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US homeownership rate could fall further

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The U.S. homeownership rate could fall another one to two percentage points if credit conditions and the economy remain in the same crisis mode exhibited in 2009, the Mortgage Banker's Association said Thursday. The present-day homeownership rate of 66.4% is in line with historic norms after falling from a 2004 peak of 69.2%, the MBA Research Institution for Housing America concluded in a new study. The report says the 2004 peak was driven by access to cheap credit and a willingness on the part of more buyers in their 20s and 30s to assume higher levels of debt and financial risk when acquiring homes. Post-crash homeownership rates are now at 2000 levels, the report said. The data was compiled by Professor Stuart Gabriel of UCLA's Anderson School and Stuart Rosenthal of Syracuse University. "The question of why homeownership rates are falling now is really a question of why they were so high during the middle of the last decade," said Gabriel.  "From the late 1960s to the mid-1990s, U.S. homeownership rates were relatively stable between 64 and 65 percent. Our findings suggest that the boom and bust in homeownership rates over the last decade was driven in part by an initial relaxation of credit standards followed by a tightening of credit with the onset of the 2007 financial crash." The report says homeownership rates from this point forward are largely dependent on consumers and the overall economy. "If underwriting conditions and attitudes about investing in homeownership settle back to year-2000 patterns and, if the socioeconomic and demographic traits of the population look similar to those of 2000, then the homeownership rate may have bottomed out and will not decline further," Rosenthal wrote in the study.  "If, instead, household employment, earnings and other socioeconomic characteristics over the next few years remain similar to those in 2009, then homeownership rates could fall by up to another 1 to 2 percentage points beyond 2011." Write to Kerri Panchuk.

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