Posts Tagged ‘Mortgage Bankers Association’

Mortgage Delinquencies on the Decline

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

The percentage of borrowers who are behind on making mortgage payments fell to a four-year low in the first three months of 2012, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).  The percentage of loans that were delinquent or in the foreclosure process during the 1st quarter was 11.33 percent, the lowest level since 2008.  That was a decrease of 1.2 percentage points from a quarter earlier and 0.98 percentage point below the rate reported one year ago.

A flare up of the sovereign debt troubles in Europe once again led investors to flee to the safety of U.S. Treasury securities last week.  As a result, mortgage rates have reached new lows in our survey, and refinancing application volumes picked up substantially as a result,” Fratantoni said.  ”Survey participants indicated that this was not due primarily to HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) volume – the HARP share of refinances fell to 28 percent of refinance applications, down relative to last week and last month, when the share was just above 30 percent in April.”

These new delinquencies represent 3.1 percent of loans outstanding, said Jay Brinkmann, the MBA’s chief economist.  That corresponds to the historical average dating back to the 1990s, he said.  “Basically, we’re back to normal on that count,” he said.  “The short-term delinquencies are back to normal, longer-term delinquencies still continue to go down.  The remaining problem is this backlog of foreclosures in certain states,” Brinkmann said.

One cause that has slowed the recovery is the ongoing difficulty lenders face completing the foreclosure process, particularly in states that involve the courts in the foreclosure process.  In the judicial states, 6.9 percent of loans are in foreclosure inventory, loans that the banks have started the legal process of foreclosing on but have not yet taken control of the property through a foreclosure sale.  In states where foreclosures are handled by trustees such as title companies, only 2.9 percent of loans are in foreclosure inventory.

The delinquency rate peaked at 10.1 percent in the 1st quarter of 2010 and was last lower in the 3rd quarter of 2008, when it was 6.99 percent.  The majority of troubled loans were originated between 2005 and 2007.  Tighter lending standards and deflated prices for borrowers who got mortgages after the housing market collapsed are the reason for better performance of loans issued since 2008.  Loans that are more than 90 days overdue — the point at which lenders usually begin the process of seizing a property – fell to 3.06 percent from 3.11 percent in the 1st quarter and 3.62 percent one year ago.  The share of homes that had received a foreclosure notice and hadn’t been seized by banks increased to 4.39 percent, an increase of one basis point, or 0.01 percentage point, from the previous quarter.

The bad news is that the percentage of loans in the foreclosure process rose slightly to 4.39 percent in the 1st quarter from 4.38 percent in the 4th quarter, reflecting slow judicial-foreclosure systems in states such as Florida, according to the MBA.  The rate was at 4.52 percent a year ago.

According to the MBA, foreclosure starts fell in 41 states.  The MBA survey covers 42.8 million loans on one- to four-unit residential properties, or approximately 88 percent of all first-lien residential mortgages in the country.

The average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances declined to 3.96 percent from 4.01 percent, while rates on similar mortgages with jumbo loan balances fell to 4.2 percent from 4.29 percent.  The typical rate on FHA-backed 30-year fixed-rate mortgages slipped to 3.75 percent from 3.81 percent.

Despite the good national news, the MBA survey found that Illinois still has a high foreclosure rate.  Nearly 7.5 percent of all one-to-four-unit mortgage loans in Illinois were in foreclosure in the 1st quarter, compared with a national average of 4.39 percent.  “Illinois and New Jersey trail only Florida as being the worst in the country, and they’re getting worse,” Brinkmann said.  “The rate in Illinois is more than twice that of California.  In the judicial states the problem continues to get worse in terms of the backlog of loans in the foreclosure process.”

Pending Home Sales Rose Two Percent in January

Monday, March 12th, 2012

The Pending Home Sales Index grew by two percent during January from the previous month to 97.0 — considerably above the 1.1 percent growth forecast by economists.  The index has risen eight percent when compared with one year ago.  Relaxed mortgage lending criteria, historically low interest rates and an improving labor market contributed to this growth in pending home sales, said Ian Shepherdson, High Frequency Economics‘ chief U.S. economist.  The index measures the quantity of sales contracts signed on existing home sales.  Created by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), it’s considered a leading indicator that predicts growth throughout the broader residential market.

