Prototype of Standardized Monthly Mortgage Statement is Released, by Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau‘s proposed statement is designed to provide clear information about the loan on a single page and wouldn’t change each time your loan is sold to a new servicer.

 

 

Reporting from Washington—

Your monthly mortgage bill soon could get easier to understand, and it wouldn’t change each time your loan is sold to a new servicer.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has developed a proposed standardized mortgage servicer statement designed to provide clear information about the loan on a single page.

The prototype released Monday included a breakdown of how much of the monthly payment went to principal, interest and escrow. The form also detailed the outstanding principal, maturity date, prepayment penalty and, for adjustable-rate mortgages, the time when the interest rate could change.

“This information will help consumers stay on top of their mortgage costs and hold their mortgage servicers accountable for fixing errors that crop up,” said Richard Cordray, the agency’s director. “Given the widespread mortgage servicing problems we’ve seen over the past few years, consumers need clear disclosures they can count on.”

Although many servicers already provide such information on their monthly statements, there are no industrywide standards, the agency said.

Such standards are a good idea, and initial reaction from servicers to the agency’s proposal was positive, said Rod J. Alba, senior counsel in the mortgage markets division at the American Bankers Assn.

The agency posted a working draft of the standardized statement on its website,http://www.consumerfinance.gov to solicit input from the public and industry before a version of the form formally is proposed this summer.

Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said simplified mortgage statements would help resolve the broad mortgage servicing problems that were at the heart of last week’s federal and state settlement with five of the nation’s largest banks over botched foreclosure paperwork.

The consumer agency is required under the 2010 financial reform law to put new mortgage servicing rules in place to help consumers, Cordray said. The law has specific requirements for mortgage statements, including a phone number and email address for the customer to get information about the loan, as well as information about housing counselors.

The new mortgage statement is the latest consumer financial paperwork the agency is trying to simplify.

In May, it released two prototypes for shorter, easier-to-understand disclosure forms that lenders would have to give home buyers before they close on a mortgage. The agency has been receiving comments on the forms and tested them last month in Philadelphia.

And in December, the agency proposed a simplified credit card agreement form to make it easier to understand interest rate terms and comparison shop.

The agency also is developing a new disclosure rule for hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages that would require consumers to be notified months before their first interest rate increase, as well as to be provided with a good-faith estimate of the new monthly payment.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

Short Sale Listing: 2710 SW OLD ORCHARD RD, Portland Or. $695,000


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via Short Sale Listing: 2710 SW OLD ORCHARD RD, Portland Or. $695,000.

Has Housing Really Bottomed? Oftwominds.com


Massive intervention by Federal agencies and the Federal Reserve have kept the market from discovering price and the risk premium in real estate. That sets up a “catch the falling knife” possibility for impatient real estate investors.

 

A substantial percentage of many households’ net worth is comprised of the equity in their home. With the beating home prices have taken since 2007, existing and soon-to-be homeowners are keen to know: Are prices stabilizing? Will they begin to recover from here? Or is the “knife” still falling?

To understand where housing prices are headed, we need to understand what drives them in the first place: policy, perception, and price discovery.

In my December 2011 look at housing, I examined systemic factors such as employment and demographics that represent ongoing structural impediments to the much-awaited recovery in housing valuations and sales. This time around, we’re going to consider policy factors that influence the housing market.

Yesterday while standing in line at our credit union I overheard another customer at a teller’s window request that her $100,000 Certificate of Deposit (CD) be withdrawn and placed in her checking account because, she said, “I’m not earning anything.” The woman was middle-aged and dressed for work in a professional white- collar environment — a typical member, perhaps, of the vanishing middle class.

Sadly, she is doing exactly what Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve policies are intended to push people into doing: abandoning capital accumulation (savings) in favor of consumption or trying for a higher yield in risk assets such as stocks and real estate.

It may strike younger readers as unbelievable that a few decades ago, in the low-inflation 1960s, savings accounts earned a government-stipulated minimum yield of 5.25%, regardless of where the Fed Funds Rate might be. Capital accumulation was widely understood to be the bedrock of household financial security and the source of productive lending, whether for 30-year home mortgages or loans taken on to expand an enterprise.

How times — and the US economy — have changed.

Now the explicit policy of the nation’s private central bank (the Federal Reserve) and the federal government’s myriad housing and mortgage agencies is to punish saving with essentially negative returns in favor of blatant speculation with borrowed money. Official inflation is around 3% and savings accounts earn less than 0.1%, leaving savers with a net loss of about 3% every year.  Even worse — if that is possible — these same agencies have extended housing lenders trillions of dollars in bailouts, backstops and guarantees, creating institutionalized moral hazard on an unprecedented scale.

Recall that moral hazard simply means that the relationship between risk and return and has been severed, so risk can be taken in near-infinite amounts with the assurance that if that risk blows up, the gains remain in the hands of the speculator. Another way of describing this policy of government bailouts is “profits are private but losses are socialized.” That is, any profits earned from risky speculation are the speculator’s to keep, while all the losses are transferred to the public.

