Archive for August, 2012

The opening of The Great Housing Bubble succinctly described the real estate bubble: What is a Bubble? A financial bubble is a temporary situation where asset prices become elevated beyond any realistic fundamental valuations because the general public believes current pricing is justified by probable future price increases. If this belief is widespread enough to cause significant numbers of people to purchase the asset at inflated prices, then prices will continue to rise. This will convince even more people that prices will continue to rise. This facilitates even more buying. Once initiated, this reaction is self-sustaining, and the phenomenon is entirely psychological. When the pool of buyers is exhausted and the volume of buying declines, prices stop rising; the belief in…[READ MORE]

The settlement with the major banks dramatically altered their incentives. As part of the settlement, banks can count short sale losses toward their settlement amount. Foreclosures don't count. So how did banks respond? They dramatically reduced their REO processing and focused on approving short sales. This had two impacts on MLS inventory. First, the lingering short sales that polluted the MLS for months were cleared out. And second, far fewer REO were processed to replace the REO the banks were selling. By clearing out the backlog and not replacing with fresh supply, the number of properties available for sale on the MLS dried up. As a side benefit, prices went up increasing the bank's capital recovery on the properties they…[READ MORE]

The arguments about whether there is or is not a shadow inventory have gotten silly. There is a shadow inventory, and there are certain facts we can establish about it. First, there are millions of delinquent mortgage squatters who will not be given free homes. The exact number is impossible to ascertain because no accurate records are kept outside the banks who aren't accurately sharing this information. Since the banks aren't disseminating accurate information (why would they?), CoreLogic, who relies on voluntary information, consistently under reports the problem. Second, the disposition of these properties will require a sale on the MLS. This may be as an REO after a foreclosure, or it may be as a short sale in lieu…[READ MORE]

It's been difficult to be bearish in 2012. First, we had the chorus of perennially wrong bottom callers make their usual prognostications, then Calculated Risk called the bottom, then the banks unexpectedly and abruptly slowed their rate of REO processing to create a shortage of MLS inventory. This MLS shortage has resulted in bidding wars, rising prices, and falling sales volumes. With those conditions, even the serious problems overhanging the market look insignificant. Most of the bears have gone into hibernation and their views have been largely ridiculed much like they were in 2006. Even I have caved in to the market bulls. It's hard to argue for lower prices when affordability is high and supply is low. There are…[READ MORE]

President Obama's housing policies have been as successful as the circumstances would allow. Back in June I quipped, Obama’s housing policy succeeded wildly by failing spectacularly. Personally, I would have preferred he let the banks go bankrupt, nationalize them, fire management, recapitalize the banking system, and sell them off the bank's stock when the economy recovered. Unfortunately, the flash-point of the crisis occurred while Bush was still in office, and these institutions were deemed too big to fail. Obama continued Bush's flawed policies and looked for solutions that did not bankrupt the banks. This left few good options. Once bank bankruptcy was taken off the table, the natural corrective mechanisms in the system could not be allowed to function. Mark-to-market accounting…[READ MORE]

Pwned. A term originally coined by mistake when the word "owned" was misspelled by a video game programmer. The word has come to symbolize domination of one party over another, and it's a particularly appropriate term for loanowners who bought a house hoping to "own" it, and instead they find themselves being "pwned" by the house. I first wrote about this phenomenon in 2008: Generation Y began buying starter homes in earnest during the Great Housing Bubble. Generation X is just now coming into their prime earning years, and many of them bought move-up homes at inflated bubble prices. The Baby Boomers took their equity and bought multiple properties during the bubble. They all have one thing in common: they…[READ MORE]

The housing market is anything but stable. Decisions by banks, government regulators, the federal reserve, congress, and Treasury department officials have tremendous impact on house prices. For example, decisions at the federal reserve regarding interest rates have imbued the market with such high payment affordability that buyers can finance the still-inflated prices of the previous bubble. Banks decided early this year to slow the rate they took back properties at foreclose auctions thus reducing MLS inventory of REO significantly. Government regulators changed accounting rules in 2009 to allow banks to keep delinquent mortgage squatters in place with delayed millions of foreclosures for many years. The GSEs, now run by the Department of Treasury, are liquidating their portfolios and changing the…[READ MORE]

With the acute shortage of resale inventory across the Southwest, it's hard to imagine prices going down, and in the short term, they won't. Of course, circumstances could change quickly as they did this spring, so anything is possible. However, if the federal reserve can keep interest rates at record lows, and if the lending cartel can process the backlog of distressed loans without causing resale inventories to spike, then prices will not go down in the future. But is it realistic to think both of these circumstances will come to pass? Mortgage interest rates hit all-time lows because the federal reserve took short-term treasury rates to zero and began buying 10-year treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to drive mortgage interest…[READ MORE]

There are many myths about housing markets perpetuated by banks and the financial press. Two of these myths include (1) keeping people in a house keeps up the values, and (2) foreclosures reduce neighborhood values. Many believe that allowing delinquent mortgage squatters to stay in place improves the condition of a property. Perhaps in rough neighborhoods prone to property crime, occupancy is better than abandonment, but in most neighborhoods, when delinquent mortgage squatters stay on, they property gets run down. Why would anyone spend any money to improve or even maintain a property in which they have no financial interest? If people were prone to do this, then landlords wouldn't need to spend money maintaining rentals. Delinquent mortgage squatters have…[READ MORE]

As strange as it sounds, most REO shouldn't be listed for sale. REOs being processed for sale -- the REO pipeline -- is all banks are supposed to have. Once they finish processing, they are supposed to put them for sale and liquidate. It's not unusual for a high percentage of REOs to be held by the banks. What is more telling about their policies is how long it takes them to sell a property, and how they classify the properties they hold. If all their properties are undergoing preparations for sale, and if sales are happening quickly, there is no problem. However, if it takes them a very long time to process, and if many properties are being held…[READ MORE]

In Memoriam: Tony Bliss 1966-2012