Negative equity stats likely erroneous

negative equity
What is a short sale (infographic from

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 ( 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
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Short sale marketing strategy raise concerns


According to the Corelogic Insights blog, the volume of distressed home sales is declining. Consider that during the peak of distressed sales, which occurred in January 2009, the volume of distressed sales nationally comprised 32.4% of total home sales. Compare those figures to Corelogic’s December 2nd report, which indicated that nationwide distressed sales volume accounted for about 10% of all home sales during September 2015. However, distressed sales volume varies from state to state; Maryland recorded the highest volume of distressed sales (20.7%) among all states during September.

distressed home saleDistressed home sales include bank owned properties (REO) and short sales. It’s important to note that prior to the housing bust in 2007, nationwide REO sales were below 6.2% of all sales. September nationwide REO’s accounted for 6.4% of all sales; while short sales accounted for 3.3% of all sales, and have maintained below the 4% level for over a year.

The plateau of short sales may be due the many home owners who remain underwater. In a June 11th press release, Zillow announced that the slow pace of increasing home prices are leaving many home owners underwater. The nationwide rate of negative equity among mortgaged home owners was 15.4% during the first quarter of 2015 (which is down from 18.8% a year ago); the negative equity rate in the D.C. metro area was reported to be 17.2%. For about half of all underwater home owners, home prices would need to increase 20% or more for them to break even (

If you are underwater on your mortgage, check with your lender, they may have some options to help you. However, if you are planning a move, a short sale may also be an option. Simply put, a short sale is asking your lender to take a lower payoff and “forgive” the difference.

If you decide to go through the short sale process, you should know that your sale will be subject to your lender’s approval. The lender will decide if they will accept the buyer’s offer based on the home’s “fair market value.” Many lenders use broker price opinions to assist them in determining a sale price; however some lenders may use other avenues.

You should be aware of a recent trend used by some lenders, which is bypassing the short sale process and forcing home sellers to list short sales on auction websites – even if there is an existing contract of sale! The given rationale is that the internet auction process provides a fair market value for the short sale. However, this stance by some lenders may lead some home sellers to breach of contract. In a recent conversation with several local (Maryland) state regulators, the present consensus is that “…they are aware of the situation, but there is nothing they can do about it;” however, they welcome consumer complaints: MD Commissioner of Financial Regualtion and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Even though the concept is straightforward and the government has provided lenders guidance on short sales, the process can still be lengthy and full of surprises. The process does not guarantee a sale, and the lender could still foreclose if you stopped paying the mortgage. Additionally, the short sale may negatively affect your credit; and there may be legal liabilities to consider. So, before you embark on a short sale, you should consult an attorney about all of your options (which may include and is not limited to a loan modification, deed-in-lieu, or bankruptcy).

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Growing interest in the use of eminent domain to assist underwater homeowners

UnderwaterAs interest increases to use eminent domain to assist underwater homeowners, there is opposition in Maryland.

Eminent domain has not received as much attention since the controversial decision in the 2005 case Kelo v. City of New London.  However, the issue could become a hotly debated topic in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly, since the introduction of HB1365/SB850 Real Property – Prohibition on Acquiring Mortgages or Deeds of Trust by Condemnation on February 7th; the bills propose the prohibition of acquiring mortgages through eminent domain, stating, “The use of eminent domain to acquire mortgages undermines the sanctity of the contractual relationship between a borrower and a creditor.”

The issue of using eminent domain as a vehicle to restructure underwater mortgages became a national conversation in 2012, when a few municipalities began the discussion as a means to assist underwater homeowners.  The plan caught the attention of Baltimore officials, who began a discussion last year of doing something similar.

As the housing market slowly recovers, many homeowners are emerging from a negative equity position on their homes.  According to the Zillow Negative Equity Report (, the national negative equity rate for homeowners with a mortgage dropped to 21% during Q3 2013 (from a peak of 31.4% during Q1 2012); while 14.7% of homeowners who own their home free and clear are underwater.  Regional statistics vary depending on the strength of the local markets compared to peak home values.

The Baltimore Sun reports that about 13% of mortgages in the Baltimore- Towson area are underwater; neighborhood percentages vary, and there some with significantly more underwater homeowners (Some call on city to explore eminent domain to combat blight; Program targets underwater mortgages, By Natalie Sherman; The Baltimore Sun; November 25, 2013).

