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.
Home Depot’s third-quarter earnings rose 15% from a year ago and its comparable sales in the U.S. increased at a 7.7% clip.
“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.
Interest from first-time home buyers remains strong and home sales rose in September — new home sales increased to a seasonally adjusted rate of 667,000, which is up 18.9% month over month and 17% year over year.
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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.
“People fall prey to the stories of individuals realizing substantial gains by buying a home and selling it at a much higher price years down the road,” Johnson said.
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.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau grew out of the housing market crash of 2008 and subsequent Dodd-Frank legislation. As a watchdog with teeth, the CFPB’s job is to protect homebuyers from the predatory mortgages that helped sink the economy nine years ago. And it worked.
Problem is, for some would-be homeowners, the CFPB is an inconvenient middle-man, adding more red tape to an already impossible situation. In short, it isn’t perfect. But with the Trump administration threatening to tear the whole damn thing down, you’ve got to wonder, is the CFPB really doing more harm to the housing market than good?
How we got here
Pre-housing market crash, the mortgage lending world was a vastly different, Wild West sort of landscape. Dodd-Frank and the CFPB entered the scene, in part, for lending oversight in that uncontrolled housing market. For example, once not-uncommon ‘liar loans,’ which were largely based on the borrower’s word and not much else-for instance, someone saying they made $100,000 a year to qualify for a huge home even though they made $30,000-are now illegal thanks to Dodd-Frank and the CFPB. Mortgage companies cashing in at the expensive of uneducated buyers happened, and it happened a lot.
“Just about everybody I talked to prior to 2008 thought the lending climate was out of control,” says Chandler Crouch, broker and owner of Chandler Crouch Realtors in Dallas-Fort Worth. “People were saying it couldn’t last. It just didn’t make sense. Lending requirements were too loose. Everybody, from Wall Street to the banks to the loan officers to the consumers, was being rewarded for making bad decisions. Lending needed to tighten.”
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“The CFPB has been criticized for restricting mortgage credit too much with its Qualified Mortgage and ability to repay rules,” says David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School who has practiced real estate law since 1998.
This was all done to ensure buyers could afford their home and not end up in foreclosure or short sale (and also avoid another economic collapse). These rules also bar lenders from predatory loans like massive balloon loans and shady adjustable rate mortgages.
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Will no CFPB = housing hellscape?
Let’s say the Republicans get their way and the CFPB goes poof. What happens?
“You’d see an expansion of the credit box-more people would be approved for credit,” says Reiss. “To the extent that credit is offered on good terms, that would be a good development. I think you would see more potential homebuyers being approved for mortgages which would drive up home prices in the short term as there would be more competition.”
But then there’s the opportunity for those really bad loans to come swinging back, which harm homeowners would have in the past and also trigger fears of another housing collapse.
“Liar loans would definitely have a comeback if the CFPB and Dodd-Frank were dismantled,” says Reiss. “The Qualified Mortgage and ability to repay rules were implemented as part of the broader Dodd-Frank rulemaking agenda; without those rules, credit would quickly return to its extreme boom and bust cycle, with liar loans a product that would pick up steam just as the boom reaches its heights…We would bemoan them once again as soon as the bust hits its depths.”
President Trump has been in the office for a little over a month, and love him or hate him, financial industry specialists seem fairly bullish on his performance from an economic point of view.
That’s the takeaway from a single question posted to a handful of highly-respected U.S. financial advisors – “how would you grade President Trump’s economic performance one month into his term?”
All the advisors contacted by TheStreet stated, in unison, that it’s very early in the Trump presidency, and that events can change on a dime when it comes to key consumer financial issues like jobs, the stock market, gross domestic product, the housing market, and consumer spending.
But the reaction from virtually all the money managers in touch with TheStreet.com was positive, with a healthy share of As graded out. Here are those grades, and why wealth managers are, for now at least, putting. Trump at the head of the class:
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David Reiss, Professor of Law, Brooklyn Law School, Brooklyn, N.Y. – “I give President Trump a first term grade of C- for the housing market. He has indicated that he wants to roll back Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that it created. That will have a negative impact on homeowners who are protected by Dodd-Frank’s Qualified Mortgage and Ability-to-Repay rules. Trump started the process of rolling back Dodd-Frank with a vague executive order directing Treasury to review financial regulations. If Trump decides to completely gut the homeowner protections contained in Dodd-Frank, his grade will plummet further as predatory lending rears its head once again in the housing market.”
