Thursday, July 28, 2016

In the News   Presented by Prairie Title  

July 28, 2016


Where’s the Housing?


By Frank Pellegrini, Prairie Title CEO   


We’re in the midst of political convention season, that every-four-year dream world where both parties write platforms that will never see the light of day past their conventions and silly hats, banners, balloons and confetti rule the day.

What’s missing from both the major candidates for president, unfortunately, is truly substantive policy regarding housing. Compounding the issue is the media’s almost complete lack of interest in talking about housing as an important economic issue. To paraphrase a political campaign from long ago, I ask: “Where’s the Housing?”

Take this recent piece from the Wall Street Journal as an example. Titled, “Where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Stand on Economic Issues,” the article goes on in detail about jobs, trade, taxes, entitlements, debt, immigration, infrastructure, the Fed, college, wages.

These are all important issues, without a doubt, but I ask again: Where’s the Housing? Whether owning or renting, everyone has to live somewhere, and the impact housing has on the American economy is enormous. There is some bi-partisan movement in Congress for GSE reform, and the major party platforms both have planks that urge a return to a real estate lending environment like Glass-Steagall. (Republicans would like to go back to Glass-Steagall; Democrats favor a modernized version of Glass-Steagall). Regardless, making our views known to the respective parties is the key to pushing our representatives toward developing housing policies that work. 

Real estate industry associations work every day to remind the media and politicians alike of the importance of housing. Our job, it seems to me, is to back them up by participating in industry political actions groups at the federal and state levels. We also must be dedicated to promoting the industry in our local communities through media relations and participation in community-based business groups. Let’s make our voices be heard.

What’s your point of view? Keep the conversation going by calling or emailing me, or write a comment here.

Other stories we’re following:

Lending tracking toward best year since ‘13.
Mega-Trends affecting commercial R.E. and housing.
Technology to replace the originator? We don’t think so.
Office REITs get mixed report card.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Revisions to TRID Rule?

In the News   Presented by Prairie Title  

June 27, 2016


TRID Changes Coming in July?


By Frank Pellegrini, Prairie Title CEO   


I know it seems like we’re beating a dead horse (apologies to our dearly departed equine friends), but TRID is the subject matter that just won’t go away. On April 28, CFPB Director Cordray wrote to industry trade groups that, “We believe that there are places in the regulation text and commentary where adjustments would be useful for greater certainty and clarity.”


Cordray expressed hope that action would be taken by late July without specifying the issues the agency would address. In the title business, we have been in conversations with CFPB about changing the rule to ensure consumers receive accurate, clear information about title insurance costs.

“ALTA appreciates Director Cordray and the CFPB stepping up to the plate and committing to provide more clarity on TRID,” said Michelle Korsmo, CEO of ALTA. “We value their openness in this process moving forward. We are committed to continuing our conversation with Director Cordray and the CFPB staff to correct the calculation of title insurance policy premiums.”

Since the Cordray letter, a bipartisan coalition has emerged in the U.S. House that is urging the CFPB to “ensure that your new forms serve as a credible source of accurate information about the true costs of buying a home for consumers.”

In other D.C. news, ALTA has joined a group of the nation’s largest real estate trade associations to push for cuts to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fees. In a June letter to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the group said the fees that Fannie and Freddie charge lenders to guarantee mortgage loans serve as a tax on consumers, preventing some potential borrowers from becoming actual borrowers.

I agree that it’s time to eliminate the fees that were instituted in 2008 in the wake of the housing crisis and subsequent major financial troubles faced by Fannie and Freddie. The two agencies have been stabilized and the fees have become an obstacle to homeownership.

I urge you to to contact your representives in Washington to ask them to get behind these critical  initiatives to improve the home buying process.

Let’s keep the discussion going. Call or email me, or write a comment.

Other stories we’re following:

Storm brewing in commercial real estate?                        Dems join house push to recapitalize GSEs.


Homebuilders can get loans, but where to build?                                    New home sales reverse course.      

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Is Housing Gaining Traction?

In the News   Presented by Prairie Title  

June 1, 2016         

TRID Bumps along; Housing too 

By Frank Pellegrini, Prairie Title CEO 

I find it informative to follow the voices of those in the media who really know real estate inside and out. Two of those real estate media pros, Ken Harney and Diana Olick, are typically spot on in their assessments of the market and real estate industry issues in the short term and the long run. 

Harney, syndicated by the Washington Post, recently wrote an article whose premise was that implementation of TRID is delivering mixed results for professionals and consumers. He noted:

“A new study gauging consumers' experiences before and after the new rules took effect suggests that things may be looking up. It found that 92 percent of buyers are taking time to review their mortgage documents in advance of the settlement — making use of the three days they're now allotted to do so.” That study was conducted by the American Land Title Association. 

