WASHINGTON – Aug. 22, 2014 – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) issued a statement backing earlier comments by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Holder first announced a $7 billion settlement with Bank of America, but he followed up the announcement with a call for Congress to “do the right thing for financially distressed American families who lost homes to foreclosure or short sales this year.”
“Realtors agree,” said NAR President Steve Brown in a statement following Holder’s announcement.
On Dec. 31, 2014, tax forgiveness for short sales and foreclosures ended. Under tax relief, a bank forgives part of a debt – usually the difference between the home’s selling price and the amount remaining on the mortgage – and the forgiven money isn’t considered income for tax purposes.
Effective Jan. 1, however, that money is no longer shielded from taxation. Without Congress authorizing an extension and making it retroactive to Jan. 1, distressed sellers who had part of their mortgage debt forgiven must consider the forgiven amount as income – but income they never received. As a result, the IRS would expect them to pay taxes on that amount in 2015 when they fill out this year’s taxes.
Holder tied the issue to the just-announced settlement with Bank of America, lamenting that Congressional inaction to extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act means that the people helped by the settlement funds will instead be penalized on their income taxes.
“The tax relief expired on December 31 last year and unless Congress acts to extend it, every person who has already sold or plans to sell a home in a short sale in 2014, will pay taxes on nonexistent mortgage debt, which is money many don’t have,” said Brown.
“Realtors are strong supporters of the bipartisan Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief Act … to prevent underwater borrowers from paying taxes on any mortgage debt forgiven or cancelled by a lender after their home is sold for less money than is owed,” said Brown. “Taxing forgiven mortgage debt as income is an unfair practice that also incentivizes defaults and foreclosures, which could torpedo the housing recovery. Congress should take immediate action to pass this legislation.”
© 2014 Florida Realtors®
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Aug. 22, 2014 – Nearly 17,000 Floridians will receive more than $1 billion in relief as part of a record-setting national settlement with Bank of America, the Florida Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday.
Bank of America Corp. agreed to pay $16.65 billion to end federal, Florida and other state investigations into the sale of toxic mortgage securities during the subprime housing boom. The settlement includes $9.65 billion in fines and $7 billion in aid to communities and homeowners hit hard by the housing market crash that triggered the Great Recession.
“This historic resolution – the largest such settlement on record – goes far beyond ‘the cost of doing business,’” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in describing what he called “pervasive schemes to defraud financial institutions and other investors.”
Details are still being worked out on who in Florida will receive the aid and how much, said Attorney General spokesman Whitney Ray. “Programs are being set up to inform eligible borrowers,” he said.
The consumer relief will include principal reduction and forgiveness, loan modifications and new loans to credit-worthy borrowers struggling to get a loan, Ray said. There also will be financing for affordable rental housing and donations given to help communities still recovering from the financial crisis, he added.
Overall, Florida will receive about a seventh of the settlement’s $7 billion in aid to communities and homeowners hit hard by the housing market crash, estimated Jana J. Litsey, Bank of America deputy general counsel, in a letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Most of the toxic loans that backed the securities came from firms BofA acquired in 2008, including Countrywide Financial Corp. of Calabasas and Wall Street investment bank Merrill Lynch & Co.
BofA already had incurred about $60 billion in losses and legal settlements from the purchase of Countrywide, which was one of the nation’s biggest subprime mortgage lenders during the housing boom of the mid 2000s.
Copyright © 2014 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Donna Gehrke-White. Distributed by MCT Information Services.
WASHINGTON – July 24, 2014 – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and 15 states, including Florida, announced a sweep against foreclosure relief scammers that used deceptive marketing tactics to rip off distressed owners.
CFPB says it’s filing three lawsuits against companies and individuals that collected more than $25 million in illegal advance fees for services that falsely promised to prevent foreclosures or renegotiate troubled mortgages. The CFPB is seeking compensation for victims, civil fines and injunctions against the scammers.
Separately, the FTC is filing 6 lawsuits, and the states are taking 32 actions.
