Forget about a housing recovery later this year. In fact, odds are that the residential property slump will extend into 2008, as beleaguered homebuilders slowly unload a mountain of unsold houses and prospective buyers continue to face affordability challenges.
Those dismal home sales figures for May weren’t an aberration — the housing market’s fundamentals clearly stink. On the supply side, the amount of unsold residences in May was equal to a hefty nine months’ worth of sales at the current pace, and seven months for new homes, forcing builders to slash prices or offer lucrative freebies if they want to move any property.
Surveys of homebuilders show them as pessimistic as they were in 1991, during the last big housing slump. They will break ground on approximately 1.35 million new homes this year, 100,000 fewer than what was previously expected before the mortgage rates jumped. The pullback is bad news for a variety of housing-dependent industries, such as plumbers, drywall hangers, landscapers and insulators. Next year, housing starts should creep up to 1.5 million or so. Nicholas Retsinas, the director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, says, “It’s going to take into 2008 to work out the oversupply. It will be a while before there’s a rebound.”
Average home prices are likely to fall about 4% to 5% this year, and will probably give up another 1% next year before they stabilize. In principle, this should spur demand. But the recent spike in mortgage interest rates has instead pushed many potential customers to the sidelines. The average rate on the popular 30-year fixed mortgage will probably stay close to its current 6.7% for the remainder of the year, which is up about a half percentage point from May.