Friday, April 6, 2012

Mortgage Rates Drop Slightly This Week

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, the most popular choice among home buyers, stayed below 4 percent this week, keeping home affordability at record highs.

"Average weekly mortgage rates were little changed this week amid mixed signals on the health of the economy,” says Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

Here’s a closer look at mortgage rates for the week ending April 5, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly mortgage market survey.

30-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.98 percent, with an average 0.7 point, dropping slightly from last week’s 3.99 percent average. A year ago at this time, 30-year rates averaged 4.87 percent.
15-year fixed-rate mortgages: averaged 3.21 percent, with an average 0.7 point, dropping from last week’s 3.23 percent average. Last year at this time, 15-year mortgages averaged 4.10 percent.
5-year adjustable-rate mortgages: averaged 2.86 percent, with an average 0.8 point, falling from last week’s 2.90 percent average. Last year at this time, 5-year ARMs averaged 3.72 percent.
1-year ARMs: averaged 2.78 percent, with an average 0.6 point, holding steady at last week’s average. A year ago at this time, 1-year ARMs averaged 3.22 percent.

Source: Freddie Mac

Fed Urges More Banks to Rent Foreclosures

To prevent overall home prices from any further potential drops, the Federal Reserve is urging banks to transform more of its foreclosed homesinto rental properties. The Fed made the request to banks in new policy guidelines it released Thursday.
"Banking organizations should make good-faith efforts to dispose of foreclosed properties," the Fed said.
The Fed has been urging banks to consider more foreclosure rentals for several months. In a policy paper earlier this year to Congress, the Fed argued that if banks turned more of their foreclosed properties into rentals it would not only help alleviate any possible drops in overall home prices but also help meet the market’s growing demand for rental units.
The Fed urged banks to carefully examine the demands of rehabbing properties and leasing them out. They also urged banks to establish policies to ensure standard maintenance codes are met for any foreclosed properties, regardless with what the banks decide to do with the homes.
Source: “Fed to Banks: Rent Out More Foreclosures,” Reuters (April 5, 2012)

Improving Housing’ List Holds Mostly Steady in April

An index measuring improvement in the nation’s housing markets is showing signs of plateauing, which could be a good sign for the spring home-buying season, according to an economist.
The number of metro areas joining the Improving Markets Index ticked up slightly to 101 in April from 99 in March, according to the index released by the National Association of Home Builders and First American. The index measures improvements in metro areas by analyzing increases in housing permits, employment, and housing prices for at least the last six consecutive months.
Nearly 70 percent of the states, including the District of Columbia, are now represented with at least one market on the list. Texas boasts the most cities on the list at 11, followed by Florida with nine.
"After five consecutive months of gains, the [index] recently began to plateau, with many markets holding steady and a few experiencing the ups-and-downs that are typical in a choppy recovery," says David Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist. "The [index] is designed to highlight markets that are showing consistent improvement, and those markets that have registered the smallest gains are more susceptible to dropping off the list due to a minor setback in prices, permits or employment. As stronger markets approach stability, it will get harder for them to keep charting improvement, which will also limit the expansion of the [index]."
While 11 metros dropped off April’s list, 13 metros were added, including Rome, Ga.; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Greenville, N.C.; Brownsville, Texas; St. George, Utah; and Huntington, W.Va.
"The fact that the number and geographic distribution of improving housing markets continued to expand beyond the 100 mark in April bodes well for the start of the spring home buying season, and should be an encouraging sign for those who are considering a home purchase," says Kurt Pfotenhauer, vice chairman of First American Title Insurance Company.
To view all of the metros on the “improving market” index, visit
Source: National Association of Home Builders

Rents Continue to Climb, Make Buying Even Better

As demand increases, rents continue to rise, increasing 5 percent over the past 12 months. Meanwhile, the asking prices for homes fell 0.7 percent in that time, according to a new report released Thursday by Trulia Inc.

“Buying a home is more affordable than renting now in almost every part of the United States,” says Jed Kolko, Trulia’s chief economist.

The national vacancy rate for apartments during the first quarter fell to its lowest point since late 2001, according to a report by Reis Inc. Cities that have the lowest number of available rental units are seeing some of the largest increases in rents.

"A lot of people who were owners lost their homes in the bust in these places," Kolko says. As such, many of these former home owners have turned to renting, which has been ramping up demand and driving up rents across the country.

Nationally, the median rent was $1,350 a month in March — up from $1,285 a year ago, according to Trulia.

Rents have risen the most the last year in markets such as Sarasota, Fla. (12.9 percent); Miami (12.1 percent), San Francisco (11.1 percent), Middlesex County, Mass. (10.6 percent), and Edison, N.J. (10.5 percent), according to Trulia.

Source: “Rents Keep Rising as Home Prices Stagnate,” CNNMoney (April 5, 2012)

FHA Fees to Increase on Monday

The upfront insurance premium charged on FHA-insured mortgages for home purchases will increase from 1 percent to 1.75 percent on April 9, and the annual FHA mortgage insurance premiums will rise by one-tenth of a percentage point.
The cost of a $200,000 FHA mortgage will rise by about $24 a month, assuming the borrower includes the upfront charge in the amount financed through a 30-year mortgage; a fee increase for jumbo loans and some 15-year loans will be added June 11.
The fourth fee increase in the last three years should boost the FHA's reserves by more than $1 billion through 2013, according to HUD.
Source: "FHA Fees to Increase on Monday," NASDAQ (April 5, 2012)

Freddie Mac Reports 30-Year Still Below 4%; Little Change Overall

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is still below 4 percent and showed very little movement since last week, according to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.98 percent (0.7 point) for the week ending April 5, 2012, down slightly when it averaged 3.99 percent last week. A decrease compared to last year, the 30-year rate averaged 4.87 percent.

The 15-year fixed-rate dropped to 3.21 percent (0.7 point), down from last week when it averaged 3.23 percent. A year ago at this time, it averaged 4.10 percent.

The 5-year ARM was also down, averaging 2.86 percent (0.8 point) compared to 2.90 percent last week. A year ago, the 5-year ARM was 3.72 percent.

The 1-year ARM was left unchanged from last week, averaging 2.78 percent (0.6 point). The 1-year ARM stood at 3.22 percent at this time last year.

