Oddly enough I find myself back in the position of warning that the housing market may be heading to a terrible crash in the near-future. The bubble mentality has not changed at all and appears to be restarting in the very places where the bubbles were the worst. This is probably because people got used to unaffordable prices and think that a drop from unaffordable to just really, really expensive is a buying opportunity. Meanwhile government and the real estate industry are trying to “reignite” the market — hoping that starting another bubble will put off the reckoning.
People still think that what we are going through a temporary “correction” and that real estate prices are going to “go back up,” that houses are “cheap” now, that they should “snap them up” before they are “priced out.” They still think real estate is the path to wealth, instead of somewhat of a burden that should only be undertaken under certain circumstances. Namely, when you plan to live there for a long, long time, and you’ll pay less (including closing costs, taxes, insurance, maintenance, possible price depreciation, etc.) than rent.
Here’s what I am talking about. Combine this,
As of March 1, investors can now buy 10 homes (up from four) with Fannie Mae-backed mortgages. That’s also stimulating demand.
With this, Some of Us Still Think They Can Get Rich Quick from the Real Estate Bubble,
… the ad offered a mouthwatering menu of claims on “How to cash in on the biggest real estate liquidation sale in our entire United States history” and “how to maximize your profit with lucrative foreclosures.”
Option ARM rates are going to be recasting soon and in increasing numbers. That’s the magic moment when people can no longer make minimum payments, when they can longer make interest-only or neg-amortization payments.
When that magic moment comes, all of those people are going to look at how high their now unaffordable mortgage payments are. Then they’ll look at how much their house is actually worth relative to how much though owe. Then, maybe, they’ll try one of the various initiatives to modify their mortgage terms. And then, quite likely, they’ll jut walk away. [. . .] as the chart tells us, hasn’t even really started yet.
What that chart shows is that the foreclosure problem is about to get a lot worse. Two more huge waves of “resets” are coming. Many, many, many more homes are about to reach a point of unaffordability for a lot of their owners, one way or another those homes will also be for sale, on top of the huge inventory that already sits unsold, and this will drive prices down even further, which will trigger even more problems.
Here is what I am saying: As long as a house is considered an “investment” instead of a place to live for a long time we will continue to be in a world of hurt. Real estate does not always go up.
Here is why prices can’t go up any time soon: There is a huge inventory of unsold houses. The houses that were built in the last decade are too big for regular people to be able to afford to heat and cool — and energy prices are going up. The water for the lawns will cost more and more. The gas to get to the malls and any jobs that might exist (good luck) will cost more and more. The “boomers” are retiring and selling their houses. The median price in many areas is still way above affordability by a medium-income family. You won’t get sufficient “positive cash flow” over your payments from the rent you’ll receive if you are renting the house.
The psychology of this is just like the stock market bubble. Things won’t get better until the bubble mentality of “it always goes up” is shaken out of people. Like I said the other day
In 1999/2000 I had a bunch of stock in a dot com. It made its way up to $35 a share. When it fell to $30 then $25 then $20 I held on because it had just been $35. When it hit $12 I thought it was really cheap but when it hit $.50 I thought that was too high. It landed at $.05 but then the company went out of business.
Think about the psychology of this. When it fell to $12 I thought it was cheap because of how high it had been but when it hit 50 cents a share I thought it was too expensive because I had left the past behind and I could finally see where it was GOING. And that is where it went.
Unemployment in my area is 11.2% and people are “snapping up” houses that are “cheap” at $580,000 because they were at $850,000 a year or two ago. But the median income here can’t support that. It couldn’t even support $350,000 before unemployment went up.
Here’s the thing. After the stock market crash the Fed intentionally created the housing bubble to prop up the economy for a few more years. Now the consequences have arrived. If you are thinking of buying a house as an “investment” ask yourself who is going to buy it from you at a higher price, and how they are going to get that money. Will that housing demand come from a healthy job market in which people are getting raises?
Don’t bet on it.
I was driving this morning and clicking through the AM radio stations. On one station there was a “financial advice” show, with a guy talking about how to make a “236% return” by buying foreclosed houses and renting them out until prices go back up.
In case you were wondering who is buying houses right now, it’s the people who fall for this stuff.
Where will housing prices fall to? Prices will revert to the mean, and the mean is where prices were before they started going way up, plus a bit for inflation. Another way is to realize that the price of the house, if rented out, should be low enough that you have positive cash flow after all expenses, and that cash flow should be a lot better than you could get from buying bonds because of the work you are putting into it. (In my area that means house prices should be about a third what they still are.)
