August 2008 Archives

August 27, 2008

Mortgage History: Think Getting a Mortgage Today Is Tough?

With the foreclosure crisis and the tightening up of credit, getting a mortgage feels like it's harder than ever -- or is it? Let's take a look back in time.

Back before the Depression, home mortgages typically extended for ten years -- not the generous 30 years we're used to now -- and a down payment of 50% of the home's purchase price was expected.

Not surprisingly, this kept a lot of people out of the housing market. In 1940, only about 44% of household heads owned homes. It was only when the federal government stepped in by backing long-term mortgages, thus creating an incentive to homeownership, that the shift to the standard 30-year mortgage with lower down payments began.

The source for these fun mortgage facts? A book called Theorizing Discrimination in an Era of Contested Prejudice, by Samuel Roundfield Lucas.
August 15, 2008

Home Sales Rising, Says National Association of Realtors

If you've been waiting on the sidelines for the price of houses to hit rock bottom, you may have already missed the moment. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) just reported that existing-home sales last quarter went up from the first quarter of 2008 in 13
states.

True, most of the increase can be attributed to people who couldn't resist a super-bargain, like on foreclosed homes in Northern California and Florida. But as soon as you have willing buyers, you have competition, which tends to boost prices before too long. And in some areas of the country, prices actually rose in the last quarter -- like in the Yakima, Washington, Binghamton, New York, and Amarillo, Texas, areas.

It's really all just a reminder that timing the real estate market can be harder than it looks. For all the external economic indicators playing a role (unemployment, mortgage interest rates), the final piece of the puzzle is buyer psychology, and when enough homebuyers decide they want in on the market, it can change in an instant.

That takes us right back to the strategy we've always recommended: Look for the house you want to live in for a long time, in a neighborhood where home values tend to remain stable, and at a price that won't have you begging your bank for a break in a few years. Then enjoy it, even if prices go down in the short term, knowing you've got a solid long-term investment.

Ilona Bray

August 11, 2008

Perception of Home Values Defies Reality

A recent article on Inman News reports that a survey published by Zillow, an online real estate valuation company, shows that a majority of homeowners are unrealistic about the true value of their homes. According to the survey, even though about 73% of homes lost value in the last year, 62% of homeowning respondents said they believed the price of their home had held steady or gone up. These homeowners are unrealistically optimistic about the future, too, with 75% expecting an increase or level value for the next six months, even while 42% expect values in their market to drop.

Why the disparity between reality and perception? One reason is probably a stubborn disbelief that it's possible for the real estate market to fall, especially given the frenzied pace with which values were increasing just a few short years ago. Conventional wisdom says that home values rise over time -- which is historically true -- but "wisdom" just a few years ago told us time or investment wasn't needed, and home values always rise. (If you disagree, try counting the number of television shows and books on flipping properties.)

Probably an even greater misperception -- given the number of people who think the value of their home will rise even while the local market falls -- is that homeowners think their properties are better and different than the rest. They can't imagine anyone wouldn't love what they've done with the kitchen, or ooh and ahh over the new deck.

But the sad reality, as any homebuyer knows, is that houses are commodities. Buyers aren't looking for someone else's dream home, they're looking for something that meets their needs at a reasonable price, and they're not willing to pay the premium many sellers expect for their own customization or improvements. (Often, whether such "improvements" even improve is questionable -- pet showers, anyone?) After all, if they don't like the seller's choice of custom cabinetry or bathroom tile, they can easily find another property without these features -- and not be expected to pay for them.

Alayna Schroeder

August 5, 2008

Tax Credit for First-Time Homebuyers? Not Quite

Read the news lately? Before you get too excited about the $7,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers included in the recent housing bailout legislation, take note of one very important thing: You have to pay it back. In fact, you don't even get to wait until your house is sold to pay it back -- the feds will claim it in installment payments in subsequent years of your tax payments.

That's no typical tax credit -- it's more like an interest-free loan. For details, see Sandra Block's excellent description in USA TODAY.

Ilona Bray