The Age Old Debate: Rent vs. Buy

The “rent vs. buying” debate is one of the longest standing, critically analyzed topics of discussion in finance circles and potentially THE most popular discussion in real estate. Though professionals in the housing industry will typically argue that buying a home is one of the best financial investments you can make no matter the state of the economy, on the other side of the fence lie the die-hard renters who appreciate not having to pay taxes or high repair costs and the stability of a fixed lease agreement.

J.D. Crowe, President of Southeast Mortgage

J.D. Crowe, President of Southeast Mortgage

If you’re among those who favor renting, consider this: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the homeownership rate in the U.S. is 64 percent. Additionally, the economy has never been better for Americans to realize the dream of homeownership, especially in Atlanta.

One of the main indicators on which economists base their decisions if renting or buying is more lucrative at a given time is the state of rental markets. Across the U.S., the average rent payment rose an astounding 12 percent from January 2013 to December 2014, while home prices increased only 5.8 percent, according to MainStreet. Nationally, RealtyTrac found the monthly home payment on a median-price home is more affordable than the monthly fair market rent in 76 percent of U.S. counties.

RealtyTrac, who analyzed data provided by the U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development, found that Atlanta is among the top 25 cities with the least affordable fair market rent in the U.S. The interactive Trulia Rent or Buy map shows that buying is an astounding 55 percent cheaper than renting if standard target monthly rent, home price and other factors are used.

As The Washington Post highlighted this week, mortgage rates are hovering near all-time lows. The 30-year fixed rate has remained below 4 percent since November, hasn’t been above 5 percent for more than four years and hasn’t reached 6 percent in a decade. According to the latest data, the 30-year fixed rate average is 3.65 percent and the average 15-year fixed rate average is 2.94 percent. Buyers are taking notice of the lucrative time to buy as mortgage applications are at the highest level since June 2013

While it’s important to take into consideration the current state of the economy before making any major financial decisions, many of the benefits of buying a home will never fluctuate. Clearly identified as one of the best financial investments you can make, buying a home beats tossing away money every month on rent and has proven to be a good diversification of assets. Homeownership has also been linked to greater pride in your community and lasting, positive effects on children.

Homeownership is almost always the clear winner, but in this economy, you can’t afford not to invest in a home.

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Atlanta Residential Real Estate Springing Forward

After a month of stagnation, the Cal-Culator, Atlanta’s residential real estate index, rose slightly in March by 0.1 to bring the index to 6.4. Incredible home price growth along with an increase in home sales and an uptick in consumer optimism fueled the March index’s rise, though the inventory crunch is still negatively affecting the housing market.

March Cal-Culator

Pending Home Sales

The Pending Homes Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator, rose 3.1 percent month-over-month and a staggering 12 percent year-over-year, according to the National Association of Realtors. Pending home sales are now at their highest level since June 2012 and have increased year-over-year for six months.

“Pending sales showed solid gains last month, driven by a steadily improving labor market, mortgage rates hovering around 4 percent and the likelihood of more renters looking to hedge against increasing rents,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Home Prices

According to the latest data released by S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, home prices across the nation have been on the rise in the past year, with Atlanta posting stronger price growth than both the 20-city and 10-city indices. Home prices climbed 4.9 percent in metro Atlanta from the previous year, but cooled down 0.2 percent from the previous month.

“The combination of low interest rates and strong consumer confidence based on solid job growth, cheap oil and low inflation continue to support further increases in home prices,” said David M. Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee for S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Consumer Confidence

Zillow recently found that homeowners are more confident in the housing market than renters and consumer optimism has risen 3.7 percent year-over-year among homeowners. The Zillow Housing Confidence Index also found an increase in the number of all Atlanta renters who say they expect to buy a home in the next 12 months. There was also an increase in young-adult renters, a vital demographic needed to spur housing recovery, in Atlanta who said they are expecting to buy a home within the year. The largest year-over-year increases for young adult renters looking to buy a home were in Phoenix, San Francisco and Atlanta.

