Tying Health Problems to Rise in Home Foreclosures , by S. MITRA KALITA , Wall street Journal


The threat of losing your home is stressful enough to make you ill, it stands to reason. Now two economists have measured just how unhealthy the foreclosure crisis has been in some of the hardest-hit areas of the U.S.

New research by Janet Currie of Princeton University and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University shows a direct correlation between foreclosure rates and the health of residents in Arizona, California, Florida and New Jersey. The economists concluded in a paper published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research that an increase of 100 foreclosures corresponded to a 7.2% rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for hypertension, and an 8.1% increase for diabetes, among people aged 20 to 49.

Each rise of 100 foreclosures was also associated with 12% more visits related to anxiety in the same age category. And the same rise in foreclosures was associated with 39% more visits for suicide attempts among the same group, though this still represents a small number of patients, the researchers say.

Teasing out cause and effect can be delicate, and correlation doesn’t necessarily mean foreclosures directly cause health problems. Financial duress, among other issues, could lead to health problems—and cause foreclosures, too.

The economists didn’t find similar patterns with diseases such as cancer or elective surgeries such as hip replacement, leading them to conclude that areas with high foreclosures are seeing mostly an increase of stress-related ailments.

 

Tuesday brought news of further weakness in the housing market as the closely watched S&P/Case-Shiller home-price index came in 5.9% lower for the second quarter from a year earlier. Continued job losses and economic uncertainty could weigh on home prices and make for another wave of foreclosures, economists say.

It may not just be foreclosure victims arriving at hospitals—but neighbors also grappling with depleting equity in their biggest investment.

“You see foreclosures having a general effect on the neighborhood,” Ms. Currie says. “Everybody’s stressed out. There is a connection between people’s economic well being and their physical well being.”

The situation got so bad for Patricia Graci, a 51-year-old Staten Island, N.Y., resident, that she canceled a recent court appearance related to the foreclosure on her house because she couldn’t get out of bed. After her husband lost his job as a painter in 2008, the Gracis relied on savings to pay their mortgage for two years.

“Everything was going downhill. My savings were going down to nothing,” says Ms. Graci. “When I realized the money wasn’t there anymore, I started getting very anxious and depressed.”

She says her lender advised her to default on her mortgage to qualify for a loan modification. Ms. Graci, who was an assistant bank manager and already had rheumatoid arthritis, says she began seeing a therapist and landed in the hospital with difficulty breathing in December 2009. A few weeks later came the foreclosure notice from the bank.

“They told me it was more anxiety and stress that made me wind up in the hospital than the arthritis,” Ms. Graci says. After repeatedly missing work due to illness, Ms. Graci went on long-term disability.

The areas that have the highest foreclosure rates also tend to have a large portion of their population unemployed, underemployed or uninsured. Ms. Currie says the research accounted for this by instituting controls for persistent differences among areas, such as poverty rates, as well as for county-level trends. Much of the 2005-2009 period examined came before unemployment peaked, too, she says. The researchers examined hospital-visit numbers and foreclosure rates in all ZIP Codes that had those data available.

The areas that have the highest foreclosure rates also tend to have a large portion of their population unemployed, underemployed or uninsured. Ms. Currie says the research accounted for this by instituting controls for persistent differences among areas, such as poverty rates, as well as for county-level trends. The time period examined, 2005 to 2007, was before unemployment peaked, she says. The researchers examined hospital-visit numbers and foreclosure rates in all ZIP Codes that had those data available.

They found that areas in the top fifth of foreclosure activity have more than double the number of visits for preventable conditions that generally don’t require hospitalization than the bottom fifth.

At the local hospital in Homestead, Fla., a city of mostly single-family, middle-class homes about 30 miles from Miami, the emergency room has been bustling. Emergency visits to the hospital in 2010 more than doubled from 10 years earlier to about 67,000, and emergency department medical director Otto Vega says they will surpass 70,000 this year. Homestead has the highest rate of mortgage delinquencies in the U.S.—in June, 41% of mortgage holders in the hardest-hit ZIP Code of Homestead were 90 days or more past due on payments, according to real-estate data firm CoreLogic Inc.

While the most common ailments are respiratory problems and pneumonia, Dr. Vega notes an increase in psychosomatic disorders, such as patients with chest pain and shortness of breath, and others who feel suicidal. “A lot of young people, less than 50 years old, have chest pain. You know it’s anxiety,” he says.

Nationwide, overall emergency-room visits have also been rising, growing 5% from 2007 to 127.3 million in 2009, according to the American Hospital Association. But inpatient stays have largely kept pace with population growth over the last decade, says Beth Feldpush, a vice president for policy and advocacy at the National Association of Public Hospitals.

The number of people covered by employer-sponsored insurance has been falling, she says. “When people don’t have insurance, they put off seeking care for too long and end up in the emergency room.”

And some of those seeking treatment had medical conditions before foreclosure—but the stress of losing their homes has exacerbated their ailments.

