Todd & Lisa Sheppard
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Archive for February 2012

Will Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act Be Extended?

February 21st, 2012   by lisasheppard

Many of our readers have asked whether we believe the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 will be extended past its current expiration scheduled for the end of the year. As a reminder, the legislation ensures that homeowners who received principal reductions or other forms of debt forgiveness on their primary residences do not have to pay taxes on the amount forgiven.

The reason this act is important in today’s housing market is that, without the act, debt reduced through mortgage modifications or short sales qualifies as income to the borrower and is taxable. If the legislation is not extended, then it would require homeowners to complete a short sale or modification prior to year’s end in order to avoid a tax consequence.

Last week, DSNews reported:

“Obama’s FY2013 budget proposal includes an extension of the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007…

In the Treasury’s Green Book, its summary explanation of the administration’s budget proposal, it calls for an extension of the tax break due to “the continued importance of facilitating home mortgage modifications.”

The administration is proposing an extension that would apply to any amounts forgiven before January 1, 2015.”

In today’s political environment, the passage of any budget proposal could be considered doubtful. However, both parties seem to be in agreement that this provision should be extended. We can only hope that it doesn’t fall victim to an election year.

Disclaimer: As with all tax issues, we strongly suggest you consult with your accountant to find out how this may impact you and your family.

Mortgage Settlement to Drive Increase in Foreclosures

February 20th, 2012   by lisasheppard

Last week, we explained that the National Mortgage Settlement gave banks a roadmap showing them how to proceed with the backlog of foreclosures (known as shadow inventory) that has been hanging over the housing market for more than a year. We believe that understanding this dynamic is crucial in determining home prices as we go through the year. We believe the number of houses sold will grow somewhat dramatically in 2012. However, the increase in demand will be offset by an increase in supply of distressed properties that sell at a discount.

Others also feel there will be an increase in foreclosures as we move through the year.

Calculated Risk

“It does appear the number of completed foreclosures will increase following this settlement – especially in some judicial states with large backlogs – so there will probably be more REOs (lender Real Estate Owned) for sale.”

Brandon Moore, chief executive of RealtyTrac

“The settlement sets forth clear guidelines for lenders and servicers to follow when foreclosing, which should allow them to push through some of the delayed foreclosures from last year.”

Susan Wachter, professor of real estate and finance, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

“There remains a danger that ‘a wave of foreclosures’ may destabilize the housing market. The logjam has to be unleashed – [the settlement] will do that.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist Moody’s Analytics

“I think there’ll be more price weakness, because we’ll see the number of distressed sales pick up. But I think the price declines will be modest.”

What does ‘modest’ mean? Celia Chen, Moody’s Analytics suggests:

“The latest settlement will hasten the pace of filings and push up the distress sale share of total sales over the next several quarters, driving national house prices down another 3%.”

Bottom Line

The increase in supply will cause prices to soften even though we will see an increase in demand. Check with a real estate professional to help you understand how this will impact your local market.

Two Things You May Have Missed

February 16th, 2012   by lisasheppard

Before the end of the year, Congress and the President agreed to extend the payroll tax cut. In that bill, there were two items of interest for those involved in real estate.

1.) The hike in the Guarantee Fees charged by the GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The 10 basis point increase in the fees has translated to a .375% to .5% increase in mortgage rates for conventional loans. Many customers who started their loans a couple of months ago are being “surprised” with higher than expected rates. Heck, everything you read in the papers says rates are at historic lows and will likely stay there through 2014. Many consumers feel as if their lender is being unscrupulous. However, your lender has fallen victim to the increase in Guarantee Fees and how the secondary market is passing on the cost. What looks like possible lender greed is just a passing on of the increased expense imposed by the government. Sadly, the increased revenue isn’t even being used to help aid an ailing Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. It is being turned over to the US Treasury to cover the temporary extension of the payroll tax cut.

2.) Permission for HUD to increase the insurance premiums they charge on FHA loans.

