Rental Housing Landscape

A Row of Tenements, by Robert Spencer (1915)

NYU’s Furman Center released its 2017 National Rental Housing Landscape. My two takeaways are that, compared to the years before the financial crisis, (1) many tenants remain rent burdened and (2) higher income households are renting more. These takeaways have a lot of consequences for housing policymakers. We should keep these developments in mind as we debate tax reform proposals regarding the mortgage interest deduction and the deduction of property taxes. When it comes to housing, who should the tax code be helping more — homeowners or renters?

The Executive Summary of the report reads,

This study examines rental housing trends from 2006 to 2015 in the 53 metropolitan areas of the U.S. that had populations of over one million in 2015 (“metros”), with a particular focus on the economic recovery period beginning in 2012.

Median rents grew faster than inflation in virtually every metro between 2012 and 2015, especially in already high rent metros.

Despite rising rents, the share of renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent (defined as rent burdened households) fell slightly between 2012 and 2015, as did the share spending more than 50 percent (defined as severely rent burdened households). Still, these shares were higher in 2015 than in 2006, and far higher than in earlier decades.

The number and share of renters has increased considerably since 2006 and continued to rise in virtually every metro from 2012 to 2015. Within that period, the increase in renter share was relatively larger for high socioeconomic status households. That said, the typical renter household still has lower income and less educational attainment than the typical non-renter household.

Following years of decline during the Great Recession, the real median income of renters grew between 2012 and 2015, but this was primarily driven by the larger numbers of higher income households that are renting and the increasing incomes of renter households with at least one member holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. The real median income of renter households with members with just a high school degree or some college grew more modestly and remained below 2006 levels in 2015.

Thus, the recent decline in the share of rent burdened households should be cautiously interpreted. The income of the typical renter household increased as the economy recovered, but part of this increase came from a change in the composition of the renter population as more high socioeconomic status households chose to rent their homes.

For almost every metro, the median rent in 2015 for units that had been on the market within the previous year was higher than that for other units, suggesting that renters would likely face a rent hike if they moved. The share of recently available rental units that were affordable to households earning their metro’s median income fell between 2012 and 2015. And in 2015, only a small share of recently available rental units were affordable to households earning half of their metro’s median income. (3, footnote omitted)

Reverse Mortgage Drawbacks

photo by www.aag.com

US News and World Report quoted me in 6 Drawbacks of Reverse Mortgages. It opens,

For some seniors, reverse mortgages represent a financial lifeline. They are a way to tap into home equity and pay the bills when meager savings won’t do the job. Others view this financial product with suspicion and point to stories of seniors losing their homes because of the fine print in the paperwork.

Amy Ford, senior director of home equity initiatives and social accountability for the National Council on Aging, says regulatory changes were made in recent years to eliminate many of the horror stories associated with reverse mortgages gone wrong. Home equity conversion mortgages – as reverse mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration are known – now incorporate many consumer protections. These help seniors ensure they can afford the loan and are aware of its potential consequences.

“It’s a magic credit line,” says Jane Bryant Quinn, AARP Bulletin personal finance expert, when asked why people would want a reverse mortgage. “It increases every year at the same rate as the interest you pay.” She recommends that seniors consider taking out a HECM line of credit and then borrowing against it sparingly. That way, retirees have protection against inflation and a source of income in the event of a down market.

Despite their appealing benefits, some financial experts urge caution. “I wouldn’t say there is no place for reverse mortgages,” says Ian Atkins, financial analyst for Fit Small Business. “But that doesn’t make a reverse mortgage a good option for everyone.”

Here are six drawbacks to reverse mortgage products.

1. Not every reverse mortgage has the protections of a HECM. While HECMs are the dominant player in the reverfederally insured

consumer proptection

se mortgage market, seniors could end up with a different product. Atkins says single purpose reverse mortgages are backed by a state or non-profit to allow seniors to tap home equity for a specific purpose, such as making home repairs or paying taxes. There are also proprietary reverse mortgages, sometimes called jumbo reverse mortgages, available to those who want a loan that exceeds the HECM limits.

These proprietary reverse mortgages make up a small portion of the market, but come with the most risk. They aren’t federally insured and don’t have the same consumer protections as a HECM.

A reverse mortgage can be a lifesaver for people with lots of home equity, but not much else.

“Another common issue with [proprietary] reverse mortgages is cross-selling,” Atkins says. “Even though it may not be legal, some companies will want to push investments, annuities, life insurance, home improvements and any other number of products on their borrowers.”