Citing another survey, Harney said, “Buyers also were pleased by being encouraged to shop for settlement services such as title insurance.”  I was especially happy to read that. We are actively encouraging consumers to shop for title services and I’m glad that approach is taking root. 

Lenders fees have increased to cover the additional costs at their end, and the average time to closing has increased (and now stabilized). For consumers, Harney’s bottom line was: “Be aware of the pluses and minuses of the rule changes. Expect greater transparency about costs — and more time to check them out — but also maybe a little longer time to close and increases in fees.” 

Olick is a featured reporter on CNBC who writes about day-to-day real estate activity more than the longer term trends Harney typically dives into. She is a great resource for the facts and figures that drive the trends in the industry. Among other analytics, she has recently focused on pending home sales, the shortage of existing homes for sale and the driving forces behind increasing mortgage applications, pointing out the fits and starts we continue to experience as housing bumps along. 

We regularly Tweet Harney’s and Olick’s observations and I would encourage you to follow them as well. Or simply follow Prairie Title on Twitter and we’ll provide that information for you.

Other stories we’re following:

Who’s Afraid of TRID risk?                                    Housing Prices Increase more than Expected.


Home Buying Drives Mortgage Apps.                         ommercial Sales Subdued in First Quarter.             

Monday, April 25, 2016

Spring Has Sprung?

In the News   Presented by Prairie Title            

Commentary by Frank Pellegrini, Prairie Title CEO  

April 25, 2016

We’re seeing it in our home town, where multi-family construction is going like gangbusters, and the numbers nationwide affirm it: Builders are confident as we move deeper into Q2 of 2016. The National Association of Home Builders’ closely-watched Confidence index, which focuses on single-family construction, was 58 for the third straight month. (Any reading over 50 signals improvement.) Midwest numbers mirror the national averages, holding steady in the 50s for nearly a year now.                                                                                                                                        

“Builder confidence has held firm at 58 for three consecutive months, showing that the single-family housing sector continues to recover at a slow but consistent pace,” said NAHB Chairman Ed Brady, a home builder and developer from Bloomington, Ill.  “As we enter the spring home buying season, we should see the market move forward.” 

At the same time, NAR announced on April 20 that existing home sales sprung ahead in March, “bolstered by big gains in the Northeast and Midwest.” That was the good regional news. Here comes the bad. 

Those of  us who live in Illinois know that things are a bit depressing at the moment as our governor and legislature grapple during a budget crisis with no foreseeable end in sight. I just returned from the ILTA lobby day in Springfield where we had a chance to meet with our legislators about issues that concern the real estate business and get a feel for the general state of affairs in Illinois government. Needless to say, there’s a lot of tension in the air. 

Whichever side of the political divide you’re on — or even if you’re sick of them all — I urge you to get involved individually, in your neighborhoods and through your business associations to help move the needle in Springfield. Until and unless the decision makers feel some real heat from the citizenry they have little incentive on either side to compromise.

Let’s keep the discussion going. Call or email me, or write a comment below.

Other stories we’re following:

Cybercrime on the Rise.                                              TRID Having an Effect on Jumbo MBS?     

Finally Easier to get a Mortgage.                                 Builder MSAs Here to Stay?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cybersecurity Keeping Us Up At Night

In the News   Presented by Prairie Title            

Commentary by Frank Pellegrini, Prairie Title CEO

March 25, 2016

Cybersecurity is a buzzword, no doubt, but nothing is more important to running a business today than making sure what that buzzword represents is firmly implanted in your company’s day-to-day operations. As a business that is based on information — providing title services has always been all about information — securing that information is essential for us, and it has never been more difficult. Throughout the real estate and lending industries we have grave challenges in front of us: protecting not only internal information, but also our clients’ information. 

Our businesses are subject to destructive viruses, attempts to steal data and even demands for ransom to keep a cyber attack from occurring. Ransomware is a relatively new term to me, but it is one of the lurking dangers out there that is most pressing.Source: FFIEC

Late last year, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council released a chilling statement about cyber attacks including extortion: “Cyber attacks against financial institutions to extort payment in return for the release of sensitive information are increasing. Financial institutions should address this threat by conducting ongoing cybersecurity risk assessments and monitoring of controls and information systems.”

FFIEC Recommended Actions:
·         Conduct ongoing information security risk assessments and review business continuity plans.
·         Securely configure systems and services.
·         Protect against unauthorized access.
·         Update information security awareness and training programs to include ransomware attacks.
·         Perform security monitoring, prevention, and risk mitigation.
·         Implement and regularly test controls around critical systems.

