Identity protection real estate

identity protection
Be proactive with identity protection (infographic from nsa.gov)

Even with precautions and laws to protect your sensitive data while conducting financial transactions, there can still be a weak link in the chain that can put your personal data at risk.  You may not have heard about the latest data breach, but it involved the potential leaking of over 24 million mortgage documents. Identity Protection during the real estate process takes awareness and vigilance. However, what do you do after the transaction is over?

The data breach to which I refer was discovered and reported by Bob Diachenko, Cyber Threat Intelligence Director of Security Discovery with the assistance of Zack Whitaker of Techcrunch.  This data breach was discovered by Diachenko just by searching public search engines.  According to Diachenko’s report (securitydiscovery.com/document-management-company-leaks-data-online), the unprotected database contained about 51 GB of credit and mortgages information.  The database potentially exposed more than 24 Million files.

Essentially, the over 24 million unprotected records (24,349,524 according to Diachenko) that existed on the database were likely scanned (OCR) from original documents.  Diachenko stated, “These documents contained highly sensitive data, such as social security numbers, names, phones, addresses, credit history, and other details which are usually part of a mortgage or credit report. This information would be a gold mine for cyber criminals who would have everything they need to steal identities, file false tax returns, get loans or credit cards.” 

Diachenko and Whitaker tracked down the owner of the database and found that the exposed database belonged to a third party.  After the database was secured, however, Diachenko found a second vulnerable server that contained original documents.

How is consumer iinformation handled through through institutional real estate transactions?

According to Whitaker, the documents date as far back to 2008, possibly further.  The documents concerned “correspondence from several major financial and lending institutions” including government entities such as HUD.  Whitaker stated that not all data was “sensitive,” however the database included: names, addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, bank and checking account numbers.  They also found some documents that contained other “sensitive financial information,” such as bankruptcy and tax documents, including W-2 forms. 

To understand the broader implications of identity protection in a real estate transaction, read Diachenko and Whitaker’s first (techcrunch.com/2019/01/23/financial-files) and second (techcrunch.com/2019/01/24/mortgage-loan-leak-gets-worse) report. The reporting of Diachenko and Whitaker is significant because it exposes how your identity and sensitive information can be mishandled in the broader financial transactional process that occurs between entities.  Even though direct correspondence with you may be encrypted and secure, security lapses can occur during the institutional transaction process (such selling and/or transferring a mortgage)

The moral of the story is that once your information is out of your hands, you cannot assume it’s 100 percent secure.  Even blockchain technology, which has been touted as a safe means of digital data management, has weaknesses.  And as governments and financial institutions are looking to blockchain as the “answer” to data security, there are reports of “attacks” of increasing sophistication according to James Risberg (Yes, the Blockchain Can Be Hacked; coincentral.com; May 7, 2018). 

Take your identity protection seriously when buying and selling a home

Be vigilant and proactive to protect your identity and sensitive information.  Be wary of unsolicited requests for information, even if it appears to be from someone with whom you are conducting business. Always make a call to confirm the request. Consider a credit freeze to prevent fraudsters from opening credit accounts in your name.  Check your credit report regularly and dispute errors.  If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov site can help you report it and create a recovery plan.  You can learn more about protecting yourself from identity theft from the FTC (consumer.ftc.gov) and the Federal Reserve (federalreserveconsumerhelp.gov).

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/identity-protection-real-estate

By Dan Krell. Copyright © 2019.

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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.

Does a shutdown affect home sales?

shutdown
Home Sales (infographic from nar.realtor)

There hasn’t been this much anxiety about a government shutdown since October 2013.  Back then, the government was “shutdown” for sixteen days.  Of course, when the federal government “shuts down,” it’s really a partially interrupted.  A majority of government operations continue.  But even a partial government shutdown has the potential to affect home sales.

Since only a portion of government employees get furloughed during a shutdown, there is always confusion about which agencies are affected.  Back in 2013 many home buyers were jittery about getting their FHA and VA loans processed so they could settle on time (the FHA is a part of HUD, while VA mortgages are guaranteed by the Department of Veteran Affairs). Additionally, many industry insiders were unsure about the impact a government shutdown would have on the recovering housing market. 

Today we have some idea how government housing programs, specifically mortgages, will be affected during this time because most federal agencies publicly post their shutdown contingency plans. 

