Housing market 2017

housing market 2017
Housing Market 2017(infographic from RE/MAX National Housing Report remax.com)

There’s no doubt that 2016 was an outstanding year for real estate and the housing market.  In fact, National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun was reported to say in a January NAR press release (www.nar.realtor) that the 2016 housing market was the best since the Great Recession.  There were 5.45 million total existing home sales in 2016, which exceeded 5.25 million during 2015.  What is necessary for a great housing market 2017, and how will it finish the year?

January’s sales were strong and Dr Yun stated in the press release that there is “resilience” in a “rising interest rate environment:”

“Much of the country saw robust sales activity last month as strong hiring and improved consumer confidence at the end of last year appear to have sparked considerable interest in buying a home…

Market challenges remain, but the housing market is off to a prosperous start as home buyers staved off inventory levels that are far from adequate and deteriorating affordability conditions.”

Home prices also surged during 2016.  A February 28th S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index press release (spindices.com) indicated a 30-month index high, increasing 5.8 percent during December.  The Seattle, Portland and Denver regions were at the top during this period, posting gains of 10.8 percent, 10.0 percent and 8.9 percent respectively (the Washington DC region gained a respectable 4.2 percent).  David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices stated:

“Home prices continue to advance, with the national average rising faster than at any time in the last two-and-a-half years…One factor behind rising home prices is low inventory. While sales of existing single family homes passed five million units at annual rates in January, the highest since 2007, the inventory of homes for sales remains quite low with a 3.6 month supply. New home sales at 555,000 in 2016 are up from recent years but remain below the average pace of 700,000 per year since 1990. Another factor supporting rising home prices is mortgage rates. A 30-year fixed rate mortgage today is 4.2% compared to the 6.4% average since 1990. Another indicator that home price levels are normal can be seen in the charts of Seattle and Portland OR. In the boom-bust of 2005-2009, prices of low, medium, and high-tier homes moved together, while in other periods, including now, the tiers experienced different patterns.”

Of course, the record year was nowhere near the peak market pace of 6.48 million existing home sales during 2006.  However, the economics of the market during that time was different; being influenced by outside forces such as uber-easy money policies and overzealous speculation in the housing market.

The peak market sales records may be a benchmark of a sort.  But in retrospect, those numbers are a reflection of a distorted market where speculators bought and sold homes in record numbers taking advantage of the easy money and a seemingly guaranteed big money payoff (which was a factor in the steep home appreciation spike at that time).  It was a crazy time for housing, when homes were flipped in a matter of days.  Many investors were even making money on homes they never owned by selling their interest in their purchase contracts.  The result was that home buyers found themselves either priced out of the market, or borrowing more than they could realistically afford because of the fierce buyer competition.

After posting impressive housing stats for 2016, the expectations for housing market 2017 are high.  And not surprisingly home sales started the year on the same pace, as the NAR reported January’s existing home sales (homes that settled during January) increased 3.3 percent.  However, the pending home sale index (homes under contract and described by NAR as a forward looking number) showed a different picture with 2.8 percent decrease during January.  Of course in the absence of bad weather, some economists explain that the decrease in pending home sales are due to low inventory and rising interest rates.

Housing Market 2017

Some are concerned about the decreased prospects of future home sales, suggesting that there won’t be a repeat performance of record home sales during 2017.  The recent pending home sale index release is reminiscent of the index reported for January 2014, where the NAR reported that the pending home sale index dropped 9 percent following post-recession record year of home sales during 2013.  At the end of 2014, it was revealed that existing home sales dropped 3 percent from the previous year.  Reasons given for the decrease were low inventory and tight lending.

Many, like myself, remain optimistic for housing market 2017 because interest rates remain historically low, even with recent rate hikes; and mortgage lending has been the easiest since the financial crisis.  The sentiment for housing market 2017 is also shared by consumers; who conveyed increased optimism about the housing market in Fannie Mae’s 2017 Home Purchase Sentiment Index (HPSI).  The February 17th News release (fanniemae.com) indicated that the January’s HPSI increased 2 percent, which is 1.2 percent higher than the same time last year. Doug Duncan, senior vice president and chief economist at Fannie Mae, stated:

“Three months after the presidential election, measures of consumer optimism regarding personal financial prospects and the economy are at or near the highest levels we’ve seen in the nearly seven-year history of the National Housing Survey…However, any significant acceleration in housing activity will depend on whether consumers’ favorable expectations are realized in the form of income gains sufficient to offset constrained housing affordability. If consumers’ anticipation of further increases in home prices and mortgage rates materialize over the next 12 months, then we may see housing affordability tighten even more.”

