Pending Home Sales Decline in December, Remain Above a Year Ago

Pending home sales fell off of the
19-month high reached in November according to figures released on Wednesday by
the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), but were still higher than one
year ago.  NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index
(PHSI) dropped from 100.1 in November to 96.6 in December, a decline of 3.5 percent.  December pending home sales were still 5.6
percent above the December 2010 index of 91.5.

The PHSI is a measure of signed
sales contracts for home purchases where the transaction has not closed.  It is considered a forward indicator as the
sale is usually finalized within one or two months of contract signing.  An index
of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the trend line remains
positive.  “Even with a modest decline, the preceding two months of
contract activity are the highest in the past four years outside of the
homebuyer tax credit period,” he said.  “Contract failures remain an
issue, reported by one-third of Realtors® over the past few months,
but home buyers are not giving up.”

Yun said some
buyers successfully complete the sale after a contract delay, while others stay
in the market after a contract failure and make another offer.  “Housing
affordability conditions are too good to pass up,” he said.  “Our hope is
lending conditions will gradually improve with sustained increases in closed
existing-home sales.”

On a regional
basis results were mixed with three regions showing increases on a year to year
basis but only one increasing during the December.

Pending Home Sales by Region

Region

Index in

December

Chg Nov to
Dec.

(%)

Chg Dec.
2010 to

Dec. 2011
(%)

Northeast

74.7

-3.1

-0.8

Midwest

95.3

+4.0

+13.3

South

101.1

-2.6

+4.9

West

107.9

-11.0

+3.7

U.S.

96.6

-3.5

+5.6

NAR also issued an economic forecast which predicts a healthy growth in
both real and nominal GPD over the next two years with real GDP growing in a historically
normal range of around 3 percent and the unemployment rate falling under 8
percent by 2013. 

Housing starts are expected to improve to around 750,000 in 2012 and
reach a million the next year – both figures well below the historically
typical 1.5 million.  Housing sales, both
new and existing, will remain relatively flat with new home sales reaching a
half million by the end of 2013.  
Existing home sales are estimated to have totaled 4.26 million in 2011
and will rise gradually to 4.45 million and 4.62 million in 2012 and 2013
respectively. 

Inventories are not projected into the future, but the supply of existing
homes is trending down and is now around 2.25 million.  The inventory of new homes has declined to a
nearly negligible level, however given the pace of sales, both inventories
represent about a six month supply.

NAR expects
median prices of both new and existing homes to rise only slightly from current
levels of$223,400 and $166,100 during 2012 but will rise more rapidly during
2013 to a median level of $235,800 and $172,600 by year end.

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DeMarco Outlines Justification against GSE Principal Reduction

Acting Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)
Director Edward J. DeMarco responded Friday to a request from 16 House
Democrats to explain the statutory authority that DeMarco has claimed prohibits
FHFA from offering principal reduction as part of loan modifications on loans
it owns or guarantees.  The request was
made last November after DeMarco told the House Committee on Oversight and
Government Reform that his agency had concluded that “the use of principal reduction within the context of a loan
modification is not going to be the least-cost approach for the taxpayer.”  When a committee member pointed out that several
banks are already implementing principal reduction programs in an attempt to
help delinquent or underwater homeowners and citing specific examples, DeMarco said “I believe that the decisions that we’ve made with regard
to principal forgiveness are consistent with our statutory mandate,” and committed
to providing documentation of that statutory authority to the Committee.

In
a letter sent to the Committee’s ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) DeMarco laid
out the statutory requirements as originating in three congressional mandates;
first FHFA’s role as conservator and regulator of the government sponsored
enterprises (GSEs) which requires it to preserve and conserve the assets and
properties of the GSEs; second, maintaining the GSE’s pre-conservatorship missions
and obligations to maintain liquidity in the housing market; and third, under
the Emergency Economic  Stabilization Act
of 2008 (EESA), FHFAs statutory responsibility to maximize assistance to
homeowners to minimize foreclosure while considering the net present value
(NPV) of any action to prevent foreclosures.

The focus of the letter, however, is not
the statutory framework but rather why FHFA has decided that principal
forgiveness does not meet its core responsibility within that framework to
preserve and conserve the assets of the GSEs.

