Monthly Archives: November 2019

A 30-Year FRM is Still the Most Reliable Way to Finance a Home

When it comes to financing the purchase of a home, there is an option that is a gold standard, and then there is everything else.

That option is a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM). And it is so uniquely American in its ideology.

“The 30-year FRM isn’t widely available in other countries,” said Ken Fears, Senior Policy Advisor for the Advocacy Group at the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). “It’s a huge advantage for consumers because it allows them to have a better idea of how to manage their finances. Equity isn’t built as quickly, but it provides a lower, more stable payment.”

“Quite simply, it’s a bread and butter product,” Fears said. “Our parents used it. We’re familiar with it. There’s no reason to change it.”

A 30-year mortgage is a home loan that will be paid off completely in 30 years if you make every payment as scheduled. Most 30-year mortgages have a fixed rate, meaning that the interest rate and the payments stay the same for as long as you keep the mortgage.

About 90 percent of homeowners who have a mortgage choose the 30-year FRM, according to data from NAR’s Homebuyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report that was released in August.

The 30-year FRM was adopted by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in the 1950s to counter actions taken by the Federal Reserve.

The Fed started raising interest rates in 1954 after decades of buying Treasury debt to artificially hold down long-term treasury rates.

At the time, 20-year mortgages were en vogue, but moving to a 30-year mortgage lowered the monthly payments and successfully cancelled out the two percent rise in rates that took place over the first 10 years of the 30-year mortgage’s existence.

By the early 1960s, the 30-year FRM became standard with the FHA. In the Savings and Loan industry, it took about another decade before it became standard there as well. And an overwhelming majority of Americans use them today.

And why not? There are so many benefits for the consumer to procuring a 30-year FRM when buying a home.

  • Lower payment: As previously mentioned, a 30-year FRM allows for the buyer to lock in a fixed interest rate for the life of the mortgage, guaranteeing cost certainty and an easier management of individual or familial budgets.
  • Flexibility: If a borrower’s financial situation improves, they have the option to pay off the loan faster by paying more each month or making extra payments. But, the borrower can always fall back to making the minimum payment, if needed, at any time over the life of the repayment period.
  • Predictability: The economy might fluctuate. Interest rates may skyrocket. But borrowers can breathe easy knowing that their payment won’t change despite those unpredictable variables in the market.
  • Affordability: Having a guaranteed lower payment could allow a buyer to purchase a slightly larger home than they thought they could afford knowing that the payment won’t go up and outside their budget at any point down the road.
  • Tax Benefits: Depending on the state, tax laws allow homeowners to deduct mortgage interest from their taxes. In the first few years of a loan, a majority of payments go toward paying off the interest on the loan, this usually leads to a more substantial deduction come tax season.
  • More likely to Qualify: Smaller payments make it easier for more borrowers to become eligible for a 30-year mortgage.
  • Prevents House Poverty: Rather than be in a home and financially strapped, after the mortgage is paid each month, there’s more money left for other goals, whether they be project or entertainment-based.

“Quite simply, it’s a bread and butter product,” Fears said. “Our parents used it. We’re familiar with it. There’s no reason to change it.”

And yet, there are some who would want to see it go away. There is ongoing discussion inside the FHA and the agencies it regulates – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – as to whether there needs to be reform to mortgages, and if so, what would they look like?

Detractors argue that a 30-year FRM has a negative impact on homeowners because lender’s charge higher interest rates on a 30-year mortgage because of a greater assumed risk of not being repaid. Additionally, when paying on a 30-year mortgage, there is more interest being paid, creating a higher total cost when compared with a shorter-term loan.

Also, those who support eliminating the 30-year FRM as part of an overhaul to the system cite a slower growth in home equity and also has a psychological impact because it might make people overborrow to get into a bigger home than they can really need. Add to that the greater need for home upkeep and possibly even higher utility bills.

But is change really the best answer?

