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Positive Trends in Home Purchases are Encouraging to Real Estate Professionals

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Across the country, Americans have been sheltering in place and practicing social distancing in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19.  Many normal activities have been modified or even put on hold.  With the slow reopening of the country, many potential home buyers have emerged and seem to be ready to take the leap into home ownership.

Mortgage applications, according to an article published by CNBC.com, rose for the fourth consecutive week, up by an encouraging 11 percent.  Despite the fact that, overall, mortgage applications are still about 10 percent lower than they were this time in 2019, it appears the gap is closing.

The article, written by Ty Wright, quotes MBA economist Joel Kan, ‘”We expect this positive purchase trend to continue — at varying rates across the country — as states gradually loosen social distancing measures, and some of the pent-up demand for housing returns in what is typically the final weeks of the spring home buying season.”’

Despite the fact that refinance applications have been on the decline, after a very busy early spring, it appears home purchases may fill that gap. In fact, according to the article, mortgage applications are up pretty significantly, “New York led the purchase demand with a 14% jump in those applications. Illinois, Florida, Georgia, California and North Carolina also had double-digit increases last week.” It seems buyers, anxious to return to some normal life activities and move forward with purchasing their first or next home, are encouraged by mortgage rates that are still below 3.5% for a 30 year period.

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How Will Housing Prices Be Affected by COVID-19?

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It may not come as a surprise to read that the housing market has been affected by the COVID-19, but many home owners and potential buyers may be curious what experts think the future holds for this year’s real estate market.

As stay at home restrictions coupled with fears of the spread of the pandemic began in March, pending sales on homes took a direct hit.  In fact, they fell 20.8% in comparison to February.  According to an article published by CNBC.com, the housing market had already been impacted by a shortage of homes for sale.  As the news and impact of COVID-19 settled in, the shortage became more drastic as owners decided not to list and some homes were actually de-listed. 

However, experts believe, according to this piece written by Justin Sullivan, that this impact should turn around.  Quoting Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, “The housing market is temporarily grappling with the coronavirus-induced shutdown, which pulled down new listings and new contracts. As consumers become more accustomed to social distancing protocols, and with the economy slowly and safely reopening, listings and buying activity will resume, especially given the record low mortgage rates.”

After 5 weeks of decreasing mortgage applications, there was recently a double digit rise in mortgage applications.  And, although the home sales may be low for the year, home prices should not be impacted.  The fact that there is still a shortage of homes and the mortgage rates are low enough to attract buyers, prices could see some significant increases.

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How Will Homeowners Be Expected Pay Back Paused Mortgage Payments?

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As American homeowners suffer economic losses due to the global pandemic, mortgage companies allowed their borrowers to pause their mortgage payments, also known as forbearance.  This offers some relief and peace of mind to homeowners struggling to pay their monthly bills due to job loss or a reduction of pay.

However, in recent weeks, incorrect or misinterpreted information has caused some homeowners to panic, believing that once the forbearance period comes to an end, they will be expected to pay their missed mortgage payments back in a lump sum.  An article published by HousingWire.com sets the record straight.

The article, written by Ben Lane, indicates “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac each issued a statement Monday, reiterating that borrowers are not required to repay their missed payments all at once when their forbearance period ends.” Additionally, Lane quotes the Federal Housing Agency Director, ‘“During this national health emergency, no one should be worried about losing their home,” FHFA Director Mark Calabria said in a statement. “No lump sum is required at the end of a borrower’s forbearance plan for Enterprise-backed mortgages.”’

Its important for borrowers and lenders to understand and communicate the next steps and what will be expected of the borrower once the forbearance period comes to an end.  Many lenders will offer a repayment plan, a payment deferral or a modification of the loan.  The borrower should reach out directly to their lender and discuss the details of these next steps.

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How is COVID-19 Impacting Real Estate Sales?

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The impacts of COVID-19 are far-reaching and include not just health concerns, but concerns about jobs and the economy.  An obvious result of the turbulent economy and the alarming rate Americans are losing their jobs is a down turn in the real estate market. 

According to an article published by Market Watch, “…the rapid rise in unemployment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying stay-at-home orders will curtail many Americans’ ability to afford a purchase as big as a home”, states reporter Jacob Passy.  Further, sellers are more hesitant to put their homes on the markets due to uncertainty about pricing and the desire to avoid strangers from entering their homes unnecessarily.As a result, Fannie Mae projects that home sales will fall by almost 15% in 2020. 

Yet, this doesn’t necessarily translate to bad news the prices of homes.  Fannie Mae still expects the median prices of homes to rise for both existing and new homes.  Further, the article states, “The mortgage giant currently expects the U.S. economy and home sales both to rebound in 2021. But that rebound is contingent on the pandemic’s trajectory.” 

