Our local home prices have risen so quickly that it feels like we’re in ‘bubble’ conditions again – could the bubble burst this time?
The last two times the real estate bubble has popped, it was due to banks having to offload their foreclosed properties for whatever the market will bear. They flooded the market, and buyers – and prices – backed off.
But that has all changed now.
Look at the new devices being used to avoid a flood of desperate selling:
New accounting rules.
California Homeowners Bill of Rights
The accounting rules were altered so banks could hold their REO properties longer, and the California Homeowners Bill of Rights has, in effect, stopped foreclosing. Lenders are now required to offer a loan modification to anyone in default, and only if the homeowner can’t or won’t qualify are they at risk of being foreclosed. With today’s higher rents, there isn’t much relief for those in default to give back their house and go lease one nearby. Besides, with our higher home values today, they can always sell before getting foreclosed.
Homeowners who need money can get a reverse mortgage too, as long as they haven’t been tapping into their equity already.
We end up with virtually no desperate sellers who need to dump on price. Someone who wants to cash out quickly can price their home at last year’s comps and look like a deal!
The game is rigged – the Banking Cartel won’t let the bubble pop again!
For the bubble to pop, we would need a dramatic shift in the supply and demand – either a flood of homes hit the market, and/or we run out of buyers.
I thought we’d be seeing more baby boomers unloading their homes due to downsizing or sickness, and while the market consists mainly of those listings, there aren’t enough of them to call it a flood – at least not yet. Because they are in quality locations, more kids are probably trying to buy out their siblings and take over their parents’ house, rather than sell it. They could be moving in with the folks too, rather than sending them to assisted living.
Could we run out of buyers? You would think there would be a price point where buyers can’t or won’t go any higher, but there seems to be a steady flow of people with more horsepower. We saw two weeks ago the prediction that the population of San Diego County is expected to grow by 700,000 people by 2050, which is over 21,000 per year – where are they going to live? Will they be rich? They will need to be!
There hasn’t been enough (has there been any?) sellers so desperate that they had to dump on price – instead, they just keep waiting. We would need more than a few price-dumpers to start a panic, which could cause the market to flood with supply and burst the bubble.
Some air might escape occasionally, but it is doubtful that a market change could occur without the government finding a way to save the bankers.
People like this guy think the conditions are ripe for a downturn. But if prices started falling, sellers are more likely to wait, than dump, which would cause our market to stagnate, rather than crash.
I saw these questions from Ed DeMarco on Twitter. My answers:
1. Have the M.I.D. apply towards primary residence only (not second homes), and lower from $1,000,000 to $500,000. Those buying in hopes of a bigger write off will still buy a house, and take the partial benefit – and be in it for the appreciation and to raise a family (make wifey happy).
2. Have the mortgage interest deduction be in effect for the first ten years of ownership only. It would encourage borrowers to pay off mortgages in the ten years, and not refinance every year.
3. Require that only the buyers can pay for mortgage insurance (sellers can pay in full now).
4. Redirect the disadvantaged folks to subsidized rentals until they aren’t disadvantaged. Only stable, secure, affluent people should buy a house – it’s too late for the rest, unless they drive to the suburbs/outer edge of town.
5. There are several loan programs available to help the disadvantaged already. NACA is still around, helping buyers purchase with no down payment and no closing costs (H/T daytrip):
6. Lower the capital-gains tax for 1-2 years to incentivize those reluctant-but-motivated possible sellers to unload a rental property or two. Cut federal rate to 10% for the first year (currently 20%), and then back to 15% in the second year. The crotchety old guys still won’t sell, so there won’t be a flood. But more inventory = more sales while stabilizing prices.
7. Keep Fannie/Freddie the way they are for now. If they can keep operating in the black, let’s allow the mortgage industry to enjoy the fluidity. I attended a seminar today on the new loan disclosures coming on October 3rd, and it is clear that Fannie/Freddie will be extremely strict on compliance. It doesn’t mean tougher credit, it means the mortgage industry needs to submit the cleanest loan packages ever – which is good for the taxpayers.
8. The new compliance crunch will virtually eliminate mortgage brokers – wholesale lenders won’t want to take a chance on them. Yes, we still have room for you over here to be a realtor – there’s only 11,000 of us chasing 3,500 sales each month.
9. Encourage a private jumbo-MBS market without subsidizing it. Eventually, a private MBS marketplace could help shift the burden from Fannie/Freddie.
10. Run a tight ship. We can handle it.
The powers-that-be have made some great moves to get us this far, now bow out gracefully and let free enterprise take care of the rest.
