A journey into Main Street economics.

Posts Tagged ‘tax credit

Buying A Home In Today’s Market: Reduce Your Risk Exposure

with 29 comments

So you’ve read all of the headlines about how “now is the time to buy” and you see the “For Sale” signs up at some nice looking houses on every block at prices you couldn’t have dreamed of just 2-3 years ago… you can’t let this opportunity pass you by. What’s the catch?

Well, to start with, judging affordability based on a comparison to past prices is a huge mistake. The mainstream media has been trying to convince the American public that a home should not be viewed as an investment but instead as a shelter. That theory works fine for the married household with children who intend on staying in their home for the full term of their mortgage, but unfortunately that is not who homes are being marketed to in today’s market. Today’s home buyer is either an investor or first-time home buyer in the majority of markets. Of these first-time home buyers, many are buying with the intent to stay in this home for the next 5-10 years instead of 15-30 years. Why are these buyers being told that now is the time to buy?

The fact is this: Buying a home IS AN INVESTMENT and it is likely the most important investment that the typical household will make in their lifetime.

Why? Let’s take a look at a few qualified households who are buying homes this month before the FTHB tax credit expires. For the purposes of this exercise, the following assumptions apply to all households:

  • Household income: $100,000
  • Monthly debt obligations: $1,000
  • Cash available for downpayment: $40,000
  • Location: High-cost metropolitan area (>$200,000 median price)
  • Household size: Two adults, both with incomes, and no children
  • Expected occupation of the home: 7 years
  • Property tax rate: 1%
  • HOA fees: $200/mo
  • Closing costs: Paid by seller
  • Qualifying credit score: 690

Household A

Household A has dreams of luxury and wants to get as much house as they can possibly qualify for with a fixed 30 year term, but don’t want their cash tied up in home equity. Household A chooses a 30-yr fixed FHA-insured mortgage at 5.00% interest and elects to pay the minimum 3.5% downpayment. If we qualify them at 31% front-end (PITI) and 43% back-end (DTI), which is the FHA standard, then here is a quick summary of this borrower and their obligations:

  • Maximum monthly payment at 31% PITI: $2,583
  • Maximum monthly payment at 43% DTI: $2,583
  • Sales price: $364,000
  • Downpayment (3.5% FHA): $12,740
  • UFMIP (1.75% FHA): $6,147
  • Loan amount: $357,407
  • Real/effective LTV: 98.2%
  • Monthly PITI: $2,583
  • Cash remaining as reserves: $27,260 (10.5 months)

Household B

Household B is fiscally conservative and believe that they have saved enough for a decent home in a “rough” neighborhood, but hope to upgrade in 7 years to put their children in a district with better schools. Household B chooses a 30-yr fixed conventional mortgage at 4.75% interest and elects to pay a 10% downpayment. If we qualify them at 28% front-end (PITI) and 36% back-end (DTI), which is the conventional standard, then here is a quick summary of this borrower and their obligations:

  • Maximum monthly payment at 28% PITI: $2,333
  • Maximum monthly payment at 36% DTI: $2,000
  • Sales price: $250,000
  • Downpayment (10% Conv.): $25,000
  • Loan amount: $225,000
  • Real/effective LTV: 90.0%
  • Monthly PITI: $1,675
  • Cash remaining as reserves: $15,000 (9 months)

Based on the facts above, we should expect Household B to be the more reliable and responsible borrower. I’m here to say that’s true, but it doesn’t make their decision to buy a home much better than Household A.

So let’s examine a scenario where home prices fall 20% over the next 7 years and each of the above homeowners would like to sell their home to take advantage of the now lower home prices and get more bang for their buck:

Household A: $364,000 sales price – 20% = $291,200

Household B: $250,000 sales price – 20% = $200,000

Household A had $27,260 remaining after the purchase of their home. Adding in the $8,000 tax credit gives them $35,260 in cash after closing. After 7 years, they now owe $314,321 in principal. This means that Household A needs to come out-of-pocket with $23,121 just to sell their home and walk away. This does not include the 6% ($17,472) they will need to pay agents to sell the home, which raises their out-of-pocket total to $40,593. In order for Household A to sell their home and purchase a comparable home at market value for 3.5% down, they will need to have saved an additional $15,525 over the 7 years they lived in their current home. At that point, they would have $0 remaining in savings. Household A has no choice but to remain in their current home and hope that home values rise again substantially over the next few years.

