Opportunities, like good ideas, require action to become reality. Without action, opportunities are just pipe dreams.
Today's historic low housing prices and mortgage interest rates signify a rare opportunity that middle-class families seldom get: The chance to build wealth for the long term. But the current supply and demand imbalance in the housing market of a glut of mortgage-ready buyers and not enough housing to go around makes this era of "opportunity" a long shot for most.
Even worse, the dynamic of low supply will soon inflate housing prices and put them beyond the reach of working-class families, closing the window of opportunity for a generation.
How did we get here? And how could there be a shortage of housing with millions of foreclosures still in the system?
Follow the supply chain to the Federal Housing Finance Agency for the answer. When the agency moved to offload the glut of foreclosures in its pipeline through bulk sales to institutional investors, it set in motion a sequence of events that is now playing out in local real estate markets across the country. This put first-time homebuyers in a footrace with cash investors and created a competition they will never win.
Months of shopping for a home, multiple offers and losing bids have replaced the homebuyer experience which was once an exciting milestone. Buyers return to the sidelines in defeat and watch as cash investors, who require no appraisals on their all-cash offers, drive up housing prices.
The usual cycle of consumerism is interrupted even before it gets started. Investors fix to flip or rent, but the fluffing in no way matches the exuberant spending of new homeowners so the local economy gets short-changed. The ripple effect also reaches into the real estate community because agents have little product to sell, a fact that is exacerbated by the still frozen traditional sales market as existing homeowners wait for prices to rise.
Policy changed the rules of the game. When FHFA chose institutional investors over owner-occupant buyers, it enacted policy that undermines true recovery, especially in hardest hit communities.
Recently, my organization, the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals released the 2012 State of Hispanic Homeownership Report, a document that analyzes the rising influence of Hispanics in the housing market. The data points to trends in population growth, household formation, gains in jobs, income and education as variables that make Hispanics homeownership-ready and able to drive demand in the current first-time homebuyer market. Without question, this rising consumer segment – along with other first-time buyers – has the potential to drive demand for a healthy housing rebound.
The operative word here is potential.
The current unfriendly conditions described here, however, threaten the impact these new buyers can have on the housing market, recovering communities and the American economy. Without the right actions taken now to reverse the course we are now on, the opportunity for them will be nothing more than a pipe dream.
Make no mistake – the role of investors has helped shift the tide in housing and stabilize markets. Moderation is the key here. Investor participation in markets where there is no buyer demand is welcome and needed. But in markets where owner-occupants are lining up to buy, we are doing communities a disservice by welcoming investors when they have so much more to gain from owner occupants.
We are at a crossroads now. Do we make it possible for new owner-occupant buyers to heal foreclosure-stricken areas with a personal investment in their neighborhood's recovery? Or do we allow institutional investors to turn America into a renter society, neighborhood by neighborhood?
FHFA can help reverse this trend by making owner-occupant sales of foreclosures a stated priority now and by eliminating programs like REO-to-rental that channel properties exclusively to investors.
Our actions now bear long-term consequences for America, its economy and the new era of homebuyers. We have a moral obligation to our communities and the new generation of homebuyers to right the course we're on. Time is still on our side if we act now.
Gary Acosta is co-founder and CEO of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.