But before they do that they will fall a bit below the mean. Here is why. There are several factors that will pressure housing prices even when they reach the pre-bubble level.
- Before prices can normalize people have to stop thinking that prices will go up again, and get rid of property they are “holding on to.” So at the point where they reach the normal level there will be little buying interest. In fact people will understand that buying a house can be a good path to financial ruin.
- Everyone who wanted a house really, really had a chance to buy a house. If they didn’t buy a house when you could get money without even stating whether you had a job…
- Next there is the huge buildup of inventory. There are many, many more houses out there than there were before the bubble.
- There are all the housing developments built way outside of areas where people work, with the expectation that they would buy at as lower price there and when prices went up they could sell and make the down payment for a place closer to the job. Now that gas prices are up no one will want to buy these.
- Then there is the coming rise in utility prices which means that the McMansions are going to cost too much to heat and cool.
- The baby boomers are retiring, which means they will want to sell bigger houses and rent or buy smaller houses.
People have no idea how far prices are going to fall.
The Great Housing Crash of ’07
This month’s figures prove that the so-called “housing bubble” is not only real, but that its cratering faster than anyone had realized. As the UK Guardian reported a couple of days ago, “the orderly housing slowdown predicted by the Federal Reserve will (soon) become a full-blown crash.”
Madison – Housing bubble has burst; prices will tell you why
To hear the real estate agents tell it, the housing market has “lost steam.”
What they really mean, of course, is that it’s hit a wall – though you won’t get them to admit that publicly. And from all indications it’s not going to improve any time soon.
Just after posting below I came across this: Stephen Roach: Bursting Housing Bubble A Very Big Deal ,
If the US consumer slows, the demand expectations that typically drive capital spending will also weaken. So, too, will the growth dynamic of America’s export-led trading partners — thereby undermining support for US exports, as well. In short, for a wealth-dependent US economy, the bursting of another major asset bubble is likely to be a very big deal.
Housing bubble is finally at bursting point
When the air is expanding inside a speculative balloon, stretching the film of credibility that contains it to an ever-more improbable thinness, you can always find someone to explain why this time it’s different — why technological/demographic/astrological factors justify valuations today that have always proved historically unsupportable.
Until the bubble actually starts to deflate or burst, there’s just enough doubt about whether prices really will revert to their historical mean to keep us all guessing. Even the most convinced sceptic can never say with any certainty when a bubble will collapse, and so the science of identifying bubbles is an inherently retrospective activity.
But it looks now as though we can say with some confidence that the long American housing bubble is over.
So what might happen next?
All of a sudden, lots of bad news. Except that some of us have been talking about what’s coming for some time now. The signs were all there.
How much of the seeming prosperity of recent years was based on borrowed money? People were refinancing their houses as prices rose, and using the money to buy SUVs, etc. But now we have the opposite situation – these people now owe that money yet prices are falling. And with prices falling few new people will be refinancing. Meanwhile the government has borrowed massive amounts of money and pumped it into the economy – something usually done only to get us out of downturns – so if there is a downturn they won’t be able to borrow money to pump into the economy. Bush has used up that trick during the good times when we should have been paying off debt. (Clinton paid off debt, which is what allowed Bush to borrow so much…)
Here are a few of today’s stories:
How a Housing Slowdown Will Cause a Recession
The news has been universally bad: inventories are rising to 10-year high levels, buyers are already saddled with massive amounts of debt, homebuilders are cutting profit projections and overall investment is negative. And here is more from Nouriel Roubini: housing is already in free fall and will cause a recession by the summer of 2007.
This is the beginning of the housing crash. It is JUST starting to hit the mailstream news that sales are slowing. Sure, it’s old news to you and me but “regular people” are only now going to start hearing about it.
Since it’s early in the cycle, we’re still hearing that buyers are “waiting on the sidelines to jump in.” These are people who still think that “real estate always goes up.” (Remember the people who believed that stocks always go up?) When those last few “always goes up” people are shaken out of the market things will really start happening.
And, since it’s just the beginning of the downturn, we’re now hearing comforting, calm words about a “soft landing” and that “this is a healthy thing,” etc.
Here’s the thing. Sales slowing and rising inventories necessarily mean that prices will start to drop soon. And just wait until THAT starts hitting the news. That’s the tipping point. That’s when people’s expectations change. Once people stop seeing house prices rising, everything will change. And when they realize that prices are dropping, everything will really change.