Negative equity stats likely erroneous

negative equity
What is a short sale (infographic from lender411.com)

Before the Great Recession, there was the foreclosure crisis of 2007. That was the year that the housing bubble popped and home negative equity soared. Many home owners negotiated with their lenders to keep their homes, while others lost their homes to foreclosure. The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 was one of the first measures to assist distressed homeowners during the financial crisis. The Act initially was to end in 2009 but has been extended annually. The Act was recently retroactively extended for 2017.

The purpose of the Act was to address tax liabilities that distressed homeowners faced when they tried to save their homes. Because debt forgiveness is typically considered taxable income, a mortgage balance reduction via mortgage modification or short sale would have resulted in a tax bill to a homeowner who was already experiencing a financial hardship.

Recent home equity gains in the housing market should help many home sellers who would have otherwise needed a short sale. Highlights from CoreLogic’s Q4 2017 Home Equity Report (corelogic.com) indicated that about 4.9 percent of mortgaged homes have negative equity (which is a huge improvement from the almost 31 percent reported in 2012 by Zillow’s Negative Equity Report). Additionally, CoreLogic reported that the national average of home equity gained by homeowners over the past year was in excess of $15,000. However, there is disparity in home equity growth by region.

Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic stated:

“Home-price growth has been the primary driver of home-equity wealth creation. The CoreLogic Home Price Index grew 6.2 percent during 2017, the largest calendar-year increase since 2013. Likewise, the average growth in home equity was more than $15,000 during 2017, the most in four years. Because wealth gains spur additional consumer purchases, the rise in home-equity wealth during 2017 should add more than $50 billion to U.S. consumption spending over the next two to three years.”

The National Association of Realtors testified on March 14th to the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee hearing on “Post Tax Reform Evaluation of Recently Expired Tax Provisions” to make the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act permanent. In his testimony, Realtor Barry Grooms discussed the plight of many homeowners who are surprised to find that they are upside-down on their mortgage despite national home price gains.

Grooms made an argument why the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act should be permanent.  The Act has been retroactively extended each year in recent years leaving many short sellers “sweating it out” until the end of the year.  Part of the decision-making process for a short sale is a potential tax liability. Many home sellers take the chance that the Act will be renewed retroactively. But others do not want to take the chance of incurring a large tax liability.

Negative equity statistics are likely to be erroneous. The number of homes with negative equity is probably under-represented due to deferred maintenance.

Yes, home prices have significantly increased, which has grown home equity. But the statistics for home equity assume that all homes are worth “retail value.” The retail value of a home is the full price a home can sell. In today’s market the home must be in better-than-average to excellent condition to sell for retail value.  We don’t know the real value of any home until it’s sold.

In his testimony, Grooms touched upon a number of issues why homeowners are selling for less than they owe. However, not addressed by Groom is the number one reason why homeowners are under-water and why many home sellers need to sell via short sale. Property condition. The property condition crisis was highlighted in a February 2013 article by the Harvard Joint Center of Housing Studies entitled “The Return of Substandard Housing.” The lack of updates and/or deferred maintenance in a home can significantly decrease its value.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2018

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Mortgage modification future

mortgage modification
Mortgage Relief (infographic from HARP.gov)

CoreLogic’s (corlogic.com) latest monthly foreclosure report indicated a continued downward trend.  In fact, July’s national foreclosure inventory rate of 0.91% was the 57th consecutive month (almost 5 years) with a lower number of foreclosures nationwide.  Even the current 2.9% national rate of home owners considered “seriously delinquent” is also lower from last July.  (Maryland’s foreclosure inventory and seriously delinquent rates are higher than the national average at 1.2% and 4.1% respectively.) All thanks to mortgage modification and foreclosure alternatives.

Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic, contributed the decline of foreclosure inventory to a combination of loan modification, foreclosures, and a strong housing market.  Additionally, he stated that “The U.S. Treasury’s making home affordable program has contributed to the decline through permanent modifications, forbearance and foreclosure alternatives which have assisted 2.5 million home owners with first mortgages at risk since 2009.”