“The final estimate of 2011 fourth quarter growth remained unchanged at 3 percent, representing the strongest pace since the second quarter of 2010,” said Frank Nothaft, VP and chief economist of Freddie Mac. “The March 13th policy committee minutes from the Federal Reserve noted that the housing market remained depressed and supported the continuation of the maturity extension program through June 2012, but did not announce any new stimulus action beyond that date.”

Bankrate also reported little movement this week in its weekly mortgage survey, which pulls data provided by the top 10 banks and and thrifts in the top 10 markets.

The 30-year fixed-mortgage rate actually ticked higher at 4.25 percent, up from last week’s average of 4.23 percent.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.42 percent, down from 3.44 percent last week.

The 5-year ARM averaged 3.15 percent, up slightly from last week’s average of 3.14 percent.

Looking ahead, Bankrate stated, “it will take either faster job growth indicative of further strengthening in the economy, or a disappointment in corporate earnings and consumer spending that renews worries about the economy, to drive rates decidedly in one direction or another.”

Source Esther Cho

FHA Premiums May be Going Up, But a Loan Officer Offers a Way Out

Starting next Monday on April 9, FHA upfront mortgage insurance premiums will rise from 1 percent to 1.75 percent of the base loan amount, and the annual mortgage insurance premium will rise by 0.10 percent for loans under $625,500 and by 0.35 percent for loans above that amount.

Even if one hasn’t applied for a loan just yet, Dan Green, loan officer with Waterstone Mortgage in Cincinnati and author of, said by getting an FHA loan registered by April 9, one can avoid paying those premiums.

“To register an FHA loan simply means to have an FHA Case Number assigned to it. You don’t have to lock a mortgage rate and you don’t even have to choose a particular lender to work with,” Green said in his blog.

In order to get an FHA Case Number, Green said you just need a name, social security number, property address, and a few other small details.

To get a better understanding of how this works and what it could mean, Green answered questions from DS News.

DS News: Do you know what the estimated monthly or yearly savings is for a borrower if they do get an FHA Case Number by April 9?

Dan Green: The savings will vary based on loan size. For every $100,000 borrowed, an FHA mortgage applicant will save $750 at the time of closing, and $100 per year.

DS News: How long does it take for a loan officer to get an FHA Case Number?

Dan Green: Lenders can request FHA Case Numbers from the FHA with nothing but a complete mortgage loan application in-hand.

DS News: How long is the FHA Case Number good for? For example, what if you get the number but don’t actually look into getting a loan until months later?

Dan Green: FHA Case Numbers expire after 6 months of non-activity.

DS News: If you don’t have a loan officer to work with already, can people just call a lender and ask for a loan officer to get a number or does it need to be someone you are planning to get a loan from as well?

Dan Green: FHA mortgage applicants can transfer FHA Case Numbers from lender-to-lender.

Source Esther Cho

Capital Economics: Banks Increasing Value of Loans, Not Volume

By: Esther Cho 04/05/2012

Amid reports of lower unemployment rates, falling home prices, and less than 4 percent interest rates, owning a home seems to be more attractive than ever.

In fact, earlier this month, the National Association of Realtors reported that housing affordability conditions reached the highest level since 1970, which is when this data was first recorded.

Though, tight lending standards have become an obstacle in getting these lower-priced homes off the market even if it could help the housing market recover by clearing out foreclosures.

Recently, a Wall Street Journal blog discussed today’s lending climate and reported that loans closed by banks and mortgage lenders in February had borrowers with a credit score of 750, up from 740 six months earlier, and the average denied loan had a credit score of 699.

While having access to credit to finance a home remains a challenge, Capital Economics reported that signs do exist that show banks might be just a bit more willing to lend.

However, these “signs” aren’t necessarily surfacing from data on the volume of mortgage lending, which continues to fall.

The research firm said the value of mortgage lending has recently started to rise, and explained that this is happening specifically with commercial banks, which have started to lend more per borrower.

The average size of mortgage applications has increased by $20,000 since December to $235,000 in March, which suggests the appetite of would-be borrowers’ for credit is increasing, according to Capital Economics, all the while banks appear to be lending more to seemingly less risky borrowers.

The research firm said Fed data shows a rise in the value of commercial banks’ mortgage assets, which holds implications that lenders are approving these larger applications.

In addition, banks are financing more of the home purchase price at 80 percent or more in recent months, whereas in 2010, they financed less than 75 percent, Capital Economics stated.

As long as economic conditions continue to improve, the research firm said banks may eventually boost lending to borrowers with lower credit scores, too.

Source Esther Cho 04/05/2012

Federal Reserve Issues Policy Statement on Foreclosures as Rentals

The general policy of the Federal Reserve is that banking organizations should make every effort to dispose of foreclosed properties and get them off their books as quickly as feasibly possible.

However, holding onto these properties and renting them out to tenants may be the way to go “in light of the extraordinary market conditions that currently prevail,” according to a statement issued by the Fed Thursday.

Statutes and Federal Reserve regulations permit rental of residential properties acquired in foreclosure as part of an orderly disposition strategy, the central bank noted. The Fed acknowledged that some lenders might find it beneficial to make greater use of rental activities than they have in the past given the large volume of distressed residential properties and higher demand for rental housing in many markets.

Lenders overseen by the Fed may rent real estate owned (REO), also known as other real estate owned (OREO), properties within legal holding-period limits without actively marketing the property for sale, provided suitable policies and procedures are followed, according to the Fed’s statement.

To the extent that REO rental properties meet the definition of community development under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations, lenders would receive favorable CRA consideration. In all respects, banking organizations that rent out their REOs are expected to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local statutes and regulations, the Fed stressed.

The Federal Reserve says it expects lenders to evaluate the overall costs, benefits, and risks of renting out REOs and weigh their decision in the context of the local market environment, the condition of individual properties, and the lender’s ability to engage in rental activity in a safe and sound manner.

The Fed’s policy statement, in providing guidance to banking organizations and examiners, also describes specific supervisory expectations for lenders with a large number of REO rental properties, generally more than 50 properties available for rent or rented.

