Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Real Estate Outlook: Affordability High

Housing affordability is still at a record high, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). It is at the highest level since record keeping began in 1970. This is based on the relationship between median home price, median family income and average mortgage interest rate.

NAR President Moe Veissi, broker-owner of Veissi & Associates Inc., in Miami, said this latest data underscores buyer opportunities in today’s market. "This is the first time the housing affordability index has broken the two hundred mark, meaning the typical family has roughly double the income needed to purchase a median-priced home," he said. "For buyers who can qualify for a mortgage, now is a very good time to become a homeowner."

Projections for the remainder of 2012 indicate that this affordability high will continue and rates will remain low. "Housing inventory levels have declined to a point where conditions are becoming much more balanced in much of the country," Veissi said. "If access to credit improves, we could see a much more meaningful increase in home sales and broader stabilization in home prices with modest gains in areas with stronger job growth."

Despite these incredible buyer opportunities, builder confidence is down. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reports that builder confidence for newly built, single-family homes declined for the first time in seven months.

"What we’re seeing is essentially a pause in what had been a fairly rapid build-up in builder confidence that started last September," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "This is partly because interest expressed by buyers in the past few months has yet to translate into expected sales activity, but is also reflective of the ongoing challenges that are slowing the housing recovery - particularly tight credit conditions for builders and buyers, competition from foreclosures and problems with obtaining accurate appraisals."

This has been an ongoing concern for many market activists. While housing affordability is at an all-time high, gaining access to credit is a tough road for many would-be buyers. Additionally, some would-be buyers are still wary of the market and are waiting on the sidelines for the economy to improve or market conditions to stabilize.

Regionally, results varied. The Northeast was the only region to see a gain in builder confidence, posting a 4 point gain on the HMI scale. The West remained unchanged, but both the West and South posted declines. Single-family home production held steady for the month. The multi-family sector saw a double digit decline, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Barry Rutenberg, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from Gainesville, FL, reported, "While more consumers appear to be seriously considering a new-home purchase, builders remain very cautious about starting new projects until they see more actual sales materializing.

Lenders that Sell Short Sales Faster and for Less, According to RealtyTrac

Pursuing a short sale is often thought of as a painstaking process, and it’s not uncommon to hear of complaints about slow responses from servicers and last minute rejections on offers. Fortunately, not all lenders/servicers are the same when it comes to dealing with short sales, and RealtyTrac compiled a list of data revealing which institutions tend to move through the process quicker and for less.

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA had the shortest timelines at 193 days in January 2012, a decrease compared to a year ago in January 2011, when short sales averaged 248 days. Ally Financial came in second at 321 days, reducing its timeline as well from 393 days a year ago.

PNC Financial Group was third, taking 353 days, though the bank takes longer than it did a year ago when the it took 206 days. Wells Fargo came in fourth (385 days). Bank of New York Mellon took the fifth longest (402 days), followed by Bank of America (403 days) and Sun Trust (404 days). The short sale timeline includes the time a property starts the foreclosure process to the time it’s sold as a pre-foreclosure property.
Recently, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced new guidelines to take effect in June requiring servicers to respond within 30 days after receiving a short sale offer or a borrower application. Bank of America recently announced that its providing a decision on a short sale offer in 20 days.
In terms of pricing, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA sold homes for the least amount in January 2012, averaging $128,642, a drop from year ago prices in January 2011 when they averaged $160,982. Deutsche Bank’s average price was $132,996, followed by Sun Trust Banks ($144,024), and CitiGroup ($148,411), and PNC Financial Group Inc ($149,332). Bank of America Wells Fargo were the bottom two on the top 10 list, averaging $158,632 and $167,371, respectively, for January 2012.
As for the number of short sales, Bank of America completed the most in January 2012, with 5,276, followed by Chase (2,967), Wells Fargo (2,788), MERS (1,429), and Bank of New York Mellon (1,401).

Fannie and Freddie Set Timeline Requirements for Short Sales

Beginning June 15, real estate agents working with distressed homeowners whose loans are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should expect to receive a decision on a short sale offer within 30-60 days.

The GSEs issued new guidelines Tuesday that fall under the Servicing Alignment Initiative rolled out last fall and aim to bring greater transparency to the short sale process and expedite decisions related to these pre-foreclosure sales.

 Not only is a short sale an effective foreclosure alternative when home retention is no longer an option, but it keeps homes occupied and helps to maintain stable communities, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

Addressing real estate practitioners’ No. 1 complaint about short sales, FHFA directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to establish a new uniform set of minimum response times that servicers must follow in order to facilitate more efficient short sale transactions.

 The GSEs’ new short sale timelines require servicers to make a decision within 30 days of receiving either an offer on a property under the companies’ traditional short sale programs or a completed Borrower Response Package (BRP) requesting short sale consideration, whether it’s through the federal government’s Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative (HAFA) program or a GSE program.

 If more than 30 days are needed, servicers must provide the borrower with weekly status updates and come to a decision no later than 60 days from the date the BRP or offer was received. According to the GSEs, this 30-day add-on will provide some leeway for servicers who may need more time to obtain a broker price opinion (BPO) or a private mortgage insurer’s approval for a short sale.

All decisions must be made within 60 days. In the event a servicer makes a counteroffer, the borrower is expected to respond within five business days. The servicer must then respond within 10 business days of receiving the borrower’s response.

 The GSEs plan to use the new short sale timelines to evaluate servicer compliance with the Servicing Alignment Initiative. Edward DeMarco, acting director of the FHFA, says the GSEs new borrower communication and timeline requirements for short sales “set minimum standards and provide clear expectations regarding these important foreclosure alternatives.”

 GSE servicers must comply with the new minimum communication time frames for all short sale evaluations conducted on or after June 15, 2012, although servicers are encouraged to begin implementing the new requirements sooner.

“I applaud Fannie and Freddie for finally coming out with real guidance with real world timelines for their servicers,” commented Anthony Lamacchia, broker/owner of McGeough Lamacchia Realty Inc., which specializes in short sales.

“There is no question that this will help short sales and the market as a whole.” Last year Freddie Mac completed 45,623 short sales, a 140 percent increase since 2009. Fannie Mae’s short sale completions shot up by 101 percent over the same period, totaling around 79,800 in 2011.