In a rental market that’s already been floundering for more than a year and could be headed for more problems next year, two recent announcements out of Washington, D.C., won’t help.
Last Thursday, Fannie Mae introduced a new program called The Deed for Lease Program, which allows homeowners facing foreclosure to rent their current homes. A day later, President Obama signed an extension of the nearing-expiration homebuyer's tax credit through next June. The bill also goes beyond first-time homebuyers, offering a $6,500 tax credit for buyers who have owned their homes five of the last eight years and are looking to move up. The tax credit is available for individuals earning less than $125,000 and couples earning less than $225,000 who plan to buy a home that costs less than $800,000.
Because of this provision, Jim Arbury, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Multi Housing Council doesn’t think the people using this credit are currently renters anyway.
“I don’t think there will be any impact on the move-up part,” Arbury says. “They’re moving from one part to another, if they even do it. What would be driving people to buy more than a tax credit is whether they think that housing prices are at bottom and will start to go back up.”
Others aren’t so sure the repercussions won’t be felt in the rental industry, though. Green Street Advisors, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based REIT consulting and research firm reported that nearly the entire apartment REITs saw the number of renters leaving for home ownership increase in the third quarter. “Due to dramatically improved home affordability, signs are beginning to emerge that households are slowly warming up to the idea of homeownership again,” Green Street says in the report.
Meanwhile, the Fannie Mae program allows borrowers to voluntarily transfer their property deed back to the lender. The lender then leases the house back to the borrower at a market rate for up to a year. In the process, it brings Fannie even further into the rental market. “They’ve turned them into property managers,” Arbury says.
Over the past couple of years apartment owners have been tweaking their credit standards to allow homeowners facing foreclosure to rent their units. This new program effectively directly competes with those initiatives.
“I’m sure that has an impact, but what’s Fannie or Freddie or any lender going to do?” Arbury says. “With no buyers, they might as well let some stay in a single-family house or condo rather than have them subject to vandalism. They’ve taken a lot of for-sale housing and had to turn it into rental housing.”