When the question is "how will the current home lending meltdown affect the housing market in Seattle," the answer depends on who you ask. For instance, if you ask #1 Seattle real estate cheerleader Elizabeth Rhodes, the answer is something to the effect of: "Seattle is special. Don't worry your pretty little head about it."
Q: Local real-estate experts keep saying Seattle's housing market will stay strong because the local economy is strong. But I think all the subprime loans going bad will mean a lot more houses on the market and prices here will sink. Why don't you report that?Those are certainly some convincing statistics Ms. Rhodes has pulled out. Unfortunately, she still employs her mad misdirection skillz in composing the answer. The reader didn't ask "how does Seattle's rate of subprime mortgages compare to other cities?" Nor did they say "the subprime lending implosion is already affecting Seattle." Rather, they pointed out the high likelihood that the subprime mess will adversely affect Seattle's housing market. Granted, it may not affect Seattle as much as other areas with higher percentages of subprime loans, but there is no reason to believe that it will not have any affect.
A: Let's start with an interesting fact from Douglas Duncan, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association: More than one-third of all homeowners have paid off their mortgages (or paid cash). This significantly decreases the potential for overall risk.
However, the growing crisis in the subprime mortgage industry, fueled by an increasing number of mortgage defaults, is real.
How much of an effect it may have is very location-sensitive, said Bob Visini, a spokesman for LoanPerformance, a California company that tracks nationwide mortgage activity.
The Seattle/Bellevue/Everett area "is exposed," but way down the list, Visini said.
The Seattle area is in the bottom 20 percent for subprime mortgages among 331 major metropolitan areas — far below other parts of the country, particularly parts of Texas and California's Central Valley where subprime accounts for nearly a fifth or more of all mortgages. At the top of the list was McAllen, Texas, where some 26 percent of loans are subprime.
By comparison, only 7.9 percent of all Seattle-area mortgages were subprime at the end of 2006 (ranking 278th out of 331), down from 8.7 percent the previous year.
And only a fraction of those loans were in trouble — some 7.6 percent at the end of 2006 were 60 days late or more, a sign foreclosure is looming. This put Seattle in the bottom 10 percent.
On the other side of the media spectrum, ask Mike Benbow of the Everett Herald the same question, and he might say: "Foreclosures are already on the rise, and will likely increase. If the country heads into a recession, the housing market will almost certainly suffer even more."
Others are using risky loans, such as those where they're paying only interest for a while, to get into homes they can't afford. That can only lead to trouble.Wow, it's refreshing to read something that honest in the media once in a while. Foreclosures up 41 percent in King County? Funny, I must have missed the article in the Times where Ms. Rhodes covered that. I thought our housing market was the picture of perfect health. How could foreclosures be rising so quickly? Hmm.
In fact, it already has.
A recent article in the Puget Sound Business Journal quoted RealtyTrac Inc. as saying there were 2,377 foreclosures on homes in Snohomish County last year, a 35 percent increase over 2005.
That was lower than King County, where foreclosures rose 41 percent, and Pierce County, which showed a 58 percent hike. But it was higher that the 25 percent increase for the state as a whole.
Such a sharp increase in foreclosures tells us there are problems in the industry.
A local or national recession could trigger even more.
What am I trying to say here?
I guess that a rising local economy has kept the housing market relatively strong locally, but that things could change rapidly if economic circumstances change. Now, more than ever, home buyers should be careful about the types of loans they're using and not expect home appreciation to bail them out of a purchase they never should have made.
(Elizabeth Rhodes, Seattle Times, 03.17.2007)
(Mike Benbow, Everett Herald, 03.19.2007)