“While the housing sector has strengthened in recent years, there are still many homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments,” said Secretary of the Treasury Jacob J. Lew. “The changes we are announcing today offer meaningful incentives for borrowers to stay current in their modifications, increase their opportunity to build equity in their homes, and provide vital safety nets for those facing greater financial strains.”
The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), established in 2009, offers homeowners loan modifications with lower monthly payments achieved through lowered interest rates and modified loan terms. Many homeowners with HAMP modifications have been eligible to earn up to $5,000 if they adhere to modification terms for five years. The amount is applied to their outstanding principal balance.
Under the revisions an additional $5,000 will be available to homeowners after a sixth year of on-time payments and they will then have the opportunity to re-amortize the reduced mortgage balance, thus further lowering their monthly payment. HUD/Treasury estimate some one million borrowers with HAMP modifications may be eligible for the new incentive.
HAMP Tier 2 was developed as an alternative for homeowners who can’t qualify or are unable to sustain a HAMP Tier 1 modifications. It provides modifications with a low fixed rate for the life of the loan. The revision announced this week will include reducing the interest rate for these modified loans by 50 basis points which will also make more borrowers eligible for the program. It also extends the sixth year $5,000 pay-for-performance incentive to Tier Two borrowers.
Occasionally, the ivory-tower set comes up with these wacky ideas to have banks share risk with borrowers. Fannie and Freddie may not be interested just due to the complexity, but if a private bank gave it a run with a good marketing push, they might find an audience. Hat tip to Scott S. who sent this in from Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
Entertaining as it is, playing the financial crisis blame game gets us nowhere. A more useful contribution from Mian and Sufi is the shared-responsibility mortgage, their prescription to make economies less vulnerable to debt-fueled bubbles. In such a mortgage, lenders take some of the hit if housing prices fall and reap some of the reward if they rise. “Had such mortgages been in place when house prices collapsed, the Great Recession in the United States would not have been ‘Great’ at all,” they argue. “It would have been a garden variety downturn with many fewer jobs lost.”
Their claim is bold, perhaps too bold, but the strategy for making debt less dangerous by putting a twist into the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is sound.
If an index of home prices in a home’s ZIP code fell, say, 30 percent, then the borrower’s monthly payment of principal and interest would also fall 30 percent. That’s not achieved by stretching out the length of the loan, which lenders sometimes will do: Despite the smaller payment, the mortgage would still get paid off over 30 years. Financially speaking, it would be equivalent to getting a reduction in principal.
If prices recover, payments go back up, but never above the original amount. Lenders would ordinarily charge a higher rate for that protection, but Mian and Sufi calculate that they would be willing to forgo a bump on the rate if they were given some upside potential: 5 percent of any capital gain the homeowner gets upon selling or refinancing the house.
David Dayen spots a new blow for underwater homeowners that thus far has flown under the radar: the coming expiration of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, scheduled for Dec. 31.
The act is a mouthful, but it’s been a crucial factor in helping countless families get out from under bad mortgages. Simply put, the act relieves homeowners from having to pay taxes on any loan forgiveness they receive in a mortgage restructuring. (The maximum exemption is $2 million for a couple.) The measure was originally set to expire last Dec. 31, but it was extended another year by the fiscal cliff deal.
The foreclosure crisis is ebbing, but the relief is still needed. Millions of families are still underwater and facing delinquency, default, and foreclosure. As Dayan notes, those who succeed in obtaining principal reductions will be getting a bill that’s almost certain to be unaffordable.
As an additional irony, the act’s expiration comes just as JPMorgan, one of the banks that contributed massively to the housing crisis, reaches a deal that gives it a tax break on its multibillion-dollar settlement of federal charges related to the disaster.
He suggests folding an extension of the homeowner relief act into the JPMorgan settlement, but the extension looks like something that would have to clear Congress all by its lonesome. What are the chances of that? Congress has a lot to do as the end of the year looms. Somehow the things that aren’t on its agenda are all needed to help the less advantaged of society — food stamp extensions and now mortgage relief. Come New Year’s Day, we’ll be asking once again: Who do the people on Capitol Hill work for?
Hat tip to daytrip for sending this in fromnytimes.com – an excerpt:
Robert and Patricia Castillo paid $420,000 for a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home in Richmond, Calif., in 2005. It is now worth $125,000.
The power of eminent domain has traditionally worked against homeowners, who can be forced to sell their property to make way for a new highway or shopping mall. But now the working-class city of Richmond, Calif., hopes to use the same legal tool to help people stay right where they are.
