Home prices are already a third off their highs, but this summer could bring the real discounts. Buyers are still cautious, and anxious sellers will have to price aggressively to get them off the fence. That could result in a “summer clearance sale,” predicts Pete Flint, CEO of Trulia, the real estate web site.
“We don’t imagine a stampede of buyers, like outside of Macy’s on Black Friday,” he said. “We see this more akin to January sales where retailers are trying to get rid of stock before it gets stale.”
Several factors, he said, will lead to blow-out prices. Accelerating price drops could be the result as home prices have already reached their lowest level since the housing bubble burst, and are now at 2002 levels.
Sellers may feel the pressure to make deals before their homes potentially lose even more value. There is a bloated inventory of homes on the market with more than eight months worth at the current rate of sales. Many are distressed properties — short sales and bank repossessions. Such homes are often selling at substantial discounts.
Credit is still very tight and many potential homebuyers still can’t obtain a mortgage which is limiting the demand. Unemployment is still a major concern and while the job picture has supposedly brightened, unemployment is still hovering around 9 percent nationally and is higher here in California.
People without jobs don’t buy homes, obviously, but high unemployment also rattles working people. Lacking the confidence that their jobs are secure, they may not look to buy. These forces could all come to a head this summer, according to Flint, because of the cyclical nature of home buying.
Buying usually takes off in spring as many young families hope to make their moves before the new school year. “By the end of the home buying season, sellers will become increasingly desperate,” said Flint.
Adding to already swollen inventories might be a flood of new distressed properties poised to hit the market. Banks trying to foreclose on homeowners hit a roadblock, as some delinquent borrowers successfully argued that their mortgage companies can’t prove they own the loans and therefore don’t have the right to foreclose.
This year, cases in California, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Massachusetts and others have raised questions about whether banks properly demonstrated ownership. Last fall, banks temporarily suspended foreclosures to address so-called robo-signing problems, where employees were approving legal documents without properly reviewing them. “By the summer, most of the ‘robo-signing’ delays will be over and more distressed properties will be on the market,” said Celia Chen of Moody’s analytics.
Many banks had slowed foreclosure proceedings until they made sure that paperwork was in order. That put hundreds of thousands of homes into foreclosure limbo and borrowers were no longer making payments in many cases, but were allowed to remain living in the homes.
There’s little urgency for buyers to act in this stagnant market because no one expects prices to turnaround, according to Ken Johnson, a real estate professor at Florida International University and co-author of a new study on whether it’s better to buy or rent.
Realizing that home prices will likely get even better, buyers can wait for even better deals. “If people think we’re at the bottom of the market, they’ll act,” he said. Many of the experts, however, are telling buyers that prices will continue to erode all through 2011. Even after that, no one is predicting outsized price gains.
“There will be a lousy housing market for another year or two,” said Michael Larson, a housing analyst for Weiss Research. Even if we’re at or near the bottom, buyers are unlikely to see prices rise much if they wait. “I myself continue to rent,” said Johnson. “I know that even if I don’t buy for a year, it’s no big deal. Who cares if I miss the bottom if prices only go up a couple of points or so?”
That can be a risky proposition and to many it sounds like good common sense. Why buy now if prices are going to continue to fall and maybe increase only a little if at all over the next couple of years? That is certainly the case for the cash buyer, but if you’re like me and would need to finance a home or investment you might consider that terms can sometimes be more important than just the price. If interest rates rise or loans become more difficult to obtain you can easily miss the boat. Between now and the end of the year might be the best time of our lifetime to buy a first home or investment property. Don’t be kicking yourself down the road. Talk to your local lender about pre-approval and your local Realtor about your options.
Questions or comments can be made to Kerry Suess at firstname.lastname@example.org