In 2008, Norman Adelman of Freehold, N.J., called his lender to ask for a forbearance of three or four months, saying he was about to undergo knee-replacement surgery. The lender complied and Mr. Adelman, who runs a home-energy business, says he began scaling back his work. He underwent needed tests and doctor visits.

After two months of not paying his mortgage, he successfully applied for a loan modification, taking his monthly payment from $2,700 to $1,900. But then the loan was sold—and a new servicer didn’t recognize the terms of the arrangement, he says.

Mr. Adelman is fighting the new lender but says he has been in and out of the hospital for the last two years. He never had his knees replaced and is now on antidepressants and antianxiety medication.

“He’s deteriorated. He’s had sleepless nights,” says his wife, Shulamis. “You always have this fear of being thrown out. He’s just gotten worse and worse from not sleeping.”

Earlier this month, after working with the nonprofit Staten Island Legal Services, Ms. Graci received a trial loan modification. “I’m happy but I am still scared,” she says. “I want a permanent solution. I don’t know if I am in the clear.”

Write to S. Mitra Kalita at mitra.kalita@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
The researchers examined the years 2005 through 2009. An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied the research only covered 2005 through 2007

 

 

Promoting Housing Recovery Part 3: Proposed Solutions For The Housing Market


This is the final part of a three-part, two-post series.  Click here to read parts I and II, which focus on recognizing the fundamental economic problems, and fixing the underlying economic issues (such as unemployment)

Part Three – Proposed Solutions For The Housing Market

Home Prices

Home prices in many parts of the country are still inflated. People cannot afford the homes and cannot refinance to lower payments, so the homes go into default and are foreclosed up. Other homes remain on the market, vacant because there are no qualified buyers for the property at that price. This is a problem that can take care of itself over time, if the government gets out of the way.

Currently the government, in cooperation with banks, is doing everything to support home prices instead of letting them drop. Doing so prevents homeowner strategic defaults, and others going into defaults. It also lessens the losses to lenders and investors. In the words of Zig Zigler, this is “stinkin thinkin”.

Maintaining home prices artificially high will not stabilize the market. It is mistakenly thought this is the same as supporting home values. But inflating a price does not increase value, by definition. It just delivers an advantage to the first ones in at the expense of those coming later (think of the first and second homebuyer tax credits, which created two discernible “bumps” in home prices and sales in 2009 and 2010, both of which reversed).

We must allow home prices to drop to a more reasonable level that people can afford. Doing so will stimulate the market because it brings more people into the market. Lower home prices mean more have an ability to purchase. More purchases mean more price stability over a period of time.

To accomplish a reduction in home prices several steps need to be taken.

Interest Rates

The first thing to be done is that the fed must cease its negative interest rate policy. Let interest rates rise to a level that the market supports. Quit subsidizing homeowner payments on adjustable rate mortgages by the lower interest rates.

Allowing interest rates to return to market levels would initially make homeownership more difficult and would result in people qualifying for lower loan amounts. However, this is not a bad thing because it eventually forces home prices down and all will balance out in the end. Historically, as interest rates decrease, home prices increase, and when rates increase, home prices drop. So it is time to let the market dictate where interest rates should be.

Furthermore, by allowing interest rates to increase, it makes lending money more attractive. Profit over risk levels return, and lenders are more willing to lend. This creates greater demand, and would assist in stabilizing the market.

Fannie & Freddie

We have to eliminate the Federal guarantee on Fannie and Freddie loans. The guarantee of F&F loans only serves to artificially depress interest rates. It does nothing to promote housing stability. Elimination of the guarantees would force rates up, leading to lower home values, and more affordability in the long run.

It is seriously worth considering privatizing Fannie and Freddie. Make them exist on their own without government intervention. Make them concerned about risk levels and liquidity requirements. Doing so will make them responsive to the profit motive, tighten lending standards, and lessen risk. It will over time also ensure no more government bailouts.

Allow competition for Fannie and Freddie. Currently, they have no competition and have not had competition since the early 1990s. Competition will force discipline on F&F, and will ultimately prove more productive for housing.

The new Qualified Residential Mortgage rules must not be allowed to occur as they stand. If the rules are allowed to go forward, it will only ensure that Fannie and Freddie remain the dominant force in housing. Make mortgage lending a level playing field for all. Do not favor F&F with advantages that others would not have like governmental guarantees. We must create effective competition to counter the distorting effects of F&F.

Government Programs like HAMP

When government attempts to slow or stop foreclosures, it only offers the homeowner false hopes that the home can be saved. The actions will extend the time that a homeowner remains in a home not making payments, and also extend the length of time that the housing crisis will be with us. Nothing else will generally be accomplished, except for further losses incurred by the lender or investor.

When modifications are advanced to people who have no ability to repay those modifications, when the interest rates adjust in five years, all that has happened is that the problem has been pushed off into the future, to be dealt with later. This is what government programs like HAMP achieve.

