Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Fed White Paper: "The U.S. Housing Market: Current Conditions and Policy Considerations"

by Bill McBride on 1/04/2012 02:53:00 PM

From the Federal Reserve: The U.S. Housing Market: Current Conditions and Policy Considerations. Excerpt on converting REO to rental units:

At the same time that housing demand has weakened, the number of homes for sale is elevated relative to historical norms, due in large part to the swollen inventory of homes held by banks, guarantors, and servicers after completion of foreclosure proceedings. These properties are often called real estate owned, or REO, properties. While the total stock of REO properties is difficult to measure precisely, perhaps one-fourth of the 2 million vacant homes for sale in the second quarter of 2011 were REO properties. The combination of weak demand and elevated supply has put substantial downward pressure on house prices, and the continued flow of new REO properties--perhaps as high as 1 million properties per year in 2012 and 2013--will continue to weigh on house prices for some time. To the extent that REO holders discount properties in order to sell them quickly, the near-term pressure on home prices might be even greater.

In contrast to the market for owner-occupied houses, the market for rental housing across the nation has recently strengthened somewhat. Rents have turned up in the past year, and the national vacancy rate on multifamily rental properties has dropped noticeably from its peak in late 2009. These developments have been fairly widespread across metropolitan areas. The relative strength of the rental market reflects increased demand as families who are unable or unwilling to purchase homes are renting properties instead. Rental demand has also been supported by families who have lost their homes to foreclosure--the majority of whom move to rental housing, most commonly to single-family rentals.

The price signals in the owner-occupied and rental housing markets--that is, the decline in house prices and the rise in rents--suggest that it might be appropriate in some cases to redeploy foreclosed homes as rental properties. In addition, the forces behind the decline in the homeownership rate, such as tight credit conditions, are unlikely to unwind significantly in the immediate future, indicating a longer-term need for an expanded stock of rental housing.

Although small investors are currently buying and converting foreclosed properties to rental units on a limited scale, larger-scale conversions have not occurred for at least three interrelated reasons. First, it can be difficult for an investor to assemble enough geographically proximate properties to achieve efficiencies of scale with regard to the fixed costs of a rental program. Second, attracting investors to bulk sales opportunities--whether for rental or resale--has typically required REO holders to offer significantly larger price concessions relative to direct sales to owner occupants through conventional realtor-listing channels, in part because it can be difficult for investors to obtain financing for such sales. Third, the supervisory policy of GSE and banking organization regulators has generally encouraged sales of REO property as early as practicable. We discuss each of these issues in more detail later [in the white paper].
I suspect the FHFA will announce a bulk sale program of REO to investors within the next month or two.