Every week, we ask an Atlanta real estate professional for their thoughts on the top trends in Atlanta real estate.
This week, we talked with Barbra Curtiss, the owner/broker of Barbra Curtiss Realty, Inc. A 24-year industry veteran, Barbra was recently elected as the director of the newly formed Atlanta Chapter of The National Association for Female Executives, or NAFE; she is also the founder of the National Society of Female REO Agents.
Atlanta Agent (AA): We keep hearing differing takes on where the lending environment is right now – either it’s still too strict, or standards are exactly where they need to be for a steady housing recovery. Based on your business, how do you see it?
Barbra Curtiss (BC): Personally, I think it’s where it needs to be right now. We all know that the very slack requirements that led up to 2008 and 2009 were just too loose. What happened was a combination of appraisers valuing homes like it was anybody’s ballgame and lenders having programs where, as long as you were alive and breathing, you could get a loan – that was the big problem behind the economy falling out.
Now, though, I think lending is where where it needs to be. People complain and say, “Oh, it’s too strict,” but I don’t feel like it is. You’ve got to have guidelines in place that are going to protect everyone, including the lender and the person who is getting the loan. If they don’t qualify financially and credit-wise, then unfortunately they just can’t purchase at that time; a good lender, though, will work with the consumer and let them know what they have to do to get that loan.
AA: We follow McGraw Hill Construction’s monthly numbers on the residential construction markets, and we can’t help but notice that Atlanta has been putting up some great numbers in recent months. What do you think is behind that growth?
BC: Builders are feeling that the economy is getting better, but I don’t agree with that. Being an REO broker and dealing in the default service industry, all the statistics show that there’s another huge bubble coming in 2014, and I’m personally very scared for these builders and developers who are starting to build like crazy again.
My big fear is the shadow inventory. There are still tons of foreclosures sitting out there that have never been put on the market, and it is my understanding that the banks are going to have to start releasing out all those foreclosures next year, and there’s going to be another big bubble of the market.
The shadow inventory was created when the government subsidized banks to not put their distressed properties on the market, so that the economy would improve, the over-saturated market would dry up and inventory would get low, so prices could start growing again. In 2013, that happened – inventory has been tremendously low, and there have been multiple offers. People who previously had to short-sell their home could now list it on the open market and walk away with a few thousand dollars in their pocket.
On Dec. 31, 2013, though, all those government subsidies ended, and come Jan. 1, 2014, the government stopped helping banks with their shadow inventory. So unless the banks are able to sell all of those properties in bulk sales, then the market is going to be over saturated again, and we’re going to be right back where we were in 2008 and 2009, with a flood of REO listings and a buyer’s market.
AA: The share of first-time homebuyers in the market remains low by historical measures; how many first-timer buyers are you working with, and what are their reasons for entering the market?
BC: Fifty percent of my business is brand-new, first-time homebuyers; the other 40 percent is investors, and the last 10 percent is re-sales and retirees who are downsizing. So half of my business is first-time buyers who are getting out of the rental market and buying their first home.
I promote the HUD $100 program here in Georgia, which allows you, if you’re an owner-occupent and financing an insurable home, to get a special program of just $100 down. I have a big sign outside my office for the program, and I get at least three to four calls a day about it. We sell a lot of HUD in my office, and that’s how we attract the first-time homebuyers.