NYC’s Housing Supply

The New York City Rent Guidelines Board (of which I am a member) released its 2017 Housing Supply Report. It has a lot of interesting data for housing nerds as well as those of us obsessed with NYC. Here is a taste:

  • There are a total of 3,217,521 units of housing.
  • 2,184,295 are rental units.
    • 848,721 are non-regulated rentals.
    • 1,335,574 are regulated rentals in one form or another (rent stabilized, rent controlled etc.)
  • 1,033,226 are owner units.
    • 116,134 are condos
    • 330,679 are coops
    • 586,413 are conventional homes.

Some other highlights include,

  • Permits for 16,269 new dwelling units were issued in NYC in 2016, a 71.2% decrease over the prior year and the first decrease since 2009.
  • There was a 31.3% decrease in the number of co-op or condo units accepted in 2016, to 282 plans containing 8,671 units.
  • The number of housing units newly receiving 421-a exemptions decreased 17.8% in 2016, to 4,493.
  • The number of housing units newly receiving J-51 abatements and exemptions decreased 22.5% in 2016, to 34,311.
  • The number of new housing units completed in 2016 increased 61.9% over the prior year, to 23,247.
  • Demolitions were down in 2016, decreasing by 2.0%, to 1,849 buildings.
  • City-sponsored residential construction spurred 23,408 new housing starts in FY 2016, 74% of which were rehabilitations.
  • The City-owned in rem housing stock declined 70.2% during FY 2016, to 125 units. (4)

For those who do not know the byzantine world of NYC housing policy, 421-a exemptions relate to new construction and J-51 abatements relate to renovation of existing construction. It is interesting to see how policy changes impact housing construction.

Any one year’s figures provide just a snapshot, so if you really want to get a sense of the big picture, you should check out the earlier reports too. For instance, last year’s report stated that there were permits for 56,528 new dwelling units in 2015, an increase of 176% from 2014.  This is way more than the long term trend. Permits for new dwelling units never got much higher than the low thirty thousand range but fell to a low as six thousand during the depths of the Great Recession.

When you realize that the 421-a tax abatement was set to expire at the end of 2015, this big jump in permits makes sense as developers filed a ton of permits to take advantage of the program while they could. It will be interesting to see how the new 421-a regime will impact permits for new construction going forward.

Blockchain and Real Estate

CoinDesk.com quoted me in Land Registry: A Big Blockchain Use Case Explored. It opens,

With distributed ledger technology being promoted as a benefit to everything from farming to Fair Trade coffee, use case investigation has emerged as a full-time fascination for many.

In this light, one popular blockchain use case that has remained generally outside scrutiny has been land title projects started in countries including in Georgia, Sweden and the Ukraine.

One could argue land registries seemed to become newsworthy only after work on the use case had begun. However, those working on projects disagree, asserting that land registries could prove one of the first viable beachheads for blockchain.

Elliot Hedman, chief operating officer of Bitland Global, the technology partner for a real estate title registration program in Ghana, for example, said that issues with land rights make it a logical fit.

Hedman told CoinDesk: “As for the benefit of a blockchain-based land registry, look to Haiti. There are still people fighting over whose land is whose. When disaster struck, all of their records were on paper, that being if they were written down at all.”

Hedman argued that, with a blockchain-based registry employing a network of distributed databases as a way to facilitate data exchange, the “monumental headache” associated with a recovery effort would cease.

Modern real estate

To understand the potential of a blockchain land registry system, analysts argue one must first understand how property changes hands.

When a purchaser seeks to buy property today, he or she must find and secure the title and have the lawful owner sign it over.

This seems simple on the surface, but the devil is in the details. For a large number of residential mortgage holders, flawed paperwork, forged signatures and defects in foreclosure and mortgage documents have marred proper documentation of property ownership.

The problem is so acute that Bank of America attempted foreclosure on properties for which it did not have mortgages in the wake of the financial crisis.