Obstacles

The nation’s housing market still has to overcome some large hurdles to even begin to come close to approaching pre-2008 housing numbers. Two of the largest inhibiting factors that have been consistently negatively affecting the industry are the decrease in first-time homebuyers and low inventory levels. However, the share of first-time homebuyers rose for the first time in February since November 2014, according to the NAR’s REALTORS confidence index. Had more inventory been available, experts believe that first-time homebuyers would be more likely to move on properties.

“Several markets remain highly competitive due to supply pressures, and Realtors are reporting severe shortages of move-in ready and available properties in lower price ranges,” adds Yun. “The return of first-time buyers this year will depend on how quickly inventory shows up in the market.”

The April Cal-Culator will be released April 12 and will hopefully reflect continued home price and sales growth, in addition to increases in inventory levels and the share of first-time homebuyers.

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Homeowners Associations in Georgia

This week, we are reviving one of our most popular columns.

Though homeowners associations often have a reputation for having seemingly strict rules about aesthetic upkeep and expensive dues, HOAs can add significant property value and curb appeal to a neighborhood. This week, we review Georgia’s HOA laws as well as the advantages and disadvantages of living in a neighborhood with an HOA.

J.D. Crowe, President of Southeast Mortgage

J.D. Crowe, President of Southeast Mortgage

The Georgia Property Owners’ Association Act

Each state has its own legislation for governing HOAs. The Georgia Property Owners’ Association Act gives powers and protections to Georgia’s associations. Some of the provisions include that associations must register with the state, an elected board will be assigned to oversee the HOA and that residents of the home must be allowed access to their home even if the association is imposing penalties on the owner. Some HOAs are voluntary, though non-due paying members generally cannot use amenities such as gyms, pools or conference rooms, while other HOAs require all neighbors to be a member.

For more information on Georgia and other states’ HOA legislation, visit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website.

The Pros

Many homeowners prefer living in neighborhoods with an HOA.  Generally, homeowner’s associations protect and often boost home values and they give the neighborhood a sense of uniformity because everyone is governed by a certain set of rules that require members to maintain the appearance of their home and property.  These neighborhoods are less likely to have overgrown landscaping or peeling paint, which not only ensures that the neighborhood is well maintained, it also adds value to your home when you’re looking to sell.

Another significant pro to having an HOA is that they maintain neighborhood common areas such as pools, tennis courts and recreation areas. Due-paying members often receive amenities and services such as lawn care that aren’t available to non-due paying members.  In addition, HOAs act as third-party mediators in the event of a dispute between neighbors which can serve to mitigate problems among residents.   The benefits of services, conflict resolution and the assurance of maintaining property values offer many Georgia residents the peace of mind they need to turn to HOAs.

The Cons

When people commit to an HOA, they often sacrifice an element of residential freedom. Though most HOAs have the neighborhood’s best interests in mind, some HOAs place a host of extreme restrictions on residents including outdoor Christmas decorations, types of vehicles in driveways, mailbox color, if school buses can enter a neighborhood and even pets’ size and weight.  Additionally, the yearly dues of an HOA will add costs to your monthly payment, the fees typically aren’t tax deductible and HOAs can raise fees at any time.  And, if you choose not to pay your dues, an HOA can put a lien on your property.

Because HOA restrictions vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, it’s important to read all of the HOA regulations before you purchase a home.  You may find some deal breakers in the contract, such as restrictions on running a business out of your home or renting your home. “Most associations work reasonably well most of the time, but there are tons of examples of really troubling rules,” says Evan McKenzie, associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of the book “Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government.”

More often than not, the benefits of having an HOA outweigh the negatives, however, if you’re on the fence about living in a neighborhood with an HOA, talk directly with the HOA and the residents of the neighborhood for an inside look into the HOA rules and the environment in the neighborhood.

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Leveraging Your Home During Tax Season

The financial benefits of owning your own home are plentiful, including the resounding advantage of building equity over time and offering far greater long-term benefits over renting. However, at tax time, the financial benefits become even more apparent with homeowners given substantial tax breaks from the time you purchase it until the time you decide to sell.