While the housing bubble was most certainly based on a credit bubble enabled by lax oversight and fraudulent practices, the aftermath can be fairly summarized as institutionalizing moral hazard.

Policy as Behavior Modification and Perception Management

Quasi-official pronouncements by Fed Board members suggest that the Fed’s stated policy of punishing savers with a zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP) is outwardly designed to lower the cost of refinancing mortgages and buying a house. The first is supposed to free up cash that households can then spend on consumption, thereby boosting the economy. With savings earning a negative yield, consuming more becomes a tangibly attractive alternative. (How keeping the factories in Asia humming will boost the American economy is left unstated.)

This near-complete destruction of investment income from household savings yields a rather poor return. Plausible estimates of the total gain that could be reaped by widespread refinancing hover around $40 billion a year, which is not much in a $15 trillion economy.

There are real-world limits on this policy as well. Since the Fed can’t actually force lenders to refinance underwater mortgages, millions of homeowners are unable to take advantage of lower rates. From the point of view of lenders, declining household incomes and mortgages that exceed the home value (so-called negative equity) have lowered the creditworthiness of many homeowners.

As a result, the stated Fed policy goal of lowering mortgage payments to boost consumer spending has met with limited success. Somewhat ironically, the mortgage industry’s well-known woes — extended time-frames for involuntary foreclosure, lenders’ hesitancy to concede to short sales (where the house is sold for less than the mortgage and the lender absorbs a loss), and strategic/voluntary defaults — may be putting an estimated $80 billion in “free cash” that once went to mortgages into defaulting consumer’s hands.

The failure of the Fed’s policies to increase household’s surplus income via ZIRP leads us to the second implicit goal, lowering the cost of home ownership via super-low mortgage rates, which serves both as behavior modification and perception management. If low-interest rate mortgages and subsidized Federal programs that offer low down payments drop the price of home ownership below that of renting an equivalent house, then there is a substantial financial incentive to buy rather than rent.

The implicit goal is to shape a general perception that the bottom is in, and it’s now safe to buy housing.

First-time home buying programs and FHA (Federal Housing Authority) and VA (Veterans Administration) loans all offer very low down-payment options to qualified buyers. This extends a form of moral hazard to buyers as well as lenders: If a buyer need only scrape up $2,000 to buy a house, their losses are limited should they default to this same modest sum. Meanwhile, lenders working under the guarantee of FHA- and VA-backed loans are also insured against losses.

The Fed’s desire to boost home sales by any means available is transparent. By boosting home sales, it hopes to stem the decline of house valuations and thus stop the hemorrhaging of bank losses from writing down impaired loan portfolios, and also stabilize remaining home equity for households, which has shrunk to a meager 38% of housing value.

As many have noted, given that about 30% of all homes are owned free and clear, the amount of equity residing in the 70% of homes with a mortgage may well be in the single digits. (Data on actual equity remaining in mortgaged homes is not readily available, and would be subject to wide differences of opinion on actual market valuations.)

Broadly speaking, housing as the bedrock of middle class financial security has been either destroyed (no equity) or severely impaired (limited equity).  The oversupply of homes on the market and in the “shadow inventory” of defaulted/foreclosed homes awaiting auction has also impaired the ability of homeowners to sell their property; in this sense, any remaining equity is trapped, as selling is difficult and equity extraction via HELOCs (home equity lines of credit) has, for all intents and purposes, vanished.

The Fed’s strategy, in conjunction with the government-owned and -operated mortgage agencies that own or guarantee the majority of mortgages in the US (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA, and the VA), is to stabilize the housing market through subsidizing the cost of mortgage borrowing by shifting hundreds of billions of dollars out of savers’ earnings with ZIRP.

Since roughly 60% of households either already own a home or are ensnared in the default/foreclosure process, then the pool of buyers boils down to two classes: buyers who would be marginal if not for government subsidies and super-low mortgage rates, and investors seeking some sort of return above that of US Treasury bonds. The Fed has handed investors two choices to risk a return above inflation: equities (the stock market) or real estate. Given the uneven track record of stocks since the 2009 meltdown, it is not much of a surprise that investors large and small have been seeking “deals” in real estate as a way to earn a return.

Recent data from the National Association of Realtors concludes that cash buyers (a proxy for investors) accounted for 31% of homes sold in December 2011. Even in the pricey San Francisco Bay Area, where median prices are still in the $350,000 range, investors accounted for 27% of all sales. Absentee buyers (again, a proxy for investors) paid a median price of around $225,000, substantially lower than the general median price.

This data suggests that “bargain” properties are being snapped up for cash, either as rental properties or in hopes of “flipping” for a profit after some modest cleanup and repair.

Price and Risk Premium Discovery

There is one lingering problem with the Fed and the federal housing agencies’ concerted campaigns to punish capital accumulation, push investors into equities or real estate, and subsidize marginal buyers to boost sales at current valuations. The market cannot “discover” price or establish a risk premium when the government and its proxies are, in essence, the market.

By some accounts, literally 99% of all mortgages in the U.S. are government-issued or -guaranteed. If any other sector was so completely owned by the federal government, most people would concede that it was a socialized industry. Yet we in the US maintain the fiction of a “free market” in mortgages and housing.

