase translates into about a quarter of 1 percentage point in interest.

It's almost like the higher fees will be canceled out by the Fed's open-ended buying program, or QE3, says Brett Sinnott, director of secondary marketing at CMG Mortgage Group in San Ramon, Calif.

Rates will likely stay near the lows until the election, he says. What happens next is anyone's guess.

"What if after the election, they say, 'We're stopping (the bond-buying program) tomorrow,'" Sinnott says.

Borrowers who are on the fence should act soon.

"There is no reason to hold off on refinancing at these levels," he says.

Return of the remodel
Return of the remodel

It's time to revisit that list of home improvement projects you keep putting off. As home prices stabilize, more homeowners will tackle remodeling projects this fall.

Spending on home renovations is expected to increase to $120.7 billion in the fourth quarter of this year from $114 billion in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to data from the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Despite the growth in remodeling activity, homeowners needn't worry about rising building material prices or potential shortages of labor, says Stephen Melman, director of economic services for the National Association of Home Builders, or NAHB.

"Some prices have gone up, but I don't think that's going to be a holdback on remodeling," he says.

Fall is a great time to get materials at a discount as home improvement stores unload their summer inventory.

As you decide which projects to tackle first, it's wise to check your windows and consider adding insulation before winter arrives.

Kitchen and bathroom remodeling remain at the top of many homeowners' wish lists, according to the NAHB. "The most popular large project has been bathrooms," Melman says. "It's also less expensive than doing a kitchen."

A new hope for short sales
A new hope for short sales

A series of new short-sale guidelines that go into effect Nov. 1 are supposed to make the process of short selling easier and speedier.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will allow servicers to streamline the short-sale process for borrowers who are in financial hardship and homeowners who have to sell their homes because of a divorce, disability or job transfer.

The expedited process will open the door to more short sales as an alternative to foreclosures, White says.

"Since this crisis began, the short-sale process has been difficult," White says. "Consumers have been frustrated by the process. But we are starting to see changes already."

Short-sale specialist Patty Da Silva says she hopes servicers will embrace the rules, but she is skeptical.

On average, it still takes at least six months to sell a house through short sale, says Da Silva, owner of Green Realty Properties in Davie, Fla.

Under Fannie and Freddie's new guidelines, servicers must respond to a short-sale request within 30 days and give the borrower a final decision within 60 days.

The tight market strikes back
The tight market strikes back

If you are on the market to buy a newly built home, expect to find fewer choices and scarcer discounts.

The inventory of new houses for sale is at a record low. As of July, there were about 142,000 newly constructed homes for sale in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"Basically, builders have stopped building for the last three years, and the industry has come to a virtual halt," Melman says.

As the housing market improves, homebuilders have slowly started to build again. But it is going to take at least two years before the availability of new homes for sale significantly improves, Melman says.

At the current sales pace, the inventory of new homes is enough to last about 4.6 months. A balanced market usually is about six months.

Because of the low inventory, builders face less competition. For buyers, that means fewer incentives and discounts.

That doesn't mean you should pay what the builder wants. There is always room for negotiation.

"I think the builders are going to continue to offer some incentives but not to the extent they did in the depth of the crisis," Melman says.

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