I can’t tell you exactly what to do to protect your individual business, except always be vigilant and follow the recommendations of your industry association and respected cyber crime experts. There is no 100 percent guarantee that your business will not be a victim of cyber crime at some point, but taking precautions now to help prevent these crimes can help you protect your business.

Let’s keep the discussion going. Call or email me, or write a comment below.

Other stories we’re following:

DS News: Title Pros Well Positioned to Face Challenges.
TRID’s First Five Months.
GSE Reform Moves Slowly, but moves.
Economic Conditions and Housing.           .     

Monday, February 29, 2016

In the News

Presented by Prairie Title        

Commentary by Frank Pellegrini, Prairie Title CEO  

February 29, 2016

Happy leap day everyone! Let’s all make this extra business day in February count as we align our calendar with the earth’s 365.25-day revolution around the sun.

A funny thing happened this long February on the way to higher interest rates. The Fed raised the its benchmark short-term interest rate two months ago and there was a brief rise in mortgage interest rates, but since then rates have been falling. Quoting CNBC:

“Who knew? The Federal Reserve raised its funds rate barely two months ago, and all that worry about higher interest rates for mortgage borrowers ended up being positively unwarranted. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage began a free fall, reacting to financial markets overseas rather than monetary policy here at home.”

                                           Here’s a positive: The groundhog saw
                                           his shadow earlier this month.
                                           Let’s hope he’s right about spring
                                           arriving soon with home buyers in tow!

What happens to the real estate market if rates keep falling? No one can be sure, of course. Amidst falling rates, January was a decent month for housing. The NAR recap of January activity is titled: “Existing-Home Sales Inch Forward in January, Price Growth Accelerates.” I think the key word in that headline in “Inch.” That’s how I view the real estate market in 2016. Moving forward, but inch by inch. Unless and until we break out of the economic doldrums, we seem likely to keep treading water but not quite reaching the life raft.

NAR chief economist Laurence Yun put it this way in their Feb. 23 press release: “The housing market has shown promising resilience in recent months, but home prices are still rising too fast because of ongoing supply constraints,” he said. “Despite the global economic slowdown, the housing sector continues to recover and will likely help the U.S. economy avoid a recession.”

Avoiding a recession is certainly desirable. If we navigate the shoals of ’16 successfully, perhaps we’ll be rewarded with a stronger market later in the decade.

Let’s keep the discussion going. Call me, email me, or write a comment below.

Other stories we’re following:
CFPB Pledges Leeway in Early TRID Exams.
MBA: Commercial to Grow.
Yellen not Writing off Negative Rates.
Can Homeowners Crack the Credit Box?

Monday, January 25, 2016

In The News

In the News   Presented by Prairie Title            

Commentary by Frank Pellegrini, Prairie Title CEO  

January 25, 2016

Winter is here in full force, the stock market is gyrating and we’re in the midst of an annual lull in the real estate business. So why be optimistic? Two reasons:

1)      Home buying season is just around the corner!

2)      Commercial real estate is in good shape for 2016 and the years beyond.

On the housing front, while it’s true that things are a bit slow for the moment, as is typical in January (complicated this year by TRID implementation), the trends look promising. As reported by the MBA, total mortgage application activityfor refinancings and home purchases combined — posted strong numbers the last three weeks, climbing 21.3 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis the week ending Jan. 8, and a further 9 percent following week.

“The good news for the new year is that following the holidays, application activity resumed at levels just exceeding those observed during early December, suggesting that the purchase market has picked up right where it left off,” noted Lynn Fisher, the MBA’s vice president of research and economics. Meanwhile Interest rates have trended lower the last two weeks, also a good sign that activity is poised to pick up.  

Commercial: Last month, Congress passed a tax bill that includes a number of provisions favorable to commercial real estate, including one that analysts say could spur some $30 billion in annual foreign investment in U.S. commercial real estate starting this year. The provision eases 1980s tax requirements imposed on foreign investors to curb their appetite for U.S. commercial real estate.

Meanwhile, the Daily Real Estate News reported on Jan. 14: “Over the next three years, developers are expected to construct nearly 1 million apartments nationwide, hoping to snag wider profits from soaring rents.”

Need another reason for optimism? Baseball’s Spring Training starts in less than a month.

Let’s keep the discussion going. Call me, email me, or post a comment.

Other stories we’re following:

Chicago Housing Market saw Solid 2015 Improvement.
Home Construction up Last Year.
Big Banks Pulling Back from Mortgages.
Cybercriminals Targeting Mortgage Industry.