In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi and CFPB obtained an emergency temporary restraining order and appointment of a receiver in a joint lawsuit filed against Florida-based Hoffman Law Group (HLG) and related entities. The order prohibits HLG defendants from doing business with consumers and freezes HLG’s bank accounts.
Based in North Palm Beach, HLG and its affiliates allegedly received millions of dollars from distressed homeowners across the country, typically charging $6,000 per homeowner to sign up along with additional monthly payments of $500. HLG promised homeowners financial relief in the form of mortgage debt forgiveness, loan modifications and other foreclosure-related relief, and cash payments through participation in mass-joinder lawsuits that HLG was filing against numerous mortgage lenders across the country.
The lawsuit against HLG claims it violated the federal Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule (MARS) and state laws by collecting upfront fees before obtaining a loan modification, misrepresenting to consumers the services and relief they would receive, failing to make disclosures required by law, and other violations.
“Florida’s distressed homeowners should not have to worry about being swindled by scammers who hide behind law firms to try to avoid the MARS Rule,” says Bondi.
“We are taking on schemes that prey on consumers who are struggling to pay their mortgages or facing foreclosure,” adds CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “These companies pocketed illegal fees – taking millions of hard-earned dollars from distressed consumers, and then left those consumers worse off than they began. These practices are not only illegal, they are reprehensible.”
Mass joinder scams
Mass joinder scams, such as the one alleged in this lawsuit, are essentially foreclosure rescue scams, Bondi’s office says in a release. Telemarketers tell homeowners that if they join in a lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs, lenders will be induced to pay large cash payments and provide extensive mortgage relief to each homeowner to settle the case.
Mass joinder scams often claim to have an attorney on staff to represent each homeowner; but, in truth, that attorney is likely not reviewing the facts of each homeowner’s claim, is not directly handling the litigation that may be filed, and often is not even licensed to practice in the homeowner’s state.
HLG and its entities are also facing charges of unfair and deceptive trade practices and civil theft. Bondi and CFPB obtained an emergency court order on July 16 appointing a receiver to control HLG and related entities.
To access the receiver’s website, visit Bernet-Receiver.com.
Other lawsuits filed by CFPB include:
• Clausen & Cobb Management Company and owners Alfred Clausen and Joshua Cobb, as well as Stephen Siringoringo and his Siringoringo Law Firm. The Bureau filed its complaint against three individuals for allegedly charging homeowners illegal advance fees for mortgage loan modifications. Their operation charged initial fees ranging from $1,995 to $3,500, in addition to monthly fees of $495, to thousands of California homeowners in distress.
• The Mortgage Law Group, LLP, the Consumer First Legal Group, LLC, and attorneys Thomas Macey, Jeffrey Aleman, Jason Searns, and Harold Stafford. The CFPB alleges that the firm took in over $19.2 million in fees from over 10,000 distressed homeowners nationwide, with most, if not all, of that money coming from illegal advance fees for so-called loan modification services. Both TMLG and CFLG have ceased operations, but the CFPB is seeking redress for consumers harmed by their practices and permanent injunctive relief against the principals
© 2014 Florida Realtors®
NEW YORK – July 22, 2014 – Real estate experts say they see first-time buyers committing the same mistakes, time and time again. Here are some of the most common ones, as identified by experts in a recent CNBC article:
1. They’re unprepared to compete against all-cash offers. Buyers need to be ready to make a quick decision if their housing market is heating up.
Buying a home is “really like finding a job – it’s going to take a lot of time to prepare,” says Cara Pierce, a certified housing counselor with ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions. “That way, when the deal comes along, you’re ready to pounce on it.”
Housing experts say buyers should have already saved as much as possible for a downpayment, repaired any credit report blemishes, and get preapproved for a loan as they start their house hunt to put them in a better position to compete.
