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July 12th, 2011

There was never a housing recovery to begin with

by Peter Miller


Bank Owned Sale SignIf you’ve heard people discussing the “housing recovery” or that we are seeing the recession’s end, you might reasonably wonder what they’re talking about. If so, you’re not alone.

“There never was a housing recovery,” said Scott Simon, head of the mortgage- and asset-backed securities teams with PIMCO, a massive investment management firm with nearly $1.3 trillion in assets.

In fact, Simon argues that:

The market is in a fragile state that is far easier to break than to fix. If policymakers alter the government’s current approach to housing and unwittingly break the market, they may not be able to repair the damage within the foreseeable future. 

It’s hard to disagree with Mr. Simon; after all, as we said in April, “For much of America there is no double dip. There is no dip at all. There is merely a slide, a downside, a financial slalom.”

There never was a recovery to begin with

If we have not yet recovered from the housing slide, then is the end even in sight? Is there any indication that the market is recovering?

While recent reports from the FHFA and Case-Shiller seem to indicate a strengthening in home prices, Mr. Simon, however, offers his own explanation as to why these reports are both incomplete and are only a facade:

The appearance of a recovery…resulted from foreclosures being stalled amid political and media scrutiny as well as lawsuits. That meant that the composition of sales reflected fewer distressed sales and thus prices seemed to be rising. Basically, it was likely a statistical bounce, not a real bounce, and now the housing bulls are back to being bears. 

I think Mr. Simon is wrong in two of his three reasons.

1. There has been very little real political pressure to stop foreclosures. The market peaked in April 2007, and the result has been government flub after government flub.

Here’s a perfect example: The FHA’s Hope for Homeowners is dead after September 30, 2011. This program started in 2008 and was supposed to help homeowners trade in toxic loans for fixed-rate FHA financing. The FHA was prepared to insure up to $300 billion in new loans under this program.

$300 billion!

So, how many loans were actually made under H4H? There were none in 2008, 23 in fiscal 2009, 107 in fiscal 2010, and 227 so far in 2011.

2. Mr. Simon says the media has influenced foreclosure policies. Sure, there have been a few highlighted cases and excellent reporting work done by the New York Times, Reuters and the McClatchy newspaper chain; otherwise it’s hard to see much media glory. After all, how many newspapers told borrowers to avoid toxic loans in the first place? (Okay, for the record, I got it right in a 2006 speech to the Association of License Law Officials and in any number of columns.)

3. Mr. Simon also mentions lawsuits. What has happened is that loan ownership is so unclear that foreclosure actions across the country have slowed–but only long after foreclosure defense attorneys repeatedly raised the issue and lender officials and attorneys denied any problems.

In other words, there has been no foreclosure slowdown in the sense of better economics, more jobs or higher incomes. The slowdown is largely because lenders can’t get their paperwork right and that’s not a sign of good news.

One Response to “There was never a housing recovery to begin with”

  1. Chris Says: July 13th, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I will say this, I am in the business, a lot of my clients houses should have been foreclosed on but because they have been in modification for so long, and even if they are denied they appeal the modification process, this can stall out the foreclosure proceedings for over a year in most cases, the bottom has not yet been reached, there are a lot of borrowers that have not made mortgage payments in quite some time but there house is not in foreclosure yet, but just wait its looming.

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HSH.com's daily blog focuses on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets. Our mission is to relate how changes in mortgage rates and housing policy, as well as the latest financial news, impacts consumers, homebuyers and industry insiders alike. Our 30-plus years of experience in the mortgage industry gives us an edge as we break down the latest changes in an ever-changing market.

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Tim Manni is the Managing Editor of HSH.com and the author of their daily blog, which concentrates on the latest developments in the mortgage and housing markets.

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