Household B had $15,000 remaining after the purchase of their home. Adding in the $8,000 tax credit gives them $23,000 in cash after closing. After 7 years, they now owe $196,855 in principal. Household B could sell their home and walk away with $3,145 from the sale. However, add in the 6% ($12,000) to pay agents to sell the home and now they must come out-of-pocket with $8,855 to walk away from their home. In order for Household B to sell their home and purchase a comparable home at market value for 3.5% down, they will need to take $15,855 from their savings. That leaves Household B with $7,145 from their original cash after closing plus any additional savings over the 7 years they lived in their current home. Household B would have saved $76,272 more than Household A over 7 years in their respective homes due to having a much lower PITI payment. This savings would likely be enough for Household B to purchase a new home on the market in a better school district for their children.

Household B look like the winners in this one, right? Well that depends on how you look at it. In pure dollars and cents, Household B is the winner. They should clearly have enough money saved to purchase the home they desire. On the downside, however, they sacrificed their safety and quality of life for 7 years and lost $50,000 in equity from the purchase and sale of their first home. The last part of that needs to be repeated… $50,000 lost.  I don’t know any successful investor who would pride themselves on such an investment.

Specifically here is the return on invesment for Household B:

$25,000 initial investment + $28,145 lifetime principal paid = $53,145 in equity – $50,000 loss = $3,145 return = -94% return on investment

Negative 94%!

I’d like to propose an alternate choice to Households A and B that most real estate professionals will never tell you about. I’d argue that now is the PERFECT time to buy a home if you’re brave enough and do your education on the investment products I’m going to mention below. If you aren’t familiar with trading in futures and are still interested in the following strategy, then please contact a professional to handle the execution of this strategy.

Household C

Household C knows that the housing market may not be at a bottom, but is afraid that interest rates will skyrocket in the next few years as inflation heats up. Household C believes that high interest rates will likely ruin their chances to live in the neighborhoods they prefer even if house prices are 10-20% lower. Household C is also afraid that house prices may drop too low and force them to sell their home at a huge loss. Household C chooses a 30-yr fixed FHA-insured mortgage at 5.00% interest and elects to pay the minimum 3.5% downpayment. If we qualify them at 31% front-end (PITI) and 43% back-end (DTI), which is the FHA standard, then here is a quick summary of this borrower and their obligations:

  • Maximum monthly payment at 31% PITI: $2,583
  • Maximum monthly payment at 43% DTI: $2,583
  • Sales price: $364,000
  • Downpayment (3.5% FHA): $12,740
  • UFMIP (1.75% FHA): $6,147
  • Loan amount: $357,407
  • Real/effective LTV: 98.2%
  • Monthly PITI: $2,583
  • Cash remaining as reserves: $27,260 (10.5 months)

Based on the above, you’re probably saying to yourself… Household C looks just like Household A, how is this any better?

Well, Household C made the decision to sell S&P Case-Shiller Index futures contracts equal to the value of their home. We’ll examine how this impacts their potential returns below.

Before we get into the technical details of this strategy, let’s discuss what these contracts do. A basic understanding of investing in futures and hedging strategy is assumed here, but for those who need an introduction I’ll place a few links here to get you started:

I’ll repeat this one last time: Do not attempt to execute this strategy on your own unless you have advanced knowledge and experience in futures trading!

S&P Case-Shiller Housing Futures are based on the Case-Shiller Home Price Indexes developed by the economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller. I won’t bore you all with the methodology behind the indexes, but these house price indexes are used to show the changes in house prices for single-family homes that have been sold more than once. They have separate indexes for condominiums, but we won’t discuss those in this post. If you’ve heard in the news that house prices have fallen x% in the last month or year, then it is very likely that they are referencing the data from these indexes. I’d advise anyone to go to the MacroMarkets site to learn more about these widely used home price indexes.

