Monday, October 31, 2011

42 Percent of Home Buyers are Unrealistic About Home Value Appreciation

Seattle, WA  (Profitable.com)  Despite widespread volatility within the housing market and five consecutive years of home value declines, more than two in five (42 percent) of polled prospective home buyers believe home values typically appreciate by 7 percent a year, according to a recent survey by leading real estate information marketplace Zillow

This is an unrealistic expectation as, historically, home values in a normal market tend to appreciate by 2-5 percent a year. (1)
Zillow, with Ipsos®, surveyed prospective home buyers (2), asking basic questions about the home buying process.
Despite the unrealistic expectations about home value appreciation, prospective home buyer respondents seem fairly knowledgeable about the home buying process, answering questions correctly more than half the time (65 percent). However, several important parts of the process confused them.  Two in five (41 percent) buyers think they are required to buy private mortgage insurance (PMI) regardless of the amount of their down payment.  In fact, lenders typically require PMI only when buyers are putting down less than 20 percent of the home’s purchase price.
Additionally, more than half of prospective home buyers who were polled confuse appraisals and inspections.  Fifty-six percent said the purpose of an appraisal was to determine if the home is in good condition, when in fact that is the purpose of an inspection.
“It’s troubling that we’re still in the midst of one of the worst housing recessions in history, and yet prospective buyers continue to have such high expectations for home value appreciation,” said Dr. Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow. “It’s great that buyers seem to have a fairly solid grasp of the home-buying process, but since this is one of the biggest financial decisions of most people’s lives, it’s even more important that they understand how that investment will appreciate after they sign the papers. Over-estimation of the appreciation potential will lead many to buy real estate when the time in which they plan to live in the house may make renting a better strategy.”
Additional Survey Findings
  • More than one-third (37 percent) of prospective home buyer respondents believe buying homeowner’s insurance is optional.  In reality, lenders require that borrowers purchase homeowner’s insurance. This insurance protects the lender. If catastrophe strikes, the mortgage will be repaid from the insurance proceeds.
  • Nearly half of polled prospective home buyers in the study do not understand when they will actually own the home they intend to buy. Forty-seven percent said a prospective buyer owns a home after the purchase contract is signed.  The purchase and sales agreement merely kicks off the closing phase, which can be a lengthy process.
  • The majority (87 percent) of polled prospective home buyers know that closing costs are negotiable and can vary by bank and lender. Lender fees, like loan-origination fees, administrative costs and other clerical fees, are typically the most negotiable in the home buying process.
Interactive Online Quiz and Resources Available
An online version of the Zillow survey, the “Buyer IQ Quiz,” is available at http://www.zillow.com/mortgage-rates/buyer-iq-quiz/and contains the correct answers. Following the quiz, participants are given a score and resources to learn more about the home-buying process.

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(1)Over the period from 1890 to 2006, the average annual growth in home values was 3.7%.  Source: Irrational Exuberance byRobert Shiller (Princeton University Press 2000, Broadway Books 2001, 2nd edition, 2005)
(2) These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted August 31-September 1, 2011.  For the survey, a national sample of 1,012 adults aged 18 and over residing in the U.S. was interviewed via Ipsos’ U.S. online omnibus.  Among them, 177 reported that they plan to buy a home within the next 3 years, which qualifies them as “prospective home buyers.”  A survey with an unweighted probability sample of 1,012 and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had the entire population of adults in the U.S. been polled.  The margin of error for a subgrouping of the survey population of 177 individuals would be +/-7.4.  These data were weighted to ensure the sample’s regional and age/gender composition reflects that of the actual U.S. population according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe.  All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments or external internet links are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of First Capital, we make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, current, suitability, or validity of this information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All registered trademarks, copyright, images, or other items used are property of their respective owner and are used for editorial purposes only.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Obama promotes steps to make it easier for homeowners to refinance.

LAS VEGAS — President Barack Obama offered mortgage relief on Monday to hundreds of thousands of Americans, his latest attempt to ease the economic and political fallout of a housing crisis that has bedeviled him as he seeks a second term.

“I’m here to say that we can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job,” the president declared outside a family home in Las Vegas, the epicenter of foreclosures and joblessness. “Where they won’t act, I will.”

Making a case for his policies and a new effort to circumvent roadblocks put up by Republican lawmakers, Obama also laid out a theme for his re-election, saying that there’s “no excuse for all the games and the gridlock that we’ve been seeing in Washington.”

“People out here don’t have a lot of time or a lot of patience for some of that nonsense that’s been going on in Washington,” he said.

The new rules for federally guaranteed loans represent a recognition that measures the administration has taken so far on housing have not worked as well as expected.
His jobs bill struggling in Congress, Obama tried a new catchphrase — “We can’t wait” — to highlight his administrative initiatives and to shift blame to congressional Republicans for lack of action to boost employment and stimulate an economic recovery.

Later in the week, Obama plans to announce measures to make it easier for college graduates to pay back federal loans. Such executive action allows Obama to address economic ills and other domestic challenges in spite of Republican opposition to most of his proposals.

While Obama has proposed prodding the economy with payroll tax cuts and increased spending on public works and aid to states, he has yet to offer a wholesale overhaul of the nation’s housing programs. Economists point to the burst housing bubble as the main culprit behind the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, the combination of unemployment, depressed wages and mortgages that exceed house values has continued to put a strain on the economy.

