Helping Your Kids Qualify for a Mortgage?

Mitchell Joyce https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Mitchell Joyce https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

The Wall Street Journal quoted me in Helping Your Kids Qualify for a Mortgage? What to Know Before Cosigning on the Dotted Line. It reads, in part,

With rising interest rates and slowing real-estate sales, homeownership remains out of reach for many would-be buyers. According to the National Association of Home Builders, in the second quarter of 2022, housing affordability fell to its lowest point since the 2007-09 recession.

The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index found that just 42.8% of new and existing homes sold between the beginning of April and the end of June were affordable to families earning the U.S. median income of $90,000. This is a sharp drop from the 56.9% of homes sold in the first quarter that were affordable to median-income earners.One option to improve affordability, especially for those who lack good credit: Have mom and dad cosign the mortgage. Many parents are willing to do so, according to data prepared for The Wall Street Journal by LendingTree Inc., an online loan marketplace, which reported that 57% of parents would be willing to cosign their child’s mortgage and 7% have done so in the past.

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There is a difference between cosigning and guaranteeing. According to David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in real estate, a parent acting as a co-borrower has the same responsibilities under the loan as their child. They are liable for the payments as they come due and can be sued by the lender for nonpayment if the loan becomes delinquent. But a parent acting as a guarantor has a different legal relationship with both the lender and the child. A parent guarantor would be responsible for the loan only if the child first defaults.

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Rethinking The Federal Home Loan Bank System

photo by Tony Webster

Law360 published my column, Time To Rethink The Federal Home Loan Bank System. It opens,

The Federal Housing Finance Agency is commencing a comprehensive review of an esoteric but important part of our financial infrastructure this month. The review is called “Federal Home Loan Bank System at 100: Focusing on the Future.”

It is a bit of misnomer, as the system is only 90 years old. Congress brought it into existence in 1932 as one of the first major legislative responses to the Great Depression. But the name of the review also signals that the next 10 years should be a period of reflection regarding the proper role of the system in our broader financial infrastructure.

Just as the name of the review process is a bit misleading, so is the name of the Federal Home Loan Bank system itself. While it was originally designed to support homeownership, it has morphed into a provider of liquidity for large financial institutions.

Banks like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Citibank NA and Wells Fargo & Co. are among its biggest beneficiaries and homeownership is only incidentally supported by their involvement with it.

As part of the comprehensive review of the system, we should give thought to at least changing the name of the system so that it cannot trade on its history as a supporter of affordable homeownership. But we should go even farther and give some thought to spinning off its functions into other parts of the federal financial infrastructure as its functions are redundant with theirs. 

Shared Equity Financing

Financing by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Ernira Mehmetaj and I published The Promise and Perils of Shared Equity Financing in the ABA’s Probate and Property magazine. It opens,

It is the rare homeowner, or even lawyer, who thinks twice about why mortgages are part of so many real estate transactions.  Real estate is expensive, and few have the money to pay for a home all in cash.  As a result, people enter in transactions with mortgage lenders and are exposed to all of the risks that come along with that type of financing:  default, late fees, foreclosure.

If you stripped away all of our history and our current practices in financing home ownership with mortgages, you might ask how could people with limited assets acquire something as expensive as a home?  It turns out that there are all sorts of ways to slice and dice the rights and responsibilities of homeownership to offer households just the aspects they want and no more.

A new development, shared equity financing, will make us all think twice about mortgages.  Its sharing of the risks and rewards of a home purchase will be attractive to many, but it also has its own share of perils that are unique to it.

Supporting The Consumer Bankruptcy Reform Act

Petar Milošević

I, along with 73 other law profs, signed a letter of support drafted by Professor Pamela Foohey (Indiana). It reads in part,

Congress enacted our current Bankruptcy Code in 1978. Much has changed since then. Even after adjusting for population growth and inflation, Federal Reserve data show that credit card debt has tripled. In 1978, student-loan debt was such a small part of household finances that the Federal Reserve did not even separately track it. Today, student-loan debt is the largest component of household debt except for home mortgages. In 1978, asset securitization was in its infancy. Mortgages and auto loans are now routinely bundled and sold to investors, separating the servicing of the loan from the financial institutions that own the loan. Advances in technology have made it easier for debt collectors to hound consumers even for debts that are decades old. In 1978, what we now think of as the Internet was a little-known research tool for academics instead of a global information revolution that has affected how Americans interact, including with consumer lenders, attorneys, and the court system. Given all these changes, it is little surprise that a forty-year-old bankruptcy law no longer serves our needs today.

