Housing Market Sinks Beneath the Waves

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The markets gave no clear sign of their intentions yesterday. The Dow fell 30 points. Gold rose $8.

And this morning, stock markets in Asia dropped. Earnings are up, just as they are in America. But earnings have a “last waltz” sound to them. AP reports:

New figures from Japan offered a sobering reminder that the world’s No. 2 economy remains fragile: The jobless rate rose, deflation deepened, and factories made fewer cars and mobile phones.

There’s news from the housing market. This update from Bloomberg:


About 18.9 million homes in the US stood empty during the second quarter as surging foreclosures helped push ownership to the lowest level in a decade.

The number of vacant properties, including foreclosures, residences for sale and vacation homes, rose from 18.6 million in the year-earlier quarter, the US Census Bureau said in a report today. The ownership rate, meaning households that own their own residence, was 66.9 percent, the lowest since 1999.

Lenders are accelerating foreclosures as borrowers fall behind in mortgage payments after the worst housing crash since the Great Depression. A record 269,962 US homes were seized in the second quarter, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Foreclosures probably will top 1 million this year, the Irvine, California- based data company said in a July 15 report.

“There are a lot of people losing their homes and either moving in with family or renting places to live,” said Patrick Newport, an economist with IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. “Foreclosures are still going up.”

Foreclosure filings climbed in three-quarters of US metropolitan areas in the first half as high unemployment left many homeowners unable to pay their mortgages, according to RealtyTrac Inc.

The number of properties receiving a filing more than doubled from a year earlier in Baltimore, Oklahoma City and Albuquerque, New Mexico, the mortgage-data company said today in a report. Notices of default, auction or bank seizure rose more than 50 percent in areas including Salt Lake City; Savannah, Georgia; and Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“Foreclosures are spreading out from areas that had been hardest hit,” Rick Sharga, senior vice president for marketing at Irvine, California- based RealtyTrac, said in a telephone interview. “We’re dealing with underlying economic weakness as opposed to unsustainable home prices and bad loans.”

Okay…so the housing situation isn’t great. But housing is not a leading indicator. It’s a lagging indicator. It’s what happens after people have lost their jobs, for example.

But then, as more and more foreclosures happen, more and more houses are available for purchase – many in desperate circumstances. Prices tend to fall. And then, people who still have jobs and houses find that their net worth isn’t what it used to be.

Already, millions of people are underwater. As housing prices fall, millions more will slip beneath the waves. Some will go down with the ship. But many will take to the lifeboats – sending back the keys instead. This will add to the number of foreclosures and to the inventory of unsold and vacant houses.

When does it end? It ends when it comes to rest on the bottom.

Where’s that? No one knows. But just as houses tend to be priced at more than they’re really worth in a bubble, they tend to be priced at less than they are really worth in a bust. More below…

You can get a rough idea where the bottom in housing might be by doing a little math. You should be able to buy a house at a price where, financially, the decision to buy or rent is relatively neutral. There’s no particular reason why a person should invest in a house rather than in stock or in other investments. His goal is to maximize his quality of life…and his wealth. So, if he can rent a house for less than he can buy it…he should rent, because that gives him the same quality of life at a lower cost, leaving him more money to put to work increasing his wealth. On the other hand, if he can buy more cheaply, he should buy…for the same reasons.

If houses are going up, he’ll pay more for a house – in anticipation of the capital gains. But if prices are flat or falling – he’ll look only to the stream of income he can get from the house (or the enjoyment he’ll get from it personally)…and put on an additional discount to protect himself from capital losses.

Three years ago, it cost much more to buy a place than it did to rent it. A house you might have rented for $1,500 a month might have sold for $300,000. There’s no way that was a good investment. A 6% mortgage alone would be $1,500 a month in interest. Once you’d paid upkeep and property taxes, you’d be in the hole.

Now, that house is down a bit…say, to $200,000 or $250,000. But it’s still a long way from the point where it makes sense to buy rather than rent. Figure you need about 10% per year to pay taxes and maintenance. Plus another 7% for the cost of money. So a house purchase makes sense when you can rent for 17% of the purchase price. Or, to look at it from the other direction, if a house will rent for $1,500 per month, you can pay $108,000 for it.

