REO


I’m currently working with a sweet young couple looking to buy their first home here in San Diego.  Yesterday we found one that seems to have most everything they’re looking for, so we sat down to talk about writing an offer.  Prior to showing them homes of course, I made sure they were pre-approved at the price point of our search.

Discussing the offer and reviewing the confidential remarks on the MLS listing sheet, I ran into the words that make my blood boil, “Offer MUST include a pre-approval by Bank of America loan officer Bill Jones.”  This makes me crazy!  Here in San Diego it appears that Bank of America and Chase require a pre-approval by one of their assigned loan officers on all of their REOs.

My buyer looked at me like I was nuts.  “Why do they need another pre-approval when I just went through the whole process at my credit union?”  He is a VA buyer and has a perfectly good pre-approval from Navy Federal Credit Union, so why in the world does he need one from B of A?  I didn’t have a very good answer for him.

I also handle some REO listings and I understand that the banks don’t want to waste time with an unqualified buyer, and that they are trying to build loan business.  But, rather than create obstacles to offers, wouldn’t it make more sense for the listing agent to request an additional pre-approval ONLY if the original one seemed a bit sketchy?  Or, if they really want the business, how about offering an incentive like a free appraisal or point reduction?

When it’s time to write an offer, I want to move quickly – not waste a couple of days chasing down more paperwork!

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If you’ve ever wondered why we’re drowning in REO properties, it could be that banks are stupid.  No, I shouldn’t say that.  Let’s rephrase that more politely to read, “People in banks who make decisions about liquidating foreclosed properties perhaps lack any trace of common sense.”   See if you agree.

Last night I received an email from the asset manager in charge of one of my foreclosure listings.  In case you aren’t familiar with the lingo, the asset manager is often an employee of a third party company that is assigned bulk REOs by a bank.  It is his/her job to hire a Realtor to market the individual properties, act as an intermediary between the Realtor with the listing and the bank, and get the properties sold as quickly as possible for the most money. It is a stressful, high-pressure job.

I like the asset manager on this deal, and so far we’ve worked well together.  I’ve been waiting though for her to open escrow on a sale they approved early last week….an all cash offer of over $300K on a home that needs more than $50K in repairs.  The buyer is ready to close, and I can’t understand the hold-up.  So my asset manager sends me the following email, “We have an issue on this one. The offer is $80 under what I can accept. And no I am not kidding. Is the buyer willing to come up $80?”

$80 dollars????  Are you kidding me?  On a $300K all cash deal?  Geez! I’ll write the check myself!  Let’s just get it done!  So this is what we’re dealing with….a system that is so screwed-up that the person in charge of unloading foreclosed homes doesn’t have the authority to waive $80 bucks!  Sigh.  It’s going to be a long road back to a ‘normal’ real estate market…..

In an underwhelming report issued this week by Field Asset Services, the company revealed that people would rather buy a foreclosure that has new paint, carpet and appliances than a foreclosed home that has not been spruced-up.  Really?

Field Asset Services is a Texas based company that provides cleaning and rehab services to banks and companies holding REO properties.  In an independent study during the first half of 2010, 17,252 properties were tracked across 13 states.  The homes that were not rehabilitated were on the market for an average of 222 days while those that were rehabbed sold in 69 days.

The benefits are obvious.  Not only do banks cut their expenses associated with holding a property but neighborhood values are also improved by reducing the number of vacant homes.  It is also more likely that the home will be sold for more and bought by someone who is going to live in it versus an investor looking for a flip.  Everyone wins.

So at a cost of only $4000 – $8000 for the average rehab, why aren’t more banks willing to put some lipstick on the pig?  I wish I knew the answer to that one!  I was assigned a foreclosure listing back in September.  In early December, the bank finally got around to asking me for quotes to rehab the place.  I supplied 2 quotes at roughly $4200 each…..and I’m still waiting.   They won’t let me list the condo in the MLS, and won’t let me sell it to an investor…..because they’re still trying to decide if fixing the place is worth it!  Crazy!  And people wonder why there is a glut of REOs on the market?  I say slap on the make-up and get ‘em movin’!

