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That Light May Be a Train

At least one homebuilder is predicting doom and gloom:

"It would be difficult to characterize the position of home builders as other than in a hard landing," says Robert Toll, chief executive of luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc., which reported yesterday that net income fell 19% in the third quarter ended July 31. (See related article.)

In his 40 years as a home builder, Mr. Toll says, he has never seen a slump unfold like the current one. "I've never seen a downturn in housing without a downturn in employment or... some macroeconomic nasty condition that took housing down along with other elements of the economy," he says. "This time, you've got low unemployment, you've got job creation, you've got a stable stock market and relatively low interest rates."...

In much of the country, property markets began cooling rapidly in the second half of last year. Home builders were still turning out houses at a rapid clip, and the surge of new and previously occupied homes on the market convinced buyers there was no need to hurry. Over the past year, the number of previously occupied homes listed for sale nationwide has risen nearly 40%. In some metropolitan areas, including Orlando and Phoenix, the supply has quadrupled.

I never got that excited about the run-up in the price of my home, so I won't worry too much if it falls again.   For the average homeowner, the paper-price run-up of housing prices doesn't really have much meaning unless they are considering moving soon to a lower-home-price area or they are going to retire and downsize.  My house supposedly doubled in value in the last four years.  We went out shopping for a home in the area, and you know what?  All the other prices doubled too.  I could trade my current house for about the same house I could trade it for four years ago.  The only really beneficial effect was that the increase in home equity made for useful collateral in a business loan I took out.

Of course, the home speculators may take a bath - there are several latecomers to the speculation / spec home business in my neighborhood who are holding houses that won't sell for the huge prices they are asking.  I posted that this was coming over a year ago, using a model for contrarian investing I learned at the Harvard Business School:  Do the opposite of what doctors and dentists are doing.

Posted on August 24, 2006 at 10:17 AM | Permalink

Comments

I sent that last link to my husband, a doctor. :) We were talking about an investment a group of doctors are making, and I pointed out to him that doctors are about the stupidest investors there are. They have absolutely no brain for business, and that's why the insurance companies are running the health care show right now. They're just now getting wise to the fact that they shouldn't be signing every health care contract that comes across their desk. I also think that as a group, they are more trusting of business deals and contracts. I really don't know why. For example, they don't realize that a proposed contract is just a PROPOSED contract, and they can make a counter-proposal if they want. Nope, they just sign away, thinking they can't make changes to any of the terms as written.

Maybe they just have more money to lose than the average folks.

Posted by: Anna | Aug 24, 2006 11:31:02 AM

Many, many Americans used the increased "value" of their homes to take out HELOCs. Not to improve their homes or start a business, but to keep their life style going.
The Home ATM is closed and many more homeowners will suffer than you think.

Posted by: edhopper | Aug 24, 2006 12:05:33 PM

The reason he's never seen a slump like "this one" is that this one isn't a slump...just a return to sanity. The markets that are cooling now are the ones that have been _insanely_ overheated for years. Whereas the markets that didn't explode in the housing bubble aren't burning now.

People still need to live somewhere. The demand for housing will never go away. It's only the folks so stupid they actually built plans around their houses doubling in value every couple of years _indefinitely_ that will suffer from this.

Posted by: Matt | Aug 25, 2006 2:09:47 AM

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