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Make housing great again

make housing great again
“Dodd-Frank Has Imposed Regulatory Costs of $310 Per Household” (infographic from americanactionforum.org)

When President Trump was campaigning, one of his talking points was to “dismantle” Dodd-Frank.  And after a couple of weeks in office, it seems that it’s next on his “to do” list.  While many are already touting the move as controversial and partisan, the reality is that it’s a bipartisan issue.  Even Barney Frank was seen on CNBC this past Sunday admitting that his namesake legislation needs reform (video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000590611).  Reforming Dodd-Frank will make housing great again.

Dodd-Frank is the nickname for Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.  The purpose, as described in its title, was to “To promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail’, to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.

Dodd-Frank changed the housing industry dramatically.  Besides altering the process of financing and buying homes, critics have claimed that the legislation has also restricted lending.

Dodd-Frank created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; which creates and enforces rules and regulations for consumer financial markets.  Besides adding new home buyer and seller disclosures as well as timelines, the “Know Before You Owe” rule changed the home buying process by creating a new level of bureaucracy embedded within the mortgage lending process.

Many critics of the CFPB also claim that it has too much power with little oversight, and point to last year’s Appellate opinion on PHH Corp v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as confirmation for necessary reforms., where Judge Kavanaugh wrote:

“…the Director of the CFPB possesses enormous power over American business, American consumers, and the overall U.S. economy. The Director unilaterally enforces 19 federal consumer protection statutes, covering everything from home finance to student loans to credit cards to banking practices. The Director alone decides what rules to issue; how to enforce, when to enforce, and against whom to enforce the law; and what sanctions and penalties to impose on violators of the law…That combination of power that is massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case.”

One of the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank was the restricted lending atmosphere in the mortgage industry.  Besides the overwhelming increase in rules and regulations as a result of Dodd-Frank, there has also been insufficient private portfolio and securitization of mortgages; which further limits access of funding to many home buyers.

Prior to the financial crisis, private mortgage securitization was prevalent; which provided a multitude of lending products, including “Alt-A” and subprime.  The wide access to private mortgage funding contributed to the homeownership rate to peak close to 70 percent (The most recent homeownership rate reported by the US Census was 63.7 percent, a forty year low).  Since the crisis, a majority (estimates were as high as 95 percent) of mortgages are insured or purchased by the government.

Before the financial crisis, Alt-A and subprime mortgages were widely available to give home buyers options to finance their homes, especially when they didn’t fit the underwriting guidelines for a conventional loan.  Many of these home buyers were self-employed or small business owners, whose financial picture was outside of the box of the requirements for a conventional mortgage.

Of course, FHA is an alternative to conventional mortgages.  FHA has lenient underwriting guidelines, like subprime mortgages; but is insured by the government.  However, the upfront and annual mortgage insurance premiums can be hefty.  Alt-A and subprime can seem more attractive when purchasing a home beyond the FHA loan limits, and/or when documentation becomes onerous.

Back in 2001, Federal Reserve Board Economist Liz Laderman wrote about the growth of subprime through the 1990’s (Subprime Mortgage Lending and the Capital Markets; FRBSF Economic Letter; December 28, 2001).

“An increase in access to the capital markets through loan securitization also contributed to growth in subprime lending in the 1990s. Securitization is the repackaging, pooling, and reselling of loans to investors as securities. It increases liquidity and funding to an industry both by reducing risk—through pooling—and by more efficiently allocating risk to the investors most willing to bear it. Investors had already become comfortable with securitized prime mortgage loans, and subprime mortgage loans were among various other types of credit, such as multifamily residential mortgage loans, automobile loans, and manufactured home loans, that began to be securitized in the 1990s. Through securitization, the subprime mortgage market strengthened its links with the broader capital markets, thereby increasing the flow of funds into the market and encouraging competition.”

Of course, Dr. Laderman also points out that the increased competition in the subprime market was a concern due to reported abusive lending practices.  However, she concluded:

“…subprime mortgage lending grew rapidly in the 1990s to become an important segment of both the home purchase and home equity mortgage markets. Evidence pertaining to securitization and pricing of subprime mortgages also suggests that the subprime market has become well linked with the broader capital markets, an important first step in the development of a fully competitive environment.”

