?Silent gratitude isn?t much use to anyone.?
~ Gladys Brown
Instead of using this space for ranting again about misguided efforts to regulate and stimulate the housing market, I want to say ?Thanks!?
September has been a terrific month for us at John Bethell Title Company, Inc. Record low mortgage interest rates (yet again) are producing robust order counts for the third straight month. This portends a successful fourth quarter for us and for all of you. Being busy is always the preferable alternative!
Our closing team grew in September with the addition of ten year finance industry veteran Liz Bunton as a transaction processor and the return of real estate closer Laura McKinney from maternity leave. We are now fully staffed and well prepared to handle the challenges of the latest refinance mania.
Two weeks ago we announced our acquisition of Best Title Company, LLC and the addition of Dan Stewart and Julie Vonderschmidt to our team. Dan will be our Senior Vice-President and Title Counsel. He will supervise the title department and join me and Kara Oltman on our leadership team. Julie will lend her well rounded experience to our client services team. Dan and Julie will be in our office starting Monday October 3rd.
On September 22nd we were honored to be named Business of Year (small business category) by the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. We always conduct our business in a manner that meets the needs of our clients with the highest degree of professionalism. This recognition by our peers in the Bloomington business community confirms to me that we not only meet that goal, but that our efforts are both noticed and appreciated.
The last three years has been one of the most challenging periods in the history of the real estate and mortgage finance business. Thank you to all of our clients, associates, business partners and friends for helping us not only survive these difficult times, but to prosper and grow. We are committed to meeting your changing needs and to providing you with the extraordinary title and closing service that you deserve.
This morning I read my weekly ?Outside the Box?newsletter from financial analyst John Mauldin. He discussed in some detail the history of the mortgage crisis and the benefits to the average citizen that refinancing would bring?especially the additional disposable income that could be spent and thus stimulate the economy. He pointed out that Fannie, Freddie, and the big institutional investors that own the existing mortgage backed paper do not want to see a surge in prepayments that could result from the Federal Reserve?s low interest rate policies. The investment losses from prepaying all those six percent mortgages they hold would be quite extraordinary. And since Fannie and Freddie are owned by us taxpayers, the bailout cost would increase dramatically. Mr. Mauldin quoted colleagues who went so far as to suggest that the tightened credit standards might be a premeditated way to control the rate of prepayments.
Policy makers, especially those up for re-election soon, feel the need to do something. And just as clearly Fannie, Freddie and the investment community want to avoid massive prepayments. I?m not certain how these competing interests will play out, but my vote would be to find a way to increase the availability of refinancing opportunities to more homeowners. The resulting lower payments would enable consumers to increase spending. This spending would stimulate the economy more than any other idea that?s been suggested.
?Three Rules of Work: Out of clutter find simplicity; from discord find harmony; in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.? ~ Albert Einstein
?During the last three years we?ve been introduced to many new concepts. Mortgage modifications, robo-signers, qualified residential mortgages, Appraisal Vendor misManagement firms, mortgage backed security put backs, TARP and HAFA immediately come to mind. We?ve dealt with new RESPA regulations, new TILA regulations (several times), and coming soon new rules from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Somewhere, amid all the change, there must be opportunities, right?
?One opportunity that we?ve pursued involves short sales. That?s when the seller?s mortgage holder agrees to take less than what is owed on the loan but still releases their mortgage. We?ve dealt with short sales for about five years. By and large, they?ve been very disruptive to our closing business. Each one was a fire drill and no one involved was ever happy with the process. Last winter we decided that there must be a better way.?
?That better way we call ISSAC?Improving Short Sale Approvals and Closings. The goal of ISSAC is to help Realtors? and their clients by prequalifying short sale sellers, submitting complete short sale packages to lenders for approval, and closing the transaction in a reasonable time frame. (Reasonable for most short sales is sixty to seventy-five days.) Kara Oltman, our Vice-President, Settlement Services is in charge of the program. Both Kara and I completed extensive training and earned professional designations as Certified Default Resolution Closing Specialists. ?
?So how many potential short sales are there? To get an idea, look at the Mortgages under $50,000 chart in our report. Several years ago thousands of home equity and piggy back mortgages were made in Monroe County. Some banks lent to 125% of assessed valuation. Although locally our values haven?t cratered like some markets, there still are a number of upside down homeowners in our community.
?The ISSAC program includes a two hour training session in our office, currently conducted once a month. Short sales applications are similar to mortgage loan applications. There are a number of details and contingencies that must be accounted for. The training session covers all of that. After the training Realtors? are better equipped to represent their clients on either side of a short sale transaction.
?We feel that ISSAC benefits the entire community. Each approved short sale is one less home lost to foreclosure; Sellers get to move on and start over; Buyers get the home they want; the neighborhood avoids an abandoned house with three feet of weeds and broken windows.
?We?re excited to offer our assistance. Contact Kara, Tammy Walker or me for further details.
?Good news and bad news in the May numbers.
Commercial lending is slowly showing improvement. There were twelve commercial mortgages securing loans in excess of one million dollars recorded in May. More broadly, there were thirty mortgages over $500,000 recorded in April and May of this year. Last year in April and May there were only fourteen such mortgages. This increase confirms anecdotal evidence that I?ve heard. Some banks?but not all banks?are making commercial loans in well qualified situations. A welcome sign of improvement.
The residential side of the market is still very soft. Our mainstay barometer of market activity is recorded mortgages securing between $50,000 and $500,000, as these most often represent residential first mortgage transactions. Only 497 such mortgages were recorded in the last two months. This is the lowest April/May total in the fifteen years that we?ve been providing our report. We seem to be in yet another ?interest rates will never be this low again? market. Yet, consumers are not paying attention. Or more likely, they may be unable to qualify under today?s standards.
The oppressive effect of regulatory and underwriting excesses is clearly taking its toll. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, loan application rejections increased to 26.8% of all applications at the nation?s ten largest mortgage lenders in 2010. It would be hard to argue that increased rejection rates are not reflected in our own market. The numbers don?t lie. Hopefully, at some point, government officials and regulators will come to their senses. Without a strong housing sector, there?s little hope of the country enjoying a robust economic recovery.
On a more positive note, our acquisition of Meridian Title?s Bloomington office is transitioning well. I?ve attached a recent update for those who may have missed it. At this point, I can?t imagine how things could be going better. Thank you to all who offered their congratulations and well wishes. All of us here at John Bethell Title truly appreciate that.