February 21, 2018
Vanessa Brown Calder has posted Zoning, Land-Use Planning, and Housing Affordability to SSRN. It opens,
Local zoning and land-use regulations have increased substantially over the decades. These constraints on land development within cities and suburbs aim to achieve various safety, environmental, and aesthetic goals. But the regulations have also tended to reduce the supply of housing, including multifamily and low-income housing. With reduced supply, many U.S. cities suffer from housing affordability problems.
This study uses regression analysis to examine the link between housing prices and zoning and land-use controls. State and local governments across the country impose substantially different amounts of regulation on land development. The study uses a data set of court decisions on land use and zoning that captures the growth in regulation over time and the large variability between the states.
The statistical results show that rising land-use regulation is associated with rising real average home prices in 44 states and that rising zoning regulation is associated with rising real average home prices in 36 states. In general, the states that have increased the amount of rules and restrictions on land use the most have higher housing prices.
The federal government spent almost $200 billion to subsidize renting and buying homes in 2015. These subsidies treat a symptom of the underlying problem. But the results of this study indicate that state and local governments can tackle housing affordability problems directly by overhauling their development rules. For example, housing is much more expensive in the Northeast than in the Southeast, and that difference is partly explained by more regulation in the former region.
Interestingly, the data show that relatively more federal housing aid flows to states with more restrictive zoning and land-use rules, perhaps because those states have higher housing costs. Federal aid thus creates a disincentive for the states to solve their own housing affordability problems by reducing regulation. (1)
This paper provides additional evidence for an argument that Edward Glaeser and others have been making for some time now.
Local governments won’t make these changes on their own. Nonetheless, local land-use decisions have a large negative impact on many households and businesses who are not currently located within the borders of the local jurisdictions (as well as some who are). As a result, the federal government could and should take restrictive land use regulation into account when it allocates federal aid for affordable housing.
The Obama Administration found that restrictive local land-use regulations stifled GDP growth in the aggregate. Perhaps reforming land-use regulation is something that could garner bipartisan support as it is a market-driven approach to the housing crisis, a cause dear to the hearts of many Democrats (and not a few Republicans).
February 20, 2018
LendingTree quoted me in Can I Refinance? Refinance Requirements for Your Mortgage. It opens,
While there are many reasons to refinance a mortgage, one of the biggest factors at play is whether or not you’ll be able to get a better interest rate. When interest rates drop, homeowners are incentivized to refinance into a new mortgage with a lower rate and better terms because it can potentially save them a boatload of money over the course of their loan.
Not only can refinancing save money on interest payments, but it can lead to lower monthly payments, or be a way to get rid of a pesky primary mortgage insurance requirement once you’ve earned enough equity in your home. Homeowners can also tinker with their repayment timeline when they refinance, choosing to lengthen their loan term or even shorten it to pay off their home faster.
The first question before you refinance your mortgage is simple: Does it make financial sense? Refinancing a mortgage comes with the same closing costs and fees as a regular mortgage, so you must stand to earn more by refinancing than you’ll pay to do it.
If you’ve had the same mortgage rate since the aughts or earlier, chances are you could have much to gain by refinancing in today’s lower rate environment.
The average interest rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage hit a low point of 3.31% on Nov. 21, 2012 and hasn’t budged all too much since then. Rates currently stand at 4.32% as of Feb. 8, 2018. By comparison, rates were routinely in the double digits in the 80s and early 90s.
Will rates continue on the upward trend? Unfortunately, nobody knows. But rate behavior will very likely play a key role in your decision.
Once you’ve decided refinancing makes financial sense, the next question should be this: What does it take to qualify? That’s what we’ll cover in this guide.
If you hope to refinance before rates climb any further, it’s smart to get your ducks in a row and find out the refinance requirements for your mortgage right away. Keep reading to learn the minimum requirements to refinance your mortgage, how your credit score may come into play and what steps to take next.
Can you refinance your home?
Lenders consider three main criteria when approving consumers for a home refinance – income, equity, and credit.
- Debt and income.
- Equity. Equity is important because lenders want to confirm possibly getting their money back out of your home if you default on your mortgage.
