The fact that the real estate market thrived during 2020 while the global economy crumbled is well-documented. Analytics compiled by New Jersey Realtors® show the real estate market outperformed the 2019 year, despite a slump in activity in the spring presumably due to New Jersey lockdown restrictions. The data also shows a reduction in listings, meaning the supply of available property was less this year than last.
Many real estate professionals were caught off guard with the sudden influx of activity. News headlines showed record breaking numbers of Americans filing for unemployment. Businesses were forced to close. Some temporarily. Some for good. Many businesses could, and are still, only operating at partial capacity to ensure patron and employee safety, and to allow proper compliance with CDC cleaning protocols.
How did the real estate industry manage to emerge from the global economic downturn unscathed? It all started with immediate action from Congress. Shocking, I know!
Eviction moratoriums were put in place in the early spring when the pandemic was finally recognized as a threat by the United States. The CDC enacted similar protections. Congress also enacted a temporary freeze on foreclosures and mortgage forbearance.
Then, the Federal Reserve lowered rates to 0% to 0.25%, an attempt to protect the home buying market. This resulted in a decrease in mortgage rates. Fixed mortgage rates dropped below 3% causing a rush of home buying and refinancing and making it the lowest mortgage rate on record.
The realties of lockdown also fueled real estate market trends. Many people became remote workers, operating out of make-shift home offices. Forced with the realization they will be spending more time at home (with their spouses and children) than ever before, many left small apartments in big cities for larger properties in the suburbs. Properties that often come with outdoor space. Purchasers requested properties with home offices, gym, and other “flex rooms”. It’s not difficult to make the logical conclusion these requests are in direct response to the new normal of pandemic life.
Metropolitan areas around the country are experiencing a quite different reality. New York City is enduring an unprecedented fall in residential real estate. Between the month of March through November, rents in Manhattan dropped 12.7%, exceeding the biggest price drop during the Great Recession.
But what is going to happen when the multitude of state and federal eviction and foreclosure protections are eventually lifted?
I believe the market’s low inventory is related in part to these protections. Landlords voiced opposition to the moratoriums, labeling them as an “unlawful taking” in court, sometimes successfully circumventing eviction protections. When the protections expire, these vacant properties will immediately hit a market with hungry buyers starving for supply, and there will be an influx in bargain-basement real estate purchasing, for those who can afford it.
Refinancing? You May Be Subject To The New “Adverse Market Fee”. The Reason For The Fee May Shock YouRead Now
A recent change in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backed refinances subtly underscores an impending crisis that is not garnering much attention from the national media. Most refinanced loans closed on or after December 1st and subsequently sold to Fannie and Freddie will be subject to a 0.5% “adverse market fee”. Whether those costs are passed onto the consumer, absorbed by the lender, or some combination therein is at the discretion of the lender. However, the reason for the fee signals a national housing crisis set to materialize in the not-to-distant future.
Amongst the backdrop of headlines of Presidential pardons and surging COVID-19 statistics is the very real fact millions of Americans are facing an imminent threat of homelessness. Currently, there are federal restrictions prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants that are unable to pay rent due to COVID-19. Those protections started with the passage of the CARES Act. Federal protections were extended by an order from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and were set to expire on December 31, 2020. The enactment of the recent $900 billion pandemic relief bill will extend federal protections until the end of January 2021. While many states and localities have their own restrictions on evictions and foreclosures, the recent relief bill is the only federal protection extending into the new year.
These moratoriums are not permanent. Tens of millions of people may lose their homes when these temporary safeguards are eventually removed. And eventually, the safeguards will be removed.
