Month: March 2014

Outlook for renewal of key tax benefits is improving

http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-fi-harney-20140323,0,7783917.story#ixzz2x5GK8ZBa

In December, Congress let some write-offs, including those for mortgage debt forgiveness and energy-saving upgrades, expire. But now there are signs they could be extended.

 By Kenneth R. Harney

March 23, 2014, LA Times

WASHINGTON — Here’s some good news for homeowners worried that Congress will fail again to renew popular tax benefits for use in 2014 — especially those allowing for mortgage debt forgiveness, write-offs for energy-saving improvements and mortgage insurance premiums.

Though there has been no formal announcement, the Senate Finance Committee under its new chairman, Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), expects to take up a so-called “extenders” package sometime this spring. “This is high on [Wyden’s] priority list,” according to a source with direct knowledge of the committee’s plans. That’s an important change from December, when then-Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who is now ambassador to China, let 50-plus corporate and individual tax benefits expire. The House also took no action to extend them.

As a result, several key tax code housing provisions lapsed into a legislative coma. Without reauthorization retroactive to Jan. 1, they could disappear from the code and not be available for transactions this year. Both Baucus and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) focused on wholesale rewrites of the tax code last year rather than spending time on extending special-interest tax provisions.

But now there are signs that at least some of the expired housing benefits could be back on Congress’ to-do list

Tops on the list is the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, a law that has saved large numbers of homeowners — close to an estimated 100,000 taxpayers in 2011, the latest year for which IRS estimates are available — from hefty tax bills. First enacted in 2007 with menacing clouds of the housing bust on the horizon, the law carved out a special exception to the general rule in the tax code: When you are relieved of a debt burden by a creditor, the amount forgiven is treated as income subject to taxation at ordinary rates.

For qualified homeowners whose mortgage debt was reduced or written off by lenders in connection with loan modifications and short sales, the law said, the forgiven amounts would not be taxable. However, the 2007 carve-out for mortgages was temporary. Congress was required to extend it periodically — which it failed to do Dec. 31. At least one state has a partial remedy for congressional inaction, however: California owners who sell homes through short sales are not subject to taxation on the amounts forgiven, a legal interpretation confirmed by the IRS.

Also part of the housing benefits that Congress failed to extend in December: A $2,000 tax credit for construction of energy-efficient new homes, deductions for home improvements that conserve energy, and write-offs for the mortgage insurance premiums that many borrowers pay in connection with low down payment loans.

Though Wyden is planning to take up an extenders bill soon, that does not guarantee that any specific tax law provision will be part of the bill the Finance Committee ultimately considers. The committee has asked members to suggest what they think should be part of a final package, which may or may not include all the housing-related provisions. But bipartisan support for mortgage debt forgiveness renewal is strong. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) are pushing an extension through 2015. Most tax analysts expect that a final bill will include some form of renewal.

The home energy conservation tax programs also are likely to be included in the Senate bill, in part because Wyden has supported them in the past and recently served as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Meanwhile, in the House, Camp has not indicated when he plans to take up the extenders. He recently unveiled a comprehensive tax reform plan that would lower tax brackets, increase standard deductions and eliminate or sharply curtail most longtime housing tax benefits — including mortgage interest and property tax write-offs. Camp’s bill did not mention reauthorization of the now-expired housing extender items, but he asked colleagues for their views on what might be retained in a large bill.

If, as expected, the Senate Finance Committee approves and the full Senate passes some form of extender package — including two or three of the housing provisions — election-year pressure on Camp to pass some version will be intense, despite his preference for comprehensive tax reform, which has no chance of passage in 2014.

Bottom line: Though there are hurdles ahead, the outlook for renewal of mortgage forgiveness debt relief — and possibly other housing benefits — looks more promising now than it has in months.

 

Case-Shiller: Home prices drop for third consecutive month

Buyers’ advantage as yearly price gains slow

Home prices declined in January for the third straight month, slowing the pace of year-over-year appreciation, according to the key 20-city S&P/Case-Shiller survey of home prices.

With the decline of -0.08% in January the index saw its longest consecutive streak of declines since March 2012. Economists rushed this morning to say the results do not mean there is a housing bubble and it is popping. Actually, they say, the opposite is true.

