July 13, 2016
WiseBread quoted me in 5 Things You Need to Know When Renting-to-Own a Home. It opens,
Your credit scores are too low. Or maybe you’ve run up too much credit card debt. Whatever the reason, you can’t qualify for the mortgage loan you need to buy a home. But there is hope: You can enter into a rent-to-own agreement and begin living in a home today — one that you might eventually be able to buy.
Just be careful: David Reiss, professor of law and research director for the Center for Urban Business at Brooklyn Law School, said that consumers need to be careful when entering rent-to-own arrangements. Often, these agreements end up with tenants losing money that they didn’t need to spend.
“Potential homebuyers should be very careful with rent-to-own opportunities,” Reiss said. “They have a long history of burning buyers. Does the law in your state provide any protection to a rent-to-own buyer who falls behind on payments? Could you end up losing everything that you had paid toward the purchase if you lose your job?”
These worries, and others, are why you need to do your research before signing a rent-to-own agreement. And it’s why you need to know these five key facts before agreeing to any rent-to-own contract.
1. How Do Monthly Rent and Final Selling Price Relate?
In a rent-to-own arrangement, you might pay a bit more in rent each month to the owner of a home. These extra dollars go toward reducing a final sales price for the home that you and the owner agree upon before you start renting.
Then, after a set number of years pass — usually anywhere from one to five — you’ll have the option to purchase the home, with the sales price lowered by however much extra money you paid along with your monthly rent checks. Not all companies that offer rent-to-own homes work this way. Some don’t ask for more money from tenants each month, and don’t apply any rental money toward lowering the eventual sales price of the home.
This latter option might be the better choice for you if you’re not certain that you’ll be able to qualify for a mortgage even after the rental period ends.
“A pitfall is if the tenant buyer signs into the program but will never be approved for financing, thus never purchases the house,” said John Matthews, president of operations of Chicago Lease to Own. “That is how the scammers out there have used rent-to-own to hurt people. They sell it to those who should never have been in the program and take their portion of the rent every month used ‘for the purchase of their home’ knowing that the tenant will never qualify to buy the home.”
Make sure you know — and are comfortable with — the home’s final sales price and monthly rent payments before you agree to a rent-to-own arrangement. And if you don’t want to pay extra in rent each month for a home that you might never end up buying? A rent-to-own agreement might not be for you.
July 11, 2016
The Milken Institute’s Michael Bright and Ed DeMarco have posted a white paper, Why Housing Reform Still Matters. Bright was the principal author of the Corker-Warner Fannie/Freddie reform bill and DeMarco is the former Acting Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In short, they know housing finance. They write,
The 2008 financial crisis left a lot of challenges in its wake. The events of that year led to years of stagnant growth, a painful process of global deleveraging, and the emergence of new banking regulatory regimes across the globe.
But at the epicenter of the crisis was the American housing market. And while America’s housing finance system was fundamental to the financial crisis and the Great Recession, reform efforts have not altered America’s mortgage market structure or housing access paradigms in a material way.
This work must get done. Eventually, legislators will have to resolve their differences to chart a modernized course for housing in our country. Reflecting upon the progress made and the failures endured in this effort since 2008, we have set ourselves to the task of outlining a framework meant to advance the public debate and help lawmakers create an achievable plan. Through a series of upcoming papers, our goal will be to not just foster debate but to push that debate toward resolution.
Before setting forth solutions, however, it is important to frame the issues and state why we should do this in the first place. In light of the growing chorus urging surrender and going back to the failed model of the past, our objective in this paper is to remind policymakers why housing finance reform is needed and help distinguish aspects of the current system that are worth preserving from those that should be scrapped. (1)
I agree with a lot of what they have to say. First, we should not go back to “the failed model of the past,” and it amazes me that that idea has any traction at all. I guess political memories are as short as people say they are.
Second, “until Congress acts, the FHFA is stuck in its role of regulator and conservator.” (3) They argue that it is wrong to allow one individual, the FHFA Director, to dramatically reform the housing finance system on his own. This is true, even if he is doing a pretty good job, as current Director Watt is.
Third, I agree that any reform plan must ensure that the mortgage-backed securities market remain liquid; credit remains available in all submarkets markets; competition is beneficial in the secondary mortgage market.
Finally, I agree with many of the goals of their reform agenda: reducing the likelihood of taxpayer bailouts of private actors; finding a consensus on access to credit; increasing the role of private capital in the mortgage market; increasing transparency in order to decrease rent-seeking behavior by market actors; and aligning incentives throughout the mortgage markets.
So where is my criticism? I think it is just that the paper is at such a high level of generality that it is hard to find much to disagree about. Who wouldn’t want a consensus on housing affordability and access to credit? But isn’t it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will be very far apart on this issue no matter how long they discuss it?
