If you’ve seen recent headlines about foreclosures surging in the housing market, you’re certainly not alone. There’s no doubt, the stories in the media can be pretty confusing right now. They may even make you think twice about buying a home for fear that prices could crash. The reality is, the data shows a foreclosure crisis is not where the market is headed, and understanding what that really means is mission critical if you want to know the truth about what’s happening today. Here’s a deeper look.
According to the Year-End 2022 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report from ATTOM, foreclosure filings are up 115% from 2021, but down 34% from 2019. As media headlines grab onto this 115% increase, it’s more important than ever to put that percentage into context.
While the number of foreclosure filings did more than double last year, we need to remember why that happened and how it compares to more normal, pre-pandemic years in the market. Thanks to the forbearance program and other relief options for homeowners, foreclosure filings were down to record-low levels in 2020 and 2021, so any increase last year is — no surprise — a jump up. Rick Sharga, Executive VP of Market Intelligence at ATTOM, notes:
“Eighteen months after the end of the government’s foreclosure moratorium, and with less than five percent of the 8.4 million borrowers who entered the CARES Act forbearance program remaining, foreclosure activity remains significantly lower than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems clear that government and mortgage industry efforts during the pandemic, coupled with a strong economy, have helped prevent millions of unnecessary foreclosures.”
Clearly, these options meant millions of homeowners could stay in their homes, allowing them to get back on their feet during a very challenging period. With home values rising at the same time, many homeowners who may have found themselves facing foreclosure under other circumstances were able to leverage their equity and sell their houses rather than face foreclosure, and that trend continues today.
And remember, as the graph below shows, foreclosures today are far below the record-high 2.9 million that were reported in 2010 when the housing market crashed.
So, while foreclosures are rising, keeping perspective in mind is key. As Bill McBride, Founder and Author of Calculated Risk, noted just last week:
“The bottom line is there will be an increase in foreclosures over the next year (from record low levels), but there will not be a huge wave of distressed sales as happened following the housing bubble. The distressed sales during the housing bust led to cascading price declines, and that will not happen this time.”
Right now, putting the data into context is more important than ever. While the housing market is experiencing an expected rise in foreclosures, it’s nowhere near the crisis levels seen when the housing bubble burst, and that won’t lead to a crash in home prices.
With the rapid shift that’s happened in the housing market this year, some people are raising concerns that we’re destined for a repeat of the crash we saw in 2008. But in truth, there are many key differences between what’s happening today and the bubble in the early 2000s.
One of the reasons this isn’t like the last time is the number of foreclosures in the market is much lower now. Here’s a look at why there won’t be a wave of foreclosures flooding the market.
Not as Many Homeowners Are in Trouble This Time
After the last housing crash, over nine million households lost their homes due to a foreclosure, short sale, or because they gave it back to the bank. This was, in large part, because of more relaxed lending standards where people could take out mortgages they ultimately couldn’t afford. Those lending practices led to a wave of distressed properties which made their way into the market and caused home values to plummet.
But today, revised lending standards have led to more qualified buyers. As a result, there are fewer homeowners who are behind on their mortgages. As Marina Walsh, Vice President of Industry Analysis at the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA), says:
“For the second quarter in a row, the mortgage delinquency rate fell to its lowest level since MBA’s survey began in 1979 – declining to 3.45%. Foreclosure starts and loans in the process of foreclosure also dropped in the third quarter to levels further below their historical averages.”
There Have Been Fewer Foreclosures over the Last Two Years
While you may have seen recent stories about the number of foreclosures rising today, context is important. During the pandemic, many homeowners were able to pause their mortgage payments using the forbearance program. The program gave homeowners facing difficulties extra time to get their finances in order and, in many cases, work out a plan with their lender.
With that program, many were concerned it would result in a wave of foreclosures coming to the market. That fear didn’t materialize. Data from the New York Fed shows there are still fewer foreclosures happening today than before the pandemic (see graph below):
That means, while there are more foreclosures now compared to last year (when foreclosures were paused), the number is still well below what the housing market has seen in a more typical year, like 2017-2019.
And most importantly, the number we’re seeing now is still far below the number we saw during the market crash (shown in the red bars in the graph). The big takeaway? Don’t let a headline in the news mislead you. While foreclosures are up year-over-year, historical context is essential to understanding the full picture.
Most Homeowners Have More Than Enough Equity To Sell Their Homes
Many homeowners today have enough equity to sell their homes instead of facing foreclosure. Due to rapidly rising home prices over the last two years, the average homeowner has gained record amounts of equity in their home. And if they’ve stayed in their homes even longer, they may have even more equity than they realize. As Ksenia Potapov, Economist at First American, says:
“Homeowners have very high levels of tappable home equity today, providing a cushion to withstand potential price declines, but also preventing housing distress from turning into a foreclosure. . . the result will likely be more of a foreclosure ‘trickle’ than a ‘tsunami.’”
A recent report from ATTOM Data explains it by going even deeper into the numbers:
“Only about 214,800 homeowners were facing possible foreclosure in the second quarter of 2022, or just four-tenths of one percent of the 58.2 million outstanding mortgages in the U.S. Of those facing foreclosure, about 195,400, or 91 percent, had at least some equity built up in their homes.”
If you see headlines about the increasing number of foreclosures today, remember context is important. While it’s true the number of foreclosures is higher now than it was last year, foreclosures are still well below pre-pandemic years. If you have questions, let’s connect.