Back to the strategy: How does this impact a potential home buyer? If home prices fall 50% in the next 3 years, then that means these housing indexes will fall 50% in the next 3 years. It also means you’ve lost 50% of the value of your home. The futures products based on these indexes were designed to protect investors and home builders against the risk of volatile home prices by hedging the value of their property against these housing indexes. One of the less publicized purposes of these products was to protect home owners from losses on their homes.

The Case-Shiller Composite Index (Symbol:CUS) for July ’09 is at 155.85 (data is released with a two-month lag). One CUS futures contract is worth $250 times the value of the index, or $38,962 based on current data. The margin required to trade and carry one contract is $1,350.


Let’s take the case of a home owner in Las Vegas where prices are in free fall. They bought at $200,000 before the housing boom and their home is now worth the same as what they bought for. They don’t want to risk losing any more equity and want to downsize to another home in about 2 years. This home owner could sell 6 Nov ’11 CUS futures contracts, currently trading at 149.20 and therefore worth $223,800, which would require at least $8,100 in margin to be placed into a trading account. If house prices fell 20% over the next two years from the current 155.85 index value, then those Nov ’11 futures contracts would be trading at approximately 125 points at expiration. This home owner would have made a profit of $36,300 on his trade and lost $40,000 in home value, thus leaving the home owner with a net loss of $3,700 in the two year period.

Let’s look at the flip side of that trade and say that the home owner incorrectly judged the market and house prices rose 20% over the next two years. Those same Nov ’11 futures contracts would be trading at 187 points leaving the home owner with a loss of $56,700 on his trade and a gain of $40,000 in home value. This same home owner now has a net loss of $16,700 in the two year period.

Some people are probably saying to themselves, how is this good if they lost money in both scenarios?

Well, this is all about eliminating downside risk.

If home prices fall 20%, then they lose $40,000 in home equity. That number is more than 10 times the loss in the hedged scenario.

If home prices rise 20%, then they lose $16,700 in the trade. That number is still less than half of the loss in the scenario where house prices fall.

This home owner was solely concerned with preservation of capital and reducing risk and that goal was accomplished with the above trade.

Household C (continued)

Back to our brave first-time home buyer Household C. They are concerned with home prices falling in the next 2-3 years and plan to sell their home within 7 years. Instead of trading illiquid futures contracts that expire in 7 years, Household C decides to sell Nov ’12 contracts (trading at 150) and will re-examine the housing market at that point to determine if additional risk management is necessary. Household C will need to sell 10 contracts (worth $37,500 each) to fully cover their purchase price of $364,000. This will require Homeowner C to place $13,500 in margin into a trading account, plus an appropriate cushion for additional margin in case the trade begins to go in the opposite direction.

Let’s look at a few hypothetical scenarios to see how Household C’s decision could turn out:

  1. Home prices drop 30% from now until Nov ’12: Contracts close at 109, profit of $102,500, home value loss of $109,200, now worth $254,800 = Net loss of $6,700
  2. Home prices drop 20% from now until Nov ’12: Contracts close at 124.60, profit of $63,500, home value loss of $72,800, now worth $291,200 = Net loss of $9,300
  3. Home prices drop 10% from now until Nov ’12: Contracts close at 140.20, profit of $24,500, home value loss of $36,400, now worth $327,600 = Net loss of $11,900
  4. Home prices remain the same from now until Nov ’12: Contracts close at 155.85, loss of $14,625, home value gain/loss of $0, now worth $364,000 = Net loss of $14,625
  5. Home prices gain 10% from now until Nov ’12: Contracts close at 171.40, loss of $53,500, home value gain of $36,400, now worth $400,400 = Net loss of $17,100
  6. Home prices gain 20% from now until Nov ’12: Contracts close at 187, loss of $92,500, home value gain of $72,800, now worth $436,800 = Net loss of $19,700

As you can see, this scenario benefits Household C the most when prices drop the most. In the cases where home prices gain by a substantial amount, they will be required to hold a large amount of money in the account to serve as margin against unrealized losses. But hidden among these simple calculations of profit and loss is the fact that they have been paying down their loan balance for 3 years and will have the same low 5% interest rate on their mortgage. The impact of this is enormous as we’ll show below.

