Herding behavior can interfere with real estate decisions

herding real estateHave you ever wondered why real estate trends develop? When we’re buying and selling a home, we like to think we act rationally and with intention. However, our decision making is influenced externally. We are affected by the attitudes of the experts, family and friends, from whom we solicit advice. We are also consciously and unconsciously influenced by information we get from TV, the internet, social media, news papers, and even from eavesdropping conversations. Your decision making may be based on others’ behaviors that signaled it was the correct thing to do, and in turn magnifies and strengthens the signal to others – which is described as herding behavior.

Herding behavior plays a large role in our daily lives, as well as in our real estate choices and conclusions. Decisions about home buying and selling, which agent to hire, sales prices, and even whether or not we should default on our mortgage can be influenced by herding behaviors.

A 2013 study of herding behavior in strategic default revealed significant findings about our vulnerability to information (Luchtenberg & Seiler (2013).The effect of exogenous information signal strength on herding. Review of Behavioral Finance, 5(2),153-174). To refresh your memory, strategic default (allowing a home to go to foreclosure when financially able to pay the mortgage) became a significant trend that was widely covered in the media during 2010-2012. Luchtenberg & Seiler’s research into decision making and herding behavior suggested that those who are susceptible to information can be easily swayed. Their findings among professionals revealed that low consensus information (“weak information signals”) caused herding when asked to make a personal choice; while high consensus information (“strong information signals”) caused herding when providing advice to a friend.

The notion that the housing and financial crises were caused by herding behavior is not new. However, economist Christian Hott researched if housing bubbles are caused by herding behavior (Hott, C. (2012). The influence of herding behaviour on house prices. Journal of European Real Estate Research, 5(3),177-198). Citing others, Hott explains that herding behaviors are formed by those who are “imperfectly informed” and “learn from the decisions” of others; and that people tend to “overestimate the likelihood of an event” to occur to them when they hear it happened to someone else (expecting the same experience that someone else had). Although Hott concluded that herding was not the only contributor to the housing market collapse, and suggested that mortgage banking was also likely responsible; the findings indicated that herding behavior does play a role in home price fluctuations and housing bubbles.

Cognitive dissonance may also be at work to reinforce your herding behaviors. You may act on information that is not widely acknowledged just because the source is significant to you (such as a relative, close friend or co-worker). And the stronger your belief in the information, the more likely you will in turn confidently give the same advice to others, even though it may be inaccurate and/or irrational.

Breaking away from the herd is difficult; buying and selling a home may not seem to be a rational process – even when confronted with facts. People don’t always base decision of logical choices, but rather base decisions on psycho-emotional needs and/or fears (such as status, acceptance, and avoidance of failure). However, seeking balanced information and becoming aware of your motivations may improve your decision making.

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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.

TRID implementation remakes the home buying process

real estateEarlier this year I informed you about the upcoming Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CPFB) TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule that was to begin in August. The implementation date was moved to October 3rd for a number of reasons, including feedback from the lender community indicating that they needed more time for compliance.

Fast forward to the present, and we are several weeks away from implementation. Overall, lenders are ready to comply with new disclosures and procedures. Realtor® Associations have also been busy getting members up to speed on expected changes and how to cope with potential issues that may arise. However, many are bracing themselves for the initial implementation to see how transactions will be affected.

Some have offered a different perspective on how the initial implementation may happen. For instance, the CFPB requires lenders to provide new disclosures three days prior to closing; however, some lenders may superimpose a longer waiting period (such as five or seven days) so as to ensure their compliance with the new rule. So any delay would tack on those extra days. Additionally, I have been told by loan officers that the 30 to 45 day mortgage closing process will go by the wayside, and that home sale contracts should allow for at least 60 days to go to closing; as well as allowing for flexibility if glitches arise to ensure compliance with the new rule.

The settlement process will be different. Closing documents will no longer emanate from the title company, but instead will be prepared by the lender and sent to the buyer and seller. Closing will occur at least three days later. Lenders are vetting title companies to ensure compliance with the new rule. As a result, an unintended consequence may be that home buyers will not be able to choose their title attorney like they are used to (as provided by RESPA and state law); and will have to choose from a list of lender “approved” title companies. Hopefully the lenders are not steering buyers to title companies where affiliated business arrangements exist, as that is an entirely another issue that the CFPB is pursuing.

