May 30, 2012

An “Elite” Housing Recovery

Summary

While there is some good news out there—the National Association of Realtors reports that home sales rose more that 10 percent in April from a year earlier—mortgage financing is still very tight. Fannie and Freddie are requiring credit scores that are higher than any other time in the past 10 years, and banks have added a credit-overlay. So, the $11 trillion dollar question is: Will credit standards ease up and permit more capital to flow into the housing market?

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According to Tuesday’s 20-city Case-Shiller index, home values rose by 0.09 percent in March, while falling by 2.57 percent since last year.

Although the numbers seem to indicate that the housing market is doing slightly better, they are in line with our performance from a year ago, and that is nothing to write home about. There are still a lot of wild cards that could prevent real recovery, including slow economic growth and the Eurocrisis. We need growth in wages and more job creation before we’re really out of the woods. And don’t forget about the “summer seasonal” at work again—housing prices tend to rise in the summer months and decline in the fall and winter months.

The current housing “boom,” if you can call it that, can be attributed to an elite housing recovery in wealthy areas like New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, and San Francisco, and investors or cash-only transfers in the vacation home market. This vacation-home market is a particularly important reason to be concerned, as the previous housing bubble was largely driven by people taking out multiple mortgages for second homes they could not afford.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta and Chicago markets are really struggling as the housing crisis shifts from places like Phoenix and Las Vegas to sprawling urban areas in the Midwest and South. Both Georgia and Illinois lack good banking regulation, and risky home loans in those areas are weakening their markets. So the sand state collapse is healing, but has been replaced by the Heartland collapse (Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and Detroit).

While there is some good news out there—the National Association of Realtors reports that home sales rose more that 10 percent in April from a year earlier—mortgage financing is still very tight. Fannie and Freddie are requiring credit scores that are higher than any other time in the past 10 years, and banks have added a credit-overlay. So, the $11 trillion dollar question is: Will credit standards ease up and permit more capital to flow into the housing market?