With media mavens, political activists, and even Main Street Americans squaring off over one of the most controversial Presidents in history, the outlook from financial specialists — with the exception of Reiss — on the economy is a bullish one, even if it’s only a month or so into the Trump administration.
On a chilly December afternoon in Atlanta, a judge told Reiton Allen that he had seven days to leave his house or the marshals would kick his belongings to the curb. In the packed courtroom, the truck driver, his beard flecked with gray, stood up, cast his eyes downward and clutched his black baseball cap.
The 44-year-old father of two had rented a single-family house from a company called HavenBrook Homes, which is controlled by one of the world’s biggest money managers, Pacific Investment Management Co. Here in Fulton County, Georgia, such large institutional investors are up to twice as likely to file eviction notices as smaller owners, according to a new Atlanta Federal Reserve study.
“I’ve never been displaced like this,” said Allen, who said he fell behind because of unexpected childcare expenses as his rent rose above $900 a month. “I need to go home and regroup.”
Hedge funds, large investment firms and private equity companies helped the U.S. housing market recover after the crash in 2008 by turning empty foreclosures from Atlanta to Las Vegas into occupied rentals.
Now among America’s biggest landlords, some of these companies are leaving tenants like Allen in the cold. In a business long dominated by mom-and-pop landlords, large-scale investors are shifting collections conversations from front stoops to call centers and courtrooms as they try to maximize profits.
“My hope was that these private equity firms would provide a new kind of rental housing for people who couldn’t — or didn’t want to — buy during the housing recovery,” said Elora Raymond, the report’s lead author. “Instead, it seems like they’re contributing to housing instability in Atlanta, and possibly other places.”
American Homes 4 Rent, one of the nation’s largest operators, and HavenBrook filed eviction notices at a quarter of its houses, compared with an average 15 percent for all single-family home landlords, according to Ben Miller, a Georgia State University professor and co-author of the report. HavenBrook — owned by Allianz SE’s Newport Beach, California-based Pimco — and American Homes 4 Rent, based in Agoura Hills, California, declined to comment.
Colony Starwood Homes initiated proceedings on a third of its properties, the most of any large real estate firm. Tom Barrack, chairman of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, and the company he founded, Colony Capital, are the largest shareholders of Colony Starwood, which declined to comment.
Diane Tomb, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, which represents institutional landlords, said her members offer flexible payment plans to residents who fall behind. The cost of eviction makes it “the last option,” Tomb said. The Fed examined notices, rather than completed evictions, which are rarer, she said.
“We’re in the business to house families — and no one wants to see people displaced,” Tomb said.
According to a report last year from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, a record 21.3 million renters spent more than a third of their income on housing costs in 2014, while 11.4 million spent more than half. With credit tightening, the homeownership rate has fallen close to a 51-year low.
In January 2012, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke encouraged investors to use their cash to stabilize the housing market and rehabilitate the vacant single-family houses that damage neighborhoods and property values.
Now, the Atlanta Fed’s own research suggests that the eviction practices of big landlords may also be destabilizing. An eviction notice can ruin a family’s credit and make it more difficult to rent elsewhere or qualify for public assistance.
In Atlanta, evictions are much easier on landlords. They are cheap: about $85 in court fees and another $20 to have the tenant ejected, according to Michael Lucas, a co-author of the report and deputy director of the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation. With few of the tenant protections of places like New York, a family can find itself homeless in less than a month.
In interviews and court filings, renters and housing advocates said that some investment firms are impersonal and unresponsive, slow to make necessary repairs and quick to evict tenants who withhold rent because of complaints about maintenance. The researchers said some landlords use an eviction notice as a “routine rent-collection strategy.”
Aaron Kuney, HavenBrook’s former executive director of acquisitions, said the companies would rather keep their existing tenants as long as possible to avoid turnover costs.
