All posts by Synergy

State Compliance Updates for the Mortgage Industry


Military Families Financial Relief Act – The state of California amended its provisions relating to deferment of financial obligations for reservists by removing the requirement under the Military Families Financial Relief Act to provide a signed letter, under penalty of perjury, and instead require a written request. These provisions are effective on January 1, 2019 (AB 2521).


Consumer Credit Licenses – Connecticut has modified provisions under its Banking Law concerning consumer credit licenses. The new provisions expand the authority granted to the Banking Commissioner in various circumstances. The effective dates for these provisions range from July 1, 2018 to July 1, 2019 (HB 5490).


Consumer Credit Fees – The Indiana Department of Financial Institutions published its annual consumer credit fees schedule. These fees are effective from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019 (schedule).


Anti-Money Laundering – Effective July 17, 2018 the Georgia Department of Banking and Finance adopted multiple provisions relating to mortgage lenders, brokers and servicers that include lenders and brokers that satisfy the definition of “loan or finance company” under the Bank Secrecy Act must have an anti-money laundering program; and various updates to its mortgage servicing standards (80-11-6).


Notary Provisions – The state of Michigan amended its provisions relating to notaries that include performance of notarial acts; remote electronic notarization; and signature of notary public. These provisions are effective immediately and this act takes effect on September 30, 2018 (HB 5811).


Foreclosure Provisions – Effective December 17, 2018, Pennsylvania has enacted provisions regarding the foreclosure of vacant and abandoned properties (PA HB 653).

Rhode Island

Mediation Conference – The state of Rhode Island modified its provisions relating to mediation conference prior to mortgage foreclosure by extending certain sunset provisions as well as limiting the amounts a HUD-approved agency may receive for a mediation and filing fee. These provisions are effective immediately (HB 7385).

Electronic Recording Act – Effective July 1, 2019, the state of Rhode Island enacted provisions relating to its Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act (HB 7080).


TRID 2.0 Talking Points

Introduction to TRID 2.0

An explanation of what to expect with our video series, the purpose of TRID 2.0, and a quick overview of major clarifications of TRID 2.0 as well as how to test them inside DocMagic.

Rounding and Truncation on LE & CD

Friday, September 7th, 2018
In episode 2 we review the original TRID rule for disclosing precentages, DocMagic’s rule for disclosing decimal places, and we address rounding and truncating trailing zeroes.

Seller Credits

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018
In episode 3 of TRID Talks we will be going over seller credits: how to send in XML & enter into DocMagic Online as well as the impact and changes on forms when Seller Credit.

Trusts and Non-borrowers

Thursday, September 13th, 2018
TRID Talks episode 4 will be about Trusts. Topics covered in this episode include: rescindable transactions – borrower title owner no longer to appear on pg. 1, and borrowers as ‘individuals’.

Closing Costs Expiration Date

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018
TRID Talks episode 5 will cover Closing Costs Expiration Date (CCED) over ten days – how to get plan feature set and CCED on redisclosed LE when ‘Intent to Proceed Date’ is present.

Simultaneous, Subordinate Lien Loans

Thursday, September 20th, 2018
TRID Talks episode 6 addresses simultaneous, subordinate lien loans. We will explain the new flag and the consequence of the flag which equals true.

Construction/CTP Changes

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018
In episode 7 we’ll discuss after consummation contruction inspection and fees including: the integration update and the impact on LE & CD as well as all other construction/CTP changes.

Principal Reduction

Thursday, September 27th, 2018
In our final episode of TRID Talks we’ll discuss how to indicate principal reduction is specifically for a tolerance cure. Also, the impact on display of items on the LE & CD.


Is This Bottle of Wine Still Drinkable ?

I studied in France in college and brought a decent amount of French wine home with me. Some of that wine got consumed with friends pretty much immediately, but a few bottles I’ve held on to and moved from apartment to apartment over the years, saving them for a “special” occasion.

College for me was… a while ago, so looking at the bottles now, there’s a big question: are these still drinkable?

