Autumn Market Update

Happy Fall!

As expected, the post-Labor Day real estate bounce saw a lot of activity in September, buoyed by continued low rates (and now expected to remain low, thanks to the Fed announcement of low rates through mid-2015). This makes it a great time to refinance, so contact us for a lender recommendation if you have a mortgage that is 4.25% or higher—it likely makes sense for you to refinance!

In market news, home prices have rebounded in 20 major markets for three months straight. This is not news to DC area owners, where we saw the market come roaring back long ago. Our long-time readers will know that we’re not big fans of the Case-Shiller index for that reason…it severely lags the market, as noted in this article.

Also helping the condo market are some long awaited changes to FHA eligibility rules, key for many first-time buyers looking for 3.5% down payments versus the 10% to 20% required for conventional loans.

Short sales and foreclosures, though not as prevalent here in the close-in DC markets, are still a big part of the market in outer areas and in Maryland. Katie was quoted in this Washington Times article about the frustrations of going through a short sale.

Now that Fall is here, this is also a great time for homeowners to think about preparing your home for winter. Make sure you’re keeping your gutters and downspouts clean as leaves fall, and drain your hose bibs. Consider having your heating system cleaned and serviced before it gets too cold.

This is also the time to check your voter registration, since most states have deadlines of three to four weeks in advance of the general election.

If you know someone looking to move, please contact us. And if you’re thinking of selling, contact us and we’ll be happy to provide you with a free market analysis of your home and review of statistics in your local neighborhood.


Washington, DC, Delinquencies and Shadow Inventory

The Mortgage Banker’s Association reported that the seasonally adjusted delinquency rate for mortgage loans on one-to-four-unit residential properties fell to 7.99% in the third quarter of 2011, the lowest level recorded since the fourth quarter of 2008. While any decrease is good news, don’t get too excited just yet– it’s a decrease of just 45 basis points.

The delinquency rate is an important one to follow because it’s one of the best leading indicators we have for predicting ‘shadow inventory.’  Shadow inventory is the elusive backlog of future foreclosures–that is, homeowners who are inevitably headed towards foreclosure but the paperwork is still going through so the bank has yet to take possession of the house and/or list it for sale.  Foreclosure processes vary widely state to state, and it’s notoriously difficult to predict when a property will actually hit the market.  Buyers and market bears are always shouting about the huge backlog of inventory coming down the road, dooming recovery progress in the shaky housing markets.  Yet here in the DC area we have been waiting years for this alleged ‘tidal wave.’

I wouldn’t hold your breath.  First, these delinquency stats have been relatively stable for years, and we haven’t seen the big bump in foreclosures yet in our area–the fact is that our local market (particularly close in Northern Virginia and DC) has remained strong enough to absorb foreclosures and short sales as they come to market.  Second, remember that banks control the inventory they take possession of, and they are well aware of the laws of supply and demand.  If a bank is trying to recoup as much value as possible, why would they flood the market with inventory, thereby depressing prices?  The carrying cost of a property for a bank is minimal–after all, they don’t pay themselves a mortgage–so the only real incentive for them to get properties off the books is regulatory requirements that affect the amount they have to hold in reserves.  So it’s a big of a juggling act for banks.

Delinquencies, of course, are tied to unemployment rates: no job = can’t pay the mortgage = delinquency.  DC’s strong job market is another reason we don’t see the avalanche here that other parts of the country might experience.  But stay tuned…the lack of a budget deal from the super committee could mean serious cuts in government spending in our local market.


Congress Considers Bill to Speed Short Sale Requests

HUGE news in the world of short sales…the House is considering a bill that would force lenders to approve or deny a short sale request within 45 days. As anyone who has dealt with a short sale knows, lenders commonly take 6 to 8 months to respond to a short sale request, frustrating buyers who often walk away, leaving the underwater homeowner back at square one in the process. Many buyers won’t even look at short sales, knowing that short sales are not usually worth their time and energy, given the very low approval rate. (Read this blog post about why short sales don’t usually close.) This created gridlock in the housing inventory, given the sometimes high percentage of inventory that falls into the ‘distressed’ category.

The bipartisan bill, Prompt Decision for Qualification of Short Sale Act of 2010 (H.R. 6133), is sponsored by Reps. Robert Andrews (D-New Jersey) and Tom Rooney (R-Florida).

Are you a DC or Nothern Virginia homeowner considering selling your home via a short sale? I’m certified by the Home Rescue Institute and able to provide some information about the pros and cons of a short sale, foreclosure, loan mods, and bankruptcy. Don’t make an uninformed decision. Contact me for a confidential meeting.  Or read more here:  Should I do a Short Sale?


