Lack of home listings is taking a toll on mortgage demand

Mortgage rates fell last week, but demand for home loans didn’t move higher as a result. Other aspects of today’s housing market are outweighing the benefit of lower mortgage rates right now, namely a lack of supply.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($726,200 or less) decreased to 6.40% from 6.45%, with points falling to 0.59 from 0.62 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. It had been over 7% just a month ago.

Mortgage applications to purchase a home, however, dropped 4% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index. Demand was 35% lower than the same week one year ago.

“Spring has arrived, but the housing market is missing the customary burst in listings and purchase activity that typically mark the season. After four weeks of increasing purchase application activity, volume declined a bit this week even with another small drop in mortgage rates,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s chief economist.

New listings were down 20% year over year in March, according to, and total inventory was about half of what it was in March 2019, pre-Covid pandemic.

“Although the mortgage rate for conforming balance loans declined by five basis points over the week to 6.40%, the mortgage rate for jumbo loans increased by nine basis points to 6.36%,” added Fratantoni. “While we have seen relative weakness at the high end of the housing market in recent months, the divergence in rates suggests that banks may be tightening credit in response to recent challenges, preserving balance sheet capacity as deposit balances have declined.”

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Rooftop solar: How homeowners should do the math on the investment

  • Residential solar power can lower a homeowner’s carbon footprint, but crucially, also save money in the long-term.
  • But a major decision by California’s utility regulator to cut back on net metering, which will reduce the total savings homeowners can make by selling energy to the grid by as much as 60%, changes the economic equation and could have national ramifications.
  • Storing electricity in a solar-powered battery, as energy storage costs come down, can make up for net metering reductions, but have a decade-long payback period.
  • Local and state tax credits and the Inflation Reduction Act are shortening the payback period for solar installation costs.

California had among the most generous rules of all until this week. But state utility regulators agreed to let utilities pay much less for excess power they are required to buy, after power companies argued that the rates were too high, and raised power prices for other customers.

Wood Mackenzie said the details of California’s decision made it look less onerous than the firm had expected. EnergySage says the payback period for California systems without a battery will be 10 years instead of six after the new rules take effect in April. Savings in the years afterward will be about 60 percent less, the company estimates. Systems with a battery, which pay for themselves after 10 years, will be little affected because their owners keep most of their excess power instead of selling it to the utility, according to EnergySage. 

“The new [California rules] certainly elongate current payback periods for solar and solar-plus-storage, but not by as much as the previous proposal,” Wood Mackenzie said in the Dec. 16 report. “By 2024, the real impacts of the IRA will begin to come to fruition.”

The more expensive power is from a local utility, the more sense home solar will make. And some contractors will back claims about power savings with agreements to pay part of your utility bill if the systems don’t produce as much energy as promised. 

“You have to do your homework before you sign,” Hurwitz said. “But energy costs always go up. That’s another hidden incentive.”

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California slashes incentives for new rooftop solar

California Public Utilities Commission subsidy cuts for new Net Energy Metering customers don’t go as far as utilities wanted, but too far for solar industry.

The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday overhauled its rules for rooftop solar power, slashing subsidies for new solar installations while providing incentives for customers to add battery storage to their systems.

Commissioners approved a complicated new 260-page framework on a 5-0 vote, saying the changes will shift costs from non-solar users and promote grid reliability.

At issue is NEM, or Net Energy Metering — the rules that determine the size of the credits customers receive on their utility bills when their rooftop solar systems generate more energy than they consume. Roughly 1.5 million customers in the state have installed rooftop solar on their homes and businesses.

California’s NEM rules had not been updated since 2016. Solar advocates said the state needs to continue offering strong subsidies to encourage the transition to clean energy. Critics said the existing rules unfairly burdens non-solar customers — especially lower-income residents — with the rising costs of maintaining the power grid.

“This decision is about encouraging solar and storage but also, fundamentally, about the right way to charge NEM customers for use of the grid,” said Alice Busching Reynolds, president of the utilities commission, known as the CPUC for short.

The new rules — known as NEM 3.0 — include $900 million in upfront incentives for customers to pair solar with battery storage systems, with $630 million set aside for low-income customers. The CPUC estimates the new rules will save average residential customers with solar-plus-storage at least $136 a month on their utility bills.

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Oceanside rezones land along North River Road for future homes

Nearly 26 acres of land along North River Road has been converted to residential zoning to make way for up to 400 future homes in a yet-to-be-determined housing development.

The Oceanside Planning Commission unanimously approved the general plan and zoning amendments to change the usage of two adjacent parcels of land at 4617 and 4665 North River Road from light industrial to medium-density residential and to establish a Planned Block Development (PBD) Overlay District, which is “intended to permit flexibility in land-use regulations and site development standards” for future developments.