If you’ve bought or sold a home in the past, the current contracts may seem somewhat familiar. However, as of October 3rd, new contracts and addenda will be in use to address the new rule; making it a new experience for everyone. If you’re planning a sale or purchase after October 3rd, make sure your agent is familiar with the new contracts and addenda so as to ensure they are managing timelines properly and understand how contingencies are affected.

The lingo will change too. If you’re borrowing money from a lender, you will no longer be a borrower; but instead you’ll be called a “consumer;” and your lender will be referred to as the “creditor.” Your good faith estimate will be a “loan estimate.” The time tested HUD1 with which we are familiar seeing at closing, will no longer be in use; and in its place will be the “closing disclosure” sent to the buyer and seller.   You will no longer look forward to your settlement day, but instead you will look forward to the “consummation.”

If you are planning to be in the market, you can familiarize yourself with expected changes to the buying/selling process by visiting CFPB’s “Know Before You Owe” (consumerfinance.gov/knowbeforeyouowe).

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New settlement rules may facilitate much needed communication

homesSigned into law July 21st, 2010, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (aka Dodd – Frank) was intended 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 Act created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which enforces regulations to protect consumers and implements rules such as the Qualified Residential Mortgage (also mandated by Dodd – Frank).

Five years after enactment, Dodd – Frank seems to be the Act the keeps on giving with the upcoming implantation of Sec 1098; which states that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)shall publish a single, integrated disclosure for mortgage loan transactions” in a “readily understandable language” so as to help borrowers understand the financial aspects of their loan clearly and to be nontechnical.

The new disclosure and settlement statement is intended to present important information conspicuously to help consumers decide if the mortgage is affordable and give warning about undesirable loan features. The new forms seek to standardize fee and cost disclosures so as to make shopping for a mortgage easier. One of the more important aspects of the new regulation is that the new Closing Disclosure is to be given to the borrower at least three days prior to settlement. During the three days prior to closing, changes to the Closing Disclosure that increase charges are prohibited (unless allowed by exception).

Firm timelines for closing and mortgage associated matters, have always been a crucial aspect of the home purchase contract. Not adhering to the dates specified in the contract usually has consequences. However, changes to Realtor® contracts are being considered to reflect the three day waiting period. What was once a firm timeline may no longer have the “time is of the essence” feel, as future contract revisions may not hold the buyer in breach of contract if the home does not close by contract settlement date. Carryover issues may also include implications to meeting loan commitment and appraisal contingency timelines.

If you’re buying a home, note that there are a number of situations that could cause your closing date to be rescheduled because of a “reset” to the three day waiting period, including a loan product changes, 1/8% increase in APR, and/or there is an added pre-payment penalty.   Additionally, other lender actions may also require you to reschedule closing; such as a lender required repair with reinspection.

Many in the industry are also concerned about routine buyer and agent pre-settlement walkthroughs. Rather than prior to closing, they will have to be scheduled to allow for negotiation on potential issues without resetting the three day waiting period (and cross your fingers that nothing happens to the home the three days prior to closing).

However, CFPB Director Richard Cordray was quoted emphasizing “The timing of the closing date is not going to change based on the final walk-through…” in a National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) May 12th press release reporting on speakers at a regulatory issues forum.

The complexity and implications of the new regulations will undoubtedly cause some confusion in the first days of implementation. However, the new rules inadvertently address one of the weak links to the real estate transaction – communication. Many are beginning to recognize the necessity for everyone involved in the transaction to be proactive and communicate with each other to ensure compliance.

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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.

Trust and verify – home buyer due diligence

home for saleIf you’re a home buyer who’s ready to jump into the housing market this spring, you’ve probably begun searching to see what’s on the market. You may have already met a real estate agent or two; and if you’ve haven’t yet talked with a mortgage lender for a prequalification, it’s probably high on your priority list.

Before you know it, you’ve selected an agent, mortgage lender, and title attorney to assist you; and you find yourself increasingly perceptive and selective about the homes you view. Guess what? You’re in the process of buying a home! But before you put the buying process on cruise control, how much trust should you put into the professionals helping you?

It’s not to say that real estate agents, loan officers, home inspectors, and anyone else assisting your home purchase are not qualified – but no one is perfect. Buying a home is probably one of the biggest purchases you’ll make during your life. The idiom “trust but verify” should be your mantra throughout the home buying process to ensure due diligence.

Have you verified the credentials of those you’ve hired? Believe it or not, there are some who are doing business without the authorization of the corresponding licensing agency. And yet, some reasons given for not having a license may sound innocuous, such as forgetting about a license renewal deadline; other reasons may not seem as innocent (for example, licensed professionals from neighboring jurisdictions, DC or VA, attempt to do business locally where they are not licensed).