2. They place a car ahead of the home. Lenders are going to scrutinize applicants’ debt-to-income ratio when assessing how well they can afford a mortgage payment. Consumers’ debt has gone, on average, from $40,000 in 2010 to $51,000 today, according to David Norris, president and COO of loanDepot, a non-bank mortgage lender.
“It would be much easier to own a home if you can show a history of saving and not have gotten yourself into too much debt,” Norris told CNBC.
3. They place too much emphasis on online loan information. Online sites can be good for finding out general information about loan products and estimated costs, but experts recommend visiting mortgage lenders face-to-face to help demystify the process and get advice about the buyer’s specific situation.
“Go to different places and talk to loan officers to get a feel for what the differences are between similar types of loans,” says Pierce. “Sometimes a company won’t charge an origination fee, but then the interest rate is higher … and in some cases you can put many of the upfront costs – closing costs, title insurance – into the loan, which makes your balance larger.”
4. They rely too much on online home values. Some real estate websites are giving buyers a false sense of home values.
“If a buyer believes that the actual value of the property is $1.1 million [as estimated on an online website that advertises home listings] when it’s really $1.3 million, it’s a real disservice to the client,” says John Barrentine, co-founder and CEO of RED Real Estate Group. “You really should [spend time] with someone who understands the market, someone who’s there day in and day out.”
Homebuyers can get the best feel of the market by working with a real estate agent and driving around neighborhoods, so they can get a sense about homes that may be less valuable or even more valuable than suggested online.
5. They forgo the home inspection. About 10 percent of homes recently purchased weren’t inspected by a home inspector, according to Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Some buyers were trying to cut down on the costs of hiring an inspector to investigate a home – which usually averages about $450 – but defects uncovered later could potentially result in the loss of thousands of dollars.
“It takes a trained eye to be able to see the problems that can exist in a home,” Loden says. “The inspection can also give the first-time buyer a bit of a schooling on the house and how to maintain it.”
Buyers should also be prepared to ask questions about conditions that are common to specific areas, such as radon in Midwest; sewers in California; and active clay soils in Dallas that can lead to foundation issues. The home may require additional inspection from a specialist to rule out potential problems.
Source: “8 Biggest Mistakes First-Time Homebuyers Make,” CNBC (July 17, 2014)
Late last month, President Obama signed the Homeowner Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 (HR3370). This bill modifies and/or repeals many of the provisions that were implemented as a result of the passage of the Bigger-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012 (BW-12). The passage of HR3370 comes as a welcomed relief to many realtors in and around our area because BW-12 threatened to severely devalue real estate and ultimately hinder the ability of families to sale their homes. BW-12 contained several unintended consequences for flood policy holders. Pinellas was the #1 most affected county in the United States with over 40,000 structures primed to see a rate increase. Some of these rate changes as a result of BW-12 were very steep and HR3370 will give some relief to many of the family’s that faced skyrocketing premiums.
The #1 thing that we must understand about the new law is that although it was signed by President Obama and it technically is the new law, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) governs what happens with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). FEMA has to issue “guidance” on the new law which basically means they’re in charge of deciding when the changes in the new law will take effect. As of now, FEMA has not issued any guidance and it’s debatable as to when they’ll offer that. In the case of BW-12, it took FEMA 9 months to issue their guidance on when those changes would be phased in, so buckle up…because it could be a while before we find out when the changes in HR3370 will go into effect!
Here’s a synopsis of HR3370 and how it changes the provisions in BW-12.
TOPIC: Subsidized Rates for Pre-FIRM (FIRM=Flood Insurance Rate Map) Homes which are homes built prior to the first FIRM in 1974.
BW-12’s Stance: Basically, this law restricted the use of the subsidized rates for Pre-FIRM homes and mandated that any policy purchased on or after 7/6/12 for Pre-FIRM structures would have to obtain an Elevation Certificate (EC) and pay the “full risk rate” from the onset. Subsequently, if a homeowner lapsed a subsidized rate policy, they too would be required to obtain an EC and pay the “full risk rate”. Additionally, all existing Pre-Firm subsidized rate policyholders would begin to see annual increases in their policy to the tune of 25% until their policy reached the “full risk rate”.