The project, referred to as Tierra Norte, is located on the south side of North River Road between Avenida Descanso and Calle Montecito in the North Valley Neighborhood Planning Area.

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Wells Fargo CEO: ‘Real-estate values moderating in the long term are a good thing’

Mortgage rates have risen, slowing down activity in the housing sector. Wells Fargo — along with many other companies — is trimming staff, in response to the grimmer economic outlook.

“Real-estate values moderating in the long term are a good thing,” Charlie Scharf, CEO of Wells Fargo WFC, -1.28%, said during the Aspen Ideas Festival, a CNBC event, although he acknowledged that this was bad for the bank’s business.

Scharf said it will help ease pressures on inflation, which are being particularly felt in more expensive monthly rents and higher mortgage repayments due to rising interest rates. He added: “But it’ll be messy going through it.” 

Inflation rose by 8.6% on the year in May to a 40-year high, led by the higher cost of gas and food. The core rate of inflation — stripping out food and energy costs — rose 4.7% in May from a year ago.

The housing finance industry is shaking from the Federal Reserve’s 0.75 percentage point hike in June. Lenders from Wells Fargo to JPMorgan JPM, -2.50% to real-estate companies like Redfin RDFN, -3.49% and Compass COMP, -1.84% are laying off staff.

“We’re seeing a huge decline in terms of just mortgage applications,” Scharf said. “Our mortgage revenues will be down 50% from the first quarter to the second quarter.” 

The limited supply of housing and more expensive financing will still mean housing is less affordable for a “broad group of people,” Scharf said, but he added this will not impact all homebuyers equally, and will hit lower-income households harder.

“I hate to sound like a broken record, but the people who are at the lower end of that are the ones who that impacts the most,” he said. “They don’t have reserves, they can’t stretch [their finances], it’s harder for them to get credit.”

Refinancing activity is up 2% week-over-week, but down 80% compared to the same period last year. Mortgage applications were slightly up for the week ending June 24, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association

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7 Secrets That’ll Help You Buy a House Right Now

Once upon a time, wannabe homebuyers could leisurely peruse a variety of properties in their price range, mull over their choices, put in an offer, and presume they’ll be moving in soon enough. But how things have changed!

In today’s hot seller’s market, scads of desperate house hunters scramble for limited inventory, paying sky-high prices to beat out other bidders.

As the homebuying landscape has evolved, so too must homebuyers, ferreting out a whole new set of insider ploys that can give them the edge in today’s market. To keep you up with the times, we pressed real estate agents and brokers to divulge the kind of intel required to find and lock down a good deal right now.

1. Look a little lower

Fixer-upper, anyone? How about an up-and-coming neighborhood? There’s no need to give up your wish list entirely; but in today’s market, you’ve got to get real.

“Move-in ready homes with modern finishes sell first. So I’m telling buyers who keep getting outbid to look at a slightly lower price point,” says Mike Opyd, the managing broker and owner of Chicago’s Re/Max Next. “You could get a better deal and use the extra money to renovate.”

This strategy also makes sense because often listing prices are intentionally low to build interest and encourage a bidding war. So if your top dollar is $750,000 and you look in that range, the available properties may well sell for $775,000 or higher. Check out homes in the $710,000 to $725,000 range, and you’re more likely to find something you can truly afford.

2. Enhance your earnest money

Cash offers may be king to the majority of sellers, but let’s face it: That’s not feasible for a majority of home shoppers. Still, you can make a financed deal more attractive with your earnest money, the 1% to 3% typically put down after an offer is accepted.

“Buyers can get a leg up by putting down more earnest money and making a portion, if not all of it, guaranteed,” Opyd says. “Yes, this means the sellers get to keep that money if the deal falls apart for any reason at any time. However, it makes a buyer look a lot more committed to doing whatever it takes.”

Obviously, there’s some risk here. You don’t want to lose your hard-earned funds by going overboard on a deal that collapses. That said, if you have found a house that is The One, this tactic can give you the edge.

3. Obtain an approval letter

Yes, you got pre-approved for a mortgage—just like everyone else! In a seller’s market, go the extra mile. Different from traditional pre-approval, an approval letter, also known as a commitment letter, can be prepared by the lender once your loan application is approved. It typically states the type of loan, the amount, the terms, and the interest rate.

“An approval letter lets the seller know that the lender has gone beyond pulling your credit,” says real estate agent Ashley Melton, owner of Agent Owned Realty in Charleston, SC.

