Matrix Blog

Credit, Finance, Mortgage, Rates

Contrary To Popular Belief, The World Has Manhattan All Wrong

May 18, 2014 | 11:00 am |

nycsubway1969timelife
[Source: Time-Life]

Today, when I speak to friends and relatives in other parts of country, I find a consistency in the image Manhattan currently conveys and it’s completely skewed. Here’s a little background.

1985 to 1995 [Wild West] I moved to Manhattan in 1985 and it was perceived by outsiders as a very dangerous place. “Manhattan-bashing” was in vogue. My relatives in the Midwest saw Manhattan as a place where tourists were getting mugged and stabbed in broad daylight (It didn’t help that my father was mugged twice in Midtown outside of our office in broad daylight on a weekday). They feared for our lives.

1996 to 2000 [Dot Com Boom] Manhattan now had “Silicon Alley” as well as NASDAQ – which was soaring. Midwesterners were caught up in the stock market frenzy as evidence by conversations of trades of Microsoft and Caterpillar stock over potato salad and cheeseburgers and bottles of Faygo.

2001 to 2008 [9/11 to Development Boom to Lehman] The 9/11 tragedy struck New Yorkers hard but the subsequent rise of NYC from the ashes into an eventual new development housing boom was simply amazing. The Manhattan housing boom peaked in 2008, two years after the US housing market had peaked. This period ended with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and access to credit worldwide immediately evaporated.

2009 to 2010 [Collapse and Rebound] There was a surprisingly rapid improvement in the regional economy in the year following Lehman’s collapse and housing rebounded faster than expected.

2011 to 2014 [Playground of Wealthy Foreigners] Manhattan and Brooklyn become a favorite safe haven for international investors to park their money in real estate.

But now we stuck with a Manhattan housing market exaggerated stereotype (represents 90% of media coverage) in 2014:

  • Most sales are all-cash transactions.
  • Most purchasers are made by foreign buyers.
  • Most sales are millions of dollars (i.e. $5M and up).

When in fact, the 2014 Manhattan housing market reality is:

  • 45% of sales are all-cash transactions.
  • Foreign buyers are a small part of the market – i.e. 60% of all sales are co-ops and foreigners don’t purchase them.
  • More than half of all sales are below $1M (i.e. $5M+ is way up in the top 5%).

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Manhattan Home Sales Are NOT 80% All-Cash (They Are 45%)

May 17, 2014 | 11:04 am | | Favorites |

Actually, overall Manhattan Home Sales are 45% All-Cash. I want to make sure that the 80% number doesn’t become embedded in our housing market mindset.

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[click to expand]


I’ll explain.

Recently a friend passed along a post in the Washington Post titled: 8 in 10 Manhattan home sales are all-cash and my jaw dropped. The author, who I am a fan of, got this information from Realtytrac, who I am also a fan of, but I knew it was either wrong or misinterpreted.

Over the years I’ve played around with NYC mortgage data, usually incomplete and very dirty, from various sources and have combined that with frontline feedback from our own experience as appraisers, as well as from real estate brokers and lenders. I had come to the conclusion that roughly half of Manhattan home sales (co-op, condo & single family) were probably all-cash and condos are definitely well over 50%. I used the logic that foreign and high-end buyers are a large part of the all-cash market, especially within the new development space. And it makes sense – while condo end loan financing is tight, new development condo end loan financing is beyond tight.

The reason the Realtytrac 80% figure jumped out at me was the fact that co-ops account for about 60% of sales and have the highest concentration of entry level and middle class demographics in Manhattan. I was very skeptical that virtually all the market-majority co-op buyers were paying all-cash, especially in the tepid economy we are stuck with.

