Wednesday, March 30, 2011

U.S. Home Prices Continue Falling

According to the monthly report known as S&P Case Schiller Home Price Index home values have continued to decline through January 2011 leaving many experts wondering when we may see some signs of stability in housing. The reasons the bleeding has not stopped are obvious.

The overall economy is directly affected by the housing crises. Many jobs are eliminated, retail sales are slower and confidence in the economy is lower than it needs to be in order to sustain any economic recovery. As I've indicated in several previous blogs, an economic recovery may not be possible without a housing recovery. The ripple effect as housing prices continue in a free fall provides no positive influence in the lives of so many people dependant on a healthy real estate market.

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Political posturing has resulted in a parade of failed programs at taxpayers expense. The administration promised many things but delivered on virtually none. The creation of Home Assistance Modification Program or HAMP promised to save millions of Americans from foreclosure. "It will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild" President Obama said "it will shore up housing prices".  Congress set aside $50 billion for foreclosure prevention and the administration projected that 3 to 4 million homeowners would benefit from loan modifications. To date only a small fraction of those numbers have been realized.

By catering to lenders unwilling to provide any necessary mortgage financing to qualified borrowers the government has shown that it's allegiances are most certainly to the biggest contributors to political war chests and not to so called "main street" Americans. Companies servicing mortgage loans are mostly large banks who regularly lose paperwork and quite possibly advise homeowners to do things that may not be in the best interest of the homeowner. Banks deny many who actually qualify for modifications. In some cases lenders may approve a modification only to proceed with a foreclosure filing, misleading the homeowner. These types of tactics are designed to keep the homeowner paying something while the lender pursues the foreclosure action.

Government official haven't gone after, fined or otherwise cracked down on lenders for not complying with programs that they benefit from. Unwilling to flex it's muscle against the deep pockets in the banking industry none of the promises or projections have materialized.

In order to understand the relationships between government and banks we can take a look at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Two Government Sponsored Entities that together hold most of the financial risk involved with mortgage defaults, were appointed by the Treasury to oversee the banks and the foreclosure prevention programs that the administration rushed into place. Obviously not my idea of an independent overseer. In fact Freddie Mac filed documents stating that imposing penalties may "negatively impact our relationships" noting that some of these are our largest source of revenue in mortgage loans. Well, that may say it in a nutshell. Housing and the economy will struggle until we fix what's wrong with the system. That may require putting people in place who truly have nothing monetary to gain.

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