Distressed Property Sales, Discounts Steady in Third Quarter

Sales of distressed homes, those in some
stage of foreclosure or bank owned (REO), accounted to 20 percent of all U.S.
home sales during the third quarter of 2011
compared to 22 percent of sales in
the second quarter according to information released Thursday by
RealtyTrac.  One year earlier such
distressed sales represented 30 percent of the housing market.

There were 221,536 such distressed
property sales to third parties, 11 percent fewer than revised second quarter
figures and 5 percent fewer than in the third quarter of 2010.  Pre-foreclosure sales (generally referred to
as short sales) totaled 92,824 sales or 9 percent of all sales, down 9 percent
from the second quarter and nearly identical to the number one year earlier
when pre-foreclosure sales represented 12 percent of the market.  Sales of REO totaled 128,712 properties, down
13 percent quarter over quarter and 8 percent from the previous year.  REO sales made up 12 percent of all sales in
the quarter compared to 13 percent in Q2 and 18 percent of sales a year
earlier.

Prices for distressed homes averaged
$165,322, up one percent from Q2 but down 3 percent from one year earlier.  The average discount from the market price
for distressed properties was 34 percent, the same as in the second quarter of
2011.  The discount one year earlier
averaged 37 percent.  There were
substantial differences, however, between the prices for pre-foreclosure
properties which averaged $191,119, a discount of 24 percent below the average
market price, and REO.  The latter had an
average sales price of $146,437 in the third quarter, a discount of nearly 42
percent, unchanged from Q2 and down from 45 percent a year earlier.  In the second quarter the discount for pre-foreclosed
properties was 23 percent and was it 24 percent in the third quarter of
2011. 

In six states distressed properties
sales accounted for a larger share of the market than the 20 percent national
average.  The states were Nevada (57
percent), California (44 percent), Arizona (43 percent), Georgia (34 percent),
Colorado (26 percent) and Michigan (23 percent).

The states with the largest
discounts for distressed property sales were Missouri (56.5 percent) and Massachusetts
(51 percent.)

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Appraisers say "Don’t Blame the Messenger" for Low Home Prices

The
Appraisal Institute has apparently had enough and has decided to fight back
against what it perceives as unwarranted blame for depressed home prices.  In a press release the Institute says, ” Don’t blame the real estate appraiser if it turns out that
house you’re trying to sell or buy isn’t worth what you thought it was.”

Speaking for the Institute, its
president Sara W. Stephens, MAI said that real estate agents, homebuilders and
others have placed blame for the market’s distressed condition on appraisers
who produce opinions of value that don’t match a home’s listing, contract or
sales price, delaying a recovery in the housing market and called that
accusation “nonsense.”

“The fact is that appraisers are
undertaking the same thorough research and thoughtful analysis that they always
have in order to continue producing reliable, credible opinions of value,”
Stephens said. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

It is unclear why the Institute
decided to refute the claims about appraisers at this time.  We did a search and found a number of
articles with the blame appraisers theme, but none that were more recent than
last summer except for charges from the National Association of Realtors that low
appraisals are among the reasons for recent high levels of sales contract
cancellations.  NAR, however, has been complaining
about low appraisals since at least the spring of 2009. 

Noting that buyers and sellers often
have emotional value attached to a home or are unaware of the market, Stephens
pointed out that appraisals completed for mortgage transactions are used to
assist lenders, who are the clients, not buyers or sellers, in making lending
decisions – and are not intended to confirm a listing, contract or sales price.
There’s no reason to assume the contract price is the “correct” price simply
because it’s higher than the appraisal, she said.

As to the claim that appraisers are
using distressed sales as comps for market rate properties, Stevens said that
qualified appraisers know how to handle adjustments for distressed properties
and added that in some markets, distressed sales are so prevalent that it would
be improper not to use them as comparables.

The Institute also released two
handouts.  The first explains the process
of conducting an appraisal
in a declining market and includes a discussion of
how an appraiser discounts a distressed comp. The second handout attempts to
explain what an appraisers job really is, making the points that:

  • Appraisals aren’t intended to confirm a home’s sales
    price.
  • Appraisers don’t set the real estate market; they
    reflect what’s happening in the market.
  • Appraisers work not for buyers or sellers, but for
    lenders.
  • Appraisers are independent, third-party experts with
    no motive to be biased.
  • Appraisals sometimes are assigned to the least
    qualified, least competent appraisers, but especially in a distressed market,
    competent and qualified appraisers – such as designated members of the
    Appraisal Institute – should be hired for difficult assignments.
  • Appraisers know how to use distressed sales as
    comparables.