This Month in Real Estate: Foreclosures Down as Short Sales Become Viable Options

April stats for foreclosures are out, and they show a 2% decrease form April of 2009, possibly due to more sellers being aware of short sales as a viable option, and more buyers recognizing that short sales may pose a good buying opportunity.

Short sales are still long, frustrating processes for all parties involved, but if you are part of a program with a proven track record and professional negotiators, sellers can find themselves out from an incredible financial burden, and buyers can find themselves in a great home with a great interest rate mortgage.

If you’re a seller thinking a short sale may be a good option for you, contact us. We are Certified Home Rescue Institute agents, and able to counsel buyers with confidence–this program has a 95% success rate for closing short sales. There are important factors to consider, such as credit score, deficiency judgments, and tax implications. Work with an agent and a program who can counsel you on these topics. We only work with sellers who have been counseled on all of their options, including loan modifications, foreclosures, and bankruptcy, in addition to having been educated on the short sale process.


Short Sale Statistics for Northern Virginia

I got to wondering today whether more short sales are closing and thought I would share some interesting data I found. All data is per MRIS as of today.

Number of active listings designated “potential” short sales in NoVA* = 607 (# in Arlington = 57)

Number of short sales that have closed in NoVA in past 30 days = 199 (# in Arlington = 7)

Close Price to Last List Price Ratio for Short Sales that Closed = $302,258/$306,505 = 98.6%

Average Days on Market (Property) of Short Sales that Closed = 83 (Highest was 631 days). Note this represents the number of days until they got an offer, NOT the number of days that it took for the bank to approve the transaction. A quick look at the listings that closed in the past 30 days showed “contract dates” of as far back as November 2008, but most seemed to have been put under contract in the March-April-May 2009 timeframe, meaning about 3 month waiting period for bank approval and settlement. As a point of comparison, “regular” contracts tend to settle about 30-45 days after the contract date.

* NoVA = Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Fairfax City, Falls Church City

I have to say that I was surprised that so many short sales closed in the past 30 days. I went back for a few months to spot check and the average seems to be roughly 200-250 closing each month going back to this Spring. This data leads me to believe that not only are banks approving more and more short sales, but they’ve gotten more efficient at that approval process.

Buyers, short sales are certainly not without their own risks, delays, and headaches, but maybe it’s time to put them back on your shopping list.


State of the DC Area Real Estate Market: June 2009

The Spring market is hopping, but some recent changes are making it difficult to predict what’s around the corner. Here’s what’s going on in the local real estate world:

Interest Rates Jump: Mortgage rates took a significant jump in the past few weeks. The short story is that optimism about the economy combined with fears about inflation are pushing rates up. But if you want the long story, you can read more about the relationship between the bond markets and MBS markets here.

Foreclosures and short sales continue to be a very active segment. Banks have finally figured out that the trick to selling foreclosures quickly is to price them ridiculously low and get a bidding war going. It’s not uncommon to have dozens of offers in during the first few days for entry-level price points ($200-300k). Short sales continue to be a source of frustration for buyers, as noted in this good NPR story.

The area’s inventory remains flat (Arlington and DC) to declining (NoVA)

check out the significant decline in Northern Virginia inventory here.

New Appraisal Code Scuttles Deals: The new Home Valuation Code of Conduct was implemented in May, and is wreaking havoc with deals. This Code created intermediaries to manage the appraisal process, and some argue that quality has dropped. Many appraisals are coming in low, opening the door to a secondary round of price negotiations in many transactions.

Monetization of Tax Credit:
Of significant note to first time buyers is the emergence of programs that will allow a buyer to “monetize” the $8000 tax credit. VHDA has developed a program to structure a second trust of $8000 with no principal or interest payments due during the first 12 months. Details are still evolving, but it is expected that a buyer could use this $8000 second trust as part of their downpayment.

If you are a first time buyer hoping to take advantage of the $8000 tax credit – start your search NOW! The lack of “good” inventory may make it difficult to find something that fits your needs and your price range. Settlements must occur by November 30 to file for the credit, and with the current volume of lending and refinancing banks are backed up. No doubt this backlog will increase for both lenders and settlement companies as we approach November 30 – plan ahead! Contact me to start your search – I’d love to help you!

And finally, just for fun:
For all you Arlingtonians and those who want to be an Arlingtonian — check out this rap.

As always, please let me know if I can do anything to help you or your friends with your real estate needs.

