First-Time Homebuyers, You’re Okay

Couple Looking at Home

Saty Patrabansh of the Office of Policy Analysis and Research at the Federal Housing Finance Agency has posted a working paper, The Marginal Effect of First-Time Homebuyer Status on Mortgage Default and Prepayment.

While this is a dry read, it yields a pretty important insight for first-time homebuyers: you’re okay, just the way you are! The abstract reads,

This paper examines the loan performance of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac first-time homebuyer mortgages originated from 1996 to 2012. First-time homebuyer mortgages generally perform worse than repeat homebuyer mortgages. But first-time homebuyers are younger and have lower credit scores, home equity, and income than repeat homebuyers, and therefore are comparatively less likely to withstand financial stress or take advantage of financial innovations available in the market. The distributional make-up of first-time homebuyers is different than that of repeat homebuyers in terms of many borrower, loan, and property characteristics that can be determined at the time of loan origination. Once these distributional differences are accounted for in an econometric model, there is virtually no difference between the average first-time and repeat homebuyers in their probabilities of mortgage default. Hence, the difference between the first-time and repeat homebuyer mortgage defaults can be attributed to the difference in the distributional make-up of the two groups and not to the premise that first-time homebuyers are an inherently riskier group. However, there appears to be an inherent difference in the prepayment probabilities of first-time and repeat homebuyers holding borrower, loan, and property characteristics constant. First-time homebuyers are less likely to prepay their mortgages compared to repeat homebuyers even after accounting for the distributional make-up of the two groups using information known at the time of loan origination.

So, just to be clear, being a first-time homebuyer is not inherently risky. Rather, the risks arising from transactions involving first-time homebuyers are the same as those involving repeat homebuyers:  loan characteristics, property characteristics and other borrower characteristics.

Optimizing Mortgage Availability

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The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report, Mortgage Reforms: Actions Needed to Help Assess Effects of New Regulations. The GAO did this study to predict the effects of the Qualified Mortgage (QM) and Qualified Residential Mortgage (QRM) regulations. The GAO found

Federal agency officials, market participants, and observers estimated that the qualified mortgage (QM) and qualified residential mortgage (QRM) regulations would have limited initial effects because most loans originated in recent years largely conformed with QM criteria.

  • The QM regulations, which address lenders’ responsibilities to determine a borrower’s ability to repay a loan, set forth standards that include prohibitions on risky loan features (such as interest-only or balloon payments) and limits on points and fees. Lenders that originate QM loans receive certain liability protections.
  • Securities collateralized exclusively by residential mortgages that are “qualified residential mortgages” are exempt from risk-retention requirements. The QRM regulations align the QRM definition with QM; thus, securities collateralized solely by QM loans are not subject to risk-retention requirements.

The analyses GAO reviewed estimated limited effects on the availability of mortgages for most borrowers and that any cost increases (for borrowers, lenders, and investors) would mostly stem from litigation and compliance issues. According to agency officials and observers, the QRM regulations were unlikely to have a significant initial effect on the availability or securitization of mortgages in the current market, largely because the majority of loans originated were expected to be QM loans. However, questions remain about the size and viability of the secondary market for non-QRM-backed securities.

This last bit — questions about the non-QRM-backed market — is very important.

Some consumer advocates believe that there should not be any non-QRM mortgages. I disagree. There should be some sort of market for mortgages that do not comply with the strict (and, in the main, beneficial) QRM limitations.

Some homeowners will not be eligible for a plain vanilla QM/QRM mortgage but could still handle a mortgage responsibly. The mortgage markets would not be healthy without some kind of non-QRM-backed securities market for those consumers.

So far, that non-QRM market has been very small, smaller than expected. Regulators should continue to study the effects of the new mortgage regulations to ensure that they incentivize making the socially optimal amount of non-QRM mortgage credit available to homeowners.

Desvinculado y Desigual = Separate and Unequal

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Justin Steil, Jorge De la Roca and Ingrid Gould Ellen, researchers affiliated to the NYU Furman Center, have published Desvinculado y Desigual [Separate and Unequal]: Is Segregation Harmful to Latinos? The authors find that their research on this topic “suggests that segregation may have as negative effects for Latinos as it does for African Americans and that persistent Latino-white segregation is of serious concern as the nation’s metropolitan areas continue to become more diverse.” (74)

More specifically, their research finds that

segregation continues to be associated with significant reductions in educational attainment and labor market success for African Americans, and that the associations between segregation and outcomes for Latinos are at least as large as those for African Americans. For native-born African American and Latino young adults between the ages of 20 and 30, increases in metropolitan-area segregation are associated with significant reductions in the likelihood of high school and college graduation, with lower earnings and employment rates, and with an increase in single motherhood.

