Legal/Legislative Updates

SHORT-TERM RENTAL BATTLE Airbnb, a leading platform for promoting short-term vacation rentals, is challenging a Boston ordinance that would restrict the ability of property owners to rent their residences for short period. Scheduled to take effect January 1 of 2019, the rules require owners to register their short-term rental properties, allow them to list only one unit at a time on host platforms like Airbnb, prohibit investors and tenants from using the platforms (but allow [Read More...]

HOUSING MARKET FALLING DOWN After several months of declining home sales, analysts have begun using the f-word ─ falling ─ to describe the housing market’s trajectory. “The housing market is stumbling through its longest slump in four years, as the divergence between a booming U.S. economy and weakening home sales that many had dismissed as temporary now looks poised to continue,” the Wall Street Journal reported. A combination of rising mortgage rates, relentless home price [Read More...]

NOT HEALTHY Despite some recent, small gains, the inventory of available homes for sale remains sparse. The 4.3-month supply reported in October “is far from a healthy level,” the NAR’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, observed. Inventory levels aren’t the only indicator signaling problems ahead for the housing market: Mortgage rates have reached an average of 4.97 percent, their highest level in seven years, approaching the 5 percent mark that some analysts view as a psychological, [Read More...]

STEPPING UP Citing continuing job gains, a low unemployment rate and strong spending by businesses and consumers, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates for the third time this year, pushing its target rate up by another quarter-of a point to 2.25 percent. The unanimous vote by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Fed’s policy-making arm, indicated that the board remains on its current course, which calls for gradually increasing rates to prevent a growing [Read More...]

TRYING AGAIN Lawmakers, who have been talking about housing finance reform for years, are talking about it once again. With the 10-year anniversary of the conservatorship for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac now logged, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has introduced two measures that would reduce the GSEs’ dominance, giving private capital a larger role in financing home mortgages. One of the measures is a refile of a bill Hensarling [Read More...]

IN AND OUT Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac thought they might play a constructive role in the single-family rental market. A test program has led the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates the two Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs), to conclude otherwise. “What we learned as a result of the pilots is that the larger single-family rental investor market continues to perform successfully without the liquidity provided by the Enterprises,” FHFA Director Mel Watt said in [Read More...]

HOUSING UNCERTAINTY What has been a quiet hum of concern about the housing market has grown louder, echoing in the comments of industry analysts and in headlines such as these: “Home Buyer Demand Cools Off”; “Housing Market Showing Signs of Cracking”; “Is the High-Flying Housing Market Heading for a Fall?” Economic reports for June indicate that some key trend lines have begun to shift. Home buyer confidence, housing demand, sales of new and existing homes, [Read More...]

CRACKS IN THE FOUNDATION? In the face of rising prices and shrinking inventories, housing demand has remained steady, providing a cornerstone underpinning the housing recovery. But there are signs that cornerstone may be weakening. Bidding wars are becoming less common, days on market are increasing even in the hottest markets, the pace of new construction is slipping, sales of new and existing homes are declining, surveys find fewer prospective buyers think this is a good [Read More...]

FANNIE EASING Fannie Mae is making it easier to finance investment condominiums. The agency announced recently that it will allow “limited reviews” of condominium properties instead of insisting on more detailed and costlier full reviews required for these loans. Fannie has been allowing limited reviews for loans on owner-occupied condos with down payments of at least 10 percent, but has insisted on full reviews for investment condos, regardless of the down payment size. The new [Read More...]

CLIMATE CHANGING THE HOUSING MARKET Climate change is reshaping the housing market. A recent study by Attom Data Solutions finds that consumers are beginning to factor concerns about flooding, wildfires and other climate-related disasters into their decisions about where to live, and those assumptions are beginning to affect home values in some areas. According to the study, home values in areas with high exposure to floods and hurricanes declined on average between 2007 and 2017. [Read More...]