FHA’s 2013 shutdown contingency was focused on maintaining consistency in the housing recovery.  The contingency plan stated “The Office of Single Family Housing will endorse new loans under current multi-year appropriation authority in order to support the health and stability of the U.S. mortgage market.  Approximately 80% of FHA loans are endorsed by lenders with delegated authority.  The remaining 20% are endorsed through the FHA Homeownership Centers, leveraging FHA staff with a contractor that works on-site.

The current FHA contingency is confident that most FHA loans will be unaffected.  However, there is a warning that an extended shutdown can impact home sales.  HUD’s Frequently Asked Questions in the event of a Government Shutdown, statement on FHA’s operations states:


“Because we are able to endorse most single family loans, we do not expect the impact on the housing market to be significant, as long as the shutdown is brief. With each day the shutdown continues, we can expect an increase in the impacts on potential homeowners. home sellers and the entire housing market. A protracted shutdown could see a decline in home sales, reversing the trend toward a strengthening market that we’ve been experiencing.

VA loans may be better positioned.  It is widely acknowledged that the Veteran Affairs learned from the government shutdowns that occurred in 1995-96. During that time, “Loan Guaranty certificates of eligibility and certificates of reasonable value [appraisals] were delayed.”  However, because VA funding includes “advance appropriations,” a majority of the VA’s operations will continue during a federal government shutdown (including mortgages).  The VA’s contingency plan indicates that in the event of a government shutdown 95% of VA employees will be fully funded or required to perform “excepted” functions.

Will a short-term federal government shutdown affect the housing market?  Probably not.  VA loans are expected to continue without much issue.  However, certain HUD functions required for FHA mortgages could be limited, but not expected to cause delays in the short-term.

However, an extended shutdown has the potential to affect home sales.  Consider that FHA’s mortgage market share increased to approximately 17 percent in 2017 (compared to about 13 percent in 2013).  Significant FHA settlement delays could occur in long-term, which would surely have an impact on the housing market.  However, considering that home sales have dropped off since the summer, and the market is typically slow during this time of year, the effect on housing will probably be negligible. 

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/12/23/shutdown-affect-home-sales

By Dan Krell. Copyright © 2018.

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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.

Real Estate Thanksgiving

real estate thanksgiving
A Real Estate Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to take stock and be thankful.  Although the original Thanksgiving may have had a religious purpose, today’s secular holiday is about traditions.  However, it seems as if the tradition of enjoying a peaceful meal with family and friends has been increasingly difficult over the past few years.  But since the election is over, let’s try to talk about something worthy of discussion (at least until the next election cycle begins), such as real estate and housing. Yes, it’s a “Real Estate Thanksgiving.”

Why shouldn’t we focus on something we all can get behind? There is a good chance that your dinner guests will include someone will be moving next year.  Whether they are buying, selling, or renting a home, someone at the dinner table will be affected by such issues as housing affordability, mortgage rates, and availability of homes.

Things to talk about during your Real Estate Thanksgiving might be about mortgages, home sales, home prices, rent, maintenance, etc.  The topics are seemingly endless.

Talking about mortgages during the Real Estate Thanksgiving.  The current news is about mortgage interest rates.  How high will mortgage rates go?  Housing experts agree that mortgage rates will likely be about 5 percent next year (although the Fed just announced they may hold off on interest rate hikes after spring).  Paying more interest on your mortgage may not be your idea of positively affecting home sales.  However, increasing mortgage rates typically moderate home price growth because of affordability.  Another silver lining of increasing interest rates is a stimulated lending environment.  As a result, mortgage companies will likely further loosen lending requirements, which will increase the home buyer pool.

Real Estate Thanksgiving and home sales could focus on the reasons for the fall slowdown.  Will home sales rebound this spring?  You’re probably aware that home sales have dropped off during the fall.  Major media outlets have grasped the news and created the meme depicting “housing bubble 2.0.”  You can’t really blame them because there are many economists who are projecting bleak home sales to continue through spring.

The main reason for a disappointing 2019 forecast given by many industry insiders is affordability.  I contend that this rationale is shallow and one-dimensional.  There is no doubt that rising interest rates and increasing home prices are on the minds of home buyers.  However, the lack of home sale inventory is a dimension that is often forgotten when discussing home sales and rentals.  The lack of available homes for buyers and tenants to choose has forced many into fierce competition.  The result has been upward pressure on home prices and rents.