Foreclosure Risks

Now that Spring is right around the corner, buyer activity is picking up. There are still plenty of foreclosures on the market, and though there are lots of incentives to buy right now (low interest rates, first time home buyer credits through July 1, and low prices), the risks with buying a foreclosure — as well as the process itself — are significantly different.

(Update: The credit above applies to purchases in 2008–when this post was written. If you are purchasing in 2009, see updated info on the new credit here.)

I’ve provided here links to all my previous Foreclosure (and Short Sale) Related Risk posts here for convenience.

Short Sales vs Foreclosures – What’s the Difference?

Short Sales – Are They Worth a Buyer’s Time?

Risks of Buying a Foreclosure:

Bank Addendum – Always written in the bank’s favor

Timing – Impossible to control turnaround time

Property Condition & Inspections – Unlikely (impossible?) to get repairs made, and careful to retain your ‘right to void’

Title Defects
– Be sure to have your own title inspection done!

Financing Complications – Timing and property condition issues combine to create complications with financing, too.

If you’re considering buying a foreclosure in Northern Virginia, DC, or Maryland, or need help starting your home search, contact me.

Related: Search MLS

First Time Home Buyer? Sign up for my free first time home buyer class in Arlington or DC.


Buyers May Not WANT Condo Docs for Short Sales & Foreclosures

I was quoted in the Washington Post yesterday for my recommended strategy of NOT asking for condo docs on a foreclosure or short sale.

In the original article here, the author discusses the fact that:

Virginia law requires sellers or their real estate agents to get a presale financial disclosure packet from the association and give it to buyers. Buyers have three days to review the financial disclosures and rules governing life in the association and can back out of the deal if they don’t like what they see. In Maryland, buyers have seven days in which to review the documents and cancel the purchase. In the District, buyers are allowed three business days.

The challenge with short sales and foreclosures is that the sellers either can’t or won’t provide these documents (which come with a charge of several hundred dollars.) This leaves buyers in a tough spot — they don’t know whether there are any problems with the Association’s finances, for example, because they never received the packet. Sometimes buyers can pay for the pack themselves, but often Associations won’t give them to anyone but a current owner.

BUT, there’s an upside to this frustrating situation: Buyers who never receive the packet retain their right to back out at any time up until, and for 3 to 7 days after receiving them (depending on jurisdiction). See my quote here:

Katie Wethman, a real estate agent in McLean, pointed out a way to game the system. “It can be a strategic choice not to ask for the documents,” she wrote. “Buyers retain a right of rescission up until, and for three to seven days after, the receipt of the documents. If the buyer is concerned about timing, financing, finding a better deal, or just getting cold feet, they may wish to delay receipt of those documents as long as possible. They may forgo them altogether in an attempt to keep their right to walk away right up until settlement.”

So talk to your agent about your situation and whether it makes sense to try to obtain the documents or not…you may come to regret having asked for them.

Scared about taking on a short sale or foreclosure home because of the rehab work involved? Consider purchasing one using an FHA 203(k) loan, described in my blog post here.


Finding an Investment Property in Northern Virginia

As prices plummet, some solid investment opportunities are starting to emerge…but how do you identify good investment properties?

Step 1: Identify some target neighborhoods.

– The first thing to do is to consider long term (e.g., 10 years) appreciation potential. Think about area employment (and more importantly where those employers are—commuting time is a big factor). Also think about long term demographic shifts like BRAC, as well as infrastructure projects like new metro stations or light rail lines.
– Consider the neighborhood. Ideally you want to find the lone problem house in a great neighborhood, but that’s easier said than done. Also consider neighborhoods that previously had been more desirable in terms of age, location, and home condition, but perhaps were hit hard by this recent wave of foreclosures.
– Consider the price range – While you hope to ultimately find a property that will be cash flow positive, you nonetheless have to front the money to buy it, and getting a loan these days isn’t easy, especially for investors. Financing remains a problem, and lenders require investors to put 30% down, plus closing costs of about 3%. Interest rates run about a percentage point higher than owner occupied properties. Figure out how much cash you’re willing to put into the property, what you can qualify for in a mortgage, and back into a price range from there.
– Look at rents the neighborhood can command. Once you identify a few target neighborhoods, begin collecting rent data. The best place to collect rent data is on Craigs List in addition to the MLS. This is because many landlords conduct the process themselves and so the listings are never in the MLS. You also can’t be sure how aggressive a listing agent was in procuring a renter, which may skew the price. If they put it into the MLS but then never on Craigs List (by far the more popular site for finding renters), then it’s likely the rents there are lower than what the market actually commands. Unfortunately there’s no easy way to gather historical Craigs List data – you just need to keep watching and see which rentals seem to go quickly. Consider calling some of the landlords to ask whether they’ve had a lot of responses.

