Even before the peyote induced housing bubble, American’s as a whole had most of their store of wealth in housing. After Credit Mania™ came out like an Ultimate Fighting Championship, more and more American’s saw their home as a store of wealth and figured out that hey, what is the use of idle equity? Why not tap it out via mortgage equity withdrawals? Refinance, spend, let equity build up, and repeat the process. It was the perfect combination and allowed the American economy to avoid a prolong recession. Our savings rate went negative during this glorious housing golden era. The only problem is this “healthy” economy was fueled by easy credit and not production of new industries. With the technology bubble of the 90s, even though it went into another dimension as well, we are still left with remnants of fiber optic lines, better information technology, and this will serve our society for the better in the long run. Flipping and trading houses like baseball cards? Well once this bubble subsides not much will be left except a credit hangover.
The New Tag Team of Housing
If you haven’t read the story here is the link. What is now happening is even homes that go into contract are falling through the cracks. You only need to look at the sales contracts that fall through from the large home builders and you will get a good sense of the current housing market. In fact, many folks go home and get a nice case of buyer’s remorse. The mortgage market is tanking. Record amounts of debt. Open any newspaper and even a housing novice will realize buying right now may not be the best bet. So imagine a couple going to an open house, finding a place they like, and going home to run the numbers only to see that they will not be able to afford the place without “creative” [read speculation] financing. They turn on the television and hear about the tanking credit markets and the mortgage market fallout. They decide to wait out the market. Aside from the subprime mortgage G-men, we no longer have a secret group of people buying homes with exotic financing hoping to flip. So what if we could lend to these people before they left the open house? From the article:
"With housing prices lower in many parts of the country and still-low interest rates, we are clearly in a buyer's market," said Dan Hanson, managing director of Countrywide Home Loans. "Our hope is to make it easy for people who've been on the sidelines to go out, look at open houses, and understand their home loan options."
Housing prices that are trending lower and low interest rates do not equal a buyer’s market. We’ve already examined the selling stalemate in the current market. Sellers do not want to lower home prices because they have an inflated view of what they should be getting. In basic economics the price of a product is what the market will support. Sales are radically down because people don’t want to buy at current prices. Instead of realizing that this is the new status quo, sellers and the housing complex are trying each and every way to come up with absurd products that make no financial sense. They make sense for their commissions and keeping the butter churning, but it makes no sense for a current buyer. Why would you buy right now if you know next year prices would be cheaper? You don’t. This bubble psychology is what got us into this mortgage credit mess as well.
People saw that housing went up year-over-year and figured they had to jump in. For a few years they were right. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Economic fundamentals didn’t push the market up but mass psychology did. Folks went into massive debt with adjustable rate mortgages simply to own a piece of the
Missing the Bulls-eye
Keep in mind that Countrywide even as late as May of this year was expanding its subprime mortgage outfit and talking about 50-year loans.
Reuters, reporting from a Wall Street conference, says Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo unveiled plans for new reverse mortgage products and 50-year-subprime loans, and also said Countrywide plans to add 2,000 sales jobs this year.
With that said, let us take another look at what is being said today:
"We're pleased to assist our local real estate professionals, and we encourage buyers to work with an expert who is seasoned in helping buyers with the home purchase transaction," said Hanson.”
Seasoned? You mean with a company that was expanding their subprime unit only a few months before the current implosion? Why would anyone take a 50 year mortgage when rates are at all time lows? Is this your definition of seasoned? Well let us continue forward in the magical world of mortgage Oz:
“It has always been Countrywide's mission to provide optimal mortgage solutions for each homebuyer's needs and financial situation, and it is Countrywide's continuing commitment to help find the most appropriate mortgage solution for every qualified buyer.”
Here was the option list for the last 7 years: adjustable rate mortgage, option ARM mortgage, reverse mortgage, 2/28 mortgages, and maybe a 30 year conventional mortgage. Keep in mind that with absurd ratings of the mortgage backed securities market premiums were better on the riskier mortgages so guess what was pushed by lenders? And now these same people are the gurus of financial prudence? Scotch please! Dissecting the article you can tell someone is well groomed in the art of PR. When they say most “appropriate mortgage solution” the implication is that there is a mortgage product for you. Take this a step further and you will see that they are still trying to push people into houses while the market is entering the first stages of a bear cycle. You’ll love this:
“Through the America's Open House campaign, Countrywide hopes to encourage buyers to do their house hunting with a clear understanding of how much they can afford and what types of financing options are available to them.”
So now after 7 years theses mortgage companies think that it is important to look at your income. You can imagine how one of these sessions will go:
Buyer: “Yeah, we have an annual household income of $60,000, what do you think we can afford?”
Housing Tag Team: “Well according to my modified housing algorithm, you qualify for a $700,000 mortgage.”
Buyer: “I’ve heard that the credit markets are getting tighter and housing prices are going lower. Is this correct?”
Housing Tag Team: “Nonsense! There is never a better time to buy then right now. In fact, if you can put down 5 percent today before you walk out of this 500 square foot home, we will make you the proud owners of this place? How does that sound?”
Buyer: “I’m not sure. It sounds like we will be out of our range.”
Housing Tag Team: “Listen. If you sign right now we will throw in an additional granite countertop and 42” plasma. You don’t even need to go to the bank! That is the benefit of the Housing Tag Team (HTT).”
Housing tied at Hip to Healthy Economy
In that past decades, real estate contributed about 10 to 12 percent of all added job growth. However, in the last decade real estate related jobs are now pushing closer to 30 percent of the entire job output. So of course the economy is healthy. Real estate has been fueled by a massive credit bubble thus leading to job growth and spending. But this circular logic has a fallacy that I’m sure many of you see. If housing hits a road block and slows down, guess what happens to a large portion of our employment sector? The economy is predicated on continuous housing appreciation; not normal appreciation that tracks with inflation but debt fueled home equity line of credit type of expansion. When you pull the curtains back on your new house, make sure you send the wizard a nice tag team hello.
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