To establish a truly free and transparent market for mortgages and housing, we would have to end all federal subsidies and guarantees/backstops, and restore the market as sole arbiter of interest rates — i.e., remove that control from the Federal Reserve.

Everyone with a stake in the current market fears such a return to an open market because it is likely that prices would plummet once government subsidies, guarantees, and incentives were removed. Yet without such an open market, buyers can never be certain that price and risk have truly been discovered. Buyers in today’s market may feel that the government has removed all risk from buying, but they might find that they “caught the falling knife;” that is, bought into a false bottom in a market that has yet to reach transparent price discovery.

So, the key question still remains for anyone who owns a home or is looking to soon own one…how close are we to the bottom in housing prices?

In Part II: Determining the Housing Bottom for Your Local Market, we tackle that question head-on. Because local dynamics inevitably play such a large role in determining fair pricing for any given market, instead of giving a simple forecast, we instead offer a portfolio of tools and other resources for analyzing home values on a local basis. Our goal is to empower readers to calculate an informed estimate of “fair value” for their own markets — and then see how closely current local real estate prices fit (or deviate) from it.

Click here to access Part II of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access).

This article was originally published on chrismartenson.com.

Fannie, Freddie overhaul unlikely, by Vicki Needham, Thehill.com


An overhaul of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is unlikely again this year despite recent Republican efforts to move the issue up the agenda.

Congressional Republicans, along with some Democrats — and even GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich — are renewing calls to craft an agreement to reduce the involvement of Fannie and Freddie in the nation’s mortgage market.

But without a broader accord, passage of any legislation this year is slim, housing experts say.

 

Jim Tobin, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Home Builders, concedes that despite a mix of Democratic and Republican proposals, including a push by the Obama administration last year, congressional leaders probably won’t get far this year on a plan for Fannie and Freddie, the government-controlled mortgage giants.

 

Tobin said there are “good ideas out there” and while he expects the House to put some bills on the floor and possibly pass legislation, the Senate is likely to remain in oversight mode without any “broad-based legislation on housing finance.”

“We’re bracing for a year where it’s difficult to break through on important policy issues,” he said this week.

While the issue makes for a good talking point, especially in an presidential election year, congressional efforts are largely being stymied by the housing market’s sluggish recovery, prohibiting the hand off between the government and private sector in mortgage financing, housing experts say.

David Crowe, chief economist with NAHB, said that the market has hit rock bottom and is now undergoing a “slow climb out of the hole.”

The House has taken the biggest steps so far — by mid-July the Financial Services Committee had approved 14 bills intended to jump-start reform of the government-sponsored enterprises.

“As we continue to move immediate reforms, our ultimate goal remains, to end the bailout of Fannie, Freddie and build a stronger housing finance system that no longer relies on government guarantees,” panel Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said last summer.

Meanwhile, a number of GOP and bipartisan measures have emerged — Democrats and Republicans generally agree Fannie and Freddie are in need of a fix but their ideas still widely vary.

There are a handful of bills floating around Congress, including one by Reps. John Campbell (R-Calif.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and another by Reps. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y), which would wind down Fannie and Freddie and create a new system of privately financed organizations to support the mortgage market.

“Every one of those approaches replaces them [Fannie and Freddie] with what they think is the best alternative to having a new system going forward that would really fix the problem and would really give certainty to the marketplace and allow housing finance to come back, and therefore housing to come back, as well,” Campbell said at a markup last month.

There’s another bill by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and bills in the Senate being pushed by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

Corker, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, made the case earlier this week for unwinding government support for the GSEs while promoting his 10-year plan that would put in place the “infrastructure for the private sector to step in behind it.”

“A big part of the problem right now is the private sector is on strike,” Corker said.

He has argued that his bill isn’t a silver bullet, rather a conversation starter to accelerate talks.

“So what we need to do is figure out an orderly wind-down,” Corker said in November. “And so we’ve been working on this for some time. We know that Fannie and Freddie cannot exist in the future.”

He suggested getting the federal government this year to gradually wind down the amount of the loans it guarantees from 90 percent to 80 percent and then to 70 percent.

“And as that drops down, we think the market will send signals as to what the difference in price is between what the government is actually guaranteeing and what they’re not,” he said.

Even Gingrich, who has taken heat for his involvement with taking money while doing consulting work for the GSEs, called for an unwinding during a December interview.

“I do, in fact, favor breaking both of them up,” he said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “I’ve said each of them should devolve into probably four or five companies. And they should be weaned off of the government endorsements, because it has given them both inappropriate advantages and because we now know from the history of how they evolved, that they abused that kind of responsibility.”

In a white paper on housing last week, the Federal Reserve argued that the mortgage giants should take a more active role in boosting the housing market, although they didn’t outline suggestions for how to fix the agencies.

The central bank did argue that “some actions that cause greater losses to be sustained by the GSEs in the near term might be in the interest of taxpayers to pursue if those actions result in a quicker and more vigorous economic recovery.”

Nearly a year ago, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asked Congress to approve legislation overhauling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac within two years — that deadline appears to be in jeopardy.