The Federal Reserve’s policy statement applies to banking organizations for which the U.S. central bank is the primary federal supervisor, including state member banks, bank holding companies and their non-bank subsidiaries, savings and loan holding companies and their non-thrift subsidiaries, and U.S. branches of foreign banks.
Source Carrie Bay

Higher Rents Open Eyes to the Value of Owning

Economists and real estate agents say entry-level home buyers are once again jumping into the market in time for the spring selling season, spurred by ongoing price declines and higher apartment rents.
Reis Inc., a real-estate research firm, reports in its quarterly survey that the average apartment rents rose by 2.7 percent in 2011, and vacancy rate fell below 5 percent nationwide for the first time since 2001 .
This year is poised to be the first since 2005 that the number of apartment renters buying homes rises year-over-year, according to Zelman & Associates. Moreover, Deutsche Bank housing analyst Nishu Sood says rental costs exceeded homeownership costs by 15 percent at the end of last year.
Source: "As Home Rents Head Higher, Owning Regains Its Appeal," Wall Street Journal (04/04/12)

Loan Applications for Home Purchases Soar 7%

Mortgage applications for home purchases jumped 7.2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis last week, reaching its highest level since Dec. 2, 2011, the Mortgage Bankers Association reports.

“Applications to buy a home picked up last week, and are running more than two percent above the level reported at this time last year,” says Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s vice president of research and economics.

Loan applications for purchasing a home for conventional loans are 10 percent above last year’s numbers, Fratantoni says. Purchase and refinance applications for government loans also increased by more than 10 percent over the week too “likely spurred by borrowers seeking to apply before scheduled increases in FHA mortgage insurance premiums at the beginning of April,” he notes.

Overall, mortgage applications for purchase and refinancings increased 4.8 percent last week, according to MBA. Applications for refinancings increased 4 percent from the previous week — the first weekly increase since posting six consecutive weeks of declines.

Source: “Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey,” RISMedia (April 4, 2012)

More Buyers See Opportunity in Vacation Homes

Some buyers are calling the vacation-home market the “perfect storm,” — falling home values, low mortgage rates, and increased affordability — which is prompting more opportunity in the second-home market.
The National Association of REALTORS® reported last week that vacation home sales increased 7 percent in 2011 over the prior year. Of those surveyed, 33 percent of the vacation home owners surveyed say they purchased a home because of the low real estate prices. Also, 91 percent reported they plan to rent out their second home purchase in the next year. Seventy-one percent say the higher rental income potential from investment properties helped motivate their purchase.
Many second home owners may have been sitting on the sideline, waiting for the perfect time to pounce on bargain prices, but are seeing that time as now, housing experts say. And more buyers are making all-cash purchases, too: 42 percent of vacacation-home buyers paid cash for their home, according to the NAR survey.
Vacation home buyers are also looking past popular beach or ski resorts to make their purchase, says Walter Molony, spokesman for the National Association of REALTORS®. "Many are in lesser-well-known areas, places known mainly on a regional basis,” says Molony, adding that places such as Gatlinburg, Tenn.; Brown County, Ind.; and Williamsburg, Ky. are seeing more attention from buyers in vacation-home purchases.
“Name destination resorts are only a component of the picture,” Molony told “Most people want to be within an easy drive of their [vacation] home.”
Source: “‘Perfect Storm’ Encourages Sales of Vacation Homes,” (April 4, 2012)

Risk Changes in Emerging Foreclosure Tide

Banks are expected to pick up the pace of foreclosures , which will send a new wave of these properties on the market soon, housing experts say. This anticipated “wave” will occur at a time when the housing market has been showing signs of strengthening in pockets across the country, they also note.
But this time around, the increase in foreclosures is expected to come from a different source — everyday home owners with low interest-rate mortgages, housing experts say.
Borrowers “with ordinary mortgages whose ability to meet payment have been hit by the hard economic times” will be the ones dominating the foreclosures in the next round, CNNMoney reports in a recent article.
The last time that foreclosures dramatically increased nationwide, they were dominated by borrowers who had subprime loans with high interest rates and loans in which banks often had asked for no money down or even proof of income. Since then, underwriting standards by lenders has gotten a lot stricter.
"The subprime stuff is long gone," says Michael Redman, founder of "Now the folks being affected are hardworking, everyday Americans struggling because of the economy."
While unemployment has seen improvement, recently falling to 8.3 percent from its 10 percent peak in 2009, many Americans still remain without a job and are struggling to keep up with their mortgage payments. More than a quarter of home owners are considered “underwater,” owing more on their homes than they are currently worth, according to fourth quarter 2011 data from Zillow Inc.
"We're seeing more people coming through who have good loans with reasonable interest rates," says Ed Jacob, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago Inc., a non-profit that provides foreclosure counseling. "But in many households only one person works now instead of two, or they had their hours cut. The answer to the housing crisis now is job creation."
Experts Warn: It’s Coming ...
The signs of the next tide are already taking shape as banks set out to quicken the pace of reviewing backlogs of defaulting loans: Foreclosure starts soared 28 percent in January, according to Lender Processing Services’ report last month. RealtyTrac reported that while overall foreclosures saw a slight drop nationwide in February from January, 21 cities saw large spikes, such as Tampa (increasing 64 percent), Chicago (43 percent) and Miami (53 percent).
In previous reports, RealtyTrac has predicted that completed foreclosures will jump 25 percent this year and will likely reach 1 million in 2012.
Source: “New Foreclosure Wave to Hit ‘Everyday’ Borrowers,” Reuters (April 4, 2012)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

