05/02/2009 06:10 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Today's Housing Bubble Post: Back To Issuing Warnings

Oddly enough I find myself back in the position of warning that the housing market may be heading to a terrible crash in the near-future. The bubble mentality has not changed at all and appears to be restarting in the very places where the bubbles were the worst. This is probably because people got used to unaffordable prices and think that a drop from unaffordable to just really, really expensive is a buying opportunity. Meanwhile government and the real estate industry are trying to "reignite" the market -- hoping that starting another bubble will put off the reckoning.

People still think that what we are going through a temporary "correction" and that real estate prices are going to "go back up," that houses are "cheap" now, that they should "snap them up" before they are "priced out." They still think real estate is the path to wealth, instead of somewhat of a burden that should only be undertaken under certain circumstances. Namely, when you plan to live there for a long, long time, and you'll pay less (including closing costs, taxes, insurance, maintenance, possible price depreciation, etc.) than rent.

Here's what I am talking about. Combine this,

As of March 1, investors can now buy 10 homes (up from four) with Fannie Mae-backed mortgages. That's also stimulating demand.

With this, Some of Us Still Think They Can Get Rich Quick from the Real Estate Bubble,

... the ad offered a mouthwatering menu of claims on "How to cash in on the biggest real estate liquidation sale in our entire United States history" and "how to maximize your profit with lucrative foreclosures."

And this:

Option ARM rates are going to be recasting soon and in increasing numbers. That's the magic moment when people can no longer make minimum payments, when they can longer make interest-only or neg-amortization payments.

When that magic moment comes, all of those people are going to look at how high their now unaffordable mortgage payments are. Then they'll look at how much their house is actually worth relative to how much though owe. Then, maybe, they'll try one of the various initiatives to modify their mortgage terms. And then, quite likely, they'll jut walk away. [. . .] as the chart tells us, hasn't even really started yet.


What that chart shows is that the foreclosure problem is about to get a lot worse. Two more huge waves of "resets" are coming. Many, many, many more homes are about to reach a point of unaffordability for a lot of their owners, one way or another those homes will also be for sale, on top of the huge inventory that already sits unsold, and this will drive prices down even further, which will trigger even more problems.

Here is what I am saying: As long as a house is considered an "investment" instead of a place to live for a long time, we will continue to be in a world of hurt. Real estate does not always go up.

Here is why prices can't go up any time soon: There is a huge inventory of unsold houses. The houses that were built in the last decade are too big for regular people to be able to afford to heat and cool -- and energy prices are going up. The water for the lawns will cost more and more. The gas to get to the malls and any jobs that might exist (good luck) will cost more and more. The "boomers" are retiring and selling their houses. The median price in many areas is still way above affordability by a medium-income family. You won't get sufficient "positive cash flow" over your payments from the rent you'll receive if you are renting the house.

The psychology of this is just like the stock market bubble. Things won't get better until the bubble mentality of "it always goes up" is shaken out of people. Like I said the other day

In 1999/2000 I had a bunch of stock in a dot com. It made its way up to $35 a share. When it fell to $30 then $25 then $20 I held on because it had just been $35. When it hit $12 I thought it was really cheap but when it hit $.50 I thought that was too high. It landed at $.05 but then the company went out of business.

Think about the psychology of this. When it fell to $12 I thought it was cheap because of how high it had been but when it hit 50 cents a share I thought it was too expensive because I had left the past behind and I could finally see where it was GOING. And that is where it went.

Unemployment in my area is 11.2% and people are "snapping up" houses that are "cheap" at $580,000 because they were at $850,000 a year or two ago. But the median income here can't support that. It couldn't even support $350,000 before unemployment went up.

Here's the thing. After the stock market crash the Fed intentionally created the housing bubble to prop up the economy for a few more years. Now the consequences have arrived. If you are thinking of buying a house as an "investment" ask yourself who is going to buy it from you at a higher price, and how they are going to get that money. Will that housing demand come from a healthy job market in which people are getting raises?

Don't bet on it.