Americans Want to Buy Homes, But in No Hurry

2011 December 28
by pattwhite

According to a Thomson Reuters article, Recovery will elude the troubled U.S. housing market in the near-term as stringent standards to qualify for mortgages and a lack of jobs discourage Americans from buying homes, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The Hanley Wood’s maiden survey of homeowners and renters found no sense of urgency among Americans to buy a home even though they still believed in home ownership and the importance of the housing market to the economy.

“We thought people would be soured after watching home values fall, but instead we found the typical American still places high value on home ownership,” said Frank Anton, chief executive officer of Hanley Wood, a media and data research company.

The survey covered about 3,000 home owners and renters and was conducted in the final week of June.  More than 68 percent of respondents believed now was a good time to buy a house.  One in five home owners and a third of renters would like to buy a house over the next two years.  Their aspirations, however, are tempered by the harsh realities of the mortgage market, uneasiness about job security, employment opportunities and the general direction of both the housing market and the overall economy.

“As long as buyers are uncertain about what’s happening in the economy and where house prices are headed, they are going to be slow to move.  There is no urging the market, ” said Kent Colton, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, and who conducted the survey.

There is a ray of hope on the horizon.  The worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930′s has led to a surge in the number of Americans moving in with family and friends.  Colton sees this so-called doubling-up as a source of future demand for housing should the economy start creating jobs at a more robust pace.  More than one third of owners and about a  quarter of renter households are doubling-up.  This confirms the trend found by the government’s census.

“It means you have up to 2 million people that are part of what can be easily considered a pent-up demand when the time changes,” Colton told Reuters.

Stringent underwriting standards for mortgages as well as requirements for hefty down-payments are pushing housing beyond the reach of Americans, even though home prices are cheap and mortgage rates are at record low levels.

Banks and other mortgage providers are tightening their lending practices after lax underwriting standards caused the collapse of the housing market four years ago.  Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernake on Tuesday lamented the inability of prospective buyers to get home loans.  The U.S. central bank last month announced it would sell $400 billion in short-term Treasury securities and invest them into longer-dated ones to try to put downward pressure on borrowing costs over a longer period.

“The Fed has done a lot to try and bring mortgage rates down.  But that’s not effective if people can’t get mortgage loans,” Bernake told lawmakers.  About 65 percent of renters said they could afford a deposit of only 5 percent or less.

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