Five years ago – was real estate to blame for financial crisis

by Dan Krell © 2013
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Real EstateFive years ago this week Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and almost immediately initiated the financial crisis. What followed in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse was a domino effect of financial sector failures which resulted in: a number of bailouts and government takeovers of failing entities; finger pointing and blame for the foreclosure and financial crises; and a number of laws to address the issues that are thought to have contributed to the crisis.

In retrospect, the financial crisis may have been circuitously the result of the foreclosure crisis, which was entering its second year. At the end of 2006, the real estate market was already seeing a major shift from the record breaking seller’s market, to a market that saw inventory climb to record highs. At that time I wrote about how nationwide foreclosures had increased 27%, and how economists were expecting existing home sales to continue at the same levels into 200, which was to initiate a housing recovery.

By the spring of 2007, the experts’ opinion of a short lived foreclosure crisis was not to be realized; and the blame game for the foreclosure crisis was in full swing. Trying to make sense of the foreclosure crisis, almost daily media reports of inflated appraisals and misrepresentation of mortgage terms were popular. At that time there was no way to pinpoint one source for the crisis. While the foreclosure crisis was in full swing, we did not have the perspective to understand all the participants and components that contributed to the resulting Great Recession.

Testimony to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2010 included descriptions of the CDO (collateralized debt obligation) market. Financial brokers packaged mortgages into CDOs and sold them worldwide; the returns for these CDOs were so good that the demand was seemingly insatiable. As the demand for CDOs increased, the number of mortgages that were needed also increased. To meet the increasing demand of mortgage production, the temptation to bend the rules and lend to almost anyone seemed to be at the heart of this piece to the crisis; and many of those mortgages were subsequently foreclosed. The fraud seemed to reach in other areas too, including financial rating agencies that graded subprime CDOs as “AAA” to make them more appealing.

To improve accountability and transparency in the financial system, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and to end “too big to fail,” the landmark Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was enacted. The broad and wide sweeping Dodd-Frank legislation created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the idea of the Qualified Residential Mortgage. Although the legislation has been widely acclaimed; there are many who remain critical of the legislation, saying that the markets could be set up for the next crisis.

Only in retrospect we can begin to understand the complexity of the dynamics which brought about the almost collapse of the financial sector through the mortgage markets. And while there have been a number of hearings, books, working papers, and dissertations about the causes and effects of the foreclosure and financial crises, we still seek to condense complex issues into a digestible statement. If a movie is produced about the financial crisis, the slugline might be: “Financial crisis that was a result of fraud that took advantage of a hot real estate market and easy money.”

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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.  This article was originally published the week of September 16, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.

Sequestration will affect real estate and housing markets

by Dan Krell
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Housing and Sequestraion(Dan Krell © 2013) Remember the “Fiscal Cliff?” Well, after a two month hiatus, sequestration concerns are again entering (if not intrusively) the minds of those who may be affected. And, if you remain indifferent on the matter, you might consider the local economic effect from looming government budget cuts that may begin on March 1st.

On February 14th, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan provided written testimony to the “Hearing before the Senate Committee on Appropriations on The Impacts of Sequestration” (HUD.gov). Secretary Donovan outlined what he described as the “harmful effects of Sequestration” to not only at-risk populations, but families, communities, and the economy at large, as he concluded, “…Sequestration is just such a self-inflicted wound that would have devastating effects on our economy and on people across the nation.”

As a result, HUD counseling would be limited. According to Secretary Donovan, about 75,000 families would not be able to receive the critical counseling services that include pre-purchase counseling, and foreclosure prevention counseling. According to the Secretary: “…This counseling is crucial for middle class and other families who have been harmed by the housing crisis from which we are still recovering, and are trying to prevent foreclosure, refinance their mortgages, avoid housing scams, and find quality, affordable housing. Studies show that housing counseling plays a crucial role in those 3 efforts. Distressed households who receive counseling are more likely to avoid foreclosure, while families who receive counseling before they purchase a home are less likely to become delinquent on their mortgages.”

FHA has been the workhorse to stabilize the housing market as well as providing the means for affordable home purchases. Those directly affected by sequestration would be home buyers and home owners who are applying for FHA mortgages; as well as those seeking assistance through HAMP and HAFA. In written testimony, Secretary Donovan stated that “…furloughs or other personnel actions may well be required to comply with cuts mandated by sequestration.” As a result, “…The public will suffer as the agency is simply less able to provide information and services in a wide range of areas, such as FHA mortgage insurance and sale of FHA-owned properties.”

