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 strength of the current housing market growing every day and more Americans returning to work, a faster-than-expected recovery in the housing sector is already well underway. Regardless, many are still asking the question: will we see a wave of foreclosures as a result of the current crisis? Thankfully, research shows the number of foreclosures is expected to be much lower than what this country experienced during the last recession. Here’s why.
According to Black Knight Inc., the number of those in active forbearance has been leveling-off over the past month (see graph below):Black Knight Inc. also notes, of the original 4,208,000 families granted forbearance, only 2,588,000 of these homeowners got an extension. Many homeowners have once again started to pay their mortgages, paid off their homes, or never went delinquent on their payments in the first place. They may have applied for forbearance out of precaution, but never fully acted on it (see graph below):The housing market, and homeowners, therefore, are in a much better position than many may think. Much of that has to do with the fact that today’s homeowners have more equity than most realize. According to John Burns Consulting, over 42% of homes are owned free and clear, meaning they are not tied to a mortgage. Of the remaining 58%, the average homeowner has $177,000 in equity. That number is keeping many homeowners afloat today and giving them options to avoid foreclosure.
While ATTOM Data Solutions indicates that there is a potential for the number of foreclosures to increase throughout the country, it’s important to understand why they won’t rock the housing market this time around:
“The United States faces a possible foreclosure surge over the coming months that could more than double the number of households threatened with eviction for not paying their mortgages.”
That number may sound massive, but it is actually much smaller than it seems at first glance. Today’s actual quarterly active foreclosure number is 74,860. That’s over 7.5x lower than the number of foreclosures the country saw at the peak of the housing crash in 2009. When looking at the graph below, it’s clear that even if the number of quarterly foreclosures today doubles, as ATTOM Data Solutions indicates is a possibility (not a given), they will only reach what historically-speaking is a normalized range, far below what up-ended the housing market roughly 10 years ago.Equity is growing, jobs are returning, and the economy is slowly recovering, so the perfect storm for a wave of foreclosures is not realistically in the housing market forecast. As Odeta Kushi, Deputy Chief Economist for First American notes:
“Alone, economic hardship and a lack of equity are each necessary, but not sufficient to trigger a foreclosure. It is only when both conditions exist that a foreclosure becomes a likely outcome.”
While our hearts are with anyone who may end up in foreclosure as a result of this crisis, we do know that today’s homeowners have more options than they did 10 years ago. For some, it may mean selling their house and downsizing with that equity, which is a far better outcome than foreclosure.
Homeowners today have many options to avoid foreclosure, and equity is surely helping to keep many afloat. Even if today’s rate of foreclosures doubles, it will still only hit a mark that is more in line with a historically normalized range, a very good sign for homeowners and the housing market.