A significantly higher percentage of Americans now believes that the housing market could take at least three more years to recover than those who felt the same way six months ago.
A poll released today of 2,018 U.S. adults aged 18 or older, conducted by Harris Interactive for the online foreclosure and selling sites RealtyTrac and Trulia, finds that 54% in April didn’t expect the housing market to recover until 2014 or even later. That compares to only 34% polled last November who thought it could take that long.
Conversely, the percentage of adults polled in April who thought the housing market would recover by the end of this year was only about one-third the percentage who thought that back in November (3% versus 10%).
The polling sample in April included 1,257 homeowners, 906 of whom currently have a mortgage; and 704 renters.
The survey’s results are striking, given that it’s more affordable to buy a house than to rent in 78% of all major cities in the country, according to Trulia’s research. “But today’s market conditions are actually making people more skeptical about buying a house,” said Pete Flint, Trulia’s CEO, who presented the survey’s results during a teleconference today with Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s senior vice president.
The impact of impending foreclosure filings is definitely shaping people’s negative images of the housing market’s future. Sharga noted that there are more than 900,000 properties now on banks’ books, but less than 30% of these have been listed for sale. Only 20% of the 1.2 million homes in some stage of foreclosure have been listed for sale. And there are another four million homes in some stage of mortgage delinquency.
Not surprisingly, more than one-quarter of the survey’s respondents say they know someone who owns a distressed home. (“Distressed” ranging from those who have applied for a loan modification, have stopped making mortgage payments, have lost their house to foreclosure, have exercised strategic default by walking away from their house, or have sold their house in a short sale.)
A sizable portion—45%—of respondents don’t think the government is doing enough to prevent foreclosures, and they may have a point. The government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), better known by its acronym HAMP, approved 36,000 permanent loan modifications in March. There have been 670,000 permanent HAMP modifications approved since the program began in March 2009, of which 83,000 have been cancelled. A total of 1.56 million trial modifications have been initiated, of which 751,000 have been cancelled and 137,000 remain as active trials. However, all of these numbers remain considerably below the program’s initial promise of modifying between 3 million and 4 million distressed mortgages. The Treasury Department estimates there are currently another 1.34 million homeowners who are at least 60 days delinquent on their mortgages and who would qualify for the HAMP program.
Sharga, though, thinks that HAMP will ultimately be seen as a “catalyst” that instigated banks to accelerate their own loan modification efforts.
However, he remains concerned about “rampant delays” in foreclosure initiations and processing in certain areas of the country. It’s taking 600 days to execute a foreclosure in Florida, and 800 days in New York and New Jersey, for example. “This only delays the housing recovery and is keeping home building at historically low levels,” he said. Consequently, Sharga foresees high levels of foreclosures through 2013, at least.
The foreclosure problem continues to contribute to declines in home prices and values in many markets, exacerbating the notion that the housing market is still in free fall. The RealtyTrac/Trulia survey “reflects a growing perception among potential home buyers that the housing recovery is still a long way off,” Sharga said. “Demand remains weak, loans are increasingly difficult to qualify for, and the shadow inventory of several million distressed properties is weighing down the market. All of these things need to improve before housing can recover.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that some potential home buyers aren’t willing to take advantage of current market conditions. The survey finds that 56% of renters polled and 47% of current homeowners would at least consider purchasing a foreclosed house, for which they expect to pay, on average, 38% less than a similar home not in foreclosure. In fact, 36% of those polled thought the discount should be 50%.
Opportunities to buy low, however, may close faster than the overall market recovers. “Mortgage rates won’t stay low forever, and even if home prices continue to fall for a bit, now is still a good time to enter the housing market,” said Flint. “In my eyes, we have another 18 months until we start to see signs of price stability in the housing market.”
John Caulfield is a senior editor for Builder magazine.