Has the housing market improved in the last four years

Dan Krell, Realtor®
DanKrell.com
© 2012

HousingIn retrospect, the beginning of the global recession in late 2007 was the end of the housing boom and may have spawned the foreclosures crisis and the financial crisis of 2008.  And although this period of time will undoubtedly become the basis of many future dissertations examining the “Great Recession;” you might ask “how much has the state of housing improved since 2008?”

If you recall, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) was anticipated to have wide reaching changes in the mortgage and housing industries as well as supposed to have assisted struggling home owners.  This multifaceted piece of legislation consolidated many individual bills addressing issues that were thought to either be the cause or the result of the financial crisis.  Besides raising mortgage loan limits to increase home buyer activity, the historic legislation was the beginning of changes meant to “fix” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as “modernizing” FHA to make the mortgage process easier for home buyers and refinancing easier for struggling home owners. Additionally, this law was the origination of the Hope for Homeowners program to assist home owners facing foreclosure (www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hr3221).

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), originated from HERA, has been the “conservator” of the then sinking Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Since the FHFA took control, there has been conjecture as to what would become of the mortgage giants: some talked about closing their doors, while some talked about changing their role in the mortgage industry. Since FHFA became the oversight agency, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has strengthened their role in maintaining liquidity in the housing market by helping struggling home owners with their mortgages as well as freeing up lender capital by the continued purchases of loans (fhfa.gov)

The inception of Hope for Homeowners was the beginning of a string of government programs designed to assist home owners facing foreclosure, or assist underwater home owners refinance their mortgage.  Although there have been individual success stories, there has been criticism that these programs did not assist the expected numbers of home owners.  A January 24th CNNMoney article by Tami Luhby (money.cnn.com) reported that “…the HAMP program, which was designed to lower troubled borrowers’ mortgage rates to no more than 31% of their monthly income, ran into problems almost immediately. Many lenders lost documents, and many borrowers didn’t qualify. Three years later, it has helped a scant 910,000 homeowners — a far cry from the promised 4 million…” and “HARP, which was intended to reach 5 million borrowers, has yielded about the same results. Through October, when it was revamped and expanded, the program had assisted 962,000…” (money.cnn.com/2012/01/24/news/economy/Obama_housing/index.htm).

HousingDespite the recent slowdown in foreclosure activity, there is disagreement about the projected number of foreclosures going into 2013.  A March 29th Corelogic news release (www.corelogic.com/about-us/news/corelogic-reports-almost-65,000-completed-foreclosures-nationally-in-february.aspx) reported that there have been about 3.4 million completed foreclosures since 2008 (corelogic.com).  And although an August 9th RealtyTrac® (www.realtytrac.com/content/foreclosure-market-report/july-2012-us-foreclosure-market-report-7332) report indicated a 3% decrease from June to July and a 10% decrease from the previous year in foreclosure filings; July’s 6% year over year increase in foreclosure starts (initial foreclosure filings) was the third straight month of increases in foreclosure starts.

So, if you’re wondering if housing is better off today than it was four years ago, the answer may be a resounding “maybe;” It all depends on your situation.

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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 September 3 , 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

Grading the housing market on a curve – how housing stats can be misleading

Dan Krell, Realtor®
DanKrell.com
© 2012

Home Sale StatisticsDid your teacher ever grade on a curve, where test scores are “weighted” based on the lowest and/or highest score in the class? The typical explanation for such statistical manipulation of raw test scores is to create a distribution where classmates are compared to each other, rather than how well they actually score on the usual grading scale.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) August 22nd news release titled “Existing-Home Sales Improve in July, Prices Continue to Rise” at first glance might seem good news, but after a deeper look the news may not be as promising. The release states that the July’s total existing home sales increased 2.3% in July from June, based on July’s seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million compared to June’s 4.37 million (realtor.org).

Although the adjusted data may have indicated a significant increase in existing home sales, the raw data may suggest something different. If you follow the links on the NAR’s press release through the website, you’ll find yourself at the page titled, “Existing Home Sales” (realtor.org/topics/existing-home-sales/data): where you’ll find a links to home sale data – which includes the “seasonally adjusted annual rate” and “not seasonally adjusted” stats.

Although July’s “seasonally adjusted annual rate” of existing home sales indicated a 2.3% increase over June’s “seasonally adjusted annual rate;” the “not seasonally adjusted” rate (e.g., the raw sales data) indicated that there was a 7.3% DECREASE in existing home sales in July compared to June, and a year to date increase of existing home sales of only 2.647%.

