September 16, 2008
-- by Dave Johnson
I'm hearing a lot of talk about plans to "stabilize" or "prop up" housing prices. Plans include cutting interest rates, providing tax credits, etc. in order to "keep prices from dropping too far."
Here is a news flash: after a speculative bubble prices always revert to the mean. You can't stabilize prices any other way except by letting them fall until they are back where they should be again.
Housing prices will "reach a bottom" and "stabilize" when the following occur:
Prices will revert to the mean. After a speculative bubble prices always revert to the mean. This is another way of saying they go back to where they should be. When there was a bubble in tulip bulbs prices went back to where they should be, which was not much above zero. Remember "dot com" stocks? They fell to reflect the actual value of the companies. Many of those companies weren't worth anything.
Prices will stabilize when supply does not exceed demand. Currently there is a HUGE inventory of unsold, foreclosed, newly-built, unfinished or whatever houses on the market. There are speculators still sitting on two, three and more houses. And there is another supply of people waiting for a "better time" to sell. At the same time there is almost no demand, because people understand that prices are falling, and they will lose their future if they buy a house at these inflated prices. AND lenders are starting to want to know if the buyer can pay back the loan, which means fewer loans for buying houses. (Especially if they start getting honest appraisals again!)
Prices will stabilize when the price of a house reflects the local rents people are paying. That is when it makes sense for a landlord to buy a property. when they can make money on the rent.
Prices will stabilize when the average-priced house in the area is affordable by the average-income person in the area.
Prices will fall to the point where houses are worth what they are worth when purchased for what they are meant for. This means that a psychological change has to occur and people stop thinking of a house as an "investment" or a savings account, and merely as a place to live.
A house is a place to live. That is what a house is. When everyone involved comes to understand a house as a place to live housing prices will stabilize. Part of that understanding involves understanding that people should never pay more than 25-28% of their income on housing expenses. (That's mortgage payment, insurance and property taxes added together. In some regions you should add heating and cooling costs to that.)
The bad news is that this means prices in many areas still have a long, long way to fall. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, two bedroom houses in bad neighborhoods are still being offered for $500,000. This means a $100,000 down payment, and monthly payments of $2400 PLUS insurance PLUS maybe $500 a month in property taxes. This means you have to have $100,000 in the bank and an income of more than $12,000 a MONTH to be able to buy a two bedroom house in a bad neighborhood. And this means that prices have a long, long way to fall.
Posted by Dave Johnson at September 16, 2008 5:30 PM
A money market fund broke the buck!
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