Realty Check

Housing Bottom? Hey, Don't Ask Cause No One Can Tell


I’m about to infuriate my bosses. Here goes: I’m sick and tired of all the anchors on all the shows on CNBC today being told to ask all the housing “experts,” including me, if we’ve hit bottom yet in this particular housing recession. It’s a ridiculous question because there is no legitimate answer.

Yesterday I was on the phone with a real estate agent in New Jersey who said the so-called “credit crunch” which everyone is crediting with slowing the so-called housing recovery, is not affecting his clientele whatsoever. His people have good jobs, good credit, and good prospects when it comes to finding a loan. Just after that I called another agent in California. He said his business is positively tanking because half of his clients are having trouble getting loans. Prices are coming down, and his people want to jump in to buy, they just can’t get financing.

A tale of two coasts? No. It’s a tale of real estate, which, by the way, happens to be a regional phenomenon, dare I say local. National factors, like credit, confidence, and economic growth, certainly weigh on real estate as a whole, but today’s housing recession is unique; unlike previous downturns that came as a result of a bad national economy, this downturn, in my humble opinion, is based on a lending market that got completely out of hand and resulted in unsustainable price appreciation. Job creation is just fine. Wealth creation in housing was based on non-existent fundamentals.

I read a stat last week that said historically Americans live in homes that are worth three times their household income. Today that number has shot up to well over four times income. And that’s thanks to really cheap loans that made the unattainable suddenly attainable. The worst offenders were out West and in Florida, where price appreciation soared at a truly ridiculous pace, home builders and condo developers jumped on the bandwagon and investors ran headlong into the opportunity.

When the loans go away, the ability to own the homes goes away, and that’s just a fact. And frankly I don’t buy that raising any FHA limits or increasing Fannie and Freddie portfolio caps or loan limitsare going to help the folks who bit off the big houses that they really couldn’t afford, and all you have to do is look at the median home prices in Western states to see that.

So back to the talk. Look, the housing market is already coming back in the Northeast, in Boston and DC. Chicago is also climbing back too, not that it fell very far. So where’s the bottom? Depends on where you look. Credit is coming back, buyers are surfing the web in greater volume, according to my spies, and prices are coming back down to earth. Yes, foreclosures are still rising, and unfortunately there are more people who will soon find themselves out of their overpriced homes, but harsh as it is to say, some of these people never should have been in those homes in the first place. Where’s the bottom of this “national” housing downturn? Ask me in five years.

Here is a blog with links on some more regional home sales data.

Questions?  Comments?