MARIJUANA MOVEMENT In the continuing tug-of-war between state and federal lawmakers over legalization of marijuana, it appears the states may have gained an edge. President Donald Trump indicated recently that he might support a bipartisan Congressional measure establishing as a matter of law that states have the authority to determine how to regulate marijuana within their borders. The proposal would negate moves by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to revoke an Obama-era policy, under which the [Read More...]

CONDO CYBER THREATS Although condominium association boards are becoming more aware of cyber-threats, cyber-security has not become a top priority for most, according to a survey conducted by the Foundation for Community Association Research (FCAR). Less than half (about 40 percent) of the board members and 46 percent of the managers responding to the survey rated their concern about cybersecurity threats as “strong” or “very strong.” The issue registers more powerfully with association attorneys (53 [Read More...]

EMPLOYMENT TRAIN STILL ROLLING The unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent in April, reaching its lowest level in nearly two decades, as the labor market notched its 91st consecutive month of gains. Employers added 164,000 workers to their payrolls, keeping the hiring train moving, though more slowly than expected; analysts had predicted a gain of 193,000 positions. Earnings remained sluggish, increasing by only 4 cents per hour and averaging a 2.6 percent annual rate, barely [Read More...]

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, which had seemed on track to hit a new post-2004 high in mid-March, slipped in the final survey at month’s end, reflecting the increasing concern of higher-income households about the threat of a trade war, and their uncertainty about the impact of Trump administration economic policies. Still, the index remained near its recovery peak, bolstered by the increasing confidence of households in the lower third of [Read More...]

FED ON TRACK Presiding over the first Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting of his tenure as Federal Reserve Chairman, Jerome Powell announced a widely anticipated one-quarter percent increase in the Fed’s benchmark Federal Funds rate – the sixth the Fed’s policy-making committee has approved during this ongoing economic recovery. Also in line with predictions, Powell indicated that the Fed remains on track for additional rate hikes this year. But analysts did not know quite [Read More...]

UNEXPECTED RELIEF Given the widespread expectations for draconian cuts in financing for federal housing programs, the stop-gap $1.3 trillion funding bill Congress approved in March contained an unanticipated but welcome surprise: a $4.7 billion increase in funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), instead of the $6 billion reduction President Trump had sought. The $52.7 billion budget approved for the agency included significant increases to programs Mr. Trump had proposed cutting or [Read More...]

LABOR STRENGTH The big economic news for this month is the much stronger than expected employment report; the big question is, why in the face of strong labor market, consumer spending (reflected in retail sales) has been trending steadily downward. Employers added 313,000 jobs in February, representing the largest monthly increase in nearly two years. Positive labor reports and increasing confidence in the economic outlook lured more than 800,000 workers off the sidelines, holding the [Read More...]

HOUSING CRISIS Sounding an alarm that usually comes from housing advocacy groups, a multifamily developer is warning of an impending crisis in the rental housing market – the result of a mismatch between supply and demand. His message: Although the luxury market is overbuilt, or close to it, and the need for affordable housing acute, developers continue to add supply at the high end, because affordable rents can’t cover rising construction costs. “The two-by-four doesn’t [Read More...]

LEGAL BRIEF TIME LIMITS A New Hampshire Supreme Court decision holding that developers aren’t subject to statutory time limits on phased condominium developments has focused industry attention on what condo developers can do and when they can do it. Addressing a different fact pattern and using a different rationale, the Delaware Supreme Court reached the same conclusion. (Bethany Marina Townhouses v. BMIG, LLC.) The original plans called for 14 buildings in this community, only 11 [Read More...]

TIPPING POINT Housing industry executives have warned that the tax reforms Congress enacted will undercut incentives for home ownership. Researchers at the Urban Institute have drilled down on that theory to determine how the changes—primarily the increase in the standard deduction and caps on deductions for mortgage interest, state and local property taxes) will affect the buy-vs. rent equation (when it is more cost-effective to own than rent) for families in four different income brackets. [Read More...]