So, what’s the difference between “seasonally adjusted” and “not seasonally adjusted” data? Well, for that explanation, we need to follow the links to the methodology (realtor.org/topics/existing-home-sales/methodology). “Not seasonally adjusted” data is described as raw data that has been basically scrubbed for errors. However, the site states that “It is necessary to “annualize” and seasonally-adjust the existing home sales data so that month-to-month and quarter-to-quarter comparisons can be observed without seasonal variances distorting the overall picture;” thus the “seasonally adjusted annual rate” may be forward looking figure estimating a rate by which homes are selling.

And of course, many media outlets took the headline and ran with it without explaining the meaning of the “seasonally adjusted annual rate.” July’s figure gives the impression that the housing market has made significant improvement during a month where the actual number of existing homes sales decreased from the previous month. But don’t blame the NAR either: the press release contains links to pages of explanation and data for anyone to take the time to sort through and figure out.

Home Sale StatisticsStatistical analysis can be a good thing, if the statistic is meaningful and is understood. It seems as if everyone already forgot about the criticism that the NAR received last year because they announced a downward revision of existing home sales going back to 2007. If you remember, the main reason given for the revision was for “data drift” that occurred during the housing downturn; and much like other estimate revisions (such as GDP and employment figures) “re-benchmarking” is a common aspect of estimating economic data.

Regardless of what the rate of annual home sales is estimated to be, we’ll know the actual number of existing home sales at the end of the year. And at that time, we can determine what kind of year 2012 has been for housing.

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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 August 27 , 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.

The economy, stupid

Is the housing bust over, or is it about the economy (stupid)?

by Dan Krell ©2012
DanKrell.com

Unemployment officeLast week’s Wall Street Journal report that the housing bust is over has grabbed everyone’s attention (Housing Passes a Milestone; wsj.com). The WSJ reported that of forty-seven “forecasters” surveyed, forty-four believe that the housing market has bottomed out. There are several factors cited by these “experts” as rationale for the stating the bust is over, as well as asserting that the housing market will not be a further drag on the economy. However, many experts may be missing some data points; as well as not recognizing causality.

Although the U.S. housing bust may be over (for now), as experts proclaim; other regions of the world are struggling. Two of the most influential economic regions, Europe and China, are experiencing real estate slumps.

According to a May 31st report in The Economist (Downdraft: European house prices are finding it harder to defy gravity), global house-price indicators point to increased volatility. Although, Europe’s housing markets experienced similar declines we experienced during the financial crisis; individual countries differed in their housing outcomes. Troubled economies, such as Ireland and Spain, continue to have lagging housing markets. Ireland’s already depreciated home prices are reportedly continuing to drop; while Spain’s home prices are reportedly over valued while prices also continue to drop. However, Germany, France, and Belgium’s housing bounced back relatively quickly and reportedly appreciated through last year.

However, as recession looms and unemployment increases in the Eurozone; The Economist reported that the pace of housing depreciation increased in weaker countries, while housing appreciation stalled in Germany and France.

The other big economy that may also show signs of stalling is China. China’s recent GDP growth was reported to be 7.9%. From a bustling economy that reported GDP growth over 10% in 2010, and GDP growth over 9% in 2011, the shrinking GDP may be a signal. Although overall Chinese housing prices are reportedly flat, some have reported that some provinces have experienced as much as a 30% drop.

Although the Chinese housing market is a bit different than the U.S., (private property ownership is a relatively recent development); albeit volatile, housing is a component of the Chinese economy. A December 2011 report by Patrick Chovanec in Foreign Affairs (China’s Real Estate Bubble May Have Just Popped) indicated that Beijing new home prices dropped 35% in November 2011. Property agencies reported that new home inventories are building and buyers are hard to find.

Additionally, The China Perspective reported in January that re-sale home sales volume dropped about 23%. As a result, real estate agencies are closing offices. It was reported that an average 3.8 offices closed daily in Beijing; while the number of real estate agency offices in Shanghai has been reduced 40% since their housing peak.

Unemployment officeAs other global housing markets stall, there may be a silver lining. The devaluation of residential real estate abroad has attracted foreign investors to U.S. housing. Although international buyers have bought homes at all price levels, the luxury real estate market seems to be attracting most attention.

But back to what the experts proclaim as the bottom of the market – yes there are some positive signs, but it’s too early to tell if the bust is over. And although these experts proclaim that housing will no longer drag the economy; the reality may be that it’s the economy that’s dragging the housing market.

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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 July 16 , 2012. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2012 Dan Krell.
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