REFinBlog

Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

November 18, 2016

Friday’s Government Reports Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • Rates for home loans rose for a second straight week just before the end of the presidential election, mortgage provider Freddie Mac said Thursday. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.57%, up three basis points during the week. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.88%, up from 2.84% the prior week.
  • Prospective homebuyers faced a challenging housing market during the third quarter, mostly due to ongoing inventory shortages that are resulting in a faster rate of home price appreciation, according to a quarterly report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) covering the third quarter.
  • More renters claim they are concerned about high utility costs than about rising rent prices, according to a new survey from Freddie Mac. The only thing rising faster than home prices may just be rent prices. Home prices are rising across the nation to levels not seen since before the housing crisis and yet, it’s still cheaper to buy than rent, according to a study by online real estate listing service Trulia.

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November 18, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 17, 2016

Honesty Is Best

By David Reiss

Grant Wood; "Parson Weems' Fable"; 1939; oil on canvas; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; 1970.43

Grant Wood; “Parson Weems’ Fable”; 1939; oil on canvas; Amon Carter Museum


Trulia quoted me in 6 Things Home Sellers Are Legally Required To Disclose. It opens,

When it comes to selling your home, heed your mother’s advice: Honesty is always the best policy.

Denise Supplee and her husband, Jerry, had been in their new home in Horsham, PA, for just three months when they started to notice something strange in their bathroom. “You could see mold starting to seep through the paint,” says Denise, a co-founder and director of operations of SparkRental.com. “We had a contractor come in and he told us we were lucky,” she says. “It seemed to be an issue kept to the bathroom and occurred most likely because there was no exhaust fan.” The problem: The seller had blatantly painted over existing mold without ever disclosing it to the Supplees. Although the seller made good and paid for the mold removal — a $1,500 cost — the Supplees could have taken them to court for not disclosing the problem before the sale.

It’s a question that plagues many residential sales: As a seller, what do you — and don’t you — need to tell the buyer about your home? “My rule of thumb is this: If you’re not sure if you should disclose something, you probably should,” says Sam Pawlitzki, a real estate agent with Beach Cities Real Estate in Los Angeles, CA. “Think of seller disclosures like a Carfax report.” Plus, the harm in not disclosing something can result in some serious legal and financial woes. Here’s a list of what you legally need to include in your sellers’ disclosure to keep yourself out of hot water.

1. Lead paint

One item is a must when it comes to being upfront with potential buyers: the use of lead-based paint in your home. “If the home was built before 1978, each party in a transaction needs to sign a lead paint disclosure,” says Pawlitzki. “This is a federal law and applies to every state. No matter if you think the lead paint has been removed or not, it still needs to be disclosed.” However, David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, NY, explains, “If you are not aware of a lead-based paint issue in the house, you are not required by the act to investigate whether there is any.”

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November 17, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Thursday’s Advocacy & Think Tank Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • A blog post in the City Observatory examines neighborhood change and shifting community demographics as they relate to economic and racial integration.
  • What a Trump administration means for real estate and other major investment sectors.
  • Fifty years ago, Robert Moses, the legendary “power broker” who reshaped New York City in the mid 20th century, gave a lunchtime talk at the Joint Center for Urban Studies of MIT and Harvard. Thanks to Adam Tanaka, a 2015 Joint Center Meyer Doctoral Fellow who was doing research for his thesis on the construction of large-scale, middle-income housing in New York City, the Joint Center recently received a copy of his speech.

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November 17, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 16, 2016

Firing Your Real Estate Agent

By David Reiss

photo by m01229

USA Today quoted me in How (And When) To Fire Your Real Estate Agent. It opens,

Breaking up is hard to do. Add a house and tens of thousands of dollars into the mix, and it can get downright ugly.

Unlike romantic entanglements, though, breaking up with your real estate agent as a seller if you’re not getting the service or the results promised doesn’t have to be dramatic. Here’s what you can do early on to minimize the damage — and how to handle the situation if, alas, you do come to irreconcilable differences.

When you first enlist an agent

Review your contract closely. Many real estate agents require their clients to sign an exclusive representation agreement, which is essentially an employment contract, says Brian Pendergraft, a real estate attorney in Greenbelt, Md. These contracts spell out how the client and real estate agent will each uphold their end of the deal, and they tend to be worded to protect the agent’s interests, says David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, New York.

As a seller, you’ll want to ensure the contract covers your rights, too. This includes outlining exactly how your agent will market your home, and a plan to generate enough showings within a set timeframe so that you’ll have a legal leg to stand on for early termination, Reiss says.

Understand your options for termination from the get-go. There are a few ways to call it quits with your agent, but the win-win situation is a no-penalty termination in which neither party is penalized if the relationship ends prematurely, says Bruce Ailion, a Realtor and attorney in Atlanta. Include this detail in your contract.

If things go sour

Consider what constitutes a fireable offense. If you’re upset with your agent about sales strategy, lack of communication or poor service, those are issues that are unlikely to be resolved easily, Ailion says. Or perhaps you’re worried that your agent is in murky legal waters, such as refusing to show your home to people from certain protected groups or failing to share a property disclosure with buyers. Report these issues immediately to the agent’s broker of record, who is responsible for the real estate agents in a brokerage, Ailion says.

