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If 2012 was a year of housing uncertainty, what will 2013 bring?

December 27, 2012

I'd like to say the year 2012 brought change to the mortgage finance industry.

After all, the Mayans predicted big things for 2012. But much like Mayan prophecy, the mortgage finance market — the juice housing survives on — ended on a less-than climactic tone as policymakers continued to wrangle over the impending fiscal cliff and mortgage rates continued to hang near record lows. 

Home affordability also was high in 2012, but with lending still too tight in certain quarters and consumers still somewhat tepid, the full benefits of cheap housing and low rates failed to take housing to astronomical heights, although the market did improve.

But despite a general lack of clarity on what is to come in 2013, this year wasn't a complete bust. Who can forget the roll-out of the expanded HARP 2.0, which helped more underwater borrowers with government-backed loans refinance. The program doubled refi activity in this segment early in the year.

Home prices also moved upward in 2012 even as jobless claims and employment data continued to move in unpredictable ways.

Then, you have Ed DeMarco, acting head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, who fought a hard battle, refusing to give in to administration demands for principal reductions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans.

DeMarco became this year's Elizabeth Warren — the embattled guy in the middle. Somehow the epic battle he faced is similar to the "talk-to-the-hand" treatment that Warren faced as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's architect in 2011 even though Warren and DeMarco seem far from similar in their approaches to housing.

But each of them became highly publicized witnesses while testifying before Congress. See here (DeMarco) and here (Warren) for video of their respective grillings.

The battle between judicial foreclosure and nonjudicial foreclosure states also popped into view this year. Watching these two types of states recover is a little like watching paint dry. Or at least it is in certain judicial foreclosure states, where long foreclosure timelines are being blamed for stalling real estate recoveries in states like New York and New Jersey.

By year-end, rumor had it lenders may end up with a final ability-to-repay Qualified Mortgage rule that includes a safe harbor for financial firms. But no one will know for sure until the CFPB releases its final draft of the rule next month.

Either way, the market spent 2012 preparing for new regulations in what is certain to be a different era for housing.

But mostly, HousingWire would like to hear from you. Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts on what you believe is the top housing story of the year, or share your expectations for 2013.

kpanchuk@housingwire.com

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