The Urban Institute’s Housing Finance Policy Center has released its November 2017 Housing Finance at a Glance Chartbook. The Introduction looks out how this summer’s big storms have pushed up delinquency rates:
TheStreet.com quoted me in Investing In Your Home Remains a Sound Financial Decision for 2018. It reads, in part,
Homeowners are still pouring money into their homes as renovations and upkeep are generating a large portion of sales for Home Depot as demand for purchasing homes rose in September and the three massive hurricanes in the U.S. boosted revenue.
Home Depot’s third-quarter sales surged in the aftermath of a robust hurricane season that spanned from Texas to Puerto Rico, increasing demand from homeowners who faced immense rebuilding as homes were destroyed by relentless floodwaters.
The Atlanta-based home improvement retailer reported an impressive 7.9% increase in comparable-store sales in the third quarter, which exceeded the Wall Street estimate of 5.8%. Home Depot also beat on earnings, reporting $1.84 a share, 2 cents ahead of forecasts. The company’s total revenue was $25.03 billion, up 8% from the same period last year.
“Though this quarter was marked by an unprecedented number of natural disasters,” said CEO Craig Menear in a statement, “the underlying health of our core business remains solid.
The company was able to raise its fiscal 2017 guidance due to its stellar earnings and now estimates comp sales growth of 6.5% and earnings per share of $7.36, which reflects its $8 billion buyback program this year.
Home Depot shares rose 2.7% to $168.06 on Nov. 14.
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“When an individual buys a share of stock they can monitor the value of the investment on a minute-to-minute basis,” Johnson said. “People can see the fluctuation in value. With real estate, however, no one is quoting you a price instantaneously on your real estate purchase. Absent a market price, people tend not to worry about the value of their real estate purchase and assume that it is very stable in the short run.”
Millennials tend to be conservative with their investment choices and are “drawn to this seeming stability in the value of residential real estate,” he said.
Nevertheless, purchasing a home can often be a very poor financial decision and potential home buyers need to be aware of the additional costs and potential pitfalls.
Noble laureate economist and Yale University professor Robert Shiller had made a compelling case that real estate, especially residential homes, are a much inferior investment when compared to stocks. He found that on an inflation-adjusted basis, the average home price has increased only 0.6% annually over the past 100 years.
The stock market’s average return on a large stock index such as the S&P 500 has been about 10% while inflation has averaged around 3% from 1926 through 2016 while the inflation adjusted return of the stock market over the past 90 years has been approximately 7%.
The rate of homeownership still remains much lower than the 1998 rate of 9.5% and the rate has remained stable since the commencement of the financial crisis — hovering around 5% since 2008.
So should you own or rent?
Renting can be a better deal for many consumers, depending on the city and region, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in N.Y.
“This is a better question to ask yourself than whether owning is a sound investment choice because you are going to need to live somewhere no matter what,” he said. “It is not too helpful to look at national numbers to answer this question – you should look at the figures in the communities you are considering living in.”
Avvo quoted me in What Do Renters Need To Know in A Natural Disaster? It opens,
From hurricanes in the East to wildfires in the West, the past few months have seen an on-going slew of natural disasters in the United States. Fires and floods don’t care whether a property is inhabited by owners or renters. However, most states have laws that address how landlords and tenants deal with a rental property in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
Renters’ recourse in a natural disaster? Leases and local laws.
Check the lease first
The first source of authority on the obligations of landlords and tenants is found in the lease agreement, which should spell out the terms of what happens in case of a natural disaster. But not all leases clearly address this situation. According to Michael Simkin, managing partner of Simkin & Associates in Los Angeles, in cases where the lease is “burdensome or unfair,” local or state laws will govern what happens.
Landlord and tenant responsibilities vary by state
Every state has different laws regarding landlord and tenant obligations after a natural disaster strikes. Here are examples of answers to common tenant questions from some of the states recovering from recent natural disasters.
Can a lease be terminated if a natural disaster makes a rental property unusable?
California: If a rental property is destroyed in a natural disaster, the lease is automatically cancelled. The landlord must refund the rent for that rental period on a prorated basis.
“Many times, the city can come in and condemn the property and effectively force out tenants in unsafe situations. It is also the landlord’s responsibility to terminate a lease when they have knowledge that their rental property is unusable or unsafe,” notes Monrae English, a partner at Wild, Carter & Tipton in Fresno.
Florida: If the premises are “damaged or destroyed,” the tenant may terminate the rental agreement with written notice and move out immediately.
Louisiana: According to the Louisiana attorney general, if a natural disaster damages a property to the point that it is completely unusable, the lease is terminated automatically.
New York: If a rental becomes unfit for occupancy due to a natural disaster, the tenant may quit the premises and is no longer liable to pay rent. Any rent paid in advance should be returned on a prorated basis, according to David Reiss, law professor at Brooklyn Law School.
