Housing begins to rebound
Good news for homeowners who have made it through the last several years and were able to hang onto their homes. Prices are going up, giving them more equity for the first time in years.
Here’s the story from Bloomberg:
More American homeowners will be able to use their properties as cash machines again after real estate equity jumped last year by the most in 65 years.
Property owners recaptured $1.6 trillion as home values climbed to the highest levels since 2007. The amount by which the value of the houses exceeds their underlying mortgages rose to $8.2 trillion last year, a gain of 25 percent, according to Federal Reserve data.
An expanding group of homeowners is able to get cash from their properties as banks show more willingness to make home equity loans with the market’s recovery. Originations for the mortgages should rise 10 percent to almost $83 billion this year, from about $75 billion in 2012, said Shaun Richardson, a vice president at Icon Advisory Group, a mortgage analytics firm in Greensboro, North Carolina. About 6 percent of lenders eased equity-mortgage standards at the end of 2012, the most in 18 months, according to the Fed.
“Lenders are starting to come back into the marketplace,” said Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate Inc. “We’re not going back to the wild, Wild West we saw during the real estate boom, but we are going to see more people spending their equity.”
Americans went on a spending spree in the five years before the 2006 peak of the real estate market, tapping about $800 billion of their rising equity to spend on everything from cars and televisions to debt consolidation and college tuition.
At the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, close to $1 trillion of the loans were outstanding at U.S. banks and credit unions, an all-time high, according to the Fed. In the housing crash that followed, banks wrote off, or declared worthless, about $251 billion of home equity loans, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The year-old real estate recovery is helping to ease defaults. The volume of equity loans 90 days or more overdue dropped 25 percent in the fourth quarter to $3.2 billion from the prior period, according to the FDIC. As a result, banks are beginning to view equity lending as a potential source of income, rather than losses, said Stuart Feldstein, president of SMR Research Corp., a consumer-lending research firm in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
But while banks may be poised to return to an abandoned source of revenue – home equity loans – there’s another potential fee stream that may go away.
According to the Wall Street Journal, regulators are being to look at regulating “forced” home insurance policies and the banks that charge the fees:
A U.S. housing regulator is cracking down on a little-known practice that has hit millions of struggling borrowers with high-price homeowners’ insurance policies arranged by banks that benefit from the costly coverage.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, plans to file a notice Tuesday to ban lucrative fees and commissions paid by insurers to banks on so-called force-placed insurance.
Such “forced” policies are imposed on homeowners whose standard property coverage lapses, typically because the borrower stops making payments. Critics say the fee system has given banks a financial incentive to arrange more expensive homeowners’ policies than necessary.
Banning the fees and commissions could help lower the price of the insurance policies. The housing agency’s move would apply nationwide to all mortgages guaranteed or owned by Fannie and Freddie—about half of the housing market.
Forced policies have boomed in the wake of the housing bust, as many homeowners struggled to keep up with mortgage payments. Some borrowers may try to save money by dropping the original standard coverage, only to be hit by policies with premiums that are typically at least twice as expensive as voluntary insurance, and sometimes cost as much as 10 times more. Nearly six million such policies have been written since 2009, insurance industry data indicate. Consumers are free at any point to replace a force-placed policy with one of their own choosing.
Property insurance generally is required to secure a mortgage and protects not only the homeowner’s investment but also the lender’s.
Regulators say some consumers don’t read warning letters that they will be subject to potentially more-expensive coverage if they don’t restore their original coverage or line up some other homeowners’ policy.
They only realize months into the new arrangement that the amount they are being billed is much higher than they previously paid for coverage.
Rising home prices might be good not only for consumers, but also for the banks that may have another revenue stream. On the other hand, increased regulatory scrutiny could take away another source of income. It seems right to get rid of products that don’t help consumers and return to products that do.