Put it in writing. If your agreement is in writing, you have to get out of it in writing even if there’s no specific expiration date, Pendergraft says. Write a letter or email to your agent requesting to part ways. If you get no response, hire an attorney to write a demand letter for you, Pendergraft says. This shows you mean business — at a fraction of the cost to take the issue to court.

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November 16, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

By Robert Engelke

  • This paper, How do Household’s Make Mortgage Choices?, reviews recent literature on how households make decisions regarding residential mortgages. It focuses on recent publications in Real Estate Economics that are related to households’ mortgage choices. The paper covers four areas: (1) the role of intermediaries such as mortgage brokers; (2) how households choose between a fixed and an adjustable rate mortgage; (3) how homeowners choose between other features of mortgage contracts; and (4) reverse mortgages.
  • This paper, A New Index on Housing Sentiment, proposes a new measure for housing sentiment and show that it accurately tracks expectations about future house price growth rates. It constructs the housing sentiment index using partial least squares on household survey responses to questions about buying conditions for houses. It finds that housing sentiment explains a large share of the time-variation in house prices during both boom and bust cycles and it strongly outperforms several macroeconomic variables typically used to forecast house prices.

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November 16, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

November 15, 2016

Signs You Are In A Bubble

By David Reiss

photo by Jeff Kubina

Trulia.com quoted me in Signs Your Local Real Estate Market Is A Bubble. It reads, in part,

If you were burned in 2008, the last time the housing bubble burst, you’re probably (and understandably!) gun-shy about jumping into the housing market again — especially if you think your local area could be experiencing another bubble. If you buy during a bubble, overpaying for your home, you might be forced to sell for less than the property is worth — either that or stay put longer than you’d like until you build up enough equity to sell. So if you’re thinking of buying, it’s important to have a sense of the signs that point to a real estate bubble. Here are five of them.

1. Shaky loans are common

As we learned from the 2008 recession, subprime lending (lending to anyone with a pulse) is not sound practice. And we have made changes. “Credit remains relatively tight,” says Jonathan Miller, CRE, CRP, and president of Miller Samuel Inc., a New York, NY, real estate appraisal company.

Yet the U.S. government still backs loans that some might consider risky, particularly ones that require only a 3.5% down payment, which the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers. Before you get too alarmed, keep in mind that the FHA has been helping people become homeowners since 1934. The underwriting standards are higher with FHA loans than with some of the subprime low-down-payment products offered in the early 2000s, explains David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, NY.

2. There’s lots of leverage

When you take out a mortgage, you’re leveraging your money — the smaller the down payment you make, the more you have leveraged the deal by using the lender’s money to make the purchase. “A bubble means lots of leverage,” says Miller. “And this [current] cycle has been remarkably devoid of leverage.” Miller cites New York City as an example. “About 45% of the transactions are cash. And for the price points below half a million dollars, the average person puts about 35% down.”

3. Home prices are rising faster than salaries

When housing prices are rising and your salary isn’t, you’re left with two options: continue to rent, or buy a house you can barely afford. If you think your market is in a bubble, you might want to wait to buy, especially if you’re really stretching to make ends meet.

“I would review the mean income levels and employment levels compared to real estate prices for signs of discord,” says Michael Kelczewski, a Pennsylvania and Delaware real estate agent. “Indicators of a local real estate bubble are asset values exceeding the local market’s capacity to absorb prices.” Reiss says that when home prices rise faster than salaries, “It could be the sign of froth in the market.”

Miller agrees that a “rapid run-up in prices that don’t match wage growth leads to discussions about bubbles.” But he says that as long as credit conditions from bank lenders are tight, you won’t have runaway price inflation. In New York, prices aren’t rising like they were, but they aren’t falling either. Miller says they’ve leveled off and are “stuck on a high plateau.”

So what do you do when affordability isn’t improving in pricey markets like New York, NY, San Francisco, CA, Los Angeles, CA, or any other high-cost urban market? Buy in the burbs. Miller notes that for New York, the market is booming in the outlying suburbs.

 *     *     *

When there are no signs

Of course, you might think your market is (or isn’t) in a bubble, but you could be wrong. “The problem with bubbles is that we don’t know them when we see them,” says Reiss. He explains that San Francisco, CA, for example, a hugely unaffordable city for most people, isn’t in a bubble just because prices are high. “Bubbles do not refer to rapid price appreciation. They refer to unsustainable rapid price appreciation. [The market] is unsustainable because fundamentals do not support the appreciation.”

The bottom line is, it’s difficult to know whether it’s really a bubble. “If homeowners buy a house that works for their family and that they can afford over the long haul, they will have made a decision that benefits them every day, even if real estate prices drop significantly,” says Reiss. But heed his warning: “If homeowners instead buy a house that is a financial stretch in the belief that it will appreciate down the road and fund their retirement, there is a good chance that they have set down a road to ruin.”

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November 15, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments

Tuesday’s Regulatory & Legislative Roundup

By Robert Engelke

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November 15, 2016 | Permalink | No Comments