The Obama administration’s initial recommendations called for inviting private dollars to crowd out government support for home loans. The white paper released in February proposed three options for the nation’s housing market after Fannie and Freddie are wound down, with varying roles for the government to play.

About the same time last year, Bachus made ending the “taxpayer-funded bailout of Fannie and Freddie” the panel’s first priority.

While an overhaul remains stalled for now there is plenty of other activity on several fronts.

In November, the Financial Services panel overwhelmingly approved a measure to stop future bonuses and suspend the current multi-million dollar compensation packages for the top executives at the agencies.

The top executives came under fire for providing the bonuses but argued they need to do something to attract the talent necessary to oversee  $5 trillion in mortgage assets.

Earlier this month, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that the head of Fannie received $5.6 million in compensation and the chief executive of Freddie received $5.4 million.

Under the bill, the top executives of Fannie and Freddie could only have earned $218,978 this year.

Last week, Fannie’s chief executive Michael Williams announced he would step down from his position once a successor is found. That comes only three months after Freddie’s CEO Charles Haldeman Jr. announced that he will leave his post this year.

The government is being tasked to find replacements, not only for the two mortgage giants which have cost taxpayers more than $150 billion since their government takeover in 2008, but there is talk that the Obama administration is looking to replace FHFA acting director Edward DeMarco, the overseer of the GSEs.

In a letter to President Obama earlier this week, more than two dozen House members said DeMarco simply hasn’t done enough to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The lawmakers are pushing the president to name a permanent director “immediately.”

Also, in December, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued six former executives at Fannie and Freddie, alleging they misled the public and investors about the amount of risky mortgages in their portfolio.

In the claims, the SEC contends that as the housing bubble began to burst, the executives suggested to investors that the GSEs were not substantially exposed to sub-prime mortgages that were defaulting across the country.

Mortgage Slang 101 – Mortgage Insurance, Brett Reichel, Brettreichel.com


Mortgage insurance is viewed nearly universally as a bad thing, but in reality, it’s a tool to be used that is very good for home buyers, the housing market and the economy in general.

Why do many complain about mortgage insurance?  Because it’s expensive, and sometimes difficult to get rid of when it’s no longer necassary.  If that’s the case, why do I say it’s good for buyers and the economy?  Because it’s a tool that allows people to buy a home with less than twenty percent down.

Mortgage insurance insures the lender against the risk of the buyers default on the loan.  It does NOT insure the buyers life, like many people think.

The single biggest hurdle for home buyers is accumulating an adequate down payment.  Lenders want buyers to put twenty percent down for two reasons.  First, a buyer with a large down payment is less likely to quit making their payments.  Second, if a buyer does default, the more the buyer put down usually means more equity in the house when the lender forecloses, which means the lender loses less money.

But, if a buyer wants to buy a $200,000 and has to put up a twenty percent down, that will equal a $40,000 down payment!  Hard to save up, for most buyers.  BUT, with the use of mortgage insurance, that buyer might be able to put as little as $6,000 down!  A lot easier to save.

So, mortgage insurance can be a very benficial tool.

With that being said, don’t let your lender shoehorn you into only considering monthly mortgage insurance.  There are other options such as single premium mortgage insurance, or “split” mortgage insurance.  These programs can be more expensive up front, but sometimes much less expensive over time.  They don’t work for everyone, but they certainly should be looked into.

 

Brett Reichel
Brettreichel.com

Is The National Association Of Realtors Hurting The Real Estate Market? by Brett Reichel, Brettreichel.com


Yesterday, a fairly sophisticated home buyer called me about a pre-approval.  He and his wife own a home, and a vacation home.  This is a successful business couple who are doing well in the residential construction market despite the current economy.  He indicated that they wanted to buy a new primary residence.  His question to me was “We can get together about 10% down.  Can we even buy a new home with less than 20% down?”

It’s no wonder they are confused.  Every other article where leadership of the National Association of Realtors is quoted, every press release they issue usually has the quote that “tight lender guidelines are hurting the real estate market”  or “buyers need to have 20% down and be perfect to accomplish a purchase” or some words like that. 

Unfortunately, these types of statements are blatantly untrue in most markets, and are very damaging to the real estate market at large and to home buyers and sellers everywhere. 

It’s true that lenders are giving loan applications MUCH greater scrutiny than they have in any time since 1998.  Rampant mortgage fraud on the part of borrowers, Realtors, lenders, and mortgage originators have required lenders to check and recheck everything represented in a loan application.  Unfortunatley, until we get everyone to realize that the “silly bank rules” they are breaking consititutes a federal crime we are stuck with the extra scrutiny.  Fortunately, the new national loan originator licensing and registration systems should make loan officers everywhere realize the seriousness of this issue and root out fraud before it get’s to the point of a loan being funded.  The safety of our banking and financial systems is too important to allow the kinds of games that have been played over the last few years. 

The National Association of Realtors is right about appraisals.  Appraisals remain a very serious issue.  Pressure from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on lenders results in pressures by lending institutions on appraisers to bring in appraisals very conservatively.  It’s common for appraisers to use inappropriate appraisal practice due to the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac form1004mc, which results in innacurate appraisal (see previous posts).

