Monday, July 28, 2008

With No Nehemiah or Genesis for Homebuyers, What will Cause the First Domino to Fall?


Most people understand the concept of the domino effect on the real estate market. The starter homes must sell first so the owners of the starter home can move up to the next price level, which allows another home to sell and another; much like a child’s game of dominos.

Fortunately the real estate market has had continued to have a reasonable pool of first time buyers in the mix these past few months due to low interest rates, home prices and unique assistance programs. Early this year, the government gave the controversial but beneficial programs like Nehemiah and Genesis a reprieve. These seller funded non-profit organizations had been scheduled to be disbanded early in the year but were allowed to continue to fund first time buyers. These programs give buyers down payment assistance for FHA loans that require a 3% down. With additional assistance from the seller for closing costs, a first time buyer with a good job and credit score, is able to purchase a home without having to save up for a down payment.

The reprieve may be over. This weekend I read an alarming
news release from a Minnesota mortgage broker pointing out how the Mortgage Bailout Bill could slow the recovery of the real estate market. The senate version of the new mortgage bail out bill will put a stop to all programs offering down payment assistance. They will in essence remove the finger that starts the first domino to fall. First time buyers will again be required to save up for that down payment. With prices increasing everywhere from the corner grocery to the gas station down the street, it will be a daunting task to become a first time homebuyer.

I expect that like in the 1980’s and earlier, young people will start saving again for that first home as soon as they graduate either high school or college. But back in the decades of big hair, 8-tracks and parachute pants, homes were priced more reasonably. It was much easier to save up 3% of $60,000 ($2,000) for normal Minnesota starter home in 80's than it will be to save 3% of a $200,000 ($6000) for a starter home at today’s prices.

So whose finger will give the push that starts the domino’s chain reaction in today’s real estate market? Loans funded by the Veterans Administration? That is one possibility. VA loans have always been available to those who have served in the armed services as a way to homeownership with little or nothing down. It is a very good program that I anticipate we will be seeing more service men and women taking advantage of in the future. But those who have not served will be forced to save.

Bottom line is the mortgage bailout will save some homeowners from losing their homes but at what cost? Will it delay the recovery of the real estate market? Only time will tell.


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