These findings are somewhat unanticipated given the long history of intense black-white segregation and the systematic disinvestment in black neighborhoods through much of the last century, when compared to the historically more moderate levels of Latino-white segregation. These findings raise the question of which mechanisms may be at play to generate these differences.

One crucial mechanism seems to be the levels of neighborhood human capital to which whites, Latinos, and African Americans are exposed; they are consistent with the negative associations for both blacks and Latinos and with the differences in the magnitude of the association between them. The white-Latino gap in neighborhood exposure to human capital increases dramatically as levels of segregation increase.

The significance of neighborhood levels of human capital is consistent with existing research on the effects of segregation for African Americans and for immigrants. (73, citations omitted)

This is an understudied and important topic, so it is great that the authors have begun to explore it. They identify a number of research questions that others can take up. Let’s hope some do.

From Owners to Renters

Frank Nothaft

Frank Nothaft

CoreLogic’s July issue of The MarketPulse has in interesting piece by Frank Nothaft, Rental Remains Robust (registration required). It opens,

A vibrant rental market has been an outgrowth of the Great Recession and housing market crash. Apartment vacancy rates are down to their lowest levels since the 1980s, rental apartment construction is the most robust in more than 25 years, rents are up, and apartment building values are at or above their prior peaks. But the rental market is more than just apartments in high-rise buildings.

Apartments in buildings with five or more residences account for 42 percent of the U.S. rental stock. Additionally, two-to-four-family housing units comprise an additional 18 percent of the rental stock, and one-family homes make up the remaining 40 percent.

The foreclosure crisis resulted in a large number of homes being acquired by investors and turned into rentals.  Between 2006 and 2013, three million single-family detached houses were added to the nation’s rental stock, an increase of 32 percent. The increase in the single-family rental stock has been geographically broad based, but has impacted some markets more than others.

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While the growth in the rental stock has been large, so has been the demand. Some of the households seeking rental houses were displaced through foreclosure. Others were millennials who had begun or were planning families, but were unable or unwilling to buy. (1-2, footnotes omitted)

Nothaft’s focus is on the investment outlook for rental housing, but I find that his summary has a lot to offer the housing policy world as well. He describes a large change in the balance between the rental and homeowner housing stock, one that has had an outsized effect on certain communities and certain generations.

Housing policy commentators generally feel that the federal government provides way too much support to homeowners (mostly through the tax code) and not enough to renters. Perhaps this demographic shift will spur politicians to rethink that balance. Renters should not be treated like second class citizens.

This Is What Bad Faith Looks Like

Silas Barnaby

A New York judge ruled in Federal National Mortgage Assoc. v. Singer, 2015 NY Slip Op. 51038(U) (July 15, 2015 Sup. Ct., New York County) (Moulton, J.) (unpublished opinion), that two lenders will forfeit more $100,000 in interest payments on two mortgages because they did not act in good faith in negotiating a mortgage modification, as required by New York law. There is a lot of choice language in the opinion, but it is useful to read the judge’s summary of what the borrowers went through in trying to get the modification.

The judge disagreed with the lenders’ “positive assessment of the negotiations” as it was “belied” by the facts:

Fannie Mae delayed filing of Action No. 1 (filed on June 14, 2011) 17 and 1/2 months after the date of default. Counsel then delayed filing the RJI [Request for Judicial Intervention] for another three months after the answer was filed. The first settlement conference, scheduled on March 14, 2012, had to be rescheduled to May 2, 2012 due to Fannie Mae’s non-appearance, a one and one-half month delay. It took Fannie Mae and its counsel another five and 1/2 months to provide an explanation for why the two mortgages could not be merged or consolidated, and only after wasting time at two conferences in June and July attended by attorneys without knowledge of the case or settlement authority and only after my court attorney probed for answers. Thereafter, the Singers submitted the requested documentation for a loan modification of the 400-Mtge., despite confusing and conflicting requests by the Rosicki firm, by August 3, 2012. When that application became “stale,” the court directed the Singers to update the information and, finally, after another two-month delay, Seterus offered the Singers a trial modification plan on or about October 11, 2012. When the Singers received the permanent loan modification papers from Seterus in January 2013, they objected to the payment of $63,632.21 in accrued interest and the $5,605.23 accrued interest. It took many months for Seterus to admit its mistake on the escrow deficiency, and only after much prodding by the court for status updates. Seterus did not offer the Singers a new loan modification agreement until the very end of October 2013 — a whopping nine-month delay. Finally, it took Fannie Mae’s counsel another five months to reject the Singers’ January 1, 2014 counteroffer to pay $18,000 of the accrued interest.

