The Importance of Mortgage Data

Senate Bill 2155 is looking like it will be enacted and reduce the amount of data collected pursuant to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. The Federal Reserve Bulletin includes a report that demonstrates just how useful that data is, Residential Mortgage Lending in 2016: Evidence from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Data. Key findings of the report include,

1. The number of mortgage originations in 2016 rose 13 percent, to 8.4 million from 7.4 million in 2015. For loans secured by one- to four-family properties, growth was strong in both home-purchase originations—which increased to 4.0 million from 3.7 million in 2015—and refinance originations—which increased to 3.8 million from 3.2 million in 2015.

2. Black and Hispanic white borrowers increased their share of home-purchase loans for one- to four-family, owner-occupied, site-built properties in 2016, the third consecutive annual rise for both groups. The HMDA data indicate that 6.0 percent of such loans went to black borrowers, up from 5.5 percent in 2015, while 8.8 percent went to Hispanic white borrowers, up from 8.3 percent in 2015. The share of home-purchase loans to low- or moderate-income (LMI) borrowers decreased to 26 percent in 2016 from 28 percent in 2015.

3. The average value of home-purchase loans rose 3.2 percent in 2016, to $257,000, with similar increases for loans made to borrowers of different racial and ethnic groups. The average value of home-purchase loans to Hispanic white borrowers remained well below the 2006 peak, while the averages for Asian, black, and non-Hispanic white borrowers were all above their 2006–07 peaks.

4. Black and Hispanic white borrowers continued to be much more likely to use nonconventional loans (that is, loans with mortgage insurance from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or guarantees from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Farm Service Agency (FSA), or the Rural Housing Service (RHS)) than conventional loans compared with other racial and ethnic groups. In 2016, among home-purchase borrowers, 69 percent of blacks and 60 percent of Hispanic whites took out a no-conventional loan, whereas about 35 percent of non-Hispanic whites and just 16 percent of Asians did so.

5. The share of mortgages originated by non-depository, independent mortgage companies has increased sharply in recent years. In 2016, this group of lenders accounted for 53 percent of first-lien owner-occupant home-purchase loans, up from 50 percent in 2015. Independent mortgage companies also originated 52 percent of first-lien owner–occupant refinance loans, an increase from 48 percent in 2015. For the first time since at least 1995, non-depository, independent mortgage companies accounted for a majority of each of these types of loans. (2-3)

 It is important that HMDA data continue to provide a reliable overview of the mortgage market so that changes in the market can be identified and policies can be modified to respond to them. It remains to be seen just how much Senate Bill 2155 will reduce the usefulness of HMDA data. Time will tell.

Real Estate Scams to Avoid

Scam Detector quoted me in 10 Real Estate Scams That You Need To Avoid Today. It opens,

The real estate industry is a sector that’s extremely profitable if done right. If you think about it, a house is the most expensive item that a person buys over his/her lifetime. Big money, big opportunities. However, on the same token criminals prey on the weak and use creative ways to make a lot of money by scamming victims all over the world, whether buyers, sellers or realtors.

Amongst the most notorious fraudulent practices on the market, we have already exposed and shared information about real estate investment scams, home buying scams, residential real estate tips and the Real Estate Agent Scam.

This week we caught up with a few fraud prevention experts and real estate professionals. We invited them to share new tips and expose some prevalent scams they’re aware of, which are happening now.

Here are 10 real estate scams that you need to avoid today:

1. Hackers Stealing Your Down Payment: Mortgage Closing Date

“A hacker could fool you into thinking he’s your agent and trick you into sending him money, which you’ll never get back. It’s so bad the FTC even sent an alert warning consumers that real estate agents email accounts are getting hacked.”, says Robert Siciliano, fraud prevention expert with IDTheftSecurity.com.

He continues: “Let’s say your realtor’s name is Bill Baker. Bill Baker’s e-mail account gets hacked. The hacker observes Baker’s correspondences with his clients—including you. Ahhh, the hacker sees you have an upcoming closing. The hacker, posing as Bill Baker, sends you an e-mail, complete with  instructions on where to wire your closing funds. You follow these instructions. But there’s one last step: kissing your money goodbye, as it will disappear into an untraceable abyss overseas. This scam can also target your escrow agent.”

“It’s obvious that one way to prevent this is to arrange a home purchase  deal where there are zero closing costs”, says Siciliano. “The scam is prevalent, perhaps having occurred thousands of times. It was just a matter of time until scammers recognized the opportunity to target real estate agents and their clients.