Scarcely touched by the nation’s housing recovery and tired of waiting for federal help, Richmond is about to become the first city in the nation to try eminent domain as a way to stop foreclosures.
The results will be closely watched by both Wall Street banks, which have vigorously opposed the use of eminent domain to buy mortgages and reduce homeowner debt, and a host of cities across the country that are considering emulating Richmond.
The banks have warned that such a move will bring down a hail of lawsuits and all but halt mortgage lending in any city with the temerity to try it.
But local officials, frustrated at the lack of large-scale relief from the Obama administration, relatively free of the influence that Wall Street wields in Washington, and faced with fraying neighborhoods and a depleted middle class, are beginning to shrug off those threats.
“We’re not willing to back down on this,” said Gayle McLaughlin, the former schoolteacher who is serving her second term as Richmond’s mayor. “They can put forward as much pressure as they would like but I’m very committed to this program and I’m very committed to the well-being of our neighborhoods.”
The city is offering to buy the loans at what it considers the fair market value. In a hypothetical example, a home mortgaged for $400,000 is now worth $200,000. The city plans to buy the loan for $160,000, or about 80 percent of the value of the home, a discount that factors in the risk of default.
Then, the city would write down the debt to $190,000 and allow the homeowner to refinance at the new amount, probably through a government program. The $30,000 difference goes to the city, the investors who put up the money to buy the loan, closing costs and M.R.P. The homeowner would go from owing twice what the home is worth to having $10,000 in equity.
Another hat tip to daytrip for sending this in fromcnnmoney:
Nearly 1.2 million mortgage modifications have been completed since the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) was first launched four years ago.
Yet more than 306,000 borrowers have re-defaulted on their loans and more than 88,000 are at risk of following suit, theSpecial Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) found in its quarterly report to Congress.
In addition, the watchdog found that the longer a homeowner stays in the HAMP modification program, the more likely they are to default. Those who have been in the program since 2009, are re-defaulting at a rate of 46%, the inspector general found.
In late March, HousingWire reported the Federal Housing Finance Agency would expand its suite of mortgage modification tools for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac servicers.
As of July 1st, the Streamlined Modification Initiative is in effect, in order to encourage servicers to handle delinquencies earlier, minimizing losses to the GSEs and taxpayers, while cutting back some of the red tape that slows down the traditional approval process.
Borrowers who are 90-days late on their Fannie/Freddie first mortgage will receive a 4% fixed-rate payment (as long as it is lower than the current payment and the LTV is above 80%).
All eligible borrowers must make three on-time trial payments, the FHFA said. Once those payments are made, the loan modification takes permanent effect.
No documentation is required. The program expires Aug. 1, 2015.
Bank of America Corp. has amassed $64 billion of mortgages that are at least six months delinquent and have yet to enter foreclosure, more than twice the amount held by its four largest competitors combined.
The loans are monitored as part of February’s $25 billion settlement between the top five U.S. lenders and state attorneys general over allegations of abusive foreclosure practices. Bank of America’s stockpile of deteriorating debt is mostly from its 2008 acquisition of Countrywide Financial Corp., once the nation’s largest mortgage provider. Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. servicer, has $15.3 billion of such unpaid loans.
The data, published last month by the monitor of the settlement, highlight Bank of America’s vast backlog of delinquencies, and the years it will take to work through them as borrowers fall further behind and losses mount for investors in mortgage-backed securities. While the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank has begun modifications for many of its 275,000 homeowners at least 180 days behind as of Sept. 30, some will join the already clogged U.S. foreclosure pipeline.
“There’s just a long tail to work out all of these loans, which are severely delinquent at this point,” said Marty Mosby, an analyst with Guggenheim Securities LLC in Memphis, Tennessee.“It just shows the amount of work that’s still left to do.”
Delays in processing the loans add to the expenses borne by investors because maintenance, property taxes and other costs add up. While rising prices may make the mortgage-backed securities more valuable, servicers can be forced to come up with cash to cover interest payments from the delinquent loans and modifications become more difficult to accomplish as the borrower’s unpaid debt grows.
Bank of America’s portfolio of loans that are at least six months old and not in foreclosure accounts for 3.3 percent of all of the mortgages it services. Citigroup Inc. has 1.1 percent of its loans in that category and Ally Financial Inc., Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase & Co. each have less than 1 percent.
Bank of America has about 930,000 loans that are at least 60 days delinquent, down from 1.5 million from the peak in January 2010, Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan, 53, said during a Dec. 14 event at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
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