On Nov. 6, NAHB issued a press release calling for a new stimulus plan to encourage consumers to buy homes. Included in the proposal are a 10% tax credit with no repayment provision up to $22,000, depending on an area's FHA loan limit, that would replace the existing $7,500 credit with repayment provision; and an interest-rate buydown on conforming 30-year fixed rate loans to 2.99% for homes purchased through June 30, 2009, and 3.99% for contracts closed between July 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2009. In response, Big Builder set out to test the waters of its readers' reactions.
They remain, for the most part, straddled somewhere between cautious optimism and pragmatism, with 28% of respondents believing it is somewhat likely that Congress will enact such legislation, while 32% felt that it was somewhat unlikely or remained unsure, respectively. A mere 4% thought the passage of such legislation was highly likely and highly unlikely, respectively.
"I would certainly like to see this happen," noted one respondent. "My faith in the Fed is waning quickly based on previous performance. The problem started with the housing industry, and the repairs need to start there as well. I think the home builders and stockholders need to accept their portion of the problem: Greed."
One respondent said such a measure would be unlikely to pass "because NAHB has been ineffective in getting the message across," while others felt there were too many other industries already in line for a bailout.
Yet that's not to say that builders aren't supportive of the proposal, by and large; 68% of respondents said they were in favor of NAHB and Fix Housing First's proposed stimulus package. "These are dire times for the industry, and we need to do something more than talk," said one respondent. "If this is the best we can come up with on short notice, I am for it."
Said another, "Those of us who are small contractors (family owned), we are devastated, too. The larger builders may hang on, but who is going to bail us out? Our reserves are gone after 24 months of declining sales and rock bottom profits. This is the saddest thing I have seen in 30-plus years of being in the industry, other than in Houston, Texas, in the early 1980s. Now here I am in Tampa, Fla., going through the pain all over again."
Meanwhile, 28% said they were not in favor of the proposal, and 4% were unconvinced either way.
As one particularly vocal opponent put it, "The idea is great for builders, but terrible for the U.S. taxpayer. I could not support such a measure and still call myself an American. If we want to sell homes, we need to adjust prices or get out of the market. Let's not take down our country and compromise the future of our children to sell a few homes. Setting an artificial floor on home values will only prolong this downturn."
When asked if they felt this stimulus plan, if enacted, would help to put a floor on home prices and move inventory, results were similar, with 60% saying yes, 24% saying no, and 16% remaining unsure.
"It may help [put a floor on home prices], but it does nothing to address the fact that most Americans have no savings," noted one respondent. "To really move more inventory, we need to find a way to sensibly get the [seller-funded] down payment assistance programs back."
Still, another respondent felt that such a stimulus could serve to worsen the housing downturn, rather than improve it: "This appears to be similar to the 'fuel' that got us into this mess. I'd like to end it, not extend it."
When asked how much farther they believed housing prices needed to fall in order to spur recovery, responses ranged all over the map from "not at all" to 20%. There appeared to be at least some consensus that markets such as California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida remain significantly overpriced. But ultimately, it boils down to housing prices and mortgage payments that are in line with wages.
"The only way housing prices can stabilize is if we get back to a realistic figure on how much of household income people can pay for housing," explained one respondent. "Of course, if more companies would focus on paying their workers, not their CEOs, a decent wage, then housing prices could rise."