If the government wants to play a role in solving the housing crisis, it must take a role that will be realistic, and will lead to restoration of a viable housing market. That role must be in a support role, creating an economic environment which leads to housing recovery. It must not be an activist and interventionist role that only seeks to control outcomes that are not realistic.

Portfolio Lenders

Usually, the portfolio lender is a bank or other similar institution that is subject to government regulations, including liquidity requirements. Because of liquidity issues and capital, it is not possible for many banks to lend, or in sufficient numbers to have a meaningful effect upon housing recovery at this time. Additionally, the number of non-performing loans that lenders hold restricts having the funds to lend do to loan loss reserve issues. Until such is addressed, portfolio lending is severely restricted.

To solve the problem of non-performing loans, and to raise capital to address liquidity requirements, a “good bank – bad bank scenario” scenario must be undertaken. Individual mortgage loans need to be evaluated to determine the default risk of any one loan. Depending upon the risk level, the loan will be identified and placed into a separate category. Once all loans have been evaluated, a true value can be established for selling the loans to a “purchase investor”. At the same time, the “bank investor” is included to determine what capital infusion will be needed to support the lender when the loans are sold. An agreement is reached whereby the loans are sold and the new capital is brought into the lender, to keep the lender afloat and also strengthen the remaining loan portfolio.

The homeowner will receive significant benefit with this program. The “purchase investor” should have bought the loans for between 25 and 40 cents on the dollar. They can then negotiate with the homeowner, offering them significant principal reductions and lowered payments, while still having loans with positive equity. Default risk will have been greatly reduced, and all parties will have experienced a “win-win” scenario.

However, portfolio lending is still dependent upon having qualified borrowers. To that end, previous outlined steps must be taken to create a legitimate pool of worthy borrowers to reestablish lending.

MERS

Anyone who has followed the foreclosure crisis, the name MERS is well known. MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registrations System) represents the name of a computerized system used to track mortgage loans after origination and initial recording. MERS has been the subject of untold articles and conspiracy theories and blamed for the foreclosure process. It is believed by many that the operation of MERS is completely unlawful.

To restart securitization efforts, a MERS-like entity is going to be required. (MERS has been irrevocably damaged and will have to be replaced by a similar system with full transparency. Before anyone gets upset, I will explain why such an entity is required.)

Securitization of loans is a time consuming process, especially related to the tracking and recording of loans. When a loan is securitized, from the Cut-Off date of the trust to the Closing Date of the trust when loans must be placed into the trust, is 30 days. During this 30 day period of time, a loan would need to be assigned and recorded at least twice and usually three times. To accomplish this, each loan would need assignments executed, checks cut to the recorder’s office, and the documents delivered to the recorder’s office for recording.

Most recorder’s offices are not automated for electronic filing with less than 25% of the over 3200 counties doing electronic filing. The other offices must be done manually. This poses an issue in that a trust can have from several hundred to over 8000 loans placed into it. It is physically impossible to execute the work necessary in the 30 day time period to allow for securitization as MERS detractors would desire. So, an alternative methodology must be found.

“MERS 2.0″ is the solution. The new MERS must be developed with full transparency. It must be designed to absolutely conform with agency laws in all 50 states. MERS “Certifying Officers” must be named through corporate resolutions, with all supporting documentation available for review. There can be no question of a Certifying Officer’s authority to act.

Clear lines of authority must be established. The duties of MERS must be well spelled out and in accordance with local, state, and Federal statutes. Recording issues must be addressed and formalized procedures developed. Through these and other measures, MERS 2.0 can be an effective methodology for resolving the recording issues related to securitization products. This would alleviate many of the concerns and legal issues for securitization of loans, bringing greater confidence back into the system.

Securitization & Investors

Securitization of loans through sources other than Fannie and Freddie represented 25% of all mortgage loans done through the Housing Boom. This source of funding no longer exists, even though government bonds are at interest rates below 1%, and at times, some bonds pay negative interest. One would think that this would motivate Wall Street to begin securitization efforts again. However, that is not the case.

At this time, there is a complete lack of confidence in securitized loan products. The reasons are complex, but boil down to one simple fact: there is no ability to determine the quality of any one or all loans combined in a securitization offering, nor are the ratings given to the tranches of reliable quality for the same reasons. Until this can be overcome, there can be no hope of restarting securitization of loans. However, hope is on the way.

Many different companies are involved in bringing to market products and techniques that will address loan level issues. Some products involve verification of appraisals, others involve income and employment verification. More products are being developed as well. (LFI Analytics has its own specific product to address issues of individual loan quality.)

What needs to be done is for those companies developing the products to come together and to develop a comprehensive plan to address all concerns of investors for securitized products. What I propose is that we work together to incorporate our products into a “Master Product”, while retaining our individuality. This “Master Product” would be incorporated into each Securitization offered, so that Rating Agencies could accurately evaluate each loan and each tranche for quality. Then, the “Master Product” would be presented to Investors along with the Ratings Agency evaluation for their inspection and determination of whether to buy the securitized product. Doing so would bring confidence back into the market for securitized products.