Once again, Santa forgot to bring me a crystal ball.  So this look into the future of the housing market is based on trends from the past year, projections from those that crunch the numbers, and my gut feelings based on life in the real estate trenches.

Foreclosures continued to be the top story in 2010 with robo-signing and questionable practices making headlines.  In 2011 so-called shadow inventory will be making news as it grows and clogs the pipeline.  This includes borrowers that are 90 days or more delinquent, homes in foreclosure, and bank-owned properties not yet on the market.  S & P estimates that it will take 41 months to clear the backlog, continuing to slow the recovery.

Short sales will increase as the government and lenders try to stem the deluge of foreclosures that add to the shadow inventory.   Right now about 35% of defaults end in a cure or short sale.  I see that number growing as banks and the government iron out the problems with HAFA (Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives), and the processing of short sales is streamlined.

Loan modifications will continue to be largely unsuccessful.   There is some hope for small improvement in the numbers if the FHA principal reduction program can be expanded.

Mortgage interest rates jumped this last month, but are gradually heading down.   Frank Nothaft, chief economist for Freddie Mac foresees rates staying below 5.00% throughout the year.  Let’s hope he’s right.

Home sales will increase, especially for first-time buyers, provided interest rates remain low and the economy continues to improve.  If unemployment continues to decrease and incomes increase we should see an increase in home sales over 2010 by the 2nd half of the New Year.

Home values throughout most of the country will reach the bottom by mid-year and many areas, such as San Diego County will see modest gains of 2.00 – 4.00%.  The exception continues to be the luxury home market where home prices in locations such as La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe will continue to decline.

My advice?  If you own a home and are not terribly upside-down, hang tight.  Looking to buy?  Do it now!  This is a great time to purchase your first home or pick-up an investment property.  Struggling with your payments?  Let’s explore your options, before it’s too late.  Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

We all know that numbers and statistics can be interpreted in many different manners, depending on the desired outcome and the audience.  Case in point, within the last two weeks we have two separate reports on U.S. housing prices that range from cautiously optimistic to doom and gloom.   What’s real, and who do we believe?

Back on October 13, I happily reported in a post on this blog that according to an elite panel of economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics, home prices across the US saw their lowest point in the first part of the year and have been gradually trending upward.  In San Diego, the news was even more encouraging as our prices rose higher than the national average.

However, that trend over the past nine months might not hold true for the future.  On October 29th, Capital Economics, a leading international economics research firm, announced that a double-dip is already underway for both housing activity and residential prices.  Paul Dales, a U.S. economist for the firm, predicts that home prices will continue to decline over the next twelve months with a dip of over 5%.  Paul and his team add that if the economy continues to improve more quickly than analysts predict, home prices might hold steady.  On the other hand, if the economy worsens greater than predictions, prices could fall as much as 20%!

That’s huge!  Couple that with the firm’s forecast that housing demand for the next three years will remain “unusually weak”, while supply remains “unusually high”.  Right now the analysts say that there are about 1.5 million too many homes on the market given today’s demand, and that number will likely swell with additional foreclosures.  There are approximately 2.5 million homes in foreclosure and 2.4 million that are 90 days past due.  That is an addition of nearly 5 million homes that could flood the marketplace in the next year.

So what does all of this mean for San Diego real estate?  Well, I wish I had that crystal ball, but here’s my take.  To a certain degree, I believe that both reports are correct.  I certainly believe that we’ll see an increase in the supply of homes on the market due to foreclosures and short sales.  Banks can control the number of REO properties they bring to market, but I think that we’ll see a large increase in short sales as homeowners seek to avoid foreclosure. However, I don’t see a huge dip in home prices, at least here in San Diego.  I do believe that barring a total economic melt-down we’ll continue to see static prices with some modest increases in value, particularly in the $250,000 – $400,000 price range for single family homes.