The authors promise that a detailed proposal is forthcoming, so my criticism may soon be moot. But I fear that Congress is no closer to finding common ground on housing finance reform than they have been for the better part of the last decade. The authors’ optimism that consensus can be reached is not yet warranted, I think. Housing reform may not matter because the FHFA may just implement a new regime before Congress gets it act together.
July 8, 2016
The Federal Housing Finance Agency has released the Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer Progress Report. Important aspects of Fannie and Freddie’s future are described in this report. It opens,
Since 2012, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has set as a strategic objective that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac share credit risk with private investors. While the Enterprises have a longstanding practice of sharing credit risk on certain loans with primary mortgage insurers and other counterparties, the credit risk transfer transactions have taken further steps to share credit risk with private market participants. Since the Enterprises were placed in conservatorship in 2008, they have received financial support from the U.S. Department of the Treasury under the Senior Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements (PSPAs). The Enterprises’ credit risk transfer programs reduce the overall risk to taxpayers under these agreements.
These programs have made significant progress since they were launched in 2012 and credit risk transfer transactions are now a regular part of the Enterprises’ businesses. This progress is reflected in FHFA’s 2016 Scorecard for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Common Securitization Solutions (2016 Scorecard), which sets the expectation that the Enterprises will transfer risk on 90 percent of targeted single-family, 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages. FHFA works with the Enterprises to ensure that credit risk transfer transactions are conducted in an economically sensible way that effectively transfers risk to private investors.
This Progress Report provides an overview of how the Enterprises share credit risk with the private sector, including through primary mortgage insurance and the Enterprises’ credit risk transfer programs. The discussion includes year-end 2015 data, a discussion of which Enterprise loan acquisitions are targeted for the credit risk transfer programs, and an overview of investor participation information. (1, footnotes omitted)
This push to share credit risk with private investors is a significant departure from the old Fannie/Freddie business model and it should do just what it promises: reduce taxpayer exposure to credit risk for the trillions of dollars of mortgages the two companies guarantee through their mortgage-backed securities. That being said, this is a relatively new initiative and the two companies (and the FHFA, as their conservator and regulator) have to navigate a lot of operational issues to ensure that this transfer of credit risk is priced appropriately.
There are also some important policy issues that have not been settled. The FHFA has asked for feedback on a series of issues in its Single-Family Credit Risk Transfer Request for Input, including,
- how to “develop a deeper mortgage insurance structure” (RfI, 17)
- how to develop credit risk transfer strategies that work for small lenders (RfI, 18)
- how to price the fees that Fannie and Freddie charge to guarantee mortgage-backed securities (RfI, 19)
Congress has abdicated its responsibility to implement housing finance reform, so it is left up to the FHFA to make it happen. Indeed, the FHFA’s timeline has this process being finalized in 2018. The only way for the public to affect the course of reform is through the type of input the FHFA is now seeking:
FHFA invites interested parties to provide written input on the questions listed [within the Request for Input] 60 days of the publication of this document, no later than August 29, 2016. FHFA also invites additional input on the topics discussed in this document that are not directly responsive to these questions.
Input may be submitted electronically using this response form. You may also want to review the FHFA’s update on Implementation of the Single Security and the Common Securitization Platform and its credit risk transfer page as it has links to other relevant documents.
July 7, 2016
Construction Dive quoted me in Why Minority Homeownership Rates Plunged After the Housing Crash — and How to Reverse The Trend. It opens,
The recovery from the 2007 U.S. housing crash is still underway, with the ramifications of foreclosures and subprime mortgages still playing out for many current and potential American homeowners. Northeastern markets are still struggling to clear out crisis-era inventory, largely due to foreclosure laws, and members of Generation X — one of the hardest hit groups during the crash — are just now building up the required financial strength and confidence to claw their way back to homeownership.
While the Census Bureau Housing Vacancy Survey indicated that U.S. homeownership overall was 63.5% in the first quarter of 2016 — down significantly from a 25-year average of 66.2% — the groups encountering the most difficulties snapping back from the housing crisis are the black and Hispanic populations.
The Census Bureau found that 41.5% of black households and 45.3% of Hispanic households are currently homeowners, compared to 72.1% of white households. And last year, while the Urban Institute projected that Hispanic homeownership would rise over the next 15 years, it also predicted that black homeownership would drop to 40%.
The stagnant and declining minority homeownership numbers are clear, but experts have varying views regarding why this situation is occurring and what can be done to reverse the trend.