There will also need to be a complete review of the types of loans that are to be securitized, and the requirements for each offering. Disclosures of the loan products must be clear, with loan level characteristics identified for disclosure. The Agreements need to be reworked to address issues related to litigation, loan modifications, and default issues. Access to loan documentation for potential lender repurchase demands must be clarified and procedures established for any purchase demand to occur.

There must be clarification of the securitization procedures. A securitized product must meet all requirements under state and Federal law, and IRS considerations. There must be clear guidance provided on how to meet the requirements, and what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable. Such guidance should seek to eliminate any questions about the lawfulness of securitization.

Finally, servicing procedures for securitization must be reviewed, clarified, and strengthened. There can no longer be any question as to the authority of the servicer to act, so clear lines of authority must be established and agency and power of attorney considerations be clearly written into the agreements.

Borrower Quality

Time and again, I have referenced having quality borrowers who have the ability to buy homes and qualify for loans. I have outlined steps that can be taken to establish such pools of buyers and borrowers by resolving debt issues, credit issues, and home overvaluation issues. But that is not enough.

Having examined thousands of loan documents, LFI Analytics has discovered that not only current underwriting processes are deficient in many areas still, but the new proposed Qualified Written Mortgage processes suffer from such deficiencies as well. This can lead to people being approved for loans who will have a high risk of default. Others will be declined for loans because they don’t meet the underwriting guidelines, but in reality they have a significantly lower risk of default.

Default Risk analysis must be a part of the solution for borrower quality. Individual default risk must be determined on each loan, in addition to normal underwriting processes, so as to deny those that represent high default risk, and approve those that have low default risk.

This is a category of borrower that portfolio lenders and securitization entities will have an advantage over the traditional F&F loan. Identifying and targeting such borrowers will provide a successful business model, as long as the true default risk is determined. That is where the LFI Analytics programs are oriented.

Summary

In this series of articles, I have attempted to identify stresses existing now and those existing in the future, and how the stresses will affect any housing recovery. I have also attempted to identify possible solutions for many of the stresses.

The recovery of the housing market will not be accomplished in the near future, as so many media and other types represent. The issues are far too complex and interdependent on each other for quick and easy remedy.

To accurately view what is needed for the housing recovery, one must take a macro view of not just housing, but also the economic and demographic concerns, as I have done here. Short and long term strategies must be developed for foreclosure relief, based upon the limiting conditions of lenders, borrowers, and investor agreements.

Lending recovery must be based upon the economic realities of the lenders, and the investors who buy the loans. Furthermore, accurate methods of loan evaluation and securitization ratings must be incorporated into any strategy so as to bring back investor confidence.

Are steps being taken towards resolving the housing crisis and beginning the housing recovery? In the government sector, the answer is really “no”. Short term “solutions” are offered in the form of different programs, but the programs are ineffective for most people. Even then, the “solutions” only treat the symptom, and not the illness. Government is simply not capable of taking the actions necessary to resolve the crisis, either from incompetence or from fear of voter reprisal.

In the private sector, baby steps are being taken by individual companies to resolve various issues. These companies are refining their products to meet the needs of all parties, and slowly bringing them to market.

What is needed now is for the private sector to come together and begin to offer “packages of products” to meet the needs of securitizing entities. The “packages” should be tailored to solve all the issues, so that all evaluation materials are complete and concise, and not just a handful of different reports from different vendors. This is the “far-sighted” view of what needs to be done.

If all parties cannot come together and present a unified and legitimate approach to solving the housing crisis, then we will see a “lost decade” (or two) like Japan has suffered. Housing is just far too important of an economic factor for the US economy. Housing has led the way to recovery in past recessions, but it not only lags now, it drags the economy down. Until housing can recover, it shall serve to be a drag on the economy.

I hope that I have sparked interest in what has been written and shall lead to a spirited discussion on how to recover. I do ask that any discussion focus on how to restore housing. Recriminations and blame for what has happened in the past serves no purpose to resolution of the problems facing us now, and in the future.

It is now time to move past the anger and the desire for revenge, and to move forward with “can-do” solutions.

Promoting Housing Recovery Parts 1 and 2, by Patrick Pulatie


Previously, I have posted articles regarding housing and foreclosure issues. The purpose was to begin a dialogue on the steps to be taken to alleviate the foreclosure crisis, and to promote housing recovery.   Now, we need to explore how to restart lending in the private sector.  This will be a three part article, with parts I and II herein, and III in the next post.

To begin, we must understand how we got to the point of where we are today, and whereby housing became so critical a factor in the economy. (This is only an overview. I leave it to the historians to fill in all the details.)

Part One – Agreeing On The Problems

Historical Backdrop

At the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. population stood about 76,000,000 people. By the end of 2000, the population was over 310 million. The unprecedented growth in population resulted in the housing industry and related services becoming one of several major engines of wealth creation during the 20th century.

During the Depression, large numbers of farm and home foreclosures were occurring. The government began to get involved in housing to stop foreclosures and stimulate housing growth. This resulted in the creation of an FHA/Fannie Mae– like program, to support housing.

