Affordable housing

affordable housing
Affordable housing (graphic from montgomerycountymd.gov)

It’s no secret that housing is expensive.  Home prices are relentlessly marching forward, making it more difficult for first-time home buyers to purchase a home.  One of the contributing factors is the low inventory of homes for sale.  The deficiency of homes on the market is limiting options and stoking competition among determined home buyers, many of whom are willing to offer slightly more than then their cohorts.  All this puts upward pressure on home prices and impacting affordable housing.

Having enough for a down payment and closing costs is a hurdle for many first-time home buyers.  Home buying programs exist to help home ownership more affordable for home buyers.  The Maryland Mortgage Program (mmp.maryland.gov) offers down payment assistance in the form of loans, an employer match program, or financial grants.  In Montgomery County, the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County (hocmc.org) offers several down payment assistance options, including the House Keys 4 Employees program for many Montgomery County Employees.  Of course, you must meet eligibility, so check with your lender and/or mortgage program.

Affordable housing is not only an issue for home buyers.  It’s also an issue for renters.  According to the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey five-year estimates results (census.gov), the median rent in the US increased about $21.  That does not sound life changing, however, it is the result of an analysis of nationwide monthly rents.  Results of the Survey indicated that, “Of the 382 metropolitan areas in the United States, the median gross rent in 156 areas did not change between 2007 to 2011 and 2012 to 2016…”  However, “Of the 219 that did change, increases outnumbered decreases four to one with 175 increases and 44 decreases.

Some areas had a decrease in rent, while others faced increases.  Among some of the areas with top increases include Andrews TX and McKenzie County ND, where monthly rents increased an average of $352 and $397 respectively.

The Census Bureau recent survey on rent concludes that “gross rents are on the rise.”  Other Census data indicates that 2017 had the lowest percentage of renters move since 1988.  The combination of fewer available rentals and increased rents are making it difficult to find an affordable rental.

Although “affordable housing” has been tossed about like a football, it wasn’t until Mary Schwartz and Ellen Wilson’s (US Census Bureau) analysis of the 2006 American Community Survey that really gave it meaning (Who Can Afford To Live in a Home?: A look at data from the 2006 American Community Survey; census.gov).  The analysis revealed the percentage of income that is spent towards housing.

The report indicated that forty-six percent of renters spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs.  Compare that to home owners: thirty-seven percent of owners with mortgages and sixteen percent of owners without spent 30 percent or more of their income on housing.  Schwartz and Wilson came up with the “30 percent standard,” and discussed that thirty percent or more of income spent on housing is considered a “housing-cost burden.”

Addressing affordable housing for renters, Representative Joe Crowley introduced H.R.3670 – Rent Relief Act of 2017 to help renters with their housing-cost burden.  The credit would only be available for taxpayers whose gross income is less than $125,000.  The bill allows for a refundable tax credit when rent exceeds 30 percent of the individual’s gross income for the taxable year.  Depending on the renter’s gross income, the amount of the credit could range from 10 to 100 percent of the excess (above 30 percent).  One caveat is that if the tenant’s rent exceeds 150 percent of the fair market rent for that specific residence, the excess above 150 percent won’t be included for the purpose of determining the amount of the credit.  Government-subsidized renters would be able to claim a credit equal to 1/12 of the rent paid by the taxpayer.  Although the bill was last heard in the House Committee on Ways and Means, at the time of this article, it is being prepared by Senator Kamala Harris to be introduced in the Senate.

Maryland offers tax credits for some renters, check with the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (marylandtaxcredit.com) for qualifying information.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/07/26/affordable-housing/

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How to find your affordable home

affordable home
The affordable home (infographic from nvaha.org)

The latest headline for the Case-Shiller Home Price Index boasts, “hits all-time high for sixth consecutive month” (us.spindices.com). The data for May’s S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index revealed a 5.6 percent year-over-year increase for the US Census divisions.  However, the month-over-month Case Shiller composite indices decreased about 0.1 percent.  Seattle, Portland, and Denver continue to lead in home price growth with double digit gains.  The Washington DC region posted a 1.0 percent gain in May and a modest annual increase of 3.6 percent year-over-year.  The bottom line is that homes are becoming more expensive. And as a home buyer, you want to know how to buy an affordable home.