STRATMOR Advises HARP Marketing Should Be Specific

HARP may have expanded its eligibility requirements to reach more borrowers, but according to a mortgage industry advisory firm, that doesn’t mean marketing the program should be so broad-based.
“Mass marketing to borrowers without screening-out those that cannot qualify for the program will dramatically increase marketing costs, reduce productivity both at the point-of-sale and in the back office, and frustrate home owners ,” according to a release from STRATMOR Group and Financial Literacy Solutions.
Recently, HARP expanded to include borrowers with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of greater than 125 percent. Prior to the expansion, the program only included those with an LTV between 80 and 125 percent. The program allows underwater home owners who are current on their mortgages a chance to refinance at a lower rate.
Even with the reduced requirements, Garth Graham, President of Financial Literacy Solutions said lenders that don’t approach HARP 2.0 marketing correctly will pay more and be less successful than those that target the right homeowners.
“Many of these borrowers have fatigue – they are tired of hearing from lenders that they do not qualify for government programs,” Graham said. “So, lenders need to do careful target marketing to find those homeowners who can most benefit from HARP and adopt a variety of marketing methods designed to overcome borrower reluctance to engage in yet another loan process.”
Moody’s Analytics projects 1.6 million borrowers to be refinanced under HARP by the end of 2013 and expects an average savings of $250 per month on payments.
According to an FHFA report, the program was initially announced March 4, 2009, and has refinanced 1,021,849 loans as of the end of the 2011 fourth quarter. HARP is only for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgages.
Matt Lind, managing director of STRATMOR, points out that many small to mid-size lenders don’t realize that borrower data and data tools are available for them to use to screen for eligible HARP 2 borrowers.
Lind also noted that, “there are many third-party outsource service providers available – direct mail shops and outbound call providers, for example – to support lenders in mounting effective marketing efforts.”
STRATMOR said it expects many mid-tier lenders to partner with marketing companies, servicers, and other outsourcers to manage this opportunity.
Information from the release is based on a series of workshops on the HARP 2.0 sponsored by STRATMOR along with Datamyx Information Services, Weiner Brodsky Sidman Kider, PC, and Financial Literacy Solutions.

By: Esther Cho 04/04/2012

When Excluding Distressed Sales, Home Prices Continue to Rise

By: Esther Cho 04/04/2012
When excluding distressed sales, such as short sales and REO transactions, prices actually increased on a month-over-month basis in February, according to the February 2012 Home Price Index released by CoreLogic Wednesday. Though, when including distressed sales, prices decreased compared to the month before.
Month-over-month Home prices increased by 0.7 percent in February when not factoring in distressed sales and decreased 0.8 percent compared to the year before.
When including distressed sales, prices dropped 0.8 percent compared to the prior month in January, which is the seventh consecutive monthly decline, while year-over-year prices fell 2 percent, according to the report.
In response to this data, Capital Economics noted in its report the 2 percent yearly drop is the smallest annual decline in 18 month.
Although prices continue to decline, Mark Fleming, chief economist with Corelogic, said it is at at a decreasing rate, and when excluding distressed sales, modest price appreciation has been seen month-over-month in January and February.
“The continued strength of sales activity and tightening inventories in many markets are early and hopeful signs that prices will continue to stabilize and improve in the coming months,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic.
Nallathambi also added that non-distressed home sale prices represent two-thirds of all sales and have appreciated by just over 1 percent since the beginning of the year.
The 0.7 percent increase is from the end of January to end of February.
In the Capital Economics report, authored by economist Paul Diggle, the 35 percent rise in homes sales and the 20 percent fall in visible inventory over the past year-and-a-half are attributed for the stop in the dropping of House prices. The research firm forecasts another 10 percent rise in home sales this year.
“That said, widespread negative equity and still-tight credit conditions mean that significant and sustained gains in house prices are still some way off,” Capital Economics stated. “However, a few years of stability is hardly unusual following steep adjustments. And once the various constraints on demand ease, the sheer extent of undervaluation in the housing market should eventually lead to a period of stronger growth.”
For the largest core based statistical areas (CBSAs), Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, Illinois depreciated the most at 7.3 percent, while Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Arizona appreciated the most at 7 percent when including distressed sales. Both CBSAs had the same ranking when excluding distressed sales, but fell 3.8 percent and increased 3.9 percent, respectively.
Five states with highest appreciation
(Including distressed sales)
1. West Virginia (+8.6 percent)
2. Michigan (+5.8 percent)
3. Florida (+4.7 percent)
4. Arizona (+4.5 percent)
5. South Dakota (+4.1 percent)
Five states with the greatest depreciation
(Including distressed sales)
1. Delaware (-11.2 percent)
2. Connecticut (-7.9 percent)
3. Rhode Island (-7.8 percent)
4. Illinois (-7.1 percent)
5. Georgia (-6.6 percent)
Five states with the highest appreciation
(excluding distressed sales)
1. South Dakota (+5.9 percent)
2. West Virginia (+5.6 percent)
3. Maine (+4.5 percent)
4. Utah (+3.7 percent)
5. Montana (+3.6 percent)
Five states with the greatest depreciation
(excluding distressed sales)
1. Delaware (-8.7 percent)
2. Connecticut (-4.9 percent)
3. Nevada (-4.6 percent)
4. Vermont (-4.0 percent)
5. Minnesota (-3.3 percent)
(Source : CoreLogic)

Home Prices to Increase Modestly by Year-End: Clear Capital

According to Clear Capital’s assessment, the nation lost 1.4 percent in home values from March 2011 through March 2012, which is slightly better than February’s year-over-year decline of 1.9 percent.
REO saturation, which traditionally pushes down prices, continued to climb last month, Clear Capital reported. It was the second month in a row that distressed property sales as a percentage of total sales increased for the nation and all regions.
Clear Capital says its findings confirm speculation that finalization of the attorneys general settlement has led servicers to become more aggressive in moving their REO backlog onto the housing market.
In March, the national REO rate went up 1.2 points from the previous month’s reading to hit 27 percent, pointing to an acceleration of REO sales. The Midwest contributed the most to the increase, jumping 3.8 points to 34.3 percent, with the other regions all seeing softer increases.
Of particular interest this month, according to Clear Capital, is how the changes in REO saturation are affecting prices. In the past, there has been a consistent inverse relationship between changes in REO saturation and prices, but not in March’s study. Although their REO rates increased, the West, Northeast, and South regions also saw home prices increase.
These geographies are exhibiting a pricing resilience to REO saturation that has not been seen in previous analyses, Clear Capital says. The company says it could be explained by improvement in jobs numbers recently, rapidly increasing investor activity in certain regions, and a general increase in consumer confidence.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Company Tries Charging House-Hunting Fee to Buyers