I’ve been very careful about how the wines have been stored through the years, and aside from a few brief power outages during storms in summer months, everything has been kept cool and stored properly. The Washington Post recently ran a story explaining what else is worth looking for in those dusty bottles you’ve been keeping in the basement

Check the Cork

One of the first things you should do when determining whether a bottle of wine is still good is to look at the space between the cork and the wine. Most bottles should have roughly a quarter-inch between the cork and the wine in the bottle. You don’t need to pull out your measuring tape for this if you have another bottle of wine in the house for comparison. If your old bottle has more space than it should, there’s a good chance the wine has oxidized, evaporated or seeped out through the cork.

Look for Leakage

Another good sign things have gone south? If you see what looks like leakage on the outside of the bottle. If the bottle was leaking at any point in its journey, that wine isn’t going to be too tasty now.

Do Your Due Diligence

It never hurts to look up the producer and vintage and just see what’s out there. You can see what others have said about the bottle (and when), and get a decent idea for how things are progressing. For instance, if all the reviews of the bottles have started to get worse in recent years, that’s a good sign that the bottle is starting to pass its prime and it might be time to drink it.

When in doubt, the best solution is always the easiest: just crack the bottle and try it.


TRID 2.0 Subordinated Liens – What You Need to Know

As I have discussed in previous articles, the October 1st mandatory compliance date for the 2017 TRID Rule is quickly approaching. I hope you have taken some time to review these requirements during this “Optional Compliance Period.” If not, you still have approximately three months to ensure your policies and procedures are up to standard with the new requirements before they become the new law of the land.

With this new wave of requirements comes a slew of technical revisions and clarifications that I like to describe as a “reboot” of the existing TRID Rule. Since the implementation of the original rule in October 2015, the industry has faced certain challenges with the disclosures for certain types of transactions such as construction loans and simultaneous subordinate lien loan closings in connection with a first lien purchase loan.

These simultaneous subordinate lien loans are commonly referred to as “piggyback” loans, as they are typically originated in order to assist with the down payment of the 1st lien purchase loan. Per the clarifications by the new 2017 Rule, in a purchase transaction that involves a subordinate lien loan, if the Closing Disclosure for the first lien loan has all of the required disclosures related to the seller, then the settlement agent, or the financial institution acting as settlement agent, may provide the seller with only the first lien CD instead of both the 1st and subordinate lien CDs. As such, the Seller’s Summaries of Transactions table does not have to be included, or can be left blank, for the subordinate lien loan disclosure.

You are also permitted to use the alternative disclosures for the subordinate lien transaction since the seller’s information is not necessary to be included on the subordinate lien disclosures. Keep in mind, if you use the alternative disclosure on the Loan Estimate, then you must also use the alternative disclosure tables for the Closing Disclosure. Prior to this clarification in the Final Rule, the alternative disclosures were optional only when a seller wasn’t involved. In this case, a seller is involved, but not specifically in connection with the subordinate lien transaction. This means you may also omit the seller’s name and address for the subordinate lien disclosures as it will already be reflected on the 1st lien purchase disclosures.

However, there are some additional things to note as clarified by the 2017 Rule –

The disbursement date on the Closing Disclosure for a simultaneous subordinate lien transaction is the date that some or all of the loan amount is expected to be paid to the consumer or a third party other than the settlement agent

The simultaneous subordinate lien will also be disclosed as a purchase purpose even though you are not required to reflect seller information on the subordinate lien disclosures as previously mentioned

Funds from the subordinate lien transaction are included in the Adjustments and Other Credits Section of the Loan estimate for the 1st lien disclosure, and are then disclosed under the Borrower’s Summaries of Transactions Table on page three of the 1st lien Closing Disclosure

Additionally, if you’re using the standard disclosure, the sales price is not disclosed under the Borrower’s Summaries of Transactions table on the CD for simultaneous subordinate lien loan. Therefore, the sales price is also not included in the Calculating Cash to Close calculations on the Loan Estimate or Closing Disclosure for the simultaneous subordinate lien loan transaction.

