From the WSJ:
The Brighter Side of Housing
Amid Downturn, ‘Unaffordable’ Is Within Reach
By JAMES R. HAGERTY
April 24, 2008; Page D1
And now for the heartwarming side of the housing bust: It’s helping some people buy homes that they couldn’t afford a couple of years ago.
Michelle Dudley for years commuted 50 miles each way to her job as a civil servant in Anaheim, Calif., because she and her husband, Don, didn’t feel they could afford a home near her office. This week, though, the Dudleys moved into a three-bedroom house in Anaheim that they recently bought for $390,000, down from the original listing price of $445,000 in November. Similar homes in the area were selling for as much as about $600,000 two years ago, says Erin Eckert, an agent for Redfin, an online real-estate brokerage that represented the Dudleys.
Still, many potential buyers are holding out for better deals. The Wall Street Journal’s quarterly survey of housing-market conditions in 28 major metro areas points to continued downward pressure on prices in much of the country.
Kevin McCleary, a computer-security consultant, remained a renter through the housing boom even though he could afford to buy, because he believed prices were reaching unsustainable levels. In October, though, he and his fiancée finally decided to buy a foreclosed home in Herndon, Va., and negotiated a price of about $443,000. The same home sold in 2005 for $645,000. “I don’t believe we hit it at the perfect time,” Mr. McCleary says. On the other hand, he says, “we were just tired of putting our lives on hold.”
During the boom, home prices rose far faster than incomes. Home prices as measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller national index shot up 74% in the six years through 2006, while median household income rose 15%. (Neither figure is adjusted for inflation.) Now prices in many areas are adjusting back toward more affordable levels, a process that could take several years.
Economists at Goldman Sachs say home prices are likely to level off by late 2009. They also point to improving affordability. Goldman’s chief U.S. economist, Jan Hatzius, says the share of a typical family’s income needed to pay mortgage payments on a median-priced home averaged about 17.5% from 1993 to 2003, before jumping to 26% in 2006. The figure now has fallen to 20% and is likely to keep declining as home prices fall.
Mr. Hatzius estimates that average U.S. home prices have fallen 15% since the second quarter of 2006 and projects they will fall an additional 10% before stabilizing late next year. But he also sees a risk that home prices will fall further, particularly if the foreclosure problem proves worse than already expected.
Goldman estimates that foreclosures will add 1 million to 1.5 million homes to the for-sale market this year, compared with less than half a million a year before 2007.