If this home owner bought at $364,000 and the home value dropped by 20%, then they have a $63,400 profit from their trade and a $9,300 loss from the hedge. This home owner can then put all of the profits from the trade into a payment of principal on the mortgage which would bring their outstanding loan balance down to $276,866 in December 2012. This home owner now has $14,344 in home equity and the principal per mortgage payment has risen from $497 to $765 due to the huge extra payment. Household C planned to sell their home in 7 years and will have an outstanding balance of $237,238 at that point. In other words, house prices would have to fall an additional 19% from Nov ’12 to Nov ’16 in order for them to have to come out-of-pocket when they sold their home.  Household C could simply elect to open a new futures hedge to protect their equity if house prices were still in sharp decline.

Renting vs. Buying and Hedging

Comparing the above approach to the renting approach shows that renting is not necessarily a more attractive option to those who have the cash available to fully hedge their position. The monthly price to rent ratio is currently around 1.2, but we’ll round down and say that it would cost 75% of the PITI to rent a similar home. In this case, Household C would have paid $1,937/mo to rent the same home they bought. That translates into a $23,256 total savings due to housing expenses from today to Nov ’12 for the renter. Let’s say that housing prices are near a bottom in 2012 and the renter decides that it is finally an excellent time to buy. They could buy the same home at $291,200 and put 20% down ($58,240), but interest rates are likely to be much higher than they are today. We’re going to use 7.5% as the 30-year fixed rate which puts the PITI at $2,072/mo, a savings of $511/mo versus Household C.

This new home owner would have an outstanding loan balance of $223,317 in Nov ’16. Remember that Household C had an outstanding balance of $237,238, however the new home owner put $58,240 into the home as a downpayment while Household C only put $12,740 down.

Here are the areas where the renter has the advantage:

  • Renter’s savings from Nov ’09 to Nov ’12: $23,256
  • Renter’s savings in PITI from Nov ’12 to Nov ’16: $24,528
  • Renter’s outstanding loan balance improvement on Nov ’16: $13,921

TOTAL: $61,705

Here are the areas where Household C has the advantage:

  • Amount saved on downpayment: $45,500
  • Tax savings from Nov ’09 to Nov ’12 at 25% tax bracket: $13,107
  • First-time home buyer tax credit: $8,000

TOTAL: $66,607

As you can see, Household C has actually saved $5,000 more than the renter.

In addition, Household C is paying $926 per month towards principal while the renter pays only $232 in principal. This difference of $694 is greater than the $511 in PITI savings that the renter enjoys and the gap only grows larger as time goes on because Household C is further along in the amortization schedule and enjoys a lower interest rate. Moving the sales date back two years to 2018 would increase Household C’s principal balance by an additional $23,427 while the renter’s balance would only increase $6,017. Household C would have their mortgage paid in full in June 2031 while the renter wouldn’t have their mortgage paid in full until November 2042. This 11.5 year difference also displays the benefits to the buy and hedge strategy for the first-time home buyer who intends to occupy their new residence for a longer period of time.

Here are the amortization schedules for each approach:

Yearly Amortization for Rent and Buy

Yearly Amortization for Rent and Buy

Yearly Amortization for Buy and Hedge

Yearly Amortization for Buy and Hedge


Buying a home in today’s market is extremely risky for those who are putting their faith in the housing market’s recovery. The examples of Household A and Household B have shown the potential downside to any buyer who hopes to take advantage of this year’s advertised “low prices” while the market is still declining. This leaves only three legitimate options, in my opinion, for a potential first-time home buyer right now.

  1. Buy at a reasonable debt-to-income ratio with the intention of holding the home beyond the duration of the mortgage.
  2. Buy and hedge as discussed in this article.
  3. Rent, save your money, and wait it out if the potential risks outweigh the rewards of home ownership.

