The California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) has introduced a new loan program called the Forgivable Equity Builder Loan. It comes with some heavy restrictions — only first-time homebuyers are eligible, and it only covers up to 10% of the purchase price. This is because it’s a supplementary loan that can only be taken out in combination with a CalFHA first mortgage. The good news is that this loan has an interest rate of zero percent, and is also forgivable if you occupy the residence continually for five years. However, standard interest rates apply to the CalFHA first mortgage.
The program also requires borrowers to complete a course on homebuyer education and obtain a certificate of completion. This course does require a one-time fee of $99 if taken online, or a variable-rate fee if taken in person. You must also occupy the new home as your primary residence, as well as meet income requirements. The property must be a single-family residence or manufactured home. This can include condominiums if they meet the requirements for the CalFHA first mortgage, or ADUs in some cases.
After a period of low mortgage rates, they’re going back up quickly. That is the expected effect of current Fed policy, but we may hit 5% faster than expected, possibly as early as next month. As of the beginning of April, the average 30-year fixed rate was 4.59%. If they do hit 5%, it would be highest rate in the past decade, though they did get close in November of 2018 at 4.94%.
The increasing rates are definitely going to slow down the real estate market. That may be a good thing for the market, given how hot it’s been, but it’s definitely not good for buyers. Demand isn’t going to disappear completely, though. And the effect is probably mostly psychological. Historically speaking, 5% isn’t a particularly high rate. It’s just that rates have been trending downward for quite some time, so it isn’t going to be familiar territory for the new generations of buyers.
There are two main reasons to refinance your home. One is to reduce your monthly payments in order to free up cash, and the other is to pay off the loan more quickly. But refinancing doesn’t just simply do this automatically; you have to choose a new mortgage with terms that work for you. Figure out what your goal is and pick the right mortgage.
Reducing your interest rate is the surest way to free up cash, but it can also simply be used to pay off the loan faster. With a lower interest rate, a greater percentage of the principal is reduced each time you make a payment. However, this only works if you can qualify for a lower interest rate. If you don’t qualify normally, consider reducing the length of the mortgage. This will probably result in higher monthly payments, but will also likely allow you to qualify for a lower rate, and almost certainly allow you to pay off the mortgage faster as long as you make the payments. If you have plenty of cash on hand and just want to save money in the long run, consider replacing your mortgage with one that allows you to make larger payments on your principal. This is more costly in the short term, but would allow you to pay off the loan early and thus spend less on interest, reducing the overall cost.
Many people are blindsided by rising mortgage rates after getting a preapproval, thinking that the preapproval has locked their rate. It hasn’t. The first opportunity to lock your mortgage rate happens when your final loan application is approved, though you don’t even have to lock it until shortly before closing on a purchase, if you think rates will go down. In addition, the lock period is not indefinite. It usually lasts anywhere from 15 to 60 days, and it could definitely take longer than that to find a home.
There are ways to mitigate the issues presented by shifting mortgage rates. Rates don’t tend to change much during a typical closing period, but you want to lock early when rates are rising and late when rates are falling. Consider budgeting for a loan lower than your preapproved amount in order to account for fluctuations in mortgage rates. Different lenders also have different locking policies. Make sure to shop around and ask about lock periods, renewing options for locked rates, and the possibility of locking out rising rates but not falling rates.
The most commonly used benchmark rate to determine mortgage rates has long been the LIBOR, or London Inter-Bank Offered Rate. However, this has some issues. The LIBOR is not tied to actual transactions. Because of this, bankers that have influence on the LIBOR can simply manipulate the rate to their benefit. This occurred in the 2008 recession, where the LIBOR was kept artificially low to encourage people to borrow money. The financial world has finally decided LIBOR won’t cut it as a benchmark, and it’s being phased out.
Financial institutions won’t be forced to stop using the LIBOR, but if they do use it, they will be required to include at least one rate that isn’t LIBOR-based as a backup. They will have until the end of 2021 to comply. The front runner for a backup rate in the US is the SOFR, or Secured Overnight Financing Rate. This rate is administered by the New York Fed. It’s not subject to the same manipulation that LIBOR is because it does take into account actual completed transactions. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac already swapped from LIBOR to SOFR in 2020.
Back in 2019 the first eight months of the year saw 5,706 homes sold. During the same period in 2020, in the early response to Covid-19, sales dropped off by 12% to 5,003. As the market came out of the Covid doldrums in 2021, sales took a dramatic 57% jump. It’s most easily seen looking at the sales volume for the Harbor area in March on the chart below.
Part of that jump was the approximately 700 sales which didn’t happen in 2020. We don’t know how many of those “deferred” transactions have jumped back into the market. As of August the South Bay sales were at 6845, a 20% increase over the 2019 sales for this point in the year.
Seeing that a huge part of the March increase came in Harbor home sales tells part of the tale. The biggest piece of that market in recent months has been entry level or first time home buyers. Closely following are investors in small income properties.
Stories from the street imply that the growth in ADU additions and conversions has had an out size impact on that market as well. Both homeowners and landlords benefit from having additional living spaces.
