Has housing market still not hit bottom?

A for sale sign is seen in front of a home in Miami, Fla.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: We know what we know about housing prices today because Standard and Poor's released its latest Case-Shiller index this morning. It showed prices rose for a third straight month this past August. One of the wire services went way out on a limb with this not-so-conclusive judgment: It said the market could be stabilizing. Stabilizing's one of those, gee, thing's aren't so bad words. But a lot of analysts say the housing market might not be at the bottom yet. And that homeowners probably shouldn't get used to their gradually-recovering fortunes. Here's our senior business correspondent Bob Moon.


BOB MOON: The phrase "rising home prices" might be encouraging, but we still aren't even close to filling in the hole to year-ago levels.

Whitney Tilson is a money manager at T2 Partners. For several months now, he's been calling the recent run-up in home prices "the mother of all head fakes." And he points to signs in the latest home price index that he's right.

WHITNEY TILSON: The Case-Shiller numbers showed that home prices, while still increased, increased at a lesser rate. And what that's telling us is that just like every year for the past 20 years, demand for homes, and therefore home prices, are strongest in the spring and early summer, and they're the weakest in the off season -- in the winter.

Tilson says he expects prices to start falling again on cue and things could get worse.

TILSON: If interest rates go up, if the unemployment rate gets worse, if the $8,000 tax credit isn't renewed, if FHA stops doing all of this massive, reckless lending, in my opinion -- if any of those things goes away, look out below in housing prices.

And while Tilson holds out hope for the spring, there are already concerns that one of those key recovery ingredients might, indeed, go away by then.

David Blitzer heads the S&P housing index. He points out the Federal Reserve is planning to remove one of those supports.

DAVID BLITZER: They've said they'll stop supporting the mortgage markets come March, and that means slightly higher mortgage rates. And that also means some depressive forces on the housing market.

He says those forces could push us to a real bottom but, he hopes, not too much lower.

BLITZER: It looks increasingly like if we go down, we're not going to go way, way down from the point we are now. But I think real victory is a question of seeing prices rise, instead of just stay where they are indefinitely.

And Blitzer remains hopeful prices will head back up once people start buying homes in the spring.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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