HR3370’s Amendments: Subsidized rate structures for Pre-FIRM primary homes have been reinstated with no 25% mandatory rate increases for primary homes. If a policyholder with a subsidized rate policy decides to lapse the policy, or the lender which was paying the premium for such a policy doesn’t pay the premium and the policy lapses, then the customer may not be eligible for a subsidized rate policy again and may be required to obtain an EC and pay the full risk rate. The 25% annual increase for non-primary and non-residential homes remains in place. **There are several variables that could occur with this portion of the bill and specific guidance from FEMA is still forthcoming to clean some of the speculation up**
TOPIC: Grandfathering of policies when flood zones change due to FEMA Flood Map Amendments or base flood elevation changes.
BW-12’s Stance: Eliminated grandfathering of policies all together.
HR3370’s Amendments: Grandfathering was reinstated on the model prior to BW-12
TOPIC: Annual Rate Increases
BW-12’s Stance: Prior to this legislation the statutory cap on flood policies was 10%. BW-12 changed the ceiling on rate increases to 20% annually.
HR3370’s Amendments: This change is slightly confusion but the amendment now basically states that the rate increases will be between 15-18% and capped at that 18% level.
TOPIC: Preferred Risk Policy (PRP) Eligibillity Extension (PRPEE)
BW-12 & HR3370: Both laws keep the exiting language in place. The PRP policy is designed for a home that’s located in a non-mandatory “lower risk” structure located in a B,C, or X flood plain. In 2010 FEMA allowed for policy holders that were mapped out of this zone to keep their preferred rate policy if it meets a certain set of criteria. These provisions will be left alone and will not be changed in either law.
TOPIC: Annual Premium Surcharges
BW-12’s Stance: This topic was not contained in BW-12 and is new to HR3370. Please note that this “surcharge” is different than the above mentioned Annual Rate Increases
HR3370 Amendments: $25 surcharge will be applied to all primary residential policies and $250 applied to all non-residential and non-primary residential policies.
TOPIC: Installment Premium Payments
BW-12’s Stance: Installment payments were authorized but no specifics were provided “guidance” on.
HR3370 Amendments: Monthly Installment payments are specifically mentioned.
BW-12’s Stance: Deductibles for Pre-FIRM structures with building coverage over $100,000 was changed from $1,500 to $2,000. For Post-FIRM risk the deductibles were changed from $1,000 to $1,250
HR3370 Amendments: BW-12 amendments remain however a deductible of $10,000 must be offered for residential properties.
TOPIC: Detached Structures **Note-Except for limited coverage for a detached garage, there is no “other structures” coverage in the NFIP, and each building requires a separate policy.
BW-12’s Stance: No Changes were made.
HR3370 Amendments: States that all detached structures are NOT required to carry flood insurance. The bill goes on to state that the requirement to carry the coverage on a “detached structure” may be imposed by a lender to protect their collateral. **Very ambiguous wording So we’ll see how this provision plays out in the future!**
TOPIC: Multi-Family Residential Properties
BW-12’s Stance: Increased the maximum limit of coverage for 5 or more family residential structures from $250,000 per unit to $500,000 per unit. Effective date for this implementation is set for 6/1/14
HR3370 Amendments: None.
TOPIC: Private Flood Insurance
BW-12’s Stance: Required lenders to accept private flood insurance as satisfaction of flood coverage provided the coverage in the private market met certain requirements, most notably that the policy be “at least as good as the NFIP policy”.
HR3370 Amendments: None. **Insurers likely will continue to be reluctant to accept coverage from private insurers.**
There are a handful of other topics discussed in the new legislation however they’re not as noteworthy. It’s important to remember that the FEMA has not issued any “guidance” on the new legislation and all the HR3370 Amendments listed above will not go into effect until that happens. If you have any questions about the affects of the legislation and would like an update on when the HR3370 amendments go into effect please feel free to reach out to our agency and we’ll be glad to assist.
