Mortgage lending has proven to be a tough industry for new companies to make waves in, and the sudden shutdown last week of San Francisco mortgage startup Sindeo helps show why.
Mortgage lending has proven to be a tough industry for new companies to make waves in, and the sudden shutdown last week of San Francisco mortgage startup Sindeo helps show why.
California credit unions witnessed an uptick in mortgages over the past year, according to the latest snapshot report from the California Credit Union League that analyzed the year-over-year data trends for credit unions.
Credit unions in the state reported a 14% increase in first-mortgages year-over-year, which includes a mixture of fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, purchase, traditional refinance, and cash-out refinance.
Most notably, mortgages hit a record high outstanding dollar amount of $58 billion, rising 69% from the most recent low in 2011 of $34 billion. For added context, the last historical peak was $36 billion in 2009.
However, despite the record high in dollar amount, credit unions also posted an 8% year-over-year decrease in originations, falling to $2.82 billion.
This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise given the steady rise in home prices. According to S&P Dow Jones and CoreLogic’s latest report, home prices increased 5.5% in April.
Meanwhile, credit unions posted a 3% increase in the combined category of Home Equity Lines of Credit and home equity loans (second-mortgages). In total, the outstanding dollar amount hit $9.9 billion, rising 10% from the most recent low in 2014 of $9 billion. The record high was $14.2 billion in 2009.
As of late, regulatory pressure has hindered credit union growth. But, this doesn’t mean they aren’t doing well, as seen in the above numbers. Matt Kershaw, CEO of Clark County Credit Union, explained this in a recent interview with HousingWire. Kershaw noted that while credit unions have grown since the crisis, it’s not proof that regulations are not damaging the industry.
The CFPB finalized the long-awaited initial round of amendments to the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) rule, also known as the Know Before Your Owe rule. However, instead of addressing the so-called “black hole” issue, which refers to situations in which a lender may not be able to use a Closing Disclosure to reset fee tolerances, the CFPB punted by releasing a proposed rule on the issue.
The proposed amendments were posted on the CFPB’s website at the end of July 2016. Although the CFPB planned to finalize amendments in March, the final amendments, along with the related proposal, were not issued until the beginning of July. While the amendments will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, mandatory compliance with the amendments will not be required until October 1, 2018. The CFPB has been urged to take this approach to implementing regulations by industry members, as it allows for the testing of changes on a pilot basis before going live across a company’s entire platform.
In its press release announcing the amendments, the CFPB notes that it adopted (1) tolerances for the Total of Payments disclosure that are based on the existing finance charge tolerances, (2) a change to the partial exemption for certain down-payment and related assistance loans by excluding recording fees and transfer taxes from the fee limitation that applies to the exemption, (3) a change in the scope of the rule to cover loans on cooperative units, whether or not the cooperative is considered real property under applicable state law, and (4) clarifications on how to provide separate Closing Disclosures to the consumer and the seller.
The final rule is 560 pages in length and the proposal is 41 pages in length. We will be analyzing the final rule and proposal and will provide a more detailed analysis in a future edition of our Mortgage Banking Update.
advances in their origination and servicing processes.
We currently have policies describing our requirements for delivering an eMortgage to Fannie Mae, where the promissory note and other documents, such as the security instrument, are created, transferred, and stored electronically rather than on traditional paper documentation with pen and ink signatures. We have similar requirements with respect to servicing-related documentation.
Many states are beginning to consider the use of electronic notarization (“eNotarization”) as a means for expediting or facilitating the closing process. This next step in the process of moving deeper into electronic origination requires greater specificity in our current policies; therefore, we are taking this opportunity to clarify our requirements for eNotarization. The practice of electronic notarizations (including remote notarizations) is not limited to eNote/eMortgage transactions.
Many state laws expressly permit in-person eNotarization. Only Virginia and Montana, however, have adopted laws and regulations expressly permitting remote notarization for mortgage loan documents; that is, the use of real-time, two-way audio/video communication to notarize documents. eNotarization is addressed in the federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (E-SIGN) Act and the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA). However, the lack of specific state recognition of remote notarization has hampered its widespread adoption, particularly when accomplished by out-of-state notaries.
We accept delivery and servicing of mortgage loans with electronic documents, including security instruments or mortgage loan modification agreements that have been electronically notarized, either in person or remotely using real-time, two-way audio/video communication, provided certain requirements are met. The Selling Guide has been updated to reflect these requirements. Additionally, the Servicing Guide will be updated in June to reflect these requirements.
These requirements are effective immediately.
Medium of Recorded Mortgages
Currently, we require the lender to maintain a mortgage loan file that contains “originals” of the recorded mortgage or
deed of trust, riders, and loan modification agreements. Documents that are electronically recorded often appear the
same as those recorded on paper, which has led to confusion as to which documents are “originals” under our policy and
which are electronic copies.
