$6.5 Trillion Lost, One House at a Time (May 10, 2011)
The $6.5 trillion lost in the bursting of the housing bubble is not a "paper loss," it is tragically real.
Is anyone surprised that housing continues to slide? According to this report, Home Market Takes a Tumble: Turnaround More Distant After 3% Drop, Steepest Quarterly Decline Since 2008, housing has declined in value for 57 straight months, almost 5 years.
Since the housing bubble topped in most areas in 2006, and it's now 2011, that makes sense: 2006 + 5 = 2011.
American homeowners have lost $6.5 trillion in equity in those 57 months. Here is the data from the Fed Flow of Funds household balance sheet:
Net decline: $6.5 trillion
That is a big number, and the analysis I presented in The Housing Bubble Broke the Middle Class (April 27, 2011) suggested that this $6.5 trillion was roughly half of the middle class's total net assets.
It's difficult to grasp such large numbers, so let's look at some actual houses. The sales price of houses is public record, and more or less at random, here is a selection of recent home sales here in Northern California. I purposefully selected sales from a spectrum of neighborhoods ranging from working-class to very desirable, exclusive suburbs (the price will telegraph the property's desirability).
The key point here is that these catastrophic losses are taken by someone: either the homeowner, the lender, or the taxpayer. The gains were paper, but the losses are real. That is the ongoing tragedy of the housing bubble.
1. Recent sale: $820,000
Even if owner put down 30%, their equity was wiped out.
Nationally, prices have round-tripped to 2003, but that masks the reality that
in many locales, prices have returned to 1998 or even lower.
5. Recent sale: $650,000
If you add up the losses from just these four homes purchased in the bubble era,
the loss exceeds $1.5 million. That is a staggering loss from only four homes.
Now multiple that by hundreds of thousands of homes.
6. Recent sale: $85,000
Sadly, the subprime mortgage fraud enabled the "dream" of effortless profits from
owning and churning real estate to filter down to even marginal areas. The bubble
put real estate out of reach of qualified moderate-income buyers, and yet it was
touted as a wonderful "innovation." It was certainly wonderful for Wall Street
and those who originated the embezzlement-special mortgages, but less so for the
taxpayers who were handed the bill to save the "too big to fail" banks and investment
This is interesting because it offers an example of the pernicious effects of even "low" inflation. As we are constantly reminded, the U.S. has been in a "low inflation" environment for decades. This is of course a key part of the propaganda campaign to mask the severe erosion in wages' purchasing power.
On the face of it, the home seller pocketed a hefty profit of $65,500. But let's factor in commission and inflation. The transaction costs (commission, closing, transfer fees, etc.) are typically around 7%, so the actual net capital gains would be around $47,500, not $65,500.
According to the BLS inflation calculator, which likely underestimates "real" inflation, it now takes $270,000 to buy what $190,000 bought in 1996.
So the owner actually lost purchasing power in owning this house for 15 years. Minus commission and closing costs, the proceeds were around $237,000, which is about $33,000 less than the inflation-adjusted break-even point of $270,000.
Yes, there is the mortgage deduction and tax breaks to factor in, but considered strictly as an investment, the nominal and real gains in real estate still matter.
Put another way: a house purchased in 1996 for $100,000 has to be worth $142,000 today just to keep up with inflation. Factoring in transactions costs, then the house would have to be sold for roughly $152,000 for the owner to extract $142,000--the sum needed to simply maintain purchasing power.
In other words, a house that rose 50% over the past 15 years has simply kept pace with inflation. The nominal "gain" is utterly illusory.
SEED SALE: Seed prices are set to rise, along with many other essentials. Now is a good time
to get whatever you need for this year's planting: Spring Special: 10% off Everlasting Seeds.
Of Two Minds Kindle edition: Of Two Minds blog-Kindle
"This guy is THE leading visionary on reality.
He routinely discusses things which no one else has talked about, yet,
turn out to be quite relevant months later."
NOTE: contributions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Or send him coins, stamps or quatloos via mail--please request P.O. Box address.
Subscribers ($5/mo) and contributors of $50 or more this year will receive a weekly email of exclusive (though not necessarily coherent) musings and amusings, and an offer of a small token of my appreciation: a signed copy of a novel or Survival+ (either work admirably as doorstops).
At readers' request, there is also a $10/month option.
The "unsubscribe" link is for when you find the usual drivel here insufferable.
All content, HTML coding, format design, design elements and images copyright © 2011 Charles Hugh Smith, All rights reserved in all media, unless otherwise credited or noted.
I would be honored if you linked this essay to your site, or printed a copy for your own use.
|Survival+||blog fiction/novels articles my hidden history books/films what's for dinner||home email me|