Archive for August, 2009

Fannie and Freddie Mac Programs Help Struggling Homeowners

In March of this year, the Obama Administration authorized a new federal program to help stabilize the housing industry. The feds poured a mere $75 billion into the Making Home Affordable (MHA) mortgage program intended to avert further foreclosures, assist responsible home owners in retaining their homes and stabilize the nation’s communities.

Home Affordable Refinancing Program (HARP) and Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) are the two initiatives under the umbrella of the MHA that are being used to distribute the funding for the program. The programs fall under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secondary mortgage market lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Through the MHA programs, certain homeowners are provided assistance whose loans are either owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Over the following three years, the program is on target to assist three to four million homeowners. Currently, over 230,000 trial modifications have been started; although, over 500,000 is the goal to have in process by November 1, 2009. What’s interesting is that more than 85 percent of mortgage loans out there today are covered by participating service providers.

HARP assists homeowners who are current on their mortgage payments, but are not able to refinance their loans due to a decrease in their home’s market value. Homeowners may be afforded the opportunity to refinance their mortgage to a lower interest rate and to a lower-risk loan solution, both of which are part of the program.

General requirements to be eligible for HARP are as follows:

* Must be the owner of a one- to four-unit home
* Mortgage must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac
* Must be current on mortgage payments throughout the previous 12 months, which means that you’ve not been more than 30 days late on any mortgage payment within the previous year
* Amount due on your first mortgage is not more than 125 percent of the current market value of your home

HAMP offers options for homeowners that may potentially reduce their monthly mortgage payments, or provide other alternatives that can assist them in keeping their homes. The program helps homeowners who are in the following situations with their mortgage:

* Current, but have experienced recent significant hardship, including hardship that will inhibit their ability to pay mortgage payments going forward
* Delinquent on their mortgage payments
* Currently in the foreclosure process

For full details regarding the MHA, visit the MHA website.

Both sites offer a self-service lookup tool that tells you whether your home loan is owned by either. To find out more about the Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac MHA programs, or to see if your home loan is owned by either, see the information below:

* Fannie Mae
* Phone – (800) 7FANNIE (Hours – 8am to 8pm EST)
* Freddie Mac
* Phone – (800) FREDDIE (Hours – 8am to 8pm EST)

Ki’s website includes a searchable map of homes in the Austin MLS. His site is focused on helping Austin real estate buyers. In addition to information on the Austin market, his site also provides a mortgage widget that shows current interest rates.

The Truth Behind the Housing Numbers

The recent headlines have trumpeted a rebound in the American housing market. According to the Associated Press, July’s 7.2 percent increase in home sales was the biggest month-to-month jump in the last ten years. But before breathing a sigh of relief and checking Zillow for increased home values, it might be a good idea to look at the story behind the new and improved numbers.

A big chunk of the recent increase is first-time home buyers taking advantage of the tax credit. One third of recent home sales are due to the $8000 incentive for first-time home buyers, which will end in November. Another third of the recent sales across the nation are actually foreclosures. According to a recent report on NBC news, home prices overall are down 23 percent in the last year, largely due to the number of foreclosures across the country.

NBC news broke down the numbers even further, showing that the biggest surge in home sales are for homes under $100,000. While sales of homes in this price range rose an impressive 39 percent in the last month, sales for homes over $250,000 are actually down. In fact, the higher the price tag the fewer homes are selling.

Better numbers in several sectors of the economy, including housing, have led Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to announce that the U.S. economy is on the verge of recovery. He said at a Federal Reserve conference in Wyoming that “the prospects for a return to growth in the near term appear good.” Not a resounding endorsement of the world economy, but certainly keeping to the more positive tone he has taken lately.

According the Associated Press, Bernanke continues to stress the importance of freeing up consumer credit, stating this is the key to any kind of long term economic recovery. However, banks continue to be careful with lending to consumers. Mortgage defaults remain at an all time high–which brings us back to the housing numbers. While foreclosures continue to less of a factor in Austin as they are in other parts of the country, they are taking a toll on the economy as a whole.

As the latest housing numbers have indicated, foreclosures are great for bargain hunters but bad for the housing sector and the overall economy. It only takes one foreclosure in a neighborhood to skew the assessment of overall home values in that area. Mortgage defaults that lead to foreclosures cost banks a significant amount of money. The banks in turn raise rates on credit cards and fees to recoup some of these losses, along with making fewer loans overall.

