The clock is ticking…

by on January 24, 2012

The clock is ticking on selling your house “short” before the the expiration of the Debt Forgiveness Act. As always, Chris McLaughlin’s daily blog keeps me on top of the real estate market and economy in general.

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Smart Real Estate News & Commentary by Chris McLaughlin

2012 to be the best year for short sales?

The Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Act of 2007 allows an income tax exemption for a homeowner whose mortgage debt is partly or entirely forgiven by a bank.  It’s set to expire Dec. 31, 2012.  Matt Alegi, a partner with the Potomac law firm Shulman Rogers and chair of the firm’s residential real estate practice group, says the tax break has meant a savings in the tens of thousands of dollars for individuals.  Typically, if someone were to have $150,000 forgiven by the bank, Alegi says, “you just made another $150,000 of income for tax purposes in that year.”  So, say someone makes $50,000 but had $150,000 forgiven by the bank. That person is now paying taxes on a $200,000 income, and included in a much higher tax bracket.  The loss of the relief will plunge homeowners further into debt, Alegi says.


He also thinks the expiration of the Debt Forgiveness Act will have an impact on short sales themselves. Homeowners could try to push the short sale through this year to take advantage of the tax break.  Alegi believes there will be strong lobbying to extend the tax break. If it isn’t extended, the appeal of a short sale could greatly diminish for the homeowner.  To take advantage of the Debt Relief Act, you need to fall under very specific guidelines outlined by the IRS.  For example, the debt forgiven is only for primary residences and the debt must have been used to buy, build or substantially improve your principal residence and be secured by that residence.  Alegi says homeowners who spent the forgiven money on education or other bills do not qualify.


Gridlock an Obama strategy?

When President Obama outlines his goals for 2012 during Tuesday’s State of the Union address, he shouldn’t expect a lot of cooperation from Republicans, senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday.  “With the Obama economy established now…unemployment is still at 8 ½%,” McConnell said. “It didn’t work, and we’re not interested in doing more of the things that don’t work.”  He said Obama was “AWOL” last year on his bus tour when Republicans wanted to tackle tax reform and entitlements, and he expects more of the same this year.   “He was not involved whatsoever,” McConnell said. “So I’m not optimistic, frankly, that in an election year that he’s likely to be any more engaged than he was last year.”  What’s more, he thinks the logjam in the nation’s capital is part of Obama’s agenda.  “That’s his strategy…to demonize Congress, to complain because he can’t continue to get everything he wants, like he did the first two years,” he said. “It’s all about his re-election and not about the country.”  One thing that McConnell thinks will get done is the payroll tax cut extension, which was extended for only two months in December when Congress couldn’t come to an agreement.  “We’ll be back at trying to figure out how to do that for the balance of the year and how to pay for it,” he said. “We don’t want to add to the deficit.”


What the $25 billion bank deal means

According to an Associated Press report, five major banks — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Financial — and US state attorneys general could adopt the agreement within weeks. It’s expected President Barack Obama will mention new developments in the negotiations in his State of the Union address today.  A settlement between the banks and the states doesn’t mean homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure will get them back. In fact, they’re unlikely to benefit much at all financially, though the total financial settlement could be as high as $25 billion.  What’s worse is the settlement does not apply to loans held by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Since Fannie and Freddie own about half of all US mortgages – or 31 million US home loans – that means a lot of homeowners who have been hurt by the banks’ deceptive foreclosure practices won’t be getting much-needed assistance.  Nearly 11 million people – one in four homeowners – owe more than their home is worth. According to current guidelines, these underwater homeowners have few options and little chance at refinancing.  Here’s how the settlement could shape up:

–  $17 billion would go toward reducing the principal balance struggling homeowners owe on their mortgages.

–  $5 billion would be put into a reserve account for various state and federal programs. A portion of this money would cover the $1,800 checks that would be sent to homeowners affected by deceptive practices. Only about 750,000 Americans, or half of the households who might be eligible for assistance under the deal, will likely receive checks.

–  About $3 billion would be used to help homeowners refinance at 5.25%, far below current mortgage interest rates.


If the proposed settlement terms are accepted, roughly 1 million of these homeowners could see the principal amount of their mortgages reduced by an average of $20,000. That’s good news for some, but bad news for the other 10 million homeowners who would like to claim a principal reduction but won’t qualify.  The better news is this settlement has the potential to reshape long-standing lending guidelines and make things easier for at-risk and underwater homeowners across the board. But critics say it doesn’t do enough. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) tells the Associated Press: “Wall Street is again trying to pass the buck. Instead of criminal prosecutions, we’re talking about something that’s not more than a slap on the wrist.”  Some states have disagreed over what to offer banks, with states like New York, Delaware, Nevada and Massachusetts arguing banks should not be “protected from future civil liability.” The deal will not fully release banks from future criminal lawsuits by individual states, and a few of those states’ attorneys general have already promised to pursue their own investigations.  Bank officials have argued few, if any, foreclosures wrongfully took place as a result of documentation issues. Ally Financial CEO Michael Carpenter has been among the most vocal, claiming the company found no instances of wrongful foreclosure after its own internal audit. Carpenter has said he will fight the government in court if need be.


