How scared should investors be that we're headed for another real estate crash as we approach the 10-year anniversary of the infamous 2006-2007 housing bubble? Not at all.
Although buyers are paying spectacular prices for commercial properties and trophy homes, just as they did then, this time price increases are being fueled by foreign investors seeking diversification and a haven for their funds, as well as investors on the hunt for a low interest-rate environment. Real estate is still a favorite life raft for nervous investors, who are seeking safety amid market volatility.
This has led to record real estate prices, which some have interpreted as a sign that the U.S. real estate market is once again climbing into bubble territory and headed for another crash. But a repeat of the 2009 real estate implosion that followed the collapse of the equities market in 2008 is highly unlikely this time.
Here are the top 10 reasons why:
1. Most Americans Have Refinanced to Fixed Rate Loans
Most Americans who could refinance to a fixed-rate mortgage have already done it. As a result, the impact of interest-rate shock when short-term ARMs readjust will be minor, compared with what happened in 2008-2009. During that period, many Americans could no longer afford their new mortgage payments and defaulted.
2. Bank Repossessions are Flushing Out Old Distress
Bank repossessions recently rose to the highest levels in more than two years, signaling that banks are dealing with properties in default and flushing out old distress, rather than ingesting more.
3. Loans in Foreclosure Are at the Lowest Level Since 2007
Despite an increase in bank repossessions, the percentage of loans in foreclosure nationwide is just 2.1% -- the lowest level since 2007, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
4. There's Less Risk of a New Mortgage Bubble
The market is no longer fueled by a surge in new housing loans based on loose credit standards. Tighter requirements for loan approvals that followed the 2009 mortgage meltdown reduced the number of foreclosures nationwide to a 10-year low. This tempers the number of real estate bubbles that can pop and, if the market slows down, there may be a contraction, rather than a pop.
5. Interest Rates Are Likely to Remain Low for the Foreseeable Future
The likelihood the Federal Reserve will raise key interest rates recently lessened, following the economic disruption coming out of China. As a result of recent market volatility around the globe, rates have not climbed as expected and the risk of higher rates has diminished for the foreseeable future. It's also important to mention that China's slowdown could also positively impact U.S. property values, as global funds seek relative stability in the U.S. real estate market.
6. First-Time Buyer Assistance Programs are Luring New Buyers into the Market
New initiatives have been put in place to assist prospective first-time home buyers. At the beginning of 2015, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) moved to reduce annual mortgage insurance premiums by up to $900 per year. This move could push home sales up to 5.6 million -- the most seen since 2006- and it could introduce as many as 140,000 new buyers to the market, according to the National Association of Realtors. The FHA's program aims to transition millennials and others from renting to owning a home.
7. Job Creation Indicates the Economy is Getting Stronger
The United States has added jobs at a steady rate over the past five years, and many of the jobs that were lost during the recession have been brought back. Additionally, the quality of jobs being created has improved as the economy has recovered.
8. Average Residential Home Prices Have Risen at a Slow, Steady Pace
Unlike the high-end, luxury market, prices for average residential homes have risen at a slow, steady pace. According to the S&P/Case-Shiller Composite 10-Home Price Index, residential home prices remained 15 percent below their April 2006 peak as of July 2015.
9. New-Home Construction Has Not Recovered from the Downturn
The supply of existing homes for sale today is lower than it was in 2000, although the population has grown more than 14%. New, single-family starts are 60% below the 2006 peak and roughly 25% below the average for the past 15 years.
10. Commercial Real Estate Remains Below Peak Levels
Commercial real-estate fundamentals are similarly healthy, and although commercial real estate prices have increased steadily since the crash, they still remain below peak levels. Vacancy rates are at or near all-time lows for apartments and warehouses, and are at their lowest post-crisis point for office and retail properties. Commercial real-estate development also remains more than 25% below its pre-recession peak, which has led to improved property fundamentals, with both occupancy rates and rents rising.
Although recent news headlines may be reminiscent of the bubble era, the fundamental conditions that led to the crash have diminished. The real-estate market today has a stronger foundation than it did in 2006, thanks to more disciplined and conservative credit underwriting of debt and a market that is much healthier than it has been at any point during the past decade.
Nearly 10 years after the bubble began, the message to investors is clear: Rest assured you are looking at a chastened and more disciplined market in which to participate -- not another looming bubble.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor.