Housing walks a tightrope

Housing 2014: Finance challenges, pricey houses, mixed gov’t messages


September 8, 2014, by Trey Garrison for Housingwire
The Motley Fool rarely disappoints, and their take on what could happen next in housing seems to be right on target. Thanks to a weak first half of 2014, Fannie Mae now thinks total home sales will actually be lower in 2014 than they were in 2013, and that 2015 won’t be much better.

TMF notes that home sales have been lagging in 2014. They cite the cold winter excuse, but admit that even as the weather thawed, the market didn’t pick up quite as much as experts predicted.

“There were two big catalysts last year driving home sales that aren’t present anymore. First, for the first half of 2013, mortgage rates were ridiculously low. The 30-year rate dipped to just above 3.3% at one point, and rates remained below 3.75% until summer. Now, even though rates are still very low on a historical basis, at around 4.1%, they are not the magnetic draw they once were,” TMF notes.
Secondly, homes are simply much more expensive now. No matter how low your mortgage rate is, if the home is too expensive, it won’t sell.
Since bottoming in 2012, U.S. home values have risen by more than 25% on average, and popped by nearly 14% during 2013 alone.
“While prospective buyers certainly wouldn’t mind if home prices came back down, it could be rough for the economic recovery. Because homes have regained so much of their lost value, many homebuyers once again have positive equity in their homes. And if prices were to decline, millions of U.S. homeowners could once again find themselves underwater, which would be a very bad thing,” TMF notes.
Negative equity eliminates options.
“If you owe more than your home is worth, you can’t sell it unless you want to come out of pocket to make up the difference. And, when times get tough, homeowners with equity in their homes are more likely to do anything they can to make their payments and keep their home. Being underwater can make letting the home go into foreclosure seem like a better option,” TMF notes.
The market doesn’t need a new influx of foreclosures, nor does it need a lot more people to be “stuck” in their homes at a time when the market could really use more buyers. If prices begin to drop, this could start a dangerous cycle of price drops.
Is the government making it harder for the middle class to buy homes?
The long answer comes in this New York Times article, which addresses a lot of the problems facing homebuyers.
“…lenders say the mixed messages they’re getting from Washington give them no incentive to widen access to credit. The government, determined to prevent a repeat of the irresponsible lending practices that sparked the housing bust, has forced lenders to buy back billions of dollars in loans and continues to trumpet massive legal settlements with the industry. The largest came two weeks ago when Bank of America agreed to pay $17 billion to resolve claims that it sold the government defective mortgages,” the Times reports.

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