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CoreLogic: Home Prices Show Third Consecutive Monthly Increase

Home prices were up for the third
consecutive month
in May as measured by CoreLogic’s Home Price Index
(HPI.)  The three months of increases were
noted for both annual and month-over-month numbers.

The HPI increased by 1.8 percent
compared to April figures and was 2.0 percent higher in May 2012 than in May
2011.  Those numbers are for all home
sales including those of distressed homes, both short sales and real estate
owned (REO) transactions.

When distressed sales are removed from
the calculation home prices were up year-over-year by 2.7 percent and were 2.3
percent higher in May than in April. 
This is the fourth consecutive month-over-month increase.

CoreLogic’s forward-looking Pending HPI
which is based on Multiple Listing Service data measuring price changes in the
most recent month indicates that house prices, including distressed sales, will
rise by at least 1.4 percent from May to June and by 2.0 percent if distressed
sales are not included.

“The recent upward trend in
U.S. home prices is an encouraging signal that we may be seeing a bottoming of
the housing down cycle,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and chief
executive officer of CoreLogic. “Tighter inventory is contributing to
broad, but modest, price gains nationwide and more significant gains in the
harder-hit markets, like Phoenix.”

“Home price appreciation in the
lower-priced segment of the market is rebounding more quickly than in the upper
end,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Home prices
below 75 percent of the national median increased 5.7 percent from a year ago,
compared to only a 1.8 percent increase for prices 125 percent or more of the
median.”

Since home prices peaked in April
2006 the national HPI including all sales has fallen 30.1 percent and non-distressed
sale prices are down 22.2 percent.

The highest price appreciation
including distressed sales was seen in Arizona (12.0 percent), Idaho (9.2
percent) and South Dakota (8.7 percent). 
When distressed sales are excluded the greatest appreciation was noted
in Montana (9.1 percent), South Dakota (8.5 percent), and Arizona (7.3
percent).

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Fannie Mae Expects Low Rates to hold through 2014

Thanks to
problems in Europe and the slowing of both the US and Chinese economies,
consumer attitudes have plateaued after several months of improvement early in
the year.  Fannie Mae’s Economic Forecast
for June, released Tuesday, said that the lull in employment gains is
particularly troubling and while the probability of a renewed recession has not
risen, the risks to growth have shifted to the side of slower growth.

Prospects for
economic growth have been revised down to 1.9 percent annualized from an
earlier estimate of 2.2 percent as a result of less inventory buildup and
smaller consumer and government spending. 
Lower inventories, however, will be positive going forward as they will
not present a drag on growth.

Fannie Mae’s
economists see a brightening housing picture saying that after the record lows
in single family home sales and housing starts last year the housing sector
appeared to be turning the corner in the first quarter; the slow pace of new
construction and delays in foreclosures have combined to bring about a more balanced
housing market.  Indicators showed some
loss of momentum late in the quarter, possibly because unseasonably warm weather
pulled some activity forward but April data showed improvement in sales and
starts so the housing recovery seems to be back on track.  

Despite
positive news on home prices, with many measures showing prices firming and
distressed sales shares declining, Fannie Mae projects further declines in
prices through the end of the year.

Lower
mortgage rates
have boosted interest in refinancing, with mortgage applications
for refinancing rising to the highest level since February-although activity is
still below the levels seen during the fall of 2010.  One goal of refinancing programs has been to
boost economic activity but household desire to deleverage and the inability to
extract equity from underwater homes has somewhat limited the stimulative
effects of refinancing although it has strengthened household finances longer
term.

The
multi-family construction sector has improved faster than the single-family
segment, with year-to-date building activity running more than 40 percent ahead
of last year’s activity. The sector should continue to perform well this year,
as fundamentals continue to improve, with rising rents and net absorption far
outpacing completions.

The
continued flight to quality prompted by the European situation has kept
interest rates low and Fannie Mae expects them to remain low and a support to
the housing industry through the year.

Fannie Mae says they expect Operation
Twist to be completed at the end of June as planned and that the target Fed
funds rate will remain unchanged until at least late 2014.  While additional easing in on the table it
will likely require significant deterioration in the economy before it is
implemented and the company does not expect an asset purchase program.

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Harvard’s State of Housing Report Says Home Construction Now Adding to GDP

Steadier job growth and improving
consumer confidence are now boosting home sales and home prices may finally
find a bottom this year according to the latest State of the Nation’s Housing report released this morning.  The report, produced by the Joint Center for
Housing Studies of Harvard University, says further that stronger home sales
should pave the way for a pick-up in single-family construction over the rest
of 2012.