WWII led to major structural changes in the U.S., both economically and culturally. Manufacturing and technological changes spurred economic growth. Women entered the work force in huge numbers. Returning veterans came back from the war desiring to leave the rural areas, begin families, and enter the civilian workforce. The result was the baby boom generation and its coming influence.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, the US dominated the world economically. Real income growth was occurring for all households. Homeownership was obtainable for ever increasing numbers of people. Consumerism was rampant.

To support homeownership, the government created Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac so that more people could partake in the American Dream. These entities would eventually become the primary source of mortgages in the U.S. F&F changed the way mortgages were funded, and changed the terms of mortgages, so that 30 year mortgages became the common type of loan, instead of 5 to 15 year mortgages.

Storm clouds were beginning to appear on the horizon at the same time. Japan, Korea, Germany, and other countries had now come out of their post war depressions. Manufacturing and industrial bases had been rebuilt. These countries now posed an economic threat to the U.S. by offering improved products, cheaper labor costs, and innovation. By the end of the 1970s, for many reasons, US manufacturing was decreasing, and service related industries were gaining importance.

In the 1980s and 1990s, manufacturing began to decline in the U.S. Service Industries were now becoming a major force in the economy. With the end of the Cold War in 1989, defense spending began to decline dramatically, further depressing the economy.

In the early 1990s, F&F engaged in efforts to increase their share of the mortgage market. They freely admitted wanting to control the housing market, and took steps to do so, undermining lenders and competition, and any attempts to regulate them.

In 1994, homeownership rates were at 64% in the US. President Clinton, along with Congress and in conjunction with Fannie and Freddie, came out with a new program with the intent to promote a 70% homeownership rate. This program was promoted even though economists generally considered 64% to be the maximum amount of homeownership that an economy could readily support. Above 64%, people would be 

“buying” homes, but without having the financial capabilities to repay a loan. The program focused upon low income persons and minorities. The result was greater demand for housing and homeownership, and housing values began to increase.

Lenders and Wall Street were being pushed out of the housing market by F&F, and had to find new markets to serve. F&F did not want to service the new markets being created by the government homeownership programs. The result was that Wall Street would naturally gravitate to that market, which was generally subprime, and also to the jumbo market, which F&F could not serve due to loan amount restrictions. This was the true beginning of securitized loan products.

The events of 9/11 would ultimately stoke the fires of home ownership even further. 9/11 occurred as the US was coming out of a significant recession, and to keep the country from sliding back into recession, the Fed lowered interest rates and kept them artificially low until 2003. Wall Street, recognizing the promise of good financial returns from securitized loans, freed up more and more capital for banks and mortgage bankers to lend. This led to even greater demand for homes and mortgages.

To meet the increased demand, home construction exploded. Ancillary services did well also, from infrastructure, schools, hospitals, roads, building materials, and home decor. The economy was booming, even though this was “mal-investment” of resources. (Currently, as a result of this activity, there are estimated to be from 2m to 3.5m in excess housing units, with approximately 400k being added yearly to housing stock.)

It did not stop there. Buyers, in their increasing zeal, were bidding for homes, increasing the price of homes in many states by 50 to 100,000 dollars more than what was reasonable. The perception was that if they did not buy now, then they could never buy. Additionally, investors began to purchase multiple properties, hoping to create a home rental empire. This led to unsustainable home values.

Concurrently, the Fed was still engaged in a loose money policy. This pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the housing economy, with predictable results. With increasing home values, homeowners could refinance their homes, often multiple times over, pulling cash out and keeping the economy pumped up artificially. A homeowner could pull out 50,000 to 100,000 dollars or more, often every year or two, and use that money to indulge themselves, pretending they had a higher standard of living than what existed. The government knew that this was not a reasonable practice, but indulged in it anyway, so as to keep up an appearance of a healthy economy. Of course, this only compounded the problem.

The end result of the past 40 years of government intervention (and popular support for that intervention) has been a housing market that is currently overbuilt and still overvalued. In the meantime, real wages have not increased since the mid 1990s and for large numbers of the population, negative income growth has been experienced. Today, all segments of the population, homeowners especially so, are saddled with significant mortgage debt, consumer debt, and revolving credit debt. This has led to an inability on the part of the population to buy homes or other products. Until wage and debt issues are resolved, employment increases, and housing prices have returned to more reasonable values, there can be no housing recovery.

Current Status

As all know, the current status of housing in the US is like a ship dead in the water, with no ability to steer except to roll with the waves. A recap:

Private securitization once accounted for over 25% of all mortgage loans. These efforts are currently nonexistent except for one entity, Redwood Trust, which has issued one securitized offerings in 2010 and one in 2011. Other than this, Wall Street is afraid to invest in Mortgage Products (to say nothing of downstream investors).

Banks are unable to lend their own money, which represented up to 15% of all lending. Most banks are capital impaired and have liquidity issues, as well as unknown liabilities from bad loans dating to the bubble.