Professional licensure is a regulatory safeguard that provides consumers a pool of professionals that meet or exceed a minimum professional competency. Agencies such as the Maryland Real Estate Commission; Maryland Home Improvement Commission; Maryland Commission of Real Estate Appraisers, Appraisal Management Companies, and Home Inspectors; Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation; and the Maryland Insurance Administration offers an internet portal to verify a licensee’s status, check for disciplinary actions, and also explains how to file a complaint.

Information is believed to be accurate, but should not be relied upon without verification. Accuracy of square footage, lot size, schools and other information is not guaranteed…” is a disclaimer used by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc (MRIS) prompting you to verify MLS listing information. Although MRIS strives for accuracy in MLS listings, providing guidelines and standards for MLS data; exactness and truthfulness can vary because data input is performed by many agents and/or their staff. You can verify schools by checking the Montgomery County Public Schools “School Assignment Tool” (gis.mcpsmd.org/SchoolAssignmentTool2/Index.xhtml); zoning, development and other information can be verified through the Montgomery County Planning Department (montgomeryplanning.org).

Was the home seller into the DYI (do-it-yourself) trend? Is it possible the seller hired unlicensed contractors to repair or renovate the home prior to listing? Make sure any improvements and recent repairs have had the proper permitting! The permitting process certifies that repairs/renovations comply with building and zoning codes, which are in place to ensure that houses are safe, structurally sound, and meet health standards. Most permits can be checked online via Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services (permittingservices.montgomerycountymd.gov) “eServices” data search portal.

Most home buyers are familiar with basics of the home buying process. However, “trust and verify” can help identify and reduce hidden and obscure risks; conducting due diligence can make your home buying experience increasingly trouble free and more enjoyable.

© Dan Krell
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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.

Preparations before you buy a home

House - Chevy Chase MDSo, you’ve been checking out homes online and have been bitten by the “bug.” You’ve patiently waited out the market and feel it’s time to jump in but not sure where to start. Whether you’re a seasoned or first time home buyer; don’t make the common mistake of overlooking the essential preliminary activities of the home buying process.

Experts agree that checking your credit report prior to starting the home buying process is essential. Your credit report is the basis for the credit score that is often used by mortgage lenders to decide if you qualify for a loan, and it may also be used as a means to decide your interest rate. If your credit report is inaccurate, it can cost you time and money.

Believe it or not, mistakes on credit reports are more common than you might think. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), you’re entitled to a free annual credit report, which can be obtained for free from the “official” credit report website (annualcreditreport.com). The free report does not include a credit score, however, you can get it from the credit repositories for a fee; the CFPB cautions that the scores you receive may not be the same scores that lenders use for decisions on extending credit.

I often talk about doing due diligence, and many home buyers are attentive and thorough in negotiation, and home inspections; but many are not as careful when choosing their real estate agent and lender. Although buyers tend to work with the first or second agent they meet; there is a consensus that you should interview several real estate agents so as to know what to expect and to ensure you receive the service and attention you require. The same goes for any service provider you may use in the process, including the mortgage lender. And even though it has become more common for buyers to talk with several loan officers about mortgage programs and interest rates; however, it is recommended that you ask about lender fees as well.

Don’t be shy in choosing in choosing other service providers either – it’s going to be your home after all. Choosing a home inspector, pest inspector, and title company can take a little time, and it may seem easier to go with whomever your agent recommends; but sometimes price or proficiency is sacrificed for convenience. For example, a few moments of time to interview home inspectors can be the difference between having an adequate home inspection or a very thorough one.

Before you spend time visiting homes, it is highly recommended that you get qualified for a mortgage by a lender. An approval indicating that your income and asset documents and credit report were reviewed by the loan officer gives added credence to any purchase offer.

Don’t forget to make a housing budget. In addition to your mortgage payment, insurance, and property taxes, the budget should include utilities, maintenance and other expected expenses. The budget should also project increases in these payments as well. Rather than keeping to the maximum loan qualification, a realistic budget can reveal your comfort level on the price you’re willing to pay for a home.

Besides your real estate agent, more information about credit reports, mortgages and the home buying process is available from the CFPB (consumerfinance.gov) and HUD (hud.gov). With preparation, your home buying journey will be more enjoyable!

by Dan Krell ©
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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 April 21, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.