The lax security defences of the real estate industry haven’t helped. Unlike the entire financial industry who have encrypted communications, the real estate industry is a hodgepodge of free e-mail accounts and unprotected communications.”

In addition, Robert points out: “Realtors, who are so often on the go and in a hurry, frequently use public Wi-Fi like at coffee houses. Anyone involved in a real estate transaction can be hacked, such as lawyers”.

When it comes to preventing this particular scam, here are a few points that Siciliano suggests:

– Eliminate e-mail as a correspondence conduit—at least as far as information on closings and other sensitive information.

– On the other hand, you may value having “everything in writing,” and e-mail provides a permanent record. In that case, use encrypted email or  some setup that requires additional login credentials to gain access to the  communication.

– For money-wiring instructions, request a phone call. And make this  request over the phone so that the hacker doesn’t try to pose as your Realtor over the phone.

– Any e-mailed money instructions should be confirmed by phone—with the Realtor and the bank to send the money to.

– Get verification of the transfer ASAP. If you suspect a scam, have the  receiving bank freeze any withdrawal attempt of the newly deposited  funds—if you’ve reached the bank in time, that is.

2. Real Estate Agents Assigning The Sales To Themselves

“I know a victim of a realtor who is scamming his buyers by taking advantage of sudden traumatic life events”, says Mariko Baerg from Bridgewell Group.

A buyer had purchased a house. Between the time it was a firm deal and the title transfer date he got in a severe car accident and could no longer work for the short term.

The realtor that was representing him had coerced the buyer into assigning the sale to the realtor himself for a discounted price because he fearfully convinced the buyer that he would have difficulties keeping his financing from the lender.

Assigning to yourself is a clear conflict of interest, the realtor did not try to market the assignment to anyone else, and the sale amount was $100,000 less than market value! He also forged the seller’s signature to convince the buyer that it was OK to assign the property.

The issue could be avoided by making sure you have a power of attorney lined up in the case that you have an accident, making your realtor show you comparables to confirm what market value is before transferring. Also, if you have a feeling there may be a conflict of interest always obtain legal counsel or receive a second opinion to determine what your options are.”, explains Berg.

3. Arc Fault Breaker Swap Out Scam

This next fraudulent practice is exposed by Jeff Miller, co-founder of AE Home Group: “Arc fault breaker swap outs are a common scam I’ve seen in the flipping industry. Modern building code requires that electrical boxes contain arc fault breakers as opposed to traditional breakers in order to further prevent electrical fires.

While safer, these arc fault breakers can add upwards of $800 to the cost of the renovation. Following the issuance of a use and occupancy permit, some flippers will return to the home and replace these expensive arc fault breakers with the cheaper traditional breakers, adding profit to their bottom line.”, says Miller.

4. Real Estate News: Bait and Switch Scheme

Another fraudulent real estate practice is the “bait and switch” scheme, explained here by Lucas Machado, President of House Heroes: “The scam occurs when a prospective buyer offers an “above market value” price to a home seller. The seller – blown away by the high offer – excitedly signs on the dotted line.

Sadly, the unscrupulous buyer has no intention to purchase the property at this price.

Once the seller signs the contract, the seller may only sell to that buyer for a specified time (weeks to even months) for the buyer’s purported due diligence. When that time ends, the fraudster asks to extend the contract a few weeks to work out closing details. Sounding reasonable, the seller agrees to the extension blinded by the high offer.”, warns Machado.

“There are two impacts on the seller. The seller keeps paying taxes, maintenance, utilities, insurance and develops an emotional commitment to sell.

Here’s what happens in the bait and switch: the buyer comes back to the seller with an excuse as to why this price no longer works, requests  a reduction to below market value, and threatens to cancel if their demand  is not met. Stressed by passage of time and on-going costs, the frustrated  seller agrees to the reduction.”

Machado offers a concrete example: “Our company had a scenario where we offered $185,000. The seller accepted a $220,000 offer. The “buyer” asked for extension after extension, for 12 months, and then the tired seller agreed to sale price $180,000. The victimized seller had on-going costs around $10,000 and lost approximately $20,000 by not accepting our offer a year ago.”

How can you avoid the bait and switch scheme?

a. Confirm proof of funds at time of executing the contract.

b. Do not grant unreasonable extensions or reductions.

c. Set expectations early on.

d. If extension or reduction is based on condition, request an inspector or general contractor report verifying claims.