“Given more favorable housing market conditions, the trend in contract activity implies we are on track for a more meaningful sales gain this year,” said NAR chief economist, Lawrence Yun.  “With a sustained downtrend in unsold inventory, this would bring about a broad price stabilization or even modest national price growth, of course with local variations.”  Pending home sales rose impressively in the Northeast and South, but declined in the Midwest and West.

“Housing demand has bottomed, and we should see some gradual improvement in sales,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, an economist at BNP Paribas, who predicted a two percent gain in pending sales.  “The dark side of the story is still the oversupply and the expected pickup in foreclosures.  That’s what policymakers really need to think about.”  On the downside, lower appraisals and rejected mortgage applications have broken down more deals.  In January, one-third of Realtors said they experienced contract failures, an increase when compared with the nine percent who said so one year ago, according to the association.

Existing home sales rose to 4.57 million a year in January.  While it was the best report since May of 2010, distressed properties constituted the largest portion of all purchases since April.  Additionally, the median price fell two percent when compared with January of 2011.  “We’re optimistic,” Doug Yearley, CEO at Horsham, PA-based Toll Brothers, said.  “We have orders that are up significantly.  We’re seeing deposits up, we’re seeing traffic up.”

Borrowing costs are still affordably low. The average rate on a 30-year fixed loan was little changed at 4.09 percent in mid-February, , according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. It averaged 4.05 percent the week of February 3, its lowest reading on record since 1990.

Another reason why home sales may be on the rise is because of an April deadline for higher mortgage application fees for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-backed home loans.  The government-controlled mortgage buyers own or guarantee approximately 50 percent of all U.S. mortgages and 90 percent of new loans and have been telling customers to submit their applications now.  Even with the good news, analysts warn that the damage from the housing bust is deep and the industry is years away from full recovery.

According to Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, prices are unlikely to stop falling until the second half of 2012, having dropped 34 per cent over the last five years.  This, and the decline in the supply of homes on the market, which fell last month to the lowest since January 2006, will provide support to the housing recovery.

As Foreclosures Decline, Federal Government Makes Deal With 49 States

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

In good news for beleaguered homeowners, the Obama administration announced a $26 billion mortgage settlement, which 49 out of 50 state attorneys general signed on to.  The deal won praise from such groups as the Mortgage Bankers Association, the industry trade group for lenders, and the Center for Responsible Lending, a public interest group advocating for borrowers.

Conservatives suggested that the Obama administration is overreaching, and that the agreement rewards homeowners who haven’t been paying their mortgages.  On the other side, some liberal groups say it falls far short of providing the needed level of help to troubled homeowners hurt by the housing bubble, problems they blame on Wall Street banks and investors.  They would prefer additional relief for homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages.

“It’s a big check with narrow immunity,” said Paul Miller, a former examiner for the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and currently an analyst with FBR Capital Markets in Arlington, VA.  “You get the state attorneys general off your back, but you’re not getting immunity from securitizations, which could come with their own steep cost down the road.”

Regulators are “aggressive” on pursuing securities claims and have set up a task force to do so, said Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.  The $26 billion deal doesn’t protect banks from claims related to faulty loans sold to government-owned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he said.  “It wasn’t the servicing practices that created the bubble, nor caused its collapse,” Donovan said.  “It was the origination and securitization of these horrendous products.”

Writing on Salon, Matt Stoller says that the deal lets the banks down relatively easily.  “Rather than settling anything, this agreement is simply a continuation of the policy framework of both the Bush and the Obama administrations.  So what exactly is that framework?  It is, as Damon Silvers of the Congressional Oversight Panel which monitored the bailouts, once put it, to preserve the capital structures of the largest banks.  ‘We can either have a rational resolution to the foreclosure crisis or we can preserve the capital structure of the banks,’ said Silvers in October, 2010.  “’We can’t do both.’  Writing down debt that cannot be paid back — the approach Franklin Roosevelt took — is off the table, as it would jeopardize the equity keeping those banks afloat.  This policy framework isn’t obvious, because it isn’t admissible in polite company.  Nonetheless, it occasionally gets out.  Back in August 2010, at an ‘on background’ briefing of financial bloggers, Treasury officials admitted that the point of its housing programs were to space out foreclosures so that banks could absorb smaller shocks to their balance sheets.  This is consistent with the president’s own words a few months later.”

