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Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

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August 31, 2015

Saving on Home Insurance (en Español y Ingles)

By David Reiss

Woman with alarm system

Univision quoted me in 5 Ways to Save on Your Home Insurance (the article is in Spanish). It opens,

The cost of homeowners insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars depending on various factors. If you are looking to obtain a discount keep in mind these five tips when you purchase a policy.

1. Increase your deductible. Even though it is common for homeowners to have a deductible of $500 in their insurance policy, raising it to $1,000 could represent a significant reduction in the premium, says David Reiss, Professor of Law at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

Extra tip:  You should have an emergency fund to cover any additional expenses which may be incurred. Use this fund instead of putting in a claim to your insurance, since this can increase your rate.

August 31, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

August 31, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

August 28, 2015

Underwriting Sustainable Homeownership

By David Reiss

Mesa-Mesa Journal-Tribune FHA Demonstration Home-1925" by Marine 69-71

I have posted Underwriting Sustainable Homeownership: The Federal Housing Administration and the Low Down Payment Loan to SSRN (and to BePress). It is forthcoming in the Georgia Law Review. The abstract reads,

The United States Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”) has been a versatile tool of government since it was created during the Great Depression. The FHA was created in large part to inject liquidity into a moribund mortgage market. It succeeded wonderfully, with rapid growth during the late 1930s. The federal government repositioned it a number of times over the following decades to achieve a variety of additional social goals. These goals included supporting civilian mobilization during World War II; helping veterans returning from the War; stabilizing urban housing markets during the 1960s; and expanding minority homeownership rates during the 1990s. It achieved success with some of its goals and had a terrible record with others. More recently, the FHA is in the worst financial shape it has ever been in.

Today’s FHA suffers from many of the same unrealistic underwriting assumptions that have done in so many other lenders during the 2000s. It has also been harmed, like other lenders, by a housing market as bad as any seen since the Great Depression. As a result, the federal government recently announced the first bailout of the FHA in its history. At the same time that it has faced these financial challenges, the FHA has also come under attack for the poor execution of some of its policies to expand homeownership. Leading commentators have called for the federal government to stop using the FHA to do anything other than provide liquidity to the low end of the mortgage market. These critics rely on a couple of examples of programs that were clearly failures but they do not address the FHA’s long history of undertaking comparable initiatives. This article takes the long view and demonstrates that the FHA has a history of successfully undertaking new homeownership programs. At the same time, the article identifies flaws in the FHA model that should be addressed in order to prevent them from occurring if the FHA were to undertake similar initiatives in the future.

In order to demonstrate this, the article first sets forth the dominant critique of the FHA. Relying on often overlooked primary sources, it then sets forth a history of the FHA and charts its constantly changing roles in the housing finance sector. In order to give a more detailed picture of the federal government’s role in housing finance, the article also incorporates the scholarly literature regarding (i) the intersection of race and housing policy and (ii) the economics and finance literature regarding the role that down payments play in the appropriate underwriting of mortgages for low- and moderate-income households. The article concludes that the FHA can responsibly address objectives other than the provision of liquidity to the residential mortgage market. It further proposes that FHA homeownership programs for low- and moderate-income families should be required to balance access to credit with households’ ability to make their mortgage payments over the long term. Such a proposal will ensure that the FHA extends credit responsibly to low- and moderate-income households while minimizing the likelihood of future bailouts.

August 28, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Shea Cunningham

  • According to the Family Outcomes Study conducted by HUD, Housing Choice Vouchers are critical in families maintaining housing. Children from homeless families that receive vouchers “are less likely to miss school, and they experience lower rates of hunger and domestic violence.”
  • The Office of the Inspector General for HUD released report, “Overincome Families Residing in Public Housing”, which finds that 1.1 million families currently living in public housing units have incomes that exceed the threshold, showing extreme examples.
  • The Census Bureau released an edition of “Facts for Features” comparing the New Orleans area prior to Hurricane Katrina and now, including number of housing units, business establishments, employment, etc.

