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Author Archive: Irvine Renter

Preventing the Next Housing Bubble The pain of the deflation of a housing bubble cannot be avoided by trying to keep the bubble inflated, or by trying to deflate it slowly. The only way to avoid these problems is to prevent the bubble from inflating in the first place through some form of intervention in the mortgage market. Intervention can take the form of a market-based intervention demanded by investors and ratings agencies, and it can also come about through direct government regulation. Necessary Intervention The regulated free-market system in place at the turn of the millennium allowed the creation of the Great Housing Bubble. Some combination of market-based and regulatory reforms is necessary to prevent the same circumstances that created the…[READ MORE]

Buying and Selling During a Decline During the bubble price rally, sellers and realtors, the agents of sellers, had everything going their way. It was easy to price and sell a house. A realtor would look at recent comparable sales, and set an asking price 5% to 10% higher and wait for multiple bids on the property–some of which would come in over asking. The quality of the property did not matter, and the techniques used to market and sell the property did not matter either. As far as buyers and sellers were concerned house prices always went up, so the sellers were thought to be giving away free money; obviously, the product was in high demand. As the financial…[READ MORE]

Price Decline Influences There are a number of factors that will influence the timing and the depth of the price decline. There are a number of psychological factors and technical factors in play. [1] These include: Smaller Debt-to-Income Ratios Increasing Interest Rates and Tightening Credit Higher Unemployment Foreclosures Decrease in Ownership Rates Government Intervention Smaller debt-to-income ratios impact the market because buyers tend to put a smaller percentage of income toward housing payments during price declines. Increasing interest rates decrease the amount borrowers can finance and use to bid on real estate, and tightening credit decreases the size of the borrower pool and thereby lowers demand. A deteriorating economy and higher rates of unemployment means there are fewer buyers with the income…[READ MORE]

Price-to-Income Ratio Since incomes and rents are closely related, evidence for the Great Housing Bubble that appears in the price-to-rent ratio also appears in the price-to-income ratio. National price-to-income ratios are quite stable. There has been a slight upward drift with the decline of interest rates since the early 1980s peak, but from the period from 1987 to 2001, this ratio remained in a tight range from 3.9 to 4.2. The increase from 4.1 to 4.5 witnessed from 2001 to 2003 can be explained by the lowering of interest rates; however, the increase from 4.5 to 5.2 from 2003 to 2006 can only be explained by exotic financing and irrational exuberance. Figure 46: Projected National Price-to-Income Ratio, 1988-2015     If national price-to-income ratios…[READ MORE]

Future House Prices For all our wisdom and collective experience, none of us knows what the markets will do next. Like an ocean current or a raging river, a financial market charts its own course. It is fickle and feckless and flows without regard to our hopes and dreams. The ebbs and flows of financial markets are meaningful to us, but in reality they are just movements in price; nothing more. Price rallies make homeowners blissful and renters bitter, while price declines make homeowners gloomy and renters gleeful. These feelings and emotions are independent of movements in price. The market just moves, that is all it does. It is benign, yet dangerous; it is indifferent, yet demonstrative; the market is…[READ MORE]

Bailouts and False Hopes One of the more interesting phenomena observed during the bubble was the perpetuation of denial with rumors of homeowner bailouts. Many homeowners held out hope that if they could just keep current on their mortgage long enough, the government would come to their rescue in the form of a mandated bailout program. Part of this fantasy was not just that people could keep their homes, but that they could keep living their lifestyle as they did during the bubble. What few seemed to realize was any government bailout program would be designed to benefit the lenders by keeping borrowers in a perpetual state of indentured servitude. With all their money going toward debt service payments, little…[READ MORE]

Psychological Stages of a Bubble Once a bubble starts to form, it will go through several identifiable stages: enthusiasm, greed, denial, fear, capitulation, and despair. Each of these stages is characterized by different speculator emotional states and different resulting behaviors. There are outside forces that also act on the market in predictable ways in each one of these stages. Most often, these outside factors serve to reinforce the market’s herd behavior and exacerbate changes in price. Precipitating Factor There is often a precipitating factor causing the initial price rally that pushes prices above their supported fundamental values. A bubble rally is usually kicked off by some exogenous event, but it may occur simply because prices have been rising and investors take…[READ MORE]

Bubble Market Psychology Financial markets are driven by fear and greed: two basic human emotions. Rationality and careful analysis are not responsible for, or predictive of, current or future price levels in markets exhibiting bubble pricing as the emotions of buyers and sellers takes over. [1] The psychology of speculation drives bubble markets, and because of the nature of fear and greed, most speculators are doomed to lose their money. In contrast, true investors are not subject to the emotional cycles of the speculator, and they are more able to make rational decisions based on fundamental valuations. Of course, many investors also miss the excitement of a runaway price rally in a speculative bubble. The Great Housing Bubble was inflated…[READ MORE]

The Bubble Bursts When a bubble in a financial market pops, it does not explode in spectacular fashion like a soap bubble; it is more comparable to a breached levee which releases water slowly at first. [1] Once the financial levee is ruptured, the equity reservoir loses money at increasing rates. It washes away the imagined wealth of homeowners who bought late in the rally or used home equity lines of credit to fuel consumer spending until the reservoir is nearly empty and the torrent turns to a trickle. Ultimately, the causes of failure are examined, the financial levee is repaired, and the reservoir again holds value, but not until the dreams and equity of many homeowners are washed away. Denial runs…[READ MORE]

The Housing Bubble Affordability Limits Affordability is a measure of people’s ability to raise money to obtain real estate. It is often represented as an index that compares the cost to finance a median house price to the percentage of the general population with the income to support this house price. For instance, in Orange County, California, in 2006, only 2.4% of the population earned enough money to afford a median priced home. When affordability drops below 50%, there is a problem in housing; when it drops to 2.4% there is either a severe shortage of housing, or a housing price bubble. Most often, it is the latter. Figure 23: Affordability / Demand   One way to envision affordability is through supply and…[READ MORE]

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In Memoriam: Tony Bliss 1966-2012
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