Readers may also recall the proliferation of NINJA (No Income, No Job or Assets) subprime loans during the Great Recession and how this practice created a flood of distressed assets that banks were simply unable to handle.

The resulting situation means that the property no longer has a ‘good title’ attached to it and is no longer legally sellable, leaving the prospective buyer in many cases with no remedies.

Economic booster

Land registry blockchains seek to fix these problems.

By using hashes to identify every real estate transaction (thus making it publicly available and searchable), proponents argue issues such as who is the legal owner of a property can be remedied.

“Land registry records are pretty reliable methods for maintaining land records, but they are expensive and inefficient,” David Reiss, professor of law and academic program director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, told CoinDesk.

He explained:  “There is good reason to think that blockchain technology could serve as the basis for a more reliable, cheaper and more efficient land registry.”

Minority Homeownership During the Great Recession

photo by Daniel X. O'Neil

Print by Andy Kane

Carlos Garriga et al. have posted The Homeownership Experience of Minorities During the Great Recession to SSRN. The paper concludes,

The Great Recession wiped out much of the homeownership gains attained during the housing boom. However, the homeownership experience was very different across racial and ethnic groups. Black and Hispanic borrowers experienced substantial repayment difficulties that ultimately led to a greater share of homes in foreclosure.

Given that home equity often represents a substantial share of household wealth, these foreclosure events severely damaged the balance sheets of minority families. The dynamics of delinquency and foreclosure functioned differently across the income distribution within racial and ethnic groups.

For the majority, higher income was associated with lower delinquency rates and fewer foreclosures as a group. However, for Hispanic families this relationship was surprisingly reversed. Hispanics with the highest incomes fared worse than those with the lowest incomes. This counterintuitive finding suggests how college-educated Hispanic families may have had worse wealth outcomes than their non-college-educated peers: Hispanic families with high income (potentially the result of high educational attainment) had a greater share of home equity lost in foreclosure than lower-income Hispanic families.

Logit regressions suggest that underwriting standards and loan structure explain a significant amount of the greater likelihood of foreclosure among Black and Hispanic borrowers. However, underwriting standards explained more of the gap for Black borrowers, while loan structure was a stronger factor among Hispanic borrowers. Regional concentration and variation in housing markets explained more of the Hispanic-White foreclosure gap than any other group. This is understandable given that Hispanic borrowers in our sample were heavily concentrated in housing markets that experienced some of the largest volatility. Despite accounting for these important factors, sizable gaps remain in foreclosures among Blacks and Hispanics relative to Whites. Incorporating measures of labor market outcomes into the analysis may offer further insights.

In sum, the homeownership experience during the Great Recession proved to be inimical for many families, but far more so for Black and Hispanic families. For these families, financially destructive foreclosure events delayed and potentially derailed the dream of homeownership. (164-65)

I am not sure what this all means for housing finance policy other than the obvious: consumer protection in the mortgage market is a good thing as it ensures that underwriting standards evaluate ability-to-repay and loan structures exclude abusive terms like teaser rates (thanks to the ATR and QM rules and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). There are probably other policies that we should consider to reduce the depths of our busts, but they do not seem likely to gain traction in the current political environment.

Return to the Great Recession?

US News & World Report quoted me in What Happens if Trump Dismantles the Financial Regulations of the Great Recession? It opens,

On Feb. 3, 2017, President Donald Trump signed two executive orders that will affect the financial sector. That change will come to consumers is undeniable. But exactly what change is coming is, naturally, up for debate.

One of the orders requires the Treasury secretary to review the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed in 2010 and designed to address some of the shortcomings in the financial system that led to the Great Recession. The other executive action mandates that the Labor Department review its Department of Labor Fiduciary Rule and look at its probable economic impact. As it stands now, the fiduciary rule is supposed to be phased in from April 10, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2018. The rule requires financial professionals who work with retirement plans or provide retirement planning advice to act in a way that’s only based on the client’s best interests.

What do these executive orders portend for consumers? Nobody knows, but what follows are some educated guesses – with best-case and worst-case outcomes.