Texas: Either the tenant or the landlord can terminate the lease with written notice. Once the lease is canceled, tenants’ obligation to pay rent ceases and they’re entitled to a prorated refund of any rent paid during the time the home was not usable.
If the lease is terminated due to a natural disaster, does the renter get the security deposit back?
California: The landlord must return the security deposit within three weeks of the tenant vacating, with any deductions accounted for in writing. The landlord is not allowed to deduct disaster damage.
Louisiana: The landlord is required to return security deposits within one month, as long as the tenant fulfilled the lease obligations and left a forwarding address, according to Brent Cueria, an attorney with Cueria Law Firm, LLC in New Orleans. The landlord cannot deduct for natural disaster damage.
New York: The security deposit must be returned to the tenant, according to Reiss.
Texas: The security deposit must be refunded.
The Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute issued its September 2017 Housing Finance At A Glance Chartbook. The introduction asks what the recent hurricanes tell us about GSE credit risk transfer. But it also has broader implications regarding the impact of climate-change related natural disasters on the mortgage market:
The GSEs’ capital markets risk transfer programs that began in 2013 have proven to be very successful in bringing in private capital, reducing the government’s role in the mortgage market and reducing taxpayer risk. Investor demand for Fannie Mae’s CAS and Freddie Mac’s STACR securities overall has been robust, in large part because of an improving economy and extremely low delinquency rates for loans underlying these securities.
Enter hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. These three storms have inflicted substantial damage to homes in the affected areas. Many of these homes have mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and many of these mortgages in turn are in the reference pools of mortgages underlying CAS and STACR securities. It is too early to know what the eventual losses might look like – that will depend on the extent of the damage, insurance coverage (including flood insurance), and the degree to which loss mitigation will succeed in minimizing borrower defaults and foreclosures.
Depending on how all of these factors eventually play out, investors in the riskiest tranches of CAS and STACR securities could witness marginally higher than expected losses. Up until Harvey, CRT markets had not experienced a real shock that threatened to affect the credit performance of underlying mortgages (except after Brexit, whose impact on the US mortgage market proved to be minimal). The arrival of these storms therefore in some ways is the first real test of the resiliency of credit risk transfer market.
It is also the first test for the GSEs in balancing the needs of borrowers with those of CRT investors. In some of the earlier fixed severity deals, investor losses were triggered when a loan went 180 days delinquent (i.e. experienced a credit event). Hence, forbearance of more than six months could trigger a credit event. Fannie Mae put out a press release that it would wait 20 months from the point at which disaster relief was granted before evaluating whether a loan in a CAS deal experienced a credit event. While most of Freddie’s STACR deals had language that dealt with this issue, a few of the very early deals did not; no changes were made to these deals. Both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have provided investors with an exposure assessment of the volume of affected loans in order to allow them to better estimate their risk exposure.
So how has the market responded so far? In the immediate aftermath of the first storm, spreads on CRT bonds generally widened by about 40 basis points, meaning investors demanded a higher rate of return. But thereafter, spreads have tightened by about 20 basis points, suggesting that many investors saw this as a good buying opportunity. This is precisely how capital markets are intended to work. If spreads had continued to widen substantially, that would have signaled a breakdown in investor confidence in future performance of these securities. The fact that that did not happen is an encouraging sign for the continued evolution of the credit risk transfer market.
To be clear, it is still very early to reasonably estimate what eventual investor losses will look like. As the process of damage assessment continues and more robust loss estimates come in, one can expect CAS/STACR pricing to fluctuate. But early pricing strongly indicates that investors’ underlying belief in these securities is largely intact. This matters because it tells the GSEs that the CRT market is resilient enough to withstand shocks and gives them confidence to further expand these offerings.
Realtor.com quoted me in Woman Can’t Live in Her Treehouse Even Though It’s Quite Posh (Take a Look!). It opens,
Most people live in houses, but Shawnee Chasser prefers her tree. In fact, the 65-year-old has been living in her custom-made abode between the forked trunks of an oak and fig tree on her late son’s half-acre property in Biscayne Gardens, FL, for the past 24 years. Hey, if it makes her happy, who cares, right?
Well, it turns out county officials do care, since they’ve deemed the treehouse to be unsafe. They’ve told Chasser to tear the structure down, but she’s flat-out refused—sparking a flurry of commentary nationwide about a controversial topic: How much control do we really have over where and how we live, anyway?
Chasser, at least, believes she has a right to stay put in her treetop chateau—a surprisingly spacious two-story place with a double bed and kitchenette complete with a tiny oven and sink. There’s even a small couch often occupied by Coonie, her pet raccoon.
“I’m not taking anything down,” Chasser told the Miami Herald. “I’ll chain myself to that tree house.” (But what about Coonie?)
Part of a land trust run by Chasser’s daughter, the property also has a cottage and minicamper, but Chasser prefers to rent those out. She also lets people pitch tents on the land to make extra cash to supplement her organic popcorn business.
About a year ago, someone called 311 to complain that Chasser was running the property like a hippie apartment complex. That’s when county code enforcement swung by and issued her a citation for illegally renting out the land, as well as living in a treehouse.
