Skip to comments.The American Dream of Home Ownership Has Become a Nightmare
Posted on 09/23/2010 9:46:19 AM PDT by Kaslin
The disappearance of home equity value is a lead weight on the recovery
Why has housing been such a core element in the story of American civilization?
Culturally a decent house has been a symbol of middle-class family life. Practically, it has been a secure shelter for the children, along with access to a good free education. Financially it has been regarded as a safe store of value, a shield against the vagaries of the economy, and a long-term retirement asset. Indeed, for decades, a house has been the largest asset on the balance sheet of the average American family. In recent years, it provided boatloads of money to homeowners through recourse to cash-out refinancing, in effect an equity withdrawal from their once rapidly appreciating home values.
These days the American dream of home ownership has turned into a nightmare for millions of families. They wake every day to the reality of a horrible decline in the value of the home that has meant so much to them. The pressure to meet mortgage payments on homes that have lost value has been especially shocking—and unjust—for the millions of unemployed through no fault of their own. For the baby boomer generation, a home is now seen not as the cornerstone of advancement but a ball and chain, restricting their ability and their mobility to move and seek out a job at another location. They just cannot afford to abandon the equity they have in their homes—and they can't sell in this miserable market.
American homeowners have experienced an unprecedented decline in their equity net of mortgage debt. The seemingly never-ending fall in prices has brought an average decline of at least 30 percent. Furthermore, the country is now going through an unprecedented nationwide slide in sales, despite the fact that long-term mortgage interest rates nationwide plummeted recently to a record low of 4.3 percent before rising slightly. The result is that home occupancy costs for home purchases are now down to roughly 15 percent of family income, dramatically lower than the conventional, affordable figure of 25 percent of family income devoted to home occupancy costs. Yet new home sales, pending home sales, and mortgage applications are down to a 13-year low.
The economics of home ownership could hardly be more disastrously opposite to the expectations of generation after generation. Millions of homes have been foreclosed upon. About 11 million residential properties, or about 23 percent of such properties with mortgages, have mortgage balances that exceed the home's value. Given the total inventory, and the shadow inventory of empty homes, many experts expect prices to fall another 5 to 10 percent. That would bring the decline to 40 percent from peak-to-trough and expose an estimated 40 percent of homeowners to mortgages in excess of the value of their homes.
The growing risk of disappearing equity invites more strategic defaults on mortgages. Homeowners with negative equity are tempted simply to mail in their keys to their friendly lender even if they can afford the mortgage payment. Banks don't want to take the deflated properties onto their books because they will then have to declare a financial loss and still have to worry about maintaining the properties.
Little wonder foreclosure has not been enforced on a quarter of the people who haven't made a single mortgage payment in the last two years. A staggering 8 million home loans are in some state of delinquency, default, or foreclosure. Another 8 million homeowners are estimated to have mortgages representing 95 percent or more of the value of their homes, leaving them with 5 percent or less equity in their homes and thus vulnerable to further price declines. A huge percentage will never be able to catch up on their payment deficits.
The pace of foreclosures was briefly slowed by loan modifications brought on by government programs. Alas, the programs have not been working as hoped. Half of the borrowers have been redefaulting within 12 months, even after monthly payments were cut by as much as 50 percent. The foreclosure pipeline remains completely clogged. As it unclogs, a new wave of homes will come on the market and precipitate additional downward pressure on prices. The number of foreclosed homes put on the market by banks will be a more powerful influence on the further decline of home prices than either consumer demand or interest rates.
A well-balanced housing market has a supply of about five to six months. These days the supply is more than double that, as inventory backlog has surged to about a 12½ months' supply this summer, up from 8.3 months in May. This explains why average sale prices have been declining for so many, many months. The high end of the market, in particular, is under great pressure.