If you remember, HUD charges two insurance premiums – a monthly one and an up-front one that is usually added into the loan. Most recently, they reduced the up-front mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) and dramatically raised the monthly fee (MMIP). It is widely anticipated that, maybe as soon as April, we will see a hike in the UFMIP with no adjustment to the MMIP. While this will help shore up the reserves in the insurance fund, it will simultaneously make buying a home more expensive. No one knows the effective date or amount of the increase. Buyers should look to buy before the increase in fees.

We always hear how our government officials tuck away things in their bills. In this case, while the headlines during the holidays praised Washington for preserving the payroll tax cut, they may have hurt us more in the long run.

Finding a Nugget of Gold Buried in the Sand

February 16th, 2012   by lisasheppard

When the current foreclosure crisis first began, many tried to explain it away by pointing out that the majority of distressed properties were limited to what was then termed the four ‘sand states’ (Arizona, California, Nevada and Florida). When the challenge was confined to just subprime mortgages, this theory held water. Since then, the failing economy has created challenges for many homeowners in every state as even borrowers who had prime loans (good job, good credit score, good down payment) began to fall behind on their mortgage payments. However, the stigma of being a ‘sand state’ still exists for the four original states today.

Yet, certain regions in these sand states are actually leading the country in its turn to a more positive housing market. Let’s look at one such region: the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market. When talking about Miami/Fort Lauderdale housing prices, most people discuss the collapse in values the area experienced since 2006. However, prices in the region have actually already stabilized and could actually appreciate in 2012.

As an example: Though Zillow has projected 4% declines in several other Florida regions, they believe that the prices in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market will remain stable over the next 12 months.

Standard & Poors, after analyzing the peak gains in regions across the country, explained:

“Miami had the highest peak and has retained a lot of the gains it made.”

Bank of America looked at the non-distressed housing market in regions across the country and discovered:

“Home prices in many non-distressed markets are already and unexpectedly on the rise … Within those non-distressed markets, Miami experienced the most rapid price growth in 2011 at 7%.”

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) released their fourth quarter Median Sales Price Report for Condos and Coops which showed that condo prices in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale market have increased in each of the last four quarters.

Bottom Line

What we believe to be true about certain markets may no longer be the case. Check with a local real estate professional to make sure you are keeping current on the part of the housing market that matters to you.

Foreclosure Roadmap Included in Mortgage Settlement

February 14th, 2012   by lisasheppard

There has been much written on the recently negotiated National Mortgage Settlement. Most of the reporting has revolved around the $25 billion that will be issued to consumers and states that have been impacted by the robo-signing scandal of 2010. We want to talk about a different issue addressed by the settlement.

Foreclosures have been slowed to a snail’s pace since the third quarter of 2010. Banks were concerned about the penalties that would be imposed by the settlement and decided to delay the actual seizure of foreclosed properties until the settlement was reached. This group of properties is known as the ‘shadow inventory’ which is currently hanging over the market.

The banks now have the roadmap they can follow which will allow them to repossess a home without penalty. The backlog of these distressed properties will now find their way through the process and be put on the market for sale.

Rick Sharga, executive vice president for Carrington Holding, explains:

“The bottom line is that 2012 will see a lot of foreclosures that should have taken place in 2011 and didn’t.”

How many foreclosures could we be talking about?

The Washington Post reported:

“Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities, said the settlement helps the housing market in the long run because it allows banks to proceed with millions of foreclosures that have been stalled.”

This leaves three important questions:

  1. When will these properties hit the market?
  2. What impact will they have on housing values?
  3. Which areas will be affected the most?

Every buyer and seller should contact a local real estate professional for the answers to these questions in their region.

National Mortgage Settlement: What You Need To Know

February 13th, 2012   by lisasheppard

Last week, the Federal government and 49 state governments (Oklahoma being the exception) agreed to a $25 billion settlement regarding robo-signing and the challenges it created in the foreclosure process. We want to give a synopsis of the settlement and some perspective on what effect it will have on the housing market in 2012.