While the White House tried to avoid predicting how many homeowners would benefit from the revamped refinancing program, the Federal Housing Finance Agency estimated an additional 1 million people would qualify. Moody’s Analytics say the figure could be as high as 1.6 million.
Under Obama’s proposal, homeowners who are still current on their mortgages would be able to refinance no matter how much their home value has dropped below what they still owe.

“Now, over the past two years, we’ve already taken some steps to help folks refinance their mortgages,” Obama said, listing a series of measures. “But we can do more.”
At the same time, Obama acknowledged that his latest proposal will not do all that’s not needed to get the housing market back on its feet. “Given the magnitude of the housing bubble, and the huge inventory of unsold homes in places like Nevada, it will take time to solve these challenges,” he said.

In spelling out the plan to homeowners in a diverse, working-class Las Vegas neighborhood, Obama chose a state that provides the starkest example of the toll the housing crisis has exacted from Americans. One in every 118 homes in the state of Nevada received a foreclosure notice in September, the highest ratio in the country, according to the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac.
Presidential spokesman Jay Carney criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for proposing last week while in Las Vegas that the government not interfere with foreclosures. “Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process,” Romney told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “Let it run its course and hit the bottom.”

“That is not a solution,” Carney told reporters on Air Force One. He said Romney would tell homeowners, “’You’re on your own, tough luck.’”
The president also was using his visit to Las Vegas to promote a $15 billion neighborhood revitalization plan contained in his current jobs proposal that would help redevelop abandoned and foreclosed properties and stabilize affected neighborhoods.

The Nevada stop was the first leg of a three-day tour of Western states, blending his pitch for boosting the economy with an aggressive hunt for campaign cash.
From Nevada, Obama will head for the glamor of Hollywood and the homes of movie stars Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas and producer James Lassiter for some high-dollar fundraising. On Tuesday, he will tape an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. He will also raise money in San Francisco and in Denver.

Before the president addressed his mortgage refinancing plan, he attended a fundraiser at the luxurious Bellagio hotel, offering a sharp contrast between well-to-do who are fueling his campaign and the struggling homeowners hoping to benefit from his policies.

The mortgage assistance plan by the Federal Housing Finance Agency will help borrowers with little or no equity in their homes, many of whom are stuck with 6 or 7 percent mortgage rates, to seek refinancing and take advantage of lower rates. The FHFA plans to remove caps that had allowed homeowners to refinance only if they owed up to 25 percent more than their homes are worth.
The refinancing program is being extended until the end of 2013. It was originally scheduled to end in June 2012.

The administration’s incremental steps to help homeowners have prompted even the president’s allies to demand more aggressive action.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a moderate Democrat from California, gave voice to Democratic frustration on the housing front last week when he announced his decision not to seek re-election, blaming the Obama administration directly for not addressing the crisis.

“I am dismayed by the administration’s failure to understand and effectively address the current housing foreclosure crisis,” Cardoza said in a statement that drew widespread attention. “Home foreclosures are destroying communities and crushing our economy, and the administration’s inaction is infuriating.”
Obama’s new “We can’t wait” slogan is his latest in a string of stump-speech refrains he hopes will pressure Republicans who oppose his $447 billion jobs package. He initially exhorted Congress to “Pass this bill!” then demanded “I want it back,” all in the face of unanimous Republican opposition in the Senate, though even some Democrats were unhappy with the plan.
Obama has now agreed to break the proposal into its component parts and seek congressional approval one measure at a time. The overall proposal would increase taxes on millionaires, lower payroll taxes on workers and businesses for a year, pay for bridge, road and school construction projects, and help states and local governments retain teachers and emergency workers.

The proposals with the best chance of passage are the payroll tax cuts and extensions in jobless insurance to the long-term unemployed.
Countering Obama’s criticism, GOP leaders say the sluggish economy and stubbornly high unemployment rate are the result of failed Obama administration policies.
“It’s another day in the campaign life of President Obama, and he’s bringing his re-election tour to Nevada, ground zero for the damaging effects of his failed economic policies,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Monday.

The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments or external internet links are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of First Capital, we make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, current, suitability, or validity of this information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All registered trademarks, copyright, images, or other items used are property of their respective owner and are used for editorial purposes only.

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Mortgage Interest Rates at 4% Aren't Low Enough—Should the Fed Push Harder?

Oct 26 2011, 6:02 PM ET
The central bank may want to do more to help the housing market and stimulate the economy, but it may be out of juice

During the week ending October 6th, the average fixed interest rate on a 30-year mortgage dipped below 4% for the first time, according to Freddie Mac. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that refinancing applications rose -- by just 1%. These historic rates may not be low enough for the Federal Reserve: reports indicate that some central bankers want to encourage more refinancing and home sales. But have the Fed's efforts reached a saturation point?

The Fed's Next Move?
When the Fed meets next week, the housing market may be on its mind. Its actions announced after its September meeting were squarely aimed at mortgages: it sought to push down long-term interest rates through two policy tweaks. Comparing the week ending October 14th to the week ending September 16th, the Fed's effect on the housing market hasn't been particularly impressive: refinance applications are down 11% and purchase applications are down 6%.
The Washington Post reports that the Fed may humor buying additional mortgage-backed securities to push down rates even farther. At this time, they're reinvesting maturing MBS into new MBS. But a new program would expand their holdings of the mortgage securities. The question is: would it really do much?
Diving Into the Data
Check out the chart below. It shows refinancing applications per the MBA versus the average 30-year prime mortgage interest rate per Freddie Mac. The chart goes back to 2005.* 

Applications were relatively low until mortgage interest rates began to fall below 6% in early 2008. Then the financial crisis hit and they plummeted. But they rebounded strongly in 2009, as rates approached and then dipped below 5%. Then applications dropped again. Since that time, we've seen a few mini-booms, but nothing near those 2009 highs. In the meantime, however, interest rates have continued to fall.