2. Other people in the house may lose their home if you move. HECMs are structured in such a way that once a borrower passes away or moves out, the balance on the loan becomes due. In the past, some reverse mortgages were taken out in one person’s name and the non-borrowing spouse’s name was removed from the title. When the borrowing spouse died or moved to a nursing home, the remaining husband or wife often needed to sell the house to pay off the loan.

“There are now some protections for those who were removed from titles,” Ford says. However, the protections extended to non-borrowing spouses do not apply to others who may be living in the house.

A disabled child, roommate or other relative could wind up without a place to live if you take out a reverse mortgage, can no longer remain in the home and don’t have cash to pay off the balance. “If it’s a tenant, you might not care,” says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and author at REFinBlog.com. “But if it’s your nephew, you may care.”

3. Your kids might be forced to sell the family home. If you’re hoping to pass your home on to your children, a reverse mortgage can make that difficult. Unless they have cash available to pay off the loan, families may find they have no choice but to sell once you’re gone.

That isn’t necessarily a reason to rule out a reverse mortgage, but Ford encourages parents to discuss their plans with family members. Everyone with a stake in the home – either emotional or financial – should understand what happens to the property once the borrower can no longer live there.

4. The mortgage balance might be due early if you have trouble paying your property taxes, insurance or homeowners association fees. Reiss says the marketing for some reverse mortgages can make seniors feel like the product is a cure-all for money problems. “There’s this promise that reverse mortgages will take care of your finances,” he says. “What they don’t mention is that your mortgage doesn’t cover your property taxes.”

If a borrower fails to pay taxes, maintain insurance or keep current with homeowners association dues, the lender can step in. Ford says many companies will try to work with a borrower to address the situation. However, repeated missed payments could result in the loan being revoked.

Financial counseling requirements for HECMs are designed to prevent these scenarios. Quinn says some companies will take additional precautions if warranted. “If the lender thinks there’s a risk you’ll run out of cash, it will set aside part of the loan for future taxes and insurance,” she says.

5. Fees can be high. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes reverse mortgages are often more expensive than other home loans. “Don’t just assume that because it’s marketed to seniors without a lot of money, that it is the most cost-efficient way of solving your [financial] problem,” Reiss says. Depending on your needs, a traditional line of credit or other loan product may be a cheaper option.

Mortgage Rates & Refis

TheStreet.com quoted me in Mortgage Rates Expected to Rise and Push Down Refinancing Levels. It reads, in part,

Mortgage rates will continue their upward climb in 2017 as the economy demonstrates additional growth and inflation, but this will of course dampen the enthusiasm for homeowners who have sought to refinance their mortgages up until early this year.

The levels of refinancing will definitely “take a hit relative to 2016,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, a New York-based financial content company.”

A survey conducted by RateWatch found that 56.57% of the 400 financial institutions polled said it is unlikely mortgage rates will fall and unlikely there will be an increase in refinancing in 2017. RateWatch, a Fort Atkinson, Wis.-based premier banking data and analytics service owned by TheStreet, Inc., surveyed the majority of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions in the U.S. between December 16 and December 29, 2016 on how the Donald Trump presidency will affect the banking industry. The survey found that 35.71% said an increase in refinancing levels is very unlikely, while 6.29% said such an increase is somewhat likely, 1.14% said one would be likely and 0.29% said it would be very likely.

Mortgage rates, which are tied to the 10-year Treasury note, are predicted to fluctuate between 4% to 4.5% in 2017 “with a brief trip below 4% in the event of a market sell-off or economic stumble,” McBride said.

The 4% threshold is critical for homeowners, because when mortgage rates fall below this benchmark level, more consumers are in a position to refinance “profitably,” which is why 2016 experienced a “surge in activity,” McBride said.

When rates rise about the 4% level, the number of homeowners who opt to refinance declines dramatically and “refinancing levels will be notably lower in 2017,” he said.

The mortgages in the 3% range gave many homeowners the opportunity to refinance last year, some for the second time, as many consumers also chose to refinance their mortgages during the 2013 to 2015 period.

As the economy expands and workers are experiencing pay increases, the number of home sales should also rise in 2017.

“People who are working and receiving a pay increase will buy a house whether mortgage rates are 4% or 4.5%,” McBride said. “They may buy a different house, but they will still buy a house.”

Refinancing activity is likely to continue ramping up in January rather than later in the year as the “recent dip in rates allows procrastinators to act before rates continue their movement up,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based real estate company. “As interest rates resume their ascent and get closer to 4.5% on the 30-year mortgage, the number of households who can benefit from refinancing will diminish. That’s why we expect lenders to shift their focus to the purchase market this year.”

