We’ve been expecting it for a year and hoping we were wrong, but the double dip is here as home prices are plunging again. It seems that last year’s uptick was a result of the Congressional tax credits for home buyers. That pumped some life into the otherwise moribund housing sector, but the air all leaked out this year.
How bad is it? Nationwide, home prices are down 5.1% from last year to levels not seen since 2002. Home prices have now lost an average of 32.7% since the highs reached in 2006. Almost 30% of homes with a mortgage are now underwater and many of the rest are hanging on by their fingernails. Here’s a graph from CNN Money that shows the decline from 2006, the uptick last year and the plunge again this year.
It’s starting to look like Niagara Falls, and it appears poised to get worse. What is actually causing this depressing negativity in real estate? Why can’t the nation and our Golden State seem to pick ourselves up and start all over again?
Causes of the Continuing Decline In Housing
Many factors are contributing to this stubborn stalemate–high unemployment, lack of consumer confidence and spending, outsourcing of jobs–but the major reason is the same as at the beginning of the recession–the big banks.
Most of us now understand that the push for deregulation of the banking industry which culminated in the lifting of the 1930s-era Glass-Steigal Act functioned like a giant gold rush for the so-called financial services industry or, better yet, a red flag to a bull. The Wall St boys almost literally went crazy dreaming up creative ways to make money [for themselves] without much consideration for the consequences.
In those heady days, intoxicated with the freedom from almost all regulation, the banks shoveled out loans. Almost anyone could get a loan. Bad credit scores, no down payment, low or no income–none of it mattered. The bankers had a loan for everyone and raked in the money doing refi after refi as everyone cashed out their new-found equity as the housing bubble grew.
When it burst, the first to explode were the sub-prime loans. That was back in 2007 and 2008. Those were the really terrible loans with horrendous interest rates given to completely unqualified buyers. That was the first wave of foreclosures and short sales.
Since then we have been dealing with the ARM loans, the adjustable rate loans that so many qualified buyers anxious to get into the hot housing market were advised by their lenders to undertake “to get into the property.” At the time lenders pitched these as “starter loans” because down the road, when they adjusted, buyers were told, with the rise in equity, you could easily refi when the rates went up.
Now we know better of course. Those ARM loans, so lucrative for lenders five years ago, are now time bombs exploding all over the place. Here’s another graph showing how all these 3- and 5-year ARMs are now adjusting. Owners can’t refi now due to plunging real estate values. On the other hand, they can’t pay $1500 more a month either. Naturally, the banks aren’t budging–no help for you, partner.
Thanks to Sean Chapman for the graph.
This year, as we can plainly see from the graph, we can expect a huge number of resets for these adjustable mortgages. Since the properties are usually now either underwater or nearly underwater, even those who could pay will quickly determine that it is not in their financial interest to do so. The result will be an even deeper crisis for the housing market as home values plummet ever downwards.