Economist Calls for National Policy to Reinforce Home Ownership
Daily Real Estate News | September 15, 2014
In a recent column for HousingWire, Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at realtor.com®, breaks down the good and the bad of the housing recovery. He notes certain areas are close to a complete recovery, such as employment, home prices, distressed existing home sales, multifamily new construction, and rents. On the other hand, Smoke says the recovery is far from normal levels in terms of single-family new-home construction, mortgage applications and originations, household formation, and home ownership.
“The most negative sales signal comes from the new-home market, where new-home sales came in at an estimated annualized rate of 412,000 in July, the second lowest rate in the last 10 months,” Smoke notes. New-home permits and starts have failed to reach a pace that economists consider healthy for the sector, which is generally above one million.
Smoke points to another troubling area: Mortgage applications, which fell to the lowest level in 14 years at the beginning of September. Mortgage applications remain low despite the fact that rates are hovering near yearly lows.
“Mortgage applications are considered a leading indicator for future home sales, but I believe the decline is not so much a signal of another downturn in demand but rather an indication of a seriously hobbled housing credit market,” Smoke writes. He says many buyers are being sidelined due to a very “small credit box,” where only consumers with easily documented incomes, strong credit scores, and large down payments are able to qualify for financing on a home.
Another housing hurdle Smoke notes is the abnormal levels of supply and demand. “Affordable homes aimed at the first-time buyer segment are not being built,” he says. “Hedge funds bought up most of the affordable distress inventory over the last three years and have turned them into rentals. Home values have recovered the least in affordable price points, resulting in higher numbers of existing owners with negative equity and therefore unable to sell.”
Smoke says that the continuing declines in areas of home ownership will portend to bigger problems ahead for the overall economy.
“Without a strong housing policy, the mortgage market is incapable of adequately addressing risk-appropriate access to credit that supports home ownership,” Smoke writes. “Fundamentally, we need new directions for national housing policy to address the broken credit market, find solutions for affordability housing across all income levels, reinforce home ownership as the cornerstone of financial security, and fulfill the housing needs of older households.”
Source: “Economist: Here’s Why Mortgage Supply and Demand Isn’t Normal,” HousingWire (Sept. 12, 2014); REALTOR® Magazine Online, Daily Real Estate Magazine 091514
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