Economic growth resulted in interest rates rising before the election and in its aftermath. The rates rose because of the expectation from the financial markets of expanding fiscal policies leading to additional growth and inflationary pressures, Smoke said.

Mortgage rates will continue to rise in 2017 as a result of more people being employed, and this economic backdrop will favor the buyer’s market instead of the refinancing market. Current data from the Mortgage Bankers Association already demonstrates that refinancing activity has declined compared to 2016 due to higher interest rates, Smoke said.

“Rates have eased a bit since the start of the year as evidence of a substantial shift in inflation remains limited and the financial markets oversold bonds in December,” he added.

*     *     *

Borrowers should be concerned with increased interest rate volatility in 2017, said David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School. The Trump administration has been sending out mixed signals, which may lead bond investors and lenders to change their outlook more frequently than in the past.

“Borrowers should focus on locking in attractive interest rates quickly and working closely with their lender to ensure that the loan closes before the interest rate lock expires,” he said. “While there is no clear consensus on why rates went lower after the new year, Trump has not set forth a clear plan as to how he will achieve those goals and Congress has not signaled that it is fully on board with them. This leaves investors less confident that Trump will make good on those positions, particularly in the short-term.”

The Trump Effect on Mortgage Rates

photo by Sergiu Bacioiu

The Christian Science Monitor quoted me in What Does President Trump Really Mean for Mortgage Rates? It opens,

In the week following the election, mortgage rates soared nearly half a percentage point. Average weekly 30-year fixed home loan rates are back above 4% for the first time since July 2015.

Here’s a three-minute read on the Trump Effect — past, present and future — on mortgage rates.

What happened to mortgage rates right after the election

Investors sold bonds on President-elect Donald Trump’s stated goals to lower taxes, boost deregulation and make massive infrastructure investments. A growing economy fueled by government spending could trigger higher inflation, which is a concern for the bond market.

As bond prices fell from the sell-off, yields rose. Higher bond yields equal higher mortgage rates. is happening with mortgage rates now

What is happening with mortgage rates now

Rates are already taking a breath. After a quick run-up following the election,  30-year mortgage rates are generally holding steady, near 4%.

What will happen to mortgage rates in 2017

The Federal Reserve this week reaffirmed its intention to begin raising short-term interest rates, most likely beginning in December. Following that hike, if it happens, the U.S. central bank’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee is looking to manage a slow climb in rates.

“The FOMC continues to expect that the evolution of the economy will warrant only gradual increases in the federal funds rate over time to achieve and maintain maximum employment and price stability,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen told Congress on Nov. 17. Those moves will influence longer-term rates such as on mortgages to rise as well.

And there’s another potential trigger for mortgage rates to move higher.

While Trump hasn’t taken a stance yet, Republican party leaders have been vocal about getting the government out of the mortgage business. That could mean redefining the role of the Federal Housing Administration and moving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the private sector.

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, concentrates on real estate finance and community development. He sees the Republican agenda to “reduce the government’s footprint in the mortgage market” as a possible catalyst to higher mortgage rates in the future.

“You put the government’s stamp of approval on companies like Fannie and Freddie, and it lowers interest rates because they can borrow at a lower rate — but then the taxpayers are on the hook if things go south, and that was the case in 2008,” Reiss tells NerdWallet. “If you reduce the federal government’s role in the housing markets, you’re going to reduce the likelihood of future bailouts by taxpayers. That’s the trade-off.”

Mortgage Market Forecast

crystal-ball

OnCourseLearning.com’s new financial services blog quoted me in Mortgage Rates Likely to Remain Low for Foreseeable Future. It opens,

In the weeks since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, previously low interest rates have fallen to near historically low levels.

For the week ending Aug. 25, a 30-year fixed rate mortgage averaged 3.43%, just slightly above the record low of 3.31% established in 2012. At the same time a year ago, the average mortgage rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage was 3.84%, according to Freddie Mac.

The drop in interest rates appears to be drawing more homeowners into the mortgage market. Freddie Mac now expects 2016 loan originations to reach $2 trillion, the highest level since 2012.

Market Uncertainty

While markets have calmed since the Brexit vote in late June, the Mortgage Bankers Association cautioned in a July 14 Economic and Mortgage Finance commentary that the actual “terms and conditions of the exit will continue to destabilize markets.”

Global economic uncertainty, oil price fluctuations, slow economic growth and the potential for interest rate hikes suggest market instability will likely continue for some time, experts said. As a result, most analysts expect interest rates will remain low, at least in the short term.

