Posts Tagged ‘Shadow inventory’

Existing-House Sales Spike in April

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

If you want to sell a product, price it correctly. That theory at long last appears to be working in the U.S. housing market.  The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that sales of existing homes rose 3.4 percent in April when compared with March.  One reason is that asking prices were remarkably affordable.  The interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.79 percent, the lowest since record-keeping began in 1971, according to Freddie Mac.  The Realtors’ index of affordability hit a record high in the 1st quarter and factors in sales prices of existing homes, mortgage rates, and household income, which is gradually strengthening as the labor market improves.

The average sales price was 10.1 percent higher when compared with one year ago.  That has the potential to lure buyers who decide they can’t wait for even cheaper prices.  “Today’s data provide further evidence that the housing sector is turning the corner,” said economist Joseph Lavorgna of Deutsche Bank Securities.  The numbers could see more improvement in coming months.  Action Economics Chief Economist Michael Englund said that “The existing home sales data generally continue to underperform the recovery in the new home market and other indicators of real estate market activity.”  But, he added, “the trend is upward.”

Owner-occupied houses and condominiums dominated the market, a change from all-cash deals by investors snapping up distressed properties.  Employment gains and record-low mortgage rates may make houses affordable Americans, eliminating a source of weakness for the world’s largest economy just as risks from the European debt crisis rise.  “We are making incremental progress,” said Millan Mulraine, a senior U.S. strategist at TD Securities, Inc., who correctly forecast the sales pace.  “People are becoming more confident about job prospects and about taking on mortgages.  This is all positive for the economy.”

Even with this uptick, sales are well below the nearly six million per year that economists equate with healthy markets.  The mild winter encouraged some people to buy homes, which drove up sales in January and February, while making March weaker.

First-time buyers, a key segment critical to residential recovery, rose in April and accounted for 35 percent of sales, up from 32 percent in March.  “First-time homebuyers are slowly making their way back,” said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets.  “That is still below the 40-to-45 percent range during healthy times, but the highest in almost half a year.”  Homes at risk of foreclosure accounted for 28 percent of sales.  That’s approximately the same as was seen in March sales statistics, but down from 37 percent of sales in April 2011.

Wall Street analysts expressed caution about seeing the increase as a sign that home values are about to make a big comeback.  NAR’s price calculations may have been skewed by larger homes coming onto the market, analysts said.  According to NAR economist Lawrence Yun, seasonal factors might have played a role in the price increase because families tend to buy in the spring, which means bigger homes comprise a larger share of total sales.  “It does echo the message sent by most other related measures that have shown house prices stabilizing or firming,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan.  Home prices, according to the S&P/Case Shiller composite index, have fallen by approximately one-third since the middle of 2006.  “Although the data seem to imply that there is a relative good balance between buyers and sellers, it is unlikely that home prices can recover on a sustained basis until the number of distressed properties is more significantly reduced,” said Steven Wood, chief economist at Insight Economics.

The housing inventory climbed 9.5 percent to 2.54 million, representing a 6 ½-month supply.  CoreLogic estimates that the shadow inventory — homes that aren’t on multiple listing services that are either seriously delinquent, in foreclosure or real-estate-owned — totaled 1.6 million units as of January.

CNBC’s Diana Olick is unimpressed with the price spike.  “The median price of an existing home that sold in April of this year was $177,400, an increase of just over 10 percent from a year ago.  That is the biggest price jump since January of 2006.  The difference between now and then, though, is the 2006 price jump was real, this latest spike is not.  As we reported here on the Realty Check last month, a lack of distressed supply, that is foreclosures and short sales, is pushing overall home sales lower.  That’s because the majority of the sales action for the past few years has been on the low end of the market.  Now, as banks try to modify more delinquent loans to comply with the recent $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement, and as investors rush in to buy distressed properties and take advantage of the hot rental market, the distressed market is drying up.  The share of home sales in the $0 — 250,000 price range made up over 73 percent of all sales in February; that has already dropped to 67 percent in April.  If you look at sales by price category, you see the most startling evidence of this shift in what’s selling on the low end out west.  Sales of homes $0 — 100,000 dropped over 26 percent out west in April, but rose 21 percent in the $250 — 500,000 price range.”

Jafer Hasnain: The Housing Crisis: Where Do We Stand?

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

With home sales increasing in six of the last nine months and prices still 30 percent below the peak, the housing market is quite confounding.  That’s the opinion of Jafer Hasnain, Principal and co-founder of Lifeline Assets, a private equity firm that invests in single-family homes.

In a recent interview for the Alter NOW Podcasts, Hasnain said that the nation has 10 million homes whose mortgages are seriously delinquent or even in foreclosure.  According to Hasnain, this is the shadow inventory, which consists of mortgages that are either 90 days late, in foreclosure or bank owned.  If you look at the next four or five years, that number will add up to between six to 10 to maybe 11 million homes.

When asked why President Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Plan (HAMP) didn’t work as intended – a program meant to help five million homeowners that saw only 800,000 sign up – Hasnain quoted the truism “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  As Hasnain sees it, the obstruction was in HAMP’s implementation.  Although HAMP brought down interest rates to as low as two percent, the real problem for many is that they had lost so much equity, participation simply was not worthwhile.  Because HAMP had no impact on the principal owed, homeowners still owed the same amount of money – which typically was significantly more than the house was worth in today’s market.  Many concluded that it made more sense to let the bank foreclose – a process that takes 700 or more days – live in the house for free, save money so they ultimately could pay the bank a fraction of what they really owed.