As a result of the many technical clarifications and amended provisions imposed by the 2017 TRID Rule, it will be important for you to perform a review of your loan operating system to ensure your software is up-to-date with these revisions. As the creditor, you are ultimately responsible for the accuracy and timeliness of the disclosures. It will be you, and not your third party software vendor, that will be held responsible for compliance with the new rules. So, take these last couple of months of the “Optional Compliance Period” to test your system and ensure it is compliant.

TRID 2.0 Beware of These Common Issues

Karl Dahlgren is managing director of BAI, Chicago, a nonprofit independent organization that delivers actionable insights for the financial services industry.

In October 2015, the first iteration of TRID took effect, which integrated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) and Truth in Lending Act (TILA) disclosures and regulations, under the Know Before You Owe (KBYO) Mortgage Initiative.

Two years later, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued amendments to TRID that will go into effect this year, impacting loan applications received on or after October 1. While this updated regulation will have a significant impact on the industry, it will not require massive adjustments to processes and procedures, new training models or changes in vendors or suppliers.

Yet, even a few years after the initial ruling has gone into effect, many lenders and service providers still experience confusion about compliance with the rule. The CFPB continues to publish additional amendments and clarifications in an attempt to address much of the industry’s confusion about unique situations requiring disclosures. The main issue the industry struggles with is that the ruling, despite its staggering length, cannot possibly address all of the different scenarios that lenders continue to encounter.

When facing the upcoming regulations, many lenders have been concerned or confused about the following frequently asked questions.

Title and Escrow Fees
Can all fees associated with title and all fees associated with escrow be combined into one line each?
On the loan estimate form, all fees associated with title costs and closing can be rolled into one line if the lender prefers to do so. It is important to note, however, that this is not mandatory; it is an optional way of disclosing.

Appraisal Costs Changed Because Property Type Changed
If a borrower did not describe the property type correctly, such as confusing a condo and a duplex, and the appraisal charge must be increased as a result, is this considered a change of circumstances? Would this require a change in circumstance form for the higher cost of the appraisal?

The TRID amendments and clarifications have not altered the current definition of a change in circumstance. The regulation implies that you have three days to send the loan estimate. That time is intended to allow the creditor to perform the necessary investigations and due diligence to gather the necessary information to make the loan estimate in good faith. If a situation such as the one described occurred after the loan estimate was prepared, this would be considered a change in circumstances. The lender would need to issue a revised loan estimate in this scenario.

Defining Draw Fees
What is considered a “draw fee” under the new updates? Draw fees would also be synonymous with inspection fees if the lender requires an inspection before advancing more funds. There are several different terminologies for this fee used in different parts of the country. The small entity guides use “inspection and handling fees.”

Lender Paid Loans
How are most lenders disclosing a lender-paid loan? Does any lender-paid credit have to be disclosed at the time of the loan estimate?

Lenders may show the lender credit on the loan estimate and the item purchased by the loan credit, or they may decide not to disclose the cost of an item the lender-paid credit will pay for in the loan disclosure. The charge and the specific lender credit would need to be shown on the closing disclosure.

TRID 2.0 Quick Overview

The latest version of TRID provided the industry with much-needed clarification on a number of issues and practices facing lenders as they react and operationalize workflow to be in compliance with the revised rules of engagement. As a private-label fulfillment resource, my company has had the opportunity to speak with our clients in depth about our joint interpretation of the revised regulation and its impact on the origination process. As we all know, the original rule had many clear mandates, but left certain areas very gray.

From our viewpoint, the 2017 rule (TRID 2.0) broadly contained seven major changes and clarifications and five areas where the rule fell short of what the industry requested to be addressed.

Major Changes and Clarifications

TOP (Total of Payments) Calculation

Under TRID 1.0, there were different opinions on how the TOP calculation should be calculated. The 2017 rule provides clarification that TOP can exclude charges for principal, interest, mortgage insurance, or loan costs that are offset by another party through a specific credit. However, general credits,  may not be used to offset amounts for the purpose of TOP.