US Treasurys edge higher after Greek setback

US Treasurys edged higher today, after euro zone finance ministers rejected an offer by private creditors to restructure Greek debt, keeping alive fears of a default.  Benchmark 10-year note’s yield was at 2.06%, compared with 2.058% in late US trade on Monday. The yield rose as high as 2.094% on Friday, its highest since early December. The 30-year bond yield was at 3.14%.  Demand for safe-haven US debt was further boosted after a report rekindled fears that Portugal, seen as the second most risky country in the euro zone, could be the next potential default candidate after Greece.  Further dousing optimism, Germany denied a report that it was ready to boost the combined firepower of the euro zone’s rescue funds to 750 billion euros ($979 billion).  During its two-day policy meeting starting on Tuesday the Federal Reserve is expected to push out expectations on when it will next raise interest rates until at least 2014, and the meeting will also be closely watched for any hints of new QE, which analysts expect would focus on mortgage-backed bonds.  The Treasury Department will sell four-week bills and two-year notes later in the day. The Treasury will sell a total of $99 billion in new two-year, five-year, and seven-year notes this week.


Mortgage writedowns to cost taxpayers $100 billion

Forgiving mortgage debt on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans would cost the taxpayer-funded companies almost $100 billion, their regulator said.   The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) said that as of June 30, the companies guaranteed nearly 3 million mortgages on single- family homes that are underwater, or worth less than the loans they secure.  “FHFA estimates that principal forgiveness for all of these mortgages would require funding of almost $100 billion,” FHFA Acting Director Edward J. DeMarco said in a Jan. 20 letter to Representative Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who had threatened to subpoena the information. The FHFA posted the letter on its website today.  Nearly 80% of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers with negative equity were current on their payments, DeMarco said.


DeMarco, whose agency was created by Congress to minimize losses at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and is independent of President Barack Obama’s administration, has maintained that principal forgiveness would increase the size of the government’s bailout of the companies, which have cost taxpayers more than $153 billion since they were taken under government control in 2008.  The agency compared the cost of principal forgiveness to the companies’ current practice of forbearance, which allows delinquent borrowers to defer payments.  “Given that any money spent on this endeavor would ultimately come from taxpayers and given that our analysis does not indicate a preservation of assets for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (FMCC) substantial enough to offset costs, an expenditure of this nature at this time would, in my judgment, require congressional action,” he said.


WSJ – EU tries to revive Greek talks

European Union finance ministers today piled pressure on Greece and its private-sector creditors to do more to ensure that a proposed deal to restructure Greece’s private-sector debt will be enough to put the country back on a firm fiscal footing.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the euro zone’s four triple-A-rated countries-—Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Luxembourg—are pushing for a low average interest rate on new bonds to be issued as part of the restructuring, in order to ensure the government can pay its debts in the future.  But as they were heading to a meeting Tuesday, EU finance ministers also urged Greece to implement tough austerity and structural reforms and provide more written assurances to its partners that it would commit to its pledges before further aid can be released.  Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said she’s “not pleased” with progress so far. “We’re sending a very direct message to Greece that the community expects more, also in terms of structural reform,” she told reporters. “We’re not pleased and only when there’s a written message on the table in front of us, can further assistance be discussed.”


Greece’s debt restructuring is planned to take the form of a bond exchange in which creditors holding some €200 billion ($260.32 billion) in debt would swap their securities for new instruments with half the face value. The key sticking point is how much interest the new bonds should pay.  The restructuring is part and parcel of the second bailout program for Greece amounting to €130 billion. Without this loan, Greece will default on a €14.4 billion bond maturing March 20.  But talks in Athens with the Institute of International Finance, which represents the majority of Greece’s private-sector creditors, have dragged on for three weeks and stalled over the weekend. Private-sector creditors said in a final offer that they won’t accept an average interest rate of less than 4%.  The IMF voiced concerns yesterday that the deal being discussed by Greece and the creditors would leave the country with a higher-than-expected debt burden in the years ahead, people familiar with the matter said.  That sets up a difficult choice: press bondholders to accept more losses, or accept that Greece’s peers and the IMF will have to kick in more support.


Olick – foreclosure investors a double edged sword

“The best and most expeditious way to clear the vast inventory of foreclosed properties weighing down today’s housing market is to get more investors in and sell them these properties at bulk discounts.  That’s what the Obama administration and Federal regulators are currently considering for the thousands of homes currently owned by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA.  While big private equity funds are still largely in a very tedious deal-making stage with banks or waiting on the sidelines for a government program, smaller individual investors are getting in. Nearly 23% of home purchases in December were by investors, according to a new survey from Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance. That is a slight increase from November, but the share has remained largely unchanged for the past year.  What has changed dramatically is how many of these investors are using all-cash…74% according to the survey, which also found that, ‘cash buyers are able to bid significantly lower—and successfully—on many properties because they offer a shorter and more reliable closing timeline.’ That is precisely what mortgage servicers want.


‘While investor bids may not be the first offers accepted, they often end up winning properties after other homebuyers are eliminated because of mortgage approval or timeline problems,’ according to the survey authors. ‘Appraisals below the contracted price are a common reason for mortgage denials. Most mortgage financing timelines are now in excess of 30 days.’  There has been a lot of concern among industry analysts that bulk foreclosure sales would push home prices down further, but it appears that is already happening, as investors usually offer 10-20% below list price, while first time home buyers and current homeowners are generally offering list. If the offers are competitive, cash will prevail.”

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Chris McLaughlin

Chris is widely known as America’s top Real Estate Attorney and Investment Consultant.

Copyright Loss Mitigation Institute LLC 2010. All Rights Reserved.


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Patrick Thurmond

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