At this point, it looks like interest rates would have to break through a significant new bottom barrier to encourage much more refinancing. If the Fed can't manage to slice off another 0.5% or more, Americans aren't likely to respond with an enormous demand for refinancing. Even, then, the result may be modest. At this point, many are relatively content with their already low mortgage interest rates.

Others, however, aren't managing to qualify for refinancing. An initiative announced by the Obama administration this week hopes to change that by allowing underwater borrowers with loans from Fannie Mae and Freddie to refinance. The program, however, is only expected to reach 800,000 people. For the numbers to rise much above that, we'll need to see banks get into the game. Reports indicate that could happen as a part of their foreclosure settlement with the state attorneys general, however.

Home purchases are another story entirely. Despite the ultra-low interest rates, they remain extremely weak. Just last week, mortgage purchase applications hit a new low-point that you'd have to go all the way back to 1996 to match. That's just a week after mortgage interest rates hit an all-time low. Interest rates alone don't appear to be enough to encourage home buying.
Next week the Fed must ask itself whether a new effort to push mortgage interest rates even lower can accomplish much. 

Additional action may only push down rates a little, failing to spur much additional refinancing or many purchases. Meanwhile, another dose of monetary stimulus could make the Fed's exit even more difficult. It must decide whether or not that potential harm will outweigh whatever economic benefit additional MBS purchases might provide.


*Note: The MBA asks that I don't publish their index values, but the curve alone should give you a good idea of magnitude.
Image Credit: REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments or external internet links are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of First Capital, we make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, current, suitability, or validity of this information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All registered trademarks, copyright, images, or other items used are property of their respective owner and are used for editorial purposes only.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Home price index edges up

The 0.2% bump in August in the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index of 20 metropolitan areas isthe fifth straight monthly increase. But a sustained improvement in housing may be hard to achieve in the months to come.

Prices rose in August for 10 of the index's 20 metro areas compared with July, and prices fell in the other 10 cities.
Providing a ray of hope for the beleaguered housing market, a closely watched index of home prices in major U.S. cities nudged upward in August, marking the end of what is typically the busiest sales season of the year.

Home prices have risen for five months in a row, but whether the spring and summer gains will prove lasting is an open question. Sustained improvement in housing may be hard to achieve in the months to come, experts said, if the nation's foreclosure machinery picks up momentum and employers remain reluctant to hire.

"We will probably see a reemergence of the seasonal dip in most markets, quite frankly, including California," said Thomas A. Lawler, founder of research firm Lawler Economic & Housing Consulting.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index of 20 metropolitan areas rose a meager 0.2% from July to August, an uptick many analysts noted as probably seasonal in nature and influenced by the decline in foreclosed properties as a share of the total number of homes sold.

Comparing the August reading with the same month a year earlier, the index fell 3.8%, a drop economists viewed positively because it was one of the slowest rates of year-over-year decline registered by the index all year.

Christopher Thornberg, principal of Beacon Economics, said other home price indicators point to two trends developing in the nation's housing market: Values are declining for homes in distress — those properties that are either foreclosures or cases where the homeowners are delinquent on their mortgages — but other homes are fetching higher prices.

These two divergent forces are flattening out overall market values, he said. The main source of sales sluggishness is the scarcity of potential move-up buyers with equity in their homes.

"The biggest problem is not credit, it is not confidence, it is equity," Thornberg said. "No equity, no move-up buyer; no move-up buyer, you get a slow market."

But David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Indices, said he sees "a modest glimmer of hope" in improvements in some aspects of the data.

Prices rose in August for 10 of the index's 20 metro areas compared with July, and prices fell in the other 10 cities.

California cities stumbled. Home prices in Los Angeles fell 0.4% over the previous month, San Diego prices declined 0.2% and San Francisco saw a 0.1% drop.

Atlanta experienced the biggest decline, down 2.4%. Las Vegas fell 0.3% and Phoenix was down 0.1%.

The Midwest has made gains in home prices in recent months, and Chicago and Detroit were both up 1.4% over July. Washington has fared better than other regions and gained 1.6%.

Earlier this year, the 20-city index dropped below its previous bottom, hit in April 2009, confirming a double dip in prices, but has come up above that level since. Some economists predict a renewed decline in prices in fall and winter, typically slower periods for the market.

Economists have had trouble pinpointing the source of the recent rise in prices.

Home values often rise in the spring and summer months because families more actively shop for houses so they can complete moves before the start of the new school year. But the number of foreclosed homes for sale also has been dwindling because foreclosure processing by the big banks has slowed down as a result of investigations into their practices.

"Prices just stabilized earlier in the year because of foreclosure-gate last year, where the lenders stopped foreclosing on so many homes to get their books back in order," said Patrick Newport, an economist with IHS Global Insight. "Now they are ramping up."