The central piece of the Consumer Bankruptcy Reform Act is to create a new chapter 10 for individual bankruptcy filers. The Act also eliminates chapter 7 as an option for individual filers and repeals chapter 13. Individuals will remain able to file under chapter 11 (those with debts over $7.5 million will be required to use that chapter), but for most people, the new chapter 10 will be a single point of entry into the bankruptcy system.

The single point will substantially improve the consumer bankruptcy system by replacing the current structure where consumer debtors must choose between a chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy or a chapter 13 repayment plan bankruptcy. There are substantial differences around the country in the rates at which people use chapter 7 and chapter 13. In 2019, only 9.6% of the bankruptcy cases in the District of Idaho were chapter 13 cases as compared to 81.0% of the cases in the Southern District of Georgia. The gaping disparity itself is an indictment of a federal system that the Constitution directs to be “uniform.”

Deed of Trust vs. Mortgage

photo by Taber Andrew Bain

LendingTree quoted me in Deed of Trust vs. Mortgage: Key Differences. It reads, in part,

Foreclosure process

Each type of security instrument leads to a different type of foreclosure process. Deed of trust states typically have a non-judicial foreclosure process. “The trustee has the power under the terms of the deed of trust to actually sell the property,” said David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and real estate expert. “That can happen in some jurisdictions in a matter of weeks or a matter of a few months.”

A deed of trust foreclosure doesn’t involve going to court. In mortgage states, though, the lender must get a court order to foreclose on a home. This is called a judicial foreclosure. “In many jurisdictions, particularly in New York and New Jersey, [a judicial foreclosure] could take years to actually do,” Reiss said. “From a lender perspective, that’s not so great.”

Your state’s laws will determine which security instrument you use and which type of foreclosure process lenders are required to follow. Some states allow both types of foreclosures, but non-judicial foreclosures are more common than judicial foreclosures. The states that primarily use a non-judicial foreclosure process are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.

How To Buy A Foreclosed Home

photo by Taber Andrew Bain

US News & World Report quoted me in  How to Buy a Foreclosed Home. It opens,

As home prices soar in many cities, buyers might look to foreclosures as an affordable option for landing their dream home. Typically, a foreclosure occurs when a homeowner no longer can make the mortgage payments and the lender seizes the property. The lender then requires the former owner to vacate the property before offering it for sale, usually at a discounted price. In some cases, the home is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Foreclosures offer home shoppers the potential to score a great deal, says Elizabeth Mendenhall, a Realtor in Columbia, Missouri, who is president of the National Association of Realtors.

“Sometimes people think a foreclosure only happens to the lower end of the market, but you can definitely find foreclosures at any price range,” she says.

But while buying a foreclosure can save you a lot of cash, it does come with risks. If you pursue a foreclosure, it helps to have a “stomach of steel,” says David Reiss, law professor and academic programs director of the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.
“There’s going to be a lot more ups and downs” than in a typical homebuying process, says Reiss, whose work focuses on real estate finance and community development.

Why Buy a Foreclosure?

In recent years, foreclosure sales have been trending downward, according to national property data curating company Attom Data Solutions. That is largely because a strengthening U.S. economy has reduced the number of borrowers who lose their homes as a result of failing to pay the mortgage. In 2017, distressed home sales – including foreclosures and short sales – made up 14 percent of all U.S. single family home and condo sales, according to Attom Data Solutions. That number was down from 15.5 percent in 2016 and a recent high of 38.6 percent in 2011.

Still, some buyers look to foreclosures to get the best possible deal. Homes may be for sale in various states of foreclosure. For example, pre-foreclosure is a period when the owner has fallen behind on payments, but the lender has not actually taken the home from the owner. Homes sold at this point often go through the short sale process, where the lender agrees to accept an amount of money from the buyer that is less than what the current owner owes on the mortgage.

Properties that are already in foreclosure are sold at an online or offline auction, or by a real estate agent. The biggest lure of buying a foreclosure is the potential savings you get compared with buying a similar nondistressed property.

“It can be like a 15 percent discount on your neighboring houses,” Reiss says. “So, it can be significant.”

