Interest rates far from the only answer

“The miserable have no other medicine but only hope” Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare (Act III, Scene I)

My intension is not to paint a picture of doom and gloom. I remain cautiously optimistic that with conscience and care, we can weather the storm. There are, however those who are quick to say we’re in recovery, the worst has past and by this time next year our real estate troubles will be a distant memory. That’s a classic example of ignoring the elephant in the room…The posted article “Low interest rates are no panacea for region’s housing” describes a dynamic that exists in hard-hit Inland Southern California. Although interest rates are low there’s a lack of inventory creating fierce competition and many buyers are getting frustrated. Builders cannot justify building. Statistics nationally on NOD’s and REO’s indicate that there should be plenty of inventory, however the manner in which these properties are released on to the market is critical. Too much, too fast and we upset the apple cart, prices freefall again and buyers pull back. It’s been said again and again that low interest, tax breaks and lower home prices have created this surge in buying, but it’s not on a solid foundation. As expressed by economist Esmael Adibi (below) until we put people back to work and stimulate other aspects of the economy we’re still very much at risk. At this point what’s most important is managing the over 7.5 million homeowners who are either at risk or in foreclosure and the banks will ultimately determine how this unfolds. Get it right and we get through the next several months and perhaps 2010 with positive momentum. One can only hope.

Low interest rates are no panacea for region’s housing

By LESLIE BERKMAN
The Press-Enterprise

Although the interest rate on a 30-year mortgage is the lowest it has been in almost four decades, it is not the medicine that will revive Inland Southern California’s housing market, real estate experts said Thursday.

Mortgage rates for fixed 30-year loans in the U.S. dropped to a record low amid indications the housing market is showing signs of life. A 30-year fixed mortgage fell to 4.71 percent for the week ended Thursday, the lowest since mortgage buyer Freddie Mac began compiling the data in 1971.

The Federal Reserve is pumping $1.25 trillion into mortgage-backed securities to try to bring down mortgage rates, but that money is set to run out next spring. The goal of the program is to make home buying more affordable and prop up the housing market.

But Inland experts say a shortage of inventory is suppressing sales of existing homes. Also, the high cost of land that home builders acquired makes it impossible for most of them to construct houses that can sell cheaply enough to compete with the foreclosure-ridden resale market.

“The interest rates being as low as they are today are not promoting more sales because of the lack of homes for sale,” said Wil Herring, owner of Mtg Experts in Moreno Valley.

While the rate of mortgage defaults remains high, fewer foreclosed houses are coming on the market, a trend that some experts say reflects an effort by lenders to modify mortgages for financially troubled homeowners and to control the number of foreclosed homes for sale to prop up prices.

Herring said there is “sheer frustration” among would-be first-time buyers who have to compete for the limited number of bank-owned homes, frequently having to make multiple offers and losing out to all-cash buyers.

Chapman University economist Esmael Adibi said the lower mortgage interest rate is a positive development because it makes homes more affordable and will be welcomed by someone who is currently house hunting. But he said it won’t be enough to overcome the negative impact of a soft economy on home sales.

“The job outlook and overall economic condition trumps any improvement we will get on the mortgage front because if a person doesn’t have a job or is not confident about his or her job, even with the improved affordability, that person will not commit to purchasing a house,” Adibi said.

Alan Nevin, director of economic research for MarketPointe Realty Advisors in San Diego, a firm that advises home builders, said lower mortgage rates will do “virtually nothing for new home building because it is not sufficient to cause developers to risk breaking ground.”

OVERPRICED LAND

The basic problem, Nevin said, is the cost that developers paid for land — most likely purchased at the height of the housing boom in 2005 or 2006 — is “almost higher than what they can sell the homes for.”

Nevin said recently he studied the Hemet-San Jacinto area and discovered that most of the sales offices in housing developments were closed because the builders couldn’t compete with the resale market. He said significant home building will not occur until the banks resell land in the failed projects at discounted prices to a new group of builders.

“I suspect over the course of 2010 you will begin to see new homes being built in small quantities but not by the guys who built them before,” Nevin said.

Bloomberg News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: The Press-Enterprise Online

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