This is Chaos – anything can happen

by Dan Krell
DanKrell.com
© 2012
Google+

housing developmentThere has been a lot that has been written about chaos theory, and some have even tried to apply it to real estate. More specifically, many have discussed the application of chaos theory to real estate investing. And even more recently there have been attempts to applying chaos theory in figuring out where housing is headed; or to be succinct – when will housing once again begin to realize consistent appreciation?

I’m not one to disappoint, but I can’t predict the future. However, my attempt to explain chaos theory may reveal how its application to the housing market is difficult at best (at least in today’s environment), yet while simultaneously is an exceptional exercise in understanding the underlying dynamics.

Chaos theory is somewhat of a misnomer; a more apt name might have been “pattern to equilibrium theory” as it’s not so much about chaos as it is about predicting natural patterns that seek equilibrium; or put another way – predicting results by looking at dynamic patterns. Equilibrium could be what we typically think it is – a pattern of a self sustaining system; or it could also mean a pattern of inertia to the system’s inevitable demise.

Simplified, chaos theory investigates the relationships and patterns of a system’s trend toward stability. The theory delves into the natural patterns of subsystems so as to predict how patterns develop and unfold to manifest themselves.

housing developmentAlthough mathematicians have been investigating the precursors for chaos theory for many years, one of its first practical applications was in trying to predict the natural patterns of the weather. So it makes sense that you might want to apply the theory to the housing market so you could figure out the best time to buy and sell. The problem in the theory’s application to the housing market is that unlike the weather, housing is not an “organic” system; housing does not follow the natural unfettered patterns of market forces. Rather, decades of intervention and policy have influenced the expressed patterns of the housing market.

But don’t get discouraged, an aspect of chaos theory termed “the butterfly effect” explains that any action, no matter how small and insignificant, can influence a larger system. So, although the housing market is not an organic system, you could theoretically investigate its related influences to work out a market trajectory. So, rather than solely considering supply and demand, you might take into account more wide ranging and complex influences, such as Greek economic policies, German parliamentary elections, EU monetary policy, etc.

By looking at observable influences on the housing market, housing contrarians have been muttering their mantra of “the sky is falling” for years. And when the housing bubble burst, they of course claimed they had it right all along, and many are still waiting for the worst. Was it a coincidence? Of course, in the early 2000’s there were influences on housing and the economy that were inconceivable (such as mortgage CDO schemes).

Chaos theory is as complex as the systems involved. We can also apply it to come up with alternate trajectories and think about what could have been. If for not some small event, someone’s seemingly insignificant decision in the past, there might not have been a housing bubble burst or great recession. But as they say hindsight is 20/20 – but that’s an entirely different theory.

More news and articles on “the Blog”
Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector
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 December 17, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

Housing approaches the fiscal cliff

by Dan Krell
DanKrell.com
© 2012

Fiscal cliffMoving forward after the election, there are a number of events and possible legislation that could impact the real estate industry. The most imminent is the “fiscal cliff.”

The “fiscal cliff” is the term that describes the expected economic outcome of the automatic budget cuts (sequestration). Sequestration was part of a budget deal that was passed as the bipartisan Budget Control Act of 2011. Even though it is described as an economy falling off a cliff, some say it is more apt to an economy hitting a brick wall; because the sequestration will make it very difficult for the economy to expand. Others are not as pessimistic about the fiscal cliff; some describe the “cliff” as a gentle slope that may present some impediments to the economy that are not insurmountable.

Regardless of the description, there is a consensus that there will be some economic obstacles. There is an economic truth that the housing market benefits from a thriving economy, as well as suffering when the economy slows.

The Congressional Budget Office has provided warnings that a “fiscal cliff” could cause a recession in 2013 and possibly increase unemployment significantly. As we already know, a recession combined with increases in unemployment will not be good for the housing market. In a Florida Realtors® 2010 study conducted to determine causes of foreclosure in Florida, determined that there is a correlation between unemployment and foreclosure – citing a combination of increased cost of living, unemployment or decreased pay, and other factors.

To address budget deficits and avoid a fiscal cliff, various committees have convened and provided recommendations proposal for improve the budgetary process that included a number of recommendations to lower the budget deficit. One common thread in addressing budget deficits is to either eliminate or further restrict the mortgage interest deduction.

The origination of the mortgage interest deduction is not as extraordinary as you’d expect; however the fact that it has remained through tax reforms during the Reagan administration has been described as rather “remarkable.”

Fiscal cliffThe mortgage interest deduction is often described as a subsidy for the housing industry to encourage participation in market (similar to the first time homebuyer tax credits offered several years ago). Much like social security, it is a political hot potato that elected officials are hesitant to address. Some have argued for many years that the mortgage interest deduction should be eliminated since because they assert the subsidy artificially inflates home prices.

However, a National Association of Realtors® (NAR) December 1, 2010 press release, stated “The tax deductibility of interest paid on mortgages is a powerful incentive for home ownership and has been one of the simplest provisions in the federal tax code for more than 80 years…” The release cited a survey that indicated that the deduction was extremely important or very important to three-fourths of the 3,000 homeowners and renters surveyed (Realtor.org).

Several years ago, the Congressional Budget Office recommended the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction. Additionally, the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (more commonly known as the Simpson Bowles Commission) provided recommendations to reducing the mortgage interest deduction benefit from the current $1,000,000 limit to a cap of $500,000.

A resolution to the fiscal cliff may be reached before year’s end; the housing recovery depends on it.

