With No Credit, Housing Investors Dig Deep


Nothing like getting to work on a Monday morning and finding no fewer than four dismal reports on the housing market in my "Inbox."

It's not like anyone thought housing recovered over the weekend (that was pretty clear from the precious few "Open House" signs in my neighborhood at least), but the outlook is deteriorating, and we're just a day away from getting what is expected to be a weak report on existing home sales for May.

Let's start with home prices from Fannie Mae's Economics and Mortgage market Analysis Group, which predicts additional home price declines through the third quarter before flattening out at the end of 2011. “Ultimately, the labor market holds the key to a housing recovery, but job growth is needed in order to activate housing demand,” said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan. “Hiring delays will continue to push out timing for the housing rebound.”

Okay, not exactly a shock, but never a good thing to hear analysts say, "growth is stalling."

Now to a new point about investors, from the May Housing Market report from Campbell/Inside Mortgage Finance, which tracks several indices:

The closely-watched survey's traffic index for first-time homebuyers fell from 51.7 in April to 45.3 in May, while the traffic index for current homeowners fell from 56.1 to 44.8. Meanwhile, the traffic index for investors fell from 55.3 to 54.6. Any index value less than 50 indicates a decrease in traffic from the previous month.

The HousingPulse Survey’s Distressed Property Index, a key measure of the health of the U.S. housing market, fell slightly to 46.7 percent in April, although sales of distressed properties continued to account for nearly half of the market.

The monthly HousingPulse Survey also showed the proportion of first-time homebuyers in the housing market rose to 37.3 percent in May, from 35.7 percent in April.

“First-time homebuyers have difficulty getting mortgage financing and current homeowners are often locked into properties with negative home equity. That leaves investors to take up the slack,” says research director for Campbell, Thomas Popik.

The trouble is that investors can't get financing easily and are largely forced to use cash. In fact 74 percent bought with cash in May. The survey found a drop in investor activity in May from 23 percent to just over 21 percent of purchases. Most investors are using personal funds, like retirement funds, home equity lines of credit and savings accounts, which in itself is concerning; hedge funds and other larger investors make up a much smaller share of buyers, mainly in coastal regions.

All this weakness in housing continues to push more potential buyers to rent.

“As we have previously predicted, the U.S. apartment market has been recovering at an astounding pace,” said Dr. Peter Muoio, senior principal of Maximus Advisors. “The sector will continue to benefit from the growing preference for renting over homeownership as well as rapid growth of the young adult population. We predict that vacancies will continue to decline while effective rents grow robustly during the next two years due to limited development of new multifamily properties during the recession.”

And there's your bright side, if you happen to be an investor in the multi-family sector. I do think that the rental phenomenon will be temporary, but by temporary I mean a decade, not a year. Housing affordability is already enticing enough to bring the buyers back. We are still waiting for the mortgage market to sort itself out.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @Diana_Olick