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U.S. Housing Market Likely to Withstand a Wave of Foreclosures When Forbearance Ends

Redfin chief economist expects investors and first-time homebuyers will quickly buy up an impending wave of foreclosures from homeowners saddled with debt during the pandemic

Published on December 07, 2020

The U.S. housing market will likely withstand a wave of foreclosures as investors and first-time homebuyers purchase these homes, according to a new report from Redfin, the technology-powered real estate brokerage. Redfin Chief Economist Daryl Fairweather conducted this analysis.

More than 3.3. million U.S. homeowners will be on the hook for delinquent payments when mortgage forbearance ends. While some of those homeowners who are overleveraged or unaware of their options will contribute to a wave of foreclosures, most will be able to work with their lenders to either refinance their mortgage or sell to cash in on rising home values.

“American homeowners have gained 2 trillion dollars in home equity since the beginning of the pandemic alone, thanks to double-digit price growth driven by soaring homebuyer demand as the supply of homes for sale fell to historic lows,” said Fairweather. “And an impending wave of foreclosed homes will only make a small dent in the inventory drought. First-time homebuyers and investors will likely quickly buy up any foreclosed homes, leaving the larger housing market unimpacted. While this is good news for the housing market and economy, it highlights a growing inequality between Americans who have suffered deeply during the pandemic recession and Americans who have been largely unaffected or have even become wealthier.”

At the peak of the foreclosure crisis in 2010, the national average loan-to-value ratio was 94%, meaning the average homeowner owed her lender nearly as much (94%) as her home’s value. As a result, many financially stressed homeowners couldn’t even afford to sell their home after paying agent fees of 6% and closing costs, so they often ended up in foreclosure. Currently, the average loan-to-value ratio among metros that report data is 70%, meaning that the average homeowner has built 10% additional equity beyond an initial 20% down payment.

Currently, the metro with the highest loan-to-value ratio is Virginia Beach at 86.2%, but that is likely due to the high volume of low-downpayment mortgages for local veterans. But because military employment has been unaffected by the pandemic, just 0.3% of homeowners say they are somewhat likely or very likely to be in foreclosure in the next two months, according to the Census Household Pulse Survey.

Las Vegas has the highest unemployment rate at 14.8%, but Las Vegas homeowners have plenty of equity with an average loan-to-value ratio of 67.9%. As a result, many Las Vegas homeowners are tapping their home equity and downsizing. New listings are up 6.9% from last year, but buyers are moving in for every seller, which has kept the housing market strong—home sales are up 9.3% from last year.

“I’ve worked with some people who are downsizing, finding something that fits their new budget,” said Redfin Las Vegas Agent Marco Di Pasqualucci. “Many have lost a job and aren’t sure if or when it’s going to come back. The common plan for these people is to take the equity out of their current home and rent something very affordable for a while. For some people, it’s a move for survival.”

Homeowners in forbearance have options to avoid foreclosure

Atlanta has the highest share of homeowners reporting they feel they are very or somewhat likely to face foreclosure in the next two months at 3.8%, and the fourth-highest share of homeowners behind on mortgage payments at 13.5%.

“There was a misunderstanding in Atlanta for what the different options are for people in forbearance,” said Atlanta Redfin agent Ronisha Carson. “People didn’t know they could refinance, do a prorated monthly payment, or tack it on to the end of their loan.”

“In my experience selling foreclosed properties, some people don’t take advantage of forbearance because they aren’t educated on what it entails,” said Redfin agent Gina Sapnar. “There are people who are in forbearance who don’t understand how repayment works. For some people, payments are tacked on to the end of the loan, but for others, it may be a large payment due immediately at the end of forbearance as a lump sum, which could be very tough for people to repay.”

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will allow borrowers in forbearance to defer repayment until the time the home is sold or refinanced. With record-low mortgage rates, homeowners behind on payments could theoretically refinance their mortgage debt into monthly payments lower than before the pandemic began. And if a borrower is in severe debt, she may still be able to make a short sale or take advantage of cash-for-keys, where borrowers get a one-time payment to vacate their home.

Even if there is a wave of foreclosures, those foreclosed properties will have little impact on the overall housing market because there is a shortage of homes for sale—the total number of homes for sale is at a record low.

Newsdesk Editor