It’s also true that underwriting guidelines are stricter than they were during the golden age of loose underwriting (1998 thru 2008).  What people don’t realize that underwriting guidelines are easier now than they’ve been in any previous time frame.  In fact, it’s a great time to buy for many folks who have been priced out of markets previously.

How can I make that type of claim?  Because I remember the “bad old days”…..Prior to 1997-1998, debt-to-income ratio’s were much stricter than they are now.   A debt-to-income ratio compares your total debt to your total income.  In the old days, if you put 5% down on a conventional loan, you couldn’t have more than 36% of your total income go towards your debt.  Now?  If you’ve been reasonably careful with your credit, have decent job stability, and a little savings left over for emergency it’s pretty easy to get to a ratio of 41%!  With only 5% down!  On FHA loans, it’s really easy to go to 45% DTI with only 3.5% down!   In fact, there are times that we go even higher.

Is that obvious in the mass media?  No.  They paint a dire picture based, in part, on the statements of NAR. 

So, if you are a Realtor, press NAR to paint a more positve picture of financing.  Nothing that is “puffed up”, just reality.  If you are a buyer, don’t be fooled by what you read in the mainstream press.  Talk to a good, local, independent mortgage banker.  They’ll give you a clear path to home ownership and join the ranks of homeowners!

 

 

Refinancing your Underwater Fannie Mae home loan


The Fannie Mae DU Refi Plus home loan program is extended through this year and into 2012. This program may be able to help you refinance if you owe more than your home is worth. Check out this quick video:

The Fannie Mae DU Refi Plus – Basics

First of all, you need to make sure that your current loan is owned by Fannie Mae. You can check that at Fannie Mae’s website. All you need is your full address.

You also need to be on time with your mortgage payments. If you are behind in your mortgage, you will need to discuss loan modification or other options with your lender.

The biggest impediment when discussing the DU Refi Plus program is the issue of mortgage insurance. The best case scenario is if you do not have mortgage insurance on your current home loan.

If you need to figure out your options when it comes to refinancing your home in Oregon or Washington, shoot me an email. You may not always like the answer, but knowing is better than the alternative.

Thanks for taking a minute to check this post out!

 

Picture: Jason HillardJason Hillard – homeloanninjas.com

Mortgage Advisor in Oregon and Washington MLO#119032

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Why Isn’t The Unemployment Crisis a National Emergency?, Economist’s View Blog


Even though the president has pivoted “from deficit reduction to job creation,” and even though job creation was the theme of the weekly address Obama gave today, I can’t say I’m any more encouraged about the prospects for a significant job creation package than I was when I wrote this.]

Labor markets are in terrible shape. Fourteen million people are unemployed, long-term unemployment remains near record highs, the ratio of job seekers to job openings is 4.3 to 1, and the employment to population ratio has dropped precipitously. Even if the economy grows at a robust average of 3.5% beginning in 2013, labor markets won’t fully recover until 2017. And if average growth is only 3.0% – well within the range of possibility – it will take until 2020. In short, labor markets are in crisis and the longer the crisis persists, the more permanent and growth-inhibiting the damage becomes.

So it was welcome news to see President Obama pivot from deficit reduction to job creation in his widely anticipated speech last week. The president proposed a combination of spending and tax reduction policies, and he surprised many people with the boldness of his proposals and his passion and commitment to the issue. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to do much to help with the unemployment problem.

There plenty of time to provide help, the dismal prospects for recovery detailed above make that clear. So the time it takes to implement job creation policies – the objection that there are not enough shovel ready projects – is not the issue. And while concerns over the deficit are valid for the long-run, they shouldn’t prevent us from doing more to help the jobless. The long-run debt problem is predominantly a health care cost problem, and whether or not we help the jobless doesn’t much change the magnitude of the long-run problem we face.

The problem is the political atmosphere. Republicans may go along with doing just enough to look cooperative rather than obstructionist, but no more than that and the policies that emerge are unlikely to be enough to make a substantial difference in the unemployment problem. It won’t be anywhere near the $445 billion program the president has called for, which itself is short of what is needed to really make a difference.

I don’t expect we’ll get much more help from the Fed either. There is quite a bit of disagreement among monetary policymakers over whether further easing would do more harm than good, and inflation hawks are standing in the way of those who want to aggressively attack the unemployment problem. As with Congress, the Fed is likely to adopt a compromise position and do the minimum it can while still looking as though it is trying to meet its obligation to promote full employment.

Thus, despite the President’s newfound interest in job creation, and the call from some at the Fed to treat the unemployment problem the same way they would treat elevated inflation – as though “their hair was on fire” – the actual policies that come out of Congress and the Fed are unlikely to be sufficient to make much of a dent in the problem.

It’s time for this to change. The loss of 8.75 million payroll jobs since the recession began should be a national emergency. But it’s not, and the question is why. Why has deficit reduction taken precedence over job creation? Why is our political system broken to the extent that a whole segment of the population is not being adequately represented in Congress?

