Are Buyers Getting Ripped Off with REO Escrow Fees?

[Warning: rant ahead].

Recently I’ve closed a couple of REO transactions lately where I’ve been dismayed at what the escrow companies are charging the buyers. They claim it’s is warranted because of the extra work that goes into processing a bank owned property…I could almost buy this EXCEPT it’s not the buyer who has created any additional work.

Adding to my frustration is that this exorbitantly higher escrow fee tends to not be split equally between the buyer and  seller (the bank or lender). I’ve heard of builders receiving discounted escrow fees, however the buyer pays what would have been the normal half.  With the REO’s I’ve seen lately, the fees have been almost double what I would consider “normal”.  Some of the fees have been so high, it can jeopardize a smaller transaction becoming a “high cost loan”.

On a recent closing, on a $70,000 condo in West Seattle, I called to obtain a quote from an escrow company where Freddie Mac was the seller. The quote I received was for $848. I asked the assistant if this was the full fee or the buyers half, since the quote I was using from my preferred provider was $438. She replied “full” (meaning the $848 would be split 50/50 between seller and buyer). When we received our estimated HUD, the buyer’s escrow fee was jacked back up to $848 and to make matters worse, the escrow company was trying to not honor their written quote to me. After dealing with several managers, the escrow company agreed to meet my quote of $438…it’s not half of $848 but it’s definitely closer to what would be a fair escrow fee for the buyer in this price range.

To add insult to injury, it seems the service from these escrow companies is lack-luster to say the least. It’s as if the company “won” a big bid and therefore service to the buyer, the consumer, just isn’t important since there will be plenty of gravy business to continue.

Home buyers can shop for their escrow provider, however when it’s an REO situation, 9 times out of 10 (if not all of the time), the escrow company has already been dictated.

I understanding charging more when there is more work that is actually being done with a transaction – as long as it’s fair and reflects the actual level of work that’s being done on that transaction.

It really frustrates me.

SIDE NOTE: I’ve only had excellent service from Legacy Escrow – my rant has NOTHING to do with them.

Rant over…for now!  🙂

HACKED BY SudoX — HACK A NICE DAY.

Is King County at 2001 or 2005 price levels?

Was reading the questions in the comments over on The_Tim’s post about “The Bottom Falling Out on the Low Tier”. That prompted me to run some numbers on two cities in King County. One of which is moving more solidly back into the low tier…and quickly. Another that has been in the high tier since before prices started increasing dramatically in the credit boom years.

Before I post the data, I think we should strike the tiers of 2001 and 2011 based on all Single Family Home sales in King County only, since Case-Shiller tiers are based on a different set of criteria. For this purpose I remove single and double wides, houseboats and townhomes and deal only with detached single family homes. I am using the first 5,000- homes sold in each of those years to set the tier values, since my home calculator stops at 5,000 homes. For 2001 that is the 1st quarter sales. For 2011 that is through the end of April.

2001

Low Tier – < $216,000
Mid Tier – $217,000 – $310,000
High Tier – $311,000+

with median of high tier at $400,000

2011

Low Tier – < $274,000
Mid Tier – $274,000 – $447,000
High Tier – $447,000+

with median of high tier at $614,000

For those wondering why these Tier Pricings are so very different from Case-Shiller numbers, it’s because Case-Shiller combines King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. These are for King County only. ALSO, I’m pretty sure Case-Shiller uses resale (matched pairs) and pretty much excludes New Construction entirely, and a lot of Redmond’s story and the high price tier story is in that New Construction.

The dramatic change in the median price of the high tier tells us A LOT!

Obviously based on median prices, King County is no where near 2001 levels, BUT the following data is a bit startling.

graph (16)

Redmond running a hair under 2005 median home price, but no where near 2004 median pricing. Federal Way on the other hand quickly degenerating toward 2001-2002 pricing.

Of course once you have some more information…you have to keep going to determine the why of it. “Why” never has ONE standout answer…but the mix of foreclosures is clearly a BIG part of the story.

2011 fwr

I remember reading a question on a general forum asking why a person can’t find a foreclosure home to buy in their area of preference, when all the news stories are pointing to the DELUGE of foreclosures? Well, ZOMG! that snapshot of the market above “tells a story…don’t it?” to quote Rod Stewart.

Now compare that to 2010 and you will quickly see why the Bottom Tier is pulling away…and getting HAMMERED!

