The Housing Market : Anyway You Look At It, Can’t Lose
Americans’ finances are in order, helping to stabilize real estate
About two years ago, even Jeff Reeves ( Marketwatch ) declared that the U.S. housing market had “officially” recovered.
And now, indicators are showing that real estate is the healthiest it’s been in a decade.
I know, I know … all of you who recently bought a home are asking me to find the nearest wooden object and knock vigorously on it. But current and prospective homeowners shouldn’t let the epic pain of the previous housing crisis color their expectations forever. With each passing month, the recovery in housing looks to be not only sustainable, but even gathering steam.
Another quarter of a million U.S. homes had equity that topped mortgage debt in the first quarter.
Good reasons to expect home values to keep rising.
Yes, the pace of increases in home prices has cooled, but given past experiences with an overheated housing market, that’s not a bad thing. According to the latest Case-Shiller data from the end of May, home values rose 5% from a year earlier in the 20-city index. Separately, real estate data firm FNC tallied a 5.3% increase in its larger 100-city price survey. So prices still are rising, albeit at a more moderate pace.
Digging deeper into prices and home values, CoreLogic just released a report that revealed another quarter of a million U.S. homes had equity that topped mortgage debt in the first quarter. The slow but steady trend of homeowners moving back into the black has quietly become an impressive story, with 44.9 million homes now reporting equity, or 90% of all mortgaged properties, according to CoreLogic data. Not only does this kind of environment breed confidence, it also creates stability as homeowners are not struggling to make payments on an underwater home or biting off more than they can chew.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reported in its latest weekly survey that applications from prospective borrowers were up 8.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis. The American Bankers Association said in its recently released annual survey that loans to first-time homebuyers have ticked up to 14%, the highest level in the history of the 22-year-old survey. More applications and loans are great, but it’s also crucial to note that the quality of those loans is strong, too. Consider the number of loans in foreclosure are at the lowest level since November 2007, with just 1.4% of mortgages in distress.
While housing starts pulled back a bit in May, it’s important to remember that came after a red-hot April that shows big optimism on the part of homebuilders as they broke ground on new homes at an impressive clip. The latest numbers showed upward revisions to the past two months, too, after impressive numbers previously. Also, permits surged 12% to the highest level since summer 2007 to show strong momentum that should carry this trend of robust construction through the coming months.
5: BUILDER CONFIDENCE
The National Association of Home Builders reported that builder confidence was rebounding after a slow start to the year, and up to a nine-month high. Not only did this top expectations, but it put the NAHB survey firmly in expansion mode, with a reading of 59; anything above 50 signals a favorable view. Furthermore, expectations of sales now and in the future “are at their highest levels since the last quarter of 2005, indicating a growing optimism among builders that housing will continue to strengthen in the months ahead,” according to the NAHB.
There is plenty of room for new supply, too, considering that Federal Reserve data show the current inventory of existing homes is only 4.8 months, down sharply from a one-year supply at the peak of the housing crisis and back in line with 2005 levels. The National Association of Realtors reports that total listings are down 15.7% year-over-year.
7: CONSUMER FINANCES
It’s reductive but fairly true: The health of the housing market is a reflection of the health of American family budgets, with the two waxing and waning together. And as I noted recently in my bullish assessment of the U.S. economy and stock market, consumers are doing very well, thanks to a better job market, and upward movement on wages, as indicated in the May unemployment report. Retail sales have reflected this strength, too, with better numbers lately. And according to the Federal Reserve, American families’ net worth has surged to a new record, owing to a rebound in the economy, stock market and home values. That all adds up to a bright outlook for consumer confidence, and for the housing market as a result.
( Marketwatch )