But Lawler disagreed, saying that the recent increase in the number of notices of default, the first formal stage of the foreclosure process, was mostly due to activity by Bank of America. There has yet to be a significant uptick in home repossessions by banks.

"We have seen that a few banks have started to accelerate the foreclosure process somewhat, but we haven't really seen it translate into actual repossession of homes," he said. "I don't think we have seen immense signs that banks have re-accelerated the process."

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New home sales tick up as builders slash prices

, On Wednesday October 26, 2011, 11:28 am EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sales of new homes rose in September after four straight monthly declines, largely because builders cut their prices in the face of depressed demand.

Analysts say the modest increase on the back of reduced prices suggests the struggling housing market is years away from a turnaround.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales increased 5.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 313,000 homes.

Still, sales rose after hitting a six-month low in August. And the annual pace remains less than half the 700,000 that economists say must be sold to sustain a healthy housing market.

A big reason for the gain was that the median sales price fell 3.1 percent to $204,400 -- the lowest since October 2010. The number of new homes on the market was also unchanged at 163,000, a record low.

"Numbers show that while the housing market still has a pulse, it will not be back on its feet until there is significant job growth," said Mitchell Hochberg, principal of Madden Real Estate Ventures in New York.

March through August is typically the peak buying season. But this year, Americans bought fewer new homes in that stretch than in any other six-month period on records going back to 1963.

The economy remains weak two years after the recession officially ended and the unemployment rate has been near 9 percent since then.

For many, buying a home is too big a risk, even with mortgage rates near historic lows. Others can't qualify for loans or meet higher down payment requirements.

While new homes represent less than one-fifth of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

In September, sales were uneven across the country. They increased 11.2 percent in the South and 9.7 percent in West. They fell 4.2 percent in the Northeast and 12.2 percent in the Midwest.
Builders are struggling to compete with foreclosures and short sales -- when lenders accept less for a house than a mortgage is worth. Those homes are selling at an average discount of 20 percent, and they are lowering neighboring home values. That's made many re-sales a bargain compared with new homes, creating an average 30 percent disparity in prices.

Home builders started projects in September at the fastest pace in 17 months, a hopeful sign for the economy. But most of the gain was driven by a surge in volatile apartment construction, a sign that many are choosing to rent rather than own a home.

Single-family home construction, which represents nearly 70 percent of homes built, rose only slightly. And building permits, a gauge of future construction, fell to a five-month low.

All home sales remain weak. The number of Americans who bought previously occupied homes fell in September and home sales are on pace to match last year's dismal figures -- the worst in 13 years. With three months left to go in 2011, roughly 4.91 million homes are expected to be sold this year. Economists say roughly 6 million older homes need to be sold each year to sustain a healthy housing market.

Home prices have dropped more since the recession started, on a percentage basis, than during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It took 19 years for prices to fully recover after the Depression.

The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments or external internet links are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of First Capital, we make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, current, suitability, or validity of this information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All registered trademarks, copyright, images, or other items used are property of their respective owner and are used for editorial purposes only.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Survey: Home prices up in half of major US cities

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Home prices rose in August in half of major cities measured by a private survey, a sign that prices are stabilizing in some hard-hit portions of the country.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index showed Tuesday that prices increased in August from July in 10 of the 20 cities tracked. That marked the fifth straight month that at least half of the cities in the survey showed monthly gains.
The biggest price increases were in Washington, Chicago and Detroit. The greatest declines were in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

The August data provides a "modest glimmer of hope" that some areas may have bottomed out and could be turning around, said David M. Blitzer, chairman of S&P's index committee.
He noted that cities in the Midwest -- Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis -- have shown some strength since May.

In Detroit, the recovering auto industry has helped lead a small rebound in the housing market. Home prices have risen 2.7 percent since August 2010, making it one of only two cities to show a year-over-year gain in that time. The other was Washington.

Detroit was one of the hardest hit after the housing bubble burst more than four years ago. Home prices there are coming off 1995 levels. So the gains are relatively small compared to how far prices have fallen.

In Minneapolis and Chicago, fewer homes are being put up for sale, leading to higher prices and better sales figures. That's likely due to fewer foreclosures in those cities. September's drop in homes for sale in the Twin Cities was the largest decline in inventory in more than seven years, according to the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors.

Still, Robert Shiller, the co-founder of the index and a Yale economics professor, said in an interview on CNBC that overall home prices were "flat" and a recovery in the struggling housing market was not on the horizon.
The index, which covers half of all U.S. homes, measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The August data are the latest available.

Prices are certain to fall again once banks resume millions of foreclosures. They have been delayed because of a yearlong government investigation into mortgage lending practices.

"We certainly believe the bulk of the decline in housing is behind us and indeed, one might even say that `housing' is more likely to improve from here," said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist for BTIG. "But given the overwhelming level of inventory that remains on the market ... further price declines seem almost assured to help clear the market."

Home prices have stabilized in coastal cities over the past six months, helped by a rush of spring buyers and investors. But this year, home prices in many cities, including Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa, have reached their lowest points since the housing bust more than four years ago.

Many people are reluctant to purchase a home more than two years after the recession officially ended. Even the lowest mortgage rates in history haven't been enough to lift sales.
Some can't qualify for loans or meet higher down payment requirements. Many with good credit and stable jobs are holding off because they fear that home prices will keep falling.

