As job losses mounted in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. mortgage delinquency rates rose between February and March for the first time in a century.
Around Seattle, they rose faster than nearly anywhere else.
The number of Seattle-area households behind on their mortgages increased 11.4% month-over-month, nearly three times faster than the 3.3% average national rise, according to real estate data analytics company Black Knight. Historically, delinquency rates have fallen an average of 10% in March.
To housing market watchers, the rise is reminiscent of the Great Recession — but it doesn’t yet spell a similar foreclosure boom.
Washington state, and Seattle in particular, actually have some of the lowest rates of mortgage delinquency in the country, the data show. Just 1.62% of Washington households are delinquent on their home loans or in foreclosure, compared to 3.39% nationally. And overall, mortgage delinquencies remain near record lows. But the number grew more rapidly here than in the nation as a whole.
Delinquencies don’t tell the full tale of who’s behind on their mortgage payments.
The number of mortgage-holders who have negotiated forbearance agreements with their lenders to postpone mortgage payments also is on the rise, according to Black Knight. As of April 30, 3.85 million homeowners were in forbearance, representing a combined $841 billion in unpaid principal and 7.3% of all active mortgages — a threefold increase from a month ago.
“It feels like we’ve compressed the 2008 financial crisis into the last seven weeks,” said Tom Schwab, the owner of Westwood Mortgage in Northgate.
More number-crunching is needed to determine whether cities and states that responded quickly to the pandemic by closing businesses and asking residents to stay home saw a greater rise in delinquencies, said Black Knight director of market research Andy Walden.
California was the first state to institute a lockdown, on March 19. Delinquencies there rose 10.7%, month-over-month. In New York, which enacted a stay-at-home order March 22, delinquencies rose 9.8%.
But Michigan and Ohio, which told residents to stay home around the same time, saw much smaller shifts. In Ohio, which instituted a stay-at-home order March 23, delinquencies actually fell by 1.7%.
Amid economic turmoil and tighter lending standards, fewer people are applying for mortgages. In Washington, mortgage applications were down 36.9% for the week ending April 24, compared to the same week last year.
That’s a major improvement over the week prior, though, when mortgage applications were down 45.8% from 2019.
Other indicators, too, are that home sales activity is on the rebound from a major slide in March.
The number of home showings in Western Washington fell from a peak of nearly 44,000 per week in early March to roughly 18,000 after Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order took effect March 23, according to NWMLS data.
But by the week ending April 26, showings were nearing 34,000. New listings, too, have climbed week by week.
Home shoppers, though, will have difficulty securing financing.
Mortgage availability has contracted significantly in recent weeks as underwriting criteria tighten and pricing — particularly at the low- and high-end extremes of the market — rises.
Wells Fargo and US Bank both adjusted their minimum credit score requirements to 680, including for FHA and VA loans, which typically finance borrowers with credit scores as low as 580, including plenty of first-time homebuyers with low down payments. Navy Federal Credit Union stopped offering FHA loans altogether. A spokesperson said the pause was due to a system upgrade and the bank still has comparable offerings for first-time homebuyers.
Purchasers of higher-end homes have also seen their options restricted. And home buyers everywhere may be expected to put more down than they would have before the crisis if they want to take advantage of historically low interest rates.
“We’re not seeing a decrease in traffic,” Schwab said. “We’re seeing a decrease in the number of solutions we can offer right now.”
This article has been updated to include comment from Navy Federal Credit Union.