Now, assume that the price overshoots on the downside. You might expect to pick up the house at a price under $100,000…say $79,000 or $89,000. Most areas are far from yielding bargains like that.

*** Yesterday, the alarm went off. The French government requires us to have a smoke alarm. And since the house is used for large groups who hold conferences here, we’re also required to have fire doors that close automatically when the fire alarm is sounded.

So when the fire alarm sounded, the heavy doors swung shut, supposedly cutting off the flow of oxygen to the fire.

What the planners apparently hadn’t considered is what would happen to the old and the weak, trapped behind the fire doors. Our mother, 88, reports:

“When the alarm went off I didn’t know what to think. But the cat was disturbed by the high-pitched noise so I thought we should both leave the room. But when I got out into the hall I discovered that the hall doors were closed. I tried to push them open, but I couldn’t. The cat and I were stuck. It’s a good thing it wasn’t a real fire, or we would have been cooked.”

Regards,

Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
Bill Bonner

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40 Comments on "Housing Market Sinks Beneath the Waves"

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cappa
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Completely agree, I’ve been avoiding the Aussie property market since 06-07 due to the obvious overvaluation. But as Robert Shiller said many times, bubbles can go on for years even decades so long as there is a mind set in the people. From an investment perspective, I agree, I’d never buy anything for a 6% return. You’d need at least interest rates + 2% to break-even, on current rates that’s 8-9%. But this would only cover the interest component. I think the 17% return on purchase price is asking a bit too much, since any return over and above 10%… Read more »
Bearamundi
Guest
I’m with you cappa. I’m paying off a home here and just looking at the interest payments makes me cry when I consider how much fun I could have had with that money. I’ve got a caning over my interest in silver on DR but I still like it compared to almost anything else I see on the investment horizon. I bought this house at a favourable time, because of the birth of my first child whom I wanted to be in her own home. Emotional reasons I guess. And I like having my ‘own home’ but looking at it… Read more »
Biker
Guest

“I wish the aussie property market did get realistic, i wish it did have a massive correction like in the US, even if it lead to a recession…. why buy one house today when you will be able to get two at half the price?”

HaHa… another property wannabe..!~ :)

Bearamundi
Guest

I suppose on your side biker some friends were up last week from melbourne and crowing about their newly wed daughter buying a house for a bargain $360,000!! This Dad is loaded so you have to take him seriously, I know he helped out a bit and passed on some/all of the inheritance early but still, the celebration was muted on my part. The newly wed’s aren’t earning a lot and that must be a huge amount of interest even with assistance. I’m curious to know how much he chipped in. $200,000 would be enough for me..only $160,000 left!!