So I reached out to Daren Blomquist, Vice President at RealtyTrac who is often the point person on their data releases. I indicated that the 80% figure seemed off and wondered if it excluded the co-op market. It didn’t. However even an 80% all-cash share for only single family and condo sales seemed like a stretch. He said he would look into it and within an hour they could see an issue with their co-op data feed. They were already working on the issue (and why I like Realtytrac). He shared their 1Q14 Manhattan information (I omitted the suspect co-op data) and here are the key numbers:

Their Results
All-Cash Condo Sales 60.78%
All-Cash Single Family Sales 73.08%

I came up with a new methodology, which looked at the ratios seen in Douglas Elliman sales – the largest real estate brokerage company in Manhattan – with a sales mix is generally consistent with the overall market mix and applied their results to the overall market, and I saw this:

Our Results
All-Cash Co-ops 36% (no revised Realtytrac results yet)
All-Cash Condos 58% (similar to Realtytrac’s 60.78%)

I didn’t have the single family (fee simple) results compiled so I went with Realtytrac’s 73% because: their fee simple (condo) data was consistent with ours, the single family market is skewed much higher price-wise than the condo market (i.e. skewing towards cash buyers) and the single family market share is very small. In fact the market share is so small that the overall 45% all-cash ratio wouldn’t change unless I dropped the single family market share down to 6% from 73% but even then the overall cash ratio would only drop to 44% from 45% – so you get my point (my apologies for the excessive wonkiness on this but it was necessary).

As a result and represented in the table at the top of this post, it is reasonable to say that the overall Manhattan all-cash home sale market in 1Q 2014 was 45% of all residential sales. Got it?

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Zillow is Forecasting Future Property Values

May 14, 2014 | 10:42 am |

zillow-logo

“I may be cool, but you can’t change the future” –Beavis & Butthead.

Zillow has recently re-announced it is forecasting the value of each property out over the next year. It’s not a new tool for them, at least conceptually since the “What is a Zestimate Forecast?” page was last updated on October 3, 2012.

In a world with Big Data, it’s clearly inevitable to see an expansion of the capabilities of services from firms like Zillow and Trulia as their data set grows. Zillow’s Zestimate was a key web site feature at their launch (no listings!), but the company lit the real estate housing market industry on fire, establishing Zillow as a powerful brand that was here to stay, even if the Zestimate tool was problematic.

The challenges facing the Zillow Forecast tool

The Zestimates are still dependent on the quality of public record
Many markets (ie NYC), have quality-challenged public record. But as time passes, Zillow’s data set gets bigger and their logarithms get better and I have not doubt that the reliability will continue to improve.

If the Zestimate is wrong, the forecast will be wrong
Take a look at this chart on the highest price closed sale in Manhattan:

15cpwzestimatechart

This is perhaps Manhattan’s most famous “trophy” sale of the past several years, 15 Central Park West. The property sold for $88M but the Zestimate at the time of sale indicated the value was $72M. However today the value is $11.9M and the forecast estimated an 8.6% increase next year to $12.9M.

15cpwlandingpage

The Zestimate Forecast projects the current Zestimate out over the next year using a bunch of indicators

Zillow uses:
-mortgage interest rate (local, but not much different than national)
-property tax rate(local)
-construction costs(local)
-number of vacant homes(assumed local)
-percentage of loans that are subprime(assumed local)
-percentage of delinquent loans (assumed local)
-supply of homes for sale (local)
-change in household income (somewhat local, huge lag time)
-population growth (somewhat local, huge lag time)
-unemployment rate (somewhat local, lag time)

I feel that most of these indicators, when considered as a group, are important to consider won’t capture the nuance of next year’s view because they either lag or aren’t granular enough to be a key influence on value trends over a short period. I would think Zillow would add search patterns and other “Internety” things to leverage their proprietary data to help with accuracy. I’d also consider “new inventory”, not just total inventory (supply) to help catch the nuances of a tight time frame of forecasting.

The key national factor driving nearly all housing markets now – credit – is really hard to quantify.

Still, forecasts are the future (sorry) and kudos to Zillow for taking the first step, even though the results, like the early days of the Zestimate, are probably not very accurate.

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Canadian Housing Prices Now Pushed Up Same Way as US

May 4, 2014 | 1:28 pm |

gandmUSvCanadaprices

I was reading Tara Perkin’s piece in The Globe and Mail about the record price spread between the US and Canadian housing markets and saw one of the most startling housing charts of late (above). To be clear, this chart doesn’t adjust for the exchange rate but the article says the Canadian/US existing home price spread would be large – closer to 50% than 66% – still huge.