This kind of document can give you a leg up because the home seller has less to worry about, such as your application going into underwriting and unraveling.

4. Take the escalator (clause, that is)

An escalation clause, also known simply as an escalator, can help you be ultracompetitive as you vie for a home.

This contract addendum commits you to the price you are bidding while also agreeing to increase the amount should the seller receive a higher offer.

An escalator basically includes the original offer, the amount to be raised above competitive bids, and the maximum amount the buyer can offer.

Say you decide to offer the asking price of $200,000 for a home, but you can actually afford to shell out $10,000 more. Since bidding wars are fairly common these days, the escalation clause commits you to say that if other bids come in over yours, you’ll raise your offer to $210,000 if needed.

What’s good about this is it protects you from that crushing situation in which you lose a home by a margin you coulda, shoulda, woulda paid.

5. Throw in a lease-back

Here’s the conundrum: Sure, sellers hold loads of power when they are offering up their home. But once there’s an accepted offer, they are often thrown into the pool of desperate homebuyers and have to scramble like the rest of us to find a new abode. This is why some savvy buyers will sweeten their deal with a lease-back, meaning they will let the seller stay in place for a period of time for an affordable price, or for free.

“If the seller is living in the property, the buyer can offer to lease it back for 60 to 90 days, at no charge, to allow them time to find their next place,” says Glen Pizzolorusso, a licensed associate real estate broker with Compass in Connecticut’s Fairfield County.

Offering this option with your bid may appeal to a stressed “Where will we go?!” seller.

6. Know when to waive

In a less heated market, a home inspection is sacrosanct. It can be a buyer’s friend, telling you that a water heater is about to conk out or that there’s water damage that you never would have noticed. But lately, some buyers are skipping the home inspection. This may or may not be the right move for you.

“Waiving inspections could be a way to win in a multiple-offer situation, but every case is different,” Pizzolorusso cautions. “For example, a house on city water and a city sewer system makes it easier to waive inspection, but I would never do so on a house with a septic system—there are far too many variables. Also, if the house was built in the last 20 years, it’s probably safer to skip the inspection, since the roof and most of the mechanical systems are within their typical life span.”

Bonus tip: When interviewing prospective real estate agents or brokers, ask about their experience with building, flipping, and renovating homes. Here’s why: Know-how in this area can be an asset when debating whether or not to waive inspections. This brings us to…

7. Interview for the best broker or agent

It’s more important than ever for buyers to shop around for an agent or broker. You want to talk to at least three, and don’t simply take, say, your cousin’s recommendation blindly.

“To find the right fit, ask about their experience with multiple-offer situations, contingency waivers, and escalation clauses—and what the outcomes have been,” Melton says.

Be sure to balance experience level with attentiveness.

“You need an agent who will be available to you. Someone with too many clients may be spread too thin,” Melton adds.

Sometimes, a successful and busy agent will be juggling so much that they may not honestly have the bandwidth to take on a new client but don’t want to say no. Basically, you want to look for an agent who’s the total package—who knows what they’re doing and can do it for you!

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Help Me Find a Home

Zillow’s Zestimate; How accurate is it?  

First of all, what is the Zestimate?

Zillow is using an AVM ( Automated Valuation Model) to come up with your home’s value. AVM’s are a service that can provide real estate property valuations using mathematical modeling combined with a database. Most AVMs calculate a property’s value at a specific point in time by analyzing values of comparable properties. Some also take into account current asking prices, previous surveyor valuations, historical house price movements and user inputs (e.g. number of bedrooms, property improvements, etc.)

An AVM typically includes:

  • An indicative market value (capital value or rental value) for a single residential property.
  • Information on the subject property and recent history of like properties.
  • Comparable sales analysis of like properties.
  • Current like properties being actively marketed.

Besides Zillow, lenders, appraisers and mortgage investors use AVMs in risk management fields, estimating home equity, and quickly coming up with approximate property valuations in a portfolio. Fannie Mae now purchases qualified homes without an appraisal only using and AVM value.

So how accurate are AVM’s and Zillow in particular?

According to Zillows website here is how accurate their off market Value is:

Active listings accuracy:

Here are 3 recent sold properties with the sale price and the Zestimate:

The Zestimate is off from 6 – 9%. Overvalued 2 properties and undervalued 1. According to Zillow itself, their off market valuation is significantly worse then the active listing valuation. That is because they get a lot of help from a real estate brokers listing price to dial in the value.

I don’t doubt that AVM’s will get more accurate in the future, but for now, the Zestimate is only that, an estimate.

If you are going to sell, get a professional Real Estate Brokers price opinion to dial in your homes value.

What is my Home Worth