Davo
Guest
I decided to do some research on my suburb here in Brisbane using onthehouse.com.au information. They provide details of sales going back 2 years, and it’s interesting (to me anyway) to see what happened during the GFC. Sales in the second half of 2008 totalled 31. Median was $810,000, with 8 sales over $1,000,000. First half of 2009 sales = 29. Median was $700,000, with 5 sales over $1,000,000. Times were obviously tough, and then the sun starting shining again. Second half of 2009 sales = 68. Median jumped to $920,000, with 30 sales over the $1,000,000. Highest was $3,600,000.… Read more »
Gerry
Guest
I accept there is a strong argument not to buy a house at the moment as an investment property given economic returns as being discussed, but what I see on this site on a regular basis is people who have no house at all (and thus need to rent) making the same economic decisions as an investor who has a residence. Well our house is our family home, located right where we wanted it to be.The family did not have to move over the growing up years to another rental premises at someone else’s whim, or change schools etc The… Read more »
bearamundi
Guest
Thanks for sharing that interesting info Davo. These are huge figures you mention, I guess some people must really love working. I took a $25,000 hit a few years ago by following a FA. Not much by the standards you mention but burn enough for me to decide to learn to be my own FA. Still learning but even as an amateur I’d be more cautious about going hard at it so soon after the GFC. As an aside I commute by bicycle and today, for the second time some guy in a 4WD went absolutely off at me for… Read more »
bearamundi
Guest
Yes, you are right Gerry and I appreciate your attitude of gratitude for what is no small achievement. I read a book a few years ago by a Nobel prize laurette about a Trinidadian guy whose most over-arching achievement was to buy a house. Terrific book the title of which eludes me. Before the fictional character bought his home he had a dressing table in a bedroom he occupied with his wife. His relationship to and energy in this most basic piece of furniture (the dressing table that is)was hypnotising and something I have never forgotten. However, at the same… Read more »
Ned S
Guest
“why buy one house today when you will be able to get two at half the price?” – Because I’ll be dead in 2050??? But either way it is good of all the people who want to own houses to keep pointing out what bad investments they are – Ta muchly. I’ll be sure to let the latest family arrival know – As some of these foreigners with law degrees and years of overseas business savvy can be just so silly when it comes to emotive issues like housing. The poor pets have never had to function in fundamentally unstable… Read more »
bearamundi
Guest
A House for Mr Biswas by V.S Naipal. I remembered!! Mr Biswas is born poor but is a modern man in the sense he wants to build something he can call his own. He settles on the goal of building a home, and meets with varying degrees of success. To him, a house is a symbol of independence and merit. Terrific!! So much so that I’ll pop down to library tonight and get a book to read, haven’t done that for ages. I’m happy, but sometimes Aussie and work can seem drab and mundane, and the need to escape (pun… Read more »
rick e
Guest
Hey biker the key is interest rates What was the real reason that interest rates went so high for Paul Keating PM oz? As my brain at the time was not set on money ;). Also I still think that 4.5% cash rate is the key and any higher will be the start of demise. (Loss of confidents and fixed rates will start to be advertised soon as a smart thing. Just like home fund ;) for labor) I ask you as you still might remember me popping up the last couple of years and you know my thoughts. I… Read more »
Biker
Guest
Well, this is more Ross’s territory, Rick. My recollectoion is that Keating floated the OzBuck and things quickly went pear-shaped!!~ We were laughing. We had over $200K in bank bonds, renewed monthly… and we were pulling $37K* in interest annually, from that alone! A lot of slightly older folk retired during that era, thinking rates of 18.75% were here forever. Many of them came out of retirement later… and many are _still_ working… . Like many here, I suspect that quite a few young’ns may have overextended during FHOG days. Unlike some. I think they did the _right_ thing building… Read more »
Ned S
Guest

My recollection is that somewhere back around then maybe some rocket scientist significantly upped public service salaries – With flow on effects including inflation. (And then with high interest rates being required to combat it I’d guess.)

Yes, I can recall stories of people who retired in the ‘good old days’ subsequently deciding the numbers weren’t stacking up as well as they’d expected once cash went back to earning under 10% pa.

Yunno Biker, that Billy Bonner bloke sometimes sounds suspiciously like part of the landed gentry to me? :)

Biker
Guest
Well, he certainly has properties on two continents, Ned. I think Greg once noted that Bill’s portfolio included a significant property holding… (?) The scenario you’ve described for those ‘good old days’ stacks up with my own recollections. It was a _crazy_ era… good for us… but highly inflationary. Without the amazing tax-free capital gains we made during that period, we’d never have had the cash to take advantage of the post ’87 stock market crash property plateau, which handed our current home property to us on a platter. Y’know, things may be a little flat at present, but we’re… Read more »
Jon Bain
Guest

when apartheid collapsed house prices in south africa tripled in no time
supply<demand

put an end to immigration laws, and house prices will soar
wherever this is done first

;-j

Davo
Guest

I meant to note those median prices were for houses, and excluded units.
Cheers

Ross
Guest

Davo, here is the raw data on global house prices just released by BIS. It is a pig to review. There should be some commentary against it on the site but i haven’t uncovered it yet. It isn’t pretty for Australia Biker – sorry to ruin your cornflakes.

