A delayed flip in California. A massive lien payment in the Washington, D.C., area. And would-be buyers in rural America whose dreams of homeownership are now in limbo.
These are just a few of the issues Realtors are increasingly seeing as the government shutdown drags on and cuts off access to an array of federal agencies and programs that keep the wheels of the real estate industry moving. And with no end in sight to the shutdown — which began in December and hinges on political leaders’ disagreement over funding for a border wall — Realtors say the dire affects are seeping into more and more corners of the industry.
One of the more wide-ranging problems created by the shutdown is that some lower-income homebuyers in rural areas are being cut off from mortgages.
Sam Dodd, an agent with Stratum Real Estate Group in Cedar City, Utah, explained that the U.S. Department of Agriculture runs a program that provides buyers with 100 percent financing if they live in communities with fewer than 50,000 people. The program also has looser credit requirements than more traditional borrowing options and Dodd said that buyers using it account for “20 or 30 percent of the business in the area.”
But the USDA is shut down right now, meaning the program is on ice.
“We have people who are kind of just waiting right now,” Dodd told Inman. “If the shutdown drags on then it’s going to be a problem.”
Dodd said that buyers in his area could turn to a state program that also provides 100 percent financing, but the terms of those loans tend to be less favorable.
In Inman’s Coast to Coast Facebook group, several other Realtors from various parts of the country said they too were facing snags because the USDA is closed, indicating that the problem is at least somewhat widespread. And, according to Dodd, the problem extends to an array of other adjacent industries such as inspectors and appraisers who are now suddenly working less.
“It kind of affects everyone here,” he said.
Two states over from Dodd, in California, Realtors are facing a different shutdown-related problem: They can’t close deals because the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is closed.
The BIA gets involved in home sales when properties sit on reservation land, which Berkshire Hathaway agent Byron Lohman said covers nearly “every other square mile” in the Palm Springs area where he works.
Unlike other transactions, where buyers get deeds for their property, homes on reservation land come with long-term lease assignments from the BIA. Now, no BIA means no one to issue those leases.
“Any transaction in the Coachella Valley right now that involves lease land is dead in the water,” Lohman told Inman.
Lohman has one client trying to close on a property that sits on reservation land. It was going to be an all-cash deal and should have been a no-brainer, but now there’s no end in sight.
“It’s a mess,” he said. “They can’t close because there’s no one to sign the lease assignment.”
Brad Keith, a Beverly Hills-based Berkshire Hathaway agent, is facing a similar problem. Keith told Inman that he’s trying to help a client buy a home to flip on reservation land in California’s Riverside County. The deal was supposed to be wrapped in December just as the shutdown began.
“The day we overnighted the package to [the Bureau of Indian Affairs] the door was locked,” he said. “We were one day shy and now we’re stuck.”
Keith said his client’s response to the shutdown was fairly “heated” at first, but that they still plan on moving forward, eventually, with the transaction.
“It’s kind of a disaster all around,” he added of the shutdown. “The sooner this reopens the better off we’ll all be.”
Other agents have shared stories online about deals being stalled thanks to closures or partial closures of various other agencies, including the IRS and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). And because the outcome of the government shutdown itself remains entirely unclear, the ways in which these potential deals get resolved also remains an open question.
D’Ann Faught, a Washington, D.C.-based agent with Rogers Healy and Associates Real Estate, is among those Realtors being impacted by the shutdown.
She represents a buyer trying to get a property that has a federal tax lien against it. The lien only amounts to about $30,000, but because the IRS has been mostly closed, the title company is asking for “three times that amount to be able to close,” she told Inman. She expects the deal to ultimately happen, but said skyrocketing expenses prompted by the shutdown could easily sink other transactions.
“The problem is some people don’t have the equity to have $90,000 or more,” she pointed out.
Faught said her client is a first-time homebuyer who is “just hoping that things get resolved quickly.”
But even if that one deal closes, Faught is seeing the effects of the shutdown play out all around her, in large part because her local economy is so tied to government work. She said area contractors that she works with are seeing a slowdown, and even people in service industry positions are getting less work. And that, she said, is translating into a more hesitant mood for homebuying.
“It’s causing people to pause moving forward,” she said. “Incomes are being affected kind of across the board.”