A 2006 article by Souphala Chomsisengphet and Anthony Pennington-Cross (The Evolution of the Subprime Mortgage Market; Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review; Vol. 88, No. 1) described the history of subprime mortgages.  The authors stated:

“..Because of its complicated nature, subprime
lending is simultaneously viewed as having great
promise and great peril…”

Through it’s history, subprime lending has had crises where this lending sector took pauses to reflect on missteps.  Chomsisengphet and Pennington-Cross described a “retrenchment” of subprime lending in the late 1990’s; but during that time, the facts point to huge losses in the subprime sector due to seemingly rampant illegal flipping and fraud.

Private mortgage funding isn’t entirely Alt-A or subprime mortgages, although there’s a place for responsible Alt-A and subprime lending.  Prior to the growth in securitizing these types of mortgages, banks and financial institutions privately held (portfolio) these loans which increased their institutional risk and provided incentive for originating performing loans.

How can Dodd-Frank be reformed?  One only has to look back to the S&L crisis of the 1980’s and listen to William K. Black.  Black was the Director of Litigation for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board in the aftermath of the S&L crisis.  His conclusions included a list of “Lessons not Learned.”  The focus of his list was fraud and ethics.  Black discussed curbing “control fraud” (fraud perpetrated by CEOs as well as those who are in power) and other types of fraud.  He wrote The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry  first published in 2005, but was recently updated.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Black reemerged after the financial crisis to provide testimony to Congress, including testimony in 2010 to the Committee on Financial Services United States House of Representatives regarding “Public Policy Issues Raised by the Report of the Lehman Bankruptcy Examiner.”  In a 2010 interview with Bill Moyers (pbs.org/moyers/journal/04232010/transcript1.html), Black discussed CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations), fraud, and their role in the recent crisis.  And although many, including the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, cited failures in the financial system as cause for the financial crisis; they all fall short in seeing William K. Black’s “control fraud” in action – Fraud was the vehicle that drove the unrelenting greed in the CDO and mortgage markets.

With regard to housing, there is much potential for reform within Dodd-Frank.  However, maybe begin with SEC. 941 “Regulation Of Credit Risk Retention” of Dodd-Frank.  SEC.941 requires a securitizer of residential mortgages to have skin in the game by retaining some of the risk of any asset or mortgage backed security that is sold, transferred, or conveyed.  Additionally, the securitizer is prohibited from hedging or transferring their credit risk.  Exceptions to this section include federal programs insuring or guaranteeing mortgages; which includes FHA and VA mortgages, as well as mortgages from institutions supervised by the Farm Credit Administration (including the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation).  However, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not exempt.

The President can make housing great again by incentivising private investment in the mortgage industry either through increasing portfolio and/or private securitization in the mortgage markets – along with reducing fraud (and control fraud) while ensuring responsible lending practices.  Private investment in mortgage funding will open the doors for many home buyers and increase homeownership rates.

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Home prices surprise

home prices
National home prices exceed peak prices. Home equity increases! (infographic from keepingcurrentmatters.com)

Back in January, I told you that the housing market of 2016 would be about home prices.

2016 housing market hinges on home prices.

A home selling season has not been anticipated so much by home sellers since 2013. It’s not that 2015 was a bad year for housing, because it wasn’t. It’s that many home owners who have been wanting to sell since 2010 (some because of being underwater) may be in position to make the long awaited move.

And indeed, national home sale prices have appreciated considerably through the year.  But who would have thought that home prices would once again approach the level reached during the peak market of 2006?

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index (spindices.com) reported in July that the index was within 3 percent of peak, with another month of 5 percent appreciation.  And surprise!  This week’s release of home price data indicated that the September’s S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index exceeded the index that was recorded during the peak market that occurred July 2006!  September’s year-over-year gains were due to a 5.5 percent gain to the National Index, while the 20-City composite remained unchanged at a 5.1 percent.

Of course, regional and local differences explain why actual home prices in many areas don’t seem as high as they were during the peak. Consider that Seattle, Portland, and Denver reported the highest annual home price gains with 11 percent, 10.9 percent, and 8.7 percent respectively.  The Washington DC region realized a 2.7 percent increase; which is well below the top gainers, as well as below the national average.  Although the housing markets in Miami, Tampa, Phoenix and Las Vegas experienced the most home price gains during the peak; current home prices in those cities “remain well below their all-time highs.”

