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Monday, August 30, 2010

Lawler: HUD Secretary May Have Just Made Near-Term Home Sales Worse

by Calculated Risk on 8/30/2010 04:53:00 PM

CR Note: Here are economist Tom Lawler's thoughts on HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan comments this weekend ...

In an interview with CNN over the weekend, HUD Secretary Donovan noted that the July plunge in home sales following the end of the federal home buyer tax credit was much sharper than the administration expected; that the administration was “very concerned,” and would “do everything we can” to stabilize the shaky housing market. While he said that “it's too early to say after one month of numbers whether the tax credit will be revived or not,” he also said that "we're going to be focused like a laser on where the housing market is moving going forward, and we are going to go everywhere we can to make sure this market stabilizes and recovers."

Many folks appear to have interpreted Donovan’s remarks as meaning that the administration has not “ruled out” reviving the home buyer tax credit if home sale continue to be weaker than expected, thus confirming some potential home buyers’ views that it’s better to wait to buy a home until the government “does it again.” While follow-ups by CNBC got a comment from a HUD spokesperson that there was “(n)o news here … there are no discussions underway to revive the credit,” in fact to some potential home buyers there was in fact news: the administration’s housing spokesperson said that if housing remains weak, the administration may revive the federal home buyer tax credit!!! CNBC even speculated that the next one might include a credit not just for “first time/move-up (sic) buyers, but a credit for buyers purchasing foreclosed properties or short sales” as well (though CNBC gave no supporting evidence for such a move, and I’m guessing they “made this up.”).

As best as I can tell Secretary Donovan was in New Orleans giving interviews on the “Katrina” anniversary, but CNN’s reporter focused first on housing and the possibility of a “double dip.” and Donovan appeared to be “winging it.”

Nevertheless, Donovan’s comments, and the press reports that followed, could well lead many a prospective home buyer to hold off on buying a home because another tax credit might be coming – which, of course, would lead to weaker than otherwise home sales, which Donovan implied might lead the administration to consider reviving the home buyer tax credit!!!!!! A few realtors and home builders have noted that a few potential buyers have already been citing the possibility of a “revival” of the tax credit as a reason for them “holding off” buying now.

The home buyer tax credit, of course, was an enormously costly and inefficient program where many home buyers who would have purchased a home anyway got a tax credit for doing so. Estimates vary, but the 2009-2010 tax credits probably will “cost” the government in terms of lost revenue somewhere in the neighbor of $26-28 billion. While to some that might not seem like “a lot,” it’s about equal to the combined SF REO carrying value of Fannie, Freddie, and FHA (the latter of which I am estimating)!!! Imagine if the government, rather than enacting yet another costly and ineffective tax credit, instead spent a fraction of the probable cost on more effective REO management, including perhaps a program to rehab and rent out such properties instead of “dumping ‘em” on the market!

Already there are news headlines along the lines of “Homebuyer Tax Credit Back in Play?,” “Another Home Buyer Tax Credit?, and “A Revival of the Homebuyer Tax Credit?,” and right after Donovan’s interview two (whacky) Florida Senate candidates both said they would heartily support a home buyer tax credit “revival.”

If in fact there is “no news here” – and good God I hope administration officials realize that giving potential home buyers the notion that a home buyer tax credit MIGHT be revived will absolutely and unequivocally depress home sales over the next several months – the administration should have Donovan or another HUD spokesperson explicitly state that there is no plan to revive the home buyer tax credit in the foreseeable future – and they should do this SOON!!!!

CR Note: This was from economist Tom Lawler.