It's really all about the economy at this point. Fortunately, the economy is moving forward, albeit at what too-often seems a plodding pace.
But moving forward we are. The Federal Reserve noted as much in its latest rendering of its Beige Book, a report of anecdotal evidence of economic progress in the dozen Fed districts. The Beige Book states, "Compared with prior summaries, the reports on balance suggest ongoing improvement in economic conditions in recent months, with most districts highlighting more favorable conditions than identified in reports from the late spring through early fall.”
Now, that attempt to say something without saying too much doesn't really enlighten, but it does affirm what we've known all along – the economic recovery is progressing.
Home prices might also be progressing better than the national numbers suggest. Zillow Inc. reports home prices were flat in November, with the average national home price at $147,800. But the housing market is a local market, and local markets appear to be improving better than the national numbers report (which can be skewed by outliers, e.g. Las Vegas).
Of the 165 housing markets tracked by Zillow, 60 percent reported stable or appreciating home values in November. Notable winning locales include Los Angeles, Washington D.C, Miami, San Francisco, and Detroit.
The flow of private money into housing is also encouraging. We've noted over the past month that hedge funds, investing platforms for the wealthy, are directing more funds into housing stocks. In addition, Robert Shiller, co-inventor of the S&P/Case-Shiller Real Estate Index, noted at a recent American Economic Association function that the futures market for real estate (basically bets on the direction of home prices) is pointing to rising prices.
We expect interest in residential real estate to further bloom in 2012. Homes are enticingly affordable these days. U.S. Department of Housing and U.S. Treasury Department data show that home affordability is at a level unseen since 1971. In fact, median-income families today have double the funds needed to cover the cost of owning a home than they did 40 years ago.
Historically low mortgage rates also contribute to the affordability quotient, and rates continue to skim along the bottom, as they have done for the past two months.
But rates aren't the only consideration in the cost of a loan. Fees come into play. Unfortunately, borrowers face higher fees in the near future. The guarantee fee on loans sold to Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae is set to increase a minimum of 10 basis points effective April 1. Many industry watchers, though, expect the actual cost to fall within the 20-to-80 basis-point range.
Today, affordability is at a multi-decade high, and mortgage rates are at a multi-decade low. We see few economic reasons for anyone in the market for a mortgage and house not to take the plunge.
Patience: The Most Important Virtue
We are always keen to accentuate the positive; we are also keen to accentuate reality. The reality is that a return to 2006-era home prices and transaction activity likely resides in the distant future.
We looked at other bubbles that have burst – the stock market in 1929, the gold market in 1980, the tech market in 2000 – and found that it can take years, if not decades, for the market to return to pre-bubble levels. As we all know, the housing bubble burst in full in late 2007/early 2008 and prices tumbled hard over the subsequent three years.
The good news is that the hard sell-off that marks a bursting bubble is an acute not a chronic event. That means once the sell-off is complete, the healing process begins and markets move forward, thought at a relatively slower pace compared to the pre-bubble pace.
The frustrating aspect of the recovery is that little can be done to accelerate it. To be sure, the housing market is recovering, but it's going to be awhile before it reaches the level of activity we were accustomed to a few years ago. Keeping that fact in mind not only helps mitigate frustration but also helps us stick to our guns as we focus on the long-term trend, which, fortunately, will be up.
Post Courtesy of: Elliott Bresler
New Penn Financial, LLC