As a result, we have updated this policy to allow for copies of the recorded documents that contain the recording
information from the recorder’s office. In addition, we have clarified that we require originals of any applicable unrecorded
rider and any other unrecorded document that changes the mortgage loan terms (or otherwise affects our legal or
contractual rights under the mortgage).
These updates are effective immediately.
ARM Pass-through Rate after Adjustment
Lenders may take down whole loan commitments to deliver ARMs to Fannie Mae. Currently, ARMs are committed using
the required net margin. We are changing the committing and delivery of whole loan ARMs to instead use the gross
mortgage margin that is on the security instrument. The Selling Guide has been updated to remove references to multiple
Glossary Terms that no longer apply. The Glossary Term yield differential adjustment has also been updated.
Using the gross mortgage margin will also impact how the pass-through rate is calculated when the ARM adjusts. This
change will be communicated in a future Servicing Guide update.
These changes will further align whole loan ARM execution with the process for ARM MBS.
These changes are effective for whole loan ARMs committed (and subsequently delivered) on or after September 1, 2017.
Over Deliveries of Whole Loan Commitments
We limit the amount by which a lender can deliver loans over the whole loan commitment amount, known as the “over
delivery” amount. The current maximum over delivery amount is 25% of the original commitment amount, up to a
maximum of the one unit single family conforming loan limit (currently $424,100). We are simplifying the over delivery
limit to only require that it not exceed 25% of the original commitment amount.
This change will be effective on whole loan commitments taken on or after June 12, 2017.
Whole Loan Cash Back Pair-offs
As part of the June 10, 2017 update to the PE-Whole Loan application, we are giving more flexibility to lenders in pairingoff
whole loan commitments. We are removing the following requirements when determining if a commitment is eligible
for a cash back pair-off:
• pair-off quotes requested after the expiration date of the original commitment (defined as no later than 5:00 p.m.
Eastern time on the expiration date);
• the lender accepts Fannie Mae’s offer of an overdelivery.
NOTE: Commitments paired off through the automatic pair-off process will continue to be ineligible for cash
This change will be effective for lender-requested pair-offs performed on or after June 12, 2017.
Lenders who have questions about this Announcement should contact their Account Team.
Carlos T. Perez
Senior Vice President and
Chief Credit Officer for Single-Family
Section of the Announcement Updated Selling Guide Topics
Use of Electronic Notarization
including Remote Notarization
A2-5.1-03, Electronic Records, Signature, and Transactions
A3-2-01, Compliance With Laws
B7-2-04, Special Title Insurance Coverage Considerations
Medium of Recorded Mortgages A2-5.1-02, Individual Mortgage Loan Files
ARM Pass-through Rate after
C2-1.1-07, Standard ARM and Converted ARM Resale
E-3-05, Glossary of Fannie Mae Terms: E
E-3-13, Glossary of Fannie Mae Terms: M
E-3-18, Glossary of Fannie Mae Terms: R
E-3-25, Glossary of Fannie Mae Terms: Y
Over Deliveries of Whole Loan
C2-2-01, General Requirements for Good Delivery of Whole Loans
Whole Loan Cash Back Pair-Offs C2-1.1-04, Mandatory Commitment Extensions and Pair-Offs
SUBJECT: SELLING UPDATES This Guide Bulletin announces: Collateral representation and warranty relief – new automated collateral evaluation Automated collateral evaluation, including requirements for: – June 19, 2017 (New) Eligibility Age of automated collateral evaluation offer Delivery Condominium Projects Simplified requirements for Detached Condominium Projects Additions to our list of ineligible projects – May 31, 2017 and August 31, 2017 Elimination of separate underwriting paths for streamlined project reviews Appraisal and property specific requirements Addition of Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD) condition and quality ratings and level of updating definitions to the Guide as new Exhibit 36 Additional details about the sales contract provided to the appraiser Updates to our eligibility and appraisal requirements for a 1-unit property with an accessory unit – August 31, 2017 Area median income estimates Updates to Loan Product Advisor® and the Home Possible® Income & Property Eligibility tool to reflect the area median income estimates for 2017 – June 13, 2017 EFFECTIVE DATE All the changes announced in this Bulletin are effective immediately unless otherwise noted. COLLATERAL REPRESENTATION AND WARRANTY RELIEF – NEW AUTOMATED COLLATERAL EVALUATION Effective June 19, 2017 Building on the collateral representation and warranty relief announced in Bulletin 2017-3, this Bulletin announces our automated collateral evaluation, which provides the Seller with the option to waive the appraisal requirements for certain Loan Product Advisor Mortgages. Freddie Mac’s automated collateral evaluation leverages data and proprietary models to assess whether the estimate of value provided by the Seller to Loan Product Advisor may be used to underwrite the Mortgage in lieu of the appraised value. When the Seller accepts an automated collateral evaluation offer to waive the appraisal, the Seller will be relieved of its representations and warranties related to value, condition and marketability of the property.