Another concern is the possibility of a sharp increase in interest rates. Up until now, home buyers (and those refinancing) have had the benefit of historically low mortgage interest rates. Low mortgage interest rates are one of the reasons why home affordability is also at historic levels. A sharp rise in interest rates combined with FHA mortgage delays could shock the housing and real estate market. The result could be housing activity similar to what we experienced immediately after the financial crisis. Granted, the shock would probably not be as prolonged as what occurred in 2008-2009, but nonetheless significant.

In a region that has been relatively unaffected by unemployment and economic issues due to a strong government workforce, sequestration could essentially put a damper on the local housing recovery. Home buyer activity has already been affected, as those who are concerned about sequestration have either put their home purchase plans on hold, or have changed their housing plans altogether. And of course, over time, the changes to consumer behavior would trickle down to various sectors of the economy.

But don’t worry, although sequestration is set to begin March 1st, budget cuts won’t occur all at once. Unless Congress acts on the matter, you might not immediately feel its effects.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of February 18, 2013. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

Has the housing market improved in the last four years

Dan Krell, Realtor®
DanKrell.com
© 2012

HousingIn retrospect, the beginning of the global recession in late 2007 was the end of the housing boom and may have spawned the foreclosures crisis and the financial crisis of 2008.  And although this period of time will undoubtedly become the basis of many future dissertations examining the “Great Recession;” you might ask “how much has the state of housing improved since 2008?”

If you recall, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) was anticipated to have wide reaching changes in the mortgage and housing industries as well as supposed to have assisted struggling home owners.  This multifaceted piece of legislation consolidated many individual bills addressing issues that were thought to either be the cause or the result of the financial crisis.  Besides raising mortgage loan limits to increase home buyer activity, the historic legislation was the beginning of changes meant to “fix” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as “modernizing” FHA to make the mortgage process easier for home buyers and refinancing easier for struggling home owners. Additionally, this law was the origination of the Hope for Homeowners program to assist home owners facing foreclosure (www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hr3221).

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), originated from HERA, has been the “conservator” of the then sinking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Since the FHFA took control, there has been conjecture as to what would become of the mortgage giants: some talked about closing their doors, while some talked about changing their role in the mortgage industry. Since FHFA became the oversight agency, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has strengthened their role in maintaining liquidity in the housing market by helping struggling home owners with their mortgages as well as freeing up lender capital by the continued purchases of loans (fhfa.gov)

The inception of Hope for Homeowners was the beginning of a string of government programs designed to assist home owners facing foreclosure, or assist underwater home owners refinance their mortgage.  Although there have been individual success stories, there has been criticism that these programs did not assist the expected numbers of home owners.  A January 24th CNNMoney article by Tami Luhby (money.cnn.com) reported that “…the HAMP program, which was designed to lower troubled borrowers’ mortgage rates to no more than 31% of their monthly income, ran into problems almost immediately. Many lenders lost documents, and many borrowers didn’t qualify. Three years later, it has helped a scant 910,000 homeowners — a far cry from the promised 4 million…” and “HARP, which was intended to reach 5 million borrowers, has yielded about the same results. Through October, when it was revamped and expanded, the program had assisted 962,000…” (money.cnn.com/2012/01/24/news/economy/Obama_housing/index.htm).

HousingDespite the recent slowdown in foreclosure activity, there is disagreement about the projected number of foreclosures going into 2013.  A March 29th Corelogic news release (www.corelogic.com/about-us/news/corelogic-reports-almost-65,000-completed-foreclosures-nationally-in-february.aspx) reported that there have been about 3.4 million completed foreclosures since 2008 (corelogic.com).  And although an August 9th RealtyTrac® (www.realtytrac.com/content/foreclosure-market-report/july-2012-us-foreclosure-market-report-7332) report indicated a 3% decrease from June to July and a 10% decrease from the previous year in foreclosure filings; July’s 6% year over year increase in foreclosure starts (initial foreclosure filings) was the third straight month of increases in foreclosure starts.

So, if you’re wondering if housing is better off today than it was four years ago, the answer may be a resounding “maybe;” It all depends on your situation.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of September 3 , 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

Financial Crisis Déjà-vu

by Dan Krell
© 2011

DanKrell.com



Although it may feel as if you’re experiencing one, no – you’re not having a déjà-vu. Wall Street and other world markets are once again in crisis mode. However, unlike the crisis of 2008 that was caused by a credit crunch; this week’s crisis is characterized as a debt crisis.

Sure, crises shock the public and economic systems. And much like other crises, we are stunned, worried and confused. However, this crisis is a bit different. Although the imminent effects are yet to be seen, this crisis has been openly brewing for months; and the public has been primed leading up to the debt debate and subsequent debt deal that seemed to satisfy no one – especially Standard & Poor’s. As you already know, S&P downgraded the credit of the United States of America on August 5th (You can read the downgrade report along with the rationale on standardandpoors.com).