Very gradually, the foreclosure crisis seems to be easing. The number of homes in foreclosure declined by 130,000, or 8.4 percent last year to 830,000, according to a report from CoreLogic, an economic research firm.  That compares with 1.1 million homes foreclosed in 2010.  These are homes whose owners had fallen far behind on payments, forcing lenders to put them into the foreclosure process.  The homes remain in the foreclosure inventory until they’re sold — either at auction or in a short sale, which is when a home is sold for less than the mortgage value — or until homeowners are current again on payments

There are two reasons for the decline in the foreclosure inventory, according to Mark Fleming, CoreLogic’s chief economist.  “The pace at which properties are entering foreclosure is slowing,” he said.  “And servicers nationwide stepped up the rate at which they were able to process distressed assets.”

In the last few years, homes have entered foreclosure more slowly because lenders carefully scrutinized applicants; only low-risk borrowers are granted loans.  Along with a measured improvement in the economy, this equals fewer borrowers getting into trouble.  Even borrowers in default are avoiding foreclosure in many instance and are being held up by judicial and regulatory constraints, according to Fleming.

The practice of robo-signing, in which banks filed slapdash and sometimes improper paperwork, made lenders more cautious about getting their paperwork in order before foreclosing.  When a bank does put a home into foreclosure, they are trying to speed the process.  One way they’ve done that is by encouraging short sales.  Another is that they’ve stepped up their foreclosure prevention efforts — often with the aid of government programs such as Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which the government says has helped nearly one million Americans stay in their homes.

After foreclosures are completed and the homes are back in the lenders’ hands, they sell quickly.  “This is the first time in a year that REO sales (those of bank-owned properties) have outpaced completed foreclosures,” Fleming said.  In December, there were 103 sales of bank-owned homes for every 100 homes in the foreclosure inventory.  That was a significant increase from November of 2010, when there were only 94 REO sales for every 100 homes in the foreclosure process.

As of December of 2011, Florida still topped the nation’s foreclosure inventory at 11.9 percent, followed by New Jersey with 6.4 percent and Illinois 5.4 percent.  Nevada, consistently the number one foreclosure state in the nation, has fallen to fourth place with 5.3 percent.

What’s Wrong With Homeowners Defaulting? Companies Do It all the Time

Monday, February 13th, 2012

When we say that a company “went bankrupt,” we imply that it had no other choice. But American Airlines deliberately filed for bankruptcy. The airline had four billion dollars in the bank and was in a position to pay its bills. American has been losing money for some time and its board decided that it made no sense to continue throwing good money after bad. By declaring bankruptcy, American can trim its debt, break its union contracts, so that it can slim down and cut costs.

According to James Surowiecki, a financial writer for The New Yorker, “American wasn’t stigmatized for the move. Instead, analysts hailed it as ‘very smart.’  It is now generally accepted that when it’s economically irrational for a company to keep paying its debts it will try to renegotiate them or, failing that, default. For creditors, that’s just the price of business. But when it comes to another set of borrowers the norms are very different. The bursting of the housing bubble has left millions of homeowners across the country owing more than their homes are worth. In some areas, well over half of mortgages are underwater, many so deeply that people owe forty or fifty per cent more than the value of their homes. In other words, a good percentage of Americans are in much the same position as American Airlines: they can still pay their debts, but doing so is like setting a pile of money on fire every month.”

Families so deeply underwater realize that they will never make a return on their investment in their homes. The rational solution for many would be a “strategic default” – walking away from the mortgage and letting the house revert to the bank. Yet the vast majority of underwater borrowers are still paying their mortgages; studies suggest that perhaps only 25 percent of all foreclosures are strategic. When you consider how much housing prices have fallen, one can’t help but wonder why more people aren’t just walking away.