You have to also consider the economy at your Real Estate Thanksgiving. The strength of the economy is an aspect affecting the housing market that many haven’t discussed.  Whether you want to admit it or not, the economy is the strongest it has been in decades.  Consumer outlook is optimistic.  Home buyers and renters have expressed confidence about their job prospects too.  Employers are competing for talent, influencing the highest wage increases in over a decade.

Commenting on the economy, First American chief economist Mark Fleming believes that the economy will be a major force in the housing market (How Will a Potential September Rate Hike Impact Existing-Home Sales?; blog.firstam.com; September 18, 2018).  One of the features of his analysis for 2019 is “It’s the Economy and First-Time Home Buyer Demand, Stupid.”  He described a pent-up demand from a wave of millennial of first-time home buyers who will be in the market next year.

Fleming explained that home sales slump during an adjustment period that home buyers undergo when interest rates increase.  The same thing occurred in 2010 when rates increased from 4.5 to 5 percent.  However, the economy was struggling at that time, and home sales were stagnant.  Fleming described First American’s positive housing forecasts overcoming rising interest rates, saying,

“According to our Potential Home Sales Model, the boost from the strong economy and first-time home buyer demand should overcome any downward pressure from rising rates on home sales.”

Original article is published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/11/21/real-estate-thanksgiving/

By Dan Krell. Copyright © 2018.

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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.

Interest rate increase – Don’t panic

interest rate increase
45 years of mortgage interest rates

Last week, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decided to raise the federal funds rate. The federal funds rate is the interest rate that is charged to banks for borrowing overnight funds to maintain the required target funds. Although the Fed interest rate increase means that a banks’ business is getting more expensive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that mortgage interest rates increase in kind.

If mortgage rates are not always affected by the Fed’s interest rate increase, then what is?

Katherine Reynolds Lewis pointed out that the FOMC’s interest rate hike indirectly influences jobs, wages, prices of the things we buy, and other items (7 ways the Fed’s decisions on interest rates affect you; bankrate.com; March 20, 2018). She states, “Sometimes mortgage rates go up when the Fed increases short-term rates, as the central bank’s action sets the tone for most other interest rates. But sometimes mortgage rates fall after the Fed raises the federal funds rate.” An example of this is the seventeen rate increases during 2004-2005 when mortgage interest rates initially dropped, then slightly increased a year later. And most recently, the three Fed rate increases during 2017 when mortgage interest rates remained stable.

The reason why a FOMC interest rate increase doesn’t always affect mortgage interest rates is because mortgage interest rates are tied to the bond market. The bond market is typically a bellwether of the economy. It is highly likely that the bond market baked in last week’s Fed’s rate increase prior to the FOMC announcement. Bond yields have already been increasing due to an improving economy, which pushed mortgage rates higher in recent weeks.

In fact, the Freddie Mac Press release the day after the Fed’s announcement indicated that mortgage rates increased one basis point (freddiemac.com; March 22, 2018):

“The Fed’s decision to raise interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point puts the federal funds rate at its highest level since 2008. The decision, while widely expected, sent the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury soaring. Following Treasurys (sic), mortgage rates shrugged off last week’s drop and continued their upward march. The U.S. weekly average 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose 1 basis point to 4.45 percent in this week’s survey.”

Immediately following the Fed’s interest rate increase, NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, statedWe are in the middle innings of monetary policy normalization (nar.realtor, March 21, 2018).” Yun believes that the labor market is pushing the Fed to act to stave off inflation. He stated that consumers should expect more rate increases throughout 2018. However, he believes that increased new construction can belay future Fed rate increases:

“Housing costs are also rising solidly and contributing to faster inflation. The one thing that could slow the pace of rate increases would be to tame housing costs through an increased supply of new homes. Not only will more home construction lead to a slower pace of rate hikes, it will also lead to faster economic growth. Let’s put greater focus on boosting home construction.”

Yun’s call to home builders to increase housing stock is preaching to the choir. The housing market’s tight sale inventory should already be spurring home builders to crank out new homes. But there are challenges. The latest new construction statistics released by the US Census (census.gov) indicated that building permits issued during February were 5.7 percent lower than January’s permits, but 6.5 percent higher than last February.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2018

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/03/29/interest-rate-increase-dont-panic/

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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.

Mortgage Choice Act good or bad?