But “they want to get them out quickly if they can’t pay,” said Kuney, now chief executive officer of Piedmont Asset Management, a private equity landlord in Atlanta. “Finding people these days to rent your homes is not a problem.”
The Atlanta Fed research, based on 2015 court records, marks an early look at Wall Street’s role in evictions since investment firms snapped up hundreds of thousands of homes in hard-hit markets across the U.S.
Researchers found that evictions for all kinds of landlords are concentrated in poor, mostly black neighborhoods southwest of the city. But the study found that the big investors evicted at higher rates even after accounting for the demographics of the community where homes were situated.
Tomb, of the National Rental Home Council, said institutional investors at times buy large blocks of homes from other landlords and inherit tenants who can’t afford to pay rent. They also buy foreclosed homes whose occupants may refuse to sign leases or leave.
Those cases make the eviction rates appear higher than for smaller landlords, according to Tomb, whose group represents Colony Starwood, American Homes 4 Rent and Invitation Homes. The largest firms send notices at rates similar to apartment buildings, which house the majority of Atlanta renters.
Not all investment firms file evictions at higher rates. Invitation Homes, a unit of private equity giant Blackstone Group LP that is planning an initial public offering this year, sent notices on 14 percent of homes, about the same as smaller landlords, records show. In Fulton County, Invitation Homes works with residents to resolve 85 percent of cases, and less than 4 percent result in forced departures, according to spokeswoman Claire Parker.
The Fed research doesn’t say why many institutional investors evict at higher rates. It could be because their size enables them to negotiate less expensive legal rates and replace renters more quickly than mom-and-pop operators.
“Lots of small landlords, when they have good tenants who don’t cause trouble, they’ll work with someone who has lost a job or can’t pay for the short term,” said David Reiss, a Brooklyn Law School professor who specializes in residential real estate.
Mild-mannered, lawyerly and with a genius for trivia, Richard Cordray is not the sort of guy you picture at the center of Washington’s bitter partisan wars over regulation and consumer safeguards.
But there he is, a 57-year-old Buckeye who friends say prefers his hometown diner to a fancy political reception, testifying in hearing after hearing on Capitol Hill about the agency he leads, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Republicans would like to do away with it — and with him, arguing that the agency should be led by a commission rather than one person.
And with a Republican sweep of Congress and the White House, they may get some or all of what they wish.
Mr. Cordray, a reluctant Washingtonian who has commuted here for six years from Grove City, Ohio, where his wife and twin children live, is the first director of the consumer watchdog agency, which was created in 2010 after Wall Street’s meltdown. By aggressively deploying his small army of workers — he has 1,600 of them — Mr. Cordray has turned the fledgling agency into one of Washington’s most powerful and pugnacious regulators.
The bureau has overhauled mortgage lending rules, reined in abusive debt collectors, prosecuted hundreds of companies and extracted nearly $12 billion from businesses in the form of canceled debts and consumer refunds. In September, it exposed the extent of Wells Fargo’s creation of two million fraudulent customer accounts, igniting a scandal that provoked widespread outrage and toppled the company’s chief executive.
And, according to Mr. Cordray, he and his team have barely scratched the surface of combating consumer abuse.
“We overcame momentous challenges — just building an agency from scratch, let alone one that deals with such a large sector of the economy,” Mr. Cordray said in an interview at his agency’s office here. “I’m satisfied with the progress we have made, but I’m not satisfied in the sense that there’s a lot more progress to be made. There’s still a lot to be done.”
But his future and the agency’s are uncertain. Democrats in Ohio are encouraging Mr. Cordray to run for governor in 2018, which would require him to quit his job in Washington fairly soon, rather than when his term ends in mid-2018. Champions of the agency are imploring him to stay, arguing that if he leaves, the agency is likely to be defanged, its powers to help consumers sapped.
Opponents of the bureau just won a big legal victory: The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said last month that the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was unconstitutional, and that the president should have the power to fire its director at will.