Hasnain pointed out that approximately half of all existing mortgages could no be re-underwritten today because of stricter lending standards.  In other words, half of all mortgages are potentially distressed, a fact that distresses Hasnain.  “That reflects society, and that reflects the potential to really crimp consumer spending.  I think housing is the number one, two and three issue right now.”  Part of the trauma is caused because, at one time, most people were convinced that they could always rely on the value of their home.  In the last few years, that balloon has been deflated to the point where we are now witnessing a failure in confidence.  This is a fairly unique problem that most people have never faced, one that calls for creative solutions — whether they come from the government or the private sector.

To listen to Jafer Hasnain’s full interview on where we currently stand on the housing crisis, click here for the podcast.

 

August Foreclosures Rise 33 Percent Over July

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Default notices sent to delinquent U.S. homeowners soared 33 percent in August when compared with July, evidence that lenders are accelerating the foreclosure process after almost one year of delays, according to RealtyTrac, Inc.  First-time default notices were filed on 78,880 homes, the highest number in nine months.  Total foreclosure filings, which also include auction and home-seizure notices, rose seven percent from a four-year low in July to 228,098.  One in 570 homes received a notice during August.  “The industry appears to be hitting the reset button and the logjam may finally be breaking up,” Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac senior vice president, said.  Foreclosure filings in 2011 have been “artificially low.”

“This is really the first time we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of new foreclosure actions,” Sharga said. “It’s still possible this is a blip, but I think it’s much more likely we’re seeing the beginning of a trend here.”  Foreclosure activity started declining last year after problems surfaced with the way many lenders were handling foreclosure paperwork, such as shoddy mortgage paperwork comprising several shortcuts known as robo-signing.

Additional factors have also stalled the pace of new foreclosures.  In some cases, the process has been held delayed by courts in states where judges are involved in the foreclosure process, a possible settlement of government investigations into mortgage-lending practices, and lenders’ reluctance to take back properties because of slowing home sales.  A rise in foreclosures also means a potentially faster turnaround for the U.S. housing market.  Experts say that revival won’t occur as long as the glut of potential foreclosures remains on the market. 

Foreclosures depress home values and create uncertainty among potential homebuyers who worry that prices may further decline as more foreclosures hit the market.  There are approximately 3.7 million more homes in some phase of foreclosure at present than there would be in a normal housing market, according to Citi analyst Josh Levin.  “This bloated foreclosure pipeline now presents the greatest obstacle to a housing market recovery,” he said.

Although negotiations between some banks and state attorneys general regarding foreclosure practices are still unresolved, several restarted foreclosure actions after an April settlement with federal regulators.  JPMorgan Chase & Co., as of the end of June, had resumed foreclosure actions in nearly all of the 43 states where it had suspended its efforts.  So-called “shadow inventory,” or the looming foreclosures that are still expected to hit the market, is a major threat for a housing sector that already has a glut of unsold homes.  In spite of everything, default notices had fallen 18 percent when compared with August of 2010 and down 44 percent from the peak reached in April 2009 during the tail end of the recession.

Writing for The Consumerist website, Chris Morran says that “Last year, several of the country’s largest mortgage servicers — Bank of America, GMAC/Ally, JPMorgan Chase, among others — were forced to hit the pause button on foreclosure procedures after it was revealed that many foreclosure documents were being rubber stamped by untrained, ill-informed ‘robo-signers.’  This delay caused a bottleneck of foreclosure-worthy properties waiting to be reviewed.  But now it looks like those homes are starting to trickle out into what could be a flood in early 2012.  According to Bank of America, “We are on an ongoing path to return foreclosures to normal levels. Strong gains like that from July to August demonstrate our progress – primarily in judicial states — clearing more volume to advance to foreclosure once we pass the numerous quality controls we have in place and exhaust all options with homeowners.  Our progress each month builds upon foreclosure levels lower than the market realities would dictate.”

A more optimistic view of the dismal report was offered by Gregory Tsujimoto, who performs market research for John Burns Real Estate Consulting in Irvine, CA, and views the data as reflecting more of a stall in an improving market than a new downtrend.  Despite the sharp increase in monthly figures, Tsujimoto attaches more weight to an 18 percent decline in default notices on a yearly basis.  Tsujimoto believes that the uptick in default notices is “a leading indicator for future foreclosures, which is not coming at a great time when measures of consumer confidence have declined.”  But, he says that we must address the backlog of distressed inventory and “vacant homes in the marketplace before we get true improvement.”  The other key, he says, is “creating jobs to spur demand.”

Among the states with the highest foreclosure rates, California led in new foreclosures with an increase of 55 percent over July, according to RealtyTrac.  Cities in inland California posted big jumps, with Riverside and San Bernardino counties soaring 68 percent, Bakersfield 44 percent and Modesto 57 percent.  “Scratch beneath the surface and there’s not a lot to cheer about this month.  Home sales were up from a year earlier but remained far below average,” DataQuick President John Walsh said.  “Many would-be buyers can’t find financing, and others who want to make a move now are stuck because they owe more than their homes are worth.”

The decision to move ahead is an important one since RealtyTrac has long maintained that property values won’t rise until a large number of distressed properties are purchased.  “We don’t know yet if this is a beginning of a trend, but there is a good chance we might see a return to more realistic foreclosure numbers,” Sharga concluded.