* * *
In Newark, NJ, for example, entire minority neighborhoods were targeted with home renovation schemes, which ended in high-interest home equity loans for the consumer, according to David Reiss, professor of law and academic program director for urban business entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “You would see entire streets with home improvement projects through the same company,” he said.
A study by University of Buffalo professor Gregory Sharp and Cornell University professor Matthew Hall found that “race was the leading explanation for why people lost homes they owned and turned back to rentals.” Sharp and Hall said that minorities were “exploited” by the mortgage lending system, which led to blacks being 50% more likely than whites to lose their homes and enter the rental market.
After the housing market crash, there weren’t enough educational resources and financial literacy programs available to minority groups to help them navigate the “new normal” of adjustable-rate mortgages and increases to their monthly payments, according to Franky Bonilla, with Churchill Mortgage in Houston. “Without access to even the most basic information, such as how to save money or properly document income, many borrowers were unequipped to overcome (these problems), and, as a result, many owners walked away from their homes,” he said.
How to boost homeownership among minorities
So with minority homeownership rates lagging — and in some cases sinking — since the housing crisis, what’s the answer to reverse the trend?
Bonilla, who is also a member of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP), said approximately 60% of his business comes from minority homeowners and that this group in particular could benefit from borrower education and outreach, such as bilingual employees, as well as workshops and seminars.
“Lenders with more cultural diversity have an advantage because they can relate and communicate more effectively with individuals who might otherwise feel disadvantaged or intimidated by the mortgage process,” Bonilla said. “In turn, this creates an opportunity to establish a relationship at a personal level and determine which mortgage options are the best fit for each borrower’s unique financial situation.”
Another possible solution to increasing minority homeownership rates, along with homeownership among those who don’t meet the credit requirements for prime loans, is an overhaul of lending criteria for mortgages.
Reiss said there has been a move by some housing advocates to have credit for mortgage purposes reflect factors more indicative of future success as a homeowner. One of the critical issues, however, is to try to determine exactly how much credit is the right amount of credit. “You want to make credit available to people without having excessive default rates,” Reiss said. “Clearly the amount of credit we had in the early 2000s was too much credit, and it ended poorly for many people.”
Reiss added that home lending has always involved a careful balance between underwriting and available credit. “I think everyone would agree that the ‘Wild West’ days of lending were not good for American households in general,” he said.
July 5, 2016
The Democratic Party has released its draft 2016 Policy Platform. Its housing platform follows in its entirety. I find the highlighted clause particularly intriguing and discuss it below.
Where Donald Trump rooted for the housing crisis, Democrats will continue to fight for those families who suffered the loss of their homes. We will help those who are working toward a path of financial stability and will put sustainable home ownership into the reach of more families. Democrats will also combat the affordable housing crisis and skyrocketing rents in many parts of the country that are leading too many families and workers to be pushed out of communities where they work.
We will increase the supply of affordable rental housing by expanding incentives and easing local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments in areas of economic opportunity. We will substantially increase funding for the National Housing Trust Fund to construct, preserve, and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing rental units. Not only will this help address the affordable housing crisis, it will also create millions of good-paying jobs in the process. Democrats also believe that we should provide more federal resources to the people struggling most with unaffordable housing: low-income families, people with disabilities, veterans, and the elderly.
We will reinvigorate federal housing production programs, increase resources to repair public housing, and increase funding for the housing choice voucher program. And we will fight for sufficient funding to end chronic homelessness.
We must make sure that everyone has a fair shot at homeownership. We will lift up more families and keep the housing market robust and inclusive by defending and strengthening the Fair Housing Act. We will also support first time homebuyers, implement credit score reform to make the credit industry work for borrowers and not just lenders, and prevent predatory lending by defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). And we will help underwater homeowners by expanding foreclosure mitigation counseling. (4-5, emphasis added)
Much of the housing platform represents a continuation of Democratic policies, such as increased funding for affordable housing, improved enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and expanded access to counseling for distressed homeowners.
But the highlighted clause seems to represent a new direction for the Democratic Party: an acknowledgement that local land use decisions in areas of economic opportunity (read: the Northeast, the Bay Area and similar dynamic regions) are having a negative impact on low- and moderate-income households who are priced out of the housing markets because demand far outstrips supply.
This is a significant development in federal housing policy, flowing from work done by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko, among others, who have demonstrated the out-sized effect that the innumerable land use decisions made by local governments have had on the availability of affordable housing regionally and nationally.
There is a lot of ambiguity in the phrase “easing local barriers to building new affordable rental housing developments,” but the federal government has a lot of policy tools available to it to do just that. If Democrats are able to implement this aspect of the party platform, it could have a very positive impact on the prospects of households that are priced out of the regions where all the new jobs are being created.