When accepted, this appraisal waiver will help shorten origination timelines and reduce costs for Sellers and Borrowers while providing greater certainty through collateral representation and warranty relief. Eligibility Loan Product Advisor offer The Seller will receive a feedback message indicating that a Mortgage is eligible for an appraisal waiver on the Loan Product Advisor Feedback Certificate. If the Mortgage is not eligible for an appraisal waiver, the Feedback Certificate will specify that an appraisal is required. If the Mortgage meets the eligibility requirements in this Bulletin and the Seller receives the feedback message indicating the Mortgage is eligible for the appraisal waiver, the Seller may accept the offer by delivering the Mortgage with the ULDD Data Points described in the “Delivery requirements” section below. Mortgage eligibility The following requirements apply for a Mortgage to be eligible for the appraisal waiver: The Mortgage must be secured by a 1-unit Primary Residence or second home The Mortgage must have a loan-to-value (LTV)/total LTV (TLTV) ratio less than or equal to 80% The Mortgage must be a no cash-out refinance Upon assessment by Loan Product Advisor, the Feedback Certificate must indicate the Mortgage is eligible for collateral representation and warranty relief with an appraisal waiver The final submission to the Selling System® must indicate the collateral representation and warranty relief status is “Y” or “Yes” Ineligible Mortgages The following Mortgages are not eligible for an appraisal waiver: Mortgages for which an appraisal has been obtained in connection with the Mortgage Mortgages secured by one of the following: A Condominium Unit A Manufactured Home, or A leasehold estate Mortgages secured by Mortgaged Premises subject to resale restrictions Construction Conversion and Renovation Mortgages Freddie Mac Relief Refinance Mortgages SM – Same Servicer or Open Access Mortgages with Freddie Mac Settlement Dates more than 120 days from the Note Date In addition, Sellers may not accept an appraisal waiver offer through Loan Product Advisor if any of the following apply: The Seller is required by law or regulation to obtain an appraisal The Seller is aware of conditions it believes warrant an appraisal being obtained. Examples include but are not limited to: The property is located in an area recently impacted by a disaster A contaminated site or hazardous substance exists affecting the property or the neighborhood in which the property is located Page 3 For Mortgages with appraisal waivers, the Seller must not make any representation that Freddie Mac has performed a property review or obtained a valuation of the Mortgaged Premises. Guide impacts: Guide Sections 4203.1, 4501.6, 4603.5 and 5601.9 Age of automated collateral evaluation offer The appraisal waiver offer is valid for 120 days. If the offer is more than 120 days old as of the Note Date, a resubmission to Loan Product Advisor is required to determine ongoing appraisal waiver eligibility. Note: If the Seller changes loan data (e.g., address of the property, loan amount, estimate of value, loan type, property type, occupancy of the property) in a subsequent Loan Product Advisor submission, the original offer may be invalidated and a different automated collateral evaluation eligibility determination may be provided. Guide impacts: Sections 5601.8 and 5601.9 Delivery requirements Once the Seller has accepted the appraisal waiver offer for a Mortgage, the Seller must deliver the following ULDD Data Points for the Mortgage: Property Valuation Method Type (Sort ID 89) and enter a valid value of “None” Investor Collateral Program Identifier (Sort ID 376) and enter a valid value of “Property Inspection Alternative” Guide impact: Section 6302.10 Additional resources We encourage Sellers to visit the Collateral Representation and Warranty Relief page on the Freddie Mac Learning Center for available training and resources. CONDOMINIUM PROJECTS Detached Condominium Projects As a result of recent Mortgage performance trends, we are simplifying the project eligibility requirements for Detached Condominium Projects: Detached Condominium Project Requirements Previous requirements Revised requirements The Seller was required to determine compliance with: The Condominium Project review requirements in Section 5701.2(a), and The Condominium Project eligibility requirements, which have two components: General Condominium Projects in Section 5701.2(b), and The Detached Condominium Project review type in Section 5701.7(b) The Seller was required to determine compliance with Section 5701.2(b), including determining that the project is not an ineligible project as specified in Section 5701.3. The Seller is required to determine compliance with: The Condominium Project review requirements in Section 5701.2(a), and The Detached Condominium Project eligibility requirements in Section 5701.7(b) The Seller is no longer required to determine compliance with Section 5701.2(b), including determining that the project is not an ineligible project as specified in Section 5701.3
