September 23, 2014
The Washington Post gave us the ostensibly bad news that home sales were down slightly in August. It later uses as a point of reference the number of mortgages issued in 2001. The housing market had already entered its bubble phase in 2001 with house prices running well above trend levels. If we compare total sales (new and existing homes) with sales in the pre-bubble years 1993-1995, they would actually be somewhat higher today, even after adjusting for population growth.
While there may be an issue of many people being unable to qualify for mortgages because of their credit history, this does not appear to be having a negative effect on the state of market. Prices are already about 20 percent above their trend levels.
It also is not clear that all of the people being denied mortgages are being harmed. Because of the weak labor market, workers often have to move to find or keep jobs. There are large transactions costs associated with buying and selling a home. These average around 10 percent of the purchase price. If a person can’t expect to stay in a home for at least five years they will likely lose by buying rather than renting. it is especially likely they will lose in a context where higher future interest rates, which are almost universally predicted, will put downward pressure on house prices. It is worth noting that many of the people pushing homeownership today were also pushing it as the housing bubble was reaching its peaks in the years 2005-2007.