That brings me to an important difference between the response to this recession and the policies that followed the Great Depression. Many of the policies that were enacted during and after the Great Depression not only addressed economic problems, they also directly or indirectly reduced the ability of special interests to capture the political process. Polices that imposed regulations on the financial sector, broke up monopolies, reduced inequality through highly progressive taxes, accorded new powers to unions, and so on shifted the balance of power toward the typical household.

But since the 1970s many of these changes have been reversed. Inequality has reverted to levels unseen since the Gilded Age, monopoly power has increased, financial regulation has waned, union power has been lost, and much of the disgust with the political process revolves around the feeling that politicians have lost touch with the interests of the working class. And it would be hard to disagree with that sentiment.

We need a serious discussion of this issue, followed by changes that shift political power toward the working class, but who will start the conversation? Congress has no interest in doing so, things are quite lucrative as they are. Unions used to have a voice, but they have been all but eliminated as a political force. The press could serve as the gatekeeper, but too many outlets are controlled by the very interests that the press needs to take on and this gives them the ability to cloud most any issue. Presidential leadership could make a difference, and Obama’s election brought hope for change, but this president does not seem inclined to take a strong stand on behalf of the working class despite the surprising boldness of his job creation speech.

Another option is that the working class itself will say enough is enough and demand change. There was a time when I would have scoffed at the idea of a mass revolt against entrenched political interests and the incivility that comes with it. We aren’t there yet – there’s still time for change – but the signs of unrest are growing and if we continue along a two-tiered path that ignores the needs of such a large proportion of society, it can no longer be ruled out.

HUD Cuts To Devastate Mortgage Counseling Agencies Across Nation, By Ben Hallman, IWATCHNEWS.ORG


Housing counselors at Western Tennessee Legal Services were plenty busy, even before one of the region’s largest employers, a Goodyear tire factory in tiny Union City, shut its doors in July.

The plant closing, which put nearly 2,000 employees out of work in a rural part of the state, meant more work for counselors like Emma Covington. Covington said she already takes 18 to 20 calls a day and meets in person with people who need counseling on foreclosures and other housing issues.

Now, like many of its clients, the legal nonprofit will have to make do with less.

Earlier this year, Congress defunded the $88 million grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that helped support more than 7,500 housing counselors across the country, including those at Western Tennessee. Funds run out Sept. 30.

The cuts come at a terrible time, say counseling advocates.

In the second quarter of 2011, more than 3.4 million home mortgages nationwide were 90 or more days delinquent or in the foreclosure process. More than one in five mortgage borrowers owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to government data.

The counseling money may not be coming back. The House Appropriations Committee recently approved a budget for 2012 that also doesn’t include any HUD housing counseling dollars. A group of senators is trying to restore funding, but even if successful, it is unlikely that funds will reach counselors before next spring, at the earliest.

The looming gap in funding and continued uncertainty about the program’s future means layoffs and reduced hours for counselors at nonprofits across the country at a time when demand for their services is greater than ever.

“These are rough times for our clients and our staff,” said Steven Xanthopoulos, the executive director at Western Tennessee Legal Services. “We are faced with some hard decisions.”

Western Tennessee may lay off as many as four employees when its $1.2 million HUD grant runs out at the end of this month, Xanthopoulos said. Many more counselors could lose their jobs at the 25 rural legal aid groups throughout Appalachia and the Mississippi River delta that the nonprofit supports with its share of the grant money, he said.

The National Council of La Raza supports 50 housing counseling agencies that helped 65,000 families last year with about $1.2 million from HUD. Thirty of those agencies will close their doors if Congress does not restore the HUD housing counseling funding, said Graciela Aponte, a legislative analyst.

“We are in the middle of foreclosure crisis,” Aponte said. “This is devastating for our families.”

HUD grants also support one of the nation’s biggest housing counseling training programs. NeighborWorks America used a $3 million HUD grant to fund 1,200 housing counseling training scholarships to its mobile nonprofit training university last year. When the HUD money goes away, so will those scholarships, a spokesman said.

The program – whose cost is modest, by Washington standards – is being suspended at least in part because HUD is a full year behind distributing the grant money to housing groups.

“HUD has been slow to distribute the money and Congress zeroed in on that,” said Candace Mason, senior director of housing and national grants at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

In recent testimony , a HUD official said that the agency has a plan to reduce the distribution timeframe to 180 days.

Some have questioned the effectiveness of the programs but the Government Accountability Office cited several studies that show counseling helps struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure and prevent them from lapsing back into default – especially if the counseling occurs early in the foreclosure process.

One study cited by the GAO found that clients who received counseling were 1.7 times as likely to be removed from the foreclosure process by their mortgage servicer as borrowers who did not. Clients who got loan modifications paid an average of $267 a month less than they would have otherwise, according to the study.

Counseling advocates say there appears to be general antipathy toward HUD, an oft-criticized federal agency, from some members of Congress related to the agencies past failings.

Congress also hasn’t yet provided $45 million mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law for HUD to set up a new Office of Housing Counseling, which will set counseling standards and dole out grants to agencies.

Here, too, HUD has been slow to act. According to the GAO, a working group at HUD is “in the process of developing a plan” for how to organize that new office, but is unable to say when it will submit it.