Analysis provided in the November 29th press release states:

“The new peak set by the S&P Case-Shiller CoreLogic National Index will be seen as marking a shift from the housing recovery to the hoped-for start of a new advance” says David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “While seven of the 20 cities previously reached new post-recession peaks, those that experienced the biggest booms — Miami, Tampa, Phoenix and Las Vegas — remain well below their all-time highs. Other housing indicators are also giving positive signals: sales of existing and new homes are rising and housing starts at an annual rate of 1.3 million units are at a post-recession peak.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (fhfa.gov) also reported continued home price gains last week.  The FHFA Home Price Index (HPI) increased 6.1 percent year-over-year. The November 23rd press release reported that home prices increased in 49 states during the third quarter of 2016 compared to the same period last year.  However, “Delaware and the District of Columbia were the only areas not to see price increases.”

Indications of a strengthening housing market have been reported for many months.  Last year, the National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) reported that the national median home sale price recorded for June 2015 ($236,400) surpassed the peak national median home sale price established during July 2006 ($230,400).

And if that weren’t enough, existing home sales have also been expanding.  The NAR reported last week that existing home sales increased during October.  The two-month consecutive increase doesn’t only outpace June’s peak, but is now the “highest annualized pace in nearly a decade.”

Existing-home sales ascended in October for the second straight month and eclipsed June’s cyclical sales peak to become the highest annualized pace in nearly a decade, according to the National Association of Realtors®. All major regions saw monthly and annual sales increases in October.

Termed an “autumn revival,” Lawrence Yun NAR chief economist, stated that “October’s strong sales gain was widespread throughout the country and can be attributed to the release of the unrealized pent-up demand that held back many would-be buyers over the summer because of tight supply…Buyers are having more success lately despite low inventory and prices that continue to swiftly rise above incomes.”

As much as we would like home prices to significantly appreciate indefinitely, market forces and economic factors will intervene.  Increasing interest rates is not only consistent with a growing economy, it will likely moderate home prices.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen stated in her November 17th Congressional testimony  regarding monetary policy:

At our meeting earlier this month, the Committee judged that the case for an increase in the target range had continued to strengthen and that such an increase could well become appropriate relatively soon if incoming data provide some further evidence of continued progress toward the Committee’s objectives. This judgment recognized that progress in the labor market has continued and that economic activity has picked up from the modest pace seen in the first half of this year. And inflation, while still below the Committee’s 2 percent objective, has increased somewhat since earlier this year. Furthermore, the Committee judged that near-term risks to the outlook were roughly balanced.

Yellen stated that “an increase could well become appropriate relatively soon.”  Yellen referred to economic strengths as rationale, however analysis of new data should comport with the Open Market Committee’s objectives.  Yellen stated that housing market strengths are favorable for an interest rate increase.  Although new home construction has been “subdued,” the fundamentals of the housing market are complimentary to such a move.

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It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now

Trump's housing market
Dodd-Frank regulation (from uschamber.com)

Change is not always easy.  Sometimes we choose to change and other times we are forced to change.  The Great Recession forced massive change to many aspects of our lives – mostly financial.  Many found themselves out of work because of the recession, and many home owners lost their homes to foreclosure; while the rest of us searched for ways to cope.  It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now.

As a result, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was quickly pieced together and signed into law in 2010.  “Dodd-Frank”, contained over two-thousand pages of regulations and rules, many of which were to be created at a later time by many agencies and unelected bureaucrats.  Dodd-Frank also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which took over RESPA, lending and consumer finance markets enforcement responsibilities.  The CFPB created the “Qualified Residential Mortgage” and “Know Before You Owe” rules that significantly impacted the mortgage and housing industries.

The purpose of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB was well intentioned as Congress sought a solution to prohibit future crises.  In the uncertain financial atmosphere that ensued, consumers wanted accountability from Wall Street and mortgage lenders.  While some continue to generally blame Wall Street and the mortgage industry for the financial crisis, the reality is that the dynamics that created the financial crises were complex.  And one can surmise from the many hearings, books, dissertations, and working papers that the crux of the financial crisis was widespread fraud that took advantage of a hot real estate market and easy money.

Six years after Dodd-Frank, the rules and regulations keep coming.  Writing for the US Chamber of Commerce’s “Above the Fold,” J.D. Harrison pointed out that Dodd-Frank has created over 27,000 new federal regulations by thirty-two federal agencies impacting many industries (Dodd-Frank’s Regulatory Nightmare in One Rather Mesmerizing Illustration; uschamber.com).  Compared to the previous Wall Street reform in 2002, which had two agencies issuing regulations to only five industries.  Harrison stated that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act “basically sought more corporate transparency and accountability.”

