Housing’s Big “Shadow”?

Could the bubble get worse as supply of homes for sale increases?

With mortgage rates still near generational lows, national home prices down more than 20% from the peak and the government providing tax incentives for homebuyers, it seems like a great time to buy a house; at least, that’s what your friendly neighborhood realtor says on those late-night TV commercials.

But is it true?

“If you’ve got good credit and can put a down payment down…and you’re planning to stay in the house for an extended period of time [like] seven-to-10 years, then now could be an attractive time to buy,” says Zillow.com chief economist Stan Humphries.

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America's Most Underwater Housing Markets

Negative equity–what you have when you owe more on your home loan than the property is worth–is one of the defining features of the still-unfolding mortgage crisis. It’s a particularly nasty problem because it can lead to all sorts of unpleasant outcomes for the real estate market and the economy as a whole.

Having negative equity, which is also known as being “underwater” on a mortgage, makes homeowners more likely to end up in foreclosure. It restricts a borrower’s ability to refinance or buy another home, which in turn stifles demand for housing. It even reduces the flexibility of the labor market, since underwater homeowners are less willing to leave town to take a different job, says Stan Humphries, the chief economist at Zillow.

“We have never had negative equity like this at the national level in as many different regions as we have now,” Humphries says.

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What do you get for seeking mortgage relief? Lower Credit Scores!

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some homeowners who sign up for the government’s mortgage assistance program are getting a nasty surprise: Lower credit scores.

For borrowers who are making their payments on time but are on the verge of default, the Obama administration’s loan modification program can reduce their credit score as much as 100 points. That makes it harder to get a loan and can present a problem when applying for a new job.

Housing counselors say it’s unfair, especially because the news often comes as a surprise to homeowners.

“Why should people’s credit be hurt even worse when they’re trying to do the right thing?” said Eileen Anderson, senior vice president at Community Development Corp. of Long Island, a housing counseling group in New York.

And many homeowners are angry that a program designed to help carries such a penalty, said Kathy Conley, a housing counselor with GreenPath Inc., a nonprofit group in Farmington Hills, Mich.

“It’s a feeling of being duped,” she said.

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Delinquencies, foreclosures likely to put a damper on 2010 recovery

March is usually the month when people in the real estate business start getting hopeful. Spring usually brings out both buyers and sellers and, along with them, higher values for most homes.

But for some of the biggest housing markets in the country, those hopes look to be in vain this year. The problem is the glut of homes that have been repossessed by banks or that seem headed in that direction. The glut is far bigger than it was a year ago.

In fact the outlook is flat-out grim, based on the latest data from First American CoreLogic, a housing data firm that tracks 97% of U.S. transactions for the mortgage industry. The percentage of homes that banks have filed foreclosure on or repossessed (and stamped with the dreaded “REO,” or “real estate owned,” moniker) now account for 3% of all mortgaged homes. That’s up from 2.2% a year ago. In some large cities, the rate is two-to-six times the national average.

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Falling home prices through 2011 predicted!

Despite signs that the real estate market might be lurching forward, prices are expected to fall further this year and next.

The average home price in the United States will fall by about 6% by September 2011, according to a joint report between Fiserv and Moody’s Economy.com. And that’s after plunging more than 27% in the past three years.

Is your home value falling fast?

Most of the projected home price decline will occur during the usually slow summer months of 2010. After that, prices should begin to stabilize, according to Fiserv, and stay almost flat through fall of 2011.

The main reason for continued decline, according to Mark Zandi, economist and co-founder of Economy.com, is foreclosures — the same thing that’s plagued markets for the past three years.

“Foreclosure sales will pick up this spring as mortgage servicers figure out who can qualify for a modification and who can’t,” said Zandi.

He figures there are at least 4.5 million mortgage loans either in foreclosure or clearly headed in that direction. When that additional inventory hits the market, it will provide numerous choices for buyers and encourage sellers to drop their listing prices.

The end of two federal programs, which have been propping up markets, will also tamp down prices.

Why are house prices falling so fast?p>

About 5.1 million will own a home valued below 75 percent of what is owed

Home Under Water?

No help in sight, more homeowners walk away

In 2006, Benjamin Koellmann bought a condominium in Miami Beach. By his calculation, it will be about the year 2025 before he can sell his modest home for what he paid. Or maybe 2040.

