Government, the mortgage industry and forces of nature all shook the housing market in 2011. They had both an immediate impact and slow-burning effects, setting the stage for a bumpy 2012 with more foreclosures, political battles and local market risks.
1) Robo-Signing Reverberations
What Really Mattered: The threat of robo-signing lawsuits made banks gun-shy about pursuing foreclosures in 2011, which left many homes stuck in the foreclosure process. But once a settlement is reached, we’ll see a rush of foreclosures in 2012.
2) The Debt Ceiling and the Budget Deficit
What Really Mattered: After the debt ceiling debate, the back and forth deliberations by the unsuccessful bipartisan deficit-reduction supercommittee teased us with some proposals that will surely rear their heads again. One idea that both Republicans and Democrats didn’t totally disagree about was reducing the mortgage interest and other tax deductions. If and when that happens, high-income homeowners with mortgages would pay a lot more in taxes.
3) The Expansion of HARP
What Really Mattered: Borrowers who strategically fell behind on their payments in hopes of negotiating a loan-modification won’t be helped. What this plan will do is stimulate the economy without having to get Congress to agree on additional stimulus.
4) Natural Disasters Cause Insurance Disaster?
What Really Mattered: In flood-prone areas, you can’t get a mortgage if you don’t have flood insurance. Without NFIP, housing markets in these areas would skid to a stop. As part of last week’s payroll tax agreement, the program got a last-minute extension until May 2012, but its future remains uncertain.
5) Lowering the Conforming Loan Limit
What Really Mattered: Mortgage lenders are willing to charge lower rates for loans that are backed by Fannie or Freddie; with a lower conforming loan limit, a small number of loans that used to qualify for federal backing no longer do.
What Really Mattered for Housing in 2011
1) Continued decline of prices
How can you possibly overlook the continuation of the housing decline into it’s fifth year? This is, undoubtedly the single most important event for housing in 2011.
2) Stabilization of prices
Not to sound contradictory, but the decrease in the overall rate of decline (Second derivative? Don’t crash if you are reading this on your phone in the car morning) in spite of numerous negative forces (double digit U-6, slow to no job or income growth, etc), and without significant market influence (homebuyer credits, etc) does point to an overall stabilization in pricing.
3) Disconnect between mortgage rates and housing demand
I think these one can finally be put to bed this year. Extremely low mortgage rates do not necessarily lead to an increase in housing purchase activity. For years the thought was a lower price of housing capital (interest) would lead to greater demand for it. Turns out this isn’t the case and Greenspan’s greatest play simply can’t be repeated.
4) Slow Economic Recovery/High Unemployment
Probably the biggest single external influence on the housing market? Nothing more needs to be said here.
5) Bailout Capitulation
Finally the year that the housing bailout went out of style. Realization sets in that other than shoveling dollars into buyers pockets directly, which at best only elicits a temporary boost in housing, there just isn’t a scheme that’ll fix the market.