- Credit. Any lending situation will involve a credit check. “They look at your credit score to see if you have the willingness to pay your mortgage back – to see if you’re creditworthy,” said David Reiss, Professor of Real Estate Law at The Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “Do you have a low credit score or a high credit score? Do you pay your bills on time?” he asked. “These are all things your lender needs to know.”
While the above factors play a role in whether you’ll qualify to refinance your home, lenders do get fairly specific when it comes to how they gauge your income to determine affordability. Since the amount of income you need to qualify for a new mortgage depends on the amount you wish to borrow, lenders typically use something called “debt-to-income ratio” to measure your ability to repay, says Reiss.
Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI)
During the underwriting process for a conventional loan, lenders will look at all the factors that make them comfortable extending you a loan. This includes your income and your debt levels, says Reiss. “Debt-to-income ratio is an easy way for lenders to determine if you have too many debt payments that might interfere with your home mortgage payment in the future.”
To come up with a debt-to-income ratio, lenders look at your debts and compare them with your income.
But, how is your debt-to-income ratio determined? Your debt-to-income ratio is all of your monthly debt payments divided by your gross monthly income.
In the real world, someone’s debt-to-income ratio would work something like this:
Imagine one of your neighbors has a gross monthly income of $4,000, but they pay out $3,000 per month toward rent payments, car loans, child support, and student loans. Their debt income ratio would be 75% because $3,000 divided by $4,000 is .75.
Reiss says this factor is important because lenders shy away from consumers with debt-to-income ratios that are considered “too high.” Generally speaking, lenders prefer to loan money to borrowers with a debt-to-income ratio of less than 43% but 36% is ideal.
In the example above where your neighbor has a monthly gross income of $4,000, this means he or she may have to get all debt payments down to approximately $1,700 to qualify for a mortgage. ($1,700 divided by $4,000 = .425 or 42.5%).
There are exceptions to the 43% DTI rule, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Some lenders may offer you a mortgage if your debt-to-income ratio is higher than 43%. Situations, where such mortgages are offered, include when a borrower has a high credit score, a stellar record of repayment or both. Still, the 43% rule is a good rule of thumb to follow when it comes to traditional mortgages.
Other financial thresholds
If you plan to refinance your home with an FHA mortgage, your housing costs typically need to be less than 29% of your income while your total debts should be no more than 41%.
However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees FHA loans, also notes that potential borrowers with lower credit scores and higher debt-to-income ratios may need to have their loans manually underwritten to ensure “adequate consideration of the borrower’s ability to repay while preserving access to credit for otherwise underserved borrowers.”
Mortgage broker Mark Lewin of Caliber Home Loans in Indiana even says that in his experience, individuals with good credit and “other compensating factors” have secured FHA loans with a total debt-to-income ratio of 55%.
Of course, those who already have an FHA loan may also be able to refinance to a lower rate with no credit check or income verification through a process called FHA Streamline Refinancing. Your debt-to-income ratio won’t even be considered.
A VA loan is another type of home loan that has its own set of debt-to-income requirements. Generally speaking, veterans who meet eligibility requirements for the program need to have a debt-to-income ratio at or below 41% to qualify. However, you may be able to refinance your home with an Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan from the VA if you already have a VA loan. These loans don’t have any underwriting or appraisal requirements.
Equity requirements to refinance your mortgage are typically at the sole discretion of your lender. Where some home mortgage companies may require 20% equity to refinance, others have much lighter requirements.
To find out what your home is worth and how much equity you have, you typically need to pay for a home appraisal, says Reiss. “Appraisals are typically required because you have to be able to prove the value of your home in order to refinance, just like you would with a traditional mortgage.”
There are a few exceptions, however. Mortgage refinancing options that may not require an appraisal include:
- Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loans from the VA
- FHA Streamline Refinance
- HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) Mortgages
Explaining loan-to-value ratio, or LTV
Loan-to-value ratio is a figure determined by assessing how much you owe on your home in relation to its value. If you owe $80,000 on a home worth $100,000, for example, your LTV would be 80% and you would have 20% equity in your home.
