Standard & Poor's Case-Shiller Index reports another annual home value increase, highlighting what many of today's first-time home buyers have discovered out the hard way -- the housing market continues to improve, taking home prices along with it.
Homes are more expensive as compared to last year, as home equity builds in nearly all U.S. markets, helping U.S. homeowners to refinance down to current mortgage rates.
And, for buyers, thankfully, low-downpayment or no-downpayment loans remain cheap.
According to Freddie Mac, 30-year fixed rate mortgage interest averages near four percent; and VA and FHA mortgage rates are even lower. It's an inexpensive time to finance a home, relative to history.
Historically, mortgage rates average nearer to 8.25%.
Standard & Poor's recently released its April 2015 Case-Shiller Index. The index tracks home price changes both from month-to-month, and from year-to-year, in select cities nationwide. Tracked cities include San Diego, California; Los Angeles, California; and Phoenix, Arizona.
As compared to the year prior, home values were higher in all 20 tracked markets in April, led by a 10.3 percent gain in Denver, Colorado; and, a 10.0% gain in San Francisco, California.
Dallas, Texas was the next biggest gainer, adding 8.8 percent from last year.
The "weakest" of the Case-Shiller Index cities is Washington, D.C.. Home values are up just 1.1% over the last 12 months in the nation's capitol.
However, take care to not use Case-Shiller Index data for your personal "buy or rent" decisions in housing. The monthly index is flawed and may push you toward improper conclusions.
The index's first flaw is its most obvious -- its limited sample set.
The Case-Shiller Index tracks 20 U.S. metropolitan markets and brands itself a national index. Yet, according to Wikipedia, the U.S. is home to more than 3,100 different municipalities.
This means that the Case-Shiller Index tracks fewer than one percent of all U.S. cities. Furthermore, its 20 tracked cities tracked aren't the nation's 20 most populous.
Four of the 10 most populous U.S. Cities -- Houston, Texas; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; San Antonio, Texas; and San Jose, California -- are notably absent from the Case-Shiller Index 20-City Composite. By contrast, smaller cities such as Minneapolis, Minnesota (#48) and Tampa, Florida (#55) are not excluded.
The "national" Case-Shiller Index, in other words, is not very national at all.
Even on a city-by-city basis, the Case-Shiller Index gets it wrong. This is because the index lumps disparate city neighborhoods into a single, city-wide reading.
In Chicago, for example, where home values increased 2.5% over the past 12 months, some neighborhoods out-gained others. Values in Lincoln Park and Lakeview are different from values in Wicker Park and Bucktown, as examples.
Yet, to the Case-Shiller Index, homes on Paulina, Melvina, and Lunt Avenue are treated equally.
A second Case-Shiller Index flaw is its methodology.
The index considers only "repeat sales" of the same home in its findings, and those homes are required to be single-family, detached properties. This means that condominiums, multi-family homes, and new construction are not included.
In some cities, these "excluded" property types account for a large percentage of total monthly sales. New York City meets this criteria with its heavy concentration of condos and co-ops, as does Chicago, Boston, and, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles whose footprint extends into Orange County.
In New York, condos increased in value by 6.8% as compared to 2.8% for the single-family homes. In Boston, condos grew 7.8 percent versus 1.8% for the general housing set.
With its limited property type set, Case-Shiller captures only a portion of the overall housing market.
A third Case-Shiller Index flaw is the "age" of its data.
Because Standard & Poor's publishes on a 60-day delay, the Case-Shiller Index is reporting on a housing market that no longer exists. But, the data is even older than that.
Home sales tracked by the October Case-Shiller Index are those which closed in April. However, these April closings are based on contracts written in January, February, and March. This means that the Case-Shiller Index is only now reporting upon sales from early-Winter -- a half a year ago!
This past winter, the U.S. housing market was different from how it is today. Mortgage rates were different, consumer sentiment was different, and even Federal Reserve policy was different.
The Case-Shiller Index's time lag may not matter much to economists and policy-makers; persons whom are occupied with long-term trends in housing. But, to individual buyers and sellers of real estate, the time lag makes the index almost useless for everyday use.
For home buyers, the Case-Shiller Index will never be your "real-time" real estate indicator. However, the index can do a good job of highlighting the valuation trends in U.S. housing. Going on three years now, home values are rising.
The good news is that mortgage rates remain low. Get a live rate quote today. Rates are available online with no cost, with no obligation to proceed, and with no social security number required to get started.
The information contained on The Mortgage Reports website is for informational purposes only and is not an advertisement for products offered by Full Beaker. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of Full Beaker, its officers, parent, or affiliates.
The Mortgage Reports is doing the BEST mortgage reporting of anyone out there!
The Mortgage Reports is invaluable. It's our primary source for information on housing finance.
Theresa D. President, Title Services
The Mortgage Reports gives me an overview of what's happening with mortgages both locally and nationally. I really enjoy it.
2015 Conforming, FHA, & VA Loan Limits
Mortgage loan limits for every U.S. county, as published by Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)