As a home owner, you might think that home values are once again in peril. However, a sharp decline in home prices that was characteristic of the housing downturn from 2007 to 2009 is unlikely. In retrospect, the housing bubble lost its turgidity and home values started to erode before the credit crunch of 2008 (one could argue that the credit crunch was caused by the foreclosure crisis). Unlike today’s housing market, the market downturn in 2007 and home prices were mostly affected by the tsunami of distressed properties that swelled the active inventory for over three years. As inventory decreased, home prices seemed to rebound indicating the beginnings of a very modest housing recovery.

Although nationwide home prices may continue to roller coaster until economic stability is achieved; a hyper-local analysis may indicate that neighborhood home values will vary.

As financial markets “correct” themselves, consumer sentiment of home ownership may not be initially or directly affected by the current crisis. It is more likely that most home buyers may initially continue their home search unabated. Home sellers, on the other hand, are more apt to pull their homes from the market if indications are of a slowdown.

Of course there will be consequences. Intuitively, one might have expected mortgage interest rates to increase on the heels of a U.S. credit downgrade. However, at least initially, interest rates decreased. The rationale is that although the U.S. credit was downgraded, investors looking for a “safe haven” for their money view world markets in turmoil; there is fear of a worldwide recession as Europe is dealing with an ongoing debt crisis, while China is coping with inflation and their version of a real estate bubble. Notwithstanding, the long term effects on mortgage interest rates remain to be seen.

Additionally, the short term evaporation of savings and capital in the financial markets can affect the ability of home buyers’ down payments; savings are the most common source of downpayment as indicated by the National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers 2010 (realtor.org). The end result may be a bifurcated housing market, evident by the financial disparity of home buyers. Home buyers who are financially better off will have cash for their downpayment as well as be able to afford the potential higher interest rate mortgage.

As we move forward, uncertainty is felt about the immediate effects of a combined global crisis and/or possible recession. However, like all crises – this too shall pass in time.

More news and articles on “the Blog”This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of August 8, 2011. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2011 Dan Krell.


Looking for Blame in the Mortgage Crisis

by Dan Krell © 2007

The daily media reports of abuse, fraud, and other problems in the sub-prime mortgage industry attempt to make sense of a real estate industry in turmoil. It appears that the problems in the real estate industry are similar to those in Big Business. Like many of the recent business scandals, schemes and wrongdoing are carried out because the financial rewards seem greater then the risk. Those who are caught usually point their finger at their boss claiming that they were told to do so in fear of losing their job.

The present mortgage crisis is similar to some extent. Sensationalized media accounts of what went wrong and who is to blame seem to be in the daily headlines. The blame of the present crisis was first placed on the lenders and investors, who with their lenient underwriting guidelines, allowed many to borrow beyond their means. The new focus in the crisis is on inflated appraisals and how appraisers are “forced” to provide these appraisals in order to maintain business. Additionally, there has been some discussion about the loan officers who originated the loans, without regard to the consequences to the borrower.

The story of inflated appraisals on the mortgage industry is about how some appraisers are “forced” to provide appraisals with an inflated price or they will lose business. For a real estate appraiser, the pressures of complying with lenders’ requests to inflate appraisals are inherent to the business, but not necessary. To demonstrate the extent of the problem, the Baltimore Sun reported (April 10, 2007) that appraiser groups are asking regulators to crack down on the lenders who pressure appraisers for inflated appraisals.

On the other hand, not enough has been said about the loan officers who originate these loans. Many loan officers who originate sub-prime mortgages are mortgage brokers and are paid on commission; they only get paid if the loan closes. Most mortgage originators act ethically in the borrower’s best interest. However, some will say or do just about anything to get the loan to close, including making unrealistic promises to the borrower as well as pressuring others to ensure loan closure. Unless there is blatant fraud, loan originators are not usually held responsible for a “bad loan.”

There are reports of possible federal investigations of mortgage misrepresentation and non-disclosure of loan terms. A recent MSNBC article (April 10, 2007) reports that many sub-prime borrowers who were deceived by mortgage brokers and loan officers are filing law suits for violations of the Federal Truth in Lending Act. These borrowers include those who were misled to believe the terms of their mortgage, as well as others who were misguided to obtain a high interest rate mortgage when they qualified for a more favorable loan. Under the law, the full terms and conditions of loans must be disclosed to consumers. Additionally, some have interpreted that any misrepresentation, written or verbal, is a violation of this law.

Although most real estate professionals are reputable and act within the guidelines of the law and the ethics code of their profession, unfortunately some do not. Like Big Business, it appears that some of the problems in the real estate industry exist not just because of a lack of ethical behavior, but a lack of character as well.

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of April 23, 2007. Copyright © 2007 Dan Krell.