Tolerance Guidance in Conjunction with Good Faith Requirements

TRID 2.0 validates that the best information reasonably available standards apply to fees subject to 10 percent tolerance and allowable variations. The 2017 rule explains that if a charge subject to the 10 percent cumulative tolerance standards was omitted from the loan estimate (LE) but charged at consummation, it’s allowable if the sum of all charges subject to the tolerance is in good faith. For example, the lender must disclose the fee for services the lender requires. However, the lender is not required to provide a detailed breakdown of all related fees that are not explicitly required by the creditor, but may be charged to the consumer that are needed to perform the settlement services required by the creditor.

TRID 2.0 also explains that this standard applies to property taxes, property insurance (including homeowner’s insurance), amounts placed in escrow, impound, reserve or similar accounts, prepaid interest, and third-party services not required by the creditor, so long as the charges (or omission of charges) were estimated on the best information reasonably available.

Settlement Service Provider List (SSPL) Modifications and Good Faith Requirements

The 2017 rule provides that whether a consumer is permitted to shop is determined by the relevant facts and circumstances. It also identifies the tolerance standard for when the lender permits shopping for settlement services, but fails to provide the written SSPL. If a creditor fails to provide the written list to the consumer, but the facts and circumstances indicate the consumer was permitted to shop for the settlement service, the charges for which the consumer is permitted to shop are subject to 10 percent cumulative tolerance standard. However, if those charges are paid to the creditor or an affiliate, they are subject to 0 percent tolerance. Errors or omissions on the written list or untimely delivery of the written list may also impact tolerance standards. If the error or omission does not prevent the consumer from shopping, the charges are not to the creditor or an affiliate, and the consumer is otherwise considered to have shopped, the charges are subject to the 10 percent cumulative tolerance. If the error or omission does prevent the consumer from shopping, the charges are subject to the 0 percent tolerance standard.

Do You Know the Predicatble Patterns in Your Housing Market ?

We’re starting to see rising supply & flat/declining prices.

Our good friend John Rubino over at just released an analysis titled US Housing Bubble Enters Stage Two: Suddenly Motivated Sellers.

He reminds us that housing bubbles follow a predictable progression:

Stage One: Mania – Prices rise at an accelerating rate as factors like excess central bank liquidity/loose credit/hot foreign money drive a virtuous bidding cycle well above sustainably affordable levels.

Stage Two: Peak – Increasingly jittery owners attempt to sell out before the party ends. Supply jumps as prices stagnate.

Stage Three: Bust – As inventory builds, sellers start having to lower prices. This begins a vicious cycle: buyers go on strike not wanting to catch a falling knife, causing sellers to drop prices further.

Rubino cites recent statistics that may indicate the US national housing market is finally entering Stage Two after a rip-roaring decade of recovery since the bursting of the 2007 housing bubble:

the supply of homes for sale during the “all important” spring market rose at 3x last year’s rate,

30 of America’s 100 largest cities now have more inventory than they did a year ago, and

mortgage applications for new homes dropped 9% YoY.

Taken together, these suggest that residential housing supply is increasing as sales slow, exactly what you’d expect to see in the transition from Stage One to Stage Two.

If that’s indeed what’s happening, Rubino warns the following comes next:

Stage Two’s deluge of supply sets the table for US housing bubble Stage Three by soaking up the remaining demand and changing the tenor of the market. Deals get done at the asking price instead of way above, then at a little below, then a lot below. Instead of being snapped up the day they’re listed, houses begin to languish on the market for weeks, then months. Would-be sellers, who have already mentally cashed their monster peak-bubble-price checks, start to panic. They cut their asking prices preemptively, trying to get ahead of the decline, which causes “comps” to plunge, forcing subsequent sellers to cut even further.

Sales volumes contract, mortgage bankers and realtors get laid off. Then the last year’s (in retrospect) really crappy mortgages start defaulting, the mortgage-backed bonds that contain their paper plunge in price, et voila, we’re back in 2008.