According to Surowiecki, “Part of the answer is practical. Defaulting (even in so-called non-recourse states) is still a lot of trouble, and to most people it’s scary. In addition, homeowners are slow to recognize how much the value of their homes has dropped, and have inflated expectations of how much it will rise in the future. The biggest hurdle, though, is social: while companies get called ‘very smart’ for restructuring their contracts, there’s a real stigma attached to defaulting on your mortgage. According to one study, eighty-one per cent of Americans think it’s immoral not to pay your mortgage when you can, and the idea of default is shaped by what Brent White, a law professor at the University of Arizona, calls a discourse of ‘shame, guilt, and fear.’ When the housing bubble burst, the banking industry was terrified by the possibility that homeowners might walk away en masse, since that would have stuck lenders with large losses and a huge number of marked-down homes. So strategic default was portrayed as the act of dishonorable deadbeats. David Walker, of the Peterson Foundation, waxed nostalgic about debtors’ prisons, and John Courson, the head of the Mortgage Bankers Association, argued that defaulters were sending the wrong message – to their family and their kids and their friends.”

“Paying your debts is, as a rule, a good thing,” according to Surowiecki. “But the double standard here is obvious and offensive. Homeowners are getting lambasted for doing what companies do on a regular basis. Walking away from real-estate obligations in particular is common in the corporate world, and real-estate developers are notorious for abandoning properties that no longer make economic sense. Sometimes the hypocrisy is staggering: last winter, the Mortgage Bankers Association — the very body whose president attacked defaulters for betraying their families and their communities —got its creditors to let it do a short sale of its headquarters, dumping it for thirty-four million dollars less than the value of the building’s mortgage.”

In the case of debt, the corporate attitude is do as I say, not as I do. While homeowners are advised to think of more than the bottom line, banks do business in coldly rational terms. They could have helped keep people in their homes by writing down mortgages (similar to the restructuring that American Airlines’ debt holders now face). “And there are plenty of useful ideas out there for how banks could do this without taxpayer subsidies and without rewarding the irresponsible,” Surowiecki said.  “For instance, Eric Posner and Luigi Zingales, of the University of Chicago, suggest that, in exchange for writing down mortgages in hard-hit areas, lenders would take an ownership stake in a house, getting a percentage of the capital gain when it was eventually sold. Lenders, though, have avoided such schemes and haven’t done mortgage modifications on any meaningful scale. It’s their right to act in their own interest, but it makes it awfully hard to take seriously complaints about homeowners’ lack of social responsibility.”

Of course, many borrowers made bad decisions and acted irresponsibly. But so did lenders — by handing out too much money and not requiring sensible down payments. So far, banks have been partially insulated from the consequences of those bad decisions, because Americans have been so obliging about paying off over-inflated mortgages. Strategic defaults would help distribute the pain more evenly and, if they became more common, would force lenders to be more responsible in the future. It’s also possible that a wave of strategic defaults — a De-Occupy Your House movement — would get banks to take mortgage modification more seriously, which would be all for the better. The truth is that banks have been relying on homeowners to do the right thing. It might be time for homeowners to do the smart thing instead, Surowiecki concluded.

Home Delinquencies Fall; Foreclosures Rise

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Fewer borrowers currently are delinquent on their home loans, a Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) report shows.  Curiously, new foreclosures are rising in states like California.  This is evidence that the nation still must endure significant pain before the housing crisis finally comes to an end.  According to some analysts, the nation is only halfway through the wrenching grip of the foreclosure epidemic.  That’s reflected in the housing market, where sales and prices continue to sag despite record low interest rates.  Five years after the crisis began, 7.99 percent of all mortgages were behind by at least one payment in the 3rd quarter but not yet in foreclosure.  Nevertheless, that’s down by nearly half a percentage point from the 2nd quarter and more than one percent when compared with last year.

The percentage of American mortgages that were somewhere in the foreclosure process at the end of the 3rd quarter was 4.43 percent, a slight increase over last year.  The rate of homes in foreclosure was highest in the East and Midwest that route residential repossessions through the courts, with Florida at more than 14 percent and New Jersey at eight percent.

Rather surprisingly, new foreclosures rose to 1.08 percent of all loans from 0.96 percent in the prior three months, according to the MBA. The rate had been declining since the 3rd quarter of 2010, when regulators began investigating robo-signing.  Some of the nation’s largest banks temporarily halted foreclosures while they addressed claims of flaws in their court documents.  The moratoriums clogged the entire foreclosure pipeline as banks investigated their procedures, said Patrick Newport, an economist at IHS Global Insight.  “Banks are starting to speed up the process now that they’ve cleaned up their paperwork,” Newport said.  “We’re seeing the backlog begin to move.”

