Value vs. affordability – how inflation affects home prices

homes for saleHome buyers have been tagged as being too picky for not buying homes this year. Surely home buyers have a right to be particular; after all, they’ll be spending a lot of time in the house – and spending a lot of money to get it too! But, maybe there are other reasons that home buyers have become hesitant.

Consider the uncertainty that immediately followed the Great Recession, when home sales volume dropped off. At that time home buyers seemed overly analytic, weighing many factors including short term value. Yet in truth they were fearful about economic uncertainty, and paying for a home that could potentially depreciate after closing.

The specter of another housing bubble in late 2013 may have seemed farfetched by many. But the double digit appreciation in many housing markets around the country reminded many home buyers of the environment that existed in the pre-downturn “go-go” market of 2005-2007. Anecdotal reports of bidding wars and high listing prices in early 2014 may have scared off some home buyers who reported not wanting to participate in such a market.

Reasons for home sales sluggishness during the latter part of this year may have been signs that the fear of a home price bubble was being realized by home buyers. As home buyers sought value, home sellers wanted higher home price appreciation. Was the psychology of fear playing a part in the ongoing home pricing struggle?

In hindsight, the limited housing inventory that existed during 2013 may have caused upward pressure on home prices by forcing increased competition among home buyers. The rapid home price appreciation may have also been the reason for many home owners to go to market. Brimming with listings, housing inventory swelled to levels not seen in years. Yet it may not be home prices per se that is at issue, but rather affordability.

Affordability goes beyond just the purchase price of a home. It comprises the overall costs of home ownership; which includes monthly mortgage payments, property taxes, homeowners’ insurance, regular and emergency maintenance, and utility costs. Putting aside home prices, home buyers are faced with the prospect of sharply inflating ownership costs. Consider the April 25th LA Times article reporting on utility costs (U.S. electricity prices may be going up for good;; Ralph Vartabedian stated, “… the price of electricity has already been rising over the last decade, jumping by double digits in many states, even after accounting for inflation. In California, residential electricity prices shot up 30% between 2006 and 2012, adjusted for inflation, according to Energy Department figures. Experts in the state’s energy markets project the price could jump an additional 47% over the next 15 years.”

Savings also affect the affordability of a home. Marilyn Kennedy Melia, in her May 17th feature: Savings Habits and the Housing Market: American are saving less, issues with affording a home (, reported that a lack of savings is preventing some home buyers from purchasing homes by not having enough for a down payment and/or little for homeownership costs. She described a recent Bankrate survey that indicated “…51 percent of Americans have more emergency savings than credit card debt, the lowest percentage since the financial site began tracking this issue in 2011.” Doug Robinson, of NeighborWorks America, was quoted to say, “Two-thirds of the people who faced foreclosure didn’t have any emergency savings…

© Dan Krell

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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. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Will inflation help the housing market: how real estate is affected

by Dan Krell
© 2011

Homes for saleMany people believe that as inflation increases, home values decrease. The argument put forth is that as purchasing power decreases, so do the value of your assets.  However, some economists say that it is flawed thinking to assume that housing, like other goods, decline in value as inflation increases.

Collin Barr reported that Yale economist Robert Shiller (coauthor of the Case-Shiller Home Price Index) has spent years collecting data that indicates “that house prices over time tend to rise more or less in step with inflation” ( Why house prices will keep falling; March 29, 2011). That’s all well and good, except that home prices far exceeded the rate of inflation during the recent “bubble years;” and is reported as still having a 25% gap from baseline. So, unless we see an increasing rate of inflation, some believe that home prices drop another 20%.

Brian Summerfield, Online Editor of REALTOR® Magazine, describes (in an April 5th blog post) a scenario of how inflation can lift the current housing market. By highlighting affordability, he explains the cost of housing is currently cheaper to own a home (compared to renting). Additionally, as inflation creeps up and eats more of the family budget by decreasing buying power, the a person’s housing budget will be pressured by rising rents and buying a home will be increasingly more attractive.

Of course, Mr. Summerfield’s scenario is hinged on several “caveats”: interest rates will have to remain relatively low (he says no higher than 7%); implementation of “accessible” 30 year fixed mortgage programs; housing supply will have to remain low; and no additional economic crises.

