Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Great Deals in Real Estate: Why They Won't Last

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Great Deals in Real Estate: Why They Won't Last

Article excerpt

Federal subsidies, low interest rates, and falling home prices have made real estate seem like a good deal recently. But that might not be the case for long.

Americans aiming to buy a home may want to take a cue from Scott Stern: Get on the stick.

He and his wife decided to look for a new home this winter in greater St. Louis County. It's been a good hunting season. "We're seeing attractive homes priced 25 to 40 percent lower than 12 months ago," he says. "That situation won't last long."

Mr. Stern should know. As CEO of Lenders One, a St. Louis-based cooperative of US mortgage bankers, he sees hotter competition for houses on the horizon and the gradual unraveling of the best market for home buyers in decades. Indeed, the rare combination of falling home prices, historically low interest rates, and special federal tax credits for house purchases will be coming to an end beginning this spring.

"Some schools of thought say that [the best time for home buyers this year] will be in the first quarter," says Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, a Bethesda, Md., newsletter.

Here are three factors that will start to work against home buyers in the months ahead:

1. Interest rates are likely to rise. By March 31, the Federal Reserve is set to end its special program to buy up to $1.25 trillion of mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Unless ample replacement buying turns up - or the Fed extends its MBS supports - mortgage rates will rise to attract private investors, many experts predict. "We're factoring that" issue "into our rate forecast," says Michael Fratantoni, vice president of single family research at the Mortgage Bankers Association. By year's end, the rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages should reach about 6.1 percent, according to the MBA. That's up from an average 5.01 percent for the week ended Feb. 4, according to Freddie Mac data.

2. Federal home buyer tax credits will end. Late last year, Washington extended the stimulus program that provides up to $8,000 in tax credits to qualified first-time home buyers. …

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