Are Prices Actually Crashing in California ?

Southern California home sales hit the brakes in June, falling to the lowest reading for the month in four years. Sales of both new and existing houses and condominiums dropped 11.8 percent year over year, as prices shot up to a record high, according to CoreLogic. The report covers Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties.

Sales fell 1.1 percent compared with May, but the average change from May to June, going back to 1988, is a 6 percent gain.

The weakness was especially apparent in sales of newly built homes, which were 47 percent below the June average. Part of that is that builders are putting up fewer homes, so there is simply less to sell.

“A portion of last month’s year-over-year sales decline reflects one less business day for deals to be recorded compared with June 2017,” noted Andrew LePage, a CoreLogic analyst. “But affordability and inventory constraints are likely the main culprits in last month’s sales slowdown, which applied to all six of the region’s counties and across most of the major price categories.”

Fewer affordable homes

The median price paid for all Southern California homes sold in June was a record $536,250, according to CoreLogic, a 7.3 percent increase compared with June 2017. While part of that is due to a mix shift, since there are fewer lower-priced homes for sale, it is becoming increasingly clear that fewer buyers are able to play in the higher price ranges.

“Sales below $500,000 dropped 21 percent on a year-over-year basis, while deals of $500,000 or more fell about 3 percent, marking the first annual decline for that price category in nearly two years,” said LePage. “Home sales of $1 million or more last month rose just a tad – less than 1 percent – from a year earlier following annual gains of between 5 percent and 21 percent over the prior year.”

LePage points to the rise in mortgage rates over the past six months, increasing significantly a borrower’s monthly payment. Rates haven’t moved much in the past month, but are suddenly going higher again this week, pointing to even further weakness in affordability.

In the past, California, one of the largest housing markets in the nation, has been a predictor for the rest of the country. Home prices have been rising everywhere, amid a critical housing shortage. Prices usually lag sales by several months, and sales are beginning to crumble, even as more inventory comes on the market. The supply of homes for sale increased annually in June for the first time in three years, according to the National Association of Realtors, but sales fell for the third straight month.


Mortgage Survival – Do You Have the Latest Technology to Survive

It’s almost impossible to start any trend article on mortgage lending without recognizing a recent statistic that has far-reaching implications for the mortgage industry. $8,957. That’s the cost to originate a loan in the first quarter of 2018, according to a study by the MBA. That figure rose almost $500 from the fourth quarter of 2017.

What else happened in Q1? Mortgage bankers lost money for the first time since Q1 of 2014.

Now consider the top trends this year that have to do with advanced technologies that financial services firms need to stay competitive with digital-first challengers in the market. So, what is the first and most important trend for mortgage lenders? According to The Financial Brand, financial institutions worldwide are making “massive investments in digital transformation” to try to make up for outdated legacy banking infrastructure that can’t keep up with the expectations of digitally savvy customers.

While You Were Pivoting

Digital-only entities are taking the market by storm and scooping up the customers and the profits even as the global banking attempts to pivot to becoming more tech-savvy. The fact that mortgage origination costs keep hitting new peaks is a sign that the mortgage industry as a whole is even further behind its other financial services counterparts.

That’s why an aggressive and thoughtful focus on digital transformation for mortgage lenders is more important now than ever before. Digital lenders like Quicken and a growing field of disruptive startups are already focused on fast processes and online experiences. A recent whitepaper from financial analyst firm Celent concluded that a fully end-to-end digital mortgage is possible within the next five years. So making sure that lending institutions get started on the right foot with the right plan is critical.

A Proven Plan

What does it take to get there? It is a relief to know there are proven ways to start and maintain a digital transformation journey.

Celent suggests that taking a phased approach to technology implementation can provide fast initial benefits, lower project risk and spread out costs. First on the firm’s technology to-do list is digital document capture. But just any digital document capture solution isn’t likely to provide the benefits truly needed to move the needle on lowering costs and showing quick return on investment.

