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Recent Reports Show U.S. Foreclosures Trending Downward from 2019

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Despite the fact that many Americans have struggled financially as a result of the pandemic and subsequent shut downs that led to layoffs and business closures, foreclosures in the first quarter of 2020 declined almost 10% from the previous year.  Specifically, home mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who entered into a conservatorship and have been working to implement foreclosure prevention.

While third-party foreclosures as well as foreclosure starts both saw drops in numbers in comparison to the first quarter of 2019, the number of forbearance plans rose from less than 7,000 in the first quarter of 2019 to over 170,000 in the first quarter of 2020.  Additional efforts to keep Americans in their homes and avoid foreclosure include loan modifications where homeowners have received lower monthly payments, principal forgiveness or extended term modifications.

According to an article published by DSNews.com, reported by Krista F. Brock, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, “Since entering conservatorship, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have completed 4.4 million foreclosure prevention efforts, with 3.7 million homeowners able to retain their homes as a result.”   The efforts are resulting in positive numbers with regards to loan performance as well.  The number of loans, according to the FHFA’s Report, between 60 and 90 days delinquent are showing slight declines from the end of 2019.

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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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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 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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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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