Koenig & Strey Real Living in Chicago started this week to charge potential home buyers a house-hunting fee for working with a real estate agent. The fees are common in some areas of the country and similar fee policies have been adopted by other HomeServices of America Inc. companies recently. But the fees are far less common in other areas, like in Chicago, and competitors are watching closely to see how the extra fees are embraced by home buyers.
"Agents invest a lot of time and money working with buyers and sellers and frequently don't get paid at all," notes one real estate agent.
The fee would be to help formalize the agent’s relationship with home buyers and ensure the agent gets compensated for the time spent in the search process, in case a transaction falls through or the buyer ends up abandoning their search altogether.
The upfront house-hunting retainer, for which the amount will be set by the real estate agent, will be paid by the consumer. If the buyer ends up purchasing a home, the retainer will be returned to the home buyer as a credit at closing.
"If it's embraced, it's a great idea," Michael Golden, co-founder of @properties, commented to the Chicago Tribune about Koenig & Strey’s fee. "One of two things happens: Either it's like Bank of America charging a fee for an ATM, or everyone embraces it, and they're leading the way for a new fee. My guess is it's not going to go that way."
Koenig & Strey operates 17 offices in the Chicago area and has about 860 real estate professionals.
Source: “House-Hunting Fee to Debut,” Chicago Tribune (March 30, 2012)

Investors Purchase Homes by the Thousands

Large investor firms are taking advantage of the deep discounts found in some housing markets, and they’re finding that buying one or two homes is just not enough -- they want thousands. The investors are then renting the homes out to tenants, banking on returns from the rental income, which they say is better than other investments at the moment.
Landlords usually are individuals or small investment firms that own a few homes. “Nobody has ever tried this on such a large scale, and critics worry these new investors could face big challenges managing large portfolios of dispersed rental houses,” notes a recent article at The New York Times.
For example, large private equity investors like Waypoint, which signed a deal with GI Partners, says it plan to buy 10,000 to 15,000 additional homes by the end of next year.
“We realized that there is a tremendous amount of brain damage around acquiring single-family homes, renovating them, and renting them out,” says Colin Wiel, a co-founder of Waypoint. “We think this is a huge opportunity, and we are going to treat it like a factory and create a production line to do this.”
Investors are seeing big opportunities in the Housing market, with nearly 650,000 foreclosed homes owned by lenders and 710,000 in the foreclosure process, according to housing data from RealtyTrac.
Meanwhile, rental demand is rising and so are rents.
Economists say that investors buying the homes by bulk could help to stabilize the housing market.
“If you have a lot of foreclosures in one community you will improve everybody’s home values if you take them off the market,” Diane Swonk, the chief economist at Mesirow Financial, told The New York Times. “If those homes are renovated and even rented, it is a lot better than having them stand empty.”
Source: “Investors Are Looking to Buy Homes by the Thousands,” The New York Times (April 2, 2012)

FHA Clarifies New ‘Credit Dispute’ Rule

The Federal Housing Administration is giving borrowers a chance to provide an explanation on any disputed collection accounts in their history in order to qualify for an FHA-backed mortgage. The new FHA rule took effect April 1 and had some in the real estatecommunity concerned that it would shut more buyers out of qualifying for mortgages.
According to the FHA’s new rule, borrowers with any credit disputes of more than $1,000 on their file will not be able to get a government-backed loan. Borrowers will either have to pay the remaining balance of the credit amount or show proof of entering into a payment plan for it.
The FHA is easing those restrictions somewhat, according to new instructions it provided to lenders, Housing Wire reports. Borrowers will be exempt from the new rule if the credit amount is from a “life event.” This might include a medical bill, death, divorce, or unemployment, Housing Wire reports.
"The borrower may provide a written explanation and documentation as it applies to all types of disputed and collections accounts if it makes sense, and is consistent with other credit information in the file," according to instructions provided to lenders.
Also starting on April 1, the FHA raised its insurance premiums, citing it as another effort to try to rebuild its emergency fund, which has fallen below the mandated amount Congress requires.
Source: “FHA Eases New Rule on Collections Accounts,” HousingWire (April 3, 2012)

This Spring Is True Test to Real Estate Recovery

How the real estate market will fare in the spring home-selling season will prove a test for Housing demand and show which markets will lead a housing recovery, economists say in a recent article at USA Today. The spring selling season usually runs March through June.
"This spring will be the litmus real estate test for housing demand," says Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist for Mizuho Securities USA.
The sluggish housing market in recent years, which has seen a flood of foreclosures and falling home values, has been inching toward a turnaround in recent weeks. Existing-home sales and pending home sales are up about 9 percent compared to the same time year ago, according to February housing data by the National Association of REALTORS®.
Paul Dales of Capital Economics told USA Today that he expects the spring selling season to “be the best in four or five years” for the real estate industry.
Economists predict that where the housing supply of for-sale homes has dropped the most and is more balanced is where prices have the greatest potential of gaining this year. For example, Phoenix has had a 42 percent drop in its housing inventory recently and is projected to see prices gain 5 percent this year, according to Eric Fox, an economist for Veros Real Estate Solutions.
Source: “Spring Home Sales Could be Omen,” USA Today (April 2, 2012)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

J.P. Morgan Announces Sale of Securities Backed by NPLs

By: Esther Cho 04/02/2012

J.P. Morgan recently announced the issuance of $132 million in commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) backed by non-performing commercial real estate loans.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the issuance is first time since the late 1990s.

Prior to the securitization, the assets were owned by Rialto Capital Management, a real estate investment management company focused on distressed asset investment, management, and workouts.

The collection includes 271 performing and nonperforming loans securing 266 properties, 11 unsecured loans, and 38 properties acquired at acquisition or through foreclosure, according to Fitch Ratings.

All non-performing assets are assumed to have a 0 percent coupon, according to Trepp, whose bond finance team has been working with J.P. Morgan for the last few weeks to design a way for investors to easily analyze the deal.

The deal name is Rialto Capital, series 2012-LT1.

Still Time to Have Forgiven Mortgage Debt Excluded as Taxable Income

By: Esther Cho 04/02/2012

Homeowners who have had mortgage debt forgiven after a foreclosure, modification, or short sale may be able to exclude the canceled debt from their taxable income if they meet specific criteria.

