Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lenders More Open to Short Sales

According to this New York Times article, Lenders More Open to Short Sales, mortgage lenders are trying to make the short sale approval process faster and easier. Short sales are real estate sales where the sale price of the property is less than the mortgage balance(s). According to the article, short sales became more difficult to get approved as the credit crisis deepened since the 2nd mortgage holders were typically unwilling to accept a large enough loss to make the sale go through. Now, it appears, that the 2nd lenders are willing to accept 5 to 10 cents on the dollar in order to satisfy their debt. According to a representative of Bank of America, they are willing to accept 5% for their 2nd mortgages and they expect 2nd mortgage holders to accept the same when Bank of America is the 1st mortgage holder. The Treasury Department has announced that it will increase incentives to mortgage lenders to work out short sales, but declined to comment on the details of those incentives.

All this means that short sales will become more common. However, this is not really new news since they were going to increase anyway due to the declining real estate values and worsening unemployment, which will increase the number of mortgage delinquencies.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Evidence Banks are Holding Back Foreclosures

According to this Foreclosures.com blog article, More on Stress Tests, due to 10 of 19 big banks needing to raise funds as a result of the "stress tests" the big banks, and other banks, will start selling shares and begin to dump their increasing pool of foreclosures very soon. Foreclosures (non-performing assets/real estate owned/REO's) have been piling up since 70% are not showing up in MLS's as being for sale. That means there is a large pool of foreclosed homes coming on the market soon. I discussed this "hidden foreclosure" problem in a previous blog post. Clearly, this dump of foreclosed homes is going to hurt the real estate market. I see no reason to believe that foreclosures will decline any time soon as the jobless rate hits 10% by the end of the year combined with the fact that too many homeowners have no savings to get them through a period of unemployment (see my previous blog post on this topic).

Too Many Homeowers Have No Savings

According to a Wells Fargo survey mentioned in this Nashville Business Journal article, Survey: 25% of homeowners have no savings, 25% of homeowners have no savings to cover their living expenses if they were to lose their jobs. The article mentions the significant stress that this is causing and the drastic measures people are taking to reduce their expenses.

In my opinion this is going to cause more foreclosures and short sales, particularly in areas where the median home prices are still too high relative to the median incomes (think FL, CA, NV and AR). The foreclosure and short sale problems will only get worse as the economy weakens and unemployment increases.

Given that Middle Tennessee (in particular Murfreesboro TN, Smyrna TN and La Vergne TN in Rutherford County) has higher than average foreclosures and short sales I think it is reasonable to conclude that people here also have less than required savings. This financial stress will continue to hurt the Middle TN housing market.

When "Good News" Is Really Bad News

According to this RISMedia article, Single-Family Starts and Permits Edge Higher in April, the number of new home starts increased by 2.8% to a seasonally adjusted rate of 368,000 units and the the number of permits for future construction also increased. The article mentions that low mortgage rates, low prices, the federal $8,000 tax credit and additional state specific tax credits were partially responsible for the boost.

I will tell you right now that this is the terrible news. Overbuilding spurred by easy to get loans was a major contributor to the current real estate mess. We do not need more new homes being built, especially if they are fuled by artifically low rates, which will eventually increase significantly, and tax credits. Only rookie buyers or truly marginal buyers would make the decision to buy a home based on a measy $8,000 to $15,000 in tax credits, especially given the fact that taxes are going to increase in order to pay for the "stimulus plan". Therefore, these buyers will have less money than they think after their tax credit is factored in. I predict that these buyers will have a high foreclosure rate and the overall foreclosure rate will contnue to be high. All of this will continue to depress prices in the very areas that were most affected by the real estate decline.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama Administration Expands Housing "Rescue Plan"

According to this BusinessWeek article, Obama administration expands housing plan, the Obama Administration is expanding the coverage of its previous $50 billion housing rescue plan in order to cover more distressed homeowners. The previous plan has helped 55,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure via loan refinances and payment modifications. This new expansion will only aid homeowners by making it easier to give their homes back to the banks, or complete a short sale. While these add ons are certainly needed it still does not address the problem of the banks having too many REO's, or losing money and becoming insolvent. Of course, in my previous blog posts I beat up the initial plan since it omitted investors and homeowners whose homes were worth far less than the mortgage amount. These remain a source of a lot of foreclosures. In short, this new plan will do little to nothing to stop the decline of the housing market.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Becoming Large Landlords

According to this Forbes article, Meet Your Landlords: Fannie And Freddie, collectively Fannie and Freddie own 1 out of every 9 foreclosed properties with Fannie owing 64,000 single family homes and Freddie 29,000. The article mentions that foreclosures are going to accelerate due to the moratorium on foreclosures being lifted. Both GSE's are working on greatly increasing loan modifications and programs that allow foreclosed former homeowners to remain in the properties as tenants. The article mentions that this landlord role may be difficult for Fannie and Freddie. Also, the article quotes Rick Sharga, Vice President of RealtyTrac, as saying that Fannie and Freddie will need to seize more properties as prime conforming loans start to default more. He goes on to say that the rental programs may help the housing market by preventing a flood of foreclosures from entering the market at the same time. While I agree that there will be more foreclosure, I disagree that holding back foreclosures is a good idea. Americans need this problem to end now. Fannie, Freddie and private banks need to just dump the properties now and push down prices to get the market to hit bottom ASAP so that people can feel confident that the worst is over. This continuous market meddling is dragging this nightmare out far too long.

