It was a real estate boom like no other. Interest rates were dropping incredibly, homes were garnishing appreciation by the week, the stock market wasn’t moving and first time home buyers were getting their piece of the American dream. Mortgage brokers, Real Estate Agents and New Home builders were raking in the cash. It seemed like it would never end. Month after month, year after year the sales of new and existing homes climbed. Investors threw their money into the housing market and then as fast as it came it went thud.
The thud started around November of 2006. It started incrementally with a slower than expected August, a quiet November and the news articles started to reflect which was inevitably going to commence. In January of 2007 the Real Estate Taxes were due and crash it went. What seems to be happening now is a rush to unload. From the outside looking in you can see the stock market rise as the housing market falls. New home builders with still a glimmer of hope increase the price of new homes yet offering larger than expected home incentives. Upgrades galore, creative financing, buyers agents bonuses and yet they continue to build on the land they have allocated for future expansion. If it seems familiar, it is. It has an uncanny sense of 1983 all over again.
How did this happen and what makes this housing thud different from the last? There are some minor differences that make this more unique than the last housing crash. Back in the 80′s interest rates were at sometimes 16%. At that point it made sense to try to assume a mortgage that was a lower interest rate and throw your cash into their equity. But it wasn’t realized equity. It was an inflated sense of a market share. As prices dropped home owners found they were in an over valued situation and as the job market suffered they could no longer pull their money out of their house to move on with their lives. It caused a ripple affect of people walking away from thousands of dollars just to save what they had left. Real estate was sold at auction in a manner that you would buy livestock or sheriff’s sales and the late night infomercials were non-stop. No Money Down” was the catch phrase. You can still find those publications that cite 20% interest rates and how finding a home with a 10% interest rate was a real steal.
So what happened in the last decade? Feeding on that premise that no money down is something of a desired situation and interest rates dropping most people would assume the best investment was their home. Out the window went the premise of paying down your note and having a secure position in your most valued asset. For some time it was just a matter of the educated investor refinancing a higher note and gaining equity in their home just by dropping their interest rate. It was a normal progression of an intelligent move. Refinancing could shorten the length of your home loan in some instances by 15 years and also lower your monthly payment. And then arose the hungry new home builder, the starving loan officer competing in a new market and the incredible increase of Real Estate Agents flooding the market.
Here’s how it worked. In most instances this was a first time home buyer. They were to purchase a house no money down. There would be two loans. The 80% back loan that was a fixed rate of sometimes as low as 5% and then the front loan. The front loan represented the 20% down that was typically the homeowner’s down payment. That 20% loan was an adjustable rate mortgage that was incrementally to increase over 5 years and then a balloon was to sit waiting at the end. The buyer confused by all this new jargon would ask, and then what? It was explained with the advent of interest rates dropping it was standard practice at that point to refinance that loan with another fixed rate loan or refinance the entire note at one fixed rate. It became such a standard practice that the next step made even less sense. Why not just incorporate your closing costs as well? And they did. Up to 6% of your closing costs could be rolled back into your loan. The buyer would ask what their monthly payment was and assumed that was an affordable note and there you have it. It was a disaster waiting to happen.
The second victim was the investor. The investor that in most instances was watching their money sit either in CD’s that showed a dropping interest rate or a stock market that refused to move. The investor would buy these new homes with incredible incentives and it was explained that the home had these upgrades to the standard built home, the home would ofcourse appreciate to where they could sell in 5 years and realize the equity of a moving home market, and then reinvest. They even came with appliances so that they could rent them immediately. Could there be a catch?
So here’s where it all plays out now. The new home buyer is in the home of their dreams. And the interest rates instead of dropping are now increasing. So incrementally their payment increases. Then to add insult to injury the home they purchased had an estimated tax base of an empty lot. So the taxes figured at closing were estimated on a fraction of the value of completed construction. Here comes the new appraisal on completed construction and your tax base increases by 150%. These new home buyers revisit that 20% loan and notice that the note is coming due. Struggling to understand the increase in their monthly mortgage payment, coming up with the added cash for their balloon, compounded with the increase in gas and consumable goods is overwhelming. So, as suggested by their loan officer they search to refinance.
What was not explained to them is with the rush of foreclosures on the market and millions of people in the same situation, you must have equity to refinance. You must show the ability to be able to support your note. And they are turned away.
The investor finds themselves in a new subdivision competing with new home sales and no equity. The builder has built in their contract that they can not erect a sign in their yard advertising the property for sale until the subdivision is completed. There are not to hang a lock box on the door. So basically they must rely on the local MLS to market their property. To add insult to injury now the new homes are selling the exact same house they purchased 2 to 5 years earlier for less than they purchased it and adding more upgrades and incentives to new home buyers.
This created a flood of foreclosures on the market. People frustrated are electing to walk away from the home and their good credit rating. Lenders are found at the court house steps now purchasing these homes, fixing them up and reselling them. In some instances the homes are not even rehabbed but placed back on the market sold as-is, where-is”. That would be the new catch phrase.
In order to circumvent the costs of the foreclosure the lending market created an alternative for a homeowner to stop their foreclosure. This system has now been name a short sale” or a pre-foreclosure”. The short sale is handled this way. The homeowner without any equity in their home approaches the mortgage company and requests a short sale. They are to fill out financial information substantiating that they are no longer able to pay the note. Upon acceptable of the package the home is then listed by a real estate agent on the local MLS and marketing as a short-sale” or pre-foreclosure”. The offers are then submitted directly to the lender and the lender will make the decisive move as to whether to accept the offer or renegotiate. The homeowner at this point is nothing more than a signature on the listing agreement or the closing statement.
Once the lender comes to an agreement with a prospective buyer the closing date is set and the house changes hands. In most instances the loan is reported as being satisfied and the homeowner now can relax and move to a more comfortable situation. There are floods of new seminars on purchasing property in this type of distressed situation and even though it is a reliable way to purchase property the best case scenario is ofcourse an end user. This is a particularly good way for a home buyer to purchase a property in relatively good condition for a discounted price.
As a real estate agent in the Houston area I have found it difficult to find documentation to send my sellers to to educate them in the process. Most websites are about buying real estate in a short sale situation but I have been limited in finding documentation to support how you would sell such home. Henceforth the publication of this article.