HUD already has an office that seems to have a similar function: the Office of Single-Family Housing. HUD officials say the primary change needed to create the new office is the reassignment of staffers who work on housing counseling activities, but also have other responsibilities.

Staffers at the House committees responsible for the funding did not comment for this story.

Foreclosure prevention made up the single-biggest slice of any housing counselor’s workload in 2009 and 2010, according to HUD, with nearly half of all queries coming from homeowners in trouble. What makes the HUD grants so valuable, housing counselors say, is that the money can be spent to help people resolve a variety of housing woes, in addition to foreclosure.

For example, the Federal Housing Administration requires seniors who want a Home Equity Conversion, or reverse mortgage to first receive counseling. Since 2005, more than 486,000 seniors received one of those loans, about 3.6 percent of all counseling activity, according to HUD

Many of these seniors, especially in rural areas, have nowhere else to turn, said Covington, the Tennessee housing counselor. “People can’t afford to travel to our office much less to Memphis and Nashville,” she said.

Homes on the Hill, a Columbus, Ohio, counseling service, is already operating on a razor-thin margin in terms of both budget and staffing, said executive director Stephen Torsell. Counselors have

had their hours cut and clients have faced long waits for an appointment – several weeks in many cases.

The nonprofit receives HUD money through La Raza. The annual grant is quite small—about $75,000 per year—but like other housing nonprofits, Homes on the Hill uses the HUD money to solicit matching funds from private donors.

There is still a chance that Congress will at least partially fund the housing counseling program for 2012. A Senate subcommittee recently signed off on $60 million in funding for 2012, but whether the funding makes it into law is uncertain

No End in Sight: Mortgage Loans Harder in High-Foreclosure Areas by Brian O’Connell, Mainstreet.com


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Here’s another bitter pill for homeowners to swallow: If you live in an area with a high foreclosure rate, the chances of someone getting a loan to buy your house significantly decreases.

The news comes from the Federal Reserve’s latestreport, in which it concluded that mortgage lending was dramatically lower in communities and neighborhoods where foreclosures were surging, using data from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) and from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA).

“Home-purchase lending in highly distressed census tracts identified by the Neighborhood Stabilization Program was 75% lower in 2010 than it had been in these same tracts in 2005,” the report said. “This decline was notably larger than that experienced in other tracts, and appears to primarily reflect a much sharper decrease in lending to higher-income borrowers in the highly distressed neighborhoods.”

The Fed uses the term “highly distressed” in place of the word “foreclosure”, but the message is clear: Banks and mortgage lenders are taking a big step back from lending to buyers who want a home in a high-foreclosure neighborhood.

It’s the same deal for borrowers who want to actually live in a home and buyers who want to purchase the property as aninvestment, as neither party seems to be having much luck in getting a home loan in a highly distressed neighborhood, according to the Fed. The lack of credit extended to investors could really hurt neighborhoods crippled by foreclosures.

“In the current period of high foreclosures and elevated levels of short sales, investor activity helps reduce the overhang of unsold and foreclosed properties,” the Federal Reserve says.

Overall, the Fed reports that 76% fewer mortgage loans were granted to “non-owner occupant” buyers in 2010, compared to 2005.

The Fed’s report reveals some other trends in the mortgage market:

  • Mortgage originations declined from just under 9 million loans to fewer than 8 million loans between 2009 and 2010. Most significant was the decline in the number of refinance loans despite historically low baseline mortgage interest rates throughout the year.  Home-purchase loans also declined, but less so than the decline in refinance lending.
  • While loans originated under the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance program and the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ (VA) loan guarantee program continue to account for a historically large proportion of loans, such lending fell more than did other types of lending.
  • In the absence of home equity problems and underwriting changes, roughly 2.3 million first-lien owner-occupant refinance loans would have been made during 2010 on top of the 4.5 million such loans that were actually originated.
  • A sharp drop in home-purchase lending activity occurred in the middle of 2010, right alongside the June closing deadline (although the deadline was retroactively extended to September). The ending of this program during 2010 may help explain the decline in the incidence of home-purchase lending to lower-income borrowers between the first and second halves of the year.

All in all, the report offers a pretty bleak – but even-handed and thorough – review of today’s home-purchase market.

Read more about the continuing effects of the housing crisis at MainStreet’s Foreclosure topic page.

U.S. To Have Tough Time in Suits Against 17 Banks Over Mortgage Bonds, by Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times


Federal regulators allege the banks misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the safety of the bonds. But analysts say the two mortgage giants should have known that the loans behind the bonds were toxic.

Reporting from Washington—

The government’s latest attempt to hold large banks accountable for helping trigger the Great Recession could fall as flat as earlier efforts to punish Wall Street villains and compensate taxpayers for bailing out the financial industry.

Federal regulators, in landmark lawsuits this month, alleged that 17 large banks misled Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on the safety and soundness of $200 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities sold to the two housing finance giants, sending them to the brink of bankruptcy and forcing the government to seize them.

Targets of other federal lawsuits and investigations have deflected such claims by arguing, for example, that the collapse of the housing market and job losses from the recession caused the loss in the value of mortgage-backed securities.

