Slowing But Still Steady

More evidence points to slowing home-price appreciation. The Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) latest data show home prices rose again in August, but the rate of increase slowed. Prices rose only 0.3% in August compared with 0.8% in July, which had been revised down from 1%.

We've been warning for some time now that the pace of home-price appreciation will likely abate. Double-digit annual price increases are unsustainable for simple economic reasons: Rising prices reduce demand. At the same time, rising prices draw in more supply, which presents more buying options and more price competition.

Supply is certainly on the rise. After trending lower through 2011 and 2012, the inventory of homes for sale has trended mostly higher through 2012, according to NAR data. We shouldn't be surprised, then, that homes are appreciating at a slower rate.

As for mortgage rates, they continued to trend lower this week.'s survey shows the average rate on the conforming 30-year fixed-rate loan at 4.27%. Freddie Mac's survey puts the average at 4.13%.

For the past month, we've been saying we expect the 30-year loan to fluctuate between 4.25% and 4.50%. We are obviously at the lower limit of that range, and we we don't expect rates to go much lower.

We say that because credit markets are already factoring in no tapering for the immediate future. This means most market participants don't expect the Federal Reserve to reduce its monthly purchases of Treasury notes and bonds and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) this year. The good news of continued Fed support is factored into today's mortgage rates.

Unless the economy materially worsens or the Fed ramps up its monthly purchases even more (which is unlikely), there really is no impetus for mortgage rates to fall much further. Indeed, the odds favor rates rising, because as soon as the Fed announces it will begin tapering, rates will rise. Keep in mind, the Fed will have to taper one of these days.

Of course, the rate itself is only one variable in the cost of a mortgage loan. Fees are another variable, and they could be on the rise. New rules on ability to pay are slated to hit the mortgage market in January. Unless something changes between now and then, fees borrowers pay will certainly rise because costs to lenders will rise.

To be sure, lenders are fighting back with a lobbying effort, and they appear to be making inroads. But we can never be sure in matters of politics. So the bottom line is the risk of waiting for something better tomorrow outweighs the benefit of acting on today's known lower-rate, lower-cost mortgage.

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