The 4 Big Challenges Housing Faces in the Coming Years


Housing has made definite progress the last couple of years, but what hurdles remain for the industry?

There’s little doubt that the U.S. housing market has made notable improvements in recent years. For instance, delinquent mortgages are down nearly 50 percent from 2010; negative equity has fallen by more than 37 percent; and distressed sales have declined from 40 percent of the existing-home sales market to just 11 percent.

Yet, there remain some notable structural issues that housing will have to work through to reach the promised land, and the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University recently profiled several of them in its latest report.

1. The Financial Crunch – Thanks to double-digit increases in home prices and sudden jerks in interest rates, homeownership has become more expensive in an awfully short span of time. Consider this: in just a single year, according to the Joint Center’s report, the average monthly payment on a median-priced home jumped 23 percent, while mortgage insurance premiums have increased on borrowers going the FHA route. Though home price gains will most definitely slow through 2014 and 2015, the days of absurdly affordable housing are likely behind us.

2. Stagnating Incomes – Further complicating the financial crunch is falling incomes. Between 2007 and 2012, real median household incomes fell 8 percent for Americans aged 25 to 34, and 7 percent for those aged 35 to 44. Unsurprisingly, homeownership rates for those groups have historically mirrored changes in income, so the question now is whether incomes in the coming years will recover enough to bring housing with them.

3. Student Loan Bliss – We cover student loans quite often, and for good reason. The numbers really are something: between 2001 and 2010, the share of households aged 25 to 34 with student debt rose from 26 percent to 39 percent; the median amount of student debt in those households rose from $10,000 to $15,000; and within that group, the share with at least $50,000 in student debt more than tripled from 5 percent to 16 percent. Suffice to say, such numbers will have bearing on the financial decisions one makes.

4. The Eternal Mortgage Challenge – We’re reported on a number of occasions that lending standards remain high, and in its report, the Joint Center offered further confirmation of that. From 2007 to 2013, for instance, the average credit scores on Fannie Mae-backed mortgages rose from 694 to 751, while FHA-backed loans rose from 640 to 693 (an increase that not only ended lending to consumers with credit scores 620 or under, but drove many other qualified buyers to the FHA’s ranks). As the Joint Center phrased it,  “While some lenders have announced that they are ready to relax underwriting standards, it is too soon to tell how large an impact this will have. An easing of credit constraints will be one of the most important determinants of how strongly the national homeownership rate rebounds in the coming years.”

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