The mortgage market doesn't help. It is virtually on life support from the government, which now guarantees about 95 percent of the mortgage market. The rare conventional lenders are now actually insisting on a substantial down payment and making other more stringent financial requirements. Household formation is also shrinking now, down to an annual rate of about 600,000, compared to net household formation during the bubble years, when it was in excess of a million annually. The most critical factor subduing the demand for housing is that home ownership is no longer seen as the great, long-term buildup in equity value it once was. So it is not too difficult to understand why demand for housing has declined and will not revive anytime soon.
This is a disturbing development for those who believe that housing is going to lead America to an economic recovery, as it did during the Great Depression and then through every recession since. Each time, residential construction preceded the recovery in the larger economy. This time, in the Great Recession, a lead weight on recovery has been the disappearance of some $6 trillion of home equity value, a loss that has had a devastating effect on consumer confidence, retirement savings, and current spending. Every further 1 percent decline in home prices today lowers household wealth by approximately $170 billion. For each dollar lost in housing wealth, the estimate is that consumption is lowered by 5 cents or 5 percent. Add to this the fact that we are building a million-plus fewer homes on an annual basis from the peak years of the housing boom. With five people or more working on each home, we have permanently lost over 5 million jobs in residential construction.
That is why housing was such an important generator of normal economic recoveries. To give this context, residential construction was 6.3 percent of GDP at its recent peak in 2005 and 2006. It has fallen to the level of 2.4 percent this year. This is significant if you recognize that a 3 percent top-to-bottom decline in real GDP constitutes a serious recession.
Government programs to stimulate housing sales have not helped. There have been eight of them. One, which expired most recently (in the spring), was an $8,000 tax credit for housing contracts. All of these have done little more than distort the pattern of housing demand and actually pulled forward hundreds of thousands of units at the expense of future growth.
There is no painless, quick fix for this catastrophe. The more the government tries to paper over the housing crisis, and prevent housing from seeking its own equilibrium value in real terms, the longer it will take to find out what is true market pricing and then be able to grow from there.
The sad fact is that housing problems never left the recession of the last several years and it doesn't look as if they are going to leave anytime soon. The ultimate solution remains the same as the solution to the country's broader economic crisis. That is, getting millions of people back to productive work.
The same thing happened during the Hoover/Roosevelt catastrophe in the 20's/30's/40's. Home prices/values cascaded to 1/3 of their former pre-crash values. Same scenario in play today on a much larger scale.
For every moron that paid $500,000 for a $250,000 home there is some lucky bastid that walked away with that $250,000.
For every moron that maxed out his equity and is now upside down some $250,000 there are others who benefited from the foolishness of that moron.
If you think of your house as a place you live and not as an investment there is no “crisis.”
The “crisis” resulted from people buying more house than they could afford and then hoping to flip it — and left holding the bag when the flip would result in a loss.
Unemployment is still around 10% so that means employment is around 90% so the “unemployed through no fault of their own” meme is generally inaccurate and, more importantly, innaplicable.
Not if one lived within one’s means. Too bad Dave Ramsey wasn’t on the air in the 80’s and early 21st Century days!
Those of us like minded and conservative did not fall into the “I Want it all, and I want it now!” mindset.
Why Canada did not have a Housing Bubble
“No Fannie Mae. No Freddie Mac. No Barney Frank. No Chris Dodd.”
15 posted on Saturday, January 30, 2010 8:00:37 PM by Brilliant
A quick rediscovery of and return to the Founders' Principles is what Thomas Jefferson recommended in his First Inaugural Address:
"These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety."
For too long, our public discourse has been based on "issues" and short-term political goals, with not enough emphasis placed on how this or that question relates to a principle absolutely essential to our very liberty as a nation. We must return to the "road" described by Jefferson as he took office if liberty is to survive the assaults by both major Parties over the past 100 years.
“However, 40 percent of households do not have a mortgage on their home,...”
It’s the life’s work of the Progressives in America to trash private ownership.