According to Gil Charney, principal analyst at The Tax Institute at H&R Block, the specific criteria to have forgiven debt excluded are the debt must have been incurred to buy, build or substantially improve the residence, called “acquisition debt, and the property must be the taxpayer’s primary residence.

Also, the exclusion applies only to acquisition debt up to $2 million, or $1 million for married taxpayers filing separately, and cancelled mortgage debt not used to buy, build, or improve a principal residence is not eligible for the exclusion, but may be excludable under a different provision, such as bankruptcy or insolvency, Charney added.

Under the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007, the provision is for debt forgiven between 2007 and 2012.

For those considering a short sale, Octavio Nuiry of Realty Trac warns that waiting to do a short sale after December 31, 2012 may lead to tax penalties that could have been avoided for the homeowner unless the bill gets extended.

According to data from RealtyTrac, since 2007, about 1.8 million U.S. homeowners have sold via pre-foreclosure sale, and most of those were short sales.

In addition, for the year 2011, there were 830,000 completed foreclosures, and from the start of the financial crises in September 2008, there have been about 3.3 million completed foreclosures, according to reports from CoreLogic. Also, 1.4 million homes with a mortgage were placed into foreclosure inventory for the year 2011.

Other types of deductions

Mortgage Interest Deduction – taxpayers are eligible to deduct qualified mortgage interest on their main home and a second home if they itemize deductions on Schedule A

They must be legally liable for repayment of the loan to deduct the loan interest.
For 2011 filings, taxpayers who could not pay at least 20 percent of their down payment may have had to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). If the taxpayer qualifies, the PMI may be deductible as mortgage interest.

Real Estate Taxes – homeowners are able to deduct real estate taxes separately from mortgage interest on Schedule A and from property taxes

Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit (expired at the end of 2011) – taxpayers may claim energy-efficiency credits for up to 10 percent of the cost of various home energy-efficiency improvements

Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit – a nonrefundable personal credit is available for property used to produce energy in a personal residence located in the U.S.

The credit is also available for wind energy property and geothermal pumps.
Real estate taxes must be based on the home’s value and assessed at least annually.

(Source: H&R Block)

HOPE NOW Reports February Modifications and Foreclosures Down

By: Esther Cho 04/02/2012

HOPE NOW, a private sector alliance of mortgage servicers, investors, mortgage insurers, and non-profit counselors, estimated 45,000 homeowners received permanent, non-HAMP loan modifications from mortgage servicers during February 2012, down from 56,000, or 20 percent, compared to the month before in January.

While modifications were down, foreclosure sales and foreclosure starts also declined on a month-over-month basis, with 69,000 foreclosure sales and 167,000 foreclosure starts in February, compared to 79,000 sales, a 12 percent drop, and 200,000 starts, a 17 percent drop, in January.

Loans 60 days or more delinquent dropped from 2.77 million in January to 2.66 million in February, a 4 percent decrease.

“There are many moving parts in the foreclosure prevention process and we anticipate that one month will not define any significant trends,” said Faith Schwartz, executive director of HOPE NOW, in a statement. “However, one of our key data points showed that we saw a decline in the total number of serious delinquencies – loans that are 60 or more days past due – for February.”

Since 2007, approximately 5.33 million permanent solutions have been offered to homeowners across the country.

Also, loan modifications with reduced principal and interest payments accounted for approximately 82 percent, or 36,000, of all non-government modifications.

Loan modifications with reduced principal and interest payments of 10 percent or greater accounted for approximately 75 percent, or 34,000, of all proprietary modifications.
Fixed-rate modifications made up about 90 percent, or 40,000, of all proprietary modifications.

So far for 2012, HOPE NOW has hosted almost 7,200 homeowners at events in Charlotte, Miami, Tampa, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. These markets represent some of the hardest hit areas of the country. In April, events are planned for Chicago and Indianapolis.

Spring Outlook: Reports From the Field Suggest Better Days Ahead

By: Carrie Bay 04/02/2012

Despite the fact that key market indicators released in recent weeks have shown declines in home sales, anecdotal reports from real estate agents in the field suggest “better days are ahead for the industry,” according to commentary released Monday by the economic team at Wells Fargo Securities, LLC.

Even builders – who’ve endured possibly the steepest drop-off in business over this downturn – are optimistic heading into the spring, the economists note.

As a result, Wells’ economic team has nudged its forecast for home sales slightly higher, as the spring selling season appears to have gotten off to a strong start. They are now expecting sales of existing homes to top out at 4.50 million in 2012 and rise to 4.65 million in 2013. These annual projections compare to 4.26 million existing homes sold in 2011.

“While employment conditions have clearly improved and consumer confidence and spending have risen, we remain concerned about the lack of real after-tax income growth.

That said, the anecdotal evidence is hard to dismiss,” the economists write.

Most real estate agents are reporting “significant gains in buyer interest and sales,” and these gains are organic rather than incentive induced, according to the Wells Fargo economic team.

Unfortunately, they note that conservative appraisals and tight mortgage underwriting continue to undermine a large number of deals, however, they “suspect that the undertow from these two hindrances will subside over the course of this year, as the fog surrounding shadow inventories lightens up a bit and more lenders come back to the market.”

Unseasonably warm weather led to upticks in existing-home sales in December and January. Those gains were paid back with a 0.9 percent decline in February, but the economic group at Wells says the underlying trend remains positive and they expect to see further improvements as the spring homebuying season kicks off.

Distressed transactions still make up a considerable portion of overall sales activity and will continue to pressure prices through at least the first half of 2012, they note in the report. Real home prices are now back down to 1999 levels, as are price-to-rent ratios, according to the economists.

“We expect home prices to definitively bottom by the middle of this year, as the backlog of foreclosures finally begins [to] clear,” writes Wells Fargo’s economic team. “For properties not in foreclosure, prices have probably already bottomed, but should remain relatively low” given the competition from foreclosures.

Agents Try to Find Work-Outs After Appraisals

Appraisals that come in lower than the agreed-upon sales price are a source of frustration for home buyers, sellers, and real estate professionals, as they can quickly derail a deal.

If an appraisal comes in 10 percent lower than the agreed-upon sales price, for example, a bank will likely only agree to finance the lower value, which means either a buyer must make up the difference, a seller must come down on price, or the deal falls apart.

