Why Things Still Look Sour for the Housing Market


It’s a dichotomy. The government keeps telling us that the economy is improving, but how can that be when foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies are both on the rise? BankingMyWay takes a look under the hood to see why homeowners remain in financial peril, and what can be done about it.

At first glance, the steep descent in U.S. home values seems to have slowed, if not stabilized, as 2009 (thankfully) draws to a close.

But is it a temporary lull in what could turn out to be a double-whammy for U.S. homeowners? The evidence suggests it might be.

Before we get to that, the conventional wisdom coming from the real estate sales industry, and from the U.S. government, suggests that the worst is over.

Recently, Lawrence Yun, the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, estimated that U.S. home prices will rise by 3.6% in 2010, while existing home sales will spike upward by 13.6%. Yun says that the main pump-primer will be the extension of the new homebuyer $8,000 tax credit (along with a new tax credit for current homeowners who buy a new home). He estimates that the extension will add 2.2 million new home sales in 2010.

Overall, Yun estimates that the average U.S. home value will rise to $178,000 from $172,000 next year.

But, to be charitable, the NAR’s housing forecasts haven’t proven reliable in the past. Both the NAR and Yun said that U.S. housing prices would rebound in 2007 and you don’t have to be Nostramadus to figure out that didn’t happen. And in July 2008, Yun told the Associated Press that “I think we are very near to the end of the housing downturn.” But, in 2008 and so far in 2009, that really hasn’t happened, either.

Consequently, the reality hasn’t squared with what Yun and the NAR have predicted. For instance ...

  • The U.S. Commerce Department reports that new U.S. housing starts fell in October, dealing a blow to the sentiment that housing was on the rebound.
  • The credit report firm TransUnion says that mortgage delinquencies have now risen for 11 straight quarters. As long as delinquencies are on the upswing, that means a bigger backlog of potential foreclosures, and further pain for the housing market.
  • The U.S. Labor Department recently pegged the unemployment rate at 10.2%, and many economists expect that number to crest 11% in early 2010. With more Americans out of work, that should mean even more late payments, leading to more delinquencies and more foreclosures.
  • The Federal Housing Administration a primary capital-raising engine for U.S. homebuyers reports that capital reserves have dropped to 0.53% of its total outstanding loans. That’s well below the 2% mandated by Congress. If FHA mortgage funding dries up, it will be even harder for millions of Americans to buy a new home.

We don’t mean to pick on the NAR and Yun. Figuring out what’s going on with the housing market these days is like trying to calculate global climate patterns without any raw data, or trying to count Tiger Woods’ girlfriends without taking your shoes off.

But if the evidence points anywhere, it’s to further pain for U.S. homeowners, who no doubt can’t wait to turn the page to 2010 in hopes of better times ahead.

Good luck with that.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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