Earlier this year when the nation pressed pause on the economy and unemployment rates jumped up significantly, many homeowners were immediately concerned about being able to pay their mortgages, and understandably so. To assist in this challenging time, two protection plans were put into place to help support those in need.
First, there was a pause placed on initiating foreclosures for government-backed loans. This plan started on March 18, 2020, and it extends at least through December 31, 2020. Second, homeowners were able to obtain forbearance for up to 180 days, followed by a potential extension for up to another 180 days. This way, there is a relief period in which homeowners have the opportunity to halt payments on their mortgages for up to one year.
Not Everyone Understands Their Options
The challenge, according to Matt Hulstein, Staff Attorney at non-profit Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, is, “A lot of homeowners aren’t aware of this option.”
There’s definitely traction behind this statement. In a recent survey by The National Housing Resource Center, housing counselors from across the country noted that many homeowners really don’t know that there is help available. The following graph indicates the reasons why people who are in this challenging situation are not choosing to enter forbearance: The Urban Institute explained:
“530,000 homeowners who became delinquent after the pandemic began did not take advantage of forbearance, despite being eligible to ask for the plan…These responses reflect a need to provide better information to all homeowners. (Lump-sum payment is not the only repayment option.)
Additionally, 205,000 homeowners who did not extend their forbearance after its term ended in June or July became delinquent on their loans. We need to examine who these people are and why are they not extending their option.”
Clearly, a more focused effort on education about forbearance and relief programs may make a big difference for many people, and a clear understanding of their options is mission-critical. Some communities, however, have been impacted by the economic challenges of the pandemic more so than others, further confirming the need to deliver education more widely. The Urban Institute also indicates:
“Black and Hispanic homeowners have been hit harder than white homeowners…nearly 21 percent of both Black and Hispanic homeowners missed or deferred the previous month’s mortgage payment, compared with 10 percent of white homeowners and about 13 percent of all homeowners with payments due.”
It’s important to note that any homeowner experiencing financial hardship has the right to request forbearance. If you’re unfamiliar with the plans available, contact your mortgage provider (the company you send your mortgage payment to each month) to discuss your options. It is a necessary next step, as you may qualify for mortgage relief options or forbearance.
One option many homeowners may not realize they have is the ability to sell their house in this time of need. With the growing equity that homeowners have available today, making a move might be the best option to protect your financial future.
If you need additional information on your options, you can review the Protect Your Investment guide from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the Homeowner’s Guide to Success from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). For the majority of people, our home is the most important asset we have, and you should use all the help available right now to be able to preserve your investment.
Originally, some housing industry analysts were concerned that the mortgage forbearance program (which allows families to delay payments to a later date) could lead to an increase in foreclosures when forbearances end. Some even worried that we might relive the 2006-2008 housing crash all over again. Once you examine the data, however, that seems unlikely.
As reported by Odeta Kushi, Deputy Chief Economist for First American:
“Despite the federal foreclosure moratorium, there were fears that up to 30% of homeowners would require forbearance, ultimately leading to a foreclosure tsunami. Forbearance did not hit 30%, but rather peaked at 8.6% and has been steadily falling since.”
According to the most current data from Black Knight, the percentage of homes in forbearance has fallen to 7.4%. The report also gives the decrease in raw numbers:
“The overall trend of incremental improvement in the number of mortgages in active forbearance continues. According to the latest data from Black Knight’s McDash Flash Forbearance Tracker, the number of mortgages in active forbearance fell by another 71,000 over the past week, pushing the total under 4 million for the first time since early May.”
Here’s a graph showing the decline in forbearances over the last several months: The report also explains that across the board, overall forbearance activity fell with 10% fewer new forbearance requests and nearly 40% fewer renewals.
What about potential foreclosures once forbearances end?
Kushi also addresses this question:
“There are two main reasons why this crisis is unlikely to produce a wave of foreclosures similar to the 2008 recession. First, the housing market is in a much stronger position compared with a decade ago. Accompanied by more rigorous lending standards, the household debt-to-income ratio is at a four-decade low and household equity near a three-decade high. Indeed, thus far, MBA data indicates that the majority of homeowners who took advantage of forbearance programs are either staying current on their mortgage or paying off the loan through a home sale or a refinance. Second, this service sector-driven recession is disproportionately impacting renters.”
There is one potential challenge
Today, the options available to homeowners will prevent a large spike in foreclosures. That’s good not just for those families impacted, but for the overall housing market. A recent study by Fannie Mae, however, reveals that many Americans are not aware of the options they have.
It’s imperative for potentially impacted families to better understand the mortgage relief programs available to them, for their personal housing situation and for the overall real estate market.
If Americans fully understand their options and make good choices regarding those options, the current economic slowdown does not need to lead to mass foreclosures.
With the strength of the current housing market growing every day and more Americans returning to work, a faster-than-expected recovery in the housing sector is already well underway. Regardless, many are still asking the question: will we see a wave of foreclosures as a result of the current crisis? Thankfully, research shows the number of foreclosures is expected to be much lower than what this country experienced during the last recession. Here’s why.
According to Black Knight Inc., the number of those in active forbearance has been leveling-off over the past month (see graph below): Black Knight Inc. also notes, of the original 4,208,000 families granted forbearance, only 2,588,000 of these homeowners got an extension. Many homeowners have once again started to pay their mortgages, paid off their homes, or never went delinquent on their payments in the first place. They may have applied for forbearance out of precaution, but never fully acted on it (see graph below): The housing market, and homeowners, therefore, are in a much better position than many may think. Much of that has to do with the fact that today’s homeowners have more equity than most realize. According to John Burns Consulting, over 42% of homes are owned free and clear, meaning they are not tied to a mortgage. Of the remaining 58%, the average homeowner has $177,000 in equity. That number is keeping many homeowners afloat today and giving them options to avoid foreclosure.
While ATTOM Data Solutions indicates that there is a potential for the number of foreclosures to increase throughout the country, it’s important to understand why they won’t rock the housing market this time around:
“The United States faces a possible foreclosure surge over the coming months that could more than double the number of households threatened with eviction for not paying their mortgages.”
That number may sound massive, but it is actually much smaller than it seems at first glance. Today’s actual quarterly active foreclosure number is 74,860. That’s over 7.5x lower than the number of foreclosures the country saw at the peak of the housing crash in 2009. When looking at the graph below, it’s clear that even if the number of quarterly foreclosures today doubles, as ATTOM Data Solutions indicates is a possibility (not a given), they will only reach what historically-speaking is a normalized range, far below what up-ended the housing market roughly 10 years ago. Equity is growing, jobs are returning, and the economy is slowly recovering, so the perfect storm for a wave of foreclosures is not realistically in the housing market forecast. As Odeta Kushi, Deputy Chief Economist for First American notes:
“Alone, economic hardship and a lack of equity are each necessary, but not sufficient to trigger a foreclosure. It is only when both conditions exist that a foreclosure becomes a likely outcome.”
While our hearts are with anyone who may end up in foreclosure as a result of this crisis, we do know that today’s homeowners have more options than they did 10 years ago. For some, it may mean selling their house and downsizing with that equity, which is a far better outcome than a foreclosure.
Homeowners today have many options to avoid foreclosure, and equity is surely helping to keep many afloat. Even if today’s rate of foreclosures doubles, it will still only hit a mark that is more in line with a historically normalized range, a very good sign for homeowners and the housing market.