NAR says Senate tax package ‘bad news for homeowners’

WASHINGTON – Dec. 4, 2017 – The U.S. Senate passed tax reform legislation over the weekend that the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) believes puts home values at risk and dramatically undercuts the incentive to own a home.

NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall offered strong concerns over the bill and said Realtors will continue to work with members of the House and Senate as the process moves forward into a conference committee to reconcile differences between the two versions of the bills.

“The tax incentives to own a home are baked into the overall value of homes in every state and territory across the country,” says Mendenhall. “When those incentives are nullified in the way this bill provides, our estimates show that home values stand to fall by an average of more than 10 percent, and even greater in high-cost areas.”

Speaking for NAR, Mendenhall says that Realtors favor tax cuts done “in a fiscally responsible way,” and that current efforts in Congress produce some winners. But “millions of middle-class homeowners would see very limited benefits, and many will even see a tax increase. In exchange for that, they’ll also see much or all of their home equity evaporate as $1.5 trillion is added to the national debt and piled onto the backs of their children and grandchildren.

“That’s a poor foot to put forward, but this isn’t the end of the road,” she adds. “Realtors will continue to advocate for homeownership and hope members of the House and Senate will listen to the concerns of America’s 75 million homeowners as the tax reform discussion continues.”

© 2017 Florida Realtors

How FCC plan to end net neutrality is the wrong thing to do.

Nov. 22, 2017 – The Federal Communications Commission released a plan Tuesday to reverse net neutrality rules, a move that the National Association of Realtors® is concerned will make it harder for real estate companies, multiple listing services and property data aggregators to provide their services in a cost-effective way.

“We are looking carefully at the FCC’s plan to reverse net neutrality, which has been an effective and proven way to ensure a level playing field for businesses that depend on a neutral online playing field,” NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall said in a statement. Small and large players in the real estate industry could be affected if internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon create fast and slow lanes of web traffic based on financial arrangements they’ve made with content providers.

NAR is part of a coalition of business interests that support existing net neutrality rules as the most fair and competitive form of internet regulation. Current rules prohibit internet service providers from throttling or slowing web traffic to some sites while giving faster services to other sites that have entered into financial arrangements with them. The FCC is expected to vote on the plan – which was proposed by its chairman, Ajit Pai – in mid-December. Should the commission vote to reverse current rules, proponents of net neutrality are expected to sue.

NAR sent comments to the FCC in July urging it to maintain net neutrality.

“NAR supports open internet rules that protect American businesses and consumers by preventing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) not only from blocking, throttling, or discriminating against internet traffic and prohibit paid prioritization arrangements, but also interconnection issues and other anti-competitive practices,” NAR said in its comments.

Source: Robert Freedman, Realtor® Magazine

Fla. claims for Irma damage top $5 billion

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Oct. 24, 2017 – Six weeks after Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida, claims for damage have now topped $5 billion.

More than 23,160 property owners in Southwest Florida have filed claims for insured losses from Irma, according to an updated report Monday from the state Office of Insurance Regulation. That is 700 claims added since last week from Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.

The state agency said 772,934 owners of residential and commercial properties statewide had submitted claims to insurers as of the end of last week.

Total losses have now climbed to $5.31 billion, up by $740,000 from the previous week.

Homeowners account for 66 percent of the claims so far, the agency said. Another 11 percent come from other residential properties and 6 percent were filed by owners of manufactured homes.

Those claims do not include flood damage, which is not covered by homeowners’ insurance. Data analyzer CoreLogic has said flood losses in Florida and elsewhere could hit $38 billion, and up to 80 percent of the damaged homes might not have flood coverage.

The combined destruction of property from Irma and Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas in late August, could range from $150 billion to $200 billion, according to a preliminary estimate from Moody’s Analytics. Moody’s said the U.S. could suffer an additional $20 billion to $30 billion in lost economic output from the two storms.