2010fwr

The % of Foreclosures and Pre-Foreclosures (short-sales) in Redmond has barely changed. Federal Way? Well…maybe they have no place to go but up? Certainly hope so.

Now let’s look at the HUGE decline in Price of Bank Owned Property 2010 to 2011. This is going to knock your socks off.

Sorry…have to throw this in as a link over. The chart won’t load.

The short of it for people who don’t like to click on links is that the Bank Owned Solds in Federal Way not only jumped UP from 28% of total sales to 47% of total sales, but the median price of those Bank Owned sales declined from $191,000 to $156,000. WAY below 2001 pricing, and with the volume of them, they dragged the median overall sold price down from $246,000 in 2010 to $199,000 YTD 2011. Maybe it will swing back a bit by year end. But Holy Caboley!

As you will also see in that link, Redmond Bank Owned solds did not change much at all as a % of total sales, BUT the median price of those dropped from $475,000 to $330,000. Still…not enough of them to impact the overall median sold price much in Redmond.

Redmond is easier for me to explain, since I don’t work in Federal Way. Let’s see if I can get another graph to load up. WordPress is liking graphs better than Raw Data Charts.

age

I combined these two so you can see the dramatic difference. Homes Sales in Redmond are being bolstered by the fact that a LOT of new and newer homes are being sold. You may see that change dramatically in 2012 as the builders seem to be shifting over to Sammamish due to the fact that they have used up a lot of the available land in Redmond.

To some extent the shift will move from 98052 to 98053, 98074 and 98075. But will the buyers shift with them? Probably yes, unless there are a lot more newer homes on resale in 98052 to compete with the travelling builders. You may say there are still plenty of newer resale homes in 98052, but track that against school rankings, and you will see what is happening there with regard to Elementary Schools.

So the drastic decline in Redmond Bank Owned Sold Price from 2010 to 2011 has a lot to do with the % of homes that are, or more aptly said WERE, newer homes. It looks like the glut of spec home leftovers here and there were pretty much sucked up in 2010 when 80% of the Bank Owned Sales were NEW…built since 2005…and most never lived in. Those empty new homes, some completely finished…some not so much especially as to landscaping, are pretty much gone.

Scanning at my notes here (my desk looks like the whacky professor after doing all of these stats on scribbles before processing them into charts and graphs) I’m seeing that the total # of foreclosed properties in Redmond 2011 that were built prior to 1980 are equal to the total # of foreclosures in 2010 of which 80% were built after 2005.

So the decline in price of foreclosed homes in Redmond (as noted in the link above) has more to do with the AGE of those homes, than a drop in prices.

Why the big drop in price in Federal Way? Age of homes does not seem to account for that. I don’t work in Federal Way…so it’s not as easy for me to read reality into the data there, as it is for me in Redmond. My best guess is that it is a degenerating market…like a cancer growing…each new set of foreclosures running off a discount of the current median price. Each new wave of foreclosures dragging that median price down due to sheer volume…and the downward spiral is feeding on itself.

Will be interesting to see if any of this swings back into place by year end. My gut tells me 2012 is going to be a wild ride. Looks like Federal Way has no place to go but up, let’s hope so.

Redmond on the other hand is likely going to lose a lot of that huge support from the new construction homes over to Sammamish, unless we start seeing a whole lot more newer home resales coming on market. That may also be good news for people in Redmond who have been trying to sell their built prior to 2000 homes. I have a feeling it will.

I just don’t see all of the Redmond buyers running over to 98074. Some, yes. Relocation Buyers, yes. But for the most part, either sales volume is going to plummet…or people are going to starting getting a whole lot more interested in some of those older homes that have been languishing on market during the new construction surge up on Education Hill. Probably a little of each.

More graphs and data on the above HERE, HERE and HERE. The last one helps you track the median price for these two cities in each year since 2001, so you can see the rise and fall to and from peak.

(Required Disclosure – Stats in this post and it’s graphs and charts are not compiled, verified or published by The Northwest Multiple Listing Service.)

Seattle Eastside Housing – Buy or Wait?

Seattle Eastside Housing – Buy or Wait? is a Google Query that directed someone from Bellevue over to my blog about ten minutes ago, looking for an answer to that question.

Often people get confused by the big price tags and unfamiliarity of housing, so let’s use a simple every day analogy to explore “buy or wait”. The other day I decided I had nothing to wear. I don’t know how that happens all of a sudden…usually it’s because I gained weight. First the answer to “Should I buy now or wait?” in that scenario is you wait thinking you can lose that extra weight. Then one day you just say…this isn’t working…I need to go buy some bigger clothes.