Month-on-month, U.S. home prices inched down 0.1% in January, matching expectations and after dipping 0.1% in the preceding month. Fully 12 of 20 tracked cities posting drops.

Year-over-year, prices increased 13.24%, a drop from the December year-over-year gain of 13.38%, indicating a general slowing of home price appreciation.

“You may not realize it given the eye-popping levels, but today’s Case-Shiller numbers actually do represent a bit of moderation for the venerable index. The real pace of gains is probably really half that being reported, but the big picture remains the same: the housing market is doing quite well,” said Zillow (Z) chief economist Stan Humphries. “We remain far from normal in terms of appreciation rates, negative equity rates and mortgage rates, but we’re getting there, and a slowdown in appreciation is welcome. As the busy spring home shopping season ramps up, potential buyers and sellers each have some things to look forward to. Buyers can generally expect a lot less competition from investors armed with cash offers, and modestly more homes to choose from; while sellers can still enjoy market dynamics tilted more towards them than to buyers.”

In a separate report with more adjusted numbers, the Federal Housing Finance Agencysaid that prices rose 0.5% in January. The FHFA home price data is based on mortgages sold or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, not broader sales.

“Home values increased significantly last year, up 20% or more in Southern California and Las Vegas. Las Vegas and San Francisco still have gains over 20% from the past year, and San Diego prices are going up. But in general, price increases continued to slow down in January,” said David Williams, vice president at RightStart Mortgage, based in Pasadena, Calif. “It doesn’t necessarily hurt the market that price growth slows down.  We’re still seeing some improvement, which shows a healthy market.The problem now is affordability for first-time homebuyers.”

Monday, Black Knight Financial Services offered its own breakdown of cities with the biggest gains and losses in home prices, close to being in line with the Case-Shiller index.

“Although most analysts do not expect the same rapid increases we saw last year, the consensus is for moderating gains,” David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee, said.

“The housing recovery may have taken a breather due to the cold weather,” Blitzer said. “From the bottom in 2012, prices are up 23% and the housing market is showing signs of moving forward with more normal price increases.”

Including this month’s data, home prices clocked in at about 20% below the 2006 peak.

The National Association of Realtors reported March 20 that existing home sales slowed in February to the slowest rate since July 2012.

“Expectations and recent data point to continued home price gains for 2014. Although most analysts do not expect the same rapid increases we saw last year, the consensus is for moderating gains,” the report states.

The Sunbelt showed the five highest monthly returns. Las Vegas saw an increase of 1.1% — attributable to a big bounce effect. Miami was up 0.7%.

San Diego saw its best gain since 2004, up 0.6%, while East Coast metros like New York and Washington, D.C. posted their own highest year-over-year gain since the housing peak in 2006.

“Institutional investors and all-cash buyers aren’t finding the same deals that were around last year,” Williams said. “Also, home prices after the New Year are historically lower than most months due to the hangover effect of holiday spending. The demand isn’t there. Potential homebuyers will start working on their taxes to determine their financial status before looking for a new home. Then there’s the snow that hit the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, primarily on weekends, which didn’t help. The Midwest had a lot of snow, too. As for West Coast states, we’ll have to wait and see. The weather wasn’t as much of a problem as the fact that unemployment is still high among people who have reached the age of your typical first-time homebuyer.”

Mortgage apps drop 3.5%, refis drop 8%

Refis now at lowest share of apps since April 2010

Mortgage applications dropped 3.5% from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s weekly applications survey for the week ending March 21, 2014. Refinance applications dropped 8%.

This is the second week in a row for declines after a spike of almost 10%. Apps fell last week 1.2% but were revised upward to 0.2%.

The refinance index dropped more dramatically, falling 8% from the previous week, including an 8.1% decline in conventional refinance applications and a 5.8% decline in government refinance applications.

The government refinance index dropped to the lowest level since July 2011.

In contrast, the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 3% from one week earlier, driven mainly by a 4.0% increase in conventional purchase applications.

The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 54% of total applications, the lowest level since April 2010, from 57% the previous week.