The article cites Bank of Montreal’s chief economist Doug Porter as saying:

“The main takeaway is that, contrary to all expectations, the Canadian housing market has just kept on rolling in 2014 even as the U.S. housing market has paused for breath (after a steep climb out of the dungeon),” he writes in a research note. “Put it this way, how many pundits a year ago were calling for Canadian home prices to rise faster than their U.S. counterparts in any single measure?”

Yes, true, but this is probably another good reason not to rely on anything published by a lender’s “chief economist” title due to their inherent bias toward the interests of their employer. What I find fascinating about the Canadian housing market is the proliferation of the false rationale that prices are being used as a measure of housing health. For the US counterpart, think Miami and Las Vegas circa 2005 when prices were skyrocketing and sales were falling.

The Canadian government tightened credit conditions a year ago and sales fell sharply:

This time last year it was far from clear when and if the Canadian housing market would emerge from the sales slump that ensued after former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tightened the country’s mortgage insurance rules.

Focus on March 2014 v. March 2012 in the following chart:
canadahomesales3-2014

With Canadian home buyer’s access to credit now reigned in, sales fell sharply yet housing prices continued to rise. But Canadian housing prices are rising now much like they are in the US, based on restricted access to credit that keeps inventory off the market. And we’re not talking about household debt.

New housing inventory entering the market in Canada is now falling which is continuing to goose (sorry, Canadian geese pun) prices higher.

canadahomelistings3-2014

The Greater Fool Theory Applies to the Canadian Housing Market

A theory that states it is possible to make money by buying securities, whether overvalued or not, and later selling them at a profit because there will always be someone (a bigger or greater fool) who is willing to pay the higher price.

Of course from our past experience in the US, it’s not surprising to see every outpouring of Canadian housing market bubble concern met with an equal outpouring of Canadian housing bubble denial.

Please stop using housing prices as a measure of housing health. It was obviously flawed logic when applied in the US during 2003-2006 and now it has become apparent it was flawed during the 2012 to 2013 US run up.

Housing price growth doesn’t reflect good housing market health in Canada either.

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Combinations: Creating a Larger Manhattan Co-op or Condo

April 20, 2014 | 5:58 pm |

1q14MATRIXcombos

[click to expand]

Over my career, I’ve have observed a higher frequency of combination apartments (ie co-ops or condos) when inventory is tight.  A combination apartment is simply the connecting of 2 or more adjacent apartments (to either side, above or below).  It may be easier and/or less expensive to buy the apartment next door to create a larger space (even if you have to overpay for it) than to brave the tough market searching for a larger place to live.

A few years ago I started to track this during the preparation of the Elliman Report: Manhattan Sales. I looked at the actual apartment numbers and counted those that suggested they were combined. I am clearly omitting apartment nomenclature that is not so clear ie 7AB is renamed 7A, so my results are conservative.  The above chart reflects the recent trend of more combinations being sold but doesn’t necessarily equate to more being created, so new combinations would only be considered a subset of this data.

I’ve dubbed the phenomenon “1 + 1 = 2.5” because there is a premium for larger contiguous space.

I’ve always thought co-op or condo building that allow combinations (nearly all do) as providing a potential way for shareholders to realize value upside, thereby enhancing the price structure of a building ie higher values rub off on other apartments in the same building.

Some top line ideas about combinations

  • No shares are lost and in fact, many combinations  result in the acquisition of dormant common hallway space providing additional revenue in perpetuity to the corporation and a cash infusion from the purchase price.
  • Larger units sell for more on a ppsf basis (ie my formula above) potentially influencing higher values for other units.
  • A few less apartments in the mix is a non-issue (ie risk) in a building this size, unlike, say a 4 unit brownstone.
  • I’ve always thought it wise to keep the stock certificates separate to give the buyers and co-op more flexibility, but I see this done both ways (and admittedly don’t understand any legal nuances on this point.)

Some other more granular thoughts

Some layouts don’t work
– Not all combo layouts make sense or provide value upside.
– Layouts tend to work better in pre-war and new developments than post-wars.
– 1980s condos often often the least combinable layouts – ie a side by side 1 bedrooms.
– Over the last decade, developers have kept this in mind during construction to give them more flexibility during the sales process.