Often people need to buy a house because they have “outgrown” their current home the same way that I outgrow my clothes. Every day that you live with something substandard to your needs, is really a day wasted, isn’t it? If you are having another child, and you are uncomfortable with the size of where you live without that new person…well, you can’t wait until the child is born and moves out really. So it’s time to go look for that bigger place. Not necessarily buy it…but yes, time to go looking for something you may buy.

I use having a child as an analogy, and it is very common for people to need a bigger place because the woman is with child, or because a couple decides it’s time to start having children. But the need for a bigger place can be because of other every day needs that just don’t fit where you are.

If you already own a home, waiting is almost never the answer. The value of what you have will often move to the same degree as what you are going to buy. If prices go down 5% in the interim and you own a $450,000 home and plan to buy a $600,000 home, you will lose $22,500 while waiting to save $30,000. For the move up buyer, waiting is almost never the answer unless the family is willing to sell…rent…wait…then buy, which is not the usual scenario. Happens…but not often. Usually because what is available to rent is substandard to what they already have…so they might as well bite the bullet…or wait. The extra move in between is rarely worth it. Sometimes…yes. Often…no.

The decision for the First Time Buyer is not as difficult as people may think. One of my favorite lines from my son-in-law Mike is “Mom, if THIS is what I can afford to buy…I’d rather rent for the rest of my life.” Gotta love that Mike. Straight forward, common sense decision.

The first stage of “Buy or Wait?” is to go find out what you CAN buy for what you can afford…THEN…take a step back and say “should I buy or wait?”

I’m revisiting a decision of one of my clients from 18 months ago. I know there are many news stories saying prices have changed a lot since my bottom call of February 2009…but really, that’s not the case. Not for good homes in prime neighborhoods on The Eastside. Maybe not at all, given Aubrey Cohen’s most recent article, the title of which is pretty much a direct quote from his article on me in early 2009. So it apparently still applies today.

Back to my clients who first approached me…sorting back through 260 emails to find the first one…here it is:

3/18/2010″ “My wife and I are looking at purchasing our first house, and we’d like you to be our agent…do you think now would be a reasonable time for us to buy? I saw in your latest post that you expect the prices to drop. How much do you expect them to drop? ”

Given I don’t think this year is really any different than last year, let’s check that against reality.

1) We looked at houses priced at around $450,000. There were a few that “would do”…but based on those particular houses, I saw no reason to buy now vs wait, unless they were willing to consider as far out as Issaquah vs Kirkland, Redmond or Bellevue near Microsoft.

We looked at homes for as long as it took to gather enough information to answer the question “Buy or Wait?” That takes shorter or longer for different people…and is largely dependent on the available inventory during the period of time.

2) On 4/23/2010 We had a breakfast meeting at the Brown Bag. Basically we looked at all of the options for about 30 days and then had a “Buy or Wait” meeting. One thing about real estate that people often miss as to Why You May Need An Agent is the perspective of my TWO clients was not the same. I remember the wife…due to have her baby in July…saying ideally she would like to be in a home by June. The husband finished her sentence with “…or July, or August…or next year…”

3) Given the husband and wife were not necessarily in total agreement there, not arguing…but not necessarily “on the same page” either, I asked to visit them where they were currently living. I don’t often do that when someone is in a rental…but I needed to test “by June” against “…or July, or August…or next year…”.

When I visited them in their small apartment and they showed me the dresser drawer where the baby would go IF they Waited…vs Buying now…the answer to “Buy or Wait” became CRYSTAL CLEAR!

So with renewed motivation and a price of $550,000 vs $450,000 we found “the home” for them to buy and made the offer on 4/26…only THREE DAYS from our “Buy or Wait” meeting. They closed on 6/10 as it was a somewhat difficult Bank Owned property.

Now…let’s revisit my client’s Buy or Wait decision and second guess it based on what has happened since.

They paid $550,000, 1.1 X Assessed Value (a green price in a blue area). They paid $215 per square foot. Now let’s look at what has sold there since they purchased a little over a year ago.

