While there are certain housing markets that today boast record-setting listing and sales prices, such as Beverly Hills, Manhattan and parts of the Bay Area, much of the rest of the country, where most middle-class people live, is experiencing a leveling off of home prices or even declines. The housing market is shaky today and is about to get shakier still.
Indeed, none other than CoreLogic [CLGX] recently reported that the share of homeowners with negative equity increased during the fourth quarter of 2014 with a collective LTV for all mortgages at 59.7%. This was compared to 59.2% in the third quarter. A barometer of home price trends, CoreLogic’s Housing Price Index fell by 0.7% during that same period.
Over the past several years, despite Wall Street and the current administration’s efforts to artificially prop up the housing market with historically low interest rates and foreclosure-alternative programs such as moratoria, HAMP, HAFA and others, we discovered that the so-called housing recovery was simply rhetoric. Talk is cheap – rhetoric is cheaper still.
As if this “news” isn’t bad enough, we are witnessing just how forgetful (or something) some in our industry must be. As if many in the housing and mortgage industries are unconscious of the fact that the housing market has always been cyclical and ignorant of the fact that the market is perhaps once again sitting on the edge of an abyss of another serious downturn, we see higher risk low-down payment programs coming from the GSEs and some private lenders. In addition, media reports are circulating suggesting that sub-prime mortgage-backed securities are potentially making a comeback.
An executive with the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute was quoted recently in the media as saying that we do need a non-qualified mortgage market, and right now, that need is not being met. The executive went on to state that in a healthy market, you want all channels open and available… including securitization.
If that were all true, which it isn’t necessarily, we are hardly in a “healthy market.” Even if one concedes that the “new” subprime market will be different than the one that helped bring our financial system and economy to their knees (it will supposedly be based on credit history, not debt-to-income ratios, high LTVs and low FICO scores), this does not portend well for our economic future.
Additionally, in Trey Garrison’s article, “Is housing weakness just a seasonal blip?” that was published on March 24 in HousingWire, he quotes Lindsey Piegza, chief economist for Sterne Agee, as stating that price growth is slow across the board – pointing out that the consumer price index rose just 0.2% in February. While the piece in its entirety is a bit more bullish on housing prospects for 2015, and the information presented could be seen as mostly positive, I see it as more rhetoric. And it is nothing short of wishful thinking that the housing weakness we are experiencing is nothing more than a “seasonal blip.”
In fact, reflecting on the true state of declining confidence in the housing market’s prospects for recovery anytime soon, the National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index fell again for the fifth consecutive month.
What all this means is that low- and middle-income American homeowners, many of whom in the best of economic environments often live precariously from paycheck to paycheck, today find it even harder to count on marginal-but somewhat steady growth of home values to provide them with some semblance of a safety net.
Among the best cures for our economic ailments is the opportunity for more and more Americans to find meaningful, well-paying jobs; wages to keep up with ever-rising prices, and for our young people to not fall prey to the belief that a college degree is in itself a ticket to prosperity, only to discover that they are hopelessly in debt upon graduation because of exorbitant student loans and cannot begin to think about purchasing a home anytime soon.
There is much more that is needed to improve the housing market to be sure, but these three factors will go a long way to putting it back on solid ground.