But Mendenhall says how much you will save depends on the local real estate market and the stage of foreclosure of the property.

The Risks of Buying a Foreclosure

Purchasing a foreclosure involves several substantial risks, so buyers must enter the process with their eyes wide open. In many cases, if you buy a foreclosure at auction, you must purchase the property sight unseen. Reiss says this is the biggest potential danger of buying a foreclosure.

“The big, scary thing is that with a number of foreclosures, you can’t actually inspect the property before you actually bid,” he says. “That’s in part why the prices are below the market.”

Even if you can get a professional inspection on a foreclosure, you typically have to buy the house “as is.” Once you purchase the home, any problems that pop up are yours – as is the responsibility for finding and paying for a remedy. Such problems are more likely in a foreclosure than in a nondistressed property. For example, in some cases, a frustrated family might strip the home of valuable elements before vacating the house.

“Or they kind of just beat it up because they were angry about having to go through the foreclosure,” Reiss says.

The mere fact that the home is vacant also can lead to problems. Reiss says a home is like a plant – if you don’t tend to it regularly, it can wither and die. “If you happen to leave it alone on its own for too long, water leaks in, pipes can burst, rodents can get in, just the elements can do damage,” he says.

Mendenhall adds that people who lose their homes to foreclosure typically have major financial troubles. That can trigger other troubles for the new owner. “If the previous owner was in financial distress, there’s a chance that there’s more maintenance and work maybe that they haven’t completed,” she says.

Reducing the Dangers of Buying a Foreclosure

There are a few things you can do to mitigate the risks associated with buying a foreclosure. For starters, see if you can get a professional inspection of the property. Although buyers often cannot inspect a foreclosure property, that is not always the case. So, be sure to ask a real estate agent or the seller about hiring a home inspector.

“Even though it may extend the process, if you can have a qualified inspector come in, you can know a little bit more about what you’re getting into,” Mendenhall says.

If you can’t inspect the property, Reiss recommends researching its history. Look at publicly available records to find out when the property was last sold and how long the current owner had possession. Also, check whether building permits were drawn and what type of work was done. “Maybe you’ll see some good news, like a boiler was replaced two years ago,” Reiss says. “Or maybe you’ll see some scary news, like there’s all these permits and you don’t know if the work was completed.”

Also, visit the house and perform a “curbside inspection” of your own, Reiss says. “Even if you can’t go inside the house, you want to look at the property,” he says. “If you can peek in the windows, you probably want to peek in the windows.”

Knock on the doors of nearby neighbors. Tell them you want to bid on the property but need to learn all that you can about the previous owners, including how long they lived in the home and whether they took care of it. And ask if there have been any signs of squatters or recent break-ins.

“Try to get all that information,” Reiss says. “Neighbors are probably going to have a good sense of a lot of that, and I think that kind of informal due diligence can be helpful.”

Working with a real estate agent experienced in selling distressed property may help you avoid some of the potential pitfalls of buying foreclosures, Mendenhall says. Some agents have earned the National Association of Realtors’ Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource Certification, or SFR. Such Realtors can help guide you through processes unique to purchasing distressed properties, Mendenhall says.

How to Find a Foreclosure

You can find foreclosures by searching the listings at bank websites, including those of giants such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America. The government-sponsored companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also have listings on their websites.

The federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development owns and sells foreclosed homes. You can find listings on the website.

Private companies such as RealtyTrac offer foreclosure listings online, typically for a fee. Finally, you can contact a real estate agent who will find foreclosures for you. These agents may help you find foreclosures before others snatch them up.

Is a Foreclosure Right for You?

Before you pursue a foreclosure, Reiss encourages you to ask yourself whether you are in a good position to take on the risk – and, hopefully, to reap the reward – of buying a foreclosure. It is possible to use conventional financing, or even a loan from the Federal Housing Administration or Department of Veterans Affairs, to buy a foreclosure. However, people with deeper pockets are often better candidates for buying a foreclosure.

Because the process can be highly competitive, buyers with access to large amounts of cash can swoop in and land the best deals. “You can get financing, but you need to get it quickly,” Reiss says. “I think a lot of people who go into purchasing foreclosure(s) want to have the cash to just kind of act.”

