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Fear and Greed Return to the Housing Market

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The housing market has been credited as a positive influence for the U.S. economy so far in 2013. Sales of existing homes have been on the rise, as have housing starts and new-home sales. Inventories of homes for sale have been limited and home prices have been on the rise.

I view this housing recovery as kind of an anomaly, as it has been fueled by cash buyers mostly from overseas, and by institutional investors buying blocks of homes and converting then to rental properties. In addition, the big banks have become greedy, paying more than appraised value for distressed properties and withholding their Other Real Estate Owned from the market, betting that home prices will continue to rise. This could become a different type of housing bubble, with home owners and potential buyers on Main Street shut out of the opportunity to own the home of their dreams.

Fannie Mae data show that their real estate owned totals 101,449 single-family foreclosed properties at the end of March. REO peaked at 162,489 at the end of 2010 and was at 105,666 at the end of 2012. This shows that the release of REO properties has slowed. Fannie Mae absorbs the cost of property taxes, hazard insurance and legal fees while delinquent loans remain in the foreclosure process.

Other Real Estate Owned (OREO) among the FDIC-insured financial institutions peaked at $53.2 billion in the third quarter of 2010. The decline in this asset class slowed to just $2.6 billion in the first quarter of 2013 to $35.9 billion, which is still up 195.5% since the end of 2007. This slowing of the liquidation of OREO plus the elevated level is a clear sign of greed in the banking system and housing market.

Housing affordability is getting challenged as home prices and mortgage rates rise. The new jobs that have been created in this economy have lower incomes than the jobs lost during the recession.

The fear component comes from Main Street USA. Home owners who want to sell their homes have their fingers crossed that home prices will rise enough to pull out from being underwater. Home buyers fear being outbid by investors just as they feared the flippers during the years the housing bubble inflated.
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