This ratio is important because it can determine whether your lender will approve you for a refinance. It can also determine the interest rates you’ll pay and other terms of your loan. If you have less than 20% equity in your home, for example, you may face higher interest rates and fees when you go to refinance.
Having less than 20% equity when you refinance may also cause you to have to pay PMI or private mortgage insurance. This mortgage insurance usually costs between 0.15 to 1.95% of your loan amount each year. If you have less than 20% equity in your home already, you’re already likely to be paying for this coverage all along. However, it’s still worth noting that, if you refinance with less than 20% equity, this coverage will once again get tacked onto your mortgage amount.
Is 80% LTV mandatory?
Your LTV and equity aren’t the end-all, be-all when it comes to your loan refi application. In fact, Reiss says that lenders he has experience with don’t absolutely require borrowers to have 20% equity or a loan-to-value ratio of 80% — so long as they score high on other measures.
“If you meet the lender’s requirements in terms of income and credit, your loan-to-value ratio doesn’t matter as much — especially if you have excellent credit and a solid payment history,” he said. However, lenders do prefer lending to consumers who have at least 20% equity in their homes.
Reiss says he always refers to 20% equity as the “gold standard” because it’s a goal everyone should shoot for. Not only does having 20% equity in your home when you refinance help you avoid paying for the added expense of PMI, but it can help provide more stability in your life, says Reiss: “Divorce, disease, and death in the family can and do happen, but having equity in your home makes it easier to overcome anything life throws your way.”
For example, having more equity in your home makes it easier to refinance into the best rates possible. Having a lot of equity is also ideal when you have to sell your home suddenly because it means you’re more likely to turn a profit and less likely to take a loss. Last but not least, if you have plenty of equity in your home, you can access that cash for emergency expenses via a home equity loan or HELOC.
“Home equity is a big source of wealth for American families,” he said. “The more equity you have, the more resources you have.”
Fortunately, many households are enjoying greater home equity today, as home values have continued to increase since the housing crisis.
Your credit score
The third factor that can impact your ability to refinance your home is your credit score. When a lender decides whether to give you a mortgage or not, they typically offer the best rates to people with very good credit, or with FICO scores of 740 or higher, according to Reiss.
“The lower your credit score, the higher your interest rate may be,” he said. “If your credit score is bad enough, you may not be able to refinance or get a new mortgage at all.”
The FICO scoring model’s main website, myFICO.com, seems to echo Reiss’ comments. As it notes, a “very good” score is any FICO score in the 740-799 range. If you earn a 740+ FICO, you’re above the national average and have a greater likelihood of getting credit approval and being offered lower interest rates.
Don’t stress about getting a perfect 850 FICO score either. In reality, rates stop improving much once you pass 740.
February 16, 2018
The Department of the Treasury released its Strategic Plan for 2018-2022. One of its 17 Strategic Objectives is to promote housing finance reform:
Support housing finance reform to resolve Government-Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) conservatorships and prevent taxpayer bailouts of public and private mortgage finance entities, while promoting consumer choice within the mortgage market.
Increased share of mortgage credit supported by private capital; Resolution of GSE conservatorships; Appropriate level of sustainable homeownership.
Why Does This Matter?
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been in federal conservatorship for nine years. Taxpayers continue to stand behind their obligations through capital support agreements while there is no clear path for the resolution of their conservatorship. The GSEs, combined with federal housing programs such as those at the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, support more than 70 percent of new mortgage originations. Changes should encourage the entry of greater private capital in the U.S. housing finance system. Resolution of the GSE conservatorships and right-sizing of federal housing programs is necessary to support a more sustainable U.S. housing finance system. (16)
The Plan states that Treasury’s strategies to achieve these objectives are to engage “stakeholders to develop housing finance reform recommendations.” (17) These stakeholders include Congress, the FHFA, Fed, SEC, CFPB, FDIC, HUD (including the FHA), VA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Association of State Banking Regulators as well as “The Public.” Treasury further intends to disseminate “principles and recommendations for housing finance reform” and plan “for the resolution of current GSE conservatorships.” (Id.)