http://www.bis.org/statistics/pp/pp.xls

Biker
Guest
“…sorry to ruin your cornflakes*…” Year after we’d bought properties up and down the coast, experienced realtors expressed shock and awe at the prices we were fetching. I had to remind them that THEY had sold me those same blocks at 12 – 15%% of our sale price a few years earlier. I don’t expect I’ll ever see those kinds of gains again in my lifetime. I do recall however, that (so far) every plateau like the one we’re seeing now, has been followed by a huge surge. We don’t need it (we can live happily with a downwards correction)… Read more »
Biker
Guest

Sorry, should be:

“YearS after we’d bought properties up and down the coast…

Ned S
Guest
“sometimes Aussie and work can seem drab and mundane” – There’s potentially way worse things than ‘drab and mundane’ Bear??? (Well for those of us who don’t get their thrills jumping out of aircraft without a parachute in the assumption we’ll be able to spot a nice deep and very recent snow drift to soften the impact of free fall perhaps? ;) ) Your Oz house purchase – I don’t see it as a ‘bad’ investment as such. While fully expecting time will prove there were better ones. Or at least ‘less bad’ ones if the real pessimists prove correct???… Read more »
bearamundi
Guest
Hey Ned, you are right as ever and we need to count our blessings as they say. I think because I have travelled so much, and still do (average around three international trips a year) that I sometimes find Aussie and the lifestyle a bit limited. The cliques can get me down because I sometimes don’t belong although the smarter part of me says I wouldn’t really want to anyway. I’m okay with the house too, the mortgage is a smallish (way off mortgage stress), but significant cost. I pay extra on it, am looking to increase super contributions and… Read more »
Biker
Guest
I was surprised to read this upbeat post, after your comment a couple of days back, Bear: “…just looking at the interest payments makes me cry when I consider how much fun I could have had with that money…” At the time, I was struck by the comment; and felt some empathy for your sad lot in life, in fact. Then I read, above: “I have travelled so much, and still do… average around three international trips a year…” …and I wondered in which particular parallel universe you live. So I went back for another look… and found this little… Read more »
Bearamundi
Guest

WORD!! I think we are acknowledging that life IS a bit of a struggle. It might not be a popular observation among WA hard men. But even you, with ALL your wealth would admit to the same.
OK, you’re astride the second to latest offering from Ducati, but still feel that struggle. But then you kick yourself up the ar*e and appreciate what you’ve got.
Biker, I figured out how many bikes you need. Just one more!!
(But that Day-glo guy is crazy, he’s gonna freaking run me over one day soon, and then realise he got the wrong man!!)

Ned S
Guest

“Psyllium, muesli, fruit, almonds, sultanas and yoghurt, daily.”

Hey Biker, a thought just occurred to me – If ever you and I are digging ditches together, would you be terribly put out if I suggested you work the downwind end of the trench? :)

Biker
Guest

HahaHaHa…. love ya stuff, son!~ :)

Ned S
Guest
Wonder if I’m reading the numbers in Ross’ link right? : http://www.bis.org/statistics/pp/pp.xls If so, the US is only down about 12% off its 2007 peak. (Existing single family houses) – Although the new ones are a bit sicker at 15% And the UK is down 19% since the 2007. (All dwellings) And yes, I do see Oz is up 5 or 6 times what we were in 1986. Similar level of naughtiness to Norway which is up about 4 times since 1992 maybe? What wicked Scandinavians they are – The following certainly has a familiar sound to it: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-06-29/norway-housing-bubble-risks-grow-as-euro-region-crisis-delays-rate-rise.html Damn… Read more »
Ned S
Guest
“awaiting moderation” – Repeat with second link minus the http://www. bit: Wonder if I’m reading the numbers in Ross’ link right? : http://www.bis.org/statistics/pp/pp.xls If so, the US is only down about 12% off its 2007 peak. (Existing single family houses) – Although the new ones are a bit sicker at 15% And the UK is down 19% since the 2007. (All dwellings) And yes, I do see Oz is up 5 or 6 times what we were in 1986. Similar level of naughtiness to Norway which is up about 4 times since 1992 maybe? What wicked Scandinavians they are –… Read more »
Ned S
Guest
Your comment is awaiting moderation. “awaiting moderation” AGAIN – Repeat with second link minus the “front” bit: Wonder if I’m reading the numbers in Ross’ link right? : http://www.bis.org/statistics/pp/pp.xls If so, the US is only down about 12% off its 2007 peak. (Existing single family houses) – Although the new ones are a bit sicker at 15% And the UK is down 19% since the 2007. (All dwellings) And yes, I do see Oz is up 5 or 6 times what we were in 1986. Similar level of naughtiness to Norway which is up about 4 times since 1992 maybe?… Read more »
Biker
Guest