In the immediate aftershock of the foreclosure and subsequent financial crises, which began almost nine years ago, the government stepped in to help out at risk home owners.  The rollout of HAFA, HARP, and HAMP was bumpy and it took time for the programs to work efficiently.  Of course, these programs were not intended to continue on forever, and in fact were supposed to end several years ago.  Fortunately, Congress, the Treasury and the FHFA have recognized the need for continued assistance and extended the programs.  Providing foreclosure alternatives and mortgage modification reduces vacant homes, bolsters communities, and helps maintain a healthy housing market.

Although these mortgage assistance programs were intended to be temporary, it’s clear that a permanent solution is necessary.  The notion that a foreclosure crisis won’t or can’t happen again is naïve.  Historically, housing downturns and recessions are cyclical.  And when an economic decline occurs, a home owner assistance program should be available to provide borrowers with alternatives to foreclosure.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA.gov) announced in an August 25th press release that HARP will be extended through September 2017.  But that will be the end of Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) as we know it, because a new program is slated to begin October 2017.  The new program is to be a streamlined version that will also allow those whose mortgages exceed Fannie and Freddie’s loan limits to refinance.

FHFA stated that specifics for the HARP replacement will be released as the rollout date approaches.  However, it is anticipated that the program will not require a minimum credit score; will not place limits on the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio; nor will it limit the mortgage to a maximum loan-to-value.  And unlike many refinance programs, an appraisal may not be required.  And improving from the HARP program, there won’t be cut off dates, and borrowers can use the program multiple times.

The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) unfortunately is slated to conclude at the end of the year without a viable replacement.  However, the Mortgage Bankers Association have stepped in to create a streamlined solution to fill the gap.  A September 23rd press release (MBA.org) announced its successor to HAMP: “One Mod: Principles for Post-HAMP Loan Modifications.”

J. David Motley, CMB Vice-Chairman of the Mortgage Bankers Association, stated, “With Treasury’s HAMP program soon coming to an end, we all recognized that investors, borrowers, and servicers need a replacement program that provides clarity and simplicity to homeowners experiencing difficulty maintaining their mortgage paymentsOne Mod could meet that challenge by providing affordable and sustainable payment structures that improve the likelihood of success for participating borrowers.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2016/09/30/mortgage-modification-future/

Copyright © 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.

Is housing market in trouble?

home sales stats
Home sales stats from realtor.org

Two seemingly mundane and unrelated news items were reported over the last couple of days without much attention, but could be a warning that housing activity is slowing.  First are reports of disappointing home sales during February, while the other is about mortgage principal write downs.

The National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) reported in a March 21st statement that February home sales plunged 7.1% from January’s sales; however, February sales were still 2.2% higher than the same time last year.  The disappointing sales were recorded in all four national regions; and were likely due to a combination of extremely low inventory and increasing home prices.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun stated in the release that although the northeast blizzard may have had some impact, vapid sales were more likely due to the lack of supply and affordability.  He stated, “…Finding the right property at an affordable price is burdening many potential buyers.”  Yun pointed out that although there are gains in job growth, NAR’s latest quarterly Home Survey indicated that fewer respondents believed the economy was improving, while a lower number of renters stated it’s a good time to buy a home.  Remaining optimistic, Yun qualified February’s data saying home buyer demand is still high, however, “…home prices and rents outpacing wages and anxiety about the health of the economy are holding back a segment of would-be buyers.”

NAR also reported that February’s median existing home price for all housing types was up 4.4% year-over-year; while exiting inventory is 1.1% lower compared to the same time last year, which leaves unsold inventory at a 4.4 month supply.

However, a housing slowdown may not be noticeable in my area.  Statistics reported by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors® (gcaar.com) indicated that settlements during February for Montgomery County single family homes are actually up 19.3% and homes under contract increased 12.4% compared to the same time last year.  However, February’s new inventory for Montgomery County single family homes decreased 3.4% year-over-year.

