Today’s Housing Bubble Post — When Will Prices Stabilize?

I’m hearing a lot of talk about plans to “stabilize” or “prop up” housing prices. Plans include cutting interest rates, providing tax credits, etc. in order to “keep prices from dropping too far.”
Here is a news flash: after a speculative bubble prices always revert to the mean. You can’t stabilize prices any other way except by letting them fall until they are back where they should be again.
Housing prices will “reach a bottom” and “stabilize” when the following occur:
Prices will revert to the mean. After a speculative bubble prices always revert to the mean. This is another way of saying they go back to where they should be. When there was a bubble in tulip bulbs prices went back to where they should be, which was not much above zero. Remember “dot com” stocks? They fell to reflect the actual value of the companies. Many of those companies weren’t worth anything.
Prices will stabilize when supply does not exceed demand. Currently there is a HUGE inventory of unsold, foreclosed, newly-built, unfinished or whatever houses on the market. There are speculators still sitting on two, three and more houses. And there is another supply of people waiting for a “better time” to sell. At the same time there is almost no demand, because people understand that prices are falling, and they will lose their future if they buy a house at these inflated prices. AND lenders are starting to want to know if the buyer can pay back the loan, which means fewer loans for buying houses. (Especially if they start getting honest appraisals again!)
Prices will stabilize when the price of a house reflects the local rents people are paying. That is when it makes sense for a landlord to buy a property. when they can make money on the rent.
Prices will stabilize when the average-priced house in the area is affordable by the average-income person in the area.
Prices will fall to the point where houses are worth what they are worth when purchased for what they are meant for. This means that a psychological change has to occur and people stop thinking of a house as an “investment” or a savings account, and merely as a place to live.
A house is a place to live. That is what a house is. When everyone involved comes to understand a house as a place to live housing prices will stabilize. Part of that understanding involves understanding that people should never pay more than 25-28% of their income on housing expenses. (That’s mortgage payment, insurance and property taxes added together. In some regions you should add heating and cooling costs to that.)
The bad news is that this means prices in many areas still have a long, long way to fall. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, two bedroom houses in bad neighborhoods are still being offered for $500,000. This means a $100,000 down payment, and monthly payments of $2400 PLUS insurance PLUS maybe $500 a month in property taxes. This means you have to have $100,000 in the bank and an income of more than $12,000 a MONTH to be able to buy a two bedroom house in a bad neighborhood. And this means that prices have a long, long way to fall.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post — Home Prices Falling At Record Rate

Home prices fell at record pace in first quarter,

Prices of single-family homes plunged a record 14.1 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, marking a pace five times faster than the last housing recession, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case Shiller national home price index reported on Tuesday.
. . . Falling home prices have become the scourge of the housing market that is seeing its worst downturn since the 1930s. Home values since last year have been dropping below balances owed on many mortgages, leaving borrowers with no equity and more likely to succumb to foreclosure.

And this is before the ripple effects of recession hit. They will ripple out from this to construction, automobiles, etc. And then the resulting job cuts will ripple back to the housing market. The fallout from the housing bubble’s bursting is still only just beginning.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post — Here We Go Again!

Haven’t had enough of foreclosures and financial crises? Don’t worry, there’s more to come. This pretty much guarantees it: Fannie Mae eases down payment rules,

Fannie Mae said Friday it is easing rules on down payments on home mortgages, replacing a policy that required higher payments in markets where home prices are declining.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post — How Low?

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This morning I wrote,

We’ll see a bottom when the average person can afford to buy an average house – and wants to. We are a long, long, long way from that now — and keep in mind that we’re about to see a big reduction in what the average person can afford as the recession takes hold.

CNN’s Money.com today: No brakes on housing prices8

As housing price losses extend, he said, the fall-off in demand for homes will deepen. And Schiff expects to see a national price decline of 30% – and by as much as 50% in the worst hit markets.

