The cover story in this week’s Barron’s is about the housing market.
Nothing’s wreaked quite the havoc on the U.S. economy, and indeed the national psyche, as the six-year slide in home prices. It wiped out some $7 trillion in household wealth, savaged bank balance sheets, and induced the Great Recession and the tepid recovery.
Yet there are unimpeachable signs that this national nightmare is now over. Home prices are starting to rise, if somewhat haltingly, in most areas of the country. And a number of forecasters predict home-price increases around 10% or so nationally over the next three years, with some metropolitan statistical areas, such as Midland, Texas, and Bismarck, N.D., likely riding the energy-exploration boom to better than 20% jumps in residential-real-estate prices. The turnaround, in fact, appears to be arriving exactly on the schedule that Barron’s laid out this year in a March 19 cover story entitled “Ready to Rebound.”
Of course, it’s not all optimistic…
TO BE SURE, any sustained recovery in prices faces some formidable obstacles. The “shadow inventory” of residences that are in some stage of foreclosure or whose owners are at least 90 days delinquent on their mortgages stands at 3.1 millionâ€“6% of the 50 million home loans in the U.S. In a normally functioning market, the total of distressed properties would be more like 2%.
Likewise, some 13 million homeowners are under water — meaning that their mortgages are larger than the value of their houses or condos. Although the vast majority of these people are current on their mortgage payments, many may be tempted to resort to a “strategic default.” This is particularly true in the event of a job loss or some other economic vicissitude.
And finally, the collapse in housing prices was so severe — nationally, residential real estate fell by over one third in value, peak-to-trough — that it would take at least a 50% jump just to restore prices to the nutty levels they achieved in 2006. Unfortunately, those were the prices at which many homes were purchased. So, for many, hope will be difficult to maintain in the years ahead.
This one quote from the article bugs me because it was this mentality that helped cause the housing bubble in the first place:
“We’ve clearly reached a key psychological shift in home buyers’ psychology, where folks are now starting to worry about missing the boat, rather than fearing whatever house they buy, no matter how attractive the price, can only go down in value,” [Mark] Zandi explains.
Interesting piece if you have the time to read it.