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Housing Bubble Threat Grows

*from www.bloomberg.com, May 16, 2013 (To view original article click here.)

Take Away #1: Just a year since the U.S. housing market hit bottom after the biggest plunge in eight decades, signs of excess are re-emerging.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • An open house for a five-bedroom brownstone in Brooklyn, New York, priced at $949,000 drew 300 visitors and brought in 50 offers.
  • Three thousand miles away in Menlo Park, California, a one-story home listed for $2 million got six offers last month, including four from builders planning to tear it down to construct a bigger house.
  • In south Florida, ground zero for the last building boom and bust, 3,300 new condominium units are under way, the most since 2007.

Take Away #2: The U.S. spring homebuying season has been marked by a frenzy of demand fueled by the Federal Reserve’s drive to push down borrowing costs, a scarcity of listings and Wall Street’s new appetite for foreclosed homes.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • While values remain well below their peak, economists including Stan Humphries of Zillow Inc. (Z) and Mark Vitner of Wells Fargo & Co. assert prices in some areas are rising at an unsustainable pace.
  • This is a dramatic shift from early 2012, when billionaire Warren Buffett said housing “remains in a depression.”

Take Away #3: The gains in some U.S. areas aren’t sustainable for a healthy market, said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • “If prices keep going up at this rate for another six months, we will have a bubble, and people will get hurt,” Baker said in a telephone interview.
  • U.S. home prices jumped almost 11% in March from a year earlier, the biggest gain since the height of the real estate boom in 2006, CoreLogic Inc. reported last week.
  • Values are rising faster than incomes, an indication that prices may fall in some cities once higher mortgage rates erode affordability, Humphries said.
  • Investor purchases will inevitably cool, adding another potential hit to the market, according to Vitner.
  • U.S. buyers spent three times their annual incomes on homes at the end of last year.
  • Those properties were 15% pricier relative to incomes than before the housing bubble of the mid-2000s, according to data from Seattle-based Zillow (Z).
  • Markets such as Silicon Valley, Southern California, Boston and New York will look expensive relative to incomes when mortgage rates rise, Humphries said.

Take Away 4: “We’re not saying you should ignore the sale sign and not pay a cheaper price. We want people to be aware of the fact that this is unusual and not bake these expectations of high appreciation into their long-term calculus.”

Key Facts and Figures:

  • The average rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage was 3.51% this week, and reached a record low of 3.31% in November, according to Freddie Mac.
  • That compares with an average rate of 6.24% from 2001 to 2006.

Take Away # 5: It’s too early to say another bubble is emerging.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • So far, the biggest gains are limited to hard-hit markets such as Phoenix and Las Vegas and thriving job centers such as San Francisco, while prices are falling in cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis, according to CoreLogic.
  • Nationally, existing-home sales are about a third off a 2005 peak and home construction is down by 66%.
  • Also, in contrast to the easy lending of the boom years, mortgage standards are strict.

Take Away # 6: U.S. home prices fell 35% from their July 2006 peak to the bottom in March 2012, and are still 29% off their high, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index measuring 20 U.S. cities.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • Nationally, prices dropped so much during the crash that they remain about 7% undervalued, based on comparisons with historical prices, incomes and rents, Trulia Inc. said this week.
  • Still, the recent price surge has made eight U.S. markets – – including Orange County, California; Houston; and Portland, Oregon — overvalued, the San Francisco-based real estate data company said.

Take Away # 7: The housing market has defied predictions of a tepid recovery by many economists.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • A year ago, Moody’s Analytics Inc. said prices in 2013 would climb 1.6%.
  • The company revised its projections upward for each of the last six months and now expects an increase of 7.5% this year.
  • Gains probably will moderate in 2014, said Celia Chen, a Moody’s housing economist who predicts a 4% rise as homebuilding ramps up and underwater homeowners regain enough equity to sell.
  • CoreLogic said today that it projects prices will rise at an annualized rate of 3.9% through 2017 after climbing 7.3% in 2012.

Take Away # 8: The conditions that have propelled prices up for the past year won’t last, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors Inc. in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Key Facts and Figures:

  • “We’re eventually going to see mortgage rates increase, supply increase, and affordability decline, so you probably cut price gains at least by half,” Naroff said.
  • “It will be a slowdown, not a crash,” said Naroff.

*To view original article from www.bloomberg.com click here.

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