50%? In my area a 50% drop from the peak would bring houses down to maybe $400K. Will the average person around here be able to afford a $400K house a year from now, after a year of recession and after a tightening of loan standards? Not a chance. The price runup here saw a tripling to quadrupling of prices. And then they build thousands and thousands of houses in areas surrounding the SF Bay. So prices will have to fall by more than 50% – and the recession will have to end, and loans have to be available, and gas prices will have to fall a lot so commuters can drive to these houses – before houses will start selling again. Sorry for the bad news.
Yes, I do understand the cascading implications of that. It means that pretty much everyone who bought a house (or borrowed money on their home equity) since about 2001 – at least in this area – is going to be owing more on their mortgage than the house is worth. In many cases they will owe a LOT more. And they will decide to either be “good consumers” and sacrifice to protect the bank’s profits by making payments for 30 years on a house that is worth hundreds of thousands less than they owe (while their neighbors move in to the foreclosed house next door with payments that are less than half what they are paying), or they will make an economic decision to “walk away,” giving the house back to the bank, and make a fresh start. What do you think most people will do?

Today’s Housing Bubble Post — Prices Down 12.7% Feb. Year Over Year

It’s just getting started and home prices dropped 12.7% in February from the previous year. Home prices fall record 12.7% in past year, Case-Shiller say,

The decline in U.S. home prices quickened in February, with prices down a record 12.7% in the past year for 20 key cities, according to the Case-Shiller home price index released Tuesday by Standard & Poor’s. “There is no sign of a bottom in the numbers,” said David M. Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at Standard & Poor’s. Prices in 19 of the 20 cities have fallen over the past year, with prices in all 20 cities falling month-to-month for six straight months. The biggest declines were in Las Vegas and Miami, with declines of more than 20% in the past year. Prices in Charlotte, N.C., are up 1.5%.

Remember, this is before the impact of a recession on housing sales.
When will we see a “bottom?” (The point where prices stop falling.) We’re nowhere near a bottom. We’ll see a bottom when the average person can afford to buy an average house – and wants to. We are a long, long, long way from that now — and keep in mind that we’re about to see a big reduction in what the average person can afford as the recession takes hold.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post — Sales Drop To Lowest Level In 16 1/2 Years

New home sales plunge to lowest level in 16 1/2 years,

Sales of new homes plunged in March to the slowest pace in 16 1/2 years as a two-year housing downturn extended into the start of another spring sales season. The median price of a new home in March compared to a year ago fell at the fastest clip in 38 years.
. . . The median price of a home sold in March dropped by 13.3 percent compared with March 2007, the biggest year-over-year price decline since a 14.6 percent plunge in July 1970.

This made me laugh out loud:

Some analysts said they believe the slide in sales may be close to ending although they said any rebound is likely to be slow and anemic with prices continuing to fall, possibly until this time next year.

Listen, the problems we have seen so far have come about BEFORE the economic slowdown. Think about what that means. These foreclosures and people otherwise needing to sell their houses, etc., are not the result of a stressed economy. And we’re just beginning to have a stressed economy. So we haven’t even started to see the usual problems that come from layoffs, etc. So no, I don’t think we are at a “bottom.” Sheesh.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – Nowhere Near A Bottom

Hale "Bonddad" Stewart: The Housing Market Is Nowhere Near Bottom.
Go see his chart of housing prices, to see how far prices have yet to fall.
A house near us was offered at $800,000, after several months only one offer came in for $500,000, and they accepted it. But all I can think of is some sucker just spent $500K for a 3 bedroom house that is going to be worth about $300K next year. Another in our area, asking $750K, sold at $450K. Still way too high.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – “Deepest decline since the Great Depression”

The bloggers were calling it a few years ago, talking about how this was a bubble, and that it would lead to a dramatic collapse. The professionals weren’t seeing it. The lenders were acting like prices alway go up. (Remember the same thinking with the stock collapse?)
And now here we are.
Housing in ‘deepest, most rapid’ decline since Great Depression,

