Don’t foreclose! Do a short sale

Short sales are the hottest thing going in the distressed-property market, and the trend is expected to get even hotter in coming weeks, when the government starts handing out cash to encourage lenders to close these deals.

“Banks have ramped up short sale approvals,” said Duane Legate of House Buyer Network, which connects short sellers with buyers. “They’re hiring a lot of the people who once worked in the mortgage-lending industry and moved them over to short sales.”

These transactions, where lenders allow homeowners to sell their houses for less than they owe, accounted for 17% of all residential real estate sales in February, up from nearly 13% in November, according to a monthly real estate market survey by Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance.

And Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), the country’s largest mortgage servicer, has more than doubled the number of short sales it processed in recent months.

Elizabeth Weintraub, a Sacramento, Calif.-area real estate agent who handles many short sales, was amazed at how quickly a recent deal went through. “Bank of America approved it in 24 days,” she said. “That flipped me out.”

This is a huge change from even just six months ago when the short-sale market was stalled and most people would describe the process has real estate hell. Because lenders stand to lose so much on these transactions, they have been reluctant to make short sales happen, often waiting months before getting back to potential buyers.

“In the past, many short sales would never come to fruition and the ones that did averaged over half a year to complete,” said Chris Saitta, CEO of Equator, which produces short sale software.

“Things would just fall into a black hole and not come out again,” added Weintraub.

And even when banks did agree to the sale, the process could be further complicated if the original owner had a second mortgage.

In most cases, the first lender is repaid in full before any money flows to a second-lein holder. And because most distressed borrowers are severely underwater, there’s usually nothing left to send on. As a result, second-lein holders are left holding the bag and have been killing many deals.

But that has been changing. For one thing, banks realize that they make out far better financially with a short sale than a foreclosure. “The lenders lose 50% on a foreclosure and only 30% on a short sale,” said Glenn Kelman, founder of the real estate Web site Redfin. “And short sales offer a way to get distressed properties off their books quickly.”

And on April 5, lenders and mortgage investors will have even more incentives to offer troubled borrowers short sales instead of foreclosing.

Under the new Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program, borrowers will earn a $3,000 “relocation incentive” and servicers will get $1,500 for handling a short sale.

The investors who actually own the mortgage notes will get $2,000 in exchange for sharing proceeds of the short sales with any second-lien holders. And, finally, those second lien holders will receive up to $6,000 for releasing their claims.

Lenders participating in the program must also determine the market values of properties early on and inform the owners of just what price they’re willing to accept. Then, if owners come back to the lenders with bonafide offers, they have to be accepted within 10 days.

Equator’s Saiita anticipates a short sale explosion in response to the new program. “The challenge will be handling all the volume,” he said.

The company has already tweaked its software, which 58 servicers use, to handle the new HAFA rules. And that should help reduce the time it takes to execute a sale, which currently averages 88 days.

The boom in short sales may accelerate the end to the foreclosure crisis by cleaning out the overhang of borrowers in distress and replacing them with more stable homeowners.

Plus, these sales are better for distressed borrowers because their credit scores suffer less. Going through a foreclosure can knock 200 points off a FICO score, twice as much as the penalty for a short sale.

Source: CNNMoney.com, By Les Christie (03/29/2010)

California Extends Home Buyer Tax Credit

Is this a sign of things to come for other states? I understand that California has a large inventory of homes on the market, the job market is getting hammered and their budget is in the red but is this fair to the other states that are going through similar circumstances. I always look for the silver lining in every dark cloud and hopefully this is an indicator of what is to come for the rest of the country because it would be benificial to all.

California has re-established and extended a $10,000 home buyer tax credit, allocating $200 million to the credit for homes purchased between May 1 and Dec. 31, and between Dec. 31 and Aug. 1, 2011.

Steve Goddard, president of the California Association of REALTORS®, said the tax credit will help create incentive for first-time home buyers to purchase abandoned and foreclosed homes. “It is these homes that will require substantial rehabilitation by the new owners, which will in turn generate a tremendous increase in jobs and accessory purchases connected to home improvement activities,” Goddard said.

The credit will be split between first-time buyers and buyers who have lived in their home for at least two years.