I don’t have statistics to back up this claim, but I’m fairly certain that most first-time home buyers are not considering option #1 since the days of living in the same home for an entire lifetime are long gone. Option #3 is the most responsible choice for most potential first-time home buyers today. Home prices are going to fall this winter and are projected by nearly everyone to fall through 2010. Perhaps a better deal can be had sometime in the next 2-4 years if sound fundamentals return to the housing market.

Option #2 would be my choice. It requires a more carefully planned approach to home ownership, but the risks are contained and the potential rewards far outweigh those in options #1 and #3. Another element of this strategy that I enjoy is the lack of volatility in the Case-Shiller futures contracts. Unlike most leveraged derivative investments, this trade has an extremely low chance of incurring a margin call within a span of minutes, hours, or even days. Therefore, this hedging strategy will require very little monitoring on a day-to-day basis and should be very hands-off as long as a conservative margin strategy is employed. There is no historical precedent for house prices rising or falling 10% in a single month and the largest recorded monthly change in the CSI was the 2.8% drop in Feb ’08. The largest yearly home price increase recorded in U.S. history was 24.1% in 1946 while the largest decrease was 18.3% in 2008 based on Robert Shiller’s research into home prices dating back to 1890. Based on this data, I’d advise keeping a cash balance in the trading account to cover a 5% move against your position ($34,106 in the example given for Household C). If house prices show a strong and sustained move to the upside accompanied by signs of a stabilizing economy (lower unemployment, higher wages, etc.), then the housing market is likely in the recovery process and the hedge can be closed. Closing the trade at the right time (aka calling the bottom) will result in the greatest reward from this strategy, but the conservative household should simply keep the hedge active for as long as the housing market is questionable to protect their equity. Calling market bottoms is more often than not a matter of luck than skill and shouldn’t be the basis of any investment strategy.

I’ve argued against the FHA’s weak downpayment requirements, but those downpayment requirements don’t hurt home buyers directly. Instead they hurt home buyers indirectly by propping up home prices that would otherwise fall. They also hurt the taxpayer as described in previous posts. Getting a home with 3.5% down can be a blessing for a lot of home buyers, especially ones who intend on owning their homes for a lifetime or have a risk management strategy in place. Now is indeed a great opportunity for those who are smart enough and have enough cash to take advantage, but not in the way that the mainstream media is pushing. Do your research before using any of the strategies mentioned in this post. This is not intended for the average American household, but hopefully this gives readers one more option to consider when buying a home in today’s rough market.


Written by Myron

10/12/2009 at 1:00 AM

Real Estate: The War Behind The Scenes

leave a comment »

The $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit has generated a lot of debate lately as NAR and NAHB have been campaigning (or more accurately, buying support) for the extension of the credit by claiming that it is necessary for stability in the housing market. The sentiment among budget conscious Americans has shifted firmly against the tax credit extension in recent months as the U.S. public debt grows to levels unimaginable just two years ago. Both parties have legitimate arguments, but there will only be one winner…. let’s take a look at who the most likely winner will be.

The argument for: Government programs to buy mortgage-backed securities and Treasuries are scheduled to end in the next 6 months which will likely cause mortgage rates to climb. In addition, the transition into the winter season will surely have a negative impact on the purchase market. First-time home buyers have made up 43% of the purchase market this year and NAR estimates that about 17.5% of those sales would not have happened without the tax credit. Home sales already seem unlikely to recover significantly in 2010 given the increasing unemployment rate, declining wages in many states, and increasing delinquency rates on all loans.

The argument against: Using NAR estimates of 2 million buyers who qualify for the credit, we can come up with a $16 billion cost to the American public (2,000,000 buyers * $8,000 credit). Since the actual tax-credit is the lesser of $8,000 or 10% of the sales price, we’re likely overstating this number for home sales in the lower-end and seriously distressed markets like Detroit and Las Vegas. Either way, an extension of this tax credit likely means another $15-25 billion added to our tab. The question the budget conscious person asks is…. is it worth it? If the tax credit only resulted in 350,000 sales as NAR suggests, then this is a valid question. Bill McBride at Calculated Risk estimated that “this tax credit cost taxpayers about $45,000 per each additional home sold.” To put that number into perspective, the median home sales price in Detroit is $51,600 as calculated by Zillow.

