Housing Recovery: Illusion or Reality?

By | August 27, 2014

For the benefit of the country, the economy , personal wealth, the stability of  financial markets not to mention my business I hope that the apparent statistical strength in housing is for real and stays that way for a long, long time!

But for the purposes of providing what we hope will be useful, accurate and, most importantly, potentially actionable data, an objective opinion provided by one of the featured financial columnists at MarketWatch is definitely worth a read.

Some will opine that this article from MarketWatch is merely designed to provide a doomsday prediction designed to draw eyes (and revenue) to the website while others will agree with what it says.

And isn’t that what makes a horse race?

In reality though it’s these conflicting opinions that make markets function because, for every willing buyer who sees upside potential in a property you will have a willing seller who likely thinks that his or her asset has reached peak value.

To invoke game theory, I suppose you could say that real estate could be described as a zero-sum game where one persons gain is equal to another’s loss.

Opinion: This house market is falling apart‘ by Michael Sincere of MarketWatch

Most real estate experts believe the U.S. housing market is roaring back. Few have anything to negative to say about real estate. But what if they’re wrong?

Real estate analyst Keith Jurow, author of the Capital Preservation Real Estate Report, is warning that the real estate market is not as strong as it seems. Says Jurow: “I never bought into the idea that we had a recovery at all.” His research leads him to conclude that home prices will be heading lower.

Why? Largely because home listings are going up but sale prices are not. Jurow discovered that as of June 2014, listings in Ft. Lauderdale increased by 89.3% year-over-year. In Miami, listings are up by 65.7% In Charlotte, N.C. they are up 51%, and in Riverside, Calif. they’re up 28.1%. In 10 major metro areas around the country, listings have increased. Jurow gets his data from Redfin.com and Raveis.com.

“Many people waited for prices to rise before putting their house on the market, and they have,” Jurow says. “But now listings are increasing because everyone has the same idea. Unfortunately, May and June are traditionally the strongest months for sales, and these home sellers have missed the peak season.”

Jurow points out that Redfin.com’s latest figures show that in 21 out of 29 major metro areas, sales volume is down year-over-year. “If sales are weakening and listings are going up substantially, prices will fall,” he says.

The problems in housing are much deeper than many people realize, Jurow contends. Another nagging concern is the large number of homeowners who are delinquent. “Delinquent means you haven’t paid the mortgage,” Jurow says. “The lender or servicer can file an official notice of default, which begins the foreclosure proceeding.” However, to keep prices from falling further, mortgage servicers have sharply reduced the number of homes placed into default.

Millions of homeowners are already seriously delinquent. “The average length of time that houses remain delinquent nationwide is 995 days,” Jurow says. “The worst culprit is New York State. The average delinquency period there is four years.”

Many homeowners are aware that banks are not in a rush to file foreclosures, so they stay in their houses mortgage-free. “The banks are not initiating foreclosure proceedings because once the servicer forecloses, the lender takes a hit on earnings,” Jurow says. “They also have to manage the property, and most banks don’t want to do that.”

Rent not Buy

Because so many homeowners are still “underwater,” a popular alternative is to rent out their home instead of selling it at a loss. Then they buy a second property, hoping their first house gets back to even so they can sell.

“The decision by underwater homeowners to rent out their house instead of selling it is an act of desperation,” Jurow says. “It leaves them with two mortgages. They would not have done this if they had the equity to sell their home and trade up to another.”

According to Jurow, this is creating a perfect storm. “The housing boom allowed people to sell and trade up to another house. Now that the trade-up market has essentially disappeared, investment firms who were swept up with the buy-to-rent craze are competing with the millions of underwater homeowners who decided to rent out their property.” These properties will eventually hit the market and affect housing prices, he says.

Many analysts counter Jurow’s arguments by quoting the Case-Shiller index, which has given mixed monthly results. Jurow argues that Case-Shiller is an index that gives different weight to home sales so that the raw data is distorted. Rather than relying on an index, he prefers to look at the actual data, which now suggests that sales are weakening across the country.

Time is money

What should you do if you are underwater or thinking of moving? Here are two of Jurow’s suggestions:

1. If you are underwater on your house, do not assume the house will regain its equity. In Jurow’s view, housing prices are likely to weaken further. Take the hit and sell now if you need to move. Put your house on the market at a realistic price before the market deteriorates further.

2.If you have investment properties that are underwater, consider liquidating now while markets are still liquid. Time is not on your side.

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Written by Michael Haltman, President of Hallmark Abstract Service, New York.

HAS is a provider of title insurance in New York State for residential and commercial real estate transactions specializing in the areas of New York City, Long Island and Westchester.

Remember that you have the right to choose your own title company (click here to learn more)!

If you have any questions you can reach Michael by email at mhaltman@hallmarkabstractllc.com.

 

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