August 28, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

August 27, 2015

Shaking up the Title Industry

By David Reiss

Deeds

The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued an opinion in Edwards v. The First American Corporation et al., No. 13-555542 (Aug. 24, 2015) that may shake up how the title insurance industry works. As the court notes,

The national title insurance industry is highly concentrated, with most states dominated by two or three large title insurance companies. See U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, Title Insurance: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of the Title Industry and Better Protect Consumers 3 (Apr. 2007). A “factor that raises questions about the existence of price competition is that title agents market to those from whom they get consumer referrals, and not to consumers themselves, creating potential conflicts of interest where the referrals could be made in the best interest of the referrer and not the consumer.” Id. Kickbacks paid by the title insurance companies to those making referrals lead to higher costs of real estate settlement services, which are passed on to consumers without any corresponding benefits. (9)

The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) is intended to eliminate illegal kickbacks in the real estate industry. In this case, the 9th Circuit has reversed the District Court’s denial of class certification in a case in which home buyers alleged that First American engaged in a scheme of paying title agencies for referring title insurance business to First American in violation of RESPA. The reversal does not get to the merits of the underlying claims, but it does open up a can of worms for title companies.

The title industry is not only highly concentrated but it is also highly profitable. In some jurisdictions like NY its prices are set by regulation at rates that greatly exceed the actuarial risks they face. Regulators like the NYS Department of Financial Services have begun to pay more attention to the title insurance industry. This is a welcome development, given that title insurance is one of the most expensive closing costs a homeowner faces when buying a home or refinancing a mortgage.

August 27, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Round-Up

By Serenna McCloud

  • Affordable Rental Housing A.C.T.I.O.N. (A Call to Invest in Our Neighborhooods) has released both a National Fact Sheet and State specific Fact Sheets on the impact of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Impact (LIHTC), which it characterizes the LIHTC as “the most effective affordable housing production tool.”  The National Fact sheet indicates among other things that 2,798,776 units were developed or preserved via the LIHTC.  The New York State Fact Sheet, in particular, indicates that 2,357,234 New York households pay more than half of their income in rent (a data point which is included for all states).
  • The New York Federal Reserve’s interactive Home Price Index Tool maps overall changes in home prices across localities of the United States as compared to the previous month – the data is current from June 2007 through June 2015.
  • The Urban Institute has published, Charted: How Housing Policy Impacts Inequality in which it charted a correlation between housing benefits and income inequality.  Their findings indicate that when these benefits go to the well of in the form of the mortgage interest deduction and real estate tax deduction inequality increases.  On the other hand, federal housing benefits to the poor decrease inequality.

August 27, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments

August 26, 2015

Principal-ed Reduction

By David Reiss

Torn Dollar

 

The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has issued a report, Principal Reduction and the GSEs: The Moment for a Big Impact Has Passed. It opens,

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) prohibits Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs) from unilaterally reducing the principal balance of loans that they guarantee, known as principal reduction. When director Ed DeMarco established the prohibition, he was concerned that reducing principal would cost the GSEs too much, not only in setting up the systems required to implement it, but also— and to him more important — in encouraging borrowers to default in order to receive the benefit. DeMarco’s position generated significant controversy, as advocates viewed principal reduction as a critical tool for reducing borrower distress and pointed out that the program the Obama administration had put forward to provide the relief had largely eliminated the cost to the GSEs, including the moral hazard. We believe that at the time the advocates had the better side of the argument.

The FHFA is now revisiting that prohibition, though in a very different economic environment than the one faced by Director DeMarco. Home prices are up 35.4 percent since the trough in 2011, adding $5 trillion in home equity and reducing the number of underwater homeowners from a peak of 25 percent to 10 percent. This means that far fewer borrowers would likely benefit under a GSE principal reduction program today. (1, footnote omitted)

Principal reduction was highly disfavored at the start of the financial crisis as it was perceived as a sort of giveaway to irresponsible borrowers. Some academics have disputed this characterization, but it probably remains a political reality.

In any event, I think this report has the analysis of the current situation right — the time for principal reduction has passed. But it is worth considering the conditions under which it might be appropriate in the future (for that next crisis, or the one after that). The authors make four  assumptions for a politically feasible principal reduction program:

  1. borrowers must be delinquent at the time the program is announced, in order to avoid the moral hazard of encouraging borrowers to default;
  2. borrowers must be underwater;
  3. the house must be owner-occupied; and
  4. the principal reduction is in the economic interest of Fannie and Freddie.

It is worth noting that during the Great Depression, the federal government figured out ways to reduce the burden of rapidly dropping house prices on lenders and borrowers alike without resorting to principal reduction much. Borrowers benefited from longer repayment terms and lower interest rates. Below-market interest rates are similar to principal reduction because they also reduce monthly costs for borrowers. They are also politically more feasible. It would be great to have a Plan B stored away at the FHFA, the FHA and the VA that outlines a systematic response to a nation-wide drop in housing prices. It could involve principal reduction but it does not need to.

August 26, 2015 | Permalink | No Comments