How is this related to the adverse market fee? The Federal Housing Finance Authority (“FHFA”) anticipates at least $6 billion in losses incurred to protect the American public from forbearance defaults and other moratorium-related losses enacted due to COVID-19. This loss is generally viewed as a conservative estimate. The implementation of the adverse market fee is to help make up for this multi-billion-dollar loss. FHFA decided to implement the adverse market fee on refinances of most loans over $125,000.00, stating in relevant part:
[The adverse market fee] will exempt refinance loans with loan balances below $125,000, nearly half of which are comprised of lower income borrowers at or below 80% of area median income. Affordable refinance products, Home Ready and Home Possible, are also exempt
FHFA declined to implement the fee on home purchase loans to prevent any negative impact on the housing market, during a time when the economy is already facing serious challenges. This hasn’t stopped real estate and lending groups from decrying the fee, with some groups estimating it will increase costs $1,400.00 on average: "This announcement is bad for our nation's homeowners and the nascent economic recovery. We strongly urge FHFA, which had to approve this policy, to withdraw this ill-timed, misguided directive."
We are in unchartered waters when it comes to life post-COVID-19, and if this is one way to help prevent homelessness and another housing collapse, isn’t that a net-positive for homeowners? Or perhaps, is this yet another way the government is passing on the burden of a bail out to middleclass America? After all, we’re all living in a time when the stock market is regularly hitting record highs, while food insecurity statistics continue to rise.
by- Ryan Westerman, Esq.
On November 3, 2020, residents of the State of New Jersey voted in an overwhelming majority to legalize recreational marijuana. However, the legislative process has been delayed due to arguments between state legislators regarding how to best implement the changes to state law. A final vote on implementation is set to be heard in Trenton on December 17, 2020.
On November 4, 2020, the Attorney General of New Jersey, Gurbir S. Grewal, released a statement reminding New Jersey residents that, “[a]ll of the State’s criminal laws relating to marijuana continue to apply until, among other things, the Legislature enacts a law creating [a] regulatory scheme for legal cannabis.”  Then on November 25, 2020, Attorney General Grewal provided additional guidance to state prosecutors concerning the prosecution of low-level marijuana cases. The Attorney General directed “all New Jersey municipal, county, and state prosecutors to adjourn, until at least January 25, 20201, any juvenile or adult case solely involving” particular low-level marijuana crimes. Notably absent from this directive is guidance regarding the prosecution of cases charging the distribution of marijuana or possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.
In his November 25, 2020 guidance, the Attorney General assured residents that “more comprehensive guidance, including direction on handling previously adjudicated matters, will follow when the Legislature provides details of the framework for marijuana decriminalization and the legislation of adult-use cannabis.”
At this point, there is no effective date for when possession of marijuana will be decriminalized in New Jersey. What does all of this mean for you? In short, the police can arrest you and prosecutors have the option to charge you for low-level marijuana related offenses, at their discretion, in New Jersey. Distribution or possession with the intent to distribute are still being prosecuted and are not being postponed, according to the Attorney General’s latest guidance.
The good news is, if you already made a mistake and have a marijuana-related arrest on your record, you may be able to have that criminal history expunged. Expungement is the legal process by which your criminal record is sealed, with few exceptions. Expungement of your criminal record is beneficial for job applications, federal funding such as loans and grants, housing applications, or any other situation where someone will be conducting a background check.
Do you have a marijuana arrest or charge on your record? Contact the Hunnell Law Group for a free case assessment today to determine whether you are eligible for an expungement!
Written by Caitlin Holland, Esq.
Whether you are moving out of your parents’ house or movin’-on-up from the college dorms, your first apartment is a major milestone. You signed your first lease, gave your landlord the security deposit and first month’s rent, and the place is yours! Everyone remembers the excitement of unpacking their stuff in their new, albeit likely temporary, home; decorating the place; picking out new furniture and window treatments; scrounging together every 20% Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon you can find. We’ve all done it.
But do you remember receiving the first notice from the landlord informing you where your security deposit is? If you don’t, it may be because it never happened, which is a violation of New Jersey’s Rent Security Deposit Act.
A landlord is legally obligated to deposit every security deposit, which cannot be more than the total of 1.5 months’ rent of the lease, in an interest-bearing account within 30 days of receiving the funds. Then, the landlord must provide written notice to the tenants confirming:
There are many instances in which a landlord must provide subsequent notices to their tenants, including an annual notice that coincides with the interest-payment received from the bank. This is because the interest accrued belongs to you, the tenant!
Has your landlord failed to comply with this law? Contact the Hunnell Law Group for a free consultation.
Written by Ryan Westerman, Esq.