Compliance with Sections 5701.2(a), 5701.2(b) and 5701.3 and one of the project review types in Guide Chapter 5701 is still required for all other Condominium Projects. Guide impacts: Sections 5701.2, 5701.3 and 5701.7 Ineligible Condominium Projects As a result of our research and analysis, we are updating our list of ineligible Condominium Projects in Section 5701.3 as follows: Projects with names that include the words “hotel,” “motel,” “inn,” or “lodge” or a branded hotel chain or name remain ineligible unless the project does not have the characteristics of a hotel or similar type of transient housing Projects with pending litigation involving minor matters that do not affect the safety, structural soundness, functional use or habitability of the project and in which the litigation amount is unknown may be eligible if the requirements in Section 5701.3(i) are met Additionally, effective August 31, 2017, we are updating our list of ineligible projects as follows: A project or an investment in a project, including Condominium Unit ownership that is characterized or promoted as an investment opportunity, that could be deemed to be an investment security is an ineligible project A project with mandatory dues or similar membership fees for the use of Amenities, such as clubhouses or recreational facilities, is ineligible with certain exceptions Guide impacts: Sections 1301.11, 5601.2 and 5701.3 Streamlined project review We are aligning and consolidating the maximum LTV/TLTV/Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) TLTV (HTLTV) ratio requirements for “LP Accept Mortgages” and “All Other Mortgages” underwriting paths. The maximum LTV/TLTV/HTLTV ratio requirements are now indicated solely by occupancy type. As a result, the maximum LTV/TLTV/HTLTV ratio for streamlined project review of non-LP Accept Mortgages for Condominium Units in Established Condominium Projects not located in Florida is increasing from 80% to 90% for primary residences. Guide impact: Section 5701.4 APPRAISAL AND PROPERTY SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD) condition and quality ratings and level of updating definitions For ease of Seller use and efficiency in the appraisal underwriting process, we are incorporating the UAD condition and quality ratings and level of updating definitions into the Guide as new Guide Exhibit 36. These ratings and definitions were previously only published in UAD Specification Appendix D: Field-Specific Standardization Requirements, which is posted on our UAD web page. Guide impacts: Section 5601.12 and Exhibit 36 Information supplied to the appraiser – changes to the sales contract In response to Seller inquiries, we are specifying that Sellers are not required to provide the appraiser with an updated sales contract unless the updated terms impact the physical description or condition of the property. In such cases, the Seller must obtain an updated appraisal of the property. Changes to the sales contract that are not required to be provided to the appraiser include, but are not limited to: Changes to the transaction terms such as sales price, financing or sale concessions, and Date revisions, corrections to typographical errors, etc. Guide impact: Section 5601.3 Page 5 Property with an accessory unit Effective August 31, 2017 Currently, Freddie Mac will purchase a Mortgage secured by a 1-unit property with only one accessory unit. To assist Sellers in identifying an accessory unit, we are updating our requirements and guidance as follows: Requiring that the accessory unit have a kitchen and a bathroom Providing examples of characteristics that may indicate a 2-unit property rather than a 1-unit property with an accessory unit, such as the zoning and land use requirements, covenants or homeowners association requirements, the existence of separate meters, ingress/egress or separate addresses for the units We are updating our comparable selection requirements for a 1-unit property with an accessory unit that complies with the zoning and land use requirements (legal or legal non-conforming zoning compliance) to require that the appraisal must include at least one comparable sale with only one accessory unit. The accessory unit of the comparable sale must also comply with the zoning and land use requirements to demonstrate the conformity and marketability of the subject property to its market area. Additionally, to allow Sellers to deliver a Mortgage secured by a 1-unit property with an accessory unit that does not comply with the zoning and land use requirements (illegal zoning compliance), we are adding the following requirements: The “Site” section of the appraisal report must indicate that the accessory unit does not comply with zoning and land use requirements (illegal zoning compliance) At least two comparable sales with each having only one accessory unit must be included in the appraisal report. The accessory unit of each comparable sale must also be non-compliant with the zoning and land use requirements to demonstrate the conformity and marketability of the subject property to its market area The Seller must confirm that the existence of the accessory unit will not jeopardize future hazard insurance claims Guide impacts: Sections 5601.2 and 5601.12 AREA MEDIAN INCOME ESTIMATES The FHFA has issued the area median income estimates for 2017. Loan Product Advisor and the Home Possible Income & Property Eligibility tool will be updated by start of business on June 13, 2017 to reflect the 2017 area median income estimates. Because some 2017 estimates are lower than the area median income estimates for 2016, Home Possible Mortgages underwritten using the 2016 area median income limits may no longer be eligible for sale. If a Home Possible Mortgage received an “AcceptEligible” evaluation prior to June 13, 2017, but receives