The adjustable-rate mortgage share of activity remained unchanged at 8% of total applications.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) increased to 4.56%, the highest level since January 2014, from 4.50%, with points increasing to 0.29 from 0.26 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) increased to 4.45% from 4.39%, with points increasing to 0.27 from 0.19 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans.

The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the FHA increased to 4.16% from 4.13%, with points increasing to 0.23 from 0.18 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans.

The average contract interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 3.62%, the highest level since January 2014, from 3.52%, with points decreasing to 0.24 from 0.25 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans.

The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs increased to 3.22%, the highest level since January 2014, from 3.09%, with points decreasing to 0.32 from 0.38 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans.

“January was great for bond prices and mortgage-backed securities, and thus we saw mortgage rates continue to drop at the close of the month,” Quicken Loans Vice President Bill Banfield.

“Believe it or not, there are still millions of folks out there who could benefit from refinancing, and the uptick in refinance volume from lower rates shows us that,” Banfield.

What is the real condition of your local housing market?

Freddie Mac launches Multi-Indicator Market Index

March 26, 2014
housingwire.com

As the market shifts into a purchase focused market,Freddie Mac decided to launch its new Multi-Indicator Market Index (MiMi) to better track the stability of the housing market and more easily compare it to historical data.

“Housing is changing, and we are moving in a purchase market. Since 2000, mortgages have been dominated by refinances. Rates are reversing and refinances have stayed high. But it is coming down, and by the end of 2014, it will be the first year since 2000 dominated by purchase applications,” Freddie Mac Deputy Chief Economist Len Kiefer said in an exclusive interview with HousingWire.

As Freddie Mac looked over the past year, they really wanted to put the data in context and look at the historical trends in different markets. The main drive behind the tool was to look at what was considered stable in a different time period and bring that to what is currently being seen, so as to put it into context.

MiMi merges four economic indicators — purchase applications, payment-to-income, current on mortgage and employment — with data from multiple sources, including Freddie’s daily business with more than 2,000 mortgage lenders across the country.

“MiMi helps to pinpoint each market’s ‘sweet spot’ by focusing on local housing differences while also tracking the fundamentals necessary for a stable market,” Freddie Mac Chief Economist Frank Nothaft said.

The main purpose is data in context, Keifer said.

“We are trying to continue that tradition and help make this data user friendly and more relevant to put it in perspective, helping us to really track things as we go forwards,” he continued.

Bay Area Home Sales Slowest Since 2008

March 13, 2014 DQNews.com

La Jolla, CA.—-Bay Area home buyers were kept scrambling last month as a continued lack of inventory contributed heavily to a six-year low in sales. The median price paid for a home increased from January and remained 33 percent higher than a year earlier, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 4,963 new and resale houses and condos sold in the nine-county Bay Area last month. That was the lowest for any February since 2008, when 3,989 homes sold. Last month’s sales rose 5.7 percent from 4,696 in January, and fell 8.2 percent from 5,404 in February 2013, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.

Since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin, February sales have ranged from a low of 3,989 in 2008 to a high of 8,901 in 2002. Last month’s sales were 19.9 percent below the average number of February sales – 6,194 – since 1988. Sales haven’t been above average for any month in more than seven years.

“A number of factors can keep a lid on sales. Affordability, for example. Or hard-to-get mortgages. These factors certainly play a role today, but clearly the main culprit is an inadequate supply of homes for sale. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how things play out between now and June. At some point rising home prices will trigger a more significant increase in the number of homes on the market. It’s just a question of when,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

The median price paid for a home in the Bay Area in February was $540,000. That was up 2.9 percent from $525,000 in January and up 33.3 percent from $405,000 in February last year. On a year-over-year basis, the median has risen the last 23 months, with gains above 20 percent for the last 16 months.

The Bay Area median peaked at $665,000 in June and July 2007, then dropped as low as $290,000 in March 2009. While much of the median’s ups and downs since its peak can be attributed to shifts in the types of homes sold, it now appears most of the year-over-year gain in the median reflects a rise in home values.

The number of homes that sold last month for less than $500,000 dropped 30.0 percent year-over-year, while the number that sold for more than $500,000 increased 16.9 percent, DataQuick reported.

