FHFA, the oversight agency for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, released their monthly US Housing Price Index for April. The index shows some stabilization since January however, April is the last month of the federal tax credit for first time buyers and existing homeowners so it would be reasonable to expect declines over the next 2-3 months.
U.S. house prices rose 0.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from March to April, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s monthly House Price Index. The previously reported 0.3 percent increase in March was revised to a 0.1 percent increase. For the 12 months ending in April, U.S. prices fell 1.5 percent. The U.S. index is 12.8 percent below its April 2007 peak.
The index lags NAR’s Existing Home Sale by one month but it is a repeat sales index rather than an aggregate report. The index tracks Fannie and Freddie purchases mortgages where they acquire the paper or provide a guaranty, which dominates the mortgage business and provides the standardization that the secondary mortgage market relies on. This promotes liquidity of the US mortgage market but is limited to conforming mortgages of $417,000 in most of the country and $729,750 in designated high priced housing markets like the NYC metro area.
As a result of its data source, this repeat sales index is NOT a proxy for the US Housing market because it is skewed toward the sub-million housing market, roughly 80% of the US housing stock but is performing much better than the remainder because of the standardization provided by the former GSEs (Fannie and Freddie) and the backing of the federal government. Still, it represents the majority of the US housing market and warrants observation.
Since I am wary of seasonal adjustments my chart tracks the non-seasonally adjusted index, even though the press release relies on seasonal adjustments – the trend is the same but the month over months vary somewhat.
Robert Moses, the Master Builder of New York, famously uttered these words at the groundbreaking of Lincoln Center in NYC.
You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.
I highly recommend The Power Broker by Robert Caro (and his LBJ trilogy) that chronicles Moses’ life but make sure you dedicate a lot of time – it’s a long read.
Amid the scrambled (sorry) state of financial reform going on in Washington right now is the underlying newly realized immovable object and the likely outcome for Wall Street:
Ok, eggs not a great analogy but I needed to squeeze one of my favorite quotes of all time in somehow. Lower leverage is in the future of Wall Street. Take lower risks and there are lower returns to firms eventually translating into lower compensation, translating into tempered housing demand.
This Monday federal regulators finalized guidance on a hot topic as of late: executive compensation:
The final guidance is similar to what the central bank proposed in October, but would now apply to the entire banking industry. Previously, its efforts targeted only holding companies and state-member banks…
The final guidance did not change the three initial goals of the Fed’s proposal: providing incentives that appropriately balance risk and financial results and discourage risk taking; matching “effective controls and risk management”; and supporting corporate governance.
Risk, risk, risk
Senior Economist David Belkin of NYC’s Independent Budget Office received a flurry of media coverage for his post titled “Wall Street Wages: A Rough Ride on Easy Street:”
Much has been made in recent months of last year’s record profits on Wall Street, the myriad ways (near-zero interest rates, bailouts, accounting rules changes) that government policy boosted those profits, and the seven or eight figure bonus packages that some Wall Street executives awarded themselves from those profits. There has been less said, however, about what happened to aggregate wages and salaries across the securities industry in New York City in 2009. Not only did wages fall, but the fall was the steepest in modern history—including the Great Depression.
Adjusted for inflation, average wages in the securities industry plummeted 21.5 percent in 2009 and 24.6 percent over two years.
A key economic engine in the New York City metro area that provides 25% of personal income and 5% of the employment and creates 2.5 private sector jobs for each securities job, this should also be a concern for sustainability of the current level of housing demand.
Ironically Wall Street has been telling us this for years: past performance does not guaranty future returns.
Tags: Wall Street Bonus
NAR released its May existing home sales report today. This was one of the most bizarre existing home sale reports I can recall.
First of all, the expectation of a drop in sales activity was widely expected due to the end of the federal tax credit, yet economists surveyed were anticipating an increase in sales in May? Real estate professionals were bracing themselves for a decline in sales in May.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires expected existing-home sales to climb by 5.0%, to a rate of 6.06 million. The surprise decline followed two increases driven by a tax incentive for first-time buyers that the government enacted to spur a housing sector recovery.
I viewed the impact of the tax credit as “poaching” sales from the next 60-90 days rather than a vehicle to jump start the housing market. We really need jobs first.
But if you look closely at the data, M-O-M sales were up or flat in each of the 3 regions except the northeast, which posted an 18.3% seasonally adjusted decline.
The report headline was generally accurate “May Shows a Continued Strong Pace for Existing-Home Sales” if you remove the northeast from consideration.
Sales price showed the same pattern. While US prices were up 2.7% M-O-M, the northeast prices declined 2.2%.
My interpretation of this “Northeaster” centers around foreclosures. The south and west posted significant foreclosure activity and price declines nearly 2 years ahead of the northeast. The midwest hasn’t seen the same volatility as the other regions. Perhaps the west and south have been pummeled enough that they are actually seeing a bottom in both sales and prices trends. Foreclosure activity is flowing freely while the northeast seems to be lagging in that regard.
Ok, I’m reaching through generalizations but why the disparity by region?