an “Accept-Ineligible” when resubmitted to Loan Product Advisor on or after June 13, 2017 due only to the new area median income estimates (that is, no other purchase restriction/reason for ineligibility applies), we will honor the original Feedback Certificate for the “eligibility” and purchase the Mortgage as long as there is no change to the Borrower’s income and/or the address of the Mortgaged Premises. In these instances, the original Feedback Certificate (pre-June 13, 2017) must have been returned by Loan Product Advisor no more than 120 days before the Note Date and both Feedback Certificates must be retained in the Mortgage file. GUIDE UPDATES SPREADSHEET For a detailed list of the Guide updates associated with this Bulletin and the topics with which they correspond, refer to the Bulletin 2017-8 (Selling) Guide Updates Spreadsheet available at http://www.freddiemac.com/singlefamily/guide/docs/bll1708_spreadsheet.xls. CONCLUSION If you have any questions about the changes announced in this Bulletin, please contact your Freddie Mac representative or call Customer Support at (800) FREDDIE. Sincerely,
Christina K. Boyle
Senior Vice President
Single-Family Sales and Relationship Management
Reminder of MI Cancellation Requirements for Conventional Loans Servicers are reminded of their obligation to comply with the Homeowners Protection Act (HPA), the Guides, and all other Applicable Laws when cancelling mortgage insurance (MI) on conventional loans. Servicers must have policies and procedures in place to ensure MI is cancelled in accordance with HPA requirements based on borrower-requested cancellation, automatic termination, or final termination requirements. The MPF Program has reviewed the MI cancellation requirements in the Guides and clarified the guidelines. Each cancellation option now has its own section in the Guide, so that the requirements for each option are clear. See MPF Traditional Servicing Guide chapter 4.7.2. All eligibility requirements as specified in the HPA are incorporated into and are a pre-condition of the MPF Program’s MI cancellation policy.
Servicers of MPF Traditional and MPF Xtra loans are required to report all MI cancellations and terminations on conventional loans to the Master Servicer within five (5) Business Days of termination using the MI Cancellation Notice (Form SG343). See the updated form for additional information. MPF Traditional Servicing Guide chapter 18.104.22.168 and MPF Xtra Servicing Guide section 4.6 have been updated with the revised reporting requirements.
The Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (Bureau) is conducting an assessment of the ATR/QM Rule under the Truth in Lending Act (Regulation Z), in accordance with section 1022(d) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The Bureau is requesting public comment on its plans for assessing this rule as well as certain recommendations and information that may be useful in conducting the planned assessment.
When we asked Travel + Leisure readers to rank their favorite cities in the world for romance in our 2016 World’s Best Awards survey, the 20 results covered more than 7,840 miles, ranging from the palm-fringed beaches of Hawaii to the luxury hideouts of Monte Carlo.
Italy, unsurprisingly, holds fast to four spots on this year’s list: one even claims the No. 1 title. Paris is a close second, and almost a requisite for any couple traveling in the name of love.
Beyond the beautiful but somewhat obvious picks, there are exciting new spots that ascended onto the list. The lavender fields of Aix-en-Provence, for example, and musical hills in Austria’s Salzburg. Cliffside Carmel-by-the-Sea took bronze this year, beating other romantic Californian destinations like San Francisco and Santa Barbara.
A popular Hawaiian honeymoon spot climbed the ranks, propelled by a winning combination of flourishing city culture and eternal island beauty. And this year’s No. 1 city in the world, Charleston, didn’t disappoint travelers seeking an easy, romantic weekend getaway.
Couples seeking cityscapes and wild nightlife, or those yearning for rugged coasts and uninterrupted countryside, can easily find a destination on this list that satisfies their unique passions.
Turn your one-on-one time into an adventure of a lifetime with these most romantic cities in the world.
Nestled between the snowcapped Alps and Lake Lucerne, the city of Lucerne is a charming Swiss hideaway with medieval flourishes. Like Chapel Bridge, for example, which was built in 1333 and is often decorated with flowers. Visit charming old city squares and the Jesuit Church (the first Baroque church in Switzerland). For the most romantic place to bed down, Villa Honegg is just outside of the city center. This 1905 mansion-turned-hotel sports an outdoor heated pool with a full view of the mountains and lake below.
As the birthplace of Cezanne, it’s easy to visit the places that brought the master’s paintings to life. Relax at cafes and local haunts like the Morning Market, though the best croissants can be found at Farinoman Fou. Check out the Aix vineyards, fragrant lavender fields, or head to the hot springs-fed baths first tapped by the Romans thousands of years ago. Southern France is like a pleasure garden, with pretty, moss-covered fountains spouting around every corner. Snack on calissons for a treat (candied fruit and almonds topped with a layer of icing). Because all romantic outings require a little something sweet.
