Looking beyond inventory and sales: A deeper understanding of current housing market conditions

by Dan Krell © 2012

Housing StatisticsAccording to the National Association of Realtors® news release of February 9th, home affordability has increased in the last quarter of 2011 in many metro areas- including the metropolitan Washington DC region. The increase of home affordability is attributed to “softer existing-home prices and record-low mortgage interest rates in the fourth quarter.” The Washington DC region home affordability increased in the last quarter about 5.8% while the region’s home prices for existing homes fell about 5.4% (realtor.org).

Details of the NAR’s fourth quarter market analysis include a continued interest in home ownership among first time home buyers, as 33% of home purchases in the fourth quarter of 2011 were by first time home buyers. Additionally, 29% of the homes purchased in fourth quarter were “all-cash purchases,” which has been relatively unchanged; however, the percentage of “all-cash” real investor purchases was 19% (down from 20% realized in the third quarter).

Greater housing affordability may sound promising, however having more meaningful information may help understand what’s happening in the housing market.

To get a clearer understanding of the housing market, you might consider the February 10th speech given by Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, to the National Association of Home Builders entitled, “Housing Markets In Transistion” (federalreserve.gov). The overview of the housing market was explained as an imbalance in the supply and demand. Supply in the housing market, as Dr. Bernanke described it, greatly exceeded demand in the last few years. Demand for housing, as measured by home vacancy, has considerably decreased; home vacancy is “dramatically” elevated from the number of vacant homes in the first half of the 2000’s. Additionally, a high foreclosure rate is likely to continue; which would not only increase the number of vacant homes, but negatively affect families and communities as well.

Adding to the imbalance is the strengthening of the rental market, which evidently has increased demand.

Housing StatisticsDr. Bernanke also described the problems in the housing market as a secondary issue that stems from more pressing economic concerns, such as employment and household formation. Economic uncertainty has impacted the willingness to commit to home ownership. “…housing may no longer be viewed as the secure investment it once was thought to be…”

A stifled housing market has also held back an overall economic recovery. Dr. Bernanke stated that home equity has been reduced about 50% from the housing peak; more than $7 Trillion of equity has been lost which resulted in a decrease of household spending of “$3 to $5 per year for every $100 of housing lost” (which is estimated to be about $200 Billion to $375 Billion per year). Besides the reduced consumer spending, low/negative equity creates other problems for home owners too; such as: restricting the ability to refinance to lower interest rates; reducing or eliminating the ability to cash out home equity for emergency expenses; and possibly preventing a move due to an underwater mortgage.

Dr. Bernanke was clear when stating that housing problems have far-reaching effects on home owners, communities, the financial system, and “the vitality of the economy as a whole.” He continued to state, “…This observation underscores the importance of efforts to improve the condition of the housing market.” He is not the first to say that there is no single solution; however, he is one of the few who has been able to articulate the interconnected factors that need to be addressed.

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This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of February 13, 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

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