Over the past few months, I've had some harsh words for the mouthpieces of home- and loan-selling industry, folks, who, I think, have contributed to a potentially disastrous financial situation for thousands of Americans, through their overly sanguine and, unfortunately, oft-quoted reflections on the health of the housing market.
Recent news out of this crowd was that housing was heading for the fabled "soft landing." Of course, only weeks before, the same people were denying that any balloon or bubble existed at all.
I'm not the only Fool around the office who's been shaking his head in amazement at the way housing prices have inflated in the U.S. over the past few years, and my colleague Nate Parmelee -- another "cheapskate" who refuses to pay half a million clams for a 50-year-old, 800-square-foot knocker-downer -- brought to my attention a couple of articles that apply to his old Beantown stomping grounds.
This bit in the Boston Globe describes anything but a soft landing. Sellers, long accustomed to seeing their homes snapped up within weeks, if not days, whatever the asking price, are now watching their properties languish for months. They're even beginning to cut prices, by as much as 20% in places like picturesque Hopkinton, where they start the Boston Marathon.
"Unbelievable," is how one broker describes the cuts.
What's not to believe? When prices shoot up, they can just as easily shoot down, especially if the upward buying pressure came from speculators or other short-term dwellers who may be forced, by their employment or by changing financial times, to seek a quick exit.
This article discusses major increases in mortgage foreclosures in the same area, as much as 50% in some places. The culprit here? Well, one scapegoat offered up the popularity of "option" or "interest-only" adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) loans that far too often encourage people to buy homes they really can't afford, at least not after the low introductory teaser rates are over, when their principal grows larger and their payments soar. In suburban Chicago, some counties are seeing similar spikes in foreclosures, and it's also being blamed on ARMs, as well as the six-month supply of housing that remains on the market.
Of course, this doesn't mean the entire country is heading for heck in a handbasket. The Mortgage Bankers Association's recent survey of delinquent loans actually shows a lower rate than during the prior-year period, although the delinquency rates for ARMs, both prime (2.3%) and subprime (10.55%), have increased since the third quarter of 2004.
And with with interest-only and other ARMS accounting for 50% of the borrowing in many markets, these numbers might make you wonder about just how much of that recent activity has been done in the subprime market -- such as by H&R Block
I continue to believe that things won't be simple. We're going to see some soft landings and some pretty harsh rides. No doubt, much of the ethereal "wealth" created by the American pastime of borrowin' 'n' swappin' will remain, at least for those who can afford to stay in their houses and ride out any big drops. Moreover, recent numbers from the likes of Lennar
In the end, the only way for a smart Fool to play in this sandbox, whether buying a home or looking at stocks in the space, is to focus on the particulars of the situation at hand and figure out whether the math works. You can't predict the future, but you can make sure that if it goes ill for you, you won't be crushed by it.
For related Foolishness:
- Is housing roaring back? Check those numbers again.
- H stands for both Housing and Hiss.
- The housing experts change their tune.
- Home prices help the California Dream go bad.
- Look behind the housing bubble babble.
- Bubble? You bet. But only Fools seemed concerned.
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Seth Jayson remains a happy renter, because he knows there's a difference between price and value. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here . Fool rules are here .