“We’re concerned as an institution that if you mess with a system that’s worked well, many underserved markets will be affected negatively,” Fears said. “People of color and urban areas as well as small towns and rural markets – which make up huge swaths of the U.S. – these are the engines of middle-income home ownership. They need the 30-year FRM.”

Additionally, middle-income individuals and families are the lifeblood of an economy. They spend money at local businesses. If they can’t afford to do that, the local economy starts to suffer. When that happens, it impacts taxes, school districts, infrastructure, community safety – it’s a vicious cycle.

The 15-year FRM

Other options do exist. There’s a 15-year FRM, which is identical to the 30-year, only it resolves itself in half the time. Then there are adjustable rate mortgages (ARM) which fluctuate on the interest percentage based on the economy and the whims of the Fed when it sets insurance rates.

“We are living in a rising rate environment,” Fears said. “Yes, it has fallen for the last for six months (March-September, 2019), but the rates had been rising before that, and they are going to rise again in the next 10 years. Our government is spending more money and rates are going to rise.”

Fears added that the problem with the 15-year FRM is that despite sandwiching the payments down, borrowers are now paying it off twice as fast – nearly doubling each monthly payment and swallowing up the income of the buyer. This often puts the buyer way over their debt-to-income caps.

“If you have wealth or have been in your home 10-15 years and you are trading up and have equity for a large down payment, that’s the only way it makes more sense,” Fears said.

As for an ARM, they are usually more beneficial for people who move frequently, or who flip properties, or even own a home as a rental property because they can recoup the changes in their mortgage payment as part of their investment in the property.

According to a report from the Urban Institute, ARM’s spiked during the subprime mortgage crisis but have levelled out since. The NAR Generational Trends report indicated that only two percent of all buyers who finance their mortgages use ARM’s in 2019.

Adjustable-Rate Mortgages

“The share of ARMs surged at the peak of the subprime period because lenders were being paid more to originate ARMs based on the assumption that rising home prices would allow borrowers to refinance,” Fears said. “In short, the high share was an anomaly.”

Furthermore, ARMs are incredibly volatile for the average homeowner because despite a lower monthly payment in the beginning, usually within five years the payment will have exceeded, sometimes substantially, that of an FRM.

“A buyer might be comfortable with having higher future monthly payments based on their current financial situation,” Fears said. “But what happens if they need to do some belt-tightening down the road? Will they have the reserves? There are so many variables that a borrower just doesn’t plan for. What if they or someone in their family has an illness? What if their kids switch from public to private school? What if they have another child?

“There are so many life-altering things that can happen that could have an adverse impact on what someone can afford to pay. Having a reliable, fixed rate and fixed-payment on a mortgage helps to defray some of those potential life surprises.”

It’s why an overwhelming majority of homebuyers choose the 30-year FRM to finance their purchase. It’s safe. It’s reliable and it won’t increase over time.

It’s a part of the ethos of America. And it should be for generations to come.

Is Your Smart Fridge Talking to Your Home Insurance Provider?

There was a time when a “smart” refrigerator was one that automatically made ice cubes. Today, smart fridges can let you know when you’re out of milk and place an order for you. Thermostats like Nest learn what temperature you like the house to be when you wake up in the morning and automatically deliver it. While smart light bulbs like Sengled connect directly to your Wi-Fi network so you can turn off the lights at home while sitting at your desk at work.

Smart home devices are allowing homeowners to enjoy a level of convenience unlike any generation before us. Statistica reports that in 2018, 24 million smart home devices were purchased in the United States – and predicts that number will easily surpass 29 million by the end of 2019. Being able to yell, “Alexa, can I substitute butter for oil in my brownie recipe” when your hands are full is something our grandparents only read about in sci-fi novels, but it’s commonplace today.

“It’s important for homeowners to understand that their smart devices are communicating via the ‘Internet of Things’ because they aren’t just using it to order milk.”

