Experts Are Predicting a Surge in Foreclosures, But I See the Situation Differently

With the continued high unemployment rate and the expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), many homeowners are hurting, so it makes sense that we may have a foreclosure crisis in our future.

CoreLogic reported recently that back in June (when the Feds were still sending $600/week in PUA to Americans) the share of mortgages with payments 90 to 119 days late had already risen to 2.3%, “the highest level in 21 years.” A rate that high could result in a foreclosure crisis, the report said. Not only could millions of families potentially lose their home, but that would also create downward pressure on home prices.

But I see the situation differently, and after consulting with Jaxzann Riggs of The Mortgage Network, here’s why I don’t expect that flood of foreclosures.

First of all, foreclosure should only happen when a seller owes more on their home than it is worth. That’s because sellers lose all their accumulated equity in a foreclosure, and most people have accumulated a lot of equity thanks for the sellers’ market we have been experiencing.

Secondly, federally mandated forbearance is in effect, which is unlike the forbearance which delinquent borrowers may have enjoyed in the past. Under the current plan, lenders add extra payments at the end of the loan instead of requiring any kind of catch-up payments. This mandate could be extended, too.

The only people likely to face foreclosure will be those who recently took out 100% VA loans or 96.5% FHA loans or conventional loans with only 3% down payment, and for whom there is hardly any equity to lose in a foreclosure action.

Being on forbearance doesn’t affect one’s credit rating even though you are not making payments (again, part of the federal mandate), but once you resume payments, you need to make a minimum of three on-time payments to qualify for a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan, which will restrict your ability to sell your home and purchase a replacement home. Some lenders require six months post-forbearance loan payments.

That, too, will slow down any surge in what are known as “distressed listings.”

Realtor.com Weighs in on the Real Estate Market’s Surprising Rebound

The fact that we’re still in a seller’s market puzzles many real estate professionals, but there are reasonable explanations, which Realtor.com did a good job of describing in a July 13th article by Clare Trapasso.

The headwinds in this market are strong and numerous. We have a lingering and maybe worsening pandemic, staggering unemployment numbers, and a contentious presidential campaign, made even more contentious because of our national reckoning about systemic racism. How does one account for such a strong real estate market, and when will that market soften?

First let’s look at our local numbers. In my July 9th column, I showed statistically how the market had surged in June.  As I write this on Monday evening, there are 4,903 active listings within 20 miles of the State Capitol, but there are 7,720 listings under contract, 3,905 of which (or 50.6%) went under contract in 7 days or less.  A total of 5,219 listings closed in the last 30 days, 2,679 of which (or 51.3%) went under contract in 7 days or less and 1,895 of which (or 36.3%) sold for above full price, likely with competing offers.

So, yes, we are still in a seller’s market — but how can that be, given all that’s going on?

To quote the realtor.com article, “The housing market is back — and then some.”

Nationally, according to realtor.com, median home prices rose 6.2% year-over-year for the week ending June 27th.  According to REcolorado, the median sold price for listings within 20 miles of the State Capitol that same week was $440,000, with 49.9% of them selling in 7 days or less, compared to $418,000 for the same 7-day period a year ago, when 44.5% sold in 7 days or less. That’s a 5% increase in median price year-over-year.

To quote the realtor.com article, “Homes are selling faster than they did in 2019, when no one had heard of Covid-19. And bidding wars are back as first-time and trade-up buyers who have lost out on other homes slug it out.”

The contrast between this market and the market during the “Great Recession” of 2008 couldn’t be sharper. Back then, there was a glut of housing and few buyers. Today, the situation is reversed, with fewer listings and a glut of buyers. Because the 2008 crisis was caused by the subprime mortgage scandal, the glut of housing was made worse by a flood of foreclosures.

Quoting further from the realtor.com article, “To be sure, there are plenty of danger signs ahead in this economy, including continuing historic levels of unemployment and rising coronavirus infection rates in many parts of the country. But, for now, real estate is bouncing back much quicker than other bellwether industries. The reason: After months on hold, Americans are beginning to feel more confident about the idea of buying or selling a home.”

The article quoted a Fannie Mae survey of 1,000 participants, showing that 61% said it was a good time to buy and 41% said it was a good time to sell. And that survey was taken before mortgage rates dropped to under 3%, which happened just last week.  As a result, we can expect the real estate market to be even more supercharged in the coming weeks. Already, mortgage applications for home purchases had risen 33.2% year over year in the week ending July 3rd, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Lower interest rates mean lower mortgage payments by hundreds of dollars, which instantly increases the affordability of homes, and buyers understandably believe they are smart to buy now before the rates rise again, as they surely will.

The low interest rates also make the decision to buy more compelling for renters burdened by the still high cost of renting in the Denver market.  This is particularly compelling for white-collar workers who were not furloughed or laid off during the pandemic and may have money in the bank for a down payment.

Another factor which I mentioned in my earlier column is the number of workers who started telecommuting because of the pandemic and whose employers said they could keep telecommuting even after it’s safe to return to the office. These people are in a buying mood as they look to move further from the congestion of downtown apartments or condos where going outside involves a greater risk of Covid-19 infection.  They also saved a lot of money (as Rita and I did) by eating more home cooked meals because restaurants were closed. And Netflix costs a lot less than going out to the movies or the theatre, to say nothing about the savings on popcorn made at home or purchased at the supermarket!

Yet another factor is the increase in divorces and separations resulting from forced home confinement. I was amused to note the increase in TV commercials by divorce attorneys during April and May.