A recent industry article looks at the back story and status such plans, as well as discussing some practical considerations.  The article asserts that the concept is “far from dead,” stating that “…Local government and community leaders have legitimate concerns about their constituents, many of whom are struggling with mortgage payments on inflated loans that have made their homes unaffordable, and nearly impossible for them to sell without sufficient equity to pay off the loans…”  However, the conclusion states that such a plan at present “…appears wrought with complications and does not appear likely to lead to any significant chance of furthering its stated “public” purpose-economic development…”   The result may be “lengthy and expensive legal battles; and possible disruptions or changes to the credit industry, which decrease access to mortgages and/or increase interest rates (Dellapelle & Kestner (2013). Underwater mortgages: Can eminent domain bail them out? Real Estate Issues, 38(2), 42-47).

In response to the effort to implement eminent domain in such a way, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (, the regulator and conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as well as the regulator of the Federal Home Loan Banks asked for public input; and subsequently issued a General Counsel Memorandum on August 7th 2013:

The General Counsel Memorandum was a summary and analysis of the public comments and input regarding the use of eminent domain to restructure mortgages.  The memo discussed a number of legal issues as well as issues that relate to the FHFA.  The memo stated the pros and cons of such a plan too: Proponents claimed “…if securities have lost value, then the proper and fair valuation of mortgages backing the securities through eminent domain results in no loss to a securities investor, but permits a restructuring of a loan that would benefit homeowners and stabilize housing values…” while opponents point to “…numerous legal problems with the proposed use of eminent domain; some centered on the proper use of eminent domain itself and others on attendant constitutional issues related to taking of property or sanctity of contract. Opponents noted strong reaction of financial markets that support home financing in terms of upsetting existing contracts but as well creating an unworkable situation for providing and pricing capital based on the uncertainty of such a use of eminent domain…”  However, the conclusion states, “…there is a rational basis to conclude that the use of eminent domain by localities to restructure loans for borrowers that are “underwater” on their mortgages presents a clear threat to the safe and sound operations of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks as provided in federal law…”  

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 February 17, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.

Benefits for delinquent home owners while reducing foreclosures

by Dan Krell © 2010

Additional assistance for financially challenged home owners was announced last Friday (March 26th) by the U. S. Treasury ( To assist struggling home owners keep their homes and lessen the number of foreclosures, the expansion of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) will address unemployed home owners, negative equity, second mortgages, and “premature” foreclosures.

Unemployed home owners take heart. You may be afforded a mortgage forbearance period of at least three months (not to exceed six). Once you find employment you will be considered for a permanent HAMP mortgage modification if you stay current on your forbearance payments and your monthly mortgage payment is more than 31% of your monthly income. You will have to provide proof of income and the modification must meet the standard net present value (NPV) test (The NPV test compares the cash flow of a modified mortgage to the cash flow of an unmodified mortgage). However, if you do not find employment during the mortgage forbearance period, you will be considered for the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program.

If you are looking to regain some of your home’s equity, you may now have a vehicle to do so through a HAMP mortgage principal write down. Participating lenders will be offered additional incentives to provide onetime mortgage principal write downs when mortgage balances exceed 115% of the home’s value. An alternative principal reduction plan will be combined with a HAMP mortgage modification and may be permanent as long as modification payments are timely for three years.

If you’re seeking to refinance your HAMP eligible mortgage but your loan balance exceeds 115% of your home’s value, you may qualify for a FHA refinance in conjunction with a lender mortgage principal write down. The new loan may not exceed 97.5% of the value of the home (current FHA borrowers are not eligible). The refinance may also qualify to consolidate a first and a second loan under these circumstances.

If a second mortgage is giving you trouble, it may now be eligible for a modification if your first mortgage was already modified through HAMP and your lender participates in the Second Lien Modification Program.

Finally, further protections have been added to assist you if you are pursuing a HAMP modification or seeking bankruptcy protection. In an effort to prevent “premature” foreclosure sales while home owners are seeking modifications, lenders are advised to increase communication with home owners (through telephone and mail) as well as requiring a written certification that the home owner is not HAMP eligible prior to conducting a foreclosure sale. Additionally, home owners who have pursued bankruptcy protection will no longer be excluded from HAMP programs.

Although the HAMP enhancements will not be up and running immediately, the full program is expected to be available by the fall (with pieces implemented gradually). Additionally, mortgage principal write down programs may take some time to implement; however some lenders may already have similar programs in place.

To qualify for these new programs, home owners must be HAMP eligible (and meet other specific requirements). Unfortunately, reports of these programs on the internet and other media outlets are sometimes incomplete, incorrect and/or exaggerated; it is highly recommended that you check the fact sheets on the Making Home Affordable ( website as well as talking to a Making Home Affordable counselor.

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 March 29, 2010. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2010 Dan Krell