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), an important indicator of mortgage availability, accounted for 24.8 percent of the Bay Area’s home purchase loans in February. That was down from a revised 25.1 percent in January, and up from 11.0 percent in February last year. The January ARM share was the highest since it was 25.4 percent in July 2008. ARMs hit a low of 3.0 percent of loans in January 2009. Since 2000, ARMs have accounted for 47.1 percent of all Bay Area purchase loans.

Jumbo loans, mortgages above the old conforming limit of $417,000, accounted for 48.2 percent of last month’s purchase lending, up from a revised 45.9 percent in January, and up from 37.1 percent a year ago. Jumbo usage dropped as low as 17.1 percent in January 2009.

Government-insured FHA home purchase loans, a popular choice among first-time buyers, accounted for 12.0 percent of all Bay Area home purchase mortgages in February. That was up a hair from 11.8 percent in January and down from 14.6 percent a year earlier.

Last month’s Bay Area home buyers borrowed a total of $1.82 billion in mortgage money from lenders. The most active lenders last month were Wells Fargo with 14.0 percent of the purchase loan market, Bank of America with 3.5 percent and Stearns Lending with 3.3 percent.

Distressed property sales – the combination of foreclosure resales and “short sales” – made up about 12.5 percent of last month’s resale market. That was down from 14.0 percent in January and down from 34.1 percent a year earlier.

Foreclosure resales – homes that had been foreclosed on in the prior 12 months – accounted for 5.4 percent of resales in February, up from a revised 5.2 percent the month before, and down from 13.9 percent a year ago. Foreclosure resales peaked at 52.0 percent in February 2009. The monthly average for foreclosure resales over the past 17 years is 9.9 percent.

Short sales – transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property – made up an estimated 7.0 percent of Bay Area resales last month. That was down from an estimated 8.8 percent in January and down from 20.2 percent a year earlier.

Last month absentee buyers – mostly investors – purchased 24.5 percent of all Bay Area homes. That was the same as in January and down from 32.3 percent in February a year ago. Absentee buyers paid a median $433,000 last month, up 39.2 percent from a year earlier.

Buyers who appear to have paid all cash – meaning no sign of a corresponding purchase loan was found in the public record – accounted for 26.8 percent of sales in February, up from a revised 25.6 percent in January and down from 32.4 percent a year earlier. The monthly average going back to 1988 is 13.0 percent. Cash buyers paid a median $470,000 in February, up 44.6 percent from a year earlier.

In February Bay Area home buyers put $1.17 billion of their own money on the table in the form of a down payment or as an outright cash purchase. That number hit an all-time high of $2.64 billion last May.

San Diego-based DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts. Because of late data availability, sales were estimated in Alameda, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that Bay Area buyers committed themselves to paying last month was $2,138. Adjusted for inflation, last month’s payment was 25.1 percent below the typical payment in spring 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. It was 44.7 percent below the current cycle’s peak in July 2007. It was 69.5 percent above the February 2012 bottom of the current cycle.

Indicators of market distress continue to decline. Foreclosure activity remains well below year-ago and far below peak levels. Financing with multiple mortgages is very low, and down payment sizes are stable, DataQuick reported.

California February Home Sales

March 13, 2014

http://dqnewspressreleases.blogspot.com/2014/03/february-california-home-sale-press.html
An estimated 25,680 new and resale houses and condos sold statewide last month. That was down 0.6 percent from 25,832 in January, and down 10.6 percent from 28,719 sales in February 2013, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.

February sales have varied from a low of 20,513 in 2008 to a high of 48,409 in 2004. Last month’s sales were 18.9 percent below the average of 31,660 sales for all the months of February since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin. California sales haven’t been above average for any particular month in more than seven years.

The median price paid for a home in California last month rose to $355,000, up 0.6 percent from $353,000 in January and up 22.8 percent from $289,000 in February 2013. February marks the 24th consecutive month in which the state’s median sale price has risen year-over-year, and the 15th straight month with a gain exceeding 20 percent.

In March/April/May 2007 the state’s median peaked at $484,000. The post-peak trough was $221,000 in April 2009.

Of the existing homes sold last month, 8.2 percent were properties that had been foreclosed on during the past year. That was up from 7.7 percent in January and down from 17.9 percent a year earlier. Foreclosure resales peaked at 58.8 percent in February 2009.

