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Is Another Housing Crisis On The Horizon?

housing-etpGeorge Leong: Home prices are heating up, as the flow of new homes and permits continue to steadily increase and the attraction of historically low mortgage rates motivates buyers.

The buyers that are driving up the housing market are not only the buyers of principal homes, but also the investors who are attracted to the relatively lower home prices and cheap financing.

What is interesting is that we are seeing major buying from not only the smaller investor who may dabble in an investment property, but also the large institutions and hedge funds that are getting into the swing of things, gobbling up hundreds and thousands of properties at lower prices.

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The S&P/Case-Shiller index, comprising the 20 largest U.S. metropolitan cites, increased a better-than-expected 9.3% in February, representing the 13th straight up month for prices.

While the housing market is far better than it was a few years ago, when the sub-prime mortgage crisis crushed the housing market and left a trail of destruction, my view is that there may be a bubble building as much of the current surge in prices is due to the cheap money.

Just consider the S&P/Case-Shiller index and notice the major jump in home prices in the housing market. For example, home buyers in the Phoenix housing market saw home prices surge 23% year-over-year, while those living in San Francisco reported an 18.9% surge in home prices.

My problem is that much of the buying in the housing market is being triggered by low-financing costs that can inevitably get homeowners in trouble once interest rates begin to ratchet higher—and they will go higher. For instance, carrying a $100,000 mortgage will become more expensive for many homeowners who were initially able to enter into the market only because of the low rates.

Even Robert Shiller, co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller index, is not that enthusiastic. He feels that the current housing climate is occurring in an “abnormal economy” that has been created by the money printing by the Federal Reserve. Shiller actually believes that home prices will do very little over the next decade. (Source: Napach, B., “Robert Shiller: Home Prices Will Remain Relatively Stagnant For Next 10 Years,” Yahoo! Finance, April 30, 2013.)

Years ago, after the last housing bubble, I said that if you have the money, go out and buy an investment property—you would be buying homes when they were cheap and, best of all, the money was cheap.

So as long as the Federal Reserve continues to pursue its bond-buying program and place downward pressure on financing rates, the housing market will continue to improve.

The worry is for when rates move higher: we may be headed for another housing market bubble down the road. If so, you may want to lighten up on the homebuilder stocks.

Funny how some people never learn.

This article is brought to you courtesy of George Leong from Investment Contrarians.


NYSE:IYR, NYSE:XHB


 

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