Homes for sale in declining markets are particularly ripe for appraisal problems. On standard appraisal forms, there’s a box that even says “declining value,” meaning falling home prices in the area, which will likely cause banks to slash another 5 percent off the value too, says mortgage broker Gloria Shulman, founder of Centek Capital Group in Beverly Hills. Foreclosures, which often sell for about 30 percent less than non-foreclosures, are also complicating appraisals when they’re inappropriately used as comps, agents say.

In some cases, real estate professionals have been successful in helping their clients get an adjustment on an appraisal, particularly when they can show that the comparable sales used were not good similarities to the property for-sale.

Most often, to save the deal, however, agents are finding it takes renegotiating the sales price. For example, with a townhome sale in Roxbury, N.J., the buyers say the appraiser failed to take into account all the upgrades in the home they wanted to buy, which caused the townhome to appraise for 3 percent lower than the original sales price. Following the appraisal, the buyers’ agent asked the sellers to come down on the price, which they did by 2 percent. The buyers then agreed to come up 1 percent. The home sale could then move forward.

Source: “Low-ball Appraisal: Mortgage Denied,” CNNMoney (March 30, 2012)

More Generations Live Under One Roof

A growing number of families are moving in together, which sometimes means that three generations are living all under one roof.

The sluggish economy has caused some households to expand, taking in more family members to trim housing costs.

According to Census Bureau data, 4.4 million households had three generations or more under one roof in 2010. That is a 15 percent increase compared to two years prior.

The “double-up” phenomena is particularly pronounced among adult children, who are increasingly moving back with their parents after college to curb costs. The number of 25-to-34 year olds living with their parents jumped by more than 25 percent between 2001 and 2007, according to Census data.

The larger household sizes are causing builders to take notice and redesign floorplans to accommodate multi-generational households. For example, Pulte Homes says it’s swapping out one of the garages in its two-car garage plans to allow for extra space in a home for a guest room. And Toll Brothers reports that it’s creating new floorplans to accommodate multiple generations, such as a guest suite with a kitchen added where a family room may have once been.

Source: “The New American Household: 3 Generations, 1 Roof,” CNNMoney (April 3, 2012)

New Meaning to ‘Rock-Bottom’ Prices

Despite steady improvements in the housing market recently, ultra-low priced properties can still be found in many markets, and thousands of homes nationwide have properties for-sale at $10,000 or even less, reports.

Prices are so low on some properties that even a 14-year-old girl — with the help of her mother — was recently able to purchase a home as a rental property in Florida, all-cash, for $12,000, NPR reports.

Ben Yonge, president of an investment brokerage, Equity First Realty, calls the home prices he’s finding in Orlando "absolutely ridiculous."

“There are $19,000 condos in the heart of Orlando,” Yonge told Yonge recently purchased a four-unit apartment building in Orlando, which once fetched $120,000, for $25,000.

A rise in $10,000 or below properties has risen the most in the past year in Fresno, Calif.; Wichita, Kan.; Greensboro, N.C.; and Los Angeles.

But these ultra deals are starting to fade away in more cities. The number of listings in the $15,000 and under price range in February saw a decline in the last year in several markets, including Atlanta, Chicago, and even Detroit (where the median price for an existing single-family home sold last year was $54,000), according to data.

Source: “Bust Leaves Market Littered with Homes Under $10,000,” (April 2, 2012)

Will Housing Prices Soar By 2014?

Real estate economists and analysts are increasingly optimistic that the housing market will have a dramatic recovery in the next two years, according to results of a new semi-annual survey of 38 real estate economists and analysts conducted by the Urban Land Institute’s Center for Capital Markets and Real Estate.

The economists predict that the national average for home prices will stop falling by this year and a subsequent turnaround will occur. By next year, they project that home prices will begin to rise by 2 percent, and then get a larger boost of 3.5 percent by 2014. The economists also predict that housing starts will nearly double by next year.

They also foresee rental prices continuing to increase for all property types, ranging from 0.8 percent to 5 percent.

The economists’ predictions were made on assumptions that the economy would continue to strengthen, including a larger drop in unemployment.

“While geopolitical and global economic events could change the forecast going forward, what we see in this survey is confidence that the U.S. real estate economy has weathered the brunt of the recent financial storm and is poised for significant improvement over the next three years,” says Patrick L. Phillips, ULI chief executive officer. “These results hold much promise for the real estate industry.”

Source: “Real Estate Will Rock in 2014,” RISMedia (March 31, 2012)

Monday, April 2, 2012

REALTORS(R) Raise Fair Housing Awareness in Local Communities

As the leading advocate for homeownership and housing market issues, the National Association of REALTORS® will join the nation in honoring Fair Housing Month this April.
This year marks the 44th anniversary of the 1968 landmark Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap. NAR also supports equal opportunity on the basis of sexual orientation, incorporating that support into the REALTOR® Code of Ethics.
“REALTORS® embrace our country’s racial and ethnic diversity and strive every day to make the benefits of homeownership accessible to everyone,” said NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami. “Anyone who is able and willing to assume the responsibilities of owning a home should have the opportunity to pursue that dream. REALTORS® work tirelessly to uphold fair housing laws in their local communities and provide equal professional service to everyone.”
NAR’s Equal Opportunity and Cultural Diversity program offers REALTORS® education, grants, programs and events related to fair housing and diversity. Various grants help REALTOR® associations play leadership roles in their communities through three initiatives: diversity, smart growth, and housing opportunity grants. These grants help associations and their members reach out to and better serve today’s diverse clientele.
NAR also offers several training courses for REALTORS® and REALTORS® associations. The At Home with Diversity® course addresses the topics of diversity, fair housing , and business planning development in a full-day certification course. NAR’s Employer-Assisted Housing Class gives REALTORS® tools to work with local employers, helping them implement employer-assisted housing benefits to help employees become home owners. Leading with Diversity is a workshop for local REALTOR® associations that helps bring more diversity to the leadership of the REALTOR® community. Other courses touch on affordable housing opportunities, as well as the benefits of smart growth communities and how to help communities adopt a smart growth strategy.
“NAR strongly encourages its members to work with their local municipalities or counties as they conduct fair housing planning activities,” said Veissi. “REALTORS® live and work in their communities and are committed to implementing strategies to stop discriminatory behavior and promoting important issues such as inclusion, diversity and fairness in the housing market.”
Source: NAR

