hourglassApril 2016 — Time to close all loans decreased to 46 days, the shortest time to close since May 2015, according to the latest Origination Insight Report released by Ellie Mae®. The average time to close a purchase decreased from 51 days in January to 48 days in February, while time to close a refinance also decreased from 48 days in January to 44 days in February. Similarly, the average time to close FHA loans decreased from 51 days in January to 47 days in February. Time to close VA loans decreased from 53 days to 50 days.

Conventional purchase closing rates continued to climb, reaching 74.5 percent in February, up from 73.8 percent in January. Average closing rates for all loans are the highest since Ellie Mae began tracking data in August 2011. Closing rates for all loans increased 1.5 percentage points to 69.9 percent. Refinance closing rates increased to nearly 66 percent, while purchase closing rates increased to just over 74 percent.

In terms of loan purpose, purchases represented 52 percent of all closed loans while refinances as a percentage of lenders’ overall loan volume fell one percentage point to 46 percent.

MoneyApril 2016 — U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) have introduced a measure that would allow homeowners in community associations who earn $115,000 or less in annual income to deduct up to $5,000 of their community association fees and assessments from their federal tax liability.

Expressing support for the bill, Community Associations Institute (CAI) says the legislation will benefit many of the more than 66 million Americans who live in homeowners associations, condominium communities, cooperatives and other planned communities.

The bill — Helping our Middle-Income Earners (HOME) Act — "recognizes that millions of middle class homeowners are struggling to keep up with rising household expenses like child care, college tuition, health care, mortgage and community assessments," Eshoo says. "The Home Act can go a long way by providing relief from this tax burden on millions of middle class families."

sunApril 2016 — Though Frank Lloyd Wright popularized the aesthetic relatively recently, natural light in the home has been coveted for centuries. Lighting design today combines both natural and artificial sources to mimic the appearance of ample natural light.

To achieve the look, adequate lighting is key. Most homes will require a mix of natural lighting with accent lighting, which shines light on architectural or decorative elements; ambient lighting, which provides overall lighting; and task lighting, which focuses light into specific areas.

With the variety of lighting products available on the market, the latter three can be adapted with ease to suit your home’s needs. The level of natural lighting, however, very much depends on your home’s location—a factor that can be limiting.

smallhouseApril 2016 — Data on investment homes and owner-occupied homes was recently released by online real estate investment management firm HomeUnion. According to the research, year-over-year median investment home prices increased at a greater rate – 5.1 percent – than owner-occupied home prices, which rose only 1.1 percent. However, prices for investment homes were $185,500, compared to $236,900 for owner-occupied properties.

"Traditional home prices have peaked in light of stagnant wage growth and a lack of lower-priced properties available on the market. Nearly all of the increase in investment home prices was in the cash sector, where there's still significant demand," explains Steve Hovland, manager, research services at HomeUnion. "February's home price figures highlight the attractiveness of single-family rentals (SFRs) in an uncertain environment. Since last August, when weakness in the global stock markets began to erase equity, investors have been repositioning their portfolios to hedge against uncertainty. We're seeing the results in higher investment home prices, particularly in the all-cash segment."

pinterest logoMarch 2016 — Housing millions of images and thousands more each second, Pinterest is a playground for those seeking inspiration. Which home décor trends will make a splash on Pinterest feeds this year? Interior designer Taniya Nayak, of HGTV and Food Network fame, points to six major décor movements:

1. Digitally Defined – “Geometric shapes and angles have become associated with technology; this evokes creativity and innovative design because they're edgy and create movement,” says Nayak.

One way to incorporate this trend within a space is using geometric floor tiles in different colors. The edginess of the tile with the mix of color will keep your eye constantly moving. Geometric shapes alone, like in a light fixture with lots of edges, will also create a dramatic and stunning statement.

You can also incorporate this trend with “pixilation” for a modern and clean look. Pixelated artwork made up of monochromatic cubes can be simplistic and fit in a variety of spaces.

2. Fresh and Fab – “Fun saturated colors, such as yellow and blue, produce an energetic and happy feeling,” Nayak says. “Let your imagination run wild and paint a bold accent wall for an eye-catching statement, or paint an antiqued piece of furniture a bright color for an unexpected combination of modern and traditional elements.”

paintbrush1March 2016 — Repainting a room in your home? Don't overlook the psychological impact of color. Studies have shown that different hues create different moods, and can even affect behavior, says Debbie Zimmer, paint and color expert at the Paint Quality Institute.