Conditions, however, will keep this
recovery “subdued.”  The backlog of
nearly 2 million loans in foreclosure means that distressed sales will remain
elevated and will keep a downward pressure on prices and another 11.1 million
homeowners are underwater on their mortgages, dampening both sales of new homes
and investment in existing units.  While
vacancies have been declining the report notes, they still remain well above
normal, holding down demand for new construction in many markets.

What the for-sale market needs most, the
authors say is a sustained increase in employment.  This might in turn bring household formation
back to normal levels.  The depressed
pace of homebuilding has been a major factor in hiring and pulled down growth
in the gross domestic product (GDP) from 2006 to 2010.  Since the beginning of 2011, however, both home
construction and home improvement spending have made a positive contribution to
GDP in four out of five quarters.

Another bright spot is the rental market;
the number of renters surged by 5.1 million over the decade of the 2000s, the
largest decade-long increase in the postwar era.  This reflects not only growth in those
populations which are historically prone to rent – the young, minority, and low
income households, but foreclosures have driven others into the rental market.

Still the rental market has not fully
benefited from the large echo-boom generation because the recession has forced
a lot of young people to put off leaving home which usually means a move into
rental housing.  Once the economy
improves the echo-boomers should give the market a significant lift.

The rising demand for rentals has
sparked rent increases in many parts of the country; 38 of the 64 markets
tracked by MPF research had rent increases that outstripped inflation and all
but one of the remainder (Las Vegas) had at least a nominal increase in
2011.  Even in some cities hard hit by
foreclosures and the economy in general (Detroit, Cleveland) rents are rising.

The increase in rents has, in turn,
helped to stabilize the multifamily property market where prices are were
reported up by 10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 from one year earlier
and multifamily construction starts more than doubled from its trough to a
225,000 unit annual rate, providing a welcome boost to construction.

Homeownership continues to slide,
dipping to 66.1 percent in 2011 from 66.8 percent a year earlier and 69 percent
at its peak in 2004, but it is still higher than in the period from 1980 into
the early 1990s.  Rates for older
households continue to climb as the population ages, but the homeownership rate
for younger households will probably continue to decline over the next few
years.

The number of new homes added to the
housing stock in the 2002-2011 period was lower than in any other ten year span
since the early 1970s so it is hard to argue that overbuilding is dragging down
the market.  The excess housing supply is
largely a reflection of the slowdown in housing growth which resulted from the
decline in the rate at which younger people are forming households as noted above
and also because of a sharp drop in immigration.  But over the longer run, the growth and aging
of the current population should support the addition of about 1.0 million new
households per year for the next ten years. 
Immigration remains an unknown in this calculation, but even assuming
net inflows are half what was predicted by the U.S. Census in 2008, household
growth should average 1.18 million per year in 2010-2020.

The recession took a toll on household
income but did little to lessen the burden of housing costs.  Between 2007 and 2010 the number of
households paying more than half of their income for housing rose by 2.3
million to 20.2 million.  While renters
accounted for the vast majority of the increase, the number of severely
cost-burdened owners also rose more than 350,000 as many households took on
expensive mortgages they were later unable to refinance.  In addition, this recent increase is on top
of an increase in cost burdened households of 4.1 million in 2001-2007.

These cost burdened families face a big challenge.  Among families with children in the bottom
expenditure quartile of income and with the most severe housing cost burden,
only about three-fifths of the amount is spent on food, half as much on
clothes, and two-fifth on healthcare as is spent by families living in
affordable housing.

The Joint Center said there are few
prospects for a meaningful reduction in this cost burden
.  Funding for the federal Housing Choice Voucher
Program has increased only modestly since the recession and the only
significant growth in subsidized rental housing is through the Low Income
Housing Tax Credit which continues to add about 100,000 affordable units each
year.  If the current calls for reducing
domestic spending are realized “the nation would move even further away from
its longstanding goal of ensuring decent, affordable housing for all
Americans.”

On the road ahead, with moderate gains
in multifamily and single family construction and improving sales of existing
homes, housing should be a stronger contributor to economic growth than it has been
in years
.  The rental market is back on
track, but the owner occupied market still faces the same pressures it has for
years; distressed properties which hold down prices and owners who are unable
to sell because they are underwater. 

Actions such as changes in the Home
Affordable Modification Program, the servicing settlement, and more rapid
disposition of properties where homeownership cannot be maintained are helping
the market.  However, the greatest
potential for recovery of the for-sale market is its historic
affordability.  The dive in home prices
and record low mortgages rates make homebuying more attractive than it has been
in years but the limited availability of financing that meets the needs of many
borrowers, strict underwriting guidelines, and rising fees are inhibiting
sales. “With key mortgage lending regulations still undefined, it remains to be
seen to what extent and under what terms lenders will make credit available to
lower income and lower-wealth borrowers.”

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