First, the other one on market at the time they purchased: Closed 5/29/2010 – just before their closing – sold for $587,000 – just over their max of $550,000. Multiple offers…they couldn’t make an offer on it due to price. It was assessed for slightly less (only $4,000) was smaller at 2,460 sf vs 2,550 sf. So even though the bank owned sale was troublesome…worth the effort. Not a huge savings…no “deep” discount for the bank owned home they purchased…but enough of a discount to make it a good “Buy Now vs Wait” option for them.

Recent Sale in Same Neighborhood: Sold in 9 days for $602,000 on June 8,2011 – assessed for $8,000 less than the one my clients bought last year – Sold for $244 per square foot vs the $215 per square foot my clients paid last year. It didn’t have anything better than the one my clients bought. It needs a new roof, does not have granite counters, needs the carpet replaced with hardwood floors in the living room and dining room…nothing more for that $244 per square foot vs the $215 per square foot my clients paid in June of 2010.

One house did recently sell for $540,000…but it backed up to Avondale Road…so…the relationship to assessed value and price per square foot is a non-issue, given backing up to Avondale Road is not “a comp”. Given they paid only $10,000 more for a house last year that is NOT backing up to Avondale Road…I’d say the Buy vs Wait decision has withstood the test of time.

One might say they could have waited 3 years or 5 years…well, we’ll look back on that in 3 years or 5 years…but the reality for most people is “Buy vs Wait” is usually a question with a max timeframe of a year to 18 months…not wait for 3 to 5 years.

Buy now or wait until next year…in Jan of 2008 = wait until next year. But since Feb of 2009…wait is not likely the answer…but buy WHAT is a huge question? Follow the process I have outlined in my 1), 2) & 3) up there…and you will find your best answer to that question for your family.

Buying a Bank-Owned Home? Ball’s in YOUR Court!

Interestingly, the very same day that Craig wrote his post on assisting a buyer with a bank-owned purchase, I was closing on a very similar transaction.

One difference…mine closed. 🙂

It was even the same servicing company (so possibly and even probably the same bank-owner-seller), and also an FHA loan like Craig’s transaction. Two hurdles that Craig’s transaction may or may not have had was there were multiple offers (hard to win multiple offers if you are the only FHA buyer in the room) and the buyer’s lender at the last minute required that a new roof be put on the house, prior to closing, on a house that was only 14 years old.

I have to agree with Craig, it was absolutely grueling. It’s like being Ray Allen playing against the Lakers, but there is no one else on the Court except Ray!There were too many cooks in the kitchen on the seller side, and it was almost as if they wanted you to be late and wanted the transaction to fail. At the point where the buyer’s lender wanted a new roof on the house prior to closing, I honestly think the seller wanted to move to the back up buyer AND keep my client’s Earnest Money AND collect a $100 per day per diem for as many days as possible running through the Memorial Day weekend and beyond. This is why the SELLER should NEVER be ALLOWED to choose escrow! Somebody wise up and make a law about that!

Think about it. If escrow doesn’t close on time on a bank-owned…who suffers? Buyer can lose their Earnest Money. Buyer can pay $100 per day for every day that it is late (to the seller). So how can the seller be the one who chooses escrow, when the buyer is the one with so much at stake, and the seller with everything to gain if the buyer is late?

Of course my buyer clients did close. My buyer did not close on time BUT he also paid ZERO in per diem costs because I forced the seller’s hand to the point that they were in breach. This is not the first time I have done this with a bank owned, but it takes every ounce of my time and energy for days on end. You have to have your wits about you, stay on your toes, and play every single second, day after day, with the devotion of a Ray Allen or Rondo watching every single move and being always on top of your game. One false move…one split second of incorrect decision, is the difference between the client’s success and failure.

In this corner…the seller side…we have:

Agent for seller…Assistant for agent for seller…off-site transaction coordinator for agent for seller – Escrow Company chosen by seller with TWO closing agents, one working only on the seller side and one working only for the buyer side. FIVE layers before you even get near who the seller is, and the seller has at least a few people in between all those people and the actual selling entity/bank.

…and in this corner we have…ARDELL LOL! Kim and Amy helped do a few end runs on what the buyer was doing AT the house, like choosing new hardwood and getting estimates from painters, etc. I handled the contractual and escrow problems and the buyer’s lender issues…including lender wanting a roof ON the house prior to closing. Trust me, it is no easy feat to put a quality roof on quickly on someone else’s house without their permission. …and of course…then the rain came… If we were not ready to close the buyer would have lost his $10,000 Earnest Money and/or all those many days over the very long holiday weekend in per diem fees.