Sellers of distressed properties love cash-only buyers, because the home can be sold without a lender requiring either a home appraisal or a home inspection. “So, the more cash you have on hand, the more likely you’re playing in those sandboxes,” Reiss says.

In addition, buyers of foreclosures often need to spend money to bring a property up to code or to make it competitive with other homes in the neighborhood. “Have a big cushion in case the building is in much worse condition than you expected,” Reiss says.

He cites the example of someone who buys a foreclosure, only to discover that the piping has been stripped out of the basement and will cost $10,000 to repair and replace. “You need to know that you can handle that one way or the other,” Reiss says.

People with solid home maintenance and repair skills also are good candidates for buying a foreclosure. “I think if you’re a handy person, you might be able to address a lot of the issues yourself,” Reiss says. He describes such buyers as anyone who has “a can-do attitude and is looking to trade sweat equity for home equity.”

Reiss and Mendenhall agree that flexibility is crucial to successfully shopping for and purchasing a foreclosure. Mendenhall notes that a foreclosure sale can take a long time to complete. “It can be a long process, or a frustrating one,” she says. “It can depend upon where they are in the foreclosure process. It can take a much longer time to go from contract to close.”

For that reason, a foreclosure might not make sense for buyers who need to move into a property quickly, she says. Also, think hard about how you really feel about buying a house that needs extensive renovation work that might take a long time to complete.

“It can be hard for some people to live in a property and do repairs at the same time,” Mendenhall says.

GSE Shareholders Floored, Again

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued an opinion in Saxton v. FHFA (No. 17-1727, Aug. 23, 2018). The Eighth Circuit joins the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and D.C. Circuits in rejecting the arguments of Fannie and Freddie shareholders that the Federal Housing Finance Agency exceeded its authority as conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and acted arbitrarily and capriciously. The Court provides the following overview:

     The financial crisis of 2008 prompted Congress to take several actions to fend off economic disaster. One of those measures propped up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fannie and Freddie, which were founded by Congress back in 1938 and 1970, buy home mortgages from lenders, thereby freeing lenders to make more loans. See generally 12 U.S.C. § 4501. Although established by Congress, Fannie and Freddie operate like private companies: they have shareholders, boards of directors, and executives appointed by those boards. But Fannie and Freddie also have something most private businesses do not: the backing of the United States Treasury. 

     In 2008, with the mortgage meltdown at full tilt, Congress enacted the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA or the Act). HERA created the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and gave it the power to appoint itself either conservator or receiver of Fannie or Freddie should either company become critically undercapitalized. 12 U.S.C. § 4617(a)(2), (4). The Act includes a provision limiting judicial review: “Except as  provided in this section or at the request of the Director, no court may take any action to restrain or affect the exercise of powers or functions of the [FHFA] as a conservator or a receiver.” Id. § 4617(f). 

     Shortly after the Act’s passage, FHFA determined that both Fannie and Freddie were critically undercapitalized and appointed itself conservator. FHFA then entered an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Treasury whereby Treasury would acquire specially-created preferred stock and, in exchange, would make hundreds of billions of dollars in capital available to Fannie and Freddie. The idea was that Fannie and Freddie would exit conservatorship when they reimbursed the Treasury.

     But Fannie and Freddie remain under FHFA’s conservatorship today. Since the conservatorship began, FHFA and Treasury have amended their agreement several times. In the most recent amendment, FHFA agreed that, each quarter, Fannie and Freddie would pay to Treasury their entire net worth, minus a small buffer. This so-called “net worth sweep” is the basis of this litigation. 

     Three owners of Fannie and Freddie common stock sued FHFA and Treasury, claiming they had exceeded their powers under HERA and acted arbitrarily and capriciously by agreeing to the net worth sweep. The shareholders sought only an injunction setting aside the net worth sweep; they dismissed a claim seeking money damages. Relying on the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in Perry Capital LLC v. Mnuchin, 864 F.3d 591 (D.C. Cir. 2017), the district court dismissed the suit.

What amazes me as a longtime watcher of the GSE litigation is how supposedly dispassionate investors lose their heads when it comes to the GSE lawsuits. They cannot seem to fathom that judges will come to a different conclusion regarding HERA’s limitation on judicial review.

While I do not rule out that the Supreme Court could find otherwise, particularly if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, it seems like this unbroken string of losses should provide some sort of wake up call for GSE shareholders. But somehow, I doubt that it will.