The California Association of Realtors released data on August pending and distressed home sales today — data that shows that the housing market in the Southland and elsewhere in the state is improving to the degree that a lack of housing inventory is becoming a problem.
This could ultimately be a good problem to have, if its spurs builders, such as L.A.-based KB Home, to start constructing new houses. KB beat earnings expectations last week and now seems to be pretty bullish on a housing recovery.
It's also good for sellers, as a shortage of supply is pushing prices up. It's worth noting that market is now clearing the overhang of distressed properties, a process that we've been waiting for particularly in hard-hit California. As you can see from the charts above, distressed sales — short sales and foreclosed properties, or "REOs" ("real estate owned") — have been falling year-over-year and month-over-month is Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.
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Well, this is interesting. The Federal Reserve has produced a white paper that tackles the Very Big Problem of the ongoing housing crisis and submitted it to Congress. It's a veritable treasure trove of clear-eyed analysis about why the housing market is still in such rotten shape. But beyond that, it offers a suite of equally clear-eyed ways to fix the problem.
One of these is particularly intriguing: taking foreclosed properties and, instead of trying to sell them to new homeowners — which requires mortgage financing which isn't now widely available to any but the most creditworthy borrowers — turning them into rentals. And who will do the renting? Real estate investors are the secret sauce (just a bit of translation: "REO" means "real estate owned," i.e. foreclosures):
To date, REO holders have avoided selling properties in bulk to third-party investors because the recoveries that REO holders receive on such sales are generally lower than the corresponding recoveries on sales to owner occupants. Investors considering such bulk-sale transactions tend to demand a higher risk premium than owner occupants and thus will purchase only at lower prices. Investors in such transactions also might have more difficulty obtaining debt financing than owner occupants. Although mortgage products are available for individual one- to four-family houses and for multifamily properties (albeit currently at tight terms), no mortgage products currently exist for a portfolio of single-family homes. [My emphasis] In addition, REO holders must absorb the costs of assembling inventory for bulk sale — that is, holding properties off the market until enough properties have been assembled to cover the fixed costs of a rental program. Until the inventory is assembled, the REO holder receives no revenue from the property but incurs direct financing costs; carrying costs such as taxes, utilities, and maintenance expenses; and the continued depreciation of the property.
An REO-to-rental program that relies on sales to third-party investors will be more viable if this cost-pricing differential can be narrowed. REO holders will likely get better pricing on these sales if the program is designed to be attractive to a wide variety of investors. Selling to third-party investors via competitive auction processes may also improve the loss recoveries.