More than 40 percent of the damage claims from Southwest Florida have been closed, although nearly half of the closed claims were rejected for payment.

In Sarasota, 9,536 property owners had filed claims in the latest report. Some 1,929 have been paid and 2,061 were closed but not paid.

Manatee reported 7,302 claims, with 1,808 paid and 1,415 closed without payment.

A total of 6,323 claims came from Charlotte, with 1,297 paid and 1,162 closed without payment.

The three counties account for about 3 percent of the total Florida damage claims filed with insurers, the agency said.

Miami-Dade County reported the most claims, followed by Orange, Broward, Lee and Collier counties.

© 2017 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla., John Hielscher. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Harsh reality hitting Floridians without flood insurance.

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Sept. 25, 2017 – Anita Dennis talked on the phone with her homeowner’s insurance company, her furrowed brow expressing more than words could say. The 72-year-old widow carried flood insurance on her home years ago, then let it lapse after learning her neighborhood in The Villas in south Fort Myers was expected to flood only every 100 years.

The house, built in 1973, has flooded twice in the past month.

A rainmaker brought 4 inches of water into the 1,800-square-foot home a few weeks ago, then Hurricane Irma brought 7 inches of water inside.

Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, who ran the National Flood Insurance Program in the 1970s, expressed concern for financially strapped homeowners who live in more inland communities such as Lehigh Acres who did not carry flood insurance, many of whom just scrape by.

“Being poor, some people have high mortgages with little equity,” he said. “What happens next? It all depends on how damaged the house is, how much money the family has, how much equity in the home they have in terms of what they do.”

Hunter admonished the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for doing a poor job of ensuring that homeowners mandated to carry flood insurance are doing so. “FEMA has done a terrible job of monitoring the banks to make sure they have flood insurance,” he said. “Something is really, really wrong.”

Property owners, he said, make two fundamental errors when it comes to flood insurance:

They have a false sense of immunity from catastrophe. “They assume it won’t happen to them because they haven’t seen water anywhere near where they live, and they’ve been there for 30 years.”
They expect a government bailout. If flooding happens, it’s going to be so bad the government is going to come in and dole out disaster relief. “It might be a small grant, but the bulk of disaster relief is a loan. Those two things together really impact people,” Hunter said.
Hurricane Irma resulted in 335,000 insurance claims representing $1.9 billion in property losses. Irma has exceeded the claims and losses from the two hurricanes (Matthew and Hermine) that hit Florida last year, the state Office of Insurance Regulation reported Monday.

That’s just for starters. Hunter said Irma may surpass Hurricane Andrew’s $26 billion damage cost, but “it’s going to be close.”

Despite back-to-back hurricanes hammering the USA, Hunter said the homeowner’s insurance industry should be fine.

“There’s some reports they could raise rates, but that’s crazy,” he said. “The models to set the rates already contain in them storms in the averages that are like Irma and Harvey. They shouldn’t have any impact on the pricing. There’s no reason for them to raise rates or cancel people’s insurance.”

An Associated Press analysis in early September – before Irma battered Florida – showed a steep drop in flood insurance policies across the state. In five years, the number of federal flood insurance policies in Florida has fallen by 15 percent, according to FEMA data. Property owners in Florida still buy far more federal flood insurance than any other state – 1.7 million policies, covering about $42 billion in assets – but most residents in hazard zones are badly exposed.

Florida has roughly 2.5 million homes in hazard zones, more than three times that of any other state, FEMA estimates. Yet, across Florida’s 38 coastal counties, 42 percent of these homes are covered. Florida’s overall flood insurance rate for hazard-zone homes is 41 percent. Fannie Mae ostensibly requires mortgage lenders to make sure property owners buy this insurance to qualify for federally backed loans, yet in 59 percent of the cases, that insurance isn’t being paid for.

About seven of 10 homeowners have federally backed mortgages, and if they live in a high-risk area, they still are required to have flood insurance. Many let their policies slip without the lender noticing; loans get sold and repackaged; paperwork gets lost; and new lenders don’t follow up.

