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Housing is slowing but still a good buy: Olefson

Yahoo Finance
Yahoo Finance

The housing market continues to face resistance in its recovery efforts. The Census Bureau reported Thursday that new single family home sales fell 8.1% and it revised March, April and May data lower, showing slower growth than previously reported.

Shari Olefson, CEO of The Carnegie Group, tells Yahoo Finance in the video above that the latest housing data indicates “buyers just don’t have the resources to buy these homes. Remember the average new home is hovering around $300,000, which is just unaffordable for most folks.”  Census data showed that the median price of a new home rose by 5.4% versus a year earlier.

Thursday's report follows a report earlier this week from the National Association of Realtors which showed a 2.6% increase in existing home sales in June -- the biggest rise in 8 months.

Olefson is optimistic overall on housing despite today’s news.  She says, “All our indicators are pointing in the right direction.  By the end of the year we’ll have home sales finishing at or below what our home sales were last year because we had a really slow year … but for the rest of this year we’ll see that pick up.”

Financing remains the core issue for the housing market, says Olefson. For example, new rules by the Federal Housing Administration make borrowing costs more cumbersome despite low interest rates.  She explains: “New (FHA) mortgage insurance requires the insurance be paid for the whole life of the loan … [when it]  should normally be tied to the risk [which] decreases over the life of the loan....  Mortgage insurance used to disappear, now is being charged for the whole life of the loan. It is putting a million and a half buyers out of the market.”

The FHA requires borrowers who put down 5% or less to pay an upfront fee of 1.75% and then 1.35% annually until the loan is paid off.  That can amount to tens of thousands of dollars in additional costs over the life of the loan. 

JPMorgan, the nation’s second largest mortgage issuer, said that it could stop making FHA loans,  eliminating a crucial financing source for borrowers.  

On the plus side for financing is that fact that housing prices are rising at a moderate clip. That's more desirable than the steep increases we have seen because it allows home prices to keep up with wage growth, says Olefson. “We can’t see prices go up more than wages are going up or we have a major affordability problem,” she says.  

But Olefson is concerned about inventory thwarting housing’s turnaround. She tells Yahoo Finance, "We have this lack of new homes being built. We should be seeing at least a million and a half homes a year. We’re seeing maybe 600k single family homes.”   

Homebuilders, however, seem happy with current low inventory levels. Builders' confidence rose in the latest reading in June, which also showed improved margins and higher prices.

Shibani Joshi is the creator of www.ShibaniOnTech.com and can be followed on Twitter @shibanijoshi