Is this a good time to buy?  Absolutely!  With prices and interest rates at near record lows, what’s not to like?  Waiting to see if prices fall further is a gamble in my book as it is very likely that 6 or 9 months from now, interest rates could be as much as a full percentage point higher.

Numbers were released today for the month of September that show that foreclosures and inventories of bank-owned properties are on the rise in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and California.  The report was issued by ForeclosureRadar, a company that tracks every foreclosure in the five western states and provides auction updates.  Although several bank and loan servicers have announced that they are suspending foreclosures while investigating internal procedures, ForeclosureRadar analysts have yet to see any impact of this suspension on the numbers.

So the report is reminding us that nothing is getting any better, and in fact it’s getting worse.  Last month in California, the number of foreclosed properties that sold declined by 15.6% while inventories of bank-owned homes increased by 5.3%. And according to ForeclosureRadar’s CEO, Sean O’Toole, “…the reality is that far more homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments than are even in foreclosure.”  To me, this spells a further increase in the number of short sales and foreclosures, with no end in sight.

However, in the middle of this disheartening news, Mr. O’Toole voiced the only logical response to the real estate crisis that I’ve heard all year. “The clear problem in the housing market today is not foreclosures, but negative equity; and as long as the focus remains on the symptom rather than the disease we will see little progress towards real solutions and this crisis will drag on for years to come.”

Finally!  Someone gets it!  Negative equity is the real problem that needs to be addressed.  As I mentioned in my earlier post about the FHA principal reduction program, reducing the principal owed to be more in line with current values is the best and quickest way to curtail the growing number of strategic defaults.  Most people who have bought a home, want to keep their home…..but it has to make financial sense, especially in today’s struggling economy.  Reducing the principal amount owed not only makes the mortgage payment more affordable, it provides an incentive to stay and pay.

So from my perspective, until the banks and investors decide that taking a loss through principal reduction is preferable to taking a loss through foreclosure, our housing market will continue to disintegrate.  How many more foreclosures and short sales will it take before the banks are ready to listen?

Most loan modification programs are designed to simply lower a borrower’s mortgage interest rate, thus reduce their monthly payment.  However with home values so low, a loan mod that reduces the interest rate still means that most homeowners are paying on negative equity.  They owe more than the home is worth, so even if the payment is more affordable, it could be years before any part of their monthly payment is actually paying down principal on the current value of the home.

For many homeowners, this just doesn’t make financial sense and they are allowing their homes to go to foreclosure, a practice dubbed “strategic default”.  Experts predict that the number of strategic defaults will likely increase as home prices remain stagnant and homeowners become increasingly angry with banks. Everyone including the government, industry analysts, and the public would probably agree that an increase in strategic defaults and the subsequent foreclosures will only slow the housing market recovery.

So the FHA has introduced a new Short Refinance Program aimed at borrowers who are upside down.  The goal is to reduce the actual principal amount owed to a level more in line with current home values and thus encourage homeowners to stay in their homes and continue to make payments.

Sounds like a great idea at face value, but qualifying for the program does come with a list of conditions for the homeowner, including: 

  • Be current on their mortgage payments
  • Have a credit score of at least 500
  • Have negative equity
  • Not have a current FHA mortgage
  • Occupy the property
  • And…..have a bank willing to write off 10% of the loan principal

OK, I was thinking, “This might work….” until I read the last condition.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard of many banks stepping up to the plate and offering principal reductions, (Wachovia being the only exception that comes to mind).  So I’m not sure how successful this will be.  And doing the math, will a 10% reduction really be enough to encourage people to stay and pay?  In some parts of the country where the housing boom had the most impact, such as locations in CA and FL, values have dropped by as much as 50% since 2006.  So if a $500,000 mortgage is reduced to a $450,000 mortgage but the property is only worth $250,000 or even $300,000, will that be sufficient incentive to keep a borrower from walking?

I applaud the concept but am very skeptical about outcomes.  Principal reduction is, I believe, the mechanism that has the best chance of slowing strategic defaults.  The banks certainly take a big financial hit when a home goes to foreclosure…..why can’t they take the hit up front and keep people in their homes?

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