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2010: Year Of The Turnaround?

A spurt in home sales in 2009, aided by low interest rates and the first-time homebuyer tax credit, has led some economists to forecast a turnaround in the housing market this year. Other forecasters feel this is too optimistic a projection.

Among those who see improvement in the 2010 market is Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Yun hopes that the extension of the first-time homebuyer tax credit will provide a new pool of buyers to absorb the additional foreclosures that will hit the market this year.

He expects existing-home sales to rise 13.6 percent in 2010; home prices should go up 3 to 5 percent, with wide geographic differences. The average rate on 30-year fixed mortgages will range from 5.3 percent in the first quarter to 5.8 percent by year end. This forecast assumes there will be no major economic surprises. The weak job market remains a concern.

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) has a slightly different take on the 2010 housing market. MBA predicts existing-home sales will increase approximately 11.2 percent. Interest rates should be about 5.6 percent by the end of 2010. The unemployment rate is expected to peak at 10.2 percent and gradually decline in 2011. National average home prices should stop sliding during the first part of the year and stabilize, depending on area and price range.

The November 2009 Economic and Housing Market Outlook from Freddie Mae expects there will be an increase in foreclosures and short sales this year, even though foreclosures declined significantly in some of the worst foreclosure markets (like Las Vegas) at the end of last year. RealtyTrac reported that foreclosures nationwide decreased 8 percent in November 2009., an online real estate marketplace, reported in December 2009 that stabilization and increased home prices were found in 48 of the 154 markets tracked. However, Zillow forecasts a decline in demand as interest rates rise. Foreclosures are expected to stay high and could challenge recent stabilization.

Some economists think prices will continue to decline in some areas through this year. Others feel that at best, the economic and housing recovery will be a bumpy ride. And, we could bounce along the bottom for some time. Few expect home prices to rebound quickly.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: There will be significant variation from one market to the next. Areas that have a good diversified economic base and limited inventory of homes for sale could stabilize in 2010 and see an improvement in home prices. Areas that are bloated with foreclosure and short-sale inventory and have a weak local economy probably won’t see a turnaround this year.

Credit tightening would put a damper on the market. On Dec. 12, 2009, Fannie Mae took steps to make mortgage qualification more difficult. A significant change is that the maximum allowable debt-to-income ratio is being lowered to 45 percent from up to 64 percent. This means that the housing cost plus all other debt can’t exceed 45 percent of the borrower’s income. Buyers with strong credit and assets have a chance of approval with a debt-to-income ratio of 50 percent.

2010 is not expected to be a banner year for housing. But it could be a year of improvement for some niche markets and some price ranges. Expect to see more purchase offers made contingent on the sale of the buyers’ home. Credit tightening has made it impossible for most buyers to qualify to own two homes at once.

There will likely be an increase in short-sale listings. Buyers have shied away from these listings in the past because they took so long to process, and were often denied by the lender. Lenders are now more open to approving short sales than they were a year ago.

Hopefully, they’ll improve their performance in 2010.