The Basics

The $25 billion in funds will be dispersed as follows:

$17 Billion National Commitment to Foreclosure Relief Efforts
The servicers collectively agree to commit a minimum of $17 billion directly to borrowers through foreclosure relief effort options, including principal reduction for qualifying borrowers, short sales, anti-blight measures, and enhanced homeowner transition programs.

$3 Billion National Commitment to Underwater Mortgage Refinancing Program
The servicers collectively agree to commit $3 billion to refinance “underwater” homes (when a homeowner owes more on a mortgage than a home’s current market value). To qualify, borrowers must be current on their mortgage payments on a mortgage owned by one of the five banks.

$5 Billion Payment to States and Federal Government
The servicers’ $4.25 billion payment to the states includes $1.5 billion for payments to borrowers who lost their home to foreclosure by one of the five servicers…$750 million of the state-federal payment will go to the federal government to resolve federal claims.

For further details on the settlement you can go to the official website.

Will the Settlement Have a Major Impact on a Housing Recovery?

Probably not. Though it is a step in the right direction, it may be too little too late. Here are some opinions on the settlement:

IHS Global Insights

“Like many previous plans to stem foreclosures, this agreement will help at the edges. The problem is too big for it to have a large impact, however…This agreement will help the housing market move ahead in 2012 in a small way. But it is hardly a game changer.”

“While there is no doubt some benefit to formalizing and organizing the process of foreclosure and better monitoring of the process, the fact is that the settlement changes little.”

Capital Economics

“While it is good that the settlement has been finalized and will offer principal reductions and refinancing schemes to borrowers, the bigger picture is that the settlement is not large enough to dramatically alter the outlook for the housing market or the wider economy.”

What about Foreclosures Moving Forward?

The settlement did bring clarity to one major issue – foreclosures. Banks have been holding off the foreclosure process on millions of homes over the last 18 months as they waited for the particulars of the settlement. They now know how they can move forward without penalty. The result will be an increase in foreclosures coming to the housing market.

Housing Wire

“It will speed up processing, and perhaps mean that foreclosures that have been waiting around since robo-signing came to light in 2010 will now gain legitimacy.”

Calculated Risk

“It does appear the number of completed foreclosures will increase following this settlement – especially in some judicial states with large backlogs – so there will probably be more REOs (lender Real Estate Owned) for sale.”

Bloomberg News

“The $25 billion settlement with banks over foreclosure abuses may result in a wave of home seizures…Lenders slowed the pace of foreclosures as they negotiated with attorneys general in all 50 states for more than a year over allegations of faulty and fraudulent paperwork used to repossess homes. With yesterday’s agreement, banks are likely to resume property seizures.”

Wells Fargo

“Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities, said the settlement helps the housing market in the long run because it allows banks to proceed with millions of foreclosures that have been stalled. Many lenders have refrained from foreclosing on homes as they awaited the settlement.”

Do Appraisers Use Distressed Properties as Comparables?

February 7th, 2012   by lisasheppard

Many of our readers ask us if appraisers use distressed properties (short sales and foreclosures) as comparables when doing an appraisal on non-distressed properties. We have posted on this issue on several occasions (examples: here and here). Last month, the Appraisal Institute issued a paper on the subject. In the paper,  the Institute explained that:

“Foreclosures and short sales can provide important information for appraisers, who develop valuations based on market data and market forces.”

On whether an appraiser should use distressed properties as comparables, the Institute was very direct (all items in bold were shown as bold in the original paper):

“An appraiser should not ignore foreclosure sales and short sales if consideration of such sales is necessary to develop a credible value opinion.”

And they explained the possible differences between short sales and foreclosures:

“A short sale … might have involved atypical seller motivations and so might not be an ideal comp…

A sale of a bank-owned property might have involved typical motivations, so the fact that it was a foreclosed property would not render it ineligible as a comp.”

Bottom Line

Some will argue that distressed properties should not be used when appraising non-distressed properties. However, there is no longer any doubt that they will be.