One of the big builders of luxury homes in their third quarter and full year earnings are expected to fall short of their previous forecast. This is the result of sluggish sales. Some realtors and economists now argue that the decline in home prices will be modest and is nearly complete The firm noted that high cancellation rates on contracts in backlog that were projected to close this year and more pronounced use of price concessions and incentives, particularly on the resale of those homes which have experienced contract cancellations.
The decline is caused by the recession that is triggered by the falling home prices, which in turn will lead to a surge in unemployment which would cause them not to afford homes. The first factor that led to the unprecedented surge in home prices of more than 50% in the last five years is that the Federal Reserve began to pursue an extremely easy money policy in 2001 to buffer the economy from the implosion of the stock price bubble of the late 1990s.
Nominal interest rates declined to 1%,and since the inflation rate bounced around 2%, real interest rates were negative. The combination of low interest rates and the ready availability of credit led to a surge in home prices that in turn led to exceptionally high levels of both new construction and remodeling — new kitchens and bathrooms. Moreover the surge in household net worth that followed from the much higher level of home prices facilitated borrowing. People used their new collateral to pay for autos, vacations, tuition, and even daily living expenses.
Another factor that drove home prices upward has been the creativity of the lenders in developing new forms of credit. Financial firms became much more creative in designing mortgages that reduced the monthly payment of the borrowers and thus enabled them to buy more expensive properties. More borrowers opted for adjustable interest rate mortgages, or ARMS. Some provided only for interest payments for five or ten years. A recent innovation was the negative amortization mortgage, sometimes called the option ARM. The interest payment that the borrowers made for three or five years was less than the amount required based on the interest rate, and the borrowers' indebtedness increased.
The expansion of private mortgage insurance meant that many individuals could buy homes for the first time. Their purchases induced significant increase in the prices of starter homes, and the owners of these properties realized large capital gains and spectacular increases in their net worth and so they traded up to more expansive homes.