Lenders who want to make the most impactful first step in their transformation should look for a solution that combines OCR and intelligent capture technology and offers the following capabilities:

Automatically sorts (classifies) all incoming documents, regardless of type and format

Captures specific data without defining templates, zones, anchors or specific keywords

Reconciles captured data against your LOS to ensure consistency, accuracy, and completeness

Easily and quickly integrates with your LOS or other line of business systems, or may be leveraged as a standalone solution

These capabilities eliminate paper-based processes, reduce human touch-points, and eliminate the need to manually classify documents and hand-key data from even the most complex, diverse document types. With over 500 pages in the typical mortgage file, it’s easy to see how lenders have accomplished major cost reductions in areas like paper, file storage and printing costs.

Information accuracy and transparency are also improved, reducing the risk of critical loan defects and compliance issues. And reduced cycle times allow lenders to process more loans and make better profits, while increasing the satisfaction of the borrower, who invariably wants to close her loan as quickly as possible.

Clearing the Obstacles

Document capture is just the first key technology identified by Celent, so lenders shouldn’t stop there if they want to push for end-to-end mortgage lending. According to a 2017 survey, the top five barriers to digital transformation for financial institutions are teams that lack the right skillset, integration problems between new and existing technology and data, a lack flexibility and speed in processes, outdated technology and a lack of collaboration between IT and business units.

With the right plan and the right solution, these obstacles are easier to remove than you might think.


Interesting Overview of the Current Housing Market


Median incomes have lagged home price increases in hot West Coast markets, raising fears of a housing bubble.

Rents have been falling while prices continue to rise, driven by irresponsible lenders in the jumbo market.

Summer is traditionally the best time to sell a home, but recent headlines show sales activity is starting to slow in markets across the country.

Over the last seven years, home prices in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have surged. Unfortunately, these price surges are the result of speculative activity and not based on consumers’ ability to afford homes over the long run. You can read my first round of analysis from earlier this month here on the United States and Canadian real estate markets.

Rents Are Falling, But Prices Are Surging

Sam Dogen at the Financial Samurai recently showed that rent prices have held steady and even fallen in hot markets such as San Francisco and Seattle over the last year or two. Prices have risen further, while rents have not. This isn’t a good sign.

The question I would pose to readers is this: If the housing market is so unstoppable, why are rents not going up anymore? Maybe, more of the surge in housing prices is due to speculation and less due to consumers’ ability to afford the homes. Falling rents should be a flashing red signal for informed buyers. In spite of this, the housing market has continued to charge higher because of loose standards in the jumbo market. I believe the culprit is a new crop of lenders who are outside of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac regulations on FICO scores and DTI. For example, San Francisco lender Social Finance (SoFi) is offering up to 3 million dollar loans with 10 percent down and “flexible DTI.”

Firms like SoFi are the engine driving the madness in the California housing market. SoFi was founded in 2011, right at the start of the new housing boom, and by 2014, they started making jumbo mortgage loans for only 10 percent down. Here’s what Michael Tannenbaum, former Vice President of SoFi, had to say about their loans in 2016, “Sixty-five percent of the business we do is first-time home buyers; it’s a big deal we’re opening up to the jumbo first-time market.” A year later, he was gone. Other gems from the San Francisco Chronicle article – SoFi’s average loan at the time was $800,000 and two-thirds were in California. I shudder to think what their average loan size and DTI is now. Also, in addition to not being big fans of debt to income ratios, SoFi isn’t big on using other traditional measures like FICO scores to evaluate borrowers. In 2016, they declared their company a “FICO Free Zone” in a press release. Said a former business development associate, “The volume of applications coming in was crazy.” Other sources reported on the wild sex culture at the firm. As for their underwriting practices? As long as housing prices went up, they were more or less irrelevant. But, if prices go down, SoFi and their backers stand to lose a lot of money.

The housing market is typically strongest in the summer. So why are all these negative headlines piling up?