Dennis, the south Fort Myers homeowner, doesn’t know how expensive it will be to repair her house. She was told that her windstorm policy will not cover most of the damage.

“I think it’s going to be a lot; that’s why I hope FEMA can help,” she said.

Copyright © 2017, USATODAY.com, USA TODAY, Casey Logan

RE investors should look for homes close to ALDI, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

Aug. 2, 2017 – A new ATTOM Data analysis found that prospective homebuyers are better off buying near a Trader Joe’s than a Whole Foods or an ALDI.

Two things have changed, however. First, homes near Whole Foods have seen stronger home price appreciation recently – an increase closer to those seen with a nearby Trader Joe’s. ATTOM analysts think that might have something to do with Amazon’s acquisition of the high-end grocery chain.

Second, real estate investors who want to maximize their return via flipping or renting should target neighborhoods closer to ALDI, the discount German-owned grocer ALDI, according to the analysis.

Analysis details

Homeowners near a Trader Joe’s have an average 5-year home price appreciation of 67 percent, compared to 52 percent for homeowners near a Whole Foods and 51 percent near ALDI. Average appreciation for all zip codes with these three grocery stores nationwide is 54 percent.
Homeowners near a Trader Joe’s also have added equity, owning an average 36 percent equity in their homes ($232,439); homeowners near Whole Foods had an average 31 percent equity ($187,925) and homeowners near ALDI had an average 18 percent equity ($46,352). The average equity for all zip codes with these grocery stores nationwide is 24 percent.
Flip the tables and properties near an ALDI are an investor’s golden goose with an average gross flipping ROI (return on investment) of 69 percent, compared to properties near a Whole Foods which had an average gross flipping ROI of 41 percent and Trader Joe’s at 36 percent. The average gross flipping ROI for all zip codes with these grocery stores nationwide is 57 percent.
Properties near an ALDI had an average gross rental yield of 10 percent, compared to properties near a Whole Foods with an average gross rental yield of 6 percent and Trader Joe’s at 5 percent. The average flipping ROI for all zip codes with these grocery stores nationwide is 8 percent.
ATTOM created an infographic that shows the grocery store-home value relationship.

© 2017 Florida Realtors

The 28/36 Rule: How It Affects Your Mortgage Approval

Want to buy a home? If so, you should know the golden rule of mortgage lending. The 28/36 rule measures borrowers’ ability to afford their mortgages based on their households’ gross monthly income, monthly housing-related payments, and all other monthly debt payments.

The 28/36 rule states that a household should spend no more than 28% of its gross monthly income on total housing expenses, and no more than 36% on all debt, including housing-related expenses and other recurring debts.

The details of the 28% front-end ratio

Let’s start with the first half of the rule, which is that a household should spend no more than 28% of its gross monthly income on housing expenses. This is called the “front-end ratio.”

Housing expenses are generally summarized as PITI: monthly principal, interest, property taxes, and insurance payments. They also include any housing association or condo fees. The front-end ratio does not include other housing expenses like utility bills or cable TV services.

If a borrower expects to pay $1,100 in monthly principal and interest, plus $300 in property taxes and homeowners insurance payments, the PITI costs would be $1,400 per month. Thus, the household must have gross monthly income (pre-tax income) of at least $5,000 per month ($1,400 / $5,000 = 28%) to qualify on the front-end ratio.

The fine print on the 36% back-end ratio

The second half of the rule is the back-end ratio. This ratio is calculated by dividing all recurring monthly payments on the debt by a household’s gross monthly income. The back-end ratio includes all debt: PITI payments on your mortgage, any homeowners association dues or condo fees, and credit cards, car loans, student loans, and other personal loans. Where applicable, the back-end ratio also includes required monthly child support or alimony payments. A past divorce can come back to haunt a borrower when it comes time to apply for a mortgage.

