Dec

16

 This paper from the New York Fed blaming the real estate crisis partially on the flippers (speculators) is actually a rather sensible paper that makes some obvious and more subtle points. Most interesting is they quantify the extent of speculative purchase activity during the bubble years in some creative ways.

They note:

1. Housing is both a consumption good and an investment/store-of-wealth. During the bubble years, the latter trumped the former and attracted speculative/investment interest. i.e. irrational exuberance.


2.
Investment/Speculative buyer motivation can be based on (1) rental income; (2) buy and hold for long periods; (3) buy & flip. #3 grew to be a major factor near the zenith.

3. They demonstrate that 1/3 of ALL home purchases were 2nd buyers during the bubble years, AND, in the worst states (NV, AZ, FL etc), more than half of the purchasers were second home buyers and/or flippers and/or multiple lien holders.

They are quantifying what we already knew — that the seemingly endless demand for homes was coming from investment/speculative buyers. However, unlike during the internet bubble, these speculators walked away (as many had no-money-down) and they handed the keys to the banks…

It would be analagous to having a leveraged trading account with no initial margin….!

Stefan Jovanovich comments: 

And, no recourse. If the speculators were clever/dishonest enough to state on the disclosure forms that they were buying the properties as principal residences, here in California and Arizona and the other non-recourse states, their liability was limited to their option payment - er, their down payment (which could be as little as 3%). Here is the list of the non-recourse states:

Alaska (AK)
Arizona (AZ)
California (CA)
Connecticut (CT)
Idaho (ID)
Minnesota (MN)
North Carolina (NC)
North Dakota (ND)
Oregon (OR)
Texas (TX)
Utah (UT)
Washington State (WA)

The rumor is that the AGs have reached a settlement.

The settlement of $25B is not going to make much of a dent in the outstanding mortgage deficiencies that are recourse. Core Logic says that 10.7 million houses (22.1% of all residential properties with a mortgage) were in negative equity at the end of the third quarter of 2011 and an additional 2.4 million properties (5% of all mortgaged residences) had less than 5 percent equity. The negative-equity and near-negative equity mortgages accounted for 27.1 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage nationwide. But there is good news - Core Logic says the 27.1% is down .4% from the total in the 2nd quarter.

Also, the Federal Reserve's calculation of "owner equity as percentage of household real estate" was 38.6% as of Q3 this year; in 2005 it peaked at 60%. Approximately 1 out of 3 homes in the U.S. has no mortgage. I may need Big Al's help (as I did when calculating the current market price of the U.S. Treasury's gold reserve) but my handy calculator suggests that this leaves 40% of homes that are "conventional" - i.e. neither free and clear nor so leveraged that they have negative and near-negative equity. The bad news is that, after you subtract 33% from 38.6%, that means the average cushion for the conventionally-mortgaged homes is 5.6%/40% - 14%. Didn't someone say something about this being a solvency problem and not a liquidity problem?

Final random thinking:

According to the folks at Calculated Risk, there are now 4.1 million seriously delinquent loans (90 day and in-foreclosure). In a "normal" market there a 1 million seriously delinquent home loans. Recently, there was "good news" (sic) about the decline in the numbers of REO properties held by Fannie (in Q3 their REO inventory fell to 122,616 houses, a decline of 10% from the number at the end of Q2). That made it the 4th straight quarter in which Fannie's REO inventory declined. One small problem: this is the same period during which foreclosures ground to a halt because of the litigation over mortgage servicing (robosigning, etc.). While it is likely that some of the seriously delinquent loans will cure as part of the settlement (see below), many more will go into foreclosure; and Fannie's inventories will rise. 

Alston Mabry writes:

In Phoenix the RE bubble started in the valley and then moved up into the mountain towns 2-3 hours away, where people have summer homes to escape the heat. It was like a tide of money that rose up the mountainside. In August/September 2006, I was driving around and listening to NPR, when a report came on about the local RE market.

A woman who was a broker in the mountain towns said that business was absolutely booming…oh, except that last week there was nothing…strangest thing…but we're sure it will pick up again next week, after the kids are settled in school, etc etc.

An image popped into my mind: A flipper had an open house, but the only people who showed up were other flippers, and by that time they all knew each other. They looked at each other and said, "Holy sh*t…", and got in their cars and left, wondering how quickly they could unload their properties. It was over. And the tide rolled back down the mountain.


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