DeMarco’s rationale relies on an internal
analysis provided to him in December 2010 and updated in June 2011 which shows
that the use of principal reduction as a loss mitigation measure for GSE loans
under with the Making Home Affordable (HAMP) program or the FHA Short Refi
program would cost the Enterprises more than the benefits derived and
recommended that, instead the GSEs should more aggressively pursue propriety
loan modifications
that reduce the interest rate, extend the mortgage term, and
provide for substantial principal forbearance and promote HARP refinance
transactions for borrowers who are current on their mortgages but underwater in
respect to their equity. 

The GSEs collectively guarantee or hold
about 30 million loans and, using the FHFA Home Price Index to estimate home
values it appears that less than two million of these loans are secured by
properties valued at less than the outstanding debt; i.e. underwater.  Of these loans, more than half are performing
and about one-half million are severely delinquent or in foreclosure.  The table below clearly shows that high LTV
loans are only a small proportion of the GSE’s loans and that most of the loans
are either current or severely delinquent.

Using the Treasury HAMP NPV model the
FHFA study team compared the economic effectiveness of forgiving principal down
to a mark-to-market LTV (MTMLTV) level of 115 percent versus forbearance of the
same amount of principal for all loans with a MTMLTV greater than 115 percent.  The model suggested no better result from principal
reduction than from forbearance and showed the latter as slightly more
effective in reducing GSE losses.  The
team also evaluated the accounting and operational implications of the
principal reduction to measure those costs against benefits to borrowers.  The costs were found to include, in addition
to the immediate losses, the costs of modifying technology, providing training
to servicers, and the opportunity cost of diverting attention away from other
loss mitigation activities.

Principal forbearance, in
contrast, requires no systems changes and is a common approach in government
credit programs, including FHA. The borrower is offered changes to the loan
term and rate as well as a deferral of principal, which has the same effect on
the borrower’s monthly payment as principal reduction, but provides the investor
with potential recovery. The forborne principal is paid in full or part upon
sale of the property or payoff of the loan. This traditional approach would
minimize the Enterprise losses and treat GSE borrowers in a manner that is
consistent with other government programs.

Given the large portion of the
high LTV borrowers that are current on their mortgages, a principal reduction
program for this segment, such as the FHA Short Refi program, simply transfers
performing GSE borrowers over to FHA, at a cost to the GSEs. A less costly
approach for the Enterprises to assist these borrowers is to provide a GSE
refinance alternative, such as HARP. Clearly, the HARP program has been
underutilized to date, suggesting that the program features should be revisited
to remove barriers to entry wherever possible.

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Study: No Additional Restrictions on QRM Needed

The proposed down payment standards
for new mortgages might push 60 percent of potential borrowers into high-cost
loans or out of the housing market altogether according to a paper released
today by the Center for Responsible Lending.  The paper,
Balancing Risk and Access:  Underwriting
Standards for Qualified Residential Mortgages
, is the result of a study to
weigh the effects of proposed underwriting guidelines for qualified residential
mortgages (QRM)
, mortgages that are exempt from the risk retention requirements
laid out in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

The Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan
research and policy organization with a stated mission of “protecting
homeownership and family wealth by working to eliminate abusive financial
practices” has, along with other consumer and industry groups, raised concerns
about a potential disproportionate impact of restrictive QRM guidelines on
low-income, low-wealth, minority and other households traditionally underserved
by the mainstream mortgage market.  The
study examines the way different QRM guidelines may affect access to mortgage
credit and loan performance and estimates the additional impacts on defaults
resulting from guidelines above and beyond QM product requirements.

The researchers, Roberto G. Quercia,
University of North Carolina Center for Community Capital, Lei Ding, Wayne
State University, and Carolina Reid, Center for Responsible Lending used
datasets from Lender Processing Services (collected from servicers) and
Blackbox (data from loans in private label securities collected from investor
pools.)  They identified from among 19
million loans originated between 2000 and 2008 the 10.9 million that would meet
the current QRM guidelines, i.e. loans with full documentation that have no
negative amortization, interest only, balloon, or prepayment penalties.  Adjustable rate mortgages must have fixed
terms of at least five years and no loans over 30 years duration. 