County officials concede that if the treehouse had been built with the proper permits and safety standards, there would be no problem. But, well, it wasn’t. And in an area prone to hurricanes, Chasser is endangering her own life, as well as her guests, officials claim.
As a result, Chasser has paid $3,000 in fines and could face an additional $7,000 in liens. She says she doesn’t have the money to hire engineers to rebuild or retrofit her treehouse to get it up to code, and has filed an appeal.
Although she has plenty of sympathizers, real estate experts are split over the treehouse tumult.
“The government has broad authority to regulate our daily lives in order to protect the health and safety of the people living under it,” insists David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “The fact that someone has been able to operate under the radar does not give them a pass once the government has identified a violation of zoning and building codes.”
Case Western’s Matt Rossman has posted Counting Casualties in Communities Hit Hardest by the Foreclosure Crisis (forthcoming in the Utah Law Review) to SSRN. The abstract reads,
Recent statistics suggest that the U.S. housing market has largely recovered from the Foreclosure Crisis. A closer look reveals that the country is composed not of one market, but of thousands of smaller, local housing markets that have experienced dramatically uneven levels of recovery. Repeated waves of home mortgage foreclosures inundated certain communities (the “Hardest Hit Communities”), causing their housing markets to break rather than bend and resulting in what amounts to a permanent transition to a lower value plateau. Homeowners in these predominantly low and middle income and/or minority communities who endured the Foreclosure Crisis lost significant equity in what is typically their principal asset. Public sector responses have largely ignored this collateral damage.
As the ten-year mark since the onset of the Foreclosure Crisis approaches, this Article argues that homeowners in the Hardest Hit Communities should be able to deduct the damage to their home values caused by the Crisis from their federal taxable income. This means overcoming the tax code’s usual normative assumption that a decline in a home’s value represents consumed wealth and, thus, is fully taxable. To do so, this Article likens the rapid, unusual and enduring plunge in home values experienced by homeowners in the Hardest Hit Communities to casualty losses – i.e. damages to personal property caused by a sudden force like a storm or a hurricane – which are deductible. The IRS and most courts have insisted this deduction is limited to physical damage. This Article carefully dissects the law and principles underlying the deduction to reveal that the physical damage requirement is overbroad and inequitable. When viewed in the larger context of other recent tax code interventions that allow those who have experienced personal financial harm due to a crisis to reduce their income tax base accordingly, home value damage in the Hardest Hit Communities actually fits comfortably within the concept of a casualty loss.
Notwithstanding its normative and equitable fit, the casualty loss deduction poses several administrative challenges in its application to the Foreclosure Crisis. This Article addresses each challenge in turn, explaining the extent to which the Treasury Department and the IRS, through administrative action and/or a careful application of case law precedent, can resolve it. The Article also identifies and grapples with the distributional reality that the casualty loss deduction, in its current form, provides a small or no return on lost home equity for a sizable number of low and middle income homeowners, which would make it a problematic method of recovery for homeowners in the Hardest Hit Communities. To make the deduction a better and more equitable fit under the circumstances, this Article identifies two, larger-scale modifications the federal government could adopt: (i) changing the method by which a casualty loss is valued for damage caused by the Foreclosure Crisis and/or (ii) lifting the floors and limits Congress has over time imposed on the deduction, as it has done for those taxpayers most heavily impacted by several recent hurricanes and droughts.
The article offers a creative response to ameliorate an aspect of the foreclosure crisis. Rossman concludes, “Once these homeowners are considered equally worthy of claiming a casualty loss, the question then shifts to how the IRS, the Treasury Department and/or Congress can best adapt and address the administrative and distributional challenges attendant to utilizing the casualty loss deduction in this context. These challenges are not insurmountable barriers, but rather issues to be carefully considered and strategically addressed.” (67)
I can certainly imagine some of those challenges, such as how to reliably identify a “permanent transition to a lower value plateau,” but articles of this type are just what we need as we try to figure out how to address housing crises of this magnitude. While there was a big gap between the housing crises of the Great Depression and the Great Depression we can be sure that there will be another such event at some point in the 21st century.
- NY bankruptcy judge dismissed suit against DLA Piper for misappropriation of over $36 million in payments to cover mortgage-backed securities. The judge cited NY law that “prevents wrongdoers and their successors from pursuing claims that arise out of their own misconduct.”
- NY federal judge denied “Act of God” defense made by National Electronic Transit Corporation for damage caused to machines stored in warehouse during Hurricane Sandy, instead finding that the company was under-prepared for the storm.
- RBS Securities has settled to pay $129.6 million for claims made by the National Credit Union Administration for the sale of mortgage-backed securities, which may have led to the failure of two credit unions.
- NY federal court denied Citibank’s bid to relate FDIC’s suit over failure as trustee for mortgage-backed securities to a suit accusing the bank of mishandling mortgage-backed securities in pooled loans.