In theory, both sides are absolutely correct. The housing market does need some form of stimulus to maintain a healthy level of demand at current price levels, however an extension or expansion of the tax credit will be a costly and perhaps inefficient method of providing that stimulus. The problem that I have with this back and forth argument is that neither party realizes their true enemy in the battle for stability in the housing markets: financial institutions.

Cause and Effect

Let’s go back to the cause of the housing market collapse to identify who was hurt the most by the collapse of residential real estate prices.  In the early portion of this decade, mortgage lenders were giving unconventional (interest-only, liar loans, option ARM) mortgages to unqualified borrowers with zero money down which led to a huge surge in demand, rampant speculation, and of course increasing home values. Lenders sold these mortgages in bundles as MBS (mortgage-backed securities) which were valued based on credit risk, prepayment risk, and interest-rate risk. The problem was that these securities were given high credit ratings in cases where the default risk was obviously high. Once mortgage defaults began to rise, investors in the securities market closed the door and the game was over. Demand for MBS suddenly disappeared which meant the banks had to actually hold these risky and declining assets on their balance sheets. That was the cause of the credit crisis and it resulted in many bank failures and markdowns due to mark-to-market accounting rules which required a bit of honesty for once in an otherwise dishonest field. So where are all of these securities and assets today?

Bernanke, Paulson, and Co. convinced our government (scared them into believing) that the banks (aka credit market) needed billions of dollars immediately to prevent the American economy from collapsing due to a worldwide credit freeze. We were led to believe that these billions of dollars would be used to restore credit conditions to a healthy level and that the banks would resume their lending as soon as conditions returned to “normal”. The problem with this scenario is that lenders weren’t the true drivers of mortgage credit in this boom, but instead acted as pass-through agents between the American public and MBS investors.

With the MBS investment market completely dead due to risk aversion, who would step up to take on these securities with default risk rising every month? Answer: The government and Fed.

In other words, we gave away nearly a trillion dollars and STILL had to foot the bill to keep the ponzi scheme alive. But how long can the market support rising default rates and a growing shadow inventory? As long as asset deflation doesn’t kick into overdrive, the ponzi scheme will indeed continue for another cycle since the banks will have shifted some of their credit risk onto the public balance sheet. That’s the fight that’s going on behind the scenes right now and the public is losing the battle against private balance sheets.

Who Wants The Risk Now?

The FHA has stepped in to maintain sub-prime lending by growing from 3.5% of the market share in 2005 to 37% in the 2nd quarter of 2009.  In other words, the same risks that caused the collapse of the banking system in 2007 have been shifted to the FHA. If another wave of defaults and foreclosures occurs for FHA loans, then they will be in a world of pain and will almost certainly request, and receive, a government bailout paid for by the American public.

TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds have been used over the past year and a half to fatten the accounts of financial institutions, but a second portion of the program was designed to purchase distressed securities from them and put the risk directly in the hands of the public. The P-PIP program was designed to eliminate another trillion dollars of distressed assets from bank balance sheets (at about 90% cost to the taxpayer), but the FASB’s ridiculous decision to change mark-to-market accounting rules during economic downturns has allowed banks to continue falsely reporting asset valuations (one of the main causes for the surge in stock prices for financial institutions since March). Financial institutions holding garbage (or as Geithner wants us to call them, “legacy” products) now have no reason to show the public the true value of what they hold when they can lie and claim par value for any asset on their books. I’ll get into P-PIP further in another post since it has the potential to be the final nail in the coffins of the American public.

The Federal Reserve’s program to purchase $1.25 trillion of agency MBS accounts for roughly 80% of gross issuance (projected at $1.5 trillion) for the year 2009. The risk of ending this program is that private investors may not be willing to suddenly assume 500% more of this market at similar cost.