David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, provided analysis of this week’s release suggesting that the continued climb of home prices is a manifestation of the housing market, and not necessarily reflective of the economy.  He stated:

“Home prices continue to climb and outpace both inflation and wages…Housing is not repeating the bubble period of 2000-2006: price increases vary across the country unlike the earlier period when rising prices were almost universal; the number of homes sold annually is 20% less today than in the earlier period and the months’ supply is declining, not surging. The small supply of homes for sale, at only about four months’ worth, is one cause of rising prices. New home construction, higher than during the recession but still low, is another factor in rising prices.”

Rising home prices are impacting the housing market and making it difficult to find an affordable home. The latest National Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index (nar.realtor) indicates that buying a home is less affordable compared to the same time last year, which decreased from 161.2 to 158.8.  Additionally, the median sales price for a single family home jumped 4.6 percent.

Even though home prices continue to climb, the good news for home buyers is that mortgage rates are still relatively low.  According to last week’s Freddie Mac Mortgage Rate Survey (freddiemac.com), the 30-year fixed rate mortgage dropped from 4.03 percent to 3.96 percent.  Although slightly higher from the same time last year (3.45 percent), historically low interest rates help make a home purchase affordable.

Although wages are not increasing on the same pace as home prices, home buyers are benefiting from low mortgage rates.  However, a concern that is echoed throughout the industry is the continued low inventory of homes for sale.  The low inventory of homes, specifically turn-key homes, is a factor in increasing home prices and making it harder to find an affordable home.

If you’re a home buyer and are frustrated with the competition, think outside of the box.  It’s true the best looking and well priced homes are receiving multiple offers and sell quickly.  The competitive atmosphere is pushing home prices higher.  However, keeping an open mind could help you to not only cope with the current market, but also help you find your next home.

One way home buyers are finding their affordable home is by renovating a distressed home.  Homes that languish on the market and are in need of repair or renovation may be a “diamond in the rough.”  Renovation loans, such as the FHA 203k or Fannie Mae’s HomeSyle loan can make the process easier and affordable. Renovation loans are designed to help buy and renovate a home. There are a various renovation loan programs, so having a long conversation with a qualified renovation loan specialist can help you decide which program is best for you.

Be prepared and line up your licensed contractors. Renovation loans require documentation and plans from your licensed contractor. Most of these programs will provide funding in stages. However, there are a few renovation loan programs that are “streamlined” and designed for less expensive renovations. Check with your lender for qualifications, loan limits and requirements.

Additionally, you don;t have to look in the MLS to find your affordable home. Work with an experienced agent who has the savvy to find homes for sale that are not currently listed for sale. These may include (but not limited to) for sale by owners, expired listings, and auctions.

Home owners who did not have luck selling their homes earlier in the year may be open to selling to you. Your agent can find and contact home owners who have recently taken their homes off of the MLS.

Look for homes that are “For Sale by Owner.” It used to be hard to find the FSBO, and you would have to drive through neighborhoods to look for the “For Sale by Owner” signs. But of course the internet has made it easier to find the FSBO. They are listed in the MLS by listing placement services.  They are also posted online on “for-sale-by-owner” sites, as well as Zillow, Trulia, or Craigslist.

Neighborhood listservs and internet groups are a great way to fnon-MLS homes for find FSBO’s.  But you have to be a resident of the neighborhood, or know someone who is a resident to get access to the listserv.

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Housing and presidential election

from trulia.com

Another presidential election, and there will most likely be very little discussion and debate about housing policy. During the 2012 presidential election, housing seemed to take a back seat as the real estate market was still emerging from a foreclosure crisis and recession just four years earlier. Fast forward to today and homeownership is hovering near a 30-year low.  Homeownership is out of reach to many due to tightened mortgage qualifying and increasing home prices; while Americans’ incomes are being squeezed by rising rents.