There is an important detail you should know: Monthly payments are only included in the back-end ratio when they are expected to be paid for the next 10 months or more. For example, a car loan with 12 remaining monthly payments would be included, but a car loan with only nine payments remaining would not be. Paying down your other loans can be a really good way to qualify for a larger mortgage.

The borrower with $1,400 in PITI payments might also have a $200 monthly car payment and a $250 student loan payment; back-end monthly debt payments would tally to $1,850 per month. To qualify under the back-end ratio, this borrower would need to earn at least $5,139 ($1,850 / 0.36 = $5,138.88) in gross monthly income.

How to qualify for a larger mortgage

Conventional mortgage underwriting tends to have the most stringent requirements. Buying a home with an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) mortgage generally requires a household to qualify under a 31/43 rule, but this rule can be further relaxed in specific scenarios. Energy-efficient homes can qualify under an expanded 33/45 rule when financed through the FHA, which is much easier to meet than the standard 28/36 rule for conventional loans.

Although some lenders are willing to stretch on terms, these loans are riskier for the borrower and lender alike. Borrowers who can qualify under the 28/36 rule shouldn’t have much difficulty repaying their loans. Stretching too far may make it difficult for homeowners to pay their loans on time, or in full. Homeownership may be the American dream, but anyone who has lost a home to foreclosure will tell you it is an American nightmare.

There are three ways to safely increase the amount you can borrow:

Earn more: While earning more isn’t as easy as pressing a button, it will enable you to buy a more expensive home. A borrower who can reasonably expect to earn more in the near future (a nurse who will soon become a nurse practitioner, for example) might thus qualify for a larger mortgage thanks to a higher income.
Pay down debt: Paying down debt helps your back-end ratio by leaps and bounds. Debt with the highest monthly payments as a percentage of the principal balance (car loans and credit cards, for example) should be prioritized. Consider applying for a mortgage once you have fewer than 10 months of payments remaining on a car or student loan.
Make a larger down payment: How much you borrow has a greater impact on your front- and back-end ratios than how much the home costs. Waiting a year to save more will help you qualify for a larger mortgage.
Of these three methods, the best way to qualify for a mortgage on a more expensive home is to pay down your existing debt. Consider this: A borrower with a $300 monthly car payment would need to earn $833 more than a borrower who does not have a car payment in order to qualify for the exact same mortgage amount. It seems silly — $833 in pre-tax income easily covers a $300 car payment, and then some — but it’s an illustration of just how punishing the math of mortgage underwriting can be to indebted borrowers.

The bottom line: The best way to qualify for a mortgage is to follow the basics of good personal finance: Save more, spend less, and pay off your consumer debt before applying. People who do these three things should sail through the underwriting process and get a mortgage on affordable terms.

Single-family housing starts hit highest level in 10 years

WASHINGTON – March 16, 2017 – Nationwide housing starts rose 3 percent in February from an upwardly revised January reading, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Commerce Department.

Single-family production increased 6.5 percent to 872,000 units – its highest reading in nearly a decade. Meanwhile, the multifamily component fell 3.7 percent to 416,000 units.

“This month’s gain in single-family starts is consistent with rising builder confidence in the housing market,” says Granger MacDonald, chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). “We should see single-family production continue to grow throughout the year, tempered somewhat by supply-side constraints such as access to lots and labor.”

“The growth in the single-family arena is very encouraging, but may be partly attributable to unusually warm weather conditions throughout most of the country,” said NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “The modest drop in multifamily starts is in line with our forecast, which calls for this sector to continue to stabilize in 2017.”

Regionally in February, combined single- and multifamily housing production rose 35.7 percent in the West. Starts fell by 3.8 percent in the South, 4.6 in the Midwest and 9.8 percent in the Northeast.