Foreclosures Reach New High in April 2009

According to this Inman News article, Foreclosures plateau at new high, RealtyTrac data indicated that foreclosures in April 2009 increased by less than 1% from March 2009, which was the previous high. However, this represents a 32% increase over April 2008. According to the folks at RealtyTrac the recent March-April surge in foreclosures is due to the previous moratoria on foreclosures expiring. I believe that due to the declining economy foreclosures will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.

Birmingham Auction Ended Abruptly After Too Many "Low Bids"

According this article in The Birmingham News, City Federal auction ends abruptly due to low bids, the auction was originally scheduled to sell off 20 condo units, but was stopped after only 11 sold due to what the condo project owners, Synergy Realty Services LLC, called "low bids". Condos that once were listed for $239,000 to $935,000 ended up selling for only $80,000 to $320,000. The project owners said they were disappointed by the low prices, but would try to re-market the remaining condos at pre-auction prices.

My opinion is that these people are fools. There is no other market for these condos. $935,000 for a condo in Birmingham? Sorry, it makes no sense. That market is long gone and never coming back. It was a sham built upon a mountain of debt that is no longer available. The condo project owners should liquidate for whatever they can get as it is only going to get worse.

"Stress Tests a Sham"; Banks Have $2 Trillion Dollar Hole While Credit Card and Commercial Real Estate Loan Defaults Soar

According to this interview with William Black, a former bank regulator, author and current law and economics professor at the University of Missouri, the "Stress Tests" are a "sham"and US banks need $2 trillion dollars to remain solvent. Since he directly attributes this figure to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner I am guessing that the real number is much higher since according to Mr. Black the "stress tests" do not factor in bank reserves or asset quality (i.e. the increasing defaults on all types of loans including credit cards and commercial real estate loans). Additionally, Mr. Black states that commercial real estate is in for a "world of hurt". As I stated previously, there is going to be a surge in the number of foreclosures hitting the market as banks fail and are forced to finally liquidate the foreclosures they have artifically been holding back and most of the large banks in the US are already insolvent and will need to be nationalized soon.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Don't Believe the "Good News Bulls"

According to this New York Times article, U.S. Says Ailing Banks Need $75 Billion, US Banks need $75 Billion in additional capital in order to pass the government stress tests and this is good news!?  First, it is not good news.  It means that US banks need a lot of additional capital.  Second, it is not even accurate.  According to Gary Shilling we should not be trusting the rosy government reports as they are really meant as a PR piece then they are a measure of the banks' financial condition.  I agree.  The government stress tests are a joke.  Regardless of these phony stress tests most large US Banks are insolvent.

Commercial Real Estate Loan Defaults Will Sink Big Banks

I have read many articles that are stating facts that the mainstream media is not covering.  The most important one is that commercial real estate loans are defaulting at an alarming rate.  While the mainstream media continues to debate whether or not the residential housing bust has reached it bottom they continue to ignore the greater problem of bad commercial real estate loans.  My prediction is that the commercial real estate loan defaults will finish the bank killing that the residential bubble bursting started.  I believe that most, if not all, of the major national banks (think Wachovia, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, etc.) will need to be nationalized within 12 months.

The expected massive bank failures will further curtail lending (including home mortgages) and result in further softening of home prices, particularly in over-built areas of the US.

Duplicating Disaster: A Lesson Not Learned

According to this New York Times article, Sweetening the Pot for Home Buyers, the $8,000 Federal Tax Credit for first time home buyers created by the Obama administration will not have much of an impact (I believe I told you this previously) due to most first time buyers not having enough money for a down payment and to cover closing costs.  The article trumpets a Missouri plan that allows home buyers to borrow that $8,000 to buy that home and then to repay it when they receive the tax credit.  In my opinion, this is a recipe for more disaster.  The problem was and is that TOO MANY FINANCIALLY UNQUALIFIED PEOPLE PURCHASED HOMES.  Offering this "loan" will only exacerbate the problem.  If a person cannot find a way to save $8,000 to buy a home then they should not be buying a home.  What happens when the roof leaks, or heating system needs replacement, etc.?  These "home buyers" do not save money, they spend.  That is why they could not even put together a measly sum like $8,000 to buy a home.  The problem is that we have turned owning a home from a privilege into an entitlement.  When will we learn!?

My prediction is that if this Missouri program gains traction we will see increased rates of foreclosures for these "home buyers".

Monday, May 4, 2009

Foreclosures Increase as Banks Start to End Voluntary Foreclosure Abatements

According to this Ritholtz.com article, Voluntary Foreclosure Abatements Ending, banks are starting to end their volunatry foreclosure abatements due to the increasing number of delinquent loans piling up.  This is after the banks have changed the definition of a delinquent loan from 60 days to 120 days and even 180 days.  Per my previous post, the banks are trying to make things appear better than they are.  Mark my words, it will fail.