We’ve all heard the news reports about the potential for a double-dip in housing, and perhaps, the overall economy. Unemployment seems out of control; debt levels are becoming unmanageable; and many are wondering what the future holds for the housing market. Where home prices going and what is the potential for prices to recover to the levels of 2005/2006?
There are lots of opinions, but here are some points to consider:
● The recent meeting to discuss the future of housing, including the GSEs Fannie and Freddie, while generating lots of news, was not expected to produce anything of significance that would improve the situation in the short term. The billions of taxpayer liability associated with Fannie and Freddie—extreme “worst-case” estimates range as high as $1 trillion—cannot be erased. And if the structure of these entities is significantly changed to remove risk to taxpayers, interest rates will increase and home sales will suffer.
● According to many experts, structurally high unemployment will be with us for years. And, those without jobs or who are underemployed lack the financial ability to purchase homes. New home sales follow the employment rate, and with the permanent loss of millions of manufacturing and other jobs, millions of potential buyers have been removed from the housing market.
● Monetary policy seems confused at best. With disagreement from both inside the Fed as well as among some inside the administration, there seems little doubt that the “green shoots” once reported, have faded and died. Printing money on a massive scale ultimately leads to inflation; and borrowing and spending has left us deeply in debt, so deeply in fact, that in less than eight years interest on the national debt will equal $1 trillion, the largest single budget item—and a good portion of those dollars will be paid to bondholders in China.
● In the first quarter of 2009, almost half a million small businesses (less than 100 employees) closed their doors, costing about 1 million jobs. In a struggling economy, such job losses will continue, removing a significant segment of new home buyers from the marketplace.
● The latest foreclosure numbers show that they are spreading into the heartland. While much of Middle America and the northwest had avoided the worst of the problem, default notices have recently increased significantly, with more than a third of the states experiencing a doubling of foreclosures.
Those who are unwilling to face the reality that the U.S. is in serious economic trouble and that our “leaders” seem unable or unwilling to take the steps necessary to bring about a recovery, may ignore the facts, but that doesn’t change them. And while economic conditions vary dramatically from one part of the country to another, the economy in general is very ill, and the experimental “medicines” that have been administered have brought only temporary relief. A long-term cure must be proposed, yet many economists and political observers see that as unlikely.
Proponents of an additional and perhaps larger stimulus have pointed out that current winding down in the economy is due to the effects of the first stimulus wearing off. What they seem to ignore is the very real fact that a temporary stimulus provides only temporary relief. The original stimulus, just like Cash for Clunkers and the Homebuyer Tax Credit, did little or nothing to create sustainable economic improvement. Such artificial measures do little other than to provide politicians with quick, feel-good results intended to demonstrate their commitment to solving the problem; and feel good solutions never last. It’s time to wean our “leaders” and our citizens from the belief that success must be measured in short term results.
So, where are home prices going? Is recovery just around the corner? No. Many years will pass before homeowners feel that the housing market has recovered; and the ensuing period will be fraught with uncertainty and additional foreclosures. The expectation that home values will quickly return the their recent highs or that prices must continually increase will be replaced by the reality that prices, in general, will follow the rate of inflation. To do otherwise would mean that homes would soon be beyond the reach of the average buyer. That’s the reality, and that’s where home prices are going.
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