Like Craig, I can’t give a true blow by blow…but it closed and my buyer clients got the house at roughly $50,000 less than the house around the corner in the same neighborhood, that closed at roughly the same time. It was imperative that THIS be the house, as they maxed out at a price just short of what it would cost for all the things they wanted in a home, school and neighborhood. So a bank-owned was likely the ONLY way for them to get all of those things because of the bank-owned discount.

So yes…for many clients, buying a bank-owned is not only best…but sometimes the ONLY way for them to achieve their goal. The number one thing to remember to be successful in a bank owned transaction is The Ball Is ALWAYS In YOUR Court! You cannot wait ONE SECOND for the other side to do what they are supposed to do. You must do their work…yes they were the ones who needed an extension, but if I did not keep writing the addendums, because it was “their job” and not mine, it never would have closed! I had to do that three times. Banks NEVER answer…they never signed the extensions until it closed…pretty much at the same time.

You cannot ask…you cannot wait for them to answer…you cannot expect them to do what they are supposed to do. You have to run that ball across the Court like you are the only one in the room with the power to make it happen! You can’t worry about what’s fair and not fair…you just have to get it done and do everyone’s work , and figure out who has the authority to move it forward and who does not.

In my case the buyer also had all kinds of things besides dealing with the seller side that made it many times harder, even if it were not a bank-owned transaction. That was a bit distracting. But at the end of the day…it was all worth it, because I truly believe I could not easily find a replacement property for those clients in their price range. THAT is why you do a bank owned…because the discounted price makes it the BEST house for that client…and possibly the only one they can afford that fits their parameters. …and, of course, they also got the $8,000 tax credit on top of that. A grueling work load and struggle…but well worth it.

You don’t do it ONLY for the “bargain” of it…you do it because it is the very BEST house for them.

Similar story: Truliaboy gets his house and a puppy.

Buyer Beware – “great deals” may come with other “issues”

big new houseWhen you get the opportunity to buy a house “worth” over a million dollars, for fifty to seventy cents on the dollar, you have to ask yourself if you can “afford” it before you say WooHoo!

#1 –  Real Estate Taxes may be too high

Often people ask why so many pending sales don’t close.  There are many reasons, one of which is that lender pre-approvals show a purchase price vs. a monthly payment.  Reality is that your lender is NOT qualifying you for a purchase price, but for some reason they think it is easier for you to understand a price vs. a monthly payment. They then make assumptions as to other costs, and convert their communication to you, the agents and the seller, to a Purchase Price. (This was not so when I started in real estate, and someone should change that.)

So you have a pre-approval to buy a house for $650,000 with a 20% downpayment.  What that really means is the lender “assumed” taxes of approximately $6,500 a year and homeowner’s insurance of $650 a year. Now you go out and find an amazing, super-great deal! You have the opportunity to buy a house assessed at $1.2 million for “only” $650,000! WooHoo? Maybe not.  The annual real estate taxes are $11,000 a year vs. $6,500 a year and the homeowner’s insurance is $1,100 vs. $650. That means your monthly payment is $412.50 more each month for that particular “$650,000 house”, than your lender assumed when you were pre-approved.

Your income needs to be $15,000 to $18,000 more per year, for you to be able to afford that particular $650,000 house.

There are two possible consequences. One is that the loan will “kick out” early enough for you to get your Earnest Money returned, assuming you have a good Finance Contingency. The other is that you planned to buy with a payment of  $3,400 a month, but end up being approved for a payment of $3,800 a month, with no recourse.

It’s possible that you could appeal the assessed value with the County, but I’m not hopeful that will work this year. I clearly wouldn’t recommend anyone promising you can have the taxes reduced to a level commensurate with the lower Purchase Price,  unless you are buying in California. In King County Washington this is NOT a good year to bet that you can prove that the purchase price of $650,000 is a good reason for the County to lower your assessed value of record. Nor is it a good year to think that lower assessed value will equal lower taxes. The County has already notified owners that they are dramatically reducing assessed values (not taxes). 2010 is a particularly bad year to rely on being able to get that tax bill dramatically reduced, in my opinion.

The only sure course is if the bank-owner would have the assessment and taxes reduced prior to sale, in order to obtain a buyer for that home. But I strongly doubt that will happen. Anyone who can’t afford the $11,000 tax bill that comes with that “great deal”, should not be buying that house.