Unfortunately, the improvement may be short lived.  For the 4th quarter, the pace probably will slow to 2.3 percent, according to the median estimate among 86 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.  The pace likely will slow to two percent in the first three months of 2012, according to the estimates.  “While the delinquency picture changed for the better in the 3rd quarter, the foreclosure data indicated that we are not out of the woods yet and that the issues continue to vary by geography,” Michael Fratantoni, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s vice president of research and economics, said.

“That’s really just reflecting the modest improvement we’ve seen in the economy broadly and the job market in particular,” Fratantoni said. “Job growth is not what we want it to be, but it’s been good enough to keep the unemployment rate at least level and that’s been beneficial here with fewer people falling behind.”

“While foreclosure activity in September and the 3rd quarter continued to register well below levels from a year ago, there is evidence that this temporary downward trend is about to change direction, with foreclosure activity slowly beginning to ramp back up,” said James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.  “Third quarter foreclosure activity increased marginally from the previous quarter, breaking a trend of three consecutive quarterly decreases that started in the fourth quarter of 2010,” according to Saccacio.  “This marginal increase in overall foreclosure activity was fueled by a 14 percent jump in new default notices, indicating that lenders are cautiously throwing more wood into the foreclosure fireplace after spending months trying to clear the chimney of sloppily filed foreclosures.”

Foreclosure were filed on 214,855 U.S. properties in September, a six percent decrease from August and a 38 percent decrease when compared with September of 2010.  September marked the 12th consecutive month where foreclosure activity decreased on a year-over-year basis.

A report issued by the Center for Responsible Lending found that 6.4 percent of mortgages created between 2004 and 2008 ended in foreclosure.  Another 8.3 percent of mortgages are at “immediate, serious risk.”  According to Fratantoni, “Given the pace of foreclosure sales — about one million foreclosure sales a year — it’s a three- or four-year process to get it back to a more typical level of foreclosed properties.”

The refinance share of mortgage activity fell to 77.3 percent of total applications from 78.6 percent the previous week.  The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity increased to 6.1 percent from 5.8 percent of all applications.  In October, 50.6 percent of refinancing applications opted for fixed-rate 30-year loans, 28.8 percent opted for 15-year fixed loans and six percent went with ARMs.  In terms of applications for home purchase mortgages, 85.5 percent were for fixed-rate 30-year loans, 6.9 percent for 15-year fixed loans and 5.9 percent for ARMs, the lowest share of that vehicle for purchases since January.

Federal Regulators Floating the Idea of 20 Percent Downpayment Mortgages

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Is a 20 percent downpayment on a house or condominium on the horizon?  If some federal regulators get their way, buyers may have to put down $60,000 on a $300,000 house to get the best possible mortgage interest rate.  Although this sets the bar high, regulators believe it will prevent the risky lending practices that ended in a rash of foreclosures.

Numerous groups immediately announced their opposition to the proposal, contending that a 20 percent downpayment is too burdensome for many working class would-be homebuyers.  If the proposal goes into effect in summer, it is not likely to have a major impact on the housing market for a while because the majority of mortgages are insured by federal agencies and are exempt from the rule.  John Taylor, chief executive of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, said “If we require 20 percent downpayments to get a loan, we will ensure broad swaths of working- and middle-class people will not be able to get a loan.”  According to Tom Deutsch, executive director of the American Securitization Forum, believes the 20 percent requirement will do little to encourage banks to make loans without federal backing.  “The extremely rigid proposals…will further prolong the U.S. government’s 95 percent market share of the credit risk of newly originated mortgages,” he said.

Sheila C. Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, disagrees.  “Properly aligned economic incentives are the best check against lax underwriting,” she said.  The Federal Reserve and Treasury Department also support the move, and other federal regulators are expected to get behind the new requirement.  The move comes as the Obama administration is working to end Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage companies, by reducing the competitive advantage they have over banks.  One proposal is to require the agencies to charge higher fees to draw private firms back into the mortgage market.