J.D. Crowe, President of Southeast Mortgage

J.D. Crowe, President of Southeast Mortgage

Whether you are still in the process of filing your taxes or need one more reason to visit with a mortgage lender, you should be well aware of these housing tax breaks.

The following can be eligible for tax deductions:

  • Property taxes, state and local.
  • Mortgage interest on your home as well as if you own a second home, boat or RV – “as long as it has cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities,” according to Bankrate. For most homeowners, a large portion of their monthly mortgage payment goes toward interest, which is deductible, thus this is usually homeowner’s most lucrative tax break.
  • The interest borrowed for a home equity loan – up to $100,000.
  • Home improvements that were required for medical care.
  • According to Fox, millions of people every year claim a home office deduction, meaning they regularly and exclusively dedicate a portion of their home to meet with clients or conduct work. The deduction is $5 per-square-foot of space and is good up to 300 square feet.
  • Energy efficient home improvements, up to 30 percent of the cost, for new and existing homes. Rentals do not apply. Possible energy efficient upgrades that qualify for tax credits include installing geothermal heat pumps, small residential wind turbines, solar energy systems and fuel cells. Federal tax credits in regard to energy efficient improvements expire every year until Congress approves a new set of standards, so these same tax credits may not apply next year. Visit Energy Star’s website to learn more.
  • If you sold your home and made a sales gain. If you lived in a recently sold home for at least two of the last five years before the sale, you can avoid paying tax on the sales gain from the sale of the residence – up to $250,000 if you’re filing single and $500,000 if you’re filing jointly. If you don’t meet the resident requirements, you will owe tax on the profit unless you can prove that you were forced to sell before you could live in the property for two years due to “unforeseen circumstances” such as death, job loss, divorce or multiple births from a single pregnancy.

According to Turbo Tax, you cannot deduct the insurance on your home, appraisal fees or dues to a homeowners association.

We always advise you to speak with a professional tax consultant before submitting your taxes to ensure you’re legally and financially correct.

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Atlanta Real Estate Industry Remains Stagnant for February

The shortest month of the year saw a mix of positive and negative factors in the Atlanta residential real estate market following a month of incredible growth. The February Cal-Culator, Atlanta’s leading residential real estate index, will hold steady at 6.3 for another month due to a continued decline in mortgage delinquency rates and a long awaited increase in inventory offset by declining home sales and investment in the Atlanta market.

The February Cal-Culator

The February Cal-Culator

Let’s Start With the Bad

Investors’ Dollars in Atlanta & Home Sales: The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that home sales in metro Atlanta fell 37 percent from December 2014 to January 2015 and were also down 9.7 percent year over year. The decline was attributed to investors buying fewer homes in the area.

Substantial Decline in First-time Homebuyers: The National Association of Realtors also released data that nationwide, existing-home sales fell 4.9 percent ­to the lowest rate in nine months. First-time homebuyers, a vital demographic in the housing industry, declined to 28 percent, the lowest rate since June 2014. According to NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun, “January housing data can be volatile because of seasonal influences.”

Now for the Good News

Inventory: According to the latest data from the Atlanta Board of Realtors’ latest Market Brief, Atlanta housing inventory increased 13.6 percent year-over-year and by a staggering 54 percent from the previous month. Last year’s local real estate industry was tainted by the Atlanta housing crunch, which seems to be easing thus far in 2015.

Mortgages: For the 12th straight quarter, mortgage delinquency rates (defined as the rate of borrowers who are 60 days or more late on their mortgages) declined, according to TransUnion’s latest mortgage report. The vice president of research and consulting at TransUnion noted that the mortgage delinquency rate “continues to be well controlled as it slowly recedes to pre-recession levels.”

It’s no surprise that the short month combined with multiple threats of snow around Georgia didn’t propel the real estate market as far as hoped. However, housing experts are still extremely optimistic about the remainder of 2015 and are not overly concerned with this brief bout of sluggishness.

