Surmountable mortgage mess

I’ve been watching the housing and mortgage markets with great interest for years.

When working for my former employer (2002-2005), I watched (but didn’t follow) as he doubled- and tripled-down on investments associated with the housing market.  As his employee, I worked hard, struggling to understand the individual investments, but never fully got my arms around them.  I knew enough to be very cautious, but that was all. 

Now, after watching the boom and bust over the last decade, I believe I have a much better understanding of how the housing, mortgage and financial markets work (or don’t work) together.  I’ve watched, researched, studied, invested and blogged on the subject over the last six years (my blogs from the spring, summer and fall of 2007 are particularly revealing of my concerns). 

So, it was with great interest that I read an article in the Wall Street Journal today, The Mortgage Hangover.  I highly recommend it to anyone who sincerely wants to understand the boom and bust of the housing and mortgage markets over the last decade (and not just looking for evidence to confirm one’s conclusions beforehand).  The article is not perfect, but it does a great job of highlighting many of the important details.

Specifically, it describes how the mortgage market was distorted over the last decade in the Bronx.  You may think that Bronx real estate has nothing to do with Florida, Nevada, California or Colorado real estate, but it does.  In fact, I believe it represents a microcosm of all U.S. real estate.

The problem started with well-meaning politicians who wanted everyone to have a home.  That problem was exploited by real estate and finance workers who were heavily incentivized to take things to the brink (which was the inevitable result of bad policy).  When those problems led to collapse, the same well-meaning politicians tried to prevent the resultant suffering.  Once again, those efforts are creating new problems instead of solutions.

The good news is that the mortgage and housing problems can be fixed.  It requires that housing and mortgage markets be allowed to reach clearing prices (where free buyers and sellers agree to exchange without any distorting incentives from politicians).  When that happens, housing and mortgage markets can begin growth afresh. 

I’m not saying the process will be pretty, but it will happen.  The destination will be the same no matter how well-meaning those who disagree.  The only question, now, is how quickly or slowly we get there.  Policy can impact the duration of the pain, not its intensity.

The bad news is that politicians and voters are unlikely to take the fast approach.  This is unfortunate, because U.S. economic and employment growth are unlikely to recover until the housing market recovers.  The longer we put off clearing prices in the housing and mortgage markets, the longer until employment and our economy truly improves. 

Mortgage and housing markets need not wallow in freakish misery.  Recovery, both for those markets and the U.S. economy, could start soon.  But, with continued meddling in housing and mortgages, recovery will take much longer and be much less robust.  It’s time to face the inevitable, hold our noses, and take our medicine.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Surmountable mortgage mess