Politics & MoneyMortgage

Here come the housing recovery critics

Here’s comes the housing recovery, finally, and so here also come the critics.

Don’t get me wrong, as far as economic recovery goes, this one’s pretty weak.

Heidi Moore at the Guardian gives perhaps the best overview to the argument that the recovery is failing consumers in general:

“A recovery allows real estate agents and banks to tell Americans that they can’t borrow money for the home they want, that they can’t participate in the housing market, while wealthy private investors scoop up as much as they can,” Moore writes. “A recovery allows lawmakers to pretend that their destructive policies of deficit cutting and austerity were productive, rather than destructive.”

Moore, by extension, would also presumably argue that quantitative easing is one of these destructive policies. The reasoning that as the Fed pulls out, and interest rates rise, mortgages will fall off a cliff  — thus exposing this phony housing recovery as the bubble it almost so clearly is!

A recent report from Fitch Ratings backs up the issues Moore is reporting.

The two, taken together, is perhaps the clearest example of the non-housing recovery I’ve read yet. And I still disagree.

From the perspective of the homeowner, mortgages are hardly a mechanism for driving consumer confidence building. Anyone who’s bought a home would agree. The thing that still rubs the wrong way, is that while fundamentals improved to the point of driving investor confidence, little is done to improve the mortgage applicant’s experience.

Moore is right to criticize. Consumers deserve more. Truthfully, this is not the kind of recovery that will benefit the consumer, for now. And there are other concerns about the return to risk.

However, as Mike Simonsen of Altos Research points out in a blog post, the Fed tapering and subsequent rising interest rates will not automatically spell disaster:

Low-but-rising rates actually stimulates demand for people who had not yet seriously committed to buying a home. Because we’re in a supply-constrained market, this extra demand goes right to the prices of the homes available for sale

Furthermore, since this recovery is most beneficial to the institutional investor base, it is important to note macroeconomic risks are being priced in.

Are there bad bets being made? Sure. Are some markets overheated and in need of downward correction? Of course.

But heavy-handed early criticism at this point feels simply overwrought.

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