How the housing market might be affected. There’s potential good news and bad news here, according to Francesco D’Acunto, a finance assistant professor at the University of Maryland. In a study performed by D’Acunto and faculty colleague Alberto Rossi, in the wake of Dodd-Frank, banks decreased mortgage lending to middle class families by about 15 percent in 2014.

“Title XIV, which regulates the mortgage market, could be in for a full-scale renovation that might ultimately improve the fortunes of potential homebuyers from the middle class,” D’Acunto says.

So if you’ve been having trouble getting a mortgage for a house, you may have less trouble – provided you find a reputable lender. Because the downside, according to D’Acunto, is that “such a move risks bringing a return of predatory behavior in lending and mortgage cross-selling, especially by large banks and by non-bank mortgage originators.”

To avoid that, D’Acunto hopes that Congress intervenes “surgically on Title XIV” and only reduces the regulatory costs imposed by the new Qualified Mortgage classification. Created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Qualified Mortgage category of loans includes features designed to make it more likely that a consumer will be able to pay it back.

But if they don’t intervene with the careful attention to detail D’Acunto advises, then expect “big changes, most of them negative,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor whose specialty is in real estate finance.

Potential best-case scenario: After being denied a mortgage for some time, you finally get your house.

Potential worst-case scenario: Because you were steered to a high-interest loan you can’t afford, you lose your house.

How credit cards, auto loans and student loans might be affected. There has been a lot of talk that the CFPB could be a casualty in the executive order that asks the Treasury secretary to review Dodd-Frank. But will it be ripped to shreds or have its power diminished?

The latter seems to already be happening. For instance, lawmakers, led by Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), are in the midst of trying to repeal a rule that is scheduled to go into effect this fall. The rule, among other things, would mandate prepaid-card companies to disclose detailed information about their fees, make it easier to access account information and would curb a consumer’s losses if the cards are lost or stolen.

A little weakening might not be so bad, Reiss says. He thinks the CFPB has tightened “the credit box too much, meaning that some people who could manage more credit are not getting access to it.”

But he also thinks if the CFPB were dismantled, the negatives would far outweigh the positives.

Potential best-case scenario: Easier access to loans and more choices. And for some consumers who can now get that car or credit card, their quality of life improves.

Potential worst-case scenario: Thanks to that easier access, some consumers end up stuck with high-interest loans with a lot of hidden fees and rue the day they applied for them.

HUD, Exit Stage Left

photo by Gage Skidmore

Obama HUD Secretary Julián Castro

President Obama had members of his Cabinet write Exit Memos that set forth their vision for their agencies. Julián Castro, his Secretary of HUD, titled his Housing as a Platform for Opportunity. It is worth a read as a roadmap of a progressive housing agenda. While it clearly will carry little weight over the next few years, it will become relevant once the political winds shift back, as they always do. Castro writes,

Every year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) creates opportunity for more than 30 million Americans, including more than 11.6 million children. That support ranges from assisting someone in critical need with emergency shelter for a night to helping more than 7.8 million homeowners build intergenerational wealth. Simply put, HUD provides a passport to the middle class.

HUD is many things but, most of all, it is the Department of Opportunity. Everything we did in the last eight years was oriented to bring greater opportunity to the people we serve every day. That includes the thousands of public housing residents who now have access to high-speed Internet through ConnectHome. It includes the more than 1.2 million borrowers in 2016 – more than 720,000 of them first-time homebuyers – who reached their own American Dream because of the access to credit the Federal Housing Administration provides. And it includes the hundreds of thousands of veterans since 2010 who are no longer experiencing homelessness and are now better positioned to achieve their full potential in the coming years.