Enter Ron Terwilliger. A successful real estate developer and philanthropist, Terwilliger launched the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families in 2014 (jrthousing.org). The organization’s mission is to “…recalibrate federal housing policy to more effectively address our nation’s critical affordable housing challenges and to meet the housing needs of future generations.”

Giving the keynote address at The Affordable Housing Developers Summit in Chicago, Terwilliger described an evolving “silent housing crisis.” He proclaimed that “A legacy of the great recession, the rental affordability crisis is often overlooked by policymakers, ignored by the media, and underestimated, at best, by the general public.” And although affordable housing is a bi-partisan issue, he stated that candidates don’t talk about the issue (housingfinance.com).

New HomesSo it should come as no surprise that the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families and the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted a housing summit this past October. Speaking at the summit were a number of presidential candidates, policy makers, current and former Senators, a former HUD Secretary, local officials, and industry leaders and experts. Unfortunately, the presidential candidates that are still in the race, did not participate. The summit was held in New Hampshire, where housing costs for 36% of residents is more than 30% of their gross income; and median rents have increased 50% since 2000 (housingwire.com).

The housing summit seemed to inspire realtor.com chief economist Jonathan Smoke, who shortly afterward penned a statement declaring his candidacy for president as leader of the “Housing Party” (As President, I’ll Make American Housing Great Again—Really; realtor.org; October 21, 2015). Smoke believes that housing should be first on the national agenda stating, “The market won’t solve all of our housing problems on its own. And our government seems incapable of working together to find solutions that can help…” Laying out a detailed platform, Smoke proclaims that a vote for him would “…build our way to a stronger economy and more affordable housing for the middle class—a better America for all of us.” He said that he would work toward getting a home for every family.

But it may be that housing policy is a bit more complicated than just proclaiming “homes for everyone.” In a frank analysis of housing policy, Daniel Hertz laid out what seems to be diametrically opposed positions: policy should keep housing affordable so as not to price people out of the market; and policy should protect house values, because homes are an investment and wealth building vehicle (American Housing Policy’s Two Basic Ideas Pull Cities in Opposite Directions; theatlantic.com; October 14, 2015).

Hertz believes that these seemingly opposite policy positions can be “reconciled” by offering a wide variety of housing types for a broad range of incomes. Additionally, he discussed how local privately developed affordable housing programs (such as Montgomery County’s Workforce Housing and MPDU programs) is one avenue to a comprehensive housing policy.

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The shared economy under pressure – localities put the squeeze on Airbnb

real estateAre you interested in cashing in on the “Airbnb” trend? Make sure you are in compliance with local zoning code and other legal requirements.

What started out as a web platform in 2008 to help people advertise their short term rentals during tough economic times, has become what seems to be a glamorous business. Besides becoming a phenomenon of the shared economy, Airbnb has also become vernacular – where the use of “Airbnb” refers to anyone offering a short term rental.

Rooted in the sharing of underutilized resources, the shared economy has become big business. People are creating incomes from sharing their homes, sharing their cars, and even sharing talents and skills one project at a time.

It may have been subtle in its growth, but the shared economy has become substantial. And considering that wage growth has been a letdown since the great recession, and the labor force participation rate is the lowest it has been since 1977 (bls.gov); it’s no accident that the popularity of Airbnb and other components of the shared economy (also known as “peer to peer” economy and is often mentioned in combination with “gig economy” or “online economy”) have become part of our daily lives. As the economy struggled the sharing economy grew; and entrepreneurs have grasped at the opportunity to create the likes of Uber, Fiverr, and Airbnb that established specific internet platforms that bring consumers and sellers together.

And as some blame the shared economy for taking away from traditional businesses, the Airbnb phenomenon has been criticized for adding drag to a struggling housing market (consider that the fourth quarter 2014 home ownership rate is the lowest since 1995) by keeping would be home owners renting. But the reality is that the shared economy has always existed; and expands during times of economic uncertainty (you can look at the growth of boarding homes in the 1930’s during the Great Depression). The growth of shared housing is not necessarily the choice that most would consider a preferred lifestyle, as much as it is a personal response to current economic conditions and opportunities.