Future starts
A drop in multifamily permits pulled overall permit issuance down 6.2 percent in February. Multifamily permits fell 21.6 percent to 381,000 units – but single-family permits rose 3.1 percent to 832,000 units – its highest level since September 2007.

Regionally, overall permits rose 25.4 percent in the Midwest. Permits fell 10 percent in the West, 10.4 percent in the South and 22.3 percent in the Northeast.

How to Get a Mortgage After Foreclosure (Yes, It’s Possible)

If you’ve been through a foreclosure, you’ve crawled through one of the worst real estate ordeals there is. But that experience doesn’t mean homeownership has to remain forever out of reach afterward.

In fact, it’s much easier to qualify for a mortgage after a major credit event than you may think. It all depends on the circumstances of your foreclosure—and how you’ve managed your credit since.

So if you want to get back out there, here’s how to get a mortgage after foreclosure.

How long after foreclosure can I apply for a loan?

When it comes to the necessary waiting period between going through a foreclosure and applying for a new loan, every mortgage program is a bit different. But there are some general rules.

“For a conventional mortgage, a borrower who experienced foreclosure is required to wait seven years,” says Ray Rodriguez, regional sales manager at TD Bank.

On the other hand, the Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture require a three-year waiting period while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requires a two-year wait.

How to speed up the process

You can reduce the waiting period for landing a new mortgage by showing that the foreclosure was the result of a significant financial hardship from which you have recovered.

So what’s considered significant? “I live to shop” definitely doesn’t count; legitimate reasons include a layoff, business failure, divorce, or major health problems.

Be prepared to provide documentation of the hardship you claim, such as proof of paid medical bills.

“You’ll need to provide an explanation letter, which should be short and focus on recovery from the event, rather than excuses for it,” says Casey Fleming, author of “The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.”

Her sample sentence: “After my business failed, I landed a W-2 job with an excellent company doing the same thing I did before, but with a guaranteed salary and full benefits package.”

Just keep in mind that “there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to lenders dealing with this situation,” says Rodriguez. Every lender has different requirements aside from basic guidelines set down by the FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

The FHA, for instance, is particular about what constitutes a significant financial hardship, says Fleming. A serious illness or the death of a wage earner may be acceptable, whereas divorce may not be. (You might have been able to work through a divorce, but not through illness or a death.)

How to rebuild your credit

For a potential borrower, a major component of landing a new mortgage is demonstrating that you have bounced back from the financial hardship that caused you to default in the past. Job one of proving that is rebuilding your credit and keeping it sparkling clean.

To boost your credit score—lenders typically like to see a score of at least 580—pay bills on time and maintain low balances on credit cards.

“Consumers should also frequently check their credit reports to ensure there are no inaccuracies that could negatively affect their chances of qualifying for a loan,” say Rodriguez.

Keep a paperwork file

Be prepared to document everything finance-related in your postforeclosure life, advises Rodriguez. That includes pay stubs, bank and brokerage statements, and tax returns. Lenders will ask for this paperwork to verify everything you put on your mortgage application as a precaution to avoid another potential foreclosure.

And save your pennies! Unless you’re using VA financing, you will probably need a larger down payment to secure a mortgage than you may have put down last time.

“Figure 10% minimum,” says Fleming. There may be exceptions, but they are rare.

What about nonprime lenders?

You can land a new loan immediately after completion of the foreclosure in most cases. But beware: It’s expensive, the fees and interest rate are higher, and usually the terms aren’t great, Fleming says. For instance, rather than a 30-year fixed loan, you may be offered only an adjustable-rate mortgage with a high margin.

How a mortgage adviser can help

Meet with an experienced mortgage adviser soon after your foreclosure so that you can begin to work on any other long-term issues that need to be addressed and fixed.

“The three legs of the qualifying stool are income, credit, and assets,” says Fleming. If one or two are weak, you’ll pay more for a loan or may not qualify. The best corrective action for a prospective home buyer depends on what leg is weakest.

