House Prices Must Return to Trend Levels to Stabilize Market

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Alan Barber (202) 293-5380 x115

Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

House Prices Must Return to Trend Levels to Stabilize Market

GSEs can play positive role in deflating housing bubble.

WASHINGTON - With new data coming out each week
lamenting plummeting house prices and some policy makers advocating
price supports in the housing market, a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) offers a straightforward solution to the turmoil in the housing market: let the prices fall.

The report, "The Key to Stabilizing House Prices: Bring Them Down,"
notes that prices are still hugely out of line with trend levels in
bubble markets and calls for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to restrict the
buying of mortgages in these areas. This would lead to fewer loans
being issued in these markets and prices would quickly adjust to normal
levels.

"Most policy analysts failed the public by missing the housing bubble," said report author and CEPR Co-Director Dean Baker.
"By simply limiting the flow of capital into bubble-inflated markets,
the government sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, have the opportunity to
bring stability back to the housing market by helping prices return to
trend levels."

The report,
which draws on data from the Case-Shiller Index, emphasizes that house
prices used in mortgage appraisals should be based on rental values to
avoid over-valuation. The fact that real house prices exploded by 80
percent from 1996 to 2006 while rents increased by only 4 percent over
the same time period points to a degree of speculation and the fact
that prices still have further to fall before the bubble deflates.

If
Fannie and Freddie no longer supported the purchases of homes at
bubble-inflated prices, there would be a quick price decline of 20 to
30 percent in the most over-valued markets. After this drop, homebuyers
need be less fearful of further price declines, both boosting demand
and reducing vacancy rates. At the same time, the consequent flow of
loans into non-bubble markets would help prevent a downward price
spiral in these areas and avert the risk of overshooting on the
negative side.

"A
rapid return to trend levels is significant for homeowners in that it
gives them a sense of how their home equity figures into their real
wealth and how they have to adjust their consumption and saving
decisions," said Baker. "This is even more important for the huge
cohort of baby boomers rapidly approaching retirement who may find that
they have little or no wealth to support them in retirement beyond
Social Security."

For
those faced with foreclosure due in part to falling home prices, the
best solution is one that amends the rules on foreclose to give
homeowners the right to rent their home at the market rate. This would
have the dual effect of keeping families in their houses and give
bankers an incentive to renegotiate terms by making foreclosure an even
less attractive option.

 The full report can be found on the CEPR website here.

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