“Low interest rates, rising sale prices, economic expansion and balanced inventory support my expectation that the market will continue its strong and steady growth,” said Atlanta Board of Realtors President Ennis Antoine. “I believe the dynamic economic recovery we are seeing is going to have a major impact on the 2015 Atlanta housing market.”

The next Cal-Culator will be released March 7. Stay tuned to see if next month will reflect a positive come back after a month of stagnation.

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How To Revive Your Credit

This week, we are reviving one of our most popular columns

In the last column, we discussed multiple ways that a home sale can crumble, including problems that arise from a consumer’s credit during the loan approval process. Since the credit crisis, having poor credit is one of the most common ways to kill a deal. With poor credit, a potential homebuyer can be denied a mortgage or receive an unaffordable interest rate. However, bad credit is mendable and not out of a consumer’s control.

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

 

Review Your Credit Report and FICO

The first step in deciding if credit damage control is needed is obtaining all three credit reports, which can be found for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, as well as one’s FICO score on myFICO.com. A FICO score measures an actual credit score, which is indicative of financial risk. The FICO score is helpful for determining eligibility for a loan and what rates may be given on a loan. Credit reports are a credit history that can pinpoint where credit can be improved.

Pay Off Delinquencies

When mortgage lenders look for low risk and reliable borrowers, one of the first telling signs is the status of delinquent accounts, which include collections, late accounts and charge-offs.

“Getting rid of those debts on your report is definitely in your best interest,” said Director of Counseling Natalie Lohrenz at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County. “When a debt goes to a collection agency, the original creditor has given up, which is a danger sign to lenders.”

Reduce your debt-to-income ratio as much as possible by paying off these accounts on or before the due date and not accruing any further debt. Yahoo’s “How to Prepare for Your Mortgage Application” recommends having no higher than a 12 percent debt-to-income ratio to receive a good interest rate.

Don’t be Afraid to Dispute

Inaccurate charges or false information on credit reports are not uncommon and can severely damage a credit score unfairly. Fortunately, errors can be reported and corrected, although it can be a lengthy process. Review the reports, highlight the errors and make copies of the pages where errors are found. Smart Asset recommends mailing, rather than submitting online, the copies, evidence and explanation to each bureau that is reporting the inaccuracies.

Continue Conscious Spending

Don’t apply for any new credit or purchasing any large items right before or during a mortgage application process. Even after you have been approved for a loan, continue to hold off on heavy spending. Credit reports and scores can still be pulled before your closing date and you don’t want any changes that could cause a lender to change their mind about their approval or rates.

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The 2014 Buyer and Seller Trends Report

Mortgage Loan Originators have seen the best and the worst of the housing industry in a span of less than 10 years with a flood of heavily fluctuating trends.  MLO’s saw a surge of first time homebuyers followed by a major shift that caused a drastic decrease in first time homebuyers.  Other trends indicated consumers more frequently buying second homes followed by a historic number of underwater mortgages.

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

To better understand the more recent trends, The National Association of Realtors releases an annual trend report that provides an inside look into buyer and seller demographics, home buying purchasing trends and consumers’ experience in the housing market. The 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers evaluated almost 7,000 recent home buyers from around the U.S. who recently purchased a home.

Close evaluation of these trends empowers MLO’s with a broader knowledge base and an opportunity to tweak their marketing and service techniques.

 

Who Is Buying Homes?

  • 33 percent of recent home buyers were buying their first home ­– 7 percent lower than the historical norm.
  • The typical first-time buyer was 31 years old, and the typical repeat buyer was 53.
  • The median income of buyers was $84,500 in 2013. First-time buyers had a median income of $68,300 while repeat buyers had a $95,000 median income.
  • 65 percent of buyers in 2014 were married.

How Are People Searching For Homes?

  •  92 percent of buyers used the Internet in their home search process and 50 percent used a mobile website or application.
  • Realtors were seen as a source of useful information by 98 percent of buyers who used a Realtor.
  • The average buyer searched for 10 weeks, two weeks shorter than the 2013 report, and viewed 10 homes before choosing their home.
  • More than half of buyers cited finding the right home was their biggest obstacle in the buying process.
  • Nine out of 10 buyers were at least “somewhat satisfied” with the entire process.