More Real Estate Associations Join Forces

More local REALTOR® associations already have, or are increasingly weighing consolidation of their groups into one larger association as a way to maximize benefits for members and decrease operating costs.
Associations in Chicago last year--the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS® and the REALTOR® Association of NorthWest Chicagoland--merged to form the fourth-largest REALTOR® association in the country. Earlier this year, more REALTOR® associations teamed up, including associations like the Orange County (N.Y.) Association of REALTORS®, Rockland County Board of REALTORS®, and the Westchester Putnam Association of REALTORS®, which all merged to create one larger group, the Hudson Gateway Association of REALTORS®.
Now two more real estate boards in Northeast Ohio are reportedly considering a merger, the Cleveland Area Board of REALTORS® and the Akron Area Board of REALTORS®. The groups both represent about 4,500 real estate professionals in the Northeast Ohio area.
"There are a lot of agencies in Northeast Ohio, and there are a lot of organizations that are doing great things," says Howard Hanna, president of Howard Hanna Ohio and a task force member discussing the potential merger. "But sometimes, they're doing the same thing. ... If there was a little bit more consolidation, we might get more done."
More groups nationwide are considering joining efforts. Jerry Matthews, a consultant in Windermere, Fla., says he recently surveyed real estate executives and board leaders in January and found that mergers were one of the top issues mentioned.
There are about 1,400 REALTOR® boards and associations nationwide, and 72 percent have 300 or fewer members.
Some associations and boards are eyeing mergers partially for financial reasons, in combatting a drop in membership and the lower dues coming in to operate their organizations. The Cleveland board has seen its membership alone fall by about 23 percent in the last decade, and the Akron board’s membership has dropped 28 percent.
But falling membership isn’t the only reason behind the consolidations taking place nationwide. Some groups also see it as a way to unify and strengthen their voices on housing issues in the region.
Joanne Zettl, chairwoman-elect of the Cleveland board, says a merged board in Northeast Ohio would provide the group a stronger presence at the state and national levels. She says it would help the real estate professionals in the region draw more attention to some of the struggles facing the area, such as legislation to help combat the plague of vacant properties and . foreclosure

Source : “Cleveland, Akron Real Estate Boards May Merge Their Houses, Reflecting a Consolidation Trend,” (March 31, 2012) and REALTOR® Magazine Daily News

Fed Targets More Banks for Foreclosure Errors

A $25 billion foreclosure settlement among the nation’s five largest banks and federal regulators isn’t the end to regulator’s efforts to repair the wrongs from lenders’ foreclosure abuses. Regulators are casting a wider net on the number of banks they’re eyeing to punish for wrongful foreclosure practices.
The Federal Reserve recently recommended that eight more financial firms, which were not part of the government’s settlement, be fined for their foreclosure practices. The eight firms the Fed cited: HSBC’s United States bank division, SunTrust Bank, MetLife, U.S. Bancorp, PNC Financial Services, EverBank, OneWest and Goldman Sachs.
The Fed said these firms should be fined for “unsafe and unsound practices in their loan servicing and foreclosure processing,” Suzanne G. Killian, a senior associate director of the Federal Reserve’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, said at a House Oversight Committee last month.
The landmark $25 billion settlement announced earlier this year only encompassed the five largest banks: Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial. The banks agreed to the settlement, but did not have to admit any wrongdoing.
Source : “As Foreclosure Problems Persist, Fed Seeks More Fines,” The New York Times (April 1, 2012)

Bidding Wars Are Back, Agents Say

Some real estate markets are reporting that home buyers are having to pay more than asking price to get the home they desire, as the supply of for-sale homes has shrunk, Bloomberg News reports.
Bidding wars were a common part of real estatein 2006. But when the market turned from a “seller’s market” to “buyer’s market,” more sellers started seeing lowball bids than high bids. Now times are slowly changing, and bidding wars are being reported in several markets, such as in Seattle, Boston, Silicon Valley, Miami, and Washington, D.C., Bloomberg reports.
The inventory of homes for-sale is near a six-year low. Mixed with the low inventory, the job market has been improving and buyers are being lured to the record level of affordability in the housing market. Existing home sales and pending home sales are up more than 8 percent compared to a year earlier, the National Association of REALTORS® recently reported. Trulia Inc. also reported that falling home values and low mortgage rates have made home buying a better deal than renting in 98 of the 100 largest metro areas.
“The housing crash is finally giving way to recovery in an increasing number of markets across the country,” Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, told Blommberg. “The decline in unsold listings and vacant homes and the increase in rents presage better times ahead for single-family housing.”
Source : “Bidding Wars Erupt as Supply of Available Homes Shrink,” Bloomberg News (March 31, 2012)

Next Foreclosure Wave Coming: Reason for Alarm?

Economists have been warning that a flood of foreclosures will soon be hitting the real estate market, likely this summer. Increases in foreclosures traditionally pull down nearby home prices. So should home owners be worried?
As of now, housing reports continue to show month-over-month drops in foreclosures. CoreLogic released a report late last week that showed completed foreclosures fell from 71,000 in January to 65,000 in February.
But as more banks look to clear a backlog of defaulting home loans from their books, economists say the public should expect a turn with foreclosures and the numbers are expected to soar in the coming months. Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist, expects the wave to hit this summer.
However, Fleming doesn’t view the increase as a bad thing for the overall housing market. "I would like to see the pace increase, because that means we'll be able to work off the inventory faster," Fleming told AOL Real Estate. He says that recent improvements in the real estate market and economy may mitigate any traditional downward pressure seen on overall home prices by foreclosures.
In fact, despite an increase, Fleming still expects home prices to rise in some markets.
RealtyTrac has predicted that completed foreclosures will jump 25 percent this year, reaching 1 million.
"All of this will result in more foreclosure pain in the short term as some of the foreclosures that should have happened last year instead happen this year," Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, said in a public statement in February.
Source : “Home Prices May Withstand Foreclosure Wave,” AOL Real Estate (March 30, 2012)