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Why is Real Estate an Essential Business?

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As the nation, and most of the world, cope with the spread of COVID-19, many have been asked to stay at home, except to perform essential business.  As a result, many businesses have been required to close their doors for the time being, deemed “non-essential”.  However, a number of industries have been designated “essential businesses”, and, therefore, continue to operate.  One of these essential industries is real estate. 

Forbes published an article written by Dima Williams.  ““Life’s basic needs are food, water and a roof over your head, which makes real estate an essential service,” Florida Realtors, that state’s largest trade association, wrote late last month’, Williams writes. Many aspects of the real estate industry are deemed essential such as settlement services; staff that perform title search, notary and recording services for real estate transactions; leasing of residential properties; property management and maintenance; and construction. 

Despite the fact that life seems to be “on hold” for many people and businesses, the fact is that many life changes continue to occur during the pandemic.  This includes people needing to find housing due to homes being sold and landlords providing notices.  Nevertheless, the method in which these aspects of real estate continue to be executed may have changed a bit.  For example, appraisers may complete a “drive by” appraisal, home buyers view homes via virtual tours and when a home is sold, it may be completed via a “drive thru closing”.  

Its clear that important work continues to be done by these professionals, helping bring some glimpse of normalcy to the professionals as well as the clients that need them.

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How Would a Recession Affect the Housing Market?

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The stock market has taken some big hits over the past weeks as a result of the global pandemic of COVID-19.  Many Americans are wondering if the next recession is around the corner.  Some may be wondering if the housing market will also see declines that parallel stock market drops.

MarketWatch.com published an article, written by Jacob Passy, that may put real estate owners at ease when it comes to the value of their property. According to the article, experts don’t necessarily believe that a potential recession will significantly impact the housing market.  “While the housing crisis is still fresh on the minds of many, and was the catalyst of the Great Recession, the U.S. housing market has weathered all other recessions since 1980,” wrote Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist at First American and the report’s author. “In fact, the housing market may actually aid the economy in recovering from the next recession — a role it has traditionally played in previous economic recoveries.”

Nevertheless, homeowners should stay informed and aware of the climate of the economy because different economic factors can have an impact on the housing market.  As we see declines in the stock market, consumers may feel more hesitant to move forward with a home purchase, therefore impacting home sales.  Another economic change that could influence the real estate market are the loss of jobs.  Increased unemployment could, in turn, lead to foreclosures if the homeowner can’t keep up with their mortgage payments.  Foreclosures, according to the article, “can have a ripple effect through a local market, causing other homes to drop in value. “

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How Does the Shelter-in-Place Order Affect Your Real Estate Transaction?

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On Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 5:00 p.m., Governor, J.B. Pritzker issued a public order (“Order”) directing Illinois residents to shelter-in-place. The shelter-in-place is, for now, effective through April 7, 2020. During this time frame, how is your real estate transaction going to be affected?

The short answer is that real estate transactions will proceed as planned. Under the Order, there are several exceptions or permissible activities that may still be performed. These are called “Essential Businesses and Operations.” Under this category, Financial Institutions (i.e. banks, title companies) and Professional Services (i.e. legal services, accounting, appraisals) are allowed to continue operating. As such, real estate transactions can proceed as planned and deals can still close during this period.

However, as an added precaution and based on recommendations from the title companies in our area, the following procedures will be followed:

Cash Transactions

All cash transactions will be closed electronically via e-mail and/or DocuSign. Any funds to be provided at the closing will need to be sent via wire transfer to the title company. Documents required by the title company to be an original (i.e. Deed) should be dropped off or sent via overnight courier to the title company prior to closing. Once the transaction has concluded, copies of the pertinent documents will be sent via overnight delivery to all parties. Any proceeds due will either be wired or a check sent via overnight delivery. There is also the option to pick up your documents and check at the title company. 

Transaction with a Lender

Seller(s): It is very common for sellers to sign their closing documents in advance, give their attorney a power of attorney for closing day and not attend the closing.  Our office has always offered this service and will continue to do so during this time period.  Moreover, title companies are encouraging sellers not attend closing and send their documentation prior to closing.  Therefore, for our seller clients, our office will coordinate with you to get your signature on the necessary documents in advance of closing.  The few documents requiring signing on the day of closing we will execute on your behalf under a power of attorney.

Once the transaction has concluded, copies of the pertinent documents will be sent via overnight delivery to all parties. Any proceeds due will either be wired or a check sent via overnight delivery. There is also the option to pick up your documents and check at the title company.  

