While the market has been flooded with good news in the last few weeks, an end of the year reflection still shows we have lots of work to do in the new year.
As we begin the last month of the year, I wanted to review where we stand in the real estate world, both nationally and in Maryland. 2010 will be a critical year for many of us, not only for those involved with property, but for the economy in general.
We’re certainly better off in this holiday season than we were a year ago. At the end of 2008 the country felt like a roller coaster car speeding down the tallest slope with no brake and nobody at the switch. Right now, 2009 looks like the turning point, with the economy beginning its long climb up the next hill, real estate stabilizing and just in need of a little push to get back on the track. But there are several issues looming for next year which will really determine how things go for the forseeable future. Here are a few lumps of coal for your stocking:
- A recent Washington Post article quoted a national survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association which found that more than 14 percent of borrowers were in trouble on their mortgage. That translates into 7.4 million households either currently delinquent or in the foreclosure process, the highest level this particular survey has ever recorded. That means we have not seen the peak of foreclosures — and with unemployment continuing to rise the numbers will only get worse.
- The Baltimore Sun, again using information from the Mortgage Bankers Association, reported that in Maryland roughly 10 percent of homeowners deemed good credit risks were in trouble with their mortgage. We’re not talking subprime mortgages here, the widely known source of the financial troubles, but prime borrowers. Again, blame rising unemployment which has destabilized the family budgets of people who have had a history of prudent financial management. In round numbers, this adds 77,000 homeowners to the list of those at least one month behind on their payments.
- Recent widely reported gains in regional home sales and a decrease in the housing inventory seems to be coming from short sales and foreclosures going under contract (and not necessarily going to settlement). From my anecdotal sources, traffic on regular owner-occupied listings — where a bank is not involved — is practically non-existent. This means that unless you’re in distress and buyers smell blood, they aren’t interested in seeing your listing. And, as we saw in the last item, there could be 77,000 more properties on that distressed list that we have to work through next spring.
- Most of our buyers, especially first time homebuyers, in the last year have used FHA loans because they had the least stringent requirements for credit score and money down, and allowed more generous assistance from Sellers. So while the extension of the tax credits until the end of June, 2010 is a wonderful thing, it seems to be coming with a simultaneous tightening of credit from the FHA. The Washington Post reports that new FHA guidelines currently under development will raise the amount of money required from buyers — from 3.5% of the purchase price to 5% of purchase price — while cutting the allowed Seller contribution in half (from 6% to 3%). Not only will this shrink the pool of qualified buyers considerably, the FHA will also raise the capitalization required from lenders who issue FHA insured loans — a move that will most likely cut the number of loans available, if not the number of lenders who will consider issuing them.
Certainly the situation in residential real estate is worrysome as we head into the new year. But it might not be the most dangerous. Many experts are warning that the biggest problem looming on the horizon is in the commercial real estate market, as last week’s potential meltdown at Dubai World illustrated. While that particular sovereign wealth fund made European markets tremble, and we were told that the US market has little exposure to it, there are enough potential problems here at home to make us weak in the knees. Moody’s Investor Services reported last week that it expects the value of US commercial real estate to continue to fall well into 2011. This is on top of losses in this sector which have already totalled 42.9% since the peak in 2007. The total devaluation from the peak may well reach 55% before things begin to turn around.
The determining factor in these losses? Yep, you guessed it… unemployment. With fewer people working, office spaces and commercial spaces don’t need to be as big. Demand for office buildings drops, and fewer companies are growing and demanding more space from their landlords. Also, with more people encouraged to buy homes and get their tax credit, demand for multifamily rental units has also dropped, hurting landlords’ cash flow and making it more difficult for them to keep up on their mortgages.
Now, with all this coal in your stocking, remember you can’t really burn it anymore to lower your heating bills. Global warming, you know. Ho, ho, ho.