Our nation’s economy benefits from HUD’s work. As our nation recovered from the Great Recession, HUD was a driving force in stabilizing the housing market. When natural disasters struck, as with Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast, the historic flooding in Louisiana, and many other major disasters – HUD helped the hardest-hit communities to rebuild, cumulatively investing more than $18 billion in those areas, and making it possible for folks to get back in their homes and back to work. And when we invested those dollars, we encouraged communities not just to rebuild, but to rebuild in more resilient ways. The $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition demonstrated our commitment to encourage communities to build infrastructure that can better withstand the next storm and reduce the costs to the American taxpayer.

Housing is a platform for greater opportunity because it is so interconnected with health, safety, education, jobs and equality. We responded to the threat posed by lead-contaminated homes by launching a forthcoming expansion of critical protections for children and families in federally assisted housing. And we finally fulfilled the full obligation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act by putting into practice the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to ensure that one day a child’s zip code won’t determine his or her future.

Much has been accomplished during the Obama Administration, but new challenges are on the horizon, including a severely aging public housing stock and an affordable housing crisis in many areas of the country. Just as HUD provided necessary reinforcement to the housing market during the latest economic crisis, this vital Department will be crucial to the continued improvement of the American economy and the security of millions of Americans in the years to come. (2)

There is a fair amount of puffery in this Exit Memo, but that is to be expected in a document of this sort. it does, however, set forth a comprehensive of policies that the next Democratic administration is sure to consider. If you want an overview of HUD’s reach, give it a read.

Dipping Into Home Equity

photo by Aitor Méndez

TheStreet.com quoted me in Americans Are Increasingly Dipping Into Home Equity. It opens,

Is there a flipside to rising home values across the nation?

Take California, where stronger home value figures “are giving many homeowners a reason to tap into their equity and spend money,” according to the California Credit Union League.

The CCUL states that approximately 5.2 million homes with mortgages across 11 different metropolitan statistical areas in the Golden State “had at least 20% equity as of June 2016,” citing data from RealtyTrac. Meanwhile, home equity loan originations rise by 15% over the same time period, to $2 billion. “Altogether, HELOCs and home equity loans (second-mortgages) outstanding increased 5% to more than $10 billion (up from a low of $9.2 billion in 2013 but down from $14.2 billion in 2008),” the CCUL reports.

The organization doesn’t see all that home equity lending and spending as a bad thing.

“The local surge in home-equity lending and cash-out refinancings reflects a strong national trend in homeowners increasingly remodeling their homes and enhancing their properties,” said Dwight Johnston, chief economist for the California Credit Union League.

Financial experts generally agree with that assessment, noting that American homeowners went years without making much-needed upgrades on their properties and are using home equity to spruce up their homes.

“Homeowners are cashing in on home equity again because they can,” says Crystal Stranger, founder and tax operations director at 1st Tax, in Wilmington, Del. Stranger says that for many years, home values have decreased or only increased very minor amounts, but now home values have finally increased to a significant enough level where there is equity enough to borrow. “This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though,” she says. “With the stagnant real estate market over the last decade, many homes built during the boom were poorly constructed and have deferred maintenance and upgrades that will need to be made before they could be re-sold. Using the equity in
a home to spruce up to get the maximum sale price is a smart investment.”

U.S. homeowners have apparently learned a harsh lesson from the Great Recession and the slow-growth years that followed, others say.

“Before the financial crisis, many used home equity as a piggy bank for such lifestyle expenditures,” says David Reiss, Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, in Brooklyn, N.Y. “Many who did came to regret it after house values plummeted.” Since the financial crisis, homeowners with home equity have been more cautious about spending it, Reiss adds, and lenders have been more conservative about lending on it. “Now, with the financial crisis and the foreclosure crisis receding into the past, both homeowners and lenders are letting up a little,” he says. “Credit is becoming more available and people are taking advantage of it.”

“Nonetheless, good financial advice is timeless, and that hard-earned home equity should be protected from casual expenditures,” Reiss notes. “Your future self will thank you for it, no doubt.”

Other financial industry insiders agree and warn homeowners who take out home equity loans that there is great risk attached to using the money in non-essential ways.