Buyer(s): Due to the fact that many loan documents are required to be wet signed and notarized, buyers must still attend the closing. Title companies are requesting that only the buyers required to sign the loan documents and their attorney attend the closing, so as to limit the number of people at the title company. The title companies have implemented some safety measures to ensure a safe and clean environment.  All closing rooms will be cleaned with disinfectant after every closing. The pens used will be new and disposed of after closing.  Also, they will limit the number of people allowed in the facility and practice social distancing recommendations when possible.  Some title companies are also offering drive by closings, where buyers can pull up, sign the documents in their car, and hand them back to the title representative. 

Once the transaction has concluded, copies of the pertinent documents will be sent via overnight delivery to all parties. Any proceeds due will either be wired or a check sent via overnight delivery. There is also the option to pick up your documents and check at the title company if you choose to wait after signing.

Conclusion

In short, your real estate transaction should proceed as planned with just some slight modifications for the closing. Lenders, attorneys and title companies are still working during the shelter-in-place period. Fournier Law Firm, Ltd. is committed to assisting our clients in making your closing as smooth as possible. As your closing nears, our office will be in contact with you to coordinate the necessary steps to get your deal closed.

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Buyers, Sellers and Realtors Responding to COVID-19

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The real estate market, like most areas of business world-wide, are adjusting to social distancing recommendations while trying to anticipate how the global pandemic will affect the economics of their business.

Economically, the mortgage rates are still low which, normally, would result in more buyers looking to secure a low rate and purchase a home.  However, the economic uncertainty might keep some buyers from moving forward with a large purchase such as a home, and may keep sellers from listing their home if not necessary.

An article published by OCRegister.com indicates that some areas of the country are already seeing how the concerns about the economy are impacting both sellers’ and buyers’ decisions.  “I am hearing (of) buyers and sellers cancel (deals) due to fear of job security and, really, just the unknown,” said Dilbeck Real Estate agent Lisa Kaul from the Santa Clarita area. “One seller canceled their new purchase even though their home was already sold.”

Of course, there are plenty of homes on the real estate market and many buyers who are still planning on purchasing a new home.  However, the social distancing recommendations has impacted the way buyers are viewing homes for sale.  Many owners are asking that their realtor not hold open houses.  Guidelines for screening potential buyers for diseases, requiring those visiting homes to sanitize their hands are top discussions among sellers and their realtors.  In this age of technology, however, virtual tours are becoming more and more common and are an ideal alterntative.

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Will Coronavirus Affect the Real Estate Market?

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News of the coronavirus is a constant in all mainstream media lately.  Its impact is far reaching, not only as Americans and citizens of the world take precautions to stay healthy, but economically and on a global level.  As a result, last Tuesday, the Federal Reserve made a decision to make a rate cut, in anticipation of recession concerns.

According to a Realtor Magazine article published last week, the rate cut was significant, the largest one time cut since 2008.  The impact of this decision could, in time, affect the real estate markets.  According to Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors, “The real estate sector will hold up very well because of the rate cut. Hesitant home buyers will be enticed to take advantage of low interest rates. Commercial property prices will rise due to higher returns that can be had from the bond market after adjusting for risks.”

Some experts believe that rates which are now averaging 3.45% could drop even lower before the economy rebounds from the effects of coronavirus.  Mortgage rates low as 3% have not been ruled out by Rick Sharga, president and CEO or CJ Patrick Company.

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Photo Credit Sergio Santos

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Unmarried Couple Purchasing a Home? Important Conversations to Have Before Taking the Leap

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One of the biggest decisions adults will make in their lifetime involves purchasing a home.  It’s a long term commitment and, for many, one of the most expensive purchases they will make.  Another commitment a number of adults will make in their lifetime is to live with their significant other and purchase a home together.  Yet, it isn’t always a married couple that is deciding to make a home purchase together.  In fact, the number of unwed couples living together has increased almost 30% since 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to an article, published by Bankrate.com, there can be some considerations that unmarried couples should account for as they decide to purchase a home together since property laws don’t protect the individuals if the couple separates or one person passes away.  In the article, journalist Natalie Campisi states, “Because the law treats unmarried couples like individuals when it comes to assets like real estate, it’s up to the couple to write their own rules that will dictate how their property is handled in the event of separation or death.”

The article suggests couples agree to a “cohabitation property agreement” which touches on areas such as the percentage of the house each party owns, a buyout agreement, and exit strategy among others. It may be a difficult conversation to have in the midst of the excitement that comes along with an momentous life decision.  Yet, its financially wise to plan for the unexpected, even if it seems unlikely or impossible. 

Read the entire article for more tips and advice.

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