Five years ago – was real estate to blame for financial crisis

by Dan Krell © 2013
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Real EstateFive years ago this week Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and almost immediately initiated the financial crisis. What followed in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse was a domino effect of financial sector failures which resulted in: a number of bailouts and government takeovers of failing entities; finger pointing and blame for the foreclosure and financial crises; and a number of laws to address the issues that are thought to have contributed to the crisis.

In retrospect, the financial crisis may have been circuitously the result of the foreclosure crisis, which was entering its second year. At the end of 2006, the real estate market was already seeing a major shift from the record breaking seller’s market, to a market that saw inventory climb to record highs. At that time I wrote about how nationwide foreclosures had increased 27%, and how economists were expecting existing home sales to continue at the same levels into 200, which was to initiate a housing recovery.

By the spring of 2007, the experts’ opinion of a short lived foreclosure crisis was not to be realized; and the blame game for the foreclosure crisis was in full swing. Trying to make sense of the foreclosure crisis, almost daily media reports of inflated appraisals and misrepresentation of mortgage terms were popular. At that time there was no way to pinpoint one source for the crisis. While the foreclosure crisis was in full swing, we did not have the perspective to understand all the participants and components that contributed to the resulting Great Recession.

Testimony to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2010 included descriptions of the CDO (collateralized debt obligation) market. Financial brokers packaged mortgages into CDOs and sold them worldwide; the returns for these CDOs were so good that the demand was seemingly insatiable. As the demand for CDOs increased, the number of mortgages that were needed also increased. To meet the increasing demand of mortgage production, the temptation to bend the rules and lend to almost anyone seemed to be at the heart of this piece to the crisis; and many of those mortgages were subsequently foreclosed. The fraud seemed to reach in other areas too, including financial rating agencies that graded subprime CDOs as “AAA” to make them more appealing.

To improve accountability and transparency in the financial system, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and to end “too big to fail,” the landmark Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was enacted. The broad and wide sweeping Dodd-Frank legislation created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the idea of the Qualified Residential Mortgage. Although the legislation has been widely acclaimed; there are many who remain critical of the legislation, saying that the markets could be set up for the next crisis.

Only in retrospect we can begin to understand the complexity of the dynamics which brought about the almost collapse of the financial sector through the mortgage markets. And while there have been a number of hearings, books, working papers, and dissertations about the causes and effects of the foreclosure and financial crises, we still seek to condense complex issues into a digestible statement. If a movie is produced about the financial crisis, the slugline might be: “Financial crisis that was a result of fraud that took advantage of a hot real estate market and easy money.”

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Disclaimer.  This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice.  Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction.  This article was originally published the week of September 16, 2013 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2013 Dan Krell.