5. Duplicated Listings

Leah Slaughter with OmniKey Realty warns about a scam constantly happening in the real estate business: the Duplicated Listings.

“We often see companies copy our legitimate rental listings and post on Craigslist for a much cheaper price. Unfortunately, many people fall for  these fake listings and wire or overnight money to the owners of these fake  listings and then cannot get access and eventually locate us and all we can  do is refer them to the police.”, says Slaughter.

“When searching for a rental, do your research and make sure you are working with a reputable company or a licensed agent/broker. If a landlord says they are not local and cannot give you access to the property, that is an immediate red flag.”

6. Real Estate Lawyers: Fake Profiles

David Reiss from Brooklyn Law School warns about a new type of scam: impersonating real estate lawyers. “In this case, the scammer takes control of the proceeds of a real estate closing by impersonating one of the parties to the closing and redirecting proceeds to an account controlled by him/her. The criminal might impersonate the seller’s lawyer and instruct that the proceeds from the sale be redirected to a new account.”, says Reiss.

“All such changes should be confirmed by a phone call (to a number that you know to be valid!) to confirm that they are from the real seller.”

Troubles with TRID

"The Trouble with Tribbles" Stark Trek Episode

Law360 quoted me in Rule-Driven Home Sale Slump Could Be Temporary. It reads, in part,

A slump in existing home sales in November can be traced to the implementation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau mortgage closing regime, although experts say that most of the closing delays could ease as the industry and consumers get more comfortable with the new rules.

The National Association of Realtors released a report Tuesday saying that while a continued lack of inventory of existing homes for sale and other factors helped drive down the number of completed home sales in November, the number of signed contracts for home purchases remained relatively constant. With that in mind, the Realtors pointed to the CFPB’s TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule, which combined two key mortgage disclosure forms and went into effect in October, as the reason for the slowdown.

That slowdown was anticipated because real estate agents and lenders had reported difficulties in complying with the rule, which combined closing forms required by the Truth In Lending Act and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, prior to it coming into effect. However, experts say that the closing delays are likely to decrease as the industry understands the rule better and technology to comply with it improves.

“It’s like a python swallowing a boar … the boar has to work its way through the python,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.

The National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales slumped to 4.76 million nationwide in November from 5.32 million in October, a fall of 10.5 percent. That October figure was also revised down from an initial estimate of 5.36 million.

The November figure was also down from the 4.95 million existing sales figure from the same period last year, and put total existing home sales 3.8 percent behind the total from last year, the National Association of Realtors said.

While the real estate industry group cited the usual factors of tight supply and inflated prices in many regions of the country as a reason for the slowdown in existing home sales, it also cited the TRID rule’s implementation as a reason for the slump.

*     *     *

Most lenders, real estate agents and other market participants had already begun to factor in the new TRID requirements in the closing process, adding 15 days to the usual 30-day closing process, said Richard J. Andreano, a partner at Ballard Spahr LLP.

“When I saw the November drop, I thought that was a natural consequence of correct planning,” he said.

Despite the slowdown, Yun said in the NAR release that because contracts were signed and the problems came down to issues with closing.

“As long as closing time frames don’t rise even further, it’s likely more sales will register to this month’s total, and November’s large dip will be more of an outlier,” he said.

The CFPB, Reiss and Andreano all agreed that at least some of the delays will work out of the system as the industry gets more accustomed to TRID’s changes.

“The ones that have adjusted have done it by adding a lot of staff, either reallocating or hiring and assigning them to the closing process to get it done,” Andreano said.

And the delays that remain may not be a bad thing, Reiss said.

“It really keeps consumers from being surprised at the closing table. This gives a little bit more time to the consumer where they’re not getting waylaid,” he said.

