This year is ending on a high note with some very good news for REALTORS® and California homeowners and home buyers as I informed you earlier.  Good news bears repeating, so let me recap the good news again.

Late last month, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced it will keep the 2014 maximum conforming loan limits for mortgages acquired by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac at $417,000 on one-unit properties in most areas and a cap of $625,500 in high-cost areas.  C.A.R. applauds the FHFA for acting lawfully in making the only decision they could by retaining the existing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac conforming loan limits.  Retaining the higher loan limits is critical to providing liquidity in today’s housing market and is essential to a full housing recovery.  Earlier this year, the FHFA announced its intention of lowering the loan limits.  Since then, C.A.R. and the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR) aggressively fought to prevent a reduction in the loan limits.  C.A.R. and NAR both have long advocated for retaining the higher conforming loan limits, and as a result of our combined efforts, Congress kept permanent the maximum conforming loan limits at $625,500.

On a related note, in early December, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced it was reducing the loan limit for FHA-insured loans from $729,750 to $625,500 beginning Jan. 1, 2014.  As part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008, loan limits for high-cost areas were temporarily raised to $729,750, which C.A.R. and NAR lobbied to maintain.   In connection with the loan limit reduction, FHA also reset its metropolitan statistical area (MSA) median home prices used to calculate loan limits.   Since 2008, FHA has based its MSA median home prices on the highest median home price for a county over time (which for many counties has meant 2007 home prices, when prices were at a peak).  According to FHA’s announcement, FHA believes it must use 2008 price levels.  If an area’s median home price has increased since 2008, FHA will use the higher median price.  However, home prices in many areas are still below 2007 levels, which have resulted in the drastic reduction of FHA’s MSA median prices.  In California, it has resulted in reductions of an average of more than $100,000 statewide.

This is an unprecedented action by FHA.  FHA has historically held an area harmless when that area’s median home price declined.  While FHA was required to lower maximum loan limits and reduce high-cost area calculation beginning January 1, 2014, C.A.R. does not believe it was required to reset MSA median home prices.  C.A.R. is working with NAR to fight the resetting of MSA median home prices.  View FHA’s announcement and the new FHA median home prices.

California homeowners who lost their home in a short sale will not be subject to federal or state income tax liability on debt forgiveness “phantom income” they never received, thanks to recent clarifications by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and California Franchise Tax Board (FTB).  In November, in a letter to California Sen. Barbara Boxer, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognized that the debt written off in a short sale does not constitute recourse debt under California law, and thus does not create so-called “cancellation of debt” income to the underwater home seller for federal income tax purposes.  Following the IRS’s clarification, C.A.R. sought a similar ruling by the California FTB, with the help of the Board of Equalization (BOE).   Now with the FTB’s clarification, underwater home sellers also are assured that they are not subject to state income tax liability, rescuing tens of thousands of distressed home sellers from California tax liability for debt written off by lenders in short sales.  We thank Sen. Boxer and BOE member George Runner for their leadership in obtaining this guidance from the IRS and FTB.  Distressed California homeowners can now avoid foreclosure or bankruptcy and can opt for a short sale instead, without incurring federal and state tax liability, even after the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 expires at the end of this year.

While C.A.R. will not be pursuing SB 30 on the phantom income/debt forgiveness short sale issue, it will explore whether state and/or federal legislation is necessary in connection with loan modifications and certain foreclosure actions.  Thanks very much to the thousands of REALTORS® who fought for their clients by responding to C.A.R.’s Red Alert on SB 30.

Lastly, C.A.R. recently has held a number of high profile events to help educate and keep you at the top of your game.  Under our Thought Leadership program, which helps C.A.R. position itself as a leading housing organization, we convened an executive roundtable with four leading economists and finance experts to share their insights on market conditions, the financial recovery, mortgage finance, and other housing policy issues.  C.A.R. CEO Joel Singer was joined by Professors Janice Eberly, Edward Leamer, David Min, and Richard Green for this private event, and the resulting executive report, “The Future of Housing Finance: Economic and Policy Insights,” is available here. 

C.A.R. also gathered some of the brightest minds in real estate for a one-day symposium last month that featured cutting-edge real estate and economic presentations from leading experts in the field.  Titled, “Real Estate Voices—The Past, Present and Future of the Real Estate Industry,” the event represented a variety of related disciplines, with 18 presenters providing their insights on the future of the housing market, banking, mortgage finance, the economy, demographics, and more.  The fast-paced, “TED Talk-styled” event provided an opportunity for a thought-provoking exchange of ideas and information.  Obtain event materials and view videos of the presentations.

Before I close, I want to tell you how excited I am to serve as your President in 2014.  I hope you will join me and get involved with C.A.R. next year.  I look forward to working with you!

Have a very safe and joyous holiday and a Happy New Year.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown
2014 President

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