“The good news is that we’re entering spring home buying where sellers are bringing prices down, inventories are pretty good, mortgage rates are near cyclical lows and the economy is generating jobs, so we’re in relatively good shape,” said David Lereah, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors. “The monkey wrench is the subprime problem.”
Given the spike in defaults and foreclosures among subprime borrowers -- individuals with spotty or limited credit histories -- and the resulting fallout from loose lending practices, mortgage lenders are setting the bar higher for loan applicants. Those with solid credit histories aren’t likely to encounter any problems securing a mortgage, housing experts say, but those with poor credit reports undoubtedly will.
“It will hit the low end of the housing market and that will probably have a negative impact on the mid-level market because in order for someone to trade up, you need to sell the house you are in,” said Celia Chen, director of housing economics at Moody’s Economy.com. “If the lower-income buyers can’t buy your house, you can’t move.”
A slide in would-be subprime buyers will likely dampen demand. That, coupled with the bump in foreclosures, could push prices down further in some regions. February foreclosures rose 12% from the same period last year, according to foreclosure-tracker RealtyTrac, with Nevada, Colorado and Florida logging the top foreclosure rates. Total foreclosures are on track to rise 33% this year over last.
“There are still more price declines to come,” Chen added. “I think a lot of buyers feel that way too, so that’s probably another reason the market will remain soft (for sellers) this spring. People might wait and see how much further prices fall.”
Sellers in areas with an overabundance of homes on the market may need to cut prices to move their homes; in some markets, they're enticing buyers with incentives such as paying for closing costs.
Pricing trends vary tremendously region to region – and further softening will most likely be limited to certain markets, such as those where foreclosures could potentially cause new property gluts, or, in regions that overheated during the real estate boom, when investment speculators were scooping up properties using creative financing and flipping them for eye-popping profits.
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