 

#2 – The “carrying costs” may be too high

When a lender pre-approves you for a Purchase Price of $650,000, they do not consider annual use and maintenance costs. Unlike real estate taxes and homeowner’s/hazard insurance, the lender makes no assumptions as to utility bills and other maintenance and repair/replacement costs. In King County a $650,000 house is generally about 2,900 square feet. A house for $1.2M is usually about 4,400 square feet, and often on a much larger lot.

Before you buy that 4,400 sf home on an acre+ lot for $650,000, instead of a 2,900 sf home on 1/4 acre, be mindful of the extra cost to heat and maintain that larger home on that larger lot, in good condition, over a period of years.

 

#3 – Cheaper, bank-owned, new construction may not be “complete”

Most recently we are seeing builders losing their construction projects to the bank. The bank then puts the house on market “as-is”.  Yes, the prices can be awesome! But will your lender finance the “new home” without it being completed? There are programs available to provide funds for purchase and rehab or completion, but are you ready to be your own “general contractor”? Even if you think you can handle it, will the new lender allow you to be your own “general contractor”?

Again, two possible consequences. One is you don’t qualify for the new financing, including cost to complete the home. Again, hopefully that consequence “kicks in” early enough for you to get your Earnest Money back under the Finance Contingency. Another possibility is that the things that need to be completed do not cause the sale to fail, but you end up with a house like the one pictured above. No landscaping, temporary construction fences or barriers, no garage doors…and no money to comply with the neighborhood rules to get your new home in good order in the timeframe required by the CC&Rs.

Once you enter into a Contract to Purchase, you may not be protected against “biting off more than you can chew”. Before you enter into a contract to purchase that “screaming deal”, make sure you can handle all the “issues” that come with.

Notice of Trustee Sales v. Trustee Deeds

Each month, Alan from Seattle Bubble religiously posts the Notice of Trustee Sale (NTS) numbers for King County. I’m very appreciative of his work because it saves me time each month so thanks again, Alan.  Cruising SB last night, I found Alan’s numbers alarming for June:  1615 NTS were filed.  Here are more numbers from Alan:

King County Notice of Trustee Sales

6/2009 – 1615
6/2008 – 576
6/2007 – 304
6/2006 – 299

180% YOY (280% of last year)

The last few months:
6/2009 – 1615
5/2009 – 992
4/2009 – 938
3/2009: 1089
2/2009: 838
1/2009: 909
12/2008: 660
11/2008: 540
10/2008: 643
9/2008: 607
8/2008: 575
7/2008: 728

If we’re seeing 180% increase year over year with notice of trustee sale filings, then where are the REOs? Well as it turns out, if you compare the trustee deed filings for the same month, you’ll see that a low percentage of Notice of Trustee Sales actually go all the way through the auction process. Here’s comparison data courtesy of Jess and Julie Lyda, which gives us a visual comparing NTS v. Trustee Deeds, which means title changed hands from the owner in default to a new owner. That new owner could be the bank/lender or someone who was the high bidder at the trustee sale. Here’s a link to a larger image of the graph.

So what assumptions can we make given facts that we already know? We already know that banks and lenders are postponing the majority of trustee sales in King County. We don’t have any data as to how long postponements are lasting.  If a homeowner is trying for a short sale or loan modification, we do know that the average wait time for banks to process these requests could easily be months based on nationwide reports from Realtors, home buyers and homeowners.  We also know that there are many banks who have turned into zombies, waiting for their number to be called and the regulators to show up on a Friday afternoon.  Postponing the losses from a foreclosure means the bankers can collect a paycheck for a few more months.

We also know that 50% of all loan modifications re-default by the 6 month mark. This pushes the foreclosure out longer and increases the overall losses to the bank/lender.  Another assumption we can make comparing data from Alan and Julie is that hundreds of REOs will be coming back on the market each month, which will put further pressure on home values.  Prime delinquencies are starting to surge and so are delinquencies in the upper home price ranges.

With what we know, home values will continue to feel pressure from many angles including higher inventory levels, continued tightening of underwriting guidelines, the lower prices of REO resales and short sales.

More on home price declines:

House Prices: The Long Tail from Calculated Risk
Case Shiller: Anemic Spring Bounce in April from Seattle Bubble
CR explains the difference between a bottom in housing starts and new construction homes and a bottom in residential resale homes in this post; Housing: Two Bottoms.

Why are Banks Setting the Opening Auction Bid Below The Principal Balance?