The default rate for the universe of
loans was 11 percent, for prime conventional loans, 7.7 percent, and for loans
(regardless of type) that would have met the QM product feature limits, 5.8
percent.  In other words, the research “suggests
that the QM loan term restrictions on their own would curtail the risky lending
that occurred during the subprime boom and lead to substantially lower
foreclosure rates without overly restricting access to credit.”

The next step was to apply some of
the suggested additional criteria for QRM to the loans; a minimum down payment
of 20 percent, a range of higher FICO scores, and lower debt to income (DTI)
ratios.  The goal was to determine the
benefit of each as measured by an improvement in default rates without an undo reduction
in borrowers able to qualify for an affordable loan.

When various permutations of
loan-to-value (LTV), FICO scores, and DTI ratios were applied to the loans lower
default rates were achieved.  These
improvements, however, were accompanied by the exclusion of a larger share of
loans.  As Figure 4 shows, some of the restrictions
resulted in the exclusion of as many as 70 percent of loans.   

To quantify this, the authors
developed two additional measures.  The
first, a benefit ratio, compares the percent reduction in the number of
defaults to the percent reduction in the number of borrowers who would have
access to QRM loans with the proposed guidelines.  For example, an underwriting restriction that
resulted in a 50 percent reduction in foreclosures while excluding only 10
percent of borrowers would have a higher benefit ratio than one with the same
reduction in foreclosures that excluded 20 percent of borrowers.


One finding was that LTVs of 80 or
90 percent resulted in particularly poor outcomes while an LTV of 97 percent
had added benefits of reduced defaults relative to borrower access.  This suggests that even a very modest down payment
may play an important role in protecting against default while excluding a
smaller share of borrowers than would a higher down payment requirement.

Since underwriting is unlikely to
impose restrictions in isolation, the study analyzed a combination of possible
QRM restrictions.  They found that the
strictest guidelines produced the worst outcomes and that none of the patterns
of proposed restrictions performed as well as the QM restrictions on their own.

The second measure, an exclusion
ratio, looks at the number of performing loans a certain threshold would
exclude to prevent one default.  In this
measure, the number of excluded loans can be viewed as a proxy for the number
of “creditworthy” borrowers who would be excluded from the QRM market.

Imposing 80 percent LTV requirements
on the universe of QM loans would exclude 10 loans from the QRM market to
prevent one additional default.  Adding
to this a FICO above 690 and 30 percent DTI ratio would exclude 12 creditworthy
borrowers to prevent one default.

The current QRM criteria are more
restrictive for rate-term and cash-out refinancing than for purchase
loans.  The study found that the QM
product restrictions are the most effective in balancing the demand between reducing
defaults and ensuring access to credit.

The study also found that imposing
additional LTV, DTI, and FICO underwriting requirements
on QM loans had
disproportionate effects on low-income borrowers and borrowers of color.  Just over 75 percent of African-American
borrowers and 70 percent of Latino borrowers would not qualify for a 20 percent
down QRM mortgage and significant racial and ethnic disparities are evident for
FICO requirements as well.  At FICO
scores above 690, 42 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of Latino
borrowers would be excluded against 22 percent of white and 25 percent of Asian
households.  At the most restrictive
combined thresholds (80 percent LTV, FICO above 690, DTI of 30 percent) approximately
85 percent of creditworthy borrowers would not qualify with African American
and Latino disqualifications each above 90 percent.

The Center says in conclusion that
its research provides “compelling evidence that the QM product loan guidelines
on their own would curtail the risky lending that occurred during the subprime
boom and lead to substantially lower foreclosure rates, while not overly
restricting access to credit.”

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HUD Provides $54 Million to Help Missouri Recover from Last Year’s Severe Storms

WASHINGTON – U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan today allocated $400 million in emergency aid to help communities in eight states to recover from presidentially declared natural disasters in 2011.

HUD Provides $79 Million to Help North Dakota Recover From Last Year’s Devastating Floods

WASHINGTON – U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan today allocated $79.3 million in emergency aid to help North Dakota communities recover from last year’s devastating flooding.