Short sales – transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property – made up an estimated 9.6 percent of the homes that resold last month. That was down from an estimated 10.9 percent the month before and 22.4 percent a year earlier.

The typical monthly mortgage payment that California buyers committed themselves to paying last month was $1,405, down from $1,423 the month before and up from $1,053 a year earlier. Adjusted for inflation, last month’s payment was 39.3 percent below the typical payment in spring 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. It was 50.8 percent below the current cycle’s peak in June 2006. It was 52.2 percent above the January 2012 bottom of the current cycle.

DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.

Indicators of market distress continue to decline. Foreclosure activity remains well below year-ago and peak levels reached in the last five years. Financing with multiple mortgages is low, while down payment sizes are stable, DataQuick reported.

Source: DataQuick; DQNews.com

Southern California February Home Sales Lowest Since 2008

March 12, 2014 DQ News

http://dqnewspressreleases.blogspot.com/2014/03/february-socal-home-sale-press-release.html

La Jolla, CA—Southland home sales dropped to the lowest level for a February in six years as many would-be buyers struggled with inventory constraints, credit hurdles and reduced affordability. The median price paid for a home edged up slightly from January and remained nearly 20 percent higher than a year earlier, a real estate information service reported.

A total of 14,027 new and resale houses and condos sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties last month. That was down 3.1 percent from 14,471 in January, and down 12.0 percent from 15,945 sales in February 2013, according to San Diego-based DataQuick.

On average, sales have increased 0.7 percent between January and February since 1988, when DataQuick’s statistics begin. February sales have ranged from a low of 10,777 in 2008 to a high of 26,587 in 2004.

Last month’s Southland sales were 20.1 percent below the average number of sales – 17,560 – for February since 1988. Sales haven’t been above average for any particular month in more than seven years.

“February was another month with lackluster home sales, and the fifth in a row where sales fell short of the same month a year earlier. The March-through-May data will give us a better sense of what’s been holding back activity the most – supply constraints or the double-whammy of higher prices and higher mortgage rates. The drop in housing affordability is enough to nudge some out of the market. Other would-be buyers have no doubt called ‘time out’ while re-evaluating their housing priorities, or watching for signs the market has overshot a sustainable price level,” said John Walsh, DataQuick president.

“But there’s still reason to expect significant pressure on the market,” he added. “The economy is growing, creating jobs. People who lost homes to a short sale or foreclosure over the last eight years will be looking to buy again. On the supply side, inventory is increasing, as it normally does this time of year, but so far there hasn’t been an explosion of new listings, and new-home construction is still well below average.”

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos sold in the six-county region last month was $383,000, up 0.8 percent from $380,000 in January and up 19.7 percent from $320,000 in February 2013.

The Southland’s median price held at or near $385,000 between last June and November, then rose to $395,000 in December, which was the peak for 2013 and the highest for any month since February 2008, when it was $408,000.

The median sale price has risen on a year-over-year basis for 23 consecutive months. Those gains have been double-digit – between 10.8 percent and 28.3 percent – over the past 19 months. The February median stood 24.2 percent below the peak $505,000 median in spring/summer 2007.

Prices continue to rise at different rates depending on price segment. In February, the lowest-cost third of the region’s housing stock saw a 23.2 percent year-over-year increase in the median price paid per square foot for resale houses. The annual gain was 18.7 percent for the middle third of the market and 15.1 percent for the top, most-expensive third.

The number of homes sold in many mid-level and high-end areas continued to rise on a year-over-year basis last month, while more affordable markets generally saw less activity than a year earlier.

Last month the number of homes that sold from $300,000 through $799,999 – a range that includes many move-up buyers – rose 2.1 percent year-over-year. The number that sold for $500,000 or more increased 12.2 percent from one year earlier, while $800,000-plus sales rose 4.9 percent.

In February, 32.6 percent of all Southland home sales were for $500,000 or more, up a tad from a revised 32.2 percent the month before and up from 24.4 percent a year earlier.