Many have associated Dodd-Frank with the ongoing slow economic recovery, citing increased consumer costs and restricted lending – which effects the housing market, home buyers and sellers.

An example of increasing consumer costs is the CFPB’s TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure.  The Mortgage Bankers Association (mba.org) recently reported that compliance with TRID costs on average $210 per mortgage, some of which is recouped from the consumer.  The rule is also responsible for “slower application to closing times.”

A recent appellate case highlighted some of these Dodd-Frank outcomes.  The CFPB sought fines against a mortgage lender for their years of compliance with HUD’s interpretation of a rule; the fines were imposed retroactively for not complying with a new CFPB reinterpretation of the same rule. Additionally, the court focused on the CFPB’s unilateral ability to impose rules and fines without oversight.

It’s Mr. Trump’s housing market now.

Repeal and Replace is a talking point that is not exclusively for the Affordable Care Act.  Shortly after Donald Trump’s election as the forty-fifth President of the United States, many industry insiders and pundits are already anticipating the future of Dodd-Frank and the CFPB.  Mr. Trump’s plan for financial services is posted to the President-Elect’s site (greatagain.gov) stating: “The Dodd-Frank economy does not work for working people.  Bureaucratic red tape and Washington mandates are not the answer.  The Financial Services Policy Implementation team will be working to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act and replace it with new policies to encourage economic growth and job creation.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Home sale timing – sell for more

home sale timing
Timing the home sale (infographic from smartzip.com)

Everyone wants to know the future, especially when it comes to the home sale timing.  Home sellers and buyers want to predict home prices.  Home sellers want to know the best time to sell.  While Home buyers want to know if they’re getting a good price.  And apparently there may be a fairly reliable predictor to home prices, however it’s not what you think it is.

Several empirical studies have attempted to provide a methodology for predicting the housing market (home sale timing).  Of course there is the familiar of forecasting real estate through divorce and premarital agreements.  Back in 2013, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyer (AAML.org) issued a press release citing the increase of prenuptial agreements as sign of the improving economy.  The increase in prenuptial agreements meant that people felt there was value in their assets.  And this was meant to be a good sign in for housing market.

Of course there was also a spike in divorces that year, leading some to believe this to also be a good sign that people felt better about the economy because of their willingness to begin anew.  But as University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen pointed out in his November 2015 blog post (Divorce rate plunge continues; familyinequality.wordpress.com) the increased divorce activity of 2013 was a just a recession related “bump” and in actuality the divorce rate decreased in 2014.

Then there was predicting housing through internet search data, which sounds more like fortune-telling than research to be honest.  However, Beracha and Wintoki (Forecasting Residential Real Estate Price Changes from Online Search Activity; The Journal of Real Estate Research 35.3 (2013): 283-312.) concluded that, indeed, you can gauge regional housing trends through specific keyword search volume.  Given this method, I used Google Trends to look up the keyword “home for sale” for the Washington DC metro region – and it is bound to become a hot market in the next six months (maybe a Presidential election has something to do with that?).

But a better indicator of where home prices will go may be the availability of credit.  Most would argue that mortgage lending is a matter of housing demand.  However, a working paper by Manuel Adelino, Antoinette Schoar, and Felipe Severino (Credit Supply and House Prices: Evidence from Mortgage Market Segmentation; February 19, 2014) concluded that “easy credit supply leads to an increase in house prices.”  They contend that higher conforming loan limits and low interest rates benefit home sellers in the form of higher sale prices.

Adelino, Schoar, and Severino’s premise can be witnessed in hindsight as the pre-recession housing boom seemed to be fueled on easy credit.  As credit became increasingly available, home value appreciation took off.  Likewise, housing stabilized and home values appreciated post-recession as home lending requirements loosened.

Of course, many associate easy credit policies with recessions, and even the Great Depression.  However, it’s not necessarily the easy credit that precipitates the recession – but rather it’s the tightening of creditStephen Gandel (This is When You’ll Know it’s Time to Panic About a Recession; fortune.com; March 8,2016) said it succinctly, “Tightening credit doesn’t always lead to a recession. But every recession starts with that.

One may infer from Adelino, Schoar, and Severino’s research that a home seller can gauge their home sale price based on the lending environment.  Lower interest rates and loose credit points to a higher sale price.  However, tightening credit policies may point to flat or even lower home prices.

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