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Amid the Pandemic, Mortgage Rates Set Records

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As residents of the U.S. sort through the many updates on the progress of containing the outbreak of COVID-19 cases, anxiously await news for a vaccine and patiently waiting to find out when life will return to some sense of normal, the U.S. economy fluctuates with the positive and not so encouraging updates.  Most recently, the news of the economic uncertainty due to the pandemic has impacted mortgage rates, yet again.

According to an article published by CNN, mortgage rates recently dropped below 3% for a 30 year mortgage.  This drop marked a 50 year record low for mortgage rates.  As a result, many home buyers, and those that were sitting on the fence debating purchasing a home, have decided that there’s no time like the present to make the move.  The demand for homes has increased, especially since the lower rates has allowed more prospective home buyers to afford homes that might have been just beyond their reach just a few short weeks ago.

However, just as the daily news cycle is filled with promise coupled with concerning medical and economic updates, the good news about rates is wrapped with a warning of what may be on the horizon.  Since the rise in coronavirus cases seems to be surging again, more job layoffs and even job losses could be inevitable.  Obviously, as unemployment rises, home buyers can be hesitant, if not unable, to purchase a home.

As the article quotes Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com, things could look up soon, “On the upside, signs of progress toward a coronavirus vaccine give hope that there’s a path to a new normal where health concerns don’t dominate decision making.”  We all hope that comes sooner rather than later.

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Is the Real Estate Market on Track for a Comeback?

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At first glance, reported home sale prices that only increased .5% year over year in May 2020 might appear to be disappointing news for real estate professionals and their customers.  However, according to an article published by Redfin.com, the slight gain was mostly impacted by the small number of homes selling in expensive U.S. cities.  Further, Redfin’s lead economist Taylor Marr sees some positive news based on other spring sales numbers, stating, “Although the housing market was still mostly stalled in May, it’s worth noting that homes under contract to be sold jumped 33% between April and May after two consecutive months of decline.  This is a key leading indicator for home sales in June and July. New listings of homes for sale have also likely passed their bottom…”

Nevertheless, the market still has a ways to go before it is back on track to performance during the pre-COVID-19 shut down.  Although all large metro areas in the U.S. have seen significant declines in home sales as compared to last spring, areas such as Michigan and Pennsylvania saw decreases of over 60%.  These are examples of a couple of states that were the most restrictive for staying at home during the pandemic’s initial outbreak.

Yet, good news appears to be on the horizon.  New listings, according to the article, increased almost 36% from April.  Additionally, days on the market and number of homes selling above list price remain positive, signs of a strong buyers’ market continued throughout the state wide shut downs, due to continued low inventory of homes and low mortgage rates.   

Read the entire article for more details and highlights across the nation’s metro areas.

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Will the Supply of Homes Catch Up with Increasing Demand?

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The global pandemic brought the U.S. real estate market to a screeching halt during the spring months of March and April.  With stay at home orders in place and uncertainty among Americans about the best ways to stay safe from the spread of COVID-19, many sellers decide to hold off or cancel listing their home for sale.  However, May has brought loosened restrictions for business and social interactions, leaving Americans feeling that it may be safer to resume some activities that had been put on the back-burner.  Specifically, Americans that want to purchase a new home are beginning to ramp up their search and even make offers to purchase homes.

However, the fact remains that the number of homeowners listing their homes had been steadily declining. And despite a small up-tick, the supply for homes continues to be low, down by almost 30% annually as of the first week of May.  Nevertheless, there is a significant number of potential home buyers that are looking to take advantage of low mortgage rates.  Not to mention, many Americans have spent more time in their current homes during stay at home orders, helping them realize they need a larger home, perhaps a home office or more outdoor space.  These factors have helped drive up the demand for homes in many parts of the U.S.

CNBC.com published an article by Diana Olick that describes a major uptick in bidding wars for homes as a result of the mismatched supply and demand.  In fact, the article says, “More than 41% of homes faced a bidding war in the four weeks ending May 10, according to Redfin.”  Realtors in areas such as Boston, San Francisco and Fort Worth, Texas, indicate that more than 60% of purchase offers are met with competition from other buyers.

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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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