Monday, March 30, 2009

A Brief Synopsis: How We Got Here and Where We Are Going

How We Got Here
  • Government - The problems were caused by the relationship between Fannie Mae/Freddie and the Community Reinvestment Act (pushed by social agenda politicians (think Bill Clinton, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, etc.).  The result was that more and more high risk loans were made to financially unstable and under-capitalized borrowers under the guise of social justice.
  • Greedy Bankers - Pushed by the government, bankers soon realized that they could make more money lending to unstable and under-capitalized borrowers as a result of being able to make more loans and charging higher rates and fees.
  • Foolish Consumers - Consumers started viewing buying a home as an "investment".  While that may sound good, the problem is that what most people classify as an "investment" is really noting more than speculation (i.e. gambling).  As a result people took on more and more debt to buy bigger and bigger homes since they were "investments".  In reality, the only investment part of owning a home is that in the old days you would buy a home and eventually own it free and clear instead of perpetually paying rent.  Now, "homeowners" just perpetually have a mortgage which is not much different from perpetually renting other than you benefit if the price goes up and get hurt if the price goes down.  This is made much worse by leverage (think 0-5% down mortgages).  In reality, owning a home was never meant to be an investment other than you would eventually own the home free and clear and maybe get some appreciation, which would protect you from inflation (not 20-50% annual appreciation, but more like 3-7% per year).  Owning a home was primarily meant to provide a lifestyle.   People just had the common sense not to buy a lifestyle that they could not afford.

Where We Are Going
  • Some recent real estate news shows existing homes sales up 5.1% and new home sales up 4.7%, but home prices only improved 1.7%.  This is likely the result of more builders dumping their homes for cheap, but their median prices are still higher than resale homes so the overall prices went up a bit.
  • Despite sales increasing a bit the number of homes in inventory increased for the first time since July 2008.  This means supply will likely increase.  Not good for prices.
  • As soon as the general public thinks the market has improved there will be additional inventory added to the market as all those sellers that gave up on selling flood the market with their homes.  Again, this will not be good for prices.
  • The problem now is the absurd Obama stimulus plan, which will surely drive up inflation (and as a result interest rates) and drive up unemployment as investors and companies pull back investments (i.e. in start-ups, equipment, facilities, etc.) due to higher future taxes (necessitated by the huge government spending in the Obama plan) reducing their future returns.  This is what will likely break the back of the real estate market in the mid to long term.  So while prices may increase a tiny bit in the short term, in the long term they will suffer.  As a result I do not see the real estate market rebounding back to the pre-2006 price levels any time soon.