Here are this month’s metrics:
In today’s WSJ there is a chart I made covering Manhattan absorption market wide by price segment – inspired by my monthly report series.
The article sort of suggests that condos are doing better than co-ops as a generalization, which isn’t quite correct or I am over analyzing the results. However, one thing is certain:
Absorption for lower-end condos and co-ops is being driven by conforming mortgage financing being more readily available than jumbo financing.
My takeaways from the chart are:
Absorption has greatly improved from last summer yet there is still a distinction in performance between the upper and lower end of the market.
I have a great conversation with Nicholas Retsinas, Director, Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. He and his staff just released The State of the Nation’s Housing 2010, a must read overview of the challenges facing the US housing market.
Here are other resources published by JCHS.
Check out the podcast.
Tags: Harvard JCHS
CoreLogic (Formerly First American) released their Home Price Index Report for April 2010
“The monthly increase in the HPI shows the lingering effects of the homebuyer tax credit,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. “We expect that we will see home prices remain strong through early summer, but in the second half of the year we expect price growth to soften and possibly decline moderately.”
Of the biggest markets, Washington DC best, Chicago worst:
Of the 50 states, Idaho and Illinois show largest YOY decline:
Notes: The index is a compilation of repeat sales transactions going back to the mid-1970s, from CoreLogic’s own property information and its securities and servicing databases covering all 50 states. The index tracks increases and decreases in sales prices for the same homes over time, which provides a more accurate “constant-quality” view of pricing trends than basing analysis on all home sales.
The report is the only major one I am aware of that breaks out distressed properties from actual – I tend to ignore the breakdown since I don’t see these markets as mutually exclusive. In other words, distressed properties compete with non-distressed and by simply removing the distressed properties from the mix, price trends of the non-distressed properties were still impacted by distressed sales.
For each week’s Eye on Real Estate Show on WOR NewsTalk Radio 710, we include a segment called “The BlogCast” where I discuss several housing related (sometimes a stretch) posts from some of my favorite blogs. They cover topics that are current, funny or simply a “must read”.
Saturday’s BlogCast covered the following blog posts:
[The Real Estate Bloggers] The Watergate Hotel Sold To European Investment Group For many of us, the term Watergate brings back bad memories of politicians gone bad. We forget that the scandal is named after the Watergate Complex, a group of 5 buildings near the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The hotel that was attached to the complex failed in 2007 but was purchased yesterday by a European real estate management company. They plan on returning the hotel to it’s former glory while keeping the option of turning some of the rooms into condos if the market will accept it.
[Straight Talk About Mortgages] Lending Rule #101 – Don’t Loan Money to People Who Can’t Pay It Back… Duh, it’s all about common sense. People who can’t pay it back shouldn’t get the loan in the first place…
[ST Paul Real Estate] Should I take the fridge? I got a call last week from a woman who is being foreclosed upon and there isn’t anything she can do about it at this point…She wanted to know if she had to leave her appliances behind when she left her home. She told me that they are fairly new and that she would like to keep them.
If you missed this past Saturday’s show or any prior show, you can listen to the podcast at any time or subscribe to it for free via iTunes to always get the latest show delivered automatically to your computer or handheld device. My Blogcast is usually in the first hour of the show.
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Joe Palumbo, SRA
Palumbo On USPAP is a column written by a long time appraisal colleague and friend who is currently the Director of Valuation at Weichert Relocation Resources and a user of appraisal services. He spent seven years at Washington Mutual Bank where he was a First Vice President. Mr. Palumbo holds an SRA designation, is AQB certified and he is a State Certified residential appraiser licensed in New Jersey. Joe is well-versed on the ever changing landscape of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice [USPAP] and I am fortunate to have his contributions. View his earlier handiwork on Soapbox and his interview on The Housing Helix.
The Fool’s Gold of AMC Licensing
Since I landed in the world of Relocation some three and a half years ago, I really did not pay much attention to what was happening in the trenches of the lending world. That changed when the concept of licensing appraisal management companies came about. My interest became more of an occupational study since these laws are so “broad-brush” and vague. As the manager an in-house appraisal arm of Relocation Management Company I was shocked and disappointed that that these laws cast a net on just about anyone who manages selects and retains appraisers for third party use. Clearly this type of legislation was created out of a knee-jerk reaction to one of the many “crisis-type” issues that came AT the appraisal community in 2008 and 2009. I am specifically referring to the attention to the “appraisal process” brought about by the ill-informed attorney general Mr. Cuomo of NY and the infamous HVCC. I agree with the basic the tenets of the HVCC and the AMC laws I just do not think there will be a net tangible positive affect and that the “real issues” are being conquered. AMC laws and HVCC are not the PANECEA. I WISH THERE WERE a panacea because some calm is needed. Being the realist and institutionally tenured manager of the appraisal process I just know reality of what happens VS what is supposed to happen.
