Housing starts, sales and prices have been flat for months, suggesting housing has hit its bottom, John Burns Real Estate Consulting said Monday. Yet, a full recovery remains elusive even as the industry and government push for more loan modifications. To date, 72% of delinquent borrowers do not quality for HAMP, according to John Burns. The Irvine, Calif.-based consulting firm foresees a slow recovery ahead. One that is weighed down by a lack of consumer savings, debt-to-income challenges and low move-up activity among borrowers who have high loan-to-value ratios on existing mortgages. The study says three elements are holding home prices down: tighter underwriting guidelines on mortgage loans, distressed home sales and 2.4 million vacant residential properties that will take three to four years to occupy. The consulting company concluded that loan modifications “are a waste of time” since borrowers are carrying too much debt. Based on Treasury Department reports, John Burns found that debt-to-income ratios before loan modifications are hovering around 45.2%. After going through a modification, the debt-to-income ratios remain in the 31% range. The recovery may be slow going, but the John Burns report sees several silver linings on the horizon. For starters, there are 2.4 million excess vacant homes and that number is expected to continue its downward trajectory. The excess housing vacancy level peaked at 3.2 million units in 2009 and has continued its steady decline since then. The high inventory levels follow a decade of significant growth, where the nation’s housing stock grew by 15.8 million units even though households only grew by 11.2 million, John Burns Real Estate Consulting said. The good news is the nation currently has pent-up demand, and that is expected to boil over into the market in the next few years. By 2015, John Burns Real Estate Consulting predicts 1.43 million in household growth and 1.2 million in new construction, creating a healthier balance, where household growth outpaces homebuilding. In addition, 5.9 million Americans aged 25 to 34 are currently living with their parents, compared to 4.6 million in 2006. When that age group is ready to enter the market, they will boost demand for new and resale homes, as well as rentals. Write to Kerri Panchuk.

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