More news and articles on “the Blog”
Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector
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 November 12, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.
Google+

The Presidential housing debate

by Dan Krell © 2012
DanKrell.com

housing debateIf you watched the presidential debates last week, you may or may not have noticed that neither Presidential candidate specifically spoke about the housing market. And since the debate, some have cried foul that one of the largest sectors in the U.S. economy was given short shrift in a debate about the economy. But then again, why should you be surprised – housing has basically taken a back seat to other issues throughout the primaries and now again in the heat of the presidential race.

The lack of discussion about the housing market is probably not because of disinterest, but rather both candidates are focused on making the fundamentals of the economy thrive. There is an economic truth that the housing market benefits from a thriving economy, as well as being impeded when there is economic malaise.

But if you paid attention, you may have picked up on issues that were touched upon that affect the housing market, such as employment and Dodd-Frank.

Obviously there is a relationship between employment and home ownership. A 2010 study by Neil & Neil indicated that loss of employment is one of the unexpected life events that caused foreclosure.

In response to the recent jobs report, Matthew O’Brien wrote in his October 5th The Atlantic article (There Is No Jobs-Report Conspiracy: The Jobs Recovery Is Still Meh): “If we take the same long view over the past few years, it’s clear that not much has changed. Growth is painfully slow, just like before. In 2011 we created 153,000 jobs per month, and so far in 2012 we have created … 146,000 jobs per month. It’s barely been enough to keep up with population growth.”

It should also be obvious that elevated unemployment and economic uncertainty has eroded consumer sentiment towards home ownership. This was suggested in Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s February speech to the National Association of Homebuilders (federal reserve.gov), when he said: “High unemployment and uncertain job prospects may have reduced the willingness of some households to commit to homeownership.”

Additionally, many in the industry have complained that mortgage lending has been restricted due to increased regulation after the financial crisis. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (also known as “Dodd-Frank”) is one of the wide sweeping pieces of legislation that was enacted after the financial crisis to regulate and oversee the financial sector of the economy, as well as offer consumer protections.

As we have lived with Dodd-Frank for over two years, critics add to their critique about the Act’s limitations, over reaching, and failures. Some critics point out a failure of one of the main tenets, which is that no institution should be “too big to fail;” under Dodd-Frank critics claim that some of the country’s large financial institutions have become larger; while smaller regional and local financial institutions (which invest in local communities) are increasingly struggling.

Additionally, critics claim that mortgage lending has been stifled by rules devised to ensure those who securitize mortgages have skin in the game. Whether lenders comply with credit retention risk rules or they comply with Qualified Residential Mortgage rules (which requires strict credit underwriting and a 20% down payment), mortgage underwriting has become restrictive.

Make no mistake; the housing market is smack in the middle of the Presidential debate. The issues debated depict different visions for the economy, and of course, a housing recovery.

More news and articles on “the Blog”
Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector
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 October 8, 2012. 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.

More news and articles on “the Blog”
Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector
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.

Grading the housing market on a curve – how housing stats can be misleading

Dan Krell, Realtor®
DanKrell.com
© 2012

Home Sale StatisticsDid your teacher ever grade on a curve, where test scores are “weighted” based on the lowest and/or highest score in the class? The typical explanation for such statistical manipulation of raw test scores is to create a distribution where classmates are compared to each other, rather than how well they actually score on the usual grading scale.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) August 22nd news release titled “Existing-Home Sales Improve in July, Prices Continue to Rise” at first glance might seem good news, but after a deeper look the news may not be as promising. The release states that the July’s total existing home sales increased 2.3% in July from June, based on July’s seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million compared to June’s 4.37 million (realtor.org).

Although the adjusted data may have indicated a significant increase in existing home sales, the raw data may suggest something different. If you follow the links on the NAR’s press release through the website, you’ll find yourself at the page titled, “Existing Home Sales” (realtor.org/topics/existing-home-sales/data): where you’ll find a links to home sale data – which includes the “seasonally adjusted annual rate” and “not seasonally adjusted” stats.

Although July’s “seasonally adjusted annual rate” of existing home sales indicated a 2.3% increase over June’s “seasonally adjusted annual rate;” the “not seasonally adjusted” rate (e.g., the raw sales data) indicated that there was a 7.3% DECREASE in existing home sales in July compared to June, and a year to date increase of existing home sales of only 2.647%.

So, what’s the difference between “seasonally adjusted” and “not seasonally adjusted” data? Well, for that explanation, we need to follow the links to the methodology (realtor.org/topics/existing-home-sales/methodology). “Not seasonally adjusted” data is described as raw data that has been basically scrubbed for errors. However, the site states that “It is necessary to “annualize” and seasonally-adjust the existing home sales data so that month-to-month and quarter-to-quarter comparisons can be observed without seasonal variances distorting the overall picture;” thus the “seasonally adjusted annual rate” may be forward looking figure estimating a rate by which homes are selling.

And of course, many media outlets took the headline and ran with it without explaining the meaning of the “seasonally adjusted annual rate.” July’s figure gives the impression that the housing market has made significant improvement during a month where the actual number of existing homes sales decreased from the previous month. But don’t blame the NAR either: the press release contains links to pages of explanation and data for anyone to take the time to sort through and figure out.

Home Sale StatisticsStatistical analysis can be a good thing, if the statistic is meaningful and is understood. It seems as if everyone already forgot about the criticism that the NAR received last year because they announced a downward revision of existing home sales going back to 2007. If you remember, the main reason given for the revision was for “data drift” that occurred during the housing downturn; and much like other estimate revisions (such as GDP and employment figures) “re-benchmarking” is a common aspect of estimating economic data.

Regardless of what the rate of annual home sales is estimated to be, we’ll know the actual number of existing home sales at the end of the year. And at that time, we can determine what kind of year 2012 has been for housing.

Protected by Copyscape Web Plagiarism Detector

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 27 , 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.