For right now, the pandemic appears to be fading, which would tend to boost sales. Similarly, the low mortgage interest rates continue to support the market. At the same time we’re moving into fall and winter, when sales typically slow. August showed just a hint of a seasonal downward movement. September should be a directional indicator.
Sales Prices Up
That jump in sales volume was accompanied by a bigger jump in the median price of the homes selling. Pent up demand and low interest rates combined to create bidding wars and drive median prices up. As of the end of August, the median price of a home at the Beach was $1.7M. That number was $1.5M in 2019 and $1.4M in 2020.
Median prices on Palos Verdes trended about the same at roughly $100K more per unit.The Inland cities and the Harbor area both showed mosest increases in the $50K neighborhood.
Area Sales Dollars Slowing
The monthly sales value of homes sold across the Los Angeles South Bay for August declined in all areas except the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Compared to July, the number of sales on the Hill increased 8% in August, with a 2% increase in median price. That translated into a $150M increase in monthly sales since the first of the year.
Activity in the Inland cities has been stable for three months already, having risen about $50K per month since the first of January.
Monthly sales at the Beach and in the Harbor area pulled back for a second month in succession. Looking at the blue line for the Beach, we see a sharp drop in July which softened considerably in August. The Harbor area shows a steady decline over the same period.
As of August monthly sales totaled ~$150M higher than the beginning of the year at the Beach. During the same period monthly sales totals were up ~100M. As we move into the fall and winter season these numbers should slow somewhat.
Statistics – by Month, by Year
Interestingly, the number of homes sold in the Beach cities was unchanged from July, while the median price increased 6% at the same time.
There were 175 homes sold in both months. So how did Beach homes grow from a median price of $1.6M to a median price of $1.7M in one month? In July, 27 of those properties sold below $1M. In August, only 20 sales closed escrow for under $1M. The entire market simply moved up, pushing the median price up $100K in one month.
On a month to month basis, prices are holding or increasing across the board. At the same time we’re seeing slowing or flat sales everwhere but Palos Verdes. Continued slowing for the season is to be expected.
There’s still a lot of buyer traffic at open houses, but sales volume is slowing and buyers are showing price resistance. There’s also some chatter out there about what’s beginning to look like inflation in the real estate market. My crystal ball is showing a slow steady ride through the next month. It’s all cloudy after that.
While mortgage rates are certainly not high, we can no longer safely call them low. The average rate for a 30-year fixed conforming loan is considered low when it’s below 3%. They’ve been slowly increasing. In the first half of August, it barely qualified at 2.99%. Now, the number sits at 3.06%.
As a result of increasing mortgage rates, demand for refinances has also decreased, dropping by 5% as soon as the rate passed 3%. Applications for purchase loans are less sensitive than refinance applications, and dropped only 1%. Despite the decreases in number of mortgage applications, the total dollar volume is still high, as a result of high prices fueled by heavy competition.
2020 saw a large increase in mortgage originations, particularly refinances, as a result of low interest rates. It was expected that this would start to fall off in 2021, since interest rates are starting to go back up. However, they’re still low enough that refinances continue to be common. The statistics are a bit misleading for purchases, though. Low inventory is boosting home prices, accounting for a significant part of the increase in loan origination dollar amount even beyond increasing the number of loans originated.
Something is still missing, though. Even though much fewer loans are delinquent now than in 2020, the share of them that are over 90 days delinquent is increasing. This is because people continue to tread water through moratoriums, but aren’t earning any money. Jobs still haven’t recovered from 2020. Foreclosure moratoriums and forbearance programs are going to end eventually, and that’s going to be a problem for some people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic and haven’t been able to find work yet. If home prices continue to rise without an actual jobs solution, these stopgap measures are going to be the proverbial dam that causes the market to crash when it breaks.
The FHA has its origins in the Great Depression, as a method for people down on their luck to secure a loan without much upfront cost. Given the current recession’s similar circumstances, it may be expected that FHA loans would increase in popularity around this time. That isn’t the case at all, because now there’s competition. FHFA loans — those backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac — are currently a better deal.
The normally low upfront cost of FHA loans is countered by the fact that they have mortgage insurance premiums (MIPs), part of which is an upfront cost. This means that you are spending more over the life of the loan than with a conventional loan even with an equal interest rate. This MIP can be cancelled after 11 years if the down payment was at least 10%. However, the appeal of an FHA loan was the minimum down payment of only 3.5%, so this circumstance rarely came up.
But now, 3.5% isn’t even the lowest minimum down payment. FHFA loans have adopted a 3% minimum. What’s more, their upfront costs are actually lower, with no upfront mortgage premium. The MIP cancellation criteria are also different: The down payment amount and loan length don’t matter, and it can instead be cancelled whenever the home equity reaches 80%. Given that it’s rare for a house to be owned for 11 years, especially for first-time buyers who benefit the most from low down payment minimums, this flexibility is highly attractive.
I’m sure you all know that when you take out a mortgage loan, you pay back the principal plus interest over the life of the loan, in monthly payments. But it’s important to understand that monthly payments are not simply the principal plus interest divided by the total length in months. Because the amortization schedule ensures that each monthly payment is the same amount, it may appear as though each payment is identical. However, this is not the case.