In several blog posts, Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors®, discussed inflation and housing. In an April 18th post he explained that “Unexpected inflation” does erode savings, however actually benefits borrowers. Additionally, in a September 15th post reporting that housing starts are the lowest since World War II, Yun explains that some investors are returning to undervalued real estate as a hedge against inflation. Since new housing is not on track with population growth, some believe there will be a housing shortage that will cause increased demand in coming years.

House for saleThe reality is that although there is a relationship between home prices and inflation, it does not signify causality. In other words, although one may have an effect on the other, housing and inflation are independent. Even in Brian Summerfield’s scenario, he is cautious to provide conditions to bring his vision to reality. And no one has talked about the affects of stagflation.

When talking about a recovery, the typical homeowner should remain cautious- especially in espousing a view that a home is an investment vehicle. Even though our consumer oriented society has encouraged people to pay for their lifestyles with their home’s equity, it’s now widely decried as irresponsible.

In light of the current economic conditions, many potential home buyers are becoming more pragmatic as well. Even though the basic benefits of homeownership include affordability, community, etc, many potential home buyers view owning a home as anchor that will keep them tied to a specific area. And in a time when jobs are scarce, many people want the freedom of mobility in case they have a career opportunity elsewhere.

Will inflation help the real estate market? We will only know in hindsight.

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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 November 28, 2011. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © 2011 Dan Krell.

Expensive mortgages on the horizon

Owning a home takes work. Soon, it will cost more too. In response to a crippling financial crisis, sweeping changes were established in the mortgage industry to not only stabilize the crippled financial sector of the housing market, but to also to temporarily provide access to credit in an all but frozen credit market. Now that the temporary stop gaps are coming to an end, will private investors make home mortgages more expensive or will Congress bow to housing trade groups to extend current interventions?

Since the increase of FHA mortgage down payments to 3.5% a few years ago, there has been talk of increasing it further to 5%. The move comes at a time when mortgage assistance programs are winding down and reliance on FHA mortgages to refinance underwater home owners is diminishing. Concerns over FHA reserves prompted higher annual FHA mortgage insurance premiums and, of course, also elicited calls to increase FHA mortgage down payments to 5%.

Of course, while some look for a solid FHA mortgage down payment increase, some look to future decreases. H.R. 1977: FHA Reform Act of 2011 (introduced May 24th which has been currently referred to committee) creates the position of “Deputy Assistant Secretary of FHA for Risk Management and Regulatory Affairs,” whose job would be, among other things, to review down payment requirements.

Besides the push for increased FHA down payments, the FHA maximum loan amount is set to decrease in October of this year. Temporarily increased to $729,750, FHA loan limits will revert to those set by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA). Unless Congress acts on maintaining the current FHA loan limits, HUD states that 669 of the 3,334 counties or county equivalents that are eligible for FHA insured mortgages will be affected. In “high cost” areas, such as Montgomery County, the maximum FHA loan limit will be reduced to $625,500 (“Potential Changes to FHA Single-Family Loan Limits…A Market Analysis Brief;

In addition to changes in FHA mortgages, conforming loans (mortgages that conform to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guidelines) will also change. October 2011 is also when the maximum conforming loan limits will revert to those established by HERA, as stated in a May 26th release from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA is the oversight agency for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Federal Home Loan Banks). Although the new loan limit will not differ from the current amount in a majority of regions, FHFA estimates that 250 counties or county equivalents will be affected. The maximum conforming loan limit for “high cost” areas, such as Montgomery County, will also be reduced to $625,500.

Although the current FHA and conforming loan limits were temporary, housing trade associations have warned about possible effects of reverting to lower mortgage limits on an unstable real estate market. Both the National Association of Realtors and National Association of Home Builders have commented on the imminent changes and have called on Congress to make the temporary changes permanent.

Recent government interventions in the housing market may have been necessary but they were intended to be temporary. Continued intervention may continue to allow “lower cost” mortgages for some home buyers, but some have warned against maintaining the temporary stop gaps because it hinders private investors from entering the housing market as well as the possibility of artificially inflating housing prices.

by Dan Krell

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.