Friday, June 27, 2008

Homes Less Affordable as Prices Fall, Rates Rise, Zillow Says By Sharon L. Lynch Enlarge Image/Details June 27

(Bloomberg) -- Rising mortgage rates are driving up the cost of buying a house even as prices fall, making property more expensive across the U.S., according to a new study by Zillow.com, an online provider of home valuations.

Monthly payments on 30-year fixed mortgages are 6 percent to 10 percent higher in 41 of the top U.S. housing markets than they were two months ago. First-quarter prices have declined from a year earlier in 88 percent of those areas, Zillow said.

``We're going to need about a 30 percent decline in house prices if you are going to keep payments stable,'' said Morris Davis, a former senior economist with the Federal Reserve and now a real estate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Business.

Seven Federal Reserve benchmark cuts since September have failed to lower mortgage rates as banks have curtailed lending after taking writedowns or credit losses of more than $400 billion from investments in mortgages. Rates for 30-year fixed-rate home loans were about 6.3 percent when the Fed first reduced its target federal funds rate nine months ago. They're now just under 6.45 percent, data from Bankrate.com show.

Zillow based its calculations on almost 25,000 mortgage offers to potential homebuyers with credit ratings of at least 680 out of a possible 850. The would-be buyers sought bids through Zillow's Mortgage Marketplace, a new service that helps consumers shop for home loans. Zillow's main business provides U.S. home valuation estimates based partly on sales data.

`Unfortunate Pickle'

The average monthly mortgage payment rose $131, or $1,572 a year, since the beginning of April in the 41 areas surveyed, Zillow said. The figure is controlled for population.

``The story here is not so much how much more it will cost you over the life of the loan, but how much less house you can buy,'' said Greg Rand, managing partner of Prudential Rand Realty in Westchester County, New York. ``It's an unfortunate pickle that we're in.''

Prudential Rand has more than 700 sales associates and a mortgage brokerage that arranges financing.

Home prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas fell in April by the most on record, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, and new home sales declined 40 percent in May from a year ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales of previously owned homes in the U.S. rose in May from the lowest level in at least nine years as a slide in prices lured some buyers into the market, the National Association of Realtors said yesterday.

Fed Actions

U.S. housing was less affordable in April than the previous month even as sales increased in some markets, the Realtors data show. The composite homebuyer index fell to 129.8 in April from 130.6 in March. A value of 100 means that a family with the national median income has exactly enough income to qualify for a mortgage on a median-priced home.

Fed rate reductions have historically lowered mortgage rates. From Jan. 3, 2001, to June 25, 2003, the Fed cut rates 13 times. Mortgage costs fell eight times and rose five times, according to North Palm Beach, Florida-based Bankrate.com.

Changes in mortgage rates have the biggest impact when those rates are near the historic lows they are now, Davis said. If interest rates were at 1 percent and rose to 2 percent, house prices would have to drop 50 percent to keep a buyer's house payment the same.

Mortgage payments rose the most in the California metropolitan areas of Ventura and Santa Rosa, gaining 10 percent, according to Zillow. That added $220 a month to loan payments in Ventura and $189 in Santa Rosa. Home prices in those areas fell about 20 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, the company said.

Higher Payments

The annual cost for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage to buyers with good credit in the Ventura area is now $2,640 more now than 60 days ago. That amounts to $79,200 more over the life of the loan, without adjusting for inflation, Zillow said.

The trend holds true in California metro areas including Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Diego, where mortgage payments on median priced homes range from 7 percent to 10 percent more now than in April.

California is among the states hardest hit by the biggest drop in U.S. home sales in 26 years. One in every 183 households in the state was in some stage of foreclosure in May, more than double the national average, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc.

Sales Gain

Foreclosures drive down prices by contributing to the higher inventory of unsold homes, forcing prices lower and reducing home equity, said Ryan Ratcliff, an economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast in Los Angeles.

Home sales in California rose 18 percent and exceeded an annualized, seasonally adjusted rate of 400,000 last month for the first time since early 2007, the state Realtors Association said in a news release on June 25. The increase in sales volume came because of more ``distressed sales,'' the Los Angeles-based group said.

In New York, New Jersey, Long Island and parts of Pennsylvania, where the median estimated home value is $418,500 and APRs have risen from 5.9 percent to 6.5 percent, today's buyers can expect to pay $1,656 more a year while home values for the region have dropped about 1.4 percent.

The price of condominiums and co-operative apartments in Manhattan are an exception, with the median increasing 13.2 percent to a record $945,000 in the first quarter, according to an April 2 report by New York-based real estate appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and broker Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

Jumbo Pain

Buyers in markets including New York and coastal California, where more than half of all homes cost more than $417,000, are feeling the most pain. Jumbo loan rates have risen from about 7 percent to about 7.4 percent over the nine months the Fed has cut rates, according to Bankrate.com.

The cost for 30-year fixed-rate jumbo mortgages has increased more than 2 percentage points since June 2003, according to data from Bankrate.com. Over the past year, the average spread between jumbo and so-called conforming mortgages has been about 93 basis points, or 0.93 percentage point. That gap is now about 111 basis points.

``While it's a buyers market in terms of home prices, that is definitely being mitigated by the cost of financing,'' said Stan Humphries, Zillow's vice president for data and analytics.

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