Higher value per square foot
– Creating larger apartments creates value upside to existing space ie “1+1=2.5”
– Sometimes large combos can be oversized for the building and there is no ppsf premium for the larger space.
– When a an owner of a large unit buyers the adjacent unit, the mere fact that the same unit owner owns both usually results in a ppsf premium before renovations are made to connect.
– The upside in value for a smaller apartment, means that a buyer can overpay for the unit as an individual sale but the addition of the smaller unit to the large unit adds value to both units on a ppsf.
– The highest value is realized when the buyer can’t tell the layout was comprised of two different units.  Simply creating a door between two apartments would realize the least upside.

That second kitchen
– The biggest “tell” on a combo is the existence of a second kitchen.
– They are often converted to a laundry room or bathroom, taking advantage of the utility connections.
– Buildings might object to the removal of the second kitchen because it may impact the building Certificate of Occupancy – I defer to lawyers on this point.

What do lenders think?
– Some banks are scared of combinations and others are not.
– In my experience banks require financing on the whole apartment – if they have a loan using collateral of one of the apartments, they will require that it be replaced with a new mortgage to cover both apartments.
– Banks often get confused on the value of a combo asking the appraiser to provide a value for each of the separate apartments before they are combined. The problem with that position is that the combination is usually worth more as one apartment (even before considering improvements) – in other words, the sum of the parts is less than the whole and the bank will incorrectly assume the collateral is inadequate.

Maintenance fees
– Many agents tell me it is assumed that maintenance charges are skewed higher for combos. I can’t prove this, all other things being equal.  When it occurs, it’s probably for reasons other than simply combining the units.
– A combo in a small building, ie a 4-unit brownstone co-op, raises the risk to the remaining shareholders if the combo shareholder stops paying their maintenance charges. Risk exposure to a mid to large sized building should be nominal.

Common Area
– Quite often hallways are purchased and incorporated into a combo layout for a better result.
– The co-op wins by getting a cash infusion for the purchase and income in perpetuity for the additional share allocation from the common area purchase.

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With Mortgage Lending Historically Tight, Renters Suffer Just As Much

April 15, 2014 | 4:19 pm | |

nytrentafford4-14

There was a good article in the New York Times yesterday: In Many Cities, Rent Is Rising Out of Reach of Middle Class

Many have complained about the Federal Government’s (and our society’s) overselling of homeownership over the past decade and how the decline in homeownership will eventually lead to an emphasis on rentals in the US. Of course, like many housing market ideas, good and bad, they tend to be presented in a vacuum, without real context.

I believe much of this discourse is in reaction to tight credit combined with a weak economy rather than some sort of fundamental cultural and economic shift. During the bubble we got the opposite discourse – that there was a fundamental cultural and economic shift towards homeownership.

Currently there is a much smaller subset of Americans that have access to financing. According to the Federal Reserve Senior Loan Officer Survey, lending has actually tightened in 2014 over 2013 (related to QM). Many homeowners are unable to sell because they can no longer buy and many renters no longer qualify for financing so the idea of of homeownership as a goal fades.

Case in point has been the recent public discourse on the issue of home affordability, whether it be sales or rentals. Zillow presented an analysis for the New York Times that illustrates how much rents have risen in the past 13 years (since 2000) in cities across the US.

Here’s the scenario:

The economy is weak – we are seeing tepid growth in employment, stagnant incomes and historically tight residential mortgage lending.

  • Approximately 38% of homeowners can’t buy their next home so they won’t list their home for sale.
  • Buyers without credit issues won’t list their homes until they can find something to buy.
  • The lack of supply presses prices higher because those who have access to credit have little inventory to choose from, driving up prices.
  • Renters looking to buy can’t find a home they want to purchase so they are kept in the rental market.
  • Renters looking to buy don’t qualify for a mortgage so they stay in the rental market.

The organic flow out of the rental market into the sales market is slowed and a log jam is created of too many renters and not enough buyers.

Rising rents against stagnant incomes creates an affordability crisis. The sales and rental markets are connected. They are not mutually exclusive.

Rising rents are a product of tight credit, which is a residual byproduct of the financial crisis. Fix the economy and credit eases, then lending normalizes (no, not circa ’06) and the pressure on rental housing is eased.