This is all to the good of course, but it is at such a high level of generality that it tells us next to nothing. In this regard, Trump’s Treasury is not all that different from Obama and George W. Bush’s. Treasury has not taken a lead on housing finance reform since the financial crisis began. While there is nothing wrong with letting Congress take the lead on this issue, it would move things forward if Treasury created an environment in which housing finance reform was clearly identified as a priority in Washington. Nothing good will come from letting Fannie and Freddie limp along in conservatorship for a decade or more.
Cheapism quoted me in 21 Tips for First-Time Homebuyers. It opens,
GETTING YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR
Buying your first home is a high-pressure endeavor. The number of homes for sale in America has been steadily declining for years. According to Zillow, inventory has been on a year-over-year downward spiral every single month since February 2015. That means competition for homes is fierce, particularly for starter homes. There’s also a great deal to learn as a first-time home buyer, ranging from understanding mortgages to knowing what to look for when touring properties and which markets are the best. Cheapism has asked real estate experts to share their top tips for those making their first foray into the market. Here’s what the professionals want all first-time homebuyers to know when they start hunting for their dream home.
WORK WITH AN EXPERIENCED REAL ESTATE AGENT
There are many ways a real estate agent can make the home-buying process less stressful, says Tracy Ouellette, a regional sales manager with CLV Group, a full-service real estate brokerage. “Quite often first-time buyers try to do it themselves in order to save a bit of money,” said Ouellette. “However, there are many of aspects of the home-buying experience that greatly benefit from using a realtor. They know the market and are able to negotiate a fair price, which ends up saving you more money in the end. They also ensure that your contract will protect you and your house, if any issues arise in the future.”
GET EDUCATED ABOUT MORTGAGES
Mortgages are complicated financial products, so spend some time educating yourself about them, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School. “If you understand them, you can choose the right one for your circumstances,” said Reiss. “Most people think they should get a 30-year-fixed rate mortgage. But those usually have a higher interest rate than adjustable rate mortgages.” For those buying a starter home, an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) may be worth considering in order to keep the monthly mortgage payment lower initially.
February 15, 2018
The Wall Street Journal quoted me in Escalation Clauses: A Little-Known Bidding-War Strategy. It opens,
For home buyers locked in a heated bidding war, there is one weapon that may help ensure victory: an escalation clause.
It’s an addendum to a real-estate contract, typically when the offer is made, in which a prospective buyer says, “I will pay X dollars for this house, but if another buyer submits a verifiable bid that’s higher, I will raise my offer in increments of Y dollars to a maximum price of Z.”
These clauses are particularly useful in a competitive real-estate market where homes typically get multiple bids. If a bidding war erupts on a home, the escalation clause will automatically raise the buyer’s offer on the house by the predetermined increment, up to the maximum amount the buyer authorizes. It eliminates the back and forth of offer and counteroffer and helps the buyer avoid paying too much for a house by getting caught up in the frenzy of a bidding war. But they can be risky for buyers who use them.
“A buyer can think of an escalation clause as a ‘have your cake and eat it, too’ clause,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in real estate. “But in real estate, as with cake, it is hard to have it all.”
One concern is that the buyer is tipping his hand to the seller by using an escalation clause, Prof. Reiss says.
By indicating the maximum amount he will pay for the house, a buyer is revealing important information—that he’s willing to pay more. For example: Seller lists the house for $1 million. The buyer bids $950,000 with an escalation up to $975,000. The seller can counteroffer at $975,000, knowing that the buyer can both afford it at that price and is willing to pay it.
“Sellers get more money than they ever thought they would have,” says Carrie DeBuys, a real-estate agent with Realogics Sotheby’s Realty in Seattle. In her market, it isn’t uncommon for a seller to receive “10, 15 or 20 offers on a property.”
On the flip side, an escalation clause may not be in the seller’s best interest, explains Prof. Reiss.
Say a house is listed for $1 million, and there are three bidders. Buyer A offers $950,000. Buyer B offers $975,000 with an escalation clause that could go up to $1 million in $5,000 increments. Buyer C offers $980,000. In this scenario, the seller would get $985,000 from Buyer B after the initial offer escalates over Buyer C’s offer. But, had the seller not relied on the escalation clause and instead asked the bidders for their best and final offer, he might have sold the house for $1 million. “We know that the buyer was willing and able to go up that high,” Mr. Reiss says. “Thus, the seller is likely getting $15,000 less in the escalation-clause scenario.”