One could be very frugal and responsible and still be 100k underwater on their house in these times. If you painfully sacrificed and saved to put a 20% down payment on a house in 05 or 06, you could easily be in this situation. It would have taken a lot of economic awareness and market smarts to have been wise enough to hold off buying. And even if you were that wise, the temptation to then buy after prices went signficantly down, thinking they had bottomed out, would have been overwhelming.....and you would have gotten stuck anyway, though for less.
There was a tragic incident in Durham, North Carolina yesterday. A father snapped and killed his four year old son and attempted to kill his other two children who managed to escape. He then attempted suicide. As it turns out, the father fell apart after several years of financial problems related to their 3500 square foot home in a plantation community. The mixed race couple by all appearances were very devoted, friendly, and participated in community activities. The father was an unemployed EMT and the mother sold Avon products. He was apparently distraught after finally realizing he was going to lose the home. They did not belong in that house. I think part of the problem is HGTV which promotes luxurious offerings like granite countertops and stainless appliances and a bathroom for every bedroom. These young people need to be taught about starter homes or rentals. Thank you Barney Frank for making banks give loans to people who cant afford them!
When the Democrats managed to force bad home loans by the tens of millions on the U. S. lending industry, it nearly destroyed this nation. It nearly destroyed a number of nations. It was an insidious plan.
You cause an undue burden on these lending institutions. They pass off the bad paper to other entities, spreading the exposure and immenent failure far and wide. The damage wasn’t limited to the United States either. The Western World was destabilized.
Then ours and other governments stepped in to rescue their nations, spending us all into oblivion in a matter of months.
When the loans defaulted, massive property vacancy rates caused home values to plummet. In some areas the cities are actually bull-dozing properties.
Then you get the media to trump up the failure of the Bush (A CONSERVATIVE’S) administration. “Look what he (THEY) brought upon us.”
We are trillions in debt. We have lost trillions in equity. Homes are devalued. Business vacancies are plentiful, those properties devalued.
You really have to hand it to the people who want to destroy this nation and the Western world. This one initiative was as brilliant as it could be. The best part for them, nobody who contributed to this mess has been taken to task for it. No, they’re hastily fixing it with still more ideas that will come back to haunt us in short order.
Nobody who saw it coming and didn’t do diddly squat to prevent it was seriously taken to task for it either.
Now they’re free to move on to bigger and better things, as if something bigger and better by this standard were possible. Well, handing off power to the United Nations would qualify, so I shouldn’t be too hasty.
No crisis here. I bought my home about 20 years ago with a 15 year mortgage, which I paid off in about 11 years. I know what I paid for it but have no idea what its market value is today nor do I care, it's my home, not an investment..
My home is owned by my wife, me and the tax assessor.
And as for this, from the article:
secure shelter for the children, along with access to a good free education.
What a ridiculous statement, about 90% of my real estate taxes pay for that "free" education.
When one adds the regulatory liabilities of ownership such as taxes on rainwater runoff, protection of "endangered species" such as wolves and mountain lions, or the threat of eminent domain, it is little wonder why the demand for housing becomes increasingly inelastic. The only value it had beyond shelter was as an inflation hedge or tax shelter. The former is gone, and the latter greatly diminished.
That is so true. I couldn’t believe when I heard in 1967my neighbor talk about selling the house that they had just bought a couple of weeks before. The house was built 6 month after ours. As a matter of fact, when we moved into ours there was just an empty lot with some trees on it.
Nothing that can’t be remedied with a bulldozer.
Good points. Especially with young people today, they seem to feel entitled to a McMansion. We have friends of the family whose have kids who bought a few McMansions. Each one was custom built. They lived in each house for a few years, built up some equity, then moved on to another custom built house. I can’t imagine being 30 years old and expecting to live in a custom home with granite counter tops and all that. But for the “yuppies” out there, they can’t imagine living in a house similar to the house they grew up in. They prefer a McMansion instead.
And it’s funny to see McMansions with so many bedrooms occupied by a childless couple. Young couples with no intention of having children want that McMansion anyway.
The problem is that most of those "lucky bastids" took their $250k profit and used it as a down payment on a million dollar house that's now worth $500k.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.