ASIDE I’m not entirely confident with the reliability of the historical rental data being presented to the New York Times by Zillow – but I still agree that affordability is being pressured:
– Zillow was launched circa 2006 and rents are not public record so the early data has to be super thin.
– The comparison was made between a first quarter (low) and a third quarter (high) in a highly seasonal market.
– I am not sure if “New York” means Manhattan or New York City. If it is Manhattan, then our median rent figure in 1Q 2000 was $2,600 in nominal terms, and $4,276 in real terms. In nominal (unadjusted for inflation) terms, rents have risen 23.1% through 3Q 2013 while real median rent has fallen 27.3%. The Zillow median rent as share of median income nearly doubled, rising from 23.7% to 39.5%. Either incomes have collapsed in NYC or the 2000 rental figure being punched into their model is flawed, ie way low, no?

Other inights on any of this would be appreciated.

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Pending Home Sales Down 10.2% YOY And That’s Not A Bad Thing

March 27, 2014 | 11:55 am | Charts |

NARphsi3-27-14
[click to expand]

NAR released their pending home sale index today and the news was not unexpected. US home sales volume has slowed since last spring’s taper miscue by the fed which caused mortgage rates to jump. If you look at the May surge in pending sales, sales volume, seasonally speaking (comparing year over year) has fallen 10.2% (unadjusted).

The introduction of QM earlier in the year probably doesn’t help volume levels, but I’m not really convinced that the housing recovery is actually stalling. It seems more like sales levels are settling to more sustainable levels. And as sales go, so goes the insane price gains seen in the national reports.

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Regulators Turn Focus on AMCs, Proposals Include Hiring “Competent” Appraisers

March 26, 2014 | 12:43 am | Milestones |

occheader

The OCC and an alphabet soup of 5 additional regulators: FDIC, CFPB, FHFA, NCUA and the Federal Reserve issued a joint press release that if adopted, takes a small step forward in the regulation of appraisal management companies, who are largely responsible for the collapse of valuation quality since the credit crunch began.

To many, this action is long overdue. Appraisal management companies control the vast majority all mortgage appraisals in the US, having been legitimized by HVCC back in May 2009. I’ve burned a lot of calories over the past several years pointing out the problems with the AMC industry so admittedly it is nice to see them getting attention. The fact that these institutions are not licensed to do business at a statewide level but the appraisers who provide the valuation expertise they manage is inconsistent at best.

Still, the recognition of this regulatory glitch probably won’t have a significant impact on appraisal quality provided by AMCs. As my friend Joe Palumbo maintains, is like fool’s gold.

I think proposal is at least a starting point.

A couple of highlights – regulators would:

  • Require that appraisals comply with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (today we had a clerical AMC staffer tell us that writing out the math calculations on the floor plan was a requirement of USPAP).
  • Ensure selection of a competent and independent appraiser. (It is unbelievable to think this is necessary but it does make the legal exposure a little larger for AMCs.)

Housingwire has a good recap of the proposed regulations and so does the Wall Street Journal provides a nice overview (I gave them background for the piece).

The proposal by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Federal Reserve and other regulators mandates that appraisal-management companies hired by federally regulated banks use only state-licensed appraisers with “the requisite education, expertise, and experience necessary” to complete appraisals competently.

Moral hazard There is no significant financial incentive for lenders to stop accepting the generally poor quality appraisals the AMC industry presents them daily. The hope is that the additional regulatory largess the AMCs have to confront will force the issue with lenders simply because the AMCs will have to raise their fees. Without a real “value-add” to the banks other than cost control and fast turn times, the lack of quality for a large swath of AMCs may no longer be overlooked by banks. Yes I can dream.

Residential appraisers, mostly 1-2 person shops, have largely been left without a voice and the bigger financial institutions have lobbied financial reform overtop of us without the regulators truly understanding what our role should to be to protect the taxpayer from excessive risk.

Anumber of smart appraisers I know have created a petition whose sole purpose is the get the attention of the CSFB to address the issue of “customary and reasonable” fees. Our industry has no other way to reach the regulators or the ability to lobby our views in Washington. I hope they are listening.

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NAR Existing Home Sales Blink, And So What?