Offering visitors the beauty of Tuscany without the massive throngs of tourists, Siena is a delightful destination for lovebirds. An archetypal medieval city, forged before the lavish Renaissance, makes the green, red, and white-marble Duomo somehow more striking. It houses masterpieces by 40 Italian artists, including Donatello, Michelangelo, and Bernini. The whole city is built around the Piazza del Campo, a UNESCO heritage site where you can people watch while sipping Campari. Drive out to the wineries just outside the city limits to taste the best of the Sangiovese grapes and share a perfect Tuscan sunset.
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan couple’s dream. Fuel up on tapas in La Barceloneta’s seaside cafes before walking through the winding Barri Gòtic and climbing Gaudi’s surreal Sagrada Familia or the vibrant Parc Guell (both offer great city views). Stop by one of the city’s famous markets, La Boqueria or Santa Caterina, for fresh foods and great coffee. Reserve a room at Hotel Neri (an 18th-century palace where breakfast is served on the rooftop) or the luxurious all-suite El Palauet. You’ll fall in love with this city—and each other—every time.
Victoria is a Canadian stunner in beautiful British Columbia. Located on the inner tip of Vancouver Island, the city’s Neo-Baroque architecture is decidedly British. Admire the Parliament Buildings, the Fairmont Empress hotel (peek inside to see the Edwardian interiors), and the famous Butchart Gardens. And just 30 miles north is the Cowichan Valley, which boasts vineyards, art galleries, and hiking trails—perfect for lighting sparks.
Santa Barbara—fondly referred to as America’s Riviera—is a great escape for those looking to stoke the flames. The weather here is consistently perfect, so it’s easy to visit any time of year (even gray, dreary February). It’s 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, tucked between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific, and famous for its Spanish architecture. Hop on the open-air trolley down State Street to discover new restaurants and galleries. The 200-year old Santa Barbara Mission and its rose garden are worth a tour, as well. And Shoreline Park’s bluff-top views and Butterfly Beach are perfect for sunbathing with your partner. Just keep an eye out, because there are often dolphins and whales that come to play in the surf.
On a romantic getaway to San Francisco, head to the Pacific Heights neighborhood to see those iconic Victorian homes, or take a bike ride through Golden Gate Park for the best views of the bridge. Couples should consider taking a day trip to nearby Napa or Sonoma to enjoy some of the best wineries, not just in the country, but on Earth. Doc Rickett’s is a local favorite for underground comedy and music acts, and for museums, the de Young’s American art collection is a must-see. Park yourself at Cupid’s Span on the Embarcadero to watch the sunset and check out the Bay Lights show before dining in the trendy Mission District.
The landmark Fairmont Le Château Frontenac looks like a fortress guarding Quebec City, a spot that fiercely puts the “French” in French-Canadian. Considered the oldest European settlement on the continent, Quebec overlooks the beautiful St. Lawrence River and is packed with boutique and luxury hotels. Meander in and out of trendy shops and jazz bars, or go ice skating at the outdoor rink at Palais Montcalm. Afterwards, warm up with hearty Québécois cuisine or the province’s famous greasy spoon-style poutine.
Old World European charm is the defining feel in Bruges, just an hour by train outside of Brussels. The 13th-century village has cobblestone streets extending over misty canals, and endless examples of Gothic architecture. Quaint houses, windmills, and medieval streets set a fairy tale scene. Share a traditional Belgian waffle with powdered sugar or sip Lambics at one of the village pubs. Bruges is also known for its vast collections of Flemish artworks, though it’s hard to pull away from the 50 different chocolate shops (one per square mile) sprinkled throughout the city.
Friendly locals and quintessential Southern charm recently gave Charleston the No. 1 spot on our list of the best cities in the world. And it didn’t under perform for romance-seekers, either. Antebellum architecture and art galleries are framed by wisteria, sabal palmettos, and ancient magnolia trees. Couples who love eating out will adore this city’s food culture: reserve a spot at Husk, the most talked-about restaurant in Charleston and the South, share brunch at Kitchen 208, or linger over an intimate meal at Peninsula Grill. Walk King Street for antiques and boutiques of all sorts, stop by Marion Square for the weekend farmer’s market, or take an early morning stroll down pastel-colored Rainbow Row.
On the island of Oahu, Honolulu has become more than just a tropical tourist destination—it’s cosmopolitan and has a stylish vibe all its own. Salty sea breezes, miles of turquoise waters, and an onslaught of new boutiques and restaurants make this a hot honeymoon spot. A trip to Hnolulu is relaxing, but there’s plenty to do for the restless. Try surfing at bustling Waikiki Beach, hop on a jet ski together and cruise the waves, or go snorkeling at the many reefs full of Pixar-worthy fish and seascapes. Most importantly, share a sunrise together after a hike up Diamond Head, and a sunset on a veranda sipping Mai Tais.
