Mortgage rates continued their roller coaster ride in February, according to Freddie Mac's weekly survey. But the trip continues to be more like a kiddie ride than the one at Riddler's Revenge at Six Flags in California.
The rate for 30-year fixed rate mortgages ended the month at an average of 6.26 percent, down ever so slightly from the week before's average of 6.28 percent. A year earlier, the average was 5.69 percent, which is just a mere difference of 58 basis points. (A basis point is 1/100th of 1 percent.)
Putting that in monetary terms, the difference between a $200,000 mortgage at 6.28 percent and 6.26 percent a practically minuscule $2.60 a month.
The average for 15-year fixed loans slipped, too. But only by half as much. It was 5.91 percent vs. 5.92 percent the week before. But a year ago, the 15-year rate was 5.22 percent.
Five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages were the anomaly as February came to a close. They averaged 5.96 percent, up a basis point from the week before. But the average on one-year Treasury-indexed ARMs dipped from 5.36 percent to 5.32 percent. A year ago, the rates on these two loan products were 5.05 percent and 4.16 percent, respectively.
Expect more of the same in the coming months, according to Freddie Mac's chief economist, Frank Nothaft, who says, "Over the long term, we expect mortgage rates will bounce back and forth a bit, remaining near current levels."
(In case you're wondering, Riddler's Revenge takes three minutes to run over nearly 4,370 feet -- nearly a full mile -- of steel. The coaster is designed with at least six inversions including loops and barrel rolls, sometimes exerting 4.2 g-forces. It one of the world's tallest, fastest stand-up thrill rides.)
'The Dog Ate My Work'
There's a contest for everything, it seems. And while it's too late to enter this one, it's either fun enough -- or sad enough, depending on your point of view -- to give it a mention.
It's "The Home Office From Hell," in which Office2Share.com invited denizens of home offices to share their horror stories. The poor soul who submitted the best reason for wanting out will receive a free 12-month lease in a real, honest-to-goodness office.
The winner hasn't been chosen yet, but here are some our favorites entries: "When my wife runs the washing machine, I have to pretend I am in an airport," "I have started to refer to my pets as employees," and "That's not my dog barking, that's my secretary, who has a bad cold."
For anyone who can cite a similar experience -- or worse -- it also is worth mentioning that the contest is being judged by an independent panel that includes volunteers from SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Business," an non-profit group that provides free counseling and mentoring to small business owners who can't afford to hire consultants, let alone pay for outside office space.
Katrina's Damage Now at $10 Billion
On a more somber note, while all kinds of statistic are being thrown about concerning the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, an up-to-date assessment from the Mortgage Bankers Association puts the cost at anywhere between $8 billion and $10 billion.
Based on property-level damage reports on more than 117,000 properties in New Orleans and applied repair cost estimates using structure types, location, degree of damage and current builder quotes, the MBA study found that the pre-Katrina market values of those properties totaled between $17 billion and $18 billion. Flood insurance is expected to cover somewhere between $4 billion and $5 billion, leaving anywhere from $3 billion to $6 billion in uninsured losses.
Worse, perhaps, a minimum of 29,000 homes that suffered some flood damage did not have flood insurance, with the more likely number in the range of 34,000 to 35,000. Many of these homes were either owned outright or were likely located outside designated flood zones. In both cases, though, there is no legal requirement for those homeowners to have flood insurance
Back Up Carefully!
"Momma, don't let your kids grow up to be cowboys," Willie Nelson sings. He might want to add a line that goes something like this, "Momma don't let your kids play in the driveway."
More and more children are injured or killed every year because drivers don't see them when they are backing out of their driveways. And new larger, quieter SUVs and hybrid vehicles exacerbate the risk.
Blind spots -- sometimes as large as 50 feet deep by 7 feet wide behind and along side the vehicle -- are virtually invisible to a person in the driver's seat, and the growing size of blind spots is responsible for a 57 percent increase in backover deaths among kids under 2 years old. Also, while hybrid vehicles are making inroads to fuel economy, when they run nearly silent on electric batteries they are quieter than the sound of human breathing and effectively create a new, potentially deadly deaf spot.
Besides being extremely careful when you put your vehicle in reverse, consider backing into the drive or garage. That way, when you pull out, you'll have a full view of where your are going. If you have to back up, walk around the vehicle before getting behind the wheel and know where your kids are before starting the engine. If they are playing outside, make them move away so you have them in full view before shifting into gear.