March 23, 2014 | 9:00 am |

NAR released their Existing Home Sales Report on Thursday with a headline that read: February Existing-Home Sales Remain Subdued that blamed the severe winter weather and low inventory for lower sales.

Of course inventory has been near historic lows for a few years so that’s not a new reason. I’m left with the weather and as someone who hates to use the weather as a crutch, it seems to be a pragmatic – it’s difficult to show or be in the mood to view properties when it is zero degrees outside. The weather explanation was also used in the prior report but those contracts were signed in December for the January report, before the “polar vortex.”

However the recent hand ringing caused by the downshift in sales is the concern that the recovery is cooling off.

I see the recent fretting about the cooling of housing as an indication of how improving conditions were based largely on Fed policy and not fundamentals. The combination of rising mortgage rates and declines from the year ago release of pent-up demand post-“fiscal cliff” likely gets price gains and sales levels in sync with fundamental economic conditions.

I’ve charted NAR EHS stats from the past 4 years without seasonal adjustments. Price gains have been insane so the combination of slowing sales and rising inventory will take the froth out of the market and hopefully get us on a more sustainable path.

2-14NARehs

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Talking Interest Rates, Housing on Bloomberg TV’s ‘Surveillance’

March 20, 2014 | 8:33 am | | TV, Videos |

Had a great conversation with Tom Keene, Scarlet Fu, Olivia Sterns and guest host Strategas Research Chief Investment Strategist Jason Trennert about the US housing market. We also dabbled a bit in Brooklyn and Manhattan rents and talked NCAA March Madness picks. Always fun to come in and join the Surveillance team.

Go MSU Spartans! Go State!

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Online Petition To Get “Customary & Reasonable Fees” Issue In Front of CFPB

March 19, 2014 | 3:16 pm |

CFPBlogo

Within the current mortgage industry, predatory appraisal fees are driving experienced appraisers out of the field only to be replaced by an army of “form-fillers.” The appraiser today is being asked to pay for a bank’s compliance with financial reform directly out of their appraisal fee or go out of business. The practice is misleading to the consumer, exposes the taxpayer and the financial system to unnecessary risk and drives invaluable expertise out of the appraisal profession.

The folks over at AppraisalBuzz ask me to provide input into the petition. It is an essential read for all appraisers regarding the practice of predatory fees by AMCs: The Online Petition Every Appraiser Should Know About or you can go directly to the petition and signup if you agree – it takes about 30 seconds.

My hope is that this petition creates a public awareness of how serious and untenable this problem is and how much the reliability of the appraisal of collateral for mortgage lending purposes has deteriorated since the financial crisis began.

Appraisal Buzz post: The Online Petition Every Appraiser Should Know About

Sign the petition.

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With Plunge in Loan Volume, Lenders Push ARMs to Jumbo Borrowers

March 17, 2014 | 12:00 pm | |

wsjthearmsrace3-16-14
[Source: WSJ, click to expand]

There’s a good article in yesterday’s WSJ “Adjustable-Rate Mortgages Make a Comeback” focusing on the rise in their use. In fact the title on the window bar is the web page is “ARM Loans-A Vestige of the Housing Bubble-Are Making a Comeback.

With mortgage volume down sharply since mortgage rates creeped higher last year, lenders are focusing on jumbo mortgages, especially ARMs that can expand affordability. There’s also a good audio clip embedded in the piece.

Lenders are pricing ARMs roughly 1.5% below a fixed rate, the largest spread in a decade.

ARMs comprised 31% of mortgages in the $417,001-to-$1 million range that were originated during the fourth quarter of 2013, according to data prepared for The Wall Street Journal by Black Knight Financial Services, formerly Lender Processing Services, a mortgage-data and services company. That is up from 22% a year earlier and the largest proportion since the third quarter of 2008.

I find it interesting that many suggest that ARM products – including within this article – were one of the causes of the housing bubble. I disagree. I saw them merely as a tool to be misused, just like a hammer or a chainsaw.

At least for now, with credit remaining very tight, it is unlikely that they would be abused in the same way they were during the prior housing boom. However with the 70% plunge in lucrative refi volume, one has to wonder when business decisions will start to overwhelm risk paranoia.

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