Shaking up the Title Industry

Deeds

The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued an opinion in Edwards v. The First American Corporation et al., No. 13-555542 (Aug. 24, 2015) that may shake up how the title insurance industry works. As the court notes,

The national title insurance industry is highly concentrated, with most states dominated by two or three large title insurance companies. See U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, Title Insurance: Actions Needed to Improve Oversight of the Title Industry and Better Protect Consumers 3 (Apr. 2007). A “factor that raises questions about the existence of price competition is that title agents market to those from whom they get consumer referrals, and not to consumers themselves, creating potential conflicts of interest where the referrals could be made in the best interest of the referrer and not the consumer.” Id. Kickbacks paid by the title insurance companies to those making referrals lead to higher costs of real estate settlement services, which are passed on to consumers without any corresponding benefits. (9)

The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) is intended to eliminate illegal kickbacks in the real estate industry. In this case, the 9th Circuit has reversed the District Court’s denial of class certification in a case in which home buyers alleged that First American engaged in a scheme of paying title agencies for referring title insurance business to First American in violation of RESPA. The reversal does not get to the merits of the underlying claims, but it does open up a can of worms for title companies.

The title industry is not only highly concentrated but it is also highly profitable. In some jurisdictions like NY its prices are set by regulation at rates that greatly exceed the actuarial risks they face. Regulators like the NYS Department of Financial Services have begun to pay more attention to the title insurance industry. This is a welcome development, given that title insurance is one of the most expensive closing costs a homeowner faces when buying a home or refinancing a mortgage.

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.

Myths About Money

Chase.com quoted me in 5 Myths About Your Money. It opens,

There’s no shortage of money advice out there, but each person’s financial situation is unique. So there are times when conventional wisdom can be just plain unhelpful.

With that in mind, here are five money myths that experts say deserve to be reconsidered.

Myth #1: Your Home Is Primarily an Investment

A house can be an excellent investment, but David Reiss, professor of law and research director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School in New York, cautions against thinking of it only that way.

After all, he says, the housing market can be hard to predict, so it’s better to make decisions based on your own needs. You’re not just owning the house; you’re living in it.

“Make decisions about buying, remodeling, and refinancing your home because it makes sense for you and your family,” says Reiss. “If you make decisions based upon your guesses about the future and about what other people will do, there is a good chance that you will end up frustrated.”

Should you upgrade that bathroom? Is it solely an investment decision? Or is there also value in improving your quality of life?

Salary Needed for a House in 27 Cities

HSH.com has posted a study to answer the question — How much salary do you need to earn in order to afford the principal, interest, taxes and insurance payments on a median-priced home in your metro area? The study opens,

HSH.com took the National Association of Realtors’ fourth-quarter data for median-home prices and HSH.com’s fourth-quarter average interest rate for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages to determine how much of your salary it would take to afford the base cost of owning a home — the principal, interest, taxes and insurance — in 27 metro areas.

We used standard 28 percent “front-end” debt ratios and a 20 percent down payment subtracted from the NAR’s median-home-price data to arrive at our figures. We’ve incorporated available information on property taxes and homeowner’s insurance costs to more accurately reflect the income needed in a given market. Read more about the methodology and inputs on the final slide of this slideshow.

The theme during the fourth quarter was increased affordability.

Home prices declined from the third to the fourth quarter in all of the metro areas on our list but one. But on a year-over-year basis, home prices have continued to trend upward.

“Home prices in metro areas throughout the country continue to show solid price growth, up 25 percent over the past three years on average,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Along with affordable home prices, mortgage rates fell across the board which caused the required salaries for our metro areas to decline (again, except for one).

“Low interest rates helped preserve affordability last quarter, but it’ll take stronger income gains and more housing supply to help meet the pent-up demand for buying,” said Yun.

On a national scale, with 20 percent down, a buyer would need to earn a salary of $48,603.82 to afford the median-priced home. However, it’s possible to buy a home with less than a 20 percent down payment. Of course, the larger loan amount when financing 90 percent of the property price, plus the need for Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), raises the income needed considerably. In the national example above, a purchase of a median-priced home with only 10 percent down (and including the cost of PMI) increases the income needed to $56,140.44 – just over $7,500 more.

This sounds like a pretty reasonable methodology, but there are a lot of assumptions built into the ultimate conclusions. They are generally conservative assumptions — buyers will get a 30 year fixed rate mortgage instead of an ARM, buyers will have 28% debt ratios. I would have liked to see some accounting for location affordability, because transportation costs can vary quite a bit among metro areas, but you can’t have everything.

As always, I am particularly interested in NYC, the 24th most expensive of the 27 cities.  NYC requires an income of $87,535.60 to buy a median home for  $390,000. By way of of contrast, the cheapest metro is Pittsburgh, which requires an income of $31,716.32 to buy a median home for $135,000 and the most expensive was San Francisco, which requires an income of $142,448.33 to buy a median home for $742,900.