Housing in the Time of COVID-19

The Mortgage Corner


Wolf Street

I reported in January that housing construction was slowly recovering, in part due to the extreme housing shortage and record low interest rates. Well, rates are even lower today, but purchase applications are now plunging as will new-home sales, whereas I believe refinancing will continue to surge because of even lower mortgage rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So it’s good to know the Fed is also supporting the mortgage-backed securities market with its Quantitative Easing from the latest $2 billion bailout bill, since the mortgage market is suffering from the same credit crunch as every other part of the fiancé industry.

And who wants to buy a home in this lockdown that could last months, anyway? Reports are coming in that home buying is also frozen in place, while everyone waits out the pandemic.

Wolf Richter for the financial blog Wolf Street writes, “In states where lockdowns started first – they were kicked off in the San Francisco Bay Area – the year-over-year plunge in purchase-mortgage applications was the most severe:

  • California: -36.4%
  • New York: -35.6%
  • Washington: -32.5%

Purchase mortgage applications plunged another 11 percent after dropping 24 percent from the equivalent week a year ago. Since the multi-year peak in January, purchase-mortgage applications have plunged by one-third, said the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA).

Whereas the MBA’s Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, increased 15.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. This is because refinancing per the Refinance Index increased 26 percent from the previous week and was 168 percent higher than the same week one year ago.

“Mortgage rates and applications continue to experience significant volatility from the economic and financial market uncertainty caused by the coronavirus crisis. After two weeks of sizeable increases, mortgage rates dropped back to the lowest level in MBA’s survey, which in turn led to a 25 percent jump in refinance applications,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting.

“The bleaker economic outlook, along with the first wave of realized job losses reported in last week’s unemployment claims numbers, likely caused potential homebuyers to pull back,” he continued.

There will be an even more severe housing shortage, in other words, with more than 500,000 homeless living on the streets in January. Homelessness will now increase with the new coronavirus pandemic, as the many without government-insured mortgages (GSEs) from Fannie, Freddie, FHA, and the VA will probably lose their homes, if they cannot keep up their loan payments. HUD’s Federal Housing and Finance Authority has said the requirement that lenders hold off on foreclosures for one year only applies to the GSEs the FHFA regulates.

And so the housing shortage will continue. In many markets, this will mean no open houses (for new-home purchases). Face-to-face closings are to be avoided.

“But exchanging signed documents through car windows in a parking lot is OK. Under the pressure of social distancing, the doors have opened to modern document technology. In theory, homes can be sold, and mortgages can be written, but it’s now a different ballgame,” says Richter.

It will require even greater government support to keep people in their homes for the duration of the novel coronavirus pandemic; and beyond?

Harlan Green © 2020

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
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