News From the Housing Trenches

Good News and Bad News

The latest housing figures are now in with mixed results.  The good news is that the number of seriously delinquent loans is down to a bit less than 10% of all loans, so it does look that with short sales, loan mods and, perhaps also, the home buyers’ tax credit, the combined efforts of the federal government, lenders and home owners are finally having an impact.

But, another bit of statistical news is troubling. After a solid year of declines, the first-time mortgage delinquency rate has gone up. The most likely cause is, of course, the continuing crisis we are facing in employment.  After months without work,  eventually resources run out and unemployed homeowners must face the inevitable and start missing mortgage payments.

Choices If You Are Unwilling or Unable to Make the Mortgage Payment

So, what are the resources available to homeowners with underwater mortgages and/or no jobs? Well, with time we now have some clarity about the choices open to us.

One choice is to try for a refinance under the government program. With this, homeowners can get up to 125% of their property’s value. The catch is  the homeowner needs a job to apply and in California, at least, usually even this amount is not enough to cover the shortfall in value.

Another option is to search for a loan mod.  These fall normally under HAMP , the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program. This and all loan mod programs have been spectacularly unsuccessful as indicated in several previous posts. Suffice it to say, that even those who actually succeeded in obtaining these loan mods are now back in default in record numbers. The main reason is that the average mortgage, tax and debt loan for such homeowners is around 65%–a recipe for failure.

So, that leaves short sales. Even there we now have two flavors of short sales-regular and HAFA. The difference is that particpants in HAFA, the government-backed plan, must have first applied for a loan mod under HAMP. Having done that, though, such HAFA short sellers are guaranteed no deficiency judgment after the sale  by the participating lenders.  HAFA short sellers also get $3000 at close of escrow to help them move.

Which Is the Best Choice?

Short sales in my view are the way to go. Homeowners do eventually lose their homes, but statistically, that is taking quite a long time. The average homeowner in foreclosure is now an incredible, unbelievable 461 days behind in his payments. That is, short sellers are living  rent-free for months or even more than a year-on average. The stigma of short selling is now mostly gone. Those who short sale their homes can expect to be accepted for a new loan in as little as 18 months, provided that is the only negative on the credit.

More About Strategic Short Sales

Banks do it, so why not the rest of us? That is the message not only from the famous liberal Grey Lady, the New York Times, cited in a previous post,  but now also from the notoriously conservative Wall Street Journal in an opinion piece that has the right all atwitter.

What’s that, you ask? Both papers now, from the right and the left and really the middle, are proposing that homeowners wise up and get out of their upside-down mortgages. In short, both are advocating the strategic or voluntary short sale

To go further, in my view, if the  nation is to survive this crisis, it’s very possible that short sales will soon be seen as not only the financially reasonable way out but also the most patriotic way out. Why’s that?

Recent figures indicate that 3.5% of all mortgages are already in the foreclosure process. That’s, of course, on top of the massive numbers of foreclosures that have already taken place. Add to those in the process another 9.7% of all mortgages which are now 90 days or more late and that’s an impressive 14% of all mortgages looking down the barrel of foreclosure. And, that’s not the end of it. An estimated 25% to 30% of mortgages in this country are upside down as homeowners owe more than their homes are now worth. That number is predicted to climb to over 40% in the near future.

What is the fastest way out of this mess? Obviously, the best way would be for the banks holding the mortgages to reduce them down to present value of the homes or at least somewhere close to the present value. Homeowners stay in their homes; banks keep collecting the mortgage payments.  Banks are reluctant to do this. In fact, despite the government’s HAMP program offering significant incentives for banks to modify loans, banks effectively refused by merely tweaking loans or outright refusing to touch them.

Now, the U.S. Treasury has come out with a new program which went into effect March 1, 2010. Called HAFA [Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives]. the program is a blueprint or set of guidelines for banks on how to process short sales. Designed to expedite the excruciatingly slow process in place to date at most banks [you know who you are, Countrywide], this may finally break the logjam of distressed mortgages that is threatening the very stability of our country’s economy.

For anyone considering a short sale, strategic or otherwise, as a way out of a personal financial morass, this may be the best time to get underway. If you are considering such a move, call me and I’ll be glad to give you what advice I can.

Southern California Home Values: More Bad News

As noted here, L. A. County home values have now dropped 36% in one year.

But, that time period does not show the depth of the plunge. Southern California median home values have dropped 50.4% from the peak of the housing bubble. This is partly a statistical anomaly: few top-of-the-line or new homes were selling. This 50% figure is an aggregate of all SoCal counties. Some counties have it far worse and we know which they are. Riverside prices have plunged 55% from $432,000 median to $195,000. San Bernardino had it worse: median values are down from their height of $380,00 57.4% to $162,000.

Adding to the general misery is the news that about 20% of all mortgage holders in the U.S. are underwater or owe more than their homes are worth. California’s rate of negative equity is 30% of mortgage holders placing it on a par with Florida–in 5th place. It’s not quite so bad in L.A. County even with the statistical drag of  the Antelope Valley and the High Desert areas. In L.A. County about 23% of homeowners are in negative territory.

Of course, owing more than the home is worth is a difficult situation for homeowners. It hardly seems worth the struggle to make the payment. In fact, many don’t. They may have made a” business decision” [does it make sense to pay on a $400,000 mortgage when the house is worth $300,000?]  More likely,  they can no longer afford the payment due to job loss, job cutbacks or readjusting mortgages. Across the country,  4% of mortgage holders were at least 60 days late in the last quarter of 2008. A year earlier, the figure was 3%.

How’s California doing? Not so good, as we might expect, given the rising unemployment statistics. Of California home owners 6.9%  were categorized as delinquent in Q4 08. This compares to Florida, highest in the nation with 9.5% rate. We are still behind also Nevada and Arizona.

4-horsemen

But, these four populous states really are like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Their condition does presage disaster for the rest of the country. We four are huge markets for the rest of the country and the world. California alone has something like the 10th largest economy in the world. If our economic engine is stilled, what will happen to our trading partners and our fellow citizens in other states?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]