February 14, 2018
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is changing directions in a big way under the leadership of Mick Mulvaney as seen in its Strategic Plan for FY 2018-2022. In his opening message to the Plan, Mulvaney writes that the Plan
presents an opportunity to explain to the public how the Bureau intends to fulfill its statutory duties consistent with the strategic vision of its new leadership. In reviewing the draft Strategic Plan released by the Bureau in October 2017, it became clear to me that the Bureau needed a more coherent strategic direction. If there is one way to summarize the strategic changes occurring at the Bureau, it is this: we have committed to fulfill the Bureau’s statutory responsibilities, but go no further. Indeed, this should be an ironclad promise for any federal agency; pushing the envelope in pursuit of other objectives ignores the will of the American people, as established in law by their representatives in Congress and the White House. Pushing the envelope also risks trampling upon the liberties of our citizens, or interfering with the sovereignty or autonomy of the states or Indian tribes. I have resolved that this will not happen at the Bureau.
So how do we refocus the Bureau’s efforts to better protect consumers? How do we succinctly define the Bureau’s unique mission, goals, and objectives? Fortunately, the necessary tools are already set forth in statute. We have drawn the strategic plan’s mission statement directly from Sections 1011 and 1013 of the Dodd-Frank Act: “to regulate the offering and provision of consumer financial products or services under the Federal consumer financial laws” and “to educate and empower consumers to make better informed financial decisions.” We have similarly drawn the strategic plan’s first two strategic goals and its five strategic objectives from Section 1021 of the Dodd-Frank Act. By hewing to the statute, this Strategic Plan provides the Bureau a ready roadmap, a touchstone with a fixed meaning that should serve as a bulwark against the misuse of our unparalleled powers. Just as important, it provides clarity and certainty to market participants. (2)
The subtext of this change in direction is not that “sub” at all. The Trump Administration wants to rein in the Bureau after it aggressively pursued financial services companies for violating a broad range of consumer protection statutes.
The Plan says that the Bureau will now act “with humility and moderation.” What that means is that the it will now be cutting financial services firms a lot of slack. Let’s see how a humbled Bureau works out for consumers.
February 13, 2018
President Trump’s budget for fiscal year 2019 offers these highlights for the Department of Housing and Urban Development:
- The Budget reflects the President’s commitment to fiscal responsibility by reforming programs to encourage the dignity of work and self-sufficiency while supporting critical functions that provide assistance to vulnerable households. The Budget recognizes a greater role for State and local governments and the private sector to address community and economic development needs and affordable housing production.
- The Budget requests $39.2 billion in gross discretionary funding for HUD, an $8.8 billion or 18.3-percent decrease from the 2017 enacted level. (63)
The specifics are somewhat unbelievable. For instance, the budget
- “eliminates programs that are duplicative or have failed to demonstrate effectiveness, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program . . .” (Id.) and
- does not request funding for the Public Housing Capital Fund, as the provision of affordable housing should be a responsibility more fully shared with State and local governments. (64)
Similar to other Trump documents, the budget veers toward incoherence when it states that
The Budget proposes legislative reforms to encourage work and self-sufficiency across its core rental assistance programs, consistent with broader Administration goals. Currently, tenants generally pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent. The Administration’s reforms require able-bodied individuals to shoulder more of their housing costs and provide an incentive to increase their earnings. (Id.)
Decreasing the housing subsidy will decrease, not increase, the incentive to work. All other things being equal, increasing a household’s rent the more they work will discourage additional work.
It is hard to know what to do with a budget like this. Already, the Administration is backtracking on some of the cuts, including some of those targeting HUD. It seems highly unlikely that Congressional Republicans will wipe out the CDBG program because those funds are spread across their districts as well. But this sally in the budget wars is more than a shot across HUD’s bow. Rather, it reflects a strategy of weakening the safety net for those most in need.