Mortgage Bankers Association CEO John Courson warns that the 20 percent downpayment requirement would further damage already sluggish housing demand.  “We believe that such a narrow construct of the risk retention exemption would limit mortgage opportunities for qualified borrowers more than it would reduce the number of problem loans,” Courson said.  Ron Phipps, president of the National Association of Realtors, said the new rules will further restrict mortgage credit and housing recovery overall.  “Adding unnecessarily high minimum downpayment requirements will only exclude hundreds of thousands of buyers from home ownership, despite their creditworthiness and proven ability to afford the monthly payment, because of the dramatic increase in the wealth required to purchase a home,” Phipps said.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is leading the regulatory effort, said “Risk retention will help promote better standards for underwriting and securitizing mortgages, which is good for the long-term health of the housing market and for our nation’s economy.”  An element of the Dodd-Frank Act that impacts the residential market, known as “risk retention”, is a rule that requires that mortgage lenders and securitizers to invest a minimum of five percent of the risk on qualified residential mortgages. The rule will play a crucial role in determining how much risk banks have to retain from mortgages they originate or package into bonds known as mortgage backed securities (MBS) and then subsequently sell into the market.  “If this proposal goes through, the way it’s written, I think the housing market will not recover for years to come,” says Joe Murin, chairman of consulting firm The Collingwood Group.

Obama Bypasses Congress to Boost Housing

Monday, October 31st, 2011

President Barack Obama executed an end run around Congress when he announced a significant retooling of a plan designed to help homeowners who are paying their mortgages, but still underwater, refinance their loans at a more affordable interest rate.  Administration officials said the changes will streamline the government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and could dramatically increase the number of borrowers who have refinanced their loans under the program past the current 894,000.  They did not specify how many borrowers might be eligible or likely to participate.  The program, which is voluntary to lenders, will be available only to homeowners whose mortgages were sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on or before May 31, 2009, and who have a loan-to-value ratio above 80 percent.

The downside is that hundreds of thousands more could not qualify — primarily because of the previous 125 percent loan-to-value limit on the program or because banks refused to take on the risk.  Raising the loan-to-value restrictions may help a limited number of borrowers, according to Jaret Seiberg, an analyst for MF Global Inc.’s Washington Research Group, which analyzes public policy for institutional investors.  The difficulty is that mortgage holders still must be up-to-date on their payments for the past six months — with no more than one missed payment in the past year.  Additionally, they also must qualify for a new loan.

Qualifying homeowners will be able to refinance their mortgages at the current low rates, which are currently near four percent. Obama’s move comes at a time when there is a fast-growing consensus that the nation’s declining housing market is negatively impacting the economic recovery.  Home values are at eight-year lows; and more than 10 million people are underwater, meaning that they owe more than their homes are worth.  “It’s a painful burden for middle-class families,” Obama said.  “And it’s a drag on our economy.”  The administration’s proposal underscores the scale of the problem, as well as the limits of public policy in resolving it.  By cutting monthly payments, the Obama administration hopes to make cash available for consumers to spend elsewhere.

According to housing regulators, one million borrowers might be eligible to participate in the program.  Unfortunately, that is just 10 percent of the number of homeowners who need help.  Although the Obama administration’s estimates say the average homeowner could save $2,500 per year, other projections said savings would be in the range of $312 annually.  This depends on the upfront fees the borrower pays, which can include thousands of dollars in closing costs.

Obama promoted the plan under his “We Can’t Wait” campaign, in which he will use the executive branch’s existing tools to improve the economy while Congress debates further legislation.  “We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job,” he said.  “Where they won’t act, I will.”

“We know there are many homeowners who are eligible to refinance under HARP and those are the borrowers we want to reach,” said Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which administers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The program expires at the end of 2013.  “We believe these changes will make it easier for more people to refinance their mortgage,” DeMarco said.  “Breaking this vicious cycle is one of the most pressing issues facing policy makers,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York President William C. Dudley said.  The HARP revamp is part of multiple efforts the government is making to boost home prices and consumer spending.  “It’s the equivalent of a tax cut for these families,” HUD’s Donovan said.

Mortgage lenders are “particularly gratified” at the revised plan, said David H. Stevens, president and chief executive officer of the Mortgage Bankers Association.  “These changes alone should encourage lenders to more actively participate.”

