Just a few years ago, the Country was devastated by a crashing housing market. Trillions of dollars in home equity was lost which devastated our economy and the financial well-being of millions of families. Foreclosures and short sales were rampant. People walking away, or worse, were being kicked out of their homes almost became the norm. People who did nothing wrong were suddenly so far upside down on their homes that recovering was simply not possible.
However, over the last 12 months, we have gone from homes languishing on the market for months at rock-bottom prices with no buyers in sight to fierce bidding wars that have driven home
prices sky high. Potential buyers have written as many as 20 different offers on homes and been beaten out each time by somebody willing to pay more. Sellers are asking for the moon…. and getting it.
The question now becomes, with the median sales prices up on average 30% in just 12 months - Are we about to do it again? Haven’t we been through this before? Does this sound eerily familiar to 2006? Could we possibly be so stupid.
To answer that question, we have to look at several factors. The main factor to consider is why prices ran up so far and so fast back in 2006 then compare that with what is going on today. It’s a somewhat lengthy and difficult question to answer but much of it can be summarized with the availability of mortgage money back in 2006.
Have you ever heard of what was called the “NINJA” Loan? Its hard to believe but it was the name given to a loan which would be made for some body buying a home that had: No Income, No Job, and No Assets. Credit scores were not looked at and no down payment was required. Sound hard to believe that banks would loan somebody like this hundreds of thousands of dollars? Well, its true and they did! Sometimes also called a “signature loan” because that’s all the person had to provide in order to get the loan and buy the house. This loan and loans like it were later designated “sub-prime” loans and they can be directly attributed to the market crashing and the devastation that took place.
So, what did loans like the NINJA loan have to do with prices running sky high back in 2006? Typically there is a balance between the number of homes for sale and the number of “qualified” buyers. The balance between the two does ebb and flow but normally they keep each other in check and housing prices remain somewhat stable. However, when banks started writing NINJA loans and other similar loans, the word “qualified” was removed and literally anybody could buy a home. Suddenly, there was a dramatic imbalance in the number of buyers to the number of sellers. Soon every Seller had 15 or 20 buyers trying to purchase their home, bidding wars started, and prices shot up. The unfortunate part was that many of those buyers had no ability to make even their first mortgage payment. Most quickly went into default and soon the market was flooded with foreclosures and short sales which devastated home prices.
Lets compare that with what is happening today:
Today buyers have to go through strict qualifying guidelines and prove their income, assets, and job history. Credit scores are highly scrutinized and people are held accountable for their past. Down payments are required on all loans except VA loans. To summarize, and in contrast to the buyers of 2006, todays buyers can afford the homes they are purchasing.
So what is causing this huge run up in home prices now? The answer is that there has been a lot people and a lot of money on the sidelines waiting (for years) for signs that the market had turned. Those signs became very apparent late in 2012 and prices started creeping up. Once the media got wind of this, the flood gates opened and buyers came out in droves. Once again an imbalance between the number of Buyers and the number of Sellers has created a situation of hyper appreciation.
So, are we experiencing another housing bubble? Will this burst like the last one? Most experts agree that this is not a bubble for a number of reasons that range from population growth to lack of construction workers to build new houses. However, I believe that we wont see another crash simply because the Buyers in this market have to do something that the Buyers 2006 didn’t have to do – that is QUALIFY FOR A LOAN. The point being that these buyers CAN afford their payment and mass foreclosures are not in our future.
STILL A LOOMING THREAT: There is one looming threat to the housing market out there though and that is interest rates. The Chairman of the Fed, Ben Bernanke, stopped an extremely “hot” market dead in its tracks in early July 2013 when he “tested” the market by saying that the Fed will ease its support of Mortgage Backed Securities. This comment caused interest rates to jump by nearly 1.5% almost overnight and largely shut down our booming real estate market. It has since recovered and sales have started to happen again but the threat remains. If you are thinking about sizing up or down with your home, or are a first time homebuyer, you may want to consider doing it soon, before another comment is made.