NEW YORK CITY – July 2, 2014 – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has the real estate industry in its crosshairs, as it begins to come down on the growing popularity of unlawful drone use for taking listing photos and videos.
The FAA has already targeted several brokerages in New York City that use drones, slapping them with subpoenas in a widespread move to learn more about how real estate professionals use the technology to advance their businesses.
This is the FAA’s interpretation of lawful model aircraft use.
The FAA does not condone the use of drones for commercial purposes but is expected to reveal proposed rules for such use next year. For now, practitioners who use drones for their business can be fined – and that’s exactly what will happen to a handful of NYC’s largest brokerages if they don’t stop their drone use immediately, FAA sources told the New York Post.
“It has completely blown up. We’re getting [subpoenas] all over the city and the Hamptons, and they’re just going to general counsel,” a source with New York-based Halstead Property told the Post. “It was a total shock.”
Several other NYC real estate firms have been subpoenaed as well, including Time Equities and Alchemy Property.
“We have a mandate to protect the American public in the air and on the ground, and the public expects us to carry out the mission,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta wrote in a memo, according to the Post.
It speaks to the risk real estate professionals take when using drones for their listings. The National Association of Realtors® has long warned that practitioners should steer clear of using drones for their business until the FAA releases solid rules on such use, which is expected by September 2015.
Source: “FAA takes on city Realtors using drones,” New York Post (July 1, 2014)
© Copyright 2014 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688
Your clients fall for these three real estate scams
NEW YORK – July 24, 2013 – The housing recovery is underway, but economic conditions don’t impact real estate scams – they never go away. Homeowners who fall prey to a real estate scam lose an average of $4,000 to $5,000, but even five-figure losses aren’t uncommon for those who have fallen prey to fake loan modifications and other types of housing fraud. Forbes highlighted three of the most common real estate scams today:
1. Rental scams: Scammers pull online listing information from an actual home for sale and re-post it as a rental on another site, such as Craigslist.They’ll often ask for money up front – a security deposit or broker fee – from prospective tenants. Scammers often advertise the home at a low price and collect application fees from several prospective tenants to “hold the property for them.” Warning signs: Be cautious of wiring money or paying any upfront fee before you’ve met the agent or signed the contract. Also, be skeptical if they can’t show the property when you ask.
2. Loan modification scams: Scammers may offer fake foreclosure counseling, phony forensic loan auditing, nonexistent mass rejoinder lawsuits, bait-and-switch ploys, leaseback programs and fraudulent government modification programs. Warning signs: Be skeptical if anyone asks for money for foreclosure counseling. Foreclosure counseling is free from agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Also, always contact your lender directly to work through a modification process.
3. Workshop scams: An investment guru will host a get-rich-quick real estate investing seminar at a local hotel and have you sign up for a course that is free or low-cost.The investor may then give you actual properties to invest in if you offer up thousands of dollars in advance. They make bold promises that you’ll become a millionaire, but then nothing ever happens. Also, a form you may have signed initially to take the class may prevent you from taking legal action against the instructor to recoup your money.
Warning signs: While not every workshop instructor is a scammer, be sure to check out the program thoroughly before signing up. Check the company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau. Also, find out if it’s linked to a reputable industry association. Source: “3 Real Estate Scams and How to Avoid Them,” Forbes.com (July 16, 2013)
© Copyright 2013 INFORMATION, INC. Bethesda, MD (301)215-4688
Average rate on 30-year loan falls to 4.31%
WASHINGTON (AP) – July 26, 2013 – Average rates on U.S. fixed mortgages fell for the second straight week, a welcome sign for homebuyers hoping to lock in lower rates that had spiked earlier this month.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average on the 30-year loan fell to 4.31 percent. That’s down from 4.37 percent last week but nearly a full percentage point higher than in early May. The rate reached a two-year high of 4.51 percent two weeks ago.The average on the 15-year fixed loan declined to 3.39 percent, down from 3.41 percent last week
While rates remain low by historical standards, they have risen in recent weeks after the Federal Reserve indicated it might slow its bond purchases later this year. The $85-million-a-month in bond purchases have kept long-term interest rates low, encouraging more borrowing and spending.
