Housing woes continue

More and more “For Sale” signs are popping up in my neighborhood. I expect that they’ll be there for a while. A real estate recovery seems elusive and the market continues to stagnate at best. The statistics suggest that the market could be eroding. As I wrote in this month’s issue of the Merrimack Valley Housing Report, for the first seven months of 2010, the number of mortgages recorded at the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds was down 32% when compared to the same time in 2009 while the number of foreclosure deeds were up 78%.

For this to be occurring at a time when mortgage rates are at historic lows is further evidence of how bad things are. Business columnist Joe Nocera wrote a piece in yesterday’s New York Times describing the “perfect storm” of factors now influencing the real estate market. Nocera more eloquently cites some of the factors I’ve been pointing to: With the economy and unemployment still in precarious shape, few are ready to take on the long-term financial commitment of buying a home, especially when no one is sure if the market has hit bottom. Why would you pay $250,000 for a home that by Memorial Day might be worth only $220,000? Sellers routinely overprice the properties they put on the market, not because they’re being unrealistic about prices, but because they have no choice. If you owe $250,000 on your mortgage, you can’t sell your house for $220,000 unless you’re able to come up with the extra $30,000 in cash to pay off the balance of your loan. And creditors have gone from loaning money to anyone who would take it to a hyper-cautious “loan only to those who don’t need it” approach.

The solution? I don’t see one that would work quickly or easily. There are tremendous opportunities to implement long-term change in energy, housing, health care and education but I see little evidence that we as a society are open to the kind of transformative change and so the best we can hope for is to just muddle through.