There are an infinite number of opportunities to be awed in the Eternal City. Visit the Basilica Santa Maria and the Sistine Chapel, admire the Pantheon and Colosseum, and take in the artworks at the Borghese Gallery. Afterward, head to the Trevi Fountain to wish for a return trip with your partner, and admire thousands of other fountains scattered across the city. Rome’s history seems limitless (a 2,700-year-old city has that effect) and so does its cuisine. Try the pizza at Il Forno Roscioli near the Campo de’ Fiori Market, eat the traditional cacio e pepeat Sora Margherita, or go to Prati on the Tiber to share the best gelato.
A trip to Florence is a necessity for a pair of fashion or art lovers. Venture together to see masterpieces like Michelangelo’s David, or the homes of Gucci and Ferragamo. Almost every hotel here boasts marble fireplaces, classical sculptures, paintings, and frescoes. Visit the new Mercato Centrale for the best souvenirs (cheese, wines, and pasta), and climb the steps to the Duomo’s terrace. Visitors can also ascend Giotto’s Campanile bell tower to share the view of the dreamy terracotta-topped cityscape.
Could there be a list of romantic destinatinos without the City of Light? Paris is ever-changing and yet always true to its lovers. Bike through Le Marais and try as many of the city’s legendary patisseries as you can. However touristy, the staples never disappoint. Lovebirds should explore the endless corridors of the Louvre and picnic with fresh crepes on the lawn by the Eiffel Tower (or with a bottle of wine, at night, when it’s a twinkling glow). Take the metro up to the cobblestone streets of Montmartre and see the view from Sacre Coeur, spend a day marveling at the Latin Quarter’s architecture, or take a stroll through the Tuileries Garden dotted with bronzed sculptures and fountains. Paris is never short on beauty, history, or diversions for even the most discerning couple.
Stephen P. Leatherman, a professor and coastal research director at Florida International University known as “Dr. Beach,” has released his annual list of the country’s top 10 beaches. Read on to find out what beach claimed the top spot for 2017.
The ranking looks at 50 criteria including sand color, number of sunny days and presence of oil and tar balls. In recent years, Leatherman has given bonus points to beaches where smoking is banned.
Leatherman releases a list of America’s Best Beaches every year on Memorial Day weekend. He started ranking U.S. beaches in 1989 and, in 1991, he issued his first officially scored list. The winning beach each season is retired from his ranking system and holds a permanent spot on his website.
Kiawah Island, just south of Charleston, is home to Beachwalker Park, a public beach with inlets that are prime paddling territory for canoers and kayakers, a small part of the island’s natural appeal that caught Dr. Beach’s eye. Captain Sam’s Inlet provides a breezy walk or bicycle where beach lovers can see thousands of birds.
Kiawah Island is about an 11.5 hour drive up I-65 from New Orleans.
Dr. Beach described this Southern California beach as “an oasis by the sea.” Coronado simultaneously offers a Mediterranean climate and subtropical greenery. The beach, a 26-hour drive or four-hour flight from New Orleans, offers ship-watching in the calm surf. History lovers can also indulge in a stay at the national landmark Hotel del Coronado, built in 1888.
This state park highlights Hawaii’s contrasting landscapes, with its black lava flows and shimmering white beaches. Visitors get to enjoy a white coral sand beach. During the summer its waters provide perfect snorkeling. The beach is prepared with lifeguards to keep swimmers safe during the strong winter currents as well.
Visitors can make their way to Caladesi Island from Clearwater, Fla. on a pedestrian ferry, private boat or even on foot if they’re prepared for a long walk. The beach’s quartz sand is softest near the water’s edge, but nature lovers will be drawn to both the boardwalk and kayak paths through the trees.
Dr. Beach noted the blue heron and other birds that mingle in the mangroves. The island is an roughly 10-hour drive from New Orleans though the Florida panhandle, along I-10 East.
Coast Guard Beach is a highlight of Cape Cod. The beach itself is accessible by a bicycle or shuttle from the visitor’s center and juts out from a range of glacial cliffs. Fairly coarse sand means the beach slopes steeply down to the cold, 60-70-degree water, but Dr. Beach claims the destination’s main draw is a spectacular view offered from the cliffs over the bay.
Coopers Beach offers some of the best beach access in the Hamptons, according to Dr. Beach. Southampton’s beautiful white sand beach is hundreds of yards wide and backed by a pattern of sand dunes and mansions.
The country’s first “Gold Coast” is a 20-hour drive north from New Orleans. Dr. Beach also recommends trying the beach’s snack bar, which serves lunch and drinks.
This state park, located on the Florida panhandle, has committed to limiting development in order to maintain its natural sugar-white sand and massive sand dunes. Indeed, former Florida governor Bob Graham told Dr. Beach Grayton is his favorite beach.