Mortgage rates tend to follow the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which rose sharply after Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed might reduce its bond-buying program. But the yield has since stabilized after Bernanke and other members emphasized that any change in the bond purchases would be tied to the economy’s health – not a calendar date. And Bernanke said the Fed would likely continue other low-interest rate policies for the foreseeable future because unemployment remains high and inflation low.
Low mortgage rates have contributed to a housing recovery that has helped drive economic growth this year.Greater demand, along with a tight supply of homes for sale, has pushed up home prices. It also has led to more home construction, which has created more jobs. This week the government said U.S. sales of new homes rose 8.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 497,000, the highest since May 2008.
To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount. The average fee for a 30-year mortgage was 0.8 point this week, up from 0.7 point last week. The fee for a 15-year loan also rose to 0.8 point from 0.7 point.
The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage dipped to 2.65 percent from 2.66 percent. The fee was unchanged at 0.4 point. The average rate on a five-year adjustable mortgage eased to 3.16 percent from 3.17 percent. The fee rose to 0.7 point from 0.6.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press, Marcy Gordon, AP Business Writer
Home Prices soaring back economists say, but don’t cry bubble yet
Home sales are hot. Prices are climbing. Supplies are increasingly tight. All these positive signs for the housing market are nice, but many wonder the same thing: Is this a new bubble, or what? It’s easy to see how today’s housing market could trigger flashbacks to the frothy mid 2000s boom. Bidding wars are rampant, deals are quick, and investors and flippers abound.
But economists say there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that the market is blowing bubbles. Homes are still undervalued. Banks are tightfisted with loans. And prices will likely cool before they burst. There are still some strange signs afoot. But economists argue this is what an awakening market looks like, with the first signs of recovery at work. “It’s all part of this metamorphosis from the downtrodden housing market to something that resembles normalcy again,” University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith said. “It looks like, as we’re coming out of the depths, that there’s a bubble forming, when really we’re still trying to get back to the surface.”
••• So what is a bubble? When home prices soar too high, too fast, and buyers can no longer afford or are interested in the inflated values. They stop buying in an unsustainable market. Sales and prices plunge. We’re not talking about a slowdown or even a small reversal. Bubbles burst with disastrous results. Exhibit A: the local and national housing market circa 2007. In Tampa Bay, median home prices peaked in 2006 at $245,000 after years of 20 percent annual gains. Lots of people were making lots of money selling homes at prices that didn’t make a lot of sense. Cue the explosion. In early 2011, the typical Tampa Bay home price bottomed out at $107,000. Hundreds of thousands of local homeowners were left with mortgages for far more than their homes were worth.
Fast forward to this year. April was Tampa Bay’s busiest sales month in seven years. Deals are closing at breakneck speeds: More than 1,500 sales so far this year sprang from contracts signed within three days or less. And buyers aren’t hesitating to pay full price. It’s hard, economists admit, to see a bubble from inside. They can span a nation or affect an area as small as a neighborhood, making them fairly hard to predict. Some economists worry the recent flood of investors could distort the market. Fitch Ratings analysts last week called rapid price jumps “cause for concern.” “Prices seem to be being driven by something other than the fundamentals,” like more jobs or higher wages that traditionally steer a healthy market, senior economist Mark Vitnersaid. “I just don’t think that’s sustainable, or the kind of housing recovery we want to see.” But other economists argue the bounce looks so dramatic because of how deep the bust-era market sank. They give five reasons why it’s too soon to cry bubble:
1 Home prices compared with the peak? Not even close.
The typical Tampa Bay home sold in April for $150,000, an impressive $43,000 more than at the bottom, data fromRealtors’ multiple listing service show. But homes still sell for $95,000 belowt he peak. Prices aren’t everything, but they make a strong point that there’s plenty of room to grow. Analysts with online listing service Trulia said Tampa Bay homes remain undervalued compared with historical prices, incomes and rents. Adjusted for inflation, “real home prices are still pretty close to their historical average,” said University of South Florida real estate professor Greg Smersh, who has researched three decades of local home-price behavior. “It’s really too early to say that another bubble is emerging.”