Writing in The Atlantic, Daniel Indiviglio believes that the revised program has potential.  “The administration appears to have accounted for all of the major obstacles to refinancing and eliminated them.  A home’s value no longer matters.  The cost should be less prohibitive to borrowers.  Much legal red tape has been cut.  Other loans tied to the home won’t stand in the way.  Ample time to refinance is provided.  This should help to allow at least a million Americans to refinance who haven’t had the opportunity to do so in the past.  If this works as hoped, then those consumers will have more money in their pockets each month.  Borrowers who see their mortgage interest rates drop from five percent or six percent to near four percent will often have a few hundred dollars more per month to spend or save.  If they spend that money, then it will stimulate the economy and create jobs.  If they save it or pay down their current debt, then their personal balance sheets will be healthier sooner and their spending will rise sooner than it would have otherwise.  The effort may even prevent some strategic defaults, as underwater borrowers won’t feel as bad about their mortgages if their payment is reduced significantly,” Indiviglio said.

Felix Salmon, writing in Reuters, could not disagree more. “For many reasons, it is very difficult to project the number of mortgages that may be refinanced under the enhancements to HARP, including the future path of interest rates, borrower willingness to undertake a refinance transaction and the number of lenders and servicers who choose to offer the program.  Given current market interest rates, our best estimate is that by the end of 2013 HARP refinances may roughly double or more from their current amount but such forward-looking projections are inherently uncertain.  First, by the end of 2013?  Never mind mortgage relief now, we’ll try and get you mortgage relief in two years’ time?  Secondly, the current pace of HARP refinancing is pathetic.  We’ve been managing to do less than 30,000 HARP refinancing a month.  And in the 28-month history of HARP, we’ve managed a grand total of 894,000 HARP refinancing, which works out to about 32,000 per month.  The FHFA is projecting that the pace of HARP refinancing won’t increase at all as a result of this plan. We’ll still average out at about 30,000 per month — maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less, but you’re never going to make a dent in the mountain of 11 million underwater mortgages at that rate.”

Foreclosures Are Down, So Why Isn’t That Good News?

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

There’s good news and bad news about foreclosures.  Although the number of foreclosures fell to their lowest rate in 4 ½ years in April, the reason is a delay in processing the orders, not because Americans are experiencing less trouble paying their mortgages.  “Foreclosure activity decreased on an annual basis for the seventh straight month in April, bringing foreclosure activity to a 40-month low,” James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of foreclosure data company RealtyTrac, said.  “This slowdown continues to be largely the result of massive delays in processing foreclosures rather than the result of a housing recovery that is lifting people out of foreclosure.”

According to Saccacio, “The first delay occurs between delinquency and foreclosure, when lenders and services are no longer automatically pushing loans that are more than 90 days delinquent into foreclosure but are waiting longer to allow for loan modifications, short sales and possibly other disposition alternatives.  Data from the Mortgage Bankers Association shows that about 3.7 million properties are in this seriously delinquent stage.  The second delay occurs after foreclosure has started, when lenders are taking much longer than they were just a few years ago to complete the foreclosure process.”

Nationally, homes typically are taking 400 days to go from the initial default notice to bank repossession, an increase when compared with 340 days a year earlier and 151 days in the 1st quarter of 2007, RealtyTrac said.

According to RealtyTrac’s report,  219,258 American homes were involved in the foreclosure process in April, either having received a notice of default, been scheduled for auction or been repossessed.  This is nine percent less than from March and a 34 percent cut from April 2010.  The report also shows one in every 593 American homes received a foreclosure filing during April 2011.  In New York, it took a property 900 days to go through the process.  In Florida, it was 619 days and in California, 330 days.

Nevada tops the list of states for foreclosures in proportion to its population, with one out of every 97 homes receiving a foreclosure filing in April.  Arizona ranked second.  Although Arizona foreclosures fell 15 percent,  REOs (bank repossessions) rose 22 percent, keeping the state in second place for the fifth consecutive month.  One in every 205 homes received a foreclosure filing.  Similarly, a 22 percent jump in REOs kept California in third place for a sixth month despite a decline in activity, with one in every 240 units affected during the month.  Other states in the top five are Utah (one of every 322) and Idaho (one of every 325).

Just ten states account for 70 percent of all foreclosure activity.  The first two in terms of numbers of foreclosures, California with 55,869 filings and Florida with 19,649 and the fourth, Michigan with 12,996, have large populations.  Arizona and Nevada, with relatively small populations rank in the top five by virtue of numbers as well as foreclosure rate with 13,419 filings and 11,761 filings.  The next five states with the greatest number of foreclosures are Illinois, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, and Colorado.

