The share of distressed sales in May, that is foreclosed properties and short sales (when the property is sold for less than the value of the loan), fell to 31 percent of all sales from 37 percent in April. Investors, who purchase a large share of these distressed properties, also represented a smaller share in May. So what's going on?
We know there is still a huge supply of bank owned (REO) properties, and we also know that banks are pushing short sales on many more properties than ever before. But they are also pushing REO sales, thanks to new sales incentives from lenders and the GSE's (Government-Sponsored Enterprises).
"Realtors and mortgage loan officers nationwide are driving mid-to-high end organic, short and distressed sales on the fear that buyers will be unable to qualify for loans once the QRM (Qualified Residential Mortgage) rules are in place requiring 20 percent down," says mortgage market analyst Mark Hanson, describing new rules being considered for risk retention by banks (part of the banking overhaul legislation passed last summer).
Some bloggers though, writing in to me after the existing home sales report, claimed that Fannie and Freddie are holding on to REOs, trying to game home prices. Fannie strongly disputes that.
"Fannie Mae doesn't have a shadow inventory of REO properties that are available to be sold. As soon as we acquire a property, we quickly identify a market competitive price, determine whether to make any necessary repairs and list the property. In the first three months of 2011, we sold a record number of REO properties, selling more properties than we acquired," said Amy Bonitatibus, Fannie Mae spokeswoman.
"We watch taxpayer dollars like it's our own money. We have an immense responsibility to get the most possible value from each REO property we sell. We are committed to stabilizing neighborhoods and preserving communities across the country," she added.
In fact, Fannie Mae recently launched another program of financial incentives to Realtors to sell REO properties. A note from analysts at Goldman Sachs, titled Foreclosure Sales: Federally Backed Lenders Shifting to Net Sellers, states:
"Although these entities could hold property off the market to reduce the negative effects of distressed properties on house prices, they do not appear to be doing so...in Q1 the GSEs and FHA became net suppliers of foreclosed properties to the market for the first time since 2009. Moreover, if the temporary slowdown in REO sales over the last two quarters ends, the federal entities seem likely to add roughly 30 percent to the sales of fore loses property over the next year as compared with the previous four quarters."
Bottom line, in order for this housing market to recover, the distressed properties need to go, whether by short sales or REO sales. The distress is driving the fear, which in turn keeps buyers on the sidelines. We need investors, and we need first time buyers, and I will say it until I'm blue in the face: These buyers need better access to credit.