2 Good luck getting a loan.
A decade ago, banks pumped out lots of big loans and demanded little in return, like proof borrowers could pay them back. That easy money has evaporated. During the bust, banks locked down on loans so tightly that even well-qualified hopefuls were turned away. Lending has eased up a little. The average down payment dropped to 16 percent last month, according to mortgage exchange LendingTree, down from the strict 20 percent banks demanded for years.But the people signing for loans today are often much more qualified, posing fewer risks that a mortgage will go bad. “Everybody who is coming through and signing for homes is qualified out the wazoo,” said John Heagney, a spokesman for several local builders. “They’ve got the income and the assets to back it up.”
3 Cash reigns.
Half of the local home sales thisyear have been all-cash deals. In April, the piles of cash spent on homes totaled more than $220 million, one of Tampa Bay’s heaviest cash months in a decade. Who has that kind of dough? Investors, including local speculators and deep-pocketed financiers, now pounce on increasingly fleeting bargains to rent out or resell. Over six months, the New York-based Blackstone Group, a giant even among giant investors, spent more than $800,000 a day buying up Tampa Bay homes, a Times analysis found.
Flippers are also back in force, more so in Tampa Bay than almost anywhere else, research firm RealtyTrac said. More than 3,000 homes here were bought and resold within six months last year, with typical profits of about $30,000. But unlike the amateur flippers of the last bubble, today’s big investors aren’t buying with heavy debt. That means less of a threat of a credit bubble or widespread mass defaults. Those cash bets might come back to haunt investors. But economists said they won’t pose the kinds of systematic risk that sent the last housing market over the cliff — and the nation into a recession.
4 Too many buyers, not enough homes.
Inflating a bubble takes tons and tons of sales, and today’s home listings can barely keep up with demand. The time it would take the market to sell out with no new homes for sale has plunged to three months in Hillsborough, half what Realtors call a healthy supply. Tampa Bay saw 33,000 sales in the last year, compared with 40,000 overt he same period in 2005. Lots of homeowners who couldn’t sell for years because they owed too much money are jumping back into the market as buyers. The rate of underwater Florida homeowners, CoreLogic datas how, fell from 45 to 40 percent last year alone. They’re joined by buyers fired up because their rent prices are rising, they’re becoming more confident in the economy, or they’re afraid of missing out on cheap mortgages. Interest rates that sank to historic lows a few months ago are starting to climb: An average30-year fixed loan just topped 4 percent, the highest in a year. Buyers aren’t just aiming for bottom-dollar homes either. Bargain foreclosures and short sales traded at a loss, which accounted for most local home sales two years ago, are now only a third of the market, listing data show. People are seeking homes they can live in agents said, and not just a chance for a quick buck.
5 No one expects a hard landing.
Economists expect several release valves will keep home values from overheating. As prices rise, reluctant home-owners will finally opt to sell, adding homes to the supply. And if homes become too expensive, bargain-hunting investors will ease off buying or begin to sell. Rising mortgage rates will make homes costlier to buy, slowing demand. But builders who froze construction during the bust are turning dirt again, helping loosen the supply. Each change could help cool off big price gains and temper prices closer to their long-term trend. The market, economists said, has begun a transition period, clawing its way out of the hole.
“We’re emerging from a historical period that was rife with outliers in terms of behavior and how things were functioning,” Snaith said, “and now we’re trying to transition back into something that’s closer to normal — whatever that normal might be.”
Contact Drew Harwell at (727)893-8252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.