The big banks, though, might have a more powerful defense: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were no novices at investment decisions.

The two companies were major players in the subprime housing boom through the mortgage-backed securities market they helped create, and they should have known better than anyone that many of the loans behind those securities were toxic, some analysts and legal experts said.

“I can’t think of two more sophisticated clients who were in a better position to do the due diligence on these investments,” said Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago investors’ lawyer specializing in securities lawsuits. “For them to claim they were misled in some form or fashion, I think, is an extremely difficult legal argument to make.”

But the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which has been running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since the government seized them in 2008, argued that banks can’t misrepresent the quality of their products no matter how savvy the investor.

“Under the securities laws at issue here, it does not matter how ‘big’ or ‘sophisticated’ a security purchaser is. The seller has a legal responsibility to accurately represent the characteristics of the loans backing the securities being sold,” the FHFA said.

The sophistication of Fannie and Freddie is expected to be the centerpiece of the banks’ aggressive defense. Analysts still expect the suits to be settled to avoid lengthy court battles, but they said the weakness of the case meant that financial firms would have to pay far less money than Fannie and Freddie lost on the securities.

Stoltmann predicted that a settlement would bring in only several hundred million dollars on total losses estimated so far at about $30 billion.

In the 17 suits, the FHFA alleged that it was given misleading data.

For example, in the suit against General Electric Co. over two securities sold in 2005 by its former mortgage banking subsidiary, the FHFA said Freddie Mac was told that at least 90% of the loans in those securities were for owner-occupied homes.

The real figure was slightly less than 80%, which significantly increased the likelihood of losses on the combined $549 million in securities, the suit said.

GE said it “plans to vigorously contest these claims.” The company said it had made all its scheduled payments to date and had paid down the principal to about $66 million.

The federal agency also has taken on some of the titans of the financial industry, including Goldman Sachs & Co., Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., to try to recoup some of the losses on the securities. That would help offset the $145 billion that taxpayers now are owed in the Fannie and Freddie bailouts.

The suits represent one of the most forceful government legal actions against the banking industry nearly four years after the start of a severe recession and financial crisis brought on in part by the crash of the housing market.

The FHFA had been negotiating separately with the banks to recover losses from mortgage-backed securities purchased by Fannie and Freddie, but decided to get more aggressive.

“Over the last couple of years, they’ve been doing sort of hand-to-hand combat with each of the banks,” said Michael Bar, a University of Michigan law professor who was assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions in 2009-10. “The suits are an attempt to consolidate those fights over individual loans.”

Bar thinks the government has a legitimate case.

“The banks will say, ‘You got what you paid for,'” he said. “And the investors will say, ‘No we didn’t. We thought we were getting bad loans and we got horrible loans.'”

Edward Mills, a financial policy analyst with FBR Capital Markets, said the FHFA has a fiduciary responsibility to try to limit the losses by Fannie and Freddie. But the independent regulatory agency also probably felt political pressure to ensure that banks be held accountable for their actions leading up to the financial crisis, he said.

“There’s still a feeling out there that most of these entities got away without a real penalty, so there’s still a desire from the American people to show that someone had to pay,” Mills said.

Although the suits cover $200 billion in mortgage-backed securities, the actual losses that Fannie and Freddie incurred are much less. For example, the FHFA sued UBS Americas Inc. separately in July seeking to recover at least $900 million in losses on $4.5 billion in securities.

The faulty mortgage-backed securities contributed to combined losses of about $30 billion by Fannie and Freddie, but a final figure is likely to change as the real estate market struggles to work its way through a growing number of foreclosures.

Some experts worry that the uncertainty created by the lawsuits makes it more difficult for the housing market to recover, which adds to the pressure on the FHFA and the banks to settle.

The government case also could be weakened by an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into whether Fannie and Freddie did to their own investors what they’re accusing the banks of doing — not properly disclosing the risks of their investments.

Banks are expected to make that point as well. But both sides have strong motives to settle the cases and move on, said Peter Wallison, a housing finance expert at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

“Within any institution there are people who send emails and say crazy things, and the more these things are litigated, the more they get exposed,” Wallison said.

Because of flaws in its case and political pressures, the FHFA also will be motivated to settle, Wallison said.

“There will be a settlement because the settlement addresses the political issue … that the government is going to get its pound of flesh from the banks,” he said.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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 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.

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%).

 

Multnomahforeclosures.com: July 15th, 2011 Update.


Multnomah County highlighted in Oregon; Portla...

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Multnomahforeclosures.com was updated with the largest list of Notice Defaults to date. With Notice of Default records dating back nearly 3 years.  

If you are planning on investing in real estate, want to learn the status of the home you are renting/leasing or about to rent or lease  you should visit Multnomahforeclosures.com.

All listings are in PDF and Excel Spread Sheet format.

Multnomah County Foreclosures

Multnomah County Foreclosures
http://multnomahforeclosures.com

 
 

Fred Stewart 
Broker
Stewart Group Realty Inc.
http://www.sgrealty.us/
info@sgrealtyinc.com
503-289-4970 (Phone)