Housing shows signs of not-so-soft landing

Bob Moon Aug 23, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: They’re called existing homes. Not “used” or “previously owned.” Existing. Nice turn of phrase if you’re in real estate sales. Except, no matter what you call them, they’re not selling very well. Down 4.1 percent last month. That’s the lowest level in two years. Prices barely budged. And the number of homes stuck on the market hit a 13-year high. Here’s Bob Moon to make some macro-economic sense of it all.

BOB MOON: Despite rising energy costs and the financial and psychological drag from the war on terror soaring housing prices have helped keep the country’s economic engine humming. Americans borrowed confidently against their equity and raked in their profits, pouring much of that money back into the fuel-tank of consumer spending.

Now, with increasingly disturbing statistics on the housing market, some experts are abandoning their reassuring predictions of a “soft landing.” Even those who say they’re still hoping that prices are merely going through a “readjustment” are nervous about how rapid the decline has been. Among them, National Association of Homebuilders economist David Seiders:

DAVID SEIDERS:“It does seem to be gaining momentum as we go along, I will admit that.”

While Seiders holds out hope for a rebound next year, some experts now worry housing values might decline. Commerce Bank chief economist Joel Naroff says it hasn’t gotten that bad yet, but he’s braced for the consequences:

JOEL NAROFF:“If the housing market falls even further and faster, and prices start declining, and that starts affecting consumer confidence, then I think there really is a chance that we could go into a recession.”

For now, it’s all just speculation. Educated guesswork, perhaps, but the housing industry’s David Seiders points out, conjecture, nonetheless.

SEIDERS:“You know, once a housing downswing starts, it’s never quite clear exactly where it’s going to stop.”

In Los Angeles, I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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