The real estate industry is lobbying Congress to get an extension on the first-time buyers’ tax credit, because many industry analysts are predicting a plunge in the housing numbers after November. “I would not be at all surprised to see a dip at the end of the year once the tax credit expires,” Robert Dye, senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group, told the AP.

Austin continues to weather this long recession better than the rest of the country, but let’s hope the story behind the national numbers gets better.

Ki moved to Austin for school. After graduation, he started working in the Austin real estate market. He has a website where future owners can search the Austin MLS. His website also has a blog with updates in Austin Texas real estate.

Federal Stimulus Funds to Buy and Fix Up Foreclosed Properties

State and local governments across the nation are gearing up to spend federal stimulus funds. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) birthed the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) that provides federal stimulus dollars to assist neighborhoods hardest hit by the home foreclosure crisis. The NSP falls under the umbrella of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

HUD’s intent for the NSP is to provide assistance to more than 500 communities, cities and counties across America in the form of rent relief, for homeless prevention and to assist low-income families to buy homes. Organizations that are eligible for NSP funding are cities, non-profit agencies and housing authorities.

St. Lucie and Martin Counties in Florida hope to receive some $7.5 million in stimulus dollars. The counties recently applied for the funds through the state’s Department of Community Affairs. Both counties intend on buying foreclosed homes, renovating them and selling them to low-income homebuyers. The other initiative for the funding will be to weatherize neighborhood homes.

Fresno County, along with the City of Fresno, has received a total of $18 million in NSP funding to address the abundance of local area foreclosed homes. Officials have already interviewed several developers that will be hired to buy, renovate and sell or rent the homes to low-income families.

Blighted areas will benefit the most from the funds. A byproduct of the dollars will be construction jobs associated with renovating the properties.

Massachusetts may see some activity soon in many of their local cities and neighborhoods, since the state applied for funds in the total of $54 million. Boston Community Capital, alone, applied for $50 million in NSP funds in order to broaden the organization’s ability to assist the state’s residents who are facing foreclosure on their homes. The group has already committed $4 million in assistance to purchase abandoned property, loan funds to small developers renovating vacant properties and assist struggling homeowners in keeping or buying back their homes.

Connecticut has thrown their hat into the ring for $45 million in NSP dollars, which will target the state’s four most hard hit cities. The Connecticut Consortium falls under the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), and will be responsible for allocating the funds to local communities. Low- to middle-income families will be the primary beneficiaries of the program.

Chicago received $5.4 million in stimulus funds earlier this year. The city’s goal is to reinvest profits made from selling renovated properties back into other foreclosure properties.

Ohio was allocated $45 million NSP dollars to jump start the housing market in blighted neighborhoods. The intent is to allocate the stimulus money quickly, so that communities will be enabled to attack the growing numbers of abandoned and boarded up homes.

Kentucky was awarded $44 million, Evanston, Illinois applied for $39.4 million and Virginia received $45 million. Brad Pitt even entered the fray with his Make It Right Foundation. If funding is approved, it will benefit New Orleans and a project the group will launch in Newark, NJ. His organization, as part of a consortium of non-profits, is asking for $65 million.

Ki works to help buyers searching for Austin Texas real estate. He has worked in real estate for almost a decade. He maintains a searchable Austin MLS directory on his website. His site has current information on mortgage rate trends.

Commercial Vacancies, the Next Real Estate Bubble to Burst

News headlines throughout major U.S. cities note record-high commercial vacancies, along with a decrease in the asking price for commercial rental space.  As was predicted by several major real estate statisticians earlier this year, the next real estate bubble to burst is commercial properties.

Based on statistics compiled by Cushman & Wakefield (C&W), the commercial vacancy rate hasn’t been this high since mid-2005.  C&W, a global commercial real estate brokerage and consulting firm, found that vacancy rates increased in 24 of the 32 major markets they surveyed.

Colliers International, a global commercial real estate service provider, noted that rental office space is becoming abundantly available.  Nationally, office space vacancies in major business districts jumped from 12.5 to 13.74 percent in the second quarter of 2009.  Suburban markets increased 1.95 percent to 16.28 percent.  In addition, the firm found that the asking rent in major districts dropped by 3.2 percent during the quarter to an average of $38.25 per square foot.  Average asking rent in U.S. cities overall, however, are now more often priced at around $25.00 per square foot.