Amortization schedules determine what percentage of each monthly payment is principal and what percentage is interest. When you first get a loan, nearly the entirety of your monthly payments are used to pay off interest, with scarcely any reduction in the principal. As you pay off more of your interest over the life of the loan, a greater percentage goes towards the principal. When you sell a home that still has a mortgage, the amount of money you receive due to equity depends on how much of the principal amount is paid off. If it’s still very early in the loan’s lifetime, you haven’t paid much of the principal, so your equity will be quite low.
When the pandemic began towards the end of the first quarter in 2020, people were understandably reluctant to start purchasing houses. As a result, mortgage applications saw a sharp decrease. However, they rebounded quickly, surpassing 2019’s numbers even while trending downwards again in December. In the week ending December 23rd, 2020, mortgage applications dropped 5% from the prior week, yet remained 26% higher than the same week in 2019. As a result of low mortgage rates, refinances shot up in 2020, increasing 4% in the aforementioned week to end 124% higher than the prior year.
So we know that more people sought new mortgages in 2020 because mortgage rates are low, but what does the recent downward trend mean for the market in the near future? Well, probably not much. While some attribute the decrease to the housing shortage and rising prices, the fact of the matter is that this has been the case for quite some time. It’s actually more likely just seasonal variation — mortgage applications already have a tendency to decrease near the holiday season. The pandemic could have some impact, but we’ve already seen that the sharp decline earlier in the year was completely mitigated by low rates increasing demand. A more telling statistic is the average loan balance, which set a record high of $376,800. This is because much of the available housing is on the higher end, pointing to a deficit of affordable housing.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is planning to make some changes aimed at widening the accessibility of mortgage loans by allowing lenders more freedom in determining a borrower’s ability to repay. Currently, one of the requirements for a qualified mortgage (QM), the loan type preferred by both lenders and consumers, is a debt-to-income ratio of no more than 43%. This criterion is designed to be an indicator of the borrower’s ability to repay. However, there are other methods of determining this that can broaden the range of QMs. The CFPB’s solution is to compare the loan’s annual percentage rate (APR) to the average prime offer rate (APOR). Because a borrower with a high DTI would likely also have a high APR compared to APOR, DTI considerations are still indirectly included, but there will also be people with a high DTI but low risk of default that are able to get a good APR to APOR ratio and therefore successfully get a QM loan.
You may have heard the term MID in the context of purchasing a home or filing taxes. But what does this term mean? MID stands for mortgage interest deduction, and is a type of reduction in taxable income available to homeowners with a mortgage on their first or second home, or secured by their first or second home. When filing taxes, you can either take the standard deduction or itemize your expenditures. It’s common to simply take the standard deduction because many people aren’t sure how to itemize and may not even benefit from doing so. However, MID is one reason homeowners with a mortgage may want to itemize, since it is one of the itemizable deductions. The amount that the MID reduces your taxable income varies from 10% to 37% based on your homeowner’s tax bracket. It’s still possible that you would be better suited taking the standard deduction, depending on your expenditures and tax bracket.
As a result of home sales volume dropping by 30% in Quarter 2 of 2020 from 2019, loan origination has also dropped considerably. The effect was somewhat lessened by low interest rates, which resulted in more refinances. The commercial sector, however, didn’t have that luxury. The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) forecasts a 59% decrease from 2019 in total commercial loan amount, from $601 billion to $248 billion. The majority of this will be from the multi-family sector, which was at a record high of $364 billion in 2019 but is only expected to reach $213 billion this year.
Lenders are optimistic, though, as long as governments can continue to keep people housed. Vacancies aren’t great for lenders, as they reduce the prospects of landlords, and recently evicted people certainly won’t be looking to originate new home loans any time soon. The MBA expects 2021 to bring the number up to $390 billion for commercial loans. The catch is that commercial landlords aren’t protected by the recently extended foreclosure moratorium. If multi-family homeowners are hit with a foreclosure, all their tenants will be affected as well. Commercial property owners as well as lenders are looking for new methods of loan accommodations.
I’ve previously mentioned that COVID-19 and the current economic downturn have resulted in an increase in mortgage forbearance requests. But what about mortgage applications? Interestingly, even as fewer people are able to pay their mortgages, people are still applying for mortgages, looking to take advantage of the current low interest rates on mortgage loans. And getting rejected at a much higher rate.
Lenders will always want to ensure that people are able to pay back the money they borrow. Obviously if the borrower has a mortgage in forbearance, well, that borrower doesn’t stand a great chance of being able to pay back a new mortgage. But even beyond that, lenders have been tightening restrictions in the wake of lessened economic stability. They are requiring higher credit scores, larger down payments, and more savings. Someone who was largely unaffected by the economic downturn may think they have a good chance at getting their mortgage loan approved. Not necessarily, if they were basing their expectations on old lender restrictions. Lenders are going to need to find the right balance between encouraging borrowers — since that’s how they make their money — and avoiding risky lending practices.