Mortgage Choice Act

Mortgage Choice Act
Choosing a lender (infographic from lender411.com)

Monday’s Reuters “exclusive” report about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau dropping their investigation on the Equifax data breach caused quite a stir in DC (Exclusive: U.S. consumer protection official puts Equifax probe on ice – sources: reuters.com February 5, 2018).  The exclusive cited unnamed sources.  However, a spokesperson for Transunion (a credit repository) suggested that cybercrime is not within the jurisdiction of the CFPB.

Later that day, Reuters cited Democratic Senators’ concerns and outrage over the alleged investigation pullback (Senators urge Trump administration to resume Equifax probe; reuters.com February 6, 2018).

The next day, Reuters reported that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin desired to meet with CFPB’s Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, based on its initial reports of dropping the Equifax investigation (Treasury’s Mnuchin says he wants answers on Equifax breach; reuters.com February 6, 2018) .  In the same report, Reuters cited the CFPB’s spokesperson saying that the CFPB was working with other government agencies on the Equifax data breach.

The veracity of Reuters’ unnamed sources in the report is not clear.  However, there may be something to the fact that cybersecurity falls under the domain of the FBI and Homeland Security.  Additionally, there are many other agencies investigating the Equifax data breach, as Housing Wire reported on Monday (CFPB reportedly pulling back from Equifax data breach investigation: Reuters reports that bureau is not aggressively pursuing investigation; housingwire.com; February 5, 2018).  The FTC appeared to be the lead agency investigating the matter when the data breach became public news.  Additionally, the House and Senate Financial Committees, as well as all fifty states attorney generals are investigating.

Mortgage Choice Act goes under the radar…

News created drama, such as the Reuters’ CFPB story, allows real consumer issues to fly under the radar.  Consumers should take note that the once dead Mortgage Choice Act has come back to life.  Much like a scene out of Tin Men, the revived legislation is being promoted by the likes of the National Association of Realtors® under the guise of being good for the consumer.

According to the CBO (cbo.gov/publication/53497):

Under current law, a ‘qualified mortgage’ has certain characteristics that make it more affordable…To meet the qualified-mortgage definition, certain costs that are incidental to the loan and that are paid by the borrower…cannot exceed 3 percent of the total loan amount. Lenders offering “high-cost mortgages” (home mortgages with interest rates and fees that exceed certain thresholds) must make certain additional disclosures to borrowers and must comply with restrictions on the terms of such loans.”  The Mortgage Choice Act “…would exclude insurance premiums held in escrow and, under certain circumstances, fees paid to companies affiliated with the creditor from the costs that would be considered in determining whether a loan is a qualified mortgage or a high-cost mortgage.”

The NAR is urging support for this legislation, as well as issuing an open letter to Congress.  The NAR’s rationale is that the Mortgage Choice Act:

“… will enhance competition in the mortgage and title insurance markets, and ensure that consumers will be able to choose the lenders and title providers best suited for their home buying needs.”

This sounds virtuous, but in reality it’s a play to allow broker affiliated lenders and title insurers to charge consumers more without additional disclosures.  NAR says that lenders and title insurers would still be subject to RESPA (which prohibits steering and kickbacks).  But charging consumers excessive fees and affiliated businesses giving kickbacks are not mutually exclusive.  Meaning that a lender charges can be excessive independent of the lender providing a kickback to the broker.  (the CFPB has recently fined brokers and lenders for kickbacks).

Is NAR interested in building consumer trust?

The NAR has for years tried to influence public opinion of Realtors® and the industry.  The NAR Code of Ethics has been used as a focal point to increase positive sentiment towards Realtors®.  However, NAR’s desire to implement a Code of Excellence may have been a beginning shift towards building public trust.

The Code of Excellence, like the Code of Ethics, is a desire to increase competence and proficiency.  But research has demonstrated that showing off accolades and awards doesn’t instill value, nor does it increase sales (Valsesia, Nunes, & Ordanini: What Wins Awards Is Not Always What I Buy: How Creative Control Affects Authenticity and Thus Recognition (But Not Liking). Journal of Consumer Research. Apr2016, Vol. 42 Issue 6, p897-914).

Value, along with quality and price,  has much higher regard than ethics in a consumer’s mind.  This was demonstrated by Carrigan & Attalla’s ground breaking consumer research (The myth of the ethical consumer – do ethics matter in purchase behaviour? The Journal of Consumer Marketing. 2001.. 18(7),560-577.)

If the NAR is truly interested in building consumer trust, the NAR leadership should get on the correct side of this issue and provide value to consumers instead of giving lip service.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2018.

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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.