Sales of previously occupied home sales are on pace to match last year's dismal figures -- the worst in 13 years. Sales of new homes fell to a six-month low in August and this year could be the worst since the government began keeping records a half century ago.

Foreclosures and short sales -- when a lender accepts less for a home than what is owed on a mortgage -- makes up about 30 percent of all home sales last month, up from about 10 percent in past years. The large number of unsold homes and foreclosures are sending prices lower and hurting sales.

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Rules Aim to Speed Refinancing

Federal regulators on Monday plan to unveil a major overhaul of an under-used mortgage-refinance program designed to help millions of Americans whose home values have tumbled.
The plan is the latest White House effort to deal with one of the most critical impediments to economic recovery—a stagnant housing market caused in part by a surfeit of homeowners who are unable to refinance.

The overhaul will, among other things, let borrowers refinance regardless of how far their homes have fallen in value, eliminating previous limits. That could open up refinancing to legions of borrowers in Nevada, Arizona, Florida, California and elsewhere who are paying high interest rates and are deeply "underwater," owing more than their houses are worth. President Barack Obama is expected to tout the program in Las Vegas on Monday.

[More from WSJ.com: Twelve Questions on Obama's Refi Plan]

The plan will streamline the refinance process by eliminating appraisals and extensive underwriting requirements for most borrowers, as long as homeowners are current on their mortgage payments, according to administration officials and an official at the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Fannie and Freddie have also agreed to waive some fees that made refinancing less attractive for some.

The revamp is aimed at homeowners like Christine and Hector Penunuri of Gilbert, Ariz., who have never missed a mortgage payment and who both have jobs and good credit. Yet their application to refinance their five-bedroom home, which has fallen in value, was denied earlier this year because their tax returns showed a $1,000 loss in start-up costs from Mr. Penunuri's business, which isn't even his day job.

It's "absurd," says their mortgage broker, Steve Walsh of Scottsdale, because the loan is already guaranteed by government-backed mortgage company Freddie Mac.
The Penunuris could save $350 a month by refinancing to a 4% rate from their current 5.75%. They would use that money to put their two sons into junior sports, take a family vacation and pay off other debts, says Ms. Penunuri, 41 years old. "It's a win-win situation."
Freddie Mac declined to comment on the rejection of the Penunuris' earlier refinancing. Freddie Mac and sister company Fannie Mae together guarantee roughly half of the nation's $10.4 trillion in home loans outstanding.

Regulators are revamping a program rolled out two years ago, the Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, which lets borrowers with less than 20% in equity refinance if their loans are backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. President Obama announced HARP roughly one month into his presidency. So far, only 894,000 borrowers have used it, of which just 70,000 are significantly underwater.
"It hasn't worked," said James Parrott, a White House economic adviser, in a speech last month.

Officials at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates Fannie and Freddie, estimate that between 800,000 and one million more borrowers should be able to refinance. "It's in our interest to have these borrowers refinance into lower rates and continue to pay," said an FHFA official.

Monday's refinance announcement is separate from a recent push by state attorneys general to extract concessions from banks to refinance underwater mortgages. That effort, part of the months-long negotiations to settle alleged foreclosure-processing abuses, would apply only to loans held on the books of five of the nation's largest banks, a much smaller subset of loans.
In past downturns, lower interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve were a powerful antidote for a sluggish economy. Falling mortgage rates triggered a refinancing wave that lowered homeowners' mortgage payments, freeing up cash for other things. That, in turn, helped to stimulate spending that boosted economic growth.

This time around, falling mortgage rates—now averaging just 4.11% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, according to a Freddie Mac survey—haven't packed the usual oomph. The reason: Many homeowners haven't been able to refinance.

CoreLogic, a company that tracks 85% of all mortgages, estimates that 20 million borrowers with equity in their homes could cut the interest rates on their loans by more than one percentage point if they could refinance. That's about a quarter of all the homeowners in the country.

Because a refinanced mortgage is treated like a brand new loan, refinancing is nearly impossible for another eight million borrowers whose homes are worth less than their mortgages, unless they qualify for HARP.

But what about those who still have equity in their homes? Some have blemishes on their credit and employment histories or don't have enough income to qualify under today's tougher lending standards. Some find refinancing isn't worthwhile after factoring in new fees imposed by Fannie and Freddie or other closing costs. Still others can't get a refinancing application through a clogged mortgage-processing system.

That's a big obstacle to a stronger economy. Goldman Sachs economists estimate that if current borrowers with a 30-year fixed-rate loan backed by Fannie or Freddie were to refinance, they would save $24 billion annually. Researchers at Columbia Business School estimate that the benefits would accrue primarily to working- and middle-class borrowers with mortgages below $200,000.

The changes should help borrowers like Carol Gesior, who has two underwater mortgages, backed by Freddie Mac, on suburban Chicago properties she bought for siblings. She says she tried to refinance but her bank, Citigroup Inc., told her she couldn't without equity. She was unaware of HARP. If she could refinance both properties, she says she would replace her 1995 Ford Crown Victoria.

"I made a commitment. I signed an agreement to pay. But I didn't do anything to cause the values of these homes to decrease," says Ms. Gesior, 52, an office manager at an investment management firm. "Any logical person would have walked away already."

