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SONY DSCby Guest Contributor Kathy Fettke:  Co-CEO, Real Wealth Network, Host of the Real Wealth Show and author of Retire Rich with Rentals

The Federal Reserve finally raised rates for the first time this year at their December meeting, and suggested there could be three more rate hikes next year. There’s lots of varied opinions about what this could mean for real estate, so let’s tackle it!

After threatening to do so for several months now, the central bank finally raised the key interest rate another quarter percent by unanimous vote. The overnight lending rate between banks is now up to a half-percent from a quarter percent.

This marks the first rate hike in 2016, even though the Fed announced last December that it would raise rates four times this year.

Why did it take so long?

The Fed raises rates to slow down a booming economy and fend off inflation. Raising rates when the economy has not been booming is risky.

Last December is a perfect example of this. That was the last time the Fed raised rates, and only by a meager .25%, after nearly a decade of near-zero rates. Just a few weeks later, the stock market took a massive hit.

I was invited on Neil Cavuto’s “Your World” on Fox News in New York City last December to share my insights on how the higher rates would affect real estate.

I told Neil that a Fed rate hike would not drive mortgage rates up because the Fed Fund rate is not directly related to mortgage rates. Instead, I predicted that mortgage rates would actually decline because a Fed rate hike could be the prick the pops the stock market bubble. And that’s exactly what happened.

Will that happen again this January?

It’s hard to predict nearly anything these days because the market is so manipulated by the Fed. Ten years of near zero interest rates and trillions of dollars of quantitative easing has certainly fueled the economy, but not in a healthy way.

It’s like the feeling you have when your house goes up in value so you go the the bank and get an equity line. Suddenly you feel rich! You have lots of cash to spend, but fail to realize it was borrowed and has to be paid back someday. If you borrowed the money at 0% interest, and then suddenly the interest rates increase, it could be even harder to pay it back.

That’s the situation corporations face today. Many borrowed cheap money to buy back their own stocks, but even a quarter percent rate hike can affect profits, which spooks stock market investors.

President-elect Donald Trump admitted several times on the campaign trail that the economy was sluggish and that the stock market was inflated. How can the stock market be inflated if the economy is stalling? Simple – fake money fueled it, not genuine economic growth.

That’s why it’s frightening to see how an already inflated stock market could be on such a tear – reaching record new heights – simply as a result of the election. Investors turned bullish immediately after Trump’s victory, and have been frenzied ever since – basing their optimism on the new administration’s plans for tax cuts, fewer regulations and increased infrastructure spending.

All this excitement will end when reality sets in, and people realize that our problems have not disappeared just because a new President has made some Reagan-esque promises. Things don’t move quickly on Capitol Hill, even with a Republican Congress. Besides, the Reagan era faced very different issues than we have today so using the same methods may not work.

So let’s get back to real estate.

The Fed raises rates if the economy is growing too quickly and needs to put on the brakes in order to curb inflation. That is definitely not the case today. Our economy is struggling to fight deflation, not inflation. That’s why trillions of dollars have been pumped into the money supply through quantitative easing just to keep it propped up. There would be no need for such massive stimulus if we were fighting inflation.

When the Fed raises rates in a weak economy as it just did, it most likely will slow down in an already slow economy – and then we’d soon see a repeat of last year’s stock market collapse.

Optimism over Trump’s inauguration on January 21st could keep Wall Street investors pumped up for a bit longer than it did last year. But when reality hits, everything could reverse, and reverse quickly! When it does, investors will likely jump back into the safety of bonds – just as they did last year. That would reduce mortgage rates.

Chief economist of The National Association of Realtors, Lawrence Yun said that the era of ultra-low interest rates is over. But he also added that despite the current rate hike and any rate hike’s next year, “mortgage rates will not rise alarmingly.” Curt Long at NAFCU said: “The impact of a quarter point rate hike on U.S. households should be minimal.”

Right now, the euphoria on Wall Street has investors dumping bonds and jumping into stocks, which has driven bond yields up. Mortgage backed securities, which are closely tied to bond yields, also increased. That’s why mortgage rates bumped up from an average 3.47 percent in late October to 4.16 percent at the beginning of December – a little more than two-thirds of a percent!

What does this mean for real estate investors?

If you have an adjustable rate mortgage, you could see your rates tick up slightly.

If you are trying to qualify for a loan, your payment will be slightly higher.

If you have a fixed-rate loan, you won’t notice a thing.

If you’re a flipper, you may have a bit more trouble getting your buyer qualified for a loan – at least until rates decline again.

Redfin says the average monthly payment on a $268,000 home with a 20-percent down payment and a 3.47-percent interest rate would be $1,280. If you raise that rate to 4.16 percent, the monthly payment jumps $86 a month.

Yun is predicting that by this time next year, the 30-year fixed rate would be in the 4.5 to 5-percent range.” Redfin is forecasting a slightly lower rate of 4.3 percent. I’m predicting less than that – below 4%.

Redfin Chief Economist Nela Richardson explains that mortgage rates will remain low because the Federal Reserve plans to continue investing in mortgage securities. It began doing that in the aftermath of the housing crisis, as part of its quantitative easing strategy. She says those mortgage securities provide a constant supply of credit for lenders and that will keep mortgage rates low.

She says: “As long as the Fed remains a trillion dollar investor in the U.S. mortgage system, a moderate pickup in short-term rates won’t unhinge historically low long-term rates like mortgage rates, and won’t dampen the strong home-buying demand we’ve seen as a result of the strengthening economy.”

Historically speaking, rates are still extremely low. When I started buying real estate, rates were in the 9% range. Back in the 80’s, they were above 15 percent!

Bottomline:

1- Interest rates are not likely to soar anytime soon so don’t worry about it affecting real estate values, except in certain markets that are already unaffordable. Also, it’s important to be aware of which markets are affected by stock market fluctuations.

2- If you find a property that makes sense with today’s rates, lock it up. That way if rates increase, you’re set. If rates decrease, you can refinance.

3 – If you are still invested in the stock market, this could be a great time to self-direct your IRA so that you can invest in assets that don’t disappear overnight.

~Author Kathy Fettke is Co-CEO, Real Wealth Network, Host of the Real Wealth Show and author of “Retire Rich with Rentals”

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