In a letter sent to several federal agencies, the NAR responded to the agencies' recent request for input and offered its recommendations for selling REO properties held by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.
In its letter, NAR urged the agencies to create an advisory board as they explore new options for selling foreclosed properties to ensure that efficiently disposing of agency REO properties will minimize taxpayer losses and reduce the negative effects that distressed properties have on local real estate markets.
"As the leading advocate for housing issues, Realtors know that foreclosures affect families, communities, the housing market and our nation's economy," said NAR President Ron Phipps, broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I.
"We believe the government has an opportunity to minimize the impact of distressed properties on local markets by expanding financing opportunities, bolstering loan modifications and short sales efforts, and enhancing the efficient disposition of REO properties," he said. "This will help stabilize home prices and neighborhoods and help support the broader economic recovery."
Phipps said that the lack of available and affordable mortgage financing is hurting REO sales and the entire housing market. He urged increased consumer and investor lending.
While NAR supports strong underwriting standards, the lack of private capital in the mortgage market, unduly tight underwriting standards, and increasing fees have discouraged many potential home buyers from applying for mortgages, Phipps explained. He added that NAR believes ensuring mortgage availability for qualified home buyers and investors will help absorb the excess REO inventory.
To prevent further REO inventory increases, NAR also recommended that the agencies take more aggressive steps to modify loans and, when a family is absolutely unable keep its home, to quickly approve reasonable short sale offers that allow families to avoid foreclosure.
Phipps said that while federal programs have been put into place to help keep families in their homes, many of these have fallen short of expectations, and advocated that those resources be applied toward modifying loans and expediting short sales, which are typically less costly than foreclosure.
"Loan modifications keep families in their home and reduce defaults, while short sales keep homes occupied, helping stabilize neighborhoods and home values," Phipps said. "Expanding resources and ensuring the use of already allocated funds for pre-foreclosure efforts is the best opportunity to reduce taxpayer costs and creates more positive outcomes for homeowners and their communities."
NAR's letter also outlined concerns about proposals to pool large volumes of REO properties for bulk sales. While these types of transactions may help quickly alleviate high REO inventories, taxpayers would be required to accept larger losses than are necessary.
Phipps said that efforts should be made to incentivize individual versus bulk sales, except in small geographic areas that meet certain criteria, since selling in bulk to large national investors puts a large section of the housing market into the hands of fewer market participants and puts individual home buyers and sellers at a disadvantage.
He also said the success of any bulk sale programs should be determined by the stabilizing effect the program has on a locale and whether it maximizes value to taxpayers. Maximizing the recovery on the agencies' assets will depend on how property valuations are determined and that those valuations are accurate, appropriate, and reflective of market conditions, such as the valuations available through the Realtor Property Resource, an NAR subsidiary.
NAR is also concerned about proposals that include lease-to-own elements. Phipps said that agency policies should first be focused on keeping families in their homes through loan modifications or short sales if that's a better option, and that the agencies should not expedite foreclosures so that those properties could be included in a lease-to-own program. He added that any lease-to-own programs should not be administered by the government, but instead should include the participation of local investors or nonprofits that can manage the specialized needs and challenges of the local market.
"Realtors welcome the agencies' desire to receive input and ideas to help address their REO inventory. We look forward to serving on any advisory board and working together with agency staff, real estate professionals, property managers, and others with extensive real estate industry experience to develop sound strategies and solutions to ongoing REO issues," said Phipps.