The agency is challenging the decision — which was made in a lawsuit brought by the mortgage lender PHH Corporation that contests the consumer bureau’s authority to fine it — and that has temporarily stopped the decision from taking effect. But the ruling has kept alive questions about whether too much power is concentrated in Mr. Cordray’s job, and whether the agency should be dismantled or restructured.
Mr. Cordray, who also battled on behalf of consumers in his previous jobs as Ohio’s attorney general and, before that, its treasurer, is praised in some circles as enormously effective, wielding the bureau’s power to restructure some industries and terrify others.
The bureau has “helped save countless people across the country from abusive financial practices,” said Hilary O. Shelton, the N.A.A.C.P.’s senior vice president for advocacy and policy.
Even the regulator’s frequent foes — including Alan S. Kaplinsky, a partner at Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia, who says the agency often overreaches — acknowledge its impact.
“I’ve been practicing law in this area for well over 40 years, and there’s nothing that compares to it,” Mr. Kaplinsky said. “Every company in the consumer financial services market has felt the effects.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has nearly replaced the Better Business Bureau as the first stop for dissatisfied customers seeking redress. It has handled more than a million complaints, many of which it has helped resolve.
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The housing crisis dominated the bureau’s early days. When Congress created the new overseer, it also dictated its first priority: making mortgages safer. The deadline was tight. If the bureau did not introduce new rules within 18 months, a congressionally mandated set of lending guidelines would automatically take effect.
The bureau made it with one day to spare.
It banned some practices that had fueled the crisis, like home loans with low teaser rates or no documentation of the borrower’s income, and steered lenders toward “qualified” loans with a stricter set of safeguards, including checks to ensure that customers could afford to repay what they borrowed.
After much grumbling — and many dire forecasts that the new rules would limit credit and harm consumers — mortgage lenders adjusted. They made nearly 3.7 million loans last year for home purchases, the highest number since 2007, according to government data.
“It seems like the financial services industry has figured out how to adapt to this new regulatory regime,” said David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who studied the effects of the bureau’s rule-making. “We’ve moved from the fox-in-the-henhouse market in the early 2000s, where you could get away with nearly anything, to this new model, where someone is looking over your shoulder.”
President Obama Nominating Richard Cordray to Lead Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with Elizabeth Warren
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision in PHH Corporation v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, No. 15-1177 (October 11, 2016), that found an important aspect of the structure of the CFPB to be unconstitutional: the insulation of the Director from Presidential supervision. While this decision will almost certainly be appealed, even if it is upheld, it will allow the the CFPB to continue functioning much as it has.
A federal appeals court has mandated big changes to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The three-judge panel says the consumer watchdog agency is set up in a way that’s unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court says the agency will have to restructure. NPR’s Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The suit was brought by a mortgage lender called PHH, which asked the court to invalidate a $109 million enforcement action against it and scrap the agency, too. The D.C. Court of Appeals sent the fine back to the bureau for review.
But it also ruled that the CFPB’s director has too much power to write and enforce rules without enough oversight from another branch of government. The remedy, the panel says, is that the CFPB should fall under the president’s control. And the president should be able to remove the director at will.
The CFPB’s opponents in the financial services industry declared victory. Bill Himpler is executive vice president for the American Financial Services Association.
BILL HIMPLER: Our issue is still with the authority given to a single director. That is, as the court pointed out, not subject to a lot of oversight.
NOGUCHI: Himpler instead supports a CFPB run by a bipartisan commission, similar to others like the Securities and Exchange Commission. David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School, says the ruling is not an existential challenge to the CFPB or its past decisions.
DAVID REISS: The decision does not invalidate the CFPB’s actions. This is more about its structure going forward.
NOGUCHI: Reiss says an appeal to the Supreme Court is all but guaranteed. Indeed, the CFPB says it disagrees with the conclusion. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson says the ruling does not change its mission and that it is, quote, “considering options for seeking further review of the court’s decision.”
Dennis Kelleher is CEO of Better Markets, a group that advocates for stronger financial regulation. He says the bureau’s actions on banks have made the financial sector more determined to undercut the agency.
DENNIS KELLEHER: They do not want a consumer watchdog on the Wall Street beat. That’s what this fight is about.
