State and federal policies that were supposed to support home ownership have backfired and become anti-homeowner. The policies have locked out future Las Vegas homeowners.
AB 284, enacted in 2011, had good intentions, but the results have been disastrous for the Las Vegas real estate market. Most bank servicers have not been able to file notices of default since October of 2011. This has created an artificial shortage that is unprecedented.
There are now 380 bank-owned homes available on the market, 466 short sales on the market and 2,290 traditional sales. These traditional sales are mostly flips and investors unloading near the peak. Fifty-nine percent of mortgages are still underwater in Southern Nevada.
What’s so astonishing about those figures is there is no real shortage. There are 50,000 vacant homes in the valley and average owner-occupants have slim to no chance of winning their offers.
After the passage of AB 284, many homeowners realized they could live for free for long periods. Thousands of homeowners are on years three and four without making a mortgage payment. Lender Processing Services reported a few months ago that the average person who stopped paying has been in his home more than 24 months.
The banks were slow to foreclose before AB 284. Now, it has come to a virtual standstill. The mortgage bankers association report showed that more than 74,000 homeowners were 30 days late or more. According to a recent report from the Federal Reserve out of Atlanta, laws that delay the foreclosure process actually decrease successful loan modifications and short sales because “Homeowners find it more lucrative to live for free for years than participate in a program.” This is why the short sale figures have begun to fall and strategic defaults are increasing.
It’s quite obvious the state law has artificially reduced the supply. Now we can add something else to the mix: Major hedge funds have swept into Las Vegas with cash to buy as many homes priced below $250,000 as possible and rent them out, stomping on any owner-occupant offer in their path. Traditional residential real-estate had no interest from Wall Street, but because of the extremely low interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve, investors are starving for a return on their money. The cash flow from rentals are filling a void that the low-interest environment has created.
The ironic part of this policy is the Fed pushed down rates intending to promote home ownership by allowing homeowners affordable mortgages. Instead the policy has fueled the major hedge funds to purchase homes with cash above current market value. Then the funds will rent the home to the same people who were trying to buy the home. The result is renters pay twice what their mortgage payment would be if they had access to inventory.
There is no hurry to fix this problem anytime soon.
The flip side of the coin? Las Vegas is enjoying a miniboom again. Having close to 80,000 homeowners not paying their mortgages has given a big boost to our local economy. Approximately 80,000 x $1,200 (average rent or mortgage) = $100 million a month going into our economy. This money ordinarily would not be disposable income. That’s $1.2 billion a year being pumped into our economy, and that is far more efficient than any government stimulus. It goes directly to retail, new cars, restaurants, etc. No red tape in the way.
Ninety days after AB 284 became law, retail sales were up 13 percent, even with a slightly smaller job base than 90 days previous. That shows the boost in spending from locals that stopped paying. Builders’ sales doubled six months after AB 284 and values have shot up, a la 2005.
It’s not rocket science to predict what will happen next. We will see another 20 percent appreciation in prices over the next nine months. AB 284 will be amended, the national settlement servicers will have sold most of their loans to new servicers who don’t have to follow the same guidelines. Vacant homes and delinquent loans will be converted to available inventory in the second half of 2014. The second bubble pop in less than a decade will begin.
And what of those hedge funds that are buying up homes with cheap money? Well, with tens of thousands of homes being converted to rentals, rents will drop, making the rent-to-price ratio fall. Housing yield will become far less attractive. The funds will find the homes are not generating the cash flow they had told their investors they would. The next step will be to sell off quickly and cash in on the higher price and 40 percent capital appreciation. Nobody wants to be holding the last bag when the sell button is hit.
If that all sounds familiar, it should. The mortgage-backed securities exaggerated the borrowers’ income during the first bubble. This time the rents on the homes are being exaggerated. Just as there was a fire sale on the mortgage-backed securities to get top dollar before they dropped, so it will be with the homes. In fact, most funds are predicting to sell in 18 to 45 months.
Nevada has an opportunity to capitalize on the great California Exodus. This is a once-in-a-generation event. Companies are fleeing California to Arizona and Texas. This is happening now. Nevada has taken itself out of the selection process. The lack of available housing is a top factor in corporations relocating, and we finish last in that category.
The first step in this process is to open the closed housing market. Release the 50,000-plus vacant homes now. Make housing available to the average American again. Allow Nevada to diversify, and unleash the state’s pent-up economic capacity before it’s too late.
Steve Hawks is owner of Platinum Real Estate Professionals in Henderson. He can be reached at 702-458-3999 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this column was presented as a speech to the Certified Commercial Investment Event on Feb. 27 at The Orleans.