Additionally, banks are suffering from a lack of qualified borrowers. Either there is no equity in the home to lend on, or the borrowers don’t have the financial ability to afford the loan. Therefore, the only lending that a bank can engage in is to execute loans and sell them to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or VA and FHA. There are simply no other options available.

F&F are buying loans from the banks, but their lending standards have increased, so the loan purchases are down. F&F still distort the market because of government guarantees on their loans (now explicit instead of implicit), and they are still able to purchase loans above $700k, which was implemented in response to the housing crisis.

F&F are still having financial issues, with the government having bailed them out to the tune of $140b, with much more to come.

VA is buying loans and doing reasonably well, but they serve a tiny portion of the market.

FHA has turned into the new subprime, accepting credit challenged borrowers, and with loan to values of 95% or greater. Default rates on FHA loans are rising significantly, and will pose issues for the government when losses absorb all FHA loss reserves, which may have already happened (depending on how you look at the accounting).

The Mortgage Insurance companies are financially depressed, with PMI being forced to stop writing new policies due to loan loss reserves being depleted. Likely, they will cease business or be absorbed by another company. Other companies are believed to be similarly in trouble, though none have failed yet.

The US population is still overburdened with debt. It is believed that the household consumer debt burden is over 11%, for disposable income. This is far too high for effective purchasing of any products, especially high end. (There has been a lessening of this debt from its high of 14% in 2008, but this has primarily been the result of defaults, so most of those persons are not in a position to buy.)

Patrick Pulatie is the CEO of LFI Analytics. He can be reached at 925-522-0371, or 925-238-1221 for further information. http://www.LFI-Analytics.com, patrick@lfi-analytics.com.

Coming Next: The Landlord’s Rental Market, by A.D. Pruitt, Wall Street Journal


Apartment landlords appear to be among the only commercial property owners able to sign new tenants amid the sluggish economy.

But the strength of the multifamily sector is itself related to the troubled economy. There has been an “abnormal slowdown in household formation in recent years,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, says in a new report. “Many young people, who normally would have struck out on their own from 2008 to 2010, had been doubling up with roommates or moving back into their parents’ homes.”

NAR, using U.S. Census data, says that household formation was only 357,000 last year, compared with 398,000 in 2009. That’s way below 1.6 million in 2007. But Mr. Yun said young people have been entering the rental market as new households in stronger numbers this year.

NAR expects vacancy rates in multifamily housing will drop from 5.5% to 4.6% in the third quarter of 2012. Vacancies below 5% generally are considered a landlord’s market, the trade group noted.

Minneapolis has the lowest multifamily vacancy rate at 2.5% followed by 2.8% in New York City and 2.9% in Portland, Ore.

But conditions aren’t as rosy in the rest of the commercial property market with the tepid economy poised to slow demand for space, according to the report.

For the office market, the vacancy rate is forecasted to fall from 16.6% in the third quarter of this year to 16.3% in the third quarter of 2012.  The markets with the lowest office vacancy rates include Washington, D.C. at 8.6%, New York City at 10.1% and Long Island, N.Y at 13%.

Retail vacancy rates are projected to decline from 12.9% in the third quarter this year to 12.2% in the third quarter of 2012. San Francisco led with the lowest vacancy rate of 3.8% followed by Northern New Jersey at 6.1%. Los Angeles; Long Island, N.Y.; and San Jose, Calif tied for third place at 6.4% each.

Government Officials Weigh New Refi Program, Carrie Bay, DSNEWS.com


Word on the street is that the Obama administration is sizing up a new program to shore up and stimulate the housing market by providing millions of homeowners with new, lower interest, lower payment mortgage loans.  According to multiple media outlets, the initiative would allow borrowers with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Macto refinance at today’s near record-low interest rates, close to the 4 percent mark, even if they are in negative equity or have bad marks on their credit.

The plan, first reported by the New York Times, may not be seen as a win-win by everyone. The Times says it could face stiff opposition from the GSEs’ regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), as well as private investors who hold bonds made up of loans backed by the two mortgage giants.

The paper says refinancing could save homeowners $85 billion a year. It would also reach some homeowners who are struggling with underwater mortgages, which can disqualify a borrower from a traditional refinance, and those who fail to meet all the credit criteria for a refinance as a result of tough times brought on by the economic downturn.

Administration officials have not confirmed that a new refi program is in the works, but have said they are weighing several proposals to provide support to the still-ailing housing market and reach a greater number of distressed homeowners.

According to information sourced by Bloomberg, Fannie and Freddie guarantee nearly $2.4 trillion in mortgages that carry interest rates above the 4 percent threshold.

The details that have been reported on the make-up of the refi proposal mirror recommendations put forth by two Columbia business professors, Chris Mayer and R. Glenn Hubbard.

They’ve outlined the same type of policy-driven refi boom in a whitepaper that calls for Fannie- and Freddie-owned mortgages to be refinanced with an interest rate of around 4 percent.