Most smart devices are connected via something called The Internet of Things or IoT. The IoT is essentially a network used by physical devices, like your smart appliances, that have the capacity to communicate because of embedded technology. Think of the IoT as an exclusive internet channel that your smart devices use to share information. You or I can’t hop on the IoT to send an email, but it’s what your refrigerator uses when they’re ordering the milk for you.

It’s important for homeowners to understand that their smart devices are communicating via the IoT because they aren’t just using it to order milk. For example, the IoT also sends data back to device manufacturers. This lets them know which features are most used and troubleshoot common mechanical failures.

Home insurance companies are also interested in utilizing the data that’s acquired from your smart home devices. At first read, this statement can sound unsettling and indeed there are always risks when you have interconnectivity – but it’s a risk that manufacturers are taking very seriously. It’s the reason IoT World reports that, “IoT security spending is currently estimated at $703 million for 2017 and the fast growing market is forecast to become almost a $4.4 billion (dollar) opportunity by 2022.”

Right now, the home insurance industry is experiencing what many refer to as a disruption because of the data smart devices can provide them. Disruption is just another way to say “big changes” and these changes have the potential to work for homeowners’ benefit. So how do we know that home insurers will use the data they acquire to help, rather than take advantage of homeowners?

The Forbes article, “Here’s How IOT Will Impact The Insurance Claims Process” gives us one reason that insurers are motivated to use the IoT to improve service. “The traditional insurance claims process has stayed the same for decades, and it doesn’t sit well with customers.” Insurance companies have been losing customers due to their frustration over the claims process – and every time a customer switches their insurer, it hurts brand reputation and bottom line. This means home insurance providers are taking a good look at how they can use the information IoT linked smart devices are providing to improve claims and regain customer loyalty.

“Home insurance companies are also interested in utilizing the data that’s acquired from your smart home devices.”

Here’s a good example. The Insurance Information Institute’s (III) blog post, “Water Damage is Costing Homeowners Billions. Could IoT Help?” reports that water damage claims are the most common. “Maybe that’s not surprising – it rains a lot in many places. But what may surprise you is that things like pipe bursts and broken appliances are increasingly the main causes of water damage in homes.”

Water damage due to things like sump pump failures have doubled over the past three years and are costing insurance companies billions of dollars in losses. Because big claims usually mean bigger insurance premiums, homeowners are also taking a hit. Smart devices like Phyn Plus, a device that alerts you to leaks and shuts off your main water supply in the event of an emergency, dramatically reduce the potential for water damage.

Reducing the number one source of home damage claims saves insurers money, and fewer claims mean lower premiums for homeowners. Smart devices also allow insurers to offer better customer experience incentives, such as reduced policy costs to homeowners who own devices like Phyn. The claims process just got easier too, because smart devices like Phyn can provide data on the leak to your insurer – potentially eliminating the need for lengthy and frustrating claim investigations.

Homeowners can take a look at this list to see which insurance providers are currently offering incentives for smart appliances. If you don’t see your provider, proactively ask them which benefits they are currently offering and expect to see more as the popularity of IoT linked smart devices grows.

Chattanooga Region begins its annual cooldown

With the kids back in school and the weather cooling, the housing market begins its annual cooldown as well. Nationally, buyer and seller activity remained strong, buoyed by low mortgage rates and a strong economy. The market fundamentals suggest no significant changes from recent trends, other than the seasonally tempered pace we see this time of year. As we move into the final three months of 2019, buyers will find fewer homes coming on the market, but also less competition for those homes.

For more details, see “September 2019 Market Statistics” from the Greater Chattanooga Association of REALTORS®.

Central Ohio sees healthy of number of homes sales

Central Ohio saw a healthy of number of homes sales at higher prices last month as the market wrapped up its summer sales season. There were 2,824 central Ohio homes and condos sold during the month of September, an 8.9 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Columbus REALTORS® Multiple Listing Service.

For more details, see “Central Ohio Housing Report – September 2019” from the Columbus REALTORS®.