“People like me are beginning to feel like suckers,” Mr. Koellmann said. “Why not let it go in default and rent a better place for less?”

After three years of plunging real estate values, after the bailouts of the bankers and the revival of their million-dollar bonuses, after the Obama administration’s loan modification plan raised the expectations of many but satisfied only a few, a large group of distressed homeowners is wondering the same thing.

New research suggests that when a home’s value falls below 75 percent of the amount owed on the mortgage, the owner starts to think hard about walking away, even if he or she has the money to keep paying.

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Mortgage markets brace for future without federal aid

WASHINGTON — For more than a year, the government pulled out the stops to revive home buying by driving down mortgage rates.

Now, whether the housing market is ready or not, the government is pulling out.

The wind-down of federal support for mortgage rates, set to end in two months, is a momentous test of whether the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have succeeded in jump-starting the housing market and ensuring it can hold its own.

The stakes for the economy are massive: If the market again falls into a tailspin, homeowners could face another wave of trouble, and it would deal a body blow to President Obama’s efforts to get the economy on track.

Keeping the mortgage rates at historic lows, which required a commitment of more than $1 trillion, was viewed within the administration as a central plank of the economic strategy last year, senior officials said.

Though the policy did not attract as much attention as rescue efforts to bail out banks, it helped revitalize homebuying in some parts of the country and put money in the pockets of millions of homeowners who were able to refinance into lower monthly payments, the officials added.

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More refinancing homeowners put cash in, not take it out

WASHINGTON — Thinking of cashing out some equity when you refinance your mortgage? Sure, that used to be what millions of homeowners did when they needed extra money.

But now get ready for the post-boom, post-crash trend that’s really hot: “Cash-in” refis — the diametrical opposite of cash-outs.

“It almost sounds un-American,” quipped Frank Nothaft, chief economist for mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

After all, Americans have grown accustomed over much of the past two decades to tapping into their equity — pulling out a chunk of cash and adding to their debt load — when they refinanced their mortgages. “Almost nobody thought of putting money back in,” Nothaft said.

Cash-outs hit their highest level of popularity during the wild appreciation streaks in the early and middle years of the last decade.

In mid-2006, just before home values began deflating across the country, the rate of cash-outs hit 88 percent, according to Freddie Mac, which monitors refinancings quarterly.

This meant that nearly nine of 10 refinancers whose loan files were sampled by Freddie Mac increased the size of their mortgage balance by at least 5 percent in the process.

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Fannie, Freddie regulator to offer housing goals soon

The federal regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest U.S. sources of mortgage money, said his agency will propose new rules requiring them to provide financing to the affordable-housing market.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency plans to act “shortly” on the goals, Edward DeMarco, FHFA’s acting director, said in a letter to lawmakers Tuesday.

Previous goals were suspended after regulators seized the companies almost 17 months ago.

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Mortgage lenders pursue homeowners even after foreclosure

As terrible as it is to lose your house to foreclosure, at least it’s a relief to put your biggest financial headache behind you, right?

Wrong.

Former homeowners may still be on the hook if there’s a difference between what they owed on their mortgage and what the bank could sell it for at auction. And these “deficiency judgments” are ticking time bombs that can explode years after borrowers lose their homes.

It can even happen to people who got their bank to approve them selling their home for less than it is worth.

Vanessa Corey, for example, short sold her Fredericksburg, Va., home in April 2008. She and her husband built the house in 2004, but setbacks, both personal (divorce) and professional (housing bust), made it impossible for the real estate agent to keep her home. So she negotiated the short sale and thought that was the end of it.

“My understanding was that the deficiency was negotiated away,” she said. “Then, last November, I got a letter from a lawyer telling me I owed my lender $65,000. I had to declare bankruptcy. There was no way I could pay it.”

Many homeowners are now in the same boat. And not just those who took out bigger loans than they could afford or who did so called “liar loans” where they didn’t have to verify their income.

Because of falling home prices, borrowers who always paid their mortgage but who have run into unforeseen circumstances — like unemployment or a job transfer — can no longer sell their homes for what they owe. As a result, they are being forced to short sell or foreclose and are getting caught up in deficiency judgments.

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