From the WSJ:
The housing market, whose collapse pulled the economy into recession in late 2007, is stalling again.
In major markets across the country, home sales are deteriorating, inventories of unsold homes are piling up and builders are scaling back construction plans. The expiration of a federal home-buyers tax credit at the end of April is weighing on the market.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau said single-family housing starts in June fell by 0.7%, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 454,000. The U.S. started 1.47 million homes in 2006, before the housing bubble popped.
Future construction looks even weaker. Permits for single-family starts fell 3% in June, following big declines in both May and April. “We’re hovering at post-World War II lows,” said Ivy Zelman, president of Zelman & Associates, a research firm.
Economists aren’t singling out one reason for the stalling housing market. A variety of factors have led to flagging confidence, they say, including sluggish labor markets, global economic turmoil and falling stock prices.
While the housing downturn dragged the economy into a recession nearly three years ago, now it is the economy that is pulling down housing, says economist Patrick Newport at IHS Global Insight. Without sustained job growth, the housing market likely won’t improve. That in turn will ricochet across manufacturing, retail and other trades heavily dependent on home building and consumer spending.
Even falling interest rates aren’t enough to whet consumer appetites for housing. Last week, the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was quoted at 4.57%, according to Freddie Mac, the lowest since its survey began in 1971. But demand for home-purchase mortgages sits near 14-year lows, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, down 44% over the past two months.
Analysts long expected the withdrawal of a federal tax credit, which had juiced sales, to lead to a slower-than-usual summer.
“It’s the magnitude that’s been the issue,” says Douglas Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae. “The drop-off in activity has surpassed expectations.”
Reports should show that completed transactions of home sales held up through June. But newly signed contracts in May and June have plunged.
Another reason inventory is rising: “Unrealistic sellers have flooded the market” after reports of bidding wars and home-price increases earlier in the year, says Steven Thomas, president of Altera Real Estate, a brokerage in Orange County. The amount of time that homes there have sat on the market there has swelled to 3.78 months, up from 2.35 months in April.
“The sellers think the market’s coming back. They’ve tacked on an extra 5 to 10 to 15%. The buyers aren’t going for it,” says Jim Klinge, a real-estate agent in Carlsbad, Calif. Over the next six months, “it’s going to feel like a double-dip because sellers are going to have to lower their prices.”