Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Power of Low Rates

I have a real estate friend in Madison, Wisconsin--where the market seems a lot like ours much of the time--who thinks that the real estate market will not recover unless and until the government aims directly at our industry with programs designed to improve sales. Although the tax credits did that, they expired and left us, arguably, in worse shape than ever (however, people don't realize that, because they look at the fact that housing prices haven't declined much, and in some cases, they have edged up slightly--that's because all the first-time homebuyers have left the market, leaving higher-priced homes as the only ones selling). The government has focused on the banks, using first TARP money and then foreclosure actions to regulate activity. We probably haven't been helped at all by the foreclosure stoppage, since it just lengthens the period of time where the whole housing system is backed up. Until all those homes, which--foreclosed or not--the owners can't afford, get transferred somehow, there won't be a "normal" real estate market. Appraisers can't even use those transfers in computing value, since they aren't arm's-length transactions, but they obviously have an effect on values and on regular sales.

This same friend, although thinking that we need Federal intervention to improve our market, also has the most compelling argument for buying right now. He has made charts that show that a 10% drop in prices actually has less of an effect on monthly payments (the gold standard by which most buyers decide how much they can afford) than a 1% rise in interest rates. Therefore, buying a home now, with the current rates, costs you less than buying it later, even if prices drop by another 10%. If rates go up, that savings in the prices will be more than offset. Whether that obviates the need for governmental action on behalf of the housing industry, I'm not sure. But I am sure that it makes a compelling case for buying a home now.