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Author Archive: Irvine Renter

Both rental rates and the cost of ownership rise faster than incomes in Los Angeles County due to an improving economy and a lack of housing supply. California inflated three housing bubbles over the last 40 years, and perhaps a fourth one inflates now. The collapse of each of the previous housing bubbles coincided with economic recessions, so many analysts incorrectly point to these recessions as the cause of the price collapse. The truth is that each of the previous bubbles inflated because lenders abandoned debt-to-income standards (1970s), experimented with toxic financing and relaxed DTI standards (1990), or completely lost their minds with "innovative" loan products (2000s). The coincidental recessions may have contributed to the problem, but they weren't the…[READ MORE]

Low house prices make for lower debt service payments that benefit the economy as money money is freed up to circulate and buy goods and services. Common sense dictates that spending less money on necessities boosts discretionary spending. When gas prices are low, the average commuter has more money left over to spend on everything else. The same is true for housing payments: the less a homeowner spends paying mortgage debt, the more money that homeowner has available to save, invest, or spend on goods and services in the economy. If low debt service payments are good, why are politicians, lenders, realtors and homeowners obsessed with driving up house prices as high as possible? Doesn't it take more debt and…[READ MORE]

Entry-level housing in California carries a very high cost, and there is little hope this will improve any time soon. In fact, the problem will likely get worse before people get fed up and do something about it. When house prices move up rapidly and significantly as they have in California on numerous occasions, even the highest wage earners can't afford a significant portion of the housing stock with what they can borrow and what they save from their large incomes. Prices get so elevated because previous owners sell their homes and use the equity that accumulated through the appreciation windfall to bid up prices on more desirable properties. As a consequence even the highest wage earners can't start out…[READ MORE]

Our current system of taxing gains on owner-occupied housing discourages long-term ownership of a family home, and it encourages frequent moves, which destabilizes families and neighborhoods. When investors sell an asset for a profit, most of the time they pay capital gains taxes. Outside of a retirement account, there is only one exception: the waiver of capital gains taxes on the sale of a primary residence within certain parameters. If an investor purchases a house and sells it within two years of the date of purchase, the transaction is considered a "flip" and the investor pays taxes on the gains as ordinary income. IMO, this is a good tax because the professionals who work in rehabilitation are businessmen, and flipping…[READ MORE]

The spring house price rally of 2016 shows signs of weakness because buyers can’t afford high house prices despite very low mortgage interest rates. Most housing analysts predicted a robust spring rally with increasing home sales and increasing prices. With low unemployment, an improving economy, and budding wage growth, the signs all pointed to a strong spring market. Unfortunately, now that house prices reached the previous peak in many areas, fewer and fewer buyers can afford them. When house prices go up absent an increase in wages -- which they have over the last four years in California -- affordability declines. In simpler terms, if potential buyers don’t make more money, but prices go up anyway, fewer buyers can afford…[READ MORE]

House prices reached the peak of the previous housing bubble, but was this the inflation of a new bubble or a true and durable recovery? The house price rally that began in 1997 climaxed in a financial mania in 2006, the Great Housing Bubble. By definition, a financial bubble is an unsustainable increase in asset prices followed by a crash that wipes out most of the previous increase. Since prices at the bubble's peak defy any fundamental valuation, the "recovery" from a bubble is the crash because the crash restores prices to their fundamental values (often with a downside overshoot). After the housing crash, everyone who paid peak values wanted to see a return to the ridiculous and unjustifiable prices…[READ MORE]

During the housing mania, every house was desirable, so prices inflated everywhere. Unlike the bubble era, today's buyers only want desirable properties or neighborhoods. During the housing mania, lending standards were eliminated and toxic loan products with teaser rates and negative amortization flourished. As a result, anyone could borrow any amount they wished to buy a home anywhere they wanted -- and that's only a slight exaggeration. With liar loans, borrowers and complicit lenders rendered income requirements meaningless. Even transparent lies, like the woman on food stamps claiming $150K+ income, were eagerly funded. Further, the borrower's income stretched to ludicrous levels with teaser rates where the borrower only needed to qualify for some low initial rate rather than the payment…[READ MORE]

Excessive debt-service burdens reduces a borrower’s ability to leverage themselves to buy houses at today’s inflated prices. During the 00s lenders saddled borrowers with excessive loads of debt: housing, car, consumer, student. There were no legal limits to the percentage of borrower income lenders could claim, so lenders provided so much debt that borrowers operated personal Ponzi schemes (borrowed from Peter to pay Paul) to keep their lives afloat. And why not? Homeowners worried very little about their debt loads because their house appreciated in value and served as another breadwinner. As long as debt was cheap, borrowers never needed their own income or savings to repay, and some dispensed with the need for either income or savings and simply…[READ MORE]

With house prices high relative to income, many fear lenders inflated a new housing bubble to bail them out from the old one. Home shoppers recoil at today's home prices. Years ago people reveled in high home prices, often buying for fear of being priced out or for greed to capture home-price appreciation; however, high home prices no longer excite buying frenzies since the housing bust. Plus, lenders won't enable buyer foolishness any more. So now when home prices go up, people worry about whether or not prices will crash again -- and with good reason. If mortgage interest rates rise significantly, lenders don't have affordability products to cushion the payment shock, so sales will crumble, and if rates remain…[READ MORE]

Most people who defaulted on their mortgages couldn't afford to pay off the debt. They chose when to default, but the default was unavoidable. No accepted definition of strategic default exists. Lenders attempted to define a strategic defaulter as any borrower who is capable of making a payment and chooses not to. On the surface that sounds reasonable, but that definition misses a very important distinction: Some people chose to default because they know they can’t afford the payments long term, and they are merely choosing the timing of the inevitable. The only thing strategic about the default is the timing, not whether or not they will lose the home. I prefer the distinction between ruthless default and accelerated default.…[READ MORE]

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