Once you’ve worked on getting your credit score over a particular threshold, you may need to conserve cash if your liquid reserves are too low, or pay down your credit cards if your debt-to-income ratio is too high.

Bottom line: Your past does not predict your future when it comes to financing—in fact, a bad experience can often scare people straight.

“Many folks have rough times in their financial life, and then are excellent credit risks afterward,” says Fleming. “If you can demonstrate a willingness and ability to make payments in the future, you can get a loan to buy a home.”

Margaret Heidenry is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, and Boston Magazine.

Yale’s Shiller take on the Current and Future Housing Market

June 1, 2016: The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose 5.2% year-over-year in March. Yale University economics professor and Robert Shiller, one of the index’s creators, had a positive yet tempered reaction to the data.

“It’s kind of what I expected. Ever since 2012, that was the bottom of the market, it’s been chugging along, going up. And it’s not exciting, but it’s positive and I don’t see why it won’t continue it for a while,” Shiller told the FOX Business Network’s Connell McShane.

“Well I don’t think it’s a preoccupation the way it was in 2006-2007. Though people need a place to live, employment is growing, people bid up the price, you have to outbid somebody else to get the house. I don’t think people are so focused on the excitement of a bubble,” said Shiller, explaining his subdued reaction.

On concerns the factors in the housing market that led to the financial crisis have not been fixed, Shiller responded, “We can’t fix human psychology.”

Shiller weighed in on whether the safeguards that have been put in place are sufficient to prevent another financial crisis in the future.

“There has been a lot of regulation” Shiller continued, “All over the world countries are putting in protections. So, yeah, I suppose things are better. But I don’t know that the protections are going to be enough and someday if this keeps going on long enough we might have another collapse in the housing market.”

When pressed on when another housing market collapse might occur, Shiller replied, “Nobody knows. If anyone knew that it wouldn’t happen. There’s an element of truth to efficient markets. On the other hand, yeah there are places where it’s getting exciting.”

Credit score problems still haunt Americans.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 25, 2016 – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) highlighted credit score problems faced by Americans in its monthly consumer complaint snapshot. According to the report, consumers continue to complain about incorrect information on their credit reports, as well as difficulty having errors resolved.

“Credit reports are the foundation of consumers’ financial lives,” says CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “Consumers continue to express their frustration about inaccurate information on their credit reports and difficulty in getting these errors fixed. We will continue to work to ensure that credit report disputes are investigated, errors are fixed and consumers are treated fairly.”

Consumer reporting companies track a person’s credit history and other information. Errors in a consumer’s file can affect everything from their eligibility to take out a mortgage to whether they’re eligible for a job. Since the CFPB began accepting credit-reporting complaints in October 2012, the Bureau has handled approximately 143,700 of them.

Credit score complaint topics

Incorrect information on credit reports: 77% of credit reporting complaints submitted to the CFPB relate to incorrect information appearing on their reports. Frequently, these complaints are about a debt collection item that has been paid but appears as an unpaid debt on the report, a debt that is not recognized by the consumer or a debt that is no longer due because it passed the point of being enforceable in court.
Difficulty disputing inaccuracies: Consumers consistently report difficulties disputing inaccuracies on their credit report, including long delays trying to speak to a representative at the consumer-reporting company that created the report or the company that furnished the information. Other consumers complained about negative customer service experiences when they were able to get through.
High-volume complaint companies: Out of all credit-reporting complaints submitted to CFPB between December 2015 and February 2016, 95 percent involved the three nationwide credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and Transunion, though some of the complaints focused more on the information other companies furnished to the top three credit reporting companies.
Specialty consumer reporting companies: Consumers also submitted more than 2,000 complaints regarding specialty consumer reporting companies that specialize in background and employment screening, checking account screening, rental screening and insurance screening.
CFPB says that consumer-reporting companies have been a major focus, and it has published tips and guidance for consumers who want to review their credit report and improve their score.

© 2016 Florida Realtors®