Underwater Mortgages: Need “Demand”


When the housing market crashed in 2008, somewhere between 25% and 53% of all homeowners in America, (depending on their geographic region), realized their homes were “underwater,” because they suddenly owed more to the banks on their mortgage balances, than their properties were worth.

The crash was in part caused by “adjustable rate mortgages” that increased to unsustainable levels, causing so many homeowners to default, they triggered a foreclosure crisis. Since the problem was blamed on “easy credit,” tighter rules were implemented, forcing lenders to accept only very creditworthy borrowers, who could start their mortgage schedules with much higher down payments.

As a consequence of resetting the deck, people who were formerly qualified to buy, could no longer do so. The led to a reduction in housing “demand,” at a time when the “supply” on the market was greater than ever, due to all the foreclosures. So we ended up with more houses for sale, but far fewer potential buyers.

In the years to come, underwater homeowners will not get back into the black, until the value of housing market increases to pre-crash levels. The value of homes will not rise, until the quantity of buyers becomes greater than the number of sellers. It is basic economics: “price” rises when “demand” exceeds “supply.”

Since the “supply” of available housing is fixed and finite, the variable that needs adjustment is “demand.” The government needs to trigger more “demand” to bring about a rising tide as to all home values. Today, there are millions who would love to own a home, and could make their monthly payments, but they lack a sufficient down payment, and do not qualify under the new rules.

While stimulating the building of new homes may put people back to work in the construction industry, it does nothing to lessen the oversupply of already existing homes, or to increase the existing weak demand for them.

Gov. Romney said slowing down the foreclosure process, buying up troubled homes, or giving thousands of dollars towards the purchase of a new home, won’t solve the problem. He predicted home prices won’t return, until the market works. His answer is for the government to do nothing, and just hope pre-crash values return, after a decade or so of relatively sluggish sales.

Congressman Paul basically advocated full speed ahead with the foreclosure process, as he said housing debts must be liquidated, as they are only prolonging the agony. If the bad paper had been auctioned and sold, it would have been cleansed by now, he said. As to the bailouts, Paul lamented, if money was to be given out, it should have gone to those who lost mortgages, not the banks.

Putting more money in the hands of buyers is what is needed, so more people can accumulate the down payments they need. This is how the housing market will return. But this can only happen through higher earnings. As long as Romney proposes nothing to help Middle Class people earn more, the housing market will remain flat, and the homes now underwater, will simply remain that way for a long time to come.

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