An article in the Wall Street Journal, Housing Market Stumbles, describes how home sales seem to be deteriorating, but it isn’t just a stumble; the housing market has fallen and won’t get up. The WSJ piece projects the dreaded “double-dip” in housing, a prediction that has grown more popular in recent weeks.
What most seem to overlook, however, is that the fundamentals of housing are being rearranged. The overall market was never truly in recovery; the brief periods of upward momentum were, in general, a response to an artificial stimulus applied by government—a stimulus which was neither permanent nor productive.
With the numbers of new home starts falling, with housing inventory rising, and with the potential for several million additional foreclosures, the housing market is entering a new phase where the old rules no longer apply. Past statistics regarding recovery from recession are meaningless, for the current recession has little in common with those of the past. And those who have homes to sell, those who wish to purchase a home, and those in real estate related businesses must adjust to the fundamentals of this market.
While some areas of the country have seen improvement—markets in the northeast and parts of California—other areas, especially those with the potential for additional foreclosures, are still experiencing weak demand and falling prices. Those needing to sell their home will have to market and price more aggressively; prepare for a longer period on the market; and will have to be flexible to micro-changes in their market.
An anemic job market, expected to continue well into the decade, has changed housing for the foreseeable future. And those areas with double-digit unemployment can expect additional price declines. Nationwide, prices should remain well below the levels of recent years; and, with few exceptions, appreciation will be minimal.
What we’re experiencing is not a double-dip in housing, not a “stumbling,” but a market experiencing a fundamental adjustment downward. With the current and projected absorption rates, we’re likely to have high levels of inventory for several years; and if we add in the indeterminate number of future foreclosures, structural and fundamental changes seem unavoidable. The potential inventory of homes must decline to levels appropriate for the current and anticipated absorption rate—an event unlikely in the short term—in order to begin a recovery; and until that occurs, the housing market has fallen and won’t get up.
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