They say not only would it provide mortgage relief to some 30 million homeowners – to the tune of an average reduction in monthly payments of $350 — but it would yield about $118 billion in extra cash being pumped into the economy.

Other ideas for housing stimulus are also being considered. One involving a public-private collaboration to get distressed properties off the market and turn them into rental homes has progressed to the point that officials issued a formal notice earlier this month requesting recommendations from private investors, industry stakeholders, and community organizations on how best to manage the disposition of government-owned REOs.

Treasury is also reviewing a proposal from American Home Mortgage Servicing that would provide for a short sale of mortgage notes from mortgage-backed securities (MBS) trusts to new investors as a means of facilitating principal reduction modifications.

There’s speculation that President Obama will make a big housing-related announcement in the weeks ahead as part of a larger economic plan.

Pre-Foreclosure Short Sales Jump 19% in Second Quarter by Carrie Bay, DSNEWS.com


An example of a real estate owned property in ...

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Short sales shot up 19 percent between the first and second quarters, with 102,407 transactions completed during the April-to-June period, according to RealtyTrac.  Over the same timeframe, a total of 162,680 bank-owned REO homes sold to third parties, virtually unchanged from the first quarter.

RealtyTrac’s study also found that the average time to complete a short sale is down, while the time it takes to sell an REO has increased.

Pre-foreclosure short sales took an average of 245 days to sell after receiving the initial foreclosure notice during the second quarter, RealtyTrac says. That’s down from an average of 256 days in the first quarter and follows three straight quarters in which the sales cycle has increased.

REOs that sold in the second quarter took an average of 178 days to sell after the foreclosure process was completed, which itself has been lengthening across the country. The REO sales cycle in Q2 increased slightly from 176 days in the first quarter, and is up from 164 days in the second quarter of 2010.

Discounts on both short sales and REOs increased last quarter, according to RealtyTrac’s study, but homes sold pre-foreclosure carried less of a markdown when compared to non-distressed homes.

Sales of homes in default or scheduled for auction prior to the completion of foreclosure had an average sales price nationwide of $192,129, a discount of 21 percent below the average sales price of non-foreclosure homes. The short sale price-cut is up from a 17 percent discount in the previous quarter and a 14 percent discount in the second quarter of 2010.

Nationally, REOs had an average sales price of $145,211, a discount of nearly 40 percent below the average sales price of non-distressed homes. The REO discount was 36 percent in the previous quarter and 34 percent in the second quarter of 2010.

Commenting on the latest short sale stats in particular, James Saccacio, RealtyTrac’s CEO, said, “The jump in pre-foreclosure sales volume coupled with bigger discounts…and a shorter average time to sell…all point to a housing market that is starting to focus on more efficiently clearing distressed inventory through more streamlined short sales.”

Saccacio says short sales “give lenders the opportunity to more pre-emptively purge non-performing loans from their portfolios and avoid the long, costly and increasingly messy process of foreclosure and the subsequent sale of an REO.”

Together, REOs and short sales accounted for 31 percent of all U.S. residential sales in the second quarter, RealtyTrac reports. That’s down from nearly 36 percent of all sales in the first quarter but up from 24 percent of all sales in the second quarter of 2010.

States with the highest percentage of foreclosure-related sales – REOs and short sales – in the second quarter include Nevada (65%), Arizona (57%), California (51%), Michigan (41%), and Georgia (38%).

States where foreclosure-related sales increased more than 30 percent between the first and second quarters include Delaware (33%), Wyoming (32%), and Iowa (30%).

 

The New Homestead Act: Update, by Dr. Ed’s Blog


President Barack Obama recently promised that he has a plan to create jobs, which will be disclosed in September, after he takes 10 days off in Martha’s Vineyard. I certainly hope he comes up with a good plan. If he needs one, how about the one that Carl Goldsmith and I proposed at the beginning of August? [1] I met with my congressman, Gary Ackerman, last Tuesday to pitch the plan. He liked it well enough to issue a press release on Wednesday of this week endorsing it and promising to introduce the “Homestead: Act 2” when Congress returns from its August recess.[2]

The Act aims to reduce the huge overhang of unsold homes by offering a matching down payment subsidy of up to $20,000 for homebuyers, who do not currently own a home, and exempting newly acquired rental properties from taxation for 10 years. The cost of these incentives would be offset by the tax revenues collected by lowering the corporate tax rate on repatriated earnings to 10%. 

Congressman Gary Ackerman is presently serving his fifteenth term in the US House of Representatives. He represents the Fifth Congressional District of New York, which encompasses parts of the New York City Borough of Queens and the North Shore of Long Island, including west and northeast Queens and northern Nassau County. Ackerman serves on the powerful Financial Services Committee, where he sits on two Subcommittees: Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit as well as Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises (of which he is the former Vice Chairman). The stock market rose sharply after March 12, 2009, when Mr. Ackerman, during a congressional hearing, leaned on Robert Herz, the head of FASB, to suspend the mark-to-market rule. FASB did so on April 2. I had brought this issue to the congressman’s attention in a meeting we had during November 2008.