“Those who have been betting on increasing interest rates have been wrong for a long time now,” said David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and research director of its Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. He believes rates likely will remain low “over the next six to 12 months, partially driven by a further reduction in spreads between Treasury yields and mortgage rates.”

Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, a personal finance website, expects “the backdrop of slow global economic growth, low inflation, and negative interest rates elsewhere will keep demand for U.S. bonds high, and mortgage rates [below] 4% in the foreseeable future.”

In July, Freddie Mac predicted the 30-year rate won’t top 3.6% in 2016, or 4% in 2017.

Lending Opportunities

The low-interest rates have created new opportunities for lenders. Refinance bids recently reached their highest level in three years.

“With mortgage rates having been range-bound for so long, this breakout to the low side has opened the door to refinancing for homeowners who had previously refinanced around 4% or even just below,” McBride said. He expects refinancing demand to continue as long as mortgage rates stay close to 3.5%, but predicts rates may need to drop a bit more to prolong the boom.

Meanwhile, rising home prices are creating more equity, and the MBA expects homeowners to want more cash-out refinancing. In its July 14 report, the MBA raised its 2016 refinance origination forecasts by 10% to $760 billion, replacing its pre-Brexit projection of a decrease.

As rates fall, refinancing becomes attractive earlier for those with outsize mortgages. These jumbo loans are those that exceed $417,000 in most of the country, or $625,000 in high-priced markets like New York and San Francisco, according to a July 7 online article in the Wall Street Journal. With these big loans, lower rates can mean substantial savings.

“Borrowers with larger loans stand to gain more by refinancing, and may not need as large of a rate incentive than borrowers with lower loan balances,” according to the July 14 MBA report. Because more affluent borrowers take out these loans, they generally have fewer delinquencies or foreclosures, and lenders can steer big borrowers to a bank’s other accounts and services. They’re also becoming cheaper: Rates on jumbo loans were at record lows in July, according to the MBA.

Reiss thinks lenders have been somewhat “slow to expand in the jumbo market, and may now gain a leg up over their competitors by doing so.”

Potential Risks

Still, lenders face some risks to profitability, including increased regulatory expenses such as the impact of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new TRID rule. Most of the pain from the TRID regulations, Reiss said, involve “transition costs for implementing the new regulation, and those costs will decrease over time.”

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

Renting in America’s Largest Cities

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Following up on an earlier graphic they produced, the NYU Furman Center and Capital One have issued a report, Renting in America’s Largest Cities. The Executive Summary reads,

This study includes the central cities of the 11 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. (by population) from 2006 to 2013: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

The number and share of renters rose in all 11 cities.

The rental housing stock grew in all 11 cities from 2006 to 2013, while owner-occupied stock shrank in all but two cities.

In all 11 cities except Atlanta, the growth in supply of rental housing was not enough to keep up with rising renter population. Mismatches in supply and demand led to decreasing rental vacancy rates in all but two of the 11 cities in the study’s sample.

The median rent grew faster than inflation in almost all of the 11 cities in this study. In five cities, the median rent also grew substantially faster than the median renter income. In three cities, rents and incomes grew at about the same pace. In the remaining three cities, incomes grew substantially faster than rents.

In 2013, more than three out of every five low-income renters were severely rent burdened in all 11 cities. In most of the 11 cities, over a quarter of moderate-income renters were severely rent burdened in 2013 as well.

From 2006 to 2013, the percentage of low-income renters facing severe rent burdens increased in all 11 cities in this study’s sample, while the percentage of moderate-income renters facing severe rent burdens increased in six of those cities.

Even in the cities that had higher vacancy rates, low-income renters could afford only a tiny fraction of units available for rent within the last five years.

The typical renter could afford less than a third of recently available rental units in many of the central cities of the 11 largest U.S. metro areas.

Many lower- and middle-income renters living in this study’s sample of 11 cities could be stuck in their current units; in 2013, units occupied by long-term tenants were typically more affordable than units that had been on the rental market in the previous five years.

In six of the cities in this study, the median rent for recently available units in 2013 was over 20 percent higher than the median rent for other units in that year, indicating that many renters would likely face significant rent hikes if they had to move. (4)

While this report does an excellent job on its own terms, it does not address the issue of location affordability, which takes into account transportation costs when determining the affordability of a particular city. It would be very helpful if the authors supplemented this report with an evaluation of transportation costs in these 11 cities. This would give a more complete picture of how financially burdened residents of these cities are.