Archive for 2017

Housing fundamentals are strong, but if they get too strong, rising mortgage rates will spoil the fun. Signs of a strong economy are all around us. U.S. retail sales rise, and inflation posts largest gain in four years. Unemployment is near historic lows, and Trump plans to dump fuel on the fire with a massive infrastructure spending program. The US Housing market is poised for a strong start in 2017. The underlying economy was strong enough for the federal reserve to raise interest rates again in December. Unemployment is low and wage growth is picking up, so more qualified borrowers are likely to become buyers in the days ahead. Further, with mortgage interest rates still very low by historic standards, the…[READ MORE]

Escaping an onerous mortgage can be the best thing for a family's financial and mental health. I feel bad for loanowners (AKA underwater borrowers). When I started blogging in February of 2007, I felt a sense of urgency to convince as many people as I could they shouldn’t buy a house. I knew the impending price collapse was going to have serious long-term consequences on people’s lives. Many would succumb to the weight of their debts and lose their homes in foreclosure. Many more would endure years of owing more on their mortgage than their home was worth. Mortgage debt is always a heavy burden, but when it greatly exceeds the value of the house it’s attached to, the crushing…[READ MORE]

Warning! Don’t read today’s post if you have a weak stomach or a strong affinity for consumer debt. This is your only warning. Hang on, Alice, as we bolt through the rabbit hole on an adventure to financial Wonderland. Come with me on a fantastic journey to the Great Lakes to save fish falling prey to evil bloodsuckers, and along the way, we will save borrowers from the evil of debt peddler, Louie the Lender Lamprey. The Sea Lamprey and the Great Lakes Prior to canals of the nineteenth century, the Great Lakes were a thriving fishery. With over fishing and the introduction of the sea lamprey through the canals, the fisheries of the Great Lakes were devastated. According to Wikipedia: The Sea lamprey (Petromyzon…[READ MORE]

Low house prices make for lower debt service payments that benefit the economy as money is liberated to circulate and buy goods and services. Low house prices benefit everyone because low house prices make for low loan balances and less debt-service. When borrowers carry excessive home debt, the excess comes directly out of disposable income. Since consumer spending is such an important component of the economy, the excess interest payments drain the economy (and enrich lenders). It’s really that simple. Legislators, existing homeowners, and bankers all want rapidly rising home prices. Legislators want to see home equity rise because it provides free money to homeowners reducing government dependency. Bankers like rapidly rising home prices because it reduces their exposure if…[READ MORE]

Lower house prices due to higher mortgage rates still result in a higher cost of home ownership. Everyone shopping for a home wants to see lower prices. For most products, paying less for it means the buyer keeps more money to purchase other goods and services, but with houses, this isn’t necessarily the case. Most people borrow a great deal of money to buy a house, often 80% to 96.5% of the purchase price. In fact, the cost of borrowing money is largely what determines how much someone can borrow and bid to buy a house. (See: Your neighbor’s debt creates your home equity) When mortgage rates go up, the cost of borrowing increases, and unless wages rise considerably, the…[READ MORE]

The homeownership rate is plunging because the housing bust tarnished the American Dream dream, and a new generation chooses to rent instead. For nearly 100 years, US government housing policy maximized the homeownership rate and the rate of growth in house prices. Politicians characterized homeownership as the best investment a middle-class family could make, and home ownership equated with the American Dream. During the early 00s, on the surface conditions looked great. House prices appreciated rapidly, mortgage equity withdrawal fueled an economic boom, subprime lending provided home ownership opportunities to everyone, and a record number of Americans realized the American Dream. Government officials touted the success of their policies, and critics of these policies were mocked or widely ignored as…[READ MORE]

We need policies that help stabilize tenancy and facilitate renters saving for retirement. The US government treats renters like second-class citizens. Our current policies make it very difficult for renters to stabilize their housing costs or save for a comfortable retirement. Perhaps in an era where homeownership was attainable for everyone, such policies were tenable, but now with coastal states restricting new construction, significant portions of the population simply can't afford a home. Current government policies irreparably harm these renters. Politicians believe that high rates of homeownership foster social stability because people won't loot and riot if they feel invested in the community. Social engineering aside, there is one particularly strong financial reason politicians favor widespread homeownership: it allows them to…[READ MORE]

Loan modifications always had high failure rates, but modifications since 2014 fared worse than bubble-era loan mods. Every attempted loan modification delays a foreclosure, keeps an overextended borrower in a state of debt servitude, artificially props up home prices, and keeps much-needed supply off the market. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if the attempts to modify loans succeeded at high rates, but the truth is that they don't. Nearly 75% of loans modified fail within two years. The public good served by these loan modifications is not readily apparent. At first, the banks did this just to survive the downturn. Then it became a political necessity as millions of people lost their homes. Now, it only serves the sense…[READ MORE]

The Federal Reserve's oft-forgotten policy of buying mortgage-backed securities helped keep mortgage rates low over the last several years. The monthly housing market reports I publish each month became bullish in late 2011 due to the relative undervaluation of properties at the time. I was still cautious due to weak demand, excessive shadow inventory, the uncertainty of the duration of the interest rate stimulus, and an overall skepticism of the lending cartel’s ability to manage their liquidations. In 2012, the lending cartel managed to completely shut off the flow of foreclosures on the market, and with ever-declining interest rates, a small uptick in demand coupled with a dramatic reduction in supply caused the housing market to bottom. Even with the…[READ MORE]

Donald Trump uses executive orders like land acquisition professionals use letters of intent. When I first saw the headlines touting Donald Trump's repeal of Dodd-Frank by executive order, I literally laughed out loud. I wondered, who does he think he is, Emperor Trump? Does he really think he can change laws by executive order? Does he fail to understand the separation of powers in the US Constitution? The US Constitution, the document Trump swore to uphold, bestows all lawmaking power on the US Congress. The chief executive, the President, can either sign a Congressional bill, or he can veto it, but the President has no power to make law -- not that Trump's supporters seem to understand that. The more…[READ MORE]

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