Homeowners are still Suffering in the Housing Market but Speculators are Profiting

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 3rd, 2013

Week in Review

Housing sales drive the economy.  Because it takes a lot of economic activity to build houses.  And even more for homeowners to furnish their homes.  This is why the government gave us the subprime mortgage crisis and the Great Recession.  They kept interest rates artificially low.  And the Clinton administration forced lenders to lower standards to put as many people into houses as possible.  But, alas, they put a lot of people into homes that couldn’t afford them.  Using subprime mortgages to get them into those homes.  Like the adjustable rate mortgage.  And when interest rates went up so did their mortgage payments.  And they defaulted.  Which kicked off the subprime mortgage crisis.  Giving us the Great Recession.

These low interest rates created a great demand for housing.  Everyone was borrowing money to buy.  Because money was so cheap to borrow.  And with those lower standards borrowing money was never easier.  Especially for investors.  Who bought houses.  Fixed them up.  And put them back on the market.  House flippers.  With all this demand housing prices soared.  Creating a great housing bubble.  Which burst.  As all bubbles do.  And housing prices plummeted.  Leaving people with mortgages greater than the new value of their houses.  Some walked away.  Especially those who put little to nothing down.  Like those house flippers.  And those subprime borrowers.  Flooding the market with more homes.  Putting further pressure on housing prices.

It was a huge mess the government gave us.  The damage was great.  And we’ve been waiting a long time for the housing market to recover.  Housing prices are finally rising.  But not for the right reasons (see Home prices on the rise, but not ownership by Alejandro Lazo posted 1/29/2013 on the Los Angeles Times).

The sharp increase in home prices — particularly in regional markets such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, which had been so decimated by the bust — is raising concern among some economists…

It is those kinds of big increases that could fuel speculation.

“It does concern me a bit,” Zillow.com chief economist Stan Humphries said. “It encourages people to think about housing as a short-term investment, instead of a long-term investment…”

While prices may be rising, homeownership is struggling, an indication that investors are playing a big part in fueling the market’s rebound. The Census Bureau said Tuesday that national homeownership fell 0.6% to 65.4% in the fourth quarter over the same period a year earlier…

The spike in prices is masking the trouble that borrowers with underwater mortgages are facing. In fact, it’s precisely because so many borrowers cannot get out from underneath their upside-down homes that prices are rising so much, economists have said, because those people are simply hanging on and not putting their homes on the market.

People underwater are hanging on because they don’t want to take a huge loss by selling.  When you lose some 25-40% of your home’s value there’s only one way to get it back.  You keep living in it.  For a long time.  For only time can restore a home’s value.  Which a homeowner will lose if he or she sells.

So house prices are coming back up.  But like elsewhere in the economy it’s the rich who are doing well.  Not middle class families.  Those who want to live in their homes.  Furnish their homes.  These people who drive real economic activity.  Not the house flippers who are just trying to profit off the misfortune of others.  Who are picking up houses on the cheap thanks to those lost their homes or sold them at a loss.  And flipping them to make a profit.  These are the people doing well in Obama’s America.  Not middle class families.

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