NOGUCHI: The decision was not unanimous on all the issues. Judge Karen Henderson dissented in part, saying the panel overreached in calling the bureau’s structure unconstitutional. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
Bank of America must face claims that it and another company violated federal anti-racketeering laws by denying loan modifications to eligible borrowers, a federal appeals court said Aug. 15 ( George v. Urban Settlement Svcs., 10th Cir., No. 14-cv-01427, 8/15/16 ).
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reinstates purported class claims by Richard George and other borrowers that Bank of America and Urban Settlement Services (“Urban”), a settlement company, feigned compliance with guidelines under the Home Affordable Modification program (HAMP) while modifying as few loans as possible.
A district court dismissed the claims, saying the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege the existence of an association-in-fact enterprise under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), but the Tenth Circuit reversed, saying they made a “facially plausible” claim.
The ruling sends the case back to the district court to consider that and other allegations.
Case Moves Forward
The decision is the latest in connection with HAMP, a 2009 Treasury Department effort aimed at stabilizing the housing market that was closely related to disbursement of government funds to banks under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Bank of America received $45 billion in TARP funds.
The plaintiffs are represented by Steve Berman, Ari Y. Brown, Kevin K. Green, and Tyler S. Weaver in the Seattle and San Diego offices of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro.
“We are more than pleased the court has ruled our complaint has sufficiently alleged that Bank of America’s massive HAMP mortgage-modification program was in fact a RICO enterprise,” Berman, the firm’s managing partner, said in an Aug. 15 statement. “For years, we have tirelessly fought this major Wall Street kingpin to right the wrongs it committed against hundreds of thousands of homeowners and taxpayers who footed the $45 billion government bailout BoA took in, only to have it used to propagate a scheme to squeeze every dollar from BoA customers and wrongfully foreclose thousands of homes in the process.”
Bank of America spokesman Rick Simon said the bank denies the claims, which he said paint a false picture of the bank’s practices and its employees.
“In fact, Bank of America has been an industry leader in HAMP and other beneficial mortgage modifications,” Simon told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 15 e-mail. “We are reviewing the Circuit court’s decision and considering our options.”
The lawsuit, which involved loans originally held by Countrywide Home Loans, said Bank of America and Urban were part of a fraudulent scheme to keep borrowers from acquiring permanent HAMP loan modifications, allegedly because defaulted loans were more profitable.
They said Urban functioned as a “black hole” for HAMP-related documents submitted by borrowers, ensuring that trial modifications would not be made permanent.
Tenth Circuit Reverses
In its September 2014 ruling, the district court said the plaintiffs failed to allege, as required by RICO, that Bank of America was distinct from the alleged racketeering enterprise.
The Tenth Circuit reversed in a decision by Judge Nancy Moritz, who wrote for a three-judge panel. The plaintiffs, she said, “don’t contend that either a parent corporation or its subsidiary corporation is the enterprise. Rather, they assert that BOA and Urban—two separate legal entities— joined together, along with several other entities, to form and conduct the affairs of the BOA-Urban association-in-fact enterprise.”
According to the plaintiffs, she said, Bank of America and Urban “performed distinct roles within the enterprise while acting in concert with other entities to further the enterprise’s common goal of wrongfully denying HAMP applications.”
That is enough to “plausibly allege” that Bank of America meets the “enterprise” requirement, she said.
Crisis Cases Continue
Brooklyn Law School Professor David Reiss said the decision shows that financial crisis-era litigation is not over. “This case is an example of litigation that arises from the supposed fixes for the crisis—fixes that were often implemented poorly, as can be seen from a variety of cases and regulatory actions,” Reiss told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 15 e-mail.
The lawsuit alleged in part that documents submitted by borrowers were intentionally “scattered” across various computer databases and systems, allegedly with the goal of creating the appearance that borrowers had not completed the paperwork required to convert their trial plans into permanent modifications.
Reiss called it significant that the court accepted, for purposes of a motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs’ theory that the alleged “black hole” treatment of documents could rise to the level of a RICO violation.
“While courts have held against defendants in individual cases with similar facts, the possibility that they could hold against lenders and servicers in a class action raises the stakes quite a bit for defendants,” Reiss said.