“Housing is in its “deepest, most rapid downswing since the Great Depression,” the chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders said Tuesday, and the downward momentum on housing prices appears to be accelerating.
The NAHB’s latest forecast calls for new-home sales to drop 22% this year, bringing sales 55% under the peak reached in late 2005. Housing starts are predicted to tumble 31% in 2008, putting starts 60% off their high of three years ago. “

And this is just the beginning. Prices always revert to the mean, and the mean is going to be mean.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – If Prices Fall Further

Do Reporters Realize that House Prices Can Fall?,

If they did realize that house prices could fall then they would be discussing this possibility in the context of the Office of Thrift Supervision’s proposal to have the federal government buy up bad mortgages, paying the current market price of the homes. The plan would give the current holders of the mortgage a certificate equal to the difference between the money outstanding on the mortgage and the current value of the home. The reports then tell us that if the house price does not rise back to the amount owed on the mortgage by the time it is sold, then the mortgage holder will eat the loss.
That’s fine, but what happens if house prices fall further? I didn’t hear this scenario mentioned in Market Place’s discussion of the proposal on the radio this morning, or indeed in any other reporting on this proposal.

Answer – if prices fall further, the taxpayers get to hand even more dollars to the banks. Republicans bail out big business and let the rest of us pay for it. Always. The branding is that Republicans are anti-government and fiscally responsible, but it’s just words. Look at what they do, not what they say. They get into office, destroy the government, destroy small businesses, and hand all of our tax dollars to their cronies. Did I leave out the part about getting rid of all oversight (regulation and law enforcement) so the big corporations can rob us blind?
Government buying bad mortgages? Great, just great.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – New Home Sales Fall by Record Amount

Yahoo: New Home Sales Fall by Record Amount:,

Sales of new homes plunged by a record amount in 2007 while prices posted the weakest showing in 16 years, demonstrating the troubles builders are facing with a huge backlog of unsold homes.

CNN: New home sales: Biggest drop ever,

New home sales posted the biggest drop on record in 2007, according to the government’s latest look at the battered housing market, as a year that saw a meltdown in the mortgage market and a drop in home values ended with yet more signs of weakness.
December sales came in at an annual rate of 604,000, the Census Bureau report showed, down from 634,000 in November, which was also revised lower.
The reading was well below the consensus forecast of 645,000, according to economists surveyed by Briefing.com.
. . . No bottom yet Adam York, an economist with Wachovia, said the report confirms fears that the housing market won’t bounce back anytime soon.
“We’re expecting sales to decline into at least mid-2008,” he said. “We think housing still has a long way to go.” [emphasis added.

What is there to add to that? I keep hearing that “we’re at a bottom.” I got yer bottom, right here.

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – What Would A Big Corporation Do?

There is a discussion over at Calculated Risk on whether it is “smart” to just walk away from a house that is worth less than you owe. Many states allow you to do that, without owing the difference. In those states, giving the house back pays the loan in full if it is a first mortgage. (Yes, it ruins your credit rating, but you could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.)
What about the moral question? Aside from whether it is smart or not, is it moral? I wonder if a better question is, when dealing with a big corporation, should you ask what the corporation would do if the shoe was on the other foot? I’m thinking about corporations that use the bankruptcy laws to get rid of union contracts and pension obligations, and that always do the “smart” thing at the expense of the employees, customers, public and even shareholders…
What do you think? Especially our conservative commenters?

Today’s Housing Bubble Post – Go Read

Go to The Agonist to read today’s housing bubble post: Most Clueless Banker of the Year Award. It is a comprehensive explanation of that happened, including a timeline.

[. . .]Like the real estate industry in general, banks believe and tell their customers that home values never go down. Their internal models are predicated on this assumption. Everything communicated to the consumer tells them that their home is a piggy bank of ever-increasing value. Withdrawing cash from the piggy bank is made as easy as possible. Consumers are given loans allowing them not to pay any interest at all and build up a balloon balance, which will assuredly be taken care of down the road by market appreciation. These option characteristics allow the banks to charge even higher points up front and stick penalty clauses into mortgages forbidding the homeowner from paying off the loan until the bank receives all fees due them.

Go read.