Although continued increases in home prices is good news for homeowners; it is easy to see that affordability is an impediment to home ownership for many would be home buyers.  Additionally, possibly keeping home sales inventory down are the number of homeowners who continue to feel that they cannot sell because they still owe more than the value of the home.  Consider that Realtytrac (realtytrac.com) reported that there were 6.4 million properties that were seriously underwater at the end of 2015; which represents about 11.5% of all homes with a mortgage.

In an effort to offer relief to underwater homeowners, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) approved a plan to reduce mortgage balances on a “large scale.”  Joe Light reported for the Wall Street Journal (Fannie, Freddie to Cut Mortgage Balances for Thousands of Homeowners; wsj.com; March 21, 2016) that as many as 50,000 underwater homeowners could see their mortgage principal reduced by Fannie and Freddie.

Although the number of assisted homeowners seems small in comparison to the number of underwater properties reported by Realtytrac, and is not expected to impact the housing market; it is a milestone nonetheless.  Mortgage principal reductions has been controversial, and has been bandied about by industry experts and regulators since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007.  Light reported that the previous FHFA director, Edward DeMarco, was reluctant to support such a program because of the cost to taxpayers.  However, current FHFA director, Melvin Watt, has taken a “measured approach” to the plan.

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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.

Pick a bailout plan (and stick to it!)

By Dan Krell © 2008.

Everyone is talking about government bailouts these days, so how about bailing out the real estate industry? Ok, now that I have your attention, let’s consider a plan to stabilize the economy. Many agree that housing is a key indicator to our economy; so in an effort to stimulate the sluggish real estate market, Realtors among others are looking for solutions.

In an effort to stabilize and invigorate the real estate market, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) unveiled a four point plan in October. The plan is a proposal to Congress that includes eliminating the repayment requirement of the home buyer tax credit (an incentive created as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008), making higher mortgage loan limits permanent (also created as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008), prompting the US Treasury to compel banks to increase consumer lending, “improve the short sale process and expedite REO (homes owned by banks) sales,” and preventing banks from conducting real estate brokerage (NAR.org).

Additionally, rumors of a possible U.S. Treasury buy down of mortgage interest rates were floating around last week due to media reports linking the possible short term incentive plan to a November meeting with representatives of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). In response to these reports, NAR president Charles McMillan issued a statement saying, “We strongly encourage the Treasury to move quickly with its plan to lower interest rates to encourage current buyers to act rather than continue to wait” (Realtor.org). Although the NAR would like to have the subsidized interest rate buy down for home buyers, it is unclear how such a plan would be applied if passed by Congress.

Unfortunately, persuading people to purchase homes may only be the lesser problem of the current state of the real estate market; the greater problem may be perceived value. Even with current tax incentives and relatively low interest rates, many home buyers feel the economy is uncertain and continue to wait for the real estate market to bottom out.

Another angle on the problem was approached by Sheila Bair, Chairman if the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, who proposed to help home owners in danger of losing their home through foreclosure. This Fall, there were media reports of her idea to possibly use funds from the initial $700 billion rescue package to stem the tide of foreclosures, which could help stabilize the real estate market.

However, the dilemma in the present market place is not localized to the real estate market. Much like the U.S. auto industry, value not affordability is a main factor; providing incentives to purchase items perceived to have lower value does not always increase sales.

Why not a two pronged approach to the problem, provide incentives to home buyers and prevent foreclosures? There is no simple solution, as the problems are many, deep and wide spread.

Unfortunately, debate, dissention and criticism among policy makers continue to stall any clear path to recovery. Additionally, there is no guarantee that any implemented plan will be successful. Time will tell us if incentives spur home buyer activity and if delinquent home owners continue to be delinquent (even with renegotiated mortgages).

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 8, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.