Step 2: Identify some target properties

Short Sales & Foreclosures are a great opportunity because you can be patient. (See my post on the challenges of timing a foreclosure transaction here and the frustrations of shorts sales that never close here.) While an owner occupant doesn’t have the luxury of time and can get frustrated with all the problems of these transactions, investors can go with the flow since their timing is more flexible. And that flexibility pays off by getting properties for less money.
– Consider the home’s condition and your level of expertise in doing or managing renovations. Many of the short sales and foreclosures on the market today come at bargain prices, but require everything from heavy cosmetic work to kitchen and bath remodels to mold remediation. Very few properties in the attractive price ranges are move-in ready, but there’s a lot of upside for people not afraid of elbow grease and with the right handyman connections.
Be patient. You may need to wait for the right house at the right price. Set up an alert so that you can be ready to jump on a property that meets your investment needs as soon as it comes on the market—you can be sure other investors are circling and waiting for the right opportunity as well!

I’ve seen some inside the beltway single family homes below $400K and townhouses in under $300 in areas that I feel have great long term potential given our area’s strong job market and expected government growth (see this post on the best place to live in a recession here, and article on the bailout being a boon to our local economy here.)

In another post I’ll cover how to look at cash flows for an investment property.

I’m working with several investors and have already previewed many homes that fit the criteria above. Call or email me to set up an appointment to discuss investing opportunities!


Guest Post: Rehabbing Properties Using the FHA 203K Program

Thanks, Cindy Fox of SunTrust, for information on this program which can really help buyers who have found their diamond in the rough! You can find Cindy’s contact information at the bottom of this post.

Looking for a bargain in the real estate market?

Have you seen the perfect place for you and maybe your family – but then the inside of the place has been trashed? Or is simply is older, outdated, and in need of updating and/or repair?

Sometimes you just need to see beyond to cosmetic abuse to the eye, and maybe structural deficiencies, and envision a place after tender loving care – and a lot of tear down, build up and sweat has been applied!

So – you have the vision. Great! Now – how to pay for putting that vision into action to bring to a reality that vision?

There is an option for you! The FHA, which is a part of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has a program that will help finance the purchase of such a dwelling, as well as the financing of rehabilitation of the house.

203(k) – How It Is Different from Conventional Construction Financing

The 203(k) program is a section of HUD’s home financing guidelines and its primary program for the rehabilitation and repair of single family properties. The program was designed to promote and facilitate the restoration and preservation of the Nation’s existing (and aging) housing stock. Most of the time lenders will only lend money to purchase homes that are complete. The condition of the property must meet certain standards. Under normal purchase transactions (or refinance transactions) properties that are complete and meet a certain property condition provide the necessary collateral for the lender to lend with confidence. Additionally, most loan programs require that if there are repairs, or renovations to be completed, this must occur before the lender will release funds to complete the purchase and close the loan.

Under conventional guidelines, when a homebuyer wants to purchase a house in need of repair or modernization, the homebuyer usually has to obtain financing first to purchase the dwelling; additional financing to do the rehabilitation construction; and a permanent mortgage when the work is completed to pay off the interim loans with a permanent mortgage. Often the interim financing (the acquisition and construction loans) involves relatively high interest rates and short amortization periods.

The 203(k) program through HUD was designed to address this situation. The borrower can get just one mortgage loan, at a long-term fixed, to finance both the acquisition and the rehabilitation of the property. To provide funds for the rehabilitation, the mortgage amount is based on the projected value of the property with the work completed, taking into account the cost of the work.

Eligible Improvements:
Luxury items and improvements that do not become a permanent part of the real property are not eligible as a cost of rehabilitation. However, the homeowner can use the 203(k) program to finance such items as painting, room additions, decks and other items even if the home does not need any other improvements. All health, safety and energy conservation items must be addressed prior to completing general home improvements.

How the Program Works:
The improvements, repairs, and rehabilitation proposals must be part of the loan package and can be prepared by a builder, or a consultant and show the scope of the work to be done. Cost estimates must include labor and materials sufficient to complete the work.

The scope of the work as presented in the proposal determines the amount of the loan. Usually, an appraiser will evaluate the proposal in conjunction with the current value of the property and determine an “after-improved” value which will determine the amount of money available for the repairs and rehabilitation.

For More Information: For more information on eligible properties, how the program can be used, required improvements, how the program works, and the application process, contact Cindy Fox at SunTrust Mortgage at (703) 464-4345, or email Katie (info in right hand sidebar) for more information.