I attended a foreclosure auction in Bellevue, WA last week to discover if the rumor was true that banks are opening their bids below the amount owed.  I received confirmation from three professional investors that yes, the banks have been doing that, it’s no secret, and there seems to be no discernable pattern.  It’s not one particular bank or lender, it’s not particular types of property or in any specific area. It appears to be random.

In addition to the 92 active trustee sales scheduled for that day in Bellevue (auctions were also going on in other King County locations,) there were 81 postponements.  Only a few of the trustee sales attracted bidders, and the rest were deeded back to the bank.  Out of the 92 active sales, 25 had opening bids below the amount owed to the bank.

Why would a bank or lender set their opening bid below the amount owed?

Banks and lenders have duties to their shareholders and investors to maximize profits and miminize losses (well, at least they use to.) If opening bids are set LOWER than what’s owed, perhaps the banks have already tallied their losses, realized that if they had to take back the house, get it cleaned out and cleaned up for resale, pay a real estate agent their commission to sell it, pay for title, escrow, excise tax, utilities, and any other carrying costs,  they might as well sell it at a discount at auction.  But maybe there are other reasons.  I wondered if the banks were trying to keep more REO inventory off the market in an attempt to prop up home values for their existing REO inventory.  Maybe appraisers can ignore trustee sale prices in their reports.  Not knowing the answer, I emailed three appraisers for help and here’s what I learned:  Appraisers need to mention trustee sales in the neighborhood if these trustee sales make up a significant percentage of available comps because they are legitimate sales even though title is transferred using a trustee deed instead of a warranty deed.  If an appraiser choses to ignore these, he/she will run the risk of having the appraisal run through an “enhanced review” process in order to catch trustee sale market activity.  If a trustee sale is a significant comparable sale, it can be used. The requirement to use closely comparable trustee sales as comps can also vary based on the requirement of the lender and investor.  It may not be absolutely required but it may be in the appraisers best interest to mention trustee sales. Thanks to Jonathan Miller, Shane Leady and Richard Hagar for teaching me something new today.

That still doesn’t explain the phenomenon of banks undercutting their own principal balances at the auction.  My theory is that banks are relying on third party information such as a mini appraisal or Broker Price Opinion (BPO) prior to auction.  If the BPO suggests that the outstanding principal balance is so high and out of range as to likely attract no bidders at auction, then the banks have nothing to lose by setting the opening bid closer to or significantly lower than the principal balance owed.  If no one bids at auction, they’re still only out the money they would have been out anyways and on the upside, if the low opening bid attracts investors, then perhaps the bidding will rise closer to the payoff.  If not, they have an immediate loss that could be significantly LESS than losses that would add up over time, having to carry the REO on its books for months of marketing time in addition to the other costs mentioned above.

If banks are undercutting their own payoffs, then why isn’t this phenomenon more widely publicized?  Okay, so we know that bidding on a home at a trustee sale is too frightening for most first time homebuyers but still, if more people know about this, then maybe there would be more folks showing up at the trustee sales and bidding those homes UP, thereby reducing the banks losses.  There certainly is NO shortage of tall, well-groomed, good looking, muscular investor gurus in shorts showing off tanned legs, even though it was only 63 degrees outside hanging out at foreclosure auctions with all kinds of downpayment solutions to offer newby real estate investors:  “We have zero down financing available for the right investor!” and “We have private hard money financing available for your purchase and you can refinance out of that loan in 30 days….My mortgage broker is right here, let me introduce you to her.”

Maybe the banks aren’t publicizing their low bids because they don’t want to bring buyer attention away from purchasing their REOs or short sales, knowing that investors are the ones who typically show up at the auction anyways.  The banks also have a vested interest in keeping traditional buyers focused on MLS listings. 

If I owned stock in a bank or lender that was undercutting their own payoff at auction, I’d want to be darn sure that this practice was saving the bank money and not hiding something else such as higher losses to be pushed on into the next earnings report…or the next stress test.


Foreclosure Auction Video Part 1
April 24, 2009
Bellevue, WA
Here is the rest of the auction.
Special thanks to Phil Leng for introducing me to all the investor bidders.

Short Sales and REOs to Finally Become a Search Field in the NWMLS

Courtney Cooper broke the news on Easter.  The Northwest MLS has voted to add a required field: “Third Party Approval Required” and “Bank/REO Owned.” From the NWMLS (no link): 
 
“NWMLS is excited to announce two new required fields; “3rd Party Approval Required