When Buyers Change Their Minds

The Wall Street Journal quoted me in When Home Buyers Change Their Minds (behind paywall). It opens,

The offer was accepted. The mortgage was approved. What happens when the buyer gets cold feet and wants to back out of the deal?

Jason Michael faced this issue about 18 months ago when he listed his three-bedroom home in St. Louis. Mr. Michael, a 36-year-old public-relations executive, asked $130,000 for his home and accepted an offer for $127,000. The buyers posted a $1,000 deposit of “earnest money,” completed inspections, negotiated repairs and were approved for a mortgage.

Then they told Mr. Michael that they had found another house and didn’t want to move ahead with the purchase.

While the contract allowed Mr. Michael to pocket the deposit if the buyers defaulted, they refused to authorize their agent to release it. Only after Mr. Michael threatened to sue did they surrender the $1,000.

“My agent had said that people don’t back out of house purchases—that this won’t happen,” Mr. Michael says. “But now I approach it as if the buyer can back out until the very last minute.” He ultimately decided to rent out the house.

According to an online survey of 2,241 adults conducted for finance website Nerdwallet.com in January, home-buyer’s remorse isn’t uncommon. Nearly half (49%) of homeowners who responded said they would do something differently if they had to go through the process again. Broken down by age group, 61% of Generation Xers (the mid-1960s through the 1970s) and 57% of millennial homeowners (born in the early 1980s through about 2004) indicated they had regrets. Many wished they had bought a bigger home or saved more money before buying.

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Here are a few things to consider if you might want to back out of your real-estate contract. Buyers and sellers should consult a qualified real-estate attorney for advice.

• Craft carefully. Rather than having a mortgage contingency allowing you to obtain a mortgage “at prevailing rates,” specify that the mortgage rate can be no more than 4%, for example. Or, consider making the contract contingent on the mortgage actually being funded by the lender. “This extends the contingency all the way to the closing,” says David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in real estate.

• Sharpen your negotiation skills. Even if you can’t back out legally, try to negotiate a reduction or return of the deposit with the seller. In a market where prices are rising and the homeowner can get a higher price for their home, there might be a chance to come to terms.

• Remember the broker. Even if the seller lets the buyer off the hook, he may still be liable to the broker for the commission. Contracts state that the commission is due when the broker finds a ready, willing and able buyer. Many brokers will work with the seller in this situation, Mr. Haber says, but it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

 

Will Congress Recap and Release Fannie & Freddie?

Senator Shelby

Senator Shelby

Richard Shelby, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs asked the Congressional Budget Office to prepare a report on The Effects of Increasing Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s Capital. The report acknowledges that the legislative reform of the two companies is going nowhere, but it analyzed one potential reform option that shares characteristics with some of the GSE reform bills that have been introduced over the years. The option studied by the CBO contemplates recapitalizing the two companies along the following lines:

each GSE would be allowed to retain an average of $5 billion of its profits annually and would thus increase its capital by up to $50 billion over 10 years. The government’s commitment to purchase more senior preferred stock from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac if necessary to ensure that they maintain a positive net worth would remain in place. In addition, the GSEs would invest the profits that they retained under the option in Treasury securities, and returns on those securities would raise the GSEs’ income. Through its holdings of senior preferred stock, the government would continue to have a claim to the GSEs’ net worth ahead of other stockholders. (2, footnote omitted)

The CBO’s mandate is “to provide objective, impartial analysis,” but this report seems like it is laying the groundwork for a proposal to recapitalize Fannie and Freddie so that they can be released from conservatorship. Most policy analysts (as opposed to investors in the two companies) think that allowing the two companies to return to their prior lives as public/private hybrids is a terrible idea. It is too difficult for them to simultaneously answer to the federal regulators who set their public mission as well as to the private shareholders who would ultimately own them. And, if we were to take this path, the taxpayer would be left holding the bag once again if they were to ever need another bailout.

I think that Senator Shelby has done GSE reform a disservice by looking at this recapitalization option out of context. What we need is an analysis of a compromise plan that Congress can pass once the election is settled. Otherwise we are just leaving the two companies to limp along in conservatorship, slouching toward their next, yet unknown, crisis. Or worse, we are preparing to release them from conservatorship to go back to business as usual. Both of those options are very bad. Congress owes it to the American people to create a workable housing finance system for the 21st century that does not repeat our past mistakes.