Savvy real estate investors and home buyers know the best time to sell residential property is from late spring through summer, and the best time to buy is during the period from Thanksgiving through the end of January – the dead of winter. There is some interesting psychology to this. The average days on market for properties are much higher in the winter than during the summer, so you have more motivated sellers and fewer buyers. Also, sellers, including banks, are more likely to accept offers further below asking price during this period. It might be that buyers don’t see the potential of properties in snow-covered cities like Chicago and Minneapolis. But you also see the same effect occur in places with milder winters, like Dallas-Fort Worth and San Francisco. Conversely, the best time to sell a property is during the summer. Most buyers with school-age children won’t even consider moving them during the school year, and homes and yards look their best during the summer.

Portland is seeing properties start to pile up at higher price points. Seattle is reporting a “slight slowdown.” Listings are piling up in Orange County, California, and foreclosures are up. The Wall Street Journal put out an article two days ago titled, “Housing Market Stumbles at Beginning of Summer.” Pending home sales just hit a 4-month low, and the National Association of Realtors justifies it by blaming it on “low inventory,” rather than a lack of buyers willing and able to pay asking prices.

You can deny that the media is accurately reporting on this, but you can’t deny that the headlines are changing. In the last couple of years, instead we would be seeing headlines like “6 Ways to Win a Bidding War,” or “Good Luck Buying a Home in This Hot Housing Market.” All these new and negative articles are from markets that I predicted would see the most trouble and have the greatest discrepancies between prices and incomes. Here’s the map I showed in the first article again. Note that all these article headlines that are specific to a metro area are coming from relatively unaffordable markets. My theory is that the West Coast markets that have appreciated so much have done so not because they are great places to live, but because there are jumbo lenders with lax standards and buyers for the loans in the mortgage-backed securities market. The markets with a higher percentage under Fannie and Freddie’s conforming loan limits have risen more in line with median incomes, influenced by stricter underwriting guidelines that ensure that home buyers can actually afford the homes they are buying.

U.S. Home Prices, 2012-2017. Core Logic

The general mood is that the market is softening right now, especially at the high end. As interest rates continue to rise beyond buyers’ ability to qualify for mortgages, listings will pile up further and prices will fall. Also, the effects of last year’s tax bill will start to be noticed among consumers, many of whom have yet to figure out that they won’t be able to deduct the majority of their state and local income/property taxes. SALT is now limited to $10,000. Consumers have noticed their paychecks are bigger, but if I know the American consumer like I think I do, that money is being spent and not socked away to pay their higher after-tax deduction property bill.

I’m not predicting the end of the world. For property prices to go down an inflation-adjusted 15-20 percent from peak to trough is a perfectly normal market cycle. It does sting, though, if you put 10 percent down on a two million-dollar home and have to turn around pay money at closing when selling 3 years later.

The first domino that would cause housing prices to fall 15-20 percent in real terms is for mortgage rates to normalize. However, Donald Trump has expressed concern that the Federal Reserve is hiking rates too quickly and is putting pressure on the Fed to top short-term rates out at 2.5 percent. Trump obviously understands how rate hikes affect the real estate market. He has a good point. If the Fed only hikes rates by 50 basis points from here and mortgage rates follow suit, then housing prices will stay higher than they would be if the Fed hiked aggressively. Instead, if they hike 150-200 basis points, then I estimate that housing prices will fall more than 15-20 percent. With over 75 percent of California buyers financing their purchases and DTI ratios already stretched, mortgage rates are of paramount importance to buyers. The risk with the first approach is that inflation runs higher and negatively effects the economy. But, keeping interest rates low and letting inflation run a little higher will serve to give home buyers more equity in their homes and hide the drop in home prices relative to incomes. If the Federal Reserve takes this course, the decline in home prices will not be as severe. However, all bets are off if the Fed decides to aggressively hike rates. Homebuilders, mortgage companies, and small to mid-size banks with concentrated West Coast exposure are still best avoided, as the market does not seem to be adequately accounting for the risks of rising rates, or just how bad their business practices have been.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.


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