A Citi spokesman says the company is "happy to work with this client to explore refinancing options that may be available to her."
One problem is that bankers or other mortgage originators shy away from refinancing all but the safest borrowers because Fannie and Freddie can force a lender to buy back a loan if underwriting flaws emerge. In response, lenders are asking for extra documentation of incomes and scrutinizing appraisals, steps that raise costs and lead to more denials.

Another obstacle is new fees that Fannie and Freddie charge borrowers with less-than-perfect credit, even if the borrower's existing mortgage is guaranteed by Fannie or Freddie.

The changes being prepared by federal officials should boost refinancing because they will let banks avoid the risk of any "buy-back" on a HARP mortgage as long as borrowers have made their last six mortgage payments and they prove that they have a job or another source of passive income. They are also set to reduce loan fees that Fannie and Freddie charge. The fees will be waived on borrowers that refinance into loans with shorter terms, such as a 15-year mortgage.
Pricing details won't be published until mid-November, and lenders could begin refinancing loans under the retooled program as soon as Dec. 1, according to federal officials. Loans that exceed the current limit of 125% of the property's value won't be able to participate until early next year. The program's expiration date, originally next June, will be extended through 2013. HARP is only open to loans that Fannie and Freddie guaranteed as of June 2009.
Mr. Walsh, the Scottsdale broker, says such changes could lead him to hire "a ton" of new loan officers. "I have a line out the door of people who want to refinance under that program and can't," he says.

Refinancing can't fix the biggest problems eating at the housing market. Tight lending standards and high volumes of foreclosed-property sales are putting pressure on home prices at a time when demand is weak, potentially creating more underwater borrowers.

But refinancing could help those borrowers repair their balance sheets and guard against future defaults. If lenders and regulators successfully execute the changes, they could be "amazingly powerful," said mortgage-market pioneer Lewis Ranieri. "It'll start to create the confidence which is largely what's keeping the system from going forward."

The changes could spur an additional 1.6 million refinanced loans by the end of 2013, assuming interest rates don't rise sharply, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics.
For the very safest homeowners, falling mortgage rates have been a bonanza. Some have become serial refinancers. Jim Wozniak locked in a 3.88% rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages for his primary residence in Brookfield, Wis., and his lakefront home in nearby Hartland late last month. Replacing 4.25% loans, he will save $2,700 annually.
"This is probably my third time in three years," says Mr. Wozniak, a 54-year-old investment adviser who says he has an excellent credit score and lots of equity in both properties.
For others, the hurdles are insurmountable. Appraisals are a big one. When an appraisal shows that a property has too little equity, lenders sometimes order a second appraisal. "You get into these appraisal wars, often at the borrowers' expense," says Marietta Rodriguez, the national director for home-ownership and lending at NeighborWorks America, a nonprofit housing group.
Steven Eisner, a 59-year-old attorney in Haddonfield, N.J., says he expected to sail through the process when he tried to refinance last month because he has good credit and strong income. Instead, he was startled to find that the appraisal on his vacation condo in Bonita Springs, Fla., came in so low he would have needed to ante up $52,000.
He put 25% down when he bought it four years ago. But, because of sagging home prices, his equity has declined to just 10% of the property's value. Refinancing "is simply not worth the trouble," says Mr. Eisner, whose mortgage is guaranteed by Fannie.

Not everyone benefits from encouraging more refinancing, of course. Banks and investors in mortgage-backed securities—including Fannie and Freddie and the Federal Reserve—stand to lose billions if performing loans pay off, leaving investors with cash to reinvest at today's lower rates.
"Somebody's going to get hit. This isn't a free good," says Anthony Sanders, a real-estate finance professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
That doesn't faze Mr. Eisner. "We've certainly done enough to prop the banks up," he says. "These are loans that everyone knew could prepay."

The success of any refinance push rests not only on whether policy makers can untangle a Gordian knot of technical hurdles, but also on whether they can get buy-in from private-sector players. One major obstacle to refinancing is that the mortgage industry has shrunk. Four big banks now control more than 60% of the mortgage market. Many originators, including the biggest banks, have cut staff or shifted loan underwriters into units working through piles of delinquent mortgages.

New rules designed to prevent independent mortgage brokers—who originate loans on behalf of a bank or other lender—from fleecing consumers have made it harder for them to compete with bigger lenders that aren't subject to the same rules. For example, new compensation rules make it less attractive for brokers to originate smaller or more complicated loans.

The reduced competition has led to longer processing times and higher prices for consumers. When their borrowing costs fall, banks aren't necessarily reducing the rates they charge borrowers by the same amount. Banks with big market share "know they can get away with it," says Thomas Lawler, an independent housing economist in Leesburg, Va. "The market's just not as competitive as it once was."

Industry executives dispute the notion that the market isn't competitive but concede that the industry wasn't ready to handle a surge in applications after rates dropped two months ago.
"Capacity constraints" will be temporary because lenders are hiring more staff, but "in the short run, there's no question that's a challenge," says David Stevens, the chief executive of the Mortgage Bankers Association. Lenders are going "through a lot more checks and balances simply to get a loan approved safely and soundly."

