From the WSJ:
Economists, builders and mortgage analysts are predicting the weakened U.S. economy will depress housing prices for years, restraining consumer spending, pushing more homeowners into foreclosure and clouding prospects for a sustained recovery.
Home prices are expected to drop 2.5% this year and rise just 1.1% annually through 2015, according to a recent survey of more than 100 economists to be released Wednesday. Prices have already fallen 31.6% from their 2005 peak, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller 20-city index.
If the economists’ forecast is accurate, it means housing faces a lost decade in which home prices recover just a fraction of what was lost between 2005 and 2015, leaving millions of homeowners with little, if any, equity in their homes. The survey was conducted for MacroMarkets LLC, a financial technology company co-founded by Yale University economist Robert Shiller.
The housing bust has chilled consumer spending—the largest single driver of the U.S. economy—with eroding home equity contributing to the so-called reverse wealth effect that prompts people to spend cautiously because they feel poorer.
One in five Americans with a mortgage owes more than their home is worth, and $7 trillion of homeowners’ equity has been lost in the bust. Homeowners’ equity as a share of home values has fallen to 38.6% from 59.7% in 2005.
“With all of the economic turmoil, both domestic and international, there’s not much that points to an improving housing market at any point in the near future,” said Ara Hovnanian, chief executive of Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., the U.S.’s seventh-largest builder by deliveries.
While home prices aren’t falling at anywhere near the pace of 2008, one worry is that even modest declines become self-reinforcing, pushing more homeowners underwater and exacerbating the downdraft caused by more foreclosures.
Rising home prices traditionally lead homeowners to spend more money, even during periods of economic sluggishness, creating jobs.
But “that cycle can cut the other way,” said James Parrott, a top White House housing adviser. “As the value of a family’s home drops, that can really go from a lever of savings to a drain on that savings.”
Those concerns prompted the White House earlier this year to begin canvassing experts on how to attack the excess inventory of distressed properties and troubled mortgages.
Housing markets are also in bad shape because would-be first-time homeowners have retreated amid grim economic news. Many current homeowners, meanwhile, don’t have enough equity to move, chilling the crucial “trade-up” market. That has left housing heavily dependent on investors buying homes at discounts with cash.