How Are People Paying For Their Home And What Do They Think About the Process?

  • Almost nine out of 10 buyers financed their recent home purchase and, on average financed 90 percent of the home purchase.
  • First-time home buyers were 11 percent more likely to finance their homes than repeat buyers.
  • 26 percent of buyers reported the mortgage application and approval process was “somewhat more difficult” than expected and 18 percent said it was “much more difficult.”
  • 12 percent of buyers cited saving for the down payment as the most difficult process in the home buyer process.

For the full report, click here. To view a NAR webinar that delves even deeper into the report, click here. We hope that you’re able to leverage this extensive research to make 2015 the best year yet for your career.

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Atlanta Residential Real Estate: Poised for Massive Recovery

The first Atlanta residential real estate index of 2015 positions this year to be one of the most memorable years for the Atlanta housing industry in recent history. Strong employment, a growing economy, new government legislation, and an increase in new and existing home sales contributed to the Cal-Culator’s 0.3 increase to a 6.3 in January.

January Cal-Culator The U.S. Economy

When employment and the economy are on the rise, housing almost always follows suit.  The U.S. experienced nearly 4 percent economic growth in the latter half of 2014 with employment gains of over 250,000 per month, according to National Mortgage Professional Magazine. For the first time in eight years, Georgia saw job growth during the month of December. It appears that Federal Reserve Chairwoman, Janet Yellen, was accurate when she predicted 2015 would be “the year of normalcy” with the economy and labor force returning to normal for the first time since the Great Recession.

Home Sales

The latest data from the National Association of Home Builders revealed that sales of new, single-family homes rose a staggering 11.6 percent in December nationwide and 17.7 percent in the South. NAHB experts have noticed more serious buyers in the market and are expecting the trend to continue into the New Year.

“After a slow start to 2014 precipitated by bad weather conditions, new home sales have ramped up in the second half of the year,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “We can expect this momentum to continue into 2015 with the release of pent-up demand, particularly as existing home owners are trading up.”

Existing-home sales also bounced back in December by rising 2.4 percent after a dip in November, according to the National Association of Realtors. NAR also agreed that 2014 got off to a slow start in the housing industry, but 2015 is primed for massive recovery.

“Home sales improved over the summer once inventory increased, prices moderated and economic growth accelerated,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Sales were measurably better in the second half – up 8 percent compared to the first six months of the year.”

FHA premiums

Another factor that is expected to affect the housing industry well into 2015 is decreased FHA insurance premiums that will lower annual insurance premiums and incentivize families to purchase homes. In January, President Obama announced that the Federal Housing Authority would reduce insurance premiums from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent.

According to President Obama, this change could save millions of families “as much as $900 a year, which obviously makes a big difference if their payment is $900 a month. It could be a full month’s payment that they’re saving, and that could make all the difference for a family that is owning its first home.”

The next Cal-Culator will be released March 10. Stay tuned for the latest updates on   the housing industry, the U.S. economy, and whether we’ll continue headed toward the first “year of normalcy.”

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Three Reasons to Call Your Lender Now

During a typical winter season, the housing industry hibernates as hopeful homebuyers and sellers hunker down until springtime thaws the cold to make real estate moves. However, this year appears to be far from the norm. The New Year has barely begun and already the stars are aligning for those ready to stick their heads out early – a rarity in January.

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

Kathy Gyselinck is Executive Vice President for Southeast Mortgage

“Conditions are very favorable for first-time homebuyers to start getting back into the market,” said global ratings agency Fitch Ratings Director Sean Nelson. “Mortgage rates are falling, Federal Housing Authority Insurance premiums are coming down, home prices are cooling and employment is steady.”

FHA insurance premiums

Earlier in January, President Obama announced that the FHA would reduce annual mortgage insurance premiums from 1.35 percent to 0.85 percent.  According to President Obama, this change could save millions of families “as much as $900 a year, which obviously makes a big difference if their payment is $900 a month. It could be a full month’s payment that they’re saving, and that could make all the difference for a family that is owning its first home.”