“The tax credit will help push prospective buyers off the fence, clear out inventory, and jump-start the homebuilding industry, which will help create jobs and reinvigorate the state’s economy,” said Liz Snow, CEO and president of the California Building Industry Association, in a statement.

Source: Inman News (03/25/2010)

Bank of America to cut some mortgage balances

Housing experts argue that borrowers are more likely to walk away if their mortgages are underwater, meaning they owe more than the home is worth. Nearly 25% of borrowers are underwater, according to First American CoreLogic.

Bank of America is launching the program to entice more borrowers to participate in its foreclosure prevention efforts and to reduce the chance of redefault, said Barbara Desoer, president of Bank of America Home Loans.

When modifying mortgages, Bank of America will initially consider reducing the balances of borrowers with qualifying subprime, Pay-Option ARMs and prime 2-year hybrid ARM loans to bring down the monthly payments to 31% of pre-tax income. Currently, banks first look to reduce interest rates or lengthen the term.

Homeowners who are at least 60 days late and whose mortgages total more than 120% of their home’s value can have their balances reduced over five years by a maximum of 30%. Borrowers must also meet the criteria for the president’s loan modification program.

“Bank of America has found that many homeowners who owe considerably more on their mortgages than their homes are worth are reluctant to accept a solution that addresses only the amount of the payment without an accompanying reduction in the balance due on the loan,” said Desoer.

Borrowers also must qualify for the servicer’s National Homeownership Retention Program to be considered. The initiative was developed as part of Bank of America’s 2008 settlement with state attorneys general to assist Countrywide Financial Corp. borrowers with subprime and Pay-Option ARMs.

The settlement called for Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide in July 2008, to modify troubled mortgages with up to $8.4 billion in interest rate and principal reductions for nearly 400,000 Countrywide customers.

The bank expects that 45,000 borrowers will qualify to have their loan balances reduced by a total of $3 billion under the program announced Wednesday. It is set to begin in May.

Pay-Option ARMs allow borrowers to make tiny monthly payments, but the unpaid interest is tacked onto the mortgage balance, a practice called negative amortization. Two-year hybrid ARMs have a fixed interest rate for the first two years, but adjust after that.

How it will work

Under the “earned principal forgiveness program,” borrowers will receive an interest-free forbearance of principal that can be turned into forgiveness if the homeowner makes timely payments over five years.

The ultimate amount forgiven depends on an updated appraisal of the property. Bank of America will not reduce balances below 100% of the home’s value.

These conditions will also make the program more attractive to investors because it should reduce the probability of redefault and adjust the amount forgiven if home values rise, Desoer said.

The servicer is also making changes to its National Home Retention Program. It will reduce the negative amortization on Pay-Option ARMs through principal forgiveness and will convert the loans to ones that don’t build up the balance.

It will also expand the program to cover Countrywide loans originated on or before Jan. 1, 2009, and will extend the program by six months to the end of 2012.

Many housing experts, lawmakers and even some mortgage investors have been pushing servicers to reduce loan principal. But Treasury officials and bank executives have said they are concerned about the “moral hazard” of helping those who don’t truly deserve or need it.

Still, experts say that principal reduction is a must, especially in areas hit hard by falling home values.

Bank of America announced Wednesday that it will first look at reducing the loan balances of certain distressed homeowners with subprime or adjustable rate mortgages to make their payments more affordable.

The move makes Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) one of the first major loan servicers to systematically incorporate the controversial loan modification technique into its home retention program. Financial institutions, as well as the Obama administration, have come under increasing pressure in recent months to add principal reduction to their foreclosure prevention efforts.

“Principal reduction is an important tool in making loans sustainable for many borrowers,” said John Taylor, head of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, who praised BofA’s effort. “The rest of the industry should follow suit. And federal policy should reflect the growing consensus that principal reductions are required to stem the foreclosure crisis…”

Source: CNNMoney.com By Tami Luhby, senior writer (03/24/2010)

New Foreclosure Prevention Plan Announced

President Obama is announcing an expansion of foreclosure-prevent tactics, including a plan to reduce principal balances and special aid for unemployed borrowers.