Another Housing Bubble?

bubble-500130_1280

Trulia quoted me in Warning Signs: Another Housing Bubble Is Coming. It opens,

Signs show another bubble coming. Some experts have a different opinion.

When the housing market crashed in 2008, it caused what came to be known as ”The Great Recession.” When the bubble burst, it ”sent a shock through the entire financial system, increasing the perceived credit risk throughout the economy,” according to a report published in The Journal of Business Inquiry.

The crash caused homes to lose up to half their value. People became underwater, owing more than their home was worth. And who wants to pay on a mortgage that’s larger than what the home could sell for? Although some people did just that, many more opted to short sell their homes or to simply walk away and have the bank foreclose.

Present Day

Fast-forward to 2016, and we are seeing hot, even ” overheated,” housing markets; bidding wars; rising home prices; and house flippers – all the signs of a housing bubble that’s about to burst. Are we repeating the mistakes we made before? Yes and no. Let’s explore four reasons the housing bubble burst and whether we’re experiencing the same conditions today.

1. Easy Credit

Before the 2008 crash, credit was easy to get. Pretty much, if you were breathing, you could get a mortgage loan. This led to people getting mortgages who ultimately couldn’t afford to pay them back. They lost their homes, and this contributed in large part to the housing crisis. Today the situation is different. ”Credit is still much tighter than it was before the financial crisis,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School. ”This is particularly true for those with less-than-perfect credit scores.” He explains: ”There are almost no no-down-payment loans as there were in the early 2000s. Those defaulted at incredibly high rates.”

But what about Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans? They feature ”low down payments, low closing costs, and easy credit qualifying.” Those are the very features that should sound some warning bells. But before you get too alarmed, keep in mind that the FHA has been making loans to people who do not qualify for a conventional mortgage since 1934. ”While there are low-down-payment loans available from Fannie, Freddie, and the FHA, their underwriting standards appear to be higher than those for low-down-payment products from the early 2000s,” says Reiss.

2. Low Interest Rates

Mortgage rates have been low for so long that you might not realize that was not always the case. In 1982, for example, mortgage rates were 18 percent. From 2002 to 2005, the rates stayed at about 6 percent, which enticed people to take out mortgage loans. And in 2016, we’re seeing historic lows of under 3.5 percent. If rates go up, we might see housing demand and housing prices fall.

3. ARMS

Before the housing crash when home prices were rising fast, many people were priced out of the market with a fixed-rate mortgage because they couldn’t afford the monthly mortgage payments. But they could afford lower payments that were possible with an adjustable-rate mortgage – until that rate adjusted up. In 2005, 38.5 percent of the mortgage market was ARMs. But in 2015, that amount has dropped considerably to 5.3 percent.

4. A Buying Frenzy

There’s an old story that before the stock market crash of 1929, Joseph Kennedy, Sr., sold his shares. Why? Because he received a stock tip from a shoeshine boy. Kennedy figured, the story goes, that if the stock market was popular enough for a shoeshine boy to be interested, the speculative bubble had become too big.

Before the housing crash, this country saw a home buying frenzy similar to what happened before the stock market crash. Everyone from lenders to rating agencies to investors (foreign and American) to investment bankers to home buyers was eager to get into the mortgage game because house values kept rising. Today, we are seeing a similar buying frenzy in some markets, such as San Francisco, New York, and Miami . Some experts think that the price increases of homes in those areas are not sustainable. They say that because heavy foreign investment in those areas is part of what’s driving up prices, if those investments slow or stop, we could see a bubble burst.

So what do some experts think?

David Ranish, owner/broker for The Coastline Real Estate Group in Laguna Beach, CA, says: ”There are concerns about another housing bubble, but I do not see it. The market could stabilize, but a complete collapse is highly unlikely.”

Bruce Ailion, an Atlanta, GA, real estate expert, says,” ”Five to six years ago, I was a buyer of homes. Today I am a seller.”

David Reiss says, ”It is probably a fool’s game to predict the future of the housing market or whether we are in a bubble that is soon to burst.”