2010 has been a challenge to the real estate market, not only because of the mortgage foreclosure crisis, the up-and-down recession, and the crisis in consumer confidence. Its also had some of the most extreme weather we’ve seen in a generation. How is that a challenge to the market?
Well, think about it… when the area was blanketed by back-to-back blizzards and many city streets were nearly impassable for two weeks, who could go out and show property? There are still damaged gutters and dormers scattered throughout the city’s neighborhoods. If the winter wasn’t bad enough, we’ve now had 40+ days this summer where the afternoon temperatures reached 90 degrees or more — many of them over 100 degrees. People stay inside when the heat is that oppressive and don’t go out and look at property.
Its a shame that buyers are letting the summer pass them by. Prices in the Baltimore area are still declining in many neighborhoods, and according to June statistics, Baltimore was one of only two major metro areas where prices had not stabilized or even started back up. Also, mortgage rates have declined to the lowest level that we’ve seen since 1971, when records were first kept on that statistic. So with prices declining and mortgage money cheap, why aren’t more buyers scooping up bargains?
Knowing the Score
A report came out this month that gave one possible reason. The economic troubles that we’ve been experiencing in this country have lowered significantly the average credit score. FICO, Inc., the company that calculates your credit score by combining data from the three large credit monitoring companies, announced that now 25.5% of consumers have a credit score of 599 or below. Before the recession, that figure generally averaged about 15%. That means that the great terms and historically low rates we’ve been seeing on the news are now unavailable to over a quarter of the population. Some analysts expect that before we truly recover from this recession that figure will rise to nearly one-third.
This is the segment of the population that, in the past, had to rely primarily on sub-prime mortgages to be able to get into the housing market. That area of lending has pretty much dried up in the last couple of years. Wells Fargo, currently the nation’s largest mortgage lender, made news this month by completely shutting down its sub-prime lending division and laying off over 3,000 employees. But although sub-prime now has a bad smell attached to it, remember that was primarily because of the way that Wall Street and large financial institutions had cut up, combined and re-packaged sub-prime mortgages into investment securities that weren’t at all clear on the level of risk they carried. Sub-prime lending had existed as a viable, profitable product for years before this recent mess started.
It doesn’t make sense that the housing market will ever regain robust health while we are content to tell 25-30% of the population that they are not able to own a home. If you are thinking of buying your own home, its important that you find out what your FICO score is, and how that will affect your status as a borrower. There are steps you can take to mend a low credit score, and a qualified mortgage officer or any of the local homebuyer counseling agencies can help you get started down that road.