For starters let me say that the relocation world has no direct OTS-like government oversight or appraisal requirements for the appraisals which are NOT intended for lending. The relocation industry is self- policing and we rely on what is set up by state licensing and our own quality control. Let me also say that while my department may perform some of the same functions that an AMC does, we do not TAKE ANY of the appraisers fee. We do select maintain, review AND USE appraisers as well as arbitrate valuation disputes. Also for the record I am not anti-appraisal management company.
Here is the issue: As pointed out by the OTS, last year FIRREA laws of 1989 already contain much of the language that the AMC Laws cite. States have also set up Appraisal Boards who are supposed to monitor fraud egregious issues and such. The problem with FIRREA and the State Boards is simple: money, resources and time. So along come laws that state it is unlawful to coerce an appraiser, unlawful not to pay them, unlawful to tell them which appraiser to use, unlawful to have people who select and review who are not “trained in real estate”, and so forth and so on. So the new laws are just restating the same of what we already had but we still lack an efficient mechanism to enforce. If the AMC laws are governed and enforced by the state boards who are short on cash and time then what makes AMC laws different? Currently 18 states have such laws on their books.
On top of the AMC laws many states are requiring AMC’s to be “registered”. This process is costly and requires plenty of paperwork. KUDOS to the Governor of Virginia, who signed his states law basically making it illegal to engage in the “appraisal nonsense” described above, but NOT requiring a registration process or fee. Also noted as being proactive is Arizona, which requires licensing and registration for AMC’s but which has a single line exemption for the relocation industry simply because: “we are not the problem” (the law reads the exemption for appraisals prepared for the purpose of employee relocation) .
Recently I was contacted by a state board attorney whose state passed AMC legislation in 2009; she stated “this law was not intended for your business model….because you use the appraisal with the client, whereas an AMC does not use…. it they get it…Q C it and pass it on”. It is great to see some realistic thinking for a change. The AMC- appraiser relationship is much like the HMO doctor relationship: mutual need mandated by external forces peppered with some mistrust. Don’t get me wrong there is a lot of merit to the underlying premise of HVCC and such I just do not think it is going to result in a changed world for the appraisal community. What the appraisers do not like about the AMC’s are the request for fast appraisals, some at a lower fee than they have seen in years, requests coming with numerous assignment conditions many of which are not realistic and unacceptable (3 comps within 3 months and 1 mile) the occasional “can you hit the number request” before the analysis gets done (comps checks)…among many others.
Many of the pressures ON AMC’s…yes I said ON AMC’S, are a result of what has transpired in the world: Increased competition, web-based valuation tools, fingertip internet real estate research, fraud, secondary market issues, and MISUNDERSTANDING of the appraisal process in general. I wonder what planet the “investors” live on that have guidelines they will not purchase loans in declining markets? I also believe that a lender than asks an appraiser to “remove a negative time adjustments” should be reported to the LVCC hot line” . Oh… that’s right there is none? Call your department of banking they say. Good luck. I had an appraiser the other day who did not read or adhere to the engagement letter I sent tell me “we have an AMC law here and you have to pay me regardless or you are breaking the law”. I stated, “great, I will take my chances since you signed the engagement letter but yet failed to meet the (simple) requirements stated in the letter, which is why I have called you three times ”. We’re not talking about value here we are talking about basic development and reporting issues that were not clear to me as user and client. Is this what the AMC laws are for?
Does anyone really think that the requirement of an AMC to fill out an application, pay a fee and require a few staff to take a 15-hour USPAP will stop the madness? Actually if the fees are an issue it could increase the cost of operating for the very folks that are presumable not paying a “fair rate”. Since the BIG 3 lenders (all using profitable AMC’s) have 60% of the market now via servicing or closing every US loan, I don’t see things changing until we see a UNIFIED industry, an industry that will unilaterally agree to push back on any conditions that are deemed to be unreasonable. It is very difficult to push back on three financial giants, but without a push, it will not happen. The other day a friend told me of a lender (his client) who is seeking to create a special list outside the AMC they use; their claim is poor service and product….betcha licensing that AMC would fix that! I also heard of a request coming from a AMC in a state that requires they be licensed and registered. The “caller” asked the appraiser if he could “hit the number”. He asked “isn’t that a violation of the HVCC and the AMC laws?”. The caller laughed…who is enforcing this stuff anyway..we do it all the time and we just send a text message to our appraisers telling them what they need”. There are approximately 97,000 appraisers in the US handling over 1 trillion dollars in mortgage money. Over 75% of the states require licensed appraisers for federally related transactions and 45% require for all appraisals. Imagine if ALL 97,000 decided to make change by just saying “no” on unreasonable compensation or assignment conditions. If we did not have state licensing there would be a clamor to get it. Remember what was stated twenty years ago? “State licensing will change everything” .
Maybe it didn’t because we didn’t MAKE it matter.
What we had already in FIRREA and state law is part of the mechanism to get us to the next level. The missing ingredient is unity. It does not mean abolishing the AMC’s or AMC laws either. Let’s look within and stop trying to reinvent the wheel with both the products and the process. We are miners of fool’s gold until we make real change happen from within, which while not easy is the only way for true meaningful change.