Even before the sunset of the first-time home buyer tax credit, home builders already are feeling the effect of its expiration as sales and traffic have begun to slow. Most builders halted pre-sales in August as the deadline from sale to start to completion could no longer be met by Nov. 30. Only spec homes capable of closing by that date are still eligible, and the supply is dwindling. Many Realtors and tax credit-eligible buyers have abandoned new homes for resales to ensure closing in time to take advantage of the program.
As Congress' fall session gets under way, extending and expanding the federal tax credit will be on the agenda. Still, the health care debate dominates headlines and bandwidth. Neither side seems apt to back down on that issue.
A second major headline centers on job loss and unemployment. In August, 216,000 non-farm jobs were lost, down from 276,000 in July. Still, unemployment rates continue to rise from about 8 percent at the end of 2008 to 9.7 percent in August.
The NAHB, which asserts that “housing is central to the economic crisis,” says the “U.S. economy has lost over 6 million jobs—1 million jobs in housing, construction, and related fields alone.”
While the first wave of foreclosures was a result of subprime lending and speculation, the current wave springs from job loss and unemployment. The president and Congress need to turn their attention to jobs.
NAHB recommends that Congress extend the home buyer tax credit through Nov. 30, 2010, expand it to all buyers of principal residences, and maintain the $8,000 maximum tax credit. If Congress were to enact NAHB's recommendation, NAHB estimates 383,000 incremental homes will be purchased; housing starts will increase by 82,000; and 347,000 jobs will be created.
It's not only jobs, but the impact of job growth on demand for housing, home prices, and foreclosures. The number of homes in foreclosure is quickly approaching 2 million. Home prices have fallen dramatically from the peak. The S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index is down 31 percent across its 20 metropolitan markets. Housing starts, while beginning to move off cyclical lows of 357,000, were 490,000 in July, but still 73 percent below January 2006's 1.8 million level.
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) estimates that in 2009, 1.8 million to 2 million buyers will qualify as first-time buyers and take advantage of the tax credit. Of these sales, NAR estimates 350,000 incremental sales as a result of the tax credit.
The Deutsche Bank report “Global Economics Perspectives” states: “While the housing recovery will be sustained in the longer term, we think it is unlikely that activity will continue to improve at its recent pace. ... First, the tax credit for the first-time home buyers is slated to end Dec. 1, 2009, and there could be some negative payback for home purchasers that were accelerated by the program.”
While the growing federal deficit should be of great concern, strengthening the housing industry would drive multiple benefits.
Without taking sides on the health care debate, this debate is overshadowing discussion about job creation and housing. Each of us should take responsibility for moving the focus back to job creation and housing. Contact your local, state, and federally elected officials. Don't wait for others to do so. If we do nothing, 2010 will be longer and more difficult not only for home builders, but homeowners, the unemployed, and financial institutions as well.
Jamie M. Pirrello is CEO and president of Berkeley-Columbia Partners and acts as CFO and San Antonio division president of Michael Sivage Homes & Communities. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.