Real Estate Outlook Fed Chair Discusses Housing

Date: Nov. 24th, 2009
Contact: Kenneth R Harney

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke put out a forecast last week that included some important observations on housing, but it got nowhere near the attention it deserves.

Speaking to the Economic Club of New York, Bernanke described some of the well-known problems standing in the way of economic growth -- especially double digit unemployment and consumer confidence that's shaky week by week at best.

But buried away in his speech he said: Housing in the coming year is going to be a relative bright spot - a helpful driver of national economic growth, rather than the wet blanket it's been for the past couple of years.
Think about that: Home sales and new home construction, at least according to the Fed, are likely to stimulate the economy in 2010 -- enough to generate jobs and help avoid a double-dip recession.

That forecast just happens to track nicely with another that came out last week: Fannie Mae issued its projections for the coming year -- and predicted that housing sales will jump by 11 percent -- even in the face of a slow recovery for the economy as a whole.

Meanwhile, scattered reports from hard-hit local real estate markets suggest that there may be some reasons for guarded optimism.

For example, research firm MDA DataQuick's latest report on sales and prices in southern California, including the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernadino and Orange, found that October sales were up nearly three percent over September, and that prices are rebounding as well.

October sales in San Bernadino were 11 percent higher than September. In Ventura they were up nearly 10 percent. Median prices for the six counties were up almost two percent for the month, but were still 6.7 percent below where they had been in October of 2008.

Now, as is almost always the case, not all the news is on the up side. New home starts dropped by a surprisingly large, seasonally-adjusted 10.6 percent, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

A lot of the decline came in multifamily housing apartment starts -- a volatile month by month index -- which plummeted by 35 percent. But there's no sugar coating here: starts of single family homes dropped by 6.8 percent - which was enough of a negative to spook Wall Street .

Finally into the mix this week, mortgage rates continue to be the magic potion for home buyers, dropping again further into the upper four percent range. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, fixed rate 30-year loans averaged just 4.8 percent, and 15 year loans are going for just 4.3 percent on average.