The War Behind the Scenes

The bottom line for the future of housing is that the basic rules of supply and demand will eventually determine future house prices. The FTHB tax credit resulted in a reasonable increase of demand, but the supply side of the equation remained a problem.

The OCC and OTS Mortgage Metrics Report released by the Treasury for the second quarter of 2009 painted a very troubling picture for residential real estate. The number of foreclosures in process rose 79.4% from Q2 ’08 to 992,554 while newly initiated foreclosures have only risen 28% to 369,226 and the number of completed foreclosures dropped 9.6% to 106,007. The backlog of foreclosures has been rising each quarter along with delinquency rates in a sign that the worst of the housing crisis lies ahead, NOT in the past as many would have you believe today.

Programs such as HAMP are simply delaying the inevitable in many cases as proven by the 32% re-default rate within 6 months after loan modifications. Instead of using the now popular figure of 7 million homes of shadow inventory, we’ll instead simply compare expected supply with existing home sales.

Newly initiated foreclosures from Q2 ’09  (369,226) + 32% of Newly initiated home retention actions from Q4 ’08 (293,668 * .32 = 93,973) = 463,199 homes added to the market per quarter at the current pace. That’s an annual addition of 1.85 million distressed homes to the existing home supply. Existing home inventory in July was 4.06 million.

With those kinds of numbers, it’s obvious to most sensible onlookers that prices have nowhere to go but down. However, the media’s message brought to you by NAR is that the creditworthy renter in today’s market should leap headfirst into home ownership due to the huge supply of homes available at distressed prices. At least that would be the case if these houses were actually available, but alas they are not available thanks to the foreclosure moratoriums and HAMP program that have created the “shadow inventory” effect. This shadow inventory serves the purpose of distorting reported supply and demand which artificially elevates home prices.

Who gets hurt the most by shadow inventory? First-time home buyers looking for a good deal.

Don’t be fooled for a moment into believing that either the banks, government, or the real estate industry actually have genuine care for the first-time home buyer. They simply understand that you have to feed a pig before it is ready to be eaten. The $16 billion spent on this tax credit is chump change compared to the amounts being spent to fatten the pockets of the financial industry, but keeping the public focus on trivial matters is a tried and true method of fleecing them behind the scenes.

The main street Americans who benefit the most from this tax credit are not first-time home buyers, who are basically getting a $8,000 loan financed over the term of their mortgage at4-6%. The real winners in this scenario are the baby boomers who watched in horror while their retirement dreams faded away as equity markets and home values crashed. The baby boomers who bought or took equity from their homes in the early to mid portion of the bubble still have hope for a shameless exit from the debacle, but only if house prices remain around current levels. The foolish ones who took all of the equity out of their homes and/or bought into the top of the bubble can only hope and pray that house prices return to previous levels. The middle-class baby boomers hoping to downsize and retire don’t have the luxury of waiting 10 to 20 years for housing prices to recover.

These are the people who the financial institutions are betting on. The banks win as long as the baby boomers continue to believe in and support the Ponzi scheme. The baby boomers win as long as the banks can keep up the Ponzi scheme. The battle lines have been drawn and the sad truth for today’s generation of hopeful first-time homeowners is that nobody is on their side.

The tax credit WILL be extended for first-time home buyers and the general sentiment will be positive, but today’s actions are only sowing the seeds for the next wave of wealth destruction.

My message to first-time home buyers looking to get into the market now: Make sure you have adequate downside protection before you take the risk. Otherwise, stand your ground against the bankrupt banking institutions, baby boomers, and Federal Reserve financiers and declare a stalemate by not buying anything with debt financing until prices reach truly affordable levels. The Fed has reached the zero bound, underwriting standards are under intense scrutiny, and the only buyer left on the market with adequate cash and hope for future earnings is the first-time home buyer. First-time home buyers are the key to the housing market and their decisions will ultimately determine where prices go in the next couple of years. I’m hoping they (we) are the ones who end up winning this war, but all signs continue to point in the other direction.

Written by Myron

10/05/2009 at 12:41 PM