"There are lots of good reasons to select a particular paint color, including personal preferences and design considerations, but often overlooked is the psychological power certain colors exert on mood, attitude, and outlook," says Zimmer.

"Even before you go to the paint store or start to look at color cards, think about the mood you'd like in your surroundings," continues Zimmer. "Do you want the space to be relaxing or invigorating? Once you make that decision, the color choice becomes easier.”

If your goal is to create a tranquil space, then look for a soft green or pale blue. These are the most calming colors, so they're ideal for rooms where you rest and relax, such as the family room or bedroom.

hourglassMarch 2016 — This year started off with the average time to close a loan increasing to 50 total days, according to the latest Origination Insight Report released by Ellie Mae®. While the average time to close a refinance increased one day from 47 to 48 days, the average time to close a purchase loan climbed one day to 51. The average time to close FHA loans increased from 49 days to 51 days and conventional loans remained largely unchanged at 49 days. Time to close VA loans increased from 52 to 53 days

Conventional purchase closing rates reached a new high, climbing above 73 percent for the first time since Ellie Mae began tracking data in August 2011. Closing rates for all loans increased one percentage point to 68 percent. Refinance closing rates increased to nearly 65 percent, while purchase closing rates increased to just over 72 percent.

In terms of loan purpose, purchases represented 52 percent of all closed loans while refinances as a percentage of lenders’ overall loan volume jumped to 47 percent.

downarrow2016March 2016 — The delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit residential properties decreased to a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.77 percent of all loans outstanding at the end of the fourth quarter of 2015. This was the lowest level since the third quarter of 2006. The delinquency rate decreased 22 basis points from the previous quarter, and 91 basis points from one year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) National Delinquency Survey, released recently at the association's National Mortgage Servicing Conference and Expo 2016 in Orlando, Fla. The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans in the process of foreclosure.

The percentage of loans on which foreclosure actions were started during the fourth quarter was 0.36 percent, a decrease of two basis points from the previous quarter, and down 10 basis points from one year ago. This foreclosure starts rate was at the lowest level since the second quarter of 2003.

kitchen sinkMarch 2016 — It is tempting to discard existing appliances when you build new cabinets around them. Rethink the idea. If the appliances are workable, keep them – and save yourself from $1,000 to $5,000, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Also keep the present location of major fixtures, appliances and utilities relative to the plumbing, gas and electrical outlets. Rearranging plumbing, wiring and jacks can be very expensive. Refacing existing cabinets can reduce the cost of your kitchen remodel considerably and eliminate the need for new flooring, countertops and appliances. If you must get new cabinets, options such as spice racks and slide out wire baskets can be added later. Also, install cabinets without soffits to decrease labor cost; and avoid trim moldings, or use a simple trim. If you must have a new wood trim to match the new cabinets, order pre-finished trim to decrease labor cost; avoid having the painting or staining done on-site. Other helpful tips: choose neutral colors for fixtures, appliances and laminates and avoid the need for a new floor by sanding and refinishing a hardwood floor that may be underneath the existing vinyl flooring.

hammerMarch 2016 — A well-written contract should contain the following information:

  • The contractor’s name, address, telephone and license number, if applicable
  • Details about what will and will not be done
  • A detailed list of materials for the project, including model, brand name and color
  • The approximate start date and substantial completion dates
  • A written notice of your right to cancel a contract within three business days of signing, without penalty – provided the contract was solicited at some place other than the contractor’s place of business or appropriate trade premise
  • Financial terms that are spelled out clearly, including payment schedules and any cancellation penalties
  • A one-year minimum warranty identified as either “full” or “limited” to cover materials and workmanship, as well as the name and address of the party who will honor the warranty
  • A binding arbitration clause, in the event a disagreement occurs

You may also want to include a statement that you will not be responsible if payment to the contractors’ subcontractors and suppliers are not made. You may also want to establish that the contractor should obtain all the necessary permits and that all blank spots in the contract be filled in with phrases like “does not apply.”

pause buttonFebruary 2016 — The once lofty expectations of an additional interest rate hike to occur in 2016 are shrinking. This minimized chance follows a recent Fed policy statement, which suggested that the U.S. central bank might not hike rates in the midst of a slowing economy.

However, a hike is not out of the question; there is a predicted 12 percent probability of a quarter-point increase when the Federal Open Market Committee’s next policy meeting ends on March 16, but according to CME’s Fed Watch Tool, the probability of four rates hikes occurring in 2016 is close to 0 percent. Sources show a 50 percent chance of the next rate hike occurring in December, 2016.