Both firms note that the market has been pummeled by increased supply and a decline in demand due to the economic downturn.  Executive Managing Director Maria Sicola asserted that elevated unemployment numbers translate into the reduced demand reflected in higher vacancy rates.  More than 66% of 6.5 million square feet of newly constructed commercial space was still vacant at the end of the second quarter of 2009.

Michael Cohen, a research strategist for Property & Portfolio Research (PPR), stated that the firm’s expectation was that vacancies would reach historic highs in office, apartment and warehouse space in 2009.  According to ING Clarion Real Estate Managing Director David Lynn, the hospitality market has been dealt the biggest blow with major cutbacks in business and leisure travel.

Most cities across the nation are experiencing a rise in commercial vacancies.  Phoenix has a 17.4 percent vacancy, Chicago’s is at 15.4 percent, Washington, D.C. holds an 11.7 percent rate, Las Vegas exceeds 20 percent, Kansas City is higher than 18 percent, Providence, Rhode Island is now over 30 percent, and so on. 

Along with the rise in commercial vacancies, insurance companies are becoming more concerned about liability associated with vacant real estate.  Vacancies present additional risks not applicable to occupied real estate.  Commercial insurance companies are encouraging owners of vacant real estate to minimize risk by implementing the following:

* Notify insurance company of vacancy, become informed and follow policy terms that apply to vacant property.
* Advise local authorities that property is vacant.
* Remove all combustibles, debris and any unnecessary materials from vacant property.
* Inform local fire department of materials left that could impair fire-fighting.
* Inspect property weekly, have someone watch the property or hire a guard service to daily drive by to observe property.

With real estate vacancy numbers not anticipated to see daylight for some time to come, this is wise advice, indeed.

Ki moved to Austin to attend college, and stayed to work in Austin real estate. He created a website encouraging buyers to search for Austin homes for sale. His site also has information on Austin Commercial real estate and general information and statistics on Austin real estate.

Mortgage Rates Are Down But Does it Matter?

Although mortgage rates have moved up recently they are still near historic lows. Rates today are lower than at any point before the start of 2009. So why are people blaming the lending industry with the slow pace of the economic recovery?

Basically, rates are low but lenders are practicing extremely restrictive lending practices. What’s interesting is the US government has spent billions giving money to the banks and taking bad loans off their books in order to get banks lending again. But the simple truth is that the banks have taken this money but engaged in more and more restrictive lending practices.

I am not saying that the bailout didn’t have any benefits. Without the bailout certainly more banks would have gone out of business. But the main purpose of the bailout was to encourage banks to lend.

Banks have grown more restrictive on who they will give out loans to. The desired credit scores have of course gone up but they have started turning down buyers for “declining income”. This is basically when someone’s income falls from one year to the next. The issue with this is of course that during a recession this affects more small business owners looking to purchase. No documentation loans are a thing of the past. While they were abused in the past they were also used by people with legitimate jobs with hard to track income (tattoo artists). Many banks are also using a four property rule where investors are limited to four loans. The idea was to limit bad loans but you can have cases of high income/high net worth individuals taken out of the market because they own 4 100k houses.

In addition to limiting loans based on the individual asking for the loan they have also limited it based on the property type. Many banks have exited the commercial and multifamily markets by increase mortgage rates substantially on these particular loans. Most lenders will no longer loan on non warrantable condos. Non warrantable condos are when half of the units are not owner occupied.

In addition to banks we are seeing appraiser problems. In 2003 companies like countrywide were doing drive by appraisals which is just what it sounds like. Today we are seeing extremely strict appraisals. We have seen properties that are cheaper than anything that sold in the neighborhood in 8 years not appraising. Before appraisers would catch heat for not appraising properties, but in the current environment appraisers can play it safe by under appraising a property. Basically appraisers are more likely to face heat from a bank based on a high appraisal instead of a low appraiser. To compound this problem banks are now using random appraisers. A great idea in theory but now you have appraisers looking at lakefront properties that know very little about lakefront properties. Combined with a tendency to come in low on appraisals this is a recipe for disaster.

So in the end we have mortgage rates lower than at almost any time in history but at the same time the banks are probably one of the main factors hurting the real estate market from recovering. The question for the market of course is what happens first. Do mortgage rates raise and then we are dealing with high rates and restrictive lending or do banks start pulling back some of the restrictions. The answer to that question will probably determine what the real estate market is going to look like in a year from now.