The number of Southland homes that sold below $200,000 last month dropped 47.0 percent year-over-year, while sales below $300,000 fell 38.7 percent. One of the main reasons for the big decline in lower-end sales is the relatively low supply of homes on the market. Many owners still can’t afford to sell their homes because they owe more than they are worth, and lenders aren’t foreclosing on as many properties, further limiting supply.

Foreclosure resales – homes foreclosed on in the prior 12 months – accounted for 6.8 percent of the Southland resale market in February. That was up slightly from 6.6 percent the prior month and was down from 16.2 percent a year earlier. In recent months the foreclosure resale rate has been the lowest since early 2007. In the current cycle, foreclosure resales hit a high of 56.7 percent in February 2009.

Short sales – transactions where the sale price fell short of what was owed on the property – made up an estimated 9.4 percent of Southland resales last month. That was down from a revised 11.0 percent the prior month and down from 22.4 percent a year earlier.

Absentee buyers – mostly investors and some second-home purchasers – bought 29.0 percent of the Southland homes sold last month, up slightly from 28.2 percent in January and down from 32.3 percent a year earlier. The monthly average since 2000, when the absentee data begin, is 18.6 percent. Last month’s absentee buyers paid a median $320,000, up 25.5 percent year-over-year.

In February 6.2 percent of all Southland homes sold on the open market were flipped, meaning they had previously sold in the prior six months. That’s the same flipping rate as the month before and it’s down from a record 7.0 percent a year earlier. (The figures exclude homes resold after being purchased at public foreclosure auctions on the courthouse steps).

Buyers paying cash last month accounted for 30.9 percent of home sales, up from 29.1 percent the month before and down from a record 36.9 percent in February last year. Since 1988 the monthly average for cash buyers is 16.4 percent of all sales. Cash buyers paid a median $340,000 last month, up 28.3 percent from a year earlier.

In February, Southern California home buyers forked over a total of $3.08 billion of their own money in the form of down payments or cash purchases. That was down from a revised $3.29 billion in January and down from $3.35 billion a year ago. The out-of-pocket total peaked last May at $5.41 billion.

While credit conditions remain relatively tight in an historical context, they appear to be easing, especially when compared with a year ago.

Last month 12.9 percent of Southland home purchase loans were adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) – more than double the ARM level of a year earlier. Last month’s figure was down a bit from 13.5 percent in January and up from 5.6 percent in February 2013. The January ARM level was the highest since April 2008, when it was 16.4 percent. Since 2000, a monthly average of about 31 percent of Southland purchase loans have been ARMs.

Jumbo loans, mortgages above the old conforming limit of $417,000, accounted for 27.2 percent of last month’s Southland purchase lending. That was up from 26.7 percent the prior month and up from 21.1 percent a year earlier. In the months leading up to the credit crunch that struck in August 2007, jumbos accounted for around 40 percent of the home loan market.

All lenders combined provided a total of $3.87 billion in mortgage money to Southern California home buyers in February, down from a revised $4.02 billion in January and up from $3.62 billion in February last year.

The most active lenders to Southern California home buyers last month were Wells Fargo with 6.7 percent of the total home purchase loan market, Bank of America with 2.6 percent and JP Morgan Chase with 2.3 percent.

Government-insured FHA loans, a popular low-down-payment choice among first-time buyers, accounted for 19.3 percent of all purchase mortgages last month. That was down from 21.1 percent the month before and down from 24.6 percent a year earlier. In recent months the FHA share has been the lowest since early 2008, mainly because of tighter FHA qualifying standards and the difficulties first-time buyers have competing with investors and cash buyers.

DataQuick monitors real estate activity nationwide and provides information to consumers, educational institutions, public agencies, lending institutions, title companies and industry analysts.

The typical monthly mortgage payment Southland buyers committed themselves to paying last month was $1,516, down slightly from $1,528 the month before and up from $1,154 a year earlier. Adjusted for inflation, last month’s typical payment was 36.8 percent below the typical payment in the spring of 1989, the peak of the prior real estate cycle. It was 48.2 percent below the current cycle’s peak in July 2007.

Indicators of market distress continue to decline. Foreclosure activity remains well below year-ago and far below peak levels. Financing with multiple mortgages is very low, and down payment sizes are stable, DataQuick reported.