Accordingly, the court holds that Fannie Mae and/or its counsel have acted in bad faith and have unreasonably delayed a resolution of this foreclosure action. As a result, interest should be tolled on the note and mortgage in the amount over and above 2% annually, for the period from September 30, 2011 (one month after Singers’ filing of their answer in Action No. 1) through the date of this Decision and Order. (10-11, footnotes omitted)

It is hard to really get how crazy the modification process can be in the abstract, so sitting with facts like these is a useful exercise. And this seems like the right result on these facts.

I have blogged before about the Kafkaesque struggles that borrowers face. Some deny that lenders behave this badly in general but the cases and the large scale settlements “belie” this too. What will it take to give borrowers a consistent and reasonable experience with mortgage modifications?

Money on Airbnb

Three's_Company_roommates_1977

I was quoted in Money magazine in an article about Airbnb, Thinking About Renting a Room to Travelers? Here’s What You Need to Know. The article reads, in part,

Of all the categories shaken up by the sharing economy, few are as transformed as lodging. For travelers, ditching the hotel for Airbnb can be a more affordable way to go. And on the flip side, offering your own home or apartment to vacationers can earn you cash—$100 to $150 a night on average, according to Airbnb, much more in some popular destinations.

That can be fairly easy money. Unless something goes wrong, in which case it can be a disaster. You need to protect yourself from legal and financial risks. Here’s what home sharers should know.

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Play It Safe

Don’t just rely on the home-sharing site’s standard insurance plan, because the coverage is generally too ambiguous, says David Reiss, research director for the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. Your existing homeowners policy may cover you for a single rental of less than two weeks, but call to ask.

More than that and you’ll need to switch to a commercial policy, which covers paying guests and typically costs an additional $500 per year, says Scott Wolf of CBIZ Property & Casualty.

Or try home swapping. For a small annual fee, sites such as HomeLink and HomeExchange connect people who want to visit each other’s location; because no money changes hands, you may avoid tax and liability issues. Still, check with your insurer—and of course, you need to be extremely cautious about who you let into your house. As a rule, none of these sites conducts background checks, so do your own by Googling guests and searching their social media accounts.

“Five years from now, the laws and the insurance policies will have caught up with the sharing economy,” Reiss predicts. “For now, though, it boils down to how risk averse you are.”

Showdown at the Dakota

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Jeremy Cohen, a partner with Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, and I discussed a lawsuit brought by a New York City co-op owner who says he’s been unable to move into his apartment at the famed Dakota coop for 16 years.

We spoke with June Grasso on Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg Law” show. The podcast of the show is here and the complaint in the case is here. A Bloomberg news story summarizes the allegations:

Robert Siegel, chief executive officer of Metropole Realty Advisors Inc., said in his lawsuit that he paid $2.23 million in 1999 for an apartment at the Dakota and has never spent a night there because the board refused to approve his renovation plans and took part of his unit as storage space for the building. He’s seeking $55 million in damages and a court order allowing him to make the renovations.

“These bad-faith acts foreclosed the possibility of Mr. Siegel constructing bedrooms there and thus ensured that the apartment could not be used by Mr. Siegel and his family,” according to the June 29 complaint, filed in New York State Supreme Court.

Before buying the street-level duplex at the building on 72nd Street and Central Park West — once home to celebrities such as John Lennon and Lauren Bacall — Siegel got permission from the co-op board to convert the lower level into four bedrooms with air conditioning for his children, according to the lawsuit. Once the sale was complete, the board said it would only approve Siegel’s plans if he agreed to buy additional shares of Dakota co-operative stock for $1.8 million, which would about double his monthly maintenance charges, according to the complaint.

After Siegel refused to make the additional payments, the board voted to reclassify half of Siegel’s apartment as “non-habitable storage space,” according to the lawsuit. The board also barred him from adding air conditioning or ventilation to the lower level, thereby making it unsuitable for bedrooms, according to the complaint.