Employment Levels

The end of last year saw one of the most telling economic factors report positive growth in nearly every pocket of the nation: the employment rate. Last year was the nation’s best year for job growth in 15 years, and economists predict that 2015 will be equally as strong, if not stronger. For once, Georgia wasn’t left out of the good news regarding employment. For the first time in eight years, Georgia saw job growth during the month of December.

Mortgage applications and rates

Expecting homebuyers are taking advantage of these changing tides, in addition to the continued low rates, and are filling out mortgage applications at levels not seen since June 2013. The low rates, hovering around 4 percent, are expected to continue into at least the first half of 2015, according to Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac’s vice president has gone as far to urge the country to take advantage of the current state of affairs.

“On balance there are a lot of positive opportunities in the U.S. economy at the start of the year, and the real question is whether or not households and businesses will be able to seize these opportunities and make the most of them,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist. “Until rates start to rise later in the year, housing markets should respond positively and we anticipate increases in home sales and continued improvement in construction activity.

With employment and mortgage applications on the rise, combined with lowered gas prices, interest rates and insurance premiums, 2015 is ripe to be one of the best years for the housing market and economy in recent memory.  Don’t sit on this dawn of a new recovery era. Call your trusted lender to make one of the best possible investments while the economic landscape is in your favor.

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Atlanta Housing Industry: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

After a year of significant progress in the housing industry with strides made in increased inventory, reduced foreclosures and rising home prices, the final month of 2014 didn’t provide many boosts for the Atlanta residential real estate market. The Cal-Culator, Atlanta’s residential real estate index, dropped 0.2 to a 6.0 due to declines in three dominant, telling factors: existing-home sales, housing starts and home prices.

The December Cal-Culator

The December Cal-Culator

Existing Home Sales

In October, existing home sales propelled the housing industry forward as sales hit their highest level of the year. Unfortunately, the momentum proved short-lived with the industry taking a step backward the following month. Existing home sales slid 6.1 percent in November, according to the latest data released by the National Association of Realtors.

“Fewer people bought homes last month despite interest rates being at their lowest levels of the year,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun. “The stock market swings in October may have impacted some consumers’ psyches and therefore led to fewer November closings. Furthermore, rising home values are causing more investors to retreat from the market.”

Housing Starts

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that privately-owned housing and single-family starts both declined from October to November. Privately-owned housing starts fell 1.6 percent from the previous month and 7 percent from the previous year, while single-family starts fell 5.4 percent from the previous month. Housing completions also fell 6.4 percent in November. The South posted a drastic 10 percent drop in privately-owned housing starts from the previous month and a 4.1 percent drop from the previous month.

Home Price Deceleration

The industry is showing improvements on a yearly basis when it comes to home prices, but the prices are not building on the previous month’s successes. Home price deceleration continues to cripple the nation, according to data released by the S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices on December 30. However, experts are optimistic entering into 2015.

“After a long period when home prices rose, but at a slower pace with each passing month, we are seeing hints that prices could end 2014 on a strong note and accelerate into 2015,” said David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Two months ago, all 20 cities were experiencing weakening annual price increases. Last month, 18 experienced weakness. This time, 12 cities had weaker annual price growth, but eight saw the pace of price gains pick up.”

Despite the index’s drop from the previous month, the beginning of 2015 is still shining brighter than last year’s kickoff column. A year ago, the column rose 0.4 to stand at 5.5 ­– a significant 0.5 difference from this month’s index. Atlanta’s housing recovery seems to be falling into a “two steps forward, one step back routine.” In the lending industry, we have faith that steadily the Atlanta housing industry will hit prerecession levels in terms of housing activity.

To monitor Atlanta’s progress in the housing industry, please be sure check The Cal-Culator the second Tuesday of every month. The January Cal-Culator, to be released on February 10, will reveal how the housing industry fared in the first month of the New Year.

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