And while the popularity of temporary shared housing has become a glamorous trend for some, many are trying to cash in. In addition to renting out empty rooms in their homes, some are even buying homes to be used as short term housing. Today’s boarding home is an alternate option for business-persons and tourists visiting cities where hotel rooms are expensive or in short supply.

Although operating an Airbnb would not necessarily attract protest the likes that Uber has seen, it does have the attention of local governments. Although San Francisco and New York were the first to regulate Airbnb’s, Santa Monica CA has recently implemented some of the toughest regulations on short term rentals. Andrew Bender reported (New Regulations To Wipe Out 80% Of Airbnb Rentals In California’s Santa Monica; forbes.com; June 15, 2015) that the new regulations could wipe out 80% of Santa Monica’s operating Airbnb’s by requiring the owner to: stay in property with renter; obtain a business license; and collect an occupancy tax.

Locally, Montgomery County is also trying to grasp the idea of the Airbnb. Changes to the zoning laws earlier this year prohibit such activity in a home, and yet recently enacted legislation regarding room rental and transient tax provides for taxation of short term rentals in homes.

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Affordable housing redux

Affordable HousingStatistics and indices have indicated that buying a home has become more affordable in recent years. In fact, the October 2014 Trulia Rent vs. Buy Index indicated that buying a home was 38% cheaper than renting (trulia.com). Additionally, the S&P/Case-Shiller National Home Price Index released December 30th indicated that average home prices for the 10-City and 20-City Composites are at “autumn 2004 levels” (housingviews.com). However, while interest rates continue to be favorable along with an expanding inventory that offers more choices, obstacles remain to home ownership.

Unlike the high home prices that drove affordable housing concerns in the past, many would-be home buyers today face income and savings challenges. Statistics suggest that many do not earn enough to qualify for a home purchase and/or have not saved enough for a down payment and closing costs. The latest report (Q2 2014) of the Maryland Association of Realtors® First-time Homebuyer Affordability Index revealed a decrease in home affordability from 84.1% to 75.7%; which indicates that Maryland first time home buyers had 75% of the income required “to purchase a typical starter home” (mdrealtor.org).

More importantly, a survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (7th Annual Savings Survey Reveals Persistence of Financial Challenges Facing Most Americans; February 24, 2014, consumerfed.org), revealed that “most Americans are meeting their immediate financial needs but are worse off than several years ago.” And, “… that, despite the economic recovery, most Americans continue to face significant personal savings challenges….” Stephen Brobeck, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of America and a founder of America Saves, was quoted to say: “Only about one-third of Americans are living within their means and think they are prepared for the longterm financial future. One-third are living within their means but are often not prepared for this longterm future. And one-third are struggling to live within their means.

With an eye to address housing affordability, the President reduced the FHA annual mortgage insurance premium (MIP). Increases in FHA’s MIP in recent years have helped offset losses from the foreclosure crisis; and inadvertently made mortgages more expensive. And although the recent MIP reduction helps more home buyers qualify, critics claim it increases FHA’s risk and exposure to future foreclosure losses. According to Zillow (How Much Can You Save with Lower FHA Annual Mortgage Insurance Premiums?; January 7,2015, zillow.com), a home buyer who has a 3.5% down payment on a 30 year mortgage of $175,000 can save about $818 per year (about $68 per month).

For those who have not saved enough for a down payment and closing costs, State and local initiatives offer down payment assistance and low interest rate mortgage programs. The Maryland Mortgage Program (mmp.maryland.gov) offers down payment assistance in the form of loans, an employer match program, or financial grants. Locally, the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County (hocmc.org) offers several down payment assistance options, including the House Keys 4 Employees program for many Montgomery County Employees. These programs have restrictions; you should check with each program for qualification and eligibility requirements.

The Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (montgomerycountymd.gov/DHCA) offers additional affordable housing options: The Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) Program offers affordably priced homes to first-time homebuyers who meet the program’s eligibility; and the Work Force Housing Program promotes “the construction of housing that will be affordable to households with incomes at or below 120% of the area-wide median.”

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.