2009 will go down in history as the worst year for housing production since World War II, when the nation purposely diverted resources from building homes toward the war effort. But builders may remember 2009 as much for events stemming from unprecedented government efforts to prop up housing starts and homeowner efforts to fight off the pernicious forces of unemployment and foreclosure.
Optimists among us may also remember 2009 as a year of rebirth. After hitting bottom during the winter months, and sending economists to dust off old stats in an attempt to figure out when times were last this bad, new home starts and sales steadily recovered throughout the year. From January through October, housing starts were on a steady march, increasing 31 percent, a rate that most housing economists expect to accelerate next year.
Much of the increased activity probably would not have happened without a series of government initiatives. Though officially announced in 2008, the Federal Reserve Board bought hundreds of billions of mortgage-backed securities throughout the year to keep up a flow of mortgage money. As lenders hemorrhaged red ink, the FHA and other government agencies stepped up big time to insure or write mortgages on half the new homes sold in this country, by some estimates.
Moreover, Congress replaced a largely ineffective, $7,500 loan program for home buyers with an $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers that was available through November. The tax credit worked some magic, stimulating sales throughout the country. Home building slowed, though, once time ran out to qualify for the credit. Thankfully, lawmakers extended the credit through April 2010 for signed contracts and created a new $6,500 credit for repeat buyers to boot.
Despite the government's efforts, 2009 was a year of great hardship. Unemployment rose to 10.2% as companies downsized. A record number of households lost their homes to foreclosure, despite government and bank efforts to stem the tide. And an unusual out-of-court agreement between one politician and the secondary mortgage market giants resulted in a new appraisal system that gave builders fits.
Negative economic forces accelerated the stress in the home building ranks, busting dozens of former leading players. A growing number of builders that had once completed 100 or more homes a year filed for bankruptcy, liquidated, or simply closed their doors. Bankruptcies grew even though after three years of housing recession far fewer builders were around to go under.
Given how many important events shaped home building this year, it wasn't easy to select the top 10 stories. The inability to complete The New American Home 2010 due to financing difficulties, an event that drew national media attention, didn't make the list. Neither did a crisis over Chinese drywall that surfaced last spring and built monthly in intensity. Here , in reverse order, are the biggest stories for 2010.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.