The bulk of the responsibility for carrying out the new program will be assigned to the Federal Housing Administration, which will insure lenders against part of the losses.

The plan asks banks to write down loan balances to less than the value of the home. If there is both a first and second mortgage, the combined total would have to be no more than 115 percent of the home’s value.

The Treasury would pay part of unemployed homeowners’ loans for three months while they job hunt.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Nick Timiraos and James R. Hagerty (03/25/2010)

Washington Secures Three Spots In 10 Cities Projected For Highest Home Appreciation In 2010

CNNMoney.com recently published its 2010 forecast and projections for home prices in the country’s largest metro markets.

Listed as “Top 25″ and also comprehensively by state, CNNMoney.com’s home price forecasts puts Santa Rosa, California at the top of 2010’s home appreciation list and Hanford, California at its bottom.

The 10 cities projected for highest home appreciation in 2010 are:

  1. Santa Rosa, CA : +6.0%
  2. Cheyenne, WY : +4.7%
  3. Kennewick, WA : +4.6%
  4. Merced, CA : +4.4%
  5. Bremerton, WA : +4.2%
  6. Fairbanks, AK : +4.2%
  7. Corvallis, OR : +4.1%
  8. Tacoma, WA : +3.9%
  9. Anchorage, AK : +3.8%
  10. Bend, OR : +3.3%

The Pacific Northwest is the region most heavily-represented among price gainers. The Southeast and Middle Atlantic are most represented on the under-perform list.

However, just because a city’s homes are expected to appreciate (or depreciate) in 2010, that doesn’t mean that every home within its limits will follow suit.  Real estate cannot be grouped on a city level like CNNMoney.com tries to. There will always be areas in demand within city limits in which prices rise, just as there will be out-of-demand areas in which prices fall.

Real estate data can’t be grouped by city or even by ZIP code, really.

Real estate is more local than that.

When we say “real estate is local”,  it means that every street in every town has a distinct set of traits that drives its home values. Homes that are one block closer to the train; or, homes that are facing north; or, homes that are made of brick. Each of these characteristics can affect a home’s desirability which, in turn, can affects its sales price.

National surveys can’t capture “essence” like this. They only report on the aggregate.

For local real estate data, look to established, publicly available websites and to active, local real estate agents.  Both will have data and insight that can help you.  National surveys often make for good headlines, but do little to help homebuyers find good value.

Queen Anne  foreclosures, Seattle foreclosures, Belltown foreclosures, Federal Way foreclosures, Greenwood foreclosures, Capital Hill foreclosures, Tacoma foreclosures

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Foreclosures Per Capita | February 2010 (Seattle, WA)

According to foreclosure-tracking firm RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings topped 300,000 for the 12th straight month last month as 1 in every 418 U.S. homes received a foreclosure filing.

It’s a small improvement from January and a just 6 percent increase over February 2009.

On a per-capita basis, foreclosure density varied by state:

  • Nevada : 1 foreclosure filing per 102 homes
  • Florida : 1 foreclosure filing per 163 homes
  • Arizona : 1 foreclosure filing per 163 homes
  • California : 1 foreclosure filing per 195 homes

Also, as in January 2010, foreclosures across the country were concentrated. 10 states beat the national Foreclosure Per Capita average; 40 states fell below. Like everything else is real estate, it seems, foreclosures are local.

For today’s home buyers, foreclosures represent an interesting opportunity.

Homes bought in various stages of foreclosure are often less expensive than other, non-foreclosure homes. It’s one reason why distressed home sales account for 38 percent of all resales. However, less expensive doesn’t always mean less costly.  A foreclosed home may be in various stages of disrepair and they’re often sold as-is, as policy.

Buying new or used can be cheaper than buying broken-down.

Therefore, if you’re in the market for a bank-owned home, make sure you know what you’re buying before you sign a contract. Have qualified professionals review and inspect the property, as needed. Damage to pipes or the property’s structure, for example, may not be so obvious on a walk-though and you’ll want to know about it before you buy.

Also, foreclosed homes are federal tax credit-eligible. Buyers must be under contract by April 30, 2010 and closed by June 30, 2010.

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So You want To Be A Real Estate Investor? (Video)

Do you have what it takes???