Is Fannie Mae hurting the real estate market? Those following the practices of this government lending giant know that as of late, Fannie has been accused by many in the industry of price fixing and falsely inflating the real estate market. What is going on, and how can this happen at this time, after the housing market is finally on the road to recovery?
The majority of lenders and those who guaranty loans seem to be cooperating recently with foreclosure avoidance, opting for the less painful option of short sales. They claim that not only do they want to ease the homeowners’ pain, but that they do not have a desire to own property, and would rather take a loss sooner than have to go through the foreclosure process – one which has a hefty price tag.
There is one exception to this rule, and real estate agents are baffled. Fannie Mae – a government agency, who along with it’s cousin Freddie Mac guarantees and purchases loans, and owns or controls about 31 million U.S. mortgages – has been implementing some strategies lately that go against this notion, despite statements of intentions to help:
1. Price Fixing? One of the claims expressed most frequently as of late by real estate professionals is that Fannie is engaging in price fixing. Here’s how it works: instead of opting for short sales, it is choosing to proceed with foreclosures. Then, once the home is ready to list, it’s selected agents list the property for over comparative market value, under Fannie’s Homepath program. No appraisals are needed, as Fannie is the largest provider of mortgage credit. Buyers are jumping in and paying over market value for these properties, and are closing escrows.
Initially this looks like a win-win, as the buyers get their home and do not have to go through the appraisal process, and the area comps are raised with the closing of the property at a value higher than any other recent sales, thus increasing comps for the next seller. Sounds good, right? Not so fast.
The downside of this tactic is that the buyers are literally moving into their new homes as UNDERWATER homeowners. Their homes have no equity – they own the most expensive property in the neighborhood because Fannie has falsely inflated the home values. Appraisers will not look solely to the most expensive home that sold, but will include it with the other comps…thus leading to the next problem:
As a result, future sellers will not likely benefit from the most expensive neighborhood sales (for more on this click here.). Appraisers will include the most expensive sale in their analysis, but they will not focus solely on that one sale; thus the next home to sell, even in better condition and with more to offer, will be evaluated by appraisers based on the combination of recent sales. What seller in their right mind, who did not have to sell, would choose to do so in such a situation? This will keep homes off the market, sustaining low inventory levels.
2. Countering short sale offers at prices higher than comparable sold properties. Another tactic that is being used by Fannie when they DO agree to short sales, is to counter offers received higher than comparable sold properties. Again, this is crazy! These homes will not appraise, but still there are buyers willing – and doing it! – to pay cash over and above appraisal value in order to close escrow. Again, these new homeowners move into their homes in negative equity positions. This tactic also prices many homebuyers out of the market.
I’m not sure how to explain what is going on, but it scares me. Our market is healing right now, and if prices are falsely inflated and comparable sold properties ignored, we will see large market increases in short time periods. If you remember, this is what led to the last market crash. Please share your thoughts.