Some spurned borrowers aren't giving up. Barb Skaer, 70, of Appleton, Wis., and her husband wanted to refinance a $402,000 mortgage on a second home that appraised at $547,000 two years ago. She says they have strong credit scores and own part of a manufacturing business that makes bobby pins and hair clips.
Ms. Skaer says their bank, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., quoted a 4% rate. But she says her loan officer told her she and her husband wouldn't qualify for a new loan because their income from their factory business declined the past two years. A J.P. Morgan spokesman declined to comment.
Ms. Skaer says they are appealing the decision at their bank and may go elsewhere if that doesn't work.
"Our theory is that if we can afford [the current payment of] $2,189 per month, we should be able to afford $200 less by refinancing," says Ms. Skaer. "This makes absolutely no sense to us, and we are not taking 'no' for an answer."
Nick Timiraos at nick.timiraos@wsj.com

The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments or external internet links are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of First Capital, we make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, current, suitability, or validity of this information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All registered trademarks, copyright, images, or other items used are property of their respective owner and are used for editorial purposes only.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Home Short Sales Rise in ‘Dramatic Shift,’ May Boost Prices

Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. home prices may get a boost from an unlikely source: a pickup in sales of properties in default before they reach the stage where they are repossessed by the bank and sold.

There has been a “dramatic shift” in banks’ willingness to sell a property for less than the mortgage balance to avoid foreclosing, said Ron Peltier, chairman and chief executive officer of HomeServices of America Inc., the second-biggest U.S. residential brokerage.

The transactions, known as short sales, typically change hands at a discount of about 20 percent to homes not in financial distress, compared with a 40 percent price cut for bank-owned homes, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Short sales jumped 19 percent in the second quarter from the prior three months while foreclosure sales were flat, the data seller said.

“Banks have become much more supportive of short sales,” said Peltier, whose Minneapolis-based company is a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. “That’s better for the lenders, who have smaller losses on a short sale, and it’s going to be better for homeowners, who won’t have as much psychological distress as a foreclosure.”

Distressed sales brokered by HomeServices used to be 60 percent foreclosures and 40 percent short sales, Peltier said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. Now, that ratio has flipped, according to the CEO, whose company is second in size to NRT LLC, a unit of Realogy Corp. in Parsippany, New Jersey, that has about 700 offices under the Coldwell Banker brand.

Default Backlog

“There’s a huge backlog of homes in default that the banks want to get rid of,” said Thomas Popik, research director for Campbell Surveys in Washington. “They don’t want to be homeowners.”
Banks are being more agreeable to short sales as foreclosures slow following a yearlong probe of so-called robo- signing, or pushing through unverified default documents. Foreclosure filings have fallen for 12 straight months through September as banks work through a backlog of paperwork, RealtyTrac data show. About 6.4 million loans are either delinquent or in default, according to Lender Processing Services Inc., a mortgage software firm in Jacksonville, Florida.

Third of Transactions

Almost a third of all home transactions in August were foreclosures or short sales, according to the National Association of Realtors. While short sales were flat compared with a year earlier, the trade group’s count only includes deals completed with a broker, and short sales often are handled directly with lenders.

Banks are not only approving more short sales, they’re doing it in less time. In the second quarter, short-sale homes, also known as pre-foreclosures, sold an average 245 days after default, down from 256 days in the previous period, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac. That reversed three straight quarters of increases.
The time frame remains a lot longer than traditional sales. In a normal transaction, a buyer bids on a home and gets a decision from its owners within days, if not hours. Getting a bank response to a short-sale offer can take two months or more.
“No matter how streamlined a short sale may be, it’s always going to be a frustrating experience,” Popik said. “Too many people are involved -- investors, servicers, owners, real estate brokers, mortgage insurance companies.”

Second Liens

Half of troubled mortgages have so-called second liens, such as home equity lines of credit, according to the Treasury Department, so there may be two mortgage holders with a stake in a short sale. If the property has mortgage insurance, that company may be involved in the negotiations as well.
Because short sales typically are occupied soon after the deal, neighboring properties take less of a hit in values, according to Popik. Prices for distressed homes often are used by appraisers to gauge surrounding values, even if the nearby homes aren’t in default. Also, owners who voluntarily give up their homes tend to leave them in better shape than people who are evicted, reducing costs for banks, he said.

“Anytime a short sale can be substituted for a foreclosure, it’s going to prop up prices and it’s going to cut losses because it’s going to sell for more,” he said.

Worse Than Depression

Home values have declined 31 percent in the last five years, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index of values in 20 U.S. cities, as competition from foreclosures pressures sellers to lower their asking prices. The resulting crash was worse than the 27 percent plunge in values during the Depression, said Stan Humphries, chief economist of Zillow Inc., a Seattle-based real estate information company.

The drop in home values has pushed almost a quarter of U.S. mortgage borrowers underwater, meaning their debt is more than their homes are worth, according to a report by CoreLogic Inc., a real estate data company in Santa Ana, California. That so- called negative equity prevents owners from conducting traditional deals because they would have to pay the difference between their loan balance and the sale price.

Short-sellers can negotiate with banks to forgive the unpaid portion, according to Steve Beede, an attorney in Fair Oaks, California, who specializes in dealing with loans in default. Even if they succeed, a second-lien holder in most states can pursue people for mortgage-payoff shortfalls, he said.

Banks are starting to “get their act together” with short sales, said Cameron Novak, a broker with The Homefinding Center in Corona, California. The company handles about 15 of the transactions a month, he said.

“There’s been improvement in the last few months, and response times are getting to be a little quicker,” Cameron said in a telephone interview. “It’s about time.”

