By Jacob Adelman
November 13, 2010
The California Association of Realtors program allows home sellers to fund insurance plans that pay buyers up to $1,500 a month toward their mortgages for six months if they’re laid off from their jobs.
The so-called Home Payment Protection Program is a nod toward the role job concerns are playing in the housing market, especially in high-unemployment states such as California, where 12.4 percent of the population remains without work.
“Most people out today wanting to buy houses have a fear: What happens if I lose my job?” said CAR president Beth L. Peerce. “This takes some of that stress away.”
Mortgage payment protection programs are nothing new, but what distinguishes the California scheme is that the protection is being pitched as a selling point for reluctant buyers, which sellers advertise as part of their home listings.
Under the program, which covers buyers who lose their jobs within 12 months of escrow closing, a seller can choose to pay $200 for six mortgage payments of up to $1,000 each, or $275 for six mortgage payments of up to $1,500 each.
CAR began offering the service last month but doesn’t plan to begin advertising it widely until January, Peerce said.
National Association of Realtors spokesman Walter Molony said he knows of no other states that are offering similar incentives for job-fearing home-seekers.
The focus on consumers wary of making big purchases in a shaky economy recalls Hyundai Motor Hyundai Motor America’s offer to buy back cars from people who lose their jobs.
Analysts have credited that program with helping boost Hyundai sales since its introduction in January 2009, despite the ongoing economic doldrums.
University of Southern California business professor Lars Perner, who specializes in consumer behavior, thinks the realtors’ program could embolden those who have been putting off buying a home because of job insecurities.
“Taking away some of that fear of getting into big trouble is something that could easily tip the balance,” he said.
But Howard Wial, who directs the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Economy Initiative, said the plan would help only a limited number of borrowers with middling mortgage payments and relatively short amounts of time spent without work.
Indeed, nearly half of the state’s unemployed had been out of work for an average of more than six months, according to state statistics based on the year ending in September.
Meanwhile, although the state’s average mortgage payment was $1,055 in September, according to tracking firm MDA DataQuick, the insurance payouts wouldn’t cover mortgages in higher priced counties where sales have been most sluggish.
Average monthly mortgage payments in San Francisco and Orange County were $2,469 and $1,772 in September, DataQuick said.
“It could have some impact on home sales, but I wouldn’t overstate it,” Wial said of the CAR plan. “I think it’s a small step.”