Writing in The Atlantic, Daniel Indiviglio notes that “It’s hard to see how this is good news for the housing market.  Prices are likely falling more slowly since the foreclosures aren’t hitting the market as quickly as they should be.  But they cannot be held up artificially — the decline will just happen over a longer period of time instead of quickly and steeply.  That means it will take longer for the housing market to hit its true bottom.  Only when that occurs can a recovery begin.  In other words, banks’ failure to process foreclosures in a timely manner will prolong the housing market’s struggles.”

Mortgage Applications Spike 16 Percent as Investors Take Over the Residential Market

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Although analysts are sounding a cautionary note, the number of Americans applying for mortgages rose by 16.1 percent in the first week of March – the largest monthly increase since June of 2009. The activity could be due to investors with money to spend, and not the first-time homebuyers who will play a vital role in the housing market’s recovery.  The refinance index increased 17.2 percent and the purchase index increased 12.5 percent, to the highest level this year.  The refinance share of activity increased to 65.5 percent of all applications from 64.9 percent the last week of February.  That’s the good news.  That bad news is that mortgage applications are likely to decline over the next several months because homeowners are unable to sell their current homes and trade up.  At present, cash buyers and investors — lured by low prices and soaring rents — represent the majority of sales, said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capital Economics.  Also, rates are low.  According to Zillow.com, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is now 4.73 percent.

During January, first-time homebuyers fell to 29 percent of the market, the lowest percentage in almost two years.  Foreclosures made up 37 percent of sales and all-cash transactions were 32 percent of sales — twice the rate when compared two years ago when the National Association of Realtors began tracking these deals.  New-home sales fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 284,000 in January. That is significantly less than the 700,000-to-800,000 pace considered healthy by a number of economists.

“Taking into account typical seasonal patterns, purchase applications rose to their highest level of the year last week.  On an unadjusted basis, purchase application activity is the highest since last May,” said Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s Vice President of Research and Economics. “An improving job market is beginning to pave the way for an improving housing market.  Additionally, mortgage interest rates remained below five percent for a second week, maintaining affordability for buyers and leading to an increase in refinance applications.”  The four week average for the seasonally adjusted Market Index rose percent.  The four week average rose 1.2 percent for the seasonally adjusted Purchase Index, while this average is up 3.6 percent for the Refinance Index.  The refinance share of mortgage activity increased to 65.5 percent of total applications from 64.9 percent the previous week.  Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARM) rose to 6.0 percent from 5.5 percent of total applications from the previous week.

“The housing market in the U.S. still has a lot of challenges ahead of it,” said Michael Gregory, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto.  “Ultimately it’s all about how many homes still are going to hit the market. People don’t want to buy homes because they feel prices could fall further.”

Uninsured Americans Rose 9.4 Percent of the Population in 2009

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage at record low 4.27 percent. Mortgage rates have hit a record low.  According to Freddie Mac, rates for 30-year mortgages fell to 4.27 percent from 4.32 percent in just one week.  At the same time, safe-haven government debt is more appealing to investors than ever, according to a Freddie Mac survey. The low rates may be a sign that housing sales will pick up since they slumped after the first-time homebuyer tax credit expired last spring.  Rates for 15-year fixed mortgages averaged 3.72 percent, the lowest level since Freddie Mac began tracking these loans in 1971.  In another bit of news, home prices rose 3.2 percent in July from the previous month, the smallest gain since March, according to a report from S&P/Case-Shiller.

“The 12-month growth rate in the core price index for personal consumption, which the Federal Reserve closely tracks, has been drifting lower over the past six months ending in August and suggests inflation is running at a tepid pace at best,” Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said.  “This allowed mortgage rates to ease to new or near record lows this week,” he said.

Michelle Meyer, senior U.S. economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, believes that potential homebuyers are staying on the sidelines despite enhanced affordability resulting from record low mortgage rates.  “The missing link is confidence — consumers are still worried about future income prospects given high unemployment rates and many believe home prices will fall further,” she said.  “In addition, credit conditions remain tight, making it difficult to get financing.  Mortgage rates are only one input into the decision to purchase a home, and seemingly subordinate to current and expected income.”

Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, FL, offers another perspective.  “You’re going to get some people enticed to buy new homes,” he said.  “But people are still a bit shell-shocked by the downturn in prices and they’re going to be a lot more careful than they were before.”