Wednesday, June 24, 2009

U.S. Home Prices Drop Again as Concern Over Appraisals Grows

According to home prices this country fell another 6.8 percent across the country last month. As many experts have predicted, the ongoing rise in foreclosures and increasing unemployment rates are stalling the recovery of the U.S. real estate industry.

Measured monthly, the average price fell 0.1 percent from March, the Federal Housing Finance Agency in Washington said today. The number was projected to drop 0.4 percent in April, according to the median forecast of 15 economists in a Bloomberg survey.

The housing slump has reduced the median price of an existing home 26 percent from the July 2006 peak, pushing affordability to near record levels. Prospective buyers are now being constrained by rising mortgage rates, the highest unemployment since 1983 and concern the housing rebound will be anemic.

While U.S. builders increased housing starts by 17 percent in May to an annual rate of 532,000, a May 26 report from S&P/Case-Shiller showed home prices in 20 U.S. metropolitan areas fell 18.7 percent in March from the same month last year.

On a related note, another recent Bloomberg article also reported that home price recovery may be undermined by appraisals.

Flawed appraisals are derailing real estate sales and depressing values across the U.S., the National Association of Realtors said yesterday as it reported that existing home prices declined again.

“It’s pointing to thousands of delayed or canceled transactions,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist of the Chicago- based Realtors group, said in an interview. “We’ve had a massive inundation from members saying this is a big problem.”

Appraisal rules that went into effect on May 1 require lenders that sell loans to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to set up a firewall between appraisers and loan officers to prevent improper influence. The rules are the result of an agreement between the mortgage buyers and New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who said an investigation found appraisers inflated values under pressure from lenders.

The agreement mandates that banks order a second appraisal on 10 percent of the loans they sell to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and warns against accepting the higher of any two valuations. The guidelines have led to more conservative valuations by many appraisers and a “chill” in lending, according to John Brennan, research director at the Appraisal Foundation, a Washington-based trade group. A low appraisal is one that comes in under the price a prospective buyer has agreed to pay for a property.

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