 

Dr. Ed’s Blog
http://blog.yardeni.com/

 

 

The Importance of a Branded Closing Gift


We are all bombarded with advertising every minute of every day. It’s no wonder most of us have trained our brains to ignore all the noise and focus on what is important to us. If you have been in the real estate industry for any length of time, you know how hard it can be to get noticed. Marketing companies promise you increased prospects if only you buy in to their fancy business cards layouts, and personalized give-away gizmos.  Unfortunately the truth is that unless you already a top 10 producer chances are you aren’t able to afford to compete against the big guys through marketing efforts alone.

The trick to growth is word of mouth. The old saying “A happy customer will tell 1 or 2 people, an unhappy one will tell everyone,” is as true as it gets. The key to getting recognized is by making your clients happy and keeping yourself at the top of their mind so they refer you to their friends and family. Practicing this business philosophy is probably the single best way to grow without breaking the bank.

It doesn’t make sense to invest thousands of dollars trying to attract new customers when your best advocates are the customers you already have. My experience in the industry has shown that time and time again money is spent on having the perfect logo, the best headshot and high-glossy flyers but no thought goes into carrying the same message through with piece of advertising that is likely to stay with the client the longest… the closing gift.

When my husband practiced Real Estate he was often so busy with all the walk-through’s, inspections and paperwork that he had no time to get a closing gift together. I would help take on this task, but without personally meeting his clients I never really knew what would be appropriate. Did they drink wine or where they recovering alcoholics? Do they like fruit or are they allergic to strawberries? There really was no sure way to know. Usually I stuck to the tried, true gift card from a nearby hardware store and a plant. Neither of which did a good job of reminding the new homeowners of all the hard work and good customer service they had received by working with my husband.

In most cases, after 3 or 4 years, some of those customers had completely forgotten who had helped them with their house purchase and the worse case scenarios ended up buying their newest home straight from the listing agent and giving that agent twice the business by listing their home with them!

As I reflect on all the postcards, the nights of stuffing envelops and the 200+ American flags dispersed throughout the neighborhood one 4th of July; I am dumbfounded that we never stopped realized that we were overlooking what could have been the most affective marketing tool at our disposal. Whether you are a new agent or a seasoned veteran please take my advice and invest in a closing gift that speaks to you and the services you provide your customers. More over, be sure that this gift bares your message and contact information to remind your clients about how much you care for them and their business.

Think practical; what would you like to receive if you were just getting into a new home?

My company, RocLok Hide a Key, Inc. just launched a line of closing gift packages to help take the guess work out of the equation. All of the packages include 5 RocLok Hide a Keys that have a personalized message inside to remind your clients how much you care about them and their safety. Since the message can also have your contact information, they will know where to find you when they want to refer your services to a friend or family member. Plus who could ever forget getting a rock in a box as a gift?  Sign up for our Business Benefit’s Program today and save up to 25% on all RocLok Hide a Key products!

RATES WAY DOWN, APPS WAY UP… THAT’S GOOD, RIGHT?, by Diane Mesgleski, Mi–Explode.com


Last week mortgage applications rose a whopping 21.7% from the previous week according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey.  Great news for the industry to be sure.  Great news for the housing market?  Not so much, when you consider that the bulk of the applications are refinances, not purchases.  Refis rose 31% from the previous week, while purchases remain low. Actually they dropped a skooch.  Low purchase numbers mean continued stagnation in the housing market and continued increase in inventory as foreclosures continue to be added to the count.  Which means lower values. Kind of a vicious cycle.  Those of us in the mortgage biz were not surprised by last week’s numbers, since low rates spur refis and rising interest rates signal a purchase market.  You don’t even need to understand the reason why, you just know that is how it works. It is comforting to know that something is working the way it always has.

What is not comforting is the bewildered Fed chairman, and many baffled economists who don’t understand why the present policies are not working.  Even if rates could go lower it would not have an impact on the housing market.  There is no lack of money to lend, there is a lack of qualified borrowers.  And that situation is not improving with time, it is getting worse.   At the same time Washington is tightening their stranglehold on lenders with ever increasing regulation, then wondering why banks are not lending.  No matter what you believe should be the course, whether more regulation or less, you have to agree that government intervention has not and is not helping.

Has anybody else noticed, the only winner in this current climate are the Too Big To Fail banks?   They have plenty of cash, since they cannot lend it.  One article I read put it this way, their balance sheets are “healing”.   Sounds so soothing you almost forget to be angry.

There is one other factor in the current housing crisis worth mentioning: the lack of consumer confidence.  Nobody is going to buy a house when the prices are continuing to fall.  And even in areas where the prices are stable, people have no confidence in the economy or in Washington’s ability or willingness to fix it. They are simply afraid to make the biggest investment of their lives in this climate.   If our leaders would actually lead rather than play political games we might actually start seeing change.

But only if we give them another four years.   No wonder Ben does not think that anything will get better until 2013….now I get it.