About two years ago, It was declared that the U.S. housing market had “officially” recovered.
And now, with some indicators showing that real estate is the healthiest it’s been in a decade, I hope I can now officially declare the previous declaration as spot-on.
I know, I know … all of you who recently bought a home are asking me to find the nearest wooden object and knock vigorously on it. But current and prospective homeowners shouldn’t let the epic pain of the previous housing crisis color their expectations forever. With each passing month, the recovery in housing looks to be not only sustainable, but even gathering steam.
For the record, I do not view any of these encouraging metrics as grounds for irresponsible speculation or reason to attend a house-flipping seminar at the airport Marriott. I also do not think houses should ever be viewed as investments in the traditional sense — and not just for cold logic, such as the fact that real estate is illiquid, but also because of philosophical reasons such as the concept of a home being valued at more than simply what’s on your property assessment.
But all that said, there are good reasons to expect home values to keep rising.
Yes, the pace of increases in home prices has cooled, but given past experiences with an overheated housing market, that’s not a bad thing. According to the latest Case-Shiller data from the end of May, home values rose 5% from a year earlier in the 20-city index. Separately, real estate data firm FNC tallied a 5.3% increase in its larger 100-city price survey. So prices still are rising, albeit at a more moderate pace.
Digging deeper into prices and home values, CoreLogic just released a report that revealed another quarter of a million U.S. homes had equity that topped mortgage debt in the first quarter. The slow but steady trend of homeowners moving back into the black has quietly become an impressive story, with 44.9 million homes now reporting equity, or 90% of all mortgaged properties, according to CoreLogic data. Not only does this kind of environment breed confidence, it also creates stability as homeowners are not struggling to make payments on an underwater home or biting off more than they can chew.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reported in its latest weekly survey that applications from prospective borrowers were up 8.4% on a seasonally adjusted basis. The American Bankers Association said in its recently released annual survey that loans to first-time homebuyers have ticked up to 14%, the highest level in the history of the 22-year-old survey. More applications and loans are great, but it’s also crucial to note that the quality of those loans is strong, too. Consider the number of loans in foreclosure are at the lowest level since November 2007, with just 1.4% of mortgages in distress.
While housing starts pulled back a bit in May, it’s important to remember that came after a red-hot April that shows big optimism on the part of homebuilders as they broke ground on new homes at an impressive clip. The latest numbers showed upward revisions to the past two months, too, after impressive numbers previously. Also, permits surged 12% to the highest level since summer 2007 to show strong momentum that should carry this trend of robust construction through the coming months
It’s reductive but fairly true: The health of the housing market is a reflection of the health of American family budgets, with the two waxing and waning together. And as I noted recently in my bullish assessment of the U.S. economy and stock market, consumers are doing very well, thanks to a better job market, and upward movement on wages, as indicated in the May unemployment report. Retail sales have reflected this strength, too, with better numbers lately. And according to the Federal Reserve, American families’ net worth has surged to a new record, owing to a rebound in the economy, stock market and home values. That all adds up to a bright outlook for consumer confidence, and for the housing market as a result.