Factoring in Commuting Costs

Great article I thought I would share…. Though banks and underwriters may not consider this additional cost of community, The Caton Team does. When we sit down with new buyers we talk about where they work and the cost of living in X, Y or Z.  We stopped using the lender approval as our price guideline for house hunting – instead we ask each buyer to determine their true monthly budget.  What they are spending on gas, transportation, utilities, other debt and lifestyle.  We then take the true picture of expenses to determine their comfort level on a mortgage payment and work backwards to find a house that fits that price and other elements.  Enjoy the article….

Factoring in Commuting Costs 

MORTGAGE lenders do not figure in a household’s likely commuting costs when weighing loan applications, but a recent study suggests that borrowers of moderate means would be smart to calculate these costs themselves before buying.

The study, published in October by the Center for Housing Policy and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, looked at transportation and housing costs in the 25 largest metropolitan areas. It found that transportation costs rose faster than incomes in every area over the last decade.

That has added to the financial burden shouldered by moderate-income homeowners, defined as households earning 50 to 100 percent of a metropolitan area’s median income. Transportation consumes 30 percent of their income, on average. Add housing costs to that and the combined cost burden rises to 72 percent.

“The impact is larger for moderate-income households,” said Jeffrey Lubell, the executive director of the Center for Housing Policy in Washington, “because everyone needs to get where they need to go and the fixed costs are the same for everyone. The lower you go down the income stream, the more transportation costs loom as a very big expense.”

The study also found that some metropolitan areas generally considered more affordable than New York become less so after transportation is figured in. For example in Houston, where housing development is more sprawling, transportation consumes 32 percent of income, compared with 22 percent in New York, which has a more robust transit system.

Mortgage underwriters sometimes look at a home’s location relative to where the buyer works, but in most cases a long distance between the two is an issue only if it suggests that the buyer isn’t actually going to live in the house, said W. Thomas Kelly, the president of Investors Home Mortgage, a subsidiary of Investors Bank in Millburn, N.J. Commuting costs vary too much to be figured into qualifying ratios, Mr. Kelly said, adding, “How do I say to a borrower, you don’t qualify because you live too far away from work?”

Scott Bernstein, the president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, argues that transportation costs are quantifiable enough that they ought to be factored into underwriting. And they were, during the first half of the last decade, in an experiment the center conducted jointly with Fannie Mae. Called a “Location-Efficient Mortgage,” the product was a contrasting proposition to the “drive till you qualify” strategy of finding an affordable home. The mortgage compensated borrowers applying to buy in areas with lots of transportation choices, and close to jobs and amenities.

“The bottom line for the borrower was that the location-efficient value would get taken into the underwriting ratio so that it would allow for more borrowing capacity for this income level,” Mr. Bernstein said.

Tested in a handful of markets before 2007, the mortgages were issued to about 2,000 borrowers and, based on the center’s evaluation of a representative sample, showed a very low default rate. But the experiment ended with the mortgage market collapse.

Or, as Mr. Bernstein put it, “The experiment was successful, and the patient died.”

Now the center is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on an online affordability calculator that will allow people to look by location at what their likely housing costs, with transportation, would be nationwide.

“Housing counselors can also use it to help coach people on how to pick locations, and it could help developers get a competitive advantage,” Mr. Bernstein said.

The national calculator could be ready by year’s end. Another calculator developed by the center, called Abogo (abogo.cnt.org), lets people plug in an address and find out what a typical household in that area spends on transportation.

By LISA PREVOST

I read this article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/realestate/mortgages-factoring-in-commuting-costs.html?ref=realestate

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Thanks for reading – Sabrina

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Sabrina Caton - The Caton Team Realtors

A native Californian with a passion for residential real estate and writing. A full time Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Drysdale Properties.

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