--Editors: Christine Maurus, Kara Wetzel
To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen M. Howley in Chicago at : kmhowley@bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kara Wetzel at kwetzel@bloomberg.net

The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments or external internet links are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of First Capital, we make no representations as to accuracy, completeness, current, suitability, or validity of this information and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All registered trademarks, copyright, images, or other items used are property of their respective owner and are used for editorial purposes only.

Visit First Capital Online or call: 310-458-0010

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Underwriting - Has your mortgage been approved?

Mortgage rates are low, real estate is at rock-bottom prices and there are plenty of qualified buyers looking for a home; so why is it so difficult to buy a home?

Mortgage Underwriting Is a Big Problem for Buyers and Sellers, Says National Buyer's Agent Alliance

CHARLESTON, S.C., Oct. 17, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- "The biggest challenge facing home buyers is often they don't know if their mortgage has been approved until a few days before closing," said David Kent, President, National Buyer's Agent Alliance.  "This creates stress for buyers as they try to arrange movers and get utilities transferred." It also affects sellers too because they need to know that the loan will be approved to plan their move out.  
One of the results of the banking crisis is that mortgage lenders have become very diligent in their review of mortgages. Understandably, the lender wants to make sure that every loan requirement is reviewed and verified. What makes this especially challenging is that mortgage underwriting guidelines are subject to interpretation. This not only slows down the process, but it can bring it to a grinding halt. The anxiety in the market and the pressure on underwriters to not miss anything has made the home-buying process extremely challenging for even the most qualified buyers.
The difficulty became all too real for one couple trying to purchase a condo in South Carolina. In this case, they thought their closing would proceed as scheduled after being told that their financials had been approved by the underwriter. However, a different underwriter with the same financial institution determined that they needed additional information regarding the condominium association.

The information was provided and the buyers again thought they were ready to close. Just prior to their closing date, the buyers were shocked to learn that a mortgage insurance underwriter did not approve the insurance and thus the loan was not approved. Fortunately, their buyer's agent sent their information to another financial institution where a different underwriter approved the loan and the couple was able to move into their new home. This is not an isolated case. These types of underwriting problems are echoed across the country.

Luckily, "the buyers were fortunate to have an exclusive buyer's agent, one whose total focus is on the buyer, representing them," said Kent. To avoid conflicts caused by agents trying to represent both the seller and the buyer and to help buyers overcome the hurdles of mortgage underwriting, the National Buyer's Agent Alliance helps home buyers find a buyer's agent in their desired location that will help them move through the process successfully.
Article: PRNewswire -David Kent, President, National Buyer's Agent Alliance


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Monday, October 17, 2011

Valley foreclosure filings drop - should help stabilize home prices

Experts: Downward trend should help stabilize home prices

Foreclosures across the Coachella Valley plummeted 36percent in September to the lowest level since February 2008.

The 1,031 mortgage default notices, bank repossessions and foreclosure auctions in September also marked the sixth straight month of double-digit year-over-year declines.
That compares to 1,604 in September 2010, Irvine-based real estate data provider RealtyTrac reported. February 2008, meanwhile, saw about 940 filings.

As foreclosure filings continue to tumble and bargain hunters snap up the dwindling inventory of bank-owned and other distressed properties, home prices should continue to stabilize.

Franklin, president of the Palm Springs Regional Association of Realtors.
“If you look at the (September) price per square foot of bank-owned properties at $93 and regular sales of $161, you can see where this is going,” Franklin said. Michael McDonald, partner with real estate information company Market Watch LLC, anticipates that distressed property inventory in many valley cities will drop to normal levels sometime in 2013, if not sooner.
McDonald predicts median prices could then rise 20 percent or more, “further slowing strategic defaults and unfreezing thousands of marginal equity homeowners.”

Experts who track foreclosures nationwide, however, as well as desert bankers, caution that the downward trend in foreclosures could come to a screeching halt.
“I expect to see an uptick in foreclosure activity and inventory over the coming months,” said Bret Cohn, senior vice-president of Franklin Loan Center in Palm Desert.

One reason is because loan modifications offered by many banks merely lowered the interest rate for five years, with delinquent payments applied to the back end of the loan, Cohn said.
“This does not help a homeowner when it will take 20-plus years to get back to the value which they owe,” Cohn said.
“Most people who accepted loan modifications realized within a few months that it was not in their best long-term financial interest to continue on this path, and they have already stopped making their modified payments.”

Fewer distressed properties, too

In the Coachella Valley, 1,031 foreclosure filings in September was far less than in mid-2009, when there were often 2,200 or 2,300 filings in a month
.
Such a decline has helped push down the number of bank-owned and short-sale properties on the market, according to local Realtors and the Desert Area Multiple Listing Service.
In short sales, homeowners work with lenders to sell their properties for less than what is owed on the mortgage.
Bank-owned properties for sale during September fell to 424 in the valley, according to the latest MLS report, while another 274 sold during the month and 322 sales were pending,
That compares to September a year ago, when 694 bank-owned homes were for sale, another 284 sold and 286 sales were pending.

There also were far fewer short sale properties on the market in September.
For house hunters Allan and Meghan Carty of Petaluma, the drop in foreclosure filings affects them less than the drop in foreclosure inventories as they look for a four-bedroom, three-bath in or near Indio.
They've seen bank-owned properties priced at $118,000-$234,000, deals they couldn't have imagined five years ago.
“It seems like there are some pretty decent options,” Allan Carty said. “We want to find something before all the best ones are gone.”