U.S. home prices face three-year drop as inventory surge looms

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By John Gittelsohn and Kathleen M. Howley
(c) 2010 Bloomberg News
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 12:24 AM

Shadow inventory -- the supply of homes in default or foreclosure that may be offered for sale -- is preventing prices from bottoming after a 28 percent plunge from 2006, according to analysts from Moody's Analytics Inc., Fannie Mae, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Plc. Those properties are in addition to houses that are vacant or that may soon be put on the market by owners.

"Whether it's the sidelined, shadow or current inventory, the issue is there's more supply than demand," said Oliver Chang, a U.S. housing strategist with Morgan Stanley in San Francisco. "Once you reach a bottom, it will take three or four years for prices to begin to rise 1 or 2 percent a year."

Rising supply threatens to undermine government efforts to boost the housing market as homebuyers wait for better deals. Further price declines are necessary for a sustainable rebound as a stimulus-driven recovery falters, said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist of Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., a New York economic forecasting firm.

Sales of new and existing homes fell to the lowest levels on record in July as a federal tax credit for buyers expired and U.S. unemployment remained near a 26-year high. The median price of a previously owned home in the month was $182,600, about the level it was in 2003, the National Association of Realtors said.

There were 4 million homes listed with brokers for sale as of July. It would take a record 12.5 months for those properties to be sold at that month's sales pace, according to the Chicago- based Realtors group.

"The best thing that could happen is for prices to get to a level that clears the market," said Shapiro, who predicts prices may fall another 10 percent to 15 percent. "Right now, buyers know it hasn't hit bottom, so they're sitting on the sidelines."

About 2 million houses will be seized by lenders by the end of next year, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He estimates prices will drop 5 percent by 2013.

After reaching bottom, prices will gain at the historic annual pace of 3 percent, requiring more than 10 years to return to their peak, he said.

"A long if not lost decade," Zandi said.

The national declines likely will be weighed down by more troubled markets. Working through the inventory depends on variables such as local employment and the amount of homeowner debt, said Sam Khater, chief economist for CoreLogic Inc., a Santa Ana, California-based real estate and financial information company. Nevada has the highest percentage of homes with mortgages more than the properties are worth, while New York state has the lowest, according to CoreLogic.

Douglas Duncan, chief economist for Washington-based Fannie Mae, the largest U.S. mortgage finance company, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview last week that 7 million U.S. homes are vacant or in the foreclosure process. Morgan Stanley's Chang said the number of bank-owned and foreclosure-bound homes that have yet to hit the market is closer to 8 million.

Sandipan Deb, a residential credit strategist for Barclays in New York, said prices will drop another 8 percent -- to 2002 levels -- before beginning a recovery in 2014.


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