The old town of Grayton offers restaurants, coffee shops and a bit of night life. (Dr. Beach encourages a visit to the Red Bar.)
Grayton is a nearly 5-hour drive East along I-10, between Destin and Panama City, Fla. Many visitors choose to camp near the state park’s tidal lakes and freshwater ponds.
Distinguished by its truly wild beaches and big surf, Blackbeard the pirate made this beach a famous getaway. Visitors shouldn’t expect to spend much time at a resort or on a golf course.
Dr. Beach vouched for the excellent beach combing and swimming on Ocracoke. He noted families should visit earlier in the year to hit the mild surf conditions, but the beach is lifeguarded as well.
Ocracoke is an 18-hour drive Northeast along I-20 E to the coast of North Carolina.
Dr. Beach notes the ancient lava flowing into the sea formed the premiere snorkeling conditions off the shore of Kapalua Bay’s white beach. Its clear, blue water is home to brightly colored corals that attract even more colorful fish.
The crescent-shaped beach is bookended by two rocky formations, now home to restaurants and concession huts where visitors can rent snorkeling gear and fish food.
Dr. Beach said Siesta Beach’s claim to have the finest, whitest sand in the world is warranted; he takes a bag full home each trip he makes. The soft beach — about 200-300 feet wide — is seemingly always packed with people, but never too crowded.
Siesta’s clean restrooms and ample lifeguarding put it over the top to take this year’s crown. As a bonus, the beach offers a free trolley from the center of town to manage car traffic.
Siesta Beach is a 10-hour drive from New Orleans along I-10 East and down I-75 South near Sarasota, Fla.
n 1994, nearly 500 banks were headquartered in California. Today, there are fewer than 180. By the end of the year, if current trends hold, Californians will have only one-third the number of banks to choose from for their mortgage, small business and personal savings needs than they did just a couple of decades ago.
There are a few reasons for this disturbing trend, which is happening across the country. But the most important one — the reason I hear more than any other from bankers who decide to merge, sell or close their institution — is the increasing federal regulatory burden.
That doesn’t mean I oppose all regulation. In the wake of the financial crisis, regulatory changes were necessary, and provisions in the Dodd-Frank Act passed in 2010 helped improve financial stability. But nearly a decade after the crisis, we’ve ended up with too many duplicative and sometimes contradictory rules that don’t always promote safety and soundness, and may actually hinder banks from serving their customers and growing local economies.
For example, I recently heard from a bank in Southern California that, to its great regret, had to end its mortgage loan program. Dodd-Frank’s mortgage regulations and disclosures meant the bank would have to purchase expensive software to manage the new layers of red tape — so expensive, in fact, that the bank was going to lose money on every single loan.
Getting community banks out of the business of helping qualified Americans buy homes can’t have been what Congress intended when it passed Dodd-Frank. It makes sense to recalibrate some elements of that law to ensure that it’s working properly.
A proposal in the House would take important steps in that direction. The Financial CHOICE Act, which the Financial Services Committee recently voted to send to the floor, includes several sensible provisions that the banking industry endorses, as well as others that require further study and analysis.
Among the measures I support: The legislation would allow regulators to tailor their oversight to the unique risk profiles of individual financial institutions; provide greater opportunities for banks to appeal decisions by their examiners; and ease some requirements on mortgages that banks hold in their own portfolios (meaning they retain all the risk). The overall effect of these and other provisions would be to give banks more breathing space and consumers more choices.
Though banks adjust as best they can for the sake of their customers, the smallest banks have too few assets to keep up with ever growing compliance costs. Indeed, the vast majority of banks that have disappeared are community banks. At the end of 2016, California had just 11 small banks left; in 1994, these banks accounted for nearly half of the industry in the Golden State.
Some have pointed to strong bank profits as an argument for why reform is unnecessary. Profitability is, of course, a sign of economic strength that we should celebrate; profitable banks benefit their customers, investors, employees and broader communities.
However, the topline profit figure doesn’t tell the whole story. Increased regulatory compliance costs limit bankers’ ability to reach underserved communities. Moreover, tunnel vision on bank profits ignores macro-level trends.
Since Dodd-Frank was passed, just four new banks have formed nationwide. (The newest, I’m pleased to report, is in Orange County.) This abysmal pace of startups is principally due to the extraordinary regulatory burden placed on small banks and the excessive sums of capital new-bank investors are required to put up.
Our economy performs best with a healthy and diverse mix of banks to meet customers’ needs — large, small and everywhere in between. Without reasonable reform in Washington, California’s banking sector will continue to shrink and become less diverse. Californians — and all Americans — will pay the price in terms of lost opportunities for growth.