“Oh when, Oh when will the bubble burst?
Bubble burst …
Bubble burst …”

“Free beer for all the workers
Free beer for all the workers
Free beer for all the workers
When the Red Revolution comes”

At least you’re notified you’re on hold, Ned.
Mine just disappear into the ether!~ :)

Ned S
Guest

“‘Tis the rich what gets the pleasure,
And the poor what gets the blame,
‘Tis a terrible world we live in,
Ain’t it a bloomin’ shame!”

Yeh, not much really ever changes a whole lot I guess Biker? :)

Ned S
Guest

“The ownership rate, meaning households that own their own residence, was 66.9 percent, the lowest since 1999” – You can almost see the writing on the wall if house prices correct here … All the poor bugger me little baskets will say I don’t want one of those things because prices are going down. And then when they find that home ownership rates drop from 70% to 65%, they are going to say “That’s not fair!” Human beings can be such ANNOYING little prats … :)

Ned S
Guest
Here’s a solution – 90 km from your CBD we drop in a bullet train terminal. To get you to work in 20 mins. And give all and sundry with $10,000 in genuine savings a guaranteed right to buy a 1,000 m2 block with power connected, a tap in the backyard, no sewerage (hey it’s a big block – dig your own latrine each year – you can help your fruit trees mature), dirt roads, And you all build your own humpies on them out of whatever you can scrounge – That you presumably have the brains to figure isn’t… Read more »
Biker
Guest

Decentralisation is the way to go, Ned. Biking through France in ’05 a BT passed us like we were standing still… .

Technology promises to resolve many of the issues. Wonder how that start-up using solar technology to desalinate seawater is progressing? Came on the radar then disappeared… .

“…busted arsed old caravan…”

My folks lived in one while they built their farmhouse. Dad was in his late sixties… no mean feat for a bloke his age… . :)

Ned S
Guest
“My folks lived in one while they built their farmhouse. Dad was in his late sixties” … You and I could chat about a lot of things we have in common I figure Biker? While waiting for the youngies to say But for a brief little 10 or 15 year window things were SO good for you! (Despite the fact most of us blinked and didn’t notice?) Must chat to me chemist one day soon – I’ve got at least one granny flat to build between now and retirement – And he might know of something I can use while… Read more »
Ned S
Guest

I’ve gotten close to the point where I reckon we should be allowed to export some of these whining little baskets OS on an exchange rate basis that runs along the rate of 20 whites just might equate to won wong??? – Our home grown bludging whingers are starting to piss me severely!!! … :)

Biker
Guest

“Must chat to me chemist one day…”

Have the surgery, Ned. I had it at thirty. Top surgeon. No problems ever since. Very painful post-op, but _really_ worthwhile… .
You’ll never look back(wards). :)

Ned S
Guest

You certainly do know how to dry up all the mucous membranes around a bloke’s various orifices from sheer fright Biker!!!! :)

Ned S
Guest

One little brick – That didn’t hurt too much; A second little brick – Yep, the wall is going up; A third little brick – I think I’ll have a little lay down … Jeez, Rome wasn’t built in a day hey! :)

Ned S
Guest

Hmmm … Why would one waste their loot on an Oz property bubble? Because Oz sounds like a more attractive place to have some loot than OS property bubbles?

Ned S
Guest

“Decentralisation is the way to go” – That and more high density stuff in the city centres are the obvious ways to go. But as I’ve said before, there’s lots of us don’t and won’t like it for lots of reasons.

wpDiscuz
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