A rash of better-than-expected housing data in the first half of the year has some economists and analysts saying that the home sector has hit bottom and that a recovery is not far away. However, we have heard this before, and so far the road has been uneven, at best.
Former FDIC chair Sheila Bair is among those who’s only “cautiously optimistic” that housing is on the mend.
“I think it is slowly healing,” says Bair who is now a senior adviser at Pew Charitable Trusts. “[But] we are not out of the woods yet. I think there is a risk of a double-dip in housing.”
While housing starts and home sales have improved, the rate of home foreclosures has picked up again. In the first half of 2012 more than 1 million properties were in foreclosure, up 2 percent from the previous six months, according to RealtyTrac’s mid-year report Thursday. In the first quarter, foreclosure starts were up for the first time since 2009.
“These properties that are starting the foreclosure process are mostly homeowners who likely have been missing their payments for a year or more and just now are officially starting the foreclosure process,” says Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.
Banks held off foreclosure processing until the knew the outcome of The National Mortgage Settlement that culminated in February, which explains the recent increase in foreclosures.
In the accompanying interview, Bair notes that mortgage delinquencies are actually on the downtrend. Homeowners at least 30 days late on their mortgage payment dropped in the first quarter of the year to 7.4 percent compared to 7.6 percent the previous quarter, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The industry trade group estimates that 3 million homes are behind on their mortgage payments.
During her time at the helm of the FDIC, Bair was one of the first to warn about a potential mortgage meltdown. In the year since, she’s been very critical of President Obama’s handling of the housing crisis. She even has chided Obama’s administration for trying to fix the problem “on the cheap.”
To date, 13 million homeowners are underwater on their mortgage and more likely to be at risk of falling behind on payments.
Bair tells Aaron the best thing for housing right now is not additional programs, but to simplify and streamline the process for borrowers who no longer afford to live in their homes. The federal government currently has a mix of 14 various relief programs for homeowners — an alphabet soup of programs run by a handful of different agencies.